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All taxonomy terms: Jimmy Walker, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2016-majors-no-21-jimmy-walker
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2016 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the ’s .

 

No. 21 Jimmy Walker

Born: Jan. 16, 1979, Oklahoma City, Okla. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 5 | 2015 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2015 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,521,350 (10th) | World Ranking: 22

 

Gary Williams’ Take: Walker started 2015 the way he played all of 2014 (when he recorded his first three Tour wins), and he appeared to be steamrolling toward another career season with two wins and two second-place finishes before the end of May. Shockingly, Walker did not record another official top 10 the rest of the year. He still produced $4.5 million in official earnings and a spot on the USA Presidents Cup team, but he and instructor Butch Harmon are making some changes. He is working on a new release at impact that will have his head looking a little like David Duval’s, and it’s something that Walker and Harmon have discussed for some time. Walker is not an accurate driver, but he remains one of the longest on Tour, and he was second in strokes gained, putting in 2015. However, his greens hit in regulation slipped from 28th to 101st, and his proximity was 137th on Tour. Expect good results in all the Texas events, where his record is astounding.
Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 14
Wins: 0
2015 Performance:
    Masters – T38
    U.S. Open – T58
    British Open – T30
    PGA Championship – Cut
Best Career Finishes
    Masters – T8 (2014)
    U.S. Open – T9 (2014)
    British Open – T26 (2014)
    PGA Championship – T7 (2014)
Top-10 Finishes: 3
Top-25 Finishes: 4
Missed Cuts: 5

 

Athlon's 2016 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Zach Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. .

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 10, 2016 - 10:23
All taxonomy terms: food, Life
Path: /life/march-madness-blt-nachos
Body:

Who doesn't love nachos? Who doesn't love a great BLT? Well, we've put them together to celebrate March Madness, combining bacon, lettuce and tomato with layers of chips and melted cheese, drizzled with ranch dressing. Trust us, it will put a smile on your face as you watch your dreams of a perfect bracket fade away.

 

BLT NachosStarting Lineup

8 oz. tortilla chips
12 oz. shredded cheese (Monterey Jack)
8 slices pre-cooked bacon, crumbled
1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered
1 romaine heart, finely shredded
1/3 cup bottled ranch dressing

 

Equipment

Rimmed baking sheet or oven-safe platter

 

Prep Rally

Preheat oven to 350 F

 

Round 1 | Build Foundation

Place half the chips on platter or baking sheet
Sprinkle with half bacon and half cheese

 

Round 2 | Another Layer

Top the first layer with leftover chips and cheese

 

Round 3 | Heat Check

Bake nachos about 5 minutes, until cheese melts

 

Round 4 | Top It Off

Scatter tomatoes, lettuce and remaining bacon over the top
Drizzle with ranch dressing

 

—Recipe by Laraine Perri

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 10, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/dummies-guide-march-madness-2016
Body:

It’s been difficult to put this season into any specific box so far — and that’s a good thing. We’ve been captivated by one superstar freshman that likely won’t make the Big Dance. We’ve seen the number one spot in the polls become a game of musical chairs. In the era of the one and done, we’ve seen the game become highlighted by game-breaking upperclassmen. And of course, what kind of college basketball season would it be if there weren’t a big-name coach or two getting in trouble?

 

Amid all of the craziness and unlikeliness of this college basketball season, one fact has emerged: March is wide open for anyone.

 

Related: 

 

And if you’re just now joining us — first of all, shame on you — but we forgive you, and welcome to the party.

 

Here’s a primer to make you sound like a college basketball savant during March Madness.

 

Player of the Year Race: Buddy vs. Valentine

The two most well-rounded college basketball players this season, for the first time in what seems like a decade, aren’t freshmen. In fact, both Wooden and Naismith Award front-runners are seniors on top 10 teams with great chances at making deep NCAA Tournament runs. Buddy Hield is Oklahoma’s senior sharpshooter, college hoops’ version of Steph Curry, who leads the nation in 3-point field goals made (124) and is second in the nation in scoring (25.1 ppg). Like Curry, Hield is known for his contagious positive attitude and his killer instinct on the court, capable of changing the game from well beyond the 3-point line, and always saving his best performances when the lights are the brightest.

 

Where Hield dictates the game from behind the arc, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, imposes his will everywhere else — including from behind the arc. Valentine built his game each season in East Lansing, brick-by-brick, to become the most versatile player in the game today. Valentine’s fantastic numbers don't necessarily do his game justice (19.6 ppg, 7.5 apg, 7.4 rpg). Even though his stats are noticeable, his impact might not have been fully realized until he was sidelined early in the Big Ten Conference schedule after a minor knee operation. With Valentine running the show, Tom Izzo and the Spartans have another great opportunity at another Final Four run.

 

Top Freshman Likely Out of Tourney

Senior stars might be the catalyst in this year’s college basketball landscape, but the No. 1 overall pick in June’s NBA Draft will undoubtedly be LSU’s freshman phenom Ben Simmons. Simmons freshman (and likely only) campaign in Baton Rouge has been one spent under the microscope — often times unfairly. Simmons has fought off comparisons to LeBron James and Magic Johnson for his unique ability to impact the game from anywhere on the floor, all while trying to carry a less than stellar supporting cast towards March. It seems, at least at this point, that Simmons and the Tigers will be kept out of the Big Dance — unless they do some serious damage in the SEC Tournament this week in Nashville. But Simmons isn’t just making headlines for his highlight-reel dunks and his eye-popping numbers (19.6 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 5.0 apg). It was revealed last week that Simmons will not be eligible for the Wooden Award for failing to meet the required 2.0 GPA during his fall semester — which is a whole other issue all together that just magnifies the debate of “student-athletes.”

 

Hall of Fame Coaches Banned from Big Dance

There will be no one shining moment for two of the better teams in the country — and it’s really a shame. None of the current players from SMU or Louisville had anything to do with breaking any NCAA rules, but they are the ones being punished for the sins of their leaders. SMU is being charged for its 10th (yes, really, 10th) NCAA infraction, while head coach Larry Brown is being charged with his third (UCLA, Kansas) NCAA violation for academic fraud. The Mustangs are currently No. 25 in the AP poll and sit in second place in the American Athletic Conference.

 

Louisville’s situation is less cut and dry, but definitely more disgusting — an alleged recruiting and prostitution scandal involving former basketball staffer Andre McGee. Head coach Rick Pitino claims that he had zero knowledge of the alleged incidents, but university president James R. Ramsey said, “it was reasonable to conclude that violations had occurred in the past” and this decision is “in the best interest of the university.” Of course it is, but it sure isn’t what’s best for the student-athletes, especially senior transfers Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, who came to Louisville for one sole purpose: play in the NCAA Tournament.

 

Seniors Lead the Way

For all the talk of the one-and-done over the course of the last decade, this year, seniors lead the way. Led by Hield and Valentine, a majority of the best hoopsters this season are seniors. Five of the 10 Naismith finalists and eight of the 15 Wooden Award finalists are seniors: Hield, Valentine, Brice Johnson (North Carolina), Jarrod Utoff (Iowa), Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia), Yogi Ferrell (Indiana), Georges Niang (Iowa St.), Perry Ellis (Kansas). The chances of seeing one of these seniors ending their careers with “One Shining Moment” is pretty likely.

 

Self is Mr. Consistent

Bill Self has already been named USA Today’s National Coach of the Year, and after winning his 12th consecutive Big 12 regular season conference title, I’d say he’s earned it. This season’s Jayhawks aren’t what you might expect from a typical Kansas squad either. There is no Joel Embid or Andrew Wiggins on this team. But there are players like Wayne Seldon, Perry Ellis, and Frank Mason Jr., guys who aren’t afraid to grind you down on both ends of the floor, never worried about personal accolades. This team might be Self’s toughest since he’s been in Lawrence, a team tough enough to win a league title in the best conference by two games.

 

Big 12 is Big Brother

For years, it was Kansas and everyone else. Well, Kansas is still the class of the Big 12, but now everyone else is pretty darn good too. The Big 12 separated itself as the best conference in college hoops this season. Currently, the conference has six teams in the AP Top 25 and is likely to get seven teams into the NCAA Tournament. Kansas and Oklahoma are going to go pretty far on a lot of your co-workers’ bracket sheets, and rightfully so. But West Virginia as well as Texas, Baylor and Iowa State are all capable of making deep March runs of their own.

 

Several March Staples Won’t Be Dancing

Outside of Louisville and SMU, several other well-known basketball programs are likely going to be left out of the Big Dance. According to ESPN’s resident bracketologist Joe Lunardi, top-tier programs like Connecticut, Syracuse, Pitt, Michigan, Florida and Ohio State are likely on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday — barring deep conference tournament runs of course. But the big boys aren’t the only ones who could be left out. A few very good mid-majors could be left out as well, victims of attrition and the silliness of the automatic qualifier. Valparaiso, Saint Mary’s, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Bonaventure, George Washington and Tulsa could all be headed to the NIT.

 

Big East Could Have Two Final Four Teams

It’s unlikely that both Xavier and Villanova are No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, but the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the Big East tourney could very well meet in the Final Four. Oh, we should hope to be so lucky. Both ‘Nova and X are extremely well rounded and can put up points. In their only meeting on Feb. 24, the two put on one of the most entertaining games of the season thus far, a 90-83 Musketeers win. Although Xavier beat Villanova just a couple of weeks ago, the Wildcats still won the very balanced Big East by two games. Both teams are led by exceptional coaches, Xavier’s Chris Mack, in the mix for National Coach of the Year, and Villanova’s Jay Wright.

 

Tom Crean: From Hot Seat to Coach of the Year

Whew. What a ride this season has been for Indiana and head coach Tom Crean. It started with handwritten apologies sent out to former Hoosier players, bad losses to UNLV and Wake Forrest at the Maui Invitational, a blowout defeat to Duke, and the loss of second-leading scorer James Blackmon Jr. to a knee injury as the Big Ten schedule was beginning. But the Hoosiers, led by senior point guard Yogi Ferrell and junior forward Troy Williams, rallied and beat the likes of Iowa (twice), Purdue, Maryland and Wisconsin on their way to the outright Big Ten title — even after losing starting guard Robert Johnson to injury late in the season. Over the course of the season, the Hoosiers locked down defensively and found an offensive chemistry unlike we’ve seen in the Big Ten (outside of maybe Michigan State). The mix of veteran leadership and regular input from freshman studs Thomas Bryant, OG Anunoby, and Juwan Morgan have Hoosier fans thinking about another banner, and oddly enough, singing the Big Ten Coach of the Year’s praises.

 

Pac-12 is Sneaky Good

Not to sound like Bill Walton here, but the Pac-12 is the best conference that stays up too late for the rest of us to love. The “Conference of Champions” currently has four teams in the AP Top 25, but could see as many as seven squads make the Tournament. Oregon, led by National Coach of the Year candidate and Pac-12 COY Dana Altman, is in prime position to make a Final Four run, while Utah, Arizona, and Cal all have the potential to win multiple games and leave their own mark on this year’s edition of March Madness.

 

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

 

(Buddy Hield photo courtesy of )

Teaser:
The Dummies' Guide to March Madness 2016
Post date: Thursday, March 10, 2016 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: American League, MLB
Path: /mlb/american-league-spring-training-storylines
Body:

With 's spring training in full swing in Florida and Arizona, the main storyline in the American League is pretty straightforward – everyone is trying to catch up with the reigning World Series champion Kansas City Royals. Some teams are trying to emulate their back-end bullpen dominance, and others are trying to imitate their homegrown success with the acquisition of young talent. Others, like Toronto are hoping to be able to put together a stacked lineup that will allow them to slug their way past Kansas City. So with that in mind, here are the biggest storylines in the AL as we stand less than a month away from Opening Day.

 

Related: 

 

1. Blue Jays Want to go Back-to-Back

The 2016 Blue Jays will be relying heavily on the same slugging lineup that scored a major league-best 891 runs a season ago and features the AL MVP Josh Donaldson, bat-flipping aficionado Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki. But gone is rent-an-ace David Price as well as general manager Alex Anthopoulos, the craftsman of the first Toronto team to make a postseason appearance in 22 years. The microscope is now hovering over team president Mark Shapiro and new GM Ross Atkins from a fan base disgruntled over the surprise departure of Anthopoulos.

 

With Price gone, the rotation is now headlined instead by Marcus Stroman, a young fireballer in a small (5-8) package. Stroman tore his ACL in spring training last year, but returned to give the Jays a jolt down the stretch and in the playoffs. Manager John Gibbons will be relying heavily on Stroman, 24, who has yet to pitch a full season in the majors.

 

The rest of rotation has plenty of question marks. Marco Estrada put together his best season as a pro in 2015 (3.13 ERA, 181.0 IP), earning him a two-year, $32 million deal. But consistency has been elusive for Estrada throughout his career, as it has for knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, and lefty J.A. Happ. Dickey is likely to eclipse 200 innings for the sixth consecutive season, but he has to do a better job of keeping the ball in the yard. While Happ is out to prove that his second half stint in Pittsburgh last season (11 starts, 1.85 ERA, 69 K, 2.19 FIP) wasn’t a fluke.

 

The Jays’ bats are more than capable of slugging their way to another AL East title, but the question remains — is the rotation good enough to win a World Series?

 

Related:

 

2. Rejuvenated Red Sox

Sure, signing the aforementioned Price for $217 million helps the Red Sox win in the long run. But for my money, the trade for closer Craig Kimbrel signaled that the Red Sox and new GM Dave Dombrowski are ready to win right now.

 

Think back to last offseason when then-GM Ben Cherington brought in Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to dig the Sox out of the AL East basement. Well, that backfired — horribly — and cost Cherington his job. But despite the 78-84 finish, there were a few bright spots for Red Sox Nation in ’15. A pair of 22-year-old phenoms, center fielder Mookie Betts and shortstop Xander Bogaerts, proved to be franchise cornerstones with breakout performances in the field and at the plate. Throw in outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and catcher Blake Swihart, and the Red Sox have plenty of young, promising position players to place alongside their new ace in hopes of putting together another stretch of sustained success.

 

The problem with the Red Sox clearly isn’t dealing with the expected growing pains endured by their younger players, but the questions surrounding some of their high-priced, aging veterans. Sandoval and Ramirez were atrocious last season, but they weren’t the only ones. Starting pitchers Joe Kelly, Rick Porcello and Wade Miley all had posted ERAs well north of 4.00. De facto No. 1 starter Clay Buchholz and perennial All-Star second baseman Dustin Pedoria were effective, but couldn’t stay healthy. In order to compete with Toronto in the AL East, manager John Farrell will have to find the right mix of aging vets and blossoming youngsters.

 

3. Farewell Big Papi

At 39 years old, David Ortiz was the arguably most productive player in the Red Sox lineup last season when he hit .273 with 37 home runs, 37 doubles and a .913 OPS. Ortiz is getting ready to embark on his final season, and all of New England is praying that he has more than enough life left in his bat.

 

Since coming to Boston in 2003, he has been the unequivocal clubhouse leader and arguably the most noticeable face of one of baseball’s most recognizable franchises. But it isn’t only Ortiz’s on-field accomplishments (2,303 hits, 503 home runs, 1,641 RBIs) that has earned him a special place in New England folklore — granted it certainly helps that he was the driving force behind three World Series titles and eradicating the 86-year Curse of the Bambino.

 

Ortiz came to symbolize the best of Boston when times were at their worst. Ortiz exemplified camaraderie and toughness after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. His speech prior to the first home game following the attacks spawned the rallying cry “Boston Strong,” and with some fantastic choice language, reinvigorated the entire city.

 

Since winning the World Series win in 2004, Ortiz has often been in the forefront of the baseball spotlight for his outgoing and endearing personality and on-field accomplishments, becoming just the fourth player ever to hit more than 500 home runs and win three World Series titles. (The other three players were all Yankees. Fitting, right?)

 

To many, Ortiz represents the ills of the modern athlete — boorish, overpaid and irritable — not to mention his failed PED test in 2003. But to others, especially in the baseball world and in New England, he is Big Papi — the outgoing, charitable, clutch slugger who embraced one of America’s greatest cities both on the field, and when it matters most off the field. One thing is for certain, Big Papi is going out on his own terms — and that is more than well-deserved for one of the game’s great ambassadors.

 

4. Royals Repeat?

Last season Kansas City ran away with the AL Central crown by a jaw-dropping 12 games. Yes, the Royals were that good — and yes, the rest of the division was really that bad. This summer looks like it could be much of the same.

 

The Royals return pretty much the same roster that won the World Series last October. Outside of injured free-agent closer Greg Holland (who could be brought back), along with half-season rentals Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, everyone else is back. This is bad news for AL Central opponents.

 

With the return of Alex Gordon, alongside the core group of Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas (not to mention the bulk of that lights-out bullpen) the Royals have to be the favorites to repeat as AL Central champs.

 

The only things that could deter a Royal repeat would be their vanilla starting rotation not being able to last a whole summer and a healthy and max-performing Tigers lineup. I wouldn’t bank on the latter.

 

Related: 

 

5. Youth Movement

I’ve already mentioned the likes of Marcus Stroman, Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts as young AL game-breakers under the age of 25. Stroman will be atop of the Blue Jays rotation this summer with potential to be a bona fide ace while Betts and Bogaerts could be the only everyday Red Sox players to make the AL All-Star team. But these three aren't the only youngsters who figure to make big waves in the Junior Circuit this summer.

 

Francisco Lindor was supposed to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award last season — and he should have — that is until Carlos Correa showed up and helped the Astros qualify for the postseason. Outside of Andrelton Simmons, Lindor might have been the best defensive shortstop in all of baseball in 2015. But unlike Simmons, Lindor isn’t limited to just his leather. In just 99 games last season, Lindor hit .313/.353/.482 with 12 home runs and 12 stolen bases. Most think Lindor, 22, will regress offensively given his numbers in the minors, but that doesn’t make him any less of a potential perennial All-Star for Cleveland.

