Articles By Braden Gall

All taxonomy terms: AC100, Recruiting, College Football
Path: /college-football/recruiting-2008-top-100-busts
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

Recruiting rankings are inexact science and even the experts will admit that. It is virtually impossible to measure heart, work ethic, mental focus and self-awareness in 17- and 18-year old kids. Especially, in the face of the most important decision they will ever make.

As National Signing Day looms next Wednesday, Athlon Sports finalized its Athlon Consensus 100 for the Class of 2012 yesterday. It is the fifth annual conglomerate recruiting top 100 for Athlon and even as the truest, most accurate recruiting ranking, there are still plenty of massive busts.

And the debut of the list back in 2008 featured plenty wastes of talent – particularly at the running back and wide receiver position. And don’t ask Dan Hawkins about his 2008 Buffaloes haul, either.

Here are the biggest busts from the 2008 AC100:

1. Lynn Katoa, LB, AC100 No. 76
Salt Lake City, UT (Colorado)

Katoa got his college career off to a “rocky” start when the Buffaloes linebacker was placed on probation after an off-campus fight in 2008 in which he hit a man in the head with a rock. He violated the terms of his sentence by skipping his substance-abuse monitoring and was sent to jail’s work-release program the following March. He was forced to transfer to an Arizona junior college after Colorado cut him due to academic ineligibility. And four months after his sentencing in the original fight, the troubled linebacker was arrested a second time on third-degree assault outside a Boulder bar. He was held on $2,500 bond at Boulder County Jail. Then in January of 2011, Katoa became one of Boulder's most wanted after being wanted for two counts of second degree assault, two counts of third degree assault, criminal mischief and one count of false reporting to authorities.

2. Boubacar Cissoko, CB, AC100 No. 52
Detroit, MI (Michigan)

The former Wolverine cornerback is currently in prison for committing three thefts and an attempted robbery. To top it off, Cissoko was accused of assaulting three Washtenaw Country jail employees while awaiting sentencing back in July of 2010. He admitted to stealing money from two food deliverymen in Ann Arbor and grabbing money from a cab driver in Ypsilanti in March of 2010. He was also accused of attempted robbery with a pellet gun in Ann Arbor in April of 2010. He was dismissed from Michigan in October of 2009 for violating unspecified team rules twice in 2009.

3. DeVoe Torrence, ATH, AC100 No. 57
Massillon, OH (Akron)

Torrence had been committed to Ohio State before rape charges were brought against the star recruit by Stark Country. The one-day trial ended in a clearing of his arrest due to insufficient evidence as a number of Massillon players were under investigation for sexual misconduct with minors. The sixth-grade girl in question changed her testimony during the trial. Torrence signed with Akron and rushed for 146 yards as a freshman before Rob Ianello announced he would not be returning to the team in March of 2010.

4. Aldarius Johnson, WR, AC100 No. 30
Miami, FL (Miami)

As part of the state champion “Northwestern 8” to sign with Miami (which didn't include future Nebraska star LaVonte David), Johnson entered college as part of the best wideout class in history. He was ranked as the No. 6 receiver in the nation — behind names like Julio Jones, AJ Green, Floyd and Baldwin. Johnson caught 31 passes for 332 yards and three scores as a freshman, but saw all three statistics decline four straight years until being suspended for his final season due to Nevin Shapiro allegations. Johnson has declared for the NFL Draft in 2012.

5. Darryl Stonum, WR, AC100 No. 46
Sugar Land, TX (Michigan)

After 76 career receptions, 1,008 career yards and Michigan’s single-season kick return record of 1,001 yards (2009), Stonum was dismissed from the Wolverines on January 18, 2011. He violated his probation by driving on a suspended license, stemming from multiple arrests. In September of 2008, Stonum was first arrested for operating a vehicle while visibile in impaired. He violated that probation, landing him in jail for three days during the summer of 2010. Then in May of 2011, Stonum received his second DUI while at Michigan and was suspended for the entire 2011 season. His third incident forced Brady Hoke to dismiss the talented but troubled wideout.

6. Kavario Middleton, TE, AC100 No. 44
Lakewood, WA (Washington)

Less than three weeks before the start of camp in 2010, Middleton was dismissed from the Huskies for violating team rules. Drug, attitude and effort issues have all been cited as reasons why Washington had to cut ties with Middleton. After a promising sophomore season in 2009, Middleton completely failed to realize his obvious physical potential. He attempted to enroll at Nebraska but could not meet requirements and landed at Montana. He could be a late-round draft pick this spring.

7. Josh Jarboe, WR, AC100 No. 63
Decatur, GA (Oklahoma)

The gun-toating, troubled wideout won’t be a bust for Gus Malzahn at Arkansas State after a 54-catch, 730-yard, 2-TD junior season in Jonesboro. It just took him three schools to get to the Red Wolves after signing with Oklahoma initially. He was charged with two felonies, including having a weapon on school property, and dropped from the Sooners. He landed at Troy for two seasons before Larry Blakeney had to kick the sophomore off the team. He enrolled at Northeast Community College before signing with Arkansas State in 2011.

8. Darrell Scott, RB, AC100 No. 3
Oxnard, CA (Colorado)

Scott was originally from Tallahassee and lived in Texas before landing at Moorpark High School in California. Apparently, his parents shopped him to private high schools after a 3,194-yard junior season. He landed at St. Bonaventure where he became the No. 1 running back prospect in the nation. He signed with Colorado and complained during his first two seasons about lack of touches. He announced he would be transferring to UCLA, however, the Bruins didn’t want the tailback and Scott landed at USF. He did have his best season in 2011 with 814 yards and five touchdowns. But for a kid who played at multiple high schools and multiple colleges before leaving early for the NFL, the No. 1 RB in the nation has to be considered a bust — especially in Boulder.

9. Jameel Owens, WR, AC100 No. 45
Muskogee, OK (Oklahoma)

After catching four passes as a true freshman for Oklahoma, Owens redshirted in 2009 and transferred mid-semester to Tulsa. He caught 18 passes for 246 yards and six touchdowns in 2010 before taking a leave of absence from the team in the spring of 2011. Head coach Bill Blankenship announced in April that Owens would not be returning to the team in 2011. Owens was the No. 9-rated wideout in the nation in a class that might be considered the best WR class in history.

10. Jermie Calhoun, RB, AC100 No. 8
Van, TX (Oklahoma)

In four full years in Norman, Okla., the nation’s No. 2 running back played in 14 of the possible 40 games. He didn’t see the field one time in 2011 and prompted a transfer to Angelo State early in the year. Calhoun touched the ball 11 times in 2010 before tearing his ACL. He has scored one career touchdown and posted career highs of 18 carries and 94 yards back in 2009 against Texas A&M. It is the only game Calhoun has received more than nine touches and more than 45 yards from scrimmage.

11. Justin Johnson, RB, AC100 No. 89
Gilmer, TX (Oklahoma)

After one year in Norman, Okla., Johnson transferred to Abilene Christian for the 2009 seasons. He played in seven games for ACU, carrying 31 times for 103 yards. He transferred and sat out the 2010 season at his second school in Abilene, Texas: McMurry University. He rushed for 771 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011.

12. Blake Ayles, TE, AC100 No. 11
Orange, CA (USC)

The SoCal product was the nation’s No. 1 tight end recruit back in 2008 and never lived up to the hype while at USC. In three years at Southern Caolifornia, Ayles caught 14 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown before transferring to Miami. He was slated to compete for a starting role in 2011 before a second concussion likely ended his college career. He did not play a single snap in 2011. Hey, at least he isn’t in jail.

13. Deion Walker, WR, AC100 No. 67
Christchurch, VA (Notre Dame)

The highly-touted pass catcher simply never was good enough to contribute for the Irish. Walker has played in seven career games in four years and has caught one career pass for 15 yards. Certainly, the Irish have had elite talents at wide receiver, but one career reception defines the term bust.

14. Brandon Barnes, ATH, AC100 No. 98
Bunn, NC (NC State)

The talented do-everything prep athlete has played in five games in his four-year Wolfpack career (one redshirt year). He has totaled 31 touches for 131 yards from scrimmage and will enter his senior year third on the depth chart behind James Washington and Tony Creecy.

15. Brenden Beal, LB, AC100 No. 71
Bethlehem, PA (Florida)

Beal redshirted his freshman year at Florida after suffering an ACL injury and did not see the field in 2009. He sat out 2010 after transferring to Minnesota but missed the entire 2011 campaign with a knee injury. Fans can call it bad luck or misfortune, but from a recruiting perspective, Beal has been a bust.

16. Will Hill, S, AC100 No. 5
West Orange, NJ (Florida)

Hill played on a national championship team and actually made 48 tackles back in 2008 as a freshman. So he isn’t really a total bust. However, his charming personality, mixed with the fact that he was the No. 1 safety prospect in the nation, lands Hill on this list. He finished with four career interceptions, posted 143 total career tackles and left Florida early to enter the NFL Draft after three years. He was not selected in the 2011 Draft and signed with the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League. Hill may not belong on a the same list as prison inmates, but his intriguing twitter feed alone deserves a mention. Note: the EDSBS article includes graphic information.

17. Aundre Dean, RB, AC100 No. 54
Katy, TX (UCLA)

The No. 6-rated running back in the nation played in six games for UCLA as a freshman before transferring back to the Lone State State and TCU. Dean earned TCU Offensive Scout Team MVP honors in 2009 and has played the last two seasons for the Horned Frogs. However, Dean has managed only 353 yards on 63 carries over the last two seasons in Ft. Worth. He has played in 20 of the possible 26 games, but got a touch in only 13 of those 20 games. With Ed Wesley, Waymon James and Matthew Tucker returning, Dean should be limited once again in 2012.

18. Dayne Crist, QB, AC100 No. 20
Sherman Oaks, CA (Notre Dame)

The California product has never been able to stay healthy. After showing solid promise to start the 2010 season (2,033 yards in eight games), Crist suffered his second ACL tear and has never been the same since. He has graduated and will compete for the starting job at Kansas under former head coach Charlie Weis next fall. He was the No. 2 quaterback in the nation in 2008, trailing only Terrelle Pryor in the QB rankings. He has the chance to change his legacy in 2012, but has never come close to fulfilling his lofty recruiting status.

19. Lamaar Thomas, ATH, AC100 No. 68
Fort Washington, MD (Ohio State)

One of the fastest players on the Buckeyes roster, Thomas proved he was capable of contributing in his first two seasons with a 20.9 kickoff return average on 18 attempts in 2009. However, "Flash" failed to grasp the wide receiver position and eventually transferred to New Mexico. He sat out 2010 and played in four games in 2011, catching nine passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns to go with 10 rushes for 50 yards.

20. Terrelle Pryor, QB, AC100 No. 1
Jeannette, PA (Ohio State)

It's hard to label a kid with his numbers, wins and production a bust, but TP2 threw away a chance to play for a national title as a senior for a little extra ink. He, and his teammates', actions led to Ohio State vacating the entire 2010 seasons (wins and dollars) and forced head coach Jim Tressel to retire. However, Pryor's decisions have led to Urban Meyer landing in Columbus, so maybe Buckeyes fans need to thank TP2 for affiliating with federally investigated drug dealers.

Teaser:
<p> Who were the biggest busts of the 2008 Athlon Consensus 100?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: AC100, Recruiting, College Football
Path: /college-football/recruiting-rankings-2012-athlon-consensus-100-finalized
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

The 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 is finalized.

Like it is every recruiting cycle, the final revamping of Athlon’s top-100 is always the most volatile. The national, regional and state all-star games allow scouts to see the best compete against equivalent talent, sometimes for the first time in their careers. Thus, it creates rapid risers and late fallers in the recruiting rankings.

All six major recruiting services have totally reworked and finalized their rankings for the class of 2012, and the AC100 reflects that. As National Signing Day 2012 inches closer, the ink is now dry on the 2012 recruiting rankings permanently. There are plenty of new faces in the AC100, but the name atop the rankings remains the same.

Dorial Green-Beckham Still No. 1

Green-Beckham, a 6-foot-6, 230-pound receiver, debuted atop the AC100 back in the summer and never fell off the top spot. In fact, he widened the gap as the nation’s best player by adding two additional first place votes. Offense-Defense and Scout.com named the Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest wide receiver as the No. 1 prospect in the nation, while Rivals.com and NCSA left DGB atop their lists. He finished as the No. 2 player in the nation by 247Sports.com and No. 3 in the nation by ESPN.

Green-Beckham is planning on a National Signing Day announcement and took his second official visit last weekend to Arkansas. He has visited Texas officially, but Missouri, Oklahoma and the Razorbacks appear to hold a slight edge over Texas and Alabama. The star wideout claimed co-MVP honors in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl two weeks ago after scoring on a USAAA bowl-record 79-yard touchdown reception.

There was plenty of movement around DGB, however, as three names dropped out of the top 10. Tempe (Ariz.) Corona Del Sol blocker Andrus Peat dropped from No. 5 to No. 23. Jacksonville (Fla.) Bolles lineman John Theus, who is committed to Georgia, fell from No. 8 to No. 13. And Raleigh (N.C.) Millbrook running back Keith Marshall, formerly the top running back in the nation, dropped from No. 6 to No. 16. Marshall is also headed to Georgia. Hueytown (Ala.) quarterback Jameis Winston also fell from No. 10 to No. 15.

The biggest jump into the top 10 came from Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek blocker D.J. Humphries, who went from No. 17 to No. 3. The future Florida Gator is now the nation’s No. 1 offensive lineman. A pair of defensive tackles, Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate’s Eddie Goldman (previously No. 13) and Brenham’s (Texas) Malcom Brown (previously No. 24) , both finished 2012 as top-10 players.

Olney (Md.) Good Councel athlete Stefon Diggs, who recently visited Florida, made a big jump from No. 11 to No. 5. Diggs has stated he will wait until after NSD to sign but proved in San Antonio that he is one of the nation’s most dynamic football forces.

Biggest Risers and New Faces

There are 16 new faces in the Athlon Consensus 100 – by the far the biggest number of new names ever to leap into the top 100. In fact, Daphne (Ala.) linebacker Ryan Anderson was completely unranked — meaning not one of the six recruiting services had ranked Anderson in the top-150 nationally — for the entire recruitment process until today when he lands in the AC100 at No. 84. Future Washington quarterback Cyler Miles made a huge jump after a co-MVP showing in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He is now the nation’s No. 4-rated quarterback. A pair of tailbacks, Tarboro (N.C.) runner Todd Gurley and Stone Mountain (Ga.) tailback Mike Davis, both used all-star showings to vault themselves into the AC100 as well. Gurley is headed to Georgia and Davis is committed to South Carolina.

Here is the list of the biggest risers in the final AC100 (* - new to the AC100):

Name Pos. Hometown +/- Rank Prev. Verbal
Ryan Anderson* LB Daphne, AL N/A #84 UR Alabama
Todd Gurley* RB Tarboro, NC +148 #83 #231 Georgia
Mike Davis* RB Stone Mountain, GA +88 #54 #142 South Carolina
Amari Cooper* WR Miami, FL +75 #58 #133 Alabama
Cyler Miles* QB Denver, CO +73 #91 #164 Washington
Kendall Sanders* ATH Athens, TX +73 #87 #160 Texas
Leonard Williams* DE Daytona Beach, FL +66 #68 #134 --
Kevon Seymour* DB Pasadena, CA +65 #96 #161 USC
Ondre Pipkins* DT Kansas City, MO +61 #60 #121 Michigan
JaQuay Williams* WR Tyrone, GA +46 #99 #146 Auburn
Ukeme Eligwe* LB Stone Mountain, GA +44 #72 #116 Florida State
Alex Carter* DB Asburn, VA +44 #76 #120 Stanford
Deontay Greenberry WR Fresno, CA +40 #52 #92 Notre Dame
Jonathan Bullard DT Shelby, NC +40 #11 #51 Florida
Brian Poole* DB Bradenton, FL +40 #71 #111 Florida
Isaac Seumalo OL Corvallis, OR +38 #39 #77 Oregon State
Zach Kline QB Danville, CA +34 #40 #74 Cal
T.J. Yeldon RB Daphne, AL +29 #32 #61 Alabama
Sterling Shepard* WR Oklahoma City, OK +23 #100 #123 Oklahoma
Trey Williams RB Spring, TX +22 #19 #41 Texas A&M
Curtis Riser* OL DeSoto, TX +22 #79 #101 Texas
Zach Banner OL Lakewood, WA +21 #50 #71 --
Josh Harvey-Clemons ATH Valdosta, GA +20 #20 #40 --
D.J. Foster* ATH Scottsdale, AZ +15 #97 #112 --

Biggest Fallers and Dropouts

If there were a record 16 new faces in the AC100, that unfortunately means that 16 old names had to drop off the list. The quarterback position took a big hit in the finalized rankings as Texas A&M’s Matt Davis, Auburn’s Zeke Pike and Texas’ Connor Brewer each fell outside of the top 100. The highest player to fall out of the rankings, however, was Rochester (N.Y.) Aquinas Institute defensive tackle Jarron Jones. The future Fighting Irish defender had some difficulty at the All-American events once he was facing the nation’s best. New York prep football leaves much to be desired, and his adjustment period likely caused him to drop from the AC100. Yuri Wright, formerly of Don Bosco Prep, plummeted for other reasons, as his lewd and inappropriate twitter timeline ended with his discharge from the program.

Here is the list of the biggest fallers in the final AC100 (* - dropped out of the AC100):

Name Pos. Hometown +/- Rank Prev. Verbal
Avery Johnson* WR Pompao Beach, FL -99 #166 #67 LSU
Jelani Hamilton* DE Ft. Lauderdale, FL -74 #154 #84 Miami
Matt Davis* QB Houston, TX -73 #161 #88 Texas A&M
Zeke Pike* QB Edgewood, KY -71 #153 #82 Auburn
Connor Brewer* QB Scottsdale, AZ -70 #134 #64 Texas
Jarron Jones* DT Rochester, NY -69 #101 #32 Notre Dame
Dominique Wheeler* WR Crockett, TX -69 #127 #58 Texas Tech
Anthony Alford* QB Petal, MS -49 #119 #70 Southern Miss
Yuri Wright DB Ramsey, NJ -49 #70 #21 --
Kwon Alexander LB Oxford, AL -44 #82 #38 --
Barry Sanders, Jr. RB Oklahoma City, OK -35 #80 #45 Stanford
Ricardo Louis* WR Miami Beach, FL -34 #121 #87 Florida St
Quay Evans DT Morton, MS -34 #93 #59 Mississippi St
Devonte Fields* DE Arlington, TX -27 #122 #95 TCU
Noor Davis LB Leesburg, FL -27 #49 #22 Stanford
Jordan Payton* WR Westlake Village, CA -25 #124 #99 Cal
Dan Voltz* OL Barrington, IL -24 #114 #90 Wisconsin
Sheldon Day* DT Indianapolis, IN -20 #116 #94 Notre Dame
Cayleb Jones WR Austin, TX -20 #59 #39 Texas
LaDarrell McNeil* DB Dallas, TX -16 #112 #96 Tennessee
Tyriq McCord* DE Tampa, FL -10 #107 #97 Miami
Evan Boehm* OL Lee's Summit, MO -3 #103 #100 Missouri

Teaser:
<p> There was plenty of movement in the final 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. Who were the risers and fallers?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/joe-paternos-career-numbers
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

Joe Paterno’s legacy will cause mixed emotions and create division amongst sports fans and non-sports fans alike across the country from now until the end of time. He impacted thousands of lives in the most positive and meaningful ways possible. But he also was in charge when the worst scandal in college football history hit his university.

Either way, the facts don’t lie about how successful he was as the head coach at Penn State University. He is arguably the greatest college football to ever live and the stats back it up:

December 21, 1926: Joe Paterno was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Angelo and Florence Paterno.

1944: Joe Paterno played his final season at Brooklyn Prep High School. He lost one game his senior season – the season finale against the Vince Lombardi coached St. Cecilia’s squad.

1950: Graduated from Brown University as the star quarterback — and an English major. He accepted a position on Rip Engle's Brown coaching staff. Shortly thereafter, Engle took the Penn State head coaching job and was allowed to bring one assistant. He selected a young and completely inexperience Paterno to take with him to Happy Valley.

1962: Married Suzanne Pohland, Penn State Class of 1962.

1966: Is hired as the head coach of Penn State University.

1969: Hires Jerry Sandusky as Penn State’s defensive line coach.

1970: Multiple sources indicate had the Green Bay Packers offered the head coach/General Managing job to Joe Paterno, that he would have accepted the position after only five years of leading Penn State.

5-2: The seven-man Green Bay Packers' Board of Trustees votes to hire Missouri head coach Dan Devine over second choice Joe Paterno.

2: National Championships under Joe Paterno. In 1982, Penn State defeated Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and in 1986 Penn State defeated Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.

5: Undefeated Seasons under Joe Paterno. He didn’t lose a game in 1968, 1969, 1973, 1986 and 1994. Only one of those seasons earned him a National Championship.

46: Years as head coach at Penn State University by Joe Paterno.

409: The most wins all-time by any D-1 head football coach. His final coaching record was 409-136-3.

24: The most bowl wins all-time by an D-1 head football coach. His final bowl record 24-12-1.

23: It took Joe Paterno 23 seasons to finally experience his first losing season in Happy Valley.

40: The number of winning seasons Paterno had as a head coach at Penn State. Also the initial number of counts of aggravated child sexual assault levied against Jerry Sandusky.

35: Number of Top 25 postseason rankings in 46 seasons of coaching. Also, the number of 8+ win seasons for JoePa.

21: The number of double-digit win seasons for Penn State in 46 years of coaching.

15: Number of 11-win seasons as the head coach at Penn State for Paterno.

5: Number of children with wife Sue, which eventually led to 17 grandchildren.

5: Number of major bowls Joe Paterno won. Sugar, Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Cotton.

5: Number of AFCA National Coach of the Year Awards for Joe Paterno.

5: Maxwell Trophy winners coached by JoePa: Rich Lucas (1959), Glenn Ressler (1964), John Cappelletti (1973), Chuck Fusina (1978), Larry Johnson (2002)

4: Chuck Bednarik winners coached by JoePa: Lavar Arrington (1999), Paul Posluszny (2005, 2006), Dan Connor (2007)

3: Big Ten titles won while at Penn State (PSU joined the Big Ten in 1993).

1: Heisman Trophy winner John Cappaletti, who led the 1973 Nittany Lions to an unblemished record while rushing 1,522 yards and 17 touchdowns. Also, the same number of flavors of ice cream named after Joe Paterno on campus (Peachy Paterno).

8: Number of College Football Hall of Famers coached by Joe Paterno at Penn State: Mike Reid, Ted Kwalick, Jack Ham, Dennis Onkotz, John Cappelletti, Keith Dorney, Lydell Mitchell, Curt Warner

250: Over 250 NFL players played under Joe Paterno at Penn State.

$3.5 million: Dollars Joe Paterno and wife Sue donated to the brand new Paterno Library on Penn State’s campus in 1998. He and his wife gave more than $4 million total to Penn State over his the course of his career.

9: Days between being fired by the Penn State Board of Trustees via phone and when he announces that he has a “treatable” form of lung cancer.

44: Days between being fired by Penn State on November 9 and passing away at 9:25 AM on January 22.

4: Number of weeks Bear Bryant lived after retiring as the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
 

Teaser:
<p> Joe Paterno's Penn State Career By The Numbers</p>
Post date: Monday, January 23, 2012 - 08:32
Path: /college-football/very-early-2012-big-ten-predictions
Body:

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)

Very Early 2012 Big Ten Predictions

Leaders Division

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

Key Returnees: QB Braxton Miller, RB Jordan Hall, RB Jamaal Berry, RB Carlos Hyde, WR Corey Brown, TE Jake Stoneburner, OL Jack Mewhort, OL Andrew Norwell, DT John Simon, DL Jonathan Hankins, LB Storm Klein, LB Ryan Shazier, DB Christian Bryant, DB Bradley Roby, DB C.J. Barnett, K Drew Basil

Key Losses: RB Boom Herron, WR DeVier Posey,  OL J.B. Shugarts, OL Michael Brewster, OL Mike Adams, LB Andrew Sweat, DB Tyler Moeller

The Ohio State Buckeyes should not only be the class of the Leaders Division but might finish with the best overall record in the conference in 2012. Unfortunately for Scarlet and Gray faithful — and new head coach and immediate cult hero Urban Meyer — tOSU cannot play for the Big Ten Championship or in a bowl game. But that does not mean that the Bucks won't ruin a few seasons along the way.

The non-conference slate is highlighted by a visit from Cal, and Ohio State will have to visit Michigan State and host Nebraska in a tough cross-over schedule. With Michigan visiting the Horseshoe in the finale, OSU has the chance to knock off what should be the other three top teams in the league.

With the entire defense returning largely intact and Braxton Miller looking to take another big step in his already stellar development, Meyer has the makings of a championship squad in 2013. And with the way he is burning down the recruiting trail in Columbus right now, things are only getting better on the Banks of the Olentangy's.

2. Wisconsin Badgers

Key Returnees: RB Montee Ball, WR Jared Abbrederis, TE Jacob Pedersen, OL Ricky Wagner, OL Travis Frederick, DL Beau Allen, LB Chris Borland, LB Mike Taylor, DB Shelton Johnson

Key Losses: QB Russell Wilson, WR Nick Toon, OT Josh Oglesby, OG Kevin Zeitler, OC Peter Konz, FB Bradie Ewing, CB Antonio Fenelus, S Aaron Henry, K Philip Welch, P Brad Nortman,

The Badgers were two passes away from a magical season in Madison. But it wasn't to be and they lost their second straight Rose Bowl. What's worse, is losing the star quarterback-receiver duo and three-fifths of a stellar offensive line heading into 2012. Rebuilding the offense will be no easy task, however, Montee Ball, James White, Jacob Pedersen and Jared Abbrederis offer whoever the new quarterback is plenty of offensive weaponery. Replacing offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who is the head coach at Pitt now, however, might be the biggest issue facing this team.

The non-conference schedule is easy as usual with the possible exception of a trip to Corvallis, Ore., to face the Beavers. Facing Nebraska in Lincoln and hosting Michigan State won't be easy tests in cross-divisional play either. They also will get Ohio State at home in the penultimate contest of the season.

This team has a chance, by default, to land in its second straight Big Ten title game, but will have to do so with its defense. A solid front seven, led by the Big Ten's top two returning tacklers Chris Borland (143 tackles, the Original Honey Badger) and Mike Taylor (150 tackles), will be the strength of this entire team. If Bret Bilema can fill major holes on his coaching staff — Matt Canada was hired as the new OC — then UW has a chance to reach the title game once again.

3. Penn State Nittany Lions

Key Returnees: RB Silas Redd, WR Justin Brown, WR Devon Smith, DL Jordan Hill, DL Sean Stanley, LB Glenn Carson, LB Gerald Hodges, K/P Anthony Fera

Key Losses: WR Derek Moye, WR Chaz Powell, OL Johnnie Troutman, OL Quinn Barham, DL Jack Crawford, DL Devon Still, DL Chima Okoli, LB Nathan Stupar, DB Drew Astorino, DB D'Anton Lynn

Where should we begin? First, Joe Paterno will not be roaming the sidelines at Beaver Stadium for the first time since 1950. And Bill O'Brien cannot devote his full attention to recruiting until the Patriots finish up their little romp through the NFL playoffs. But at least this football team can move forward and will do so in true Nittany Lion fashion: By running the football on offense and playing stout defense.

The biggest issue facing this team is still at quarterback, but all three may be in jeopardy of missing time in 2012. Robert Bolden could transfer out, Matt McGloin was involved in a locker room fight and Paul Jones has academic issues. If this position can be solidfied under new offensive guru O'Brien, and the holes along the defensive line can be filled, this team could push the Badgers for a bid in the title game.

