Articles By All

All taxonomy terms: College Football, Overtime
Path: /college-football/dabo-swinney-colin-cowherd-fraud-national-championship-clemson-alabama
Body:

Colin Cowherd is the king of hot takes. This one may have been a little too hot, even for him.

 

The FS1 commentator said a little bit ago that Clemson was a fraud and would get beat yet again by Alabama. Obviously he was wrong, and Dabo Swinney remembered just how wrong he was. After the Tigers' 35-31 win over the Crimson Tide, the colorful coach couldn't hold back.

 

 

Let your haters be your motivators.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, January 10, 2017 - 09:21
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/draftkings-golf-lineup-picks-pgas-sony-open-hawaii
Body:

Trying to find your optimal DraftKings lineup for this week's (Jan. 12-15) golf tournament: the 2017 Sony Open in Hawaii? Our fantasy-golf experts are ready to help.


Here's what our optimal lineup looks like.

 

Justin Thomas ($10,500)

Thomas' last six finishes: T6, T8, 1, T23, T4, 1. If he were any hotter, his caddie would need an asbestos bib. 

 

Jimmy Walker ($9,900)

The reigning PGA Champion won the Sony in 2014 and '15 and finished T13 last year. Just about the safest play on the board. 

 

Brandt Snedeker ($9,700)

As you can see, we're suggesting that you front-load your roster this week. Sneds lost this event in a playoff last year and is coming off a solid showing at Kapalua.  

 

Jerry Kelly ($6,800)

Kelly is old enough for the Champions Tour (he turned 50 in November), but don't let that dissuade you from a sneaky value pick. He has four top-15 finishes here in the last five years. 

 

David Toms ($6,700)

Another Champions-eligible vet who can't be counted on for weekly consistency, Toms still shows game in brief bursts. He won the Sony in 2006 and finished T-2 in '09. 

 

Ricky Barnes ($6,300)

Barnes opened with a 63 at the 2016 Sony before fading, and his four top 10s in 2016 marked his best showing since 2010.

 

DraftKings Golf Lineup Picks: PGA's Sony Open in Hawaii


INFO ON THE EVENT
When: Jan 12-15
What: Sony Open in Hawaii
Where: Waialae Golf Course in Honolulu, Hawaii 
Par 70 (35-35); 7,044 yards
Purse: $6,000,000
Defending Champion: Fabian Gomez

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, January 10, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Air Force Falcons, Akron Zips, Alabama Crimson Tide, Appalachian State Mountaineers, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats, Arkansas Razorbacks, Arkansas State, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Army West Point Black Knights, Army Black Knights, Army West Point Black Knights, Auburn Tigers, Ball State Cardinals, Baylor Bears, Boise State Broncos, Boston College Eagles, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, BYU Cougars, California Golden Bears, Central Michigan Chippewas, Charlotte 49ers, Cincinnati Bearcats, Clemson Tigers, College Football, Colorado Buffaloes, Colorado State Rams, Connecticut Huskies, Duke Blue Devils, East Carolina Pirates, Eastern Michigan Eagles, FAU Owls, FIU Panthers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Fresno State Bulldogs, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Southern Eagles, Georgia State Panthers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, Hawaii Warriors, Houston Cougars, Idaho Vandals, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones, James Madison Dukes, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Kent State Golden Flashes, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Louisville Cardinals, LSU Tigers, Marshall Thundering Herd, Maryland Terrapins, Memphis Tigers, Miami (OH) RedHawks, Miami Hurricanes, Miami Ohio RedHawks, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, MTSU Blue Raiders, Navy Midshipmen, Navy Midshipmen, NC State Wolfpack, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, New Mexico State Aggies, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Texas Mean Green, Northern Illinois Huskies, Northwestern Wildcats, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Old Dominion Monarchs, Ole Miss Rebels, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Pittsburgh Panthers, Purdue Boilermakers, Rice Owls, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, San Diego State Aztecs, San Jose State Spartans, SMU Mustangs, South Alabama Jaguars, South Carolina Gamecocks, South Florida Bulls, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Stanford Cardinal, Syracuse Orange, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Longhorns, Texas State Bobcats, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Toledo Rockets, Troy Trojans, Troy University, Tulane Green Wave, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, UAB Blazers, UCF Knights, UCLA Bruins, UConn Huskies, UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, UL Monroe Warhawks, UMass Minutemen, UNLV Rebels, USC Trojans, Utah State Aggies, Utah Utes, UTEP Miners, UTSA Roadrunners, Vanderbilt Commodores, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, West Virginia Mountaineers, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Western Michigan Broncos, Wisconsin Badgers, Wyoming Cowboys, American Athletic, Big 12, Big Ten, Conference USA, Independents, MAC, Mountain West, Pac 12, SEC, Sun Belt, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-2016-17-all-bowl-team
Body:

College football’s 2016-17 bowl season is officially over. Monday night's championship game featured a thriller between Alabama and Clemson, as the Tigers scored in the final seconds to knock off the Crimson Tide from the top spot. In addition to the national championship, the Rose Bowl between USC and Penn State and the Orange Bowl matchup with Florida State and Michigan were two of the better games this postseason. With all 41 postseason games in the books, it's time to take a look back at the bowl season and highlight some of the top performances. As expected, there were no shortage of standout performances from every position and some tough choices to make on all three sides of the ball. 

 

The bowl season had several big-time performances from players at every position, but here are Athlon Sports' picks for the 2016-17 All-Bowl Team.

 

College Football's 2016-17 All-Bowl Team
 

First-Team

Offense

Second-Team

Offense

Third-Team

Offense

QB

Deshaun Watson

Clemson 

Sam Darnold

USC 

Baker Mayfield

Oklahoma 

RB

Saquon Barkley

Penn State 

Justin Jackson

Northwestern 

Joe Williams

Utah 

RB

Bo Scarbrough

Alabama 

Dalvin Cook

Florida State 

Jamaal Williams

BYU 

FB

Darnell Woolfolk

Army 

Chris High

Navy 

Sam Rogers

Virginia Tech 

AP

Jaylen Samuels

NC State 

Joe Mixon

Oklahoma 

Anthony Wales (RB)

WKU 

WR

Mike Williams/

Hunter Renfrow

Clemson 

Chris Godwin

Penn State 

Allenzae Staggers

Southern Miss 

WR

KD Cannon

Baylor 

James Washington

Oklahoma State 

Deebo Samuel

South Carolina 

WR

Deontay Burnett

USC 

Trent Taylor

Louisiana Tech 

Olabisi Johnson

Colorado State 

TE

Troy Fumagalli

Wisconsin 

Deon Watson

Idaho 

Hayden Hurst

South Carolina 

OL

Scott Frantz

Kansas State 

Jordan Rose

Idaho 

Matt Leidner

Minnesota 

OL

Forrest Lamp

WKU 

Freddie Burden

Georgia Tech 

Orlando Brown

Oklahoma 

OL

Ryan Ramczyk

Wisconsin 

Kofi Amichia

USF 

Ethan Pocic

LSU 

OL

Jay Guillermo/

Mitch Hyatt

Clemson 

Tejan Koroma

BYU 

Joe Scelfo

NC State 

 

OL

Jonah Williams/

Cam Robinson

Alabama 

Garett Bolles/

Isaac Asiata

Utah 

Damien Mama

USC 

       
 

First-Team

Defense

Second-Team

Defense

Third-Team

Defense

DL

DeMarcus Walker

Florida State 

Harold Landry

Boston College 

Duke Ejiofor

Wake Forest 

DL

Jonathan Allen

Alabama 

Pita Taumoepenu

Utah 

Jesse Brubaker

Tulsa 

DL

Clelin Ferrell/

Carlos Watkins

Clemson 

N. Dawson-Brents

WKU 

Vincent Taylor

Oklahoma State 

DL

Derek Barnett

Tennessee 

Stevie Tu'ikolovatu

USC 

J. Rolland-Jones

Arkansas State 

DL

Trenton Thompson

Georgia 

Solomon Thomas

Stanford 

Taylor Young (LB)

Baylor 

LB

Reuben Foster/

Ryan Anderson

Alabama 

Calvin Munson

San Diego State 

Thomas Brown

Wake Forest 

LB

Matthew Thomas

Florida State 

Ja'Boree Poole

Southern Miss 

Airius Moore

NC State 

LB

Ben Boulware

Clemson 

Raekwon McMillan

Ohio State 

Blake Cashman

Minnesota 

LB

Arden Key/

Tashawn Bower

LSU 

T.J. Watt

Wisconsin 

Jeremy Timpf

Army 

DB

Cordrea Tankersley

Clemson 

Jamal Adams/

Tre'Davious White

LSU 

Malik Hooker

Ohio State 

DB

Dallas Lloyd

Stanford 

Anthony Shegog/

Mook Reynolds

Virginia Tech 

Minkah Fitzpatrick

Alabama 

DB

Chauncey Gardner

Florida 

Leon McQuay

USC 

Chase Hansen

Utah 

DB

Rod Smith

San Diego State 

Jaylen Myrick

Minnesota 

Corn Elder

Miami  

       
 

First-Team

Specialists

Second-Team

Specialists

Third-Team

Specialists

K

Andy Phillips

Utah 

Harrison Butker

Georgia Tech 

Matt Boermeester

USC 

P

JK Scott

Alabama 

Kenny Allen

Michigan 

Mason King

Louisville 

KR

Darrynton Evans

App. State 

Keith Gavin

Florida State 

Carlos Henderson

Louisiana Tech 

PR

Kalija Lipscomb

Vanderbilt 

Tre'Davious White

LSU 

Antonio Callaway

Florida 

 

Teaser:
College Football's 2016-17 All-Bowl Team
Post date: Tuesday, January 10, 2017 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/clemson-gets-revenge-beats-alabama-claim-college-footballs-2016-national
Body:

For the second year in a row, college football’s national championship game produced a thriller and a title game that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. However, this year’s version produced a new champion, as Clemson knocked off Alabama 35-31 to claim the program’s first national title since 1981. The epic battle between the Tigers and Crimson Tide is arguably one of the best championship games since the start of the BCS era, rivaling the Texas-USC showdown in the Rose Bowl after the 2005 season.

 

Clemson entered this game as a touchdown underdog and looked to be in trouble early after Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough scored twice to give the Crimson Tide a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. However, the Tigers battled back behind quarterback Deshaun Watson. An 87-yard drive midway through the second quarter produced a touchdown run by Watson, cutting the lead to 14-7 before halftime. These two teams went back-and-forth in the third quarter, which included a 68-yard strike from Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts to tight end O.J. Howard to give coach Nick Saban’s team a 24-14 lead going into the final 15 minutes.

 

Despite the 14-point deficit and a suffocating defense on the other side, Clemson continued to chip away behind Watson. A four-yard strike to Mike Williams cut the lead to 24-21 with 14 minutes remaining and another drive later in the quarter resulted in a Wayne Gallman one-yard plunge to give the Tigers a 28-24 lead. The final four minutes produced plenty of back-and-forth drama. A stagnant Alabama offense went 68 yards on six plays, with Hurts scoring on a 30-yard run to take a 31-28 lead with just over two minutes remaining.

 

However, while Alabama’s defense was the best in the nation in 2016, it just didn’t have enough at the end to slow down Watson or Williams in the clutch. The Tigers quickly moved 68 yards over nine plays, as Watson connected with Hunter Renfrow with one second remaining to give Clemson a 35-31 edge and the national championship.

 

 

 

After falling just short in Glendale, Ariz. last year, Dabo Swinney’s team had the right answers this time around. Clemson gashed the nation’s best defense for 511 overall yards and 99 snaps took a toll on the Crimson Tide’s depth on defense. Additionally, the Tigers went 4-for-4 on red zone trips, converted 7 of 18 third downs,  allowed only three points off two turnovers and put the clamps on Alabama’s rushing attack after a rough start.

 

Clemson didn’t need a national championship to solidify its place among the nation’s best programs in recent years. However, this win only adds to the impressive resume Swinney has pieced together since taking over the job in 2008. The Tigers have won 28 games over the last two years and are bringing the title trophy back to Clemson after a victory in Tampa on Monday night.

 

What went wrong for Alabama? For a good chunk of the first half, everything was going in favor of the Crimson Tide. The ground attack was hitting on all cylinders behind Bo Scarbrough, and the defense wasn’t giving up big plays to Clemson’s offense. However, Alabama’s offense struggled to find consistency for most of the night, and the defense was simply too tired at the end after facing 99 plays. The Crimson Tide are in great shape to win it all in 2017, but this team was just a stop away from going back-to-back and claiming the program’s fifth national title under Saban.

 

CFB National Championship Awards

 

Offensive MVP: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

Is there really any doubt? For the second year in a row, Watson was the best player on the field in the national championship game. The junior completed 36 of 56 passes for 420 yards and three scores and added 43 yards and one touchdown on the ground.

 

Defensive MVP: Ben Boulware, LB, Clemson

A couple of Clemson defenders deserve a mention here, but let’s give the nod to Boulware. The senior is the emotional leader for the defense and was critical in getting the defense in the right position to make plays against Alabama’s offense on Monday night. Boulware ended the game with six tackles (two for a loss) and one pass breakup.

 

Unsung Hero: Hunter Renfrow, WR, Clemson

It’s hard to call Renfrow an unsung hero since the sophomore caught the game-winning touchdown pass. However, in addition to his 10 catches for 92 yards and two touchdown catches, Renfrow tackled Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson after a fumble recovery, likely preventing another touchdown by the Crimson Tide defense. 

Teaser:
Clemson Gets Revenge, Knocks off Alabama to Claim College Football's 2016 National Championship
Post date: Tuesday, January 10, 2017 - 01:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/nevada-pulls-amazing-comeback-final-minute-against-new-mexico-lobos-wolf-pack-overtime
Body:

If you ever needed a reason to play until the final seconds, this is it. New Mexico was up on Nevada 90-76 in the final minute of their game on Saturday and everyone thought it was over ... except the Wolf Pack that is.

 

They began an improbable 14-point comeback in just a minute to send the game into overtime. 

 

 

After losing by 105-104, the Lobos won't soon forget this one.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, January 9, 2017 - 12:03
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/best-individual-performances-college-football-2016
Body:

The 2016 college football regular season featured dozens of memorable, individual performances. Your humble author has gone to the liberty of channeling his inner Eric Roberts, and pared the season's top games down to the best-of-the-best. 

 

Performances that put the special in special teams, demonstrations of defensive dominance and – SPOILER – a lot of Lamar Jackson headline the 17 best individual games of '16.

 

Honorable Mention

 

Tennessee DE Derek Barnett at South Carolina, Oct. 29: Three sacks, two quarterback hurries 

 

Wyoming RB Brian Hill at Nevada, Oct. 22: 289 rushing yards, three touchdowns 

 

Louisville QB Lamar Jackson vs. Charlotte, Sept. 1: 17-of-23 for 286 passing yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions; 119 rushing yards, two touchdowns 

 

Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey at Cal, Nov. 19: 284 rushing yards, three touchdowns 

 

Toledo QB Logan Woodside at BYU, Sept. 30: 30-of-38 for 505 passing yards, five touchdowns  

 

17. San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey vs. Cal - Sept. 10

Pumphrey, college football's new rushing king, set the tone for his standout senior season with a 281-yard, three-touchdown outpouring against Cal.

 

"The numbers he put up speak for themselves," Cal wide receiver Chad Hansen said of Pumphrey in his postgame press conference, via GoAztecs.com "He’s a great player. Great, great player."

 

16. Eastern Washington WR Cooper Kupp at Washington State - Sept. 3

This countdown may be reserved for the FBS, but Kupp deserves recognition on two fronts. First, he won the 2015 Walter Payton Award -- the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. Second, Kupp torched a Power Five opponent.  

 

His 12 receptions for 203 yards and three touchdowns set the tone for Eastern Washington's second win over a Pac-12 opponent since 2013.

 

15. Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk vs. New Mexico State - Oct. 29

Some programs go literally years without a punt returned for a touchdown. UCLA, for example, hasn't had one since 2005. Christian Kirk took two back in a single game in 2016. 

 

Both of his returns against New Mexico State exceeded 70 yards. I'm winded just typing that. 

 

14. Oklahoma State DT Vincent Taylor vs. Texas - Oct. 1

Rare is the occasion when a couple of PATs set the scene for one of the best performances of a football season. In the case of Oklahoma State's Taylor, however, two blocked kicks tell only part of the story. 

 

On one of his two blocked PATs against Texas, Taylor scooped the ball and headed down field. Channeling an option quarterback, he tossed a lateral to teammate Tre Flowers, who took the assist to the house for two points. The score gave the Cowboys momentum in a Big 12 win.

 

13. Utah LB Hunter Dimick at Arizona State - Nov. 10

Hunter Dimick became such a permanent fixture in the Arizona State backfield on Nov. 10, he should have had to pay a hotel tax. Dimick led the charge for Utah on a night in which the Utes accrued an eye-popping 22 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks, accounting for 6.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage and an FBS season-high 5 QB takedowns on his own.

 

12. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson vs. Louisville - Oct. 1

Big-time players come through in the clutch. Watson proved that in a pivotal win over Louisville. 

 

The Heisman Trophy runner-up didn't play a perfect game. Of the contests listed here, he may have had the most unimpressive from a purely statistical standpoint, throwing three interceptions. 

 

But his five touchdown passes were integral to the Tigers' victory -- a victory that, with the benefit of hindsight, we see was necessary for Clemson getting back to the College Football Playoff. What's more, Watson struck for two of his five scores in the final seven minutes. Clutch.

 

11. Alabama DE Jonathan Allen vs. Texas A&M - Oct. 22

You just know the best player on the best defense in college football is bound to have at least one of the season's top games. For Alabama's Allen, it came in a showdown of undefeateds. 

 

Texas A&M visited Bryant-Denny Stadium with designs on a landscape-shifting upset. What the Aggies got was a whole lot of Allen in the backfield. He got to quarterback Trevor Knight for a sack, four hurries, and took a fumble to the house for a touchdown.

 

10. Utah RB Joe Williams at UCLA - Oct. 22

A little more than a month before steam-rolling the UCLA defense, Williams was retired. A series of injuries to Utah running backs brought him back on the field, much to the delight of head coach Kyle Whittingham, who said of the running back's return: "What a blessing." 

 

Blessing for the Utes, curse for the Bruins. Williams set what was then the FBS season-high for rushing yards in a game with 332.

