Articles By All
The meme has become a staple in modern day pop culture as one of the funnier ways to make a point and/or express an opinion. This is especially true in the world of sports, where everyone seems to have an opinion and loves to hate on their fiercest rivals. Now that the NFL season is upon us, we thought it might be fun to wrangle up some of the more comical memes as they relate to specific NFL teams. And there is no better place to start than with “America’s Team”. Even if you are a fan of the Dallas Cowboys (with a sense of humor), you should find some of these to be pretty funny. And to the haters, all that needs to be said is, enjoy!
Football season is upon us, and with it comes the time-honored tradition of tailgating. Since games have varied kickoff times — which dictate the setting, food and especially beverages of choice — we picked three easy-to-make whiskey cocktails that can be enjoyed regardless of when the opening whistle blows.
0.5 part grenadine
1 part Jim Beam Bourbon
3 parts orange juice
Directions: Pour Jim Beam Bourbon and orange juice over ice in a tall highball glass. Float the grenadine. Garnish with an orange slice.
2 oz. Templeton Rye Whiskey
0.5 oz. Triple Sec
Splash lemon lime soda
Directions: In a mixing glass, squeeze juice from half a lemon and add spirits. Next, add ice, lemonade and splash of lemon lime soda. Cover with mixing tin and shake once to incorporate. Garnish with lemon.
Single Barrel Old Fashioned
6 parts Jack Daniel's Single Barrel
1 part simple syrup
4 dashes Angostura bitters
1 maraschino cherry
Directions: Muddle orange peel, cherry, simple syrup and bitters in an old-fashioned glass. Add ice and stir in part of the Single Barrel until it dilutes. Keep adding Single Barrel and ice. Garnish with orange peel and cherry (optional).
Everything went basically as planned in the top 10, with Alabama and Clemson landing in the top two spots based on the accomplishments of their 2015 rosters, Tennessee cracking the first 10 based on the "this is their year" hype bump, and Notre Dame landing in the top 10 because, well — they're Notre Dame.
There were a few teams, however, that I felt were disrespected and subsequently ranked lower than they should have been — for whatever reason.
The Sooners made it to the College Football Playoff last year, are the prohibitive favorites to repeat as Big 12 champions, return more starters and impact players (including a Heisman Trophy favorite) than the two teams (Clemson and Alabama) ranked ahead of them, and have arguably an easier road to a conference title than any other Power Five conference favorite. If you could somehow strip away the names on the uniforms and rosters and look only at returning talent, it would be tough to argue against the Sooners as the top team in the land. Four of the AP voters agree with me.
After running the table in the regular season and coming within a forearm's length of punching a ticket to the College Football Playoff in 2015, the Hawkeyes return the core of their roster. They have C.J. Beathard — widely considered the catalyst for Iowa's 12-0 campaign — back under center, a offensive line that has been called "the best in the nation," and a defense that returns nine starters, including the reigning Thorpe Award winner. Despite that, the AP voters ranked them at No. 17 and collectively decided that a UCLA team that lost half of its starters from last season (including the Pac-12's best overall player) deserved to start the season ranked higher than the Hawkeyes. The Washington Huskies also were ranked above Iowa, despite finishing 2015 7-6 and outside of the AP's Top 25.
The Utes finished 10-3 a season ago, including a win against Michigan — 2016 offseason darling. They return their entire starting offensive line and both starting cornerbacks. Another reason to like Utah is experince — the Utes are very upperclassmen-heavy on both sides of the ball. They also have finished in the Top 25 of either the AP or Coaches Poll in five of the last six years. If Alabama and Clemson get the benefit of the doubt based on recent history, I don't understand why Utah would not.
Alone in their thoughts
Each of the teams in the top seven teams earned at least one first-place vote. LSU, Ohio State and Michigan each received exactly one. Omaha World-Herald writer Sam McKewon voted LSU as the top team, San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilner had the Buckeyes in the top spot and Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News gave Michigan his No. 1 vote. For better or worse, nobody can point to those voters and claim hometown bias had anything to do with how they voted.
I'll be keeping a close eye on all of the polls all season. Come back each week to see what I find.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
The Pac-12 is known for its high-scoring offenses and dynamic skill players, and with the likes of Oregon running back Royce Freeman, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster returning, this league is going to have its share of fireworks on offense once again. However, the Pac-12 has a solid group of playmakers returning on defense, including Washington defensive backs Budda Baker (safety) and Sidney Jones (cornerback).
With the season approaching, Athlon Sports is taking a look at some of the best players in the nation within each conference. Here’s a look at the top 35 players in the Pac-12 for 2016:
Ranking the Pac-12's Top 35 Players for 2016
35. Hercules Mata’afa, DL, Washington State
Mata'afa is a rising star and is slated to anchor the Washington State defensive front after recording seven sacks as a freshman in 2015.
34. Johnny Caspers, OL, Stanford
Stanford’s offensive line must replace three starters, but there’s a solid foundation in place with Caspers and Casey Tucker returning. Caspers has played in 41 games and earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors last year.
33. Randall Goforth, S, UCLA
UCLA’s secondary returns three starters and regains cornerback Fabian Moreau from injury, making this unit one of the stingiest in the Pac-12. Goforth recorded 70 tackles, broke up six passes and intercepted two last year.
32. Chris Borrayo, OL, California
California’s offensive line is quietly one of the best in the Pac-12. Borrayo is the headliner for coach Sonny Dykes and enters 2016 with 29 career starts under his belt.
31. Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona
If Wilson returns to full strength after missing a chunk of time due to injuries last year, he should easily exceed this ranking in December. After rushing for 1,375 yards and 16 scores in 2014, Wilson was limited to 725 yards and eight touchdowns last fall.
30. Hunter Dimick, DE, Utah
The Utes boast one of the nation’s best defensive end tandems with the return of Dimick and Kylie Fitts. Dimick missed six games due to injury last year but ranked second on the team with 10 sacks in 2014.
29. Darren Carrington, WR, Oregon
The Ducks are loaded with talent and potential gamebreakers in the receiving corps. Carrington leads the way in this unit for coach Mark Helfrich after averaging 19.03 yards per reception in seven games last year.
28. Demario Richard, RB, Arizona State
Richard had an impressive debut in his first year as the go-to back for Arizona State. He led the team with 1,104 yards and seven scores and was a major factor in the passing attack with 31 receptions for 303 yards and three touchdowns.
27. Cameron Smith, LB, USC
Smith is recovering from a season-ending knee injury but is on track to return to full strength for the opener against Alabama. In 10 games last year, Smith recorded 78 stops, three interceptions and three pass breakups.
26. Davis Webb, QB, California
Jared Goff leaves big shoes to fill, but coach Sonny Dykes landed an impact replacement with the addition of Webb as a graduate transfer from Texas Tech. Webb threw for 5,557 yards and 46 touchdowns in three years with the Red Raiders.
25. Ronald Jones, RB, USC
Justin Davis is going to see his share of carries for this offense, but Jones is poised for a breakout campaign in 2016. He led the team as a true freshman with 987 yards and eight touchdowns last season, averaging a healthy 6.5 yards per rush.
Related: USC Football 2016 Schedule Analysis
24. Tyrell Crosby, OT, Oregon
Crosby will be counted upon to clear the way for running back Royce Freeman early and often in 2016. The athletic junior has started 21 games over the last two years.
23. Azeem Victor, LB, Washington
Victor paced the standout Washington defense with 95 stops last year, while also accumulating two forced fumbles and nine tackles for a loss.
22. Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado
Awuzie might be the Pac-12’s most underrated player. The San Jose native anchored a much-improved Colorado defense in 2015, racking up 84 stops (12 for a loss), seven pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
21. Charles Nelson, All-Purpose, Oregon
Put Nelson on offense, defense or special teams and one thing is certain: He’s going to make plays. Nelson is one of the nation’s top all-purpose players and is slated to move to a full-time role on offense after splitting time on both sides of the ball in 2015.
20. Salamo Fiso, LB, Arizona State
Fiso lived around the line of scrimmage last year, finishing second among Pac-12 defenders with 20 tackles for a loss. He also generated 4.5 sacks and led the Sun Devils with 99 stops.
19. Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford
Stanford’s defense is counting on a big season from Thomas to anchor a revamped defensive line. The sophomore should be up to the task, as he recorded 10.5 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks in 14 games last year. It’s a bit of a projection to rank Thomas here, but we think he’s due for a big season.
18. Marcus Williams, S, Utah
This 6-foot-1 safety covers a lot of ground on the back end of the Utes’ defense and was a big reason why Utah limited conference foes to just 13 passing scores in 2015. Williams started all 13 games last fall, recording 66 tackles, defended 10 passes and led the team with five interceptions.
17. Kylie Fitts, DL, Utah
“Sack Lake City” is in good hands with Fitts and Hunter Dimick anchoring the edges in 2016. Fitts wreaked havoc around the line of scrimmage last season, leading the Utes with seven sacks and recording eight tackles for a loss. He also forced four fumbles and broke up 10 passes.
16. J.J. Dielman, OL, Utah
Dielman has started 26 consecutive games for the Utah offensive line and should push for first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2016. Dielman has spent his career at tackle, but he’s slated to move to center this fall.
15. Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington
Not only was Gaskin one of the nation’s top freshmen performers on offense last year, he also emerged as one of the Pac-12’s best running backs. On 227 carries, Gaskin recorded 1,302 yards and added 14 rushing scores. He finished the year by reaching 100 rushing yards in seven out of Washington’s last nine games.
14. Jake Browning, QB, Washington
Browning showed glimpses of his ability as a true freshman last fall and is due for a breakout year in 2016. Browning started 12 games for the Huskies in 2015 and threw for 2,955 yards and 16 scores. With a full offseason to work as the starter, combined with the return of playmaker John Ross from injury at receiver, Browning should take a significant step forward in his development.
13. Eddie Vanderdoes, DL, UCLA
Vanderdoes suffered a season-ending knee injury in last year’s opener. His presence was clearly missed by UCLA’s defensive front, as the Bruins surrendered 198.5 yards per game on the ground. Vanderdoes is back at full strength and poised to build off his promising 2014 campaign (5.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks).
12. Conor McDermott, OL, UCLA
Keeping quarterback Josh Rosen healthy and upright in the pocket is priority No. 1 for UCLA’s offensive line. McDermott is the anchor for this unit and one of the nation’s top linemen. The Tennessee native has started 19 games at left tackle and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2015.
11. Gabe Marks, Washington State
After taking a redshirt year in 2014, Marks announced his return to the field in a big way last season. Marks led all Pac-12 receivers with 104 receptions and tacked on 1,192 receiving yards and 15 scores. He’s the go-to target for quarterback Luke Falk and one of the nation’s best overall receivers.
10. Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC
Jackson is not only one of the Pac-12’s best all-around athletes, but he’s also one of the league’s top playmakers. Jackson scored twice on punt returns and ranked second on the team with 414 receiving yards last season. The scary thought for Pac-12 coaches? That’s not Jackson’s primary role. He’s an emerging star at cornerback, recording eight pass breakups and one interception in 14 games last year.
9. Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
Budda Baker is the headliner for Washington’s secondary, but Jones is also among the nation’s best at his position. The California native has played in 26 games since stepping onto campus and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors after a standout 2015 season. Jones defended 14 passes and intercepted four throws last year.
8. Budda Baker, S, Washington
Baker battled an ankle injury early in the 2015 season but still finished the year with first-team All-Pac-12 honors. In 12 appearances last season, Baker recorded 49 stops, nine passes defended and two interceptions. The junior’s coverage skills are a big reason why Washington allowed only 11 passing scores in 2015. Look for Baker’s junior season to be the best of his career in Seattle.
7. Zach Banner, OL, USC
All of the pieces are in place for USC’s offensive line to rank among the nation’s best in 2016. Banner is the anchor for the Trojans’ front five, as the Washington native enters this fall with 27 overall starts. He’s a candidate for first-team All-America honors.
6. Lowell Lotulelei, DL, Utah
At 6-foot-2 and 310 pounds, Lotulelei is the perfect option to anchor the interior of Utah’s defensive line. The Utah native isn’t going to post huge stats (five tackles for a loss in 2015) but his ability to hold the point of attack and wreak havoc at the line of scrimmage is a big reason why Utah’s line is the best in the Pac-12.
5. Luke Falk, QB, Washington State
Falk is the catalyst for Washington State’s high-powered offense. In his first full year under center, Falk passed for 4,561 yards and 38 scores and guided the Cougars’ attack to an average of 389.2 passing yards per game (ranked No. 1 nationally).
4. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Rosen delivered a standout freshman campaign in 2015 and is just scratching the surface of his potential at UCLA. Rosen started all 13 games and threw for 3,669 yards and 23 scores last fall and is poised to emerge as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in 2016.
3. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
Smith-Schuster is the nation’s top returning receiver for 2016 and should help to ease the transition of new quarterback Max Browne into the starting lineup. Smith-Schuster dominated opposing defensive backs last year, grabbing 89 receptions for 1,454 yards and 10 scores. He also tied for third nationally with six receptions of 50 yards or more.
2. Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
Despite rushing for 1,836 yards and 17 scores last year, Freeman flew largely under the national radar. The junior should get his credit nationally in 2016, as Freeman is one of the nation’s best running backs and an Athlon Sports second-team All-American. Freeman’s 6.49 yards per-carry average was the highest mark of any Pac-12 starting running back last fall, while his nine runs of 30 yards or more ranked first in the conference.
1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
After setting the NCAA record for most all-purpose yards (3,864) and a new school mark for rushing yards (2,019) last year, the bar is set high for McCaffrey in 2016. High expectations won’t be a problem for McCaffrey, as the junior is a big reason why Stanford will remain in the mix for the Pac-12 title despite key personnel concerns on both sides of the ball. McCaffrey is college football’s best all-around player for 2016.
Can a 12-1 season that culminates in a dominating win over your rival, as well as a commanding performance in a New Year's Day bowl game, result in a feeling of disappointment? The answer is possibly yes, if Buckeye fans reflect upon the 2015 Ohio State football season.
A team loaded with outstanding talent (Exhibit A would be the 2016 NFL Draft, with five Buckeyes selected within the first 20 picks, and 12 players picked overall) meandered throughout most of the season, squandering an opportunity to defend its 2014 national championship with a heartbreaking last-second field goal to Michigan State in Ohio Stadium. The powerful performances at Michigan and against Notre Dame in the final two games only left Ohio State fans wondering where that Buckeye offensive juggernaut had been for the previous 10 games.
Flash forward to 2016. Redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett returns as the unquestioned pilot of the Ohio State offense, with redshirt senior Pat Elflein moving to center. Junior linebacker Raekwon McMillan returns to lead the defense. Those three players have already been designated by head coach Urban Meyer to captain an Ohio State team comprised primarily of redshirt freshmen or true freshmen.
With a young but very talented team, plus a challenging 2016 schedule, can Urban Meyer get Ohio State back to the College Football Playoff this season? Athlon Sports polled a few writers to get their take on Ohio State's realistic 2016 win/loss projection.
Ohio State Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2016
Chip Minnich (@ChipMinnich)
For all of the valid concerns about the talent lost, Ohio State fans can console themselves with the knowledge that Urban Meyer and the coaching staff have been actively recruiting some of the best high school talent in the country over the past several seasons, and I am including Alabama in that statement. These are players who are truly chomping at the bit to show what they can do on the football field.
The position groups hurt the most by the early NFL departures would be the secondary and wide receiver groups. Ohio State will field a secondary with three new starters, while the projected starting wide receivers were both injured for most of the 2015 season.
Ohio State opens up at home versus Bowling Green and Tulsa, but will those games be enough to quickly mature the Buckeyes before going on the road at Oklahoma, especially with such an inexperienced secondary? There are some potential road game upsets, with back-to-back night games at Wisconsin and Penn State in October.
Michigan State seems to be the program that continually gives the Buckeye fits. During Meyer's tenure, Ohio State has defeated the Spartans twice in East Lansing (2012, 2014), while losing to them twice (2013, 2016 Big Ten Championship Game). For such a young team, what should be a raucous East Lansing environment may be too much for these young Buckeyes to handle. And of course, "THE GAME" in Ohio Stadium on Nov. 26 could be the biggest since the 2006 season, when Ohio State and Michigan were ranked one and two.
Ohio State has the talent and the coaching to get to 10 wins, and a New Year's Day bowl game appearance. This could be the kind of season that springboards Ohio State into a projected big 2017 campaign.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Ohio State’s six returning starters are the fewest of any Power Five team for the 2016 season. However, the Buckeyes are still one of the safest picks for a Playoff spot. Why? Talent. Head coach Urban Meyer has reeled in some of the nation’s best talent over the last couple of seasons, so the overall drop-off is going to be minimal. A full offseason to work as the starter and no quarterback controversy should be a huge benefit to J.T. Barrett, as the junior looks to regain his 2014 form. The Buckeyes need to find playmakers, but there’s emerging options with running back Mike Weber and receivers Curtis Samuel, Noah Brown and Austin Mack. Despite key losses at each level, the defense should rank near the top of the Big Ten once again. Road trips to Wisconsin and Penn State will test this team, but Ohio State’s season essentially comes down to three games – at Oklahoma, at Michigan State and Michigan. The back-to-back games against the Spartans and Wolverines won’t be easy. However, Meyer’s team has all season to find the right answers and should be hitting on all cylinders by November.
Bryan Fischer (BryanDFischer)
Two years ago, Ohio State exceeded everybody's expectations and won a national title. Something similar could wind up happening in 2016 given the sheer amount of talent Urban Meyer has recruited to Columbus and the fact that the Buckeyes have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in J.T. Barrett. The secondary is a slight concern (amplified with less pressure coming from the defensive line) but, overall, the Buckeyes should stay in the top 10 all season long.
Kevin McGuire (KevinOnCFB)
If you think all of the talk and hype about Michigan will go unnoticed in Columbus, think again. Urban Meyer may have a number of key holes to plug following the losses to the NFL this past year, but Ohio State has recruited at an extremely high level since his arrival and the Buckeyes should be just fine as the season plays out. Much of the season will be all about quarterback J.T. Barrett, but that will be even more true in the early going as Ohio State re-establishes its identity with many new faces. A showdown with Oklahoma will have tremendous importance on the success of the season, which could end with a Big Ten championship and possible spot back in the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State is still the top program in the Big Ten, even if it is not defending conference champions. You have to beat Ohio State in order to win the Big Ten championship, which neither Michigan State or Michigan will do this season. Wisconsin, however, could score an upset in Madison, which will be bad news for Penn State (which hosts Ohio State the following week; the Buckeyes losing at Wisconsin likely lights a little fire under Ohio State for the following week).
When all is said and done, Ohio State will be back on top of the Big Ten with a superior roster and depth, and Barrett could find himself in New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
A lot of people are sleeping on the Buckeyes in 2016. The thing is Ohio State – much like Alabama – is going to be a much better team at the end of the season than it is in the beginning. The Buckeyes lost a lot of talent from their 2015 squad, but they are still loaded. J.T. Barrett is as good as there is in the country at quarterback. He'll need to be a calming presence and a guy who can carry this team through some tough times early. Once he does that, look for freshman running back Mike Weber to be the catalyst on offense than pushes the Buckeyes to a division title. Once they get to Indy look for what will then be an elite defense to bring home another Big Ten crown.
By season's end, Ohio State will be much like Stanford was at the end of 2015. It'll be tough for the Buckeyes to qualify for the College Football Playoff, but we'll all know we're watching one of the best teams in the country.
Last year (2015-16) was a pretty good one from a sports perspective for the North Carolina Tar Heels. There were lacrosse national titles for both the men and the women. The basketball team came oh so close to claiming another title before falling to Villanova in heartbreaking fashion in the championship game of the NCAA Tournament. And the football team lost a close ACC Championship Game to Clemson after rattling off 11 wins in a row.
Now, with a new athletics year upon us all eyes in Chapel Hill are on Larry Fedora’s squad to see if the football team can build off of last year’s success. With much of the offense returning and another year for coordinator Gene Chizik to construct the defense the way he wants, repeating as Coastal Division champs and playing for the conference crown again is the expectation.
Can North Carolina follow up on last year’s breakthrough with another division title? Here is a game-by-game look at how Athlon Sports writers and contributors see the Tar Heels’ season playing out.
North Carolina Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2016
Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)
If new quarterback Mitch Trubisky performs as well as most believe that he can, the North Carolina offense will again be explosive. There is a deep group of talented receivers, four starters return up front, and Elijah Hood is an All-ACC-caliber running back. But a defense that ranked 122nd against the run last year will have to rebuild its entire linebacker corps and will face several quality rushing teams.
Georgia may not have its full stable of backs in the opener, but North Carolina will have a tough time beating the Bulldogs in Atlanta. Pittsburgh with James Conner and Qadree Ollison along with Florida State and Dalvin Cook will hand UNC consecutive losses going into October. But Larry Fedora and company right the ship and the Tar Heels win out to go 9-3.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The ACC’s Coastal Division is unpredictable, but I think the Tar Heels will once again claim the top spot. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky is due for a breakout year as the new starter, and there’s a plethora of talented skill players, including running back Elijah Hood and receivers Mack Hollins and Ryan Switzer. Guard Landon Turner will be tough to replace, but the Tar Heels return four starters up front to own one of the ACC’s top offensive lines. The defense showed improvement last year and returns one of the best cornerback duos in the nation with M.J. Stewart and Des Lawrence. However, stopping the run is still a huge concern with only three returning starters in the front seven. North Carolina’s schedule is tougher this season, as a non-conference matchup is set against Georgia for the opener, along with crossover games against Florida State and rival NC State. Additionally, the Tar Heels play Miami on the road in mid-October. Repeating last year’s 11-win mark might be too much to ask; but there’s enough returning talent for head coach Larry Fedora’s team to earn another trip to the conference title game in December.
