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With fall practice right around the corner, coaches and players are trying to squeeze in the last bit of free time or vacation before the season begins in force. Even though Ohio State is focused on winning another national championship, there’s still plenty of time for the Buckeyes to relax and get away from the summer heat.
Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones is locked into a tight battle for the starting quarterback job with J.T. Barrett, but the junior isn't one to be bothered by pressure.
On Sunday, Jones and a few teammates were hanging out at a pool. And needless to say, just a simple hangout at the pool wasn’t in order for Jones. Instead, the quarterback had a little fun and put a couple of WWE moves on a child at the pool.
Teammate Tyvis Powell captured the wrestling moves on video:
Athlon Sports is going division by division, asking and (trying to) answering the biggest question for every team in the league entering the 2015 season.
Buffalo: Can the QB distribute the ball effectively?
The Bills' coaching staff has been stabilized with the hiring of Rex Ryan. The defense should continue to be one of the league’s best. And with playmaking additions to the offense (LeSean McCoy, Percy Harvin, Charles Clay and Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton), the lone remaining question about a Buffalo playoff run is who plays quarterback? Matt Cassell was brought in to compete with EJ Manuel and Tyrod Taylor for the starting job. Cassell fits the system the best and clearly has the most experience, however, Manuel still has the most upside. If the signal-caller in Buffalo can simply distribute the football quickly, decisively and without turnovers, the Bills could easily end the NFL’s longest playoff drought.
Miami: Are the right leaders in place?
Last year, the defense featured players questioning coordinator Kevin Coyle. The offense never reached the tempo and efficiency talked about by coordinator Bill Lazor. Calls for Joe Philbin’s scalp were ignored by a totally new front office structure. All three were kept, free agent Ndamukong Suh was added to lead the defense and Ryan Tannehill was inked to a monstrous new long-term contract. The time is now for a team that has been middling for years and key leadership positions are filled by coaches and players with major question marks. If Miami isn’t careful, the Dolphins could fall to the bottom of the AFC East.
New England: What does the secondary look like?
Tom Brady’s suspension has dominated headlines but the Patriots' offense will be just fine the second he steps back into the lineup (if he leaves it at all). The real question about a Super Bowl repeat is holes left on the defense. Losing veteran Vince Wilfork from the line hurts but replacing both Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner at cornerback could completely change the way this defense plays. The Pats invested heavily in safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, which helps, but look for a heavy dose of zone defense to make up for the lack of star power at cornerback.
New York Jets: Can the passing game create balance?
Much like Buffalo, the Jets feel more stable under a new head coach in Todd Bowles. The already salty defense should be downright nasty after a very active offseason. But can all that defensive firepower mask the one glaring question about the Jets: Can they produce offense through the air? New York has ranked 32nd, 31st and 30th in passing offense the last three years and the quarterback battle will feature Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick and fourth-round pick Bryce Petty. There is a lot to like about this team on defense and on the ground, but it won’t make a playoff run without some support from a highly questionable aerial attack.
College football coaches are always on the hot seat. The pressure to win now is greater than it was 15-20 years ago. With the 24-hour news cycle, social media and message boards, coaches, teams and players are always on the spotlight.
The terms “hot seat” and “under pressure” don’t necessarily mean a coach is entering a year with concerns about job security, but there are a handful of coaches needing a big season to return in 2016.
Illinois’ Tim Beckman, Virginia’s Mike London and Miami's Al Golden top the hot seat list from Power 5 programs for 2015, while Hawaii’s Norm Chow and San Jose State’s Ron Caragher lead the way from Group of 5 teams.
College Football's Top 10 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2015
1. Tim Beckman, Illinois
Record at Illinois: 12-25 (3 years)
It’s been a difficult offseason for Beckman, as allegations of player mistreatment surfaced in May, adding to the pressure for a program that is just 12-25 over the last three years. Illinois has showed some improvement under Beckman, jumping in wins from just two in 2012 to four in 2013, followed by a 6-7 mark last season. The Fighting Illini needs to get back to a bowl in 2015 to save Beckman’s job.
Related: Big Ten Predictions for 2015
2. Mike London, Virginia
Record at Virginia: 23-38 (5 years)
Recruiting talent to Virginia hasn’t been a problem for London. Since 2011, the Cavaliers rank No. 6 among ACC teams with an average of 31.8 in recruiting rankings. However, there’s room to improve in the on-field performance. Virginia has only one winning season during London’s tenure (2011) and has just five ACC victories over the last three years. London’s 5-7 record in 2014 bought him another season, but the Cavaliers need to get to a bowl in 2015.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2015
3. Norm Chow, Hawaii
Record at Hawaii: 8-29 (3 years)
Chow was a popular hire for the Rainbow Warriors, but the Hawaii native and long-time assistant needs to show progress in 2015. Hawaii is just 8-29 under Chow’s watch but recorded its best mark (4-9) of his tenure last year. Prior to taking over as the head coach for the Rainbow Warriors, Chow was regarded as an assistant during stops at UCLA, USC, Utah, NC State and BYU. 2015 is a make-or-break year for Chow in Honolulu.
Related: Mountain West Predictions for 2015
4. Al Golden, Miami
Record at Miami: 28-22 (4 years)
Is Miami ready to win the ACC Coastal? That question has surrounded the Hurricanes each offseason in recent memory, and the pressure on Golden is increasing in intensity after a 6-7 record last year. Simply, Miami has too much talent to finish with a losing record in ACC play two times in the last four years. Golden inherited a few issues in Coral Gables, including the NCAA/Nevin Shapiro investigation. However, Miami ranks as the No. 3 roster in the ACC and is just 16-16 in conference play over the last four seasons.
Related: ACC 2015 All-Conference Team
5. Ron Caragher, San Jose State
Record at San Jose State: 9-15 (2 years)
Mike MacIntyre set the bar high for Caragher at San Jose State. In three years with the Spartans, MacIntyre went 16-21, including a 10-2 mark (prior to the bowl) in 2012. While reaching 10 wins at San Jose State isn’t easy, Caragher and San Jose State are trending in the wrong direction. After a 6-6 mark in 2013, the Spartans regressed to 3-9 last season. Caragher reeled in a solid recruiting class in the spring, and the third-year coach may need big contributions from a handful of freshmen in 2015.
6. Willie Taggart, USF
Record at USF: 6-18 (2 years)
Taggart was a promising hire for a USF program coming off an 8-16 record from 2011-12 under Skip Holtz. However, the Bulls are only 6-18 over the last two seasons and is picked by most to finish near the bottom of the American Athletic Conference’s East Division. Taggart has recruited well, so talent isn’t an issue. However, there’s a lot of youth on the roster, and assistant/scheme changes on both sides of the ball. USF has enough returning talent to reach a bowl. But there’s also enough concerns to finish 4-8 again.
7. Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Record at Indiana: 14-34 (4 years)
Indiana is one of the Big Ten’s toughest jobs, and Wilson was handed a serious setback after quarterback Nate Sudfeld was lost midway through 2014 with a shoulder injury. The Hoosiers have made progress under Wilson’s watch and nearly made a bowl in 2014 with a 5-7 mark. After a 1-11 record in Wilson’s first year (2011), Indiana has won at least four games in each of the last three seasons. The pressure on Wilson is building, but progress has been noticeable and a postseason trip is within reach for 2015.
8. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Record at Iowa: 115-85 (16 years)
Ferentz is one of the longest-tenured coaches in the nation, entering his 17th season at the helm in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes have played in 12 bowls under Ferentz, finished in the Associated Press poll five times and posted four years of double-digit wins. That’s the positive side of Ferentz’s tenure. However, the Hawkeyes have not won more than eight games and have only one winning mark in Big Ten play since 2009. Ferentz has done a lot of good things for Iowa. But it’s not easy to maintain success at one program for an extended period of time. 2015 probably isn’t a make-or-break year, but Ferentz needs to show this program isn’t growing stale under his watch.
9. Paul Haynes, Kent State
Record at Kent State: 6-17 (2 years)
Maintaining success as been difficult at Kent State. Darrell Hazell guided the Golden Flashes to an 11-3 mark in 2012, which was the program’s first double-digit win total in school history. However, Kent State has struggled under Haynes’ direction, going 6-17 over the last two years. The Golden Flashes went 2-9 last season and won only one game in conference play.
10. Ron Turner, FIU
Record at FIU: 5-19 (2 years)
Turner was a surprising hire at FIU, and the program slumped to a 1-11 record in his first season (2013). However, there were some signs of life by the Panthers last year, as Turner guided the program to a 4-8 mark. With 14 starters returning, FIU has a chance to show more progress in 2015.
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Record at Virginia Tech: 231-115-2 (28 years)
This will be an interesting scenario to watch. It’s unlikely Virginia Tech will fire Beamer, but the Hokies have been trending in the wrong direction since 2011. This program is 22-17 over the last three years and is coming off its worst conference record (3-5) since joining the ACC.
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Record at Vanderbilt: 3-9 (1 year)
James Franklin set the bar high after three successful years in Nashville, and Mason is looking for improvement after a 3-9 record in his debut.
Paul Rhoads, Iowa State
Record at Iowa State: 29-46 (6 years)
Iowa State is easily one of the toughest Power 5 jobs in college football. However, since guiding the Cyclones to three bowl appearances in four years, Rhoads is just 5-19 over the last two seasons.
