Articles By Braden Gall

Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-non-conference-match-ups-watch

-by Braden Gall ( on twitter)

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

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

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

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

Week 1 (Sept. 1):

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

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

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

Other Week 1 Match-ups to Watch:

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

Week 2 (Sept. 8):

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

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

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

Other Week 2 Match-ups to Watch:

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

Week 3 (Sept. 15):

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

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

Other Week 3 Match-ups to Watch:

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

Week 4 (Sept. 22):

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

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

Other Week 4 Match-ups to Watch:

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

Week 5 (Sept. 29):

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

Other Week 5 Match-ups to Watch:

Cincinnati at Virginia Tech
Louisiana Tech at Virginia

Week 6 (Oct. 6):

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

Other Week 6 Match-ups to Watch:

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

Week 7 (Oct. 13:

Stanford at Notre Dame

Week 8 (Oct. 20):

Cincinnati at Toledo

Week 9 (Oct. 27):

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

Week 12 (Nov. 17):

Wake Forest at Notre Dame

Week 13 (Nov. 24):

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

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

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

Other Week 13 Match-ups to Watch:

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

Related 2012 Content:

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

-by Braden Gall ( on twitter)

Here at Athlon Sports it is never too early to start looking ahead to the 2012 football season. With an from Steven Lassan to and to and three to analyzing , Athlon Sports is already previewing 2012 in full force. And we haven’t even reached yet.

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

The 2012 Heisman Finalists:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Runners-Up:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Stiff-Armed Contenders:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Long-Shots:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-by Braden Gall ( on twitter)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s the point?

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

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

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

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

Baltimore By The Numbers

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

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

Houston By The Numbers

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

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


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

-by Braden Gall ( on twitter)

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

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

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

So it is safe to say the Saints are rolling.

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

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

Not if Jim Harbaugh has something to say about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Orleans By The Numbers

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

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

San Francisco By The Numbers:

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

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

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

-by Braden Gall ( on twitter)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-by Braden Gall ( on twitter)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-by Braden Gall (follow at )

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

The most interesting pattern within the interwoven LSU-Alabama timelines comes on the recruiting trail. Just look at last night's announcement of safety . He grew up in the shadow of Tigers Stadium but picked Alabama. And the mother of the No. 3 defensive back in the nation .

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


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

Alabama Crimson Tide Starting Defense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU Tigers Starting Defense:

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

Bennie Logan, DT (2009)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-by Braden Gall (follow at )

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

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


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

Alabama Crimson Tide Starting Offense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU Tigers Starting Offense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russell Shepard, WR (Z) (2009) AC100

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

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

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

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

-by Braden Gall (follow at )

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

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

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

West Names to Watch

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

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

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

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

East Names to Watch

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

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

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

Additionally, defensive ends (AC100 No. 16), (AC100 No. 65) and (AC100 No. 97) will join forces with the above names and nose tackles (AC100 No. 32) and (AC100 No. 91) to form one of the nastiest defensive lines in U.S. Army Bowl history.

AC100 Announcement Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Announcements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-by Braden Gall (follow at )

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

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

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

The question is was it the right move?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-By Braden Gall (follow at )

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

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

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

Dominant D-Lines

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

And Florida State Seminoles fans should be grinning from ear to ear Thursday night. AC100 defensive ends and , along with Edwards, are all committed to Jimbo Fisher and Florida State. The Noles due in large part to the defensive line haul. Fisher has three of the nation’s top six defensive ends. However, Fisher and newly paid defensive coordinator Mark Stoops will have to do some work to keep Fowler, who has been linked to the Florida Gators of late, in the Seminole fold.

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

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

The Offenses Return to Form

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Announcements

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

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

Prediction: Alabama

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

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

Prediction: Ole Miss

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

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

Prediction: Alabama

Other potential commitments to watch for:

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

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

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

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

-by Braden Gall (follow at )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some facts to consider:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-by Braden Gall (follow at )

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

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

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

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

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

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Known Commodities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unknowns:

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

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

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

-by Braden Gall (follow at )

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

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

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

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

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

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

2. ACC

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

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

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

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

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

The Known Commodities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unknowns:

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

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

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

-by Braden Gall (follow at )

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

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

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

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

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

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

3. Big 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Known Commodities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unknowns:

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

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

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

-by Braden Gall (follow at )

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

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

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

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

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

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

4. SEC

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Known Commodities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unknowns:

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

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

<p> The best league in football adds Franklin, Missouri to list of quarterbacks.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 14:52
Path: /college-football/2012-quarterbacks-rankings-big-ten

-by Braden Gall (follow at )

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

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

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

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

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

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

5. Big Ten

The Big Ten may struggle with the forward pass in 2012, but it certainly won’t be short on athletes. While pro-stylers Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson carried the banner for Midwest quarterbacking in 2011, the future of the Big Ten under center will have a distinctly more grounded feel. This league claims by far the most athletic and explosive collection of quarterbacks in the nation. Denard Robinson is easily the best “athlete” playing quarterback in the nation. His playmaking ability with his legs is unmatched as he has established himself as one of the most dynamic weapons to ever play the game. He is coming off back-to-back 2,000-yard/1,000-yard seasons. Meanwhile, developing names like Braxton Miller, Taylor Martinez, MarQueis Gray, Kain Colter and Tre Roberson offer acceleration and burst that few receivers and running backs even possess.

No league will match the rushing production from the QB spot that the Big Ten will offer next fall. In 2011, four of the top 11 (and six of the top 21) rushers in the Big Ten played quarterback, which included Colter, who played more wide receiver than any other position (he is certainly the only player in the nation in this series with a "receiving stats" line from 2011). Nationally, Shoelace finished second (1,163 yards), Gray fifth (966), Martinez eighth (837) and Miller was 11th (695) in rushing by quarterbacks. Seven of the top 30 rushing quarterbacks (in terms of yards) played in the Big Ten. Just wait until Gray, Roberson, Miller and Colter get a full season as the unquestioned starters under their belts.

Iowa’s James Vandenberg is the lone pro-style bright spot after a productive first year under center in Iowa City. However, he will have to watch as top target Marvin McNutt graduates and uncertainty around workhorse back Marcus Coker swirls. The Badgers and Spartans will have quality teams again in 2012 and will be built around the pro-style offenses that have made them so successful. However, niether will return to the Big Ten title game without developing a new starter. Penn State has a huge question mark at the position — for a variety of reasons.

While the Big Ten will have an extraordinarily talented group of athletes playing quarterback in 2012, the real key will be accuracy and efficiency. Whoever can develop the quickest as a passer, will likely give his team a major leg up in the conference race. If young players like Miller and Roberson can grow up quickly, this league could become one of the best quarterbacked leagues in the nation. If not, it will simply be a bunch of great athletes trying to complete passes.

One thing the Big Ten (and Pac-12) have going for it is conference stability. There are no teams being added or subtracted in 2012 and there are no rumors of movement...yet.

The Known Commodities:

1. Denard Robinson, Michigan (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,056 yards, 18 TD, 14 INT, 56.1%
Rushing Stats: 208 att., 1,163 yards, 16 TD

2. Braxton Miller, Ohio State (SO)
Passing Stats: 997 yards, 11 TD, 4 INT, 50.0%
Rushing Stats: 144 att., 695 yards, 7 TD

3. James Vandenberg, Iowa (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,806 yards, 23 TD, 6 INT, 59.4%
Rushing Stats: 72 att., 188 yards, 3 TD

4. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (JR)
Passing Stats: 1,973 yards, 12 TD, 7 INT, 55.9%
Rushing Stats: 172 att., 837 yards, 9 TD

5. MarQueis Gray, Minnesota (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,495 yards, 8 TD, 8 INT, 50.7%
Rushing Stats: 199 att., 966 yards, 6 TD

6. Kain Colter, Northwestern (JR)
Passing Stats: 660 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT, 67.1%
Rushing Stats: 118 att., 589 yards, 8 TD
Receiving Stats: 40 rec., 454 yards, 3 TD

7. Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois (JR)
Passing Stats: 1,971 yards, 12 TD, 7 INT, 63.6%
Rushing Stats: 169 att., 514 yards, 6 TD

8. Tre Roberson, Indiana (SO)
Passing Stats: 937 yards, 3 TD, 6 INT, 57.0%
Rushing Stats: 109 att., 426 yards, 2 TD

9. Caleb TerBush, Purdue (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,804 yards, 12 TD, 6 INT, 61.7%
Rushing Stats: 80 att., 226 yards, TD

The Unknowns:
Joe Brennan, Joel Stave, Bart Houston, Jon Budmayr, Curt Phillips, Wisconsin
Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State
Robert Bolden, Matt McGloin, Penn State

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

<p> The nation's most athletic quarterbacks reside in the Big Ten.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 14:52
Path: /college-football/2012-quarterbacks-rankings-big-east

-by Braden Gall (follow at )

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

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

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

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

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

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

6. Big East

This league is just a mess — both in the court room and under center. Say goodbye to Geno Smith and Zach Collaros as this league is guaranteed only seven teams in 2012. If West Virginia can be forced to stay (which feels very unlikely), then Smith becomes the top signal caller in the league instantly.

Otherwise, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater showed loads of potential as he developed over the coarse of his freshman season and will be the league’s top quarterback heading into next year. He showed toughness and heart while getting beaten up all season long (the Cardinals finished 111th in sacks allowed).

South Florida's B.J. Daniels has tons of experience and put together his best year statistically. He set career benchmarks in completions, yards, interceptions and completion percentage. However, he has lost eight of his last nine conference games as the starter and his legacy won't be decided until after his final season in Tampa.

Ryan Nassib is entrenched as the starter at Syracuse after his best statistical season, but watched a 5-2 start to 2011 spiral out of control with five straight losses to end the year. Pitt's Tino Sunseri will have his fourth head coach in a little over one calendar year — and it shows in his performance. He rarely had time to throw (Pitt ranked dead last nationally in sacks allowed) and lost his top play-maker Ray Graham early in the year. He did play better football down the stretch and led the Panthers to three wins in their final five games. His legacy is also yet undecided.

Other than Bridgewater, Cincinnati's Munchie Legaux might have the most upside. He appears to be the next Bearcats signal caller, and luckily, got some experience this year when Collaros got hurt. This talented dual-threat has the most upward mobility of any player on this list.

Rutgers and UConn are both a complete mess at quarterback, although the Knights mess is slightly less chaotic than the Huskies. Gary Nova and Chas Dodd both attempted roughly the same number of passes (220 to 228) for roughly the same amount of yards (1,533 to 1,398) and roughly the same amount of touchdowns (11 to 9). Greg Schiano has an uneviable task ahead of him — especially if Tom Savage decides to transfer back to campus and doesn't need to sit out.