Bryan Fischer (BryanDFischer)
Last year's surprising campaign no doubt raised expectations for North Carolina but I'm not sure the record will wind up being reflective of a team that could be better than the 2015 version. The offense shouldn't miss much of a beat with Mitch Trubisky, Elijah Hood and Ryan Switzer involved and the defense should continue to progress into a manageable unit under coordinator Gene Chizik. The schedule once again sets up well for the Tar Heels and if they can get some breaks on the close games, there's no reason not to label them the favorites in the Coastal once again.
Kevin McGuire (KevinOnCFB)
Larry Fedora took UNC football to a level it has struggled for years to reach by turning in an exhilarating 11-1 regular season and giving Clemson a little bit of a battle in the ACC Championship Game. Though the season ended with two straight losses (to Clemson and Baylor in the bowl game), the bar has been set and now North Carolina knows it is the top program in the usually wide-open ACC Coastal Division. Even with a new quarterback taking over, UNC's offense should be fun to watch once again. And dangerous too. Georgia will find that out the hard way in the opener in Atlanta, and UNC should have more than enough offense to put together a 10-win season.
The two losses will be critical ones though. A loss at Florida State (prepare for potential ACC Championship Game preview hype) will not go the way of the Tar Heels. Neither will their other trip to Florida, at Miami. A head-to-head loss to the Hurricanes could determine the ACC Coastal's representative in the ACC Championship Game, IF Mark Richt gets Miami to play at a more consistent level this fall. There is rarely a wide margin for error in the ACC Coastal, and that will once again be the case for UNC in the division.
Mike Ferguson (@MikeWFerguson)
Though it lost its final two games, North Carolina made big strides under Larry Fedora in 2015, winning 11 games and the ACC Coastal Division for the first time. Junior Mitch Trubisky, who takes over as the starting quarterback, looked great in relief of Marquise Williams last season and is surrounded with talented skill players like Elijah Hood, T.J. Logan, Mack Hollins and Ryan Switzer to complement a very veteran offensive line.
On the defensive side of the ball, North Carolina should be solid in the secondary with Des Lawrence, M.J. Stewart and Donnie Miles, but the front seven was pushed around quite a bit by good rushing attacks to close 2015. With the likes of Georgia's Nick Chubb, Pittsburgh's James Conner and Florida State's Dalvin Cook on the schedule, that is a concern.
As far as the schedule goes, the Tar Heels will hit the ground running against Georgia. A 17-13 loss to South Carolina in last season's opener was the only defeat for North Carolina during the regular season and could serve as a motivator this time around. An early October trip to Florida State looks to be the toughest game on the slate, but it's the return trip to the Sunshine State two weeks later that could decide the ACC Coastal. The Tar Heels could also be on upset alert when visiting rival Duke on short rest.
The AFC North is always one of the most intriguing divisions in the NFL. We do know the Browns will be one of the worst teams while the Ravens have to have better luck when it comes to injuries. Still, once again, this is going to be a race between the Steelers and Bengals.
Much like I did with the college football win totals, I will break down the schedules in terms of home and road opponents outside the division. In most situations, I'll give a split to each team in divisional play with them winning at home and losing on the road. Vegas is much more on the ball in the NFL compared to college football so the numbers are a lot sharper.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook
(Over 8 wins -130, Under 8 wins +110)
Record Last Year: 5-11
Offense: Injuries derailed this side of the ball last year with Steve Smith and Joe Flacco among those who missed time. The two veterans are back although who knows how much Smith has left in the tank. Alongside him are Mike Wallace and Kamar Aiken, neither of whom is considered a game-changer at WR. Ben Watson comes over to join a crowded TE group with Dennis Pitta, Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams.
Defense: Terrell Suggs finally came off the PUP list and will lead the defense along with Timmy Jernigan. Cornerback Shareece Wright worries me although Ladarius Webb and Jimmy Smith are pretty solid in the secondary. Of note for Baltimore is a happy Justin Tucker, who got paid this offseason. He's a game-changer at kicker.
Schedule: Baltimore better get wins early because its final four games are at New England, home vs. Philadelphia then at the Steelers and the Bengals. The Ravens come off their Week 8 bye with four of five at home. A schedule oddity is that they play the Giants and Jets at MetLife Stadium in back-to-back weeks.
Prediction: Slight lean to the over. This is a better team than the five wins it finished with in 2015. The injuries were a huge issue, but I think this squad has another run left in it. The schedule sets up nicely for wins early.
(Over 10 wins +149, Under 10 wins -169)
Record Last Year: 12-4
Offense: Brandon LaFell comes over from New England to replace Marvin Jones as A.J. Green's sidekick, but the hand injury he is dealing with could limit his impact in the early going, if not the whole season. Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert's health will be important because he found the end zone often last year and was a valuable target in the red zone. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard form a solid RB duo although Hill has to improve on his yardage. As usual though, this group goes as Andy Dalton goes.
Defense: Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is suspended for the first three games of the season and that's a big loss. Still, for the most part the names are the same on this side of the ball. Fellow linebacker Karlos Dansby comes over from Cleveland after registering 108 tackles in 2015.
Schedule: Cincinnati has four of its first six on the road. After a Week 9 bye, the Bengals alternates home and road matchups. They play at the Cowboys and Patriots in Weeks 5 and 6.
Prediction: I like the under for Cincinnati. I'm not a Dalton fan and think defenses will stack the box to make him try and beat them. Eifert's health and LaFell's lack of talent will hurt the offense. I think that if you can get a better price on the under then you should take it.
(Over 5 wins -106, Under 5 wins -124)
Record Last Year: 3-13
Offense: Let's start off with the positives of WR Corey Coleman and RB Duke Johnson. That's two young pieces to build around with Coleman getting rave reviews out of training camp. Gary Barnidge had a great year in 2015 as well. The problems start at signal-caller where Robert Griffin III is trying to recapture what he was in his first season under center. If new head coach Hue Jackson can get Griffin back to his 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year form, then this team will surprise. Don't forget Josh Gordon could be a factor once again after sitting out the first four games.
Defense: This side of the ball could have a few issues. Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden is not what he used to be, but still probably is the best the Browns have. Tramon Williams and Justin Gilbert represent some decent depth, but can the front seven get some pressure to help the secondary out?
Schedule: Cleveland has five of its first seven on the road and the latest bye of any team this season (Week 13, with Tennessee). All eyes will be on our nation’s capital in Week 4 when RG3 returns to his old stomping grounds. The team does have five home games over a seven-week span in the second half of the season.
Prediction: I think the under is the play here. There's just not enough talent in Cleveland this season. At least those fans can still bask in the glow of the Cavaliers’ NBA championship.
(Over 10.5 wins -105, Under 10.5 wins -115)
Record Last Year: 10-6
Offense:Le’Veon Bell is suspended for the first three games, but last year DeAngelo Williams proved he could take over if need be. Martavis Bryant is out for the entire season, meaning Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates will have to pick up the slack. Jesse James gets the call at the tight end and he's not Heath Miller. Ben Roethlisberger should have another good year if he stays upright.
Defense: Pittsburgh continues to shuffle in some new talent on this side of the ball as the Steelers continue to try to get younger. I really like their linebacker corps with Ryan Shazier, Lawrence Timmons, Bud Dupree and Jarvis Jones. The corners could be better, but the addition of Mike Mitchell will help at safety.
Schedule: The Steelers have a Week 8 bye and then five of their next seven are away from home. Pittsburgh gets the Patriots, Cowboys and Giants all at home while they play at the Colts and Bills.
Prediction: I think 10 wins sounds about right for the Steelers. Their defense concerns me although the offense should be able to score on anyone. Once Bell returns, that side of the ball should have no issues.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
Technically, this is the first week of college football. The first game featuring two FBS teams kicks off Friday here in the United States — though it will be noon Saturday in Sydney — when Hawaii and Cal face each other in Australia. FCS action starts Saturday when defending champion North Dakota State faces Charleston Southern.
For those of us who have been waiting since Jan. 11 for the return of college football, this weekend will be a nice appetizer. In high school football parlance, it’s Week 0.
The real action starts Thursday for an opening weekend heavy on impact games. There are powerhouse matchups on neutral fields, teams traveling cross country for the increasingly rare non-conference showcase game on a school’s campus. There’s plenty of filler, too. Paycheck games. Power programs against overmatched FCS foes.
But, hey, it’s Week 1. Here are how the 86 games rank.
1. Oklahoma vs. Houston in Houston (Saturday, noon, ABC)
This could be the most important game of Week 1, or at least the one that could have the greatest impact on perceptions of teams and conferences. The stakes for this game have been clear since the end of last year. The best of the Big 12 takes o the best of the Group of 5. If Houston can beat Oklahoma, College Football Playoff talk will begin — whether or not it’s realistic for a Group of 5 team to be among the final four. Oklahoma has some questions to answer of its how, particularly how a rebuilding defense will handle Greg Ward Jr.
2. UCLA at Texas A&M (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS)
We could argue this is the best game of the first week or at least the toughest to read. The game could feature the top pick in the 2017 draft (Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett) and 2018 draft (UCLA’s Josh Rosen). Both teams could be division contenders, and thus College Football Playoff hopefuls. But they’re also flawed enough where neither is a clear top-10 team. It might be the most interesting game to attend, if only for being the best matchup on a campus site rather than a sterile NFL stadium.
3. Ole Miss vs. Florida State in Orlando (Monday, 8 p.m., ESPN)
Chad Kelly and Dalvin Cook re-wrote record books last season. Kelly had the third-best season in total offense and passing yards in SEC history last year. Meanwhile, Cook set Florida State's single-season rushing record. Florida State can establish its national championship contending-bona fides, or Ole Miss can shake up the top five with an upset.
4. USC vs. Alabama in Arlington, Texas (Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC)
These two powers haven’t met since the 1985 Aloha Bowl and not in the regular season since 1978. Few matchups will have more talent in the starting lineups. USC, though, is still thin due to NCAA sanctions, and both programs enter this game with uncertain quarterback play. USC has opted for former reserve Max Browne, who has all of 19 career pass attempts, but Nick Saban may be sending a freshman to take the first snap. Based on reputation alone, this could be the best game of the week, but USC has yet to prove it can go toe-to-toe with Alabama’s program right now.
5. Notre Dame at Texas (Sunday, 7:30 p.m., ABC)
Any result has to be better for Texas than last year’s 38-3 beatdown in South Bend. All eyes will be on both teams’ quarterbacks. Brian Kelly insists both DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire will play while Charlie Strong may be casting his lot with freshman Shane Buechele.
Podcast: Win Totals and Prop Bets
6. Georgia vs. North Carolina in Atlanta (Saturday, 5:30 p.m., ESPN)
For the first time since 2000, Georgia opens a season without Mark Richt on the sidelines. And for the first time since 1998, North Carolina enters a season with the momentum of a top-25 finish the previous year. The Tar Heels will be looking to prove 2015 was not a fluke, and the Bulldogs will try to prove that Tennessee is not the lone contender in the SEC East.
7. Clemson at Auburn (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
This does not set up as an ideal situation for Auburn. With Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman and a loaded receiver corps, Clemson has an offense that was rolling at the end of 2015. Auburn was mediocre on both sides of the ball last season, and there are no clear answers for how the Tigers will be able to keep up with Clemson.
8. Kansas State at Stanford (Friday, 9 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
A season-opener against an overachieving team in purple derailed Stanford’s College Football Playoff hopes last season. Kansas State could be a spoiler again if the Wildcats get solid quarterback play from Jesse Ertz, who is returning from a season-ending injury. The defense and special teams will need to find a way to contain Christian McCaffrey.
9. LSU vs. Wisconsin in Green Bay, Wis. (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC)
This could either be one of the best games of the first weekend or a total dud. Most of that probably depends on Wisconsin. The Badgers managed to win 10 games last year, but it was otherwise a very un-Wisconsin-like year with a below-average run game and inconsistent offensive line. Wisconsin had a top-10 defense, but the mastermind (coordinator Dave Aranda) is now on the LSU sideline.
10. Arizona vs. BYU in Glendale, Ariz. (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Chances are you’ll see a lot of BYU early this season. The Cougars face three Pac-12 opponents in the first three games, six Power 5 opponents in the first seven games plus Group of 5 standouts Toledo, Boise State and Cincinnati at some point this season. New coach Kalani Sitake has quite the enigma on his hands with quarterbacks Tanner Mangum and Taysom Hill. He can win with either. Arizona has an experienced backfield in Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson.
Podcast: QB Extravaganza
11. Appalachian State at Tennessee (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., SEC Network)
Tennessee can’t get caught looking ahead to the Battle at Bristol in Week 2. Appalachian State, an 11-2 team last season, is experienced on both sides of the ball. The Mountaineers are good enough to give the Volunteers trouble.
12. Western Michigan at Northwestern (Saturday, noon, ESPNU)
After winning eight games in back-to-back years and winning a bowl game for the first time in school history, Western Michigan is looking for a major non-conference statement. The Broncos will have the better offense with the pass-catch duo of Zach Terrell and Corey Davis, but Northwestern will be stout on defense.
13. Boise State at UL Lafayette (Saturday, noon, American Sports Network)
Houston is getting all of the attention as the best of the Group of 5, but Boise State could make a run at the automatic spot in a major bowl. The Broncos won nine games last season with a freshman quarterback and look to add to that in Brett Rypien's sophomore year. The Broncos can make a statement with a strong start to the season against UL Lafayette, Washington State, Oregon State and Utah State and New Mexico before mid-October.
14. Toledo at Arkansas State (Friday, 9 p.m., ESPNU)
By no means is this a marquee matchup, but nevertheless this pairs a 10-win MAC team against a nine-win Sun Belt team that dominated its conference. It's a solid Group of 5 non-conference game between two consistent winners led by up-and-coming young coaches.
15. Georgia Tech at Boston College in Dublin, Ireland (Saturday, 7:30 a.m., ESPN2)
Get your first college football Saturday right with some ACC with your breakfast. Both teams have reason to believe 2016 will be better than last season when Georgia Tech and Boston College combined to go 6-18 overall and 1-15 in the league.
16. Missouri at West Virginia (Saturday, noon, Fox Sports 1)
This is a what-could-have-been matchup. In the second-to-last BCS rankings of 2007, Missouri was No. 1 and West Virginia was No. 2. That was before Mizzou lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game and WVU lost to Pittsburgh. In the interim, both programs seen highs and lows in new conferences, and they’re now just trying to claw for a spot in the postseason.
17. Colorado State vs. Colorado in Denver (Friday, 8 p.m., ESPN)
The traditional early season rivalry game has been a pretty competitive series. Colorado has a 6-4 edge in the last 10 meetings. The Buffaloes may need to win this one if they have any hopes of going to a bowl for the first time since 2007.
18. South Carolina at Vanderbilt (Thursday, 8 p.m., ESPN)
This pairs two of the weaker teams in the SEC East. Both teams could struggle to put points on the board.
19. Southern Miss at Kentucky (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ESPNU)
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops will be in for a long season (or perhaps more accurately, a short season) if the Wildcats can’t handle Southern Miss. The Eagles, led by 4,400-yard passer Nick Mullens, are perfectly capable of winning in Lexington.
20. Louisiana Tech at Arkansas (Saturday, 4 p.m., SEC Network)
Louisiana Tech is a solid Group of 5 team with a good offense. Sound familiar, Arkansas fans? The 2016 Razorbacks will look to avoid the same fate as last year’s team that lost early to Toledo.
21. Bowling Green at Ohio State (Saturday, noon, Big Ten Network)
Believe it or not, this is the first time Urban Meyer has faced one of his former teams. Meyer’s first head coaching job was at Bowling Green in 2001-02. Both teams are restocking their rosters from winning 10 or more games last season. The ceiling is a tad higher in Columbus.
22. Hawaii at Michigan (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
Hawaii’s first four games will be in four time zones and two hemispheres: vs. Cal in Sydney (Australian Eastern Time Zone), at Michigan (Eastern), at home vs. UT Martin (Hawaii-Aleutian) and Arizona (Pacific). Not an easy start for first-year Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich.
23. Rutgers at Washington (Saturday, 2 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Every other Pac-12 contender has a big-time non-conference game. Not Washington. This is the toughest non-conference test for the upstart Huskies.
24. Fresno State at Nebraska (Saturday, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Coming off a 3-9 season, Fresno State is a long way removed from the Pat Hill/David Carr/Derek Carr days. Nebraska isn’t the power it once was, either, but the Cornhuskers are looking for their luck to turn so they can make a run at the Big Ten West.
25. Oregon State at Minnesota (Thursday, 9 p.m., Big Ten Network)
This isn’t the most bizarre non-conference game of the weekend, but it’s pretty close. Oregon State has played Minnesota three times in 1981, 1978 and 1954. Not many rodent mascot (Beavers) vs. rodent mascot (Gophers) matchups, either.
26. San Jose State at Tulsa (Saturday, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
This is a sneaky good Group of 5 vs. Group of 5 machup. San Jose State returns 15 starters from a balanced team that went to a bowl game. Tulsa could be one of this year’s surprise teams if the Golden Hurricane can find a defense. Tulsa averaged 33.1 points in its seven losses.
27. Indiana at FIU (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., ESPNU)
Being in Miami has its plusses: FIU opens this season with two Big Ten teams in its stadium — Indiana and Maryland. The Hoosiers and Terrapins aren’t powerhouses by any means, but both teams should do enough to look good in front of South Florida recruits.
28. Army at Temple (Friday, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
This will not be one of the more aesthetically pleasing games of the first week. Between Temple’s style of play and Army’s option, this game will be a grind.
29. Northern Iowa at Iowa State (Saturday, 8 p.m.)
Iowa State lost openers against FCS teams in 2013 (Northern Iowa) and 2014 (North Dakota State), which is part of the reason Matt Campbell is the coach now and not Paul Rhoads. Northern Iowa is the No. 3 team in Athlon’s preseason FCS top 25, so Campbell will have to work to get off to a good start at Iowa State.
30. Richmond at Virginia (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ACC/ESPN Network)
Richmond is No. 4 in Athlon’s preseason FCS top 25, so on paper the Spiders could give first-year Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall headaches. The Cavaliers have won 10 in a row dating back to 1946, including the last three matchups by scores of 45-13, 43-19 and 34-13.
31. Eastern Washington at Washington State (Saturday, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Washington State opened last season with a 24-17 loss to Portland State before rallying for a nine-win season. Expectations are higher for the Cougars this season. Wazzu will throw the ball around, of course, but so will Eastern Washington. The Eagles, ranked 12th in Athlon’s preseason FCS top 25, feature Walter Payton Award-winning receiver Cooper Kupp.
32. Villanova at Pittsburgh (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., ACC/ESPN Network)
Pittsburgh will win the weekend in terms of inspiring storylines as running back James Conner takes the field for the first time since his cancer diagnosis last season.
33. Northwestern State at Baylor (Friday, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports regional)
The Art Briles version of Baylor would have little problem in a game like this. The Jim Grobe version shouldn’t either, but the Bears’ demeanor will be worth watching after a shameful offseason.
34. South Dakota State at TCU (Saturday, 7 p.m., Fox Sports regional)
This game will be most notable for a peek into the TCU offense after Trevone Boykin. Both quarterbacks Kenny Hill and Foster Sawyer should see time here.
35. Rice at Western Kentucky (Thursday, 8 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Another conference game gets us started on Thursday evening. Both teams are replacing multi-year starting quarterbacks in Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty and Rice’s Driphus Jackson.
36. Miami (Ohio) at Iowa (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU)
Iowa lost its last two games of 2015 in heartbreaking (16-13 to Michigan State) and embarrassing (45-13 to Stanford) fashion. The Hawkeyes will put an end to those trends to start 2016.
37. Kent State at Penn State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Penn State will get its first look of a new offense with coordinator Joe Moorhead and quarterback Trace McSorley. Anything has to be better than the way the Nittany Lions started last season with a 27-10 loss to Temple.
38. Tulane at Wake Forest (Thursday, 7 p.m., ACC/ESPN Network)
A bowl game is a reasonable goal in Dave Clawson’s third season at Wake Forest. A hot start (Tulane, at Duke, Delaware, at Indiana, at NC State, Syracuse) will be critical. Tulane is hitting the re-start button with a new coach (Willie Fritz) and perhaps a new look.
39. Charlotte at Louisville (Thursday, 7 p.m., ACC regional networks)
Congratulations, you made it. This is one of four FBS games in the first time slot on the first Thursday of the season.
40. UMass at Florida (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., SEC Network)
UMass’ first season as an independent includes three SEC opponents (at Florida, Mississippi State in Foxboro and at South Carolina).
Check out the Athlon Sports 2016 College Football Rankings No. 1 to 128.
41. Northern Illinois at Wyoming (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
This game will feature two of the top 30 rushers from 2015 in Wyoming’s Brian Hill (1,631 yards, six TDs) and Northern Illinois’ Joel Bouagnon (1,296 yards, 18 TDs)
42. South Alabama at Mississippi State (Saturday, noon, SEC Network)
The task of replacing Dak Prescott, the best player in Mississippi State history, likely falls on sophomore Nick Fitzgerald. Don’t count out the Bulldogs without Prescott: They still have a solid group of seniors.
43. New Mexico State at UTEP (Saturday, 8 p.m., BEIN Sports)
The Battle of I-10 isn’t mandatory viewing, but it isn’t a stinker, either. UTEP will be in bowl contention, and New Mexico State has some legitimate star power in Larry Rose III (1,651 rushing yards, 14 TD).
44. Texas State at Ohio (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Ohio is Athlon’s pick to win the MAC East. Despite being one of the most consistent Group of 5 teams — seven consecutive non-losing seasons — the Bobcats haven’t won the division since 2011 and haven’t won the MAC under Frank Solich. Texas State has a new coach in Everett Withers.
