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Path: /nascar/twenty-years-after-first-brickyard-win-jeff-gordon-shoots-fifth
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Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, Geoffrey is at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where a batch of storylines lead the series up to the race once simply known as The Brickyard 400. Among them: the importance of practice and qualifying this weekend, NASCAR’s weariness to change the schedule in 2015 and the importance of Sunday’s race for three particular drivers.

 

 

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Qualifying at the Brickyard is always among the most important of the season for Sprint Cup teams in terms of how it will affect their Sunday race strategy. The 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway is notoriously difficult in the passing department and the tight confines of pit road give a sizable advantage to those in prime spots — the same teams qualified up front.

 

So Saturday at Indianapolis will be a pressure-filled time for those who want to kiss the bricks Sunday, even before weather concerns  and NASCAR’s new qualifying format was tossed in the mix.

 

The green flag will wave on Session 1 of the three-round qualifying at 2:10 p.m. ET should rain stay away. The National Weather Service Friday gave the track a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms during that time period. Any delay would be tough on an otherwise packed track schedule with the Nationwide Series race set to start at 4:30 p.m. ET, meaning a wet track would likely mean total cancellation of the session in favor of Friday’s practice speeds.

 

But should the rain stay away, the three-round session will see a bunch of drivers all trying to time a lap in the best weather conditions possible — i.e., more clouds and less sun.

 

 

NASCAR growing weary of schedule suggestions

The two years of success for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Eldora Speedway as a mid-week, primetime feature has certainly been a boon to both the series and the sport at large. With the 2015 national series schedules still unannounced and previous overtures of significant change from the sport’s leaders — assertions largely since retracted by CEO Brian France — the topic of more NASCAR races on weeknights has become a popular one.

 

Ryan Newman, last year’s winner of the Brickyard 400, was completely in favor of the idea Friday at Indianapolis.

 

“I’d turn some races into Wednesday night races, some into Saturday night or Sunday races when it made sense,” Newman said before noting the schedule could be condensed without dropping races. “I think just realigning it and being able to be on TV on our own special event on Wednesday night — especially in football season — would be good for our sport.”

 

Of course, such a shift would be dramatic for the sport often slow to change. It would also require crossing several hurdles in terms of logistics and politics — a point that NASCAR’s chief communications officer Brett Jewkes wanted to make crystal clear Friday on Twitter.

 

“Armchair schedule-makers at full froth this week,” Jewkes wrote. “Amazing how, quick and easy it sounds. #ItsNot

 

So much for that, right? In a clarifying tweet, Jewkes wrote “Love all the ideas, don’t love the notion that there’s a magic wand and it’s easy. It’s not.”

 

For fans desperate for a shake-up in the season schedule, it sure seems like the wait will continue despite some fascinating ideas and what-ifs.

 

 

Gordon extra confident on 20th anniversary of inaugural Brickyard win

Buzz of Jeff Gordon’s inaugural Brickyard 400 win 20 years ago — and after Sunday’s green flag, 21 races ago — has been steady this week at IMS. The track is selling t-shirts commemorating the first of Gordon’s four Brickyard wins and the mayor of Indianapolis even declared Sunday as “Jeff Gordon Day” in the city that once served as his transplanted home.

 

But Gordon, the current Sprint Cup points leader with a 12-point advantage on Dale Earnhardt Jr., made it clear among the pomp-and-circumstance of the anniversary that he’s serious about winning a fifth. He thinks his Chevrolet is decidedly strong for Sunday’s race — and that’s saying something for a driver with a career average finish of 8.8 at the track.

 

“From an overall strength of the team and speed of the car, this is by far the best chance we’ve had at winning in a long time,” Gordon said Friday at IMS.

 

It’s been 10 years since Gordon was a winner at Indy, but he’s nabbed four top-5 finishes and seven top-10 runs in that period. 

 

“We’ve come in here and didn’t really have what it took to win and made more out of it than I anticipated once the green flag dropped,” Gordon said. “This weekend there’s no doubt I feel like this is the best chance that we’ve had at winning this race legitimately with the speed of the car as we’ve had in a very, very long time.”

 

 

Montoya searching for right feel in pursuit of elusive Brickyard

Twice, Juan Pablo Montoya watched tremendous chances to become the first driver to win the Brickyard 400 and the Indianapolis 500 disappear in painful fashion. In the former, he led 116 laps in 2009 and blew the race with a pit road speeding penalty and ended the 2010 edition in a crash after fighting to recover from bad pit strategy.

 

He’s back at IMS this weekend in his new part-time role as a third driver in Penske Racing’s No. 12 and finished Friday’s first practice a little disappointed with the feel of his car.

 

“I wasn’t that happy with the car to be honest,” Montoya said during his off-week from his full-time Penske IndyCar ride. “It’s hard because they’re so different and what Brad (Keselowski) and Joey (Logano)  drive every week and what they look for in the car is a little bit different than what I want out of the car.”

 

Montoya, the 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner, was 28th fastest in the one practice session Friday after running 20 laps.

 

“I think I’ve been pretty good here and I know what I want out the car,” Montoya said. “So that makes it a lot easier so we know what we need to work on to be a little better.”

 

 

Kurt Busch makes second trip to Indianapolis in 2014

Kurt Busch added his name to the list of drivers who have competed in the famed Memorial Day weekend double — he raced both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in May — but he enters this weekend’s Brickyard 400 as the first among that group to be at the same place numerically (25th) in both series’ point standings entering the 400.

 

It’s both a dubious and unimportant distinction, but still a fascinating one considering Busch is currently locked in the Chase for the Sprint Cup thanks to his Martinsville win. He’s 25th in IndyCar points with the 80 points he earned in May’s double points-paying 500 and 25th in Sprint Cup points after one win, four top-5 finishes and just nine lead-lap finishes in 19 races.

 

Busch was optimistic Friday that his team had made progress toward more consistency.

 

“Our (Sprint Cup) team has turned a good corner since Indianapolis when I ran here in May,” Busch said. “When we unloaded at Pocono in June, that seemed like we were grabbing another gear and our team has found a good rhythm since then.”

 

Busch finished third in that Pocono race at a track that many teams like to use as a barometer for IMS success. 

 

“We’re hoping to cash in on some of those setup notes and procedures that we’ve been following since the first Pocono,” Busch said.

 

Busch, sixth in the Indianapolis 500, can take over the crown of best average finish in the same year’s 500 and 400 with a top-10 finish on Sunday.

 

 

Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller

Photo by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, Geoffrey is at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where a batch of storylines lead the series up to the race once simply known as The Brickyard 400. Among them: the importance of practice and qualifying this weekend, NASCAR’s weariness to change the schedule in 2015 and the importance of Sunday’s race for three particular drivers.
Post date: Friday, July 25, 2014 - 17:14
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-july-25-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 25:

• Instagram has gone from novelty to national treasure thanks to models like Kayla Lewis and photos like these.

Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel sent a message to a heckler via a signed baseball.

• So apparently, life in the Ohio State marching band is like Caligula's palace.

• Walter Payton would have turned 60 today. Click here to remember just how great he was.

• This is bizarre: A phantom current in the pool might have affected the 2013 swimming world championships.

Is Derek Jeter the Last American Hero?

• Another question: What does the Ray Rice wrist slap say about the NFL's attitude toward women?

Sam Ponder shared her thoughts about the Rice situation via Twitter, and then the knuckle-draggers emerged to prove her point for her.

• Today in irrelevant roided-up '90s has-beens: Jose Canseco is dead to Mark McGwire.

The Longhorns made a Texas-sized typo in their football media guide.

• Like a scene from "Fletch": A minor league GM got a prostate exam during the seventh-inning stretch while singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

• Ryan Raburn made the worst throw in the history of throws. Carly Rae Jepsen called to say you're doing it wrong.

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, July 25, 2014 - 10:47
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/10-most-pathetic-nfl-teams-expansion
Body:

The Seattle Seahawks own the 16-game NFL record for fewest points scored with 140 in 1992. Seattle also owns the all-time mark for fewest yards in a game when it totaled minus-7 yards against the L.A. Rams in 1979.

 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers set the modern NFL mark for worst point differential by being outscored by 287 points in 1976. The Baltimore Colts allowed an NFL-record 533 points back in 1981. The Houston Oilers claim the NFL mark for most interceptions thrown in a single season with 48 picks tossed in 1962. And the Philadelphia Eagles own the NFL’s single-season sacks allowed mark with 104 back in 1986.
 

Needless to say, there are many ways to measure NFL ineptitude. So while offensive and defensive statistical production (or lack thereof) is a huge factor in measuring pathetic-ness, wins and losses are still the most important way to evaluate any team.
 

Who are the worst NFL teams since expansion in 2002?
 

1. 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16)

Point Differential: -249 (268 PF, 517 PA)

Offense: 30th (268.3 ypg), 27th (16.8 ppg)

Defense: 32nd (404.4 ypg), 32nd (32.3 ppg)


No other team has ever gone winless in the modern NFL era (16-game regular season), which means the Detroit Lions must be considered the worst team due in large part to the massive "0" in the win column. Winning is all that really matters in sports and the Lions failed in truly epic fashion. Top it off with the worst defense of the expansion era, as this team fell just 16 points shy of setting an NFL record for points allowed (533). This team posted an NFL-worst four interceptions on defense, was next to last in sacks allowed (52.0) and finished 14th in the NFC in turnover differential. Dan Orlovsky led a five-man QB platoon that featured 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions and a combined 71.3 QB rating.


2. 2009 St. Louis Rams (1-15)

Pt Differential: -261 (175 PF, 436 PA)

Offense: 29th (279.4 ypg), 32nd (10.9 ppg)

Defense: 29th (372.8 ypg), 31st (27.3 ppg)


This team redefined the term offensive struggles as its 175 points were only 35 away from the NFL mark set by Seattle (140) in 1992. It is the all-time low for a Rams team that played 16 games while the 261-point differential is the worst in franchise history as well. Marc Bulger was the leading passer with 1,469 yards, 5 TDs and 6 INTs. The team itself finished with 12 total TD passes and 21 INTs and a collective passer rating of 64.0. The Rams were shutout twice and scored 10 or fewer points in nine games. St. Louis also finished 31st in the NFL in turnover margin (-13). The Rams were one of only three teams since 2002 to win one or fewer games.


3. 2009 Detroit Lions (2-14)

Pt Differential: -232 (262 PF, 494 PA)

Offense: 26th (299.0 ypg), 27th (16.4 ppg)

Defense: 32nd (392.1 ypg), 32nd (30.9 ppg)


While the '09 Rams set offensive football back two decades, the '09 Lions continued to show its lack of defensive prowess. The Rams did defeat the Lions (17-10) that year, but for the season, Detroit scored nearly 100 more points and won twice as many games. This Lions team also finished dead last in turnover margin (-18) and No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford missed the final six games of the season. The Lions went 0-6 after Stafford was lost.


4. 2007 Miami Dolphins (1-15)

Pt Differential: -170 (267 PF, 437 PA)

Offense: 28th (287.5 ypg), 26th (16.7 ppg)

Defense: 23rd (342.2 ypg), 30th (27.3 ppg)


This version of the Fish lost the first 13 games of the season before winning their only game of the year over Baltimore. Cleo Lemon was 1-6 as the starter, John Beck went 0-4 and Trent Green was 0-5. The trio combined to throw 12 touchdown passes — 16 fewer than the opposition. Ronnie Brown led the team in rushing after playing only seven games (602 yards) while Jesse Chatman actually got the most carries (128). The only shot Cam Cameron has had to be a head coach in the NFL was his one-win season at the helm of the Dolphins.


5. 2008 St. Louis Rams (2-14)

Pt Differential: -233 (232 PF, 465 PA)

Offense: 27th (287.3 ypg), 31st (14.5 ppg)

Defense: 28th (371.9 ypg), 31st (29.1 ppg)


The 233-point scoring differential was a franchise record at the time and would still be the Rams' worst-ever scoring season had it not been for the 2009 team that came along the next year. This team lost the final 10 games of the year and scored only 19 offensive touchdowns all season. In fact, this offense was the most scored upon OFFENSE in the NFL. That is right, the Rams offense had seven turnovers returned for touchdowns, a number that tied for the league lead.


6. 2011 St. Louis Rams (2-14)

Pt Differential: -214 (193, 407)

Offense: 31st, (283.6 ypg), 32nd (12.1 ppg)

Defense: 22nd (358.4 ypg), 26th (25.4 ppg)


If not for the 2008 and '09 teams, this team would have been the most outscored Rams team in history. The 193 total points scored are the second-worst in team history for one that played 16 games. Losing Sam Bradford to an injury after 10 games certainly didn't help the offense as the team finished with nine touchdown passes and a paltry 53.2 percent completion rate. St. Louis also led the league in sacks allowed with 55.0 while the rushing attack contributed only seven scores of its own.


7. 2010 Carolina Panthers (2-14)

Pt Differential: -212 (196 PF, 408 PA)

Offense: 32nd (12.3 ypg), 32nd (258.4 ppg)

Defense: 18th (335.9 ypg), 26th (25.5 ppg)


The offense did little to contribute to this football team whatsoever. Not only were the 196 total points scored the worst in the 18-year history of the franchise, but this season also was the only time the Panthers failed to reach 250 points. Jimmy Clausen (1-9), Matt Moore (1-4) and Brian St. Pierre (0-1) combined for a nasty 9:21 TD:INT ratio while finishing 30th in 3rd downs (30.4 percent) and 25th in turnover margin. To top it off, the 408 points allowed were third worst in franchise history on the defensive side of the ball.


8. 2011 Indianapolis Colts (2-14)

Pt Differential: -212 (196 PF, 408 PA)

Offense: 32nd (12.3 ypg), 32nd (258.4 ppg)

Defense: 18th (335.9 ypg), 26th (25.5 ppg)


Obviously, without Peyton Manning, the Colts experienced its worst season since 1998, No. 18's rookie year. If not for a "torrid" 2-1 finish to the year, the Colts were in danger of challenging the winless Lions of 2008. In the first 13 losses, Indy allowed less than 23 points only one time. The total points scored, which included only 14 total touchdown passes (or 12 less than Manning's career low), and point differential were the worst numbers for the Colts since the 1993 season. The top ball carrier, Donald Brown, led the team in rushing despite making just two starts all year (645 yards).


9. 2004 San Francisco 49ers (2-14)

Pt Differential: -193 (259, 452)

Offense: 26th (286.6 ypg), 30th (16.2 ppg)

Defense: 24th (342.6 ypg), 32nd (28.3 ppg)


San Francisco was two games worse than every other team in the NFL that year, and, technically, the 49ers were winless in regulation as both wins came in overtime. The Niners were 30th in the NFL in points scored and dead last in points allowed while finishing 31st in turnover margin (-19). Tim Rattay (1-8) and Ken Dorsey (1-6) were equally ineffective, throwing 16 TDs against 21 INTs and completing only 57.9 percent of their passes. The ground game finished 30th in the NFL in rushing at just over 90 yards per game. The 452 points allowed were one point shy of the franchise record set in 1999 and the 193-point differential was an organizational record.


