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Path: /college-football/steve-spurriers-top-quotes-2014-sec-media-day
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HOOVER, Ala. — South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is generally the high point of SEC media day, always good for a quip, some perspective and maybe a little smack.

Here are his greatest hits from the 2014 edition, touching on former quarterback Stephen Garcia, rivalries and boosters.

“He got his long hair back. I said it looked like he had joined Duck Dynasty instead of the media. They assured me he's with the media now.”
-On former quarterback Stephen Garcia

“If you ask our fans at South Carolina, I can assure you a majority would say, We would rather beat Clemson than win the SEC. That is how big it is to them, that one game. Personally I'd rather win the SEC. I don't mind saying that. Personally that's the bigger trophy.”

“Gus Malzahn is one of the best coaches in the country, not just the SEC. I think everybody knows that. They didn't win that national championship (in 2010) unless he was there. I think everybody knows that, too.”


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“It's a shame that Texas and Texas A&M don't play each other, though. I don't mind saying that. Two schools that have been playing for over a hundred years, just because one of them joins another conference, get mad at each other, We're not playing you anymore, we're not playing you anymore. So I don't know. I think it is sad.”

“All of you know I'm an advocate for giving some expense money to college football and basketball players. Those two sports bring in billions. They deserve a little bit more. I know the commissioner has addressed that. I wish something would happen sooner than we hope it's going to happen.  But that should happen real soon down the road.”

“The big donors in college are similar to like an owner in the NFL because they put the money up. The best part of it, they don't tell us what to do, though. They're sort of the owners from a distance. They don't tell you who to play, what plays to call, so forth.”

“We found some boosters, some big‑time donors that give over a million bucks. When I got there we had one person to give over a million bucks in the history of the school. Now we have 12 or 13, something like that.”

Teaser:
Steve Spurrier's top quotes from 2014 SEC Media Day
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 12:12
All taxonomy terms: Richard Sherman, NFL, News
Path: /qa-seattle-seahawks-cb-richard-sherman
Body:

One of the big developments of the 2013 NFL season was the emergence of Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. He was not only a superior football player, but also a fixture in the headlines, making big plays and big noise. We caught up with the league's No. 1 cornerback shortly after he signed a new four-year, $57 million contract extension in early May.

 

Related: 2014 NFL Player Rankings - Defensive Backs

 

Athlon Sports: You might be one of the most recognizable people in the world now, going to the White House Correspondents Dinner, getting saluted by Time Magazine and turning up everywhere. Has this new-found fame surprised you, and do you worry that it might change you?

Richard Sherman: I guess it’s unusual. I never expected to be thrown into the spotlight like this. I take it for what it is. I try to stay the same person. I know who I am. I don’t worry about it changing me too much. I’m pretty set in my ways. I just want to get better and be different.

 

After you were taken to task for speaking your mind, people now want your opinion on just about everything. Do you feel like you are the voice of the NFL?

I don’t mind it. It’s an honor that people think that way. I don’t know if I speak for the entire NFL. Everybody has their voice. But I like giving my opinion. I don’t mind being criticized either.

 

Is the NFC title game play referred to as “the Immaculate Deflection” the biggest play of your career?

Athletically, I’ve made better plays. As far as a big one, I don’t think I’ve made a bigger play. It got us into the Super Bowl. I had a feeling I’d get a chance. It was the final drive, cover 3, the strong safety leaned over. It was something we practice. We practice the tip drill all the time.

 

Who is the toughest wide receiver in the NFL to cover?

Doug Baldwin. I go against him every day. He’s super quick. He’s hard to stop. He runs different routes every time. On other teams? Megatron (Detroit’s Calvin Johnson) is a pretty tough cover. He’s real fast, real big and real strong.

 

What is your favorite opposing stadium to play in?

Dallas. They always have a party going on during the game. You go to a game in Dallas, and you know what I mean.

 

What other coach in the NFL, besides your own, would you like to play for?

Gus Bradley. I played for him before. His message is always the same: Think positive. It’s very similar to what we do in Seattle.

 

Some former Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls during their careers. With talk of a mini-Seattle dynasty, would four satisfy you? If not, how many?

I don’t know. It would have to be a lot. I’m a guy who tries not to limit himself. I wouldn’t limit myself to that. If we got five, then we’d want six.

 

You were a wide receiver at Stanford before switching to corner. Could you have been an elite NFL pass-catcher?

I think I’d be pretty good. You never know. I think I’d be able to at least hold my own. Elite? I couldn’t tell you unless I got out there. But with a good quarterback, a good system, I think I’d be OK.

 

Who is the best cornerback in NFL history and can that be you some day?

It’s somewhere between Mel Blount and Deion (Sanders). I’d need a lot more interceptions. I’ll figure it out soon enough. Anything is possible.

 

With three Pro Bowlers in the mix, and you and Earl Thomas considered the league’s best at your respective positions, who’s the Seahawks’ best defensive back?

Each one of us thinks he’s the best defensive back on the team. It’s a battle. Do we say anything to each other about it? Not really. It’s a known deal on the team that everybody really believes it’s him.

 

You were mad that you were a fifth-round draft pick. Does that mean you were mad at the Seahawks? And did you ever ask them why they waited so long to take you?

I was mad. I wasn’t as mad at them because they gave me opportunity. You can’t be too mad at them. I did ask them about it and they said they had me in the third round. But they said nobody took me and they had to address other needs.

 

When you were a kid, did you envision yourself playing in the NFL and for what team?

I always pictured it once I figured out they were paying people for a game I was playing for free. It was, oh man, I want to do that. The Raiders were the team. We saw them the most in L.A. I wore their stuff. My whole family did.

 

It’s hard for anyone to play for just one NFL team. Do you think you will spend your entire career in Seattle?

The city surprised me. I was incredibly happy with it. It’s unique from any place I’ve ever been, with its greenery and outdoor stuff, all that boating. It’s been a great opportunity. One team? I get a couple more years with this, so we’ll see.

 

When your pro football career is done, what comes next for you? Will you be mayor of Los Angeles? Or Seattle?

I’m trying to figure out what I want to do. I want to stay around the world of sports, but I want to be a philanthropist and be a positive influence around kids. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll do, but philanthropy will be part of it.

Teaser:
Q&A with Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 12:00
Path: /nfl/2014-nfl-player-rankings-defensive-backs
Body:

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

 

When it comes to the current NFL, bigger is better in the secondary. Just ask Seattle, as the defending Super Bowl champions claim not only the best cornerback in the league (Richard Sherman), but the best safety (Earl Thomas) too. Combined with Ourlads’ No. 10 safety Kam Chancellor and No. 13 cornerback Byron Maxwell, and it’s pretty clear to see why the Seahawks’ defensive backfield is considered the best in the league.

 

With three of the four defenders taller than six foot and all but one weighing in at more than 200 pounds, this foursome has earned their “Legion of Boom” moniker for the heavy hits they deliver on the field. It also certainly doesn’t hurt to have a mouthpiece like Sherman to represent them off of it either.

 

Rankings courtesy of Ourlads Scouting Services

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Cornerbacks

 

1. Richard Sherman, Seattle

No one has more than the 20 interceptions he has collected since 2011. A smart and aggressive playmaker who is highly competitive. Good hands and hip flexibility. Uses height (6'3") and length to his advantage.

 

Related: Q&A with Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman

 

2. Darrelle Revis, New England

Was the Patriots’ target after Aqib Talib defected to Denver. New England is gambling that the league’s most dominant corner before his knee injury will return to his elite form.

 

3. Patrick Peterson, Arizona

Making a run as the NFL’s top corner. Big, fast, athletic, flexible, strong, intelligent, confident and competitive. Outstanding eye-hand coordination.

 

4. Vontae Davis, Indianapolis

Has had his ups and downs over his career, but was up in 2013. As the mainstay corner, he shows outstanding athletic ability. Reacts quickly on run support and forces the action quickly.

 

5. Aqib Talib, Denver

Staying on the field has been a bit of an issue in recent seasons, but when he’s out there, Taiib is one of the best cover corners in the league. There’s a reason the Broncos gave Talib $26 million in guaranteed money in his six-year contract and it just wasn’t to sign him away from rival New England.

 

6. Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona

Is listed at corner, but played free safety and lined up in the nickel packages as a corner. His athleticism gives the Cardinals’ secondary flexibility.

 

7. Desmond Trufant, Atlanta

Had a solid rookie season and demonstrated good short-area quickness, competitiveness and the ability to mirror receivers’ cuts. Confident and focused in his play.

 

8. Chris Harris, Denver

A playmaker who has few mental and physical errors. Good open-field wrap-up tackler. Rarely gives up run-after-catch yards.

 

9. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, NY Giants

Signed during free agency. After six years in the league, the Giants are hoping that the best is yet to come. A fluid and smooth athlete with good hands and quick feet.

 

10. Brent Grimes, Miami

Played big in 2013 despite coming off a torn Achilles tendon. He was rewarded with a long term deal. A consistent competitor who makes plays on the ball. Aggressive and smart in his play.

 

11. Alterraun Verner, Tampa Bay

12. Jason McCourty, Tennessee

13. Byron Maxwell, Seattle

14. Captain Munnerlyn, Minnesota

15. Brandon Boykin, Philadelphia

16. Tramaine Brock, San Francisco

17. Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo

18. Joe Haden, Cleveland

19. Keenan Lewis, New Orleans

20. Alan Ball, Jacksonville

21. William Gay, Pittsburgh

22. Lardarius Webb, Baltimore

23. Johnathan Joseph, Houston

24. Prince Amukamara, NY Giants

25. Drayton Florence, Free agent

26. Rashean Mathis, Detroit

27. Nickell Robey, Buffalo

28. Corey Graham, Buffalo

29. Walter Thurmond, NY Giants

30. Orlando Scandrick, Dallas

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Safeties

 

1. Earl Thomas, Seattle

The best free safety in the league and a defensive leader. A safety with corner skills. Has an inside feel for secondary play. Competitive and aggressive. Can force the run coming downhill or play the ball deep down the field.

 

2. Eric Weddle, San Diego

An instinctive safety with range and good ball skills. An intense and aggressive playmaker who makes plays when tight on a receiver. Has been highly productive over his career.

 

3. Devin McCourty, New England

Continues his renaissance at safety since moving from corner a few years ago. A good athlete with range and finishing speed. Drives quickly on the ball and can make a big hit or slap the ball away.

 

4. Jairus Byrd, New Orleans

A Pro Bowl-caliber safety with corner skills. Athletic and productive. May be the most instinctive safety in the league. Sudden to read and react. Will make all the calls in Rob Ryan’s defense.