 

9. Louisiana Tech WR Carlos Henderson at UMass - Oct. 15

Has does a wide receiver follow up a 232-yard, three-touchdown performance? If you're Louisiana Tech's Henderson, your encore is a 326-yard, five-touchdown game.

 

Henderson followed up a monster night on Oct. 6 against Conference USA rival Western Kentucky with an even more impressive showing at UMass. He didn't quite reach the NCAA record for receiving yards in a game -- coincidentally held by another Louisiana Tech product, Troy Edwards -- but he did set the benchmark for pass catchers in the 2016 season. 

 

8. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook vs. Clemson - Oct. 29

Cook was twice denied an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony. No one game from his standout career made a better case for him to go to New York than his performance against rival Clemson. 

 

 

Cook rolled off nearly nine yards per carry en route to 169 for the contest. His four touchdowns account for nearly one-quarter of all the rushing scores the Clemson defense has allowed in 14 games this season. 

 

7. Arizona State RB Kalen Ballage vs. Texas Tech - Sept. 10

Call the direct-snap formation used in Tempe whatever you want, so long as you don't call it the Wildcat. It's dubbed the Sparky there, and in an early-season matchup with Texas Tech, it landed Ballage a spot in college football history. 

 

Ballage rushed for seven touchdowns out of the set, and caught an eighth score to tie an NCAA record in the Sun Devils' 68-55 win.

 

6. Washington QB Jake Browning at Oregon - Oct. 8 

Washington snapped a 12-year losing streak to rival Oregon in emphatic fashion, and Browning set the pace. The Hukies' quarterback went 22-of-28 for 304 passing yards with a ridiculous six touchdowns and zero interceptions. 

 

Browning also scored a couple of rushing touchdowns for eight on the afternoon -- one of which quite literally pointed to the end of Oregon's dominance in this series.

 

 

5. Texas RB D'Onta Foreman at Texas Tech - Nov. 5

In an otherwise down year for Texas football, Foreman elevated his game to a level rarely seen in Austin. He joined the illustrious 2,000-Yard Club in 2016, with an incredible 341 coming in the Longhorns' 45-37 win at Texas Tech. 

 

Foreman averaged more than a first down on every touch that afternoon -- 10.33 yards per, to be exact -- and crossed the goal line a season-high three times.

 

4. USC CB/Ret. Adoree' Jackson vs. Notre Dame - Nov. 26

Get you somebody that can do both, raps Rae Sremmurd's Swae Lee on the chart-topping hit, "Black Beatles" -- lyrics that apply nicely to USC's do-everything star. 

 

 

Jackson demonstrated he's a Jack-of-all-trades in a rout of rival Notre Dame, hitting the Irish for touchdowns of 52 yards on a reception; 55 yards on a punt return; and 97 yards on a kickoff return.

 

3. Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes vs. Oklahoma - Oct. 22

Numerous record-setting quarterbacks have called Lubbock, Texas, home. None have ever had the kind of performance Mahomes put together in the 2016 season.

 

Mahomes passed for a staggering 734 yards in a 66-59 loss to Oklahoma. While that was a record-setter, a Texas Tech quarterback piling up huge numbers through the air is nothing new. Add his 85 rushing yards, and consider he scored seven total touchdowns, and Mahomes set himself apart from every Red Raider to man the air-raid before him. 

 

2. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson at Syracuse - Sept. 9

It's the game that launched a Heisman candidacy. While Jackson's Week 1 performance against Charlotte commanded attention, his show-stopping game against ACC competition truly put the nation on notice. 

 

 

Jackson used the unfettered spotlight of a Friday night contest to deluge poor Syracuse with 610 yards of total offense -- 411 passing and 199 rushing -- with five touchdowns. For most players, it would be considered the game of a lifetime. In most seasons, it would stand out as No. 1. 

 

Lamar Jackson isn't most players, nor was his 2016 any average season. 

 

1. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson vs. Florida State - Sept. 17

Rarely can one point to a mid-September game as the moment a Heisman winner sewed up his stiff-arm trophy. And, indeed, Jackson had to do more to ensure he claimed the hardware in December. 

 

However, this Week 3 contest put the Louisville quarterback so far ahead of the pack, there would be no catching him. 

 

On an afternoon when Louisville honored late hometown hero Muhammad Ali, Jackson paid homage by KO'ing Florida State in a fashion similar to The Greatest's 1965 fight with Sonny Liston. Jackson's total stats against Florida State weren't as gaudy as the previous two weeks against Charlotte and Syracuse, but rushing for four touchdowns and passing for a fifth against the Seminole defense is a whole different level of excellence. 

 

 

Truly, it was the day Lamar Jackson shook up the world.

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of CFBHuddle.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

Teaser:
Best Individual Performances in College Football in 2016
Post date: Monday, January 9, 2017 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl-playoff-bracket-2017
Body:

Wonder no more about the NFL playoff scenarios, the NFL playoff bracket is set. Here's a quick look at which teams will be facing off in the coming weeks. (Courtesy of NFL.com)

NFL Playoff Bracket (Updated)

 

Wild Card Playoffs take place on January 7-8 and Divisional Playoffs happen on January 14-15.

 

NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS

Saturday, January 14​
​NFC:    4:35 PM (ET)

Seattle at Atlanta (FOX)

AFC:    8:15 PM (ET)

Houston at New England (CBS)

 

Sunday, January 15
AFC:    1:05 PM (ET)

Pittsburgh at Kansas City (NBC)​
NFC:    4:40 PM (ET)

Green Bay at Dallas (FOX)

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, January 9, 2017 - 10:14
All taxonomy terms: Alabama Crimson Tide, College Football, SEC
Path: /college-football/steve-sarkisian-ultimate-test-nick-sabans-process
Body:

Steve Sarkisian

TAMPA — Often copied, rarely duplicated and consistently discussed, Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s "Process" about building and running a team at a championship level is about as well known in college football circles as the spread offense by this point.

 

There are numerous books on it, to say nothing of the in-depth features that have appeared on nearly every major website and radio station trying to dissect it. It’s a favorite talking point for television analysts and is as much a part of the lexicon in the state of Alabama as “Roll Tide” is.

 

"I think what we're trying to say when people talk about the process is there's a certain way that you go about whatever it is you're trying to accomplish, and you define that so everybody clearly understands what their role is," Saban said at Media Day for the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. "Everybody has got to buy into it, or it doesn't really work."

 

It is that last point that led the waves of reporters at Amalie Arena to flock not to Saban’s podium, but to roll up 10-deep in front of the team’s new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. It was a striking visual because, for the first time in what must be two decades, the biggest media throng at a press conference was not reserved for the sport’s most towering figure, but rather for somebody who was out of work six months ago and persona non grata from just about any coaching position.

 

Saban’s decision five days ago to install Sarkisian as the team’s offensive coordinator one game early is easily one of the most surprising moves at the biggest stage in all of college football. The only comparable situation was nearly 20 years ago when David Cutcliffe left Tennessee for Ole Miss after the 1998 season.

 

The Volunteers had nearly a month to navigate that situation however. Alabama will have less than a week this time around and will be playing a team that pushed them to the very brink 12 months ago.

 

The reason for Lane Kiffin’s early retirement to Boca Raton was simple, no matter what early statements said to the contrary. His focus was elsewhere in the run up to the Peach Bowl and the Tide’s game plan suffered in that rather shaky win over Washington. He did not buy into everything that Saban was saying in December. Comments to Sports Illustrated about the program, staff meetings and the head man himself that came out shortly before the semifinal game didn’t help things and Kiffin feeding a reporter news about missing another bus was probably the final straw in the relationship between the two very different personalities.

 

As a result, we’re about to see if Saban’s meticulous “process” — one that spells out every role and often every minute of a staffer’s job — is up to the ultimate test against another elite program for that illustrious golden trophy. It has been a process that has delivered ring after ring to Tuscaloosa over the past eight years. It’s one that has seen coaches come and go at all levels. But it hasn’t quite been one that has ditched play-callers a week before the biggest game of the season.

 

"Sark has done this for a long time, and he's called plays for a long time. He's got a lot of experience, he's got a lot of knowledge. I think he's very well organized in his approach, and I'd tell him what I tell any coach: we've prepared to do certain things in certain situations, let's stick with the plan," Saban said. "Until we have to adjust the plan, that's what the players know, that's what we've practiced, that's what we need to go out and try to do, and that's going to give us the best chance to be able to execute and be successful. I think he'll do that."

 

Lane KiffinThat’s subtle speak for saying a Kiffin-for-Sark exchange is much more of a calculated decision than a leap of faith, especially at this stage in the season. The Alabama head coach wouldn’t be as successful as he has been without navigating that calculus over the past several years and it’s a testament to what Saban has established in Tuscaloosa that just about every one of his players barely batted an eyelash at the move upon first hearing of it.

 

Nearly to a man, the team didn’t say they were shocked or surprised at what unfolded last Sunday night and into the formal announcement on Monday. Most of the Crimson Tide offensive players had to struggle to even come up with a few noticeable differences about practice this week, falling back on saying things were simply a little more energetic or up-tempo — but overall just as smooth as before.

 

"It didn’t affect myself or anyone on the team as much as everyone wants it to affect us. Everybody keeps talking about it," left tackle Cam Robinson said, almost exasperated at answering another question about the OC changeover. "We just come out and work. We don’t care who the offensive coordinator is. We get the game plan and come out and work.

 

"I mean, y’all honestly think Coach Saban would change the way we prepare or the process we go through week in and week out? No. He’s not letting that happen. Our preparation is the same, the way we prepare is the same, our mindset is the same. Nothing has changed because we have a new offensive coordinator."

 

That probably has equal parts to do with the regimented process the players go through in preparation for their 30th game over the past two seasons as the two coaches at the center of attention this week. Sarkisian and Kiffin were cut from the same cloth as young coaches under Norm Chow and Pete Carroll during the Trojans’ dynasty nearly a decade ago. Both put up with the idiosyncrasies of Al Davis up in Oakland and been among the youngest head coaches in college football at marquee programs. Each has a good reputation for calling plays and a similar approach to blending up-tempo spread concepts with a traditional pro-style attack.

 

Even Clemson isn’t expecting many changes when the Tide take the field with a new face on the sidelines. While Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables did note that the staff has gone back and watched film of USC from 2014 and early ‘15, he cautioned the staff that they couldn’t go "chasing ghosts" to prepare for something different when so much will be the same.

 

So while everything is very much unexpected from the outside, there really is the feeling that this is nothing more than a title change at Alabama to both teams playing in the title game.

 

"I don't think I could have foreseen this four months ago when I was contemplating doing TV to get into this situation," said an energetic Sarkisian at his first public event since being let go by USC last season. "But being part of the program for the last four months, seeing Lane work, being around the office, game planning, working with the coaches, it's not just so foreign where I'm just coming in from the outside and trying to pick up from where they've left off. I’ve been around this thing. When you start calling plays, you start calling plays. You don't get caught up in everything going on outside, you focus on what's going on in between the lines. That's the mindset I'll have."

 

A thinner, healthier looking Sarkisian acted like a natural taking questions on Saturday despite the sudden thrust into the spotlight. He paused for loudspeaker announcements, he said hello to familiar faces in the national media, and he didn’t shy away from answering questions about his abrupt tenure in Los Angeles nor his subsequent journey away from football while he dealt with personal demons.

 

But as Sarkisian explained his duties as an “offensive analyst” and what his role will be in coaching young quarterback Jalen Hurts, he fell back into the mantras of his new mentor 50 feet away saying many of the same words.

 

"I don't want to take away from what this really is about. This is about our team. This is about our players," said Sarkisian. "This is about the job and the situation that they've put themselves in to go out and win a national championship. To do it for a second consecutive year would be an amazing accomplishment. That's where my focus is."

 

For good reason too. After being pushed to the brink by Clemson a season ago, Saban knew that he needed everybody all in on the title game in 2017. Kiffin clearly wasn’t. Sarkisian clearly was given where he was both personally and professionally.

 

Now we’re about to find out if all those minutes that have been accounted for, all those roles clearly defined, all those game plans precisely laid out will pay off. While everybody in the program insists that not much has changed in swapping out coordinators, this isn’t exactly like a manager bringing in a relief pitcher in baseball during the Game 7 of the World Series.

 

Can a coach who’s been on the job for days, and around the program for just a few short months in a limited role, step in and fill maybe the most important shoes in the program on Monday night? That titanic Alabama-Clemson rematch and the ultimate outcome in it will come down not to whether Steve Sarkisian is ready for being thrust into duty, but rather if his boss’ process is truly as dominant as ever no matter what’s thrown at it.

 

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

Teaser:
Steve Sarkisian is the Ultimate Test of Nick Saban’s Process
Post date: Monday, January 9, 2017 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
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If you haven’t seen the seniors on the Athlon Sports FCS Postseason All-America Team on Saturdays, you might catch them on Sundays next season.

 

It would all start with Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who could have been drafted last spring, but returned for his senior season and wound up finishing his career with 428 receptions, 6,464 receiving yards and 73 touchdown catches – all Division I records.

 

The FCS is often good at producing NFL-bound players along the offensive line and at defensive end/outside linebacker, so keep an eye on offensive tackles Julie’n Davenport of Bucknell and Jessamen Dunker of Tennessee State as well as Northern Iowa defensive end Karter Schult, who won the 2016 Buck Buchanan Award, and Missouri State outside linebacker Dylan Cole.

 

The All-America team suggests how much the talent level is widespread across the FCS. Sam Houston State is the only team with two selections as the 29-player team features 28 different schools from 11 different conferences.

 

Athlon Sports 2016 FCS Postseason All-America Team

 

  Offense   Defense   Speciailsts
QB Jeremiah Briscoe
Sam Houston State
DE P.J. Hall
Sam Houston State 
K David Marvin
Wofford 
RB Chase Edmonds
Fordham
DE Karter Schult
Northern Iowa 
P Miles Bergner
South Dakota 
RB Tarik Cohen
North Carolina A&T 
DT Winston Craig
Richmond 
KR Darius Hammond
Charleston Southern 
FB Joe Protheroe
Cal Poly 
DT Patrick Ricard
Maine 
PR Rashard Davis 
James Madison 
WR Cooper Kupp
Eastern Washington
LB Dylan Cole
Missouri State 
LS Joshua Appel
Indiana State 
 
WR Karel Hamilton
Samford 
LB Folarin Orimolade
Dartmouth 
AP John Lovett
Princeton 
 
TE Dallas Goedert
South Dakota State 
LB Brett Taylor
Western Illinois 
   
C Casey Dunn
Jacksonville State
CB Casey DeAndrade
New Hampshire
   
G Zack Johnson
North Dakota State
CB Dee Delaney
The Citadel
   
G Corey Levin
Chattanooga
S Lorenzo Jerome
Saint Francis  
   
T Julie'n Davenport
Bucknell
S Cole Reyes
North Dakota 
   
T Jessamen Dunker
Tennessee State 
       

 

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

 

(Cooper Kupp photo courtesy of Eastern Washington University Athletics)

Teaser:
Athlon Sports 2016 FCS All-America Team
Post date: Monday, January 9, 2017 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/fcs-rankings-final-power-poll-2016
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James Madison entered November without a win over a top-25 team, but that changed in the money portion of the season as the Dukes won their second FCS national championship.

 

Behind first-year head coach Mike Houston, James Madison beat nationally ranked teams in six of its final seven games, including a playoff sweep of New Hampshire, previously unbeaten Sam Houston State, five-time defending national champion North Dakota State and then Youngstown State, 28-14, in the FCS title game.

 

"You're the best team in the nation. At the end of the year, every college football program in the country has this goal,“ Houston said.

 

So is the NDSU dynasty over and it’s an all-new FCS? Not necessarily, but James Madison and its terrific talent just may be the team to beat again next season.

 

As far as this season, the Dukes earned their national championship considering who they beat from November on.

 

Here is the final 2016 Athlon Sports FCS Power Poll:

 

1. James Madison

(14-1, 8-0 CAA Football)

Preseason Ranking: 14

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 5

The seniors helped lead the way in the championship game win over Youngstown State. Running back Khalid Abdullah rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns while earning the most outstanding player award, and linebacker Gage Steele had six tackles, two sacks and a pass breakup. The Dukes won their final 12 games, losing only to an FBS program (North Carolina) this season. 

 

2. North Dakota State

(12-2, 7-1 Missouri Valley)

Preseason Ranking: 1

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 1

The Bison played the toughest schedule in the FCS, with their 27-17 loss to James Madison in the national semifinals their 10th game against a ranked opponent. Oddly, their two losses came within the friendly confines of the Fargodome. Consider head coach Chris Klieman’s squad quite motivated this offseason.

 

3. Youngstown State

(12-4, 6-2 Missouri Valley)

Preseason Ranking: 22

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 14

Bo Pelini helped the former FCS power get back to an elite level in his second season coaching in his hometown. The Missouri Valley Conference squad overcame a lot of adversity and fourth-quarter deficits this season, but the Penguins were fairly non-competitive in the national title game.

 

4. Eastern Washington

(12-2, 8-0 Big Sky)

Preseason Ranking: 12

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 2

Cooper Kupp is NFL-bound as the most accomplished wide receiver in FCS history and sophomore quarterback Gage Gubrud set the subdivision’s single-season record with 5,160 passing yards. The Eagles were denied a trip to the FCS championship game by a last-second loss to Youngstown State in the national semifinals.

 

5. Sam Houston State

(12-1, 9-0 Southland)

Preseason Ranking: 2

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 4

The Bearkats were the only FCS team to go unbeaten in the regular season, but they were swamped by James Madison, 65-7, in the national quarterfinals. Head coach K.C. Keeler will welcome back a lot of talented players, including quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe, who threw for an FCS-record 57 touchdowns this season.

 

6. Wofford

(10-4, 6-2 Southern)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 19

The Terriers won the South Carolina FCS title with wins over Charleston Southern and The Citadel in the playoffs. Their senior-laden team will be hard-pressed to replace fullback Lorenzo Long after he led the Southern Conference with 1,424 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.

 

7. Richmond

(10-4, 5-3 CAA)

Preseason Ranking: 4

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 11

The Spiders won two playoff games after losing starting quarterback Kyle Lauletta to an ACL tear in the regular-season finale. Shortly after the season, head coach Danny Rocco resigned to move across the CAA to Delaware and the Spiders quickly hired Chattanooga's Russ Huesman, their defensive coordinator on the 2008 national championship team.

