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It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year.

 

In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2015, Athlon asked coaches in the Big Ten to talk anonymously about their opponents.
 

Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.

 

Big Ten Coaches Anonymously Scout Conference Foes

 

East Division

 

Indiana

 

“Losing the quarterback, Nate Sudfeld, just killed them. It was huge.”

 

“We broke down games with Sudfeld and without him, and they looked like two different teams. Teams just loaded the box and made it tough for (Tevin) Coleman to run the ball.”

 

“They also lost Tre Roberson before the season, who went on to take Illinois State to the (FCS) championship game.”

 

“The true freshman (Zander Diamont) has some ability, I guess, but they didn’t trust him to do much. Became very one-dimensional. They wanted to redshirt him.”

 

“I think their offensive scheme is really good. I think Kevin Wilson is a very good coach.”

 

“Their offensive line was one of the better lines we played against last year.”

 

“Coleman was a legit back. I was nervous every time he touched the ball. You were just thrilled every time you held him under 10 yards. He had so many big plays.”

 

“Defensively, they still have issues. They just haven’t been able to get the type of players on defense that they have had on offense. Maybe that’s because Kevin Wilson is an offensive guy, but they just don’t have the talent on that side of the ball.”

 

Related: College Football's Top Transfers for 2015

 

Maryland

 

“They got blown out by Ohio State and Michigan State, but most of their other games were about the same. They are like so many teams in our league: They won close games and lost close games.”

 

“They are just okay. They aren’t bad.”

 

“They had a sixth-year quarterback. You would like to think they could have done better with so much experience at that position.”

 

“They weren’t very good up front on offense, and they weren’t very good defensively. They just changed coordinators, so we will see how that plays out.”

 

“Offensively, they were a week-to-week operation. They were very opponent-specific in their game plan. One week you might see a lot of one thing and not see it much the next week. You weren’t 100 percent sure what they were going to do, so they were hard to prepare for.”

 

“I thought (wide receiver) Stefon Diggs was pretty good. Maybe a little overrated. He will be a loss. We didn’t have a specific gameplan for him, though. He struggled to stay healthy. I think their other wide receivers were pretty good.”

 

“Their skill guys were pretty good. Strongest part of that program.”

 

Related: College Football's All-Freshman Team for 2015

 

Michigan

 

“I think it’s pretty cool that Jim Harbaugh is in the league. I think it’s good for the league, and it’s obviously good for Michigan. He’s helped the perception of our league.”

 

“Their talent level was down a bit, but they still had some good players.”

 

“Their offensive line was a big problem. They kind of had the same problems that Penn State had.”

 

“I think Devin Gardner was better than people gave him credit for. He is a unique athlete who was capable of throwing the ball. He could have been a great college football player in the right system.”

 

“They had one of the most dangerous receivers in the league in Devin Funchess. They had two or three five-star running backs. They had a slot receiver (Dennis Norfleet) who could make some plays. So I don’t think it was a lack of skill.”

 

“They lacked confidence. That was a big problem.”

 

“They lost some tough games. They lost to Minnesota and looked bad, and then they changed quarterbacks because everybody was busting their chops.”

 

“It’s not like they were horrible. By no means did I think they lacked talent.”

 

Related: College Football Bowl Projections for 2015

 

Michigan State

 

“Connor Cook is really good. He and (Penn State’s) Christian Hackenberg are the two drop-back quarterbacks in our league. All the other guys who scare you are dual-threat guys.”

 

“(Cook) is very clutch. Just knows how to make the big plays. He was huge in the bowl game.”

 

“Everybody talked about Pat Narduzzi and the Michigan State defense, but they averaged over 500 yards of offense last year. That was the story with that team.”

 

“The offensive line is a machine. They have a good stable of receivers. Losing Jeremy Langford will hurt. He was a really good running back.”

 

“They have a lot of talent. It’s better than they make it out to be. Their schtick is that they don’t have as much talent as other teams, but they have a bunch of really good players.”

 

“They have a great quarterback and a ton of great skill players. But Mark (Dantonio) is a great coach. I have a ton of respect for him and his staff. They do a great job.”

 

“Losing Narduzzi will be interesting. He was there for so long and did such a good job. Will be interesting to see how big of a loss he turns out to be.”

 

Related: College Football's Top 50 Players for 2015

 

Ohio State

 

“I thought the best player I saw in the Big Ten two years ago was Braxton Miller.”

 

“I didn’t think J.T. Barrett was that great until we played him. He was very impressive in person.”

 

“We saw Cardale Jones on film in some mop-up duty on film, but he never threw any passes. And I’m embarrassed to tell you that I didn’t think he was very good. But we hadn’t seen him do much. Then you watch him in a game, and he was great. He has a big arm, and he’s big and strong.”

 

“Urban Meyer does a great job tailoring his offense to what the quarterback can do.”

 

“Ezekiel Elliott was fantastic down the stretch. Hottest running back in the country. He will be on a lot of Heisman lists heading into next year.”

 

“I wasn’t surprised they won (the national title). I thought they would win it. I told everybody who would listen that I thought they would beat Alabama and Oregon. They were one of the best looking teams I have ever seen in person. And they are well coached.”

 

“That offense was so good late in the year. A lot of it was confidence.”

 

Related: Big Ten Predictions for 2015

 

Penn State

 

“I’m not big on how you play in a bowl game carrying over into the next season, but they may be the exception because it showed their guys they can figure some things out until they get on the other side of the sanctions. I think it was a big buy-in win for their staff that will pay dividends down the road.”

 

“They were a trainwreck on offense. I know the quarterback (Christian Hackenberg) is a good player, but my gosh, he got hit more times than I can count.”

 

“They’re still a year away from solidifying that offensive line, but it’s going to be better. With the group they bring back and a couple guys coming off redshirts, they’ll have a little bit of depth. They’re still not out of the woods.”

 

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Hackenberg because he wasn’t dealt a great hand, but he showed some toughness and hung in there. He’s got a big arm, but it makes the game really hard when you don’t have time step up in the pocket and throw the way he was taught to throw. Most of his mistakes start right there, but the reality is it would be really ugly if he wasn’t back there.”

 

“They’re really good on defense, really well-coached, great scheme.”

 

“Their main guys up front and in the secondary are probably going to be as good or better than they were last year, but linebacker could be an issue for them because the guy they lost (Mike Hull) was really the heart and soul of their whole defense.”

 

“Anthony Zettel is a guy who can cause problems on the interior because of his quickness; they’ve got a good combination there.”

 

Related: Big Ten's Top Heisman Contenders for 2015

 

Rutgers

 

“Ralph (Friedgen) did a good job for them. He kept it pretty simple. They had a plan.”

 

“The quarterback (Gary Nova) had his best year under Coach Friedgen. They scored a lot of points, especially at the end of the year. Losing him will be a significant loss.”

 

“They lose Nova, but they have a good quarterback coming in, the transfer from LSU, Chase Rettig. He is supposed to be a pretty good player.”

 

“Their talent level is in the middle of the league. I thought they were good enough to compete with most teams in the league. I thought the offensive line was very good. The running back (Paul James) was good, but he got hurt.”

 

“You could confuse Gary Nova into throwing some interceptions. That hurt that team all season and really, all throughout Nova’s career.”

 

“Leonte Carroo is a really good player, one of the better receivers we saw. We were very aware of him. He made a lot of big plays. They ran a lot of play-action and then hit him deep. He was a perfect ‘X’ receiver for what they were trying to do.”

 

“I’m interested to see what they do this year. They were probably better than everyone thought last year.”

 

West Division

 

Illinois

 

“They were fortunate to win some of the games they did late in the season. Penn State probably should have beaten them, and they got lucky and didn’t have to face Trevor Simien in the Northwestern game. But give them credit. They won.”

 

“Their defense was terrible. Almost everybody scored a ton of points on them and gained over 400 yards.”

 

“I can’t think of anybody on their defense that jumped out at you, where you thought, ‘Hey, that guy can really play.’”

 

“Offensively, Wes Lunt is okay. His injury obviously hurt him and the offense.”

 

“That slot receiver, Mike Dudek, is a really good player. Losing him is a really tough blow. Such bad luck. He is in the mold of a Wes Welker and Julian Edelman. He did it all for them last year. He runs routes, returns punts. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.”

 

“Other than Dudek, they didn’t have any weapons on offense. Everything seemed to be a struggle for them.”

 

“That’s an interesting job. You would think that it’s a great job because it’s in Illinois and you have Chicago to recruit to, but they’ve never been able to win consistently there. Very strange.”

 

Related: Big Ten's 10 Most Underrated Players for 2015

 

Iowa

 

“You want to talk about a team on defense that you know what they’re going to do, they know what they’re going to do, and they just line up and play their 4-3. They know all the weaknesses of it and how to combat the weaknesses, so I’ve got a lot of respect for them defensively because they don’t try to do it with smoke and mirrors. They line up and try to out-fundamental you and out-leverage you and out-tackle you.”

 

“I still think Jake Rudock is a quality player, but they got sideways on offense too many times and it was definitely weighing on them to figure out why it wasn’t working. They might miss him.”

 

“The other kid (C.J. Beathard) probably gives them more of what they need because he can sling it around a little bit and run if he needs to, which is what you want from your quarterback when you don’t have a bunch of guys who can separate from the defense.”

 

“I think the key to their whole team is what happens at offensive tackle. For the way they play, they’ve got to be able to run the ball, and you’re losing two excellent tackles who played almost every snap the last couple years. I don’t know how you replace that.”

 

Minnesota

 

“They’re a very workmanlike, very efficient team.”

 

“They’re going to beat you with defense and ball control, and they can. They have just enough talent now to beat you.”

 

“They won eight games last year and they didn’t have a wideout with more than 18 catches. Except for maybe the service academies, that’s unheard of in this day and age.”

 

“You’d think they’d throw it more just by accident looking for some screens, open it up a little bit when they’re behind. But they’re going to do what they do and they’re very committed to how they play.”

 

“The tight end (Maxx Williams), I don’t know how they’ll replace him.”

 

“They may have to adjust their passing game a bit and get the ball out to the perimeter a little bit more, maybe add some tempo to just to give people a different look. I don’t think they’re going to change what they do dramatically, but they have some guys who are capable of catching it if the quarterback can get it there.”

 

“That tailback (David Cobb) was a hell of a player, but I know they like a couple of the guys they brought in.”

 

“The quarterback is kind of a reflection of their team. He’s a big, tough dude, but they need him to be more accurate.”

 

“They’ve been a great team defensively, probably one of the top two or three in the conference the last couple years. It’s a tough group.”

 

Related: Big Ten Predictions for 2015

 

Nebraska

 

“It’s a new staff, so I don’t know exactly what to expect.”