While reaching the Big Ten title game certainly isn't out of the question, 2012 will more than likely be a year of transition and struggles. Recruiting has obviously taken a big hit amidst the worst scandal in college football history. The schedule includes a trip to a feisty Virginia squad and crossover opponents Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern. And the holes at QB and along the D-Line make it tough to pick Penn State over Wisconsin — even with the Badgers visiting Happy Valley in the season finale.

4. Illinois Fighting Illini

Key Returnees: QB Nathan Scheelhaase, RB Donovonn Young, WR Spencer Harris, WR Ryan Lankford, OL Graham Pocic, DL Akeem Spence, DL Michael Buchanan, DL Glenn Foster, DL Justin Staples, LB Jonathan Brown, LB Houston Bates, DB Justin Green, DB Terry Hawthorne, DB Steve Hull, DB Supo Sanni, P Justin DuVernois

Key Losses: WR A.J. Jenkins, OT Jeff Allen, OL Jack Cornell, RB Jason Ford, DE Whitney Mercilus, LB Ian Thomas, S Trulon Henry, K Derek Dimke

There was a lot of positive momentum for Illinois in 2011. And six weeks into the season, the unbeaten Fighting Illini had apparently proven that the preseason hype was warranted. However, Ron Zook's squad lost six straight games to finish the season and former Toledo head coach Tim Beckman is now the head coach in Champaign-Urbana.

Beckman has some nice pieces to work with on offense despite the loss of Jason Ford and A.J. Jenkins. Nathan Scheelhaase needs to get back to 2010 form and the offensive line needs to fill holes left by Jeff Allen and Jack Cornell. But Beckman's Rockets posted big numbers in the MAC and Scheelhaase has all of the tools needed to be successful.

Losing the NCAA sack leader (Mercilus) will hurt, but the defense is young, talented and deep at nearly every position. Look for this unit to lead the team early against a brutal first half of the season. Illinois will play at Arizona State, Louisiana Tech, Penn State, at Wisconsin and at Michigan before the bye week in Week 8.

5. Purdue Boilermakers

Key Returnees: QB Caleb TerBush, RB Akeem Shavers, RB Ralph Bolden, WR Antavian Edison, WR O.J. Ross, WR, Gary Bush, WR Raheem Mostert, OL Jesse Schmitt, OL Rick Schmieg, DL Kawann Short, DL Bruce Gaston, DL Ryan Russell, LB Dwayne Beckford, LB Will Lucas, CB Ricardo Allen, DB Josh Johnson, DB Max Charlot, P Cody Webster

Key Losses: OL Ken Plue, OL Dennis Kelly, OL Nick Mondek, OL Kevin Ballinger, DL Adam Brockman, DL Gerald Gooden, LB Chris Carlino, DB Joe Holland, DB Albert Evans, DB Logan Link, K Caron Wiggs

There will be a weird vibe eminating from West Lafayette this off-season. Purdue won its first bowl game since 2007 but most fans are treading water on Danny Hope's future as the head coach. He returns Caleb TurBush at quarterback and a collection of talented offensive skill names. If the reworked offensive line can hold up, this offense as a chance to be better than it has been in years.

On defense, Ricardo Allen returns to lead a secondary that has experience but ranked 10th in the Big Ten in pass defense. The front four also needs to show improvement as they ranked 9th in the Big Ten in rushing defense and 77th nationally in getting to the opposing quarterbacks. However, the top three sack masters return to the roster and three of the top four tacklers return as well. This unit needs to show improvement across the board if it expects to sneak into the Leaders Division race that appears to be wide open at this stage.

6. Indiana Hoosiers

Key Returnees: QB Tre Roberson, RB Stephen Houston, WR Kofi Hughes, LB Mark Murphy, DB Lawrence Barnett, DB Greg Heban, KR Shane Wynn, K Mitch Ewald, P Adam Pines

Key Losses: WR Damarlo Belcher, LB Jeff Thomas, LB Leon Beckum

No one named Kiel will be under center as Kevin Wilson missed out on Gunner and has watched Dusty transfer. However, Tre Roberson added a spark to the Hoosiers offense in the second half of 2011. He rushed for 72.8 yards per game over the last five contests and took one of the worst rushing offenses in the league (118.8 ypg) to a team rolling up over 160 yards per game. With Stephen Houston back at tailback, expect Wilson to lean on his running game all season long.

On defense, two of the top four tacklers are gone as the linebacking corp will need to be reworked. The secondary returns plenty of talent but the bottom line, the worst rushing, total, scoring and pass efficiency defense needs to improve in all facets if the Hoosiers are going to return to the postseason since 2007 — its only bowl trip since 1993.

Legends Division

1. Michigan Wolverines

Key Returnees: QB Denard Robinson, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, WR Jeremy Gallon, OL Taylor Lewan, DL Craig Roh, LB Kenny Demens, LB Desmond Morgan, LB Jake Ryan, DB Thomas Gordon, S Jordan Kovacs, DB J.T. Floyd, K Brendan Gibbons

Key Losses: WR Junior Hemingway, OC David Molk, DT Mike Martin, DL Ryan Van Bergen, CB Troy Woolfolk,

All signs are go in Ann Arbor in 2012. This team will likely be the preseason favorite to win the conference as Brady Hoke returns the most electric and atheltic quarterback in the nation in Denard Robinson. And he will have plenty to work with as emerging star Fitzgerald Toussaint also returns to carry the load. The offensive line and receiving corps should be plenty capable of leading this team to a Big Ten title.

The only issues will come along the defensive line, where the Wolverines must replace three starters including all-everything Mike Martin. With the back-seven returning largely intact and still relatively young, Greg Mattison's defense should maintain status quo in 2012.

If all things fall into place, the Maize and Blue should be thinking not only Big Ten title but National Championship heading into next fall. However, those dreams could be shattered right out of the gate as Week 1 features a huge test against the defending champion Alabama Crimson Tide in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. If they somehow get past Bama, a trip to Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State still loom with home tests against rivals Michigan State and Iowa sprinkled in. Make no mistake, however, Shoelace has this team thinking South Beach.

2. Michigan State Spartans

Key Returnees: RB Le'Veon Bell, RB Larry Caper, OL Chris McDonald, DE Williams Gholston, DL Marcus Rush, LB Max Bullough, LB Chris Norman, LB Denicos Allen, DB Isaiah Lewis, DB Darqueze Dennard, DB Johnny Adams, K Dan Conroy, P Mike Sadler

Key Losses: QB Kirk Cousins, RB Edwin Baker, WR B.J. Cunningham, WR Keshawn Martin, OL Joel Foreman, DT Jerel Worthy, DL Kevin Pickelman, S Trenton Robinson

The biggest question heading into 2011 for Michigan State was its offensive line. There will be no such problem for the Spartans heading into 2012 as the front line on offense should be the strength of the team. This time, however, it has to find a replacement for the school's all-time touchdown king and unquestioned leader in quarterback Kirk Cousins as well as the school's all-time leading receiver B.J. Cunningham. With a talented backfield and strong front line, it should be easier for Mark Dantonio to break in a new quarterback.

On defense, losing Jerel Worthy hurts but William Gholston and a stacked group of front seven defenders give this team a chance to contend for the third year in a row. The defense, as is the case under most Dantonio teams, will be stellar, but will be tested early.  The season opener features Boise State and Week 3 provides a visit from Notre Dame. While neither are expected to be elite squads, the non-conference slate will clearly set the tone for Sparty in 2012.

Michigan State also gets no favors in its cross-over schedule. It has to face Ohio State at home and travels to Madison to take on Bucky.

3. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Key Returnees: QB Taylor Martinez, RB Rex Burkhead, WR Kenny Bell, TE Ben Cotton, OL Spencer Long, DL Cameron Meredith, DL Baker Steinkuhler, LB Will Compton,  DB Daimion Stafford, K/P Brett Maher,

Key Losses: OL Marcel Jones, OL Mike Caputo, OL Marcel Jones, DE Jared Crick, LB LaVonte David, CB Alfonzo Dennard, DB Austin Cassidy

Once again the Nebraska Cornhuskers' upside will hang on quarterback Taylor Martinez's shoulders. With superstar tailback Rex Burkhead back to take the pressure off Martinez, the third-year starter's ability to develop into an efficient passer will determine if Nebraska loses four games for the fourth straight year under Bo Pelini or if the Big Red can challenge the state of Michigan for Big Ten supremacy.

The defense loses its three biggest stars from each level of the unit but will return with plenty of depth and a new face calling the plays. Longtime Pelini understudy John Papuchis will be charged with improving a run defense that ranked eighth in the Big Ten a year ago. If the front seven can return to its 2009 form, Nebraska could contend for a conference title.

Magnifying all of the question marks for the Huskers is a brutal cross-over schedule that includes a visit from Wisconsin and a trip to Ohio State in the first two conference games of the year. Later, Penn State will visit Lincoln, meaning NU will face the top three teams in the Leaders once again in 2012.

4. Iowa Hawkeyes

Key Returnees: QB James Vanderberg, WR Keenan Davis, WR Kevonte Martin-Manley, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, OL James Ferentz, LB James Morris, LB Christian Kirksey, DB Tanner Allen, DB Micah Hyde, K Mike Meyer

Key Losses: WR Marvin McNutt, RB Marcus Coker, OL Riley Reiff, OL Markus Zusevics, DL Mike Daniels, DL Broderick Binns LB, Tyler Nielsen, CB Shaun Prater

In a league loaded with elite level dual-threat quarterbacks, James Vandenberg is easily the top returning pure passer in the Big Ten. Keenan Davis, Kevonte Martin-Manley and C.J. Fiedorowicz will have to replace the loss of record-setting wideout Marvin McNutt and troubled tailback Marcus Coker. Even with those losses, this offense has a chance to be solid if the offensive line can develop. The Hawkeyes struggled mightily to run the football or protect the quarterback in 2011, so improvement in this area will be imperative for head coach Kirk and starting center James Ferentz.

On the defensive side of the ball, Ferentz has no trouble developing linebackers and this should be the strength of the unit again. Filling holes along the defensive line in the a league that features more power rushing attacks than any other league will be key. The Hawkeyes will also have a new defensive coordinator, as veteran Norm Parker decided to retire following the 2011 season.

The rivalry game against Iowa State is always tight and has the added motivation of revenge in 2012. The cross-over schedule gives reason for optimism, however, as Iowa misses both Ohio State and Wisconsin. The Hawks face Purdue, Indiana and Penn State from the Leaders.

5. Northwestern Wildcats

Key Returnees: QB Kain Colter, RB Treyvon Green, WR Demetrius Fields, OL Brian Mulroe, LB Damien Proby, LB David Nwabuisi, DB Ibraheim Campbell, K Jeff Budzien, P Brandon Williams

Key Losses: QB Dan Persa, WR Jeremy Ebert, TE Drake Dunsmore, OL Al Netter, DE Vince Browne, DB Jordan Mabin, DB Brian Peters

The Dan Persa era is officially over and the Kain Colter era has officially begun — at least, under center. Colter, who has excelled as a receiver will be given the reins to one of the more quarterback-friendly offenses in the nation. Not having Jeremy Ebert or Drake Dunsmore to throw to will be an issue Pat Fitzgerald will need to address in spring ball, but the offense should once again over achieve in 2012.

As a former linebacker, Coach Fitz always seems to find quality talent to play his former position and Damien Proby, David Nwabuisi and Ibraheim Campbell have as much potential as any group on the league. Filling a few holes in the secondary will be important.

The non-conference schedule offers some intriuging tests as the Wildcats will face three BCS conference teams in Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College. But missing Wisconsin and Ohio State in cross-over play helps as Northwestern gets Indiana, Illinois and Penn State from the Leaders.

6. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Key Returnees: QB MarQueis Gray, RB Donnell Kirkwood, DL D.L. Wilhite, DL Ra'Shede Hageman, LB Mike Rallis, LB Keanon Cooper, DB Brock Vereen, DB Kyle Henderson

Key Losses: RB Duane Bennett, WR Da'Jon McKnight, WR Brandon Green, TE Eric Lair, OL Chris Bunders, LB Gary Tinsley, S Kim Royston, DB Christyn Lewis

After years of longing for his superb physical talent to bubble to the surface — and changing positions — quarterback MarQueis Gray is poised for a huge season. He rushed for 966 yards and six scores and capped his junior season with back-to-back 160+ yards games — including a second Big Ten win over Illinois. Jerry Kill needs to fill some holes on the offense but has his leader at quarterback and appears to have put his stamp on the program by the way his team competed at the end of 2011.

Defensively, this team will return plenty of experience throughout the defense as three of the top four sack masters and four of the top six tacklers return to action. If this group can build on its stellar defensive finale against Illinois, in which it allowed a season-low 78 yards passing and seven total points, the Gophers might be able the pull the upset. It also posted its best defensive conference performance against the run as Illinois rushed 32 times for 82 yards.

2012 Big Ten Championship Game: Michigan vs. Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Badgers return to the Big Ten title game, but do so by default. Ohio State will finish with the best record in the Leaders but the nod will go to a slightly better than average UW team. Michigan, meanwhile, will ride its senior quarterback to the big game and handle the overmatched Badgers with relative ease.

Related 2012 Content:

Very Early Big East 2012 Preseason Predictions
Very Early Big 12 2012 Preseason Predictions

2012 Heisman Trophy Candidates

Very Early Preseason 2012 College Football Top 25

Athlon Roundtable: Who are the BCS National Title Contenders in 2012?

What To Expect from the Crimson Tide in 2012?

What To Expect from the LSU Tigers in 2012?

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

Three Teams on the Rise in 2012

Three Teams Sliding Back in 2012

Top Non-Conference Games to Watch in 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon releases its very early predictions for the Big Ten Conference for 2012.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-bcs-national-champions
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter) and Mark Ross

The BCS just finished its 14th season of action, and has for the most part, been a major improvement on the previous bowl system. How do each of the 14 official champions stack-up against each other? Who has the most talent? Who had the best resume? Who played the toughest schedule? And who performed the best on the biggest stage?

Athlon Sports has ranked the 14 BCS National Champions — and there is a decided Sun Belt feel to the list. Just not at the very top. That distinction belongs to the Big East, Big 12 and Pac-12.

1. Miami Hurricanes, 2001 (12-0, 7-0)
Head Coach: Larry Coker
Championships: Big East, Rose Bowl, National
Key Stats: No. 3 in nation in scoring offense (42.7 ppg), no. 1 in scoring defense (9.8 ppg); average margin of victory 33.2 points per game
Award Winners: Larry Coker (Paul “Bear” Bryant Award), Ken Dorsey (co-Big East Offensive Player of the Year, Maxwell Award, Rose Bowl co-MVP), Andre Johnson (Rose Bowl co-MVP), Bryant McKinnie (Outland Trophy), Ed Reed (co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (17): Phillip Buchanon (1st, 2002), Vernon Carey (1st, 2004), Andre Johnson (1st, 2003), William Joseph (1st, 2003), Jerome McDougle (1st, 2003), Willis McGahee (1st, 2003), Bryant McKinnie (1st, 2002), Ed Reed (1st, 2002), Antrel Rolle (1st, 2005), Mike Rumph (1st, 2002), Jeremy Shockey (1st, 2002), Sean Taylor (1st, 2004), Jonathan Vilma (1st, 2004), Vince Wilfork (1st, 2004), D.J. Williams (1st, 2004), Kellen Winslow (1st, 2004), Clinton Portis (2nd, 2002)

Simply put, this team was loaded and is viewed by many as one of the best ever in college football history. With a roster featuring six first-team All-Americans and 13 first-team All-Big East selections, not to mention 32 future NFL draft picks, these Hurricanes dominated on both sides of the ball and steamrolled their competition from start to finish. They started things off by going to Happy Valley and dominating Penn State 33-7, which tied the record for the Nittany Lions’ worst home loss under Joe Paterno. Later on, the ‘Canes defeated No. 14 Syracuse and No. 12 Washington in consecutive weeks at the Orange Bowl with a combined score of 124-7, which set the NCAA record for largest margin of victory over consecutive ranked opponents. They capped things off by dismantling the No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers 37-14 in the Rose Bowl, in a game where they held a 34-0 lead in the first half.

2001 Schedule:

Sept. 1: Miami (Fla.) 33, Penn State 7 (State College, PA)
Sept. 8: Miami (Fla.) 61, Rutgers 0 (Miami, FL)
Sept. 27: Miami (Fla.) 43, Pittsburgh 21 (Pittsburgh, PA)
Oct. 6: Miami (Fla.) 38, Troy 7 (Miami, FL)
Oct. 13: Miami (Fla.) 49, (#14) Florida State 27 (Tallahassee, FL)
Oct. 25: Miami (Fla.) 45, West Virginia 3 (Miami, FL)
Nov. 3: Miami (Fla.) 38, Temple 0 (Miami, FL)
Nov. 10: Miami (Fla.) 18, Boston College 7 (Chestnut Hill, MA)
Nov. 17: Miami (Fla.) 59, (#14) Syracuse 0 (Miami, FL)
Nov. 24: Miami (Fla.) 65, (#12) Washington 7 (Miami, FL)
Dec. 1: Miami (Fla.) 26, (#14) Virginia Tech 24 (Blacksburg, VA)
Jan. 3: Miami (Fla.) 37, (#4) Nebraska 14 (Rose Bowl)

2. USC Trojans, 2004 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-12, Orange Bowl, National Championship
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing defense (79.4 ypg) and turnover margin (+1.46), led the Pac-10 in scoring (38.2 ppg) and finished No. 3 nationally in scoring defense (13.0 ppg), USC did not rank below third in the Pac-10 in any of the 14 tracked team stats.
Award Winners: Matt Leinart (Heisman Trophy, Walter Camp, Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year), Reggie Bush (Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year), Shaun Cody (Pac-10 Co-Def. Player of the Year),
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Lofa Tatupu (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2008), Keith Rivers (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2008), Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009)

The best team in the Pac-10 since the BCS began might have been the best team in any league during the BCS era. After a split national title in 2003 with LSU, the Trojans entered 2004 as the No. 1 team in the nation. An opening weekend win over ACC champ Virginia Tech in Landover started what would become a magical ride to a BCS National Championship. The Trojans went wire to wire as the No. 1 team in the nation, claimed the Heisman Trophy and put together the most impressive national championship game in the brief history of the BCS. Quarterback Matt Leinart, in his second year under center and armed with an NFL roster full of skill players, led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency (156.54) and finished with 3,322 yards and 36 total touchdowns (against only six interceptions). He capped his Heisman campaign with 332 yards and a BCS bowl record five touchdown passes in the destruction of unbeaten No. 2 Oklahoma. The two-headed rushing attack of LenDale White (1,108 yards, 15 TDs) and Reggie Bush (1,416 yards from scrimmage, 15 TDs) made it virtually impossible for anyone to stop the 2004 Trojans. Eighteen different Trojans from the 2004 BCS National Championship team were selected in the first or second rounds of the NFL Draft. This team had the stats, the resume, the undefeated title season, the NFL talent, a superstar coach and is the best Pac-10 team of the BCS era because of it.

2004 Schedule:

Aug. 28: USC 24, Virginia Tech 13 (Landover, MD)
Sept. 11: USC 49, Colorado State 0 (Los Angeles, CA)
Sept. 18: USC 42, BYU 10 (Provo, UT)
Sept. 25: USC 31, Stanford 28 (Palo Alto, CA)
Oct: 9: USC 23, (#7) Cal 17 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 16: USC 45, (#15) Arizona State 7 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 23: USC 38, Washington 0 (Los Angeles, CA)
Oct. 30: USC 42, Washington State 12 (Pullman, WA)
Nov. 6: USC 28, Oregon State 20 (Corvallis, OR)
Nov. 13: USC 49, Arizona 9 (Los Angeles, CA)
Nov. 27: USC 41, Notre Dame 10 (Los Angeles, CA)
Dec. 4: USC 29, UCLA 24 (Pasadena, CA)
Jan. 4: USC 55, Oklahoma 19 (Miami Gardens, FL, Orange Bowl, BCS NCG)

3. Texas Longhorns, 2005 (13-0, 8-0*)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Championships: Big 12 South, Big 12, Rose Bowl, National
Key Stats: School record 50.2 points per game, school single-season record for total yards (6,657), touchdowns (55), total yards per game (512.1) and yards per rushing attempt (5.9), Vince Young no. 6 in total offense (314.3 ypg) and no. 3 in passing efficiency
Award Winners: Mack Brown (Paul “Bear” Bryant Award, Big 12 Coach of the Year), Michael Huff (Jim Thorpe Award, Rose Bowl Defensive MVP), Vince Young (Big 12 Male Athlete of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien Award, Manning Award, Maxwell Award, Rose Bowl Offensive MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (9): Michael Griffin (1st, 2007), Michael Huff (1st, 2006), Brian Orakpo (1st, 2009), Aaron Ross (1st, 2007), Vince Young (1st, 2006), Justin Blalock (2nd, 2007), Tim Crowder (2nd, 2007), Cedric Griffin (2nd, 2006), Limas Sweed (2nd, 2008)

Texas entered the season ranked No. 2 behind defending national champion USC, and that’s where the two found themselves when they met in the Rose Bowl in January 2006. To get to Pasadena, Texas steamrolled the competition, averaging more than 50 points a game and scoring 60 or more four times. In the second week of the season, Texas became the first non-conference opponent in 15 years to defeat Ohio State at home, and followed that win up about a month later by dominating Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry. The Longhorns destroyed Colorado 70-3 in the Big 12 Championship to set up the showdown with No. 1 USC. The Rose Bowl title tilt lived up to every bit of its billing as Vince Young put on the most impressive performance in BCS National Championship history, accounting for 84 percent of Texas’ total offense (467 out of 556) yards, and scored the game-winning touchdown with 19 seconds left to capture the Longhorns’ fourth national championship in thrilling fashion. Young was one of four consensus All-Americans on this Longhorns team, which also produced a total of 24 NFL Draft picks.

2005 Schedule:

Sept. 3: Texas 60, Louisiana-Lafayette 3 (Austin, TX)
Sept. 10: Texas 25, (#4) Ohio State 22 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 17: Texas 51, Rice 10 (Austin, TX)
Oct. 1: Texas 51, Missouri 20 (Columbia, MO)
Oct. 8: Texas 45, Oklahoma 12 (Dallas, TX)
Oct. 15: Texas 42, (#24) Colorado 17 (Austin, TX)
Oct. 22: Texas 52, (#10) Texas Tech 17 (Austin, TX)
Oct. 29: Texas 47, Oklahoma State 28 (Stillwater, OK)
Nov. 5: Texas 62, Baylor 0 (Waco, TX)
Nov. 12: Texas 66, Kansas 14 (Austin, TX)
Nov. 25: Texas 40, Texas A&M 29 (College Station, TX)
Dec. 3: Texas 70, Colorado 3 (Big 12 Championship — Houston, TX)
Jan. 4: Texas 41, (#1) USC 38 (Rose Bowl, National Championship)

4. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2009 (14-0, 8-0*)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Finished second in the nation in total (244.1 ypg), rushing (78.1 ypg) and scoring defense (11.7 ppg).
Award Winners: Mark Ingram (Heisman Trophy), Rolando McClain (Butkus, SEC Def. Player of the Year), Javier Arenas (SEC Special Teamer of the Year), Nick Saban (SEC Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Javier Arenas (2nd, 2010), Terrence Cody (2nd, 2010), Mark Ingram (1st, 2011), James Carpenter (1st, 2011), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011), Julio Jones (1st, 2011)

Led by boy genius quarterback Greg McElroy and a host of national award-winning first round NFL Draft picks, the Alabama Crimson Tide won their first national title since 1992. Nick Saban defeated five ranked opponents before taking down No. 2 Texas in the BCS National Championship game 37-21. This was the best defense in the nation, finishing second nationally in three of the four major statistical categories. In a rematch of the 2008 SEC title game, McElroy did his best Tebow impression by completing 12-of-18 passes for 239 yards without a turnover while picking up key yards on the ground. Heisman winner Mark Ingram rushed 28 times for 113 yards and three scores in the tear-inducing 32-13 win over Florida in Atlanta. Thus far, six first round picks have entered the NFL from the 2009 roster. Expect that number to grow in the spring with names like Trent Richardon, Dre Kirkpatrick, Barrett Jones and Mark Barron grading into or around the first round.

Florida and Alabama split against each other over the 2008-2009 seasons. Both had a Heisman Trophy winner and both went on to claim the national title. However, the Crimson Tide get a small edge because they finished the season undefeated — something Tim Tebow never did in his four-year college career. Since these two specific teams will obviously never have the chance to face each other, fans are left to argue about which team would win if pitted against each other on a neutral field with all the marbles on the line.

Now, that might actually be something worth Tebow-ing for.

2009 Schedule:

Sept. 5: Alabama 34, Virginia Tech 24 (Atlanta, GA)
Sept. 12: Alabama 40, FIU 14 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 19: Alabama 53, North Texas 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 26: Alabama 35, Arkansas 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 3: Alabama 38, Kentucky 20 (Lexington, KY)
Oct. 10: Alabama 22, Ole Miss 3 (Oxford, MS)
Oct. 17: Alabama 20, South Carolina 6 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 24: Alabama 12, Tennessee 10 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 7: Alabama 24, LSU 15 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 14: Alabama 31, Mississippi State 3 (Starkville, MS)
Nov. 21: Alabama 45, Tennessee-Chattanooga 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 27: Alabama 26, Auburn 21 (Auburn, AL)
Dec. 5: Alabama 32, Florida 13 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 7: Alabama 37, Texas 21 (Pasadena, CA, BCS NCG)

5. Oklahoma Sooners, 2000 (13-0, 8-0*)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Championships: Big 12 South, Big 12, Orange Bowl, National
Key Stats: No. 7 in nation in both scoring offense (39 ppg) and scoring defense (16 ppg), no. 8 in total defense (278.9 ypg), no. 9 in pass defense (170.5 ypg) and no. 2 in pass efficiency defense, Josh Heupel no. 6 in nation in total offense (294.7 ypg)
Award Winners: Josh Heupel (AP Player of the Year, Big 12 Player of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Walter Camp Award), Bob Stoops (AP National Coach of the Year, Big 12 Coach of the Year, Eddie Robinson/FWAA Coach of the Year, Paul “Bear” Bryant Award, Walter Camp National Coach of the Year, Woody Hayes National Coach of the Year), J.T. Thatcher (Mosi Tatupu Award — national Special Teams Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks (3): Roy Williams (1st, 2002), Andre Woolfolk (1st, 2003), Teddy Lehman (2nd, 2004)

This Sooners team entered the season ranked No. 19 in the country, but fueled by an impressive three-game stretch in October, it ended the season ranked considerably higher. Behind quarterback and Heisman Trophy runner-up Josh Heupel and a stingy defense, the Sooners started October by destroying No. 11 Texas in the Red River Rivalry and then out-scored No. 2 Kansas State on the road and two weeks later dominated No. 3 Nebraska at home to vault to the top of the rankings. The Sooners would defeat Kansas State a second time in the Big 12 Championship to set up a showdown with No. 3 Florida State (No. 2 in the BCS standings) in the Orange Bowl. Even though they were playing in their home state, the Seminoles’ potent offense, led by quarterback and Heisman winner Chris Weinke, was held in check and scoreless by the Sooners defense in the lowest scoring Orange Bowl in 30 years. Fittingly enough, linebacker Torrance Marshall, who had six tackles and an interception (which ranks as the no. 4 Greatest BCS National Championship Performance), took home MVP honors as Oklahoma defeated Florida State 13-2 to capture its seventh national championship and first since 1985.

