Thursday, August 31, 2006

College Football 2006: The Top 25

Now that we've previewed the major conferences, the Heisman hopefuls and whatnot, it's time to get down to the real meat and potatoes of the college football preseason - predicting the national champion.

This season is even more fun considering there's no clear-cut choice or dominating favorite. Never before has the national championship race been so wide open. Every contending team has some weakness they must deal with.

Talent alone isn't the only method available for making a national championship pick, strength of and favorable scheduling plays a big part as well. Experience and depth are other factors to consider and many times, good old-fashioned luck is needed to survive a grueling season unscathed.

All these factors must be mixed into a recipe that's a flavorful one when it comes to making a national champion choice. With all those factors in mind, here's a look at the Corner's very own Top 25 for 2006. The list is in descending order.

25. Tulsa
24. Texas Tech
23. Tennessee
22. TCU
21. Oregon
20. Penn State
19. Nebraska
18. Virginia Tech
17. Clemson
16. Georgia
15. Iowa
14. Louisville
13. Miami (Fla)
12. Michigan
11. Oklahoma
10. Florida State
9. USC
8. California
7. Florida
6. LSU
5. Texas
4. Notre Dame
3. Ohio State
2. Auburn
1. West Virginia

There you have it. The Corner predicts a West Virginia/Auburn BCS clash for national glory. Although don't count out Ohio State crashing the party if its defense comes around. No matter, the Mountaineers have tons of talent, a favorable schedule and the coaching to claim the schools first ever national championship.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

College Football 2006: Heisman Watch

This may come as a shock, a complete surprise to your system, but I'm willing to risk it. Brace yourself for this incredible announcement.

The best player in college football doesn't always win the Heisman Trophy. I know you're shocked and caught off guard, but it's true. Insert your laugh right here.

The Heisman Trophy award is just for symbolism and ratings. It means nothing anymore. C'mon, how can the best player in college football be decided without including defensive players? Yes Charles Woodson, a corner, won the award but he also returned punts and was used as a wide receiver or else he never would have been a contender for the award.

Even so, it's fun to speculate on who will win the Heisman and this season, three frontrunners have distanced themselves from the pack in the preseason. Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn, Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson, and Ohio State QB Troy Smith are the darlings of the media as the 2006 season comes into focus.

Here are the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy Award circa 2006:

1. Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame - Blossomed last season under head coach Charlie Weis with 3,919 yards and 32 TDs. The Heisman is Quinn's to lose. If he improves upon last season, he can book a trip to New York to claim the trophy.

2. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma - Peterson is the best RB in college football, provided he stays healthy. Injuries limited Peterson to 1,104 yards and 14 TDs last season. If he can stay healthy, Peterson could take the Heisman away from Quinn.

3. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State - The Vince Young type player this season. Smith threw for 2,282 yards with 16 TDs and ran for 611 yards and 11 TDs. Smith must go through a difficult Big Ten schedule, but if everything falls into place - the Heisman could be his.

Others who have a chance if the breaks fall right:

Marshawn Lynch, RB, California
Kenny Irons, RB, Auburn
Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville
Michael Bush, RB, Louisvlle
Ted Ginn - WR, Ohio State
Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech
Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia
Pat White, QB, West Virginia
Chris Leak, QB, Florida
Dwayne Jarrett, WR, USC

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

College Football 2006: Independents

It only took head coach Charlie Weis one year to bring Notre Dame football back into the national limelight and make the Irish a legitimate power once again in college football circles.

Notre Dame is a one of the preseason favorites to possibly be playing for a national championship in January and QB Brady Quinn is also the early favorite for the Heisman Trophy.

But if Touchdown Jesus hopes to celebrate the Fighting Irish and its first national championship since 1988, the defense, and in particular the secondary, must improve dramatically over last season.

Also, many in Annapolis are saying that the Midshipmen may have their best team since a guy named Roger Staubach led them to the Cotton Bowl in 1963. Head coach Paul Johnson has restored the pride of Navy football after an 8-4 season and a Poinsettia Bowl berth in 2006.

Bobby Ross begins his second year at Army with a veteran squad and a positive outlook that has the Black Knights and their fans buzzing. Temple begins its first and only season as an independent before joining the MAC in 2007. Here's a look at the independents for 2006.


1. Notre Dame - Quinn (3,919 yards, 32 TDs) is re-writing the Notre Dame record book and is back for a final year with lots of weapons to choose from. RB Darius Walker (1,196-9) and preseason All-American WR Jeff Samardzija (78-1,274-15) are his favorite weapons. Maurice Stovall is gone but Rhema McKnight, the leading receiver in 2004, returns from a season-ending knee injury last season. The offensive line is a veteran group that returns three of five starters. The defense has nine regulars back, including DE Victor Abiamiri and preseason All-American safety Tom Zbikowski. The one weakness on this squad is the secondary, which gave up 265 ypg through the air and doesn't have much speed. If Weis can find a way to shore up the defense and survive a brutal schedule, Notre Dame could be playing for the national title in January.

2. Navy - Johnson has brought back the swagger to Navy football and with eight starters returning on offense and nine on defense, many feel this could be the best team to come out of Annapolis since 1963. The key to the season will be the play of senior QB Brian Hampton and how he handles the spread option offense after replacing starter Lamar Owens. Hampton has three of his top five rushers back from a season ago and more importantly, four of five starters on the offensive line. The defense is led by linebackers Rob Caldwell (140 tackles) and Tyler Tidwell (10 sacks) and an experienced secondary. The team is seasoned and the schedule is set up for the Midshipmen to better last seasons eight win total.

3. Army - Ross made significant progress in his second year with the Black Knights and hopes for even more improvement in 2006. Army won four games last season, something that had not been done since 1997. Nine starters return on offense, including the entire offensive line and leading receiver Jeremy Trimble (41-529-4). The problem is the two starters gone are QB Zac Dahman and leading rusher Carlton Jones. Junior David Pevoto takes over the signal calling duties for Army, but is inexperienced. He has thrown only 12 passes in his career. The RB situation will be handled by a committee approach with Jamal Robinson, Tony Dace, Wesley McMahand and Ricky Lay all seeing action. The defense returns eight starters and is improving each and every season under Ross.

4. Temple - Those poor Temple Owls were kicked out of the Big East for not being competitive and now must play one season as an independent before joining the Mid-American Conference in 2007. New coach Al Golden, former defensive coordinator at Virginia, looks to try and right a Temple program that hasn't had a winning record since 1990. Unfortunately, there's not much in the cupboard right now for Golden to work with. The offense returns seven starters, but lost its quarterback and its top two rushers and receivers to graduation. The defense is in even worse shape. Only three starters return from a unit that gave up 45 ppg last season, last in the nation.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Eagles Trade For Stallworth

By The Associated Press

Still looking to replace Terrell Owens, the Philadelphia Eagles acquired wide receiver Donte' Stallworth from the New Orleans Saints on Monday.

The Eagles sent veteran linebacker Mark Simoneau and a conditional fourth-round draft pick in 2007 to the Saints. The trade is pending both players passing physicals with their new team.

Stallworth, the 13th overall pick in the 2002 draft, had 70 receptions for 945 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He has 195 catches for 2,791 yards and 23 TDs in 56 games, including 32 starts.

"We're bringing in an experienced receiver that's coming off of a great year with the New Orleans Saints and he'll fit in nicely into our receiving corps," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "He's got tremendous speed and quickness and he catches the ball very well. He's good with the yards after the catch."

The Eagles have been looking for an upgrade at wideout since parting with Owens, who had 20 TDs in 21 games with Philadelphia. The team considered trading for Javon Walker and had conversations about Ashley Lelie, but wasn't willing to give up higher draft choices.

Denver sent a second-round pick to Green Bay for Walker, a former Pro Bowl receiver who was coming off two knee operations. The Broncos got a third-round pick for Lelie in a three-team trade with Washington and Atlanta last week.

"Donte' is an explosive player who has had a very productive career with the Saints," Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said. "I've said many times earlier that I like the skill position players on our roster, but realize that you can never have enough playmakers."

The 25-year-old Stallworth joins a crowded receiving corps that includes promising second-year pro Reggie Brown, longtime starter Todd Pinkston, rookies Hank Baskett and Jason Avant, and veterans Greg Lewis, Darnerien McCants and Jabar Gaffney.

The Eagles likely will carry six wideouts, so the coaching staff faces some tough decisions before finals cuts must be made by Saturday.

Stallworth, 6-foot and 196 pounds, is the type of receiver that can stretch the field for the Eagles. Among his career receptions, 45 were for 20 yards or more, while 12 of his TDs were from 25 yards or longer.

In 2002, Stallworth became the first NFL rookie in 20 years to catch a TD in each of his first four games. His eight TDs that season set a team record for rookies.

This season could have been Stallworth's last under contract with the Saints, who added depth at that position with the emergence during training camp of seventh-round draft choice Marques Colston and free agent Jamal Jones.

The Saints also appear ready to rely more on third-year receiver and former LSU standout Devery Henderson.

"We've got some depth at that position right now," Saints coach Sean Payton said, pointing out that Colston's progress made Stallworth expendable. "It's a good opportunity for Donte' to start fresh somewhere and it's an opportunity for us to acquire a pick as well as a player."

Stallworth had arthroscopic shoulder surgery in January, missed some offseason work and then missed part of minicamp after Payton sent him home for a day for missing a team meeting.

He ended up practicing mostly with the second team after that and also spent the early part of training camp nursing a sore hamstring.

"He didn't practice that much. I guess he didn't show enough to merit him staying here," Saints wideout Joe Horn said. "I'm not saying Coach Reid and Donovan can't pull Donte' aside and sprinkle some magic on him and make him a 1,500-yard receiver.

"He has some talent and it wouldn't shock me at all to see Donte' catching 10 or 15 passes a game from Donovan McNabb, but it didn't happen here in New Orleans and that's the sad part. They got a hell of deal."

Simoneau came to the Eagles in a trade with Atlanta in 2003 after playing his first three seasons with the Falcons. He started 16 games at middle linebacker in his first year in Philadelphia, moved to the weakside spot midway through the 2004 season and played mostly on special teams last year.

