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All taxonomy terms: College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/slive-reiterates-hopes-autonomy-sec-media-day
Body:

HOOVER, Ala. — Invoking quotes from Dwight D. Eisenhower, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela, SEC commissioner Mike Slive on Monday reiterated his goal to change the NCAA's legislative process granting more autonomy for the five power conferences.

Slive outlined the goals of the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 to have autonomy in decision-making within in the NCAA or establish a new division. Slive’s statements at SEC Media Day on Monday mirrored his statements earlier in the spring.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany have made similar such statements.

“We are not deaf to the din of discontent across collegiate athletics that has dominated the news,” Slive said.

“The educational and cultural significance of intercollegiate athletics is far too important for us not to seek positive solutions to existing challenges.  This is why we have been actively engaged in building a bridge to provide a needed avenue of change for the NCAA with the primary objective of enhancing the support enjoyed by Division I student‑athletes while maintaining and preserving the collegiate model.”




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Autonomy would allow the SEC and the other four power conferences more ability to offer full cost-of-attendance scholarships, expanded health care and scholarships beyond five years.

The NCAA board of directors is expected to vote on autonomy in August.

“As I have said before, if we do not achieve a positive outcome under the existing big tent of Division I, we will need to consider the establishment of a venue with similar conferences and institutions where we can enact the desired changes in the best interests of our student‑athletes” Slive said.

Teaser:
Slive Reiterates Hopes for Autonomy at SEC Media Day
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 13:19
All taxonomy terms: linebackers, player rankings, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2014-nfl-player-rankings-linebackers
Body:

In the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports’ Pro Football preview, we called on Ourlads Scouting Services to rank the NFL’s best at every position on the field. When it comes to determining who is the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback, etc., who better to make that determination than a company that’s been in the gridiron talent evaluation business for nearly three decades?

 

Carolina’s Luke Kuechly may be the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, but according to Ourlads, he’s not even the best at his position. The top two inside linebackers — NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis — play for the same team in the NFC West. In fact, when you pair Bowman and Willis with Aldon Smith, San Francisco boasts three of the top eight linebackers overall.

 

Unfortunately for the 49ers, the likelihood of this trio being intact at the start of the season doesn’t appear to be too high. Bowman sustained a serious knee injury in the NFC Championship Game loss to Seattle and is a fairly safe bet to start the season on the PUP list, while Smith is facing a possible suspension of some length from the league for his various off-the-field incidents. It may be more of a one-man show in the middle of the 49ers’ defense this fall.

 

Rankings courtesy of Ourlads Scouting Services

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Inside Linebackers

 

1. NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco

Joins teammate Patrick Willis as a Pro Bowl-caliber productive athlete. Instinctive with rare change of direction. Aggressive and competitive. Coming off a knee injury.

 

2. Patrick Willis, San Francisco

Had another Pro Bowl season with his excellent tackling ability versus the run and the speed to excel in coverage.

 

3. Luke Kuechly, Carolina

The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Tackling machine is the heart and soul of the Panthers’ defense. A sideline-to-sideline player who is only entering his third year.

 

4. Derrick Johnson, Kansas City

Was voted to the Pro Bowl for the third consecutive season. A downhill sideline-to-sideline player with speed and a closing burst.

 

5. Karlos Dansby, Cleveland

Signed with the Browns in the offseason. A productive and athletic run-and-hit linebacker with good speed and range. A good blitzer who makes plays.

 

6. Sean Lee, Dallas

Has been the leader of the Cowboys’ defense since stepping on the field in 2010. Injuries have set him back at times, but he’s productive when on the field. (Editor's note: Lee tore the ACL in his left knee during OTAs on May 27 and will miss the entire 2014 season.)

 

7. Stephen Tulloch, Detroit

An undersized but instinctive linebacker who makes plays all over the field. Elevated his game in 2013 after coming off a 2012 knee injury.

 

8. Kiko Alonso, Buffalo

Played beyond expectations as a rookie in the middle last fall and will be moved to the weak side in 2014. A focused and intense competitor versus the run and pass. (Editor's note: Alonso tore the ACL in his left knee while working out earlier this summer and will miss the entire 2014 season.)

 

9. Brian Cushing, Houston

Was lost for two years in a row with injury. When on the field, this big-time hitter is instinctive and active in defending the run and pass.

 

10. Bobby Wagner, Seattle

Battled an injury in 2013 after an outstanding rookie campaign. A quick and explosive reactor who attacks blockers. Has good range and takes good downfield angles in pursuit.

 

11. Daryl Smith, Baltimore

12. Daryl Washington, Arizona (Editor's note: Washington has been suspended for the entire 2014 season for another violation of the league's substance-abuse policy.)

13. Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh

14. James Laurinaitis, St. Louis

15. Brandon Spikes, Buffalo

16. Josh Bynes, Baltimore

17. Wesley Woodyard, Tennessee

18. Jerrell Freeman, Indianapolis

19. Akeem Jordan, Washington

20. David Harris, NY Jets

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Outside Linebackers

 

1. Von Miller, Denver

Became a more complete linebacker, excelling in coverage before an ACL injury late in the season. His impact is immense — pressuring and sacking the quarterback.

 

2. Lavonte David, Tampa Bay

Is one of the more unheralded and well-rounded linebackers in football. His skills are tailor-made for the new Tampa-2 scheme.

 

3. Robert Mathis, Indianapolis

Versatile enough over his career to play as a down end or a standup rusher for the Colts. Undersized athlete with rare initial quickness and speed. Can turn speed to power. Plays low to the ground with good knee and hip flexibility. (Editor's note: Mathis will miss the first four games of the season for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.)

 

4. Aldon Smith, San Francisco

Has been a productive player on the field, especially when Justin Smith helps clear a free running lane. Has outstanding athletic ability and long arms to rush the passer. Productive with 42 sacks in three years.

 

5. Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati

Led the Bengals in tackles his first two years in the league. Has come a long way from his undisciplined college career, where the talent was evident, but production was uneven.

 

6. Thomas Davis, Carolina

Came back from a third ACL tear to play at a high level in 2013. An aggressive and explosive hitter who is a consistent wrap-up tackler.

 

7. Akeem Ayers, Tennessee

Will be making a move from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme linebacker, which may get him to the quarterback more in 2014. Drives quickly on check-downs and ball-carriers in front of him.

 

8. Danny Trevathan, Denver

Had a breakout year in 2013 and racked up 129 tackles from the weak side. Physical and tough in his play. Quick to key and diagnose a play.

 

9. Dont’a Hightower, New England

Stepped into the starting lineup as a rookie and hasn’t looked back since. A physical run-stuffer who sheds quickly at the point of attack.

 

10. DeAndre Levy, Detroit

Elevated his playmaking ability in 2013. An athletic linebacker who can run and hit. Plays square with good hand and arm use to shed and tackle.

 

11. Malcolm Smith, Seattle

12. Sio Moore, Oakland

13. Jerod Mayo, New England

14. Bruce Irvin, Seattle

15. Alec Ogletree, St. Louis

16. Chad Greenway, Minnesota

17. James Anderson, Chicago

18. Philip Wheeler, Miami

19. Kevin Burnett, Oakland

20. K.J. Wright, Seattle

Teaser:
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Linebackers
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-football-playoff-championship-trophy-unveiled
Body:

There’s a new era upon college football in 2014. The BCS era ended with Florida State’s victory over Auburn in Pasadena, and the playoff era is set to begin at the end of this season.

There are plenty of changes for the new format, which features a four-team playoff, with a championship game that’s bid out to cities similar to the Super Bowl.

And of course, there’s the hardware.

The crystal ball trophy was an easily recognizable piece of hardware that was awarded to the champion in previous years. However, starting in 2014, the champion of college football’s playoff will get to hoist a new trophy.

Check out college football’s new trophy, which was unveiled on Monday in Dallas:

 

 

 

Teaser:
College Football Playoff Championship Trophy Unveiled
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 11:16
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-july-14-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 14:

Rihanna revealed her loyalties at the World Cup, then proceeded to party with the victorious Germans.

• To the victor goes the spoils: Germany's Mario Gotze celebrated with smokeshow WAG Ann Kathrin Vida Brommel.

LeBron captured footage of the idiot who invaded the pitch at the World Cup yesterday.

A clever Twitter user with lots of time on his hands gave the impression that the World Cup was fixed.

• It's time for SEC Media Days. Here's a fun sampling of quotes from past years, including the wisdom of one Lester Miles.

Interesting account of SI's LeBron exclusive. It was so exclusive, even the mag's ad sellers didn't know.

• Monday morning buzzkill: A long, sobering account of a sexual assault on a college campus involving an athlete.

• I'm not a Family Guy fan, but I gotta admit that this guy nails his Peter Griffin impersonation.

Matthew Stafford's significant other does a pretty amazing worm.

• Interesting detail from this Mickelson story: He drank a $40,000 bottle of wine out of the Claret Jug.

• This is strange: KISS is starring on MLB-themed t-shirts.

• One legend pays tribute to another, as Jordan honors Jeter with this star-studded commercial.

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 10:45
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Duke Blue Devils, News
Path: /college-football/duke-updates-uniforms-2014
Body:

The 2014 season represents the 25th anniversary of Duke’s ACC Championship team from 1989.

To honor the 1989 team, Duke is making a few alterations to its jersey for the 2014 season.

The Blue Devils recently unveiled three new (white, blue and black) jerseys for 2014, a new chrome decal on the black helmet, and stripes on the jersey sleeves.

Here are the new photos from Duke’s uniform release for 2014:

 

 

Teaser:
Duke Updates Uniforms for 2014
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 10:10
Path: /nfl/2014-nfl-training-camp-dates-and-locations
Body:

The Seattle Seahawks won't officially begin defense of their Super Bowl title until Sept. 4 when they host the Green Bay Packers in the opening game of the 2014 NFL regular season. However, the real work begins July 24 with the start of training camp in Renton, Wash.

 

The Buffalo Bills will be the first team to open training camp in Pittsford, N.Y., on July 18, while the Detroit Lions will be the last of the 32 teams to get things going in Allen Park, Mich., on July 27. Regardless of which team gets back to work first or last, they will all begin their quest towards the same goal - the opportunity to play for the Lombardi Trophy in Glendale, Ariz., on Feb. 1.

 

Below are the dates and locations for 2014 training camps for all 32 NFL teams:

TeamSiteLocationReport Date
ArizonaUniversity of Phoenix StadiumGlendale, AZ7/25
AtlantaAtlanta Falcons Training FacilityFlowery Branch, GA7/24
BaltimoreUnder Armour Performance CenterOwings Mills, MD7/23
BuffaloSt. John Fisher CollegePittsford, NY7/18
CarolinaWofford CollegeSpartanburg, SC7/24
ChicagoOlivet Nazarene UniversityBourbonnais, IL7/24
CincinnatiPaul Brown StadiumCincinnati, OH7/23
ClevelandCleveland Browns Training FacilityBerea, OH7/25
DallasRiver Ridge Playing FieldsOxnard, CA7/22
DenverPaul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos CentreDove Valley, CO7/23
DetroitDetroit Lions Training FacilityAllen Park, MI7/27
Green BaySt. Norbert CollegeGreen Bay, WI7/25
HoustonMethodist Training CenterHouston, TX7/25
IndianapolisAnderson UniversityAnderson, IN7/23
JacksonvilleFlorida Blue Health & Wellness Practice FieldsJacksonville, FL7/24
Kansas CityMissouri Western State UniversitySt. Joseph, MO7/23
MiamiMiami Dolphins Training FacilityDavie, FL7/20
MinnesotaMinnesota State University, MankatoMankato, MN7/24
New EnglandGillette StadiumFoxboro, MA7/23
New OrleansThe Greenbrier &White Sulphur Springs, WV &7/24
New Orleans Saints Training FacilityMetairie, LA8/17
New York GiantsTimex Performance CenterEast Rutherford, NJ7/21
New York JetsSUNY CortlandCortland, NY7/23
OaklandNapa Valley MarriottNapa, CA7/24
PhiladelphiaNovaCare ComplexPhiladelphia, PA7/25
PittsburghSaint Vincent CollegeLatrobe, PA7/25
St. LouisRussell Athletic Training CenterEarth City, MO7/24
San DiegoChargers ParkSan Diego, CA7/23
San FranciscoMarie P. DeBartolo Sports CenterSanta Clara, CA7/23
SeattleVirginia Mason Athletic CenterRenton, WA7/24
Tampa BayOne Buccaneer PlaceTampa Bay, FL7/25
TennesseeSaint Thomas Sports ParkNashville, TN7/25
WashingtonBon Secours Training CenterRichmond, VA7/23

Dates and locations subject to change. Information culled from several sources.

 

Click here to order your Athlon Sports Pro Football 2014 Preview magazine

 

(Top photo courtesy of Seattle Seahawks Web site, www.seahawks.com)

Teaser:
2014 NFL Training Camp Dates and Locations
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/secs-best-college-football-traditions
Body:

SEC Media Days kicks off today in Hoover, Alabama.

 

While it can be quite burdensome to cover and navigate for the novice journalist — and is probably too big for its own good — SEC Media Days has become a tradition in and of itself down South.

 

No real news happens in Hoover. Coaches aren’t ripping apart the Playoff Committee or honestly explaining why they are so vehemently opposed to the nine-game schedule. More than 1,300 credentialed media folks gather to listen to coaches and players say nothing of real importance.

 

But it signifies the start of the college football season. That camps are opening up across the nation. That football is back.

 

Part of what makes the SEC the best league in America is the passion of the fans and the interwoven nature of the community with their favorite team. It’s these traditions that make college football the best sport in the land and the SEC the best conference in the sport.