2000 Schedule:

Sept. 2: Oklahoma 55, UTEP 14 (Norman, OK)
Sept. 9: Oklahoma 45, Arkansas State 7 (Norman, OK)
Sept. 23: Oklahoma 42, Rice 17 (Norman, OK)
Sept. 30: Oklahoma 34, Kansas 16 (Norman, OK)
Oct. 7: Oklahoma 63, (#11) Texas 14 (Dallas, TX)
Oct. 14: Oklahoma 41, (#2) Kansas State 31 (Manhattan, KS)
Oct. 28: Oklahoma 31, (#3) Nebraska 14 (Norman, OK)
Nov. 4: Oklahoma 56, Baylor 7 (Waco, TX)
Nov. 11: Oklahoma 35, (#23) Texas A&M 31 (College Station, TX)
Nov. 18: Oklahoma 27, Texas Tech 13 (Norman, OK)
Nov. 25: Oklahoma 12, Oklahoma State 7 (Stillwater, OK)
Dec. 2: Oklahoma 27, (#8) Kansas State 24 (Big 12 Championship – Kansas City, MO)
Jan. 3: Oklahoma 13, (#3) Florida State 2 (Orange Bowl, National Championship)

6. Florida Gators, 2008 (13-1, 7-1*)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Led the SEC in rushing (231.1 ypg), total offense (445.1 ypg), scoring (43.6 ppg), pass efficiency defense (96.76), scoring defense (12.9 ppg), punting (38.1 ypp), turnover margin (+1.57) and passing efficiency (170.6). Percy Harvin led the SEC in scoring at 10.2 ppg.
Award Winners: Tim Tebow (Maxwell, SEC Off. Player of the Year), Brandon James (SEC Special Teamer of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Joe Haden (1st, 2010), Maurkice Pouncey (1st, 2010), Carlos Dunlap (2nd, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010), Mike Pouncey (1st, 2011), Marcus Gilbert (2nd, 2011)

Tim Tebow had his Heisman Trophy (2007) and a national championship ring (2006). But when the Florida Gators lost to the Ole Miss Rebels in The Swamp on a final drive fourth-down stop, Tebow took his legendary legacy to new heights. After fumbling, taking sacks and missing open receivers, the Gainesville idol gave one of the most famous speeches in college football history: “You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season.” The Gators then went on to crush quality opponents Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State and Alabama by an average of 31.8 points per game. The win over No. 1 and unbeaten Alabama pushed the Gators into the national title game against another No. 1. The Chosen One then delivered on his promise (and halftime speech) by throwing for 231 yards and two scores while rushing for 109 yards on 22 carries to outlast Oklahoma 24-14. He claimed his second national championship in three years before announcing he would return for his senior year. The 2008 Gators tied the 1996 national champs as the highest-scoring team in school history (611 points).

2008 Schedule:

Aug. 30: Florida 56, Hawaii 10 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 6: Florida 26, Miami 3 (Gainesville, FL)
Sept. 20: Florida 30, Tennessee 6 (Knoxville, TN)
Sept. 27: Ole Miss 31, Florida 30 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 4: Florida 38, Arkansas 7 (Fayetteville, AR)
Oct. 11: Florida 51, LSU 21 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 25: Florida 63, Kentucky 5 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 1: Florida 49, Georgia 10 (Jacksonville, FL)
Nov. 8: Florida 42, Vanderbilt 14 (Nashville, TN)
Nov. 15: Florida 56, South Carolina 6 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 22: Florida 70, Citadel 19 (Gainesville, FL)
Nov. 29: Florida 45, Florida State 15 (Tallahassee, FL)
Dec. 6: Florida 31, Alabama 20 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 8: Florida 24, Oklahoma 14 (Miami Gardens, FL, BCS NCG)

7. Florida State Seminoles, 1999 (12-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bobby Bowden
Championships: ACC, Sugar Bowl, National
Key Stats: Janikowski led NCAA in FGM/Game (23 FGM), Led the ACC in passing 302.9 ypg and fourth in the nation in scoring at 37.5 ppg. Led the ACC in total defense (302.6 ypg).
Award Winners: Sebastian Janikowski (Lou Groza), Peter Warrick (Sugar Bowl MVP)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Peter Warrick (1st, 2000), Corey Simon (1st, 2000), Sebastian Janikowski (1st, 2000), Jamal Reynolds (1st, 2001), Derrick Gibson (1st, 2001), Tommy Polley (2nd, 2001), Anquan Boldin (2nd, 2003)

The best team of the BCS era in the ACC claimed nine first-team All-ACC performers (AP) and six second-team selections. Florida State became the first team in history to go wire-to-wire as No. 1 team in all three polls after beating five ranked opponents. It was the second-highest scoring Noles team of the BCS era and No. 7 highest-scoring team in FSU history. Chris Weinke and Peter Warrick outlasted Michael Vick and the Hokies in the memorable 1999 championship game. Warrick, after surviving some off-the-field incidents, claimed MVP honors after catching six passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns and returning a punt for a score. His 220 all-purpose yards are fourth all-time in a title game and his 20 points (3 TDs, 2-pt) are a BCS title game record. (It was the No. 11 BCS title game performance.) The win gave Bobby Bowden his second national championship.

1999 Schedule:

Aug. 28: Florida State 41, Louisiana Tech 7 (Tallahassee, FL)
Sept. 11: Florida State 41, (#10) Georiga Tech 35 (Tallahassee, FL)
Sept. 18: Florida State 42, (#20) NC State 11 (Tallahassee, FL)
Sept. 25: Florida State 42, North Carolina 10 (Chapel Hill, NC)
Oct. 2: Florida State 51, Duke 23 (Jacksonville, FL)
Oct. 9: Florida State 31, (#19) Miami 21 (Tallahasse, FL)
Oct. 16: Florida State 33, Wake Forest 10 (Tallahassee, FL)
Oct. 23: Florida State 17, Clemson 10 (Clemson, SC)
Oct. 30: Florida State 35, Virginia 10 (Charlottesville, VA)
Nov. 13: Florida State 49, Maryland 10 (Tallahassee, FL)
Nov. 20: Florida State 30, (#4) Florida 20 (Gainesville, FL)
Jan. 4: Florida State 46, (#2) Virginia Tech 29 (Sugar Bowl)

"First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks
* - team played in the ACC Championship game


8. Tennessee Volunteers, 1998 (13-0, 8-0*)
Head Coach: Phillip Fulmer
Championships: SEC, Fiesta Bowl, National Championship
Key Stats: This team put 11 players into the first or second round of the NFL Draft; Peerless Price is second all-time in BCS bowls with 242 all-purpose yards in the Fiesta Bowl, his 49.8 yards per catch is a BCS title game record.
Award Winners: Phillip Fulmer (AP National Coach of the Year), Peerless Price (Fiesta Bowl MVP), David Cutcliffe (Broyles)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Al Wilson (1st, 1999), Peerless Price (2nd, 1999), Jamal Lewis (1st, 2000), Shaun Ellis (1st, 2000), Raynoch Thompson (2nd, 2000), Chad Clifton (2nd, 2000), Dwayne Goodrich (2nd, 2000), Casey Coleman (2nd, 2000), Deon Grant (2nd, 2000), Travis Henry (2nd, 2001), John Henderson (1st, 2002)

In Year 1 A.P. (after Peyton), the Vols put together their greatest season in nearly five decades. Tee Martin stepped in at quarterback, and aided by a monster backfield that included Travis Henry, Jamal Lewis, Travis Stephens and Shawn Bryson, led the Vols past six ranked opponents for Tennessee’s sixth national championship. The defense held nine of its 13 opponents to 18 points or less. Despite a BCS record 199 yards receiving (242 all-purpose yards) and the game-winning 79-yard touchdown for game MVP Peerless Price, the most important and memorable moment from the 1998 title run involved a stumbling Razorback. Late in the Arkansas game, Tennessee was all but beaten until Billy Ratliff forced guard Brandon Burlsworth into quarterback Clint Stoerner, who gently and inexplicably “placed” the football on the ground. The Vols used a Henry touchdown run in the final seconds to seal the comeback from a 21-3 deficit and the eventual national championship.

1998 Schedule:

Sept. 5: Tennessee 34, (#17) Syracuse 33 (Syracuse, NY)
Sept. 19: Tennessee 20, (#2) Florida 17 (Knoxville, TN)
Sept. 26: Tennessee 42, Houston 7 (Knoxville, TN)
Oct. 3: Tennessee 17, Auburn 9 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 10: Tennessee 22, (#7) Georgia 3 (Athens, GA)
Oct. 24: Tennessee 35, Alabama 18 (Knoxville, TN)
Oct. 31: Tennessee 49, South Carolina 14 (Columbia, SC)
Nov. 7: Tennessee 37, UAB 13 (Knoxville, TN)
Nov. 14: Tennessee 28, (#10) Arkansas 24 (Knoxville, TN)
Nov. 21: Tennessee 59, Kentucky 21 (Knoxville, TN)
Nov. 28: Tennessee 41, Vanderbilt 0 (Nashville, TN)
Dec. 5: Tennessee 24, (#23) Mississippi State 14 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 4: Tennessee 23, (#2) Florida State 16 (Tempe, AZ, Fiesta Bowl)

9. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2011 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: National Championship
Key Stats: Set a BCS era record with 8.2 points allowed per game, led the nation in total defense (183.6 ypg), rushing defense (72.2 ypg) and passing defense (111.5 ypg). Held LSU to zero points, five first downs and 92 yards of offense in the BCS title game.
Award Winners:
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A (Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick, Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower and William Vlachos could all be on this list come April.)

As Athlon Sports' preseason pick as the National Champion, Alabama rolled through its schedule — which included easy victories over three ranked opponents — until the "Game of the Century" on November 5 against LSU. The Tide outplayed the Tigers on offense and defense in that game, but was destroyed on special teams and it cost Saban a perfect season. After crushing rival Auburn, the Tide headed to New Orleans for a rematch with LSU. In a performance that would make the Bear weep openly, the Tide held Jordan Jefferson and the Bayou Bengals to five first downs, 92 yards of offense and no points. Alabama led the nation in every major defensive team NCAA statistic and it showed in the title game. This Crimson Tide team is the only BCS National Champion who failed to win its conference championship and the offense did not possess the same level of explosive talent on offense (and it lost a game) to be ranked ahead of the 2009 Alabama title squad.

2011 Schedule:

Sept. 3: Alabama 48, Kent State 7 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 10: Alabama 27, (#23) Penn State 11 (Happy Valley, PA)
Sept. 17: Alabama 41, North Texas 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Sept. 24: Alabama 38, (#14) Arkansas 14 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 1: Alabama 38, (#12) Florida 10 (Gainesville, FL)
Oct. 8: Alabama 34, Vanderbilt 0 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Oct. 15: Alabama 52, Ole Miss 7 (Oxford, MS)
Oct. 22: Alabama 37, Tennessee 6 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 5: (#1) LSU 9, Alabama 6 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 12: Alabama 24, Mississippi State 7 (Starkville, MS)
Nov. 19: Alabama 45, Georgia Southern 21 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 26: Alabama 42, Auburn 14 (Auburn, AL)
Jan. 9: Alabama 21, (#1) LSU 0 (New Orleans, LA, BCS NCG)

10. LSU Tigers, 2003 (13-1, 7-1*)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Championships: SEC, Sugar Bowl, National Championship
Key Stats: Only one time did a team score more than 14 points against LSU (Arkansas, 24). Led the nation in total defense (252.0 ypg) and scoring defense (11.0 ppg), held Heisman winner Jason White to 13-of-37 passing in title game.
Award Winners: Chad Lavalais (SEC Def. Player of the Year), Nick Saban (AP National Coach of the Year), Justin Vincent (Sugar Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Michael Clayton (1st, 2004), Devery Henderson (2nd, 2004), Marquise Hill (2nd, 2004), Marcus Spears (1st, 2005), Corey Webster (2nd, 2005), Joseph Addai (1st, 2006), Andrew Whitworth (2nd, 2006), LaRon Landry (1st, 2007), Dwayne Bowe (1st, 2007), Chris Davis (1st, 2007)

Armed with the nation’s nastiest defense, Nick Saban restored the LSU name to prominence in only his fourth year at the helm. His team led the nation in total defense at 252 yards per game and scoring defense at exactly 11.0 points per game. Arkansas was the only team to score more than 14 points against the Bayou Bengals in 2003. Quarterback Matt Mauck steered the ship, freshman Justin Vincent and sophomore Joseph Addai powered the offense and one of the deepest receiving corps in history gave LSU tremendous balance. With three one-loss teams sitting atop the standings — and USC ranked No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches’ Poll — the computers controversially placed the Sooners in the National Championship game against the Tigers. After the 21-14 win over an Oklahoma team boasting the Heisman, Thorpe, Lombardi and Bednarik winners, LSU claimed the BCS national title — splitting the votes with USC. It was their first national championship since 1958.

2003 Schedule:

Aug. 30: LSU 49, UL Monroe 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 6: LSU 59, Arizona 13 (Tucson, AZ)
Sept. 13: LSU 35, Western Illinois 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 20: LSU 17, (#7) Georgia 10 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Sept. 27: LSU 41, Mississippi State 6 (Starkville, MS)
Oct. 11: Florida 19, LSU 7 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Oct. 18: LSU 33, South Carolina 7 (Columbia, SC)
Oct. 25: LSU 31, (#17) Auburn 7 (Baton Rouge, LA
Nov. 1: LSU 49, Louisiana Tech 10 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Nov. 15: LSU 27, Alabama 3 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 22: LSU 17, (#15) Ole Miss 14 (Oxford, MS)
Nov. 28: LSU 55, Arkansas 24 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Dec. 6: LSU 34, (#5) Georgia 13 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 4: LSU 21, (#3) Oklahoma 14 (New Orleans, LA, Sugar Bowl)

11. Auburn Tigers, 2010 (14-0, 8-0*)
Head Coach: Gene Chizik
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Cam Newton's 4,327 yards of total offense fset a single-season SEC record; Tigers set a school record with 41.2 points per game, led the nation in passing efficiency 180.52, won seven games by one score or less.
Award Winners: Cam Newton (Heisman Trophy, Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, SEC Off. Player of Year), Nick Fairley (Lombardi), Lee Ziemba (SEC Top Blocker)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Cam Newton (1st, 2011), Nick Fairley (1st, 2011)

The one-year wonders Cam Newton and Nick Fairley gave Auburn arguably its most important recruiting haul in history when they both chose the Loveliest Village on the Plains. The Heisman Trophy winner willed his team to victory against Mississippi State, Clemson, Kentucky, Alabama, Oregon and defined his legacy with an incredible 49-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of a tied game with LSU. His 217 rushing yards in the 24-17 win over the Tigers broke a single-game SEC rushing record for a quarterback. Newton finished with 2,854 yards passing, 1,473 yards rushing and an SEC second-best 51 total touchdowns. This is the only 14-win team in school history and was the highest-scoring Tigers team in program history by a wide margin — their 577 points topped Terry Bowden’s 1995 team by 139 points (41.2 ppg against 36.5 ppg).

2010 Schedule:

Sept. 4: Auburn 52, Arkansas State 26 (Auburn, AL)
Sept. 9: Auburn 17, Mississippi State 14 (Starkville, MS)
Sept. 18: Auburn 27, Clemson 24 (Auburn, AL)
Sept. 25: Auburn 35, (#12) South Carolina 27 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 2: Auburn 52, UL Monroe 3 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 9: Auburn 37, Kentucky 34 (Lexington, KY)
Oct. 16: Auburn 65, (#12) Arkansas 43 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 23: Auburn 24, (#6) LSU 17 (Auburn, AL)
Oct. 30: Auburn 51, Ole Miss 31 (Oxford, MS)
Nov. 6: Auburn 62, Tennessee-Chattanooga 24 (Auburn, AL)
Nov. 13: Auburn 28, (#9) Alabama 27 (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Dec. 4: Auburn 56, (#18) South Carolina 17 (Atlanta, GA)
Jan. 10: Auburn 22, (#2) Oregon 19 (Glendale, AZ, BCS NCG)

12. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2002 (14-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Jim Tressel
Championships: Big Ten Co-Champs, Fiesta Bowl, National Championship
Key Stats: Ranked No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense (13.1 ppg) and No. 3 nationally in rushing defense (77.7 ypg), this was the first team in NCAA history to finish 14-0
Award Winners: Maurice Clarett (Big Ten Freshman of the Year), Mike Doss (Big Ten Co-Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Mike Doss (2nd, 2003), Will Smith (1st, 2004), Chris Gamble (1st, 2004), Michael Jenkins (1st, 2004), Mike Nugent (2nd, 2005)

The team that never gave up began the season ranked No. 13 in the nation and slowing grinded their way to the No. 1 spot in the final standings. The Buckeyes beat five ranked teams, including the Big East's No. 2 team of the BCS era, en route to the 2002 National Championship. Behind gritty play from quarterback Craig Krenzel and a freshman school rushing record from Maurice Clarett (1,237 yards), the Bucks found themselves as heavy underdogs to defending national champs Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. Yet, the staunch Buckeye defense and two key touchdowns (and one great forced fumble/recovery) from Clarett gave Ohio State its sixth consensus national championship. The much-debated pass inference penalty also will go down in history as one of the more controversial plays — even if it was the right call. This Ohio State team sent an NFL record 14 players to the league in the 2004 draft (five were selected in 2003 and three in 2005). This is the only Big Ten team to have claimed a BCS National Championship making them the top Big Ten team of the BCS Era.

2002 Schedule:

Aug. 24: Ohio State 45, Texas Tech 21 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 7: Ohio State 51, Kent State 17 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 14: Ohio State 25, (#10) Washington State 7 (Columbus, OH)
Sept. 21: Ohio State 23, Cincinnati 19 (Cincinnati, OH)
Sept. 28: Ohio State 45, Indiana 17 (Columbus, OH)
Oct. 5: Ohio State 27, Northwestern 16 (Evanston, IL)
Oct. 12: Ohio State 50, San Jose State 7 (Columbus, OH)
Oct. 19: Ohio State 19, Wisconsin 14 (Madison, WI)
Oct. 26: Ohio State 13, (#17) Penn State 7 (Columbus, OH)
Nov. 2: Ohio State 34, (#19) Minnesota 3 (Columbus, OH)
Nov. 9: Ohio State 10, Purdue 6 (West Lafayette, IN)
Nov. 16: Ohio State 23, Illinois 16 (Champaign, IL)
Nov. 23: Ohio State 14, (#12) Michigan 9 (Columbus, OH)
Jan. 3: Ohio State 31, (#1) Miami 24 (Fiesta Bowl, BCS NCG)

13. Florida Gators, 2006 (13-1, 7-1*)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: Florida held Heisman winner Troy Smith to four completions in the title game and the Buckeyes to 82 total yards.
Award Winners: Percy Harvin (SEC Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Reggie Nelson (1st, 2007), Jarvis Moss (1st, 2007), Derrick Harvey (1st, 2008), Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010)

After defeating a ranked Tennessee, LSU, Georgia and Arkansas, the Florida Gators entered the 2006 BCS national title game as a big underdog to Ohio State. But an NFL-heavy defense delivered one of the greatest defensive performances in championship game history. Jarvis Moss, Reggie Nelson, Derrick Harvey and company harassed Heisman winner Troy Smith all day. Smith threw for 35 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and was sacked five times. They held the OSU rushing attack to 47 yards on 23 carries. Ohio State totaled 82 yards of offense in the 41-14 beatdown. Cult hero Tim Tebow touched the ball 11 times and scored twice to begin his eternal legacy at Florida. Florida sent nine played into the 2007 NFL Draft. The only loss came at the hands of No. 11 Auburn 27-17 in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

14. LSU Tigers, 2007 (12-2, 6-2*)
Head Coach: Les Miles
Championships: SEC, BCS National Championship
Key Stats: LSU beat seven ranked teams; the only BCS champion with two losses.
Award Winners: Glenn Dorsey (Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott, SEC Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Glenn Dorsey (1st, 2008), Tyson Jackson (1st, 2009)

By definition only, this is the “worst” BCS national champion due its two losses. However, wins over ranked Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee (with back-up quarterback Ryan Perrilloux) and Ohio State gave the Bayou Bengals the crystal ball nonetheless. The Tigers were undefeated in regulation, however, as both Kentucky and Arkansas needed overtime to top the Tigers. Despite the two losses and the 83 combined points allowed, the LSU Tigers defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes in relatively easy fashion 38-24. Matt Flynn threw four touchdown passes, and the defense, led by an 8-tackle, 1.5-sack, forced fumble performance by Ali Highsmith, kept the Bucks at arm’s length the entire game. It was the Tigers' second national title in five years.

"First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks
* - team won a conference championship game

Teaser:
<p> The BCS just finished its 14th season. How do the 14 champions stack-up against each other?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - 05:50
All taxonomy terms: Washington Huskies, College Football
Path: /college-football/tosh-lupoi-gives-washington-sarkisian-dream-coaching-staff
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

What a difference a weekend can make.

The Oregon Ducks entered the weekend as the clear-cut No. 1 team in the Pac-12 North and a likely preseason top five team nationally for 2012. The Washington Huskies still had holes to fill on the coaching staff and in the ’12 recruiting class.

Three days later, Steve Sarkisian’s bunch might be the pick in the Pac-12 North in 2012.

Ducks’ quarterback Darron Thomas made a peculiar decision to leave early for the NFL after back-to-back 30-touchdown seasons in Eugene. Certainly, he has been incredibly productive, but he does not have the skill-set required to play under center at the next level and will likely fall deep into draft weekend. He had a chance to be the top star on a beautiful — in all senses of the word — campus next fall and would have entered the season pointing to a November 3 meeting in Los Angeles with USC as 2012’s “Game of the Century.”

On Monday, however, Coach Sark sent shockwaves rippling down the West Coast when he hired former Cal defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi. The young, talented rising star joins a completely reworked defensive coaching staff that also includes former Boise State and Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and former Vols linebacker coach and star recruiter Peter Sirmon.

Lupoi, who was the 2010 National Recruiter of the Year (Rivals.com), will take over as the defensive line coach and defensive run game coordinator at Washington. It sounds like a lateral move, so why did Lupoi jump ship for a Pac-12 rival after 12 years in Berkeley? Especially considering that the up-and-comer was the youngest full-time coach in Cal history, was selling the hottest name brand on the recruiting trail and helped coach the No. 1 defense in the Pac-12 in 2011?

Did I mention he did all of this for his alma mater?

The newly minted 29-year-old Washington Husky was an All-Academic defensive lineman for Cal from 2000-2005 after winning a prep national title at famed De La Salle High School in California. He coached a defense that led the league in total defense, first downs allowed and passing yards per game. He had developed first-round talents Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan, making the Golden Bears only the second team in league history to place a defensive lineman into back-to-back first rounds. He is the complete package.

The two-fold answer is rather simple. First, Wilcox has been a mentor to Lupoi and likely played a huge role in pulling him to Seattle. Second, Sarkisian backed up the Brinks truck. Lupoi made $164,000 in 2011 and could make upwards of $500,000 in 2012. Sarkisian and the Huskies spent roughly $2.1 million on their coaching staff last year and will be well above that number this year, according to @BCondotta.

The program has recognized an opportunity and clearly appears dedicated to building a top-10 program.

“Coach Lupoi is a terrific young coach and a dynamic recruiter,” Sarkisian said. “He will have an immediate impact with our team both on the field and in recruiting.”

With Wilcox and Sirmon, who developed a reputation as an incredible recruiter while at Tennessee in his own right, Lupoi gives Sarkisian arguably the most talented defensive coaching staff in the league. All three are proven commodities on the sidelines and will undoubtedly improve a defense that ranked 11th in the league in total yards allowed and scoring defense. They certainly can’t get any worse than the last time U of W took the field, when the Huskies allowed 777 total yards of offense — 482 on the ground — to Baylor in the 67-56 Alamo Bowl loss.

More importantly, however, the new staff will bring an energy and passion to a Washington recruiting trail that has been largely dormant since the early '90s. With just over two weeks until National Signing Day, fans of all parties involved should have a recruiting fireworks show of monumental proportions in the Pacific Northwest.

The No. 1 defensive back in the nation, Sacramento (Calif.) Grant Union’s Shaq Thompson, recently committed to Cal at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. During his time in San Antonio, the Athlon Consensus 100 prospect proved that his lofty status as the top safety in the America was well-deserved. Thompson was very close with Lupoi as well as Wilcox — who recruited Thompson’s older brother Syd’Quan Thompson to Cal.

He is now “50-50 between Cal and Washington,” according to @TaraFOXSports. The Huskies and Bears were his two finalists, and Lupoi was given most of the credit for landing the star defensive back. I fully expect him to be suiting up in Husky Stadium over the next few years.

Arik Armstead, a two-sport star from Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove, is the nation's No. 4 overall player and Cal might have been eliminated from his list now that Lupoi is gone according to @sb_joedavidson. "Tosh was a big reason I'd go to Cal," Armstead said. "I've got more to think about." His announcement could come as early as tomorrow and it appears Notre Dame, Auburn and Cal are his finalists.

Lupoi also gets credit for landing star wideout Keenan Allen two years ago as well as the nation’s No. 2 defensive tackle in 2012, Monrovia’s (Calif.) Ellis McCarthy. McCarthy, a soft verbal to Cal, now appears destined to land in Los Angeles. Needless to say, there will be plenty of movement between now and Feb. 1.

Fellow AC100 tackle Aziz Shittu, from Atwater (Calif) Buhach, had the following to say on Twitter in response to the news. It should pretty much sum up how Cal fans feel today:

“WOWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!! The Game Just Changed,” and eight minutes later, “I want to cryyyyyy.” Shittu had narrowed his list to Cal, USC, UCLA and Stanford.

That should tell you all you need to know about the impact Lupoi will have in Seattle.

Teaser:
<p> Tosh Lupoi Gives Washington, Sarkisian Dream Coaching Staff</p>
Post date: Monday, January 16, 2012 - 08:58
Path: /college-football/college-football-2011-coaching-awards
Body:

-by CoachesByTheNumbers.com

2011 is officially in the books. It was another amazing season of college football. As we enter the postseason, with already 25 new coaches set to take the reigns in 2012, let's look back over 2011 hand out our coaching awards for who we think, by the numbers, outperformed their coaching peers:

Coach of the Year - Nick Saban

With a decisive 21-0 victory over Les Miles' LSU Tigers in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, Nick Saban secured his third National Title and his place as one of the great head coaches in modern football history. For the 2011 season, Coach Saban was our highest rated CBTN Head Coach. When it comes to the numbers, there aren't many areas where Coach Saban's team didn't excel. His team averaged almost 35 points per game and gave up an astonishingly low 8.15 points per game. Coach Saban's team also had the highest positive spread between converting on 3rd Downs on offense and forcing 4th Downs on defense. However, the most impressive statistic was the fact that that all 12 of Bama's victories in 2011 were by 14 or more points. This stat is even more impressive when you consider that Alabama played the 15th toughest schedule in the country. Nick Saban is a true master of his craft and we salute him with the CBTN Head Coach of the Year Award.

Offensive Coordinator of the Year - Paul Chryst

Coach Chryst was not our number one rated offensive coordinator By The Numbers. In fact, Coach Chryst was not our second rated offensive coordinator By The Numbers. Coach Chryst ended the 2011 season as our 4th rated offensive coordinator (3rd if you consider that Randy Clements and Phillip Montgomery are Co-OC's at Baylor). So, how and why are we giving our Offensive Coordinator of the Year Award to Paul Chryst? The four coaches who rated higher than Coach Chryst according to our CBTN proprietary formula all have one thing in common: they serve as offensive coordinators under head coaches who have offensive backgrounds and are highly involved in every aspect of the offense. Coach Chryst serves as the offensive coordinator under a head coach who has a defensive background and whose involvement in the offense is certainly limited, if only relatively so. When it came to the numbers for 2011, we felt as if Paul Chryst could truly call his stats his own. Speaking of numbers, let's take a look at a few for Coach Chryst (numbers in parenthesis represent national ranking)

Avg. Scor. Off. Avg. Tot. Off. 3rd Down Eff. TOs Lost Pts. Per Play Yds Per Play Rush Yds Per Game Rush TDs Per Game
44.1 ppg
(6)
469.9 ypg
(14)
54.71%
(1)
10
(1)
0.66
(1)
7.02
(5)
235.57 ypg
(11)
3.43
(2)

And what's really amazing about Wisconsin's 44.14 points per game is the fact the next closest average scoring offense in the Big 10 was Michigan at 33.31 ppg. Coach Chryst is leaving Madison to be the head coach of the Pittsburgh Panthers, and we are pleased to send him off with the 2011 CBTN Offensive Coordinator of the Year Award.

