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Braden Gall, David Fox and Mitch Light officially preview the ACC in 2016.

 

- The State of the ACC Union is much stronger after last week's big announcements. The ACC Network is coming, the Grant of Rights has been extended and Notre Dame has been promised to the ACC.

 

- However, it could be what took place this offseason in the coaching ranks that takes the ACC to the next level of national prominence.

 

- Could Clemson and Florida State both make the Playoff? The guys all agree on something for once and try to poke holes in two great teams.

 

- Which teams are best suited to knock the Tigers or Noles off? Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Miami appear to be the top challengers. What are the strengths, weaknesses and concerns for each of the top challengers?

 

- Is Lamar Jackson really ready for stardom? Does the Hokies schedule make them the favorite in the Coastal? Is Mitch Trubisky capable of keeping the top offense in the nation clicking? Will the Mark Richt-Brad Kaaya marriage bring new love to South Florida?

 

- How good can Pitt be?

 

- Wake Forest, Boston College, NC State and Georgia Tech could all get to a bowl game this year but Duke may not? That doesn't sound right.

 

- How will new coaches fare at Syracuse and Virginia?

 

Check out the .

 

You can order your preseason .

 

Send any ideas, questions or comments to  @AthlonMitch or @DavidFox615 or email . The podcast can be found on  and our .

Teaser:
Podcast: Official 2016 ACC Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/5-reasons-why-utah-pac-12-souths-sleeper-team-2016
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The Pac-12 doesn’t have a clear frontrunner to win the conference title in 2016, but there’s no shortage of intrigue surrounding the league. Washington, Stanford, Oregon, UCLA and USC are the early favorites to win the conference and compete for a playoff spot, but with little separation among the top teams, a dark horse contender could emerge.

 

Utah is coming off its best record (10-3) since joining the Pac-12 and returns 11 starters for 2016. The Utes have one of the nation’s top defenses in place, along with a strong ground attack and offensive line. The development of the passing attack is the biggest concern for coach Kyle Whittingham, but the pieces are still in place to win the South Division. The schedule is also on Utah’s side. The Utes host Oregon and Washington in crossover play with the North Division, and USC visits Salt Lake City in late September.

 

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UCLA and USC are generating most of the preseason attention as the Pac-12 South favorite. But could Utah surprise both teams and claim the division crown? Here are five reasons to believe the Utes could surprise in 2016:

 

5 Reasons Why Utah Can Surprise in the Pac-12 South in 2016

 

1. Defense Wins Championships

The honor of the best defense in the Pac-12 for 2016 is a toss up between Washington and Utah. Regardless of which team deserves the No. 1 spot, the Huskies and Utes are both among the nation’s best on this side of the ball. Defense is where Utah has made its mark in the Pac-12, as the Utes led the league in fewest yards per play allowed in 2011, ranked fourth in 2014 and third in 2015. Additionally, this unit has recorded 92 sacks over the last two years. New coordinator Morgan Scalley won’t allow this defense to miss a beat in 2016, as the Utes return six starters, including three first-team All-Pac-12 selections by Athlon Sports – end Kylie Fitts, tackle Lowell Lotulelei and safety Marcus Williams. The Utes led the Pac-12 in rush defense last fall and allowed only 13 passing scores in nine conference games. While the linebacking corps has to be retooled, the defensive line and secondary rank near the top of the Pac-12 in terms of the best defensive units returning in 2016. Expect the Utes to field another shutdown defense this fall.

 

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2. The Utes Win the Battle at the Line of Scrimmage

The unquestioned strength of Utah’s 2016 squad is up front in the trenches. With four returning starters, the Utes are competing with USC for the nod as the Pac-12’s top offensive line. This unit only gave up 19 sacks in conference play and cleared the way for Utah to average 183 rushing yards a game last season. Some shuffling could be in order after Hiva Lutui’s career ended due to injury, but there’s a strong foundation in place with the return of Athlon Sports fourth-team All-American J.J. Dielman and standout guard Isaac Asiata. Additionally, Garett Bolles was one of the nation’s top junior college recruits and should figure prominently into the mix up front. On defense, Utah possesses the top line in the Pac-12 and one of the best in the nation. Kylie Fitts and Hunter Dimick lead a standout pass rush off the edges, while junior Lowell Lotulelei anchors a stout run defense. The battle at the point of attack isn’t as flashy as quarterback play or skill players. However, the line of scrimmage is where games are won and lost. Utah’s offensive and defensive lines are among the best in the nation and will carry this team in 2016.

 

Ranking the Conferences in 2016



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3. Joe Williams is a Capable Replacement for Devontae Booker

A Utah running back has eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in four out of the last five years. Devontae Booker led the way on the ground by recording 1,261 yards last season, but he missed the final three games due to injury, opening the door for Joe Williams to get an early audition for the starting job. Williams recorded at least 25 carries in each of the final three games and rushed for 399 yards and three scores in that span. Even though Booker leaves big shoes to fill in Salt Lake City, Utah’s ground attack shouldn’t miss a beat with Williams receiving the bulk of the carries.

 

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4. Upside in the Passing Game?

The passing attack is the biggest question mark surrounding Utah’s offense in 2016. However, the Utes haven’t finished higher than ninth in the Pac-12 in passing offense over the last five seasons, so this team can contend without an elite aerial assault. Travis Wilson finished his career by throwing for 2,095 yards and 13 scores last year, leaving a three-man battle for the starting nod in 2016. Junior Brandon Cox is the team’s most-experienced option in a Utah uniform (three career pass attempts), but the other quarterbacks on the roster – junior college recruit Troy Williams and freshman Tyler Huntley – bring a lot of upside to the passing game. Williams started his career at Washington and transferred to Santa Monica College for an opportunity to start in 2015. He threw for 2,750 yards and 31 scores last season and ranked as a four-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite. Huntley enrolled in time to compete in spring practice and impressed in his first semester on campus. The passing game certainly has question marks at quarterback and receiver, but Utah can lean on its ground attack and defense until this position is settled. While Williams and Huntley are unproven at the FBS level, both players have a lot of upside and could help spark a passing game that connected on only 12 passes of 30 yards or more in 2015.

 

5. The Timing is Right for a Wild Card Winner in the South

The Pac-12 enters 2016 without a clear favorite in either division. Washington, Oregon, Stanford and Washington State are all generating consideration for the North, while USC, UCLA and Utah are in the mix for the South. Considering the gap between contenders seems to be pretty small, the climate is right for a dark horse pick to emerge. Utah is also coming off its best record (10-3) since joining the Pac-12 and also finished No. 17 in the Associated Press poll – the highest mark by the program since 2009. 

 

Bonus: Utah kicker Andy Phillips is One of the Best in the Nation

Punter Tom Hackett won’t be easy to replace, but Utah’s special teams are still among the best in the Pac-12 with the return of kicker Andy Phillips. Over the last three seasons, Phillips has connected on 63 of 75 field goals and 132 extra points. With Utah likely to be involved in a handful of close games this season, Phillips could be the difference in a couple of contests. He’s also a second-team All-American pick by Athlon Sports for 2016. 

 

Podcast: Official 2016 Big 12 Preview



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Teaser:
5 Reasons Why Utah is the Pac-12 South's Sleeper Team in 2016
Post date: Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - 12:00
Path: /fantasy/college-fantasy-football-2016-tight-end-rankings
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While the days of daily college football appear to be over (sadly), the season-long game remains alive and well as we head into the 2016 season.

 

To help those collage fantasy diehards, Athlon Sports has positional rankings to assist in your preparations for the upcoming draft season. Below is the scoring system used to comprise these rankings.

 

Passing Yards, 25 yards = 1 point

Passing TD = 4 points

Rushing Yards, 10 yards = 1 point

Rushing TDs = 6 points

Receptions = 0.5 points per reception

Receiving Yards, 10 yards = 1 point

Receiving TDs = 6 points

 

2016 College Fantasy Positional Rankings: I I  I

 

2016 College Fantasy Football TE Rankings

 

1. Jaylen Samuels, NC State

Samuels is the Swiss army knife of college football with the ability to play running back, fullback, receiver and tight end for the Wolfpack. For the purposes of this ranking, we have Samuels listed at tight end where he certainly separates himself from his peers in terms of fantasy production – projected at three fantasy points per game higher than the next closest tight end. Samuels’ numbers on the ground are likely to be down with starting running back Matt Dayes fully healthy, but he will continue to be an integral part of NC State’s rushing and passing offense.

 

2. Jonnu Smith, FIU

Smith’s numbers were down in 2015 as he only played in eight games due to a season-ending knee injury, but is reportedly 100 percent healthy heading into fall camp. Smith led FIU in receiving in each of the previous two seasons prior, and had his best game of last year prior to the knee injury with 10 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns against Old Dominion. Given the way FIU utilizes its tight ends (combined 78 catches), and Smith’s clean bill of health, the senior is in line for another big year.

 

3. Billy Freeman, San Jose State

Freeman led the Spartans in catches (48), receiving yards (586) and touchdowns (6) last season, though part of that can be attributed to a depleted receiving corps that should be much improved in 2016. With Kenny Potter now the full-time starter at quarterback, the passing game should be upgraded and lead to an increase in targets among all receivers and tight ends – Freeman being at the center of that.

 

4. Ryan Yurachek, Marshall

Yurachek only had 417 receiving yards despite 44 catches, but was a major red-zone threat for the Thundering Herd, as he led the team with nine touchdown grabs. With a depleted receiving group, targets should only increase for the junior tight end who was quarterback Chase Litton’s best friend in the passing game last season.

 

5. Gerald Everett, South Alabama

The first of three Sun Belt tight ends on this list, Everett led the Jaguars in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Everett also was used frequently as a goal-line rushing option, finishing the year with four rushing scores. As if Everett didn’t do enough, he also threw a touchdown pass in 2015. South Alabama will be breaking in a new starting quarterback so there are questions about the passing game, but as you can see, Everett finds the end zone in a multitude of ways.

 

6. Buck Cowan, Idaho

The tight end position is utilized often in the Idaho offense with juniors Cowan and Deon Watson combining for 90 catches, nearly 1,200 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns last season. More of a hybrid WR/TE, Watson is moving to receiver full-time in 2016, which should allow for more targets headed in Cowan’s direction. More than 50 receptions is the expectation.

 

7. David Njoku, Miami

Njoku did not rank this highly a few weeks ago, but with the news of projected starting receiver Lawrence Cager now out for the year due to injury, the sophomore tight end could see some additional reps outside at receiver. That should be no issue at all as Njoku is one of the best athletes on the team, as shown by his team-high 17 yards per reception average as a freshman.

 

8. Jake Butt, Michigan

There is a reason why Jim Harbaugh recruits two or three tight ends every cycle – they are utilized early and often, and then some more in his offense. A second team All-American a year ago, Butt returns for his senior season as the premier tight end in college football, but comes in at No. 8 for fantasy purposes because of his low touchdown totals as he has accounted for just seven in three seasons. That and quarterback concerns for the Wolverines drops his stock on this list.

 

9. Mark Andrews, Oklahoma

Unlike Jake Butt, all Andrews does is score touchdowns. On just 19 catches, Andrews was second on the team in touchdown receptions with seven – good for sixth amongst tight ends in the country. With Sterling Shepard no longer around, the ball figures to be spread out more amongst the surplus of receivers for the Sooners, likely resulting in a significant rise in receptions from Andrews in 2016.

 

10. George Kittle, Iowa

Even as the backup last season, Kittle was an integral part of the Hawkeyes’ offense, finishing fourth on the team in catches (20) and was the team leader in touchdowns with six. Now that Henry Krieger-Coble has graduated, Kittle moves into a starting role in 2016 and could very well double his reception totals. Iowa starting tight ends have averaged more than 32 catches a season over the last five years.

 

11. Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech

Hodges is one of the more physically-imposing tight ends in college football and a massive (6-7) red-zone threat. The redshirt junior made a surprising decision to bypass the NFL and return for another season, and is likely to benefit from new head coach Justin Fuente, who is known as more of an offensive mind than his predecessor. Forty-plus catches and six or seven touchdowns seems to be the standard for Hodges.

 

12. Jordan Leggett, Clemson

Leggett had a breakout season last year with 40 receptions for 525 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns. But Leggett faces a similar situation to that of the other Clemson receiving threats – are there enough targets to go around? With Mike Williams back in the fold, as well as Deon Cain being back in the coaches’ good graces, Clemson has its full complement of receivers heading into 2016. A decline in touchdowns would not surprise one bit.

 

13. Terry Pettis, Middle Tennessee

New Middle Tennessee offensive coordinator Tony Franklin did wonders the last two years at Cal with an athletic hybrid TE/WR in Stephen Anderson, and now inherits a similar type of player this season in Pettis. An excellent athlete, Pettis finished third on the team last year in receptions and touchdowns, averaging more 21 yards per catch. I am expecting the senior to become the No. 2 target in the MTSU offense behind star receiver Richie James.

 

14. Jake Roh, Boise State

Boise State’s lack of a proven No. 3 receiver behind Thomas Sperbeck and Chaz Anderson bumps Roh higher up the list as he should become the third option in the passing game in 2016. All Boise State pass catchers are expected to see their numbers rise as quarterback Brett Rypien continues to develop, and Roh should post his highest totals as a junior.

 

15. Evan Engram, Ole Miss

Engram absolutely belongs among the top five tight ends in the country, but where are the touchdowns? In three seasons, Engram has a total of just seven with his freshman year (3) being his high-water marker thus far. He should be able to top that number as a senior, but projecting a significant jump seems unrealistic.


16. Cam Serigne, Wake Forest
17. Keith Rucker, Georgia State
18. Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas
19. Cole Hikutini, Louisville
20. Brandon Lingen, Minnesota
21. Darrell Daniels, Washington
22. DeAndre Goolsby, Florida
23. Barrett Burns, Appalachian State
24. Elkanah Dillon, South Florida
25. Tyler Cameron, Florida Atlantic
26. Dalton Schultz, Stanford
27. Daniel Montiel, Memphis
28. Mason Schreck, Buffalo
29. Jacob Hollister, Wyoming
30. O.J. Howard, Alabama
 

— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2

Teaser:
College Fantasy Football 2016 Tight End Rankings
Post date: Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/why-ole-miss-will-wont-make-college-football-playoff-2016
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During the first month of the 2015 season, was on top of the college football world. Back-to-back 70-plus point performances to open the year only set the stage for going into Tuscaloosa and pulling off a big upset of Alabama for the second straight year. That victory, in many ways, gave the Rebels the keys to the College Football Playoff at the time and had many believing that the all-star recruiting classes head coach Hugh Freeze had hauled in were finally realizing their potential.

 

But such high hopes and big wins don’t mean much in the weekly grind that every season brings. A road loss to a resurgent Florida was a setback but not a killer to making the final four. Losses to Memphis and Arkansas did however, and turned a season that was potentially historic into just another great one for the Rebels. After throttling Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl and seeing a remarkable exodus from Oxford to the NFL in the offseason, the expectations remain high for the program but everybody seems to be wondering if Freeze and company can keep things rolling — especially in light of a difficult few months dealing with NCAA issues.

 

Related:

 

There are plenty of reasons to think Ole Miss can push past all that and remain in the running to and make another run at the Playoff though, led by record-setting quarterback Chad Kelly. Can the Rebels reach the final four that it looked like they were destined to early last season? Here are three reasons why Ole Miss will make the Playoff... and three reasons why they won’t.

 

Three Reasons Why Ole Miss Will Make the College Football Playoff

 

1. Chad Kelly is back behind center

It was extremely telling at SEC Media Days in July that only three of the league’s 14 teams brought a quarterback — and one hasn’t even started for them (Trevor Knight played at Oklahoma last year before moving to Texas A&M). Of those three, the player who was by far the most accomplished was Ole Miss’ signal-caller. After throwing for more than 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns, it’s easy to say that Kelly enters 2016 as the best quarterback in the SEC and he might be the best East of the Mississippi not named Deshaun Watson. Having him leading the team’s up-tempo offense is easily the biggest reason to think this could be another big year in Oxford.

 

2. The defense still has plenty of talent

Former No. 1 overall recruit Robert Nkemdiche has traded his Ole Miss blue and red for the red and black of the Arizona Cardinals. Tackling machine Mike Hilton also is no longer on campus after several seasons of quality play in the secondary. Former captain C.J. Johnson is among the others moving on after being a mainstay on the “Landshark” defense that was among the best units in the country the past few years. Despite all those losses, there’s still plenty of talent left for defensive coordinator Dave Wommack to work with. D.J. Jones and Tony Conner are two of the biggest names but don’t be surprised to see quality transfers like Rommel Mageo to help boost a unit that should still be highly regarded in the SEC.

 

3. They will use the NCAA scandal as a rallying point

It’s been a tumultuous offseason for just about everybody associated with the Ole Miss program and the biggest reason why centers around the 13 allegations leveled against the school by the NCAA and the subsequent defending of what happened by Freeze and his staffers. Add in further damage caused by the Laremy Tunsil NFL Draft night scandal and it’s pretty clear why the compliance office has been working overtime in Oxford. With all the negative headlines in recent months, you would be forgiven for thinking that some players may be spending too much time worrying about the future of Ole Miss football. To the contrary however, the pessimistic tone set by those outside the program could actually serve as a rallying cry for those inside the walls of the football facilities. Like USC back in 2011, don’t be surprised if all the attacks force the players to take an “us-vs-the-world” mentality that pays off on the field and in the win cloumn.