 

5. Donte Whitner, Cleveland

One of the NFL’s most impactful hitters and instinctive players. Productive and active. Good anticipation. An intense competitor who can reroute receivers.

 

6. Eric Berry, Kansas City

Is a leader in the secondary and a Pro Bowl player at strong safety. An intelligent and instinctive player who has the awareness to recognize and quickly analyze offensive set tendencies.

 

7. Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh

Plays at an elite level when he’s on the field. He is fighting off age and time to continue to be one of the NFL’s dynamic playmakers. Intense and explosive.

 

8. T.J. Ward, Denver

Is a consistent tackler who is a hard hitter and has improved his overall pass-coverage skills. A competitor with good body control. Takes good support and pursuit angles.

 

9. Will Hill, NY Giants

When on the field he has all the tools and play of a Pro Bowl safety, but he is now facing his third suspension in three years.

 

10. Kam Chancellor, Seattle

One of the largest safeties in the league and has had several splash-type collisions over his career. His coverage skills have gotten better each year he has been in the league.

 

11. Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans

12. Antrel Rolle, NY Giants

13. Eric Reid, San Francisco

14. Michael Griffin, Tennessee

15. Chris Clemons, Houston

16. Glover Quin, Detroit

17. James Ihedigbo, Detroit

18. Reggie Nelson, Cincinnati

19. Bernard Pollard, Tennessee

20. Rafael Bush, New Orleans

21. Marcus Gilchrist, San Diego

22. Aaron Williams, Buffalo

23. George Iloka, Cincinnati

24. Jamarca Sanford, Minnesota

25. Michael Mitchell, Pittsburgh

26. Robert Lester, Carolina

27. Reshad Jones, Miami

28. George Wilson, Tennessee

29. Rashad Johnson, Arizona

30. Charles Woodson, Oakland

Teaser:
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Defensive Backs
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-july-15-2014
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This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 15:

Shane van der Westhuizen is a South African model who belongs on your radar. Just copy and paste the name for future reference.

ESPN baseball reporter Tim Kurkjian out-Sagered Craig Sager in his Zubaz suit at the celebrity softball game.

Steve Spurrier held court at SEC Media Days today, and of course it was glorious.

• If the Yankees are just playing out the string, tonight may be Derek Jeter's real national send-off. Of course, the Captain will have a tough time topping Cal Ripken's last All-Star Game.

MLB mascots gathered for a class photo.

• Tight end, wide receiver, longsnapper, doesn't matter: Jimmy Graham got paid today.

Dick Vitale live-tweeted a Lionel Richie concert, and it was awesome with a capital a.

Hidden images in sports logos. Many of these I was aware of, but not all.

• Cool old story that is new to me: 20 years ago, Jason Grimsley snuck into the umpire's room and stole Albert Belle's corked bat.

Anyone who's dealt with Comcast will appreciate this recording of a man being slowly driven insane by a Comcast rep.

• Watch Rudy explain the college football playoff.

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 10:47
All taxonomy terms: Baylor Bears, College Football, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/baylor-football-game-game-predictions-2014
Body:

Baylor is coming off its first outright conference title since 1980. The Bears finished 11-2 last year, which included victories over Oklahoma and Texas, along with a 35-25 win over Kansas State in early October.

The expectations at Baylor are on the rise. Under coach Art Briles, the Bears have played in four consecutive bowls, upgraded their recruiting, and there’s a new stadium on the way for 2014.

Baylor is considered by most to be a frontrunner for the Big 12 title, but there are holes to fill. The offensive line lost standout guard Cyril Richardson, and the defense returns only four starters.

With a trip to Oklahoma in late November on tap, Baylor should have plenty of time to fill the voids on both sides of the ball.

Related: Baylor 2014 Preview Big 12 Predictions Big 12 All-Conference Team 

 

The Expert Panel:

 

Steven Lassan, (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Allen Kenney, (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), EerSports.com
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Aaron Dickens (@AaronDickens), RedRaiderSports.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports

 

Early Game-by-Game Predictions for Baylor in 2014
 Steven
Lassan
Allen 
Kenney
David 
Fox
Chris
Anderson
Braden
Gall
Aaron
Dickens
Mark
Ross
SMU
NW State
at Buffalo
at Iowa State
at Texas
TCU
at West Virginia
Kansas
at Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech
(Arlington)
Kansas State
Final Projection:10-210-210-29-311-110-210-2

 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

It’s a close call for the No. 1 spot in the Big 12 this season, but I think Baylor is just a small step behind Oklahoma. Offense and scoring points won’t be a problem in Waco in 2014, as Bryce Petty is considered the No. 1 quarterback in the Big 12, Shock Linwood is set to breakout at running back, and the receiving corps is among the best in the nation. The offensive line should be fine (eventually this year), but there’s definitely concern anytime you have to replace a guard of Cyril Richardson’s caliber, and left tackle Spencer Drango is coming off season-ending back surgery. And it’s a good thing Baylor’s offense is among the nation’s best, as the defense is a work in progress. In conference games last year, the Bears held opponents to only 4.8 yards per play. With just four starters back, the defense has significant holes to fill and leadership voids to replace. The defensive line could be the best in the Big 12, which should help ease the losses in the secondary. I think the road trip to Oklahoma will decide who wins the conference, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Baylor stumbles at Texas or even to TCU in early October. This program is in good shape overall, as improved recruiting has upgraded the depth on the roster. The defense has its share of concerns, and the offensive line has a few question marks. However, Baylor should be a top-10 team in 2014 and could push for the Big 12 title if coordinator Phil Bennett quickly finds the right answers.


Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com

Bryce Petty and Company will still be scoring points with the best of them, but a lack of depth on defense will result in a couple late season losses - and a couple close wins that should have been blowouts.


Aaron Dickens, (@AaronDickens), RedRaiderSports.com

No team looked better through the first two months of last season than Baylor. The Bears' assault on stats and records tailed off once the scheduled toughened in November but, outside of a 49-17 drubbing in Stillwater and the Fiesta Bowl meltdown to UCF, the wins kept coming.

 

Baylor has had a better four-year run than any other team in the Big 12 and there are plenty of reasons to expect that trend to continue for Art Briles' program.

 

I'll be interested to see how the Bears' defense fares this season. The team's defensive front should be among the league's best but the secondary was decimated by graduation and, obviously, that's always a concern in the Big 12. BU will also be facing a much-improved crop of quarterbacks in the Big 12 -- Bryce Petty and Kansas State's Jake Waters were the only quarterbacks in the league to start every game last season -- so it wouldn't surprise me much to see Phil Bennett's defense be a bit less aggressive than it was in 2013.


Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com

After years of building a program that could challenge for the top of the Big 12, everything came together for Art Briles and his Bears in 2013. The Baylor offense scorched the earth en route to the league title, but it was the defense's emergence that really put the Bears over the top. BU still has the conference's reigning offensive player of the year, quarterback Bryce Petty, and plenty of weapons. The D, on the other hand, lost a host of standout veterans.

 

Petty and Co. have more than enough firepower to stay in the upper echelon of the Big 12. However, Briles and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett probably haven't stocked the other side of the ball well enough to repeat as champs. Catching Oklahoma and Texas on the road this year hurts the Bears' chances, too.


Braden Gall (@BradenGall)

Baylor's entire schedule really comes down to two massive road games at Oklahoma and at Texas. The trip to Austin won't be nearly as challenging but the trip to Norman will likely end up exactly how the first 11 have gone — with Oklahoma wins. Still, if Baylor wins every other game, not only could it share a Big 12 title but could possibly sneak into the playoff. Can you imagine the backlash if two Big 12 teams landed in the playoff?


David Fox (@DavidFox615)

Baylor should cruise through the non-conference again. Buffalo is a strange road trip, but no Khalil Mack means no problem for Baylor. I like the way the conference schedule sets up. Matchups against TCU and Kansas State could give Baylor trouble, but both are in Waco. And that TCU matchup is early enough in the year where the Horned Frogs’ offense may be taking shape. That’s why I picked Texas Tech in Arlington as the upset. Teams have to be able to score 35 points or more to beat Baylor. The Red Raiders can do that.


Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)

There's little doubt in my mind that Baylor will score a bunch of points again. Bryce Petty could very well earn an invite to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York in December even though he will be throwing to a relatively inexperienced group of pass-catchers. My concerns with Baylor, however, come on the other side of the ball. Losing eight starters from a defense that more than held its own last season will be tough to replace, especially in a offensive-minded conference like the Big 12. Still, the Bears should score enough to get to double-digit wins, provided they take care of business in their new home, McLane Stadium. The Nov. 8 visit to Norman will be tough and could be what ends up deciding the Big 12 title, but Art Briles' team can't overlook a tricky back-to-back in October with Texas and TCU either.

Teaser:
Baylor Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/west-virginia-football-game-game-predictions-2014
Body:

West Virginia enters its third season in the Big 12 with plenty of work to do. The Mountaineers are just 6-12 in conference play over the last two years and finished 4-8 overall in 2013.

Coach Dana Holgorsen is regarded as one of the top offensive minds in the nation. However, quarterback play is a question mark for West Virginia in 2014, especially if Clint Trickett struggles to return to full strength early in the year.

The Mountaineers weren’t as bad on defense as the numbers indicated last season. Injuries played a role in the final statistics, but this unit is primed for improvement under the direction of first-year coordinator Tony Gibson.

Coming off a 4-8 mark last year, there’s enormous pressure on Holgorsen to show improvement in 2014.

Of course, that’s not going to be easy with a schedule that features games against Alabama and Maryland in non-conference play.

Related: WVU 2014 Preview Big 12 Predictions Big 12 All-Conference Team 


The Expert Panel:

 

Steven Lassan, (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Allen Kenney, (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), EerSports.com
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Aaron Dickens (@AaronDickens), RedRaiderSports.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports

 

Early Game-by-Game Predictions for West Virginia in 2014
 Steven
Lassan
Allen
Kenney
David
Fox
Chris
Anderson
Braden
Gall
Aaron
Dickens
Mark
Ross
Alabama (Atlanta)
Towson
at Maryland
Oklahoma
Kansas
at TTU
Baylor
at OK State
TCU
at Texas
K-State
at Iowa State
Final Prediction:3-93-95-78-43-94-82-10
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Outside of Texas, West Virginia is the biggest wildcard in the Big 12 this year. The Mountaineers have the talent to top last year’s record, but the schedule is just brutal. I think it’s likely this team will be more competitive on the field and struggle to show any improvement on the win column. Non-conference games against Alabama and Maryland leave little room for error to get to a bowl, and West Virginia plays swing games against Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Iowa State on the road. Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell should help the rushing attack, and the defense returns six starters, while rising stars in cornerback Daryl Worley and safety Karl Joseph should help bolster a secondary that finished last in the Big 12 in 2013. Admittedly, my projection of West Virginia to get to three wins seems low. However, I’m just not sure the schedule is conducive to major improvement in the win column. This will be a better team in 2014, but it may not show in the final win tally.
 