45. SMU at North Texas (Saturday, 7 p.m., American Sports Network)
SMU enters Year 2 under Chad Morris, and the Mustangs are expecting to take a few steps forward this season. North Texas, under new head coach Seth Littrell, is ranked 128th in Athlon’s preseason rankings.
46. Stephen F. Austin at Texas Tech (Saturday, 8 p.m., Fox Sports regional)
Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes will have a chance to put up video game stats in the opener.
47. Ball State at Georgia State (Friday, 7 pm. American Sports Network)
Georgia State was a major surprise last season, improving from 1-11 to a bowl team. Ball State was the home of one of the more bizarre coach changes as Pete Lembo, two years removed from a 10-win season, took an assistant coach job at Maryland. He was replaced by alum/former New Orleans Saints assistant/Arena League coach Mike Neu.
48. Liberty at Virginia Tech (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., ACC regional networks)
Justin Fuente will get one game under his belt at the Hokies coach before facing Tennessee at Bristol in Week 2. Liberty has followed two standout seasons under former Kansas and Buffalo coach Turner Gill with a 6-5 season in 2015.
49. William & Mary at NC State (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN3.com)
William & Mary is a solid Colonial program known to give middling Power 5 teams trouble. NC State, without Jacoby Brissett, fits the profile of a team on upset alert against the Tribe.
50. New Hampshire at San Diego State (Saturday, 8:30 p.m.)
The second-most impressive streak in FCS after North Dakota State’s five championships? How about New Hampshire’s 12 consecutive playoff appearances.
51. Southern Utah at Utah (Thursday, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
FUN FACT: Southern Utah produced more NFL Draft picks (two) than either Utah or BYU (one each) in 2016.
52. Fordham at Navy (Saturday, noon, CBS Sports Network)
Navy’s first game of the post-Keenan Reynolds era will be against a team that has made the FCS playoffs in three consecutive years.
53. Towson at USF (Saturday, 7 p.m., American Sports Network)
USF finished last season on a tear, going 7-2 in the final nine games and saving Willie Taggart’s job. Towson has an Oregon transfer at quarterback in Morgan Mahalak.
54. Colgate at Syracuse (Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN3.com)
First-year coach Dino Babers doesn’t have a ton of automatic wins early on at Syracuse. This is one of them.
55. Northern Arizona at Arizona State (Saturday, 10:45 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Northern Arizona has an all-name team nominee at quarterback in Case Cookus, but the Lumberjacks haven't beaten one of the two big state schools since the ‘30s.
56. Eastern Kentucky at Purdue (Saturday, noon, ESPNews)
Eastern Kentucky lost its coach (Dean Hood to Charlotte) and star player (former Ohio State defensive end Noah Spence). This will be one of the few games in which Purdue will be favored in 2016.
57. UC Davis at Oregon (Saturday, 5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
The last time UC Davis faced Dakota Prukop, he passed for 361 yards, rushed for 148 and accounted for six touchdowns in a 77-37 win for Montana State in 2014.
58. Furman at Michigan State (Friday, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Michigan State opens with Furman, gets a bye week and then faces a gauntlet of Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Indiana, BYU and Northwestern.
59. Murray State at Illinois (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Lovie Smith will coach on a college sideline for the first time since 1995.
60. Florida A&M at Miami (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN3.com)
Florida A&M’s only win over Miami was in 1979 when Mark Richt was a sophomore.
61. Howard at Maryland (Saturday, noon, Big Ten Network)
Howard went 1-11 last season, but the Bison’s coach, Gary Harrell, is nicknamed “The Flea.” So there’s that.
62. Southeastern Louisiana at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Fox Sports regional)
Oklahoma State eases into its season with Southeastern Louisiana followed by Central Michigan, Pittsburgh and a road trip to Baylor.
63. North Carolina Central at Duke (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN3.com)
What will Duke get from quarterback Thomas Sirk, who is attempting to return from a ruptured Achilles? North Carolina Central is a solid test from the FCS ranks.
64. Southeast Missouri State at Memphis (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN3.com)
New coach Mike Norvell and quarterback Riley Ferguson have a tough act to follow. Memphis should win this game, but can the Tigers win in the long term without Justin Fuente and Paxton Lynch?
65. Rhode Island at Kansas (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN3.com)
Rhode Island has gone 2-21 in the last two years. This would be a good time for David Beaty to get his first win as KU’s coach.
66. South Carolina State at UCF (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN3.com)
UCF will be looking to end a 13-game losing streak … just before going to Michigan in Week 2.
67. Cal Poly at Nevada (Friday, 9:30 p.m.)
Dakota Prukop’s transfer to Oregon got most of the attention, but another Montana State defection will impact the FBS — Nevada grabbed Prukop’s offensive coordinator, Tim Cramsey, for the same post in Reno.
68. Weber State at Utah State (Thursday, 8 p.m.)
For the first time since 2010, Chuckie Keeton is not in the plans at quarterback for the Aggies.
69. Western Carolina at East Carolina (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN3.com)
The Scottie Montgomery era begins after East Carolina curiously fired alum Ruffin McNeil, who had led the Pirates to 28 wins in three seasons before slipping to 5-7 in 2015.
70. UT Martin at Cincinnati (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN3.com)
In UT Martin’s last four games against FBS competition (Ole Miss, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Kentucky), the Skyhawks have allowed 76, 63, 45 and 59 points. Tommy Tuberville will have a chance to figure out his quarterback situation.
71. Maine at UConn (Thursday, 7 p.m., American Sports Network)
Maine features the youngest coach in Division I in 30-year-old Joe Harasymiak.
72. Southern Illinois at FAU (Saturday, 6 p.m.)
Southern Illinois outscored opponents 397-381 yet found a way to go 3-8, including a one-point loss at Indiana.
73. South Dakota at New Mexico (Thursday, 9 p.m., Root Sports)
New Mexico hasn’t had back-to-back winning seasons since 2003-04. The Lobos are a potential bowl team again this season.
74. Alabama A&M at Middle Tennessee (Saturday, 6 p.m.)
Middle Tennessee quarterback Brent Stockstill fell 53 yards short of Jameis Winston’s freshman passing record (4,058 yards) last season.
75. Abilene Christian at Air Force (Saturday, 2 p.m.)
Air Force has won 10 consecutive season openers. Only Florida, USC, Ohio State, Alabama, LSU and Texas Tech have longer such winning streaks.
76. Montana State at Idaho (Thursday, 9 p.m., Altitude)
With now-Oregon quarterback Dakota Prukop, Montana State averaged 41 point per game and finished 5-6. Idaho topped 40 points three times and lost two of those games (to New Mexico State and South Alabama).
77. Austin Peay at Troy (Saturday, 6 p.m.)
Troy coach Neal Brown, 36, will rarely be the older coach in a matchup. He will in his opener against Austin Peay coach Will Healy, 30.
78. Savannah State at Georgia Southern (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN3.com)
Georgia Southern won the last meeting 83-9 in 2014. Ouch.
79. VMI at Akron (Saturday, 6:30 p.m., ESPN3.com)
VMI went 2-9 last season and gave a MAC team trouble in a 48-36 loss to Ball State.
80. Hampton at Old Dominion (Friday, 6 p.m.)
DID YOU KNOW: Old Dominion scored at least 30 points in each of its last five consecutive games last season, a feat matched or exceeded only by Stanford (13 in a row), Clemson, North Carolina, Western Kentucky and Oregon (six in a row).
81. Jackson State at UNLV (Thursday, 10 p.m.)
The coaches are two former wide receivers, UNLV’s Tony Sanchez at New Mexico State and Jackson State’s Harold Jackson, the 40th-leading receiver in NFL history with more than 10,000 career yards.
82. Albany at Buffalo (Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN3.com)
Albany has played one game against an FBS opponent in its history, also against Buffalo, losing 51–14 last season.
83. Alabama State at UTSA (Saturday, 7 p.m.)
Potential UTSA quarterback Jared Johnson could beat Alabama State with two different teams. A transfer from Sam Houston State, Johnson passed for 386 yards and three touchdowns in a 51-20 win to open the 2014 season.
84. Presbyterian at Central Michigan (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN3.com)
Presbyterian opens its season by moving progressively South from Central Michigan to Chattanooga to Campbell in North Carolina before its home opener in Clinton, S.C.
85. Southern at ULM (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN3.com)
New ULM coach Matt Viator doesn’t get an automatic W in his first game with the struggling Warhawks. Southern went 6-5 last season but topped 40 points seven times.
86. Mississippi Valley State at Eastern Michigan (Friday, 6 p.m., ESPN3.com)
Eastern Michigan, meet the SWAC version of Eastern Michigan. Each team won only one game last season. The Eagles are 7-41 the last four years. Mississippi Valley State is 7-28 in the last three. Mississippi Valley State was outscored by an average of 30.1 points per game last season. Eastern Michigan was more competitive, being outscored by 16 points per game in a 1-11 season.
Gambling advice is for entertainment purposes only (of course)!
Win totals, over/unders, prop bets and more take center stage on this edition of the Cover 2 Podcast.
Braden Gall, Mitch Light and David Fox offer their top win total picks for the 2016 season for every conference in football. Each of us gives our top win total over and win total under for each league.
Some teams we are convinced will win more than Vegas predicts — Texas A&M, Florida State, for example — while we make the case for many teams to underacheive — like, say, Baylor.
Listen for Vegas win total advice on every conference as well as individual player prop bets. And, lastly, can Fox explain what -1500 means for the Pac-12 winning the national title?
Check out the Athlon Sports 2016 College Football Rankings No. 1 to 128.
You can order your preseason Athlon Sports college football magazines here with Amazon.com.
Send any ideas, questions or comments to @BradenGall @AthlonMitch or @DavidFox615 or email [email protected]. The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com/podcast, iTunes, Stitcher and our podcast RSS feed.
Change is the buzzword surrounding the BYU football program entering the 2016 season.
After 11 successful seasons, Bronco Mendenhall left Provo, Utah, for Charlottesville, Virginia, to help revive a Virginia Cavaliers team that’s looking to build a program once again.
Enter BYU’s new head coach Kalani Sitake, who comes to his alma mater with a decorated resume despite a lack of head coaching experience. Since accepting the job last December, Sitake has reenergized a BYU fan base that was growing more restless as the seasons went by with the trajectory of the program under Mendenhall.
Sitake has a respect for BYU’s past and present, along with a bright outlook for the Cougars’ future. Focusing on the present, what will be considered a success in year one with what is considered to be one of the toughest schedules in the country?
Sitake and his staff filled with former BYU players like himself will know how good this team is right away with a trio of games against Pac-12 South foes, a neutral-site game against West Virginia, a trip to Michigan State, a Friday night home tilt with Mississippi State, and then the annual contest against Boise State. That’s all before Halloween.
The good news for Sitake is that he has one of the best quarterback units in 2016 with the versatile Taysom Hill returning from a Lisfranc injury and Tanner Mangum, who set school freshman passing records last season.
The Cougars could be fighting for their bowl eligibility lives entering November, but on the flip side, they could also be one of the programs that are in the national conversation if they pull off some early upsets on this schedule.
BYU Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2016
Mitch Harper (@Mitch_Harper)
If BYU remains a football independent, this is the schedule that BYU ideally would like to have on a yearly basis. This year’s slate features six games against Power Five opponents, two of the best Group of Five programs in Boise State and Cincinnati, novelty in the Toledo and UMass games, along with regional games versus Utah State and Southern Utah.
Needless to say, it’s impressive to think how far BYU has come in regards to scheduling in six years as a football independent. That does not change the fact, however, that this is a bear of a schedule right out of the gates as there are no breathers until November.
BYU’s depth will be put to the test with this schedule and if first-year head coach Kalani Sitake pulls out eight wins like I’m predicting for this team, that would be a solid foundation for a program that is looking to resemble their glory days when LaVell Edwards was roaming the sidelines.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
New head coach Kalani Sitake won’t have many breaks in his first year guiding the Cougars. BYU’s schedule features 10 bowl teams, six Power Five opponents and tough road trips to Michigan State, Utah and Boise State, along with a neutral-site matchup against West Virginia. Considering the tough slate, Sitake’s debut could get off to a slow start. However, the Cougars should pick up momentum over the second half of the year and a 7-5/8-4 finish wouldn’t be a surprise. BYU has more than enough firepower on offense with the return of quarterbacks Tanner Mangum and Taysom Hill to give every team on its schedule problems. Additionally, the defense returns six starters and shouldn’t slip too much on the stat sheet after giving up 22.8 points per game in 2015. Sitake is the right hire for BYU, but the schedule will be tough to navigate in year one.
Bryan Fischer (BryanDFischer)
New BYU head coach Kalani Sitake won't get any sort of honeymoon period in Provo with the brutal schedule he faces in his first year as the man in charge of the Cougars. The good news is he at least has a lot of nice pieces to work with, starting with two good options at quarterback and what should be a solid defense at all three levels. There will be some growing pains with so many new faces on the staff though so the record might slip a tad from last year.
John Coon (@johncoonsports)
BYU returns a combined 12 starters on both sides of the ball. The Cougars will need every bit of that experience to get through one of the most rugged schedules in school history. BYU will play 10 teams who reached bowl games in 2015.
The Cougars will run a pro-style West Coast offense under new offensive coordinator Ty Detmer. Senior QB Taysom Hill is expected to start over Tanner Mangum. If Hill can stay healthy, he's a dynamic dual-threat QB who gives opposing defenses fits. Mangum also is a dangerous QB after throwing for 3,377 yards and 23 touchdowns as a freshman. BYU's running game should benefit from Jamaal Williams coming back after sitting out in 2015. Williams needs 929 yards to break the school's career rushing record.
Defensively, BYU will shift from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme. Depth on the defensive line is enough of a concern that Harvey Langi switched from linebacker to defensive end in fall camp. BYU should be strongest at linebacker where Fred Warner is a disruptive playmaker.
New head coach Kalani Sitake has energized the program, but the coaching staff is inexperienced at the FBS level. This means seven or eight wins is likely the ceiling for this group.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
With all of the focus outside of Provo being about BYU possibly joining the Big 12, the Cougars are staring at one of the toughest schedules in the country. Normally an older and more mature team, the 2016 BYU Cougars have youth and inexperience all through the starting lineup on both sides of the ball. It's looking like they are going to roll with co-starting quarterbacks, which I normally don't like. In their case, however, they have two very good ones that excel in different facets of the game. Regardless of who is under center, this team is going to lean on the running game to try and control the tempo --especially in some very hostile atmospheres on the road. New head coach Kalani Sitake is an upbeat, high-energy guy. Hopefully his demeanor rubs off on a team that is going to take some lumps this season.
While Frank Beamer was far and away the best head coach in Virginia Tech history, things had grown stagnant in Blacksburg. An offense that was rarely explosive became stuck in the mud, putting more pressure on Bud Foster’s defense. The result was a 29-23 record since the Hokies' Sugar Bowl appearance following the 2011 season.
But with Justin Fuente comes a sense of optimism. The new head coach took a Memphis program that was among the nation’s worst and built it into one that made consecutive bowl appearances. He also developed an exciting offense led by a quarterback that became a first-round NFL Draft pick. Fuente’s offensive acumen, combined with Foster’s defensive knowledge, gives hope that a return to glory is near.
But can that be in 2016? Athlon writers and contributors give you their analysis of what is to come for the Hokies this season.
Virginia Tech Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2016
Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)
New head coach Justin Fuente has some nice offensive parts to work with in running back Travon McMillian and pass catchers Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips and Bucky Hodges. But essential to the success of the unit is improved quarterback play and development of an experienced offensive line. Fuente hopes the guys up front can protect his signal-caller, junior college transfer Jerod Evans. The Hokies lose several star defenders. But coordinator Bud Foster has pieced together units before and figures to again this year.
This is a team that can contend in the ACC Coastal Division if things were to break right. Games at North Carolina and Pittsburgh, along with non-conference games at Notre Dame and against Tennessee at Bristol Motor Speedway will be tough. But an 8-4 campaign in Fuente’s first year would have to be considered a success.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
North Carolina and Miami have received most of the attention as the preseason favorites in the ACC’s Coastal Division, but Virginia Tech will be an interesting team to watch in 2016. New head coach Justin Fuente was an A-plus hire, and his first move was to convince longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster to stick around. With six returning starters, Foster should be able to improve a defense that gave up 26.3 points a game in 2015. The offense has been Virginia Tech’s problem spot in recent years, but Fuente has a strong track record of success on this side of the ball and improvement should be noticeable. Road trips to North Carolina and Pitt in conference play are tough, but Virginia Tech does not play one of the top three teams – Clemson, Florida State and Louisville – from the Atlantic Division in crossover matchups. If the offense takes a big step forward, Fuente’s team could challenge for the Coastal Division title.
Bryan Fischer (BryanDFischer)
It's a new era in Blacksburg and Hokies fans have to be excited at the potential of the program under Justin Fuente after a bit of stagnation during Frank Beamer's final years. The defense should continue to play at a high level with Bud Foster still in charge of that side of the ball and Fuente will provide an instant dose of efficiency on offense. There look to be a lot of potential 50/50 games on the schedule so how far the head coach's side of the ball progresses will determine whether the season is going to be a good one or a great one.
Kevin McGuire (KevinOnCFB)
The Justin Fuente era in Blacksburg should be an exciting one that sees the Hokies rekindle an offensive flair that has been missing for quite some time. Virginia Tech’s defense is expected to bounce back after a rare down year under longtime coordinator Bud Foster in 2015, and that should keep the Hokies in every game. While the future outlook of the offense under Fuente should be an optimistic one, it won't happen over night. It should be improved a little bit but the weapons needed to score some big wins just may not be ready. That's why it could end up looking like a tough season for the Hokies.
If you noticed, all of my predicted losses for the Hokies will come away from home, which means Fuente's tenure in Blacksburg is getting started by protecting Lane Stadium. That's something to take not of moving forward, and it will be what helps push Virginia Tech to yet another bowl game.
Mike Ferguson (@MikeWFerguson)
New head coach Justin Fuente is a good offensive mind with a proven track record, but replacing a legend like Frank Beamer is never easy.
Fuente has some pretty good skill players on offense in running back Travon McMillan and Isaiah Ford, an outstanding receiver. The Hokies also have a decent offensive line, but how potential starting quarterback Brenden Motley progresses as a passer will be the real key.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster is one of the best in the business, but the Hokies could struggle on that side of the ball, especially for the first half of the season. Kendall Fuller and Dadi Nicolas are both gone and defensive end Ken Ekanem will likely see his fair share of attention.
For Fuente, a winning season in 2016 should be considered a good start. The Hokies' ceiling is probably seven wins during the regular season. Beating Tennessee, North Carolina or Notre Dame will be tough and the Hokies also have to travel to Pittsburgh and Duke. Looking past September, there are really no gimmes for Fuente's team.
(Justin Fuente photo by Dave Knachel - Virginia Tech Athletics)
Quarterback play is always under the microscope for every college football team. Finding and developing a reliable starter isn’t easy for some programs, but for other schools, the next quarterback steps in and the offense doesn’t miss a beat.
With the 2016 season just days away, who has the best quarterback situations in college football? And which teams should be concerned? We ranked all 128 quarterbacks – with a few stipulations. This is not a list of career achievements or NFL Draft stock. Both of those elements were considered, but we also weighed value to the team, supporting cast, track record of coaches and teams for developing quarterbacks, scheme, projection for 2016, recruiting background, talent and production so far. Anything you can think of to evaluate quarterbacks was used in this ranking.
Here’s an updated look at how the projected starting quarterbacks for all 128 teams rank for 2016:
Ranking All 128 College Football Starting QBs for 2016
128. George Bollas, Kent State
Kent State’s offense desperately needs a spark after averaging 13.1 points a game in 2015. With Colin Reardon shifting to receiver, Bollas, Mylik Mitchell and Justin Agner are competing for the starting job. Bollas threw for 756 yards and two touchdowns in 12 appearances in 2015.
Podcast: QB Extravaganza
127. Ikaika Woolsey, Hawaii
If new coach Nick Rolovich can get steady play from his quarterbacks, the Rainbow Warriors should make big progress on the stat sheet after averaging only 17.6 points a game in 2015. Woolsey (908 yards and five scores) edged Aaron Zwahlen and Dru Brown for the starting nod this fall.
126. Glen Cuiellette, Tulane
Willie Fritz is one of the top coaching hires for 2016, but Tulane is headed for a rebuilding year this fall. Cuiellette has played in only one game and is competing with freshmen Johnathan Brantley and Darius Bradwell for the starting job.
125. Dallas Davis, South Alabama
The Jaguars opened fall camp with three quarterbacks vying for the starting job. Davis holds a slight edge over Marshall transfer Cole Garvin for the No. 1 spot. Davis played in six games as Cody Clements’ backup in 2015 and completed 11 of 23 throws for 108 yards and one score.
124. Conner Manning, Georgia State
Manning and Aaron Winchester are locked into a tight battle for the starting job. There’s big shoes to fill at Georgia State after Nick Arbuckle expired his eligibility after winning Sun Belt Player of the Year honors in 2015. Manning – a graduate transfer from Utah – attempted six passes in his career with the Utes.
123. Kevin Olsen, Charlotte
Olsen signed with Miami as one of the nation’s top quarterback recruits in the 2013 signing class but transferred after the 2014 season. After a stint at Riverside City College, Olsen is back on the FBS level for two years at Charlotte. He’s an intriguing option for a program entering its second season at the FBS level.
122. Tyler Stehling, Rice
Stehling worked as Driphus Jackson’s backup over the last two seasons and enters 2016 with 479 passing yards and two scores in 10 career appearances. The 6-foot-6 signal-caller inherits a solid supporting cast, which includes receiver Zach Wright, running back Darik Dillard and three starters on the offensive line.