 

Three Reasons Why Ole Miss Will Not Make the College Football Playoff

 

1. There’s just too much star power to replace

Five Ole Miss players were taken in the 2016 NFL Draft, including an impressive three going in the first round. Those weren’t just quality players either; they were superstars for the Rebels who started multiple seasons. One just can’t replace a Laquon Treadwell overnight and expect everything to be ok no matter how much depth you have or how talented the recruiting class coming in is. It would be one thing to have other experienced players to help pick up the slack coming back too but Ole Miss returns the fewest number of starters (10 total, 5 on each side of the ball) in the entire SEC to further complicate things for the coaching staff.

 

2. The schedule is brutal

Not only does Ole Miss have to contend with a rough and tumble SEC West slate, but its schedule overall is among the toughest in the country and easily one of the most brutal first months of the season anywhere. In the opener the Rebels will have to contend with a team many think can make the College Football Playoff in Florida State and then have just two weeks after that to prepare for a back-to-back offering of division favorite Alabama and an always-talented Georgia. While both of those games are at home, trips to Arkansas, LSU and Texas A&M could prove rocky at best and anything can happen in the Egg Bowl to end the year. If the team winds up in the top 10 of the polls come January, Freeze and company certainly will have earned it.

 

3. Offensive line is a big, big question mark

Tunsil’s NFL Draft night gas mask snafu is the first thing people now think about regarding the former Ole Miss left tackle but that really glosses over just how good the No. 13 overall pick was protecting the blind side of Rebels quarterbacks. He certainly lived up to his lofty recruiting ranking early in his college career and was a big part in limiting the deep stable of pass rushers you see on a weekly basis in the SEC. While his absence will almost certainly be felt, the offensive line is an even bigger mystery for the team since all five players that started the bowl game are gone. There are players who have experience so it’s not a totally green unit coming back for 2016 but it says plenty about the situation Freeze is in that he will likely be protecting Kelly with either a true freshman (five-star signee Greg Little) or a converted quarterback/tight end (Jeremy Liggins).

 

Final Verdict

 

Expectations at Ole Miss are a tricky thing for anybody who has followed the program or knows how quickly a coach can get run out of town at even the faintest signs of slipping. After an up-and-down-and-then-up year in 2015, that puts a lot of pressure on Hugh Freeze to deliver yet another quality campaign despite losing a host of talent and having to deal with an ongoing NCAA scandal. The team has recruited at a high level to get to the point where there won’t be big dips in on-field performance and that’s what makes the team such a fascinating one to follow given all of the storylines.

 

Ole Miss may not win the SEC West in 2016 but even it doesn’t, the Rebels should play a role in which team does given their amount of talent and depth on the roster. Another top-10 finish certainly isn’t out of the question but the team will have to battle through tests early and often if it is to wind up in a New Year’s Six bowl game for the third straight season. Saying the Rebels will make the Playoff might be a bit much but the door isn’t shut on them doing just that in what should be a wild and interesting year for Freeze and his football team.

 

Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 10

Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 9-3

Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 8.5

5 Dimes Projected Over/Under Odds: 8

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at .

Teaser:
Why Ole Miss Will or Won’t Make the College Football Playoff in 2016
Post date: Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/why-connecticut-should-or-shouldnt-join-big-12
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Just when you thought it was all over, the has reversed course and pulled schools across the country back into the murky waters of college realignment. After going back and forth for months on the subject, commissioner Bob Bowlsby surprised many in the college athletics world at the league’s media days by saying the Big 12 is essentially opening its doors to new members.

 

Related: 

 

There should be no shortage of schools that want to walk through those doors to join the Power Five club and Bowlsby’s phones are likely to be ringing off the hook over the next six to nine months. While the latest round of musical chairs won’t be quite as involved as in recent years, it nevertheless should make for a fascinating 2016.

 

But who should get in? Who shouldn’t stand a chance? We’ve already gone over the case for and against , and , but what about ?

 

Three Reasons Why Connecticut Should Join the Big 12

 

1. They’re one of the biggest basketball brands available

If the Big 12 opts to go with the athletic department with the most rings, UConn is going to be the easy choice for the conference. The Huskies are among the biggest basketball brands in the country for both men and women and are annually in the running for the national title in both sports. If the Big 12 wants to create a strong hoops league to help rival the ACC, making UConn play Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor and others on an annual basis will make for a nice addition.

 

2. ESPN’s backyard

Being an hour away from ESPN hasn’t made UConn a crown jewel in the conference realignment swirl but it certainly doesn’t hurt to be in the worldwide leader’s backyard. The four letter network has a relationship with the school dating back to its founding and there are a healthy dose of alumni roaming the campus in Bristol to this day. Having a Power Five program nearby likely sounds more appealing given its absence in recent years after the school left the Big East. Proximity to New York and Boston also is going to be seen as a big plus.

 

Podcast: Big 12 Expansion Analysis Preview



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3. They have a quality academic profile

Of all the potential expansion targets, UConn grades the highest when it comes to academics — no small thing when you consider that it will be school presidents extending invites. They’re tops among potential schools in U.S. News & World Report rankings and easily the top public university the conference seems to be considering. The state itself has pumped quite a bit of resources into its flagship university and it’s paid off in increasing UConn’s academic profile.

 

Three Reasons Why Connecticut Shouldn’t Join the Big 12

 

1. Storrs is a long way from everybody

A 2,000-mile road trip from Texas to Connecticut doesn’t exactly scream fun and it is really complicated given how many Big 12 schools are in college towns and not next door to major cities (and major airports). Along those lines, trying to get the women’s soccer team from Manhattan, Kansas, to Storrs sounds like a costly and logistical nightmare. Sure charters help for the big sports like football and basketball but when you multiply things out to 20-plus sports, things aren’t so simple. Even as a Northeast lifeline to West Virginia, UConn doesn’t make all that much sense given that Storrs is still a eight-hour drive away.

 

2. They don’t truly deliver the New York City/Boston markets

UConn has a good fan base but the idea that the Huskies are going to put the Big 12 in big markets like New York City and Boston overnight is ridiculous. Yes there are plenty of UConn alumni in both areas but it’s not an overwhelming amount in cities that support dozens of different schools. Much like the Big Ten adding Rutgers, it gets the league in the door of the Big Apple, but it doesn’t get the Big 12 anywhere close to having a dominant school in the market.

 

3. Football has historically been mediocre

The Huskies have been playing football at the FBS level for less than 20 years so they’re still a relatively young program but nobody is confusing them for a Northeastern powerhouse. There have been brief flashes (like reaching a BCS bowl) but for the most part, the program can best be described as mediocre with a few good moments. Things do seem to be on the rise under current head coach Bob Diaco but there is the sense that it’s a program with a glass ceiling given its location, recruiting base and the fact that facilities are nice but not cutting edge.

 

Final Verdict

 

When the Big 12 first announced it was exploring expansion (again) months ago, UConn seemed like a fringe candidate that was mostly being mentioned because the Huskies are a non-Power Five program with a solid brand that was trying to get back in the good ol’ boys club. Most tend to dismiss their chances because of where they are located compared to a Texas-centric league but, suddenly, there appears to be some very real momentum for the Northeast school.

 

Whether that is just because everybody is trying to jump in the pool of candidates or not remains to be seen, but UConn figures to be fully evaluated by Big 12 leaders. There is a solid all-around profile athletically to consider and the academic angle is likely something the leaders making decisions will examine closely. Whether those factors can outweigh being so far away from most schools is anybody’s guess.

 

If you are a UConn fan, you’re going to be pumping out your chest, wearing the school colors proudly and really rooting hard for the Big 12 to expand by four teams over the coming months. It seems pretty hard to see a far-flung conference adding another far-flung school if it only expands by two schools. If it’s four however, there’s a chance — a chance — that UConn winds up in that final four.

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at .

 

(Top photo courtesy of )

Teaser:
Why Connecticut Should or Shouldn't Join the Big 12
Post date: Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/secs-top-10-heisman-candidates-2016
Body:

Last season, the got back to its Heisman-winning ways after Alabama’s Derrick Henry claimed college football’s top prize, piling up more than 2,200 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns.

 

Of course, to win the Heisman Trophy, players also have to be on a pretty good team. That could be a good sign for programs like Alabama, LSU and Tennessee this year. Can the SEC produce another Heisman Trophy winner this year? It certainly has a chance with some of the nation’s best players.

 

Here is a look at the SEC’s top Heisman candidates for 2016.

 

The Five Clear Favorites

 

1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

If the Heisman Trophy was awarded midseason, Fournette would have had it locked up last year. Fournette is undoubtedly the SEC’s top contender heading into 2016. He rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, but didn’t perform as well in LSU’s three losses to Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss. That just goes to show how important Fournette will be to LSU’s success this fall.

 

2. Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss

The SEC doesn’t have a lot of great passers right now, but don’t tell Kelly that. In his first season as the starter, Kelly threw for more than over 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns last season, and also was a threat on the ground. Most impressively, Kelly threw for 300 or more yards in eight games. He performed well against the Rebels’ toughest opponents, and stayed consistent all season. You can’t really find a game on Ole Miss’ schedule where Kelly performed poorly.

 

Podcast: SEC Media Days Jam Session



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3. Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee

Tennessee is the popular pick to win the SEC East this season. If the Volunteers get to at least 10 wins, they probably will have a player or two in the Heisman conversation. Hurd is a powerful running back, and likely will break Tennessee’s all-time rushing record. Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord loves the running game, so Hurd should continue to get plenty of opportunities to impress the voters.

 

4. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

Last year, Chubb was ranked No. 1 on this list. Unfortunately, he suffered a severe knee injury against Tennessee and wasn’t able to further the momentum from his 2014 season. Chubb is still recovering, and it is unclear whether he will be ready to go in week one against North Carolina. Even if he is back to 100 percent, the injury could linger. That said, Chubb is arguably the SEC’s best running back when he’s at his best. 

 

5. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

The Crimson Tide have a ton of questions on offense heading into the season, but they should be good to go at the receiver position. Ridley put up fantastic numbers in his freshman season, catching 89 passes for more than 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. Ridley is Alabama’s most dynamic weapon, at least for right now. If he gets enough touches, he could contend for the Heisman.

 

The Next Five Candidates

 

6. Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama

In the Nick Saban era, Alabama has relied on strong running backs. Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry, take your pick. But for the first time in Saban’s tenure, Alabama is a little unsure at the running back position. While the backs may be unproven, they are talented. If Scarbrough ends up getting the majority of the carries, he will probably end up in the Heisman conversation. After all, he would be the running back at Alabama.

 

7. Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee

As mentioned before, Tennessee has high expectations this fall. While the Vols will rely mostly on the running game, that doesn’t exclude the quarterback. Dobbs can be a real game-changer with his legs. However, he will need to improve his accuracy when it comes to throwing downfield if he wants to be considered a legitimate Heisman candidate.

 

8. Brandon Harris, QB, LSU

It may come as a surprise to those who always say “LSU could be really good if it had a quarterback.” But the Tigers’ quarterback actually finished in the top five in the SEC last year in yards per attempt. Harris was mostly efficient, throwing 13 touchdowns to only six interceptions, and also has shown an ability to scramble. Obviously, he will need better numbers than he had last year to win the Heisman, and Les Miles loves to run the ball, but don’t rule Harris out if LSU has a stellar season.

 

9. Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

The other Alabama running back, Harris, likely will split carries with Scarbrough. However, one of these guys could emerge as the lead running back at some point in the season. Both are physical rushers, and it’s hard to say which will emerge. But if Harris is the one who ends up as Alabama’s leading rusher, he may very likely be in the Heisman conversation.

 

10. Trevor Knight, QB, Texas A&M

Knight is a bit of a wild card. His 2014 season at Oklahoma was fantastic (mostly), but the hype eventually faded and Knight lost the starting job. Now that Knight is in Kevin Sumlin’s system at Texas A&M, it could end up being the perfect fit. Knight is an offensive weapon, through the air and on the ground. He also will have plenty of playmakers around him, which should help his numbers.

 

Three Dark Horses to Watch

 

Fred Ross, WR, Mississippi State

It isn’t as likely for wide receivers to win the Heisman, but Ross is one of the SEC’s top returners at the receiver position. He had the luxury of catching passes from Dak Prescott last season, and things will definitely be different at the quarterback position in Starkville this fall. But that could help Ross, because Mississippi State will probably have to get more creative in getting him the ball. He’s the best offensive weapon on the Bulldogs’ roster. The Heisman will be a long shot, but it’s not out of the question. 

 

Ralph Webb, RB, Vanderbilt

Because players usually have to be on a winning team to win the Heisman, it increases the degree of difficulty for someone like Webb, but Vanderbilt could at least get to a bowl game this season. Webb is, without question, the Commodores’ best player. With more than 1,100 rushing yards last year, Webb is third behind only Fournette and Hurd among the conference’s returning backs.

 

Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

Michel may be a long shot too, but he’s the clear No. 2 on Georgia’s running back depth chart. His recent broken arm isn’t as severe as the injury Chubb suffered, so when Michel is at full strength, he could get even more carries this season. Michel’s Heisman chances depend mostly on whether Chubb will be at full strength, but if he’s not, Michel has shown that he can fill in adequately.

 

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Defensive Players to Watch

 

1. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

A defensive end winning the Heisman would be unheard of. The award almost always goes to a quarterback or running back. The only primary defensive player to win the Heisman was Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997, but even he needed to return kicks and occasionally fill in at wide receiver. It is extremely unlikely that a defensive player will win the award this year, but Garrett will probably have the best chance. His sack numbers should help.

 

2. Johnathan Ford, S, Auburn

Last year, Ford finished third in the SEC in total tackles, with 118 stops from the safety position. He also ran two interceptions back for touchdowns. But the thing that could propel Ford into the Heisman talk, assuming he is near the top of the tackle charts again, is his ability to return kicks. Ford finished second in the SEC last season, averaging almost 30 yards per return.

 

3. Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

Mizzou’s defensive line is so good that teams will have to get creative in double-teaming Harris. They will have to pay nearly as much attention to Walter Brady at the other end spot, plus defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. is back. Harris had 18.5 tackles for a loss last year, which ranked second in the conference, behind only Garrett at Texas A&M.

 

4. Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee

Sutton was a three-star prospect when he got to Tennessee, but he has since made a name for himself as a lockdown corner for the Vols. Sutton rarely gets beat by opposing receivers, but like Auburn’s Ford, he will have to rely on return numbers to be talked about in the Heisman race. Sutton was the SEC’s top punt returner last year. He averaged almost 19 yards per return and got to the end zone twice.

 

5. Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida

The Gators have the SEC’s best corner, period. Tabor is well known already, and likes to trash talk. That’s because he knows he’s one of the SEC’s best players and is confident in his ability. It will be difficult for Tabor to put up Heisman-like numbers on defense, but he’s a solid longshot candidate.

 

— Written by Cody McClure, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a radio host and lead SEC Writer for . Follow him on Twitter .

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Just when you thought it was all over, the has reversed course and pulled schools across the country back into the murky waters of college realignment. After going back and forth for months on the subject, commissioner Bob Bowlsby surprised many in the college athletics world at the league’s media days by saying the Big 12 is essentially opening its doors to new members.

 

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There should be no shortage of schools that want to walk through those doors to join the Power Five club and Bowlsby’s phones are likely to be ringing off the hook over the next six to nine months. While the latest round of musical chairs won’t be quite as involved as in recent years, it nevertheless should make for a fascinating 2016.

 

But who should get in? Who shouldn’t stand a chance? We’ve already gone over the case for and against and , but what about American Athletic Conference (AAC) power ?

 

Three Reasons Why Cincinnati Should Join the Big 12

 

1. They’re the perfect travel partner for West Virginia

There has been plenty of talk in expansion-palooza about the conference finding a travel partner for West Virginia, which is often talked about as being out on an island given its distance from most member schools. Cincinnati is basically on the way from the Big 12’s base in Texas and Oklahoma to West Virginia and a manageable drive away from Morgantown. Plus, both know each other well from their days in the old Big East.

 

2. New market for the conference

The Bearcats have a strong local fan base that helps fill up the games during football and men’s basketball season. While they don’t quite have the numbers of some others, it’s a very solid base and it helps that Cincinnati has the No. 36 television market in the country. Ohio has mostly been Big Ten country, but adding Cincy to a power conference would certainly help make inroads for Big 12 teams in this part of the country too.

 

3. Strong overall football program and athletic department

Cincinnati was a trendy pick to win the AAC last year in football but picked an inopportune time to slide back on expectations. Still, the sport that is driving all this expansion is still pretty solid when taking the macro view given that the Bearcats have captured five conference titles in the past decade and made a bowl game (including two BCS bowls) in all but one year dating back to 2006. Their track record in hiring coaches is impressive with Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly and Butch Jones predating current veteran head coach Tommy Tuberville. A recent $86 million renovation to Nippert Stadium also is a point in the school’s favor, as is a quality men’s basketball team.

 

Three Reasons Why Cincinnati Shouldn’t Join the Big 12

 

1. They’ll still be second fiddle in the region to Ohio State and others

Ohio is highly regarded for the quality and quantity of high school athletes it produces but when it comes to elite players, they typically are not making their way to Cincinnati. The state itself has been rooting solidly for the Buckeyes for ages and Notre Dame, Michigan, and other Big Ten programs are all within driving distance. Even nearby Louisville has a better profile and after the Big 12 missed out on adding the Cardinals a few years ago, some may feel that adding Cincinnati is just trying to make up for that.

 

2. The academics are not as strong as others and there is no president

The school has certainly stepped things up on the academic front and boasts an impressive endowment that would be in the top third of the Big 12. Despite such progress, Cincinnati still lags behind other candidates like BYU and UConn in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings. Complicating matters is the fact that school president Santa Ono, who worked hard to get the Bearcats on the Big 12’s radar, recently left for another university and his replacement isn’t likely to start until 2017. That means the key leader in pitching the Big 12 appears to be athletic director Mike Bohn, who awkwardly helped lead Colorado out of the league a few years ago.