Scott Shafer, Syracuse
Record at Syracuse: 10-15 (2 years)
Shafer had a solid debut (7-6), but the Orange regressed to 3-9 last season. Injuries hit this team hard last year, and the offense managed only 17.1 points a game. With a new athletic director, Shafer needs to make a good first impression.
USF is searching for improvement in coach Willie Taggart’s third season, and the Bulls hope their quest for a turnaround is bolstered by some sharp new uniforms for 2015.
Some of these designs have been used before, but USF appears to have a new alternate, which features yellow and green stripes on the shoulders (along with bright yellow numbers).
Check out USF’s sharp new uniforms for the 2015 season:
Baylor is a program on the rise under coach Art Briles. The Bears have won at least 10 games in three out of the last four years and just missed out on a playoff appearance last season. There’s no doubt Briles has raised the expectation level in Waco, and this program has staying power as an annual contender to win the Big 12 and compete for playoff appearances.
As the 2015 season approaches, Baylor should be considered one of the favorites to claim a spot among the four playoff teams. The offense will be explosive once again, and the defense should improve with nine starters returning.
The first season of the college football playoff was a huge success. With less than 50 days until kickoff, it’s time to evaluate some of the top contenders for the 2015 playoffs.
Here’s a look at three reasons why Baylor will make the playoff, followed by its schedule and three reasons the Bears won’t finish in the top four.
Three Reasons Why Baylor Will Make the CFB Playoff in 2015
1. New Quarterback, No Problem
TCU has been picked by most as the preseason favorite in the Big 12, and it’s no secret the Horned Frogs have the league’s best quarterback in senior Trevone Boykin. While quarterback play is always a critical component to winning a conference championship, the turnover under center isn’t cause for concern at Baylor. Coach Art Briles is one of the top offensive minds in the nation, and the Bears have reloaded with ease at quarterback in recent years, as Nick Florence and Bryce Petty kept the offense firing on all cylinders after Robert Griffin III left for the NFL. Has Baylor developed into a program that can easily transition between starters and suffer little or no drop in production for the passing attack? It certainly seems that way. Expect Seth Russell to thrive in his first year under center for the Bears.
2. Abundance of Playmakers
It’s not unrealistic to think Baylor might have the nation’s top collection of skill talent. Running back Shock Linwood returns after rushing for 1,252 yards and 16 scores last season, and there’s plenty of depth in the form of Devin Chafin, Johnny Jefferson and Terence Williams. At receiver, the Bears boast the nation’s No. 1 receiving corps. Corey Coleman and KD Cannon are All-America candidates after combining for 19 touchdown scores last season. Antwan Goodley will be missed, but Jay Lee (15.4 ypc in 2014), Davion Hall, Ishmael Zamora and Chris Platt are more big-play threats ready to emerge in 2015.
3. Best Line of Scrimmage in the Nation?
It’s an overused cliché at times, but teams have to be strong in the trenches to compete for a national title. Baylor’s lines of scrimmage are the best in the Big 12 and among the top teams nationally. The Bears return five starters on an offensive line that allowed 19 sacks in nine Big 12 contests, with senior All-American Spencer Drango anchoring the line from the left tackle position. Briles and coordinator Phil Bennett have significantly upgraded the talent on defense in recent years, starting with a line that is tough against the run and also capable of getting to the quarterback. This unit is headlined by end Shawn Oakman, while tackle Andrew Billings might be one of the nation’s most underrated players.
Baylor's 2015 Schedule
|Date||Opponent||Athlon Projected Rank for 2015||Projected Record|
|Sept. 4||at SMU||102||4-8|
|Oct. 3||Texas Tech (Arlington)||48||6-6|
|Oct. 10||at Kansas||103||1-11|
|Oct. 17||West Virginia||36||8-4|
|Oct. 24||Iowa State||74||3-9|
|Nov. 5||at Kansas State||44||7-5|
|Nov. 21||at Oklahoma State||28||8-4|
|Nov. 27||at TCU||5||10-2|
Three Reasons Why Baylor Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
1. November Road Schedule
The biggest obstacle to Baylor’s college football playoff hopes has little to do with its personnel. Instead, the Bears playoff bid could be derailed by a brutal November road slate. Baylor plays at Kansas State on Nov. 5, followed by a home date against Oklahoma, then back-to-back road games against Oklahoma State and TCU. While non-conference scheduling has been a source of criticism for Baylor, the Bears will have one of the nation’s toughest November stretches in the nation.
2. Quarterback Play Isn’t an Easy Transition
All signs point to Seth Russell having an easy transition into the starting role for Baylor. After all, Robert Griffin III to Nick Florence was easy, followed by a seamless transition from Florence to Bryce Petty. But what if it doesn’t go well? Russell should cruise through the first three games against non-conference opponents. How will he perform in his first Big 12 start against Texas Tech? Will he be completely settled into the starting job against Kansas State on Nov. 5?
3. Defense Doesn’t Improve
Baylor’s defense certainly wasn’t bad last year. The Bears held opponents to 25.5 points per game, ranked 16th nationally in rush defense and gave up 5.3 yards per play in 2014. However, there’s certainly room to improve. Baylor allowed at least 40 points in two out of its last three games and surrendered 34 passing plays of 30 yards or more. With nine starters back, improvement should be noticeable on the stat sheet for coordinator Phil Bennett. However, if this unit doesn’t improve, stopping TCU’s high-powered offense in a game that could decide the Big 12 title will be a huge challenge.
Don’t expect a repeat of 2014. The Big 12 will get one team into the college football playoff. TCU is getting most of the preseason attention as the favorite in the Big 12, but Baylor has all of the necessary pieces to win the conference crown. Sure, replacing quarterback Bryce Petty is going to be a challenge. However, Seth Russell looks to be a capable option, and the Bears have a loaded receiving corps and supporting cast to ease the transition. And of course, Baylor hasn’t had much trouble replacing starting quarterbacks recently. The defense has to improve, but Briles has reason to be optimistic with nine returning starters. The road trip to TCU will be a huge challenge and could decide which team wins the Big 12. If the transition to Russell is seamless, and the defense continues to improve, Baylor will repeat as Big 12 champions and earn a spot in the playoff.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 3
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 11-1 (8-1 Big 12)
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 10
CG Technology Over/Under Odds: 10.5
5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 10
The Special Olympics World Games gives the spotlight to those who may not always get the chance to shine.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles knows about that all too well. When he competed in the Special Olympics at the age of 10, he realized just how fast he was.
"Special Olympics gave me the first chance to discover a talent I didn't know I had," Charles explained.
Miami, like every other college football, team will begin its fall camp in August and one of the tough tasks facing the Hurricanes is replacing the most productive running back in school history.
Before entering May’s NFL Draft, Duke Johnson rushed for 3,519 yards (most in Hurricanes’ program history) and 26 touchdowns in his three seasons at Miami. Now that Johnson plays for the Cleveland Browns, the team must find a way to replace his production.
“The biggest thing is, whether it’s by committee or competition or however it shakes out, we don’t want to have a decline there at all,” said head coach Al Golden during ACC Media Week.
At 6-2, 240 pounds, Gus Edwards has a rare gift of power and speed. Last year, he was primarily used in short-yardage situations. But this season, he will be used more in an expanded role. But Edwards won’t be the only running back the Hurricanes use to help fill the void left by Johnson.
While Edwards is more of a power back, Joseph Yearby is more of a slasher. At 5-9, 185 pounds, Yearby is small, but he has great vision and patience and will be a great change-of-pace back. Yearby can’t handle a full load because of his size, but he will bring much-needed explosiveness to the Canes offense.
Both Edwards and Yearby should be a great thunder and lightning tandem in the backfield.
Incoming freshman Mark Walton might also see some carries in 2015. The four-star recruit chose Miami over Auburn, Florida State, Tennessee and South Carolina. Walton rushed for 184 yards and three touchdowns to help Miami prep powerhouse Booker T. Washington High win the 4A State Championship.
Sophomore Trayone Gray and Walter Tucker Jr., may also receive some playing time this season. Golden said Gray has made a lot of progress but hopes he can become more mature. The 6-0, 226-pound Tucker will be used as a fullback and is an excellent option to catch the ball out of the backfield. Tucker doesn’t exactly wow fans once he gets the ball, but he does a lot of things well.
Miami fans can expect to see some sort of committee at running back to start out the season. Edwards and Yearby will receive a bulk of the carries, but don’t be surprised if you don’t see Walton in a few games this fall either.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
Save for a single program, the Big 12 didn’t budge in the annual offseason coaching carousel. And that’s despite another year of upheaval in the old Southwest: The familiars aren’t as formidable, while two private schools — Baylor and TCU — have leapt up to dominate the league on offense and defense.
But the lack of new names at the top doesn’t mean the Big 12 isn’t riding big changes at the coordinator position: While Texas is still settling in with Charlie Strong, Oklahoma cleaned house after a late-season offensive implosion. And as offense continues to rule this league, Air Raid stalwarts like Texas Tech are at a crossroads to try to moderate their famous shootouts. And at the league’s bottom, Kansas resigned itself to the fate of the modern game: If you can’t beat the Air Raid, join it.
Here are three key coordinator hires to watch in the league this season, each tasked with equally unique and daunting projects.