 

And then there’s Correa, the man who beat out Lindor in the voting for AL Rookie of the Year. The young shortstop has drawn comparisons to Alex Rodriguez when he burst on the scene back in 1996. Making his MLB debut last June at 20 years old, Correa hit 22 home runs, 22 doubles, drove in 68, stole 14 bases with an OPS of .857 OPS in just 432 plate appearances. What Mike Trout is to the center field position, Correa has a chance to be at shortstop — the complete package. The only question about Correa is where his ceiling might peak? It’s entirely possible that he put himself in the MVP discussion as early as this season.

Teaser:
American League Spring Training Storylines
Post date: Thursday, March 10, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/march-madness-numbers-economic-social-impact
Body:

The impact of the can be far reaching, from economic to social. Here are a few stats to consider when thinking about March Madness and how it influences our lives. 

 

$1.9 Billion – Hourly losses by companies due to unproductive workers during March Madness.
 
$9 Billion – Estimated amount wagered on the 2015 NCAA tournament ($7 billion illegally).
 
81% – Of HR professionals say their organizations don’t have policies addressing office pools.
 
2X – Easier to win back-to-back Mega Millions lotteries than it is to fill out a perfect bracket.
 
17.5 Million – Barrels of American beer produced each March, compared to an average of 14M in all other months.


For more, enjoy this infographic, courtesy of .

Source:
Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 10, 2016 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Overtime
Path: /overtime/espn-duped-fake-account-apologize-air-adam-schefter-trey-wingo-oliver-vernon-jay-glazer-fox-sports
Body:

Even the best of the best are fooled by fake Twitter accounts. 

 

During a segment on ESPN's NFL Live, everyone was fooled by this account tweeting false news about Oliver Vernon heading to Jacksonville. 

 

 

At the time he tweeted the news, he used Fox Sports insider Jay Glazer's avatar and name, but never tried to change his handle. People still fell for it. NFL Insider Adam Schefter had to send out a live retraction after reporting the news from the tweet. 

 

 

Afterwards, Glazer joked around that he was finally credited by ESPN, but it was for a fake account. That sucks.

 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 15:49
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Overtime
Path: /overtime/redskins-players-fire-back-chris-cooley-his-rgiii-remarks-brian-orakpo-ricky-jean-francois-niles-paul
Body:

After and mentioned the quarterback wasn't a favorite among Redskins players, there are a few of them speaking out to refute those claims.

 

It seems not everyone agrees with Cooley or even believes his claims, calling into question his past relationships with teammates. Brian Orakpo, Ricky Jean-Francois, and Niles Paul all took to Twitter to give their two cents.

 

 

 

 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 14:24
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Air Force Falcons, Akron Zips, Alabama Crimson Tide, Appalachian State Mountaineers, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats, Arkansas Razorbacks, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Army West Point Black Knights, Army Black Knights, Army West Point Black Knights, Auburn Tigers, Ball State Cardinals, Baylor Bears, Boise State Broncos, Boston College Eagles, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, BYU Cougars, California Golden Bears, Central Michigan Chippewas, Charlotte 49ers, Cincinnati Bearcats, Clemson Tigers, College Football, Colorado Buffaloes, Colorado State Rams, Connecticut Huskies, Duke Blue Devils, East Carolina Pirates, Eastern Michigan Eagles, FAU Owls, FIU Panthers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Fresno State Bulldogs, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Southern Eagles, Georgia State Panthers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, Hawaii Warriors, Houston Cougars, Idaho Vandals, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Kent State Golden Flashes, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Louisville Cardinals, LSU Tigers, Marshall Thundering Herd, Maryland Terrapins, Memphis Tigers, Miami Hurricanes, Miami Ohio RedHawks, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, MTSU Blue Raiders, Navy Midshipmen, Navy Midshipmen, NC State Wolfpack, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, New Mexico State Aggies, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Texas Mean Green, Northern Illinois Huskies, Northwestern Wildcats, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Old Dominion Monarchs, Ole Miss Rebels, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Pittsburgh Panthers, Purdue Boilermakers, Rice Owls, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, San Diego State Aztecs, San Jose State Spartans, SMU Mustangs, South Alabama Jaguars, South Carolina Gamecocks, South Florida Bulls, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Stanford Cardinal, Syracuse Orange, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Longhorns, Texas State Bobcats, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Toledo Rockets, Troy Trojans, Tulane Green Wave, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, UAB Blazers, UCF Knights, UCLA Bruins, UConn Huskies, UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, UL Monroe Warhawks, UMass Minutemen, UNLV Rebels, USC Trojans, Utah State Aggies, Utah Utes, UTEP Miners, UTSA Roadrunners, Vanderbilt Commodores, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, West Virginia Mountaineers, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Western Michigan Broncos, Wisconsin Badgers, Wyoming Cowboys, American Athletic, Big 12, Big Ten, Conference USA, Independents, MAC, Mountain West, Pac 12, SEC, Sun Belt, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-pre-spring-1-128-team-rankings-2016
Body:

The 2016 season officially begins on Aug. 27 with California taking on Hawaii in Australia. While kickoff for 2016 is a ways off, it’s never too early to start thinking about rankings, predictions and a preview for the upcoming year. With spring practice underway, teams are starting to put the pieces in place for 2016 and answer some of the question marks surrounding the depth chart.

 

Athlon Sports is examining all 128 teams for 2016 with a look at the reasons for hope and concern. These rankings will change a lot over the next few months and are a starting point as the evaluation and ranking process for the 2016 Athlon Sports College Football Preview magazine officially begins this spring. 

 

College Football's Pre-Spring 1-128 Team Rankings for 2016

 

128. Charlotte

Reason for Hope: The 49ers enter their second year at the FBS level with a wealth of experience on both sides of the ball. Running back Kalif Phillips and defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi are two of the best in Conference USA at their respective positions.

 

Reason for Concern: Quarterback play. Charlotte played three quarterbacks last year, and this trio combined to complete just 52.3 percent of their passes and 23 interceptions. 

 

127. ULM

Reason for Hope: ULM is a tough job, but new coach Matt Viator looks like the right fit to get this program on the right path. Garrett Smith returns at quarterback after showing promise (19 overall TDs) as a redshirt freshman in 2015.

 

Reason for Concern: The offensive line gave up 38 sacks last season and struggled to open up lanes for the running backs (3.2 ypc). The front seven on defense must be revamped and loses standouts Gerrand Johnson (NT) and linebacker Hunter Kissinger.

 

Related:

 

126. Kent State

Reason for Hope: The Golden Flashes were a young team last year and lost three games by a touchdown or less. Antwan Dixon (13.7 ypc) is a promising receiver to watch, and the defense only gave up 4.86 yards per play in 2015.

 

Reason for Concern: Colin Reardon and George Bollas combined for just nine touchdown passes and 10 interceptions last year. The Golden Flashes have to get more out of their offense. 

 

125. UMass

Reason for Hope: Sophomore Ross Comis looks like a capable replacement for Blake Frohnapfel at quarterback. Running back Marquis Young is another player for coach Mark Whipple to build around after rushing for 960 yards in 2015.

 

Reason for Concern: Life as an FBS Independent won’t be easy for the Minutemen. Standout receiver Tajae Sharpe expired his eligibility. 

 

124. Eastern Michigan

Reason for Hope: The Eagles were more competitive in coach Chris Creighton’s second season and regain the services of defensive lineman Pat O’Connor (All-MAC player in 2014) after he missed 2015 due to injury.

 

Reason for Concern: Eastern Michigan is a tough job, so progress won’t be easy to come by in 2016. The defense returns largely intact but surrendered 42.1 points a game last year. 

 

123. UTSA

Reason for Hope: A fresh start under new coach Frank Wilson. Jarveon Williams (1,042 yards in 2015) is one of the top running backs in Conference USA.

 

Reason for Concern: There’s always optimism under a new coach. How long will it take the Roadrunners to adjust to new schemes on both sides of the ball? Is quarterback Dalton Sturm ready to take the next step?

 

Related:

 

122. North Texas

Reason for Hope: Seth Littrell was an outstanding hire, and Alabama transfer Alec Morris could be the answer at quarterback. Running back Jeffery Wilson (830 yards in 2015) is primed for a breakout year.

 

Reason for Concern: There’s plenty of room to improve on defense after giving up 6.67 yards per play and 41.3 points a game last year. How long will it take to transition to the new schemes?

 

121. Tulane

Reason for Hope: The Green Wave landed one of the 2015-16 coaching carousel’s best hires in Willie Fritz. Seven starters are back on defense, including tackle Tanzel Smart and linebacker Nico Marley.

 

Reason for Concern: The transition to Fritz’s scheme on offense is going to take some time. The Green Wave lacks a clear answer at quarterback and three starters on the line must be replaced. 

 

120. Hawaii

Reason for Hope: New coach Nick Rolovich is the right hire to get this program back on track. Running back Paul Harris (1,132 yards in 2015) should contend for All-Mountain West honors behind an offensive line that returns four starters. Defensive lineman Kennedy Tuliamasealii anchors the defense after recording 18.5 tackles for a loss last year.

 

Reason for Concern: The Rainbow Warriors have uncertainty at quarterback, and the defense needs to take a step forward after giving up 35.6 points a game last fall.

 

119. Texas State

Reason for Hope: After a successful two-year stint at James Madison, Everett Withers should be a good fit at Texas State. Quarterback Tyler Jones finished third in the Sun Belt in total offense last season.

 

Reason for Concern: Last season’s leading rusher (Robert Lowe) and the top four statistical receivers must be replaced. Can Withers improve a defense that surrendered 39.2 points a game in 2015?

 

118. Ball State

Reason for Hope: A fresh start for the program under the direction of former Ball State quarterback and NFL assistant Mike Neu. Quarterback Riley Neal showed promise as a freshman last season.

 

Reason for Concern: Last year’s three wins were the fewest since a 4-8 campaign in 2010. Also, Neu has a lot to prove, as he’s never been a head coach or coordinator on the collegiate level. Top receiver Jordan Williams and standout center Jacob Richard expired their eligibility. 

 

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117. Miami (Ohio)

Reason for Hope: Coach Chuck Martin went with a youth movement last season, and most of the depth chart returns intact for 2016. The RedHawks also won two out of their last three games.

 

Reason for Concern: Is Martin’s team a year away from contending for a bowl game? This team needs a quarterback to emerge and must be more productive on the ground after averaging just 3.6 yards per carry in 2015.

 

116. Idaho

Reason for Hope: Last season’s four wins were the most for the Vandals since a 6-7 mark in 2010. Quarterback Matt Linehan also showed promising signs in 2015.

 

Reason for Concern: The defense surrendered 42.1 points a game last season and loses standout end Quinton Bradley (five sacks).

 

115. New Mexico State

Reason for Hope: Running back Larry Rose III returns after leading the Sun Belt by averaging 137.6 rushing yards per game last year. A healthy Tyler Rogers and the addition of Tyler Matthews provides coach Doug Martin with options at quarterback.

 

Reason for Concern: New coordinator Frank Spaziani provides reason for optimism on defense, but this unit has a ways to go after giving up 6.79 yards per play in 2015.

 

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114. South Alabama

Reason for Hope: Tight end Gerald Everett, receiver Josh Magee and running back Xavier Johnson provide a solid foundation for the new starting quarterback. End Jimmie Gipson III returns to the lineup after missing 2015 due to injury.

 

Reason for Concern: The Jaguars enter spring practice with uncertainty at quarterback. Additionally, the defense needs to find ways to generate more pressure on opposing passers after recording only 11 sacks in 2015. 

 

113. Wyoming

Reason for Hope: Brian Hill is one of the top running backs in the Group of 5 ranks and led all Mountain West rushers by averaging 135.9 yards per game in 2015. The Cowboys were a young team last season and should benefit from another year working under coach Craig Bohl and his staff. 

 

Reason for Concern: Bohl might need another recruiting class to get the depth and talent level where he needs to get this program back to the postseason. End Eddie Yarbrough won’t be easy to replace. The Cowboys also have a question mark at quarterback.

 

112. UL Lafayette

Reason for Hope: Prior to last season’s 4-8 mark, the Ragin’ Cajuns won nine games in each of coach Mark Hudspeth’s first four years with the program. Running back Elijah McGuire is one of the top playmakers in the Sun Belt.

 

Reason for Concern: Can Hudspeth and his staff find the right answer at quarterback? The Ragin’ Cajuns also have some work to do in the front seven on defense, while the secondary has to tighten its coverage after giving up 28 passing scores in 2015.

 

111. Kansas

Reason for Hope: It can’t get any worse than last year, right? The Jayhawks have a few promising young players in the program, including quarterback Ryan Willis and defensive linemen Dorance Armstrong and Daniel Wise. Safety Fish Smithson is one of the Big 12’s top defensive backs.

 

Reason for Concern: Second-year coach David Beaty needs more time to upgrade the program’s talent level and depth. Both sides of the ball need a lot of work this spring. 

 

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110. Rice

Reason for Hope: Consider 2015 as a minor blip on the radar for coach David Bailiff. Prior to last year, the Owls played in three consecutive bowl games. A solid stable of running backs is in place to carry the offense.

 

Reason for Concern: Quarterback play. Who steps up to replace Driphus Jackson? Major improvement is needed on defense after giving up 7.1 yards per play in 2015.

 

109. Buffalo

Reason for Hope: Coach Lance Leipold is a proven winner and another year working with this roster should pay dividends. The Bulls have a breakout candidate at running back in Jordan Johnson (811 yards last season) and return two All-MAC performers on defense.

 

Reason for Concern: Quarterback Joe Licata leaves big shoes to fill, and standout left tackle John Kling also expired his eligibility. The Bulls need to shore up their run defense after giving up 187.3 yards per game in conference action.

 

108. Troy

Reason for Hope: The Trojans showed improvement under first-year coach Neal Brown and won three out of their final six games. Brandon Silvers should be one of the top quarterbacks in the Sun Belt.

 

Reason for Concern: Two All-Sun Belt performers depart on defense, and the offense loses running back Brandon Burks and the top three receivers from 2015.

 

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107. Army West Point

Reason for Hope: The Black Knights only won two games last season but lost seven others by seven points or less. Coach Jeff Monken seems to have this program moving in the right direction. Quarterbacks Ahmad Bradshaw and Chris Carter also showed promise and provide plenty of hope under center in 2016. Standout cornerback Josh Jenkins returns after missing all of 2015.

 

Reason for Concern: The pieces are coming together on offense, but Army West Point needs to generate more big plays. The turnover department – minus-11 in 2015 – also has to improve. 

 

106. FAU

Reason for Hope: Coach Charlie Partridge is putting together a solid core of players, and the Owls lost four games by a touchdown or less in 2015. End Trey Hendrickson and lienbacker Azeez Al-Shaair are two names to remember.

 

Reason for Concern: Standout defensive tackles Trevon Coley and Brandin Bryant have expired their eligibility. Will Jason Driskel or Daniel Parr quickly emerge as the top quarterback this offseason?

 

105. UNLV

Reason for Hope: The Rebels showed improvement in Tony Sanchez’s first year leading the program and 12 starters are back for 2016. Devonte Boyd is one of the nation’s most underrated receivers (904 yards, seven scores in 2015). Junior college recruit (previously at Nebraska) Johnny Stanton could be the answer at quarterback this spring.

 

Reason for Concern: Sanchez has UNLV trending in the right direction, but this program may be a year away from making a bowl. Are six returning starters on defense enough to improve a unit that surrendered 6.2 yards per play in 2015?

 

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104. Fresno State

Reason for Hope: Coach Tim DeRuyter overhauled his staff after a disappointing 3-9 record in 2015. Receiver Jamire Jordan is back after catching 46 passes as a freshman last fall.

 

Reason for Concern: The Bulldogs need to find a starting quarterback, lose standout running back Marteze Waller, and the defense has plenty of holes to fill after giving up 38.1 points a game in 2015.

 

103. FIU

Reason for Hope: The Panthers have increased their win total in back-to-back years after a 1-11 debut under Ron Turner in 2013. Quarterback Alex McGough, running back Alex Gardner and receiver Thomas Owens are a good trio to build around on offense.

 

Reason for Concern: The defense regressed from 2014 to '15 and loses standouts Michael Wakefield (DE) and Richard Leonard (CB). 

 

102. Georgia State

Reason for Hope: The Panthers turned a corner last November by winning four out of their last five games. After a rough transition to the FBS level, Georgia State has better depth and talent than any point under coach Trent Miles. Receiver Penny Hart is one of the Sun Belt’s top targets.

 

Reason for Concern: First-team All-Sun Belt quarterback Nick Arbuckle must be replaced. Last year’s leading tackler – linebacker Joseph Peterson – also expired his eligibility. 

 

101. SMU

Reason for Hope: Chad Morris inherited a mess and is starting to put the pieces together for a turnaround. Quarterback Matt Davis is back, but there could be competition from redshirt freshman Ben Hicks. Receiver Courtland Sutton is back after catching 49 passes for 862 yards as a freshman last season.

 

Reason for Concern: The Mustangs might be a year away from making a big leap in the standings. The defense surrendered 45.7 points a game last season and returns only five starters. 

 

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100. Bowling Green

Reason for Hope: The Falcons have been the class of the MAC East in recent years, winning three consecutive division titles. Quarterback James Knapke has experience after starting 13 games in place of an injured Matt Johnson in 2014.

 

Reason for Concern: New coach Mike Jinks does not have any head coaching experience at the FBS level, and there are several key players to replace, including quarterback Matt Johnson, receivers Roger Lewis and Gehrig Dieter and running back Travis Greene.

 

99. Old Dominion

Reason for Hope: The Monarchs played better in the second half of 2015 and have two talented options to choose from at quarterback in Shuler Bentley and David Washington. Running back Ray Lawry earned second-team All-Conference USA honors last season after rushing for 1,136 yards.

 

Reason for Concern: Will the defense take a step forward? This unit returns largely intact after giving up 35.8 points a game in 2015.

 

98. UCF

Reason for Hope: Everything went wrong for the Knights last year. There’s too much talent in the program to finish 0-12 once again. New coach Scott Frost should infuse energy and jumpstart an offense that managed only 13.9 points a game last year.

