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All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/young-cancer-survivor-shows-prosthetic-cubs-eye-chicago-beckham-zobrist
Body:

Beckham Zobrist fought cancer and doesn't want his battle to go unnoticed. 

 

The 7-year-old survivor is taking his hard-fought victory and showing it off in a prideful manner with a prosthetic eye. Zobrist lost one of his eyes to retinoblastoma and a new eye was on his wish list after being teased at school. His wish was granted and more with a special Cubs prosthetic. 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, June 9, 2016 - 10:28
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Missouri Tigers, SEC
Path: /college-football/ranking-toughest-games-missouris-college-football-schedule-2016
Body:

heads into the fall with what looks to be one of the 's best defenses. The Tigers also have continuity on the coaching staff, with former defensive coordinator Barry Odom taking over as head coach after Gary Pinkel announced his retirement this past November.

 

Related: 

 

But after going a whole month without a touchdown at one point last season, Mizzou will no doubt be looking to improve on offense, starting with sophomore quarterback Drew Lock. If the Tigers are going to get back to a bowl game in 2016, they will have to win a few key SEC games on the schedule. Luckily, the schedule sets up pretty well.

 

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

 

12. Sept. 24 vs. Delaware State

Delaware State lost its first 10 games in 2015 before knocking off Howard 32-31 in its season finale. There really isn’t anything that jumps off the page to make you think the Hornets will be much better this year. Missouri should be able to get plenty of reps for its younger players in the second half of this game.

 

11. Sept. 10 vs. Eastern Michigan

Like Delaware State, Eastern Michigan also had only one win last season. But at least the Eagles’ win came on the road against an FBS opponent (Wyoming). Former 4-star quarterback recruit Brogan Roback returns after filling in admirably for Reggie Bell last season, but Eastern Michigan probably won’t have enough of a supporting cast to give Mizzou a game in week two.

 

10. Oct. 22 vs. Middle Tennessee

Chances are the Tigers will be able to cruise against a couple of their non-conference opponents. However, that likely won’t be the case against Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders return plenty of talent from last year’s 7-6 squad that narrowly lost at home to Vanderbilt. This program has proven over the years it isn’t afraid to take on SEC opponents. Missouri may have its hands full against MTSU.

 

9. Oct. 29 vs. Kentucky

When it comes to the SEC slate, Missouri should have some winnable games at home. Kentucky squeaked by Mizzou last year, 21-13 in Lexington, but the ‘Cats may not match up well this time around. Kentucky’s strength appears to be its offense, but Missouri should be stout on the defensive side once again in 2016. If the Tigers can manage some offense, they will have the advantage in this one. 

 

8. Nov. 12 vs. Vanderbilt

Last year, Missouri and Vanderbilt battled in a defensive struggle (or maybe it was more of an offensive struggle), with the Commodores eventually winning 10-3. Vanderbilt has 12 starters returning under Derek Mason, and a trip to a bowl game is not out of the question for this season. Luckily, the Tigers get to play this one in CoMo.

 

7. Nov. 5 at South Carolina

South Carolina is rebuilding the roster under new head coach Will Muschamp. The Gamecocks are expected to be improved on defense, but there still just isn’t a lot of talent in the cupboard right now. Mizzou should have a chance to win this game if South Carolina’s offense hasn’t drastically improved. Still, winning at Williams-Brice Stadium will not be an easy task.

 

6. Sept. 3 at West Virginia

Missouri opens the 2016 season at West Virginia, which could prove to be one of the most difficult road tests on the Tigers’ schedule. For years, teams have feared traveling to Morgantown, where couches burn freely in the streets. West Virginia returns quarterback Skyler Howard and seven other starters on offense. The Mountaineers like to put up points. If Missouri can’t keep pace, this one could get out of hand.

 

5. Oct. 15 at Florida

The defending SEC East champions lose some key pieces on both sides of the ball heading into the fall, but Florida still looks to be able to compete near the top of the division. Missouri will be coming off a bye week before traveling to The Swamp to take on the Gators. The last time these teams met in Gainesville, Missouri annihilated Florida, 42-13.

 

4. Nov. 25 vs. Arkansas

If this game were played in September, I would have ranked it behind Florida and probably West Virginia, too. However, under Bret Bielema, the Hogs have proven to be downright scary in November. Arkansas has to replace its quarterback, top two running backs, tight end, and the majority of its powerful offensive line from a year ago. It won’t be easy, but by Thanksgiving weekend, the Razorbacks will probably have it figured out.

 

3. Sept. 17 vs. Georgia

Georgia has a new head coach for the first time in 15 years and fans are expecting a national championship in the near future. This year’s team has plenty of depth on both sides of the ball to compete with the SEC’s best, although there are some big shoes to fill on defense. Missouri will need to find its rhythm early in order to avoid falling to 0-1 in conference play.

 

2. Nov. 19 at Tennessee

Last year, Tennessee finally got over the hump against Missouri, defeating the Tigers 19-8 in Columbia. The Volunteers are stacked on both sides of the ball heading into this season.  By November, there is a good chance Tennessee will be looking to close out the SEC East race behind the legs of Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Neyland Stadium will be rocking.

 

1. Oct. 1 at LSU

Could Mizzou have gotten a tougher draw from the SEC West? Maybe Alabama would be worse, but maybe not. LSU has all the pieces in place to get to the College Football Playoff this season. The Bayou Bengals’ depth chart appears to be one of the best in all of college football. Missouri will have its work cut out for it when the East Tigers meet their West counterparts in Death Valley.

 

— 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 Missouri's College Football Schedule in 2016
Post date: Thursday, June 9, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-2016-fcs-all-america-team
Body:

The Athlon Sports FCS Preseason All-America team features plenty of high-powered offensive players who will light up scoreboards all season.

 

But it comes with a defensive unit that the offensive standouts probably wouldn’t want to run into.

 

Related:
 

The talent is soaring in the FCS – as evidenced by Carson Wentz leading 20 FCS selections in the NFL Draft this past April – and it’s widespread as well. There are 11 conferences and 21 schools represented on the Athlon preseason team. Not surprisingly, it’s a senior-dominated group.

 

Five-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State, national runner-up Jacksonville State, Chattanooga, The Citadel, James Madison and New Hampshire have two selections each.

 

Athlon Sports 2016 FCS All-America Team

 

  Offense   Defense   Speciailsts
QB Eli Jenkins
Jacksonville State
DE Keionta Davis
Chattanooga
K Nick Dorka
William & Mary
RB Chase Edmonds
Fordham
DE P.J. Hall
Sam Houston State
P Chris Fraser
Cornell
RB Kade Harrington
Lamar
DT Isaiah Golden
McNeese State
KR Lorenzo Jerome
Saint Francis
FB Tyler Renew
The Citadel
DT Caleb Kidder
Montana
PR Khris Gardin
NC A&T
WR Cooper Kupp
Eastern Washington
LB Andrew Ankrah
James Madison
   
WR Jake Wienke
South Dakota State
LB Nick DeLuca
North Dakota State
   
TE Jordan Powell
New Hampshire
LB Christian Kuntz
Duquesne
   
C Casey Dunn
Jacksonville State
CB Casey DeAndrade
New Hampshire
   
G Zack Johnson
North Dakota State
CB Dee Delaney
The Citadel
   
G Corey Levin
Chattanooga
S David Jones
Richmond 
   
T Julie'n Davenport
Bucknell
S Donald Payne
Stetson
   
T Mitch Kirsch
James Madison
       

 

— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for . He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter .

 

(Eli Jenkins photo courtesy of Jacksonville State University Athletic Communications; Keionta Davis photo courtesy of University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Athletic Communications)

Teaser:
Athlon Sports 2016 FCS All-America Team
Post date: Thursday, June 9, 2016 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Air Force Falcons, Akron Zips, Alabama Crimson Tide, Appalachian State Mountaineers, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats, Arkansas Razorbacks, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Army West Point Black Knights, Army Black Knights, Army West Point Black Knights, Auburn Tigers, Ball State Cardinals, Baylor Bears, Boise State Broncos, Boston College Eagles, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, BYU Cougars, California Golden Bears, Central Michigan Chippewas, Charlotte 49ers, Cincinnati Bearcats, Clemson Tigers, College Football, Colorado Buffaloes, Colorado State Rams, Connecticut Huskies, Duke Blue Devils, East Carolina Pirates, Eastern Michigan Eagles, FAU Owls, FIU Panthers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Fresno State Bulldogs, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Southern Eagles, Georgia State Panthers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, Hawaii Warriors, Houston Cougars, Idaho Vandals, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Kent State Golden Flashes, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Louisville Cardinals, LSU Tigers, Marshall Thundering Herd, Maryland Terrapins, Memphis Tigers, Miami Hurricanes, Miami Ohio RedHawks, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, MTSU Blue Raiders, Navy Midshipmen, Navy Midshipmen, NC State Wolfpack, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, New Mexico State Aggies, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Texas Mean Green, Northern Illinois Huskies, Northwestern Wildcats, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Old Dominion Monarchs, Ole Miss Rebels, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Pittsburgh Panthers, Purdue Boilermakers, Rice Owls, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, San Diego State Aztecs, San Jose State Spartans, SMU Mustangs, South Alabama Jaguars, South Carolina Gamecocks, South Florida Bulls, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Stanford Cardinal, syndicated, Syracuse Orange, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Longhorns, Texas State Bobcats, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Toledo Rockets, Troy Trojans, Tulane Green Wave, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, UAB Blazers, UCF Knights, UCLA Bruins, UConn Huskies, UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, UL Monroe Warhawks, UMass Minutemen, UNLV Rebels, USC Trojans, Utah State Aggies, Utah Utes, UTEP Miners, UTSA Roadrunners, Vanderbilt Commodores, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, West Virginia Mountaineers, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Western Michigan Broncos, Wisconsin Badgers, Wyoming Cowboys, American Athletic, Big 12, Big Ten, Conference USA, Independents, MAC, Mountain West, Pac 12, SEC, Sun Belt, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-10-most-explosive-running-backs-returning-2016
Body:

Having a running back who has the ability to turn on the jets after getting to the second level of the defense and also make something out of nothing is a must for a great ground game. These running backs have the unique ability to turn ordinary plays into pay dirt and six points for the offense. They come in different shapes and sizes, but there are a few qualities each big-play back seems to possess—speed, acceleration and great vision. This spreadsheet below shows runs that went over 30, 40 and 50 yards in the 2015 season and these are the top big-play threats coming back this year. Without further ado, here are the most explosive running backs in college football.

 

College Football's 10 Most Explosive RBs Returning for 2016

Name

30+

40+

50+

Total

Matt Breida (GSU)

13

9

6

28

Dalvin Cook (FSU)

13

6

6

25

Leonard Fournette (LSU)

10

7

4

21

Larry Rose III (NMSU)

10

6

5

21

Donnel Pumphrey (SDSU)

10

5

4

19

Jeremy McNichols (BSU)

9

5

3

17

Jamauri Bogan (WMU)

7

6

4

17

Ito Smith (USM)

9

5

2

16

James Butler (Nevada)

6

5

5

16

Mike Warren (ISU)

6

6

3

15

 

Matt Breida, 5’11, 190 lbs., Georgia Southern

The no-glove phenom averaged a nation-leading 7.9 yards per carry (minimum 100 carries) last season.

 

Dalvin Cook, 5’11, 206 lbs., Florida State

Became the Seminoles’ all-time single-season leader in rushing yards (1,691) last year exceeding Warrick Dunn’s 20-year record of 1,242 yards.

 

Leonard Fournette, 6’1, 230lbs., LSU

Only player in LSU history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons.

 

Larry Rose III, 5’11, 184 lbs., New Mexico State

Tallied three 200-yard rushing games and seven 100-yard rushing games last fall.

 

Donnel Pumphrey, 5’9, 180 lbs., San Diego State

Set the single-season school record with 1,867 rushing yards last year and has 13 career 100-yard rushing games.

 

Jeremy McNichols, 5’9, 207 lbs., Boise State

Set the Mountain West record for most consecutive games with a rushing touchdown (12).

 

Jamauri Bogan, 5’7, 187 lbs., Western Michigan

Accomplished quite the feat of rushing for four touchdowns in a game twice in 2016.

 

Ito Smith, 5’9, 195 lbs., Southern Mississippi

The all-purpose back racked up 1,128 rushing yards, 515 receiving yards, 233 kick return yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

 

James Butler, 5’9, 200 lbs., Nevada  

The Wolf Pack went 6-1 when he eclipsed 100 yards last fall and led the Mountain West in yards per carry with 6.3 (minimum 100 carries).

 

Mike Warren, 6’0, 200 lbs., Iowa State

Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and his 1,339 rushing yards was the third-best effort by a freshman in Big 12 history.

Teaser:
College Football's 10 Most Explosive Running Backs Returning for 2016
Post date: Thursday, June 9, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/chad-johnson-corrects-people-who-keep-confusing-him-bachelorette-contestant
Body:

Chad Johnson is running into yet another name-related problem. 

 

Johnson, who once changed his name to Chad Ochocinco, is having trouble with some Twitter users who are confusing him for a contestant on the Bachelorette named Chad Johnson.

 

 

 

Obviously people were so embarrassed they ended up deleting their tweets, but "Black Chad" took it in stride.

 

 

Johnson is still trying to help the other Johnson become more likeable.  

 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, June 8, 2016 - 14:27
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Utah Utes, Pac 12
Path: /college-football/ranking-toughest-games-utahs-college-football-schedule-2016
Body:

Can take another step and claim a championship this season? The Utes have made a steady climb up the Pac-12 South ladder each of the last two years behind aggressive defense, a rugged running attack and game-changing special teams play.

 

Utah notched its second consecutive winning season and second straight bowl victory in 2015. The Utes went 10-3 and finished ranked 17th in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

 

Keeping it going in 2016 will not be a simple task. Utah must replace several major contributors on both sides of the ball including Devontae Booker, Travis Wilson, Britain Covey, Gionni Paul, Jared Norris and Tom Hackett. The schedule also is tough as usual. The Utes will face nine bowl teams from last season.

 

Related: 

 

Here's a look at Utah's 2016 schedule, ranking opponents from easiest to toughest:

 

12. Sept. 1 vs. Southern Utah

SUU is no slouch as far as FCS opponents go. The Thunderbirds are defending Big Sky champions and have reached the FCS playoffs twice in the last three seasons. Still, Utah should not have much trouble improving its record to 38-0 against Big Sky teams.

 

SUU must replace several key playmakers on both sides of the ball. The T-Birds will also be breaking in a new head coach, Demario Warren, after Ed Lamb left to take an assistant coaching job at BYU. It isn't a good formula for springing an upset against the Utes. Utah has outscored its last four Big Sky opponents 194-31.

 

11. Sept. 17 at San Jose State

Mountain West teams have struggled against Utah since it joined the Pac-12. The Utes are 5-0 against MW teams since 2013 and won all but one game by a double digit margin. San Jose State is unlikely to break that trend. Utah is 6-1 all-time versus the Spartans – including 4-0 in San Jose.

 

The Spartans are an experienced team, returning a total of 17 starters on offense and defense. Still, San Jose must find a suitable replacement for top running back Tyler Ervin, who totaled 1,601 yards and 13 touchdowns on 294 carries a year ago. That's bad news for a team facing an elite Pac-12 run defense.

 

10. Oct. 15 at Oregon State

The bottom fell out for Oregon State a year ago. The Beavers did not register a win against a Pac-12 foe for the first time in two decades and lost to Utah 27-12 after totaling just 312 yards on offense. A steep uphill climb lies ahead for Gary Andersen and company in 2016.

 

Oregon State should be improved on offense with Utah State transfer Darell Garretson at quarterback. Garretson totaled 2,586 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 13 games over two seasons with the Aggies. His presence might not matter much, though, if the Beavers can't significantly improve a defensive unit that ranked 114th nationally in scoring defense last season.

 

9. Oct. 1 at California

Life after Jared Goff could be rocky for the Bears. Replacing the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft is never a simple task. Losing six receivers who combined for 3,878 yards and 38 scores on 265 catches last season makes things even tougher.

 

California lessened some growing pains by adding transfer quarterback Davis Webb. Webb started part-time as a freshman and sophomore for Texas Tech and totaled 5,557 yards and 46 touchdowns in three seasons. Still, the Bears struggled to move the ball against Utah's defense last season even with Goff at the helm. Goff threw five interceptions against the Utes in a 30-24 loss.

