Articles By Braden Gall

Path: /college-football/big-ten-week-3-preview-and-predictions
Body:

Week 2 wasn't any better than Week 1 for Big Ten fans. In fact, it was much worse. As stated in the weekly Big Ten recap, the league is 2-7 against BCS conference teams and Notre Dame. Those two wins are Northwestern's victories over Syracuse and Vanderbilt.

The bruised Midwestern egos are hanging in the balance this Saturday, and for many, redemption is a must. Wisconsin, Penn State and Iowa all lost and all face tricky tests this weekend against teams they should beat. Don't be surprised if one trips up again. 

The best medicine for the Big Ten, though, would be a great showing from Michigan State against Notre Dame...

Big Ten's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Week 3:

1. Which Andrew Maxwell shows up this weekend?
If Michigan State is going to pull the upset over Notre Dame, its junior quarterback is going to have to play efficient and consistent football. That means the player who threw for 275 yards, two scores and no interceptions in Week 2 needs to be under center. Not the guy who threw three interceptions and no touchdowns in Week 1. Certainly, Boise State had something to do with his struggles, but Mark Dantonio is going to have to get big plays - and not turnovers - from Maxwell in order to beat a Notre Dame team that has allowed three touchdowns all season. Don't forget that Notre Dame handled the Spartans with relative ease last season, winning 31-13. This game features two of the best front-sevens in football and which first-year starter under center plays the most mistake-free football will likely win. 

2. Bret Bielema and staff need to look in the mirror
Everyone knew losing offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was going to be extremely difficult for Wisconsin to overcome. But many glossed over the fact that Bielema had to completely rebuild his coaching staff this offseason as a total of six assistants left for jobs elsewhere. The UW staff didn't waste much time evaluating the new hires either. After the pathetic showing against Oregon State last weekend, Bielema replaced offensive line coach Mike Markuson. While two games doesn't feel like the right amount of time to accurately judge his staff, one thing is certain, offensive coordinator Matt Canada has been overmatched. His gameplans have lacked creativity and the numbers have been startling. Try 207 total yards from the Big Ten's most potent offense a year ago against Oregon State. However, it's not just one guy's fault. The offensive line needs to play better, Montee Ball has looked uninspired and Danny O'Brien looks nothing like the player he was as a freshman at Maryland. There is no need to panic (Oregon State is a much improved team this year and UW was closer to an 8-4 team anyway), but the schedule is only getting tougher and a visit from upstart 2-0 Utah State isn't what the doctor ordered. Two non-conference wins before heading to Nebraska to begin Big Ten play is essential for the once-powerful Big Red of Madison.

3. Kirk Ferentz is coaching for his job every weekend
One could make the case Iowa should be 0-2 heading into its Week 3 showdown with Northern Iowa. Wait, a game against an FCS opponent and a Big Ten power is a "showdown?" With the way the Hawkeyes offense has played in two games — 24 total points, 112th in total offense (286.0 ypg) and six sacks allowed — the answer is most assuredly yes. James Vandenberg is a shell of his 2011 self, the offensive line isn't blocking and the skill players aren't making plays. And no one will forget how Northern Iowa nearly beat Wisconsin in Week 1 — or the last time these two met. In 2009, Iowa barely defeated its upstart in-state competition 17-16. Do not overlook the fact that a majority of the Northern Iowa roster likely grew up wishing for a chance to play for the Hawkeyes. Ferentz' job security seems tenuous and every week is important. A loss this Saturday could be nearly impossible to overcome.

4. Weekly Rex Burkhead injury update
The star tailback's injured knee will be one of the biggest storylines of the year if he cannot return soon. This week, he won't be needed against Arkansas State, but he was certainly missed in last week's upset loss to UCLA. Ameer Abdullah has been playing well enough that the Huskers should roll over the Red Wolves this weekend, but head coach Bo Pelini has been hush-hush about his stud running back. He is day-to-day and even if he does return, the plan should be to ease him back into action. Upcoming conference games with Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State are all vastly more important than Saturday's contest versus Arkansas State. Look for Pelini to do the right thing here and make sure No. 22 is fully healthy before bringing him back onto the field. He can claim all he wants that Burkhead's absence didn't cost Nebraska the UCLA game, but it is hard to believe the All-American running back isn't worth at least six points.

5. Bill O'Brien still looking for first win of his career
Penn State played well last weekend against a well-coached Virginia team. The Nittany Lions were/are shorthanded and they played well above their heads in the heart-breaking loss. If O'Brien wants to galvanize the fan base and notch a few wins this fall, he needs to do some damage over the next month, starting with Navy at home on Saturday. The betting public has its reservations, however, as the line opened at 8.5 in favor of PSU over the Midshipmen, but has since dropped to 5.5. With Temple coming up next weekend, the Lions have a chance to equal their record at 2-2, but a win over Navy is imperative for the psyche of this program.

6. Big Ten bounces back in a big way
Okay, so "big" might be pushing it. However, anytime six teams in a 12-team league lose non-conference games like the league did last week, any victory is big. Purdue lost a heart-breaker and one of its quarterbacks to Notre Dame. Wisconsin, Nebraska and Illinois all return home from the West Coast with their tails between their legs and mid-major programs coming to town. Penn State's chances of winning this weekend have been documented above and Iowa is in complete disarray at the moment. All 12 Big Ten teams are at home this weekend and all 12 are favored to win. A 12-0 week would be just what Jim Delany needs to cure his heartburn.

7. 3-0 against BCS competition
Northwestern faces Boston College at home this weekend. The Wildcats are the only Big Ten team with two wins over BCS conference competition thus far and would obviously be the only team with three such wins if Pat Fitzgerald's bunch can topple the Eagles. No, none of the wins are marquee victories over top 25 competition, but beating an SEC bowl team, an ACC team and Big East team to start the season for a team of Northwestern's stature is nothing to overlook. The defense showed massive improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 and Coach Fitz' squad should be able to handle BC at home. 

8. How will Ohio State's secondary play against Cal's passing attack
The cross-country trip to Columbus has Cal more than a two-touchdown underdog to Ohio State. But if there is one area of concern for Urban Meyer this Saturday, it will come on the arm of Zach Maynard and the Golden Bears' passing attack. Through two games, the Buckeyes are ranked 96th nationally against the pass (281.0 ypg). Some of that can be attributed to the two teams trailing in both games, but UCF and Miami (Ohio) aren't exactly world beaters. Cal has a trio of pass-catchers that will stretch the field vertically as Keenan Allen, Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper are talented and over-looked in a league loaded with receiving talent. This might be Cal's only hope to pull off a miraculous upset over Ohio State. Because that Braxton Miller guy could easily run for another 150-plus yards and score four more times.

9. Could it be? Minnesota and Indiana a combined 6-0?
The Gophers and Hoosiers won a combined four games last fall, and through two weeks, they have already matched that total. And there are no signs that anything will change this weekend as Minnesota hosts Western Michigan and Indiana hosts Ball State. However, both of these MAC teams are more than capable of competing, so if both coaches expect to prove to the rest of the league that their starts are less fluke and more sustained growth, these are two games they have to win. This will be much tougher for IU now that starting quarterback Tre Roberson is expected to miss most, if not all, of the season after breaking his leg last weekend. The injury could not have come at a worst time and the Hoosiers must move forward with Cameron Coffman as their starter.

10. Michigan's Achilles Heel is pretty obvious
It won't mean much this weekend against the dramatically overmatched UMass Minutemen, but the yardage being surrendered by the Wolverines' front seven is concerning. Alabama and Air Force took whatever they wanted in the first two weeks and it nearly resulted in an 0-2 start for predicted Big Ten frontrunner Michigan. Certainly, the triple-option will skew stats but 261.0 yards rushing allowed per game is atrocious. Again, it won't play a role in what should be a blowout win over UMass, but this is easily the storyline to track for Brady Hoke's bunch in Week 3.

Week 3 Big Ten Predictions:

Week 3 Games Braden Gall Mitch Light Steven Lassan David Fox
W. Michigan (+2.5) at Minnesota Minnesota, 31-20 Minnesota, 28-20 Minnesota 31-27 Minnesota, 21-17
Arkansas St (+24.5) at Nebraska Nebraska, 41-24 Nebraska, 37-20 Nebraska 40-24 Nebraska, 35-28
Cal (+17) at Ohio St Ohio St, 45-24 Ohio St, 28-14 Ohio St 34-20 Ohio St, 28-14
E. Michigan (+24) at Purdue Purdue, 31-10 Purdue, 37-15 Purdue 38-13 Purdue, 21-10
Charl. Southern at Illinois Illinois, 34-10 Illinois, 41-10 Illinois 45-7 Illinois, 31-14
Navy (+5.5) at Penn St Penn St, 17-14 Penn St, 17-13 Penn State 27-20 Penn St, 28-14
UMass (+46.5) at Michigan Michigan, 45-10 Michigan, 51-0 Michigan 52-7 Michigan, 42-7
N. Iowa at Iowa Iowa, 21-17 Iowa, 20-17 Iowa 27-20 Iowa, 21-14
BC (+3.5) at Northwestern N'Western, 30-20 N'Western, 30-21 N'Western 31-24 N'Western, 31-17
Ball St (+2.5) at Indiana Indiana, 24-20 Indiana, 21-20 Ball State 31-27 Indiana, 24-17
Utah St (+14) at Wisconsin Wisconsin, 30-21 Utah St, 24-23 Wisconsin 34-27 Wisconsin, 35-21
Notre Dame (+6) at Michigan State Mich. St, 21-14 Mich. St, 23-21 Mich. St 24-20 Mich. St, 28-21
Last Week: 9-3 9-3 8-4 8-4
Yearly Totals: 20-4 19-5 20-4 19-5

by Braden Gall

@bradengall

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Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the coming week of gridiron action in the Big Ten Conference.</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 13, 2012 - 05:59
Path: /college-football/pac-12-week-3-preview-and-predictions
Body:

After two weeks of action, it has become clear that the Pac-12 is much better than originally believed. Week 2 featured landmark victories over major powers from the Big Ten (Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois) and Big 12 (Oklahoma State) as well as victories over the ACC (Duke) and Big East (Syracuse). However, the same couldn't be said for Pac-12 contender wanna-be's Washington and Utah — both of whom now need to pick themselves off the mat after crushing defeats.

Pac-12's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Week 3:

1. Can USC clear first real hurdle?
Stanford, under Jim Harbaugh, was a thorn in the side of USC. The Cardinal have won three straight over the Trojans and four of the last five. Harbaugh is now coaching what might be the best football team on the planet across the bay and Andrew Luck is a Colt. Lane Kiffin's group made a long trip East to New Jersey last week and were sluggish at times in the win over Syracuse. Meanwhile, Stanford welcomed back defensive leader Shayne Skov and showed marked improvement from Week 1. But can Josh Nunes play turnover-free, efficient enough football to hang with the SoCal powerhouse? Can the offensive line open up holes for Stepfan Taylor therefore keeping Matt Barkley on the sideline? Can Skov, and the secondary in particular, slow down the dynamic duo of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee — a tandem who scored five touchdowns last week? The Farm needs to be a factor as well if Stanford expects to pull the upset at home over the nation's preseason No. 1.

2. The Holy War's extra implications
It might be the best-named rivalry game in all of college football and, unfortunately, fans will be without an annual BYU-Utah tilt for the near future. The longtime in-state rivals are scheduled to play in 2013 in Provo, but after that they are not slated to not meet again until 2016. Beyond that, the future of this intense battle is completely up in the air. Will BYU join a conference and how would that impact scheduling? Does the nine-game 
conference slate of the Pac-12 spoil what is one of the nation's top rivalries? To top it all off, Utah is reeling and needs a win bad while the Cougars have looked very impressive on both sides of the ball in two wins. What is worse, Utah will be without its starting quarterback for the rest of the season.

3. Familiar quarterback concerns at Utah, Washington State
The Utes will battle with BYU this weekend in desperate need of a win and will be doing so without Jordan Wynn. The oft-injured passer who created balance in Week 1 for the Utes announced his retirement from the game after a serious injury to his left shoulder. Jon Hays, who was rather ineffective as a passer but went 6-3 in place of Wynn last season, will likely battle with rising star Travis Wilson for the right to quarterback this team. Hays brings experience and a veteran resume while Wilson has outstanding raw athletic ability and obvious upside. Kyle Whittingham will likely play both, but Wilson is clearly the future of this team. Up in Pullman, another familiar story dotted the boxscore last week: Jeff Tuel left the game with an injury. Tuel had a brace on his knee while watching practice this week and it appears he won't be ready to go for the UNLV game. Expect Connor Halliday — who threw for almost 800 yards in two starts last season — to get the nod in the Cougars' final non-conference tilt of the season.

4. Is Arizona State for real?
A win is a win. But Arizona State's 2-0 record and 108 total points scored will be brought into focus this weekend when the Sun Devils head to Missouri. The 45-14 win over Illinois was impressive, but the Illini were without starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and ASU took advantage. The backfield for Todd Graham has been stellar with two quarterbacks and three runners all playing well to this point. But Mizzou will easily be the toughest test of the year for Arizona State and fans will have a much clearer picture of what this team really is after this weekend. If Graham can lead his team into Columbia and pull off the upset, all bets are off on this team's potential. If the Tigers, who are coming off one of their worst fourth quarters in recent memory against Georgia, roll up another 501 yards of offense and 30 points like they did against ASU last year, the Devils will return to the desert with their first loss of the year.

5. Is this Colorado's last chance for a win in 2012?
The Buffs have gotten off to one of the worst starts in program history and arguably the worst start of any BCS conference team in the nation. A loss to the Mountain West and FCS doesn't bode well for Jon Embree's chances at improvement this fall. Now, Colorado is a two-touchdown underdog to Fresno State — and it might be the best chance it has to get a win in 2012. That's right, CU faces nine Pac-12 opponents the rest of the way and won't be close to being favored in any of them. A road trip to Washington State next week is the only game fans can point to with any confidence at all. The Buffaloes will host UCLA, Arizona State, Stanford, Washington and Utah while visiting USC, Oregon and Arizona. An 0-12 season is a definite possibility.

6. Can Cal's passing attack take advantage of Ohio State's secondary?
The cross-country trip to Columbus has Cal more than a touchdown underdog to Ohio State. But if there is one chance for the Golden Bears to keep the game within reach, it will come on the arm of Zach Maynard. Through two games, the Buckeyes are ranked 96th nationally against the pass (281.0 ypg). Some of that can be attributed to teams trailing in both games, but Maynard has a trio of pass-catchers that will stretch the field vertically. Keenan Allen, Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper are talented and over-looked in a league loaded with receiving talent and they might be Cal's only hope to pull off a miraculous upset over Ohio State.

7. Surging Bruins are looking for revenge
Houston compiled 469 total yards of offense in the 38-34 win over UCLA last fall. Gone is Kevin Sumlin, gone is Case Keenum and gone is the Cougars' competitive edge. This team is 0-2 with ugly losses to Texas State and Louisiana Tech thus far while UCLA has been one of the more improved teams in the nation through two weeks. And even though Jim Mora Jr., his coaching staff and quarterback Brett Hundley weren't a part of last year's season-opening defeat to UH, fans can bet that Johnathan Franklin, the nation's leading rusher at 215.5 yards per game, hasn't forgotten. Look for the Bruins to roll up a big number against the Cougs and continue their early season success.

8. Cupcake City comes at right time
Playing Tennessee Tech really serves no purpose for Chip Kelly and Oregon whatsoever, but Washington and Arizona need the "break" this week. The Huskies returned from Baton Rouge to lick their wounds after LSU dominated the Dawgs 41-3. Keith Price was beaten up and had little time to do anything. Portland State should offer no such trouble and will give Price and company a chance to get right. Meanwhile, Arizona is coming off a big upset over Oklahoma State and is in prime let-down alert position. However, Arizona should have no such issues with South Carolina State this weekend.

9. The Beavers get rare unlucky bye week
After having their first game against Nicholls State postponed until the final week of the regular season, Oregon State won a massive game over a top-15 team in Wisconsin in Week 2. So with an open date this week, Mike Riley's team will enter Week 4 having played one game. It will be interesting to see if it helps or hurts OSU's momentum heading into back-to-back road games against UCLA and Arizona.

10. Heisman Trophy Tracker off the charts in Pac-12
USC has three legitimate Heisman candidates in Barkley, Lee and Woods. Oregon has three legit contenders in Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota. UCLA has the best new quarterback in the nation in Hundley and the country's top rusher in Franklin. The explosive offensive talent in this league is extraordinary and Heisman voters need to make sure they are staying up late on Saturdays. And I didn't even mention Keith Price, John White, Keenan Allen, Marquess Wilson or Stepfan Taylor. There is a reason five of the top 20 scoring teams in the nation through two weeks hail from the Pac-12.

Week 3 Pac-12 Predictions:

Week 3 Pac-12 Games Braden Gall Mitch Light Steven Lassan David Fox
Washington St (-8.5) at UNLV Wazzu, 24-17 Wazzu, 27-13 Wazzu 38-13 Wazzu, 28-14
Cal (+17) at Ohio St Ohio St, 45-24 Ohio St, 28-14 Ohio St 34-20 Ohio St, 28-14
Tennessee Tech at Oregon Oregon, 56-10 Oregon, 54-10 Oregon 62-10 Oregon, 70-7
Portland St at Washington Wash., 45-7 Wash., 41-10 Wash. 45-10 Wash., 42-17
Arizona St (+6.5) at Missouri Mizzou, 34-24 Mizzou, 32-24 Mizzou 34-27 Mizzou, 31-17
USC (-7.5) at Stanford USC, 35-21 USC, 38-24 USC 38-20 USC, 35-21
Colorado (+14) at Fresno St Fresno, 31-20 Fresno, 30-17 Fresno 34-17 Fresno, 21-14
BYU (-4) at Utah Utah, 21-20 BYU, 24-14 BYU 30-17 BYU, 35-21
South Carolina St at Arizona Arizona, 45-13 Arizona, 44-10 Arizona 55-7 Arizona, 56-10
Houston (+17) at UCLA UCLA, 41-17 UCLA, 38-24 UCLA 48-27 UCLA, 38-21
Last Week: 8-4 7-5 7-5 6-6
Yearly Totals: 17-7 17-7 17-7 15-9

by Braden Gall

@bradengall

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Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Ranking All College Football Teams 1-124

Teaser:
<p> Pac-12 Week 3 Preview and Predictions</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 13, 2012 - 05:50
Path: /college-football/pac12-post-week-2-power-rankings
Body:

Saturday was a celebration of Pac-12 football. Its electric, powerful high-flying offenses are clearly impossible to stop. The league went 6-0 against the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Big East over the weekend as defense was, once again, an after thought for the West Coast league. Five teams cracked the 40-point mark and UCLA was four points from being the sixth. The quarterback position is alive and well even after losing names like Luck, Thomas, Foles and Oswieler to the NFL. Sean Mannion, Brett Hundley and Matt Scott all led their teams to major upsets while Matt Barkley, Marcus Mariota, Jeff Tuel and Taylor Kelly each earned key victories as well.

Post-Week 2 Offensive Player of the Year Standings

1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC -
The Heisman front-runner didn't have big yardage numbers this weekend (187) but he did tie a school and personal best with six touchdown strikes. It was the third time he has thrown six touchdown passes in the last six games.

2. Matt Scott, QB, Arizona - As a two-touchdown underdog to a team that scored 84 points last week, Scott was a monster. He posted his second straight 300-yard passing effort to go with 55 yards rushing, three total touchdowns and nary a turnover in the upset win over Oklahoma State. He is second nationally in total offense (418.0 ypg).

3. Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin, UCLA - For the second straight week, it is virtually impossible to pick between the Bruins uber-talented dual-threat freshman quarterback and veteran workhorse tailback. Franklin topped 200 yards again and Hundley added 358 yards of total offense and four touchdowns.

Post-Week 2 Defensive Player of the Year Standings

1. Jake Fischer, Arizona - The leader of the Arizona defense added 14 total tackles and a forced fumble in the upset win over one of the most powerful offenses in all of the nation. He is leading the Pac-12 in tackles at 13.5 per game through two weeks.

2. Dion Bailey, LB, USC - The sophomore All-American candidate had a big day in New Jersey. Bailey posted eight total tackles, one for a loss and intercepted two passes. He is USC's leading tackler with 15 total tackles in two wins for the Trojans.

3. J.P. Hurrell, LB, Cal - Some bigger names (Datone Jones for example) might have played just as well against bigger competition, but few players will ever have a statistical performance like Hurrell did. He posted six total tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks in a must-win situation for Jeff Tedford. He leads the league in sacks after two weeks.

Post-Week 2 Coach of the Year Standings

1. Lane Kiffin, USC -
It was not nearly as smooth as the USC head man would have liked but his team stayed undefeated, scored at least 38 points in its seventh straight games and found a power running game. All of which is a scary thought for the rest of the Pac-12.

2. Chip Kelly, Oregon - The Ducks rushed for 366 yards and five touchdowns in the relatively easy win over Mountain West contender Fresno State. The four fumbles — three lost — will likely make for a tense film session, however.

3. Jim Mora Jr., UCLA and Rich Rodriguez, Arizona - Both have started their new careers 2-0 with major upset victories over BCS powerhouses. Both have dual-threat quarterbacks who seem to fit their schemes perfectly. Both have workhorse tailbacks in the backfield. And both have defenses that appear to be greatly improved.

Post-Week 2 Power Rankings

1. USC (2-0)
Previous rank: 1
Week 2 result: Beat Syracuse 42-29
It was a sluggish, neutral-field performance for the Trojans, but USC emerged unscathed. And that is all Lane Kiffin cares about. Matt Barkley celebrated his 22nd birthday by tossing six touchdown passes and leading his offense to at least 40 points in six of the last seven games. As good as the USC quarterback was, Robert Woods was better. The junior wideout caught 10 passes, totaled 200 all-purpose yards, scored two touchdowns and gifted USC two others via punt return and on an end around. Woods was so good that a guy who caught 11 passes and three touchdowns of his, Marqise Lee, was totally overshadowed. Kiffin also found a power running game as his balanced attacked rushed for nearly eight yards per carry on 33 attempts (7.8 ypc, 258 yards). This defense will need to improve to win the Pac-12, but it doesn't appear any defense, not even Stanford's this weekend, will be able to slow this Trojan offense.
This week: at Stanford (2-0)

2. Oregon (2-0)
Previous rank: 2
Week 2 result: Beat Fresno State 45-25
The Ducks have looked national championship good in the early going and will give USC everything they can handle come November 3. But this team cannot afford any more key injuries. Safety John Boyett is lost for the year with potential knee surgery and will be a huge loss to the Oregon secondary. On the offensive line, guard Carson York (knee) and tackle Kyle Long (leg) both are banged-up as well as wideout Josh Huff. This team has proven to be as deep as any in the nation, but a few more key injuries could lower this team's national upside. In other news, De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner are unstoppable. Thomas touched the ball 11 times on offense, scoring twice and piling-up 128 yards from scrimmage. That gives him five touchdowns in two games. Barner was the workhorse, carrying 34 times for 201 yards and three rushing touchdowns. 
This week: Tennessee Tech (2-0)

3. UCLA (2-0)
Previous rank: 6
Week 2 result: Beat Nebraska 36-30
The UCLA Bruins are one of college football's best surprises through two weeks of action. The talent has always been there for the Bruins but unlucky quarterback injuries and a lack of leadership have led to overwhelming underachievement for the better part of a decade. Names like Datone Jones, Joseph Fauria and Anthony Barr are beginning to realize some of their always apparent potential. The credit has to go to Jim Mora Jr and his deep coaching staff. They have instilled toughness and work ethic that is obvious in the way UCLA has played this year. To top it all off, Brett Hundley has the makings of the best thing to happen under center at Westwood since Cade McNown of the late 90s. He has been dynamic, efficient and protective of the football - all of which has opened up gashes for senior tailback Johnathan Franklin to run through. Last fall, this team ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in total offense (376.6 ypg) and scoring (23.1 ppg). After two games, this offense is ranked No. 1 in a league that also boasts Oregon and USC.
This week: Houston (0-2)

4. Stanford (2-0)
Previous rank: 4
Week 2 result: Beat Duke 50-13
This is how the Stanford defense should look in 2012. Shayne Skov returned to the line-up with authority after a one-game suspension with five tackles. Safety Ed Reynolds intercepted his second and third passes of the season to go with his four stops. And Duke was held to 27 yards rushing on 23 carries, while quarterback Sean Renfree was kept in check (0 TD, 2 INT). More importantly, however, quarterback Josh Nunes was dramatically more comfortable in the pocket, throwing for 275 yards and three touchdowns in the blowout. This team showed considerable improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 but will need to continue its development if it expects to compete with the Men of Troy this Saturday.
This week: USC (2-0)

5. Arizona (2-0)
Previous rank: 8
Week 2 result: Beat Oklahoma State 59-38
The offenses were expecting to be the star of this bout in the desert, but most believed it would be the Cowboys of Oklahoma State putting up nearly 60 points and over 500 yards of offense. But Matt Scott and Ka'Deem Carey continued their electric start to the Rich Rodriguez tenure in Tucson by dominating the boxscore. Scott finished with 375 yards of total offense and three total touchdowns without a single turnover and is No. 2 nationally in total offense after two weeks. Carey did his best Steve Slaton impersonation by touching the ball 30 times for 154 yards and four of his own trips to paydirt. The defense still has issues but appears to be improved enough to give the offense a chance to outscore the opponent each and every week. Both UCLA and Arizona are in a heated race in the South and have gotten off to great starts. Both should start the year 3-0. 
This week: South Carolina State (1-1)


