Articles By Braden Gall

All taxonomy terms: College Football, Big Ten
Path: /columns/national-notebook/big-tens-2011-top-10-games-watch

The start of the 2011 college football season is two weeks away. With kickoff right around the corner, Athlon takes a look at the top 10 must-see games in the Big Ten for 2011.

1. Nebraska vs. Wisconsin (Week 5)
Oct. 1, All-Time Series: Nebraska leads 3-2

This game will usher in a new era of football for Nebraska as it travels to Madison to play in its first ever Big Ten conference game. The corn-fed Big Red will have to face the dairy-fed Big Red in what could be a preview of the inaugural Big Ten Championship game. These look like the two most complete teams on paper as the play of Taylor Martinez against the JJ Watt-less Badger pass defense will be the deciding factor. These two Midwest powers have not been on the same field since 1974, when the Huskers topped the Badgers 21-20 in MadTown – which will be absolutely rocking for the visit from Bo Pelini and Company.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Huskers by 6

2. Ohio State vs. Nebraska (Week 6)
Oct. 8, All-Time Series: Buckeyes lead 2-0

In what will be another first for Nebraska fans, Larry the Cable Guy and the rest of Husker nation will welcome the Buckeyes to Lincoln for the first time. It will also mark the return of the Tat-5 (or four) when Mike Adams, Boom Herron and DeVier Posey rejoin their teammates on the field. This too could be a preview of the Big Ten title game as the Buckeyes, despite the suspensions, are very much a contender in the Leaders Division. Quarterback play will be huge in this game as both teams should struggle to run the football against two solid front lines. Can ageless wonder Joe Bauserman or youngster Braxton Miller keep their composure in one of the most difficult places to play in the nation?

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Huskers by 3

3. Wisconsin vs. Ohio State (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 53-18-5

Ohio State won 21 straight meetings with the Badgers from 1960 to 1980. Since then, Wisconsin has held its own in the blossoming rivalry 11-14-1 in the 26 games since. In fact, the these two teams have split the last six, eight and 10 games played. But Ohio State has won the last two in Columbus in convincing fashion (at least on the scoreboard) 69-30. Russell Wilson will be playing in the most hostile environment of his career when he walks into the Shoe and will need his running game if he expects to leave Columbus with a win. However, the Bucks have totally stymied the Badgers’ potent rushing game in the last two meetings on the Banks of the Olentagy’s. Sconie has mustered only 130 yards on 81 carries in the two losses.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Buckeyes by 4

4. Ohio State vs. Michigan (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Michigan leads 57-43-6

The greatest rivalry in all of college football will be renewed for the 107th time when these two Midwest powers lock horns in the final week of the regular season. Despite the prestige, tradition and nostalgia created from watching the Maize and Blue battle with the Scarlet and Gray, this rivalry has been totally one-sided of late. Ohio State has won seven straight and nine of the last ten. Brady Hoke and Denard Robinson look to have Michigan pointed in the right direction and could be in a position to surprise in 2011. However, the Buckeyes should be too strong at the end of the season for Michigan to sneak-up on them. Michigan will beat OSU in the near future, it just isn’t likely to be in 2011.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Buckeyes by 7

5. Michigan State vs. Nebraska (Oct. 29)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: Nebraksa leads 5-0

The Spartans are still looking for their first ever win over Nebraska, and with one in 2011, they could find themselves playing in December in Indianapolis. After a nearly unblemished 2010, Sparty fancies itself as the primary contender in the Big Ten Legends Division and has no desire to let the new kid win it all. The sledding will be tough for Michigan State despite the outstanding skill talent it possesses on offense. There are 39 starts gone from the offensive line and the new faces will be put to the test against Jared Crick and the All-American Husker front seven. The last meeting between the two took place in the Alamo Bowl in 2003 and Nebraska has outscored Michigan State 181-34 in the five meetings with an average margin of victory just under 30 points.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Huskers by 4

6. Iowa vs. Nebraska (Week 13)
Nov. 25, All-Time Series: Nebraska leads 26-12-3

These two heartland powers really haven’t met since World War II. The border rivals met regularly during the World War I era as well as in the 30s and 40s, but have played only six times since 1946. The renewal of what is now an intra-divisional rivalry could provide a berth into the Big Ten title game. The whole ear of corn, so to speak, could be on the line in the season finale in Lincoln. The Hawkeye offense, despite losing leader Ricky Stanzi, shouldn’t miss a beat under James Vandenberg. And even though Kirk Ferentz must replace most of his starting defense, one would assume that by Week 13, this group will once again be a hard-hitting, stingy unit. Home-field advantage is the deciding factor in this one.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Huskers by 3

7. Michigan State vs. Ohio State (Week 5)
Oct. 1, All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 27-12

These two both earned a share of the Big Ten title a year ago but never got a chance to settle it on the field. That won’t be the case in 2011 as these two title contenders take the field in Columbus. However, seeing as how it’s the fifth game of the Buckeyes’ season, Sparty won’t have to face Boom Herron, DeVier Posey or Mike Adams among others. Will the wet-behind-the-ears replacements gain enough experience in the first four games of the season to get a huge win? The Bucks know they must hold serve at home in order to land the first Leaders’ Division title – and it starts with Michigan State. Ohio State has won seven in row, 12 of 14 and is 20-4 against MSU since 1974.

Athlon's Very Early Predictions: Buckeyes by 7

8. Wisconsin vs. Michigan State (Week 8)
Oct. 22, All-Time Series: MSU leads 28-21

These two have swapped victories in the last six meetings including a tight 10-point win by Michigan State a year ago that cost the Badgers the outright conference title. Kirk Cousins converted a few key goalline fourth downs to give Michigan State its first share of a conference title since 1990. Wisconsin should bring another stellar rushing attack to East Lansing but Jerell Worthy and company will be prepared along the Spartan front. The key could be the reworked Spartan offensive line facing a defensive line that must replace JJ Watt. Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson will likely hold the key to success.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Badgers by 1

9. Notre Dame vs. Michigan (Week 2)
Sept. 10, All-Time Series: Michigan leads 22-15-1

These two have been playing virtually every season for over 30 years and each has had its time in the sun. However, Michigan has won four of the last five including the last two tightly-fought four-point victories. Shoelace Robinson announced his authority on national television with 258 yards rushing and two touchdowns - including an electric 87-yard scoring scamper. He added 244 yards passing with another touchdown as his fantasy stardom was off and running. But Notre Dame developed on the defense as the season went along and looks to have potentially its best defense in two decades. Michigan will have to show improvement on its own atrocious defense before it can claim another victory over the Irish’s Mad Scientist head coach.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Irish by 7

10a. Nebraska vs. Penn State (Week 11)
Nov. 12, All-Time Series: PSU leads 7-6

10b. Nebraska vs. Michigan (Nov. 19)
Nov. 19, All-Time Series: Michigan leads 3-2-1

Nebraska has a rough enough schedule through September and October, but won’t get any breaks in the final three weeks of the regular season either. In back-to-back weekends, the Huskers have to play in front hostile 110,000-seat crowds in Happy Valley and Ann Arbor. It was 2002 the last time Big Red headed to Penn State and 1962 the last time it played at the Big House. On paper, Penn State doesn’t look to have the offensive power to hang with Nebraska while the Wolverines don’t have anyone to slow Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead. However, by the end of the season both PSU and UM should be much improved from 2010 and will be hosting a title contender. Anything can happen.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Huskers over PSU by 7
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Huskers over Michigan by 14

Other Top Games to Watch:

Michigan State vs. Iowa (Nov. 12)
Penn State vs. Ohio State (Nov. 19)
Penn State vs. Wisconsin (Nov. 26)
Michigan vs. Michigan State (Oct. 15)
Michigan State vs. Notre Dame (Sept. 17)
Iowa vs. Penn State (Oct. 8)
Michigan vs. Iowa (Nov. 5)
Ohio State vs. Miami (Sept. 17)
Alabama vs. Penn State (Sept. 10)
Ohio State vs. Illinois (Oct. 15)
Northwestern vs. Nebraska (Nov. 5)
Arizona State vs. Illinois (Sept. 17)
Illinois vs. Penn State (Oct. 29)
Wisconsin vs. Illinois (Nov. 19)
Pitt vs. Iowa (Sept. 17)
Penn State vs. Northwestern (Oct. 22)
Oregon State vs. Wisconsin (Sept. 10)
Northwestern vs. Boston College (Sept. 3)

Other Big Ten Content:

Athlon Sports' Big Ten 2011 Unit Rankings

Ranking the Big Ten's Top 40 Players for 2011
Athlon's 2011 Big Ten Predictions
Athlon's 2011 All-Big Ten Team

Top 25 Players of BCS Era

Best Quarterback in the Big Ten?

Will Michigan Surprise in the Big Ten title race?

Illinois: A Sleeper Team?

<p> What are the top ten must-see match-ups in the Big Ten this fall?</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 18, 2011 - 01:07
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/football-recruiting-florida-state-dominates

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

There is a new college football czar of Florida. And his name is Jimbo.

In a matter of months – not years – Florida State's second-year head coach Jimbo Fisher, with a little help from Nevin Shapiro, has totally flipped the state of Florida on its panhandle.

In the 90s, the Seminoles posted nine straight ACC championships and three straight trips to the BCS National Championship game – including the 1999 crystal ball. But Florida State football just hasn’t been the same since being shut out by the Oklahoma Sooners in the 2000 BCS title game.

The Seminoles have won three ACC titles since that game, but none since 2005. Even in those championship seasons, the writing appeared to be engraved on the wall. Florida State combined for 13 losses in those three years (2002, 2003, 2005) after losing a total of 11 games from 1992 to 2000.

Pouring salt in the wound have been the four total BCS national title appearances – including three victories – by the Miami Hurricanes and Florida Gators since the 13-2 Orange Bowl loss at the hands of the Sooners.

Yet, health concerns, perhaps some burnt-out nerve endings and the loss of consigliere Dan Mullen have rendered Urban Meyer a distant memory at Florida. Larry Coker and Randy Shannon ultimately couldn’t hack it under the bright lights of South Beach. And in light of the recent allegations concerning Shaprio and the rampant cheating taking place at Miami, it is safe to say "The U" won't be competing for national championships anytime soon. It could takes years for the Canes to bounce back from the booster's involvement and subsequent NCAA penalties, so it won't just be Fisher who exploits the issues rippling from Coral Gables into the surrounding, talent-rich high schools of South Florida.

At Florida, Will Muschamp appears to be a quality football coach who inherits a deep and talented roster full of elite prep stars. He has a quality start to his first full recruiting classes in 2012 and there is no reason to believe he won't be successful. However, Florida is coming off a five-loss season in which the Noles spiked the Gators, in true Chief Osceola fashion, 31-7 into the 50-yard line at Doak Campbell.

With Miami now out of the picture for at least the near future and the Gators starting from scratch, it's Fisher's state to control. And maybe no first-year coach has ever refueled the recruiting fire like Fisher did in Tallahassee. Which is great news considering Bobby Bowden finished his coaching career with a decided whimper on the recruiting trail. Florida State ranked no better than 10th (2009), finished as low as 33rd (2007) and averaged a 15.6 national recruiting ranking during Bowden’s final five seasons.

With the instant energy and success Fisher has brought to Florida State recruiting, Bowden is quickly become his own distant memory – much to the chagrin of Canes and Gators everywhere.

Certainly being a member of the coaching staff with the “in-waiting” suffix attached to his title helped Fisher cultivate relationships with his prep brethren prior to officially taking over as head coach. But in a matter of 18-24 months, the Seminoles have clearly reasserted themselves as the Sunshine State recruiting power.

Fisher’s first full recruiting class (2011) was the best collection of talent in the nation. Seven of his 28 signees were Athlon Consensus 100 prospects, including early contributors James Wilder, Karlos Williams, Tim Jernigan and Nick O’Leary. With the release of the 2012 AC100, and high school games set to kick off this week, Fisher and the Noles could find themselves atop the recruiting rankings again.

Florida State currently leads the nation with six AC100 commitments, including what is shaping up as the best defensive line class in the nation. Much like Florida in 2010 and Notre Dame in 2011, the Noles look to be rebuilding the defensive line in alarming fashion. Mario Edwards is the No. 2 overall recruit in the nation and is the No. 1 defensive end. Dante Fowler Jr (pictured) is the No. 26 overall recruit and is the No. 4 end. Chris Casher is the No. 6 defensive end in the nation and the No. 38 overall recruit in America. The No. 98-rated prospect in the nation is Prattville, Ala., defensive tackle Justin Shanks. He is committed to FSU.

Fisher has also pulled the country’s No. 2 quarterback, Jameis Winston (No. 14 overall), from the heart of the Yellowhammer State and America's No. 6 running back in the nation with Mario Pender from Cape Coral, Fla.

Florida State has 16 total commitments, and the group is considered a top-five collection currently. However, Fisher is only just getting started. Five of the top seven, 12 of the top 21 and 18 of the top 37 players still left uncommitted have Florida State listed as a finalist. It may only be a matter of time before they are atop the rankings again in 2012.

As the preseason favorite to win the ACC, a top-five national ranking, the No. 1 incoming freshman class, a completely reworked coaching staff in Gainesville and death penalty rumors swirling at Miami, it is painfully obvious that Fisher is the new Don of Sunshine State football.

Other ACC Content

Breaking Down Miami's QB Battle
Ranking the Best Units in the ACC

Athlon's 2011 ACC Predictions

Athlon's 2011 All-ACC Team

Ranking the ACC's Top 25 Players for 2011

Predicting the ACC's Breakout Players for 2011

<p> Jimbo Fisher has quickly refueled the Seminoles recruiting machine.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/pac-12s-2011-top-10-games-watch

The start of the 2011 college football season is two weeks away. With kickoff right around the corner, Athlon takes a look at the top 10 must-see games in the Pac-12 for 2011.

1. Oregon vs. Stanford (Week 11)
Nov. 12, All-Time Series: Stanford leads 44-29-1

The Pac-12 conference title will likely be on the line when Oregon flies south to Palo Alto during November. Stanford has owned the all-time series, but over the last decade the Ducks have dominated the meetings. Oregon dropped 52 points on the Cardinal last fall and has won eight of the last nine meetings. The Ducks have struggled against power teams (Ohio State, Auburn) over the last two years and the Cardinal will have as close to a power rushing attack as there is in the league. Will the Ducks’ front seven jell in time to slow the Andrew Luck-led attack by Week 11? And can the Cardinal keep the Ducks from scoring 52 points again?