 

8. South Dakota State

(9-4, 7-1 Missouri Valley)

Preseason Ranking: 8

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 7

A win over co-Missouri Valley champ North Dakota State at the Fargodome in mid-October highlighted the Jackrabbits’ season. No opposing team – the Bison included – will be anxious to to deal with the triumvirate of quarterback Taryn Christion, tight end Dallas Goedert and wide reveiver Jake Wieneke next season.

 

9. Jacksonville State

(10-2, 7-0 Ohio Valley)

Preseason Ranking: 5

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 3

Gamecocks coach John Grass hasn’t lost an OVC game in his three seasons, but sandwiched around his team’s 2015 national runner-up finish are two second-round fizzles at home – this year against Youngstown State. They swept the OVC’s postseason awards: Grass (coach), quarterback Eli Jenkins (offensive), defensive end Darius Jackson (defensive) and safety Marlon Bridges (freshman).

 

10. The Citadel

(10-2, 8-0 Southern)

Preseason Ranking: 10

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 6

First-year head coach Brent Thompson led the SoCon champion Bulldogs to a perfect conference record for the first time in school history. Behind senior fullback Tyler Renew, they paced the FCS in rushing yards per game (348.2).

 

11. Villanova

(9-4, 6-2 CAA Football)

Preseason Ranking: 20

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 12

Head coach Andy Talley enjoyed a fitting final season before heading into retirement as the Wildcats won a home playoff game and reached the second round. His defense led the FCS in fewest points (15.0) and yards (259.8) allowed per game.

 

12. Coastal Carolina

(10-2 FCS Independent)

Preseason Ranking: 9

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 13

Injuries led to a merry-go-round at quarterback in the Chanticleers’ final season on the FCS level. When they move to the Sun Belt next season, they won’t get to lean on departing running back De’Angelo Henderson.

 

13. Chattanooga

(9-4, 6-2 Southern)

Preseason Ranking: 7

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 9

With Russ Huesman off to Richmond, the Mocs hired up-and-coming head coach Tom Arth from Division III semifinalist John Carroll. He inherits a team that won a playoff game for the third straight season, but it will lose a dominant senior trio in defensive end Keionta Davis, offensive lineman Corey Levin and running back Derrick Craine.

 

14. North Dakota

(9-3, 8-0 Big Sky)

Preseason Ranking: 15

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 8

Third-year head coach Bubba Schweigert was rewarded with a contract extension through 2021 after leading the Fighting Hawks to a perfect season and co-championship in the Big Sky as well as their first FCS playoff appearance. Safety Cole Reyes was named the conference’s defensive player of the year.

 

15. Charleston Southern

(7-4, 4-1 Big South)

Preseason Ranking: 6

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 10

A difficult season of quarterback injuries and player and coach suspensions ended with a first-round playoff loss to Wofford. Still, the Buccaneers rallied to win a share of their second straight Big South championship. Coach Jamey Chadwell has stepped down to become the associate head coach and offensive coordinator at Coastal Carolina.

 

16. Central Arkansas

(10-3, 8-1 Southland)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 15

The loss of a strong senior class a year ago didn’t hold back the Bears from an outstanding season under head coach Steve Campbell. Often overlooked, wide receiver and return specialist Jatavious Wilson ended his career with 5,649 all-purpose yards, which was fifth among active FCS players this season.

 

17. New Hampshire

(8-5, 6-2 CAA)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 24

Don’t call it a lucky 13 because the Wildcats earned their way into playoffs for the 13th straight season. Once there, head coach Sean McDonnell’s squad pounded Lehigh in the first round. Cornerback Casey DeAndrade concluded a standout four-year career with 62 passes defended.

 

18. Lehigh

(9-3, 6-0 Patriot)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 16

The Patriot League champion Mountain Hawks rolled off nine straight wins before falling to New Hampshire in the playoffs. Quarterback Nick Shafnisky, the league’s offensive player of the year, was surrounded by 1,000-yard rusher Dom Bragalone and two 1,000-yard receivers, Troy Pelletier and Gaitlin Casey.

 

19. Grambling State

(11-1, 9-0 SWAC)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 21

The Tigers won only one SWAC game in the two seasons before Broderick Fobbs took over as head coach, but they’ve captured 25 in his three regular seasons. It got better in the postseason as they beat Alcorn State in the SWAC championship game and North Carolina Central in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl.

 

20. North Carolina Central

(9-3, 8-0 MEAC)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 17

A late celebration penalty and blocked extra point helped cause the MEAC champion’s 10-9 loss in the Celebration Bowl. But like Grambling State and Fobbs, all the Eagles know is success in conference play under third-year head coach Jerry Mack, having gone 21-3 with three titles.

 

21. San Diego

(10-2, 8-0 Pioneer)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: Unranked

The non-scholarship Toreros earned the Pioneer Football League’s first-ever win in the playoffs by avenging a September loss to Cal Poly. Senior running back Jonah Hodges had a spectacular final season with 2,104 all-purpose yards and 20 touchdowns.

 

22. Illinois State

(6-6, 4-4 Missouri Valley)

Preseason Ranking: 11

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 18

The Redbirds were the second team to earn an at-large playoff bid with a mere 6-5 record (after Western Illinois last year), but they blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of their first-round loss to Central Arkansas. Still, they had wins over Northwestern and South Dakota State this season.

 

23. Cal Poly

(7-5, 5-3 Big Sky)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 20

After a big first half of the season, the Mustangs failed to beat the better teams in the second half, ultimately falling to San Diego in their playoff rematch. Fullback Joe Protheroe will look to build on a banner junior campaign next season.

 

24. Princeton

(8-2, 6-1 Ivy)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: 25

The Tigers shared the Ivy League title for the second time in the last four years under head coach Bob Surace. They handled rival Penn, the other co-champion, in the head-to-head meeting. All-around threat John Lovett was named the league’s offensive player of the year.

 

25. Albany

(7-4, 4-4 CAA)

Preseason Ranking: Unranked

Final Regular-Season Ranking: Unranked

The Great Danes and Fordham (8-3) were the last two teams left out of the playoff field. With wins over Buffalo, Northeast Conference champ Saint Francis and New Hampshire, and the return of 1,400-yard running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, head coach Greg Gattuso’s squad is trending upward. 

 

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

 

(Top photo by James Madison Athletics)

Teaser:
FCS Rankings: Final Power Poll
Post date: Monday, January 9, 2017 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/6-coaching-candidates-replace-sonny-dykes-california
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College football’s 2016-17 coaching carousel received a late surprise, as California fired coach Sonny Dykes on Sunday. Dykes went 19-30 over four years with the Golden Bears and guided the program to an 8-5 mark with an appearance in the Armed Forces Bowl in 2015. Although Dykes didn’t have an overall winning record during his career, he inherited a mess from former coach Jeff Tedford and the program showed marked progress after a 1-11 record in 2013.

 

With the late firing, California likely has a good idea of which coach it wants to hire. However, this program has its share of obstacles. There are budget concerns to overcome, and the Pac-12 North isn’t getting any easier with the recent improvement of Washington, Washington State and Stanford’s run under coach David Shaw.

 

Who might replace Dykes at California?

 

6 Coaching Candidates to Replace Sonny Dykes at California

 

Beau Baldwin, head coach, Eastern Washington

Baldwin is a bit of a longshot, but the California native is one of the top coaches in the FCS ranks and has guided Eastern Washington to an 85-32 record since 2008. Under Baldwin’s direction, the Eagles have made the FCS playoffs in four out of the last five years. Additionally, Eastern Washington claimed the FCS national title in 2010. Baldwin is regarded for his work on offense but has never coached at the FBS level.

 

Troy Calhoun, head coach, Air Force

Considering Calhoun coaches at his alma mater and has a good run going in Colorado Springs, it would take a lot for the former AFA quarterback to leave. Calhoun is 77-53 at Air Force since 2007 and has guided the Falcons to bowl appearances in nine out of 10 seasons. He also spent time in the NFL with the Broncos and Texans and coached as an assistant at Ohio and Wake Forest. Calhoun’s experience working at a tough job (AFA) and maximizing resources is also something that could be appealing to California.

 

Chip Kelly, former 49ers head coach

Kelly is likely to generate a lot of buzz for this job after he was fired following a 2-14 record as the 49ers head coach in 2016. While Kelly went 28-35 during his career as a NFL head coach, he recorded a 46-7 mark at Oregon from 2009-12. Kelly’s high-powered offense would be an excellent fit at California and the Pac-12 once again.

 

Ron Rivera, head coach, Carolina Panthers

Hiring Rivera from the NFL is unlikely, but he’s worth a mention in this space as a former California player. The California native played with the Golden Bears from 1980-83 before a stint in the NFL with the Bears (1984-92). Rivera joined the coaching ranks in 1997 with the Bears and made additional stops with the Eagles and Chargers before becoming a head coach with the Panthers in 2011. Under Rivera’s direction, Carolina is 53-42 and guided the Panthers to an appearance in Super Bowl 50. Leaving the NFL is unlikely, but Rivera has strong ties to this program. 

 

Jake Spavital, offensive coordinator, California

Spavital was promoted to interim coach after Dykes was fired on Jan. 8. The Oklahoma native is a rising star in the coaching ranks and joined the California staff after two seasons at Texas A&M (2014-15). Spavital worked as the play-caller for the Golden Bears in 2016 and guided the offense to an average of 37.1 points per game. Spavital is just 31 years old and has no previous head coaching experience.

 

Justin Wilcox, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin

Wilcox has plenty of experience in the Pac-12 thanks to stints at California (2003-05), Washington (2012-13) and USC (2014-15). The Oregon native played his college ball with the Ducks and has worked as a defensive coordinator for 11 straight years. After working with the Trojans for two seasons, Wilcox was hired at Wisconsin prior to the 2016 season. Under Wilcox’s direction, the Badgers ranked third in the Big Ten by limiting opponents to 15.6 points per game. Wilcox has no previous experience as a head coach.

Teaser:
6 Coaching Candidates to Replace Sonny Dykes at California
Post date: Sunday, January 8, 2017 - 15:50
Path: /nfl/nfl-records-players-set-2016
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Each season, NFL players do something that's never been done before, or achieve amazing milestones that only a few have reached. 2016 was no exception. Tom Brady broke quarterback records, Odell Beckham Jr. joined an elite group of receving greats, and Ezekiel Elliott joined Eric Dickerson as one the game's greatest rookie-season running backs. Here's a quick rundown of records and milestones, broken down by player. 

 

2016 NFL Records & Milestones  

JAY AJAYI
RB, Miami Dolphins

  • Rushed for 204 yards in Week 6 and 214 yards in Week 7 and became the fourth player in NFL history to rush for at least 200 yards in consecutive games, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers O.J. SIMPSON (twice) and EARL CAMPBELL and RICKY WILLIAMS.
  • Became the first player since 1970 to rush for 200 yards in two of his first three career starts.
  • Became the fourth player in NFL history to record three games with at least 200 rushing yards in a single season, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers EARL CAMPBELL (four in 1980) and O.J. SIMPSON (three in 1973) and TIKI BARBER (three in 2005).
  • Had 420 rushing yards in two games against Buffalo in 2016, the fourth-highest rushing total against one team in a single season.
 

 

LORENZO ALEXANDER
LB, Buffalo Bills

  • Entered the season with nine career sacks in nine seasons and became the first player to begin his career in 1982 or later with a career total of fewer than 10 sacks to record at least 10 sacks (12.5) in his 10th NFL season.   

 

 

DWAYNE ALLEN
TE, Indianapolis Colts

  • Had three touchdown receptions in the first half of the Colts’ 41-10 win at the New York Jets in Week 13 on Monday Night Footballand joined Pro Football Hall of Famer JERRY RICE (December 18, 1995) as the only players to have three touchdown catches in the first half of a Monday Night Football game.
 

VIC BEASLEY JR.
LB, Atlanta Falcons

  • Led the NFL with 15.5 sacks.
  • Had three sacks, one forced fumble and a 21-yard fumble-return touchdown in Week 14 and became the 10th NFL player – and first Falcon – to record three sacks and a fumble-return touchdown in a single game since 1982.

 

ODELL BECKHAM JR.
WR, New York Giants

  • Ranked third in the NFL with 101 receptions and 1,367 receiving yards. 
  • Has 288 career receptions, tied with JARVIS LANDRY for the most receptions in a player’s first three seasons in NFL history.
  • Has 11 career games with at least 140 receiving yards, the most in a player’s first three seasons in NFL history.
  • Became the first player in NFL history to record at least 80 catches and 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons.
  • Joined JOHN JEFFERSON (1978-1980) and RANDY MOSS (1998-2000) as the only players in NFL history with at least 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdown catches in each of his first three seasons.
  • Reached 3,000 receiving yards in his 30th career game, the fastest in NFL history (CHARLEY HENNIGAN, 31 games).
 

 

LE’VEON BELL
RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Led the AFC with 1,884 scrimmage yards (1,268 rush, 616 receiving). 
  • Averaged 157.0 scrimmage yards per game in 2016, the third-highest single-season average in NFL history.
  • Had 236 rushing yards with three touchdowns and four catches for 62 yards in Week 14 and became the second player in NFL history with at least 225 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns and 50 receiving yards in a single game, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer JIM BROWN (November 19, 1961).
 

 

ERIC BERRY
S, Kansas City Chiefs

  • Intercepted a two-point conversion attempt and returned it for the go-ahead score with 4:32 remaining in the fourth quarter in the Chiefs’ 29-28 victory at Atlanta in Week 13, marking the first game-winning defensive two-point conversion scored when his team was trailing since the rule was adopted in 2015.
    Berry, who also returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the contest, became the first player to return an interception for both a touchdown and a two-point conversion in the same game.
 

 

ANQUAN BOLDIN
WR, Detroit Lions

  • Had eight touchdown catches in 2016 and became the second player in NFL history (TERRELL OWENS) to have at least 1,000 career receptions (1,076) and record a touchdown catch with four different teams (Arizona, Baltimore, Detroit, San Francisco).
  • Is the fourth player in NFL history to have a season with at least five touchdown receptions with four different teams (Arizona, Baltimore, Detroit, San Francisco), joining TERRELL OWENS (five teams), IRVING FRYAR and BRANDON MARSHALL as the only players in league annals to accomplish the feat.
  • Played in his 200th career game in Week 15 and his 1,067 career receptions are the fourth-most in a player’s first 200 games.
 

 

JOEY BOSA
DE, San Diego Chargers

  • Led all rookies with 10.5 sacks, the highest total by a rookie since 2011 (ALDON SMITH, 14.0).
 

 

SAM BRADFORD
QB, Minnesota Vikings

  • Completed 395 of 552 passes for a 71.6 completion percentage in 2016, the highest single-season completion percentage in NFL history, surpassing DREW BREES’ mark of 71.2 percent (468 of 657) in 2011.
 

 

TOM BRADY
QB, New England Patriots

  • Has 205 career victories including the postseason, the most by a starting quarterback in NFL history.
  • Became the fifth player in NFL history to reach 60,000 passing yards (61,582), joining PEYTON MANNING (71,940), BRETT FAVRE (71,838), DREW BREES (66,111) and DAN MARINO (61,361).
  • Has 5,244 career completions and became the fourth player in NFL history to reach 5,000 completions, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer BRETT FAVRE (6,300), PEYTON MANNING (6,125) and DREW BREES (5,836).
  • Threw 28 touchdown passes with two interceptions in 2016, recording the highest touchdown/interception ratio in NFL history.
  • Has 21 career games with at least four touchdown passes and no interceptions, the most in NFL history.
  • Has passed for 28,678 yards at Gillette Stadium and surpassed BRETT FAVRE(28,240 at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field) for the most passing yards by a quarterback at a single stadium in NFL history.
 

 

DREW BREES
QB, New Orleans Saints

  • Has 66,111 career pass yards and surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (61,361) for the third-most all-time. 
  • Led the NFL with 5,208 passing yards, his NFL-record 5th season with 5,000+ passing yards.
  • Had 37 touchdown passes and extended his NFL-record streak to nine consecutive seasons with at least 30 TD passes. 
    Has nine career seasons with at least 30 touchdown passes, tied for the most in NFL history with Pro Football Hall of Famer BRETT FAVRE and PEYTON MANNING.
  • Extended his NFL-record streak of seasons with at least 4,000 passing yards to 11. 
  • Extended his NFL-record streak to 60 consecutive home games with a touchdown pass.
  • Has 58 career games with at least 300 passing yards and three touchdown passes, the most in NFL history.
  • Passed for four touchdowns and had a rushing touchdown in Week 12, his third career game with at least four touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown, the most in NFL history.
  • Passed for 465 yards in Week 6, his 15th career 400-yard game and surpassed PEYTON MANNING (14) for the most all-time.

 

ANTONIO BROWN
WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Ranked second in the NFL with 106 catches and has 481 receptions over the past four seasons, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer MARVIN HARRISON (469 from 1999-2002) for the most catches in any four-year span in NFL history. 
  • Has four consecutive seasons with at least 100 receptions, tying MARVIN HARRISON (four from 1999-2002) for the most consecutive 100-catch seasons in NFL history. 
  • Reached 600 career receptions in Week 11 in his 96th career game, the fewest games to reach the milestone in NFL history.
 

 

DEZ BRYANT

WR, Dallas Cowboys

  • Had two touchdown catches and his first career touchdown pass in Week 16 and became the fifth player in NFL history with two touchdown catches and a touchdown pass in the same game.
 

 

DEREK CARR
QB, Oakland Raiders

  • Has 81 career touchdown passes and is the fifth player in NFL history with 80 touchdown passes in his first three seasons.
  • In Week 8, passed for 513 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in the Raiders’ 30-24 overtime win at Tampa Bay and became the third quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 500 yards and four touchdowns without an interception in a single game.
 

BRANDIN COOKS
WR, New Orleans Saints

  • Had a 98-yard touchdown reception on Kickoff Weekend and an 87-yard touchdown catch in Week 6 and became first player in NFL history with two touchdown catches of at least 85 yards in his team’s first five games of a season.
 

 

AMARI COOPER
WR, Oakland Raiders

  • Had 83 receptions, 1,153 receiving yards and five touchdown catches and became the third player in NFL history to have at least 70 receptions, 1,000 receiving yards and five touchdown catches in each of his first two career seasons, joining ODELL BECKHAM JR. (2014-2015) and MARQUES COLSTON (2006-2007).
 