6. Washington (1-1)
Previous rank: 3
Week 2 result: Lost to LSU 41-3 
The Washington Huskies are getting better. They have improved their coaching staff and upgraded the level of talented across the roster in Seattle. But Steve Sarkisian's group is not prepared for the national spotlight just yet. LSU's powerful offensive line, with the help of one of the deepest and nastiest defensive lines in the nation, out-rushed Washington 242-26. The twitter-sphere started feeling bad for Keith Price, who ran for his life most of the game, completing less than 50% of his passes, got sacked four times and was unable to get his team into the endzoe. Washington will have time to lick its wounds with Portland State and the bye week coming up, but this barometer test clearly indicates the Huskies aren't ready to content with Oregon or USC just yet. After the off week, U of W will face Stanford, Oregon and USC in consecutive weeks.
This week: Portland State (1-1)


7. Oregon State (1-0)
Previous rank: 10
Week 2 result: Beat Wisconsin 10-7
Mike Riley knew how big this game was and he coached for his life in one of the biggest wins in program history. While this Wisconsin team isn't an elite Badger unit, the Beavers still knocked off a top 15 non-conference opponent in dominating fashion. The offense wasn't perfect by any means, but Sean Mannion connected with Markus Wheaton and the speedy Brandin Cooks time and time again in key situations throughout the second half. Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Mark Banker should get DC of the Week nationally for the job he did against the Badgers offense. Montee Ball was completely ineffective, Jared Abbrederis was knocked out of the game and Danny O'Brien had no where to go with the football. The ceiling for this team may still be an unknown, but 3-9 should be a distant memory in Corvallis.
This week: Open Date

8. Arizona State (2-0)
Previous rank: 9
Week 2 result: Beat Illinois 45-14
The Sun Devils have put 108 points on the board in two wins under Todd Graham, and what is scary is that it could have been better if not for some miscues in the redzone. Taylor Kelly won his second start and was efficient once again throwing the football. He was 18-of-24 for 249 yards and a touchdown and has yet to throw an interception this fall. The deep and talented backfield did the rest. Cameron Marshall got 12 carries and scored his 21st rushing touchdown in his last 15 games. Freshman D.J. Foster continues to show his versatility by leading the team in receiving (72 yards) as well as scoring for the second time in as many career games on nine rushing attempts. Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase didn't play and the Illini put up little opposition without their leader under center. That said, the Sun Devils have been impressive thus far and will be facing their toughest test of the young year this weekend in Columbia.
This week: at Missouri (1-1)

9. California (1-1)
Previous rank: 7
Week 2 result: Beat Southern Utah 50-31
The Golden Bears rushed for 176 more yards this week (289) than it did in the opening loss to Nevada (113). Still, consistency will be the lesson from the embattled Jeff Tedford this week. Cal was sluggish once again out of the gate, being outscored 3-0 in the first quarter. Then again coming out of halftime, Southern Utah won the third quarter 7-0. It meant that SUU took a lead into the second quarter and trailed only by three when the final frame began. Explosive second and fourth periods in which Cal outscored Southern Utah 20-7 and 30-14 respectively gave Tedford the much-needed win. But inconsistent play from both side of the ball will be an issue against Pac-12 foes. Also concerning is allowing exactly 31 points in each game - good for dead last in the league in scoring defense. And now they have to stop Braxton Miller.
This week: at Ohio State (2-0)


10. Utah (1-1)
Previous rank: 5
Week 2 result: Lost to Utah State 27-20 (OT)
The Battle of the Brothers went the way of the little brother this time around. Utah State is a developing into one of the better mid-major programs out west and a signature win over an in-state rival on national TV cannot be undervalued. So the intense overtime battle shouldn't have come as a huge shock. However, Utes fans had to have a sense of deja vu when they watched starting quarterback Jordan Wynn leave the game with a shoulder injury and Jon Hays step under center. Wynn's X-rays were negative but Kyle Whittingham hasn't made any official statements about the future of his starting quarterback. Hays was terrible last fall but showed some growth in the second half against the Aggies. He threw for 154 yards and led the Utah offense to 17 second-half points to get the game into overtime. Either way, having quarterback issues getting ready for BYU's defense in what could be the last Holy War for the foreseeable future makes a 1-2 start very possible for Utah.
This week: BYU (2-0)

11. Washington State (1-1)
Previous rank: 11
Week 2 result: Beat Eastern Washington 24-20
On the surface, it looks like Washington State played cupcake and struggled to win Mike Leach's first game of the year. However, Eastern Washington already has one FBS win this season in impressive fashion, is one of the top west coast FCS programs, boasts a former June Jones SMU disciple at quarterback and likely sports an entire roster of players who dreamed of playing football in the Pac-12. The defense gave up a lot of yards (469) and will struggle all season but the offense scored 24 first-half points and the defense made it stand up. Jeff Tuel was much more effective than he was against BYU throwing two touchdowns, but a twisted knee forced the oft-injured starting quarterback to the bench. Connor Halliday finished the game and would be the starter should Tuel miss any extended time. 
This week: at UNLV (0-2)

12. Colorado (0-2)
Previous rank: 12
Week 2 result: Lost to Sacramento State 28-20
Where to start? Colorado is one of only six BCS conference teams to begin the year 0-2. Pitt, Vanderbilt, Auburn, Penn State and Syracuse are the others. Only PItt, however, joins the Buffs with a loss to an FCS opponent. What's worse is Sacramento State didn't look overmatched. It out-passed Colorado nearly 2-to-1, it out-rushed Colorado and held the Buffaloes to seven second-half points in the upset win. With nine conference games and a trip to Fresno State this weekend left on the slate, Jon Embree's team won't be favored the rest of the 2012 season, meaning they will have to pull an upset to win a single game this fall. 
This week: Fresno State (1-1)

by Braden Gall

@bradengall

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Teaser:
<p> Pac-12 Post-Week 2 Power Rankings</p>
Post date: Monday, September 10, 2012 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/6-stats-sunday-week1
Body:

NFL football is the greatest reality TV program of all time. The Giants and Colts made sure of that back in 1958. Each and every NFL fall weekend is a completely new and original experience for every player, fan and coach alike. New stories, new personalities, new winners and new losers. 

And new statistics. 

Here are the most important, most intriguing and most bizarre statistics from Week 1 of NFL play:

123.4: Mark Sanchez' QB rating against the Bills
Sanchez completed 19-of-27 passes for 266 yards, three touchdowns, an interception and didn't get sacked in the 48-28 destruction of Buffalo. It was the highest scoring output of the Sanchez era in New York and it was the second-highest single-game QB rating of Sanchez' career. So by definition, he has played one better game in his entire career— a 124.3 rating back in Week 2 of the 2010 season against New England. The former USC quarterback was brilliant in arguably the most pressure-packed atmosphere of his entire career as back-up Tim Tebow looked on from the sidelines. Tebow didn't attempt a pass and rushed five times for 11 yards. Although, I am sure that Tebow was the catalyst behind Sanchez' play, and therefore, deserves all of the credit.

 

8-8: Consecutive completions for Robert Griffin III to start his career
The No. 2 overall pick in the spring draft made his debut in New Orleans by completing his first eight passes for 149 yards and an 88-yard scoring strike. The long touchdown pass was the second-longest scoring strike by any quarterback making their debut, trailing on Charlie Batch's 98-yard scoring throw to Johnnie Morton back in 1998 for the Lions. Griffin III took a 20-14 road lead over New Orleans into halftime with a perfect 158.3 QB rating, something that has never been done (10 att.). By the game's end, Washington had defeated the Saints on the road and scored the most points, 40, of any Mike Shanahan-coached team in D.C. He threw for 320 yards as one of an NFL-record five rookie quarterbacks starting on Sunday. He and Andrew Luck, who threw for 309 yards in his debut, were only the third and fourth players in NFL history to throw for 300 yards in Week 1 of their rookie season (Peyton Manning, Cam Newton).

 

22: Games in which New England has had one 100-yard rusher
Second-year back Stevan Ridley rushed for 123 yards in the 34-13 mauling of the Tennessee Titans. It is only the second 100-yard rushing effort for the Patriots in its last 22 games. BenJarvus Green-Elllis back in Week 5 last season was the only Patriot to top the century mark rushing since December of 2010. The former LSU workhorse touched the ball 23 times for 152 yards from scrimmage and one hard-nosed touchdown. The Pats won their NFL-best ninth straight season opener and actually look better than the Super Bowl runner-up squad from a year ago. Ridley brings a physical presence to the backfield and his continued success would make stopping the New England offense virtually impossible.

 

:14 Seconds it took Minnesota to tie the game
The Minnesota Vikings scored to take the lead against the Jaguars with 9:42 seconds left in the third quarter. The Vikes led the entire rest of the game until, with 20 seconds left to play, Blaine Gabbert connected on what was all but sure to be the game-winning touchdown pass. But Christian Ponder took over at his own 31 yard line and proceeded to complete three passes for 32 yards in a drive that lasted 14 seconds and ended with a 55-yard game-tying field goal from rookie kicker Blair Walsh. 

 

8: Total interceptions thrown by Cleveland and Philadelphia
Rookie Brandon Weeden was making his first career start against one of the NFL's top secondaries. He has some excuses for throwing four interceptions on Sunday, but Michael Vick doesn't have too many for his four interceptions. The Eagles won a sloppy, ugly game in which Vick threw a career-high 56 passes and neither team looked like it belonged in the playoffs. At the end of the day, Vick made the big plays he needed to in order to win, but he knows everyone in a Eagles uniform will have to improve. The Browns, who weren't really concerned with a playoff seed, have now lost 13 of its last 14 season openers.

 

5, 53, 1: Tony Gonzalez' catches, yards and touchdowns in Arrowhead Stadium
If you polled everyone who claims to be at least a casual NFL fan, how many would know that Tony Gonzalez is No. 2 all-time with 1,154 receptions? It's Jerry Rice and then Gonzo. A total of 916 of those catches came in a Kansas City Chiefs uniform and 95 of those have gone for touchdowns — of which, only one will ever be scored in Arrowhead Stadium in a uniform that isn't red and gold. So when No. 88 stood in the KC endzone on Sunday, clad in the black and red colors of Atlanta, and dunked the football over the crossbar like he did 76 times as a Chief, was a surreal image for this diehard football fan. Gonzalez has posted eight straight seasons of at least 70 catches and his clutch play on Sunday indicates he isn't slowing down just yet. He will own every KC and NFL tight end receiving records in the book and will be only the second player to ever catch 1,200 passes. And the only number he really cares about? The 40-24 final score. The second he gracefully steps away from the game in the coming years, those boos you heard at Arrowhead on Sunday will instantly return to an overwhelming ovation. And rightly so, few deserve it more than Gonzalez. 

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> 6 Most Important Stats from Week 1 of the NFL</p>
Post date: Monday, September 10, 2012 - 05:55
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /node/12201
Body:

Every Friday for entertainment purposes only, I will bring you my top college football picks against the spread. I do not condone, approve or encourage gambling on sports in any way. But if you are a fan of football — college or pro — and you don't think gambling has played a huge role in the growth and popularity of the sport, then you are simply being ignorant. And behind closed doors, the powers that be understand the impact betting has had on the game of football.

2012 Record Against The Spread: 7-2
Last Week: 7-2

Ohio State and Baylor were double-digit favorites last week and both provided easy covers while ACC teams Miami and Clemson provided winners as well in key season openers. Iowa State was the only BCS team facing a mid-major at home that was an underdog — and they won by two touchdowns. Alabama was an easy pick and Louisville was very impressive. The Big Ten supplied my two losses as Michigan State won outright but missed the cover while Penn State's emotional season debut ended in defeat.

Note: All lines are as of date of publication

Louisiana Tech (-3.5) at Houston
There may not have been a worse season debut than Houston’s 30-13 loss to Texas State. There is no Case Keenum, no Kevin Sumlin and the result ended up being 326 total yards of offense against a team that joined the FBS ranks this year. The Bulldogs are loaded on offense, are used to winning (reigning WAC champs), and went 11-2 last season against the spread. They have also had two weeks to prepare as their tough opener against Texas A&M was postponed last week. Prediction: Louisiana Tech (-3.5)

Georgia (-2) at Missouri
The Dawgs and Mark Richt fully understand what this game means to their SEC championship hopes. A trip to South Carolina is the only tougher road game facing UGA all season and Mizzou is making its SEC debut. These two offenses are led by stellar quarterbacks in Aaron Murray and James Franklin, but one team possesses a vastly superior defense. The second this line dropped below the field goal benchmark, I jumped on a team that was 3-1 against the spread as a road favorite last season. Prediction: Georgia (-2)

Vanderbilt (-3.5) at Northwestern
One of these two teams can play defense. One of these two teams is physical at the point of attack. One of these teams plays in the SEC. Vandy should overpower the Wildcats after the Northwestern defense allowed nearly 600 total yards last week to Syracuse. Vandy should be able to score at will and could pull away comfortably in the end. Northwestern was 0-3 as a home dog against the spread last season. Prediction: Vanderbilt (-3.5)

NC State (-4.5) at UConn
The Wolfpack secondary was under fire last weekend against the Vols, however, there might not be a player on the UConn offense (other than Lyle McCombs) that would start for Tennessee. And the one area that played well for NC State last weekend was the rushing defense. This is a great match-up for NC State’s strengths and quarterback Mike Glennon should bounce back this weekend. Prediction: NC State (-4.5)

UCF (+18) at Ohio State
If you throw out the 2011 season, the Buckeyes are 13-2 against the spread as home favorites since 2009. This includes doubling the 23-point spread last week in a 46-point win over Miami, Ohio. Yes, UCF scored 56 points last week but it was against lowly Akron. Ohio State is a far superior football team and will roll to another win this weekend. Prediction: Ohio State (-18)

Wisconsin (-7) at Oregon State
When the Beavers came to Madison last fall, no one gave them a chance to win. Montee Ball ran for 118 yards and two scores in the 35-0 win over Oregon State. After Wisconsin struggled breaking in new offensive pieces last weekend, bettors have brought this line down from 11 to 7 points. The Badgers will be on edge this weekend and Oregon State is walking into this game without the benefit of a warm-up against Nicholls State — a game that got postponed last weekend. Prediction: Wisconsin (-7)

UL Lafayette (+3) at Troy
Mark Hudspeth and ULL started their 2012 season with a 40-0 win over Lamar and look to clear their first big conference hurdle of the season this weekend. Quarterback Blaine Gautier didn’t even play much in this battle last fall that ended with an easy 31-17 Rajin Cajuns’ win. Gautier is back this time around he should be able to make big plays as the Troy defense allowed 459 yards and 29 points to UAB last weekend. Look for ULL to win a close, high-scoring game, so the points feel like a gift. Prediction: UL Lafayette (+3)

Washington (+24) at LSU
Since winning the 2007 BCS national title, LSU and Les Miles are 8-14-1 as home favorites against the spread. So for a team in Washington that has an explosive offense and veteran quarterback, 24 points seems like entirely too many. There is no chance LSU loses the game outright, but winning by four touchdowns for an offense that still has to iron out some kinks feels like a lot to ask. Predictions: Washington (+24) 

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

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Teaser:
<p> College Football Betting Against the Spread: Week 2</p>
Post date: Friday, September 7, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/pac-12-week-2-preview-and-predictions
Body:

The story in the Pac-12, at least until Nov. 3, will be attempting to compare Oregon and USC. These were arguably two of the best looking teams in the nation last weekend and, if anything, fans in Eugene should actually be more confident in their quarterback situation. While Chip Kelly and Lane Kiffin are seemingly on a collision course, four new head coaches attempted to kickstart their new tenures. Arizona State and UCLA obliged with force while Arizona slipped past Toledo in overtime, only further muddling the mix of teams behind the Men of Troy in the South. Meanwhile, Wazzu fans weren't so lucky. 

Pac-12's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Week 2:

1. New Huskies defense heads to the Bayou
It was only one game, but the totally reworked Washington defense played well in Week 1. A totally new coaching staff — along with some talented newcomers — held a normally potent offense to 12 points and 327 total yards while providing three turnovers and four sacks. LSU will be a slightly different beast than the Aztecs, as the Huskies enter Death Valley as a three-touchdown underdog. One of the most powerful offensive lines and deepest running back corps in the nation will put the new U of W defense to the test early and often. There are no such thing as moral victories, but if Washington can keep it close into the fourth quarter, fans will have to be happy about the potential for success against physical Pac-12 offenses like Oregon, USC and Stanford — all of which Washington will face before Oct. 13.

2. Week 1 duds look for critical rebounds in Week 2
I will be the first to stand up and be counted. I felt strongly that Washington State was going to give BYU a tough run for their money last weekend. That certainly wasn't the case as Wazzu completely wet the bed in Provo. The Cougars weren't the only team to disappoint out West, however, as Colorado and Cal were upset by Colorado State and Nevada respectively. All three head coaches desperately need to win in Week 2 and all three face FCS opponents. These three should go 3-0 this weekend, but Eastern Washington — who beat Idaho on the road last week — won't be an easy out for Washington State.

3. Is Brett Hundley, UCLA ready for a marquee upset?
Nebraska comes to town Saturday night in what might be the best match-up of the weekend in the Pac-12. UCLA looked great under Hundley's leadership as the Bruins offense showed toughness and balance. Nebraska gained as much confidence as any team in the nation last weekend and heads to Pasadena with Big Ten title aspirations. That said, if superstar tailback Rex Burkhead is ready to go, the Huskers have the clear advantage and an upset is less likely. However, Burkhead is currently listed as questionable and his ability to contribute this weekend seems doubtful. If the very talented, but at times underachieving, front seven of UCLA can stack the box and force Taylor Martinez to make tough throws on the road, Jim Mora Jr., could begin his tenure 2-0. If the Huskers walk into L.A. and roll on offense, fans will know the road back to respectability for UCLA is a long and winding one.

4. New offenses set to duel in the Desert
While Nebraska-UCLA is likely the most marquee and competitive game of the weekend, Arizona and Oklahoma State could be the most entertaining. True freshman Wes Lunt led the Cowboys to an 84-0 win over Savannah State last weekend while first-year starter Matt Scott executed Rich Rodriguez' zone-read to near perfection in Week 1. The Cats signal caller's 461 yards of total offense are second nationally and, more importantly, Arizona held on to beat a tough Toledo team. The Pokes are heavily favored but fans should not be shocked to see this one finish much closer than expected as two of the best offensive minds in the game go head-to-head in Tucson. This should be an extremely fast-paced game with lots of points and a high enjoyment factor. Well, for everyone but the defensive coordinators.

5. Primetime Battle of the Brothers
Washington and Stanford were picked by many to be the top challengers to Oregon and USC in the race for the Pac-12 crown. However, Utah might actually be the No. 3 team in the league. Jordan Wynn returned to the line-up last week and was effective enough to create balance on offense while the power running game and stingy defense performed as expected. Against in-state rival Utah State on the road in primetime, however, Kyle Whittingham better have his team ready to compete. Gary Andersen has an explosive offense led by a three-headed rushing attack and dynamic sophomore quarterback Chuckie Keeton. The Aggies won 34-3 with 569 yards of offense over Southern Utah in Week 1 and most of the USU roster likely grew up wanting a scholarship from the Utes. Guys in Vegas know it will be close, as Utah is only a 7.5-point favorite.

6. How long is Josh Nunes' leash?
Nunes and Brett Nottingham battled throughout the spring and summer for the right to replace Andrew Luck. Nunes won the job but poor play across the board nearly cost Stanford its opener against lowly San Jose State. The senior didn't look particularly comfortable in the 20-17 nail-bitter, completing 16-of-26 passes for 125 yards and one very ugly touchdown throw. While the ground game should still be effective — especially against Duke this weekend — one has to wonder how long David Shaw will allow his quarterback to struggle. He has options waiting in the wings, so Nunes needs to prove he deserves to the be starter. 

7. The Big Ten comes to town
LSU provides a huge opportunity for Washington and Utah has an intriguing battle with Utah State, but the trio of Big Ten/Pac-12 match-ups offer some interesting bragging rights. Illinois visits Arizona State, Nebraska visits Westwood and Wisconsin will head to Corvallis to face Oregon State in three key intersection contests. UCLA is looking for vindication, Arizona State wants to prove Week 1's 63-point outburst was no fluke and Oregon State is making no bones about what this game will mean to Reser Stadium...

8. Reser Stadium hosts biggest non-conference game ever?
Mike Riley began his press conference this week by explaining he believed this weekend's visit from Wisconsin is the biggest non-conference home game in program history. While not too many ranked non-conference foes visit Corvallis, the Oregon State Beavers are making sure everyone involved understands what a win would mean. The Badgers struggled against Northern Iowa last week and will be facing a team making its season debut after last week's opener was postponed. This game wasn't close last year in Madison, but OSU is expected to be improved and UW is clearly not the same team without star quarterback Russell Wilson, offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and three first-team All-Big Ten blockers.

9. Oregon defense gets a second test
The Ducks looked like the well-oiled machine fans have come to expect from Chip Kelly teams. Redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota (MAR-e-o-TAH) was as difficult to stop as his name is to pronounce. The Ducks were up 50-3 with seven minutes to go in the second quarter. While Fresno State isn't going to stop Oregon anytime soon, Derek Carr and the new uptempo Tim DeRuyter offense could provide another interesting test for Nick Allioti and company. Carr completed 20-of-25 passes for 298 yards and two scores in the blowout win over Weber State and will test a group that allowed 34 points and 341 yards of offense to Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin.

10. USC travels 2,700 miles to New York
The Matt Barkley Heisman campaign won't be this close to Radio City Music Hall until December as USC heads across the country to face Syracuse. The game shouldn't be close as the Cuse defense has major issues, but as the clear preseason favorite for the stiff-armed trophy, every snap of every game will be under heavy scrutiny. Anything but a blowout with big numbers will be disappointing for the Trojans.

Week 2 Pac-12 Predictions:

Week 2 Pac-12 Games Braden Gall Mitch Light Steven Lassan David Fox
Utah (-7.5) at Utah St Utah, 31-14 Utah, 28-20 Utah, 27-24 Utah, 31-17
Southern Utah at Cal Cal, 31-10 Cal, 38-6 Cal, 48-7 Cal, 35-7
Sacramento St at Colorado Colorado, 27-10 Colorado, 37-13 Colorado, 45-10 Colorado, 28-10
E. Washington at Washington St Wash. St, 34-20 Wash. St, 27-10 Wash. St, 45-20 Wash. St, 27-14
USC (-26) at Syracuse USC, 55-17 USC, 41-14 USC, 48-20 USC, 42-14
Wisconsin (-8) at Oregon St Wisconsin, 27-17 Wisconsin, 28-17 Wisconsin, 34-24 Wisconsin, 21-14
Fresno St (+34.5) at Oregon Oregon, 51-21 Oregon, 44-17 Oregon, 55-24 Oregon, 49-21
Washington (+23.5) at LSU LSU, 38-20 LSU, 30-17 LSU, 34-13 LSU, 28-14
Nebraska (-5.5) at UCLA UCLA, 24-21 Nebraska, 27-21 Nerbraska, 31-27 Nebraska, 35-28
Illinois (+3.5) at Arizona St Arizona St, 24-21 Arizona St, 30-24 Arizona St, 30-27 Illinois, 28-14
Duke (+15) at Stanford Stanford, 28-14 Stanford, 27-17 Stanford, 31-20 Stanford, 27-10
Oklahoma St (-11) at Arizona Okla. St, 34-31 Okla. St, 34-20 Okla. St, 38-31 Okla. St, 35-14
Yearly Totals: 9-3 10-2 10-2 9-3

by Braden Gall

@bradengall

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Teaser:
<p> Pac-12 Week 2 Preview and Predictions</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 6, 2012 - 05:50
Path: /college-football/big-ten-week-2-preview-and-predictions
Body:

Things didn't exactly play out the way most expected in Week 1 of the Big Ten season. Penn State's emotional roller coaster continued and doesn't look to be slowing anytime soon. Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern, Indiana and Minnesota escaped upset bids. And Michigan was thoroughly man-handled by the defending champions. More importantly, however, some key injuries could shape the Big Ten landscape for weeks to come.

Big Ten's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Week 2:

1. Will Rex Burkhead play and will it cost the Huskers a win?
Other than possibly Ohio State, no team in the Big Ten gained more confidence about its 2012 championship hopes than Nebraska. Taylor Martinez was excellent and the defense did just enough to breeze past reigning C-USA champ Southern Miss while Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa struggled. However, some key injuries could impact the Big Red's Week 2 outlook. Star tailback Rex Burkhead left the game with a knee issue and is listed as questionable for the UCLA game as of Thursday morning. UCLA looked outstanding under new coach Jim Mora Jr. and new quarterback Brett Hundley provided a much-needed spark on offense. The Bruins have had a long week to prepare for Nebraska and stand a much better chance of winning at home than previously expected. If Burkhead plays, Nebraska should win a close one. If the heart and soul of the Big Red offense does not play, all bets are off.

2. How will the bruised Michigan run defense handle the option?
More than just the Maize and Blue egos got bruised last weekend in Dallas. Taylor Lewan left the game with a knee injury (but should be back) and starting corner Blake Countess is out for the season. Michigan's defensive line was the major concern heading into this season and Alabama's 232-yard performance on the ground only highlighted those issues. Now, Greg Mattison's defense is charged with stopping Air Force's triple-option offense that rolled-up 484 yards rushing last week. Idaho State certainly isn't Michigan, but the option always causes trouble to those who are unaccustomed to facing it. The Wolverines should win fairly easily as Denard Robinson should get back on track, but keep a close eye on how the front seven plays this Saturday.

3. The battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy
Week 2 in the Big Ten features many intriguing interconference match-ups, but none will carry as much emotion as the Iowa State-Iowa showdown in Iowa City. The Cyclones haven't won on the road in this series since 2002 but this Saturday will provide their best chance in years. Iowa's offense was rather inept last week against Northern Illinois while ISU scoffed at Vegas' odd-makers who pinned Tulsa as a 1.5-point favorite last week (Iowa State won 38-23). This game was a thrilling 3-OT victory by State in Ames last season and this season's meeting could feature another tight finish. 