 

Here are our favorite SEC football traditions every fan needs to add to their bucket list of sports experiences:

 

The 12th Man

Born in January 1922, the phrase and tradition stemmed from one particular game with the nation’s top team at the time, Centre College. Because the team was so battered and injured, head coach Dana Bible had to call for E. King Gill, a basketball player at the time, from the stands to join the team. Texas A&M went on to win 22-14 and although Gill never made it into the game, he was the last and only man standing on the sideline. He answered the call to help his team and no one has ever forgotten about it.

 

The Grove

It just might be the best place on Earth. This beautiful collection of oak, elm and magnolia trees surrounds a 10-acre plot adjacent to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. The party in The Grove has been going on since football began at Ole Miss, but became the Holy Grail of Tailgating by the 1950s. The gorgeous, um, scenery is second to none and the setting is historic. Everyone is undefeated in The Grove.

 

Death Valley, La.

There is no singular way to describe a night home game in Tiger Stadium. The variety and flavor of an LSU tailgate is second to none with a wide-ranging menu from some of the best chefs in college football. And the stadium is arguably the loudest in the nation, especially when the Bayou Bengal fans have had all day to marinate.

 

Toomer’s Corner

May it rest in peace… for now. The Harvey Updyke saga is one of the most bizarre tales of fandom gone wrong in history. At the corner of Magnolia Avenue and College Street in front of 130-year-old Toomer’s Drug store, Auburn fans have rolled the two massive southern live oaks for roughly six decades. While those trees have been poisoned and subsequently cut down, there is hope that the new entryway to campus and new trees will continue one of the SEC’s greatest traditions.

 

Cockaboose Railroad

Since 1990, 22 immovable cabooses have sat dormant on an unused railroad track behind the south end of Williams-Brice Stadium. Each caboose is privately owned and features running water, restrooms, working television, air condition and heat. The set up offers a perfect way to tailgate in style before each Gamecocks home game and provides a cool resting spot afterwards while traffic clears out. Packaged with the "2001: A Space Odyssey" entrance, the pre-game rituals in Columbia are second to none.

 

The Vol Navy

It isn’t nearly as picturesque as Sailgating on Lake Washington, but Tennessee has its own fan flotilla every Saturday. The tradition of floating to the game instead of driving actually began when former broadcaster George Mooney didn’t want to sit in traffic and instead traveled by boat down the Tennessee River to Neyland Stadium.

 

The Cheers:

 

Midnight Yell

Originally an impromptu post-dinner get-together to “learn heartily the old time pep,” Midnight Yell Practice at Texas A&M didn’t officially start until 1931. Today, the tradition is held on Friday nights before home games at Kyle Field and Thursday before road games at The Arches. It is a fairly self-explanatory tradition as fans and cadets gather to practice cheering for the Aggies — and making out some too.

 

Rocky Top

It might be the most recognizable fight song in the nation. Yes, visiting teams and fans get tired of the jingle after the 30th or 40th rendition on any given Saturday but Big Orange Nation never tires of the Felice and Boudleaux Bryant song written back in 1967.

 

Woo Pig Sooie

There isn’t a clear story as to when or how this one came about, but since at least the 1920s, Arkansas fans have been Calling the Hogs. The high-pitched chant echoes throughout the hills of Arkansas over and over and over again every Saturday.

 

Hotty Toddy

Supposedly, the origin of Ole Miss’ famous chant remains unknown only adding to its mystique. Some claim it was taken from Virginia Tech’s “Highty Tighties,” which was an old World War II cheer about, appropriately, an alcoholic beverage.

 

Rammer Jammer

Combine The Rammer-Jammer, the University of Alabama's student newspaper and a Yellowhammer, the state bird, and you get this unique and signature cry, which dates back to the '20s. And generally speaking, it is at its best at the end of the game when Bama just “beat the hell out of you!”

 

Cowbells

Like many of the older SEC traditions, no one is quite sure when or why or how Mississippi State started bringing cowbells to football games. However they got there, the cowbells were so effective that the SEC had to ban artificial noisemakers in 1974 — before reversing course on the decision in 2010.

 

Gator Chomp

Stemming from Mississippi State’s band’s version of "Jaws" in 1981, some Florida band members modified the tune slightly and added the famous vertical chomping motion. It eventually spread across the stadium and is now synonymous with Gators football.

 

The Mascots:

 

War Eagle

Possibly the best pre-game, live mascot ritual in all of college football, Auburn’s Golden Eagle “Nova” performs the War Eagle Flight down through the rabid home crowd and onto its perch. Nova is officially the eighth such bird to grace Jordan-Hare Stadium as War Eagle I is said to have started the timeless tradition in 1892.

 

Smokey the Dog

Dating back to 1953, the Tennessee Vols have played with Smokey the Blue Tick Hound at their side. The Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity cares for him and currently Smokey X, who made his debut last fall, will be standing on the sidelines in Neyland Stadium each Saturday.

 

Mike the Tiger

In 1934 some LSU powers that be decided they wanted a live Bengal tiger on the field in Death Valley. Conveniently placed near the visitors’ entrance to the field, Mike the Tiger has been striking fear into opposing players and coaches for over nearly 80 years. Few mascots embody their school like Mike does.

 

Uga

Nine different English Bulldogs have stood on the Georgia sideline dating back to 1956 with Uga I. However, this pup gets the royal treatment between the hedges, residing in his own air-conditioned dog house. The marble mausoleum near the entrance of the Southwest corner of Sanford Stadium is the resting place for Ugas of yesteryear.

 

Reveille

The “First Lady of Aggieland” is the highest-ranking member of the Corps of Cadets, as she is technically a Five-Star General. She showed up at games in 1931 for the first time and the full-blooded Collie is cared for by Company E-2.

 

The Rivalries:

 

World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party

This rivalry is so great that these two SEC East powers won’t even agree on how many times they have played. Georgia claims 92 meetings while Florida claims 91 (1904 is in dispute) and all but two since 1933 — when the SEC was created — have come in Jacksonville, Fla. When thousands of fans from both teams pour onto St. Simon’s Island East Beach the Friday before the game, the term Outdoor Cocktail Party comes to life.

 

The Iron Bowl

The state of Alabama is the most territorial in the nation when it comes to college football. Just ask Paul Finebaum or Mr. Updyke or Chris Davis. And many times, the in-state season finale carries great importance in the SEC standings. The name stems from Birmingham’s historic role in the steel industry, as up until the mid-'90s the state's biggest game hosted the game.

 

The Egg Bowl

It may not carry the national importance of other famous rivalries but this Magnolia State showdown is as heated as any in the land. Mississippi State and Ole Miss have met 110 times dating back to 1901 and it's the longest continuous rivalry game in the nation.

 

The Third Saturday In October

Each year on the third weekend in October, Alabama and Tennessee get together one more time. These two have met 95 times and Alabama holds the edge 51-37-8.

 

Deep South's Oldest Rivalry

Georgia and Auburn began playing in 1892 and have met 117 times with the series standing nearly deadlocked at 55-54-8 (Auburn).

Teaser:
The SEC's Best College Football Traditions
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/10-must-see-quarterback-matchups-2014
Body:

Ali-Frazier. Manning-Brady. Magic-Bird. Mariota-Hundley?

 

Okay, maybe I’m over doing it a bit. But as far as college football fans are concerned, there will be no bigger quarterback matchup in 2014 than when UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota battle it out on the same field.

 

College football entered the “super quarterback” era when Michael Vick ran around on the Superdome floor in the 2000 Sugar Bowl nearly bringing Virginia Tech what would have been one of the most improbable national championships in college football history. And it’s never looked back since. Names like Hundley and Mariota now regularly wow fans with precision passing, electric athletic ability and spotlight showcases.

 

Since Vick took the football world by storm, names like Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel have stolen the college football headlines. There is no reason to think this season won’t be any different.

 

Here are the most anticipated quarterback battles of the 2014 college football season:

 

1. Marcus Mariota at Brett Hundley

Oregon at UCLA, Oct. 11

 

It would take UCLA or Oregon reaching the national title game against Florida State for there to be a better QB matchup than when Brett Hundley welcomes Marcus Mariota to town in mid-October. Division, conference and national championship implications are on the line for two players who could be top-10 draft picks next May. Each has unique dual-threat and leadership abilities for two top-10 teams. Every fan of every team should kick back and enjoy this one.

 

2. Bryce Petty at Trevor Knight

Baylor at Oklahoma, Nov. 8

 

The Big 12 title could very well hang in the balance when Baylor visits Oklahoma on Nov. 8. Petty, who accounted for 46 touchdowns and just three interceptions last year, put a 41-12 beatdown on the Sooners last year. Knight, fresh off an immaculate Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama, is looking for revenge in what should be a breakout season. Petty is more experienced, more of a passer, runs an offense as good as any in the land and is a defending Big 12 champ. Knight is a superstar in the making who can drop jaws and is leading the team picked to win the Big 12.

 

3. Braxton Miller at Christian Hackenberg

Ohio State at Penn State, Oct. 25

 

Penn State could have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft under center and Urban Meyer could have a Heisman Trophy candidate running his offense. The Buckeyes will face two difficult road tests en route to what many believe will be a playoff berth and visiting Happy Valley will be one of them.

 

4. Brett Hundley at Taylor Kelly

UCLA at Arizona State, Sept. 25

 

These two quarterbacks will square off for the third time in three years. Hundley and UCLA won 45-43 in Tempe in 2012 while Kelly and Arizona State knocked off the Bruins in the Rose Bowl 38-33 last fall. The fireworks should continue in what could be a de facto Pac-12 South Division championship game.

 

5. Braxton Miller at Connor Cook

Ohio State at Michigan State, Nov. 8

 

The first meeting between these two signal-callers was an epic battle in the Big Ten title game that won’t soon be forgotten by either. Miller rushed for 142 yards, threw for 101 and scored three times in the loss. Cook had his coming out party, throwing for a career-high 304 yards and made clutch plays down the stretch to lead the Spartans to their first Big Ten crown in nearly three decades. And a trip back to the Big Ten title game will likely be on the line in this contest.

 

6. Everett Golson at Jameis Winston

Notre Dame at Florida State, Oct. 18

 

Golson returns after sitting out last year with a nearly perfect record as a starter. The Irish could be the best team on the Seminoles' schedule and Golson makes them a playoff contender now that he is back in control. Winston’s resume speaks for itself and his best matchup under center comes against Notre Dame.

 

7. Connor Cook at Marcus Mariota

Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6

 

It’s the biggest marquee non-conference showdown in college football and it will feature two quarterbacks eyeing a trip to the college football playoff. Cook set career highs with 300 yards passing in both the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl. Mariota, now fully healthy, might be the nation’s best player. The X's and O's on both sides of the ball will be fascinating to watch, as both teams will likely be ranked in the Top 10 when they meet in Week 2.

 

8. Chuckie Keeton at Taysom Hill

Utah State at BYU, Oct. 3

 

When it comes to pure athletic ability, few players in the nation can match Hill’s speed and size. He is a must-watch player every time the ball is in his hands. Keeton, arguably Utah State’s greatest football player, returns to the team after missing the entire second half of last season because of injury. Add popcorn and beer, shake well and enjoy.

 

9. Nick Marshall at Bo Wallace

Auburn at Ole Miss, Nov. 1

 

Last year, Wallace threw for 336 yards as Ole Miss significantly out-gained Auburn (464 to 375) but lost at home to the Marshall-led Tigers. The Auburn quarterback threw for just 93 yards but ran for 140 on the ground and scored two touchdowns in the thrilling and critical SEC West win. Both teams have eyes on getting to Atlanta in 2014.

 

10. Connor Cook at Christian Hackenberg

Michigan State at Penn State, Nov. 29

 

There is a good chance Michigan State is still in playoff contention when the season finale in Happy Valley rolls around. Hackenberg will be finishing his second full season and will have a chance to make an early Heisman statement for 2016, especially if Penn State doesn’t have a bowl game to go to again. Just ask Wisconsin fans what it’s like to face Hackenberg in a season finale.

 

Best of the rest:

 

Texas Tech vs. Baylor: Davis Webb vs. Bryce Petty

Notre Dame at Arizona State: Everett Golson vs. Taylor Kelly

Oregon at Oregon State: Marcus Mariota vs. Sean Mannion

Oklahoma at Texas Tech: Trevor Knight vs. Davis Webb

Auburn at Mississippi State: Nick Marshall vs. Dak Prescott

Stanford at Oregon: Kevin Hogan vs. Marcus Mariota

Oregon at Washington State: Marcus Mariota vs. Connor Halliday

Stanford at UCLA: Kevin Hogan vs. Brett Hundley

Auburn at Kansas State: Nick Marshall vs. Jake Waters

Mississippi State at Ole Miss: Dak Prescott vs. Bo Wallace

 

Football Nerds Unite!

 

Keenan Reynolds vs. Braxton Miller

Navy vs. Ohio State, Aug. 30

This duo combined for 2,414 yards rushing and a staggering 43 scores on the ground last year.

 

Cody Fajardo at Taysom Hill

Nevada at BYU, Oct. 18

Two of the most explosive athletes in the nation go at it in mid-October.

 

Rakeem Cato at Taylor Heinicke

Marshall at Old Dominion, Oct. 4

The top two QBs in C-USA combined for 7,938 yards and 72 passing TDs last year.

 

Terrance Broadway at Fredi Knighten

UL Lafayette at Arkansas State, Oct. 21

The top two signal callers in the Sun Belt battle for a potential league title.

 

Nate Sudfeld at Matt Johnson
Indiana at Bowling Green, Sept. 13

This could be a shootout pitting two elite passing attacks early in the year.

Teaser:
10 Must-See Quarterback Matchups of 2014
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oklahoma Sooners, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/oklahomas-bob-stoops-regains-swagger-sooners-poised-playoff-run-2014
Body:

Bob Stoops fired surprising shots at the SEC last offseason, calling out the nation’s power conference and causing his sanity to be called into question in most corners of the country.

 

“They’ve had the best team in college football. They haven’t had the whole best conference,” the Oklahoma coach said in May 2013, just months after Alabama had won another national title, the SEC’s seventh straight national championship.