 

Reason for Concern: Frost should help this team show marked improvement, but how high can this team climb with new schemes on both sides of the ball? The defense surrendered 199.2 rushing yards a game last season and loses three starters in the front seven. Will the Knights find a go-to running back after managing only 81.3 rushing yards per game last year?

 

97. Akron

Reason for Hope: Last season was a year of firsts for the Zips. Terry Bowden’s team won the most games in school history (eight) and claimed the program’s first bowl victory. Quarterback Thomas Woodson is back and is slated to be joined by Ohio State transfer Warren Ball at running back.

 

Reason for Concern: The Zips lose a handful of key contributors, including defensive tackles Rodney Coe and Cody Grice, linebacker Darryl Monroe and five key contributors from the offensive line.

 

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96. San Jose State

Reason for Hope: After a two-year drought, San Jose State returned to the postseason in 2015 and defeated Georgia State to win the AutoNation Cure Bowl. Quarterback Kenny Potter headlines an offense that returns nine starters. 

 

Reason for Concern: Cornerbacks Cleveland Wallace and Jimmy Pruitt leave big shoes to fill in the secondary. The Spartans need to generate a pass rush – only 17 sacks last year – and force more turnovers (just 12 in 2015). All-purpose threat and standout running back Tyler Ervin must be replaced.

 

95. UTEP

Reason for Hope: A healthy Aaron Jones at running back should provide some punch to an offense that averaged only 20.7 points a game in 2015. 

 

Reason for Concern: The Miners need to be better against the pass (26 TDs allowed in 2015) and must find a consistent answer at quarterback.

 

94. Purdue

Reason for Hope: Quarterback David Blough and running back Markell Jones is a promising tandem to build around on offense. Nine starters return on defense, and linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley is back from injury.

 

Reason for Concern: Where should we start? The Boilermakers have won only two Big Ten games under coach Darrell Hazell. Two new coordinators are in place, and there’s a long ways to go on both sides of the ball. Cornerbacks Anthony Brown and Frankie Williams won’t be easy to replace. 

 

93. Oregon State

Reason for Hope: Gary Andersen is the right coach to get Oregon State back on track. Year two of Andersen’s rebuilding project should show steps in the right direction. The receiving corps is a strength with the return of Jordan Villamin and Victor Bolden. Three starters are back on the offensive line, and Gavin Andrews rejoins the lineup after missing 2015 due to injury.

 

Reason for Concern: There’s a lot of work ahead for Andersen. The Beavers return only 10 starters, and both sides of the ball have glaring concerns. Is Utah State transfer Darell Garretson the answer at quarterback? Key defenders Rommel Mageo (LB), defensive lineman Kyle Peko and cornerback Larry Scott have expired their eligibility.  

 

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92. Ohio

Reason for Hope: Ohio has been a model of consistency under coach Frank Solich. The Bobcats have not had a losing season since 2008 and have claimed bowl bids in five out of the last six years. Running back A.J. Ouellette is one of the building blocks on offense for Solich after recording 687 yards last season. Linebacker Quentin Poling is also one of the best in the MAC.

 

Reason for Concern: The Bobcats must break in a new quarterback, lose three key starters on the offensive line and must replace standout cornerback Ian Wells.

 

91. Central Michigan

Reason for Hope: Cooper Rush is one of the MAC’s best quarterbacks, and running back Devon Spalding is back after missing most of 2015 due to injury.

 

Reason for Concern: The Chippewas lose three seniors up front, including two All-MAC performers. The defense has to find a way to generate more pressure on quarterbacks after only registering 14 sacks in 2015.

 

90. East Carolina

Reason for Hope: New coach Scottie Montgomery’s experience should help a Pirates’ offense that managed only 27.4 points a game in 2015. Montgomery inherits a few talented playmakers, and quarterback Kurt Benkert returns after missing all of 2015 due to injury.

 

Reason for Concern: This is Montgomery’s first chance to be a head coach, so there will be a learning curve for the former Duke assistant. The Pirates lose three starters on the offensive line and two all-conference linebackers expired their eligibility.

 

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89. Rutgers

Reason for Hope: New coach Chris Ash has a good vision and plan to help Rutgers take a step forward after winning just four Big Ten games over the last two years. Josh Hicks and Robert Martin are a promising duo at running back, and Janarion Grant is an all-purpose weapon. Defensive tackle Darius Hamilton is back after missing all of 2015 due to injury.

 

Reason for Concern: Quarterback play. Is there a quarterback on the roster who can execute the new offense? Receiver Leonte Carroo will be missed. The defense surrendered 34.9 points a game last season and must replace all three starters at linebacker. The defense needs a lot of work. 

 

88. Louisiana Tech

Reason for Hope: The Bulldogs have recorded back-to-back seasons of nine wins. Receiver Trent Taylor (99 catches in 2015) is a nice safety valve for the new starting quarterback. Defensive end Jaylon Ferguson (six sacks) is primed for a bigger role after a strong freshman season.

 

Reason for Concern: Running back Kenneth Dixon and quarterback Jeff Driskel will be difficult to replace. Louisiana Tech also catches MTSU and WKU in crossover play with the East Division in 2016. 

 

87. Nevada

Reason for Hope: The Wolf Pack are a consistent winner, claiming 10 bowl trips over the last 11 years. Expect the offense to show improvement from last year’s totals (26.2 ppg) with nine returning starters – including running back James Butler and quarterback Tyler Stewart.

 

Reason for Concern: The front seven was decimated by losses. Standouts Ian Seau and Lenny Jones won’t be easy to replace.

 

86. New Mexico

Reason for Hope: The Lobos are coming off their first bowl appearance since 2007. The offense averaged 29.9 points a game last season and returns two proven quarterbacks – Lamar Jordan and Austin Apodaca – and running back Teriyon Gipson.

 

Reason for Concern: Three starters are gone from the offensive line. The pass defense has to improve after ranking 101st nationally in 2015. 

 

85. Colorado State

Reason for Hope: Second-year coach Mike Bobo has the makings of a solid offense with the return of quarterback Nick Stevens, running back Dalyn Dawkins and four starters on the offensive line.

 

Reason for Concern: Standout receiver Rashard Higgins must be replaced, and the Rams lose key players at each level of the defense.

 

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84. Utah State

Reason for Hope: The offense is primed for a big season. Quarterback Kent Myers, running back Devante Mays and four starters on the offensive line return for coach Matt Wells. The defense loses a handful of key players, but lineman Travis Seefeldt is back after missing all of 2015 due to injury.

 

Reason for Concern: Last year’s 6-7 record was the lowest win total for Utah State since 2010. New co-defensive coordinators Frank Maile and Kendrick Shaver will be busy this spring. The defense returns only three starters from a unit that limited opponents to 4.85 yards last year.

 

83. Tulsa

Reason for Hope: The Golden Hurricane showed marked improvement under first-year coach Philip Montgomery. Quarterback Dane Evans is back and will be throwing to a talented group of receivers, including Keevan Lucas (2015 season cut short by injury).

 

Reason for Concern: Go-to receiver Keyarris Garrett (96 catches) will be missed. The defense needs to improve after giving up 39.8 points a game last season.

 

82. Memphis

Reason for Hope: Memphis hit a home run with its hire of Mike Norvell to replace Justin Fuente. Even though the Tigers will miss quarterback Paxton Lynch, there’s a good group of skill players and linemen to build around in 2016.

 

Reason for Concern: Replacing quarterback Paxton Lynch won’t be easy, and there could be a few ups and downs as the team transitions to a new coaching staff. Will the return of eight starters be enough to improve a defense that gave up 27.3 points a game last year?

 

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81. Illinois

Reason for Hope: The coaching carousel and timing was a little awkward, but Lovie Smith is a good hire for Illinois. The Fighting Illini return quarterback Wes Lunt and running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, while receiver Mike Dudek is back after missing all of 2015 due to a knee injury.

 

Reason for Concern: Both sides of the ball need improvement across the board. The defense is thin with just four returning starters. Smith is starting his first season at Illinois behind schedule. 2016 has all of the makings of a transition year.

 

80. Connecticut

Reason for Hope: The Huskies improved their win total by four games from 2014 to 2015. There’s reason to believe another step forward is in the works with 15 starters back. UConn should have one of the top defenses in the American Athletic Conference, and the secondary returns three standout performers, including lockdown corner Jamar Summers.

 

Reason for Concern: Offense. The Huskies need more from a unit that averaged only 17.2 points a game in 2015. Will quarterback Bryant Shirreffs take a step forward next fall?

 

79. Northern Illinois

Reason for Hope: The Huskies have dominated the MAC West by earning six consecutive division titles. Quarterback Drew Hare should be at full strength by the fall after a season-ending Achilles injury, and the offense returns running back Joel Bouagnon and receiver Kenny Golladay.

 

Reason for Concern: Four first-team All-MAC selections must be replaced, while safety Marlon Moore and cornerback Paris Logan also expired their eligibility. The toughest conference game on the 2016 schedule is on the road – at Western Michigan.

 

78. Toledo

Reason for Hope: New coach Jason Candle should pickup where Matt Campbell left off before leaving to go to Iowa State. The Rockets are loaded at running back, return two proven receivers in Cody Thompson and Corey Jones and four starters on the offensive line.

 

Reason for Concern: The defense will be a revamped group with several key players departing, including defensive tackle Orion Jones and cornerback Cheatham Norrils. 

 

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77. Syracuse

Reason for Hope: Dino Babers was an outstanding hire and is regarded as one of the top offensive minds in the nation. Quarterback Eric Dungey is promising, and the Orange have a few talented playmakers on the roster.

 

Reason for Concern: Coaching transition. It may take a season (or two) to fully implement Babers’ attack on offense. The Orange are very thin on depth and proven talent at defensive end. Three starters are gone off the offensive line. 

 

76. Wake Forest

Reason for Hope: Dave Clawson inherited a major rebuilding project, and some of the pieces needed for a turnaround are starting to fall in place. The offensive line has struggled in recent years but four starters are back and improvement seems likely. Seven returning starters anchor a solid defense.

 

Reason for Concern: There are reasons for optimism on offense, but the Demon Deacons have a ways to go after averaging only 4.8 yards per play last season. The offense also needs more out of the ground attack. Two linebackers and two starters in the secondary must be replaced.

 

75. Arkansas State

Reason for Hope: The Red Wolves are a consistent force at the top of the Sun Belt, playing in five straight bowl games and winning at least eight games in four out of the last five years. Most of the starting lineup returns on defense, and junior college recruit Justice Hansen joins the mix at quarterback.

 

Reason for Concern: The Red Wolves are the defending Sun Belt champions, but quarterback Fredi Knighten, running back Michael Gordon and receivers J.D. McKissic and Tres Houston will be tough to replace. 

 

74. Boston College

Reason for Hope: The offense struggled mightily last season, but the Eagles get quarterback Darius Wade and running back Jon Hilliman back from injury. Kentucky transfer Patrick Towles will push Wade for the starting quarterback job. The defense was among the best in the nation last season and six starters return for new coordinator Jim Reid.

 

Reason for Concern: Towles (or Wade) and Hilliman should provide a spark for this offense. However, how much will this unit improve after only 17.2 points a game last year? The offensive line and receiving corps are two areas that need attention this spring. The defense should be solid, but this unit is likely to take a step back after losing coordinator Don Brown to Michigan. Standout linebacker Steven Daniels also expired his eligibility. 

 

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73. MTSU

Reason for Hope: Quarterback Brent Stockstill and receiver Richie James are back after prolific freshman seasons.

 

Reason for Concern: There are big losses on defense, including linebacker T.T. Barber and safety Kevin Byard.

 

72. Iowa State

Reason for Hope: Matt Campbell is one of the top hires in this year’s coaching cycle. The Cyclones also return two of the Big 12’s top playmakers in running back Mike Warren and receiver Allen Lazard. Eight starters – including standout safety Kamari Cotton-Moya and tackle Demond Tucker – are back on defense.

 

Reason for Concern: The offensive line returns only one starter and is thin on proven depth or experience. How much improvement will quarterback Joel Lanning show under the new coaching staff?

 

71. Maryland

Reason for Hope: A fresh start under new coach D.J. Durkin should help the Terrapins erase last year’s disappointing 3-9 record. This team isn’t lacking talent, as the top four receivers return and Virginia Tech transfer Trey Edmunds will help at running back. Damian Prince and Derwin Gray are two building blocks on the offensive line. Durkin’s background should spark some improvement on defense, and cornerback William Likely is back for his senior year.

 

Reason for Concern: Quarterback play. Maryland quarterbacks combined to complete 47.2 percent of their throws and a whopping 29 interceptions last year. The defense also has voids to fill up front and in the secondary and must replace Yannick Ngakoue’s production (13 sacks) off the edge.

 

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70. Virginia

Reason for Hope: New coach Bronco Mendenhall is a proven winner and arrives in Charlottesville after guiding BYU to 11 consecutive bowl appearances. Running back Taquan Mizzell, quarterback Matt Jones, linebacker Micah Kiser and safety Quin Blanding provide a good foundation for Mendenhall to build around in 2016.

 

Reason for Concern: The Cavaliers need a year to transition to Mendenhall and the new staff. There’s little in the way of proven options at receiver, and three starters must be replaced on the defensive line. Cornerback Maurice Canady also expired his eligibility. 

 

69. WKU

Reason for Hope: Coach Jeff Brohm is one of the best in Conference USA, and the Hilltoppers have a strong supporting cast for the new starting quarterback. Running back Leon Allen missed most of 2015 due to injury but was awarded an additional year of eligibility.

 

Reason for Concern: Brandon Doughty leaves big shoes to fill at quarterback. How quickly can Brohm settle the quarterback battle? Both starting cornerbacks and standout linebacker Nick Holt depart WKU.

 

68. Marshall

Reason for Hope: Quarterback Chase Litton is a rising star (23 TDs, 8 INTs as a freshman in 2015). The Thundering Herd have a schedule advantage in the race to win the East Division, as WKU and MTSU visit Huntington.

 

Reason for Concern: The top two receivers from 2015 are gone, and the defense suffered a few heavy losses at each level. 

 

67. Colorado

Reason for Hope: The Buffaloes have been more competitive under coach Mike MacIntyre and 15 starters are back for 2016. The status of quarterback Sefo Liufau is uncertain, but Texas Tech transfer Davis Webb was a huge pickup for 2016. Jim Leavitt’s arrival helped spark improvement on defense, and the return of linebacker Addison Gillam adds another difference maker for next season.

 

Reason for Concern: Webb is a talented quarterback, but he won’t have much time to get acclimated to his teammates and offense. All-Pac-12 receiver Nelson Spruce will be missed. More improvement is needed in the trenches after allowing 40 sacks in 2015. 

 

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66. Western Michigan

Reason for Hope: P.J. Fleck is one of the nation’s top rising stars in the head coaching ranks and has guided Western Michigan to back-to-back 8-5 campaigns. The Broncos should have an explosive offense behind quarterback Zach Terrell and receiver Corey Davis.

 

Reason for Concern: The defense generated only 17 sacks last season and struggled to stop the run (181.1 ypg allowed). 

 

65. Georgia Southern

Reason for Hope: There’s a new coach in town (Tyson Summers), but the formula for success isn’t going to change. The Eagles boast one of the nation’s top rushing attacks, headlined by quarterbacks Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw, and running backs L.A. Ramsby and Matt Breida.

 

Reason for Concern: Don’t expect Summers and his staff to make drastic changes, but a coaching transition always provides a few bumps in the road. The back seven on defense needs to be revamped, and both starting guards – Roscoe Byrd and Darien Foreman – expired their eligibility. 

 

64. Indiana

Reason for Hope: The Hoosiers have turned a corner under coach Kevin Wilson. Last year’s trip to the Pinstripe Bowl was the program’s first bowl appearance since 2007. Three starters are back on the offensive line, and running back Devine Redding finished 2015 on a high note by gashing Duke for 227 yards in the Pinstripe Bowl. Tom Allen was one of the nation’s top hires at defensive coordinator.

 

Reason for Concern: Who steps up to replace quarterback Nate Sudfeld? Allen should make a difference for Indiana’s defense, but this unit has a long ways to go after giving up 37.6 points a game last season. 

 

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63. Navy

Reason for Hope: The Midshipmen lose several key players, but Ken Niumatalolo will find the right answers this spring. Navy has made eight bowl appearances over the last nine years. This program won’t take a huge step back. Six starters also return on defense.

 

Reason for Concern: Quarterback Keenan Reynolds – one of the nation’s top players in 2015 – will be missed. The Midshipmen also lose standout rusher Chris Swain and all five starters on the offensive line. Standout cornerback Brendon Clements is also suspended indefinitely. 

 

62. South Carolina

Reason for Hope: The Gamecocks probably have more talent in the program than last year’s 3-9 record indicated and a stable coaching situation should help this team after the uncertainty in 2015. New coach Will Muschamp should help a defense that surrendered 30.4 points per game last fall.

 

Reason for Concern: Even if the roster is better than 3-9, there’s a lot of work for Muschamp to do in 2016. Who steps up at quarterback? Is it Perry Orth or will sophomore Lorenzo Nunez take the top spot on the depth chart? Playmakers at running back and receiver must be found. The defense needs a lot of work. 

 

61. Vanderbilt

Reason for Hope: The Commodores made strides on defense last season after coach Derek Mason took over the play-calling. Seven starters are back in 2016, including standout linebacker Zach Cunningham. Running back Ralph Webb and quarterback Kyle Shurmur are promising pieces to build around on offense. The offensive line should get a boost with the return of tackle Andrew Jelks from injury.

 

Reason for Concern: The offense should be better. But by how much? Is Shurmur a year away from taking the next step? The Commodores have to do better in the turnover department (minus-eight last year). 

 

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60. Kentucky

Reason for Hope: The talent level has improved under coach Mark Stoops with four straight top-40 classes. Eddie Gran was a solid hire as the team’s new play-caller, and he inherits an offense with nine returning starters. New quarterback Drew Barker is talented (just inexperienced), and running back Boom Williams is one of the SEC’s top playmakers. Sophomore cornerback Chris Westry is a rising star.

 

Reason for Concern: How quickly can Barker take control of the offense? The defense is the biggest issue for Stoops. Only four starters are back and each level was hit hard by departures.