 

“They bring back a lot of starters on both sides of the ball, but they lose the monster defensive end (Randy Gregory) and Ameer Abdullah, so those are two big pieces they’ll have to replace right off the bat. They’ll have a different look.”

 

“Tommy Armstrong is just a guy. He’s probably better than Taylor Martinez, but I don’t think he’s great. His skill set doesn’t really fit the system they want to run because he’s so limited throwing the ball. They may have to get creative and mix in some zone-read stuff to keep him comfortable unless they want to just start over at quarterback, but I don’t see that happening to a guy who’s started two years there. It’s going to be a square peg in a round hole until they can bring in the guys who fit their offense.”

 

“Do they have another 1,500-yard (rusher) waiting in the wings? They’ll probably have to do it by committee. I think they’ll still be able to run the ball, but I don’t know if they have that one guy who really scares you.”

 

“They’ve got some speed on offense. (De’Mornay) Pierson-El was a weapon in the return game and looked like he could be a pretty darn good slot receiver.”

 

“I don’t think you replace a guy as good as Randy Gregory, but the defensive line might still be the strength of their team.”

 

“That’s a pretty powerful combination inside. Maliek Collins is really athletic and has great hands, quick hands.” 

 

Northwestern

 

“I thought they were one of the weirdest teams last year. I think they would have gone to a bowl game if the quarterback (Trevor Simien) hadn’t gotten hurt. They would have beaten Illinois in that last game. They only won five games, but they beat Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Penn State. That’s pretty good.”

 

“Their running back, Justin Jackson, is very good.”

 

“I think their scheme is very good. They are well coached.”

 

“They have a good receiving corps, but they dropped an incredible amount of passes. They had guys wide open, and they would drop the ball. They could have beaten Cal and Northern Illinois if they would have caught one or two more passes. They could have beaten Michigan too.”

 

“I’ve heard the name Zack Oliver. Don’t know much about him, but I’ve heard he’s a pretty good quarterback.”

 

“I like Fitz. I can’t speak for anybody else. He is the type of coach I like. Hard-nosed. Bright guy. Perfect guy for the job there.”

 

“I have no doubt that they will be back in the mix in the Big Ten West in the next few years.”

 

Related: The Big Ten's Best Alternate Helmets

 

Purdue

 

“I thought they made a lot of strides last year offensively. I know it might not have shown on the scoreboard, but they were moving the ball at times. They put some scares in people. In this profession, that doesn’t mean much, but there was marked improvement offensively.”

 

“They haven’t been real consistent at quarterback. They got better after they settled on (Austin) Appleby in the middle of the year, but it’s always tough for a coach when your most productive guy isn’t your most talented guy.”

 

“(Akeem) Hunt was the one guy who could really run away from you, so they’ll have to find a way to replace him as a big-play threat.”

 

“I don’t think they have any choice but to ride it out and let Darrell (Hazell) try to fix the roster. Once some of their redshirt freshmen and sophomores start playing a little more you’ll have a better idea what direction they’re headed.”

 

“The linebacker (Ja’Whaun Bentley) is a guy they can build around. He was pretty explosive.”

 

“Losing their two safeties puts them in a tough spot from a depth standpoint. I think they’re going to have to move some people around or just play a bunch of freshmen to cover all their bases in the secondary.”

 

Wisconsin

 

“Paul Chryst was who Barry (Alvarez) wanted in there after Bret Bielema. I’m not saying they got away from their identity when Gary (Andersen) was in there, but Paul is going to embrace everything about the program. He’s a natural fit and there are no surprises on either side.”

 

“I think the change will help Joel Stave a whole bunch. The mental part of the game is obviously big with him, and now he’s back with the guy who recruited him and believed in him from the beginning.”

 

“It will be interesting to see who they’re going to plug in at tailback. It seems like they’ve had a great tailback there for 10, 12 years straight.”

 

“I would think Corey Clement is capable of sliding over as the No. 1 guy, but having a second tailback is pretty important in their offense too. That’s probably the biggest question mark, and the other is whether they’re going to be as good up front.”

 

“The linebacker position is a red flag when you go from having two battle-tested seniors inside to a couple guys who haven’t played that much.”

 

“They don’t have a bunch of great cover guys in the secondary, but it didn’t matter as much because of how much pressure they put on the quarterback. They need the front seven to help them out.”

 

"I think their defense is fantastic. I was happy to see Chryst keep Dave Aranda because I think that’s the right thing to do." 

Teaser:
Big Ten Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2015
Post date: Thursday, August 6, 2015 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/vols-wr-von-pearson-will-not-face-rape-charge
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It was announced on Wednesday that Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver Von Pearson will not be charged for an alleged rape in which Pearson was named a suspect on April 24. Following a three-month investigation, Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen, released the following statement on Wednesday:

 

“After a thorough review of the investigation, I have determined that there is insufficient evidence to sustain a criminal prosecution against Von Pearson. Mr. Pearson will not be criminally charged as a result of the accusation made against him on April 24, 2015.”

 

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones announced on Monday in a pre-camp press conference that Pearson remained under suspension from school and all football activities. Jones did not address the media following Wednesday evening’s practice and has yet to announce any further update regarding Pearson’s status with the football team. It should be noted that Pearson has not been present at either of the Vols’ first two practices.

 

Related: Tennessee Volunteers Open 2015 Fall Camp Without WRs Von Pearson and Preston Williams

 

According to a spokesperson from the University, Pearson’s status remains unchanged in regard to his suspension from school following the Wednesday announcement that he would not be charged in the investigation. In spite of the fact that the Knox County District Attorney’s Office decided to no longer pursue the charge against Pearson, the University is under no obligation to do the same. The same holds true for Jones and the Tennessee football program. Even if the University should lift Pearson’s suspension from school.

 

Pearson’s attorney, Chris Coffey, stated that Pearson currently has a pending student conduct hearing regarding the matter, but school officials would not confirm Coffey’s claim, citing federal privacy law that prevents them from sharing information regarding student affairs.

 

Pearson, a senior from Newport News, Va., led Tennessee in touchdown receptions (5) last season. He also ranked second on the team in both receptions (38) and receiving yards (393). Pearson is expected to play a major role in the Vols’ 2015 offense as a starting wide receiver should he be allowed to re-join the team. His presence is sorely needed as the Vols currently have just eight scholarship players at wide receiver, including converted freshman quarterback Jauan Jennings.

 

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McVey is a diehard Tennessee Volunteers' fan who loves singing "Rocky Top" every opportunity he gets. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS

Teaser:
Tennessee Volunteers WR Von Pearson Will Not Face Rape Charge
Post date: Thursday, August 6, 2015 - 09:45
Path: /nfl/despite-dolphins-offensive-line-struggles-offensive-coordinator-lazor-remains-confident
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The Miami Dolphins have been in training camp for almost a week and there have been a number of takeaways. One of the biggest areas of concern has been the play of the team's offensive line.

 

Related: Miami Dolphins' Biggest Questions Heading Into Training Camp

 

The Dolphins’ offensive linemen have struggled to keep players like Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh from getting pressure on the quarterback during drills and practices. Because of the performance of the offensive line, fans have been urging the team to sign free-agent guard Evan Mathis. Miami's offensive coordinator Bill Lazor refused to comment if Mathis would be an upgrade, but he did talk about the guards on the Dolphins’ current roster.

 

“I’m excited about the competition we have going as we go forward, it’s always better for the players to stay in the spot they’re in, moving in one spot, Lazor said. “Now that we’ve had three days with pads I think it’s heating up. I think we’ve got to do things as coaches, moving guys around at times to create ever more competition. That’s how we’re going to get better and it’s hard for me to focus on anything but the guys I’m watching every day.”

The competition Lazor is talking about is between Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas. Thomas has the most experience of the three, but he hasn’t been good during his first two seasons in the league. In 2014, Thomas started six games at guard — three on the right side and three on the left and was graded by Pro Football Focus as No. 58 out of 78 guards.

 

Turner only played in two games last season and Douglas is in his rookie season, so both lack NFL game experience. While all three guys are competing for the two starting guard spots, Lazor believes Thomas has stood out.

 

“I think Dallas Thomas is a much-improved player from what we saw last year,” Lazor said. “Again we were talking about staying in one position. That’s one thing Dallas wasn’t able to do last year, but I think it is showing us he’s in one spot right now. I think he’s playing well. I think Jamil Douglas has impressed as a rookie. I think Billy Turner has come a long, long way from what he was as a rookie last year. You talk about a guy who was injured in camp and missed some preseason games and I think that probably set him back. As a football coach you want every protection to be perfect, but when you go up, get a shower, eat lunch and as you watch the film, it’s also kind of fun to watch them.”

 

And things may only get better depending on how quickly left tackle Branden Albert is able to return from a serious knee injury.  In the Dolphins’ first eight games prior to Albert’s injury, the team gave up 17 sacks. After Albert went down, so did quarterback Ryan Tannehill, to the tune of 29 sacks over the final eight games.

 

“Well I’m always gonna feel better with Branden (Albert),” Lazor said.  “I mean that’s an easy part of the question. I think we’re improving.”

 

If Albert can return to the same Pro Bowl level that he was prior to his ACL and MCL injury last season, the domino effect along the line should be apparent, including at both guard spots. Yes getting an All-Pro-caliber guard like Mathis would instantly be an upgrade, but that would potentially put Miami in a terrible cap situation years down the road.

 

It appears Lazor and head coach Joe Philbin would much rather develop the young guards instead of spending a lot of money for Mathis.

 

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

Teaser:
Despite Offensive Line Struggles, Dolphins' Offensive Coordinator Remains Confident
Post date: Thursday, August 6, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/texans-beat-writer-pulled-over-police-rich-eisen-show-houston-chronicle-phone-interview
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Sports writers have hard jobs. They have to be ready at the drop of a hat to talk about teams they're covering.

 

During a phone interview on "The Rich Eisen Show," The Houston Chronicle writer John McClain went on to talk about the Texans and ran into a little trouble with the law. It seems McClain was in the car getting pulled over by police toward the end of the video. The most impressive part? The dedicated journalist managed to get out one last piece of information.

 

"Oops, Rich I am getting a ticket for changing lanes without using a signal," McClain said. "And I'll just say this, it's going to be Nate Washington if they played today."

 

Grade-A journalist right there.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, August 6, 2015 - 09:24
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Louisville Cardinals
Path: /college-football/louisville-2015-fall-camp-preview-and-key-position-battles-watch
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The Louisville Cardinals entered the ACC last year with huge momentum. Head coach Bobby Petrino, who took over after a very successful tenure by Charlie Strong (who bolted for Texas) was able to build on the success of the program, taking the team to a 9-4 record, and a return trip to the Belk Bowl. Louisville also sent 10 players to the NFL draft, which was second in the nation only to Florida State (11) .