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Cardinal by 4

2. Oregon vs. LSU (Week 1, Arlington)
Sept. 3, All-Time Series: LSU leads 2-1

A berth in the BCS national championship game could be on the line in the palace in Arlington on the first Saturday of the season. One of the nation’s best offenses will square off against what should be one of the nation’s top defenses. The deciding factor should be whether the Ducks’ reworked front seven can slow the power rushing attack of Spencer Ware and Michael Ford – or if Jordan Jefferson can complete key third-and-longs in the fourth quarter against one of the nation’s top secondaries. Should the game be close, and each team runs the table following the meeting, a rematch in the BCS title game isn’t out of the question.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Tigers by 10

3. USC vs. Oregon (Week 12)
Nov. 19, All-Time Series: USC leads 37-18-2

This game should have been one of two potential Pac-12 championship game previews. USC is the best team in the South but will not be allowed to play in the inaugural conference title bout. That doesn’t really affect the players on the field, however, as these are arguably the most talent-laden rosters in the conference. Despite being dominated for the better part of the century, Oregon has reestablished its home field advantage in this budding rivalry, winning five of the last seven meetings in Eugene. The Ducks have also won three of the last four overall reunions, including a 53–32 shellacking in 2010.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Ducks by 7

4. USC vs. Arizona State (Week 4)
Sept. 24, All-Time Series: USC leads 17-9

This game should have been a de facto Pac-12 South championship game. However, the luster was slightly removed when the NCAA ruled that USC could not play in the title game. Arizona State has been dealing with a preseason injury plague as well. That said, these should still be the best two teams in the South, and an early season trip to the desert is never an easy thing. With a win, ASU could establish itself as the team to beat in the division and will set itself up for the inaugural Pac-12 conference championship game.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Trojans by 1

5. Notre Dame vs. Stanford (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads 17-8
This game has a chance to dramatically impact the overall national title landscape in the penultimate week of the regular season. This could be the only contest in which Notre Dame is not favored, and both teams could enter this arena unblemished. Even if both have dropped a game or two elsewhere, an at-large BCS bowl bid will likely be on the line. The Irish front seven showed massive improvement in the final month of 2010 and will be tested by one of the most physical running games in the nation. On the flip side, it could be an absolute treat to watch Dayne Crist (or whoever is running the Brian Kelly attack) square off with Andrew Luck, the best player in the nation.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Cardinal by 6

6. USC vs. Notre Dame (Week 8)
Oct. 22, All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads 43-33-5

One the nation’s most prestigious rivalries will be renewed for the 82nd time when USC heads to South Bend at the end of October. The Irish got off the schneid last season when they outlasted the Trojans 20-16 in Los Angeles. It was the first victory for Notre Dame over USC since 2001 (0-8). In a series that has featured second halves like Anthony Davis' and fourth quarter “heroics” like the Bush Push, this reunion is a must-see each and every season. Both teams should be much improved from a year ago and an at-large BCS bowl bid for the Irish could be on the line — as well as customary year-long bragging rights.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Irish by 3

7. Oregon State vs. Oregon (Week 13) 
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Oregon leads 58-46-10

There are some great rivalry games in the Pac-12, but recently few have matched the intensity and import of the Civil War. It’s not just in-state bragging rights that are on the line when these two square off, but the conference title has hung in the balance as well. This could be the case again as Oregon enters the season as the favorite to win the league for the third straight season. The Beavers would love nothing more than to knock the Ducks out of the Pac-12 — or BCS — championship game. From 1998 to 2006, these two alternated wins, but the Ducks have won three straight in the series, scoring 139 points in the process. Oregon State will have to slow down the Oregon attack if it expects to break the Civil War winning streak. The SEC-type atmosphere will be electric when the Beavers enter Autzen Stadium in the final week of play.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Ducks by 13

8. Stanford vs. USC (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: USC leads 58-27-3

If Oregon is the most talented roster in the Pac-12, then these two teams are the clear challengers when it comes to ability. Unfortunately the budding disdain between Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh has come to an end. But Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley are still around and are still two of the most talented passers in the country. The Cardinal power rushing attack will test the uncharacteristically porous Trojan front seven from 2010, while Barkley and super-soph Robert Woods will offer a formidable test for the veteran Stanford secondary. Stanford has won three of the last four meetings, including the last two trips to the Coliseum.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Cardinal by 1

9. Arizona State vs. Utah (Week 6)
Oct. 8, All-Time Series: Arizona State leads 16-6

While Utah and Arizona State are not two of the elite teams in the Pac-12 on paper, these two teams could be playing for a spot in the Pac-12 title game on October 8. Quarterback play could be the key for both programs as the Sun Devils’ Brock Osweiler and the Utes' Jordan Wynn both need to take the next step in the development process. Whichever player can progress the most, and stay healthy, by the time October rolls around could lead his team into Championship Saturday. Arizona State has won seven straight games in this series (the last six coming in Tempe), but the two southwest programs have not faced each other since 1993.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Utes by 3

10. Oregon vs. Washington (Week 10)
Nov. 5, All-Time Series: Washington leads 58-40-5

Two of the best uniforms in the nation will take the field in what should be a visual show in the richly colored Pacific Northwest. The scoreboard shouldn’t be short on color either as the winner of this game has averaged 43 points per game over the last nine meetings. In fact, the winner of this game has scored less than 42 points only twice (31 in 2004, 34 in 2006). The Ducks have won seven straight meetings and will likely post another crooked number. However, Steve Sarkisian has plenty of talent to work with on offense as the Huskies should be the primary challenger to Oregon and Stanford in the North.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Ducks by 14

Other Top Games To Watch:

Arizona State vs. Oregon (Oct. 15)
Utah vs. USC (Sept. 10)
Washington vs. Stanford (Oct. 22)
Washington vs. Oregon State (Nov. 19)
Stanford vs. Arizona (Sept. 17)
Oregon vs. Arizona (Sept. 24)
Utah vs. BYU (Sept. 17)
Stanford vs. Oregon State (Nov. 5)
Arizona vs. USC (Oct. 1)
Arizona vs. Arizona State (Nov. 19)
Arizona vs. Washington (Oct. 29)
Missouri vs. Arizona State (Sept. 9)
Cal vs. Stanford (Nov. 19)
Washington vs. Nebraska (Sept. 17)
Oregon State vs. Wisconsin (Sept. 10)
Oregon State vs. BYU (Oct. 15)
Texas vs. UCLA (Sept. 17)
UCLA vs. Oregon State (Sept. 24)
Utah vs. Pitt (Oct. 15)
Arizona State vs. Illinois (Sept. 17)
UCLA vs. USC (Nov. 26)
Washington vs. Washington State (Nov. 26)
Colorado vs. Utah (Nov. 26)

Other Pac-12 Content:

Athlon's Pac-12 Unit Rankings

Predicting the Pac-12's Breakout Players for 2011
Athlon's 2011 Pac-12 Predictions

Athlon's 2011 All-Pac-12 Team

Is Washington the Surprise Pac-12 Team?

<p> What are the best games in the 2011 edition of the Pac-12?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 16, 2011 - 10:19
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/big-12s-2011-top-10-games-watch

The start of the 2011 college football season is two weeks away. With kickoff right around the corner, Athlon takes a look at the top 10 must-see games in the Big 12 for 2011.

1. Oklahoma vs. Florida State (Week 3)
Sept. 17, All-Time Series: Oklahoma leads 5-1

There’s a lot at stake in this Week 3 matchup. Oklahoma and Florida State are national title contenders, and a marquee non-conference win would go a long way towards an undefeated season. The Sooners easily handled the Seminoles last year, winning 47-17 in Norman. Florida State will be hungry to avenge last season’s embarrassment and a victory over Oklahoma would be a statement win in Jimbo Fisher’s second season in Tallahassee. The Sooners suffered a blow when linebacker Travis Lewis was lost for at least the first month of the season due to a foot injury suffered in fall camp. Although Lewis is out, Oklahoma’s linebacking corps remains one of the best in the Big 12, especially with the rapid development of sophomores Tom Wort and Corey Nelson. Much of Florida State’s national title hopes will hinge on quarterback EJ Manuel, who enters his first year as the starter. The junior has six starts over the last two years and there’s no question he has the talent, but has yet to prove himself over a full season.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Seminoles by 3

2. Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State (Week 14)
Dec. 3, All-Time Series: Oklahoma leads 81-17-7

Dan Beebe and the Big 12 had to highlight one game on Championship Saturday after losing its title game and The Bedlam Series was an easy choice. Not only will in-state bragging rights be on the line for the 105th time, but the Big 12 title could be at stake as well. Oklahoma State fancies itself as the prime contender to Oklahoma in the league and will have a chance to prove it on the final weekend of the regular season. The Sooners have won eight straight in the series including last year’s 47-41 that featured 967 yards of total offense and 725 combined passing yards. Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden combined for 105 pass attempts, six touchdowns and six interceptions. With the stellar offenses returning for both in 2011, fans can expect fireworks once again from the Bedlam Series.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Sooners by 3

3. Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma (Week 10)
Nov. 5, All-Time Series: Oklahoma leads 18-11

Crimson and Cream faithful certainly have this one circled on the calendar this fall. Not only is Texas A&M one of, if not the, top contender to the Sooners’ title hopes, but they also are programa non grata in the Big 12 and upset OU in last year’s bout. The Aggies entered the fourth quarter with a narrow 19-17 lead before two big play touchdowns from Cyrus Gray and Ryan Swope broke open the game. Landry Jones was sacked four times as the Sooners were held in check on the ground. TAMU held Oklahoma to 72 yards rushing on 44 carries. Without Von Miller, the game moves to Norman with revenge on the mind of Bob Stoops.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Sooners by 10

4. Oklahoma vs. Texas (Week 6, Dallas)
Oct. 8, All-Time Series: Texas leads 59-41-5

The Red River Shootout doesn’t appear to have the same sex appeal as it has had over the last decade. This game has consistently been the best game in the league every season. However, after a 5-7 season from the Longhorns – and huge question marks looming along the offensive line and under center – this game losses some of its edge. But only some – this is still Texas-Oklahoma after all. Expect the Cotton Bowl to be rocking when these two bitter rivals square-off for the 105th time. Texas’ defense was the strength (if there was one) of this team last year, but DeMarco Murray rushed for 115 yards and two scores while Landry Jones tossed a pair of scores and protected the football in the 28-20 OU win. These two have split 2-2 over the last four years and the winner of the rivalry has gone on to win the Big 12 title each of the last three years.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Sooners by 13

5. Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M (Week 4)
Sept. 24, All-Time Series: TAMU leads 17-9

The right to challenge the Oklahoma Sooners for conference supremacy should be on the line when these two explosive offenses take the field in late September. The Pokes have won three straight in this series, including an edge-of-the-seat three-point win as time expired last fall. However, this game is in College Station and Jerrod Johnson – and his four interceptions – won’t be under center. Despite passing for 409 yards and five touchdowns against OSU last fall, Johnson lost his starting job shortly thereafter, giving way to Ryan Tannehill. This game could have been dramatically different had it been played after the switch at quarterback.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Aggies by 3

6. Missouri vs. Oklahoma (Week 4)
Sept. 24, All-Time Series: Oklahoma leads 65-25-5

Gary Pinkel and the Tigers look at themselves as Big 12 title contenders almost every season now. And rightly so. However, the Sooners have spoiled a pair of great Mizzou seasons with disrobings in the Big 12 title game by a combined 100-38. The Tigers finally broke through in 2010, however, with a big 36-27 home win. The victory marked the first win over Oklahoma since 1998 (seven games). With stellar offensive and defensive line play for the Tigers, Bob Stoops certainly won’t take Missouri lightly after being upset a year ago. Much of the Tigers’ season will hinge on James Franklin play and a Week Four trip to Norman looms ominously on the schedule.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Sooners by 10

7. Oklahoma State vs. Missouri (Week 8)
Oct. 22, All-Time Series: Okie State leads 28-22

These two Big 12 contenders have played only twice since 2005, both of which went the way of the Pokes. Each team is eyeing a conference title and each team will have to go through the other - literally - if they want to push Oklahoma for the title. This game will feature two of the best offensive lines in the league as both collections of blockers return largely intact, but the real battle will come on defense. Mizzou boasted the best defense in the Big 12 a year ago, while the Pokes claimed the top rated offense. While Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon and company give Okie State a clear edge on offense, the Tigers should have the advantage on the defensive side of the ball. Can Missouri slow the high-powered Cowboy attack? Can new quarterback James Franklin move the ball enough to keep pace with OSU? This will be one of the top swing games in the league this fall and should carry major consequences in the Big 12 title race.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Cowboys by 1

8. Missouri vs. Texas A&M (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: TAMU leads 7-4

On the surface it looks like Jerrod Johnson played an excellent football game against the Tigers last fall. He threw for 322 yards, one score and no interceptions. There was one big problem, however: The Aggies lost 30-9. Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael combined for 55 yards on 15 carries. As a team, TAMU rushed for 57 yards on 33 carries against what turned out to be the best defense in the league. Out is Johnson. Out is Blaine Gabbert. Out is Aldon Smith. Out is Von Miller. The new Mizzou faces won’t be scared by the trip to College Station, however. The Tigers have won two of its last three games in College Station (including last year) and has won four of the last five. Expect the Aggies to pound the football for what should be better than the 1.7 yards per carry.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Aggies by 7

9. Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (Week 5, Arlington)
Oct. 1, All-Time Series: Arkansas leads 40-24-3

An old Southwest Conference throwback marks the second year in a row these two former rivals match-up in Texas Stadium. Ryan Mallett and Von Miller won’t be there this go around, but there should be no lack of star power and fireworks in Jerry’s World. Last fall, Jerrod Johnson completed only 15 of his 40 passes while Mallett threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns on 71% passing in the 24-17 Hogs win. These two combined for six total points in the second half and was the beginning of the end of Johnson’s tenure as the starter. Expect two new signal callers, Ryan Tannehill and Tyler Wilson, to utilize two stellar skill groups on the fast turf in Arlington. The Hogs may have the advantage up front but will be missing star tailback Knile Davis.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Razorbacks by 4

10. Texas vs. Texas A&M (Week 13)
Nov. 24, All-Time Series: 75-37-5

These two bitter rivals have only upped the ante in recent weeks with Texas A&M’s likely move to the SEC. The Aggies hate the Longhorns for a variety of reasons – not the least of which has been on the field domination by the Horns. Texas has won eight of the last 11 meetings, but TAMU currently holds the bragging rights with a 24-17 win last fall to go with three wins in the last five match-ups with Big Brother. Aggie fans feel confident they are a Big 12 title contender while Texas fans are not sure exactly what to expect from their squad. If Texas returns to prominence this game could carry heavy Big 12 implications. Otherwise, this will be a Turkey Day hangover game filled with nothing but Aggie one-liners and Burnt Orange hatred.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Aggies by 7

Other Top Games to Watch:

Oklahoma State vs. Texas (Oct. 15)
Texas vs. Missouri (Nov. 12)
Missouri vs. Arizona State (Sept. 9)
TCU vs. Baylor (Sept. 3)
Texas A&M vs. Texas Tech (Nov. 8)
Oklahoma State vs. Texas Tech (Nov. 12)
Arizona vs. Oklahoma State (Sept. 10)
Texas vs. Baylor (Dec. 3)
Texas Tech vs. Texas (Nov. 5)
Texas Tech vs. Oklahoma (Oct. 22)
Texas Tech vs. Missouri (Nov. 19)
Texas vs. UCLA (Sept. 17)
Kansas State vs. Miami, Fla. (Sept. 24)
Kansas vs. Missouri (Nov. 26)
Kansas State vs. Kansas (Oct. 22)

Other Big 12 Content

Big 12's Breakout Players for 2011
Ranking the Big 12's Top 35 Players for 2011
2011 Big 12 Unit Rankings

Athlon's 2011 Big 12 Predictions
Athlon's 2011 All-Big 12 Team
Will Oklahoma and Texas A&M Leave the Big 12?
Oklahoma State's Dynamic Duo
Is Missouri the Big 12's Surprise Team?
Over/Under on Texas Wins in 2011

<p> What are the Top 10 games to watch in the Big 12 in 2011?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 16, 2011 - 08:40
All taxonomy terms: College Football, SEC Expansion, SEC, News
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/debate-should-sec-expand

Debate: Should the SEC expand?