 

“You’re listening to a lot of propaganda that gets fed to you.”

 

So had Big Game Bob become Big Mouth Bob?

 

Little did we or Stoops know that he’d be staring down the mighty Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl in January. Suddenly, Stoops’ months-old words had become fighting words.

 

Yet the swaggering Stoops and his Sooners hardly backed down.

 

No, they backed it all up, pounding Bama and capping a late-season turnabout that altered everything in Norman, flipping feelings on the season and the program’s recent substandard perceptions, and of course, the future.

 

Big Game Bob was back. And taking a victory lap.

 

Oh, Stoops wasn’t boasting, not in a finger-wagging way. Still, he didn’t waste the opportunity to offer some semi-subtle reminders.

 

“I won’t have to dodge any punches, I guess you could say that,” he said in the aftermath of the Sooners’ 45–31 romp. “I have the utmost respect for Alabama. And I think this shows that obviously we can play with anybody.

 

“So enough of that. And I just watched them go through their entire conference and play pretty well. And, again, I admire the way they play, I really do, and Coach (Nick) Saban and the way they do things. I’m not pointing any fingers, but I think sometimes the comparisons aren’t necessarily very true.”

 

Neither, it seems, are perceptions of Stoops and his program.

 

Not of late, anyway.

 

Stoops reset the high bar at Oklahoma, winning a national championship in his second season and playing for three more in his first 10 years of restoring the Sooners as a college football powerhouse. Entering his 16th season, he’s the winningest coach in OU history, having passed Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer and Bennie Owen. His teams have captured eight Big 12 titles, with a 7–1 record in conference championship games, and gone to a program-record 15 consecutive bowl games.

 

Still, critics have picked at Stoops in recent years. They’ve pointed to his 0–3 record in national title games since the 2000 breakthrough. They’ve suggested that he’s beaten a retreat in the Big 12, where three other teams (Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor) have risen up to claim the past three league trophies.

 

Legitimate critiques, or nitpicking?

 

The Sooners, after all, have posted double-digit win totals each of the past four seasons and in seven of the last eight.

 

Have they reached that high bar Stoops has set? Not quite. So in truth, there are probably some valid arguments on both sides. And even Stoops signaled a need to alter course while acknowledging that things may have grown stagnant, firing a total of five assistants in the two years prior to the 2013 season after not sending a single coach packing his previous 12 years on the job.

 

As recently as last November, there was a degree of panic among the fan base, after the Sooners were thumped 41–12 at Baylor in what had been anticipated as a showdown. That, after they’d been gouged 36–20 by archrival Texas in the Red River Rivalry a month earlier.

 

The Sooners were shuffling quarterbacks, with Blake Bell, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson taking turns behind center, and none thriving.

 

Then, in the span of little more than four quarters, everything turned. For the Sooners. For program pride. For Stoops.

 

It started in Bedlam, with Oklahoma State poised to win for the second time in three years in the series, marching to a 24–20 lead with 1:46 remaining. But Bell, inserted for the injured Knight and an ineffective Thompson, guided the Sooners to their first offensive touchdown of the day, finishing the drive with a 7-yard scoring pass to Jalen Saunders with 19 seconds left to lift OU to the improbable win.

 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big 12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Then came the matchup with Bama in the Sugar Bowl, a game analysts and fans from across the country counted as a Tide throwdown before kickoff, before the 17-point underdog Sooners surged ahead early and kept pouring it on.

 

“I get annoyed when people ask me if I’m afraid,” OU defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue said at the time, reflecting his head coach’s brashness. “Just shut up.”

 

Said Stoops: “We weren’t coming in on a load of wood. We’ve won some games around here. That’s how we feel. Everyone else, we weren’t that concerned about.

 

“We played how we expected to play, to be quite honest. And, again … I’ve got the absolute utmost respect for Alabama. But we have a lot of confidence in what we do, too.”

 

Stoops, in good times and bad, is confident. So his remarks about the SEC ­shouldn’t have come as a shock. Asked a question, he simply answered, honestly and boldly. And that confidence flows through his coaching staff and players, who seem to operate with a permanent chip on their shoulder, despite their status among college football’s elite.

 

“What we were able to do against Alabama was no fluke,” says defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, Bob’s younger brother. “That was our team playing on all cylinders as a young team.

 

“That gave us a lot of momentum heading into the last month of recruiting. … We feel like we’re a championship-caliber team. That’s what the kids want to play for.”

 

Don’t expect that confidence to wane anytime soon.

 

The Sooners’ late-season surge fueled a recruiting rally, provided strong answers to critical personnel questions and thrust OU back into national title talk for 2014 as a heavy favorite in the Big 12.

 

Bob Stoops’ stock enjoyed a surge of sorts, too. Trusting his instincts, he again seems to be pulling all the right strings, whether making over his staff or overseeing tweaks to both sides of the ball or returning to the gambling in-game decision-making style that marked his earlier years at the helm.

 

Big Game Bob appears to be back and charging forward, thankful for the Sugar Bowl rush, yet ready to move on.

 

“They’re not sitting back thinking about that and not doing what they need to do moving forward,” Stoops says of his team. “I think, more than anything, it’s made them hungrier to build on it and to keep improving.”


Written by John Helsley (@jjhelsley) for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 Big 12 Football Preview Editions. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Teaser:
Oklahoma's Bob Stoops Regains Swagger; Sooners Poised to Push for Playoffs in 2014
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Boise State Broncos, College Football, News
Path: /college-football/bobby-petrino-ready-succeed-louisville-once-again
Body:

Social media crackled with disbelief on the day word leaked that former University of Louisville football coach Bobby Petrino was in line to become the replacement for Charlie Strong at U of L last January.

 

Talk-radio hyperventilated. Opinions flew from every direction. Louisville can’t be hiring that two-timer, can it? National columnists powered up their keyboards and took their most vicious shots.

 

Considering the way Petrino had walked out on Louisville for the Atlanta Falcons in 2007 and then driven his career (and motorcycle) off the road at Arkansas in 2012, outsiders howled that athletic director Tom Jurich had finally fumbled a big decision.

 

Actually, the decision to bring Petrino back from Western Kentucky was every bit a calculated Jurich move. People who know Jurich know that Petrino was the first option from the moment Strong’s name was linked to Texas.

 

The reaction in Louisville to Petrino’s return for a job that he didn’t want seven years earlier? That he was getting a deal worth $3.5 million per season with a $10 million buyout?

 

Primarily long and sustained applause.

 

“The offense isn’t going to be boring around here any more,” former Louisville running back Michael Bush said on a live microphone in front of 27,500 fans at the Cardinals’ spring game.

 

In the aftermath of Petrino’s arrival, the demand for U of L football season tickets increased. The waiting list grew. Any complaints within the ambitious fan base disappeared after a few days.

 

Why?

 

Because Petrino wins football games, and Louisville has become accustomed to winning after ringing up victories in the Sugar and Russell Athletic bowls the last two seasons.

 

“I don’t think anybody will quarrel with his knowledge,” Jurich says.

 

Louisville is making its move into the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, and the program needed a head coach who could scheme with Jimbo Fisher and the other big dogs in a more demanding league. “He’s as good as anybody I’ve seen or been around,” says Jurich.

 

What about it, coach?

 

Says Petrino, “It’s been great. Every day has been great, for me and my family. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be back.”

 

The Cardinal fan base adored Petrino when he was the head coach from 2003-06, when his teams would routinely score 40, 50, 60 points — and never trailed Kentucky for one second in four games.

 

Louisville started 2013 with a victory in the Sugar Bowl, won the men’s basketball NCAA title, finished second in the women’s basketball tournament and sent its baseball team to the College World Series. If any athletic director had the muscle to sell Petrino, it was Jurich.

 

But there was another reason insiders were not surprised: They knew that Jurich played a critical role in helping Petrino land his initial comeback job at Western Kentucky.

 

Without a strong endorsement from Jurich, WKU athletic director Todd Stewart would have never hired Petrino only eight months after Arkansas fired him for hiring his mistress on the Razorbacks’ staff and then lying about it.

 

Petrino was toxic then. Jurich did as much as anybody to help Petrino repair his reputation and career.

 

Stewart called Jurich to discuss Petrino before WKU hired him as Willie Taggart’s replacement in December 2012. Jurich had every reason to bury Petrino, and why not? Petrino had misled him several times while interviewing for other jobs early in his Louisville career. He flirted with jobs at LSU, Notre Dame, Florida and elsewhere, even though Jurich was the first guy to give Petrino a head coaching opportunity.

 

Then Petrino bolted for the Falcons less than a week after coaching the Cardinals to an Orange Bowl victory over Wake Forest.

 

Jurich is first-team all-loyalty. He’s been at Louisville since October 1997, even though several prime-time programs, including Texas, inquired about his interest. Not only was Petrino always in a hurry to get to the next job, but he’d also later walked out on the Falcons in the middle of his first season and then embarrassed Arkansas.

 

But Jurich did not encourage Stewart to scratch Petrino from his list of WKU coaching candidates. He told him that Petrino deserved a chance — and that he would do excellent work in Bowling Green.

 

Huh?

 

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Petrino and Jurich had repaired their relationship while the coach sat out the 2012 season. He apologized for things that happened at Louisville. He asked Jurich if he would help him mend his career. Jurich told him that the first thing he needed to do was mend his life with his family — his wife, Becky, and their four children.

 

They had several conversations. By the time WKU called to inquire about Petrino, Jurich was convinced that his former coach was ready for another chance. And he endorsed Petrino for that job.

 

The contract and the buyout were structured that if Petrino left during the first two seasons, WKU would make money. If it ­didn’t work out, WKU would only suffer a small PR hit. But it worked — for WKU, for Petrino and for Louisville.

 

How would the Cardinals benefit?

 

Because the stories about everything that Petrino did wrong were written during the buildup to his first season at Western Kentucky. He talked about the mistakes he had made and lessons that he had learned.

 

Becky Petrino came to Bowling Green with him. So did two of their children. Two other Petrino children were already in Louisville, attending U of L. If the family was going to make it again, they were going to make it in Kentucky.

 

Most of the negative stories would be aired out at Western Kentucky. By the end of his first season, there would be a fresh Petrino narrative. He was the coach who beat Kentucky in his season-opener as well as the guy who won eight games, more than WKU had ever won as an FBS program.

 

He was the guy grateful for a second chance, a coach who understood this was his last chance to make it right.

“I think the opportunity to get someone who is very seasoned as we head into the ACC (is critical),” Jurich says. “But somebody who is definitely a changed person.

 

“I think the opportunity to get Bobby Petrino is what sold me. Like I said, if it was the same Bobby Petrino as eight years ago, I wasn’t interested, and I had to be convinced of that.”

 

“The first mistake I made was leaving Louisville,” Petrino says, and he has said it multiple times. “But now I feel like my family and I have come back home.”

 

Written by Rick Bozich (@RickBozich) for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 ACC Football Preview Editions. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Teaser:
Bobby Petrino Ready to Succeed at Louisville Once Again
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, NFL
Path: /college-football/10-more-awkward-sports-reunions-wed-see
Body:

Jerseys can’t be unburned, but perhaps the love between a city and an athlete can be rekindled.

LeBron James will put that to the test with his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers and his home state of Ohio. His exit — ahem, taking his talents to South Beach — wounded an entire city in 2010. Four years and two NBA championships later and James will return to team that drafted him.

The move is somewhat unprecedented. Rarely has an athlete, never mind one of the greatest in the world, gone from hometown hero to archvillain and back to favorite son. All while he's still in his prime.

We asked ourselves, what would be some of the other returns in the sports world that could compare? Which would be the most awkward, and somewhat plausible, reunions in sports?

Here are our 10.

Steve Spurrier to Florida
Perhaps one of the closet parallels to LeBron and Cleveland. Spurrier won the Heisman at Florida and built the Gators into one of the premier programs in college football. After Ron Zook was fired, a segment of Florida fans wanted Spurrier to return when the Ol’ Ball Coach was looking for work after his short-lived tenure in the NFL. Florida hired Urban Meyer instead, and Spurrier went to South Carolina. The idea of a Spurrier return to Florida may warm the hearts of older Florida fans. Meyer on the other hand...

Rick Pitino back to Kentucky
Pitino brought back the Kentucky program back after NCAA sanctions. He led “The Unforgettables” to the Elite Eight and won Kentucky’s first national title in 18 years. When Pitino left for the Boston Celtics, he left enough for successor Tubby Smith to win a national title of his own, but what really burned Big Blue Nation was Pitino’s return to the college game at rival Louisville. Kentucky fans are thrilled with the coach they’ve got now, but they had to go through the Billy Gillispie dark ages to get there.

Peyton Manning back to the Indianapolis Colts
Yes, the Colts' offense is in perfectly good hands with Andrew Luck under center. However, the organization's, and, perhaps more important, the fan base's bond with Manning remains. Besides, Manning certainly isn't getting any younger, so perhaps playing time won't be an issue another year or two down the road? After all, the only Super Bowl Manning has won so far has come in a Colts uniform.

Michael Vick to the Atlanta Falcons
Believe it or not, but it's been 13 years since Vick was taken No. 1 overall by the Falcons in the 2001 NFL Draft. Obviously a lot has happened between now and then, but Vick's clearly not the same person (or football player for that matter) that he was when he first entered the league as a young, electric, dual-threat quarterback. They say time heals all wounds, so perhaps the timing is just right for a reunion. And the Falcons wouldn't have to worry about a potential quarterback controversy either, as Vick already seems to have embraced his backup role with the Jets.

Albert Pujols back to the St. Louis Cardinals
Pujols was starting to be mentioned with Stan Musial around St. Louis before bolting for the Angels. Cardinals fans were heartbroken, but they’re doing just fine without him with a trip to the World Series and the NLCS. The longer St. Louis goes without a championship and the more Pujols starts to look like his old self, the more the Cardinals may start to miss him.