Aaron Dickens, (@AaronDickens), RedRaiderSports.com

Fit is an extremely underrated aspect of any coaching hire in college football -- just ask Tommy Tuberville -- and I think West Virginia's last 18 games have shown that Dana Holgorsen isn't a great fit for the Mountaineers. Holgorsen hasn't forgotten how to coach in the last two years, but for whatever reason the 'Eers are trending downward and his tenure seems destined to end sooner than later.

 

The cruel part is that WVU would probably be a bowl team were it not for non-conference games away from Morgantown against Alabama and Maryland. Give Baylor's non-conference schedule to the 'Eers and there's little doubt in my mind that the Mountaineers would hit the six-win mark.

 

Clint Trickett is an obvious X-factor for WVU. He was seemingly learning Holgorsen's system on the fly last season and was further limited by a nagging shoulder injury. Trickett is fully healthy -- he sat out spring practice -- and is presumably more comfortable in Holgorsen's Air Raid offense, so it will be interesting to see how much he has improved.

 

Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com

Dana Holgorsen was an offensive genius for over a decade. I don't believe he suddenly lost it. I look for WVU's offense to get back up and running, and an improved defense will be adequate enough to help when the offense sputters.


Braden Gall (@BradenGall)

The Mountaineers should be much better in 2014 but I'm not sure if the record will show that. A brutal non-conference slate makes getting to a bowl game or improving on last year's record highly unlikely. Kansas and TCU at home are the best shots at wins within the league while road wins in Ames and Lubbock will be tough to come by. Five wins feels like a best case scenario and that feels like a big reach for a team that has fallen off the map competitively.

 

Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com

After a disastrous end to the 2012 season and an equally awful 2013, West Virginia should be an improved team in 2014. Unfortunately, that won't show up in the Mountaineers' record.

 

WVU was plagued by subpar quarterback play last season, enabling opposing defenses to key in on what could have been a decent running game. If senior Clint Trickett can stay healthy, it should at least give Dana Holgorsen's team a little stability under center. The players at the skill positions won't exactly keep opponents up at night, though, which means Holgo will have to rely on this patented creativity to manufacture some points. Defensively, the 'Eers have experience and should be solid. A wildcard will be what long-time Penn State assistant Tom Bradley brings to the D as WVU's new defensive line coach.

 

The biggest hurdle for Holgo's crew looks to be the schedule. Notably, WVU is playing almost anything resembling a 50-50 game on the road: Maryland, Texas Tech, OSU and ISU all host the Mountaineers this year. Factor in almost assured loss to Alabama in a neutral site contest and bowl eligibility starts to appear more and more remote.

 

On the whole, the last 18 games or so haven't been kind to West Virginia. Right now, it's hard to see things turning around quickly.

 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)

West Virginia still has a long way to go before the Mountaineers get back to where they were before joining the Big 12. Enough went wrong last season that it’s tough to picture West Virginia struggling as much as it did last season with losses to Kansas and Iowa State. A bowl game is an uphill battle. Clint Trickett’s toughness and the arrival of Rushel Shell should solidify the backfield, enough to tease a bowl game as long as West Virginia can beat teams like Maryland, TCU, Texas Tech and Kansas State here. I’ve picked West Virginia to split those toss-up games to fall to 5-7.


Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)

It could be another long season for West Virginia fans, and that doesn't bode well for head coach Dana Holgorsen. The Mountaineers sputtered on offense and imploded on defense last season, and it's tough for me to see things getting better this fall. A strong start to the season would be huge, but that's not going to happen with Alabama on tap in the Georgia Dome. The one home non-conference game (Towson) and the date with Kansas are the only "guaranteed" wins that I see. I'm not saying that West Virginia won't finish with more than two wins, but with a home slate that includes Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU and Kansas State, it's hard for me to see this Mountaineers team pile up the wins on the road.

Teaser:
West Virginia Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/10-most-important-terrible-qb-matchups-2014
Body:

Sure, we are all looking forward to Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota battling it out for a potential playoff spot in mid-October. How about Bryce Petty visiting Trevor Knight for a Big 12 championship? I can’t wait for Braxton Miller’s shot at revenge against Connor Cook in East Lansing.

 

Fans can only hope to get a Mariota-Jameis Winston quarterback matchup in the national championship game. Or Miller vs. Winston. Or Miller vs. Mariota. Or Hundley vs. any of them.

 

There are plenty of elite quarterback matchups set to take place in 2014. But what about the best, most important matchups of the year that could feature seriously questionable quarterback play?

 

Here are the most anticipated matchups of the year that will likely feature less than stellar play under center:

 

LSU at Florida (Oct. 11)

Brandon Harris could eventually be a star in the SEC but he will go through lots of growing pains in 2014 should he earn the starting spot. Florida welcomes back Jeff Driskel to the starting lineup as well as a new offensive coordinator for the third time in four seasons.  Both teams have aspirations of competing within their respective divisions but QB play will be a huge storyline to track for both traditional SEC powers.

 

Miami at Virginia Tech (Oct. 23)

The Hokies are picked first in the Coastal Division and the Hurricanes are picked second. Both will feature a transfer under center and neither team has any idea what it will get from the QB position this fall. Michael Brewer comes to Blacksburg from Texas Tech and has lots of ability while Miami could turn to former BYU and Kansas signal-caller Jake Heaps.

 

LSU vs. Wisconsin (Aug. 30)

LSU figures to get improved QB play as the year goes along from either Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris. Wisconsin has an incumbent in Joel Stave but Gary Andersen has made it known the starting spot is up for grabs. So in Week 1 and with two of the best running games in the nation, this Big Ten-SEC showdown could feature upwards of 100 handoffs.

 

Miami at Nebraska (Sept. 20)

Both the Huskers and Hurricanes feel like they have a shot to win their respective conference's division this year and both will have question marks under center. Tommy Armstrong got plenty of experience last year and has upside but needs to prove it as just a sophomore. Miami is in much worse shape as Kansas transfer Jake Heaps could take over the reins. Expectations are high for both teams and an early-season, non-conference matchup in Lincoln should be fun to watch. Especially, considering the national title history between these two.

 

Florida vs. SEC East

Jeff Driskel has a chance to redeem himself in 2014 and many expect Florida to be much better this fall. But Driskel has to prove he can stay healthy and be consistent for that to happen. The good news is the rest of the SEC East is also dealing with unknowns at the QB position. Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri feel confident in the guy they will be running out there but none have ever been a starter. And Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky could be using first-year starters.

 

LSU at Texas A&M (Nov. 27)

LSU once again makes an appearance and odds are that both the Aggies and Tigers have much better QB play on Thanksgiving than they will early in the year. Kyle Allen looks to be the heir apparent to Johnny Manziel but will be just a true freshman — albeit an extremely highly-touted freshman. Should problems persist for both teams under center, this season finale could end up defining either's 2014 campaign.

 

Nebraska at Wisconsin (Nov. 15)

Fans of both teams should expect growth at the QB position throughout the course of the season but there is no guarantee that either Armstrong or Stave is still the starter by mid-November. With a potential trip to the Big Ten title game on the line, quarterback play will become imperative for both squads by the time these two meet near the end of the year.

 

Washington at Arizona (Nov. 15)

The Huskies are not only breaking in a new head coach in Chris Petersen but also a new quarterback after Keith Price departed. Cyler Miles looks the part of a future star but has yet to prove it on the field. Rich Rodriguez has plenty of options (maybe, too many) and will have to settle on either a guy who doesn't fit his system (Jesse Scroggins) or a very inexperienced player (Anu Solomon). For two popular sleeper teams in the Pac-12, quarterback play will be a huge storyline all season long.

 

TCU at Texas (Nov. 27)

Both teams look to be improved this year and both are eyeing the postseason. But both could have major quarterback questions all season. The questions for David Ash aren't talent-related. There is no telling how long he can stay healthy. Meanwhile, in Fort Worth, Matt Joeckel transfers in from Texas A&M and tries to stabilize a position that has flustered Gary Patterson since the departure of Andy Dalton. Pecking order in the Big 12 figures to hang in the balance when these two developing Lone Star rivals get together on Thanksgiving Day.

 

Duke vs. Miami/Virginia Tech

The defending champs of the ACC's Coastal Division return Anthony Boone but the Duke starter struggled at times last year. With Brandon Connette gone to Fresno State, all of David Cutcliffe's eggs are in Boone's basket. And when the Blue Devils play Miami (Sept. 27) and Virginia Tech (Nov. 15), the Coastal title could be on the line. All three teams have concerns at the position entering the year.

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It’s understandable that David Shaw would be somewhat conflicted when it comes to the Pac-12’s nine-game conference schedule. On the one hand, the fourth-year Stanford coach is a competitor, and there is something appealing about being the ruling party two seasons running in a league that tests manhood like no other.

 

He is also a pragmatist, and when he sees the annual parade of late-season scrimmages favored by SEC schools — hello, Furman, Appalachian State, Chattanooga and Florida Atlantic — he gets a little jealous, although he may have chuckled when he saw Georgia Southern knock off Florida last year.

 

“We would have loved to have put a game (like that) between UCLA and Oregon State last year,” Shaw says.

 

Stanford survived that test against back-to-back ranked opponents. It even knocked off Oregon 12 days later. But the Cardinal eventually succumbed to the grind and dropped a 20–17 decision at USC. Shaw can’t complain too much, because even though the loss was in mid-November, Stanford still won the Pac-12 North and then whipped Arizona State for the conference crown. By the time the game against ASU was over, the Cardinal had played six league games against ranked opponents. “And that doesn’t include a ranked Notre Dame team and a ranked Michigan State team in the Rose Bowl,” Shaw says.

 

Shaw would be wise to avoid seeking sympathy for his team’s tough schedule. Not too many people would commiserate, given Stanford’s recent run of success under him and predecessor Jim Harbaugh. His point is less a woe-is-me complaint than a celebration of the Pac-12’s growth and increased success. Once known for its wacky explosions of points and a rather cavalier approach to defense, the conference has become deeper, stronger and more able to make a national impression. Thanks to improved commitments to on-field success throughout the conference and a more focused branding effort from the conference office, the Pac-12 is escaping its previous image as a league on the fringes, whose Saturday night games served as lullabies for half the country.

