Articles By Braden Gall

All taxonomy terms: MLB All Star Game Snubs, MLB
Path: /columns/around-nl/2011-all-star-snubs
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

My first sports memory ever was listening to Game Six of the 1986 NLCS between my beloved New York Mets and the Mike Scott-led Houston Astros. My family was moving from Indianapolis to Bethel, Conn., and a 16-inning game is a great way to keep a rambunctious four-year old semi-still for 12 hours in the car.

Baseball was my first love, and the midsummer classic was a huge part of my childhood. My birthday always falls a few days before the Tuesday All-Star game, and when I was kid, getting to stay up late and watch the likes of Howard Johnson, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry or Doc Gooden play against the best players the game had to offer was always a part of my birthday celebration.

It was a special, time-honored tradition of late night baseball with my family.

And now, it is a joke.

The fact that the All-Star game determines home field advantage for the World Series is stupid. The fact that pitchers who start on the Sunday before the game aren’t eligible to play is stupid. The fact that the designated hitter is used in both American and National League parks is not only stupid, but technically not actual baseball. The fact that players have to vote five starters and three relievers (Brandon League, anyone?) into the game is, that’s right, stupid.

Last but most certainly not least, the All-Star game should not be a popularity contest. It should reward the greatest the game has to offer for their performance on the field. And so, you guessed it, the fans are stupid too.

Shame on the 4,536,386 people who voted Derek Jeter as the American League’s starting shortstop. They clearly haven't watched any baseball in 2011. Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera should be your starting shortstop. He's scored 14 more runs, hit 12 more home runs, driven in 29 more runners, stolen five more bases and out-hit Jeter .293 to .256. Is he a better baseball player than Jeter? Maybe not, but he certainly is having a much better year and deserved to be recognized for it. There is no way the Indians are in first place without his defense, bat or speed.

If fact, Elvis Andrus, Jhonny Peralta, Yunel Escobar, Alexi Ramirez and JJ Hardy have all had dramatically better seasons than No. 2, and not one of them is even on the roster. (Even Marco Scutaro, and his .268 average over 149 at-bats, got more votes than Ramirez, Escobar and Hardy.)

The system isn’t perfect. It probably won’t ever be. But as a conglomerate of managers, fans, media and commissioners, we should be able to get it closer than this.

Here are the biggest All-Star snubs in 2011:

1. Andrew McCutchen, OF, PIT (52 R, 12 HR, 46 RBI, 15 SB, .294/.890)
Not only is he one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game today, but his offensive production has also been astounding. He is a true five-tool athlete, a leader in the clubhouse and would have been the ASG starter if he played in New York, Boston, Philadelphia or Chicago. Exiled: Jay Bruce, CIN

2. Tommy Hanson, SP, ATL (10-4, 2.52 ERA, 103 K, 1.04 WHIP, 96.1 IP)
Hanson has always had star written all over his bio, but he is putting it all together in 2011. He is on pace to shatter his career highs for wins (11), strikeouts (173) and ERA (2.89) and that’s with a short stint on the DL. He has allowed more than three earned runs one time all season and is the main reason Atlanta has the third-best record in baseball. Exiled: Ryan Vogelsong, SF

3. Victor Martinez, C/DH, DET (37 R, 6 HR, 46 RBI, SB, .328/.854)
Michael Young has been swinging a great bat for the Rangers, so it's tough to strip him of All-Star honors, but it is hard to argue that V-Mart isn’t the most important hitter in the AL Central. The Tigers are six games over .500 with Martinez’ clutch bat in the line-up and two games under .500 without him. Detroit went 9-1 upon his return to the field after a quick stop on the DL, and he has played 23 games behind the plate. Exiled: Russell Martin, NYY

4. Paul Konerko, 1B, CHW (39 R, 21 HR, 62 RBI, SB, .319/.959)
You could make an easy case that Konerko is the current AL MVP. This issue should (hopefully) be remedied by the final fan vote-in. The Paul-Star campaign began shortly after the announcements, and it appears Konerko will win this final roster spot, but the fact he even had to go through this process should be offensive to all baseball fans. Exiled: Carlos Quentin, CHW

5. CC Sabathia, SP, NYY (11-4, 3.05 ERA, 106 K, 1.21 WHIP, 129.2 IP)
Yes, he plays for the Yankees, but he is still leading all of baseball with 11 wins, is third in the AL in innings pitched and seventh in strikeouts. He is THE horse for the best team in the American League – the Yankees have lost only five of his 18 starts. Exiled: Jose Valverde, DET

Other American League Changes:

IN: Jhonny Peralta, SS, DET
OUT: Derek Jeter, SS, NYY

IN: Michael Pineda, SP, SEA
OUT: Brandon League, RP, SEA

IN: Dan Haren, SP, LAA
OUT: C.J. Wilson, SP, TEX

Other National League Changes:

IN: Aramis Ramirez, 3B, CHC
OUT: Chipper Jones, 3B, ATL

IN: Miguel Montero, C, ARI
OUT: Yadier Molina, C, STL

IN: Drew Storen, RP, WAS
OUT: Brian Wilson, RP, SF

IN: Mike Stanton, OF, FLA
OUT: Gaby Sanchez, 1B, FLA

IN: Craig Kimbrel, RP, ATL
OUT: Tim Lincecum, SP, SF

Athlon Sports' 2011 All-Star Selections

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Teaser:
<p> Who were the biggest snubs in the 2011 MLB All-Star game?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 5, 2011 - 18:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/best-party-college-football
Body:

Debate: Would you rather go to the Red River Shootout* or the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party*?

Athlon editors Braden Gall and Patrick Snow debate which game they would rather attend.

* - We know the names have changed but we like the old ones better.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden):

If you have never been to Texas then you probably don't fully understand the phrase "Everything is bigger in Texas." Big trucks, big hair, big cattle, big parties and especially big football. Yes, it's a cliché. But yes, it definitely applies to the best party in college football: The Red River Shootout. (Coming from someone who has lived in both Austin and Dallas, I simply cannot call it the Rivalry.)

I was 12 years old when my father took me to my first Shootout in 1994, and neither Texas nor Oklahoma was elite. In fact, the two teams combined for 10 losses that season. But the win-loss records had little effect on the liquid-induced debauchery that ensued.

The Texas-Oklahoma rivalry game has been played since 1900 and has taken place in the Cotton Bowl since 1932 during the Texas State Fair. And this isn't your ordinary fair. The Texas State Fair is the largest in the nation; a reported three million patrons visited in 2010. Fans of both teams have been welcomed to the grounds since 1952 by a 52-foot tall cowboy mascot named Big Tex — who wears size 70 boots. The 212-foot Ferris wheel has stood since October of 1985 and is still the largest in North America. The fair generates around $300 million in revenue for the city of Dallas, and the Red River Shootout alone creates nearly $20 million in local revenue. When they say everything is bigger, they mean it. Going to a Texas-OU game is more than just a football game.

The Red River Shootout was the first time I had ever been to a football game in which the crowd was literally split perfectly down the middle. At the 50-yard line, the convergence of burnt orange with crimson and cream can create some tension. But those unlucky souls sitting on the border have the help of 40,000 of their closest buddies as the stadium-wide, not-so-cordial chants begin before kickoff and carry long into the night. To an impressionable teenager (who was most definitely NOT allowed to use bad language), listening to tens of thousands of people cuss at each other in unison with my dad was an experience I will never forget.

Texas claims the upper hand in the all-time series (59-41-5) — just like it did in '94. Despite both teams playing below acceptable program standards, the game was electric. The 17-10 Longhorn win was capped by the famous "Stone Cold Stop" when Texas defensive lineman Stoney Clark, with help from Tony Brackens, stopped Oklahoma running back James Allen at the goal-line on fourth down to end the game. It was one of the best football games I have ever witnessed.

Not only was the tension between the bitter, hated rivals palpable, but the game itself completely lived up to the hype. I can only imagine what the vibe would be like inside the Cotton Bowl if the Big 12 title were on the line — like it has been for the last decade.

Florida-Georgia is a special attraction that is a must-see for any college football fan, but I will take my deep-fried Twinkies and Oreos to go with Fletcher's Corny Dogs any day of the week.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman):

Both of these rivalries represent wonderful traditions, and any college football fan should put either one on their bucket list of games to attend. While the State Fair of Texas and "Corny Dogs" sound like a great warm up before another Texas-Oklahoma clash, my choice for the best party in college football would have to be Georgia and Florida’s "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" – even though that name is not technically used anymore.

There’s nothing quite like the atmosphere at a big-time SEC game, and the Georgia-Florida setting is as good as it gets. Whether it’s a beach condo near Jacksonville or one in St. Simon's Island, fans of these two schools have been booking the same room in late October for generations. There is plenty of golf and fun in the sun all week that leads up to this intense battle for SEC East supremacy.

As the story goes, Florida Times-Union columnist Bill Kastelz was the scribe who first named the game, "The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party." He reportedly came up with the term when a "partying" fan offered a drink to a policeman. The game has been an annual tradition in Jacksonville since 1933, and the raucous surroundings around this contest are truly something to behold.

Besides all of the fun around the game, the football on the field has been stellar throughout the years. From Jack Youngblood's "Rip, Strip, and Grip" in 1970 to Larry Munson's famous "Run, Lindsay, Run" call in 1980, there always seems to be a new memory made in this rivalry. Florida's Steve Spurrier made beating Georgia his top priority when he took over in Gainesville. Georgia's Mark Richt fired up his troops in 2007 when he had the Bulldogs dance in the Florida end zone after a touchdown.

If you ever have a chance to attend this annual party in Jacksonville, make sure to do it. The football game between Georgia and Florida is reason enough for this road trip, and the all-week party will be an experience that you will never forget.

Other related content:

Athlon continues our countdown to the upcoming season with our first and second All-America team for the 2011 season. Click here for all our college football team previews, rankings and predictions.

Athlon's 2011 All-Conference Teams:

ACC
Big East

Big Ten

Big 12

Conference USA

MAC

Mountain West

Pac-12

SEC

Sun Belt

WAC

Teaser:
<p> Would you rather go to the Red River Shootout or the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party?</p>
Post date: Friday, July 1, 2011 - 08:45
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks
Path: /columns/national-notebook/impending-doom-oregon
Body:

- by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Dez Bryant saw his college career ended by dinner with schmucks. Bruce Pearl lost his job at Tennessee because of a backyard BBQ. Reggie Bush and USC “lost” the BCS championship and Heisman Trophy because some sleazeball wannabe agent was lurking in the shadows. Jim Tressel’s time in Columbus was cut short, well, because of stupidity and arrogance.

As usual, the NCAA is wildly inconsistent and terribly opaque. However, the only uniformity coming from college football’s governing body appears to be the heavy-handed sentencing of the past 18 months.

Which is why, if I were heavily invested in the Oregon Ducks football team, I would be extremely nervous at the moment. The fact that the NCAA, at times, makes no sense at all should only magnify the trembling throughout Duck nation. The petty shoplifting charges incurred by Bryant, for example, make the Oregon allegations look like first-degree homicide.

If you do not know by now, the NCAA began a preliminary investigation of the Oregon Ducks in March because of a $25,000 payment made by the school to Houston-based recruiting consultant Willie Lyles of Complete Scouting Services for a 2011 national recruiting package covering 22 states. Lyles received the payment weeks after elite recruit Lache Seastrunk inked his letter of intent with Oregon. Lyles had been mentoring Seastrunk. The 140-profile “national” report highlighted 134 players from Texas — including one player from the class of 2009 and another who is deceased.

If charges of a purported recruiting scheme designed to funnel Texas prep stars to Eugene holds any water whatsoever, the rest of 2011 may be as exciting for The Duck as it will be for Brutus Buckeye.

The bigger issue as the calendar flips to July and summer camps are weeks from beginning is this: How do the Ducks, amidst swirling potential NCAA violations, stay focused on defending their Pac-12 championship?

It was a tall order before the NCAA got involved.

The five best players from a defensive front seven that couldn’t slow Auburn’s power rushing attack are gone. The receiving corps returns little experience, and the offensive line is replacing two starters from a group that also got pushed around by the Tigers. Add to it a newly minted conference championship game and a collective target aimed at Eugene from every campus west of the Rockies, and Chip Kelly has his hands full.

“Auburn finally showed the rest of the Pac-12 how to slow down Oregon — control the line of scrimmage,” an anonymous Pac-12 assistant coach told Athlon Sports.

Which is also exactly what Ohio State was able to do two seasons ago in the 26-17 Rose Bowl win over Oregon. If you are counting at home, that is two BCS bowls in a row where the most explosive rushing attack in the nation was stymied by a more physical, more powerful line of scrimmage. Since Heisman finalist LaMichael James — who is from Texas — took over the starting tailback duties, his two lowest rushing totals came against the Buckeyes (70 yards) and the Tigers (49 yards).

No worries, Oregon fans — you only start the season against LSU in, of course, the Lone Star State. LSU’s strength in 2011 will undoubtedly be its power rushing game and stingy defense. And Les Miles’ bunch has enough talent to justify its own National Championship aspirations.

Additionally, Oregon’s biggest competition in the league will be Stanford — who has the best player in the nation in quarterback Andrew Luck and the best offensive line in the league. The Cardinal power rushing attack is the Pac-12’s closest approximation to an SEC-type ground game.

Stanford also hosts the big North Division showdown this fall on November 12 in Palo Alto, and other than USC (32), no one scored more points against the Ducks (31) than the Cardinal last fall. Luck threw 46 times for 341 yards and totaled three touchdowns in Oregon’s 52-31 win in Eugene. The conference — and potentially national — championship could be on the line when Oregon flies south in November.

At this point, the NCAA investigation is far from over and has left fans, media, coaches and administrators to speculate.

For the time being there is plenty to Ducky about. With a returning star in quarterback Darron Thomas, a Heisman candidate toting the rock and loads of play-making ability in the secondary, the defending Pac-12 champion still has the crosshairs fixed firmly upon its feathery back. Not the other way around.

However, a brutal battle with an SEC power, added conference championship game and totally rebuilt front seven was going to make repeating in 2011 difficult enough without Mark Emmert keeping close aim on every maneuver.

