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Cam Newton didn't take the loss well, and it's on everyone's mind.
The Panthers quarterback walked out of the postgame press conference, and NFL fans completely trashed him on social media. Now there's new evidence that it wasn't just the questions that made Newton get up and leave.
Broncos cornerback Chris Harris can be heard in the background questioning if Newton can throw the ball. Some would say that didn't excuse the Panthers star exiting early, but others say it was a human reaction.
THIS is why Cam walked out (listen to what's being said in the background). pic.twitter.com/6LdLFwv8tj— Brian (@bmweezy13) February 8, 2016
Chris Harris asking "can you throw the football?" ... Can't blame Cam too much for this human reaction. https://t.co/ENAdp3kewt— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 8, 2016
Super Bowl post-game setup is loud, chaotic. Both teams in same area. Chris Harris explaining game plan, Cam hears. https://t.co/cKwXvRjo2n— Joe Person (@josephperson) February 8, 2016
Chris Harris to me after realizing later his voice was audible during Cam’s presser: “Damn that’s the NFL’s fault for putting us that close"— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) February 8, 2016
The SEC is king of the recruiting hill, which National Signing Day 2016 reaffirmed, but the Pac-12 did well for itself collectively in this year's cycle.
Six Pac-12 programs finished ranked in the top 30 of 247Sports.com's composite tally. Ten checked in at No. 47 or better. Four Pac-12 teams ended up in the top 30 of Athlon Sports’ team consensus rankings with eight checking in at 37th or higher.
The conference-wide results reinforce some widely held beliefs, while at the same time foreshadowing what may be to come.
1. Southern California is Still the Epicenter
USC and UCLA set the pace per 247sports, landing the nation's No. 8- and No. 12-ranked classes. Both finished with a flourish, and both relied heavily on local prospects.
Two California Interscholastic Federation sections — Los Angeles and Southern — are the primary feeders for both the Trojans and the Bruins. Each program is able to use its proximity to tap into the best high school talent from Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, Ventura and San Bernardino counties.
The rest of the Pac-12 also recruits the talent-rich Southland, but USC and UCLA have been able to cultivate meaningful connections with regional powerhouses like Long Beach Poly and Gardena Serra. Those two schools produced some of the most celebrated Bruin and Trojan signees of this recruiting season: USC defensive end Oluwole Betiku, safety C.J. Pollard, and UCLA safety Brandon Burton (Serra); and USC cornerback Jack Jones (Long Beach Poly).
College Football Podcast: 2016 National Signing Day Recap
2. Recruiting Success Raises Stakes for USC and UCLA
USC and UCLA finishing atop the Pac-12 recruiting rankings is nothing out of the ordinary. Either the Trojans or Bruins finishing atop the conference come December? That's another story.
USC has not won a conference championship since 2008; for UCLA, the drought's a full decade longer. While both programs are competitive most seasons — USC reached the Pac-12 Championship Game in 2015 and UCLA won 10 games in both ‘13 and ‘14 — their success recruiting suggests underachievement on the field.
Both UCLA's Jim Mora and USC's Clay Helton can expect more scrutiny if either fails to win the Pac-12 with the bevy of talent each has in his program.
3. Stanford's Base is America
Stanford head coach David Shaw said last season that his program doesn't recruit, so much as interested players seek it out.
With its lofty academic reputation, and now boasting football of matching quality, Stanford is an intriguing option for prospects with the credentials to qualify. To that end, the Cardinal have a recruiting base that extends nationwide.
Ten states are represented in Stanford's 2016 signing class, from Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey in the east; Illinois and Indiana in the Midwest; Texas; New Mexico and Utah in the west; and, of course, California.
With three Pac-12 championships in four years, it's no surprise Sanford has such extensive reach.
4. Chris Petersen is Building Washington for the Long Run
Perhaps the most intriguing element of Petersen coming to Washington from Boise State, where he built a successful program into a nationally recognized commodity, was how successful he could be with Power 5 conference resources.
Petersen's Boise State teams thrived with overlooked prospects. At Washington, he has the opportunity to instill that overachieving mindset into top-tier talent. The Huskies' best recruiting class since his arrival two years ago gives Petersen a foundation for something truly special at Washington, which hasn't reached the Rose Bowl since the 2000 season.
5. Upward Mobility is Tough to Gain in the Pac-12
With as much recruiting parity as the Pac-12 has, it's no wonder the conference beats itself up internally in the fall. Consider a program like Arizona State, which has enjoyed a boost in recruiting since Todd Graham's arrival in 2012.
The Sun Devils finished just 6-7 in 2015, and enter ‘16 with uncertainty despite a top-30 recruiting class. Utah, coming off a breakthrough 10-win 2015, finished with a recruiting class rated in the bottom half of the league. Ditto Arizona, just 14 months removed from playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Recruiting is only one component of a larger equation — Oregon's won four of the last seven Pac-12 titles yet never led the conference's recruiting rankings — but it’s an important component nonetheless.
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of CFBHuddle.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.
You hear the saying almost anywhere you see 2016 fantasy football rankings... "It's never too early." Well I made some rankings for two reasons:
1. It can actually help those in keeper/dynasty formats.
2. It is fun and a nice way to reminisce on the fantastic 2015 season gone by.
I will be perfectly honest though. It is too early. It really is. Fantasy baseball is right around the corner and I can say with no doubt that 70 percent of my free time goes to that now, and 25 percent more goes to DFS.
That leaves a whopping 5 percent for fantasy football, and I think that is enough. The draft hasn't happened. Players haven't switched teams yet which could greatly impact their value as well as others'. Consider the situations of Marshawn Lynch (retirement?), Matt Forte (free agent), Josh Gordon (suspended) and Calvin Johnson (retiring?). All of these things will greatly impact these rankings. There is no denying that, and therefore they truly are too early.
Be sure to stay tuned for plenty more fantasy football content here at AthlonSports.com over the next several months, including draft coverage and updated rankings. We will have you covered this offseason, whether I think it is too early or not!
With that, enjoy these way too freaking early top 100 rankings and if you feel like bantering or disputing my list, reach out to me on Twitter @fantsychillpony.
Let's dig in shall we?
|3||Odell Beckham Jr.||WR||NYG|
— 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.
It’s too early to say whether or not 2016 will be the year of the running back in college football, but there’s no shortage of talent returning at this position next fall. The top three returning options at running back – LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey – should be among the favorites to win the Heisman in 2016. And there’s a strong second tier in place with the return of Oregon’s Royce Freeman, Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine, Clemson’s Wayne Gallman and Georgia’s Nick Chubb. North Carolina’s Elijah Hood and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley are two names just inside of the top 10 that could climb even higher next fall.
With spring practice inching closer for all 128 teams, Athlon Sports is taking an early look at the top 75 running backs in the nation for 2016. This list could look a lot different by August, as position battles are sorted out and the distribution of carries for each team is developed, along with the emergence of freshmen in offseason workouts. Our rankings are compiled by using many factors including career stats so far, 2015 statistics, pro potential, projection for 2016, value to the team, recruiting background and just overall talent. Additionally, playing time and the split of carries for teams with multiple backs in consideration was taken into account. Think of this list as an early power ranking for 2016, with tweaks expected at the end of spring and prior to Week 1.
Other names in consideration: Gerard Wicks, Washington State; De’Veon Smith, Michigan; Kalen Ballage, Arizona State; C.J. Leggett, Georgia Tech; Dalyn Dawkins, Colorado State; Terry Swanson, Toledo; A.J. Ouellette, Ohio; Markell Jones, Purdue; Robert Martin, Rutgers; Gerald Holmes, Michigan State; Devin Chafin, Baylor; Anthony Wales, WKU; Jeffrey Wilson, North Texas
College Football's Pre-Spring Top 75 RB Ranks for 2016
75. Marquis Young, UMass
Young’s 960 yards last season was the highest mark by an UMass player since the Minutemen joined the FBS ranks in 2012. He also finished the year on a high note, gashing Buffalo for 240 yards and three scores on 35 attempts in the season finale.
74. Johnston White, Arkansas State
Three Arkansas State running backs eclipsed the 600-yard mark last season. With Michael Gordon expiring his eligibility, Warren Wand and Johnston White should be more involved with the ground attack in 2016. White recorded 616 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015.
73. Devante Mays, Utah State
In his first season at Utah State, Mays led the team with 966 yards and nine rushing scores. The junior college product became more involved as the season progressed and finished with two 100-yard efforts over the final three games.
72. Jarveon Williams, UTSA
Williams was a breakout performer for the Roadrunners last season and is one of the top returning players for new coach Frank Wilson. In 11 appearances last season, Williams rushed for 1,042 yards and eight touchdowns.
71. Paul Harris, Hawaii
Harris has an interesting backstory on his path to Hawaii. In his first year with the Rainbow Warriors, Harris led the team with 1,132 yards and finished the season by recording 125 yards in each of the last four games.
70. Jordan Scarlett, Florida
Scarlett was a key pickup on the recruiting trail for coach Jim McElwain in the 2015 signing class, and the four-star recruit played sparingly behind Kelvin Taylor. In nine appearances, Scarlett recorded 181 yards and one touchdown on 34 carries.
69. LeShun Daniels, Iowa
Iowa may not have a clear star at running back, but the Hawkeyes have plenty of depth and options to lean on in 2016. Daniels gets the nod on the list after finishing second to Jordan Canzeri (expired eligibility after the Rose Bowl) in rushing yards (646) last season. However, Akrum Wadley and Derrick Mitchell will factor into the mix for carries.
68. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Illinois
The Fighting Illini offense will miss Josh Ferguson, but Vaughn is a capable replacement. In 11 games as a true freshman last season, he recorded 723 yards and six touchdowns and grabbed 16 receptions for 119 yards.
67. Shannon Brooks, Minnesota
Brooks recorded a solid freshman campaign despite not receiving a carry through Minnesota’s first three contests. The Georgia native finished with 709 yards and seven touchdowns on 119 carries and posted two 100-yard games.
66. Justin Stockton, Texas Tech
Stockton is a big-play threat for coach Kliff Kingsbury and will be critical in helping the Red Raider offense replace DeAndre Washington’s production (1,492 yards in 2015). Stockton averaged 6.02 yards per carry last season and caught 22 passes for 341 yards and six touchdowns.
65. Khalfani Muhammad, California
Starter Daniel Lasco was limited most of the season due to injury, which allowed Muhammad to lead the team in rushing yards (586) last season. Muhammad is also one of the fastest players in college football and could see an increased role next fall.
64. Jela Duncan, Duke
Duncan missed the 2014 season due to a suspension but picked up where he left off in 2013 last fall. In 10 games, Duncan recorded 460 yards and four touchdowns and averaged a healthy 6.9 yards per carry.
63. Jacobi Owens, Air Force
Owens has recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns for the Falcons and earned honorable mention All-Mountain West honors in 2015.
62. Joe Williams, Utah
Devontae Booker leaves big shoes to fill in Salt Lake City, but the Utes got a glimpse of their 2016 ground attack in the final three games of 2015. With Booker out due to injury, Williams – a former junior college recruit – posted 100-yard efforts against UCLA and Colorado and recorded 91 yards against BYU. He has a chance to move up on this list by the conclusion of spring practices.
61. Soso Jamabo, UCLA
With Paul Perkins off to the NFL, Jamabo is slated to take the top spot in UCLA’s backfield. Jamabo was a five-star recruit in the 2015 signing class for coach Jim Mora and recorded 403 yards and four touchdowns on 66 carries.
60. Jamauri Bogan, Western Michigan
Western Michigan’s leading rusher has been a freshman in each of the last two seasons. Jarvion Franklin paced the Broncos’ ground attack in 2014 with 1,551 yards, and Bogan took the lead for coach P.J. Fleck last season, recording 1,051 yards and 16 scores.
59. Ito Smith, Southern Miss
Todd Monken’s late departure for the NFL has added some uncertainty for Southern Miss going into 2016. New coach Jay Hopson will certainly put his stamp on the program, but the first-year coach shouldn’t change too much on offense. Smith teamed with Jalen Richard to form an effective one-two punch for the Golden Eagles last year, rushing for 1,128 yards and 10 scores and catching 49 passes for 515 yards.
58. Joel Bouagnon, Northern Illinois
Bouagnon is a 6-foot-2, 226-pound bruising rusher for coach Rod Carey. After sitting behind Cameron Stingily for two seasons (2013-14), Bouagnon stepped into the lead role for the Huskies last year and recorded 1,286 yards and 18 scores.
57. Jamaal Williams, BYU
It’s hard to rank Williams on the list, as he’s coming back from sitting out the 2015 season and an ACL tear suffered late in the 2014 campaign. However, Williams is also one of the most productive running backs in school history and needs just under 1,000 yards to pass Harvey Unga for the most career rushing yards by a BYU player.
56. Devine Redding, Indiana
Jordan Howard’s one-year stint in Bloomington was a successful one, and the Hoosiers have a capable replacement waiting in the wings. Redding rushed for 1,012 yards and nine scores and posted three straight performances of 130 yards or more to end 2015.
55. Justin Davis, USC
Davis is the second USC running back to appear on this list. He nearly eclipsed 1,000 yards in 2015, finishing with 902 yards and seven touchdowns on 169 attempts. Additionally, he recorded over 100 yards against Oregon and UCLA.
54. Jon Hilliman, Boston College
Hilliman struggled to find running room (3.9 ypc) behind Boston College’s rebuilt offensive line last season and was lost for the year after suffering a broken foot against Northern Illinois.
Related: Early ACC Predictions for 2016
53. Jovon Robinson, Auburn
The No. 54 spot on this list might be too low for Robinson. In his first year from the junior college ranks, Robinson rushed for 639 yards and three scores, including 126 yards against Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl. With Peyton Barber off to the NFL, Robinson is poised to see an increase in carries next fall.
52. Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt’s offense is a work in progress under second-year coordinator Andy Ludwig and sophomore quarterback Kyle Shurmur, but the Commodores are in good shape on the ground, as Webb (1,152 yards and five scores) returns after producing the first 1,000-yard season for the program since 2012.
51. Chris Warren, Texas
Warren stepped up with D’Onta Foreman sidelined by injury in Texas’ final two games of 2015. He gashed Texas Tech for 276 yards and four touchdowns and recorded 106 yards on 28 attempts against Baylor. Warren and Foreman will lead the way for the Longhorns in 2016, but true freshman Kyle Porter could factor into the mix.
50. D’Onta Foreman, Texas
Foreman missed the last two games of 2015 due to injury but finished as Texas’ leading rusher with 681 yards on 95 attempts. His 7.2 yards per carry average ranked second in the Big 12 behind Baylor’s Johnny Jefferson.
49. Taquan Mizzell, Virginia
Mizzell posted a career-best 664 yards last season and was a valuable cog in Virginia’s passing attack. The Virginia native led the team with 75 catches and ranked second with 721 receiving yards.
48. Rushel Shell, West Virginia
High expectations have surrounded Shell since he was a four-star recruit coming out of high school. However, he’s yet to reach 1,000 yards in a season and finished second on the team last year with 708 yards. With Wendell Smallwood off to the NFL, Shell will compete with junior college recruit Justin Crawford for the top spot on the depth chart.
47. Ray Lawry, Old Dominion
Lawry led all Conference USA running backs by averaging 103.3 rushing yards per game last season. He also has 27 rushing scores over the last two seasons and was a valuable receiver out of the backfield (21 catches).
46. Curtis Samuel, Ohio State
Ezekiel Elliott leaves big shoes to fill in Columbus. The Buckeyes head into spring ball with some uncertainty at this position, as Mike Weber, Antonio Williams, Bri’onte Dunn and Samuel are all expected to push for carries. Does Samuel fit in better as a running back, H-back or as a receiver?
45. Johnny Jefferson, Baylor
Jefferson is the second running back from Baylor to make this list. Thanks to 457 yards over the final two games of 2015, Jefferson joined teammate Shock Linwood in the 1,000-yard club last season.
44. Tarean Folston, Notre Dame
Folston’s 2015 season was cut short after a knee injury in the opener against Texas. With C.J. Prosise off to the NFL, Folston is expected to regain the No. 1 job in the backfield. He rushed for 889 yards and six touchdowns as Notre Dame’s feature back in 2014.
43. Qadree Ollison, Pittsburgh
James Conner is on track to return in 2016, but the Panthers won’t have to rush him back with Ollison in the mix. Ollison kept Pittsburgh’s ground attack going without Conner last year, recording 1,121 yards and 11 scores as a redshirt freshman.
42. Travon McMillian, Virginia Tech
New coach Justin Fuente inherits a couple of talented options in the backfield, with McMillian leading the way after recording 1,042 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015. He was the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Hokies since David Wilson reached that mark in 2011. Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams return to the mix after redshirt years in 2015.
41. Keith Ford, Texas A&M
Ford should be one of the nation’s impact transfers in 2016. The Texas native was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and played in eight games with Oklahoma in 2014. In limited action with the Sooners, Ford recorded 392 yards and five touchdowns on 71 carries.
Related: Very Early Top 25 for 2016
40. Leon Allen, WKU
Allen is one of the toughest players to rank on this list after a serious knee injury ended his 2015 season in September. As WKU’s feature back in 2014, Allen rushed for 1,542 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 51 passes for 476 yards and three scores. If Allen isn’t ready by the opener, the Hilltoppers have two capable options on the ground in Anthony Wales and D’Andre Ferby.
39. Alvin Kamara, Tennessee
Kamara is the second Tennessee running back to make this list and is a solid complement option to starter Jalen Hurd. In 13 games last year, Kamara recorded 698 yards and seven scores and grabbed 34 receptions for 291 yards and three touchdowns. Opportunities are slightly limited with Hurd the No. 1 option, but Kamara is good enough to start for many SEC programs next season.
38. Matt Dayes, NC State
Dayes was limited to eight games due to injury but still finished as NC State’s leading rusher with 865 yards last season. The Florida native should return at full strength next fall, but he will be pushed for snaps by sophomore Reggie Gallaspy II and redshirt freshman Johnny Frasier.
37. Joseph Yearby, Miami
Mark Richt’s offenses at Georgia always boasted a strong ground game, and it’s a safe bet he will look to energize a rushing attack that ranked 13th in the ACC last season. Yearby was a big-time pickup on the recruiting trail for Miami and worked as the team’s feature back after a year as Duke Johnson’s understudy. Yearby recorded 1,002 yards and six scores last season.
36. Boom Williams, Kentucky
Williams is an explosive, game-changing back for the Wildcats, and new coordinator Eddie Gran needs to find ways to get the Georgia native more involved. Despite missing two games, Williams averaged 7.1 yards per carry in 2015 and recorded six rushing scores.
35. Aaron Jones, UTEP
Jones is one of the top running backs in the Group of 5 ranks, but his 2015 season ended after an ankle injury on Sept. 12 against Texas Tech. He should rebound in a big way this fall with a chance to surpass his 2014 totals (1,321 yards and 11 scores).