 

3. The athletic department is fairly subsidized by the school

In terms of size and athletic budget, Cincinnati would be at the bottom of the Big 12 and that’s to be expected given that they are outside the Power Five. However, while the Bearcats have a solid profile, it does stand out that 44 percent of the athletic budget is subsidized by the school, according to USA Today figures. That percentage is on the high end of potential Big 12 candidates and when you factor in the program getting a decent amount of TV revenue from the AAC, it’s possible the school won’t want as much of a sweetheart deal when it comes to phasing in Big 12 revenue as others.

 

Final Verdict

 

Cincinnati has been in contact with the Big 12 about a move to the Power Five for nearly two years now and it hasn’t exactly been a well-kept secret. While the Bearcats have lost one of their biggest champions in former president Santa Ono, they are nevertheless a strong candidate to be nabbed in this round of conference expansion and perhaps the best all-around school for the Big 12 when you consider all of the criteria that the presidents are likely looking at.

 

Perhaps just as importantly, the Bearcats appear to have the key support of Oklahoma president David Boren — who has largely driven the topic of Big 12 expansion. That is going to count for a lot when it comes time to tally votes and is a big reason why most believe Cincinnati is at the top of the list commissioner Bob Bowlsby is looking over. Being a travel partner for West Virginia (school president Gordon Gee is on the expansion subcommittee and is familiar with the school from his time at Ohio State) is a big, big plus and the university is located closer to Iowa State and the Kansas schools than Memphis, UConn, Houston and BYU.

 

There’s been a lot of talk about divisions in the Big 12 and if the league decides to bring back a North/South split, it makes a lot of sense to see Cincinnati in the former group. You can never be certain when it comes to something like college realignment but one has to like the Bearcats’ chances of getting an invite no matter if it’s two or four golden tickets being handed out.

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at .

 

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Even if the Pitt Panthers had to line up against the Steelers on a September Saturday afternoon, Matt Canada would have a plan in place to attack the NFL foe. It sounds preposterous that any college team — even mighty Alabama — would have even the most remote hope against professional opposition, and it’s certain the folks in Vegas would be more than happy to take the money of anyone who felt that way.

 

Canada isn’t a dreamer. Better still, the Panthers’ offensive coordinator isn’t delusional. Pitt isn’t beating the Steelers, not if the teams played 100 times. Canada knows that. He also knows that there is always a plan of attack, even if the chances of a positive outcome are practically zero.

 

“No matter how much better they are than us, there is still a worst guy on their defense,” Canada says. “We might be playing the All-Pro team, but there is still a guy that’s the worst on the team.

 

“You find that guy, put together a plan and go after him.”

 

Every week, coaches like Canada perch in stadium press boxes or stand along the sidelines all over the country, hoping their game plans are good enough to offset their opponents’ strategies and personnel. Days of meetings, film breakdown, discussion, revisions and practice produce specific blueprints for three hours — four if it’s a Big 12 game — of successful (they hope) offensive football.

 

The process begins in earnest the moment the previous week’s game ends. The broad strokes are applied several weeks and even months earlier, as graduate assistants and quality control coaches review tape to determine tendencies and situational responses. From there, it’s up to the offensive staff to create a scheme specific to the next team on the schedule.

 

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That plan doesn’t radically change each week. It can’t, or teams would be trying to learn new offensive principles before each game. Coaches don’t do the same things against each opponent, but it is vital that a team’s identity is preserved as the strategy is assembled.

 

“We have a good offensive philosophy that we believe in,” says Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren. “It’s so nice that we know who we are. It’s so comforting.”

 

Once the planning is complete, the coaches take it to the practice field for installation. Come Saturday, it’s about how well the design addresses the problem — provided the problem stays the same.

 

Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis has been coaching for over four decades and calling plays for more than 30 seasons. He doesn’t boast about his experience or ability, but there isn’t too much that’s going to surprise him come Saturday. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some days when all of the planning and practicing are replaced by adjusting and ad-libbing.

 

“Some weeks, you get to the ball game, and the defense does exactly what you expect,” Davis says. “Some weeks, you get to the ball game, and the game plan is out the window to some degree. The defense is doing something different or playing a different coverage in a situation you didn’t anticipate.

 

“But it’s always important you go in with an overall plan, regardless of who you’re playing.”

 

This feature and more are available in every .

 

The Houston offensive staff isn’t very nostalgic.

 

No matter how well or poorly things went on Saturday, the game is all but forgotten by about 2 p.m. Sunday. As soon as the grades are in, and the coaches have watched the tape together, the whole thing heads into the archives. There’s another opponent to consider.

 

“It’s time to move on,” Cougars OC Major Applewhite says.

 

Each team has its own schedule for creating, revising and implementing a game plan. Davis says most teams assemble and install it “like a crossword puzzle”; it goes in piece by piece, not all at once. At UH, the process begins Sunday when the GAs and quality control folks stand up and brief the full-time staff about the next opponent. Until that point, nobody had been thinking about future rivals. The focus remains on the current challenge. You wonder why programs are devoting more resources to support personnel? It’s so that they can handle some of the preparation each week, taking the burden off people like Applewhite.

 

The briefing won’t be too complex. It’s more of a starting point, designed to acquaint everybody with the opponent’s personality. What are their tendencies? How do they react to the staples of the UH offensive canon? Which personnel group is the best? The most vulnerable? If there is anything unique the Cougars haven’t seen to that point during the season, it will be emphasized during that presentation.

 

“Say we’re playing Memphis,” Applewhite says. “[GAs and quality control coaches] let us know the base fronts, the base blitzes and base coverages. They tell us who Memphis is in a nutshell.”

 

From there, it’s out to the practice field for a brisk, 30-minute session with the players designed to correct mistakes from Saturday and look ahead to the next week. After practice, the Houston coaches reconvene to watch tape of the opponent’s last two games against offenses similar to the Cougars’. By mid-October, that isn’t a problem, but earlier in the season, it can be difficult to locate tape like that, particularly if the foe has faced, say, Navy’s option attack, a pro-style team or an “air raid” outfit that throws the ball 65 times per game. The Cougars employ a “power spread” scheme that is heavy on the run. (UH ran it 237 more times than it passed in ’15.)

 

Teams with new defensive coordinators are particularly troublesome in September matchups: It’s unwise to consult tape from the previous season due to the change in scheme. In those cases, coaches have to be creative, seeking out film from the rivals’ previous employers or speaking to former colleagues about tendencies and preferences.

 

“The early part of the season can be a nightmare,” Applewhite says. “Sometimes, you end up talking to friends. Three years ago [while he was at Texas], I was up against a former NFL coordinator. I had to call a guy on his [former] staff and ask what principles the coach believed in.”

 

Oklahoma OC Lincoln Riley says there are some benefits to facing a new defensive coordinator. His scheme may be unfamiliar to opponents, but it’s also alien to his players. Sure, it’s hard to know what to study, but it’s unlikely defenders will be comfortable with the system right away. “It’s a guessing game,” says Riley, whose Sooner attack was seventh nationally in total yards last season.

 

On Monday, many staffs complete as much of Davis’ “crossword puzzle” as possible. The Sooners work from 5-8 a.m. on assembling the entire plan. At Houston, Applewhite’s position coaches work on various responsibilities within the scheme. For instance, running backs coach Kenith Pope is responsible for designing answers to opponents’ blitz packages. Tight ends boss Corby Meekins maps out how to attack rival defensive ends. Derek Warehime, the offensive line coach, breaks down the defensive fronts, while Applewhite and new receivers coach Darrell Wyatt will address ways to confront coverages.

 

The rest of the day is spent applying the staff’s recommendations to specific situations, so that a plan can emerge that addresses all of a game’s possibilities. They draw up regular down-and-distance plays — first-and-10, second-and-8 — red-zone strategies, third-and-long schemes, screens, gadget plays and short-yardage possibilities. Staffs don’t come up with new plays for each game because they don’t want to confuse players who have spent weeks learning and executing one system. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some variations.

 

Davis points to the Iowa inside zone running play, which he estimates the Hawkeyes ran “260 times” in 2015. It’s going to be in the game plan; that’s no secret. But the Hawks will most likely run it differently against Wisconsin than they do versus Illinois.

 

“We’re going to run the inside zone, and opponents know we’re going to run the inside zone,” Davis says. “But maybe we’ll make it look a little different. One week, the emphasis will be on using ‘21’ personnel [two backs, one tight end], and the next week the emphasis is on ‘11’ personnel [one of each], with the tight end moving.

 

“Very few plays that show up on Saturday, especially running plays, are designed just for that week.”

 

By the time the players hit the field Tuesday — and more and more programs are practicing in the morning — the plan is in place, and it’s time to get the players familiar with the parts of the offense that will be featured. Pitt’s Canada uses Tuesday for “meat and potatoes” — first- and second-down situations — along with any trick plays that might be used and some seven-on-seven passing drills. Houston follows a similar plan, as does Oklahoma. Riley says that if there is a new play for that game, it goes in Tuesday, the better for players to get maximum time to work on it.

 

The coaches need as many days as possible to evaluate it, too. That goes for every play in the game plan. As the week goes on, staffs spend hours watching practice tape and trying to decide which plays absolutely must remain. The goal is to make sure the players are as proficient as possible in what they will be asked to run, and the more time they can give to a leaner menu, the better prepared they will be. It’s rare to find a staff that is inserting plays as the week goes on.

 

Applewhite likens his staff to accountants — they measure the cost of every play and ask if it’s worth having it in, or if it’s “too expensive” — and he isn’t alone. Every week, Pitt’s graduate assistants will chart how often plays were run during a game and how much practice time was spent on each. The object is to avoid having spent too much time preparing for things that never are used in games.

 

“We almost always have too much,” Canada says. “You see things on film and scratch them. There are enough good plays. Maybe you’ll run some of them twice, instead of once. In the average game plan, there are always too many plays.”

 

 

As soon as an offensive team crosses the opposing 20-yard line, TV commentators begin to talk about red zone scoring percentages. Applewhite considers those statistics meaningless, because the 20 isn’t a sacrosanct border. For his game-planning purposes, the red zone begins when the defense decides it does, and not when the boys in the booth say so.

 

“The red zone starts when the defense changes its alignment,” Applewhite says. “It could be the 25 or the 20. A lot of times, it’s the 12- or the 8-yard line. Where do they change their coverage, and where do the blitzes start to change? Some teams don’t change a lick.”

 

That’s why Wednesday practices are so important for the Cougars. They work on third-down packages, but they also install the red zone strategy. As Applewhite says, it’s quite different every week, due not only to how opponents defend the area, but also to how they define it. Some teams have “split personalities,” according to Applewhite. They may not blitz at all on most of the field, but send everybody but the drumline as the goal line nears.

 

By the end of practice Wednesday, the players should have ingested the entire strategy. From there, it’s a matter of repetition and figuring out which plays work best together. Many coaches will use Thursday or Friday walk-throughs (there is no universal approach to practicing, although some programs are going with full-speed work on Fridays) to have their offenses replicate drives by running seven or eight plays, with varying tempos. This familiarizes everybody with potential combinations and allows coaches to see what works together and what doesn’t.

 

“We practice it the way we call it,” Riley says. “We try to fit it together Friday so that it’s close to how we’ll do it in a game.”

 

Meetings, practices and walk-throughs are important, but at Stanford and a growing number of schools throughout the country, technology plays a big role, too. The Cardinal make use of a virtual reality system that allows players to get extra reps in a classroom by putting on VR goggles and going through practice film to make sure they understand how to attack defenses. If a starter wants more work, he can get it. And if a backup QB wants to see what it’s like to take reps with the first team against the enemy defense, that’s available, too.

 

“If a coach is there, he can see on the TV in the room where [the quarterback’s] eyes went, and say, ‘Whoa! Whoa! Why are you doing that?’” Bloomgren says. “It gives them extra chances to prepare.”

 

As the process of installing and fine-tuning a game plan continues, it’s important for the quarterback to feel comfortable with what’s going to be called. To that end, coaches try to get an idea of what they like in certain situations. Canada may give his quarterback six plays that could be called on third-and-5 and ask him to rank his top three.

 

“So, on the first third-and-5 of the game, if nothing has happened that’s different than what we expected, I’ll call the play that the quarterback likes,” Canada says.

 

Bloomgren asks his passers what plays they would prefer to be called early on. The answers he has received, whether from Andrew Luck or Kevin Hogan, are the same. Each wants an early, easy completion, and each wants to get hit.

 

“They want to feel like they are in a game,” Bloomgren says. “I tell them that it’s my job to make sure they don’t get hit, but they say they want to get their pads loose.”

 

The coaches put together the plan and teach it, but it’s the players who execute it. All of that talk about “Jimmies and Joes” is pretty accurate. No matter how great the scheme might be, it comes down to how well it plays out on the field. It’s easy to look at football as a carefully orchestrated game of parries and ripostes, but rarely does everything proceed according to design. In fact, many games are won by exactly how well teams perform when the whole idea goes to hell.

 

Davis talks about a running play last year in which the back hit the hole, only to find the cornerback unexpectedly waiting for him. Everything else was proceeding properly, but this rogue agent had emerged to trash the run.

 

“The running back made the guy miss and went 45 yards for a TD,” Davis says. “Was that a great play? We blocked well, but the cornerback read it, and our back made him miss.

 

“You’ve got to have a plan, but you have to have the players who can make it work.”

 

To make sure his players will be ready to do that, Applewhite and his staff administer a video test Friday before practice, during which they ask all their players what their assignments are on a collection of plays. It’s a “very military” approach. A play is announced, and the coaches grill everyone on their roles. This is no time for hesitation or casual behavior. “They are to sit up straight and call out the answer,” Applewhite says. “We fire through it, asking all 11 of them. Then we go to the next play.”

 

Although the Cougars are encouraged for the rest of Friday to relax, and coaches aren’t grabbing the players for hours of review, Applewhite does remind them that “their preparation doesn’t end until the foot hits the ball on Saturday.” After kickoff, coaches find out just how good their plans are. Davis emphasizes that while offenses are trying to make what they do look different from week to week, the defenses are doing the same thing. If a certain play looks good against what the opponent has done in the past, it might not be successful when called during a game, thanks to an adjustment to a front or a coverage. In those cases, the key is to address the issue without creating a sense of alarm.

 

“Maybe we thought a certain running play would work against an ‘over’ front, and they are now running a ‘diamond’ front,” Davis says. “We’ll tell the players, ‘Don’t panic. This is still a good play. This is how we have to go about it now.’”

 

It might just work. And if it doesn’t, the process starts again as soon as the game ends.

 

In fact, it’s probably already in progress.

 

— By Michael Bradley

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NFL training camps have just begun but the wide receiver pool for drafts just got  a lot more interesting with Tuesday’s announcement that Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon has been reinstated on a conditional basis.

 

Gordon, who last played in a game on Dec. 21, 2014, missed all of the 2015 season for multiple violations of the league’s substance abuse policy. He was previously suspended for two games in 2013 and 10 games in ’14 for earlier violations.

 

Under the terms of his conditional reinstatement, Gordon will miss the first four games of the upcoming season, but will be eligible to participate in Browns training camp, which opens on Thursday, and play in the preseason, provided some additional requirements are met.

 

Assuming Gordon is welcomed back by the Browns, he immediately becomes the No. 1 WR on a roster that lists five rookies at the position and the leading returnee (Taylor Gabriel) had 28 catches last season.

 

Gordon, on the other hand, has 161 catches for 2,754 yards and 14 touchdowns in 35 career games since entering the league after being a second round pick of the Browns in the 2012 Supplemental Draft. After a productive rookie season (50-805-5), Gordon exploded in 2013, leading the league in receiving with 1,646 yards on 87 catches (NFL-best 18.9 ypc) to go along with nine touchdowns even though he was suspended for the first two games. He was named to the Pro Bowl and a first-team All-Pro.

 

Not surprisingly, Gordon also was the No. 1 fantasy wide receiver that season, something that most expected him to repeat or at least come close to entering the 2014 season. But that was before the 10-game suspension came, which limited him to just five games. He only managed 24 grabs for 303 yards and no touchdowns in limited action.

 

So now that Gordon has reentered the conversation, where should he fall in the preseason fantasy ranks? If all things were equal, pretty darn high considering this is a guy who posted the first back-to-back 200-yard receiving games in NFL history when he did so in 2013.

 

However, not all things are created equal. First off, Gordon hasn’t played in more than a year. While he’s still just 25 years old he’s got some rust he will have to knock off and that probably can’t be fully accomplished during training camp and the preseason.

 

Second, let’s not forget the four games he will miss, meaning at most he will be able to help your fantasy team in 12 games, but not until October. When it comes to suspended players and their perceived draft values, Gordon is not in the same category as a Tom Brady, who also will miss four games but will still likely be drafted along the lines of a top-10 player at his position.

 

There’s also the matter of the Browns’ offense. Cleveland ranked 21st in the NFL last season in passing and is counting on either Robert Griffin III or Josh McCown to be the starting quarterback. The former is a disgraced No. 2 overall pick and the latter is a journeyman who has played for three teams since 2013. The Browns’ offense leaves a lot to be desired so it’s no sure thing that Gordon will be able to pick up where he left off, especially in comparison to his 2013 breakout. Although to be fair, Cleveland’s quarterbacks that season were Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer, so maybe that’s not as much of a factor.