4. No rest for the weary Nittany Lions
It was a tough weekend for Penn State fans. Their embattled football program took a 14-3 halftime lead and Matt McGloin looked like a real quarterback. But then starting tailback Bill Belton got hurt and Ohio signal caller Tyler Tettleton went to work. Unfortunately, there is no rest for Bill O'Brien in Week 2 as a trip to Charlottesville looms large. Virginia has been markedly improved over the past few seasons and the Cavaliers defeated Richmond 43-19 in their opener last weekend. The two-headed backfield monster of Kevin Parks and Perry Jones helped UVa pile up 545 yards of offense, so PSU will have to be even better on offense this week than it was in the loss to Ohio. A tall order against a well-coached team that, as shocking as this sounds, simply has more talent.

5. Will Nathan Scheelhaase play against the Sun Devils?
The second major injury to keep track of this week will be that of Illinois' starting quarterback. He looked sharp in the early going last Saturday but left the game in the third quarter and the Illini offense came to a screeching halt. Tim Beckman said his QB needed to practice by Wednesday in order to play, but as of Wednesday evening, Scheelhaase's status was still up in the air. Meanwhile, Arizona State dropped 63 points and 554 yards of offense under new head coach Todd Graham and new quarterback Taylor Kelly. The Xs and Os match-up of the nation's No. 1 rushing defense that held Western Michigan to minus-6 yards and the Sun Devils' three-headed ground attack should be fun to watch. Keep an eye on ASU freshman DJ Foster, who touched the ball 12 times for 99 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in his first college game. That said, coaching may not matter if Beckman is forced to go to battle with Riley O'Toole under center.

6. Notre Dame begins Big Ten schedule with Boilermakers
The Fighting Irish looked as good as they have in six years in their 50-10 win over Navy in Dublin, Ireland last weekend. However, the schedule gets much tougher for ND as it begins a three-week Big Ten slate this weekend against Purdue. A quarterback controversy could be brewing in West Lafayette as Caleb TerBush returns from suspension this week after watching Robert Marve carve up the Eastern Kentucky defense in Week 1. Settling on a signal caller has to be a top priority for Danny Hope if he expects to pull the upset. Keep an close eye on how these two QBs play this week against a nasty ND front seven. On defense, the Boilers struggled to stop the Irish rushing attack in the 38-10 loss last year as they allowed 287 yards on the ground to Brian Kelly's bunch. Eastern managed only 190 yards of total offense last weekend against Purdue, giving the Boilermakers the top total defense in the Big Ten after one week. But while Purdue is improved on defense, there is a reason Notre Dame is a two-touchdown favorite. 

7. SAT Bowl eligibility
Northwestern and Vanderbilt are two of the most prestigious academic institutions in this great country. But, of late, these two programs are achieving on the football field at unprecedented levels. So as two rising programs scrap and claw for bowl eligibility each year, a win this weekend over the other could be the difference between playing in the postseason or sitting at home during Christmas. Vandy endured a tough home SEC loss to South Carolina in the rain last Thursday while the Wildcats overcame an atrocious second-half collapse to beat Syracuse on the road. Both offenses have big-time play-makers, so offense should be plentiful in this key swing contest.

8. Big Ten heads out to the West Coast
Notre Dame and Virginia offer some interesting East Coast non-conference tests for Big Ten teams, but most fans will be watching the Western seaboard this Saturday. Illinois heads to Arizona State, Nebraska heads to UCLA and Wisconsin heads to Oregon State in a trio of Pac-12/Big Ten showdowns. All three games could be toss-ups and one league could exit Week 2 with a decided head-to-head advantage. The Huskers and Badgers have Big Ten title hopes and have to show well in these type of road tests if they expect to be in Indianapolis at season's end.

9. Look for improved play from Andrew Maxwell
Le'Veon Bell was a workhorse. The defense was stout. Now, Mark Dantonio needs the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place. New quarterback Andrew Maxwell threw three interceptions and no touchdowns in 38 pass attempts in his first game as the Spartans starter. Certainly, Dantonio doesn't want his first-year starter throwing the ball that much, but when he does, Maxwell needs to be more efficient. Against a Central Michigan team that allowed 27 points against Southeast Missouri State last week, he should be able to find more windows to throw. It could be a long day for the Chippewas.

10. Minnesota, Indiana should start 2-0
The Golden Gophers and Hoosiers combined for four total wins last season. After two weeks of action, these two could easily match that total. With a win over UMass, Kevin Wilson would double his win total from last year while New Hampshire should pose little threat to Minnesota. These four wins wouldn't mean postseason play is in sight this fall, but it would be a sign of progress for both.

Week 2 Big Ten Predictions:

Week 2 Games Braden Gall Mitch Light Steven Lassan David Fox
New Hampshire at Minnesota Minnesota, 31-17 Minnesota, 34-20 Minnesota, 34-24 Minnesota, 28-17
Penn St (+10) at Virginia Virginia, 28-13 Virginia, 27-14 Virginia, 27-17 Virginia, 27-10
UCF (+18) at Ohio St Ohio St, 41-17 Ohio St, 31-14 Ohio St, 38-13 Ohio St, 35-10
Indiana (-14) at UMass Indiana, 24-17 Indiana, 28-7 Indiana, 38-10 Indiana, 21-7
Iowa St (+5) at Iowa Iowa, 27-21 Iowa St, 21-20 Iowa, 27-24 Iowa St, 21-17
Purdue (+14) at Notre Dame Notre Dame, 35-24 Notre Dame, 28-17 Notre Dame, 31-20 Notre Dame, 24-21
Air Force (+21) at Michigan Michigan, 38-20 Michigan, 37-17 Michigan, 40-17 Michigan, 28-13
Michigan St (-22) at C. Michigan Mich. St, 35-3 Mich. St, 38-10 Mich. St, 38-10 Mich. St, 42-10
Wisconsin (-8) at Oregon St Wisconsin, 27-17 Wisconsin, 28-17 Wisconsin, 34-24 Wisconsin, 21-14
Nebraska (-5.5) at UCLA UCLA, 24-21 Nebraska, 27-21 Nebraska, 31-27 Nebraska, 35-28
Vanderbilt (-3.5) at Northwestern Vanderbilt, 41-38 Vanderbilt, 34-24 Vanderbilt, 34-27 Vanderbilt, 38-35
Illinois (+3.5) at Arizona St Arizona St, 24-21 Arizona St, 30-24 Arizona St, 30-27 Illinois, 28-14
Yearly Totals: 11-1 10-2 12-0 10-2

by Braden Gall

@bradengall

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Big East Week 2 Previews and Predictions

Big 12 Week 2 Previews and Predictions

Pac-12 Week 2 Previews and Predictions

SEC Week 2 Previews and Predictions

College Football Week 2 Upset Picks

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Ranking All College Football Teams 1-124

Teaser:
<p> Big Ten Week 2 Preview and Predictions</p>
Post date: Thursday, September 6, 2012 - 05:50
All taxonomy terms: NFL, NFL
Path: /nfl/10-greatest-quarterback-seasons-nfl-history
Body:

The word "great" is thrown around the sports arena entirely too liberally. Too many coaches, players, games or teams are considered great. Instead, the word should be reserved for the truly remarkable. Therefore, defining greatness becomes the key, and since there are infinite ways to describe the best, beauty lies solely in the eye of the beholder. Any of the memorable season's produced by the quarterbacks listed below could make a legitimate case to be No. 1.

Heart, toughness, statistical production, winning championships, clutch performances, leadership and overall physical ability are just a few of the ways to quantify greatness. It is using a combination of all these factors — NFL records, team records, wins and losses, championships and personal awards — that Athlon ranks the greatest complete NFL seasons a quarterback has ever had—from Week 1 through Super Sunday.

1. Steve Young, San Francisco, 1994
There hasn't been a more complete NFL season than the year Young and offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan put together in 1994. The 49ers finished the regular season with the best record in the league at 13-3 while Young set an NFL single-season record for efficiency with a 112.8 QB rating, breaking the previous record set by former mentor Joe Montana. He also came 0.3 percentage points from breaking Ken Anderson's NFL mark for completion percent at 70.6 percent (Young's 70.3 percent still sits at No. 4 all-time). He started all 16 games, finished with 3,969 yards and an NFL-best 35 touchdowns against only 10 interceptions. Additionally, Young led the team in rushing touchdowns with seven as he compiled 293 yards on 58 carries. For all of this he earned the NFL MVP, but what made the '94 campaign special is what took place following the regular season. The Niners steam-rolled the Bears, Cowboys and Chargers en route to Young's first Super Bowl — a win commemorated by a record six touchdown passes, 325 yards passing, the MVP trophy and Gary Plummer's famous monkey exorcism. Oh, and No. 8 was the game's leading rusher as well. Young posted 623 yards passing, 128 yards rushing, 11 total touchdowns and nary an interception in San Francisco's three playoff games. It was the finest season a quarterback has ever seen.

2. Kurt Warner, St. Louis, 1999
Part of what makes Warner's '99 campaign so memorable is how the Northern Iowa signal caller ended up a Super Bowl champion and NFL MVP. The undrafted rookie finally broke into the league four years after graduating from UNI and led the inept Rams to the best record in the NFC (13-3) as a first-year starter. The 28-year-old led the NFL in touchdown passes (41), completion rate (65.1 percent), yards per attempt (8.7) and QB rating (109.2) while finishing with a franchise-record 4,353 yards passing. He then proceeded to complete over 81 percent of his passes for 391 yards and five touchdowns in his first career playoff start — a 49-37 win over Minnesota. By the end of Super Bowl XXXIV, Warner had thrown for 414 yards and two touchdowns to earn his second MVP trophy of the season. The huge numbers, the sheer improbability and ultimate victory combined to produce what was nearly the greatest season in history. 

3. Tom Brady, New England, 2007
Today's sports culture values the championship and quarterbacks rarely disagree. So had Brady finished his magical romp through the NFL in 2007, he would be sitting at No. 1 on this list. He is only one of two QBs to ever finish a regular season 16-0 and eventually worked the record to 18-0 before the show-stopping loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII . Brady threw for a franchise record 4,806 yards, good for third all-time in NFL history at the time. His QB rating of 117.2 was second all-time in NFL history and he became the first and only player to ever throw 50 touchdown passes in one season. He threw only eight interceptions and led the league in 11 passing categories. In the postseason, Brady and the Pats took care of business against Jacksonville in the Divisional Round, but the Michigan grad struggled in his final two games of the year. He threw three interceptions and had his second-worst yardage day of the year (209 yards) in the AFC title game win over San Diego. He capped his MVP season with an underwhelming performance against the extraordinary Giants defensive line, costing him his fourth Super Bowl ring and the unbeaten immortality of 19-0.

4. Dan Marino, Miami, 1984
Marino was well ahead of his time back in only his second year in the league. He set an NFL record for passing yards (5,084) that would stand for nearly 30 years and an NFL record for touchdowns (48) that would stand for 20 years. He led the Dolphins to the best record in the AFC at 14-2, claimed the MVP trophy and returned Miami to the Super Bowl where they fell just short of defeating the 18-1 Joe Montana-led 49ers. The Pitt Panther threw for 1,001 yards and eight scores in three postseason games. The 23-year-old with a lightning quick release led the NFL in completions, attempts, QB rating and yards per attempt in a season that totally changed the way the game of football was played. He paved the way for what we see today on Sunday and came up 22 points short of a championship.

5. Joe Montana, San Francisco, 1989
The Golden Domer wasn't ever the most talented or fastest or strongest quarterback on the field, but his 13 regular-season games — and subsequent playoff run — during the 1989 season were as brilliant as most's 16-game seasons. Montana completed 70.2 percent of his passes, led the NFL at 270.8 yards per game and finished with a then-NFL record 112.4 QB rating. His completion rate was second all-time to only Ken Anderson and is still one of only five seasons with a completion rate of better than 70 percent in history. The 49ers finished 11-2 in his 13 starts and 14-2 overall and Montana was the MVP of the league. Montana threw for 3,521 yards, 26 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. He also added 227 yards rushing and three more scores on the ground. However, what made No. 16's '89 campaign one of the greatest in history was his thorough destruction of the NFC and Denver Broncos in the postseason. He completed 65 of his 83 passes (78.3 percent) for 800 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero picks, finishing his historic season with arguably the most dominant Super Bowl performance to date by crushing John Elway and company 55-10. Three more games puts Montana over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns and moves him ahead of Marino and Brady on this list.

6. Drew Brees, New Orleans, 2009
One could argue Brees' 2011 season was better, but I am guessing if you ask him which year was better, he would take 2009 everyday and twice on Sunday. He led the NFL in completion rate (70.6 percent), breaking the aforementioned Anderson's NFL single-season record. He also topped the charts in touchdown passes (34) and QB rating (109.6) en route to a 13-3 final record. He finished with 4,388 yards and only 11 interceptions. He then capped the magical New Orleans resurrection with 732 yards passing, eight touchdowns and no interceptions in three playoff wins. His performance in the Super Bowl XLIV win over the Colts and Peyton Manning gave the Saints franchise their first championship. Brees completed 82.1 percent of his passes and claimed the game's MVP honors.

7. Drew Brees, New Orleans, 2011
It is hard to argue that from a statistical perspective, no quarterback has ever had a better regular season than Brees last fall. He set NFL records for completions (468), passing yards (5,476) and completion rate (71.2 percent) while leading the Saints to a 13-3 record. He then proceeded to throw for 928 yards and seven touchdowns in two playoff games. His defense let him down in the postseason and he contributed two of the team's costly five turnovers in the loss to the 49ers.

8. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis, 2006
Much like Brees, Manning has had many elite seasons, but two stand above the rest. One in which he broke an NFL record and played at unprecedented levels (see 2004 below) and the other ended with a Super Bowl championship. Much like Brees, the ring gives Manning's '06 campaign the slight edge. He threw for 4,397 yards on 65.0 percent passing and a league-leading 31 touchdown passes. It was also the only year in which No. 18 threw fewer than 10 interceptions (9). His 101.0 QB rating also led the NFL that season and he added four rushing scores for good measure. Manning led his Colts to four postseason wins that year (16-4 overall) and the 29-17 Super Bowl XLI win over Chicago in which he claimed the game's MVP trophy.

9. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay, 2011
In a season in which three passers topped 5,000 yards and numerous NFL records were broken, Rodgers' season can get lost in the shuffle. Yet, the Packers passer set every major franchise passing record and led a team that finished 15-1 in the regular season. The year ended with a whimper with Rodgers sitting out the season finale and then losing to the Giants in the first playoff game. But his 4,643 yards, 10.5 yards per attempt and absurd 45:6 TD:INT ratio gave No. 12 the most efficient season in NFL history (122.5 QB rating) — and it earned him the league's MVP trophy. Had he posted Matt Flynn's (480 yards passing, 6 TDs) numbers in the final week of the regular season, he would have hit 50 TDs and topped 5,000 yards. That said, Packers fans will always look at '11 with "what-if" memories.

10. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis, 2004
Many believe this season was Manning's best. Statistically speaking it was as he finished the regular season with an NFL-record 49 touchdown passes and 121.1 QB rating to go with 4,557 yards and a 67.6 percent completion rate. The league's MVP was 12-4 and appeared to be headed to his first Super Bowl title until New England completely dominated the Colts in the AFC Divisional round 20-3. Manning's remarkable season ended with only 238 yards passing, no touchdowns and an interception in the disheartening loss to the Patriots.

Others to consider:

Dan Fouts, San Diego, 1981 (10-6, Postseason: 1-1)
Stats: 4,802 yds (NFL record), 33 TD, 17 INT, 90.6 QB rating

Warren Moon, Houston, 1990 (8-7, Postseason: None)
Stats: 4,689 yds, 33 TD, 13 INT, 96.8 QB rating, 215 rush yds, 2 TD

Randall Cunningham, Philadelphia, 1990 (10-6, Postseason: 0-1)
Stats: 3,466 yds, 30 TD, 13 INT, 91.6 QB rating, 118 att., 942 yds, 5 TD

Brett Favre, Green Bay, 1996 (13-3, Postseason: 3-0) MVP, Super Bowl
Stats: 3,899 yds, 39 TD, 13 INT, 95.8 QB rating, 136 rush yds, 2 TD

Michael Vick, Atlanta, 2004 (11-4, Postseason: 1-1)
Stats: 2,313 yds, 14 TD, 12 INT, 78.1 QB rating, 120 att., 902 yds, 3 TD

Michael Vick, Atlanta, 2006 (7-9, Postseason: None)
Stats: 2,474 yds, 20 TD, 13 INT, 75.7 QB rating, 123 att., 1,039 yds, 2 TD

Brett Favre, Minnesota, 2009 (12-4, Postseason: 1-1)
Stats: 4,202 yds, 33 TD, 7 INT, 107.2 QB rating

Michael Vick, Philadelphia, 2010 (8-3, Postseason: 0-1)
Stats: 3,018 yds, 21 TD, 6 INT, 100.2 QB rating, 100 att., 675 yds, 9 TD 

Eli Manning, NY Giants, 2011 (9-7, Postseason: 4-0) Super Bowl
Stats: 4,933 yds, 29 TD, 16 INT, 92.9 QB rating

Tom Brady, New England, 2011 (13-3, Postseason: 2-1)
Stats: 5,235 yds, 39 TD, 12 INT, 105.6 QB rating, 109 rush yds, 3 TD

Cam Newton, Carolina, 2011 (6-10, Postseason: None)
Stats: 4,051 yds, 21 TD, 17 INT, 84.5 QB rating, 126 att., 706 yds, 14 TD

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Related 2012 NFL Content:

Athlon Sports NFL Kickoff Power Rankings: Pre-Week 1
Rankings the NFL's Starting Quarterbacks From Best to Worst
Athlon Debate: Which rookie starting QB will win the most games in 2012?
The NFL's Five Biggest Busts of Training Camp
Tim Tebow or Mark Sanchez: Who should start for the Jets? 
The NFL Hot Seat: Which Coaches Need to Win Now?
Athlon Debate: Did being on Hard Knocks help or hurt the Dolphins?

Teaser:
<p> The 10 Greatest Quarterback Seasons in NFL History</p>
Post date: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/2012-heisman-trophy-voting-post-week-1
Body:

Each week, the Athlon editors vote on the most prestigious award in all of college football. A nine-man conglomerate of college football gurus from Athlon Sports will vote for their top Heisman Trophy candidates. The votes will be tallied and the result will be posted as the Athlon Sports Heisman Watch List every Wednesday of the regular season.

Voting: Each first place vote gets 10 points. A second place vote gets nine points. So on and so forth with a 10th place vote getting one point.

USC's Matt Barkley did little to hurt his Heisman Trophy campaign with his big win over Hawaii and will remain atop the polls entering Week 2. On the flip side, names like Denard Robinson, Montee Ball, Landry Jones and others took major steps back after struggling on opening weekend.

Only three players landed on all nine ballots and those three names claim the top three spots. Otherwise, this week's voting features plenty of new names after a huge first week of games. Fans can expect more volatility over the next couple of weeks with it leveling out somewhere in the second month of the year.

1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC (7 first place votes)
Season Stats: 23-38, 372 yds, 4 TD, 0 INT
The preseason frontrunner is almost guaranteed a spot in New York come December and throwing for nearly 400 yards and four scores in the Trojans' first blowout victory is the type of weekly output that will all but lock Barkley in as a finalist. The Athlon votes didn't change whatsoever as seven of the nine cast their first place vote for the senior signal caller from USC. And the other two (of which, I am one) gave Barkley second-place votes. Next Game: at Syracuse

  Name Pos. Team Tot. Pts 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th Ballots
1. Matt Barkley QB USC 88/90 7 2 - - - 9/9
2. Geno Smith QB West Virginia 78/90 2 6 - - - 9/9
3. Marcus Lattimore RB South Carolina 55/90 - - 4 - 2 9/9
4. Le'Veon Bell RB Michigan St 47/90 - - 3 1 1 8/9
5. Montee Ball RB Wisconsin 34/90 - - - 2 1 6/9
6. De'Anthony Thomas AP Oregon 28/90 - - 1 1 1 5/9
7. Marqise Lee WR USC 25/90 - - - 1 - 7/9
8. Andre Ellington RB Clemson 25/90 - - 1 1 1 5/9
9. Taylor Martinez QB Nebraska 21/90 - - - 1 - 6/9
10. Barrett Jones OL Alabama 14/90 - 1 - - - 2/9
11. Braxton Miller QB Ohio State 13/90 - - - 1 - 4/9
12. Tyler Wilson QB Arkansas 11/90 - - - - - 4/9
13. Johnathan Franklin RB UCLA 10/90 - - - - 1 2/9
14. Landry Jones QB Oklahoma 7/90 - - - 1 - 1/9
15. Logan Thomas QB Virginia Tech 6/90 - - - - 1 1/9

Also receiving votes: 16. A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama (5 pts), 17. Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee (5 pts), 18. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (5 pts), 19. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia (4 pts), 20. Tyler Tettleton, QB, Ohio (4 pts)

2. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia (2 first place votes)
Season Stats: 32-36, 323 yds, 4 TD, 0 INT, 8 att., 65 rush yds, TD
For the second straight week, I have voted the Mountaineers quarterback as my No. 1 pick to win the famed stiff-armed trophy. Against an archrival in the season opener, Smith was in midseason form as he scored more touchdowns (5) than he had incompletions. He has more raw ability than Barkley, plays in a more pass-happy system and has one of the only receiving corps that can match the talent and depth of USC's. And the smart money is never on the preseason favorite. Next Game: at James Madison

3. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
Season Stats: 23 att., 110 yds, 2 TD, 3 rec., 21 yds
The most talented running back in the nation was back on the field for the first time since last October, but he didn't look like he missed a beat. He was up to his usual gyrating, impossible-to-tackle tricks that eventually led to the Gamecocks only scores against SEC East foe Vanderbilt. Steve Spurrier leaned on him in the second half and Lattimore delivered with the game-winning touchdown and more than a few key third down runs. He, like Smith and Barkley, was on all nine Athlon Heisman ballots. Next Game: East Carolina

4. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michgian State
Season Stats: 44 att., 210 yds, 2 TD, 6 rec., 55 yds
The Michigan State tailback was easily the highest mover on this list and rightly so as he carried his team to one of the biggest wins nationally in Week 1. He also had a mini-Heisman moment when he scored the game-winning touchdown late in the game on national television against a ranked Boise State team. And he shattered his career statistical highs in the process. His previous career highs: 20 attempts, 141 yards, 5 receptions, 49 receiving yards — all of which he broke in one game. Next Game: at Central Michigan

5. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Season Stats: 32 att., 120 yds, TD, 3 rec., 21 yds
It wasn't a vintage Badger offensive performance, but Ball was still the workhorse. On an offense that clearly misses its quarterback, coordinator and three offensive lineman from last season, Ball's 35 touches stabilized the new-look offense and allowed Wisconsin to hold on for a tight win over Northern Iowa. Next Game: at Oregon State

6. De'Anthony Thomas, AP, Oregon
Season Stats: 3 att., 64 yds, TD, 4 rec., 55 yds, 2 TD, 6 PR yds
The Black Mamba was up to his old tricks by scoring three times on seven total offensive touches. He is arguably the most dynamic player in the game today and should see his workload increase as the competition gets tougher. Next Game: Fresno State

7. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Season Stats: 10 rec., 197 yds, 1 KR, 100 yds, TD
Lee was often overshadowed by his counterpart Robert Woods last season, but the super sophomore made a big statement in Week 1. He scored on the first play of the game and then again on a 100-yard kickoff return. His 297 all-purpose yards currently lead the nation. Next Game: at Syracuse

8. Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson
Season Stats: 25 att., 228 yds, 0 TD
The oft-injured tailback was at his best on Saturday night in a huge win over the Auburn Tigers. He is leading the nation in rushing and, should he stay healthy, could be a huge factor in the Heisman race. Next Game: Ball State

9. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska
Season Stats: 26-34, 354 yds, 5 TD, 0 INT, 6 att., 10 yds
Martinez was at his all-time best this weekend and it could not have happened at a better time. Nebraska could be without star tailback Rex Burkhead for a few games, which means the offensive onus will fall to T-Mart. His 212.46 QB-rating currently leads the Big Ten. Next Game: at UCLA

10. Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama
Season Stats: 232.0 rush ypg, 41.0 ppg, 2.0 sacks allowed per game (Alabama offense)
Okay, there aren't really any great stats to use for offensive lineman, but how about this. Jones is the best player on the best team who played the best against the best competition this weekend. And he is doing it all at his third position. Next Game: Western Kentucky

11. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Season Stats: 14-24, 207 yds, 2 TD, 0 INT, 17 att., 161 yds, TD

12. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Season Stats: 19-27, 367 yds, 3 TD, 0 INT, 3 att., minus-2 yds

13. Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
Season Stats: 15 att., 214 yds, 3 TD, 1 rec., 4 yds

14. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
Season Stats: 21-36, 222 yds, 2 TD, 0 INT, 3 att., minus-19 yds

15. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
Season Stats: 21-38, 230 yds, 2 TD, 0 INT, 15 att., 40 yds

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Related College Football Content

Three and Out: Week 1 Recap

ACC Post-Week 1 Power Rankings

Big East Post-Week 1 Power Rankings

Big Ten Post-Week 1 Power Rankings

Big 12 Post-Week 1 Power Rankings

Pac-12 East Post-Week 1 Power Rankings

SEC Post-Week 1 Power Rankings 

Teaser:
<p> 2012 Heisman Trophy Voting: Post-Week 1</p>
Post date: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-week-1-power-rankings
Body:

The NFL season officially kicks off tonight with the New York Giants taking on the Dallas Cowboys. To celebrate, Athlon Sports is bringing you the first of many weekly looks at all 32 NFL franchises and where they fall in the most recent Power Rankings:

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

1. Green Bay Packers (Week 1: SF)
Only question is depth on defense and losing Desmond Bishop hurt. Still led by the best player in the game.