Meet: Lincoln Riley, offensive coordinator
Formerly: Offensive coordinator, East Carolina
Style: Air Raid
No new hire in the Big 12 will be as scrutinized this season as the 31-year-old Riley, who replaced Jay Norvell and OU legend Josh Heupel after the Sooners’ tumultuous 8–5 season ended with a home loss to Oklahoma State and a 40–6 beatdown by Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
The Sooners averaged 36.4 points per game but faltered when it mattered most. Against Big 12 co-champion Baylor, OU scored twice in the first quarter but failed to score over the final 45 minutes of the game. In the bowl game, the Sooners managed only six points against Clemson (and former OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables).
Riley is a Mike Leach disciple who was promoted to a full-time assistant coach position at the age of 23. He followed former Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeil to East Carolina, where his offenses averaged 82 plays per game and posted the four best offensive seasons in school history.
Riley’s offenses at East Carolina had more balance than typical Leach-coached Air Raid attacks. To that end, his scheme leans more toward the Dana Holgorsen branch of the Leach coaching tree, which is just fine with Stoops. After all, the Sooners welcome back Samaje Perine, who rushed for 1,713 yards as a true freshman last season. Running the ball will no doubt be a big part of the OU attack this fall.
In recent years, Riley had the luxury of a veteran quarterback (Shane Carden) to run the show. In Norman, he’ll have to identify a reliable starter. Trevor Knight struggled for much of last season, meaning that Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield, who played in the Air Raid for one season in Lubbock, could be the favorite.
Unlike Gibbs and Likens, Riley isn’t tasked with a reclamation project. But he still faces a daunting challenge.
The task from Stoops, as stated at Riley’s introductory press conference, is simple: Adapt to the personnel and be successful. Now.
Meet: Rob Likens, offensive coordinator
Formerly: Receivers coach/assistant head coach, California
Style: Up-tempo Air Raid
It’s no shock that Kansas finished dead last in the Big 12 (and 115th nationally) in total offense last season. The death-rattle of the Charlie Weis pro-style era in Manhattan ended with a paltry 17.8 points per game. That number is terrible enough on its own but horrific by comparison with other Big 12 teams: League leaders Baylor (48.2 ppg) and TCU (46.5 ppg) were almost three times more productive. The Jayhawks would’ve needed 10-12 quarters per game to keep pace with the top half of the highest-scoring league in the Power 5.
Enter Likens, an offensive assistant for Sonny Dykes’ Cal and Louisiana Tech offenses. In 2012, Dykes’ Bulldogs led the nation in scoring (51.5 ppg), and in two years at Berkeley, the “Bear Raid” increased output from 23.0 to 38.3 points per game, second only to Oregon last season.
Likens is tasked with installing an attack in Lawrence that’s familiar to almost every conference rival — an aggressive pass-first philosophy that spreads the field at a breakneck pace.
Kansas’ offense could be one of the toughest reclamation projects of 2015: Under Weis the Jayhawks ran a huddled, pro-style attack in the 7-on-7 hellfire of the Big 12. KU averaged 70 plays per game; most Air Raid and hurry-up attacks push for a minimum of 85.
“It’s really frustrating when you first get to a new program and install this offense,” Likens says. “But then next year and the year after, you start to see the players respond faster and faster. Right now we’re just trying to work through mistakes.
“The first day of spring ball, it’s a billion mistakes. You go through and fix those but then you’ve also got to put different plays in, which create more mistakes. You usually skip a day in spring practice, so you’re on a three-day cycle of building, correcting, repeating.”
To Likens, Year 1, Week 1, Day 1 of installing an up-tempo Air Raid is about speed and positivity. Kansas will emphasize tempo to build conditioning, but to also free players from overthinking.
“Repetition builds muscle memory,” Likens says. “Going at our pace allows for as many reps as humanly possible, because this offense is about calling the perfect play, it’s about playing with close to perfect technique.”
Likens and new head coach David Beaty, formerly the receivers coach at Texas A&M, have to identify a starting quarterback. Consistency at the position plagued the Weis and Turner Gill years in Lawrence. KU has entered the season with a new starter in six consecutive years. Junior Montell Cozart and senior Michael Cummings are the front-runners for this season, but two more quarterbacks will join the roster in June.
That’s an immediate concern. Of long-term concern is the fact that Kansas is bringing in an offense that is very familiar to the rest of its Big 12 neighbors. Nowhere in college football is the Air Raid better understood, coached and coached against than Likens’ new league.
“You certainly want to be doing something different. You want to have a kind of uniqueness,” Likens says. “That’s a fine line you have to determine, but right now we’re consumed with understanding the basics. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a player out there right now. You’re going as fast as you can and you’re getting yelled at for mistakes non-stop. So honestly, the toughest task right now is to stay positive with these guys and make them believe.”
Meet: David Gibbs, defensive coordinator
Formerly: Defensive coordinator/interim head coach, Houston
Style: 4-3 Hybrid
Last season, Kliff Kingsbury’s Red Raider offense rolled up the predictably gaudy numbers (504.1 yards and 30.5 points per game) but finished 4–8 thanks largely to a horrific defense that gave up a league-worst 41.3 points per game. Among the grisly moments were games in which Baylor and TCU — the league’s co-champs — rocked the Tech defense for 48 and 82 points, respectively.
To combat years of stigma and to survive in a league dominated by the Air Raid, Texas Tech hired Gibbs, who’s operated with a distinctly Big 12 defensively philosophy for most of his career.
“Don’t worry about total yards allowed,” Gibbs says. “Don’t worry about passing stats. Don’t worry about getting beat on third down, because sometimes that’s going to happen. The goal is to give your offense more opportunities than theirs.”
Gibbs ran a hybrid 4-3 at Houston with a flexible rush end/down lineman who, depending on the call, would stand back as a linebacker or put his hand down as a lineman. This allowed Houston to change looks without huddling, the exact philosophy up-tempo offenses have been using for years.
“Playing good defense is giving your offense the ball back with a chance to win in the fourth (quarter),” Gibbs says. “That’s common sense, but if it’s 49–48 or 27–26 and we can get the ball back for the offense, you’re doing your job.
“Some people see it as craziness, I see it as opportunity.”
Gibbs’ defenses at Houston were wildly opportunistic, forcing an incredible 43 turnovers in 2013 — eight more than any other team in the nation — and 30 last season. The Texas Tech defense forced only 15 turnovers last season.
Turnovers have long been considered uncoachable and “chance opportunities,” but Gibbs increases his defense’s odds of taking the ball away by giving the opposing offense multiple looks as well as encouraging hyper-aggressive ball-strips and allowing his defensive backs to jump routes. It’s a gamble, but Gibbs believes the current offense-centric focus of the game leaves defenses no choice.
“The tempo and point production in this league are unmatched,” he says. “I thought we went fast at Houston, and then I saw Coach Kingsbury’s offense practice. For so many teams in one conference to score this much, wow. As a defensive coach it’s like, ‘Holy cow, man. Good luck.’”
-By Steven Godfrey, SB Nation
Minnesota, along with Pittsburgh, become the first NFL teams to have their full rosters open training camp when the two squads start back to work on Saturday. Rookies for Baltimore, Cleveland, New England and New Orleans have already reported to training camp, but the Vikings and Steelers are the first teams to have everyone present as the NFL gets back to business.
The Vikings go into camp this season with a little more certainty than previous years, as Teddy Bridgewater looks to take the next step after having a successful rookie campaign. Yet, along with every other NFL team at the start of training camp, there are questions about Minnesota that no one will know the answer to until the pads are strapped on and the helmets are buckled. Here are the biggest questions Vikings fans want and need answers to.
Can Adrian Peterson regain his MVP form after missing nearly all of last season?
Peterson’s last snap in an NFL game was the 2014 season opener against St. Louis. After turning 30 in March, people are starting to wonder if they will ever see the old AP ever again. Traditionally once a running back hits 30 years old, they start to take a turn for the worse. This isn’t just any old running back though, this is the same guy who came back early from an ACL tear and went on to win the MVP award the following season. This is a man who has always bounced back after bad breaks and situations. Chances are we won’t see much of Peterson in the preseason, he traditionally doesn’t play at all in the warm-up games. We will have to wait until the first game of the regular season, which will be on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” on the road against the San Francisco 49ers.
Will Teddy Bridgewater take the next step as a starting NFL quarterback?
Bridgewater enters training camp as the unquestioned franchise quarterback of the Vikings. Coming off a rookie campaign where he started 12 games, he won six and was named the 2014 NFL Pepsi Rookie of the Year. The question is now can he lead a team that only won seven games total last season to the playoffs? Avoiding the “Sophomore Slump” can be tough in the NFL, let alone at the position with the biggest spotlight in sports. Bridgewater has the poise and intellect to take the next step, and has a new wide receiver to work with in Mike Wallace. In the QB-heavy NFC North, Bridgewater will have to work harder than ever before to make a difference and get the Vikings to the playoffs this season. Hey Christian Ponder did it, why can’t Teddy?
Will former No. 4 overall Matt Kalil turn it around this season?
Last season was one to forget for Kalil. After making the Pro Bowl his rookie year, Kalil has taken a tumble down from grace. After only allowing two sacks his rookie year, he has allowed 16 in the past two seasons. That’s a pretty drastic turn of events for a guy who was supposed to solidify the left side of the offensive line for years to come. The Vikings did pick up the last year on his rookie deal option, so this is the true test season for Kalil. If he doesn’t play exceptionally better, the odds are he will be looking at a new team for the 2016 season.