 

59. Cincinnati

Reason for Hope: Gunner Kiel is back at quarterback, and the Bearcats have two talented transfer receivers ready to step in with Avery Peterson (LSU) and Jamil Kamara (Virginia). A minus-19 turnover margin is indicative of some bad luck that should be reversed in 2016.

 

Reason for Concern: Even though Peterson and Kamara should make an instant impact, the Bearcats lose their top six receivers from last year. Additionally, standout left tackle Parker Ehinger expired his eligibility. There’s room for improvement on a defense that gave up 31.2 points a game in 2015.

 

58. Missouri

Reason for Hope: Barry Odom was a rising star as a coordinator and is familiar with the job after working under Gary Pinkel from 2004-05, 2009-11 and 2015. Despite a lackluster offense, the defense ranked as one of the best in the SEC. That shouldn’t change in 2016 with defensive end Charles Harris, tackle Terry Beckner and linebacker Michael Scherer returning.

 

Reason for Concern: The offense. The Tigers managed only 13.6 points a game last year. Big question marks are in place for new coordinator Josh Heupel. The offensive line is very thin, and quarterback Drew Lock needs more help from the supporting cast. Will the defense carry the team until the offense is ready to take a step forward?  

 

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57. Minnesota

Reason for Hope: The transition from Jerry Kill to Tracy Claeys should be smooth. Claeys worked for Kill for over 20 seasons and isn’t going to make drastic changes to the program. Quarterback Mitch Leidner enters his third season as a starter, and running back Shannon Brooks showed promise late in the 2015 campaign. Seven starters form a good foundation on defense.

 

Reason for Concern: Can new coordinator Jay Johnson find ways to spark an offense that ranked eighth in the Big Ten in yards per play (league-only games)? Cornerbacks Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun will be tough to replace. Punter Peter Mortell is a big loss.

 

56. Duke

Reason for Hope: The Blue Devils are reaching new heights under coach David Cutcliffe. The program is a consistent winner, recording a bowl appearance in each of the last four seasons. Jeremy Cash will be missed at safety, but the secondary is in good shape with the return of four starters and Byron Fields from injury.

 

Reason for Concern: Quarterback Thomas Sirk may not play in 2016 due to an Achilles injury. Two standouts – Lucas Patrick and Matt Skura – depart the offensive line, leading receiver Max McCaffrey must be replaced, and the front seven on defense must be overhauled.

 

55. Air Force

Reason for Hope: Quarterback Nate Romine is back to lead the offense after missing most of 2015 due to injury. The Falcons also return a talented stable of running backs, and receiver Jalen Robinette (24.5 ypc).

 

Reason for Concern: The trenches will be an area of focus after the loss of standout defensive end Alex Hansen and three starters on the offensive line. 

 

54. NC State

Reason for Hope: This is coach Dave Doeren’s fourth year in Raleigh. With a roster shaped in the image of how Doeren wants to build a program, the Wolfpack hope to take the next step in 2016. There’s a solid stable of running backs in place, as Matt Dayes returns after missing five games due to injury, and Johnny Frasier is ready to make an impact coming off a redshirt year. Eight starters are back on defense.

 

Reason for Concern: Quarterback Jacoby Brissett is gone, and the passing attack needs more big plays from the receivers in 2016. Standout offensive linemen – Joe Thuney and Quinton Schooley – have expired their eligibility. End Mike Rose’s (10.5 sacks) ability to get to the quarterback will be missed. 

 

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53. Southern Miss

Reason for Hope: The Golden Eagles took a big step forward last year. A strong core returns for new coach Jay Hopson, including quarterback Nick Mullens and running back Ito Smith.

 

Reason for Concern: Will the coaching transition present any challenges? Prolific receivers Mike Thomas and Casey Martin have expired their eligibility.

 

52. Temple

Reason for Hope: Last season’s 10 wins tied for the most in school history. The Owls return 11 starters and should be picked near the top of the American Athletic Conference in 2016. Quarterback P.J. Walker and running back Jahad Thomas lead the way on offense.

 

Reason for Concern: The Owls lose a handful of key contributors from last year’s 10-win team. Linebacker Tyler Matakevich, defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis, center Kyle Friend and safety Alex Wells leave big shoes to fill. 

 

51. Georgia Tech

Reason for Hope: 2015 was simply an aberration. Georgia Tech finished 3-9 – the worst mark under coach Paul Johnson and failed to make a bowl game for the first time since 1996. Quarterback Justin Thomas is due for a rebound year, and running back C.J. Leggett could add a spark to the ground game after missing 2015 due to injury.

 

Reason for Concern: The Yellow Jackets have to do a better job of holding onto the ball (24 turnovers lost last season). The left side of the offensive line must be revamped, and the secondary loses all four starters. 

 

50. Kansas State

Reason for Hope: Bill Snyder. Kansas State is always going to be a dangerous opponent for the rest of the Big 12 with Snyder on the sidelines. The Wildcats had some awful injury luck in 2015, which included season-ending ailments to quarterback Jesse Ertz and safety Dante Barnett. Linebacker Elijah Lee is one of the Big 12’s top defenders.

 

Reason for Concern: Four new starters are needed on the offensive line. Can the Wildcats develop more playmakers at receiver and generate more production from the ground game?

 

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49. California

Reason for Hope: Stability. Coach Sonny Dykes is coming off his best season (8-5) at California and received a contract extension at the end of the 2015 campaign. This program is headed in the right direction. Three starters return on the offensive line and the top three rushers are back for 2016. Additionally, the defense has made strides over the two years.

 

Reason for Concern: There’s no easy way to spin it: Quarterback Jared Goff is a huge loss. Additionally, the top six statistical receivers from last season depart. Can the defense carry the team until a new quarterback emerges?

 

48. Appalachian State

Reason for Hope: The Mountaineers won 11 games last year and are a team on the rise under coach Scott Satterfield. Quarterback Taylor Lamb (36 total TDs last year) returns, and the backfield is stocked with options, including Marcus Cox (1,423 yards in 2015) and Jalin Moore (7.4 ypc).

 

Reason for Concern: Three of the top four receivers must be replaced. The Mountaineers also lose a couple of standouts – defensive end Ronald Blair and offensive linemen Jesse Chapman and Davante Harris – in the trenches.

 

47. Texas

Reason for Hope: There’s talent in the program. According to the recruiting rankings, the Longhorns have the best roster in the Big 12 over the last five seasons. Running backs Chris Warren and D’Onta Foreman lead the way on offense, and the defense returns linebacker Malik Jefferson and a talented group of young defensive backs.

 

Reason for Concern: The offense. New coordinator Sterlin Gilbert needs time to implement his scheme. Can the Longhorns find a quarterback who can execute the passing attack? Defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway won’t be easy to replace.

 

46. BYU

Reason for Hope: This is Kalani Sitake’s first opportunity to be a head coach, but he’s ready for this challenge. Running back Jamaal Williams returns after missing all of 2015, and there are two proven quarterbacks in Taysom Hill and Tanner Mangum.

 

Reason for Concern: Three of the top four receivers and standout defensive end Bronson Kaufusi expired their eligibility. Will there be any speed bumps in the transition from Bronco Mendenhall to Sitake?

 

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45. Texas Tech

Reason for Hope: The Red Raiders have several flaws, but a player like quarterback Patrick Mahomes can cover up a lot of woes. The addition of transfers Ondre Pipkins and Kolin Hill should help to restock the defensive line. The secondary should be a strength with all four starters returning.

 

Reason for Concern: The defense has to improve. Texas Tech can outscore a lot of teams but improving its record will depend heavily on how far the defense progresses this spring. The Red Raiders gave up 43.6 points a game last year. Running back DeAndre Washington, dynamic receiver Jakeem Grant and four starters on the offensive line depart Lubbock.

 

44. Arizona

Reason for Hope: The Wildcats have the pieces in place for an explosive offense. Quarterback Anu Solomon, running back Nick Wilson and receiver Nate Phillips are a solid trio. An overhauled staff could help the defense take a step forward after allowing 35.8 points a game in 2015.

 

Reason for Concern: Will Anu Solomon rebound to his 2014 form (4,084 total yards)? Go-to receiver Cayleb Jones will be missed, and the defense has a ways to go under new coordinator Marcel Yates.

 

43. Arizona State

Reason for Hope: Running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage are a talented duo for new coordinator Chip Lindsey to build around in 2016. Manny Wilkins, Bryce Perkins and Brady White are inexperienced, but all three passers are talented. Tim White is a rising star at receiver, and Cameron Smith adds another weapon for the passing attack after missing 2015 due to injury. The front seven on defense should be a strength with the return of linebackers Salamo Fiso, Christian Sam, Laui Moeakiola and defensive lineman Tashon Smallwood. 

 

Reason for Concern: Four new starters must be found on the offensive line. How quickly can the Sun Devils find the right answer at quarterback? The secondary struggled last year and three starters depart. 

 

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42. Northwestern

Reason for Hope: Coach Pat Fitzgerald has the program back on track after a 10-3 record last season. The Wildcats went 5-7 in back-to-back years but finished with 10 wins for the second time in Fitzgerald’s tenure. Running back Justin Jackson is one of the best in the Big Ten. Six starters – including standout linebacker Anthony Walker – return from one of the Big Ten’s top defenses last year.

 

Reason for Concern: Will the passing attack take a step forward in quarterback Clayton Thorson’s second year as the starter? Who steps up at receiver? There’s a solid core in place on defense, but ends Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson and cornerback Nick VanHoose leave big shoes to fill. 

 

41. Nebraska

Reason for Hope: Last year’s 6-7 mark wasn’t quite as bad as some may believe. A minus-12 turnover margin and six losses by one score suggest Nebraska could make a quick turnaround in the win column. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong should benefit from another season under coach Mike Riley and coordinator Danny Langsdorf. Jordan Westerkamp is one of the Big Ten’s top receivers.

 

Reason for Concern: The trenches. Nebraska loses three starters up front and has to generate more production from its ground attack. On defense, tackles Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine won’t be easy to replace. The secondary has room to improve after ranking 78th nationally in pass efficiency defense last year. 

 

40. Penn State

Reason for Hope: The Nittany Lions have recruited back-to-back top 20 classes and the overall depth in the program has improved. Running back Saquon Barkley and receiver Chris Godwin are two of the top skill players in the Big Ten. The offensive line has struggled but four starters are back.

 

Reason for Concern: Is Trace McSorley the answer to replace Christian Hackenberg at quarterback? Will the offensive line take a step forward under new assistant Matt Limegrover? Losing coordinator Bob Shoop was a huge blow to the defense. Additionally, this unit must replace three standouts in the trenches. 

 

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39. Mississippi State

Reason for Hope: Dan Mullen has elevated the program. Mississippi State has key faces to replace, but the drop off won’t be significant. The Bulldogs have played in six consecutive bowl games, and there’s enough talent in place to earn a seventh consecutive postseason trip. Linebacker Richie Brown and safety Brandon Bryant are two players for new coordinator Peter Sirmon to build around on defense.

 

Reason for Concern: Quarterback Dak Prescott was one of the best players in school history. He won’t be easy to replace. Will the offensive line and ground attack take a step forward? Peter Sirmon is an intriguing hire as the team’s new defensive coordinator. Sirmon has never worked as for a full season as a play-caller at the FBS level. Standout defensive tackle Chris Jones, linebacker Beniquez Brown and cornerback Taveze Calhoun depart the defense.

 

38. Pittsburgh

Reason for Hope: There’s coaching stability under Pat Narduzzi. The Panthers return 16 starters, and running back James Conner is expected back by the opener. End Ejuan Price and safety Jordan Whitehead are two of the ACC’s top defenders. The offensive line could be the best in the conference next season.

 

Reason for Concern: The passing attack. Nathan Peterman is back at quarterback, but who steps up at receiver after the departure of Tyler Boyd? Can Narduzzi and coordinator Josh Conklin help the defense take a step forward after allowing 5.69 yards per play last year?

 

37. Virginia Tech

Reason for Hope: Replacing Frank Beamer won’t be easy, but new coach Justin Fuente seems like the perfect fit in Blacksburg. Fuente’s background should help solve some of the problems Virginia Tech has experienced on offense in recent years. And it certainly doesn’t hurt Fuente’s cause that he was able to convince Bud Foster to stay on as defensive coordinator. Receiver Isaiah Ford, tight end Bucky Hodges and running back Travon McMillian are three All-ACC skill players for the new starting quarterback.

 

Reason for Concern: Quarterback play. Will a clear starter emerge in spring ball? Pass protection (34 sacks allowed in 2015) needs to be addressed. The Hokies also need to replace end Dadi Nicolas and tackle Luther Maddy on the defensive line. 

 

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36. Utah

Reason for Hope: The Utes are coming off their best season (10-3) since joining the Pac-12. Running back Joe Williams is a promising replacement for Devontae Booker. The offensive and defensive lines will be among the best in the Pac-12. The secondary is also a strength with the return of safety Marcus Williams and cornerbacks Dominique Hatfield and Reginald Porter.

 

Reason for Concern: Offense. Is junior college recruit Troy Williams the answer at quarterback? Who steps up at receiver? Three starters – including standout Gionni Paul – depart the linebacking corps. 

 

35. West Virginia

Reason for Hope: The Mountaineers finished 2015 by winning five out of their last six games, including an entertaining 43-42 shootout against Arizona State in the Cactus Bowl. Quarterback Skyler Howard should benefit from another year under coach Dana Holgorsen, and the receiving corps is poised to make major strides. Four starters also return up front.

 

Reason for Concern: Howard has to play better in Big 12 games. He only completed 50.4 percent of his throws and tossed 11 picks to 12 scores in nine league contests last year. Standout running back Wendell Smallwood will be missed. The defense returns only three starters and will have a revamped secondary – not ideal in the offensive-minded Big 12 – next season.

 

34. Texas A&M

Reason for Hope: Defense. The Aggies took a step forward under coordinator John Chavis last year and return six starters for 2016. End Myles Garrett is the top defensive player in college football. New offensive play-caller Noel Mazzone inherits a talented group of receivers and an intriguing transfer at running back in Keith Ford.

 

Reason for Concern: Quarterback play. Will Jake Hubenak or Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight emerge as a clear answer? Only two starters are back on the offensive line, and both starting cornerbacks must be replaced.

 

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33. Auburn

Reason for Hope: Gus Malzahn is one of the nation’s top offensive minds. The offense won’t repeat the 2015 numbers, right? A talented group of freshmen receivers should provide more big-play ability on the outside, and running back Jovon Robinson should get to 1,000 yards. The defensive line is talented and could be among the best in the SEC.

 

Reason for Concern: Is there an answer at quarterback? Jeremy Johnson and Sean White struggled last season, and junior college recruit John Franklin has to acclimate to the FBS level. Both offensive tackles must be replaced, and the defense loses standouts Kris Frost (LB), Jonathan Jones (CB) and Cassanova McKinzy (DE/LB).  

 

32. South Florida

Reason for Hope: Coach Willie Taggart has recruited well since his hire at South Florida, and the Bulls are starting to see the results. Quarterback Quinton Flowers and running back Marlon Mack are a dynamic duo on offense. There’s also a solid foundation on defense with six returning starters.

 

Reason for Concern: There are few glaring concerns for Taggart, but the Bulls lose two starters on the offensive line and have a few key players to replace on defense. Is Flowers ready to take the next step as a passer?

 

31. San Diego State

Reason for Hope: The Aztecs are the clear favorite in the Mountain West’s West Division after finishing 2015 with 10 consecutive wins and a conference title. Most of the core from last year’s team returns, including running back Donnel Pumphrey, cornerback Damontae Kazee and linebacker Calvin Munson.

 

Reason for Concern: Quarterback Christian Chapman showed promise in two starts last year. How will he hold up over the course of a full season? The defense should be fine, but end Jon Sanchez, cornerback J.J. Whittaker and linebacker Jake Fely leave big shoes to fill.

 

30. Boise State

Reason for Hope: Offense. The Broncos led the Mountain West by averaging 39.1 points a game last season. Quarterback Brett Rypien, running back Jeremy McNichols and receiver Thomas Sperbeck are back to anchor the offense for coach Bryan Harsin.

 

Reason for Concern: The defensive line – especially the interior – is a concern. Safety Darian Thompson and cornerback Donte Deayon must be replaced.

 

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29. Arkansas

Reason for Hope: Arkansas is coming off its best season under coach Bret Bielema, and the program is on stable footing entering 2016. Coordinator Dan Enos was a key hire for the offense last season and should ease some of the transition on that side of the ball. The receiving corps should be among the best in the SEC. The Razorbacks struggled on defense last season, but nine starters are back and improvement is expected.

 

Reason for Concern: Enos is an outstanding coordinator, but Arkansas has big shoes to fill on offense. Quarterback Brandon Allen, running back Alex Collins, tight end Hunter Henry and three starters on the offensive line are tough to overcome. Even though the defense should improve, can it take enough of a step forward to overcome the losses on offense?

 

28. Wisconsin

Reason for Hope: The Badgers are in good shape to push Iowa for the Big Ten West Division title. Running back Corey Clement returns after missing most of 2015 due to injury, and the offensive line returns a handful of experienced options. New coordinator Justin Wilcox inherits six starters on defense, including standout linebackers Vince Biegel and T.J. Edwards.

 

Reason for Concern: The schedule is brutal. Wisconsin plays LSU in non-conference play, catches Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State in crossover play and has a road date at Iowa. Is Bart Houston ready to replace Joel Stave at quarterback and will a go-to receiver emerge to replace Alex Erickson? Losing defensive coordinator Dave Aranda was a huge loss on the coaching staff.

 

27. Miami

Reason for Hope: Mark Richt should provide a coaching upgrade and will steer this program back on track. Quarterback Brad Kaaya should thrive under Richt, and the Hurricanes also return running back Joseph Yearby and receiver Stacy Coley. A talented foundation is in place on defense with seven returning starters.

