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San Diego State is expected to be one of the top teams in the Mountain West this season, and the Aztecs will be pushing for a conference championship in style.
On Tuesday, the program unveiled new football uniforms and helmets for the upcoming year. And these uniforms and helmets have to be among the best of the offseason, as San Diego State incorporated the Aztec Calendar into the helmets and uniforms.
Read the full release from the school on the new uniforms. And here's a link to the full gallery from San Diego State.
Here’s a look at the new helmets and uniforms for 2015:
Norm Chow knew recruiting quarterback Max Wittek to Hawaii was a long shot.
“The Mountain West could not get a guy like that out of high school,” the Rainbow Warriors head coach Chow said at Mountain West media days in Las Vegas. “He’s a Power Five guy, Pac-12 guy.”
And indeed, Wittek went from a prep powerhouse in Southern California, Mater Dei, to a college powerhouse, USC. The highly touted prospect becoming a Trojan was just natural. He followed the same path as USC greats Matt Leinart and Matt Barkley, the latter of whom Wittek was once the heir apparent.
The natural fit, however, wasn’t to be. Wittek lost a drawn-out quarterback competition to Cody Kessler, the Trojans’ returning starter and Heisman Trophy contender.
With one season of eligibility remaining, Wittek has only the 2015 season to make his mark at the college level and prove himself as an NFL prospect.
“This is it,” Wittek said frankly.
Seeing the opportunity ahead of him, Chow said, motivates Wittek to have a big campaign for the Rainbow Warriors.
“He’s anxious to go,” Chow said. “This is kind of the second chance.”
Wittek’s motivation already manifested in what Chow described as a “leaner” physique than in the quarterback’s USC days. Wittek still goes about 240 pounds at around 6-foot-3, but his work in the weight room cultivated a cut frame that almost makes him look like a linebacker.
Wittek’s decision to transfer after the 2013 season narrowed the odds on Chow’s long shot considerably. After rumored flirtations with Florida and Texas, Wittek landed at Hawaii and has discovered a new natural fit.
“It was coach Chow that did for me,” Wittek explained. “Everything that he brings to the table, from the mentor standpoint and just his pedigree… If he tells a scout you’re the real deal, that means something.
“And just the history of [Hawaii] airing it out,” he added. “That didn’t hurt.”
Chow boasts a rich background working with quarterbacks, including Wittek’s fellow Mater Dei alum and 2004 Heisman winner Leinart.
Meanwhile, Hawaii’s track record of prolific passers includes one-time NCAA passing yardage leader Timmy Chang, and a fellow Mater Dei alum who made good on his own second chance as a Rainbow Warrior: Colt Brennan.
Brennan landed at Hawaii after his dismissal from Colorado in the mid-2000s, and developed into a Heisman finalist in the Rainbow Warriors’ historic 2007 season.
Setting the bar at an invitation to New York City and a spot in the Sugar Bowl may be asking a little much of Wittek. Most in and around the Hawaii program would probably settle for the program’s first bowl appearance since 2010.
But the quarterback’s new teammates offered him a tremendous vote of confidence.
“The guys voted him the [team] captain without any hesitation,” Chow said.
Earning a captainship without ever taking a snap is impressive, but Wittek didn’t receive it before making himself a part of the Hawaii locker room.
“It happened pretty naturally,” he said of his nomination as captain. “Last season, I went to all the games because I just wanted the team to know I cared.”
Showing care is one thing; preaching to Hawaii as it endured a tough 4-9 season, which included five one-possession defeats.
“Who wants to listen to the guy who can’t even play?” Wittek asked rhetorically. “So I just sat back and built relationships…then just kind of stepped into that role [as captain] and it worked pretty nicely.”
Wittek’s presence through a season full of heartache was obviously not lost on his new teammates. Offensive lineman Ben Clarke said the combination of Wittek’s respect within the locker room and impressive play once he became eligible for practices made the decision to name him captain easy.
“It was important to see him there at every game,” Clarke said. “Then going into spring ball, getting to play with him, everybody could see what he could do, but he already knew everyone.”
One of the Rainbow Warriors with whom Wittek’s become acquainted is wide receiver Marcus Kemp, a 6-foot-5 standout capable of pushing Colorado State All-American Rashard Higgins as the Mountain West’s most productive pass-catcher.
Kemp will be one of Wittek’s favorite targets come fall, the quarterback said, and the duo will get ample opportunity to connect with Hawaii employing a revised offensive outlook under coordinator Don Bailey.
Bailey brings an up-tempo style Wittek calls “controlled speed,” which last season produced the Football Championship Subdivision’s leading passer in Idaho State quarterback Justin Arias.
Hawaii’s new offensive dynamics make for a natural fit with Wittek. The stage is set for the quarterback to flourish as his lofty high school credentials suggested he would.
With an impressive enough season, Wittek could reunite with Kessler during the NFL Draft next spring — something his former Trojan teammate is rooting for.
“Obviously we were competing for the same spot. We weren’t dumb; we knew going back and forth one of us was going to get [the starting USC job] and one of us was going to leave,” Kessler said. “I just talked to him last week… he’s doing a really good job. I told him I wish him nothing but the best.
“We’re still good friends to this day. It was business,” Kessler added.
Wittek's ability to build relationships is indeed the cornerstone of his second-chance season. His destiny may not have been USC and the Pac-12, but his relationship with Chow and the Hawaii roster could see Wittek finally shine in the Mountain West.
There will be plenty of new faces and looks in Madison this season, as the Badgers are going through their third coaching change since the end of the 2012 season. Thankfully for Wisconsin, the new coach is a former Badger quarterback and offensive coordinator who knows the program, the people and the expectations.
Speaking of expectations, Wisconsin has played in the Big Ten Championship Game in three of the last four years. The bar is set — and in the minds of the Badger faithful — there is no excuse not to reach it again. Can Paul Chryst rally this talented-yet-inexperienced bunch and lead them to another division title? That's the big question in Madison.
Wisconsin's Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Dealing With Another Coaching Change
This is the third coach the Wisconsin senior class will have played for. Can the Badgers remain resilient in the face of constant change from year to year? Chryst's coaching style in terms of X's and O's probably won't change much from what Wisconsin ran under Gary Andersen. All-Big Ten-caliber talent at various spots on the defense and upperclassmen at key positions on offense should help with whatever transition there will be.
2. Can the Offensive Line Gel Early?
We know Wisconsin has recruited some talented linemen as of late. Only two starters return from a season ago, and some of those young recruits are going to be starting as underclassmen. There is little time for growing pains, as the first test of the season comes right out of the gates in the form of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
3. Can Corey Clement Carry the Load?
We know Clement is talented, as he nearly reached 1,000 yards on the ground while playing second fiddle to Melvin Gordon in 2014. The fact is, he's a different kind of back in terms of his physical build and his running style than both Gordon and James Conner — Chryst's elite back at Pitt. If Clement is unable to withstand the number of carries expected from a feature back at Wisconsin, we may see much more of the big, physical freshman Taiwon Deal in the Badger backfield.
4. Joel Stave Needs to be a Factor Under Center
Stave has struggled with consistency throughout his career. He'll have a dependable go-to receiver in Alex Erickson — the senior who caught 55 passes in 2014. After that, there isn't a whole lot of experience in the receiving corps. The good thing about the Chryst/Joe Rudolph offense is that it does feature a heavy dose of tight ends in the passing game. This should take some of the pressure off Stave and reduce his tendency to try and force something downfield that isn't there. If the passing game doesn't develop, the Badgers may not be talented enough in the run-game to overcome their predictability.
5. Can the Defense Make Plays?
Being stingy alone may not be enough to win the Big Ten West — Wisconsin's defensive unit will need to do more to maximize offensive possessions. The Badgers must establish a consistent pass rush up front, while increasing the number of takeaways from the secondary (only 6 INTs in 2014). There are some stars roaming around on defense, but they'll need to set the tone for an otherwise young and inexperienced group.
Detroit was one of the final teams to commence training camp, as veterans reported on Sunday. The Lions are looking to improve upon an 11-5 season that ended in despair following a crushing 24-20 loss to the Cowboys in the Wild Card round.
Optimism is brimming in Allen Park following the team’s first trip to the playoffs since 2011, but there are plenty of detractors outside the organization that wonder if the success is sustainable with some key personal losses on defense.