2. San Francisco 49ers (Week 1: at GB)
Gritty defense packaged with stellar OL and caretaker QB. Home field in the NFC is on the line this Sunday.

3. Houston Texans (Week 1: MIA)
Health on offense might be the only concern this team should have entering what could be a landmark 2012 season.

4. New England Patriots (Week 1: at TEN)
Tom Brady has a stacked collection of pass-catchers and the best head coach in the game upgraded the defense.

5. New York Giants (Week 1: DAL)
Can the defending champs stay on top of a league with so many questions on defense?

6. Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 1: at DEN)
The running game needs to be healthy, but Big Ben and aggressive defense still lead the charge.

7. Baltimore Ravens (Week 1: CIN)
Will the preseason offensive philosophy translate to the regular season? Only time will tell.

8. Atlanta Falcons (Week 1: at KC)
Explosive offense could be one of the league's best, so can Mike Nolan improve the defense?

9. Chicago Bears (Week 1: IND)
Jay Cutler and Matt Forte return to the line-up with a loaded defense — which needs a healthy Brian Urlacher.

10. Detroit Lions (Week 1: STL)
Record-setting offense is championship caliber. Has the defense joined the party yet?

11. Denver Broncos (Week 1: PIT)
Could be good enough to earn a bye in the playoffs and has enough holes to finish third in the AFC West.

12. Dallas Cowboys (Week 1: at NYG)
Might be optimistic for a team with issues swirling all over the roster. Can Tony Romo hold them together?

13. New Orleans Saints (Week 1: WAS)
What sort of impact does off-season have on Drew Brees and the Saints playoff hopes?

14. Philadelphia Eagles (Week 1: at CLE)
Michael Vick must stay healthy for this team to make a playoff push. And that has only happened once in his career.

15. Cincinnati Bengals (Week 1: at BAL)
Fundamentally sound, uninpiring team will prove to be very competitive week-in and week-out.

16. San Diego Chargers (Week 1: at OAK)
Norv Turner begins a critical season needing a playoff berth to save his job in San Deigo.

17. Tennessee Titans (Week 1: NE)
Can sneaky good defensive line make up for young, inexperienced offense in Nashville?

18. Buffalo Bills (Week 1: at NYJ)
Defense should be markedly improved, so can offense stay consistent for 16 weeks?

19. New York Jets (Week 1: BUF)
You have to have (Tim Tebow) thick skin to pick this team (Tim Tebow) to make the playoffs (Tim Tebow).

20. Carolina Panthers (Week 1: at TB)
Will all of that talent translate into wins...or just statistics? The defense should only get better.

21. Seattle Seahawks (Week 1: at ARI)
Is Russell Wilson ready to lead a team with a developing defense into the playoff mix?

22. Washington Redskins (Week 1: at NO)
The Skins should be better with RG3, but how much better? He needs some help.

23. Oakland Raiders (Week 1: SD)
An intriguing team with some upside — if the coaching staff develops quickly.

24. Kansas City Chiefs (Week 1: ATL)
Like the rest of the West: A team with nice pieces and interesting upside but lots of question marks.

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 1: CAR)
Josh Freeman and a host of young players will attempt to ease Greg Schiano into pro game.

26. Arizona Cardinals (Week 1: SEA)
Offensive line issues could end this season before it begins while solid defense is wasted.

27. Indianapolis Colts (Week 1: at CHI)
Already up a few spots from the preseason due to quick development of stellar rookie class.

28. Miami Dolphins (Week 1: at HOU)
A completely non-descript team that will have loads of growing pains. Both on and off the field.

29. St. Louis Rams (Week 1: at DET)
The offense should be healthier and more talented, but this team will struggle.

30. Cleveland Browns (Week 1: PHI)
Can rookie backfield help the Browns out of the cellar? Only time will tell.

31. Minnesota Vikings (Week 1: JAC)
All-Day Peterson is back but this team has major issues on defense.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 1: at MIN)
Getting MoJo Drew back was huge, but it will be a long year in Jacksonville.

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Relate 2012 NFL Content:

Rankings the NFL's Starting Quarterbacks From Best to Worst
Athlon Debate: Which rookie starting QB will win the most games in 2012?

The NFL's Five Biggest Busts of Training Camp

Tim Tebow or Mark Sanchez: Who should start for the Jets? 

The NFL Hot Seat: Which Coaches Need to Win Now?

Athlon Debate: Did being on Hard Knocks help or hurt the Dolphins?

Teaser:
<p> <em style="font-size: 14px; ">Athlon Sports weekly look at all 32 NFL franchises and where they fall in the most recent Power Rankings</em></p>
Post date: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-sept-3
Body:

Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2012 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire every Monday.

Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (8/27-9/3):

  Name Team Pos. R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Pedro Alvarez* PIT 3B 7 4 8 0 .417 1.545
2. Rickie Weeks* MIL 2B 9 1 2 4 .423 1.146
3. Torri Hunter* LAA OF 8 1 6 1 .536 1.281
4. Chase Headley SD 3B 3 2 12 1 .407 1.096
5. Josh Donaldson* OAK C/3B 5 4 8 1 .304 1.277
6. Delmon Young* DET OF 5 3 10 0 .385 1.314
7. Bryce Harper WAS OF 7 3 8 0 .333 1.042
8. Chris Heisey* CIN OF 6 2 6 1 .500 1.500
9. Ryan Braun MIL OF 5 2 6 2 .379 1.128
10. Carlos Gomez* MIL OF 6 2 6 3 .261 .901
11. Chris Carter* OAK 1B 6 3 6 0 .421 1.429
12. David Murphy* TEX OF 6 2 5 0 .524 1.535
13. Mark Reynolds* BAL 1B/3B 6 4 7 0 .280 1.200
14. Martin Prado ATL 2/3/OF 4 2 6 2 .375 1.093
15. Josh Reddick OAK OF 5 2 10 0 .355 .977
16. B.J. Upton TB OF 5 2 4 3 .308 .910
17. Coco Crisp* OAK OF 7 2 2 3 .280 1.078
18. Brandon Moss* OAK 1B/OF 6 2 7 0 .412 1.326
19. Jimmy Rollins PHI SS 5 2 5 2 .310 .996
20. Garrett Jones PIT 1B/OF 6 2 4 0 .455 1.318
21. Cliff Pennington* OAK 2B/SS 5 1 3 2 .444 1.111
22. George Kottaras* OAK C 4 2 8 0 .444 1.722
23. Adrian Beltre TEX 3B 5 3 4 0 .375 1.275
24. John Mayberry* PHI 1B/OF 5 2 5 0 .393 1.148
25. Angel Pagan* SF OF 8 1 4 2 .258 .859

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Oakland A's

Of the top 25 hitters of last week, seven of them were Oakland Athletics. This means that seven of the nine hitters in the batting order landed on this Top 25 list and Josh Reddick is the only one owned by more than 70 percent of leagues. So which ones should you add? Chris Carter at first is a must-add for anyone who needs some pop in their line-up. He has 14 homers in 166 at-bats this season. Coco Crisp is No. 2 on the must-add list with his roto friendly stat line (55 R, 10 HR, 39 RBI, 31 SB in 383 at-bats). The sneaky add would be "C-1B" Josh Donaldson. He has been on a major kick of late and as a catcher, brings major value to most line-ups. He might also be the one most likely to cool off. Proceed with caution. 

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. Kris Medlen ATL 24.0 3 28 0.00 0.75
2. Max Scherzer DET 22.0 3 26 0.82 0.82
3. Brett Anderson* OAK 20.0 3 15 0.90 0.70
4. Marco Estrada* MIL 18.0 2 27 0.50 0.94
5. Hisashi Iwakuma* SEA 19.0 2 16 0.47 1.00
6. James Shields TB 22.0 2 20 2.78 0.84
7. Bronson Arroyo* CIN 20.0 2 9 2.25 0.65
8. Eric Stults* SD 13.0 2 9 0.00 0.85
9. R.A. Dickey NYM 16.0 2 9 0.56 0.88
10. Cliff Lee PHI 20.2 2 19 1.31 1.11
11. Yu Darvish TEX 14.0 2 16 1.96 0.86
12. Zach Britton* BAL 14.2 2 16 1.84 0.89
13. Felix Hernandez SEA 24.0 2 17 1.88 1.04
14. Zack Greinke LAA 14.2 2 12 1.84 0.95
15. Jhoulys Chasin* COL 18.0 2 9 1.50 1.00
16. Chris Tillman* BAL 16.2 2 14 2.70 0.96
17. Ryan Dempster TEX 12.0 2 14 1.50 1.25
18. Miguel Gonzalez* BAL 7.0 1 9 0.00 0.71
19. Edwin Jackson* WAS 14.0 1 18 1.93 1.07
20. Gio Gonzalez WAS 15.0 1 15 1.80 1.00

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

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

1. Brett Anderson, OAK: at Sea (Sat.) 54% owned
The former ace of the staff is finally back on the mound after two years of injuries and he has been effective. He has allowed two earnies in 20.0 innings with 15 strikeouts and only three walks.

2. Jeff Samardzjia, CHC: at Pit (Sat.) 52% owned
The Shark has been downright nasty of late. He has 41 strikeouts in his last five starts (33.0 IP) and has allowed two or fewer earned runs in four of those five starts. 

3. Ross Detwiler, WAS: Mia (Sat.) 36% owned
Since returning to the rotation at the end of June, Detwiler has been strong by not allowed more than four runs in any start since. He tossed seven scoreless innings for his third win in four starts on Monday.

4. Tommy Milone, OAK: at Sea (Sun.) 44% owned
The soft tosser got hit around a bit by the Angels on Labor Day but he should bounce back against the Mariners this weekend. He had two awesome starts before Monday and has been lights out against Seattle.

5. Patrick Corbin, ARI: at SD (Sun.) 10% owned
This one is a bit of a flier but the match-up feels right and Corbin has provided big strikeout numbers all year long. Take the risk against the Padres this weekend.

Top 20 fantasy Relief Pitchers of last month:

  Name Team IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
1. Greg Holland* KC 13.1 2 9 15 0 0.68 1.05
2. Jim Johnson BAL 10.2 0 10 9 0 0.00 0.38
3. Aroldis Chapman CIN 11.1 1 9 15 0 0.79 0.71
4. Jason Motte STL 13.0 0 10 18 0 2.77 0.85
5. Joe Nathan TEX 9.0 0 7 14 0 0.00 0.56
6. Fernando Rodney TB 12.2 0 9 12 0 0.71 0.95
7. Rafael Soriano NYY 12.2 0 9 14 0 2.13 0.79
8. Sergio Romo SF 10.0 1 4 11 6 0.90 0.50
9. Jonathan Papelbon PHI 12.2 1 7 14 0 2.84 0.87
10. Ernesto Frieri LAA 9.1 2 4 14 0 2.89 0.64
11. Grant Balfour OAK 9.1 0 8 11 0 2.89 0.54
12. Tyler Clippard WAS 11.0 0 8 11 0 1.64 0.91
13. Jake McGee* TB 8.2 2 0 9 2 0.00 0.35
14. Glen Perkins* MIN 10.0 0 4 8 0 0.00 0.50
15. Rafael Betancourt COL 11.0 0 10 5 0 1.64 1.18
16. Casey Janssen* TOR 11.0 0 6 12 0 2.45 0.73
17. Wilton Lopez* HOU 13.2 3 1 14 0 2.63 1.02
18. J.J. Putz ARI 12.0 0 8 16 0 2.25 1.25
19. Ryan Cook* OAK 10.0 2 2 15 2 1.80 1.00
20. Luke Gregerson* SD 13.0 0 3 12 8 1.38 0.69

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

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

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: Sept. 3</p>
Post date: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 - 11:24
Path: /college-football/big-ten-post-week-1-power-rankings
Body:

The Big Ten had a few marquee showdowns in Week 1 and a whole schedule of mid-major opponents and FCS snoozers. However, this weekend was anything but boring for the Big Ten.

Penn State's first time back on the field since Joe Paterno's passing was emotional but ended in a crushing defeat at the hands of Ohio. Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota all survived brutal tests against inferior competition. Indiana and Illinois struggled at times but won their openers. Northwestern turned to its back-up quarterback to stave off a furious fourth-quarter rally from Syracuse that was nearly one of the worst collapses in Wildcats' history.

And the quarterbacks from the state of Michigan struggled in the two biggest games of the weekend.

Post-Week 1 Offensive Player of the Year Standings

Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State - Bell literally carried the Spartans to the biggest victory of the weekend for the Big Ten. On a night that saw Andrew Maxwell throw three interceptions in his first start for Kirk Cousins, Bell set personal bests in basically every important offensive statistic. Bell had never carried the ball more than 20 times and entered the opener against Boise Sttae with four career 100-yard rushing efforts. Friday night, he carried 44 times for a career-high 210 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His six receptions and 56 yards in the passing game were also career bests.

Braxton Miller, Ohio State - Urban Mayer hasn't hid his affections for the sophomore signal caller and in Week 1 Miller showed the country why the new Buckeyes coach has been so excited. Miller topped the 200-yard mark for only the second time in his career by completing 14 of his 24 attempts for 207 yards, two scores and no interceptions. Where he really shined, however, was on the ground, rushing for a career-high 161 yards on 17 carries and a third trip to daydirt. 

Taylor Martinez, Nebraska - The Huskers' ability to be balanced on offense could be the difference between another four-loss season or a potential run at a Big Ten title. Yes, it was against a rebuilt Southern Miss team, but Martinez was T-Magic. He completed 76.5 percent of his passes for a personal best 354 yards and five touchdowns. More importantly, he didn't have to rely on his legs, carrying only six times for 10 yards. 

 

Post-Week 1 Defensive Player of the Year Standings

Will Compton, Nebraska -
The Huskers held Southern Miss to 260 yards of offense and only three second-half points behind the play of the talented linebacker. He tallied 12 total tackles, a tackle for loss and one sack in the victory. 

Ashante Williams, Illinois - Without their starting quarterback, the Illini needed a big defensive spark and the senior linebacker gave it to them in the form of a fourth-quarter 60-yard interception return touchdown. The score put the game out of reach. Williams finished with nine tackles on the night.

Larry Black, Jr., Indiana - The Hooisers needed their defense in the second half to get the win over Indiana State and Black was a huge part of it. He posted four tackles, two sacks and two tackles for a loss in the tightly-played 24-17 win over the Sycamores.



Post-Week 1 Coach of the Year Standings

Mark Dantonio, Michigan State -
The Spartans headman might be the best coach in the league and his team posted the best win of the weekend in the 17-13 victory over Boise State. Without Cousins to stablize the offense, he turned to his power tailback and veteran offensive line. They delivered 461 yards of offense while the defense did their job, holding the Broncos to a paltry 206 total yards. 

Bo Pelini, Nebraska - Four straight seasons with four losses has Nebraska nation on edge heading into 2012. Against the reigning C-USA champion Southern Miss Golden Eagles, the Huskers could have struggled. Instead, Martinez was brilliant and the defense played well enough. BIg Red outgained USM 632 yards to 260.

Urban Meyer, Ohio State - The prodigal son returned to the state of Ohio in style. He has the best team in the league and they looked like it on Saturday. His offense started slowly, but the Buckeyes offensive line and receivers eventually began to gel. 



Post-Week 1 Power Rankings

1. Ohio State (1-0)
Preseason rank: 1
Week 1 result: Beat Miami (Ohio) 56-10
The Urban Meyer era at Ohio State got off to a slow start as the Redhawks took a 3-0 lead into the second quarter. But Miller and the offense began to click, scoring 35 unanswered points in the eventual rout. Miller set an Ohio State rushing record for a quarterback with 161 yards and Meyer ran his record to 4-0 in coaching debuts. The 56 points was the second-highest total for an Ohio State coaching debut as well. The offensive line paved the way to 294 yards rushing on 53 carries and Corey "Philly" Brown caught seven passes for 87 yards and a touchdown — giving the Bucks some optimism surrounding two areas of concern. If this offense can gel quickly and begin to compete on the same level as the defense, the rest of the Big Ten could be in big trouble.
This week: UCF (1-0)

2. Nebraska (1-0)
Preseason rank: 3
Week 1 result: Beat Southern Miss 49-20
Few teams improved their national perception in Week 1 like the Huskers did. Beating the defending Conference USA champs 49-20 isn't all that alarming, 
but it was how the Big Red did it — combined with the struggles of fellow Big Ten contenders — that has fans excited about football in Lincoln. That is, if the Huskers can stay healthy. Taylor Martinez was excellent as the highest rated passer in the Big Ten after one week of action and the defense was strong enough to stymie a team known for its offensive prowess. But if Nebraska wants to go on the road and beat a talented UCLA team this weekend it will need its full complement of offensive weapons. Rex Burkhead had an MRI on Sunday and Bo Pelini confirmed their initial concerns that the star tailback had suffered a sprained MCL. He is questionable for the trip to Pasadena and it looks like sophomore Ameer Abdullah would get first crack at the starting job after carrying 15 times for 81 yards on Saturday. Additionally, senior wideout Tim Marlowe is out for at least six weeks after breaking his clavicle and tight end Ben Cotton is dealing with his own rib issues. 
This week: at UCLA (1-0)

3. Michigan (0-1)
Preseason rank: 2
Week 1 result: Lost to Alabama 41-14
Settle down Michigan fans. The sky isn't falling and the season isn't over. Yes, Alabama was the far superior team and now the Wolverines will play the rest of the season without starting cornerback Blake Countess. But the Big Ten championship is still very much in front of them and star tackle Taylor Lewan appears set to play this weekend after leaving the game Saturday night with a right leg issue. Michigan will be very good this season, but this weekend's outcome should not have come as a surprise. The defending national champs are simply operating on a level the Maize and Blue has yet to reach. The good news is Michigan won't face a better team all season long, no matter where it ends up at the end of year. The front line for Michigan's defense will get another test this weekend after allowing 232 yards on the ground to 'Bama but Brady Hoke should be able to exact some revenge. And he gets Fitzgerald Toussaint back this week.
This week: Air Force (1-0)

4. Michigan State (1-0)
Preseason rank: 5
Week 1 result: Beat Boise State 17-13
Bell was the star of the show Friday night when the Spartans outlasted the upstart Broncos. He carried an offense that clearly missed Kirk Cousins and his deep receiving corps of last fall as Michigan State overcame four turnovers to hold on for the win. Bell touched the ball 50 times and scored the game-winner with just more than eight minutes left in the game. The Spartans nasty defense did the rest as Boise got only one possession for the rest of the game. Mark Dantonio will have to get better play from quarterback Andrew Maxwell, but he knows he can lean on a defense that didn't allow an offensive touchdown and held a normally powerful offense to 206 total yards — easily the lowest total of the Chris Petersen era at Boise State. 
This week: at Central Michigan (1-0) 

5. Wisconsin (1-0)
Preseason rank: 4
Week 1 result: Beat Northern Iowa 26-12
Danny O'Brien is not Russell Wilson. Matt Canada is not Paul Chryst (although, he had a rough start too), and three first-team All-Big Ten blockers are gone from the offense. And it all showed against Northern Iowa, albeit one of the winningest FCS programs in the nation. The ground game had a tricky time getting rolling and the defense allowed big plays at critical moments and it nearly cost UW a big fourth-quarter lead. The normally powerful offense was held to just 387 yards and Montee Ball averaged only 3.8 yards per carry on 32 attempts. That said, Wisconsin held the ball for nearly 40 minutes of time and O'Brien was efficient (19-of-23, 0 INT). Choke it up for first game jitters against a team accustomed to winning. But fans need to realize this isn't an elite UW team, just a really good one. 
This week: at Oregon State (0-0)

6. Illinois (1-0)
Preseason rank: 9
Week 1 result: Beat Western Michigan 24-7
Tim Beckman's debut was off to a roaring start as the Illini had a 17-0 lead in the third quarter. But quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase left the game with an injured ankle and the game came to a screeching halt. The Broncos cut the lead to 10 before a long interception return ended the upset bid and gave Beckman a win in his first game on the Illinois sideline. Scheelhaase, who finished with 126 yards passing, 21 yards rushing and two total touchdowns practiced on Sunday but isn't going to be fully healthy for the Arizona State game. The defense won't be underrated for much longer if it can completely stop opposing rushing attacks like it did against WMU — try minus-6 yards on 19 attempts.
This week: at Arizona State (1-0)

7. Northwestern (1-0)
Preseason rank: 7
Week 1 result: Beat Syracuse 42-41
The day certainly belonged to the quarterbacks in the Carrier Dome this weekend. Syracuse's Ryan Nassib completed 44 of his 65 total attempts for 470 yards and four touchdowns while the Wildcats' duo of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian combined to score four touchdowns. After Colter sustained a slight shoulder injury, Pat Fitzgerald turned to the back-up Siemian and the sophomore delivered a nine-yard scoring strike to Demetrius Fields with 44 seconds left to win the game. Colter is listed as the starter for the Vanderbilt game this weekend but keep an eye on this position moving forward. This defense was a major question mark heading into the season and the Cuse's four unanswered touchdowns to erase a 22-point Northwestern second-half lead only further highlights the issues.
This week: Vanderbilt (0-1)

8. Iowa (1-0)
Preseason rank: 8
Week 1 result: Beat Northern Illinois 18-17
Iowa was 12th in the Big Ten in rushing last season and has dealt with major attrition at the running back position since the end of the 2011 season. The Hawkeyes rushed for 2.8 yards per carry on 49 attempts and nearly lost to Northern Illinois. However, Damon Bullock provided a huge boost to the ground game and made the definitive play of the game. The sophomore, who totaled 10 carries and 20 yards for the entire '11 campaign, carried 30 times for 150 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown with just over two minutes to go in the game. The scored capped a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback for Kirk Ferentz on a day in which James Vandenberg struggled mightily. This was a huge win for a coach who cannot afford losses to MAC teams. Be it the defending champs or not.
This week: Iowa State (1-0)

9. Purdue (1-0)
Preseason rank: 10
Week 1 result: Beat Eastern Kentucky 48-6
Danny Hope's got himself a quarterback battle folks. Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve are listed as co-starters for Saturday's huge test against Notre Dame. TerBush was suspended for the opener and Marve took full advantage by completing 30-of-38 passes for a career-high 295 yards and three touchdowns in the win. Hope returned Purdue to the postseason last fall and will need to settle on a quarterback if he expects to do so again in 2012. Of course, a sneaky good defense would go a long way in getting the Boilers into the Leaders Division race — and they allowed only 190 yards of total offense against Hope's former employer.
This week: at Notre Dame (1-0)


10. Penn State (0-1)
Preseason rank: 6
Week 1 result: Lost to Ohio 24-14
It was an emotional day for Penn State fans. At first, the emotion aided Penn State in building a 14-3 lead. Matt McGloin was crisp, the offense looked well-designed and Bill Belton was very effective out of the backfield. Then Belton was lost for the game with an ankle injury and the offense came to a grinding halt. Tyler Tettleton took advantage and produced 371 total yards (324 passing, 47 rushing) and three total touchdowns en route to arguably the biggest win in Ohio history. A day that should have been about of progress and unity quickly turned into a very real reminder of the state of the Nittany Lion perspective.
This week: at Virginia (1-0)

11. Minnesota (1-0)
Preseason rank: 11
Week 1 result: Beat UNLV 30-27 (3 OT)
It took a full four quarters, but MarQueis Gray finally played well when it counted. The senior quarterback threw two overtime touchdown passes on the road to keep his team out of the upset column. A sloppy regulation ended uneventfully at 13-13 before the fireworks started popping off in Las Vegas. The two teams combined for 18 penalties and five turnovers while Minnesota out-gained the inferior competition 478 to 275.
This week: New Hampshire

12. Indiana (1-0)
Preseason rank: 12
Week 1 result: Beat Indiana State 24-17
Tre Roberson was effective and poised in only the second win of the Kevin Wilson era at Indiana. The sophomore dual-threat finished with a career-high 280 yards passing, 26 completions and 38 attempts to go with a pair of touchdowns. His first win as the starter snapped the nine-game losing streak and gives Hoosiers fans a reason to believe once again. With UMass and Ball State coming up, IU has a chance to triple its win total from a year ago if it continues to get sound quarterback play. 
This week: at UMass (0-1)


by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Related College Football Content

Three and Out: Week 1 Recap

ACC Post-Week 1 Power Rankings
Big East Post-Week 1 Power Rankings
Big Ten Post-Week 1 Power Rankings
Big 12 Post-Week 1 Power Rankings
Pac-12 East Post-Week 1 Power Rankings
SEC Post-Week 1 Power Rankings 

Teaser:
<p> Big Ten Post-Week 1 Power Rankings</p>
Post date: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 - 05:57
Path: /college-football/pac-12-post-week-1-power-rankings
Body:

The West Coast league had two preseason national championship contenders, four new head coaches, the most talented receivers in the country and some regimes in desperate need of winning seasons. 

Headed into this weekend's opening action, USC and Oregon were the clear picks to face-off in the Pac-12 title game and few teams looked better nationally than the Ducks and Trojans. In fact, Oregon's first half might have been the best half of football played by any team in any league. These two looked like bonafide national champion contenders and appear to be headed for a massive battle in Los Angeles come Nov. 3. 

Meanwhile, the new coaches experienced everything from utter joy to an overtime thriller to complete despair. And Jeff Tedford got his critical season in Berkeley off on the exact wrong foot.

Post-Week 1 Offensive Player of the Year Standings

1. Matt Barkley, USC -
Fans shouldn't be shocked if Barkley's name is No. 1 on this list every single week of the year. All he did on his first pass of 2012 was toss a 75-yard touchdown strike to Marqise Lee (yeah, yeah, Lee did most of the work). The Trojan passer finished 23-of-38 for 357 yards and four touchdowns in the blowout win.