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): I do not think the SEC should expand, and that’s mainly because I do not think it’s good for college football for any power conference to go past the 12-team threshold. It seems inevitable that the collegiate world is headed to the land of ‘Superconferences’, with last year’s Pac-12/Big Ten/Big 12/MWC realignment just the tip of the iceberg. I think the popularity of college football lies in its regional rivalries and ultra-passionate fans. The arms race towards 16-team leagues with national footprints is a path to becoming “NFL Junior” in my opinion, and I think that would damage college football in the long term. Do you really want to see league games between Rutgers-TCU and Washington State-Oklahoma State? How are you going to structure a sensible football schedule with 16 teams in a conference?

As far as the recent ‘Texas A&M to the SEC’ rumors, I just don’t see why Mike Slive needs to be in a hurry to secure the Aggies. What’s the urgency to move to an unbalanced 13 teams, with an obvious 14th school soon thereafter? The SEC is about as strong as a conference could be right now, with five straight national titles in football and loaded television deals. If another power league ups its membership to 14 or 16 teams in the future, then Slive could determine a possible expansion at that time. After all, where do you think Texas A&M is going to go? The SEC will always be a better fit for the Aggies than any Pac-16 scenario, and I don’t see the Big Ten inviting them. If the Big 12 falls apart because of the uber-greedy Longhorns or a lack of 12 teams, then A&M will be available at that time. We all understand the benefit for the SEC to capture Texas television markets, but it’s not like Slive can immediately renegotiate the recently signed TV contracts if the Aggies joined next year.

The SEC is a leader. The conference model that former commissioner Roy Kramer and staff set up in 1992 seems to be what every league has followed in subsequent years. Here’s hoping that college football’s toughest league does not cross the 12-team line on the gridiron, and then force other power leagues to try and keep up. ‘Superconferences’ probably sound great to ESPN and bean counters in conference offices, but a college football landscape where you don’t play half your league makes no sense. I hope my favorite game keeps its unique regional rivalries and doesn’t lose its special identity in the pursuit of a few million dollars more.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden): College football is an arms race. It is a brick and mortar business. Teams build seven-figure athletic facilities, locker rooms, luxury suites, dorms, cafaterias and hire the best personal trainers, chefs and tutors to make sure athletes are well cared for at all times.

This theory extends upwards towards the conferences and the conference commissioners. Jim Delany, Larry Scott and Mike Slive had made massive powerplays in the form of TV networks, tv contracts and conference expansion.

So in light of Big East expansion rumors, and its own extremely lucrative television contract, Slive needs to be proactive. Delany pressed the issue and lured one of the single most powerful football programs in the nation into the fold when he landed Nebraska. Scott "acquired" two solid programs in Utah and Colorado and then upped the ante with the most creative and profitable television contract in the game today.

Slive and the SEC have no choice.

Is the SEC the top dog? Yes. Does it own the on-the-field bragging rights? Yes. Is it the most "dedicated to winning" conference in the nation? Yes. But heavy is the head that wears the crown.

The massive bull's-eye permanently located on the chest of the SEC shouldn't worry fans, coaches and players too much. But it certainly should have Presidents, boosters, Mike Slive and, most importantly, the beancounters conscious of future earnings potential, growth opportunities and creative revenue streams.

Would the SEC even have a chance to land superpowers like Texas, Oklahoma, Florida State or Miami? Does Missouri offer enough eyes and ears with the Kansas City and St. Louis markets? Would Virginia Tech or Maryland offer up the Richmond-DC-Baltimore-Tidewater markets? Does Texas A&M give Slive the DFW metroplex and Houston he so desperately craves?

The SEC needs to land a prestigious program(s) with a powerful athletic department dedicated to success on the field. But make no mistake, it is always about money. So if the top conference in college football can go first-to-third on a single to right and force the other leagues to make the play, and do so in a timely, efficient and profitable manner, Slive has to pull the trigger and force the hand of Delany and Scott.

If 16-team super-conferences are inevitable, the SEC might as well be the first to step off the ledge.

<p> Athlon editors Patrick Snow and Braden Gall debate SEC expansion.</p>
Post date: Friday, August 12, 2011 - 11:06
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-football-qb-battles-miami-fla

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

The Miami Hurricanes are one of college football's most intriguing teams of 2011.

On the field, the Canes are college football royalty. When they win, they win big. The 2011 edition has loads of talent, a preseason Top 25 ranking and is the primary challenger to Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division.

But when it goes bad on South Beach, it can get ugly. Three decades of off-the-field drama that makes The Wire look like kindergarten. Package that with poor administrative support and a stadium that is located more than 20 miles from campus and any fan base would be a bit restless – even if it is notoriously difficult to please.

Larry Coker won big, but clearly wasn’t cut from the same Hurricane cloth as Jimmy or Butch. Randy Shannon is a great human being and cleaned up the program, but couldn’t win enough games.

Enter Al Golden.

With practice starting up recently, the Golden Era has begun in south Florida in earnest. But what is the former Temple head coach faced with in his first campaign with Miami?

He has enough talent to challenge for a division title, but has a glaring problem under center. So Golden’s biggest decision of 2011 will likely come before he ever steps onto the sidelines of Joe Robbie-Dolphins-Pro Player-Land Shark-Sun Life Stadium.

Meet the Candidates:

Jacory Harris, 6-4, 195, SR
2010: 1,793 yards, 14 TD, 15 INT, 27 rush yards, 2 TD

Stephen Morris, 6-2, 210, SO
2010: 1,240 yards, 7 TD, 9 INT, 74 rush yards, TD

Spencer Whipple, 6-2, 205, SR
2010: 54 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT

How many quarterbacks enter their senior year after starting for the better part of three seasons, having thrown for 6,340 yards and accounted for 55 touchdowns, and end up sitting on the bench?

That is exactly what could happen to Harris this fall if he cannot improve his efficiency. Over the last two seasons, the local product has thrown 32 interceptions in 23 games. In only six games over that span did the slender senior slinger not lob a pass to an opposing jersey. Throwing off his back foot and into double coverage has become an M.O. for Harris - who has not shown the ability to develop as a passer.

So the much younger, more athletic, stronger-armed Stephen Morris is the obvious choice, right?

Not so fast. Morris also had an issue with interceptions and efficiency. The freshman failed to complete 50% of his passes in three of his six games. The Canes were 2-2 in his four starts, and like Harris, he threw more interceptions than touchdowns.

That said, the biggest difference – and major advantage – for Morris is his youth. These types of turnovers and efficiency issues are to be expected from a freshman quarterback. He is a dramatically more malleable commodity than Harris. Morris has loads of room to grow and develop as a passer and leader, where it will extremely difficult for Golden to correct 870 pass attempts worth of poor practices in Harris’ case. Morris did help Miami beat Maryland and Georgia Tech and played what was his easily his best game in the Sun Bowl loss to Notre Dame: 22-for-33, 282 yards, 2 TD, INT, 5 carrries for 22 yards gained.

The good news for both players is the running game. With the best collection of blockers and backs The U has seen since the early 2000s returning, the ground attack should be a major strength of the offense and should significantly aid whoever is taking snaps. In fact, fans can probably expect to see plenty of Lamar Miller in the wildcat formation as well.

Harris seems like the obvious choice due to experience and leadership. At least, to start the season. However, it has leaked this week from Miami Herald reporter Susan Miller-Degnan’s twitter account that Morris may have a slight edge:

“I was told by person I don't want to incriminate that #UM #Canes #QB S Morris was ahead of Jacory. Golden: not saying.”

This position battle looks like it might last the entire season – or at least until Morris is ready to take over full-time.

Athlon Sports Prediction: Jacory Harris

After polling the Athlon editorial staff, our odds-makers still feel that Harris will start the season on the field. However, I would be surprised if Morris is not the starter by the second half of the Ohio State game. Harris' line against the Buckeyes last fall: 22-for-39, 232 yards, TD, 4 INT.

QB Battles: Notre Dame
QB Battles: Texas

<p> Can veteran gunslinger Jacory Harris hold off surging sophomore Stephen Morris?</p>
Post date: Friday, August 12, 2011 - 09:20
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-football-qb-battles-texas

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

How many college football teams have fallen from an undefeated regular season and BCS national championship berth to 5-7 with inexplicable losses to UCLA, Iowa State, Kansas State and Baylor in one year?

Let’s simplify the question: How many teams that played in the BCS national championship game failed to win at least seven games the following year?

The answer is still only one: The 2010 Texas Longhorns. In fact, the only other team that failed to reach at least eight wins following a BCS title game berth was the 2002 7-7 Nebraska Cornhuskers.

So what is to be blamed for the Longhorns' complete self-destruction a year ago? The offensive line couldn’t block, the receivers weren’t open (or were dropping passes when they were), the running backs weren’t getting the tough yards, the coaches didn’t do their jobs, and finally, Garrett Gilbert failed to live up to the hype.

For the first time since the pre-Vince Young days, Mack Brown has a dark veil of uncertainty at the quarterback position.

Meet the candidates

#7: Garrett Gilbert, 6-4, 218, JR
2010: 2,744 yards, 10 TD, 17 INT, 380 rush yards, 5 TD

#5: Connor Wood, 6-4, 220, FR

#6: Case McCoy, 6-2, 200, SO

David Ash, 6-3, 215, FR

Gilbert was a victim of circumstance. He played well in the second half of the BCS title game against Alabama, but it was clear that the Tide came out of the locker room assuming the game was over. As soon as Texas got close, Bama flipped a switch, created four quick turnovers and cemented its legacy as a champion.

But the hype from that second half lived on throughout the offseason. And it probably wasn’t fair to Gilbert considering that he was following the winningest quarterback in NCAA history. Yes, he threw a downright ugly 17 interceptions against only 10 touchdowns. But he got no help from the line, receivers, backs and most importantly the coaches.

His 2,744 yards were actually better than Colt McCoy’s 2,570 yards in his first season as the starter. His 380 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns bested McCoy’s 180 yards and two scores. The big difference was McCoy’s 29:7 TD:INT ratio – something that Brown is emphasizing in fall camp.

“You’ve gotta have great leadership at that position; you’ve gotta protect the ball, and you’ve gotta put the ball in the endzone,” said Brown.

The Texas head coach has made it very clear since the onset of summer that his starting QB job is up for grabs. And it is clear what he is looking for from his signal caller. Lead, don't turn the ball over and score points.

Easier said than done.

Is there talent behind Gilbert on the depth chart? Absolutely. But Case McCoy, Connor Wood and David Ash have a combined one collegiate pass attempt among them. McCoy was impressive in the spring and has the family moxie Burnt Orange fans are used to seeing from the McCoy name. But he might be the least physically gifted player on the roster at his position. Wood has the talent and has been in the program for a year, while Ash has yet to experience anything that resembles a collegiate atmosphere.

All signs point to Gilbert earning the job once again this season, and there are several reasons to be optimistic about his potential this fall. First, Brown made big switches to the coaching staff, bringing in Boise State’s Bryan Harsin to spruce up the passing attack. Second, the nation’s No. 1 running back, Malcolm Brown, arrives on campus as the savior of the ground game. Third, the offensive line has to be better than it was a year ago. It might not be possible for that much talent to struggle that badly again. Finally, the wide receiver corps is deep and extremely athletic. Mike Davis and Darius White are poised for breakout seasons, and newcomer Jaxon Shipley will be dynamic in the slot. Not to mention veteran Marquise Goodwin.

The coaches are charting every pass in practice and are putting every player in critical competitive situations in order to simulate game action. Brown has said he should make the call in relatively short order, so fans can expect an announcement at any time.

The quarterback position, even when a starter has been announced, still casts a shadow of doubt over the offense. But the last time there was an open quarterback competition on the Forty Acres, a guy named McCoy grabbed Bevo by the horns and never looked back.

Maybe an open competition is just what Senator Brown needed.

Athlon Sports Prediction: Garrett Gilbert

<p> Can Garrett Gilbert hold onto his starting job for the Longhorns?</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 11, 2011 - 13:45
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/recruiting-rankings-ac100-numbers

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

College football is a fluid situation.

The totally dynamic nature of the NCAA game from one year to the next is a huge reason why it’s is the greatest sport on the planet. Graduation, transfers, knuckleheads, junior college and incoming freshmen make each individual season a completely unique, never-to-be-duplicated experience.

Recruiting classes are no different.

Talent pools change from state to state, position to position and year to year. The class of 2011 in Louisiana, for example, might have been the best class of players to ever come out of the Pelican State. LSU capitalized by landing most of the elite in-state prep stars. The wide receiver class of 2008 – which included Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Jonathan Baldwin and Michael Floyd to name a few – might have been the greatest collection of pass catchers ever. And the 2006 quarterback class was simply unbelievable – Tebow, Bradford, Stafford, Freeman anyone?

So there is no shortage of intriguing storylines in the 2012 edition of the Athlon Consensus 100.

Where Are They From?

Texas, Florida and California top the state rankings each season, and this recruiting editor cannot see that changing anytime soon. Florida leads the 2012 AC100 with 17 top-100 prospects. The Golden and Lone Star states each delivered 13 stellar players to the AC100.

However, the most interesting geography battle each season lies at fourth place. Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have all laid claim to “fourth” place at one time or another. After a stellar 2011 haul – most of which signed with the Georgia Bulldogs – the Peach State once again proves to be a fertile recruiting ground with seven AC100 prospects. Alabama, Ohio and North Carolina tied for fifth with five recruits each.