Of the BCS leagues, it should come as no surprise that the Big East ranks a distant last in quarterback play.

The Known Commodities:

1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville (SO)
Passing Stats: 1,855 yards, 12 TD, 9 INT, 66.0%
Rushing Stats: 80 att., 95 yards, 3 TD

2. BJ Daniels, USF (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,604 yards, 13 TD, 11 INT, 58.9%
Rushing Stats: 132 att., 601 yards, 6 TD

3. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,685 yards, 22 TD, 9 INT, 62.4%
Rushing Stats: 65 att., 39 yards, 2 TD

4. Munchie Legaux, Cincinnati (JR)
Passing Stats: 749 yards, 5 TD, 4 INT, 47.4%
Rushing Stats: 41 att., 185 yards, 2 TD

5. Tino Sunseri, Pitt (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,433 yards, 10 TD, 10 INT, 63.8%
Rushing Stats: 141 att., 119 yards, 4 TD

The Unknowns:

Gary Nova/Chad Dodd, Rutgers
The UConn Huskies

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

<p> Big East quarterback uncertainty will only add to league instability in 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 14:51
Path: /college-football/2012-sec-schedule-analysis

-by Braden Gall (follow at )

Athlon Sports predicted the Georgia Bulldogs would win the East in 2011, and we got absolutely hammered by South Carolina fans. We understood why. We were out on a limb. The Gamecocks were the reigning Eastern Division champs with the best running back in the nation and a stellar defensive line returning.

However, one major aspect of our Dawgs-to-Atlanta prediction was the schedule. Now, South Carolina didn’t have to play Alabama or LSU either in 2011, but Georgia didn’t have to make that trip to Fayetteville to play Arkansas. South Carolina did – and got housed, in effect, giving the SEC East to Mark Richt and Georgia in the process.

I don’t think much will change in 2012. The SEC released its first 14-team schedule in history this morning. With Missouri and Texas A&M adding more intrigue to what is already the most powerful conference in football, the announcement made for some anxious moments.

So what conclusions can we draw about the potential outcome of the 2012 season? Since the SEC will be going for its seventh straight BCS national championship, the schedules that were released today just might have a small impact on the national landscape next fall:


Beasts of the…West?

As I mentioned, South Carolina and Georgia were the picks in the East in 2011 because neither had to face Alabama or LSU. With those two teams still likely atop the West once again in 2012 — and Arkansas an easy pick to be the top challenger to those two — who has the good fortune to miss all three? Georgia misses all three (again) with Auburn (Nov. 10) and Ole Miss (Nov. 3) as its crossover games. Ole Miss should be picked last, and Auburn is replacing both coordinators after a poor showing this season and should be picked no higher than fourth in the West. It will be hard to take the first-team All-SEC quarterback and his defending SEC East champion Bulldogs off the top slot in the 2012 preseason.

Vanderbilt also misses all three of the Western powers. The Dores, too, get Ole Miss (Nov. 10) and Auburn (Oct. 20) in the crossover contests, and that is why Athlon Sports preseason magazine could pick Vandy ahead of Tennessee in the East for the first time since 1976.

Can The Razorbacks Unseat the Champs?

Entering 2012, Alabama and LSU will have claimed three of the last five BCS National Championships. And the two national powers combined to defeat Arkansas by an average of 24 points in 2011. So can Tyler Wilson and Bobby Petrino wedge their way into the SEC West title race? Certainly, they will be the clear challenger to the Tigers and Tide — especially with Knile Davis returning from injury. But most importantly, the schedule sends both LSU and Alabama on the road to face Arkansas. The Hogs also get lowly Kentucky and South Carolina in their crossover games. All of their four road games are winnable considering how the Hogs played the last time they visited the Gamecocks: at Texas A&M (Sept. 29), Auburn (Oct. 6), South Carolina (Nov. 10) and Mississippi State (Nov. 17).

Where Hogs fans will be watching some of these games, however, is still yet to be determined. The LSU game has been played in Little Rock in the past, and the site of the season finale has yet to be deteremined. Arkansas will play five games in Fayetteville and two in Little Rock. Either way, the schedule sets up for 2012 to be the year Arkansas finally challenges the balance of power in the West.

South Carolina Will Not Win the East

The good news is that the Gamecocks get key divisional swing games against Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee at home. However, their  crossover opponents are possibly the toughest in the entire conference: At LSU (Oct. 3) and Arkansas at home (Nov. 10). Additionally, trips to Florida and Vanderbilt won’t be easy either. With this schedule the Gamecocks cannot be considered the favorite to win the East in 2012. A trip to Kentucky (Oct. 29) is the only guaranteed win on the ’12 Gamecock schedule — though don't forget that South Carolina lost to UK in its last trip to Lexington.

Welcome to the SEC, Texas A&M

Texas A&M averaged 39.3 points in conference play in 2011 with big wins over Iowa State, Texas Tech, Kansas and Baylor. They scored 50 in a loss to Kansas State and 31 in an overtime loss to Missouri. Anyone think Kevin Sumlin is excited about having to face Florida and Arkansas to start SEC play? Or how about three consecutive road games on three consecutive weekends against Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama with a home test against LSU as the appetizer to the road trip? This is probably the toughest SEC schedule of any of the 14 teams. Best of luck, Aggies.

Missouri’s Split Stats

The Tigers, much like the Aggies, didn’t get any favors either. But at least Mike Slive gave Truman the Tiger a chance to be competitive. At least, early on. Four of the first five SEC games in Mizzou history will be played at home, with a visit to South Carolina (Sept. 22) the only road test before November. In fact, Gary Pinkel was given a great opportunity to make an early statement and swing the balance of power in the East with division favorite Georgia coming to Missouri to start the SEC Era in Columbia. You can bet that atmosphere will be electric.

However, the Tigers’ maiden voyage through SEC play will finish with three of the toughest venues in all of college football: At Florida (Nov. 3), at Tennessee (Nov. 10) and at Texas A&M (Nov. 24). None should be picked to challenge for the league title, but all three have massive home-field advantages — unlike most stadiums the Tigers are accustomed to in the Big 12. Dealing with 100,000-seat atmospheres after slugging it out in the SEC for the first time could prove extremely difficult.

Alabama Gets No Road Favors

If you are trying to pick out the subtle difference between LSU and Alabama — and who to pick to win the West next year — look no further than the road games for the Tide. The road slate for Alabama is brutal. The SEC opener at Arkansas (Sept. 15) will seriously test a revamped Nick Saban defense. Trips to Missouri (Oct. 13) and Tennessee (Oct. 20) will also feature two of the better quarterbacks in the SEC. And then there is that little visit to the Bayou and LSU late in the year (Nov. 3). Alabama’s totally reworked defense (which is still loaded with elite talent) and a Trent Richardson-less offense will have to defeat three of the top five teams in the league on the road if it expects a return trip to the BCS title game. The only comfort is a relatively easy slate of home action. Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Auburn all visit the Capstone and all will be picked fourth or worse in the West.

Colonel Reb Is Crying

How about this for a road slate in 2012 for Ole Miss: At Alabama (Sept. 29), at Arkansas (Oct. 27), at Georgia (Nov. 3) and at LSU (Nov. 17). In case you missed it, those are likely to be the best four teams in the conference in 2012. Well, at least they have never lost a party in The Grove.

Ranking the SEC Schedules (from easiest to toughest):

1. Georgia Bulldogs
Face Ole Miss and Auburn in crossover and play only three true road games in weaker East.

2. Vanderbilt Commodores
Face Ole Miss and Auburn in crossover with Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee at home.

3. Mississippi State Bulldogs
LSU and Bama are losses anyway and both on the road, but five of other six are winnable games.

4. Arkansas Razorbacks
Plays managable road slate; gets Bama and LSU at home and Kentucky in crossover.

5. Missouri Tigers
Four of first five are at home with winnable road trips to Tennessee and Texas A&M.

6. Tennessee Volunteers
No LSU or Arkansas in crossover helps with Florida and Mizzou at home.

7. Alabama Crimson Tide
Brutal road slate – at LSU, Arkansas and Missouri — with a much easier home schedule.

8. Kentucky Wildcats
At Hogs and Mississippi State at home in crossover. Trips to Mizzou, Florida and Tennessee.

9. Florida Gators
At Texas A&M and LSU at home is tough crossover. But only three true road games

10. Auburn Tigers
Toughest games at home and trip to Bama. Winnable road games at Ole Miss, Vandy and Mississippi State.

11. South Carolina Gamecocks
LSU (road) and Arkansas (home) in crossover, with trips to Florida and Vandy in division.

12. LSU Tigers
Florida (road) and South Carolina (home) is a tough crossover. Visits A&M, Auburn and Arkansas as well.

13. Ole Miss Rebels
Hmmm: At Bama, at Arkansas, at Georgia, at LSU?

14. Texas A&M Aggies
Will play five of the top seven teams in the league — and Auburn, Mississippi State.

2012 SEC Conference Schedules:

Sept. 15: at Arkansas
Sept. 29: OLE MISS
Oct. 13: at Missouri
Oct. 20: at Tennessee
Nov. 3: at LSU
Nov. 10: TEXAS A&M
Nov. 24: AUBURN

Sept. 15: ALABAMA
Sept. 29: vs. Texas A&M
Oct. 6: at Auburn
Oct. 27: OLE MISS
Nov. 10: at South Carolina
Nov. 17: at Mississippi State
Nov. 24: LSU

Sept. 8: at Mississippi State
Sept. 22: LSU
Oct. 13: at Ole Miss
Oct. 20: at Vanderbilt
Oct. 27: TEXAS A&M
Nov. 10: GEORGIA
Nov. 24: at Alabama

Sept. 8: at Texas A&M
Sept. 15: at Tennessee
Sept. 22: KENTUCKY
Oct. 6: LSU
Oct. 13: at Vanderbilt
Oct. 27: vs. Georgia (Jacksonville)

Sept. 8: at Missouri
Oct. 6: at South Carolina
Oct. 20: at Kentucky
Oct. 27: vs. Florida (Jacksonville)
Nov. 3: OLE MISS
Nov. 10: at Auburn

Sept. 22: at Florida
Oct. 13: at Arkansas
Oct. 20: GEORGIA
Oct. 27: at Missouri
Nov. 24: at Tennessee

Sept. 22: at Auburn
Oct. 6: at Florida
Oct. 20: at Texas A&M
Nov. 17: OLE MISS
Nov. 24: at Arkansas