Simoneau even was called upon to fill in for injured kicker David Akers during a game last season and made one of two extra points.

The trade brought the Saints their second new linebacker in less than a week after Scott Shanle arrived in a deal with Dallas.

New Orleans had trouble stopping the run last season and those struggles have continued through three preseason games. In addition, Tommy Polley, working with the first-team linebackers early in training camp, has yet to play in the preseason because of a shoulder injury that required arthroscopic surgery.

"Mark was one of my favorite guys," Reid said. "He was a great person and tremendous player for us, on special teams and at linebacker. We just appreciate everything he did for this organization."

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College Football 2006: The Big Ten

The talk of the Big Ten leading up to the regular season has been about one team and one team only - the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Jim Tressel's squad is ranked first in almost every major publication and both the AP and USA Today polls. Even with the loss of nine starters on defense most of the prognosticators feel the Buckeyes are the team to beat.

And while that may or may not be true, Ohio State is loaded on offense and should have enough on defense to capture the Big Ten crown. The Buckeyes have all their major conference competition at home with the exception of Iowa on September 30.

The Hawkeyes and Michigan appear to be the main challengers to Ohio State, but don't forget that Penn State was predicted to be a middle of the pack team in conference and finished 11-1 last season. Anything can happen and usually does in the Big Ten. Here's a look at the 2006 season.

Big Ten Standings:

1. Ohio State - The Buckeyes offense is the best in college football. With Troy Smith (2,282 yards passing, 611 yards rushing) and his Vince Young-like ability at quarterback, Antonio Pittman (1,331 yards, 7 TDs) at tailback and Ted Ginn Jr. (51-803-4) at wide receiver; Ohio State has a triple threat attack that will be almost impossible to stop in 2006. Add to that three starters back on the line and a solid recruiting class and it's easy to see why the pollsters love the Buckeyes this year. On the other side of the ball, things are very different. The defense lost nine starters, including three first round selections in the NFL Draft. Quinn Pitcock and David Patterson anchor a solid defensive line from their tackle slots. The linebackers and secondary need to be rebuilt, but Tressel feels that LB Marcus Freeman will be the next big star at Ohio State and John Kerr brings experience in the middle. If Ohio State can get past Texas on the road September 9 and the defense comes around - the Buckeyes just may be holding the BCS trophy on January 8.

2. Michigan - The Wolverines struggled last season, going 7-5 after losing to Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl. Tailback Mike Hart struggled with injuries and a young defense was out-classed most games. Five-loss seasons don't go down easy in Michigan and Lloyd Carr, despite a 102-34 record in 11 seasons, finds himself on the hot seat this year. All indications are that last season was just an aberration. The Wolverines have a solid offense led by QB Chad Henne (2,526 yards, 23 TDs). Hart (662-4) returns healthy and along with Kevin Grady (483-5) make a potent 1-2 backfield punch. Steve Breaston is a breakaway threat at receiver and the o-line, injury riddled in 2006, is back healthy. The defense returns eight starters and with a year of seasoning under their belts, should be much better. DE LeMarr Woodley and DT Alan Branch will lead the Wolverine defense. Look for a nice rebound for Carr and Co. this season.

3. Iowa - The Hawkeyes were a young group in 2006 and it showed at times, en route to a 7-5 mark. The good news for Iowa fans is that eight starters return on offense and seven on defense and with age a maturity come big expectations. The offense is led by a trio of stars including QB Drew Tate (2,828 yards, 22 TDs), RB Albert Young (1,334-8) and TE Scott Chandler (47-552). The offensive line returns three starters with the only rebuilding needed at wide receiver. Herb Grigsby (25 catches) and Calvin Davis appear to be the front runners. The defensive line returns intact and the secondary is solid. The Hawkeyes were hurt at linebacker with the graduation of Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge, but coach Kirk Ferentz is high on OLB Mike Humpal.

4. Northwestern - The Wildcats must try and bounce back after the tragic death of head coach Randy Walker back in July. Former Wildcat All-American LB Pat Fitzgerald takes over as coach and he inherits a team that returns 16 starters from last seasons 7-5 squad. Sophomore tailback Tyrell Sutton (1,474-16) will run behind a line that returns all five starters, including preseason All-America Trevor Rees at center. Leading receiver Shaun Herbert (79-862-6) is back as well. The biggest loss on offense came in the form of QB Brett Basanez, the all-time leading passer in Wildcat history. The QB derby is between C.J. Bacher, Andrew Brewer or Mike Kafka. The Northwestern defense was horrendously bad last season, but with eight starters back and the hard-nosed Fitzgerald looking after this unit, big improvements are expected. If the Cats can find a QB and fix their anemic pass rush, they could be the darkhorse in the Big Ten.

5. Penn State - The Nittany Lions lost QB Michael Robinson, four starters on the offensive line, three starters on the defensive line and their entire secondary so a dropoff is to be expected. Even so, Penn State has solid players returning and has the talent to go bowling again in 2006. Anthony Morelli takes over the leadership of the offense and is lucky enough to have four talented receivers to throw to. Derrick Williams, Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood and Terrell Golden are fast and dangerous. Tony Hunt (1,047-6) and Austin Scott are back at RB, while All-American T Levi Brown will anchor an inexperienced o-line. All-American LB Paul Posluszny will lead a strong linebacking unit that also features Dan Connor and Tim Shaw. Speedy Justin King will be the main cog in the secondary. This team has talent, but the losses will be too much to completely overcome this season.

6. Purdue - Joe Tiller had his first losing season as coach of the Boilermakers after taking his teams to bowl games for eight straight years. With eight starters back on offense, Tiller believes that Purdue will return to its winning ways. Sophomore QB Curtis Painter started the last five games of 2005 and led the Boilermakers to a 3-2 mark. Painter will have two nice targets in Dorien Bryant (80-960-4) and Kyle Ingraham (41-500). The offensive line is back intact and Kory Sheets (571-10) will handle the rushing chores. The defense returns only four starters, but Tiller recruited heavily in the JUCO ranks and he feels that the replacements can do the job.

7. Wisconsin - Barry Alvarez is gone and new coach Bret Bielema takes over the reins of the Badger program that suffered heavy losses on the offensive side of the ball. The good news is John Stocco (2,920 yards, 21 TDs) returns at quarterback and All-America Joe Thomas is back at tackle. Wisconsin must replace both its receivers and top two rushers, but there is talent available. The defense is in a better situation as eight starters are back, including all-conference safety Joe Stellmacher. This team could move much higher in the standings if the newcomers come through on offense.

8. Minnesota - The Golden Gophers were hit hard by graduation on the offensive side of the ball. Center Greg Eslinger, guard Mark Setterstrom and RB Laurence Maroney are off in the NFL and coach Glen Mason must rebuild a unit that relies on the power running game. The good news is senior signal caller Bryan Cupito (2,530 yards, 19 TDs) is back for his third season as a starter. Amir Pinnix (467 yards) will try and be the man to take over for Maroney. Logan Payne (37-529-2), Ernest Wheelwright (37-568-5) and Matt Spaeth (26-333-4) are Cupito's favorite targets. The defense returns eight starters, but needs to improve on its 90th national ranking.

9. Michigan State - All-conference QB Drew Stanton returns to lead a Spartan offense that features seven starters back from last season. Stanton's two favorite targets, Jerramy Scott (49-722-4) and Matt Trannon (40-573-4), are back as well as the solid rushing duo of Javon Ringer (817-5) and Jehuu Caulcrick (478-7). The offensive line must replace three starters. The defense has six starters back, but needs more production from a unit that was ranked 115th in tackles for loss and 105th in sacks.

10. Indiana - The Hoosiers went to a spread offense last year under new head coach Terry Hoeppner with positive results. QB Blake Powers (2,305 yards, 22 TDs) emerged as a sophomore and receivers James Hardy (61-893-10) and Marcus Thigpen (32-432-2) shined as freshman. The production through the air should continue, it's the ground game that's cause for concern. Only two starters return on the line and redshirt freshman Bryan Paxton, is slated to be the starting tailback. The defense returns its entire secondary, but the front seven was decimated with the loss of DE Victor Adeyanju and LB Kyle Killion.

11. Illinois - The Fighting Illini are a disaster and head coach Ron Zook will find it difficult to improve upon last seasons 2-9 mark. Illinois has struggled recently (6-28 the past three seasons) and relief is nowhere in sight. The defense returns nine starters, but they gave up 44 ppg in conference play and were ranked 107th overall and dead last in the nation at stopping the run. The offense returns nine starters and is reason for some optimism. Tim Brasic (1,979 yards, 11 TDs) is back at QB with Pierre Thomas (664-5) and E.B. Halsey (249 yards rushing, 38 receptions, 7 TDs) back to lead the ground game.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

College Football 2006: The SEC

The Southeastern Conference should once again be loaded with talent and top quality teams in 2006. Five or six teams could win the conference and as many as nine could be good enough to reach a bowl game.

If the SEC isn't the toughest conference in the country - name me a better one? This year should be even stronger than last with loads of incoming talent and many veteran stars returning. The conference is without a doubt the strongest from top to bottom in the land.

In the East, Urban Meyer begins season number two in Florida with his spread option attack. If Chris Leak can master an offense he struggled with last season, look out for the Gators. Georgia is solid, Tennessee should bounce back from a disappointing season and watch out for Steve Spurrier and his fun and gun offense in South Carolina.

In the West, Auburn and LSU are not only conference favorites, but each squad has a legitimate shot at the national title as well. Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi are all bowl capable squads who could surprise if things fall just right. Here's a look at the SEC for 2006.

SEC Standings:

1. Florida - The Gators have had a full year to learn Meyer's spread option offense and with senior quarterback Chris Leak (2,639 yards, 20 TDs) leading the way, big things are expected from Florida this season. Chad Jackson is gone, but Andre Caldwell returns from injury and Dallas Baker (52-697-5) and Jemalle Cornelius are back as well. The offensive line needs to be rebuilt, only one starter returns, but this years line is more athletic according to Meyer. Seven starters return on defense led by DE Jarvis Moss and linebackers Earl Everett and Brandon Siler. The key to the defense this season will come from the secondary where three starters have to be replaced. Add to that a recruiting class that was rated best in the nation (QB Tim Tebow, WR Percy Harvin) and it's easy to see why big things are expected from the Gators.