 

8. Nov. 26 at Colorado

If the Buffaloes can finally take a step forward this season, they could give Utah more headaches than usual. The Utes have won four straight in the series. But all four games were decided by an average margin of 6.0 points.

 

Colorado's progress could be limited with the graduation of top wide receiver Nelson Spruce and starting quarterback Sefo Liufau rehabbing a Lisfranc foot fracture he suffered late last season against USC. Liufau originally planned to redshirt in 2016 and may not be close to 100 percent by fall camp. The three-year starter has totaled 7,397 yards and 49 touchdowns over his career.

 

7. Sept. 10 vs. BYU

BYU has seemingly become trapped in a “Groundhog Day” style time loop against Utah. The Cougars have dropped five straight in the Holy War – including a 35-28 setback in the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl. Will the script change in 2016?

 

The pieces are in place for BYU to take a step forward. Running back Jamaal Williams is back after sitting out last season and the Cougars have two dynamic playmakers at quarterback in Tanner Mangum and Taysom Hill. BYU must take better care of the ball against the Utes to have a chance. Utah is plus-13 in turnover margin against the Cougars in the last four meetings.

 

6. Nov. 10 at Arizona State

The Utes finally snapped an 11-game losing streak against the Sun Devils last season, prevailing 34-18 for their first win in Salt Lake City over Arizona State since 1973. Now they are looking to beat Arizona State in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

 

Taking down the Sun Devils may pose less of a challenge than a year ago. Arizona State must replace four starting offensive linemen, quarterback Mike Bercovici and top receiver D.J. Foster. Inexperience on offense will only put more pressure on a defense that surrendered 337.8 passing yards per game in 2015 – the worst average of any FBS school and the highest amount in school history.

 

5. Oct. 8 vs. Arizona

Even in a down season, the Wildcats still found a way to top Utah. Arizona outlasted the Utes 37-30 in double overtime and improved to 4-0 against Utah under Rich Rodriguez. Getting five in a row could hinge on the health of quarterback Anu Solomon and running back Nick Wilson.

 

Solomon and Wilson were sensational as freshmen in 2014 and then took a step back last season while battling through multiple injuries. Arizona will need an explosive offense. The defense has been overhauled with a new staff and system after yielding 466.8 yards and 35.8 points per game in 2015.

 

4. Nov. 19 vs. Oregon

Utah dismantled the Ducks in every possible way during a 62-20 victory last season. It exposed an Oregon team that ranked just 115th nationally in scoring defense (37.5 points per game) and 116th nationally in total defense (485.3 yards per game).

 

Stopping the run may be the key to grounding the Ducks again this season. Montana State transfer Dakota Prukop brings true dual-threat potential at quarterback. Prukop finished with 7,347 yards of total offense during his Bobcat career. It should keep defenses honest in trying to slow down Royce Freeman, a junior running back who has posted consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

 

3. Sept. 23 vs. USC

Utah's dreams of claiming a Pac-12 title started to unravel after a 42-24 loss to the Trojans last season. Given the wealth of talent and experience at USC's disposal this season, the Utes start conference play with one of their toughest opponents on the schedule.

 

USC breaks in a new starting quarterback in Max Browne. That's the only major change on offense. The entire offensive line returns. JuJu Smith-Schuster gives Browne a reliable downfield target after totaling 1,454 yards and 10 touchdowns on 89 receptions last season. On defense, Cameron Smith – the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year – tormented Utah with three interceptions a year ago.

 

2. Oct. 29 vs. Washington

Utah finally broke the ice against the Huskies a year ago, earning its first-ever win in the series after forcing four turnovers to power a 34-23 win in Seattle. The Utes may need to rely a similar degree of defensive dominance this fall.

 

Washington features a dynamic sophomore tandem on offense in quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin. Browning threw for 2,955 yards and 16 touchdowns in his debut season and Gaskin churned up 1,302 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Huskies are no slouches on defense either, leading the Pac-12 in scoring defense (18.8 ppg) a year ago.

 

1. Oct. 22 at UCLA

It's always a hard-fought contest when Utah and UCLA play. This season should be no different. The Bruins shut down the Utes a year ago in a 17-9 victory and are capable of doing similar things in 2016, even with several key players graduated from last year's squad.

 

UCLA is already an early favorite to claim the Pac-12 South title with the return of quarterback Josh Rosen. In his debut season for the Bruins, Rosen threw for 3,669 yards and 23 touchdowns. Passing against UCLA should be tough again this year. Every starter returns in a secondary that helped the Bruins lead the Pac-12 in pass defense (203.2 yards per game) during the 2015 season.

 

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter

Teaser:
Ranking the Toughest Games on Utah's College Football Schedule in 2016
Post date: Wednesday, June 8, 2016 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: National League, MLB
Path: /mlb/mlb-june-what-watch-national-league
Body:

The 2016 season is still young, but the storylines keep churning from the diamond. The National League is filled with plenty of early drama that will surely continue into the dog days of summer. With June arriving and the quarter mark of the season passing, here are a few narratives In the Senior Circuit to keep an eye on.

 

Related: 

 

Murphy for MVP?

Last October, when Daniel Murphy was swinging the bat more like Mickey Mantle, there was talk the NLCS MVP was cruising his way towards a $75 million free agent contract. When the World Series rolled around, Murphy fell back to earth, as his .421 postseason average dipped to .150 with no RBIs and seven strikeouts. The demand for Murphy on the open market also dipped. Ultimately, Murphy left the Big Apple for DC, signing with the Nationals for three years and just over $37 million.

 

Since making the move to Washington, Murphy has tapped into his power source from last fall, leading the majors in batting average (.379) while pacing the NL in hits (81), OPS (1.032), OPS+ (171), and total bases (132, tied) entering Wednesday's games. Murphy’s early-season surge may be unlikely given his age, 31, and history at the plate, but it wouldn’t be fair to say that his success is a fluke this season. Quite frankly, the answer could simply be that Murphy has finally figured it out.

 

According to FanGraphs, Murphy is doing a much better job of driving the ball than in past seasons. His ground ball rate is down 12 percent from last year, while his fly ball and line drive rate, along with his percentage of medium to hard contact, has increased notably.

 

Murphy and catcher Wilson Ramos (.348-8-32 with .953 OPS) have been the pleasant surprises for an offense that has been stuck in the middle of the NL in most categories. Despite the offensive mediocrity, Washington sits atop the NL East by two games over the Mets with a weekend series against the Phillies looming. If the Nats hope to stay atop the heap in the East, Murphy is going to need some help at the plate.

 

Cubs Cruising

In spring training, Cubs skipper Joe Maddon was preaching “Embrace The Target” to his squad. So far, so good. Monday night’s victory in Philadelphia was the team’s 40th of the season, making the Cubs the fastest team to that mark since the 2001 Mariners, who would go on to tie the single-season record of 116 victories.

 

Maddon’s lineup card is going to grab the most attention, but let’s focus on the Cubs’ pitching. Jake Arrieta continues to compete with Clayton Kershaw as the best pitcher in baseball. Jake’s 1.80 ERA, 2.49 FIP, and 0.963 WHIP, in addition to another no-hitter earlier this year, proves that the reigning NL Cy Young winner may not be a one-year wonder after all. He did suffer his first loss in almost a full calendar year on Sunday at home against Arizona — but it took an absurd .900 BABIP to do it and he still struck out 12 in five innings.

 

As a whole, the Cubs’ starting rotation has been remarkable, especially lefty Jon Lester. Lester has posted a 2.06 ERA in 78 2/3 innings of work, while striking out nearly five batters for every walk he’s issued.  In nine of Lester’s 12 starts, he has surrendered one or no earned runs, giving the Cubs the best one-two punch in the league.

 

The Cubs’ rotation doesn’t stop with Arrieta and Lester. Free agent addition John Lackey (2.88 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 0.973 WHIP) is putting together one of his best seasons ever at 37 years old. Kyle Hendricks (2.90 ERA, 3.05 FIP, 0.937 WHIP) has found his groove in his second full season. The former Ivy Leaguer isn’t blowing hitters away with his fastball (avg. velocity 89.8 MPH), but he has cut back on his walks and chopped his home run rate in half compared to last season. Jason Hammel (2.14 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 1.079 WHIP) has helped solidify the back end of the rotation, as his renewed commitment to training in the offseason has paid off to this point.

 

Runs come and go throughout the course of an entire season, even for the Cubs’ fantasy-friendly lineup. Pitching has to be the constant. So far this season, the starters are looking equally October-worthy, even if it’s only June.

 

Mets Making a Move?

The Mets are dying for offense. Much like last season, Terry Collins has had to deal with his share of injuries, especially when it comes to filling out a lineup. David Wright is out for the foreseeable future while catcher Travis d’Arnaud, and first baseman Lucas Duda are also on the 15-day DL.

 

Last season New York made the deal of the year for slugger Yoenis Cespedes. The move paid dividends, as the Mets rode his bat all the way to the World Series. This year is more of the same — the Mets, arguably the worst offense in the NL, need to make a move. But will they?

 

The Mets’ financial situation is still fluid, and many pundits think the team will be hesitant to deal any top-end prospects for a half-season rental. If the front office decides to pull the trigger, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy could make sense. Lucroy would certainly be an upgrade both behind the plate and with the bat, and would be affordable for this year and next with a cheap team option ($5.25 million) in 2017. Also, A’s third baseman Danny Valencia could be a fit. Valencia, 31, is playing under a one-year deal and is putting together his best numbers, hitting .343 with a .968 OPS.

 

Lately, much has been made about the possibility of Evan Longoria being traded from Tampa Bay to New York. I wouldn’t bank on it. Longoria is putting together a great season (.281 average, 14 HRs), and is going to command an impressive collection of prospects in order for the Rays to trade their franchise cornerstone. With six and a half years and approximately $118 million left on his contract, I can’t see the Mets ponying up for Longoria. But one thing is clear, in the jam-packed NL East, the Mets need to find a solution, and fast.

 

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

 

(Photos courtesy of )

Teaser:
MLB in June: What To Watch in the National League
Post date: Wednesday, June 8, 2016 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/mac-football-2016-predictions
Body:

The MAC enters another year with familiar faces at the top of the projected standings, but could there be a changing of the guard in the West Division? Northern Illinois has won six consecutive West Division titles and is positioned for another run at the MAC Championship with 12 returning starters. However, Western Michigan is a team on the rise behind coach P.J. Fleck, and the Broncos host Northern Illinois on Oct. 8 for a game that could decide the division winner. New coach Jason Candle isn’t expected to make many changes at Toledo, and the Rockets remain squarely in the mix for the West Division title.

 

The picture is murkier in the East Division. Ohio is Athlon’s pick to win this division, but Bowling Green and Akron aren’t far behind. And it may not take a 7-1 or 6-2 record to win the East. The Falcons have to replace quarterback Matt Johnson, the Zips lost key players on both sides of the ball, and the Bobcats also have to find an answer under center. Athlon’s projections have the top three teams from the East tied at 5-3 for the league title, with Ohio – the projected champion – checking in at No. 91 nationally.  

 

Five Key Questions That Will Shape the MAC in 2016

 

1. Will Northern Illinois Win its Seventh West Division Title in a Row?

Dominant. It’s a simple word, but it’s the best way to describe Northern Illinois’ run in the MAC West over the last six years. The Huskies have claimed six straight trips to the MAC title game and earned three conference titles in that span. And under coach Rod Carey, Northern Illinois has lost only three conference games since 2013. While last season’s six losses were the most since 2009, there’s no reason to panic in DeKalb. Injuries were largely to blame for last year’s losses, including a season-ending ailment to starting quarterback Drew Hare in early November. With Hare back under center, the Huskies should own one of the MAC’s top offenses once again. Additionally, new coordinators Kevin Kane (defense) and Mike Uremovich (offense) should provide a spark on both sides of the ball. However, there are obstacles for Carey’s team to overcome. The Huskies lose three All-MAC performers on defense, and two first-team all-conference linemen depart on offense. The schedule also features a road game at Western Michigan, and the home date against Toledo was moved to U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.   

 

Related:

 

2. Western Michigan or Toledo in the West?

While Northern Illinois has owned the MAC West over the last six seasons, Athlon is picking against the Huskies in 2016. It’s a close call at the top, but Western Michigan and Toledo are Athlon’s pick to take the top spots in the West. Why Western Michigan? The Broncos host both the Rockets and Huskies this season – a critical scheduling note after all three teams tied at 6-2 at the top of the league in 2015. Western Michigan also returns eight starters from a dynamic offense. Quarterback Zach Terrell is the MAC’s top signal-caller, and receiver Corey Davis should be an All-American pick in 2016. Additionally, Western Michigan has recruited well under coach P.J. Fleck, and this program has been trending up over the last two seasons. While Matt Campbell was a rising star at Toledo, new coach Jason Candle will keep the Rockets in contention for the MAC title. A deep backfield and standout line leads the way on offense, while the addition of graduate transfers Earl Moore (DT) and Jeremi Powell (LB) add talent to a defense that returns only four starters. Another tight race at the top of the division should be expected, but Western Michigan’s favorable home slate should help this program earn its first trip to the MAC title game since 2000.

 

3. Is there a Clear Favorite in the East Division?

Not at all. The MAC’s East Division was one of the toughest leagues to sort out in Athlon’s prediction meetings for the magazine. Bowling Green has won the last three East Division titles, but the Falcons have a new coach (Mike Jinks) and lose standout quarterback Matt Johnson and receivers Roger Lewis and Gehrig Dieter. Jinks should keep a similar offensive style in place, but he’s never been a head coach or coordinator at the FBS level. Akron has made progress under coach Terry Bowden and is coming off the best season in program history. However, the Zips return only six starters and must replace five starters on the offensive line. With uncertainty at Akron and Bowling Green, Athlon’s pick to win the East is Ohio. The Bobcats haven’t had a losing record since 2008 and are a steady winner under coach Frank Solich. Ohio isn’t without its share of personnel concerns, as a quarterback must emerge, and the secondary needs to find three new starters. However, the Bobcats host Bowling Green and Akron and won’t have to play Northern Illinois or Western Michigan from the West Division in crossover play.

 

Related:

 

4. Central Michigan…a Sleeper in the MAC West?

The balance of power in the MAC is clearly slanted to the West Division for 2016. The league’s top four teams reside in that division this year. Northern Illinois, Toledo and Western Michigan are considered the top three teams, but Central Michigan shouldn’t be overlooked. Under first-year coach John Bonamego, the Chippewas tied for the MAC West title at 6-2 in league play last season. Central Michigan is aiming even higher in Bonamego’s second year, and the return of quarterback Cooper Rush should keep the Chippewas within striking distance of the top three. Rush is surrounded by a deep group of receivers, and the ground attack should improve with a full year from running back Devon Spalding. Additionally, the defense returns seven starters, with the line getting a boost from Joe Ostman’s return from injury. Central Michigan has to play at Northern Illinois and Toledo, but rival Western Michigan visits Mount Pleasant. The Chippewas are just a step behind the top three in Athlon’s overall power rankings for 2016. However, Rush is capable of carrying this team to the MAC title game.

 

5. Miami and Buffalo on the Rise?

As mentioned above, there’s not a clear favorite in the East Division. And with the uncertainty and personnel question marks surrounding Ohio, Akron and Bowling Green, could a surprise team emerge to win the division? If so, keep a close eye on Buffalo and Miami. The RedHawks have made steady progress under coach Chuck Martin, and with 13 returning starters, this team is poised to challenge for at least a .500 mark in conference play. Miami needs to settle on a quarterback, but a favorable schedule should allow the RedHawks to easily exceed last year’s three wins. Lance Leipold was one of the top head coach hires from 2015, and the future for the Buffalo program is still bright after a 5-7 record last season. Quarterback Joe Licata must be replaced, but the Bulls should be solid on defense and have promising pieces – quarterback Tyree Jackson and running back Jordan Johnson – to build around on offense. 

 

MAC 2016 Team Previews

East Division
 

National

Rank:

98 97 113 118 112 91
West Division
 

National

Rank:

116 88 124 80 79 69

 

Visit the  to order a copy of the 2016 National College Football Preview Magazine, which features in-depth analysis and previews for all 128 teams, predictions, rankings and features to prepare for the upcoming year. 