 

KIRK COUSINS
QB, Washington Redskins

  • Ranked third in the NFL with 4,917 passing yards.
  • Became the second player in NFL history (AARON RODGERS, 2008-09) to have at least 4,000 passing yards and four or more rushing touchdowns in consecutive seasons.
 

 

STEFON DIGGS
WR, Minnesota Vikings

  • Became the first player in NFL history to have at least 13 catches in consecutive games (Weeks 9-10).
 

 

EZEKIEL ELLIOTT
RB, Dallas Cowboys

  • Became the fifth rookie since 1970 to lead the NFL in rushing yards (1,631) and the first since EDGERRIN JAMES in 1999.
  • Elliott’s 1,631 rushing yards are the third-highest single-season total by a rookie in NFL history, trailing only Pro Football Hall of Famer ERIC DICKERSON (1,808 in 1983) and GEORGE ROGERS (1,674 in 1981).
  • Had five games with at least 125 rushing yards, trailing only ERIC DICKERSON (seven in 1983) for the most by a rookie.
  • Became the first rookie running back to have a 60+ yard touchdown run and an 80+ yard touchdown catch in a season since Pro Football Hall of Famer GALE SAYERS in 1965.
  • Rushed for 130+ yards in four consecutive games (Weeks 3-6), the only rookie in NFL history to accomplish the feat.
 

 

RHETT ELLISON
TE, Minnesota Vikings

  • Had a one-yard touchdown run to give the Vikings a 16-13 lead with 23 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter in Week 9. Ellison, whose touchdown run was the first carry of his five-year career, became the first player in NFL history to score a go-ahead touchdown in the final minute of regulation on the first carry of his career.
 

 

LARRY FITZGERALD
WR, Arizona Cardinals

  • Led the NFL with 107 receptions and at 33 years, 123 days old, became the oldest player to lead the league in receptions since Pro Football Hall of Famer JERRY RICE (34 years, 71 days) in 1996.
  • Has 1,125 career receptions and moved into third place on the all-time receptions list.
  • Has 104 career touchdown receptions, the eighth-most all-time. 
  • Had 1,116 career receptions through his 200th career game in Week 15 and surpassed JERRY RICE (1,115) for the most catches in a player’s first 200 games in NFL history.
 

 

MATT FORTÉ
RB, New York Jets

  • Became one of only four players in NFL history with at least 50 rushing touchdowns (52), 500 receptions (517) and 20 receiving touchdowns (20), joining Pro Football Hall of Famers MARCUS ALLEN and MARSHALL FAULK and HERSCHEL WALKER.
 

 

WILL FULLER
WR, Houston Texans

  • Became the first rookie drafted in the first round to have at least 100 receiving yards in each of his team’s first two games of a season.
  • Became the only rookie in NFL history to have 300 or more receiving yards (323) and a punt-return touchdown in his team’s first four games of a season.
 

 

ANTONIO GATES
TE, San Diego Chargers

  • Had seven touchdown receptions in 2016, bringing his career total to 111 and tying TONY GONZALEZ (111) for the most touchdown catches by a tight end in NFL history.
 

 

TED GINN JR.
WR, Carolina Panthers

  • Had an 88-yard touchdown catch in Week 12 and became the fourth player in NFL history to have a receiving touchdown, punt-return touchdown and kickoff-return touchdown of at least 85 yards each in his career.
 

 

FRANK GORE
RB, Indianapolis Colts

  • Moved into eighth place on the all-time rushing list with 13,065 career yards. 
  • Rushed for 1,025 yards in 2016, his ninth career season with at least 1,000 yards, the fifth-most all-time.
  • Is the fifth player in NFL history with at least 12,500 rushing yards (13,065) and 400 receptions (414). 
  • Is the only player in NFL history with 11 consecutive seasons with 1,200+ scrimmage yards.
 

 

A.J. GREEN
WR, Cincinnati Bengals

  • Has nine career games with at least 150 receiving yards, the fourth-most by a player in his first six seasons.
 

 

ROB GRONKOWSKI
TE, New England Patriots

  • Has 23 career games with at least 100 receiving yards, the third-most by a tight end in NFL history.
 

 

CASEY HAYWARD
CB, San Diego Chargers

  • Led the NFL with a career-high seven interceptions.
 

 

JOHNNY HEKKER
P, Los Angeles Rams

  • Set the single-season NFL record with 51 punts inside the 20-yard line.
 

 

TYREEK HILL
WR-PR-KR, Kansas City Chiefs

  • Joined Pro Football Hall of Famer GALE SAYERS as the only players with at least five receiving touchdowns (six), three rushing touchdowns (three), a punt-return touchdown (two) and a kick-return touchdown (one) in a single season.
  • Scored on a three-yard run, a three-yard reception and an 86-yard kickoff-return in Week 12 and became the first player since Sayers in 1965 to have a rushing touchdown, receiving touchdown and kickoff-return touchdown in the same game.
 

 

JORDAN HOWARD
RB, Chicago Bears

  • Ranked second in the NFL with 1,313 rushing yards, the third-highest total by a rookie not chosen in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft. ALFRED MORRIS (1,613 yards in 2012) and MIKE ANDERSON(1,487 in 2000) are the only players drafted outside of the first four rounds with higher totals in their rookie season.
 

 

DE SEAN JACKSON
WR, Washington Redskins

  • Had an 80-yard touchdown catch in Week 14, his 22nd career touchdown of at least 60 yards, the second-most in NFL history.
 

 

SEBASTIAN JANIKOWSKI
K, Oakland Raiders

  • Has made 55 career 50+ yard field goals and surpassed JASON HANSON (52) for the most in NFL history.
 

 

DAVID JOHNSON
RB, Arizona Cardinals

  • Led the NFL in scrimmage yards (2,118) and touchdowns (20). 
  • Set an NFL record with 15 consecutive games with at least 100 scrimmage yards to begin a season.  
  • Tied Pro Football Hall of Famer BARRY SANDERS (15) as the only players in NFL history to record 15 consecutive games with at least 100 scrimmage yards in a single season.
  • Has 24 rushing touchdowns, eight receiving touchdowns and a kickoff-return touchdown in his career and joined Pro Football Hall of Famer GALE SAYERS as the only players in NFL history with at least 20 rushing touchdowns, five receiving touchdowns and a kickoff-return touchdown in a player’s first two seasons.
  • Has scored multiple touchdowns in 11 career games, tying Pro Football Hall of Famer ERIC DICKERSON and EDGERRIN JAMES for the most such games in a player’s first two seasons in NFL history.

 

JULIO JONES
WR, Atlanta Falcons

  • Led the NFC with 1,409 receiving yards. 
  • Had 475 catches through his 75th career game in Week 10, the most receptions in NFL history by a player in his first 75 games.
  • Had 7,306 career receiving yards through his 75th career game and became one of two players in league annals with at least 7,000 receiving yards in his first 75 games (Pro Football Hall of Famer LANCE ALWORTH, 7,532).

 

TRAVIS KELCE
TE, Kansas City Chiefs

  • Led NFL tight ends with 1,125 receiving yards and ranked second with 85 receptions.
  • Had at least 100 receiving yards in four consecutive games from Weeks 11-14, tied for the longest such streak by a tight end in NFL history.

 

JARVIS LANDRY
WR, Miami Dolphins

  • Has 288 career receptions, tied with ODELL BECKHAM JR. for the most receptions in a player’s first three seasons in NFL history.
 

 

ANDREW LUCK
QB, Indianapolis Colts

  • Reached 15,000 career passing yards in Week 1 in his 56th career game, tied for the second-fastest in NFL history.
     
  • Has seven career game-winning touchdown passes in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, the most in a player’s first five seasons in NFL history.

 

 

ELI MANNING

QB, New York Giants

  • Has 320 career touchdown passes, the seventh-most in NFL history. 
  • Has 4,072 career completions and became the seventh player in NFL history to reach 4,000 completions. 
  • Moved into eighth place on the all-time passing yards list with 48,214 career yards.
 

 

MARCUS MARIOTA
QB, Tennessee Titans

  • Threw multiple touchdown passes in eight consecutive games from Weeks 5-12, the second-longest single-season streak in NFL history by a quarterback in his first two seasons, trailing only Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO’s streak of 10 games in 1984.
  • Became the first quarterback in NFL history to have three games with a 70.0+ completion percentage, at least four touchdown passes and no interceptions in his first two seasons.
 

 

VANCE MC DONALD
TE, San Francisco 49ers

  • Had a 75-yard touchdown catch in Week 2 and a 65-yarder in Week 9 and became the fourth tight end since 1970, and the first since 1997, with two touchdown catches of at least 65 yards in the same season.
   

DE MARCO MURRAY
RB, Tennessee Titans

  • Led the AFC with 1,287 rush yards.
  • In Week 10, rushed for 123 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown, and threw a 10-yard touchdown pass and became the first non-quarterback since Pro Football Hall of Famer JOHN HENRY JOHNSON in 1960 (December 11, 1960) to have a 75+ yard touchdown run and a touchdown pass in the same game.
    Murray also became the first player to record a touchdown run of at least 75 yards and a touchdown pass in the first quarter of the same game since Pro Football Hall of Famer JIM THORPE accomplished the feat for the Cleveland Indians in 1921 against the Columbus Panhandles.
  • Had 756 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns through Week 8, becoming the sixth player in NFL history with at least 750 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in his first eight games with a team.
 

 

LATAVIUS MURRAY
RB, Oakland Raiders

  • Rushed for 114 yards and three touchdowns in the Raiders’ 30-20 victory against Denver in Week 9, marking the third time a player has rushed for at least 100 yards and three touchdowns against the defending Super Bowl champions.
 

 

JORDY NELSON
WR, Green Bay Packers

  • Led the NFL with 14 touchdown receptions.
     
  • Has three seasons with at least 13 touchdown catches in his career, tying Pro Football Hall of Famers LANCE ALWORTHCRIS CARTER and MARVIN HARRISON for the fourth-most in NFL history.
 

 

CAM NEWTON
QB, Carolina Panthers

  • Has 21,772 passing yards and 3,566 rushing yards in his career and is the only player in NFL history to have at least 20,000 passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards in his first six seasons.
 

 

YANNICK NGAKOUE
DE, Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Was the only rookie in the NFL with at least eight sacks (eight) and four forced fumbles (four).
 

 

GREG OLSEN
TE, Carolina Panthers

  • Had 1,073 receiving yards and became the first tight end in NFL history to record three consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards.
 

 

CORDARRELLE PATTERSON
WR-KR, Minnesota Vikings

  • Had a 104-yard kickoff-return touchdown in Week 11 and became the first player in league history with four career touchdowns of 100+ yards.
 

 

JULIUS PEPPERS
LB, Green Bay Packers

  • Has 143.5 career sacks and surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer MICHAEL STRAHAN (141.5) for the fifth-most sacks since 1982, the first year individual sacks became an official statistic.
 

 

JASON PIERRE-PAUL
DE, New York Giants

  • Had a career-high three sacks, a forced fumble and a 43-yard fumble-return touchdown in Week 12 and became the first player with at least three sacks and a fumble-return touchdown of at least 40 yards in the same game since 1982.
 

 

DONTARI POE
DT, Kansas City Chiefs

  • Had 1.5 sacks in 2016 and threw a two-yard touchdown pass in Week 16, becoming the first player with a touchdown pass and a sack in the same season since the sack became an official statistic in 1982.
 

 

MATT PRATER
K, Detroit Lions

  • Converted a 58-yard field goal as time expired in the fourth quarter to force overtime in the Lions’ 22-16 win at Minnesota in Week 9, marking the second-longest game-tying field goal in the final minute of the fourth quarter in NFL history.
 

 

DAK PRESCOTT
QB, Dallas Cowboys

  • Had 13 wins as a starter, tied with BEN ROETHLISBERGER (2004) for the most wins by a rookie starting quarterback in NFL history.
  • Passed for 23 touchdowns with four interceptions and his 0.9 interception percentage is the lowest by a rookie quarterback in NFL history (minimum 200 passing attempts).
  • Had 11 games with a 100+ passer rating, tied for the third-most in a single season in NFL history. 
    Finished the season with a 104.9 passer rating, the highest single-season passer rating by a rookie quarterback in NFL history.
  • Had multiple touchdown passes in five consecutive games in Weeks 6-11, tied for the longest such streak by a rookie in NFL history.
  • Had 176 pass attempts without an interception to begin the season, surpassing TOM BRADY (162) for the most pass attempts without an interception to start a career.
  • Completed 32 of 36 passes (88.9 percent) for 279 yards in Week 15, the second-highest completion percentage in a single game in NFL history (with a minimum of 30 attempts).

 

TERRELLE PRYOR SR.
WR, Cleveland Browns

  • Joined MARLIN BRISCOE as the only players in NFL history with 1,000 receiving yards (1,007 in 2016) in one season and 1,000 passing yards in another (1,798 in 2013).
  • Had 144 receiving yards, 35 passing yards and 21 rushing yards (including a touchdown) in Week 3 and became the first player to have at least 120 receiving yards, 30 passing yards and 20 rushing yards in a single game since Pro Football Hall of Famer FRANK GIFFORD on December 6, 1959.
 

 

JORDAN REED
TE, Washington Redskins

  • In Week 4, reached 200 career receptions in his 38th game, the fastest tight end in NFL history to reach 200 career catches, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer KELLEN WINSLOW (39 games).
 

 

JALEN RICHARD
RB, Oakland Raiders

  • In Week 1, had a 75-yard rushing touchdown on his first career carry and became only the fourth player in NFL history with a 75+ yard rushing touchdown in his NFL debut.
 

 

MATT RYAN
QB, Atlanta Falcons

  • Ranked second in the NFL with 4,944 passing yards, his sixth consecutive 4,000-yard season, tying PEYTON MANNING (1999-2004) and MATTHEW STAFFORD(2011-2016) for the second-longest streak in NFL history.
  • Led the NFL with a 117.1 passer rating in 2016, the fifth-highest single-season rating in NFL history.
  • Has 3,288 career completions and surpassed PEYTON MANNING (3,131) for the most completions in a player’s first nine seasons in NFL history.
  • Threw a touchdown pass to 13 different players in 2016, the most in a single season in NFL history. 
  • Has passed for at least 200 yards in 55 consecutive games, the longest streak in NFL history.
 

 

PHILIP RIVERS
QB, San Diego Chargers

  • Recorded his 11th consecutive season with 3,000 passing yards (4,386), tied for the fourth-longest streak in NFL history.
  • Has 314 career touchdown passes, the eighth-most in NFL history.
 

 

BEN ROETHLISBERGER
QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Has 301 career touchdown passes and surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer JOHN ELWAY (300) for the ninth-most touchdown passes in NFL history. 
    Became the 10th player in NFL history to throw for at least 300 career touchdowns.
  • Reached 45,000 career passing yards in Week 10 in his 179th career game, the fifth-fastest quarterback in NFL history to reach the mark. 
    Is the eighth quarterback in NFL history to pass for 45,000 yards with one franchise.
 

 

AARON RODGERS
QB, Green Bay Packers

  • Led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes and became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw at least 40 touchdown passes in multiple seasons (45 in 2011).
  • Has 36,827 career passing yards and 2,544 rushing yards and joined Pro Football Hall of Famers JOHN ELWAY (51,475 passing, 3,407 rushing) and FRAN TARKENTON (47,003 passing, 3,674 rushing) and DONOVAN MC NABB (37,276 passing, 3,462 rushing) as the only players in NFL history with at least 35,000 passing yards and 2,500 rushing yards in a career.
  • Has won 16 consecutive starts at Lambeau Field in the month of December and is the second player in NFL history to win 15 consecutive home starts in the month of December, joining TOM BRADY (19 games from 2002-2012).
 

 

TREVOR SIEMIAN
QB, Denver Broncos

  • In Week 3, passed for 312 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions for a 132.1 passer rating at Cincinnati and became the first player in NFL history to pass for at least 300 yards and four touchdowns without an interception in his first career road start.
 

 

STEVE SMITH SR.
WR, Baltimore Ravens

  • Moved into seventh place on the all-time receiving list with 14,731 career yards. 
  • Became the 14th player in NFL history to reach 1,000 career catches (1,031).
  • Is the only player in league history with at least 1,000 career catches (1,031), 1,000 punt-return yards (1,684) and 2,000 kickoff-return yards (2,371).
 

 

DARREN SPROLES

RB, Philadelphia Eagles

  • Is the first player in NFL history to have at least 30 career receiving touchdowns (30), 20 rushing touchdowns (22), a punt-return touchdown (seven) and a kick-return touchdown (two).
 

MATTHEW STAFFORD
QB, Detroit Lions

  • Led eight game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime this season, the most such drives by a quarterback in a single season since 1970.
  • Surpassed 30,000 career passing yards (30,303) in Week 17 in his 109th career game and became the fastest player to reach the mark in NFL history. 
  • Passed for four touchdowns in Week 6 and at 28 years, 252 days old, became the fourth-youngest quarterback with 10 career four-touchdown passing games.
 

 

RYAN SUCCOP
K, Tennessee Titans

  • Converted a game-winning 53-yard field goal as time expired in the Titans’ 19-17 victory at Kansas City in Week 15. Succop, who spent five seasons with the Chiefs from 2009-13, became the first kicker in NFL history to defeat his former team by converting a game-winning, come-from-behind 50+ yard field goal as time expired.
 

AQIB TALIB
CB, Denver Broncos

  • Had a 46-yard interception-return touchdown in Week 2 and has nine career interception-return touchdowns, tied for the fourth-most in NFL history with Pro Football Hall of Famers KEN HOUSTONDEION SANDERS and AENEAS WILLIAMS.  
 

 

DEMARYIUS THOMAS
WR, Denver Broncos

  • Had 90 catches for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns and became the third player in NFL history with five consecutive seasons of 90+ receptions, 1,000+ rec. yards & 5+ TD catches.
 

JUSTIN TUCKER
K, Baltimore Ravens

  • Led the NFL with 38 made field goals and ranked second with 141 points.
  • Converted all 10 of his field-goal attempts of at least 50 yards this season, tying BLAIR WALSH (Minnesota, 2012) for the most 50+ yard field goals made in a single season.
  • Made all four of his field-goal attempts in the Ravens’ 19-14 win over Cincinnati in Week 12. Tucker, who connected on field goals of 57, 54 and 52 yards in the first half, became the first player in NFL history with three field goals of at least 50 yards in the first half of a game.
    His three 50+ yard field goals are tied for the most ever in a game and he became the ninth player in league annals to accomplish the feat.
 