2. Georgia - Head coach Mark Richt has led the Bulldogs to three SEC East championships and four Top 10 finishes in his five years at the helm. This season the continued success of the program will depend on who and how the new starting quarterback performs. After four years of David Greene and with D.J. Shockley last season, Georgia is without a bona fide number one. Four candidates are in the mix, including senior Joe Tereshinski, sophomore Blake Barnes, redshirt frosh Joe Cox and much-ballyhooed, true freshman Matthew Stafford. Top runners Thomas Brown (736 yards), Danny Ware (429 yards) and Kregg Lumpkin all return, as well as top wideout Mohamed Massaquoi. The defense is solid despite returning only five starters. If Richt can find a quarterback to take control of the offense, the Bulldogs will give the Gators a run for their money.

3. Tennessee - The wheels fell of the Volunteers last season as coach Phil Fulmer had his worst season at Tennessee. Fulmer's first order of business in the offseason was to hire David Cutcliffe back as offensive coordinator. Cutcliffe was OC with the Vols from 1993-98 and Tennessee went 63-11, won two SEC titles and the 1998 national championship. The offense returns seven starters and Erick Ainge, who split time with Rick Clausen last season, has been given the reigns to the offense. Arian Foster (879 yards) came in for the injured Gerald Riggs, Jr. last season and shined. The defense returns with the secondary intact, but the front seven needs to be rebuilt. The Vols get Cal and Florida early so they need to be ready.

4. South Carolina - The Fun 'N Gun of Steve Spurrier worked its magic in his first season as the Gamecocks closed out the campaign with a 7-5 mark and a berth in the Independence Bowl. With a veteran offense returning, look for the South Carolina to be even more potent this season. Blake Mitchell (2,370 yards, 17 TDs) is back at QB with leading receiver Sidney Rice (70-1,143-13) is back in the fold as well. The running game gets a boost with the return of Cory Boyd, who missed all of last season, and leading rusher Mike Davis (666-5). The defense is young and inexperienced and will improve as time goes on. South Carolina should have a winning season, but are probably a year away from contending for the title.

5. Kentucky - Coach Rich Brooks is a dismal 9-25 in three years with the Wildcats, but there is reason for optimism in Lexington. Nine starters return on offense, including dynamic RB Rafael Little (1,045 yards, nine TDs, 46 receptions), while seven are back on defense. That experience, coupled with a strong recruiting class should have Kentucky better its 3-8 mark from a year ago.

6. Vanderbilt - The good news for Vandy is that the offense returns seven starters, including deep threat Earl Bennett (79-876-9), and is a bigger, faster unit than a year ago. The bad news, Jay Cutler is gone and the schedule is a killer. Add to that a defense in transition and it's going to be hard for the Commodores to post their first winning season since 1982.

1. Auburn - The Tigers are loaded once again under Tommy Tuberville and with a schedule that sees LSU, Arkansas, Florida and Georgia coming to Jordan-Hare, Auburn is one of the favorites in the hunt for the national championship. Junior QB Brandon Cox (2,324 yards, 15 TDs) and running back Kenny Irons (1,293-13), along with four starters back on the offensive line, will be even more explosive in 2006. The Tigers lost their top three receivers, but Courtney Taylor is back from an ankle injury and Tommy Trott and Tim Hawthorne have tons of potential. The defense is smaller than before, but deadly fast. David Irons and Jonathan Wilhite are solid in the secondary, while Quentin Groves, Marquies Gunn and Will Herring lead the front seven. Auburn should pick up right where it left off in 2006.

2. LSU - Tons of talent abound at LSU and second-year coach Les Miles will reap the benefits of it. The Tigers are loaded and deep at every position except offensive line. Seven starters return on an offense led by junior QB JaMarcus Russell (2,443 yards, 15 TDs). Matt Flynn and redshirt freshman Ryan Perrilloux are waiting in the wings and make up the best QB threesome in college football. Joseph Addai has gone to the NFL, but Alley Broussard, who missed all last year with an injury and Justin Vincent (488-5) return. Dwayne Bowe (41-710-9) and Craig Davis (35-559) lead the receiving corps. The offensive line lost three starters and must be rebuilt. The defense is lead by All-American safety LaRon Landry and corner Chevis Jackson. The defensive line must try to find replacements for Claude Wroten and Kyle Williams at tackle. If both lines can come together, LSU could be playing for the national title come January.

3. Alabama - Mike Shula has brought the Crimson Tide back to national prominence after going 10-2 last season. Bama won last year with a defense that surrendered the fewest points in the nation (10.7 ppg) and the leadership of QB Brodie Croyle. Seven starters are gone from that defense along with Croyle, but don't feel sorry for Alabama just yet. The offense returns nine starters including RB Kenneth Darby (1,242 yards) and explosive wideouts D.J. Hall (48-676-5) and Tyrone Prothro. Inexperienced sophomore John Parker Wilson must step up and be productive at quarterback. The defense will be led by LB Juwan Simpson and DE Bobby Greenwood. The Tide face a tough schedule, but if Parker and the new-look defense can adjust, Alabama will roll on into another bowl berth.

4. Arkansas - The Razorbacks return 17 starters, including nine on offense and that has people buzzing around Fayetteville. Arkansas lost four games last season by four points or fewer and could have very easily been 8-3 instead of 4-7. Head coach Houston Nutt caused further excitement for Razorback fans when he landed QB Mitch Mustain and his favorite target, WR Damien Williams in a recruiting coup. Mustain, who threw for 3,817 yards and 47 TDs last season, was rated by some scouts as the top high school football player in the country. He will compete with returning starter Casey Dick and Robert Johnson for the job. Darren McFadden (1,113-11) returns at RB after a stellar freshman campaign. The defense is led by All-SEC DT Keith Jackson and Lombardi Trophy contender Sam Olajubutu at linebacker.

5. Mississippi - Two transfers figure to be the main cogs for the Ole Miss Rebels in 2006. Brent Schaefer, former starting QB at Tennessee, takes over the reigns of the Rebel attack and will be joined by RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who transferred from Indiana. Mico McSwain (612 yards) will back up Ellis at tailback. The offensive line has improved, but Ole Miss lost its top four receivers from a year ago. The defense is experienced and bigger all around up front, while Patrick Ellis, arguably the best linebacker in college football, anchors that unit. Three starters return in the secondary. An easy start to the schedule has Mississippi positioned for a bowl game in 2006.

6. Mississippi State - Head coach Sylvester Croom has his deepest and most talented group since he came to Starkville two years ago. Nineteen starters are back, including 10 on defense. The problem for the Bulldogs is the lack of talent at the QB and RB positions. All-everything tailback Jerious Norwood is off to the pros and that leaves the job open to sophomores Brandon Thornton and Brandon Hart or freshman Anthony Dixon. Sophomore Michael Henig or frosh Tray Rutland will battle for the starting quarterback job. The lack of depth at the top skill positions and a murderous schedule will keep Mississippi State from reaching the .500 mark once again.

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Patriots Give Permission for Branch to Seek Trade

By The Associated Press

The New England Patriots gave holdout wide receiver Deion Branch a week to seek a trade and negotiate a contract with another team.

Branch, the 2005 Super Bowl MVP and the team's top receiver, has permission to seek a new team until Sept. 1, the team said Friday.

Branch is scheduled to earn $1.045 million this season, the last of his original five-year contract, but he wants a new deal. He has refused to report to the Patriots' mandatory preseason minicamp and its ongoing training camp.

Coach Bill Belichick has declined to discuss the situation, saying he'll talk only about players that are with the team.

Branch led the Patriots with 78 catches and 998 yards receiving last season

The Patriots began training camp without their top two receivers from last year. David Givens signed as a free agent with Tennessee during the offseason.

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College Football 2006: The Pac-10

While USC has dominated the Pac-10 in recent years, the Trojans, despite tons of blue-chip talent, will be hard-pressed to keep hold of the conference title this season.

The Trojans have young up-and-coming talent all through the roster, but to expect a team to lose Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Dominique Byrd and Deuce Lutui and not be affected by it is nonsense.

The main challenger to the USC throne is California. Head coach Jeff Tedford has a loaded squad that may be his best, as far as offensive and defensive balance goes, in his tenure. If the Golden Bears can find a quarterback to run new offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar's spread option offense, this could be the year the Trojans are dethroned in the Pac-10.

Overall, the conference seems to be a little weaker than in past seasons. Question marks abound with every team, even the favorites. And as we all know, defense in the conference has been almost non-existent.

Cal and USC appear to be the most balanced, but Arizona State and Oregon could challenge as well. Also, UCLA could be a darkhorse if the defense can improve. Here is a look at the Pac-10 for 2006.

Pac-10 Standings:

1. California - The Golden Bears have been breathing down the neck of USC since the arrival of Jeff Tedford and this could be the year California finally catches up. Running backs Marshawn Lynch (1,246 yards, 10 TDs) and Justin Forsett (999 yards, six touchdowns) return to lead on offense that averaged 33 ppg last season. Throw into the mix the return of Cal's top four receivers and you can see why Golden Bear fans are optimistic for 2006. The offensive line lost three starters, but redshirt sophomore Mike Tepper is the real deal at tackle. The defense returns seven starters, including all-conference linebacker Desmond Bishop and DT Brandon Mebane. The loss of CB Tim Mixon to a knee injury hurts, but the one big question mark rests at quarterback where inconsistent starter Joe Ayoob is battling sophomore Nate Longshore. If either can become a reliable quarterback, Cal will be in a BCS bowl.

2. USC - The Trojans have gone 54-10 in five years under Pete Carroll, including a 12-1 mark last year that ended in the loss to Texas for the national championship. And while SC is still a top ten team, too much has been lost to be considered a serious national title contender. The offense will be led by John David Booty, who has the unenviable task of replacing Leinart. One thing in his favor is the receiving combo of Dwayne Jarrett (91-1,274-16) and Steve Smith (60-957-5), the best in the Pac-10. The offensive line returns studs in LT Sam Baker and C Ryan Kalil, but the running game is a huge question mark with four freshman and a converted linebacker (Ryan Powdrell) in the mix. The defense returns only five starters, but one of them is all-conference DE Lawrence Jackson. MLB Rey Maualuga is a future star. USC is still talented, but all the losses will catch up to them this season.