 

So put it all together and what do you have? A very appealing risk-reward fantasy option whose name will most definitely be called come draft day. Before Gordon’s reinstatement, the presumed No. 1 WR on Cleveland’s roster was first-round pick Corey Coleman, who at best was considered a WR3 and probably fell somewhere between No. 30-40 at the position.

 

While Gordon’s upside is considerably higher than Coleman’s, if for any reason he has a more of a track record, it would be foolish to draft him along the lines of what he did in 2013. Three years is a long time in the NFL and while he finally has a path to return to the field, there’s no guarantee he will be the same type of impact player when he does.

 

There’s nothing wrong with taking a flyer on Gordon in your fantasy draft, but be sure to temper your expectations and get your clear-cut starters first. There’s no reason to pin your championship hopes on a player who has already disappointed fantasy owners on more than one occasion.

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With the trade of Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs a done deal, the madness that is the Trade Deadline is now in full effect.

 

Chapman was arguably the best available pitcher on the market, and general manager Brian Cashman, who traded for the Cuban hurler in December for four fringe prospects, was able to flip the fireballer for two top-tier prospects in Gleyber Torres and Billy McKinney, as well as versatile pitcher Adam Warren (who the Cubs received in the Starlin Castro deal this past winter) and another prospect.

 

Just because the Yankees have made the first move toward rebuilding doesn't mean they stop now.

 

Here are the biggest Trade Deadline sellers.

 

1. New York Yankees

The Yankees find themselves in No Man’s Land, hovering around .500, filled with aging, under-productive players with bad contracts. The good news is there is a way out of the darkness.

 

The additions of Andrew Miller two seasons ago and Chapman this past offseason to a back end that already featured Dellin Betances not only gave New York arguably the best bullpen arms in baseball, but also serious deadline leverage. Before the Chapman deal, Cashman had been quibbling with ownership as whether to be buyers or sellers. The move to deal Chapman signals the latter as it is time for the Bronx Bombers to think long term.

 

Currently, the Yanks only have two players in their everyday lineup under the age of 32, middle infielders Didi Gregorius and Castro, both 26. In addition to an old big league lineup, the Yankees’ farm system sits smack dab in the middle of the rankings in terms of perceived value of prospects.

 

If I’m Cashman, knowing what I got for Chapman, I'm still shopping Miller to the highest bidders, while hanging on to the younger, cheaper Betances as my closer of the future. Cashman has hinted previously that Miller may not be available, but after the haul of prospects the Cubs gave up for Chapman, surely the Yanks' GM is rethinking his stance.

 

But the biggest trade chip might be a trade deadline regular and possible Hall of Famer, outfielder Carlos Beltran. At 39 years old and in the final year of his contract, Beltran currently leads the team in most offensive categories. The veteran switch-hitter would command at least a middle tier prospect for a half-season rental for a team needing another bat. Keep an eye on the Indians, Rangers, Mariners and Astros as potential landing spots for Beltran.

 

2. Cincinnati Reds

At this point, the Reds need to strip it down to the studs. Of their $89.8 million payroll, $63.5 million belongs to Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, struggling Brandon Phillips and pitcher Homer Bailey, who hasn’t been on the mound for the Reds for more than a year (April 23, 2015 to be specific).

 

Votto and his roughly $170-plus million remaining aren’t going anywhere, so don’t ask. The only trade chips the Reds appear to have are Bruce and shortstop Zack Cozart. Bruce has long been rumored to be a trade target for teams looking for offense, and the Reds cannot afford a repeat of last year’s deadline when Aroldis Chapman wasn’t dealt. Bruce is putting together one of his better seasons (.263, 19 HR, 66 RBI), and could command a high-end prospect as a player option ($13 million or $1 million buyout) for 2017 means he could be more than just a rental. Bruce isn’t much of a fielder, so keep an eye on AL teams looking for a DH to make a move for the big lefty.

 

The other trade chip is Cozart. Already a plus defender at shortstop, Cozart is having his best year at the plate (22 doubles, 15 HR, 40 RBI) and is heading into his third arbitration-eligible offseason before becoming an outright free agent in 2018.  One would think that the Reds would like to pull the trigger on trading Cozart when his value is at its highest as part of its long-term plans to rebuild the farm system.

 

3. Colorado Rockies

The biggest name on the market is Rockies slugger Carlos Gonzalez. But just how available is he? Gonzalez is owed roughly $27 million through the end of 2017. He’s finally proven that he can stay healthy and be consistent at the plate at the same time (.318 BA, .918 OPS, 20 HR, 59 RBI), but will the return be enough for the Colorado front office? The Rockies already have one of the deeper farm systems in terms of position players, so the Colorado brass would likely only deal CarGo if a top-pitching prospect, or two, are involved.

 

The only other Colorado assets that teams may be interested in are lefty reliever Boone Logan (2.70 ERA, 1.80 FIP, .0938 WHIP) and first baseman Mark Reynolds (.277, 10 HR, 31 RBI) both of whom are in their walk years.

 

4. Oakland A’s

If anyone knows how to work the trade deadline, its A’s Executive Vice President Billy Beane. But Beane finds himself in a peculiar situation. His team is in last place and all of his tradable assets are somewhat in limbo.

 

Young ace Sonny Gray is struggling (5.49 ERA, 4.68 FIP, 1.495 WHIP) in the last year of his contract before he is arbitration-eligible. Currently the A’s are not shopping Gray, perhaps signaling the A’s are betting on him bouncing back next season when interest from opposing teams would be higher.

 

Oakland’s best pitcher, and probably it’s best trade chip, right now is 36-year old right-hander Rich Hill (2.25 ERA, 2.55 FIP, 1.092 WHIP), who will be a free agent after this season. But Hill has been limited in recent weeks thanks to a nasty blister on his pitching hand and a groin injury before that. Realistically the A’s are hoping Hill can make a single start prior to the deadline, otherwise the return for the veteran hurler will be much lower than Oakland desires.

 

Outfielder Josh Reddick, also in his walk year, was hoping for a long-term deal with Oakland, but now it seems it’s a forgone conclusion that he will be shipped out of the Bay Area. Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi has connected Reddick with the Cubs, who have a bevy of prospects they could be willing to part with, but probably won’t get too involved in the bidding unless they view him as more than just a rental.

 

The team’s final trade asset is third baseman Danny Valencia, also in the final year of his deal (surprise!). Valencia seems to be hitting his stride (.301/.351/.478, 12 HR) at age 31 and could be just as valuable for his ability to play multiple defensive positions as his bat.

 

5. Tampa Bay Rays

With the starting pitching market being so bare this summer, the Rays are in control of their own deadline destiny. Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer aren’t having their best seasons, as all three have an ERA above 4.30, but they are all viable trade chips who could command a haul of top prospects.

 

Moore and Odorizzi are likelier to be dealt this summer than Archer, the crown jewel. Moore’s contract is up after next season, Odorizzi becomes arbitration-eligible this winter, while Archer still has five and a half seasons remaining left on an affordable contract.

 

Time is on the Rays’ side when it comes to Archer, but they may want to strike while the iron is hot, especially if a contending team with enough top prospects (Cubs, Rangers) is ready to make a blockbuster deal. Teams interested in Moore or Odorizzi are plenty: the Royals, Giants, Tigers, Blue Jays, Orioles, Dodgers, Marlins, and Mets could all be potential suitors.

 

— Written by Jake Rose, an avid baseball fan who also is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
The 5 Biggest MLB Trade Deadline Sellers
Post date: Monday, July 25, 2016 - 14:45
Path: /college-football/why-boise-state-should-or-shouldnt-join-big-12
Body:

Just when you thought it was all over, the has reversed course and pulled schools across the country back into the murky waters of college realignment. After going back and forth for months on the subject, commissioner Bob Bowlsby surprised many in the college athletics world at the league’s media days by saying the Big 12 is essentially opening its doors to new members.

 

Related: 

 

There should be no shortage of schools that want to walk through those doors to join the Power Five club and Bowlsby’s phones are likely to be ringing off the hook over the next six to nine months. While the latest round of musical chairs won’t be quite as involved as in recent years, it nevertheless should make for a fascinating 2016.

 

But who should get in? Who shouldn’t stand a chance? We’ve already gone over the , but what about their nearby rival ?

 

Three Reasons Why Boise State Should Join the Big 12

 

1. A strong football program capable of winning big games

Boise State is one of the most successful programs in the country ever since moving up to FBS, hobnobbing with Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma and others in the top five in terms of winning percentage. The Broncos knocked on the doorstep of the title game year after year back in the BCS era and have a great track record in major bowl games (just ask the Sooners). Plus, it has to be encouraging that the Broncos have had a high level of success under multiple head coaches the past 20 years. Capturing the first-ever Group of Five bid for a New Year’s Six bowl in the College Football Playoff era has to count for something too.

 

2. The Boise State brand is strong among college football fans

The blue turf. The Statue of Liberty. The proposal. Few non-Power Five programs have a bigger brand than the Broncos. Despite not being the biggest fan base west of the Mississippi, Boise State brings in solid TV ratings that far exceed the actual size of its market size — there’s a reason the team is on ESPN and ESPN2 so much. Some of the most memorable moments in college sports have happened with the boys in blue being involved.

 

3. Broncos are probably open to taking the smallest share of TV revenue

Let’s face it, conference realignment is all about getting more money for current Big 12 members and in that, Boise State can probably help the most. Payouts from the Mountain West have improved over the past few years but, even in a good year, Boise State is receiving several million dollars less than even a half share of what Big 12 teams are getting now. The Broncos could make more money with a partial share of Big 12 revenues while also providing a bigger cut for existing schools compared to other expansion candidates. That’s a win-win on the balance sheet for all involved.

 

Three Reasons Why Boise State Shouldn’t Join the Big 12

 

1. Things get dicey beyond football

You’ll notice most of the pros above are football-centric and that’s no mistake. The rise of Boise State on the national radar is almost solely the result of success on the gridiron. The basketball team has shown flashes the past few years and wrestling is very strong at the school but that’s about it. In the most recent year’s Director’s Cup standings (measuring success across all sports), Boise State finished behind every Big 12 school but were in the same area as West Virginia, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State.

 

2. Boise is remote and in a small market

The shortest road trip the Broncos would have to make is still pretty lengthy: nearly 1,300 miles to Kansas State. Being a football-only invite would mitigate some travel issues but the point remains that the school is very far away from the Big 12 center of gravity in Texas. Add in the fact that the Boise market is in the triple digits among the Sioux Falls and Fargos of the country and there’s limited appeal for the Broncos based just on TV sets and geography. A smaller than average football stadium, even with the blue turf, doesn’t help.

 

3. Academics are not exactly Ivy League

While the whole Big 12 expansion debate is being done to drive the bottom line of schools, keep in mind that these are college presidents voting on schools. While some members may not have a ton of qualms about inviting some schools that don’t have the strongest academic reputation, heavyweights like Texas and Oklahoma probably don’t want to see the conference watered down all that much. Boise State is not listed in the latest U.S. News & World Report national rankings and is just 61st in the western region according to the magazine.

 

Final Verdict

 

The Big 12 appears to be all over the map (literally and figuratively) when it comes to expansion so it’s hard to nail down precisely what leaders in the conference are looking for when it comes to the schools they want to invite. If the league is looking to add a strong football power or even a school that would be football-only, Boise State likely ranks near the top of the list. If one considers all of the other factors, the Broncos probably slide down the rankings behind BYU, Cincinnati and others.

 

As things currently stand, Boise State sits somewhat in the middle of the pack and undoubtedly hoping the Big 12 expands by four teams to get to 14 total. The Broncos would make a lot of sense as a football-only member/travel partner for BYU and both schools would likely be able to join as soon as 2017. Outside of that scenario however, it’s hard to see the Broncos truly getting a golden ticket to join the Big 12 when evaluated on all fronts.

 

And heck, who knows if Oklahoma would block Boise State just because of what happened at the Fiesta Bowl. 

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at .

Teaser:
Why Boise State Should or Shouldn't Join the Big 12
Post date: Monday, July 25, 2016 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-12-running-back-tandems-2016
Body:

Having two running backs is almost essential for every college football team. While some teams have workhorse options that can handle 275 or 300 carries, most programs want to have at least two (and sometimes three) running backs to split up the workload. The thought process is pretty simple: Take the workload off one player and spread it around to keep everyone fresh. This concept seems to gain more steam each year, as a running game is no longer about just one go-to back. Instead, most teams need at least two solid ball-carriers to lead the way on the ground. 

 

Related:

 

Oklahoma’s one-two punch of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon is the best in the Big 12, but Baylor and Texas also have solid tandems in place for the 2016 season. Here are the Big 12 teams ranked by the running back tandems (projected No. 1 and No. 2 rushers) for the upcoming year.

 

Ranking the Big 12 RB Tandems for 2016

 

1. Oklahoma – Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon

The nation’s No. 1 backfield duo for 2016 resides in Norman, Okla. After rushing for 1,713 yards and 21 scores and setting the single-game FBS rushing record (427 yards) as a freshman, Perine posted another standout campaign in 2015. In 13 games, Perine recorded 1,349 yards and 16 scores and rushed for at least 131 yards in three out of Oklahoma’s final four games. After sitting out 2015 due to a suspension, Mixon showcased the big-play potential that made him a five-star recruit in the high school ranks. Mixon rushed for 753 yards and seven scores on 113 attempts and chipped in 28 receptions for 356 yards and four touchdowns. Mixon’s four rushes of 30 or more yards tied for sixth among Big 12 rushers last fall.  

 

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Podcast: Official 2016 Big 12 Preview



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2. Baylor – Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson

The Linwood-Jefferson tandem is the nation’s only returning duo where both players reached the 1,000-yard mark in 2016. Linwood was slowed by injuries late in the year but still managed to finish fourth in the Big 12 by recording 1,329 yards. Additionally, Linwood’s 6.78 per-carry mark was the highest by any back in the conference with at least 150 carries. Jefferson recorded only one 100-yard effort through the first seven games and did not record a carry against Kansas State and Oklahoma. However, Jefferson came on strong over the final four games, posting at least 62 yards in each contest, including 299 against North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl. 

 

3. Texas – D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren

New coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was brought in to provide some much-needed direction and spark an offense that has ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in scoring in back-to-back years. In addition to the new offense, the Longhorns are expected to turn to freshman quarterback Shane Buechele as the new starter. While Buechele’s long-term future is bright, the freshman won’t have to shoulder the offense in 2016. Instead, Gilbert and Buechele can lean heavily on the one-two punch of Foreman and Warren. Foreman led the Longhorns with 681 yards (7.2 ypc) last season, while Warren collected 470 yards and four rushing scores on just 71 carries. Warren was hardly involved in the offense through the first 10 games and exploded with 276 yards against Texas Tech on Thanksgiving, followed by 106 against Baylor in the season finale.

 

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4. Iowa State – Mike Warren and Sheldon Croney

The Cyclones may not have a clear No. 2 option yet, but there’s no doubt Mike Warren is one of the Big 12’s top running backs. After redshirting his first year on campus, Warren earned Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors after rushing for 1,339 yards and five scores in 2015. With DeAndre Washington and Wendell Smallwood off to the NFL, Warren’s 1,339 yards are the most by any returning Big 12 player for 2016. Croney took a redshirt year last fall. He will compete with Mitchell Harger and David Montgomery for the No. 2 role.

 

5. West Virginia – Rushel Shell and Kennedy McKoy

Even though coach Dana Holgorsen is known for his roots in the Air Raid attack, West Virginia ranked second in the Big 12 in rushing offense last season. Leading rusher Wendell Smallwood (1,519 yards in 2015) departs, but the cupboard isn’t empty in Morgantown. Rushel Shell – a former five-star prospect – returns after ranking second on the team with 708 yards and eight rushing scores last fall. Shell has rushed for 1,571 yards in his career with the Mountaineers but is still looking for that breakout year. True freshman Kennedy McKoy impressed in spring practice and is slated to work in the No. 2 role, with junior college recruit Justin Crawford at No. 3.

 

6. TCU – Kyle Hicks and Sewo Olonilua

The Hicks-Olonilua backfield is largely unproven, but there’s also a lot of potential. Hicks ranked as the No. 204 recruit in the 2013 signing class and showed intriguing potential in limited snaps. The Arlington native recorded 262 yards and three scores on just 56 attempts last season, while adding 13 receptions for 104 yards. Olonilua is another promising prospect for co-coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham. The true freshman enrolled in time for spring practice and received extensive work in the final scrimmage. Olonilua ranked as the No. 125 overall recruit in the 2016 247Sports Composite, and at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, provides a power element to the backfield. Junior Trevorris Johnson and Michigan graduate transfer Derrick Green are also in the mix for carries.

 

Related:

 

7. Texas Tech - Justin Stockton and Demarcus Felton

DeAndre Washington was one of the nation’s most underrated running backs during his career with the Red Raiders. He leaves big shoes to fill this year, but Justin Stockton and Demarcus Felton should be a solid duo for coach Kliff Kingsbury. Stockton has been a dynamic change-of-pace option over the last two years, averaging a whopping seven yards per carry on 109 attempts. Demarcus Felton only received six carries last season but rushed for 73 yards and one score. He is competing with Quinton White for the No. 2 role in Texas Tech’s backfield.

 

8. Oklahoma State – Barry Sanders and Chris Carson

Oklahoma State usually has one of the Big 12’s top ground attacks, but the Cowboys have sputtered over the last two years. In 2014, Oklahoma State finished seventh in the Big 12 in rushing offense, averaging only 3.5 yards per carry. The numbers weren’t much better last fall, as the Cowboys ranked ninth in the league and generated only 3.58 per carry. However, there is hope for improvement in 2016. A struggling offensive line has been one of the primary culprits for the subpar ground attack, but this unit returns five starters and the overall depth has improved. Carson returns after leading the Cowboys with 517 yards last season, and Sanders transferred from Stanford in search of more playing time. Sanders recorded 672 yards and five scores in his career with the Cardinal. 