Sept. 29: at Alabama
Oct. 6: TEXAS A&M
Oct. 13: AUBURN
Oct. 27: at Arkansas
Nov. 3: at Georgia
Nov. 17: at LSU

Sept. 8: AUBURN
Oct. 6: at Kentucky
Oct. 27: at Alabama
Nov. 3: TEXAS A&M
Nov. 10: at LSU
Nov. 24: at Ole Miss

Sept. 8: GEORGIA
Sept. 22: at South Carolina
Oct. 13: ALABAMA
Nov. 3: at Florida
Nov. 10: at Tennessee
Nov. 24: at Texas A&M

Aug. 30: at Vanderbilt
Sept. 22: MISSOURI
Sept. 29: at Kentucky
Oct. 13: at LSU
Oct. 20: at Florida

Sept. 15: FLORIDA
Sept. 29: at Georgia
Oct. 13: at Mississippi State
Oct. 20: ALABAMA
Oct. 27: at South Carolina
Nov. 17: at Vanderbilt

Sept. 8: FLORIDA
Sept. 29: vs. Arkansas
Oct. 6: at Ole Miss
Oct. 20: LSU
Oct. 27: at Auburn
Nov. 3: at Mississippi State
Nov. 10: at Alabama

Sept. 22: at Georgia
Oct. 6: at Missouri
Oct. 13: FLORIDA
Oct. 20: AUBURN
Nov. 3: at Kentucky
Nov. 10: at Ole Miss

<p> Who are the big scheduling winners and losers in the SEC for 2012?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 - 10:19
Path: /college-football/college-football-recruiting-rankings-2012-team-update

-by Braden Gall (follow at )

National Signing Day 2012 is just over one month away.

With 11 of the top 20 players in the 2012 — and exactly one-third of the entire list — still left uncommitted, the furious finish to the 2012 recruiting cycle could be one of the more memorable in history.

There is still plenty of room for upward (and downward) movement for many of the top classes in the nation. Teams like Clemson and USC always seem to finish with a flurry of success, so these team rankings are merely markers at the three-quarter poll. And with so much talent still left on the board, there will be plenty of late Christmas presents this season.

"I think one team to really keep an eye on is Ohio State. They’ve already jumped from outside the top 20 to inside the top five in the team rankings and I think there’s a chance they could climb higher," national recruiting analyst Barton Simmons told Athlon Sports. "It’s a perfect storm in a lot of ways having a home-run hire like Urban Meyer who also has good ties in a talent-rich state like Florida. Meyer always closed strong at Florida; I expect this year to be no different."

"On the west coast, UCLA has a chance to hit it out of the park down the stretch," Simmons continued. "Jim Mora has hired an all-star recruiting staff, and the Bruins have built some real momentum. The best recruiters from Washington, Arizona State and SMU are all in Westwood now, and prospects in California have taken notice."

However, it appears one team may stick atop the ’12 team recruiting rankings.

Note: Team rankings by,, ESPNU and in parentheses. AC100: Top 100 prospect by Athlon Sports, National Recruit: Top 300 prospect by Athlon Sports

1. Texas Longhorns (Rivals: 1, Scout: 1, ESPN: 1, 247: 2)
Total Commitments: 25
AC100: 6, National Recruits: 14

No team gets the recruiting train rolling quicker and more effectively than Texas. No team has more Athlon Consensus 100 commitments and national recruits than the Horns. Three of the top 25 players nationally, including tailback (AC100 No. 7), and the nation’s No. 3-rated quarterback, (AC100 No. 64), make this another stacked collection for Mack Brown. With the recent struggles on offense for Texas, it should come as good news that this group is heavy on offensive skill talents. Three elite wideouts, the aforementioned Brewer and Gray and four versatile “athletes” add some play-making spark to the Burnt Orange roster that desperately needs some juice on offense.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide (Rivals: 2, Scout: 2, ESPN: 3, 247: 1)
Total Commitments: 24
AC100: 6, National Recruits: 13

No team has more Top-100 commitments than the Crimson Tide (tied with Texas). A recent defection from AC100 star tailback (No. 61) pushed the Tide into the No. 2 slot on this list. Few teams could withstand the loss of talent the Tide will be experiencing from its linebacking corps and secondary, but Nick Saban has totally restocked the cupboard. Four of his six AC100 verbals will play in the back seven of the defense, including the nation’s No. 2 and No. 7 defensive backs in (No. 12) and (No. 42). This five-man linebacking class is one of the best in the nation.

3. Michigan Wolverines (Rivals: 3, Scout: 3, ESPN: 6, 247: 3)
Total Commitments: 24
AC100: 2, National Recruits: 9

Brady Hoke’s first season on the recruiting trail for the Maize and Blue has to be considered a massive success thus far. He has attacked the line of scrimmage, as 10 of his 24 commitments look to be headed to the trenches — a place where Rich Rodriguez lost ground to the rest of the Big Ten. This group is led by the top two players in this class, offensive lineman (No. 44) and (No. 86). Four linebackers and four defensive backs shore up the back seven of the defense in a class clearly focused on the line of scrimmage and the defense. Only six of his 24 verbals will touch the football on the next level.

4. Florida Gators (Rivals: 4, Scout: 6, ESPN: 4, 247: 7)
Total Commitments: 18
AC100: 3, National Recruits: 10

This is not a vintage star-studded Urban Meyer-type class, but Will Muschamp has proven in short order that he will, at least, maintain the Gators' dominance on the recruiting trail. A very balanced group is led by the offensive line of scrimmage as the top three players in this class will play along the offensive line in some capacity. (No. 17) and (No. 43) are two of the top-rated blockers in the nation, and America’s No. 1 tight end, (No. 80), should help solidify a major area of weakness for Florida of late. Nationally recruited lineman Omari “Dante” Phillips (No. 138) could land along the O-Line as well, further bolstering the struggling offensive line. At 6’3 and 220 pounds, nationally rated tailback Matt Jones (No. 109) could also put a serious jolt into the running game as well.

5. Ohio State Buckeyes (Rivals: 6, Scout: 5, ESPN: 10, 247: 5)
Total Commitments: 19
AC100: 5, National Recruits: 8

Few coaches have ever had the instant impact on the recruiting trail like Urban Meyer has on Ohio State. This class was outside of the Top 25 when he took over as the head coach in Columbus. After stealing AC100 talents (No. 23), (No. 52) and (No. 93) out from underneath Big Ten rivals Penn State and Michigan State, he landed a gem in defensive end , the nation’s No. 3-rated player. All four of these AC100 prospects will play along the defensive line as Meyer attempts to recreate those stellar Gator D-Lines up north. Spence may be the best pass rusher in the nation. With a few more slots left to fill and plenty of talent ripe for the picking, don’t be surprised if Meyer pulls another upset or two before NSD.

6. Florida State Seminoles (Rivals: 7, Scout: 12, ESPN: 2, 247: 8)
Total Commitments: 15
AC100: 5, National Recruits: 9

Jimbo Fisher claims four of the top 30 players in the nation, including prep football’s top quarterback prospect in (No. 10) and the nation’s No. 2 overall recruit in end . This isn’t a very deep class at the moment other than along the defensive line, where Fisher boasts one of college football’s top incoming classes. Edwards, with ends (No. 29) and (No. 30), gives an already ferocious front seven three of the top five defensive end prospects in the nation. Sprinkle in one of the most complete running backs in the nation, (No. 35), and the Noles are looking at yet another top-ten class.

7. LSU Tigers (Rivals: 5, Scout: 5, ESPN: 14, 247: 4)
Total Commitments: 22
AC100: 3, National Recruits: 10

There seems to be some discrepancy when trying to evaluate the Bayou Bengals’ haul for 2012. Prior to announcing on Tuesday in favor of LSU, Rivals already saw this group as a top-five class, while ESPN barely had them ranked in the top 15. Scout immediately bumped the Tigers from No. 7 to No. 5, 247Sports moved LSU from No. 9 to No. 4 and Athlon jumped LSU one spot from eighth to seventh. The nation's No. 2 quarterback bolsters and already potent Tiger class as Kiel attempts to follow in former Hoosier State product Matt Mauck's footsteps. Their ten national recruits are among the most in the nation; however, only four land in the top 200. Yet, there are few weak spots in Les Miles' ’12 haul. The offensive line class is deep and talented, headlined by Vadal Alexander (No. 107) who just missed landing in the AC100. The No. 2 player in this group is Patrick Peterson’s little brother (No. 67). The talented wide receiver will be joined on offense by three stellar skill talents each hailing from Breaux Bridge High School: Lamar Louis, Travin Dural and Kavahra Holmes.

8. Oklahoma Sooners (Rivals: 8, Scout: 10, ESPN: 9, 247: 4)
Total Commitments: 18
AC100: 2, National Recruits: 8

The focus of this group is obvious: Restock the offense with talented skill players and provide some protection. Four of the six top-rated players in this class, including both AC100 talents — running back (No. 60) and wideout (No. 62) — will play either running back or wide receiver. The loss of Ryan Broyles clearly hurt this offense, but Bob Stoops should have plenty of firepower on the outside in the form of arguably the best pass-catching class in the nation. In addition to Neal, receivers Derrick Woods and Sterling Shepard are nationally ranked, while 2011 AC100 talent Trey Metoyer will finally arrive on campus after a year of prep school. A pair of talented tight ends also should make Landry Jones’ job, should he return for his final season, easier in 2012 than it was post-Broyles this fall.

9. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Rivals: 17, Scout: 9, ESPN: 12, 247: 10)
Total Commitments: 16
AC100: 5, National Recruits: 8

Only Alabama and Texas have more AC100 recruits committed than Brian Kelly. And again he is making serious headway on the defensive side of the ball. After one of the nastiest defensive line classes in history last cycle, Kelly once again has reeled in a talented group along the line. AC100 tackles (No. 32) and (No. 94) fortify the interior, while AC100 defensive backs (No. 51) and (No. 55) strengthen the back end of the Irish defense. A solid trio of receivers headlined by (No. 92) will help fill the void left by a strong departing class of pass catchers.

10. Clemson Tigers (Rivals: 10, Scout: 11, ESPN: 5, 247: 11)
Total Commitments: 20
AC100: 3, National Recruits: 10

After an outstanding linebacking and offensive skill class a year ago, Dabo Swinney filled in the gaps with plenty of line of scrimmage help in 2012. Five outstanding blockers — three of whom are nationally ranked — will help solidify the front line on offense while five defensive linemen — led by AC100 talent (No. 91) — bolster an always potent D-Line. While ten of the 20 future Tigers will play in the trenches, the secondary isn’t without skill. The top-rated prospect in the class is standout DB (No. 33), who leads a secondary class that could be as large as five should the “athletes” land on defense. Jim Kelly’s nephew, quarterback Chad Kelly (No. 103), barely missed the AC100, and wideout (No. 69) merely adds to the embarrassment of riches in what is already one of the best receiving corps in the nation.