 

Petrino has historically made great leaps in his second year at every school he has coached at, and his tenure at Louisville is shaping up to be no different. Is Louisville the dark horse selection to win the ACC?

 

Related: Louisville Cardinals 2015 Preview and Prediction

 

Louisville’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines


1. Reggie or Will?
Louisville was able to go 9-4 despite spending the year searching for a consistent starting QB. The Cardinals will not be able to do that again. They must decide whether they are going to finally go with the age and experience of Will Gardner or the youth and athleticism of Reggie Bonnafon, with Kyle Bolin waiting in the wings.

 

2. Devante Parker 2.0?

Parker justified his 10th overall selection in the NFL Draft when he returned to Louisville after a foot injury and put up 855 yards and five touchdowns in just six games. His heir apparent seems to be James Quick, a player with similar freakish talent, and ability to go up after a ball, especially in the red zone. If Quick continues his ascension to a Parker-esque level, Petrino’s high-powered offense will hit its stride.

 

3. Defense Wins Championships

Todd Grantham has been masterful as the Louisville’s defensive coordinator, easily picking up where Vance Bedford left off. Grantham was left with a very full cupboard in 2014, and so it was very easy to build and restock for this season. Now the challenge is building quality depth around All-ACC players Keith Kelsey, Sheldon Rankins and James Burgess, which will aid the Cardinals in wearing teams down.

 

4. Make Your Case

Quite possibly the most important game of the year for Louisville is the first one. Opening against Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is the statement that the Cardinals desperately need to make to be considered a serious contender this season. A win would instantly propel the Cardinals back into the national spotlight, and send a very clear message to the ACC and the rest of follege football.

 

5. Hold That Line

Last year Louisville was not able to get constant and consistent pressure on either side of the ball. The Cardinals must plug their holes on their offensive and defensive lines. Petrino must develop true depth at every position on both sides of the ball. That depth must perform on par with the starters in order to produce the kind of success this team has become accustomed to knowing.

 

— Written by Lloyd H. Spence Jr., who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Spence has covered both high school and college sports for several years, and has written for several outlets, incuding ESPNLouisville.com and CardinalSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TalkinNOIZ

Teaser:
Louisville 2015 Fall Camp Preview and Key Position Battles to Watch
Post date: Thursday, August 6, 2015 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/acc-will-be-league-left-out-college-football-playoff
Body:

Everyone doesn’t deserve a trophy.

 

College football isn’t little league baseball and not everyone should be invited to the College Football Playoff party. The Big 12 found out the hard way last year what that feels like and has been crowing about it and attempting to fix it all offseason.

 

With all due respect to former colleague Mike Leach, exclusivity is a good thing. It makes for a far more entertaining regular season when it’s incredibly difficult to make it into the Playoff.

 

The ACC looks like the league with the toughest path to the postseason tournament in 2015.

 

Florida State and Clemson are the class of this conference (again). Georgia Tech, Louisville and Virginia Tech make up the next tier, however, none of those three appear suited for a national championship run. Sure, they could win the ACC title but the national title?

 

Highly unlikely.

 

No, if the ACC is going to make a run at the Playoff it will come from Tallahassee or Death Valley.

 

The media spoke very clearly in Pinehurst, N.C., at ACC Media Days: Clemson is the team to beat in the ACC. The contingent here at Athlon Sports disagrees, picking Florida State in our preseason magazine and recent official ACC Podcast.

 

Either way, those are the two best picks in the ACC. But to win a national title, a team has to be perfect (or near-perfect) and the difference between being ranked in the top four and getting left out may be half-a-dozen plays.

 

Clemson is a really good team. They are extremely talented, have the best player in the conference in quarterback Deshaun Watson and get a lot of big games at home.

 

Podcast: Complete 2015 ACC Preview and Predictions



Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

 

But for Dabo Swinney’s team to be playing in the College Football Playoff, four huge questions marks have to all be answered for Clemson.

 

First, Watson must stay healthy. He’s an incredible athlete and may be a Heisman Trophy winner before his time in college is finished. But he’s also been hurt before, during and after his first season at Clemson. It’s certainly possibly he remains healthy, but there’s a good chance he will miss a game or two — which could end any hope of a national title.

 

Second, Swinney must fill the Shaq-sized shoes of one of the top offensive minds in college football. Chad Morris left campus for SMU and Swinney promoted Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott. The system is in place and should be productive, but the odds of those two being capable of the same things as Morris is downright impossible.

 

Third, Clemson must prove it can reload rapidly because the Tigers return fewer starters (5) than any other Power 5 team in the nation. There are massive holes to be filled, and, while there is loads of talent, the odds of Clemson boasting the No. 1 defense in the nation a second year in a row also is extremely doubtful.

 

Lastly, the Tigers have to win nearly every game against a schedule that is one of the ACC’s toughest in recent memory. Notre Dame, Florida State and Georgia Tech all come to Death Valley and trips to Louisville, Miami, NC State and South Carolina will be very tricky. When’s the last time Clemson rolled through a slate like that without a slip-up?

 

It’s called “Clemson-ing” for a reason.

 

Could all of these things fall the Tigers’ way? Maybe. Would you bet on all of those things taking place? Not a chance.

 

So what about a Florida State team that has proven it’s the best program in the ACC and capable of winning virtually every game it plays?

 

This team has arguably the second-most talented roster in the nation behind only Alabama, so the players are there. But gone is Jameis Winston, all five offensive linemen, the most productive wide receiver in school history, possibly Dalvin Cook and the Mackey Award winner in Nick O’Leary.

 

The defense does return seven starters and the schedule is easier than what Clemson will face. However, critical games against Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida and Boston College come on the road. There are other interesting tests with Louisville, NC State and Miami at home.

 

But does this roster have the experienced pieces in the right places to win every game? The Noles needed the No. 1 overall pick and 10 other NFL Draft picks to barely get that job done last year and still got smoked in the Rose Bowl.

 

Clemson and Florida State are the class of the ACC and picking either to win the league title is a sound decision.

 

But it doesn’t look like this league has a team capable of going unbeaten — or finishing with one loss — and that is what it takes to reach the College Football Playoff.

 

Then it will be commissioner John Swofford’s turn to complain all offseason.

Teaser:
ACC Will Be the League Left Out of College Football Playoff
Post date: Thursday, August 6, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Overtime
Path: /overtime/tom-brady-peyton-manning-private-emails-broncos-patriots
Body:

Tom Brady's emails are public, and what's in them may shock you.

 

Boston.com has released screenshots from the Patriots quarterback to a friend named Kevin Brady, and the subject is none other than Peyton Manning. These two are always competing on the field, but evidently their rivalry doesn't end there.

 

Brady said in response to an email about Manning's years left in the NFL, "He has 2." Keep in mind that Brady just turned 38 and Manning is only 39. 

 

 

There's more. In another email with an NFL blogger, Brady talks about all the things necessary for Manning to succeed.

 

The November 29 meeting between the Patriots and the Broncos can't come soon enough.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 17:05
Path: /overtime/ohio-state-assistant-coach-tim-hinton-spoofs-nfl-combine-buckeyes
Body:

The NFL Combine is a pretty brutal process but the prospects are young and resilient.

 

Ohio State's tight end and fullbacks coach Tim Hinton is another story. The Buckeyes assistant coach goes through all the routines in a video that's sure to be played on a loop in the locker room this season.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 16:03
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/rays-rookie-richie-shaffer-ignored-tampa-bay-first-career-home-run
Body:

Oh to be a rookie.

 

Richie Shaffer hit his first career home run and wanted to celebrate with his Tampa Bay teammates. Unfortunately, the Rays had other things in mind. They played a pretty cute prank ignoring the rookie. No worries, he celebrated all by himself until they were ready.

 

 

View post on imgur.com

 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 14:43
All taxonomy terms: Arian Foster, Fantasy Football, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/arian-fosters-injury-turns-houston-texans-backfield-fantasy-mess
Body:

I’m just going to come out and say it — Arian Foster getting injured before the season started is a blessing in disguise for all fantasy football players.

 

Injuries are never a good thing and I definitely don’t wish an injury on any player, but Foster had bust written all over him this season.

 

Yes, it’s true that last year was supposed to be the year that the wheels fell off for Foster but apparently no one bothered telling him. He finished with the third-most fantasy points per game among RBs and that was despite missing three games with groin and hamstring issues.

 

Heading into this year, Foster was looked at as a RB8 and in most mock drafts I’ve seen, he is still being taken late in the first round ahead of guys like DeMarco Murray, LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Hill (obviously that will change now).

 

So what made Foster a bust candidate?

 

Four things really.

 

1. He seems to always be injured. Last year it was the groin and hamstring issues and that was after entering training camp with a bad back.

 

2. His has 1,618 total touches in his career, which are a ton and all this work is causing him to slowly break down.

 

3. He turns 29 this year. Ever so close to the dreaded running back age of 30.

 

4. His role was going to be reduced this year anyways to keep him fresh.

 

But Foster’s injury is now old news.

 

What are the Texans supposed to do now?

 

Their current in-house option as the most likely candidate to take over the No. 1 spot is backup running back Alfred Blue.

 

In the three games that Foster missed last year, Blue did a relatively decent job filling in and he was definitely a waiver wire darling during that time.

 

Blue did manage to score three touchdowns, but he only averaged 3.1 yards per carry, which is terrible, and he is nowhere near Foster’s caliber as a receiving threat.

 

If Blue isn’t the answer the Texans also have Chris Polk and Jonathan Grimes fighting it out for a roster spot. Polk is a cast-off from Philadelphia where he never really got a shot to do anything, but he did manage to rush for 172 yards and four touchdowns on just 46 carries last year. But Polk probably isn’t the answer either.

 

So who is the answer?

 

Here are some free agent options the Texans are probably looking at right now.

 

Pierre Thomas

The ex-Saints running back seemed to fall out of favor last year. Which seemed strange since he was one year removed from leading all running backs with 77 receptions. He is on the wrong side of 30, but because of his ability to catch passes he might be a great part-time solution for the Texans. (Editor’s note: Thomas visited with the Texans earlier Wednesday, but was unable to come to agreement on a contract, per his agent’s tweet.)

 

Chris Johnson

Once heralded as the best running back in football, he is now currently looking for a job. With the Jets last year he managed a meager 663 yards on a team that was desperate for any type of offensive help. He has certainly lost a step, but if put in the right situation where he shared the load, he could help the Texans out immediately.

 

Steven Jackson

Jackson is 32 years old, which is ancient in running back years. Plus he has a ton of mileage on those tires, especially from his days in St. Louis. But he is a smart football player and still a load to bring down. But if Jackson is going to find a gig somewhere this year, it’s not as a featured back, but more of a short-yardage complement.