Can the secondary holds its own in one of the league’s best quarterback divisions?
In a division that features quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler, having a good secondary is more crucial than ever. The Vikings are starting to trend in the right direction, but still have to navigate six games against NFC North rivals that all have quarterbacks who have been to the Pro Bowl. Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith are the cornerstones of the defense and should provide good stability, but it takes more than two to have a successful back end of the defense. Guys like Robert Blanton and Josh Robinson will both have to play better. First-round pick Trae Waynes could play a big part this season at cornerback, but that depends on how well he adjusts to head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense.
How much will the former UCLA linebackers contribute?
The Vikings took Anthony Barr in the first round of the 2014 draft, and his former college teammate Eric Kendricks was taken one year later in the second round. These two will be a big factor in determining how well the Viking defense plays this season. Barr is coming off an impressive rookie year, which he was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 8 after he scooped up a fumble and returned it for a game-winning touchdown in overtime. Kendricks has already been getting rave reviews from coaches in OTAs and minicamp. If both stay on the field and can grasp Zimmer’s defense, they both could cause havoc in this league sooner rather than later.
— Written by Josh Koop, who is a part of the Athlon Contributor Network and Director of New Media with the Bemidji Axemen of the Indoor Football League. You can follow Josh on Twitter at @Koopsnet.
If it's one thing Joe Haden loves, it's sneakers.
One of the best cornerbacks in the game has created a Youtube channel and started off giving the fans what they want to see... his sneaker collection. The Browns cornerback is known for his stylish shoes, but most don't even know he has mutliple closets just to house many of his prized possessions.
Check out what has to be the best sneaker collection in all of football.
Haden just signed on with the Jordan Brand, and it's pretty obvious the shoe game is a wrap now.
Junior Seau's death has brought to light the issue of concussions and CTE in football. On a day when his contributions to the sport is going to be remembered, his family's voice will be silenced.
According to The New York Times, instead of allowing the Seau family to speak on his behalf, a video will be shown. After his death in 2012, many placed the blame on his brain injury stemming from critical hits to the head during his football years.
The Seau family has filed against the NFL, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame wants to strictly keep the focus on the football player's on-field accomplishments. Seau had always said he wanted his daughter, Sydney, to introduce him but sadly that dream won't be realized.
"We're not the NFL, but the Pro Football Hall of Fame," executive director of the Hall of Fame, David Baker said. "Our mission is to honor the heroes of the game and Junior is a hero of the game. We're going to celebrate his life, not the death and other issues."
Seau's contributions to the game of football are important, but so are the everlasting results of those years of playing.
Colin Cowherd has recently come under fire for his statements about Dominican baseball players.
After the ESPN radio host made an issue about the sport not being too complex and that a third of the league is Dominican, Jose Bautisa demanded an explanation. Cowherd has finally responded.
"I could've made the point without using one country, and there's a sorts of smart people from the Dominican Republic. I could've said a third of baseball's talent is being furnished from countries with economic hardships, therefore educational hurdles. For the record, I used the Dominican Republic because they've furnished baseball with so many great players. I understand that when you mention a specific country, they get offended... Was I clunky? Perhaps. Did people not like my tone? I get it. Sometimes my tone stinks."
That's as much of an apology as one is going to get out of Cowherd.
The efforts towards putting together Louisville's 2016 recruiting class have been consistent since the ink hit the paper for the 2015 group in February. Methodically, the Cardinals have built their class enjoying a spurt of five commitments since July 16 including two on Thursday, linebacker Tabarius Peterson and wide receiver Keion Wakefield.
Louisville moved the needle on Peterson’s previous announced timeline of late August landing him over offers from Duke, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, South Florida, Memphis, North Carolina, Iowa, Iowa State, Cal and Illinois among others.
Peterson is a two-way star for Tucker (Ga.) High School using his 6-foot-3, 220-pound, frame with his 4.6 speed at tight end and linebacker. He projects as an outside linebacker/defensive end at the next level. Peterson stood out as a top performer during Louisville’s Friday Night Camp (July 17) with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham giving extra attention to the Georgia native.
Wakefield is a true slot and inside receiver that Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino can use to exploit defenses in the ACC. Wakefield may be undersized (5-10, 170), but his 4.45 speed is perfect for dragging across the field from one side to the other gaining separation from corners or creating a mismatch with an outside linebacker or safety covering a zone. He is also an ideal fit as a punt returner.
Louisville Male High School has been consistent with their use of Wakefield over the last two years, getting 41 receptions for 888 yards with 12 scores as a sophomore and 40 receptions for 736 yards and 13 scores in 2014.
Before his verbal commitment Wakefield had more schools showing interest in him than offers, stunted by many believing he was going to stay home for college. Kentucky, Purdue, Illinois, Indiana and Cincinnati all offered but teams like UCLA, Notre Dame, Florida, Alabama, Clemson and Oregon all showed some level of interest at one time or another. During his announcement at Male High on Thursday he had three caps out, picking Louisville over Indiana, Purdue and Kentucky.
The Cardinals now have 17 verbal commitments to their 2016 recruiting class with players from eight different states filling the class. The focus of Louisville’s early recruiting efforts have been on the offensive side of the ball, where up to 11 players could line up once on campus.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
There is no question talks have taken place between West Virginia and Pitt to renew the Backyard Brawl, at least on a short-term basis. Both BlueGoldSports.com as well as media outlets out of Pittsburgh have verified that WVU athletics director Shane Lyons and Pitt AD Scott Barnes have been in discussions.
However, Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen made a statement just yesterday leading some to believe negotiations have broken down and that Pitt has put on the brakes. ESPN’s Brett McMurphy quoted Holgorsen as saying, “We’re begging ’em to play. They chose to play Oklahoma State instead. It makes no sense why it’s not being played.” Pitt choosing to travel to Stillwater to play the Cowboys instead of playing WVU seemed like a clear indication in the past there was no desire to play the Mountaineers. Could that again be the case despite numerous reports both schools have been open to the idea?
Pitt has scheduled future non-conference games against schools such as Cincinnati, Marshall and Oklahoma State seemingly doing everything but choosing to travel down I-79 to play WVU.
While both ADs have appeared to be open to a renewal of this historic rivalry Holgorsen’s statement yesterday is now leaving some doubt as to whether a deal can be made.
West Virginia, on the other hand, has made it a point to renew old rivalries. The Mountaineers have future games scheduled against Virginia Tech, Maryland and Penn State.
The Backyard Brawl has not been played since 2011 after being played almost every year going back to 1900. Pitt leads the all-time series 61-40-3.
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.
Paul Finebaum considers himself an old friend of Steve Spurrier, but there are some things he has to speak out about.
The radio host talked about the South Carolina coach making a story out of nothing when an Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer brought up the issue of his age. Finebaum mentioned if Spurrier would have let the story go, there would not have been anyone talking about it days after, saying he turned a "dead story into a two-day story."
"I was embarrassed for him," Finebaum said. "He came off like the crazy uncle in the attic. There was no explanation, there was no reason."
Finebaum went on to say Spurrier brought the attention on to himself, which is not the best at this point in time.
"He's not as good a coach, he's not at the same type of program that he used to be," Finebaum said.
Ohio State's quarterback battle is officially down to Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett. Although coach Urban Meyer didn’t fully commit to Braxton Miller at receiver in interviews on Thursday night, all signs point to the senior playing in an all-purpose/receiver and special teams returner for the Buckeyes in 2015.
While coach Urban Meyer’s decision got a little easier with Miller moving to receiver, there’s still a huge decision to make between Jones and Barrett. Should Meyer stick with Jones? After all, Barrett wasn’t at full strength in the spring, and Jones had the opportunity to work with the first-team offense. Or should Barrett return to the starting spot? Remember, prior to his season-ending leg injury, the redshirt freshman was among the nation’s top quarterbacks.
Regardless of who starts, Ohio State’s offense is going to be among the best in the nation. However, will one quarterback see the majority of snaps? Or will the Buckeyes find a way to involve both signal-callers in game action this fall?
Here’s a quick breakdown of both quarterbacks:
Year of Eligibility: Junior
- Finished the year as Ohio State’s No. 1 quarterback after injuries to Miller and Barrett.
- Thrived under pressure by guiding Ohio State to wins in each of its last three games, including the national championship over Oregon.
- Possesses big-time arm and tough for opposing defenses to bring down at 250 pounds.
- Running back Ezekiel Elliott’s performance increased after Jones was the starting quarterback.
Year of Eligibility: Sophomore
- Placed into difficult role last year after Braxton Miller was lost due to injury and grew into one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. Barrett threw for 2,834 yards and 34 scores and added 938 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.
- More dynamic runner than Jones and also connected on 23 passing plays of 30 yards or more in 2014.
- Limited in spring due to leg injury but is expected to be at full strength by fall practice.
- Accurate. Completed 64.6 percent of his throws in 2014.
Who Should Take the First Snap of the Year for Ohio State?
Should Meyer stick with Jones after his impressive three-game stretch to close 2014? Or should Barrett – regarded for his leadership and dynamic play-making ability – as a redshirt freshman in 2014 – regain the starting job?
Athlon’s editors and contributors chime in with a few picks before fall camp starts for Ohio State on Aug. 10:
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott): J.T. Barrett
The Buckeyes would not have been in position to make the College Football Playoff in 2014 without Barrett's play. The offense is designed to be run most efficiently by a player with his skill set, regardless of the success Jones had in the postseason.