10. 2005 Houston Texans (2-14)

Pt Differential: -171 (260, 431)

Offense: 30th (253.3 ypg), 26th (16.3 ppg)

Defense: 31st (364.0 ypg), 32nd (26.9 ppg)
 

There were some bad Texans team and David Carr paid a big price. After getting sacked a league-worst 76 times as a rookie, Houston once again led the league in sacks allowed in 2005 with 68. This franchise will be playing in just its 13th season this fall, but the '05 team set the benchmark for fewest wins (tied with last year's team), points allowed and point differential, all of which led to the firing of Dom Capers. Carr started every game and averaged a pathetic 155.5 yards passing per game, threw only 14 touchdowns to go with 11 interceptions and fumbled 17 times.
 

The...Worst of the Rest?
 

2012 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)

This team was outscored by nearly 200 points (minus-189), yet beat the Tennessee Titans as well as a shocking early season upset of the Colts. This team ranked 29th in total offense and 30th in total defense in 2012.


2004 Cleveland Browns (4-12)

Began 3-3 before losing nine straight in which they scored more than 15 points only one time. Trailed only the Niners for worst record. The offense was led by Jeff Garcia for 10 games, Luke McCown for four and Kelly Holcombe for two.
 

2002 Houston Texans (4-12)

The lowest scoring team in franchise history (213 pts) finished last in total offense as well as sacks allowed with 76. The first year of the Texans was salvaged by two strange wins over playoff teams (NYG, PIT) and is the only thing keeping this team out of the top ten.


2011 Tampa Bay Bucs (4-12)

The Bucs led the league in turnovers (40) and posted the worst turnover margin (-16) in 2011. After starting 4-2, Tampa Bay crumbled down the stretch with 10 straight losses and set a franchise mark with 494 points allowed (keep in mind, that is a BUCCANEERS franchise record).
 

2008 Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)

This team couldn't get off the field in 2008 as it was the worst 3rd down team in the league (47.4 percent) and dead last in sacks (10). It finished 31st in total defense and the 440 points allowed and -149-point differential are Chiefs single-season records.


2006 Oakland Raiders (2-14)

The Silver and Black defense was good enough to keep them out of the top ten, but the offense was nearly historic in its struggles. The 168 points scored were 28 away from the all-time NFL mark, these Raiders finished dead last in sacks allowed (72), turnover margin (-20) and both scoring and total offense. Oakland was also 31st in the league with 23 interceptions thrown.

Teaser:
10 Most Pathetic NFL Teams Since Expansion
Post date: Friday, July 25, 2014 - 09:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Florida Gators, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/florida-football-game-game-predictions-2014
Body:

Florida is one of college football’s most intriguing teams to watch in 2014, as the Gators have the talent to win the SEC East but are coming off a 4-8 season with an offense full of question marks.

 

Coach Will Muschamp sits squarely on the hot seat this season and likely needs at least seven wins to return for 2015. Muschamp shuffled his offensive staff in the offseason, hiring Kurt Roper from Duke to fix a unit that averaged only 19.9 points per game in SEC contests.

Getting quarterback Jeff Driskel back to 100 percent will help, but Florida also needs improvement from its offensive line and receiving corps.

The Gators should have one of the SEC’s top defenses, which includes standout cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.

With a schedule that features home games against LSU, South Carolina and Missouri, Florida will have a chance for a quick rebound in 2014.

 

Expert Panel:
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), AthlonSports.com

Chad Neipling (@SEC_Chad), SECSportsInsider.com

Josh Ward (@Josh_Ward), MrSEC.com

David Fox (@DavidFox615), AthlonSports.com

Brandon Larrabee (@TeamSpeedKills), TeamSpeedKills.com

Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), AthlonSports.com

 

Early Florida Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
 Steven
Lassan
Josh
Ward
David
Fox
Mark
Ross
Brandon
Larrabee
Chad
Neipling
Idaho

Eastern
Michigan

Kentucky
at Alabama
at Tennessee
LSU
Missouri
Georgia
(Jacksonville)
at Vanderbilt
South Carolina
Eastern Kentucky
at Florida State
Final Projection8-48-47-58-48-49-3
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Florida is a tough team to project in 2014. On one side, the talent is there to win 10 games. The Gators’ roster is tied with Florida State for No. 2 nationally in recruiting rankings. However, Florida’s offense struggled mightily last year and averaged only 4.7 yards per play (conference-only games) in 2013. New coordinator Kurt Roper was a solid hire, and his first assignment is to help quarterback Jeff Driskel reach his potential. Driskel may not win All-SEC honors in 2014, but that’s not the biggest problem facing the offense. The line and receiving corps are huge question marks, and both units have to improve for Florida to contend in the East. With seven starters back, expect the Gators’ defense to rank among the best in the SEC once again this year. With South Carolina, Missouri and LSU visiting Gainesville, Florida has the schedule for a quick turnaround. However, this team doesn’t have much room for error, which is why I think they lose a game they probably shouldn’t.

 

Josh Ward (@Josh_Ward), MrSEC.com

This isn’t the best time for Will Muschamp to have to add a road trip to Alabama onto the Gators’ schedule. But that’s what Florida will face, along with LSU from the SEC West and a game at Florida State to finish up the regular season.

 

I didn’t consider picking Florida against Alabama or Florida State. Those teams are just too powerful right now. That road trip to Tennessee will be critical. If Florida wins that game, which I picked it to do, the Gators could go on a bit of a run. In the end, I think Georgia and South Carolina bring back too much for Florida to handle. I have the Gators finishing with an 8-4 record, which should be good enough to save Muschamp’s job. Anything less than that and he’s in trouble.

 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)

Florida’s schedule will help the rebuilding process in Gainesville. Having potential swing games against LSU and Missouri, plus a key divisional game against South Carolina, at home should serve Florida well. I don’t know if the Gators can win all of those games, but winning two out of three is possible. Florida’s offense will be better, if no other reason than the fact that it can’t get much worse. The defense will keep Florida competitive, but this team still has a long way to go to compete with Georgia and South Carolina. The offense, too, may have trouble keeping up with a dynamic offense like the one at Missouri.

 

Brandon Larrabee (@TeamSpeedKills), teamspeedkills.com

Florida might be the hardest team in the SEC to figure out heading into this season. Don't let last year fool you: there's still plenty of talent in Gainesville. The offense will improve and the defense will be solid. But how much better will the Gators be? Have they completely caught back up with Georgia and South Carolina? And there's a clear trap game looming in Knoxville. The Gators are better than the Volunteers this year, but either an upset win at Alabama or looking ahead to the game against LSU could cause Florida to slip up. If they can get through that game, though, a three-week stretch that includes games against Georgia and South Carolina should decide who wins the East.


Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)

Florida may not make it all the way back in one season, but I do think better days are ahead for embattled coach Will Muschamp's team. The offense is the key, which starts with quarterback Jeff Driskel staying healthy and new coordinator Kurt Roper jumpstarting one of the nation's worst units last season. Even if the offense shows only modest improvement, it should be good enough for a few more Ws because of the strength of the defense. The SEC is tough, no doubt about that, but there's just one conference road game (at Alabama) that Gator fans should worry about. As long as Florida takes care of business at home, something that didn't happen frequently in 2013, this team could build momentum and find enough confidence to potentially make things interesting in Tallahassee Thanksgiving weekend. How's that for a turnaround?

 

Chad Neipling (@SEC_Chad), SECSportsInsider.com

This year will be the turn around year for Florida following an abysmal 4-8 season, the worst since 1979. Roper's offense is going to bring speed of play and a faster release for Driskel, which hopefully turns in to a better red zone performance. The Alabama game is a definite loss since the Crimson Tide will be playing with an even bigger chip on their shoulder this season than the Gators. LSU will feature a lot of youth but they've done so for the last two seasons with success. This one could be a toss up since they play each other so closely. But luckily for Florida, LSU travels to Auburn the week before. Georgia is another toss-up game for the Gators and could very well depict Muschamp's future in Gainesville. As of late, the Dawgs have had the Gators’ number with three straight wins, so I wouldn't be surprised with a loss here for Florida. SC in the swamp is a win. UF was leading in the 4Q last season 14-13 and if not for SC's two FG's Florida would have won the game. I'm probably one of the few that think the FSU game is a win. The away team is 3-0 in this series and Florida is on the road this year. 

Teaser:
Florida Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Post date: Friday, July 25, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/wisconsin-football-game-game-predictions-2014-0
Body:

Gary Andersen’s first season in Madison was a successful one, as the Badgers went 9-4 with all four losses coming by 10 points or less.

 

Despite having just eight returning starters, the Badgers are Athlon’s early favorites to win the Big Ten West Division in 2014.

 

Wisconsin won’t play Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State in crossover play and host Nebraska in mid-November.

The Badgers have some uncertainty at quarterback, as Joel Stave is locked into a tight battle with Tanner McEvoy for the No. 1 spot. The defense has several new faces stepping into the starting lineup, but there’s plenty of potential in the revamped front seven.

 

Expert Panel:

 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), AthlonSports.com

Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina), BTN.com

Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), AthlonSports.com

Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com

David Fox (@DavidFox615), AthlonSports.com

Mike Fiammetta (@B5Q), Buckys5thquarter.com

Brandon Cavanaugh (@EightLaces), HuskerCorner.com

 

Early Wisconsin Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
 Steven
Lassan
Brent
Yarina
David
Fox
Brandon 
Cavanaugh
Kevin
McGuire
Mike
Fiammetta
Mark 
Ross
LSU
(Arlington)
Western Illinois
Bowling Green
USF
at Northwestern
Illinois
Maryland
at Rutgers
at Purdue
Nebraska
at Iowa
Minnesota
Final Projection10-29-39-310-210-211-110-2
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Even though Wisconsin has question marks, I still like the Badgers to win the West Division. The schedule is very favorable, as Wisconsin won’t play one of the top four teams from the East and Nebraska visits Madison in late November. With games against the Huskers and Iowa coming later in the year, it should allow coach Gary Andersen plenty of time to find reinforcements on the front seven on defense and in the receiving corps. Wisconsin won’t have an explosive passing offense, but the rushing attack will be among the best in the nation. As long as Melvin Gordon and the offensive line stays healthy, the Badgers will reach double-digit wins in Andersen’s second year.

 

Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina), BTN.com

Gary Andersen and company couldn’t have asked for a better 2014 schedule. This is one of the Big Ten’s most favorable slates – yes, even with mighty LSU in the opener. Speaking of LSU, one could make the argument it’s the only real test until mid-November, when the Badgers host Big Ten West rival Nebraska on Nov. 15. Here’s a crazy stat: Wisconsin’s Big Ten opponents went a combined 22-42 (.344 winning percentage) in 2013 conference play - this includes Maryland and Rutgers, which went 3-5 in the ACC and AAC, respectively. The Badgers lost a lot of talent, particularly on defense, and their leading returning receiver (Jeff Duckworth) caught just 12 passes, but they have a forgiving schedule that can help ease in the new faces.

 

Brandon Cavanaugh (@EightLaces), HuskerCorner.com

Time to take off the training wheels for Badgers' second-year head coach Gary Andersen. Last year, he had the talent to introduce himself properly to the Big Ten. More importantly, he had an immense amount of leadership on the field.

 

As always, Wisconsin has its punishing running game to rely on. One of the best one-two punches in the nation returns in Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. Who'll be handing off to them is a mystery as questions loom about Joel Stave's future under center. He's been serviceable, but Tanner McEvoy could oust him come fall camp. Who's going to replace Jared Abbrederis is a huge question mark as is what the receiver corps is going to look like in the first place.

 

Wisconsin offers up a treasure trove of offensive linemen yet again such as left tackle Tyler Marz. The entire line should not only be able to protect whomever's under center, but clear a path for the Gordon-Clement tag team.

 

Defense looks to be touch-and-go for Anderson's crew. The front seven suffered major losses in three starting defensive linemen and All-Everything linebacker Chris Borland. The Badgers have a stud in the secondary in Sojourn Shelton who started every game as a freshman in 2013 while leading the team in picks. There's enough talent in the defensive backfield to produce a quality secondary and the Badgers' Egyptian cotton-soft schedule gives them plenty of time to do so.

 

While Wisconsin's schedule should allow them to make a mistake or two on their way to Indianapolis, the bad news is the Big Ten East's representative likely tops them easily

 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)

That schedule, woof. Wisconsin might have a nice record, but there are not a lot of ranked teams on that schedule, especially if teams like Nebraska and LSU regress. Wisconsin’s run game give the Badgers a chance in every game, especially against the dregs of the Big Ten. I’ve tabbed LSU and a road game against Iowa as losses, and I threw in Maryland. Wisconsin, with an unproven defense and unsettled quarterback situation, isn’t good enough not to have a lapse or two. With Maryland’s impressive receivers, the Terps may be able to catch the Badgers napping.

 

Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com

With Wisconsin, you know what you are going to get year-in and year-out. The Badgers are going to run the football, and this fall they will do so with one of the best running backs in the country in Melvin Gordon. Wisconsin may very well open the season with a loss against LSU in Houston, but little should be standing in the way of a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game at the end of the year. Wisconsin gets Nebraska at home for what could be the deciding game in the west, but Wisconsin must stay alert with a road trip to Iowa the following week. That has letdown written all over it for me right now, but ultimately it should not be enough to keep the Badgers from booking a trip to Chicago. The big question for me is who steps up as a go-to receiver and will this defense be as good as it has in recent seasons in Madison? Wisconsin will be good, but they will not be great in 2014. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)

The season opener with LSU in Arlington will be a tough test, but after that, Wisconsin's schedule opens up about as big as some of the holes All-America candidate Melvin Gordon will be running through. Bowling Green is a good team, but it won't be able to take down the Badgers at Camp Randall. Other than a road game at Northwestern and a visit from Nebraska in the middle of November, I don't see any big potential land mines on the Big Ten slate either. The Badgers are the big winners of the Big Ten's conference realignment as far as 2014 goes and I fully expect them to represent the new West Division in Indianapolis at the conference championship game on Dec. 6.
 

Mike Fiammetta (@B5Q), Buckys5thQuarter.com

Picking an 11-1 schedule for Wisconsin surely seems radical. Coming from a Wisconsin writer, it probably comes off as obscenely biased. But considering the Badgers' weak-on-paper schedule in the Big Ten West Division, the ceiling is very high for UW in Gary Andersen's second season. Questions persist on offense -- a starting quarterback may not be named until well into fall camp and there is not one proven receiver on the roster, but as the old saying goes, "Death, taxes and Wisconsin rushing yards." Or something like that. Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement are back, primed to prove to the nation that they form the best rushing duo in the country. The offensive line should also be solid once again, and while quarterback issues are never encouraging, some combination of Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy is expected to be solid enough to keep the Badgers atop the division.

 

Defensively, the 3-4 base defense moves into year two without Chris Borland and Dezmen Southward, two mainstays of the past several years. Losing Borland especially hurts, and while there are questions as to where quarterback pressure and other big plays will come from, there are several breakout candidates including defensive ends Chikwe Obasih and Alec James, as well as inside linebacker Leon Jacobs. The secondary is still kind of young, but sophomore cornerback Sojourn Shelton could be on his way toward becoming one of the conference's best. On special teams, the Badgers might be going with a true freshman kicker in Rafael Gaglianone, and while that might be troubling to some, the Brazilian can really boot it.

 

Back to the schedule -- everything hinges on that LSU game in Houston. A win there, no matter the margin, gives Wisconsin the genuine possibility of running the table. That's not exactly bold reasoning, but most people picking wins/losses at this juncture likely having Wisconsin dropping a game or two, like, at Northwestern or Iowa. Even in that scenario, a 9-3 season would be welcomed by most Badgers fans, I'd say. That should be enough to land a spot in Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game and possibly another Rose Bowl.