11. Texas A&M Aggies (Rivals: 9, Scout: 4, ESPN: 8, 247: 6)
Total Commitments: 23
AC100: 2, National Recruits: 5

This class does not have the star power of some of the other top classes, but it more than makes up for it in quantity and balance. This class claims two top 100 and only three top 200 recruits, but it has depth at nearly every position. Five defensive backs, five offensive linemen, five defensive linemen, four wide receivers and two elite ball carriers (one of whom will be under center) give new head coach Kevin Sumlin plenty to work with next fall. Tailback (No. 41) and dual-threat quarterback (No. 88) are the gems of the class. Davis is already enrolled at College Station.

12. Miami Hurricanes (Rivals: 11, Scout: 8, ESPN: 11, 247: 12)
Total Commitments: 28
AC100: 3, National Recruits: 7

Al Golden has put together one of the largest and deepest classes in the nation for 2012. No team ranked in the top 15 has as many commitments as the Canes’ 28. This group is headlined by a pair of elite offensive playmakers in tailback (No. 49) and wide receiver (No. 76). These two top an offensive skill class that will feature three quarterbacks, five wide receivers, two tailbacks and a tight end. The defense wasn’t ignored by any stretch, as this outfit includes four linebackers, five defensive backs and four defensive ends — including AC100 talent (No. 84).

13. Auburn Tigers (Rivals: 12, Scout: 15, ESPN: 13, 247: 17)
Total Commitments: 16
AC100: 3, National Recruits: 9

Losing AC100 talent Yeldon to Bama certainly didn’t help, but Gene Chizik still has an outstanding group of incoming freshman slated to join his roster on NSD. The class isn’t incredibly deep, but each position is represented equally, adding depth to a roster that is very young at nearly every spot on the field. Quarterback (No. 82), receiver (No. 87) and tight end (No. 89) are the top-rated players in this class, and all three should help whoever is the new offensive coordinator on the Plains.

14. Georgia Bulldogs (Rivals: 19, Scout: --, ESPN: 7, 247: 16)
Total Commitments: 15
AC100: 3, National Recruits: 5

There is only one team in the nation with two of the top ten recruits currently committed, and that team is the Dawgs. Mark Richt has only 15 verbal pledges, but he has the nation’s No. 1 running back in (No. 6) and country’s No. 3 blocker in (No. 8) ready to sign in February. The defensive line is stacked with elite prospects as well. AC100 talent (No. 36) could play either side of the ball, and nationally ranked John Atkins and Leonard Floyd bolster an already loaded D-Line in Athens. With the depth of the 2011 class, and the star quality of this smaller group, Richt's Dawgs could be the class of the SEC East for the next few years.

15. USC Trojans (Rivals: 15, Scout: --, ESPN: 18, 247: --)
Total Commitments: 11
AC100: 2, National Recruits: 7

The Trojans get knocked by the computers due to the lack of total numbers in this small but very talented group. Seven of the 11 total commitments (four of whom have already signed) are ranked nationally, giving USC arguably the best “quality” of any team in the nation. With a few more upsets (Arik Armstead, Shaq Thompson, Eddie Goldman for example), Lane Kiffin could find himself in the top ten. This group is currently led by linebacker (No. 47) and offensive lineman (No. 54).

16. Tennessee Volunteers (21 total, 1 AC100, 3 National)
17. South Carolina Gamecocks (20 total, 1 AC100, 3 National)
18. Oregon Ducks (17 total, 0 AC100, 4 National)
19. Virginia Cavaliers (25 total, 1 AC100, 4 National)
20. Virginia Tech Hokies (27 total, 0 AC100, 3 National)
21. Texas Tech Red Raiders (23 total, 1 AC100, 3 National)
22. Cal Golden Bears (14 total, 2 AC100, 5 National)
23. Arkansas Razorbacks (22 total, 0 AC100, 0 National)
24. Stanford Cardinal (15 total, 1 AC100, 3 National)
25. TCU Horned Frogs (19 total, 1 AC100, 3 Naitonal)

<p> With just over a month to go before Signing Day, who claims the nation's top class?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/bcs-greatest-defenses

-by Braden Gall (follow him )

The BCS is wrapping up its 14th season of action and Athlon Sports is continuing its series of BCS rankings. We ranked the best performances of each BCS bowl game and we ranked the best teams of each BCS conference. Now, we break down the top defensive units of the BCS era (1998-present).

Statistics, awards, championships and NFL talent were all considered and evaluated in order to label the Top 10 defenses of the BCS era. Teams from 2011 were not eligible, otherwise the 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide (with a win over LSU in the title game) might be the best defense of the BCS Era. They lead the nation in every major defensive team statistic — and have allowed more than 60 fewer yards per game than the outstanding LSU unit it will be facing in New Orleans. Their 8.8 points allowed per game are the best of the BCS era thus far.


Others receiving votes: 1998 Ohio State, 1999 Nebraska, 2000 TCU, 2001 Texas, 2002 Kansas State, 2002 USC, 2004 USC, 2005 Virginia Tech, 2006 LSU, 2007 Virginia Tech, 2008 Florida, 2009 Texas

10. TCU Horned Frogs, 2010 (13-0)
Head Coach: Gary Patterson
Rushing Defense: 99.7 ypg (5th)
Passing Defense: 128.8 ypg (1st)
Total Defense: 228.5 ypg (1st)
Scoring Defense: 12.0 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 22 (59th)
Sacks: 2.1 spg (54th)
NFL Draft Picks: Colin Jones (6th, 2011), Malcolm Williams (7th, 2011)

You have to throw the "little guy" a bone after one of the best defensive seasons by any team ever. TCU held eight opponents to 10 points or less including four who failed to score a touchdown. Led by Rose Bowl MVP and All-America linebacker Tank Carder, the Frogs topped Big Ten champ Wisconsin in the 21-19 Granddaddy of Them All. By holding Johnny Unitas Award winner Scott Tolzien to 159 yards and no scores, TCU finished the best season in school history unbeaten and ranked first in the nation in scoring and total defense.

9. Nebraska Cornhuskers, 2009 (10-4)
Head Coach: Bo Pelini
Rushing Defense: 93. 1 ypg (9th)
Passing Defense: 178.9 ypg (18th)
Total Defense: 272.0 ypg (7th)
Scoring Defense: 10.4 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 28 (21st)
Sacks: 3.1 spg (2nd)
NFL Draft Picks: Ndamukong Suh (1st, 2010), Phillip Dillard (4th, 2010), Larry Asante (5th, 2010), Prince Amukamara (1st, 2011), Dejon Gomes (5th, 2011), Eric Hagg (7th, 2011)

You could make the case that the 1999 version of the Black Shirts could be on this list as well. But from a talent perspective, it is tough to argue with the way the 2009 group played, as they finished one second away from defeating National runner-up Texas in the Big 12 title game. The D-line included Heisman finalist Ndamukong Suh, Jared Crick, Barry Turner and Pierre Allen. The linebacking corps featured Phillip Dillard and Larry Asante, and the secondary featured Eric Hagg, Prince Amukamara and Alfonzo Dennard. This team allowed more than 20 points only one time and ten times did Nebraska hold the opposition to 13 or fewer points. Six players have already been drafted off of the 2009 defense. This team led the nation in scoring defense and finished second in sacks.

8. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2007 (11-2)
Head Coach: Jim Tressel
Rushing Defense: 82.9 ypg (3rd)
Passing Defense: 150.1 ypg (1st)
Total Defense: 233.0 ypg (1st)
Scoring Defense: 12.8 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 19 (93rd)
Sacks: 3.3 spg (6th)
NFL Draft Picks: Vernon Gholston (1st, 2008), Larry Grant (7th, 2008), Malcolm Jenkins (1st, 2009), James Laurinaitis (2nd, 2009), Donald Washington (4th, 2009), Marcus Freeman (5th, 2009), Thaddeus Gibson (4th, 2010), Doug Worthington (7th, 2010), Kurt Coleman (7th, 2010), Austin Spitler (7th, 2010), Cam Heyward (1st, 2011), Chimdi Chekwa (4th, 2011), Jermale Hines (5th, 2011), Brian Rolle (6th, 2011), Ross Homan (6th, 2011)

The nation's best defense was one great performance away from being immortalized in Ohio State lore. With a roster loaded with NFL talent, the Buckeyes held LSU to only 326 yards in the BCS National Championship game, but fell short 38-24. Nagurski Trophy (2006) and Butkus Award winner James Laurinaitis set a BCS bowl record with 18 tackles in the loss. Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock won the Broyles Award and corner Malcolm Jenkins went on to win the Thorpe Award the following year. This defense featured 15 draft picks, including three first-rounders.

7. Florida Gators, 2006 (13-1)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Rushing Defense: 72.5 ypg (5th)
Passing Defense: 116.3 ypg (33rd)
Total Defense: 466.9 ypg (6th)
Scoring Defense: 13.5 ppg (6th)
Turnovers Forced: 29 (17th)
Sacks: 2.4 spg (35th)
NFL Draft Picks: Reggie Nelson (1st, 2007), Jarvis Moss (1st, 2007), Ray McDonald (3rd, 2007), Marcus Thomas (4th, 2007), Joe Cohen (4th, 2007), Ryan Smith (6th, 2007), Brandon Siler (7th, 2007), Derrick Harvey (1st, 2008), Jermaine Cunningham (2nd, 2010), Brandon Spikes (2nd, 2010)

The 2006 Gators defense put together one of the greatest BCS Championship game performance against the favored Buckeyes and Heisman winner Troy Smith. Smith threw for 35 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and was sacked five times. An NFL-laden defense held the OSU rushing attack to 47 yards on 23 carries. Ohio State totaled 82 yards of offense in the 41-14 beatdown as the Gators claimed the Crystal Ball. Derrick Harvey led the way with the with a BCS NCG record three sacks to go with his four solo stops and a forced fumble. This team featured seven defensive draft picks the following spring in 2007.