 

9. Kansas State – Charles Jones and Justin Silmon

Kansas State recorded only three rushing plays of 30 yards or more last season, so it’s imperative for the ground attack to find a spark in 2016. Charles Jones is back after leading the team with 696 rushing yards last year, but he will face competition for carries from sophomores Justin Silmon and Dalvin Warmack. Silmon showed promise in limited action (355 yards) in 2015, while Warmack ranked as one of Kansas State’s top recruits in its 2014 signing class.

 

10. Kansas – Ke’aun Kinner and Taylor Martin

Kinner started his Kansas career on a high note, as the junior college recruit recorded back-to-back 100-yard efforts to open 2015. However, injuries prevented Kinner from building on his fast start. The Texas native finished the year with 566 yards and five rushing scores on 134 attempts. Martin is penciled in as the No. 2 back after recording 42 yards on 16 carries last fall. He will be pushed for time by Ryan Schadler and James Sullivan.

Teaser:
Ranking the Big 12 Running Back Tandems for 2016
Post date: Monday, July 25, 2016 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, syndicated
Path: /college-football/iowa-football-player-gunpoint-pokemon-go-faith-ekakitie-hawkeyes
Body:

Pokemon Go is the newest craze, but for Faith Ekakitie it turned into an experience he will never forget.

 

The Iowa defensive lineman shared a post to Facebook about how playing the innocent game, ended in a situation causing him to fear for his life. While playing the popular game with headphones on, he was approached by four police officers that had gotten word a bank was just robbed. Fitting the description of the robber, Ekakitie had four guns pulled on him.

 

Although Ekakitie thanked the Iowa City Police Department for a calm result, he did leave an interesting tidbit:

 

"Not all police officers are out to get you, but at the same time, not all people who fit a criminal profile are criminals."

 

 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, July 25, 2016 - 10:50
All taxonomy terms: College Football, syndicated, Sun Belt, News
Path: /college-football/sun-belts-best-quarterback-matchups-2016
Body:

The quarterback is easily the most important on-field position for any college football team. Signal-callers can truly make their teammates better and enhance their play on the field. While quarterback - especially proven ones - are valuable, this position is not easy to evaluate and the overall performance can depend on some of the help from the supporting cast. These pocket passers and dual-threats are some of the best in the nation and these clashes should make it an enjoyable season in the Sun Belt Conference. Here are the top 10 quarterback matchups involving Sun Belt teams for 2016:

 

Sun Belt's Best QB Matchups of 2016
 
1. Taylor Lamb (APP)  vs. Joshua Dobbs (TENN)  9/3
The top quarterback in the Sun Belt takes on one of the best in the SEC at Neyland Stadium to kick off the year for the Mountaineers. 
 
2. Brad Kaaya (MIAF)  vs. Taylor Lamb (APP)  9/17
First of all, hats off to App State's Athletic Director Doug Gillin for getting the U to come to Boone. Secondly, this game will be a treat for fans with two talented signal-callers battling it out. 
 
3. Kevin Ellison (GSU)  vs. Chad Kelly (MISS)  11/5
It's no secret Chad Kelly is the SEC's top returning quarterback, but he's also an underrated runner. And Ellison's prowess on the ground is well documented after recording 712 yards and eight scores last season.
 
4. Kevin Ellison (GSU)  vs. Justin Thomas (GT)  10/15
Those who enjoy the triple option will love seeing it put on full display as the best Power 5 and Group of 5 option attacks have at it in Atlanta. 
 
5. Taylor Lamb (APP)  vs. Kevin Ellison (GSU)  10/27
The preseason first and second team all-conference quarterbacks by Athlon Sports should make it the finest clash of signal-callers that the #FunBelt has to offer. 
 
6. Brandon Silvers (TROY)  vs. Deshaun Watson (CLEM)  9/3
Silvers will be tested against the best defense Troy will see all season. Also going against the Heisman front-runner (Deshaun Watson) won't ease any of the pressure.
 
7. Garrett Smith (ULM)  vs. Baker Mayfield (OKLA)  9/10
Smith leads a rebuilding ULM team into a hostile environment in Norman, Okla. The ULM defense is a good opportunity for Oklahoma to work out the kinks before Ohio State visits on Sept. 17.
 
8. Greg Ward Jr. (HOU)  vs. Tyler Jones (TXST)  9/24
These two players are two of the most talented Group of 5 quarterbacks in the state of Texas. Ward and Jones will show off in front of their beloved fans. 
 
9. Matt Linehan (IDAHO)  vs. Luke Falk (WSU)  9/17
Matt Linehan - the son of Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan - will go against one of the most prolific Air Raid offenses in the country. Let's see if he can go toe-to-toe with Falk. 
 
10. Brandon Silvers (TROY)  vs. Tyler Jones (TXST)  11/26
Jones and Silvers combined to throw for 4,895 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2015. Expect to see quite a few scores in the air for this matchup. 
Teaser:
Sun Belt's Best Quarterback Matchups of 2016
Post date: Monday, July 25, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/accs-top-10-heisman-candidates-2016
Body:

For the , 2015 was the year of being close. As most everyone knows by now, Clemson took Alabama to the very end in the College Football Playoff National Championship game before falling to the Tide.

 

When it came to the Heisman Trophy, the ACC had another almost. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson was invited to the Heisman ceremony as a finalist. He ended up finishing third behind Alabama’s Derrick Henry and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, although Watson received 148 first-place votes.

 

Watson returns this fall to contend again and he’s joined by another legitimate contender and some other stars eager to join in the chase. Here is a list of the ACC’s top 10 Heisman candidates.

 

1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

The reigning ACC Player of the Year became the first in FBS history to throw for more than 4,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 in the same season. But the stats only tell so much. It was clear going back to 2014 the impact Watson had on the Tigers. When he played during his freshman season, the Tigers moved the ball at will. When he was out, the offense was often stagnant. Also, Watson outplayed Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, another Heisman contender, in last year’s Orange Bowl and had much success against Alabama’s vaunted defense in the national title game. Watson is one of the nation’s top bets to win the Heisman in 2016.

 

2. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

And Cook is not far behind. Florida State was 69th in the nation in rushing offense with 168 yards per game. The junior from Miami was fifth individually with 141 yards per game. For the season, Cook ran for 1,691 of the Seminoles’ 2,187 yards on the ground or 77.3 percent. This is even more impressive considering that injuries forced Cook to miss one full game and forced him out of a couple others early. Along with Watson, Cook is likely to be a Heisman finalist come December.

 

3. Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami

The numbers were solid in 2015 and the Miami signal-caller limited mistakes by only throwing five interceptions. Now, the very talented thrower has a new head coach with a system known for developing quarterbacks, hopefully leading to more explosive plays for the Hurricanes. Kaaya also has two skilled running backs that can take some pressure off his shoulders. However, Miami’s line – which was woeful in 2015 – must improve and receivers must develop to help out veteran Stacy Coley. On top of everything, Kaaya’s a Miami quarterback and that in and of itself draws attention.

 

4. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

With 227 yards passing and 226 more rushing against Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl, Jackson put together a pretty strong audition tape for his own Heisman campaign. Though he is not viewed as the idea fit to run Bobby Petrino’s system, the Louisville head coach knows enough about offense to be able to utilize Jackson’s talents in the right way.

 

5. Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina

The Charlotte product lived up to the hype as a sophomore, rushing for 1,463 yards and 17 scores last fall. With quarterback Marquise Williams gone and four of his blockers returning, Hood may be asked to do even more this fall.

 

6. James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh

No one even knows if Conner will start over ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year Qadree Ollison. But if Conner can get back to his 2014 form, he will be right in the hunt. And no one has a better Heisman backstory than Pitt’s cancer survivor.

 

7. Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson

When mentioning Clemson Heisman contenders, only one name comes to mind. But the hard-running Gallman piled up 1,527 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground as a redshirt sophomore and with opponents focused on Watson, he should have another big year running behind Clemson’s great offensive line.

 

8. Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech

He did not have a very good 2015 and the Yellow Jackets were a miserable 3-9. But should Georgia Tech rebound, Thomas will be right in the middle of the action. He has the potential to throw for more than 2,000 yards while also rushing for more than 1,000.

 

9. Jordan Whitehead, S, Pittsburgh

Classifying Whitehead as a safety really isn’t fair. Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi not only moves him all around the defense, he gives him touches on offense as well. Whitehead led the team in tackles as a freshman and will assume more of a leadership role this season.

 

10. Eric Dungey, QB, Syracuse

Dungey, who had a nice freshman season, had his dreams come true when the Orange hired Dino Babers as their new head coach. While at Bowling Green, Babers orchestrated an offense that finished fifth in the nation in passing with 367 yards per game. Dungey should have some impressive numbers… except perhaps in the win column.

 

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the  for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
The ACC’s Top 10 Heisman Candidates for 2016
Post date: Monday, July 25, 2016 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/why-oklahoma-will-wont-make-college-football-playoff-2016
Body:

Following up on last season’s surprising run to the College Football Playoff, has become a popular pick to earn a spot in the four-team tournament again in 2016. Even though the Sooners have enough star power to win over pundits, the case for them to make the final four for the second year in a row is far from open and shut.

 

Related:

 

There’s a in front of them that includes non-conference games against Houston and Ohio State. Additionally, the loss of standout receiver Sterling Shepard to graduation robs the offense of its most reliable target in the passing game.

 

And those aren’t even among the biggest reasons to be bearish on OU’s chances of another Playoff bid.

 

Three Reasons Oklahoma Will Reach the College Football Playoff in 2016

 

1. The Quarterback Position

Baker Mayfield made an immediate impact on the OU offense last year. He adroitly piloted the Air Raid, and his confidence rubbed off on his supporting cast.

 

With a year as the starter under his belt, Mayfield has that much more experience running the offense. Likewise, coordinator Lincoln Riley should possess an even better handle on how to best leverage the skills of his quarterback and the players around him. Look for Mayfield and the Sooner O to operate with a level of precision and efficiency that surpasses last season’s dangerous edition.

 

2. The Trenches

If you’re looking for the biggest positive for the future of OU’s program, take a gander at the offensive and defensive lines. At times throughout the last few years, both were home to collections of upperclassmen that never quite fulfilled their potential and newcomers that struggled to stick with the team.

 

Now, three rapidly maturing returning starters - Orlando Brown, Jonathan Alvarez and Dru Samia - will lead the O-line in the fall. Meanwhile, OU’s front three has some seasoned veterans in Jordan Wade, Charles Walker and Matt Dimon getting backed up by talented newbies such as Neville Gallimore and Marquise Overton.

 

Head coach Bob Stoops and his staff clearly made beefing up the lines a priority. The results will keep paying off for the immediate future.

 

Podcast: Official 2016 Big 12 Preview



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3. Special Teams

Punting and kicking aren’t sexy, but they win or lose more games than most fans would care to admit. In his first season at OU, Austin Seibert pulled double duty last fall and showed why he was thought to be the top kicking prospect in the country in the 2015 recruiting class.

 

Seibert gives Stoops a reliable option to help his team consistently win field position battles and convert on scoring chances when the offense stalls.

 

Three Reasons Oklahoma Won’t Reach the College Football Playoff in 2016

 

1. The Quarterback Position

Yeah, sure, Mayfield is great. OU has one of the best QBs in the country on the top line of its depth chart. Immediately behind him, however, sits true freshman Austin Kendall. After Kendall, it thins out into walk-on territory.

 

Mayfield’s swashbuckling style puts him in harm’s way on a regular basis, and he has a history of concussions. Still, he has shown no signs of dialing it back to protect himself. If Mayfield misses significant time this season, the Sooners can kiss their hopes of a conference title or Playoff bid goodbye.

 

2. Unproven Linebackers

When combined with the graduations of Eric Striker and Devante Bond, Dom Alexander’s unexpected departure for the NFL in the spring elevated the linebacker unit from “area of concern” to “massive, gaping hole” for position coaches Mike Stoops and Tim Kish.

 

Veteran inside linebacker Jordan Evans should calm some fears in his final year with the squad. However, Stoops and Kish are counting on sophomore Tay Evans to fill the void left in the middle by Alexander and junior Ogbonnia “Obo” Okoronkwo to man the rush linebacker spot vacated by Bond.

 

Heavy deployment of OU’s nickel package should work well enough against some of the more finesse offenses on the schedule, but the D will likely need touted freshman Caleb Kelly to grow up fast to play strong-side linebacker against downhill-running opponents.

 

3. The Pass Rush (or Lack of It)

The Sooners tallied 39 sacks in 2015, the second most in the Big 12 and the eighth most in the country. Their ability to get to opposing quarterbacks aided in the team finishing in the top 10 nationally in passer rating.

 

Striker, Bond, Alexander and defensive end Charles Tapper accounted for roughly half of those sacks. Now that they’re gone, OU is searching for new candidates to harass opponents’ passers. Obo and the aforementioned Walker seem like two of the more obvious picks. Keep an eye on true freshman Mark Jackson as well.

 

Final Verdict

 

A whole lot went right for the Sooners last season in their march to the College Football Playoff. They survived close scrapes against Tennessee and TCU. Some of the Big 12's top teams were missing their starting quarterbacks versus OU. Oklahoma made it through the year with relatively few major injuries.

 

Who's to say if the Sooners needed those good breaks to make it to the final four; they got them nonetheless. Chances are that the 2016 squad will face a little more adversity, especially when facing a non-conference slate that features Houston and Ohio State.

 

Top to bottom, Bob Stoops has the best team in the Big 12. That should be good enough to secure his 10th conference crown. However, there are just enough landmines hiding among OU's 12 regular season games to keep the Sooners out of the postseason tournament.

 

— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
Why Oklahoma Will or Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2016
Post date: Monday, July 25, 2016 - 10:00
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Derek Mason enters year three at after improving 2014’s win total by one game last season. Mason’s Vanderbilt squad has been far more competitive since he began calling the shots on defense. Last year, the Commodores even scored two wins. Now, with 11 starters returning (5 on offense, 7 on defense), Vandy looks poised to take the next step and potentially get to a bowl game.

 

Related:

 

For Vanderbilt to get back to the postseason, it will need to win a few key games in the SEC East. The Commodores’ schedule sets up exceptionally well, with Vanderbilt getting its two toughest games at home at the end of the regular season. The month of November will be the most challenging, but Vandy’s defense should be in top form by then.

 

Here is a look at Vanderbilt’s 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to toughest:

 

12. Oct. 22 vs. Tennessee State

Tennessee State has been mostly a “middle-of-the-road” type team in the FCS’ Ohio Valley Conference over the past few seasons. The Tigers finished 4-6 last year but were competitive in most of their games. Vanderbilt and Tennessee State have met once before, back in 2006. The Commodores won that contest, 38-9 in Nashville.

 

11. Sept. 10 vs. Middle Tennessee

The Blue Raiders have built a solid football program over the past few seasons, usually earning a bowl berth. Head coach Rick Stockstill returns a deep talent pool, which includes his son, Brent Stockstill, at quarterback, as well as wide receiver Richie James. MTSU is one of the favorites in Conference USA this fall. The Blue Raiders gave Vandy a scare last year, but lost 17-13 in Murfreesboro.

 

10. Sept. 1 vs. South Carolina

Vanderbilt opens the season with a Thursday night meeting against the Gamecocks at home. This could be a major momentum boost toward a bowl game if Vandy is able to knock off South Carolina in week one. For the first time in quite a while, it looks like the Commodores may actually be the more stable pick. Thursday night games are weird, though. These teams last opened the season on a Thursday night in 2012. South Carolina won that game 17-13.

 

9. Sept. 24 at Western Kentucky

While quarterback Brandon Doughty won’t be slinging passes this fall, the Hilltoppers still should be a contender in Conference USA. Head coach Jeff Brohm has proven his ability to develop talent over the past two seasons, and Vanderbilt has to go on the road in this one. Western Kentucky beat the Commodores to open last season, 14-12 in Nashville. But the Hilltoppers will have their work cut out against Vandy’s defense once again.

 

8. Oct. 8 at Kentucky

Last year, Vanderbilt was able to knock off the Wildcats in Nashville, 21-17. But will the Commodores be able to find the same success in Lexington? Kentucky looks to have a fairly dynamic offense this fall, but the defense is lacking. That may be just the recipe Vandy needs to match up well in this game. These two teams go way back, and the series is deadlocked at 42-42-4. Vanderbilt has won four of the last five.

 

7. Nov. 12 at Missouri

The Commodores’ other SEC win last season came at home against Missouri. Again, they will have to prove they can win on the road this year in order to get to a bowl game. The Mizzou game should be winnable once again, but like Vanderbilt, the Tigers have a strong defense. Last year, the final score between the two teams was 10-3. It could very likely end up being an offensive struggle once again. Touchdowns will be valuable.

 

6. Sept. 17 at Georgia Tech

Last year was not a good season for the Yellow Jackets by any stretch of the imagination. But for all the disappointment that goes along with a 3-9 record, Georgia Tech stayed competitive and randomly took down Florida State in late October. This year, Paul Johnson’s team looks to rebound, and the Yellow Jackets have the pieces to be successful in a wild ACC Coastal division. It should be fun to watch Tech’s triple-option offense against Vanderbilt’s stacked run defense.

 

5. Oct. 1 vs. Florida

Florida was a completely different team last year after quarterback Will Grier’s suspension. Really, the same team that beat Ole Miss 38-10 in October needed overtime to get past Florida Atlantic in November. Florida’s slump down the stretch showed just how important the quarterback position can be. It kind of makes you wonder about the Gators headed into the fall. Vanderbilt almost got the job done last year, but lost 9-7.