 

ADAM VINATIERI

K, Indianapolis Colts

  • Converted 43 consecutive field goal attempts dating back to 2015, surpassing MIKE VANDERJAGT (42) for the longest streak in NFL history. 
  • Became the only player in NFL history to score 100+ points (125 in 2016) in 19 different seasons.
 

MIKE WALLACE
WR, Baltimore Ravens

  • Had a 95-yard touchdown reception in Week 9 and became the third player in NFL history (JOHN TAYLOR & GUS TINSLEY) to have two career 95+ yard touchdown receptions.
    Wallace is the only player in league annals to have a 95+ yard touchdown catch with two different teams (Baltimore and Pittsburgh).
 

DE MARCUS WARE
LB, Denver Broncos

  • Has 138.5 career sacks and surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famers RICHARD DENT(137.5) and JOHN RANDLE (137.5) and JARED ALLEN (136.0) for the eighth-most sacks since 1982.
 

CARSON WENTZ
QB, Philadelphia Eagles

  • Passed for 769 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions through Week 3 and became the only rookie in NFL history with a touchdown pass and no interceptions in each of his first three games to start a season.
  • Guided the Eagles to a 3-0 start and became the first rookie since 1970 to start and win his team’s first three games to begin a season without throwing an interception.

RUSSELL WILSON
QB, Seattle Seahawks

  • Won his 50th career game as a starter in Week 6 in his 69th game, tied for the third-fastest starting quarterback to reach 50 career victories. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer KEN STABLER (62) and TOM BRADY (65) reached the feat in fewer games.
  • Has 34 career home wins as a starter, surpassing JOE FLACCO and MATT RYAN for the most home wins by a starting quarterback in his first five NFL seasons.
  • Has 31 career games with multiple touchdown passes and no interceptions, the most by a player in NFL history in his first five seasons to begin a career.
   

JAMEIS WINSTON​
QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Passed for 4,090 yards and became the first player in NFL history to record at least 4,000 passing yards in each of his first two seasons (4,042 yards as a rookie in 2015).
  • Has 50 career touchdown passes and became the fifth player in league history to throw at least 50 touchdown passes in his first two seasons.  ​​
  • Threw his 40th career touchdown pass in Week 10 and at 22 years, 312 days old, became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 40 career touchdown passes.
SOURCE: NFL
Teaser:
Post date: Friday, January 6, 2017 - 13:37
Path: /college-football/pj-flecks-presence-adds-new-degree-difficulty-already-competitive-big-ten-west
Body:

P.J. Fleck is rowing his boat to the Twin Cities.

 

Minnesota has plucked the Western Michigan coach — one of the hottest young names in college football — from the cozy confines of the MAC and inserted him into the wild and underrated Big Ten West.

 

For the Gophers and the Big Ten Conference in general, this is a great move. It's yet another splash in terms of coaching hires that keeps the old conference in the headlines. For Minnesota, it puts Gopher football on the map in a way it has not been in a very long time.

 

 

Fleck's high energy and contagiously positive attitude are going to go a long way in luring recruits to play at Minnesota. A new stadium and a hip, modern metropolis — even if it may be on the cold side for most of the year — will be integral assets for Fleck as he attempts to turn Gopher football into a hot program.

 

Given that the Gophers are the only FBS program in the state, it's not a stretch to think Fleck can lock down the borders and turn Minnesota into a Wisconsin-like program rather quickly.

 

As good as that sounds for the University of Minnesota and their supporters, that is a scary thought for any player, coach or fan of any other team in the Big Ten West.

 

The division has been sort of a punchline in recent years, but the record shows it being one of the more wide-open and competitive in all of the Power Five. Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin are already viewed as teams that can come out on top every year. Northwestern has established itself as a player and a tough out annually. Lovie Smith is in the process of rebuilding an Illinois program well within driving distance of St. Louis, Chicago, Indianapolis and Memphis.

 

You could argue that there is more parity in the Big Ten West than any other division in college football. Fleck's presence in Minnesota only adds to it.

 

Moving forward, Fleck — even if only temporarily —  is going to make programs like Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin question themselves. Do they have all of the elements and necessities in place — including in their head-coaching positions — to go to war on the recruiting trail with a young, charismatic motivator with great coaching pedigree and a recent track record of turning a dormant program into a New Year's Six Bowl qualifier?

 

Regardless of the answer, it's a safe bet that winning the Big Ten West just became a more difficult task for six teams and a more realistic one for another — all because of what appears to be the best coaching hire of the young (almost) offseason.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

 

(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)

Teaser:
P.J. Fleck's Presence Adds a New Degree of Difficulty to the Already Competitive Big Ten West
Post date: Friday, January 6, 2017 - 12:45
All taxonomy terms: Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, NFC, NFL
Path: /nfl/nfc-wild-card-preview-and-predictions-new-york-giants-vs-green-bay-packers-2017
Body:

The Giants’ playoff path, starting Sunday against the Packers carries with it a bit of déjà vu. During their last two Super Bowl runs, in 2007 and ’11, they entered as one of the NFC’s bottom three seeds. Multiple road wins were needed to advance before meeting the top-seeded, heavily-favored Patriots for the Lombardi Trophy.

 

Guess who’s No. 1 in the AFC this year? And guess who’s a trendy underdog pick to face them? The Giants, sitting at 11-5 enter the playoffs winning nine of their last 11. They’ve done it with defense, holding opponents to an NFC-best 17.8 points per game while building the offense around Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Key pieces of past championship runs, like quarterback Eli Manning, will remind this team you can win three straight road games and get to the promised land.

 

Each time, during their Super Bowl push Manning and Co. disposed of the Packers. Back in 2007, Brett Favre threw two interceptions while falling 23-20 in the NFC Championship Game in what would be his last game wearing a Packers uniform. Four years later, next-gen star Aaron Rodgers was sacked four times, fumbled and saw his team get blown out at home 37-20. The quarterback will now look to rewrite history, bringing his team in on a six-game winning streak of their own to wrest the NFC North in the final week of the regular season from the Lions. The controversy of a 4-6 start, blamed in part on Rodgers’ poor play sits in the rear-view mirror; suddenly, a second Super Bowl victory for him and once-embattled head coach Mike McCarthy appears within reach.

 

It’s two red-hot teams, both capable of going all the way but only one will get the chance to extend their season. Can the Giants do the unthinkable and beat the Packers three straight games in the postseason at Lambeau Field?

 

Series History: Giants lead 32-26-2, have won last two postseason meetings between teams.  Packers won 23-16 back in Week 5.

 

NFC Wild Card: New York at Green Bay

 

Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 8 at 4:40 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Packers -4.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Aaron Rodgers vs. Giants’ defense
During the Packers’ six-game winning streak, Rodgers has put up MVP-type numbers. He’s thrown for 1,667 yards, 15 touchdowns, no interceptions while getting sacked less than two times per game. He hasn’t thrown a pick since Nov. 13 on the road against Tennessee and ended the year with a 104.2 rating, fourth best in the NFL behind Matt Ryan, Tom Brady and Cowboys rookie Dak Prescott.

 

Rodgers at home, with main weapon Jordy Nelson more than fully recovered from that torn ACL of 2015, seems impossible to stop. But the Giants’ defense will have to find a way. They’ve stepped up against some of the league’s best, limiting Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins to two touchdowns combined over the past month. Prescott especially was frazzled, enduring his worst game of the season as the Giants forced the rookie into two silly interceptions in a 10-7 win in Week 14.

 

Can they do the same with Rodgers? How do you beat a quarterback that simply doesn’t make mistakes? Part of that burden falls on the Giants’ secondary, forced to stick with receivers as Rodgers makes time by throwing on the run. Newsday reported this week the Giants focused on a “Plaster” game plan in practice, sticking with receivers during extended sets while assuming Rodgers would break out of the pocket. It’s not the running ability they fear but the extra time for a guy like Nelson or Davante Adams to break free and burn the secondary for a big play and/or touchdown.

 

The Giants, whose offense has struggled, would only need to give up one or two big plays like that to lose the game. Keeping Rodgers’ yardage down, limiting him to short throws while perhaps forcing one mistake would be considered a big win for the Giants’ D. They did it in the first meeting in October, with cornerback Janoris Jenkins intercepting Rodgers twice, although the Giants did wind up losing the game 23-16.

 

2. Which team can run the ball?
Both teams have pass-heavy offenses that somehow flourish without a top-tier running back. The top rusher for the Giants, Rashad Jennings, failed to top 600 yards this season and the team managed just 88.3 rushing yards per game, 29th out of 32 NFL teams.

 

The Packers? They weren’t much better, chugging out 106.3 yards on the ground to rank 20th. But with converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery, who broke out for 162 rushing yards three weeks ago against the Bears, they’ve got a much higher ceiling. Montgomery has helped jumpstart a ground game that had lost Eddie Lacy and James Starks due to injury.

 

Montgomery’s unexpected emergence out of the backfield provides the Packers with enough of a running threat to open the field for the receivers and gives Rodgers more time to operate in the pocket, which usually doesn’t end well for defenses. Another 100-yard game on the ground by Montgomery and the Giants are toast.

 

On the flip side, Jennings was outgained by rookie teammate Paul Perkins last week against the Redskins; but expect both to see a fair number of carries in this game. For Perkins, he needs to build on that 100-yard performance and hold onto the ball against a Green Bay defense that feasts on turnovers. The Packers’ plus-8 margin is third best in the NFC and they’ll look to build on that.

 

3. Which Eli Manning will show up?
In a game featuring two likely future Hall of Fame quarterbacks it’s Rodgers who has had the better season. But don’t discount Manning, 35, who has shined during the Giants’ two Super Bowl runs. In the 2007 and ’11 postseason, he combined for 15 touchdown passes, just two interceptions, and more than 2,000 passing yards.

 

Success hasn’t been as easy to come by this season, and for Manning to put his team in position to make another deep playoff run he has to find a way to get the ball to Odell Beckham Jr. In the first meeting between these teams, Beckham had just five receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown. The score came in a meaningless drive near the end of the game, virtually the only time the Giants’ offense was on the same page, as Manning was sacked three times and finished with just 199 passing yards in the 23-16 loss. That can’t happen again.

 

X-factor: Weather
Both these teams are used to cold-weather climates but there’s a reason Chris Berman’s “the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field” became a national catch phrase. There’s nothing quite like a road team dealing with the elements of Wisconsin winter, Green Bay’s natural home-field advantage. Temperatures Sunday should be in the teens, with a brisk wind out of the west-southwest at up to 10-15 miles an hour. That should challenge the Giants and a guy like Beckham, playing in his first playoff game and having to face a hostile crowd.

 

Let’s just say it’ll be a little bit colder than Beckham and his fellow wide receivers’ off-day trip to Miami earlier this week.

 

Final Analysis

 

Expect a close game between two teams that enter the playoffs red hot. Experience and history tip the scales to Aaron Rodgers but know it’s a virtual coin toss on paper. Either Green Bay or New York could easily springboard right through the rest of the playoffs and wind up in the Super Bowl and claiming the Lombardi Trophy when all is said and done.

 

Athlon Editors and Contributors Predictions

Editor/Contributor Winner Score
Tom Bowles 24-21
Rob Doster 31-21
Bryan Fischer 27-24
John Gworek 21-17
Steven Lassan 24-20
Mark Ross 23-20

 

— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.

Teaser:
NFC Wild Card Preview and Predictions: New York Giants vs. Green Bay Packers
Post date: Friday, January 6, 2017 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: AFC, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, NFL
Path: /nfl/afc-wild-card-preview-and-predictions-miami-dolphins-vs-pittsburgh-steelers-2017
Body:

The last time the Miami Dolphins won a playoff game Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women” was the hottest song in the country and Jay Fiedler was under center for the team in a post-Y2K world. Fast-forward to present day where Beyoncé is dominating the pop scene without Kelly and Michelle and the Dolphins are without their franchise quarterback, Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill has been out since Week 14 after suffering a partially torn ACL and MCL sprain, leaving perennial backup Matt Moore as the starter.

 

The Steelers’ playoff history is one of the most storied in American sports with six Super Bowl wins, including two in the past 11 years. The continuity under head coach Mike Tomlin has proven to be a recipe for success as Pittsburgh posted its seventh double-digit win-season in 10 years under Tomlin, the NFL’s second-longest current tenured head coach. The Steelers, riding a seven-game winning streak and a red-hot offense, are one of the favorites to make it to Houston for Super Bowl LI.

 

AFC Wild Card: Miami at Pittsburgh

 

Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 8 at 1:05 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Pittsburgh -10

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Matt Moore in the Spotlight
Moore has been in the starting lineup for three weeks now, posting a 2-1 record since Ryan Tannehill went down a partially torn ACL. Moore has actually played rather well in Tannehill’s absence, completing 63.5 percent of his passes for eight touchdowns and three interceptions. In order for the Dolphins to shock the Steelers on Sunday afternoon, Moore doesn’t need to be perfect and throw for a bunch of touchdowns; he doesn’t even need to be great — he simply needs to be good enough. To put it in a simpler term, Moore can’t turn the ball over.

 

Earlier in the season when the Dolphins topped the Steelers 30-15, Tannehill was good, not great, completing 24 of 32 passes with no touchdowns, but most importantly, no picks. In that game, Tannehill found his best wide receiver, Jarvis Landry, seven times for 91 yards. Expect the Steelers to focus on taking Landry out of the picture, pressuring Moore with a variety of blitzes, and forcing him to make uncomfortable throws to secondary receivers.

 

2. Steelers’ Defense vs. Jay Ajayi
The last time these two teams met, the Dolphins’ running back had the best game of his young career (at the time), gashing the Steelers for 204 yards on 25 carries, good enough for 8.2 yards per attempt (3.9 after first contact), and two touchdowns. Miami pummeled Pittsburgh’s defense to the tune of 474 total yards, 24 first downs, while dominating time of possession (36:30). And Ajayi’s productivity and the dominance of the offensive line had much to do with this success.

 

While Ajayi posted three separate 200-yard performances this season, he had just one other game with more than 80 yards on the ground – a 111-yard effort in Week 9 against the Jets. And while the Steelers’ defense won’t be reminding fans of the glory days of the “Steel Curtain,” it has been playing well during this current seven-game winning streak. Pittsburgh has held opponents to just 17.3 points per game during this stretch and given up more than 100 rushing yards just twice. And one of those came last week against Cleveland (231 yards on 33 carries), in a game that went to overtime and carried no significance whatsoever for the Steelers, who had already clinched the AFC North.

 

Look for Pittsburgh to load the box and focus its efforts on stopping Ajayi to force Moore to have to make more plays with his arm.

 

3. Steelers’ Offense Healthy and Ready
When these two teams met back in October, Miami left Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger battered and beaten, holding him to fewer than 200 passing yards and intercepting him twice. In order to win at Heinz Field on Sunday, the Dolphins will need another near-flawless performance from their defense — a much taller order against a now healthy Big Ben who gets his shot at a depleted secondary. Getting a push up front and disrupting Roethlisberger’s rhythm in the pocket will need to be a priority for Miami’s defensive line, namely Ndamukong Suh, Earl Mitchell, Cameron Wake and Jordan Phillips.

 

Roethlisberger and Co. are hitting their stride and getting healthy after the offense’s biggest stars sat out against Cleveland last week. The trio of Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown is the most prolific three-headed monster in football and gives the Steelers a decisive advantage against a Dolphins defense that has surrendered 79 points and nearly 900 yards of total offense the last two weeks. To make matters worse, Miami could be without defensive back Byron Maxwell, adding to the woes of an already paper-thin secondary.

 

If the Dolphins’ front can’t force Roethlisberger to the ground or into several turnovers — which is very possible — it could be a very long, and cold, Sunday afternoon in the Steel City.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Steelers are playing their best football right now and are nearly totally healthy on both sides of the ball, while the Dolphins are without Ryan Tannehill and most of their starting secondary. Miami will need to play a perfect game, on the road, in the cold, against one of the NFL’s best offenses, and with a backup quarterback who has never taken a snap in a playoff game. That’s a tall order.

 

The Dolphins’ best shot against Pittsburgh is for Jay Ajayi to have something close to a repeat performance from earlier this season (when he ran for 204 yards), for Matt Moore to be very good and mistake-free, and for their defense to force Ben Roethlisberger into multiple takeaways. The way the Steelers are playing right now, I can’t see it happening.

 

Athlon Editors and Contributors Predictions

Editor/Contributor Winner Score
Rob Doster 31-24
Bryan Fischer 30-21
John Gworek 30-21
Steven Lassan 31-20
Jake Rose 28-17
Mark Ross 31-23

 

— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.

Teaser:
AFC Wild Card Preview and Predictions: Miami Dolphins vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Post date: Friday, January 6, 2017 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/betting-against-spread-nfl-wild-card-weekend-picks-and-odds-lines-2017
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It's playoff time in the NFL and you wouldn't know it by some of the quarterbacks that are playing on Wild Card Weekend. We'll detail it, but let’s just say that not every team playing is exactly set at signal-caller and leave it at that.

 

Fortunately, the Sunday slate is shaping up to be more appealing and entertaining than Saturday’s doubleheader. It's been a tough year for me picking games, but that's going to change in the postseason.

 

Oakland Raiders (12-4) at Houston Texans (9-7), 4:35 p.m. ET (Sat.)

Just like everyone drew it up, expected and hoped for, it's going to be Connor Cook against Brock Osweiler as the quarterbacks in a game that actually matters. Things were going great for Oakland before the awful injury to Derek Carr that caused the Raiders’ offense to struggle. The team barely showed up in Denver and now must play its fourth road game over the last five weeks. That's got to be a factor in this one as Oakland's defense just isn't that good. Houston is nothing great either though as the Texans have lost four of their last seven. Osweiler gets the starting nod once again after being benched for Tom Savage. Houston has struggled to run it the last three weeks, managing just 210 rushing yards over that span. The good thing is that the defense has been stout when it mattered. The Texans held Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Cincinnati to 47 points during a three-game winning streak in December. These two teams played in Mexico City back on Nov. 21 with Oakland winning 27-20 in a game that should have been closer if not for a bad whistle by the refs on a DeAndre Hopkins touchdown. This game will not feature as many points and Houston appears to have the advantage, playing at home and not having to face Carr again. Houston has covered 14 of its last 20 at NRG Stadium as a favorite. SELECTION: Houston 24-13

 

Detroit Lions (9-7) at Seattle Seahawks (10-5), 8:15 p.m. ET (Sat.)