Teaser:
Wisconsin Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Post date: Friday, July 25, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/big-tens-top-10-heisman-candidates-2014
Body:

Using the past to project the future has major flaws but in the case of the Heisman Trophy, the past can be extremely useful.

 

There are a few numbers college football fans need to know when it comes to the Heisman Trophy and how to handicap the race for the 2014 stiff-armed trophy.

 

First, quarterbacks have won the award four straight years and 12 of the last 14. Mark Ingram (2009) and Reggie Bush (2005) are the only running backs since the turn of the century to win the Heisman Trophy.

 

Second, only once in the nine-decade history of the award has anyone ever repeated. Ohio State’s Archie Griffin won in 1974 and was successful in defending his award the following year. Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram and Johnny Manziel all failed to repeat in the last decade.

 

Third, only twice since Griffin has a conference won two consecutive Heisman Trophies. USC repeated with Leinart and Bush (2004-05) and the SEC did the same with Ingram and Cam Newton (2009-10). In fact, only twice since 1955 has a conference won consecutive Heismans with two different teams. UCLA’s Gary Beban and USC’s O.J. Simpson went back-to-back in 1967-68.

 

Finally, only one true defensive player (Charles Woodson) and only two wide receivers (Tim Brown, Desmond Howard) have ever won the award.

 

With this in mind, here are the Big Ten’s front-runners to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014 (with current Bovada odds):

 

1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State (7/1)

For a league many are down on currently, the Big Ten boasts some serious star power at both quarterback and running back. And Miller is the brightest star of the bunch. The dual-threat is a perfect fit for his offensive system and he is leading a team picked by many to win the league and land in the College Football Playoff. Add to it dynamic, highlight-reel plays and huge numbers, and fans in Columbus have themselves a Heisman Trophy candidate under center. Staying healthy and winning the Big Ten are key for Miller this fall if he wants to get to New York (which he should).

 

2. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin (20/1)

From a talent standpoint, few in the nation can match Gordon’s speed, power and explosiveness. And few players are in a better situation to make a run at the Heisman than the Wisconsin tailback. James White is gone, the offensive line is stacked and he plays in a system predicated on handing the ball off. Look for Gordon to build on his 1,600-yard, 12-TD season from last fall.

 

3. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (33/1)

Gordon got all of the headlines and Jeremy Langford got a lot of press down the stretch last year but it was Abdullah who actually led the Big Ten in rushing (1,690). The Nebraska ball-carrier is a special talent who can catch passes, constantly gets critical yards and has proven capable of a heavy workload. The key for Abdullah is team success as the Huskers need to make a run at the Big Ten title for the Big Red runner to get into the Heisman mix.

 

4. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State

There aren’t too many players with as many physical skills as Hackenberg. He is a sure-fire, first-round pick in two springs as he set 11 school records as a true freshman last year. The offensive line and overall depth is a major concern and keeps him from being mentioned alongside Miller, but Hackenberg is just as talented. Look for the PSU QB to continue to grow with no limits on his upside.

 

5. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State (33/1)

Michigan State entered last fall with questions under center. By the time the Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl were over, they had a star at quarterback. Cook posted back-to-back 300-yard games (setting career highs) in wins over Ohio State and Stanford. Look for more development from the underrated athlete in his second season as the starter.

 

6. Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State

Abdullah led the league in rushing and Gordon get most of the accolades, but Langford was arguably the most important tailback in the Big Ten last year. He rushed for 1,422 yards and 18 scores on the year but 1,070 yards, 13 touchdowns and all eight of his 100-yard games came in conference play. Langford belongs being mentioned alongside the star runners of the B1G.

 

7. Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland

If he could just stay healthy, Diggs could make a run at the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver. He does special things with the ball in his hands but has missed seven games in his first two seasons. With a talented quarterback returning, Diggs has a chance to post a breakout season in College Park. The Big Ten will find out quickly how dangerous Diggs can be.

 

8. Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern

The talented and versatile Wildcats tailback played just three games last fall but fans in the Big Ten better not forget about him. He can make big plays as a receiver and return man as well as a runner. He posted 2,166 all-purpose yards two seasons ago and anything approaching that mark (no pun intended) again this fall likely puts him into the national conversation.

 

9. Nate Sudfeld, QB, Indiana

The junior quarterback is the leader of the best passing offense in the Big Ten and now the keys to the unit are his alone. With Tre Roberson leaving campus, Sudfeld is poised for a huge season in Bloomington. Look for him to build on his 2,523 yards and 21 touchdowns from a year ago.

 

10. Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan

He was wildly inconsistent and turned the ball over entirely too much but Gardner still was No. 2 in the Big Ten in total offense (3,443 yards) and No. 2 in passing yards (2,960) in 2013. This is his final season and if there is going to be a redemption story in the Big Ten, the Michigan quarterback is the best bet. This team still has talent but running the ball better would go a long way to making Gardner’s job easier.

 

Others to consider: C.J. Brown, QB, Maryland; Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana; David Cobb, RB, Minnesota; Trevor Siemian, QB, Northwestern; Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan; Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska

 

Five defensive players who should but won’t be in the mix:

 

Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State

The massive (6-5, 260) defensive end was a star last year as just a sophomore (37 tackles, 14.0 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 3 defensive touchdowns). With much less help at linebacker, the Spartans' defensive line now takes center stage. Calhoun is the star of that bunch due to elite NFL upside.

 

Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska

The Big Ten’s top returning sack master (9.5), Gregory is hoping to restore the Nebraska defense to Blackshirt status. He should be able to build on his monster 2013 campaign that featured 65 tackles, 16 for a loss and 15 quarterback hurries. Like Calhoun, Gregory should perform like the projected first-round NFL draft pick that he is.

 

Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB, Northwestern

The senior Wildcat tackler is the top returning tackler in the Big Ten and a preseason first-team All-Big Ten pick. He posted 106 tackles, six for a loss, four interceptions and two sacks. With Northwestern projected to bounce back in a big way, Ariguzo should find himself on national award lists.

 

Kurtis Drummond, S, Michigan State

One of the top defensive backs in the nation, Drummond returns as a team leader to a defense that is rebuilding to some degree. He registered 91 tackles and four interceptions for the nation’s best defense a year ago. Look for more from Drummond and Sparty in 2014.

 

Mike Hull, LB, Penn State

There is a long and distinguished list of Penn State linebackers. Dan Connor, Sean Lee, NaVorro Bowman, Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, Glenn Carson and now Hull. Hull posted 78 tackles last season and steps into a more prominent role with Carson moving on. Look for yet another elite season from a PSU tackler.

Teaser:
The Big Ten's Top 10 Heisman Candidates for 2014
Post date: Friday, July 25, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Duke Blue Devils, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/2014-15-college-basketball-accs-top-transfers-freshmen-and-more
Body:

The ACC may again be the home of the nation’s top freshman, only this time, there may be little room for debate.

Duke’s Jabari Parker and Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis took turns as the nation’s most decorated freshman. At the same time Kansas’ duo of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid weren’t that far behind.

The freshman of the year award eventually went to Parker, though. The award may stay at Duke once again thanks to the arrival of center Jahlil Okafor and the departure of challenger Emmanuel Mudiay from SMU to China. Okafor, then, may be unquestioned.

Okafor won’t be the only impact newcomer in the ACC and not the only one from Duke. Our series looking at the top new faces around college basketball, continues with the ACC with a look at the top freshmen, transfers and players returning from injury and academic issues since last season.

1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Freshman

Duke has not had a ton of great big men in recent years, Mason Plumlee’s senior season notwithstanding. Now, Duke will have not only one of the top freshmen in the country at center, but also an elite player with a skill set that has become increasingly rare. The 6-foot-11, 270-pound freshman from Chicago already has a well-developed post game that will make him one of the top true centers in quite some time. His combination of size and skill makes him an All-America contender and a likely one-and-done.

2. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
Academic casualty

Grant was playing the best basketball of his career when he was sidelined after 12 games. Though he was averaging 19 points and 6.2 assists and shooting 51.8 percent from the floor, Grant didn’t have his academics in order and was removed from the team for the remainder of the season. Notre Dame went 8-4 with Grant and 7-13 without him, missing the postseason for the first time under Mike Brey. There’s no guarantee of an NCAA bid when Grant returns, but it may be impossible without him.

3. Angel Rodriguez, Miami
Transfer from Kansas State

Miami cobbled together 17 wins with depleted roster largely because two of its better players — Rodriguez and fellow Big 12 transfer Sheldon McClellan — were sitting out. Now ready to play, the 5-foot-11 Rodriguez will man the point for Miami. In his last stop at Kansas State, Rodriguez averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 assists per game for a team that wow 27 games.

4. Trevor Lacey, NC State
Transfer from Alabama

Trevor Lacey is the latest addition for an NC State program that’s seen its share of roster turnover under Mark Gottfried. Lacey won’t be asked to fill the scoring void left by T.J. Warren, but he will need to be a complement to emerging sophomore point guard Cat Barber in the backcourt. Lacey is a strong guard who can score around the basket.

5. Kaleb Joseph, Syracuse
Freshman

Joseph will be Syracuse’s fourth point guard in four seasons and its second freshman in a row. Expectations are high after the run of Michael Carter-Williams and Tyler Ennis. Joseph, though, won’t have the supporting cast his predecessors enjoyed.

6. Tyus Jones, Duke
Freshman

The other half of a package deal with Jahlil Okafor, Jones gives Duke a point guard to compete with Quinn Cook. The senior didn’t start the final 10 games of the season, so Jones could play alongside Cook or supplant him at times during the season. Jones is known for his court vision, and he already has chemistry with Duke’s star center.

7. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State
Freshman

Rathan-Mayes, a high school teammate of Andrew Wiggins, was slated to be an impact freshman last season before he was declared academically ineligible. The guard is ready in 2014-15 to deliver a much-needed scoring punch to a Florida State team that ranked ninth in the ACC in points per possession.

8. Justin Jackson, North Carolina

Freshman
North Carolina’s signing class contains three top-30 prospects, all at positions where they will have to fight for playing time at point guard (Joel Berry) and small forward (Jackson, Theo Pinson). Jackson is the highest ranked (No. 9) in the 247Sports Composite and he may be the best shooter of the group, giving him a leg up on a team that shot 33.6 percent from 3-point range last season.

9. Sheldon McClellan, Miami
Transfer from Texas

McClellan will join Rodriguez for an all-transfer backcourt that should have Miami back in postseason contention. McClellan averaged 13.5 points per game for a bad Texas team, but he had a similar KenPom offensive rating (104.1) to Rodriguez (107.1).

10. Durand Johnson, Pittsburgh
Returning from injury

Johnson was averaging 8.8 points and 3.0 rebounds per game off the bench through the first 16 games before a torn ACL ended his season. His recovery will be closely watched, but when healthy, the 6-6 forward could be a key weapon from long range for the Panthers.

Teaser:
2014-15 College Basketball: The ACC's Top Transfers, Freshmen and More
Post date: Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 17:21
Path: /college-football/washington-qb-cyler-miles-suspended-season-opener-against-hawaii
Body:

Washington quarterback Cyler Miles has been suspended for the 2014 season opener against Hawaii. Miles’ suspension was announced on Thursday at Pac-12 Media Days by first-year coach Chris Petersen.

Miles was involved in an off-the-field incident in February and missed all of spring practice.

The sophomore was reinstated to the team in May and is slated to compete for the starting job in fall practice with Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams.

Miles is considered a rising star in the Pac-12 and should reclaim the starting job in time for the second game against Eastern Washington.
 

Williams and Lindquist will compete in the fall to start against Hawaii, and the Huskies are big favorites against the Rainbow Warriors.

While the opener shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for Washington, getting Miles acclimated into the offense will be something to watch early in the year.

After missing spring practice, the sophomore is already playing catch-up this fall. With Eastern Washington, Illinois and Georgia State on the schedule before playing Stanford, Miles will have time to transition into the starting role before the Huskies step into the heart of their Pac-12 slate.

 

Teaser:
Washington QB Cyler Miles Suspended for Season Opener Against Hawaii
Post date: Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 14:57
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-july-24-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 24:

Check out the lovely ladies of the 2014 Miss Hooters International Swimsuit competition.

• Hey Bieber: Leave Kevin Durant alone.

• Literal mud-slinging: Fred Davis is accused of throwing dirt at his ex-girlfriend.

• More NFL news: Two-game suspension for Ray Rice. I guess his girlfriend's apology for getting knocked out was a mitigating factor.

Jimmy Graham got pranked with some heinous hotel room wallpaper.

• A by-product of the NFL no-huddle trend: No more fat refs.

A motorcyclist was interviewed about crashes and safety — and then promptly crashed.

Check out Cristiano Ronaldo's Michael Jackson impersonation.

Nik Stauskas ate s'mores for the first time. Judging from his expression, it was a transcendent experience.

Chris Bosh is selling his Pacific Palisades mansion for $14.5 million.

Yadier Molina left his brother Jose a snack on the dish.

• This is going seriously viral this morning: Frank Caliendo reads LeBron James' essay in the voice of Morgan Freeman.

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 10:40
Path: /college-football/houston-tweaks-uniforms-2014
Body:

Houston is expected to be one of the top contenders for the American Athletic Conference title in 2014, and the Cougars will have a new uniform design as they push for the conference crown.

 

Houston released an updated look at its uniforms for the upcoming year on Wednesday, which is just a slight alteration on its 2013 design.

Here’s a look at the 2014 uniforms:

 

Teaser:
Houston Slightly Tweaks Uniforms for 2014
Post date: Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/big-ten-football-breakout-players-2014
Body:

Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Whether it’s a true freshman playing for the first time, a junior college recruit stepping into the lineup or a player on the roster that’s finally ready to assume a starting job, predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task.

 

The Big Ten is home to a handful of intriguing names for 2014, as Ohio State receiver/running back Dontre Wilson could emerge as one of the conference’s top playmakers, while Illinois’ quarterback Wes Lunt could be in for a huge season under coordinator Bill Cubit.

On the defensive side, Nebraska's defensive tackle duo of Vincent Valentine and Maliek Collins are two names to remember. Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel has the difficult task of replacing standout Chris Borland.

 

Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2014 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season. So while some of these players on this list are known to fans of a particular team, the rest of the conference or nation might not be as familiar.

 

Big Ten Breakout Players for 2014

 

Antonio Allen, S, Indiana

Allen was one of Indiana’s top recruits in the 2013 signing class, ranking as the No. 292 recruit in the 247Sports Composite. The Indiana native played in seven games and made one start but suffered a season-ending knee injury against Michigan in early November. Allen finished 2013 with 35 tackles and one fumble recovery. The sophomore is a key piece in Indiana’s rebuilding effort on defense, especially after the Hoosiers allowed 24 passing scores last year. Allen has the speed and talent to be a difference-maker on the back end of Indiana’s defense.

 

Vonn Bell/Tyvis Powell, S, Ohio State

Ohio State’s defense finished fifth in the Big Ten in points allowed (22.6 per game) and ranked No. 7 in total yards allowed. Those numbers have to improve in 2014 if the Buckeyes want to make the playoff, and the defense will have two new assistant coaches (Larry Johnson Sr. and Chris Ash) leading the way. Top cornerback Bradley Roby left early for the NFL, leaving three new starters in the secondary. However, there’s no shortage of talent ready to emerge, as Bell and Powell are two of the Big Ten’s rising stars at safety. Bell recorded 19 stops and one interception in 14 appearances last year, while Powell recorded 48 tackles and two pass breakups.