Let’s take a look at five key questions surrounding the Detroit Lions as they enter the 2015 season:
How Do You Replace Ndamukong Suh?
The front office acted quickly once word came out that Suh would be signing with Miami by securing a trade for five-time Pro Bowler Haloti Ngata minutes after the free agency period opened. Ngata will not provide the pass-rushing presence Suh brought to the line, but will more than hold his own in stopping the run — the No. 1 point of emphasis in defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s defense.
Alongside Ngata will either be second-year man Caraun Reid, who spent the offseason training with Suh in Florida, or free-agent signee Tyrunn Walker, who was heavily sought after by other teams. Fourth-round draft pick Gabe Wright also will factor into the rotation, and starting defensive end Jason Jones will kick inside on passing downs.
Matching last season’s 42 sacks will be difficult without Suh attracting double teams on a consistent basis, but the Lions should still remain among the league’s best at stopping the run with the addition of Ngata to the group.
Will Matthew Stafford Take the Next Step?
Seems like we have been wondering this very thing the past few seasons now with Stafford, but here we are again in 2015 with the same questions lingering around the Lions’ franchise quarterback. In his first season under the direction of new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, Stafford made necessary strides by improving his completion percentage while also lowering his interception totals. With that, though, came a peeled-back offense that did not take enough shots down the field — leading to a 22nd ranking in scoring.
With a restocked offensive line, two Pro Bowl targets on the outside and a full season under his belt in the Lombardi offense, excuses should be out the window at this point. If Detroit wants to reach its immediate goal of a division title, Stafford has to be better in all facets of the position.
Does Eric Ebron Live Up to His Draft Status in 2015?
To put it bluntly, the Ebron selection was not a popular choice in Detroit. The Lions had already re-signed starting tight end Brandon Pettigrew to a new four-year deal. Undrafted free agent Joseph Fauria just caught seven touchdown passes the year prior. Three of the team’s key defensive tackles were all impending free agents with soon-to-be Defensive Rookie of the Year Aaron Donald still sitting on the board. And to make matters worse, Odell Beckham Jr. and Zack Martin were chosen within the next six picks following the Ebron selection — both of which have the look of potential superstars after just one season.
Despite the trepidations amongst the fan base that Ebron can live up to his draft status, confidence within the team has not wavered. Wide receiver Golden Tate has expressed on multiple occasions this offseason they expect the young tight end to thrive in his second year as he gains a better understanding of the offense.
While these types of fluff quotes are a standard during the offseason, it is evident that Ebron will be given every opportunity to become that third target the team needs behind Tate and Calvin Johnson .
Has the Offensive Line Improved?
General manager Martin Mayhew certainly did his part in attempting to improve an offensive front that gave up 45 sacks a season ago, using the draft to not only select guard Laken Tomlinson with the team’s first-round pick, but also landing the versatile Manny Ramirez in a trade with the Broncos. Tomlinson, an All-ACC selection out of Duke, did not allow a single sack last season with the Blue Devils, and should immediately step in at left guard to fortify that side of the line along with Riley Reiff.
Ramirez was brought over from Denver as insurance in case Tomlinson or second-year center Travis Swanson are not ready for starting duties right out of the gate. The eight-year veteran has the ability to play both center and guard, but the hope is that the younger options are prepared to play immediately.
The remaining concern on the line is at right tackle where LaAdrian Waddle is still on the mend from a torn ACL suffered last season and will start training camp on the PUP list. Second-year undrafted free agent Cornelius Lucas filled in well in Waddle’s place, including a start in the playoffs against the Cowboys, but the expectation is for Waddle to regain his starting spot when he is back to full strength.
Can the Lions Win a Division Title in 2015?
Possible, yes. If that is to happen, a few things need to occur.
Navigating through the early portion of the schedule is job No. 1. The Lions are on the road in three of their first four games, including matchups against the Broncos and a Monday night tilt with Seattle. Step two is trying to find a way to win at Lambeau — a feat that has not taken place in 24 long, painful years.
Even with the loss of Suh, the Lions are not devoid of talent. Emerging stars like Ziggy Ansah, Darius Slay and DeAndre Levy will help keep the defense ranked near the top of the league, while the offense will undoubtedly improve in the second year of Joe Lombardi’s system.
A return to the playoffs is not the only objective for this team any more. If Detroit is to reach its ultimate goals, overcoming the Packers will largely determine if the Lions can become kings of the North and achieve a home playoff game for the first time since 1993.
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois and also currently writes for CollegeFootballGeek.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.
Rob Gronkowski singing a country song about iced coffee was not on my bucket list.
The good folks at Dunkin' Donuts thought it would be a good idea for Gronk, with fellow musician David Ortiz, to make a song about the wonders of iced coffee. Country may not be for everyone but unless you want to get Gronk-spiked, you'll watch it and like it.
Athlon Sports is going division by division, asking and (trying to) answering the biggest question for every team in the league entering the 2015 season.
Denver: How do Gary Kubiak and Peyton Manning mesh?
The former Houston Texans head coach brings a run-first offense to Denver after John Elway fired John Fox and many wonder how his system meshes with the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer. Two things that will help, Manning will be significantly healthier than last year and the offensive line should be better than it finished. Manning will be much stronger, more durable and ready for one last run. Losing Ryan Clady in the summer hurts the O-line but this team addressed the issues by using two of their first four picks in the draft and signing two interior blockers in free agency. If the line is better and Manning is healthy, he will work just fine in the system and Denver should be celebrating its fifth straight AFC West title.
Kansas City: How healthy is the star power on defense?
Alex Smith and the passing game needs to improve but Jeremy Maclin and an improved O-line figure to help that. Justin Houston posted the quietest 22-sack season in history but there remain question marks on what could be a good defensive unit. Up-the-middle stalwart Dontari Poe recently had back surgery, Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Johnson and steady defensive end Mike DeVito both suffered torn Achilles last year in Week 1, superstar safety Eric Berry is battling back from lymphoma and rising corner Sean Smith will miss three games with a DUI-related suspension. Even first-round pick Marcus Peters was kicked off his team during his final season at Washington. Should all these pieces return to full health and stay focused; the defense could be one of the NFL’s best.
Oakland: How fast can this young team grow up?
Last year, the Raiders lacked any running game and were very old on defense. But in just two quick years, this team has added a lot of intriguing young talent. Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and Gabe Jackson were all rookie standouts last year so general manager Reggie McKenzie and new head coach Jack Del Rio are hoping that trend continues with more rookies — Amari Cooper, Mario Edwards, Clive Walford — and some young free agents. This team appears to be at least a year away from competing in the AFC West but the front office has done a remarkable job stockpiling quality young players. How quickly they grow up will be key for the Bay Area in 2015.
San Diego: Where is Philip Rivers head?
The fiery and emotional San Diego quarterback is entering the final year of his contract and was at the center of two major offseason stories for the Chargers — a potential trade for Marcus Mariota and his desire NOT to play in Los Angeles. The 10-year vet is coming off two big seasons under coach Mike McCoy and both the O-line and running game have been upgraded. How balky is Rivers' back? Do the relocation rumors hurt the Bolts' contract negotiations? Does the longtime franchise quarterback want a change? This team has been on the verge for years, winning either eight or nine games in four of the last five years, so one has to wonder if this is the Chargers' last shot with their star quarterback.
Larry Fedora came to North Carolina in December 2011 with a great offensive reputation based on his success as a coordinator at Oklahoma State and as the head coach at Southern Mississippi. In no time, the Tar Heels offense improved, averaging 13 more points per game in 2012 than they did in ‘11.
Now Fedora must fix the other side of the ball and he has brought in a well-known defensive mind to get things going in the right direction. Former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik will have his work cut out for him as he takes over a unit that ranked among the worst in the country in all four major defensive categories.
North Carolina’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Adapting to Chizik’s Scheme
One thing is obvious: last year’s plan set forth by defensive coordinator Vic Koenning didn’t work. The Tar Heels defense was most effective against the pass… and this unit still finished No. 101 in the country in that department. Chizik, who was an outstanding defensive coordinator at Auburn and Texas before becoming a head coach, will switch to a 4-3 from the previous 4-2-5.