 

 

MAC Football 2016 Predictions
         
East Division
Rank Team   Projected MAC Record Projected Overall Record
1

(No. 91)

5-3 7-6
.
2

(No. 97)

5-3 6-6
.
3

(No. 98)

5-3 6-6
.
4

(No. 112)

3-5 4-8
.
5

(No. 113)

3-5 5-7
.
6

(No. 118)

1-7 3-9
.
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected MAC Record Projected Overall Record
1

(No. 69)

6-2 9-4
.
2

(No. 79)

6-2 8-4
.
3

(No. 80)

6-2 8-4
.
4

(No. 88)

5-3 7-5
.
5

(No. 116)

2-6 3-9
.
6

(No. 124)

1-7 3-9
.
         
MAC Championship
 Western Michigan over Ohio 

 

MAC 2016 Superlatives and Season Predictions
 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

David

Fox

 
Offensive POY

Corey Davis

WR, WMU

Corey Davis

WR, WMU

Kareem Hunt

RB, Toledo

Kareem Hunt

RB, Toledo

Defensive POY

Shawun Lurry

CB, NIU

Shawun Lurry

CB, NIU

Shawun Lurry

CB, NIU

Shawun Lurry

CB, NIU

Coach of the Year

P.J. Fleck

WMU

P.J. Fleck

WMU

P.J. Fleck

WMU

John Bonamego

CMU

Coach on Hot Seat

Paul Haynes

Kent State

Paul Haynes

Kent State

Paul Haynes

Kent State

Paul Haynes

Kent State

Top Freshman

Keishawn Watson

WR, WMU

Matt Falcon

RB, WMU

Tyree Jackson

QB, Buffalo

Keishawn Watson

WR, WMU

Top Newcomer

Warren Ball

RB, Akron

Tee Shepard

CB, Miami

Warren Ball

RB, Akron

Earl Moore

DT, Toledo

Sleeper Team Miami Miami Akron Central Michigan
Top Coordinator Hire

Brian George

DC, Toledo

Tim Daoust

DC, Ball State

Brian George

DC, Toledo

Brian George

DC, Toledo

Key Position to Watch WMU DL WMU DL WMU DB WMU DB
Hardest to Evaluate Bowling Green Bowling Green Bowling Green Ohio
Coach on the Rise

P.J. Fleck

HC, WMU

P.J. Fleck

HC, WMU

P.J. Fleck

HC, WMU

Jason Candle

HC, Toledo

Must-See Game

Toledo at 

W. Michigan

Toledo at

W. Michigan

W. Michigan at

Illinois

Toledo at

W. Michigan

Breakout Player

Jordan Johnson

RB, Buffalo

Teo Redding

WR, BGSU

Alonzo Smith

RB, Miami

Devon Spalding

RB, CMU

Comeback Player

Pat O'Connor

DL, EMU

Joe Ostman

DL, CMU

Drew Hare

QB, NIU

Drew Hare

QB, NIU

 

Ranking the MAC's Coaches for 2016

 

1. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan

2. Frank Solich, Ohio

3. Rod Carey, Northern Illinois

 

 

Ranking the MAC's Top Five Quarterbacks for 2016

 

1. Zach Terrell, Western Michigan

2. Cooper Rush, Central Michigan

3. Drew Hare, Northern Illinois

4. Thomas Woodson, Akron

5. Logan Woodside, Toledo

 

MAC's Top Five Non-Conference Games for 2016

 

1. Western Michigan at Northwestern (Sept. 3)

2. San Diego State at Northern Illinois (Sept. 17)

3. Western Michigan at Illinois (Sept. 17)

4. Georgia Southern at Western Michigan (Sept. 24)

5. Toledo at BYU (Oct. 30)

 

Key Coordinator Hires for 2016

 

1. Brian George, Defensive Coordinator, Toledo

2. Kevin Kane, Defensive Coordinator, Northern Illinois

3. Tim Daoust, Defensive Coordinator, Ball State

4. Mike Uremovich, Offensive Coordinator, Northern Illinois

5. Neal Neathery, Defensive Coordinator, Eastern Michigan

 

Top Incoming Freshmen ()

 

1. Matthew Falcon, RB, Western Michigan

2. Tony Poljan, QB, Central Michigan

3. Stefan Claiborne, S, Western Michigan

4. Spencer Kanz, OL, Western Michigan

5. Armani Posey, DB, Bowling Green

6. Matt Little, QB, Western Michigan

7. Tristian Pipp, LB, Western Michigan

8. Eric Rogers, LB, Western Michigan

9. Keevon Harris, ATH, Ohio

10. Dontre Boyd, CB, Western Michigan

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Braden Gall, David Fox and Mitch Light are back in the booth talking the latest in college football.

 

- Did the Big 12 get it right by adding a conference championship game? What are the benefits and drawbacks of a 13th data point? How should the new divisions be divided?

 

- How good of a job is Baylor? Where does it rank nationally and within the Big 12? Where did it rank before Art Briles?

 

- Will Art Briles ever work again in college football? The guys disagree on this one.

 

- Did Mississippi State miss a chance to make a difference with Jeffery Simmons? What number of games would have been the right number to suspend Simmons?

 

- New Vegas odds are out for the 2016 national championship and the guys offer up their best bets and favorite long shots.

 

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 .

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The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry has produced plenty of memorable moments throughout its history, and the battle on Nov. 26 should have plenty at stake, as the East Division title and a spot in the College Football Playoff could be up for grabs. With Jim Harbaugh taking over in Ann Arbor, the intensity in this rivalry has only increased over the last two years. The Wolverines took a step forward last season and should be even better in 2016 with 14 returning starters. The Buckeyes aren’t hurting for talent, but coach Urban Meyer’s team has to retool on both sides of the ball. That task is made easier with the return of quarterback J.T. Barrett and talented options at each level on the defense.

 

While most of the preseason attention is focused on Ohio State and Michigan, Iowa and Michigan State – the two division winners from 2016 – shouldn’t be overlooked. The Spartans suffered some key personnel losses, but coach Mark Dantonio should have this team back in the mix for 10 wins. The Hawkeyes return one of the nation’s top defenders in cornerback Desmond King and enter the season as the clear favorite in the West Division. Wisconsin has the talent to push Iowa for the top spot, but the Badgers face a brutal schedule in coach Paul Chryst’s second year in Madison. Nebraska could be the biggest threat to the Hawkeyes if Mike Riley’s team quickly retools on the defensive line and cuts down on the turnovers after a minus-19 margin in 2015.

 

Five Key Questions That Will Shape the Big Ten in 2016

 

1. Ohio State or Michigan in the East Division?

Michigan State shouldn’t be overlooked in the Big Ten East, but Michigan and Ohio State are favorites in this division for 2016. How much separation is there between these two teams? Not much. In Athlon’s projected 128 rankings for 2016, Ohio State is picked to finish No. 3 overall, while Michigan checks in at No. 5. The Wolverines took a big step forward in Jim Harbaugh’s first season, increasing their win total by five games after a 5-7 mark in 2014 and finishing No. 12 in the Associated Press poll. And Michigan wasn’t too far from a playoff bid last season after losing two games by seven points or less, including the last-second loss to Michigan State. The Wolverines need to find a quarterback to replace Jake Rudock, but the rest of the team is in good shape. New coordinator Don Brown guides one of the nation’s best defenses, while the offense features an improving line and one of the Big Ten’s top receiving corps. Ohio State has significantly more question marks this preseason than the Wolverines, but Urban Meyer has recruited as well as any coach in the nation. There’s plenty of talent in place for the Buckeyes – it’s just unproven. J.T. Barrett is the unquestioned starter at quarterback, and a full offseason as the No. 1 option should help the junior return to his freshman form. The defense returns only three starters, but there’s not much concern for this unit. New co-coordinator Greg Schiano inherits one of the nation’s top linebackers in junior Raekwon McMillan and a pair of standout ends in Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard. What could be the deciding factors in the Ohio State-Michigan battle to win the East? The Buckeyes host the Wolverines on Nov. 26 – plenty of time for Meyer’s team to reload – and there’s a clear edge at quarterback with J.T. Barrett over John O’Korn or Wilton Speight.

 

Related:

 

2. How Fast Will Michigan State Reload?

As mentioned above, Michigan State shouldn’t be overlooked in the Big Ten East Division. However, the Spartans have several key personnel issues to address from a team that finished 12-2 and earned a spot in the College Football Playoff in 2015. On offense, the line has to be retooled following the departures of Jack Conklin and Jack Allen, a new No. 1 receiver must emerge, and quarterback Connor Cook expired his eligibility. Defense has been a strength for Michigan State under coach Mark Dantonio, and there’s a strong foundation in place with five returning starters. Shilique Calhoun will be missed at defensive end, but tackle Malik McDowell is back to anchor the line of scrimmage, and linebacker Ed Davis and cornerback Vayante Copeland return from injury. With Dantonio at the helm, Michigan State is better equipped to handle personnel losses and reload quicker than in previous years. Additionally, the Spartans host Michigan and Ohio State in two games that will define where this team stacks up in the East Division. Michigan State may not match last year’s 12 wins but another double-digit victory total isn’t out of the question.

 

College Football: Breaking Down Athlon’s 2016 Top 25



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3. Can Nebraska or Wisconsin Push Iowa for the Top Spot in the West?

Probably not. The Hawkeyes may not replicate last year’s run into the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings, but Kirk Ferentz’s team is still the best in the Big Ten West. Quarterback C.J. Beathard is the Big Ten’s No. 2 quarterback behind Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, and there’s a solid stable of backs to lean on until a few playmakers emerge at receiver. The defense limited opponents to 20.4 points a game last season and returns eight starters, including All-America cornerback Desmond King. Another huge boost to Iowa’s division title hopes is a favorable schedule. The Hawkeyes catch Michigan in crossover play with the East Division, but Iowa does not have to play Ohio State or Michigan State, while Nebraska and Wisconsin visit Iowa City. Wisconsin finished a solid 10-3 under new coach Paul Chryst last year and has enough returning talent to win the division. However, the Badgers face a brutal schedule and enter fall practice with uncertainty at quarterback. Nebraska might be the Big Ten’s biggest wild card team for 2016. The Cornhuskers weren’t as bad as their 6-7 record indicated in 2015, and better luck in the turnover department (minus-19 last year) and close games should equal improvement in the win column. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong is back and is surrounded by one of the Big Ten’s top receiving corps. But second-year coach Mike Riley has some big question marks to address on the defensive line. Nebraska should be better in 2016, but Iowa has the best collection of talent and favorable schedule to win another West Division title.

 

Related:

 

4. Is Penn State on the Right Track in James Franklin’s Third Year?

High expectations surrounded James Franklin when he replaced Bill O’Brien in Happy Valley prior to the 2014 season. Through two years, Franklin is 14-12 at Penn State, but he has reeled in three consecutive top 25 recruiting classes. With the talent level on the rise and a full allotment of scholarships, things aren’t all bad in Happy Valley. Sure, Franklin needs to show progress in the win column, but the Nittany Lions return 14 starters, including one of the Big Ten’s top running backs in Saquon Barkley. Additionally, the hire of Joe Moorhead as the new play-caller should spark the offense, and the promotion of Brent Pry to coordinator to replace Bob Shoop should keep continuity on defense. Franklin’s biggest concern in 2016 is the development of quarterback Trace McSorley, as well as a rebuilt defensive line. The schedule certainly isn’t easy, but Penn State could exceed seven wins for the first time since 2012.

 

5. Which New Coach Will Have the Biggest Impact in 2016?

The Big Ten has four new coaches in 2016: Lovie Smith (Illinois), Chris Ash (Rutgers), Tracy Claeys (Minnesota) and D.J. Durkin (Maryland). Smith is arguably the most interesting hire of the 2016 cycle, as the former Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach returns to the college ranks for the first time since 1995. However, Smith inherits a team that finished 5-7 last season and has significant question marks from a defense that returns only four starters. Minnesota hopes Claeys picks up where Jerry Kill left off and continues to elevate the program within the West Division. Claeys also wasted no time putting his stamp on the program with changes to the staff this offseason. Durkin and Ash face an uphill battle in the East Division against Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State, but both coaches appear to be the right hire. Ash has arguably the toughest path to success in year one, while Durkin inherits a team that should have more talent than last year’s win total suggested. However, the Terrapins have a major question mark at quarterback, and there are few guaranteed wins in Big Ten play. 

 

College Football: Others Receiving Votes



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Big Ten Team Previews for 2016

East Division
 

National

Rank:

55 66 5 13 3 39 87
West Division
 

National

Rank:

74 19 60 31 45 95 33

 

Visit the  to order a copy of the 2016 Big Ten Preview Magazine, which features in-depth analysis and previews for all 14 teams, predictions, rankings and features to prepare for the upcoming year. 

 

Big Ten Football 2016 Predictions

         
East Division
Rank Team   Projected Big Ten Record Projected Overall Record
1

(No. 3)

9-0 12-1
.
2

(No. 5)

8-1 11-1
.
3

(No. 13)

7-2 9-3
.
4

(No. 39)

5-4 7-5
.
5

(No. 55)

3-6 6-6
.
6

(No. 66)

2-7 5-7
.
7

(No. 87)

1-8 3-9
.
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected Big Ten Record Projected Overall Record
1

(No. 19)

7-2 10-3
.
2

(No. 31)

6-3 8-4
.
3

(No. 33)

5-4 7-5
.
4

(No. 45)

4-5 7-5
.
5

(No. 60)

3-6 6-6
.
6

(No. 74)

2-7 4-8
.
7

(No. 95)

1-8 3-9
.
         
Big Ten Championship
 Ohio State over Iowa 
 
Big Ten 2016 Superlatives and Season Predictions
 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

David

Fox

Braden

Gall

 
Offensive POY

J.T. Barrett

QB, Ohio State

J.T. Barrett

QB, Ohio State

J.T. Barrett

QB, Ohio State

J.T. Barrett

QB, Ohio State

J.T. Barrett

QB, Ohio State

Defensive POY

Jabrill Peppers

LB, Michigan

Jabrill Peppers

LB, Michigan

Jabrill Peppers

LB, Michigan

Jabrill Peppers

LB, Michigan

Jabrill Peppers

LB, Michigan

Coach of the Year

Urban Meyer

Ohio State

Urban Meyer

Ohio State

James Franklin

Penn State

Jim Harbaugh

Michigan

Jim Harbaugh

Michigan

Coach on Hot Seat

Darrell Hazell

Purdue

Darrell Hazell

Purdue

Darrell Hazell

Purdue

Darrell Hazell

Purdue

Darrell Hazell

Purdue

Top Freshman

Mike Weber

RB, OSU

Nick Bosa

DL, OSU

Austin Mack

WR, OSU

Mike Weber

RB, OSU

Mike Weber

RB, OSU

Top Newcomer

Hardy Nickerson

LB, Illinois

John O'Korn

QB, Michigan

John O'Korn

QB, Michigan

John O'Korn

QB, Michigan

John O'Korn

QB, Michigan

Sleeper Team Nebraska Nebraska Penn State Minnesota Nebraska
Top Coordinator Hire

Don Brown

DC, Michigan

Don Brown

DC, Michigan

Don Brown

DC, Michigan

Don Brown

DC, Michigan

Greg Schiano

Co-DC, OSU

Key Position to Watch Ohio State WR Ohio State WR Ohio State WR Michigan State DL Ohio State OL
Hardest to Evaluate Penn State Penn State Nebraska Nebraska Wisconsin
Coach on the Rise

D.J. Durkin

HC, Maryland

D.J. Durkin

HC, Maryland

Don Brown

DC, Michigan

Harlon Barnett

Co-DC, MSU

D.J. Durkin

HC, Maryland

Must-See Game

Michigan at

Ohio State

Michigan at 

Ohio State

Michigan at

Ohio State

Michigan at

Ohio State

Michigan at

Ohio State

Breakout Player

Sam Hubbard

DL, OSU

Mike Weber

RB, OSU

LJ Scott 

RB, Mich. State

Curtis Samuel

WR, OSU

Sam Hubbard

DL, OSU

Comeback Player

Corey Clement

RB, Wisconsin

Corey Clement

RB, Wisconsin

Ed Davis

LB, Mich. State

Vayante Copeland

CB, Mich. State

Ed Davis

LB, Mich. State

 
Ranking the Big Ten's Coaches for 2016

 

1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State

2. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

3. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

 

 

Grading the Big Ten's New Coach Hires for 2016

 

1. D.J. Durkin, Maryland (A-)

2. Lovie Smith, Illinois (B+)

3. Chris Ash, Rutgers (B-)

4. Tracy Claeys, Minnesota (C+)

 

Ranking the Big Ten's Quarterbacks for 2016

 

1. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State

2. C.J. Beathard, Iowa 

3. Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska

 

 

Big Ten's Top 10 Players on the Rise for 2016

 

1. Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State

2. LJ Scott, RB, Michigan State

3. Brian Allen, OL, Michigan State

4. Nick Gates, OT, Nebraska

5. Ke'Shawn Vaughn, RB, Illinois

6. Shannon Brooks, RB, Minnesota

7. Markell Jones, RB, Purdue

8. Grant Haley, CB, Penn State

9. Jonathan Crawford, S, Indiana

10. Grant Newsome, OL, Michigan

 

Related:

 

Big Ten's Top 10 Non-Conference Games for 2016

 

1. Ohio State at Oklahoma (Sept. 17)

2. Wisconsin vs. LSU (Green Bay, Sept. 3)

3. Michigan State at Notre Dame (Sept. 17)

4. Oregon at Nebraska (Sept. 17)

5. Penn State at Pitt (Sept. 10)

6. BYU at Michigan State (Oct. 8)

7. Iowa State at Iowa (Sept. 10)

8. North Dakota State at Iowa (Sept. 17)

9. Duke at Northwestern (Sept. 17)

10. North Carolina at Illinois (Sept. 10)

 

Big Ten's Key Coordinator Hires for 2016

 

1. Don Brown, Defensive Coordinator, Michigan

2. Greg Schiano, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Ohio State

3. Tom Allen, Defensive Coordinator, Indiana

4. Joe Moorhead, Offensive Coordinator, Penn State

5. Walt Bell, Offensive Coordinator, Maryland

 

Related:

 

Big Ten's Top Incoming Freshmen for 2016 ()

 

1. Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan

2. Nick Bosa, DL, Ohio State

3. Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State

4. Michael Menet, OL, Penn State

5. Jonathon Cooper, DE, Ohio State

6. Ben Bredeson, OL, Michigan

7. Shane Simmons, DL, Penn State

8. Demario McCall, RB, Ohio State

9. Brandon Peters, QB, Michigan

10. David Long, CB, Michigan

11. Terrance Davis, OL, Maryland

12. Devin Asiasi, TE, Michigan

13. Austin Mack, WR, Ohio State

14. Lamar Jackson, DB, Nebraska

15. Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State

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Before each college football season, Athlon Sports hears from readers wanting to know why one team was favored over another in our preseason rankings. Why this team was ranked so high or that team so low.