 

“Right now, the conference is the best it has ever been,” says Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who grew up in Pac-12 country and has spent more than a decade coaching in the conference. “The depth and talent of teams and coaching staffs are so much better than they were. The facilities and the commitment to the facilities are off the charts.”

 

Last year, Pac-12 schools went 6–3 in bowl competition, an impressive performance that included 75 percent of the conference’s members. (California, Utah and Colorado were the lone exclusions.) Thanks to new deals with ESPN and Fox and the league’s bold step to create its own TV network, media revenues are soaring, and thanks to a new program that divides the spoils equally, there is an opportunity for everyone to benefit. Commissioner Larry Scott, who this fall enters his fifth school year atop the conference, has employed his promotional savvy to help bolster the Pac-12 brand throughout the nation.

 

The Pac-12 still must fight the time-difference issue, but its national image is on the rise, and as one of the lucky Big Five conferences that will get preferred treatment with this year’s debut of the College Football Playoff, it is positioned well for future prosperity.

 

Although the league crows about its success in all sports and has won more aggregate national championships than any other confederation, the true measure of the Pac-12’s — or any other conference’s — health is football. In that regard, things are looking good.

 

“We are heading in the right direction from a football standpoint and from the standpoint of a lot of sports,” Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne says. “We’ve always been strong historically across the board, but we have seen that schools have done a good job investing in their infrastructures, and some of that has been done through increased conference revenue and donations.”

 

When Scott took over the league in the summer of 2009, the Pac-12 was fifth among BCS conferences — ahead of only the Big East — in terms of TV money and national football perception. While USC was playing great ball, and those Oregon uniforms sure attracted the teenage crowd, depth was lacking. There was some discontent among the ranks, because larger-market schools were getting more of the conference pot than were those in outposts such as Corvallis and Pullman.

 

Within a year, the league had announced the additions of Utah and Colorado, negotiated new TV deals with ESPN and Fox that more than tripled revenues from the Pac-12’s previous contracts and decided to split any income evenly among its members. (Utah and Colorado went through a three-year probationary period upon entering the conference, during which they received less than other members.) With the improvement of several programs — Washington State went to a bowl last year! — the Pac-12 is now healthy financially and on the rise on the football field. Throw in a concerted effort to bring the conference brand to a wider audience, the better to boost Pac-12 Networks revenue and also enrollment, and you have an impressive package.

 

“Day to day, as coaches, we don’t think about marketing the conference,” Shaw says. “We have a great combination of an unbelievable group of coaches who are pushing players to be national contenders and a commissioner that is pushing the league to be the best in everything. You have to recognize that.”

 

UCLA coach Jim Mora was nowhere near Westwood when USC and Pete Carroll were winning back-to-back national title in 2003-04. But Mora, who spent part of his youth in L.A. before moving to Seattle and graduating from the University of Washington, understands fully the value for a conference of having the best team in the country carrying the standard. Over the past several years, there have been some with the temerity to suggest that the SEC isn’t the best conference around. They were shouted down by those who reminded them that no matter how bad some of its members may be, the past seven national champs have been SEC schools. That streak ended in 2013, but not without a conference member (Auburn) staging a pretty good run at the crown.

 

So, Pac-12 fans will have to excuse Mora when he doesn’t jump for joy over last year’s 6–3 bowl record. He’s proud to be part of a league with good depth and plenty of talent, but Mora understands that real recognition doesn’t come until someone from the conference can jab an index finger skyward and shout, “We’re number one!”

 

“It’s great when the whole league is good, because it shines a brighter light on teams excelling in any given year and gives teams the respect they deserve,” he says. “But we need to win some national championships.

 

“The only way we will get national respect is by winning a national championship in football.”

 

Mora understands that the recent success by Stanford and Oregon atop the Pac-12 has attracted more eyes to the league. He also understands that real legitimacy comes from having a team on top. That’s why you’ll probably read a bunch of articles leading up to the start of this season about how ACC football is making great strides, thanks to Florida State’s 2013 national title. It’s nice to have teams that can win the Sun and Hawaii Bowls, but that kind of second-tier success only looks good when a league can also wave the biggest banner of them all.

 

Pac-12 coaches believe there is sufficient talent to make it happen. The state of California alone has enough talent to stock three or four national contenders. Throw in major population centers like Seattle, Phoenix and Denver, and there are a lot of top FBS players from which to choose. Thanks to the improved television coverage, it’s possible to expand that area eastward, the better to offset the recruiting efforts of schools from other parts of the country that pillage the Pac-12’s recruiting stocks.

 

“We’re getting farther east,” Helfrich says. “TV makes this a smaller country and allows us to get players from Florida, New Jersey and Michigan. We can get in a living room and tell parents that they will be able to watch their son on TV every weekend. They’ll be able to look at his face and see if he needs a phone call.”

 

Shaw, who insists that Stanford is “the one true national recruiter in college football,” loves the fact that the Pac-12 Networks, while hardly able to boast universal clearance, still reaches parts of the Northeast and Deep South. For a highly selective private school, that’s a big deal. But it’s not just the Pac-12 Networks. The deals with ESPN and Fox have brought the conference’s product to a much wider audience. When Scott took over, only 39 percent of the league’s football and men’s hoops games were broadcast nationally, and 10 percent of the football games didn’t have any TV exposure, according to a November 2013 New York Times report.

 

“We tell kids to find the Pac-12 Networks and watch us,” Shaw says. “They can see the player profiles and learn about the rest of the conference. They can say, ‘I may be from Virginia, but I can see the stadium and see the school.’ It’s more than just a coach telling them about it.

 

“It makes it real.”

 

What the prospects see is a conference with a lot going on. Many people think of Pac-12 football as just Oregon’s funky uniforms and that crazy duck on the back of a motorcycle. That show has certainly helped the conference’s identity. Stanford’s success has done a lot, too. But now that coaches like Mike Leach, Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham have brought their spread attacks to the league, there may be more potent offenses in the league than ever before.

 

“You have so many different styles,” Shaw says. “You have to tweak what you do every week. You have to be unique with what you do but also be ready to face different kinds of teams every week. There are lots of spread teams, but they are different spread teams. You have to be able to adjust.”

 

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

The rise of Mora’s UCLA team has made things interesting, too. Granted, it has helped the Bruins that cross-town rival USC has been struggling with probation, but the Bruins’ success has given the Pac-12 another school capable of attracting national attention.

 

Given UCLA’s recent basketball travails — and the short memories of today’s high school students — the “basketball school” label that has haunted the Bruin football program may not apply in a few years, especially if it can establish itself as the place to go for the Golden State’s talented high school recruits.

 

“California is bursting with talent,” Mora says. “Everybody is in California trying to pluck guys. Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas are all crossing our borders. But there is also a tremendous amount of talent and good football played in the Northwest and throughout the West Coast. There’s a lot of talent here.”

 

Those standouts who choose to stay home and play for Pac-12 schools are doing so as much for the facilities as they are for the cool offensive schemes. And that’s something new. All across the conference, schools are adding new stadiums, offices and workout centers or beefing up existing sites. The new contracts and more equitable distribution program are allowing schools like Washington State to be more competitive with the rest of the league, from a facilities standpoint.

 

Even though Utah didn’t receive a full revenue share during its first three years in the league, that didn’t stop it from transforming the $10 million football center it had planned while still a Mountain West Conference member into a $32 million project once it joined the Pac-12. The school raised half the money through fundraising and the other half through a bond issue, which it had never done before.

 

“We had to decide, ‘Do we want to be in the Pac-12 to have a nice time or to compete?’” Utah AD Chris Hill says. “We want to compete.”

 

While schools boost their facilities’ profiles, and coaches work to make their teams more competitive, Scott sells the Pac-12 brand, bringing football and men’s basketball bosses east before every season to meet with media who don’t cross the Rocky Mountains (or the Mississippi, for that matter) very often. He fights to get the Pac-12 Networks greater carriage on cable and satellite providers across the country. The goal is to create a brand that rivals those of the Big Ten and SEC, which had far better profiles than their western counterpart just a few years ago.

 

It hasn’t all been perfect. Money from the Pac-12 Networks is not exactly pouring in. Rather than partner with an established TV presence like ESPN (SEC) or Fox (Big Ten), Scott decided to go it alone. “No one else has been able to do what we were able to do,” he says. “We can control programming and control branding and the messaging on it. That’s important to our universities.”

 

Some are not happy that the pioneer spirit has resulted in a smaller revenue stream, but Scott points to the opportunity to have flexibility and control down the road.

 

“It’s very much a long-term strategic initiative,” he says. “We are off to a great start.”
 

That can’t be denied. Pac-12 schools are making money, winning on the football field and gaining notice nationwide. There is work to be done, but a lot of problems could be overcome with a national title.

 

“The one thing that will define us as the conference is national championships,” Mora says. “Not one, but multiple.

 

“That will take time.”

 

Not as much as once was thought.

 

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

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The middle of summer is upon us, and for many elite high school prospects, that means 7-on-7 competitions.

If quarterbacks, receivers and running backs aren’t working on passing skeletons in their spare time, they’re probably at one of the showcases or tournaments.

Last week’s 7-on-7 drills at The Opening in Beaverton, Ore., and this week’s National Select 7-on-7 championship in Hoover, Ala., have us wondering which college team would have the best 7-on-7 squad in 2014.

Take away the offensive line and the defense, which offenses would we want to watch play against air? We’ve noted the national unit rankings for quarterbacks, running backs and receivers as published in our 2014 preview magazines.

 A silly exercise, but it is the middle of July.

1. Florida State
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 1 | RB: 7 | WR/TE: 4
Could it be anyone else? The returning Heisman winner at quarterback is the headliner here, but Jameis Winston still has plenty of company despite personnel departures. Kelvin Benjamin and his 15 touchdown catches are gone as are the top two running backs. Rashad Greene may become the school’s career-leading receiver, and Kermit Whitfield and Isaiah Jones are up-and-comers. Nick O’Leary, who averaged 16.9 yards per catch last season, could be the nation’s top tight end. Former safety Karlos Williams proved himself a breakaway threat at running back with 8.0 yards per carry last season. Even while playing against live defenses, Florida State led the nation at 7.7 yards per play.

2. Baylor
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 4 | RB: 19 | WR/TE: 2
Baylor sure looked like a 7-on-7 squad early last season, when it racked up numbers at a record pace against an overmatched non-conference schedule. Eventually, the Bears proved it had depth, too. Receiver Levi Norwood and running back Shock Linwood stepped in for injured starters, and Baylor didn’t miss a beat. Both return in bigger roles this season. And then there’s Bryce Petty, who finished last season with 32 touchdowns and three interceptions in his first season as a starter. He’ll have two returning starters at receiver back in Antwan Goodley and Corey Coleman.