2. Getting Stouter Up Front on Defense
North Carolina really struggled stopping the run last season, ranking 117th by coughing up 240.5 rushing yards per game. The defensive linemen have pretty good size and have some talent; it’s all about learning their assignments this August. The Heels only had 22 sacks last year, but ends Jessie Rogers and Dajuan Drennon should improve that number this season. So in both defending the run and pressuring the quarterback, the defensive line must make some progress.
3. The Development of the Offensive Line
Four of five starters are back and new left tackle Brantley Spain has a ton of potential. That’s the good news. However, despite the strong showing of the offense in 2014, the line struggled at times. A lot will be learned in camp as the hopefully improving offensive line battles the hopefully improving defensive front on a daily basis.
4. The Running Game
UNC was not a great rushing team last year and a lot of that is on the offensive line. But Fedora would like to establish some type of rotation with the running backs. T.J. Logan will be the starter and he is a solid all-purpose back. What the Heels really need is for 220-pound Elijah Hood to stay healthy and become a between the tackles punisher to complement Logan. Quarterback Marquise Williams led the Heels in rushing last year and with the star quarterback recovering from hip surgery, North Carolina needs more out of a conventional running attack this season.
5. The Kicking Game
Two kickers combined to go 6-of-13 on field goals last year with a long of 30 yards. Yuck. Nick Weiler was one of those two kickers and he is the odds-on favorite to win the job going into camp. But freshman Freeman Jones will have a chance to claim the spot. Another freshman, Corbin Daly, is the leading candidate to replace punter Tommy Hibbard.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
Earlier in the summer, Urban Meyer got revenge on a player who parked in his spot. Now the tables have turned.
It seems the Buckeyes coached parked in Jacoby Boren's preferred spot and the offensive lineman wasn't having it. Taylor Decker sent a tweet that will undoubtedly have them running suicides until they drop.
Ohio State is having way too much fun this offseason.
West Virginia enters the 2015 season with its deepest roster since joining the Big 12. More than 50 players have Big 12 experience and head coach Dana Holgorsen has not hidden his excitement about the upcoming season.
However, with fall camp set to begin, there remain multiple questions on both sides of the ball that will have a large impact on the Mountaineers’ success this season.
West Virginia’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Can the Mountaineers Survive October?
WVU has possibly the most difficult October of any school in the country. The Mountaineers travel to Oklahoma on Oct. 3 followed by a home game against Oklahoma State. Then the Mountaineers travel to Baylor on Oct. 17 and, folllwing a bye, finishes off the month at TCU on the 29th. While WVU will most likely be favored against Oklahoma State at home the other three road games are challenging. Getting through October at 2-2 would be a feat, 3-1 would be impressive, and 4-0 would be a legendary month for Holgorsen’s team.
2. Who Replaces Kevin White and Mario Alford?
While WVU has a history of producing NFL-caliber wide receivers, replacing both White and Alford will be a tall task. Holgorsen has praised redshirt sophomore Shelton Gibson as being one of the fastest wide receivers he has ever coached. Unfortunately Gibson is unproven on offense, as he was used primarily on special teams last season. Junior Daikiel Shorts is just slightly more experienced than Gibson. Incoming freshmen Jovon Durante and Gary Jennings may see significant playing time in their first seasons. Jordan Thompson is the most experienced wide receiver on the roster but he will work primarily out of the slot. Moral of the story, no matter who starts on the outside receiver position he will be inexperienced.
3. Will the Secondary be the Heart and Soul of the Defense?
Karl Joesph, KJ Dillon, Dravon Askew-Henry and Daryl Worley all return, but who plays opposite of Worley? Smart money is on Terrell Chestnut, who was named to the Wuerffel Award watch list, but can he stay injury free? If Chestnut is the man, offenses will likely attack him early and often as Worley is considered by many to be a shutdown corner.
Sophomore Dravon Askew-Henry emerged as a potential shutdown corner last season as a true freshman and there are incoming players who have the ability to contribute there as well. The secondary, which is arguably the best in the Big 12, will have plenty of experience and talent, both of which is needed in a conference like that likes to go to the air early and often.
4. Will the Defensive Front be Able to Compete Against Larger Offensive Lines?
WVU returns the same defensive line that had issues against larger offensive lines and had difficulty at times stopping the run last season. Can the Mountaineers’ front measure up against larger offensive lines such as Oklahoma’s?
During the spring senior linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski was moved to the outside in favor of senior Jared Barber, who is returning to the middle following ACL surgery. Will the changes in the middle hurt the defense’s chemistry and overall speed? Will they miss Kwiatkowski in a spot where he has previously thrived?
5. Will Skyler Howard be the Answer at Quarterback?
Holgorsen has a history of developing quarterbacks dating back to his tenure at the Houston. However, the most successful quarterbacks under Holgorsen have been primarily pocket passers. Howard does not exactly fit that mold. Howard became the Mountaineers’ starter late last season, replacing Clint Trickett against Kansas State. Howard stayed top the depth chart due to what turned out to be a career-ending concussion suffered by Trickett, and finished the season 1-1 as the starter.
While Howard is comfortable outside the pocket, Holgorsen’s offense doesn’t exactly conform to that type of improvisation. Howard brings options to the WVU offense that have not been available in recent seasons, but his accuracy needs to improve. Will Holgorsen change his offensive scheme to accommodate Howard’s strengths or will the quarterback have to conform to Holgorsen’s style?
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.
After losing four cornerbacks this offseason, as well as their top two running backs, there was no question the New England Patriots would feature a number of new faces in significant roles in 2015. While high-round draft picks and high-profile external free agents often get most of the attention, mid-round rookies and low-priced veterans are often the Pats' players of choice.
With a handful of training camp practices under their belt, these new faces could make big impacts this season.
We begin with the two headline external free agent signings — defensive end Jabaal Sheard and tight end Scott Chandler — both of whom have been thrown right into the fire. Chandler will combine with Rob Gronkowski to form twin towers of power in the red zone especially, while Sheard has been seen lining up in three-defensive end packages along with Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones.
Sheard and Chandler were handpicked for their perfect fit into the defense and offense, respectively, in New England, and both appear to be fitting right in.
The Patriots signed multiple free agent cornerbacks this offseason, and early on it is former Oakland Raider Tarrell Brown who is standing out, making multiple pass breakups in Sunday's practice. Slot corner Robert McClain also has drawn some praise from Belichick, while Bradley Fletcher has remained under the radar so far, but is sure to get plenty of reps in the preseason.
Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler appears to be the Patriots' best cornerback, while Logan Ryan remains in the mix with his smarts and versatility. It's still early but the Pats' secondary hasn't been the disaster many thought it might be, at least in practice. We'll see how they do against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers next week, a challenge for even the best secondaries out there.
With at least two running back roles available, the competition will be fierce. LeGarrette Blount looked unstoppable in his first practice after spending a couple extra days on the PUP list until he passed his conditioning test. Tyler Gaffney took a vicious hit in Saturday's first padded practice and hasn't been seen since while Jonas Gray hasn't garnered much early attention.
The passing down role is more wide open, with James White and Travaris Cadet both getting reps with the top offense and both making some notable plays. Proficiency in pass protection could be the difference in this battle, but both could find themselves on the roster.
Finally we end at the guard spot where Dan Connolly's retirement and Ryan Wendell's recovery have left the Pats with holes at both starting guard spots. The Pats have inserted rookies Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason right out of the gate, with both showing flashes. Mason, whose size (6-1) could be a concern, made a notable hit on monstrous defender Zach Moore, demonstrating Mason knows how to utilize his leverage.
It would be quite a feat to start the season with two rookie guards, but with Wendell's eventual return we should get more clarity on how a realistic competition will play out. At this point Jackson seems a lock to step right into the fire.
There's a still a long way to go and possible injuries to overcome, but the position battles are off to a strong start with a number of new faces playing prominent roles.
(Photos by David Silverman, courtesy of www.patriots.com)
It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used throughout the offseason or regular season.
In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2015, Athlon asked coaches around the nation to talk anonymously about their opponents.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
Coaches Anonymously Scout BYU for 2015
“Without Taysom (Hill), they were very average. I think he gives them a chance to be an elite team because he’s a difference maker.”
“It will be interesting to see if they can rebuild it around him (Hill) without having him full speed in the spring.”
“They’ve got some dudes that when they walk off the bus, they look like the real deal.”
“Offensively, their skill guys really stand out in some of the finer details. Their blocking out on the perimeter is really key to what they are able to get done with their style of offense.”