 

Some of these questions are in — um — colorful language.

 

That’s why Athlon takes you inside our decision process for some of the biggest questions you ask. Believe it or not, some of these questions are the ones we grappled with through our rankings meeting.

 

Here are the questions we anticipated about our .

 

The Athlon Sports 2016 Big Ten Preview is 

 

 

What separated Ohio State and Michigan?

 

Not much. It was basically a choice between the upstart program with a ton of momentum vs. the old guard that lost a bunch of talent but still possesses a loaded roster. Michigan was one of the surprise teams in the nation last season, winning 10 games overall and recording a 6–2 mark in the Big Ten. We must keep in mind that the Wolverines were fortunate to beat Minnesota (29–26) and Indiana (48–41, 2OT). But we also can’t forget that the loss to Michigan State came on one of the flukiest plays in the history of college football. Jim Harbaugh will have a good team — he always does — but the Wolverines still lag behind Ohio State in overall talent. There are questions at quarterback and some significant holes to fill at linebacker (though Jabrill Peppers’ move to a hybrid backer/safety spot could alleviate some of those concerns). Ohio State needs to replace some elite talent — only six starters return — but Urban Meyer has been stockpiling top-five recruiting classes. Talent will not be an issue in Columbus. Experience might, but it’s a positive that J.T. Barrett will be back to run the offense after sharing the position in 2015 with Cardale Jones. One more reason to like the Buckeyes: Michigan visits Columbus on Nov. 26. 

 

Why isn’t Michigan State, with a 22–2 Big Ten record the last three years, considered more of a contender?

 

Michigan State has made a habit of defying preseason expectations, but this figures to be the season the Spartans take a step back in the Big Ten. The defense should be able to survive some key personnel losses, but the offense must replace quarterback Connor Cook as well as two all-conference linemen. Also, Michigan State might not have been as good as its gaudy record — and spot in the CFB Playoff — suggests. Six of their 12 wins in 2015 came by seven points or fewer, including two against Big Ten lightweights Purdue (three) and Rutgers (seven).

 

 

 

Was Iowa the easy choice in the West?

 

Iowa is far from the sexiest pick, but in the end it was the smartest (we hope). The Hawkeyes return many of the key players who contributed to their 12–0 regular-season run. Among them is quarterback C.J. Beathard, who battled through various injuries yet was still productive in his first season as a starter. There’s also the schedule, which is once again very kind. Kirk Ferentz’s team does not play Ohio State or Michigan State and gets four of its five toughest opponents at home — Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska. The trip to Penn State, which comes after a bye, is by far Iowa’s most challenging road game. We gave serious thought to Nebraska (more on the Huskers to follow) and some thought to Wisconsin, but all signs continued to point to Iowa.

 

Which team was the toughest to project?

 

Nebraska. There’s no denying that Mike Riley’s first season in Lincoln did not go well: The Cornhuskers went 6–7 overall (3–5 in the Big Ten) and lost four games at Memorial Stadium. But there might not have been an unluckier team in college football. Nebraska opened the season by losing on a Hail Mary to BYU and then proceeded to lose five Big Ten games by an average of 4.6 points, including three losses by two points or fewer. Yes, two of those came against Illinois (on an inexcusable coaching blunder) and Purdue (when the Huskers were without starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong), but this team could very easily have won more games. The talent level at NU isn’t up to par with the top teams in the Big Ten East, but the Huskers are good enough to compete with Iowa and Wisconsin for supremacy in the West. This team could win the division, or — if the bad luck and coaching mistakes continue — finish as low as fourth. 

Teaser:
Explain Yourselves: Athlon Answers Questions About 2016 Big Ten Predictions
Post date: Wednesday, June 8, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-fcs-preseason-top-25-2016
Body:

North Dakota State is playing in the first FCS game of the season.

 

It might be foolish not to believe the Bison will be playing in the final game as well.

 

Having won an NCAA-record five straight national titles, the Missouri Valley Football Conference power doesn’t appear to be letting up.

 

Related:

 

But those giving chase come prepared this season. Sam Houston State, Northern Iowa, Richmond and last year’s national runner-up Jacksonville State – teams the Bison have come to know on the Road to Frisco (Texas) in recent playoffs – return standout quarterbacks and veteran teams. They are the No. 2 through 5 teams in the Athlon Sports FCS Preseason Top 25.

 

North Dakota State, which opens the season Aug. 27 by hosting Charleston Southern in the FCS Kickoff, is ready to take on all challengers.

 

(2015 record in parentheses)

 

1. North Dakota State

(13-2, 7-1 Missouri Valley)

There’s no complacency in Fargo even after the FCS dynasty made it five straight national titles — an NCAA all-division record. With 14 returning starters, the Bison are favored to continue the amazing run. Their punishing defense, led by linebacker Nick DeLuca and defensive end Greg Menard, flattens opponents. Four returning starters on the offensive line will do the same for King Frazier and a deep stable of running backs. Quarterback isn’t a question mark even after Carson Wentz’s graduation because Easton Stick was 8-0 as a redshirt freshman while Wentz was sidelined. The Bison are 71-5 since 2011.

 

2. Sam Houston State

(11-4, 7-2 Southland)

All that’s left for the Bearkats is a national title — they’ve reached the semifinals in four of the last five seasons. Playoff standout Jeremiah Briscoe is the starting quarterback after Jared Johnson left for UTSA as a graduate transfer, while running back Corey Avery dominates. Coach K.C. Keeler seeks stronger defense, and defensive end P.J. Hall will be happy to oblige.

 

3. Northern Iowa

(9-5, 5-3 Missouri Valley)

UNI is ready to stand up to North Dakota State in the Missouri Valley race and beyond. The Panthers’ two returning 1,000-yard rushers, quarterback Aaron Bailey and running back Tyvis Smith, work behind a veteran offensive line. Their defense was hit hard by graduation, but defensive end Karter Schult is back to terrorize opposing quarterbacks.

 

4. Richmond

(10-4, 6-2 Colonial)

Junior Kyle Lauletta was No. 2 in the FCS in passing yards (3,598) and combines again with wide receiver Brian Brown. The 2015 national semifinalist Spiders are even more experienced on defense with linebacker Omar Howard and safety David Jones (nine interceptions) among eight returning starters.

 

5. Jacksonville State

(13-2, 8-0 Ohio Valley)

Coach John Grass bulked up the schedule (LSU, Coastal Carolina and Liberty) after reaching the national championship game. All-America quarterback Eli Jenkins is returning from shoulder surgery, and his go-to target, Josh Barge, is the Gamecocks’ all-time receptions leader. Defensive end Darius Jackson and linebacker Joel McCandless lead a retooled defense.

 

College Football: Big 12 adds title game, Vegas odds and Jeffery Simmons



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6. Charleston Southern

(10-3, 6-0 Big South)

Coach Jamey Chadwell appears destined for a bigger job, but there’s an immediate task at hand. The Buccaneers’ record-setting defense returns defensive end Anthony Ellis and linebacker Solomon Brown, and a bruising run game features seniors Darius Hammond, Mike Holloway and Ben Robinson.

 

7. Chattanooga

(9-4, 6-1 Southern)

The Mocs seek a fourth straight SoCon title, but three-time league Offensive Player of the Year Jacob Huesman is gone, leaving lefthander Alejandro Bennifield to take over at quarterback. The nucleus remains strong with running back Derrick Craine (1,251 yards) and defensive end Keionta Davis (13.5 sacks) coming off Mocs single-season records.

 

8. South Dakota State

(8-4, 5-3 Missouri Valley)

A standout Jackrabbits team will usher in the inaugural season at 19,340-seat Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium. The quarterback platoon of Zach Lujan and Taryn Christion will feed the ball to wide receiver Jake Wieneke and tight end Dallas Goedert. The defense is strong up the middle with tackle Cole Langer.

 

9. Coastal Carolina

(9-3, 4-2 Big South; FCS Independent in 2016)

The Chanticleers may struggle to get top-25 support from voters as the former Big South power transitions toward the FBS in 2017. Touchdown machine De’Angelo Henderson will carry the rushing load after the loss of veteran quarterback Alex Ross.

 

10. The Citadel

(9-4, 6-1 Southern)

Offensive coordinator-turned-head coach Brent Thompson will keep the triple option humming. In QB Dominique Allen and backs Tyler Renew and Cam Jackson, the Bulldogs return three players who gained more than 750 yards. The defense features shutdown corner Dee Delaney.

 

11. Illinois State

(10-3, 7-1 Missouri Valley)

All eyes are on sophomore quarterback Jake Kolbe and a running back committee as they take over for the dominating duo of Tre Roberson and Marshaun Coprich, respectively. The other nine offensive starters return, including big-play wide receiver Anthony Warrum.

 

12. Eastern Washington

(6-5, 5-3 Big Sky)

Wide receiver Cooper Kupp, the 2015 Walter Payton Award Winner, has 58 total TDs in his career. But for the Eagles to rebound from a subpar season, quarterback Jordan West needs more consistency and the defense must tighten for — gulp — an opening stretch of Washington State, North Dakota State and Northern Iowa.

 

13. William & Mary

(9-4, 6-2 Colonial)

Physical defense is a staple with the Tribe, but this season quarterback Steve Cluley, tailback Kendell Anderson and wide receiver DeVonte Dedmon will create an offensive mindset. Placekicker Nick Dorka and punter Hunter Windmuller provide a leg up on special teams.

 

14. James Madison

(9-3, 6-2 Colonial)

With his team desperate for playoff success, new coach Mike Houston is keeping the high-powered spread attack, which gets big production from running backs Khalid Abdullah and Cardon Johnson and wide receiver Brandon Ravenel. Linebacker Andrew Ankrah and cornerback Taylor Reynolds fuel the defense.

 

15. North Dakota

(7-4, 5-3 Big Sky)

After being one of the last teams left out of the postseason in 2015, the Fighting Hawks are motivated. They also have super sophomore John Santiago, the Big Sky’s leader in all-purpose yards, and a schedule that doesn’t include Eastern Washington, Montana and Portland State. Playoffs? Indeed.

 

16. Montana

(8-5, 6-2 Big Sky)

Another tough schedule awaits second-year coach Bob Stitt, whose Grizzlies roared with impressive wins in 2015 (including North Dakota State). Quarterback Brady Gustafson’s passing numbers are as big as his 6'7" frame. All-Big Sky defensive tackle Caleb Kidder is one of only three returning starters on defense.

 

17. McNeese State

(10-1, 9-0 Southland)

There is continuity following Matt Viator’s departure to ULM because defensive coordinator Lance Guidry gained the top job. His defense, anchored by 6-foot-2, 335-pound tackle Isaiah Golden, was among the nation’s best last season. Junior running back Ryan Ross is ready for a huge season.

 

18. Towson

(7-4, 5-3 Colonial)

The addition of former Oregon quarterback Morgan Mahalak may be just what two-time 1,000-yard rusher Darius Victor and a veteran offense need. The seniors, who barely missed last year’s playoffs, were freshmen for the 2013 FCS national runners-up.

 

19. Western Illinois

(7-6, 5-3 Missouri Valley)

New coach Charlie Fisher inherits another rugged schedule, but quarterback Trenton Norvell, wide receiver Lance Lenoir and linebacker Brett Taylor are among 17 returning starters. Last season, the Leathernecks became the first 6-5 team to receive an at-large playoff bid.

 

20. Villanova

(6-5, 5-3 Colonial)

Coach Andy Talley, who guided Nova to the 2009 FCS title, enters his 32nd and final season. Dual-threat quarterback Zach Bednarczyk expects to build off his rookie season, and 6-foot-7, 275-pound defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon will have a finishing touch as a senior.

 

21. Portland State

(9-3, 6-2 Big Sky)

Beware, San Jose State and Washington, the Vikings took down two FBS programs and had a six-win improvement last year. Portland State lost a lot of key players, but 2015 FCS Coach of the Year Bruce Barnum is glad quarterback Alex Kuresa isn’t one of them.

 

22. Youngstown State

(5-6, 3-5 Missouri Valley)

After the Bo Pelini era opened to a disappointing record, the Penguins seek their first playoff bid since 2006. Senior defensive end Derek Rivers already holds the school record with 26 career sacks, while running backs Martin Ruiz and Jody Webb also expect big senior campaigns.

 

23. Colgate

(9-5, 6-0 Patriot)

Nine starters return on each side of the ball after the Raiders won two playoff games to reach the national quarterfinals. Senior quarterback Jake Melville is a dual-threat, and wideout Alex Greenawalt is a breakout candidate.

 

24. Northern Arizona

(7-4, 5-3 Big Sky)

Sophomore Case Cookus might be hard-pressed to improve on last year’s 37 touchdown passes — an FCS freshman record — but the return of wide receiver Emmanuel Butler (15 TDs) provides a good start. The Lumberjacks were only 2–4 on the road last season.

 

25. Eastern Kentucky

(6-5, 5-2 Ohio Valley)

Quarterback Bennie Coney can dominate a game and will have support from a healthier Ethan Thomas at running back. Missing the playoffs doesn’t sit well with the Colonels, so new coach Mark Elder was brought in to get them back there.

 

— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for . He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter .

 

(Top photo by Richard Svaleson/NDSU)

Teaser:
Athlon Sports Preseason FCS Top 25 for 2016
Post date: Wednesday, June 8, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: recipe, Life
Path: /life/double-smoky-ribs-bacon-bourbon-bbq-sauce
Body:

There's nothing like grilling some BBQ ribs during the summer. Rib + bacon + bourbon, this is for sure a recipe you'll want to check out:

 

Kitchen gadgets: medium saucepan, small bowl, grill

 

Ingredients (makes 8 servings):

3 pounds boneless country-style pork ribs, (8 ribs), or pork back ribs

2 tablespoons smoked paprika

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

2 large handfuls apple or hickory wood chips, soaked for 1-2 hours

 

Ingredients for bacon-bourbon bbq sauce:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 12-oz bottle chili sauce (1 cup)

1/2 cup peach preserves

1/3 cup bourbon

1/3 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard

2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons molasses (not blackstrap)

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

 

Time commitment: 20 min of prep, 90 min of cook time

Total time: 1 hour, 50 min

 

To make BBQ Sauce:

  1. Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp and browned, about 5 minutes.
  3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels, leaving fat in saucepan. Let bacon cool. 
  4. Add onion to saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 4 minutes.
  5. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in chili sauce, peach preserves, bourbon, vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and molasses.Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to medium-low.
  6. Simmer, stirring often, until reduced by about one quarter, 20 to 25 minutes.
  7. Finely chop cooled bacon and stir into sauce; add hot pepper sauce. Let cool. Makes about 2 1/2 cups sauce. Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. 