 

Ahmad Bradshaw

The now ex-Colt has such a bad injury history that it’s hard to imagine any team even taking a flyer on him. But last year he was decent (before he once again got hurt), as he averaged 4.7 yards per carry and had 38 receptions in 10 games. If he is healthy he might be a decent option, but he is currently suspended for Week 1 of the season so that’s not going to help.

 

Ben Tate

Wasn’t Tate supposed to be the breakout fantasy star of 2014? Yikes! He quickly fell out of favor in Cleveland and bounced his way over to Pittsburgh where he still didn’t do much. He only managed 3.1 yards per carry on the year and while his age is in his favor (he`s only 27), and he’s no stranger to the Texans, his chances for playing time are likely over.

 

Knowshon Moreno

Another guy who was supposed to be a stud in 2014 that failed to produce. Moreno is coming off a torn ACL he suffered in Week 6, but when he was healthy he averaged a decent 4.8 yards per carry. He’s also an excellent pass catcher out of the backfield. The big problem is that his ACL injury probably means that he isn’t going to be ready to go at full health to start the season and the Texans need somebody now.

 

Ray Rice

He hasn’t played a down of football since December 2013, so he’s fresh. But even when he was playing all the wear and tear was starting to show, as he was nowhere near the productive back he was earlier in his career. Also, it’s probably a safe bet that the Texans (along with other teams) don’t want the media circus that would swarm all over if they signed Rice.

 

The other option the Texans have is they could trade for a running back. Maybe Seattle’s Christine Michael is available. Or one of the Vikings’ running backs (probably Matt Asiata) since Adrian Peterson is back.

 

The Texans have lots of options but I’m not sure if any of them are any good. For fantasy owners this looks like a backfield that you most definitely want to avoid.

 

Oh and I almost forgot. Make sure to watch what happens with stud wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. He is the only playmaker the Texans have and without defenses having to game plan for Foster and more than likely Brian Hoyer throwing him the football, poor Hopkins’ fantasy value is going to take a hit. Draft Hopkins with caution.

 

— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. 

Teaser:
Arian Foster's Injury Turns Houston Texans' Backfield into a Fantasy Mess
Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 14:15
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-mock-draft-simulator
Body:

Fantasy football drafts are just around the corner, so it’s best to start prepping now. To get that extra advantage come draft day, there’s no better way to practice than with a mock draft simulator. Fortunately, our friends at FantasyPros have one of the best. Click HERE or below to start.

 

 

MOCK DRAFT SIMULATOR
The easiest way to prepare for your draft.
Fast. No waiting for opponents to pick.
Fun. Draft against the top fantasy experts.
Free. You don't even have to register.
Fantasy Football Mock Drafts powered by FantasyPros
 
Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 14:03
Path: /nfl/answering-nfc-wests-biggest-questions-2015
Body:

NFL training camps are in full swing across the nation, signaling the official return of pro football.

 

Athlon Sports is going division by division, asking and (trying to) answering the biggest question for every team in the league entering the 2015 season.

 

AFC's Biggest Questions: EastNorthSouth | West
NFC's Biggest Questions: East | North | South | West

 

NFC West

 

Arizona: Can Carson Palmer stay healthy?

This team has won 21 games the last two seasons but was bounced early in the this year's playoffs because its quarterback was missing due to another significant knee injury. This team is talented enough at almost every position to win a Super Bowl and has a rising star of a head coach leading the way. But it plays in a nasty division and has a 35-year-old signal-caller that has missed at least six games in three of the last seven years. Palmer has to stay healthy for Arizona to win big this year.

 

St. Louis: Is the offensive overhaul going to work?

The defense is salty in St. Louis and is loaded with quality young talent. But this offense will look completely different in 2015. New coordinator Frank Cignetti has a new quarterback (Nick Foles), new running back (Todd Gurley), a reworked offensive line and even a new quarterbacks coach (Chris Weinke). Yet this unit still lacks in proven playmakers despite using numerous recent draft picks on skill position players. Should the offense come together quickly, this team will once again be one of the more underrated in the NFL. If not, Jeff Fisher is staring at a fourth straight losing season.

 

San Francisco: What is the personality of this team without Jim Harbaugh?

Say what you want about his quirky and bizarre personality, Jim Harbaugh is a winner. He won at the University of San Diego, he won at Stanford and he won big at San Francisco (and will win big at Michigan). Questions are swirling through the Bay Area after a mass exodus of coaches and players. Is Jim Tomsula equipped to be an NFL head coach? Can Colin Kaepernick develop into a leader and not an off-the-field headline maker? Can an aging collection of veterans and unproven youngsters maintain the level of success that the 49ers' brass seemed to under appreciate? Say what you want about Harbaugh, but his teams have always had an identity. What is the new identity going to look like in the Bay Area?

 

Seattle: How will the offensive line look?

Let’s be honest, there aren’t really any questions about this team. The defense is still nasty, Marshawn Lynch is happy, Russell Wilson is signed and has a new toy in Jimmy Graham. Pete Carroll and the 12th Man are still ready to rock. The offensive line may be the only area of concern in fall camp after Max Unger and James Carpenter departed this offseason. Look for Patrick Lewis and Alvin Bailey to step in and try to maintain stability up front. Otherwise, if this team can shake off the bad taste from the Super Bowl’s final possession, it will once again be one of the best teams in the NFL.

 
Teaser:
Answering the NFC West's Biggest Questions in 2015
Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Overtime
Path: /overtime/eddie-lacy-lumberjack-gatorade-green-bay-packers-tree-climbing-ax-wood
Body:

Eddie Lacy. Powerful running back, not so powerful lumberjack.

 

The Packers running back, with the help of Gatorade, tried his hand at ax-throwing, tree-climbing, and wood-chopping. The results were mixed. As you can imagine his powerful arm strength dominated the ax-throwing portion, but trying to get that running back body up a tree proved to be more than difficult.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 12:29
Path: /college-football/miami-2015-fall-camp-preview-key-position-battles-watch
Body:

Miami Hurricanes head coach Al Golden is entering his fifth season in Coral Gables, but he has yet to return the program back to prominence. The team finished the 2014 season with a 6-7 record. The Hurricanes lost some talented players off last year's team, but they do return quarterback Brad Kaaya, who was named the 2014 ACC Rookie of the Year.

 

During the last three seasons, the Hurricanes have averaged 7.3 wins a year. Can Golden and Kaaya lead Miami to their first ACC Championship Game appearance since joining the conference in 2004?

 

Miami’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines

 

1. Will Brad Kaaya Suffer From a Sophomore Slump?

Last year at this time, no one knew who the starting quarterback for the Hurricanes would be. Projected starter Ryan Williams was still recovering from reconstructive knee surgery.

 

That left Miami to choose between Kaaya and veteran Jake Heaps, a battle in which Kaaya came up victorious. Kaaya had an excellent first year at Miami as he threw for 3,198 yards, 26 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions.

 

Last year, there were no expectations of Kaaya since he was put through a baptism by fire in his first season. Now that he has been named to preseason watch lists for the Davey O’Brien Award and the Manning Award, among other accolades, can Kaaya live up or exceed expectations in his sophomore season?

 

2. Who Can Replace Phillip Dorsett and Clive Walford’s Production?

Now that wide receiver Phillip Dorsett and tight end Clive Walford are in the NFL, who are the players that will replace their production?

 

Stacy Coley has been considered one Miami’s hardest workers on the roster, but that hasn’t translated into production on the field. The Hurricanes will also rely on Braxton Berrios, Herb Waters and Standish Dobard to replace Dorsett’s and Walford’s production.

 

3. Lack of Experience on the Offensive Line

Miami loses 111 career starts with the departure of offensive linemen Ereck Flowers, Jon Feliciano and Shane McDermott. The only full-time starter returning up front is right guard Daniel Isidora.

 

Kc McDerrmott and Trevor Darling have gotten some meaningful snaps on the line but they're not very proven. Kaaya isn't mobile, so the offensive line will need to come together in a hurry.

 

4. Can Miami’s Front Seven Improve?

The Hurricanes’ defense ranked No. 14 in the country last season, but defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio took a lot of heat. In Miami's four losses against Nebraska, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Pittsburgh, the Canes gave up a combined 1,082 rushing yards.

 

The biggest question among the front seven is at linebacker, where tackling machine Denzel Perryman now plays for the San Diego Chargers. Raphael Kirby will be asked to take Perryman’s place. Jermaine Grace is undersized (6-1, 208), but he made a number of plays during the spring game.

 

Related: 5 Areas of Concern for the Miami Hurricanes in 2015

 

5. Al Golden

There aren't many coaches in the country with a hotter seat than Golden’s. Sure he took over at Miami when the NCAA was investigating the program, but fans have grown impatient with the lack winning during the last decade.

 

Golden is 28-22 entering his fifth season in Coral Gables. Last season, Miami came into its game against Florida State with a 6-3 record. The Hurricanes finished the season 6-7 and lost four straight games to end the year.

 

If Golden doesn’t have Miami contending for an ACC Coastal Division title, he could be shown the door at season’s end.

 

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

Teaser:
Miami 2015 Fall Camp Preview and Key Position Battles to Watch
Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 12:15
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2015-introduction-mfl10s
Body:

Now that is August we can officially call it fantasy football season. That means folks will be getting invites to their seasonal leagues, beginning to study, discuss rankings, and for some, participate in a mock draft or two (or three or 12 or 50).

 

Mock drafts are an important part for any fantasy offseason, as they can help you gauge where players are being valued high or low, enact draft strategies and quench your thirst for the upcoming fantasy football season. I have a little secret though. I know something better than mock drafts.

 

The secret is something called MFL10 Leagues, which are hosted on MyFantasyLeague.com. These are known as their name “MFL10” or sometimes “Best-Ball Leagues.” I will explain how these work and if you still need a little push to give one a try I will hopefully do that as well below.

 

What Exactly is an MFL10/Best-Ball League?

 

Once I explain to folks what an MFL10 is the first question they usually ask is what the heck is that? After an explanation most people not only join, but also become addicts like myself. I do as many as I can, but nowhere near what some others in the industry do in an offseason. I know of people who do hundreds of them. I am not that crazy, nor do I have that much money.

 

Best-Ball Leagues or MFL10s are fantasy football leagues that allow owners to draft a full team with 20 or more players and not have to worry about weekly lineups. (There are also options for weekly roster management as well but I won’t be focusing on them.)

 

Each week of the regular fantasy football season your team will play out its games. MFL10 leagues still use your standard nine starters (No kickers). However since there are no weekly lineups the league will automatically use the highest scoring players at each position.

 

So, if you have seven receivers on your squad it will take the top three on your team for certain, and possibly four depending on your flex position, and the highest scoring players. If you have seven running backs it will take your top two. Three quarterbacks? It will use your highest scoring QB. You get the idea.