 

Reason for Concern: The Hurricanes have underachieved in recent seasons, and Richt is going to need time to implement his schemes and get acclimated to the players. Improvement should be noticeable, but Miami might be a year away from challenging in the Coastal Division. Cornerback Artie Burns and safety Deon Bush must be replaced, and the defense has to get better against the run (201 ypg in 2015).

 

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26. Florida

Reason for Hope: The Gators surprised many by winning the SEC East in coach Jim McElwain’s first season in Gainesville. There’s no shortage of talent in place, especially on the defense with six returning starters. The offensive line has stability with three returning starters, and Jordan Scarlett is a breakout candidate at running back.

 

Reason for Concern: Will the offense take a step forward after averaging only 23.2 points a game last year? The status of receiver Antonio Callaway is a mystery as the Gators opened spring practice. Who steps up at quarterback? Will a transfer – Luke Del Rio or Austin Appleby – win the job over freshman Feleipe Franks? The secondary loses three standouts, including cornerback Vernon Hargreaves.

 

25. UCLA

Reason for Hope: Josh Rosen. After a standout freshman season, Rosen should be better in his second year as the starting quarterback. Soso Jamabo is due for a breakout season in replacing Paul Perkins, and there’s a foundation to build around on the offensive line with Conor McDermott, Kenny Lacy, Jake Raulerson and Scott Quessenberry. Nine starters are back on defense, and defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes returns after missing most of 2015 due to injury.

 

Reason for Concern: The Bruins have some big names to replace. Linebacker Myles Jack, defensive lineman Kenny Clark, running back Paul Perkins and receiver Jordan Payton will be tough to replace. UCLA’s defense has to improve against the run next season.

 

24. Oregon

Reason for Hope: The Ducks have not won fewer than nine games since 2006. Even with the question marks surrounding this team, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Running back Royce Freeman should be an All-American candidate, and the receiving corps has plenty of speedy, talented options for new quarterback Dakota Prukop. Brady Hoke should help to fix a defense that surrendered 37.5 points a game last year.

 

Reason for Concern: How quickly will Prukop pickup the offense? The line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball have concerns, especially on offense where three starters depart. Hoke is a good hire on defense, but there may be a transition period as the Ducks move to a 4-3 scheme. What tweaks will new offensive coordinator Matt Lubick implement? 

 

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23. Washington State

Reason for Hope: Offense. As expected under Mike Leach, Washington State’s passing offense is among the nation’s best. Quarterback Luke Falk and receivers Gabe Marks and River Cracraft headline an offense that averaged 33.8 points a game in Pac-12 action. The defense took a step forward under coordinator Alex Grinch last season and brings back seven starters.

 

Reason for Concern: The left side of the offensive line must be replaced, and there are a couple of key losses in the front seven on defense. 

 

22. TCU

Reason for Hope: Injuries hit TCU hard – especially on defense – last season. The added depth and experience should pay off in 2015, as well as the return of end James McFarland, cornerback Ranthony Texada and safety Kenny Iloka from injury. Even though the Horned Frogs have several big names to replace on offense, there’s a lot to like about the skill players in place.

 

Reason for Concern: Trevone Boykin leaves big shoes to fill at quarterback. Is Kenny Hill the answer? The offensive line returns only one full-time starter from last season. The Horned Frogs must replace standout kicker Jaden Oberkrom and punter Ethan Perry.

 

21. Oklahoma State

Reason for Hope: Quarterback Mason Rudolph and receiver James Washington form one of the nation’s top big-play passing threats. Transfer running back Barry Sanders (Stanford) should add some punch to the ground game. Seven starters are back on defense, and the line will get a boost with the return of tackle Vili Leveni (missed 2015 due to injury).

 

Reason for Concern: The Cowboys return five starters on the offensive line. Will this unit take a step forward after struggling last year? Is the arrival of Sanders enough to spark a ground game that managed just 3.6 yards per carry in 2015? The defense loses two key pieces in end Emmanuel Ogbah and cornerback Kevin Peterson.

 

20. Louisville

Reason for Hope: The Cardinals finished 2015 on a tear with wins in six out of their last seven games. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is a rising star, and the supporting cast returns intact at running back and receiver. There’s reason to believe the offensive line will take a step forward after struggling last year. Eight starters return on a defense that should be one of the best in the ACC.

 

Reason for Concern: The offensive line should be better, but how much progress will this unit make in one offseason? End Sheldon Rankins and linebacker James Burgess are big losses for coordinator Todd Grantham. Even if Louisville picks up where it left off at the end of 2015, is that enough to surpass Florida State or Clemson in the Atlantic Division?

 

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19. Georgia

Reason for Hope: True freshman quarterback Jacob Eason is a future star for first-year coach Kirby Smart. If healthy, running back Nick Chubb is one of the best in the nation. Until Chubb is 100 percent, Sony Michel is more than capable of carrying the load at running back. The defense returns only five starters, but there’s plenty of promising pieces for Smart to build around in 2016.

 

Reason for Concern: How long will it take for Eason to get comfortable under center? There’s some uncertainty on the offensive line and more playmakers must emerge at receiver. The top pass rushers – Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins – must be replaced. 

 

18. North Carolina

Reason for Hope: The Tar Heels are the defending champs of the Coastal Division. Mitch Trubisky is a rising star and should have no trouble replacing Marquise Williams at quarterback. Running back Elijah Hood returns, and four starters are back on the offensive line. The defense took a step forward under new coordinator Gene Chizik last season.

 

Reason for Concern: Standout guard Landon Turner departs the offensive line. The defense struggled to stop the run last season and loses three starters in the front seven. Two of North Carolina’s toughest games in 2016 – Miami and Florida State – are on the road. 

 

17. Washington

Reason for Hope: The Huskies are a team on the rise. Washington won seven games in a rebuilding season and had narrow losses to Oregon, Boise State and California. Quarterback Jake Browning is due for a breakout year, and running back Myles Gaskin is one of the top playmakers in the Pac-12. Eight starters are back from a defense that led the Pac-12 in points allowed in 2015.

 

Reason for Concern: The Huskies are improving, but is it enough to catch Stanford or Oregon at the top of the Pac-12 North? Is this team one year away? Browning needs more playmakers to emerge at receiver. 

 

16. Iowa

Reason for Hope: The Hawkeyes are the defending Big Ten West Division champs and should be the early favorite in 2016. The offense loses three of its top five statistical options from last season but returns quarterback C.J. Beathard and a solid stable of running backs. Eight starters are back – including standout cornerback Desmond King – on defense. This unit could get a boost if end Drew Ott is awarded another year of eligibility.

 

Reason for Concern: Who steps up at receiver for Beathard? The interior of the line is a concern with the departure of center Austin Blythe and guard Jordan Walsh. If Ott isn’t awarded an extra year of eligibility, who steps up to team with Parker Hesse on the edge?

 

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15. USC

Reason for Hope: There’s no coaching uncertainty this year. The interim tag was removed from Clay Helton and a solid staff was hired in the offseason. Nine starters are back on offense, starting with standout receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back Ronald Jones. The offensive line could be the best in the Pac-12. Linebacker Cameron Smith and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson headline a defense with six returning starters.

 

Reason for Concern: There’s a new quarterback and a play-caller (Tee Martin). Max Browne is the favorite to replace Cody Kessler. Browne is a talented passer but has only 19 career pass attempts. The defensive line is a major concern and standout linebacker Su’a Cravens must be replaced. The schedule is challenging.

 

14. Stanford

Reason for Hope: The Cardinal have won three out of the last four Pac-12 North titles. Even though coach David Shaw’s team has key players to replace, this team won’t suffer too much of a drop in the win column. Running back Christian McCaffrey is one of the frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy. A handful of key starters are gone on defense, but there’s enough of a foundation for coordinator Lance Anderson to build upon this offseason.

 

Reason for Concern: Only nine starters return. This is a significant rebuilding project for coach David Shaw. Quarterback Kevin Hogan must be replaced. Will Keller Chryst quickly settle in as the starter? Three starters are gone on the offensive line. Linebacker Blake Martinez expired his eligibility, and the line must be retooled with the departures of end Brennan Scarlett and Aziz Shittu.

 

13. Michigan State

Reason for Hope: Sure, there are personnel losses to address. But coach Mark Dantonio is one of the best in the nation, and this program has plenty of staying power after winning at least 11 games in five out of the last six years. Running back LJ Scott and guard Brian Allen are two rising stars to build around on offense. Malik McDowell and linebackers Ed Davis and Riley Bullough are a good place to start on defense.

 

Reason for Concern: The Spartans are losing a handful of key players. On offense, quarterback Connor Cook, receiver Aaron Burbridge, center Jack Allen and left tackle Jack Conklin depart East Lansing. The losses are just as heavy on defense, as end Shilique Calhoun, tackle Joel Heath, linebacker Darien Harris, lineman Lawrence Thomas and safety RJ Williamson must be replaced.

 

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12. Houston

Reason for Hope: Tom Herman wasn’t lured away from Houston by a Power 5 program, and the Cougars should be the top Group of 5 team in 2016. Greg Ward is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, there’s optimism on the offensive line after injuries hit the trenches hard last season, and two transfers – Ra’Shaad Samples (WR) and Duke Catalon (RB) – are impact players.

 

Reason for Concern: Not a lot. The defense has a few concerns, starting with the secondary and the departure of three starters. Standout linebacker Elandon Roberts also expired his eligibility. 

 

11. Ole Miss

Reason for Hope: Hugh Freeze continues to recruit at a high level, and Ole Miss is ready to reload for a run at the SEC West title with 10 returning starters. Quarterback Chad Kelly is the best in the SEC, and there are plenty of playmakers at receiver. The offensive line has holes to fill, but help is on the way in the form of five-star freshman Greg Little. End Marquis Haynes and safety Tony Conner are two building blocks for the defense to rely on in 2016.

 

Reason for Concern: Can the Rebels squeeze more production out of the ground game? How quickly will the offensive line jell after losing all five starters from the Sugar Bowl? There is a solid foundation on defense, but tackle Robert Nkemdiche and defensive backs Trae Elston and Mike Hilton are big losses. 

 

10. Baylor

Reason for Hope: Offense. Seth Russell is back at quarterback, the running back stable is among the best in the nation, and there’s talent at receiver despite the loss of Corey Coleman. There’s plenty of staying power for the Bears under coach Art Briles.

 

Reason for Concern: The trenches. Baylor loses four starters each on the offensive and defensive line. Top cornerback Xavien Howard and receiver Corey Coleman also leave big shoes to fill. 

 

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9. Notre Dame

Reason for Hope: DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire are two proven quarterbacks and have an intriguing battle for the starting job this offseason. Running back Tarean Folston (one game) and defensive tackle Jarron Jones also return from injury.

 

Reason for Concern: The Fighting Irish lose a handful of key players, including receiver Will Fuller, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, linebacker Jaylon Smith and cornerback KeiVarae Russell. 

 

8. Tennessee

Reason for Hope: With 18 returning starters, the Volunteers are the team to beat in the SEC East. Coach Butch Jones has upgraded the talent level and added to it with another solid class in February. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs, running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara are back to headline the offense. Bob Shoop is one of the top coordinator hires in the nation. He inherits a defense with nine returning starters, including linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, cornerback Cam Sutton and defensive end Derek Barnett.

 

Reason for Concern: Not much. The offensive line loses left tackle Kyler Kerbyson and needs more out of the passing attack. Will Josh Malone, Preston Williams and Josh Smith develop into big-time playmakers at receiver for Dobbs? 

 

7. LSU

Reason for Hope: Leonard Fournette. He’s the best running back in college football, and the Tigers can lean heavily on their Heisman candidate. The receiving corps returns three talented options in Malachi Dupre, Travin Dural and Tyron Johnson. Three starters also return on the offensive line. Dave Aranda is one of the top assistant hires in the nation, and LSU’s new defensive signal-caller inherits 10 returning starters. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for coach Les Miles and that’s evident by looking at the depth chart or roster.

 

Reason for Concern: The offense. Despite all of the talent in place, LSU has to improve its passing attack. Is quarterback Brandon Harris ready to take the next step? Both starting tackles on offense must be replaced. 

 

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6. Michigan

Reason for Hope: The Wolverines are back on the rise under coach Jim Harbaugh. After a 10-3 record in Harbaugh’s debut, Michigan should be among the favorites to make the College Football Playoff in 2016. The receiving corps is set with the return of Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson and tight end Jake Butt, and four starters are back on the offensive line. Don Brown was one of the top coordinator hires for 2016, and he inherits a defense with six returning starters, including one of the top lines and defensive backfields in the nation.

 

Reason for Concern: Quarterback play. Is Houston transfer John O’Korn the answer to replace Jake Rudock under center? If O’Korn doesn’t win the job, will Shane Morris or true freshman Brandon Peters stake their claim? The linebacking corps is filled with uncertainty but moving Jabrill Peppers from safety alleviates some of the concerns. Michigan’s toughest games – Michigan State and Ohio State – come on the road in 2016.

 

5. Florida State

Reason for Hope: Talent. Florida State has one of the nation’s best rosters (according to the recruiting rankings), and coach Jimbo Fisher has won at least 10 games in five out of his six seasons. Running back Dalvin Cook is one of the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy, and end DeMarcus Walker turned down the NFL for another season at Florida State. Despite losing Jalen Ramsey, the secondary has a chance to be stingy in 2016.

 

Reason for Concern: Who steps up at quarterback? Will redshirt freshman or true freshman Malik Henry wrestle the starting job away from Sean Maguire? The offensive line and receiving corps are two areas to watch for development. The linebacking corps is thin. 

 

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4. Ohio State

Reason for Hope: The Buckeyes sustained heavy personnel losses, but coach Urban Meyer has recruited as well as any coach in the nation. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is the clear starter and should resemble the player that was a Heisman candidate in 2014. Pat Elflein returns to anchor the offensive line at center. While there are big shoes to fill on defense, rebuilding around linebacker Raekwon McMillan and end Tyquan Lewis is a good place to start.

 

Reason for Concern: Even though Ohio State has talent, it may take some time for the new faces to jell into the starting lineup. The receiving corps is thin on proven playmakers, and a running back must step up to replace Ezekiel Elliott. The interior of the defensive line and secondary are the biggest concerns for new co-coordinator Greg Schiano.

 

3. Oklahoma

Reason for Hope: The Sooners were a year ahead of schedule last season with a trip to the College Football Playoff and a Big 12 title. Quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Samaje Perine headline an explosive offense, while graduate transfer Geno Lewis (Penn State) should help replace Sterling Shepard’s production at receiver. The secondary will miss Zack Sanchez, but Jordan Thomas should push for All-America honors at cornerback.

 

Reason for Concern: The offensive line is still a work in progress, the linebacking corps is thin, and Shepard will be missed at receiver. Do the Sooners have enough to make the jump from playoff contender to national champion?

 

2. Clemson

Reason for Hope: Quarterback Deshaun Watson is back, and the Tigers are loaded at the skill positions with the return of receiver Mike Williams from injury. This program has recruited at a high level in recent years, ensuring little drop in talent from year-to-year in the reloading process. Coordinator Brent Venables has to fill voids on defense, but he’s one of the top defensive signal-callers in the nation.

 

Reason for Concern: Another run at the national championship won’t be easy. The Tigers play at Florida State in a game that could decide the winner of the Atlantic Division. While Clemson’s talent level is high, overcoming the departures of defensive ends Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson, cornerback Mackensie Alexander and safety Jayron Kearse is a lot to ask in one offseason. 

 

1. Alabama

Reason for Hope: Talent, talent and more talent. No team has recruited better than Alabama in recent years. The defense is loaded once again for a spot among the nation’s best. Blake Barnett is the most talented quarterback signed by Nick Saban at Alabama, and Bo Scarbrough is a breakout candidate at running back. Receiver Calvin Ridley is back after a standout freshman campaign. Left tackle Cam Robinson anchors a line that returns three starters.

 

Reason for Concern: Sure, Alabama has a wealth of talent but breaking in a new quarterback isn’t easy. Also, standouts Derrick Henry (RB), Ryan Kelly (center), Reggie Ragland (LB) and A’Shawn Robinson (DL) won’t be easy to replace. Road trips to Ole Miss, Tennessee, Arkansas and LSU could derail another national championship.

Teaser:
College Football's Pre-Spring 1-128 Team Rankings for 2016
Post date: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 12:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, USC Trojans, Pac 12
Path: /college-football/usc-trojans-2016-spring-football-preview
Body:

Under most circumstances, 2015 would have qualified as a crazy year for any college team having to deal with the circus had to deal with. The Trojans’ once-promising season fell apart early and it wasn’t long before head coach Steve Sarkisian was suspended and ultimately fired for drinking on the job.

 

After that, Clay Helton took over as interim-turned-permanent coach and kept the old staff until a blowout in the Pac-12 Championship Game signaled it was time for drastic change. As a result, Helton completely overhauled his coaching staff as part of the comprehensive rebuild the program has gone through during the offseason. But that is under normal circumstances and USC had already been down this road once before in 2013, so this was just a routine training exercise.

 

The most difficult aspect of analyzing USC’s season is trying to parse out which problems were the result of poor coaching, poor play or a poor previous regime. The instability around USC has made it nearly impossible to get a feel for where this team sits in the developmental process and the program won’t get a ton of time in 2016 to sort things out. The Trojans open with the defending national champion Alabama at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. As far as first games of the season go, this one will be a doozy.

 

Spring is important for every team, but it becomes especially important when you open the season with the most successful program in college football historically and certainly over the last decade. If USC is going to take down Alabama, the work the Trojans put in during spring ball will be critical to their chances. It also means that we may see some position battles decided sooner to give guys a chance to settle in and learn their responsibilities.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in USC’s Spring Practice

 

1. Who Will Replace Quarterback Cody Kessler?

Kessler may not have the awards and accolades of some USC quarterbacks, but he held the locker room as well as any of them. Kessler was an undeniable leader for the Trojans and the team followed him into battle. Now he is gone and a new voice will have to emerge at the position. Veteran Max Browne looks like the man to beat, but Sam Darnold has impressed at every step and he could challenge for the starting job if new offensive coordinator Tee Martin feels like opening things up.

 

Darnold and Browne appear to be the front-runners to start, but the Trojans also have Jalen Greene and early enrollee Matt Fink ready to compete for the job. Greene has previously impressed in spring practice, but necessity dictated a move to wide receiver, where he also has excelled. The point here is that Greene is an excellent athlete and nobody would be surprised if he pushed the two favorites to their limit. Fink seems incredibly likely to redshirt and observe, but stranger things have happened.

 

Regardless of who gets the nod, the expectations will be through the roof for them when the season starts. Browne was one of the nation’s top recruits in his class and Darnold has been the talk of the town since his arrival. In fact, Darnold’s presence may have been a factor in Ricky Town’s decision to transfer. The experts have certainly tabbed Darnold as a player to watch for USC. Darnold and Browne bring a little something different to the table, so this may be one of the most exciting quarterback battles the Trojans have had in a long time.

 

2. Can Clancy Pendergast Recreate His Magic?

Pendergast, the new (old) defensive coordinator, was the most exciting hire of the offseason. His aggressive brand of defense was a fan favorite and the fact that he was not originally retained by Sarkisian was a sore spot for many. After several seasons of Justin Wilcox’s defenses giving away the middle of the field on a routine basis, USC opted to return to a brand of defense that takes advantage of its speed, talent and athleticism.

 

It’s been several years since Pendergast has been at USC and the college game has changed a bit in his absence. That is not to say that he cannot adjust, but that there may be a learning curve for both the coach and his players. Expecting USC to hit the ground running may not be reasonable given the amount of turnover, but Pendergast’s base 5-2 won’t be a huge schematic departure from Wilcox’s 3-4 and that should allow the Trojans to make a smoother transition. 

 

3. Neil Callaway’s Impact Up Front

USC’s offensive line lacked physicality in 2015. The Trojans brought on Bob Connelly to replace Tim Drevno and the hire was justifiably questioned out of the gate. The ensuing results were rather predictable given Connelly’s history and the Trojans’ line drew national attention for its lack of cohesion and physicality. The Trojans hired Callaway away from Western Kentucky and that was questioned at first, but it’s starting to look like USC may have found a forgotten treasure.

 

Callaway’s pedigree is strong. He played and coached at Alabama in addition to having coaching stints at Auburn and Georgia. His time at Western Kentucky was impressive enough to land him the USC job and his approach since his arrival has won people over. If Callaway has even half the impact people think he can have, USC’s offensive line could go from a major liability to significant strength almost overnight. He has the talent in the garage.

 

4. Embracing Multiple Receiving Targets

Much like many of USC’s problems, diagnosing the root cause is pointless. Some people point the finger at quarterbacks failing to notice other receivers. Some people point the finger at simplistic play design and others at an offensive line that couldn’t buy a quarterback enough time to survey the field. Regardless of the argument, this is an aspect of USC’s offense that simply must change. The Trojans have been far too predictable on offense the last five years and they must find a way to keep defenses guessing.

 

This does not mean that the Trojans have to adopt spread concepts, though that does seem to be the way of things. It just means that USC has the weapons on offense and they need to find a way to make defenses respect every position on the field like the great Trojan teams of the past have. Funneling 45 percent of the offense through JuJu Smith-Schuster is unacceptable when a quarterback has players like Ronald Jones II, Adoree’ Jackson, Steven Mitchell, Darreus Rogers and more at his disposal. It’s a simple matter of making the numbers work for USC, and previous teams haven’t found a way to do that.

 

5. Tuning Up the Texas Tesla

RoJo 2.0 might have been one of the most exciting players many people didn’t hear about in 2015. Jones introduced himself to the Trojans by breaking the 39-year-old freshman season rushing record set by Charles White in 1976. He did that while mysteriously not being called upon in games where he was the most dominant running back on the field. In fact, he was USC’s leading rusher as a true freshman, but struggled as a receiver out of the backfield. If USC can refine his pass-catching skills, it is scary to think what Jones could accomplish before his time at USC is over.

 

Pre-Spring USC Outlook in the Pac-12

 

Outside of placing a bet on the Philadelphia 76ers to win an NBA title, predicting any USC season is the biggest exercise in futility. It doesn’t matter what people expect the Trojans to do, they’ll somehow accomplish the opposite. The past five seasons for USC have been a mix of impressive, unimpressive, and impressively unimpressive. Sanity requires a wait-and-see approach with this team.

 

The Trojans likely have enough talent to compete for another Pac-12 South crown, but the road to the Rose Bowl has gone through the North for a while now and that division is showing no signs of slowing down. Troy’s cross-town rivals still have Josh Rosen and the Bruins managed to lure a few of Sarkisian’s old staffers over to Westwood, surely increasing the intensity of that rivalry. It would seem likely that the two L.A. schools are poised to settle the South once again.

 

As usual, how far USC goes is largely dependent upon the players. The past several offseasons have been littered with bad press, suspensions, dismissals and growing pains for young Trojans. On the field, self-inflicted mistakes did more damage to USC than anyone not named Christian McCaffrey. The Trojans have been the kings of getting in their own way and any success they plan to have in 2016 must start with them getting out of their own way for a change.

 

— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Webb is a recruiting analyst for BarkBoard, Scout’s Fresno State affiliate. A contributor to USCFootball.com, Scout’s USC affiliate. He is also a regular guest and contributor for CFBHuddle. Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
USC Trojans 2016 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Overtime
Path: /nfl/former-redskins-te-chris-cooley-nobody-liked-rgiii-washington-redskins-robert-griffin-kirk-cousins
Body:

Now that the Robert Griffin III era in D.C. is over, the truth is coming out.

 

In an interview with , former Redskins tight end, Chris Cooley, keeps it real on the team's attitude toward Griffin. It seems he wasn't that well-received by the team, and it all started when Kirk Cousins was drafted. Griffin was never really happy with that decision by the organization.

 

"From the moment Kirk was drafted," Cooley said. "I think Robert had animosity towards him. A lot of people in this area hate that fourth-round pick; I don't think anyone hated it as much as RGIII hated it."

 

A little competition can do that to a person, but that's not where it stops. Cooley goes on to mention that many players on the team weren't the biggest RGIII fans.

 

"The offensive line did not like Robert Griffin," Cooley continued. "A lot of the receivers did not like Robert Griffin. The offensive line had a problem with Robert, because they were considered for a year-and-a-half or two years a terrible offensive line that couldn't protect a quarterback. A lot of that isn't true. A lot of that was Robert. A lot of the sacks were put on Robert. Want to believe it or not, they were, okay? Football-wise, they were: it was Robert."

 

"Robert never took [responsibility] for that. Robert continued to let his offensive line eat the blame ... Receivers didn't like playing with Robert, because they didn't get the ball. It was never consistent, other than a couple in 2012; they struggled with that. So they didn't like Robert."

 

Those are pretty strong words, especially for new teams looking to obtain RGIII's services. A quarterback is always considered a leader on the team and without a strong one, there's no telling where your team is headed. 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 11:19
Path: /college-football/california-golden-bears-2016-spring-football-preview
Body:

Last season was a mixed bag for the . Quarterback Jared Goff entered the season with Heisman Trophy expectations and a belief that the Bears could compete with Oregon and Stanford for a Pac-12 North championship. Instead Cal finished 8-5 overall and 4-5 in the division, good enough for fourth place behind Stanford, Oregon and Washington State. It was not a bad year by any stretch of the imagination, but Golden Bear fans couldn’t help leave 2015 wondering if a few more wins were left on the table.

 

Six games last season were decided by a touchdown or less, with Cal going 4-2 in those contests. The two games the Bears lost — USC and Utah — were very winnable games if not a few inopportune mistakes. Turnovers hurt against USC and Utah — try nine in those two games alone.

 

Whatever happened last year will just have to stay in the past. Cal has enough to focus on in 2016 without trying to play a game of “what if” about the past. The future is bright for the Golden Bears and one offseason move may play more of a role in moving forward than anyone could possibly imagine. Now it’s time to look ahead to 2016 and beyond.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Cal’s Spring Practice

 

1. Jake Spavital’s impact on the Bear Raid offense

The Bear Raid offense under coordinator Tony Franklin could certainly move the football, but the system never quite produced the expected results on the field. Additionally, Franklin was getting up there in age and football is increasingly becoming a younger man’s game when it comes to assistants and recruiting. Franklin also was reported to have been one of the less active recruiters for the Bears and that simply had to change if they were going to compete with some of the classes being signed by their conference mates.

 

Enter Spavital as the new offensive coordinator. After parting ways with Texas A&M during a curious and tumultuous offseason, Cal may have ended up hiring one of the best available recruiters and coordinators in the nation. Spavital was largely responsible for the Aggies’ stellar quarterback recruits during his time as their offensive coordinator. Though most of them ended up transferring, it wasn’t because of their relationship with Spavital. If Spavital can produce anything like the quarterback talent he produced for the Aggies, the Golden Bears may be on the precipice of greatness in a quarterback-driven conference.

 

2. Replacing quarterback Jared Goff

First and foremost, you do not simply replace a talent like Goff overnight and expect the same results. It would seem likely that Chase Forrest would be the favorite headed into spring practices, but Luke Rubenzer will be returning to the quarterback spot — at least for the spring competition — after playing on defense in 2015. The younger quarterbacks on Cal’s roster like Ross Bowers and Max Gilliam could benefit from having Spavital as their offensive coordinator. Spavital has shown that he isn’t afraid to shake things up at quarterback if he feels such a move can provide the spark to his offense.

 

3. Limiting turnovers

The Bears need to get better in the turnover department. It has killed them in late-game situations and during winnable conference games. They did manage to finish No.13 in the nation by forcing 27 turnovers, but that was slightly offset by the fact that they coughed up the ball 23 times, resulting in a differential of just plus-four (+4). That put Cal at No. 39 in the nation in turnover margin. The giveaways were high (1.7 per game, No. 68), and it didn’t matter if the Bears were at home (1.6 turnovers per game) or on the road (1.7). It’s hard to win a division, let alone a conference, when a team turns the ball over nearly two times every game.

 

4. Defensive struggles for Cal still a major concern

There is no sugarcoating this: the Bears were simply not good enough on defense in 2015. Although it is important to keep sight of the fact that much of the defense is full of youth and inexperience, especially along the defensive line. The Bears finished No. 109 in total defense, No. 106 in rushing defense, No. 92 in passing defense, No. 122 in red zone defense, and No. 97 on third down. Only four Pac-12 teams finished with a worse ranking in total defense — Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona and Arizona State. Those teams finished a combined 24-27 with Oregon the only team to win more than eight games (9-4).

 

5. Finding a way to compete with the conference’s elite

Since Sonny Dykes took over as head coach, Cal is 0-12 against Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and USC. In those games, the Bears have been outscored by a margin of 534-284 or nearly 21 points per game. Only four of these games were within one score (eight or fewer points). In all but one matchup, the opposition put up 35 or more point and scored 40 or more in half of them. On the other side, the Bears have only managed to score more than 35 points twice. To say that the conference’s elite teams have been doing laps around them would be an understatement. If Dykes plans to keep this job moving forward, he’d best find a way to win a couple of those games or make them significantly closer results.

 

Pre-Spring Cal Outlook in the Pac-12

 

As was just mentioned, the Bears might not be far behind on pure speed, athleticism and talent, but there is a huge gap between the level of football they play against top teams compared to those hanging around the middle or bottom of the conference. Jared Goff’s departure is likely to set Cal back a little simply because quarterbacks like him do not just grow on trees. Losing as many weapons as the Bears have on offense won’t help them either, but the defense is going to be a year older and a year wiser and that could be a bigger boost than many realize.

 

Cal isn’t the only program making wholesale changes ahead of 2016. Much of the Pac-12 is undergoing some type of major change, whether it’s on offense or defense. A seasoned Cal defense could be more than enough to give the Bears a decent jumpstart on their season, but they will need to find a way to carry that momentum through the bye week and into one of the nation’s toughest second half schedules. The Bears get Oregon, USC, Washington, Washington State, Stanford and UCLA in consecutive weeks following their bye. Talk about a murderer’s row.

 

Cal should be in the hunt for a decent bowl, but unless the defense magically rights the ship in a single offseason, it likely won’t have the horses to compete for a conference championship in 2016. Of course, if the Bears do find their defensive wherewithal and new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital finds new life in Berkeley, nobody would be surprised if Cal found a way to knock off a few of the usual suspects in ‘16.

 

— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Webb is a recruiting analyst for BarkBoard, Scout’s Fresno State affiliate. A contributor to USCFootball.com, Scout’s USC affiliate. He is also a regular guest and contributor for CFBHuddle. Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
California Golden Bears 2016 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Louis Oosthuizen, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2016-majors-no-22-louis-oosthuizen
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2016 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the ’s .

 

No. 22 Louis Oosthuizen

Born: Oct. 19, 1982, Mossel Bay, Western Cape, South Africa | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 (7 on European Tour) | 2015 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2015 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,251,174 (22nd) | World Ranking: 18

 

Gary Williams' TakeThis is a man who could have three majors on his résumé and be on his way to the Hall of Fame, but playoff losses at the 2012 Masters and 2015 Open Championship and a remarkable tie for second at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay (where he shot 199 in the final three rounds after opening with 77), make him a hard read. It’s hard to believe he has never won a golf tournament in the United States after dominating the field and winning the Open Championship in 2010 at St. Andrews. He’s blessed with effortless power, flawless mechanics and an even temper, so you would think that he should win more often on the PGA Tour. Granted, he is a true global player who supports the European Tour and also is loyal to many events in South Africa throughout the year, but his close calls and his pedigree leave you wanting and expecting more victories. If another healthy season goes by without a win in the states, Oosthuizen will become a mystery or just a quirky trivia question. Fact is, he should be among the favorites at every major championship venue in 2016.
Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 29
Wins: 1
2015 Performance:
    Masters – T19
    U.S. Open – T2
    British Open – T2
    PGA Championship – T30
Best Career Finishes
    Masters – 2 (2012)
    U.S. Open – T2 (2015)
    British Open - 1 (2010)
    PGA Championship – T15 (2014)
Top-10 Finishes: 5
Top-25 Finishes: 10
Missed Cuts: 14

 

Athlon's 2016 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Zach Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. .

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 10:51
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, Overtime
Path: /overtime/boston-college-senior-basketball-dennis-clifford-press-conference-going-out-eat
Body:

If America had a soul mate, it would be Dennis Clifford.

 

The Boston College senior was asked about his favorite memory from his time playing basketball with the team and his answer was a simple, "going out to eat." Obviously Clifford was overcome with emotion having played his last game for BC, but we'll always have this memory.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 10:49
Path: /college-football/maryland-terrapins-2016-spring-football-preview
Body:

A new era of football is set to begin as D.J. Durkin will have his first spring practice as head coach of the team. Durkin will place Randy Edsall, who was 22-34 overall and 0-12 against ranked opponents in his three-plus seasons at College Park.

 

Mike Locksley replaced Edsall at the midway point of last season, but Maryland still finished 3-9. Durkin, who was Michigan's defensive coordinator in 2015, is taking on one of the most difficult coaching jobs in the Big Ten.

 

5 Storylines to Watch During Maryland’s Spring Practice

 

1. Quarterback

Seniors Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe both return and each quarterback has a lot of experience. But each also is coming off poor seasons, as Hills threw 13 interceptions and Rowe tossed 15 in 2015.

 

Former Gatorade Player of the Year Tyrrell Pigrome will likely push Hills and Rowe for the starting position once he enrolls. Also, redshirt freshman Gage Shaffer could be a candidate to receive a lot of snaps this spring.

 

Hills will likely begin the spring as the favorite since he is more mobile and athletic than Rowe.

 

2. The return of Wes Brown

After serving an indefinite suspension at the end of the 2015 season, many suspected that Brown had played his last game at Maryland. But as the Terrapins are set to begin spring practice, the running back is still with the program and is scheduled to practice with the rest of team.

 

With Brown back at Maryland, the team's backfield is one of the Terrapins’ strongest areas. Sophomore Ty Johnson, who was solid in spot duty, returns too. Maryland also will add graduate transfer Trey Edmunds (Virginia Tech).

 

3. Jacobs brothers could lead Maryland's offense

Maryland's passing attack was one of the worst in the Big Ten last season. The Terrapins finished second to last in the 14-team conference with just 174.3 yards passing per game. With a new high-tempo offense under the direction of coordinator Walt Bell, Levern and Taivon Jacobs could have career seasons.

 

Levern led Maryland in receptions (35) and receiving yards 425 last season, while Taivon was third with 21 catches for 264 yards and two touchdowns.

 

4. Rebuilding the first line of defense

Maryland's defensive line took a huge step back during the offseason as Yannick Ngakoue and Quinton Jefferson both left early for the NFL. Ngakoue set the Maryland single-season sack record with 13.5 in 2015.

 

New defensive coordinator (and former Syracuse head coach) Scott Shafer does have some players that could step up and lead the way up front. Roman Braglio, Azubuike Ukandu and Jesse Aniebonam figure to get a lot snaps along the defensive line during the spring. Also, keep an eye on former 4-star recruit Adam McLean as well as Dion Goldbourne.

 

5. Other than Will Likely, who can step up in the secondary?

Likely returns as Maryland’s best player, as he’s not only the Terrapins’ best defensive back he also is a game-changing punt returner. He finished third in the nation last season, averaging 17.7 yards per punt return, including two for touchdowns.

 

The biggest question is who else can help Likely in the secondary? Freshman cornerback Antwaine Richardson has already enrolled and should play a lot this spring. Veterans Darnell Savage Jr., Alvin Hill and Josh Woods also could compete for a starting spot in the back end.

 

Maryland's Pre-Spring Outlook in the Big Ten

 

Finding the right chemistry is important for any first-year head coach and with D.J. Durkin it is no different. Maryland isn't expected to compete in the East Division next season, so there’s no disputing this is a rebuilding project. However, if Durkin can find a few playmakers on offense and along the defensive line and put together a solid offensive line, maybe the Terrapins can at least be competitive in a few of their conference games in 2016.

 

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

Teaser:
Maryland Terrapins 2016 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Florida Gators, SEC
Path: /college-football/florida-gators-2016-spring-football-preview
Body:

The will get back to work on the field with the start of spring practice on March 9. While the Gators won the SEC East in 2015 with a 10-4 record (7-1 in SEC play), the enthusiasm emanating from the program in head coach Jim McElwain’s first year in Gainesville was diminished some by a season-ending, three-game losing streak.

 

Florida comes into the spring with a number of questions and holes to address, including quarterback. While defense has been the Gators’ calling card the last few seasons, that unit has some big shoes to fill with Vernon Hargraves, Antonio Morrison and Alex McCalister, to name a few, no longer on campus.

 

5 Storylines to Watch During Florida’s Spring Practice

 

1. Finding a quarterback

Treon Harris ended last season as the Gators’ starting quarterback after Will Grier (who has since transferred) was suspended for using an NCAA-banned substance. While Harris had his moments, he mostly struggled as a starter and doesn’t appear to be in the coaching staff’s plans for the position in 2016. On Tuesday, McElwain announced that Harris and wide receiver Antonio Callaway would not be taking part in spring practice.

 

With Harris out of the picture, that leaves Luke Del Rio, Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby and incoming freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask to compete for the starting quarterback spot.

 

After sitting out the entire 2015 season due to NCAA transfer rules, Del Rio is considered the favorite to win the competition. Del Rio knows Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s system well as they both were at Alabama in 2013 before the quarterback transferred to Oregon State.

 

Appleby also has experience, as he began the 2015 season as Purdue's starter before he was replaced by redshirt freshman David Blough. Franks and Trask both enrolled early and will participate in spring practices.

 

2. The stable of running backs

Florida's starting running back competition will be a critical area to watch this spring. The Gators have a number of talented players who could replace Kelvin Taylor as the featured ball carrier.

 

Sophomores Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett have experience, as each received a number of carries last season, but junior college transfer Mark Thompson also will have an opportunity to win the starting job.

 

Last season at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College, Thompson rushed for 1,298, good for fourth place in the NJCAA. Scarlett, a 4-star recruit from Fort Lauderdale prep powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas is likely the favorite to win the starting position, but Cronkrite and Thompson should get their chances this spring too.

 

3. Will a more experienced offensive line result in better play?

Florida had one of the youngest offensive lines in FBS last season and it showed. The Gators gave up 46 sacks in 2015, which was the sixth most in the nation.

 

Florida will begin spring practice with four starters returning up front, compared to last year when the team had just seven healthy scholarship offensive linemen able to participate. Cameron Dillard will likely start at center, but he missed the final three games of the 2015 season because of a leg injury.

 

The biggest question on the line is if an injury happens, do the Gators have the depth, unlike last season?

 

4. How good will the Gators’ defensive line be in 2016?
Despite losing Alex McCalister and Jonathan Bullard, Florida's defensive line is likely the strength of the team once again. Defensive ends Bryan Cox Jr. and Caleb Brantley figure to be the leaders, but there is plenty of talent throughout the roster.

 

Cece Jefferson and Joey Ivie are favorites to crack the starting rotation alongside Cox and Brantley. Defensive tackles Taven Bryan, Khairi Clark and ends Keivonnis Davis and Jordan Sherit also will likely see playing time.

 

In addition, Florida has three talented incoming freshmen in 4-star Jordan Smith, 4-star Antonneous Clayton and 3-star Jachai Polite.

 

5. Who replaces Vernon Hargraves?
While replacing an All-American cornerback like Hargreaves as well as reliable defensive back Brian Poole won't be an easy job, the Gators still have quite a bit of talent in their secondary. Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson are expected to start at cornerback. Tabor has a chance to follow in Hargreaves’ footsteps and emerge as one of the nation’s top corners this fall.

 

Wilson played a substantial role on last year's team and should be serviceable as a full-time starter. Florida will have to find someone to fill the important nickel back position.

 

Florida's Pre-Spring Outlook in the SEC

 

Everyone is focused on the quarterback battle in Gainesville this spring but there are a number of other positions that are just as intriguing. Florida needs to develop more continuity along the offensive line. If the Gators can, that would take pressure off of whoever ends up earning the starting quarterback job.

 

After a 10-4 season in 2015, many expect Florida to take a step back this fall. Having a good spring would go a long way to proving the naysayers wrong.

 

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

Teaser:
Florida Gators 2016 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas Longhorns, Big 12
Path: /college-football/texas-longhorns-2016-spring-football-preview
Body:

Charlie Strong bounced underperforming holdovers from Mack Brown’s tenure, brought in talented recruits and hired a high-priced offensive architect to take the ’ attack into the 21st century.

 

He has changed plenty in a program that was in dire need of a makeover when he got the job after the 2013 season. So far, though, he hasn’t changed enough to lift UT out of the funk that subsumed the program in Brown’s final years.

 

Three years probably isn’t enough time for any coach to complete that kind of full-on rebuild, but good luck convincing Texas’ well-heeled boosters of that. Fair or not, UT’s head coach has officially reached put-up-or-shut-up territory in Austin.

 

Frankly, Strong has some serious work to do to keep his job. Sterlin Gilbert, a disciple of Baylor head coach Art Briles, is installing a high-octane spread offense despite not having an experienced quarterback who fits the system well. Equally troubling, defense is Strong’s calling card, and that side of the ball was a mess in 2015.

 

The Longhorns need these 15 spring practices as much as any program in the country.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Texas' Spring Practice

 

1. Is Gilbert installing or surviving?

From a timing standpoint, Texas finds itself in an awkward place when it comes to transitioning to a new offense. Everything about the project before Gilbert suggests that 2016 should be a write-off. The ‘Horns have a new offensive line coach, the best quarterback for their open job is likely a true freshman and the best that can be said about their skill position players is that some have shown flashes of promise.

 

Unfortunately, Texas needs wins this fall – probably at least eight if the staff wants to stay employed. That means Gilbert may need to get resourceful for a season, rather than jump right in with getting the new offense in place.

 

2. The quarterback derby

Obviously, Gilbert’s ability to install his offense depends on how well UT’s quarterbacks adapt to the new scheme. In what has become a familiar theme in Austin that means the job is open yet again this spring.

 

Upperclassmen Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard don’t really fit well as Air Raid QBs, but the guy behind center in the Longhorns’ opener will likely come from those two. How long that lasts may depend on how long it takes to get touted true freshman Shane Buechele ready for action.

 

3. Who is catching their passes?

An equally significant concern for Gilbert is the paucity of identifiable game-breakers at the skill positions for the ‘Horns. Consider that talented sophomore John Burt, Texas’ leading returning receiver, caught all of 28 balls a year ago. Likewise, junior Armanti Foreman has a total of 21 grabs in his two seasons on the 40 Acres.

 

To make this O hum, new wide receivers coach Charlie Williams needs to find some reliable targets from an abundance of unproven options.

 

4. Solidifying the front seven

Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford’s unit struggled to stop the run in 2015, allowing a full half yard more per rushing attempt than a year earlier. As such, the fact that the front seven is losing four contributors – linebacker Peter Jinkens and linemen Hassan Ridgeway, Shiro Davis and Desmond Jackson – may be more blessing than curse.

 

This should open the door for youngsters such as linebacker Anthony Wheeler and defensive end Charles Omenihu to take a much greater role in the action this fall. They can start by making their marks this spring.

 

5. Coaching chemistry

For a guy who is going into his third season, Strong has plowed through his fair share of assistants. The shakeup this offseason led to turnover at four of five offensive coaching positions.

 

Even if Strong managed to upgrade at every spot, getting the entire staff on the same page can still be difficult. Luckily, Strong’s assistants have a few months to get things figured out.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook for Texas in the Big 12

 

Player for player, the Longhorns have the deepest and most talented team in the Big 12. The problem for head coach Charlie Strong is that his squad likely lacks the personnel at QB and WR to throw his new offense into overdrive and challenge for the conference crown.

 

Texas will field a better defense this season. Until proven otherwise, though, the ‘Horns likely won’t have the firepower to keep up with the rest of the league’s relentless offenses.

 

— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
Texas Longhorns 2016 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/mlb-scouts-talk-anonymously-about-al-west-teams-2016
Body:

Real live baseball is here. Spring training games are starting this week throughout camp in Florida and Arizona.

 

That means manager and GMs are evaluating their lineups and rotations, which players will fill the final spots on the 25-man roster and which players need more seasoning in the minors.

 

In the , we’ve already done some of the homework. We asked scouts throughout MLB to give us their candid thoughts on teams and players for 2016.

 

These scouting reports and more are available in this year’s Athlon Baseball Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and .

 

 

 

“They’re just getting started. They won’t regress, and in fact I think they’re going to be even better. Think about it: They’ll have Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers from the start this year, and you have to assume they’ll have a healthy George Springer the whole way, too. Those are three high-impact players right there, and let’s not forget Carlos Gomez, who came in at the trading deadline last year. So there’s good reason to think their position players will be as good or better than what we just saw. Dallas Keuchel is a top-15 starter in the majors, although you have to expect him to have a worse year, since he can’t do better than 2015. I also worry about the back end of the rotation, with Mike Fiers and Scott Feldman, but McCullers is awesome, and he’ll have a big impact with Collin McHugh on the front end. Ken Giles was a smart pick-up for the bullpen; he’s a top-20 reliever in this game, no doubt.”

 

 

“They are top-heavy, kind of a stars-and-scrubs team. But when you have Mike Trout in his prime, Albert Pujols with something left, Andrelton Simmons and Garrett Richards, you’ve got a pretty good start. After Richards, there’s not a lot to like in that rotation. Jered Weaver had his worst year last season, and you wonder when it’s all gone for him. Andrew Heaney’s interesting, but the rest of the group leaves a lot to be desired. At least they know Simmons will help them at shortstop, and he still has offensive upside. He’ll also help Yunel Escobar, a solid player whose defensive positioning was a problem in Washington. With Simmons next to him, he’ll be able to play the line a little bit more, and that plays to his strength. He doesn’t have a lot of range, but he’s very sure-handed.”

 

 

“They’re in a really weird middle ground — clearly not rebuilding, but also clearly the fifth-best team in this division. They really should try to retool and focus on assets for 2017, but they haven’t done that. Sonny Gray’s slider has come along great and he really works well down in the zone, which you don’t always see from a guy his size. But unless they hit on everyone this year, I really think they should trade him and rebuild. He’s by far their biggest asset in a trade. For now, though, they’ve added some money by bringing back Jed Lowrie and signing Ryan Madson and John Axford for the bullpen — most likely as trade pieces in July. They do have a folk hero in Billy Burns: He can’t hit a home run, but he’s got blazing speed and he puts the ball in play, he bunts and runs through walls. He’s a fun player with a limited upside, like this team.”

 

 

“Jerry Dipoto has really put his stamp on this organization. He’s made a lot of changes in the scouting department and on the international side. But he’s in a tough spot, because I don’t think he had the best canvas. With (Robinson) Cano and Felix (Hernandez), the direction of the team was already set: He has to win now. He’s definitely prioritized defense with the moves for Leonys Martin and Nori Aoki, and by bringing back Franklin Gutierrez. Adam Lind has power and a short-term commitment, so that’s a move that made sense. As good as Carson Smith was in that bullpen, Wade Miley has more value as a starter on a very good contract. I still think Taijuan Walker could be a No. 2 or 3, but I’m less excited about James Paxton. He’s had issues with his health and command, and he’s more of a back-end guy for me.”

 

 

“They’re built to win now, with Adrian Beltre being such a great player — still — and having one more year left. Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish are terrific at the front of that staff, and I don’t think people realize how good that bullpen is, with Shawn Tolleson, Sam Dyson and Jake Diekman. Everyone knows Shin-Soo Choo is overpaid, but that’s OK; his 2014 season was the aberration, and 2015 was more of who he is: 20-home run power, and he gets on base all the time. Rougned Odor is a special player. Very few position players who get to the majors at 20 don’t become above-average big leaguers. Actually, they usually become superstars or Hall of Famers. He was already average to slightly above average last year, at 21, and I expect him to be even better at 22, like Joey Gallo. Gallo shouldn’t worry about the strikeouts. He could be a high-impact guy really soon.”

Teaser:
MLB Scouts Talk Anonymously about AL West Teams for 2016
Post date: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Overtime
Path: /overtime/steelers-coach-mike-tomlin-fires-back-deangelo-williams-peyton-manning-criticism
Body:

Recently DeAngelo Williams has been the center of attention for his

 

The Steelers running back sent off a barrage of tweets the same day as the quarterback's retirement press conference. Just when people were thinking Williams would back down from his comments, he only reinforced them on ESPN's Mike & Mike, saying he meant what he said and that Manning was garbage last year. 

 

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin sent a tweet to help out his running back, and to stop him from digging himself further into that hole he's in. 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - 13:47
All taxonomy terms: NBA, Overtime
Path: /overtime/charles-barkley-prediction-warriors-nba-championship-stephen-colbert
Body:

Charles Barkley has said a lot of off-the-wall things, but fans are coming after him for his latest statement.

 

Stephen Colbert talked to Chuck basketball during his appearance on the show and the NBA analyst isn't buying into the success of the Warriors this season. 

 

"They have a terrific team. They've been great for the NBA," Barkley said. "I'm telling you right now: They're not gonna win the championship this year."

 

If you remember, Barkley also said a "jump-shooting team" wouldn't win the championship last year and we all know how that turned out. Simply put, take Chuck's predictions with the tiniest grain of salt. Although he didn't predict exactly which team would win, he made it clear it won't be the Warriors. 

 

They also talked about Barkley's golf swing (which he's a little more optimistic about). 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - 12:41
Path: /college-football/texas-tech-red-raiders-2016-spring-football-preview
Body:

made big strides in several areas in 2015 — most importantly in the win column. After suffering a 4-8 season in head coach Kliff Kingsbury's second season in 2014, the Red Raiders won four games in Big 12 play last year and finished 7-6 overall following a loss to LSU in the Texas Bowl.

 

As usual, the offense carried the way. Patrick Mahomes is one of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12, and has thrown for more than 6,200 yards and 52 touchdowns across his freshman and sophomore seasons. In 2015, Mahomes led the conference in passing yards (4,653, the best total in the Big 12 since 2011) and tied Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield with 36 touchdown passes. Mahomes also was tops in total offense with 5,109 yards, nearly 1,000 more than No. 2 Trevone Boykin.

 

Of course, Mahomes can't win games all by himself, and the Red Raiders must replace several key playmakers on offense and improve a defense that was one of the worst in the country. With spring practice underway, we take a look at what it will take for Kingsbury and Mahomes to lead Tech to a second straight bowl game.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Texas Tech’s Spring Practice

 

1. Rebuilding the Defensive Line

Defensive coordinator David Gibbs returns for his second season, but three assistants were dismissed following a dreadful statistical performance in 2015. Texas Tech allowed 280.5 rushing yards per game last season, which was the worst in the Big 12 and No. 127 out of 128 FBS programs. The Red Raiders allowed 547.7 total yards per game last year. The only program to allow more was fellow Big 12 member Kansas.

 

However, despite the embarrassing results a season ago, there are some building blocks in place. Breiden Fehoko, an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 defensive tackle who started all 13 games as a true freshman last season, is the best and most experienced player returning on the defensive line. In fact, with the loss of Brandon Jackson and Pete Robertson, Zach Barnes and Gary Moore are the only others with any starting experience among returners.

 

The defensive line should benefit from seven newcomers, including transfers Kolin Hill (who could help at end or linebacker) and Ondre Pipkins, as well as junior college signee Mychealon Thomas. The competition will be fierce for a spot in the rotation up front, and is likely to continue well into the fall.

 

2. Building Upon the Secondary

The secondary is the strength of this defense. Last season, the Red Raiders forced 25 turnovers, including 15 interceptions. Only West Virginia, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State picked off more passes among Big 12 rivals.

 

Jah'Shawn Johnson had a good freshman season, with 85 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries, and should be one of the team's best defenders next season. Johnson, Nigel Bethel II, Keenon Ward and Tevin Madison all have potential, and form a solid foundation to build upon.

 

3. Replacing Jakeem Grant

Grant left Lubbock as the school's all-time leading receiver, which is quite an accomplishment given the amount of yardage the Red Raiders have piled up over the years. Last season alone, Grant caught 90 passes (which led the Big 12) for 1,268 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also was a major contributor as a return man, which helped him place among the top four players in the nation in all-purpose yardage.

 

Devin Lauderdale (43 rec., 639 yds., 4 TDs) is facing an indefinite suspension, which means Ian Sadler (43-596-3) leads the returners this spring. Derrick Willies signed with the Red Raiders as one of the most highly sought-after junior college prospects in the most recent class. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Willies is built much more like Michael Crabtree than Grant - but only time will tell whether or not he will have the type of impact Crabtree or Grant did for Texas Tech.

 

Either way, Willies and fellow newcomers De'Quan Bowman and T.J. Vasher, as well as a healthy Dylan Cantrell, should provide Mahomes with plenty of weapons.

 

Related: 

 

4. Revamp the Running Game

If you weren't paying close attention to Texas Tech last season, you may have missed the fact that running back DeAndre Washington had an All-Big 12 senior season. You also may have missed Washington becoming the first Tech player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season twice since Byron Hanspard (1995-96). Washington was actually No. 2 in the Big 12 with 1,492 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns last year, and led the conference with 1,877 yards from scrimmage.

 

Justin Stockton appears to have the inside track to replace Washington after rushing for 367 yards and five touchdowns last year (plus 341 receiving yards and six scores), but it will likely be a three-man competition and a committee approach is a possibility. Demarcus Felton showed big-play ability with a 53-yard touchdown run against Iowa State last season, but he had just seven total carries. Corey Dauphine also will be in the mix.

 

5. Rebuilding the Offensive Line

Texas Tech is one of several Big 12 teams that must overhaul its offensive line. Two-time all-conference honoree Le'Raven Clark, who was a four-year starter, including a three at left tackle, will be the toughest to replace. But his spot it just one of three up for grabs this spring.

 

Baylen Brown has made 23 starts for the Red Raiders, but Tony Morales (six career starts) and Justin Murphy (four) are the only returning players with any starting experience and both are coming back from injury. Conner Dyer, Madison Akamnonu, Poet Thomas and Robert Castandea also should be in the mix to see plenty of playing time this fall.

 

Pre-Spring Texas Tech Outlook in the Big 12

 

There are obviously major concerns on defense, but the Red Raiders will go as far as quarterback Patrick Mahomes takes them. Now that Davis Webb has left for Colorado, it would be up to either Iowa transfer Nic Shimonek or early enrollee true freshman Jett Duffey to step up should something happen to Mahomes, and the drop off would be significant.

 

As long as the reworked offensive line can keep Mahomes healthy (he scrambles regularly and is Tech's leading returning rusher with 456 yards and 10 TDs), the Red Raiders should put up a ton of points, and should make it back-to-back bowl games for the first time under head coach Kliff Kingsbury. However, until we see significant improvement on defense, Tech won't challenge for a Big 12 title.

 

— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work can also be found on , and . Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
Texas Tech Red Raiders 2016 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/lovie-smith-was-easy-choice-illinois-after-tough-decision
Body:

The world was stunned over the weekend when head football coach Bill Cubit was unexpectedly and inexplicably fired on the first day of new athletic director John Whitman's tenure. Nobody quite understood why, without cause for disciplinary action, a college football coach would be fired on what was essentially the eve of the start of spring practice.

 

A couple of hours later, it made more sense.

 

Rumors started flooding the Internet and airwaves that former Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith was the primary candidate to take over the Illini football program.

 

There's rarely a good time to make a coaching change outside of the end of a failed season. Often times, things like timing and money come into play and prevent tough decisions from being made.

 

Whitman is apparently not afraid of tough decisions. In my opinion, he not only made a tough decision, but the correct one.

 

Related: 

 

I've long held that Illinois football could be a good job. I've throughout its existence. To get the honest answer to that question, all I really had to do what look at the It's not exactly a list of "Who's Who," but rather just "Who?"

 

In college football, name recognition at the head coaching position means so much. Most programs and facilities can stand on their own when it comes to recruiting. The coach makes the program. Some programs sit back and gamble on young up-and-coming coaches, hoping they can build a winner and subsequently a name for themselves. Clemson's Dabo Swinney comes to mind in that regard.

 

Other programs simply open the wallet and go get the best or most famous guy available, hoping for an immediate return on investment. Ohio State and Michigan have done that in recent years.

 

Whitman appears to have found a happy medium between the two formulas. Smith is a big name and a big fish. If I were Smith, my resume would consist of one sentence: I led the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman starting at quarterback. Smith was a winner in the state of Illinois at the highest level of football.

 

Name recognition? Check.

 

But when it comes to building a successful college football program, Smith is undoubtedly a novice. He does have college coaching experience, but never at a level higher than a position coach.

 

In that regard, Smith is a gamble. Be that as it may, taking a gamble is what needed to happen for Illinois.

 

The Illinois football program has been shrouded in failure on the field and controversy off of it as of late. Allegations of the mistreatment of players cost Tim Beckman his job less than a year ago. Cubit was mentioned in those allegations, but was not found guilty of any wrongdoing. As a result, he seemed to be the popular choice to take over the program in the face of some dark times.

 

The problem Cubit was always going to face was the fact that Illinois has never really been a great program. As a result, fear of failure due to tearing down everything and starting over was never going to sway anyone from eventually letting him go — especially given the fact that he was part of Beckman's staff. If Illinois was looking for a fresh start and a total change of direction and attitude, Cubit had to go.

 

Much like the hiring of Mike Riley in the wake of the Bo Pelini tenure at Nebraska, bringing Smith to Illinois is a total 180 as far as outlook, attitude and morale goes. Some, including the players, will be sympathetic to Cubit's situation and the way he was let go. Some may even root for Smith to fail in the name of karma. When the dust settles, however, common sense will tell you that Smith was the correct choice to guide Illinois football into the future.

 

For starters, and as previously mentioned, he has name recognition in the state of Illinois. Two coaches in history have led the Bears to a Super Bowl appearance. One was Smith. The other was named Ditka.

 

Additionally, players love playing for Smith. After losing both NFL head coaching jobs in somewhat surprising fashion, you saw the players he coached lash out in anger in Smith's defense. NFL players loved him. I'm guessing college kids will as well.

 

Despite the cash cow that college football has become, let us not forget — at the core of what the sport is supposed to be about at the collegiate level — is the development of young men. Athletics build character, and the architects of that building process are the head coaches. Players will often adopt personality and behavioral traits from their coaches. Smith has worked closely with and has been mentored by Tony Dungy — widely regarded as one of the sport's "good guys." He also has started programs and foundations that provide educational and life-skill opportunities to at-risk youth. Parents who send their kids to play for Smith could only hope to be so lucky as to have their son adopt any of his traits in regard to helping others.

 

Back on the playing field, Smith is a defensive genius. He's had plenty of success as both a position coach and coordinator on the defensive side of the ball. In a conference where defenses have set the tone in recent years, Smith's knowledge on that side of the ball will no doubt yield noticeable improvement in Champaign and have the Illini defense in contention to be the best in the Big Ten quickly.

 

The Illinois job can be a good one. Champaign is within a seven-hour drive of Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Memphis, Nashville, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Kansas City. Despite producing George Halas, Red Grange and Dick Butkus, it has been difficult historically to convince top recruits and their parents in those cities to make the drive and commit to the University of Illinois. Much of that had to do with who the coaches were.

 

With Smith at the helm, all of that changes. Recruits will visit because of who he is. Parents will be convinced and players will commit because of who he is. Illinois will have a real shot at becoming a winning program and a great job, again, because of who Smith is.

 

Sometimes, to get where you want to go, tough decisions need to be made. Right now, the future looks brighter than it has for Illinois football in quite some time, because of who Whitman is.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Scott is the owner of . Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Teaser:
Lovie Smith was an Easy Choice for Illinois After a Tough Decision
Post date: Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/houston-cougars-2016-spring-football-preview
Body:

There was not much more you could ask of Tom Herman from his first season as a head coach at . The Cougars ripped through most of their schedule en route to the first American Athletic Conference Championship Game in conference history and concluded the season by taking down Florida State in a New Year’s Six bowl game. By most Group of Five standards that would be considered a dream season, but at Houston the Cougars are looking at the 2015 season as merely a stepping stone to a return to national prominence. Could bigger things be on the horizon in 2016 as the defending AAC champs go through their spring practices?

 

The Cougars are the new leader of the Group of Five pack, setting the bar high for themselves in 2016 with the expectation of playing in the College Football Playoff. This may be a tall order, but given the return of quarterback Greg Ward Jr., some notable additions through recruiting and transfers and the schedule in front of them in the fall, it is not out of the realm of possibility we could be talking about Houston in quite an interesting discussion later on this year. For now, those big topics of conversation are on hold as Houston simply looks to get back to work to figure out how to take that next step forward.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Houston's Spring Practice

 

1. Replacing Playmakers

Two key big playmakers from Houston's wonderful 2015 are taking their game to the next level. The Cougars open the spring looking to fill the vacancy left by wide receiver Demarcus Ayers and defensive back William Jackson III. Ayers led the Cougars in 2015 with 1,222 receiving yards and six touchdowns and he also added 290 punt return yards and a punt return for a touchdown on special teams. Chance Allen will likely be the new leading receiver after finishing last season second with 752 yards and six touchdowns, but the question will be who steps up to be a complementary receiver. Steven Dunbar and Linell Bonner, both sophomores last season, should compete for a bigger role in the offense. Additionally, Oklahoma State transfer Ra'Shaad Samples is poised to compete for a major role in the receiving corps. Jackson led the defense with five interceptions, returning two of them for a touchdown last fall. That kind of leadership and impact is hard to replace.

 

2. What's Next for Greg Ward Jr. under Tom Herman?

Houston's dual-threat quarterback was a one-man show at times last season. Ward was quite the efficient passer, completing 67.2 percent of his attempts for 2,828 yards and 17 touchdowns with six interceptions, and he was Houston's leading rusher with 1,108 yards and 21 scores. The Cougars can ride Ward to a ton of wins in the AAC, but this spring will give us an indication if there will be a push to reduce the importance of doing just that. Taking some of the work load off his shoulders in the running game helps reduce the risk of injury to the star offensive weapon, but he should still be counted on to run. Herman is a smart man and knows there may be a need to take some of the running game out of Ward's more-than-capable hands at times. That should be a focus in the spring.

 

3. Enter RB Duke Catalon

One way to help do that is by getting Catalon involved in the running game. The former 4-star recruit originally signed with Texas but has arrived at Houston and is now available to play a role after sitting out the 2015 season due to NCAA transfer rules. The addition of Catalon to the Cougars’ offense could potentially add a solid running option to the mix. His arrival comes at a key time after Houston saw its top two running backs move on after graduation. Catalon will have to earn the starting job, as he will face competition from sophomore Kaliq Kokuma, but this Texas high school star brings plenty of reasons for optimism and could be the perfect fit in the backfield with Ward in the fall.

 

4. Tightening up the Red Zone Defense

There really was not a whole lot to complain about with Houston last season. Even their 11th-ranked pass defense (in the AAC) could be explained away by having an offense forcing opponents to take to the air (Houston also intercepted 21 passes while allowing 20 TD passes). One area the Cougars’ defense could tighten up, not that it hurt them much in 2015, is in the red zone. Opponents scored inside Houston’s 20-yard line 91.43 percent of the time in 2015. The only school in the AAC to allow a higher scoring percentage in such situations was SMU. The Cougars gave up a touchdown inside the red zone a whopping 71.43 percent of the time, third highest in the conference.

 

5. Setting the Playoff Tone

The odds are probably pretty good Houston will not crack the four-team College Football Playoff at the end of the season, even if they happen to go undefeated in the regular season (which would include wins against Oklahoma and Louisville), but that should not stop the Cougars from setting their mindset to do just that. Houston could be a deeper team this season despite losing some key players to graduation and the NFL. Herman has been through the Playoff once before as an assistant at Ohio State, and he has brought that championship pedigree with him to Houston. Everything fell into place in his first season, aside from a misstep against UConn on the road (when Ward was injured). After experiencing the thrill of playing in the New Year’s Six, Houston is as equipped as any from the Group of Five to make a bold case for a Playoff spot if it handles its business on the field this season. Set the bar high now and try to clear it in the fall.

 

Pre-Spring Houston Outlook in the AAC

 

Few would argue Houston is in the best possible shape of any team in the American to make a run for the conference crown. Memphis and Cincinnati lose their starting quarterbacks from a year ago. Temple could lose an edge on defense and still needs offensive consistency. South Florida could be on the rise after a solid finish to the 2015 season. Houston, though, has all of the pieces in place with just a couple of holes to plug.

 

Having put together a 13-1 record last season, the expectations are high, and deservingly so. Keeping the focus on the practice field and not letting the national hype over the newest dominant power in the Group of Five not get out of control will be a key for Tom Herman and company. Houston is the favorite in the AAC barring any significant injuries to key players in the spring. They may even be the favorites should some injuries occur.

 

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

Teaser:
Houston Cougars 2016 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: Overtime, Olympics
Path: /overtime/michael-phelps-new-under-armour-commercial-brings-him-tears-olympic-swimmer-kevin-plank-ceo
Body:

Michael Phelps is preparing for a comeback and the world will soon take notice.

 

During a visit with Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, Phelps was able to see his new commercial. It was a powerful ad to say the least. The fitness apparel company is becoming know for the winning athletes they sponsor as well as the passionate messages they spread.

 

 

Phelps' reaction was just as emotional as the commercial itself. 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - 10:52
Path: /college-football/iowa-state-cylcones-2016-spring-football-preview
Body:

The have struggled in recent seasons, specifically with three consecutive years in which the team has lost at least nine games. However, there is a good deal of excitement surrounding the rebuilding program. New head coach Matt Campbell appears to be a solid hire, and there's talent and experience returning at the offensive skill positions, led by running back Mike Warren, quarterback Joel Lanning and wide receiver Allen Lazard.

 

Of course, there are many questions that must be answered as well, a process that will start when spring practice kicks off in Ames on March 8.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Iowa State’s Spring Practice

 

1. A New Sheriff in Town

The Paul Rhoads era began with a winning record in 2009, and three bowl  games in four years, but came to a close following three consecutive seasons in which the Cyclones lost nine or more games.

 

Campbell was hired following a four-year stint as the head coach at Toledo, where he posted a 35-15 record with the Rockets after being named interim head coach prior to the 2011 Military Bowl. Campbell led Toledo to three nine-win seasons and two appearances in the MAC Championship Game. Last year, Campbell's squad upset Arkansas early in the season and rose as high as No. 20 in the AP poll.


Related: 

 

2. And Plenty of Other New Faces

Campbell brought six assistants with him from Toledo, and the staff got off to a very strong start on the recruiting trail. The Cyclones signed 29 players — a very impressive number for a brand-new coach with a limited time to recruit — including several early enrollees that will compete this spring for starting spots. The Cyclones return 14 starters from last year's roster, which is tied with Texas for second most in the Big 12, but the new coaching staff, as well as the influx of new talent, means the competition will be fierce on the practice field.

 

Among the new recruits already on campus are defensive backs Thadd Daniels, a safety that will immediately be in the mix to replace Qujuan Daniels, and D'Andre Payne, who originally signed with Tennessee as a 4-star cornerback recruit in 2014. Offensive lineman Karson Green, the only junior college offensive lineman that will go through spring practice at Iowa State, has a great opportunity to earn a spot in the starting lineup, same for tight end Cliff Fernandez.

 

3. Building Depth at Receiver

Looking ahead to the spring, the Cyclones are in pretty good shape at the wide receiver positions. Allen Lazard led the way last season with 56 receptions for 808 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore, and has the talent to be an All-Big 12 performer.

 

Experience and depth are a concern behind Lazard (especially since D'Vario Montgomery was dismissed from the program in February and Quenton Bundrage graduated) but there are plenty of intriguing options, such as speedy senior Dondre Daley, Jauan Wesley and new faces that will arrive in the fall such as dynamic playmaker Deshaunte Jones and highly recruited tight end Chase Allen.

 

4. Potential Playmakers in the Secondary

There may not be a better collection of talent on the roster than that at defensive back. Cornerback Nigel Tribune has made 26 career starts to date, which is tied for the most on the team at any position. Tribune recorded 37 tackles and broke up seven passes last season, and has intercepted four passes in his career. An all-conference candidate in earlier years, Tribune struggled as a junior and was overshadowed by Brian Peavy.

 

Peavy led the team with 82 tackles and intercepted two passes last season as a freshman while the rest of the Cyclones combined to produce just three picks. The five interceptions tied Kansas State for the fewest in the Big 12.

 

Kamari Cotton-Moya was Big 12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year in 2014, but the safety was limited to just six games a year ago because of injury. A healthy Cotton-Moya would provide a boost both as a run-stopper and in coverage, plus make a few more big plays, which would help the Cyclones improve a defense that ranked No. 8 in the league last season (453.4 ypg allowed).

 

5. Rebuilding the Offensive Line

It's difficult to lead a quick turnaround for a head coach that also must rebuild along the line of scrimmage. The defensive line returns two starters, but depth is a concern. However, the offensive line must be completely rebuilt.

 

Only one starter returns from last year's unit - two-year starting tackle Jake Campos — who also happens to be the only lineman on the roster that has made more than one career start. Guard Nick Fett has the inside track to start in 2016 after becoming a regular contributor toward the end of last season and Sean Curtis and Jaypee Philbert have some experience as backups.

 

However, the Cyclones are likely to rely heavily up front on players like Bryce Meeker, who redshirted last season, as well as newcomers like Green. Those that will compete this spring will also be challenged by a new group in the fall that includes junior college center Oge Udeogu, and incoming freshman Sean Foster.

 

Iowa State Pre-Spring Outlook in the Big 12

 

Overall, the rebuilding process is likely to take a while at Iowa State, but the Cyclones appear to be moving in the right direction. Matt Campbell is one of the brightest up-and-coming head coaches in the industry, with a strong track record of success as a head coach and as an assistant at Toledo, as well as Bowling Green and Mount Union. And, some building blocks were already in place - most specifically Mike Warren, who was one of the top freshman running backs in the nation a year ago, and a talented secondary.

 

However, both the offensive and defensive lines are thin, and the Cyclones aren't nearly as talented as their conference counterparts like Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU. In fact, the only Big 12 programs Iowa State can match up with talent-wise are Kansas and Kansas State. While the newcomers Campbell and his staff were able to add to the mix will help, the Cyclones would likely need to overachieve in several key areas to end their three-year streak of losing seasons.

 

Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, a member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can also read Allen on Saturday Down South, Saturday Blitz and FanSided. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.

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Iowa State Cyclones 2016 Spring Football Preview
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They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2016 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the ’s .

 

No. 23 Phil Mickelson

Born: June 16, 1970, San Diego, Calif. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 42 | 2015 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2015 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,154,200 | World Ranking: 17

 

Gary Williams' Take: A member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and the second-greatest player of this generation with 42 PGA Tour wins, Mickelson is not done, and 2016 could be an especially fulfilling year for him. He has not won since the 2013 Open Championship despite being so close at the PGA at Valhalla in 2014 and finishing second at the Masters in 2015. Mickelson is supremely motivated by many things as he approaches the age of 46 in June. Winning a fourth Masters to tie Tiger Woods, winning a U.S. Open to complete the career Grand Slam, making the U.S. Olympic team and helping another Ryder Cup team to stop the European dominance in an event he has been a part of since 1995 top his wish list for 2016.

 

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 93
Wins: 5
2015 Performance:
    Masters – T2
    U.S. Open – T64
    British Open – T20
    PGA Championship – T18
Best Career Finishes
    Masters - 1 (2004, ’06, ’10)
    U.S. Open - 2/T2 (1999, 2002, ’04, ’06, ’09, ’13)
    British Open - 1 (2013)
    PGA Championship - 1 (2005)
Top-10 Finishes: 37
Top-25 Finishes: 52
Missed Cuts: 9

 

Athlon's 2016 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Zach Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. .

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Post date: Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - 10:22

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