3. Auburn
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 6 | RB: 14 | WR/TE: 7
In a league short on experienced quarterbacks, Auburn will have a leg up on the SEC with Nick Marshall. The Tigers want Marshall to develop as a passer this season. A year ago, backing off Marshall the passer and focusing on the run game helped turned Auburn into SEC champions. A year after averaging 21.5 yards per catch, Sammie Coates earned a spot atop Bruce Feldman’s annual “freaks” list. Auburn should have plenty of bodies in the run game to replace Tre Mason. The question is how Cameron Artis-Payne, the speedy Corey Grant, inside zone threat Peyton Barber and talented freshmen will end up in the rotation.

4. Alabama
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: NR | RB: 1 | WR/TE: 1
Alabama is back to the two-man running back tandem after T.J. Yeldon rushed 115 times more than anyone else last season. Yeldon and Sugar Bowl star Derrick Henry may come closer to approaching the Yeldon/Eddie Lacy duo in 2012 that topped 2,400 yards. Breakaway threat Amari Cooper leads the a veteran receivers group, and O.J. Howard is a weapon at tight end few Nick Saban teams have had. The question is Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. Jimbo Fisher has talked him up since the quarterback left Tallahassee, but he’s still an unknown quantity.

5. Georgia
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: NR | RB: 2 | WR/TE: 3
Georgia would have had one of the best 7-on-7 teams last season had this group stayed healthy. The Bulldogs will make another run for it this season, though with senior Hutson Mason replacing SEC career leading passer Aaron Murray. The star here, though, is Todd Gurley. Think he’s a big deal? Georgia averaged two yards per play more on drives when Gurley carried compared to when he didn’t. The receiver group is deep, especially if it can stay healthy. Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley missed significant time last season, but that allowed Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, who missed two games with an MCL injury, take more prominent roles.

6. Oregon
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 2 | RB: 10 | WR/TE: NR
Marcus Mariota is much more effective when he can run, but he still finished last season with 31 touchdowns and four interceptions despite a balky knee for a stretch. Running back as usual is loaded for Oregon with Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner (1,739 yards, 23 touchdowns combined) returning. The question will be at receiver with sure-handed receiver Josh Huff gone and Bralon Addison out with a torn ACL.

7. USC
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: NR | RB: 8 | WR/TE: 9
Cody Kessler’s season took off in 2013 after the coaching switch, culminating with 344 yards and four touchdowns in the bowl game against Fresno State. Receiver Marqise Lee is out, but USC as usual has another star No. 1 receiver ready to take over in Nelson Agholor. The underrated portion may be the running backs where Buck Allen emerged under the new coaching staff for 785 yards and 15 total touchdowns. The best news in all of this: Offensive coordinator Clay Helton is back.

8. UCLA
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 5 | RB: NR | WR/TE: 18
Brett Hundley will keep UCLA in Pac-12 contention after passing for more than 3,000 yards and rushing for more than 700 to go with 35 total touchdowns. Leading receiver Shaq Evans is gone, but the next four players in line are sophomores and juniors ready to break out. Running back needs an upgrade after linebacker Myles Jack swooped in and propped up the run game with seven rushing touchdowns.

9. Michigan State
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 11 | RB: 11 | WR/TE: 17
Michigan State may not be the program anyone names when it comes to dynamic offense, but the 2014 skill positions are solid across the board. Mark Dantonio trusted Connor Cook with more of the offense as the season went along, and Jeremy Langford topped 100 yards in eight consecutive games before the Rose Bowl victory. The receiver group led by Tony Lippett is deep and underrated.

 

10. Ohio State
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 3 | RB: 15 | WR/TE: 19
Braxton Miller remains one of the nation’s most dynamic quarterbacks, and he’s continuing to get better. His completion percentage went up five points from last season with only a marginal change in yards per attempt. Devin Smith can be a deep threat at receiver, and Evan Spencer is a returning starter. Carlos Hyde is a major loss at running back, so Miller may be under more pressure to handle a heavy burden of the offense.

11. North Carolina
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 19 | RB: 24 | WR/TE: 12
Though his end of season statistics were boosted by a 409-yard, five-touchdown performance against Old Dominion, Marquise Williams did enough in the air and on the ground to signal he could be the best ACC quarterback not named Jameis. North Carolina has a pair of 6-4 receivers (Quinshad Davis and Bug Howard) who combined for 14 touchdown catches last season to go with an effective committee of running backs.

Others of note: BYU, Ole Miss, Stanford, Texas A&M

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HOOVER, Ala. — In baseball, most pinch-hitters take their at-bat and head back to the dugout. It’s one hitter, one pitcher and the day is done.

Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah pinch hit for more than three hours, taking the best (and sadly, the worst) the SEC media contingent had to offer.

When Auburn coach Gus Malzahn pulled his SEC champion quarterback Nick Marshall from the media day roster Monday, he called on Uzomah.

Instead of a quarterback who passed for more than 1,900 yards and rushed for more than 1,000, Uzomah and his 17 career receptions represented Auburn at media day. Instead of a quarterback who had just been cited for marijuana possession over the weekend, Auburn sent a senior who otherwise expected to enjoy a quiet Monday.

“It is a privilege and a reward to represent Auburn here at the SEC Media Days,” Malzahn said. “Last Friday Nick lost that privilege.”

But is it really a privilege, hearing the same questions over and over again, many of which were the same questions back in the spring and the fall? There’s a way for a player to survive media day. Here’s what we learned from following Uzomah and asking some seasoned vets for the survival guide.

As Alabama quarterback-turned-ESPN and Sirius XM host Greg McElroy says, “appreciate the hassle.”

Lead image borrowed from @SEC.

 

Rule 1: Call mom
 

The first call to replace Marshall went from Mazlahn to Uzomah. The second was from Uzomah to mom.

 

Some teams will show up in suits. Some will show up in team polos. Auburn went for suits, and Uzomah didn’t have one on campus.

Never underestimate mom’s devotion to make a kid look good. His mom drove two-and-half hours from Suwanee, Ga., to Auburn, Ala., to bring him his suit.

Maybe mom didn’t bring dress socks. Maybe she did, but Uzomah wasn’t going to pass on a chance to turn his socks into a conversation piece. Uzomah is a U.S. soccer fan and used red, white and blue socks with a small flag hanging off the ankle.

Like Uzomah, Florida’s Dante Fowler called mom for a trip to Men’s Warehouse. Mom picked out the suit, but Fowler needed to accessorize.

“I saw a bow tie, and I said as long as I get this bow tie I’m fine,” Fowler said. “(Defensive lineman) Alex McCallister tied it for me. It was too tight on my neck, but Alex is 6-7 so his long arms helped out.”

Rule 2: Prep for questions


Even on media day, players need to put in some study time. Media has its own tendencies just like any offense or defense.

All of Auburn’s players had to answer to some degree for Marshall. Did he address the team (he did). Does he still have the team’s trust (he does).

“We prepared just like it was a game,” Uzomah said.

When McElroy came for media day before his senior season in 2010, he and his teammates knew most of the questions that were going to be asked.

“What’s Nick Saban like? What’s Trent (Richardson) like? What’s Mark Ingram like? Can you win the national championship? Can you do it again?” McElroy said. “We knew what the questions are going to be.”

 

THE SCHEDULE

 

Here’s where C.J. Uzomah was for SEC Media Day:
11:50-12:00 Radio
12:00-12:10 Fox Sports South
12:10-12:30 TV
12:30-12:50 Print/Online Media
12:50-1:10 ESPN
1:10-1:20 CBS.com
1:20-1:30 CBS
1:30-1:40 SEC Video
1:40-1:50 Sirius XM
1:50-2:00 SEC Radio
2:00-2:10 ESPN.com
2:10-2:40 Radio Row

 

Jeff Driskel, another veteran quarterback, knew the drill Monday, too, although no one was going to ask about going to the national championship game.

He plopped himself down in front of the media horde.

“Do I just pick someone?”

Answer: “Yes”

“All right. Let’s do this.”

Then the standard series of questions on Florida’s new hurry-up offense, Will Muschamp on the hot seat, and his recovery from a broken right leg.

“I’m feeling great ... thanks for asking.”


Rule 3: Stay on schedule


There’s one person on media day whose influence trumps anyone but the coach: The 5-foot-4 woman keeping players on schedule from the main print media room to breakout rooms for SEC broadcast rights holders ESPN and CBS.

Uzomah may be on a roll. The lingering media may still have follow ups. Two more questions in the media pool means two more questions. Exactly.

“She’s the boss,” Uzomah said as he was whisked from newspaper reporters to TV reporters.

And a harsh reminder for reporters: The follow-up to the last question doesn’t start the clock over again.

“They always want to ask more questions,” grumbled one of Monday’s timekeepers.

 

 

Rule 4: Have patience


Not only is Uzomah pinch-hitting. He’s putting in extra time.

A radio row trip isn’t on the schedule, but Auburn wants to get its player to local radio outlets and another in the Atlanta area, where Uzomah played in high school.

The first question in one interview with Uzomah: “Is it ‘Ooh-zah-mah’ or ‘Ooh-zoe-mah?’” Answer: Ooh-zah-mah.

The final statement in said interview: “We’re here with C.J. ‘Ooh-zoe-mah.’”

In between: Several questions about Nick Marshall and yet more questions about how Auburn’s spread offense can improve.

“To me, it was a bit of a drag,” McElroy said. “Because it's room after room. You can’t hit everyone all at once, you’re hitting different questions at different times. I remember leaving here and taking a nap on the way home.”


Rule 5: Embrace the fans


The circus atmosphere of a media day is ramped up a notch for Auburn and Alabama in Hoover. The lobby of the Hyatt Regency on the day the Iron Bowl rivals speak is often laced with dozens of fans from 8 a.m. until the afternoon.

As Uzomah exited the main media ballroom onto radio row — the collection of stations conducting live radio shows in the Hyatt Regency lobby — he was greeted at the end of the escalator with chants of “War Eagle.”

In the middle of a TV interview, a fan walks by and says, “War Eagle.” Uzomah interrupts his own answer to respond in kind.

Uzomah is in the final minutes of being herded like cattle from interview to interview to autograph seekers back to interviews. Is this a privilege or a penance?

“I love it,” Uzomah said. “I’m having fun.”

Teaser:
Appreciate the Hassle: Players' Rules for Media Day
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SEC Media Day is here, and Athlon Sports is live from Hoover, Ala., to talk every team around the league. Day 1 started with comments from commissioner Mike Slive plus Auburn, Florida and Vanderbilt.

 

On the docket for the first day was Mike Slive's push for autonomy, the absence of Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, Florida's hot seat coach and new offense and higher expectations for Derek Mason at Vanderbilt.