 

Vince Biegel, LB, Wisconsin

Biegel and fellow linebackers Derek Landisch, Marcus Trotter and Joe Schobert have big shoes to fill in 2014, as the Badgers face a difficult assignment in replacing standout Chris Borland. While Borland will be missed, Wisconsin isn’t in bad shape at linebacker. Trotter and Landisch are seniors, while Biegel is primed for a breakout year. The Wisconsin native redshirted due to injury in 2012 and played in 13 contests with two starts last season. He recorded 25 tackles in 2013 and finished with two sacks. Expect Biegel to become one of the top defenders on Dave Aranda’s defense in 2014.

 

Wes Brown, RB, Maryland

Maryland’s rushing attack finished No. 10 in the ACC and averaged just 3.3 yards per rush in conference games. The Terrapins return talented backs in Brandon Ross and Albert Reid, but keep an eye on Brown’s performance this fall. He sat out 2013 due to a suspension, but ranked as a four-star recruit in the 2012 247Sports Composite. Brown rushed for 382 yards and two scores as a true freshman and adds speed to the Terrapins’ backfield. A committee approach at running back in College Park seems likely, but Brown will be a key piece of coordinator Mike Locksley’s offense. Another name to remember for the Terrapins: True freshman lineman Damian Prince.

 

Freddy Canteen, WR, Michigan

New coordinator Doug Nussmeier was hired to fix a Michigan offense that ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in total and rushing offense. Quarterback Devin Gardner had his share of ups and downs, but the senior also didn’t have a ton of help from the offensive line and rushing attack. Those two areas are a concern again, but Michigan’s passing attack should take a step forward. Tight end Devin Funchess will shift to the outside, and the coaching staff has to be encouraged with the development of Canteen in the spring. The Maryland native was a standout performer in the spring and could claim a starting role this year. With Jeremy Gallon departing, Michigan needs a new go-to receiver, and the combination of Funchess and Canteen should be an effective duo for Gardner.

 

Leontee Carroo, WR, Rutgers

The addition of Ralph Friedgen as Rutgers’ new play-caller should help an offense that averaged just 5.0 yards per play (conference-only games) and lost 30 turnovers in 2013. Friedgen’s first task is to develop Gary Nova into a consistent quarterback. If Nova plays with more consistency and eliminates the turnovers, the Scarlet Knights' offense will show improvement on the stat sheet. Carroo only caught 28 passes last season but averaged 17.1 yards per catch and scored nine touchdowns. The junior should be the top option at receiver for Rutgers in 2014.

 

Theiren Cockran, DE, Minnesota

Defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman will be tough to replace, but defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys returns three starters up front. Cockran quietly had a solid 2013 campaign, recording 30 tackles (10 for a loss), 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Although Cockran is known among the Minnesota fan base, another big season should give him plenty of recognition among the rest of the conference. Not having Hageman on the interior will create more attention on Cockran, but the junior is poised to emerge as one of the Big Ten’s top defensive ends.

 

Maliek Collins/Vincent Valentine, DT, Nebraska

Nebraska’s defensive line is young, but there’s no question the coaching staff has to be excited about the talent in place. End Randy Gregory is one of the top defensive players in the nation, and the combination of Collins, Valentine and Aaron Curry is a promising trio for coordinator John Papuchis. Valentine got better as the season progressed in 2013, capped by recording a sack and two tackles for a loss against Iowa. He finished 2013 with 21 tackles (five for a loss) and one sack. Collins wasn’t as active on the stat sheet last year, recording 12 tackles and one sack. However, Collins and Valentine both will see a larger role in the defense in 2014. And with both players checking in over 300 pounds, opposing offenses won’t have much room to run on the interior against Nebraska.

 

Demetrius Cooper, DE, Michigan State

The Spartans already have one of college football’s top defensive end tandems with Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush, and it appears the depth on the outside will only improve with the emergence of Cooper. The Illinois native redshirted last season, and according to the Michigan State roster, gained 31 pounds from 2013 to '14. Cooper had a strong spring and finished with two tackles (one for a loss) and one sack during the White vs. Green scrimmage. Don’t expect the redshirt freshman to post monster numbers this year, but Cooper should be a key piece of Michigan State’s defensive line rotation.

 

Pat Elflein, OG, Ohio State

Ohio State’s offensive line is under construction this offseason. The Buckeyes lost four starters, but junior Taylor Decker is back to anchor the left side of the line, and Alabama transfer Chad Lindsay is expected to start at center. Elflein is slated to start at right guard and impressed in limited action last year. The Ohio native played in all 14 games and started in the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State. There’s a lot of turnover at guard in the Big Ten in 2014, and if Elflein continues to develop after a solid showing last year, he could be one of the top players at his position in the conference.

 

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

Carlos Hyde was the first back to top 1,000 yards under coach Urban Meyer, and his departure to the NFL is a big loss for Ohio State’s offense. Hyde’s tough running will be missed, but the Buckeyes aren’t hurting for options. Elliott is expected to handle the bulk of the carries, with Dontre Wilson, Warren Ball, Curtis Samuel, Rod Smith and Bri’onte Dunn all expected to contribute to the rotation in 2014. Elliott impressed in limited action last year, rushing for 262 yards on 30 carries (8.7 ypc). He may not handle 250 carries, but Elliott will headline a deep and talented Ohio State backfield.

 

Darian Hicks, CB, Michigan State

The Spartans no longer have Darqueze Dennard manning the “No Fly Zone” in East Lansing. But coordinator Pat Narduzzi isn’t too worried about his secondary in 2014, as junior Trae Waynes is a likely All-American and Hicks is ready to step up and replace Dennard at the other cornerback spot. Hicks played in all 14 games and recorded only two tackles, but the sophomore is primed for a bigger role in Michigan State’s defense this year.

 

Austin Johnson, DT, Penn State

New coordinator Bob Shoop followed James Franklin from Vanderbilt to Happy Valley, and the Pennsylvania native inherits a defense that returns six starters. Shoop’s defenses at Vanderbilt were underrated, and he should mold Penn State’s defense into one of the best in the conference this year. After playing in all 12 games last season, Johnson is expected to become a full-time starter at tackle in 2014. The New Jersey native recorded 27 tackles (three for a loss) and one sack. With Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan anchoring the outside end spots, Johnson should have plenty of room to wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines.

 

Alex Lewis, OT, Nebraska

Nebraska’s offensive line returns just one starter from 2013, but the Cornhuskers should be solid up front in 2014. Lewis transferred to Lincoln after starting 12 games at guard for Colorado in 2012. He also played in 12 games as a freshman in 2011 with the Buffaloes. The Arizona native solidified his place atop the depth chart in the spring and should be a key piece in Nebraska’s offensive line and rushing attack in 2014.

 

Geno Lewis, WR, Penn State

Allen Robinson accounted for 97 of Penn State’s 241 receptions last season, leaving little in the way of proven options for quarterback Christian Hackenberg in 2014. While there’s not much in the way of proven receivers, the Nittany Lions aren’t hurting for talent. Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman headline a deep group of tight ends, while Lewis is a rising star on the outside at receiver. After redshirting in 2012, Lewis caught 18 passes for 234 yards and three scores in his first season of action with Penn State. The Pennsylvania native closed out 2013 on a high note, grabbing three receptions for 91 yards and two scores against Wisconsin. Freshmen DaeSean Hamilton, Chris Godwin, Saaed Blacknall and De’Andre Thompkins are names to watch in the fall, but Lewis should be the top receiving target for Hackenberg.

 

Wes Lunt, QB, Illinois

Even though Lunt hasn’t been guaranteed the starting job, it’s hard to envision the Oklahoma State transfer not taking the first snap for the Fighting Illini. Lunt was a four-star recruit in the 2012 signing class and threw for 1,108 yards and six scores as a true freshman for the Cowboys. After one season in Stillwater, Lunt transferred back home to Illinois and landed with the Fighting Illini. Coordinator Bill Cubit injected immediate improvement into Illinois’ passing game last year, and Lunt should be a perfect fit in this offense.

 

Chikwe Obasih, DE, Wisconsin

The Badgers are breaking in several new faces on defense in 2014, as only three starters return from a unit that held opponents to 16.3 points per game last year. Obasih redshirted in his first season in Madison and was one of the spring standouts for coordinator Dave Aranda. Obasih ranked as the No. 343 player in the 247Sports Composite and recorded two tackles in the spring game. At 245 pounds, Obasih is undersized against traditional power offenses, but he has the speed and quickness off the edge to be a disruptive force in the backfield.

 

Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan

We could list a couple of Michigan defenders here, but Peppers is just too talented to leave off the list. Peppers ranked as the No. 3 recruit in the 247Sports Composite and is slated to push for a starting job in the fall. The New Jersey native could play a number of roles in the Michigan secondary in 2014, as he might start at cornerback or safety or play in the nickel role for coordinator Greg Mattison. Regardless of where he lines up, Peppers is too valuable for the Wolverines to keep on the sidelines. The true freshman could be a difference maker in Michigan’s secondary and also could see time on special teams this year.

 

Miles Shuler, WR, Northwestern

With Kain Colter expiring his eligibility, expect Northwestern to focus more on the passing game behind new (but experienced) quarterback Trevor Siemian in 2014. Siemian should have plenty of options in the receiving corps, especially with Shuler’s emergence in the spring. The Rutgers transfer is largely unproven, as he caught 11 passes in two years with the Scarlet Knights. However, Shuler has excellent speed and should help the receiving corps out of the slot. Shuler won’t need to catch 50 passes to make a huge impact, but his speed should create a few big plays.

 

Reggie Spearman, LB, Iowa

Iowa’s linebacking corps loses three standout performers from a unit that held opposing Big Ten offenses to just 19.6 points per game last year. Despite the departure of three starters, the Hawkeyes aren’t in bad shape at the position. Senior Quinton Alston and junior Travis Perry are experienced, while Spearman recorded 10 tackles in his first season in Iowa City. The Illinois native has a bright future and should secure a starting role on Phil Parker’s defense in 2014.

 

Dontre Wilson, RB/WR, Ohio State

It seems Urban Meyer has been looking for the next Percy Harvin for a couple of years now, but Wilson could finally be the right fit as a hybrid receiver/running back. Wilson rushed for 250 yards and one score last season and caught 22 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns. Expect Wilson to be more involved in the Buckeyes’ offense in 2014, as the departure of Carlos Hyde will open up more carries on the ground, while the receiving corps is searching for more playmakers.

 

DeAngelo Yancey, WR, Purdue

The Boilermakers finished 1-11 in coach Darrell Hazell’s debut, but there were a few bright spots on the depth chart. Yancey played in 11 games as a true freshman last year and grabbed 32 receptions for 546 yards and two scores. The Georgia native averaged 17.1 yards per catch, which ranked No. 2 among receivers in the Big Ten. Yancey should see his numbers increase in 2014 and should be one of the Big Ten’s top big-play threats. Another name to watch in West Lafayette this year: Running back Raheem Mostert.

Teaser:
Big Ten Football Breakout Players for 2014
Post date: Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/accs-top-10-heisman-candidates-2014
Body:

Using the past to project the future has major flaws but in the case of the Heisman Trophy, the past can be extremely useful.

 

There are a few numbers college football fans need to know when it comes to the Heisman Trophy and how to handicap the race for the 2014 stiff-armed trophy.

 

First, quarterbacks have won the award four straight years and 12 of the last 14. Mark Ingram (2009) and Reggie Bush (2005) are the only running backs since the turn of the century to win the Heisman Trophy.

 

Second, only once in the nine-decade history of the award has anyone ever repeated. Ohio State’s Archie Griffin won in 1974 and was successful in defending his award the following year. Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram and Johnny Manziel all failed to repeat in the last decade.

 

Third, only twice since Griffin has a conference won two consecutive Heisman Trophies. USC repeated with Leinart and Bush (2004-05) and the SEC did the same with Ingram and Cam Newton (2009-10). In fact, only twice since 1955 has a conference won consecutive Heismans with two different teams. UCLA’s Gary Beban and USC’s O.J. Simpson went back-to-back in 1967-68.

 

Finally, only one true defensive player (Charles Woodson) and only two wide receivers (Tim Brown, Desmond Howard) have ever won the award.

 

With this in mind, here are the ACC’s front-runners to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014:
 

1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida St (4/1)

The only reason Winston wouldn’t be the front-runner in the ACC is because he won the award last year. He is the most talented player on the best team and will likely have the best numbers on a championship team. Picking anyone else is just being cute here.

 

2. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami (33/1)

From a talent standpoint, Johnson is the only other option in the ACC who can compete with Winston. He has elite-level, breakaway speed and explosiveness. The biggest speed bump in The Duke’s Heisman campaign will be staying healthy. The smallish back has dealt with injuries but if he can stay on the field and post 250 touches, his numbers could be ridiculously good.

 

3. Cole Stoudt, QB, Clemson

The keys to one of the shiniest offenses in the nation have fallen in Stoudt’s lap and he deserves his opportunity. Stoudt has waited his turn behind Tajh Boyd and all signs point to him being more than capable of running the Chad Morris attack. He is all about tempo and is a solid fit for an offense that consistently posted huge statistics. An early upset over Georgia or Florida State are almost a must, however, to get into the Heisman mix.

 

4. Karlos Williams, RB, Florida St (33/1)

By default, the starting tailback at Florida State should be a high-profile, highly productive position. And Karlos Williams has all the raw physical tools to become a star on the national level. He averaged over eight yards per carry and scored 11 times while splitting time with two other guys — both of whom have moved on. With a full workload, Williams could post Doak Walker-type numbers.

 

5. Marquise Williams, QB, North Carolina

Williams flashed a lot of ability last fall and should only continue to develop. The Tar Heels went 6-1 over their final seven games and the offense averaged over 40 points per game due in large part to his play. With a full season of making plays, Williams has a chance to get into the national conversation.

 

6. Tyler Boyd, WR, Pitt

No wide receiver belongs this high on Heisman lists — normally — but Boyd is a special talent with rare ability. He has elite NFL upside and plays for a head coach who normally produces big numbers in the passing game. Look for Boyd, just a sophomore, to make a run at the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wideout. Should that happen, landing in the Heisman conversation isn’t out of the question.

 

7. Will Gardner, QB, Louisville

This is a bit of a leap but there are many things worse than betting on a Bobby Petrino quarterback. Gardner is a tall, pocket passer who fits his system perfectly. And with a gifted offensive line and deep supporting cast, it’s not unthinkable that Gardner becomes the second-best passer in the ACC.

 

8. Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State

The star wideout for the Noles could have gone pro but decided to return for his fourth year in Tallahassee. He has scored 22 receiving touchdowns and is coming off his best season. With Winston still throwing passes and the best OL in the nation, there is no reason Greene won’t be an All-America candidate.

 

9. Dominique Brown/Michael Dyer, RB, Louisville

While the QB gets all of the attention, Petrino's running backs have been nationally acclaimed as well. Michael Bush scored 24 times in 2005 and Knile Davis was a star in the SEC in '10. With a solid veteran offensive line returning, both Cardinal tailbacks could find themselves in All-ACC territory this fall.

 

10. Chad Voytik, QB, Pitt

Looking for a longshot breakout star in the ACC? Look no further than Pitt’s Chad Voytik. The first-year starter has a superstar wideout to throw to, a mad scientist designing the passing offense in Paul Chryst and plays in a league devoid of star power under center. Look for Voytik and Pitt to make some waves this fall in the ACC.