The strength of the Northeast this year is also worthy of note. Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and D.C. combined for 11 AC100 prospects in this cycle – eight of which landed in the top 32. Meaning that one quarter of the “five star” recruits in this class hail from the Northeast. It’s no wonder teams like Georgia and Alabama have built pipelines to the massive population bases of the east coast.

Illinois (3) and Missouri (3) both have strong classes at the top of the rankings this year. Mississippi, New Jersey and Maryland are the only other states with at least three AC100 recruits.

Virginia, Louisiana, Indiana, Oklahoma, Washington, Arizona, New York and Pennsylvania each placed two recruits into the list. It appears to be a down year at the top of the rankings for states like South Carolina and Michigan, as each landed a solitary prospect into this cycle’s ranking.

What Positions Do They Play?

Quarterback, left tackle, defensive line and middle linebacker are the four most important positions on the field – in that order. NFL drafts and subsequent contracts illustrate as much. So, it’s nice to see the line of scrimmage dominate the position ranks in 2012. The offensive line claims 17 AC100 prospects, while there are 16 defensive ends and 11 defensive tackles. In fact, 11 of the top 20 players (and five of the top six) in this class will play in the trenches – where championships are won and lost.

The wash-out rate for offensive lineman – meaning players who are considered “misses” or “busts” after the dust settles – is the highest for any position. Considering how much easier it is to evaluate running backs, safeties, receivers and linebackers, it is easy to see why the recruiting experts tend to shy away from the hog mollies.

There are also seven quarterbacks – up a couple from years past. Kudos to the six recruiting services used to compile the AC100 because 51% of the top 100 will play along the line of scrimmage or under center.

Wide receivers and defensive backs each placed 12 prospects into the list. Running back (10), linebacker (7), athlete (6) and tight end (2) round out the position rankings.

Where Are They Headed?

Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns have taken Joe Paterno’s early commitment philosophy to a new level. Burnt Orange nation leads the country with six current AC100 commitments, including the nation’s No. 1 running back for the second straight season (Jonathan Gray, No. 7 overall, pictured), the nation’s No. 4 quarterback (Connor Brewer, No. 57), the country’s No. 4 defensive tackle (Malcom Brown, No. 26) and America’s No. 3 wide receiver (Cayleb Jones, No. 37).

Jimbo Fisher and the Florida State Seminoles are second in the nation with five AC100 verbal pledges. The new recruiting czar of the Sunshine State has the Noles humming along the recruiting trail after landing the nation’s No. 1 class in 2011. If things continue, it appears Fisher could claim the top spot again. Three of the top 24 players in the nation are currently set to play in Tallahassee, and five the top seven players left uncommitted have the Seminoles listed as a top choice. Additionally, 12 of the top 21 and 18 of the top 38 left on the board have FSU listed as a favorite.

Auburn checks in at third place with four current AC100 commitments, while Alabama, a rejuvenated Michigan and Notre Dame claim three each. Usual suspects USC, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Oklahoma, Miami, Texas A&M and Clemson have two verbals apiece.

, Texas Tech, Virginia, TCU, Missouri, Cal and, most notably, Indiana all claim a rare AC100 commit as well. For the Badgers and Hoosiers, this class would mark the first AC100 signee in the brief five-year history of the list.

Other recruiting content:

View the Complete 2012 AC100

Who is the nation's top quarterback recruit?

Who is the nation's No. 1 prospect?

<p> Where are the nation's top recruits? What positions do they play? And where are they headed?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - 12:50
Path: /college-football/college-football-qb-battles-notre-dame

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

Brian Kelly is an offensive genius. This much we know.

We also know it hasn’t really mattered much who took snaps for his offense, since whoever was under center produced in true EA Sports fashion.

But this isn’t Grand Valley State. Or Central Michigan. Or even Cincinnati. This is Notre Dame.

With preseason expectations sweeping through South Bend with more gusto than a stiff Lake Michigan westerly, Kelly still has one major decision to make before the start of his second year as Irish head coach.

Who is Notre Dame’s starting quarterback?

Meet the candidates:

#10: Dayne Crist, 6-4, 235, SR
2010: 2,033 yards, 15 TD, 7 INT, 74 rush yards, 4 TD, 4-3 record

#11: Tommy Rees, 6-2, 210, SO (pictured)
2010: 1,106 yards, 12 TD, 8 INT, -2 rush yards, 4-1 record

#12: Andrew Hendrix, 6-2, 218, FR

#5: Everett Golson, 6-0, 170, FR

Yes, technically Crist started the Tulsa game – which was a 28-27 loss. But he threw only two passes before his second straight season-ending knee injury. Rees threw 54 passes for 334 yards and four touchdowns in that game. But he threw three interceptions too, so if a “W” or “L” has to go on someone’s ledger, I place it on the guy who played in the game.

And yes, technically, Kelly has called it a four-man race. Both Hendrix and Golson have played well since the spring and certainly give Irish faithful a sense of security when looking toward the future. But for all intents and purposes, it is a two-horseman race between Crist and Rees.

Crist has all the natural ability to excel not only on Saturdays, but Sundays too. He is bigger, taller, faster, stronger, older, has a better arm and has much more experience. He also threw one fewer interceptions than Rees in 130 more pass attempts. But Rees is a gamer, a regular Johnny Overacheiver. And he wins.

Crist claims he is perfectly healthy and says he has made large strides in his development process since the spring. He will need to improve his career 58.5-percent completion rate in order to prove he has taken the next step. Oh, and staying on the field would help too.

Rees is the son of a coach, makes good decisions and has yet to lose a game as the starter. As a true freshman, he led the Irish to four straight wins over Utah, Army, USC and Miami to wrap up the 2010 season. No small feat.

However, one could argue simply that the defense was the reason Notre Dame finished with such a flurry. Manti Te’o and company allowed a total of 39 points over those last four contests, surrendering 184 passing yards and 91 rushing yards per game. The Irish defense allowed 165 yards rushing per game in the first nine games, at a generous 4.5-yard clip. It ranked 80th in rushing and total defense following the loss to Tulsa.

In 126 carries faced in the final four games, the Golden Domers held opponents to a nasty 2.9 average, finishing the season ranked 50th in rushing and total defense.

Kelly has stated he won’t announce his starter until after the 19th practice of August and the reps have been evenly divided between the two. The two signal-callers have said all the right things and appear to be having fun with the competition.

But make no mistake, they are both out for blood.

This is Notre Dame after all.

Athlon Sports Prediction: Dayne Crist

Other Notre Dame Content:

Top Ten Notre Dame Player of the Athlon Era
Greatest Moments in Irish History

30 Years of Notre Dame Cheerleaders

2011 Athlon Notre Dame Preview

<p> Both Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees are eyeing the starting job in South Bend.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - 07:48
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/2012-football-recruiting-rankings-qbs

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

The quarterback position is easily the most important, and most difficult, position on the football field. Do the necessary skills needed to succeed change from high school to college football to the NFL? Of course, the need for accuracy, efficiency and touch increases exponentially from Friday night to Sunday afternoon.

But certain threads consistently weave from the prep to pro ranks: leadership, play-making ability, poise and toughness just to name a few.

This makes college football the uber-entertaining middle ground between the pure athletes running around making plays in small high school towns and the statuesque lightning-quick trigger-men of the NFL pocket. College football contains the best of both worlds. The savvy, coach-on-the-field pocket passers like Kellen Moore can have just as much success as open-field dynamos like UCF’s Jeffery Godfrey.

This makes ranking the top quarterback recruits every year a difficult task. But for the class of 2012, the experts have spoken with virtual harmony: Columbus East’s Gunner Kiel is the top quarterback recruit in the nation.

View the complete Athlon Consensus 100 here

1. Gunner Kiel, 6-4, 212 (AC100 No. 13, Indiana)
Columbus (IN) Columbus East

Five of the six expert services have this talented gunslinger ranked as the top quarterback in the nation. Kiel is the complete package at quarterback. The appropriately named passer has a consistent, accurate delivery with mechanics that are more developed than most players at his age. He shows great touch on his passes, sees the field very well and will make the right decision. He has good command of the huddle and is a natural leader with poise and maturity reflected by his family’s pedigree of QB play.

In fact, playing quarterback is a family tradition, as his two brothers (Indiana, Illinois State), father (Butler) and uncle (Notre Dame) have all played, or are currently playing, quarterback at the college level. Kiel is also a better athlete than given credit for, as he will pick up yards on the ground when the play breaks down. He has solid feet and won’t shy away from contact. He has nearly ideal height, bulk and overall size for the quarterback position.

With offers from big-time programs like Ohio State, Alabama, and Notre Dame, Kiel pulled one of the biggest recruiting upsets in history when he announced he would be playing for the Indiana Hoosiers. New head coach Kevin Wilson and his spread system fit the Sam Bradford-clone’s skillset perfectly. Undoubtedly, having his older brother, Dusty, on the IU roster didn’t hurt either.

2. Jameis Winston, 6-3, 195 (No. 15, Florida State)
Hueytown (AL) Hueytown

Winston is a special talent with a versatile skillset and loads of upside. Not only a stellar football prospect, the centerfielder is also a highly touted baseball star who will be a hot commodity in the 2012 MLB June Draft. Simply put, Winston is a leader. He shows great poise and command of the huddle. He has great instincts and makes the right throws more times than not.

However, his biggest asset is his athletic ability. As the top dual-threat quarterback in this class, Winston can make big things happen with his legs once he gets outside of the pocket. He is talented enough to have running plays designed specifically for him. He certainly needs work with accuracy, touch and consistency as well as his overall mechanics. Refining his pure passing skill will be the biggest area of focus once he's on a college campus.

The ASWA Super 12 pick in 2010 recently committed to Florida State over Alabama and LSU. Winston was a huge win for the Noles, who had to go into the Yellowhammer State to pull the No. 2 quarterback recruit in the nation. Whether he is a two-sport college star or a bonus baby on the diamond remains to be seen.

3. Zeke Pike, 6-5, 220 (No. 43, Auburn)
Edgewood (KY) Dixie Heights

Pike’s size and overall bulk immediately stand out as elite assets. He looks like a defensive end, and at times, plays like one. He has a strong arm, can make all the throws in the book and possesses an NFL pedigree. His father, Mark, played defensive end and linebacker at Georgia Tech and for the Buffalo Bills.

Pike is not just a pocket passer, however, as his 1,072 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground last fall can attest. He is an above-average athlete but has been playing against paltry competition, so don’t look for Pike to be a featured runner in college.

The only issues with the burly Bluegrass passer are his accuracy and consistency. He can spray the ball and will need to work to maintain a dependable throwing motion. Refining his footwork and mechanics will help smooth out his delivery.

Back in April, Pike decided he was heading to Auburn over Tennessee, Arkansas, Purdue and Michigan. Once he irons out his mechanical kinks, he should be a perfect fit for the Guz Malzhan spread attack.

4. Connor Brewer, 6-2, 190 (No. 57, Texas)
Paradise Valley (AZ) Chaparral

Brewer should instantly remind fans of Colt McCoy – and not just because he is going to Texas. He has a virtually identical frame and sneaky athletic ability like McCoy. He also has a slightly lower arm slot, but is an otherwise very polished player. He is accurate, consistent and has great touch on the deep ball. And his arm strength and RPMs might actually be better than McCoy's. He plays against a high level of competition and has consistently been a winner. He set a school record with 37 TDs a year ago.

5. Anthony Alford, 6-0, 190 (No. 66)
Petal (MS) Petal

Alford is the smallest and only uncommitted member of this list. He also might be the best pure athlete on this list as well. The smallish signal caller is a dynamic open-field force who has the talent to play running back or wide receiver on the next level. His speed, burst, explosion and change-of-direction skill will make him a terror in a zone-read option attack. Should he land in the right system, he has the arm strength, experience and poise to excel as a quarterback. Denard Robinson and Pat White are apt comparisons.

Also a talented baseball prospect, Alford has narrowed his list to Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Nebrasa, South Carolina, Southern Miss and Tennessee.

6. Zach Kline, 6-1, 205 (No. 86, Cal)
Danville (CA) San Ramon Valley

A solid all-around athlete, Kline is a fundamentally sound player who is confident in the pocket. He is a smooth player who lacks ideal size but makes up for it with tremendous footwork and mechanics. Possesses solid arm strength.

7. Matt Davis, 6-1, 200 (No. 87, Texas A&M)
Houston (TX) Klein Forest (pictured)

This future Aggie is a tremendous athlete who is excellent in the open field. Once he is outside of the pocket, his quickness, toughness and vision give him big-play ability. He will need to work on a consistent delivery and becoming a mechanically sound passer, or else he could easily end up playing receiver or safety.

8. Chad Kelly, 6-3, 210 (No. 101, Clemson)
Buffalo (NY) St. Joseph School

A rangy player with plenty of room to fill out, Kelly has terrific overall athleticism. Like most mobile quarterbacks coming out of high school, his arm strength is fine, but consistency, accuracy, touch and footwork will all need work. His delivery, however, does have a lot of potential – which is to be expected from the nephew of Hall of Fame NFL passer Jim Kelly.

9. Bart Houston, 6-4, 200 (No. 110, Wisconsin)
Concord (CA) De La Salle

Houston is a prototypical pocket passer with a big arm, great size and plenty of experience at one of the top high school programs in the nation. He is no statue, however, as his feet are quick and he scored 11 rushing touchdowns a year ago.

10. Tyler Matthews, 6-3, 205 (No. 139, TCU)
McPerson (KS) McPherson

Matthews is a fundamentally sound player who is accurate, consistent and productive. He has a quick release and seems to really understand the game well – even though it's against mediocre competition.

Other nationally ranked QB prospects:

11. Greyson Lambert, 6-5, 195 (No. 163, Virginia)
Jesup (GA) Wayne County (pictured)

12. T.J. Millweard, 6-4, 230 (No. 206, Arizona State)
Ft. Worth (TX) All Saints Episcopal

13. Cyler Miles, 6-4, 220 (No. 238, Washington)
Denver (CO) Mullen

14. Preston Dewey, 6-3, 205 (No. 258, Miami, Fla.)
Austin (TX) St. Andrews

15. Shane Dillon, 6-5, 185 (No. 263, Colorado)
El Cajon (CA) Christian

16. Ford Childress, 6-4, 210 (No. 266, West Virginia)
Houston (TX) Kinkaid

17. Tanner Mangum, 6-3, 195 (No. 278, BYU)
Eagle (ID) Eagle

Other Recruiting Content:

View the complete Athlon Consensus 100 here

Who is the No. 1 Prospect in the Class of 2012?