 

Joining us today were Brandon Marcello from AL.com and Edgar Thompson from the Orlando Sentinel.

 

Have a question or comment? Contact us at podcast@athlonsports.com or on Twitter at @AthlonSports, @BradenGall and @DavidFox615

Teaser:
Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: Auburn, Florida and Vanderbilt from Media Day
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 18:58
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Florida Gators, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/floridas-muschamp-faces-inevitable-hot-seat-talk
Body:

HOOVER, Ala. — Will Muschamp opened his meeting with the media in Hoover with an 11-minute filibuster, acknowledging the business of his future employment but still putting off any real questions.

“There will be a lot of chatter about hot seat business,” Muschamp said, unprompted. “That's part of it. The way you combat that is having a winning football team and winning football games, which is what we're going to do.”

The “hot seat” is the media cliche of the preseason — who is on it, who is off, what does a coach need to do to get off of it or get fired.




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After a 4-8 season, Muschamp draws the hot seat straw in the SEC this year, joining names like Derek Dooley, Joker Phillips and Houston Nutt (twice).

“There was never any time in my mind that I didn't think I would be retained,” Muschamp said.

After home losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia Southern and one of the worst offenses in the country, Muschamp isn’t defending record as much as he’s trying to instill hope.

The record includes a Sugar Bowl but also the worst Florida season since 0-10-1 in 1979. The hope is that the offense won’t be ranked around teams like Eastern Michigan, Memphis, UConn and Idaho.

For that, Muschamp added Duke’s Kurt Roper, his third offensive coordinator in four seasons. The move is expected to add more shotgun offense, more quick passes and more running opportunities for quarterback Jeff Driskel, recruited in the spread option under former coach Urban Meyer.

The hope is also that Florida will stay healthier. Driskel was lost for the season in September. The injuries continued with Driskel’s backup, Tyler Murphy, and a host of other players on offense.

By the end of the season, trainer Paul Silvestri visited Muschamp in the defensive coaching room at 10 p.m. one day game week. Silvestri was rarely in the football office at that time of night. He was this night to tell to coach that offensive lineman Tyler Moore injured his elbow in a scooter accident.

“I can't tell you exactly what I said, but it wasn't good,” Muschamp said. “That was at a point where, you know, I asked him, You got to be kidding?  That was a point where, you know, it was just very frustrating.”

Was it the injuries? Was it the offense? Was it bad luck? Or was it Muschamp?

Florida may find out this season.

“I’ve mentioned it multiple times today, there is no pressure,” Driskel said. “Every coach is on the hot seat.”

Teaser:
Florida's Muschamp Faces Inevitable Hot Seat Talk
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 17:57
Path: /nascar/nascar-chase-deserves-better-kick-stops-chicago-loudon-dover
Body:

On paper, New Hampshire Motor Speedway should be one of the most exciting racetracks in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Just one mile in length, it’s the shortest oval NASCAR races on between the second week of June and Bristol in late August, part of a summer doldrums stretch that typically produces the lowest ratings of the year. Its second event, held in September, is also in the Chase midway through the first round of eliminations that will cut the field down from 16 drivers to 12 drivers. The layout may be flat, part of the track’s unique makeup, but the action on-track should be the opposite — a welcome respite in the midst of intermediate hell and Indy’s Brickyard Coronation Parade disguised as a 400-mile crown jewel.

 

Instead? While there’s parity up at the Magic Mile with Brad Keselowski the 13th winner in the last 13 races, the on-track jostling for position rarely materializes. Other than restarts — a frantic two to three laps of insanity — passing was near impossible in a race defined by pit strategy, track position and a Penske car that was often two-tenths quicker than the field. NASCAR officials tried their best, with four of seven cautions called for debris, but the most shuffling they got came from which team took two tires rather than four to stay out front. When the roughest contact came from a 72-year-old simply out there logging laps (more on that in a bit) NASCAR heads into its final off week struggling to sustain momentum. No wonder why aerial shots of the track, the final race covered by TNT, showed the stands as merely three-quarters full.

 

All that begs a look at the schedule, which could be set for some major changes with the shifting of TV partners come 2015. Right now, the Chase begins with Chicagoland, one of the sport’s weakest intermediate tracks, followed by this type of “yawner” competition. Up third? Dover, whose “Monster Mile” has done little to chew up the field in recent years. That’s your trio, in succession, out of all tracks NASCAR has to offer tasked with getting an audience revved up for this new format. It’s like announcing a world tour with Lady Gaga and kicking it off with Topeka, Bismarck and a smoky casino in Reno. 

 

Is it the cars? Some might say yes, but the racing has been fantastic at other places (Fontana and Bristol immediately come to mind). Is it the drivers? Maybe, but several have abandoned the conservative, racing for points mentality in favor of a more aggressive approach. Is it the track? Perhaps, but after millions in aesthetic improvements following its purchase, owner Speedway Motorsports, Inc. will be reluctant to tear up the asphalt and start over. Is it the tires? Sure, we always seem to blame Goodyear, and too many two-tire stops Sunday were effective. But of course, there’s always a balance here when it comes to aggression and safety, as hung throttles claimed the lives of Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty here 14 short years ago.

 

The solutions here are complex, and it could be years before we get an effective answer to the monotony. Until then, maybe NASCAR should take a look at rewarding the best tracks with the best racing by saving the best for last. New Hampshire isn’t one of those options right now, making a two-date schedule of April and July (or even just one date on the schedule) a much more appealing option. Throwing Richmond, a road course or even Atlanta to spice things up in the first three Chase races would be far more preferable than putting people to sleep. Why burden the playoffs — which are already under fire — with the threat of potential snoozers like this one?

 

“Through the Gears” we go …

 

 

FIRST GEAR: Is “Bad Brad” back in charge?  Brad Keselowski

Two of the last three weeks, it’s Team Penske that’s hot, with Brad Keselowski riding full momentum into NASCAR’s last off week. Leading 138 laps, even a green-white-checker finish wasn’t enough to derail perhaps the only car on-track that could pass people with ease.

 

“Where do I start? The team was just really on it,” said Keselowski who completed a New Hampshire sweep after winning the Nationwide race on Saturday. “From our perspective our car was so fast you hated to do anything to it. It really feels like we hit our stride.”

 

The victories, combined with some struggles of other top drivers, have lifted Keselowski to third in points. Most importantly, his third win ties him with Jimmie Johnson for most on tour and puts him in position for a potential top seed entering the Chase. Penske, with much of the summer left to keep fiddling around, appears to have hit on a combination that pushes the car ahead handling-wise in the center of the corner. That’s a key advantage to have for both these one-mile, shorter ovals and the bigger 1.5-mile intermediates that make up the bulk of NASCAR’s playoff.

 

Does that mean the balance of power has shifted? Not quite. Hendrick Motorsports, whose four-car outfit was all over the board Sunday, is also in a comfortable position. Johnson, who had two early tire blowouts that left him in the garage in 42nd, is easily the series’ best driver at Indianapolis. Teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne used radically different setups Sunday — seemingly a test for the fall event so the organization comes back fully prepared. 

 

 

SECOND GEAR: Gibbs clawing back … or one-race wonder?

It’s no secret that Joe Gibbs Racing has spent all season playing catch up. Matt Kenseth, though fourth in points, remains winless while Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, despite being locked in the Chase, have been bouncing up and down the standings like yo-yos. Consistency, once the hallmark of this program, has been replaced by a Sherlock Holmes mystery: these cars could roll off third best or 30th best off the truck each weekend, with no rhyme or reason as to why. It’s a clear step back for Toyota’s top program, while Ford and Chevy’s best teams (Penske and Hendrick, respectively) run circles around it heading towards the Chase.

 

That’s why this weekend was so important for JGR to reestablish a baseline. All three teams were capable of winning, with the trio finishing second, fourth and eighth after qualifying first, third and 15th. If Hamlin wasn’t forced to pit due to fuel issues before the green-white-checker, those results could have been even better.

 

“We haven’t been such dominant forces that we were last year,” admitted Busch post-race. “At this time last year (Matt) Kenseth and myself and the races that Denny (Hamlin) was able to make — we led a lot of laps. Unfortunately, we just haven’t quite seen that yet this year. Trying to get better, and once we do, I think everybody will see, and you’ll start hearing the name JGR a little bit more.”

 

New Hampshire, for the reasons mentioned above, was a bit of a testing session of sorts for other top rivals. Still, you can’t ignore a trio of top-10 results, the type of confidence boost that gets JGR feeling it’s turned in the right direction with two months and counting left towards the Chase.

 

 

THIRD GEAR: The old guy wrecks the party

Here’s one for you: Morgan Shepherd scored his last top-5 finish in Cup when Chase Elliott was less than two years old. Born two months before Pearl Harbor, you’d think the 72-year-old Shepherd incited a war on Sunday when he slammed into a driver 50 years his junior in Joey Logano. Running second at the time, Logano’s race was toast, calling into question whether a driver who hadn’t finished a Cup race in a decade should still be competing. 

 

“I got taken out by the slowest car out there. You would think there would be some courtesy to the leaders,” said Logano, who referenced there should be a driver’s test to someone like Shepherd before they go out and compete. “We were in second place. He gets out of the way on the straightaway and then goes into the corner and slides right up into the lane I was in. Whatever. I don’t know.”

 

For his part, Shepherd qualified dead last in the 43-car field. He ran far above NASCAR’s minimum speed, so despite running several laps off the pace, had every right to be there. The problem stems not so much from Shepherd but from the lack of outside competition to knock cars backed by this one-time novelty act off the grid. Just 42 cars ran at Kentucky last month, the Cup Series’ first “short field” since 2001. And there seem to be openings at the back of the field every week. With the right amount of cash paired with some previous experience, it seems anyone could earn a NASCAR license and pop up on track — creating a perception that the Cup Series is a “show” to the untrained observer rather than an actual sport.

 

You stop that process by increasing ownership, reducing costs and encouraging more manufacturers, investors, etc. to fight for a spot on the grid. Until that happens, if there’s a smaller field (36? 38?) to keep from watering-down the product this type of incident may be the tip of an iceberg.

 

 

FOURTH GEAR: RTA still overshadowing all  Roger Penske

The sport’s new Race Team Alliance (RTA), formed by the top nine multi-car owners, was at the forefront of everyone’s mind in New Hampshire. Even after winning, at the post-race press conference, it was one of the first questions posed to RTA Charter Member Roger Penske. 

 

“I support it 100 percent,” he said. “And Rob Kauffman communicates the message for all the owners. I really don’t have any other comments.”