To make ribs:

  1. Mix paprika, sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper together in small bowl.
  2. Season ribs with paprika mixture. Let ribs stand at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes. 
  3. Prepare an outdoor grill for indirect cooking with medium heat, about 350 degrees F. 


For a gas grill: Use a smoker box or create one using small, shallow aluminum foil pan. Remove cooking grates. Preheat grill on high. Turn one burner off. Place disposable aluminum foil pan over a burner, adding 1 handful of drained chips. Replace grates. 

For a charcoal grill: Place large disposable aluminum foil pan on one side of charcoal grate and fill with 1 quart water. Build fire on opposite side, and let burn until coals are coated with white ash. Spread coals in grill opposite pan and let burn 15-20 minutes (you should be able to hold your hand about 1 inch above the grate for about 3 seconds). Add 1 handful of drained chips to coals. Position cooking grate in grill. 

 

  1. Lightly oil grill grate.
  2. Grill ribs with indirect heat, with the lid closed, for 30 minutes.
  3. Add remaining drained chips to box or coals.
  4. Grill, with lid closed, turning occasionally, until tender, about 1 hour more. (On a charcoal grill, add more charcoal as needed to maintain temperature, leaving grill lid open for a few minutes to help charcoal ignite.)
  5. During the last 15 minutes, brush ribs with some of the sauce, turning every few minutes to glaze.
  6. Transfer to platter, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve hot with remaining sauce, if desired. 

 

Recipe provided by . Check out their site for more delicious grill recipes.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, June 7, 2016 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/nfl-twitter-account-hacked-tweets-death-roger-goodell
Body:

Someone got the best of the NFL.

 

The twitter account of the league was hacked and it's got all of the twitterverse in an uproar. 

 

 

Remain calm commissioner fans, Goodell is still kicking.

 

 

The culprit is still at large.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, June 7, 2016 - 12:52
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/ragin-cajuns-workout-might-make-wall-sit-legs-quiver-louisiana-lafayette
Body:

Leg days are brutal.

 

Louisiana-Lafayette is taking it to a whole other level. The Ragin' Cajuns will have problems walking for about a week after this one.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, June 7, 2016 - 12:49
All taxonomy terms: Life
Path: /life/pork-and-chorizo-burgers-pineapple-and-sriracha
Body:

A game day staple, the burger never fails to satisfy any hungry tailgater. This recipe will surely get everyone excited. 

 

Kitchen gadgets needed: small bowl, food processor, large knife, grill, meat thermometer

 

Ingredients (makes 6 burgers):

8 ounces smoked spanish chorizo, links with the casings removed

1 pound ground pork

1/3 cup bread crumbs, dried

1 large egg, beaten

2 scallions, finely chopped

2 tablespoons red bell pepper, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

6 fresh pineapple rings, cut about 1/2-inch thick

6 hamburger buns, preferably sweet Hawaiian style, split

fresh cilantro leaves, as garnish

 

Ingredients for sriracha aioli:

1/2 cut mayonnaise

1 clove garlic, pressed through a garlic press

1 teaspoon sriracha chili sauce

 

Time commitment: 15 min of prep, 10 min of cook time

Total time: 25 min

 

Steps:

To make aïoli:

  1. Mix mayonnaise, garlic and Sriracha sauce together in small bowl.
  2. Set aside. Extra aioli can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. 

 

To make burgers:

  1. Finely chop chorizo in a food processor or with a large knife.
  2. Gently mix together ground pork, chopped chorizo, breadcrumbs, egg, scallions, red pepper, garlic and salt.
  3. Shape into 6 patties about 3/4-inch thick. Refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes. 
  4. Prepare grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat, about 450 degrees F. 
  5. Lightly oil grill grate.
  6. Grill burgers, with the lid closed, for 5 minutes.
  7. Turn burgers, and add pineapple to grill.
  8. Finish cooking burger until the internal temperature reads 160 degrees F. on a digital meat thermometer (about 4 to 5 minutes more), turning once or twice, until hot and seared on both sides.
  9. Grill pineapple rings until browned on each side. Remove from grill. 
  10. Toast buns on grill, about 1 minute.
  11. Build burgers on buns with 1 1/2 tablespoons aïoli, 1 pineapple ring, and cilantro leaves to taste. Serve immediately. 

 

Recipe provided by . Check out their site for more delicious grill recipes.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, June 7, 2016 - 12:30
All taxonomy terms: Life
Path: /life/cuban-style-pork-burgers
Body:

A burger is a staple in any tailgate or game day celebration. This time though, we're making Cuban Style Pork Burgers. Here's the amazing recipe:

 

Kitchen gadgets needed: food processor, large knife, grill, meat thermometer

 

Ingredients (makes 6 burgers):

8 ounces smoked spanish chorizo, links with casings removed

1 pound ground pork

1/3 cup bread crumbs, dried

1 large egg, beaten

1 small yellow onion, minced

1/3 cup green bell pepper, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

6 hamburger buns, split

6 tablespoons thousand island dressing

2 cups shoestring potatoes, or potato sticks

6 green lettuce leaves

 

Time commitment: 15 min of prep, 10 min of cook time

Total time: 25 min

 

Steps:

  1. Finely chop chorizo in a food processor or with a large knife.
  2. Gently mix together ground pork, chopped chorizo, breadcrumbs, egg, onion, green pepper, garlic and salt.
  3. Shape into 6 patties about 3/4-inch thick. Refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes. 
  4. Prepare a grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat, about 450 degrees F. 
  5. Grill burgers, with the lid closed, for 5 minutes.
  6. Turn and finish cooking for 4 to 5 minutes more, until cooked through or until the internal temperature reads 160 degrees F on a digital meat thermometer. Remove from grill. 
  7. Toast buns on the grill, about 1 minute per side.
  8. Build burgers on buns with 1 1/2 tablespoons dressing, 1/3 cup shoestring potatoes and one lettuce leaf. Serve immediately. 

 

Recipe provided by . Check out their site for more delicious grill recipes.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, June 7, 2016 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: recipe, Life
Path: /life/korean-pork-chops-gochujan-marinade
Body:

With the summer season upon us, here's an Asian twist on some traditional pork chops to get your grill going:

 

Kitchen gadgets needed: measuring cups, whisk, large bowl, medium bowl, large sealable bag, grill

 

Ingredients (makes 4 pork chops):

4 9-ounce porterhouse (bone-in loin) pork chops, 1 inch thick

1 scallion, finely chopped

4 tablespoons gochujang, also known as korean chili paste

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons asian sesame oil

2 tablespoons chinese rice wine, or dry sherry

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

2 teaspoons fresh ginger root, peeled and minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

 

Ingredients for Asian Slaw (optional):

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon korean chili flakes, coarsely grounded 

2 teaspoons soy sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon asian sesame oil

1 14-oz bag coleslaw

1 cup carrots, julienned or shredded

2 scallions, finely chopped

 

Time commitment: 20 min of prep, 10 min of cook time

Total time: 30 min

 

Steps:

To make Asian slaw:

  1. Whisk rice vinegar, ground hot red pepper, soy sauce, garlic and salt together in large bowl.
  2. Gradually whisk in vegetable and sesame oils. Add coleslaw, carrots and scallions and mix well.
  3. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 and up to 6 hours.

 

To make marinade:  

  1. Whisk first 9 ingredients (excluding pork) together in medium bowl.
  2. Pour into one-gallon sealable plastic bag.
  3. Add pork chops, coating pork in marinade.
  4. Close bag and refrigerate, turning bag occasionally, for at least 2 and up to 6 hours. 


To make pork:

  1. Prepare outdoor grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat, about 450 degrees F.  
  2. Brush grill grates clean.
  3. Remove pork from marinade – do not shake off excess marinade. Discard remaining marinade.  
  4. Grill, with grill lid closed, turning once, until the internal temperature reads between 145 degrees F. (medium rare) to 160 degrees F. (medium) on a digital meat thermometer, about 10 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and let rest 3 minutes. 
  6. If making with Asian slaw, divide slaw among 4 dinner plates. Top each with a chop and serve immediately.

 

Recipe provided by . Check out their site for more delicious grill recipes.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, June 7, 2016 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, Pac 12
Path: /college-football/ranking-toughest-games-2016-oregon-ducks-schedule
Body:

grew into one of Pac-12 football’s two pace-setters since 2009, splitting four of seven conference championships with rival Stanford in that time.

 

But with roster turnover and new, growing threats from divisional foes Washington and Washington State, the Ducks face arguably their most difficult path to the top of their conference yet.

 

Related: 

 

With 11 games against Power Five conference competition, and more road games in Pac-12 play than home contests, Mark Helfrich’s bunch must navigate some rocky waters in 2016. Here are Oregon’s 12 regular season games ranked from easiest to most difficult.

 

12. Sept. 3 vs. UC Davis

Oregon traditionally hosts an opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision early in the season, but such opponents are not necessarily equal. To wit, perennial Big Sky Conference title contender Eastern Washington gave Oregon a handful last season in Eugene.

 

Don’t expect the same of a UC Davis team, coming off an 11th-place finish in the same Big Sky.

 

11. Sept. 10 vs. Virginia

Virginia makes the cross-country trek to Eugene for new head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s second game at the helm. This is the return date of a 2013 encounter, wherein the Ducks left Charlottesville 59-10 winners.

 

The Cavaliers are rebuilding under Mendenhall, so don’t expect much of a fight when they visit Autzen Stadium.

 

10. Nov. 26 vs. Oregon State

Rarely can one expect to see an in-state rivalry game rank so poorly when assessing a schedule -- especially a rivalry as contentious as the Civil War. Though the Ducks have won eight in a row, the Beavers have a knack for giving their counterparts all they can handle, as last year’s surprising 52-42 outcome demonstrates.

 

Consider this ranking a testament to the overall strength of Oregon’s schedule more than a slight on Oregon State, though the Beavers are facing a monumental rebuilding project in head coach Gary Andersen’s second season.

 

9. Sept. 24 vs. Colorado

Here’s where things start to get interesting. Colorado’s a program showing consistent improvement under head coach Mike MacIntyre, and the Buffaloes should reach their first bowl game since 2007 this season. When a potential postseason squad ranks just ninth in a preseason strength of schedule outlook, it says a lot about the team’s docket.

 

Last year in Boulder, the Buffs gave Oregon their most competitive game since joining the Pac-12 five years ago.

 

8. Oct. 29 vs. Arizona State

Last season’s meeting in Tempe produced one of the most dramatic finishes of the entire college football campaign. That game set an impossibly high standard, especially given the uncertainty awaiting Arizona State in the campaign to come.

 

The Sun Devils experienced mass turnover on the roster, as well as the departure of numerous assistant coaches, most notably offensive coordinator Mike Norvell (now the head coach at Memphis). Arizona State should take a step back in the Pac-12 South this year.

 

7. Oct. 21 at Cal

Once a program jockeying with Oregon on the way to the conference’s mountaintop, Cal fell well behind in the late 2000s. Sonny Dykes has made strides in his first three years, but the Golden Bears still look up at the Ducks.

 

Cal enters 2016 starting a new quarterback for the first time since Jared Goff assumed the reins in '13. The Bears’ outlook is shrouded in uncertainty as a result. With the weeknight kick and home-field advantage, however, this remains one of the iffier dates on Oregon’s schedule.

 

6. Sept. 17 at Nebraska

Oregon sees a coach it knows well in Mike Riley, the longtime Oregon State leader, entering his second year at Nebraska.

 

The Cornhuskers endured some growing pains adjusting to new schemes, but finished the year with an impressive win over the Ducks’ Pac-12 mate, UCLA. Nebraska should be better than its sub-.500 finish of 2015, and a raucous crowd is sure to welcome the Ducks into Lincoln for one of the most interesting non-conference dates of the 2016 calendar.

 

5. Nov. 5 at USC

Oregon’s rise to prominence in the Pac-12 came at the expense of USC, the conference’s standard bearer for the previous decade.

 

The Trojans return a talented lineup, particularly on offense. USC features one of the best offensive lines and wide receiver corps in the nation. Despite some uncertainty on defense, a bevy of 4-and-5-star talent should be up to speed by the time Oregon visits L.A. Coliseum.

 

4. Oct. 1 at Washington State

Washington State shocked the Pac-12 last October, beating the Ducks in a double-overtime thriller at Autzen Stadium. That victory served as an important launching point for the Cougars’ best season since 2003.

 

Washington State’s 2016 team looks to be even better, a legitimate contender for the Pac-12 North with talented quarterback Luke Falk leading the way, and the Cougars get the benefit of home-field advantage.

 

3. Nov. 12 vs. Stanford

Oregon-Stanford has grown into the preeminent game on the Pac-12’s late-season calendar. The Ducks’ win last November on The Farm effectively kept the Cardinal out of the College Football Playoff -- consider it a receipt for the 2012 season.

 

Though the Pac-12’s top two teams for seven years straight, both face question marks ahead of the 2016 campaign. This year’s installment in the burgeoning series carries significant implications not only for the season to come, but the direction of the changing Pac-12 North.

 

2. Nov. 19 at Utah

Nothing more profoundly crystallized the shift in power structure within the Pac-12 last season than Utah’s demolishing of Oregon at Autzen Stadium. It was a perfect storm of a good Utah team playing near-flawless football and exploiting some badly wounded Ducks.

 

While a repeat of last year’s thorough deconstruction seems unlikely, Kyle Whittingham has another good lineup in 2016, and the always-boisterous Rice-Eccles Stadium audience gives Utah a considerable home-field advantage.

 

1. Oct. 8 vs. Washington

Thirteen years. It’s been 13 years since a Washington team has beaten an Oregon squad, a mark indicative as much of the Ducks’ prowess in that time as it is the Huskies’ underachievement.

 

The 2016 Washington Huskies are, on paper, the program’s best incarnation since '01, when they were coming off a Rose Bowl run.

 

More than a decade’s worth of bragging rights and serious implications to the Pac-12 North rest on an early-season date, at a juncture in the season Oregon could still be finding its identity.

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of . Follow him on Twitter

Teaser:
Ranking the Toughest Games on Oregon's College Football Schedule in 2016
Post date: Tuesday, June 7, 2016 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/sun-belt-football-2016-predictions
Body:

The three-team battle between Arkansas State, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern should provide plenty of intrigue for the Sun Belt in 2016. The Red Wolves are the defending Sun Belt champions after finishing 2015 with a perfect 8-0 mark in conference play. However, Arkansas State’s spot at the top of the league will be tested this fall. Appalachian State returns 16 starters from last year’s 11-win team and features the Sun Belt’s top quarterback in Taylor Lamb, along with a deep group of talented running backs. Even though a new coach takes over at Georgia Southern (Tyson Summers), the Eagles won’t miss a beat in the win column. Headlined by quarterbacks Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw, and running back Matt Breida, the offense will challenge for the nation’s lead in rushing yards once again.

 

The second tier of the Sun Belt is surrounded in some mystery. Troy looks like a team on the rise under second-year coach Neal Brown, while UL Lafayette hopes to rebound after a disappointing 4-8 mark last season. South Alabama has a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the ball, but the Jaguars have enough promising pieces to return to a bowl in 2016. Georgia State might have the fewest question marks in the second tier of teams, but the Panthers are also replacing quarterback Nick Arbuckle.

 

Idaho and New Mexico State showed progress last season and could take another step forward in the win column this fall. The Aggies are led by running back Larry Rose III, while the Vandals return eight starters from an offense that averaged 30.3 points a game in 2015. Texas State and ULM are expected to finish at the bottom of the league, as both programs begin rebuilding projects under new coaches.