 

Based on your highest scoring players your team’s cumulative point totals will then get ranked in the standings of your 12-team league. If you triumph, drafted well and hit a few long shots you can win $100! Nice little profit off of your $10 entry. Runner-up will get a free entry to an MFL10 in the following year. 

 

Ok, So How Do I Join?

 

*Register for an account with MyFantasyLeague.com if you haven’t already.
*Deposit $10 or more to the site via this link.
*Once you deposit and are registered you can look for open leagues, click on the join button and in the very near future expect an email notifying you of when your draft will begin. Get ready for email alerts and most importantly to draft!

*You can change your password, team name in "franchise information" and even set up your Twitter accounts to be linked. This will tweet your picks as they happen. Get familiar with the site by playing around. Once you are in the most important buttons are the "rosters" and "draft" buttons on the left toolbar
*Read over the League Scoring and Rules too before drafting (as always) so you are prepared for the draft.

 

Sounds Interesting But Not Sold?

 

Ok, I will give you some more reasons than the potential of winning money:

 

1. This is a real league, and a real draft

People are paying to play in this league. That doesn’t mean everyone knows how to win, or will pay attention in the entire draft, but by in large you are not dealing with people mock drafting eight rounds and leaving. Or the guy who joins a mock draft for the sole purpose of taking random, terrible players and thereby destroying the entire mock. These folks are just as excited, love drafting and want to win money as badly as YOU!

     

2. It is a slow draft, but still moves quick

What is the No. 1 thing most people say about joining another fantasy league? I don’t have time, or in too many. MFL10s can solve both. There is no roster management post-draft AND MyFantasyLeague.com utilizes the slow email draft. Basically you will get notifications of each pick as they are taken and when you are on the clock. There is an eight-hour clock, which can get long, but most people who participate in these drafts are on the ball and fill queues or pick quickly.

 

The perk to a slow draft is you don’t feel the pressure of getting sniped and making a desperate pick. You still have time to research, plan ahead, and fill queues without that pressure or panic of a clock and peering eyes. When you are ready, you follow the link in your email go to your draft room and make your pick.

 

3. You can do more than one draft at a time

These leagues not only prepare you for your seasonal drafts, but they also are fun and allow you to enact different strategies, and reach for rookies or unranked players. In fact, that is encouraged because with no waivers or roster management there’s no chance to pick up the 2015 version of an Odell Beckham Jr. or Justin Forsett. Risk takers can excel in seasonal leagues via either the draft and/or on the waiver wire. In MFL10s you live and die by upside.

 

4. The odds aren’t terrible.

You have a 1-in-12 chance to win your MFL10. If you enter 10 leagues you are spending $100, but remember it only takes winning one league to break even. Everything else is profit! It isn’t easy, but you could do much worse elsewhere.

 

— Written by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.

Teaser:
Fantasy Football 2015: An Introduction to MFL10s
Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas Longhorns, Big 12
Path: /college-football/texas-2015-fall-camp-preview-and-key-position-battles-watch
Body:

Texas has a lot to prove in 2015. The inaugural season of Charlie Strong and his new version of Texas Longhorns football was anything but ideal. Strong brought in a whole new… everything. New system. New style of play. New style of leadership and coaching philosophy. Everything changed in Austin… except the Texas fan base, boosters, and fever pitch desire to win NOW. And win now is what Strong must do. If he and Texas are going to improve on 2014’s 6-7 showing, the Longhorns must be able to solve several different problems.

 

Related: Is Charlie Strong Enough for Texas?

 

Texas' Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines

 

1. Time To Grow Up

Last year Texas’ offensive line was young and inexperienced, and it showed over and over again. The young group could not provide protection for its QBs and by the time this unit began to figure it out, it was simply too late. This year, it doesn’t matter who the QB of this team is if the offensive line doesn’t mature into its massive potential. With better depth now, along with several high quality freshmen being added to the mix, the Longhorns’ line should see significant improvement.

 

2. And the Winner of the QB Competition is…

Texas left spring practice still not sure who the “official” starting QB is. Tyrone Swoopes technically has the starting job, but according to Strong, Jerrod Heard has closed the gap considerably. Swoopes made a lot of mistakes, but NO ONE was going to prosper behind that poor of an offensive line.  If No. 1 on this list is fixed, then it is possible that Swoopes will perform adequately, as there were flashes of brilliance. However, it may be time for Heard to take the reins.

 

3. “Gray” Skies Could Be Clearing Up

Jonathan Gray could be poised for a true breakout season after suffering an ACL tear in 2013, and coming back to play well behind the now-departed Malcolm Brown last season. Gray has the potential to become a serious dual-threat player this season, if he can stay healthy. And if Texas is to become legit contenders, or even simply take the next step back to respectability, Gray needs to be great.

 

4. “Defense is My Claim to Fame”

Strong made his name and reputation as a defensive guru. His defensive strategies are the reason why those Urban Meyer Florida teams won championships. His defensive strategies are the reason why his Louisville teams owned Florida and Miami in back-to-back bowl wins. In year two of his stint in Louisville, the defense made significant strides, and seemed to create the identity that would define Strong’s tenure in the Bluegrass. The Longhorn faithful are hoping for a similar jump.

 

5. Block out the Burnt Orange Noise!

The major and most significant challenge that Texas will face in 2015 is not on the field, but off it. The coaches and players must figure out how to block out the distractions that are inevitably facing a team that will face more than a few challenges. This team must create an insular quality that is simply not phased by demands for the athletic director and/or head coach to be fired, or calls for position changes when players struggle. All this team can control is what happens on the field. These Longhorns must block out the noise to what happens off of it.

 

— Written by Lloyd H. Spence Jr., who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Spence has covered both high school and college sports for several years, and has written for several outlets, incuding ESPNLouisville.com and CardinalSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TalkinNOIZ

Teaser:
Texas 2015 Fall Camp Preview and Key Position Battles to Watch
Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 11:30
Path: /nfl/how-much-will-blake-bortles-improve-his-second-year-jaguars
Body:

One of the players fans and media members have been curious about at the start of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ training camp is quarterback Blake Bortles. Last season, Bortles made a number of mistakes as a rookie. The question is, how much will Bortles improve in his second season under center?

 

Related: Jacksonville Jaguars 2015 Team Preview and Prediction

 

Last year, the initial plan was to start veteran Chad Henne at quarterback and to have Bortles, the third overall overall pick of the 2013 draft, watch from the bench. But Henne’s play was so bad that the coaching staff had no choice but to play Bortles sooner than the team would have liked.

 

In 2014, Bortles recorded 11 touchdowns compared to 17 interceptions, but in his defense Jacksonville didn't provide him with much of a supporting cast. The Jaguars’ offensive line allowed 71 sacks, the most in the NFL.

 

So far in Bortles’ second training camp, Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley has liked the improvements he has seen in his young signal-caller.

 

"He’s always had poise and I think what you’re seeing now is with that poise he’s making good decisions," said Bradley. "When he knows what he’s supposed to do with the ball it just comes out; they’re tight, they’re accurate, so it was a good session for him.”

 

While leading receiver Cecil Shorts now plays for the Houston Texans, the Jaguars did sign former Denver Broncos Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas in free agency. Thomas will form a tag team with Marcedes Lewis at the tight end position, which will give Bortles two huge targets in the red zone.

 

The selection of running back T.J. Yeldon in the second round and wide receiver Rashad Greene in the fifth round also should help Bortles. Jacksonville’s running game finished 21st last season, as free agent disappointment Toby Gerhart rushed for only 326 yards and scored just two touchdowns in 14 games.

 

Last year at Alabama, Yeldon rushed for 979 yards and scored 11 times. Yeldon will give the Jaguars a back that can run the ball between the tackles and make defenders miss. He also should serve as a reliable target out of the backfield when Bortles needs a hot read.

 

Greene is a solid route runner who can catch the ball over the middle and near the sideline. While he won't be the team's first or second option, Greene will be an excellent complement to Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee in Jacksonville’s passing attack.

 

Along with the new skill position players, Bortles also got some much-needed help on the offensive line. Third-round pick A.J. Cann and a pair of free-agent acquisitions — center Stefen Wisniewski and tackle Jermey Parnell — will boost the Jaguars’ line.

 

With an improved line, new offensive coordinator Greg Olson should be able to use more of Bortles’ strengths such as his athleticism out of the pocket. Bortles averaged 10.4 yards per completion last season. That average should improve once the quarterback gets in sync with the rest of his offense.

 

"Yeah, you see it with the throws," said Bradley. "He scrambled, got out of it and took a chance. You’re seeing him do that. He’ll make some mistakes, but he’ll come back. We talked to them in the team meeting about discovering your skills both offensively and defensively, and they’ve got to find those things out in these practices.”

 

Should Jacksonville fans expect Bortles to emerge as a top-five NFL quarterback in 2015? Of course not. But working in Olson's new offense and with better personnel, Bortles should begin to show signs that he can at least become a quality starting signal-caller. It might not translate to a lot of in wins this season, but fans should begin to see how much Bortles has progressed from his rookie season to year two in the NFL.

 

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

Teaser:
How Much Will Blake Bortles Improve in his Second Year with Jaguars?
Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/tennessee-volunteers-open-camp-without-wrs-von-pearson-preston-williams
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As the Tennessee Volunteers took the field on Tuesday evening for their first fall camp practice of the preseason, there were two faces noticeably absent. Tennessee head Coach Butch Jones made it known on Monday in a pre-camp press conference that wide receivers Von Pearson and Preston Williams would not be participating in football activities until further notice.

 

Related: Tennessee 2015 Fall Camp Preview and Key Position Battles to Watch

 

Pearson, a senior from Newport News, Va., who came to Tennessee as a junior college transfer last year, has been absent from the program since the end of spring camp. He was placed on an indefinite suspension from the football team on April 24 after being named as a suspect in an alleged rape. Pearson has yet to be charged for the alleged crime. However, he remains suspended from both the university and all football activities while the matter is still being reviewed by the Knox County District Attorney General’s office.

 

In spite of missing two games due to an ankle injury and being somewhat limited in the weeks following his injury, Pearson still managed to lead Tennessee in touchdown receptions (5) in 2014. He also ranked second on the team in both receptions (38) and receiving yards (393). He capped off his 2014 campaign with his strongest performance of the season in the TaxSlayer Bowl by hauling in seven passes for 75 yards and a touchdown. He was expected to play a major role in the Vols’ 2015 offense as a starting wide receiver. At this time, Pearson’s future as a student athlete at Tennessee remains uncertain.

 

Williams' future with the Vols also remains unclear at this time. The true freshman and former 5-star High School All-American from Hampton, Ga., was recently deemed ineligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse after a standardized test score was red-flagged. Williams, who is recovering from ACL tear last fall, was on track to be a full participant in fall camp. He also was expected to be a contributor in Tennessee’s 2015 offense.  