Defensive Coordinator of the Year - John Chavis

John Chavis, aka "The Chief", has been proving his mastery of defensive football for over a decade now. John Chavis ended the 2011 season as our highest rated defensive coordinator and his numbers are just plain gawdy. Here are a few stats to consider (numbers in parenthesis represent national ranking):

Avg. Scor. Def. Avg. Tot. Def. 3rd Down Eff. Turnovers Gained Pts. Per Play Yds Per Play Rush Yds Per Game % of Games Giving Up 10 or Less Pts
11.29 ppg
(2)
261.50 ypg
(2)
33.97%
(19)
30
(16)
0.18 ppp
(2)
4.08 ypp
(2)
90.07 ypg
(5)
50.00%

What really makes The Chief's numbers even more impressive is the fact that LSU played the 7th hardest schedule in all of college football (including Alabama twice). Additionally, Chavis matched wits with four of the game's most prolific and innovative offensive minds (Chip Kelly, Dana Holgorsen, Gus Malzahn, and Bobby Petrino). These four offensive masterminds averaged just 18.75 points per game against The Chief this year. Overall for 2011, these four coaches averaged 36.54 points per game. All Hail The Chief as the 2011 CBTN Defensive Coordinator of the Year.

Overachiever of the Year Award - Bill Snyder

If you have spent any time on our site, you will know that we are huge fans of Bill Snyder. When it comes to coaching, Bill Snyder has to be considered one of the greats of all time. In fact, if he had been able to pull off another upset against Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, he would have more than likely been our Head Coach of the Year. Here is all you really need to know on this one: Over the last four years, Kansas State has had an average recruiting ranking (per Scout.com) of 80 (out of 120 teams). This season, Kansas State played the 8th toughest schedule in college football. Of their 13 games, 10 were played with inferior talent. Kansas State finished the season 10-3, with its three losses coming against two Top 5 teams and Oklahoma, who finished the season ranked 16th by the AP. Bill Snyder proved once again in 2011 that he may just be, as Barry Switzer noted, the coach of the century.

Underachiever of the Year Award - Rick Neuheisel

If you have spent any time on our site, you will also have noticed that we are not very high on Rick Neuheisel. Over the last four years, Neuheisel has had an average recruiting class ranking of 19 (out of 120). During this time, Coach Neuheisel had three top 10 recruiting classes and signed 38 players that were rated as four or five star prospects. With this in mind, let's look at a few numbers. UCLA played nine games this season with superior talent and played six teams who finished the 2011 season .500 or worse. UCLA finished the season 6-8, was 1-7 against teams finishing the year over .500, and lost six games by 14 or more points. Coach Neuheisel was rightly fired before the end of the 2011 season and it is our pleasure to close his out his reign at UCLA with the 2011 CBTN Underachiever of the Year Award.

Best New Head Coach - Hugh Freeze

Since Arkansas State joined the ranks of the big boys (FBS) in 1992, the Red Wolves had never won more than six games and had only one season in which they won more games than they lost. In his first year as head coach, Hugh Freeze led Arkansas State to a 10-3 record, an undefeated conference record, and a Sun Belt Conference Championship. The Wolves led the Sun Belt Conference in Scoring Offense and were second only to FIU in Scoring Defense. To say the very least, Coach Freeze did one heck of a coaching job in his first year with the Red Wolves. He did such a good job that Ole Miss decided to make him the next coach of the Rebels. Congratulations to Coach Freeze on a remarkable year. Good luck in Ole Miss (you will need it), and we hope the 2011 CBTN Best New Head Coach Award will make the year just a tad bit sweeter for you.

CBTN Vegas Coach of the Year - Sonny Dykes

He had a pretty solid year on the field (8-5 with a bowl loss to TCU), but he had a really great year off the field against Vegas. Overall, Sonny Dykes finished the season 11-2 ATS and was 7-0 ATS as an underdog. Vegas consistently underestimated Coach Dykes, and rewarded all bettors handsomely. Our CBTN Money Rating for Coach Dykes this year was +$880, meaning if you would have bet the standard $110 ATS on every game he coached this year, you'd be up +$880. Congratulations to Coach Dykes for winning the award that no coach (except Pete Rose) would ever care to win. The 2011 CBTN Vegas Coach of the Year Award is all yours Sonny.

Teaser:
<p> College Football 2011 Coaching Awards</p>
Post date: Monday, January 16, 2012 - 06:07
All taxonomy terms: Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, NFL
Path: /nfl/tebow-broncos-have-no-chance-beat-patriots
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 4 Denver (8-8) at No. 1 New England (13-3)
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, CBS

January 20, 2008.

That is the date of the New England Patriots' last playoff win. It’s actually a little hard to believe, frankly, and you can bet that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady know that date by heart.

And it’s just one reason why the Denver Broncos have no chance of pulling off the upset this weekend in Foxborough.

The second weekend of the NFL Playoffs is a different beast. The best four teams in the league, by record, are in action against the best that the Wild Card Weekend has to offer. Many fans point to this weekend as the best weekend in football each year, and Tim Tebow's presence this year only adds to the electricity.

The numbers in Tebow’s postseason debut against Pittsburgh are hard to ignore. He threw for 316 yards and threw for an NFL postseason single-game record 31.6 yards per completion. CBS’s overnight rating was a 31.6 for the final quarter-hour, and the Steelers' time of possession was 31:06. And last Sunday was the three-year anniversary (to the day) of his BCS National Championsip victory over Oklahoma during which he wore "John 3:16" — arguably the most well-known Bible verse in history — under his eyes. Oh, and Demaryius Thomas was born on Christmas.

You can’t make that stuff up. However, does any of that help the Broncos stop Brady and the Patriots? Cause the Orange Crush certainly couldn’t do it at home a month ago.

On December 18, New England went to Denver and dominated the Broncos 41-23. Tebow was held to seven second-half points, and Brady was magical. He completed 23-of-34 passes for 320 yards and scored three touchdowns (one rushing). Brady's emphatic spike following his touchdown run indicated just how much the game meant to him and his team. The win halted the Broncos six-game winning streak and sent Tebowmania spiraling into a three-game losing streak to finish the year.

Denver was 4-of-10 on third down, 0-2 on fourth down, completed 47.8% of its passes, possessed the ball for only 26:19 minutes and fumbled four times.

Adding to the intrigue of the rematch is how Tebow and Thomas landed in Denver. Former head coach Josh McDaniels traded up to snag the two talented prospects, and now McDaniels will be standing on the Patriots sideline once again. In a game that has no lack of storylines, McHoodie Jr.’s return to Boston feels like back page news.

At the end of the day, the Patriots are at home and are very hungry. Fans can bet that Belichick, who might be the best game-manager and preparer in NFL history, learned from Mike Tomlin's and Dick LeBeau’s mistakes a week ago. Don’t expect a lot of zero blitzes and 9-men-in-the-box formations from the Patriots. Remember, this is a team that one time lined up with one defensive lineman in the playoffs.

The NFL catches up with unique schemes, players and ideas awfully quickly. And there is a reason the Broncos are a two-touchdown underdog.

So barring a Tebowie spotting, this feels like the end of Tebowmania — at least, until next fall.

Denver By The Numbers

Scoring Offense: 19.3 ppg (25th)
Passing Offense: 152.1 ypg (31st)
Rushing Offense: 164.5 ypg (1st)
3rd Down Offense: 30.8% (30th)
Giveaways: 30 (25th)
Sacks Allowed: 42.0 (23rd)

Scoring Defense: 24.4 ppg (24th)
Passing Defense: 231.5 ypg (18th)
Rushing Defense: 126.3 ypg (22nd)
3rd Down Defense: 33.5% (6th)
Takeaways: 18 (29th)
Sacks: 41.0 (10th)

New England By The Numbers

Scoring Offense: 32.1 ppg (3rd)
Passing Offense: 317.8 ypg (2nd)
Rushing Offense: 110.3 ypg (20th)
3rd Down Offense: 45.9% (5th)
Giveaways: 17 (3rd)
Sacks Allowed: 32.0 (9th)

Scoring Defense: 21.4 (15th)
Passing Defense: 293.9 ypg (31st)
Rushing Defense: 117.1 ypg (17th)
3rd Down Defense: 43.1% (28th)
Takeaways: 34 (3rd)
Sacks: 40.0 (14th)
 

Teaser:
<p> Tebow, Broncos Have No Chance to Beat Patriots</p>
Post date: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 15:07
Path: /college-football/dooley-tennessee-hits-home-run-sal-sunseri
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

To steal a rather simple phrase from my boss, @AthlonMitch, losing coordinators in the off-season is a double-edged sword.

It is a sign of respect when other institutions from around the nation pilfer from a coaching staff. It means that the head coach has made quality hiring decisions. However, it also means said head man has to search for new blood and convince recruits that the new coaching staff has been stabilized and is still the right fit for them.

So for Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, who has the added pressure of replacing five coaches three weeks from National Signing Day after a tumultuous 5-7 campaign, selecting the right names for the job could not be more critical.

To recap, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who was hired literally and figuratively out of the blue from Boise State, has returned to the Pacific Northwest by taking the same job at Washington under Steve Sarkisian. Linebackers coach and stud recruiter Peter Sirmon also returns to his neck of the woods — he is from Walla Walla, Wash. — by following Wilcox to Seattle. Offensive line coach Harry Heistand took a similar position at Notre Dame, and special teams coordinator and tight end coach Eric Russell reunited with new Cougars head coach Mike Leach at Washington State. Finally, wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett was not retained.

Big Orange nation has been on edge ever since the Kentucky loss, and losing coaches has only made the temperature under Dooley’s rear end escalate. Vols everywhere have been burning up message boards and talk show phones with justified uneasiness.

But Dooley has shut them up – at least, until kickoff on September 1 against NC State in the Georgia Dome.

First, he brought in running backs coach and rising recruiting star Jay Graham from South Carolina. Graham, who played running back at Tennessee, returns to his alma mater after playing an instrumental role in developing and recruiting the best running back in the nation, Marcus Lattimore. Dooley gets a solid A- for this one.

Late Thursday evening, Dooley announced the hiring of offensive line coach Sam Pittman. A college coach of some sort for the better part of 20 years, Pittman comes to Knoxville after five years as the OL coach, and eventual associate head coach, at North Carolina under Butch Davis. He brings considerable experience and was named an ESPN Top 25 recruiter in 2011. Give this one a B+.

But the most important maneuver came on Friday the 13th, no less, when he announced the Vols new defensive coordinator would be former Alabama assistant head coach and linebackers coach Sal Sunseri.

Sunseri, who won two national championships under Nick Saban, got a raise after the title game to roughly $390,000 per year. He will reportedly make somewhere between $700,000 and $800,000 per year over the three-year deal with Tennessee.

The new Tennessee defensive coordinator played linebacker at Pittsburgh (1978-1981) and has been in the coaching business ever since – mostly in the college ranks, but also with a seven-year NFL run at Carolina. He has been incredibly influential in developing talents like Courtney Upshaw, Rolando McClain, Nico Johnson and Dont’a Hightower for Bama of late. Vols’ fans can expect more of the same with youngsters like freshman linebackers A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt as well as developing sophomore line talents Jacques Smith, Daniel Hood and Corey Miller. What system he runs remains to be seen, and shifting to a 3-4 could certainly impact the roles names like Smith would play on the defense.

His coaching talent has been obvious at Alabama — Nick Saban doesn’t hire scrubs to coach his defense — but his ability to pound the recruiting trail will be felt immediately in Knoxville. Graham and Pittman are considered strong recruiters, but they pale in comparison to Sunseri’s considerable skill in luring talent to campus.

When Tennessee was competing for SEC and national titles in the late '90s and early 2000s, the roster was loaded with elite prospects from the Eastern seaboard — from the Mid-Atlantic region down through the Carolinas and into Georgia. This will now be an area of focus once again as Sunseri has a brand name that rings true up and down the coastline.

Certainly, it is easier to recruit to Alabama right now than Tennessee, but fans should expect some fireworks (aka Eddie Goldman) leading up to National Signing Day 2012. Sunseri is credited with landing Athlon Consensus 100 names like Phillip Sims (Chesapeake, Va.), Alfy Hill (Shallotte, N.C.), both Arie and Cyrus Kouandjio (Hyattsville, Md.), Trey DePriest (Springfield, Ohio), Jeoffrey Pagan (Asheville, N.C.) and Cyrus Jones (Baltimore, Md.).

Sunseri is given credit for inking six AC100 (or top 100) recruits for Alabama in the last two classes. The Tide has signed 13 total top 100 talents over that span and is leading the nation with eight AC100 verbals in 2012. By comparison, the Tennessee Vols have signed seven total AC100 recruits as a program over that span, including the recently departed DeAnthony Arnett, and have one Top-100 commitment in the '12 class.

Dooley needed the complete package at defensive coordinator. He needed to win the press conference. He needed a coach who can develop talent and motivate young athletes to play above their skill level. And he needed a coach who can burn up the recruiting trail in key states like Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, D.C. and Pennsylvania.

He accomplished all of the above with the A+ hiring of Sunseri.

"The chance to work with Derek Dooley, who has been around championships and knows what it takes to build an elite program, combined with the rich tradition of the University of Tennessee makes this opportunity so exciting to me," said Sunseri. "I am fired up to work with all of the young talent on the defensive side of the ball, and I can't wait to get up to Knoxville and coach them."

Does putting the right names in the right places automatically mean Dooley will win eight games in 2012 and keep his job at Tennessee? The answer is a resounding no. His evaluation as an SEC head coach is still largely incomplete. Only the 2012 season, on the field, will answer that question.

But make no mistake, he has added some serious experience and recruiting clout to his staff. And the announcements could not have come at a better time as the results of adding Sunseri, Pittman and Graham should be blatantly apparent over the next few weeks. The Vols have already received a massive verbal commitment — literally at 6-foot-5 and 360 pounds — from junior college defensive tackle Daniel McCullers just hours after the announcement.

So it starts today for Sunseri, who will lead the way when the Vols host their biggest official visit weekend of the year over the next two days.

Tennessee fans have been pouring gasoline all over themselves since the inexplicable loss to Kentucky to end the season. But Dooley has officially, if temporarily, put out the fire by landing excellent assistant coaches.

He certainly could use some positive energy and momentum heading into his crucial third season.

Teaser:
<p> Dooley, Tennessee Hit Home Run with Sal Sunseri</p>
Post date: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 12:18
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-non-conference-match-ups-watch
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

The ink is barely dry on the 2011 college football season and Athlon Sports is already fired up about 2012.

The Sears Crystal Ball parade still has plenty of K-Marts to visit before the defending champion Crimson Tide will open practice at the Capstone next summer in an effort to win three titles in four years. But fans can bet Nick Saban is already studying film of the nation's most electric quarterback, Michigan's Denard Robinson.

That is right, two of the most storied programs in history, two 2012 national title contenders and two of the cleanest uniforms of all-time will square off in Cowboys Stadium right out of the gate next fall. Alabama-Michigan is merely the appetizer to what should be yet another stellar college football season.

Here are the top non-conference games to look forward to in 2012:

Week 1 (Sept. 1):

Alabama vs. Michigan (Arlington, Texas)
This game is almost assured of being a top ten match-up and could be the biggest non-conference game of the year nationally. The Michigan backfield combo of Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint will put a totally revamped Bama defense to the test. Alabama isn’t hurting for talent but will have to fill holes throughout the back seven — particularly at linebacker. On offense, Bama has to replace holes at RB, OC, WR and TE but will be facing a reworked Michigan defensive line. This game could have national title implications and will likely come down to quarterback play. Can A.J. McCarron build on his BCS Championship Game MVP performance, or will Shoelace excel on the fast track at Jerry’s World?

Boise State at Michigan State (Aug. 31)
While South Carolina and Vanderbilt get the 2012 season kicked off in Nashville on Thursday night, fans will likely be looking to Friday night for the first marquee match of the season. Boise State, after losing nearly a dozen senior starters from both sides of the ball, will have to go into East Lansing and compete with a team that will be very strong along the line of scrimmage. Replacing Kirk Cousins and Jerel Worthy is not easy, but the Spartans are built from the inside out — just how Mark Dantonio wants it.

Auburn vs. Clemson (Atlanta, Ga.) and NC State vs. Tennessee (Atlanta, Ga.)
These are listed together because they will be played in the same building on the same day. Both sets of Tigers should be able to score but have major questions on defense. NC State returns after a strong finish to 2011 behind quarterback and leader Mike Glennon. The Vols and Derek Dooley are in a near-must-win situation right off the bat as the hot seat in Knoxville will be closely monitored in 2012.

Other Week 1 Match-ups to Watch:

Navy vs. Notre Dame (Dublin, Ire.)
Washington State at BYU
Arkansas State at Oregon
Toledo at Arizona
Southern Miss at Nebraska
Wyoming at Texas
SMU at Baylor

Week 2 (Sept. 8):

West Virginia at Florida State
This game may never happen due to scheduling conflicts and conference realignment. But if it does, it could feature two top-ten teams. Geno Smith and his large array of talented weapons will enter 2012 as a conference contender no matter which league they are in. The media and fans, Athlon Sports included, bought into the hype surrounding this Florida State squad in 2011, and it may be hard not to get excited once again. The Noles will feature one of the most dominant, speedy and physical front sevens in all of the nation. And they will have to be good to slow Smith and company. If E.J. Manuel can stay healthy, and Jimbo Fisher can find a consistent running game, Florida State could find itself in Miami come the New Year. However, if the offensive line (which loses its best two players) doesn’t improve, the Noles could be looking at another four-loss season.

Washington at LSU
The Bayou Bengals will likely begin the season as the No. 1 team in the nation — and should have a chip on their collective shoulder after their awful showing in the title game. Washington isn’t Oregon and likely won’t be able to push around the LSU front seven, but Keith Price is uber-talented and has plenty of pass catchers coming back to challenge those electric LSU DBs down the field.

Miami, Fla. at Kansas State
Bill Snyder returns his Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback (Collin Klein) and plenty of skill talent (John Hubert, Chris Harper). And the defense in Manhattan should also be stout. But Miami fans should expect improvement in Year 2 under Al Golden, and it may all start with this potential Top 25 match-up. Snyder can bet that Golden hasn’t forgotten what happened in 2011 when KSU visited South Beach.

Other Week 2 Match-ups to Watch:

Penn State at Virginia
Oklahoma State at Arizona
Illinois at Arizona State
Iowa State at Iowa
Nebraska at UCLA
Vanderbilt at Northwestern
Wisconsin at Oregon State
USC at Syracuse
Toledo at Wyoming
Utah at Utah State

Week 3 (Sept. 15):

Notre Dame at Michigan State
The Irish defensive front should be nasty in 2012, and they will get a huge strength-on-strength test against a powerful Spartan offensive line. Notre Dame pushed around MSU in the early 2011 meeting and Brian Kelly can bet on the Spartans being fired up about welcoming the Golden Domers to East Lansing next fall.

North Carolina at Louisville
Charlie Strong has the Cardinals in a position to return to a BCS bowl for the first time since 2007. A home date with the Tar Heels means very little to either team as far as conference play is concerned, but this should be a great barometer for two teams with rising expectations.

Other Week 3 Match-ups to Watch:

Virginia Tech at Pitt
Cal at Ohio State
Texas at Ole Miss
Arizona State at Missouri
BYU at Utah
Arkansas State at Nebraska
Texas A&M at SMU
Utah State at Wisconsin
UConn at Maryland

Week 4 (Sept. 22):

Michigan at Notre Dame
Arguably the best game of 2011 featured these two teams and one improbable comeback. Michigan will have already faced Alabama at this point and could be looking to maintain its national championship momentum. Either way, Robinson will be knocked around by a physical Irish front seven that hasn’t forgotten how it lost to the Maize and Blue in 2011. Can he withstand the beating (see E.J. Manuel in the Champs Sports Bowl) and lead Michigan to another key victory over one of its rivals?

Virginia at TCU
The Wahoos are looking to keep the positive trajectory of the program going in 2011 but will be faced with a brutal non-conference slate. Mike London welcomes Penn State to Charlottesville in Week 2 and will then have to travel to TCU two weeks later before facing potential WAC favorite Louisiana Tech in Week 5. Casey Pachall and a plethora of elite offensive skill players will have the Horned Frogs offense in good shape, and the defense is always strong under Gary Patterson, so the O-line is really the only question mark. Fans will know more about these two following this juicy non-con contest.

Other Week 4 Match-ups to Watch:

BYU at Boise State
Syracuse at Minnesota
Louisville at FIU
Louisiana Tech at Illinois

Week 5 (Sept. 29):

Florida State at USF
This weekend won’t feature a huge slate of non-con action, but if Florida State is unbeaten heading down to Tampa, all eyes will be on Raymond James Stadium. If BJ Daniels can become the player USF fans believed he was when he took the starting job three years ago, USF could be a tricky out for FSU. And the inter-Sunshine State rivalries are always intriguing.

Other Week 5 Match-ups to Watch:

Cincinnati at Virginia Tech
TCU at SMU
Louisiana Tech at Virginia

Week 6 (Oct. 6):

Notre Dame vs. Miami (Chicago, Ill.)
What is the old SNL line about a Hurricane vs. Ditka? “Who wins? A Hurricane or Ditka? Ditka – unless the Hurricane is named Hurricane Ditka.” Well, Kelly isn’t quite Mike Ditka, but his defense will do its best Bears impersonation in the Windy City when Miami comes to town. Both teams will be battle-tested at this point and, hopefully for Golden and Kelly, both will have settled on a quarterback by October 6.

Other Week 6 Match-ups to Watch:

Utah State at BYU (Oct. 5)
Boise State at Southern Miss.

Week 7 (Oct. 13:

Stanford at Notre Dame

Week 8 (Oct. 20):

Cincinnati at Toledo

Week 9 (Oct. 27):

Notre Dame at Oklahoma
The Sooners schedule is largely unsettled, but one of two contests set in stone is a visit from the Fighting Irish near Halloween. Notre Dame will have played an incredible schedule at this point and will be in one of two situations: As an unblemished top five team or a bruised, beaten and mangled program that likely lacks great quarterback play. College football fans should be rooting for the former rather than the latter.

Week 12 (Nov. 17):

Wake Forest at Notre Dame

Week 13 (Nov. 24):

Georgia Tech at Georgia
The ACC-SEC rivalries are a fantastic capper to the college football season every year. But in 2012, the stakes could be much higher for a most of the programs involved. First, Georgia is a dark horse national title contender with an “easy” schedule, the best QB in the SEC and 10 starters returning to a much-improved defense. Tech could be playing to knock its rival out of the BCS national title game.

Florida at Florida State
The Noles could also enter the final weekend of regular season action in national title contention. The Gators have been shelled two years in a row by the rival Seminoles and would love an opportunity to knock Jimbo Fisher from the ranks of the unbeaten.

South Carolina at Clemson
One of the most underrated rivalries nationally takes place in the Palmetto State every year. South Carolina and Clemson could both have a single-digit ranking next to their names when they enter the final week of the season, only adding to the palpable hatred between these two programs. Sammy Watkins and Marcus Lattimore should be on full display in this one — as it could be Lattimore’s final regular season game as a Gamecock.

Other Week 13 Match-ups to Watch:

Notre Dame at USC
South Florida at Miami
Vanderbilt at Wake Forest

Related 2012 Content:

2012 Heisman Trophy Candidates

Very Early Preseason 2012 College Football Top 25

Athlon Roundtable: Who are the BCS National Title Contenders in 2012?

What To Expect from the Crimson Tide in 2012?

What To Expect from the LSU Tigers in 2012?

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

Three Teams on the Rise in 2012

Three Teams Sliding Back in 2012

Top Non-Conference Games to Watch in 2012

Athlon Consensus 100: 2012's Top 100 Incoming Freshman

Teaser:
<p> 2012 College Football Non-Conference Match-ups to Watch</p>
Post date: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/2012-heisman-trophy-early-favorites
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

Here at Athlon Sports it is never too early to start looking ahead to the 2012 football season. With an early Top 25 from Steven Lassan to what to expect from the defending champs and the 2012 LSU Tigers to three teams on the rise and three teams on the slide to analyzing the SEC schedules, Athlon Sports is already previewing 2012 in full force. And we haven’t even reached National Signing Day 2012 yet.

The Heisman Trophy is the most coveted award in all of sports. And should the reigning award winner Robert Griffin III decide to return to Baylor, he instantly becomes the top option on this list. However, with the defection of other favorites, LaMichael James, Chris Polk, Andrew Luck and Ronnie Hillman, the front-runners for the 2012 Heisman Trophy are beginning to become more apparent.

The 2012 Heisman Finalists:

Matt Barkley, QB, USC (SR)
2011 Stats: 3,528 yards, 39 TD, 7 INT, 69.1%, 14 rush yards, 2 TD

The nation’s No. 1-rated player in the 2009 Athlon Consensus 100 has completely lived up to his recruiting hype and is now the top candidate for the 2012 bronze statue. He set a USC single-season passing record with 39 scoring strikes in 2011, including 17 in his final four games. His team will likely start in the preseason top five, if not No. 1, and will return the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the nation. Barkley will enter his fourth year under center as the Heisman Trophy front-runner.

Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina (JR)
2011 Stats: 163 att., 818 yards, 10 TD, 19 rec., 182 yards, TD

With Trent Richardson moving on to the NFL, Lattimore becomes easily the most talented running back in the country. Through six games and some change before suffering a season-ending injury, Lattimore rushed for 818 and caught 182 yards (144.3 yards from scrimmage per game) and scored 11 total times. He will be the focal point of the offense once again and will likely be a first-team All-American in the preseason. He is simply the most gifted player at his position and could post SEC-record rushing numbers if all falls correctly for the Gamecocks.

Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan (SR)
2011 Stats: 2,173 yards, 20 TD, 15 INT, 55.1%, 1,176 rush yards, 16 TD

The most electric player in the nation will return to Ann Arbor with championship aspirations — and possibly not just Big Ten title hopes. He has posted back-to-back 2,000-yard passing and 1,000-yard rushing seasons for unprecedented levels of production from the quarterback position. He has 2,878 yards rushing and 30 scores on the ground over the last two seasons and 4,743 yards through the air with 38 more touchdowns. With Michigan returning largely intact and the likely favorite in the Legends Division (and a BCS Bowl win under his belt already), Shoelace looks to be the top challenger to Barkley in 2012 for the Heisman.

Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (SR)
2011 Stats: 307 att., 1,923 yards, 33 TD, 24 rec., 306 yards, 6 TD

Ball will not come close to posting the numbers he did in 2011, so he is a finalist by default as the top returning vote getter. He tied Barry Sanders' single-season TD record with 39 (to quote one of the greats, "he got more 6s than first grade"), so it a virtual certainty that his scoring numbers will drop behind a revamped offensive line (that always seems to reload) and a quarterback who will be largely unproven. Ball led the nation in rushing and touchdowns and is unlikely to do so again, but his work ethic, the system in which he plays and the fact that Wisconsin could play for a Big Ten title could put Ball back in New York in 2012.

The Runners-Up:

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia (SR)
2011 Stats: 4,385 yards, 31 TD, 7 INT, 65.8%, 2 rush TD

Smith was already going to be on most Heisman preseason lists, but a 407-yard, 6-TD performance in the Orange Bowl win over Clemson only solidified him as an elite passer. He can make every throw on the field and has a plethora of talented receivers coming back. Since this team will likely be playing in the Big 12, which has had the uncanny knack for inflating quarterback numbers recently, Smith and head coach Dana Holgorsen are going to leave opposing defenses charred and crippled on most Saturdays.