<p> Who is the nation's No. 1 quarterback prospect? The AC100 answers.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 - 14:28
Path: /college-football/football-recruiting-rankings-2012-athlon-consensus-100-0

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

Athlon Sports has released the 2012 edition of the Athlon Consensus 100 – the truest and most accurate ranking of the top 100 college football recruits in the nation.

The AC100 includes, and more importantly averages together, six major recruiting services from around the nation, resulting in the clearest look at the best high school prospects this country has to offer each season. Rivals, Scout, ESPN, 247 Sports, Offense-Defense and NCSA come together in one place: The AC100.

So who is the best prep athlete in the Class of 2012?

Three different players received first-place votes from the six different recruiting services. Springfield (MO) Hillcrest wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (pictured) was tabbed as the nation’s best by Rivals and NCSA. Denton (TX) Ryan defensive end Mario Edwards is considered the best player in the nation by ESPN. Two-way line of scrimmage monster Arik Armstead, from Elk Grove (CA) Pleasant Grove, received first-place votes from Scout, 247 Sports and Offense-Defense.

Simple math points to Armstead, the 6-foot-7, 280-pound left tackle/defensive end combo from the West Coast, as the top prospect, right?

Not so fast.

Green-Beckham is rated no lower than fourth by any of the major services, while Armstead (23rd by Rivals and 14th by ESPN) and Edwards (8th by Scout and 14th by 24/7) have clearly created more dissension within the business. Essentially, everyone is in agreement about the massive record-setting receiver from Missouri:

Rivals: No. 1, Scout: No. 2, ESPN: No. 3, 24/7: No. 2, O-D: No. 4, NCSA: No. 1

This means that the nation’s No. 1 prospect is Hillcrest wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.

Affectionately known as DGB, the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder is a freakish blend of size and speed. He earned Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year honors after catching 78 passes for 1,703 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior last fall. Few players will ever possess the fluidity, explosiveness and burst packaged with the height, length and strength that DGB brings to an offense. Which is why well-deserved Calvin Johnson comparisons are tossed around so liberally when talking about Green-Beckham. He glides throught the open field with ease and will be effective on every level of the passing attack. His size and overall range will make Green-Beckham a dynamic redzone threat for whoever lands the elite pass catcher.

DGB and family have deliberately played the recruiting process extremely close to the vest. There is little insight as to where he might land on the next level, but all signs point to an Oklahoma-Missouri showdown with programs like Texas, Nebraska, Ohio State, Florida State and Alabama still beating down the door.

Edwards, a 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end, is committed to Florida State while Armstead is committed to USC. Both have family ties to their future universities.

Here is how the rest of top ten lines up:

4. Andrus Peat, OL, Tempe (AZ) Coronoa Del Sol
5. Noah Spence, DE, Harrisburg (PA) Bishop McDevitt
6. John Theus, OL, Jacksonville (FL) Bolles
7. Jonathan Gray, RB, Aledo (TX) Aledo
8. Shaq Thompson, DB, Sacramento (CA) Grant Union
9. Keith Marshall, RB, Raleigh (NC) Millbrook
10. Stefon Diggs, ATH, Olney (MD) Good Counsel

View the complete AC100 here.

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

<p> The 2012 AC100 is out! Who is the No. 1 player in the nation in 2012?</p>
Post date: Monday, August 8, 2011 - 16:47
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Fantasy
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/athlon-2011-nfl-fantasy-mock-draft-rosters

Athlon Sports 2011 Fantasy Football Magazine Mock Draft: Complete Rosters

12-team, 20-round snake style draft

Return to round-by-round mock draft

Mock Draft Love/Hates

Scoring: 6 pts all TDs, 1 pt = 25 pass yds, 1 pt = 10 rush/rec yds, 0.5 pts/reception, -2 pts = INT, -1 pt = fum. lost, 1 pt = 40 ret. yds

  1. Patrick Snow     | 2. Braden Gall     | 3. Rob Doster    
RD Name POS Team | Name POS Team | Name POS Team
1. Arian Foster RB HOU | Adrian Peterson RB MIN | Chris Johnson RB TEN
2. Dwayne Bowe WR KC | Michael Turner RB ATL | Reggie Wayne WR IND
3. Drew Brees QB NO | Ahmad Bradshaw RB NYG | Peyton Manning QB IND
4. Marques Colston WR NO | Jermichael Finley TE GB | Jason Witten TE DAL
5. Marshawn Lynch RB SEA | Santonio Holmes WR NYJ | Mark Ingram RB NO
6. Joseph Addai RB IND | Johnny Knox WR CHI | B. Green-Ellis RB NE
7. Sidney Rice WR SEA | Julio Jones WR ATL | Kenny Britt WR TEN
8. Montario Hardesty RB CLE | Brandon Jacobs RB NYG | Ndamukong Suh DT DET
9. Jerod Mayo LB NE | Eli Manning QB NYG | Mike Williams WR SEA
10. Dustin Keller TE NYJ | Jordan Shipley WR CIN | Deion Branch WR NE
11. Trent Cole DL PHI | Green Bay DST GB | Pittsburgh DST PIT
12. DeMarco Murray RB DAL | Clay Matthews LB GB | LaRon Landry DB WAS
13. Lance Moore WR NO | Tim Tebow QB DEN | Curtis Lofton LB ATL
14. Matt Cassel QB KC | Hines Ward WR PIT | Ronnie Brown RB PHI
15. New York Giants DST NYG | Rob Gronkowski TE NE | Aasron Hernandez TE NE
16. Eric Weddle DB SD | Javon Ringer RB TEN | Kevin Kolb QB ARI
17. Arrelious Benn WR TB | Haloti Ngata DL BAL | Brian Cushing LB HOU
18. Ben Tate RB HOU | Charles Woodson DB GB | Braylon Edwards WR SF
19. Barrett Ruud LB TEN | Kevin Burnett LB MIA | David Gettis WR CAR
20. Robbie Gould K CHI | Lawrence Tynes K NYG | Josh Brown K STL
  4. Matt Schauf     | 5. Nathan Rush     | 6. Mitch Light    
RD Name POS Team | Name POS Team | Name POS Team
1. Ray Rice RB BAL | LeSean McCoy RB PHI | Jamaal Charles RB KC
2. Michael Vick QB PHI | Tom Brady QB NE | Matt Forte RB CHI
3. Miles Austin WR DAL | DeSean Jackson WR PHI | Mike Wallace WR PIT
4. Peyton Hillis RB CLE | Brandon Marshall WR MIA | Matt Ryan QB ATL
5. Steve Johnson WR BUF | Jahvid Best RB DET | Anquan Boldin WR BAL
6. Fred Jackson RB BUF | Percy Harvin WR MIN | Michael Crabtree WR SF
7. Owen Daniels TE HOU | Danny Woodhead RB NE | C.J. Spiller RB BUF
8. Jacoby Ford WR OAK | Patrick Willis LB SF | Tony Gonzalez TE ATL
9. Steve Smith WR FA | Brandon Pettigrew TE DET | Ryan Williams RB ARI
10. Jay Cutler QB CHI | Eric Berry DB KC | Paul Posluszny LB JAC
11. Terrell Suggs DL BAL | James Harrison LB PIT | New York Jets DST NYJ
12. Robert Meachem WR NO | Golden Tate WR SEA | Mark Sanchez QB NYJ
13. Derrick Johnson LB KC | Reggie Bush RB MIA | Chad Ochocinco WR NE
14. Desmond Bishop LB GB | Tim Hightower RB WAS | Troy Polamalu DB PIT
15. Shane Vareen RB NE | Baltimore DST BAL | Osi Umenyiora DL NYG
16. Kellen Winslow TE TB | Dexter McCluster W/R KC | DeMarcus Ware LB DAL
17. George Wilson DB BUF | Robert Quinn DL STL | Donald Brown RB IND
18. New Orleans DST NO | Philadelphia DST PHI | Jermaine Gresham TE CIN
19. Sebastian Janikowski K OAK | Willis McGahee RB DEN | Randall Cobb WR GB
20. Mason Foster LB TB | Rob Bironas K TEN | Matt Bryant K ATL
  7. Paul Hickey     | 8. Corby Yarbrough     | 9. Charlie Miller    
RD Name POS Team | Name POS Team | Name POS Team
1. Roddy White WR ATL | Aaron Rodgers QB GB | Andre Johnson WR HOU
2. Larry Fitzgerald WR ARI | Darren McFadden RB OAK | Steven Jackson RB STL
3. LeGarrette Blount RB TB | Antonio Gates TE SD | Philip Rivers QB SD
4. Knowshon Moreno RB DEN | Jeremy Maclin WR PHI | Dallas Clark TE IND
5. Mike Williams WR TB | Brandon Lloyd WR DEN | DeAngelo Williams RB CAR
6. Vernon Davis TE SF | Ryan Grant RB GB | Cedric Benson RB CIN
7. Josh Freeman QB TB | James Starks RB GB | Pierre Garcon WR IND
8. A.J. Green WR CIN | Mikel LeShoure RB DET | Jordy Nelson WR GB
9. Sam Bradford QB STL | Joe Flacco QB BAL | LaDanian Tomlinson RB NYJ
10. Delone Carter RB IND | Davone Bess WR MIA | Beanie Wells RB ARI
11. Pierre Thomas RB NO | Jared Allen DL MIN | Julius Peppers DL CHI
12. Alex Green RB GB | Tyvon Branch DB OAK | Thomas Jones RB KC
13. Stephen Tulloch LB DET | Emmanuel Sanders WR PIT | T.J. Ward DB CLE
14. Jon Baldwin WR KC | D.J. Williams LB DEN | New England DST NE
15. David Harris LB NYJ | Tashard Choice RB DAL | Derrick Mason WR FA
16. Bernard Pollard DB BAL | Brian Urlacher LB CHI | DeMeco Ryans LB HOU
17. Charles Johnson DL CAR | Mark Clayton WR STL | Ryan Fitzpatrick QB BUF
18. Tony Moeaki TE KC | Anthony Armstrong WR WAS | Rolando McClain LB OAK
19. Tampa Bay DST TB | Dallas DST DAL | Earl Bennett WR CHI
20. Garrett Hartley K NO | Neil Rackers K HOU | Stephen Gostkowski K NE
  10. Mike Clay     | 11. Steven Lassan     | 12. Mark Ross    
RD Name POS Team | Name POS Team | Name POS Team
1. Rashard Mendenhall RB PIT | Maurice Jones-Drew RB JAC | Frank Gore RB SF
2. Hakeem Nicks WR NYG | Calvin Johnson WR DET | Greg Jennings WR GB
3. Shonn Greene RB NYJ | Jonathan Stewart RB CAR | Ryan Mathews RB SD
4. Wes Welker WR NE | Dez Bryant WR DAL | Vincent Jackson WR SD
5. Austin Collie WR IND | Tony Romo QB DAL | Matt Schaub QB HOU
6. Ben Roethlisberger QB PIT | Daniel Thomas RB MIA | Felix Jones RB DAL
7. Jimmy Graham TE NO | Mario Manningham WR NYG | Santana Moss WR WAS
8. Mike Tolbert RB SD | Zach Miller TE SEA | Mike Thomas WR JAC
9. Steve Smith WR NYG | Justin Tuck DL NYG | Jon Beason LB CAR
10. Lawrence Timmons LB PIT | Matthew Stafford QB DET | Marcedes Lewis TE JAC
11. Roy Helu RB WAS | Michael Bush RB OAK | Ryan Torain RB WAS
12. Robert Mathis DL IND | Chad Greenway LB MIN | James Laurinaitis LB STL
13. Ray Lewis LB BAL | Danny Amendola WR STL | Mike Goodson RB CAR
14. Patrick Chung DB NE | Rashad Jennings RB JAC | Jerome Simpson WR CIN
15. Mike Sims-Walker WR STL | Bernard Scott RB CIN | Terrell Thomas DB NYG
16. Toby Gerhart RB MIN | Chicago DST CHI | Elvis Dumervil DL DEN
17. Cam Newton QB CAR | Donte Whitner DB SF | Chris Cooley TE WAS
18. Jason Snelling RB ATL | Jamar Chaney LB PHI | Detroit DST DET
19. San Diego DST SD | Malcolm Floyd WR SD | David Garrard QB JAC
20. Alex Henery K PHI | Mason Crosby K GB | Nate Kaeding K SD























































































More Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets and Rankings:
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 280

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 240 w/ IDPs

011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterbacks
011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receivers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Kickers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Defense/Special Teams

<p> Here is a complete look at the 2011 Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy mock draft rosters.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - 19:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, FSU
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/2011-acc-championship-florida-state-or-field

Debate: Who would you pick to win the ACC Championship: Florida State Seminoles or The Field?

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): I’ll take Florida State over the field in the ACC, and you can spike my prediction into the 50-yard line like Chief Osceola during pregame at Doak Campbell Stadium. Jimbo Fisher and staff have signed stellar recruiting classes since he took over for Bobby Bowden, and I think the Seminoles could be set for a dominant run over the next few years. In 2011, Virginia Tech would be the only club I can see competing with FSU for ACC supremacy. You have to respect the Hokies because of their tradition of winning and coaching, and their soft early schedule will allow time for the development of sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas and a young defensive line. However I see the Florida State roster as the strongest across the board in the conference, and Mark Stoops’ defense may remind the fans in Tallahassee of some of their better groups from the early '90s.
EJ Manuel will take over for Christian Ponder at quarterback, and the talented junior has gone 4–2 as a starter over the last two seasons. Manuel was the MVP of FSU’s Gator Bowl win over West Virginia to end the 2009 season, and he tossed the game-clinching touchdown pass in last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over South Carolina. The offensive line will be solid with three senior starters, and the Seminoles return all of their top running backs and receivers.
Florida State has nine returning starters on what could be a very special defense, with All-America end Brandon Jenkins leading the way. The Noles have depth and talent on all three levels, and they have one of the best cornerback duos in the country with Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes. That will allow Stoops, in his second year as coordinator, to put immense pressure on opposing signal callers. This unit took some lumps last season, but this year’s group will be a pain for ACC offenses. In addition to a loaded roster, FSU boasts two solid specialists in kicker Dustin Hopkins and punter Shawn Powell and an elite punt returner in Reid.
I don’t know that we’ll ever see a run like Florida State had in league play in the '90s, but the program is as healthy as it’s been in years. Jimbo Fisher’s crew looks primed for multiple league titles over the next three or four seasons. While I have a ton of respect for Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech, 2011 looks like the year that the Seminoles take back control of the ACC.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden): Let's be clear, the Florida State Seminoles are the favorite to win the ACC in 2011. But before we crown the Noles champions, let’s chew on a few numbers first. Florida State has not won a conference title in five seasons and over that span has lost 26 games — the same number of losses it experienced in the 13 seasons prior to its last ACC title in 2005.