 

4. Nov. 5 at Auburn

As usual, no team in the SEC is as unpredictable coming into the season as Auburn. The Tigers don’t have much to work with at quarterback, but they could have success in the running game. If Carl Lawson stays healthy, the defense should be quite improved. This will be the first meeting between the Tigers and Commodores since 2012. Remarkably, Vanderbilt actually leads the series 21-20-1, but Auburn has won 13 of the previous 15 meetings.

 

3. Oct. 15 at Georgia

Vanderbilt travels to Athens for its third consecutive SEC East contest on Oct. 15. Even in the James Franklin years, this game didn’t go particularly well for Vanderbilt. The Commodores won it in 2013, but other than that, things have been pretty ugly. Mason’s Vanderbilt teams have lost to Georgia by an average score of 38-16 over the past two years. However, if the Commodores can make Georgia throw the ball, they might be able to give the Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs a run for their money. 

 

2. Nov. 19 vs. Ole Miss

Ole Miss is essentially just another SEC East opponent for Vanderbilt since the teams meet every year in a cross-division matchup. The Rebels have won three in a row in the series, but with the loss of Laquon Treadwell, Laremy Tunsil and several contributors on defense, Vanderbilt should have a shot. Chad Kelly will undoubtedly present problems for Vandy’s defense, but the Commodores held Ole Miss to 27 points last season.

 

1. Nov. 26 vs. Tennessee

It will be nice for Vanderbilt to get its two toughest opponents in Nashville late in the season, but two years ago, this was basically a home game for the Volunteers. Vanderbilt fans have to get out and support the team late in the season or Nashville will be painted orange once again. By this point in November, Tennessee may be well on its way to the SEC Championship Game. The Vols beat the Commodores 53-28 last year. 

 

— Written by Cody McClure, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a radio host and lead SEC Writer for . Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
Ranking the Toughest Games on Vanderbilt's College Football Schedule in 2016
Post date: Monday, July 25, 2016 - 09:30
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“I think stats are for losers. The only stat that matters is wins at the end of the year.”

 

Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald gave that quote in the 2013 offseason after his Wildcats went 10–3 with what appeared to be pretty mediocre overall stats. He is one of the most recent coaches to say it, but coaches have been saying it since both football and football stats existed.

 

Technically, Fitzgerald was right, of course — wins determine conference champions, and wins certainly play a significant role in deciding who plays for the national title. But if you’re looking to predict what will happen moving forward, or if you’re trying to distinguish between teams with similar win totals, then the win column doesn’t give you very much. You might need stats for that.

 

This feature and more on every team in the Big Ten West are available in the .

 

 

Advanced stats can add much-needed context to a team’s profile. They can adjust for opponent; they can adjust for the wild variations in tempo that we see in today’s college football. They can drop hints regarding who’s lucky and who’s not, or whose results are sustainable or not.

 

Advanced stats and win columns rarely disagreed more than they did when it came to the Big Ten West in 2015. The division produced three 10-win teams and, in Iowa, very nearly a College Football Playoff participant; it did not, however, produce a top-30 team according to the S&P+ ratings, my opponent-adjusted ratings, based on play-by-play and drive stats, that I have posted at FootballOutsiders.com since 2008.

 

In ESPN’s FPI, 10–3 Wisconsin led the way at No. 26. In Brian Fremeau’s FEI, also a Football Outsiders measure, no one ranked higher than No. 29 — and that was 6–7 Nebraska. At No. 22, 12–2 Iowa was the only West team in the top 40 according to Jeff Sagarin’s long-running rankings.

 

The scoffing at these low ratings was constant throughout the season. Iowa began the season 12–0, while 10-win Northwestern beat Stanford and Duke while losing only to Michigan and Iowa. Wisconsin, for that matter, lost to only these two teams and Alabama.

 

But whether we like to admit it or not, margins matter. Iowa’s narrow wins over Pitt, Indiana, Minnesota and Nebraska did not suggest elite status, and while Northwestern lost only twice in the regular season, the Wildcats lost by a combined 78–10 in those games.

 

 

Obviously a lot of the scoffing ended when Iowa lost by 29 to Stanford in the Rose Bowl and Northwestern lost by 39 to Tennessee in the Outback Bowl.

 

Over the last five seasons, the seven teams currently in the Big Ten West have just once ranked in the S&P+ top 10 (2011 Wisconsin ranked exactly 10th) and have only 11 times ranked in the top 40, an average of 2.2 per year. Worse yet, the coaches responsible for nine of those 11 top-40 finishes in that span have since left: Bo Pelini did it three times at Nebraska, Bret Bielema did it twice at Wisconsin, Gary Andersen did it twice at Wisconsin, and Jerry Kill did it twice at Minnesota. Only Kirk Ferentz (No. 29 Iowa in 2013) and Paul Chryst (No. 31 Wisconsin in 2015) remain.

 

While historically well-off programs in the Big Ten East have hired big names such as Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh in recent years, the West has taken a more low-profile route to hiring.

 

•  Though Chryst had an obvious history with Wisconsin (he’s a former UW quarterback and spent time on staff in 2002 and 2005-11), the Badgers still replaced Andersen with a guy who was 19–19 in three years at Pitt.

 

•  Nebraska fired Bo Pelini, who had averaged 9.4 wins per year since 2008, and replaced him with Mike Riley, who was 29–33 in his last five years at Oregon State.

 

•  Minnesota promoted from within when Jerry Kill retired last year.

 

•  Perhaps most damning at the moment, Purdue retained Darrell Hazell despite a 6–30 record through three seasons.

 

By comparison, Illinois’ hire of just-fired NFL coach Lovie Smith was met by fans with relative enthusiasm. Any hire can work out well, but in terms of pure ambition and spending, these hires have been rather conservative.

 

So is there hope moving forward? Possibly. Iowa and Nebraska both return quite a few stellar contributors from last year’s squads, which, by the numbers, weren’t as far apart as the win column would suggest. But while Purdue and Minnesota each return an average amount of experience and Northwestern isn’t far behind, both Illinois and Wisconsin are replacing large chunks of their respective two-deeps. Perhaps both the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers can approach double-digit wins, and perhaps they can finish the season stronger than Iowa and Northwestern did this past year. But division depth still appears to be an issue, and the future isn’t exactly bright in that regard — according to the 247Sports Composite, only one Big Ten West recruiting class has ranked better than 25th since 2009: Nebraska’s 2013 class, which ranked 22nd. These teams are performing around the level to which they’re recruiting.

 

When you draw up conference divisions, you have to make a choice: Do you divide teams by approximate geography, or do you attempt to distribute them in an effort to make two competitively equal divisions? I tend to lean toward the former because quality is cyclical. Blueblood programs are good more often than anybody, but it is still hit-or-miss. Case in point: the ACC, which separated Miami and Florida State into different divisions to enjoy the spoils of a decade of UM-FSU conference title games. Twelve years into Miami’s ACC membership, however, the Hurricanes and Seminoles have yet to face off for the conference championship.

 

The Big Ten first chose the competitiveness route with the maligned and awkwardly named Leaders and Legends divisions. But when Maryland and Rutgers came aboard, the thought of either being a division mate with a faraway school like Iowa or Nebraska was too nonsensical, so the East and West divisions were created. And in doing so, the conference has created a divide nearly as wide as that of the SEC East and West.

 

This could indeed be cyclical. Nebraska could still return to power under Riley, and for all we know, Meyer and Harbaugh could both leave for the NFL, or retirement, or a flight to Mars. And their replacement hires could bomb, thereby evening out the divisions again. But that’s what it’s going to take. As things currently stand, the East has all the upside, and the West is hoping for lightning in a bottle. Stats may be for losers, but you don’t need too many stats at your disposal to see some serious imbalance in the Midwest.

 

-By , SB Nation

Teaser:
Does the Big Ten West Have Any Hope to Catch up with the East?
Post date: Monday, July 25, 2016 - 09:00
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The old saying goes that major news comes in “3s,” right? This weekend’s Brickyard 400 lives up to that mantra with a trio of storylines involving three of the most important, well-known names in the world of .

 

There’s Jeff Gordon, coming out of retirement to drive the No. 88 of Hendrick Motorsports. Gordon, who hasn’t driven a car since Homestead last November, finds himself just two years removed from a stirring Brickyard 400 victory. He’s the winningest stock car driver at Indianapolis and, despite posting the 25th-fastest speed in Friday Happy Hour, must be looked at as a dark horse contender for the win.

 

Gordon replaces Dale Earnhardt Jr., still sidelined after a series of concussion-type symptoms left him feeling ill after Kentucky. Friday, the driver acknowledged progress but he’ll be out at least through Pocono, as his chances for making the 2016 Chase are declining rapidly. How will the sport fare without its Most Popular Driver in the car for the foreseeable future? Indy will be a far bigger test of if fans will still tune in; it’s one of the sport’s “crown jewel” races that typically brings in a larger summer audience.

 

And then there’s Indiana native Tony Stewart, running his favorite track for a final time and entering the Brickyard with mucho momentum. A runner-up Loudon finish leaves hope the No. 14 team could pull an upset and put their hometown hero back in Victory Lane here one final time.

 

Sunday may not have the specter of the 100th open-wheel Indy 500 this May, an event which produced a sold-out crowd, but this Indy race still has plenty going for it.

 

2016 Brickyard 400

 

Time: 3 p.m. ET (Sunday)

Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

TV: NBC Sports Network

Radio: PRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90

 

Who’s at the Front: Toyota

After Team Penske Fords won three out of the last four Sprint Cup races the season’s top manufacturer, Toyota, bounced back in a big way Sunday. The Loudon event was dominated most of the day by Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch and JGR’s single-car ally, the Furniture Row Racing Toyota driven by Martin Truex Jr. When both drivers suffered from unrelated issues late, Matt Kenseth surged to the front and coasted to victory over Stewart. In all, Toyotas led 299 of 301 laps and upped their win total to 9-of-19 on the year, easily besting Ford and Chevrolet. It’s a reminder that despite recent gains from their rivals JGR and company remain formidable opponents come September’s Chase.

 

Who’s at the Back: Chase Elliott

The sport’s most promising rookie most of the season has hit a rough patch. Elliott, involved in another wreck at Loudon, has now finished outside the top 20 in four straight races. Before that stretch? He’d run outside the top 20 just twice. The results leave Elliott, once a Chase lock, only 54 points ahead of fellow freshman Ryan Blaney (who is currently in 17th) and a pack of hungry drivers behind him. In theory, that should be more than enough with seven races left but we’ve seen bigger collapses before in the Chase era. Elliott needs a solid run at Indy this weekend to stop the bleeding.

 

News Briefs

 

Earnhardt, out through Pocono, has given no timetable on his return to the No. 88. Gordon, for his part is committed for the next two races and then the team will reevaluate. As part of Gordon’s return to the sport it was revealed he also was offered the No. 14 car for February’s Daytona 500, a move that would have had him subbing for Tony Stewart. Unfortunately for Gordon, FOX broadcast obligations got in the way although their absence from the sport until February gives him the green light to drive for HMS as long as is needed.

 

NASCAR owner Richard Childress said this week he’s closer to finalizing his driver lineup for 2017. Two of his three drivers, Ryan Newman and Paul Menard, have their contracts expiring at the end of this season while the owner’s grandson, Ty Dillon, is scheduled to move up to Cup full-time. Childress would like Dillon in the fold racing along with brother Austin, but sponsorship has been hard to come by. Newman’s future appears the most tenuous as Menard, according to the car owner, is in position to re-sign a long-term deal with family backing.

 

TV ratings for the sport continue to be a major story. Loudon declined 13 percent year-to-year on NBC Sports Network; the audience for the race as a whole has declined nearly one full ratings point in three years. Attendance concerns at the track were also on display as the grandstands were far from capacity. Will those worries carry over to Indy? Last-minute ticket sales are up with Gordon coming out of retirement but the jury is still out as to whether the track will even break the 70,000 mark. By comparison, well over 300,000 attended a sold out Indy 500 event back in May.

 

NASCAR by the Numbers

 

3

Straight races all four Hendrick Motorsports cars have finished outside the top 10.

 

52

Points separating Trevor Bayne, who currently holds the last Chase spot (16th) from 22nd-place point man Greg Biffle. With Earnhardt expected to drop out of the field this weekend, expect that pack of drivers to shuffle all the way through Richmond for that final slot.

 

Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)

 

Top Tier

 

was our pick here last week and he was out front for half the race in New Hampshire before fading late. Expect that type of momentum to continue at Indy, a race where Busch is the defending champion. His 2015 breakthrough for Toyota shows no signs of letting up as Busch led the field in Happy Hour practice Friday. Repeat victories are rare but a top-5 bid feels certain here unless something mechanical goes wrong.

 

, second in Happy Hour, also has a rich history of success at Indy. While winning just once, in 2003 he has seven straight top-20 finishes at the track and always seems to nose his way into contention. The No. 4 car has been shooting itself in the foot recently – pit problems and pit box mistakes the order of the day – but at some point luck has to turn back in their direction.

 

Middle Tier

 

is running a No. 42 car that’s come close to winning Indy in the past with Juan Pablo Montoya.  Two-for-two on top-10 finishes in Larson’s previous Indy starts, chances are high he’ll be ripe to repeat that performance this weekend considering his recent NASCAR performances. Fresh off a Wednesday victory in the Eldora truck race, Larson is motivated to win a race before September and move himself off that precarious Chase bubble for good.

 

Greg Biffle, coming off three straight top 10s, seems to be putting together a last-ditch effort to contend for a Chase bid. Indy, where he ran 19th last season, wouldn’t seem to favor the Roush Fenway cars but the No. 16 team has quietly put up some decent numbers here. Just once since 2007 has Biffle run outside the top 20 at this track and his career average finish there is a respectable 13.6. I’d ride the momentum and see where it goes.

 

Lower Tier

 

Paul Menard? Yes, that Paul Menard. The 2011 Brickyard 400 winner was 14th last season and has five top-15 finishes in his last six Indy starts. Menard, who’s had some uncharacteristically bad luck this season, is looking to build a solid foundation for 2017 and excels on these types of strung-out, horsepower tracks.

 

As for Gordon? He's a dark horse contender but the "boom or bust" mentality for someone coming out of retirement should make you stay away from a fantasy perspective. Would you pick a plumber to fix your house, for example that hasn't done a single job in eight months, especially considering there are dozens of other qualified candidates available? Choose at your own risk.

 

What Vegas Thinks

Kyle Busch has 11/2 odds to win Indy as of Friday night with Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. close behind (13/2). Team Penske comes next as Joey Logano (7/1) and Brad Keselowski (8/1) are expected to excel at a track their boss, Roger Penske, has won at more than any other on the IndyCar side.

 

What I Think

Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, even Kyle Busch would produce some kind of storybook ending at Indy. But I’m going to go with a different type of surprise: Jimmie Johnson, after a month or two of struggles at Hendrick Motorsports, gets the act together for the team and takes the No. 48 back to Victory Lane at Indy.

 

— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site . He can be reached at or on Twitter .

 

(Photo by )

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Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Preview and Fantasy NASCAR Predictions
Post date: Saturday, July 23, 2016 - 12:45
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Just when you thought it was all over, the has reversed course and pulled schools across the country back into the murky waters of college realignment. After going back and forth for months on the subject, commissioner Bob Bowlsby surprised many in the college athletics world at the league’s media days by saying the Big 12 is essentially opening its doors to new members.

 

Related: 

 

There should be no shortage of schools that want to walk through those doors to join the Power Five club and Bowlsby’s phones are likely to be ringing off the hook over the next six to nine months. While the latest round of musical chairs won’t be quite as involved as in recent years, it nevertheless should make for a fascinating 2016.

 

But who should get in? Who shouldn’t stand a chance? Football independent is frequently mentioned whenever conference realignment comes up and that is certainly the case once again with the Big 12 on the lookout. There’s a strong case to be made for the Cougars but like everyone else, they are no perfect candidate.

 

Three Reasons Why BYU Should Join the Big 12

 

1. The Cougars bring a national (and international) fan base
There’s going to be plenty of talk about market size and what states a team can deliver for a potential conference network but nobody is doubting that BYU is likely carrying around the biggest stick when it comes to the size of its fan base. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the school is owned by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but even beyond that, there’s a large following of people — in the state of Utah and elsewhere — who are fans of the Cougars. This is a passionate fan base that travels well and the fact that there are generally plenty of alumni in and around Big 12 cities should be seen as a big plus when it comes to potentially adding the school to the league. Plus football attendance and enrollment are both in line with the Big 12 average.

 

2. BYU is the closest to a “Power Five” program

When Big 12 board chairman and Oklahoma president David Boren was asked about what the conference will be looking for in candidates, the first thing he mentioned was the state of their athletic programs and how competitive they are. BYU ticks off most of the boxes in this category, as the Cougars are usually floating around the top 25 in football polls and have won plenty of big games over the years (not to mention having a national title in the trophy room) in the sport that really counts in all of this. Looking beyond football, the athletic budget is a good size, the university fields a successful men’s basketball team and there are several strong Olympic sports programs too. In short, the bar is set high.

 

3. BYU is the biggest brand

Let’s face it, the grant of rights that most of the big conferences have mean there are no Texas- or Oklahoma-level schools available for the Big 12 to poach. Heck, given most of the candidates available, there really aren’t a ton of Texas Tech- or Oklahoma State-level candidates either. Among the five to 10 schools the conference is really going to examine closely however, BYU owns the biggest and most recognizable brand.