It’s Duck-hunting season on multiple fronts. How long can the mallard drakes out-run the laser-clay zappers?

- by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Other Oregon Content:

2011 Athlon Oregon Team Preview

Top Ten Oregon Ducks of the Athlon Era

Top Moments in Oregon Football History

Decades of Oregon Ducks Cheerleaders

Teaser:
<p> Can the Ducks repeat as Pac-12 champs admist swirling NCAA allegations?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 - 09:13
All taxonomy terms: College Football, SEC
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/will-sec-win-its-sixth-bcs-championship-row-315
Body:

Debate: Will the SEC win its sixth straight BCS National Championship?

Athlon editors Patrick Snow and Braden Gall debate whether the SEC can stay atop the College Football mountain:

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): A familiar chant has reigned over the college football world for the last five Januarys – “S-E-C, S-E-C!” It may seem stubborn to pick against America’s toughest conference, however, I believe that streak will end in 2011, with the fans in Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 country chanting “Finally, Finally!”

So if not the SEC, then who? Here’s a look at the teams with the best shot to break the streak:

The Oklahoma Sooners have to be the best bet to prevent an SEC sextet (is that an NCAA violation or just at BYU?). The Oklahoma offense should be a juggernaut this season, with quarterback Landry Jones and All-America wide receiver Ryan Broyles leading the way. OU has playmakers at every skill position, and the defense is young but very talented. It will not be easy to win at Florida State in September, but I can see Bob Stoops’ bunch – which beat FSU by 30 last year – running the table in the Big 12. Oklahoma is my top choice to take the crown away from the SEC.

The Oregon Ducks got a taste of the title game last year, and they will be motivated to finish the job this season. All-America runner LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas are back to lead one of the nation’s most creative and explosive offenses. There are concerns on the O-line, but Chip Kelly and staff have recruited well and should be able to continue lighting up scoreboards. The defense will be solid, although All-America cornerback Cliff Harris is suspended for the huge opener against LSU. If the Ducks beat the Tigers, I believe they will go unbeaten in league play once again.

Jimbo Fisher’s recruiting has been stellar in Tallahassee, and the Florida State Seminoles are ready to return to national prominence. The offense doesn’t have that one All-American, but the depth chart is loaded with solid playmakers at running back and receiver. Quarterback EJ Manuel has proven to be an effective starter, and he could break out as a star this season. The defense has great athletes at every level, with dominant pass rusher Brandon Jenkins and freaky corners in Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes leading the way. If FSU can get revenge on Oklahoma, the Noles could be playing for it all in January.

The common theme between these three – besides being great teams – is that they could lose the big non-conference game early and still play for the national title by going undefeated in their league. I’m not sure the SEC teams will be able to overcome any out-of-conference losses.

Two other dark horses to break the streak are Boise State and Nebraska. I would not pick the Broncos to beat an undefeated SEC opponent in the big game, but an undefeated Boise could prevent a one-loss SEC from getting to the title tilt (can’t you just hear the talk shows on that one?). The Cornhuskers have a new-look offense and a new conference. Quarterback Taylor Martinez should become comfortable with that new offense during a very manageable first month of the schedule, and the defense should be great with tackle Jared Crick and linebacker Lavonte David leading the way. The Big Ten road isn’t easy, but NU could become a “legend” in its first year in the league.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden): It is highly unlikely that the SEC will win every remaining BCS championship – whether the money-grubbing series ends in 2014 or not. But until proven otherwise, the SEC is still looking down on everyone else in college football, and 2011 will be no different.

A half decade of dominance says so.

The real question is, whose turn is it? Four different SEC teams have claimed the BCS National Championship over the last four seasons, and there are rabid packs of Tigers, Hogs and Bulldogs with their eyes set on a trip to New Orleans in January.

The Contenders: Alabama, LSU and Arkansas are obvious top-15 teams who return loaded for bear in the SEC West. South Carolina, fresh off its first SEC title game berth in school history, Georgia and Florida each enter the summer with a legit claim to the SEC East throne.

The Florida Gators are absolutely loaded with young talent, and Gainesville native Will Muschamp has a coaching staff with sparkling NFL resumes. South Carolina is brimming with confidence and returns a solid defensive line to go with skill players that make NFL general managers salivate. Georgia has the best quarterback in the conference, Aaron Murray, who is a special player with a championship prep resume and one of the best seasons an SEC freshman has ever produced. The chaotic 3-4 defense in year two under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham should be improved and much tougher to stop at the point of attack.

There is clearly still plenty of clout waiting to prove itself in what should be a much-improved SEC East. That said, however, the 2011 champion will likely emerge from the West.

The Razorbacks are replacing the howitzer that was under center last fall, but have one the best supporting casts in the nation waiting for Tyler Wilson. The defensive line should be excellent as game-planning guru Bobby Petrino enters his third season in Fayetteville.

The Hogs have the unenviable task of playing in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge this fall, and one could argue that the best two rosters in the nation belong to the Crimson Tide and the Bayou Bengals. Each has a head coach with a championship pedigree. Both running games will be downright nasty and incredibly productive. And each team will be battle tested with tricky road non-conference games.

If LSU can survive against Oregon and West Virginia, and Bama can return from Happy Valley unscathed (and from The Swamp, too, for that matter), both schedules will culminate with a battle at the Capstone on November 5.

Alabama has the best offensive line, linebackers, secondary and head coach in the nation and will be at home against the Tigers. And LSU has The Hat.

Regardless how these epic SEC tilts play out, there is no conceivable way an unbeaten SEC champ gets left out of the BCS National Championship game.

I am taking the five-time defending champion. You can have the field.

Click here for all our college football team previews, rankings and predictions.

Other SEC Content:
2011 All-SEC Team
2
011 SEC Predictions

Teaser:
<p> 2011 BCS National Championship: The SEC vs. The Field</p>
Post date: Friday, June 24, 2011 - 08:24
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/quarterback-class-2008
Body:

-By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

The 2006 recruiting class of quarterbacks is probably the best collection of college signal callers of the modern recruiting era. Two Heisman Trophy winners, six first round NFL Draft picks (including two No. 1 overall picks), three national championships and seven BCS Bowl wins say so.

When it comes to headlines in the summer of 2011, however, no class can top the quarterback group of 2008 — which also happened to be the first year of the Athlon Consensus 100.

The nearly unanimous No. 1 overall player in the nation in 2008 – he received three of four “first place” votes — was quarterback Terrelle Pryor of Jeannette, Penn. But six other quarterbacks with compelling stories of their own landed in the ’08 AC100 as well.

The release of the 2012 AC100 is looming, and with more than a few national powers hanging their championship hats on the QB class of 2008, Athlon looks back on this supremely gifted yet enigmatic collection of signal callers.

Note: The AC100 has expanded from four expert lists in ‘08 to seven in ’12. The national ranking of each player is included in parenthesis. These are the seven quarterbacks that made the 2008 AC100.

1. (No. 1 overall) Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State (Rivals: 1, Scout: 1, PrepStar: 1, ESPN: 4)
No player has grabbed more headlines this summer — or during his recruitment — than TP2. The writing was clearly on the wall when he extended the process well beyond National Signing Day in the spring of 2008. His finalists: Oregon, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State — two of which have fired their tainted coaches and a third (the Ducks) could be involved in a major funneling scandal. Pryor was unmistakably the best player in the nation, but when he made a conscious choice to lengthen his recruitment process for what can only be assumed were dubious reasons, his imminent fall from grace should have been predictable.

Of course, it’s easy to say this in hindsight — after numerous fourth quarter comebacks, three Big Ten titles, 74 total touchdowns and 8,341 yards of total offense (6,177 passing, 2,164 rushing). Pryor was 31–5 as the starter (3–0 against Michigan) and is one of only nine quarterbacks in history to win two BCS Bowl games. The bottom line is Pryor deserved his lofty recruiting ranking and was no doubt on his way to his best season in Columbus in 2011. But like many star athletes on many a college campus, Pryor believed he was untouchable, and this ego-driven false sense of security likely cost him millions of dollars and a chance at a National Championship.

2. (No. 20) Dayne Crist, Notre Dame (Rivals: 25, Scout: 45, PrepStar: 35, ESPN: 22)
From Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., to the University of Notre Dame, Crist was one letter away from being a perfect fit for South Bend. But despite all the physical talent in the world, Crist has endured two season-ending injuries in a row and has yet to prove his mettle. Now, with the best team the Irish have had in over 20 years — especially on the defensive side of the ball — Crist has yet another opportunity. If the former No. 2 QB recruit in the nation can simply stay healthy, fans and defensive coordinators alike can bet Brian Kelly will put him a position to excel — assuming Crist can beat out the much less talented but cagey Tommy Rees for the starting job.

3. (No. 21) E.J. Manuel, Florida State (Rivals: 43, Scout 30, PrepStar: 17, ESPN: 52)
Manuel’s baptism into college football was rough. In the final four games of 2009, the Virginia product started in place of the injured Christian Ponder. He threw only two touchdowns against six interceptions and averaged 203 yards per game. However, he completed over 65-percent of his passes and Florida State went 3–1. As a sophomore in 2010, Manuel again played in spot duty behind Ponder. He completed nearly 70-percent of his passes and improved his TD:INT ratio. However, in his two starts against Clemson and Virginia Tech — his only real competition last fall — he tossed one score and three picks.

So what can Seminole fans expect from their highly touted heir to the throne? Athlon believes enough in Manuel’s development to place Florida State in the preseason top five and make the Noles the ACC favorite. Manuel’s talent is obvious, and his efficiency numbers point to greatness. However, it will be his maturity, poise and leadership in the face of sky-high expectations that will ultimately determine his place in FSU history. No pressure, E.J.

4. (No. 32) Blaine Gabbert, Mizzou (Rivals: 14, Scout: 102, PrepStar: 47, ESPN: 38)
Gabbert is a bit of a mystery. As a first-year starter, the sophomore threw for 3,593 yards, 24 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. But he had the nation’s leading receiver in Danario Alexander and Derrick Washington running the ball. As a junior, Gabbert TD:INT ratio dropped to 16:9 and he was only the eighth most efficient quarterback in the Big 12. He was 18–8 as the starter and lost both bowl games to Navy and Iowa. Yet, his 6’4”, 234-pound frame and above average athletic ability made him the 10th overall pick in the NFL Draft. Were Gary Pinkel and Mizzou fans simply spoiled by the successes of Chase Daniel? Or did the Ballwin, Mo., local legitimately underachieve? It is safe to say his eventual place in the football world is still to be determined.

5. (No. 43) Andrew Luck, Stanford (Rivals: 68, Scout: 47, PrepStar: 60, ESPN: 61)
There aren’t enough hyperboles for this Houston native. As a redshirt freshman, Luck burst onto the scene with a sterling 2,575 yards and 13:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He added 354 yards and two more scores on the ground for good measure. Luck’s superior skills — and excellent coaching staff — were on full display in 2010 as the Stanford gunslinger was a Heisman finalist and BCS Orange Bowl champion. He finished with 3,338 yards, 32 touchdown passes, 453 rushing yards and three more scores. Without his cult of personality head coach, Luck enters what will be his final season in Palo Alto as not only the Heisman front-runner but also a potential Pac-12 champion favorite. The future No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick is 20–5 as a starter and is the best college football player in the country. If the Cardinal return to a BCS bowl in 2011, it will be because of Luck’s exceptional play under center.

6. (No. 50) Mike Glennon, NC State (Rivals: 59, Scout: 87, PrepStar: 107, ESPN: 32)
This lanky Virginian is by far the biggest unknown on this list. Glennon was talented enough to be ranked alongside Luck, but he has yet to prove himself. So what DO we know about Mike Glennon? We know that a savvy, veteran head coach decided to let an All-ACC stud like Russell Wilson walk away from the program. We also know Glennon threw a total of 13 passes last season for an offense that doesn’t return a single starter at running back or wide receiver. Tom O’Brien consistently gets more out of his teams than expected, and Glennon has a safety valve in tight end George Bryan, but in a tough division, and with eight returning starters on defense, Glennon will be the difference between title contention and missing the postseason altogether.

7. (No. 100) Landry Jones, Okla. (Rivals: N/A, Scout: 89, PrepStar: 64, ESPN: 121)
The production for the Artesia, N.M., passer has been incredible. Try 7,916 yards and 64 touchdowns in two seasons. But Jones also has 26 interceptions in those two years. Bob Stoops needs his quarterback to protect the football better in 2011 if he expects to lead the Sooners back to the BCS Championship game. The numbers, however, suggest Jones will continue to improve. He went from one interception every 32 pass attempts in 2009 (14 INT, 449 ATT.) to one every 51 attempts last season (12, 617). If Jones can continue to progress in this area, Oklahoma will fulfill its lofty preseason No. 2 ranking.

-By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Teaser:
<p> More than a few championship hats hang on the QB Class of 2008.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/national-notebook/qb-class-2006-best-ever
Body:

By Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

It is the dead of winter in East Brady, Penn. The calendar is about to flip to 1979 and Joe Paterno is sitting in your living room. He says something to the effect of "We love you kid. Here is a scholarship. Come to Penn State and we will make you a star linebacker!" A chance to play the position at Linebacker U? Who wouldn’t jump at that opportunity?

There is only one issue: Jim Kelly is a quarterback. So after a brief conversation with his brother Pat — who was playing in the NFL at the time — Kelly decided to accept a scholarship to play quarterback for the Miami Hurricanes. In his first career start, Kelly led the Canes to a 26-10 victory over the Nittany Lions in State College. Four Super Bowl appearances, 35,000 yards and one very infamous wide right later, Kelly took his rightful place in Canton.

Back in 1979 and not even 60 miles away in Pittsburgh, another young signal caller was making waves of his own. Dan Marino’s buggy-whip release was causing college scouts everywhere to giggle like schoolgirls. As a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh, Marino led the Panthers to victory over rival West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl. Two years later, a touchdown pass to John Brown with less than a minute to play — arguably the greatest play in Pitt sports history — capped the comeback against Georgia in the 1982 Sugar Bowl. The honors, records and statistics of his NFL career got Marino enshrined in the Hall Of Fame.