121. Jason Driskel, FAU
It’s a close call between Driskel or redshirt freshman Daniel Parr for FAU’s starting nod. Driskel played in 10 games and threw for 965 yards and three scores last season, while Parr took a redshirt year in his first on campus.
120. Ross Comis, UMass
Comis opened fall camp with an edge over junior college recruit Andrew Ford for the starting nod. Comis showed promise in a limited stint last season, throwing for 171 yards and two touchdowns in six appearances. UMass faces a brutal schedule in 2016, but Comis (and Ford) provide coach Mark Whipple with options under center.
119. Josh Allen, Wyoming
Bad luck is the best way to describe Allen’s 2015 season. In his first career start (Week 2 against Eastern Michigan), Allen completed 3 of 4 passes for 32 yards and rushed for 40 yards. However, he suffered a season-ending collarbone injury early in the contest.
118. Chason Virgil, Fresno State
New coordinator Eric Kiesau was brought in to spark a Fresno State offense that averaged only 22.3 points a game in 2015. Finding consistency at quarterback would be a huge plus for Kiesau, and Virgil is back as the starter after watching his 2015 campaign end after three games due to injury.
117. Tyree Jackson, Buffalo
Jackson is competing with Iowa State graduate transfer Grant Rohach for the starting job. The 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman is an intriguing prospect for second-year coach Lance Leipold.
116. Billy Bahl, Miami, Ohio
The RedHawks are a sleeper team to watch in the MAC East this fall. Bahl (1,409 yards and eight scores) is competing with Gus Ragland for the starting job.
115. Ryan Higgins, Louisiana Tech
Higgins is slated to replace Jeff Driskel as Louisiana Tech’s starter, but he won’t start the opener due to a DWI arrest in early August. Sophomore Price Wilson or redshirt freshman J’mar Smith will take the first snap of the year against the Razorbacks.
114. Chris Carter, Army West Point
Army’s quarterback situation is unsettled. Ahmad Bradshaw started seven games in a promising sophomore campaign last fall, but his status with the team appeared to be uncertain in August. Despite reports Bradshaw was leaving the team, he was back at practice and competing with Carter for the No. 1 spot. Regardless of whether Carter or Bradshaw takes the first snap, Army’s offense should improve in 2016.
113. Greg Windham, Ohio
With J.D. Sprague retiring, Windham gets the nod over redshirt freshman Quinton Maxwell for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Windham completed 19 of 40 passes for 298 yards and one touchdown in limited action last year.
112. Jordan Davis, UL Lafayette
Can the Ragin’ Cajuns find consistency at quarterback in 2016? Three signal-callers received snaps last year, with Davis emerging as the best option at the end of 2015. He returns as the favorite to take the first snap, but LSU graduate transfer Anthony Jennings is also in the mix.
111. Tyler Rogers, New Mexico State
Rogers was off to a good start last year before a season-ending thumb injury in the fourth game. Prior to the injury, Rogers threw for 974 yards and seven scores.
Podcast: Win Totals and Prop Bets
110. Zack Greenlee, UTEP
Greenlee left Fresno State as a graduate transfer and is the favorite over Kavika Johnson and Ryan Metz for the starting job. In seven games with the Bulldogs last year, Greenlee threw for 866 yards and 13 scores.
109. Kurt Benkert, Virginia
Matt Johns threw for 2,810 yards and 20 scores in his first full season as Virginia’s starter in 2015, but the senior isn't guaranteed the No. 1 spot. Instead, East Carolina graduate transfer Kurt Benkert seems to be the favorite to take the first snap of the year for the Cavaliers. Benkert missed 2015 due to a knee injury but completed 8 of 10 passes for 58 yards in 2014.
108. Perry Hills, Maryland
Walt Bell was one of the Big Ten’s top coordinator hires for 2016, and the first-year play-caller should make a difference for a unit that averaged only 24.7 points a game last fall. Five quarterbacks are set to battle for the starting nod in fall practice, with Hills the frontrunner after ending spring camp at No. 1. The Terrapins used four quarterbacks last season and led the Big Ten with 29 interceptions. Hills seems to have the best balance of run/pass ability to fit Bell’s scheme and has a good group of receivers at his disposal. True freshman Tyrell Pigrome’s progress is worth monitoring in fall practice.
Related: Big Ten Predictions for 2016
107. Chris Laviano, Rutgers
Laviano (2,247 passing yards and16 TDs in 2015) is listed as Rutgers’ projected starter here, but the No. 1 spot is up for grabs this fall. New coordinator Drew Mehringer is looking for more mobility and rushing potential out of the starting quarterback, and the offense needs more overall consistency after the Scarlet Knights averaged only 21.3 points in Big Ten games last year. Laviano will be pushed for time by TCU graduate transfer Zach Allen, true freshman Tylin Oden and junior Hayden Rettig.
106. Ryan Willis, Kansas
A case could be made for Willis to be a spot or two higher on this list. In 10 appearances as a true freshman in 2015, Willis threw for 1,719 yards and nine scores. Willis didn’t have much help from his supporting cast and was often playing from behind for a Kansas team that finished 0-12. While Willis showed promise last fall, he spent the spring recovering from a wrist injury, which allowed backup Montell Cozart to make a push for the starting job. Is there actually a battle between Cozart and Willis for the starting job? Or was Cozart’s appearance at Big 12 Media Days more of an indication he will play some role in the offense this fall? If Willis is the starter, move him up a spot on this list.
105. Richard Lagow, Indiana
Kevin Wilson is one of the Big Ten’s top offensive-minded coaches, but he will have his hands full in replacing Nate Sudfeld this fall. Junior college recruit (and former UConn and Oklahoma State signal-caller) Richard Lagow left spring with an edge over Danny Cameron and Zander Diamont for the starting nod. Lagow threw for 2,285 yards and 21 touchdowns at Cisco Community College in 2015.
104. Jesse Ertz, Kansas State
Injuries took a toll on Kansas State’s quarterback depth chart last year. Three players received a start under center, with Ertz suffering a season-ending knee injury in the first drive of the opener against South Dakota. Ertz accumulated just one rush attempt for five yards in game action last year. He’s expected to return to full strength in 2016 and should hold off Joe Hubener and Alex Delton for the starting job. Ertz earned Iowa Gatorade Player of the Year honors in 2012 and threw for 7,317 yards in his high school career.
103. David Blough, Purdue
Marked improvement in the win column is unlikely for the Boilermakers in 2016, but with 16 returning starters in place, coach Darrell Hazell’s team could be more competitive in Big Ten action this fall. Hazell needs better play from his quarterbacks to help an offense that averaged only 25.1 points a game in 2015. Blough showed promise in his first season, throwing for 1,574 yards and 10 scores. In Purdue’s 55-45 upset win over Nebraska, Blough threw for four scores and 274 yards. There’s potential here, but Blough could be pushed for time by redshirt freshman Elijah Sindelar.
102. Bart Houston, Wisconsin
Paul Chryst has a good track record of finding and developing quarterbacks throughout his coaching career. How quickly will the second-year coach find the right answer in 2016? With Joel Stave expiring his eligibility, Houston and redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook are competing for the starting job. Houston is considered the favorite, but Hornibrook seemed to close the gap late in spring practice. Even though he’s a senior, Houston hasn’t played much in his career. In seven games last fall, Houston completed 27 of 47 passes for 281 yards and three scores. This group is a question mark, but the guess here is Chryst finds the right answer during the 2016 season.
101. Alec Morris, North Texas
New coach Seth Littrell is a good hire for North Texas, but wins could be tough to come by in 2016. The Mean Green have new schemes on both sides of the ball, including a switch to a new wide-open attack on offense. Morris transferred in from Alabama with one season of eligibility and should be a good fit in the new system.
100. Johnny Stanton, UNLV
Second-year coach Tony Sanchez has indicated Stanton and Kurt Palandech will both see time in the opener. Stanton is a former Nebraska signal-caller and a breakout candidate for 2016.
99. Christian Chapman, San Diego State
San Diego State’s offense is going to lean heavily on running back Donnel Pumphrey, but Chapman showed promise in a limited stint under center last season. He threw for 203 yards and one score in the Mountain West title win over Air Force and completed 8 of 11 throws for 113 yards against Cincinnati in the Hawaii Bowl.
98. Brogan Roback, Eastern Michigan
Roback was a bright spot for an Eastern Michigan team that went 1-11 in 2015. Roback threw for 2,304 yards and 16 scores last year and should take those numbers up a notch in 2016.
97. Justice Hansen, Arkansas State
The battle between Hansen and Pitt graduate transfer Chad Voytik could extend into the season. Regardless of who starts, the Red Wolves should be in good shape under center.
96. Nate Romine, Air Force
Romine reclaims the starting job after suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 2 of the 2015 season. The California native has been solid in limited action, throwing for 954 yards and seven touchdowns and rushing for 410 yards and five scores in 16 career appearances.
95. Bryant Shirreffs, UConn
Defense is the strength of Bob Diaco’s team, but UConn needs more from an offense that ranked 121st nationally in scoring last fall. Shirreffs accounted for 2,581 yards and 12 scores and completed 60.2 percent of his throws in 2015. The junior’s production should improve with a supporting cast that returns eight starters.
94. Manny Wilkins, Arizona State
Three candidates are vying to start for Arizona State this season, with Wilkins and redshirt freshman Brady White a step ahead of Dillon Sterling-Cole in the battle to replace Mike Bercovici. Bryce Perkins was in the mix to start, but he will miss the 2016 season due to injury. Wilkins was a four-star recruit in the 2014 signing class and played in four games as a redshirt freshman in 2015. In his limited action, Wilkins rushed for 55 yards on seven carries and did not attempt a pass. White – the No. 67 overall recruit in the 2015 247Sports Composite – is the name to watch this fall. Regardless of who starts, Arizona State’s offense is in good hands under the direction of new coordinator Chip Lindsey. If there was a clear starter, we would move that player up a spot or two on this list.
93. Philip Nelson, East Carolina
Nelson hasn’t played a down of college ball since the 2013 season and has been on a long journey to get to East Carolina. In two years at Minnesota, Nelson threw for 2,179 yards and 17 scores and ran for 548 yards and six touchdowns. He could have a solid senior year under new coach Scottie Montgomery.
92. Riley Ferguson, Memphis
Paxton Lynch will be missed, but Ferguson is a talented and capable replacement. After signing with Tennessee out of high school, Ferguson eventually landed at Coffeyville Community College and threw for 2,942 yards and 35 scores last year. Ferguson could surprise in 2016.
91. Jared Johnson, UTSA
New coach Frank Wilson is known for his recruiting prowess, and the former LSU assistant landed a couple of graduate transfers this offseason to speed up UTSA’s rebuilding process. Johnson started 30 games at Sam Houston State and ended his career with 6,953 total yards and 50 overall scores.
90. David Washington, Old Dominion
Washington provided a spark for Old Dominion’s offense in the second half of last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Southern Miss. The senior tweaked the knee in fall practice but isn’t in any danger of missing the opener against Hampton. If he can stay healthy, Washington should guide the Monarchs to the program’s first bowl appearance.
Related: Ranking All 128 Teams for 2016
89. Darell Garretson, Oregon State
Coach Gary Anderson didn’t sit idle this offseason after watching his offense rank last in the Pac-12 by averaging only 19 points a game in 2015. Kevin McGiven and T.J. Woods were promoted to co-offensive coordinators, and this duo is tasked with helping Garretson get acclimated to the Pac-12 level of play in his first opportunity for snaps in Corvallis. Garretson isn’t without experience, as he threw for 2,586 yards and 18 scores in two years at Utah State. The junior should provide a spark and stability for the Beavers’ offense.
88. Jalan McClendon, NC State
McClendon finished spring practice with a slight edge over redshirt freshman Jakobi Meyers for the starting nod. However, this battle isn’t a two-man race anymore, as Boise State graduate transfer Ryan Finley joined the mix this summer. McClendon is still the favorite to take the opening snap on Sept. 1 against William & Mary, but this battle could extend into the season. Regardless of which quarterback wins the job, there are big shoes to fill in replacing Jacoby Brissett. McClendon played in eight contests last year, completing 8 of 14 passes for 69 yards.
87. Drew Lock, Missouri
Lock was pressed into action as a true freshman last season, which was certainly earlier than anyone in the program likely anticipated. As expected with any true freshman quarterback, Lock had his share of ups and downs. The Missouri native ended 2015 with 1,332 yards and four passing scores. He also completed only 49 percent of his throws and tossed eight interceptions. Lock certainly has the talent to move up this list, but his supporting cast is littered with question marks for 2016.
Related: Ranking the SEC RB Tandems for 2016
86. Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt’s offense has room to improve after averaging only 15.2 points a game last fall. But coach Derek Mason’s team has reason for optimism, as running back Ralph Webb is one of the best in the SEC, and two key players – receiver C.J. Duncan and tackle Andrew Jelks – are back after missing 2015 due to injury. Additionally, Mason seemed to find his quarterback of the future late last year in Shurmur. In five appearances, Shurmur threw for 503 yards and five scores. His best performance came in the season finale against Tennessee, completing 15 of 34 throws for 209 yards and three touchdowns.
85. Sean White, Auburn
Gus Malzahn is regarded as one of the SEC’s top offensive minds, but the Auburn offense needs a spark after struggling in 2015. The Tigers averaged only 27.5 points a game and 5.4 yards per play last season. A three-man competition is set to unfold for the starting nod in fall practice, and the development of the quarterback spot is even more critical after running back Jovon Robinson’s dismissal in early August. John Franklin transferred in from the junior college ranks and brings more mobility to the position than Sean White or Jeremy Johnson. However, how consistent will Franklin be as a passer? White only threw for one touchdown in seven games last year, but he's the best passing option for Malzahn.
84. Brandon McIlwain, South Carolina
New coach Will Muschamp has major holes to fill for a team that returns only seven starters in 2016. However, Muschamp has three promising options at quarterback, including last year’s starter Perry Orth and freshmen Brandon Mcllwain and Jake Bentley. McIlwain gets the nod as our projected starter for South Carolina, as the true freshman enrolled in time to compete for spring practice and finished with an impressive performance in the final scrimmage (19 of 26 for 169 yards).
83. Mike White, WKU
Replacing Brandon Doughty won’t be easy. However, Jeff Brohm is one of the nation’s top offensive-minded coaches, and the Hilltoppers have a strong supporting cast in place to minimize the transition period. White is battling Louisville transfer Tyler Ferguson and sophomore Drew Eckels for the job. White threw for 2,722 yards and 11 scores in a two-year stint at USF.
82. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
It’s no secret Dak Prescott leaves big shoes to fill in Starkville. After all, a strong case could be made Prescott was the best player in program history. Four quarterbacks are vying to replace Prescott, with Fitzgerald the early favorite to take the first snap of the year against South Alabama. He played in eight games last year, completing 11 of 14 passes for 235 yards and three scores and recording 127 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Fitzgerald has intriguing upside and could move up this list by a couple of spots – assuming he wins the job – in 2016.
81. Luke Del Rio, Florida
Florida’s offense struggled mightily after Will Grier was suspended in mid-October. The Gators only eclipsed more than 200 passing yards once over the final seven games and recorded just two passing scores in the last three contests. While drastic improvement is unlikely, expect Florida’s offense to take a step forward in 2016. Del Rio – a transfer from Oregon State – is the favorite to take the first snap of the season. He played in three games with the Beavers in 2014 and completed 8 of 18 passes for 141 yards. If Del Rio stumbles, Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby is likely the next quarterback on the depth chart.
80. Lamar Jordan, New Mexico
Jordan has room to improve as a passer (51.7%), but he’s a dangerous runner and ranked third on the team with 807 yards last year. Austin Apodaca is expected to share the snaps for the Lobos in 2016.
79. Riley Neal, Ball State
Neal is one of Athlon’s breakout quarterbacks for 2016 after an impressive stint (2,276 yards and 16 scores) last fall. First-year coach Mike Neu should help this offense take a step forward.
78. James Knapke, Bowling Green
The Falcons suffered some heavy personnel losses and there’s a new coaching staff in place. However, Knapke is a good building block on offense for new coach Mike Jinks. He started 13 games in place of an injured Matt Johnson in 2014 and threw for 3,173 yards and 15 touchdowns.
77. Troy Williams, Utah
Williams was sidelined at the end of spring practice due to an arm injury, but the junior college recruit (and former Washington signal-caller) is back at full strength for fall workouts. Even though the Utes tied for last in the Pac-12 with just 12 passing plays of 30 yards or more, there is optimism about the aerial attack for 2016. Most of that optimism is based upon the addition of Williams, as the California native thrived at Santa Monica College in 2015. Williams threw for 2,750 yards and 31 scores at the junior college level last season and was previously regarded as the No. 101 high school recruit by the 247Sports Composite in the 2013 signing class. There’s certainly upside to Williams, but he also needs help from an unproven group of receivers.
76. Drew Barker, Kentucky
New play-caller Eddie Gran should help Kentucky’s offense take a step forward after a disappointing 2015 campaign. The Wildcats averaged only 24.7 points a game last fall but return nine starters for 2016, including big-play running back Boom Williams and a handful of experienced receivers. Barker redshirted in his first year on campus and played in five games in 2015. Patrick Towles led the team with 2,148 passing yards, but Barker completed 35 of 70 throws for 364 yards and one score last year. Can Barker take the next step in his development with Gran at the controls?
75. Tyler Jones, Texas State
Missouri graduate transfer Eddie Printz is pushing Jones for the starting job. Can Jones regain his 2014 form (3,209 total yards and 28 overall scores)? New coordinator Brett Elliott is a rising star to watch over the next few years.
74. Garrett Smith, ULM
Smith is one of the building blocks for new coach Matt Viator. He passed for 2,033 yards and 17 scores and rushed for 250 yards and two touchdowns in a promising freshman campaign last year.
73. Tyler Stewart, Nevada
Stewart was steady in his first year as the starter, throwing for 2,139 yards and 15 scores and rushing for 322 yards and four touchdowns. He should thrive under new play-caller Tim Cramsey.
72. Matt Linehan, Idaho
Idaho is a sleeper team to watch in the Sun Belt this year. Linehan is a big reason why the Vandals could challenge for a bowl bid after a promising sophomore campaign (2,992 yards and 16 scores).
71. Logan Woodside, Toledo
Woodside was pressed into the starting lineup in 2014 after Phillip Ely suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2. Woodside threw for 2,263 yards and 19 scores that year and reclaims the starting job after taking a redshirt season last fall.
70. Joel Lanning, Iowa State
New coach Matt Campbell was a standout hire for Iowa State, and his background on offense should help the Cyclones take a step forward on that side of the ball in 2016. Lanning showed promise in a late-season stint as the starter, throwing for 1,246 yards and 10 scores and running for 330 yards and four touchdowns. With two talented skill players (RB Mike Warren and WR Allen Lazard) at his disposal, Lanning could move up this list by a spot or two during the 2016 season.
69. Trace McSorley, Penn State
Penn State’s offense has struggled during James Franklin’s two seasons in Happy Valley, but there’s optimism for this group to improve in 2016. New play-caller Joe Moorhead is one of the nation’s top coordinator hires, the Nittany Lions are loaded at receiver and return standout running back Saquon Barkley. McSorley is the favorite over Tommy Stevens to replace Christian Hackenberg under center this fall and showed promise in last year’s TaxSlayer Bowl. Even though the Nittany Lions fell short, McSorley played well in the second half and completed 14 of 27 throws for 142 yards and two scores. The sophomore could have a breakout year under Moorhead’s direction this fall.
RELATED: Penn State Football Schedule 2016
68. Thomas Woodson, Akron
Woodson’s emergence was a big reason why the Zips earned the second bowl appearance and first postseason win in program history. In 13 appearances, Woodson threw for 2,202 yards and 16 scores and rushed for 591 yards and three touchdowns.
67. Shane Buechele, Texas
After averaging only 25.3 points in Big 12 games last season, Texas coach Charlie Strong hit the reset button on offense. Former Baylor assistant Sterlin Gilbert was hired from Tulsa to coordinate the Longhorn attack, and all signs suggest the new play-caller will hand the controls of the offense to Buechele. The Arlington native ranked as a four-star prospect in the 2016 signing class and enrolled in time to compete in spring ball. Buechele completed 22 of 41 passes for 299 yards and two scores in the final spring scrimmage.
66. Tago Smith, Navy
Keenan Reynolds leaves big shoes to fill, but Navy’s offense is still going to be a handful for the rest of the American Athletic Conference. Smith has impressed in limited action and should keep this offense performing at a high level. In 18 career games, Smith has completed 12 of 17 throws for 245 yards and four scores and rushed for 294 yards and five touchdowns.
65. John Wolford, Wake Forest
Wake Forest is another team with an unsettled quarterback situation headed into fall camp. The Demon Deacons have struggled on offense over the last two seasons, finishing near the bottom of the ACC in scoring. Quarterback play isn’t necessarily the area to blame for the lack of production, as the offensive line has struggled mightily in recent years. However, improvement is coming for the Demon Deacons in 2016, as the offense returns eight starters and two experienced options at quarterback. Wolford gets the nod here after throwing for 3,828 yards over the last two years. However, sophomore Kendall Hinton brings more dual-threat potential to the offense and has a stronger arm than Wolford.
64. Hayden Moore, Cincinnati
Cincinnati's quarterback battle ended just over a week before the season opener against Tennessee-Martin. Moore edged Gunner Kiel for the starting nod, and the promising sophomore takes full control of a Bearcat attack that averaged 33.8 points per game in 2015. Moore threw for 1,885 yards and nine scores as a freshman last fall.
63. Brandon Silvers, Troy
Silvers quietly had a solid 2015 campaign under new coach Neal Brown, throwing for 2,378 yards and 20 scores in 11 appearances. The junior should challenge for All-Sun Belt honors in 2016.