2. Marqise Lee, USC - The first play from scrimmage was about a two-yard quick pass to No. 9 in a Trojan uniform. Lee took the pass, hit the sideline and outran the entire Hawaii team for a touchdown. He then caught nine more passes for 122 more yards and returned a kick 100 yards for a second score. He finished with 10 catches, 197 receiving yards and the nation's lead in all-purpose yardage.

3. Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin, UCLA - UCLA has been craving a quarterback for over a decade and, should he stay healthy, Hundley could be that guy. On his first carry, he raced off the right edge for a 72-yard touchdown run. He finished with 202 yards and two touchdowns on 21-of-28 passing to go with 68 yards rushing and that long score on the ground. Franklin made life easy for everyone by carrying the ball 15 times for 214 yards and three scores of his own. Yes, Franklin was the big-time performer, but Hundley's performance is dramatically more important to the program.

Post-Week 1 Defensive Player of the Year Standings

1. Hayes Pullard, USC -
The sophomore was largely overshadowed by fellow impact freshman Dion Bailey last fall, but Pullard was the star on Saturday. He posted six total tackles including an assist on a tackle for loss to go with his 27-yard interception return for a touchdown.

2. Jake Fischer, Arizona - The junior linebacker posted career highs with 13 tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss. He also forced his first career fumble and was a part of a defense that played very well in the second half of the game. Toledo finished the game 10-23 on third downs and 0-7 in the second half.

3. Usua Amanam, Stanford - The Cardinal defense had to lead the way in the first post-Andrew Luck performance. Amanam posted six total tackles, 4.0 tackles for a loss and a pair of sacks in the tight 20-17 win over San Jose State.



Post-Week 1 Coach of the Year Standings

1. Lane Kiffin, USC -
There was a nice little backstory to the Trojans opener with Hawaii as Kiffin and Warriors' head coach Norm Chow worked together under Pete Carroll. Kiffin took no prisoners as the Men of Troy rolled from the first play of the game. Until someone beats him, Kiffin will top this ballot. 

2. Chip Kelly, Oregon - This game was at one point a 50-3 contest and Chip Kelly pulled Marcus Mariota in the second quarter. This team is absolutely stacked with speed and it will be hard for any coach to wedge his way into the Pac-12 Coach of the Year race with Kiffin and Kelly battling it out all year long. 

3. New head coaches not named MIke Leach - The Pac-12 welcomed four stellar new head coaches to the ranks this fall and three of them came away from Week 1 with quality performances. UCLA looked reenergized on offense while Arizona State won by a cool 57 points. Arizona posted big offensive numbers and outlasted a gamey Toledo Rockets squad. Leach's bunch had no such luck this weekend.



Post-Week 1 Power Rankings

1. USC (1-0)
Preseason rank: 1
Week 1 result: Beat Hawaii 49-10
There was little Lane Kiffin could be upset about in his drubbing of former co-worker Norm Chow and Hawaii. Matt Barkley was efficient, his receivers made huge plays on offense, special teams were explosive, Silas Redd beefed up the ground game and the Trojan defense got in on the scoring as well. This is the preseason No. 1 team in the nation for a reason and showed zero signs of weakness. Although, the two-point conversion plays could use some upgrading as USC went 0-3 in that department. In fact, the only thing that should concern Kiffin about his team's chances of winning the Pac-12 crown after one week of action would be how his North Division foe played in Eugene Saturday night.
This week: at Syracuse (0-1)

2. Oregon (1-0)
Preseason rank: 2
Week 1 result: Beat Arkansas State 57-34
Even though Oregon scored 57 points, the score wasn't indicative of just how electric Oregon's offense was in Week 1. Without LaMichael James and Darron Thomas, the Ducks didn't miss a beat, scoring 50 first-half points and ultimately taking a 50-3 (with seven minutes to go in the second quarter) lead before starting quarterback Marcus Mariota was pulled from the game. De'Anthony Thomas was up to his old tricks by scoring three times on seven offensive touches, but the story was the quarterback. Mariota was poised and looked the part of a leader, taking charge of the huddle and supporting his teammates at every turn. He finished 18-of-22 passing with 200 yards and three touchdowns to go with 24 yards rushing and could be Chip Kelly's best all-around QB as only a redshirt freshman. Certainly, the high-powered Red Wolves attack which won the Sun Belt last fall finally got on the board, but the 24 second-half points were essentially meaningless as Kelly got his reserves into the game.
This week: Fresno State (1-0)

3. Washington (1-0)
Preseason rank: 4
Week 1 result: Beat San Diego State 21-12
So far, so good for the newly rebuilt Washington defense. With an entirely new coaching staff and plenty of new faces in the starting line-up, Husky fans were hoping for marked improvement from a unit that was downright atrocious last fall. The Justin Wilcox-led defense forced three turnovers, registered four sacks, provided a big touchdown of its own and 450 fewer yards on Saturday than it did the last time it was on the field (777 to 327). Keith Price wasn't elite but did his job by tossing a scoring strike to emerging star Kasen Williams. All cylinders will have to be firing if Price and Wilcox expect to go into Baton Rouge and simply be competitive, much less win.
This week: at LSU (1-0)

4. Stanford (1-0)
Preseason rank: 3
Week 1 result: Beat San Jose State 20-17
For the first time in four years, Cardinal fans saw a team without Jim Harbaugh or Andrew Luck leading the way. And the offensive issues were painfully obvious. Quarterback Josh Nunes had issues moving the football all day, converting only 2-of-13 third-down attempts. The Aztecs actually out-gained the Cardinal 288-280 in total yards and David Shaw needed a late San Jose State fumble deep in its own territory to score the game-winning field goal. The defense was solid and Stepfan Taylor was the lone bright spot for the Stanford offense. He carried the ball 26 times for 116 yards and a first-quarter touchdown. 
This week: Duke (1-0)

5. Utah (1-0)
Preseason rank: 5
Week 1 result: Beat Northern Colorado 41-0
If there is a team assembled in such a way to stop USC or Oregon, it might just be the Utes. This team boasts one of the best power running attacks west of the Mississippi — John White rushed 24 times for 119 yards and a score Thursday night — and plays strong defense at the point of attack — Utah allowed a total of 114 yards in the season-opening shutout. If this team can get balanced offense from the passing game, it could easily pull the biggest upset of the season. Jordan Wynn finished 19-of-27 for 200 yards, two touchdowns and one interception while heralded back-up Travis Wilson rushed for two touchdowns as well. This weekend, however, finds the Utes on upset alert against in-state foe Utah State.
This week: at Utah State (1-0)

6. UCLA (1-0)
Preseason rank: 7
Week 1 result: Beat Rice 49-24
The UCLA Bruins have been looking for a quality quarterback since 1998 and it might have found one in redshirt freshman Brett Hundley. He took the game's first play 72 yards for a touchdown, setting the stage for a host of long scoring runs for the Bruins. Running back Johnathan Franklin also scored on runs of 74 and 78 yards, leading to an absurd 14.3 yards per carry clip on 15 carries (214 yards). Hundley was also efficient passing the ball and led an offense that topped the 300-yard mark in both rushing and passing. Jim Mora Jr. saw his offense roll-up 646 yards of total offense. Fans should learn a lot more about the growth of UCLA under Mora after Nebraska comes to town this weekend.
This week: Nebraska (1-0)

7. Cal (0-1)
Preseason rank: 6
Week 1 result: Lost to Nevada 31-24
Jeff Tedford is going to have nightmares about the Nevada Wolfpack. For the second time in as many games, Nevada has beaten the Cal Golden Bears on the back of a dynamic dual-threat quarterback. Quarterback Cody Fajardo and his offense out-gained the Bears 450 to 365 and two key completions on their final drive of the game led to the game-winning touchdown. Cal finished 3-of-14 on third-downs and failed to get the ground game going at all. Meanwhile, the reworked defensive front seven clearly had issues stopping the Pistol rushing attack of Chris Ault. 
This week: Southern Utah (0-1)

8. Arizona (1-0)
Preseason rank: 8
Week 1 result: Beat Toledo 24-17
Rich Rodriguez' debut at Arizona had a little bit of everything for everyone. Quarterback Matt Scott waited his turn for this moment and he delivered in a big way in the season opener. He threw for 387 yards, completed 30 passes in 46 attempts and added 74 yards on 14 carries rushing. His backfield mate Ka'Deem Carey sprinted up the gut for a key third-quarter 73-yard touchdown run and finished with 147 yards on 20 carries. These are the two staples of the RichRod patented zone-read option. Arizona survived three turnovers and doubled the Rockets in total yards but still had to fight into overtime to clinch the win. Linebacker Jake Fischer had a monster game as the Wildcats' defense stepped up in the second half. They will be called upon again this Saturday against a team that scored 84 points last weekend.
This week: Oklahoma State

9. Arizona State (1-0)
Preseason rank: 10
Week 1 result: Beat Northern Arizona 63-6
Winning by 57 points is a good thing, right? Todd Graham got his tenure as the ASU head coach off to a roaring start by rolling-up 63 total points and 305 yards rushing this Saturday. The Sun Devils new quarterback, sophomore Taylor Kelly, had by definition the best game of any Pac-12 quarterback this weekend. Kelly finished with a 205.52 QB rating by completing 15-of-19 passing for 247 yards and one touchdown pass. He also added 43 yards on six carries rushing as well. The rest of the backfield took it from there. Cameron Marshall scored twice, Marion Grice scored three times and rushed for 107 yards and newcomer D.J. Foster had 99 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in his first-ever college action. This team has some ability and Graham knows offense, but it will have to prove it against solid competition before it can start thinking about bowl games. Like maybe Illinois?
This week: Illinois (1-0)

10. Oregon State (0-0)
Preseason rank: 11
Week 1 result: Postponed
The Beavers were set to kickoff the 2012 season with what should have been a relatively easy win over FCS opponent Nicholls State. Instead, Mike Riley's quest to return to the postseason now must begin with the reigning Big Ten champion Wisconsin Badgers. This turn of events was clearly an unlucky break for Oregon State.
This week: Wisconsin (1-0)

11. Washington State (0-1)
Preseason rank: 9
Week 1 result: Lost to BYU 30-6
A Mike Leach-coached team has failed to reach 10 points in a game only five times in 128 games. Washington State's performance against BYU in Provo Thursday night was one on the worst performances of the entire Week 1 slate. The running game was non-existent and Leach's air raid never took off. Meanwhile, the defense still has major issues as Riley Nelson was able to pick apart the Wazzu defense pretty much at will. Many thought the Cougars could make a run at a postseason game in Leach's first year, however, Week 1 indicated that WSU is still a ways away from bowl contention.
This week: Eastern Washington (1-0)

12. Colorado (0-1)
Preseason rank: 12
Week 1 result: Lost to Colorado State 22-17
Jordan Webb barely completed half of his passes (22 of 41), the running game averaged exactly 2.0 yards per carry (29 for 58) and Jon Embree began his second season as the head coach in Boulder with a crushing loss to in-state rival Colorado State. The Buffs allowed five sacks and turned the ball over twice in one of the worst outcomes of the week. Jim McElwain had a decidedly different debut for the Rams. 
This week: Sacramento State (0-1)

by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Related College Football Content

Three and Out: Week 1 Recap

ACC Post-Week 1 Power Rankings
Big East Post-Week 1 Power Rankings
Big Ten Post-Week 1 Power Rankings

Big 12 Post-Week 1 Power Rankings

Pac-12 East Post-Week 1 Power Rankings

SEC Post-Week 1 Power Rankings 

Teaser:
<p> Pac-12 Post-Week 1 Power Rankings</p>
Post date: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 - 05:50
All taxonomy terms: Green Bay Packers, NFC, NFC North, NFL
Path: /nfl/green-bay-packers-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Green Bay Packers check in at No. 1.

In the end, 15–1 meant zero to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. All it really did was provide motivation for 2012. While the team took an undefeated record into mid-December, the offense put up more points than all but one outfit in NFL history and the quarterback won the NFL MVP after a spectacular season, 2011 was ultimately a disappointment for Rodgers and his team after winning Super Bowl XLV a year earlier.

“After you win the Super Bowl, I think it kind of changes your perspective,” Rodgers says. “You think you’re going to do this every year, get used to this, and you kind of forget just how special a run like that is, and how difficult it is. It gives you a greater respect for what you did when you made that run, but also a greater resolve to try and repeat that feeling.”

In order to repeat that feeling in 2012, the Rodgers-led offense will have to maintain its score-a-minute pace, and the defense will have to improve — significantly.

Offense

The Packers are set at quarterback for the next decade or so with Rodgers, who’s just entering his prime at age 28. While he admits that replicating his 2011 numbers will be difficult, the way he plays — brilliant decision-making, pinpoint accuracy and an absolute aversion to interceptions — gives him every chance to do it again. But with the free agent departure of backup Matt Flynn, who flew to Seattle, the team needs Rodgers to stay healthy.

For the pass-first Packers, running back is almost an afterthought. James Starks, a sixth-round pick in 2010 who was vital down the stretch of the team’s Super Bowl run, simply ­hasn’t proven durable. He was hampered during the second half of last season by knee and ankle injuries and must stay healthy for the first time since his junior year of college. Alex Green, a third-round pick in 2011, missed most of his rookie season with a torn ACL, but the coaches expect big things from him this year. The team also signed veteran Cedric Benson after the start of training camp so for now it appears that the Packers will utilize some sort of running back by committee approach.

Meanwhile, the team that carried three fullbacks on the 53-man roster once upon a time kept only John Kuhn last year. He’s a fan favorite who can protect against blitzes and run the ball at the goal line or in an emergency.

The Packers’ wide receiving corps is the deepest in the league. Greg Jennings, who is entering the final year of his contract, is a legitimate star. Jordy Nelson is physical, sneaky fast and coming off one of the greatest breakout seasons in recent memory. James Jones makes the most of limited opportunities. Randall Cobb was a revelation as a rookie, both as a returner and as a fast learner at receiver. And ageless Donald Driver still has something left, even more than he showed on “Dancing With the Stars.” Beyond that core, the team liked practice-squad receivers Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel so much last year that they paid them 53-man roster money to stick around on the practice squad despite offers from other teams. Driver’s future isn’t entirely certain because of his $5 million cap number. He’s offered to take a pay cut.

Few teams in the league value tight ends more than Green Bay, which kept a whopping five last year. Jermichael Finley must reduce the number of dropped passes (11) he had last year to be truly elite. Still, he’s a matchup nightmare. The team was hoping that Andrew Quarless, who sustained a horrific knee injury in December, would be ready for the start of this season, but he will begin 2012 on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, meaning he will miss at minimum the first six games. In place of Quarless, savage blocker Tom Crabtree and second-year pro D.J. Williams appear ready for expanded roles. Also, Ryan Taylor is a favorite of Rodgers and could make a big jump in Year 2.

After letting stalwart center Scott Wells walk, the team is pinning its hopes to 37-year-old center Jeff Saturday, the club’s first significant free agent signing since 2006. Starting left tackle Chad Clifton was cut loose in April, meaning Marshall Newhouse or 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod will be protecting Rodgers’ blindside. Newhouse saved the season when Clifton tore his hamstring in Week 5, but he must be more consistent. Sherrod’s horrific December leg injury makes him a question mark. Guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang are tough, stout and nasty. 

Defense

If everything starts up front, no wonder the Packers had the NFL’s worst defense last year. After Cullen Jenkins left as a free agent, the guy who was supposed to step up — 2010 second-round pick Mike Neal — was a disaster, suffering a training-camp knee injury and doing nothing once activated. Now, he’s been suspended for the first four games of 2012 for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. The team did sign free agent end Anthony Hargrove, then watched as his role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal resulted in an eight-game suspension. While draft picks Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels should help, the key player is B.J. Raji, who failed to replicate his impressive 2010 season. He must generate more interior pass rush and stuff the run better.

At linebacker, Clay Matthews, despite registering only six regular-season sacks last season, remains the defense’s brightest star, but he needs help. The club hopes first-round pick Nick Perry, another USC product, is exactly what Matthews needs on the opposite side. Inside, Desmond Bishop suffered a hamstring injury in the Packers' first preseason game and is lost for the entire season. D.J. Smith will take Bishop's place as the starter, which means the team's linebacker depth takes a hit. A.J. Hawk had a down year and must bounce back at the other inside 'backer spot, especially in light of Bishop's loss.

No defense in NFL history gave up as many yards through the air as the 2011 Packers. The release of three-time Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins after last year’s career-threatening neck injury leaves Morgan Burnett as one of the starting safeties. The other is future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson, who once again was a dynamic playmaker last season, but he was a non-factor in some games and isn’t the cover man he used to be. Tramon Williams must regain his 2010 form after a Week 1 shoulder injury caused nerve damage that robbed him of strength. Second-year nickel back Sam Shields regressed significantly, a devastating blow for a team that played nickel or dime nearly 70 percent of the time and. He’ll be pushed by both veteran Jarrett Bush and rookie Casey Hayward

Specialists

The Packers could not be in better shape when it comes to their specialists. Kicker Mason Crosby and punter Tim Masthay are coming off their best seasons. Long snapper Brett Goode hasn’t had an errant snap since he arrived as a free agent in 2008. And Cobb gives the team the electrifying return man it lacked for so long. His 108-yard team-record kickoff return for a touchdown in the opener last year was just the beginning.

Final Analysis: 1st in the NFC North

If Dom Capers’ defense returns to its top-five form and Rodgers stays upright, the Packers will be the Super Bowl favorites in the NFC. If the defense falters or Rodgers goes down for an extended period, there’s no chance of another title in Titletown.

Related: 2012 Green Bay Packers Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Happy Haircut
A.J. Hawk had been considering a long-overdue haircut for a while. “I just felt like it was kind of time for me. I was kind of sick of having long hair,” the linebacker said. Now, Hawk is helping sick kids with the hair he no longer wanted. Working in conjunction with Wigs for Kids, a charity that provides wigs for children who lose their hair due to medical treatments and other conditions, Hawk has started Hawk’s Locks for Kids.

No Mario
While some Packers fans hoped free agent Mario Williams might line up opposite Clay Matthews in 2012, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was thrilled when Williams signed with Buffalo. Williams had been rumored to be headed to the NFC North with the Chicago Bears. “Congrats to Mario Williams signing in Buffalo, far away from the NFC North,” Rodgers wrote on Twitter. “Thanks big guy.”

What If
When ex-New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely for his role in the team’s bounty scandal, Packers fans thanked their lucky stars that Mike McCarthy had hired Dom Capers as his defensive coordinator in 2009, when Williams claims he turned down ­McCarthy’s offer. “Like a lot of those questions, that’s a hypothetical,” McCarthy replied when asked what he might have had to deal with if he’d hired Williams. “I didn’t go through the hiring process, the details of it, out of respect for the people involved. Things happen for a reason. We hired Dom Capers, and we’re very happy with the way it’s worked out.”

Confused Coach
McCarthy has juggled so many assistants’ responsibilities that even he got confused at the staff’s first meeting of the offseason. In the past two years, McCarthy shifted running backs coach Edgar Bennett to wide receivers, moved assistant offensive line coach Jerry Fontenot first to running backs and now tight ends, promoted quarterbacks coach Tom Clements to offensive coordinator to replace Joe Philbin, and shifted tight ends coach Ben McAdoo to quarterbacks. “We had a staff meeting and for six years, the O-Line coach went first and talked about his players. And Ben McAdoo is standing next to the O-Line coach and I start talking about the tight ends,” McCarthy says. “He looked at me and I had to remember he was coaching the quarterbacks."

No New Threads
With the NFL switching to Nike as its official uniform supplier, many teams made at least minor alterations to their jerseys. Not the Packers, who refused to even try Nike’s technologically advanced materials. The only change to the Packers’ uniforms this year? The Nike Swoosh replaces the Reebok logo.

Brewers Fan
Rodgers, who is good friends with Milwaukee Brewers outfielder and NL MVP Ryan Braun, filmed five commercials for the team in spring training. The first, entitled “3-Step Drop,” featured Rodgers on the mound with Brewers general manager Doug Melvin and manager Ron Roenicke scouting him from the stands.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Buffalo Bills
No. 17: Tennessee Titans
No. 16: San Diego Chargers
No. 15: Cincinnati Bengals
No. 14: Philadelphia Eagles
No. 13: New Orleans Saints
No. 12: Dallas Cowboys
No. 11: Denver Broncos
No. 10: Detroit Lions
No. 9: Chicago Bears
No. 8: Atlanta Falcons
No. 7: Baltimore Ravens
No. 6: Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 5: New York Giants
No. 4: New England Patriots
No. 3: Houston Texans
No. 2: San Francisco 49ers
No. 1: Green Bay Packers

Order your 2012 Green Bay Packers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Green Bay Packers Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Green Bay Packers 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, August 31, 2012 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/college-football-betting-against-spread-week-1
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Every Friday for entertainment purposes only, I will bring you my top college football picks against the spread. I do not condone, approve or encourage gambling on sports in any way. Playing a $50 Texas Hold 'Em cash game with your buddies every Wednesday's is more about the experience than the net revenue. At least, that is the case for me.

But if you are a fan of football — college or pro — and you don't think gambling has played a huge role in the growth and popularity of the sport, then you are simply being ignorant. And behind closed doors, the powers that be understand the impact betting has had on the game of football.

2012 Record Against The Spread: 0-0

Last night I took the Gamecocks over the Dores, the Gophers over the Rebels and the Cougars of Pullman to pull the upset against the Cougars of Provo. Which means, the only two people with a worse start to the '12 season was Rick Stockstill and Robb Akey. 

Note: All lines are as of date of publication

Boise State (+7.5) at Michigan State (Fri.)
Chris Petersen and the Broncos have been great against BCS conference foes in Week 1. But Oregon, Georgia and Virginia Tech weren't true road games and this season opens against one of the best-coached teams in the Big Ten in East Lansing. This is the best offensive line Mark Dantonio has had since taking over MSU and could have the top defense in the Big Ten. Without Kellen Moore, Doug Martin and a host of elite defensive talents, Boise State will be hard-pressed to rebuild with a quarterback who has never started a game. The line of scrimmage will determine this game and Sparty has the clear advantage in the trenches. Prediction: Michigan State (-7.5)

Miami (-2) at Boston College
This game was a 24-17 grind-it-out victory for Boston College in South Florida last year. And likely one out of every three Hurricanes had already mentally checked out. Mass departures through the draft and dismissals have turned the Canes roster over, and it could eventually work out to be a good thing for The U. Meanwhile, the Eagles have major issues on offense and will struggle to move the ball whatsoever (take the under), so the key becomes Al Golden's freshman-laden offense and their ability to move the football. Miami will win a close game on the road, so laying a pair of points for a team that has a distinct talent advantage — both on the field and on the sidelines — seems like a low-risk proposition. Miami is 7-1 in its last eight trips to Chestnutt Hill. Prediction: Miami (-2)

Miami (Ohio) (+23.5) at Ohio State
Urban Meyer has returned to The Buckeye State with trumpets blaring and it has fans boiling over in anticipation. Star quarterback Braxton Miller fits the spread scheme perfectly and fans can bet that Meyer wants to make a big early statement. Look for the Buckeyes to make a concerted effort to develop the offense as questions loom for this team at many positions. This means the starters could be on the field deep into the game in order to give the coaches a clear picture of the O-Line and receivers. This also means the Bucks could post a big, crooked number. Miami was 4-8 last fall and won't be dramatically different this time around as Athlon has them picked 99th in the nation. The OSU defense will push Michigan State as the best unit in the Big Ten and it will stymie the Redhawks attack, so 31-35 points on offense could easily deliver the cover. Prediction: Ohio State (-23.5)

Auburn (+3) vs. Clemson (Atlanta, Ga.)
The Auburn Tigers have not won a non-conference, road/nuetral site regular-season game since 1997. And it lost to Clemson last fall 38-24 on the road. This game shifts to Atlanta and the focus shifts to the Clemson offensive line and how they will hold up against Auburn's new defense. Under Brian VanGorder and there are some intriuging pieces in the front seven for the SEC Tigers, however, Kiehl Frazier will have to score at least 20 points to win this game. Gene Chizik is dealing with major issues off the field at Auburn and will be without Michael Dyer, Reese Dismukes, DeAngelo Benton and Jovon Robinson for a variety of reasons. Tajh Boyd will make just enough plays to get the ACC a key win over the SEC. Predictions: Clemson (-3)

Tulsa (-1) at Iowa State
The Cyclones aren't a great team, but this is a BCS conference team with back-to-back bowl trips under Paul Rhoads. The offense has questions, but the defense will be solid as two of the top linebackers in the nation return in Jake Knott and A.J. Klein. Tulsa was good against bad teams (8 wins) and really, really bad against good teams (5 losses). The Hurricane got hammered by the three BCS teams it played as well as Houston and BYU. This one will be much closer, but ISU should win at home. Prediction: Iowa State +1

SMU (+10) at Baylor
Gone is Robert Griffin III but Art Briles and his ingenious gameplanning has plenty of toys to play with on offense. Nick Florence takes over at quarterback with plenty of starting experience and a host of talented options in the backfield and receiving corps. This team will score early and often against June Jones' bunch. The key will be can the return of Zach Line bolster the 101st ranked rushing offense from last fall. This is the one area SMU should be able to attack Baylor. Briles knows SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert from his time at Texas and that should help the gameplan somewhat. Baylor feels like the much better all-around team and they will win with relative ease in a high-scoring affair. Prediction: Baylor (-10)

Others to watch:

Michigan (+13) at Alabama
Kentucky (+13) at Louisville
Ohio (+6) at Penn State

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

College Football Week 1 Previews and Predictions:

ACC Week 1 Predictions and Preview
Big 12 Week 1 Predictions and Preview
Big East Week 1 Predictions and Preview
Big Ten Week 1 Predictions and Preview
Pac-12 Week 1 Predictions and Preview
SEC Week 1 Predictions and Preview

Teaser:
<p> College Football Betting Against the Spread: Week 1</p>
Post date: Friday, August 31, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/big-ten-week-1-preview-and-predictions
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It has certainly been a tumultuous offseason for the Big Ten. Jim Delany battled Mike Slive in playoff negotiations that completely restructed the way college football determines a national champion. Ohio State, now with Urban Meyer leading the way, and Michigan appear to be entering a golden age in the Buckeyes-Wolverines rivarly. Illinois has hired its own new head coach. And Penn State football will take the field for the first time since Joe Paterno's passing. Needless to say, the first weekend of Big Ten action will have no shortage of plotlines. 