 

Kauffman, co-owner for Michael Waltrip Racing has been named chair of the new organization, which publicly says its motive is to “cut costs and streamline ideas” for the sport going forward. But it’s also a grouping that NASCAR has never seen, long-term, throughout its 65-year history. Why not? In the past, totalitarian leadership by Bill France Sr. or Bill France Jr. would stamp out any such attempts to “unionize.” When drivers didn’t want to run Talladega in 1969 fearing safety issues, Bill Sr. still ran the race, building a replacement field. In the 1960s, when Curtis Turner led a potential movement towards a driver’s union? The move wound up destroying Turner’s career, not NASCAR’s.

 

But this time around, with millions of dollars on the line, the owners appear to have more leverage than ever. Look no further than Morgan Shepherd and the sobering reality of point three: if these owners don’t like a decision from NASCAR and choose to leave and/or boycott, there is no one, and I mean no one in position to replace them on the grid. It’s a powerful chess piece, one that could be played when it comes to receiving more TV money under the sport’s new contract or in opposition to rule changes. Owners see declining ratings and a threat of potential reductions to their country club; how they respond to it, along with the way they work together in this arrangement (despite remaining competitors on-track), could be the most important piece to NASCAR’s future over the next decade.

 

 

OVERDRIVE

Let’s give a shout-out to Jeff Burton, 20th, in just his second race all season driving a Michael Waltrip Racing-supported No. 66. Burton was on the lead lap, a consistent performer throughout the day and could have finished higher if not for late contact with Danica Patrick. It’s the last Cup race currently scheduled for the veteran before making a full-time transition to the Sprint Cup booth for NBC in 2015. … See, NASCAR? You throw all those debris cautions (four out of seven Sunday) in what seemingly was a Herculean effort to keep the race competitive. Yet the green-white-checker finish developed naturally, with a David Ragan-Justin Allgaier wreck forcing the yellow with four laps left. Shouldn’t that be a lesson even boring races don’t have to be manipulated? Sometimes, the action simply fixes itself. … Kyle Larson had a strong recovery Sunday, erasing a summer slump by jumping to third on the race’s final restart. A top-10 car all day, Larson is tied with rookie Austin Dillon for the final Chase spot; only one is likely to make the field when all is said and done. … Kevin Harvick, after running out of gas at New Hampshire, has gone 11 races without a win. During that time, he’s posted three runner-up finishes, has led 367 laps and qualified no worse than 13th.  Yes, Harvick’s temper has erupted one too many times and irritated the crew, but the list of missed opportunities is getting long enough to frustrate anyone.

 

 

Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: @NASCARBowles

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Post-race reaction after Brad Keselowski won NASCAR's Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 17:20
Path: /nba/updated-look-nbas-top-5-teams
Body:

LeBron James has officially announced that he’s returning home to the great state of Ohio. Just like that, the tectonic plates that normally lie dormant at the foundation of the NBA have undeniably shifted, in doing so redesigning the landscape of what was becoming a predictable league. Without LeBron, it seems as though the Miami Heat will snap back to reality. On the other hand, Cleveland, the winner of the LeBron-sweepstakes, should benefit enormously. It’s easy to get caught in the stardom of LeBron James, but this offseason has brought change to plenty of other franchises as well.

 

With James leaving the city, Chris Bosh will star as the main man in Miami. After adding Luol Deng to the roster, the Heat will look to contend an Eastern Conference that lacks a clear frontrunner. Elsewhere, Carmelo Anthony decided to ante-up in New York, while teams like the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers failed to catch the big fish despite having ample spending money. The Chicago Bulls added Pau Gasol but unless Derrick Rose is back in full force, it’s tough to buy into this team without the addition of another star.

 

Ultimately, there were more losers than winners in the 2014 Free Agency period. It’s not over, and there are still moves to be made (a Kevin Love trade, perhaps?), but as this offseason comes to a close, it has become easier to imagine what the 2015 NBA season will bring. Teams like Atlanta, Houston, and New York lost out on adding a big-time difference-maker and consequently squandered their title hopes for the next few years. Others, like Golden State, Portland, and the Clippers watched the madness unfold, realizing that less is more in this particular free agent class.

 

The King’s relocation, along with a handful of other free agency moves, redistributes the balance of power in the NBA. With No. 6 departing South Beach, what city becomes the new “Mecca of Basketball”? Here’s a tentative outlook on the NBA’s elite for the upcoming 2014-2015 season.

 

1. San Antonio Spurs

 

With endless noise emerging from the camps of various agents, owners, and alleged “sources” this NBA offseason, it would have been easy to forget about the 2014 NBA Champions, the San Antonio Spurs. Somehow, the Spurs put together one of the quietest yet simultaneously one of the most dominating post-season runs of all time. That’s just the way the Spurs do business; they prefer to fly under the radar.

 

After celebrating the franchise’s fifth NBA Championship in 40 years, the professionals in black and silver quickly got back to work. 38-year-old legend Tim Duncan opted-in to his contract with the team, ensuring a $10.3 million paycheck for himself in 2015. Coach Gregg Popovich also extended his deal with the Spurs, and with these two basketball geniuses sticking with the organization I’d be a fool to put the Spurs anywhere outside of the top five. Important role players Patty Mills and Boris Diaw also re-signed with the team, signaling this offseason is more about fine-tuning than retooling for the reigning champs.  

 

Considering the fact that San Antonio is fresh off an NBA Finals victory, it’s understandable that they rank no. 1 before the season begins. The consistency of this program is simply remarkable. Expect no less from the Spurs in 2015. This team will be back, largely in tact, and will have another tremendously successful yet overlooked campaign this year.

 

2. Los Angeles Clippers

 

The Clippers were one team that did not have a lot of cash to blow this offseason. That’s because the foundation that has been built in LA is enough to win an NBA Finals series. The Clippers just needed to add a few serviceable pieces around Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan to reach the next level. Ownership (not named Donald Sterling) is smart enough to realize how close the team is to a championship. The free agency period is not over, but the Clippers have made all of the right moves to position themselves for a championship run in 2015.

 

The Clippers return five starters and the reigning 6th man of the year to a squad that fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semi-finals amidst a great deal of controversy last year. Vegas gives the Clippers 10/1 odds of winning the championship in 2015, ranking only behind the Cavs, the Spurs, the Thunder, the Bulls, and the Rockets, in that order. For a bunch of reasons, I’m not buying those other teams. For Chicago, how will Rose play? For Houston, how will Ariza fill in for Parsons? For Oklahoma City, can you win a championship without a coach? For the Cavs, will the chemistry be there? As you can see, there is reason to doubt any NBA team (except one coached by Pop, then you just shut up and watch). But the Clippers provide very little wiggle room for an analyst’s criticism. Coach Doc Rivers has a championship ring and the only thing holding Chris Paul back from being considered one of the best point guards in NBA history is the acquisition of one.

 

LA has been a relatively calm town this offseason though it’s a city renowned worldwide for its star-power and its flashy scene. To date, center Spencer Hawes and point guard Jordan Farmar, both backups, have been the major additions to the roster for the Clippers. With the news of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony staying in the East, it’s easy to dismiss these smaller signings as inconsequential, simply filling out a roster with 15 spots needing to be filled. But Hawes’ size and three-point shooting will surprise skeptical fans in Los Angeles. Farmar is no Darren Collison, but he may prove valuable in his ability to stretch the floor and shoot the lights out. There are still two more open spots on the roster, so the Clippers aren’t done making moves. As a cash-strapped team, the Clips won’t be adding any major pieces to the team in the remainder of free agency. But if the Spurs have taught us anything, it’s that continuity in the form of excellent coaching and a strong core of players can produce results. A championship is all that’s in mind for Chris Paul and company this year.

 

3. Washington Wizards

 

Five years ago, had I put Washington on this list you would have looked at me like I was crazy. Two years ago, if the Wizards found their way onto this list, I would have been called delusional. Today, I declare the Washington Wizards the No. 3 team in the league. You’re staring at your computer screen like I’m a madman. But hear me out; this ranking isn’t as absurd as you’re thinking.

 

First off, the Wizards benefit from a desolate Eastern Conference. Playing out West, the Wizards would likely end up as a No. 4 or 5 seed. But back home in the East, there’s no obvious pick for the No. 1 spot. Indiana looked shaky at last year’s end, and the Heat should take a step back after LeBron’s departure. The Nets fell apart after a convincing second half of the season display and the Toronto Raptors are too young to do much this year. The Bulls could have grabbed this spot if D Rose was healthy or adequate help had been acquired in free agency, but I’m not convinced. And so, this is how the 2014 5 seed Washington Wizards have ended up in my 2015 top five.

 

So they lost Trevor Ariza. But the Wizards added some guy named Paul Pierce to the roster for the mid-level exception. Ariza did net 30 against the Bulls during the playoffs last year, a number that Pierce probably won’t eclipse for the remainder of his career. However, in Pierce, Washington finds an experienced veteran, a leader, a teacher for their younger players, and even a proven champion. It’s hard to argue that this signing doesn’t make the Wizards a much better team, especially with Pierce determined to make a last run at a championship before he retires.

 

The core that is in tact for the Wizards is solid and reminiscent of an older NBA that wasn’t always all about making a big splash in free agency. Washington secured C Marcin Gortat with a 5-year, $60 million contract. Add Gortat to an already fearsome and continually improving trio of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Nene and you have a recipe for a 50+ win season. Call me crazy, but if things remained as they were, I’d give the Washington Wizards a decent shot at winning the Eastern Conference this year.

 

4. Dallas Mavericks

 

The real winner of NBA Free Agency: the Dallas Mavericks. With LeBron James taking his sweet time to make a decision, other players and teams around the league were held in limbo due to the offseason’s inevitable complications. Because of the nature of restricted free agency, the cap space of each team, and the preferences of individual players, James’ commitment to the Cavs opened up a “Pandora’s Box” scenario for the rest of the league. With the NBA’s best player off the market, teams could turn their attention to negotiating and targeting some of the less advertised options out there.

 

For Dallas, the strain put on the Houston Rockets by a Chris Bosh decision put-on-hold resulted in talented small forward Chandler Parsons falling right into the team’s lap. A 3-year, $46 million contract doesn’t make Parsons a cheap pick-up, but for a squad that barely fell short to the eventual champions in a 7-game series, a player of Parson’s caliber should provide enough firepower to push the Mavs over the top. With Dirk Nowitzki restructuring his contract and nearing the end of his career, 2015 will likely be the last good chance for the Mavericks to bring a championship back to Dallas for quite some time.