 

In order to return to the Tennessee football program, Williams will have to retake the standardized test and score within a reasonable margin of the red-flagged test. The timetable for Williams to re-take the test is unknown at this time, but it is unlikely that he will be able to re-join the team before the start of the season.

 

The absence of Pearson and Williams leaves the Vols with just eight scholarship wide receivers to begin fall camp. Two of which, junior Jason Croom and sophomore Josh Smith, remain somewhat limited as they return from serious injuries suffered last season. True freshman Jauan Jennings has been moved from quarterback to wide receiver in order to help supplement the current shortage at the position. There also has been some discussion about moving current defensive back and kick returner, junior Malik Foreman, to wide receiver.  In the meantime, Tennessee will employ the services of several walk-ons to help fill the current void, including former 3-star blueshirt freshman Vincent Perry and University of Virginia transfer Adrian Gamble.

 

If Pearson and Williams are unable to return to the program at some point this season, it could have a significant impact, especially if injuries begin to accumulate at wide receiver, as they did for the Vols in 2014.

 

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McVey is a diehard Tennessee Volunteers' fan who loves singing "Rocky Top" every opportunity he gets. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS

Teaser:
Tennessee Volunteers Open 2015 Fall Camp Without WRs Von Pearson and Preston Williams
Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 10:45
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Clemson Tigers, College Football
Path: /clemson-2015-fall-camp-preview-key-position-battles-watch
Body:

Each season, Clemson has high expectations. This year those hopes may be even a little higher than usual. Athlon Sports has the Tigers ranked at No. 14 entering the season, but some publications have them much closer to the top and there is even talk of a College Football Playoff run. Having a Heisman candidate ready to partner up with a slew of explosive skill position threats will always fire up expectations.

 

Related: Why Clemson Will or Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2015

 

But there are some major questions surrounding the 2015 Tigers. The answers to these questions will determine Clemson’s place in the chase for a Playoff spot.

 

Clemson’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines

 

1. Deshaun Watson’s Health

All eyes will be on Watson’s knee as Clemson opens camp. The star sophomore partially tore his ACL in practice late in the year and had surgery in December to repair the problem. He missed both the Russell Athletic Bowl and spring practice. He also injured his hand in a game against Louisville and sprained his knee prior to the tear in a game against Georgia Tech. Making sure Watson is 100 percent is priority No. 1 for Clemson this fall.

 

Related: The ACC’s Top 15 Heisman Candidates for 2015

 

2. The Offensive Line

Much of Watson’s well being falls on the shoulders of the guys blocking for him. There will be four new starters in 2015 and there is a very good chance that a true freshman will have blind side protection responsibility. Also, running back Wayne Gallman showed a lot of promise as a freshman, but he will need some help from the line to improve Clemson’s rushing attack (88th in nation in 2014) and red zone offense (No. 113).

 

3. Adjusting to New Offensive Coordinators

This actually has little to do with new co-coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott. Both have been at Clemson for several years and know the offense that head coach Dabo Swinney wants to run. It’s really about the coach that left, Chad Morris. The new SMU head coach developed a great system at Clemson and as good as the two new coordinators may be, neither is Morris’s equal. At least not yet.

 

Related: Clemson’s Season Hinges on New Offensive Coordinator Duo

 

4. Depth on the Defensive Line

Clemson lost six of its top eight defensive linemen, including star Vic Beasley. End Shaq Lawson and tackle D.J. Reader appear ready to raise their play to a level that Clemson needs. But behind them, questions persist. The Tigers need to put together a rotation along the line that allows everyone to remain fresh.

 

5. Playmakers at Linebacker

While defensive coordinator Brent Venables has some possible impact players on the line in Lawson and Reader, replacing linebackers Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward may be more daunting. The Tigers have some solid options like Ben Boulware and B.J. Goodson, but it will be difficult for them to match the production of the two departed stars.

 

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

Teaser:
Clemson 2015 Fall Camp Preview and Key Position Battles to Watch
Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 10:30
Path: /overtime/alabama-fans-recognize-oj-howard-new-video-crimson-tide-tight-end
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The most-known member of the Crimson Tide, player or coach, is Nick Saban.

 

That doesn't mean everyone else should be overlooked. It just might take certain fans a while to recognize a lesser-known player. After seeing this video, you will be able to recognize O.J. Howard from now on. The Alabama tight end interviewed fans who had no clue who he was. One guy even said Howard could stand to put in a little more practice. This is awkward.

O.J. Howard Asks Alabama Fans About O.J. Howard from Crimson Tide Productions on Vimeo.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 10:24
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, Pac-12, Overtime
Path: /overtime/young-oregon-fan-miss-marcus-mariota-ducks-titans-cry-breakfast
Body:

There's a huge hole to fill under center for the Ducks.

 

Former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was drafted by the Titans but that doesn't mean people in Eugene don't miss him. This young fan probably misses him the most. Vernon Adams has a lot of work to do to get on this kid's good side.

UPDATE: The world makes sense again.

 

Mariota saw the little guy's video and decided to make him a peace offering since it's obvious he won't be heading back to Oregon to play this season.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/sec-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes-2015
Body:

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year.

 

In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2015, Athlon asked coaches in the SEC to talk anonymously about their opponents.

Related: SEC Predictions for 2015

 

Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.

 

SEC Coaches Anonymously Scout Conference Foes
 

East Division

 

Florida

 

“In the short term, I think they’re probably going to be about the same as they were last year.”

 

“Who’s going to be the quarterback will have a lot to say about how their season goes. Treon Harris was effective at times, but I’m not sure that’s the answer long term. The old staff thought Will Grier was their most talented guy, but we’ll see.”

 

“If you look at what Jim McElwain did at Colorado State, he zeroed in on one guy early and developed the heck out of him. I bet he’ll do the same thing at Florida. He’ll pick the guy who gives him the best chance to win down the road and ride him through the ups and downs. I just don’t know who that guy is.”

 

“Whether it was injuries or lack of depth, offensive line was a big issue the last two years. With a new system, how will it affect them? If the offensive linemen they recruited are as good as advertised, they’ll have a chance to be good down the road. It’s hard to win playing freshmen in this league.”

 

“Who are their playmakers? The Demarcus Robinson kid has a chance to be pretty special at wideout, but who else? There’s a reason they struggled to score points.”

 

“Will Muschamp recruited some talent there so they have players on defense, but they lost three guys up front. It’s not easy to replace a Dante Fowler.”

 

“I would think their back end should be as good as anyone.”

 

“Hargreaves may be the best corner in the country”

 

“Geoff Collins had the No. 1 red-zone defense in the country last year at Mississippi State and one of the better third-down defenses. He’ll bring a lot of energy.”

 

Related: College Football's Top 50 Players for 2015

 

Georgia

 

“They’re the most talented, best team in the East without question.”

 

“The quarterback situation is a big unknown. Who’s the guy? How will they use him? Will he be a guy who has to make plays or a guy they ask to just not get them beat? I’m sure Brice Ramsey is the guy they’re counting on, but he hasn’t played a lot of meaningful snaps. Is there a Plan B if he can’t get the job done? I’m not sure.”

 

“I don’t understand why people there gave Mike Bobo a hard time. Look at the numbers. Offense wasn’t their problem.”

 

“Nick Chubb is phenomenal, and he’s a great young man, by the way. Brian Schottenheimer will come in and build it around him. I don’t expect they’ll change much philosophically.”

 

“I think Jeremy Pruitt does a great job with their defense. They were a little bit inconsistent, but they were significantly better than the year before. You could see his DNA starting to impact the way they played.”

 

“Lorenzo Carter has a big-time future. I thought he was a very impactful linebacker as a freshman, and I expect him to have a breakout year. He could be a difference-maker for their entire defense.”

 

“I was surprised Leonard Floyd came back. He should be an All-SEC guy without question.”

 

“They lost some solid linebackers, and they finally got Damian Swann to play to his potential at cornerback last year. That’s a lot of experience to lose at key positions, so how they replace them will go a long way in determining how dominant they are.”

 

Related: College Football Bowl Projections for 2015

 

Kentucky

 

“This is Year 3 for Mark Stoops, so I think the system is in place with what they want to do. And being a defensive guy, he’s going to make sure they’re good on that side of the ball.”

 

“He’s (Stoops) done a really great job recruiting, but it’s still hard at Kentucky to get the same level of player they face week in and week out. I know this, though: He’ll get the most out of the defensive talent he has.”

 

“The schedule caught up to them last year, but from afar it seemed like they made strides turning the culture around up there. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any easier in this conference; plus they have to play Louisville. In any other league, they would’ve been a bowl team, but with their schedule they needed to pull an upset or two.”

 

“It was tough to scheme for them because they change up what they do offensively week to week. They played at a real fast tempo. Neal Brown left (for Troy), so it’ll be interesting to see how they make the adjustment and how they deal with staff changes because they had pretty good continuity early on.”

 

“I really like Patrick Towles. He’s big and he’s more athletic than you think. He doesn’t get a lot of publicity because he’s at Kentucky, but I think he’s one of the better quarterbacks in the league.”

 

“They have some nice-looking skill guys and do a good job spreading the ball around, but you still have to get it done up front in this league to win big.”

 

Missouri

 

“They’ve never been a team that’s going to wow you with who’s on their depth chart, but they play hard, they play sound, they don’t beat themselves and they just win. There’s something to be said for that.”

 

“You can say the East has been down, but you don’t think Georgia or Florida would’ve liked to go to Atlanta the last two years? Hell, South Carolina has only gotten there one time ever since they’ve been in the league. It’s pretty amazing what they’ve done there over the last decade.”

 

“Dave Steckel was the most underrated defensive coordinator in the league. Just look at the guys they’ve developed on the defensive line the last two years.”

 

“They may not be as good on the edge without Shane Ray, but from a scheme and preparation standpoint they shouldn’t miss a beat with Barry Odom. He was with Steck for a number of years. He knows the style Pinkel wants to play, and he proved himself as a coordinator at Memphis. He’s real good.”

 

“Maty Mauk is definitely not the most accurate passer in the league, but they know what he is, he knows what he is and he’s won games for them. That counts for a lot.”

 

“What people overlook is how talented they’ve been at receiver. When they had Dorial Green-Beckham, L’Damian Washington and Bud Sasser two years ago, they were as good as anybody. I’m not sure they’ve replaced those guys with the same level of talent. But they have a veteran at quarterback, and if he can play a little bit better, they can be a real threat.”

 

Related: College Football Bowl Projections for 2015

 

South Carolina

 

“You hear a lot of talk about (Steve) Spurrier’s window closing, but I’m not buying it.”

 

“I think what happened to them defensively last year was more of a fluke than a trend because they’ve been really good for four or five years before that. I expect them to bounce back and be much better.”