6. Tennessee Volunteers, 1998 (12-0)
Head Coach: Phil Fulmer
Rushing Defense: 93.9 ypg
Passing Defense: 209.1 ypg
Total Defense: 303.0 ypg
Scoring Defense: 15.3 ppg
Turnovers Forced: 16 INT
Sacks: N/A
NFL Draft Picks: Al Wilson (1st, 1999), Steve Johnson (6th, 1999), Corey Terry (7th, 1999), Shaun Ellis (1st, 2000), Raynoch Thompson (2nd, 2000), Dwayne Goodrich (2nd, 2000), Deon Grant (2nd, 2000), Darwin Walker (3rd, 2000), Eric Westmoreland (3rd, 2001), Will Overstreet (3rd, 2002)

Possibly the most talented Tennessee team in program history finished a dream season by winning the Fiesta Bowl 23-16 over Florida State in the first-ever BCS Championship Game. A front seven that featured eventual draft picks Shaun Ellis, Darwin Walker, Corey Terry, Billy Ratliff and Will Overstreet along the line and Al Wilson, Raynoch Thompson and Eric Westmoreland in the linebacking corps held 10 opponents to 18 points or less — including No. 2 Florida, No. 7 Georgia, No. 23 Mississippi State and No. 2 Florida State.

5. USC Trojans, 2008 (12-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Rushing Defense: 87.4 ypg (5th)
Passing Defense: 134.4 ypg (1st)
Total Defense: 221.8 ypg (2nd)
Scoring Defense: 9.0 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 29 (20th)
Sacks: 2.2 spg (40th)
NFL Draft Picks: Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Brian Cushing (1st, 2009), Rey Maualuga (2nd, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009), Kaluka Maiava (4th, 2009), Kyle Moore (4th, 2009), Cary Harris (6th, 2009), Kevin Ellison (6th, 2009), Taylor Mays (2nd, 2010), Kevin Thomas (3rd, 2010), Everson Griffin (4th, 2010), Jurrell Casey (3rd, 2011), Shareece Wright (3rd, 2011), Malcolm Smith (7th, 2011)

There were eight NFL draft picks who departed from this defense following the near national championship campaign of 2008. Fourteen total players have found their way to the NFL, and that number is only going to increase next spring. An early road upset at the hands of Oregon State kept the best linebacking corps of the BCS era from claiming a spot in the BCS NCG. This group pitched three shutouts and held the opposition to 10 points or less eight times; only three times did a team score more than 10 points. The 9.0 points per game are a current BCS era scoring record (Alabama could break that this season). Team leader Rey Maualuga claimed the Chuck Bednarik Award.

4. Oklahoma Sooners, 2000 (13-0)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Rushing Defense: 108.2 ypg (23rd)
Passing Defense: 170.8 ypg (9th)
Total Defense: 278.9 ypg (8th)
Scoring Defense: 16.0 ppg (7th)
Turnovers Forced: 33 (5th)
Sacks: N/A
NFL Draft Picks: Torrance Marshall (3rd, 2001), Roy Williams (1st, 2002), Rocky Calmus (3rd, 2002), Andre Woolfolk (1st, 2003), Jimmy Wilkerson (6th, 2003), Teddy Lehman (2nd, 2004), Derrick Strait (3rd, 2004)

This team was not the most impressive statistically, but featured two Butkus Award winners (Rocky Calmus, Teddy Lehman), two Thorpe Award winners (Roy Williams, Derrick Strait), a Nagurski winner (Williams), and what was probably the best defensive championship performance of all time. The Sooners held the nation's No. 1 overall offense and Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke to zero points and only 301 yards of offense (nearly 250 yards below their season average). Linebacker Torrance Marshall led the way with with six tackles and an interception en route to the Orange Bowl MVP trophy. Safety J.T. Thatcher and linebacker Calmus were All-Americans, while Lehman was a freshman All-American. Williams was one of the most impactful and hardest-hitting college players this writer has ever seen.

3. LSU Tigers, 2003 (13-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Rushing Defense: 67.0 ypg (3rd)
Passing Defense: 185.0 ypg (18th)
Total Defense: 252.0 ypg (1st)
Scoring Defense: 11.0 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 33 (9th)
Sacks: N/A
NFL Draft Picks: Marquise Hill (2nd, 2004), Chad Lavalais (5th, 2004), Marcus Spears (1st, 2005), Corey Webster (2nd, 2005), Travis Daniels (4th, 2005), Kyle Williams (5th, 2006), Melvin Oliver (6th, 2006), LaRon Landry (1st, 2007)

One of the nastiest defensive lines ever assembled featured NFL draft picks Marquise Hill, Chad Lavalais, Marcus Spears, Kyle Williams and Melvin Oliver. At 11.0 points per game, LSU led the nation in scoring defense, allowing only one team (Arkansas, 24) to score more than 19 points in any game. Only Florida (19) scored more than 14 points against this defensive unit. In the biggest game for the Bayou Bengals in 40 years, this defense squared off against Heisman winner Jason White of Oklahoma and flat-out dominated. White averaged 292 yards per game in '03, but mustered only 102 yards on 13-of-37 passing with no touchdowns and a pair of interceptions — one of which Spears returned for a touchdown that eventually proved to be the game-winner.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2009 (13-0)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Rushing Defense: 78.1 ypg (2nd)
Passing Defense: 166.0 ypg (10th)
Total Defense: 244.1 ypg (2nd)
Scoring Defense: 11.7 ppg (2nd)
Turnovers Forced: 31 (10th)
Sacks: 2.3 spg (40th)
NFL Draft Picks: Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Javier Arenas (2nd, 2010), Terrence Cody (2nd, 2010), Marquis Johnson (7th, 2010), Brandon Deaderick (7th, 2010), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011)

The undefeated national champions won big in 2009 because of a stacked NFL defense.  This outfit was led by Butkus Award winner Rolando McClain and a stellar defensive line headlined by Mount Cody and Marcell Dareus. Do-everything corner Javier Arenas not only covered the opponent's top receiver and snagged five interceptions, but he also was a dyanamic pass-rusher (five sacks) and game-changing return specialist. Despite knocking Colt McCoy out of the National Championship game and claiming the Crystal Ball, the signature performance by this unit came against an unbeaten Tim Tebow-led Florida Gators team in the SEC title game. The Tide held the Gators to only 88 yards rushing, 13 first downs and only 13 points in a title-clinching win. This defense has already seen seven players drafted, and that number will continue to rise this spring as Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron (who led the SEC in INTs in 2009), Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw could all grade out as early round picks.

1. Miami Hurricanes, 2001 (12-0)
Head Coach: Larry Coker
Rushing Defense: 132.7 ypg (40th)
Passing Defense: 138.2 ypg (2nd)
Total Defense: 270.9 ypg (6th)
Scoring Defense: 9.4 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 45 (1st)
Sacks: N/A
NFL Draft Picks: Phillip Buchanon (1st, 2002), Ed Reed (1st, 2002), Mike Rumph (1st, 2002), James Lewis (6th, 2002), Jerome McDougle (1st, 2003), William Joseph (1st, 2003), Andrew Williams (3rd, 2003), Jamaal Green (4th, 2003), Matt Walters (5th, 2003), Sean Taylor (1st, 2004), Jonathan Vilma (1st, 2004), Vince Wilfork (1st, 2004), D.J. Williams (1st, 2004), Darrell McClover (7th, 2004), Alfonso Marshall (7th, 2004), Antrel Rolle (1st, 2005)

Imagine trying to design a passing attack to beat a secondary that featured Ed Reed, Sean Taylor, Phillip Buchanon, Mike Rumph, James Lewis, Alfonoso Marshall and Antrel Rolle. How about a rushing attack to penetrate a D-Line with Jerome McDougle, William Joseph, Vince Wilfork, Matt Walters, Jamaal Green and Andrew Williams? And to top it all off, the linebackering corps running around between the two boasted names like Vilma, Williams and McClover. Simply put, this team is one of the greatest groups ever assembled. They started things off by going to Happy Valley and dominating Penn State 33-7, which tied the record for the Nittany Lions’ worst home loss under Joe Paterno. Later on, the Canes defeated No. 14 Syracuse and No. 12 Washington in consecutive weeks at the Orange Bowl with a combined score of 124-7, which set the NCAA record for largest margin of victory over consecutive ranked opponents. They capped things off by dismantling the No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers 37-14 in the Rose Bowl, in a game where they held a 34-0 lead in the first half. Miami pitched three shutouts and held eight opponents to seven points or fewer. Later, the Canes claimed 10 first-round draft picks on defense.

2011's Top 5 Defenses:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1, 7-1)
Rushing Defense: 74.9 ypg (1st)
Passing Defense: 116.3 ypg (1st)
Total Defense: 191.3 ypg (1st)
Scoring Defense: 8.8 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 18 (85th)
Sacks: 2.2 spg (36th)
Key Player: Courtney Upshaw finished second in SEC in TFL and fourth in sacks.

2. LSU Tigers (13-0, 9-0*)
Rushing Defense: 85.5 ypg (3rd)
Passing Defense: 166.6 ypg (9th)
Total Defense: 252.1 ypg (2nd)
Scoring Defense:  10.5 ppg (2nd)
Turnovers Forced: 30 (9th)
Sacks: 2.9 spg (13th)
Key Player: Morris Claiborne led the team in INTs and marked the opponents top player. 

3. Michigan State Spartans (10-3, 7-2*)
Rushing Defense: 104.3 ypg (12th)
Passing Defense: 168.4 ypg (12th)
Total Defense: 272.7 ypg (5th)
Scoring Defense: 17.5 ppg (9th)
Turnovers Forced: 22 (49th)
Sacks: 3.1 (7th)
Key Player: Jerel Worthy earned first-team All-America honors.

4. Florida State Seminoles (8-4, 5-3)
Rushing Defense: 81.8 ypg (2nd)
Passing Defense: 192.8 ypg (19th)
Total Defense: 274.6 ypg (6th)
Scoring Defense: 15.2 ppg (4th)
Turnovers Forced: 20 (65th)
Sacks: 3.0 (9th)
Key Player: Brandon Jenkins led the team in sacks and TFL.

5. Georgia Bulldogs (10-3, 7-2*)
Rushing Defense: 103.4 ypg (9th)
Passing Defense: 165.1 ypg (8th)
Total Defense: 268.5 ypg (3rd)
Scoring Defense: 19.6 ppg (17th)
Turnovers Forced: 29 (13th)
Sacks: 2.6 spg (22nd)
Key Player: Jarvis Jones led SEC in sacks and TFL.

Athlon Sports Ranks the Best Teams in Every BCS League:

Athlon Sports Ranks the Top Performances from each BCS Bowl:


<p> What are the greatest defensive teams of the BCS era?</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2011 - 07:35
Path: /college-football/greatest-non-bcs-offenses

The BCS is wrapping up its 14th season of action and Athlon Sports is continuing its series of BCS rankings. We ranked the best performances of each BCS bowl game and we ranked the best teams of each BCS conference. Now, we break down the top offensive units of the BCS era (1998-present).