Back to ’79, and this time over 3,000 miles away, a quarterback was garnering unprecedented coverage as a high school athlete. John Elway played two seasons at Granada Hills High School (Granada Hills, Calif.) and was easily the No. 1 recruit in the nation. Widely considered the best athlete ever assembled, Elway received at least 60 scholarship offers that year. He signed with Stanford to play baseball and football, winning multiple Pac-10 Player of the Year awards, and was a major part of ‘The Game’ with rival Cal in 1982. Two Super Bowl championships later, he, too, sits in Canton as arguably the best quarterback to ever play the game.

The college and NFL resumes of the Hall of Fame class of ’78 are remarkable and will likely never be repeated by a single class. Historically, the 1978 high school class of quarterbacks stands alone and is clearly the best of all time. Things are a bit different these days. Quarterbacks transfer at an alarming rate and head to the NFL early. Kids are exposed to the media throngs and fan bases at a much earlier age. Recruiting services now rank thousands of prospects in an effort to predict the future. I am positive that Marino was not watching internet video of Elway in 1978.

So in the modern era of football recruiting, which quarterback class is the best? The answer to this question is authoritatively 2006.

In the 2008 BCS title game, Tim Tebow got the better of Sam Bradford in Miami to win his second national championship (to go along with his '07 Heisman Trophy). Tebow was the dual-threat recruit in ‘06 (despite what his FRS commercial says) and he went on to be one of the most decorated college quarterbacks of all time. He owns a share of the single season mark for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 22 scores in ’07. Tebow rushed for an SEC record 57 TDs over his career. In 985 passing attempts, he threw only 15 career interceptions and ended his career with a 176.0 QB rating. He passed for 9,286 yards and 88 passing TDs to go with 2,947 yards and 57 TDs on the ground.

Bradford, a much lower-rated prospect coming out of high school, also has a Heisman Trophy on his resume. Despite missing most of his final season, Bradford went on to become the first overall pick in the NFL Draft and had a stellar rookie season for the St. Louis Rams. He was the No. 12-rated pro-style quarterback in the ’06 class. In only two full seasons, Bradford shattered every major Sooner passing record - as well as some NCAA records. He owns all three yardage records: single game (468), single-season (4,720) and career (8,403). He owns the single-season (50) and career passing touchdown records (88). He also has the two most efficient seasons in Sooner history - both of which ended in Big 12 Championships.

The only quarterback Tebow trailed in the recruiting rankings in ’06 was Matt Stafford. The Georgia gunslinger was 27-7 as a starter and went 3-0 in bowl games, including a BCS Bowl win over Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. He was the first overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions. He finished with 7,731 yards and 51 touchdowns passing while in Athens.

Kansas State’s Josh Freeman, while not possessing an elite resume, also landed in the first round of the NFL Draft and has quickly blossomed into one of the better young arms in the NFL. The enormous signal caller (6'6", 248) finished with over 8,000 yards passing and a total of 64 touchdowns (20 rushing) as an amateur. Freeman was the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the ’06 class.

Alabama's Greg McElroy and TCU's Andy Dalton both claimed conference championships, led undefeated teams and won BCS bowl games. McElroy visited the top of the mountain in his first year as the starter, winning the 2009 National Championship. He finished 24-3 as a starter in Tuscaloosa and was drafted in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft (although he is destined for greatness as a TV analyst). Dalton finished his career with an astonishing 42-7 record as the starter in Fort Worth and is the all-time leader in total offense for not only TCU history but Mountain West Conference history as well (11,925 yards). His 10,314 passing yards and 71 passing TDs are both school records. He added 22 rushing touchdowns and 1,611 rushing yards as well. Dalton was selected early in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Washington’s Jake Locker, Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick, Illinois’ Juice Williams and Florida State's Christian Ponder are all members of the class of 2006 as well. In 2007, Williams took the Illini to their first Rose Bowl berth since 1984, and he finished his career with 8,037 yards passing, 2,557 rushing yards and 74 total touchdowns. Williams was the No. 3-rated pro-style passer in the ’06 quarterback rankings.

Kaepernick burst onto the scene two seasons ago in the highest scoring game in NCAA history: a 69-67 loss to Boise State. The lanky scrambler rushed for 177 yards and two touchdowns in that game. He added 243 yards passing and three more scores through the air. In his first full season as a starter, ‘Crazy Legs’ Kaepernick posted 2,849 passing yards, 1,130 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns (17 rushing). He went on to have one of the best statistical careers in the history of college football. Kaepernick ended his career with 14,210 yards of total offense (10,098 passing, 4,112 rushing), 82 passing touchdowns against only 24 interceptions and 59 rushing touchdowns. Crazy Legs was drafted early in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers.

Locker’s career in Seattle has unfortunately been plagued by coaching turnover and injuries. After a very promising freshman season — 2,062 passing yards and 986 rushing yards — Locker missed most of his sophomore year with a thumb injury. With quarterback-friendly head coach Steve Sarkisian, a healthy Locker led the Huskies to the school's first bowl win since the 2001 Rose Bowl when U of W upset Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl last fall. He finished his career with 7,639 yards passing, 53 touchdowns, 1,939 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns. Locker was the No. 4-rated dual-threat quarterback in the class of ’06 and was selected by the Tennessee Titans with the eighth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Christian Ponder led the Seminoles to bowl wins over Wisconsin and South Carolina while energizing the Florida State offense for the first time since Chris Weinke. Despite battling injuries for much of his career, Ponder led the Seminoles back to the ACC Championship game as a senior and was selected with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Vikings. He finished his career with 6,872 yards passing, 49 touchdowns, 833 rushing yards and 10 more scores on the ground.

Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi forced the much higher-rated Jake Christiensen to transfer and led the Iowa Hawkeyes to a BCS Bowl win over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. His penchant for fourth quarter heroics helped him to an 18-4 record as the starter, including 19 straight games with a TD pass. He finished his career with 7,377 yards and 56 touchdowns. Stanzi was drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs.

Returning to the Jayhawk State, Todd Reesing finished his career as the most productive passer in Kansas history. He is the only Jayhawk to lead his team to a BCS bowl game (and win). He threw for a school-record 11,194 yards and 90 touchdowns - adding 646 rushing yards and 15 more scores on the ground - in three full seasons as a starter. His 25-13 record included a 76-point blowout of Nebraska. While Reesing was never a pro prospect like many of the names above, his success in college is no less impressive. Reesing was the No. 16 dual-threat quarterback in the class of ’06.

Another player who took his program to unprecedented heights was Ball State’s Nate Davis. The Bellaire (Ohio) native led his Cardinals to back-to-back bowl appearances. One has to keep this accomplishment in perspective. In 82 years of playing football, Ball State had been to a total of three bowl games (’65, ’89, ’93), and Davis led them to two straight. Davis left early for the NFL after his junior season.

The list of stars from the '06 class is not limited to just the superpowers of college football. Duke’s Thaddeus Lewis finished with a school-record 10,065 passing yards and 67 touchdowns. Lewis was the No. 10 rated dual-threat prospect in 2006.

If you are counting at home, that makes three BCS national championships, two Heisman Trophies, seven BCS Bowl wins and six first round NFL Draft picks. The Class of 2006 also includes the best quarterbacks in Florida, Oklahoma, TCU, Kansas, Nevada, Duke, Kansas State and Ball State school history.

While there may not be three NFL Hall of Famers in this class, it is safe to say this is the best collection of college quarterbacks to ever come out of one recruiting class in history.

Other ’06 Notables

Kevin Riley, Cal
Austen Arnaud, Iowa State
Jevan Snead, Ole Miss/Texas
Adam Weber, Minnesota
Zack Frazer, UConn
Justin Burke, Louisville
Brian Anderson, Marshall

Also: Check out our analysis of how the 2008 quarterback class has lived up to the hype.

By Braden Gall, Twitter: @AthlonBraden

Teaser:
<p> Is the '06 class of quarterbacks the best to ever play the college game?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - 21:08
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/2011-big-ten-champs-nebraska
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

THE Ohio State University has won at least a share of the Big Ten Championship in each of the last six seasons, but with Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor out of Columbus, it is safe to say that the Buckeyes will not be extending that amazing streak in 2011. Instead, attention in the Big Ten turns due west to Lincoln, Neb., home of the newest member of the league’s Legends division and the clear favorite to win the Big Ten Championship in 2011.

For nearly 100 years, OSU has been THE major power in its conference, but the heavy favorite to unseat the Buckeyes as conference champions has yet to play its first Big Ten game. The Nebraska Cornhuskers boast an All-America front seven, ferocious coaching staff and talented running game, giving the corn-fed Big Red the preseason edge over the dairy-fed Big Red from Madison, Wis.

Interestingly, the biggest difference between Wisconsin, who is likely the new preseason favorite to win the Leaders division, and NU is also what makes the Huskers and Badgers nervous heading into the fall – the quarterback position. The Badgers have a chance to erase all concerns if they land uber-transfer Russell Wilson, but without the All-ACC signal caller, UW has a slim chance of winning the Big Ten title. Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez, on the other hand, is equally talented but far from entrenched.

“T-Magic” exploded onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2010 and posted some unbelievable performances against Oklahoma State (323 yards, 5 TDs), at Washington (137 yards rushing, 3 TDs) and at Kansas State (241 yards rushing, 4 TDs). But in the eighth game of the season, Martinez injured his ankle against Missouri. Three weeks later, against Texas A&M, he injured his ego in a highly publicized sideline/halftime discussion with uncompromising head coach Bo Pelini. The ankle never fully recovered, and defensive coordinators clearly made adjustments in the second half of the season, but many point to Martinez’s lack of mental toughness as the primary reason for the Big Red’s poor second half showing.

Pre-ankle injury, Martinez had 870 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns to go with 1,161 yards passing and nine touchdowns. Post-ankle injury, Martinez failed to top 100 yards rushing or 170 yards passing in any game. He threw one touchdown against four interceptions and failed to score a single time on the ground. The offense took a complete nosedive, and Nebraska lost three of its last four games.

The Big Ten has made sure that Martinez’s mental toughness will be tested during his introductory tour of the league. A road trip to Wisconsin and a home date with Ohio State will be the first two Big Ten conference games in NU history. Michigan State and Northwestern visit Lincoln as the calendar flips from October to November, before the Huskers finish with a nasty three-week stretch: at Penn State, at Michigan and Iowa at home.

A rematch with either Penn State, Wisconsin or Ohio State likely looms in Indianapolis for the inaugural Big Ten title game as well, should Martinez successfully navigate that extremely difficult conference schedule.

This Nebraska team is good enough to win the Big Ten title, and with a relatively simple non-conference schedule, the Huskers could also push for a National Championship. But with Cody Green transferred, Bubba Starling drafted No. 5 overall in the MLB Draft and Jamal Turner switched to wide receiver, there is little depth behind Martinez at the most important position on the field.

All this to say: The performance of a newly healthy and focused second-year starter at quarterback will determine whether the Huskers’ inaugural Big Ten season is a freight train b-line to New Orleans or a T-not-so-magical roller coaster ride through treacherous new territory.

Related Nebraska Content

2011 Athlon Sports Nebraska Team Preview
#000;">Ten Greatest Nebraska Cornhuskers
#000;">The Greatest Nebraska Cornhusker moments
#000;">Nebraska Cornhusker Cheerleaders Through The Years
#000;">Bubba Starling: Huskers or Royals?

Teaser:
<p> The Nebraska Cornhuskers are now the team to beat in the Big Ten.</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 9, 2011 - 17:55
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/2011-bcs-champs-oklahoma-vs-alabama
Body:

The BCS National Champion is..?

That is the question the Athlon Editors tackle each spring when we sit down to predict the upcoming college football season. Schedules, returning starters, statistics, coaching changes, recruiting classes, head-to-head trends, swing games and conference championship games are all considered. After countless of hours of production, the 2011 Top 25 is finalized and the College Football Preseason Annual is printed. The staff predicted all 120 teams in the nation and settled on Alabama and Oklahoma as the top two.

Very few of our predictions are unanimous, and the Alabama vs. Oklahoma BCS National Championship debate was no different. So who is the top team in the nation in 2011? Here is what our editors have to say:

Note: Visit AthlonSports.com on June 6 and 7 to read all about the Tide and Boomer Sooner.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): I voted Alabama No. 1 in our predictions meeting and haven’t changed my mind. Oklahoma is obviously a very talented team that could very well win it all — we did pick the Sooners No. 2 after all — but I believe Bama’s dominant defense and outstanding running game will be what separates it from the rest of the nation. Yes, the Tide will have a first-time starter at quarterback, but just two years ago this team went 14–0 and claimed the BCS crown with first-time starter Greg McElroy running the show. There are some issues — big-play threat at wide receiver, two new starters on the defensive line — but there is a lot to like about Nick Saban’s club. Consolation Pick: Florida State Deep Sleeper: West Virginia

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): In the Oklahoma versus Alabama debate, I’ll go with the high-octane Sooners. It may seem stubborn to pick against the team from America’s toughest conference, as the SEC has won five straight national titles. However, I think the Oklahoma offense will be lethal this season with quarterback Landry Jones and All-America wide receiver Ryan Broyles leading the way. OU has playmakers at every skill position, and the defense is young but very talented. I can see the Sooners running the table in the Big 12, with their toughest contest coming in September at Florida State. Alabama should have the best defense in the nation, but their inexperience in the passing game (new quarterback/no Julio Jones) is a concern. Even though the Tide avoids Georgia and South Carolina on the schedule, going undefeated through the SEC looks almost impossible this season. It’s a tough call, but I’ll take Oklahoma as this year’s champion. Consolation Pick: Boise State Deep Sleeper: West Virginia

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven): Alabama – Even with a first-year starter at quarterback, it’s hard to pick against the Crimson Tide to win the national title. The defense took a few lumps last year, but starting some young and inexperienced players will pay off in 2011. Alabama should feature one of the best linebacking corps and defensive backfields in the nation. With a strong defense, the offense won’t be forced to carry the load this year. Trent Richardson is more than capable of rushing for 1,500 yards in 2011, especially behind one of the top lines in college football. When Alabama won the 2009 title, Greg McElroy was a first-year starter and the team leaned on its rushing attack and defense to win games. Although AJ McCarron or Phillip Sims are inexperienced, the Crimson Tide have shown they have a winning formula and that should work for Nick Saban’s second title in Tuscaloosa. I like Oklahoma’s offense, but I'm not sure its defense has the right pieces to win the championship, especially in the interior of the line and at cornerback. Consolation Pick: Florida State Deep Sleeper: West Virginia