34. James Butler, Nevada
Nevada’s offense featured two 1,000-yard rushers last season, with Butler leading the way at 1,345 yards. Additionally, Butler recorded a career-best mark of 189 yards in the Arizona Bowl victory over Colorado State and reached 100 rushing yards in five out of his last six games. Penn State graduate transfer Akeel Lynch should take Don Jackson’s place as Butler’s backup in 2016.
33. Jahad Thomas, Temple
Thomas quietly impressed last fall, rushing for 1,262 yards and 17 scores on 276 carries. The 1,000-yard rushing season was the first by a Temple player since 2012 and was a big improvement from the 384 team-leading yards Thomas had in 2014.
32. Demario Richard, Arizona State
A breakout year was expected from Richard last season, and he delivered with a solid, all-around sophomore campaign. He rushed for 1,104 yards and seven touchdowns and caught 31 passes for 303 yards and three scores. With a new quarterback taking over in Tempe next fall, Richard and backfield mate Kalen Ballage could shoulder more of the workload on offense.
31. Nick Wilson, Arizona
Injuries derailed Wilson’s 2015 season, as he finished second on the team with 725 yards and eight scores after recording 1,375 yards and 16 scores as a freshman in 2014. Wilson rushed for 135 or more yards in three out of the first four games but never eclipsed more than 80 yards in his final four appearances last fall.
30. Bo Scarbrough, Alabama
Replacing a Heisman Trophy winner or an All-American at running back is usually a difficult task, but this is the norm at Alabama. The Crimson Tide’s run of talented rushers – Eddie Lacy, Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry – is deep and impressive. Scarbrough has all of the physical tools and talent to be the next standout for coach Nick Saban. However, he just lacks experience after rushing 18 times for 104 yards and one score last year.
Related: Early SEC Predictions for 2016
29. Marlon Mack, South Florida
Mack is only the third player in South Florida history to reach the 1,000-yard mark on the ground. After recording 1,041 yards and nine scores as a freshman in 2014, Mack posted a strong sophomore season, rushing for 1,381 yards and eight touchdowns.
28. LJ Scott, Michigan State
Regardless of what Scott does over the next few seasons in East Lansing, he’s already cemented a place in Michigan State history after his game-winning touchdown against Iowa in the Big Ten Championship. After a strong freshman campaign (699 yards and 11 scores), the arrow on Scott’s career is clearly trending up for 2016.
27. Corey Clement, Wisconsin
All signs pointed to a breakout season from Clement last fall, as he was pegged as the next star running back for the Badgers in replacing Melvin Gordon. However, hernia surgery sidelined him for most of the year. Clement finished with only 221 yards and five scores. With a full offseason to rehab and return to full strength, Clement should be one of the Big Ten’s top running backs.
26. Elijah McGuire, UL Lafayette
McGuire contemplated an early jump to the NFL but decided to return for his senior season. He’s recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns and has 27 rushing scores in that span.
25. Marcus Cox, Appalachian State
The Mountaineers have a deep backfield of options to lean on in 2016, with Cox leading the way after earning his third consecutive 1,000-yard campaign last year. Despite missing a game, Cox finished with 1,423 yards and nine scores and rushed for over 100 yards (103) against Clemson last season.
24. Sony Michel, Georgia
Michel had big shoes to fill midway through 2015. After Nick Chubb was lost for the year with a knee injury, Michel stepped into the starting role at running back and rushed for 1,161 yards and eight scores. Talent certainly isn’t a question – Michel was a five-star recruit – but opportunities will be limited if Chubb returns at full strength in 2016.
23. Ronald Jones II, USC
New coach Clay Helton wants to build USC’s offense around its ground attack, and the Trojans return two running backs that eclipsed 900 yards last season. Jones II is a rising star after leading USC with 987 yards and eight touchdowns in 2015. He should emerge as one of the Pac-12’s top running backs next fall.
22. Brian Hill, Wyoming
Hill finished 2014 on a tear, recording at least 120 rushing yards in four out of Wyoming’s last five games. The Illinois native picked up where he left off with a strong 2015 campaign, which included four 200-yard performances and 1,631 overall yards on the ground.
21. Kareem Hunt, Toledo
Hunt missed three out of Toledo’s first four games last season and fell short of 1,000 yards (973) after recording 1,631 yards in 2014. Hunt will team with Terry Swanson to form one of the nation’s top tandems at running back.
20. Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
After sitting out 2014 on a season-long suspension, Mixon joined the Oklahoma backfield as the No. 2 option behind Samaje Perine. The former five-star recruit showcased his talent in limited snaps, recording 753 yards and seven scores on 113 carries. He also added 28 catches for 356 yards and four touchdowns.
Related: Early Big 12 Predictions for 2016
19. Mike Warren, Iowa State
New Iowa State coach Matt Campbell had a 1,000-yard rusher at Toledo in three out of his four seasons with the Rockets. Expect to see Campbell build his 2016 offense around Warren after he recorded 1,339 yards and five scores as a freshman last year.
18. James Conner, Pittsburgh
Conner is on the comeback trail after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the 2015 season opener and being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December. And the best news of all: Coach Pat Narduzzi recently indicated he expects Conner to play in 2016.
17. Larry Rose, New Mexico State
Rose is one of the nation’s best-kept secrets and has recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns for the Aggies. On 240 carries last season, Rose rushed for 1,651 yards and 14 scores and earned third-team All-America honors by the Associated Press.
16. Matt Breida, Georgia Southern
Breida is one of the nation’s most-explosive running backs and has recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns for the Eagles. Over the last two seasons, Breida has recorded 11 rushing plays of 60 yards or more – the most of any player in college football.
15. Myles Gaskin, Washington
Gaskin turned in a breakout performance in 2015, leading the Huskies' ground game as a true freshman with 1,302 yards and 14 scores. Additionally, Gaskin finished the year by rushing for at least 100 yards in seven out of the last nine games, including a season-high of 181 yards against Southern Miss in the Heart of the Dallas Bowl.
Related: Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2016
14. Jeremy McNichols, Boise State
Boise State’s ground attack didn’t miss a beat after Jay Ajayi left early for the NFL, as McNichols rushed for 1,337 yards and led all Mountain West running backs with 20 rushing scores. The Broncos enter 2016 with a string of seven consecutive seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher.
13. Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State
Pumphrey is on the verge of history in 2016, as he enters the season needing 318 yards to break Marshall Faulk’s school record (4,589) for most rushing yards in a career. The Nevada native is poised to earn his third consecutive 1,000-yard season in 2016.
12. Justin Jackson, Northwestern
Northwestern’s passing attack ranked last in the Big Ten (138.5 ypg), but the offense churned out yardage thanks to the ground game. Jackson rushed for 1,418 yards and five scores last season, earning his second straight 1,000-yard campaign. He also ranked third on the team with 21 receptions.
11. Shock Linwood, Baylor
Baylor’s backfield is overflowing with riches in 2016, as four players with at least 550 rushing yards return. Linwood is the headliner for coach Art Briles and returns after earning his second consecutive 1,000-yard campaign (1,329) last season.
10. Elijah Hood, North Carolina
Hood’s emergence was a key cog in North Carolina’s run to the Coastal Division title last season. The former four-star recruit rushed for 259 yards as a true freshman in 2014 but increased his yardage to 1,463 last season. Hood’s 17 rushing scores ranked second in the ACC to Dalvin Cook (19).
9. Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Despite a sluggish offensive line, Barkley managed to record 1,076 yards and seven touchdowns for the Nittany Lions last season. He will be even better as a sophomore in 2016.
8. Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
The Tennessee duo of Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara is one of the best in the nation, with Hurd leading the way after recording 1,288 yards and 12 scores last season. He’s also the only player in school history to rush for 100 yards in two bowl games.
7. Wayne Gallman, Clemson
Gallman is the perfect complement to quarterback Deshaun Watson in Clemson’s high-powered offense. Not only is Gallman capable of breaking the big play on the ground or on receptions, but the junior is also adept at getting the tough yards between the tackles. Gallman recorded 1,527 yards and 13 scores last season.
6. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
Perine’s rushing total dipped slightly from 2014 (1,713 yards) to 1,349 last season. A couple of factors played into Perine’s drop, as Oklahoma’s scheme changed under new coordinator Lincoln Riley, the offensive line had its share of ups and downs, and Joe Mixon made his first appearance in a Sooner uniform. Regardless of the drop in statistics, Perine is the top running back in the Big 12 in 2016.
5. Nick Chubb, Georgia
A significant knee injury ended Chubb’s 2015 season in early October. Prior to his injury against Tennessee, Chubb was setting a torrid pace, rushing for at least 120 yards in five consecutive games and averaging 8.1 yards per carry. How quickly will Chubb return to full strength in 2016?
4. Royce Freeman, Oregon
Freeman quietly finished fourth nationally in rushing yards per game (141.2) last season and led all Pac-12 running backs with 17 rushing scores. The most-impressive feat on Freeman’s 2015 resume? He rushed for at least 100 yards in 12 out of Oregon’s 13 contests last year, including 246 against Washington State on Oct. 10.
3. Dalvin Cook, Florida State
The ridiculous amount of talent returning at running back next year is evident when Dalvin Cook is ranked No. 3 on the list. A strong argument could be made for Cook at No. 1 or No. 2, but for now, McCaffrey and Fournette get the nod at the top. Despite a hamstring and ankle injury last year, Cook rushed for 1,691 yards and 19 scores and averaged 7.4 yards per carry. Additionally, Cook’s six runs of 40 yards or more tied for fifth nationally.