“I love their center (Tejan Koroma). He was a freshman last year, and he was just dang good already.”
“It really hurt their running game when Jamaal Williams got hurt. Just like Taysom, if he comes back healthy, they’ve got a chance to be really good. But that’s a big question mark.”
“Their personnel can be tough to scout because they’ve always got guys coming back from (LDS) missions, but you know they’re going to be loaded at linebacker. That’s just who they are.”
“They lose pretty much the entire back end of their defense, so they probably have some question marks there.”
“I think they’re a team that is a little bit up and down emotionally for whatever reason.”
The South Carolina Gamecocks are a program at a crossroads. Twelve months ago Gamecocks fans watched previews on the SEC Network predicting an 11-1 season and national championship contention. And just two years ago the program's greatest team took the field.
Instead, 2014 produced an unsatisfying 7-6 campaign. It speaks well of the recent state of South Carolina football that 7-6 and a bowl victory is considered unsatisfying. But that won't continue unless USC improves this season. Here are the five questions that must be answered for that to happen.
South Carolina’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Who is the Starting Quarterback?
Sophomore Connor Mitch tops the depth chart. Mitch is the second-most prolific passer in the history of North Carolina high school football. He is to be challenged by former walk-on Perry Orth and freshman Michael Scarnecchia. It's Mitch's job to lose. If Mitch can't beat out a walk-on or a freshman for the starting position, or if head coach Steve Spurrier resorts to flip-flopping quarterbacks as he did prior to the Connor Shaw era, something is wrong.
2. How Much Will the Defense Improve?
South Carolina registered only 14 sacks in 2014. The only opponents who didn't score 20 or more points were Furman and South Alabama. New defensive coordinator Jon Hoke will switch from a 4-2-5 to a 4-3 base on non-passing downs. Hoke learned the zone blitz from Dom Capers and was Spurrier's defensive coordinator at Florida from 1999-2001. Remember in 2000 when Carolina had a 21-3 lead buoyed by two blocked punts at Florida, then were outscored 38-0 in the final three quarters with the SEC East title on the line?
The pass rush must improve. Spurrier has brought in the coach who can do it. The question is if the players are good enough, which brings us too…
3. What Impact Will the Transfers Have?
Spurrier and Hoke added two transfers from Kansas, junior college defensive end Marquavius Lewis and former Kansas Jayhawks safety Isaiah Johnson.
Lewis was to Hutchinson Community (Kan.) College what Jadeveon Clowney was to the Gamecocks, recording 39.5 tackles for loss and 18.5 sacks during his JUCO career and leading the Bobcats to a program-best No. 4 final ranking.
Johnson accounted for 148 tackles in two seasons at Kansas.
Now, in a zone blitz, those totals are enticing. Both players must play to such levels for the Gamecocks to return to the top of the SEC East.
4. The Spurrier Question
It's not how much longer he'll coach. It's "Will Spurrier have 'That Game?'"
Carolina fans don't want to knock Spurrier. No other South Carolina coach has won 11 games in a season, much less for three straight years. But in 2013 "That Game" cost the Gamecocks the SEC East crown and a potential shot at a trip for the BCS National Championship Game. When Shaw was knocked out at Tennessee with South Carolina holding a 21-20 lead, Spurrier turned conservative with Dylan Thompson at the helm, running the ball three times from inside his 30 in the Gamecocks’ final possession, then inexplicitly calling two time uts on fourth down before punting the ball away.
A first down would've likely won the game. Instead, Spurrier so horribly mismanaged the circumstance he not only gave Tennessee possession for the winning score in a 23-21 loss, he also couldn't save any time for his team to get the ball back.
In 2010 "That Game," was a 31-28 loss at Kentucky, where with 11 seconds left and no timeouts Spurrier disdained a 37-yard-field goal try for a Steven Garcia pass into the end zone, resulting in an interception. Maybe South Carolina history is so filled with "That Game" examples that Gamecock fans are willing to forgive such strategic gaffes. But South Carolina didn't lose to Navy in 1984 because of strategy, and Spurrier never had an undefeated season in Florida.
He always had "That Game."
5. Pharoh Cooper’s Heisman Candidacy?
Cooper isn't on the preseason Heisman lists. But last season he was named first team All-SEC as a sophomore after accounting for more than 1,400 total yards, including 1,136 receiving on 69 catches. He also set the South Carolina single-game receiving record with 233 yards against Tennessee, and did everything a player can do on offense except kick. Given his ability to score or make a big play in a myriad of ways, a collection of big games against powerhouse opponents could propel Cooper into the Heisman conversation. What's more, a monster season from Cooper is a necessity if the Gamecocks are to recapture the glory they enjoyed at the start of the decade.
— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson has been a contributor to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 15 years. He has covered the Steelers, Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.
It's hard to imagine Michael Jordan as anything but dominant.
There was a time, however, when people talked about the potential of a young MJ rather than the legacy. In this video there are rare interviews and highlights that true basketball fans will drool over. It'll give you even more appreciation for the man, the myth, the legend that is His Airness.
It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
Pac-12 Coaches Anonymously Scout Conference Foes
“They were really a handful of plays away from going 8–5, and most of it was because of their young kids, so that bodes pretty well for the future.”
“With Jared Goff, the numbers weren’t dramatically different from his freshman to sophomore year, but the film was much better. He’s pretty accurate throwing to all three levels, he doesn’t throw interceptions, and he doesn’t get sacked very often. That’s what you need in Sonny Dykes’ system. He had a clear conviction about the guy throwing him out there as a freshman, and it’s probably going to pay off this year.”
“They don’t have receivers that blow you away athletically, but they’ll go four or five wide and try to find a good matchup on the perimeter.”
“When they’re in a rhythm and playing at a high tempo, that’s tough to stop.”
“They had some issues defensively, and I think you’ll see a lot of new personnel on the back end because teams just threw it over the top on them all day long.”
“They brought in some juco guys, so we’ll see if that makes a difference. I know they feel like their depth has improved across the board.”
“Their pass rush was basically nonexistent last year.”
I think they’ll be better, but there aren’t a lot of easy wins in this league. They can definitely get to a bowl game, but it’s a thin line when you’re still trying to plug holes and rebuild.”
“It’s not like this is the first time they’ve lost key guys and had to re-boot a little bit.”
“I read a bunch of stuff after the championship game about how their window was closing without Marcus Mariota, but they’re still going to be really good.”
“I haven’t really studied the quarterback from Eastern Washington (Vernon Adams) yet, but I’m sure they did their homework and feel like he’s got a chance to help them. Without having him in the spring, it’ll be interesting to see how much ground he can make up.”
“Their depth at receiver is sickening, and a lot of those guys can do different things. It’s not just all speed; they’re pretty good blockers too.”
“They’re so talented on the perimeter — I don’t think the next guy has to come in and be Marcus Mariota.”
“I’m not sure it would have made a difference against Ohio State, but I think losing Devon Allen in the Rose Bowl really hurt them.”
“Royce Freeman is already a grown man. He’s everything you want in a running back, and he’s only going to get better and stronger. He was as good as anyone the last half of the season.”
“They won’t be as good up front, but they got experience for some of their younger guys last year when Jake Fisher and Hroniss Grasu got hurt.”
“Switching Charles Nelson over to defense is classic Oregon. They recruit the guy to play receiver, he’s great down the stretch and then he willingly moves to defensive back because they needed more help there. That says it all about the culture they’ve got there.”
Related: Pac-12 Predictions for 2015
“They were one of the most prolific passing teams in the country the last two years, but unless one of their freshman quarterbacks is all-world, they’re going to have to completely change their identity and play more ball control like they did at Wisconsin. I don’t think that’s what they want to be long-term because they brought in Dave Baldwin to run the spread, but they just have a lot of question marks at quarterback.”
“Storm Woods is pretty talented, but he’s never been the focus of their offense. I don’t know exactly how the new staff is going to use him, but I’m sure those guys put in some tape of Melvin Gordon and said, ‘Let’s go,’ to fire him up, which is really half the battle. If he buys in, they’re experienced enough up front that they’ll be decent running the ball.”
“From a personnel standpoint, they’re pretty much starting over on defense, so your guess is as good as mine.”
“We know what Kalani (Sitake) did at Utah, but they’re going to need some time to get the right kind of players in there to run that system.”