Rob Doster: In a hypothetical matchup of these two college football titans, I would lean towards Saban’s crew, but that’s based more on OU’s repeated failures in BCS bowls than on the Tide’s superiority. Last year’s Fiesta Bowl win over an outmanned UConn team aside, Bob Stoops’ club has laid some embarrassing eggs on the big stage, losing its previous three BCS bowls (two by embarrassing margins), while Saban is 3-1 in bowl games as Bama boss. Consolation Pick: LSU Deep Sleeper: Miami

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden): I will take the Crimson Tide over the Crimson and Cream. The quarterback position for Alabama is an issue, but one has to think that whoever is taking snaps for Bama will be much better in Week 15 than he will be in Week 2. The collection of players in Tuscaloosa is the best in the nation, bar none, and both lines of scrimmage will be nasty – especially the offensive line, which will carry them early against Penn State, Arkansas and Florida. But in the BCS title game, the best secondary in the nation will come up big against a quarterback who has thrown 26 interceptions in two seasons. Bama’s physical ground game tops the Sooners’ high-flying aerial assault. Consolation Pick: Nebraska, Deep Sleeper: Stanford

Nathan Rush: Roll Tide... Alabama has everything in place but an established quarterback. But with the offensive arsenal Nick Saban has assembled — led by Heisman Trophy candidate running back Trent Richardson — new signal-caller AJ McCarron (or Phillip Sims) will have enough surrounding firepower and O-line protection to learn on the job and take what the defense gives him until he finds his sea legs and swagger. Plus, there should be plenty of short fields for the new QB to work with, as Kirby Smart’s 3-4 defense returns the nation’s best secondary, sledgehammer linebacker Dont’a Hightower and plenty of potential stars down low in the trenches. Expect Saban to raise the BCS crystal for the second time in three seasons; he may not smile during the trophy presentation, but it’s that same never-satisfied attitude that has rebuilt Bear’s machine in Tuscaloosa. Consolation Pick: Florida State, Deep Sleeper: South Carolina

Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie): With a dominant defense and strong running game, not only will Alabama be a cliché, but a national champion. There are too many athletes and too much determination and intensity for the Tide to be upset. Consolation pick: Virginia Tech, Deep Sleeper: Nebraska

Carey Murdock – Editor (SoonerScoop.com): I used to refer to Alabama as having a “Lincoln Log offense” during Saban’s early years in Tuscaloosa. Then Julio Jones gave them a viable threat at receiver and Mark Ingram won a Heisman Trophy. Does anybody see a Julio Jones on that roster? Defense does win championships and Alabama does have an edge in that category. But SEC championship teams usually need a major difference maker at the skill positions on offense to win a title. I just don’t see the right combination on this Alabama team to be able to overcome a very powerful Oklahoma offense. Alabama would slow down Oklahoma like few will be able to during the regular season, but Landry Jones, Ryan Broyles and a veteran offensive line have a bigger edge on the offensive side of the ball. And even though Saban has the right formula for a young or inexperienced quarterback to win a championship, you still need someone special behind center to do it. Oklahoma would win because of a bigger advantage on the offensive side of the ball, and I’m not sure this Alabama offense can lead them to an SEC title in the first place. They look kind of Lincoln Loggish again.

Teaser:
<p> The Athlon Editors debate who will win the 2011 BCS National Championship.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 - 00:59
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/2004-bcs-title-auburn-vs-usc
Body:

Is Auburn the 2004 National Champion?

A curious questions since the USC Trojans were clearly the best team in the nation in 2004.

No offense to that fantastic Auburn football team that beat multiple top-15 teams and had various first round NFL Draft picks, but the Trojans are still the Champs. At least in my mind. Especially since the BCS title has as much to do with the NCAA as the Associated Press championship - which still belongs to USC by the way.

With or without Reggie Bush, there wasn’t a team in the nation that could have slowed down that Trojan attack. Just ask the Oklahoma players. Do you think that if you gave them National Championship rings that they would flaunt them all over Norman? I think not. They know what happened in the BCS title game that year — just like the rest of us.

We all saw what happened when two Heisman Trophy winners squared off in the 2005 Orange Bowl. One team scored 55 points and racked up 525 yards of offense while the other scored 19 points – nearly 20 points below its season average – and posted only 372 total yards of offense.

Reggie Bush touched the ball eight total times on offense in that game — so clearly, without him, the outcome would have been dramatically different, right?

His “illegal benefits” had nothing to do with USC wins or losses. Bush’s controversial behavior mattered only to some sleazy NFL agent-wanna-be’s future profit margins.

You know what does impact wins and losses?

Pay-for-play schemes during the recruitment of supremely talented quarterbacks. Whether it be for a team that won seven games by eight points or less and needed a game-winning field goal as time expired to win the BCS title, or a Big Ten power that had yet to win a bowl game against an SEC opponent until last year’s Sugar Bowl.

Folks down in the Loveliest Village on the Plains can celebrate what they believe should be their 2004 National Championship today. And just maybe, without Bush, that Auburn team might have given the Trojan juggernaut a run for its money.

But that is something no one will never know.

- by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Teaser:
<p> Who deserves the 2004 National Championship?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 - 00:59
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/2011-predictions-coachs-hot-seat
Body:

For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.

Each year, we order some pizza and lock ourselves in a room until all 120 teams have been hammered into place. And every year, there are some seriously heated discussions that result in not-so-cordial commentary.

The 2011 preseason top-25 countdown will begin with No. 25 on Monday May 2. But every day until then, we will offer the college football fan a peek behind the curtain at some of the most heated debates that we the editors at Athlon had to work through.

Check out all the debates linked below.

The Debate: Which head coach is on the hottest seat heading into 2011?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Mike Locksley at New Mexico. The Lobos are 2–22 in his two years, and 14 of those 22 losses have been by 24 points or more. The talent level is getting better — the guy can recruit — but I don't expect to see much improvement on the field. Next on the list would be Paul Wulff at Washington State and Rick Neuheisel at UCLA.

Nathan Rush
The cover-up is always worse than the crime. That was true before Richard Nixon’s Watergate and it will be true after Jim Tressel’s Tattoo-gate. THE Ohio State University will be forced to take off its collective sweater-vest, possibly even before the 2011 season kicks off. Tressel could have gotten away with breaking a few NCAA rules; but he won’t get away with lying about it, much less lying about his lies in an attempt to cover his tracks. The stench will only get stronger as the onion continues to be peeled back by NCAA bloodhounds, until THE OSU will have no choice but to kick Tressel to the curb like he was Maurice Clarett. Then, TP2 and Co. will join ex-Gator Janoris Jenkins in a loaded NFL supplemental draft, the Buckeyes will name Luke Fickell the interim coach for the entire 2011 season and Urban Meyer will start building his 2012 recruiting class before he is officially named the Buckeyes head football coach. I just hope Tressel punches somebody Woody Hayes-style on his way out. Honorable Mention: Mike Price, UTEP

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Considering Mike Locksley and New Mexico essentially adjusted his contract to make it easier to make a coaching change, I'd be surprised if he makes it through the season as the head coach. The Lobos have some nice pieces returning, but they have been poorly coached and it's doubtful Locksley can turn it around to keep his job for another year. In addition to the lack of success on the field, Locksley has had a couple of off-the-field incidents, which have been a black eye for the athletic department. If Locksley isn't the first one fired, Paul Wulff at Washington State would be my next pick. There's a new athletic director in Pullman and even though the Cougars made some progress last year, Wulff needs to probably win five games to save his job.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
While it’s difficult to see Mike Locksley surviving the season at New Mexico, I’ll go with Paul Wulff at Washington State as having the hottest seat in college football. Wulff has had three seasons at his alma mater and has a 5-32 record to show for it. Moreover, two of those five wins have come against FCS opponents. The Cougars ranked 117th (out of 120) in rushing offense last year and 115th in rushing defense. Additionally, Steve Sarkisian has the rival Washington Huskies headed in the right direction and there will be pressure for a change in Pullman. Honorable Mention: Mike Locksley, New Mexico

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden) Since it would just be piling on to mention the Lobos' physical head man, I will stay away from Albuquerque. There are coaches who are sitting on warm chairs because of lack of production — or under-achievement — at UCLA, Ole Miss, Rutgers and Washington State. However, only one National Champion at THE powerhouse university of the Midwest is dealing with potential NCAA sanctions. Jim Tressel has built more clout amongst his fan/booster base than nearly every coach in the nation, but can he survive a strafing from blood-thirsty NCAA investigators? The governing body of the best sport in the world has been on the war path for two years now, making examples of USC, Georgia, Tennessee and now Ohio State. I don't see Tressel making it through this firing squad. The real question is who is next in line? Looking at you Auburn... Honorary Honorable Mention: Les Miles, LSU

Debate: Who will be the biggest surprise teams in 2011?

Debate: Is this the year that Miami breaks through in the ACC Coastal?

Debate: Does Notre Dame deserve to be a preseason top five team?

Debate: Can LSU win a national title with Jordan Jefferson under center? 

Debate: Who is the top challenger Oklahoma in the Big 12? 

Debate: What will Nebraska's conference record be in the Big Ten?

Debate: Will the Oregon Ducks repeat as Pac-12 Champions?

Debate: Who will win the SEC East in 2011?

Debate: Who is the top challenger to West Virginia in the Big East?

Debate: What is Ohio State's record after five games in 2011?

Debate: Who is the first-team All-Big 12 quarterback this year?

Debate: Who will finish second in the ACC Atlantic?

Debate: How far will Auburn fall in 2011?

Pre-order your team’s Athlon Sports cover here (athlonsports.com/store) and find out where Athlon has your team picked when the 2011 Top 25 countdown begins on Monday, May 2.

Teaser:
<p> Which coaches are sitting on the hottest seat heading into 2011?</p>
Post date: Friday, April 29, 2011 - 10:45
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/2011-predictions-surprise-teams
Body:

For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.

Each year, we order some pizza and lock ourselves in a room until all 120 teams have been hammered into place. And every year, there are some seriously heated discussions that result in not-so-cordial commentary.

The 2011 preseason top-25 countdown will begin with No. 25 on Monday May 2. But every day until then, we will offer the college football fan a peek behind the curtain at some of the most heated debates that we the editors at Athlon had to work through.

Check out all the debates linked below.

The Debate: Who will be the biggest surprise team not in the Athlon Top 25?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I like Illinois, though it's always a little dangerous to put too much belief in a Ron Zook team. Nathan Scheelhaase was pretty good as a redshirt freshman and should be better as a sophomore, his second season with Paul Petrino. Mikel Leshoure is gone, but Jason Ford should be able to step in an rush for 1,000 yards behind a very good offensive line. The schedule is very favorable, as well. The Illini don't play Nebraska or Michigan State, the two best teams (on paper) in the Legends Division. It wouldn't shock me if Illinois finishes second in the Leaders. Honorable Mention: Arizona State

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I don't think Iowa will be ranked in many preseason top 25 polls, but this is a team that could surprise in 2011. The Hawkeyes always seem to perform better when there are no expectations and that's exactly where they are - under the radar. Everything seemed to break right for Iowa in 2009, but couldn't deliver in the clutch to win the close games last year. There are several key losses to replace, including quarterback Ricky Stanzi, three key linemen and both starting safeties. However, new quarterback James Vandenberg has experience and the Hawkeyes will have one of the Big Ten's best rushing attacks. The losses on defense are a concern, but Norm Parker should be able to keep this unit playing at a high level. One of the biggest reasons to like Iowa is the schedule. Non-conference games against Iowa State and Pittsburgh won't be easy, but the Hawkeyes host Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State - all potential swing games in the Big Ten race. I don't think Iowa is a threat to win the Big Ten in 2011, but I like the Hawkeyes to finish the season with a 9-3 or 8-4 record and just inside of the top 25. Honorable Mention: Air Force, SMU

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I’ll go with Arizona State as a team that could surprise this season. The Sun Devils went 6-6 (with two FCS wins) last year, but four of their losses were by four points or less. Dennis Erickson’s squad returns a ton of experience, and the roster has some solid young talent. Quarterback Brock Osweiler showed he could lead he team late last season, and running back Cameron Marshall had ten total touchdowns as a sophomore. The defense should be stout once again, led by all-league candidates Vontaze Burfict, Brandon Magee and Junior Onyeali. Playing at Oregon is obviously a tough game, but ASU does not have to play Stanford and Washington from the other division. If Osweiler fulfills his potential, the Sun Devils could win the Pac-12 South. Honorable Mention: BYU

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden) I like Texas Tech. The Raiders return one of the best offensive lines in the conference, if not the nation, along with a plethora of talent in the backfield. Sorting out who takes the snaps and who gets the carries needs to happen this summer, but there should be plenty of holes to run through and plenty of time to throw. With an easy non-conference slate, swing games with Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Texas and Missouri will determine if 2011 is a success for TTU. If the new defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow - and his 4-2-5 alignment - can improve that side of the ball at all, Tommy Tuberville is looking at a potential eight, nine or even 10 win season in Lubbock. Honorable Mention: Penn State

Nathan Rush
The UCF Knights are about to make a splash on the national stage. Resume builder George O’Leary, of Georgia Tech (1994-2001) and Notre Dame (a few days?) fame, has found his new Joe Hamilton (Heisman runner-up in 1999) at quarterback. Jeff Godfrey is a dual-threat winner from Miami who led the Knights to an 11–3 record and Liberty Bowl win over Georgia as a true freshman. In his second season, Godfrey looks to lead a loaded UCF roster to not only to a C-USA crown, but also past Boston College (Sept. 10) in Orlando and BYU (Sept. 23) in Provo. The Knights are a reasonable longshot to go undefeated in 2011.
Honorable Mention: Penn State



Debate: Is this the year that Miami breaks through in the ACC Coastal?

Debate: Does Notre Dame deserve to be a preseason top five team?

Debate: Can LSU win a national title with Jordan Jefferson under center? 