 

“They were definitely the biggest disappointment in the league, but they had some crazy losses. If they don’t blow big leads against Mizzou, Tennessee and Kentucky, it’s another 10-win season and they go to Atlanta. Shows you how fast things can change in this league.”

 

“Who’s going to replace Dylan Thompson? He was a tough customer. I really don’t know much about their young guys. This is really the first time in awhile they’ve gone into the fall without a pecking order at quarterback, but Coach Spurrier always does a good job with their offense and you’ve got to think he’ll figure it out.”

 

“Mike Davis didn’t have the year they expected, but he was a big part of their team. Who knows, they may be just as good running the ball. Brandon Wilds has had some big games for them.”

 

“They lost some guys, but they have playmakers at receiver. The variety of ways they use Pharoh Cooper will make them hard to gameplan for. They can line him up in the slot, out wide or under center and get first downs when they need to.”

 

“If they do have a quarterback, you have to like their chances in the East.”

 

Related: South Carolina 2015 Fall Camp Preview

 

Tennessee

 

“I think Butch Jones and those guys have done a great job with the young talent, putting them in some positions to succeed but not overloading them. They stayed really, really simple.”

 

“Even though Mike Bajakian left (for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) right when they were starting to figure things out offensively, I know they feel really good about Josh Dobbs and the direction they’re going to go. Stylistically, I think they’ll probably be a lot like Auburn with Nick Marshall, a guy who can put pressure on the defense with the way he runs it.”

 

“Their wide receivers are big-time. They can run and they’re long.”

 

“Jalen Hurd, that dude is going to be a stud. They have a ton of skill coming back.”

 

“My question is can they run the football well enough outside of the quarterback? They had to overhaul the offensive line last year and they need some more consistency there to take the next step.”

 

“A.J. Johnson was their best defensive player in my opinion. He was really good and I don’t know if they can replace everything he did.”

 

“Cam Sutton is an excellent cornerback. He finds ways to make plays on the ball.”

 

“They’ve upgraded their talent level overall, but I just don’t know if they have a bunch of difference-makers on defense.”

 

“The next couple years, I think if they can keep some guys healthy and win a close game or two it wouldn’t surprise me to see them at nine wins.”

 

Related: Ranking the SEC's Top Heisman Contenders for 2015

 

Vanderbilt

 

“Obviously, what happened last year showed what a good job James Franklin did to go to three straight bowl games. They were young, but I expected them to be much more competitive.”

 

“Defensively, they did some really nice things. They’re sound, they’re fundamental. It was a no-brainer for (Derek) Mason to take a more active role in the defense. It can be tough for a first-time head coach to get a feel for how much involved to be on one side of the ball, but if he thinks their defense will be better if he’s more hands-on, it’s the right move.”

 

“I know just from talking to people that they do feel like the intensity in spring ball was a lot higher than last year. They said it was a positive, noticeable change and I would expect them to be better.”

 

“It was a complete trainwreck offensively last year. They couldn’t settle on a quarterback, and I think moving them around so much hurt their whole team. It didn’t seem like they knew what they were offensively or what they wanted to be. Once they establish who their quarterback is going to be, they’ll get better in Year 2. But who is that guy? I have no idea.”

 

“I still don’t know if they have dynamic playmakers. The Webb kid played pretty well for them as a freshman, but that was about the only bright spot offensively.”

 

“I’m guessing they may struggle to score again, so they’ll need to be really good on defense.” 

 

West Division

 

Alabama

 

“They’ve got the best talent top to bottom in our league again.”

 

“It’s an NFL-style attack on both sides of the ball, and they have big people that understand the system and play really well together.”

 

“They do a lot of different things with motions and shifts, and they’re very sound fundamentally.”

 

“Their defensive front will be as good as it’s been the last five years. They’re two-deep — at least — at every position. They eat up a lot of space and don’t let you run the football. That’s what they’re built to do.”

 

“They don’t have a C.J. Mosley-type at linebacker, but Reuben Foster is unbelievably talented. That’s a good solid part of their defense.”

 

“Teams hurt them on the back end of their defense last year, but they have guys returning in the secondary who are great athletes. They should be better there. Teams picked on Tony Brown a little bit last year as a freshman, but he’s a really talented corner. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t take the next step.”

 

“The quarterback question is interesting. With (Jake) Coker, throwing the ball isn’t the issue. They tried like crazy to make him the guy last year, but (Blake) Sims just outplayed him. Does (Coker) have the moxie? That’s the intangible you need to go out and win games in this league.”

 

“Nobody in the league was real sad when T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper declared for the draft, but the way they’ve recruited you know they’ll have playmakers on the perimeter.”

 

Related: SEC Predictions for 2015

 

Arkansas

 

“The thing that comes to mind with them is just how big they are. They’re freaking huge, and they’re physical. Yeah, they do a lot of shifts and motions offensively, but the big thing is they’re going to establish the run game, pound you and try to wear you down.”

 

“The defense is sound. They play with great fundamentals, and they’re not going to beat themselves. They’re going to let the offense eat the clock up.”

 

“Robb Smith did as good a job as anybody in the country last year with that defense. His scheme is very sound, very solid and he doesn’t ask those guys to do too much, but he puts them in position to make plays. He’s really good scheming up his opponent and taking away what they do best. I was really impressed with the way he had those guys playing by the end of the year.”

 

“Losing the (Darius) Philon kid early will hurt them up front. He and (Trey) Flowers were two difference-makers.”

 

“Bijhon Jackson is their best inside guy, and Deatrich Wise is a really good long player at defensive end that can maybe be similar to what Flowers was for them.”

 

“I don’t think they have elite guys on the back end, but they don’t play a lot of man. They’re a zone team and his scheme allows those guys to play well with what they do.”

 

“Brooks Ellis is a solid player at linebacker. He made great strides last year from the year before. I think he’ll be very good.”

 

Related: SEC Breakout Players for 2015

 

Auburn

 

“They’re really, really fast. They had a dynamic quarterback for what they did in Nick Marshall, but the times you saw Jeremy Johnson come in, he’s got legitimate arm talent. He’s proven in games what he can do.”

 

“Getting Duke Williams back for another year was huge for them. He is bigger than they list him. He’s a big, big man and he can run — great hands, great catch radius.”

 

“They lost Sammie Coates, but I don’t see a big drop-off at receiver. They have a bunch of guys who can make plays.”

 

“They’re surprisingly physical. The spread gets a misnomer that it’s not a physical attack, but their base play is power, and their second play is a buck sweep.”

 

“They weren’t as good at the H-back position without Jay Prosch, but the word is they have some physical young guys who can play that position so their running game may be better.”

 

“They’re younger in the backfield and don’t have the one big-name guy like Tre Mason or Cameron Artis-Payne, but they may be more talented overall.”

 

“On defense, a healthy Carl Lawson will be huge. He can impact the game in a big way. Auburn’s defensive line will be about as good as anybody in the league, but will there be the depth there they need?”

 

“Can they get consistent play on the back end? That’ll be the key. Jonathan Jones made a bunch of plays last year, and he’s pretty good.”

 

“(Johnathan) Ford is in position to have a monster year at safety. He’s about as fast as anyone in the SEC.”

 

Related: SEC Quarterback Rankings for 2015

 

LSU

 

“I’m mystified why they haven’t been good offensively. They have dynamic receivers. Their offensive line is big, and (Leonard) Fournette is phenomenal. They have talent on the perimeter. Really, they have everything they need. If they can get better quarterback play, they’ll be one of the better offenses in our league.”

 

“Brandon Harris is as gifted as any player as you can find throwing the football. Can he win the job or can they make him fit into their system? If it works itself out, he’s very talented. If he’s not the guy they’ll be very similar to last year, really conservative.”

 

“They’ll be great in the secondary. They always are. They have long athletes that can cover and run.”

 

“It’ll be interesting to see which direction they go schematically with Kevin Steele.”

 

“Kendell Beckwith has a chance to maybe be the best linebacker in our league. He’s big-time. He’s what you think of when you think of an LSU linebacker, and their other backers are good, too.”

 

“They struggled a bit at defensive tackle last year, and it may be a lot of the same, but Davon Godchaux is going to be great. He played a lot as a freshman and he’ll be a factor.”

 

“They don’t have the defensive ends they’ve had in the past. Maybe (Kevin) Steele will have a different scheme that allows the guys they do have to be what they need, but they don’t have those typical LSU guys you’re scared you can’t block.”

 

Related: College Football's Top 50 Players for 2015

 

Mississippi State

 

“If you have a quarterback you have a chance, and they’ve got one of the best leaders in the country.”

 

“Dak Prescott isn’t the most talented guy, but I just think he’s a winner. As long as he’s there, they can be really, really good.”

 

“There are some defensive question marks, but I think with the bulk of the offense coming back, they’ll be fine.”

 

“De’Runnya Wilson is one of the most underrated receivers in the league. He’s a little bit raw, but if he takes another step forward he’s going to be a big-time player.”

 

“Defensively, they lost a bunch up front. Chris Jones will still be a big factor, but they were six or seven deep on the defensive line last year. They would roll their second unit in and sometimes they were just as good as the first unit. I can’t see that happening again.”

 

“Losing Benardrick McKinney will hurt them at linebacker. He was a really good player. He was the key to the style of defense they played, and I’m not sure how they replace that.”

 

“I think Geoff Collins did a great job there, but Manny Diaz plays a different style completely. Geoff had more of a ‘bend, but don’t break’ type defense. You could get yards, but he didn’t give up many points. Manny’s style is really good at forcing turnovers. He’s probably a little more aggressive and creates a little more havoc.”

 

Related: SEC Quarterback Rankings for 2015

 

Ole Miss

 

“It’ll be interesting how their key guys come back off injuries, but they were really good on defense last year and don’t lose a lot.”

 

“They’re just as athletic as anybody in our league. They may have the most athletic front, and (Robert) Nkemdiche can really move for a big guy.”

 

“People don’t really talk enough about Isaac Gross. I thought he was the best nose tackle we played last year.”

 

“Their ends aren’t big guys, but they can really rush the passer.”

 

“Losing Senquez Golson hurts them at corner, but they’ll be solid on the back end. Trae Elston was their best safety the last two years. Cody Prewitt got all the accolades, but we thought Trae was the better player all along.”

 

“Dave Wommack is just so sound and his guys play hard.”

 

“If you don’t have a quarterback in our league you’re going to struggle. That’s a big question for them, but they’ll be talented at wideout again if (Laquon) Treadwell comes back healthy.”

 

“They’re different because they don’t really try to run the ball. They just run it because they have to, to keep you as honest as they can.”

 

“If the (Chad) Kelly kid can become a player they’ll have a chance to contend because their defense is going to be good enough. I just don’t know if their depth on the offensive line is that great.”

 

“Do they have a big-time SEC running back? If not, your quarterback better be special. As good as Bo Wallace was, everybody knew he’d beat himself a little bit, too.”

 

“Who knows if Kelly can produce, but they have talent.”

 

Related: College Football Bowl Projections for 2015

 

Texas A&M

 

“They’re fast, high-tempo, and they really like to spread it around.”

 

“You could see Kyle Allen progress as the season went on. I’m not sure why he didn’t start from Day 1. Everyone was talking about Kenny Hill after that first game, but Allen was the more talented player all along. It was only a matter of time before they made the switch.”

 

“I really like how they used Speedy Noil. He’s a dynamic guy you can move around, do different things with. I’d try to get him as many touches as possible and I’m sure that’s what they’re planning to do, but with smaller guys like that you have to be careful not to wear them down.”

 

“They’ll be better on defense with John Chavis, no question. You know what you’re going to get with him. He’s been so good for so long. He’s just going to do what he does.”

 

“Schematically, what you’ve seen from LSU the last decade is what you’re going to start seeing from A&M.”

 

“They probably have the most talented defensive player in our league in Myles Garrett. He’s the one guy for sure that you know you’re going to have to give your tackles help with. He’s phenomenal. He was hard to block as a freshman, so what he’s going to be in Year 2 is pretty scary. He’s not real physical against the run but as a pass rusher he’s the best in our league — and it’s not even close. He can really change a game by being that kind of player alone.”

 

“They lost a lot in the secondary and have some guys back in the middle, but I’m not sure how elite they really are.”

Teaser:
SEC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2015
Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/open-letter-new-pittsburgh-steelers-rb-deangelo-williams
Body:

Hi Deangleo. Welcome to Pittsburgh. It's good to have you here.

 

I think.

 

See, I like the fact the Steelers have added you, the greatest running back in the history of the Carolina Panthers, to the roster. Le'Veon Bell won't be around for the first two games and in the season opener against New England you'll provide better name recognition for the Steelers at running back than Jimmy Garoppolo will for the Patriots at quarterback.

 

Related: 5 Questions Concerning the Pittsburgh Steelers Entering the 2015 Season

 

After those first two games, when Bell comes back from his suspension, I have the confidence you'll provide all the things a veteran backup will provide. You'll be fundamentally sound. You'll instill confidence when you enter a game. You'll exude professionalism.

 

Hold that thought.

 

That exuding professionalism part. Might need to work on it.

 

It’s just the first day of training camp and you're asking why Mike Tomlin isn't helping you with your bags. This is after the confrontational rant you made in minicamp about, well, we're not sure. Something about being able to become more of a pass catcher in the Pittsburgh offense and adjusting to a new role. All I know is you said it in a patronizing manner.

 

Already in Latrobe you've dragged Bell away from reporters and criticized a line of questioning from another reporter, dismissing him as "local."

 

Scott Brown, John Clayton, Len Pasquarelli, Vito Stellino and Norm Vargo were all once Pittsburgh-based reporters who covered the Steelers. Did they only have credibility and skill once they wrote for national publications?

 

What about broadcasters like Dick Stockton, Sam Nover or even Mark Malone; all of whom covered the Steelers on a local level before going national?

 

You've been in the league for a while. Surely you know it does an athlete no favors to pick fights with the press.

 

True, a player can overcome poor media skills if he plays well. Ben Roethlisberger was notoriously arrogant early in his career.

 

Still, this arrogance, coupled with some well-publicized off-field issues with women, have doomed him forever from the endorsements and national recognition enjoyed by the likes of Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers.

 

So yes, DeAngelo, if you lead the NFL in rushing this season fans at Heinz Field will be wearing No. 34 jerseys. Just not as many as you could have if you continue the path you're taking when you open your mouth.

 

And you're not going to lead the NFL in rushing this season.

 

Perhaps no other city in America will turn on a sports figure for bad media relations than Pittsburgh. Boston doesn't hate Ted Williams, Philadelphia doesn't hate Steve Carlton, Indianapolis doesn't hate Bobby Knight, and so on.

 

Yet even Bill Cowher was often a polarizing figure during the second half of his coaching tenure in Pittsburgh due to his bullying of reporters that often made him seem defensive and derisive in press conferences. 

 

Outside of football, Pittsburgh even said "good riddance" to Barry Bonds after two MVP awards when he departed via free agency for San Francisco. This sent the Pirates spiraling towards a 20-year era of futility, yet you'll be hard pressed to find a Pirates fan who will say "it all started when Bonds left."

 

DeAngelo, it doesn't have to be this way. That pink nail polish on your toes and the career you've had make you a most interesting character the press would love to engage.

 

But you can't belittle the press. You can't win, and it doesn't bode well for team chemistry. Stop it.

 

Besides, if also lends itself to clichés. And the last thing anyone wants is to hear or read "the media is the line of communication to the fans. When an athlete refuses to speak or belittles the media, he is belittling the fan base."

 

A line which, in your defense, usually does come from media that has belittled said fan base at some point as well.

 

(Photos courtesy of www.steelers.com)

 

— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson has been a contributor to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 15 years. He has covered the Steelers, Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.

Teaser:
An Open Letter to New Pittsburgh Steelers RB DeAngelo Williams
Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/penn-state-2015-fall-camp-preview-key-position-battles-watch
Body:

The Penn State Nittany Lions are still rebuilding depth across the board, which means James Franklin’s squad is not quite ready to go head-to-head with the top of the Big Ten just yet. But they are getting there. In 2014 there were some bumps in the road in Franklin’s first season in Happy Valley, along with some head-scratching moments, but Year 2 of the Franklin era in State College has some good promise.


Related: James Franklin is Setting the Foundation for Future Success at Penn State

 

We have come to expect Penn State’s defense to be a steady force to reckon with, and that should once again be the case under defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, who chose to stay at Penn State instead of accept a rumored job offer from LSU. While Shoop does his thing to ensure Penn State’s defense is up to the task of locking down opponents, the offense looks to gain some momentum early on and prove just how much damage it is capable of doing. That work begins now, in fall camp.

 

Penn State’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines

 

1. How Soon Can the Offensive Line Get in Sync?

The biggest weak spot for Penn State in 2014 was without question the performance of the offensive line. No other position was hit as hard from recent NCAA recruiting sanctions as the offensive line, but the depth issues are starting to be plugged through recruiting. Penn State had just one returning starter last season but returns four this season, while adding graduate transfer Kevin Reihner from Stanford and JUCO tackle Paris Palmer to beef things up a bit. Offensive line coach Herb Hand will be tasked with getting this line ready to show some strides in the fall, and that should pay dividends for the entire offensive production.

 

2. How Much Will Christian Hackenberg Rebound?

And who else would benefit more from improved offensive line play than the quarterback? Nobody. Hackenberg enters his junior season with plenty of starting experience behind him already. Hackenberg has started all 25 games since he arrived, and now he goes into a season with some coaching consistency and stability. At times it looked as though Hackenberg had regressed, but much of the concerns could be put on the offensive line, which may have led Hackenberg to try and force plays that had little chance of succeeding under duress. Look for a calmer and more mature Hackenberg to thrive in what could be looked upon as a rebound season.

 

Related: Big Ten 2015 Preseason Quarterback Rankings 

 

3. Who’s Next at Linebacker U?

Much like the offensive line, linebackers seemed to be the defensive position hit hardest by NCAA sanctions recruiting-wise. For a school touted as Linebacker U, this was a bit of an oddity, but things should improve this season. Gone is leader Michael Hull, but an experienced Nyeem Wartman should prove worthy of filling the middle of the defense. With Brandon Bell to one side and either Ben Kline or Jason Cabinda to the other, Penn State’s first-team linebackers should be a legitimate unit. The depth also is padded as well as any position on the roster, with some young blood entering the mix, like Troy Reeder and Koa Farmer (both redshirted in 2014).

 

4. How Good is the Secondary?

Penn State’s secondary returns three starters between defensive back Trevor Williams and safeties Marcus Allen and Jordan Lucas. The secondary could be one of the best in the Big Ten outside of Columbus, and it may be tested at times. This unit should be difficult to find many openings against, and could be even better if the front seven on Penn State’s defense can apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

 

5. How Often Will Akeel Lynch Have Room to Run?

The Penn State offensive line should show improvement, and that should allow for the running game to finally get back on track. Lynch came on strong last season and showed what he can do. He ended his sophomore season leading the Nittany Lions with 678 yards rushing and was second on the team with four rushing touchdowns. He went over 130 yards in back-to-back games towards the end of the regular season and capped things off with 75 yards in a Pinstripe Bowl win over Boston College. Look for Lynch to lead the ground game from Week 1 and provide some opportunities to take the pressure off of Hackenberg behind an improved offensive line. He may not be Ezekiel Elliott, but Lynch should play a big part in Penn State’s offense this fall.

 

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.

Teaser:
Penn State 2015 Fall Camp Preview and Key Position Battles to Watch
Post date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-college-football-podcast-acc-and-notre-dame-preview-and
Body:

The calendar has flipped to August, and the college football season is creeping closer and closer.

 

We’re marking these final days before the 2015 season with podcast covering every major conference. Today, we take an extended look at every team in the ACC, plus Notre Dame.

 

Florida State is our unanimous pick to win the league, but the Seminoles — without Jameis Winston — are facing challenges in their own division from Clemson and perhaps from teams in the crowded Coastal.

 

On this edition of the Athlon Sports Cover 2 College Football Podcast:

 

• We try to pick a winner in the crowded as usual Coastal Division. Georgia Tech has the personnel to win the division again, but Virginia Tech is hoping for a rebound season behind an elite defense and a more experienced Michael Brewer. The Tech schools are the top two, but Miami, Pittsburgh and North Carolina aren’t far behind.

 

• We ask if the Coastal could have as many as four new coaches in 2016.

 

• Louisville and NC State are getting better, but we ask if they have the horses to challenge Florida State and Clemson in the Atlantic division.

 

• While the national media is picking Clemson, we’re taking Florida State. One of our hosts asks if Clemson has a better chance to finish third in this division than it does to win the ACC.

 

• Florida State has lost one game in two seasons and has won three consecutive ACC titles, yet the Seminoles are looking more vulnerable than they have in years. We take stock of where Florida State is in the national title race.

 

• And finally, since Notre Dame will play six ACC teams this season, we ask where the Irish fit in this league and how they might crash the Playoff party.

 

 

Send any ideas, questions or comments to @BradenGall or @DavidFox615 or email [email protected]. The podcast can be found onathlonsports.com/podcastiTunesStitcher and our podcast RSS feed.

Teaser:
Athlon Sports Cover 2 College Football Podcast: ACC and Notre Dame Preview and Predictions
Post date: Tuesday, August 4, 2015 - 17:21

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