“I don’t know why it hasn’t totally clicked with Kevin Hogan. He looks the part and he doesn’t get them beat, but for whatever reason he just hasn’t gotten to that next level everybody envisioned when he played so well as a freshman.”
“You can’t totally judge him (Hogan) on the numbers because of how conservative they play on offense. Still, it was a struggle last year. If they hadn’t turned it around the last three games, I’m not sure he’d have stuck around.”
“If he comes back with a big senior year, they have a chance because their tight ends, receivers and running backs are all good enough to win games in this league. It’s a solid group.”
“Ed McCaffrey’s kid (Christian McCaffrey) is going to be a big-time player for them. They’ve got to figure out a way to get him more touches.”
“Defensively, I think it’ll be hard for them to get back to where they were a couple of years ago.”
“It looked like their young guys got better as the year went on, but I just don’t see another Trent Murphy or Shayne Skov out there.”
“You can talk about system and player development, but you still need some difference-makers. (Blake) Martinez is good, he’s just not at that level. If the defensive end (Solomon Thomas, who redshirted in 2014) is as good as advertised, maybe he could be that guy.”
“From the outside looking in, it seems like Chris Petersen had to clean up some stuff off the field from the previous staff, and that’s never easy. At Boise, he had the best talent in the league and everyone in the organization understood their culture. I think he figured out pretty quick this is a different deal.”
“When you look at some of the big-time guys they lost, I think they may take a few steps back before they move forward.”
“You have to give their staff the benefit of the doubt until some of their guys (they recruited) hit the field, but they’re going to have some personnel problems this year.”
“It’s hard to get a feel for the offense because they’re completely new up front and they’re basically starting over at quarterback. That’s not usually a great formula for success.”
“The backup from last year (Jeff Lindquist) has some experience, but they may have better options with their newcomers. It’s just hard to say until you see them on the field.”
“I don’t see how they’re going to rebuild the front seven on the fly unless all the guys who were backups last year are ready to start. They were pretty good there last season, but they lost a ton.”
“The secondary is probably the most established group on their team. Budda Baker was one of the better freshmen we saw last year. He could be one of those guys people just don’t throw on.”
“I hate to say this, but it may have been a blessing in disguise that Connor Halliday got hurt last year because they got a look at the other kid (Luke Falk) and probably have a pretty good idea what they’re working with going into the season. I don’t really know how good he is, but he threw the ball seventy-something times against Arizona State (45-of-74) so it’s not like they tried to hide him.”
“They bring back their entire offensive line back, and those guys were solid last year. They’ve got kids in the program now who know the system and what to expect.”
“They’re going to need some newcomers to show up ready to play on defense. They had one of the better linemen in the league last year (Xavier Cooper), but he and the nose tackle who was pretty good (Kalafitoni Pole) are both gone, so I’m not sure who they’ve got in there.”
“With a new defensive coordinator, I think they’ll make some changes schematically and look at some guys who maybe didn’t play a lot last year.”
“When you play like they do offensively, you’ve got to cause some havoc with your defense, and they just didn’t create a lot of turnovers.”
“You can say they got some breaks, and they did, but to come in with a (redshirt) freshman quarterback (Anu Solomon) and a freshman tailback (Nick Wilson) and win the best division in college football outside of the SEC West is pretty tough to do.”
“It seemed like Rich was playing mind games with the kid (Solomon) all season, and then he ripped him after the bowl game and said he had to win the job again. I laughed at that one. The guy threw for 4,000 yards as a freshman and is probably going to have a great year.”
“Their receivers and running backs are just fast across the board. Austin Hill was their third option in the passing game last year, and he’d probably be a front-line guy just about anywhere in the league. Cayleb Jones did nothing at Texas and instantly becomes a 1,000-yard guy in that system.”
“The tough thing about playing their defense is you can’t really scheme for Scooby Wright. Your guys know where he’s coming from and what he’s trying to do, but his motor is just off the charts, and he’s going to get five or six opportunities to make a game-changing play just off effort. He’s a special dude.”
“They need to find another guy besides Scooby who can pressure the quarterback.”
“People are going to try to throw over the top on them until their DBs prove they can cover. Boise State exposed them a little bit in the bowl game.”
“I can’t speak to their locker room dynamic last year, but I’m not sure they were playing the right quarterback. I know Taylor Kelly was their guy and they couldn’t take his job over an injury, but to me, they were more dynamic when Mike Bercovici was in there. He’s got legitimate arm talent.”
“Jaelen Strong made their passing game look better than it was last year. They had pretty good skill on the perimeter, but he was just so much physically stronger than the DBs in this league, it was almost comical. That’s a big loss for them.”
“The reason they’re moving D.J. Foster to the slot is because Demario Richard is the real deal. Physically, he looks like a grown man and runs like it too.”
“Todd Graham ran the no-huddle back going back to Tulsa, and his teams have always put up a lot of points, but people forget he’s really a defensive guy. They’re probably more established in what they want to do on that side of the ball than they are offensively with everyone coming back but the safety (Damarious Randall).”
“He likes to blitz and get your offense out of rhythm. They switch up their pressure so much your QB has to really be on his toes and figure out where it’s coming from.”
“They’re one of the tougher teams to prepare for.”
“When you’ve got two senior cornerbacks and an all-conference guy like Jordan Simone on the back end, you can take some chances with your pressure.”
“I don’t think there’s a tougher rebuilding job in the country when you think about how far down they were coming into the Pac-12 and all the sudden everyone else in the division has it rolling a little bit.”
“They’re doing the right things to get on a level playing field from a facility standpoint, and they’re getting better. It’s just hard to get the momentum going until you start winning games.”
“You’re just not going to win very much giving up as many yards as they did in the running game (204.8 ypg) and not creating turnovers or sacks.”
“I think it’s pretty simple. If they don’t get better up front with the schedule they play, they might struggle to win a game in the league.”
“They’re maturing on offense. Sefo (Liufau) has a lot of snaps under his belt, and if he can be a little more consistent in his decision-making he can be really effective before it’s all said and done.”
“(Nelson) Spruce is just a fantastic route-runner. I was a little surprised he didn’t put his name in the draft after blowing up last year, but I’m not sure if the NFL guys are sold on him because of his (lack of) speed.”
“With what they’ve got coming back in the running game, I think their offense is going to be a net-plus.”
“I don’t think they’ll mind coming in a little bit more under the radar this year. The media got so fixated on the quarterback (Brett Hundley) last year, it kind of glossed over some of their other issues. This year people are going to talk about the new quarterback and forget that they’re bringing, like, everybody else back.”
“I don’t think they’re as talented player-for-player as SC, but they’re not that far behind.”
“(Jim) Mora is a hell of a recruiter.”
If they’re not a dominant team running the ball this year, I’ll be pretty surprised.”
“They took their medicine up front last year, but they were figuring it out by the end, and they’re going to be deeper with that group coming back.”
“I’m not sure how many people even realize Paul Perkins ended up the leading rusher in the conference. He’s not a guy with electric speed, but he’s a pretty smooth runner. He’s a bigger weapon than people give him credit for.”
“Everyone on the West Coast saw the (Josh) Rosen kid in high school, and he’s going to be really good. He’s a big, fluid, pro-style guy who probably fits what they want to do better than Hundley. It’s just a matter of whether they want to throw him out there right away. Getting him in the spring is huge.”
“If they figure out who’s going to play linebacker for them they’ll be the best defense in the league because they’re loaded up front and on the back end.”
“Kenny Clark is really the key in that three-man front. You can put two guys on him, but he’ll still make plays or free up space for their linebackers. He’s a monster.”
Related: Pac-12 Predictions for 2015
“They may have the best player in the country at a few positions, including quarterback.”
“I’m not sure people nationally caught on because of what Marcus Mariota did, but in any other year Cody Kessler would have been the Pac-12 Player of the Year by a pretty big margin. He’s such an accurate passer and so good in the pocket, it makes the game pretty easy when you surround him with the kind of athletes they’ve got.”
“Unless they just have a bunch of injuries, I don’t see too many people slowing down their offense.”
“They’ve got everything you need. Great quarterback, great at receiver, good enough in the running game, experience on the offensive line and some big-play guys they can throw to down the field.”
“They’ve got some questions on their defensive front, but it’s not about talent. They just need a couple of the younger guys to figure it out.”