Debate: Who is the top challenger Oklahoma in the Big 12? 

Debate: What will Nebraska's conference record be in the Big Ten?

Debate: Will the Oregon Ducks repeat as Pac-12 Champions?

Debate: Who will win the SEC East in 2011?

Debate: Who is the top challenger to West Virginia in the Big East?

Debate: What is Ohio State's record after five games in 2011?

Debate: Who is the first-team All-Big 12 quarterback this year?

Debate: Who will finish second in the ACC Atlantic?

Debate: How far will Auburn fall in 2011?

Pre-order your team’s Athlon Sports cover here (athlonsports.com/store) and find out where Athlon has your team picked when the 2011 Top 25 countdown begins on Monday, May 2.

Teaser:
<p> Who will be the surprise teams in college football this fall?</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 28, 2011 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/2011-football-predictions-miami
Body:

For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.

Each year, we order some pizza and lock ourselves in a room until all 120 teams have been hammered into place. And every year, there are some seriously heated discussions that result in not-so-cordial commentary.

The 2011 preseason top-25 countdown will begin with No. 25 on Monday May 2. But every day until then, we will offer the college football fan a peek behind the curtain at some of the most heated debates that we the editors at Athlon had to work through.

Check out all the debates linked below.

The Debate: Is this the year Miami breaks through in the ACC Coastal?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I don't think this is the year Miami breaks through, though the Canes should be pretty good. First of all, I believe Virginia Tech is a better team, so even if Miami plays well, it could have a tough time winning the division. Also, I need to see more consistent play from quarterback Jacory Harris before I'm ready to buy into this team. He has shown flashes of outstanding play, but he hasn't proven he can get it done on a consistent basis.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Considering Virginia Tech has to replace Tyrod Taylor, it's not a lock Miami is going to finish second in the ACC Coastal. The Hurricanes were the best team in the ACC last year in terms of yardage differential, but one of the worst in the turnover battle. There's certainly no shortage of talent, but the quarterback play has to be better if Miami wants to challenge Virginia Tech. The front seven on defense should be solid, but it's time for tackle Marcus Forston to live up to the hype and solidify the interior of the line. Cornerback is a huge concern, especially with Brandon Harris departing a year early to the NFL. I like the hire of Al Golden and think he will eventually win an ACC Championship at Miami. However, I think there are too many question marks to win the ACC Coastal this year, especially with the game against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and crossover divisional games at Florida State and Maryland.

Nathan Rush
The U will rise again this season. I think Al Golden will whip Randy Shannon’s collection of five-star talent into shape and bring the ACC Coastal crown to Coral Gables. The defense is a classic, swarming Canes unit led by big-hitting linebacker Sean Spence and safety Ray-Ray Armstrong. The offense is a sledgehammer featuring the three-headed running back attack of Lamar Miller, Mike James and Storm Johnson. But it is the man who once wanted to wear a pink suit and bring a pimp cup to the Heisman ceremony (in the unlikely event he was invited), quarterback Jacory Harris, who will be the key. The senior must eliminate his deep TD-or-INT boom-or-bust mentality and play the type of winning football he did earlier in his career. If so, Miami will be back, baby.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I do not see Miami finally winning the Coastal Division in Al Golden’s first season. The Hurricanes have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, but they will need to avoid the turnovers that have plagued them the last couple of years. The defense should be solid with all-conference candidates Marcus Forston, Sean Spence and Ray-Ray Armstrong, but depth may be an issue — especially in the secondary. Miami also has to play at Virginia Tech and Florida State, probably the two best teams in the ACC. I’ll take the Hokies to repeat in the Coastal, especially since they avoid playing FSU, Maryland and NC State from the Atlantic Division.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Nope, and there are many reasons. Miami, even though I have the utmost respect for Randy Shannon the man, is breaking in an entirely new staff after the previous regime underachieved. Quarterback play, along with the running game, has been inconsistent over the past few seasons. The road slate includes trips to Florida State, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Maryland and South Florida to go with home tests against Ohio State, Georgia Tech and Boston College. And the Hokies have the best offensive line in the league — and arguably the best coaching continuity in the nation. There is loads of talent for Al Golden to mold, especially where it counts — the offensvie and defensive lines. But until proven otherwise, The U is simply a great collection of untapped potential.

Debate: Does Notre Dame deserve to be a preseason top five team?
Debate: Can LSU win a national title with Jordan Jefferson under center? 

Debate: Who is the top challenger Oklahoma in the Big 12? 

Debate: What will Nebraska's conference record be in the Big Ten?

Debate: Will the Oregon Ducks repeat as Pac-12 Champions?

Debate: Who will win the SEC East in 2011?

Debate: Who is the top challenger to West Virginia in the Big East?

Debate: What is Ohio State's record after five games in 2011?

Debate: Who is the first-team All-Big 12 quarterback this year?

Debate: Who will finish second in the ACC Atlantic?

Debate: How far will Auburn fall in 2011?

Pre-order your team’s Athlon Sports cover here (athlonsports.com/store) and find out where Athlon has your team picked when the 2011 Top 25 countdown begins on Monday, May 2.

Teaser:
<p> Is this the year the Miami Hurricanes can break through in the ACC Coastal?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - 11:45
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/2011-football-predictions-notre-dame
Body:

For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.

Each year, we order some pizza and lock ourselves in a room until all 120 teams have been hammered into place. And every year, there are some seriously heated discussions that result in not-so-cordial commentary.

The 2011 preseason top-25 countdown will begin with No. 25 on Monday May 2. But every day until then, we will offer the college football fan a peek behind the curtain at some of the most heated debates that we the editors at Athlon had to work through.

Check out all the debates linked below.

The Debate: Does Notre Dame deserve to be a preseason top five team?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Notre Dame should be a top-10 team. Not sure about top 5. The Irish should be better on both sides of the ball, but in particular, I believe the offense will be vastly improved. It is the second season under Brian Kelly, and there is solid talent at the skill positions and a very good offensive line. The defense got a lot better as the 2010 season progressed and there is no reason to believe this group won't continue to get better. The Irish's talent level isn't elite, but it's very good. You combine that with a manageable schedule and a great coach — the result is a preseason top 10 ranking.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I wouldn't put Notre Dame as a preseason top five team, but the 6-10 range seems to be where it should be ranked. The Irish seemed to find their stride under Brian Kelly late last year by winning the final four games. Although the final four wins were huge, the Irish finally seemed to figure things out on the offensive line and on defense - both areas of concern in recent years. With a loaded recruiting class coming to restock the cupboard on defense, the Irish have a chance to be even better in 2011. The offense didn't quite live up to the numbers Kelly produced at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan or Cincinnati, but I'd expect that to change this year. Dayne Crist needs to stay healthy at quarterback, but Tommy Rees is a capable backup and there's plenty of weapons, notably Cierre Wood at running back and Michael Floyd at receiver. The schedule isn't easy, but it's not the most difficult either. Dates at Michigan and Stanford will be the most difficult road tests, while hosting Michigan State, USC and South Florida will be swing games. If the Irish pickup where they left off last season, along with a semi-favorable schedule in Brian Kelly's second year, a trip to a BCS game and a 10-win season is well within reach.

Nathan Rush
Giving Notre Dame a preseason Top 10 ranking — and by that, I mean somewhere between Nos. 6-10 — is fair. Let the Fighting Irish play their way into the Top 5, which is a possibility in Brian Kelly’s second season in South Bend. Big-hitting backer Manti Te’o and high-flying receiver Michael Floyd (pending possible DUI punishment) lead a stacked ND team. If quarterback Dayne Crist can bounce back from knee surgery, these Irish could be a national title contender. Then again, the Golden Domers were supposed to turn the corner under Charlie Weis, and Ty Willingham before that. Let’s not anoint Notre Dame as a preseason Top 5 team just yet. The Fighting Irish — more than any other team with a BCS deal — should have to earn their spot at the big table.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
In Brian Kelly I believe. Certainly, settling the quarterback position as quickly as possible is key. And off-the-field legal issues are swirling around star receiver Michael Floyd as well as the University as a whole. But what makes this Notre Dame team different than Irish squad's of the past is the defense. The four-game winning streak that ended 2010 was because of the defense not the Mad Scientist's preferred side of the ball. The Irish faced 126 rushing attempts over that span and surrendered a measly 2.9 yards per carry - allowing 39 total points during the winning streak. This unit is only getting better with an elite group of front-seven freshman enrolling this season to go with established stars like Manti Te'o. The schedule isn't easy and is chalked full of swing games, but every contest is a winnable one. Does 11-2 put the Irish in the top five? Maybe not, but 12-1 definitely would - and one loss is not that far out of reach.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think top 5 may be a little high for the improved Irish, but Brian Kelly's team is now to the point where they can feel confident about beating any team on their schedule. The offense should be quite potent with a bevy of weapons and a solid line. Whether Dayne Crist or Tommy Rees is under center, they will have All-America receiver Michael Floyd as the prime target. I also believe sophomore running back Cierre Wood is an emerging star. On defense, All-America linebacker Manti Te'o will lead an experienced unit that played very well at the end of last season. I see Notre Dame going either 10-2 or 9-3, and that they should be rated in the 9-12 range in the preseason.

Debate: Can LSU win a national title with Jordan Jefferson under center? 
Debate: Who is the top challenger Oklahoma in the Big 12? 

Debate: What will Nebraska's conference record be in the Big Ten?

Debate: Will the Oregon Ducks repeat as Pac-12 Champions?

Debate: Who will win the SEC East in 2011?

Debate: Who is the top challenger to West Virginia in the Big East?

Debate: What is Ohio State's record after five games in 2011?

Debate: Who is the first-team All-Big 12 quarterback this year?

Debate: Who will finish second in the ACC Atlantic?

Debate: How far will Auburn fall in 2011?

Pre-order your team’s Athlon Sports cover here (athlonsports.com/store) and find out where Athlon has your team picked when the 2011 Top 25 countdown begins on Monday, May 2.

Teaser:
<p> Does Notre Dame deserve to be a preseason top five team?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, SEC
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/2011-football-predictions-lsu
Body:

For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.

Each year, we order some pizza and lock ourselves in a room until all 120 teams have been hammered into place. And every year, there are some seriously heated discussions that result in not-so-cordial commentary.

The 2011 preseason top-25 countdown will begin with No. 25 on Monday May 2. But every day until then, we will offer the college football fan a peek behind the curtain at some of the most heated debates that we the editors at Athlon had to work through.

Check out all the debates linked below.

The Debate: Can LSU win a National Championship with Jordan Jefferson under center?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I don't think so. There is a lot to like about this LSU team, but I think it will be very difficult for the Tigers to win it all with Jefferson as the starting quarterback. He has played well at times — especially the end of last season — but we haven't seen enough consistency out of him during his time as the starter to suggest he is capable of playing well enough throughout the entire season to lead a team to the national title. Zach Mettenberger is unproven, but in the long run he might be the better option at quarterback for Les Miles' club.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Absolutely — if Nick Saban was still the head coach in Baton Rouge. In all seriousness, there are at most three or four rosters in the nation better than the Bayou Bengals. And Jefferson did finally show some improvement at the end of 2010 as a passer. Yet, he will have to continue to make strides just to keep the starting job, much less win any sort of championship. He is very effective in the power running game, which should be excellent this season with Spencer Ware and Michael Ford. But can he rally his team down 14 in the fourth quarter? Can he convert on a key 3rd and 15 when his team desperately needs him to make a big play? The answer is no — especially with the grass-eating man in charge.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
LSU's Jordan Jefferson did have a subpar year in 2010, but he was a solid signal-caller in 2009 with 17 touchdowns against seven interceptions. The Tigers' formula for winning tends to be a quality running game and tough defense, and they went 11–2 last year even with Jefferson struggling. Les Miles' bunch has the talent to win the national title in 2011, but their schedule looks too difficult to take the crown. Besides having to navigate through the toughest division and conference in college football, LSU also plays Oregon, the likely Pac-12 champion, and travels to West Virginia — the likely Big East champion. Even if Jefferson plays better under new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe, I just don't see them going through the SEC West, Florida and the non-conference slate without a couple of losses.

Nathan Rush
I love Les Miles, but unless an opposing rookie coach sends 13 men onto the field with the game on the line, or LSU can convert fake field goals off the bounce pass, there will be no BCS national title run to New Orleans. It’s an oxymoron — the Bayou Bengals are loaded with talent but lack star power, and the leadership that comes with it. Entering the season, there are no obvious Glenn Dorseys (although true freshman Anthony “Freak” Johnson is scary) or JaMarcus Russells (although Georgia reject and JUCO transfer Zach Mettenberger weighs in at 6’5”, 250) or Patrick Petersons (although the secondary is stacked with Mo Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu). Unfortunately, the burden falls on the inconsistent Jordan Jefferson — who went from throwing 17 TDs and seven INTs in 2009, to just seven TDs and 10 INTs in ’10. I think LSU overachieved last season and lacks the mature talent to win it all this year. I’m picking Oregon in the opener at Cowboys Stadium on Sept. 3.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Anything is possible. LSU did win the national championship with two losses and pulled out some crazy victories last year. However, I’m going to say LSU won’t win the national championship with Jordan Jefferson under center next season. Jefferson did play better in the final weeks of last year, but quarterback isn’t LSU’s only concern. The Tigers need to replace Drake Nevis at tackle and linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. Kicker Josh Jasper is a huge loss too, considering how many close games LSU will be involved in. I know Les Miles has recruited well, so there’s plenty of talent waiting in the wings, but the concerns about Jefferson and road dates at West Virginia, Alabama and Mississippi State won’t be easy to overcome. Even if the Tigers miss out on the national title, they still have to be a strong candidate for one of the at-large BCS spots.

Debate: Who is the top challenger Oklahoma in the Big 12? 

Debate: What will Nebraska's conference record be in the Big Ten?

Debate: Will the Oregon Ducks repeat as Pac-12 Champions?

Debate: Who will win the SEC East in 2011?

Debate: Who is the top challenger to West Virginia in the Big East?

Debate: What is Ohio State's record after five games in 2011?

Debate: Who is the first-team All-Big 12 quarterback this year?