62. Matt Davis, SMU
Second-year coach Chad Morris has SMU moving in the right direction, and the Mustangs should make another jump on the stat sheet after averaging 27.3 points a game in 2015. Davis threw for 2,263 yards and 16 touchdowns and led the offense with 761 yards.
61. Justin Holman, UCF
UCF’s offense was hit hard by bad luck and injuries last year. Holman is a better quarterback than his 2015 numbers (1,519 total yards) indicate. Look for a bounce-back year under new coach Scott Frost.
60. Patrick Towles, Boston College
Injuries hit Boston College’s offense hard last season, as the Eagles managed only 9.1 points in ACC action. But with more experience returning in the trenches, Towles stepping in at quarterback, and a healthy Jon Hilliman at running back, the Eagles should take a step forward on offense in 2016. Towles transferred to Boston College as a graduate transfer from Kentucky. He threw for 5,099 yards and 24 scores in three years with the Wildcats and should provide some immediate help for a passing attack that generated only one play of 40 yards or more last fall.
59. Jerod Evans, Virginia Tech
Regardless of whether Evans or Brenden Motley wins the job, Virginia Tech should improve on offense under first-year coach Justin Fuente. Evans ranked as the No. 7 junior college recruit and was regarded as a four-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite in the 2016 signing class. The Texas native averaged 395.5 passing yards a game and tossed 38 scores at Trinity Valley Community College last season. Assuming he wins the job, Evans is a good candidate for a breakout campaign this fall.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2016
58. Nick Stevens, Colorado State
Despite throwing for 2,679 yards and 21 touchdowns last year, Stevens is fighting for the starting job this fall. Georgia transfer Faton Bauta and true freshman Collin Hill are pushing for the No. 1 spot.
Podcast: QB Extravaganza
57. Alex McGough, FIU
After a solid sophomore campaign (2,722 yards and 21 TDs), the arrow is pointing up on McGough’s career entering 2016. He’s a big reason why FIU should challenge for a bowl berth this fall.
56. Keller Chryst, Stanford
Replacing the steady play of Kevin Hogan won’t be easy for the Cardinal in 2016. However, coach David Shaw has a couple of talented passers ready for their first opportunity at extended action. Chryst worked as Hogan’s backup in 2015 and holds an edge over Ryan Burns to start. Chryst ranked as the No. 51 overall prospect by the 247Sports Composite in the 2014 signing class and redshirted in his first year on campus. The sophomore may experience a few growing pains, but he can also lean on running back Christian McCaffrey until he’s ready to shoulder more of the workload on offense.
55. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
As expected, Thorson had his share of up-and-down moments in 2015. The first-year starter threw for 1,522 yards and seven scores (with nine interceptions) and ranked second on the team with 397 rushing yards. While Thorson’s running ability is a valuable asset, he has to become a better passer in 2016. He only completed 50.8 percent of his throws and ranked near the bottom of the conference with just three completed passes of 40 yards or more. Thorson has potential to climb this list and will improve in his second season as the starter. However, the sophomore also needs help from a revamped receiving corps to spark the passing attack.
54. Mitch Leidner, Minnesota
There’s growing optimism about Leidner’s potential for 2016, especially after offseason foot surgery and a return to 100 percent. The Minnesota native has started 29 games in his career and is coming off career highs in passing yards (2,701), passing scores (14 TDs) and completion percentage (59.5 percent). Additionally, Leidner has recorded 23 rushing scores in three seasons with the Golden Gophers. Is Leidner ready to take the next step under new coordinator Jay Johnson and finish his career on a high note?
53. John O’Korn, Michigan
The Wolverines enter 2016 with uncertainty under center, but Jim Harbaugh is one of college football’s top quarterback gurus. While it may take a game or two, it’s safe to assume Harbaugh will figure things out under center. O’Korn transferred to Michigan after throwing for 4,068 yards and 34 scores in two seasons (2013-14) at Houston. But O’Korn isn’t guaranteed the job. Sophomore Wilton Speight is also in the mix and left spring locked into a tight battle with O’Korn for the No. 1 spot.
52. Tyler O’Connor, Michigan State
Connor Cook leaves big shoes to fill in East Lansing, but the Spartans have two capable candidates vying for the starting nod. O’Connor gets the advantage over Damion Terry as the starter and enters 2016 with 54 career pass attempts. The Ohio native received the most-extensive playing time in his career last fall, starting for an injured Connor Cook against Ohio State, leading the Spartans to a 17-14 upset victory. While O’Connor is largely unproven, the limited sample size is promising, and it’s safe to assume coach Mark Dantonio will prevent the passing game from suffering too much of a drop in production this year.
51. Kenny Potter, San Jose State
Potter’s emergence was a big reason why San Jose State showed improvement over the second half of 2015. The former junior college product finished the year with 1,984 passing yards and 15 scores and ranked second on the team with 415 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
50. Austin Allen, Arkansas
Brandon Allen closed out his career with a standout senior season (3,440 yards, 30 TDs), but the Razorbacks may not see too much of a drop in the passing game this fall. The receiving corps is among the SEC’s best, and coordinator Dan Enos was instrumental in the development of this group last year. Austin Allen – Brandon’s brother – was picked as the starter in spring practice. The Arkansas native has completed 9 of 19 passes for 188 yards and one score in two seasons of action. Allen may not replicate his brother’s overall totals, but don’t rule out a solid all-around first year as the starter.
49. Cooper Bateman, Alabama
In Lane Kiffin we trust. Sure, this is the third consecutive season the Crimson Tide enter fall practice with uncertainty at quarterback, but Kiffin’s track record suggests the offense won’t miss a beat in 2016. Cooper Bateman made one start in 2015 and finished the year with 291 passing yards and one score on 37 completions. Bateman has the edge in experience over Blake Barnett, Jalen Hurts and David Cornwell and opened fall camp as the favorite to start. However, Barnett has the most overall talent among the signal-callers on the roster. His progress is worth monitoring early in the year.
48. Kent Myers, Utah State
Myers has shined in limited action over the last two years and is Utah State’s unquestioned No. 1 quarterback for 2016. Expect a breakout season.
47. Sefo Liufau, Colorado
A Lisfranc injury suffered in early November against USC clouded Liufau’s status in the spring. However, all signs point to a return to 100 percent by Liufau for 2016, and that’s good news for coach Mike MacIntyre after Davis Webb decided to transfer to California instead of Colorado. Liufau had a promising 2014 campaign (3,200 yards and 28 scores) but took a step back last season, finishing 2015 with 2,418 yards and nine passing touchdowns. Liufau won’t have standout receiver Nelson Spruce to throw to this fall, but the senior should close out his career on a high note.
46. Max Browne, USC
Settling the quarterback battle between Browne and redshirt freshman Sam Darnold was the top priority in fall practice for new coach Clay Helton. While Darnold made a strong push for the starting job in the spring and again in the fall, Browne was named the starter. Browne was a five-star recruit in the 2013 signing class and completed 11 of 19 passes for 143 yards over the last two years. The junior has all of the necessary tools and potential to have a breakout season in 2016.
45. Eric Dungey, Syracuse
The ACC has a solid group of quarterbacks returning in 2016, but it wouldn’t surprise us if Dungey climbs this list by the end of the year. New coach Dino Babers is a standout offensive mind and was instrumental in developing high-powered attacks at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green over the last four seasons. Dungey showed promise in eight games last fall, throwing for 1,298 yards and 11 scores. He should thrive under Babers’ direction and is due for a breakout year in 2016.
44. Chase Litton, Marshall
Rakeem Cato left big shoes to fill at Marshall, and it took the Thundering Herd offense a few games to find the right replacement under center. Litton emerged as Marshall’s starter as a true freshman last fall and ended the year with 2,605 yards and 23 scores. He should have a breakout year this fall.
43. Thomas Sirk, Duke
Sirk is one of the toughest quarterbacks to rank on this list. The senior suffered a torn Achilles in February but is expected to return in time to start the opener. Of course, it’s fair to wonder just how close to 100 percent Sirk really is after a major injury. In 12 appearances last year, Sirk threw for 2,625 yards and 16 scores and led the Blue Devils with 803 yards and eight touchdowns. If Sirk is 100 percent healthy and shows no ill-effects from the torn Achilles, he could be closer to a top-five quarterback in the ACC.
42. Nathan Peterman, Pitt
Peterman quietly posted a solid debut as Pitt’s starting quarterback in 2015. He unseated Chad Voytik for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart early in the year and threw for 2,287 yards and 20 scores. Peterman also added 232 yards and one touchdown on the ground and finished second among ACC quarterbacks by completing 61.5 percent of his throws. New coordinator Matt Canada is a solid replacement for Jim Chaney (left for Georgia) and should keep Pitt’s offense performing at a high level. However, the Panthers have to find a replacement for standout receiver Tyler Boyd.
41. Wes Lunt, Illinois
Is this the year Lunt puts everything together and ranks as one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks? The senior has experienced his share of bad luck over the last two seasons with coaching changes and injuries, while top receiver Mike Dudek will miss his second consecutive year with a knee injury. After transferring from Oklahoma State, Lunt settled in as Illinois’ starter in 2014 and threw for 1,763 yards and 14 scores in eight appearances. He started all 12 games for the Fighting Illini last year and threw for 2,761 yards and 14 touchdowns. New coordinator Garrick McGee should help this offense take a step forward in 2016, allowing Lunt to end his career in Champaign on a high note.
40. Trevor Knight, Texas A&M
Texas A&M’s quarterback depth chart changed dramatically before last year’s game against Louisville in the Music City Bowl. Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray transferred, leaving Jake Hubenak as the team’s No. 1 quarterback. While the losses of Murray and Allen were a setback, the Aggies found a solid one-year solution in Knight. The graduate transfer from Oklahoma should be a good fit for new coordinator Noel Mazzone’s offense and will be throwing to one of the nation’s top receiving corps. Knight threw for 3,424 yards and 25 scores and rushed for 853 yards and eight touchdowns during his career at Oklahoma. His best performance came in the 2014 Sugar Bowl, guiding the Sooners to a 45-31 win over Alabama by completing 32 of 44 passes for 348 yards and four scores.
39. Brandon Harris, LSU
LSU’s hopes of contending for the SEC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff likely hinge on Harris’ development. It’s no secret the Tigers need to jumpstart their passing game to complement running back Leonard Fournette, and the pieces are in place for improvement. In his first full year as the starter, Harris threw for 2,158 yards and 13 scores and added 226 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Additionally, Harris tied for third among SEC quarterbacks by completing 12 passes of 40 yards or more. LSU doesn’t need Harris to throw for 300 yards every week. However, after completing 53.6 percent of his passes in 2015, Harris certainly has room to improve this fall.
38. Kevin Ellison/Favian Upshaw, Georgia Southern
Ellison is expected to start, but Favian Upshaw is going to see his share of opportunities. This duo only combined to throw for 824 yards and four touchdowns last year, but Ellison and Upshaw was a dynamic combination on the ground. Ellison ranked third on the team with 712 yards, while Upshaw averaged 7.3 yards per carry and ended 2015 with 583 yards.
37. Drew Hare, Northern Illinois
Hare was on his way to another standout season but an Achilles injury in early November ended his 2015 campaign. All signs point to a return to full strength for 2016.
36. Phillip Walker, Temple
Walker is one of the nation’s most underrated quarterbacks. He already owns the Temple school record for passing touchdowns and total offense and is on the verge of setting a new mark for most passing yards in a career.
35. Dakota Prukop, Oregon
Vernon Adams was a dynamic one-year standout for the Ducks. Will Oregon have success once again with a FCS transfer under center? Prukop left Montana State as a graduate transfer and is competing with redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen for the starting nod this fall. Prukop earned first-team FCS All-America honors by the Associated Press after throwing for 3,025 yards and 28 scores and running for 797 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015. Prukop isn’t as dynamic of a passer as Adams, but he brings more of a running threat to the Ducks’ offense.
34. Skyler Howard, West Virginia
Howard capped his first season as West Virginia’s starter with a huge performance (532 yards and five touchdowns) in the Cactus Bowl victory over Arizona State. Will Howard pick up where he left off? In 13 games last fall, Howard threw for 3,145 yards and 26 scores and rushed for 502 yards and six touchdowns. Those are solid totals, but Howard needs to perform better in conference action (50.4%, 12 TDs, 11 INTs in Big 12 games in 2015).
33. Kenny Hill, TCU
Whether it’s Hill or Foster Sawyer that wins the starting quarterback job in Fort Worth, TCU’s offense may not slip too far on the stat sheet. Coordinator Doug Meacham has transformed this attack into one of the Big 12’s best, and the Horned Frogs are loaded with promising skill players. Hill threw for 2,649 yards and 23 scores as Texas A&M’s starter in eight games in 2014. He transferred to TCU after losing his starting job to Kyle Allen and left spring locked into a tight battle with Sawyer for the No. 1 spot.
32. Dane Evans, Tulsa
Evans thrived under new coach Philip Montgomery’s high-powered attack in 2015, finishing the season with 4,332 yards and 25 passing scores. Evans’ 333.2 per-game average in passing yards ranked seventh nationally.
31. Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska
Another offseason to learn under coordinator Danny Langsdorf and coach Mike Riley should pay dividends for Armstrong. The Texas native ranked second among Big Ten quarterbacks by averaging 285.8 total yards per game in 2015 and accounted for 29 overall scores. However, Armstrong’s biggest trouble spot was turnovers. He tossed 16 picks on 402 attempts and completed only 55.2 percent of his passes. Expect Armstrong to cut his mistakes and become a better overall player for the Cornhuskers in 2016.
30. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech is leaning heavily on Thomas to rebound after a disappointing 3-9 campaign in 2015. The Yellow Jackets aren’t as bad as last year’s record indicated, and with more experience and big-play ability returning on offense, getting back to a bowl game is a realistic expectation. Thomas is the catalyst for the triple-option attack, as he averaged 200.4 total yards per game and 26 overall scores in 2014. However, Thomas struggled with a revamped supporting cast and generated only 488 rushing yards and six scores last year. A rebound season should be in order for the senior in 2016.
29. Deondre Francois, Florida State
After an uneven season of production from Everett Golson and Sean Maguire, Florida State’s quarterback situation should be in better shape in 2016. Maguire will miss the start of the 2016 season due to a foot injury, but Francois is ready to step into the spotlight under center. The redshirt freshman ranked as the No. 64 overall prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite.
28. Jacob Eason, Georgia
There’s no guarantee Eason takes the first snap of the year against North Carolina. However, we are banking on the true freshman winning the job at some point during the year and finishing 2016 as one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks. Eason was rated as a five-star prospect and the No. 2 overall quarterback by the 247Sports Composite. He enrolled in time to compete in spring practice and completed 19 of 29 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown in the G-Day scrimmage. Eason should be the top freshman quarterback in the nation this fall.
27. Anu Solomon, Arizona
Injuries took a toll on Solomon last season, and the Las Vegas native was unable to build off a promising freshman campaign. In 14 games in 2014, Solomon threw for 3,793 yards and 28 scores and added 291 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Additionally, Solomon’s performance as a freshman was instrumental in guiding Arizona to an appearance in the Pac-12 Championship Game. He was limited to just 11 games last season and ended the year with 2,667 passing yards and 20 touchdowns. Solomon seems poised for a rebound year, but he will be pushed for time by sophomore Brandon Dawkins.
26. Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
Marquise Williams departs Chapel Hill after earning second-team All-ACC honors last fall, but coach Larry Fedora isn’t too worried about the quarterback position. That’s due to the progress and development of Trubisky over the last two seasons. The junior is one of the nation’s rising stars under center and steps into the No. 1 role after completing 40 of 47 passes for 555 yards and six touchdowns in 2015. Trubisky is surrounded by a standout supporting cast, including one of the nation’s top running backs (Elijah Hood) and a deep receiving corps.
25. Cooper Rush, Central Michigan
Rush is one of the nation’s most underrated quarterbacks. He’s started 36 games over the last three seasons and passed for 9,354 yards and 67 scores in that span.
24. Zach Terrell, Western Michigan
Terrell eclipsed the 3,000-yard mark for the second year in a row and guided Western Michigan to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history in 2015.
23. Brent Stockstill, MTSU
Stockstill was one of the nation’s top freshmen quarterbacks last season. And here’s the scary thought for the rest of Conference USA: Stockstill is only going to get better as a sophomore. Stockstill connected on 66.7 percent of his throws for 4,005 yards and 30 scores last year. Look for the sophomore to connect with dynamic receiver Richie James early and often in 2016.
22. Taylor Lamb, Appalachian State
Appalachian State should have the Sun Belt’s best offense in 2016. The Mountaineers are deep at running back, while Lamb returns under center after a breakout 2015 campaign. En route to guiding Appalachian State to an 11-2 record, Lamb set the school record for touchdown passes (31) and threw for 2,387 yards. He also added 436 yards and five scores on the ground.
21. Davis Webb, California
Jared Goff leaves big shoes to fill, but the late-spring addition of Webb should prevent a steep drop off at this position for coach Sonny Dykes. Webb left Texas Tech as a graduate transfer and has one season of eligibility remaining. The senior played in a similar offense with the Red Raiders, so the transition to California’s Bear Raid attack should be an easy one. In three seasons at Texas Tech, Webb threw for 5,557 yards and 46 scores. With Webb entrenched under center, the biggest question mark on offense for Dykes shifts to the revamped receiving corps.
20. Tanner Mangum, BYU
Mangum had a difficult assignment replacing Taysom Hill after he was lost to a season-ending foot injury in the opener against Nebraska. But Mangum stepped into the starting role and delivered a standout debut for the Cougars, throwing for 3,377 yards and 23 scores. Those totals are even more impressive when you consider Mangum spent the two previous years on a Mormon mission and took a grayshirt year in his first season on BYU’s campus (2012).
19. Brett Rypien, Boise State
Rypien is one of college football’s top rising stars at quarterback and is due for a huge season in 2016. Rypien was pressed into the starting job last year after Ryan Finley suffered a season-ending ankle in mid-September. Rypien played in 11 games and threw for 3,350 yards and 20 scores.
18. Quinton Flowers, USF
Willie Taggart’s decision to implement the “Gulf Coast Offense” last offseason helped to jumpstart USF's program back on track. Flowers proved to be the perfect triggerman for Taggart, emerging as one of the top Group of 5 quarterbacks last fall by averaging 252.4 total yards per game and accounting for 34 overall scores.
17. Nick Mullens, Southern Miss
Todd Monken’s late departure to the NFL was a setback for Southern Miss, but with Mullens back for his senior season, the Golden Eagles are still one of the favorites to win Conference USA in 2016. Mullens was thrown into the fire as a true freshman in 2013 and has developed into one of the nation’s top Group of 5 quarterbacks. In 14 games last season, Mullens threw for 4,476 yards and 38 touchdowns (both marks set new school records).
16. C.J. Beathard, Iowa
Beathard’s emergence was a big reason why Iowa won the Big Ten’s West Division and nearly earned a spot in the College Football Playoff in 2015. In 14 appearances last year, Beathard threw for 2,809 yards and 17 scores and added 237 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. With Beathard at the helm, the Hawkeyes increased their plays of 40 yards or more from 12 in 2014 to 17 last fall. Beathard battled injuries last year but never missed a start and ranked third among Big Ten quarterbacks with a 61.6 completion percentage.
15. Lamar Jackson, Louisville
The combination of Bobby Petrino’s offense and Jackson’s dynamic playmaking ability is going to provide plenty of headaches for the ACC in 2016 and beyond. Jackson showcased his potential and raw talent as a true freshman last season, throwing for 1,840 yards and 12 scores and adding 960 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Jackson’s emergence as the starting quarterback helped Louisville finish 2015 by winning six out of its final seven games. Now that Petrino has a full offseason to build around Jackson’s ability, expect the sophomore to have a breakout year and challenge for All-ACC honors.
14. Jake Browning, Washington
The continued development of Browning is a big reason why Washington is poised to challenge for the Pac-12 title in 2016. Browning showed flashes of promise and plenty of potential in 12 starts as a true freshman last season. He completed 63.1 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards and 16 scores and guided the Huskies to wins in four out of their last six games. Expect Browning to be one of the nation’s top breakout quarterbacks this season.
13. DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
Pencil in Kizer or Malik Zaire at this spot. Coach Brian Kelly has already indicated both quarterbacks will play in the opener against Texas and the two-quarterback system could extend deep into the season. Kizer replaced Zaire after he was lost for the year in Week 2 last season and threw for 2,880 yards and 21 scores. While Kizer isn’t as dynamic on the ground as Zaire, he still rushed for 520 yards and 10 touchdowns.
12. Seth Russell, Baylor
Russell’s 2015 season was cut short by a neck injury in late October. But prior to the injury, Russell was one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, throwing for 2,104 yards and 29 scores in seven appearances. Russell is back to full strength and will participate in fall practice. His return is a huge boost for coordinator Kendal Briles and new coach Jim Grobe.
11. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Considering the uncertainty surrounding Baylor’s offense after the firing of coach Art Briles, let's give Rudolph a slight edge over Baylor's Seth Russell for the No. 3 spot. Rudolph struggled with a foot injury late in the 2015 campaign but still threw for 3,770 yards and 21 scores last season. With J.W. Walsh out of eligibility, Rudolph is poised for his best all-around year in Stillwater.
10. Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
The development of the passing game could be the missing piece in Tennessee’s quest to win the SEC and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. Dobbs is clearly the No. 2 quarterback in the SEC and will be looking to take the next step as a passer in 2016. Dobbs led all SEC quarterbacks by rushing for 671 yards and 11 scores. And in 13 games last season, Dobbs threw for 2,291 yards and 15 scores. Dobbs connected on just three plays of 40 yards or more and averaged only 6.7 yards per attempt. However, Dobbs will have more help on his side with an improved group of receivers, allowing the senior to connect on more big plays in the passing game in 2016.