Virginia Tech, on the other hand, has won three of the last four (and four of the last seven) conference championships. Three different teams have claimed ACC titles since FSU claimed the ’05 title, two of which lost three games inside the league. Additionally, four different teams have represented the Atlantic Division since the inaugural title game, including Florida State a year ago.

What do these numbers have to do with the 2011 football team in Tallahassee? Not all that much. It does, however, indicate that the ACC is a completely wide-open conference each and every year – and that the modern ACC championship train runs directly through Blacksburg. This isn’t your diddy's ACC. So if had to place a bet today, I would take the field.

Within the Atlantic, Boston College and NC State are quality football teams that consistently overachieve, are incredibly well-coached and play physical brands of football. Maryland, under new head coach Randy Edsall, returns the first-team All-ACC quarterback and will also be a very physical squad. Clemson is Clemson. It has loads of talent with uber-upside and can beat anyone on any given Saturday. (But will also make fans and experts shake their collective heads at least twice a year.)  The Atlantic is the stronger division and Florida State has to play at Clemson and at BC. Are the Noles the favorite to win the divison? Of course, but an FSU division title is not a forgone conclusion.

Having said that, the real threat likely comes from the Coastal Division in the form of the defending champs. The Hokies return the best offensive line in the league and the most stable coaching staff in the nation. Tech also plays the weakest possible crossover schedule, facing the bottom three teams from the Atlantic. With the upheaval in Chapel Hill, major losses in Atlanta and the Canes coming to town in early October, Virginia Tech is the heavy favorite to win the Atlantic.

Florida State, on the other hand, has to face rival Miami late in the year in what could be the biggest ACC game of the season. And, oh yeah, it also has to face that little team from Norman in Week Three. A crushing loss – like it experienced last fall at the hands of the Sooners – does not directly affect the ACC standings, but it could quickly shake the delicate balance of youth and confidence down in the panhandle.

Additionally, both Florida State and Virginia Tech share an issue at quarterback. Replacing ACC POY Tyrod Taylor is no easy task, but neither is filling the hole left by first-round NFL selection Christian Ponder. Do I think that EJ Manuel and Logan Thomas have elite talents and abilities? Yes, but stepping into the spotlight as a highly touted prospect and succeeding with the weight of major college football on your shoulders is much easier said than done (just ask Garrett Gilbert or John Brantley).

Jimbo Fisher, and the new-look Noles, will spend plenty of time in the ACC title game over the next decade. But if I am a gamblin’ man, I will roll on down highway 41 and take the field in 2011.

<p> Who will win the ACC title in 2011: Florida State or the field? We debate.</p>
Post date: Friday, July 29, 2011 - 10:02
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/looking-back-top-10-recruits-2006

by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)

Every year, millions of dollars and man hours are spent trying to acquire talent by college football programs across this great country. Attempting to rank these players has become as big a part of the college football machine as tailgating on Saturdays. Each cycle, recruiting experts evaluate the best our nation's prep ranks have to offer, and every year, the rankings offer future stars as well as total busts.

In the 2011 College Football preview magazine, Athlon Sports looked back on how the Top 40 propects from the Class of 2006 fared on the college gridiron:

1. Chris Wells, RB, Akron, OH, Ohio State
There was little doubt as to where Wells would end up playing college football, as his famous quote indicated: “I think I came out of my mom’s womb wanting to go to Ohio State.” Wells, the MVP of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, made an immediate impact as a freshman. His 52-yard, game-changing run against Michigan helped the Buckeyes clinch a spot in the national title game. The next season, on the legs of the first team All-Big Ten running back, the Buckeyes made their second straight national title game appearance. Despite battling nagging injuries throughout his career, Wells finished with 3,382 yards and 30 touchdowns in 36 games. He left school early and was selected with the 31st pick in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals.

2. Andre Smith, OL, Birmingham, AL, Alabama
The nation’s No. 1 offensive lineman got his college career started with a bang when he pulled out the signature houndstooth hat during his creative announcement on Signing Day. The big bulldozer earned Freshman All-America honors in 2006, first-team All-SEC recognition in 2007 and was a consensus All-American in 2008. Smith was suspended for the Sugar Bowl after his junior season, and he declared for the NFL Draft shortly thereafter. He was selected in the first round by the Cincinnati Bengals. After he had disrobed defensive linemen for three years, it was a shirtless Pro Day appearance that has left the lasting (not-so-slender) image of Smith.

3. Sam Young, OL, Coral Springs, FL, Notre Dame
Young became an instant starter at Notre Dame as a freshman and was a stalwart for the Irish offensive line for four years. He started all 50 games of his Notre Dame career — an Irish record. He was selected in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys.

4. Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma City, OK, Oklahoma
After redshirting as a freshman, McCoy went on to be a three-year starter for the Sooners. After a 34-tackle, six-sack season as a junior, McCoy earned All-America honors. He finished his career with 33 tackles for a loss and 14.5 sacks. McCoy was drafted No. 3 overall by the Tampa Bay Bucs in the 2010 NFL Draft.

5. Vidal Hazelton, WR, Staten Island, NY, USC
The public disagreement between Vidal and his father, Dexter, extended Hazelton’s recruitment until long after Signing Day. The father, who wanted his son to go to Penn State, refused to sign his son’s letter-of-intent to USC. Finally, 23 days after Signing Day, Hazelton put pen to paper for the Trojans. He caught one pass as a freshman and then had 50 receptions for 540 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore. He was plagued by injuries in 2008 and then transferred to Cincinnati for his final season of eligibility. Poised to be a big contributor in 2010 for the Bearcats, Hazelton caught six passes for 63 yards in his first game, against Fresno State, before being carted off the field with a torn ACL that ended his collegiate career.

6. Sergio Kindle, LB, Dallas, TX, Texas
From famed Woodrow Wilson High School, Kindle entered college with a gaudy résumé. The two-way star posted 411 tackles and 86 rushing touchdowns in his final three prep seasons. After playing a backup role as a freshman and sophomore, Kindle broke into the starting lineup as a junior. He switched full-time to end as a senior and finished his career with 151 tackles, 16.5 sacks and 33.5 tackles for a loss. Kindle was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

7. Myron Rolle, S, Galloway, NJ, Florida State
Few top-10 recruits can claim similar experiences to Rolle’s. A first-team Freshman All-American, Rolle started at safety, earned his degree in two-and-a-half years, became the only FSU football player to claim the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, postponed his NFL career to study at Oxford and started a free health services clinic in the Bahamas called the Myron L. Rolle Foundation. The extraordinary safety was selected in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans.

8. Percy Harvin, WR, Virginia Beach, VA, Florida
Few players in college football history have been as productive as Harvin. Used as both a receiver and running back, Harvin totaled 1,929 yards receiving on 133 career receptions while rushing for 1,852 yards on 194 career attempts. He scored 32 career offensive touchdowns. He played in, and won, two national championship games. He touched the ball 14 times in each game, scoring in both and amassing 253 total yards. The two-time All-American dealt with injuries his entire career in Gainesville or the numbers could have been better. He was selected in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings.

9. Micah Johnson, LB, Fort Campbell, KY, Kentucky
Kentucky’s reigning Mr. Football earned Freshman All-SEC honors in 2006. The season ended with Kentucky’s first bowl win since 1984. In that game, a Music City Bowl victory over Clemson, Johnson scored the only offensive touchdown of his career on his second and final rushing attempt. A part of the first Kentucky team to go to four straight bowl games, the two-time All-SEC performer registered 285 career tackles. The Cats went 3–1 in bowl games during Johnson’s time in Lexington.

10. Mitch Mustain, QB, Springdale, AR, Arkansas
Mustain had a roller-coaster ride of a college career. As part of the “Springdale 5,” he headed to Fayetteville with high school head coach Gus Malzahn and three other prep teammates. As a true freshman, Mustain was promoted to the starting lineup in Week 2 and finished the season with an impressive 8–0 record as the starter. Despite his early success, he was replaced as the starter later in the year by Casey Dick, and when Malzahn left for Tulsa after the ’06 season, Mustain decided to transfer to USC. The perennial backup never lived up to the recruiting hype and did not start a game during his three years at USC. He was arrested this past February for selling prescription amphetamines. 

<p> Athlon Sports editor Braden Gall looks back at the stars and busts of the 2006 recruiting class.</p>
Post date: Friday, July 29, 2011 - 07:24
All taxonomy terms: Donovan McNabb, NFL News, Redskings, Vikings, News
Path: /news/donovan-mcnabb-traded-vikings

NFL News: Donovan McNabb, a borderline Hall of Fame quarterback, has been traded from the Washington Redskins to the Minnesota Vikings.

The inner working of the deal, particularly the compensation of McNabb, are not official yet. It appears the Redskins will receive a 2012 sixth-round pick and a 2013 sixth-round pick in exchange for the former Philadelphia Eagle star quarterback.

McNabb was set to make $14.75 million this year for the Skins and Mike Shanahan was clearly not prepared to pay that amount of money for a player entering his 13th season in the NFL. The amount of money the Vikings will be pay McNabb is still unclear, but it will certainly be much less than the $15 million he was due in Washington. The deal could be heavily influenced by performance incentives.

The six-time Pro Bowler fills a huge hole for the Vikings. He will undoubtedly be the starter under center, and ideally, mentor 2011 first-round pick Christian Ponder. The former Florida State signal caller tweeted about the move: "Excited to have McNabb join. Will learn a lot from a Pro Bowler. But that doesn't mean I'm not still fighting to start week 1!" Ponder might be the future in Minneapolis, but does not look to be the present.

McNabb is 16th all-time in NFL history with 36,250 passing yards, 23rd all-time with 230 touchdown passes and 23rd all-time with a career QB rating of 85.7. He is 97-57-1 all-time as an NFL starter and 9-7 in the postseason, including one memorable trip to the Super Bowl in 2004.

<p> The Vikings have acquired veteran NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 27, 2011 - 12:22
Path: /mlb/american-league-cy-young-verlander-cc-or-weaver

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

No one should envy the American League Cy Young voters this year.

Last night, Jered Weaver, CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander all took the mound and all led their teams to victory.

Weaver went seven innings in Cleveland to win his fifth straight start. Sabathia took a perfect game into the seventh in his Major League-leading 15th win of the season. He struck out a career-high 14 against the Mariners. And Justin Verlander won his third consecutive road start, pitching eight innings and striking out seven against the AL Central rival White Sox.

These three have pitched more innings and won more games than anyone in the majors – and have more strikeouts than any other pitcher in the American League (Clayton Kershaw leads MLB with 173 Ks). Weaver leads the majors with a 1.79 ERA, Verlander is third in all of baseball with a 2.34 ERA, and Sabathia is fifth in the AL with a 2.56 mark.

Sabathia (15-5, 156 K) has led the Yankees to a 17-6 record in his starts. On June 19, he sat at 9-4 with a 3.39 ERA. In the seven starts since, his ERA has dropped nearly a full run, he's posted a downright nasty 11.85 K/9 rate and has pitched into the eighth inning five times – winning six of the seven outings. The Yankees have the third-best record in baseball and are 6.5 games ahead of the Angels in the AL Wild Card race. The Bombers give CC the best run support of the three at 7.58 runs per game when the big fella starts.

Verlander (14-5, 169 K) was equally impressive in June winning all six starts with a 0.92 ERA and a disgusting 54:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The Tigers are 15-8 in games in which he pitches, and he has completed eight innings in 12 of his 23 starts (CC has nine such outings and Weaver has six). He also leads the trio with a 0.89 WHIP. Detroit is giving him adequate run support at 5.05 runs per trip to the mound.

Weaver (14-4, 134 K) posted his best numbers early in the season, winning all six starts in March and April with a 0.99 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 45.2 IP. The Angels are 15-7 overall in his starts including 2-1 against rival first-place Texas in three starts. Weaver has gotten the least run support of the group at a paltry 3.97 runs per game.

Deciding between the three is virtually impossible. Weaver owned the first two months of the season, Verlander dominated June, and CC has crushed the month of July. With roughly two months left in the season, there is still plenty of work left to do, but on July 27th, it is a dead heat.

Have fun, voters!

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

<p> Who is your AL Cy Young frontrunner: CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander or Jered Weaver?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 27, 2011 - 11:42
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, Big East
Path: /college-football/top-recruits-21-30

by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on Twitter)

Every year, millions of dollars and man hours are spent trying to acquire talent by college football programs across this great country. Attempting to rank these players has become as big a part of the college football machine as tailgating on Saturdays. Each cycle, recruiting experts evaluate the best our nation's prep ranks have to offer, and every year, the rankings offer future stars as well as total busts.

In the 2011 College Football preview magazine, Athlon Sports looked back on how the Top 40 propects from the Class of 2006 fared on the college gridiron:

21. Taylor Mays, S, Seattle, WA, USC
The son of former NFL defensive lineman Stafford Mays earned his first career start in the second week of his true freshman season. He started the next 12 games and became only the third Trojan in school history to earn Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors. Mays earned third-team All-America honors from the AP in 2007 before claiming consensus first-team All-America recognition following his junior and senior seasons. The Thorpe Award finalist in 2009 finished his career with 276 total tackles, five interceptions and three Rose Bowl titles. Mays was selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Interestingly, Mays’ former coach, Pete Carroll (now in Seattle), passed on his former safety to select Texas safety Earl Thomas in the first round, prompting a verbal sparring match between the two.

22. LeSean McCoy, RB, Harrisburg, PA, Miami
McCoy originally signed with Miami but ended up in prep school after failing to qualify academically. In his first season at Pitt, McCoy exploded onto the scene by setting a then-Big East freshman rushing record with 1,328 yards. He broke Tony Dorsett’s Pitt freshman records for points (90) and rushing touchdowns (14). He ended his first season by rushing for 148 yards as the Panthers, a 28-point underdog, shocked West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl. McCoy earned unanimous Freshman All-America honors as well as the Big East Freshman of the Year award. As a sophomore, McCoy rushed for 1,403 yards and 23 touchdowns and was named to several All-America teams. He declared for the NFL Draft after only two seasons at Pitt and was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round in 2009.

23. Deon Beasley, CB, Orange, TX, Texas
Beasley played in 45 games in his four-year career, with 12 starts. He recorded 99 tackles, 18 passes deflected, three interceptions and two sacks.

24. Jamar Hornsby, ATH, Jacksonville, FL, Florida
As a sign of things to come, Hornsby was suspended for five games of his redshirt freshman season (2007) for illegally selling his complimentary game tickets. Then in May 2008, he was arrested for using the credit card of a former Florida student who had been killed in a motorcycle accident the previous October. He was kicked off the Florida football team and eventually signed with Ole Miss in February 2009, though he never played a down for the Rebels. Hornsby was released from his scholarship in July 2009 after he was indicted on a felony assault charge for attacking a man with brass knuckles in March 2009 at a McDonald’s drive-thru. Last summer, Hornsby was sentenced to six months in prison and fined. However, his second crime violated the terms of his first arrest’s probation and resulted in another 90-day jail sentence that began in February.