Statistics, awards, championships and NFL talent were all considered and evaluated in order to label the Top 10 offenses of the BCS era. Only teams from "non-BCS" conferences were considered and teams from 2011 were not eligbile. (If you want BCS-only offenses, click below.)


10. Utah Utes, 2004 (12-0)
Rushing Offense: 236.1 ypg (13th)
Passing Offense: 263.7 ypg (1st)
Total Offense: 499.8 ypg (1st)
Scoring Offense: 45.3 ppg (1st)

The 2010 Ute team was a better all-around football that defeated better competition. But the Alex Smith-led 2004 bunch was the highest-scoring team in Utah history. Smith finished No. 2 nationally in passing efficiency (176.52) and No. 5 in total offense (298.6 ypg). He was taken first overall and is leading an 11-3 49ers team today.

9. Miami (Ohio) Redhawks, 2003 (13-1)
Rushing Offense: 160.3 ypg (51st)
Passing Offense: 340.9 ypg (4th)
Total Offense: 501.1 ypg (2nd)
Scoring Offense: 43.0 ppg (1st)

Ben Roethlisberger's final year in Oxford, Ohio, was a magical one for Redhawks fans. Big Ben threw for 4,486 yards and 37 touchdowns (111 rush yards, 3 TD) en route to the winningest season in program history. The 602 points the '03 outfit scored shattered the previous mark of 412 (1997).

8. Boise State Broncos, 2006 (13-0)
Rushing Offense: 214.2 ypg (6th)
Passing Offense: 206.5 ypg (1st)
Total Offense: 420.6 ypg (1st)
Scoring Offense: 39.7 ppg (1st)

You could make a case for both the 2002 and 2004 teams for this list as well, but the undefeated '06 Broncos will easily be the most memorable. Quarterback Jared Zabransky finished sixth nationally in efficiency (162.57), while tailback Ian Johnson finished second nationally in rushing (142.8 ypg), and his 12.7 points per game led the nation. Of course, the 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma — complete with Statue of Liberty and marriage proposal — make this offense one of the greats of all-time.

7. Nevada Wolfpack, 2010 (13-1)
Rushing Offense: 292.2 ypg (3rd)
Passing Offense: 226.9 ypg (1st)
Total Offense: 519.1 ypg (1st)
Scoring Offense: 41.0 ppg (1st)

One of the most powerful rushing attacks ever seen featured dynamic quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who rushed for 1,206 yards (6.9 ypc) and 20 touchdowns, and tailback Vai Taua, who rushed for 1,610 yards (5.7 ypc) and 19 touchdowns. This team tied the 1986 13-1 team as the winningest Wolfpack team in program history and scored more points (574) than any other Nevada team.

6. Hawaii Warriors, 2006 (11-3)
Rushing Offense: 117.9 ypg (82nd)
Passing Offense: 441.3 ypg (1st)
Total Offense: 559.2 ypg (1st)
Scoring Offense: 46.9 ppg (1st)

One of two fantastic Hawaii teams featured the most efficient season by a quarterback in NCAA history. Colt Brennan (186.00) led the nation in total offense (422.5 ypg), throwing for 5,549 yards and an NCAA-record 58 touchdown passes. He rushed for another five scores and 366 yards. Davone Bess, Nate Ilaoa, Jason Rivers, Ryan Grice-Mullen, Ian Sample and Ross Dickerson gave him plenty of weapons — all of whom caught at least 46 passes and at least 690 yards.

5. Tulsa Golden Hurricane, 2007 (10-4)
Rushing Offense: 172.9 ypg (41st)
Passing Offense: 371.0 ypg (1st)
Total Offense: 543.9 ypg (1st)
Scoring Offense: 41.1 ppg (1st)

Paul Smith put together one of the greatest statistical seasons in NCAA history — and fantasy owners will never forget it. He threw for 5,065 yards and 47 touchdowns in the air, while rushing for 13 more touchdowns and 119 yards on the ground. Tarrion Adams, Trae Johnson, Charles Clay, Jamad Williams and Jesse Meyer join Smith to make this one of the great offenses in history.

4. Louisville Cardinals, 2004 (11-1)
Rushing Offense: 250.4 ypg (8th)
Passing Offense: 288.6 ypg (9th)
Total Offense: 539.0 ypg (1st)
Scoring Offense: 49.8 ppg (1st)

Stefan Lefors led the nation in passing efficiency at 181.74 after completing an astonishing 73.5% of his passes with 20 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Eric Shelton (146 att., 938 yards, 20 TD), Michael Bush (132 att., 734 yards, 7 TD) and Lionel Gates (76 att., 373 yards, 7 TD) led one of the most powerful rushing attacks in C-USA history.

3. Boise State Broncos, 2010 (12-1)
Rushing Offense: 200.2 ypg (21st)
Passing Offense: 321.1 ypg (6th)
Total Offense: 521.3 ypg (2nd)
Scoring Offense: 45.1 ppg (2nd)

The team with most NFL talent on this list is undoubtedly the 2010 Broncos. Kellen Moore led the nation in passing efficiency (182.63) while using a plethora of future NFL players: Titus Young, Austin Pettis, Tyler Shoemaker, Doug Martin and Jeremy Avery. And if it wasn't for one missed field goal against Nevada, this team might have played for the national championship.

2. BYU Cougars, 2001 (12-2)
Rushing Offense: 217.9 ypg (13th)
Passing Offense: 325.0 ypg (1st)
Total Offense: 542.9 ypg (1st)
Scoring Offense: 46.8 ppg (1st)

This was the first team to go unbeaten in Mountain West play, led by quarterback Brandon Doman (3,542 yards, 33 TD, 8 INT, 456 rush yards, 8 TD) and running back Luke Staley (1,582 yards, 28 TD). Staley finished third in the nation in rushing and led the country in scoring. The Cougars' only two losses came after Staley broke his leg against Mississippi State.

1. Houston Cougars, 2009 (10-4)
Rushing Offense: 129.6 ypg (83rd)
Passing Offense: 433.7 ypg (1st)
Total Offense: 563.4 ypg (1st)
Scoring Offense: 42.2 ppg (1st)

In 2009, Case Keenum led the nation in total offense (416.4 ypg) and finished sixth nationally in efficiency. Three receivers finished in the top six in receptions in C-USA, and three of the top eight yardage totals in C-USA came from James Cleveland, Tyron Carrier and Patrick Edwards. Sprinkle in talented and versatile backs Bryce Beall and Charles Sims — who combined for 373 touches, 2,438 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns — and you have the best non-BCS offense in college football, although if I were to put this list together after the bowl games, the 2011 edition might give this group a run for its money. 

Athlon Sports Ranks the Best Teams in Every BCS League:

Athlon Sports Ranks the Top Performances from each BCS Bowl:

<p> What are the nation's greatest non-BCS offenses of the modern era?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 - 10:36
Path: /college-football/bcs-greatest-offenses

-by Braden Gall (follow him )

The BCS is wrapping up its 14th season of action and Athlon Sports is continuing its series of BCS rankings. We ranked the best performances of each BCS bowl game and we ranked the best teams of each BCS conference. Now, we break down the top offensive units of the BCS era (1998-present).

Statistics, awards, championships and NFL talent were all considered and evaluated in order to label the Top 10 offenses of the BCS era. Only teams from BCS conferences were considered and teams from 2011 were not eligible.


Others receiving votes: 1998 Ohio State, 1998 Wisconsin, 1999 Georgia Tech, 2000 Florida State, 2001 Florida, 2002 Iowa, 2004 Oklahoma, 2006 West Virginia, 2006 Ohio State, 2007 Florida, 2007 Texas Tech, 2008 Texas Tech, 2008 Missouri, 2010 Oklahoma State

10. Texas Tech Red Raiders, 2003 (8-5, 4-4)
Head Coach: Mike Leach
Rushing Offense: 107.5 ypg (104th)
Passing Offense: 475.3 ypg (1st)
Total Offense: 582.8 ypg (1st)
Scoring Offense: 42.5 ppg (4th)
NFL Draft Picks: Carlos Francis (4th, 2004), B.J. Symons (7th, 2004), Dylan Gandy (4th, 2005), Daniel Loper (5th, 2005), E.J. Whitley (7th, 2006), Manuel Ramirez (4th, 2007), Joel Filani (6th, 2007)

Quarterback B.J. Symons led the nation in total offense at a staggering 459.7 yards per game and set an NCAA passing record with 5,833 yards — all with a banged-up knee. And his 52 touchdown passes were second all-time to David Klingler's 54. Wideout Wes Welker (97 rec., 1,099 yards, 9 TDs) finished third in the country with 7.5 receptions per game and tied an NCAA record with a touchdown catch in 47 straight games. Four different receivers finished the year averaging more than 75 yards per game and tailback Taurean Henderson actually led the offense with 16 total touchdowns. Four offensive linemen were drafted off of this squad, along with two receivers — neither of which turned out to be the best player on the team, Mr. Welker. The 2007 edition ranked dead last in rushing while the 2008 edition had arguably the best defense under Leach. This group gets a slight edge over the '08.

9. Florida State Seminoles, 1999 (12-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Bobby Bowden
Rushing Offense: 122.8 ypg (83rd)
Passing Offense: 302.9 ypg (12th)
Total Offense: 425.7 ypg (12th)
Scoring Offense: 37.5 ppg (4th)
NFL Draft Picks: Peter Warrick (1st, 2000), Sebastian Janikowski (1st, 2000), Ron Dugans (3rd, 2000), Laveranues Coles (3rd, 2000), Marvin Minnis (3rd, 2001), Travis Minor (3rd, 2001), Chris Weinke (4th, 2001), Char-ron Dorsey (7th, 2001), Anquan Boldin (2nd, 2003), Brett Williams (4th, 2003), Montae Holland (4th, 2003)

The best team of the BCS era in the ACC gets a slight nod over the 2000 Seminoles for a couple of reasons. While the stats were better in Chris Weinke's Heisman Trophy season, the offense scored zero points in the national title game loss to Oklahoma, and two first-round picks, Peter Warrick and Sebastian Janikowski, had already moved on (not to mention a few other receivers). The undefeated national championship team that topped the dynamic Michael Vick gets the nod after 220 all-purpose yards, three touchdowns and the MVP trophy for Warrick in the 2000 Sugar Bowl. Few teams will ever match the depth and talent of a receiving corps that included Warrick, Ron Dugans, Marvin Minnis, Laveranues Coles and Anquan Boldin. For good measure, toss in Travis Minor, the best kicker in the country and three linemen eventually drafted into the NFL, and you have the No. 9 offense of the BCS era.

8. Oregon Ducks, 2010 (12-1, 9-0)
Head Coach: Chip Kelly
Rushing Offense: 286.2 ypg (4th)
Passing Offense: 244.5 ypg (39th)
Total Offense: 530.9 ypg (1st)
Scoring Offense: 47.0 ppg (1st)
NFL Draft Picks: N/A

One of the most powerful, explosive and fast-paced offenses in league history led the nation in scoring and total offense. It was the highest-scoring team (611 pts) in school history, and it played in its first-ever BCS National Championship game. The offense was led by first-year quarterback Darron Thomas (2,881 yards, 30 TDs, 486 rush yards, 5 TDs) and the nation's leading rusher and scorer in LaMichael James (144.3 ypg, 12.0 ppg). James earned the Doak Walker as the nation's top running back. The talented offensive duo was joined by leading receiver Jeff Maehl (77 rec., 1,076 yards, 12 TDs) and star back-up Kenjon Barner (1,040 all-purpose yards, 9 total TDs). The only blemish on the '10 Ducks resume was obviously the 75 yards rushing and 19 points scored in the BCS title game loss to Auburn.

7. Auburn Tigers, 2010 (14-0, 9-0*)
Head Coach: Gene Chizik
Rushing Offense: 284.8 ypg (5th)
Passing Offense: 214.4 ypg (66th)
Total Offense: 499.2 ypg (7th)
Scoring Offense: 41.2 ppg (7th)
NFL Draft Picks: Cam Newton (1st, 2011), Lee Ziemba (7th, 2011)

Cam Newton was a one-man wrecking crew for Auburn in 2010. His 4,327 yards of total offense (2,854 pass, 1,473 rush) set an SEC single-season record. Newton led this team to a new school record for scoring and finished second in the nation in passing efficiency (180.52). His 20 rushing touchdowns were second all-time only to Tim Tebow in SEC history and his 51 total touchdowns were No. 2 to Tebow as well. The backfield included 1,000-yard rusher Michael Dyer and 800-yard rusher Onterio McCalebb, and the SEC's top blocker, Lee Ziemba, anchored a stellar, veteran offensive line. A set of veteran receivers —Darvin Adams, Terrell Zachery — mixed with young talent — Emory Blake, Phlip Lutzenkirchen — gave Newton plenty of talented targets. When the Tigers needed a big play with the game on the line, few players on this list were ever more unstoppable than Cam Newton (maybe only the one near the top, actually). No Auburn team has ever won as many games (14) or scored as many points (577).

6. USC Trojans, 2004 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Rushing Offense: 177.4 ypg (33rd)
Passing Offense: 271.7 ypg (13th)
Total Offense: 449.1 ypg (12th)
Scoring Offense: 38.2 ppg (6th)
NFL Draft Picks: Matt Cassel (7th, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Dominique Bryd (4th, 2006), David Kirtman (5th, 2006), Fred Matua (7th, 2006), Dwayne Jarrett (2nd, 2007), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), John David Booty (5th, 2008), Chauncey Washington (7th, 2008)

While Pete Carroll's outright BCS Natianal Championship team was his most complete team, it was not his most dominant offense. Yet, this group returned largley intact and would be the foundation for what turned out to be his best offense one year later. Since the players were basically the same, this team marched through its schedule with ease, claimed the Heisman Trophy and eventually sent 10 players into the first or second round of the NFL Draft from the offense alone, it had to make the list. Quarterback Matt Leinart, in his second year under center and armed with an embarrasment of skill players, led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency (156.54) and finished with 3,322 yards and 36 total touchdowns (against only six interceptions). He capped his Heisman campaign with 332 yards and a BCS bowl record five touchdown passes in the destruction of unbeaten No. 2 Oklahoma. The two-headed rushing attack of LenDale White (1,108 yards, 15 TDs) and Reggie Bush (1,416 yards from scrimmage, 15 TDs) made it virtually impossible for anyone to stop the 2004 Trojans. Until 2005.

5. Florida Gators, 2008 (13-1, 8-1*)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer
Rushing Offense: 231.1 ypg (10th)
Passing Offense: 213.9 ypg (61st)
Total Offense: 445.1 ypg (15th)
Scoring Offense: 43.6 ppg (4th)
NFL Draft Picks: Percy Harvin (1st, 2009), Louis Murphy (4th, 2009), Cornelius Ingram (5th, 2009), Tim Tebow (1st, 2010), Aaron Hernandez (3rd, 2010), Riley Cooper (5th, 2010), Maurkice Pouncey (1st, 2010), Mike Pouncey (1st, 2011), Marcus Gilbert (2nd, 2011), Maurice Hurt (7th, 2011)

Tim Tebow had his Heisman Trophy (2007) and a national championship ring (2006), but the most talented, most successful Gator offense was his 2008 squad. The Gainesville idol gave one of the most famous speeches in college football history: “You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season.” The Gators then went on to crush quality opponents Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State and Alabama by an average of 31.8 points per game. Florida led the SEC in rushing, total offense and scoring while play-maker extradanaire Percy Harvin led the SEC in scoring (8.5 ppg). Tebow led the league in passing efficiency at 172.37. The Chosen One delivered on his promise (and halftime speech) by throwing for 231 yards and two scores while rushing for 109 yards on 22 carries to outlast Oklahoma 24-14 in the BCS Championship game. The 2008 Gators tied the 1996 national champs as the highest-scoring team in school history (611 points). This offense featured five active NFL pass catchers (including undrafted David Nelson), a pair of blocking twins and speed demons Brandon James, Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. This team redefined the term "SEC Speed."

4. Oklahoma Sooners, 2008 (12-2, 7-1*)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Rushing Offense: 198.5 ypg (20th)
Passing Offense: 349.4 ypg (3rd)
Total Offense: 547.9 ypg (3rd)
Scoring Offense: 51.1 ppg (1st)
NFL Draft Picks: Phil Loadholt (1st, 2009), Juaquin Iglesias (3rd, 2009), Duke Robinson (5th, 2009), Manuel Johnson (7th, 2009), Sam Bradford (1st, 2010), Jermaine Gresham (1st, 2010),  Trent Williams (1st, 2010), Brody Eldridge (5th, 2010), DeMarco Murray (3rd, 2011)

The highest-scoring team in NCAA history (716 total points), this Oklahoma team scored no fewer than 35 points prior to the BCS National Championship game against Florida. Quarterback Sam Bradford rewrote the Oklahoma record books on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. Bradford finished No. 1 in the nation in pass efficiency (180.84) and No. 4 in total offense (340.5 ypg). He set single-season school records for yards (4,270) and touchdown passes (50). This offense led the nation with only 11 turnovers all season and featured a pair of 1,000-yard backs in DeMarco Murray (1,397 yards from scrimmage, 18 total TDs) and Chris Brown (1,329 yards from scrimmage and 21 total TDs). Murray was eighth nationally in all-purpose yards (167.0 ypg), and tight end Jermaine Gresham was the best the country had to offer at tight end (66 rec., 950 yards, 14 TDs). Despite being arguably the most prolific offense of the modern era, the relatively pedestrian 14-point, 364-yard BCS title game performance knocks this Crimson and Cream frieght train off the top spot.

3. Miami Hurricanes, 2001 (12-0, 7-0)
Head Coach: Larry Coker
Rushing Offense: 204.6 ypg (21st)
Passing Offense: 250.2 ypg (35th)
Total Offense: 454.8 ypg (8th)
Scoring Offense: 43.2 ppg (3rd)
NFL Draft Picks: Bryant McKinnie (1st, 2002), Jeremy Shockey (1st, 2002), Clinton Portis (2nd, 2002), Najeh Davenport (4th, 2002), Martin Bibla (4th, 2002), Joaquin Gonzalez (7th, 2002), Daryl Jones (7th, 2002), Andre Johnson (1st, 2003), Willis McGahee (1st, 2003), Ken Dorsey (7th, 2003), Kellen Winslow (1st, 2004), Vernon Carey (1st, 2004), Carlos Joseph (7th, 2004)

Simply put, this team was loaded and is viewed by many as one of the best ever in college football history. The offensive numbers may not be as staggering as 2008 Oklahoma or 2010 Oregon, for example, but from a talent perspective, it is hard to argue this isn't the most gifted offense ever assembled. Quarterback Ken Dorsey claimed co-Big East Player of the Year honors playing behind five drafted NFL linemen, a backfield featuring Clinton Portis, Frank Gore, Willis McGahee and Najeh Davenport and a receiving corps with Andre Johnson and Jeremy Shockey leading the way. They started things off by going to Happy Valley and dominating Penn State 33-7, which tied the record for the Nittany Lions’ worst home loss under Joe Paterno. Later on, the Canes defeated No. 14 Syracuse and No. 12 Washington in consecutive weeks at the Orange Bowl with a combined score of 124-7, which set the NCAA record for largest margin of victory over consecutive ranked opponents. They capped things off by dismantling the No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers 37-14 in the Rose Bowl, in a game in which they held a 34-0 lead in the first half. Miami's average margin of victory in 2001 was 33.2 points per game.

2. Texas Longhorns, 2005 (13-0, 8-0*)
Head Coach: Mack Brown
Rushing Offense: 274.9 ypg (2nd)
Passing Offense: 237.2 ypg (40th)
Total Offense: 512.1 ypg (3rd)
Scoring Offense: 50.2 ppg (1st)
NFL Draft Picks: Vince Young (1st, 2006), David Thomas (3rd, 2006), Jonathan Scott (5th, 2006), Justin Blalock (2nd, 2007), Kasey Studdard (6th, 2007), Limas Sweed (2nd, 2008), Jamaal Charles (3rd, 2008), Tony Hills (4th, 2008), Henry Melton (4th, 2009), Chris Ogbonnaya (7th, 2009)

This team may not be as talented as the 2005 USC team it beat in the Rose Bowl to claim the National Championship but it might have had the single most unstoppable force to ever step onto a football field. Vince Young is the most dynamic player I've ever seen on a college gridiron and the numbers prove it. To get to Pasadena, Texas steamrolled the competition, averaging more than 50 points a game and scoring 60 or more four times. In the second week of the season, Texas became the first non-conference opponent in 15 years to defeat Ohio State in Columbus, and followed that win up about a month later by dominating Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry. The Longhorns destroyed Colorado 70-3 in the Big 12 Championship to set up the showdown with No. 1 USC. The Rose Bowl title tilt lived up to every bit of its billing as Vince Young put on the , accounting for 84 percent of Texas’ total offense (467 out of 556 yards), and scored the game-winning touchdown with 19 seconds left to capture the Longhorns’ fourth national championship in thrilling fashion. The Horns scored a school-record 50.2 points per game, set a school record for yards in a season (6,657), total yards per game and total touchdowns (55). This team had four players rush for at least 10 touchdowns and featured a backfield of Jamaal Charles, Romance Taylor, Henry Melton, Selvin Young and Chris Ogbonnaya.