Related: Very Early Top 25 for 2016
2. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
After setting the FBS record for most all-purpose yards (3,864) in a single-season, McCaffrey has his sights set even higher for 2016. With the Cardinal replacing quarterback Kevin Hogan and a couple of key offensive line starters, the junior will have to carry more of the workload next fall. However, he’s up to the task and will aim to shatter last year’s rushing mark (2,019).
1. Leonard Fournette, LSU
Fournette is the nation’s most-talented running back and poised for another monster season after recording 1,953 yards and 22 scores last season. He should be one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman Trophy in 2016 and has rushed for at least 100 yards in 12 out of his last 14 games. Fournette led the nation with an average of 162.8 yards per game in 2015 – more than 15 yards more per game than Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry.
The sky is blue, the Earth is round and when you have better players, you win more games.
Certainly, winning big in college football takes great coaching, enormous support staffs, state-of-the-art training facilities and plenty of luck. But whoever has the most talented roster, has a head start in the race for conference and national championships.
National Signing Day 2016 gave us more than 4,000 new players to root for and track over the next four or five seasons. So which teams are in the best shape for 2016?
College Football Podcast: 2016 National Signing Day Recap
Below are the national recruiting ranking averages for ACC schools over the last five classes according to 247Sports Team Composite rankings and each team's record over the last five seasons. Obviously, this doesn't take into account attrition but, over time, this should be considered relatively even across the conference.
Ranking the ACC's College Football's Rosters in 2016:
What did we learn?
Florida State, Clemson Dominate
Florida State and Clemson have dominated both the football field and recruiting trail in the ACC. These two programs have won the last five ACC championships and have played in two national title games and a College Football Playoff game over the last three years. The Noles’ average national ranking of 4.6 trails only Alabama (1.0) and Ohio State (4.2) as the most talented roster in the nation. Clemson’s 13.2 average ranking is 12th nationally and includes back-to-back top-10 hauls. Only Miami comes close to the Tigers and Seminoles when it comes to recruiting in the ACC.
Mark Richt Returns
Richt is inheriting what is clearly the third-best roster in the ACC - as was the case under former head coach Al Golden. However, this team is just 21-19 over the last five years in ACC play. Miami's average class ranking of 16.6 is better than Ole Miss (18.6), Oregon (19.4), Stanford (22.2), Baylor (26.4) and Michigan State (27.4). Those programs have a combined nine conference titles over the last five years while Miami hasn’t even won its division (ever). We shall see if Richt is the right guy for the job.
Fear the Heel?
The Tar Heels went 8-0 in the ACC last fall and it gives North Carolina the third-best ACC record over the last five years (24-16). But can the Heels take the next step under Larry Fedora? North Carolina has been ranked between 28th and 35th nationally in four straight classes but is that enough to topple the two big boys in the ACC? With the fifth-ranked roster in the league — despite being third in the Coastal Division — North Carolina appears to have as good a shot as anyone in the conference of knocking off either the Tigers or the Noles.
Virginia Tech and the ACC lost a legend when Frank Beamer retired. However, the Hokies might have made the best coaching hire of anyone in college football. Just like that change feels bittersweet, so to should the Hokies' 2016 recruiting class. Justin Fuente is undoubtedly an outstanding coach, but the regime change led to the worst-rated Tech class (41st) since 2002 (43rd). Let’s see what Fuente can do with an entire cycle to recruit before casting judgment.
Pat Narduzzi is coming for you
It hasn’t taken long for Narduzzi to prove that he is the guy for the job in Pittsburgh. A 6-2 finish in the ACC was second to only Clemson and North Carolina last fall, and, in his first full cycle on the recruiting trail, Narduzzi scored the best Panther class (30th) since 2008 (28th). As a result, Pitt moved from the eighth-best roster in the ACC last season to the sixth in 2016.
Duke has won 36 games in the last five seasons, trailing only traditional powers Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Louisville and North Carolina in the ACC. It also won the Coastal Division and, this year, won its first bowl game in decades. What did head coach David Cutcliffe do for an encore? He landed the highest-rated recruiting class in modern Duke history (33rd). The Blue Devils now own a more talented roster than Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Boston College and Wake Forest.
Super Bowl 50 is in the books and the party for the world champion Denver Broncos and their fans has just begun. But with the 2015 NFL season now officially over, at least on the field, the focus now shifts to next season. It’s never too early to look ahead, right?
While this loss is going to linger for a while for the Carolina Panthers, they have to lead the early list of contenders to get to Super Bowl LI (yes, it’s back to Roman numerals) next year. Other NFC teams that should be in the running include West rivals Seattle and Arizona as well as Green Bay and Dallas, provided the Cowboys can stay healthy.
In the AFC, the Broncos are a wild card at this point because so much is up in the air, even though Peyton Manning’s future plans will likely dominate the news cycle. New England will remain a threat as long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are around, while teams like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati appear to have the pieces necessary to contend. And don’t forget about Indianapolis with a healthy Andrew Luck or a young team like Oakland, which could take another step towards being a playoff team.
Obviously so much will happen between now and September, whether it’s the draft, free agency or another type of personnel move. But how do things look division by division on Feb. 8? Just remember, it will be seven months until the next meaningful NFL game is played.
Very Early 2016 AFC Divisional Standings
|AFC East||AFC North||AFC South||AFC West|
1. New England
As long as Belichick/Brady are together the Patriots are a threat, but the championship window could be closing.
2. New York Jets
Just missed out on the playoffs last season, but work needs to be done in free agency to keep team together.
Can the defense improve in Rex Ryan’s second year with the Bills?
New head coach Adam Gase’s priorities include developing Ryan Tannehill, getting more out of defense.
If Big Ben and his weapons can stay healthy, Steelers could be one of the top contenders.
Bengals still looking to end playoff drought, will be busy during free agency.
Ravens need Joe Flacco, Steve Smith and Terrell Suggs to bounce back from serious injuries.
Hue Jackson looks to fix Browns QB situation and improve offensive production.
Priority should be finding more protection and a running game for Andrew Luck.
Is Brian Hoyer still the answer at QB after playoff debacle?
Jaguars figure to be big players during free agency.
Titans need to make No. 1 pick count, keep Marcus Mariota healthy.
Peyton Manning’s future just one thing the world champions must address in the offseason.
2. Kansas City
Have Chiefs already reached their ceiling? Free agency could bring changes on defense.
Raiders have young cornerstones in Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack and could add more pieces through
Team’s future in San Diego is uncertain; same could be said for the roster.
Very Early 2016 NFC Divisional Standings
|NFC East||NFC North||NFC South||NFC West|
From worst to first? A healthy Tony Romo and Dez Bryant are critical to a Cowboys turnaround.
Will Redskins commit to Kirk Cousins long term?
3. New York Giants
Offense should be fine, but new head coach Ben McAdoo must fix defense.
New head coach Doug Pederson must decide on QB, get everyone on same page.
1. Green Bay
Jordy Nelson’s return will be huge, but team also has some key free agents.
Can Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings take that next step?
Bears offense could look quite different with Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte free agents and Jay Cutler’s future uncertain.
Calvin Johnson’s reported retirement would add another hole Lions will need to fill.
Super Bowl loss will linger, but don't be surprised if Panthers are back on same stage next year.
Falcons hoping offense can find old form while defense continues to improve.
3. Tampa Bay
Can Buccaneers make the leap in Jameis Winston’s second season?
4. New Orleans
Saints’ efforts to improve league’s worst defense will be hamstrung by salary cap issues.
Some key free agents to deal with and Marshawn Lynch could retire, but the Seahawks core is still young and
Cardinals shouldn’t take too many steps back, but several key players not getting any younger.
3. Los Angeles
If Rams want to make California return successful they need to figure out their QB situation.
4. San Francisco
Chip Kelly should have plenty of opportunity to mold roster, starting with QB, to his liking.
The 2016 NASCAR season will soon be upon us. This feature and so much more can be found in this year’s Athlon Sports Racing Preview, available now on newsstands everywhere.
By Joe Menzer
Jeff Gordon has retired, and Tony Stewart is next in line for a rocking chair. Seven others who were full-time Sprint Cup drivers in 2015 either have already celebrated their 40th birthdays or will do so before the end of the 2016 season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., for goodness sakes, will turn 42 in October. Greg Biffle will turn 47 in December, and Matt Kenseth will be 44 in March. The others are six-time champion Jimmie Johnson (41 in September), 2014 champ Kevin Harvick (41 in December), Jamie McMurray (40 in June) and David Gilliland (40 in April).
None of these guys is going to drive forever — and most of them will be vacating some pretty sweet rides over the next few years. Having some true icons of the sport bowing out in relatively rapid succession would seem to be a cause of great concern for NASCAR, but, in fact, the opposite seems true. There is so much young talent lined up to take center stage that many long-time participants and observers of the sport could not be more excited to see what happens next.
“There are more really good drivers — phenoms is what I call them, literally — than ever in the history of racing,” insists former driver Kenny Wallace, now a television analyst for FOX Sports. “They’re lined up around the block.”
Jeff Hammond, a former Cup championship-winning crew chief who also now works as a television analyst for FOX, could not agree more. But he says the fact that there appears to be an abundance of young talent ready to blossom is no guarantee that all of it will pan out, something NASCAR will have to remember as it gingerly puts its best shoes forward in a budding new era.
“To say we’ve got an unusual amount of seemingly great young talent waiting in the wings, that’s very accurate,” Hammond says. “But today, hopefully more than ever, these young up-and-comers are more thoroughly vetted than in the past.