 

Three Reasons Why BYU Shouldn’t Join the Big 12

 

1. Geography does the Cougars no favor

When the Big 12 added West Virginia, anybody with a map could see that the Mountaineers would be out on a geographical island when it came to travel. Going west to Utah doesn’t help things all that much and would stretch the league over a remarkable two-thirds of the country and three time zones. Things are somewhat more manageable in a football-only situation given travel is a bit more limited, but being 1,000 miles from the conference home base is going to be one of the biggest sticking points for some calling for BYU to join the Big 12.

 

2. The church could mean complications

The Big 12 has not exactly had smooth sailing when it comes to its current private, faith-based school (Baylor), is the conference really gung-ho on adding another? BYU in particular has been difficult to deal with at times when it has been in other leagues and it hasn’t been able to completely shed that reputation. One other topic frequently mentioned is the fact that BYU cannot play on Sundays. That’s not a huge sticking point when it comes to revenue sports like football or men’s hoops but it gets a little trickier when you factor in soccer teams and baseball squads. Finally, the Longhorn Network has caused a number of complications for Big 12 leaders and they would have to deal with another in BYUtv, which isn’t simply a channel devoted to sports.

 

3. BYU may be hitting its glass ceiling

While the Cougars have had relative and sustained success in various sports over the years, one wonders if the athletic department is butting up against a bit of a glass ceiling. The basketball team has had lofty expectations and great players but has made only one Sweet Sixteen in the past 30 years. Fans who still can remember the 1984 national title in football are approaching the age where they’re no longer considered prime viewers by advertisers. In the Olympic sports, men’s volleyball and women’s cross country account for only four national titles since 2000. Add it all up and it’s more than most but not the overall picture of excellence some Big 12 leaders might be looking for given some of the negatives the school has. One also can’t help but wonder that with a new, first-time head football coach and a very difficult schedule in the near future if things are going to be somewhat rocky for BYU going forward and this is simply as good as things get in Provo.

 

Final Verdict

 

Big 12 leaders have been fairly vague as to what the biggest thing they are looking for in a new school but whenever they’ve been forced to throw out some criteria, BYU tends to rank highly in most categories. Even the league’s coaches, in an ESPN poll, selected the Cougars as one of the two schools (Houston the other) they would have at the top of their expansion list.

 

What gets tricky is figuring out how many teams the Big 12 is going to take with all this expansion talk. If it’s just two schools, one could reason that it might make more sense from a geographic standpoint to build a bridge to West Virginia with a Cincinnati and/or Memphis. Perhaps Big 12 presidents simply don’t want to deal with some of the negatives associated with bringing in a BYU. On the other hand, it’s hard to deny that the school has a lot going for it and could best be described as the top all-around candidate. The fact that a football-only invite could be on the table also probably helps the Cougars’ cause, especially if four invites are being handed out.

 

No matter what, it figures to be a nervous time around Provo the next couple of months. BYU should be confident that it has what it takes to join the Big 12 but when it comes to conference realignment, nothing is ever concrete and the ground always seems to be shifting with whatever way the wind is blowing. 

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at .

Teaser:
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Post date: Friday, July 22, 2016 - 11:00
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enters the 2016 season in a place it hasn’t been very often in recent years – under the radar. The continuous mass exodus of talent in East Lansing – culminating in Connor Cook’s graduation – seems to have finally dropped the Spartans down a few notches in the eyes of experts and fans around the country.

 

Related:

 

Most publications – including Athlon Sports – project Michigan State to finish outside of the top two in the East in 2016, which would certainly eliminate them from College Football Playoff contention. There is, however, plenty of reason to believe that this Spartan squad can put together yet another championship-caliber run on the back of a system that works and talented players in key positions.

 

Three Reasons Why Michigan State Will Make the College Football Playoff in 2016

 

1. Senior Leadership at Quarterback

Most programs that lose arguably the greatest quarterback in its history replace him with an underclassman poised to cement his own legacy over the next couple of seasons. Michigan State, on the other hand, will be led by fifth-year senior Tyler O’Conner. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound signal-caller has waited for his turn behind Cook and mastered the offense in the process. He has a stronger arm than his predecessor and is much more mobile. And let’s not forget: O’Conner notched a win over Ohio State in Columbus last November while replacing an injured Cook.

 

2. Solid Running Game

Having leadership and stability at the quarterback position is great, but it was the Spartan running game that literally sent Michigan State to the College Football Playoff last year on the back of a . LJ Scott did the bulk of the damage on that drive. He’ll return as the projected workhorse back and will be spelled by two other capable runners in Madre London and Gerald Holmes. They’ll all run behind an offensive line that returns three starters and is led by Brian Allen – one of the top linemen in college football.

 

3. A System That Works

Call it a system. Call it a program. Whatever you want to call it, it works. Mark Dantonio has installed a winning culture built on running the ball tough and playing stingy, next-man-up defense – a timeless recipe for success at every level. The players buy in early and execute the scheme on both sides of the ball to near perfection. Tradition does not graduate.

 

Three Reasons Why Michigan Won’t Makes the College Football Playoff in 2016

 

1. No Proven Consistent Playmakers in the Passing Game
Sure, the run is the bread and butter of what Michigan State does on offense, but they’ll need big plays through the air to win all the games they need to win to get to the postseason. Aaron Burbridge is gone and there does not appear to be a receiver in the fold that can step in as a tradition No. 1 option and provide the same explosiveness as he did. R.J. Shelton is gifted, but he is a gimmick player who thrives on plays specifically designed to get him the ball.

 

2. No Elite Pass Rusher
You can scheme all you want, but if you don’t have elite talent executing your strategy, you probably won’t get elite results. Shilique Calhoun was a once-in-generation pass rusher for Michigan State. The chaos he caused in opposing backfields made the lives of his defensive teammates easier – especially in the secondary. Calhoun will be replaced with a capable athlete, but it’s hard to imagine Dantonio catching lightning in a bottle twice in a row at the same position.

 

3. A Tricky Schedule
After opening at home with Furman, the Spartans travel to South Bend to play a Notre Dame team with national title aspirations of its own. They’ll follow that up by hosting Wisconsin before the bye week. Mid-October visits from both BYU and Northwestern won’t be easy. They close out the month by hosting Michigan – a team they probably should have lost to in 2015. The last two matchups on the schedule are the home tilt against Ohio State and a trip to Happy Valley to play the Nittany Lions. That’s five teams that won 10 games and one that won nine in 2015. The Spartans would be doing well to split those six contests.

 

Related:

 

Final Verdict

 

Given Mark Dantonio’s track record as of late, you’d be a fool to bet against the Spartans being in the national title hunt once again in 2016. That said, the loss of some of the greatest players to ever wear a Michigan State uniform combined with a schedule with an underrated degree of difficulty likely means a slight step back in East Lansing. Best-case scenario for Michigan State is probably going 4-2 in the aforementioned six matchups and winning the rest of their games. Worst-case scenario is a .500 season. However you look at it, there is a slim chance, if any, that the Spartans return to the College Football Playoff in 2016.

 

Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 13

Athlon’s Projected Final Record: (9-3, 7-2 Big Ten)

Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 8

5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 7.5

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Teaser:
Why Michigan State Will or Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2016
Post date: Friday, July 22, 2016 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: syndicated, NFL
Path: /nfl/ezekiel-elliotts-girlfriend-posts-pictures-bruises-claiming-be-victim-domestic-violence-dallas-cowboys
Body:

Cowboys rookie Ezekiel Elliott is in hot water due to pictures posted by his live-in girlfriend, Tiffany Thompson.

 

Thompson posted pictures featuring bruises around her wrists and different parts of her body claiming to be the victim of domestic violence. In the first set of photos she doesn't directly mention Elliott, but the second set features a caption with his Instagram handle.

 

 

 

According to , the Cowboys rookie and the agency that represents him adamantly denied Elliott's involvement.

 

"I can assure you [the allegations] are not true," one person from his agent's office said.

 

The Cowboys, along with Elliott, believe he is being set up by the young lady. The running back also says he has text messages to prove his innocence. 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, July 22, 2016 - 10:26
Path: /fantasy/college-fantasy-football-2016-wide-receiver-rankings
Body:

While the days of daily college football appear to be over (sadly), the season-long game remains alive and well as we head into the 2016 season.

 

To help those college fantasy diehards, Athlon Sports has positional rankings to assist in your preparations for the upcoming draft season. Below is the scoring system used to comprise these rankings.

 

Passing Yards, 25 yards = 1 point

Passing TD = 4 points

Rushing Yards, 10 yards = 1 point

Rushing TDs = 6 points

Receptions = 0.5 points per reception

Receiving Yards, 10 yards = 1 point

Receiving TDs = 6 points

 

2016 College Fantasy Positional Rankings: I I

 

2016 College Fantasy Football WR Rankings

 

1. Corey Davis, Western Michigan

The only question mark surrounding Corey Davis entering his senior season is how defenses will attack him and the Western Michigan offense without his trusted running mate, Daniel Braverman, who opted for the NFL after his junior year. There are zero question marks about Davis’ talent, as he posted his second consecutive 1,400-yard season in 2015, including seven straight 100-yard games to close out the year. Just a two-star prospect coming out of high school, Davis is near the top of the list regarding the best wide receivers in all of college football and should be selected close to the top of any fantasy draft due to the lack of depth at the position this season.

 

2. Gabe Marks, Washington State

Marks made the surprising decision of coming back to school for another season after catching 104 passes and scoring 15 touchdowns last year, but that gives fantasy players yet another top-flight option at the wide receiver position. Marks heads into his senior season without counterpart Dom Williams occupying attention on the opposite side of the field, but that shouldn’t deter you one bit from selecting him. Washington State's offense continually produces 1,000-yard receivers and with Luke Falk throwing to him, Marks should top last year's stats.

 

3. Richie James, Middle Tennessee

Just an obscure redshirt freshman before the season, Richie James wound up finishing second in the entire country in receptions in 2015 with 108, including at least six in every game played. James wound up being one of two 1,000-yard receivers for the Blue Raiders, but Ed’Marques Batties has since graduated leaving James as the offense’s primary target for 2016. James should at the very least match last year’s totals, and will add in a rushing score or two as he is one of the more versatile athletes in college football.

 

4. Keevan Lucas, Tulsa

Do NOT, I repeat, Do NOT forget about Lucas when heading into your fantasy draft. Lucas wound up playing in just four games last year due to a season-ending knee injury, but just look at what he did in the first three games of 2015: 19 receptions, 342 yards (18.0 ypr), five TDs. Lucas was clearly taking well to the new up-tempo offense installed by head coach Philip Montgomery, so over the course of a full season he should top 100 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards fairly easily.

 

5. James Washington, Oklahoma State

Is Washington on the verge of becoming the next Dez Bryant or Justin Blackmon? If so, Washington should be in for quite the season, as both of the aforementioned players topped 1,450 receiving yards in their best years at Oklahoma State. After a slow start last season, Washington closed strong with nine touchdown catches in the last six regular season games, including five in consecutive weeks against Texas Tech and TCU. Washington is well positioned to post the best season of any Oklahoma State receiver since 2011.

 

6. Kenny Golladay, Northern Illinois

Prior to the 2015 season opener, Golladay was an unknown commodity following his transfer to Northern Illinois from FCS program North Dakota. That all changed after Week 1 when Golladay caught nine passes for 213 yards against UNLV. It turned out that wasn’t a fluke either, as the junior had 144 yards and two touchdowns the following week against Murray State. Golladay wound up finishing his first season at the FBS level with 1,129 yards and 10 touchdowns, all with NIU rotating three quarterbacks throughout the year due to injury. With starting quarterback Drew Hare back under center, Golladay should best his 2015 numbers.

 

7. Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky

Taylor finished third in the country last season with 1,467 yards receiving on 86 receptions, and second in touchdown catches with 17, finishing behind only Baylor’s Corey Coleman. Taylor won’t have his record-breaking quarterback Brandon Doughty throwing him the ball this year, but Western Kentucky will be running the same offense that set numerous school records in 2015. Expect to see a slight decline in Taylor’s numbers, but he will still rank in the top 10 of most receiving categories by season’s end.

 

8. Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech

It’s not often we see Virginia Tech receivers ranked this highly, but Ford is fully deserving of being in this spot. The junior closed 2015 on a fantasy rampage, catching a touchdown in each of the final four games and recording three consecutive 100-yard performances. Ford wound up setting the school records for touchdowns (11), yards (1,164) and receptions (75), and could potentially become the school’s all-time receiving leader by the end of the year. New head coach Justin Fuente is an offensive-minded coach and should help the Hokies put up more points in 2016, meaning another good season is likely from Ford.

 

9. Thomas Sperbeck, Boise State

Sperbeck did not hit his stride until the second half of the season where he finished with 43 receptions for more than 560 yards in the final four games, including a 20-catch, 281-yard effort against New Mexico. Not surprisingly, Sperbeck’s increased production coincided with the improvement of freshman quarterback Brett Rypien who didn’t start until Week 4. Getting to the century mark in receptions would not be a total stretch for Sperbeck in 2016, making him a perfect pick in PPR leagues.

 

10. JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC

The man they call JuJu will get his no matter who is the quarterback, but having either Max Browne or Sam Darnold develop into a credible starter in 2016 will help USC’s No. 1 target immensely. Smith-Schuster was one of the most consistent receivers in college football last season with 80 or more yards receiving in 10 games, though he did not record a touchdown in three out of the last four as USC struggled down the stretch. Topping last year’s numbers will be tough with an inexperienced quarterback throwing him the ball, but Smith-Schuster is too good to see his numbers fall dramatically.

 

11. KD Cannon, Baylor

Cannon announced earlier this month that he underwent minor knee surgery, but all signs point to him being ready for the start of the regular season. His freshman year numbers were slightly better than last season, but Cannon should be more productive as a junior with Corey Coleman departing early for the NFL. The lack of proven depth behind Cannon should only increase the amount of targets headed his way.

 

12. Courland Sutton, SMU

Fantasy players and draftniks alike are drooling over Sutton’s potential after what they saw from him as a freshman. The large (6-4, 215) target put up 49 catches for 862 yards and nine touchdowns in his first season, though he did struggle down the stretch with zero scores in the final four games. SMU’s offense is expected to drastically improve in Year Two of the Chad Morris regime, and Sutton’s projections of more than 1,100 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns are a direct reflection of that.

 

13. Shelton Gibson, West Virginia

Gibson is a trendy selection this upcoming season with most believing the West Virginia offense will improve dramatically in 2016, due in large part to last year’s bowl victory over Arizona State in which the Mountaineers piled up nearly 700 yards of total offense. I am not 100 percent on that bandwagon as Arizona State ranked dead last in pass defense, but it’s hard not to see an improvement coming with nearly everyone returning in the passing game. Gibson is far and away the best of the bunch at receiver, and 1,200 yards is in the realm of where he should finish at this fall.

 

14. Ronnie Moore, Bowling Green

Like you will see with many players on this list, Moore will be the new lead receiver for Bowling Green with the losses of both Roger Lewis and Gehrig Dieter, a pair that combined for 179 receptions and more than 2,500 yards in 2015. Despite finishing third on the team, Moore put up No. 1 receiver-like numbers with 72 catches for 954 yards and six scores. New head coach Mike Jinks has said he will be keeping the Air Raid attack, which should allow for Moore to top that elusive 1,000-yard mark and haul in around 80 passes in 2016.

 

15. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

As a true freshman, Kirk made an instant splash on the field for the Aggies with more than 200 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in the season opener against Arizona State. Kirk would go on to lead the Aggies in catches (80), receiving yards (1,009) and touchdowns (7) in what turned out to be a down season for the Texas A&M offense. Assuming incoming transfer quarterback Trevor Knight is an instant improvement behind center, Kirk should put up similar numbers as a sophomore.

 

16. Zach Pascal, Old Dominion

Pascal was one of the hottest receivers towards the end of the 2015 season, closing the year with four 100-yard performances in the last five games, along with five touchdowns in the last three games alone. He did all of that even though the quarterback snaps were shared between David Washington and Shuler Bentley for much of the season. Assuming a clear-cut starting QB emerges, Pascal should easily top 1,000 yards and possibly double-digit touchdowns.

 

17. Calvin Ridley, Alabama

Many will think this ranking is too low for a talent like Ridley, but he comes in at No. 17 for two reasons. First off, Alabama’s receiving corps is potentially the best in the country with Ridley, ArDarius Stewart and Robert Foster all returning. Not to mention the Crimson Tide also added graduated transfer Gehrig Dieter, who had more than 100 receptions last season for Bowling Green. Are there enough balls to go around? And who will be throwing those passes? Alabama will be breaking in a new starting quarterback for the fourth consecutive season and while there is a track record for success, it is difficult to predict exactly how the new signal-caller will perform. Ridley will top 1,000 yards receiving, but his upside appears to be more limited than those ranked ahead of him.

 

18. Fred Ross, Mississippi State

Ross is back for his senior season after being named to the All-SEC team in 2015, setting the school record with 88 catches for 1,007 yards and five scores. He also closed last season on a tear with 48 receptions and four TDs in the final five games. Ross headlines the Mississippi State offense in 2016 as the Bulldogs lost fellow wideouts De’Runnya Wilson and Fred Brown, as well as arguably the best player in program history, quarterback Dak Prescott. Because of the inexperience of the receivers behind him, Ross should see an increase in targets, but how effective the new quarterback(s) will be likely determines Ross' fantasy outlook.

 

19. D.J. Thompson, Southern Mississippi

Thompson will assume the No. 1 receiver role in a Southern Miss offense that put up nearly 40 points and more than 500 yards per game in 2015. Even as the No. 3 target last season, Thompson put up career highs with 55 catches for 779 yards and six touchdowns. The senior will assuredly set new career bests across the board this fall as he takes on the lead role in an offense that will continue to air it out often.