Debate: Who will finish second in the ACC Atlantic?

Debate: How far will Auburn fall in 2011?

Pre-order your team’s Athlon Sports cover here (athlonsports.com/store) and find out where Athlon has your team picked when the 2011 Top 25 countdown begins on Monday, May 2.

Teaser:
<p> Can LSU win a national title with Jordan Jefferson under center?</p>
Post date: Monday, April 25, 2011 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Big 12, College Football
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/2011-football-predictions-big-12
Body:

For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.

Each year, we order some pizza and lock ourselves in a room until all 120 teams have been hammered into place. And every year, there are some seriously heated discussions that result in not-so-cordial commentary.

The 2011 preseason top-25 countdown will begin with No. 25 on Monday May 2. But every day until then, we will offer the college football fan a peek behind the curtain at some of the most heated debates that we the editors at Athlon had to work through.

Check out all the debates linked below.

The Debate: Who will finish second in the Big 12 in 2011?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I don't completely trust them, but I'm going to pick the Aggies to finish second in the Big 12 in 2011. Texas A&M closed out the  2010 regular season on a tear, and most of the core returns intact. Replacing linebacker/end Von Miller will be difficult, but Damontre Moore looks like a future All-Big 12 performer, and nine starters are back on defense. The offense seemed to find its rhythm down the stretch, especially with a young offensive line coming together. With Christine Michael returning at running back, the Aggies have one of the top running back combinations in college football, along with an All-American at receiver in Jeff Fuller. Texas A&M's schedule sets up for a run at second place, with Oklahoma State, Texas and Missouri visiting College Station. The Aggies have high expectations, and that's usually a cause for concern in College Station. However, I think Texas A&M is ready to break through under Mike Sherman and threaten for its first double-digit win season since 1998.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I think this is going to be one of the great races in college football this fall — the battle for second place in the Big 12. There is a lot to like about Oklahoma State, but I am going with Texas A&M. It's hard to trust the Aggies sometimes, but I can't ignore how good they were in the final two-thirds of the 2010 season. There will be some pressure on this team to meet expectations, but I believe the Aggies are good enough to handle the pressure.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
There are five teams — and one Baylor quarterback — that have a legitimate claim to the two-slot in the Big 12 this fall. This is how I tried to whittle it down: Texas Tech has an outstanding offensive line and will have a balanced offensive attack but has serious issues on the defensive side of the ball. Texas has the best collection of players, but a totally reworked coaching staff, no No. 1 quarterback and no running game (at least, until Malcolm Brown shows-up). After seven losses, Texas needs to prove itself to me before I can pick them to challenge the Sooners. Oklahoma State also has an outstanding offensive attack, but losing Dana Holgorsen and holes on the defense could make for tougher sledding than a year ago. That leaves Texas A&M and Missouri. The Tigers have the best combination of offensive and defensive lines in this league, and that is where championships are won. Gary Pinkel's bunch allowed a measly 16 points per game last year and in the Big 12 that is a serious accomplishment. Additionally, the Aggies have had a weird senior-itis with their quarterbacks over the last decade, so Ryan Tannehill needs to prove his mettle. The Tigers do have to play five on the road in conference, and second place could be on the line October 29 when Mizzou heads to College Station.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I feel strongly that Texas A&M will finish second in the Big 12, and maybe even challenge Oklahoma (Aggies won 33-19 last year) for the top spot. Mike Sherman’s offense took off in the middle of 2010 when he made Ryan Tannehill the starting quarterback, as A&M won six in a row to end the regular season. Most of that productive offense is back, including two star running backs, two solid tackles and a deep group of receivers. The defense does have to replace pass rusher Von Miller, but the Aggies could have a better unit overall in 2011 with the improvement of their younger players. As far as the other contenders, Texas has the talent but we’ll have to wait and see how much two new coordinators can fix from last year’s debacle. Oklahoma State has a solid offensive line to block for the lethal combo of Brandon Weeden to Justin Blackmon, but I think the loss of offensive mastermind Dana Holgorsen and leading tackler Orie Lemon will hurt the Cowboys’ chances of finishing in the top two. Missouri could also contend, but they will need their next quality quarterback to emerge and to get the same stellar defensive performance the Tigers had a year ago.

Nathan Rush
With Oklahoma as the clear No. 1 team in the 10-team Big 12 (as opposed to the 12-team Big Ten), the second fiddle is up for grabs — although it won’t mean as much now that there is no chance for a conference title game upset and BCS bid at the end of the road. I say “Hook Em Horns!” Everyone wants to kick dirt on Texas while it’s down, but I think the Longhorns will return to their normal 10-win expectations this season. In a classic CEO move, Mack Brown hired the best and brightest, adding a pair of young, energized coordinators — 37-year-old Manny Diaz (via Mississippi State) on defense and 34-year-old Bryan Harsin (via Boise State) on offense — after head-coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp left to run his own football factory at Florida. The key will be quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who struggled to follow in the footsteps of Colt McCoy and Vince Young in his first year on the job. But this is a new year, with new schemes on both sides of the ball and a more experienced young roster of Longhorns — led by sophomore defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat — who cut their teeth last year. Expect a fresh approach to result in a return to business as usual in Austin.

Debate: What will Nebraska's conference record be in the Big Ten?

Debate: Will the Oregon Ducks repeat as Pac-12 Champions?

Debate: Who will win the SEC East in 2011?

Debate: Who is the top challenger to West Virginia in the Big East?

Debate: What is Ohio State's record after five games in 2011?

Debate: Who is the first-team All-Big 12 quarterback this year?

Debate: Who will finish second in the ACC Atlantic?
Debate: How far will Auburn fall in 2011?

Pre-order your team’s Athlon Sports cover here (athlonsports.com/store) and find out where Athlon has your team picked when the 2011 Top 25 countdown begins on Monday, May 2.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon's editors debate who will challenge the Sooners in the Big 12 in 2011.</p>
Post date: Friday, April 22, 2011 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Big Ten, College Football
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/2011-predictions-nebraska-cornhuskers
Body:

For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.

Each year, we order some pizza and lock ourselves in a room until all 120 teams have been hammered into place. And every year, there are some seriously heated discussions that result in not-so-cordial commentary.

The 2011 preseason top-25 countdown will begin with No. 25 on Monday May 2. But every day until then, we will offer the college football fan a peek behind the curtain at some of the most heated debates that we the editors at Athlon had to work through.

Check out all the debates linked below.

The Debate: What will Nebraska's first Big Ten conference record be in 2011?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I believe the Huskers can go 7–1 in their maiden voyage through the Big Ten. I think they might lose their opener at Wisconsin and then run the table after that. They get Ohio State and Michigan State at home, which will help.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Nebraska didn't get any favors from the Big Ten with its schedule, but I don't think 7–1 is out of the question. Road trips to Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin will be difficult, but none of those teams are better than the Cornhuskers. Catching Ohio State in game six is huge for Nebraska, as that will be the first game back for the five suspended players and Jim Tressel. Although the return of the players and Tressel should make a difference for Ohio State, how effective will they be in their first game back? I think the Huskers beat Ohio State during the regular season and lose one conference game along the way to the Big Ten title game.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Big Ten schedule makers definitely wanted to make it difficult on Nebraska during their freshman season in the conference. The Cornhuskers draw Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin with their non-division slate, while not playing lesser squads Indiana, Illinois and Purdue. Even with the more challenging foes, I think Bo Pelini's squad will go 6–2 in league play. Nebraska will have an excellent defense, led by All-America candidates Jared Crick and Lavonte David. The Huskers should run the ball well like usual, and their success both nationally and competing to win the Legends Division will depend on the maturation of quarterback Taylor Martinez. If he can pass well enough to keep defenses honest, Nebraska will be the favorite to edge out Michigan State in the division and play in the first ever Big Ten title tilt.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Nebraska could easily play for a National Championship in 2011 — and could just as easily have four losses. And it all hinges on Taylor Martinez. The defense has two All-Americans leading the way, and the ground game will be right at home in the power football conference. After some highly publicized mental toughness issues, Martinez is anything but a sure thing to start every game. However, he also has the ability to elevate this team to next level. They get the Buckeyes basically in Game 1 with their best players and coach — and they get them at home. They also get Michigan State at home and will not be tested by a trip to Ann Arbor. Flights to Happy Valley and Madison, Wisc., will be the other serious tests. If Martinez does not develop and there are QB issues — despite the very talented back-up options — two or even three league losses are very possible. If the talented dual-threat stays healthy, both physically and mentally, the Huskers could find themselves in the BCS title game for the first time since 2001. A potential second bout with Ohio State in the inaugural Big Ten title game looms large and could have national title implications.

Nathan Rush
The Cornhuskers are a perfect fit in the Big Ten and will run through the conference like Tommy Frazier in his heyday. This time around, it will be Taylor Martinez whose dual-threat ability will lead Nebraska’s offense, while big D-tackle Jared Crick takes charge for Bo Pelini’s Blackshirt defense — which should be rock solid once again this year despite losing award winners like Ndamukong Suh and Prince Amukamara in back-to-back seasons. I’ll go with a 7–1 conference record, with a coin toss loss either at Wisconsin (Oct. 1) in NU’s Big Ten opener or against Ohio State (Oct. 8) in the first Big Ten conference game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.

Debate: Will the Oregon Ducks repeat as Pac-12 Champions?

Debate: Who will win the SEC East in 2011?

Debate: Who is the top challenger to West Virginia in the Big East?

Debate: What is Ohio State's record after five games in 2011?

Debate: Who is the first-team All-Big 12 quarterback this year?

Debate: Who will finish second in the ACC Atlantic?
Debate: How far will Auburn fall in 2011?

Pre-order your team’s Athlon Sports cover here (athlonsports.com/store) and find out where Athlon has your team picked when the 2011 Top 25 countdown begins on Monday, May 2.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon's editors debate just how Nebraska will handle the move to the Big Ten?</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 21, 2011 - 09:48
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Pac 10
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/2011-football-predictions-oregon
Body:

For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.

Each year, we order some pizza and lock ourselves in a room until all 120 teams have been hammered into place. And every year, there are some seriously heated discussions that result in not-so-cordial commentary.

The 2011 preseason top-25 countdown will begin with No. 25 on Monday May 2. But every day until then, we will offer the college football fan a peek behind the curtain at some of the most heated debates that we the editors at Athlon had to work through.

Check out all the debates linked below.

The Debate: Can the Oregon Ducks repeat as Pac-12 champions?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I think so. I would be a little hesitant if Jim Harbaugh was still at Stanford and the Cardinals had a few more playmakers at wide receiver. But I think you have to with the Ducks in the North. In a one game Pac-12 title game, anything can happen, but Oregon would be a strong favorite over USC or Arizona State.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
It certainly will be a popular selection amongst the prognosticators. The Stanford defense and coaching staff is going through a major transition, no matter how good the quarterback is. The Ducks are the clear favorite in the North Division. The South offers unique tests - depending on how the NCAA handles the USC situation. USC's loaded offense would put a lot of pressure on a totally reworked Oregon front seven - however, by the championship game one would think the pieces will have settled into place. Arizona State may not have enough firepower on offense to hang with the Ducks, but if they could keep the game in the teens (a la the way Cal did last year), they could pull the upset. The Devils already strong defense could get a late-season boost if all-everything corner Omar Bolden can return from a recently torn ACL (five-eight months recovery). All that said, even with the big issues on both lines for Oregon, the Ducks have to be considered the favorites in 2011.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Yes, Oregon will repeat as Pac-12 champs. Stanford stands to be Oregon's biggest challenger in the North division, but without Jim Harbaugh and three offensive line starters, I can't pick the Cardinal over the Ducks. The Ducks have some losses on both sides of the ball, but the offense returns enough weapons to simply outscore everyone in the conference. The South division is a tossup between USC or Arizona State and neither appear to be in position to challenge Oregon in 2011. The Ducks may not return to the national title in 2011, but I can't see anyone knocking them off as Pac-12 champs.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think Oregon will repeat. The obvious candidate to unseat the Ducks as champion is Stanford. The Cardinal and top quarterback Andrew Luck will be solid in 2011 and get to host Oregon in November, but I think the loss of Jim Harbaugh (as well as top assistants Mark Roman and Vic Fangio) to the 49ers hurts Stanford’s chance to close the gap with the Ducks. I don’t see the next three best league teams – USC, Arizona State and Washington – having the firepower to keep up with the high-octane quack attack. Chip Kelly brings back Darron Thomas to run his high-scoring offense, and of course he’ll be handing the ball to All-America runner LaMichael James. The Ducks have recruited well enough to fill in losses at receiver, and they still have top return threat (as well as All-America corner) Cliff Harris. The only concern for Oregon will be replacing some of their front seven on defense, but that task becomes easier with the offense lighting up the scoreboard. Look for the Ducks to host and win first-ever Pac-12 Championship Game.

Nathan Rush
The real question is whether the Nike Ducks will win the BCS national title this season — and what highlighter color will the championship gear be? Phil Knight’s favorite team plays LSU at Jerry Jones’ house to kick off the season on Sept. 3. If LaMichael James, Darron Thomas and the rest of Chip Kelly’s crew can outrun the Bayou Bengals on the $1 billion big screen in Big D, then the Ducks will be on the fast track to No. 1 in the nation — with a favorable, home-heavy Pac-12 schedule that features a managable conference road slate (Arizona, Colorado, Washington and Stanford) before the first annual Pac-12 title game on Dec 3. It will be a letdown if the Ducks don’t smell roses as Pac-12 champs; but the real goal is a repeat appearance in the BCS national title game.

Debate: Who will win the SEC East in 2011?
Debate: Who is the top challenger to West Virginia in the Big East?

Debate: What is Ohio State's record after five games in 2011?

Debate: Who is the first-team All-Big 12 quarterback this year?

Debate: Who will finish second in the ACC Atlantic?
Debate: How far will Auburn fall in 2011?

Pre-order your team’s Athlon Sports cover here (athlonsports.com/store) and find out where Athlon has your team picked when the 2011 Top 25 countdown begins on Monday, May 2.

Teaser:
<p> The Athlon editors debate if the Oregon Ducks can repeat as conference champions?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - 10:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/2011-football-predictions-sec-east
Body:

 For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.

Each year, we order some pizza and lock ourselves in a room until all 120 teams have been hammered into place. And every year, there are some seriously heated discussions that result in not-so-cordial commentary.

The 2011 preseason top-25 countdown will begin with No. 25 on Monday May 2. But every day until then, we will offer the college football fan a peek behind the curtain at some of the most heated debates that we the editors at Athlon had to work through.

Check out all the debates linked below.

The Debate: Who will win the SEC East in 2011?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I like Georgia. I know the Bulldogs finished 6-7 last year and there are a lot of questions about Mark Richt's future heading into 2011. South Carolina finally broke through last year, but I can't trust the Gamecocks with Stephen Garcia at quarterback. Florida may have the best roster, but I still wonder about the offense, even with Charlie Weis calling the plays. The Bulldogs have the SEC's best quarterback (Aaron Murray) and figure to be improved on defense in the second year of the 3-4 scheme. Also, the Bulldogs do not play Alabama, LSU or Arkansas - arguably the three best teams from the SEC West in 2011.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
I would love to say that the defending SEC East champs - and all their NFL offensive skill talent - will be able to repeat. But with a knucklehead quarterback and defensive front issues, it becomes a Florida-Georgia debate for me. I think Georgia has the best quaterback in the league, should be able to run the ball better and has the more proven head coach. The cross-over schedule also favors the Dawgs heavily. Florida must break in a entirely new staff and all the pieces must fall into place on offense.

Nathan Rush
How ‘bout them Dawgs?! That’s right, it’s make-or-break time for Mark Richt and he’s going to make it happen down in Athens this season. The SEC East is ripe for the picking — Florida has a new regime in power (led by Will Muschamp and Charlie Weis) and a fan base that still cheers loudest for Tim Tebow during the spring game; South Carolina has a ball coach on the golf course and a quarterback bellied up at the bar on the 19th hole; and Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt aren’t ready for prime time. UGA has a steady quarterback in Aaron Murray, a pack of running backs (Isaiah Crowell, Washaun Ealey, Caleb King, etc.) and a 3-4 defense entering its second year with personnel that better fits the scheme (i.e. 340-pound nose tackle “Big Bad John” Jenkins). Nice guy Richt needs to borrow the safari hat from his old FSU boss Bobby Bowden; it’s time for the Bulldogs to go big game hunting in the SEC East.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think South Carolina has a great chance to repeat in the SEC East. It's hard to ignore the effect Charlie Weis could have on Florida's offense and their young talent on defense, but the Gators may be a year away with their inexperienced offensive line. Georgia has the best returning quarterback and a favorable West schedule, but the defense needs to improve greatly. Even though the Gamecocks have QB questions, having the best runner and receiver Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery in the league is a major advantage. With one of the top defensive lines in the nation and avoiding Alabama and LSU in the West, I'll take South Carolina to grind out first place in the East.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
This is a really, really tough call. If I knew that Stephen Garcia would be reinstated and would be well-behaved (a big if), I might have to go with South Carolina to repeat. But I just don’t trust him. I will go with Georgia, who has a very good quarterback, a potentially great freshman at running back and a favorable schedule.

Debate: Who is the top challenger to West Virginia in the Big East?

Debate: What is Ohio State's record after five games in 2011?

Debate: Who is the first-team All-Big 12 quarterback this year?

Debate: Who will finish second in the ACC Atlantic?
Debate: How far will Auburn fall in 2011?

Pre-order your team’s Athlon Sports cover here (athlonsports.com/store) and find out where Athlon has your team picked when the 2011 Top 25 countdown begins on Monday, May 2.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon's editors debate who will win the SEC East in 2011?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: Big East, College Football
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/2011-football-predictions-big-east
Body:

For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.

Each year, we order some pizza and lock ourselves in a room until all 120 teams have been hammered into place. And every year, there are some seriously heated discussions that result in not-so-cordial commentary.

The 2011 preseason top-25 countdown will begin with No. 25 on Monday May 2. But every day until then, we will offer the college football fan a peek behind the curtain at some of the most heated debates that we the editors at Athlon had to work through.

Check out all the debates linked below.

The Debate: Who will finish second in the Big East in 2011?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
This one was tough. I liked Syracuse early on, but I think the Orange might take a small step back before another big step forward. I think Pitt could surprise with Todd Graham taking over, but in the end, I went with South Florida. This team has a lot of talent and should be very, very good on offense.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Not much separates Syracuse, South Florida and Pittsburgh for the No. 2 spot in the Big East. After finishing 5-2 in the final seven weeks of last year, I'm going to give the edge to the Bulls. There's not a lot that stands out about South Florida, but Skip Holtz has this team headed in the right direction, and B.J. Daniels should be better in his second year in this system. I like the Graham hire at Pittsburgh, but think the Panthers need a year adjusting to the new schemes, and Syracuse suffered some key losses on defense to prevent me from picking them No. 2 in the conference.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
I have literally had four different teams on the two-line in the Big East. It started with South Florida - they have plenty of talent and I like what Skip Holtz is doing. They must get more consistent quarterback play, however. Todd Graham could have Pitt - and arguably the most talented roster in the league - back near the top, but there are holes on defense line. The offense should get a bump if Graham can also improve his team's the quarterback play. Then it was Syracuse. This team returns an intrigiung offense and seems to have a rising star in head coach Doug Marrone, but the Cuse also has its own holes on defense. I am going out on a limb with UConn. They claim best combination of offensive and defensive lines in the league and I think they can over come the loss of Randy Edsall - for this year at least. A team just doesn't forget how be a champion, which has to count for something. Of course, then the Pasqualoni effect will send the Huskies back to pre-2004 in year two.

Nathan Rush
Assuming West Virginia is the beast of the East, I’ll run with the Bulls of South Florida as the top also-ran in a conference that doesn’t measure up to either division in the SEC. Coach Skip Holtz’s squad is led by inconsistent dual-threat quarterback B.J. Daniels, who will be joined by Colorado transfer running back Darrell Scott — the nation’s top tailback recruit in 2007 — in what could be the most explosive backfield in the Big East. Defensively, the Bulls are loaded with playmakers in the secondary and ath-a-letes on every level. Road trips to Pitt and UConn won’t be easy, but if USF can maneuver its way well enough, the season finale against WVU could be a de facto Big East title game in Tampa.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
With West Virginia being the top selection in the Big East, I was torn between Pittsburgh and South Florida for the second spot. Skip Holtz is building a solid foundation in Tampa, but there are concerns with the inconsistency on offense and a tough league schedule (at Pitt, at UConn, at Syracuse). The Panthers welcome Todd Graham to the Steel City, and the offense should get a much-needed spark. Graham’s former team, Tulsa, lit up C-USA scoreboards, and the Pitt offense should be much more effective in 2011. Additionally, the Panthers had a top 20 defense last year and return eight starters. With home games against the other teams (USF, UConn, Cincinnati, Syracuse) vying for Big East runner-up, I’ll take Pittsburgh to finish second to West Virginia in the Big East.

Debate: What is Ohio State's record after five games in 2011?
Debate: Who is the first-team All-Big 12 quarterback this year?

Debate: Who will finish second in the ACC Atlantic?
Debate: How far will Auburn fall in 2011?

Pre-order your team’s Athlon Sports cover here (athlonsports.com/store) and find out where Athlon has your team picked when the 2011 Top 25 countdown begins on Monday, May 2.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon's editors debate who will challenge the Mountaineers for Big East conference supremacy in 2011?</p>
Post date: Monday, April 18, 2011 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/2011-football-preditcions-ohio-state
Body:

Athlon Sports staff is knee-deep in 2011 college football production. For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.

Each year, we order some pizza and lock ourselves in a room until all 120 teams have been hammered into place. And every year, there are some seriously heated discussions that result in not-so-cordial commentary.

The 2011 preseason top-25 countdown will begin with No. 25 on Monday May 2. But every day until then, we will offer the college football fan a peek behind the curtain at some of the most heated debates that we the editors at Athlon had to work through.

Check out all the debates linked below.

The Debate: What will Ohio State's record be after five games?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I'll go 4–1. Toledo could actually cause some problems in Week 2, but the Bucks should survive. I will call the week 3 game at Miami (Fla.) as a loss. With a full lineup, I'd go with Ohio State. But the lineup will be missing some key parts, as we know. Then, I'll give Ohio State wins at home vs. Colorado and Michigan State.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think the Buckeyes will go 4-1 in the first five games. The only loss I'm giving Ohio State is at Miami, but wouldn't be shocked to see Michigan State beat the Buckeyes in Columbus. Even without four key starters and Jim Tressel, there is still plenty of talent for this program to survive. The Buckeyes also have months to prepare for not having Pryor, Herron, Adams and Posey in the lineup, which will give the backups time to get valuable reps with the No. 1 offense in spring and fall practice.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I'll say 4-1. The Buckeyes have three easy wins with Akron, Toledo and Colorado. The trip to Miami could be tough with an inexperienced quarterback, but the OSU defense should keep that contest close. I believe the best chance for a loss is in game five against Michigan State. Although the game is in Columbus, the Spartans have a veteran team with multiple weapons on offense. MSU should be able to score some points and make it tough on the Buckeyes. I also think OSU may lose in game six at Nebraska, as the suspended seniors could be very rusty in their return. But even if the Buckeyes lose either one of those league games, there is still a good chance they could run the Leaders (they actually stayed with this name?!) Division and make it to the inaugural Big Ten championship game.

Nathan Rush
Without Jim Tressel's sweater vest and TP2's free tattoos leading the way, the Buckeyes will go 4­-1 over the first five games of the season. I expect Ohio State will go unbeaten at home -- taking down Akron (Sept. 3), Toledo (Sept. 10), Colorado (Sept. 24) and Michigan State (Oct. 1). But the Bucks will stumble in their only game away from the venue that was once shaped like a Horseshoe, losing at The U to Al Golden's new-look Hurricanes on Sept. 17.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
The Buckeyes will steamroll Akron and Toledo, gaining much needed experience before they take their talents to South Beach, where one of the two things will happen: Miami will be hungry for a nationally televised statement win and they pick apart the rebuilt back seven of the Ohio State defense; or, a firs-year head coach will be pushed around by a much bigger and stronger front line, being dominated along both lines of scrimmage — just like the last time they played a Big Ten team. Colorado is a lay-up. If the Michigan State game was up north (-ish) I would say 4–1, but call me crazy — I think Ohio State somehow adds TP2, a sweater vest, some Boom in the backfield, an excellent middle reliever and a pocket full of Poseys with a 5–0 record.

Debate: Who is the first-team All-Big 12 quarterback?
Debate: Who will finish second in the ACC Atlantic?
Debate: How far will Auburn fall in 2011?

Pre-order your team’s Athlon Sports cover here (athlonsports.com/store) and find out where Athlon has your team picked when the 2011 Top 25 countdown begins on Monday, May 2.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon's editors debate where the Buckeyes will be after five games in 2011.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 14, 2011 - 23:36
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/2011-predictions-big-12-qbs
Body:

Athlon Sports' editorial staff is knee-deep in 2011 college football production. For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.

Each year, a select group of Athlonians order some pizza and lock themselves in a room until all 120 teams have been hammered into place. And every year, there are some seriously heated discussions that result in not-so-cordial commentary.

The finalized 2011 preseason top-25 countdown will begin with team No. 25 on Monday May 2. But every day until then, we will offer the college football fan a peek behind the curtain at some of the most heated debates that we the editors at Athlon had to work through.

Check out all the debates linked below.

The Debate: Who is the first-team All-Big 12 preseason quarterback?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Very, very, very tough. I went with Robert Griffin. Brandon Weeden and Landry Jones are both great players who are going to put up monster numbers, but I just think Griffin is the best player of the group. His team won't win as many games — or at least, I don't believe it will — but he is such a good quarterback.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Landry Jones will likely play for the eventual champion and has the most talent around him. Brandon Weeden is likely the best pro prospect but has lost mad offensive genius Dana Holgorsen to West Virginia. But the most gifted player of the bunch – and clearly the most valuable to his team – is Robert (or Bob, as we call him) Griffin III of Baylor. Just imagine what his skills could accomplish if he played for Oklahoma or Texas. There may be no more valuable player to his team in the nation than Bob Griffin.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
You really can't go wrong with any of the three choices — Robert Griffin, Baylor, Landry Jones, Oklahoma or Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State. Although Weeden earned first-team honors last year, I'm going to put him No. 3 on this list. Yes, Justin Blackmon returns, but there's a new coordinator calling the plays. The same offense may be in place, but Oklahoma State will miss Dana Holgorsen. Griffin's play has elevated Baylor to a bowl team, but I have to go with Jones. The junior had some question marks last year, but played better on the road and against Nebraska in the Big 12 title game. If Jones continues that same improvement this year and Oklahoma is in discussion for the national title, then it would be hard to pick against him as the top quarterback in the Big 12.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
This is a tough pick every season in such a pass-happy league, but I’m going with Oklahoma’s Landry Jones. He was thrown into the fire a little early in 2009 when Sam Bradford was injured, but Jones had a great leap in production as a sophomore in 2010. His touchdown passes rose from 26 to 38, and his interceptions went down (14 to 12) despite throwing 168 more passes. I look for more of the same in 2011, when Jones and the Sooners should light up scoreboards each week. Both Robert Griffin of Baylor and Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State are great candidates as well, but I believe Jones will be the best of the bunch and lead his team to a top-five ranking and a possible national title.

Nathan Rush
Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden was first-team All-Big 12 last season (completing 66.9 percent of his passes for 4,277 yards, 34 TDs and 13 INTs), throws the ball to arguably the best receiver in the country (Justin Blackmon, who had 111 catches for 1,782 yards and 20 TDs in ’10) and will turn a Chris Weinke-esque 28 years old this October. It’s an easy answer; Weeden is the grown man to beat. (What do you think Coach Gundy? “He’s a man! He’s 28 years old!” That’s what I thought you’d say. I agree — Weeden should be the preseason first-team All-Big 12 quarterback.)

Debate: Who will finish second in the ACC Atlantic?
Debate: How far will Auburn fall in 2011?

Pre-order your team’s Athlon Sports cover here (athlonsports.com/store) and find out where Athlon has your team picked when the 2011 Top 25 countdown begins on Monday, May 2.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon's editors debate who will be the first team All-Big 12 quarterback in 2011.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 14, 2011 - 09:50
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/2011-recruiting-ranks-lbs
Body:

Athlon releases its position-by-position recruiting rankings now that the schools have finalized the personal information and positions.

Here are all the nationally rated running back prospects for 2011. A "nationally rated" prospects is anyone who received a vote in the Athlon Consensus 100. There were 269 nationally rated recruits in 2011. The AC100 ranking is where each prospect ranked nationally, regardless of position.

Position Ranks: QB | RB | WR | TE | OL | DL | LB | DB| ATH

Here are the top in-coming linebackers for 2011:

Rank Player Ht Wt Hometown AC100 School
1. Tony Steward 6'2" 225 St. Augustine, FL 15 Clemson
2. Stephone Anthony 6'3" 220 Wadesboro, NC 16 Clemson
3. Curtis Grant 6'3" 225 Richmond, VA 18 Ohio State
4. Steve Edmond 6'3" 235 Daingerfield, TX 23 Texas
5. Ishaq Williams 6'5" 242 Brooklyn, NY 27 Notre Dame
6. Trey DePriest 6'2" 232 Springfield, OH 32 Alabama
7. Lawrence Thomas 6'4" 245 Detroit, MI 34 Michigan State
8. Xzavier Dickson 6'3" 240 Griffin, GA 63 Alabama
9. James Vaughter 6'2" 235 Stone Mountain, GA 69 Stanford
10. C.J. Johnson 6'2" 235 Philadelphia, MS 92 Ole Miss
11. Travis Hughes 6'2" 225 Virginia Beach, VA 102 North Carolina
12. Ryan Shazier 6'2" 210 Pompano Beach, FL 111 Ohio State
13. Anthony Wallace 6'0" 221 Dallas, TX 126 Oregon
14. Tre Madden 6'0" 220 Mission Viejo, CA 130 USC
15. Lamar Dawson 6'2" 235 Danville, KY 133 USC
16. Sterling Bailey 6'5" 260 Gainesville, GA 146 Georgia
17. Ben Councell 6'5" 220 Ashville, NC 164 Notre Dame
18. A.J. Johnson 6'3" 245 Gainesville, GA 166 Tennessee
19. Anthony Sarao 6'0" 210 Absecon, NJ 183 USC
20. Shannon Brown 6'2" 225 Adel, GA 184 Alabama
21. Jason Gibson 6'3" 215 Gardena, CA 190 Cal
22. Trevon Randle 6'1" 205 League City, TX 197 LSU
23. Lateek Townsend 6'2" 200 Bennettsville, SC 213 Clemson
24. Kendall Thompson 6'3" 230 Carthage, TX 225 Texas
25. Anthony Rabasa 6'4" 233 Miami, FL 239 Notre Dame

- by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Teaser:
<p> Athlon releases its position-by-position recruiting rankings now that the schools have finalized the rankings.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 14, 2011 - 02:33
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/2011-predictions-acc-atlantic
Body:

Athlon Sports' editorial staff is knee-deep in 2011 college football production. For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.

Each year, a select group of Athlonians order some pizza and lock themselves in a room until all 120 teams have been hammered into place. And every year, there are some seriously heated discussions that result in not-so-cordial commentary.

The finalized 2011 preseason top-25 countdown will begin with team No. 25 on Monday May 2. But every day until then, we will offer the college football fan a peek behind the curtain at some of the most heated debates that we the editors at Athlon had to work through. Check out all the debates linked below.

The Debate: Who will finish second in the ACC Atlantic?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I really like NC State. To me Florida State is the clear team to beat for the top spot and the Wolfpack are the clear team to beat for No. 2 — even if Russell Wilson doesn't come back. The other teams in the division have too many question marks. And I'm a big believer in Tom O'Brien.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
We may not have a clear grasp on No. 2 in the Atlantic until the June baseball draft when NC State quarterback Russell Wilson will likely have another decision to make. Should he return, the Wolfpack could be the top challenger to Florida State. Since we don’t know, however, the debate then becomes, “In Randy Edsall I believe” or “This is finally Clemson’s year.” The Tigers have the talent to win the whole conference, but can they put it all together? I will risk life and limb and take Tajh Boyd and Clemson to finish second.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I like Maryland to finish second in the ACC Atlantic. If you ask me in August, my answer might be different, especially if Russell Wilson is coming back to NC State. Right now though, there are too many questions for me to pick the Wolfpack second in the division. New Maryland coach Randy Edsall did a great job at Connecticut and should once again have this team in position for a finish among the top three in the ACC Atlantic. If Wilson decides not to return to Raleigh, Danny O'Brien is the ACC's best quarterback, and the offense should have playmakers, despite the loss of Torrey Smith and Da'Rel Scott. Mike Glennon was a touted prospect out of high school, but he has yet to perform for a full season and lost three key receivers from last year. The Wolfpack defense also suffered a couple of key losses, including linebacker Nate Irving. The Terrapins also suffered some losses, but the returning pieces in College Park are arguably better than the ones at NC State.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
With Florida State the clear favorite in the Atlantic, I believe the next best team will come to down to either NC State or Maryland. After that, Clemson (just too many losses off an average team) and Boston College (just not enough offensive firepower) should compete for fourth. As far as second, I'll take the Terrapins. I believe new coach Randy Edsall will have a solid defense, and new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton has some quality players on that side of the ball. Quarterback Danny O'Brien was the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2010, and senior running back Davin Meggett will have a productive final season. I am more concerned with NC State's personnel losses — possibly quarterback Russell Wilson, top two receivers, best defender in linebacker Nate Irving and key members on both lines —than I am with Maryland's attrition. Even though the Wolfpack schedule looks a little more manageable, I'll predict a quality debut season in College Park for Edsall as his Terps claim second in the Atlantic.

Nathan Rush
In a wide open ACC Atlantic race — assuming FSU takes a Secretariat lead out front — I’ll go with perma-underachiever Clemson. The Tigers have a new quarterback in five-star U.S. Army All-American redshirt sophomore Tajh Boyd, a new offensive coordinator in former Tulsa spread shotgunner Chad Morris and a new O-line coach in former Vandy interim Robbie Caldwell. Sure, Clemson always underachieves — recently, neither Dabo Swinney nor Tommy Bowden could win with a roster loaded with the likes of DaQuan Bowers and C.J. Spiller. But this year, everyone expects the team that touches Howard’s Rock to sink to the bottom of the ACC Atlantic. Prepare to be disappointed again; Clemson will finish a distant second to Florida State in the division standings.

Debate: How far will Auburn fall in 2011?

Pre-order your team’s Athlon Sports cover here (athlonsports.com/store) and find out where Athlon has Auburn picked when the 2011 Top 25 countdown begins on Monday, May 2.

Teaser:
<p> The Editors debate who will challenge Florida State in the Atlantic Division.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 - 10:47
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /columns/5-burning-questions/2011-football-predictions-auburn
Body:

Athlon Sports' editorial staff is knee-deep in 2011 college football production. For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.

Each year, a select group of Athlonians order some pizza and lock themselves in a room until all 120 teams have been hammered into place. And every year, there are some seriously heated discussions that result in not-so-cordial commentary.

The finalized 2011 preseason top-25 countdown will begin with team No. 25 on Monday May 2. But every day until then, we will offer the college football fan a peek behind the curtain at some of the most heated debates that we the editors at Athlon had to work through.

And what better place to start than with the controversial defending national champions?

The Debate: Will Auburn finish in the upper half of the SEC West?

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I don't think so. This team lost a ton of key players. Alabama and LSU are clearly the two most talented teams in the league, and I like Arkansas a lot. Mississippi State has a chance to be good, as well. Auburn had a magical ride last year, but I think they will take several steps back this fall. They are poised for another big run in 2012, but 2011 could be a struggle.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
No, Auburn won't finish in the upper half of the SEC West in 2011. Would I be surprised if Auburn finished 8-4 or 9-3? Not at all, but on paper, this looks like a rebuilding year. There are simply too many question marks to expect anything more than six or seven wins. Gus Malzahn is one of the best offensive coordinators in college football, but Cam Newton and a senior-laden offensive line will be difficult to replace. Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb are two pieces to build around, but there's no replacing Newton's production. A huge drop in production on offense is unlikely, but there's no way they can replicate last year's success. Auburn's offense also made up for a lot of suspect defensive play last year and that unit returns only three starters in 2011. The schedule is also difficult and includes a non-conference date at Clemson and conference road games against South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia. Gene Chizik has recruited some nice talent, but the Tigers are too young and have too many gaps to fill in 2011 to expect more than a 6-6 or 7-5 record.

Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Auburn will take a step back with five new starters on the offensive line, a decimated defensive, and, oh that’s right, no Cam Newton “under center.” Even with stellar recruiting classes two years in a row (and a new quarterback at Arkansas) there is absolutely no way that this team even comes close to competing for an SEC West crown – even as much as I love Kiehl Frazier's potential.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Gene Chizik’s crew arguably lost the best offensive (Cam Newton) and defensive (Nick Fairley) players in the country. Additionally, Auburn lost four offensive line starters and three on the defensive line. They also must replace their two best linebackers and two best receivers. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn should develop some solid skill players, but the offensive line may be as big a concern as losing Newton. In the West, both Alabama and LSU are Top 5 candidates in the national rankings. Arkansas and an improving Mississippi State bunch will both be tough games. Plus the Tigers face a brutal schedule of opponents in the SEC East, playing at Georgia and South Carolina and hosting Florida. I think a 3-5 conference record could be a stark reality for this depleted Auburn crew.

Nathan Rush
Last year at this time, Auburn was CLEARLY the third-best team in the SEC West — behind preseason No. 1 Alabama and LSU, which always does more with Les. How did that work out after Cam Newton and Nick Fairley stepped up On The Plains? War Eagle! The rest is history. This year, the debate is whether the Tigers can finish third in the SEC West — ahead of Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. I say no. Without Cam and Fairley, it won’t matter how much Gus Malzahn squints through his glasses at his playsheet or how many times Trooper Taylor chest bumps players coming off the field. Gene Chizik is not a good enough coach to win big without Cam and Fairley, and he will show that this season — as Auburn slides from the top of the BCS to the bottom half of the SEC West.

Pre-order your team’s Athlon Sports cover here (athlonsports.com/store) and find out where Athlon has Auburn picked when the 2011 Top 25 countdown begins on Monday, May 2.
 

Teaser:
<p> The Editors debate just how far the Auburn Tigers will fall in 2011.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/2011-recruiting-ranks-wrs
Body:

- by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Athlon releases its position-by-position recruiting rankings now that the schools have finalized the personal information and positions.

Here are all the nationally rated running back prospects for 2011. A "nationally rated" prospects is anyone who received a vote in the Athlon Consensus 100. There were 269 nationally rated recruits in 2011. The AC100 ranking is where each prospect ranked nationally, regardless of position.

Position Ranks: QB | RB | WR | TE | OL | DL | LB | DB| ATH

Here are the top in-coming wide receivers for 2011:

Rank Name Ht Wt Hometown AC100 School
1. George Farmer 6'1" 205 Gardena, CA 6 USC
2. Jarvis Landry 5'11" 190 Lutcher, LA 19 LSU
3. Trey Metoyer 6'2" 185 Whitehouse, TX 20 Oklahoma
4. Sammy Watkins 6'1" 180 Fort Myers, FL 24 Clemson
5. Charone Peake 6'3" 200 Roebuck, SC 37 Clemson
6. Colt Lyerla 6'5" 225 Hillsboro, OR 39 Oregon
7. DeAnthony Arnett 6'0" 175 Saginaw, MI 56 Tennessee
8. Kasen Williams 6'2" 210 Sammamish, WA 57 Washington
9. Devon Blackmon 6'1" 177 Fontana, CA 58 Oregon
10. Marqise Lee 6'0" 190 Gardena, CA 64 USC
11. Nikolas Brassell 6'0" 175 Batesville, MS 66 Ole Miss
12. Victor Blackwell 6'1" 185 Santa Ana, CA 71 USC
13. Kelvin Benjamin 6'6" 210 Belle Glade, FL 75 Florida State
14. Marvin Shinn 6'3" 193 Prichard, AL 79 Alabama
15. Jaxon Shipley 6'1" 183 Brownwood, TX 98 Texas
16. DaVaris Daniels 6'2" 175 Vernon Hills, IL 105 Notre Dame
17. Odell Backham Jr. 5'11" 175 New Orleans, LA 114 LSU
18. Bradley Sylve 5'11" 170 Port Sulpur, LA 118 Alabama
19. Ja'Juan Story 6'4" 196 Brookville, FL 132 Florida
20. Tacoi Sumler 5'9" 166 Miami, FL 136 Oregon
21. George Atkinson 6'2" 190 Livermore, CA 149 Notre Dame
22. Rashad Greene 6'0" 175 Ft. Lauderdale, FL 154 Florida State
23. Darius Jennings 5'11" 175 Baltimore, MD 157 Virginia
24. Donte Moncrief 6'2" 200 Raleigh, MS 158 Ole Miss
25. Maurice Harris 6'3" 200 Greensboro, NC 169 Cal
26. T.J. Thorpe 6'0" 180 Durhman, NC 173 North Carolina
27. Danny Woodson 6'1" 205 Mobile, AL 175 Alabama
28. Javares McRoy 5'8" 170 Lakeland, FL 182 Florida
29. Tobias Singleton 6'2" 190 Madison, MS 192 Ole Miss
30. Eli Rogers 5'10" 180 Miami, FL 200 Louisville
31. Christian Jones 6'3" 205 Houston, TX 203 Northwestern
32. Evan Spencer 6'1" 190 Vernon Hills, IL 209 Ohio State
33. Miles Shuler 5'10" 185 Long Branch, NJ 215 Rutgers
34. Hakeem Flowers 6'3" 182 Simpsonville, SC 242 NC State
35. Damiere Byrd 5'9" 165 Sicklerville, NJ 250 South Carolina
Teaser:
<p> Athlon releases its position-by-position recruiting rankings now that the schools have finalized the rankings.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 - 09:10

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