“If you’ve been around the sport as long as I have, you go back to when the Richard Petty-David Pearson era was kind of ending, along with Cale Yarborough. And you saw guys like Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte, potentially the Tim Richmonds of the world and Rusty Wallace coming on. And then you see them being replaced by guys like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, who are now being replaced by guys like Chase Elliott and the rest of this young talent.
“Then it really boils down to, how bad do these young men want to have a career in our sport? And are we going to give them enough time to mature and develop? Because I think the opportunities and the platforms to prepare them to become definitely winners in our sport and perhaps future champions have never been greater.”
Elliott, son of NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Bill Elliott, is at or near the top of virtually all lists of up-and-coming stars. But he’s far from alone.
Elliott will compete for Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year honors this year with Ryan Blaney, Brian Scott and Chris Buescher. But Elliott obviously is going to be in the best ride, replacing Gordon in the No. 24 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports. He even inherits Gordon’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson. Elliott says he’s well aware of the heavy expectations that come with following in Gordon’s footsteps.
“The fans have been amazing to me, and I’m so appreciative of that,” Elliott says. “I know how rare this opportunity is and will work as hard as I can to make everyone proud.”
Rick Hendrick says he has no doubts Elliott will succeed.
“Chase brings the kind of intangibles that make him the total package as a driver,” Hendrick says. “Not only is he a special talent inside the racecar, but there’s a natural combination of competitiveness, work ethic and smarts that you rarely see.
“Chase’s personality and demeanor make him popular with teammates, fans and sponsors. He’s a great fit for our organization on many levels, and we feel he and Alan will be a successful combination. There’s a lot to be excited about.”
Yet Hammond says the key for Elliott will be patience. Not only patience from the young driver himself, but also from those around him within the Hendrick organization and outside of it — as in fans, media and sponsors alike.
“When you sign some of this young talent today, part of the process oftentimes is signing a sponsor to go along with them. Just like with Chase Elliott and NAPA,” Hammond says. “Hopefully Chase Elliott is a marketing success story for NAPA. But if he’s not, all of a sudden you’ve got the added pressure of the sponsor looking for performance to go with this hype that we’ve already drummed up for this young man. And now not only does he have the pressure of the owner and the team wanting him to do well, but we’ve added a major sponsor in the public view who is expecting the same thing.
“Developing young talent is fun to watch. But it is very fragile — because we’ve got to understand that a lot of these young men we’re touting and watching and enjoying at this point in time, they can’t even rent a car. Some of them are not even old enough to drink. And yet, we’re asking them to carry the future and the hopes of sometimes 150 to 200 young men and women in an organization to be successful.”
Elliott became the first rookie and youngest NASCAR national touring series champion in history when he was crowned the then-Nationwide (now XFINITY) Series champ in 2014 at the tender age of 18. Wallace compares him to none other than Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“After watching both Dale Jr. and Chase Elliott, I think they’re two peas in a pod. I don’t know if they’ve ever looked at it like that, but from afar that’s what I see,” Wallace says. “Chase Elliott, for me, is a carbon copy of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Both of them basically shadowed their fathers. Chase was around his dad constantly at the racetrack. So was Dale Jr. You absorb that stuff. They both were very successful right away in (what is now) the XFINITY Series. They both won championships and they both won races.”
Transferring that to Cup success was no guarantee, however. For evidence of that, look no further than the struggles that two-time Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has had to endure since moving to Cup. When discussing Elliott, Hammond also likens what the rookie will face this season to what Joey Logano went through as a rookie at Joe Gibbs Racing when Logano stepped into a ride being vacated by Stewart.
“The catch to all of this — and I’m not trying to rain on anybody’s parade when it comes to all this young talent — is how they handle the overall pressure as we raise their expectations for them,” Hammond says. “I think that’s the one thing that’s a disservice in our sport today. We rubber-stamp them the stars of the future, and then we want them to be the star now. We almost don’t give them enough time to deal with the ups and downs; we don’t give them time enough to mature.
“Joey Logano is a great example of what can happen to someone who has gone through the pipeline, looks like he is going to get it done, and then because of the set of circumstances you aren’t necessarily able to groom him the right way. Look how long it took him to develop — but look what he developed into. It just took more time because of the circumstances. … Who did he replace? Tony Stewart. And he had Tony Stewart’s team. So everybody wanted to know, ‘Why aren’t you doing what Tony Stewart did? You’re supposed to be so great. You’re ‘Sliced Bread.’ Where is it? I don’t see it.’”
Logano, of course, is a championship-contending Cup driver now. And he’s still technically one of the young guns, because he’s only 25 (he’ll turn 26 in May). He won a series-high six races last season, has won a total of 11 over the previous two and 14 overall in his Cup career.
But when he first started as Stewart’s replacement in the No. 20 car for Joe Gibbs Racing, Logano often seemed lost. He became the youngest winner of a Cup race when he captured a rain-shortened race at New Hampshire in June 2009 at the age of 19 years, one month and four days. But he won only one more time while with JGR and didn’t seem to find himself as a driver until after he left JGR following the 2012 season. He joined Team Penske, where he hit it off with crew chief Todd Gordon.
“Therein lies the quandary of any team,” Hammond says. “And this is where I hope our teams, overall, do recognize and understand that these things can take a little bit. Jeff Gordon was not made in the first year he drove for Rick Hendrick. I mean, he tore up everything coming and going. But Rick Hendrick was committed to him — and his faith in that talent paid 20-some years of dividends because of it. But it came with failure before success — and with Joey Logano, there was failure before success.
“And so I really think that should be the cry that we put out there for all of this young talent: Expect failure before success.”
It is difficult, though, when there is so much young talent bubbling just over the horizon. It’s not limited to Elliott and the others who will run for Rookie of the Year in Cup in 2016. It’s drivers such as Kyle Larson, who will be entering his third season in Cup despite being only 23; Austin Dillon, and his younger brother, Ty, who is expected to join big brother in Cup soon; 2015 Camping World Truck Series champion Erik Jones; and John Hunter Nemechek, the son of former Cup driver Joe Nemechek.
All of them are expected to be driving full time in Cup sooner rather than later. And of the group, many see Jones as having the greatest potential of them all.
“Of course we already have Kyle Larson here (in Cup). And when you start lining the rest of them up, this Erik Jones is just unreal. I think Erik is the best one of them all,” Wallace says.
Wallace bases his opinion on the fact that Jones already has shown extraordinary speed in all three NASCAR national touring series. Jones was only 18 when he won his first Camping World Truck Series race at Phoenix in November 2013. He’s since won six more times in that series while registering 18 top-five and 33 top-10 finishes in a total of just 40 career starts.
But that’s not all. He also won two XFINITY Series races in 2015, totaling 13 top-5 and 17 top-10 finishes in just 23 starts. And when Joe Gibbs Racing needed someone to jump in for Denny Hamlin after Hamlin’s neck tightened up during a long rain delay at Bristol last spring, they called on Jones, and he brought Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota home without a scratch.
“We threw him into something there,” team owner Joe Gibbs says. “It’s unbelievable he could handle a car like that under those circumstances. We didn’t have time to change seats, nothing. He got to the car five minutes before the race went back to green.”
So it was no surprise later in the season when Gibbs called upon Jones again — first to sub for the injured Kyle Busch at Kansas and then to sub for the suspended Matt Kenseth at Texas and Phoenix, respectively, toward the end of the year. Every time, Jones was fast right off the bat. He qualified 12th at Kansas, sixth at Texas and seventh at Phoenix — with his best finish a 12th at Texas.
“First of all, he won in the lower (super late model) division — winning the biggest race of them all in the Snowball Derby, outrunning Kyle Busch,” Wallace says. “No. 2, any time he gets in any make of car — and this is what puts him heads and heels above everybody else — he qualifies very well and shows speed right away. As opposed to where we see other young drivers get in a Cup car, good ones, and they don’t have the speed right away. I mean, Chase Elliott’s a very good driver, but he doesn’t have the speed right away that Erik shows.
“That’s just what I see. Erik gets up to speed right away. He’ll get in a Cup car, like he did Kyle Busch’s car, and jump right up into the top 10 in practice right away — and I think that’s pretty impressive. And I mean, they have thrown him to the wolves. He had no (practice) time. They were like, ‘Hey, get in this Cup car right now. Denny Hamlin’s hurt.’ And he gets in it, no practice, and does pretty well in the race. I think that’s what makes him stand out, for me, above everyone else.”
Of course, Jones isn’t even running in Sprint Cup full time just yet. He’s running a limited schedule in the top series this year, while running a full-time slate in the XFINITY Series.
“We’ve got a plan laid out for him,” Gibbs says. “It’s just not something we talk about in public yet.”
So while Elliott, Buescher and Blaney battle it out this year for Rookie of the Year honors in Cup and race weekly against the likes of other young guns like Larson, Logano and the 25-year-old Austin Dillon, the 19-year-old Jones will be dueling in the XFINITY Series with other up-and-comers such as Darrell Wallace Jr. (22) and Ty Dillon (who turns 24 on Feb. 27). Still other promising youngsters such as Tyler Reddick (20), John Hunter Nemechek (18) and Cole Custer (18) are working their way through NASCAR’s lower national touring series with an eye on finding their way to Cup.
It makes the overall future of the sport look blindingly bright even as some of its greatest stars begin to fade away.
“Once again, there is simply an abundance of driving talent just lined up in the pipeline,” Wallace says. “So they really need to do something extraordinary to make themselves stand out. It will be fun seeing who can do what to do that over the next couple of years.”
Hammond adds: “When you see young talent and you see somebody get in a racecar these days, especially at the top level but even in the XFINITY Series, backed by some of the major teams, you need to pay attention. They’re the real deal.”
The 2016 NASCAR season will be here soon, and Athlon Sports is helping you prep for the season with a scouting report and fantasy preview for each of the top 16 drivers. The Athlon Sports 2016 Racing Preview, available on newsstands now, includes previews and stats for every driver and every track.
Austin Dillon checks in at No. 16 in our countdown. Here’s what his season could look like on the track and on your fantasy team:
“Austin grew up a bit late last season, finally showing that he belongs in Sprint Cup,” an industry insider says. “His is an interesting situation. On one hand, he’s often criticized for being given too much too fast — supposedly because his grandfather, Richard Childress, also happens to be his car owner at Richard Childress Racing. On the other hand, it could be argued that because of his connection to his grandfather, he’s sometimes been subject to unfair, unwarranted criticism that has stunted his growth as a Sprint Cup driver.
“The bottom line, when it’s all said and done, is the end result on the track. And in 2015, Dillon at least showed some flashes that he belongs. Now it’s time for him to prove he can take the next step and start truly contending for wins and be one of the 16 drivers to make the 2016 Chase. This might be the year he supplants Ryan Newman as the most productive Cup driver at RCR.”
Beach bum: Yes, Dillon finished Daytona in July with his car in 1,000 pieces after a scary incident that left several drivers initially thinking the driver was seriously hurt (or worse). But Dillon emerged with a seventh-place result that was his third career top 10 at that Cup track in five starts. Add a pole for the 2014 Daytona 500, and it’s one of the few places where the third-year driver feels comfortable in a Cup car.
Michigan Man: Dillon has just one career top 5 at Michigan, a fourth, but that did come last August, and it’s clear he’s improving there. Seven starts total at the two-mile oval are a career high for him at any track; experience should help him in 2016.
Still Learning: Dillon ranked just 23rd in the “Fastest on Restarts” statistic, leaving him susceptible to being passed late. He also dropped from a 17.0 average start to a 21.0 average finish, a minus-4 gap that never leaves you feeling good.
The 2016 NASCAR season will be here soon, and Athlon Sports is helping you prep for the season with a scouting report and fantasy preview for each of the top 16 drivers. The Athlon Sports 2016 Racing Preview, available on newsstands now, includes previews and stats for every driver and every track.
Kyle Larson checks in at No. 15 in our countdown. Here’s what his season could look like on the track and on your fantasy team:
“I think all teams go through ups and downs,” says one former driver who doesn’t think the fact that Larson failed to win a race last season was all on Larson. “Even (team co-owner) Felix Sabates said it himself, that the Ganassi cars themselves need some work. So I think as tough as it is when it’s going on, you’ve got to be patient. When Kyle was running sprint cars and midgets, he could search around that dirt track and look for grip. In NASCAR, it’s very hard. The car has got to go.” …
“There’s no doubt after watching him win the XFINITY race at Homestead and watching him at the end of the Cup race there (to close the 2015 season), that’s his style of track,” a former crew chief says. “We’ve seen him run well at these tracks where he can chase grooves, like (Auto Club) Speedway. Give him a track with multiple grooves, where he can make the car work, and Kyle is going to stand out. But if you put Kyle Larson in a box, where you go to Indianapolis Motor Speedway and you can only run in this one groove, and it’s off. You’ve got to have the car.
“To sum it all up, Kyle Larson can use his talent on a racetrack where he can move the car around. But when you take him to the track where the car has to handle in one groove, the car’s got to go right. And right now, he’s just a victim, waiting for the engineering and stuff to catch up on that team. They’re a little behind.”
Sophomore Slump: A mythical curse surrounding a driver’s second season proved true in Larson’s case. He suffered drops in average finish, top 5s, top 10s and lead-lap finishes while watching his DNFs rise from four to six. The good news? Larson may be a cheap buy in salary leagues, and drivers with upward potential tend to rebound in their third seasons.
Which is which? Two of Larson’s career top-5 finishes came at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2014. But last season he struggled, posting results of 31st and 17th. Such will be the problem for fantasy owners in 2016 — figuring out whether to expect “rookie Larson” or the guy who struggled in 2015.
Starting strong: Larson did improve his average start last season (13.3, 14th best). But he couldn’t hold his ground. He was dead last of 75 drivers measured in NASCAR’s “Closer” statistic (positions gained or lost over the last 10 percent of the race).
Soccer or football, as it is primarily known to everyone outside of the United States, is the most popular sport in the world. It is also the fastest growing sport in America. Much like fantasy sports, its popularity seems to increase two-fold with each passing year. Fantasy soccer leagues are popping up all over the U.S. and around the globe. If you’re going to join a fantasy soccer league, you’re going to need a name for your team. We scoured the Internet to accumulate what we think are some of the funniest, silliest, craziest, and edgiest fantasy soccer team names to help get you started in your quest for fantasy soccer glory. In no particular order, here they are…
Game of Throw-Ins
99 Problems, but a Pitch ain’t 1
Sons of Pitches!
2 Goals 1 Cup
I Bent My Set Piece
That Red Card Life
Man Chest Hair United
Arse ‘n’ All
Queens Park Strangers
Leave My Arse-elona!
Kings of Lyon
Eye of the Schweinsteiger
Busquets and Gravy
Tea and Busquets
Don’t Call Me Schürrle
How I Met Your Mata
The Big Lewandowski
Dukes of Hazard
Dirty Sánchez Messi Pepe
Petr Cech Yourself
Robben You Blind
Motor Boateng Man Titty
Green Eggs and Lahm
Silence of the Lahms
Every Day I’m Schneiderlin
Teenage Mutant Ninja Skrtels
Neymar Mr. Nice Guy
Benteke Fried Chicken
Best Team Evra!
Who Ate All DePays?
Willian Dollar Baby
Klose, but no cigar!
Kroos-ing for a Bruising
Ctrl Alt De Laet
Beat around de Buchy
The Kouyaté Kid
For Fuchs Sake
No Fuchs Given
Chicken Fried Reus
Moves Like Agger
No Weimann No Cry
Pjanic at the Disco
Kane You Kick it?
Slum Dog Mignolet
Lord of the Ings
Ronaldo-nuts or Ronaldoughnuts
The Wizard of Özil
About to Get Messi
I Smell Pu Nani
Not a Kalou
Klopp Goes the Weasel
Phantom of the Chopra
Bale Me Out!
Pleased to Michu
Baines on Toast
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS
Losing the Super Bowl can't be easy.
Cam Newton looked unrecognizable after the Panthers tough Super Bowl loss to the Broncos. Obviously overcome with emotion, the quarterback did his best to answer the questions.
Not the best look for Cam in the postgame presser pic.twitter.com/HVxQWX3CZn— Tadd Haislop (@TaddHaislop) February 8, 2016
Marshawn Lynch has always tried to fly under the radar.
During Super Bowl 50, the Seahawks running back hinted at retirement with one cryptic tweet. After reports from Adam Schefter that Lynch has told close friends and family his plans to retire, he puts the speculation to rest.
You have to hand it to Beastmode, that has to be the most Marshawn Lynch way to announce he's hanging up the cleats. If he is done, it's been a heck of a ride. We're thankful.
Admit it when you heard Beyonce and Bruno Mars were added to the halftime roster, you were excited.
No disrespect to Coldplay but the Super Bowl halftime performance got a major upgrade from other stars.
Lady Gaga as you've probably never seen her before.
The loud costumes and crazy aura of the singer was long gone as she tremendously tamed it down to sing the National Anthem for Super Bowl 50. Fans were pleasantly surprised at the pipes on Gaga, as it's not the dance-style of music they're used to hearing her sing.
If the dab was dead, you better believe Betty White just resurrected it.
Before Super Bowl 50 kicked off the former Golden Girl hit the dab better than most who have tried.
Betty White, dabbing since the Golden Girls. pic.twitter.com/2vxJ2XzZ2Q— Jasmine Watkins (@JasmineLWatkins) February 7, 2016
Cam Newton, you've got some competition.
Those who believed head coach Mike Riley saw his time at Nebraska as a cushy retirement gig should officially have their perspectives altered.
A press release came out at just after 3 p.m. CST on Friday by Assistant Athletic Director Keith Mann noting that defensive line coach Hank Hughes had been relieved of his duties. Riley’s comments were brief yet curious.
“I want to thank Hank for his hard work and contributions to our football program over the past year,” Riley said. “We continue to build our program with the pursuit of championships always at the forefront of everything we do, and we will look for a great coach, teacher and recruiter to enhance our defense.”
That second sentence immediately brings up the question of whether or not Hughes fit that mold.
While Nebraska did extremely well against the run in 2015, one has to wonder how much of that was defensive coordinator Mark Banker’s scheme or Hughes’ coaching. Maybe even what amount was from column A and what from column B.
Hughes’ recruiting has been a topic of conversation ever since his hire and with Nebraska not pulling in an elite defensive tackle in this past class, the murmurs became loud enough to hear from one booth of one Sunday morning Nebraskan breakfast table to the next.
The removal of the Huskers’ most recent defensive line coach comes as welcome news to fans not just because of preference for other talent. Riley has done something that his predecessors seemingly weren’t keen on: cutting coaching staff fat and/or firing buddies.
Fans practically carried torches and pitchforks as Bill Callahan refused to let go of defensive coordinator and friend Kevin Cosgrove, a move that may have ultimately cost him his job. One of the worst kept secrets of the Bo Pelini era was that Pelini liked to be surrounded with people he knew.
No doubt Riley wishes Hughes no ill will. However, note that wide receivers coach Keith Williams and linebackers coach Trent Bray’s raises were made public two days before National Signing Day while the defensive line coach is let go a mere two days after. It’s clear that Riley encourages coffee (or pizza) for closers and offers no time for those who can’t complete all necessary tasks to be a part of his staff.
This should be extremely encouraging to all Husker faithful.
Nebraska fans have been begging for a coach that shows a little chutzpah, a recruiter that knows how to run a program and represents it in a way that they can be proud of.
How intriguing it is that it appears everyone who proudly wears the biggest “N” on Saturdays may get all that from the “career .500 coach” who’s allegedly too old or too nice, yet corralled a top-25 recruiting class after a 6-7 year.
Riley’s message to Nebraska fans and to the college football world is simple. Unlike those who came before him, he’s not going to waste the good people of Husker Nation’s time with "good enough."
Cam Newton always knew he was destined for better things.
Last July, the Panthers quarterback dropped in on Kevin Plank, Under Armour CEO, and spoke his trip to the Super Bowl into existence. If Newton goes on to win, it will be a great story to come full-circle.
"I don't have a Super Bowl ring, but I guarantee you, this year, next year, year after that, I will be putting myself in the rankings to win a Super Bowl," Newton said.
When Bronco Mendenhall left to take the head coach position at Virginia, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe emphasized the importance of recruiting for the next head coach.
When Kalani Sitake was hired to be the Cougars’ new head coach, the consensus from people that have known him is that he is a tremendous recruiter who has a knack for forming relationships.
For the six weeks that Sitake has been in charge of running BYU’s football program, there has been one common theme, recruit, recruit, and recruit some more. Sitake and his staff have made it clear that recruiting is a never-ending process that consumes the program 365 days a year. That attitude is a complete 180-degree turn from Mendenhall’s regime. There were far too many stories under Mendenhall that saw top talent within the state of Utah not holding BYU offers for reasons few could comprehend.
In six short weeks, Sitake and his staff of coaches formed relationships and sold the vision of BYU football to the masses, and it resulted in BYU’s highest-rated recruiting class by Rivals.com since 2010. In Athlon Sports’ consensus team rankings, the Cougars check in at No. 52, ahead of several Power 5 conference schools, including Missouri, Washington State and Georgia Tech.
Here are the five things we’ve learned about BYU with National Signing Day now in the rearview mirror.
1. BYU has entered the modern world of recruiting
Sounds like a comment that would make you say, “well, duh.” But the thing is, Sitake has brought a new attitude and, dare I say, swagger to BYU football again? Recruiting is the foundation of BYU’s program now. No longer are you going to hear about kids needing to sell themselves to BYU. The new coaches understand it is no longer a lock for BYU to land the top LDS talent anymore. Schools around the country now are recruiting that top Mormon talent and BYU has to be aggressive in its recruiting, and Sitake’s staff has made that clear from the start.
2. Human capital
The week before signing day, Holmoe addressed the media for a semi-annual Q&A regarding BYU’s athletic department. One particular comment stood out to me when listening to Holmoe, and it showed for BYU on National Signing Day. Holmoe said that BYU might not have the resources and finances like schools in the Power 5 conferences, but what they lack in financials compared to the P5 schools they have in human capital.
That capital spreads around the world with BYU alumni and the Cougars’ passionate fan base, but also within their own coaching staff. All-time great BYU quarterback and 1990 Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer takes on his first college job as an offensive coordinator and instantly gains the attention of recruits when he talks about his illustrious career. Sitake and defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki have coached NFL players dating back to their days at Utah. You know that Star Lotuleilei guy who’s on the Carolina Panthers? Yeah, he’s going to be playing in Sunday’s Super Bowl, and Sitake and Tuiaki coached him during his time at the University of Utah.
3. Big jump in recruiting rankings
According to Rivals.com, BYU had the seventh-highest jump in team recruiting rankings from the class of 2015 to this year. In 2015, BYU’s class ranked 67th. This 2016 class came in at No. 48. It’s the first time BYU has finished in the top 50 of Rivals’ rankings since 2010.
4. Instant-impact players
Most schools get excited about the possibilities of their team after National Signing Day with all the new talent that’ll be joining their program in the fall. At a place like BYU, the excitement has to be toned down just a tad. Why? It has to do with that supposed advantage BYU has over every other program in the country, the two-year LDS mission.
More than half (14) of BYU’s 26 signees will be serving a mission right away, but there are still a few players that BYU is hoping to get immediate contributions from this fall.
Defensive back Troy Warner was once an Oregon commit, but changed his mind. His hometown USC Trojans came after him, with it coming down to them and BYU. Ultimately, Warner signed with BYU and is already in school.
Junior college transfers Handsome Tanielu (DT) and Jonah Trinnaman (WR) were each pursued by a number of Power 5 programs as well. All three signees could end up starting right away for the Cougars.
5. Looking to build depth
As BYU continues on its independent path, the Cougars are starting to face some of their toughest schedules in program history. BYU will need to continue building depth in order to compete week in and week out with the Power 5 programs it has lined up. The 26 players BYU signed is a step in the direction towards building that depth, even if the Cougars have to wait a little longer for some of these players to arrive on campus. Ultimately though, the numbers game won’t work in BYU’s favor unless Sitake and the coaching staff are able to develop this incoming talent and help these players reach their potential.
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is publisher of Rivals' BYU site, CougarNation.com, and also is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Louisville announced a self-impose ban from the ACC and NCAA tournaments for 2016.
Official: No ACC Tournament or NCAA Tournament for Louisville in 2016.— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) February 5, 2016
The NCAA is investigating a woman's claims that she and others were paid thousands of dollars to have sex with Louisville players and recruits during a span of four years beginning in 2010. Katrina Powell wrote a book saying the former director of basketball operations for Louisville, Andre McGee, gave her and escorts payment somewhere in the $10,000 range.
The news comes as a shock to head coach Rick Pitino and players on the team as the program may have to pay for the wrongdoing of previous teams. Pitino said he planned to see the process through and was sure the truth would come out and the school would do the right thing.
Rick Pitino: "None of this still to this day makes any sense to me, any of the actions that went on ... I still can't figure out why."— SI College Hoops (@si_ncaabb) February 5, 2016
Rick Pitino: "This is a punishment I never thought would happen this season. This is as harsh a punishment I've seen."— David Gardner (@byDavidGardner) February 5, 2016
You have to feel for Cardinals senior Damion Lee, who was a grad transfer to Drexel who came to Louisville obviously with the understanding he would be playing in the postseason, or at least have the opportunity to.
Let's face it, there are times when the Super Bowl can get boring. To keep things interesting, we put together this Super Bowl 50 Bingo card. As each thing happens (and it will), celebrate with an adult beverage, or whatever spices up your big game gathering.
Despite spending most of the season recruiting as an interim, Helton was able to pry away some serious talent from across the country. The Trojans’ haul also came in at No. 11 per ESPN, good enough for the No. 1 recruiting class in the Pac-12. Overall, USC checks in at No. 9 in Athlon Sports' consensus recruiting rankings.
College Football Podcast: 2016 National Signing Day Recap
So, what are the main takeaways from Helton's new group of recruits?
1. USC loaded up on skill position players
If someone were to sit down and compare the USC offense during the Pete Carroll era to the offense the Trojans have put on the field the last five years, the differences would be night and day. Whereas Carroll’s teams were seemingly loaded at every position, the past couple years have seen USC’s offense become less varied and more predictable.
While injuries and sanctions no doubt played their part, USC’s offense has never come close to recapturing the fear Trojan skill players used to put in opposing teams. For example, last year teams figured out that they could double-team top wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster because the Trojans hadn’t found players capable of replacing that kind of productivity on a week-in, week-out basis.
“The wideout corps that we signed, I think, has to be one of the tops in the country,” Helton said. “I think sometimes as a head football coach and a staff, you have to look for not only the season coming up, but you also have to see what’s going on in the future. With the dynamic of us possibly losing several young men after this season and how special a group this class was, we really felt that we needed to load up.”
To restock the offense, USC signed five wide receivers, two athletes, a tight end, and a running back. Three of those players were consensus 5-star prospects, which means they got the highest rating possible across the recruiting services. Those players are: Tyler Vaughns (WR), Michael Pittman (WR), and Jack Jones (ATH). Josh Imatorbhebhe (WR), Trevon Sidney (WR), Cary Angeline (TE), and Vavae Malepeai (RB) were 4-star players, according to Scout. Velus Jones (WR) and Keyshawn Young (ATH) were rated as 3-stars by Scout, but are higher on other services.
"When you look at [the skill players], you’re talking about the best of the best in the country,” Helton said. “This group is going to be a great legacy here at USC and provide tremendous explosion. Not only down the field, but what I was impressed with each one of them was their ability to make yards after the catch.”
2. Family and academics will the mantra for Helton
Follow recruiting long enough and you’ll start to notice a few things. Among these are the catchphrases and mantras coaches use on the recruiting trail. These phrases and statements often become hashtags or war cries for the team, but they’re marketing tools at their very core.
Family, academics, and understanding what it means to be a Trojan have been the centerpiece of every conversation Helton has had about recruiting, whether it’s referring to the class as a whole or individual prospects. While some of these mantras can be cheesy, there is a very soft and genuine nature to what Helton preaches. Perhaps this is because Helton feels he’s the last guy you’d expect to be the face of the Trojans, but that’s not a bad thing.
In order to be successful in coaching and recruiting, people have to stay within themselves. It’s really no different than the advice coaches dispense to players — “stay within your own game and you’ll be fine.” But while this is a concept a bunch of coaches teach almost daily, very few live it off the field. They try to emulate and copy the style of successful coaches. Now there is nothing wrong with taking bits and parts from successful people, but none of that will matter if the coach doesn’t add a personal touch to his message. Everything Helton does and says feels personal and from the heart.
Whether or not it’s true, experts tend to associate the USC job with an outspoken, vibrant and colorful personality. Helton is by no means bland, but he certainly is more laidback and easy-going than the likes of Carroll or even Ed Orgeron. It works for Helton, though. When Helton speaks, there is a sincerity and warmth to the conversation. The more you pay attention to Helton’s demeanor, the more you begin to understand why he was able to close with such an impressive recruiting class.
Borrowing a phrase from the political season, Helton has the look and face of someone recruits can trust. The way he addresses the media, provides thoughtful analysis, and consistently spreads a message of love, progress, and understanding helps to contextualize some of his early successes at USC. Of course, winning February at USC has never been a problem.
It’s winning in November that seems to give the Trojans fits.
3. The trenches matter at USC once again
Physicality is something that has been lacking at USC for a couple of seasons now. Throughout the 2015 season, expert after expert commented how the Trojans were getting bullied by opposing teams at the line of scrimmage. Knowing how important it was for USC to improve on both lines, the staff set out to bring in guys they believe could have an immediate impact.
“Defensively, we thought it all started on the defensive line,” Helton said. “We captured four tremendous pass rushers. Our league is a passing league and you have to be able to get to the quarterback. When we were evaluating film, we really felt that these men were elite about putting pressure and getting to the quarterback, which is something we dearly needed. On the offensive side, it obviously starts with the offensive line.”
USC’s ability to recruit both lines this past cycle will certainly pay dividends later. The Trojans added seven linemen that combined to receive 27 stars, or an average of 3.87 stars per player. This group includes 5-star DT Oluwole Betiku, 4-star OT Nathan Smith, and 3-star DE Liam Jimmons during the early enrollment period. USC then added 4-stars OT Frank Martin II, DE Connor Murphy and OT E.J. Price, as well as 3-star DT Joshua Fatu, on National Signing Day.
When coupled with the previous hauls on both lines in the last two classes, USC will have little excuse for not physically dominating games.
4. Recruiting assistants were USC’s unsung heroes
Aside from being one of the most respected names in recruiting, USCFootball.com’s Gerard Martinez brought awareness to just how important USC’s administrative assistants were to the overall success of the Trojans’ recruiting class. Martinez noted that USC assistants Keynodo Hudson and Gavin Morris were critical to the recruitment of E.J. Price, Jack Jones, Jamel Cook and Pie Young.
Considered the authority on USC recruiting, Martinez is as plugged in and discerning as they come on the recruiting scene. If he felt the need to draw attention to the work done by Hudson and Morris, you can be sure that they were instrumental in securing a commitment for the Trojans. Acknowledging their efforts was Martinez’s way of stressing that the two assistants may have been the difference-maker for a couple recruits.
USC has largely been fighting an uphill battle after the NCAA sanctions ended. In theory, the coaching carousel at USC should have nuked the past couple of recruiting classes. Because of people like Tee Martin and the administrative assistants, USC has put together tremendous classes. More than that, the Trojans’ coaching staff has closed incredibly strong over the last three years and recruits notice that.
Experts joke that assistants can almost matter more than the head coach. These types of efforts are what inspire those comments. Kudos to Martinez for highlighting it.
5. USC’s brand is stronger than ever
The names Matthew Thomas, Jalen Ramsey and De’Anthony Thomas make USC fans shudder for a reason. DAT is often talked about as one of the biggest signing day surprises because of his famous flip from USC to Oregon. USC thought it had a pair of talented 5-stars with Thomas and Ramsey, but lost both of them to Florida State and haven’t stopped mentioning it since. Wednesdays represented a chance at retribution, of sorts.
Not only did USC’s class feature players from six different states, the Trojans also flipped a couple of highly coveted prospects from Oregon and Florida State on National Signing Day. Running back Vavae Malepeai shocked everyone when he picked USC over Oregon and S Jamel Cook was a bit of a surprise flipping from Florida State to USC.
There is really no such thing as getting even in recruiting, but it didn’t hurt the Trojan brand that they could steal a Polynesian running back from Oregon and a 4-star defensive back out of Miami from Florida State. The Trojans also pulled a vaunted offensive tackle out of Georgia from underneath the Bulldogs’ feet. The growth of the brand was important enough for Helton to lead off his press conference by mentioning it.
“I’m also very proud of the brand that we are spreading across the country,” Helton said. “You look at the states that were represented with these signees — Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and then our own West Coast with California and Arizona. Six different states represented and spread across the country.”
Humorously enough, Helton misspoke. USC actually had seven different states represented. Linebacker Jordan Iosefa hails from Hawaii, but forgetting about the 50th state doesn’t exactly hurt Helton’s point.
The USC brand is growing, now it’s time for the coaches to do the same with the team and Helton is off to a great start.
— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Webb is a recruiting analyst for BarkBoard, Scout’s Fresno State affiliate. A contributor to USCFootball.com, Scout’s USC affiliate. He is also a regular guest and contributor for CFBHuddle. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.
New uniforms are a huge part of any college football offseason, and Kentucky is one of the first teams to unveil a new look for 2016.
On Friday, the Wildcats released their updated uniforms and helmets for the 2016 season.
These aren’t drastically different than the ones Kentucky used in 2015, but there are some solid tweaks to the uniforms.
Check out Kentucky’s new uniforms:
Introducing our new secondary logo. Honoring the school mascot, the wildcat. pic.twitter.com/6BPhLP4ylG— UK Stoops Troops (@UKStoopsTroops) February 5, 2016
Courtney love modeling new blue look pic.twitter.com/00prHpEeG4— Jon Hale (@JonHale_CJ) February 5, 2016
New UK football uniform white pic.twitter.com/RsHaGUYTnM— John Clay (@johnclayiv) February 5, 2016
Some logo, font, color pic.twitter.com/Syntj7hfwY— Jon Hale (@JonHale_CJ) February 5, 2016
UK will now have a new open-mouth Wildcat as a secondary logo pic.twitter.com/5c06xKTQDo— John Clay (@johnclayiv) February 5, 2016
This is not the Phoenix Suns' year.
They're losing a lot, and that's putting it nicely, and now Charles Barkley has gone on a bit of a rant about them. Some say you haven't made it until Sir Charles is talking about you.
On the bright side, there's nowhere to go but up from here.
Tennessee closed strong on National Signing Day, landing another crop of elite talent. The Volunteers brought in some of the nation's best skilled players, including dual-threat quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, safety Nigel Warrior, and athlete Marquez Callaway. The Vols also managed to flip Miami commits Tyler Byrd and Latrell Williams. This year, the focus was to bring in an athletic class and improve speed.
But amidst all the new skill position talent, Tennessee also managed to upgrade its trenches. For the third year in a row under head coach Butch Jones, the Vols brought in some big-time playmakers to control the line of scrimmage, which is a must when it comes to winning in the SEC. Tennessee now has scary depth on its offensive and defensive lines.
On offense, the Vols landed linemen Ryan Johnson, Marcus Tatum, and Nathan Niehaus. Johnson is the most college-ready of the offensive linemen, based on his size (6-7, 288). He has been committed to Tennessee for nearly two years. Johnson is rated as a 4-star player by most services. He has a strong upper body, but his best quality is his ability to pull across the line of scrimmage. He is massive and will probably make an immediate impact on Tennessee's offensive line.
Tatum and Niehaus are both mostly rated as 3-star players, partly due to being undersized. Both players check in at fewer than 260 pounds, which is relatively small for an SEC lineman. However, they share another attribute, which is essential in linemen. Both have an aggressive mean streak. They play to the whistle and drive their opponents into the ground, often laying on top of them for a couple of seconds. Most good run blockers want to physically punish their opponent. Tatum and Niehaus have big frames and will be capable of putting on weight. Once these guys get on campus and into Tennessee’s strength and conditioning program, their potential will skyrocket.
All three of Tennessee's signees on the offensive line are run blockers first, which bodes well for the future of the Vols' run-first offense.
College Football Podcast: 2016 National Signing Day Recap
Defensively, the story on National Signing Day was drama. Nobody really knew throughout the day where stud JUCO defensive end Jonathan Kongbo was headed, especially when his commitment time kept changing. When he announced on Wednesday afternoon that he would be a Volunteer, it provided a sigh of relief for Tennessee's coaches and fans. Kongbo was formerly committed to the Vols, but recently opened up his recruitment. Tennessee's upgrade to Bob Shoop as defensive coordinator had a lot to do with Kongbo's decision to come to Knoxville. Kongbo is rated as the top JUCO player in the nation by some recruiting services, for good reason. He has a remarkably quick swim move, allowing him to shed offensive tackles with ease.
Also, his pursuit angles are nearly perfected. When he goes to tackle a ball carrier, he rarely misses. When Kongbo committed, Jones said "Our defense just got a lot better." Indeed.
The Vols also picked up JUCO defenisve tackle Alexis Johnson, who last played for Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College. He is rated as the No. 2 JUCO defensive tackle in the country. There aren't many guys out there who do a better job of clogging up the middle. Johnson is college-ready in terms of size (6-4, 297). His best qualities are his lower body strength and ability to stay flat down the line of scrimmage. He even picked off a pass while playing spy coverage last season.
In the past two recruiting classes, the Vols' coaching staff has focused on building the trenches. This time, its focus was on speed. But even with that, Tennessee still managed to add some physical offensive linemen and elite defensive linemen. The depth Tennessee has inside this year could be legendary. The Vols may finally be in a position to compete for an SEC championship with an experienced roster.