 

Free agency isn’t over, and I expect the Mavs to bring in more help as the clocks winds down. Vince Carter won’t return, but his best basketball is behind him so it’s not the worst situation in the world. Lance Stephenson, formerly of the Indiana Pacers, is an intriguing option to add scoring and athleticism on the wing. Stephenson is expensive though and has been known to be a bit of a troublemaker. Whatever the case may be, Dallas has already made enough of an upgrade this offseason to earn them the No. 2 spot on this list. When the chips finally fall in place, the Mavs will be confidently working towards a bid to represent their conference in the 2015 NBA Finals.

 

5. Cleveland Cavaliers

 

The Cavs will go from having the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft to a playoff appearance this year. That’s what LeBron does; he makes everything an improved version of itself. The record will be better. The players will perform at a higher level. The new coach will look good. The net worth of the franchise has already jumped by more than $100 million. And now, the Cavaliers have qualified for my NBA top five. This is the LeBron effect.

 

Honestly, the roster is geared towards the distant future more than the 2015 season. Still, after bringing his team to the NBA Finals four years in a row, LeBron James will try to resume his journey to collect as many championships as possible in what’s left of his legendary basketball career. He’ll be without teammates Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade who provided invaluable support in Miami. Now, he’s paired himself with point guard Kyrie Irving and a cast of promising and gifted youngsters. Anthony Bennett, last year’s No. 1 overall pick, will improve his game alongside James. This year’s first selection, Andrew Wiggins, has shown flashes of greatness in the NBA Summer League and will patiently work to develop his limitless potential under James' tutelage. Dion Waiters won’t be demanding more touches or asking to be shopped anymore, he’s right where he wants to be. A loaded, albeit inexperienced, roster gets even stronger with the addition of James.

 

A new coach, a new star player, and a new system mean that there will be growing pains in Cleveland this year. The Heat couldn’t win a championship in their first year with LeBron, and I wouldn’t expect the Cavs to reach that level either. But with the best player on the world on your team, you’re going to have a reason to cheer. I would bet on the Cavs finishing no higher than a No. 4 seed in a balanced Eastern Conference. Add Kevin Love to the mix through any manner and the Cavs jump to No. 1 on my list. That possibility is still there, but for now, Cleveland humbly takes the 5 spot.

 

The Best of the Rest:

 

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

7. Houston Rockets

8. Chicago Bulls

9. Portland Trailblazers

10. Golden State Warriors

 

Teaser:
LeBron James Shifts NBA's Balance of Power; Ranking the Top 5 Teams for 2014-15
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 14:56
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/auburn-qb-nick-marshalls-status-uncertain-2014-season-opener
Body:

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall was recently cited for possession of marijuana and was replaced at SEC Media Days by tight end C.J. Uzomah.

Marshall’s citation raised questions about his status for Auburn’s opener against Arkansas on Aug. 30, and coach Gus Malzahn did not clarify his quarterback situation in Hoover, Ala. on Monday.

“It is a privilege and a reward to represent Auburn here at the SEC Media Days,” Malzahn said. 

“Last Friday Nick lost that privilege. We have high expectations for our players, but specifically our quarterback, being the face of our program.
 




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Up until last Friday, Nick has been a model student, teammate, and citizen. Nick made a mistake and he'll have to deal with the consequences. I'm not ready to say what those consequences are at this time, but he will deal with it. I know he's regretful and he feels very bad about it.”

In his first season at Auburn in 2013, Marshall threw for 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns and added 1,068 yards and 12 scores on the ground.

Marshall began his career at Georgia but was dismissed from the team due to off-the-field issues.

If Marshall is suspended or benched for the opener against Auburn, the Tigers will turn to sophomore Jeremy Johnson.

Johnson threw for 422 yards and six touchdowns in limited action last year.

Teaser:
Auburn QB Nick Marshall's Status Uncertain for 2014 Season Opener
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 14:36
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/carl-lawsons-acl-injury-huge-blow-auburns-defense
Body:

Auburn’s defense is expected to improve in its second year under the direction of veteran coordinator Ellis Johnson, but the Tigers have suffered their first setback of the 2014 season. Coach Gus Malzahn announced at SEC Media Days that defensive end Carl Lawson suffered a torn ACL and is expected to miss most of the 2014 season.

 

“I'd like to confirm that Carl had successful ACL surgery the first part of May,” Malzahn said at SEC Media Days. 

“He injured his knee the last week of spring practice.  Dr. Andrews looked at it, wanted to wait a couple weeks till the swelling went down to be sure.  He confirmed he needed surgery.  It was successful.
 

Carl is working extremely hard and he's determined to come back towards the end of this year.”

Lawson is expected to return at some point during the 2014 season, and it would be a surprise if he spent the year as a redshirt, especially with a likely early entry into the NFL Draft after his junior year. The sophomore could target a late-season return, especially with key conference games against South Carolina, Ole Miss and Georgia in the final half of the year.

 

As a true freshman last season, Lawson played in all 14 games, registered 20 tackles (7.5 for a loss) and recorded four sacks.

Lawson was projected to be a third-team Athlon Sports All-SEC performer in 2014. His emergence was critical for an Auburn defense that was already losing first-round pick Dee Ford and defensive tackle Nosa Eguae.

With Lawson out indefinitely, the Tigers need more from sophomore Elijah Daniel and senior LaDarius Owens off the edge.

Auburn’s defense allowed 5.9 yards per play last season and gave up 29.6 points per game in SEC contests.

Despite the yards and points allowed, the Tigers made stops when it counted. Auburn led the SEC in third-down defense and finished second in redzone defense.

Teaser:
Carl Lawson's ACL Injury a Huge Blow for Auburn's Defense
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 13:37
All taxonomy terms: College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/slive-reiterates-hopes-autonomy-sec-media-day
Body:

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Rankings courtesy of Ourlads Scouting Services

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Inside Linebackers

 

1. NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco

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

 

2. Patrick Willis, San Francisco

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

 

3. Luke Kuechly, Carolina

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

 

4. Derrick Johnson, Kansas City

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

 

5. Karlos Dansby, Cleveland

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

 

6. Sean Lee, Dallas

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

 

7. Stephen Tulloch, Detroit

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

 

8. Kiko Alonso, Buffalo

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

 

9. Brian Cushing, Houston

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

 

10. Bobby Wagner, Seattle

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

 

11. Daryl Smith, Baltimore

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

13. Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh

14. James Laurinaitis, St. Louis

15. Brandon Spikes, Buffalo

16. Josh Bynes, Baltimore

17. Wesley Woodyard, Tennessee

18. Jerrell Freeman, Indianapolis

19. Akeem Jordan, Washington

20. David Harris, NY Jets

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Outside Linebackers

 

1. Von Miller, Denver

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

 

2. Lavonte David, Tampa Bay

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

 

3. Robert Mathis, Indianapolis

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

 

4. Aldon Smith, San Francisco

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

 

5. Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati

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

 

6. Thomas Davis, Carolina

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

 

7. Akeem Ayers, Tennessee

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

 

8. Danny Trevathan, Denver

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

 

9. Dont’a Hightower, New England

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

 

10. DeAndre Levy, Detroit

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

 

11. Malcolm Smith, Seattle

12. Sio Moore, Oakland

13. Jerod Mayo, New England

14. Bruce Irvin, Seattle

15. Alec Ogletree, St. Louis

16. Chad Greenway, Minnesota

17. James Anderson, Chicago

18. Philip Wheeler, Miami

19. Kevin Burnett, Oakland

20. K.J. Wright, Seattle

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

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

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

And of course, there’s the hardware.

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

SEC Media Days kicks off today in Hoover, Alabama.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The 12th Man

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

 

The Grove

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

 

Death Valley, La.

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

 

Toomer’s Corner

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

 

Cockaboose Railroad

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

 

The Vol Navy

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

 

The Cheers:

 

Midnight Yell

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

 

Rocky Top

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

 

Woo Pig Sooie

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

 

Hotty Toddy

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

 

Rammer Jammer

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

 

Cowbells

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

 

Gator Chomp

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

 

The Mascots:

 

War Eagle

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

 

Smokey the Dog

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

 

Mike the Tiger

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

 

Uga

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

 

Reveille

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

 

The Rivalries:

 

World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party

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

 

The Iron Bowl

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

 

The Egg Bowl

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

 

The Third Saturday In October

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

 

Deep South's Oldest Rivalry

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

1. Marcus Mariota at Brett Hundley

Oregon at UCLA, Oct. 11

 

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

 

2. Bryce Petty at Trevor Knight

Baylor at Oklahoma, Nov. 8

 

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

 

3. Braxton Miller at Christian Hackenberg

Ohio State at Penn State, Oct. 25

 

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

 

4. Brett Hundley at Taylor Kelly

UCLA at Arizona State, Sept. 25

 

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

 

5. Braxton Miller at Connor Cook

Ohio State at Michigan State, Nov. 8

 

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

 

6. Everett Golson at Jameis Winston

Notre Dame at Florida State, Oct. 18

 

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

 

7. Connor Cook at Marcus Mariota

Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6

 

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

 

8. Chuckie Keeton at Taysom Hill

Utah State at BYU, Oct. 3

 

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

 

9. Nick Marshall at Bo Wallace

Auburn at Ole Miss, Nov. 1

 

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

 

10. Connor Cook at Christian Hackenberg

Michigan State at Penn State, Nov. 29

 

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

 

Best of the rest:

 

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

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

Oregon at Oregon State: Marcus Mariota vs. Sean Mannion

Oklahoma at Texas Tech: Trevor Knight vs. Davis Webb

Auburn at Mississippi State: Nick Marshall vs. Dak Prescott

Stanford at Oregon: Kevin Hogan vs. Marcus Mariota

Oregon at Washington State: Marcus Mariota vs. Connor Halliday

Stanford at UCLA: Kevin Hogan vs. Brett Hundley

Auburn at Kansas State: Nick Marshall vs. Jake Waters

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

 

Football Nerds Unite!

 

Keenan Reynolds vs. Braxton Miller

Navy vs. Ohio State, Aug. 30

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

 

Cody Fajardo at Taysom Hill

Nevada at BYU, Oct. 18

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

 

Rakeem Cato at Taylor Heinicke

Marshall at Old Dominion, Oct. 4

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

 

Terrance Broadway at Fredi Knighten

UL Lafayette at Arkansas State, Oct. 21

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

So had Big Game Bob become Big Mouth Bob?

 

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

 

Yet the swaggering Stoops and his Sooners hardly backed down.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Not of late, anyway.

 

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

 

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

 

Legitimate critiques, or nitpicking?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Don’t expect that confidence to wane anytime soon.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

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Oklahoma's Bob Stoops Regains Swagger; Sooners Poised to Push for Playoffs in 2014
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 07:15

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