“If Su’a Cravens could have entered the draft last year, he would have.”
“You lose to Boston College last year and you can talk about scholarships, but I don’t think they’ve got any excuses this year.”
“I think they’ve got the best center in the country, which helps them play at the tempo Sark wants.”
“They don’t do anything unique on defense from a scheme standpoint, but they’re just really physical, they get off blocks and they fly to the ball.”
“They’re not going to give up easy scores, and their ability to disrupt you with a sack or turnover can turn a game around pretty quickly. That’s why you saw them play over their heads a little bit at times. I think they’ll be the same kind of team this year.”
“Nobody really blocked Nate Orchard all year, but a lot of that was because their defensive front was so good across the board. They probably can’t replace his production in terms of sacks and TFLs and things like that, but they’re still going to rush the quarterback because of their scheme and the long, athletic guys they bring off the end.”
“They kept going back and forth at quarterback until the kid from Oklahoma (Kendal Thompson) got hurt, and they’re probably going to be right back in the same boat this year.”
“They’re probably the only team in the league that truly doesn’t mind playing field position.”
“The big left tackle is gone (Jeremiah Poutasi) and that could hurt them. It’s a younger group up front, but they’ve got some guys who played last year that they can move around.”
“I like the tailback a lot (Devontae Booker), but they just don’t have enough firepower on offense overall.”
Think of your favorite college football team. Got it? Well, Auburn is probably working harder than them.
The Tigers give us a peek into their summer workouts and, although summer is fun, this looks anything but that. Being in the SEC West, Auburn doesn't have room to slack off in the least bit.
Let's see Lee Corso try to pick against this team.
Ohio State begins fall camp on Aug. 10, and at first glance, casual observers of the Buckeyes would believe there are few areas of concern that must be on the mind of head coach Urban Meyer. After all, the defending national champion Buckeyes return starters at virtually every position, and a talented crop of incoming freshmen have arrived to reinforce the already formidable depth.
Dig a little deeper, and one can find position groups that the Ohio State coaching staff will be devoting considerable time and effort in making sure that the Buckeyes are in good shape when the season begins at Virginia Tech on Sept. 7, Labor Day night.
Ohio State's Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
Braxton Miller may no longer be in the mix at quarterback, but just because a three-man race has been essentially cut down to two players does not make this decision any easier for Meyer. J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones will wage a battle that will be the focus of the fans and media, and it will be imperative to Meyer to make sure that this competition does not result in a divided locker room. Meyer has stated that a starter will probably be named by the end of August, so all eyes and ears will be focused firmly on this pivotal battle.
2. Defensive Tackle
Michael Bennett has moved on to the NFL, so one defensive tackle position is open for the taking. Adolphus Washington returns at one spot, but it will be incumbent upon the coaching staff to rotate defensive linemen to avoid injury and stay fresh. Tommy Schutt is a projected starter, but is by no means guaranteed the spot. Others in the mix include Donovan Munger (redshirt sophomore), Joel Hale (redshirt senior), Michael Hill (redshirt sophomore), Dylan Thompson (redshirt freshman), Tracy Sprinkle (redshirt sophomore), as well as freshmen Joshua Alabi, Robert Landers and DaVon Hamilton. Of these, Thompson is the lone player who has not yet been cleared for full participation in fall drills.
3. Tight End
Nick Vannett returns as a starter, but in an offense that often features two tight ends, finding a second is going to be a priority in fall camp. Redshirt sophomore Marcus Baugh is probably next in line, yet Baugh has had off-the-field issues that have landed him in the coaching staff’s doghouse. Incoming freshmen A.J. Alexander and Rashod Berry may be asked to contribute right away, provided they perform well in fall camp.
4. Defensive End
Joey Bosa is arguably the top defensive player in the nation, projected as high first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. But Bosa was recently suspended for the season opener at Virginia Tech, due to a violation of university policy. Even with Bosa in the lineup, Ohio State needs to determine a starter on the other end of its defensive line, as both Rashad Frazier and Steve Miller have exhausted their eligibility. At the conclusion of spring practice, TyQuan Lewis was mentioned as the probable starter opposite Bosa. Other options at the position include sophomore Jalyn Holmes, redshirt freshmen Sam Hubbard and Darius Slade, and incoming freshman Jashon Cornell.
Gareon Conley has been penciled in at the cornerback spot opposite Eli Apple, but does not have a firm hold on the starting job. Redshirt freshman Marshon Lattimore and sophomore Damon Webb will likely push Conley all throughout fall camp for the spot, and possibly even into the season.
— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a diehard Ohio State fan. Minnich also writes and podcasts for menofthescarletandgray.com, a site dedicated to Ohio sports with a special emphasis on the Buckeyes. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.
With fall camps set to open in August for all 128 college football teams, the 2015 season is officially around the corner. There’s no shortage of position battles or schemes to work on this fall, but quarterback competitions will steal the spotlight in August.
The SEC has an inexperienced group of signal-callers set to take over in 2015. Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott is the league’s most-proven option and the clear favorite to earn preseason first-team all-conference honors. After Prescott in the quarterback rankings is a combination of breakout candidates (Jeremy Johnson and Joshua Dobbs), along with veterans (Maty Mauk and Brandon Allen) looking to improve this season.
To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2015. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, 2015 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the SEC for 2015.
SEC Quarterback Rankings for 2015
1. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Mississippi State has some holes to fill around Prescott, but the senior quarterback is a big reason why the Bulldogs will remain a factor in the SEC West this season. Prescott recorded 4,435 total yards and 41 scores in 2014 and earned first-team All-SEC honors. The senior is one of the top contenders for the 2015 Heisman Trophy.
2. Jeremy Johnson, Auburn
All signs point to a huge season from Johnson in his first year as the starter. The junior isn’t as mobile as Nick Marshall, but the Montgomery native is a dynamic player for coach Gus Malzahn. Over the last two seasons, Johnson has completed 57 of 78 passes for 858 yards and nine scores. He also has two career starts.
3. Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
A redshirt year was planned for Dobbs in 2014, but the Georgia native was pressed into the starting lineup midway through the season. Dobbs played well in the 34-20 loss to Alabama (19 of 32 for 192 yards) and assumed the starting role for Tennessee’s next game against South Carolina. Dobbs started the final five games for the Volunteers and closed 2014 with 1,206 passing yards and nine scores, while adding 469 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. With a full year to work as the starter ahead, Dobbs is due for a breakout year.
4. Kyle Allen, Texas A&M
Allen is another quarterback poised for a breakout campaign. The Arizona native was one of the top quarterback recruits in the 2014 signing class and eventually replaced Kenny Hill as the starter in November. Allen threw for 1,322 yards and 16 scores in nine appearances, finishing 2014 with his best performance (22 of 35 for 294 yards and four scores against West Virginia).
5. Maty Mauk, Missouri
Mauk’s first year as a starter had its share of ups and downs, but he finished with 2,648 passing yards and 25 scores and guided Missouri to a SEC East title. The junior needs to take a step forward in SEC play after only completing 48.9 percent of his passes in nine conference games last season. There’s a lot of potential with Mauk, but he will be throwing to a revamped group of receivers after the departure of last year’s top three targets.
6. Brandon Allen, Arkansas
There’s no doubt Arkansas will be tough on defense and with its ground attack once again in 2015. For the Razorbacks to improve on last year’s win total, improving the passing game is a priority under new coordinator Dan Enos. Allen was solid in 2014, completing 190 of 339 passes for 2,285 yards and 20 scores. With Enos at the controls, Allen should take another step forward in 2015.
7. Patrick Towles, Kentucky
Towles is a bit of a wild card on this list. He could rank a spot or two higher or he could lose the starting job to talented redshirt freshman Drew Barker. In 12 games last season, Towles threw for 2,718 yards and 14 scores and added 303 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. How quickly will new coordinator Shannon Dawson settle on a starter this fall?
8. Jake Coker, Alabama
For the second consecutive season, Coker is considered by some to be the favorite to take the first snap in Alabama’s opener. However, Coker was edged by Blake Sims for the starting job last season and only played in six games in 2014. Can the Florida State transfer hold off redshirt freshman David Cornwell this fall?