25. Nate Byham, TE, Franklin, PA, Pittsburgh
Byham made little impact in the passing game for the Panthers, finishing his career with 47 receptions, 612 yards and three scores. But his final season was his best as a Panther despite catching only 10 passes. The bruising second-team All-Big East blocker paved the way for Dion Lewis’ record-setting freshman campaign in 2009. As one of the nation’s top blocking tight ends, Byham was drafted by the 49ers in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

26. C.J. Gable, ATH, Sylmar, CA, USC
Gable got his career started with a bang against Arkansas in 2006 when he became the first freshman running back to start a season opener for USC. Gable was a solid contributor but saw his touches decrease every season, due in part to nagging injuries. He set career highs in 2008 with 617 yards and nine total touchdowns. Yet, he totaled only 355 yards rushing over his final two seasons with only one touchdown.

27. Jarred Fayson, ATH, Tampa, FL, Florida
Fayson earned a national championship ring with the Gators in 2006 and was a contributor at running back, wide receiver and on special teams in 2007. After deciding to transfer to Illinois, Fayson sat out the 2008 campaign. He played sparingly in 2009, finishing with 16 catches for 218 yards and one touchdown. He became a bigger part of the offense as a senior in 2010, setting career highs in receptions (38) and yards (355).

28. Allen Bradford, ATH, San Bernardino, CA, USC
The safety turned running back saw action in 24 of his first 26 games for the Trojans before a bad hip injury ended his junior season. He was allowed to redshirt that season (2008) and returned to the lineup in 2009, finishing as the team’s No. 2 rusher with 668 yards and eight touchdowns. Bradford began his final season as the starter and ended his career with a 212-yard swan song in a win over rival UCLA. He rushed for 1,585 yards and 16 touchdowns as a Trojan.

29. Tim Tebow, QB, Ponta Verda Beach, FL, Florida
Tebow might be the most decorated player in the history of college football. He won two national championship rings and a Heisman Trophy, and he set a slew of school, conference and national records. As a freshman, Tebow performed spot duty on a national championship team. The following season, Tebow became the first player in Division I history to throw and run for 20 touchdowns in a season — also becoming the first sophomore to claim the Heisman. He led the 2008 Gators to an SEC title and the school’s second national championship in three years. As a senior, he saw his bid for a third national title come up short when the Gators lost to Alabama in the 2009 SEC Championship Game. The Maxwell and Davey O’Brien Trophy winner finished his UF career with 9,285 yards passing, 2,947 yards rushing and 145 total touchdowns. The Denver Broncos traded up to select Tebow with the 25th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

30. Connor Smith, OL, Cincinnati, OH, Ohio State
The son of former Buckeye offensive lineman Joe Smith (1979-82) earned Gatorade Ohio Player of the Year honors in 2005. He was a four-year lettermen for the Buckeyes but did not start a game in his career. 

<p> Athlon Sports editor Braden Gall looks back at the stars and busts of the 2006 recruiting class.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 27, 2011 - 07:41
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /nfl/lockout-nears-end-athlon-nfl-magazines-coming-soon

The light at the end of the NFL lockout tunnel is here. And it only took 136 days – give or take a day or two.

In the coming week, fans can expect literally thousands of transactions. Every draft pick still needs to be signed, undrafted free agent rookies will be snapped up, all restricted and unrestricted free agents will be tendered, big-time trades (including some starting quarterbacks — looking at you, Philadelphia and Arizona) and loads of cuts will fill the news wire in the next few days.

But never fear, Athlon Sports hasn’t locked-out. For the 30th year in a row, Athlon Sports will hit newsstands with its NFL preview magazines in mid-August. The Pro Football book enters its third decade of existence with everything an NFL fan needs to get ready for the 2011 season. Pre-order your copy today here!

Of course, we cover the new CBA with a feature about labor peace and what it means for fans, owners and players alike. There will be an interesting look at the career of one of the game’s elite signal callers. Our writer asks the unheard-of question: Is Peyton Manning overrated?

Fans can expect in-depth team previews for all 32 squads, a recap of the 2011 NFL Draft, a look back at the 2001 NFL Draft and, in true Athlon Sports fashion, predictions for the 2011 season.

Will the Green Bay Packers return to Super Bowl XLVI and defend their crown as the NFL Champions? Or will the Steelers, Saints, Falcons, Giants, Patriots, Jets, Colts or Chargers have something to say about that? Athlon predicts every division, Wild Card and playoff game through the big game in Indianapolis.

There will be fantasy rankings as well. But if you are a true fantasy player, the abbreviated rankings in the NFL magazine just won’t be enough. Don’t worry — America’s Premier Sports Publisher has the fantasy junkie covered with 144 pages of fantasy analysis, statistics, rankings and features in the Athlon NFL Fantasy magazine.

The editors break down who should be the No. 1 pick and why owners need to Beware of Vick. The staff offers in-depth positional breakdowns for every position on the fantasy gridiron — including IDP rankings and analysis. A 20-round mock draft with industry experts, a 280-player Big Board and our beat writers answer all the tough questions from all 32 locker rooms.

Order your 2011 NFL Fantasy magazine here!

<p> Athlon Sports enters its third decade of NFL publishing with its 2011 preview mags.</p>
Post date: Monday, July 25, 2011 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Les Miles, Steve Spurrier, SEC
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/sec-quotables-les-miles-v-steve-spurrier

Debate: Who is the more entertaining head coach: Les Miles or Steve Spurrier?

Athlon editors Braden Gall and Patrick Snow debate:

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden): Les Miles buffoonery is unparalled in college athletics, but I have to go with Steve Spurrier on this one. I have only stood in the same room as Spurrier once in my life, but it was one of the most memorable media experiences I have had in my career. When the Ol' Ball Coach walks into a room there's a palpable spike in energy and excitement.

Some of it is his resume – which includes multiple Heisman Trophies, including one of his own, six SEC titles and the all-important National Championship ring. But most of it's just Spurrier – a man with a personality befitting a late-night Comedy Central special and delivery that rivals that of Richard Pryor. The voice inflection alone is hysterical.

The man has coined barbs like “Free Shoes University ” and “You can’t spell Citrus Bowl without UT,” referring to intimate rivals Florida State and Tennessee. Spurrier’s antics on the sideline include munching, throwing and stomping on his own signature visor – as well as his quarterbacks’ egos.

A few years ago, Spurrier even went so far as to leave Florida Heisman winner Tim Tebow off his All-SEC ballot at the preseason media event, garnering national press for the “gaffe.” (If anyone believes that it wasn’t an intentional shot at his former employer is simply fooling themselves.)

The best one from 2011 media days in Birmingham on Wednesday?

“I guess we just don’t want to kick him out for stupidity,” said Spurrier about oft-suspended quarterback Stephen Garcia.

Some other Spurrier greats over the years:

“Obviously my last two years in the NFL were not much fun at all.”

"In 12 years at Florida, I don't think we ever signed a kid from the state of Alabama. Of course, we found out later that the scholarships they were giving out at Alabama were worth a whole lot more than ours."

 "Yeah, we had a little excitement there. A streaker ran through. Looked fast too, but It's always been my opinion that women make the best streakers, " referring to his first scrimmage at South Carolina when a streaker showed-up.

"Is Ray Goff still the head coach there?" When asked if his Florida team would beat Georgia one year. Spurrier would refer to the rival coach as Ray "Goof" on a regular basis.

“I know why Peyton [Manning] came back for his senior year: he wanted to be a three-time Citrus Bowl MVP"

“We've got to coach them to tackle and block better. It's as simple as that. If we can do those things, we'll have a chance.”

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): I appreciate a swarthy quote or a visor toss from the Ol’ Ball Coach every now and then, but Les Miles is the most entertaining coach in the SEC and all of college football. There is no one in the nation that makes a fourth quarter more exciting – whether you have an interest in LSU, the opponent or just like college football – than Coach Miles. It might be a holder tossing the pigskin over his shoulder so the kicker can run for a first down; it might be letting the clock run freely while his offense is in the two-minute drill; or it might be throwing a last-second touchdown pass when you only need a field goal to win. No team is more fun to watch than LSU in a close game.

And all of that is just on the field. When it comes to a halftime interview or postgame press conference, nobody can keep up with Miles in the entertainment department. Spurrier is as obnoxious as he funny, while Miles provides comedic material on a constant basis. Who else eats grass? What other coach has a website dedicated to his quotes? Check out these gems:

“When I wake up in the morning and I turn that film on, it’s like reading a book and it’s exciting. I don’t read books, but if I read books, it would be like reading a book.”

"It seems to me that so many times each year that you play and each game that you play are very specific."

"Louisiana has a heritage of great players that play their high school football within the boundaries of Louisiana."

"We never considered what ended up being going for a first down, which is what we got with the fake anyway."

"I think the excitement of a big game will take place in our building and with our team irrespective of the outward view and those people who are watching."

You’re not going to get material like that from Spurrier. In fact, this debate is not even a fair fight - Braden must feel like Napoleon Kaufman at Waterloo. Miles is a force when it comes to being an entertaining coach, but he also gets the job done on the field. Sometimes you watch LSU and feel like the Mad Hatter has them lining up in circles and pairing up in threes, but the reality is that he has gone 62-17 with a national title after six seasons in Baton Rouge.

The game needs more coaches like Miles, who will say whatever comes to mind instead of being so cliché. I can’t wait to see the LSU-Oregon mathcup, both for the football product and the guaranteed entertainment Miles will provide during and after the game. In the boring world of paranoid dictators and coach-speak, I appreciate having a big-time coach like Les Miles on the sidelines. Remember it’s college football; it’s not exactly rocket surgery.

<p> Who is the more entertaining head coach: Les Miles or Steve Spurrier?</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 21, 2011 - 18:10
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/12-media-questions-sec-coaches

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Throngs of fans and radio jocks flock to media events across the nation each year to signify the kickoff of the NCAA football season. And none of them learn a damn thing.

Nothing actually happens at a media event. Coaches spew cliches for eight hours and fans climb over the top of each just to get a chance at a picture or autograph with their favorite distinguished headmaster.

But what if they all had to answer these questions after a little shot of sodium pentothal, also known as truth serum? Can you imagine what type of answers would fly from the mouths of these normally tight-lipped, buttoned-up paranoid schizophrenics?

Here are my 12 questions for the SEC coaches that will never get answered:


Arkansas Bobby Petrino: Do you feel that Arkansas is a destination job for you personally?

What we think we'd hear: Nope, I will be the head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2012. 

Florida Will Muschamp: Will John Brantley be a successful SEC quarterback?

What we think we'd hear: Yes, but he was a bit overrated as a recruit and didn't fit the spread system at all like Urban Meyer thought. I will not hesitate to yank him out of the game if he struggles early on because I owe him nothing.

Mississippi State Dan Mullen: How much credit do you really deserve for all those explosive "Urban Meyer" offenses?

What we think we'd hear: Almost all of it. I was actually the mastermind behind Alex Smith, Josh Harris, Chris Leak and Tim Tebow - and we all saw what happened to the Gators' offense when I left for Starkville.

South Carolina Steve Spurrier: Tell us how you really feel about Stephen Garcia? And as a follow up, how does it make you feel when you have to use Marcus Lattimore to run the football to score touchdowns?

What we think we'd hear: Welp, ohhh, you know, sometimes I just wanna ring his neck. But that might mess up my putting stroke, so we're gonna go to bat with Stevie as our guy. Also, win or lose, I can't get to sleep at night when I have to hand the ball off to score points.


Auburn Gene Chizik: How did you get Cam Newton to sign with Auburn?

What we think we'd hear: To be honest with you, I have no intimate knowledge of the situation - I let all of the other people worry about the details so that I could answer this question truthfully.

Georgia Mark Richt: Will you be the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs when 2011 is over?

What we think we'd hear: Absolutely. I am basically the winningest head coach in UGA history, we are going to play in Atlanta in Decemeber and I am going to politely ask Bulldog nation if they could please, if they wouldn't mind, stop calling for my head. Please?

Kentucky Joker Phillips: What is it like having to work in the same athletic department as John Calipari?

What we think we'd hear: It's great! Are you kidding? I could ride around in limos drinking all night and no one would notice! Of course, they don't notice when we go to four straight bowls for the first time in school history either. I'm torn.

Tennessee Derek DooleyWas Lane Kiffin's net effect on the University of Tennessee positive or negative?

What we think we'd hear: I think he left the school with a better brand image on the recruiting trail, and me with better players, than when Phillip Fulmer left. Plus, I can do no wrong for the first couple of seasons because Big Orange nation is still focused on hating him so much.  


Alabama Nick Saban: Which quarterback do you want under center when LSU comes to town in November?

What we think we'd hear: Greg McElroy.

LSU Les Miles: Do you have faith in Jordan Jefferson's ability to lead your team to a championship? And as a follow up, how does the grass taste differently in each SEC stadium?

What we think we'd hear: Abosultely not, but I am going to stick with him anyway! Whooo! And that second one is a toughie. You know, every stadium has its own unique aroma and distinct flavor. The grass in Kentucky is the best though. Have a nice day!

Ole Miss Houston Nutt: Do you wish you would have stayed at Arkansas?

What we think we'd hear: Yup, but I am not sure they would have let me stay anyway. It probably was the best time for me to leave, but they never really appreciated me.

Vanderbilt James Franklin: What has been the key to Vanderbilt's unprecedented recent success on the recruiting trail?

What we think we'd hear: No comment.


The SEC coaches have already voted on their preseason All-SEC team, which has several differences to Athlon's 2011 All-SEC team

The conference will also release the media predictions during the three-day event. Here's a look at Athlon's 2011 SEC Predictions

Ranking the College Football Coaching Jobs: SEC
Athlon's 2011 SEC Predictions

Athlon's 2011 All-SEC Team

2011 Transfers to Watch

2012 Transfers to Watch

<p> Here are the 12 questions we want answered at the SEC Media event in Birmingham.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - 09:47
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/who-best-quarterback-big-12

Debate: Who is the best quarterback in the Big 12?

Athlon editors Braden Gall and Patrick Snow debate who is the best signal-caller in the Big 12. The three candidates:

Landry Jones, Oklahoma: 4,718 yards, 38 TDs, 12 INTs, 65.6%, minus-128 rush yards, 1 TD
Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma St: 4,277 yards, 34 TDs, 13 INTs, 66.9%, minus-68 rush yds
Robert Griffin, Baylor: 3,501 yards, 22 TDs, 8 INT, 66.9%, 635 rush yards, 8 TDs

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): This is a difficult choice in such a quarterback-strong league, but I have to go with Oklahoma’s Landry Jones. Obviously his numbers – 4,718 yards and 38 touchdown passes – were impressive last season, but he also showed much improvement in his poise and confidence as a leader. I think he is ready for a 2008-Sam Bradford-like season where he and his talented teammates make it look easy to light up scoreboards at times.