 

Five Key Questions That Will Shape the Sun Belt in 2016

 

1. Is the Sun Belt a Three-Team Race for the League Title?

Yes. Appalachian State has made a quick transition to the FBS level under coach Scott Satterfield, and the Mountaineers fell just short of winning the league in 2015. After a 7-1 mark in conference play last season, Appalachian State could make a run at a perfect league record in 2016. The Mountaineers won’t have to play Arkansas State – the projected No. 2 team in the Sun Belt – but have road trips to Troy and Georgia Southern. And it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Satterfield’s team give Miami all it can handle on Sept. 17. Appalachian State is Athlon’s projected Sun Belt champion, but Georgia Southern and Arkansas State aren’t too far behind. The Red Wolves have a favorable league slate – no Appalachian State and a home game against Georgia Southern – and seem to have a capable replacement for Fredi Knighten at quarterback in former Oklahoma signal-caller Justice Hansen. Coach Blake Anderson also landed a couple of talented transfers to fill some of the personnel voids on both sides of the ball. Georgia Southern is 14-2 in Sun Belt play since joining the FBS level, but there’s some mystery in Statesboro with new coach Tyson Summers. The new coaching staff won’t change too much on offense with the return of dynamic running back Matt Breida and two capable quarterbacks in Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw. However, the passing attack has to perform a little better, and the defense needs to be revamped in the back seven for the Eagles to win the league in 2016.

 

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2. Troy…A Team on the Rise?

Neal Brown inherited big shoes to fill in replacing Larry Blakeney at Troy. The former offensive coordinator for the Trojans is one of the youngest coaches in the nation and finished 4-8 in his debut with the program last season. While the Troy finished with a losing mark, there was progress under Brown’s direction. The Trojans won three out of their last six games and lost three conference games by six points or less. With 14 returning starters – including one of the league’s top quarterbacks in Brandon Silvers – Troy should be able to push for the program’s first bowl trip since 2010. Jordan Chunn’s return from injury fills a void at running back, and seven returning starters provide a solid foundation on a defense that ranked third in the Sun Belt in fewest points allowed (28.3) last year. The schedule doesn’t provide much margin for error, but Troy should find a way to get to six wins in Brown’s second season.

 

3. Will UL Lafayette Rebound After a 4-8 Record?

Even though UL Lafayette had significant personnel losses to address, Mark Hudspeth’s team seemed like a safe pick at the top of the league in 2015. The Ragin’ Cajuns watched their streak of four consecutive nine-win seasons and bowl trips end with a disappointing 4-8 mark last year. UL Lafayette enters 2016 with question marks on both sides of the ball, but Hudspeth’s team should rebound back into the postseason. The Ragin’ Cajuns are led by standout running back Elijah McGuire, and sophomore Jordan Davis provides a promising option at quarterback for an offense that scored only 26.4 points a game in 2015. While all eyes this offseason are on the quarterback position, the defense has to take a step forward after giving up 5.96 yards per play last season. UL Lafayette has one of the Sun Belt’s best rosters in terms of talent, and Hudspeth is too good of a coach for this team to miss out on a bowl once again.  

 

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4. Georgia State – the Sun Belt’s Wild Card Team?

When Trent Miles took over as Georgia State’s coach in 2013, he inherited a program in need of major repair. The Panthers were short on talent, depth and lacked the overall direction to complete in the Sun Belt. After three years, it’s clear Miles has this program moving in the right direction. After a 1-23 start at Georgia State, Miles began his third year with a 2-6 record. However, the Panthers finished 2015 on a tear by winning their final four regular season games, including a 34-7 victory over Georgia Southern. Another bowl bid isn’t out of the question for Georgia State, but Miles has to find a replacement for standout quarterback Nick Arbuckle. Outside of replacing Arbuckle, the Panthers’ overall depth chart is in relatively good shape and features the Sun Belt’s top receiver in sophomore Penny Hart. If a replacement emerges for Arbuckle, our prediction of Georgia State at No. 6 is probably too low.

 

5. Rebuilding at Texas State and ULM

Texas State and ULM finished at the bottom of the Sun Belt last season, but both programs took a step forward with their new coach hires for 2016. ULM is turning to former McNeese State coach Matt Viator, while Texas State picked Everett Withers (James Madison head coach) as its next leader. Both programs face an uphill battle in 2016, but the future looks bright for the Bobcats and Warhawks. Viator won 78 games in 10 seasons at McNeese State and inherits an offense with promising pieces, including quarterback Garrett Smith and receivers Ajalen Holley and Marcus Green. However, Viator loses a ton of talent on defense and must patch an offensive line that surrendered 38 sacks in 2015. Texas State has recruited better than ULM in recent years, so there could be more talent in the program than last year’s 3-9 record would suggest. Quarterback Tyler Jones is a good building block for Withers, but the supporting cast features a lot of question marks. Additionally, Texas State returns only four starters from a defense that gave up 39.2 points a game in 2015. 

 

2016 Sun Belt Team Previews

             
 

National

Rank:

58 78 81 110 119 107
   

National

Rank:

126 120 115 122 102  

 

Visit the  to order a copy of the 2016 National College Football Preview Magazine, which features in-depth analysis and previews for all 128 teams, predictions, rankings and features to prepare for the upcoming year. 

 

Sun Belt 2016 Football Predictions

         
Rank Team   Projected Sun Belt Record Projected Overall Record
1

(No. 58)

7-1 9-3
.
2

(No. 78)

6-2 8-4
.
3

(No. 81)

6-2 7-5
.
4

(No. 102)

4-4 6-6
.
5

(No. 107)

4-4 6-6
6

(No. 110)

4-4 6-6
.
7

(No. 115)

4-4 5-7
.
8

(No. 119)

3-5 4-8
.
9

(No. 120)

3-5 3-9
.
10

(No. 122)

2-6 3-9
.
11

(No. 126)

1-7 2-10
.

 

Sun Belt 2016 Superlatives and Season Predictions
 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

David

Fox

 
Offensive POY

Matt Breida

RB, Ga. Southern

Matt Breida

RB, Ga. Southern

Matt Breida

RB, Ga. Southern

Taylor Lamb

QB, App. State

Defensive POY

Ja'Von Rolland-Jones

DL, Ark. State

Ja'Von Rolland-Jones

DL, Ark. State

Ja'Von Rolland-Jones

DL, Ark. State

Ja'Von Rolland-Jones

DL, Ark. State

Coach of the Year

Scott Satterfield

App. State

Scott Satterfield

App. State

Scott Satterfield

App. State

Neal Brown

Troy

Coach on the Hot Seat

Doug Martin

NMSU

Doug Martin
NMSU

Doug Martin

NMSU

Paul Petrino

Idaho

Top Freshman

Tyler Tutt

RB, Tex. State

Jalin Buie

RB, South Alabama

Dontrell Allen

CB, UL Lafayette

Darian Anderson

WR, Ga. Southern

Top Newcomer

Dee Liner

DL, Ark. State

Chad Voytik

QB, Ark. State

Dee Liner

DL, Ark. State

Dee Liner

DL, Ark. State

Sleeper Team Troy Troy UL Lafayette Troy
Top Coordinator Hire

Frank Spaziani

DC, NMSU

Frank Spaziani

DC, NMSU

Frank Spaziani

DC, NMSU

Buster Faulkner

OC, Ark. State

Key Position to Watch App. State WR App. State WR App. State WR App. State WR
Hardest to Evaluate UL Lafayette UL Lafayette South Alabama Georgia State
Coach on the Rise

Scott Satterfield

App. State

Blake Anderson

Arkansas State

Scott Satterfield

App. State

Scott Satterfield

App. State

Must-See Game

App. State at

Ga. Southern

App. State at

Ga. Southern

Ga. Southern at

W. Michigan

App. State at

Ga. Southern

Breakout Player

Brandon Silvers

QB, Troy

Matt Linehan

QB, Idaho

Shaedon Meadors

WR, App. State

Justice Hansen

QB, Ark. State

Comeback Player

Jayshawn Jordan

S, Idaho

Jordan Chunn

RB, Troy

Tyler Rogers

QB, NMSU

Tajhea Chambers

LB, Ark. State

 

Ranking the Sun Belt's Coaches for 2016

 

1. Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State

2. Mark Hudspeth, UL Lafayette

3. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State

 

 

Grading the Sun Belt's New Coach Hires for 2016
 
1. Matt Viator, ULM (B+)
2. Everett Withers, Texas State (B-)
3. Tyson Summers, Georgia Southern (B-)
 
 
Sun Belt's Top Five Players on the Rise for 2016
 
1. Dee Liner, DL, Arkansas State
2. Xavier Johnson, RB, South Alabama
3. Rashad Dillard, DL, Troy
4. Garrett Smith, QB, ULM
5. Shaedon Meadors, WR, Appalachian State
 
Sun Belt's Top 10 Non-Conference Games for 2016
 
1. Georgia Southern at Western Michigan (Sept. 24)
2. Miami at Appalachian State (Sept. 17)
3. Appalachian State at Tennessee (Sept. 1)
4. Toledo at Arkansas State (Sept. 2)
5. Georgia Southern at Ole Miss (Nov. 5)
6. Georgia Southern at Georgia Tech (Oct. 15)
7. Troy at Clemson (Sept. 10)
8. Arkansas State at Auburn (Sept. 10)
9. Troy at Southern Miss (Sept. 17)
10. Boise State at UL Lafayette (Sept. 3)
 
Sun Belt's Key Coordinator Hires for 2016
 
1. Frank Spaziani, Defensive Coordinator, New Mexico State
2. Buster Faulkner, Offensive Coordinator, Arkansas State
3. Randall McCray, Defensive Coordinator, Texas State
4. Mike Collins, Defensive Coordinator, ULM
5. Brett Elliott, Offensive Coordinator, Texas State
6. Kane Wommack, Defensive Coordinator, South Alabama
7. Matt Kubik, Offensive Coordinator, ULM
 
Top Incoming Freshmen ()
 
1. Darion Anderson, WR, Georgia Southern
2. Michael Jackson, WR, Georgia Southern
3. Jalin Buie, RB, South Alabama
4. Kelvin Lucky, DE, Troy
5. Drew Wilson, OL, Georgia Southern
6. Monquavion Brinson, CB, Georgia Southern
7. Riley Cole, LB, South Alabama
8. Zo Bridges, LB, Troy
9. Dontrell Allen, CB, UL Lafayette
10. Lawrence Edwards, OL, Georgia Southern
Teaser:
Sun Belt Football 2016 Predictions
Post date: Tuesday, June 7, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/sec-football-2016-predictions
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After a two-year drought, the SEC is back on top. Sort of. The SEC really never left its spot as college football’s No. 1 league, but Florida State (2013) and Ohio State (2014) gained control of the national title and prevented the SEC from extending its dominance after winning seven straight titles from 2006-12.

 

Alabama has won four out of the last seven national titles and is Athlon’s pick to win it all in 2016. The Crimson Tide need to find a new quarterback and patch the offensive line, but the defense and ground attack can carry Nick Saban’s team to the SEC title. LSU, Tennessee and Ole Miss are all playoff contenders and projected by Athlon to finish in the top 10 for 2016.

 

Outside of Tennessee in the East Division, Georgia and Florida rank as top 25 teams for 2016, with uncertainty surrounding Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Missouri and South Carolina in the next tier. The East is also home to the league’s three new coaches – Barry Odom, Missouri, Kirby Smart, Georgia and Will Muschamp, South Carolina.

 

In the West Division, LSU needs to find a quarterback to push Alabama at the top, while Ole Miss can lean on quarterback Chad Kelly to alleviate the departures of Robert Nkemdiche (DL), Laremy Tunsil (OL) and Laquon Treadwell (WR). Arkansas could be a top 25 team if Austin Allen provides steady play at quarterback, with Texas A&M and Auburn in the next tier. Mississippi State is projected to finish seventh in the West, but Dan Mullen’s team won’t slip too far – even after losing arguably the best player in school history (Dak Prescott).

 

Five Key Questions That Will Shape the SEC in 2016

 

1. Are Tennessee and Alabama the Clear Favorites to Win the SEC?

Barring a surprise upset or two, it seems likely Alabama and Tennessee will meet twice during the 2016 season. Sure, LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia and Florida could surprise and win their division, but on paper, the Crimson Tide and the Volunteers will be heavy favorites to meet in Atlanta. These two teams also have a regular season matchup on Oct. 15 in Knoxville, as Tennessee will be looking for its first victory over Alabama since 2006. While Athlon’s projection of the Volunteers to finish No. 7 in 2016 surprised some fans around the SEC, this is Butch Jones’ best team in Knoxville and it would be a major disappointment if Tennessee didn’t win the East. The Volunteers return 18 starters, the overall depth and talent has improved thanks to the recruiting efforts of this coaching staff, and the defense will take a step forward with the addition of coordinator Bob Shoop. Alabama isn’t without question marks, but it’s hard to pick against a team that has the nation’s best collection of overall talent. Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris are capable of keeping the ground attack performing at a high level with Derrick Henry off to the NFL, and the receiving corps could be the best in the SEC. And as usual in Tuscaloosa, the defense will rank among the nation’s best – if not No. 1.

 

Related:

 

2. Georgia and LSU – the Wild Card Teams of the SEC?

As mentioned above, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Georgia or LSU made it to the SEC Championship. However, in Athlon’s prediction meetings, Georgia and LSU were regarded as the toughest teams to project for 2016. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for either program, but the Bulldogs have a new coaching staff, uncertainty at quarterback and a rebuilt front seven on defense. While Mark Richt won a lot of games in Athens, a fresh start under Kirby Smart may not be a bad thing. Will Georgia have an easy transition to Smart and the new staff? Or will the transition take a season? At LSU, the preseason storylines sound rather familiar. With Leonard Fournette leading the way, the Tigers have one of the nation’s best ground attacks. Additionally, the defense – directed by new coordinator Dave Aranda – is loaded with speed, athleticism and talent. However, how much can LSU squeeze out of its passing game and quarterback Brandon Harris? The Tigers don’t need a ton of production out of the passing attack but improvement is essential to beating Alabama for the SEC West title.

 

College Football: Breaking Down Athlon’s 2016 Top 25



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3. Quarterback Play

It’s safe to say 2016 isn’t shaping up to be a banner year for quarterback play in the SEC. Only two teams – Ole Miss (Chad Kelly) and Tennessee (Joshua Dobbs) – enter the season with a clear answer at quarterback. Considering the question marks surrounding this position, it’s easy to see why there’s a lot of uncertainty (more than usual) in the SEC predictions. How quickly will Jacob Eason emerge as Georgia’s starter? How much of an upgrade is Luke Del Rio over Treon Harris at Florida? LSU needs Brandon Harris to take the next step in his development for the Tigers to challenge for the SEC title. Alabama also has uncertainty at quarterback, but the Crimson Tide are two-for-two under coordinator Lane Kiffin in finding the right answer at this position. Austin Allen is slated to replace his brother (Brandon) at quarterback for Arkansas, while Auburn and Texas A&M are expected to turn to a transfer this season. Just how questionable is this position right now? LSU’s Brandon Harris or Georgia’s Jacob Eason are the leading candidates to be the No. 3 quarterback in this league entering fall practice.

 

Related:

 

4. Pressure Building at Auburn and Texas A&M

How quickly the outlook for Gus Malzahn and Kevin Sumlin has changed over the last couple of seasons. Auburn played for the national championship in Malzahn’s first year but slipped to 8-5 in 2014 and regressed to 7-6 in 2015. And perhaps even more troubling for Malzahn? His side of the ball – the offense – averaged only 22.1 points in SEC games last season. While Auburn has recruited well, major improvement in the win column is unlikely in 2016. The offense enters the season with uncertainty at quarterback and an unsettled receiving corps, while the defense needs to take a step forward under new coordinator Kevin Steele. Adding to Malzahn’s challenge in 2016 is a schedule that features road trips to Alabama, Ole Miss, Georgia and a home date against national title contender Clemson. Sumlin’s career path at Texas A&M is similar, as the Aggies posted 20 wins over his first two years, followed by back-to-back 8-5 campaigns. Fixing a porous defense was Sumlin’s top priority after the 2014 season. The addition of John Chavis paid dividends in 2015, and this unit should take another step forward in 2016. However, Sumlin’s biggest concern is the offense. Quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray transferred prior to the Music City Bowl last year, and the Aggies will be relying on Oklahoma graduate transfer Trevor Knight as the starter for new coordinator Noel Mazzone. Both teams have the talent to easily exceed their preseason expectations. However, neither team will rank among the top 25 in the nation without an answer emerging at the quarterback position.