3. Arizona State - Nine starters return on an offensive unit that averaged 37 ppg in 2006. Sophomore Rudy Carpenter (2,165, 17 TDs, two picks) won the quarterback job from Sam Keller in a heated, much publicized battle. Keller left school and is headed to Nebraska because of it. Despite the loss of Derek Hagan, Carpenter still has Mackey candidate Zach Miller and wideout Rudy Burgess to throw to. Keegan Herring (870 yards) returns at tailback. The defense was the Achilles' Heel of the Sun Devils last season and will look to improve with the addition of three transfers: DE Tranell Morant from Florida; DT Michael Marquardt from BYU and DE Loren Howard from Northwestern.

4. Oregon - Head coach Mike Belotti and his Ducks must replace the loss of QB Kellen Clemens and big DT Haloti Ngata, tough tasks indeed. Dennis Dixon gets the first crack at starting QB and he'll have returning starters James Finley (57-571) and Cameron Colvin to throw to. Promising sophomores Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson will run behind an offensive line that returns all five starters. The Oregon defense returns six starters from a unit that led the Pac-10 in 2005, but the loss of Ngata, the run stuffing bull, will be hard to replace. David Faaeteete gets the chance. A tough schedule has Oregon facing USC, Cal and Arizona State on the road.

5. UCLA - The Bruins could be the surprise of the conference if it can shore up a defense that gave up and amazing 232 ypg on the ground! UCLA lost offensive stalwarts Drew Olson, Maurice Drew and Marcedes Lewis to the pros, but the Bruins have athletic replacements at the skill positions, starting with Chris Markey (561 yards) and Kahlil Bell (310 yards) at tailback. Ben Olson is a 23-year old redshirt sophomore who was the top high school QB in the nation back in 2001 and five of the top six receivers are back. The rebuilding of the defense started in the winter when Dewayne Walker was hired away from the Redskins. He brings a no-nonsense, blitzing style to the Bruins attack. If the defense, which is strong in the secondary, can get any kind of solid play from its front seven, UCLA could be a force in the Pac-10 for 2006.

6. Arizona - The Wildcats return 16 starters and look to improve greatly from last seasons 3-8 mark. The key to Arizona's success starts with signal caller Willie Tuitama. The sophomore took over the starting job in the final month of the season and passed for 1,105 yards and nine scores, while leading the Wildcats to a 2-2 mark. Mike Thomas (52-771-5)returns as Tuitama's favorite target. The big question mark on offense is at running back. Mike Bell and Gilbert Harris have graduated and no clear-cut starter emerged in the spring. The defense should be better as nine starters are back. If Tuitama improves from last season and the 'Cats develop a running game, Arizona and coach Mike Stoops could be going bowling.

7. Oregon State - The Beavers are the Jekyll and Hyde of the conference. Head coach Mike Riley has the talent to finish high in the Pac-10 and earn a bowl berth, but his team plays way under their talent level at critical times. Nine starters return on offense, including top running back Yvenson Bernard (1,321 yards, 13 TDs). Mike Hass is gone, but Anthony Wheat-Brown (40-400-3) is more than ready to step up into the number one receiver role. The big problem is the inconsistency of starting QB Matt Moore. The former UCLA Bruin threw for 2,711 yards and 11 TDs last season, while completing nearly 60 percent of his passes. On the downside to those stats was the 19 interceptions he threw. That inconsistency caused the Beavers to drop four of their last five games and finish 5-6. The defense has some problems, especially in the secondary, but the real key to the season is the play of Moore.

8. Stanford - Trent Edwards (1,934 yards, 17 TDs) is one of the top returning quarterbacks in the Pac-10, but he has trouble staying healthy, which causes head coach Walt Harris to have nightmares. Even though the Cardinal return 10 starters on offense, the running game was non-existent (92 ypg) last season and throughout spring practice, Harris had most of the offensive positions open to competition. The defensive picture is even less promising and it should be another long season for Harris and Stanford. Edwards is the only reason the Cardinal will stay in games.

9. Washington State - The Cougars can match offensive output with anybody and head coach Bill Doba will have to have those kind of shootouts if he wants his team to earn victories in 2006. Pass, pass, pass will be the buzzword in Pullman as Alex Brink (2,891 yards, 24 TDs) is back throwing to wideout Jason Hill (62-1,097-13) once again. Jerome Harrison took his 1,900 yards rushing to the pros so Doba is going with a running back by committee approach. The defense, despite seven returning starters, was atrocious last season, giving up 32 ppg, and allowing 289 yards passing a game.

10. Washington - It will be another long year for Huskie fans as Ty Willingham has to work with a spotty quarterback in Isaiah Stanback, a rebuilt offensive line and the transfer of deep threat wide receiver Craig Chambers. The defense gets back eight starters, but they accounted for only 17 turnovers last season, worst in the Pac-10, and the secondary gave up 276 yards through the air. Ouch!

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

College Football 2006: The Big 12

The Big 12 claimed bragging rights to the national championship last season after Texas and QB Vince Young ended USC and its bid for a third straight BCS title. The major question for the conference this season is can the Big 12 and Texas defend its national title?

No one knows for sure. The Longhorns are still talented but Young is a huge loss and with Oklahoma, the other power team in the conference, dismissing QB Rhett Bomar and starting lineman J.D. Quinn for violating NCAA rules, it's looking more and more like the national champion won't be coming out of the Big 12.

That doesn't mean that the Big 12 won't be entertaining. While the Longhorns and Sooners have a stranglehold on the South division as many as four teams could come away with the wide open North division.

Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas State and Iowa State all have some weaknesses, but all four teams are capable of taking the North title. In the end, the Big 12 championship should once again be in the possession of the two super powers in the conference - Texas or Oklahoma. Here's a look at the Big 12 for 2006.

Big 12 Standings:

North Division:
1. Iowa State - Despite a murderous schedule (Iowa, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma on the road) and only four starters returning on defense, the Cyclones should finally get over the hump and capture a North division title for head coach Dan McCartney. The offense is loaded with junior signal caller Brett Meyer (2,876 yards, 19 TDs), senior tailback Stevie Hicks (545 yards) and receivers Austin Flynn (56-624) and Todd Blythe (51-1,000-9). If that wasn't enough, four starters return on the offensive line. If the defense can come along, the Cyclones should be the team to beat in the North.

2. Nebraska- Head coach Bill Callahan is slowly but surely bringing the Cornhuskers back to prominence. The players and fans are staring to warmup to Callahan's West Coast Offense after years and years of Tom Osbourne's wishbone attack. QB Zac Taylor (2,653 yards, 19 TDs) will lead the offense. His two favorite targets, receivers Nate Swift (45-641-7) and Terrence Nunn (43-495-7) return as well. The offense needs to replace Cory Ross at tailback and three starters on the o-line. The defense is solid with the exception of safety.

3. Colorado - New coach Dan Hawkins hopes to bring some of the magic he created at Boise State and use it to resurrect a sagging Buff program. Eight starters return on defense, while leading rusher Hugh Charles (858 yards, six touchdowns) and receiver Dusty Sprague (44-472) return to bolster the offense. The key to Colorado's season and the biggest question mark is finding a quarterback to replace the departed Joel Klatt. The three-man competition features James Cox, Bernard Jackson or Brian White.

4. Kansas State - After 17 seasons, Bill Snyder is gone from Manhattan and Ron Prince takes over at the helm of the Wildcats. A very favorable schedule, a defense that returns eight starters and an offense that brings nine starters back will help. Depth abounds on both sides of the ball for Prince and if K-State can straighten out its quarterback situation, as many as four players are in the running, then the Wildcats could make a run at the North title.

5. Missouri - The bad news for the Tigers and coach Gary Pinkel is that all-everything Brad Smith has departed for the NFL. The silver lining in that dark cloud is that 15 starters return in 2006 and new quarterback Chase Daniel has the potential to be even better than Smith was. The defense must improve after surrendering 29 ppg last season. If it can, Missouri could be headed to a bowl game.

6. Kansas - The Jayhawks return only three starters on defense and will open the season with redshirt freshman Kerry Meier at quarterback. Not the recipe for a successful season. Tailback Joe Cornish (780 yards, nine TDs) will be counted on early to lead Kansas.

South Division:
1. Texas - The Longhorns are loaded once again. With seven starters back on offense and defense and a plethora of blue-chip recruits coming in, Texas is once again the favorite in the Big 12 and a legitimate national championship contender. The problem facing the Longhorns is simple - no Vince Young. Texas was 30-2 with Young as a starter and last season averaged 50 ppg. Redshirt freshman Colt McCoy or true freshman Jevan Snead will try to lead the high-powered Longhorn offense to another national championship. The ground attack of Jamaal Charles (878-11) and Selvin Young (461-8) will have to lead the way early in the season. DT Frank Okam and SS Michael Griffin lead the defense.

2. Oklahoma - The Sooners were dealt a serious blow when Bob Stoops threw Bomar off the team for violating NCAA rules. That created a huge vacuum in the Oklahoma offense and now either senior Paul Thompson or sophomore Joey Halzle will take over the reigns of the Sooner offense. The duo have thrown a combined 26 passes in their NCAA careers. The offense will depend on the legs of star tailback Adrian Peterson (1,108-14), but Peterson has a history of not staying healthy for a full season and the o-line has only two starters back. The Sooners are still a top ten team thanks to a solid defense led by linebackers Rufus Alexander and Zach Latimer and defensive end Calvin Thibodeaux. But without Bomar, Oklahoma takes a step back to Texas.

3. Texas Tech - The Red Raiders lost star QB Cody Hodges and RB Taurean Henderson, but don't feel sorry for head coach Mike Leach just yet. Sophomore Graham Harrell takes over at quarterback and will have four starters back on the offensive line to protect him and his top four wide receivers return as well. The four Texas Tech receivers (Robert Johnson, Joel Filani, Jarrett Hicks and Danny Amendola) combined for 231 receptions and 25 touchdowns last season. The defense returns seven starters with the only question mark being the secondary, where three starters have graduated.