Related: SEC Predictions for 2015
9. Brice Ramsey, Georgia
The battle to replace Hutson Mason will extend into fall practice, as the Bulldogs added Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert to compete with Ramsey and Faton Bauta. Ramsey worked as Mason’s backup in 2014 and completed 24 of 39 passes for three scores and two picks. Regardless of which quarterback starts, expect to see a heavy dose of running back Nick Chubb for the Bulldogs in 2015.
10. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
Ole Miss is another SEC title contender with uncertainty at quarterback. Bo Wallace expired his eligibility, and the Rebels had a three-way battle for the job in the spring. Kelly – a former Clemson quarterback – transferred from the junior college ranks and is considered the favorite to start over Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade.
11. Will Grier, Florida
The arrival of new coach Jim McElwain and coordinator Doug Nussmeier should pay dividends for a Florida offense that averaged only 4.9 yards per play in SEC games last season. Treon Harris finished 2014 as the starter, but Grier is considered the favorite to start. The redshirt freshman ranked as the No. 48 recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite and should be a good fit in Florida’s new offense.
12. Anthony Jennings/Brandon Harris, LSU
Improving the passing attack is priority No. 1 for coach Les Miles. LSU averaged only 140.6 passing yards in SEC games last season and finished 2014 with just 17 passing scores. Jennings started 12 games last year, completed only 48.9 percent of his passes and finished with 1,611 yards and 11 scores. There’s more upside with Harris, but how quickly will the sophomore grasp the offense?
13. Connor Mitch, South Carolina
Mitch finished spring as the favorite to replace Dylan Thompson under center. Talented freshman Lorenzo Nunez is an intriguing player to watch in fall camp, but Mitch is expected to take the first snap in the opener against North Carolina. The sophomore played in two games last season and completed 2 of 6 passes for 19 yards.
14. Wade Freebeck, Vanderbilt
It’s a tossup between Freebeck and Johnny McCrary as Vanderbilt’s starter for 2015. McCrary threw for 985 yards and nine scores last season, while Freebeck (as a true freshman) completed 34 of 72 passes for 376 yards and one touchdown. Both players should benefit from the arrival of new coordinator Andy Ludwig, but the supporting cast – especially at receiver – has to step up.
Georgia Bulldog fans might have been a little surprised on Monday with the announcement of Class of 2016 wide receiver Davion Curtis to their commitment list.
Curtis exploded onto the recruiting scene as a junior for Temple (Texas) High School after catching 40 passes for 901 yards with eight touchdowns. He also made a quick but memorable statement on special teams as a kick returner, taking one of two attempts 97 yards to the house for a score.
The Wildcats posted a 13-2 record in 2014 making it to the Texas High School State Championship Game before falling to Aledo 49-45 with college recruiters taking notice. Leading up to Curtis’ commitment to Mark Richt and the Bulldogs, he had 13 reported offers, highlighted by Wisconsin, Kansas State, Houston, Kansas, Oregon State, Texas Tech, Minnesota, Colorado State and North Texas.
The Bulldogs have put together a solid 2016 class, securing 15 commitments led by 5-star quarterback Jacob Eason (Lake Stevens, Wash.) and 5-star defensive tackle Julian Rochester (Powder Springs, Ga). Curtis is the fourth wide receiver added to the class joining fellow Georgians Charlie Woerner (Tiger), Darion Anderson (Warner Robins), and Randrecous Davis (Atlanta).
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
The Tennessee Volunteers have good reason to be excited heading into the 2015 season. The Vols return 18 starters (10 on offense and 8 on defense) from a squad that won four of its last five contests. This run culminated in a lopsided victory over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl, the Vols’ first bowl win since 2008. Back-to-back top-5 recruiting classes also have infused the team with a high level of promising young talent that should pay huge dividends starting as soon as 2015.
Even the media has jumped on board the “Big Orange Bandwagon” with many experts predicting the Vols to win the SEC East this season. While Tennessee has a realistic chance to return to glory in 2015, there are still some lingering questions amidst all the fanfare as the Vols head into fall camp.
Tennessee’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Offensive Line Woes
There is no question that the Vols’ Achilles heel in 2014 was the offensive line. Tennessee ranked an abysmal 117th in the nation, allowing 43 sacks last season, and ranked second to last in the entire nation in tackles for a loss allowed with 101. The good news is that the O-line will be returning four starters from 2014. This unit also added some quality depth with the likes of Drew Richmond and Jack Jones via the 2015 recruiting class. A deeper, stronger and more experienced group should yield better results in 2015. But, will it be enough to help Tennessee return to prominence?
2. New Offensive Coordinator
The addition of Tennessee’s new offensive coordinator, Mike DeBord, should be fairly seamless with the plan being to keep much of Vols’ 2014 offensive playbook and scheme intact. That said, it’s still a significant coaching change with an entirely different person calling the plays, and Tennessee fans have good reason to get a little nervous when it comes to coordinator swaps. They still have nightmares thinking about 2008’s “Clawfense,” as well as the 2012 Sal Sunseri 3-4 defensive experiment. We should find out in short order if DeBord is the right man for the job.
3. Middle Linebacker?
Tennessee has some big shoes to fill at the MLB position. In what should be the most competitive of all the position battles in fall camp, the Vols’ coaching staff will have a wealth of talent to choose from. The primary contenders include junior Kenny Bynum, redshirt freshmen Dillon Bates and Gavin Bryant, as well as true freshmen Darrin Kirkland and Austin Smith. The issue is that Bynum is the only one with any real game experience, and he may be the least talented of the bunch at a position of paramount importance to this defense.
4. Veteran Experience vs. Talented Youth
Tennessee returns most of its starters on both sides of the ball. The Vols have also brought in a ton of young talent that will give some of those veterans a run for their money in terms of playing time. Newcomers Kahlil McKenzie (DT), Shy Tuttle (DT), Darrin Kirkland (MLB), Drew Richmond (OT), and Justin Martin (DB) all have a legitimate shot at beating out their more experienced counterparts for starting jobs. It should make for an interesting fall camp.
5. The Hype Machine
For the first time, in a long time, the Tennessee Volunteers are actually expected to be good, if not great. With the lofty preseason expectations continuing to grow amongst the media and a rabid Tennessee fanbase, how will Butch Jones’ football team respond to the pressure?
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McVey is a diehard Tennessee Volunteers' fan who loves singing "Rocky Top" every opportunity he gets. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS
Let's get this out of the way: Drake's "10 Bands" is not an easy beat to rhyme over. It's popular and everyone knows the words.
Damian Lillard has never been one to be scared of a challenge, and it works out well for him in this case. The Trail Blazers point guard, DameDOLLA, shows he can hold his own over any beat. Usually the athlete-rapper crossover is a bad idea, but Lillard is the big exception to the rule.
The 6 God would be proud.
Even with the departure of several key players from last season’s team, high expectations surround Florida State in 2015. Quarterback Jameis Winston is the biggest loss in personnel, but the Seminoles also lose four starters on the offensive line, receiver Rashad Greene and a couple of key defenders.
Needless to say, coach Jimbo Fisher will have his work cut out for him in 2015. The Seminoles have won at least 12 games in each of the last three years. Can Fisher restock the starting lineup and settle the quarterback battle to lead Florida State to its fourth consecutive ACC Championship?
Florida State’s Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. The Quarterback Battle
Sean Maguire finished spring practice at the top of the depth chart, but the Seminoles added Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson in May. Although Maguire has more experience with Fisher’s offensive system and worked with the No. 1 offense in the spring, Golson is considered the favorite to win the job. Can Maguire stake his claim for the starting spot? Or will Golson win as expected?
2. Filling the Gaps on Offense
While the quarterback battle is going to grab all of the fall camp headlines in Tallahassee, Fisher has question marks at each of the other positions on offense. Running back Dalvin Cook’s status is uncertain for 2015 after an off-field incident, leaving Mario Pender and touted true freshman Jacques Patrick as the top options at running back. At receiver, the Seminoles lost the reliable and ultra-productive Rashad Greene, along with tight end Nick O’Leary. But the bigger concern for Fisher has to be up front, where four new starters will be looking to mesh.
3. Linebacker Problems
Florida State’s linebacker unit has been hit hard by injuries. Senior Reggie Northrup is recovering from a torn ACL, Terrance Smith was injured throughout 2014, and Matthew Thomas is expected to miss the start of the season after offseason shoulder surgery. The Seminoles use a lot of nickel defense, which should alleviate some of the depth and talent concerns about this unit. This fall will be a critical one for junior college recruit Lorenzo Phillips. Coordinator Charles Kelly and linebacker coach Bill Miller will be watching this unit closely during fall camp.