Chip Minnich (@ChipMinnich): J.T. Barrett
Both quarterbacks will play, especially in the early portion of the season, but look for Barrett to emerge as the starter. Not only did Barrett have an exceptional 2014 season before his injury, but Barrett may have the edge on Jones with regards to leadership that Urban Meyer wants from his quarterback.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven): Cardale Jones
This is a good problem for Urban Meyer. Two quarterbacks with the potential to be the best in college football or win the Heisman Trophy are vying for the starting spot this fall. I’ve gone back and forth on this question, but I would stick with Cardale Jones as the starter – at least for the opener. I think both quarterbacks make a start this year, but my guess is Jones takes the first snap against Virginia Tech.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB): Cardale Jones
You really cannot go wrong with either option if you are Urban Meyer, which must be nice. Even if J.T. Barrett’s ankle is in good shape and despite his experience of leading the offense in the regular season, Cardale Jones has shown what he can do with a big arm and frame against the best of the best and he certainly is not lacking in confidence.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR): Cardale Jones
J.T. Barrett didn't do anything to "lose" the starting job, but you also can't ignore what Jones did in the College Football Playoff after starting out the season as the third-string guy. The Buckeyes will be just fine at QB regardless of who starts, but the opening assignment should go to the guy who ended the season with the gig.
Antonio Brown is flashy on the field, and now off.
The Steelers receiver showed up to training camp and put everybody else to shame. He came in a Rolls Royce custom Phantom decked out in the Steelers' black and gold. The icing on the cake is having his own signature splashed across it. #Boss.
Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich allowed his team some time to mourn the Ducks’ failed bid for the program’s first national championship. But with a loaded roster heading into 2015, Oregon has an opportunity to turn its disappointment into fuel for another run at the title.
The reigning Pac-12 champion and national runner-up Ducks are favorites to win the league crown for the fifth time in seven seasons. An embarrassment of riches at the skill positions promise that the high-powered offense to which Oregon has staked its identity will remain intact.
Oregon cannot simply score its way to another College Football Playoff appearance, however. The Ducks need to continue their defensive evolution while also establishing a new offensive identity without the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner and three-year starter, Marcus Mariota, at quarterback.
Three Reasons Why Oregon Will Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
1. Skill Position Depth
Few teams in college football can deliver quite as potent a one-two punch out of the backfield as Oregon. The Ducks return two running backs who, if they were asked to shoulder more of a load in another offense, could contend for the national rushing title.
Royce Freeman established himself as Oregon’s No. 1 ball carrier as a freshman, gaining 1,365 yards with 18 touchdowns last season. Defenses cannot simply hone in on Freeman though.
Thomas Tyner showed his chops as a feature back in the Ducks’ College Football Playoff romp over Florida State, gashing the Seminoles for 124 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries.
At wide receiver, there may not be a better collection anywhere in the nation. Oregon returns Byron Marshall, the converted running back who emerged as the No. 1 target when Bralon Addison was sidelined by a knee injury. Meanwhile, Addison, second to Josh Huff in the 2013 receiving corps, makes his return.
Add Devon Allen and Darren Carrington, as well as standout pass-catching tight end Pharaoh Brown on his way back from a brutal leg injury, and the learning curve for Oregon’s new quarterback is eased considerably.
2. Turnover Creation
The Oregon defense routinely ranks among the nation’s best in generating turnovers. Gaining takeaways was the hallmark of former coordinator Mark Allioti, and it’s remained a key metric by which the Don Pellum-led defense has flourished.
Pellum took over the job last offseason, after more than two decades as an assistant, promising renewed emphasis on strength up front. The resulting stymieing of opposing run games, combined with pressure on quarterbacks, led to plenty of takeaways.
Oregon’s 34 takeaways were the third most in the nation, behind only Louisiana Tech and TCU. The Ducks’ 1.53 per-game advantage in takeaways-to-turnovers was tops in all of college football.
Turnovers feed the Oregon offensive machine more effectively than anything else. Should the Ducks return to the Playoff, you can bet they’ll rank highly in turnover creation once again.
3. The System
“System” is used all too often as a derisive term in football: system quarterback, product of the system, etc. However, at Oregon, the system is responsible for the Ducks’ continued success through graduations, early NFL departures and coaching changes – seldom as the latter may come. Mark Helfrich became just the fourth Oregon head coach since 1977 when he replaced Chip Kelly in 2013.
Helfrich, entering his third year at the helm, endured a rough patch – at least, as rough as winning 11 games can possibly be. That’s as much of a hiccup as there’s been in Eugene post-Kelly.
When I asked Helfrich about the sustained success before last December’s Pac-12 Championship Game, he said: “The bedrock foundation of our program has remained the same [from Rich Brooks to Mike Bellotti to Kelly to Helfrich]… The philosophy is to…constantly evolve.”
Oregon’s 2015 Schedule
Athlon Projected Rank
|Sept. 5||Eastern Washington||—||—|
|Sept. 12||at Michigan State||7||10-2|
|Sept. 19||Georgia State||126||3-9|
|Oct. 3||at Colorado||67||5-8|
|Oct. 10||Washington State||66||4-8|
|Oct. 17||at Washington||46||6-6|
|Oct. 29||at Arizona State||13||9-3|
|Nov. 14||at Stanford||24||8-4|
|Nov. 27||Oregon State||73||3-9|
Three Reasons Why Oregon Won’t Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
The up-tempo era in Oregon football has persisted from one quarterback to another, transitioning rather seamlessly from Dennis Dixon, to Jeremiah Masoli, to Darron Thomas. But at no time since Kelly introduced the scheme by which the Ducks are now defined has it functioned as fluidly as with Mariota behind center.
The Heisman Trophy winner and the second overall draft pick of the Tennessee Titans set the standard for all Oregon quarterbacks to come each of his three seasons as the starter, adding a traditional pocket-passer presence to the gadget-heavy scheme.
Whether Jeff Lockie or Vernon Adams replaces Mariota, Oregon needs that same dynamic from the passing game to balance with the multifaceted rushing attack – a running attack Mariota adeptly added to, scoring 15 touchdowns on the ground in 2014.
2. More Work in the Trenches
Though Pellum’s emphasis on physicality up front resonated, getting Oregon over the hump against imposing teams like Michigan State and Stanford that had previously given the Ducks trouble, the loss to Ohio State showed there’s still work to do.
Ohio State’s powerful offensive front battered Oregon, opening big holes for running back Ezekiel Elliott to pile up 246 yards and four touchdowns. It mirrored the 2013 loss at Arizona, when Ka’Deem Carey went for 206 yards and four scores, which really drove home the sense of urgency for a more physical style.
Returning DeForest Buckner in the middle certainly helps, but the Ducks must replace end Arik Armstead, as well as primary pass-rushing linebacker, Tony Washington.
3. Questions in the Secondary
As valuable as Mariota was to Oregon’s offense the previous three years, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was just as vital to the Duck defense. The Ducks began the transition to life without Ekpre-Olomu in the postseason, losing him to a torn ACL just before the Playoff.
Going into a full season without him poses its own challenge, particularly because the Ducks are also replacing Troy Hill and Erick Dargan.
Hill saw a lot of passes go his way, with opposing quarterbacks opting to throw away from Ekpre-Olomu. Hill answered the call with 18 pass breakups.
Dargan, meanwhile, powered Oregon’s excellent turnover-generation with seven interceptions to lead the team.
Reggie Daniels must continue his progression into the new star of this unit, but he’ll need help. Big years out of Arrion Springs and Chris Seisay are vital to Oregon’s Pac-12 title aspirations.
Oregon's schedule is loaded with potential trap games, most on them on the road. The Ducks visit Michigan State in Week 2 for one of the most anticipated non-conference games of the season, and perhaps the earliest date with Playoff implications.
Arizona State and Stanford also loom on the road, though it's worth noting Oregon's lost more games at Autzen Stadium since 2011 (USC 2011, Stanford 2012, Arizona 2014) than it has in true road games (Stanford and Arizona in 2013). To that end, a late-November showdown with USC could very well be the greatest potential for a slip-up the Ducks face in Pac-12 play.
That one could also be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship Game two weeks later.
Oregon can sustain a loss and still make the College Football Playoff, as last season proved. Moreover, one would have to go back to 2009 for the last regular season that ended with four or more teams undefeated. There's no precedent yet for a team that failed to win its conference making the final four, so the Ducks need to repeat as Pac-12 champions to ensure their place in the second Playoff.
Bank on Oregon doing just that. The Pac-12 has collectively elevated its game since the Ducks' run of dominance began, but last year proved that they're still ahead of the curve. Another one-loss season, with a defeat coming against either Michigan State or Arizona State, culminating in another Pac-12 title is the forecast.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 8
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 10-3
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 9.5
CG Technology Over/Under Odds: 9.5
5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 9.5
Clayton Kershaw just pitched his third straight game with 10+ strikeouts, no walks, and no runs allowed. That’s never been accomplished before. He’s pitched 29 straight scoreless innings. It shouldn’t be that surprising that Kershaw is this good, but he’s performing at historic levels. And this year, he’s not even the clear-cut best pitcher on his own team.