Robert Woods, WR, USC (JR)
2011 Stats: 111 rec., 1,292 yards, 15 TD, 511 return yards

Woods set a Pac-12 record with 111 receptions as only a sophomore in 2011. The sky is the limit for this uber-talented dynamo who is a complete player at the wide receiver position. He will have talented names like Marquis Lee helping to spread the defense’s attention and the Heisman favorite throwing him passes for the third consecutive season.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia (JR)
2011 Stats: 3,149 yards, 35 TD, 14 INT, 59.1%, 103 rush yards, 2 TD

Murray is simply a winner, and the Bulldogs have a chance to win a lot of games in 2012. The Dawgs will be picked to win the SEC East and have a chance to push for a national title berth. Murray enters his third full year as the starter after back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons and an SEC-leading 35 scoring strikes. If he can correct some of his mistakes (14 INT) and improve his efficiency (59.1%), Murray has a serious chance to end up in New York.

Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska (SR)
2011 Stats: 284 att., 1,357 yards, 15 TD, 21 rec., 177 yards, 2 TD

There may not be a more complete, better all-around football player in the entire nation than Sexy Rexy. The leader, in every aspect of the word, for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Burkhead returns for his second full season as the No. 1. He is a true workhorse who can also line up at quarterback, catch the ball out of the backfield and block with a vengeance. The key to Burkhead’s success in 2012 will be the development of quarterback Taylor Martinez. If the passing game can stretch the defense and open up lanes for No. 22, he could be in for a huge year.

Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech (SR)
2011 Stats: 3,013 yards, 19 TD, 10 INT, 59.8%, 469 rush yards, 11 TD

In his first full season as the starter, Thomas started slowly but exploded into the player Hokies fans envisioned when they landed the star recruit. The Cam Newton clone is devastating as a runner and clearly showed development as a passer as the year went along. Thomas didn’t throw an interception in six of his last nine games. The only issue for Thomas is a reworked offensive line and no David Wilson to help carry the rushing game.

Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State (SR)
2011 Stats: 1,918 yards, 13 TD, 6 INT, 57.3% 1,141 rush yards, 27 TD

Klein tied an NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (Ricky Dobbs, Navy) with 27 scores. He finished with 40 total touchdowns and only six interceptions en route to a 10-win season. The gritty, gutty signal caller for Kansas State will need to keep his team nationally relevant for him to finally start getting the credit he deserves.

Other Stiff-Armed Contenders:

Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon (SR)
2011 Stats: 2,761 yards, 33 TD, 7 INT, 62.2%, 206 rush yards, 3 TD

Does anyone realize that Darron Thomas has thrown back-to-back seasons of 30 touchdown passes? As a three-year starter for the Ducks, Thomas is in charge in 2012, and with Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas providing plenty of speedy big-play options, Thomas’ numbers could be the best of his career (which is scary). Also, the Ducks are likely a preseason top five team nationally and will be the favorite to meet up with USC in the Pac-12 title game.

Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma (SR)
2011 Stats: 4,463 yards, 29 TD, 15 INT, 63.2%, 2 rush TD

Jones’ career numbers alone get him onto this list, but he clearly struggled without Ryan Broyles in what was his worst season as the starter. He returns with over 12,000 yards passing but also 41 career interceptions. Jones will have to take more of a leadership role and produce big numbers — and big wins on the road — to get to New York.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (SO)
2011 Stats: 82 rec., 1,219 yards, 12 TD, 231 rush yards, 826 KR yards, TD

The most electric freshman athlete of 2011 was most certainly Watkins (although, the next name on this list might take umbrage with that statement). The Clemson Tiger star wideout made plays in every facet of the game and is mature well beyond his sophomore classification. If Clemson can keep it together for a full season and the offensive line holes can be plugged, Watkins could find himself in the Big Apple.

Kenjon Barner (SR) and DeAnthony Thomas (SO), RB, Oregon
2011 Stats: 152 att., 939 yards, 11 TD, 17 rec., 184 yards, 3 TD
2011 Stats: 55 att., 595 yards, 7 TD, 46 rec., 605 yards, 9 TD, 983 KR yards, 2 TD

Barner will finally be the starter in the high-powered Oregon rushing attack. He has proven to be very capable of filling in for James and should have no problem producing huge numbers again in 2012. The key will be how Thomas gets worked into the offense. He made huge plays with his electric open-field ability as only a true freshman — and did so in the rushing, receiving and return game. How the touches are divvied up likely impacts which of these two names makes the Heisman push.

Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (JR)
2011 Stats: 3,828 yards, 33 TD, 12 INT, 218 yards, 5 TD

Boyd was magical at times in 2011. Try 24 touchdown passes against only three interceptions during the 8-0 start. However, much like Clemson is apt to do, Boyd inexplicably trailed off, throwing for only nine touchdowns and nine interceptions in the final six games of the season. His talent is there and the skill talent around him is remarkable; however, a totally reworked offensive line will be the key to his upside in 2012.

Ryan Aplin, QB, Arkansas State (SR)
2011 States: 3,588 yards, 19 TD, 16 INT, 63.9%, 588 rush yards, 10 TD

Aplin has been a wildly productive player for more than two seasons. But in his third full year as the starter, for a conference champion no less, he could explode in Paul Smith fashion (look it up). Aplin’s dual-threat ability will fit perfectly with what offensive mastermind Guz Malzahn wants to do schematically.

The Long-Shots:

Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State (SO)
2011 Stats: 1,159 yards, 13 TD, 4 INT, 54.1%, 715 rush yards, 7 TD

The youngest member of this list was unleashed on the Big Ten during the second half of the season last fall. Miller rushed for 472 yards and all seven rushing touchdowns over the Buckeyes' final six games. He also threw eight of his 13 touchdowns over that span. The key for Miller will be continued development as a passer and how much the postseason ban will hurt him a la 2011 Matt Barkley. This team should have the best record in the Leaders Division but will not be allowed to play for a title.

Keith Price, QB, Washington (JR)
2011 Stats: 3,063 yards, 33 TD, 11 INT, 66.9%, 3 rush TD

In his first full season under center, Price made Husky fans quickly forget about Jake Locker. He won seven games and trailed only Andrew Luck as the Pac-12’s most efficient passer. Losing Chris Polk to the NFL will hurt, but there is a litany of talented skill players waiting to step up for Steve Sarkisian.

Keenen Allen, WR, Cal (JR)
2011 Stats: 98 rec., 1,343 yards, 6 TD

Arguably the most physically gifted receiver in the nation, Allen makes the acrobatic catch seem effortless. He has a great rapport with half-brother and quarterback Zach Maynard and will undoubtedly be the top Bears pass-catcher. Keep your eye on No. 21 at all times.

Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas (JR)
2011 Stats: Redshirted due to injury

The most welcome recruit this season in Fayetteville, Ark., will be the return of star tailback Knile Davis. After taking over as the starter about a third of the way through 2010, Davis rushed for at least 100 yards in six of his final seven games, scoring 12 times over that span. Bobby Petrino certainly likes to chuck it around on offense, but his best offenses have always been predicated on a power rushing attack. Davis brings that back to the Hogs offense in 2012.

Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas (SR)
2011 Stats: 3,638 yarsds, 24 TD, 6 INT, 63.2%, 4 rush TD

Anyone running Bobby-P’s offense likely deserves a mention on any early Heisman list. And Wilson is coming off his first full season as the starter in which he led the SEC in passing yards. He will be losing some talented options at wideout, but the receiving corps has plenty of depth and the offense will welcome back Davis. If Wilson can beat Alabama and/or LSU at home and get his team to the SEC title game, he could very easily find himself in Heisman discussions.

Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State (JR)
2011 Stats: 82 rec., 1,388 yards, 12 TD

As the top pass-catching option in a Mike Leach offense, Wilson could produce otherworldly numbers in 2012. He is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to start his career and has done so with three different quarterbacks throwing him the ball. Wazzu will have to win more games, however, in 2012 if this long shot expects to enter the Heisman fray.

Teaser:
<p> Who are the front-runners for the 2012 Heisman Trophy?</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 12, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, NFL
Path: /nfl/which-baltimore-ravens-shows-against-texans
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 3 Houston (10-6) at No. 2 Baltimore (12-4)
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

The Ravens await the Texans on Sunday after winning six of their last seven games, including three wins over playoff teams. But whether or not they advance to the AFC Championship game largely depends on which Baltimore Ravens team shows up.

Baltimore destroyed the 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1 35-7. It rushed for 170 yards and 5.5 yards per carry against the vaunted Steel Curtain. Ray Lewis and company held the Steelers to 66 yards rushing and forced seven turnovers. The tone had been set for the 2011 season, right?

However, the next weekend, Baltimore fell 26-13 to the Tennessee Titans by gaining a grand total of 229 yards. They mustered only 45 yards rushing, turned the ball over three times and couldn’t stop 36-year-old Matt Hasselbeck, who threw for 358 yards and a touchdown in the win.

Two weeks later, Baltimore embarrassed Rex Ryan and the New York Jets 34-17. The Ravens forced four turnovers and held the Jets to 150 total yards of offense. In their next game, the Ravens toppled the then-healthy (aka Matt Schaub) AFC South Champion Houston Texans 29-14 with relative ease.

However, the next weekend, Baltimore fell 12-7 to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Ravens mustered only 146 yards of offense, 34 of which came on the ground, and were out-possessed by the Jags 36:15 to 23:45. Maurice Jones-Drew rolled up 105 yards on 30 carries in the win. It was a lackluster performance from the Ravens to say the least.

In Week 9, Baltimore once again handled the Steelers in what was the best game of the season. On the road against the defending AFC Champions, Joe Flacco played brilliant football in the final frame and tossed a game-winning touchdown with eight seconds left. But once again, the Ravens followed a great victory with a mind-boggling defeat. In Week 10, Baltimore turned the ball over three times and allowed Marshawn Lynch to churn out 167 yards from scrimmage on 37 touches in the 22-17 loss to Seattle.

Are we seeing a trend yet? After winning four straight from Week 11-Week 14 (including wins over San Francisco and Cincinnati), the Ravens laid an inexplicable egg in San Diego. The Chargers gained 415 yards of offense in the 34-14 pounding of the eventual AFC North Champs. The loss could have cost the Ravens the division, and a first-round bye, had the Steelers not also lost that weekend to the Niners.

So what’s the point?

If the right Ravens team shows up on Sunday, Texans’ rookie quarterback T.J. Yates won’t fare much better than Matt Schaub did back in the Week 6 victory over Houston. Baltimore held Arian Foster to his third-worst rushing performance of the season (49 yards, 3.3 ypc). And the Ravens trio will produce big numbers like they did in the first meeting — Flacco threw for 305 yards, Ray Rice totaled 161 yards from scrimmage and Anquan Boldin caught 8 passes for 132 yards. If the right Ravens team shows up on Sunday, the Texans won’t have much of a chance to advance to the AFC title game.

If the wrong Ravens team shows up, the Texans will have a chance. Should this happen, the Texans will have to ride Foster and Ben Tate to victory. Houston will have to control the ball and protect their inexperienced signal caller from a veteran and hostile purple defense. And Wade Phillips will have to call a masterful game on defense in an effort to play a swarming, hard-hitting brand of football.

The Ravens' four losses were to far inferior competition (with the possible exception of the Chargers). However, one thing to note is that all four head-scratching defeats came on the road. The friendly confines of MT&T Bank Stadium have been anything but warm and hospitable to the visiting team. Don’t expect that to change much in The Charm City, where there is a 30% chance of snow and a projected high of 37 degrees.

More likely than not, the Ravens will be the ones playing the hard-hitting, swarming defense, as Yates is indoctrinated into road playoff football at its highest level.

Baltimore By The Numbers

Scoring Offense: 23.6 (12th)
Passing Offense: 213.9 ypg (19th)
Rushing Offense: 124.8 ypg (10th)
3rd Down Offense: 42.4% (7th)
Giveaways: 24 (16th)
Sacks Allowed: 33.0 (12th)

Scoring Defense: 16.6 ppg (3rd)
Passing Defense: 196.3 ypg (4th)
Rushing Defense: 92.6 ypg (2nd)
3rd Down Defense: 32.1% (2nd)
Takeaways: 26 (13th)
Sacks: 48.0 (3rd)

Houston By The Numbers

Scoring Offense: 23.8 (10th)
Passing Offense: 219.1 ypg (18th)
Rushing Offense: 153.0 (2nd)
3rd Down Offense: 41.5% (8th)
Giveaways: 20 (6th)
Sacks Allowed: 33.0 (12th)

Scoring Defense: 17.4 ppg (4th)
Passing Defense: 189.7 ypg (3rd)
Rushing Defense: 96.0 ypg (4th)
3rd Down Defense: 35.8% (14th)
Takeaways: 27 (12th)
Sacks: 44.0 (6th)

ALSO READ:
Are the Texans the most overlooked 3-Seed in NFL History?

 

Teaser:
<p> Which Baltimore Ravens Will Show Up Against the Texans?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - 15:28
Path: /nfl/new-orleans-saints-better-not-overlook-harbaugh-49ers
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 3 New Orleans (13-3) at No. 2 San Francisco (13-3)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX

There is no hotter team in the land than the New Orleans Saints. They are riding a league-high nine-game winning streak and dropped nearly half-a-hundred on the Detroit Lions last weekend. Since the bye (Week 11), Drew Brees and the Saints have won seven games by an average of 20 points per game with only one decided by less than two touchdowns (Tennessee, 22-17). Of those seven wins, four have come against playoff teams (including last weekend). Sean Payton's bunch has been in playoff mode for the better part of two months.

And Brees has been magical down the stretch. Since the bye week, he has averaged 373.8 yards per game and didn’t throw an interception in five of the seven games. He has thrown 26 touchdown passes over that span and completed more than 72.2% of his passes in five of his last six games.

So it is safe to say the Saints are rolling.

They lead the NFL in third-down offense (56.7%), finished second in the league in sacks allowed and fourth in giveaways. They protect Brees and they protect the football. New Orleans has scored at least 40 points in four straight games, has won six straight games over 2011 playoff teams (the only blemish coming in Week 1 against Green Bay) and possesses the all-time NFL single-season all-purpose yardage leader in Darren Sproles. Yup, that is right — Sproles’ 2,696 all-purpose yards in 2011 were an all-time NFL record. No wonder the Fighting Fleur De Lis opened as a 3-point favorite (for entertainment purposes only, of course).

So against a team that scored 40 points one time all season — in fact, the 49ers topped 30 points only three times all year — all signs point to an easy win for the Saints, right?

Not if Jim Harbaugh has something to say about it.

The Cult of Personality head coach has instantly changed the business culture in the Bay Area. And how this game is played will likely determine the winner. The San Francisco 49ers led the NFL not only in takeaways (38) but also in giveaways as well (10), so the Niners are all but assured of winning the turnover differential. Additionally, they lead the NFL in rushing defense and finished second in the league in scoring defense, allowing a miniscule 14.3 points per contest.

Harbaugh isn’t afraid of anyone, and his team plays with the same confidence. Offensively, the 49ers should be able to control the clock and pick up first downs by physically dominating the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Alex Smith hasn’t turned the ball over (5 INT, 0 fumbles lost) this season and will need to continue to protect the ball if the Niners expect to keep up with the Saints. Because his 17 touchdown passes this year are as exactly as many as Brees has had in his last four games.

Converting on third down and scoring touchdowns instead of field goals — two things the 49ers have struggled to do in 2011 — will be the only way San Francisco can pull the upset. New Orleans owns the best third-down offense in the league and finished sixth in the league in red zone touchdown percentage, reaching paydirt on 59.3% of its trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. The 49ers, however, were nearly dead last in the NFL in both categories. They converted on only 29.4% of third downs (31st in the NFL) and scored touchdowns on only 40.7% of trips into the red zone (30th in the NFL). If the Niners can’t sustain drives and score 3s instead of 7s, it could be a long day for Harbaugh.

That said, the Niners also enter the postseason playing well, having won three straight games. They, too, were successful against the NFL’s best, going 3-1 against playoff teams this fall. This game is outdoors on a natural grass surface, which bodes very well for the home team as the Saints are 3-2 outdoors this year and 10-1 in a dome. And Harbaugh certainly wouldn’t mind a little soggy weather rolling in last minute either. But the style of the game is still going to be the deciding factor.

Harbaugh knows he has to keep the score down to win.

San Francisco finished 3-2 in games in which the opposition scored 20 points or more and was 10-1 in which they held the opponent to less than 20 points. There is nothing shocking about winning games when the defense stops the opponent from scoring, but two of the three losses this season came against a team that was able to reach that 20-point plateau. The 49ers are comfortable playing, and would prefer, a low-scoring, tightly contested affair.

The Saints, however, are 6-3 in games in which the opponent scored at least 20 points. They are just as comfortable out-dueling the other team’s offense as the Niners are at eking out victories on defense.

If the 49ers can maintain possession of the ball by converting on third down, score touchdowns instead of field goals, and lastly, pressure Brees with arguably the most dominant front seven in all of football, then the 49ers will win the game.

But if San Francisco is going three and out, settling for field goals and giving Brees time to throw, it will not keep up with the Saints.

The Over/Under total for the game (again, for entertainment purposes only) is currently 47.5. If the game goes under, San Francisco will win. If it goes over, New Orleans will move on to the NFC Championship Game.

New Orleans By The Numbers

Scoring Off: 34.2 ppg (2nd)
Passing Off: 334.2 ypg (1st)
Rushing Off: 132.9 ypg (6th)
3rd Down Off: 56.7% (1st)
Giveaways: 19 (4th)
Sacks Allowed: 24.0 (2nd)

Scoring Def: 21.2 ppg (13th)
Passing Def: 259.8 ypg (30th)
Rushing Def: 108.6 ypg (12th)
3rd Down Def: 33.2% (5th)
Takeaways: 16 (31st)
Sacks: 33.0 (19th)

San Francisco By The Numbers:

Scoring Off: 23.8 ppg (11th)
Passing Off: 183.1 ypg (29th)
Rushing Off: 127.8 ypg (8th)
3rd Down Off: 29.4% (31st)
Giveaways: 10 (1st)
Sacks Allowed: 44.0 (25th)

Scoring Def: 14.3 ppg (2nd)
Passing Def: 230.9 ypg (16th)
Rushing Def: 77.3 ypg (1st)
3rd Down Def: 35.2% (11th)
Takeaways: 38 (1st)
Sacks: 42.0 (7th)
 

Teaser:
<p> New Orleans Saints Can't Overlook Harbaugh, 49ers</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - 12:50
Path: /college-football/path-bcs-championship-alabama-crimson-tide
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

LSU and Alabama played for the national championship last night, and congratulations are in order for the Crimson Tide on adding a sixth straight BCS title to the SEC’s trophy case.

Like any championship in any sport, it took thousands of hours of preparation, scouting, film study, weight work and recruiting to earn the Crystal Ball. It also takes a bit of luck, as was the case for this season’s BCS National Championship game.

LSU clearly earned its way into the title game with an unblemished record, but Alabama needed a little help to get there. Here is a week-by-week look at the college football season and how each Saturday shaped the national championship picture.

Week 1: (4) LSU 40, (2) Oregon 27
The Oregon Ducks entered the season as a slight favorite to defeat the Tigers in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. But the Honey Badger was having none of it, as Tyrann Mathieu and the physical LSU rushing attack (175 yards) handled the defending national runners-up with relative ease. Had the Ducks not committed four turnovers – which became 20 LSU points – who knows how the season would have played out? Instead, LSU moved to No. 2 in the polls. Runner-Up: (5) Boise State 35, (19) Georgia 21

Week 2: (3) Alabama 27, (23) Penn State 11
Other than LSU, the Nittany Lions might have been the best defense Alabama played all season long. Until a late TD by Penn State, this game was well in hand and was easily Alabama’s toughest non-conference test of the year. Trent Richardson rushed 26 times for 106 yards and two scores as the Tide controlled the game from the opening kickoff. They passed with flying colors. In the SEC East, the Gamecocks won a key road test over Georgia. However, the game actually played little role in the outcome of the East division. Runner-Up: (12) South Carolina 45, Georgia 42

Week 3: (1) Oklahoma 23, (5) Florida State 13
A second top-five team was handed its first loss and essentially eliminated from the national title race when Oklahoma’s defense beat up on E.J. Manuel in Tallahassee. The Sooners staked their claim to the BCS with a convincing road win while Manuel’s injury set a bad tone for what would turn out to be a disappointing season for the Noles. Meanwhile, after two terrible losses to start the season, Notre Dame dominated Michigan State, giving the Spartans one of two regular-season losses. LSU, behind a key fourth-quarter Jarrett Lee TD pass to Rueben Randle, squeaked past Mississippi State on the road on Thursday night. Runner-Up: Notre Dame 31, (15) Michigan State 13 / (3) LSU 19, (25) Mississippi State 6

Week 4: (3) Alabama 38, (14) Arkansas 14
This was a big weekend for the BCS national title landscape. Arkansas came into Tuscaloosa unbeaten with eyes on the big upset. But with 10:47 to go in the third, Bama was up 31-7 on the Hogs and eventually out-rushed Arkansas 197 to 17 that afternoon. Meanwhile in College Station, the No. 8-ranked Texas A&M Aggies were choking away their first second-half lead of the season to Oklahoma State. Brandon Weeden and the Pokes vaulted the Cowboys into the top five nationally. Up in Morgantown, LSU was in the process of allowing 533 total yards to West Virginia. But with the help of corners Mathieu and Morris Claiborne (and his 99-yard kickoff return), the Tigers held on for another huge non-conference win. Later that night, USC was upset by Arizona State in what would be one of only two losses for the ineligible Trojans. Runner-Up: (7) Oklahoma State 30, (7) Texas A&M 29 / (2) LSU 47, (16) West Virginia 21

Week 5: Auburn 16, (10) South Carolina 13
South Carolina will look back on Week 5 and realize that their SEC title hopes fell apart against Auburn. The unbeaten Cocks could not stop the Tigers rushing attack as since-dismissed tailback Michael Dyer carried 41 times for 141 yards and a touchdown. And there was much rejoicing in Athens, Ga. In Jerry’s World, Arkansas bounced back from the Bama loss — and a terrible first half against Texas A&M — to defeat the Aggies in a shootout to keep their own title hopes alive. Tyler Wilson threw for 510 yards. In Blacksburg, the Clemson Tigers continued their magical early season run by ending the undefeated Hokies' national title dreams in dominating fashion. The Tigers were eighth in the nation following the win and were making a serious case as a national title contender. But more on that in a second. Runner-Up: (18) Arkansas 42, (14) Texas A&M 38 / (13) Clemson 23, (11) Virginia Tech 3

Week 6: (3) Oklahoma 55, (11) Texas 17
This weekend left fans likely wanting more. Top match-ups like the Red River Shootout turned out to be completely one-sided – much like LSU’s blowout win over Florida, Arkansas’ win over Auburn, Alabama’s win over Vanderbilt, Oklahoma State’s win over Kansas. The unbeaten Sooners’ win over rival Texas made Oklahoma look, at the time, like the preseason No. 1 team in the nation. Little did we know… Runner-Up: (20) Kansas State 24, Missouri 17

Week 7: (23) Michigan State 28, (11) Michigan 14
First-year head man Brady Hoke had Michigan undefeated and knocking on the top ten when the Wolverines headed into East Lansing to take on the Spartans. Mark Dantonio’s bunch did a fantastic job on Denard Robinson, holding him to 42 yards rushing on 18 attempts and only 123 yards passing. Michigan went on to lose only one other game en route to the Sugar Bowl title, leaving Maize and Blue fans to wonder what might have been had they beaten Sparty that afternoon. Elsewhere, the Cowboys of Oklahoma State made another huge road statement with a win in Austin, and the Ducks repositioned themselves for a title run by destroying the ranked Sun Devils at home. Runner-Up: (8) Oklahoma State 38, (22) Texas 26 / (9) Oregon 41, (18) Arizona State 27

Week 8: (15) Michigan St 37, (4) Wisconsin 31 / Texas Tech 41, (3) Oklahoma 38
One that Alabama likely had to have in order to make it to New Orleans (among many others) turned out to be the top game of the 2011 regular season. The back-and-forth affair saw undefeated Wisconsin rally in the fourth-quarter to tie the game at 31 with 1:39 left in the game. At home, senior quarterback Kirk Cousins drove the Spartans to the 44 yard line with one play left on the clock. His historic tipped Hail Mary landed in Keith Nichol’s hands just before he inched across the goal-line to give the Badgers their first loss of the season. Wisconsin went on to win the Big Ten and play in the Rose Bowl, but had that pass fallen incomplete (and UW won in overtime), who knows where Big Red would have ended the year.

As the No. 3 team in the nation, the Sooners completely failed to show up on October 22. The Red Raiders eventually took a 31-7 third quarter lead in Norman before Oklahoma finally realized it was playing for its national title. It was too little, too late and OU dropped outside of the top ten. Out west in Palo Alto, Andrew Luck and Stanford passed their first real test of the season in impressive fashion over the 5-1 Huskies, pushing the Cardinal to fourth in the polls. Runner-Up: (7) Stanford 65, (22) Washington 21

Week 9: Georgia Tech 31, (6) Clemson 17 / (4) Stanford 56, (20) USC 48
The Tigers were 8-0 and staring a national title berth square in the face when they headed to Atlanta. And did what Clemson does best: completely baffle the mind. Costly turnovers, porous rush defense and the inability to get off the field on third down gave the Tigers their first loss of the season. Clemson would go on to lose four of its last six games. In the Little Apple, another undefeated team fell from the ranks of the unblemished. Oklahoma, fresh off its title-crushing defeat to Texas Tech, obliterated the over-matched Wildcats of Kansas State. Additionally, Stanford won one of the great games of the ’11 campaign when it recovered a USC fumble in triple-overtime to keep itself undefeated. Another top ten team, Michigan State, was upset on the road by Nebraska in what turned out to be an incredibly eventful weekend in college football. Runner-Up: (4) Stanford 56, (20) USC 48 / (11) Oklahoma 58, (10) Kansas State 17 / (13) Nebraska 24, (9) Michigan State 3

Week 10: (1) LSU 9, (2) Alabama 6
This one needs no explanation, although the outcome had little effect on the BCS national title game. After five straight weeks with LSU and Alabama atop the polls, the “Game of the Century” came to fruition at the Capstone. Alabama committed uncharacteristic penalties, could not convert on special teams and was on the losing end of one controversial interception call that likely decided the game’s outcome. Jordan Jefferson sparked the LSU offense just enough by giving the Bayou Bengals an option attack off the edge. The overtime win by LSU kept the Tigers unbeaten and all but locked into the BCS National Championship game. Alabama would need some help. Runner-Up: (3) Oklahoma State 52, (17) Kansas State 45

Week 11: TCU 36, (5) Boise State 35 / (6) Oregon 53, (3) Stanford 30
Another year, another kick heard round the Pacific Northwest. Boise State lined up for a 39-yard game-winning field goal with only seconds left on the clock against TCU. With the national and conference championship on the line, Dan Goodale sailed the attempt wide right as time expired. A trip to the BCS National Championship game was, for a second consecutive year, dashed by a missed field goal. In Palo Alto, a second top five team would fall, as Stanford, for a second consecutive year, could not stop the high-powered Oregon offense. Stanford has lost two regular games over the two seasons and both have come at the hands of Chip Kelly. The loss knocked Stanford out of the national title picture for good, while officially pushing a one-loss Oregon back into the mix. Runner-Up: None

Week 12: Iowa State 37, (2) Oklahoma State 31
Where to begin? Seven ranked teams, including four of the top ten, fell to lesser-ranked opponents this mid-November weekend. On Friday night, a missed 37-yard field goal by Quinn Sharp with 1:17 to go in regulation likely cost the No. 2 Oklahoma State Cowboys a chance at the national championship when Iowa State pulled off the unlikely overtime upset. Baylor’s Robert Griffin III not only beat Oklahoma with his final play touchdown pass, but he also won himself the Heisman Trophy when he topped the No. 5 Sooners for the first time in school history. Another kicker, this time it was Oregon’s Alejandro Maldonadado, also impacted the national title when No. 4 Oregon lost to USC. His 37-yard field goal went wide left as time expired. And No. 7 Clemson once again laid a giant egg, as it got housed by an unranked NC State team. The Crimson Tide merely sat back and enjoyed the charred landscape of college football. Runner-Up: (18) USC 38, (4) Oregon 35 / (25) Baylor 45, (5) Oklahoma 38 / NC State 37, (7) Clemson 13

Week 13: (1) LSU 41, (3) Arkansas 17
Entering Week 13, Razorbacks fans not only still had a chance at an SEC title, but were excited about a potential national championship berth. The Tigers quickly quashed those dreams by dominating the game 41-3 after serving up a 14-0 lead to the Hogs. The win clinched the SEC West and essentially a BCS National Championship berth for the Tigers. Alabama meanwhile, crushed rival Auburn 42-14 and basically secured its own spot in the title game. Runner-Up: None

Week 14: (1) LSU 42, (12) Georgia 10
The outcome may not have impacted the National Championship game, but Les Miles didn’t want to leave anything to question. After falling behind for the second straight week, the Tigers completely dominated the second half by outscoring the Bulldogs 35-0. Miles claimed his second SEC championship and officially earned his second career BCS National Championship game berth. Runner-Up: None

January 9: (2) Alabama 21, (1) LSU 0
It was absolute domination. The Crimson Tide walked into a hostile pseudo-road environment and completely whitewashed the No. 1 team in the nation. LSU managed five first downs, 92 total yards of offense, converted on 2-of-12 third downs and turned the ball over twice. In the first meeting, Alabama had the better offense and the better defense but were outplayed by a wide margin on special teams. Fool Nick Saban once, shame on you. Fool him twice? Never gonna happen. Special teams, with a little help from an incredibly poised A.J. McCarron and stifling defense, actually won Alabama the game as one big punt return and five made field goals were the difference. Alabama needed plenty of help to get to NOLA — see Weeks 11 and 12 of the regular season — but proved once they got there that they were clearly the better football team. The words "greatest ever" might have been just a big premature.