4. Upgrading the Pass Rush
The Seminoles recorded only 17 sacks last season and upgrading the play in the trenches is a priority for new line coach Brad Lawing. Standouts Eddie Goldman (DT) and Mario Edwards Jr. (DE) must be replaced, but there’s a handful of talented youngsters ready to emerge. Junior DeMarcus Walker and sophomore Lorenzo Featherston enter the fall as favorites to start at end, and Chris Casher, Rick Leonard and Jacob Pugh will provide depth. In addition to upgrading the pass rush, Florida State has to stop the run better after ranking No. 71 nationally in 2014.
5. Secondary Mix and Match
Jalen Ramsey is one of the best players in college football. The versatile junior is expected to start at cornerback this season, which leaves an open spot at safety. True freshman Derwin James is going to play a lot of snaps in 2015, but the top recruit could earn a starting spot. The other cornerback spot opposite of Ramsey is unsettled, with junior Marquez White the frontrunner over converted running back Ryan Green.
The hardest thing to do in this world is change. Change bad habits. Change jobs. Change locations. Change from one strategy to another. The hardest part about change is convincing everyone to do it, when NO ONE believes it is necessary or that it will even work.
The theme of change is the challenge that Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong is facing, as he convinces a football-crazy culture, a rabid fanbase, enflamed boosters, and an endless media presence that this is the year things begin to come together. Strong has a strategy of turnaround that involved sweeping year one changes. Those changes included the exit strategy of ALL players that would not follow “The Strong Way” of doing things. This strategy worked extremely well at the Louisville, where football has the opportunity to be an “also ran.” But this is Texas.
To be clear, Charlie Strong was born and strengthened working in cultures like Florida, Notre Dame and South Carolina. He is no stranger to strong football cultures. But this is not just a strong football culture. This is a CRAZED football culture that is wondering if Charlie is STRONG enough.
Strong’s small sample size suggests that his strategy could prove very successful. In his first two years with Louisville, he led the program to back-to-back 7-6 seasons and bowl appearances. However, it was Year 3 that produced a BCS Sugar Bowl win over his former employer Florida, while developing several NFL Draft first-round talents in QB Teddy Bridgewater, S Calvin Pryor, and WR DeVante Parker. Strong then backed that season up with an equally impressive one season in which the Cardinals went 12-1 and dominated a talented Miami team in the Russell Athletic Bowl. However, the biggest factor to Strong’s success may not have been the coach himself, but his lack of outside pressure.
Louisville is and probably always will be a basketball school, where football success is the narrative that adds to the bigger story that Louisville is the better “Commonwealth” school overall. The football fanbase is pleased with bowl appearances, and winning records, because it has never tasted anything beyond it. Strong never had to face questions about his “Change” strategy, because the university, the administration, the boosters, and the fans welcomed a change from his inadequate predecessor, Steve Kragthorpe. Anything other than 5-7 and 4-8 seasons was a welcome change. He produced winning seasons, which is all, at that time, that anyone could hope for from a football program that had never built true consistency. Strong did it with a winning formula, a philosophy built on true emphasis in character and leadership. He convinced young men to believe in his philosophy of change and doing things the right way. And he did it NEVER having to worry about pressure from the factors that most top-level programs must deal with. Louisville’s football program is now one of the premier programs in the country. But it still does not offer the pressure that Texas offers.
Texas comes with ALL KINDS OF PRESSURE. There is pressure from the Board of Regents and boosters, who are agitated by athletic director Steve Patterson, who seems to have alienated them from the hiring process that brought Strong to Texas in the first place. There is pressure from the fans who simply could not understand why so many players where unceremoniously exited from the program because they simply couldn’t get on board with the changes, leaving the team with a 6-7 record in Strong’s first year. There is pressure from the 24-hour Longhorn Network and statewide team coverage to justify the coaching changes daily. Strong will never get a break from it. It will never stop. And he must produce results today, not tomorrow. Which begs the question….Is Charlie strong enough to handle it?
I had the pleasure of covering Strong his final two years at Louisville. The media there treated him very fairly, never really placing him under the scrutiny that his counterpart Rick Pitino faces, nor the microscopic evaluation of his successor, the infamous Bobby Petrino.
Now, Strong is under the microscope. He is the top coach at a football school, in a football state. He is sitting in the driver’s seat of a program that carries one of the richest traditions in all of college sports. His predecessor is a legend that competed for and won national championships and had one losing record in 16 seasons. He is the hire of an AD that has already had his job performance questioned after less than 24 months on the job. Strong is living the classic definition of a must-win season. He must show significant progress and real growth, using his “change” philosophy, or there will be MAJOR consequences. Texas fans want to win now. The boosters want to win now. The Board of Regents wants improvement now. They won’t wait until Year 3 like his previous school. The time has come for Strong to show Longhorn faithful that he knows how to carry on the Texas tradition of winning.
I believe Strong will win at Texas. I believe he is more than capable of placing this team back on the national stage and competing for titles once again. But time is a factor. Texas may not be ready to make that leap in year two, but they will make that leap in a year’s time. But there is one question Strong faces now that will define his future.
Can Charlie be strong enough to stick to his change, underneath a mountain of scrutiny and turn Texas around? Or will the Board of Regents be making the next change?
— Written by Lloyd H. Spence Jr., who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Spence has covered both high school and college sports for several years, and has written for several outlets, incuding ESPNLouisville.com and CardinalSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TalkinNOIZ.
Brandon Armstrong is everyone's favorite person these days.
Yes, he does the greatest NBA impressions and yes he's back again. Kobe Bryant is the subject and he completely nails it. The fade, the quadrable team, and the chewing of the jersey is dead-on.
Bean would be proud.
The marriage between Craig James and Fox Sports ended pretty swiftly, but the results remain.
The former NFL running back is now suing the network for religious discrimination. James spent less than a week with Fox Sports but it was his exit that most remember. The network fired James after the first college football Saturday because of his statements opposing gay marriage.
The lawsuit claims Fox Sports' action of firing James because of his views violated the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act.
"This is very troubling as an employee when your boss holds against you something you said about your belief system nearly 18 months before you were recruited and hired," James told Breitbart Sports. "I said nothing about my belief system on the air at Fox Sports. So, the fact that they reached back in my past nearly 18 months and responded to a comment about my biblical belief in natural marriage as a candidate — that's troubling."
A Fox Sports spokesman commented on the incident at the time, explaining why the network had to sever ties with James.
"We just asked ourselves how Craig's statements would play in our human resources department. He couldn't say those things here."
James has always made his thoughts on gay marriage and his conservative way of thinking known. Perhaps it was that he's such a public figure to begin with that ultimately caught up with him.
The former SMU star wants punitive damages and back wages from Fox Sports.
People tune in every Saturday morning to watch the talking heads of ESPN and hear their analysis for the day ahead.
Lee Corso, arguably one of the most respected in the business, made it a Saturday tradition to put on the headgear of his prediction for which team will win the game of the day. From Oregon's duck to Alabama's elephant, they've all rested on the shoulders of Corso.
The only mascot he's never done had the pleasure of donning is Auburn's Aubie. The ESPN personality revealed that he's not allowed to wear the headgear of Auburn the Tiger. Only Aubies can be Aubie.
Interesting tidbit from Lee Corso. The only school that will NOT let him put on the headgear is Auburn. pic.twitter.com/1AM7ypXz58— Mike Morgan (@MorganOnAir) August 3, 2015
Corso's way around that is simple... he may have to pick the other team.
Lee Corso says Aubrun is the only school that doesn't allow him to put on their headgear. "So I'm not going to pick 'em"— Natalie Williams (@_Nat_Williams) August 3, 2015
The "no talking rule" would definitely rule out Corso. The GameDay host did find a way around it last year when he picked the Tigers over Ole Miss, but it definitely wasn't the same.
Another interesting tidbit to add to the story is that Corso isn't allowed to wear Florida State headgear anymore, but for a very different reason.
Lee Corso says he hasn't been allowed to put on Seminoles mascot gear on Gameday since Bill Murray stole spear and threw it at Clemson game.— Heath Cline (@heathradio) August 3, 2015