 

Others to consider: Nick O’Leary, TE, Florida State; Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke; Devante Parker, WR, Louisville; Shadrach Thornton, RB, NC State; Kevin Parks, RB, Virginia

 

Five defensive players who should but won't be in the mix:

 

Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson

The nation’s top returning sack master is the Tigers star — who posted 13 a year ago. For a defense that could be the best Clemson has had in years, Beasley’s explosive playmaking ability should make for national headlines.

 

Jalen Ramsey, S, Florida State

Not many true freshmen start every game for a national champion but that is what the former five-star recruit did for the Noles a year ago. The lanky playmaker should develop into one of the best players in the nation and should be an All-American this fall.

 

Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

Much like Ramsey, Fuller is a big-time, five-star recruit who delivered in a big way as just a true freshman in 2013. Fuller picked off six passes and posted 58 tackles and is in store for a breakout season for the Hokies this fall.

 

Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson

Finally delivering on his elite recruiting potential, Anthony posted his best season last fall. He registered career highs in tackles (86), tackles for a loss (15.0) and sacks (4.5). He simply makes plays and with another big season, could find himself attending postseason award ceremonies.

 

Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami

The veteran All-ACC performer has racked up 240 tackles in the last three years, including 108 in 2013. Miami’s defense must improve and it falls to leaders like Perryman to transform the unit. If it does improve, the Canes could easily win the Coastal Division. 

Teaser:
The ACC's Top 10 Heisman Candidates for 2014
Post date: Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Ole Miss Rebels, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/ole-miss-still-hasnt-seen-best-bo-wallace
Body:

HOOVER, Ala. — When Bo Wallace caught a glimpse of himself on film from Ole Miss’ bowl game, the Rebels quarterback saw something that needed an immediate change before the 2014 season.

Wallace threw one interception against Georgia Tech in the bowl game, but he was otherwise solid in the Rebels’ 25-17 win.

No, it wasn't necessarily his performance. Instead, Wallace bristled at the shoulder-length hair peaking out of his helmet. During the offseason, he visited the only person he’ll let cut his hair — a woman in Nashville — and trimmed it to a more presentable shagginess.

“This is as long as it’ll get,” Wallace said from SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. “I want to take a more professional approach to my senior year.”

Part of that professional approach entering his final season is proving that Ole Miss hasn’t seen Wallace at his best. Certainly not since the end of last season.

The postseason was a bit of redemption after his disastrous performance in the Egg Bowl, but Wallace talks as if he knows winning a Music City Bowl isn’t going to make anyone forget that he threw three interceptions and lost a fumble in a 17-10 loss at Mississippi State.

The loss put a damper on a season in which Ole Miss otherwise exceeded expectations. The Rebels navigated a tough schedule to start the season with road wins over Vanderbilt and Texas and a home victory over LSU. The only losses during a 7-3 start were to Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M.

Game 11, though, is when Wallace’s arm — and confidence — started to fail him.

“I think about it every day,” Wallace said of his flop against Mississippi State. “I work every day to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I don’t think it will.”

Beyond the hair, Wallace says he’s undergone a “complete overhaul” of his throwing mechanics during the offseason. He worked with Tom House, a former major league pitcher who works with quarterbacks and pitchers on mechanics.

The problems that culminated in three interceptions in the Egg Bowl started in the fourth game of 2012 against Tulane when he sustained a shoulder injury. Wallace finished out the season, but he threw 17 interceptions. Offseason shoulder surgery helped, but only for a time.

Wallace’s 2013 season started in fine form, he threw 17 touchdown passes to five interceptions during the first 10 games. He doubled his interceptions in the last three.

Here’s a look at how he started and how Wallace played in losses to Mississippi State and Missouri.
 

Bo Wallace Season Splits
 Comp./Att.YardsYards/Att.TDINT
First 10 Games209 of 3232,6648.2175
vs. Missouri and Mississippi State52 of 824265.204


Wallace had worn down during the second half of the season, and he knew his arm wasn’t there. For a quarterback who had the reputation of a gunslinger in junior college, this was tough to swallow. The quarterback who averaged 9.2 yards per attempt in JUCO averaged 5.2 in two losses. He still tried to play like he had a big arm, leading to questionable decisions.

“You see that throw down the field and know you can make a big play on it, but you don’t want to try it because you might underthrow it and get picked,” Wallace said.

After working with House, Wallace said he’s able to get more velocity on the ball. In an ideal throwing motion, Wallace’s hips come first and the shoulder creates the torque. After his injury, his hips and shoulder were in sync, and he couldn’t get any torque on the throw.

That, presumably, has changed. Wallace says he’ll be able to stretch the field, something that hasn’t been part of his game for stretches of the last two games.

In year during a changing of the guard at quarterback in the SEC, Wallace could quickly move to or near the top of the pack

“He's just been overshadowed by some really good players,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “The guy has a chance to own every passing record in Ole Miss history before he leaves there.”

The latter may be a stretch. Wallace will have trouble catching Eli Manning in a few areas — Wallace is 41 career touchdowns short of Manning. But Wallace needs 3,779 passing yards to catch Manning’s career total. If Wallace hits that, he’ll also eclipse Manning’s single-season record of 3,600 yards.

If Wallace’s shoulder holds up, those kinds of marks may be attainable.

“He feels finally healthy and confident,” Freeze said. “I really think he's at a point where he certainly has every avenue right now to step in and be one of the guys in this conference.”
 

Teaser:
Ole Miss Still Hasn't Seen the Best from Bo Wallace
Post date: Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/2014-15-college-basketball-big-tens-top-transfers-and-freshmen
Body:

The top programs in the Big Ten, for the most part, take a more traditional route for building rosters. Sign high school players and develop them into veterans.

Sure, there are outliers. Ohio State pulls five-star recruits as well as any program in the country. Illinois under John Groce has been active in the transfer market.

Even though the standard practice in the Big Ten tends to follow Michigan State, Wisconsin and Michigan, plenty of new arrivals should make an impact in the league.

In the first of our series breaking down the top newcomers around college basketball, we take a look at the top freshmen, transfers, redshirt freshmen and players returning from injury around the Big Ten.

1. Anthony Lee, Ohio State
Transfer from Temple

The 6-foot-9, 230-pound Lee will give Ohio State a key player in thin frontcourt. He was one of the top rebounders in both the Atlantic 10 and the American as the Owls changed leagues. Lee ranked in the top 200 in offensive and defensive rebound rate last season and ranked 11th nationally in defensive rebound rate two years ago, according to KenPom.com. He also averaged a career-high 13.6 points per game last season.

2. James Blackmon Jr., Indiana
Freshman

Like his father, James Blackmon Jr. came down to Indiana and Kentucky in recruiting. Unlike his father, the son picked Indiana. Blackmon’s arrival is good for other psychological reasons for IU as the Hoosiers kept another top prospect in-state. Blackmon he’s also a McDonald’s All-American shooting guard who will take some of the pressure off junior point Yogi Ferrell.

3. Kameron Chatman, Michigan
Freshman

Michigan will be a team in need of some new stars in 2014-15. Caris LeVert is the next in line, but Chatman will be an intriguing name to watch. He’s a 6-foot-7, 197-pound who could be one of Michigan’s most versatile players. The Wolverines have an opening at the 4, but Chatman’s also a skilled passer. He'll be small for a power forward, but not to play the position in the Michigan lineup.

4. Mark Donnal, Michigan
Redshirt freshman

Donnal was going to have trouble cracking the lineup last season, so he redshirted. His development on the practice squad puts him in line for a starting role this season. As is typical for a Michigan forward, Donnal can hit the 3 but his post play is in question.

5. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Freshman

Russell didn’t become eligible until late June, but his arrival means Ohio State will have the most highly touted member of its signing class availabel this season. The McDonald’s All-American is a combo guard who should give the backcourt a much-needed scoring jolt.

6. Leron Black, Illinois
Freshman

Black, a 6-7 forward from Memphis, will give Illinois some much-needed toughness. He’ll be a quality rebounder on a team that already has a top-notch rim protector in Nnanna Egwu.

7. Melo Trimble, Maryland
Freshman

Maryland will need Trimble, a top-40 recruit, to take a bigger role than perhaps anticipated. Trimble may step into the point guard spot vacated by Seth Allen, who transferred to Virginia Tech. Trimble is the Terrapins’ first McDonald’s All-American since 2003.

8. Ahmad Starks, Illinois
Transfer from Oregon State

Illinois was one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country last season, hitting only 31.7 percent of shots from long range. The Illini will boost this by adding Starks, who was Oregon State’s most prolific 3-point shooter with 185 in 97 games.

9. Vic Law, Northwestern
Freshman

Law, a 6-6 forward, could be one of the most important recruits Northwestern has signed in a long time. He’s an elite athlete who will give second-year coach Chris Collins a versatile player on both ends of the court.

10. Aaron Cosby, Illinois
Transfer from Seton Hall

Cosby is another key name for the Illinois backcourt, which already includes Rayvonte Rice. Cosby can play both guard spots and averaged 12.6 points and shot 42.6 percent from the field during his final season at Seton Hall.

Teaser:
2014-15 College Basketball: The Big Ten's Top Transfers and Freshmen
Post date: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - 15:43
All taxonomy terms: Hot Seat, running backs, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/10-nfl-running-backs-hot-seat-2014
Body:

For the second straight year, no running back was taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. And in free agency, no ball-carrier signed for more than $10.5 million with a team. No matter how you look at it, the league’s attitude towards running backs has changed, which puts even more of a premium on production.

 

So when it comes to the running back position, NFL could truly mean “Not For Long,” as there are a number of former high draft picks that face uncertain futures as they enter the final year of their rookie contracts. On the other end of the spectrum, there also are several veteran backs that find themselves on the wrong side of 30 and need to prove they are still capable of getting the job done when the ball is in their hands.

 

Here are 10 running backs that need to make the most of their opportunities in 2014:

 

1. Trent Richardson, Indianapolis Colts

The third pick of the 2012 draft still has two years left on his rookie contract, but could be running short on opportunities to prove his worth. Already on his second team, Richardson fared even worse after being traded to the Colts (2.9 ypc) than he did with the Browns (3.5 ypc). With Ahmad Bradshaw (neck) and Vick Ballard (ACL) poised to return from injury, Richardson is certainly no lock to assume the starting job, even if the Colts gave up a first-round pick to get him in the first place.

 

2. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

Richardson isn’t the only former All-American running back that played at Alabama struggling in the NFL either. Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, has yet to enjoy anywhere near the same level of success as a pro. Hampered by injuries, which have limited him to 37 games in his first three seasons, Ingram is averaging just 4.1 yards per carry as a Saint with 11 touchdowns. Darren Sproles is now in Philadelphia, but Ingram is still behind Pierre Thomas on the depth chart and could end up being passed by Khiry Robinson, an undrafted free agent last season, as well. Not exactly an ideal situation for someone who will be a free agent after the season. 

 

3. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders

McFadden will turn 27 prior to the start of the season, yet his career is at a crossroads. The fourth overall pick of the 2008 draft, McFadden has shown glimpses of his all-around ability, but injuries and inconsistency have been the hallmarks of his career to this point. A free agent this past offseason, McFadden ended up signing a one-year deal to return to the Raiders, even though the team signed Maurice Jones-Drew (see below). McFadden better make the most of the touches he gets this fall, or else they may end up being the last he sees in the NFL.

 

4. Chris Johnson, New York Jets

The Tennessee Titans released Johnson in April, eating the last year of his contract. A 2,000-yard rusher in 2009, Johnson didn’t sit on the market too long, signing a two-year pact with the Jets. Set to turn 29 in September, Johnson has been consistent (six straight 1,000-yard seasons) and durable (only one missed game) in his six seasons, but he’s also shown signs of slowing down. After averaging 5.6 yards per carry in his magical 2009 campaign, he has seen that steadily decline to just 3.9 last season. Johnson believes he’s still capable of carrying the load, which would certainly help take some of the heat off of both his head coach and his quarterback.

 

5. Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots

Following a breakthrough 1,200-yard campaign in 2012, Ridley seemed primed to establish himself as one of the top running backs in the league. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to build on that success as ball-security issues (four lost fumbles), led to him taking a back seat to LeGarrette Blount, among others. Blount is now in Pittsburgh, but Ridley still has to prove to Bill Belichick that he can take care of the football when it’s in his hands. Not only do the Patriots have other options in the backfield, but Ridley also needs a strong season to help establish his value with free agency on the horizon.

 

6. Montee Ball, Denver Broncos

Ball is in just his second season and is the unquestioned starter in Denver. However, a lot of responsibility comes with that job, especially on a Super Bowl contender like the Broncos. With Knowshon Moreno in Miami, Ball should more than double his carries (120) from last season while also becoming a key part of the passing attack. Besides the production, however, Ball also has to prove that he’s capable of protecting the most important piece to this team – Peyton Manning. That’s especially the case if the Broncos have any hopes of getting another shot at the Lombardi Trophy in February.

 

7. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers

Checking in at No. 3 on this same list prior to last season, Mathews answered the bell to the tune of a career-best 1,255 yards rushing. In the playoffs, however, the durability questions arose again when an ankle injury limited his effectiveness in the Divisional Round loss in Denver. A free agent after the season, Mathews is still young enough (27) to cash in. However, it may not be with the Chargers since they signed former Colt Donald Brown to a three-year deal this offseason and just extended Danny Woodhead two more years.

 

8. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys

Similar to Mathews, Murray also was pretty high on the hot seat list last season. And like Mathews, Murray responded with a Pro Bowl-caliber season that saw him rush for 1,121 yards. Unfortunately, Murray also has his own durability questions, as he has yet to make it through a full season healthy. Another pending free agent, Murray’s future seems a little more secure considering he’s a year younger and the Cowboys don’t really have a better option right now on their roster. Still, Murray could make his agent’s (and his head coach’s) job a lot easier if he’s able to duplicate last season’s success.

 

9. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens

If there is anyone who is ready to put 2013 behind them, it’s probably Rice. Besides seeing his production plummet (from 1,143 yards rushing in 2012 to 660), Rice also must still deal with the judicial system (NFL has suspended him for the first two games) when it comes to his indictment on third-degree aggravated assault stemming from a February incident involving his then-fiancée, now wife. With three more years remaining on his contract, the cost (cap hit/dead money) seems too high for the Ravens to simply cut their losses. But there’s no question that Rice needs to be at his best this season – both on the field and off of it.

 

10. Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons

After signing with Atlanta last offseason, Jackson thought he would finally get another shot to play in the postseason, while the Falcons thought they were solving their rushing woes. Unfortunately, neither goal was realized as Jackson rushed for career-worst 543 yards and the Falcons went from the top seed in the NFC playoffs to a 4-12 afterthought. At 31 years old and with more than 2,500 carries on his resume, the Falcons aren’t asking Jackson to be the workhorse he was earlier in his career. However, they do need more than 3.5 yards per attempt and seven total touchdowns they got from Jackson in 2013, especially if Atlanta wants to get back into the playoff discussion this season.

 

Other Names to Watch

(alphabetical order)

 

Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers

Has rushed for more than 1,100 yards in three straight seasons, but he’s 31 years old and a free agent after this year. The 49ers drafted Carlos Hyde in the second round and also have Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and a rehabbing Marcus Lattimore on the roster.