The quarterback play upgrades in this one as Seattle hosts Detroit. The Lions limped down the stretch, losing three straight as the defense struggled to slow down Dallas and Green Bay after running into a hot Giants squad. Detroit has played four of its last six away from home so that could be a factor in this one. The Lions can't run it well and will have to find ways to beat the Legion of Boom, which is without All-Pro safety Earl Thomas. The Seahawks have held three of their last five opponents to fewer than 200 passing yards, but Thomas’ absence has been evident at times. Seattle has alternated wins and losses over the last seven weeks, so it’s tough to get a handle on this team. One key is that Russell Wilson is healthier, which has made a difference on offense. It’s hard to bet against the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in front of the 12s. And don’t forget the last time these two teams played in Seattle was in 2015 when Calvin Johnson fumbled it out of the back of the end zone and the controversy that ensued. Detroit has gone under in 17 of its last 23 games. SELECTION: Seattle 24-16

 

Miami Dolphins (10-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5), 1:05 p.m. ET (Sun.)

The Dolphins are one of the hottest teams entering the playoffs having won six of their last eight games. They are also on a road kick with this being the third of their last four away from Miami. Matt Moore will be under center for an injured Ryan Tannehill, and that could be a problem for the Dolphins’ offense. Pittsburgh will probably stack the box to slow down Jay Ajayi, which means that the WRs will have to step up. Miami’s defense also will need to play better after giving up 66 points to Buffalo and New England the last two games. Pittsburgh is at home for the third straight week and is looking to extend its winning streak to eight in a row. Ben Roethlisberger is a much better quarterback at home and the Steelers have legitimate weapons at both RB (Le’Veon Bell) and WR (Antonio Brown). The Dolphins have gone over in 12 of their games this season including 10 against the rest of the AFC. Pittsburgh is 9-5-1 ATS as a favorite this season. The Steelers have been a home favorite of 7.5 to 10 points just twice the last three seasons and have covered both times. SELECTION: Pittsburgh 27-20

 

New York Giants (11-5) at Green Bay Packers (10-6), 4:40 p.m. ET (Sun.)

The best game of the weekend will most likely be the coldest as the Packers host the Giants. Green Bay has won six straight since being written off for dead. Aaron Rodgers has been stellar and the offense has just one turnover during the winning streak. The defense also has done its part, limiting opponents to 18.7 points per game during the same span. New York has won six of its last night and its defense is second in the league in points allowed (17.8 ppg). The Giants spent a ton of money this offseason on upgrading that side of the ball and it shows. The problem is with the offense that has scored less than 20 points in five straight. Eli Manning has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in five of the last six games. New York has gone under in 12 of its 16 games. Green Bay has covered in nine of its last 12 games as a slight home favorite. The Packers beat the Giants at home back in Week 5 23-16. SELECTION: Green Bay 21-17

 

Top two plays of the weekend:

Packers/Giants Under 44.5

Texans -3.5

 

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.

 

(Brock Osweiler photo courtesy of www.houstontexans.com)

Teaser:
Yikes, some of these quarterbacks
Post date: Friday, January 6, 2017 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/top-10-moments-college-football-national-championship-game-history-2017
Body:

In some years, college football’s national championship game is one for the ages. In others, it’s pretty ho-hum. If Clemson upsets defending champion and six-point favorite Alabama, it will likely be one of best title games ever with plenty of dramatic plays. 

 

Between the pre-BCS No. 1 vs. No. 2 pairings and the national championship games, there have been some classic moments that are etched in our memories. Here are the top 10.

 

10. Jan. 8, 2007 – Ted Ginn Jr. Returns Opening Kickoff for Touchdown

Ohio State had the most explosive team in college football and that was apparent when Ginn took the opening kickoff, cut right and raced 93 yards for a touchdown. Things pretty much went to hell in a handbasket after that, as Ginn was hurt in the celebration and Florida bounced back to take a 34-14 lead at halftime en route to the national title. Nevertheless, no other national title game has started off with such a bang.

 

9. Jan. 3, 2003 – College Football’s Most Controversial Pass Interference Call

The 2003 Fiesta Bowl is one of the greatest games college football has ever produced. It is a shame that is remembered for a controversial pass interference call.  Few outside of the Midwest gave No. 2 Ohio State a chance against defending national champion Miami, who had won 34 straight games, but both teams were tied 17-17 at the end of regulation. Miami scored on its first overtime possession when quarterback Ken Dorsey hit Kellen Winslow Jr., with a seven-yard touchdown pass. Ohio State then faced fourth-and-three on Miami’s five-yard line. Quarterback Craig Krenzel attempted a pass to Chris Gamble, but it bounced off his hands and fell incomplete. Miami players rushed the field, but a late flag for pass interference on defensive back Glenn Sharpe gave the Buckeyes new life. Commentator Dan Fouts quickly criticized the call, but Krenzel then scored on a one-yard touchdown run to tie the game. In the next overtime, Ohio State scored a touchdown and then stopped Miami on downs to win its first national title since 1970. To this day, the pass interference call remains a point of contention amongst both teams, as well as fans and sportswriters.

 

8. Jan. 1, 1996 – Tommie Frazier Breaks Seven Tackles

The 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers are one of the best teams in college football history and it was never more apparent than in their 62-24 beatdown of No. 2 Florida in the Fiesta Bowl.  The game’s most memorable play came with the Huskers up 42-10 late in the third quarter. Frazier, Nebraska’s dynamic dual-threat quarterback, took the snap and broke seven arm tackles on his way to a 75-yard touchdown run. After the loss, Florida head coach Steve Spurrier hired Bob Stoops to overhaul the Gator defense.

 

7. Jan. 2, 1987 – The Fiesta Bowl Becomes a Major Player

Since its launch in 1971, Arizona’s Fiesta Bowl had always put together solid matchups, but in 1986 it was a uniquely positioned to host the national championship. Miami was No. 1 and Penn State No. 2 and both teams were independents at the time. Since the Sugar, Rose, Orange and Cotton Bowls had contracts with conferences and the Fiesta Bowl did not, it was able to sign both schools to play for the national title (Penn State upset Miami 14-7.). If anyone wonders how the Fiesta Bowl was part of the Bowl Championship Series and now in the College Football Playoff “New Year’s Six,” they can look to this game.

 

6. Jan. 1, 1993 – “The Strip”

Miami entered the game ranked No. 1 and heavily favored to win its fifth national title. Alabama entered the game sporting one of the nastiest defenses in college football history. The Crimson Tide dominated the game, beating Miami 34-13 and picking off Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta three times. The game’s signature play came in the third quarter when Torretta hit wide receiver Lamar Thomas with a long bomb that looked like it would be an 89-yard touchdown pass. But Alabama defensive back George Teague chased Thomas down and then took the ball away from him on the 15-yard line. Although the play was negated by an offside call, it completely summed up the tone of the entire game.

 

5. Jan. 1, 1963 – Wisconsin Looks “Respectable”

The Rose Bowl featured the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup since 1946 and for three quarters, it was clear why USC held the top spot. The Trojans led Wisconsin 42-14 with 14 minutes left in the game, when Badger quarterback Ron VanderKelen told his team, “Let’s at least go out and look respectable.” They did just that. Wisconsin scored two touchdowns to make the score 42-28. Then with 2:40 left, USC center Larry Sagouspe snapped the ball past punter Ernie Jones into the end zone for a safety. Wisconsin got the ball and VanderKelen hit Pat Richter in the end zone to make the score 42-37. A USC punt gave Wisconsin the ball again, but the offense ran out of time. In the end, the Badgers did accomplish their goal.

 

4. Jan. 1, 1994 – Three Field Goal Attempts in 76 seconds

Down 15-13 with 1:16 left in the game, kicker Byron Bennett booted a 27-yard field goal to give No. 1 Nebraska a 16-15 lead over Florida State. Two penalties gave the Seminoles excellent field position and Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward drove his team inside Nebraska’s 10-yard line where kicker Scott Bentley kicked a 22-yarder with 21 seconds left to give FSU an 18-16 lead. A decent return gave Nebraska the ball back on its 46-yard line and quarterback Tommie Frazier hit tight end Trumane Bell with a pass to get the Cornhuskers to the Seminoles’ 28-yard line. Time seemed to expire and FSU head coach Bobby Bowden was doused with Gatorade. However, officials determined there was one second left and Bennett lined up for a 45-yard attempt. This one went wide left, giving Florida State and Bowden their first national titles.

 

3. Jan. 1, 1979 – “The Stand”

Penn State entered the Sugar Bowl ranked No. 1 and Alabama was No. 2. In a hard-fought game, the Crimson Tide was up 14-7 in the fourth quarter when a botched pitch gave the Nittany Lions the ball deep in Alabama territory. Penn State worked its way all the way down to the one-yard line in what became a testament of Bear Bryant’s tenure in Tuscaloosa. On third down, linebacker Rich Wingo stopped fullback Matt Suhey in mid-air short of the goal line. Then on fourth down, linebacker Barry Krauss stopped halfback Mike Guman. The Crimson Tide hung on for the win and the national title. Paintings of “The Stand” are wall art in homes throughout the state of Alabama.

 

2. Jan. 6, 2014 – A Perfect Ending to the BCS

The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rating system for determining the two teams to play for the national title was generally maligned by fans and sportswriters in every one of its 16 years of existence. That being said, it ended on a high note. Second-ranked Auburn, the most exciting team in college football that season, jumped out to a 21-3 second quarter lead over Florida State. The Seminoles fought back, finally retaking the lead at 27-24 on a 100-yard kickoff return by Levonte Whitfield with 4:31 left in the game. Auburn went back in front when Tre Mason raced 37 yards into the end zone with 1:19 left in the game. Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston then led the Seminoles down the field and hit Kelvin Benjamin for the game-winning score with only 13 seconds left. ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski called the 34-31 win “the perfect ending to 16 years of an imperfect BCS system.” None of the five subsequent College Football Playoff games have produced a fraction of the excitement of this game.

 

1. Jan. 4, 2006 – Vince Young Sprints to a National Title

The 2006 Rose Bowl was a storybook game for two storybook teams. Undefeated USC was riding a 34-game winning streak and looking to claim its third straight national title. Standing between the Trojans and glory was undefeated Texas and Young, the Longhorns’ talented dual-threat quarterback. In a game that saw six lead changes, Young threw for 267 yards and ran for 200 more. What is arguably college football’s greatest game has been covered in detail in numerous documentaries, but the image we all remember is Young taking the snap on the USC eight-yard line and sprinting into the end zone with 19 seconds left in the game to secure the win and the national championship. There is no question that this is the most memorable moment in national title game history.

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

Teaser:
Top 10 Moments in College Football National Championship Game History
Post date: Friday, January 6, 2017 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/outrageous-predictions-college-football-playoff-national-championship-game-2017
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It's all set.

 

After another roller coaster of a college football season full of twists, turns, controversy and outrageousness, the last two programs standing are the same two that played for a title last year.

 

Related: National Championship Preview and Prediction — Alabama vs. Clemson

 

While the uniforms and coaches are the same — make no mistake — these are two very different teams than they were a season ago. As a result, the game is likely to shake out much different this time around as well.

 

Outrageous Predictions for the College Football Playoff National Championship Game 

 

Clemson scores at least the first 10 points

This is not an Alabama team that likes to jump out on teams early and cruise to big wins. These Crimson Tide are methodical, and thrive on wearing teams down as the game moves along. That's going to be a problem against a team like Clemson. The Tigers are every bit as physical as Alabama, and much more explosive on offense. Look for a couple of big plays from Clemson to set the tone and change the outlook of this game early on.

 

Jalen Hurts throws more than two interceptions

The phenomenal Alabama true freshman signal-caller has not turned the ball over through the air more than twice in any game all season. That will change against Clemson, as he'll find himself forcing balls that he normally would not as a result of trying to keep pace with the Tigers' offense. For the first time all season, Hurts' inexperience will be detrimental to Alabama's success.

 

Jordan Leggett catches three touchdown passes

Clemson's standout tight end had statistically his worst game since September in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Look for him to have a bounce-back performance in the national title game, capitalizing off the attention paid to Clemson's wide receivers and running backs on passing downs. Normally a safety net for Tiger quarterback Deshaun Watson, expect Leggett to be the primary option in the red zone.

 

Clemson wins by double digits

Alabama has a solid rushing attack and a punishing defense. The issue in this game is going to be speed, and Clemson simply has more of it — not to mention a quarterback that has played in this game before. As mentioned, look for Jalen Hurts to be put in a position early where he won't be able to rely on his running backs to control the game. Hurts will be forced to become Alabama's playmaker, and the talented and seasoned Clemson defense will be ready for everything he throws at them. When Deshaun Watson has the ball, look for him to rely on his confidence and poise in the pocket to pick the Crimson Tide defense apart all night.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Teaser:
Outrageous Predictions for the College Football Playoff National Championship Game
Post date: Friday, January 6, 2017 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/national-championship-preview-and-prediction-alabama-vs-clemson-2017
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College football’s 2016-17 season comes to a close on Monday night, as Alabama and Clemson meet in Tampa, Fla. for the national championship in Raymond James Stadium. This is the second year in a row these two teams have met to decide the winner of the CFB Playoff, and both programs won in convincing fashion in their bowl games to reach Tampa. Alabama defeated Washington 24-7 in the Peach Bowl, while Clemson dominated Ohio State 31-0 in the Fiesta Bowl.

 

In last year’s matchup, these two teams traded punches for 60 minutes, with Alabama eventually edging Clemson 45-40. Behind quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Tigers recorded 31 first downs, 550 yards (6.5 ypp) and torched the Crimson Tide secondary for 405 yards through the air. While Alabama’s standout defense struggled to contain Watson, running back Derrick Henry rumbled his way for 158 yards and tight end O.J. Howard grabbed five receptions for 208 yards. But it wasn’t just the play of Henry and Howard that propelled Nick Saban’s team to a victory. Instead, a few critical plays on special teams proved to be instrumental in Alabama pulling out the victory. Kenyan Drake scored on a 95-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter, and the Crimson Tide recovered an outside kick with the game tied in the final 15 minutes. The recovered onside kick eventually led to a Jake Coker to Howard touchdown pass, which gave Alabama the lead for good in the 45-40 matchup.

 

Related: College Football's Very Early Top 25 for 2017

 

The matchup on Monday night isn’t quite a David versus Goliath scenario, but Alabama is the standard for the rest of college football. Under Nick Saban’s watch, appearances in the national championship or CFB Playoff are an annual tradition. The Crimson Tide are the only team to make an appearance in all three years of the playoff and are one victory away from back-to-back national championships. Additionally, Alabama has won at least 10 games in every season since 2008 and has claimed four national championship trophies under Saban’s watch. On the other sideline, coach Dabo Swinney built Clemson into a national power and was on the doorstep of winning it all last season. After a 19-15 start to his tenure, Swinney has won at least 10 games in each of the last six years. Swinney may not be the X’s and O’s mastermind like Saban, but he’s completely transformed the perception of this program.    

 

The path for both teams to Tampa was relatively similar, but Alabama dominated at a higher level in 2016. Only one game (Ole Miss) was decided by less than 10 points, and the Crimson Tide finished first nationally in scoring defense, fewest yards per play allowed and second in sacks (50). While the defense performed at a high level once again, Alabama’s offense thrived under former coordinator Lane Kiffin and true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts. The Crimson Tide averaged 39.4 points a game in 2016, which was the program’s highest total under Saban’s watch.

 

Clemson had close calls against Louisville (42-36), NC State (24-17) and Florida State (37-34) before a loss to Pitt (43-42). However, since that loss, the Tigers have been locked in and thoroughly dominated Ohio State in last week’s Fiesta Bowl. The strength of the team is once again the offense, led by Watson and a talented group of skill players. However, the defense is just as strong and ranks among the best in the nation behind coordinator Brent Venables.

 

Alabama leads the all-time series over Clemson 13-3. The Tigers have not defeated the Crimson Tide since 1905.

 

Alabama vs. Clemson (National Championship)

 

Kickoff: Monday, Jan. 9 at 8 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Alabama -6.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Steve Sarkisian and the Alabama Offense

Changing coordinators a week before the national championship is a risky move by Alabama coach Nick Saban. However, it was clear the Crimson Tide’s offense did not fire on all cylinders in the win over Washington, and it’s fair to say coordinator Lane Kiffin was certainly distracted trying to juggle two jobs. With Saban pushing Kiffin to FAU a week earlier than anticipated, Steve Sarkisian is set to call the plays in Monday night’s game. Sarkisian was already set to take over the play-calling duties in 2017 and essentially operates the same system that Kiffin utilized during his three years in Tuscaloosa. The transition from Kiffin to Sarkisian won’t be too noticeable in terms of how the Crimson Tide offense operates. But there will be differences in how the two coaches call a game, make adjustments or interact with the players on the sidelines.

 

Sarkisian’s new role is the biggest wild card storyline to watch on Monday night. Any other team that changed coordinators a week before the national championship probably couldn’t make it work. However, Saban and Alabama should have a seamless transition to Sarkisian for Monday’s game.

 

The biggest challenge for Sarkisian will be getting freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts comfortable in the passing game. In last week’s Peach Bowl win over Washington, Hurts completed only 7 of 14 throws for 57 yards. The freshman added 50 yards on the ground against the Huskies, which gave him 891 for the season. The emergence of Hurts and his dual-threat ability has provided another dimension for this Alabama offense. The Crimson Tide always have a strong ground attack, but the offense is even more dangerous with a mobile quarterback.

 

Hurts isn’t hurting for talented weapons on the outside. ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley form a standout tandem on the outside or in the slot, while tight end O.J. Howard (41 catches) torched Clemson’s defense in last year’s game. Clemson will counter with a secondary that ranked fourth nationally in pass efficiency defense and is led by standouts Jadar Johnson (safety) and Cordrea Tankersley (cornerback).

 

Alabama won’t need Hurts to throw for 300 yards on Monday night to win. However, the freshman has to play a mistake-free game, utilize his legs to get 60-80 yards on the ground and hit on a couple of big plays to keep the Clemson defense from crowding the box to stop the run. And of course – adapt to a new play-caller.