 

20. Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech

Louisiana Tech’s version of Julian Edelman, Taylor led the Bulldogs with 99 receptions for 1,282 yards and nine touchdowns in 2015, including seven 100-yard games. Matching those numbers this season will be difficult, however, as the Bulldogs will be starting over at the quarterback position yet again – this time without the services of a graduate transfer. Seeing Taylor’s reception totals drop a few notches is a distinct possibility, but he is still the primary target in a pass-first offense.

 

21. Devonte Boyd, UNLV

Boyd’s production last season was hampered by subpar play out of the quarterback position as starter Blake Decker was in and out of the lineup for much of the year. Enter junior college transfer Johnny Stanton, who immediately upgrades the position and will be throwing to potentially the best set of receivers in the Mountain West conference in Boyd and Kendal Keys. Boyd will easily top 1,000 yards receiving in 2016 and could very well hit double-digit touchdowns.

 

22. Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma

Westbrook is the clear leader in the clubhouse to assume the No. 1 receiver role from the departed Sterling Shepard, but can he stay out of trouble long enough for that to happen? The former JUCO transfer was arrested in May on a trespassing charge, but based on the comments by head coach Bob Stoops at Big 12 media day, he expects Westbrook to be a playmaker for the Sooners this upcoming season, leading me to believe he is in good standing with the staff. Westbrook is the fastest of the Oklahoma receivers and should become the team’s new deep threat on offense.

 

23. Rodney Adams, South Florida

Surprise, surprise, another USF player makes the college fantasy rankings this year. Rodney Adams is an explosive athlete as shown by his 18 yards per catch average and his stats will only improve as quarterback Quinton Flowers continues to develop. Double-digit receiving touchdowns are certainly the expectation and Adams will surely add in a few more either in the return game or as a rusher on jet sweeps.

 

24. KeVonn Mabon, Ball State

The bad news for Ball State is Jordan Williams, the Cardinals’ leading receiver each of the past two seasons, has exhausted his eligibility. However, this should open up things for Mabon, who has posted 129 receptions the past two years, including a career-high 70 catches in 2015. Don’t let Mabon’s low touchdown totals (2) scare you off – the Cardinals were breaking in freshman quarterback Riley Neal, who should be improved in his second season.

 

25. Anthony Miller, Memphis

Miller likely takes over as the No. 1 receiver in 2016 as he led the Tigers last season with three 100-yard games and five touchdown grabs. Doubling those stats is feasible, but remains uncertain as Memphis no longer has the services of possibly the best quarterback in school history in Paxton Lynch. Junior college recruit Riley Ferguson should keep the offense afloat, but matching last year’s totals doesn’t seem likely. Around 70 catches and close to 1,000 yards is the expectation for Miller.

 

26. Steve Ishmael, Syracuse

The clear No. 1 wideout for the Orange, Ishmael will benefit greatly from the wide-open spread attack favored by new head coach Dino Babers. The junior posted 570 yards receiving and seven touchdowns in 2015 despite Syracuse using three quarterbacks throughout the season. Fifty or so receptions and double-digit touchdowns are the expectation here.

 

27. Travis Rudolph, Florida State

There could potentially be a youth movement at wide receiver for the Seminoles with sophomores George Campbell and Auden Tate deserving of more snaps, but Rudolph’s role as the No. 1 option appears to be safe in 2016. With improved quarterback play, which is expected, Rudolph is projected to top 1,000 yards receiving with at least eight touchdowns.

 

28. Jordan Westerkamp, Nebraska

Last season, Westerkamp posted the highest numbers by any Nebraska wide receiver since 2008 with 65 catches for 918 yards, the latter number placing him second on the school single-season list for receptions. With what should be an improved Nebraska offense in head coach Mike Riley’s second year, there is no reason Westerkamp can’t reach the 1,000-yard mark in 2016.

 

29. Damore’ea Stringfellow, Ole Miss

Stringfellow is the odds-on favorite to take over the No. 1 receiver role with Laquon Treadwell off to the NFL. The former Washington transfer finished fourth on the team in receiving in 2015 with just 36 catches, but has similar measurables to his predecessor and closed last season on a high note with three touchdowns in his last three games.

 

30. Jehu Chesson, Michigan

Chesson emerged as the big-play threat in Michigan’s offense late last season, finishing the year with three 100-yard performances in the final four weeks, including a 200-yard, four-touchdown effort against Indiana. The Wolverines have a major question mark at quarterback, but assuming this gets resolved relatively quickly, Chesson’s numbers shouldn’t see much of a decline, if at all. The senior also is used quite often on reverse sweeps, which could lead to a rushing score or two.

 

31. Allen Lazard, Iowa State

32. Zay Jones, East Carolina

33. Artavis Scott, Clemson

34. Penny Hart, Georgia State

35. Josh Atkinson, Tulsa

36. Mike Williams, Clemson

37. Antonio Callaway, Florida

38. Tre’Quan Smith, UCF

39. Austin Duke, Charlotte

40. Corey Jones, Toledo

41. Jalen Robinette, Air Force

42. Tanner Gentry, Wyoming

43. Chance Allen, Houston

44. JoJo Natson, Akron

45. Jerico Richardson, Nevada

46. John Ross, Washington

47. Nicholas Norris, Western Kentucky

48. KaVonte Turpin, TCU

49. Sebastian Smith, Ohio

50. Thomas Owens, FIU

 

— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2

Teaser:
College Fantasy Football 2016 Wide Receiver Rankings
Post date: Friday, July 22, 2016 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/top-10-big-12-non-conference-games-2016
Body:

Baylor’s callow scheduling in 2014 undoubtedly played a part in the Big 12’s snub from the College Football Playoff. Unfortunately, we didn’t really get to find out if Oklahoma’s game at Tennessee a year later mattered much in the Selection Committee’s decision to give the Sooners a spot.

 

Once again, OU has lined up a typically tough non-conference slate. The same goes for Texas. Schools like Texas Tech and Kansas State have gotten over their distaste for taking on other power conference squads before Big 12 play starts.

 

Despite only having 30 chances to schedule appealing non-conference games, Big 12 teams have set up plenty of intriguing 2016 showdowns outside of league play.

 

1. Ohio State at Oklahoma (Sept. 17)

In possibly the best inter-conference game of the entire season, two of the premier programs in college football meet in Norman for the first in a home-and-home series. OU can plant a flag for the rest of the league with a win. A loss to the Buckeyes, on the other hand, would deal a big blow to the Playoff hopes of the Big 12 preseason favorite.

 

2. Notre Dame at Texas (Sept. 4)

Another battle of blue bloods. The Fighting Irish humiliated UT in South Bend last season. With the Longhorns breaking in a new offense and possibly a starting quarterback, exacting revenge will be a tall order for Charlie Strong’s team.

 

Podcast: Official 2016 Big 12 Preview



Subscribe: |

 

3. Oklahoma vs. Houston (Houston – Sept. 3)

When they signed up for this game, the Sooners probably thought of an opener versus the Cougars in Space City as a nice recruiting trip. Instead, one of the best Group of 5 teams in the country awaits them at NRG Stadium. Few teams around the country can match OU's non-conference slate.

 

4. Kansas State at Stanford (Sept. 2)

A season opener on the road against the reigning Pac-12 champ? Ambitious. The Cardinal got off on the wrong foot last season as they failed to set their body clocks for a trip to Northwestern. Can't afford to sleepwalk when Bill Snyder is on the other sideline.

 

5. Arkansas at TCU (Sept. 10)

Last season, Texas Tech worked over Bret Bielema's Razorbacks. The Horned Frogs can pick up the Big 12's baton this year. Two stout defenses and transitioning offenses set the table for what could be a war of attrition.

 

6. Texas Tech at Arizona State (Sept. 10)

Pat Mahomes leads Tech's high-powered offense into Tempe, where things have been known to get a little weird. And speaking of getting weird... that Red Raider D, yeesh. Shootout engaged.

 

7. Pittsburgh at Oklahoma State (Sept. 17)

Mike Gundy has made his distaste for these kinds of games well known. That doesn't mean the Cowboys will play flat, though. The rugged Panthers play a physical style that presents a changeup for the Pokes.

 

8. Iowa State at Iowa (Sept. 10)

The Cyclones have won 20 games in the last five seasons. Three of those Ws have come against their in-state rivals from Iowa City. The Hawkeyes will be big favorites this year, but new ISU coach Matt Campbell should have his team fired up for a game that could give his debut season an early jolt.

 

9. Missouri at West Virginia (Sept. 3)

Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen clearly needs a solid season to keep his job. A home win against Mizzou in an offense-versus-defense battle would make for a good start.

 

10. Rhode Island at Kansas (Sept. 3)

OK, this game really bites, but it’s not often that you get to watch a college football team break a 15-game losing streak.

 

Best of the Rest

West Virginia vs. BYU (Landover, Md. – Sept. 24)

Northern Iowa at Iowa State (Sept. 3)

Texas at California (Sept. 17)

Oklahoma State at Central Michigan (Sept. 10)

 

— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
Top 10 Big 12 Non-Conference Games of 2016
Post date: Friday, July 22, 2016 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/examining-overunder-2016-win-totals-sec-west
Body:

The West will flex its muscles once again in the conference with a lot of talent coming back in this division. Alabama and LSU figure to lead the way while Ole Miss, Arkansas and even Texas A&M could make things interesting. For one thing, this offseason has been filled with headlines that the West would not like to be known for. They'll be as excited as anyone that the season is about to begin.

 

Related: 

 

For the purposes of this exercise, projected win totals are broken down into three categories — definite wins, definite losses and toss-ups. Most of the conference games will in the toss-up category, especially ones on the road. This preview will offer thoughts on each team and if there’s any value either over or under.

 

Note: Over/under odds courtesy of South Point Casino

 

SEC West

 

(Over 9.5 wins -135...Under 9.5 wins +115)

 

Record Last Year: 14-1, 7-1

 

Returning Starters: 11 (6 on offense, 5 on defense)

 

Offense: Cooper Bateman is blessed with Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart and O.J. Howard, who it seems is in for more work this season. The O-line could be an issue although Cam Robinson will hold down left tackle. Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris lead the way in the backfield.

 

Defense: Kirby Smart is gone, but stepping in is Jeremy Pruitt. He has a group that should be real good. The strength is in the secondary with Eddie Jackson leading the way. The front line has just Jonathan Allen back, but the rest of the group is highly touted and finally getting a chance to make an impact.

 

Schedule: The Crimson Tide open up with USC in Arlington, Texas, followed by Western Kentucky. They finish out the year with three home games and play just four true road matchups with one being at LSU.

 

Selection: Seriously, how can anyone not play the over? Nick Saban is the best head coach in America and if Bateman can figure things out early, I see only two losses at the most. The schedule lines up nicely for the Tide to be there in the end yet again.

 

(Over 7.5 wins -120...Under 7.5 wins EVEN)

 

Record Last Year: 8-5, 5-3

 

Returning Starters: 13 (4 on offense, 9 on defense)

 

Offense: This group figures to take a step back after putting up almost 36 points per game in 2015. Austin Allen is under center and he'll get some help from seniors Keon Hatcher, Drew Morgan and Dominique Reed out wide. This unit figures to rely more on the pass then the Razorbacks have in the past.

 

Defense: The Razorbacks were awful against the pass last year, but that should change with nine starters back. Brooks Ellis is a good place to start at middle linebacker with the rest of his running mates back. Special teams weren't that special last year.

 

Schedule: The Razorbacks get Louisiana Tech, TCU, Texas State and Alcorn State outside of SEC play. They actually play three straight games against Texas-based schools. The most friendly stretch is four of five at home from Oct 8-Nov. 12, which includes dates with Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU.

 

Selection: The over is the play here unless the price gets much higher. Arkansas gets almost all of the best teams in conference at home and should be able to take care of business out-of-conference as well. The defense will be a lot better.

 

(Over 7 wins -120...Under 7 wins EVEN)

 

Record Last Year:7-6, 2-6

 

Returning Starters: 11 (6 on offense, 5 on defense)

 

Offense: Jeremy Johnson didn't quite live up to the hype and now is battling John Franklin III for the starting QB job. There have been good things coming out about Franklin so this will be one to watch. Marcus Davis is back with all of 181 receiving yards last year. The middle of the offensive line is back, which should open some holes up in the run game.

 

Defense: The front line is going to be real strong with Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams. Rudy Ford and Carlton Davis are important pieces to the secondary. The linebackers will be the weakest part of this side of the ball with potentially all new starters.

 

Schedule: Auburn hosts Clemson, Arkansas State, ULM and Alabama A&M. Gus Malzahn’s team doesn't leave home until Oct. 8, which is six games in. The Tigers close with three of their final five on the road, including stops at Alabama and Georgia.

 

Selection: I think seven is a very good number. Auburn has its issues, but the Tigers have enough "easy" games on their schedule to make it close to the number.

 

(Over 10 wins EVEN...Under 10 wins -120)

 

Record Last Year: 9-3, 5-3

 

Returning Starters: 18 (8 on offense, 10 on defense)

 

Offense: Leonard Fournette ran for almost 2,000 yards and had 22 rushing touchdowns for the Tigers last year. This year the surrounding cast is pretty much the same especially with Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural out wide. Returning starting QB Brandon Harris is the key though, as he just has to do enough with his arm to help open up running lanes for Fournette.

 

Defense: There are returnees up and down the roster here. Dave Aranda becomes the third defensive coordinator in three years and he wants to move to a 3-4 alignment. Luckily LSU can pull it off with guys like LB Kendell Beckwith back. Tre'Davious White and Rickey Jefferson solidify the secondary.

 

Schedule: The Tigers open with Wisconsin in Green Bay, but then play three of their next four at home. LSU has Jacksonville State, Southern Miss and South Alabama out of conference. They also play four of their final six in Death Valley.

 

Selection: I think 10 is a good number. I'd lean to the over though especially if Harris becomes more of a threat in the pocket. Fournette is going to get his yards and touchdowns, but can Harris make the play on the road at Florida or Arkansas when LSU needs it?

 

(Over 6.5 wins -120...Under 6.5 wins EVEN)

 

Record Last Year: 9-4, 4-4

 

Returning Starters: 11 (5 on offense, 6 on defense)

 

Offense: Dak Prescott is gone with the expectation that sophomore Nick Fitzgerald will take over as the starter. Thankfully, Fred Ross and his 1,007 yards receiving are back to give the new QB a reliable target. The offensive line should be strong for lead RB Brandon Holloway.

 

Defense: Peter Sirmon comes over from USC and is bringing a 3-4 defense. A.J. Jefferson had 13.5 tackles for a loss last year and may push that this year. With all the controversy surrounding Jeffery Simmons and his addition to the roster, the freshman has some things to prove. The rest of the group is alright. Special teams is solid as well.

 

Schedule: The Bulldogs have an odd game against UMass in Foxboro as part of a non-conference slate that also includes South Alabama, BYU and Samford. They play at Alabama and LSU.

 

Selection: Last year I loved the under here and was dead wrong. This year, I like the under once again especially at even money. The road is tough with a few home games that are going to be tricky as well. The QB issues will hold this team back.

 

(Over 8 wins -130...Under 8 wins +110)

 

Record Last Year: 10-3, 6-2

 

Returning Starters: 10 (5 on offense, 5 on defense)

 

Offense: Some big names are gone, but the cupboard isn't bare. QB Chad Kelly has TE Evan Engram and WRs Quincy Adeboyejo and Damore'ea Stringfellow back. Kelly will be playing for his NFL Draft position so he'll be highly motivated.

 

Defense: Marquis Haynes and his 10 sacks are back as this unit has to try and replace Robert Nkemdiche's talent up front. The linebackers could be the weak part of the team's 4-2-5 alignment. Tony Conner's back in the secondary and he's got the potential to be a first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft.

 

Schedule: The Rebels play four of their first five at home although the opener is against Florida State in Orlando. They also host Wofford, Memphis and Georgia Southern outside of SEC play. Ole Miss plays just four true road games although two of them are at LSU and Arkansas.

 

Selection: I like the number eight for Ole Miss. I think the Rebels slip up against Florida State as well as struggle with LSU, Alabama and Arkansas. If you asked me to make a lean, I'd play the over, but I just don't love it.

 

(Over 6.5 wins -115...Under 6.5 wins -105)

 

Record Last Year: 8-5, 4-4

 

Returning Starters: 12 (6 on offense, 6 on defense)

 

Offense: Trevor Knight comes over from Oklahoma, which is a real nice addition given all the turnover at the QB position. He's got arguably the best WR group in the SEC with Speedy Noil, Ricky Seals-Jones, Christian Kirk and Josh Reynolds. The offensive line could have some struggles when it comes to protecting Knight.

 

Defense: Myles Garrett is back along with Daeshon Hall, with this duo combining for 19.5 sacks last year. The secondary returns three starters with Armani Watts leading the way. Linebacker will be a question outside of Shaan Washington.

 

Schedule: The Aggies close out the year with three at home, getting Ole Miss and LSU at their place. The non-conference slate is UCLA, Prairie View, UTSA and New Mexico State. Getting Tennessee and Alabama back-to-back won't be fun.

 

Selection: I love the over here and it may be my favorite play on the board. The Aggies have the pieces in place on both sides of the ball that will make them a factor. Kevin Sumlin will have to prove something this year that a lot of his success wasn't Johnny Manziel-driven.

 

— 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.

 
Teaser:
Examining the Over/Under 2016 Win Totals for the SEC West
Post date: Friday, July 22, 2016 - 09:00

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