 

Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills

Thrived (890 yards rushing, 10 total TDs) in relief of an injured C.J. Spiller last season. Spiller still appears to be a building block for the future, however, as Jackson is 33 years old and a free agent after this season.

 

Maurice Jones-Drew, Oakland Raiders

The 2011 rushing champion tested the free agent market and ended up signing a three-year deal (just $1.2 million guaranteed) with Oakland. Are MJD’s best days behind him or can he return to Pro Bowl-caliber form?

 

Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers

This duo is part of a crowded backfield and each has already restructured their contract to help secure a roster spot. Still, the Panthers need to find a productive running game to help Cam Newton break in a new receiving corps and stay in contention in what figures to be a competitive NFC South.

 

Ben Tate, Cleveland Browns

After tour of duty as Arian Foster’s backup in Houston, Tate gets his opportunity to carry the load in Cleveland. Contract (two years, only $2.5 million guaranteed) and the presence of rookie Terrance West are two indications that Tate may be on short leash in the Dawg Pound.

Teaser:
10 NFL Running Backs on the Hot Seat in 2014
Post date: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - 15:30
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-july-23-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 23:

Thanks to Leah Remini, J-Lo posted some nice pics to Instagram.

Jack White did a very credible impersonation of a Cubs fan last night.

LeBron sent cupcakes to his neighbors in Ohio to apologize to the media frenzy. My neighbor leaves me anonymous notes about my dog's barking.

Longform read on the death of playground basketball.

The Wall Street Journal presents a radical reconstruction plan for college football.

Tony Cruz uses McConaughey's chest bump chant from "Wolf of Wall Street" as his walk-up accompaniment.

• The reigning champ of insane ballpark concession fare: The Rays' four-pound burger. By my math, that's equal to 16 McDonald's Quarter Pounders.

The AP Twitter account used some careless wording to cause a minor Twitter freak-out. Related item: Proof that minor typos can change the meaning of things significantly.

Watch a couple of kayakers get lifted up by a whale. Somewhat terrifying.

A Browns fan literally peed on Art Modell's grave.

• Watch Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig videobomb some poor reporter.

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - 10:24
Path: /college-football/big-12s-top-10-heisman-candidates-2014
Body:

Using the past to project the future has major flaws but in the case of the Heisman Trophy, the past can be extremely useful.

 

There are a few numbers college football fans need to know when it comes to the Heisman Trophy and how to handicap the race for the 2014 stiff-armed trophy.

 

First, quarterbacks have won the award four straight years and 12 of the last 14. Mark Ingram (2009) and Reggie Bush (2005) are the only running backs since the turn of the century to win the Heisman Trophy.

 

Second, only once in the nine-decade history of the award has anyone ever repeated. Ohio State’s Archie Griffin won in 1974 and was successful in defending his award the following year. Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram and Johnny Manziel all failed to repeat in the last decade.

 

Third, only twice since Griffin has a conference won two consecutive Heisman Trophies. USC repeated with Leinart and Bush (2004-05) and the SEC did the same with Ingram and Cam Newton (2009-10). In fact, only twice since 1955 has a conference won consecutive Heismans with two different teams. UCLA’s Gary Beban and USC’s O.J. Simpson went back-to-back in 1967-68.

 

Finally, only one true defensive player (Charles Woodson) and only two wide receivers (Tim Brown, Desmond Howard) have ever won the award.

 

With this in mind, here are the Big 12’s front-runners to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014 (with current Bovada odds):

 

1. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor (12/1)

There is no questioning who is the top Heisman candidate in the Big 12. The guy who scored 46 times and threw just three interceptions while winning his school’s first-ever Big 12 championship is the only place to start. Petty won’t have the same supporting cast this year but Art Briles' system is a proven commodity. If he can do something that’s never been done — Baylor winning at Oklahoma — then his numbers and team success will be enough to get him to New York.

 

2. Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma (16/1)

There were two Trevor Knights last year. The guy who played in the Sugar Bowl and the guy who played in every other game for Oklahoma. Knight has big-time, big-play ability and is leading the team who is clearly the front-runner to win the league and possibly land in the inaugural College Football Playoff. If he can stay healthy, he should post big numbers and win almost every game, making him an extremely viable Heisman candidate.

 

3. Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech

He only played in 10 games but he finished No. 2 in yards (2,718) and touchdowns (20) as just a freshman in the Big 12 last year. Since every other person on campus who is capable of throwing a football has left Lubbock, Webb is now the star of the Kliff Kingsbury show. Look for massive numbers from the Tech QB and if he can pull a marquee upset (like, say, Texas or Oklahoma at home), Webb could find himself in national awards circles at season’s end.

 

4. Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor

The Bears had the Big 12’s leading rusher last year in Lache Seastrunk but also boasted the No. 6 rusher too. Linwood, a freshman last year, rushed for 881 yards and eight TDs on just 128 carries. Imagine what he could do with a year of seasoning and a full workload?

 

5. Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State

Waters really settled into the role of starter in the second half of last season, prompting a switch from Daniel Sams. Waters went 6-1 as a starter while throwing 14 of his 18 touchdowns and only four interceptions over the final seven games. If Kansas State makes a push for a Big 12 title and Waters builds on his quietly impressive 2013 campaign, he could find himself in the national conversation come season’s end.

 

6. Desmond Roland, RB, Oklahoma State

Roland led all Big 12 players with 13 rushing touchdowns last year. It was his first season as the starter for a team that has a track record of producing big numbers in the running game. Look for Roland to take another step this fall, as he will likely will become the focal point of the Pokes' normally very solid offense.

 

7. Antwan Goodley, WR, Baylor

The leading returning receiver in the Big 12 in terms of yards (1,339) and touchdowns (13) is Goodley. Those numbers were among the best in the league last fall and with Petty back and Tevin Reese gone, Goodley could be in for another monster season. Obviously, wideouts have a tough time gaining Heisman notoriety (especially, with a bona fide contender under center as a teammate) but he has the goods to be a national star in Waco.

 

8. Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State

One of the most explosive players in the nation returns to Manhattan for another year of long touchdowns and All-American production. He led the league at 105.2 yards per game last year as well as averaging 26.5 yards per kickoff return. He is Waters' favorite target and don’t be surprised if he is incorporated into a more versatile role this fall in an effort to utilize his unique skill set.

 

9. Keith Ford, RB, Oklahoma

The Sooners have had a long tradition of producing elite tailbacks and many in Norman are excited to hand the ball to Ford in a full-time capacity this season. He has the power, explosiveness, quickness and toughness to be a star in this league. He plays for a national front-runner and will have multiple shots in marquee showdowns to prove himself to the national audience. Look for big things from Ford this fall — as long as uber recruit Joe Mixon doesn’t steal too many carries.

 

10. Nick O’Toole’s Mustache

I can't do the West Virginia punter's facial hair justice so I will let the pictures do the talking. I mean, who wouldn't vote for this?

 

Others to consider: Aaron Wimbley, RB, Iowa State; Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas; E.J. Bibbs, TE, Iowa State; Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma

 

Five defensive players who should but won’t be in the mix:

 

Eric Striker, LB, Oklahoma

The big-play linebacker plays all over the field. He constantly disrupts the opposing backfield and regularly imposes his will with physicality and explosiveness. He should build on his stat line from last year: 50 tackles, 10.6 TFL, 6.5 sacks.

 

Cedric Reed, DE, Texas

He is a massive part of the Longhorns' rebuilding project on defense, figuratively and literally. At 6-6 and 260 pounds, Reed towers above the competition regularly and his numbers back it up as well. He posted 77 tackles, 16.5 TFL and 10.0 sacks last year and should only be better this year.

 

Ryan Mueller, DE, Kansas State

Mueller is the top returning sack artist in the league after posting an impressive 11.5 QB takedowns last fall. On a loaded defensive line, Mueller should be able to gain national acclaim for his performance.

 

Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas

Fans in Austin have been waiting for Diggs to develop into the superstar many believed he’d become. He has all of the tools and some explosive ability to make big plays, he just needs to put it all together in his final season at Texas.

 

Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia

He posted 102 tackles as a freshman starter and added 68 stops last year as a sophomore. With two full seasons under his belt as a starter and a chance to be on the field ALL OF THE TIME, Joseph has a chance to make a name for himself nationally in 2014.

 

Teaser:
The Big 12's Top 10 Heisman Candidates for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/penn-state-football-game-game-predictions-2014
Body:

The Big Ten’s new 14-team alignment brought another shift in the divisions for 2014. Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan headline a strong East Division, with the Spartans and Buckeyes expected to be the class of the Big Ten this year.

In addition to the changes at the conference level, for the second time in three years, Penn State will have a new coach roaming the sidelines. James Franklin comes to Happy Valley after three years at Vanderbilt and is one of the top coaching hires of the offseason.

Franklin inherits a team with nine returning starters and question marks regarding the depth on the roster due to NCAA sanctions.

Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is one of the best in the Big Ten, but he will need help from an offensive line that is the team’s biggest question mark in 2014. How high can Penn State finish in the Big Ten East Division this year? Athlon polls a few experts to predict the Nittany Lions' 2014 record.

 

Expert Panel:


Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), AthlonSports.com
Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina), BTN.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), AthlonSports.com
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), AthlonSports.com
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com
David Fox (@DavidFox615), AthlonSports.com

Mike Fiammetta (@B5Q), Buckys5thquarter.com
Brandon Cavanaugh (@EightLaces), HuskerCorner.com

 

Early Penn State Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
 Steven
Lassan
Brent
Yarina
Mark
Ross
Braden
Gall
Kevin
McGuire
David
Fox
Brandon
Cavanaugh
Mike
Fiammetta
UCF
(Ireland)
Akron
at Rutgers
UMass
Northwestern
at Michigan
Ohio State
Maryland
at Indiana
Temple
at Illinois
Michigan State
Final Projection9-38-48-49-310-28-410-29-3

Related: Most Improved Teams in College Football for 2014

 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Penn State’s hire of James Franklin was one of the best of the coaching carousel for 2014, and the Nittany Lions should improve off last year’s seven-win mark. Franklin got everything he could out of Vanderbilt’s roster over the last three seasons, taking the Commodores to three bowl games and back-to-back nine-win campaigns. Franklin inherits a Penn State roster that has talent but is short on depth. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is a rising star, and the defense will take a step forward under new coordinator Bob Shoop. The schedule isn’t daunting, which sets up Franklin to have a fast start. The Nittany Lions host Ohio State and Michigan State and won’t play Wisconsin, Iowa or Nebraska from the West. If the offensive line holds together, and the overall depth concerns don’t become an issue, Penn State will have a chance to get to nine or ten wins in 2014. 
 

Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) BTN.com

When it comes to the Big Ten East in the first year of the new alignment, things don’t get much more favorable than Penn State’s draw. The two cross-division foes are Illinois and Northwestern, teams that combined to go 2-14 in the Big Ten last season; the toughest divisional tests come at home, with 2013 Big Ten title game participants Ohio State and Michigan State both coming to Beaver Stadium; and the road conference games are at Rutgers, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, all winnable matchups. Pretty favorable, right? Still, Penn State has depth issues that could keep it from capitalizing on this draw.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)

Penn State has a superstar at the two most important positions in any football program: Under center and on the sidelines. The combination of Chrisitian Hackenberg and James Franklin is sure to be magical in Happy Valley, however, the rest of the roster needs to develop quickly. The offensive line is the biggest issue as the Lions are likely to lose one or two games they should not due to poor play in the trenches. The schedule isn't overly taxing but playing in the tougher division won't help. That said, a third straight winning season in the face of sanctions would be considered a huge success, in my opinion.
 

Brandon Cavanaugh (@EightLaces), HuskerCorner.com

James Franklin walks into a rough situation politically, but a fantastic one when it comes to what he's being paid for. While the Sandusky controversy and sanctions still loom, Penn State has plenty of talent to make noise in the Big Ten and Franklin is one of the best coaches in the country to lead this team in doing so.

 

In terms of talent, the offensive duo of quarterback Christian Hackenberg and running back Zach Zwinak's one to be feared. Bill Belton's a great compliment to Zwinak. If the offensive line and wide receiver corps can be solidified, this could be one of the most damaging offenses in the conference.

 

Defensively, Franklin has plenty of talent up front such as defensive end Deion Barnes. The linebacker slots don't appear solidified yet, but the royal blue and white defensive backs are nasty.

 

The schedule sets up wonderfully as the Nittany Lions should be 5-0 heading into their game against Michigan. I'll take Franklin over Hoke, so chalk that game up as a win. I can't see this team topping either Ohio State or Michigan State as both are the power schools in the entire conference right now.

 

Look for Franklin to silence any critics with a nine or ten win season.
 

Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com

This was the first time I ran through the 2014 schedule for Penn State and picked wins and losses. Using just my gut instinct, I came up with 10 wins but even the most optimistic of Penn State fans would realize this has to be the ceiling for this team this fall. The concerns about the stability of the offensive line have been an annual tradition for as long as I have been covering the team just as white outs and tailgates, but this season could be the most alarming simply due to the impact of the recruiting sanctions the past few years. Bill O’Brien opted to pursue playmakers over line depth, but James Franklin and his staff will be prepared to handle the situation as best they can. Fortunately Penn State has one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten in sophomore Christian Hackenberg, and I think there is some great potential for the running backs to do some damage a variety of ways. As was the case last year though, Penn State’s defense has to clamp down on opponents for Penn State to win some games. The schedule is somewhat favorable, with bye weeks before primetime games at Michigan and at home against Ohio State. Odds are Penn State will drop a game they shouldn’t along the way, but if healthy they will have a chance to steal one they shouldn’t have either.
 

Mike Fiammetta (@B5Q), Buckys5thQuarter.com

The common thread with Penn State is easily identifiable: James Franklin was a home-run hire, and his staff is off to a blazing start on the recruiting trail. Pairing him with Big Ten Freshman of the Year quarterback Christian Hackenberg is an enticing match, though ongoing concerns about the offensive line might limit the Nittany Lions' offense this year. Between Hackenberg and running backs Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton, there is enough firepower to expect Penn State's offense to be in the upper half of the conference. Defensively, Franklin inherits a strong front and secondary. The schedule is generally favorable, though a tough two-game stretch of at Michigan and then vs. Ohio State could alter the course of Penn State's season.

 

Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)

James Franklin was the perfect fit to take over for Bill O'Brien in Happy Valley, no argument there. And Franklin's indoctrination to the Big Ten is not my biggest concern when it comes to the Nittany Lions this season. Nor is it quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Instead my primary fears for Penn State in 2014 have to do with an overall lack of starting experience and depth, especially on the offensive line and at receiver. Hackenberg can't win games by himself, not with a Big Ten schedule that includes Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan. The Nittany Lions get a break in crossover action with Northwestern and Illinois, but that doesn't take away from a bruising East Division slate. Franklin did more with less at Vanderbilt and I have little doubt he will have similar, if not greater, success at Penn State. It just may take him a year or two to get the roster to where he wants it to be. Not that there's anything wrong with an eight-win season in the Big Ten mind you.