 

Related: 10 X-Factors for Clemson vs. Alabama

 

2. Clemson’s Offense Against Alabama’s Defense

This is the most anticipated one-on-one matchup for Monday night’s game. It’s a showdown of strength versus strength, as Clemson ranks 13th nationally by averaging 39.5 points per game, and Alabama’s defense ranks first by limiting opponents to 11.4 points per contest. The Crimson Tide create a lot of havoc at the line of scrimmage (50 sacks) and rank among the nation’s best in generating takeaways (27). In addition to its ability to create turnovers, Alabama’s defense also converts those takeaways directly into points. This unit has scored 11 times on defense this season, which is a concern for a Clemson offense that has lost 26 turnovers in 2016.

 

Finding a weakness for Alabama’s defense isn’t easy. However, mobile quarterbacks and spread attacks give Saban and the Crimson Tide the most trouble. Clemson checks off both of those boxes, with quarterback Deshaun Watson likely to give this defense a lot of trouble once again. Watson totaled 478 yards in last season’s 45-40 loss to Alabama and was able to extend several plays with his mobility. In 2016, Watson threw for 4,173 yards and added 586 yards on the ground. The junior did not run as much this season as he did in 2015, but with the national championship expected to be his final game in a Clemson uniform, the coaching staff isn’t going to hold back on letting Watson run as much as necessary. As mentioned above, interceptions have been a slight problem for the junior in 2016. After tossing 13 over 491 attempts in 2015, Watson has been intercepted 17 times on 523 pass attempts in 2016.

 

Watson’s ability to extend plays and attack downfield will be a tough assignment for an Alabama defense that is not as deep in the secondary as in previous years. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and cornerback Marlon Humphrey are the headliners in the secondary for coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, but this unit allowed 18 plays of 30 yards or more in 2016. Clemson has a deep array of targets for Watson to utilize, starting with 6-foot-3 receiver Mike Williams (90 catches), tight end Jordan Leggett (39), Deon Cain (33), Artavis Scott (73) and sure-handed sophomore Hunter Renfrow (34).

 

How will Alabama counter Clemson’s offense and hope to slow down Watson? The Crimson Tide need to win on early downs and keep the Tigers in third-and-long situations. The battle in the trenches will be critical for both sides, as well as limiting the big plays. Considering the firepower on Clemson’s sideline, it’s likely this offense is going to churn out its share of yards. However, the Crimson Tide would trade yards for stops on third downs and in the red zone.

 

3. Rushing Attacks and Offensive Line Play

Much of the focus for Monday night’s game will be centered around the two quarterbacks – Alabama’s Jalen Hurts and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson – but the battle in the trenches and ground attack will be just as critical to the outcome.

 

Both teams have experienced their share of ups and downs in the trenches and will be matched against a standout line on the other side.

 

Alabama’s defensive front is anchored by first-team All-American Jonathan Allen at end, while tackle Da’Ron Payne is an underrated cog in the middle. Allen and Payne are a big reason why the rush defense is first in the nation and will be tasked with disrupting the timing of Clemson’s offense at the initial snap. Can the Tigers match the physicality of Alabama’s front and protect Watson? Additionally, can Swinney’s front five generate a push on the ground? Running back Wayne Gallman has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns but managed only 45 yards in last year’s matchup. The Tigers don’t need 100 yards from Gallman to win. However, a little balance would keep Alabama’s standout line on its heels.

 

While Alabama proved it could win a shootout over Clemson last season, the Crimson Tide would prefer a lower-scoring game and to control the overall pace and tempo. To do so, the offense needs its line to step up. Tackles Cam Robinson and Jonah Williams are two of the best in the nation, and this duo will be matched against a standout line on the other side. The Tigers are loaded with athleticism, talent and depth in the trenches, with the front four headlined by tackles Carlos Watkins and Dexter Lawrence, along with end Christian Wilkins.

 

In last week’s win over Washington, Alabama recorded 269 yards on the ground. Bo Scarbrough accounted for 180 yards on 19 carries and is likely to see around 20 carries on Monday night. The Tigers rank 19th nationally against the run and limit opponents to just 3.5 yards per carry. Can Clemson slow Scarbrough and prevent Alabama from controlling the tempo by grinding it out on the ground? Or will the Crimson Tide win the battle in the trenches and keep Watson and the high-powered offense on the sidelines? Generating a pass rush against Hurts will be critical for coordinator Brent Venables. If the Tigers can force Hurts to beat them from the pocket – instead of making plays with his legs or attacking the edges – there’s a good chance Clemson will hoist the national championship trophy.

 

Five Numbers to Know

 

Turnover Margin: Alabama +8, Clemson +1

 

Third-Down Offense: Clemson 5th nationally, Alabama 21st

 

Third-Down Defense: Clemson 6th nationally, Alabama 7th

 

Red Zone Offense: Alabama 24th nationally, Clemson 71st

 

Red Zone Defense: Clemson 22nd nationally, Alabama 45th nationally

 

 

Predictions for Alabama vs. Clemson
  Prediction MVP

Steven Lassan

 31

 27

Jonathan Allen, DL
Mitch Light

27

24

Bo Scarbrough, RB
John Gworek

23

21

Deshaun Watson, QB
Rich McVey

  34

24

Jalen Hurts, QB
Mark Ross

27

24

Mike Williams, WR
Braden Gall

34

31

Deshaun Watson, QB
Allen Kenney

24

21

Deshaun Watson, QB
Bryan Fischer

31

27

Tim Williams, LB
Jim Weber

31

30

Deshaun Watson, QB
Kevin McGuire

26

23

Bo Scarbrough, RB
J.P. Scott

31

20

Jordan Leggett, TE

 

Teaser:
National Championship Preview and Prediction: Alabama vs. Clemson 2017
Post date: Friday, January 6, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Detroit Lions, NFC, Seattle Seahawks, syndicated, NFL
Path: /nfl/nfc-wild-card-preview-and-predictions-detroit-lions-vs-seattle-seahawks-2017
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The Seattle Seahawks secured their fifth straight season of 10 or more regular-season wins with a 25-23 victory over the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday. This puts Seattle in elite company with Green Bay and New England as the only two other NFL franchises to achieve the same status.

 

After getting punched in the mouth by the 49ers early on in the first half the Seahawks responded to the challenge and made big plays on both sides of the ball to rally and get the job done. Russell Wilson completed 19 of 32 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown. The bigger concern moving forward is the running game as it was pedestrian at best as Alex Collins led Seattle with just 55 rushing yards on seven carries.

 

Detroit stumbled into the NFC playoffs after blowing a chance at home last Sunday night to win the NFC North, losing to Green Bay 31-24. The secondary just simply did not have an answer for Aaron Rodgers, who completed 27 of 39 attempts for 300 yards and four touchdowns. For the Lions, Matthew Stafford and the passing game had to carry the load once again. Stafford went 26-of-41 for 347 yards, two touchdowns and interception, but was stymied for the most part in the second half as the Packers outscored the home team 21-10.

 

NFC Wild Card: Detroit at Seattle

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Jan. 7 at 8:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC

Spread: Seahawks -7.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Which team runs the ball effectively?

Seattle must get some consistency out of its offensive line and produce some semblance of a running game against Detroit. The Seahawks have tired all year to find a quality replacement for the retired Marshawn Lynch, but it will not matter who is running the ball if the offensive line cannot win battles up front. With rookie Alex Collins showing some signs of life last Sunday against the 49ers, he should get some opportunities early on Saturday night to make some big impact runs. Another key is going to be Russell Wilson, who may need to pick up key first downs with his legs to move the chains and keep the offense on schedule in hopes of wearing down the Lions’ defense. Detroit is in a similar pickle, as it will need more than the 69 rushing yards Zach Zenner picked up against Green Bay last week on 20 carries, especially considering Seattle’s defense figures to be a stiffer test. The Lions finished the season 30th in the NFL in rushing offense at 81.9 yards per game. The Seahawks haven’t fared much better (99.4 ypg, 25th), but between Collins, Thomas Rawls and Wilson’s mobility appear to be more of a threat to make some noise out of the backfield.

 

2. Detroit passing attack vs. Seattle’s secondary

With the continuing struggles in the secondary for the Seahawks, you would have to believe that Detroit offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is going to put the ball in Matthew Stafford’s hands and let him fling it early and often. Golden Tate makes another return visit to Seattle and you would have to believe that he would like nothing more than to put together a monster game against his former teammates. Tate has been the Lions’ No. 1 receiver this season with 91 receptions for 1,077 yards and four touchdowns. Fellow wideout Marvin Jones and tight end Eric Ebron should also see plenty of targets on Saturday night, as both players have the ability to break off a big play at any point and considering the Seahawks are allowing a 99.0 passer rating to quarterbacks since the season-ending injury to Earl Thomas in Week 13. If Jones and Ebron can combine for double-digit receptions and average between 15-20 yards per catch that will put even more pressure on Seattle’s pass rush or the need for the defense to come up with a key turnover or two.

 

3. Special teams battle

This is a definite problem spot for the Seahawks as they have made too many costly mistakes in special teams over the past few weeks. Last week, Seattle gave up a safety due to bad snap that went over punter Jon Ryan’s head and out of the end zone. Kicker Steven Hauschka has made 33 field goals in 37 attempts, but his misses have come at the worst times. It is going to be important for Hauschka to get an early made field goal or extra point in the first quarter as there will be a new long snapper in Tyler Ott, who is replacing the injured Nolan Frese. Veteran return specialist Devin Hester also was signed this week to ignite a return game that could use a jolt after the season-ending leg injury for Tyler Lockett. Hester has returned 19 kicks for touchdowns over the course of his career. On the other side, Detroit will rely on Andre Roberts, who has been one of the NFL’s best this season. He finished the regular season eighth in the league in kickoff return average (22.3 ypr) and third on punt returns (12.3 ypr). The ability to swing field position and gain some of that important hidden yardage will be very important for both teams on Saturday night, as the weather should be horrendous in Seattle and could limit each team’s passing attack.

 

Final Analysis

 

This game should be closer than the experts expect as Seattle, even in games that the Seahawks wind up winning, have had an adverse situation or two to overcome. In addition, the intensity that the 12s bring is worth a potential three to seven points to the home team in any playoff game. Seattle has won nine consecutive playoff games at CenturyLink Field while it will not be easy, they will find a way to make enough big plays. Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham and Cliff Avril will all make critical plays to send the Seahawks through to a matchup in the NFC Divisional Round in Atlanta next Saturday.

 

Athlon Editors and Contributors Predictions

Editor/Contributor Winner Score
Rob Doster 21-20
Bryan Fischer 24-20
John Gworek 23-19
Steven Lassan 27-17
Mark Ross 24-20
Scott Whittum 27-20

 

— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottWhittum

Teaser:
NFC Wild Card Preview and Predictions: Detroit Lions vs. Seattle Seahawks
Post date: Thursday, January 5, 2017 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders, NFL
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For the second straight season, the Houston Texans will host a wild card game. The hope is that this year’s matchup goes a lot better than last year’s 30-0 loss to Kansas City.

 

The Texans’ (9-7) opponent this time will be another AFC West team, the Oakland Raiders. Entering the last week of the regular season, the Raiders (12-4) had an opportunity to clinch the division and more importantly, a first-round bye, but they fell to Denver 24-6. With the Chiefs defeating the Chargers, the Raiders fell all the way to the No. 5 seed.

 

Unlike Houston, Oakland doesn’t have any recent playoff experience. This will be the first time the Raiders have played in a postseason game since Super Bowl XXXVII when they lost 48-21 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

 

Saturday also is a rematch from earlier in the season, when Oakland beat Houston 27-20 in Mexico City in Week 11. The Texans hold a 6-4 series advantage in the all-time series with this being the first playoff meeting.

 

AFC Wild Card: Oakland at Houston

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Jan. 7 at 4:35 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN/ABC

Spread: Houston -3.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Brock Osweiler vs. Raiders’ Pass Rushers

Sometimes during the playoffs, you get a matchup between two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks such as Eli Manning vs. Aaron Rodgers or all of the Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning pairings. But Saturday’s pairing at NRG Stadium is anything but with Osweiler starting for Houston and rookie Connor Cook at the helm for Oakland.

 

Osweiler started most of this season, but was benched and replaced by Tom Savage in the Texans’ Week 15 21-20 home victory over Jacksonville. But last week, Savage sustained a concussion in the loss to Tennessee with Osweiler taking his place.

 

In the 24-17 loss to the Titans, Osweiler finished 21 of 40 passing, as he threw for 253 yards and a touchdown. Despite signing a four-year, $72 million contract, Osweiler hasn’t played like a franchise quarterback.

 

In 15 games, Osweiler has 2,957 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions while completing just 59 percent of his attempts. He will have his hands full against the Raiders’ potent pass rush.

 

Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin have combined for 18 sacks thus far. Mack had just once in the earlier meeting between the two teams, but he had five last season when Osweiler was starting for Denver.

 

2. Connor Cook vs. Texans’ Defense

Although Osweiler has experience under center, Cook will be making his first career start. It will mark the first time a rookie quarterback has made his first start in a playoff game.

 

Last week against Denver, Cook saw his first action when Matt McGloin, who was starting in place of injured Pro Bowler Derek Carr, injured his shoulder in the second quarter. Cook entered and led the Raiders to their only score of the game as he threw a touchdown pass to Amari Cooper in the third quarter. The fourth-round pick (No. 100 overall) out of Michigan State finished the game 14 of 21 for 150 yards, a touchdown and an interception in a 24-6 loss.

 

Cook will have a tough test facing the NFL’s No. 1 ranked defense. Houston is allowing 301.3 yards per game. The difference-maker for the Texans hasn’t been three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, who played in just one game because of back injury, but former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.

 

In his third season, Clowney finally established himself as a force, making his first Pro Bowl in the process. While he’s had to deal with some nagging injuries, Clowney has recorded 52 tackles, six sacks and a forced fumble. Besides Clowney, Cook also will have to worry about Whitney Mercilus, who leads Houston with 7.5 sacks.

 

3. Lamar Miller

Houston’s best chance to win on Saturday will probably ride on the shoulders and legs of Miller. In 14 games this season, Miller has 1,073 rushing yards and five touchdowns. His production has been limited somewhat by a nagging ankle injury that caused him to miss the last two games.

 

Miller will be facing an Oakland defense that has been one of the worse against the run. The Raiders are giving up an average of 117.6 rushing yards per game, which puts them 23rd in the NFL. They also have surrendered 18 touchdowns on the ground (25th).

 

In the first meeting back in Week 11, Miller ran for 104 yards and a score. Unless Osweiler shows an ability to consistently beat Oakland through the air, the offensive burden will all on Miller once again. The Raiders need to do a better job of limiting Miller, especially considering their own quarterback concerns.

 

Final Analysis

 

With starting quarterback Derek Carr leading the way, many thought Oakland had an opportunity to challenge New England for AFC supremacy in the playoffs. With Carr out with a broken fibula and back Matt McGloin dealing with a shoulder injury, the Raiders must now rely on rookie Connor Cook to help them keep their season alive.

 

To take pressure off of Cook, Oakland will need to establish its running game with Latavius Murray and DeAndre Washington. The problem is, Houston’s rushing defense gives up 99.7 yards per game on the ground. If Cook is in a lot of 3rd-and-long situations throughout the day, it could spell trouble for the Raiders’ offense.

 

Even though Houston’s Brock Osweiler hasn’t been great by any means, he does have experience, although none in the postseason. If the Texans can get Lamar Miller going, that could potentially set up some big plays down the field to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and the team’s other targets.

 

Against a struggling Denver offense last week, Oakland gave up 349 yards and 24 points. Saturday’s game may not be pretty, but the Texans should come away with the victory, their first in the postseason since the 2012 playoffs.

 

Athlon Editors and Contributors Predictions

Editor/Contributor Winner Score
Rob Doster 21-14
Bryan Fischer 17-13
John Gworek 17-13
Steven Lassan 20-17
Mark Ross 17-16
Antwan Staley 24-13

 

— 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, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

 

(Brock Osweiler photo courtesy of www.houstontexans.com)

Teaser:
AFC Wild Card Preview and Predictions: Oakland Raiders vs. Houston Texans
Post date: Thursday, January 5, 2017 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/5-most-anticipated-rematches-college-football-history
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The moment Alabama recovered Clemson’s onside kick with 12 seconds left to preserve its 45-40 victory and last year’s national title, the college football world was clamoring for these two teams to meet again. Thanks to dominating performances by both teams in the College Football Playoff semifinals, fans have gotten their wish.

 

So we know this game is big, but where does it rank with the college football’s most anticipated rematches? Let’s take a look at the top five and see, but before we do, here are a few honorable mentions.

 

Oklahoma 31, Nebraska 24 (Orange Bowl)
Jan. 1, 1979 – Miami

You know when your team loses to a fierce conference rival and you say, “Man, I wish we could play them again.” Well, this is the one time a bowl game granted that wish. After upsetting No. 1 Oklahoma in November, Nebraska blew its own national championship hopes by losing to Missouri the next week. With other teams losing that weekend and the Sugar Bowl setting up a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup between Penn State and Alabama, the Orange Bowl was running out of marquee foes for Big 8 champion Nebraska. So it made the unusual move of inviting No. 4 Oklahoma and Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims to Miami for a rematch. The Sooners and their fans were ecstatic. The Cornhuskers? Not so much. The game itself was close until the third quarter, when Oklahoma pulled away to take a commanding 31-10 lead. Since the 1979 Orange Bowl, the only time two teams from the same conference played a rematch in the same season was in the 2012 national title game.

 

Miami 20, Oklahoma 14 (Orange Bowl)
Jan. 1, 1988 – Miami

The Hurricanes were the only team to beat Oklahoma in the 1985 and ‘86 seasons. When they faced each other for a third straight time, it was in the Orange Bowl and the Sooners were No. 1 and Miami was No. 2. For Oklahoma, the third time did not prove to be the charm as the Hurricanes won 20-14 and secured their second national title.

 

Alabama 21, LSU 0 (BCS National Championship Game)
Jan. 9, 2012 – New Orleans

After beating Alabama 9-6 in overtime in Tuscaloosa, LSU won its remaining games to finish the season undefeated and earn the top spot in the BCS National Championship Game. At No. 2 in the BCS standings was 11-1 Alabama, marking the only time a national championship game has been played between two teams from the same conference. The pairing was a bit controversial since many in the college football world felt 11-1 Oklahoma State deserved the shot at LSU (The Crimson Tide edged the Cowboys by a mere .0086 points in the final BCS rankings.). The frustration became even greater when Alabama won the title game and became the first team to win a national championship without even winning its division.