1. USC Trojans, 2005 (12-1, 8-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Rushing Offense: 260.0 ypg (6th)
Passing Offense: 319.8 ypg (5th)
Total Offense: 579.8 ypg (1st)
Scoring Offense: 49.1 ppg (2nd)
NFL Draft Picks: Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Dominique Bryd (4th, 2006), David Kirtman (5th, 2006), Fred Matua (7th, 2006), Dwayne Jarrett (2nd, 2007), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), John David Booty (5th, 2008), Chauncey Washington (7th, 2008), Mark Sanchez (1st, 2009), Patrick Turner (3rd, 2009), Charles Brown (2nd, 2010)

The defending BCS National Champs returned largely intact for 2005 and began the season ranked No. 1 in the nation. Do-everything tailback Reggie Bush led the nation in all-purpose yards at 222.3 yards per game and claimed the Heisman Trophy — the second straight for USC (Leinart, 2004). A 513-yard performance and in a shootout win over a ranked Fresno State team likely clinched the stiff-arm trophy for the dynamic running back. After crushing rival UCLA, the Trojans finished the 2005 season having never left the No. 1 line in the polls. They carried a 34-game winning streak into the BCS National Championship game against Texas in what became the first time two Heisman winners ever played in the same backfield. Leinart threw for a title game record 365 yards, but the Trojans defense could not stop Vince Young in what is the greatest game ever played according to this college football writer. This team had 19 players drafted — three QBs, seven OL, four RBs, three WRs and two TEs — off of the offense and was so deep that Mark Sanchez was the third-string quarterback. This team was 19 seconds away from likely becoming the best college football team ever assembled — no matter "how" they were assembled.

2011's Top 5 Offenses:

1. Oklahoma State Cowboys (11-1, 8-1)
Rushing Offense: 170.8 ypg (43rd)
Passing Offense: 386.3 ypg (2nd)
Total Offense: 557.0 ypg (3rd)
Scoring Offense: 49.3 ppg (2nd)
Key Player: Brandon Weeden (4,328 yards, 34 TD)

2. Baylor Bears (9-3, 6-3)
Rushing Offense: 215.1 ypg (18th)
Passing Offense: 356.2 ypg (5th)
Total Offense: 571.3 ypg (2nd)
Scoring Offense: 43.5 ppg (6th)
Key Player: Robert Griffin III (led nation in points 22.8 per game and efficiency 192.3)

3. Wisconsin Badgers (11-2, 8-1*)
Rushing Offense: 237.4 ypg (10th)
Passing Offense: 229.5 ypg (64th)
Total Offense: 466.9 ypg (15th)
Scoring Offense: 44.6 ppg (4th)
Key Player: Montee Ball (led nation with 1,759 yards and 38 TD)

4. Oregon Ducks (11-2, 9-1*)
Rushing Offense: 295.7 ypg (5th)
Passing Offense: 219.5 ypg (68th)
Total Offense: 515.2 ypg (6th)
Scoring Offense: 46.2 ppg (3rd)
Key Player: LaMichael James (led nation at 149.6 ypg)

5. Houston Cougars (12-1, 8-1*)
Rushing Offense: 155.2 ypg (62nd)
Passing Offense: 443.8 ypg (1st)
Total Offense: 599.0 ypg (1st)
Scoring Offense: 50.8 ppg (1st)
Key Player: Case Keenum (led nation with 394.2 total offense per game)

Athlon Sports Ranks the Best Teams in Every BCS League:

Athlon Sports Ranks the Top Performances from each BCS Bowl:

<p> What are the top offensive BCS teams of the BCS era?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/noah-spence-tj-yeldon-make-big-recruiting-news

-by Braden Gall (follow on )

Urban Meyer’s impact has already sent shockwaves through the recruiting world. His biggest coup yet came this weekend when the No. 3-rated player in the committed to the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Harrisburg (Pa.) Bishop McDevitt defensive end visited Columbus this weekend for the first time and announced he would be heading to Ohio State. Penn State had been rumored to be his top school, but the hiring of Meyer and the child-sex abuse scandal in Happy Valley pushed the 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive end to the rival Buckeyes.

Spence had planned to announce his college of choice at the Under Armour All-American game in January. And Ohio State was not even supposed to be in the mix.

Meyer has changed all of that.

On the heels of Cincinnati (Ohio) Taft defensive end crediting Meyer directly in his announcement speech, Spence pulled a total shocker by verballing to OSU. Spence and Washington, combined with AC100 talents Canton (Ohio) McKinley end and Glen Ellyn (Ill.) Glenbard West tackle give Ohio State one of the best defensive line hauls in the nation. Schutt was previously committed to Penn State and switched his pledge about a week ago, while Pittman had been committed to Michigan State until last weekend.

Meyer, and Meyer alone, has to be given direct credit for Ohio State's massive surge on the recruiting trail.

Where Spence Ranks:

Rivals: No. 9 player in the nation
Scout: No. 6
ESPN: No. 4
247Sports: No. 15
O-D: No. 5
NCSA: No. 11

Speed, quickness and burst, for a player of his size, is where Spence’s advantage lies currently. He gets up the field with great burst and can get to the quarterback in a hurry. He displays tremendous closing speed and will deliver the big hit when he arrives. Spence may be the best pure pass rusher in this class. He is ideally suited for an outside rush backer in a 3-4 scheme or, with some added bulk, could succeed as a pure end in a 4-3. He has great range, lateral movements and pursuit skills for a player of his size and position. He has a solid collection of pass-rushing skills, but needs to work on refining them.

While his technique should develop, he will need to focus on maintaining his fundamentals at the point of attack against the run. He can be so quick and explosive, that he has a tendency to work around blockers instead of through them. Playing with a consistency is something most young athletes need to focus on and Spence needs to work on delivering more consistent play.

Spence's father, Gregory Spence, played college football at NC State.

T.J. Yeldon Pulls A Yellowhammer Flip-Flop

Star Daphne (Ala.) running back has made the mother of all recruiting flip-flops. The nation’s No. 9-rated running back, and the state of Alabama’s No. 4-rated player in the Athlon Consensus 100 committed to the Auburn Tigers back in June. This weekend, Yeldon announced that he would be enrolling at the University of Alabama in January.

It was yet another huge statement for Nick Saban on the recruiting trail.

Yeldon is an elite recruit with the ability to contribute as a freshman in 2012 — a major factor considering that both Trent Richardson and possibly Michael Dyer won’t be playing in the SEC next year, leaving a large void on both rosters. Landing a star tailback is one thing, but taking him directly off the roster of your biggest rival is a totally different story all together. Next fall will be a very important season for Gene Chizik, and losing Yeldon certainly doesn’t help.

Yeldon, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound tailback, is one of the more complete overall athletes in this class. He possesses solid top end speed and adequate acceleration. He has a tall frame that has plenty of length and room to grow — particularly to add bulk/power to his lower body. He shows good vision and balance as his slashing running style allows him to slice through small creases in the defense. He has excellent hands and is such an above average receiver that he could easily end up at wideout — considering his tallish, lean frame.

His stock has been consistently rising over the last five months. Mostly due to his monster senior season in which he carried 231 times for 2,196 yards and 32 touchdowns this fall. thinks the most of Yeldon, offering up the coveted fifth star for the future Crimson Tider. 247Sports seems to agree. But Offense-Defense does not have the talented tailback ranked in their Top 150.

Where Yeldon ranks:

Rivals: No. 24
Scout: No. 76
ESPN: No. 91
247Sports: No. 26
O-D: unranked
NCSA: No. 117

<p> Noah Spence, T.J. Yeldon Make Big Recruiting News</p>
Post date: Monday, December 19, 2011 - 10:08
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Fiesta Bowl
Path: /college-football/greatest-fiesta-bowl-performances-bcs-era

-by Mitch Light (follow at )

With the 14th season of BCS bowl action about to take place, Athlon reviewed the tapes of the four (now five) biggest bowl games in college football. Since 1998, teams have been fighting to land a spot in the BCS and here are the players who made the most of their opportunities.

Here are the Top Fiesta Bowl Performances of the BCS Era:

5. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State, 2006
The Buckeyes won the Fiesta Bowl for the third time in four years thanks in large part to Smith’s exploits at quarterback. The junior completed 19-of-28 passes for a career-high 342 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 66 yards on 13 carries. Two Ohio State receivers, Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn Jr., topped the 100-yard receiving mark.

4. Alex Smith, QB, Utah, 2005
Running Urban Meyer’s spread option offense to near perfection, Smith led Utah to a 35–7 win over Pittsburgh that completed a perfect 12–0 season. The future No. 1 pick of the San Francisco 49ers completed 29-of-37 passes for 328 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions and added 68 yards on the ground. The Utes were the first team from a non-BCS conference to earn a spot in a BCS bowl.

3. Joey Harrington, QB, Oregon, 2002
Oregon was ranked No. 2 in the nation in both major polls but got squeezed out of the BCS National Championship Game in favor of Nebraska. Harrington and the Ducks’ offense took their frustrations out on Colorado, ranked No. 3 in both polls, in a surprisingly lopsided 38–16 win. Harrington completed 38-of-42 passes for 350 yards and four touchdowns, including a 79-yard strike to Samie Parker that tied the record for longest pass reception in Fiesta Bowl history.

2. Pat White, QB, West Virginia, 2008
A true dual-threat quarterback, White abused the Oklahoma defense with 150 yards rushing on 25 carries and 176 yards passing as the Mountaineers rolled up 525 total yards en route to a 48–28 win over the Big 12 champs. West Virginia was coached by Bill Stewart, who stepped in for Rich Rodriguez, who bolted for the top job at Michigan after the regular season.

1. Jared Zabransky, QB, Boise State, 2007
In what will always be remembered as one of the most exciting bowl games in history, Zabransky and the upstart Broncos stunned heavily favored Oklahoma, 43–42 in overtime, after converting a Statue of Liberty play into a two-point conversion on their first possession of the extra session. Zabransky finished the game with 262 yards passing and three touchdowns.

<p> Athlon Sports ranks the best Fiesta Bowl performances of the BCS Era.</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 06:00