David Fox (@DavidFox615)

Penn State’s probably not good enough to “go chalk,” as in beating the teams they should beat. Somewhere the Nittany Lions are going to get bit by an offensive line that will be a liability all season and a front seven with some questions. That pretty much gives Penn State little chance against Ohio State and Michigan State. The scholarship limitations mean this team will be unpredictable even if it has one of the best passers in the country. We saw it last year when Penn State lost by 20 to Indiana and needed overtime to beat Illinois. That’s why I’ve put in another head-scratching loss to Northwestern

Teaser:
Penn State Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/auburn-football-game-game-predictions-2014
Body:

Auburn was one of the biggest surprises of the 2013 college football season. The Tigers went 3-9 in 2012 but finished 12-2 and lost by three points to Florida State in the national championship last year.
 

As expected under coach Gus Malzahn, Auburn’s offense guided this team to a SEC title. The Tigers averaged 39.5 points per game and ranked No. 1 nationally in rush offense. Running back Tre Mason was a Heisman finalist, while left tackle Greg Robinson went No. 2 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. Auburn's defense allowed 24.7 points per game, but this unit ranked near the top of the SEC in redzone and third-down defense.


The Tigers return 13 starters for 2014, including quarterback Nick Marshall and receiver Sammie Coates. And despite the loss of Mason and Robinson to the NFL, Auburn's offense will be among the best in the nation. A challenging schedule awaits this year, but Auburn’s roster might have more overall depth than it did in 2013. If the offense continues to score around 40 points per game, the Tigers should have a good shot to repeat as SEC champs.

 

Expert Panel:

 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), AthlonSports.com
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), AthlonSports.com
Josh Ward (@Josh_Ward), MrSEC.com
David Fox (@DavidFox615), AthlonSports.com
Brandon Larrabee (@TeamSpeedKills), TeamSpeedKills.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), AthlonSports.com

 

Early Auburn Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
 Steven
Lassan
Braden
Gall
Josh
Ward
David
Fox
Mark
Ross
Brandon
Larrabee
Arkansas
San Jose State
at Kansas State
Louisiana Tech
LSU
at Miss. State
South Carolina
at Ole Miss
Texas A&M
at Georgia
Samford
at Alabama
Final Projection10-210-29-38-48-411-1
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Despite losing left tackle Greg Robinson, running back Tre Mason and a couple of key defenders, Auburn’s biggest concern in 2014 shouldn’t be personnel. The Tigers have one of the nation’s most-explosive offenses and will find a capable replacement for Mason at running back. Quarterback Nick Marshall should progress as a passer, and Auburn quietly has one of the best receiving corps in the SEC. The defense is the biggest concern for coach Gus Malzahn, especially with defensive end Carl Lawson sidelined indefinitely. Expect Auburn to win plenty of shootouts this year, but the schedule is arguably the biggest reason to pick against a repeat in the SEC West. The Tigers visit the Magnolia State to matchup against two teams on the rise in Mississippi State and Ole Miss, and there are two huge games against Georgia and Alabama on the road in November. Keep in mind, the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide will have revenge on the mind in both matchups. It’s also difficult to expect Auburn to go 6-1 again in games decided by one score or less. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Tigers finish 11-1, but 10-2 or even 9-3 appears more likely.
 

Josh Ward (@Josh_Ward), MrSEC.com

The Kansas State game scares me for Auburn. A Thursday night game on the road against Bill Snyder’s team? No thanks. But I’ll take Auburn to escape with a close win. The LSU game should be difficult, but I’ll take Auburn to hold on and get the win against a team with a young quarterback on the road.

 

That’s where it gets tricky for Auburn. The Tigers will travel to Mississippi State, which came close to beating Auburn last year. Of course, that was early in the season before Auburn’s offense really took off. I’ll still take Mississippi State to pull off the upset at home. I think Auburn will bounce back and beat South Carolina with a week off to prepare. But I have Auburn will losing its final two road games at Georgia and Alabama, leaving Auburn with a solid but disappointing 9-3 record.
 

Brandon Larrabee (@TeamSpeedKills), teamspeedkills.com

I think the "luck" angle for Auburn has gotten so trumped up over the last few months that it's easy to forget that Auburn was still a very good team in 2013. Yeah, they got the flukiest of fluke wins against Georgia and then followed that up with a win against Alabama that was nearly as bizarre -- but Auburn also pushed Florida State as hard as the Seminoles got pushed by anyone all season long and won 10 games that didn't involve the kind of great fortune that the Tigers in the two wins everyone talks about. With most of the offense coming back and two of the four toughest games coming at home, double-digit wins feels almost like a floor for this team. I might even pick them over Alabama if the Iron Bowl weren't played at the end of the year -- but the Tide will have had time to fix any kinks and Nick Saban will have revenge on his mind.

 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)

The Tigers offense, led by a returning star at quarterback and a deep collection of offensive lineman and pass catchers, should be even more balanced and dangerous in 2014 than it was a year ago. This is a scary thought for opposing coordinators. However, the defense still has question marks, the schedule is dramatically more difficult and its impossible for the bounces to go as well for Auburn again this fall. I wouldn't pick Auburn to lose at home but two or three road losses is very possible as the rest of the league begins to learn how to stop (aka, slow down) Gus Malzahn's offense.

 

Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)

While there's a chance Auburn's offense could be even better this season compared to last, which is a scary thought, I am concerned the same could be said for the defense. And not in a good way. Despite the Tigers' ridiculous offensive numbers in 2013, this team needed every break and lucky bounce to win its way to a spot in the national championship game. This same fortune can't be counted on this season and it should be pointed out that the early trip to Manhattan to play Kansas State makes the non-conference slate trickier this fall. As far as the SEC schedule goes, Gus Malzahn's team has to play Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama — three teams Auburn beat by eight or fewer points in '13 — away from Jordan-Hare Stadium and all in a five-week span in the final month of the season. Even with all Malzahn's offensive wizardry and plenty of talent, I have a hard time picking the Tigers to win 10 games again this season, let alone repeat as SEC champs.

 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)

Wow. That road schedule is brutal. I might like Auburn in games against Mississippi State and Ole Miss at home, but those are tough rubber games to have on road trips. Kansas State is no gimme, either. Auburn will find a way from slipping from 12-2 to seven wins, but it’s going to be closer than any Auburn fan would want to admit. The Tigers were 11th in the SEC in yards per play allowed in conference games, and now they’re dealing with losing perhaps their top pass rusher in Carl Lawson. This may be a boom-or-bust team in 2014.

Teaser:
Auburn Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-backstory-games-2014
Body:

No one will need any push to watch a rematch of the Iron Bowl. No college football fan will need to know why Alabama’s return trip to Auburn will be loaded with drama.

Same with another matchup between Oregon and Stanford that may determine the Pac-12 South.

Those games all have worthy backstories attached, but we wanted to look a little deeper at the games that mean a little extra something in 2014.

 

We're taking a look at rematches of classic games, meetings of non-conference foes that rarely happen, if ever, coaches with axes to grind. As usual, there are plenty on the slate. These are the games in 2014 that have an extra little juice.

Aug. 30: Appalachian State at Michigan
"The Unhappy Michigan Man Bowl
"
Michigan fans are probably not thrilled to have this game on the schedule given the flood of bad memories this brings back. The first meeting was one of the biggest upsets in college football history, making Armanti Edwards and Dexter Jackson stars for a week by beating Chad Henne and Mike Hart. Appy State is now a Sun Belt program, and Michigan isn’t a top-five team. At least if Michigan loses again, it won’t be as much of an upset.

Aug. 30: Arkansas at Auburn
"The Tempo Bowl
"
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn both said at SEC Media Days that they’ve mended fences since Bielema floated rules changes to slow down the pace of play by citing health concerns. Such limitations, of course, would make offenses like Malzahn’s less effective. Malzahn said he thought such a proposal was a joke, and there's been a perception of bad blood ever since. They’re not breaking bread together, Bielema says, but they’re not throwing bread (or rocks) at each other. No word on if Malzahn will try to run up the score, though.

Aug. 30: Alabama vs. West Virginia (Atlanta)
"The Monongah Bowl
"
Not only is this the first meeting between Alabama and West Virginia, this is the first time Nick Saban has faced the top school from his home state. Saban’s father operated a service station in rural West Virginia and his mother operated an ice cream shop. The Saban name still carries considerable weight in Fairmont and Monongah, W. Va., even with the governor.

Aug. 30: North Dakota State at Iowa State
"The FCS Showcase
"
Not only has North Dakota State won the last three FCS titles, the Bison have defeated an FBS opponent in four consecutive seasons (Kansas State in 2013, Colorado State in 2012, Minnesota in 2011, Kansas in 2010). Iowa State certainly isn’t invincible.

Aug. 30: FAU at Nebraska
"The Carl Bowl
"
At one point, this game could have set up a brother vs. brother coaching matchup between Bo and Carl Pelini. Instead, Carl was fired amid accusations that he did not report "certain conduct" of a member of his coaching staff. The accusation at first, though, was that of drug use by Carl Pelini and a staff member. Pelini denied these allegations.

Sept. 6: Missouri at Toledo
"The Pinkel Bowl
"
A career like Gary Pinkel’s is becoming more and more rare: He’s been a head coach since 1991 and had only two jobs. The first was at Toledo, where he won 113 games. The run included an 11-0-1 season in 1995 and 10-1 in 2000. This game will be the first Pinkel has coached at Toledo since he took the Mizzou job in 2000.

Sept. 13: Tennessee at Oklahoma
"The We’ll Play Sooner or Later Bowl
"
Hard to believe, but this is the first regular-season meeting between these two powerhouse programs. The Volunteers and Sooners have split their two meetings in the Orange Bowl in 1968 and 1939.

Sept. 20: Miami at Nebraska
"The Former Powerhouse Bowl
"
Three times between 1983 and 2001, the national championship went through Miami and Nebraska. Miami beat Nebraska in bowls for its first and most recent national titles in 1983 and 2001, and Nebraska beat the Hurricanes in 1994 in a bowl for the first of back-to-back titles. Neither has been in the national title race for a decade, and the two teams haven’t played during the regular season since 1976.

Oct. 25: Ohio State at Penn State
"The Larry Johnson Bowl
"
Larry Johnson was offered a chance to stick with a third Penn State coaching staff under James Franklin, but he instead joined Urban Meyer at Ohio State. The defensive line coach should spice up Big Ten recruiting with his track record in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Oct. 25: Alabama at Tennessee
"The Kiffin Bowl
"
Derek Dooley may have been worse, but new Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is more hated in Knoxville. Kiffin signed a washout recruiting class, went 7-6 in one season and unceremoniously dumped Tennessee to return to USC. The Tennessee fanbase was angrier than most when a coach leaves for another program, gathering outside of the athletic facility as Kiffin conducted a bizarre news conference the day he announced his resignation. Tennessee hasn’t had a winning season since.

Nov. 1: Maryland at Penn State
"The Revenge of James Franklin Bowl
"
James Franklin’s first head coaching break never actually materialized. Franklin had been named the coach-in-waiting under Ralph Friedgen at Maryland, but a new athletic director was lukewarm to the idea of honoring such a commitment. Instead, Franklin left for Vanderbilt and later Penn State, where he’s vowed to dominate recruiting the state of Maryland. To which, current Terrapins coach Randy Edsall said talk is cheap.

Nov. 8: Iowa State at Kansas
"The Mangino Bowl
"
Mark Mangino built Kansas into a respectable program from 2002-09. He reached four bowl games in eight seasons, including the Orange Bowl in 2007. But he also had a bit of a mean streak with players, leading to his firing from Lawrence. After time on the staff at Youngstown State, Mangino returns to the Big 12 to revive the offense at Iowa State.

Nov. 15: Oklahoma at Texas Tech
"The Baker Bowl
"
Former Texas Tech starting quarterback Baker Mayfield bolted Lubbock with no guarantees of being able to play quickly or gaining a scholarship. The Red Raiders tried to block his transfer to Big 12 foe Oklahoma, but the Sooners are appealing to the NCAA to grant him eligibility. OU coach Bob Stoops says Mayfield’s status as a walk-on at Tech means he should eligible right away. Of course, that’s self-serving for a team that moved a backup quarterback to tight end. Either way, the latest transfer issue will surely be a topic when these two teams meet in November.

Nov. 29: Rutgers at Maryland
"The Fridge Bowl
"
Ralph Friedgen hasn’t coached since he was fired from Maryland in 2010 despite going 9-4 and winning ACC Coach of the Year honors. Friedgen, a Maryland alum, never matched his 31-7 start with an ACC title in his first three seasons, but the Terrapins haven’t exactly thrived without Friedgen either. Given the record it’s easy to sympathize with his feeling that he got a raw deal. Friedgen’s return to coaching as Rutgers’ offensive coordinator means at least one trip to College Park for the big guy.

Teaser:
College Football's Top Backstory Games for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /nascar/nascar-rookie-report-potential-growth-2014-sprint-cup-newbies
Body:

Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith will evaluate the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report will include twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with the drivers and more.

 

Today, David ponders how each rookie’s growth pattern might play out in future Cup Series seasons.

 

 

It takes very little effort to point at Kyle Larson, per production, the top rookie in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and say that he’s going to blossom into a star. Something so obvious is a good thing, especially if it is the exception to the rule, which Larson is.

 

Larson is a quick learner, evident by a win in his first ever Late Model start, a championship in his first ever stock car season (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East) and leading series regulars in production and pass efficiency in his rookie NASCAR Nationwide Series campaign. But his history of swift assimilation isn’t the industry norm.

 

Rookies at the sport’s premier level tend to struggle with producing results in their given equipment. From 2006 through 2013, there were 27 rookies in the Cup Series. Just one — Denny Hamlin — scored a first-year Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER) higher than 1.000, a mark signifying an ability to win on any particular race weekend, per MotorsportsAnalytics.com. If this year’s seven full-time rookies, which includes Larson’s 2.092 PEER through 19 races, are added to that total then just two out of the last 34 rookies (under six percent) were serviceable producers in their maiden Cup Series seasons.

 

Among that crop of rookies were Clint Bowyer (0.819 PEER), Brad Keselowski (0.653), Joey Logano (0.569) and Paul Menard (minus-0.750), all of which have cracked the 1.000 mark and are vying for Chase contention for established teams in 2014. The lesson here? Slow assimilation to the Cup Series isn’t necessarily a career-killing omen. That’s why any panic over the seemingly slow development of current rookies Austin Dillon, Michael Annett, Justin Allgaier, Cole Whitt, Alex Bowman and Ryan Truex and 2013 Rookie of the Year Ricky Stenhouse is a bit premature. If their careers to this point are any indication, we shouldn’t have expected much from them initially in the first place.

 

In analyzing a driver’s ascent up the sport’s ladder, patterns stick out. Stenhouse, a two-time Nationwide Series champion, is a polarizing subject among industry influencers. Some covet his natural, aggressive ability that they believe is being muzzled by the traditionally conservative Roush Fenway Racing camp. Others feel he has underachieved dramatically in his first two seasons. I haven’t come across much of a gray area when it comes to opinions on Stenhouse, but it’s alarmingly clear that initial expectations were out of whack from the get-go. At least that’s what his pattern indicates.

 

Stenhouse spent three full years in the Nationwide Series — two longer than Hamlin and Larson and what will ultimately be one year longer than current series riser Chase Elliott — driving for one team and the year-to-year improvement was visible on the track and on paper. His average finish moved from 19.4 in 2010 to 8.8 in 2011 and, finally, to 7.3 in 2012. That corresponded with increases in win totals (zero to two to six) and PEER (minus-0.422 to 2.529 to 3.485). How did a driver who, at one point, produced worse weighted results than the likes of Kevin Lepage, Derrike Cope and Eric McClure become a world-beater? He became demonstrably better at passing.

 

In 2010, with plate tracks and road course races omitted (tracks ripe for outliers), he earned a pass efficiency of 48.99 percent; anything below 50 warrants a negative pass differential and in his case, it was minus-40 for the normal oval races. His efficiency improved to a 52.71 percent in 2011 (for a pass differential of plus-100) and leapt even higher in 2012 to 54.88 percent (plus-153). Though Stenhouse’s 46.88 percent efficiency in his rookie Cup Series season didn’t pave the way for anything good, it wasn’t entirely a cause for alarm if his previous growth pattern was considered. His adjusted pass efficiency this season sits at 49.9 percent — a three percent increase — that echoes the pattern he demonstrated at the Nationwide level. Though it hasn’t translated to an elevated average finish or PEER, he is maturing into a better Cup Series driver.

 

If this year’s current rookie crop plays true to their patterns, here are a few reasonable things to expect:

 

Improvement from Justin Allgaier

Across two organizations, Allgaier’s PEER climbed from 0.286 and 1.114 with Team Penske to 1.882, 2.700 and 2.053 with Turner Scott Motorsports, but his performance strides can be best viewed in his average finish bookends; in his rookie year for Penske, he averaged a 16.5-place result, while in his fifth and final Nationwide season, in a Turner car, he was five positions higher in the running order, with an 11.2-place average. On a related note, it took him the equivalent of three full seasons to become a multi-race winner in ARCA.

 

Steadiness from Cole Whitt

Whitt’s only multi-season experience in one division came in Nationwide. He averaged a 14th-place finish in 2012 for JR Motorsports and was released from the ride in favor of Regan Smith in 2013 (interestingly enough, Brad Keselowski averaged a 17.9-place finish in his initial half-year effort for JRM and was retained for the ensuing season). Landing a limited role with Mark Smith’s Tri-Star Motorsports faction, Whitt only had to swallow a drop of 1.7 positions per race across 15 attempts. His stats might not scream “star quality,” but as we saw with Martin Truex last year, Cup teams value steady hands in a rapidly evolving sport.

 

Immediate regression from Austin Dillon

You’d think the year in which he won a Nationwide Series championship without winning a single race would be chock full of statistical depth, but it wasn’t. His 2012 season, in which he won twice and amassed a PEER of 2.879, had more top-10 finishes (27) than his winless title-winning campaign (22). Things aren’t exactly awful for him in Cup, though. His team is in Chase contention despite his 0.737 PEER that ranks second among rookies and he and crew chief Gil Martin have been shrewd position-grabbers in the close of races. Eventually his poor passing — never a strong suit in the lower divisions — could bite him.

 

THE FRONTSTRETCH  |  Five defining moments

 

Improvement from Michael Annett

Prior to an injury-marred 2013 season in Nationwide, Annett chipped off nine positions from his 20.5-place rookie season average finish, enjoying an 11.2-place average result in 2012 (all of his top-5 finishes in Nationwide came in Years 4 and 5). He’s already making in-season improvements to his passing, thanks to a tidy summer swoon.

 

Improvement from Ryan Truex

Like Annett, Truex has enjoyed an increased passing efficiency that hasn’t yet resulted in on-track results. That’s fine. Truex went from sub-serviceable producer in the Nationwide Series in 2011 (0.412 PEER, finished in the top 10 just 29 percent of the time) to a driver who nearly won at Dover in 2012 and finished his partial season with an elevated production rating (1.227 with a 36 percent top-10 finish rate).

 

Alex Bowman is the wild card

Bowman has never, at any point in his career, competed in the same series for consecutive seasons, providing virtually no pattern from which to pull. It’s what made the Cup Series’ youngest driver an inherent risk for BK Racing in the first place, but it’s better to bite the bullet on an unknown commodity than recycle a veteran who is a well-documented underachiever.

 

 

David Smith is the founder of Motorsports Analytics LLC and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projection, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidSmithMA

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
David Smith analyzes the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie crop.
Post date: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 17:45
Path: /nascar/nascar-indianapolis-need-marquee-winner-bolster-slumping-brickyard-400
Body:

In a decade of skyrocketing growth for the sport of NASCAR, no single event in the 1990s topped its first visit to the hallowed grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 1994 Brickyard 400.

 

However, 20 years later, amid sagging attendance and television ratings and a weekend diluted with Nationwide and nondescript sports car ancillary races, the Sprint Cup Series’ annual visit is a shell of its former self.

 

Make no mistake, the sparse nine degrees of banking in Indy’s four nearly-90 degree turns have never yielded great returns for fendered stock cars. In fact, the storylines have always overshadowed the actual on-track action. 

 

Jeff Gordon’s coronation in the premier race, the larger-than-life Dale Earnhardt fittingly victorious in Indy’s winner’s circle, Tony Stewart finally capturing a win at his beloved home track — all made for great copy, but it was the narrative of “big-name driver winning at the epicenter of racing” — check that, “household name winning at the epicenter of racing” — that ruled the day. Only the best drivers from the premier level deserved a shot to lead the field across the yard of bricks, regardless of motorsports discipline. And only the one-percenters of that group should prevail at day’s end.

 

The sobering reality of NASCAR’s lost luster at the Brickyard was driven home last year when the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series made its inaugural trip to the quaint half-mile Eldora Speedway in tiny Rossburg, Ohio. Running the Wednesday prior to what is billed as the “Super Weekend at the Brickyard,” a high-banked dirt track — owned by Stewart himself — stole the racing headlines all week.

 

It was an odd yet telling twist that the most historic speedway in the world was upstaged by NASCAR’s “third series” running an event — complete with heat races, a last-chance qualifier and an “A-Main” feature — at a track that harkened race fans back to their roots. The Eldora event was a smashing success: competitive, unique, entertaining. Oh, and run in front of a packed house.

 

The Cup Series’ stop in Speedway, Ind., four days later was cloaked in pageantry, yet the on-track product was all-too-familiar, as the crowd of roughly 70,000 (down from a reported 280,000 five years prior) could attest. Aero-dependent racing at the monstrous facility was in stark contrast to the “racin’” enjoyed at Eldora. 

 

Fans raved about the excursion on dirt for weeks. Yeah, Indy's cool, but did you see that Eldora race?!

 

Still, it is important for NASCAR’s top series to count Indianapolis as a regular tour stop. As stated earlier — and with apologies to Daytona and Monaco — the Brickyard is the world’s best-known speedway. Not having North America’s most popular motorsports series at a track centered in its heartland is just a poor marketing play by both the track and the series.

 

But a race once reserved for Hall-of-Fame caliber winners — Gordon, Earnhardt, Stewart, Dale Jarrett, Bill Elliott, Jimmie Johnson — has seen a new type of victor in recent years. Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman have won three of the last four Brickyard 400s. All deserving in that they played the game better than 42 others on their given day, but the wins lacked luster. They lacked headline-power. They lacked the storylines and larger-than-life personalities that once almost single-handedly carried NASCAR’s day at the “grand old speedway.”

 

THE CHASE  |  The race to NASCAR's bubble begins

 

Yet, despite its often-mundane on-track product, NASCAR needs the Brickyard and the Brickyard needs NASCAR. Though what both need now more than ever is for a rousing, intriguing storyline — a household name along the lines of Danica, Gordon, Earnhardt or Stewart — to not only prosper, but win in the most dramatic way possible. Because no longer does the sparkling pre-race hype, the in-race confection or the simple and notable fact that NASCAR is racing at the Brickyard carry the day.

 

 

Follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

Photo by Action Sports, Inc.

 

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Teaser:
NASCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway need an intriguing storyline and big-name driver to carry the day at the struggling Brickyard 400.
Post date: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 16:47
All taxonomy terms: Hot Seat, quarterbacks, NFL, News
Path: /10-nfl-quarterbacks-hot-seat-2014
Body:

Of the 256 players selected in the most recent NFL Draft, 16 of them were quarterbacks. Cleveland, Jacksonville and Minnesota all took quarterbacks in the first round in hopes of landing a franchise signal-caller. Whether any of these rookies start a game (or more) this fall remains to be seen, but at least they don’t have to worry about job security just yet. The same can’t be said for a number of veterans around the league.

 

Here are 10 quarterbacks under the most pressure in 2014:

 

1. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans

When it comes to Locker, it’s really pretty simple. There’s a reason the team didn’t exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. The Titans’ brass still isn’t sure what exactly they have in Locker, who has made just 18 starts the past two seasons because of injuries. Locker has a golden opportunity to show first-year head coach Ken Whisenhunt he’s the long-term answer, but to do so he’ll not only need to stay healthy, he’ll also need to improve his accuracy (57.2 career completion percentage) and decision making (22:15 TD:INT ratio).

 

2. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams

The Rams had two shots at drafting Johnny Manziel, but passed on him, a show of confidence in Bradford. This doesn’t mean Bradford is completely off of the hook, however. Even though the Rams appear to have a defense that’s capable of keeping up with the Seahawks and 49ers in the NFC West, it’s the offense’s improvement in 2014 that will likely determine their fate. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft was off to a great start last season (60.7 completion rate, 14:4 TD:INT ratio) before tearing his ACL in Week 7. Besides continuing to improve his production, Bradford needs to show he can stay healthy, especially with just two years remaining on his six-year, $78 million ($50 million guaranteed) rookie contract.

 

3. Geno Smith, New York Jets

Smith is just in his second year, so he should be pretty “safe.” However, head coach Rex Ryan needs to win to keep his job and the team also brought in veteran Michael Vick as an insurance policy. Everyone with the Jets wants Smith to succeed and seize the starting job by the throat, but another interception-prone season (21 last season, compared to just 12 TD passes) may be too tough to swallow.

 

4. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals

Palmer helped lead the Cardinals to 10 wins last season, but it wasn’t enough to get into the playoffs. The 11-year veteran will turn 35 in December and is entering the last year of his contract. The team drafted Logan Thomas in May, but he’s considered a long-term project. The Cardinals are built to win now so Palmer should be safe, at least this season. But with weapons like Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Andre Ellington, Palmer better improve on his production (24:22 TD:INT ratio in 2013) if he wants to stick around beyond 2014.

 

5. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

In the past three seasons, Smith has gone 30-9-1 as a starter for the 49ers and Chiefs. While the 2005 No. 1 overall pick hasn’t fully fulfilled his draft status, he has proven he’s capable of winning games consistently. Still, the 30-year-old is in the final year of his contract, despite posting an impressive 23:7 TD:INT ratio last season and performing even better (9:0) in three career playoff games. “Game manager” is a hard label for a quarterback to shed and that looks to be Smith’s challenge as he seeks to sign a contract extension with Kansas City.

 

6. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

When it comes to Dalton, it’s a Jekyll and Hyde situation. The second-round pick from the 2011 draft has been extremely solid (30-18 record, 80:49 TD:INT ratio) in the regular season, leading his team to a franchise-first three straight playoff appearances in the process. Once he gets to the postseason, however, it’s been a nightmare, as he’s 0-3 with just one TD pass and six interceptions. It’s the latter that has cast some doubt on Dalton’s long-term future with the Bengals. Still, it seems more likely that Dalton and the team will come to an agreement on a contract extension. Sorry AJ McCarron fans.

 

7. Matt Schaub, Oakland Raiders

Pretty much whatever could go wrong for Schaub last season did, starting with the NFL-record four consecutive games with an interception returned for a touchdown. An ankle injury just added to his misery, and following Houston’s 2-14 meltdown, the two-time Pro Bowler was traded to Oakland for a sixth-round pick. The Raiders drafted Derek Carr in the second round, but the starting job should belong to Schaub. That said, considering the pay cut he took upon his arrival with his new team, it’s pretty safe to say the 33-year-old is not only playing for his spot with the Raiders, but his professional future.

 

8. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins

The good news for Tannehill is that he doubled his TD passes (12 to 24) in his second season as the starter. Unfortunately, the interceptions (13 to 17) also ticked up and he improved in the win column by just one game (7-9 to 8-8). He still has two years to go on in his rookie contract, but Tannehill needs to take another step forward this season if he wants to silence his critics. Of course, a little more support from his offensive line (sacked NFL-high 58 times in 2013) certainly wouldn’t hurt.

 

9. Josh McCown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After thriving (13 TDs, INT) primarily in relief of an injured Jay Cutler last season, McCown finally gets his shot at being the full-time starter. Even with a new head coach (Lovie Smith) and several new faces, expectations are pretty high for the Buccaneers this fall, so McCown will need to maintain his 2013 level of performance if he wants to prolong his starting status. After all, the Bucs still have Sean Glennon on the roster. Besides being more than a decade younger than McCown (35), Glennon (25 in December) fared pretty well as a rookie last season, posting a 19:9 TD:INT ratio in 13 starts.

 

10. EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills

Similar to Geno Smith, Manuel is in just his second year in the league. Unlike Smith, Manuel missed six games due to knee injuries and fared a little better (11:9 TD:INT ratio) when he was on the field. Still, Manuel can’t develop as a quarterback if he’s not healthy enough to play. This season could be a critical one in that respect with first-round pick Sammy Watkins and former Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Williams added to the roster. There are still plenty of analysts and pundits who question the Bills’ decision to take Manuel with the 16th pick of the 2013 draft. It’s now up to Manuel to prove them all wrong.

Teaser:
10 NFL Quarterbacks on the Hot Seat in 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 16:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, TCU Horned Frogs, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/tcu-de-devonte-fields-indefinitely-separated-team
Body:

TCU defensive end Devonte Fields has been separated from the school after allegations stemming from a domestic disturbance case. Fields is under investigation, but no charges have been filed in the case so far. The Star-Telegram reported the details on Fields' status on Tuesday.

Fields is indefinitely separated from TCU pending the outcome of the investigation into the allegations.

The off-the-field incident comes at a bad time for Fields, as he was picked as the Big 12 preseason defensive player of the year for 2014.

Fields played in only three games due to injury in 2013 and recorded two tackles for a loss. In 2012, Fields was voted as the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and won AP Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.

If Fields returns in time and at full strength for the season opener, he has a chance to be one of the top defensive ends in the Big 12 once again.

Even without Fields, TCU’s defensive line will be among the best in the conference. The Horned Frogs return experience at end with James McFarland and Terrell Lathan, with Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson anchoring the interior.

 

Teaser:
TCU DE Devonte Fields Indefinitely "Separated" From Team
Post date: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 15:13
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-july-22-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 22:

The USF Sun Dolls dance team took a trip to the beach. Looks like they had fun.

Marshawn Lynch surrounds his Lambo with velvet ropes when he parks it. Sounds about right.

Andrelton Simmons may not be from this world.

A guy grew a beard in the shape of the Washington Nationals logo.

• Good stuff, if a little inside baseball: breaking down Mike Trout's swing.

• Zach Mettenberger got clocked by a rogue Bama fan in a Nashville bar. But it could have been worse.

The highlight of Cliff Lee's evening was a satisfying fart.

• ESPN's "This Is SportsCenter" ad featuring Metallica is pretty funny, as are the bloopers and outtakes.

Andre Drummond treated a bowling ball like a basketball, with amusing results.

The Chargers can boast only the second-best softball team in San Diego. Interesting footnote: Philip Rivers "is a horrible shortstop."

So apparently Rory McIlroy did Jager bombs out of the Claret Jug.

• You'd think a pitcher would be able to throw the ball around the infield. In Shane Greene's case, you'd be wrong.

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 10:37

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