4. Texas A&M - Head coach Dennis Franchione must try and replace Reggie McNeal at quarterback and shore up a defense that gave up almost 40 ppg last season. Stephen McGee has the upper hand right now in the competition to replace McNeal. No matter, with four returning lineman and the top two backs (Courtney Lewis and Jorvorskie Lane) returning, look for the running game to be the bread and butter of the Aggies in 2006. The defense returns only five starters and this will be the Achilles' Heel for Texas A&M all season.

5. Baylor - Head coach Guy Morris has done what many thought impossible in his three years with the Bears - he's brought optimism and confidence to a program that has been notoriously bad for almost two decades. Last seasons 5-6 mark was its best in a decade and now with eight starters back on offense, Baylor fans are actually thinking bowl game. This season, Morris has gone to a spread offense and with a senior quarterback and two-year starter in Shawn Bell at the helm, Morris believes that the Bears will drastically improve on their dismal 19 ppg average last season. The defense, despite returning only four starters, is experience and senior dominated. Baylor could be the darkhorse in the Big 12 for 2006.

6. Oklahoma State - Last season, new head coach Mike Gundy went to a no-huddle offensive attack that his quarterbacks struggled with leading to a disappointing 4-7 record. The quarterback spot could be a problem once again. As many as four are in the hunt for the starting job and none have separated themselves from the pack. Right now, sophomore Bobby Reid has the job. Mike Hamilton had a great freshman season with 961 yards rushing, look for him, along with wideout D'Juan Woods (56-879-8) to carry the load on offense. The defense returns only four starters and is a work in progress.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

College Football 2006: The ACC

The ACC appears headed for a transition year in 2006 with no clear-cut favorite and not a legitimate national championship contender in sight, (The AP and USA Today poll didn't rank an ACC team in the top ten).

The big three of Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech have real question marks as the season begins leaving the way open for a potential darkhorse like Clemson to emerge from the pack and take the crown.

Even with the expected dropoff in the conference, the Seminoles and Hurricanes are still the preseason favorites, thanks to tradition and both programs incredibly strong recruiting base. The Hokies still have a strong defense, but must replace Marcus Vick and Cedric Humes on offense.

The Tigers have the talent to challenge the big three this season, thanks to a defense lead by All-American Gaines Adams and middle linebacker Anthony Waters. The big question mark for Clemson is replacing quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, who is now with the San Diego Chargers in the NFL.

The unpredictability of 2006 should make it an exciting season in the ACC. Look for the big three, along with Clemson and Georgia Tech, to challenge for the conference crown. Here's a look at the ACC for 2006.

ACC Standings:

Atlantic Division:
1. Florida State - Drew Weatherford returns as leader of the Seminole offense and despite some struggles last season (18 interceptions), Weatherford set an ACC record for passing yards by a freshman (3,220). Lorenzo Booker (552 yards) is back at tailback while Chris Davis is a solid receiver. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons leads the defense. Get BC and Clemson at home.

2. Clemson - Head coach Tommy Bowden returns a solid defense with Adams (9.5 sacks) and Waters (109 tackles) leading the way. There are questions in the secondary with Tye Hill off in the pros. The offense returns all five starters on the line and running back James Davis collected 879 yards last year as a freshman. The key to the Tigers' season is quarterback Will Proctor, who must replace the departed Whitehurst.

3. Boston College - Major losses on offense (T Jeremy Trublood; WR Will Blackmon; QB Quinton Porter) and the rebuilding of the defensive front seven, can you say Mathias Kiwanuka, spell problems for BC. The Eagles have enough talent to get to a minor bowl in 2006, but that's about it.

4. Maryland - Must try to replace the big loss of Vernon Davis and quarterback Sam Hollenbach must step up if the Terrapins hope to secure a bowl game in 2006. The defense lost D'Qwell Jackson, but may be a better unit this season. Tailback Lance Ball ran for 903 yards last season.

5. North Carolina State - The offense has improved and quarterback Marcus Stone and running backs Andre Brown and Toney Baker should be able to control the clock and eat up yardage. The problem, how do you replace Mario Williams, Manny Lawson and John McCargo on defense? All three were first round selections in the NFL Draft with Williams being the first overall pick. The answer? You don't.

6. Wake Forest - The Deacons are poised to move up with 10 starters returning on defense and nine back on offense. They can't afford to make mistakes and must play turnover free football, but this team could be a darkhorse in 2006.

Coastal Division:
1. Miami, Fla - The Hurricanes strength is on the defensive side of the ball. Despite the collapse against LSU in the Peach Bowl, the defense surrendered only 14 ppg. last season. Brandon Merriweather and Kenny Phillips are the best safety combo in the country, while Baraka Atkins is a preseason All-American at defensive end. Kyle Wright returns at quarterback after an inconsistent sophomore season, but he won't have to carry the load all by himself. Tyrone Moss and Charlie Jones are a solid 1-2 punch at running back, Greg Olsen is a favorite for the Mackey Award at tight end and Ryan Moore will look to replace Sinorce Moss as the Miami deep threat. A solid team that has the Seminoles at home.

2. Virginia Tech - A strong defense and another easy schedule should keep the Hokies in the title hunt for 2006. Xavier Adibi and Lance Hall are solid linebackers, while Victor Harris is the next big star in the Tech secondary. The key to the season will be at quarterback. Either Sean Glennon, Cory Holt or Ike Whitaker must emerge from this battle and lead the offense. If no one does, it could be a disappointing season for Hokie fans.

3. Georgia Tech - Could very easily bypass Virginia Tech in the standings and challenge the Hurricanes in the division. Reggie Ball (2,165 yards, 11 TDs, 381 yards rushing) is back at quarterback and will be throwing to his favorite target, Calvin Johnson, one of the best receivers in the nation. Johnson caught 54 passes last year for 888 yards and six touchdowns. The o-line returns four starters that will make Ball's job easier. The front seven on the defensive side is solid, but the secondary is a major concern. Only one starter returns and the rest are unproven. If the secondary emerges, look out for the Ramblin' Wreck.

4. North Carolina - The strength of the Tar Heels is on defense, where eight starters return from a unit that was the most improved in the ACC last season. Add to that juco transfer Kentwan Balmer at defensive end and it looks like UNC will be even stronger this season. The offense on the other hand was a disaster in 2005. This season the reigns will be handed to Nebraska transfer Joe Dailey. It's up to him or freshman Cam Sexton to lead the offense back to respectability.

5. Virginia - Major losses will have the Cavaliers in rebuilding mode under Al Groh. Gone are quarterback Marques Hagans, RB Wali Lundy, OT D'Brickshaw Ferguson, LB Ahmad Brooks and LB Kai Parham. Add to that the dismissal of starters Tony Franklin at safety and Vince Redd at defensive end and you can see serious problems ahead for Virginia in 2006.

6. Duke - The countdown to basketball season begins.

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Lelie, Duckett Get Traded

By The AP

When T.J. Duckett and Ashley Lelie were taken with back-to-back picks in the first round of the NFL draft four years ago, some Atlanta fans wondered why the Falcons went with the bruising runner instead of the speedy receiver.

Well, those folks who believed Lelie was a better fit in Atlanta finally got their wish. And, get this, he's coming to the Falcons in a three-team trade involving Duckett.

The Washington Redskins, eager to acquire another runner for their injury-plagued backfield, wound up with Duckett. The Falcons, in desperate need of a third receiver, landed Lelie. And the Denver Broncos, who just wanted to rid themselves of a troublesome holdout, got a draft pick.

The Broncos received Washington's third-round choice in 2007 as part of Tuesday night's deal, which was confirmed by two officials within the league, speaking on condition of anonymity because the trade wasn't to be officially announced until Wednesday.

The Redskins had been shopping for a running back since star Clinton Portis partially dislocated his shoulder in the preseason opener against Cincinnati. He may not be ready for the start of the regular season.

The Falcons, meanwhile, needed a replacement for No. 3 receiver Brian Finneran, who was lost to a season-ending knee injury in the early days of training camp. Lelie was the NFL's leader in yards per catch in 2004, but he held out of training camp this year in hopes of forcing a trade.

In an interesting twist, Duckett and Lelie were involved in the same deal after being taken with consecutive first-round picks in 2002.

The Falcons were criticized for passing over a much-needed receiver to select Duckett at No. 18, especially since Atlanta already signed free-agent running back Warrick Dunn. Lelie went to Denver with the next choice.

Lelie's relationship with the Broncos soured after the team acquired receiver Javon Walker. Lelie refused to report for training camp and was being fined $14,000 a day; it was unclear if he would be required to pay the money before heading to the Falcons.

"It's a win-win situation for everybody," said Peter Schaffer, Lelie's agent.

With Dunn sidelined by a foot injury, Duckett started 10 games in 2003 and led the Falcons with a career-best 779 yards, scoring 11 touchdowns. But Dunn returned to start every game the last two seasons, rushing for more than 1,000 yards each year, and the 254-pound Duckett was relegated mostly to short-yardage situations.

Last season, he gained 380 yards and led Atlanta with eight touchdowns. But with Duckett heading into the final year of his contract, the Falcons used a third-round pick on Mississippi State speedster Jerious Norwood, who now moves up to become Dunn's primary backup.

Running back appeared to be one of Washington's deepest positions heading into training camp.

Portis rushed for a franchise-record 1,516 yards in 2005 -- his third 1,500-yard season in four years -- and led the Redskins to their first playoff berth since 1999. Backup Ladell Betts is a versatile between-the-tackles back who ran for 338 yards in limited action.

But both have been plagued by injuries. Portis hurt his shoulder making a tackle after an interception against the Bengals, and Betts has been limited for much of camp with an ailing hamstring.

Portis began his rehabilitation this week and said he was hopeful of playing in the Sept. 11 opener against Minnesota. Still, he has questioned whether the shoulder would hold up for the entire season because it would be an obvious target for opposing tacklers.

Betts had three carries Saturday against the New York Jets and has been practicing this week, but the latest injury raised questions about his durability. He already missed chunks of time in 2003 with a broken arm and in 2005 with a sprained knee.

At times during training camp, Washington's lead back was Rock Cartwright, who is better known for his special teams play. Duckett is a much better insurance policy for the Redskins, who made their second deal of the preseason in hopes of building a roster that can challenge for the Super Bowl. Last week, receiver Taylor Jacobs was sent to the San Francisco 49ers for cornerback Mike Rumph.

As for the Falcons, who reached the NFC championship game two years ago but slumped to 8-8 in 2005, this was their second three-team deal involving the Broncos. During the offseason, Denver got in on a trade that brought defensive end John Abraham to Atlanta from the New York Jets.

Lelie had his best season in 2004. He started all 16 games, coming up with 54 receptions for 1,084 yards (20.1 per catch) and seven touchdowns. Last season, he made 13 starts and dropped off to 42 catches for 770 yards and one touchdown.

That prompted the Broncos to go after Walker, a deal that left Lelie as the likely No. 3 receiver on a team that also has Rod Smith. Lelie, with one year left on his contract, followed through on his vow to hold out until he was traded.

He got his wish Tuesday, but goes to a team where he's likely to remain the third receiver. Roddy White and Michael Jenkins are the clear-cut starters in Atlanta, though Lelie should get plenty of playing time.

Finneran caught 50 passes last season and was expected to make another big contribution in a backup role until he tore up his left knee during a one-on-one drill less than a week into training camp. No one else on the roster looked capable of taking his place.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

College Football 2006: The Big East

Last season, West Virginia was the surprise team of college football. The Mountaineers, led by two freshman, went 11-1 on the season, culminating in a 38-35 victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

Fast forward to 2006 and WVU under the direction of head coach Rich Rodriguez is the favorite to capture back-to-back Big East championships and many consider the Mountaineers a legitimate national championship contender.

With sophomore quarterback Pat White and sophomore tailback Steve Slaton back leading the way, West Virginia is definitely a top contender for the national championship. The offense is loaded and Rodriguez's 3-3-5 stack defense was rated 19th against the run last season.

Another key factor in having a championship team is a favorable schedule. And no one has a schedule more in tune for a title run than the Mountaineers. Key contests with Marshall, Maryland and Rutgers are at home. The only possible stumbling blocks to an undefeated season is a contest with Louisville on the road November 2 and one with Pittsburgh on November 16.

The Big East should come down to that battle between the Mountaineers and the Cardinals. Here's a look at the Big East for 2006.

Big East Standings:

1. West Virginia - White (828 yards passing, 900 yards rushing) and Slaton (1,128 yards, seven touchdowns) lead a Mountaineer squad that's a legitimate national championship contender. All-American center Dan Mozes and all conference guard Jeremy Sheffey will lead the way for White and Slaton.

2. Louisville - Preseason All-America QB Brian Brohm (2,883 yards, 19 TDs) and running back Michael Bush (1,143 yards, 23 touchdowns) return to lead a squad that is a solid top ten team and the best head coach Bobby Petrino has put on the field to date. Middle linebacker Nate Harris is the leader on the defense.

3. Pittsburgh - Senior signal caller Tyler Palko (2,392 yards, 17 TDs), along with sophomore tailback LaRod Stephens look to lead Pittsburgh back to a bowl game in head coach Dave Wannstedt's second season. Linebackers H.B. Blades (121 tackles) and Clint Session lead a defense that returns seven starters.

4. Rutgers - Head coach Greg Schiano leads a Scarlet Knight club that had its first winning season since 1992 and went to its first bowl game since 1979. Ray Rice (1,120 yards) and Brian Leonard (740 yards rushing , 55 receptions, 17 total TDs) lead the way on offense, while eight starters return on defense.

5. South Florida - Senior quarterback Pat Julmiste will have to step up after the departure of running back Andre Hall (1,374 yards, 13 scores). Eight starters return on defense to lead the Bulls.

6. Connecticut - The Huskies return 16 starters from a 5-6 squad a year ago and head coach Randy Edsell hopes that either Matt Bonislawski and D.J. Hernandez will emerge as the leader of the team at quarterback. Eight starters return from a defensive unit that lead the Big East in total defense last season.

7. Cincinnati- It's going to take third-year coach Mark Dantonio some more time to rebuild the Bearcats.

8. Syracuse - It's going to be a long, long process for Greg Robinson converting to a West Coast offense. Before that, Robinson will have to improve his specialty -- defense.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Jets Trade for Barlow

by The AP

The New York Jets acquired running back Kevan Barlow from the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday for an undisclosed draft pick in 2007, their second attempt in a week to shore up the position in Curtis Martin's absence.

Barlow's departure officially handed the 49ers' starting job to second-year running back Frank Gore, who already was well on his way to winning it outright. Gore, San Francisco's leading rusher last year with 608 yards, seemed to be trouncing Barlow, a sixth-year pro, in training-camp competition.

Gore stepped right into his new role, rushing for 42 yards on seven carries in the 49ers' 23-7 exhibition loss at Oakland on Sunday night.

"It's tough for me when you get that call the day of the game and find out that you're going to be the man," Gore said. "As long as I keep working hard and just get relaxed, I'll be fine. I'm excited that the coaching staff feels I'm going to get the job done."

The deal is contingent on Barlow passing a physical -- no sure thing with the Jets, who failed Cleveland's Lee Suggs last Tuesday for mysterious reasons after acquiring the running back from the Browns.

But the Jets are in desperate need of help at running back. Martin has been on the physically-unable-to-perform list since training camp opened because of a lingering knee injury.

Though the 33-year-old Martin hopes to play again, his future is uncertain. The Jets have refused to disclose when Martin could return. Without him, the Jets have relied on Derrick Blaylock, Cedric Houston and rookie Leon Washington. The three played well in their preseason game Friday against Washington -- but the Jets' brass apparently wasn't impressed.

"We talked last week, and then they called us back (Saturday)," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said after Sunday's 23-7 exhibition loss to Oakland. "It got serious this morning, and that's when we decided to do it."

Martin, the NFL's fourth career leading rusher, underwent surgery on his right knee in December. He has yet to practice, and reports have said he has a "bone on bone" condition in his knee.

Still, Martin has been an ironman his entire career, known as much for his running as his ability to play through pain. When he went out last season, he broke a string of 119 consecutive regular-season starts and ended his streak of 10 straight 1,000-yard seasons to start a career, a record he shares with Barry Sanders.

"We have been impressed with Kevan's production in both the running and passing game," Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. "We feel Kevan will complement our running back group, and he will come in and compete for playing time."

The 49ers summoned Barlow from the team hotel on Sunday morning for a meeting with Nolan at the club's training complex. Though Barlow was comfortable in San Francisco, he'll have a chance at a starting job in New York -- something he seemed to be losing with the 49ers.

"I didn't need any reassurance, but Frank does a great job," Nolan said after Gore's strong performance against the Raiders. "My conversation with Kevan was good. He likes it here in San Francisco, so it was a little emotional for him. He's been here six years, and who knows, he could be back. ... I don't want to pretend to be in (the Jets') medical room."

Barlow was the 49ers' third-round pick in 2001, and he shared playing time with Garrison Hearst for three moderately successful seasons, gaining a career-best 1,024 yards in 2003.

But he seemed unsuited for the pressure and workload of a full-time starting job in 2004. Running skittishly behind San Francisco's terrible offensive line during a 2-14 season, Barlow managed 822 yards -- just 3.4 yards per carry, two-thirds of his 2003 average.

Barlow had another dismal year in 2005, managing just 581 yards with a career-low 3.3 yards per carry -- 1.5 yards fewer than Gore -- for the NFL's worst offense.

When Nolan confirmed rumors of the Jets' discussions with San Francisco last week, Barlow claimed he wasn't worried about losing his job to Gore -- but he was heard singing along to "New York, New York" on his iPod a few days later.

Maurice Hicks and rookie Michael Robinson, who caught a touchdown pass Sunday night, will move up the 49ers' depth chart behind Gore.

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College Football 2006 Redux

I've had to push back the start of our college football preview special for another day because of some personal issues that I have to take care of.

I will be out of town for most of the day, so everything has been pushed back a day. Here is the new updated college football preview schedule.

Tuesday, August 22: Big East
Wednesday, August 23: ACC
Thursday, August 24: Big 12
Friday, August 25: Pac-10
Saturday, August 26: SEC
Monday, August 28: Big Ten
Tuesday, August 29: Independents
Wednesday, August 30: Heisman Watch
Thursday, August 31: The Corners Preseason Top 25 & national championship predictions

We hope you'll stick around and enjoy our preview of the college football season and feel free to post your comments on what you think will happen in 2006.

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

College Football 2006

Welcome to the first of a eight-part series on college football. Over the next 10 days the Corner will preview the six major conferences, along with the D1 independents, leading up to our very own preseason top 25 rankings for 2006.

We'll take a look at each teams chances as well as the players to watch in 2006 and end with our prediction on who will be playing for the national championship come January 8th.

Below is the posting schedule for the college football 2006 preview series:

Monday, August 21: Big East & Independents
Tuesday, August 22: ACC
Wednesday, August 23: Big 12
Thursday, August 24: Pac-10
Friday, August 25: SEC
Saturday, August 26: Big Ten
Monday, August 28: Heisman Watch
Tuesday, August 29: The Corners Preseason Top 25 & national championship predictions

We hope you'll stick around and enjoy our preview of the college football season and feel free to post your comments on what you think will happen in 2006.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Ohio State Tops AP Poll

By The AP

NEW YORK (AP) - When Troy Smith, Ted Ginn Jr. and the rest of Ohio State's blazing Buckeyes were last seen on a big stage, they were whizzing around Sun Devil Stadium at warp speed.

That 34-20 victory over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl made a lasting impression.

For the first time since 1998, Ohio State is preseason No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25.

"Around here, whether you're high in the polls or not, the expectations are still the same," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said in a telephone interview.

The Buckeyes received 35 of a possible 65 first-place votes from a panel of media members in the poll released Friday. Notre Dame was No. 2, the best preseason showing for the Fighting Irish since they were second in 1994.

Texas will start the defense of its national title as the No. 3 team in the country. Auburn was fourth and West Virginia fifth. Southern California, preseason No. 1 the past two years, was No. 6. Florida, LSU, California and Oklahoma rounded out the top 10.

No. 11 Florida State and No. 12 Miami will renew their rivalry on Labor Day night in the Orange Bowl.

No. 13 was Louisville, followed by Michigan, Georgia, Iowa, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Penn State and Nebraska. The final five were Oregon, TCU, Tennessee, Arizona State and Texas Tech.

Unlike the past two seasons, when Southern Cal started the season as an overwhelming No. 1, the Buckeyes received 54 percent of the first-place votes, and all the teams in the top six received at least three votes for No. 1. Notre Dame had 10 first-place votes, Texas eight, West Virginia six and Auburn and USC three.

Ohio State closed the 2005 season on a seven-game winning streak and was No. 4 in the final AP poll. The Buckeyes' two losses were to Texas and Penn State by a combined total of 10 points.

The emergence of Smith, a dual-threat quarterback whose junior season started with a suspension, gave the Buckeyes' a new identity.

In Ohio State's first five seasons under Tressel, defense had become the Buckeyes' forte, complemented by a play-it-safe offensive mentality. Tresselball won Ohio State a national title in 2002 with Maurice Clarett powering the offense on the ground.

With Smith running the show, Ohio State has a new MO. These Buckeyes run a jet-powered spread-option offense, turning Smith loose the way Texas did Vince Young. During the seven-game winning streak, Ohio State averaged 38 points per game.

"There's no question we'd love to be explosive," Tressel said. "We have some kids who can do those type of things."

Smith passed for 2,282 yards, ran for 611 more and accounted for 27 touchdowns on the ground and through the air last season. He did all that despite sitting out the first game for taking money from a booster and then sharing the job for two games.

Smith solidified his status against Michigan and Notre Dame, throwing for 642 yards.

"I think he has done an excellent job battling through adversity, some of which he created and others were circumstances that had nothing to do with him," said Tressel, who's 50-13 with Ohio State. "Now the fun thing about Troy Smith is to find out how he'll handle success."

Smith has a couple of excellent running mates in Ginn and tailback Antonio Pittman.

Ginn, the super-fast receiver and return man who was a freshman star in 2004, was having a disappointing sophomore season until he burned Notre Dame for 167 yards on eight catches, including touchdowns of 56 and 68 yards.

Pittman had the second-best sophomore season of any running back in Ohio State history with 1,331 yards rushing - only two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin did better - capped by a game-clinching 60-yard yard touchdown sprint against the Fighting Irish.

The Buckeyes must replace seven defensive starters, including linebacker A.J. Hawk and two other first-round draft picks. "You miss the maturity, the leadership and the game experience," Tressel said. All the top teams seem to be missing something.

Notre Dame's 17 returning starters include its Heisman contender, quarterback Brady Quinn, but also most of the defense Ohio State torched.

Texas would have been a lock to enter the season No. 1 if Young hadn't left early for the NFL. Without him, the Longhorns are loaded but leaderless.

USC must replace Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and enough offensive talent to start an NFL expansion team.

Auburn's smallish defense was last seen being run over by burly Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.

West Virginia proved it belonged among the nation's elite with a 38-35 win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. But how will last season's fabulous freshmen, quarterback Pat White and backfield mate Steve Slaton, respond to high expectations?

LSU and Cal have quarterback questions. Speaking of quarterbacks, how will Florida's Chris Leak do in Year 2 under Urban Meyer?

And how will Oklahoma hold up after its starting QB, Rhett Bomar, was kicked off the team for taking a no-show job?

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Around The NFL: Seau to Play? Stevens Hurt

Junior Seau announced his retirement on Monday. Four days later, the 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker appears ready to un-retire and try out for Bill Belichik.

The San Diego Union-Tribune is reporting that Seau will undergo a physical and could sign with the New England Patriots as early as Friday.

The Patriots' linebacking corps have been hit hard by injuries this summer. Starting inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi is sidelined with a broken wrist and fellow inside linebacker Monty Beisel has been battling injuries.

New England started Barry Gardner and Don Davis at inside linebacker with Larry Izzo and rookie free agent Freddie Roach as the primary backups in the preseason opener against Atlanta. That unit gave up 196 yards on 33 carries.

Seau was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame All-Decade Team for the 1990s and was named to the Pro Bowl 12 straight years from 1992-2003.

After an All-American career at Southern California, Seau was selected by San Diego fifth overall in the 1990 draft.


The Seattle Seahawks' offense suffered a big blow when tight end Jerramy Stevens tore the meniscus in his surgically repaired left knee during practice.

Stevens is expected to miss the next six weeks, including the start of the regular season. A Thursday afternoon MRI revealed the extent of the injury. Stevens was scheduled for surgery in Seattle on Friday.

He was injured Thursday while trying to catch a pass from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Stevens emerged last season as a favorite target of Hasselbeck on third downs and near the goal line. He had career highs of 45 receptions and five touchdowns.

Itula Mili, who missed all of last season, will start in Stevens' absence.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Bad Week for Viking Fans

The Minnesota Vikings and their fans would like to forget that this week ever happened.

It started on Monday when the Vikings lost to the Raiders 16-13 on the debut of Monday Night Football on ESPN. What followed was like a song from the Nine Inch Nails album, "The Downward Spiral."

This downward spiral took the form of inside linebacker and top draft pick Chad Greenway suffering a season-ending knee injury. That was followed by the news that Koren Robinson, a recovering alcoholic, may have relapsed. He was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving Tuesday night.

Robinson was caught speeding on radar at about 10:45 p.m. and refused to stop. He was arrested by police about 10 miles away in Mankato, where the Vikings hold their training camp.

He was in the Nicollet County jail on Wednesday, with charges possible later in the day. He may face a felony charge of fleeing police along with a possible DWI charge. Robinson was given field tests for drunken driving, police said.

Greenway, the team's first-round draft pick, 17th overall, out of Iowa, was hurt covering a kickoff in Monday night's 16-13 loss to the Oakland Raiders. He had an MRI test Tuesday morning. While the Vikings refused to state the nature of the injury, it is believed to be a torn ACL.

Greenway's injury leaves a weak linebacking unit even more vulnerable, while Robinson made the Pro-Bowl last season as a special teams performer.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

Coaches Clinic - Base Defense

My friends at Pigskin Playbooks wanted to put on a little coaches clinic and I said why not? It looks cool, is very informative and helps me put more posts on the blog to entertain my readers.

The following clip is a part of the multimedia coaching program: The Pigskin Playbooks Guide to Coaching Youth Football. They help sponsor me here from time to time and the coach who put this together has done a very good job teaching this stuff. He's won nine Pop Warner League championships in 11 years and has a 75-7 career coaching record. Not bad at all!

Anyone from a newbie coach to a seasoned veteran can learn from this. The video is on Trips Pass Plays and it's pretty neat. Check it out below.

If you'd like to order the guide. Click here. If not that's okay too.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Seau To Retire Monday

By The AP

Junior Seau, a 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker who played with the San Diego Chargers and the Miami Dolphins during a 16-year NFL career, will announce his retirement Monday.

Seau will make the announcement at a news conference at Chargers Park on Monday afternoon, the team said in a statement Sunday.

The 37-year-old Seau spent the past three seasons with Miami after being acquired from San Diego.

He was released by the Dolphins in March after missing 17 games the past two years due to injury. He finished both seasons on injured reserve, and an Achilles tendon injury limited him to seven games in 2005. Seau ended the 2004 season on injured reserve because of a torn pectoral muscle.

In spring 2003 the Chargers, feeling that Seau's best years were behind him, allowed his agent to shop for a trade. Seau then was sent to Miami.

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Fantasy Football 2006: The Top 30 Players

(This is the final installment of a seven-part series on fantasy football. In this series, the Corner looks at draft strategies and ranks the top players for every position. Today we rate the top 30 fantasy players overall.)

Welcome back to our continuing look at fantasy football 2006. In the sixth part of this series, we looked at and rated the top 20 kickers and top 15 defenses in the league. Today we turn our attention to the top 30 overall players.

These are the guys that should be snatched up first and foremost in virtually any fantasy league based on basic scoring and yardage parameters. Whether its a keeper league or not - the top 30 players remains unchanged. These are the best of the best.

Here's the Corners rankings of the top 30 players in fantasy football for 2006:

1. Shaun Alexander - Seattle Seahawks
2. LaDainian Tomlinson - San Diego Chargers
3. Larry Johnson - Kansas City Chiefs
4. Peyton Manning - Indianapolis Colts
5. Edgerrin James - Arizona Cardinals
6. Tom Brady - New England Patriots
7. Tiki Barber - New York Giants
8. Carson Palmer - Cincinnati Bengals
9. Steve Smith - Carolina Panthers
10. Rudi Johnson - Cincinnati Bengals
11. Clinton Portis - Washington Redskins
12. Chad Johnson - Cincinnati Bengals
13. Steven Jackson - St. Louis Rams
14. Carnell Williams - Miami Dolphins
15. Ronnie Brown - Miami Dolphins
16. Torry Holt - St. Louis Rams
17. Larry Fitzgerald - Arizona Cardinals
18. Matt Hasselbeck - Seattle Seahawks
19. Marvin Harrison - Indianapolis Colts
20. Terrell Owens - Dallas Cowboys
21. Eli Manning - New York Giants
22. Anquan Boldin - Arizona Cardinals
23. Randy Moss - Oakland Raiders
24. Antonio Gates - San Diego Chargers
25. Lamont Jordan - Oakland Raiders
26. Jake Delhomme - Carolina Panthers
27. Marc Bulger - St. Louis Rams
28. Tony Gonzalez - Kansas City Chiefs
29. Hines Ward - Pittsburgh Steelers
30. Willis McGahee - Buffalo Bills

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Fantasy Football 2006: Kickers & Defense

(This is the sixth of a seven-part series on fantasy football. In this series, the Corner looks at draft strategies and ranks the top players for every position. Today we rate the top kickers and defenses.)

Welcome back to our continuing look at fantasy football 2006. In the fifth part of this series, we looked at and rated the top 20 tight ends in the league. Today we turn our attention to the kickers and defenses.

Kickers and defense, although important for the makeup of your fantasy squad, should be saved for the later rounds. In our league we draft two quarterbacks, four running backs, five receivers, two tight ends, two kickers and two defenses for a total of 17 rounds. I like to draft my kickers and defense in rounds 14-17. Kickers are pretty much even for the most part and while a defense can make or break you sometimes, it's not good strategy to draft a defense ahead of a position player.

Here's the Corners rankings of the top 20 kickers in fantasy football for 2006:

1. Adam Vinatieri - Indianapolis Colts
2. Shayne Graham - Cincinnati Bengals
3. Neil Rackers - Arizona Cardinals
4. Jason Elam - Denver Broncos
5. Mike Vanderjagt - Dallas Cowboys
6. David Akers - Philadelphia Eagles
7. Josh Brown - Seattle Seahawks
8. Jay Feely - New York Giants
9. Lawrence Tynes - Kansas City Chiefs
10. Jeff Wilkins - St. Louis Rams
11. Matt Stover - Baltimore Ravens
12. Nate Kaeding - San Diego Chargers
13. Jeff Reed - Pittsburgh Steelers
14. John Kasay - Carolina Panthers
15. Ryan Longwell - Minnesota Vikings
16. Olindo Mare - Miami Dolphins
17. John Hall - Washington Redskins
18. Matt Bryant - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
19. Sebastian Janikowski - Oakland Raiders
20. Mike Nugent - New York Jets

Sleeper: Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots
Overrated: Janikowski.
Rookies to watch: Gostkowski.

Here's the Corners rankings of the top 15 defenses in fantasy football for 2006:

1. Chicago Bears
2. Carolina Panthers
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Baltimore Ravens
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6. Washington Redskins
7. Indianapolis Colts
8. Dallas Cowboys
9. Atlanta Falcons
10. Seattle Seahawks
11. New York Giants
12. Jacksonville Jaguars
13. Denver Broncos
14. Miami Dolphins
15. New England Patriots

Sleeper: Jaguars
Overrated: San Diego Chargers

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Fantasy Football 2006: Tight Ends

(This is the fifth of a seven-part series on fantasy football. In this series, the Corner looks at draft strategies and ranks the top players for every position. Today we rate the top tight ends.)

Welcome back to our continuing look at fantasy football 2006. In the fourth part of this series, we looked at and rated the top 20 wide receivers in the league. Today we turn our attention to the tight ends.

Tight ends can and should be drafted in the later rounds, unless an Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez are available. If one of those is still around by the sixth round, then you might consider pulling the trigger. If not, you can still find solid tight ends later in the draft.

Here's the Corners rankings of the top 20 tight ends in fantasy football for 2006:

1. Antonio Gates - San Diego Chargers
2. Tony Gonzalez - Kansas City Chiefs
3. Jeremy Shockey - New York Giants
4. Todd Heap - Baltimore Ravens
5. Jason Witten - Dallas Cowboys
6. Alge Crumpler - Atlanta Falcons
7. Randy McMichael - Miami Dolphins
8. Chris Cooley - Washington Redskins
9. Vernon Davis - San Francisco 49ers
10. L.J. Smith - Philadelphia Eagles
11. Kellen Winslow Jr. - Cleveland Browns
12. Jerramy Stevens - Seattle Seahawks
13. Jermaine Wiggins - Minnesota Vikings
14. Heath Miller - Pittsburgh Steelers
15. Dallas Clark - Indianapolis Colts
16. Ben Troupe - Tennessee Titans
17. Ben Watson - New England Patriots
18. Marcus Pollard - Detroit Lions
19. Alex Smith - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
20. Zach Hilton - New Orleans Saints

Sleeper: Alex Smith
Overrated: Winslow
Rookies to watch: Davis, Joe Klopfenstein, St. Louis Rams; Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars; Anthony Fasano, Dallas Cowboys; Tony Scheffler, Denver Broncos; and Leonard Pope, Arizona Cardinals.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Fantasy Football 2006: Wide Receivers

(This is the fourth of a seven-part series on fantasy football. In this series, the Corner looks at draft strategies and ranks the top players for every position. Today we rate the top wide receivers.)

Welcome back to our continuing look at fantasy football 2006. In the third part of this series, we looked at and rated the top 20 running backs in the league. Today we turn our attention to the wide receivers.

Wide receivers can have a tremendous value in fantasy football, just look at Steve Smith last season. While not as important as running backs or arguably quarterbacks - most fantasy owners should grab two wideouts within the first six rounds of your draft. After you get your two main starters, grab depth in the later rounds where decent players are still available.

Here's the Corners rankings of the top 20 wide receivers in fantasy football for 2006:

1. Steve Smith - Carolina Panthers
2. Torry Holt - St. Louis Rams
3. Chad Johnson - Cincinnati Bengals
4. Larry Fitzgerald - Arizona Cardinals
5. Marvin Harrison - Indianapolis Colts
6. Terrell Owens - Dallas Cowboys
7. Anquan Boldin - Arizona Cardinals
8. Randy Moss - Oakland Raiders
9. Hines Ward - Pittsburgh Steelers
10. Plaxico Burress - New York Giants
11. Reggie Wayne - Indianapolis Colts
12. Santana Moss - Washington Redskins
13. Chris Chambers - Miami Dolphins
14. Javon Walker - Denver Broncos
15. Roy Williams - Detroit Lions
16. Donald Driver - Green Bay Packers
17. T.J. Houshmandzadeh - Cincinnati Bengals
18. Darrell Jackson - Seattle Seahawks
19. Derrick Mason - Baltimore Ravens
20. Joey Galloway - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sleeper: Nate Burleson, Seattle Seahawks
Overrated: Joe Horn, New Orleans Saints
Rookies to watch: Santonio Holmes, Pittsburgh Steelers; Chad Jackson, New England Patriots; Sinorice Moss, New York Giants; Jason Avant, Philadelphia Eagles; Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers; Derek Hagan, Miami Dolphins; and Maurice Stovall, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Fantasy Football 2006: Running Backs

(This is the third of a seven-part series on fantasy football. In this series, the Corner looks at draft strategies and ranks the top players for every position. Today we rate the top running backs.)

Welcome back to our continuing look at fantasy football 2006. In the second part of this series, we looked at and rated the top 20 quarterbacks in the league. Today we turn our attention to the running backs.

Running backs are the most important position in fantasy football. They are the yardage makers and touchdown scorers. You always want to grab your starting backs within the first three picks of your draft. Don't let that rule slide or you could be in trouble this season. I like to take both of my starting backs with the first two picks and go for a wideout or a starting quarterback with the third pick. It's a very successful strategy to follow.

Here's the Corners rankings of the top 20 running backs in fantasy football for 2006:

1. Shaun Alexander, Seattle Seahawks
2. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers
3. Larry Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs
4. Edgerrin James, Arizona Cardinals
5. Tiki Barber, New York Giants
6. Rudi Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals
7. Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins
8. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
9. Carnell Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
10. Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins
11. Lamont Jordan, Oakland Raiders
12. Willis McGahee, Buffalo Bills
13. Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia Eagles
14. Domanick Davis, Houston Texans
15. Jamal Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
16. Julius Jones, Dallas Cowboys
17. Willie Parker, Pittsburgh Steelers
18. Chester Taylor, Minnesota Vikings
19. Tatum Bell, Denver Broncos
20. Kevin Jones, Detroit Lions

Sleeper: Taylor
Overrated: Cedric Benson, Chicago Bears
Rookies to watch: Reggie Bush, New Orleans Saints; DAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers; Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts; Laurence Maroney, New England Patriots; LenDale White, Tennessee Titans; Maurice Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars; and Jerious Norwood, Atlanta Falcons.

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Clarett Arrested After Police Chase

From the AP

Maurice Clarett was charged with carrying a concealed weapon after a highway chase early Wednesday that ended with police using Mace on the former Ohio State running back and finding four loaded guns in his sport utility vehicle, police said.

Officers used Mace to subdue Clarett after a stun gun was ineffective because the former Fiesta Bowl star was wearing a bullet-resistant vest, Sgt. Michael Woods said.

"It took several officers to get him handcuffed," Woods said. "Even after he was placed in the paddy wagon, he was still kicking at the doors and being a problem for the officers."

The complaint police filed when they charged him with carrying a concealed weapon without permit said he had a 9 mm handgun under his legs in the driver's seat of an SUV.

Police also charged him with failing to maintain a continuous lane, which they said was for Clarett making a U-turn on the freeway. More charges are possible, Woods said.

Clarett did not speak to police who tried to interview him at the station before he was moved to the Franklin County Jail.

Wearing tan jail-issue clothes, he talked on the telephone in the booking area, separated from reporters by a window. He was to be held at the jail at least until an arraignment Thursday morning, unless his attorneys work out an agreement for his release, police said.

Clarett made an illegal U-turn on the city's east side and failed to stop when officers, in a cruiser with lights flashing, tried to pull him over, Woods said.

Police said they pursued Clarett onto the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70, one of the city's main freeways, when he darted across the median and began heading west. Clarett drove over a spike strip that was placed on the highway, flattening the driver's side tires of the SUV, Woods said. A police helicopter in the area helped track the vehicle.

Clarett exited the highway and pulled into a restaurant parking lot about 10 minutes after police say they saw him make the U-turn. Officers removed him from the SUV after he failed to obey numerous orders to exit the vehicle, Woods said.

After Clarett was placed in a police van, officers discovered a loaded rifle and three loaded handguns in the front of his vehicle, Woods said.

"We don't have any idea why he had them or what, if anything, he was going to do with them," Woods said. Police don't know where Clarett got the guns or where he was headed or coming from in the SUV. Federal authorities plan to trace the guns' ownership.

A half-full bottle of vodka was found in the SUV, but no breath test was administered because police had no indication that Clarett was intoxicated, Woods said.

The 22-year-old Clarett is currently awaiting trial on two counts of aggravated robbery, four counts of robbery and one count of carrying a concealed weapon in a separate case. Authorities said he was identified by witnesses as the person who flashed a gun and robbed two people of a cell phone in an alley behind the Opium Lounge in Columbus in the early hours of Jan. 1.