Greg Schiano back to Rutgers
Rutgers had one bowl appearance in over 100 years of football before Schiano showed up in Piscataway. So after six bowl appearances and building a posh on-campus home, Schiano broke Scarlet hearts when he tried his hand at the NFL in 2012. His disciplinarian tactics didn't go over well in the pro ranks, and he was shown the door. He’s out of work now, but we're pretty sure the Knights would beg him to return to Jersey.

Texas A&M back to the Big 12
Awkward, yes. Realistic, no.

Bobby Petrino back to Arkansas
Petrino already returned to where he built his name with a return to Louisville. If not for a fateful motorcycle ride, Petrino may still be at Arkansas, where he had the Razorbacks just a step behind Alabama and LSU. Few things would be more Petrino than using Louisville (again) to take a better job.

Kurt Busch back to any former NASCAR team
Busch has burned so many bridges in NASCAR that a return to anywhere (Team Penske, Roush Fenway Racing) would be beyond awkward.

Brett Favre back to Green Bay
Where is Ed Werder when you need him? We set out to look at only active athletes, but retirement is all relative when it comes to Favre. After an ugly divorce in Green Bay, Packers fans weren't all that upset to watch their departed quarterback squirm during a Deadspin-fueled scandal with a Jets broadcaster or when he was on the wrong end of Bounty Gate while playing for the rival Vikings. Green Bay has a fine quarterback of their own now, but you never know when he might need a new backup.

David Fox, Braden Gall, Mark Ross and Matt Taliaferro contributed to this post.

Teaser:
10 More Awkward Sports Reunions We'd Like To See
Post date: Saturday, July 12, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /nfl/2014-nfl-player-rankings-defensive-linemen
Body:

In the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports’ Pro Football preview, we called on Ourlads Scouting Services to rank the NFL’s best at every position on the field. When it comes to determining who is the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback, etc., who better to make that determination than a company that’s been in the gridiron talent evaluation business for nearly three decades?

 

With the NFL evolving into a pass-happy league, a disruptive defensive line is becoming even more important. Look no further than this past Super Bowl when Seattle relied primarily on its defensive line, instead of blitzes, to put pressure on Denver’s Peyton Manning. Even though the Seahawks finished with just one sack, the pressure was effective. Michael Bennett and company held the record-setting MVP to 280 yards passing and one touchdown, while picking him off twice in their dominating 43-8 victory.

 

So whether it’s a 3-4 or a 4-3 scheme, one of the keys to success in today’s NFL is a strong first line of defense. Just ask the Seahawks.

 

Rankings courtesy of Ourlads Scouting Services

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: 3-4 Defensive Ends

 

1. J.J. Watt, Houston

A dominant defensive lineman who had another stellar year. Explodes off the snap and plays the game with great passion and emotion. A relentless competitor.

 

2. Calais Campbell, Arizona

Has become a welcomed star on the Cardinals’ defensive line and a disruptive high-effort player. Chases the ball down effectively from the backside.

 

3. Sheldon Richardson, NY Jets

Was voted the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. Instinctive with lightning-quick reactions and the ability to change direction. An explosive high-effort talent.

 

4. Kyle Williams, Buffalo

Is an explosive up-the-field penetrator who battles every down. Has inside pass-rush ability. Keeps his hands and feet moving with an upfield burst.

 

5. Cameron Jordan, New Orleans

Blossomed at the 5-technique position under Rob Ryan and turned in a big year that included 12.5 sacks.

 

6. Muhammad Wilkerson, NY Jets

Like his running mate Sheldon Richardson, he shuts down the run. He also added 10.5 sacks, showing his quickness, athletic ability and field awareness.

 

7. Justin Smith, San Francisco

Is shedding age and time like the blockers he regularly defeats. Still has an explosive first step and takes on blockers aggressively. Active hands and body control.

 

8. Arthur Jones, Indianapolis

Left the Ravens in free agency after a big year and landed in Indianapolis. A blue-collar worker who is an ascending player with the ability to stop and stack in the run game.

 

9. Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia

Played as a 5-technique in the Eagles’ 3-4 scheme and demonstrated strong pass-rush skills along with lateral quickness and run-stuffing ability.

 

10. Mike Daniels, Green Bay

Is a quick and resourceful defender who had his best year since the Packers drafted him in the fourth round in 2012.

 

11. Cedric Thornton, Philadelphia

12. Vinny Curry, Philadelphia

13. Antonio Smith, Oakland

14. Akiem Hicks, New Orleans

15. Allen Bailey, Kansas City

16. Mike DeVito, Kansas City

17. Cory Redding, Indianapolis

18. Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh

19. Alan Branch, Buffalo

20. Ray McDonald, San Francisco

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: 4-3 Defensive Ends

 

1. Robert Quinn, St. Louis

An explosive right end who recorded a team-record 19 sacks in 2013. Possesses natural hand, foot and lateral quickness. Tough to block, exhibiting outstanding flexibility.

 

2. Greg Hardy, Carolina

Was awarded the franchise tag tender after recording 15 sacks in 2013 and 11 in 2012. Explosive edge speed. Can bend the corner and turn speed to power.

 

3. Cameron Wake, Miami

A natural 4-3 end who draws protection and frees up guys like Olivier Vernon, who corralled 11.5 sacks in 2013. Has the strength, quickness and leverage to control the blocker and stack the run.

 

4. DeMarcus Ware, Denver

Signed with the Broncos after his Cowboy release and will team with productive Von Miller to form a formidable defensive duo.

 

5. Michael Bennett, Seattle

Led the Super Bowl champions with 8.5 sacks and was re-signed during the offseason. Versatile enough to play end and tackle. A good athlete who plays with strength and leverage.

 

6. Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati

Signed a contract extension last year and overcame chronic injuries to elevate his overall game and pass-rushing abilities.

 

7. Lamarr Houston, Chicago

A versatile inside or outside competitor whose motor is always running hot. Explosive first-step quickness to split blockers. A disruptive pass-rusher who bats balls down or pressures throws.

 

8. Michael Johnson, Tampa Bay

Was signed in the offseason to pressure the quarterback in Lovie Smith’s Tampa-2. Rare athletic ability with explosive initial quickness.

 

9. Derrick Morgan, Tennessee

Has developed into a solid pro. Demonstrates jolt and explosion to shock the blocker. Relentless player. Could struggle in move 3-4.

 

10. Chandler Jones, New England

Athletic pass-rusher with a long and rangy build. Has elusive first-step quickness and can close laterally on inside runs. Finishes long crossfield pursuit. Flies around the field looking to make plays.

 

11. Chris Long, St. Louis

12. Charles Johnson, Carolina

13. Willie Young, Chicago

14. Robert Ayers, NY Giants

15. Rob Ninkovich, New England

16. Justin Tuck, Oakland

17. Cliff Avril, Seattle

18. Brian Robison, Minnesota

19. Shaun Phillips, Tennessee

20. Everson Griffen, Minnesota

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Defensive Tackles

 

1. Ndamukong Suh, Detroit

Is the league’s most dominant interior lineman, with explosive strength and top-level athletic ability. A disruptive player who is generally double-teamed and makes big-time plays because of extra effort. Must eliminate untimely penalties.

 

2. Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay

Finally came into his own in 2013 after avoiding injury. He emerged as a one-gap disruptor and made his second Pro Bowl.

 

3. Geno Atkins, Cincinnati

Collected 20 sacks from the interior in 2011 and ’12, the most in the NFL. He was on his way to another banner season with six sacks when he suffered an ACL injury against Miami in early November.

 

4. Marcell Dareus, Buffalo

Provides quickness and strength to anchor the inside gaps. Long-armed power player becoming more consistent with his hands and technique.

 

5. Jurrell Casey, Tennessee

Led the Titans in sacks with 10.5 last season. He must now make a scheme change to a 3-4 defense from a 4-3. A high-effort competitor who is quick and explosive.

 

6. Randy Starks, Miami

Was re-signed and the big-framed tackle is a solid run-defender and explosive as a leverage player. A good effort competitor who finishes pursuit.

 

7. Jason Hatcher, Washington

Signed in the offseason and is expected to hold down one of the end spots for the Redskins. With the Cowboys, he moved inside to a 4-3 tackle.

 

8. Dontari Poe, Kansas City

Started his career slowly but went from lamb to lion in 2013. He proved that he is an immovable anchor against the run and gets explosive push in the pass game.

 

9. Jared Odrick, Miami

Is physical at defensive end on run downs and is versatile enough to move down inside on pass downs. A disruptive athlete who gets upfield pressure.

 

10. Haloti Ngata, Baltimore

He’s 30 now, but had another productive year at nose tackle. A dominant force when healthy.

 

11. Pat Sims, Oakland

12. Terrance Knighton, Denver

13. Brandon Mebane, Seattle

14. Damon Harrison, NY Jets

15. Star Lotulelei, Carolina

16. Malik Jackson, Denver

17. Kawann Short, Carolina

18. Linval Joseph, Minnesota

19. Paul Soliai, Atlanta

20. Glenn Dorsey, San Francisco

21. Barry Cofield, Washington

22. Kevin Williams, Free agent

23. Cullen Jenkins, NY Giants

24. Jonathan Babineaux, Atlanta

25. Phil Taylor, Cleveland

26. Tony McDaniel, Seattle

27. Karl Klug, Tennessee

28. Corey Peters, Atlanta

29. Nick Fairley, Detroit

30. Clinton McDonald, Tampa Bay

Teaser:
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Defensive Linemen
Post date: Friday, July 11, 2014 - 13:00
Path: /nascar/rta-takes-center-stage-nascar-hits-new-hampshire
Body:

Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, the newly-announced Race Team Alliance takes center stage, while testing issues, Brian Vickers’ race-win and the possibility of night racing in New Hampshire’s future highlight the storylines leading up to the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. 

 

 

Make no mistake: Race Team Alliance has ushered in new era of NASCAR  Mike Helton

NASCAR president Mike Helton gathered reporters at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Friday morning to deliver one specific message: Animosity between NASCAR and the newly-formed Race Team Alliance is non-existent and NASCAR will continue to operate as planned.

 

It was the most direct feedback yet from the sanctioning body after Monday’s surprising announcement of the new collective consisting of nine race teams operating 25 cars in the 2014 Sprint Cup field. Publicly, the RTA is maintaining the stance that the group is about reducing costs among its group and finding better ways to do business in their volatile market.

 

Privately, of course, the intentions may be much grander. The RTA now wields a significant amount of strength in the sport’s power balance. That doesn’t mean the group has a goal of supplanting the France family as NASCAR’s leaders, but it does open some avenues for change of the sport’s entire business structure – a shift well beyond the norm of operation for the powers that be in Daytona Beach. Such is life when the word “billions” becomes part of the sport’s vocabulary.

 

This is a scenario for both groups where treading lightly is the best course of action. Wrong moves could quickly become disastrous. But it’s also a curious one because intelligent, cohesive decision-making between the two could be a boon for the sport.

 

 

Chase testing may play role in Sunday’s race

With a race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and handling similarity to Phoenix International Raceway (another Chase track), NHMS can be an appealing place for Cup teams to use part of their testing allotment. That’s why Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Michael Waltrip Racing and Richard Childress Racing have all made mid-week trips to the northeast already this season.

 

Ganassi and Hendrick tested the one-mile track in early June, bringing all six combined cars and drivers to the two-day session. RCR and MWR were in Loudon just last week.

 

“We went to New Hampshire trying to find that little bit extra as a whole group,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. “You only get four tests from which to choose and the whole company has to agree on where we’re going. It’s a company-wide initiative to try and improve, so I think it says a lot that we chose New Hampshire as one of those tests.”

 

 

Morgan Shepherd continues oldest competitor streak

Hopefully this time won’t be a start-and-park. But don’t hold too much hope.

 

Morgan Shepherd, 72, will start the Sprint Cup race Sunday at New Hampshire to continue his own record of being the oldest driver in NASCAR’s top division. Only 43 cars are on-hand for this weekend’s race, meaning no teams will be packing up after qualifying.

 

Shepherd raced once earlier this season at Phoenix and made his first Cup start since 2006 one year ago at NHMS. In both races, Shepherd failed to even get to one-third distance when he start-and-parked. Last year, Shepherd stopped for a “vibration” and at Phoenix the given cause was brake issues.

 

The car he’s racing – Circle Sport’s No. 33 – attempted to race the full distance last week at Daytona with Bobby Labonte behind the wheel until it was caught in a crash on Lap 98.

 

 

Brian Vickers, one year later  Brian Vickers

The career arc of Brian Vickers completely changed a year ago at New Hampshire. Then a part-time driver for Michael Waltrip Racing, Vickers put the No. 55 in victory lane despite the best intentions of a late debris cautions to foil his drive.

 

Vickers would eventually sign a multi-year full-time deal with MWR and boost Aaron’s to return as the primary sponsor on his Toyota.

 

The moment was one of those unexpected moments of redemption in sports. Vickers, saddled with the baggage of underperformance in his time at Hendrick Motorsports, the closure of Red Bull Racing and blood clot issue that sidelined him from racing, was able to claw back up to the ranks of full-time.

 

Now 18 races into the 2014 season, Vickers is on pace for the best season of his career. He has three top-5 finishes and ranks 16th in the point standings.

 

 

Final daytime summer race at NHMS?

Last week at Daytona, NASCAR CEO Brian France hinted that some significant changes to the Sprint Cup schedule may be in the works for 2015. The moves – should they happen – are made possible by the new television rights deal in place effective next season and would reflect NASCAR’s desire to stymie drooping television ratings and at-track attendance.

 

NHMS may play a pivotal role in those shifts. The one-mile oval is the only track on the calendar with two races past the season’s halfway point (Sprint Cup returns on Sept. 21) and previous overtures by track general manager Jerry Gappens indicate night racing may be in the cards. Such a switch may require either a date change or another night race on the Sprint Cup calendar to become a daytime event based on the desires of Fox or NBC.

 

The Associated Press reported last fall that Gappens had asked NASCAR for a night race this year. That didn’t happen, obviously, but Gappens held out hope for 2015. NHMS, opened in 1990, does not currently have lights. It was purchased by Speedway Motorsports, Inc., in 2008 and remains the only operating oval in the SMI portfolio without lights.

 

 

Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

 

Teaser:
Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, the newly-announced Race Team Alliance takes center stage, while testing issues, Brian Vickers’ race-win and the possibility of night racing in New Hampshire’s future highlight the storylines leading up to the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Post date: Friday, July 11, 2014 - 12:49
All taxonomy terms: Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods, Golf
Path: /tiger-woods-vs-jack-nicklaus-tale-tape
Body:

Tiger Woods came out of the gate with Jack Nicklaus' major championship record as his ultimate target. That number — 18 career major championship wins — seemed utterly out of reach, until Tiger started winning majors with alarming regularity.

 

For a long time, Woods was well ahead of Nicklaus' career pace, but a drought that has now exceeded six years in duration has put a serious dent in Tiger's major aspirations. Of course, Nicklaus won his last major at age 46, giving Woods eight more years of viability on the major championship scene, a reasonable assumption considering the similarity of their career trajectories, although Woods' health issues are now bringing that into question.

 
Here are the final four majors of Nicklaus' career, all of which came at age 38 and beyond:

1978 British Open (age 38)
1980 U.S. Open (age 40)
1980 PGA Championship (age 40)
1986 Masters (age 46)

 

Woods turns 46 in December 2021. Between now and then, counting this week's British Open, there will be 30 major championships contested; Woods needs to win five of them to reach his career Holy Grail of 19 major championships.

 

Of course, Tiger has already moved well past Nicklaus into second on the Tour's all-time wins ledger. Tiger trails only Sam Snead, who won 82 times over a 30-year span; Woods has crammed his 79 wins into 17-plus stellar, occasionally storm-tossed seasons on Tour.

 

Jack still thinks he'll do it, and the Golden Bear even gives Tiger a shelf life that lasts until age 50. "If he's healthy, I think Tiger's got 10-plus years to play top-quality tournament golf," Nicklaus said. "I've said many times, he's got a little over 40 tournaments to play the major championships, he's only got to win five to pass my record. As good a player as he is, I don't think that should be a big deal."

 

No big deal for the guy who's already in the clubhouse with 18. A slightly bigger deal for a guy with a bad back who hasn't hoisted any major hardware in more than six years.

 

So let's compare the two legends through their age-38 seasons (although Tiger still has more golf to play in 2014).


Bottom line from the data presented here: Tiger's building the better overall career, but Jack remains the greatest performer in major championship history. That's the carrot that Tiger is still chasing, and he's running out of time to get there.

 

Tiger Woods-Jack Nicklaus Career Comparison (Through Age-38 Season)

 

 TIGER WOODSJACK NICKLAUS
Tournaments won    7968
Majors won         1415
Major winning % (as professional)      21.922
Major top 5s      3146
Major top 10s3855
Longest streak of top-5 in majors   67
Longest streak of top-10 in majors813
Lowest scoring avg.             9 times8 times
Money leader      10 times8 times
Teaser:
<p> A Comparison of Woods and Nicklaus at Age 38</p>
Post date: Friday, July 11, 2014 - 12:22
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-july-11-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 11:

This Belgian beauty was spotted in the crowd at the World Cup and earned a modeling gig. She then lost the gig because she's a hunter. It's a strange world.

The Jeter farewell tour marches on, with personalized guitars and Lego mosaics.

• Apparently LeBron is still ticked about Dan Gilbert's letter. So the Deadspin kids fixed it for him.

Today's get-off-my-lawn hot sports take on LeBron.

Derek Jeter is part-owner of a company that produces underwear that cools your junk? Is this real life?

It's a Yankees-Mets GIF-off.

• Warning: Once you read the headline at this link, it can't be un-read.

This Korean ballplayer's head-first slide is painful to watch.

Hilariously awkward left-hanging GIFs.

• Watch a planeload of Argentines go nuts when they find out their soccer team won.

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, July 11, 2014 - 10:48
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/college-fantasy-football-top-50-2014
Body:

Fall college fantasy football drafts are right around the corner and Athlon is here to help win your league in 2014. Athlon Sports has teamed with Joe DiSalvo of thecffsite.com to provide the latest rankings for the upcoming year.

 

Thecffsite.com is the No. 1 place for college fantasy news, rankings and weekly projections during the year.

Below is the projected top 50 overall performers for 2014. Want to go deeper? Check out thecffsite.com’s draft kit, which contains keeper league information, more rankings and analysis.

 

Scoring system rankings based upon:

 

All draft values are based on a 12-team, 20-round draft using the following scoring system:

 

Passing—25 pass yds = 1 point

Passing TD = 4 points

Rushing—10 rushing yards = 1 point

Rushing TDs = 6 points

Receiving—.5 points per reception, 10 receiving yards = 1 point, Receiving TDs = 6 points

 

Updated: July 4, 2014, by Joe DiSalvo (@theCFFsite)



Visit Fantrax.com to play college fantasy football in 2014.

 

Note: This is not a list of the best players in college football. This is a ranking of the best players in terms of fantasy value (players who will have the best numbers in college football for 2014).

Other Positional Rankings: Quarterbacks Running Backs | Wide Receivers


College Fantasy Football: Top 50 Overall for 2014

 

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

 

Check out theCFFsite.com's 2014 draft kit, which contains deeper rankings, keeper league information and other draft content to help you win your league this year.

2. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

 

3. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor

 

4. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

 

5. Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State

 

6. D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State

 

7. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

 

8. Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall

 

9. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska

 

10. Matt Johnson, QB, Bowling Green

 

11. Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech

 

12. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina

 

13. Antwan Goodley, WR, Baylor

 

14. Justin Hardy, WR, East Carolina

 

15. Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State

 

16. Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana

 

17. Deontay Greenberry, WR, Houston

 

18. Travis Greene, RB, Bowling Green

 

19. Taysom Hill, QB, BYU

 

20. Byron Marshall, RB, Oregon

 

21. Nelson Agholor, WR, USC

 

22. Jahwan Edwards, RB, Ball State

 

23. Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas Sate

 

24. Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh

 

25. Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke

 

26. Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy

 

27. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami

 

28. Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo

 

29. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

 

30. Josh Harper, WR, Fresno State

 

31. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State

 

32. Jamaal Williams, RB, BYU

 

33. Shane Carden, QB, East Carolina

 

34. DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville

 

35. Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor

 

36. Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Ohio State

 

37. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama

 

38. Javorius Allen, RB, USC

 

39. Desmond Roland, RB, Oklahoma State

 

40. Titus Davis, WR, Central Michigan

 

41. Tommy Shuler, WR, Marshall

 

42. Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State

 

43. Thomas Tyner, RB, Oregon

 

44. Jordan Williams, WR, Ball State

 

45. Marcus Cox, RB, Appalachian State

 

46. Devante Davis, WR, UNLV

 

47. Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State

 

48. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn

 

49. William Stanback, RB, Central Florida

 

50. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

 

 

To find additional college fantasy football material, visit The College Fantasy Football Site and check out their 2014 College Fantasy Football Preseason Draft Guide.

 

What's included:

 

• Over 500 player rankings (QB, RB, WR, TE, K, and D/ST).

 

• Bullet-point analysis for over 100 players (QB, RB, WR).

 

• 2014 Sleepers

 

• Draft Day Cheat Sheet

 

• Blank cheat sheet to customize rankings for your draft.

 

• Results of a 12-team, 10-round mock draft based on theCFFsite rankings, roster

 

requirements, and scoring system.

 

• Schedule Analysis

 

• 35-plus Freshmen to Watch

 

• 18-page printable PDF document

 

• Access to updates throughout the preseason.

 

Follow theCFFsite on twitter: @theCFFsite

Teaser:
College Fantasy Football: Top 50 for 2014
Post date: Friday, July 11, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/11-big-12-stats-you-need-know-2014
Body:

Here are Athlon Sports' favorite, most important and most interesting Big 12 statistics you need to know about in 2014:

 

3: Players who declared early for the NFL Draft

A record 98 underclassmen declared early for the 2014 NFL Draft — up from the previous high of 73 set in '13. The SEC had 28 early departures and the Pac-12 lost 25 underclassmen to the NFL. The Big 12, however, was last among all Big 5 conferences with just three early departures. The overall trend of diminishing elite talent in the Big 12 is a concern and the recruiting rankings don’t provide any comfort. The entire league signed seven Top 100 recruits in 2014 (247Sports). Alabama signed 13 and Texas A&M almost matched the entire Big 12 on its own with five. To top it all, the Texas Longhorns went without a player taken in the NFL Draft for the first time since 1937.

 

0: Times Baylor has won in Norman

Baylor and Oklahoma have played 24 times total in history and the Bears have only won twice. One of those was a 41-12 beatdown the Bears put on the Sooners last season in Waco. The other was a 48-38 win in Waco in 2011. But to defend their Big 12 championship in 2014, Baylor will have to beat Oklahoma (and Texas) on the road this season. Baylor is 0-11 in Norman all-time against the Sooners. So while the Bears have won two of the last three against Oklahoma (and three out of four against Texas), Baylor will most likely have to do something it has never done before in 2014 if it wants to have a chance of repeating as conference champs.

 

46 and 3: Bryce Petty total TDs and INTs

Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy. Nick Florence set multiple school records. But Bryce Petty took Art Briles' offense to a new level statistically. Petty accounted for 46 total touchdowns a year ago (32 pass, 14 rush) while throwing just three interceptions in 403 pass attempts. Baylor scored 70 points four times and scored at least 59 points seven different times en route to the team’s first-ever Big 12 title. Petty also helped Baylor set a single-game Big 12 record with 872 yards against West Virginia — which would be a record in every other conference in the nation except the Pac-12. Petty is back with a plethora of talented wide receivers and should find himself in New York as a Heisman finalist at season’s end.

 

5: Touchdowns thrown by Trevor Knight in the regular season

Most fans only remember the remarkable Sugar Bowl performance from Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight in which he completed 32-of-44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Alabama. No one really remembers the fact that he threw a grand total of five touchdowns during the entire regular season — three of which came against Louisiana-Monroe in Week 1. He missed five games due to injury and does a lot of damage with his legs, but he also was benched due to inconsistency at times. The Sooners' offense is now his alone in Norman and most believe he has the talent to develop into a superstar, but there could still be plenty of learning curves to navigate for the Oklahoma signal-caller.

 

11-4: Texas' record the last two years with David Ash starting at quarterback

Over the last two years, David Ash has been the starter in 15 games for the Longhorns. He missed 10 games a year ago and the Kansas State game in 2012. In those 15 games, the Longhorns went 11-4 and averaged 6.4 yards per play on offense. In the other 11 games, Texas went 6-5 and averaged just 4.9 yards per play. For perspective, 6.4 yards per play would have averaged 22nd in the nation last fall while 4.9 would have tied Akron for 108th nationally. Needless to say, Texas needs Ash to stay healthy for Charlie Strong to build a winner.

 

23-3: Charlie Strong’s record in 2012-13

Texas has been ranked in the final AP poll just once since 2009 (19th in 2012) and the fall off from the BCS national title game in ’09 led to the hiring of Charlie Strong. The no-nonsense defensive guru brings with him a sterling resume of success at Louisville. The Cardinals won 23 games over the last two years, including two top 15 finishes and a BCS bowl thumping of Florida two years ago. Strong won at least 11 games in each of the last two years, something Texas hasn’t done since 2009.

 

8.5: Average margin of defeat for TCU

The Horned Frogs suffered their first losing season since 2004 and lost as many games in Big 12 play last year (7) as it had during its entire seven-year tenure as a member of the Mountain West Conference. A big reason, however, why Athlon Sports likes TCU to bounce back in 2014 was how those losses took place. TCU lost eight games in 2014 by an average of just 8.5 points per game. Included in the Frogs' seven losses were just two by more than 10 points and four by a field goal or fewer points. With eight starters returning to a defense that ranked sixth in the nation in average yards allowed on first down (4.4), Gary Patterson should expect to be back in the postseason this fall.

 

32: Oklahoma State departing lettermen

Mike Gundy has his work cut out for him this fall and part of the reason the Pokes aren’t really considered in the mix for a Big 12 championship is roster turnover. Oklahoma State loses 32 of 70 players who earned a letter last year. That 54.3 percent rate of returning letterman is ranked dead last in the nation (128th), making the Cowboys the least experienced team in the entire country. Basically, it’s the worst possible time to face the defending national champions in the first week of the season.

 

48.6: Points allowed per game by Texas Tech in its last five games

Kliff Kingsbury began his career as the Red Raiders head coach with seven consecutive wins. But his team lost five straight games and allowed nearly 50 points per game along the way. Coach Skinny Jeans had a lot of work to do on his defense in his first full offseason in Lubbock after allowing 48.6 points per game over the final five games of regular season a year ago. The schedule isn’t that much different this time around either, as Tech will face the top three teams in the preseason rankings (Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas) in the final month of the season.

 

7.8: West Virginia's average yards to go on third down

Staying ahead of the chains is a big deal in football. In fact, there are entirely new statistical measures of offensive efficiency dedicated to defining a “successful offensive play.” Basically, gaining at least 50 percent of necessary yards on first down, 70 percent on second down and 100 percent on third or fourth down would be considered successful. West Virginia, a team that averaged nearly 40 points per game just two seasons ago, was behind the chains constantly a year ago. The Mountaineers ranked 115th nationally by averaging 7.8 yards to go on third down a year ago and it led to West Virginia scoring just 26.3 points per game (79th).

 

4.29: Kansas' yards per play

Kansas averaged just 4.29 yards per play last year on 825 offensive snaps. That number ranked 122nd nationally and dead last among all Big 5 teams — worse than Florida, UConn, Purdue, Virginia and Wake Forest. The Jayhawks were also one of just eight teams in the nation to average less than 300 yards of total offense per game (294.7 ypg) and finished last in the Big 12 and 119th in the nation at finishing drives. Kansas scored just 3.27 points per trip inside the opponent's 40-yard line. Basically, the KU offense was completely inept, something that should be totally unacceptable for a head coach who has made a serious living as an offensive guru.

Teaser:
11 Big 12 Stats You Need to Know for 2014
Post date: Friday, July 11, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/alabama-vs-auburn-iron-bowl-nations-most-important-rivalry
Body:

The scene played out in Jordan-Hare Stadium like an improbable dream or a horrific nightmare, depending on whether you say “War Eagle” or “Roll Tide.” Auburn’s Chris Davis fielded Alabama’s missed field goal opportunity with no time on the clock of a tie game and kept running and running and running.

 

When Davis finally stopped, it was Auburn — not two-time defending national champion Alabama — in position to reach the final BCS National Championship Game. Gus Malzahn had fired the opening shot at Nick Saban in their first meeting as head coaches. After that, Malzahn won — at least for now — the intense offseason debate over hurry-up offenses in college football that drew battle lines in Alabama as if the debate paired Democrats vs. Republicans.

 

Bubbling at the surface of Auburn’s surprising 2013 season and Malzahn’s unique offense is one very important question: Can Alabama and Auburn consistently be elite at the same time in a relatively small state with 4.8 million people?

 

History suggests no. Something usually happens to quickly swing the balance of one of the teams — coaching changes, NCAA violations, or lack of enough players in a state the size of Alabama.

 

But a funny thing happened as the Iron Bowl produced five straight BCS Championship Game participants, including four national champions. The majority of players on both Alabama and Auburn that make up this intensely local grudge match are no longer from Alabama. And the respective teams’ national recruiting efforts will only continue when the SEC Network debuts this season.

 

The 78th Iron Bowl last year produced arguably the highest-stakes game in series history. Not only did Alabama and Auburn meet in a winner-take-all game for the SEC West title for the first time, but both were also in the national championship race.

 

From 1975-2009, the two bitter rivals met as top-10 opponents only once. That’s now happened twice in the past four years, including last season’s first top-4 matchup ever in Iron Bowl history.

 

Did we just witness the reinvention of the Iron Bowl into a high-stakes national game on a consistent basis? Or was 2013 the culmination of the state of Alabama’s dominance on the national scene? Recruiting, as it usually does, plays a significant role in answering those questions.

 

Last season, 34 percent of Crimson Tide players came from the state of Alabama. That was down from 55 percent in 2008 and 66 percent in 2003. Saban, who has built a recruiting juggernaut, can pick and choose while competing for the best players in different states. Alabama had players from 19 different states last season, compared to 12 five years ago. Seventeen percent of Alabama’s 2013 roster grew up west of the Mississippi River.

 

Meanwhile, only 35 percent of Auburn’s 2013 roster hailed from Alabama, down from 45 percent in 2008. The Tigers came from 19 different states, up from 11 five years ago in Tommy Tuberville’s final season. Thirteen percent of last year’s Auburn players came from west of the Mississippi.

 

The trend continued for Alabama’s 2014 recruiting class in which only 30 percent of the signees were in-state recruits. Saban signed a five-star defensive back from Texas, a five-star defensive end from Virginia and a five-star offensive lineman from Louisiana, in addition to three five-star recruits from Alabama. Saban journeyed to faraway places such as Oklahoma, Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado and California in compiling the nation’s No. 1 class.

 

Auburn had only 35 percent of its 2014 class come from Alabama. The class was ranked ninth nationally by Rivals, yet only seventh in the SEC — a sign of how competitive recruiting is in the nation’s strongest football conference. Auburn signed more players from nearby Georgia than from Alabama.

 

There is only so much talent to go around in less-populated states, even a football-crazy state such as Alabama, which is fourth in the nation per capita in producing NFL players. Alabama ranked 11th last season in NFL players with 48, well behind states such as California (225), Florida (186), Texas (184) and Georgia (95).

 

Forty-five percent of Auburn’s roster last year came from California, Florida, Texas and Georgia, up from 42 percent in 2008. At Alabama, 37 percent of its players were from California, Florida, Texas and Georgia, compared to 26 percent five years ago.

 

As the SEC won seven straight national titles and negotiated more lucrative television deals, Alabama and Auburn took advantage. More money and exposure equals more opportunities to recruit nationally. Only three schools produced Rivals top-10 recruiting classes in each of the past five years: Florida State, Alabama and Auburn. Those were your national champions in the past five years.

 

Alabama and Auburn care so much about winning in football that it’s simply unacceptable whenever they drop off. Also, when one team does well or goes on NCAA probation, the other side attempts to bring them down.

 

Over the past 22 years, Alabama and Auburn have never gone more than five years without one of them getting hit with major violations in one sport or another. Some of college football’s great rivalries have never had that occur over any 20-year period: Florida-Florida State, Miami-Florida State, USC-Notre Dame, Texas-Texas A&M, Nebraska-Oklahoma and Oklahoma-Texas.

 

But what happens when both Alabama and Auburn are on top? How long can it last in the ultra-competitive SEC?

 

Gene Chizik won a national title with Cam Newton in 2010. Two years later, amid a program with major discipline issues, Chizik was fired after going winless in the SEC. A year after being fired, Chizik told USA Today that the coach of Auburn must “get up every day trying to figure out how to beat Alabama in everything, and if you don’t get up every day and strategize on how you’re going to beat them on the field and in recruiting, it’s going to be hard to do it.”

 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 SEC Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

In Malzahn, does Auburn have the coach who can both recruit and coach up players to consistently compete with Saban? That question loomed over a proposed rule by the NCAA Football Rules Committee that would have prevented offenses from snapping the ball until 10 seconds had passed on the play clock.

 

The proposal was justified for safety reasons, but up-tempo coaches such as Malzahn doubted that was the reason. Up-tempo offenses, if they don’t substitute, pin defenses at the line of scrimmage and prevent them from making substitutions based on down and distance.

 

Situational subbing has been a major part of Saban’s defenses at Alabama. Saban has publicly questioned whether football should be a “continuous game,” and along with another traditional-offense proponent, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, met with the rules committee prior to the proposal being passed.

 

After the outcry, the rules committee tabled the idea. But the debate isn’t going away. And although it impacts the entire sport, the argument is squarely centered in Alabama between Malzahn and Saban.

 

The questions are fast and furious within Alabama, where football is debated 365 days a year.

 

Auburn fan: Does Saban need a rule change to compete with Malzahn?

 

Alabama fan: Does Malzahn need a gimmick offense to beat Saban?

 

Auburn fans will forever have the 2013 Iron Bowl memory. What remains to be seen is if that was a seminal moment that changed the rivalry moving forward.

Written by Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 SEC Football Preview Editions. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Teaser:
Alabama vs. Auburn: Is the Iron Bowl the Nation's Most Important Rivalry?
Post date: Friday, July 11, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-footballs-biggest-injury-concerns-2014
Body:

As impactful as injuries can be to an NFL team, the damage done to a fantasy football roster when one of your top players go down can be even worse. Just ask those unfortunate owners who were looking to Julio Jones, Arian Foster, Doug Martin or Rob Gronkowski to help lead them to a championship last season.

 

So what does the 2014 season hold for these and other key players who missed significant time last season? Here’s a breakdown of the 2013 fantasy infirmary (In alphabetical order):

 

Dwayne Allen, TE, Indianapolis

Andrew Luck lost one of his favorite targets for all but one game last year when Allen suffered a hip injury in Week 1. His reckless playing style adds long-term concern, but Allen should be healthy for the start of the season.

 

Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis

In four professional seasons, Bradford has played 16 games twice and missed at least six games twice. Last fall, he was off to his best start before a torn ACL in Week 7 cost him the final nine games of the season.

 

Arian Foster, RB, Houston

After three straight seasons with more than 330 touches, Foster missed the final eight games a year ago with a back injury that required surgery in November. He’s made 16 starts only once in his career.

 

Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England

A beast when he’s on the field, Gronkowski underwent back surgery last June. He finally made his 2013 season debut in Week 7, only to tear the ACL and MCL in his right knee in Week 14. Coming back from yet another significant injury, Gronk’s timeline for this season is uncertain at best right now. He could be ready to go by Week 1 or he could start the season on the PUP list and miss the first six games at minimum.

 

Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle

The smallish pass-catcher is perennially an injury concern. Harvin missed seven games in 2012 with an ankle injury and all but one game a year ago due to a hip injury and subsequent surgery in August. He missed the NFC title game with a concussion but played a prominent role in the Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory.

 

Chris Johnson, RB, New York Jets

Johnson missed one start in the last five seasons with the Titans but claimed to have played all of 2013 with a nagging knee injury. He underwent surgery in late January to repair a torn meniscus and will begin his career with the Jets this fall.

 

Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta

Jones was on pace to torch all of his personal bests last year before a fractured foot forced him to miss the last 11 games. He’s a big, physical target who takes a lot of hits but should be healthy to start his fourth season.

 

Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee

Oft-injured in college at Washington, Locker has continued his brittle ways in the NFL. He missed five games in 2012 with a shoulder injury and was headed toward his best season a year ago before a severe foot injury (Lisfranc) ended his season after nine weeks.

 

Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia

Maclin always has been a bit brittle, but he suffered the worst injury of his career last July during preseason camp, as a torn ACL cost him the entire 2013 campaign. Maclin also missed a combined four games in 2011-12. 

 

Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay

Martin missed the final 10 games of the 2013 season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He was cleared medically in late March, and new Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith says that Martin remains the team’s feature back.

 

Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota

He’s the best in the game today, but his physical running style has caused him a variety of problems. He’s missed six games in the last three seasons and had groin surgery in January.

 

Jordan Reed, TE, Washington

The tight end went through major highs and lows in his rookie season. He was a bona fide fantasy starter before missing the final seven games with a concussion.

 

Tony Romo, QB, Dallas

The Cowboys signal-caller has missed only one game over the last three years, but a herniated disk in his back required surgery late in the season and cost him the season finale. Reports indicate he will be 100 percent for the 2014 season, but a bad back for a 34-year-old quarterback is cause for concern.

 

Matt Schaub, QB, Oakland

Schaub started 16 games in 2009, ’10 and ’12. He also missed at least five games in 2007, ’08, ’11 and ’13. Last season, he made his fewest starts (eight) since becoming a starter, thanks to an injured ankle (and poor play), and he will be 33 this season.

 

Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis

He played in every game from 2002-12 but missed nine games last year due to the first major injury of his career. Now, Wayne must come back from a torn ACL at age 35.

 

Athlon Sports' 2014 Fantasy Football magazine is now available for purchase at newsstands everyone or online. The ultimate draft-day resource, this year's edition features 419 in-depth player reports, informative features, a 20-round mock draft, team-by-team analysis from NFL beat writers and much more. Whether your fantasy league is head-to-head, roto, PPR or IDP, this magazine has all the stats and insight you need to help you get ready for the upcoming season. Click here to purchase you copy today!
Teaser:
Fantasy Football’s Biggest Injury Concerns for 2014
Post date: Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-july-10-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 10:

• Rory McIlroy seems to have rebounded nicely from his breakup with Caroline Wozniacki. He's reportedly dating model Nadia Forde.

• LeBron tracker: He's heading to Brazil to watch the World Cup final while Cleveland stews.

A Rangers fan took a screamer off the gut and had a bruise to show for it.

Like Rory, Johnny Manziel seems to have a new lady friend.

Maybe we should stop worrying and learn to love the flop.

Vince Young thinks his 2010 blow-up with Jeff Fisher effectively ended his career. I happen to agree.

• This is interesting: Tracking the Alabama plane during recruiting season. It pays off with players like this: Watch future Bama wideout Calvin Ridley make an insane one-handed catch at The Opening.

USA Today chose a restaurant as a top-10 place for Southern biscuits a year and a half after it closed. I imagine the biscuits are a little stale by now.

Steelers linebacker Vince Williams seemed to be taken by surprise by his headshot.

David Price wore a Batman helmet to the ballpark.

• Everything's coming up Rory: New girlfriend, shot 64 today, hit a 436-yard drive.

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 11:04
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Brady Hoke is entering a critical fourth season in Ann Arbor.

 

His offense, particularly on the ground, has taken progressive steps backwards in all three seasons and it led to the firing of longtime Hoke assistant Al Borges. Michigan didn’t waste any time hiring former Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier in the same afternoon.

 

The hope is that the changes will reinvigorate the running game and stabilize inconsistent passer Devin Gardner.

 

With tricky non-conference games and a move into a much tougher division, the Wolverines' schedule in 2014 is anything but easy. That doesn’t mean, however, that the Maize and Blue can’t make a run at a division crown should things break their way this fall.

 

2014 Michigan Schedule Analysis

 
2014 Michigan Schedule
DateOpp.
Aug. 30Appalachian St
Sept. 6at 
Sept. 13
Sept. 20
Sept. 27
Oct. 4at 
Oct. 11
Oct. 18Bye
Oct. 25at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 8at 
Nov. 15Bye
Nov. 22
Nov. 29at 
Archrival no more

Although there will be some serious revenge on the minds of Michigan faithful when Utah and Appalachian State come to town in September (SEE: 2007-08), the biggest non-conference game of the year is by far the trip to South Bend. The Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry is ending after this meeting for the foreseeable future and both coaches have taken to the court of public opinion to make their sentiments heard. There will be no love lost between these two and a Michigan win over a ranked Irish team on the road could jumpstart a big year. Conversely, an ugly defeat gives Notre Dame bragging rights and creates concern about the trajectory of the season in just the second weekend of action.

 

Late October

Minnesota at home to open Big Ten play isn’t all that scary, while a road trip to Rutgers for the first-ever meeting between the Knights and Wolverines should be a cinch. But a late-October, two-game home-and-home with Penn State and Michigan State will be enormous. Michigan lost both last year by allowing an embarrassing 72 total points to the Nittany Lions and Spartans. Michigan will either be leading the Big Ten East Division or will be completely out of the race by the end of October. The good news is Hoke and company will get two weeks to prepare for the road trip to East Lansing.

 

Don’t look ahead

The final stretch of play in November isn’t all that scary for Michigan. Home games with Indiana and Maryland are games the Wolverines need to win and a road trip to Northwestern, while very tricky, should also be a winnable game. The key for Hoke and his staff is to keep his team focused on the game at hand during November and make sure his squad doesn’t look ahead to the Ohio State battle. The loss at home on a failed two-point conversion was one of the great moments of a crazy ’13 season but another loss to “Ohio” this fall would make 10 defeats in 11 tries. And that simply isn’t going to cut it for Michigan fans.
 

Related: 2014 Michigan Wolverines Team Preview

 

Final Verdict

Hoke has a lot of quality pieces to work with this fall and has a new name leading his offense. The schedule isn’t easy — either within the league or out — but is broken up into manageable segments. Notre Dame early, a two-game stretch late in October and a road trip to Ohio State are the four games fans are likely circling. Pull an upset in that group and take care of business against teams like Minnesota, Indiana and Northwestern and Michigan could find itself right in the thick of the Big Ten title race at season’s end. 

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Michigan Football 2014 Schedule Analysis
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Nick Saban and Alabama are once again picked to win the SEC. They have the best coach, the best roster and, among most contenders, the best schedule.

 

Every SEC schedule is perilous and extremely difficult relative to the rest of the nation. But Alabama’s schedule — as one of the weaker slates in the conference — isn’t that much more difficult than those of other leagues. Like the Pac-12, for example.

 

Alabama’s 2014 run for a national title is fraught with intrigue, upset alerts and four preseason Top 25 teams. But it is very manageable for a team of this caliber.
 

2014 Alabama Schedule Analysis

 

2014 Bama Schedule

WkDateOpp.
1.Aug. 30 (Atlanta)
2.Sept. 6
3.Sept. 13at 
4.Sept. 20
5.Sept. 27Bye
6.Oct. 4at 
7.Oct. 11at 
8.Oct. 18
9.Oct. 25at 
10.Nov. 1Bye
11.Nov. 8at 
12.Nov. 15
13.Nov. 22W. Carolina
14.Nov. 29
Roll Tide, Roll

The trio of West Virginia, FAU and Southern Miss is as easy a three-game start to the season Nick Saban has had since arriving in Tuscaloosa. The Mountaineers were supposed to be better when the game was scheduled and that could eventually hurt Alabama when it comes to the playoff committee. Either way, Bama should crush its way to a 3-0 start when Florida comes to town in Week 4.

 

Crossover breaks again

Alabama beat Tennessee and Kentucky in crossover play last year. Those two teams combined for 17 losses in 2013 and this year’s tandem for Tennessee and Florida didn't fare much better with 15 combined defeats last season. Florida comes to Tuscaloosa in Week 4 fresh off the worst campaign in school history, but still features plenty of talent. In late October, Bama and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will return to Knoxville. So while both Tennessee and Florida figure to be improved from last year and both games are loaded with storylines, it’s hard to see anything but two big wins for the Tide in SEC crossover play.

 

On the road in October

Critical games with Ole Miss and LSU will happen over a month-long span from Oct. 4 to Nov. 8. Mixed in are two more road trips to Arkansas and the aforementioned Tennessee, as well as a home game with Texas A&M. The bookends are the games to focus on here, as both Ole Miss and LSU are ranked in the preseason Top 20 and both are eyeing SEC West contention. Bama hasn’t lost to Ole Miss since 2003 and has an impressive record against LSU in the state of Louisiana. Alabama has won three out of four against LSU in games played in the state and is 10-4 in its last 14 games versus LSU in The Pelican State.

 

The Final Stretch

The final stretch includes two extremely winnable home games with Western Carolina and Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have only won once in Tuscaloosa since 1997 and that win resulted in a coach getting fired and the arrival of Saban. These two games set up what could be a rematch of epic proportions. Before last year never had the Iron Bowl meant as much as it did, but the SEC West could again be hanging in the balance should things go as planned for both Yellowhammer schools. There won’t be another atmosphere in the country like the afternoon a potential top-five Tigers team rolls into town in the season finale with another SEC title on the line.

 

Related: 2014 Alabama Crimson Tide Team Preview

 

Final Verdict

In all, Alabama is scheduled to play four preseason Top 25 teams and is a heavy favorite in all but one game (the Iron Bowl). The non-conference schedule is as weak as Saban has had at Bama and while crossover play is more intriguing with Florida involved, the Crimson Tide are still significant steps ahead of both the Gators and Vols. Handling their business on the road with four games in five away from Tuscaloosa in October will be critical but none of the bouts appear to be overly taxing. No, it is likely that Bama again will face Auburn with a perfect record and a berth in the SEC title game at stake at the end of the year.

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Alabama Football 2014 Schedule Analysis
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Fall college fantasy football drafts are right around the corner and Athlon is here to help win your league in 2014. Athlon Sports has teamed with Joe DiSalvo of thecffsite.com to provide the latest rankings for the upcoming year.

 

Thecffsite.com is the No. 1 place for college fantasy news, rankings and weekly projections during the year.

Below is the projected top 20 fantasy wide receivers for 2014. Want to go deeper? Check out thecffsite.com’s draft kit, which contains keeper league information, more rankings and analysis.

 

Scoring system rankings based upon:

 

All draft values are based on a 12-team, 20-round draft using the following scoring system:

 

Passing—25 pass yds = 1 point

Passing TD = 4 points

Rushing—10 rushing yards = 1 point

Rushing TDs = 6 points

Receiving—.5 points per reception, 10 receiving yards = 1 point, Receiving TDs = 6 points

 

Updated: July 4, 2014, by Joe DiSalvo (@theCFFsite)

 

Note: This is not a list of the best players in college football. This is a ranking of the best players in terms of fantasy value (players who will have the best numbers in college football for 2014).


College Fantasy Football: Top 20 Wide Receivers for 2014
 

1. Antwan Goodley, Baylor

 

Check out theCFFsite.com's 2014 draft kit, which contains deeper rankings, keeper league information and other draft content to help you win your league this year.

2. Justin Hardy, East Carolina

 

3. Deontay Greenberry, Houston

 

4. Nelson Agholor, USC

 

5. Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

 

6. Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh

 

7. Jamison Crowder, Duke

 

8. Josh Harper, Fresno State

 

9. DeVante Parker, Louisville

 

10. Titus Davis, Central Michigan

 

11. Jaelen Strong, Arizona State

 

12. Tommy Shuler, Marshall

 

13. Jordan Williams, Ball State

 

14. Devante Davis, UNLV

 

15. Dres Anderson, Utah

 

16. Rashad Greene, Florida State

 

17. Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State

 

18. Shane Wynn, Indiana

 

19. Ronnie Moore, Bowling Green

 

20. Corey Davis, Western Michigan

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College Fantasy Football: 2014 Wide Receiver Rankings
Post date: Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 10:00
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In the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports’ Pro Football preview, we called on Ourlads Scouting Services to rank the NFL’s best at every position on the field. When it comes to determining who is the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback, etc., who better to make that determination than a company that’s been in the gridiron talent evaluation business for nearly three decades?

 

They may be the least recognized, but there’s no questioning the value of a solid offensive line. Not only is it the primary line of defense in keeping the quarterback upright and on the field, but the success, or lack thereof, in the running game often comes down to how well this quintet functions as a unit.

 

Take the Philadelphia Eagles for example. In tackle Jason Peters, guard Evan Mathis and center Jason Kelce the defending NFC East champions have the top or second-ranked player at their respective position, according to Ourlads. Which makes sense considering the Eagles led the NFL with 160.4 yards rushing per game, finished second in total offense (417.3 ypg) and fourth in scoring (27.6 ppg). Obviously, Chip Kelly’s offensive system and coaching had a lot to do with the Eagles’ production last season, but don’t overlook the contributions of the five men up front.

 

Rankings courtesy of Ourlads Scouting Services

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Tackles

 

1. Trent Williams, Washington

Has matured, and he stayed healthy in 2013, which resulted in a Pro Bowl invitation. He is now a team captain and has become the dominant player he was drafted to be.

 

2. Jason Peters, Philadelphia

Is the most athletic and productive left tackle in the league when healthy. Missed 2012 with a ruptured Achilles.

 

3. Joe Thomas, Cleveland

The road-grading left tackle annually spends a week in Hawaii at the Pro Bowl. Solid, athletic and consistent with a nasty style.

 

4. Tyron Smith, Dallas

The Cowboys’ best offensive lineman is heading into his fourth season after a Pro Bowl year in 2013. The long-armed and big-handed tackle is a zone-blocker supreme.

 

5. Joe Staley, San Francisco

Tremendous downfield blocker with unmatched mobility. Pairs with Anthony Davis as one of the best tackle duos in the league.

 

6. Ryan Clady, Denver

Missed most of 2013 with a Lisfranc injury to his left foot. When healthy, he is one of the top 50 players in the league and one of the best blindside pass-protectors.

 

7. Zach Strief, New Orleans

Has developed as a leader. A mauler in the run game and a consistent mirror-and-slide tackle with a solid punch.

 

8. Jared Veldheer, Arizona

The athletic competitor has made a habit of walling off some of the best NFL pass-rushers.

 

9. Nate Solder, New England

The athletic tackle weekly demonstrates his functional strength and quickness. A patient pass-protector who plays in balance.

 

10. Jake Long, St. Louis

Nicked up in recent years, but when on the field he is a physical player who shows quickness, power and a mauler mentality.

 

11. Eugene Monroe, Baltimore

12. Cordy Glenn, Buffalo

13. Michael Roos, Tennessee

14. Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati

15. Orlando Franklin, Denver

16. Russell Okung, Seattle

17. Phil Loadholt, Minnesota

18. Demar Dotson, Tampa Bay

19. Doug Free, Dallas

20. Andre Smith, Cincinnati

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Guards

 

1. Evan Mathis, Philadelphia

Has put together back-to-back Pro Bowl-caliber years and is one of the league’s top interior linemen.

 

2. Josh Sitton, Green Bay

A four-year starter who elevated his play in 2013 among the top guards in the NFL. Versatile, tough and physical.

 

3. Louis Vasquez, Denver

Proved his worth as a pass-protector and a consistent run-blocker who makes few mental errors. Earned a Pro Bowl berth.

 

4. Larry Warford, Detroit

Played exceptionally well and was in consideration for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. The burly guard has sudden first-step quickness and an explosive punch.

 

5. Marshal Yanda, Baltimore

A relentless blood-and-guts competitor who is a violent finisher. Had another Pro Bowl year.

 

6. Matt Slauson, Chicago

Was an offseason acquisition after starting for the Jets for three years. He paid dividends his first year with a physical and explosive approach and consistent play.

 

7. Travelle Wharton, Free agent

Is an unrestricted free agent who refuses to retire. A smooth athlete who has quick feet and is effective in space.

 

8. Ben Grubbs, New Orleans

Struggled at left guard in 2012 but had a solid year last season, boosting him into the Pro Bowl in 2013. An athletic competitor who is aggressive in-line or in space.

 

9. Brandon Fusco, Minnesota

Heading into his fourth season with confidence and strength to handle the inside power players. Explosive, with a good pad level and flexibility.

 

10. Geoff Schwartz, NY Giants

Signed with the Giants in the offseason after a strong year in Kansas City, where he beat out incumbent Jon Asamoah. Controls defensive tackles with his huge hands and technique.

 

11. Brandon Brooks, Houston

12. Andy Levitre, Tennessee

13. David DeCastro, Pittsburgh

14. Ramon Foster, Pittsburgh

15. T.J. Lang, Green Bay

16. Jahri Evans, New Orleans

17. Rodger Saffold, St. Louis

18. Logan Mankins, New England

19. Jon Asamoah, Atlanta

20. Mackenzy Bernadeau, Dallas

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Centers

 

1. Alex Mack, Cleveland

Is a happy camper, signing a five-year deal worth $42 million. The Pro Bowl pivot is a tenacious run-blocker and a consistent pass-protector.

 

2. Jason Kelce, Philadelphia

Has overcome his lack of ideal size at center with his athletic ability, intelligence and quick-twitch reactions.

 

3. John Sullivan, Minnesota

Is underrated by the casual fan, but is one of the top centers in the league. Had a strong season after recovering from microfracture knee surgery.

 

4. Dominic Raiola, Detroit

The grizzled 13-year veteran keeps holding off the younger talent to help maintain stability in the middle of the offensive line.

 

5. Manny Ramirez, Denver

Stepped in at center when J.D. Walton was unable to play and responded with technique, savvy, instincts and a good use of hands.

 

6. Evan Dietrich-Smith, Tampa Bay

Was signed away from the Packers in free agency after a year in which he demonstrated his ability to play with a good base, knee bend and hand control.

 

7. Chris Myers, Houston

Has been a consistent and solid Pro Bowl-caliber performer who, like fine wine, is getting better with age.

 

8. Travis Frederick, Dallas

Took the heat off Jerry Jones for drafting him in the first round by responding as the anchor of an offensive line that had been substandard in recent years.

 

9. Ryan Kalil, Carolina

Is a rock in the middle for the Panthers and returned to Pro Bowl form in 2013 after missing all but five games in 2012.

 

10. Stefen Wisniewski, Oakland

Moved from guard to center and proved to be  a solid and consistent mainstay for the Raiders to build around.

 

11. Mike Pouncey, Miami

12. Roberto Garza, Chicago

13. Nick Hardwick, San Diego

14. Nick Mangold, NY Jets

15. Jonathan Goodwin, New Orleans

16. Will Montgomery, Denver

17. Brian de la Puente, Chicago

18. Rodney Hudson, Kansas City

19. Max Unger, Seattle

20. Jeremy Zuttah, Baltimore

Teaser:
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Offensive Linemen
Post date: Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 10:00
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Hot seat talk among any college football fanbase never seems to end. Of course, it’s the offseason, so everyone is discussing preseason expectations and predictions. And with expectations of records and bowl games comes the pressure on head coaches.

Every head coach is faced with a different set of obstacles and expectations. For example, Alabama’s Nick Saban is held to a higher standard than Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason.

Keeping realistic program expectations in mind is something that factors into the hot seat talk every year.

 

As the 2014 season approaches, it’s clear the No. 1 coach on the hot seat is Florida’s Will Muschamp. The Gators went 4-8 last season, which included a surprising defeat to FCS (now FBS) opponent Georgia Southern. Despite all of Florida's injuries, going 4-8 with one of the nation's top rosters (in terms of recruiting rankings), didn't sit well in Gainesville. Muschamp needs to show the program is headed in the right direction in order to return in 2015.

After Muschamp, Virginia’s Mike London, Kansas' Charlie Weis, Illinois’ Tim Beckman, Rutgers’ Kyle Flood and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen are just a few names to remember for the hot seat watch in 2014.

Which coaches have the hottest seats in the nation? Athlon Sports has ranked the top 10 coaches on the hot seat for 2014, along with a few names that are starting to feel a little pressure. 

 

College Football’s Coach on the Hot Seat Rankings for 2014

 

1. Will Muschamp, Florida (22-16, 3 years)

Even though Florida was hit hard by injuries last season, it’s still difficult to comprehend how this team went 4-8. Yes, the offense struggled, and the injuries took a toll, but the Gators recruit as well as any team in the nation. With the talent in place at Florida, losing records in SEC play should be rare. However, in three years, Muschamp is only 22-16 and has two 3-5 records in SEC play. Fixing the offense has to be Muschamp’s top priority in order to return to Gainesville in 2015. Kurt Roper (hired from Duke as the new play-caller) has to provide a quick repair on an offense that has finished eighth or worse in the SEC in scoring four consecutive years. Considering four of the Gators’ eight losses came by a touchdown or less, any improvement on offense should result in a bowl. Another losing season or 6-6 record would likely spell the end of Muschamp’s tenure in Gainesville. With crossover games against Alabama and LSU, Florida won’t have much margin for error if it hopes to double its win total from 2013.


2. Mike London, Virginia (18-31, 4 years)

London appeared to have Virginia’s program moving in the right direction after winning 12 games in his first two years. The Cavaliers won four games in London’s debut (2010) and finished 8-5 with an appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in 2011. Virginia’s 5-3 record in ACC play in 2011 was only its second winning record in conference games since '05. Since 2011 however, this program has been trending the wrong way. The Cavaliers are 6-18 in the last two years and went winless in ACC play in 2013. But despite the on-field struggles, Virginia’s recruiting hasn’t suffered. London has signed four consecutive top-35 classes, and the Cavaliers’ roster ranks No. 6 in the ACC. Tough non-conference scheduling, inconsistency at quarterback and staff turnover have all contributed to London’s struggles at Virginia. Without a winning record, it’s tough to see London back in Charlottesville in 2015.


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3. Tim Beckman, Illinois (6-18, 2 years)

There have been small signs of progress through Beckman’s first two years in Champaign. The Fighting Illini went 2-10 in a disastrous debut for Beckman in 2012, with only one of the eight Big Ten losses coming by 13 points or less. Illinois was more competitive in 2013, largely thanks to the hire of Bill Cubit as the team’s offensive coordinator. The Fighting Illini ranked second in the Big Ten in passing offense and averaged 29.7 points per game. But the defense continues to be problematic for Beckman, as Illinois has allowed at least 30 points per game in back-to-back seasons. A similar theme could play out in 2014, as Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt should thrive at quarterback in Cubit’s offense, while the defense has question marks at each level. Although a winning record would serve Beckman well, getting to 5-7 and being more competitive against the top teams in the Big Ten might be enough to save his job.


4. Charlie Weis, Kansas (4-20, 2 years)

Much like Tim Beckman at Illinois, Weis has made small bits of progress over the last two years. But small progress has resulted in just one Big 12 win for the Jayhawks and an overall 4-20 mark. Weis didn’t inherit a wealth of talent, but the program has yet to take a big step forward. Kansas lost nine games in 2013 and only two – Rice and TCU – came by 10 points or less. Weis is handing over play-calling duties to new coordinator John Reagan, which should allow the third-year coach to be more of a program CEO. Considering Weis went 35-27 in five years at Notre Dame, doubts exist about his ability to turn Kansas into a consistent winner. With 14 starters back, the Jayhawks should have enough returning talent to be more competitive in conference play. But if this team goes winless in the Big 12, Weis may not see a fourth season in Lawrence.


5. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia (21-17, 3 years)

With the program shifting from the Big East to the Big 12, it’s tough to evaluate Holgorsen as a head coach after just three seasons. West Virginia went from being the No. 1 program in the Big East to the No. 5 program in the Big 12. And it’s not easy being at a geographic disadvantage in a tougher conference. Holgorsen’s tenure started with a promising 10-3 record and a Big East championship, along with a huge Orange Bowl win over Clemson in 2011. The Mountaineers carried that momentum from the bowl win in 2012 by starting 5-0, but West Virginia finished the season 2-6 and was dominated in the Pinstripe Bowl against Syracuse. In 2013, the Mountaineers slipped to 4-8 and won just two conference games. In an odd storyline, West Virginia has struggled to find a quarterback since Geno Smith expired his eligibility. Considering Holgorsen’s background, it’s a surprise quarterback play is a concern heading into 2014. There is hope for West Virginia to get back to the postseason this year, especially if Clint Trickett can stay healthy at quarterback, and the defense takes a step forward under new coordinator Tony Gibson. Interestingly enough, athletic director Oliver Luck is trying to downplay expectations for 2014. The Mountaineers need some time to get acclimated to their new conference, as well as improve their recruiting to push for a Big 12 championship. If Holgorsen can show on-field progress – which figures to be difficult with a challenging schedule – in 2014, he should move safely away from the hot seat for 2015.


6. Kyle Flood, Rutgers (15-11, 2 years)

The Scarlet Knights were one of the biggest winners of the latest round of realignment, landing in the Big Ten’s new 14-team setup. But moving from the Big East/American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten means the stakes and competition are higher. Flood was appointed to the top spot after Greg Schiano left for the NFL in late January (2012) and managed to sign the No. 24 recruiting class. The Scarlet Knights tied for the Big East title in Flood’s first season (2012) and finished 9-4 overall. Rutgers slid to 6-7 in Flood’s second year and its recruiting class dipped to No. 60 nationally in 2014. Both sides of the ball will have new coordinators this season, including former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen as the offensive play-caller. Friedgen should help bolster an offense that managed only 26.5 points per game in 2013, but the defense – especially the secondary – will be a work in progress. Flood has a tough assignment ahead, as he guides the program through a difficult conference transition. With Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State on the schedule every year, Rutgers is facing an uphill battle just to get to a bowl game on a consistent basis.


7. Norm Chow, Hawaii (4-20, 2 years)

Chow’s hire was greeted with much fanfare in Honolulu. As a native of Hawaii, this was viewed as a good fit for a program looking to rebound after Greg McMackin posted three seasons of at least seven losses from 2008-11. However, two years into his tenure with the Rainbow Warriors, Chow has struggled to get the program on track. Hawaii went 3-9 in Chow’s debut and won just one game in 2013. The Rainbow Warriors were more competitive on the scoreboard last year, losing five games by a touchdown or less. For Hawaii to increase its win total in 2014, Chow needs to find a quarterback and hope new defensive coordinator Kevin Clune can solidify a unit that gave up 38.8 points per game in 2013. With three Pac-12 non-conference games, along with a road trip to Rice in early October, Hawaii could be 1-4 before opening Mountain West play against an improving Wyoming team. Chow likely has a longer leash than some coaches on this list, but he needs to show the Rainbow Warriors are moving closer to the top teams in the Mountain West this year.


8. Bill Blankenship, Tulsa (22-17, 3 years)

Blankenship inherited plenty of talent from former coach Todd Graham and went 19-8 in his first two seasons at Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane went 14-2 in conference play during that span and won the Liberty Bowl in 2012. However, Tulsa struggled mightily last year. The Golden Hurricane had a significant amount of roster turnover and slumped to 3-9 (2-6 in C-USA play). Blankenship isn’t to blame for all of the struggles last year, but with Tulsa moving to the American Athletic Conference, he needs to show marked improvement in 2014. Of course, that’s easier said than done with a non-conference schedule that includes Oklahoma and a tough road date at Colorado State, while road trips to UCF and Houston await in American Athletic play.


9. Ron Turner, FIU (1-11, 1 year)

Turner was an odd hire after the surprising dismissal of Mario Cristobal. Prior to the 2013 season, Turner had stops as a head coach at San Jose State and Illinois, recording a 42-61 mark in nine seasons. Turner was hired at FIU after one season as an assistant at Tampa Bay, and the Panthers finished 1-11 in his debut. FIU’s only win was a one-point victory over Southern Miss (1-11 in 2013), and the Panthers lost to FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman 34-13. FIU also ranked near the bottom nationally in scoring offense (9.8 points a game) and scoring defense (37 points allowed per game). The Panthers still have talent in the program and 15 starters return for 2014. If Turner can win a couple games and show the team is headed in the right direction, he should be safe in the 2014 offseason. However, another one- or two-win season would likely end his tenure at FIU.


10. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech (47-32, 6 years)

Considering Johnson has never finished below .500 in ACC play at Georgia Tech, it seems odd to place the seventh-year coach on the hot seat. But the Yellow Jackets failed to build off a strong start to Johnson’s tenure, which included a 19-7 mark and an ACC title (2009) through the first two years. Only once over the last four seasons has Georgia Tech finished with more than seven wins, while the program has just one bowl victory under Johnson’s watch. Recruiting has slipped over the last two years for Johnson, as he inked two top-50 classes from 2010-11, but the Yellow Jackets have signed the Nos. 52, 76 and 54 recruiting hauls over the last three seasons. Although the option offense is often criticized, Georgia Tech has ranked among the top five in the ACC in yards per play (conference-only games) in six out of the last seven years. 


Getting Warm?

 

Dan Enos, Central Michigan (19-30, 4 years)

After starting his tenure 6-18, Enos has made slight improvement in the win column over the last two years. The Chippewas have gone 13-12 the past two seasons and won the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2012. However, a deeper look at Enos’ results shows Central Michigan has defeated only two teams with winning records over the last two years. With 16 starters returning, along with Northern Illinois and Ball State losing some key personnel, the Chippewas have the potential to climb in the MAC West standings this year. Central Michigan went 32-7 in MAC games from 2005-09 but is only 13-19 under Enos in conference play over the last four years.

 

Brady Hoke, Michigan (26-13, 3 years)

Hoke’s tenure at Michigan started on a high note, as the Wolverines finished 11-2 and won the Sugar Bowl in 2011. But that’s been the peak of Hoke’s three-year run in Ann Arbor so far. Michigan is just 15-11 over the last two seasons and finished 3-5 in Big Ten play in 2013. Recruiting certainly hasn’t been an issue for Hoke, as the Wolverines have inked two top-10 classes over the last three years. Despite the edge in talent, Michigan’s win total has declined since the 2011 season, and the offense ranked No. 10 in the Big Ten in total yards per game last year. The talent is there for the Wolverines to make a jump in wins. But can Hoke find answers on the offensive line and help the defense reach its potential in 2014?

 

Bo Pelini, Nebraska (58-24, 6 years)

Pelini might be the toughest coach in the nation to judge for either of these sections. He’s 58-24 in six seasons with the Cornhuskers and has won at least nine games every year. Nebraska has also finished in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll for five consecutive years. Despite all of Pelini’s highlights, there are lofty expectations in Lincoln. Is nine wins the best-case scenario for this program in the current climate of college football? Or is Nebraska still capable of being a top 10-15 team on a consistent basis? If you believe the recruiting rankings, the Cornhuskers are winning at an appropriate level relative to their talent (No. 26 nationally over the last five seasons).

 

Kyle Whittingham, Utah (76-39, 9 years)

It’s hard to place Whittingham anywhere near the hot seat given his track record at Utah prior to the move to the Pac-12. But since joining the Pac-12, the Utes are 18-19 and the win total has declined in conference play for two consecutive years. Moving from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 wasn’t an easy task for Utah, so it will take some time to recruit and develop depth to compete with the top teams in the Pac-12 South. However, in a slight surprise, the Utes have not improved their national recruiting since joining the Pac-12. Utah inked the No. 42 class in 2010 and slipped to No. 47 in '13 and No. 63 in '14. Whittingham shouldn’t be in any danger, but he could move to the hot seat section if the Utes miss out on a bowl for the third consecutive year.

 

Kevin Wilson, Indiana (10-26, 3 years)

Indiana has made noticeable improvement in Wilson’s three years. The Hoosiers went 1-11 in 2001 but improved to 4-8 in '12 and 5-7 last year. Indiana was just a few plays away from making the postseason, losing to Navy by six and to Minnesota by three points. Make no mistake: This is not an easy job. Wilson has transformed Indiana into one of the Big Ten’s best offenses (38.4 points per game in 2013), but the defense continues to struggle. Although there has been progress, the Big Ten’s new divisional alignment will present a challenge for Wilson. Playing Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State every year won’t leave much room for error in terms of wins and losses for Indiana. Wilson shouldn’t be on the hot seat, but with a tough division, the Hoosiers can’t afford to slip too far behind in 2015.

Teaser:
College Football's Coach on the Hot Seat Rankings for 2014
Post date: Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 07:15

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