Related: Ranking All 128 Coaches for 2016
9. Brad Kaaya, Miami
Kaaya is already one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks, but new coach Mark Richt should help the junior take the next step in his development this fall. After throwing for 3,198 yards and 26 scores as a true freshman in 2014, Kaaya had a solid sophomore campaign, ending the 2015 season with 3,328 passing yards and 16 touchdowns. Kaaya missed one game due to a concussion but increased his completion percentage to 61.2 percent and ranked second among ACC passers with 28 passes of 30 yards or more.
8. Luke Falk, Washington State
It’s a close call between Luke Falk and UCLA’s Josh Rosen as the Pac-12’s top returning quarterback for 2016. Do you go with overall production or pure talent? It’s a coin flip, but we give a slight edge to Rosen. Falk threw for 4,561 yards and 38 scores in his first full season as Washington State’s starter and was a big reason why the Cougars improved their win total by six games from 2014. With one of the nation’s best receiving corps at his disposal, Falk is primed for another monster season under coach Mike Leach.
7. Josh Rosen, UCLA
As mentioned under Luke Falk, it’s a coin flip on the top Pac-12 quarterback for this season. However, we lean slightly with overall talent and give Rosen the No. 1 spot among Pac-12 passers. Rosen started all 13 games as a true freshman last fall and threw for 3,669 yards and 23 scores. Additionally, Rosen completed 60 percent of his passes and ranked fifth among Pac-12 quarterbacks with 22 plays of 30 yards or more. There’s no question Rosen can only get better as a sophomore and should benefit from UCLA shifting to more pro-style looks in its offensive scheme.
6. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
Mahomes guided Texas Tech’s high-powered offense to an average of 45.1 points a game in 2015. In 13 games, Mahomes passed for 4,653 yards and 36 scores and rushed for 456 yards and 10 touchdowns. But here’s the scary thought for defensive coordinators in the Big 12: 2015 was just his first year as the full-time starter. Mahomes should be even more dangerous (and productive) for coach Kliff Kingsbury in 2016.
Podcast: QB Extravaganza
5. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
Kelly delivered a standout season in his debut at Ole Miss and is easily the SEC’s top returning quarterback for 2016. In 13 starts, Kelly threw for 4,042 yards and 31 scores and rushed for 500 yards and 10 touchdowns. Kelly’s 65.1 completion percentage ranked fourth among SEC passers, while his 8.8 yards per attempt ranked second behind Arkansas’ Brandon Allen. Additionally, Kelly connected on 25 passes of 30 yards or more – the most in the SEC. Even though receiver Laquon Treadwell will be missed, Kelly should push for All-America honors this fall.
4. Greg Ward, Houston
The combination of coach Tom Herman and Greg Ward guided the Cougars to a 13-1 record last season. High expectations surround this duo once again, as Herman has molded Ward into one of the nation’s top quarterbacks and a dark horse Heisman candidate for 2016. Ward averaged 281.1 total yards per game last season and scored 38 overall touchdowns.
3. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
After splitting time with Cardale Jones in 2015, Barrett is back as the clear No. 1 quarterback for the Buckeyes. And now that Barrett is a full year removed from the leg injury that ended his 2014 campaign early, the junior is poised to emerge as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks once again. As a redshirt freshman in 2014, Barrett accounted for 3,772 yards and 45 overall scores and finished fifth in the Heisman voting.
2. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
The combination of Mayfield and coordinator Lincoln Riley helped to spark Oklahoma’s offense last season, guiding the Sooners to the Big 12 title and a berth in the College Football Playoff. Mayfield earned Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors after throwing for 3,700 yards and 36 scores and running for 405 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015. Mayfield is the catalyst for the dynamic Sooner offense and is one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy in 2016.
1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Watson set the bar high in his first full season as the starter. However, the junior is capable of elevating his game just a notch higher in 2016. That won’t be easy for a quarterback that accounted for 5,209 total yards and 47 overall scores, but Watson is capable of inching those numbers even higher with one of the nation’s top receiving corps in place, and the junior could lower his interceptions (13) just a bit. Of course, that’s just being picky for a quarterback that finished third in the Heisman voting in his first year as the starter. Watson should be the frontrunner to claim college football’s top honor and is easily the No. 1 overall player returning for the 2016 season.
Every year it happens in fantasy football. You draft a player who you think is bound to have an awesome year, only to watch them week after week do nothing but constantly disappoint you.
Last year there were plenty of examples. Eddie Lacy, C.J. Anderson, Jeremy Hill are just a few first-round busts that derailed more than a few fantasy teams last year, but it’s not just first-round picks that didn’t pan out either. I’m looking at you DeMarco Murray, Melvin Gordon, Alshon Jeffery, Jordan Matthews, Jimmy Graham, and the list could go on.
But what if there was something that you could do about it?
Drafting winning fantasy teams is all about finding the best value at the best time and also avoiding reaching for a player that doesn’t represent value at that current pick.
Here are a few players who just aren’t worth their current average draft position or ADP.
*Note: ADP is in accordance to FantasyPros
Adrian Peterson – Current ADP: 5th overall, RB2
After a 2014 campaign almost completely lost due to suspension, Peterson bounced back nicely last year, leading the NFL in the triple crown of RB counting stats: attempts, yards and touchdowns. His 4.5 yards per carry is a shade under his 4.9 career mark, but when he’s getting that much volume week-to-week, and plays a full 16 games, the slight drop doesn’t matter. Either way, 2015 was a pretty good year for any running back, let alone one that turned 30 last year.
Now Peterson, like the rest of the world, is one year older and by now fantasy owners know to be weary of any running back in this age bracket.
Peterson has been the epitome of consistency since his rookie season way back in 2007. But regression is coming like a Mack truck going 100 MPH.
Just look at former fantasy studs like LaDainian Tomlinson, Edgerrin James and Shaun Alexander (to name a few) and see what they did when they turned 30. Of course Peterson is better than Alexander and James, but you get my point.
Tomlinson is a great example. He went from rushing for 1,110 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns to 730 rushing and 12 in his last year in San Diego. While those touchdowns are nice, he was being drafted in the first round that year, a decision that cost his fantasy owners dearly.
Even at 31, Peterson should still come close to 1,100 yards and around eight touchdowns, but those numbers aren’t what you expect from someone being taken as the fifth pick overall.
Plus, the Vikings are already on record in training camp that they want to keep Peterson fresh for late in the season and get backup running back Jerick McKinnon more touches and more involved in the offense.
These are all major warning signs to not draft Peterson in the first round.
Dez Bryant – Current ADP: 11th overall, WR5
If you’re drafting Bryant at the tail end of round one and before guys like A.J. Green and Allen Robinson, you are hoping that the Bryant of old returns.
The Bryant that produced double-digit touchdowns and more than 1,200 yards in three consecutive seasons before a foot injury limited him to just nine games last year.
From 2012-14 Bryant had no fewer than 88 catches, 1,233 yards and 12 TDs in any season and he finished in the top six in fantasy scoring among wide receivers in each of those years. Numbers like that would easily make Bryant worth taking late in the first round.
The problem is that Bryant is one of the riskiest picks that can he had this year within the first two rounds of the draft. Bryant said he wasn’t right last season after coming back from his foot injury, and his unusually lackluster numbers would seem to bear that out. Yes, it’s true that Tony Romo was injured for most of Bryant’s nine games last year, but No. 88 never looked like his old self.
Things got further complicated this offseason when he underwent two foot and ankle surgeries. So far in camp he says he’s 100 percent ready to go and he avoided the PUP list, but he’s really taking things slow so far.
The Cowboys have one of the best offensive lines in football and drafted Ezekiel Elliot fourth overall to be their lead running back and have other options behind him.
Throw in the fact that Romo is now 36 years old and has a history of shoulder and back injuries and you’ve got a team that is going to run the ball way more than they pass it.
By no means is Bryant going to be a bust, but he’s not going to score as many fantasy points as Green, Robinson or even Mike Evans this year and correct me if I’m wrong, but you want your fantasy team to score the most points each week right? If so, don’t draft Bryant in the first round.
Ben Roethlisberger – Current ADP: 53rd Overall, QB5
The only reason Roethlisberger is the fifth quarterback drafted is because of Antonio Brown. And maybe Le’Veon Bell, but he will be of no help for the first three games because of a suspension.
Everyone thinks that the Steelers are going to be the next version of the Kurt Warner-led St. Louis Rams “Greatest Show on Turf” offense that lit up defenses back in the late 1990s, but I just don’t see it.
It could be possible if Martavis Bryant didn’t get himself suspended for the entire season. That leaves Markus Wheaton as the team’s WR2 and second-year wideout Sammie Coates as the big mystery. It has been said that Coates could be even more talented than Bryant, but yet he couldn’t put it together enough as a rookie to catch more than one pass for 11 yards.
Oh, and don’t forget about Big Ben’s injury history. Drafting him as one of the first quarterbacks in the fourth round in a 12-team league means you absolutely need him to play 16 games. That’s something he’s only done three times in his 12-year career.
Not only did he get injured once again last year, but he threw 16 INTs, his most in a decade, and his TD percentage (4.5) was his lowest since 2011.
Roethlisberger is now 34 years old and with his style of play, it’s no doubt taken its toll. Others like Drew Brees, Carson Palmer and even Eli Manning are being drafted after Roethlisberger and represent way better value.
Tyler Eifert – Current ADP: 63rd Overall, TE5
This one is a real head scratcher. How can it be that a tight end who most likely will miss the start of the season and could be out the entire first month, is still being drafted as high as the fifth round?
Even if by some miracle of miracles Eifert is able to play in Week 1, he won’t be 100 percent and won’t be much more than a decoy when he’s on the field.
Drafting Eifert at his current ADP means that you are pretty much going to need to draft at least one more tight end. Or you could be in a position where you would have to drop Eifert or another player to make room for another TE to start in Week 1 (and perhaps longer). This doesn’t make sense.
I understand Eifert’s intrigue. He was third in fantasy points per game among TEs last season, thanks to his 13 touchdowns, which tied him for fourth in the NFL. Eifert was uncoverable in the red zone, where he scored 11 TDs on only 15 targets. Inside the 10-yard line he was at his best, scoring six times, as defensive backs had a tough time matching up with his size (6-6, 250) and leaping ability (36-inch vertical).
However, for the entire season Eifert finished with just 52 receptions for 615 yards, which breaks down to just four catches and 47.3 yards per game (13 games played). His only 100-yard game came in Week 1, and he had at least 70 yards only one other time.
Eifert missed three games with a neck stinger and concussion. That’s after missing all but one game in his rookie season with an elbow injury and now he’s dealing with an ankle injury that is sure to hamper him throughout the 2016 season.
It’s true that there are plenty of targets to go around in the Bengals’ offense with Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu leaving (152 targets to be exact), but don’t count on many of them coming Eifert’s way.
Drafting Delanie Walker, Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz or Gary Barnidge appear to be far better options and offer way better value than Eifert in the fifth round.
— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.
Not much has changed since last season in the overall ACC hierarchy. Once again, the two teams with the best chance to make a College Football Playoff run are the titans of the Atlantic Division, Clemson and Florida State. Both return loads of NFL talent on both sides of the ball, and many are predicting both squads to be in the Playoff, which would be the first time in the three years of the format that two teams from the same conference made it in.
That said, although that showdown promises to be the headliner, there are plenty of other juicy matchups involving ACC squads to watch over the course of the regular season, and here are the 15 most intriguing ones, in our humble opinion.
1. Clemson at Florida State (Oct. 29)
You could very well see this as a "1 vs. 2" matchup provided some other teams get knocked off along the way. Aside from the obvious team storylines, the Heisman resumes of Clemson's Deshaun Watson and Florida State's Dalvin Cook could rest on this one.
2. Florida State vs. Ole Miss (Sept. 5 – Orlando, Fla.)
Even though the NFL’s offering of “Monday Night Football” won’t commence until the following week, this game promises to be a whopper of a bookend to college football’s opening weekend. Ole Miss lost a ton to graduation and the draft but will have the best quarterback on the field in Chad Kelly.
3. Clemson at Auburn (Sept. 3)
Underestimate Auburn all you want because of last year's mediocre season or because Gus Malzahn's seat is warm. Fine, but the fact of the matter is that going into Jordan-Hare Stadium and coming out with a win is never a lock.
4. North Carolina at Florida State (Oct. 1)
While Clemson and Florida State are rightly grabbing most of the attention, the Tar Heels return most of their Coastal Division-winning squad from a year ago and can pull the upset in this rematch of last year's ACC Championship Game.
5. Florida State at Louisville (Sept. 17)
Seeing a theme? Yes, Florida State has a brutal schedule, and this trip to Papa John's Stadium is just one of the many landmines. The Cardinals return one of the top sophomore quarterbacks in the nation in Lamar Jackson, a player who could make a statement here.
6. Florida at Florida State (Nov. 26)
While everyone is busy talking about Tennessee in the SEC East, last year's division winner and the team that has beaten the Volunteers every year since 2007 is sort of flying under the radar. If Luke del Rio provides as much of an upgrade at quarterback as the Gators expect, this will be a dandy.
7. North Carolina vs. Georgia (Sept. 3 – Atlanta)
This will be a good litmus test for the Heels against a talented Georgia team that is surrounded by plenty of intrigue. New Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart is a longtime Nick Saban disciple and will be looking to make a statement here.
8. Louisville at Clemson (Oct. 1)
By this time, Louisville could have already handed Florida State a loss or be in the mode of trying to pull off a shocker against the other alpha dog of the conference. Either way, these teams feature two of the best quarterbacks around, which means that Clemson's concerns in the secondary will be tested.
9. Louisville at Houston (Nov. 17)
The Cougars are everyone's darling to break up the Power Five party in the Playoff, but they'll have to run the table and beat both Louisville and Oklahoma in the process. It's a tall task, but this game is in Houston and the Cardinals will have their hands full even if the Cougars already have a loss.
10. Miami at Notre Dame (Oct. 29)
There are plenty of ACC vs. Notre Dame contests this fall, but does anything in this conference quite match the tradition that Miami brings to the table when it comes to a game in South Bend? The answer is no.
11. Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee (Sept. 10 – Bristol, Tenn.)
There is plenty of optimism around both programs, and for good reason. The Volunteers have been pointing to this season for years and are stacked with NFL talent. The Hokies, on the other hand, picked one of the hotter names off the coaching carousel in former Memphis head man Justin Fuente to replace Frank Beamer. Virginia Tech will be the underdog, but a dangerous one.
12. Florida State at Miami (Oct. 8)
With Mark Richt taking the reins in Coral Gables, there is hope in South Florida that the ex-Georgia head coach can bring back the luster that the Hurricanes have lost over the years. This rivalry has also lost some shine, but it will be back in a big way if the 'Canes pull the upset here.
13. Penn State at Pittsburgh (Sept. 10)
Penn State leads this in-state rivalry all-time 50-42-4, but the two programs have not met since 2000, a 12-0 Panthers win. Despite the long layoff, there is still plenty of overlap in recruiting, and while the Nittany Lions' national perch has fallen over the years, a Pitt win here would be a major coup.
14. Virginia at Oregon (Sept. 10)
Any trip to Autzen Stadium is worth watching for the pure noise level the Ducks fans in Eugene create. This game does have some extra oomph, though, as new Cavaliers head coach Bronco Mendenhall has a chance to knock off a program that some feel is slipping under Mark Helfrich.
15. Georgia Tech vs. Boston College (Sept. 3 – Dublin, Ireland)
You won't see either of these teams in the ACC title game, but how often do you see two ACC teams going across the pond to battle in Dublin? As for the game itself, the matchup of Boston College's stout run defense against the Georgia Tech option will be worth the look.
Best of the Rest
Duke at Northwestern (Sept. 17)
Pittsburgh at Oklahoma State (Sept. 17)
Duke at Notre Dame (Sept. 24)
Notre Dame at NC State (Oct. 8)
North Carolina at Miami (Oct. 15)
Virginia Tech at Notre Dame (Nov. 19)
NC State at North Carolina (Nov. 25)
Georgia Tech at Georgia (Nov. 26)
South Carolina at Clemson (Nov. 26)
Virginia at Virginia Tech (Nov. 26)
— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.
In each issue of Athlon Sports & Life, we pick six of our favorite things. They may be books, automobiles, games, gear, booze, apparel or whatever happens to be awesome. Here's what made our short list this month:
When it comes to WiFi, there are really only three things you want: simple set up, fast internet (or at least getting it as fast as your internet provider claims to offer), and reliability. After testing the eero for three months, we can safely say it delivers on every count. Set up was dummy-proof, and took under 15 minutes, including time to download the system’s app and positioning all three units. We especially love that the app helps you find the ideal location for each unit throughout your house. The speed and well-being of the system can also be checked via the synced app that monitors your internet speed and the health of each unit. To our surprise, we found that internet speeds were consistently matching the speeds promised by our internet provider. And finally, the reliability has been amazing. Gone are the days of resetting the WiFi unit, or losing a signal in certain parts of the house. As a bonus, you can easily set up guest WiFi, monitor who’s using your system and even regulate the hours children can use the internet. And yes, all of this hassle-free and dynamic WiFi comes with a big price tag. But, trust us, it’s worth every penny. eero.com, $499 (3-pack)
Mission Mercantile Steamer Backpack
If Indiana Jones had a travel backpack, we’re guessing it would look like this. We love the vintage look and throwback feel of this durable pack that’s built of beautiful full-grain leather and waxed canvas. After testing it out, it’s clear that it’s rugged enough to take camping and portable enough to throw into a two-seat roadster for a fun weekend getaway. And the more you use it and beat it up (and you will), the better it looks. If there’s any downside, it’s that it’s heavier than today’s modern polyester backpacks and it’s not ideal for toting a laptop to the office. Of course, that’s sort of the point. It’s a backpack looking for adventure. MissionMercantile.com, $345
Head Graphene XT PWR Speed Racquet
Built of Graphene XT (according to Head, it’s one of the world’s lightest and strongest materials), this thunderstick provides a large sweet spot, thanks to the 115-square-inch head size, to offer more control and stability when hitting the ball. We love the feel of it in our hands—it’s incredibly lightweight but still feels balanced—and especially how forgiving it is when our form is lacking. It seems ideal for older players with a slower swing who may be looking to reclaim some former power. Or for those who are looking for a little extra pop. Head.com, $210
Lululemon ABC Pant
The ABC stands for (and, we’re not making this up) Anti-Ball Crushing. Maker lululemon, best known for their popular yoga and fitness gear for women, bring the same comfort and style to their line of menswear. These pants have a stretchiness and forgiveness in all the right areas. They’re ideal for an active lifestyle, offer sweat-wicking material and can be worn in a casual and semi-casual setting. After numerous washes we’ve seen no fade in the color and love that they come out wrinkle free. Lululemon.com, $128
Big Blue Wrecking Crew
The subtitle of the book offers a glimpse into its content: “Smashmouth Football, a Little Bit of Crazy, and the '86 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.” For anyone who grew up a football fan in the ’80s, or a fan of the Giants during this time, it’s hard to forget one of football’s most dynamic and colorful teams. Author Jerry Barca takes readers on a journey chronicling the rise of the team, filling it with entertaining and behind-the-scene stories about head coach Bill Parcells, GM George Young and legendary linebacker Lawrence Taylor, among others. Amazon.com, $27
Flat Cat Putter Grips
This got our attention when we heard iconic golf instructor Hank Haney singing its praises. So what’s the story? The grip, which fits on your existing putter, helps square the face of your putter to the intended target line for more accurate putting. In other words, it gives you a better feel for what you’re doing wrong (over-rotating your hands, perhaps) and helps you improve your line. Sadly, it doesn't help you read the greens. FlatCatGolf.com, $28
After a weekend off during the heart of the Olympics, NASCAR hopes America takes a break from Rio Saturday night to sneak a peek at one of their sport’s marquee events: the Bristol Night Race. The half-mile coliseum of speed used to be one of the hardest tickets to get in the country: 160,000 seats, sold out, with a waiting list rivaling the Green Bay Packers.
Thunder Valley’s lack of thunderous crowds is perhaps the most worrisome statistic in NASCAR’s latest chapter of declining interest. The spring event at Bristol featured some of the better racing we’ve seen all season, 16 lead changes along with plenty of close competition. There was contact (15 caution flags) but not the kind that brings a safety red flag along with it. Established stars, like winner Carl Edwards shared the limelight with surprising underdogs like Landon Cassill, who led a small portion of the race, and sixth-place finisher Matt DiBenedetto. Sparks flew, emotions ran high and unpredictability ruled the day.
What more could you want?
That’s a question Bristol has been trying to answer for years. Ever since a repaving changed the configuration of the track, making it slightly easier to pass instead of the bump and run, some fans feel a portion of the speedway’s allure has been lost. Winning them back over has been a futile effort; so has cutting back some of the prices on nearby hotels. The end result has been a sellout for this fall’s college football event here but ho-hum interest in what the track was actually built for: racing.
Saturday night is a crucial marker for teams hoping to sneak into the postseason Chase. But perhaps the bigger question is whether NASCAR can convince fans to buy into all the excitement.
2016 Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Track: Bristol Motor Speedway (Saturday)
Radio: PRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90
Who’s at the Front: Brad Keselowski
In a summer where we’ve seen a variety of faces up front it’s Keselowski, a four-time winner this season, who ekes out front in terms of consistency. His No. 2 car hasn’t finished outside the top 20 since Phoenix, the fourth race of the season, while Texas in April was the last time he fell off the lead lap. Two of his four wins have come on intermediates; the others came at the dangerous plate tracks that wipe out championship dreams in an instant. Those are the type of stats you need to work through NASCAR’s multi-round postseason format and wind up at Homestead.
One caveat for Keselowski could come in the form of Kyle Busch, though. The two drivers tangled Friday night in the XFINITY race and there’s no love lost between the two of them. As teammate Joey Logano found out the hard way last fall, tangling with on-track enemies at the wrong time on the calendar comes back to bite you.
Who’s at the Back: Jimmie Johnson
NASCAR’s reigning six-time champ is suffering through a six-pack of bad races. Watkins Glen offered up a last-place finish, simply unheard of for Johnson who’s now scored two – count ‘em, two – top-10 finishes since Memorial Day weekend. A team that typically starts peaking heading toward the Chase has instead posted runs of 35th, 32nd, 12th, 3rd, 16th and 40th over a stretch where they’ve led just one lap. Add in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s concussion woes and Hendrick Motorsports finds itself in the weakest position we’ve seen them in NASCAR to win a title this century.
The aforementioned Hendrick team tried to shore up their future this week by signing Toyota’s phenom William Byron away from Kyle Busch Motorsports. Byron, who will run a full-time XFINITY schedule next season, has five victories as a rookie in Camping World Truck Series competition. More importantly, he’s still a teenager, a freshman in college who joins an organization fielding two drivers on the Cup level over 40.
Young Matt Tifft was at Bristol this weekend, meeting with reporters and updating his recovery from brain surgery. Tifft, who hopes to return to competition by 2017, has a late-model stock car test planned in Hickory, N.C., this fall. His brain is not at risk for seizures, according to doctors and has been pronounced cancer free after the removal of his tumor.
Ben Kennedy’s Truck Series win at Bristol this week produced a weird bullet point in NASCAR history. Kennedy, the son of NASCAR’s Lesa France Kennedy, is the first member of the France family to win any NASCAR-sanctioned national series event. He’s now a participant in the Truck’s postseason Chase and will have an opportunity to compete for the family’s first-ever championship.
NASCAR by the Numbers
Top-10 finishes for Danica Patrick in 2016. Patrick has had at least one in each of her previous three seasons driving on the Cup level.
Top-10 finishes for Patrick’s teammate, Kevin Harvick. That leads all drivers.
Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)
The pattern for Matt Kenseth at Bristol has been erratic as of late but it’s also predictable. Win, 13th, 3rd, win, 42nd, 36th. ?? Anyone who’s taken fifth-grade math knows how to fill in that blank. Kenseth, who’s led more than 800 laps at Bristol since 2011 is due at a track his team, Joe Gibbs Racing, mastered in the spring with Carl Edwards.
Kurt Busch has continued his trek toward NASCAR history by completing every lap in the season’s first 22 events. Busch, who hasn’t won at Bristol since 2006, does have four straight top-15 finishes there and has shown a knack all season to recover from adversity. At Bristol, that’s a crucial fantasy attribute as wrecks can develop here in the blink of an eye.
Ryan Newman, looking to shore up a Chase bid as well as a long-term contract with Richard Childress Racing, has had middling Bristol success. But with six straight top-20 runs at the track, including a ninth this spring, he’s a safe bet to stay out of trouble. A riskier pick would be teammate Austin Dillon, 26th in the spring race this season but a driver who’s flashed some speed at Thunder Valley. He was the winner of Friday night’s XFINITY event after Keselowski and Busch tangled down the stretch.
Chase Elliott, who has little experience at Bristol in a Cup car, did post a top-5 finish here in the spring. Hendrick’s struggles have been well-documented in this article but the No. 24 team is worth a flier if you think this track can turn them around.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. isn’t typically a “go to” on any fantasy roster. But in seven career Bristol starts? A driver known for maddening inconsistency hasn’t run lower than 21st. He’s a pretty safe bet to do well again here.
Another “outside the box” pick might be Landon Cassill of Front Row Motorsports. Cassill led part of the race this spring, ran 22nd despite late-race contact and drives for an organization still riding momentum from their shocking Pocono victory, courtesy teammate Chris Buescher. FRM has nothing to lose and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them try strategy in a bid to thrust Cassill out front once again.
What Vegas Thinks
Vegasinsider.com has Kyle Busch leading the way with 5/1 odds to take the Bristol trophy home. Kevin Harvick is right behind him at 15/2.
What I Think
Matt Kenseth continues his roller-coaster pattern at Bristol. During a wild race, the driver of the No. 20 Toyota will stay out of trouble, breeze past pole-sitter Edwards and cruise to Victory Lane at Thunder Valley.
(Photo courtesy of NASCAR.com)
It would have been in USC fans' best interest to keep the trash talk to themselves before the big matchup with Alabama on September 3. Evidently they couldn't do that.
The USC bookstore decided to poke the bear and create a "Roll Tears, Roll" shirt mimicking the famous "Roll Tide, Roll" chant.
From there, everyone just thought Alabama would handle it on the field. Wrong. A Crimson Tide fan site quickly came up with this lovely shirt hinting at former Trojan running back, O.J. Simpson.
We definitely can't wait for this showdown to take place.
Fantasy football draft season is officially upon us. Between the Athlon Sports 2016 Fantasy Football Guide and other content you can find online at AthlonSports.com, you should be plenty prepared come draft day.
If you are new to fantasy football you may be worrying about not knowing draft strategies, positional importance or how to evaluate your league’s setup. I don’t blame you one bit as it can seem like an overwhelming task. Having that guy who eats, sleeps and breathes fantasy football in your league also can be daunting.
The more you research and time you put into draft prep can only ready you for the upcoming drafts, as well as prepare you for the unexpected. It also can set you up for success and allow you to surprise and bury your know-it-all leaguemates.
Want to mock draft? Check out this Mock Draft Simulator powered by FantasyPros.com
That is right, no matter how many mock drafts, leagues you have been in, or championships you have won you still need to have a plan and be ready to toss your strategy in the garbage if it isn’t working out.
So what do you need to do to prepare for your drafts and smother your opponents with your greatness? Here are a few tips:
1. What are League(s) Rules and Scoring?
This is the most critical step of all in my opinion. Many re-draft leagues have a standard format by default (QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, Flex, TE, DEF, K) and standard scoring. It is YOUR job to know and understand roster requirements, as well as the scoring.
Scoring rules and understanding them are equally important and detrimental to developing an overall strategy as well as increasing (or decreasing) your hopes for success in your league. Study the scoring and understand it. If you are new to the game ask questions, or make sure you are using the right rankings, guides for your prep.
If you are in a 2-QB league, Super-Flex league, IDP, or PPR league you need to make sure you are accounting for this in your draft prep. You don't want to use a top 300 list that isn’t aimed at PPR, or fails to list Individual Defensive Players (IDP) when in fact that plays a major role in that particular league.
PPR leagues are becoming the new normal, so this may not be as big of a surprise, however if you are in a non-PPR league you must account for this. Running backs that catch a lot of passes simply are not as valuable in standard leagues. Danny Woodhead, Darren Sproles and other third-down backs are hugely valuable in PPR. Standard leagues? Not nearly as much.
The bottom line is know your league rules, understand them and if possible make note of them on your draft day cheat sheet, spreadsheet, fantasy guide, or whatever you will be using in the heat of draft battle. Sound overwhelming? Well, it kind of is, but if you put the work in, you will likely have an upper hand on other owners who may not do the same. Especially in startup leagues.
RELATED: FUNNY FANTASY FOOTBALL TEAM NAMES
2. What is Your League Format?
Is it an auction league? A keeper league? A dynasty league? A standard re-draft league? Unless you are a complete rookie to fantasy sports this is one of the first questions asked prior to joining “What kind of league is it?” Make sure you know the format and adjust your preparations accordingly.
Auction leagues are a completely different animal and acquiring the players to fulfill your planned strategy will not always work. You need to have a plan, and know when to sit out on the bidding, or when to go all in. Are you going to spend heavy on four or five players and dig for value to round out your roster? Or will you get a few studs and seek out balance the rest of the way?
Another key to auction leagues is to know your budget and adjust whatever auction values you are using to study, or create accordingly. If you are in a $150 budget league and you are using a standard $200 budget cheat sheet you will need to adjust inflation accordingly.
In a dynasty league the will to win now should still dominate your strategy, BUT you also need to consider the future. Drafting a seasoned veteran here or there is ok, but if you draft too many you may end up with a one-year wonder, or worse. The same goes the other way, if you draft too young you may never achieve the success you need to win. Having a young team with so much potential can be great fun, BUT the key word is potential, and you simply may end up being a team with, well potential, and no championships.
Keeper leagues are a different animal in their own right. Are there contracts? Do you lose draft picks depending on when your keeper was initially selected? Or is it a zero punishment keeper league? How many keepers can you keep each season? Answer these questions prior to your draft and while you prep and you will not regret it.
Be sure to study up on the types of leagues and be prepared for your upcoming drafts.
3. Do You Make Your Own Cheat Sheet?
This one is pretty simple. Study your league rules/scoring and roster requirements, and make your own sheet to utilize during the draft. A top 300 alone just won’t cut it. It doesn’t account for when to draft a TE or a backup QB for example. Live draft rooms are helpful as they typically show who was drafted, your roster, and allow you to build a queue of targets.
However, what if you are at a friend’s place during a live draft and your wireless connection drops? Having a typed up or handwritten cheat sheet can be a life saver. Technology can be amazing while making things smooth and easy for you in your prep/draft.
I typically make a spreadsheet, keep it simple, or as complex as you want. You can simply do players and rounds projected (Utilizing ADP), or bolster it with last year’s stats, projections, points, etc.
If you’re in a dynasty league consider adding the player’s age. Auction leagues add dollar value, or perhaps an estimated balance ledger.
Use as many tools as you want, but your cheat sheet is your best weapon! Make it your own.
|RD - Pick||Player A||Player B||Player C||Roster|
|1 - 4||Julio Jones||Todd Gurley||David Johnson||QB TE RB
|2 - 21||Sammy Watkins||Doug Martin||Demaryius Thomas||WR K|
|3 - 28||Brandin Cooks||Aaron Rodgers||Amari Cooper||WR BN (x6)|
The Player A, B, and C columns should be obvious. It's your top three choices. I typically do these based on ADP and rankings. So, if you have the fourth pick in the first round, and pick 21 in the second (as demonstrated above), you will want to focus on targeting guys in the ADP of 17-24 range. Be realistic. Listing players who are going at pick 14/15 on average shouldn't be on your sheet for pick 21. It doesn't mean if they are there you don't take them, just save time and be realistic. Don't be that owner who shouts "NO! That was my pick” and then take an extra 10 minutes or more to scramble and search for another guy.
4. Are you Combining Rankings and ADP?
I typically utilize multiple sets of rankings, and combine with ADP on some of the fantasy sites. You can find Athlon’s positional rankings, which include my input, here.
Related: Top 200 Rankings
There are numerous sites and resources out there for you to consult, which will offer a myriad of opinions. This should help you get a general idea where certain players are being ranked across the industry.
Utilizing ADP can help tie it all together by looking at a ranking and then Average Draft Position of said player. For example, let’s say you see Denver's C.J. Anderson ranked 34th overall, 14th amongst running backs. Can you plan on him being available in the third round? Perhaps, but if his ADP is 28, and you want him, plan accordingly.
I encourage using multiple sets of rankings and consolidating them into your own master list. This takes time of course, but can be well worth it the effort in the end.
There also are sites that can create rankings/customize for you based on your league parameters. They are rarely free, but can assist in doing all of the grunt work for you.
5. Utilize Tiers!
If you know me well, or have gotten in a fantasy argument with me before you will know I am a HUGE tier guy. I love them, I don’t live strictly by them, but for the most part I use them in every sport and every draft.
Just like positional rankings, you can find tiers on different sites. Just find the ones that best fit your tastes/needs or use them as a guide to build your own.
Why do tiers work? It can help by breaking down positions, by player potential and ceiling. So if you are torn between a RB or WR, and there is a Tier 2 receiver available, or a Tier 3 running back, you can consult your tiers to help you make your decision. Of course your existing roster, and remaining draft picks all need to be accounted for. So if you don’t have a running back, or only one and need another, due to depth you may opt for the Tier 3 RB over the Tier 2 WR.
It’s always up to you, but remember tiers can shrink a position into chunks that if used effectively will help you dominate your draft.
6. Don’t Draft Defensively or Rely on Handcuffs
In my entire fantasy career there have always been instances, especially in football, where an owner will try to get smart and draft defensively. That’s the person who says to himself, “He drafted Ryan Mathews. I am going to draft Wendell Smallwood early to block him.” The thought process is of course that the Mathews owner will be desperate for his handcuff, the owner sniping him will rattle the Smallwood owner so much they’ll draft terribly, or come groveling to him midseason “Please, please! Trade me Smallwood! I’ll give you Josh Gordon for him”
Other owners draft multiple top-15 quarterbacks, which doesn’t make sense in a standard league. Some fear losing their quarterback and not trusting the waiver wire. Others do it hoping another team will be stuck with a lousy quarterback, setting the table for a lopsided trade down the road.
The idea isn’t terrible; the problem is it rarely (if ever) works out. The NFL is too deep. There are plenty of solid players and though it can be annoying for a Mathews owner not to have Smallwood if he goes down it most likely won't single-handedly ruin their team, chances to win. What if instead of that defensive move you had drafted a Dorial Green-Beckham-type player instead? The options are endless; my point here is that one cannot become too one-dimensional when it comes to draft technique.
If you take anything from this portion of the piece I'd like it to be this – quarterback is the deepest position in terms of your draft. If you draft a quarterback simply for trade bait YOU. WILL. FAIL.
7. Finally, Keep an Eye on Positional Battles and Injuries
Knowing who is next in line, or competing for a starting spot can be a huge weapon on draft day. That poor hapless owner with his top 300 ranking list from a fantasy guide printed in May could very well be oblivious that his target, listed as a starter is hurt or sharing play time with a rookie.
Keeping tabs on this is time-consuming, but can be made a bit easier utilizing online resources, Twitter or even NFL team sites.
Also understand the impact of third-down backs in both PPR leagues and standard leagues. A player like Seattle’s C.J. Prosise may not hold as much value in standard leagues, but he will certainly impact starter Thomas Rawls in touches. He also becomes a valuable piece in PPR formats.
— Written by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.
Utah made major strides in the Pac-12 each of the past two seasons. The Utes reached a new pinnacle last fall, putting together a 10-win season for the first time since 2010 and tying for the Pac-12 South Division title. Can Utah finally step forward and play for the Pac-12 title this December?
Defensively, few teams will be able to match what Utah can do. The Utes boast one of the strongest defensive lines in the nation — anchored by Lowell Lotulelei and Kylie Fitts — and should be able to match a rushing defense (108.6 ypg) that led the Pac-12 a year ago. Additionally, much of the secondary, led by CB Marcus Williams, also returns intact from last season, a group that had a big hand in the team’s 22 interceptions in 2015.
There are some new faces on offense at the skill positions, and how well they can perform will determine how far Utah goes. Troy Williams, a highly touted junior college transfer, steps in at quarterback. Joe Williams will power the running attack after getting three starts late last season. The Utes' main strength will be up front, with all five starters returning on the offensive line.
Does Utah have the pieces in place to challenge for a Pac-12 title in 2016? Athlon polled a few writers and contributors to get their take on Utah’s realistic 2016 win/loss projection.
Utah Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2016
John Coon (@johncoonsports)
Tough defenses are always a trademark for Utah under Kyle Whittingham. This season should be no different. The Utes lost some playmakers at linebacker, but their defensive line and secondary both rank among the Pac-12's best.
Offense is a question mark for the Utes. Replacing a star like Devontae Booker won't be easy, but Utah seems equipped to take a step forward on that side of the ball. Joe Williams and Troy McCormick are both speedy and elusive backs. Improved depth at receiver will help and new quarterback Troy Williams has higher potential as an impact playmaker than what Travis Wilson showed over his four-year career.
Defense will keep the Utes in every game and give Utah a realistic shot at another 10-win campaign. If the offense can evolve into an above average unit, Utah will be a nightmare for opponents all season.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Utah is coming off its best season since joining the Pac-12 and is a dark-horse contender to watch in the South Division this year. The Utes will use a familiar formula to push USC and UCLA, as a strong defense and ground game should carry this team to eight or nine wins. However, making the next step from third place in the South to claiming a spot in the conference championship game depends on the development of the passing game. Junior college transfer Troy Williams could provide a spark, but the receiving corps needs a few playmakers to emerge. A few road trips – at California and Colorado – could be tricky for this team.
Last year's impressive 10-win campaign seemed like a breakthrough in Salt Lake City but it will be interesting to see if Kyle Whittingham and company can keep the momentum going in 2016. They lost a ton of key pieces but I wouldn't underrate the Utes at all however. The defense will continue to be salty and, while there should be some regression on offense, I don't expect a huge step back. The schedule should allow for a start that moves them into the Top 25 but it's how the team finishes late in the year that will ultimately determine how successful this season will be.
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45)
Utah's ascent in recent years speaks to the power of patience, and trusting in a plan. Though the Utes hit eight wins in 2011, their Pac-12 debut can be attributed more to the dismal state of the South division than an immediate preparedness for their new-found Power Five status. Hence, two losing seasons in 2012 and ‘13.
But with nine wins in 2014 and 10 a season ago, Kyle Whittingham has overseen a successful transition from the Mountain West to Pac-12, leaving only a divisional then conference title as the final benchmarks for the program to reach. Impressively, Utah's done so without compromising its vision of being a stout defensive team, building around that instead of offense.
That defense will carry the Utes into contention for the South once again. How well the offense fares after losing a four-year starting quarterback (Travis Wilson) and a one-time Heisman-contending running back (Devontae Booker) determines whether Utah has a close-but-not-quite finish like 2015, or reaches a new frontier in the program's growth.
Josh Webb (@FightOnTwist)
Utah is one of the trickiest teams in the nation to predict. It’s really hard to gauge last year’s opening win over Michigan because it was so early in the season and the Wolverines went on to handle their business in an impressive way, while the Utes sort of tailed off after the beatdown in Los Angeles. But do not discount the fact that they obliterated Oregon in Autzen Stadium like nobody has before in many years, beating the Ducks by 42 in their own house. Head coach Kyle Whittingham should expect a healthy mix of good and bad this year, too.
This season presents new challenges for the Utes, but there are plenty of winnable games on their schedule. Unfortunately for Utah, there are some tough games early and USC should get the best of the Utes at the end of September, but the first week of October sets up nicely for an emotional letdown at Cal, which has gotten much better on defense (in theory). UCLA beat Utah last year and QB Josh Rosen will only be better in his sophomore season. And you know Oregon will have Utah circled from the first kick of the season. If the Ducks do nothing else, they’ll avenge that loss to the Utes when they visit Rice-Eccles Stadium in late November.
An oft-echoed sentiment around Pac-12 country suggests that any week, just about any team in the conference can beat the rest. Though Oregon State faced some hard times in Gary Andersen's first season at the helm, going winless in the 2015 league slate, and Colorado's faced some lean years since joining five years ago, the coming campaign should be the most tumultuous.
No one team stands clearly above the rest of the field heading into 2016, which makes for an atmosphere conducive to upsets.
Teams that may not be in the Pac-12 championship hunt will play central roles in shaping the conference's title chase. With two home, November dates against contenders from both the North and South, Colorado's positioned as the most impactful, upset-minded team of 2016.
However, with unprecedented parity, the chance for upheaval on a weekly basis very much exists.
8. Arizona over Utah, Oct. 8
Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez is a perfect 4-0 against Utah since arriving in 2012. Although last season's overtime win for the Wildcats marked the closest outcome between these teams in the last four years, it might have been the biggest statement in the series. The 2015 Utes were Kyle Whittingham's best since joining the Pac-12, while last year's Wildcats were Rodriguez's worst since coming on the scene.
Utah benefits from home-field advantage, though the last meeting at Rice-Eccles Stadium went to Arizona in a 42-10 decision. The Utes should be better equipped to slow Arizona's quick-strike offense this time around, but the Wildcats' scheme continues to vex Utah year after year.
7. Oregon State over Cal, Oct. 8
Oregon State needs to get off the schneid in conference play under Andersen. Here's the Beavers' best opportunity.
Cal made strides in 2015, getting to a bowl game for the first time under head coach Sonny Dykes, and its eight wins marked a program-high since '09. However, losing quarterback Jared Goff and the top six pass catchers from last season's lineup puts the Golden Bears in a tough spot, reshaping the look of their "bear-raid" offense.
Cal may not be fully up to speed when it visits Reser Stadium right near the midway point of the campaign, presenting a young Oregon State bunch a prime chance to score a much-needed win.
6. Stanford over Notre Dame, Oct. 15
No team in this cross-country rivalry has won back-to-back installments since 2010-11, Brian Kelly's first two years taking over after the failed Charlie Weis experiment at Notre Dame.
Since a 2012 installment decided in overtime, the home team has won each meeting by an average margin of 4.8 points. The trend would suggest 2016 is Notre Dame's year to win another nail-biter, particularly coming off the heartbreak of losing a College Football Playoff-denying contest on Thanksgiving weekend last year.
However, in this October clash of potential Playoff contenders, Stanford's offense should be adequately adjusted to a new quarterback, and the always-stout Cardinal defense should hold Notre Dame in check just enough to survive another classic.
5. Colorado over Washington State, Nov. 19
Wide receiver Gabe Marks half-joked at Pac-12 media days that Washington State should invest in an indoor playing venue, as cold weather hindered the effectiveness of an air-raid offense.
Late-season conditions in the Rocky Mountains could prove just as effective as an experienced Colorado defense is in slowing Washington State's potent passing attack. When the Cougars visit Boulder on the regular season's penultimate weekend, conditions should be downright bone-chilling. More importantly, Washington State will be visiting a team head coach Mike MacIntyre should have playing for bowl game positioning.
With senior quarterback Sefo Liufau back behind center, leading one of the Pac-12's most experienced rosters, Colorado should end a postseason drought that dates back to 2007. This late-season, home contest could be a must-win for the Buffs to make that goal a reality.
4. Washington over Oregon, Oct. 8
Would a Washington win over Oregon be an upset by the Las Vegas definition? Maybe. As far as preseason predicted order of finish, the Huskies are expected to finish ahead of the Ducks in the Pac-12 North.
However, when one side has dominated a rivalry as thoroughly as Oregon has for the last 12 years, you better believe drought-ending win counts as an upset. Such a victory doubly qualifies if it's on the road, as is the case for Washington's visit to Autzen Stadium.
While the talk of a Pac-12 championship and perhaps even a College Football Playoff berth might be premature, 2016 should be the year in which Washington finally sheds itself of the albatross that is the Oregon losing streak. The Huskies fought fiercely last season in Seattle, but fell just short. Invading Eugene with a more veteran squad, as well as one of the best defense in the Pac-12, Washington should do just enough to quiet the quacks of its fiercest rival.
3. Arizona over Washington, Sept. 24
There's a reason the Iditarod is run on the frozen tundra of Alaska, and not the Sonoran Desert terrain of Arizona. Huskies are bred for cold weather, and the same logic has applied to Washington football for about a decade.
Washington's loss at Arizona State last November continued a losing skid in the Grand Canyon State, which dates back to 2006. The Huskies beat the Wildcats in Tucson in September that year, but are a combined 0-8 since 2007 in trips to either Arizona or Arizona State.
The Huskies' visit to Arizona Stadium this season presents the Wildcats with a revenge opportunity. Arizona's Halloween night thrashing sustained at Husky Stadium marked the nadir of the worst season since Rodriguez's arrival as head coach in 2012.
2. USC over Stanford, Sept. 17
Sandwiched between a run of four straight Stanford wins from 2009-12, and the Cardinal's two-game streak, built over the course of last season, USC snatched back-to-back wins from its in-state counterpart in 2013 and '14. The Trojans also led both of the previous two meetings as late as the third quarter.
The USC-Stanford series has grown into one of the conference's most exciting, and at times, unpredictable. And while it lands early on the calendar, a sense of desperation could factor in for the visiting Trojans, who will be just two weeks removed from a Week 1 date with Alabama. Should USC fall to the defending champion Crimson Tide, a very real possibility of slipping to 1-2 looms, with another road date to follow just six days later at Utah.
Expect a defensive slug-fest, one in which the Trojans take advantage of Kevin Hogan's absence at quarterback and load up the box against 2015 Heisman Trophy finalist Christian McCaffrey.
1. Colorado over UCLA, Nov. 3
Colorado may not be ready to contend for a divisional title just yet, but the Buffaloes will shake up the South race in its final month. No game is more tailored for just such a scenario than this one.
Since MacIntyre came to Colorado in 2013, the Buffs have made strides every year. A measure of their improvement has been playing South divisional competition much closer, and no Colorado near-misses have been tighter than UCLA's wins in 2014 and '15.
The Buffs took the Bruins to double overtime in 2014 before falling, 40-37. They led late last season at the Rose Bowl, and were driving with an opportunity to win at the game's end. With MacIntyre boasting his best and most experienced team yet, look for Colorado to get over the hump against UCLA.
Notre Dame goes into the 2016 season without seven players who were among the first 103 taken in the most recent NFL Draft. Among that group is a pair of first-round selections in left tackle Ronnie Stanley (sixth overall) and wide receiver Will Fuller (21st), as well as standout linebacker Jaylon Smith and defensive tackle Sheldon Day.
But the cupboard is far from bare for head coach Brian Kelly, as the Fighting Irish check in at No. 8 on Athlon Sports’ Top 25 entering the season. With plenty of talent still on the roster and a schedule packed with marquee matchups, a berth in the College Football Playoff is not beyond the realm of possibility.
So can Notre Dame win enough games to be in the Playoff conversation by season’s end? Here is how some Athlon Sports writer and contributors see the Fighting Irish’s campaign playing out.
Notre Dame Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2016
Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)
Notre Dame starts off the season on the on the road at Texas and though the Longhorns will be improved, the Irish’s experience should win out. The two toughest games before the off week in October are against Michigan State and Stanford. Both are at home and both are against teams that will rely on the running game. Notre Dame should be stout against the run and I expect the Irish to score just enough points to emerge victorious.
But the last few years, key injuries and inconsistent play have hurt the Irish late in the season. Last year, Notre Dame was sluggish against Wake Forest and Boston College before losing to Stanford. In 2014, November was a complete nightmare. Unfortunately for ND, history repeats itself. I think the Irish have a slow start against Miami’s balanced attack and the Hurricanes hold for the upset win. The Irish struggle in surviving Virginia Tech, but fall the following week against USC to finish at 10-2.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Notre Dame will be an interesting team to watch in 2016. The Fighting Irish have a favorable schedule, as there’s not a game where you can pencil in a for-sure loss. However, there are enough toss-ups on the slate to project at least one defeat in 2016. Head coach Brian Kelly has recruited well, so the next wave of players on the offensive line, in the receiver corps and on defense should prevent a huge drop off. Additionally, Notre Dame also has two proven quarterbacks and a talented set of running backs to lead the way on offense. If the defense takes a step forward this fall, 11-1 or 12-0 isn’t out of the question for the Fighting Irish.
Bryan Fischer (BryanDFischer)
With all that Brian Kelly has coming back in 2016, contending for a spot in the College Football Playoff is not out of the question. There are two very good options at QB in Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer and a quality tailback tandem in Tarean Folston and Josh Adams. There are certainly question marks at receiver but the team has recruited well there and somebody should emerge as a playmaker. The defense should be improved against the run and that should help against a schedule that sets up well. Expectations are high in South Bend for 2016 and you can see why.
Kevin McGuire (KevinOnCFB)
We still do not know who it will be running the offense, whether it is Malik Zaire or DeShone Kizer (it will be both against Texas in the opener apparently), but whichever option Brian Kelly decides to roll with should be in position to get off to a good start with some noteworthy wins. Home wins against defending conference champions Michigan State (Big Ten) and Stanford (Pac-12) begin to put together a Playoff-worthy profile for the Irish, but there are still enough question marks about the Irish roster to consider Notre Dame might not be quite ready to claim a spot in the final four.
Kelly has certainly made an effort to improve the athleticism of the Irish since taking over, especially since being crushed by Alabama in the BCS Championship Game, to end the 2012 campaign, and there are some terrific pieces in place like Torii Hunter Jr. and Tarean Folston to go with either Zaire or Kizer. The defensive line is undergoing significant turnover but should find its footing. So Notre Dame will be a good team, but great? Playoff great? Those hopes will come crashing down in one of my upsets of the year, on the road at NC State. USC also scores an upset of the Irish in Los Angeles at the end of the year.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
Brian Kelly's Irish are probably a year away from being serious contenders for a national title, but they are going to be in the conversation for most of 2016. Few teams have two quarterbacks the caliber of DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire on their roster. They'll have the luxury of throwing to a group of receivers collectively as talented as any in the country. When healthy, Tarean Folston has what it takes to be an elite running back. Kelly and his staff have recruited well enough on the offensive line over the last few seasons, and the Irish offense is going to be a handful.
Defensively, this is one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams Kelly has ever coached. Their talent is going to be good enough to allow the offense to win most games, but you'll likely see the defense become a serious liability against the better teams on the schedule.
Big things are expected of Jimbo Fisher’s Florida State Seminoles in 2016 as FSU returns nine starters on offense and plenty of talent on defense. With a young squad a season ago, the Seminoles collected 10 wins and reached a New Year’s Six bowl, but this year, the expectations are higher.
As is the case with any team vying to contend for a national championship, a lot of things have to go right. Here are five things that have to happen for FSU to have a successful 2016 campaign:
1. Dalvin Cook Must Stay Healthy
The junior running back is coming off a history-making year for the Seminoles. Cook rushed for 1,691 yards in 2015, but did it on the second-most carries in FSU history with 229. Cook’s enormous season came despite battling a hamstring injury for most of the year, which limited him to two carries against Wake Forest and forced him to miss a Halloween contest against Syracuse.
For the Seminoles to make a serious run at a national championship, they will need a healthy Dalvin Cook. Sophomore Jacques Patrick and redshirt junior Ryan Green will be the two guys looked at to spell Cook. Patrick is seen as a power back while Green is a smaller back who can catch the ball out of the backfield. Regardless of how FSU goes about it, lightening Cook’s load will be extremely important.
2. Stability at Quarterback
The biggest question mark heading into the season for Florida State was without a doubt who would start at quarterback. Redshirt senior Sean Maguire is the veteran of the bunch and has six starts under his belt, but will miss the start of the year with an ankle injury. With Maguire out, the job will ultimately fall into the hands of redshirt freshman Deondre Francois, a talented athlete who can make all the throws and add an extra dimension with his legs.
Francois won’t need to be Jameis Winston, but he will need to bring FSU stability at the position. With Cook, receiver Travis Rudolph and a slew of talented, fast players at the skill positions, Francois should be in position to have a productive year. The key will be taking care of the football.
3. Cohesiveness Along the Offensive Front
Florida State returns four starters from a young offensive line that was among the best run-blocking units in the ACC. The offensive front was inconsistent at times last year and finding continuity was a real issue.
Only stud left tackle Roderick Johnson and right guard Wilson Bell started all 13 games for Florida State a season ago. In total, the Seminoles started nine different players up front last year and used five different starting combinations. Eight of those nine players return. For FSU to be a true contender this year, the offensive line must gel as a group.
4. Develop Depth Along Defensive Line and at Linebacker
Florida State’s front seven could be a huge concern in 2016, but not because of talent. Along the defensive line and at linebacker, the Seminoles have enormous depth concerns. FSU’s projected starting defensive line of ends DeMarcus Walker and Josh Sweat and tackles Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas could be one of the best in the country. Unfortunately, the rest of the depth chart behind them is largely unproven.
Linebacker is clearly the biggest question mark entering the season. Matthew Thomas is extremely talented, but has had trouble staying on the football field because of injuries, suspensions and academic issues. Ro’Derrick Hoskins is the other projected starter. Hoskins performed well early last year, but saw his role decrease as the season went on. Behind those two, FSU has a lot of young talent, but no one that has taken any meaningful snaps.
5. Convert in Red Zone
Florida State was one of the worst teams in the country last season when it came to scoring touchdowns in the red zone, ranking just 109th nationally. Failing to maximize scoring opportunities would cost FSU dearly in losses to Georgia Tech and Clemson.
Many have already started comparing the 2016 to the ‘13 squad that won the national championship, but one thing that team did was maximize scoring opportunities. With Francois now the starter, the element he brings to the table with his legs could be an added dimension near the goal line. FSU’s red zone efficiency also could receive a boost if a big target like Auden Tate or George Campbell emerged as the season progressed.
It's been quite the offseason — for better or worse — for the Big 12 in 2016. A terrible story in Baylor and possible (actually probable) conference expansion have dominated the headlines. As a result, the football that has yet to be played in the conference has been largely overlooked. The Big 12, from a pure football standpoint, has become somewhat of a forgotten conference this summer.
The outrageousness that's going to take place in the conference this season is sure to change that.
Outrageous College Football Predictions for the Big 12 in 2016
Texas will win at least eight games
The Longhorns have posted losing campaigns in each of Charlie Strong's seasons. As a result, the head coach enters this season squarely on the hot seat and the Longhorns seem to have lost their stranglehold on the top spot in the state as far as college football goes.
That begins to change in 2016. A more up-tempo offense, similar to what the top teams in the conference are running, will allow Texas more scoring opportunities than in years past. This team has a mix of receivers that can take the top off the secondary and a stable of huge running backs that can wear down defenses quickly. On defense, the Longhorns finally have the guys on the edges who can get after opposing quarterbacks and a secondary full of corners and safeties that'll be tough to throw on. The Longhorns are finally going to be a factor again, and all of college football will be better for it.
Kansas will only win one game
The Jayhawks didn't win any last year, so this will be an improvement. They should come out on top in their opener against a bad Rhode Island squad from the FCS level. After that, they play one of the better teams from the MAC, travel to play a formidable Memphis team and then take on their conference slate — full of teams that overmatch them at almost every position. As long as we're shaking things up in the Big 12, would it be too much to ask for the Jayhawks drop to a lower level for football?
Four Big 12 teams will win 10 or more games
The top half of the Big 12 is loaded. These teams are going to beat up on one another in round-robin fashion all year long. The end result of will be an anxiety-filled season where the conference is unsure whether or not they'll send a team to the College Football Playoff. Rest assured, the Big 12 will, but it won't get sorted out until the final week of the regular season.
The State of Oklahoma will have two Heisman hopefuls representing them in New York City
It's going to be a lot of fun watching these offenses put up video game-like numbers all season. The Oklahoma Sooners and Oklahoma State Cowboys will be leading that fun, and their quarterbacks will be grabbing the headlines as it happens. Baker Mayfield is already on the Heisman radar nationally, but watch as Mason Rudolph puts up monster numbers all season — thanks in large part to the talented skill players around him — and earns himself an invite to the big ceremony as well.
Oklahoma State wins the Big 12
Nearly all of the expert predictions have the Sooners winning the conference and returning to the College Football Playoff. As I mentioned, this conference is top-heavy, which makes an Oklahoma repeat tough. Look for The Sooners and Cowboys to navigate their tough schedules to the tune of one loss apiece heading into Bedlam. It will be there where the Cowboys' experience and veteran leadership on both sides of the ball makes the difference playing in a crazy atmosphere in Norman. An Oklahoma State win gives Mike Gundy's team the Big 12 crown and subsequently sends the Pokes to the Playoff.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
Ask 10 college football writers and analysts around the country which team is going to win the Pac-12 in 2016 and you're likely to get at least six different answers. You've got two teams that aren't very good and 10 others that could finish anywhere from 6-6 to 11-1 depending on friendly bounces and bad breaks. You've also got five or six teams with realistic Heisman Trophy contenders on their rosters.
Needless to say, that's a recipe for some fairly outrageous predictions.
Outrageous College Football Predictions for the Pac-12 in 2016
Christian McCaffrey won't repeat as a Heisman finalist
It's almost as if the pundits are treating McCaffrey's likely trip to New York City at the end of the year like the sunset: only an apocalypic event can prevent it. Well, that combined with a brutal schedule and a lack of help on the offensive side of the ball. The Cardinal are going to lean heavily on McCaffrey thanks to a plethora of new faces in the offensive huddle — including at quarterback. Opposing teams know that as well and will focus on stopping McCaffrey and risk having another player beat them. To make matter worse, Stanford could very well have four losses after six games, effectively ending McCaffrey's Heisman campaign.
Cal's sub-.500 finish will mark the end of Sonny Dykes' tenure
Dykes is 14-23 during his three years at the helm in Berekely. He will field a team with just eight returning starters and will likely start six underclassmen on opening weekend. The only player that opposing coordinators on either side of the ball need to acknowledge is running back Tre Watson — and even that's a stretch. If the Bears don't beat Oregon State at home, they could very well finish without a conference win. Either way, the Cal job will be available next offseason.
Washington State wins the North
Mike Leach finally has all of the piece and experience to execute his offense at a high level and the talent on defense to put the Cougars in a position to win shootouts. Look for the linebackers and secondary to take another giant leap forward in Alex Grinch's defense. After an early-season stumble at Boise State, Wazzu faces a fairly manageable schedule the rest for the way — with the toughest road game being at Stanford. Look for Luke Falk to threaten some NCAA single-season records through the air en route to a Washington State run to the Pac-12 title game.
Washington goes 6-6 for the second year in a row
Only the Tennessee Volunteers have more hype surrounding them heading into the 2016 than the Huskies. Chris Petersen has recruited some talented horses since he arrived in Seattle, but those guys are still very young. The pressure of being divisional front-runners is likely to get to them. Well, that and a schedule that includes road trips to Arizona, Oregon, Utah and Washington State. On top of that, Washington hosts Stanford and USC. The Huskies are improving, but their 2016 slate will make it tough to demonstrate that improvement.
USC runs the table
The Trojans are loaded with impact players across the board and will be the most talented team on the field in every game — including the opener against Alabama. Quarterback Max Browne has been in the system for quite some time and should be able to effectively distribute the ball to arguably the best group of skill players in the country. Look for Adoree' Jackson to get some offensive touches and become the player everyone thinks Jabrill Peppers can be. The toughest opponent USC faces will be the injury bug, as its depth leads something to be desired. If healthy, the Trojans will be one of the five best teams in the nation from start to finish.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
The higher the pedestal, the farther the fall. That's seemingly the moral for the Oregon Ducks heading into the 2016 season, a pivotal campaign in the direction of the program.
Oregon's coming off a nine-win 2015, which included a road victory over Pac-12 Conference champion Stanford. For most programs, that kind of season would be cause for celebration.
For nearly a decade, however, Oregon hasn't been like most programs.
Last year marked the Ducks' first time finishing shy of 10 wins since 2007. Home losses to Utah and Washington State in Pac-12 play, combined with a second-half meltdown in the Alamo Bowl defeat to TCU, wore some of the mystique off Oregon football — so much so, the Ducks take on the unfamiliar role of "the hunters" in the coming season, per linebacker Johnny Ragin III.
Athlon Sports writers and contributors project just how well a new place in the Pac-12 pecking order suits Oregon football.
Oregon Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2016
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45)
Oregon had plenty working against it last season. The Ducks were left replacing a three-year starter and Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Marcus Mariota; lost a ton of talent in a secondary, which had long been the linchpin of a deceptively good defense; and drew one of the most challenging schedules in all of college football, playing the eventual Pac-12 and Big Ten champions both on the road.
And yet, they still won nine games.
Such a finish is easy to take for granted with the standard established at Oregon. Considering the Ducks overcame a woeful passing defense (No. 126 in college football) to close as well as it did is a testament to the offense. When quarterback Vernon Adams was healthy, Oregon maintained the lofty standard set by title-contending teams of years past. That's no small feat.
Adams is gone, but Montana State transfer Dakota Prukop has similar potential. Throwing to one of the best wide receiver corps in college football, and handing off to Heisman contender Royce Freeman, the Ducks will score points in bunches once more. The lone question is about a defense that surrendered a dizzying 37.5 points per game, and lost its top performer, lineman DeForest Buckner.
Hiring Brady Hoke as defensive coordinator was a curious yet intriuging move. It's the kind of unique thinking that elevated the standard to such a level that nine wins is seen as disappointing. I personally am not ready to fully buy in, however. The Ducks are in the hunt for the Pac-12 North, and spend the season ranked in the Top 25, but will not win their fifth league title since 2009.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This is a critical year for Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich. The Ducks failed to win 10 or more games last season for the first time since 2007, and this year’s team enters the fall with significant question marks on both sides of the ball. Will the offense hit another home run with a FCS graduate transfer at quarterback? Dakota Prukop is the favorite to replace Vernon Adams under center, but redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen is still in the mix. Regardless of who wins the job, the offense will rely on a heavy dose of running back Royce Freeman, and there’s a deep group of playmakers on the outside.
Even if the offense averages 35-40 points a game, the Ducks won’t contend for the Pac-12 North title without improvement on defense. The hire of Brady Hoke as coordinator should help, but there’s only one returning starter in the front seven. Additionally, Oregon’s road to a division title in the Pac-12 North isn’t getting any easier. Washington is improving and could be the favorite to win the league, Washington State took a big step forward last year, and Stanford isn’t going to slip too far after winning 12 games in 2015.
Bryan Fischer (BryanDFischer)
I go back and forth on Oregon being a Pac-12 contender every day and the way this team is constructed, it would not surprise me if the Ducks won the league or went 6-6. That's partially due to the schedule and tough nature of their conference but also on all the question marks facing head coach Mark Helfrich. I'm not yet sold on quarterback play but there's still an overflowing supply of skill position talent in Eugene to where the Ducks should be ok. Whether they can be great is up for debate though and I'm not sold after what we saw to close last season.
John Coon (@johncoonsports)
Oregon's defense turned into a chaotic mess last season. The Ducks ranked last in the Pac-12 in scoring (37.5 ppg) and total defense (485.3 ypg). Their saving grace came from an offense that led the Pac-12 in scoring (43.0 ppg), rushing (279.9 ypg) and total offense (485.3 ypg).
If Dakota Prukop can make the transition from the FCS, the Ducks should be tough to stop on offense once again. Prukop is a true dual threat at quarterback. He threw for 5,584 yards and 46 touchdowns while running for 1,763 yards and 24 touchdowns during his time at Montana State. Oregon will boast a lethal running attack powered by Royce Freeman. The junior RB has a legitimate shot to overtake LaMichael James as the school's career rushing leader before he leaves Eugene.
It all comes down to defense for Oregon. The Ducks need to shore up a porous secondary that ranked 126th among FBS teams in pass defense a year ago (306.5 ypg). If new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke can't improve on those numbers while making a transition to a 4-3 alignment, wild shootouts might define Oregon football again in 2016.
Josh Webb (@FightOnTwist)
Mark Helfrich is entering his senior season as the Ducks’ head coach and he’s had mixed success. It would be unfair to heap all the blame on Helfrich, as the Ducks have had terrible injuries, but he’s had some questionable game plans too. It’s also worth noting that, even though the Ducks reached the national championship in the inaugural College Football Playoff under Helfrich, Helfrich’s predecessor, Chip Kelly, never played in anything but a major bowl game. Helfrich has two Alamo Bowl trips in the last three years. By no means shoddy, but by all means a step down from appearing in the caliber of a New Year’s Six bowl.
This year’s Oregon squad will be extremely talented, but the Ducks play all but three of their toughest games on the road. Only Stanford, Washington and Arizona State come to Eugene. Stanford has proven it can win in Autzen Stadium; the Huskies and Sun Devils are working on it. I have Stanford repeating that feat and Cal getting a win in a shootout with a new-look offense and defense. The Ducks will likely win at least nine games, but I think Helfrich knows that he needs to do more and that’s why we saw him make significant coaching changes in the offseason.