 

Related: Ranking Every College Football National Championship Game

 

5. Colorado 10, Notre Dame 9 (Orange Bowl)

Jan. 1, 1991 – Miami

The year before, Notre Dame spoiled Colorado’s national title hopes by beating the top-ranked Buffaloes 21-6 in the Orange Bowl. When the teams returned to South Florida the next year after one of the wackiest seasons in college football history, Colorado was again ranked No. 1 and Notre Dame was No. 5. This time the Buffaloes hung on to win 10-9 and claim a share of the national championship.

 

4. Florida 52, Florida State 20 (Sugar Bowl)

Jan. 2, 1997 – New Orleans

The second-ranked Seminoles beat the top-ranked Gators 24-21 in the last week of the regular season. The next week, third-ranked Nebraska was upset by Texas in the inaugural Big 12 Championship Game while Florida took care of business against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Since No. 2 Arizona State was committed to playing Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, the only option for the Sugar Bowl was a Florida/Florida State rematch. The Buckeyes beat the Sun Devils, making the Sugar Bowl the de facto national title game. This time, Florida scored 28 unanswered points in the second half to earn the program’s first national title.

 

3. Florida State 18, Nebraska 16 (Orange Bowl)

Jan. 1, 1994 – Miami

The Seminoles had beaten the Huskers 27-14 the year before in an Orange Bowl that had no bearing on the national title race. When both teams returned to Miami the next season, they were more mature and Florida State was ranked No. 1 and Nebraska No. 2. The typical excitement surrounding this type of game was only intensified because it was guaranteed that either Bobby Bowden or Tom Osborne would win his first national championship. In a game for the ages, Nebraska kicker Byron Bennett’s 45-yard field goal attempt went left as time expired and the Seminoles won 18-16, securing Bowden’s first national title.

 

2. Miami 27, Notre Dame 10

Nov. 25, 1989 – Miami

The 1988 Notre Dame/Miami matchup, famously dubbed “Catholics vs. Convicts,” was recently highlighted in an ESPN “30 for 30” film because of its significance. Through all the hype, the two schools played one of college football’s best games, which the Irish won 31-30 en route to the national title. When the two schools met for the last game of the 1989 regular season, Notre Dame was ranked No. 1 and riding a 23-game winning streak. This time No. 7 Miami was the spoiler, dashing the Irish’s hopes for a second straight championship and putting the Hurricanes in position to win their third.

 

1. Clemson vs. Alabama (College Football Playoff National Championship)

Jan. 9, 2017 – Tampa, Fla.

All of the games on this list were big, but Monday night’s showdown will be the only time the same two teams have faced off or the national title two years in a row. Given the excitement last year’s game produced, the anticipation surrounding this rematch will be bigger than any other we have ever seen.

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

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The college football gods granted the wishes of those fans who couldn’t get enough of last year’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game between Alabama and Clemson, as both schools will meet again on Monday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Alabama defeated Clemson 45-40 in last season’s thrilling contest at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

 

Alabama (14-0) sliced through its regular season to earn a trip to Atlanta and win a third straight SEC championship, blasting Florida 54-16. The No. 1 Crimson Tide returned to the Georgia Dome on New Year’s Eve and beat No. 4 Washington 24-7 in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl to give them a shot at back-to-back national titles.

 

Clemson (13-1) began the season with a six-point win at Auburn en route to starting 9-0 before falling 43-42 at home to Pittsburgh. The Tigers won their last two regular-season games and then outlasted Virginia Tech 42-35 in the ACC Championship Game, putting them back in the College Football Playoff. Clemson shut out No. 3 Ohio State 31-0 in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Eve, setting up a national championship rematch with Alabama.

 

Here are 10 stats you need to know to get you ready for Monday’s title tilt.

 

11: Defensive touchdowns scored by Alabama

Alabama’s offense at times this season has underwhelmed, but thankfully for Crimson Tide fans, it’s had the good fortune of being able to rely on a vicious and opportunistic defense to pick up the slack. Alabama has returned five fumbles and six interceptions for touchdowns through its 14 games played this year, the most recent coming in the Peach Bowl when linebacker Ryan Anderson returned a pick of Washington’s Jake Browning 26 yards for a score in the second quarter. What’s even more impressive about the Tide’s defensive scoring prowess if the fact the unit has only allowed 15 offensive touchdowns on the season.

 

112: Career touchdowns accounted for by Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson

Watson has accounted for a whopping 112 touchdowns in 36 games with the Tigers. That total – 25 rushing and 87 passing – place him at second behind Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes among active FBS signal-callers. This season, Watson has been responsible for 46 touchdowns through 14 games and has had two or more in all but one game. He posted six touchdowns against in-state rival South Carolina and produced five against both Louisville and Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game.

 

16: Consecutive wins by Alabama against ranked teams

The Crimson Tide’s 24-7 win over Washington in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl not only was their 16th in a row over a ranked foe, but it also tied the 2002-05 USC Trojans for the most consecutive victories of that nature in AP poll history (since 1936). Alabama’s 16-game winning streak dates back to Sept. 19, 2015, when Ole Miss scored a 43-37 upset in Tuscaloosa. With a win over Clemson, Nick Saban and Alabama can claim another record.

 

3: Clemson’s strength of schedule ranking

The only schools that can boast about having played tougher schedules this season are Tennessee and Ohio State. Of the 14 opponents Clemson has faced this year, 11 played in a bowl. The Tigers’ opponents have gone a combined 76-46 for a .623 winning percentage. Clemson’s 11 bowl opponents are the most the team has faced in a season since 2010 when it matched up against nine such teams.

 

40-3: Alabama’s record under former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin

After nearly three seasons directing the Crimson Tide’s offense, Kiffin was hired as the new head coach at Florida Atlantic in December. Originally expected to stay until Alabama’s season was over, Kiffin left the program on Monday, just two days after the playoff win over Washington. Former USC head coach Steven Sarkisian has taken over Kiffin’s duties. While questions may surround what ultimately led to his dismissal, what can’t be questioned is Kiffin’s impact as the Tide’s offensive coordinator. In his three years in Tuscaloosa, Alabama has won the SEC title each year and is a victory away from back-to-back national championships. In 2014, Kiffin helped first-year starting quarterback Blake Sims set several school records, take home SEC Championship Game MVP honors and earn second-team All-SEC recognition by the Associated Press. Last season, it was Jake Coker getting his first shot at starting and eventually guiding Alabama to a national title. This season, it has been true freshman Jalen Hurts grabbing the spotlight and being named the SEC Offensive Player of the Year. Love him or loathe him, Kiffin’s track record with Crimson Tide quarterbacks pretty much speaks for itself.

 

6.28: Clemson’s yards per play this season

The Tigers have run 1,121 plays from scrimmage for 7,044 yards, good for 6.28 yards per play. In 2015, the Tigers ended the season having run 1,207 plays for 7,718 yards, which translated to 6.39 yards per play. Clemson’s offensive production might not be quite as explosive as it was a year ago, but the Tigers still are a formidable force when they have the ball. Clemson enters this game 12th in the FBS in total offense (503.1 ypg) and just put up 470 yards (265 passing, 205 rushing) against an Ohio State defense that still ranks sixth nationally.

 

50: Sacks tallied by Alabama’s defense this season

With some considering this year’s iteration of the Crimson Tide defense to perhaps be the best head coach Nick Saban has assembled during his time in Tuscaloosa, it’s no surprise to learn that ‘Bama has racked up 50 sacks in 14 games. That puts the Tide second in the FBS behind only Florida State (51 in 13 G) and one ahead of Clemson. The Tigers’ offensive line has done well in protecting quarterback Deshaun Watson this season, as the Heisman Trophy runner-up has only been sacked 16 times. Fans of line play will be in for a treat Monday night.

 

1,267: Receiving yards this season for Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams

If not for a scary-looking neck injury sustained after colliding with a goal post following a touchdown catch against Wofford in September 2015, Williams could be looking at a third consecutive 1,000-yard season. He posted 1,030 in 2014 and following a six-catch, 96-yard showing against Ohio State in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, he enters Monday night with 1,267 on 90 receptions. He has five 100-yard games (Auburn, NC State, Syracuse, South Carolina), including a career-best 202 in the loss to Pittsburgh.

 

208: Receiving yards for Alabama tight end O.J. Howard in last year’s national championship game

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables did his due diligence in scheming for breakout wide receiver Calvin Ridley in last year’s title game, holding the then 1,000-yard receiver to 14 yards on six receptions. But neither Venables nor Clemson’s secondary, however, had an answer for Howard, who burned the Tigers for 208 yards and two touchdowns on five receptions, including a 51-yard score in the fourth quarter that put Alabama ahead to stay. Howard has 489 yards and two touchdowns entering the rematch and you know Venables and company do not want to let the tight end beat them a second time.

 

20: Interceptions by Clemson’s defense

With two picks of Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, the Tigers now have 20 interceptions on the season. Only five other teams have more. Alabama true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has done a good job throwing the ball (2,649 yards, 22 TD), but he has tossed nine picks. During a five-game stretch starting Oct. 8 and ending Nov. 12, he threw at least one and has been picked off in seven of 14 games thus far. Since throwing two against Auburn in the regular season finale, Hurts has been mistake-free (in just 34 pass attempts) in wins over Florida and Washington.

 

— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star Newspaper, Hayes also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.

Teaser:
10 Stats You Need to Know for the National Championship (Clemson vs. Alabama)
Post date: Thursday, January 5, 2017 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/10-best-position-battles-watch-national-championship-game-2017
Body:

It’s here. After one long and entertaining season, we’re finally down to just one last college football game. While the national title game is always a must-watch affair, this year’s edition is one of the most unique meetings in the sport’s history because it’s the first rematch in the championship game era. As good as Alabama-Clemson Part II will be in Tampa however, some of the one-on-ones between the players on the field are even juicier than the overall matchup itself.

 

Whether you’re a college football fan, a coach or an NFL scout, here are 10 of the best position vs. position battles between offensive stars and their defensive counterparts on the other side in the national title game.

 

1. Clemson LBs Ben Boulware and Kendall Joseph vs. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts and RB Bo Scarbrough

It says plenty about the Crimson Tide’s ridiculous depth that Scarbrough was his team’s fourth-leading rusher coming into the Peach Bowl, where he ran all over Washington to the tune of 180 yards and two scores. He’ll almost assuredly see a bigger role in the backfield as the focus of the team’s offensive attack, along with Hurts, ‘Bama’s dual-threat signal-caller. How successful those two young stars will be running the ball depends on how well the Tigers’ talented linebacker duo plays. Boulware and Joseph combined for 13 tackles in the semifinal and virtually eliminated the Ohio State ground game. Can they do it again? Things will be much tougher in Tampa.

 

2. Alabama DBs Minkah Fitzpatrick, Marlon Humphrey, Anthony Averett, Ronnie Harrison and Tony Brown vs. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, WRs Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, Deon Cain, Hunter Renfrow and TE Jordan Leggett

Nick Saban has not shied away from calling Watson the best player in college football right now and will get another crack at him for all the marbles. The Tide’s secondary isn’t quite as stingy as it was last season but is still loaded with talented players led by do-everything star Fitzpatrick. They’ll all have their hands full for the title game, as Watson is throwing to the deepest group of receivers in the sport. One big change from last year is that the Tigers will have stud Williams and speedster Cain, who both missed last year’s game and will no doubt be looking to make up for that.

 

3. Clemson LB Dorian O’Daniel and DB Jadar Johnson vs. Alabama TE O.J. Howard

One of the biggest surprises for Alabama in the last meeting between these two teams was the emergence of Howard, who exploded for 208 yards and two touchdowns in a high-scoring victory. Can he have the same impact again this year? One thing is for sure, the Tigers will certainly keep their eye on the physical tight end wherever he goes. O’Daniel will likely have to deal with Howard out on intermediate routes and in the run game when he tries to block, while Johnson will have to prevent anything over the top.

 

4. Clemson OT Mitch Hyatt vs. Alabama DE Jonathan Allen and LB Tim Williams

Hyatt was a sensation during Clemson’s run to the national championship game last year as a true freshman and has protected Deshaun Watson’s blindside since he stepped on campus. While he did a top-notch job against Alabama the first time, the second meeting should be a little bit tougher — as strange as it is to say. Allen has developed into the best defensive player in the game right now (with the hardware to prove it) and teams up with a pass rusher extraordinaire in Williams. Keeping Watson upright is a major factor in Monday’s game and nobody will play a bigger role in that than Hyatt.

 

5. Alabama OL Korren Kirven, Bradley Bozeman and Ross Pierschbacher vs. Clemson DT’s Dexter Lawrence, Carlos Watkins and Scott Pagano

Elite programs reload, they don’t rebuild. Along the defensive line, no two teams in America do it better than Alabama and Clemson in that regard. The Tigers’ group in the interior of their defensive line is as talented as they come and it’s a unit that features an impressive mix of youth, athleticism and playmakers. Watkins is the veteran of the bunch and a load to move out of the way when he isn’t getting after the passer while Lawrence may be the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick down the road (likely 2019, as he’s just a true freshman) with an incredible blend of size and quickness that is as rare as they come. The Crimson Tide’s interior offensive line hasn’t been quite as good as we’re used to with the program and will need their best effort for the title game if the team is to run the ball effectively.

 

6. Alabama OTs Cam Robinson and Jonah Williams vs. Clemson DEs Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant

Robinson is very likely to become a first-round draft pick a few months after the title game and has been a mainstay in protecting three different Alabama quarterbacks with three very different styles. As good as he’s been though he may not have been the Tide’s best tackle this season, as freshman Williams has deservingly earned numerous All-American honors for his work at right tackle. The duo have already played some of the best defensive ends in the country this year but will still have a huge challenge against Clemson’s ultra-talented and deep group of ends.

 

7. Clemson RB Wayne Gallman vs. Alabama LB Reuben Foster

While Deshaun Watson and (this season at least) Mike Williams have gotten more attention from the national media, Gallman might just be Clemson’s most important player heading into this national title rematch. The dependable back is not only effective running the ball (85 yards, one touchdown in the semifinal), but he also can be a threat in the passing game as well as serving as a solid pass blocker when needed. He’ll need a big game if the Tigers want any revenge for last season and will have his work cut out for him facing off against Foster, who won the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker and is a straight missile coming down hill to tackle.

 

8. Clemson DBs Cordrea Tankersley, Ryan Carter and Van Smith vs. Alabama WRs ArDarius Stewart, Calvin Ridley and Gehrig Dieter

With a freshman quarterback who likes to run the ball, Alabama’s offense has been even more run-centric than previous versions this season. That has resulted in some fairly mediocre overall numbers for the Tide wideout group but make no mistake this is still a very deep unit capable of taking it to the house on each play. Stewart has been the team’s most consistent playmaker but one can’t sleep on the explosive Ridley or the reliable Dieter out of the slot either. The Clemson secondary has shut down a number of terrific passing attacks in ACC play this year but will need another big performance in the title game against this trio of pass catchers.

 

9. Alabama DT Da’Ron Payne vs. Clemson C Jay Guillermo

Alabama’s defense has put up some remarkable statistics this season and many have thrown out that this is Nick Saban’s best group since he arrived in Tuscaloosa. The reason for all that praise generally starts up front but that’s one area where Jonathan Allen has taken the lion’s share of attention on the field and in the papers. As a result, big man Payne has continually been overshadowed and underappreciated in his time as a starter, not putting up a great stat line but nevertheless having a big impact on the game with each snap he takes from the interior. He should have a great battle with Guillermo, an All-ACC first-teamer, and the rest of the Tigers’ linemen.

 

10. Alabama P JK Scott vs. Clemson PRs Artavis Scott and Ray-Ray McCloud

Punters are people too and, in the national title game, they could very well be the difference in winning or losing the crucial field position battle. Scott is one of the best in the country at his position and has been Alabama’s most underrated weapon on the team’s run the past three seasons. Nearly half of his punts go more than 50 yards and he’s provided his defense with optimal field position time after time this year. McCloud only has 21 returns at just 8.4 yards per, but has shown an ability to take it to the house with his combination of speed and quickness. Most probably remember him dropping the ball before the goal line on one return back in the opener but he and Scott are both dangerous if there’s an opportunity for them to catch and run.

 

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

Teaser:
10 Best Position Battles to Watch in the National Championship Game
Post date: Thursday, January 5, 2017 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/outrageous-predictions-nfl-wild-card-weekend-2017
Body:

The tournament begins now.

 

After 16 weeks of regular season football, the NFL playoffs begin this weekend — and all bets are off. Anything can happen in the playoffs. Every team now has the same record: 0-0.

 

Quite simply, it's a recipe for outrageousness.

 

Outrageous Predictions for NFL Wild Card Weekend

 

Connor Cook throws for more than 300 yards against the Texans

The rookie out of Michigan State will get the start for the Raiders this weekend, but fans of the Silver and Black should not be too nervous. Cook is no stranger to big games, nor is he a stranger to big-time performances in those games. He'll be asked to simply distribute the ball to a cast of skill position players that will be a mismatch for the Houston linebackers and secondary. When it's all said and done, the Raiders will be victorious and Cook's efficient day will be a big reason why.

 

Le'Veon Bell sets the single-game rushing record for the playoffs

The Patriots may have exposed the Dolphin run defense a week ago. They didn't run the ball often, but when they did, they had success at over four yards per carry. Anything New England's backfield can do, Le'Veon Bell can do better. When you consider the attention that the Miami defense will pay to Pittsburgh's elite Ben Roethlisberger-to-Antonio Brown connection, Bell will have plenty of room to operate. Once the Steelers jump out early in what figures to be a cold afternoon, look for Bell and the Pittsburgh offensive line to pound the Dolphins into submission.

 

The Packers and Giants combine for two total touchdowns

Sure, these are two high-powered offenses that like to chuck the ball around the field — and to some elite weapons. That said, when the sun goes down about an hour after kickoff, the darkness is going to bring bone-chilling cold weather with it, putting an exclamation point on every bit of contact between these two storied franchises. Forget the two high-profile quarterbacks. The team whose running game and special teams play better will win this one.

 

Matthew Stafford silences Seattle

The Seahawks were not fantastic against the pass over the last quarter of the regular season. Stafford will lead Detroit's explosive passing attack into CenturyLink Field playing with house money. Look for the gunslinger to target former Seahawk Golden Tate early and often, turning the game into a shootout that Russell Wilson may not be ready to keep pace in.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

 

(Connor Cook photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Teaser:
Outrageous Predictions for NFL Wild Card Weekend
Post date: Thursday, January 5, 2017 - 09:30

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