Jones struggled a little during his 2009 freshman year when he was thrown into the Big 12 fire, but he had a great leap in production as a sophomore. His touchdown passes rose from 26 to 38, and his interceptions decreased (14 to 12) despite throwing 168 more passes. Jones still has his favorite target in All-America receiver Ryan Broyles, and sophomore Kenny Stills looks ready for a breakout season on the other side. Add in tight end James Hanna (seven touchdowns a year ago) and a stable of talented runners, and you see how dangerous Jones and the Oklahoma offense can be in 2011.

Even though they lost DeMarco Murray to the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, I believe the Sooners can run the ball better overall as a team this season. Bob Stoops’ bunch only had nine rushes of 20+ yards last season, which tied for 103rd in the country. With four offensive line starters returning and a little more balance on offense, Jones could put up even bigger numbers this season. 

Both Robert Griffin of Baylor and Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State are great candidates as well. Griffin is a ton of fun to watch on every play, but the Bears faded down the stretch last year. The Bears’ receiver corps is excellent, but I’m not sure how well they’ll run the ball this season. Weeden still has the uber-athletic Justin Blackmon and a solid offensive line, but I see Oklahoma State having a tough adjustment without Dana Holgorsen coordinating the offense.

In the end, I’ll take Landry Jones of Oklahoma to be the best signal-caller in the Big 12 and lead his team to a league title, top-five ranking and a possible national title.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden): First off, all three of these players — Brandon Weeden, Landry Jones and Robert Griffin — are amazing talents who would start at nearly every other program in the nation. There was a knock-down, drag-out fight in the Athlon Sports office as to who should be the preseason first-team All-Big-12 quarterback. And we likely won't know the answer until mid-December.

That said, how I define the term "best" matters in this case. Jones will likely post the best passing statistics and has the best chance at playing for not only a Big 12 title but also a National Championship. Weeden might be the best passer of the football and, in my opinion, might be the best NFL prospect of the group. He is certainly the most stable of the group as he is turning 28 in October and is married. The scratch golfer who was also a former high draft pick in the MLB draft led the conference in QB efficiency (154.1) a year ago as well. He also has the best wideout in the nation at his disposal in Justin Blackmon.

But there may not be a more valuable player in America than Baylor's Robert Griffin III. He also might be the best pure athlete playing quarterback in the nation as well. Baylor had not been to a bowl game since 1994 until Griffin showed up and led Baylor to its first .500 conference record since 1995. He also helped Baylor beat Texas — albeit a down Longhorns team — for the first time since 1997. There is no doubting his importance to his team. Over the last two seasons, the Bears are 9-7 with Griffin as the starter and 2-7 without him.

Additionally, Griffin is not surrounded by elite athletes like the two Oklahoma schools provide — especially on defense. There are no Travis Lewises or Markelle Martins running around in Waco. There is no question he has dramatically less to work with at Baylor, regardless of the great job Art Briles has done on the recruiting trail. All three of these quarterbacks finished in the top six nationally in total offense, so each produced roughly equal yardage totals a year ago. Imagine what "Bob's" numbers would be if he played behind the Pokes offensive line or with the unbelievable skill talent in Norman.

Jones has thrown 26 interceptions in two years as the starter and has argubaly the best roster in America surrounding him. And Weeden has lost offensive genius play-caller Dana Holgorsen. So my vote goes to the fourth-year dynamo running wild in Waco, Robert Griffin III.

Other Debates:

Will the SEC win its sixth straight BCS National Championship?

Would you rather go to the Red River Shootout or the World's Greatest Outdoor Cocktail Party?

Does an unbeaten Mid-Major program deserve to play for the National Championship?

<p> Who is the best quarterback in the Big 12 this season?</p>
Post date: Friday, July 15, 2011 - 09:53
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, Cam Newton, Gene Chizik, News
Path: /news/auburn-tigers-under-investigation-ncaa

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

The NCAA has inadvertently announced that it is still very much investigating the Auburn Tigers concerning the Cam Newton pay-for-play saga.

In an AP story late Wednesday, it was reported that NCAA vice president for enforcement Julie Roe Lach was asked several questions by Auburn head coach Gene Chizik at the SEC meetings in Destin last month, one of which was why had the NCAA not announced that the Newton investigation was put to bed.

And Roe Lach’s response was “You’ll know when we’re finished. And we’re not finished.”

Definitive, authoritative and especially bone-chilling words if you are an Auburn Tigers fan.

The giant pillar of smoke billowing above Auburn University began late in 2010 when a report surfaced that Auburn quarterback Cam Newton had been “shopped” by his father, Cecil, to a variety of universities. The $180,000 pay-for-play report (to Mississippi State) made it very difficult to believe that Auburn was not involved in some sort of infraction.

First of all, let’s be clear. No matter what happens, the 2010 college football National Champion was the Auburn Tigers. The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner was Cam Newton. Just like the 2004 National Champion is still USC and the 2005 Heisman winner is still Reggie Bush. We all saw what happened on the field, and no one, not even the NCAA, can go back and change history.

That said, I would be very nervous if I was an Auburn Tigers fan. The NCAA is terrible at many things – transparency, expediting processes, clearing student-athletes academically, monitoring its programs effectively – but what it has done with ruthless authority over the last 18-24 months is hammer those who have violated the rules.

Just ask Tennessee, Ohio State, USC, Oklahoma State, North Carolina, Georgia, most recently Georgia Tech and soon enough the Oregon Ducks. And what Auburn allegedly did to “acquire” Cam Newton is, if true, a dramatically more offensive violation than agent wannabes paying parents, selling memorabilia, using street agents to influence recruiting or lying about dinner, emails or barbeques.

It appears Auburn and Chizik went “All In” to win a title – and it might cost them dearly.

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

<p> The NCAA has announced that it is still investigating the Auburn Tigers and Cam Newton.</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 14, 2011 - 16:33
Path: /news/brewers-acquire-k-rod-mets-give-2011

After Tuesday’s All-Star game, Milwaukee Brewers fans should be ecstatic with hometown hero Prince Fielder winning not only the MVP trophy but also home field advantage in the World Series for the National League.

Oh yeah, and the Brewers acquired the single-season saves record holder from the New York Mets in closer Francisco Rodriguez for essentially nothing (two players to be named later).

While Brewers fans have reason to be fired up, New York Mets fans have to realize 2011 is likely over. Despite a rash of injuries, the Mets, under new skipper Terry Collins, have played two months of great baseball, and are above .500 pushing for a Wild Card.

To start the season, most Met names seemed to be available from a team that was not supposed to compete. Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, David Wright and K-Rod have all been linked to potential trades. But with the team competing, and Reyes and Beltran both having great seasons in Queens, the trade talks had quieted of late.

Moving the star closer – who has had “off the field” issues with in-laws – signals that the Mets are officially giving up on the 2011 season. If the Mets were to have any chance to compete, they would most assuredly need K-ROD manning the back end. He has locked down 23 of his 26 save chances this season in 42 appearances with a 3.16 ERA.

With a $17.5 million vesting option kicking in when the stud closer finished 55 games, the move was clearly about saving money for a franchise that is dealing with major financial issues.

The move solidifies the questionable bullpen in Milwaukee, who is currently in first place and needs to win this season. The Brewers are now the team to beat in the Central.

Mets fans should be excited about a team playing good baseball and David Wright returning the line-up in just under ten days. Maybe the move to save money was the right one, but it also might have cost the Mets a chance at the playoffs.

<p> The Brewers' trade for K-ROD makes them the favorite and ends the Mets' seasons.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 - 09:31
All taxonomy terms: All-Star game, Derek Jeter, News
Path: /news/derek-jeter-not-attending-all-star-game

Most baseball fans, especially those who don't root for the New York Yankees, are probably happy that Derek Jeter is not attending Major League Baseball's All-Star Game in Arizona Tuesday night.

Jeter is an exceptional player — maybe, one of the top four Yankees of all-time — but fans of the other 29 teams should be breathing a sigh of relief that the Yankees shortstop won't be involved in the ASG festivities. Yes, baseball's brass has expressed disappointment in Jeets, and the excuse No. 2 used sounds pretty damn lame: "mental and physical exhuastion." Undoubtedly, Yankees fans would love to see him in the desert too.

But the media has been in love with Jeter for over a decade. He has deserved most of it — and he deserved it this weekend when he took a David Price pitch out of Yankee Stadium to become the first Pinstriper to reach 3,000 hits. But most fans don't want the mid-summer classic to turn into a Jeter love fest — which would most certainly happen.

So, as much as it would be nice to see The Captain tip his cap to the baseball world, I would rather talk about Roy Halladay and Jared Weaver. Or Jose Bautista's quest to become the seventh player to hit 50 home runs in back-to-back seasons. Or perhaps the fact that Andrew McCutchen has the Pirates ahead of the Reds in the NL Central. Let's give Asdrubal Cabrera — the rightful starting AL shortstop — some love for having the Indians 0.5 games back of first place.

While the term "All-Star" has clearly lost its prestige since no one actually wants to play in the game (see the starting 3B for the National League), the game itself should still be an amazing event for the true baseball fan.

I, for one, am glad I won't be inundated with Derek Jeter talk.

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

<p> Should Jeter have to be at the All-Star game festivities in Arizona?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 12, 2011 - 10:40
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/does-mid-major-deserve-shot-bcs-title

Debate: Does a "Mid-Major" football team deserve a chance to play in the BCS national championship game?

Athlon editors Braden Gall and Patrick Snow debate whether or not a non-AQ team deserves a chance to play for the national title.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): In most cases, I tend to believe that a one-loss team from a power conference has a stronger resume than an undefeated “non-automatic qualifier”. However each case must be analyzed on its own merit, and the school that has the potential to cause a huge debate during the upcoming football season is Boise State. For all of those fans who celebrated Nevada’s overtime win over the Broncos last year, you might want to prepare for some more BCS stress if Chris Petersen’s squad wins its third-straight featured opener (Oregon ’09, Virginia Tech ’10) against Georgia in Atlanta.

The college football nation has finally realized that Boise can play with any team in the country on any Saturday. The argument against them – and others like TCU, Utah, etc. over the last few years – has been that they don’t have to go through the brutal four-to-five game conference gauntlet in the middle of many SEC, Big Ten or Big 12 schedules. While I agree with that sentiment about 90 percent of the time, the 2011 version of Boise State looks like a possible exception. They will play a stronger league schedule in the Mountain West, and a win over a talented SEC team like Georgia would further the Broncos’ case to play in the big game if they go through the season unscathed.

It’s no secret why Chris Petersen is 61-5 in his five seasons as a head coach – he has good players. While his trick plays and multiple formations are fun to watch, the reality is that no one has that type of record without solid talent on the field. Petersen has his team prepared for each game as well as anyone in the country, but schemes alone do not beat Oklahoma, TCU, Oregon (twice), Virginia Tech and Oregon State. There will be roughly 20 ex-Broncos on NFL rosters when their season finally begins. Recent Boise State players like Austin Pettis, Titus Young, Kyle Wilson and Ryan Clady are being drafted highly in the NFL because they are on the same level as bigger conference studs, and Petersen has built the program to that type of level. It will be more of the same this season with five Broncos elected as All-Americans in our preseason magazine: offensive lineman Nate Potter and defensive lineman Billy Winn were named to the first team, while quarterback Kellen Moore, defensive lineman Shea McClellin and safety George Iloka made the second team.

Many top teams in our 2011 preseason rankings play each other, so there is a high possibility that no BCS league team goes undefeated. Oklahoma and Florida State battle in September, Alabama plays in the brutal SEC West and has to travel to Penn State, LSU plays Oregon and West Virginia before ever getting to the SEC, and Nebraska will find a tough road in trying to get through the Big Ten unbeaten.

Georgia will be a difficult foe for Boise State, but something has been missing in Athens over the last couple of seasons. Mark Richt may revive the Bulldogs and lead them to another blowout of Boise like he did in 2005, but we know Chris Petersen’s veteran team will be ready in all facets of the game. If Boise State beats an SEC stalwart like Georgia, be prepared for a BCS Championship Game debate throughout the season. Led by a record-setting senior quarterback and a stellar defensive line, an undefeated Broncos’ squad should go to the title tilt over a one-loss team from a power conference this season. I usually don’t see it that way, but this year – with this particular Boise State team – I do.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden): The record book shows us that non-AQ, or "mid-major," football teams can beat the big boys in a one-game scenario. It's football, anything can happen and that is why they play the games. But there is no way a WAC or C-USA team will ever deserves a chance to play in the BCS National Championship game - as the BCS format currently stands. Additionally, I don't believe any of the BCS bowl winners would have challenged the eventual National Champion. Utah, TCU and Boise State have all won BCS bowls, but I have no faith in TCU beating Auburn (2010), Boise State beating Alabama (2009) or Utah beating Florida (2008).

The bottom line is scheduling. The week-in, week-out grind of any of the big six power conferences is dramatically more difficult than anything any mid-major league can throw at you - including the Mountain West, especially now without BYU, Utah and TCU. Certainly, the MWC has elevated its level of play in recent years, but the level of competition isn't even in the same stratosphere.

For example, Athlon Sports has Michigan, Tennessee, Clemson, Mississippi State, Arizona, Oregon State, Georgia Tech and Illinois picked fourth in their own divisons this season. Auburn, UCLA, Cal, Northwestern, Boston College, Virginia, Purdue and Kentucky are picked fifth. Those are supposed to be the "easy" games for the national title contenders this season. Are you kidding? These are teams that operate with $80, $90, $100 million athletic budgets. No offense to Air Force or Hawaii or Tulsa, but it would be virtually impossible for any mid-major team to hit .500 against those teams. And those are supposed to be the "below average" BCS teams.

Boise State is going to have an excellent football team in 2011, there is no doubt. They have are excellent along the line of scrimmage and have an elite signal caller under center. They might torch the Georgia Bulldogs in Atlanta in Week One. But if it goes undefeated - barring two losses for every team in America - the Broncos don't deserve a trip to New Orleans with a schedule that includes UNLV, Colorado State, New Mexico, Wyoming, San Diego State, Toledo, Fresno State, Nevada and Tulsa - none of whom would be picked higher than fifth (if that) in any BCS division in the nation.

<p> Is this the season that a non-AQ team sneaks into the BCS national championship game?</p>
Post date: Friday, July 8, 2011 - 07:00