 

5. Sorting Out the Bottom of the SEC East

The tiers in the SEC East are pretty clear for 2016. Tennessee is the heavy favorite to win the division, with Georgia and Florida vying for the No. 2 and No. 3 spots. After that? It’s a tossup. Very little separates Kentucky, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Missouri for next four spots. Kentucky and Vanderbilt tied for fourth in the division last year at 2-6 in league play, while South Carolina and Missouri tied at 1-7. A similar scenario should play out in 2016. The Wildcats are Athlon’s pick to emerge out of that four-team group for the No. 4 spot, as Mark Stoops’ team has a favorable home schedule – Mississippi State, South Carolina and Vanderbilt – and should improve on offense with the addition of new play-caller Eddie Gran. Vanderbilt and Missouri are strong on defense, but both teams enter the year with question marks on offense. South Carolina has plenty of work to do under new coach Will Muschamp. The Gamecocks return only seven starters, and top linebacker Skai Moore was recently ruled out for the year due to injury. With question marks at quarterback and few proven skill players, all signs point to 2016 as a rebuilding year for Muschamp and the new staff.

 

College Football: Others Receiving Votes



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SEC 2016 Team Previews
East Division
 

National

Rank:

20 16 56 62 63 7 57
West Division
 

National

Rank:

1 26 35 9 41 10 28

 

Visit the  to order a copy of the 2016 SEC Preview Magazine, which features in-depth analysis and previews for all 14 teams, predictions, rankings and features to prepare for the upcoming year. 
 

SEC Football 2016 Predictions

         
East Division
Rank Team   Projected SEC Record Projected Overall Record
1

(No. 7)

6-2 10-3
.
2

(No. 16)

5-3 9-3
.
3

(No. 20)

5-3 8-4
.
4

(No. 56)

3-5 6-6
.
5

(No. 57)

3-5 5-7
.
6

(No. 62)

2-6 5-7
.
7

(No. 63)

1-7 4-8
.
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected SEC Record Projected Overall Record
1

(No. 1)

7-1 12-1
.
2

(No. 9)

6-2 10-2
.
3

(No. 10)

6-2 9-3
.
4

(No. 26)

5-3 8-4
.
5

(No. 28)

3-5 7-5
.
6

 

(No. 35)

3-5 6-6
.
7

(No. 41)

2-6 6-6
.
         
SEC Championship
Alabama over Tennessee 

 

SEC 2016 Superlatives and Season Predictions
 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

David

Fox

Braden

Gall

 
Offensive POY

Leonard Fournette

RB, LSU

Leonard Fournette

RB, LSU

Leonard Fournette

RB, LSU

Leonard Fournette

RB, LSU

Leonard Fournette

RB, LSU

Defensive POY

Myles Garrett

DE, Texas A&M

Myles Garrett

DE, Texas A&M

Myles Garrett

DE, Texas A&M

Myles Garrett

DE, Texas A&M

Jamal Adams

S, LSU

Coach of the Year

Nick Saban

Alabama

Nick Saban

Alabama

Kirby Smart

Georgia

Nick Saban

Alabama

Butch Jones

Tennessee

Coach on Hot Seat

Les Miles

LSU

Gus Malzahn

Auburn

Kevin Sumlin

Texas A&M

Mark Stoops

Kentucky

Mark Stoops

Kentucky

Top Freshman

Jacob Eason

QB, Georgia

Jacob Eason

QB, Georgia

Jacob Eason

QB, Georgia

Jacob Eason

QB, Georgia

Jacob Eason

QB, Georgia

Top Newcomer

Trevor Knight

QB, TAMU

Alex Ross

RB, Missouri

Trevor Knight

QB, TAMU

Trevor Knight

QB, TAMU

Luke Del Rio

QB, Florida

Sleeper Team Arkansas Kentucky Arkansas Auburn Florida
Top Coordinator Hire

Dave Aranda

DC, LSU

Dave Aranda

DC, LSU

Bob Shoop

DC, Tennessee

Dave Aranda

DC, LSU

Dave Aranda

DC, LSU

Key Position to Watch Alabama OL Tennessee WR Georgia LB Arkansas RB Alabama OL
Hardest to Evaluate LSU Georgia Texas A&M LSU Georgia
Coach on the Rise

Dave Aranda

DC, LSU

Dave Aranda

DC, LSU

Dave Aranda

DC, LSU

Geoff Collins

DC, Florida

Kirby Smart

HC, Georgia

Must-See Game

Alabama at

Tennessee

Alabama at 

Tennessee

Alabama at

LSU

Alabama at 

LSU

Alabama at

LSU

Breakout Player

Arden Key

DL, LSU

Bo Scarbrough

RB, Alabama

Cece Jefferson

DL, Florida

Bo Scarbrough

RB, Alabama

Minkah Fitzpatrick

CB, Alabama

Comeback Player

Nick Chubb

RB, Georgia

Harold Brantley

DL, Missouri

Nick Chubb

RB, Georgia

Nick Chubb

RB, Georgia

Nick Chubb

RB, Georgia

 

Ranking the SEC's Coaches for 2016

 

1. Nick Saban, Alabama

2. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

3. Bret Bielema, Arkansas

4. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

5. Butch Jones, Tennessee

 

 

Grading the SEC's New Coach Hires for 2016

 

1. Barry Odom, Missouri (B+)

2. Kirby Smart, Georgia (B+)

3. Will Muschamp, South Carolina (C+)

 

 

Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2016
 
1. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
2. Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
3. Brandon Harris, LSU
4. Trevor Knight, Texas A&M
5. Jacob Eason, Georgia
 
 
SEC's Top Players on the Rise for 2016
 
1. Arden Key, DL, LSU
2. Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn 
3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama
4. Jacob Eason, QB, Georgia
5. Da'Shawn Hand, DL, Alabama
6. Cece Jefferson, DL, Florida 
7. Chris Westry, CB, Kentucky
8. Keith Ford, RB, Texas A&M
9. Trent Thompson, DL, Georgia
10. Terry Godwin, WR, Georgia
 
 
SEC's Top 15 Non-Conference Games for 2016
 
1. Ole Miss vs. Florida State (Sept. 5 - Orlando)
2. Alabama vs. USC (Sept. 3 - Arlington)
3. LSU vs. Wisconsin (Sept. 3 - Green Bay)
4. Florida at Florida State (Nov. 26)
5. Georgia vs. North Carolina (Sept. 3 - Atlanta)
6. UCLA at Texas A&M (Sept. 3)
7. Arkansas at TCU (Sept. 10)
8. Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech (Sept. 10 - Bristol)
9. Clemson at Auburn (Sept. 3)
10. South Carolina at Clemson (Nov. 26)
11. Kentucky at Louisville (Nov. 26)
12. Georgia Tech at Georgia (Nov. 26)
13. Missouri at West Virginia (Sept. 3)
14. Mississippi State at BYU (Oct. 14)
15. Appalachian State at Tennessee (Sept. 3)
 
Key Coordinator Hires for 2016
 
1. Dave Aranda, Defensive Coordinator, LSU 
2. Bob Shoop, Defensive Coordinator, Tennessee
3. Jeremy Pruitt, Defensive Coordinator, Alabama
4. Jim Chaney, Offensive Coordinator, Georgia
5. Eddie Gran, Co-Offensive Coordinator, Kentucky
6. Noel Mazzone, Offensive Coordinator, Texas A&M
7. Kurt Roper, Co-Offensive Coordinator, South Carolina
8. Kevin Steele, Defensive Coordinator, Auburn
9. Travaris Robinson, Defensive Coordinator, South Carolina
10. Peter Sirmon, Defensive Coordinator, Mississippi State
 
 
Top 25 Incoming Freshmen (from 247Sports)
 
1. Greg Little, OL, Ole Miss
2. Shea Patterson, QB, Ole Miss
3. Jacob Eason, QB, Georgia
4. Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn
5. Ben Davis, LB, Alabama
6. Isaac Nauta, TE, Georgia
7. Mecole Hardman Jr., WR, Georgia
8. Lyndell Wilson, LB, Alabama
9. Jonah Williams, OL, Alabama
10. McTelvin Agim, DL, Arkansas
11. Jeffery Simmons, DL, Mississippi State
12. Kristian Fulton, DB, LSU
13. Rashad Lawrence, DT, LSU
14. Benito Jones, DL, Ole Miss
15. Antonneous Clayton, DL, Florida
16. Marlon Davidson, DL, Auburn
17. Tyrie Cleveland, WR, Florida
18. B.J. Emmons, RB, Alabama
19. A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss
20. Nate Craig-Myers, WR, Auburn
21. Chauncey Gardner, DB, Florida
22. Saivion Smith, DB, LSU
23. Antwuan Jackson, DL, Auburn
24. Deontay Anderson, DB, Ole Miss
25. Feleipe Franks, QB, Florida
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SEC Football 2016 Predictions
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All taxonomy terms: College Football, News, Magazines
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Before each college football season, Athlon Sports hears from readers wanting to know why one team was favored over another in our preseason rankings. Why this team was ranked so high or that team so low.

 

Some of these questions are in — um — colorful language.

 

That’s why Athlon takes you inside our decision process for some of the biggest questions you ask. Believe it or not, some of these questions are the ones we grappled with through our rankings meeting.

 

Here are the questions we anticipated about our .

 

The Athlon Sports 2016 SEC Preview is

 

 

Was there any thought to picking any team other than Tennessee in the East?

 

Not really. The Volunteers, from a talent and experience standpoint, are clearly the best team in the SEC East. They have the right quarterback (Joshua Dobbs) in place — which gives them a huge advantage over every other team in the division — complemented by an outstanding running back duo and what should be an improved offensive line. The defense was solid last year and should be even better thanks to the addition of Bob Shoop as coordinator. There are a few reasons for concern, however. The schedule is very difficult once again: The Vols play Alabama (home) and Texas A&M (road) from the SEC West and visit Georgia, which figures to be their biggest challenger in the division. Also, this program will be under immense pressure to win big in 2016. Last year, Tennessee did not play well in crunch time, losing well-documented leads against Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas. How the Vols handle the spotlight, and the expectations that come with it, will go a long way in determining just how successful this team can be.

 

 

Kentucky is No. 4 in the East. That seems a bit high for a program that has won four SEC games in the past four seasons.

 

Yes, that does seem a bit lofty, but the prediction makes more sense when you consider that Kentucky has the most forgiving league schedule of the four teams jockeying for fourth place in the SEC East. The Wildcats host South Carolina and Vanderbilt — two games they should be favored to win — and they also get Mississippi State at home. That could be three wins right there, and three wins could be enough to edge out Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Missouri for fourth place. But it’s not just about schedule. Mark Stoops recruited well early in his tenure at UK, and the program is stocked with solid talent, most notably at the skill positions. Also, we can’t forget that this team was very close to winning several more games in 2016; the Cats lost by five to Florida, three to Auburn and four to Vanderbilt. A play here or there would have resulted in another win or two and a trip to a bowl game. We don’t expect Kentucky to be a factor in the SEC East race, but this is a team that should return to the postseason for the first time since 2010.

 

LSU has been a trendy pick as a national title contender in the offseason. How close were the Tigers to edging Alabama for the top spot in the SEC West?

 

Not too close. LSU will have a ton of talent — but talent has not been the issue in Baton Rouge. The Tigers have signed top-six recruiting classes in four straight seasons yet have a 14–10 record in the SEC since the start of the 2013 season. During that same stretch, Alabama is 21–3 in the SEC — including three wins over LSU. So while LSU has the makings of a really good team in 2016, there are more than enough reasons not to jump on the bandwagon and label this team as a legitimate national title contender.

 

Mississippi State has averaged 3.7 SEC wins per season under Dan Mullen and has yet to finish in last place under his watch. Still, the Bulldogs are the pick for last in the SEC West for the second straight season. Why?

 

It’s safe to say that our expectations for this program — as it relates to the finish in the division — would be much higher if it played in the SEC East. But the Bulldogs find themselves swimming in the brutal waters of the toughest division in football. And while they’ve continued to prove the prognosticators wrong, especially last year, the Dogs make the most sense at No. 7 this season. Through improved recruiting, MSU might be better positioned than in previous years to overcome some key personnel losses, but it’s tough to ignore the fact that the team must replace arguably the best player in school history (Dak Prescott) at the most important position (quarterback) on the field and that the top wide receiver (De’Runnya Wilson) and most talented defensive player (Chris Jones) are also gone.

Teaser:
Explain Yourselves: Athlon Answers Questions About 2016 SEC Predictions
Post date: Tuesday, June 7, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, syndicated, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-15-best-coaches-under-40-2016
Body:

Last season was a banner year for the under-40 coaching set.

 

Justin Fuente coached his last season in his 30s by winning nine games at Memphis and then taking the Virginia Tech job. Kirby Smart landed one of the best jobs in college football at Georgia and then won a national title as Alabama’s defensive coordinator. Willie Taggart may have saved his job with an 8-5 season at USF. Kalani Sitake landed his dream job as BYU’s head coach.

 

All four will start the 2016 season after hitting the big 4-0, so they’re moving off this list.

 

There remain plenty of head coaches and coordinators in their 30s who will make a major impact in college football this season. Two of them (Matt Campbell and Kliff Kingsbury) are in the Big 12 alone, and that doesn’t count two offensive coordinators (Lincoln Riley and Sonny Cumbie) who could add to their stash of conference championship rings.

 

In other conferences, 35-year-old P.J. Fleck will be in contention for a MAC title. Bryan Harsin is looking to win his second Mountain West championship at Boise State.

 

A number of other under-40 coaches are in tough rebuilding jobs or seeking their first head coaching gig.

 

All ages are as of Sept. 1, 2016

 

All editions of the Athlon Sports college football 2016 preview magazine are .

 

1. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan head coach

Age: 35

Fleck has already been a hot commodity for also-ran Big Ten programs. It seems Fleck, a former Greg Schiano assistant, is going to pick his spot for a jump to a major job. Of course, what he’s got going now at Western Michigan is pretty good. After starting 1-11, the Broncos are 16-10 overall and 12-4 in the MAC the last two seasons. Fleck already has the reputation of a , and he’s lapped the MAC in recruiting the last three cycles.

 

2. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech head coach

Age: 37

Kingsbury is 19-19 overall and 10-17 in the Big 12 since his return to Texas Tech. Despite a 7-6 record in 2015, there were signs the Red Raiders are ready to make a move. Texas Tech beat Texas and Kansas State in back-to-back weeks in November after recording just one November win (over Iowa State) in Kingsbury's first two seasons. The Red Raiders are starting to improve their defense. Tech has proven it can beat the Big 12’s lower class. Time to start putting fear in the league’s contenders.

 

3. Matt Campbell, Iowa State head coach

Age: 36

Campbell has been on the ascent almost as soon as he took over at Toledo for a bowl win in 2011. In four seasons, Campbell never took the Rockets to the MAC title game, but he finished with fewer than nine wins just once, going 7-5 in 2013. Toledo has ranked in the top four in the MAC in yards per play every year since 2010, when Campbell became offensive coordinator. Iowa State hopes Campbell will bring a dose of energy to one of the toughest Power 5 jobs in the country.

 

College Football: Big 12 adds title game, Vegas odds and Jeffery Simmons



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4. Bryan Harsin, Boise State head coach

Age: 39

The Broncos’ 9-4 finish and 5-3 mark in the Mountain West in 2015 were not what Boise State fans are accustomed to seeing. The bar is set plenty high, but there’s plenty of evidence that Harsin can more often than not cross it. Boise State is just two years removed from a 12-2 season, a Mountain West title and a win over Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl. True, four losses and losing to New Mexico and Air Force is seldom-visited territory for a Boise State coach, but there was plenty of silver lining last season. Harsin beat his mentor, Washington coach Chris Petersen, in the opener, and the Broncos crushed Northern Illinois 55-7 in the Poinsettia Bowl.

 

5. D.J. Durkin, Maryland head coach

Age: 38

Few coaches have a better pedigree than Durkin. He a native of Youngstown, Ohio, (a coaching hotbed that counts the Stoops family among others) and has spent most of his career under Urban Meyer (at Florida) and Jim Harbaugh (at Stanford and Michigan). In his last three years as a defensive coordinator with the Gators and Wolverines, his units have finished no lower than 14th in total defense. Durkin surely has picked up a ton of organizational know-how from Meyer and Harbaugh that he’ll need to apply at Maryland.

 

6. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma offensive coordinator

Age: 32

Even before arriving at Oklahoma, Riley was on course for a breakout. Air Raid coordinators tend to be on the fast track to big-time coordinator and head coaching jobs — Riley backed up Kliff Kingsbury and B.J. Symons at Texas Tech and served under Mike Leach for six years. Riley hit his stride in his fourth season as East Carolina’s offensive coordinator, improving the Pirates from 56th in total offense to 25th and finally fifth. In his first season at Oklahoma, the Sooners improved from 25th to seventh and reached the College Football Playoff.

 

7. Dave Aranda, LSU defensive coordinator

Age: 39

Aranda’s creative defenses have made him one of the nation’s top coordinators over the last four years. Three of his last four teams at Wisconsin and Utah State have ranked in the top 10 in fewest yards allowed per play. A move to LSU puts him at the helm of enviable defensive talent. The sky’s the limit if the Tigers make a run at the SEC and national titles.

 

8. Sonny Cumbie, TCU co-offensive coordinator

Age: 35

Along with Doug Meacham, Cumbie has been credited with a major shift in TCU’s offensive philosophy to a no-huddle spread. The move turned the Horned Frogs into one of the top three teams in the Big 12 the last two seasons. Meacham is the playcaller, but Cumbie — a former Texas Tech quarterback — was courted by Texas in their OC search.

 

9. Mike Norvell, Memphis head coach

Age: 34

Two of Todd Graham’s former offensive coordinators are head coaches now: Gus Malzahn (who went to Auburn as OC) and Chad Morris (who went to Clemson). Norvell didn’t have as much notoriety as the other two, but he’s been with Graham every step of the way from Tulsa to Pitt to Arizona State.

 

10. Scottie Montgomery, East Carolina head coach

Age: 38

Montgomery has only coached two places — Duke on two separate stints and with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Having bosses like David Cutcliffe and Mike Tomlin isn’t a bad start. He’s a stickler for details and discipline, which is necessary to even the odds at a place like Duke.

 

College Football: Breaking Down Athlon’s 2016 Top 25



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11. Barry Odom, Missouri head coach

Age: 39

A former Missouri player, Odom worked his way from administrative roles to defensive coordinator under Gary Pinkel. Even as he ran a standout defense at Memphis, he seemed like a natural fit to take over for his mentor. He probably didn’t think it would be this soon and under difficult on- and off-field circumstances.

 

12. Neal Brown, Troy head coach

Age: 36

Troy went only 4-8 in Brown’s first season, but the Trojans improved over the course of the season. Troy went 3-3 in the final six games and took Appalachian State to overtime on the road during that span. A former offensive coordinator at Troy, Texas Tech and Kentucky, Brown actually had more success on the defensive side of the ball.

 

13. Mike Sanford Jr., Notre Dame offensive coordinator

Age: 33

Sanford was already well traveled before he landed on the staff at Notre Dame. He coached at Western Kentucky under Willie Taggart for a year, at Stanford for three under David Shaw and at Boise State for a year under Harsin. At Notre Dame, Brian Kelly has his hands all over the offense, but the Sanford deserves some of the credit for the quick development of Deshone Kizer and C.J. Prosise last season. Kelly’s offensive coordinators have had little trouble getting head coaching jobs, but they have not been particularly successful. Sanford may break the mold.

 

14. Walt Bell, Maryland offensive coordinator

Age: 31

In Bell’s two seasons as Arkansas State’s offensive coordinator, the Red Wolves led the Sun Belt in total offense in conference games. He got his start under Larry Fedora at Oklahoma State, Southern Miss and North Carolina.

 

15. Tee Martin, USC offensive coordinator

Age: 38

The quarterback of 1998 national champion Tennessee has been moving up the coaching ranks from high schools to Kentucky to the offensive coordinator post. He’s been in demand as a recruiter, but this will be his first season as a playcaller.

 

College Football: Others Receiving Votes



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Teaser:
College Football's 15 Best Coaches Under 40 for 2016
Post date: Tuesday, June 7, 2016 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Miami Hurricanes
Path: /college-football/ranking-toughest-games-miami-hurricanes-schedule-2016
Body:

The ’ 2016 season is a beginning of a new era in a couple of ways. The program hired Mark Richt in order to return the program back to its glory years of the 1990s and early 2000s. On Sept. 3, the Hurricanes also will start playing in newly renovated New Miami Stadium, formerly Sun Life Stadium (among other names).

 

Related:

 

Despite finishing the 2015 season with an 8-5 record, many people believe the Hurricanes could play in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte as soon as this season under Richt’s guidance. The main reason for optimism around the program is because of junior quarterback Brad Kaaya.

 

In his first two seasons at Miami, Kaaya has not only become one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks but also one of its best players. If he can improve on his numbers (16 touchdowns, five interceptions) from a year ago and remains healthy, expect the Hurricanes to remain in contention in the ACC Coastal race throughout the season.

 

Related:

 

Taking a look at Miami’s 2016 schedule, it is more difficult than last season’s slate. Yes, the Hurricanes won’t have to play defending ACC champion Clemson in divisional crossover play, but the team adds Notre Dame, Appalachian State and NC State to its schedule.

 

Here are Miami’s 12 regular season games ranked from easiest to most difficult:

 

12. Sept. 3 vs. Florida A&M

Miami will begin its season against the Florida A&M Ratters, which were one of the worst teams in the FCS a season ago. Florida A&M is coming off of a 1-10 showing that included nine losses by double digits.

 

This is a perfect game for Kaaya and the Hurricanes’ offense to establish a good rapport with each other. A game against the Ratters also should give the defense under new coordinator Manny Diaz a lot of confidence as the schedule will only get tougher from this point.

 

11. Sept. 10 vs. Florida Atlantic

This game is a rematch from last season when the Owls from Conference USA trailed the Hurricanes by just three points (20-17) at the half. Miami would go on to outscore FAU 24-3 for a more comfortable 44-20 outcome.

 

FAU has posted back-to-back 3-9 seasons under head coach Charlie Partridge, but four of the Owls’ losses last season were by seven points or fewer. While FAU improved its defensive ranking from 110th in 2014 to 70th last season, Miami should have a relatively easy time defeating the Owls once again.

 

10. Nov. 12 at Virginia

Much like the Hurricanes, the Virginia Cavaliers also will have a new head coach in hopes to return their football program back to respectability. Bronco Mendenhall left BYU to take over in Charlottesville.

 

Virginia finished 4-8 in 2015, but appears to have hit a home run in landing Mendenhall. It will likely take some time for the Cavaliers to become a major player in the ACC. This is a game Miami should win easily.

 

9. Oct. 1 at Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech had a disappointing 2015 season as the Yellow Jackets finished with a 3-9 record and failed to make a bowl appearance for the first time since 1996.

 

Georgia Tech should produce better results in 2016 because the team has recovered from key injuries and welcome back quarterback Justin Thomas for his senior season. Last season in head coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense, Thomas threw for 1,345 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

 

If Thomas if can return to his 2014 form where he threw for 18 touchdowns and rushed for 1,086 yards and eight touchdowns, the Yellow Jackets could contend in a wide-open ACC Coastal.

 

8. Nov. 26 vs. Duke

Duke head coach David Cutcliffe has raised the bar in Durham. Before his arrival, the Blue Devils would have just been happy with a six-win season. Now, fans expect the football team to contend for ACC Coastal Division titles.

 

Quarterback Thomas Sirk tore his Achilles during a Feb. 9 conditioning workout and his status this season is unknown. Without Sirk, it could be hard for the Blue Devils to contend.

 

7. Oct. 20 at Virginia Tech

For the first time since 1986, Frank Beamer will not be patrolling the Virginia Tech sideline. Former Memphis head coach Justin Fuente is now the man Hokie fans hope will lead them to a fifth ACC championship.

 

Virginia Tech has traditionally played Miami tough, especially in Blacksburg. The Hokies’ offense has some good skill position players returning in Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips, Bucky Hodges and Travon McMillan.

 

6. Sept. 17 at Appalachian State

Appalachian State’s transition to FBS has been a success so far. In 2015, the Mountaineers finished 11-2 and received their first-ever bowl invitation, beating Ohio 31-29 in the Camellia Bowl.

 

Miami will be traveling to Boone, N.C., to face the Mountaineers on their home turn in an interesting out-of-conference matchup. This will not be an easy game for the Hurricanes, especially on the road.

 

5. Nov. 19 at NC State

Dave Doeren enters his fourth season as the NC State head coach. Last season, the Wolfpack finished 7-6 and lost to Mississippi State in the Belk Bowl.

 

The Wolfpack be starting a new quarterback in Jalan McClendon. Getting running back Matt Dayes back from injury will help their offense. Dayes rushed for 865 yards in eight games.

 

NC State is a tough opponent in Carter-Finley Stadium, so the Hurricanes will have to be on upset alert.

 

4. Oct. 15 vs. North Carolina

Last season, the North Carolina Tar Heels gave eventual College Football Playoff runner-up Clemson all it could handle in the ACC Championship Game before losing 45-37. This season, Mitch Trubisky steps in at quarterback for the departed Marquise Williams.

 

North Carolina’s defense has always been a question and this is an area Miami should be able to take advantage of in this matchup. The two teams have split the season series the last four years with the Tar Heels winning last year’s game 59-21.

 

3. Nov. 5 vs. Pittsburgh

By the time this game is played it could have significant impact on the outcome of the ACC Coastal race. The Panthers will get back 2014 ACC Player of the Year running back James Conner back after missing all of last season while battling Hodgkin lymphoma.

 

Head coach Pat Narduzzi has given the program a bolt of new energy following a stretch of mediocrity. Sixteen starters return for the Panthers in 2016, so Pittsburgh could be the biggest obstacle standing in the way of Miami playing in its first ACC Championship Game.

 

2. Oct. 29 at Notre Dame

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will be one of the two preseason national championship contenders that the Hurricanes will face this season. Despite returning only eight starters, the Fighting Irish should have a productive team, especially on offense where they have averaged 33.5 points per game over the last two seasons.

 

It is a rivalry game so anything can happen, but it will be tough for the Hurricanes to go into South Bend, Ind., and come out with a victory.

 

1. Oct. 8 vs. Florida State

Miami’s game against Florida State is important for a number of reasons. The Seminoles have been the No. 1 team in the state of Florida since 2013 and the Hurricanes have not beaten their archrival since 2009.

 

The last two games in this series have been very tight. In 2014 at home, the Hurricanes led the Seminoles for most of the game until a late touchdown put Florida State ahead to stay in a 30-26 hard-fought victory. Last season, the Seminoles defeated the Hurricanes in another hotly contested battle, this one in Tallahassee.

 

— 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.

Teaser:
Ranking the Toughest Games on Miami's College Football Schedule in 2016
Post date: Tuesday, June 7, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: American League, MLB
Path: /mlb/mlb-june-what-watch-american-league
Body:

The calendar has flipped to June and we are almost two months into the 2016 season. For the most part, the season is still too young for teams to distance themselves in the division races — aside from the Cubs in the NL Central — but even then, being up by almost 10 games in the first week of June isn’t anything to write home about, yet.

 

In the American League, the division standings are even tighter, especially in the AL East and Central. With the official start of summer just around the corner, the dog days of the long season are upon us. Here are a few things to watch in the AL in June.

 

AL Central Scramble

 

The White Sox burst out of the gate in April, winning 17 games and were 13 games over .500 on May 9. The new-look offense, led by Todd Frazier, and the starting pitching carved its way through the first 30-plus days of the season. But since May 9, the Sox have been sputtering, going just 6-17 and enduring losing streaks of four and seven games.

 

The one bright spot during the Sox’ downturn is the dominance of southpaw pitching duo Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Each are in the top seven of the AL in ERA with Sale pacing leading the way in wins (nine) and WHIP (0.94).

 

The White Sox’ crash has perfectly coincided with the Royals’ revival. The reigning World Series champs opened the season with an unenthusiastic 12-11 record in April before finding their rhythm in May (17-11) and taking over first place in the division. The Royals have done this with minimal help from their starting pitching as Yordano Ventura, Chris Young and Kris Medlen all have inflated ERAs of 4.82 or higher, while also dealing with injuries to stalwarts like Mike Moustakas (ACL) and Alex Gordon (broken bone in wrist).

 

Thanks to a four-game sweep over the weekend, the Indians have passed the Royals and currently hold a game and a half lead atop the division entering Monday’s action. And Cleveland has accomplished this despite losing two outfielders to PED-related suspensions (Marlon Byrd, Abraham Almonte) and the never-ending recovery of the oft-injured Michael Brantley. The shortage of outfielders and Cleveland’s ability to stay in the division hunt could make them big trade deadline buyers in about a month.

 

The Tigers are possibly one of the biggest underachieving teams in baseball thus far and it could cost manager Brad Ausmus his job before long. The offense has been fine, but the starting pitching has been inconsistent.  Newly acquired Jordan Zimmermann has been great, but everyone else in the rotation has been unsettling. Justin Verlander has improved as of late, dropping his ERA from a season-worst 6.49 on May 3 to 3.97 following his win on Sunday. But Mike Pelfrey’s ERA sits at 4.76, Anibal Sanchez (3-6, 6.67 ERA in 11 GS) recently was removed from the rotation, and the bullpen’s collective ERA (4.70) is 27th in MLB. If the Tigers have any chance of keeping up with the rest of the division, the pitching is going to have to keep up with the bats.

 

Red Hot Red Sox

 

The Red Sox were supposed to be an improved team from their last-place effort in 2015, and the biggest improvement was supposed to come from the starting rotation. The Sox currently find themselves atop the AL East with a game and a half lead over the Orioles. But Boston’s boost hasn’t come from the overhauled starting rotation. The $217 million arm of David Price has yet to find his groove, posting a 4.88 ERA in his 11 starts so far, while Rick Porcello and Clay Buchholz have had their own struggles.

 

Boston’s offense has been the driving force behind the resurgence, led by the new version of the “Killer B’s” – Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. But perhaps the biggest surprises at the plate have come from the Red Sox’ established veterans.

 

Much was made about Hanley Ramirez making the move from left field to first base. Ramirez has responded, hitting .282/.345/.397 after a disappointing 2015.

 

David Ortiz, in his farewell season, may be putting together an MVP campaign. Big Papi is mashing, hitting .340 with 16 home runs and leading the league in doubles (26), RBIs (54), slugging percentage (.732), OPS (1.156), OPS+ (202), and total bases (142) — leading many to speculate if this is in fact Ortiz’s final season.

 

The mix of budding superstars and veterans contributing in the daily lineup has made this offense an absolute force to be reckoned with. Currently, the Sox lead the majors in runs scored, batting average, hits, doubles, RBIs, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS, and total bases.

 

Boston enters this week tied with Baltimore for first in the AL East, although one up in the win column (33 vs. 32). The Red Sox just finished a stretch of 10 games against the Orioles and the third-place Blue Jays, in which they went 4-6.  Following a three-game set at home against Baltimore June 14-16, Boston won’t face either division rival until mid-August. Which team will be able to take advantage of this extended break?

 

Oakland Trade Bait

 

Typically, July is the time for wheeling and dealing — and while it might be a little too early for most teams to pull the trigger on a blockbuster, it’s never too early to speculate. And the White Sox have already made the first move, trading for San Diego’s James Shields in an effort to bolster their starting rotation.

 

Out in the AL West, Oakland is in last place, sitting at 25-32 and nine and a half games behind Texas. The A’s appear primed to sell and have several potential trade chips that should generate plenty of interest. With the New York Mets struggling offensively and without third baseman David Wright for the foreseeable future, a move for Danny Valencia could be a possibility. Valencia, 31, is playing under a one-year deal and is putting together his best numbers, hitting .343 with a .968 OPS.

 

The A’s top two pitchers also could be in the mix for a big trade. Rich Hill, 36, has made the most of his first season as a full-time starter since 2007. Hill, who will be a free agent after the season, will be a hot commodity come July as many early contending teams, including the aforementioned Red Sox, are in need of starting pitching help.

 

But perhaps the crown jewel of the July trade deadline will end up being A’s ace Sonny Gray. Gray has struggled to start the season, posting a 5.77 ERA, and went on the disabled list on May 22 with a strained trapezius muscle. But he returned to the mound on Sunday, giving up just one run over five innings in a no-decision against Houston. If Gray is able to rediscover his All- Star form, his trade value should go up. Only 26 years old, a healthy and effective Gray would command a massive return should Oakland decide to trade its young ace, who is under control until 2020. The Red Sox, Cubs, Tigers and Dodgers are just a few of the teams that could use Gray’s services and figure to at least place a call to the A’s at some point to find out the asking price.

 

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

Teaser:
MLB in June: What to Watch in the American League
Post date: Monday, June 6, 2016 - 11:30

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