But what if Oklahoma State held on to beat Iowa State? What is Stanford could actually slow down Oregon? What if Wisconsin hadn't been beaten by two Hail Marys? And if Boise State could only make a clutch field goal? Saban and the Tide are deserving of the BCS Championship through hours, days, weeks and months of hard gut-wrenching sweat and tears, but it also took a little bit luck to land the 2011 BCS National Championship.

Teaser:
<p> Path To A BCS Championship: Alabama Crimson Tide</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/dorial-green-beckham-armstead-peat-head-recruiting-wish-list
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

With the BCS National Championship in the rearview, recruiting now takes center stage for the next three weeks.

And one glance at the Athlon Consensus 100 will prove that it should be an electric ride to National Signing Day 2012 on Feb. 1. Despite roughly 18 national commitments this weekend in Tampa and San Antonio, still 15 of the top 40 players in the nation are left uncommitted. In total, 23 of the AC100 are still left on the board.

Recruitniks can expect plenty of movement in the player and team rankings as well. The final release of rankings from Rivals, Scout, 247Sports and ESPN are always the most volatile and should be released in the coming weeks. Expect plenty of shifting as National Signing Day 2012 approaches.

Cal made a huge push in the team rankings this weekend as they landed three AC100 prospects at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Jeff Tedford and star recruiting Tosh Lupoi landed the nation’s No. 1 defensive back, Sacramento (Calif.) Grant Union’s Shaq Thompson, and the nation’s No. 2 defensive tackle, Monrovia (Calif.) High’s Ellis McCarthy. He also added the No. 98-rated player in the nation in Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian’s Jordan Payton. It is clear that the Golden Bears, not UCLA, are reaping the benefits of the scholarship reductions at USC.

Alabama also had a huge weekend by landing prized safety Landon Collins (AC100 No. 20) – despite his mother’s best efforts – and dynamic do-everything play-maker Cyrus Jones (AC100 No. 63). Miami landed AC100 end Tyriq McCord (No. 97) and nationally ranked safety Deon Bush. Louisville also had a big weekend by landing linebackers Keith Brown and Nick Dawson — both of whom were in contention for Athlon’s Top 100.

Notre Dame will be looking to rebound after losing AC100 defensive back from Oxon (Md.) Potomac Ronald Darby. And Friday evening, Texas lost the No. 25 player in the nation, Skyline wideout Thomas Johnson. More on them below…

Here are the Top Players left on the board (in order of AC100 ranking):

1. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR (6-5, 220)
Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest

It should come as no surprise that the nation’s No. 1 player set a U.S. Army All-American Bowl record on Saturday. On a deep fly pattern, DGB made a one-handed catch against solid coverage and scored a U.S. Army Bowl record 79-yard touchdown. Despite dropping another easy touchdown in the endzone, Green-Beckham claimed co-MVP honors of the game after two receptions, 88 yards and the long score. Expect the top prospect to trim his current list of five to a group of three very soon. Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma feel like the best bets. Texas is, however, the only official visit he has taken thus far, and Johnson’s recent defection from the Horns may open the door for DGB in Austin. Finalists: Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas

4. Arik Armstead, OL/DE (6-7, 280)
Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove

The former USC commitment has an older brother at USC and wants to play basketball full-time on the next level. It may be down to four with a pending visit to Auburn coming soon. Oregon and Cal appear to be in the lead with the surging Golden Bears offering a perfect fit with their 3-4 defensive scheme. He is planning on enrolling early so a decision could come at any point. He has officially visited Alabama, Cal, Notre Dame and Cal thus far. Finalists: Auburn, Cal, Notre Dame, Oregon

5. Andrus Peat, OL (6-6, 295)
Tempe (Ariz.) Corona Del Sol

The big blocker was excellent in the Under Armour game last week and has proven his stock is warranted. His older brother, Todd, and cousin Avery Moss either play at or will play at Nebraska. So heading for a NSD announcement, the Huksers have the edge over his other three finalists. Peat has visited Nebraska and Stanford and will be in Los Angeles this weekend. Finalists: Florida State, Nebraska, Stanford, USC

11. Stefon Diggs, ATH (6-0, 185)
Olney (Md.) Good Counsel

Along with Trey Williams, Diggs was the most electric and exciting player on the field in the U.S. Army Bowl on Saturday. And unfortunately, Diggs has hinted at the fact that he might be extending his recruitment beyond NSD on Feb. 1. It appears mom wants him at Florida but Diggs wants to visit USC post-signing day. Can Lane Kiffin afford to leave one of those precious 15 spots open after signing day? Only time will tell. Finalists: Auburn, Cal, Florida, Maryland, Ohio State, USC

13. Eddie Goldman, DT (6-4, 305)
Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate

The star defensive tackle has taken four visits thus far to Alabama, Auburn, Florida State and Miami with Cal, Clemson or Maryland getting his fifth and final official. It has appeared to be a two-team race between the Crimson Tide and Seminoles but Auburn has made a strong push. Who wins out between Alabama’s Sal Suneri and Florida State’s Mark Stoops? You can bet both are working the phones hard for Mr. Goldman. Finalists: Alabama, Auburn, Cal, Clemson, Florida State, Miami, South Carolina

15. Kyle Murphy, OL (6-6, 270)
San Clemente (Calif.)

Murphy is down to five and will likely take two more visits before eventually making his decision. He has visited Oregon and Florida thus far and supposedly will take a trip to The Farm this weekend and USC the following. And Cal seems to be the hottest team in the nation on the trail and cannot be counted out of anything at this point. Finalists: Cal, Florida, Oregon, Stanford, USC

16. Darius Hamilton, DE (6-4, 245)
Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep

The son of former NFL lineman Keith Hamilton is very comfortable at pretty much any position on the defensive line. He is down to three choices (not shockingly, Cal is in the mix) and he will make the call either on NSD or the day before (Jan. 31). He cares about early playing time, a chance for a championship and the relationship with his coaches. He has visited Cal and Florida with one coming for Rutgers (Jan. 20) and possibly Miami (Jan. 27). Florida might be the leader in the clubhouse. Finalists: Cal, Florida, Rutgers

21. Yuri Wright, DB (6-2, 185)
Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep

There was some rumor to Wright making an announcement at the U.S. Army game, but that did not come to fruition. Colorado, Michigan and Notre Dame look like his three finalists with Georgia and Rutgers still hanging in the mix. He has visited Colorado and Notre Dame thus far. Finalists: Colorado, Michigan, Notre Dame

25. Thomas Johnson, WR (6-0, 180)
Dallas (Texas) Skyline

Johnson decommitted Friday night from the Texas Longhorns the day after playing in the Under Armour game (strangely, with a big number of future teammates). After nearly one full calendar year as a Texas verbal, Johnson now looks to be picking between Cal, Oregon and TCU. He will be visiting his three finalists over the next few weeks before a NSD decision. Finalists: Cal, Oregon, TCU

26. Nelson Agholor, ATH (6-0, 180)
Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep

Agholor is a young player who wise and mature beyond his years and it shows on the field. He is dynamic and will be an immediate impact player on the next level – be it at running back, wide receiver or special teams. He has visited three of his five finalists already and will look to officially visit USC and Florida State (Jan. 13) before NSD. Matt Barkley’s decision to return to Heritage Hall may play a big role in where Agholor eventually lands. Finalists: Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, USC

28. Tracy Howard, DB (5-11, 175)
Hollywood (Fla.) Miramar

Howard proved his skills this weekend in the U.S. Army Bowl as he was matched up with the nation’s top player Green-Beckham all game long. He allowed only two receptions to the star wideout and was actually in great position on the long touchdown pass (DGB simply made a special play). LSU and Florida appear to be his finalists, but Howard has only visited Florida State and West Virginia thus far. He will be at USC this weekend and reportedly LSU on Jan. 20 with a potential trip to Florida looming. Finalists: Florida, Florida State, LSU, USC, West Virginia

31. Devin Fuller, ATH (6-0, 190)
Westwood (N.J.) N Valley Old Tappan

This two-sport dynamo wants to play quarterback and baseball — and wants to play them early. He is a perfect fit for Rich Rodriguez’ system and could start right away in the desert, so the Wildcats may have a slight edge. However, Fuller’s recruitment has been as wide open as any in the nation. He will enroll early so he will have to make his call in a timely fashion. He visited TCU back in December and Nebraska back in October with a trip to Rutgers coming on Jan. 20. Anything can happen here, though, so stay tuned. Finalists: Arizona, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Rutgers, TCU, UCLA

37. Joshua Garnett, OL (6-5, 280)
Puyallup (Wash.)

This is not your ordinary 6-5, 280-pound blocker. This a top 40 football prospect in the nation who also wants to be a bio-chemistry pre-med major in college. It should come as no shock then that Michigan, Notre Dame and Stanford are his three top choices. He has visited the Wolverines and the Irish so far and will likely get to The Farm at some point over the next few weeks. Reportedly, none of the three has a clear edge. Finalists: Michigan, Notre Dame, Stanford

38. Kwon Alexander, LB (6-2, 210)
Oxford (Ala.)

Alexander is down to three schools and the BCS Championship game could have played a large role in helping him to decide. The talented tackler has visited Auburn and LSU thus far (as well as Florida State) and will hold off until NSD to make his decision. He is currently rehabbing from a knee injury he suffered back in October. Will he visit Alabama officially after the BCS NCG? Only time will tell. Finalists: Alabama, Auburn, LSU

40. Josh Harvey-Clemons, LB (6-4, 205)
Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes

This rangy linebacker (potential defensive end) has Florida, Georgia and Florida State with the Gators and Dawgs leading the charge for his services. He has visited Florida and reportedly will be in Athens this weekend. There is no timetable set for his decision, but he could pop anytime after his official trip to Georgia. Finalists: Florida, Georgia

51. Ronald Darby, DB (5-11, 175)
Oxon Hill (Md.) Potomac

The longtime Notre Dame commitment reopened his recruitment this weekend. He has visited Maryland and Auburn and is slated be on campus at Clemson this weekend. Florida State and LSU will also figure heavily in the mix. Florida State could be making a strong push for Mr. Darby. Finalists: Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, LSU, USC

57. Aziz Shittu, DT (6-3, 275)
Atwater (Calif.) Buhach

Texas A&M and Cal have already had the privilege of entertaining the big nose guard on campus. Reports are that Shittu will look to stay in-state to play his college ball, and that would eliminate the Aggies, Auburn, Boston College, Nebraska and Washington. That leaves Cal, Stanford, USC and UCLA as his four finalists. Finalists: Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC

66. Avery Young, OL (6-5, 275)
Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Palm Beach

Young has trimmed his list from five to three, but is still largely undecided. Technically, it appears that Auburn, Florida and Georgia will be who Young chooses from. However, he has visited Alabama and could be on campus in Miami on Jan. 20. His mother is from Georgia and he will be announcing on TV in Atlanta on Signing Day. Could this be a positive omen for Mark Richt and the Dawgs? Finalists: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Miami

71. Zach Banner, OL (6-8, 310)
Lakewood (Wash.) Lakes

The son of NLF blocker Lincoln Kennedy had his list trimmed to five. He has visited Michigan, Notre Dame, Washington and Oklahoma, with USC the only one yet to get an official visit. However, news recently broke that Banner was, in fact, down to two programs as USC and Oklahoma look like his two finalists now. Finalists: Oklahoma, USC, Washington

72. Joel Caleb, ATH (6-2, 205)
Midlothian (Va.) Clover Hill

Caleb announced Friday that he would make his decision on National Signing Day and that he would pick between four programs: Georgia, Ohio State, Virginia Tech and West Virginia. The talented athlete missed some of this season with a torn meniscus and has been rehabbing hard in order to be ready for 2012. He has taken two visits to Ohio State and Virginia Tech. Finalists: Georgia, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, West Virginia

73. Davonte Neal, ATH (5-9, 175)
Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral

Neal can play anywhere on the field and could still play anywhere in the nation. His list is still long and wide with schools from most every conference still in the hunt. His only visit thus far was to Notre Dame, and he looks to be headed to Ohio State (Jan. 13) and Arkansas (Jan. 20) in the near future. Originally from Akron, Neal would be totally comfortable heading back to the Midwest. That said, the coaching changes at both in-state schools have reenergized the Grand Canyon State schools. Finalists: Arizona State, Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, Northwestern, Ohio State, USC

78. Javonte Magee, DT (6-5, 260)
San Antonio (Texas) Sam Houston

The big defensive tackle is down to three former Big 12 programs. Magee has visited future SEC schools Missouri and Texas A&M officially with Baylor rounding out his list of finalists. Baylor got a big commitment from Brian Nance over the weekend, and it could be a sign of things to come as it sounds like Magee is very high on the Bears. He plans to announces well in advance of NSD, so expect a decision at any point. Finalists: Baylor, Missouri, Texas A&M

83. Jordan Diamond, OL (6-6, 290)
Chicago (Ill.) Simeon

This big blocker has it down to five schools. He has visited Ohio State and Auburn and has trips to Arkansas and Wisconsin pending over the next few weeks. Michigan rounds out his top five. He has been monitoring the coaching situations at Wisconsin and Auburn very closely as both coaching staffs have had tremendous turnover this off-season. Diamond could make a decision at any point prior to NSD. Finalists: Arkansas, Auburn, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin
 

Teaser:
<p> Who are the top uncommitted football prospects in the class of 2012? And where are they going?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - 07:30
Path: /college-football/lsu-alabama-defenses-recruits
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

Do you ever wonder how a college football coach assembles a national championship caliber roster? Thousands of hours of scouting, evaluating, recruiting and coaching is the simple answer. But it also takes a little bit of luck as well.

The most interesting pattern within the interwoven LSU-Alabama timelines comes on the recruiting trail. Just look at last night's announcement of Athlon Consensus 100 safety Landon Collins. He grew up in the shadow of Tigers Stadium but picked Alabama. And the mother of the No. 3 defensive back in the nation wasn't happy about it.

Just imagine how the BCS National Championship game would be different if Nico Johnson or Mark Barron picked LSU instead of Alabama. Or what if Bennie Logan or Barkevious Mingo picked the Crimson Tide instead of the Bayou Bengals?

Related: LSU, Alabama Starting Offenses As Recruits

Here is how Nick Saban and Les Miles put together National Championship defenses at LSU and Alabama respectively:

Alabama Crimson Tide Starting Defense:

Josh Chapman, NT (2007)
From Hoover (Ala.) High School near Birmingham, Chapman entered college as a solid three-star defensive tackle prospect. He was ranked as the No. 32 nose tackle in the nation and the No. 12 player in the state by Rivals. He picked Alabama after initially committing to Auburn as well as other offers from Kentucky, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

Jesse Williams, DE (2011)
Williams came a long way to get to the Capstone and the BCS National Championship game. Originally from Cavendish Road High School in Brisbane, Australia, Williams enrolled at Western Arizona Community College in Yuma, Arizona in 2009. After two seasons as a JUCO, Williams signed with Alabama in the spring of 2011 as the No. 2-rated junior college prospect in the nation. The 6-foot-4, 330-pounder obviously made a big impact in only one year on campus.

Damion Square, DE (2008)
Square posted 26 sacks in his final two seasons at Houston (Texas) Yates, landing him a three-star ranking from Rivals. He was ranked as the No. 37 defensive tackle and No. 55 player in the state of Texas by the internet scouting service. He picked Alabama over Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Texas A&M.

Jerrell Harris, LB (2008) AC100
Harris was a member of the inaugural AC100 back in 2008 as the No. 9-ranked linebacker in the entire country. He came to Alabama from Tide pipeline Gadsden City High School from Gadsden, Ala., after 265 tackles over his final two prep seasons. Harris took all five official visits: Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Tennessee and USC. He has played 37 games in his career, but it is safe to say that after 52 total career tackles, Harris failed to live up to the recruiting hype.

Dont’a Hightower, LB (2008)
From Lewisburg (Tenn.) Marshall County, Hightower has proven to be one of the top Nick Saban recruits during his time at Alabama. The battering ram of a linebacker was ranked as the No. 3 player in the Volunteeer State and the No. 15 player at his position nationally. The two-way prep star picked Bama over Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia Tech. While not a top 100-type talent, Hightower was a four-star recruit by Rivals. He led the Tide in tackles in 2011 with 81 stops.

Nico Johnson, LB (2009) AC100
Johnson was one of the top prospects in the entire nation back in 2009. He was ranked as the No. 5 linebacker in the nation and was the No. 21 player in the nation overall. He trailed only Manti Te’o, Dorian Bell, Vontaze Burfict and Jelani Jenkins in the positional rankings. He hails from Andalusia (Ala.) and picked Alabama over Auburn and LSU.

Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama (2008)
The Eufaula, Ala., native was the No. 7-rated defensive end in the nation but only the No. 9-rated player in the state of Alabama. He was nationally recruited as the No. 111 player in the nation regardless of position and helped Alabama to the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. Upshaw, who picked Alabama over Auburn, Clemson, South Carolina and Georgia, was named the Class 5A Lineman of the Year by the ASWA.

Mark Barron, S, Alabama (2008) AC100
The nation’s No. 1 class was buoyed by the presence of the Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul safety. Barron was the No. 58-rated player in the AC100 and the No. 5 player in the state of Alabama. He was the nation’s No. 6 defensive back behind Patrick Peterson, Brandon Harris, Rahim Moore, BJ Scott and Dee Finley – three of whom are playing in the NFL. He was the nation’s No. 3 safety after being named MVP of the 2007 Class 5A Alabama state title game. He picked Alabama over LSU and Auburn.

Robert Lester, S (2008)
The Foley (Ala.) native was ranked as the No. 23 safety in the nation by Rivals back in 2008. His two finalists were Oklahoma and Alabama. The four-star prospect was ranked as the No. 15 player in the state of Alabama and has 10 interceptions over the last two seasons.

Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama (2009) AC100
The Gadsden (Ala.) Gadsden City star was the No. 1 cornerback in the nation back in 2009. He was the No. 1 player in the state of Alabama. And he was the No. 10 player in the AC100. The five-star U.S. Army All-American, along with fellow AC100 stud Richardson, helped bolster an Alabama class that finished No. 3 nationally. Kirkpatrick had his choice of schools and is technically the highest-rated player on Athlon’s 2011 All-America squad. He picked Bama over Florida and Texas.

DeQuan Menzie, CB (2010)
Orginally from Columbus (Ga.) Carver, Menzie landed at Alabama after playing at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Miss. He was the No. 6-rated JUCO prospect by Scout and the No. 14-rated JUCO talent by Rivals. He selected Alabama over Ole Miss and Tennessee and beat out the highly touted DeMarcus Milliner to win a starting job this fall.

LSU Tigers Starting Defense:

Sam Montgomery, DE (2009) AC100
The star end from Greenwood (S.C.) was ranked as the No. 4 defensive end in the nation in the 2009 AC100. He was the No. 43-rated player in the entire nation regardless of position. The 6-foot-4, 245 rush end made his decision on television on National Signing Day by putting on the Purple and Gold hat over Tennessee and North Carolina. He was the No. 1 player in the Palmetto State back in the '09 cycle and may be one of the top NFL defensive ends in the nation — in either the 2012 or 2013 NFL Draft.

Bennie Logan, DT (2009)

Another member of the nation's No. 1 class, Logan came to Baton Rouge from Coushatta (La.) Red River as a three-star recruit. He was ranked as the No. 33 defensive end in the nation by Rivals and the No. 65 defensive end by Scout. Miles originally tried to offer Logan a greyshirt, but finally coughed up a scholarship during his official visit. Logan immediately picked the Tigers over Michigan, Nebraska, Texas Tech and Alabama.

Michael Brockers, DT (2009)
The four-star defenive end prospect from Houston (Texas) Chavez was ranked as the No. 19 defensive end in the nation and the No. 242 player overall in the nation. His offer sheet included Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Houston to go with his LSU scholie. 

Barkevious Mingo DE (2009)
You think Les Miles likes his 2009 defensive line class? Mingo completes the four-man '09 starting defensive line — which does not include the highest-ranked of the group, Chris Davenport, or No. 3-ranked (within the LSU class) Josh Downs. Mingo, from West Monroe (La.), was ranked as the No. 29 linebacker in the nation and the No. 196 overall prospect in the country. He entered college, after picking LSU over Alabama, UConn and Michigan, as a skinny 6-foot-5, 205-pound outside backer. He is now a 250-pound national championship defensive end.

Stefoin Francois, LB (2007)
As a safety for Reserve (La.) East St. John, Francois nearly landed at Florida State. But two days before National Signing Day, he surprisingly committed to the Bayou Bengals. The then 6-foot-1, 188-pound defensive back was ranked as the No. 5 safety in the nation and the No. 63 prospect overall. After switching to outside linebacker, he bulked up to 225 pounds and has played well two seasons in a row at his new position.

Kevin Minter, LB (2009)
A nationally rated recruit, Minter was the No. 17 linebacking prospect in the nation and the No. 148 overall recruit in the country. The Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge tackling machine posted three consecutive 100+ tackle seasons to finish his prep career. He made 404 stops over that span. In first full season as the starter as a sophomore, Minter finished fifth on the team in tackles with 56 stops. He picked LSU over offers from Oklahoma State, South Carolina, USC, West Virginia, Virginia, NC State and Kentucky.

Ryan Baker, LB (2008)
Yet another Top 100 prospect starting for this stellar LSU defense, Baker was ranked as the No. 74 overall prospect in the nation and the No. 6 outside linebacker by Rivals. He hails from Blountstown (Fla.) and picked the Tigers over the Florida State Seminoles, despite the late push by Bobby Bowden.

Brandon Taylor, S (2008)
The Franklinton (La.) prospect was initially a cornerback coming out of high school but became a speedy, undersized safety once in Baton Rouge. He was a top 100 prospect by Rivals as the No. 9-ranked cornerback and the No. 92 overall player in the nation. He picked LSU over Kansas State and Notre Dame. The smallish (6-foot, 190-pound) safety finished No. 2 on this team in tackles in 2011 (67).

Eric Reid, S (2009) AC100
The 2009 LSU Tigers recruiting class, which one the Athlon Sports National Recruiting Championship, will eventually go down in history as one of the more productive in SEC history. Reid was the No. 10-rated defensive back in the nation and was the No. 79-rated overall prospect in the AC100. He made the single most important play in the first edition of the "Game of the Century" when he ripped the ball away from Bama tight end Michael Williams. The Geismar (La.) Dutchtown prospect picked LSU over NC State, Stanford, Tennessee and Tulane.

Tyrann Mathieu, PR, LSU (2010)
The Honey Badger was the No. 44 defensive back in the nation and the No. 8 player in the state of Louisiana by Athlon Sports. He was the No. 13-rated cornerback in the nation by Rivals. The New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine dynamo was either firmly committed to Frank Wilson and LSU, or schools were scared off by his attitude, because his offer sheet was LSU, Southern Miss, SMU, Tulane, FIU, Miami (Ohio) and Hampton.

Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU (2008)
Was ranked as the No. 21 player in the state of LA and the No. 58-rated athlete in the nation by Rivals.com. Visited no other schools officially, but his short list included Nebraska, Texas A&M, Tulane, Arkansas State and Louisiana Tech. Three-star player from Shreveport (La.) Fair Park where he played QB. He passed for 1,009 yards and 14 TDs while rushing for 1,023 yards and 16 TDs in 2008.

Teaser:
<p> How did the BCS National Championship defenses get assembled?</p>
Post date: Friday, January 6, 2012 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/lsu-alabama-offenses-recruits
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

Do you ever wonder how a college football coach assembles a national championship caliber roster? Thousands of hours of scouting, evaluating, recruiting and coaching is the simple answer. But it also takes a little bit of luck as well.

The most interesting pattern within the interwoven LSU-Alabama timelines comes on the recruiting trail. How would the BCS National Championship game be different if Trent Richardson had picked LSU over Alabama and Rueben Randle and Will Blackwell had chosen the Crimson Tide over the Bayou Bengals?

Related: LSU, Alabama Starting Defenses As Recruits

Here is how Les Miles and Nick Saban put together National Championship offenses at LSU and Alabama respectively:

Alabama Crimson Tide Starting Offense:

A.J. McCarron, QB (2009) AC100
Alabama landed one of the nation’s top signal-callers when it inked McCarron back in 2009, and it showed in his SEC leading 66.7% completion rate in his first year under center. The lanky passer was the No. 8-rated QB prospect in the nation and was the No. 97 overall player in the '09 Athlon Consensus 100. Bad chest tattoo aside, Bama landed a good one when it beat out Miami, Ole Miss and Oklahoma for the Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul’s passer.

Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (2009) AC100
The Pensacola (Fla.) Escambia tailback was a known commodity well before he was toting the rock for the Crimson Tide. Richardson was the No. 20-rated player in the nation in the 2009 AC100, the No. 3-rated running back in the nation and the No. 2-rated player in the state of Florida. He ranked behind only D.J. Fluker and Dre Kirkpatrick in Alabama’s No. 3-rated recruiting class. He was Florida’s Class 5A Mr. Football after 2,090 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior. T-Rich had his pick of any school in the nation and made a splash with his Houndstooth announcement of Alabama over Florida, Florida State and LSU. Imagine what this season would have looked like had landed in Baton Rouge?

Barrett Jones, OT (2008)
This Memphis (Tenn.) Evangelical Christian stud was the No. 1 prospect in the state of Tennessee (which included Dont’a Hightower), the No. 17 offensive lineman in the nation and the No. 146-rated player nationally regardless of position. He possessed offers from nearly everyone in the southeast but visited only Alabama, Florida and North Carolina. Jones helped Nick Saban sign the nation’s No. 1 class in 2008.

Chance Warmack, OG (2009)
This big blocker from Atlanta (Ga.) Westlake picked Alabama over Auburn, South Carolina and Rutgers. Warmack was ranked as the No. 29 player in the state of Georgia and the No. 20 offensive guard in the nation by Rivals.com.

Williams Vlachos, OC (2007)
One of the elder statesmen of the Bama offensive line hails from Birmingham (Ala.) Mountain Brook. Florida State, Georgia Tech and West Virginia were “in the running” for the stud center but likely had little shot at landing the local talent. Vlachos was ranked as the No. 9 center prospect in the nation.

Alfred McCullough, OG (2007)
Another fifth-year player, McCullough was actually evaluated as a defensive tackle coming out of high school. Rivals.com listed him as the No. 24 DT in the nation while Scout listed the Athens (Ala.) product as the No. 46 defensive tackle. He has turned out to be a pretty good offensive lineman in his time at the Capstone.

D.J. Fluker, OT (2009) AC100
This monster of a recruit actually moved from Biloxi, Miss., to Foley, Ala., for his final season of prep play. And everybody wanted him. He was the No. 2-rated offensive lineman in the nation and was ranked No. 19 overall in the 2009 AC100. He was the No. 10-rated player to enter the SEC and was second only to Dre Kirkpatrick in the Bama recruiting rankings. Fluker, who was committed to Alabama for over a year, was listed as big as 6-foot-7 as a recruit and upwards of 350 pounds by Rivals.com (he was listed officially at a modest 6-foot-5, 340 as an incoming freshman).

Michael Williams, TE (2008)
Williams was an all-state talent and the 2A Lineman of the Year from Reform (Ala.) Pickens County. Williams was a highly touted prospect who picked Alabama over Clemson and Georgia Tech — he just wasn’t a tight end. Williams was evaluated as the No. 17 defensive end in the nation by Scout and the No. 4 weakside defensive end in the nation by Rivals after 24 sacks over his final two prep seasons. His blocking and pass-catching skills proved to be too much, however, as he will start at tight end in the national championship game.

Brad Smelley, TE (2008)
Nick Saban did a good job of creating tight ends in the 2008 class. Much like Williams, Smelley was not considered a tight end by the internet scouts. Scout listed the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) American Christian prospect as a quarterback and as the No. 194-rated wide receiver. Rivals listed the local talent as the No. 30-rated pro-style quarterback in the country. All Smelley did in 2011 was lead the No. 2 Crimson Tide in touchdown receptions and finished second in receptions.

Marquis Maze, WR (2007)
The senior wide receiver was a middle-of-the-pack three-star prospect who had a quality offer sheet that included Miami, Michigan, Tennessee, Auburn and Bama. More interestingly, however, was his “athlete” status. Maze was the No. 52-rated “athlete” in the nation back in 2007. The Birmingham (Ala.) Tarrant star rushed for 1,300 yards as a senior in only six games as well as being the dynamic receiver and return man Bama fans know and love today.

Darius Hanks, WR (2007)
Hailing from Norcross (Ga.), Hanks, like Maze, was a three-star middle-of-the-pack prospect. The difference, however, was the offer sheet for Hanks — which consisted of Kent State, Ohio, UAB, Houston, East Carolina and Alabama. It made for an easy choice.

LSU Tigers Starting Offense:

Jordan Jefferson, QB (2008)
The LSU quarterback stepped onto campus with a sterling prep resume. He was first-team All-State and was voted Gatorade Player of the Year in the Pelican State after 2,846 yards, 24 TD and only three interceptions as a senior at Destrehan (La.) High School. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound prospect was the No. 8-rated pro-style quarterback in the nation by Rivals and the No. 18-rated quarterback by Scout nationally. The four-star signal-caller was an LSU Tiger all the way.

Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Kenny Hilliard, RB (2010/2009/2011) AC100
Ware just missed landing in the AC100 back in 2010. He was the No. 103-rated player in the nation, the No. 13-rated running back in the nation and the No. 5-ranked player in the state of Ohio. The Cincinnati-Princeton tailback picked LSU over Michigan, Michigan State, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio State and others. Ford helped Les Miles land the nation’s No. 1 class in 2009 and was the No. 37-rated player in the AC100. He was the No. 6-rated running back in the nation and was the No. 3-rated player in the Pelican State. The Leesville product picked LSU over Florida and Florida State. Hilliard, who hails from Patterson, La., was a major part of arguably the most talent Pelican State senior class in history. The nephew of former NFL back Dalton Hilliard, Kenny was ranked as the No. 89 prospect in the nation in the 2011 AC100 and the No. 14-rated running back nationally. He rushed for 4,316 yards and 54 touchdowns over his final two prep seasons. Not too many football teams boast one AC100 tailback, much less three.

James Stampley, FB (2007)
Hailing from Baker (La.), Stampley has taken one of the more interesting routes to the 2011 BCS National title game. The starting battering ram and running game spearhead didn’t play football his first two years at LSU. As a center in high school, Stampley walked on at LSU and finally saw his first playing time in 2009. He played in every game as a junior in 2010 and scored his first career touchdown this fall against Ole Miss. As one of the hardest hitters in all of college football, Stampley has broken 25 of his own facemasks in 2011 according to the school.

Chris Faulk, OT (2009)
The Slidell (La.) Northshore prospect picked LSU over offers from Michigan, Nebraska, Louisiana Tech and Tulane. Faulk was ranked as the No. 165 overall prospect in the nation and was the No. 20 offensive line prospect nationally. Faulk and the rest of the 2009 LSU class claimed the Athlon Sports Recruiting National Championship.

Will Blackwell, OG (2007)
This burly blocker was scouted as a defensive player coming out of high school — and a good one at that. Blackwell was ranked as a four-star defensive tackle by Rivals and was the No. 22 defensive end by Scout. He posted 80 tackles and helped lead West Monroe (La.) to a 5A State Championship before picking LSU over finalists Alabama, Florida and Notre Dame.

P.J. Lonergan, OC (2008)
It was going to be LSU all the way for this three-star New Orleans (La.) Rummel product. Lonergan committed very early to the Tigers and stuck with it for the better part of a year as he watched Miles topple Ohio State in the 2007 National title game. He was ranked as the No. 60 offensive guard in the nation and the No. 32 player in the Pelican State.

T-Bob Hebert, OG (2007)
Georgia, Florida and LSU were the finalists for the nation’s No. 2 center back in 2007. The four-star blocker from Norcross (Ga.) Atlanta Christian was the No. 12 player in the Peach State.

Alex Hurst, OT (2008)
This monster 6-foot-6, 340 bookend tackle was a three-star recruit when he came out of Arlington (Tenn.). The 59th-rated offensive tackle in the nation and 12th-rated player in the state of Tennessee had offers from Middle Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU.

Russell Shepard, WR (Z) (2009) AC100

Shepard was a known commodity coming out of Houston (Texas) Cypress Ridge. And the affable, confident, well-spoken youngster would tell you about it. Having interviewed and filmed Shepard during spring practice of his senior year, I can tell you he knew exactly what he was doing at all times. It made him the biggest hitter on defense and the star quarterback on offense. He rolled up 1,946 yards rushing and 28 TDs to with 1,843 yards passing and 20 TDs in his final prep season. He was ranked as the No. 2 player in the nation and trailed only Matt Barkley in the 2009 AC100. Although, he was listed as a quarterback coming out of high school — and got some looks under center at LSU — his athletic ability pushed him to wideout.

Rueben Randle, WR (X) (2009) AC100
The only Bayou Bengal ranked ahead of Randle in the 2009 LSU haul that landed Miles the recruiting national championship was Shepard. Randle was listed as the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver, and although it took some time to develop his skills, he has proven the lofty ranking was likely deserved. The Bastrop (La.) product was ranked as the No. 6 overall prospect in the nation and picked LSU over Alabama and Oklahoma. He is just another name in a long list of starters in the BCS championship game who choose between Bama and LSU.

Deangelo Peterson, TE (Y) (2008)
This tremendously gifted prep athlete didn’t have to travel far to get to campus. The Baton Rouge (La.) Desire Street Academy prospect was a four-star recruit who ranked as the No. 21 “athlete” in the nation by Rivals. He picked LSU over offers from Oklahoma, West Virginia and Tennessee. He was listed at 195 pounds coming out of high school, but has grown into the 6-foot-4, 235 pound tight end who will be starting in the national championship game.

Teaser:
<p> How and where did LSU and Alabama find their starting offenses as recruits?</p>
Post date: Friday, January 6, 2012 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/2012-us-army-all-american-bowl-preview
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

There is no better time of the year for recruiting fans than January. National Signing Day is less than a month away, and the nation’s best are doing battle in San Antonio.

This week, recruitniks everywhere get the first real glimpse of the nation’s top prep athletes going head-to-head against equivalent talent at all-star events across the fruited plain. While inter- and intra-state all-star games can feature a state’s or region’s best prospects, the national all-star competitions clearly raise the bar.

Nowhere else in college football recruiting can you watch the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver battle with the nation’s No. 1 cornerback in practice for a full week. And this season’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl, which is expected to feature seven Athlon Consensus 100 commitments, is no exception.

West Names to Watch

Look no further than the nation’s No. 1 prospect, Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. He set a national high school receiving record with 6,353 career yards. His 75 career touchdown receptions rank third all-time, and his 300 receptions are fourth all-time in American prep football history. The 6-foot-6, 220 pound Calvin Johnson clone will be on full display on the West Roster Saturday in the Alamodome at 1 p.m. ET on NBC. Keep an eye on No. 5.

DGB has been very tight-lipped on the recruiting trail but appears to be down to five programs. Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas look to be the five lucky programs with the Hogs, Tigers and Sooners as the likely top three. The nation’s top prospect has played this entire process very close to the vest as his coach and father do most of the talking. Expect a late announcement from DGB.

The tailback talent is heavy weighted towards the West Roster where the nation’s fifth-, sixth- and eighth-ranked tailbacks will be featured. Spring (Texas) Dekaney’s Trey Williams (AC100 No. 41), a Texas A&M commitment, has claimed national player of the year honors after rushing for an astonishing 3,884 yards and 48 TDs in 2011. He announced that he will take more official visits, so you can bet Aggies fans are keeping a close watch on the star recruit. Oklahoma City (Okla.) Heritage Hall tailback Barry Sanders Jr. (AC100 No. 45) is obviously not afraid of or unaccustomed to the spotlight. His father was one of the greatest to ever play the game. Stanford has been rumored to be his leader over in-state favorite Oklahoma State. Finally, Daphne (Ala.) runner T.J. Yeldon (AC100 No. 61) is one of the few big power backs in a class loaded with smallish speedsters at running back. The future Crimson Tider is also a fantastic receiver.

Finally, keep an eye on the massive line prospect from Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove, Arik Armstead. The 6-foot-7, 280-pound two-way star wants not only to play two sports in college (he is an excellent basketball prospect as well) but also possibly two positions. He would be considered the nation’s No. 1-ranked offensive line prospect, but he will be playing mostly defensive end on Saturday. The former USC commitment has taken snaps on both sides of the ball this week and could end up on either side of the ball on the next level. It looks like Alabama, Auburn, Cal, Notre Dame and Oregon are his finalists.

East Names to Watch

The country’s No. 2 quarterback prospect, Columbus (Ind.) East’s Gunner Kiel, will be slinging it around for the East Team. He is committed to LSU and could compete for early playing time with continued development, and a good showing against the nation’s elite will go a long way. He has played well in practice, showing poise, leadership and the ability to work through progressions — even in the face of the normally very difficult national all-star game setting.

Expect Kiel to be looking at No. 1 for a good portion of his snaps. Olney (Md.) Good Counsel athlete Stefon Diggs (AC100 No. 11) has been incredibly impressive all week long and should get plenty of looks from Kiel.

However, the story for the East squad could be the defensive line. Eight AC100 recuits will be lining up trying to stop those talented West tailbacks. The group is led by Shelby (N.C.) Crest end Jonathan Bullard (AC100 No. 50), who excelled at the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas before dominating all week long in San Antonio. Wearing No. 90, Bullard will announce where he will be playing college football on Saturday (prediction below). Glen Ellyn (Ill.) Glenbard West tackle Tommy Schutt (AC100 No. 52) has also played incredibly well between the tackles all week. Schutt, along with East teammate Cincinnati (Ohio) Taft end Adolphus Washington (AC100 No. 23), recently committed to Ohio State after Urban Meyer was announced as the new head coach. Buckeyes fans will certainly be watching this group.

Additionally, defensive ends Darius Hamilton (AC100 No. 16), Eli Harold (AC100 No. 65) and Tyriq MCcord (AC100 No. 97) will join forces with the above names and nose tackles Jarron Jones (AC100 No. 32) and Carlos Watkins (AC100 No. 91) to form one of the nastiest defensive lines in U.S. Army Bowl history.

AC100 Announcement Watch

Shaq Thompson, DB (No. 9)
Sacramento (Calif.) Grant Union
Ranks: Rivals: 7, Scout: 12, ESPN: 22, 247Sports: 11, O-D: 18, NCSA: 25
Finalists: Cal, Notre Dame, Oregon, Washington

Thompson is the nation’s top-rated defensive back and will be the top player making his announcement on Saturday. A recent report has Cal and Washington as his top options, and Cal has always been considered the favorite. If there is going to be an upset, however, it could be a Washington team that features his former teammate and friend James Sample. Prediction: Washington

Ellis McCarthy, DT (No. 18)
Monrovia (Calif.) Monrovia
Ranks: Rivals: 17, Scout: 28, ESPN: 43, 247Sports: 29, O-D: 62, NCSA: 21
Finalists: Cal, Oregon, USC

If there is going to be someone who backs out of his very public announcement — which happens at least once every year — it will be McCarthy. It feels like he will back out of his decision and continue the recruiting process, however, if the stud defensive tackle does make the call, look for him to pick between longtime leader USC and the surging Cal Golden Bears. Prediction: Cal

Barry Sanders Jr., RB (No. 45)
Oklahoma City (Okla.) Heritage Hall
Ranks: Rivals: 134, Scout: 64, ESPN: 78, 247Sports: 54, O-D: 42, NCSA: 15
Finalists: Alabama, Florida State, Oklahoma State, Stanford

While Alabama and Florida State are still technically in the mix, it doesn’t appear either will play a role in Sanders’ future. Stanford and Oklahoma State, where his father played, are the top two choices, and the Cardinal have long been rumored as the favorite. That said, it just doesn’t seem possible that Barry Sanders would leave his father’s school and home-state program in the lurch. There will be a lot of pressure from many angles, including his family, to stay at home. Reports late Thursday evening were Stanford has won the verbal, however, his announcement won't take place until Saturday and won't be final until February 1. Prediction: Stanford

Jonathan Bullard, DE (No. 50)
Shelby (N.C.) Crest
Ranks: Rivals: 20, Scout: 85, ESPN: 83, 247Sports: 67, O-D: N/A, NCSA: 33
Finalists: Clemson, Florida, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee

Clemson was all the buzz last week when Bullard showed-out at the Shrine Bowl. He was supposed to announce last week as well, so that bodes well for longtime favorite Florida. The Gators have long been in the lead for the stud defensive end and will be the team to beat when he finally makes his decision. Prediction: Florida

Anthony Alford, QB/ATH (No. 70)
Petal (Miss.) Petal
Ranks: Rivals: 124, Scout: N/A, ESPN: 98, 247Sports: 35, O-D: 34, NCSA: 85
Finalists: Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Southern Miss

The talented dual-threat passer was considered a heavy LSU lean for much of the year, but Les Miles landed Kiel a few weeks ago, and that has turned Alford off to the Tigers. Ole Miss and Mississippi State have quarterback issues that Alford could help instantly, but the Magnolia State’s 2011 Mr. Football, and 6A State Champion, is likely locked into the starting lineup in Hattiesburg. Prediction: Southern Miss

Tyriq McCord, DE (No. 97)
Tampa (Fla.) Jefferson
Ranks: Rivals: 74, Scout: N/A, ESPN: 99, 247Sports: 123, O-D: 108, NCSA: 96
Finalists: Florida, Georgia, Miami, South Carolina, USC

No matter who McCord picks, it appears that an official visit to USC is inevitable. He has been recruited hard by Georgia commit John Theus and Florida commit Kent Taylor, but South Carolina and Miami might be his top choices. The Gamecocks have long been the favorite, but the Canes and Gators would offer a campus that is much closer to home. Prediction: South Carolina

Jordan Payton, WR (No. 99)
Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian
Ranks: Rivals: 120, Scout: 90, ESPN: N/A, 247Sports: N/A, O-D: 13, NCSA: 128
Finalists: Cal, Michigan, Notre Dame, UCLA

Payton has been one of the many bright spots this week in practice. He has made big catches all week long and has been a dependable option. He wants to play in a quality offense at an (obviously) very solid academic institution. Barring an unforeseen upset of monumental proportions, Jeff Tedford should be very happy with Payton’s decision. Prediction: Cal

Other Announcements

Deon Bush, S (No. 117)
Miami (Fla.) Columbus
Finalists: Alabama, Auburn, Miami

Elijah Shumate, S (No. 129)
Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco
Finalists: Notre Dame, Rutgers, South Carolina

Brian Nance, LB (No. 150)
Euless (Texas) Trinity
Finalists: Arkansas, Baylor, UCLA

Kevon Seymour, CB (No. 161)
Pasadena (Calif.) Muir
Finalists: Cal, UCLA, USC, Oregon

Keith Brown, LB (No. 213)
Miami (Fla.) Norland)
Finalists: Illinois, Louisville, Miami

Nick Dawson, LB (No. 258)
Charlotte (N.C.) Phillip O. Berry
Finalists: Clemson, Louisville, NC State

Jordan Diggs, S (not ranked)
Ashburn (Va.) Briar Woods
Finalists: Tennessee, South Carolina, Vanderbilt

Teaser:
<p> Who are the biggest names to watch and storylines to follow at the US Army All-American Bowl?</p>
Post date: Friday, January 6, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/nfl-draft-montee-ball-should-go-jones-needed-stay
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

Wisconsin Badgers running back Montee Ball just made the hardest decision of his life by electing to return to Madison for his senior season.

At least, that is what he will tell you if you ask him.

Ball said at his homecoming announcement on Thursday that deciding to put off his NFL payday was tougher than trying to decide on which college to attend. The NFL told the talented tailback that he would likely be a third round selection in the upcoming April draft. Ball took this as a challenge – he also cited an academic promise to his family – and will return to college football as the highest returning Heisman vote-getter in 2012. He also tied (kind of) Barry Sanders single-season touchdown record at 39 and won a Big Ten championship.

The question is was it the right move?

If he returned to Wisconsin to try to win a national championship, he will be sorely disappointed – baring another star senior grad student quarterback transferring from NC State. But I respect the competitive spirit of all athletes. If he returned to Wisconsin to finish his college education, I will stand up and applaud him.

But if he returned to Wisconsin to improve his NFL Draft stock, he could be making the worst decision of his career.

First, for lack of a better term, he is what he is. He isn’t going to run a 4.3 40 all of the sudden with one extra year of Big Ten football. He isn’t going to grow three inches magically with a dozen or so more collegiate games under his belt. Yes, Ball can get stronger and smarter as a football player and a man, but he won’t ever be physically gifted enough to be a first round pick. Which leads me to my second point…

Running backs have quickly become the least valuable commodity in the NFL Draft. Ball has a really good chance — with his toughness, smarts and short space agility — to be a solid NFL back. Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, Michael Turner, LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster and Frank Gore were the top six rushers this season in the NFL. If you are counting at home, that is a second, second, fifth, second, undrafted and third round draft pick. The point being, unless you are Adrian Peterson, LaDanian Tomlinson or Trent Richardson, running backs just don’t go in the first round any longer.

Finally, Ball touched the ball 331 times in 2011 and there is only so much tread on a running back’s tires. Another 300 touches – behind an offensive line and quarterback that won’t be nearly as talented in 2012 as it was this fall – could put his body, aka earning potential, at serious risk of injury.

It may work out for Ball. He may go from a early third round pick to a late second rounder. But the best thing he could have done was start working on his game at the next level, protect his body and start his already ticking professional clock a year sooner.

Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, however, could not have made a better decision.

In his first year under center in Norman, Jones completed 63.2% of his passes threw an interception once every 37.5 pass attempts. In his second year, he showed improvement by completing 65.6% of his passes and tossing a pick once every only 51.4 pass attempts. However, this fall Jones regressed mightily by completing only 58.1% of his throws and a career worst 32.1 pass attempts per interception.

He clearly failed as a leader against Texas Tech this season as the Sooners were not ready to play until it was too late against the Red Raiders. He also has had serious road woes, going an ugly 9-8 as a road starter over the course of his career. Jones only lost 10 total games as a starter in three full seasons at Oklahoma.

Finally, in the season's final three games without Ryan Broyles – the NCAA’s all-time leading receiving – Jones threw 144 passes. He threw five interceptions, zero touchdowns and lost twice.

There was no doubt that Jones would have been disappointed on draft weekend. He was not going to be a first day pick, even as a 6-foot-4, 230 pound quarterback who is the all-time leading passer in the prestigious history of Oklahoma football.

As a college football fan (who was born in Madison nonetheless), I love seeing names like Ball, Jones and Matt Barkley return to the college gridiron. But there is no doubt my unsolicited advice to Montee Ball would have been to start focusing full-time on your combine workouts, film study, interviewing skills and stamina. You can easily come back and finish your degree during your first offseason.

Teaser:
<p> Wisconsin's Montee Ball made the wrong choice by coming back while Oklahoma's Landry Jones made the right decision to return.</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 5, 2012 - 21:53
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/2012-under-armour-all-american-game-preview
Body:

-By Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

There is no better time of the year for recruiting fans than January. National Signing Day is less than a month away and the nation’s best are doing battle in San Antonio and St. Petersburg, Fla.

This week, recruitniks everywhere get the first real glimpse of the nation’s top prep athletes going head-to-head against equivalent talent at all-star events across the fruited plain. While inter- and intra-state all-star games can feature a state’s or region’s best prospects, the national all-star competitions clearly raise the bar.

Nowhere else in college football recruiting can you watch the nation’s No. 1 defensive end battle with the nation’s No. 1 offensive tackle in practice for a full week. And this season’s Under Armour All-American Game and U.S. Army All-American Bowl are no exception.

Dominant D-Lines

The story in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where the Under Armour practices have been taking place all week, began with the defensive lines. The big uglies up front on defense have been dominant, and rightly so, as the nation’s No. 1 defensive end Mario Edwards (AC100 No. 2) and the nation’s No. 1 defensive tackle Eddie Goldman (AC100 No. 13) will spearhead the D-lines. In fact, six of the top nine defensive end prospects in the Athlon Consensus 100 (and three of the top five nose tackles) will be competing in the Under Armour All-American Bowl on Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

And Florida State Seminoles fans should be grinning from ear to ear Thursday night. AC100 defensive ends Chris Casher and Dante Fowler Jr., along with Edwards, are all committed to Jimbo Fisher and Florida State. The Noles boast the No. 6 class in the nation due in large part to the defensive line haul. Fisher has three of the nation’s top six defensive ends. However, Fisher and newly paid defensive coordinator Mark Stoops will have to do some work to keep Fowler, who has been linked to the Florida Gators of late, in the Seminole fold.

End Channing Ward (No. 9 DE, AC100 No. 56) and future Georgia Bulldog tackle Jonathan Taylor (No. 5 DT, AC100 No. 36) each had solid starts to practice as well. Ward is set to announce during the UA Game Thursday night.

The offensive lines have the tallest order of the week. Trying to jell five to ten individuals together in one week all while facing what is easily the toughest competition of their young careers is virtually impossible. However, one name has stood out above the rest along the offensive line. Oregon State Beavers commitment Isaac Seumalo (AC100 No. 77) has been praised repeatedly by Edwards, Casher and Fowler.

The Offenses Return to Form

The offenses bounced back as the week of practice went along. Five of the nation’s top nine quarterback prospects, including the No. 1 passing prospect in the nation Jameis Winston (AC100 No. 10), will be chucking the football around on Thursday night. Winston, who is also an elite level baseball prospect, is also committed to Florida State and will likely start for the White Team. The White Team will also feature the nation’s No. 5 signal caller in Cal commit Zach Kline and the No. 9-rated quarterback Tanner Magnum, who is verballed to BYU. Kline has been drawing rave reviews in practice and could push Winston for the start. Keep an eye on both No. 8 and No. 5 in white Thursday night.

The Black Team will feature future Texas gunslinger Connor Brewer (No. 3 QB, AC100 No. 64), Clemson Tigers commitment Chad Kelly (No. 8 QB and Jim Kelly's nephew) and future Miami Hurricane Preston Dewey (No. 17 QB). Head coach Steve Mariucci is still looking for his starter, however, as he reported to ESPN on Wednesday that none of the three players has truly separated himself as the starter.

The quarterback is the most important position on the field and will be easily the most scrutinized group during the week of practice. It appears that the White Team, led by Winston and Kline, will have a distinct advantage at the position for the game Thursday night.

It won’t just be quarterbacks exciting the fans at Tropicana Field, however. There are plenty of talented skill names to keep an eye on, especially in a year highlighted by a deep running back class. The Miami Hurricanes’ Randy “Duke” Johnson (No. 7 RB, AC100 No. 49) is a big play waiting to happen and has been playing well all week long — as has fellow future Hurricane wideout Angelo Jean-Louis (No. 10 WR, AC100 No. 75). Al Golden has to be pleased with what he has seen from these two this week. Both will suit up for the Black Team, along with the nation’s No. 2 running back Jonathan Gray. Expect Johnson (jersey No. 1) and Gray (jersey No. 32) to play major roles on Thursday night. Texas’ Thomas Johnson, the nation’s No. 2 wide receiver prospect, is another name to keep an eye on (jersey No. 8).

Meanwhile, the White Team features the nation’s No. 1 runner in Keith Marshall. He is the sixth-rated player in the nation overall and will be wearing No. 4. The future Georgia Bulldog will share carries with future Sooner Alex Ross (No. 8 RB, No. 60) and Our Lady of Good Counsel product Wes Brown.

The fireworks for the White Team could come through the air, however. Future SEC star wide receivers Chris Black (No. 3 WR, AC100 No. 27), who is committed to Alabama, Shaq Roland (No. 5 WR, AC100 No. 46), who is committed to South Carolina, and Avery Johnson (No. 8 WR, AC100 No. 68), who is committed to LSU and is Patrick Peterson’s little brother, will likely shine as Winston and Kline sling passes all over The Trop.

You can bet Cal’s Jett Tedford will be watching as well. The future stars of his passing game, Kline and Lakewood (Calif.) standout Darius Powe (jersey No. 10), have both reportedly performed very well in practice thus far and will be on full display Thursday night.

The Announcements

Landon Collins, DB (AC100 No. 20)
Geismar (La.) Dutchtown
Rivals: 15
Scout: 22
ESPN: 7
247Sports: 3
O-D: 46
NCSA: 130
Finalists: Alabama, LSU

Collins is easily the biggest name to announce at the Under Armour event this year. He is the No. 3-rated defensive back in the nation and is the No. 20 overall player in the nation. His 6-foot, 205-pound frame and physical brand of football make him an ideal fit at safety. Alabama and LSU are his two finalists and were his only two official visits. Reports on Tuesday indicated that Collins was "80%" sure on which school he would be choosing after speaking to both the Tide and Tigers' coaching staffs. The slight edge goes to the former defensive back, Nick Saban.

Prediction: Alabama

Channing Ward, DE (AC100 No. 56)
Aberdeen (Miss.) Aberdeen
Rivals: 88
Scout: 41
ESPN: 72
247Sports: 45
O-D: 97
NCSA: 112
Finalists: Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss

The big 6-foot-4, 250-pounder has had an excellent week of practice down in Florida. All accounts are he is ready to take his game to the next level; however, where that might be remains to be seen. Auburn had been considered a finalist as well but appears to have fallen behind his top four. He took official visits to each of his four finalists, and the in-state Ole Miss Rebels look like the team to beat.

Prediction: Ole Miss

Cyrus Jones, ATH (AC100 No. 63)
Baltimore (Md.) Gilman
Rivals: 106
Scout: 105
ESPN: 33
247Sports: 90
O-D: 76
NCSA: 89
Finalists: Virginia Tech, Alabama

This do-everything talent states that he made his decision about where he will be playing his college ball over a month ago. And apparently he can keep his mouth shut as his secret has yet to get out. After eliminating Ohio State, Auburn and Maryland, the Tide and Hokies are the only two to remain. Alabama assistant Sal Suneri has recruited the Baltimore-DC area incredibly well for Nick Saban and deserves plenty of credit for making Jones a priority. Despite the many connections to Virginia Tech, it looks like the Tide is the team to beat.

Prediction: Alabama

Other potential commitments to watch for:

Wes Brown, RB (AC100 No. 168)
Olney (Md.) Good Counsel
Finalists: Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Miami, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech

Lucas Thompson, DB (AC100 No. 271)
Winter Garden (Fla.) West Orange
Finalists: East Carolina, South Carolina, Miami

Chaz Elder, DB (unranked)
College Park (Ga.) Banneker
Finalists: South Carolina, Georgia, Vanderbilt

Teaser:
<p> Who are the biggest names to watch and storylines to follow at the Under Armour Game?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 4, 2012 - 13:54
Path: /college-football/derek-dooleys-future-tennessee-head-coach
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

Tennessee Volunteers fans are going to win in 2012 – no matter where they fall on the Derek Dooley love-hate spectrum.

So why is Big Orange nation working itself into a ravenous frenzy on Jan. 3?

Relax, Dooley is going to be the head coach of the Tennessee football team in 2012, so the fans need to get used to it. But make no mistake, he will have to win football games, at least seven (if not eight), to see another New Year’s in Knoxville. Either way, fans screaming for Dooley’s head to roll down Kingston Pike should get what they want in 2012.

If Tennessee fails to reach a bowl game for the second consecutive year, Dooley will be fired and those blood-thirsty fans should be happy. If Tennessee develops its young talent, wins more than it loses and plays in the postseason, well, isn’t that what all Vols’ fans should want? Isn’t that simply the next step in one of the most embattled and unique coaching tenures in the history of SEC football?

Dooley has certainly had his chances to make a statement in his young head-coaching career — the defensive gaffe in the closing seconds in Baton Rouge comes to mind. Yet, the task Dooley faced when he stepped into the spotlight in 2010 might have been the most tumultuous coaching situation in the SEC since the advent of divisional play 20 years ago.

After a lackluster defeat at the hands of rival Kentucky that crushed the Vols' bowl hopes, it doesn’t appear things are getting any easier for the tormented head coach. Dooley had to address the media Tuesday morning for the first time in over a month after defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach, and top recruiter, Peter Sirmon accepted similar positions under Steve Sarkisian at the University of Washington. Do not get worked up over whether Tennessee is a "better job" than Washington. The Pacific Northwest will always be considered an upgrade to two coaches who are from the area. So Sirmon and Wilcox leaving are not signs of a sinking ship.

That said, who Dooley tabs as his new defensive coordinator could end up being one of the most important decisions of his career — both in terms of developing and acquiring talent.

"The program is significantly better than it was 22 months ago, when we all got here," Dooley said Tuesday. While it’s hard to convince many Vols fans to be optimistic, Dooley isn’t too far off. He continued, “We’re on our way. The worst is behind us.”

He also announced the release of freshman receiver DeAnthony Arnett. Arnett, from Saginaw, Mich., had been asking for the release in order to move closer to his father, who is sick. Arnett caught 24 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns in 2011.

Here are some facts to consider:

  • Tennessee has lost 14 games over a two-year period of time for the first time in school history.
     
  • Four of those 14 losses came at the hands of the two teams playing in the BCS national title game.
     
  • It’s the most pre-Kiffin losses in a two-year span since 1976-77, when Tennessee lost 12 games between the Bill Battle and Johnny Majors coaching change.
     
  • Johnny Majors lost 23 games in his first four seasons.
     
  • In 2011, Tennessee ranked 116th in the nation in rushing and 12th in the SEC at 90.1 ypg.
     
  • Tennessee ranked 106th in the nation in scoring at 20.3 ppg.
     
  • The Vols scored a total of six third-quarter points in SEC play. They were outscored 84-6 in the third frame of SEC play and were outscored 132-35 in the second half of SEC action. In conference, Tennessee was shutout four times in the second half.
     
  • Lane Kiffin signed 22 players in the 2009 class. Eleven lettered, nine played in a game and three played in all 12 games this fall. Those 22 signees played an average of 3.1 games this season.
     
  • According to Athlon Sports 2009 preseason football magazine recruiting rankings, not one of the top seven-rated players in the ‘09 class played a single game in 2011 (In order: Bryce Brown, David Oku, Janzen Jackson, NuKeese Richardson, Darren Myles, Jared Askew and James Green). All seven nationally rated recruits in that class failed to play in a game in 2011.
     
  • Justin Hunter, Tyler Bray and Janzen Jackson, arguably the best three players on the roster in the spring, combined to play 10 total games this season.
     
  • The 2012 Vols could potentially return 19 of 22 starters.
     
  • Tennessee finished No. 2 in the SEC in passing offense — with Matt Simms and Justin Worley attempting a combined 149 passes.
     
  • According to NCAA.org official stats page, 82 of 114 eligible Vols were underclassmen and only 13 were seniors.
     
  • Derek Dooley has to produce wins in 2012 or he will not be retained as the Tennessee head coach.

Most Tennessee fans would have to agree, it certainly looks like “the worst” has already taken place.

The bottom line is “Just win, baby.” The 14 losses mean nothing. The bare Philip Fulmer cupboard means nothing. The horrific third quarter stats mean nothing. What matters is wins and losses in 2012 — and that there are no more excuses for Dooley. Once he fills the voids on his defensive staff, and assuming he can keep a top 20 recruiting class intact, he will have all the pieces in place to win in 2012.

The schedule appears to have given Dooley a chance to keep his swan song at bay as well. There are no Oregons on the slate in the non-conference — or LSU on the SEC line-up. The toughest non-conference test will be the Kickoff Classic battle with a five-loss NC State team in Atlanta. Otherwise, Georgia State, Akron and Troy should all be wins. Florida, Missouri, Alabama and Kentucky each visit Knoxville while the Vols have to travel to Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. At first look, it’s the sixth most difficult SEC schedule next season and appears relatively manageable.

The biggest impact Dooley can have on his own legacy as Tennessee’s head coach is his developing leadership. It starts with making intelligent, savvy hires in the face of the most recent defections of Wilcox and Sirmon (like new running back coach and rising star recruiter Jay Graham). Uniting a locker room divide should also be atop the list. Building cohesion in the face of adversity is one of the few tangible impacts a coach can have on a locker room. Finally, in-game adjustments are signatures of a quality field general who has quality platoon leaders.

Dooley needs to create a distinct identity that Vols’ players and coaches can rally around and be proud to represent. This will build a foundation for success on the field, in the locker room and on the recruiting trail. It’s also where a portion of the responsibility falls to the players, like Tyler Bray. The maturation process has to continue for the players just like it has to for Dooley.

Tennessee Volunteers fans have every right be disturbed with what has taken place in Knoxville over the last two seasons. However, burning down the twittersphere and talk show phone lines serves no purpose other than elevating your own blood pressure. Because right now, Big Orange Nation is actually in worse shape that the football program itself.

The talent and schedule are set-up for Dooley to win in 2012. If he wins, be happy and relish the fact that Tennessee is a winning football program once again. If he does not, you won’t have to see those orange pants on the sideline ever again.

In which case, Dooley would have been very right about one thing at least: the new head coach will be stepping into a program that is in dramatically better shape than it was 22 months ago.

Teaser:
<p> After losing two coaches to UW, Dooley has even more questions to answer at Tennessee.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 - 11:03
Path: /college-football/2012-quarterback-rankings-pac-12
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

There is no doubt this is the Era of the Quarterback.

Houston’s Case Keenum (152) and Boise State’s Kellen Moore (142) both broke Graham Harrell’s all-time NCAA record of 134 touchdown passes this season. Keenum also became the NCAA’s all-time record holder for total offense (19,572) and passing yards (18,685). Moore, meanwhile, is the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback with a 50-3 record as a starter. And because Keenum still has one game left to go, he could conceivably reach 20,000 yards of total offense (think about that).

Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson both need efficient showings in bowl games to break Colt Brennan’s NCAA single-season passer efficiency record of 186.0. And Wilson broke Harrell’s record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass with 37.

In the unbalanced college game, there are many different ways to evaluate quarterback play. Gifted runners, crazy schemes, talent differentials, level of competition and raw NFL talent all become a part of the equation. The bottom line is the quarterback is the single most important position on the field, and having a great one under center can take a mediocre football team and elevate it to title contender (just ask Wisconsin).

So who will boast the best signal callers in college football next fall? Athlon Sports takes a very early stab at ranking quarterback play in 2012 by conference:

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

1. Pac-12

There is a serious debate, even within the Athlon Sports walls, about which conference will boast better quarterbacks in 2012, the ACC or the Pac-12. The votes were split one of two directions. While the ACC might have the best depth of any league — and potentially the most NFL talent returning — no league in the nation can match the top three of the Pac-12.

Assuming that Robert Griffin III is going to the NFL, USC’s Matt Barkley is likely the top returning quarterback in the nation. He set a USC single-season record with 39 scoring strikes in 2011. Like fellow Pac-12 passer Andrew Luck before him, Barkley will likely have to deal with a year-round Heisman Trophy campaign as he returns as the favorite to win the famed stiff-arm award.

Packaged with Barkley atop the conference is Oregon’s Darron Thomas, who enters his third season as the starter, and Washington’s Keith Price, who made his first season under center a very successful one. In the threesome, the Pac-12 boasts a trio of passers who combined for 98 touchdown passes and only 24 interceptions. The ACC’s top three is second in the nation with 82 TDs.

Arizona State returns a 4,000-yard passer in senior-to-be Brock Osweiler and has new passing game guru Todd Graham running the ship. Oregon State brings back sophomore Sean Mannion after a quality freshman campaign. Cal will have another year of Zach Maynard at the helm — for better or worse. And UCLA's Kevin Prince looked the part at the end of 2011, but with a new regime in Westwood, anything is possible.

Utah's Jon Hays needs to show serious improvement, while Colorado and Stanford are replacing experienced starters with highly touted youngsters.

The real wildcard for quarterback play in the Pac-12, and ultimately the deciding factor in ranking the West Coast league No. 1, is the addition of Rich Rodriguez (Arizona) and Mike Leach (Washington State) to the coaching ranks. Whether it's Connor Halliday or Jeff Tuel in Pullman, Wazzu will post big numbers through the air. And in the desert, whoever is under center will roll up big-time dual-threat statistics. Matt Scott looks to be the front-runner at this very early stage. Best of luck, Pac-12 defensive coordinators.

The Known Commodities:

1. Matt Barkley, USC (SR)
Passing Stats: 3,528 yards, 39 TD, 7 INT, 69.1%
Rushing Stats: 28 att., 14 yards, 2 TD

2. Darron Thomas, Oregon (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,493 yards, 30 TD, 6 INT, 61.2%
Rushing Stats: 50 att., 205 yards, 3 TD

3. Keith Price, Washington (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,625 yards, 29 TD, 11 INT, 67.4%
Rushing Stats: 51 att., minus-29 yards, 0 TD

4. Brock Osweiler, Arizona State (SR)
Passing Stats: 4,036 yards, 26 TD, 13 INT, 63.2%
Rushing Stats: 83 att., 90 yards, 3 TD

5. Sean Mannion, Oregon State (SO)
Passing Stats: 3,328 yards, 16 TD, 18 INT, 64.5%
Rushing Stats: 32 att., minus-190 yards, TD

6. Zach Maynard, Cal (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,802 yards, 17 TD, 11 INT, 57.0%
Rushing Stats: 76 att., 147 yards, 4 TD

7. Kevin Prince, UCLA (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,627 yards, 10 TD, 7 INT, 57.4% (10)
Rushing Stats: 110 att., 455 yards, TD

8. Jordan Wynn, Utah (SR)
Passing Stats: 727 yards, 6 TD, 2 INT, 56.9% 
Rushing Stats: 9 att., minus-54 yards, 0 TD

The Unknowns:

Jeff Tuel/Connor Halliday, Washington State
Matt Scott, Arizona
Brett Nottingham, Stanford
Nick Hirschman, Colorado

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

Teaser:
<p> The Pac-12 should have the best signal callers in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 14:55
Path: /college-football/2012-quarterbacks-rankings-acc
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

There is no doubt this is the era of the Quarterback.

Houston’s Case Keenum (152) and Boise State’s Kellen Moore (142) both broke Graham Harrell’s all-time NCAA touchdown record of 134 scoring strikes this season. Keenum also became the NCAA’s all-time record holder for total offense (19,572) and passing yards (18,685). Moore, meanwhile, is the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback with a 50-3 record as a starter. And because Keenum still has one game left to go, he could conceivably reach 20,000 yards of total offense (think about that).

Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson both need efficient showings in bowl games to break Colt Brennan’s NCAA single-season passer efficiency record of 186.0. And Wilson broke Harrell’s record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass with 37.

In the unbalanced college game, there are many different ways to evaluate quarterback play. Gifted runners, crazy schemes, talent differentials, level of competition and raw NFL talent all become a part of the equation. The bottom line is the quarterback is the single most important position on the field, and having a great one under center can take a mediocre football team and elevate it to title contender (just ask Wisconsin).

So who will boast the best signal callers in college football next fall? Athlon Sports takes a very early stab at ranking quarterback play in 2012 by conference:

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

2. ACC

The ACC is second only to the Pac-12 in these rankings, and by a very slim margin. No league returns as many 2,000-yard passers as the ACC’s eight. In fact, it is possible that 11 of the conference’s 12 starters could return in 2012, making this the most stable quarterback leagues in the nation. The ACC also has at least five NFL prospects, and six different players topped the 2,700-yard mark (EJ Manuel would have if not for injuries). When it comes to pro-style passers, there is no better league in the nation.

Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas met in the ACC championship game and could do so again in 2012 as the top teams return the top two signal callers. The development of each could push either team into national title contention. Florida State’s Manuel has just as much talent, if not more, but needs to stay healthy to prove his lofty ranking is deserved. If healthy, and armed with a loaded young roster, Manuel could have the Noles playing in the ACC title game in 2012.

The state of North Carolina might be the most underrated in the entire nation when it comes to quarterbacks. NC State’s Mike Glennon finished second in the league with 28 touchdowns, and Sean Renfree of Duke and Tanner Price of Wake Forest finished No. 2 and 3 in yardage this fall. Finally, the Tar Heels' Bryn Renner leads all ACC returnees with a tidy 68.8% completion rate and boasts an NFL arm. All four completed at least 62.4% of their passes in 2011.


While they may not be the most productive and efficient passers, Georgia Tech's Tevin Washington and Virginia's Michael Rocco have proven to be solid fits for their systems and will put their teams in a position to win games. Boston College would like to see Chase Rettig take the next step in his development process, Maryland may not know if Danny O'Brien is coming back (but has C.J. Brown waiting in the wings) and Miami will likely go to battle with Stephen Morris.

The ACC may not have the established stars like Matt Barkley or Darron Thomas, but there is no league in the nation that can boast the upside and depth of the ACC’s quarterbacks.

The Known Commodities:

1. Tajh Boyd, Clemson (JR)
Passing Stats: 3,578 yards, 31 TD, 10 INT, 60.5%
Rushing Stats: 132 att., 186 yards, 5 TD

2. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,799 yards, 19 TD, 9 INT, 59.2%
Rushing Stats: 137 att., 416 yards, 10 TD

3. EJ Manuel, Florida State (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,417 yards, 16 TD, 8 INT, 65.4%
Rushing Stats: 99 att., 171 yards, 4 TD

4. Mike Glennon, NC State (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,790 yards, 28 TD, 11 INT, 62.4%
Rushing Stats: 50 att., minus-125 yards, TD

5. Bryn Renner, North Carolina (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,769 yards, 23 TD, 12 INT, 68.8%
Rushing Stats: 53 att., minus-99 yards, TD

6. Tanner Price, Wake Forest (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,803 yards, 20 TD, 6 INT, 65.0%
Rushing Stats: 79 att., minus-29 yards, TD

7. Sean Renfree, Duke (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,891 yards, 14 TD, 11 INT, 64.9%
Rushing Stats: 58 att., minus-58 yards, 4 TD

8. Tevin Washington, Georgia Tech (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,515 yards, 10 TD, 8 INT, 46.7% (12)
Rushing Stats: 222 att., 890 yards, 14 TD

9. Michael Rocco, Virginia (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,359 yards, 11 TD, 11 INT, 60.3%
Rushing Stats: 38 att., 23 yards, 2 TD

10. Chase Rettig, Boston College (JR)
Passing Stats: 1,960 yards, 12 TD, 9 INT, 53.6%
Rushing Stats: 41 att., minus-84 yards, TD

The Unknowns:

Danny O’Brien/CJ Brown, Maryland
Stephen Morris, Miami

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

Teaser:
<p> The ACC is the deepest quarterback league in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 14:54
Path: /college-football/2012-quarterbacks-rankings-big-12
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

There is no doubt this is the Era of the Quarterback.

Houston’s Case Keenum (152) and Boise State’s Kellen Moore (142) both broke Graham Harrell’s all-time NCAA touchdown record of 134 scoring strikes this season. Keenum also became the NCAA’s all-time record holder for total offense (19,572) and passing yards (18,685). Moore, meanwhile, is the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback with a 50-3 record as a starter. And because Keenum still has one game left to go, he could conceivably reach 20,000 yards of total offense (think about that).

Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson both need efficient showings in bowl games to break Colt Brennan’s NCAA single-season passer efficiency record of 186.0. And Wilson broke Harrell’s record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass with 37.

In the unbalanced college game, there are many different ways to evaluate quarterback play. Gifted runners, crazy schemes, talent differentials, level of competition and raw NFL talent all become a part of the equation. The bottom line is the quarterback is the single most important position on the field, and having a great one under center can take a mediocre football team and elevate it to title contender (just ask Wisconsin).

So who will boast the best signal callers in college football next fall? Athlon Sports takes a very early stab at ranking quarterback play in 2012 by conference:

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

3. Big 12

If all things fall into place, this league is easily the No. 3 conference on this list. But that is a big if, as Robert Griffin III and Landry Jones each have a difficult decisions to make. Jones won’t be a first-round selection and is more likely to return than RG3 — who is a near lock for the top half of the first round. It would be a major "upset" if both were to return to school.

The good news, however, is that should both leave for the NFL, West Virginia (if allowed) and TCU will bring with them excellent quarterbacks in Geno Smith and Casey Pachall. Each tossed 25 touchdowns and only seven interceptions in 2011. Smith led his team to a conference championship and a BCS bowl this season, while Pachall finished the regular season seventh in the nation in passing efficiency after taking over for TCU legend Andy Dalton.

Kansas State’s Collin Klein is simply a winner, and his ability to take over a game on the ground can be remarkable to watch. He topped the 1,000-yard mark rushing and scored 26 times on the ground — one short of the NCAA single-season mark for a quarterback with a bowl game still to go. Texas Tech’s Seth Doege began the year with seven straight 300-yard efforts, tailed off, and then posted big games in the season’s final two contests. His numbers were very impressive, but the 2-7 conference record was not.

The rest of the league is a big unknown. David Ash played well in the Holliday Bowl win over Cal and may have the inside track on the starting job in 2012 for Texas. Inexplicably, none of the Horns’ numerous elite prep quarterbacks have panned out. A year after changing his coordinators, Mack Brown must make progress at the quarterback position if he expects to compete next fall.

Charlie Weis and Kansas are importing talent left and right and will have Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist starting next fall before BYU transfer Jake Heaps takes over in 2013. Jared Barnett played well for Iowa State down the stretch but is anything but entrenched in Ames. And it is the next man up in Stillwater, where Mike Gundy simply plugs in another productive name every year. That said, replacing Brandon Weeden won't be as easy as replacing Zac Robinson.

Should WVU be allowed to compete, and Jones and Griffin III return, this will once again be one of the best quarterbacked leagues in the nation. But should the conference "lose" all three (as well as Weeden), there will be a serious lack of depth at this position with major question marks at key programs. Is Nick Florence ready at Baylor? Blake Bell or Drew Allen in Norman? Can Clint Chelf keep the Pokes train rolling?

We will know a lot more about this league come spring practice.

The Known Commodities:

1. Robert Griffin III, Baylor (SR)*
Passing Stats: 3,998 yards, 36 TD, 6 INT, 72.4%
Rushing Stats: 161 att., 644 yards, 9 TD

2. Landry Jones, Oklahoma (SR)*
Passing Stats: 4,302 yards, 28 TD, 14 INT, 63.1%
Rushing Stats: 28 att., minus-16 yards, 2 TD

3. Geno Smith, West Virginia (SR)**
Passing Stats: 3,978 yards, 25 TD, 7 INT, 65.0%
Rushing Stats: 51 att., minus-59 yards, TD

4. Collin Klein, Kansas State (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,745 yards, 12 TD, 5 INT, 57.8%
Rushing Stats: 293 att., 1,099 yards, 26 TD

5. Casey Pachall, TCU (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,972 yards, 25 TD, 7 INT, 66.5%
Rushing Stats: 68 att., 51 yards, 2 TD

6. Seth Doege, Texas Tech (SR)
Passing Stats: 4,004 yards, 28 TD, 10 INT, 68.5%
Rushing Stats: 54 att., 46 yards, 4 TD

7. Jared Barnett, Iowa State (SO)
Passing Stats: 1,178 yards, 6 TD, 6 INT, 50.7%
Rushing Stats: 99 att., 435 yards, TD

* - could elect to enter the NFL Draft
* - may not be permitted to compete in the Big 12

The Unknowns:

David Ash/Case McCoy/Connor Brewer, Texas
Clint Chelf/Wes Lunt, Oklahoma State
Dayne Crist/Jordan Webb, Kansas
Blake Bell/Drew Allen, Oklahoma
Nick Florence, Baylor

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

Teaser:
<p> Looming decisions for Griffin III, Jones and the courts will play major role in 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 14:53
Path: /college-football/2012-quarterbacks-rankings-sec
Body:

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

There is no doubt this is the Era of the Quarterback.

Houston’s Case Keenum (152) and Boise State’s Kellen Moore (142) both broke Graham Harrell’s all-time NCAA touchdown record of 134 scoring strikes this season. Keenum also became the NCAA’s all-time record holder for total offense (19,572) and passing yards (18,685). Moore, meanwhile, is the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback with a 50-3 record as a starter. And because Keenum still has one game left to go, he could conceivably reach 20,000 yards of total offense (think about that).

Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson both need efficient showings in bowl games to break Colt Brennan’s NCAA single-season passer efficiency record of 186.0. And Wilson broke Harrell’s record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass with 37.

In the unbalanced college game, there are many different ways to evaluate quarterback play. Gifted runners, crazy schemes, talent differentials, level of competition and raw NFL talent all become a part of the equation. The bottom line is the quarterback is the single most important position on the field, and having a great one under center can take a mediocre football team and elevate it to title contender (just ask Wisconsin).

So who will boast the best signal callers in college football next fall? Athlon Sports takes a very early stab at ranking quarterback play in 2012 by conference:

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

4. SEC

This is where the rankings start to get interesting. The ACC and Pac-12 are head and shoulders above the rest of the nation when it comes to passing talent. For now, the Big 12 gets the nod over the SEC due to a few factors. First, if all the talent falls back into place in the Big 12 — Robert Griffin III, Landry Jones and Geno Smith —  it would easily top the SEC. Second, can Mizzou's James Franklin accomplish in the SEC what he produced in the Big 12? And lastly, half of this conference will have major question marks or unproven commodities under center in 2012.

At the top, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson give the SEC a fantastic 1-2 punch. Wilson led the SEC in yards in his first season as the starter, and Murray led the conference in touchdown passes as he led the Dawgs back to the SEC title game. Georgia will once again be picked to win the East, and the Hogs have a schedule that sets up nicely to challenge LSU and Alabama.

Most important will be the influx of "new" talent. The SEC missed out on most of Tyler Bray’s 2011 season at Tennessee due to injury, and Big Orange faithful will welcome him back to campus for a full season in 2012. Bray might be the best pure passer in the entire conference and will certainly benefit from the return of injured star wideout Justin Hunter. Missouri will bring second-year dual-threat star Franklin to the East as well. The sophomore was dynamic all season long and claimed MVP honors by posting 132 yards passing and 142 yards rushing (and three touchdowns) against North Carolina's SEC-type front seven in the Independence Bowl. How good he can be in his first season facing actual SEC defenses remains to be seen.

It also appears that LSU will go with the burly, highly touted UGA transfer Zach Mettenberger. The 6-foot-5, 225 pounder saw limited action in five games this fall with LSU and will be a junior next fall. The Tigers also reeled in the nation’s No. 2 incoming freshman quarterback in Gunner Kiel.

The development of A.J. McCarron at Alabama, Jordan Rodgers at Vanderbilt and Connor Shaw at South Carolina will likely determine just how good the quarterback play in the SEC will be in 2012. McCarron led all SEC passers with a 66.8% completion rate and appears poised for stardom next fall as he becomes the focal point of the offense. Other than Bray, he might be the best pure passer and top NFL prospect in the conference. Rodgers won't have the veteran, opportunistic defense helping him next fall and will need to continue to prove himself. Shaw went 6-1 after Stephen Garcia was excommunicated, but doubts still remain about his ability to lead the Gamecocks to a championship.

While the top is very strong in this league, the bottom is full of more questions than any other conference. Mississippi State has options but none has been able to take the next step. Florida, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Auburn each have major issues at the position. The Gators, Aggies and Tigers have highly touted yet largely unproven players to choose from, while Kentucky and Ole Miss could be in for another long year.

The Known Commodities:

1. Aaron Murray, Georgia (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,861 yards, 33 TD, 12 INT, 58.8%
Rushing Stats: 79 att., 116 yards, 2 TD

2. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas (SR)
Passing Stats: 3,422 yards, 22 TD, 6 INT, 63.1%
Rushing Stats: 53 att., minus-21 yards, 4 TD

3. Tyler Bray, Tennessee (JR)
Passing Stats: 1,983 yards, 17 TD, 6 INT, 59.5%
Rushing Stats: 26 att., minus-70 yards, TD

4. James Franklin, Missouri (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,733 yards, 20 TD, 10 INT, 63.2%
Rushing Stats: 199 att., 839 yards, 13 TD

5. AJ McCarron, Alabama (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,400 yards, 16 TD, 5 INT, 66.8%
Rushing Stats: 26 att., minus-33 yards, 2 TD

6. Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,498 yards, 9 TD, 9 INT, 51.2%
Rushing Stats: 108 att., 387 yards, 4 TD

7. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (JR)
Passing Stats: 1,218 yards, 12 TD, 6 INT, 65.5%
Rushing Stats: 116 att., 483 yards, 7 TD

The Unknowns:

Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Tyler Russell/Chris Relf, Mississippi State
Kiehl Frazier/Clint Moseley/Barrett Trotter, Auburn
Jeff Driskel/Jacoby Brissett, Florida
Jamiell Showers/Matt Davis/Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
The Kentucky Wildcats
Barry Brunetti/Randall Mackey, Ole Miss

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

Teaser:
<p> The best league in football adds Franklin, Missouri to list of quarterbacks.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 14:52

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