While Kershaw continues to dominate, his teammate Zack Greinke has been arguably outperforming him. Greinke has not allowed a run in 43 2/3 innings, as he inches closer to the all time record. In July, they have allowed just one run over 56 innings, for just a 0.16 ERA. That would be the lowest ever if it remains like that. Even with the two of the best pitchers in the game, the Dodgers are still reportedly looking for another starting pitcher in hopes to win their first World Series since 1988.
See why Kershaw is so good:
It'll be a three-team race in the AFC West with Denver, Kansas City and San Diego all in the mix. It'll be a long season for the Raiders once again, but they are on their way up with a young nucleus. Watch out for Oakland in 2016 and '17 when the other teams in the division will be trying to get younger.
Much like I did with the college football win totals, I will break down the schedules in terms of home and road opponents outside the division. In most situations, I'll give a split to each team in divisional play with them winning at home and losing on the road. Vegas is much more on the ball in the NFL compared to college football so the numbers are a lot sharper.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook
(Over 10.5 wins +120, Under 10.5 wins -140)
Record Last Year: 12-4
Offense: A lot of the talk out of Denver is that the Broncos are going to run the ball more, and they have the personnel to do so. C.J. Anderson had 648 rushing yards in the team's final six games and should get a breather when Montee Ball takes the field. Demaryius Thomas is happy with his new deal and will get some help from Emmanuel Sanders, who had 101 receptions. Owen Daniels tries to replace Julius Thomas at tight end while the offensive line will have to move on without Ryan Clady.
Defense: The biggest difference will be up front with Terrance Knighton going to Washington. Shane Ray was a nice addition in the draft and he should join Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware as the primary pass rushers. The secondary is stout once again with Aqib Talib and Chris Harris as well as T.J. Ward at safety.
Schedule: Denver has four of its first six on the road with the road dates coming back-to-back in Weeks 5-6 against Oakland and Cleveland. The toughest stretch comes after the bye in Week 7 when the Broncos host the Packers before playing in Indy. They also host the Patriots in Week 12.
Prediction: Slight lean to the over. I think the loss of Clady at tackle is going to be a problem in terms of protection for Manning and because of that, I feel he'll miss a game or two this season. The running game is capable of winning tight contests, which is huge come November and December.
(Over 8.5 wins -115, Under 8.5 wins -105)
Record Last Year: 9-7
Offense: There's going to be a touchdown thrown to a WR this year. Let's get that out of the way after the Chiefs' wideouts went all of 2014 without finding the end zone once. Jeremy Maclin has been reunited with Andy Reid and represents a significant upgrade over Dwayne Bowe, who's now in Cleveland. One can see why the WRs didn't get much love though with weapons like Jamaal Charles and Travis Kelce. The tall tight end had almost 900 receiving yards in 2014. The offensive line shuffled personnel this offseason.
Defense: Justin Houston had 22 sacks last year and is armed with a new deal. Kansas City worked on its defense in the draft and made a nice addition to the secondary with Marcus Peters out of Washington. This unit was seventh in the NFL in yards allowed last season and didn't lose much so it should be just as solid in 2015.
Schedule: It gets rough early for KC, playing road games at Houston, Green Bay and Cincinnati to open the season, along with a Thursday night home date against Denver. The Chiefs also play three of four on the road coming out of their Week 9 bye - at Denver, San Diego and Oakland.
Prediction: The under is the play here and it's mostly because of the schedule. Kansas City's home-field advantage is good enough to steal a game or two, but the Chiefs also play at Minnesota and Baltimore in addition to the other matchups already mentioned. This is a good team that was dealt a rough hand.
(Over 5.5 wins +105, Under 5.5 wins -125)
Record Last Year: 3-13
Offense: Derek Carr experienced a lot of growing pains last year, throwing 12 interceptions, but that's going to change. Carr now has rookie Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to throw to besides Rod Streater and Mychal Rivera. Oakland also has a solid backfield with Latavius Murray, Trent Richardson, Roy Helu Jr. and Marcel Reece. The fullback Reece in particular is a Swiss Army knife-type player that can help in many ways whether it's blocking, catching or running the football.
Defense: Oakland continues to go the veteran route on defense with the additions of Nate Allen, Curtis Lofton and Malcolm Smith. This side of the ball needs Justin Tuck to return to form and D.J. Hayden to stay healthy. The safeties are veteran Charles Woodson and Allen, who wasn't very good in Philly.
Schedule: The Raiders close out the year with three of five at home. It's a good opportunity for a young team to gain a little momentum. Oakland hosts a pair of AFC North teams (Cincinnati, Baltimore) to start out the year. All in all, it's not the worst schedule.
Prediction: No real feel for this one. I'm clouded by the fact that the Raiders should be better in 2016 and '17. For the first time in a while, Oakland will win more games then the year before. The question is how many more. If you absolutely need a selection, then I'll take the under.
(Over 8 wins -130, Under 8 wins +110)
Record Last Year: 9-7
Offense: Philip Rivers is back for his 12th season with the Chargers. If you haven't done so, go look at his numbers and you'll realize they are better then you probably think. This year's San Diego offense is without stalwart Ryan Mathews as well as Eddie Royal. They are replaced by Stevie Johnson and Jacoby Jones out wide. Antonio Gates is out for four games, so Rivers will have to do without his favorite target for a fourth of the season. The good thing is that San Diego added running back Melvin Gordon in the draft and big things could happen with him.
Defense: It was a surprise last year to see San Diego finish fourth in passing defense in the NFL considering the Chargers had just 26 sacks. This unit is solid across the board, but it doesn't have that one dominant talent to rely on. Melvin Ingram staying healthy and Manti Te'o taking the next step would both help this defense round into form.
Schedule: Road trips to Green Bay and Baltimore are going to be tough for the Chargers. Their most friendly stretch is from Weeks 4-9 when they host Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Oakland and Chicago. San Diego also finishes the season with back-to-back divisional road games (Oakland, Denver).
Prediction: Slight lean to the over here. San Diego is the picture of consistency with three of its last five seasons ending with nine victories in the regular season. Ironically, that is what I project for the Chargers again in 2015. It's just a solid team all around.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
Over the past decade, Wes Welker has been one of the most productive wide receivers, but he remains unsigned. The problem is the amount of concussions he’s taken over the course of his career. Just last preseason, he suffered a third concussion in just 10 months. This common occurrence has former teammate, Champ Bailey, concerned.
In an interview with Fox Sports, he said, “It's a serious thing when you start talking about your head. And for him to have to worry about that at a young age that he is now, he has to think about that for years to come, and I just hope he hangs it up and not strap it up again." Many teams have shied away from signing him because of this very issue.
Welker still certainly has skill:
Entering the 2015 season the Arkansas Razorbacks are back on the college football map after two dormant seasons left in the dust of former head coach Bobby Petrino’s motorcycle accident. The 2012 and ‘13 seasons were forgettable but an about-face took place in 2014 under second-year head coach Bret Bielema, leading to high expectations this year.
Bielema’s brand of “Big Boy Football” started coming together in the form of a 7-6 season that included a 3-1 run in November, which included back-to-back shutouts of LSU (17-0) and Ole Miss (30-0). Further validation came at the end of December in the form of a 31-7 bowl game win over former Southwest Conference rival Texas.
Athlon Sports ranked Arkansas No. 16 in its preseason Top 25, snuggled between SEC West foe LSU and Oklahoma. Expectations are really high for the Hogs but before Arkansas can take that big leap forward from bowl team to College Football Playoff participant, they must clear a few big hurdles first. The good news is the Razorbacks have a few tricks up their sleeves that could make them a potential Playoff candidate.
Three Reasons Why Arkansas Will Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
1. Offensive Line
The Razorbacks arguably have one of if not the best offensive lines in college football. Four starters return, highlighted by preseason All-SEC picks left tackle Denver Kirkland, right tackle Dan Skipper, and left guard Sebastian Tretola. Senior starter Mitch Smothers returns at center with Frank Ragnow expected to start at left guard. Ragnow got a lot of action in 2014, appearing in nine games and taking part in more than 200 snaps, which should prepare him to handle starter minutes this season.
Backing up the mantra of best of the best, everyone knew the Razorbacks were going to run the ball last year and that they did, finishing 24th in the nation with 218 yards rushing per game. And when Arkansas did pass the line did its job, giving up just 14 sacks all season, the fewest in the SEC.
2. New Offensive Coordinator
Under Bielema the Hogs will run the ball but what was missing last season was an effective passing attack. Enter new offensive coordinator Dan Enos. Enos has built a reputation as an offensive mind and as a great quarterbacks coach. The addition of the former Central Michigan head coach’s offensive scheme coupled with Bielema’s desire to run the ball should spread out defenses, likewise creating better passing windows and even bigger running lanes for the tailbacks.
If Enos can push a little more production out of third-year senior starting quarterback Brandon Allen, this could be the difference-maker that pushes Arkansas into the Playoff picture.
3. Running Backs
Even if the play under center by Allen does not improve from 2,285 yards passing to something closer to 3,000, the Hogs always have one of the best running back tandems in the nation with senior Jonathan Williams and junior Alex Collins to fall back on. Both players rushed for over 1,100 yards and scored 12 touchdowns on the ground last year.
The one thing missing from Arkansas’ offense the last two years under former coordinator Jim Chaney was the tailbacks’ use as pass catchers. Look for Enos to utilize his preseason All-SEC running backs in the passing game, helping keep defenses honest, spread out and guessing.