Big Ten's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Week 1:

1. Penn State football returns to the field
When Ohio and Penn State take the field on Saturday the entire college football world will be watching. It will be the first time PSU will play since the passing of Joe Paterno or the issuing of NCAA sanctions. It will be the first time Bill O'Brien coaches a game at any level. It will be the first time Nittany Lions everywhere will be unified behind its football team. And it might be the highest-rated first quarter of the entire 2012 season. The atmosphere will be surreal, the national anthem will be bizarre and the first time "We Are" echoes through Happy Valley, there won't be a dry eye in the house.  Most importantly, however, the game could be very competitive. Ohio is a preseason favorite in the MAC and Tyler Tettleton is a dynamic presence at quarterback. Penn State will counter with a stingy defense. Look for emotion to play the pivotal role for the Nittany Lions. 

2. Can Michigan carry the Big Ten torch against the defending champs?
The angst directed southward from the Midwest to the Sun Belt region is palpable. The SEC has won six straight titles, Jim Delany and Mike Slive battle regularly off the field for headlines and revenue and the SEC has crushed the Big Ten in recent title bouts. While the Big Ten plays the SEC fairly even in bowl games as a whole, the B1G hasn't broken through in a big game in quite some time. A win over Alabama would be a huge feather in the league's cap should Michigan pull off the monumental upset in Week 1. The Tide has a reworked defense, Michigan has an electric senior quarterback and the game is being played on a fast track in Jerry's Palace. If there ever was a time for a signature win for the conference and/or Michigan, this Saturday is the time. However, Barrett Jones and the monster Crimson Tide offensive line will likely keep the SEC's foot securely on the Big Ten's neck.

3. How good are Michigan State, Andrew Maxwell?
While Michigan and Alabama do battle Saturday night, the marquee national showdown Friday night between Boise State and the Spartans could be the best Big Ten game of Week 1. Both teams are built on physicality, both have elite leaders at head coach and both have to replace the top quarterback in program history. The Broncos have been stellar in season openers against BCS foes, but unlike wins over Oregon, Georgia or Virginia Tech, this game is a true road trip. And Michigan State's defense is no joke. Mark Dantonio will lean heavily on tailback Le'Veon Bell in an effort to ease Andrew Maxwell into the starting role. From all accounts, he is very similar to Kirk Cousins in style, skillset and demeanor. But until the bright lights of a national television broadcast against a top 25 opponent come on, he is still an unknown. A physical performance over Boise State confirms beliefs that this team is a Big Ten championship team. A loss might slide Sparty back into "rebuilding" mode.

4. Urban Meyer returns to the state of Ohio
Meyer was born in Toledo, Ohio, played defensive back at Cincinnati and got his start in coaching at St. Xavier High School in, you guessed it, the state of Ohio. His first college gig was at Ohio State. Now, he triumphantly returns to The Buckeye State with multiple national championships and expectations that border on absurd. Ohio State fans know Meyer is a proven winner and they know their roster is stacked with talent, so no bowl or Big Ten championship sanctions are going to temper the fervor building in Columbus. Sophomore star Braxton Miller fits the new scheme perfectly so 2012 could simply be a really great tailgate party for the 2013 expected romp through the Big Ten. But it all begins with Miami of Ohio this weekend. The first time the former SEC coach witnesses Script Ohio draped in the Scarlet and Gray will undoubtedly be an emotional moment.

5. Key season in Lincoln begins with C-USA Champs
Bo Pelini has won at least nine games in each of his four seasons as the Huskers head coach and was literally seconds from a Big 12 championship in 2009. But he also lost at least four games every year for a team that expects not just conference titles but national championships. His defense has lost its edge since 2009 and a change at the coordinator position to John Papuchis will hopefully reenergize the Black Shirts. And the first weekend will feature an intriguing test against the reigning C-USA champion Southern Miss Golden Eagles. Even without head coach Larry Fedora or star quarterback Austin Davis, the Eagles should be able to score points this fall. Having said that, this USM team should be outmatched by Taylor Martinez. Any sign of struggle could be a dangerous omen for Pelini.

6. Kain Colter era begins with tricky road test
For a program scrapping for its bowl life each season, non-conference games in which Northwestern is favored are huge games. Especially, against fellow BCS conference teams. Syracuse has a hard-nosed coach and veteran quarterback, so the trip to the Carrier Dome won't be easy. But new Wildcat signal caller Kain Colter could be the most talented, most electrifying player on the field. He can run, throw and catch and now has the starting job all to himself. He also has arguably the deepest and most gifted receiving corps in Northwestern history at his disposal. Pat Fitzgerald knows he has to win most "swing games" to make it to the postseason and this one defines the term.

7. Another ACC transfer starts under center for Wisconsin
Everyone knows the story by now. For the second straight season, the Badgers will hang their conference title hopes on a former ACC quarterback who is eligible to play immediately following a spring transfer. The only difference in the two tales is that Danny O'Brien is not Russell Wilson. Wilson has proven to be a special player already earning a starting spot for the Seattle Seahawks. He also set NCAA records, led the Badgers to a Big Ten title and might be the best player to ever play the position in Madison. While O'Brien is in easily the best offensive situation he has even experienced — great OL, elite RB, solid coaching staff — he has cast some doubt over his tenure by allowing Joel Stave to battle for the starting spot deep into camp. Badgers fans are hoping it was just Bret Bielema's way of pushing the former Maryland Terrapin, because the starting quarterback needs to be ready for the Big Ten opener at Nebraska in Week 5.

8. Upset Alert: Kirk Ferentz should be nervous about Week 1
Former Wisconsin assistant Dave Doeren has a quality program rolling at Northern Illinois and if the Iowa Hawkeyes aren't careful, they will leave Chicago with a loss. The Huskies won their final nine games last season, including the MAC championship and the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Losing star quarterback Chandler Harnish hurts the offense in a big way, but Jordan Lynch appears capable of leading NIU. This means Kirk Ferentz will have to find a running game to support his star quarterback James Vandenberg. This offensive line couldn't run the ball or protect the quarterback last fall and needs to improve if the Hawkeyes want to start the season with a win. Quickly developing and rebuilding the defensive front under new coordinator Phil Parker would help as well. This could be a make or break season in Iowa City for Ferentz and a season-opening loss to Northern Illinois would be devastating to Hawkeye faithful.

9. Tim Beckman era begins at Illinois
Many believe in Beckman the coach, despite his questionable recruiting tactics with current Penn State players. He did great things at Toledo, leading the Rockets to a 16-2 MAC record over the last two seasons. His teams posted big numbers on offense and contended for conference crowns. He now has a totally different level of athlete at Illinois after following a guy who was known for his ability to attract talent. This team is a large unknown in the Leaders Division and a big showing against a solid Western Michigan team could be a sign of positive things to come in Champaign.

10. Hoosier State battle a must-win for Kevin Wilson
Wilson's first year in Bloomington wasn't pretty. The Hoosiers won a single game over South Carolina State and posted losses to the Sun Belt (North Texas) and the MAC (Ball State). The offense did show signs of life in Big Ten play as Tre Roberson and Stephen Houston sparked the rushing attack. This meeting with FCS member Indiana State might be the best shot at a win all season for Indiana and it probably doesn't help the Hoosiers' conference that some are already calling for the upset. A loss could cripple the IU season before it even gets started.

Week 1 Big Ten Predictions:

Week 1 Games Braden Gall Mitch Light Steven Lassan David Fox
Minnesota (-8.5) at UNLV Minnesota, 24-10 Minnesota, 31-17 Minnesota, 31-10 Minnesota, 35-14
Boise St (+6) at Michigan St Michigan St, 27-17 Michigan St, 28-14 Michigan St, 27-17 Michigan St, 21-17
Northwestern (-1.5) at Syracuse N'Western, 31-24 N'Western, 28-24 N'Western, 31-27 N'Western, 28-21
Ohio (+6) at Penn State Penn St, 21-13 Penn St, 21-13 Ohio, 24-20 Ohio, 14-10
W. Michigan (+10) at Illinois Illinois, 31-14 W. Michigan, 30-27 Illinois, 27-24 Illinois, 28-17
Miami, OH (+23) at Ohio St Ohio St, 37-10 Ohio St, 41-14 Ohio St, 45-13 Ohio St, 38-10
Iowa (-10) at N. Illinois Iowa, 24-17 Iowa, 30-17 Iowa, 27-20 N. Illinois, 17-14
E. Kentucky (off) at Purdue Purdue, 38-10 Purdue, 41-14 Purdue, 41-10 Purdue, 28-7
S. Miss (+20) at Nebraska Nebraska, 34-14 Nebraska, 34-20 Nebraska, 38-13 Nebraska, 35-10
N. Iowa (off) at Wisconsin Wisconsin, 49-17 Wisconsin, 41-8 Wisconsin, 45-7 Wisconsin, 38-7
Indiana St (off) at Indiana Indiana, 24-20 Indiana, 21-17 Indiana, 34-20 Indiana St, 21-14
Michigan (+13) at Alabama Alabama, 31-17 Alabama, 27-13 Alabama, 31-13 Alabama, 28-24

by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Related College Football Content

ACC Week 1 Previews and Predictions
Big East Week 1 Previews and Predictions

Big 12 Week 1 Previews and Predictions

Pac-12 Week 1 Previews and Predictions

SEC Week 1 Previews and Predictions

College Football Week 1 Upset Picks

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Ranking All College Football Teams 1-124

Teaser:
<p> Big Ten Week 1 Preview and Predictions</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 30, 2012 - 06:10
Path: /college-football/pac-12-week-1-preview-and-predictions
Body:

The Pac-12 is in the best position to challenge the SEC's strangle-hold on college football. Both USC and Oregon are ranked in the top five and have eyes not only on the Pac-12 title, but also the BCS National Championship. The Trojans are the nation's No. 1 team but the Ducks are the three-time defending conference champs. Something has to give. Additionally, this league added four new head coaches that will bring electric new offenses to a conference that already gives defensive coordinators nightmares. While there isn't a marquee showdown in Week 1 like years past, there are still plenty of intriguing match-ups that could be closer than the experts think.

Pac-12's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Week 1:

1. Lane Kiffin's Quest for a National Championship
The high profile coach has been dealing with maturity questions since leaving Tennessee in unorthodox fashion in 2010. After recruiting and coaching in the face of NCAA sanctions, his 2011 team showed marked improvement after the five-loss debut of two years ago. With Matt Barkley's return to Heritage Hall, Kiffin has all the pieces in place to challenge the SEC's run at national supremacy. A trip to the championship game would begin to validate his brash attitude and coaching style. The Hawaii Warriors and new head coach Norm Chow — who is a former Kiffin co-worker at USC — won't pose much of a threat this weekend, but Barkley's Heisman campaign and Kiffin's quest for a championship begins in primetime on FOX's first-ever network regular-season college football broadcast.

2. The West Coast gets more offensive
The Pac-12 has always been labeled as an offensive-minded conference that fails to play elite defense. While that argument may never have a definitive answer, one thing is certain: The league's four new head coaches will cause plenty of additional headaches for defensive coordinators. Mike Leach, Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham are widely considered three of the top offensive minds in the game today and all three will begin their tenures this weekend. Leach's air raid, RichRod's zone read option and Graham's spread will do nothing to shift the national perspective that this is an offensive league only. While Jim Mora Jr., may not be thought of on the same level in terms of game-planning as his three new Pac-12 peers, his offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone should do plenty to ignite a recently dormant UCLA offense.

3. What will life be like without Andrew Luck?
The best pro prospect since John Elway has traded in his Cardinal red for Colts blue, leaving David Shaw and Stanford with arguably the biggest void in the nation. Junior Josh Nunes battled with sophomore Brett Nottingham all summer long for the right to fill those big shoes and Shaw named the 6-foot-4, 216-pound Nunes the starter. When he attempts his first throw Friday night against San Jose State it will be his first pass since November 20, 2010, and so some rust should be expected. The Spartans should rollover relatively easily, so it is a perfect chance for Nunes to ease his way into the starting line-up. However, on a team that has gone 23-3 over the last two seasons under Luck's leadership, the pressure to win on The Farm has reached unprecedented levels. Nunes needs to prove quickly that he will be ready for Pac-12 play. USC comes to town in Week 3.

4. Redshirt freshmen set to lead conference contenders
Okay, calling UCLA a conference contender might be a small reach in 2012. Yet, the two teams that met in the inaugural Pac-12 title game will turn their hopes for a return trip over to redshirt freshmen quarterbacks. The Bruins will start Brett Hundley, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound Chandler, Ariz., native, against Rice on the road to open the year. He is charged with stabilizing a position that has been a complete mess for the better part of a decade. Meanwhile, national title hopeful Oregon will unleash Marcus Mariota on the Arkansas State Red Wolves. Mariota is a dynamic 6-foot-4, 195-pound dual-threat who has drawn Dennis Dixon comparisons — and possibly forced Darron Thomas to declare early for the NFL. Both players are highly-touted, upside prospects who enter the starting line-up with loads of expectations. And pressure to win.

5. Fireworks-a-plenty in Provo
Mike Leach, a former BYU undergraduate who learned his craft from famous Cougars LaVell Edwards and Norm Chow, returns to Provo with an offense that could be one of the most dangerous in the nation. Jeff Tuel and a host of talented receivers will give Bronco Mendenhall, who is also the defensive coordinator at BYU, all he can handle. The blue and white Cougars won nine of their final 10 games last fall, but against the top two offenses it faced, Utah and TCU, Mendenhall's defense allowed 92 points in two losses. Washington State will also struggle to stop Riley Nelson and company, but Leach understands this game could decide bowl eligibility at the end of the yeart. Wazzu will keep this one much closer than the two-touchdown spread indicates and just might pull the upset outright.

6. Early barometer for reworked Husky defense
There are a lot of new faces playing for and coaching the Washington defense this fall. Justin Wilcox, Peter Simon and Tosh Lupoi were off-season hires that made national waves for Steve Sarkisian. After allowing 777 total yards of offense and 67 points in the bowl loss to Baylor, Coach Sark knew something had to be done. Six new starters, including uber-recruit Shaq Thompson, will be asked to execute the new staff's scheme in an effort to improve last season's 106th-rated defense. And while San Diego State won't come close to the upset, Wilcox should get a quality gauge of his unit's development against former Pac-12 passer Ryan Katz. The Aztecs are used to being a competitive team and have been strong on offense over the last few years, so Coach Sark should get a solid picture of his defense right out of the gate. A strong showing will lead to optimism heading into a Week 2 trip to LSU. A poor showing against the Oregon State transfer will have Les Miles licking his chops.

7. Is Jeff Tedford's job at stake in Week 1?
The last time Nevada and Cal got together, Colin Kaepernick and the Wolfpack rolled-up 316 yards rushing and 52 points in a home win over the Bears. Two seasons later, Jeff Tedford enters the season needing to win and show improvement to keep the temperature on his coaching seat to a minimum. While Kaepernick is now in the NFL, Chris Ault's pistol system has a new star in quarterback Cody Fajardo – who led the team in rushing and scored 11 touchdowns on the ground last fall as a freshman. Tedford also turned to the ground game down the stretch last fall and Isi Solfele led this team to a bowl after a 3-1 finish to the season. The Golden Bears will once again need the rushing game in order to take pressure off starting quarterback Zach Maynard and a rebuilt, Mychal Kendricks-less defense. 

8. Upset Alert: RichRod's offense better be ready
Rich Rodriguez begins his tenure as the Arizona Wildcats head coach on upset alert against the Toledo Rockets. His offense, led by a senior dual-threat quarterback, five returning starters along the offensive line and a future star in tailback Ka'Deem Carey, will need to be sharp right out of the gate to beat the MAC contender. Toledo averaged over 42 points per game last year on offense, and while wideout Eric Page and coach Tim Beckman are no longer present, the Rockets will still be able to score plenty under new coach Matt Campbell. This should be a high-scoring affair with plenty of big plays, so the Wildcats' Matt Scott will have to play well in the new zone read scheme.

9. Gus Malzahn vs. Chip Kelly, Part II
It wasn't that long ago that Guz Malzahn was standing on the sidelines of the national championship game watching Michael Dyer pirouette his way to a BCS Championship Game MVP award. Chip Kelly was there, too. And there is no chance Kelly has forgotten that night. The Red Wolves of Arkansas State could be in for a long night as Kelly, defensive coordinator Nick Allioti and Kenjon Barner exact their revenge on the former Auburn offensive coordinator. The first half should be entertaining as Mariota and Ryan Aplin go head-to-head, but the second half could be a bloody Red Wolf massacre.

10. Can Utah find a passing game?
The Utes are considered the top challenger to USC in the Pac-12 South this fall. They have one of the league's top defenses and a record-setting tailback in John White. Yet, this team was incredibly one-dimensional last fall once quarterback Jordan Wynn got injured. If Utah and Kyle Whittingham expect to compete with Barkley and Kiffin, a more balanced offense is a must. Wynn won't need to be great against Northern Colorado, but should he play poorly — or as soon as the game gets out of hand — fans should expect a long look at heralded freshman back-up Travis Wilson.

Week 1 Pac-12 Predictions:

Week 1 Pac-12 Games Braden Gall Mitch Light Steven Lassan David Fox
N. Colorado (off) at Utah Utah, 41-7 Utah, 34-10 Utah, 52-3 Utah, 35-10
UCLA (-16) at Rice UCLA, 31-14 UCLA, 37-14 UCLA, 42-17 UCLA, 31-14
Washintgon St (+13) at BYU Wash. St, 31-30 BYU, 31-30 BYU, 38-34 BYU, 24-17
N. Arizona (off) at Arizona St Arizona St, 31-14 Arizona St, 30-14 Arizona St, 45-10 Arizona St, 28-24
San Jose St (+25.5) at Stanford Stanford, 35-7 Stanford, 41-14 Stanford, 44-7 Stanford, 38-10
Nevada (+10.5) at Cal Cal, 30-20 Cal, 30-23 Cal, 31-27 Cal, 28-21
Nicholls St (off) at Oregon St Oregon St, 31-10 Oregon St, 41-14 Oregon St, 41-7 Oregon St, 35-10
Colorado St (+6.5) vs. Colorado* Colorado, 14-13 Colorado, 17-13 Colorado, 27-20 Colorado, 10-7
Hawaii (+38) at USC USC, 49-13 USC, 48-16 USC, 55-10 USC, 56-7
Toledo (+10) at Arizona Arizona, 31-24 Arizona, 37-24 Arizona, 37-30 Toledo, 38-35
San Diego St (+14.5) at Washington Wash., 38-24 Wash., 33-20 Wash., 40-17 Wash., 42-17
Arkansas St (+35.5) at Oregon Oregon, 45-17 Oregon, 54-28 Oregon, 51-20 Oregon, 56-28

* - game played in Denver.

by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Related College Football Content

ACC Week 1 Previews and Predictions
Big East Week 1 Previews and Predictions

Big Ten Week 1 Previews and Predictions

Big 12 Week 1 Previews and Predictions

SEC Week 1 Previews and Predictions

College Football Week 1 Upset Picks

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Ranking All College Football Teams 1-124

Teaser:
<p> Pac-12 Week 1 Preview and Predictions</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 30, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC West, San Francisco 49ers, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/san-francisco-49ers-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The San Francisco 49ers check in at No. 2.

The 49ers blew their cover last season. They’re not going sneak up on anyone this year after making a stunning run to the NFC title game during coach Jim Harbaugh’s rookie season. The 49ers went 13–3 during the regular season, running away with the NFC West crown and establishing themselves as a defensive powerhouse. They opened the playoffs with a 36–32 victory over the Saints, then pushed the Giants to overtime in the NFC title game before falling 20–17.

Not bad considering that Harbaugh took over a 6–10 team and, thanks to the lockout, didn’t get to coach the 49ers until training camp opened.

Harbaugh set the bar ridiculously high, but no one should be stunned if the 49ers make another run deep into the NFC playoffs in his second season. Almost every starter from last year’s team is back, and the 49ers added some offensive weapons. They signed a trio of free agents — wide receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham and running back Brandon Jacobs — then used their top two draft picks on speedy Illinois wideout A.J. Jenkins and explosive Oregon running back LaMichael James.

Offense

Quarterback Alex Smith is coming off a career year, but that didn’t stop the 49ers from making a run at Peyton Manning. Smith ultimately signed a new three-year deal with the 49ers, but their pursuit of Manning made it clear Smith has more to prove before he’s considered the long-term answer. The 49ers have options at the position. They traded up in the second round last year to take Colin Kaepernick. This offseason they signed free agent Josh Johnson, a former Buccaneer who played for Harbaugh at the University of San Diego.

Smith had a career-high passer rating of 90.7 with 17 TD passes and a league-low five interceptions last season. But he posted those numbers running an ultra-conservative, run-dominated offense that ranked 29th in passing and struggled in the red zone and on third down.

The 49ers addressed their lack of talent and depth at wide receiver during the offseason, adding Moss, Manningham and Jenkins, who caught 90 passes as a senior. Moss sat out last season and is 35, but he has 954 catches for 14,858 yards and 153 TDs in his career. If he’s even a shadow of his former self, Moss will give Smith a legitimate deep threat. Manningham, who earned a Super Bowl ring last season with the Giants, gives Smith another big, sure-handed target. The new additions should take attention away from Michael Crabtree (72 catches), who does most of his work on short and intermediate routes, and Vernon Davis (67), who has 35 career TD catches, a franchise record for a tight end.

Harbaugh will have more weapons at wide receiver, but his offense will still revolve around Frank Gore and a power running attack. Gore rushed for 1,211 yards last season, and the 49ers’ rushing attack ranked No. 8 in the league. Gore will run behind a powerful offensive line that returns four of five starters — Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley, left guard Mike Iupati, center Jonathan Goodwin and right tackle Anthony Davis. The 49ers lost starting right guard Adam Snyder to Arizona as a free agent. Alex Boone, a backup tackle last year, Daniel Kilgore and rookie Joe Looney will wage a training camp battle for the starting job. The slippery Kendall Hunter rushed for 473 yards as a rookie and will provide a change-of-pace off the bench behind Gore. James and Jacobs give Harbaugh two more options in the backfield.

Defense

The 49ers return almost everyone from a defense that ranked fourth in total yards allowed and first against the run. That group includes three All-Pro picks — defensive lineman Justin Smith and linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman — as well as free safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Carlos Rogers, who were Pro Bowl picks. The only likely change in the starting lineup on defense is outside linebacker Aldon Smith, coming off a remarkable 14-sack rookie season, bumping Parys Haralson to a reserve role.

The 49ers’ 3-4 defense proved almost impossible to run against last season under first-year defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, allowing just 77.3 yards per game, and there’s no reason to believe that should change this year, not with Justin Smith, Willis and Bowman tackling everything that moves. Bowman, in just his second NFL season, led the 49ers with 143 tackles. Willis had 97, and the relentless Smith 58, along with 7.5 sacks.

As they did last season, the 49ers will try to stop the run, make opponents one-dimensional, then feast on interceptions and sacks. Last year they had 23 interceptions and 42 sacks. Rogers and Goldson had six interceptions apiece, while cornerback Tarell Brown had four. The 49ers ranked 16th against the pass, in part because opponents often abandoned the run, but also because the secondary was the weakest link on a shutdown defense. Rogers, Brown, Goldson and strong safety Donte Whitner can expect to be tested often.

Specialists

One of GM Trent Baalke’s best offseason decisions last year was the signing of free agent kicker David Akers. Akers and punter Andy Lee both set NFL records while earning All-Pro honors, and those two key weapons return for another season. Akers made an NFL single-season record 44 field goals. Lee averaged an NFL single-season record 44.0 net yards per punt. With the 49ers’ offense often struggling to get into the end zone, Akers was called on repeatedly to salvage three points. Lee, meanwhile, helped the 49ers consistently win the field possession battle.

The 49ers re-signed dangerous return man Ted Ginn Jr. Last year he became the first 49er and 12th player in NFL history to return both a kick and a punt for touchdowns in the same game. The 49ers place a huge emphasis on special teams, and the speedy Ginn gives special teams coordinator Brad Seely’s group a chance to score on every punt or kick.

Final Analysis: 1st in the NFC West

San Francisco, the only NFC West team to finish above .500 last year, is the clear favorite to win the division again, but matching or surpassing its 13–3 regular-season record isn’t likely. The 49ers have a brutal schedule that includes road games at New England, Green Bay, New Orleans and the New York Jets, as well as home games against the defending Super Bowl champion Giants and the up-and-coming Lions. The 49ers open the season against the Packers at Lambeau Field and play three of their first four games on the road.

The 49ers lived on the edge last year during their surprising run, coming from behind in the fourth quarter to win five times during the regular season, plus overcoming two fourth quarter deficits to beat the Saints in the playoffs. They also led the league with a remarkable plus-28 turnover margin. It’s unlikely the 49ers will match those numbers.

The defense is already built to win a Super Bowl. If the offense, with its new weapons, makes significant strides, then the 49ers will have a chance to take that final step.

Related: 2012 San Francisco 49ers Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Construction Zone
The 49ers under coach Jim Harbaugh consider themselves to be a blue-collar team, and they’ll be all but surrounded by blue-collar construction workers for the next few years. The 49ers broke ground in April on their new $1.2 billion stadium in Santa Clara, just across the street from team headquarters. “We’re a football oasis inside a construction zone,” Harbaugh says. “There are times when I can feel the jackhammer right underneath my desk. So I get to see it (being built) and feel it.” The new stadium is scheduled to open for the start of the 2014 season.