Arkansas' 2015 Schedule
Athlon Projected Rank
|Sept. 12||vs. Toledo*||75||9-4|
|Sept. 19||Texas Tech||48||6-6|
|Sept. 26||vs. Texas A&M^||20||7-5|
|Oct. 3||at Tennessee||22||8-4|
|Oct. 10||at Alabama||2||12-1|
|Oct. 31||UT Martin||—||—|
|Nov. 7||at Ole Miss||11||9-3|
|Nov. 14||at LSU||15||8-4|
|Nov. 21||Mississippi State||21||7-5|
*Little Rock, Ark.; ^Arlington, Texas
Three Reasons Why Arkansas Won’t Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
Arkansas is one of a handful of teams in the nation that many are expecting to make some noise when the season kicks off in September. The trouble for Arkansas is two of the other squads that fall into this category are SEC teams and the Razorbacks play both — at Tennessee and home versus Mississippi State.
If preseason rankings count for anything Arkansas has a neutral-site matchup against No. 20 Texas A&M, travel in back-to-back games to play No. 22 Tennessee and No. 2 Alabama, and then come home after a bye week to host No. 4 Auburn. The last month of the season includes back-to-back road trips to No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 15 LSU, followed by home games against No. 21 Mississippi State and two-time SEC East champion Missouri. Just brutal.
The argument could be made that Arkansas must win all four non-conference games (UTEP, Toledo, Texas Tech and Tennessee-Martin) just to be in contention for a bowl game. Arkansas may catch Tennessee at the right time if that is possible. The Volunteers come off a road game against Florida then host Georgia, and travel to Alabama and Kentucky after seeing the Hogs. The contest against Tennessee could be a big opportunity to sneak away with the SEC road win Bielema has yet to capture since taking over the helm in Fayetteville.
If the Hogs fly away from Knoxville with a win and split against Alabama and Auburn, watch out. Under Bielema, the Hogs start playing better in the second half of the season. With an incentive of winning the SEC West and a shot at possibly making it into the Playoff, this team could start believing and become an even more dangerous team to face.
The reality is seven games against ranked teams and only three SEC home games makes this task daunting for any FBS program. Toss in a SEC Championship Game in Atlanta against preseason favorite No. 10 Georgia or seeing Tennessee a second time and the road to the Playoff becomes a nighttime, barefoot trek over the Ozark Mountains without a headlamp.
2. Question Marks in the Passing Game
Enos can be the world’s best mastermind at drawing up plays but if he cannot find a playmaker in the passing game to get the ball to downfield every Arkansas game will be a true grind for the offensive line and running backs. The good news is help could be on the roster… well, maybe.
Arkansas has one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the nation in junior Hunter Henry. He is a big asset to be sure, but to clear the eight- or nine-men in the box sets seen all last year a wide receiver has to step forward. Senior wideout Keon Hatcher is the easy pick to have a solid year. He pulled down 43 passes for 558 yards with six touchdowns but has an uncanny knack of making the routine plays look tough and the impossible look simple.
The unknown options are many, including redshirt freshman JoJo Robinson, JUCO transfer Dominique Reed, sophomore Kendrick Edwards, and true freshman La’Michael Pettway. Each appears to have the talent to make a difference in the Hogs’ passing game, but will it materialize on the field? Of the three only Edwards has FBS experience, and that covered four receptions with one score in 11 games as a true freshman. Right now the potential for greatness is there but until an impact is made by one or more of the receivers it’s all just chatter.
3. Special Teams Play
There was very little that was special about Arkansas’ special teams play last season top to bottom. A missed PAT arguably cost the Hogs a win against Alabama (14-13) and the punt game regressed, only averaging 40.1 yards per attempt. Only one touchdown was scored on special teams and that was by explosive sophomore running back Korliss Marshall, who is no longer on the team.
The reality is Arkansas was solid in the third phase of the game last year, hitting 52 of 54 PATs but one of the two misses was huge. A reliable placekicker did not emerge last season, so there was little confidence emanating from the fanbase that a field goal from 45 yards or shorter was a “gimme.” Adam McFain hit 7-of-10, while John Henseon hit 2-of-4 and was responsible for the two missed PATs. McFain is expected to win the job after connection on 4-of-6 from 30-39 yards and made one of his two attempts between 40-49, that coming from 49 yards out. Incoming freshman punter Blake Johnson is expected to infuse some life into the kicking game.
For the Hogs to win on the road in the SEC a dynamic punt returner must be found to help give favorable field position every now and again. D.J. Dean returned 11 punts for 121 yards, a nice 11.0 yards per return average with a long of 63. Opponents punted 66 times and the Hogs attempted to return just 22 of those, meaning that’s a lot of fair catches or missed opportunities to try and advance the ball. A couple more return attempts in 2015 coupled with a Joe Adams-type return of 40-plus yards could mean valuable field position and help this team eke out a game or two that could have gone the other way. The questions remains though, who can the Hogs call on to be that dynamic playmaker?
In 2014 Robb Smith turned the defense around from the No. 76 unit in the nation to No. 10. The loss of NFL Draft picks linebacker Martrell Spaight, defensive end Trey Flowers, and defensive tackle Darius Philon, will be tough to overcome but the talent is on the roster for another Top 25-worthy defense. If Smith can keep the defense hungry and reactionary, mixed with a strong ball-controlled, clock-eating ground game, and a few more successful downfield passes that will make Arkansas one of the most well-rounded teams in the nation.
The schedule is difficult with four road games against Tennessee, Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU. On the optimistic end Arkansas could go 10-2. A mid-level projection is nine or eight wins, which is not good enough to make the Playoff.
Finishing 10-2 with a SEC Championship Game victory (11-2), should be good enough for a Playoff berth. If Ohio State, TCU or Baylor, USC, and Florida State all come to the finish line with a mix of undefeated records or one loss that could be enough to dash the Hogs’ dreams, depending on how the Playoff selection committee takes into consideration strength of schedule.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 16
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 8-4
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 8.5
CG Technology Over/Under Odds: 8
5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 8.5
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
Training camps have begun in the NFL. It's the time of year when every team, even the bad ones, believe they have a chance at the playoffs.
All 32 teams have question marks to address and the Miami Dolphins are no exception. So what are the Dolphins' biggest question marks with rookies and veterans set to report to training camp on July 29?
1. What will the offensive line look like?
Last season, Branden Albert was the Dolphins' best offensive lineman before he tore his ACL and MCL in the team's November loss against the Detroit Lions. During minicamp and OTAs, Albert didn’t practice with the team and was seen noticeably limping while working with trainers.
If Albert isn’t healthy for Miami's season opener against the Washington Redskins, that will force the team to reshuffle its offensive line. Miami also has questions at both guard positions.
Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas will compete for both guard spots. Thomas has been one of the worst offensive linemen in the NFL during his first two years in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. The coaches said during training camp that they will give Thomas every opportunity to win the job, but his prior history says the team can’t depend on him.
Turner has very limited experience as he only played in two games during his rookie season. Douglas, the team's fourth-round draft pick in May, could be the best guard out of the three, but he lacks NFL playing time.
Playing against the Dolphins' defensive line every day during camp should only improve the offensive line to some degree. But Miami needs Albert to be ready for Week 1.
2. How much will Ryan Tannehill improve this season?
Every season since his rookie year, Tannehill's play at quarterback has progressively gotten better, but yet the Dolphins have finished 7-9, 8-8 and 8-8 in his first three years. Even though Miami hasn’t made the playoffs since Tannehill has been under center, the team rewarded him with a $96 million extension in May.
Pocket presence and accuracy down the field are the two things Tannehill has to improve on. The Dolphins' offensive line wasn’t great last year, but Tannehill would often hold the ball longer than he should have.
Tannehill and former No. 1 wide receiver Mike Wallace never got on the same page with their deep ball chemistry. That's one of the reasons the team traded Wallace during the offseason. Miami added receivers Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings and drafted DeVante Parker over the offseason, so maybe Tannehill’s accuracy will improve with better weapons.
Tannehill threw for 4,045 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2014, but there’s room for improvement. A quarterback is only as good as his fourth-quarter performances and Tannehill needs to become more of a clutch player if the Dolphins are to make the playoffs in 2015.
3. Is the Dolphins' defense better than last year?
Last year, the Dolphins defense started out well, but it gradually got worse in the second half of the season. The defensive line couldn’t stop the run and the pass rush was non-existent. That’s the main reason the team signed Ndamukong Suh to a six-year, $114 million contract.
Miami finished 24th in rushing defense and the addition of Suh along with Olivier Vernon, Cameron Wake, Earl Mitchell, C.J. Mosley and second-round pick Jordan Phillips will be a terror for offensive lines to stop. The amount of depth Miami has will also keep its front four fresh.
The linebacker position appears to be the biggest weakness on this defense. Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi will be the starters, but depth at linebacker will be a question.
Miami moved on from veteran linebackers Philip Wheeler, Dannell Ellerbe and let Jason Trusnik leave for the Carolina Panthers in free agency. The team signed Spencer Paysinger as well as a number of undrafted free agents, with the goal of improving its linebacker depth.