Catching On
Wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, a first-round pick from Illinois, caught 167 passes during his college career, putting his huge hands to good use. “In high school they called me E.T.,” Jenkins says. “Long hands, long fingers.” Jenkins says he could palm a basketball by the time he was 12 or 13 years old.

Football Reunion
Convincing free agent quarterback Josh Johnson to sign with the 49ers this year was hardly a tough sell for Harbaugh, who coached Johnson at the University of San Diego — where Johnson set career records for passing yards (9,699), touchdown passes (113), completions (724) and passing attempts (1,065). This is also a homecoming of sorts for Johnson, who went to high school across the bay from San Francisco at Oakland Tech.

Nowhere To Run
The 49ers went the first 14 games last season without allowing a rushing touchdown, the longest single-season streak to start a season in NFL history. They allowed just three rushing TDs all year, the fewest since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978.

An Award-winning Season
Defensive lineman Justin Smith earned All-Pro honors last season, but that tells only part of the story about the impact he made. Smith captured four of the 49ers’ most coveted team honors — the Len Eshmont Award (for “inspirational and courageous play”), the Hazeltine Iron Man Award (for “most courageous and inspirational defensive player”), the Bill Walsh Award (team MVP) and the Perry/Yonamine Unity Award (for “commitment to promoting unity and giving back to the community”).

Pro Bowl Steak
Linebacker Patrick Willis last season became the first player in 49ers history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first five NFL seasons. He has had at least 128 tackles every season except 2011 when he missed three games with a hamstring injury.

Football Field Of Dreams
Considering his baseball genes, it’s surprising that third-year wide receiver Kyle Williams wound up in the NFL instead of professional baseball. His father, Kenny Williams, is the long-time general manager of the Chicago White Sox and a former Major League outfielder. His older brother, Kenny Jr., and younger brother, Tyler, are both playing minor league baseball. Kyle Williams was drafted by the White Sox out of high school in the 47th round, but he played football at Arizona State before being drafted by the 49ers in the sixth round in 2010. Kyle, though, did have a family connection to football, too. His father played football at Stanford.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Buffalo Bills
No. 17: Tennessee Titans
No. 16: San Diego Chargers
No. 15: Cincinnati Bengals
No. 14: Philadelphia Eagles
No. 13: New Orleans Saints
No. 12: Dallas Cowboys
No. 11: Denver Broncos
No. 10: Detroit Lions
No. 9: Chicago Bears
No. 8: Atlanta Falcons
No. 7: Baltimore Ravens
No. 6: Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 5: New York Giants
No. 4: New England Patriots
No. 3: Houston Texans
No. 2: San Francisco 49ers
No. 1: Fri., August 31

Order your 2012 San Francisco 49ers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 San Francisco 49ers Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> San Francisco 49ers 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 30, 2012 - 05:30
Path: /college-football/college-football-betting-against-spread-thursday-night
Body:

I do not condone, approve or encourage gambling on sports in any way. Playing a $50 cash game with your buddies every Wednesday's is more about the experience than the net revenue. At least, that is the case for me.

But if you are a fan of football — college or pro — and you don't think gambling has played a huge role in the growth and popularity of the sport, then you are simply being ignorant. It's the giant gorilla in the room that both the NCAA and NFL has wisely chosen to keep at arm's reach. But make no mistake, behind closed doors, the powers that be understand the impact betting has had on the game of football.

As a member of the sports media for nearly a decade, I have always felt it a conflict of interest to gamble on a sport I have to objectively analyize for a living. (Of course, not having any money to spare makes that decision easy.) However, point spreads are extremely interesting statistics. Tracking a line's movement or how experts in Vegas feel about a game can be a great mearsuring tool as to how the masses perceive any given team or match-up. It gives us a standard to compare all upsets and only adds fuel to great rivalries or marquee showdowns.

So for entertainment purposes, every Friday morning, I will bring you my top college football picks against the spread. And since Thursday night is a special college football extravaganza, I thought I would toss you a few early bones for the night. 

2012 Record Against The Spread: 0-0

Note: All lines are as of date of publication

South Carolina (-6.5) at Vanderbilt
The Commodores bring a lot of confidence into this season after a quality bowl year last fall. But they have major holes to plug on defense and will be facing what could be the nation's top running back in Marcus Lattimore. Carolina is 17-4 all-time against Vandy and has won the last three meetings. And much like those games, the Gamecocks defense could be the story this time around. The Dores have scored one offensive touchdown total in those three losses and has scored 10 total points in the last two meetings. Steve Spurrier's bunch has outscored Vanderbilt 42-10 in the last two meetings. Look for Carolina to take control of the line of scrimmage in the second half on both sides of the ball and spoil West End's party on Thursday night. The line has finally dropped below a touchdown and that is all I need to get on board. Prediction: South Carolina (-6.5)

Washington State (+13) at BYU
There are plenty of storylines in this one. Mike Leach is beginning his tenure in Pullman by playing against his former university where he learned most of his gameplan from LaVell Edwards and Norm Chow. The Cougars of Provo were solid on defense statistically, but played few quality offenses a year ago. TCU and Utah were the top two units they faced last fall and BYU allowed 92 points in the two losses. Leach brings an offense that ranked ninth nationally in passing last fall and returns largely intact before he added his mad scientist system to the party. With a veteran quarterback and deep receiving corps, Leach should have no problem scoring points on Thursday night. The Cougars of Washington State could easily win this game outright, so take the points. Even if the betting public has dropped the line a point. Additionally, take the over. Prediction: Washington State (+13)

Minnesota (-8.5) at UNLV
The Gophers showed marked improvement on the field last season as the year went along. In the final month, the Gophers toppled Iowa and Illinois behind the big-play ability of dual-threat quarterback MarQueis Gray. He rushed for 327 yards and three scores in the final two games of the season, giving fans in the Twin Cities some cautious opitmism about the 2012 season. The Rebels are 4-21 under head coach Bobby Hauck, finished 118th in the nation in scoring defense (40.2 ppg) and 113th in scoring offense (17.3 ppg), return only three starters on defense and are picked to finish ninth in the Mountain West. This line seems way out of whack for a Big Ten team that appears to be improving. Minnesota should win easily. Prediction: Minnesota (-8.5)

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

College Football Week 1 Previews and Predictions:

Weekend on Tap: Picking the Top 10 Games of Week 1

ACC Week 1 Predictions and Preview
Big 12 Week 1 Predictions and Preview
Big East Week 1 Predictions and Preview
Big Ten Week 1 Predictions and Preview
Pac-12 Week 1 Predictions and Preview
SEC Week 1 Predictions and Preview

Teaser:
<p> College Football Betting Against the Spread: Thursday Night</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 30, 2012 - 05:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/2012-bcs-national-championship-predictions
Body:

No. 1 USC Trojans vs. No. 2 LSU Tigers.

It's the official Athlon Sports magazine prediction for the 2012 BCS National Championship showdown. Nine college football junkies sat in a room at the end of April arguing, scrapping, clawing and sometimes throwing things at each other in an effort to finalize the 2012 championship game match-up. In the end, the USC Trojans emerged as the company's pick to hoist the famed crystal ball at season's end. 

For the record, Athlon has picked two of the last four national champs correctly. We went against the norm and tabbed Florida in 2008 while picking Alabama to be the 2011 national champions was far less risky. In 2009, Athlon went back to the Gator well and picked Tim Tebow's squad once again, yet came up one game short of the title game. In 2010, the magazine pegged Alabama as a repeat champ but clearly picked the wrong team from the Yellowhammer State. (If you can prove you picked Auburn in 2010 with hard evidence, we will give you all the credit you deserve.) The 2007 USC Trojans were the last non-SEC team projected to win the whole thing — and let's be honest, 2007 was the most bizarre and unpredictable season in the last 15 years of play. Ohio State and LSU were third and seventh in the standings respectively the week before the final BCS release. Missouri and West Virginia fans were left wondering "what if?" while a two-loss LSU team claimed the national title.

That is what makes college football the greatest sport on the planet. But Athlon is digging deeper as the season is set to begin Thursday night. There have been suspensions, dismissals, injuries, coaching moves and more since the magazine went to press, so we asked our editors to offer their individual predictions for the 2012 BCS National Championship Game:

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): LSU vs. USC
Our magazine picked USC and LSU as the top two teams back in the spring, and I see no reason to change my prediction now that the season is about to begin. Sure, LSU took a hit when Tyrann Mathieu was kicked off the team, but this is still an elite team that is ultra talented on both lines of scrimmage. USC’s already potent offense added a nice piece in the summer when former All-Big Ten running back Silas Redd left Penn State to play his final season in L.A. The Trojans’ defense isn’t quite as stout as some of the other national championship contenders, but it’s far from a weakness. As long as the D remains relatively healthy, USC should be able to outscore every team on its schedule. BCS Champion: USC 28, LSU 21

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven): Alabama vs. USC
There’s not really one dominant team this season, so we could have a surprise team or two playing for the national championship. However, it’s hard to pick against a team from the SEC and USC. Alabama and LSU should be the top two teams from the SEC, and I like the Crimson Tide to edge the Tigers for the SEC West title. I like Georgia to win the East, but Alabama should win the matchup in Atlanta. USC’s depth is a major concern, but the offense is the best in college football, and the defense just needs to make timely stops. The Trojans may slip once during the regular season and beating Oregon (potentially) twice won’t be easy. However, USC is motivated after being on probation for the last two years, and a matchup between the Trojans and the SEC would be one of the most intriguing national championships in recent memory. Stopping Alabama’s rushing attack will be tough, but I think the Trojans find a way to edge the Crimson Tide for the national championship this season. BCS Champion: USC 27, Alabama 24

Braden Gall (@BradenGall): Oregon vs. Alabama
Here is how I see it playing out: USC and Bama enter Championship weekend unbeaten and poised to meet in the title game. Bama beats Georgia or South Carolina to finish 13-0 and clinch a trip to Miami Gardens. However, Oregon's defense and growth at quarterback will make their second trip south to Los Angeles more productive than their first. Not to mention with each passing week, the Men of Troy's depth issues are more and more likely to become a factor. With a 12-1 record and fourth-straight Pac-12 title, the pollsters will force the Ducks above an 11-1 LSU team — whose only loss will come at home at the hands of the Crimson Tide. There will be an overwhelming push from fans and national media against a second rematch with the exact same teams that will have met three times in 14 months. And this time, after knocking off the No. 1 team in the nation, I have no issue with the Ducks getting their crack at the SEC champions. Although, the outcome won't be much different. BCS Champion: Alabama 24, Oregon 20

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): LSU vs. USC
I had USC and LSU projected in the BCS Championship Game earlier this summer and still see those two powers as the best teams for the 2012 season. The Trojans possess college football’s top quarterback Matt Barkley, as well as the nation’s best pass catching unit with Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, George Farmer and tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble. With the addition of Penn State transfer Silas Redd at running back, the USC offense should be lethal. The only question on defense is the line, but there is enough young talent there to complement a loaded back seven. Defending SEC champion LSU will be stacked once again, but the Tigers will have a tougher road in getting to the national title tilt. I definitely see an SEC vs. Pac-12 matchup in the big game, with Oregon and Alabama challenging the Trojans and Tigers. But in the end, I’ll take Matt Barkley and the USC offense break the SEC’s streak of six consecutive national crowns. BCS Champion: USC 27, LSU 23

Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie): Oklahoma vs. USC
The reign of SEC national championships will soon come to and end. Is the SEC no longer the premier conference? I didn't say that. The SEC is still dominant, but Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, South Carolina and Georgia will trip over each other just enough to leave the door open for one of the "minor" conferences to slip in. Oklahoma will be there lurking, as the Big 12 champion, to earn the right to play USC for the national championship. With Landry Jones returning, Oklahoma is the most skilled and toughest team in the Big 12. But the Sooners' fun will end there. Defensively, OU will not be able to keep up with the potent attack of the Trojans. Quarterback Matt Barkley has a corps of receivers that may rival some NFL teams. BCS Champion: USC 37, Oklahoma 27

David Fox (@DavidFox615): South Carolina vs. Oregon
I’m having trouble picking between Alabama and LSU in the SEC West. I love the defenses for both schools, but I could see the inexperience in Tuscaloosa and the big-play absence of Tyrann Mathieu catching up to the Tide and Tigers at some point this season. That’s why I’m going out on a limb and picking South Carolina in the SEC. This is a team that reached unprecedented heights the last two seasons despite the drama surrounding Stephen Garcia at quarterback. Now that situation is stabilized under Connor Shaw. In all the attention Alabama and LSU received for their D, South Carolina’s defense was overlooked. And in the Pac-12, I’m swayed back to picking Oregon. USC’s depth, especially on the defensive line, remains a liability -- and it plays right into Oregon’s hands. Sure, it’s a risk to pick a team with a redshirt freshman quarterback, but it sounds like Marcus Mariota isn’t just a place holder or an average rookie quarterback. He’s potentially the best run-pass threat Oregon has had since Dennis Dixon in 2007, and without a marquee non-conference game to start the season, he’ll have time to grow into his role. BCS Champion: Oregon 28, South Carolina 21

Rob Doster (@AthlonDoster): Virginia Tech vs. Oregon
It seems foolish to leave the SEC out the discussion after Alabama earned the league’s sixth straight BCS championship this past January. But all of the teams at the top of most rankings have significant questions — at least significant enough to open the door for a surprise or two. The Hokies make their living on defense, and this year’s unit might be the best in ace coordinator Bud Foster’s tenure. Frank Beamer will make the special teams a priority once again after a few uncharacteristic breakdowns recently, and the offense features a Heisman candidate at quarterback in Logan Thomas. Throw in a weak conference, and you have the ingredients for a championship run. In the title game, they’ll collide with an Oregon Ducks team that once again boasts breathtaking talent at the skill positions and will essentially be playing a one-game schedule (a Nov. 3 tilt with USC). Two years after letting Cam Newton and Auburn off the hook, Chip Kelly and company will close the deal this time. BCS Champion: Oregon 31, Virginia Tech 24

Mark Ross, Athlon Sports: LSU vs. USC
Matt Barkley and the rest of the Trojans were kept out of the BCS bowls last season because of NCAA penalties. There's nothing holding them back this season, including the high-powered Oregon Ducks, who the Men of Troy will defeat in a high-scoring Pac-12 title game to earn a spot in the national championship tilt. There they will meet fellow undefeated LSU, who like the Trojans is also seeking some redemption after a embarrassing no-show in last season's BCS Championship game against SEC West rival Alabama. This season, the Tigers will put an end to the Crimson Tide's repeat hopes by beating them in the regular season and go on to defeat Georgia in the SEC title game to get another shot at that crystal football. Unfortunately, for the second straight season a quarterback dashes Les Miles and company's title dreams as Barkley leads the Trojans to victory to cap off a storybook senior season. BCS Champion: USC 27, LSU 17

Nathan Rush, Athlon Sports: LSU vs. USC
There will be a Hollywood ending for senior quarterback Matt Barkley and the Trojans, who will emerge from the dark shadows of NCAA sanctions into the glimmering light of BCS national championship crystal. Coach Lane Kiffin's team has too much firepower — with Barkley throwing the ball to gamebreakers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, and handing the rock off to Curtis McNeal and Penn State transfer Silas Redd. If Monte Kiffin's defense can hold strong against Oregon on Nov. 3, USC should be able to run the table. On the other side, LSU and Alabama will once again battle for SEC West supremacy. While the Tide attempt to find their sea legs with a new wave of talent, the Tigers return too many hungry veterans to be denied. Coach Les Miles' club will make a repeat trip to the BCS title game, where the Bayou Bengals will once again fall short. BCS Champion: USC 34, LSU 24

Interesting Factoids:

- A Pac-12 team was picked to play in the BCS title game by all nine editors.
- USC was picked by six editors to claim the BCS championship. The most of any team by far.
- Only one editor, Braden Gall, picked the SEC to win its seventh straight national title.
- Only two predictions didn't feature an SEC-Pac-12 match-up (Big 12 vs. Pac-12, ACC vs. Pac-12).
- LSU was picked to play in the title game by four editors. All four picked the Tigers to lose.
- Six editors picked the SEC to lose in the BCS title game. Something that has never happened in the BCS era.
- Eight of the nine editors picked the Pac-12 champion to win the national championship.

Teaser:
<p> 2012 BCS National Championship Predictions</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Houston Texans, NFL
Path: /nfl/houston-texans-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Houston Texans check in at No. 3.

The Texans have finally grown up. In the years prior to 2011, the franchise made small, incremental improvements from season-to-season but never fully got away from the two-steps-forward, one-step-back (or vice versa) routine. There was talent. There was potential. But the results never quite followed.

Until last season.

In 2011, potential was finally realized. The Texans went from pretenders to contenders, even as they suffered injury to key player after key player — Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Mario Williams among them. They prided themselves on their “next man up” philosophy and it served them well, all the way to the AFC Divisional Playoffs, where they fought tooth-and-nail with a third-string quarterback (T.J. Yates) in tow. So in 2012, it will be about the Texans taking the next step — to become a Super Bowl contender for the first time in the franchise’s history. 

Offense

After missing the last six regular-season games and both playoff games after undergoing foot surgery, Schaub says he’ll be 100 percent by the start of training camp. Schaub threw for more than 9,000 yards and 53 touchdowns in 2009 and ’10, playing all 16 games in both seasons. If he can play all 16 this year, the Texans will be bona fide Super Bowl contenders.

Houston returns the NFL’s top rushing tandem, Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Foster is coming off of back-to-back seasons of 1,200-plus yards and 10-plus touchdowns, while Tate rushed for 942 yards last season.

At receiver, the question remains if Johnson can play a full season — something he has failed to do in the last two years and in three of the past five. Last season, he played just seven games while battling a hamstring injury. The Texans’ offense proved that it can be productive without him, but it is clearly more dangerous with the two-time All-Pro in the lineup. Johnson and No. 2 receiver Kevin Walter aren’t getting any younger — both will be 31 when the season starts. After the Texans released Jacoby Jones, the No. 3 receiver spot is now up for grabs; expect rookies DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin as well as Lestar Jean to battle for that spot. Posey has plenty of ability and was able to post two 800-yards seasons despite playing mostly in a run-oriented offense at Ohio State. Martin has plenty of speed and might be the fastest receiver on the roster. Jean had an impressive training camp and preseason as a rookie last year before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. His route-running ability and knack for making acrobatic catches will make him hard to beat.

Tight end Owen Daniels should continue to be a reliable threat in the middle of the field. He’ll be joined by Garrett Graham, who will step in the place of former No. 2 tight end Joel Dreessen, who left via free agency for Denver.

The offensive line requires some rebuilding on the right side as the Texans cut tackle Eric Winston and lost guard Mike Brisiel to free agency. The left side is intact with tackle Duane Brown, guard Wade Smith and center Chris Myers all returning. Dererk Newton has been tabbed as Winston's replacement at right tackle, while Antoine Caldwell is in line to take Brisiel’s spot. Neither is a proven commodity as a starter. Rashad Butler and third-round pick Brandon Brooks provide depth on the line.

Defense

What a difference a year — and a new coordinator — made for Houston in 2011. In the Texans’ first year under Wade Phillips, the defense improved from 30th in the NFL in 2010 to second last year. Against the pass, the Texans went from worst in the league to third.

So what’s in store for Year 2 under Phillips? Expect the hits to keep on coming.

While the Texans waved goodbye to Williams — the former No. 1 overall pick who signed with Buffalo as a free agent — the loss may not be as significant as one would imagine. Williams is a premier pass-rusher, but the Texans accomplished much of their defensive success in 2011 with him on the sideline. He played just five games because of a torn pectoral muscle. Rookie Brooks Reed filled in for Williams admirably, picking up six sacks.

The Texans return their top four pass-rushers from a year ago — outside linebackers Connor Barwin (11.5 sacks) and Reed as well as ends Antonio Smith (6.5) and J.J. Watt (5.5). And being added to the mix is first-round pick Whitney Mercilus, who led the nation with 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles for Illinois in 2011.

Inside linebacker Brian Cushing, who was the team’s MVP last year, remains a stalwart in the middle of the Texans’ D, a high-energy player who sets the tone for the rest of the unit. The Texans did lose a locker room leader in the form of inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who was traded to Philadelphia. Darryl Sharpton split time with Ryans and showed the ability to make plays, but he isn’t the same caliber of leader. The Texans signed Bradie James, who played for Phillips in Dallas and has extensive experience in his 3-4 defense, as a free agent.

With the exception of cornerback Jason Allen’s departure via free agency, the secondary returns virtually intact. Pro Bowler Johnathan Joseph leads the way after a terrific first season with Houston. Kareem Jackson showed improvement in 2011 after a nightmarish rookie season, but he has to show that he can defend deep passes against quality receivers if the Texans are going to limit big plays. Danieal Manning returns to quarterback the defense at free safety.

Specialists

The Texans spent a fifth-round draft pick on Texas A&M placekicker and Houston-area product Randy Bullock to replace Neil Rackers. Bullock won the 2011 Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top collegiate kicker. Unfortunately a groin injury suffefed during training camp put an end to Bullock's first NFL season before it even got started, leaving veteran Shayne Graham in the placekicking role, at least for now. Free agent signee Donnie Jones will start out the year as the team’s punter since incumbent Brett Hartmann violated the league’s substance abuse policy and will be suspended for the first three games. Manning will once again handle kick return duties, but the punt return job is wide open after the team cut Jones. 

Final Analysis: 1st in the AFC South

After years of unrealized potential, the Texans finally showed last year that they can be the bully and win big games, even in dire circumstances. There are question marks in key spots on offense, particularly on the offensive line, but chances are the Texans will still be explosive on that side of the ball as long as Schaub and Foster remain healthy.

Defensively, there’s no reason to believe the pass rush can’t be as good or better in Year 2 under Phillips. The front seven is full of young, energetic guys, but the loss of Ryans means a new leader will need to step up (off the field more than on).

Bottom line: This is still the best team in an underwhelming AFC South. The Texans should be looking at a second consecutive divisional title and perhaps a run to the AFC title game — or, if things break right, maybe even New Orleans.

Related: 2012 Houston Texans Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

The Milkman
J.J. Watt’s productive rookie season not only won over a lot of Texans fans, but his teammates as well. Linebacker Connor Barwin took to his Twitter account in the days after the team’s wild card win over Cincinnati (in which Watt had an interception return for a touchdown) and gave Watt a new nickname: The Milkman. “JJ Watt’s new nickname is ‘The Milk Man’ ....because he always delivers! (and he’s white).” Barwin wasn’t done, following with the tweet: “He also really likes milk...he even orders it at restaurants.”

Pizza Boy
They may call Watt “The Milkman” now, but there was once a time where they called him “Pizza boy.” Watt was a tight end at Central Michigan before transferring to Wisconsin. He walked-on at UW and spent a summer as a Pizza Hut delivery man to offset the costs of losing his scholarship. He eventually earned a scholarship once he proved his worth to head coach Bret Bielema and became one of the top defensive linemen in the country before the Texans drafted him in 2011.

Relentless Rush
The Texans set a team record last year with 44 sacks, which ranked sixth-best in the league. The Texans should hover around that mark or even exceed it this year with most of their pass-rushers returning and the addition of rookie Whitney Mercilus.

No ‘Hard Knocks’
The team was offered a chance to appear on the HBO series “Hard Knocks” during its training camp but passed. Head coach Gary Kubiak is the private type when it comes to the team, thus there will be no cameras in the locker room or coaches’ offices at Reliant Stadium this fall.

On The Nose
Defensive tackle Shaun Cody became a hit with fans with his “On the Nose” show that appeared on the Texans’ web site last season. Cody, who is quick-witted and self-deprecating, filmed episodes that included a guest appearance from defensive end Antonio Smith dressed in full ninja attire (Smith’s sack dance is called the ‘Ninja Assassin’) and owner Bob McNair. Cody’s a comedian off the field but has been solid for the Texans on it as the nose tackle in their 3-4 alignment.

Beefing Up
Earl Mitchell, who split time with Shaun Cody at nose tackle last year, put on 21 pounds in the offseason to get up to 301 after playing at 287 in 2011. He has transformed his body quite a bit since being a 250-pound tight end in high school before switching to the defensive line at the University of Arizona.

Cushing’s Cuisine
Who has the strangest pregame ritual? According to defensive end Antonio Smith, it’s linebacker Brian Cushing. In a live chat with fans this offseason, Smith said Cushing eats grass before games. “When we’re on the field in warm-ups, he grabs a chunk of grass, chews it and spits it out.” 

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Buffalo Bills
No. 17: Tennessee Titans
No. 16: San Diego Chargers
No. 15: Cincinnati Bengals
No. 14: Philadelphia Eagles
No. 13: New Orleans Saints
No. 12: Dallas Cowboys
No. 11: Denver Broncos
No. 10: Detroit Lions
No. 9: Chicago Bears
No. 8: Atlanta Falcons
No. 7: Baltimore Ravens
No. 6: Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 5: New York Giants
No. 4: New England Patriots
No. 3: Houston Texans
No. 2: Thur., August 30

Order your 2012 Houston Texans Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Houston Texans Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Houston Texans 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /nfl/which-rookie-nfl-qb-will-win-most-games-2012
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Athlon Sports will preview the upcoming 2012 NFL season with in-depth roundtable debates with our editors and other experts from around the world of football.

Q: Which NFL rookie starting quarterback will win the most games in 2012?

Keith Myers, 12thManRising.com:
It may be a bit of a surprise, but I'd guess that Russell Wilson and the Seahawks end the season with the most wins of those teams with rookie QBs. The Seahawks are just built in a way that will allow them to win in spite of the rookie growing pains. That team is built around its defense and ability to run the football. It won’t need Wilson to put up huge numbers in order for it to win. I fully expect the Seahawks to push for a playoff spot, even with a rookie under center. 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall):
The smart money should be on Russell Wilson in Seattle or Robert Griffin III in Washington. Those are the best two teams surrounding any of the five rookie quarterbacks. However, ownership in D.C. makes me hesitant to pick the Redskins to accomplish anything and Wilson, for all of his amazing talents, is still a 5-foot-10 quarterback. Miami and Ryan Tannehill will easily be the worst of the bunch. But I am going to go out on a limb and say Andrew Luck and the Colts. He is a virtual carbon copy of Aaron Rodgers — in size, skillset, college town — and has a much better team around him than most are giving the Colts credit for. There are veterans in place and he plays in a division that is considered one of the weakest in the NFL. He is a once-in-a-lifetime prospect and was the No. 1 overall pick for a reason. If this team can somehow get to seven wins, Luck could have the best record of any starter.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven):
I think Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck will be the best rookie quarterback, but I think Seattle’s Russell Wilson will finish with the most victories. Yes, it’s the preseason, but it’s hard to ignore how Wilson has performed. In three games, the rookie has thrown for 464 yards and five touchdowns, while adding 150 yards and one score on the ground. With a solid defense and Marshawn Lynch leading the way on the ground, the Seahawks won’t have to ask Wilson to win games. Also, with a weak division (St. Louis and Arizona), Seattle has a chance to sneak into the postseason. The competition will get tougher in the regular season, but Wilson should have the Seahawks in contention for a wild card spot in the NFC this year.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman):
I think Andrew Luck will be the top performer in the rookie quarterback class, but Russell Wilson should end up with the most wins because of what is around him. The Seahawks have been a decent club over the last two years, unlike the other teams with rookie signal callers who all stunk last season. Seattle has a quality runner in Marshawn Lynch (seventh in the NFL with 1,204 yards in 2011), as well as a defense that finished in the top 10 in both yards and points per game last season. The Colts should be much better in 2012 with a coaching staff that will finally emphasize getting tougher in the run game and on defense. Indy and Seattle should finish in the six- to eight-win range, with a slight edge to the Seahawks and Wilson.

Rob Doster (@AthlonDoster):
My pick is the one guy on this list who doesn’t pass the “look test.” At 5-11, Russell Wilson is not anyone’s idea of an NFL prototype at the QB position, but he possesses some of the best intangibles (hunger, desire, leadership, moxie) in the game, and he’s inheriting the best situation of any rookie quarterback. The Seahawks won seven games last season and are only 19 months removed from a home playoff win. If his receivers play up to their potential — I’m looking at you, Golden Tate — Wilson can continue to defy critics and odds and win as many as eight games this season.

Mark Ross, Athlon Sports:
As of last week my answer would have been Robert Griffin III because of a stronger supporting cast, including defense, around him. However, that was until Seattle head coach Pete Carroll decided to shake things up and name Russell Wilson his starting quarterback. The Seahawks have a productive running game and a young and continually improving defense, but what will ultimately push Wilson ahead of RGIII in the win column this season is divisional play. The 'Hawks play in the NFC West, which is home to one legitimate Super Bowl contender, San Francisco, and two bonafide "pretenders" in Arizona and St. Louis. The 'Skins reside in the NFC East, home to the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants as well as Dallas and Philadelphia, two teams that could very well end up in the Super Bowl this season. Advantage Wilson and it's not even close. The difference in divisional competition alone is enough for me to project Wilson with more wins than RGIII or any other rookie starting quarterback this season.

Teaser:
<p> Which Rookie NFL QB Will Win the Most Games in 2012?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - 06:30
Path: /college-football/2012-heisman-trophy-watchlist-week-1
Body:

Each week, the Athlon editors vote on the most prestigious award in all of college football. A nine-man conglomerate of college football gurus from Athlon Sports will vote for their top Heisman Trophy candidates. The votes will be tallied and the result will be posted as the Athlon Sports Heisman Watch List every Wednesday of the regular season.

Voting: Each first place vote gets five points. A second place vote gets four points. So on and so forth with a fifth place vote getting one point. The voting will expand to 10 after the first weekend of action.

USC's Matt Barkley will enter the regular season as the prohibitive favorite to win the coveted stiff-armed trophy. But when was the last time the overwhelming preseason favorite actually hoisted the trophy? Sure, Matt Leinart, Ricky Williams and Ron Dayne were high profile players with lofty preseason expectations. But were any the clearcut No. 1 choice like Andrew Luck? Or Barkley? 

Having said that, the Trojan's signal caller wasn't a unanimous choice heading into Week 1. Barkley got seven of the nine first place votes and is still clearly Athlon's top choice to win the trophy. But Geno Smith and Marcus Lattimore each got one first place vote, creating some dissention within the Athlon ranks.

My personal favorite vote of the preseason Watch List? Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones. The reigning Outland Trophy winner has played three positions for two national championship teams and is arguably the best player in the SEC. 

1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC (Sr., 7 first place votes)
There is no reason to think Barkley won't, at minimum, be in New York at season's end as a Heisman finalist. Much like Luck last fall, he is clearly the nation's top quarterback and plays for a team that will post huge offensive numbers. The stats, marquee primetime showdowns, national title aspirations and extraordinary off-the-field persona are all written in boldface in his current Heisman resume. Frankly, the only wart on The Golden Boy's preseason bio is that he is the definitive pick to win the award. While that may seem counter intuitive on the surface, the favorite is rarely victorious at season's end.

  Name Pos. Team Total Pts 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
1. Matt Barkley QB USC 42 of 45 7 1 1 - -
2. Montee Ball RB Wisconsin 23 of 45 - 4 1 2 -
3. Denard Robinson QB Michigan 23 of 45 - 2 3 3 -
4. Marcus Lattimore RB South Carolina 21 of 45 1 - 3 3 1
5. Geno Smith QB West Virginia 11 of 45 1 - 1 - 3
6. Landry Jones QB Oklahoma 5 of 45 - 1 - - 1
7. Logan Thomas QB Virginia Tech 4 of 45 - 1 - - -
8. A.J. McCarron QB Alabama 2 of 45 - - - 1 -
9. Marquess Wilson WR Washington St 1 of 45 - - - - 1
10. De'Anthony Thomas AP Oregon 1 of 45 - - - - 1
11. Barrett Jones OL Alabama 1 of 45 - - - - 1
12. Aaron Murray QB Georgia 1 of 45 - - - - 1

2. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (Sr.)
It sends a great message to the college football world that the top two names on this list put the NFL on hold to return to college. And Ball did so after a historic season in Madison that will be extremely difficult to replicate. Three first-team All-Big Ten blockers, offensive wizard Paul Chryst and team leader Russell Wilson have all moved on from the Wisconsin offense. Ball should easily top 1,400 yards and 15 scores — but that would be 24 fewer touchdowns than last season. He should post huge numbers once again, but a return trip to NYC seems unlikely on a team that may lose four games.

3. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan (Sr.)
The most explosive athlete in the nation under center is the Wolverines signal caller. He will have plenty of marquee match-ups to prove his Heisman mettle as Michigan faces Alabama, Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan State and Notre Dame this year. And staying healthy — and undefeated — against that schedule is a tall order. Shoelace is another 1,300-yards from becoming the NCAA's all-time leading rusher from the quarterback position and should be in New York at season's end. But to win the award, Michigan will likely need to win the Big Ten — and the Alabama game.

4. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina (Jr.)
The most talented running back in the nation will be on full display on national TV this week against SEC opponent Vanderbilt. He has not dealt with any contact this summer, but the Gamecocks workhorse should need little time to get reacclimated with big time football. Lattimore is a special player with special talents and could be the driving force of an SEC title run by Steve Spurrier's bunch. Should Carolina make it to Atlanta – or further — then it will be on the broad and powerful shoulders of Lattimore. 

5. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia (Sr.)
My first place vote went to the rifleman from Morgantown, W.Va. He has a huge arm, a crazy-deep receiving corps, a mad genius drawing up plays and a chance at putting together some huge marquee performances. Smith could lead the nation in passing yards and touchdowns should things fall right and this would all but assure him a trip to The Big Apple come December. While a Big 12 title won't be mandatory for a Heisman run, an upset win over Oklahoma and/or Texas along the way wouldn't hurt. 

6. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech (Jr.)
A Cam Newton clone will have the stats and potential deep championship run to get him to NYC.

7. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma (Sr.)
The numbers should be huge if the receivers are more consistent and the running game stays healthy.

8. A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama (Jr.)
The offense will limit his statistical production but he could be the most important player on one of the nation's best teams.

9. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State (Jr.)
Has posted 137 rec., 2,394 yds and 18 TDs in two seasons without Mike Leach. Can you say Michael Crabtree?

10. De'Anthony Thomas, AP, Oregon (So.)
The most explosive, dynamic player in the nation should have plenty of highlights on his reel.

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> 2012 Heisman Trophy Watchlist: Week 1</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, New England Patriots, NFL
Path: /nfl/new-england-patriots-2012-nfl-team-preview
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Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The New England Patriots check in at No. 4.

After a rocky midseason stretch, with a near-loss to the Cowboys followed by back-to-back losses to the Steelers and the Giants following a week off, it appeared that a deep postseason run wasn’t in the cards for the Patriots last season. But New England bounced back on its rival’s home turf, thumping the Jets in prime-time on Nov. 13, and didn’t lose again until the Super Bowl. Only one of the teams they faced over the final eight weeks of the regular season made the playoffs, but the soft schedule allowed coach Bill Belichick to tinker with his lineups, get inexperienced players needed snaps, and for the team to weather some injuries.

With time to step back, Belichick took a hard look at his squad and has brought in over a dozen free agents, reminiscent of his early days in New England when he gave older or oft-injured players “prove it” deals. After last season, when a flawed team came so close to winning it all, it’s hard to argue that the new guys won’t get that chance.

Offense

Tom Brady threw for over 5,000 yards. Rob Gronkowski set new standards for tight ends. And the Patriots averaged over 30 points per game. So keep things status quo? Hardly.

New England is stockpiling wide receivers. The Pats signed Brandon Lloyd, who knows the team’s system from his time with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in both Denver and St. Louis, and also brought back Brady favorite Jabar Gaffney and Donté Stallworth. Wes Welker and Deion Branch will continue to be a big part of the attack.

After relying too heavily on Welker and, when he was still with the Pats, Randy Moss, in recent years, it seems Brady will be getting back to the early days of his career, when he said that his favorite receiver was the open one.

Once overlooked, Welker is now the prototype slot receiver in the NFL and remains one of Brady’s favorites, on and off the field. He caught 122 passes last season and has averaged 111 catches over the past five years. If Lloyd can live with having big stats one week and a quiet game the next, he will thrive in New England. Brady will be by far the best quarterback he has played with in his career.

Gaffney, who played with the Patriots from 2006-08, had career highs in both receptions (68) and yards (947) last year in Washington. Branch started 15 games last season and caught 51 passes for 702 yards and five scores. Chad Ochocinco was a huge disappointment in 2011. He caught only 15 passes and scored one touchdown in 15 games — and still seemed unsure of where to line up during the Super Bowl.

There’s no telling how Gronkowski will be affected after losing a large chunk of the offseason to recovery from ankle surgery. But he didn’t have a true offseason last year — due to the lockout — and still managed to catch 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. Gronkowski already has some saying he could be the best ever at the tight end position. He is nearly impossible to cover down the field, and he is also an adept blocker.

In Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, a hybrid who has lined up everywhere for New England from out wide to in the slot to the backfield, the Pats feature the best tight end tandem in the league. Hernandez caught 79 passes for 910 yards in his second season in the league.

The running game will likely again be by committee, with Stevan Ridley the favorite to be the primary ball-carrier. Ridley finished his rookie season on a down note, with fumbles in back-to-back games, but he showed explosion when he got his chances. Fellow second-year back Shane Vereen will be looking to redeem himself after a rookie season lost to injury.

The offensive line will look different — for the first time in over a decade Matt Light won’t be manning left tackle. In his place will be second-year pro Nate Solder, who was drafted in 2011 to eventually succeed Light.  

Defense

The top priority in the offseason for Belichick was to address the team’s defense, a group that ranked 31st in the NFL last season. Specifically, he improved the pass rush at the end position — signing free agent Trevor Scott, and drafting Chandler Jones and Jake Bequette.

Fixing the front seven is what’s needed. The secondary drew much of the criticism, a given when a team allows over 4,700 passing yards as the Pats did in ’11. But an average-at-best group of corners and safeties are going to look bad when asked to cover too long because the pass rush can’t create pressure. It’s unavoidable.

The linebacking corps also got a boost with the addition of Dont’a Hightower in the first round. Hightower, who played for Nick Saban at Alabama, is a smart, versatile player whose presence may allow Jerod Mayo to use his athleticism more. Brandon Spikes, when he’s been on the field, has been a thumper in the run game, but his biggest problem has been staying on the field (suspension 2010, injury 2011).

That oft-maligned secondary will see some changes. Cornerback Ras-I Dowling, who started his first game as a rookie but missed the final 14 to injury, will be back and team with Kyle Arrington. Devin ­McCourty is likely looking at a permanent switch to safety. Sterling Moore, the hero of the AFC Championship Game, returns, though he’ll be pressed by rookie Alfonzo Dennard. New England also picked up savvy veteran slot corner Will Allen.

Specialists

Stephen Gostkowski remains reliable in the kicking game. The sixth-year pro converted 28-of-33 field goal attempts last and made 10-of-13 from beyond 40 yards. Punter Zoltan Mesko built on a solid rookie season last year, averaging 46.5 yards per kick. Julian Edelman is a consistently solid punt returner and might be a top candidate to fill the kickoff return job as well.

Final Analysis: 1st in the AFC East

With Belichick and Brady in control of the Patriots, the playoffs have become routine; they went 13–3 last year and nearly won the Super Bowl despite a defense that gave up 21.4 points per game. It was perhaps Belichick’s best coaching work to date.

In 2012, they have a schedule that on paper is the easiest in the NFL, a strong offense that has been bolstered in free agency, and a defense that has undergone an extreme makeover.

This year, the playoffs are almost a given. It’s what happens in January and February that will define this club. In 2007, Belichick signed and acquired big names, and the Patriots came within a few minutes of an undefeated season. This year, he’s signed big names and drafted potential stars. This team is the class of the AFC. Anything short of a trip to the Super Bowl will be a disappointment. 

Related: 2012 New England Patriots Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Super Stat
Tom Brady had 27 completions in the Super Bowl XLVI loss to the Giants to set the NFL record for most completions in postseason history with 499, moving past Brett Favre (481). Brady added 276 passing yards to push his postseason total to 5,285 yards, fourth best in NFL history.

Krafting A Winner
The Patriots’ 23–20 win over Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game was their 28th playoff game since Robert Kraft purchased the team in 1994. New England’s 19 playoff victories over that span are the most in the NFL (Pittsburgh has 17). The Pats also lead the league in total victories (212), Super Bowl titles (three), conference championships (six), and division championships (11) since Kraft purchased the team.

Keeping Up With The Joneses
To say that first-round draft pick Chandler Jones comes from an athletic family is an understatement. Oldest brother Arthur is a top defensive line reserve for the Ravens, and middle brother Jon “Bones” Jones is the UFC light middleweight champion.

Pass? Not this time
Head coach Bill Belichick has made trading down and collecting draft picks into a cottage industry. But not this year. New England had two first-round picks thanks to a trade with New Orleans during the 2011 draft, and Belichick moved up from both to snag Jones and Dont’a Hightower. The last time he traded up in the first round was in 2003, when the Pats moved up one spot to get Ty Warren.

Nate Who?
Defensive back Nate Ebner is a former national-level rugby standout who didn’t play a down of high school football, walked on at Ohio State and was a special teams demon. Still, Ebner had few designs on being drafted until opening eyes at OSU’s Pro Day. Now he’s a sixth-round NFL pick and heading to training camp with New England.

140 Characters or Fewer
Chad Ochocinco may not have given the Pats much on the field, but off it he convinced Wes Welker to join Twitter. Within days, Welker had racked up tens of thousands of followers, and among other things, the Pats’ franchise player has used the medium to wryly express his desire for a long-term contract. When the Patriots tweeted him happy birthday wishes in May, he responded, “Guess what would be the perfect Birthday gift? :)”

Service With A Smile
Despite wearing a gray hoodie and not the standard blue polo shirt, defensive back Sterling Moore was mistaken for a Best Buy employee twice in one visit to a Massachusetts store last year. The irony was that as a teenager in Pittsburg, Calif., Moore actually did work at Best Buy. 

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Buffalo Bills
No. 17: Tennessee Titans
No. 16: San Diego Chargers
No. 15: Cincinnati Bengals
No. 14: Philadelphia Eagles
No. 13: New Orleans Saints
No. 12: Dallas Cowboys
No. 11: Denver Broncos
No. 10: Detroit Lions
No. 9: Chicago Bears
No. 8: Atlanta Falcons
No. 7: Baltimore Ravens
No. 6: Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 5: New York Giants
No. 4: New England Patriots
No. 3: Wed., August 29

Order your 2012 New England Patriots Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 New England Patriots Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> New England Patriots 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: New York Giants, NFC, NFC East, NFL
Path: /nfl/new-york-giants-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The New York Giants check in at No. 5.

It was as if lightning struck twice in the same spot on the same day four years apart. That’s how similar the Giants’ surprise 2011 championship season was to their incredible 2007 run.

And when it happened again, when they made it two Super Bowl championships in five seasons, the Giants should’ve been branded an NFL powerhouse and a franchise on the verge of becoming a dynasty. Instead, they have the same questions they left open the last time they were defending champions:

Are they on the verge of greatness? Or was the whole thing just a fluke?

That may be an insulting question to the defending champs, but it’s one they’re going to have to answer this season. Are they the team that was struggling at 7–7 just before Christmas, or the team that went on a 6–0 roll for the ages through Green Bay, San Francisco and then the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI?

They return most of the starters from the team that won it all. They just need to prove that they were more than an average team that got hot at exactly the right time.

Offense

Eli Manning backed up his words and proved he is “elite” entering 2012, vaulting himself into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks. His 4,933 yards, 29 touchdowns and 61 percent completion rate were things the Giants had dreamed of since the blockbuster draft-day trade in 2004. The fact that he dropped his interception total from 25 to 16 was a welcomed change, too.

Of course, the doubters never cease, so the big question is: Can he do it again? Can he carry the Giants again? He helped an unknown, undrafted receiver in Victor Cruz (82 catches, 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns) become a star. He overcame a shaky, injury-riddled offensive line and the NFL’s worst rushing attack. He was the reason they survived early on and then thrived late in the season.

Can everyone else join him on the elite level? It won’t be easy, because there are some missing pieces. The most notable absence is receiver Mario Manningham, who left as a free agent and left a hole on the outside opposite Hakeem Nicks. Presumably that hole will be filled by Rueben Randle, a second-round pick out of LSU. His presence will allow Cruz to stay in the slot, where he’s as dangerous as they come.

The running game remains a big question, though. The loss of Brandon Jacobs (152 carries, 571 yards) to free agency isn’t a big one, especially since they replaced him with a first-round pick (David Wilson of Virginia Tech). But Ahmad Bradshaw has a history of foot and ankle injuries and is still recovering from yet another offseason “procedure” on his foot. Also, Bradshaw’s average of 3.9 yards per carry in 2011 was the lowest of his five-year career.

There’s no guarantee the rushing attack will be any better this season. That puts everything on “Elite” Eli’s shoulders again.

Defense

If there’s any area emblematic of how schizophrenic the Giants were last season, it’s the defense, which was beyond awful at times, and brilliant when it counted. They managed to shut down three pretty potent offenses in the playoffs — the Falcons, Packers and Patriots — and displayed a devastating pass rush throughout. Yet the defense ranked only 27th during the regular season and was a big reason why the team almost missed the playoffs.

One thing they clearly have, when healthy, is one of the best pass rushes in the league. Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5 sacks) and Osi Umenyiora (nine) were a devastating duo, and Justin Tuck is their most complete end. Chris Canty knows how to get pressure from the inside at tackle.

It’s the rest of the defense that could be an issue. The Giants have a linebacking corps with talent — Michael Boley, Mathias Kiwanuka, newly acquired Keith Rivers and speedy Jacquian Williams — but no true middle linebacker and no real impact player. In the secondary, they have cornerback Corey Webster and safety Antrel Rolle, but their hopes are pinned on Terrell Thomas’ attempt to return from a torn ACL, Prince Amukamara’s recovery from a foot injury, and safety Kenny Phillips’ attempt to rediscover his explosiveness in a contract year.

The secondary played very well during the playoff run, but Perry Fewell’s defense is only as good as its pass rush. If Tuck and Umenyiora can stay healthy, and Pierre-Paul can continue his march toward what seems to be an inevitable Defensive Player of the Year award, the defense will be as good as any in the league. If the pass rush falters, the Giants could be in a lot of high-scoring games.

Specialists

One year after they ­couldn’t survive the foibles of a shaky rookie punter, the Giants found one they want to keep in Steve Weatherford, who was a rock on special teams. He had a brilliant season, showing a stronger-than-expected leg and a Jeff Feagles-like knack for hitting the sidelines and the corners of the field. That had a remarkably settling effect on the Giants’ special teams, which had been one of their biggest problems in 2010. The coverage improved dramatically and opposing return men didn’t seem so dangerous anymore.

The Giants’ return men weren’t very dangerous either, though. They hope Domenik Hixon can make it back from a second ACL tear. More likely, however, the Giants will hand return duties to a couple of speedy second-year players in Jerrel Jernigan and Da’Rel Scott.
Lawrence Tynes has been both consistent and clutch in his years with the Giants. The team’s last two trips to the Super Bowl were clinched on his overtime kicks in the NFC Championship Game. 

Final Analysis: 1st in the NFC East

Here’s the lesson from last season: Count out the Giants at your own risk. They are talented. They are resilient. They are well-coached. And they have an internal clock that lets them know when it’s crunch time. They came back from a fourth quarter deficit to win seven times last season, including in Super Bowl XLVI. They came back from the brink of elimination with a run for the ages that began on Christmas Eve. And here’s something to note: Four years ago their remarkable run to the Super Bowl XLII championship didn’t end at their parade. They opened the following season on an 11–1 run and might’ve won it all had Plaxico Burress not infamously shot himself in the leg.

Assuming nothing like that happens again, the Giants should be considered the favorites in the NFC East and a true Super Bowl contender. Whether they win it all will depend on health and whether they can get hot again late in the season. But they’ll be in the hunt. There are no signs that this team is going away.

Related: 2012 New York Giants Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Live from New York … 
After winning his second Super Bowl (one more than his brother), Eli followed his brother Peyton into the spotlight at Studio 8H and became the 10th NFL personality (nine players and John Madden) and fifth quarterback to host “Saturday Night Live.” He had turned down the job in 2008, months after Peyton hosted, because, Eli said, “Peyton had done so well. I thought it might be a little fresh in everyone’s mind.”

No Pressure, Kid
When the Giants took tight end Adrien Robinson in the fourth round, Giants GM Jerry Reese called him “The JPP of tight ends.” That’s a tough moniker to live up to, considering “JPP” is Jason Pierre-Paul, a raw rookie in 2010 who is now one of the best defensive players in the NFL. In four years at Cincinnati, Robinson caught 29 passes.

Mission Accomplished 
Has anyone ever come from farther out of nowhere than Victor Cruz? The former undrafted free agent caught 82 passes for a franchise-record 1,536 yards last season. His goal before the year started? “To catch a pass in a game that mattered,” he said.

Still Waiting
The Giants traded for a former first-round linebacker, Keith Rivers, but they still didn’t draft one of their own. That makes 28 consecutive drafts for the Giants without taking a linebacker in Round 1. Their last one? Carl Banks in 1984.

From Butter To Glue
In 2010 the Giants’ season disintegrated in a mess of turnovers — 42 to be exact — which was very unusual for a Tom Coughlin team. In 2011 they nearly cut the number in half, dropping to 24 and having a plus-7 turnover ratio. In the postseason they were even better — one interception, no fumbles, plus-6 in four games.

Airing It Out
The Giants had the NFL’s worst rushing offense in 2011, and the big-play part of their game disappeared. One year earlier they were second in the NFL with 23 runs of 20 yards or more. Last year? An NFL-worst four. Of course, the Giants were fifth in the league with 67 pass plays of 20-plus yards.

Breaking Up The Band
From 2007-09, David Diehl, Rich Seubert, Shaun O’Hara, Chris Snee and Kareem McKenzie set a post-NFL merger record, starting 38 straight regular-season games together as an offensive line. Now only Diehl and Snee remain, and only Snee (right guard) will still be playing in the same position this season.

Bonus Picks
The Giants feel like they have two No. 1 and two No. 2 draft picks joining the team this year because their top two picks in 2011 had lost seasons. Cornerback Prince Amukamara, the first rounder, lost all of training camp and nine regular-season games with a broken foot. Defensive tackle Marvin Austin, the second-round pick, was sidelined for the entire season with a torn pectoral muscle. Austin also missed his senior season of college while serving a suspension, so he hasn’t played football since 2009. 

 

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Oakland Raiders
No. 22: Washington Redskins
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks
No. 20: Carolina Panthers
No. 19: New York Jets
No. 18: Buffalo Bills
No. 17: Tennessee Titans
No. 16: San Diego Chargers
No. 15: Cincinnati Bengals
No. 14: Philadelphia Eagles
No. 13: New Orleans Saints
No. 12: Dallas Cowboys
No. 11: Denver Broncos
No. 10: Detroit Lions
No. 9: Chicago Bears
No. 8: Atlanta Falcons
No. 7: Baltimore Ravens
No. 6: Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 5: New York Giants
No. 4: Tues., August 28

Order your 2012 New York Giants Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 New York Giants Schedule Analysis

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Post date: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - 06:00

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