Cincinnati’s Jeff Luc, Utah State’s Zach Vigil, Penn State’s Mike Hull and Marshall’s Neville Hewitt were all considered Day 3 picks in the 2015 NFL Draft. Miami will hope it can find a diamond in the rough (or two) with one of these undrafted players.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
It’s a new era for Nebraska football in 2015. Mike Riley was hired to replace Bo Pelini, and the former Oregon State coach inherits a team that has won at least nine games in each of the last seven seasons. However, the bar in Lincoln is higher than just getting to nine victories. Competing for conference championships is a must, and the Cornhuskers have all of the necessary resources to be a top 15-20 team on a consistent basis.
As Riley heads into his first year, Nebraska isn’t considered the favorite in the Big Ten West Division. Wisconsin is a consensus favorite among the preseason prognosticators, with Ohio State the clear pick to win the Big Ten.
While the Badgers are the favorite in the West Division, the Cornhuskers shouldn’t be overlooked and could be a sleeper pick to make the trip to Indianapolis in early December.
Is Nebraska the Big Ten West Division's Sleeper Team for 2015?
(Here are a few reasons to buy the Cornhuskers as a West Division title contender in 2015)
1. Manageable Big Ten Schedule
A crossover game against Michigan State is challenging, but Nebraska misses Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State from the East Division, and Wisconsin and Iowa visit Memorial Stadium in 2015. The upcoming slate certainly isn’t easy, especially with the crossover matchup against the Spartans and the road trip to Minnesota. However, if Nebraska knocks off Wisconsin in October, it would give Riley’s team a chance to position itself for a run at the West Division title in November.
2. Improvement Behind a First-Year Coach
Every year, it seems there are a handful of teams that make a jump in the standings based on the strength of a new coaching staff and schemes. Could Nebraska get the first-year bump in 2015? Riley’s career record at Oregon State was just 93-80, but winning in Corvallis is no easy task. Riley knows how to get the most out of a roster and discover hidden gems on the recruiting trail. Both of those tactics should work well in Lincoln. Riley’s biggest challenge in terms of personnel will be getting quarterback Tommy Armstrong to adapt to the new pro-style approach.
3. Dangerous Offense…If the Pieces Fall Into Place
Make no mistake: There are question marks about Nebraska’s offense. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong has to play better and adapt to the new scheme, standout running back Ameer Abdullah must be replaced, and three new starters must be found on the offensive line. But if all of the pieces fall into place, this is a dangerous offense. After all, the Cornhuskers averaged 37.8 points per game last season. That number could climb in 2015 if Armstrong develops, and Terrell Newby, Imani Cross and Adam Taylor handle the workload at running back. Sophomore De’Mornay Pierson-El is a rising star to watch this fall.
Podcast: ACC, Big 12 Media Days and Talkin’ Season
4. Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine
Stopping opposing offenses starts in the trenches for most defenses. Nebraska needs to develop a few pass rushers, but the tackle combination of Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine is among the best in the nation. Both players check in over 300 pounds and should have no trouble wreaking havoc against opposing offensive linemen or quarterbacks. Some teams may choose to add double teams to Collins or Valentine, which should help alleviate some of the pressure on the younger players, allowing more one-on-one matchups to get to the quarterback.
Related: Big Ten's 2015 All-Conference Team
5. Turnover Margin
Nebraska lost two of its three conference games by five points or less last season. What could be the difference in close matchups? Turnovers. In Big Ten games last year, the Cornhuskers were a minus-two in turnover margin. Luck plays a big part in recovering turnovers, but Nebraska could do a better job of holding onto the ball. In eight conference matchups, the Cornhuskers gave away 20 turnovers.
Recruiting rankings are never going to be 100 percent accurate, but there is some truth in the data. Earlier this offseason, Athlon examined the Big Ten team recruiting rankings, with Ohio State and Michigan ranking as the top two rosters in the conference. But No. 3 could be a surprise to some: Nebraska. The Cornhuskers have averaged a No. 27 finish nationally in recruiting rankings over the last five years, with Wisconsin – Nebraska’s biggest challenger in the West – at No. 41. Again, the recruiting rankings aren’t everything. But there is plenty of talent for Riley to work with in his debut in Lincoln.
Auburn's offense was what you'd expect from a Gus Malzahn-coached team. The Tigers ranked second in the SEC in yards per game (485.0) and third in total yards (6,305).
But their defense ranked No. 61 overall in the FBS and allowed 26.7 points per game, which ranked 10th in the conference. Still, there's optimism for an immediate turnaround with new coordinator Will Muschamp at the helm and one of the SEC's best returning linebacker groups.
Auburn was predicted to win the SEC Championship in a poll conducted at SEC Media Days. With the college football season less than 50 days away, it's time to evaluate some of the nation's top contenders.
Here are three reasons why Auburn will make the College Football Playoff and three reasons the Tigers won't finish in the top four.
Three Reasons Why Auburn Will Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
1. Muschamp Factor
Muschamp is a defensive guru. Despite his disappointing tenure as Florida's head coach he still remains one of the best defensive minds in college football. Muschamp-coached teams ranked in the top 10 in the FBS each year since 2009. Auburn hasn't finished higher than No. 60 in the past six seasons, which includes two teams (2010, ‘13) that either made it to or won the BCS title game. Muschamp also inherits a plethora of talent including linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost. Auburn hopes to find the same success as rival Alabama when the Tide hired Lane Kiffin as its offensive coordinator in 2014. The pairing of Malzahn and Muschamp could be the best in college football and should succeed with a roster full of talent.
2. Jeremy Johnson Heisman Campaign
Johnson may dismiss Heisman talk now but it may be impossible during the season. Johnson is set to take over as Auburn's new starting quarterback after serving as Nick Marshall's backup the past two seasons. In 11 appearances he's thrown for 858 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions on 57-of-78 passing. He's also drawn comparisons to Auburn legend and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton due to his 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame and dual-threat ability. Johnson will be the perfect fit in Malzahn's offense which consistently helps mobile QBs flourish. It also doesn't hurt to have one of the SEC's best receiving groups and a pair of talented running backs in Roc Thomas and Jovon Robinson.
3. SEC Hype
So let's assume both Auburn and Alabama enter the Iron Bowl with undefeated records. The Tide defeats the Tigers and earns its second consecutive SEC West title. There's no doubt that Auburn will still be in the top four should it lose to its archrival. In 2013, the Tigers returned what is now known as the "Kick Six" to spoil Alabama's perfect season. With the new Playoff format both teams would have still been in contention for a national championship. It just seems like this season will play out in similar fashion and both teams will rank among the nation's best during rivalry week.
Auburn’s 2015 Schedule
Athlon Projected Rank
|Sept. 5||vs. Louisville*||38||7-5|
|Sept. 12||Jacksonville State||—||—|
|Sept. 19||at LSU||15||8-4|
|Sept. 26||Mississippi State||21||7-5|
|Oct. 3||San Jose State||110||4-8|
|Oct. 15||at Kentucky||55||6-6|
|Oct. 24||at Arkansas||16||8-4|
|Oct. 31||Ole Miss||11||9-3|
|Nov. 7||at Texas A&M||20||7-5|
*Neutral-site game in Atlanta, Ga.
Three Reasons Why Auburn Won’t Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
At least 10 Auburn players were held out or limited during spring practices due to injuries according to Al.com's Brandon Marcello. Although many seemed to be precautionary, it still shows that the Tigers have some injury concerns entering the season. Cornerback T.J. Davis, who played 56 snaps last season, will miss a portion of the season recovering from ACL surgery in late March. Defensive end/linebacker Carl Lawson, who underwent knee surgery to repair an ACL in May 2014, was limited despite being cleared participate in practices in December.
2. Tough Schedule
Auburn has the eighth-most difficult schedule in college football according to FBschedules.com. The Tigers' opponents combined for a 92-60 record and a 60.53 winning percentage in 2014. Auburn also has the difficult task of playing at LSU on Sept. 19, Arkansas on Oct. 24 and Texas A&M -- the SEC's largest stadium -- on Nov. 7. Not only does this create potential upsets but also provides fatigue. It will be difficult for the Tigers to make it through their schedule without a blemish but by no means impossible.
3. SEC Contenders Offsetting Each Other
Midway through last season it seemed like several SEC West teams were in contention for the College Football Playoff. By season's end, both Mississippi schools found themselves on the outside looking in. Any SEC team is capable of pulling off an upset on any given Saturday. As mentioned before, both Alabama and Auburn SHOULD enter Week 14 with undefeated records. However, who knows how the season will turn out. Perhaps Texas A&M or LSU is much better than most are giving them credit for. There's always an upset -- if not several -- that plays spoiler to a perfect season and an emerging surprise contender in the conference. Auburn may hold an advantage in every game leading up to the Iron Bowl but could still fall to ranked opponents midway through the season.
Auburn should be in contention for a College Football Playoff berth by season's end. The Iron Bowl matchup against Alabama will be the biggest game of the season for the Tigers. With the new Playoff format it’s very possible that both teams secure a top-4 ranking after what should be a memorable matchup. Auburn looks like the most complete team in the SEC and should survive a difficult schedule if it can stay healthy. Johnson will emerge as a Heisman candidate in an offensive scheme that will play to his athletic strengths. Muschamp will provide an immediate turnaround to what is already an underrated defensive group. The smart money is on Auburn to be in contention for a College Football Playoff spot whether or not it makes an SEC Championship Game appearance.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 4
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 10-2
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 8.5
CG Technology Over/Under Odds: 8.5
5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 8.5
— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhallFSN.