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Path: /college-football/louisiana-lafayette-ragin-cajuns-vs-kentucky-wildcats-game-preview-and-prediction

Now in year three, head coach Mark Stoops finally has an experienced group of players at Kentucky. The Wildcats, returning seven starters on both sides of the ball, have the potential to be a contender in the SEC East but a non-conference test in week one against Louisiana-Lafayette should not be overlooked. 


The Ragin' Cajuns, coached by Mark Hudspeth, have won nine games in each of the past four seasons. Included in those four seasons are four consecutive New Orleans Bowl victories and a Sun Belt championship in 2013. The Ragin' Cajuns have beaten the likes of East Carolina, Nevada and San Diego State along the way. 


The Wildcats will be looking for their first win since beating the Cajuns' Sun Belt rival, Louisiana-Monroe, in week seven of 2014. Kentucky lost six games to close out the season, while Lafayette won eight of its last nine. 


Louisiana-Lafayette has accomplished a lot during Hudspeth's tenure but have yet to beat an SEC team. Despite losing, the Ragin' Cajuns have given programs such as Arizona and Florida all they wanted in recent years. Saturday's matchup will be the first meeting between Kentucky and Louisiana-Lafayette.    


Louisiana-Lafayette at Kentucky


Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ESPNU

Spread: Kentucky -17


Three Things to Watch


1. Kentucky's offensive line vs. Lafayette's defensive line

The Wildcats should possess one of the SEC's most physically imposing offensive lines this season. Seriously, these guys are some pretty punishing run blockers. Pass protection, well, not so great. Nonetheless, the Ragin' Cajuns could have a difficult time replacing Christian Ringo and Justin Hamilton, a pair of stud defensive linemen a year ago. Also, they will be without linebacker Trae Johnson. Kentucky's pair of running backs, Stanley "Boom" Williams and Jojo Kemp, could have a field day. 


2. Patrick Towles vs. Lafayette's depleted secondary

If Lafayette is in some way able to slow Kentucky's ground attack, the defense will be faced with another massive challenge in slowing down the Wildcats' quarterback. Towles may be the best pure passer in the SEC East, so the Ragin' Cajuns may regret making him throw. He has a couple reliable targets on the outside. It will be interesting to see how Kentucky balances its explosive running backs' ability with the Wildcats' new version of the Air Raid offense in week one. Lafayette allowed a Sun Belt-worst 263.6 passing yards per game in 2014.   


3. Can the Wildcats stop Elijah McGuire?

The 2014 Sun Belt Player of the Year, McGuire is an SEC-caliber player. He amassed 1,165 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground during the regular season. McGuire also led the way in receptions for Lafayette, snagging 40 catches for 414 yards. Kentucky lost a good deal of production on the defensive line in the offseason and frankly, this defense didn't do a very good job of stopping the run near the end of the 2014 campaign either. The Wildcats gave up 52 points per game in their final three contests. If the defense hasn't improved, McGuire has the ability to run wild.


Final Analysis


It's always tough to predict the first game for any team because coaching staffs have had ample time to prepare for their opponent. Given the quality of coach the Ragin' Cajuns have and their recent success, it would make sense to pick this to be a close game. However, while McGuire could certainly be a bright spot and help them put points on the board, Lafayette has lost too much defensively to stay in this game. I expect Kentucky to have one of the SEC's best offenses in 2015, at least statistically. After a quarter or two of letting Lafayette hang around, the Wildcats will start piling up touchdowns.  


Prediction: Kentucky 41, Louisiana-Lafayette 13 


— Written by Cody McClure, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a radio host and lead SEC Writer for Three Point Stance Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns vs. Kentucky Wildcats Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 12:45
Path: /college-football/alabama-crimson-tide-vs-wisconsin-badgers-preview-prediction-2015

ESPN’s College GameDay will kickoff the year in Texas as Alabama meets Wisconsin Saturday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, to open the season. The two teams met once before in 1928 when the Badgers shutout the Tide 15-0 at Camp Randall Stadium.


There are no shortage of storylines heading into this one as Alabama, a model of consistency in recent history, enters the year with looming questions regarding its depth and contributions from several inexperienced players that will assume starting roles. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban has yet to name a starter at quarterback and is unlikely to do so until kickoff. And even then, there’s a good possibility that he will continue to shuffle between two signal-callers before the night ends.


Wisconsin, which plays its second straight season opener against an SEC team, ushers in year one of the Paul Chryst era. Chryst served as Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator from 2005-11 before accepting the head coaching job at Pittsburgh. Chryst’s offenses at Wisconsin during his final two seasons averaged 42.9 points per game. His opening act will be a tough one as Wisconsin looks to replace the offensive production of running back Melvin Gordon with contributions from junior running back Corey Clement.


Alabama vs. Wisconsin


Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ABC

Spread: Alabama -10.5


Three Things to Watch


1. Who lines up under center for the Crimson Tide?

When Alabama released its depth chart for quarterback this week, four possible candidates were listed: Jake Coker, Cooper Bateman, Alec Morris, Blake Barnett or David Cornwell. Practice reports from Tuscaloosa have Coker and Cornwell tied neck-to-neck and it won’t be a surprise to see either of the two run out with the first team on Alabama’s opening series Saturday night. It also won’t be a surprise to see Saban alternate between two QBs as he did last season with Coker and Blake Sims. A strong opening from whichever quarterback gets an opportunity in Arlington could help force Saban’s hand in permanently naming his guy.


2. Can Alabama’s run game carry the offense while it searches for its quarterback?

At times last year, Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin more closely resembled a mad scientist. With offensive weapons Blake Sims (quarterback), Amari Cooper (wide receiver) and Derrick Henry (running back) at his disposal, Kiffin experimented with a variety of offensive formations and play calls that typically netted successful results. Sims and Cooper are gone, but Henry returns and should shoulder the brunt of Alabama’s early-season offense. Behind Henry’s team-best 990 rushing yards in 2014, Alabama averaged 5.1 yards per rush and 206.6 yards per game. The Tide returns junior running back Kenyan Drake, who will join Henry in the backfield. Drake’s 2014 season was cut short after suffering a broken leg during a 10-yard reception in last year’s game against Ole Miss. While Henry provides Alabama the option of a bruising running game, Drake’s strength lies in his ability to make defenders miss. Kiffin has used Drake as a receiver in some of the team’s passing packages during practices and the shifty speedster is certain to see time again this year at the slot position. Production from both backs is needed Saturday to aid whichever Bama quarterback is thrust into action. While SEC defenses routinely receive accolades for being among the nation’s stingiest at stopping the run, Wisconsin’s defense in the last two years has allowed 100-yard rushing games to only six opposing backs. The Henry-Drake tandem will have its work cut out for it.


3. Will Wisconsin’s run game be effective against Alabama’s defensive line?

When facing any Wisconsin team, you can be certain of one thing: Expect a massive, physical offensive line to clear the way for a power-rushing attack. Wisconsin runs and everyone knows it. How to stop it, however, is the quandary. In the last four years, Wisconsin has churned out four consecutive 1,600-yard rushing seasons and its streak of 10 consecutive seasons of producing a 1,000-yard ball carrier tops the nation. The Badgers last year averaged 320.1 yards per game behind a gaudy 6.9 yards per rush. Gordon, who currently plays for the San Diego Chargers, amassed 2,587 yards in 2014 courtesy of an offensive line that returns four upperclassmen as starters. Wisconsin’s run game shouldn’t suffer much drop-off in 2015. Clement finally takes the reins from Gordon after stringing together a noteworthy 2014 campaign in which he ran for 949 yards and nine touchdowns on 6.5 yards per rush. Wisconsin’s offensive line will tangle with a ‘Bama defensive front that figures to be one of the best in the nation for yet another season. Alabama allowed just five rushing scores last season, and its defense under Saban has surrendered 100-yard rushing games to just 10 opposing backs.  


Final Analysis


The last time these two teams took the field in 2014, the potential reward for a victory was the chance to play at AT&T Stadium in the inaugural College Football Playoff final. Ohio State ended Wisconsin’s hopes after trouncing the Badgers 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Buckeyes thwarted Alabama’s chances one month later in the College Football Playoff semifinal. A twist of fate brings both teams to Arlington where they will begin another run at the title.


Despite Wisconsin’s continued success with its power brand of football, Alabama’s size and athleticism on the defensive line will be too much to overcome. Look for Wisconsin to hang with Alabama for much of the contest before the Badger defensive line wears down physically and is unable to stop the run later in the game. Saban’s quarterback doesn’t need to be perfect, just efficient enough to keep the Tide in control. Saturday’s SEC-Big Ten matchup should resemble a heavyweight fight — think Holmes vs. Norton. The Tide will win this one courtesy of a late rushing surge by Henry and Drake.


Prediction: Alabama 28, Wisconsin 17


— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.

Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Wisconsin Badgers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 12:40
Path: /college-football/auburn-tigers-vs-louisville-cardinals-preview-and-prediction-2015

The Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta is once again host to one of the opening weekend’s best matchups, as Louisville and Auburn meet in a huge non-conference game. This ACC-SEC matchup is the second meeting between these two leagues in Week 1, with South Carolina edging North Carolina 17-13 on Thursday night.


The Cardinals finished 9-4 in coach Bobby Petrino’s return to Louisville and open 2015 looking to push Florida State and Clemson for the ACC Atlantic title. On the other sideline, Auburn hopes to rebound into playoff contention after an 8-5 mark last season. Fixing the defense was a priority for coach Gus Malzahn, and new coordinator Will Muschamp should help this unit take a significant step forward in 2015.


Related: Picks for Every Week 1 College Football Game


Louisville and Auburn have played only one previous time. The Cardinals and Tigers met in 1974 in Birmingham, with Auburn winning 16-3 at Legion Field.


Louisville vs. Auburn (Atlanta)


Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Auburn -10.5


Three Things to Watch


1. Louisville’s Quarterback Battle

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino isn’t tipping his hand at quarterback, as four players – Reggie Bonnafon, Kyle Bolin, Will Gardner and Lamar Jackson – were separated by an or on the first depth chart. While Petrino isn’t giving Auburn any clues to his starter, all signs point to Bonnafon or Gardner taking the first snap. Bonnafon showed promise as a true freshman in 2014, completing 61 of 120 passes for 864 yards and five scores. He also added 164 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Bonnafon’s mobility should be a valuable asset for Louisville, as its offensive line is the biggest question mark, and the sophomore is facing an improved Auburn pass rush with the return of end Carl Lawson from a torn ACL. Assuming Bonnafon gets help from his offensive line, big plays could be there against the Tigers’ secondary. In 13 games last season, Auburn surrendered nine plays of 40 yards or more. Can the Cardinals find a new big-play threat to replace DeVante Parker? That’s just another subplot to the intrigue surrounding Louisville’s offense on Saturday. The guess here is Bonnafon takes the first snap, but will he play the entire game if the offense sputters?


2. Auburn QB Jeremy Johnson

Jeremy Johnson has just two career starts under his belt, but the hype machine for the junior wasn’t tempered in the offseason. Johnson has been mentioned as a Heisman candidate, and the limited sample size suggests why the junior could lead Auburn to a playoff spot. In seven appearances last season, Johnson threw for 436 yards and three scores. The Montgomery native is a physically impressive quarterback at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds with a huge arm. Coach Gus Malzahn’s offense is also one of the nation’s most explosive attacks, which should give Johnson plenty of opportunities to shine this year. Of course, it doesn’t hurt his cause All-America candidate Duke Williams is back at receiver. Will Johnson live up to the hype this season? Saturday’s matchup against a good Louisville defense is a huge barometer test.


3. Louisville’s Defense

The matchup between Johnson and Louisville’s secondary is among Week 1’s most intriguing battles. The Cardinals have four new starters in the defensive backfield, including Georgia transfers Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaq Wiggins. Will this secondary pickup where last year’s group ended? Having a stout front seven should take some of the pressure off of Louisville’s pass defense. The Cardinals own one of the top defensive lines in the ACC, and the linebacking corps is arguably the league’s best with Keith Kelsey and James Burgess leading the way. Can this unit carry the team in this game? With Louisville’s offense breaking in new starters up front and at receiver, the defense has to lead the way and keep Petrino’s team in this game. While Johnson and the passing attack will receive most of the pregame attention, Auburn’s offensive line and rushing attack is also among the SEC’s best. If the Cardinals win the battle up front and force Johnson into obvious passing situations, the pass rush will have opportunities to disrupt the Tigers’ attack. Junior college recruit (and former TCU) defender Devonte Fields is a name to watch in pass-rush situations.


Final Analysis


Louisville’s defense versus Auburn’s offense is the matchup to watch on Saturday afternoon. The Cardinals have more than enough on defense to hang around, but can they force a turnover or two to give their building offense a chance? Regardless of whether Bonnafon or Gardner starts, Louisville has to take pressure off its quarterbacks with a successful ground attack. Will the offensive line hold up against Auburn’s defensive front? That’s a key question to be answered on Saturday. Johnson and the Tigers’ offense is held in check in the first half against the Cardinals’ salty defense, but Auburn has too much firepower and wins in the fourth quarter.


Prediction: Auburn 31, Louisville 20
Auburn Tigers vs. Louisville Cardinals Preview and Prediction 2015
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 12:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Tennessee Volunteers, SEC
Path: /college-football/tennessee-volunteers-vs-bowling-green-falcons-preview-and-prediction-2015

Nashville, Tenn. and Nissan Stadium will serve as a “neutral” venue for the first-ever meeting between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Bowling Green Falcons on Saturday. Ironically, Bowling Green has been designated as the home team for this matchup, but any home-field advantage will most certainly lie with Tennessee playing in the heart of the Volunteer State.


Tennessee will head into their 2015 campaign riding a wave of media hype and fanfare that has gone unrivaled in the last decade of Tennessee football. A young Volunteers team only managed to go 7-6 overall in 2014, but they showed vast improvement down the stretch with Joshua Dobbs at quarterback. Tennessee won four of its last five contests in 2014, culminating in a lopsided victory over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl.


The Volunteers also return the vast majority of their starters on both sides of the football, and they are stockpiled with a wealth of young talent following back-to-back recruiting classes ranked in the top 5 nationally.


Like Tennessee, Bowling Green also concluded last season on a high note, celebrating a memorable 33-28 victory over South Alabama in the Camellia Bowl. The Falcons, who finished the season at 8-6, are also the reigning Eastern Division champions in the MAC.


Bowling Green returns every starter from a successful offense that averaged 30 points and 433 yards per game last season. The BGSU defense is a different story entirely. The Falcons will only have three returning starters in place against the Vols from a defense that ranked 115th nationally in 2014.


Tennessee vs. Bowling Green (in Nashville, Tenn)


Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: SEC Network

Spread: Tennessee -20.5


Three Things to Watch


1. Are the Vols legit?

Bowling Green is far from being Tennessee’s biggest test of the season. However, the Falcons will serve as the first real measuring stick to see if the Vols are truly worthy of all the preseason hype. Not only as a team, but also for a select group of individual players who have been touted for huge seasons. QB Joshua Dobbs, RB Jalen Hurd, DE Derek Barnett, DE/LB Curt Maggitt, and CB Cameron Sutton are just a few of the talented Vol players that will be under the microscope on Saturday.


The Vols, collectively and individually, will need to turn in a dominate performance in order to validate the pre-season hype. Anything short of that will likely bring the naysayers out in full force.


2. Can the Bowling Green offense pose a challenge?

As previously mentioned, Bowling Green returns all of its starters on offense from 2014, also welcoming the return of quarterback Matt Johnson, who led the Falcons to a MAC championship in 2013, throwing for nearly 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns.


The Falcons also boast a talented roster of skill players and a veteran offensive line. A few players of note include WR Roger Lewis, who had over 1,000 receiving yards in 2014, RB Travis Greene, who has amassed close to 2,600 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns over the previous two seasons, and RG Alex Huettel, who anchors the offensive line with 45 consecutive starts.


The Falcons fast paced hurry up offense averaged a blistering 84 plays per game in 2014, ranking second in the nation. Bowling Green Head Coach, Dino Babers, also likes to spread opposing defenses out by using multiple receiver sets that will force the Vols to play one-on-one coverage most of the game. Bowling Green’s lightning fast tempo and enigmatic offensive scheme could very well present some challenges for the Tennessee defense on Saturday.


3. Volunteer Newcomers

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones stated on Tuesday that the Vols could play as many as 22 true freshmen in Saturday’s matchup against BGSU. That doesn’t even include highly touted JUCO transfers, RB Alvin Kamara and DB Justin Martin, who also will make their Vol debut.


Impact freshmen such as DT Kahlil McKenzie, MLB Darrin Kirkland, DT Shy Tuttle, WR Jauan Jennings, DE Kyle Phillips, and WR Preston Williams are just a few of the players that will be on display from the Vols' mega-talented 2015 recruiting class.


Colton Jumper, who will start at MLB for the Vols, is also one to watch. While he is not technically a newcomer, the former walk-on will be making his first start and only his second appearance ever in a game for Tennessee.


Final Analysis


The Bowling Green Falcons will bring plenty of firepower on offense to Nashville on Saturday, but the X factor for this matchup is the Falcons’ defense — or lack thereof. Everything that makes Bowling Green great on offense, it sorely lacks on the other side of the football. Even if the Falcon defense manages to show improvement under new defensive coordinator Brian Ward, they are still no match for the Vols’ offense.


Tennessee is just a far superior team overall. Expect a fast paced high scoring affair, with a valiant effort from the Bowling Green offense. But in the end, the Falcons can’t keep up the scoring pace with the Vols. Vegas nailed the point spread on this one.


Prediction: Tennessee 45, Bowling Green 24


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

Tennessee Volunteers vs. Bowling Green Falcons Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 12:15
Path: /college-football/grambling-state-tigers-vs-california-golden-bears-preview-and-prediction-2015

When Grambling State and California collide on Saturday at Memorial Stadium two very proud programs, both finally trending in the right direction, will take the field with high hopes on the 2015 college football season.


Grambling State became an iconic school for several reasons, but on the gridiron the program became known due to Eddie Robinson. Robinson's spirit still looms over the collective mind of college football fans even though he has been off the sidelines since 1997. But when the curtain was pulled back on the sad state of affairs the Tigers’ program had come to be mired in behind the scenes, the legacy that Robinson had built seemed long gone. The Tigers forfeited a Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) game in protest but still finished the season 7-5.


The Golden Bears were the cardiac kids in 2014 finishing 5-7 but very easily could have been an eight- or nine-win team after close losses to Arizona, UCLA, USC and BYU. Now in his third year, head coach Sonny Dykes is seeking Cal’s first bowl appearance since the 2011 season.


Grambling State at California


Kickoff: 5 p.m. ET

Network: Pac-12 Networks

Spread: N/A


Three Things to Watch


1. The Golden Bears' passing attack vs. the Tigers' defense

No matter who lines up against Cal in 2015 stopping its prolific offense led by junior quarterback Jared Goff will be the key. Goff has key targets Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler back as well as 1,100-yard rusher Daniel Lasco.


The Bears went into camp with three starters returning up front leading many to believe this unit will again be one of the top offenses in the nation after finishing No. 13 last season after averaging 495 yards a game.


2. The Golden Bears' defense

This is not so much a matchup per say but more of a question mark as to what Cal fans can expect this season. Statistically Cal was one of the worst teams in the nation, thus all the close losses, allowing 512 yards a game while giving up 40 points a game. Cal’s up-tempo offense was amazing but not amazing enough, averaging 38 points a game, which is one of the reasons the Bears missed out on a bowl game.


3. Grambling quarterback Johnathan Williams

Williams had 18 passing touchdowns last season with 2,454 yards and also led the Tigers in rushing yards with 484 and eight scores. For the Tigers to have a shot at winning, or competing, he will have to have a career day but someone else has to step up to take some of the pressure off Williams.


Final Analysis


The Tigers have not fared well against FBS opponents. Since 2000 Grambling State has posted a win-loss record of 0-13 against FBS teams and have been outscored a collective 544-95. The last FBS win for Grambling was in 1985 when they took down the Oregon Ducks.


Cal has a tough Pac-12 and non-conference slate with San Diego State and Texas still to play. Don't be surprised if offensive coordinator Tony Franklin tries to build a sizeable cushion on the scoreboard to give defensive coordinator Art Kauffman the opportunity to break in a few new players in key positions across the field.


Prediction: Cal 56, Grambling State 13


— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.

Grambling State Tigers vs. California Golden Bears Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 12:05
Path: /college-football/byu-cougars-vs-nebraska-cornhuskers-preview-and-prediction-2015

One of the most anticipated games of college football's opening week happens to be Mike Riley’s first game as Nebraska’s head coach.  Keeping the Huskers’ season-opening win streak alive will be no easy task as Bronco Mendenhall brings stud quarterback Taysom Hill and the BYU Cougars to town.


The Blackshirts have just been issued under Riley’s rules revamped from the Bo Pelini era, so those who don them in practice will obviously be anxious to prove they deserve them. 


This game sets the tone for both teams’ seasons, as Nebraska could go on an undefeated tear for quite some time and BYU faces Boise State at home before traveling to UCLA and Michigan following the visit to Lincoln.


BYU at Nebraska


Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Nebraska -6


Three Things to Watch


1. All Aboard The Suspension Train

Thanks to a brawl in last season’s Miami Beach Bowl and various honor code violations including linebacker Sione Takitaki, the Cougars will be holding out a few players, but head coach Bronco Mendenhall won’t name them until after the game. It’s impossible to say if those in the Quiet Corner will stay there for the entire game, the first half or only the first quarter.


On the Cornhuskers’ end, Mike Riley announced that outside linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey, tight end Cethan Carter, cornerback Jonathan Rose, offensive lineman Robby Painter and defensive end Joe Keels will miss the contest with single-game suspensions.


2. Tommy Armstrong’s Passing vs. BYU’s Defense

To call Armstrong’s passing inconsistent up to this point would be… well, 100 percent accurate. However, with the addition of Danny Langsdorf to Riley’s staff, No. 4 may see a transformation similar to what he did for the New York Giants’ Eli Manning. 


In a recent scrimmage, Armstrong went 15-21 for 242 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Yes, these are scrimmage numbers, but such a stat line is unheard of until recently. The Cougars ranked No. 114 in pass defense last season giving up a generous 270 yards per contest, so accuracy from Armstrong could go a long way in keeping Hill off the field.


While Nebraska’s most dynamic playmaker is on the sidelines in De'Mornay Pierson-El, Jordan Westerkamp is healthy and considered one of the best wideouts in the Big Ten. The Huskers’ pass-catching corps runs deep as not only do they have go-to guys like Westerkamp, but packages developed under Riley designed for both receivers and tight ends.


Whether Armstrong succeeds or not has to do with his confidence and that’s where BYU’s strategy comes into play. The Huskers knows that the Cougars don’t tip their hand when they’re going to blitz or where the attack is coming from. In addition, an offensive line looking to gel also is ripe for a few false start or holding calls in the Cougars’ favor. 


3. BYU’s Offense vs. Nebraska’s Defense

If suspensions didn’t handicap BYU enough, running back Jamaal Williams’ departure from the program for 2015 due to personal reasons provided a sucker punch. He was on track to be the Cougars’ all-time leading rusher and was responsible for 22 percent of their 2014 rushing yardage. 


Hill has to be every bit the leader for this offense to purr as a result. He’s bouncing back from a broken leg suffered last season, but don’t think it’s suddenly turned to stone. He’ll be facing an overall inexperienced corps of linebackers and Nebraska’s defensive ends aren’t the fastest he’ll see. Gang-tackling will be the necessity of the day if the Huskers want to lock him down.


Wide receivers Terenn Houk, Nick Kurtz (both 6-5) and Devon Blackmon could end up being Hill’s best friends when it comes to taking pressure off the run game and putting points on the board. However, they’ll be going against a Cornhusker secondary that has praised Banker for allowing them to react and attack the ball. It’s also one of the Huskers’ deepest and most talented units across the board.


Final Analysis 


Nebraska’s running game has been inconsistent in practice, but thanks to any holes made by a one-game recess, the Huskers may be able to finally break a hole through that wall. BYU’s loss of Takitaki for this game is a major plus for Nebraska. He’s regarded as one of the Cougars’ best pass rushers.


Hill is a tremendous athlete and will help put up points on the board. BYU could’ve really used Williams to add to a potential upset bid as he would’ve helped provide longer drives to keep the Blackshirts off the field.


There will be good and bad for both teams, but the game will ultimately come down to the talent difference and turnover margin. One already belongs to Nebraska and the Huskers have a high chance of winning the second.


Prediction: Nebraska 38, BYU 20


— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Cavanaugh is the founder of, a site devoted to in-depth Nebraska coverage. Be sure to follow Brandon on Twitter @eightlaces and Periscope (eightlaces), and like his Facebook page.

BYU Cougars vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/akron-zips-vs-oklahoma-sooners-preview-and-prediction-2015

Oklahoma and Akron open the season in Norman this weekend in a contest that looks to be a lopsided affair. Vegas has installed OU as a 31-point favorite over what appears to be an overmatched bunch of Zips.


The Sooners are still feeling the sting of last year’s meltdown, which ended in a 40-6 spanking from Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. That led to a major shakeup in Bob Stoops’ coaching staff and brought about yet another change in OU’s offensive scheme. Entering his 17th season as head coach of the Sooners, Stoops may be looking to start one last run before stepping down at some point in the next few years.


Related: College Football 2015 Conference, Playoff and National Championship Predictions


Meanwhile, this will be the first visit to Norman for Akron’s veteran coach Terry Bowden. His first three years with the Zips have yet to produce a bowl berth, but Akron should be knocking on the door of the postseason in 2015. As unlikely as a win may be here, it will give Bowden and his staff a chance to evaluate a slew of new starters at receiver and defensive back before the Zips take on Pittsburgh in a winnable game in week two.


Akron at Oklahoma


​Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: Pay-Per-View
Spread: Oklahoma -31


Three Things to Watch


1. Lincoln Riley’s Offense

Meet OU’s new boss on offense, same as the old boss. Riley may be new to Norman, but his offensive scheme is awfully familiar. After letting go of both offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and the Pistol offense earlier this year, Bob Stoops decided to return to the Air Raid, the pass-happy system that helped him get his fast start at OU. Stoops couldn’t bring back Mike Leach, so he settled on Leach’s protégé Riley as the offensive guru to get the Sooners back on track. After spending four years as East Carolina’s coordinator, Riley has never had such an abundance of weapons at his disposal. He might be as excited as Sooner fans to finally see what he can do with them.


2. Joe Mixon’s Role

Mixon might be the most explosive weapon in Riley’s arsenal. Sooner fans will get their first glimpse of OU’s ballyhooed freshman running back on Saturday after Mixon was separated from the team last year. Based on the scuttlebutt coming out of preseason camp, the California phenom won’t disappoint. Mixon possesses the ideal skill set for a running back in the Air Raid, although there’s no guarantee he will only line up in the backfield this year. Look for Riley to put him on the field together with fellow stud running back Samaje Perine and occasionally shift Mixon out to slot receiver to give defenses one more thing to think about.


3. The Defensive Scheme

Once again, the OU coaching staff opted to tinker with the Sooners’ defensive scheme, mixing in some 4-2-5 to go with their base 3-4 alignment. Akron should offer an early litmus test to see if the tweaks have done anything to help OU’s pass defense. The Zips run a fairly conventional version of the spread featuring a lot of four-wide sets, so the defensive backs should have a chance to show off what they’ve learned under new secondary coach Kerry Cooks. After relying heavily on loose coverage schemes last season, keep an eye on just how tight OU’s DBs line up against Akron’s wideouts.


Final Analysis


It’s difficult to find any way that this game becomes something other than a dress rehearsal for OU and a nice payday for the visitors. Everyone at Owen Field on Saturday night will want to wash the bad taste from last season out of their mouths, from the players to the fans. Even in the event of a blowout, don’t be surprised if OU quarterback Baker Mayfield and the rest of the first-string offense see extended action in an effort to get comfortable with their new offensive scheme. Just don’t expect Riley to dig too deep into the playbook.


Given Akron’s propensity to turn the ball over—the Zips finished 101st nationally a year ago with 26 giveaways in just 12 games—the Sooners could get a defensive score to add a little cushion to the final margin of victory.


Prediction: Oklahoma 44, Akron 13


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

Akron Zips vs. Oklahoma Sooners Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 11:45
Path: /college-football/virginia-cavaliers-vs-ucla-bruins-preview-and-prediction-2015

Outside expectations on UCLA football are not as high entering 2015 as they were a season ago. That's rather ironic, given the Bruins return a much more veteran lineup, particularly in areas that were question marks a season ago.


Nevertheless, head coach Jim Mora is probably just fine with flying somewhat under the national radar. He has arguably his best team since arriving at UCLA in 2012 — and that's saying something, given the Bruins have won 29 games over the last three seasons.


A promising 2015 campaign opens Saturday at the Rose Bowl with an opponent UCLA knows all-too-well can pose real problems. Despite a three-year bowl drought, the Virginia Cavaliers play an aggressive defensive style that very nearly derailed the Bruins' 2014 season in Week 1.


Virginia at UCLA


Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV: Fox
Spread: UCLA -19.5


Three Things to Watch


1. Josh Rosen's College Debut

Months of speculation came to a head last week, when UCLA head coach Jim Mora named 5-star freshman quarterback Josh Rosen the starter for Week 1. Rosen replaces three-year starter Brett Hundley, the only starting quarterback Mora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone have known in their time at UCLA.


Related: The Pac-12's Top Freshmen to Watch in 2015


Aside from his lack of collegiate experience, the true freshman Rosen is a different style quarterback than his predecessor. Hundley was an excellent scrambler, whereas Rosen is renowned for his pocket presence. How much adjustment is required from the rest of the Bruin offense will be explained pretty quickly against a Virginia defense that blitzes frequently.


Mora noted that the Cavaliers succeeded in pressuring Hundley a season ago, adding: "And he was a three-year starter."


To deal with the blitz, expect the Bruins to rely on the Pac-12's leading rusher, Paul Perkins. Perkins should see a steady workload, particularly early.


2. Who Makes Big Plays in Ishmael Adams' Place?

Ishmael Adams' indefinite suspension for an alleged robbery leaves two sizable holes the Bruins must patch. The first is in the secondary, which is one of the nation's best with Adams in the lineup. The Bruins get back talented Randall Goforth, who joins veteran Fabian Moreau and sophomore Jaleel Wadood, who broke out late last season.


Without Adams, however, UCLA needs someone to step up to deliver game-changing plays. Adams had a keen knack for just that, including against Virginia last August when he took an interception for a touchdown. Moreau has been seeking his breakout since coming to UCLA. With Adams out of the lineup, Moreau will be looked upon to step up as the team's shutdown corner.


Also look for new defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, a linebackers guru, to get the most from the talented one-two punch of Myles Jack and Deon Hollins. With Hollins bringing pressure off the edge, Jack is more than capable of dropping back into pass coverage to make plays there. 


There is no shortage of answers on defense, but Adams' absence extends to special teams. Last season, he functioned as the primary kickoff returner, and the sole punt returner. His 100-yard run-back against Arizona State snapped a seven-year special teams touchdown drought for the Bruins.


3. Coming Up Roses at Home

The Rose Bowl is arguably the most picturesque venue in college football, and a record number of fans visited it for UCLA home games in 2014. Still, the beautiful venue in Pasadena was too often a house of horrors for the Bruins.


All three of UCLA's losses were at home, including the regular-season finale blowout against Stanford that kept the Bruins out of the Pac-12 Championship Game.


Defending the home turf is vital to UCLA's Pac-12 title aspirations in 2015. Setting the right tone in Week 1 is crucial. 


Final Analysis


Growing pains may be evident for the Bruin offense early, particularly against a stout Virginia defense. Perkins having solidified himself as a reliable No. 1 running back does help, and is something UCLA lacked a season ago in its visit to Charlottesville. It was only in the second half of that contest that Mora and Mazzone turned to him.


Playing a more conservative style on offense while establishing its authority on defense promises UCLA will be locked in a close contest through the first half. However, as Virginia fails to mount drives on a stout Bruin defense, look for the flood gates to open in the third or fourth quarter as UCLA wins a war of attrition.


Prediction: UCLA 31, Virginia 14


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

Virginia Cavaliers vs. UCLA Bruins Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/utep-miners-vs-arkansas-razorbacks-preview-and-prediction-2015

The Arkansas Razorbacks open up the 2015 college football season at home against the UTEP Miners. Both squads are coming off 7-6 seasons in 2014 but for the first time in three years Arkansas has hopes of contending for a SEC West title.


Related: Why Arkansas Will or Won’t Make the College Football Playoff in 2015


When UTEP and Arkansas kick off on Saturday, a war of offensive line play will go into effect. The Miners and Razorbacks both have four offensive starters returning up front and each have a premiere back to feature. The unit that can impose their style of play will determine the flow of the game.


The Miners return junior running back Aaron Jones and his 1,300 yards on the ground from a year ago. Arkansas will highlight a junior as well, Alex Collins. Collins split time with Jonathan Williams in 2014 but will be the marquee guy in the backfield early in the season after a 1,100-yard season as a sophomore.


Both defenses are young but Arkansas heads into the game healthy. UTEP lost starting safeties Devin Cockrell and Ishmael Harrison to injuries leaving a void of 37 combined starts in the secondary. Arkansas is without its top four defenders from last year’s No. 10 ranked unit but returns six starters with a heavy mix of talented but young players ready to work their way into playing time in conference action.


UTEP at Arkansas


Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

Network: ESPNU

Line: Arkansas -33


Three Things to Watch


1. Stopping UTEP Running Back Aaron Jones

The Razorbacks have key upcoming games against Air-Raid offenses in Texas Tech and Texas A&M but will get pushed in the ground game by the Miners. Stopping Aaron Jones will be a nice opening game test.

Starting UTEP quarterback Mack Leftwich redshirted last season but picked up four starts in 2013. If Leftwich is unable to move the chains with his arm expect to see up to eight Razorback defenders in the box devoted to stopping Jones.


2. Arkansas Establishing a Passing Attack

The Hogs return four starters along the offensive line and have Alex Collins in the backfield; this unit is set for a win with that group alone. Getting reps for junior running back Kody Walker and true freshman Rawleigh Williams cannot be understated, but getting senior quarterback Brandon Allen into a groove with his young but talented receiving corps is a must.


Arkansas’ passing attack was anemic, to say the least, last season averaging 188 yards a game. If SEC title hopes are to be achieved Allen and company will need to see their per game passing numbers in the 230 to 250 yard range.


3. Arkansas’ Defense — Can they be a Top 25 unit again in 2015?

Opening games are about setting tones for the season and establishing a team identity. What will Arkansas’ identity be in 2015? Can the Razorbacks’ six returning starters keep that momentum going this season?


The Hogs were successful limiting teams to 115 rushing yards per game and 209 passing yards. Can the revamped linebacker unit with junior Brooks Ellis at the weak-side, sophomore Khalia Hackett in the middle, and junior Josh Williams on the strong-side stop the run and cover in space on passing downs? Depth at linebacker, especially in the middle is a concern. Will the Hogs get a big enough lead early to get second and third-team guys on the field for needed reps?


Another undertone to the game for Arkansas is establishing a consistent pass rush. The Hogs are stacked with potential at defensive end but for now that is all they are, a great looking group with a lot of potential. The Miners could be an early confidence builder for JaMichael Winston, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Deatrich Wise, and Tevin Beanum.


Final Analysis


Arkansas should steamroll the Miners if turnovers and penalties are not a factor in the game. Seeing the defense gel and second-unit players step up into rolls as contributors going forward is key for Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema.


Although UTEP is in their second year under Sean Kugler, and much improved from 2013 when the Miners won just two games, they are still a couple of years behind potentially upsetting a ranked team. In 2014 the Miners were not competitive in losses to Kansas State (58-28) and Louisiana Tech (55-3) but did give a one-dimensional Texas Tech team a scare before falling 30-26.


Prediction: Arkansas 48, UTEP 14


— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.

UTEP Miners vs. Arkansas Razorbacks Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 11:15
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Pittsburgh Panthers
Path: /college-football/youngstown-state-penguins-vs-pittsburgh-panthers-preview-and-prediction-2015

Two promising head coaches begin their tenures at new schools when Youngstown State visits the neighboring Pittsburgh Panthers. Youngstown native Bo Pelini comes from Nebraska to guide the Penguins, who knocked off Pitt at Heinz Field just three years ago. Former Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi begins his tenure at Pitt ironically playing the program his father Bill guided to Division I status in the 1980s.


Youngstown State at Pittsburgh


Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Saturday)

Location: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA



Three Things To Watch


1. Who Steps up in Boyd's absence?

Pitt junior wide receiver Tyler Boyd will be suspended for this game due to his offseason DUI. despite establishing himself as a pro prospect last season after averaging more than 16 yards on 78 receptions. Unfortunately no other receiver of note returned to the Panthers this season, thus making junior Dontez Ford, who caught three passes in 2014, Pitt's most experienced receiver coming into the game. Zack Challingsworth is projected to start opposite Ford, which means the two starting receivers against YSU only played Class AA football in the WPIAL. Freshmen Quadree Henderson and Tre Tipton could also see action. Henderson is only 5-9, but Tipton, a quarterback at Apollo-Ridge, excelled in three sports and was the Class AA Pennsylvania long jump champion. Also look to Elijah Zeise, a redshirt freshman originally recruited as a defensive back, but also a top-100 recruit out of Class AAAA North Allegheny.

2. How much action does Conner get?

If Pitt were to have an outstanding season in 2015, junior running back James Conner will likely receive some Heisman attention. A player who rushed for 5.9 yards a carry in 2014 with 26 touchdowns and 1,800 yards would figure to be the main contributor to Panthers fortunes, and Pitt will go as far as he can take them. Furthermore, with a somewhat sketchy defense, the ability to run down the clock figures to be paramount. That said, if Pitt needs 30 carries from Conner against Youngstown State, something is wrong. Chris James rushed for 439 yards on 87 carries last year and is projected to see more action this year, if for no other reason than to save Conner from pounding. It might speak best for long-range Panthers fortunes for James and/or highly regarded Darrin Hall to be the leading rusher in this game.


3. Will Chad Voytik be protected?

Ideally the game plan would have junior quarterback Chad Voytik establish a rapport with a new receiver for a couple of long bombs, secure a 21-0 lead by the end of the first quarter, and then be taken out sometime in the second half for an easy victory, much like Pitt won their tune-up game against Delaware 62-0 last year. That won't happen this season with Terrell Williams and Derek Rivers lining up at defensive end for the Penguins. Rivers had 13 sacks last year and Williams complied 10, while Pitt will play four new starters on the offensive line. Thankfully for Pitt, left tackle is not the position the Panthers must replace, as 6-6 305-pound Adam Bisnowaty returns for his junior year.


Final Analysis


Everyone knows Pitt lost to Youngstown State, 31-17, three years ago in Paul Chryst's debut as Panthers coach. But does a YSU victory really seem likely this time out? Yes, YSU has been projected to be a Top 25 FCS team, and new Pelini has brought in several quality transfers from FBS. But a Pitt loss? No. A close game? Perhaps.


Prediction: Pitt 35, Youngstown State 17


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

Youngstown State Penguins vs. Pittsburgh Panthers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 11:05
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Clemson Tigers, College Football
Path: /college-football/wofford-terriers-vs-clemson-tigers-preview-and-prediction-2015

Each season, Clemson schedules one of the FCS schools in South Carolina. Some years they play Furman, other years it is South Carolina State, and sometimes it is The Citadel. This year it’s Wofford, from just up the road in Spartanburg that will be coming to Death Valley.


Wofford returns 10 starters on offense and nine on defense from a 6-5 team. Last season the Terriers opened the season by going to Georgia Tech, where they lost 38-19 to the Orange Bowl champs. They run the triple option so Clemson’s defensive backs will be peeking into the backfield all day long.


The bar is set high this year at Clemson and the fans will be ready when the Tigers run down the hill on Saturday.


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


Wofford at Clemson


Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ACC Network/ESPN3

Spread: N/A


Three Things to Watch


1. The Health of Deshaun Watson

This will be Watson’s first real action since having his ACL repaired in December. Perhaps no team in America has its hopes tied to one player as much as Clemson does to Watson. The offense looked completely different with the freshman running the show last year and backup Nick Schuessler has very little game experience. Head coach Dabo Swinney will protect his star quarterback as much as he can, but we will see how well Watson moves around on Saturday.


2. Clemson's Offensive Line

The good news for Clemson is that the Tigers have three seniors starting on the offensive line. The bad news is that only one of those seniors is a true returning starter and the depth behind the first group is very young. Center Ryan Norton has played a lot of football in his career and will lead the unit. Watson’s blindside will be shielded by true freshman Mitch Hyatt. Protecting the quarterback was not an issue last year but blocking for Wayne Gallman and the other backs was. With skill talent aplenty, this is the biggest question mark for the Clemson offense.


3. The Defensive Front vs. Wofford’s Option

The questions that surround the offensive line hover over the defensive front seven as well. With the recent departure of defensive tackle D.J. Reader, Shaq Lawson is the only returning defensive lineman that was on last year’s two-deep. The linebacker unit was stung by the loss of Korrin Wiggins and Korie Rogers. There is more than enough talent here to contain Wofford.  But on Oct. 10, Georgia Tech will bring its option attack to Clemson. If the Terriers can exploit certain areas even a little, Paul Johnson and the Yellow Jackets will take notice.


Final Analysis


For a game that will not be competitive, there will be a lot to watch in this one. Watson’s every move will be dissected by Clemson fans as well as the Tigers' upcoming opponents. The play of both lines will also be analyzed closely. Mike Williams, Artavis Scott and Wayne Gallman are always entertaining, even if we only see them for the first half. Clemson will win going away, but defending the run and offensive line play for the Tigers will be areas of intense interest.


Prediction: Clemson 48, Wofford 10


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

Wofford Terriers vs. Clemson Tigers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/norfolk-state-spartans-vs-rutgers-scarlet-knights-preview-and-prediction-2015

Rutgers kicks off their 2015 campaign under mass scrutiny after a late August internal investigation involving head coach Kyle Flood, and the suspension of five players for the first half of their opener against Norfolk State. If nothing else, Rutgers must come out with a bang against their season-opening FCS opponent, who’s coming off a 4-8 season and heads into 2015 with a new head coach in Latrell Scott, who went 29-5 during his three seasons at Virginia State.


Flood and the Scarlet Knights will be without leading receiver and team captain Leonte Carroo, who will sit out the first half while serving a suspension for breaking a team curfew rule. Joining him is linebacker Kevin Marquez, punter Tim Gleeson, cornerback Ruhaan Peele, and quarterback Chris Laviano. Laviano, unlike the four joining him on the sideline for curfew violations, was caught attempting to enter an establishment with a fake ID. In light of Laviano’s suspension, LSU transfer Hayden Rettig gets the nod under center to start the 2015 campaign.


While Flood would not commit to Rettig beyond the first half, many have given him the nod as the better quarterback. Laviano has the most experience of any quarterback on the roster, having thrown 11 passes in his collegiate career. Carroo, the aforementioned team captain, and team’s leading receiver will be the biggest loss to a team looking to follow the momentum gained from an unexpected 8-5 debut Big Ten campaign from 2014.


As for Norfolk State, they’re returning nine offensive starters, and five defensively from their 4-8 2014 squad. Florida Atlantic junior quarterback transfer Greg Hankerson gets the nod as the team’s starting quarterback after two seasons in Conference USA. Hankerson’s most notable accomplishment under center to date is his 12-19 for 88 yard performance against Alabama last season, a game Florida Atlantic lost 41-0.


Defensive captain linebacker Deon King returns for the Spartans after a stellar 2014 season where he tallied 104 total tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks and a lone interception. Joining him are four fellow returning starters, including linebacker Lamar Neal (85 tackles, 35 TFL, 1 sack) and cornerback Brandon Walker, a cornerback who totaled 43 tackles last season.


Norfolk State at Rutgers


Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)

Location: Highpoints Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, NJ

Channel: ESPNews

Spread: N/A


Three Things to Watch


1. Hayden Rettig’s Scarlet Knights debut

Rettig, a 2014 transfer, has yet to throw a pass at the collegiate level after signing with the Tigers as a four-star recruit in 2013. He hopes to get his chance to prove to head coach Kyle Flood that he’s the quarterback to lead this team down the stretch through the 2015 season — one crucial for the entire program, especially Flood after the summer’s end he’s endured. Rettig will be without Leonte Carroo, who we mentioned will serve a first-half suspension. If Flood chooses to pull Rettig at halftime, we may not know what he could have done with a playmaker like Carroo on the field.


2. Defensive Efficiency

Rutgers has never allowed a single point against Norfolk State in any of the three contests they faced off in. Defense is going to need to show as a strong point for Rutgers if they’re going to compete at a high level in the Big Ten in 2015. The Scarlet Knights are in a good position against the Spartans, whose starting quarterback wasn’t on the team last season, and the team’s leading rusher from last season totaled 114 yards on the ground — good news for the nation’s 102nd-ranked defense from a year ago.


3. Greg Hankerson

Hankerson, as mentioned before, is a former FBS quarterback who transferred to an FCS school to avoid having to sit out an entire season after losing the quarterback battle with the Owls. Hankerson showed solid efficiency during his time at FAU, and completed nearly 67 percent of his passes against Alabama in a game that was over in the first quarter. If Hankerson can move the ball quickly and accurately, he could have Rutgers on their heels early, forcing them to play out of their comfort on their own side of the field.


Final Analysis


Rutgers has outscored Norfolk State 139-0 in the three contests they've faced off in. Rettig's first half could go either way for the inexperienced LSU transfer, but not bad enough to where the Scarlet Knights will be on heels on the verge of an upset. Rutgers has handled the Spartans with ease in the past, and this should be no different.


Prediction: Rutgers 35, Norfolk State 9


— Written by Chris Dougherty, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Dougherty also serves as a National Recruiting Analyst for and has written for other sites, including and Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @warontheweekend.

Norfolk State Spartans vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 10:55
Path: /college-football/stanford-cardinal-vs-northwestern-wildcats-preview-and-prediction-2015

This is a battle of contrasting styles, between a squad with a bruising running game and gritty defense versus a speedy team who likes to spread out and hurl the ball all over the field. Traditionally, the former would be from the Midwest while the latter hails from the West Coast. Actually, these two are the complete opposites of those stereotypes. The first team mentioned comes from the Pac-12 team while the second one belongs to the Big Ten.


This type of inter-sectional match matters in the minds of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. The Big Ten's reputation took a beating in September of last season in part due to the Pac-12's winning four of five of the regular season contests between the conferences. That tattered reputation could have cost Ohio State a berth in the playoffs if not for the co-championship mess in the Big 12.


Stanford leads this series 3-1-2. However, Northwestern is 1-0-1 against the Cardinal in Evanston.


Stanford Cardinal at Northwestern Wildcats


Kickoff: 11 a.m. CT (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Stanford +12


Three Things to Watch


1. Untried Wildcats' Quarterback versus Experienced Cardinal Secondary

Last week, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald announced that Clayton Thorson, a redshirt freshman, will start in the season-opener. He will be throwing against three seniors (Kodi Whitfield, Dallas Lloyd and Ronnie Harris), all of whom played in at least nine games during last season, plus a sophomore (Alijah Holder). If Thorson struggles, how long will Fitzgerald let that continue before inserting redshirt sophomore Matt Alviti or senior Zack Oliver into the game?


2. Senior Wildcat Skill Position Players Need to Alleviate Pressure on Young QB

Has fifth year senior wide receiver Christian Jones fully recovered from his torn ACL in order to serve Thorson as a dependable weapon downfield? The other upperclassmen at wide receiver, seniors Cameron Dickson, Miles Shuler and Pierre Youngblood-Ary plus juniors Mike McHugh, Andrew Scanlan and Austin Carr must do their utmost to break free of defenders and be open for passes. They cannot expect a quarterback making his first collegiate start to have pinpoint accuracy or squeeze the ball between his intended receiver and a defender blanketing his intended target. Also Dan Vitale will have to be able to serve as a safety valve for the neophyte under center. The knowledge that he does not throw perfectly and has running game to make the defense back off from blitzing frequently will maintain the confidence of the untested quarterback.


3. Early Kickoff Time

How will the 11 AM start affect the guys from the West Coast? Could the two-hour difference make the Cardinal sluggish in the first half? The fall quarter has not started yet so the crew from Palo Alto have not been waking up at the crack of dawn for classes. Have the players been mentally and physically preparing themselves for what will feel like a 6 AM wake-up call, if not earlier, for their season opener?


Final Analysis


As often happens when a Pacific Twelve team ventures eastward for an early kickoff, the visitors will seem lethargic. The Wildcats will also struggle on offense. The game should be low-scoring, in the single digits to the low teens, until the start of the second half. The Cardinal will have had their lattes at that point. Then they will proceed to pounding away with their running game, breaking off bigger gainers as the second half progresses. Stanford will run away with the game in the fourth quarter which is when the Cardinal will score the majority of its points.


Prediction: Stanford 34, Northwestern 12


— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.

Stanford Cardinal vs. Northwestern Wildcats Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 10:50
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Ole Miss Rebels, SEC
Path: /college-football/ut-martin-skyhawks-vs-ole-miss-rebels-preview-and-prediction-2015

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze has spent the last three seasons building the Rebels into one of the nation’s most talented teams. After a surprising 7-6 record in his first year in Oxford, Freeze landed the greatest recruiting class in school history, which included such supremely talented players as defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, tackle Laremy Tunsil, safety Tony Conner and tight end Evan Engram.


Because of their lofty professional prospects, it’s possible that each of those five players are playing their final seasons at Ole Miss as juniors, which means this is Freeze’s best shot for an SEC championship or possibly even a national title.


Related: Why Ole Miss Will or Won’t Win the SEC West in 2015


UT-Martin at Ole Miss


Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: SEC Network alternate
Spread: N/A


Three Things to Watch


1. Ole Miss Starting Quarterback Chad Kelly
Earlier this week, Hugh Freeze announced that quarterback Chad Kelly would get the start against UT Martin, but that Kelly’s top two competitors for the job - sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade – would also play and will still have an opportunity to wrestle the top spot on the depth chart away from Kelly. A junior in his first season in Oxford after beginning his college career at Clemson and spending 2014 at East Mississippi Community College, Kelly led EMCC to a 12-0 record and the NJCAA national championship last year. Expect him to shine against the Skyhawks and lock down the starting job for good by the SEC opener September 19 at Alabama.


2. Defensive Newcomers
By allowing an average of only 16 points per game, Ole Miss led the nation in scoring defense last season. However, four of the most important pieces of the unit - All-American defensive backs Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt and linebackers D.T. Shackelford and Serderius Bryant – have exhausted their eligibility. The linebacker replacements are familiar faces, specifically former starting defensive end C.J. Johnson who is expected to start in the middle and Denzel Nkemdiche, who will see early action on the outside, though both are listed as co-starters with Terry Caldwell and DeMarquis Gates, respectively.


The Rebels should lean on talented JUCO transfers Tony Bridges and Tee Shepard at cornerback this season (though Shepard, who was a member of the 2014 recruiting class that missed last season with a foot injury, is listed as a co-starter with Kendarius Webster). Fellow transfer D.J. Jones will serve as one of the primary backups at defensive tackle and should be a major contributer in the D-Line rotation.


3. Improvement in the Running Game
Last season, Ole Miss ranked tenth in the SEC and No. 73 in the nation in rushing offense (155.5 yards per game), but there is reason to believe that will improve in 2015. The Rebels have the SEC’s most experienced offensive line (120 combined career starts) and got even better with true freshman left guard Javon Patterson earning a starting spot. The depth at the running back position is strong thanks to last year’s top two leading returning rushers Jaylen Watkins and Jordan Wilkins, plus Akeem Judd is a developing contributor. Finally, Kelly is a mobile quarterback and should be a bigger threat in the running game than departed starter Bo Wallace.


Final Analysis


Ole Miss is a legitimate contender in the SEC West and UT Martin was 6-6 last season on the FCS level, and lost to Kentucky 59-13 and Mississippi State 45-16. This game is simply a warm-up for the Rebels that will allow Freeze and the coaching staff an opportunity to evaluate the team on the field heading into a Week 2 matchup with a much tougher Fresno State squad, and then the SEC opener at Alabama.


Prediction: Ole Miss 45, UT-Martin 3


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

UT-Martin Skyhawks vs. Ole Miss Rebels Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 10:45
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Kansas Jayhawks, Big 12
Path: /college-football/south-dakota-state-jackrabbits-vs-kansas-jayhawks-game-preview-and-prediction-2015

The honeymoon is over for new Kansas head coach David Beaty. On Saturday, he'll begin his first season at the helm of the Jayhawk program. He'll be leading a young and inexperienced squad into in a 2015 campaign where moral victories are going to be the norm. It's going to be a true rebuilding effort in Kansas — more so than any other time in recent memory.


In seasons like these, it's nice for a program in the Jayhawks' state to start off the year with a more manageable opponent — perhaps even an FCS school. Well, they got the FCS school, I'm just not sure about the manageable part.


Related: Outrageous College Football Predictions for Week 1


South Dakota State is among the toughest FCS programs — year in, year out — as of late. They play in the Missouri Valley, considered by many as the "SEC of FCS." They hold their own in that conference, which is also home to 4-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State. The Jackrabbits lost five games a season ago: two to North Dakota State, one to FCS runner-up Illinois State, one to fellow FCS powerhouse Youngstown State and one to SEC finalist Missouri. They averaged a 19-point margin of victory in their nine wins. South Dakota State is quite simply a sound program that does not lose to bad teams.


South Dakota State at Kansas


Kickoff: 11 a.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: N/A

Spread: N/A


Three Things to Watch


1. How effective will the Jackrabbit running game be without Zack Zenner?

As South Dakota State prepares for Kansas, Zenner is getting dressed in the Detroit Lions roster, trying to continue his career. Replacing the most prolific FCS running back from the past two seasons won't be easy. In fact, it will be done by committee. Brady Mengarelli and Reggie Gandy are expected to split carries — at least early on in the season. Both are smaller than Zenner with different running styles. They are nowhere near the bruiser Zenner was between the tackles, but they are every bit as quick into and through the hole. The Jayhawks defense — led by linebacker Jake Love — will need to stay loyal to their gap assignments to prevent the Jackrabbit duo from hitting home runs in the running game all afternoon.


2. Can the Jayhawks jump out to a lead early?

The quickest way to take a would-be underdog out of a game is to jump on them early and take the emotion out of the contest. Jayhawk quarterback Montell Cozart will need to pilot his offense to some long drives that yield points early. That will be easier said than done against a South Dakota State defense that returns nine starters. Kansas' inexperienced receiving corps — led by Tre' Parmalee — might need to grow up early and make a couple of big plays for the Jayhawks to start fast.


3. Can the Jayhawks slow down the Jackrabbit passing game?

In previous years, the running game has been the bread and butter of the South Dakota State offense. In 2015, however, the passing game looks to be the strength of the offensive attack. Quarterback Zach Lugan will have one of the most talented young receivers in the country in Jake Wieneke to throw to again. In 2014 as a true freshman, Wieneke caught 73 balls for 1,404 yards, earning him Missouri Valley Freshman of the Year honors. Kansas will attempt to counter the passing attack with a secondary that returns no starters.


Final Analysis


As you can tell, this game has bad news written all over it for Kansas. If they win, nobody cares, because you are supposed to beat FCS schools as a Power-5 program. The fact of the matter is, the Jackrabbits enter this game as the better coached, more experienced and arguably more talented team. It's going to be a long day followed by a long season in Lawrence. Brighter days are probably ahead, but not anytime soon — and especially not Saturday.


Prediction: South Dakota State 31, Kansas 20


— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Scott is the editor-in-chief of, a Big Ten site for Big Ten fans. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

South Dakota State Jackrabbits vs. Kansas Jayhawks Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 10:40
Path: /college-football/boise-state-broncos-vs-washington-huskies-preview-and-prediction-2015

Washington coach Chris Petersen returns to familiar surroundings on Friday night, as the Huskies take on Boise State in one of the top matchups from Week 1. Petersen guided the Broncos to 92 wins from 2006-13 and left to take over for Steve Sarkisian prior to the 2014 season. Petersen’s debut wasn’t quite the year most expected (8-6), and the Huskies are in rebuild mode with only eight returning starters this fall.


On the other sideline, Bryan Harsin was tapped to replace Petersen, and the former Boise State quarterback and assistant is off to a great start after guiding the program to a 12-2 record and a Fiesta Bowl win last season. Despite breaking in a new quarterback and running back to replace Jay Ajayi, the Broncos are projected by most to be the top Group of 5 team in 2015.


Washington and Boise State have played three times, with the Huskies holding a 2-1 edge. The last meeting between these two programs came in 2012, and this will be the Huskies’ first trip to the blue turf for a regular season matchup.


Washington at Boise State


Kickoff: 10:15 p.m. ET (Friday)

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Boise State -13


Three Things to Watch


1. Who Starts for Washington at Quarterback?

Washington ended fall camp with three players locked into a tight battle for the starting job. True freshman Jake Browning, redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and junior Jeff Lindquist battled all offseason for the No. 1 spot, and a clear frontrunner did not emerge prior to game week. Browning has the most talent, but Carta-Samuels and Lindquist bring more mobility to the offense, which could be a valuable asset behind a revamped offensive line. Regardless of which quarterback takes the first snap, they will be going against a tough Boise State defense and a raucous home crowd in Albertsons Stadium. This is not the ideal scenario for breaking in a new quarterback.


2. Ryan Finley’s First Start at QB/New RB for Boise State

Boise State usually has no trouble reloading at quarterback. Will that be the case once again in 2015? With Grant Hedrick departing, Finley is set to make his first start for the Broncos on Friday night. In limited action last season, Finley completed 12 of 27 passes for 161 yards and two scores. The Arizona native is surrounded by a strong supporting cast up front and has proven weapons in Thomas Sperbeck and Shane Williams-Rhodes to target in the passing attack. Similar to the quarterback spot, finding the next standout at running back usually doesn’t present many headaches for Boise State. While Jay Ajayi’s production (1,823 yards) will be missed, there are capable candidates in the mix. Jeremy McNichols is the frontrunner for carries, followed by Stanford transfer Kelsey Young and Devan Demas. Who will emerge as the clear No. 1? Or will this be a committee approach?


3. Washington’s Revamped Defense

An overlooked aspect of Washington’s offseason has to be the new faces stepping in on defense after the departures of standouts Shaq Thompson (LB), Danny Shelton (NT), Hau’oli Kikaha (DE/LB) and Andrew Hudson (end). That’s a lot of key pieces to replace in one offseason from a group that allowed 24.8 points per game in 2014. This unit returns four starters for 2015, including standout safety Budda Baker. But the front seven must be revamped, and the Huskies lost virtually their entire pass rush with the departures of Kikaha, Hudson and Shelton. While this unit must be revamped, there is talent in the mix – it’s just inexperienced. Will this unit quickly find the right mix? Or will the Huskies’ defense struggle on the road at Boise State?


Final Analysis


Chris Petersen and his return to Boise State will get most of the attention in this game. While Petersen seems to be the right coach for Washington, it’s going to take some time to rebuild the depth chart after heavy offseason departures. And it certainly doesn’t help the Huskies’ upset bid to enter this matchup with uncertainty at quarterback. Washington has too many new faces to win this one, but this team will get better as the year progresses. Finley and McNichols turn in a solid performance in their debut, and the Broncos begin their run to another New Year’s Six bowl game with 14-point victory.


Prediction: Boise State 34, Washington 20
Boise State Broncos vs. Washington Huskies Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/ULM-warhawks-vs-georgia-bulldogs-preview-and-prediction-2015

The Georgia Bulldogs return 13 starters from a 10-win season last year including Heisman hopeful running back Nick Chubb. The Bulldogs welcome in new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and new starting quarterback and Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert in 2015. The Bulldogs have only lost one season home opener in Mark Richt’s tenure which came in 2011 versus South Carolina.


The ULM Warhawks welcome back 14 starters from a disappointing 4-8 2014 campaign and will look to turn those numbers around in the Sun Belt this year.


The Bulldogs and ULM last met in 2005 with Georgia winning 44-7.


ULM at Georgia


Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: SEC Network

Spread: UGA -35


Three Things to Watch


1. The Nick Chubb Show

For the first time in 2015 we will get to see Heisman hopeful Nick Chubb on the football field. Chubb performed brilliantly in place of Todd Gurley last year and finished the season as one of the top running backs in the nation. With Georgia breaking in a new quarterback in Greyson Lambert, expect to see a ton of running plays on Saturday and most of those in the first half will be going to Chubb.


2. Year 2 of the Jeremy Pruitt Defense

This will be the first time in his short career that we will get to see a Jeremy Pruitt led defense in its second year, as he only spent one year at FSU. Pruitt had an up and down season last year in Athens but gets most of his playmakers back and then some. This Georgia defense could be one of the best in the SEC but only time will tell. We probably won’t see the bulk of that defense on Saturday but should get a taste of what Pruitt will do with seniors Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins as both will take on multiple roles in 2015.


3. Greyson Lambert

Though I don’t expect to see Lambert throw a ton in this game, I do expect to see Schottenheimer put him in situations where he has to make good decisions. Remember, South Carolina comes to town in a couple of weeks and the Bulldogs cannot afford questions about their starting quarterback to continue. Lambert will need to show that he can command the offense and not make bad decisions. Better teams will load the box and make Lambert beat them by throwing the ball. Might as well practice that now and not wait for it to happen later down the road.


Related: Mark Richt Needs New Georgia Starting Quarterback Greyson Lambert to be Really Good This Year


Final Analysis


Georgia wins big here. The Bulldogs are just too deep on offense and too skilled on defense to let ULM upset them. The Bulldogs will run three different running backs that could all rush for 100 yards against this defense. The Bulldogs should be able to run plenty of young guys early in this game to give them more practice as this game will probably be over by the second quarter.


Prediction: Georgia 45, ULM 10


— Written by Justin Nails, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @justinnails

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks vs. Georgia Bulldogs Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/week-1-college-football-against-spread-predictions-2015

College Football is back and so are my weekly picks against the spread. I will do my best to give sage and timely advice every Friday morning… for entertainment purposes only, of course.


Week 1 is the best week of the year as so much is unknown about most teams and spreads are generally off kilter.


Look for programs you think are underrated in the preseason and are facing young teams with lots of new starters. Public perception is further askew this week than any other week of the year.


You’ll notice — like every year — I like the favorites in the opening week.


Last Week: N/A

Year-to-date: 0-0


Kent State (+14.5) at Illinois (Fri.)

Most will be automatically down on the Illini because, well, they’ve already fired their head coach. However, Bill Cubit takes over with lots of head coaching experience and they return a quarterback in Wes Lunt who may be the Big Ten West’s best signal caller. This offense can score and this team could reach a bowl. Prediction: Illinois -14.5


Podcast: Week 1 Preview w/ Rece Davis

Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher


Michigan State (-17.5) at Western Michigan (Fri.)

I love rowing my boat and the job P.J. Fleck has done at WMU, both on the field and recruiting. But this Spartans team is another beast and the crowd will be mostly green and white despite the locale. Take Sparty to make a statement in a warm-up for Oregon. Prediction: Michigan State -17.5


Louisville (+10.5) vs. Auburn

The Cardinals have some nice pieces on defense and Bobby Petrino on offense. But this team is replacing a ton from last year and is trying to mesh a lot of new faces into key roles. Doing that against the SEC front-runner and elite Playoff contender is extremely dangerous. Jeremy Johnson, Will Muschamp and Carl Lawson will debut in style. Louisville can’t score with War Eagle. Prediction: Auburn -10.5


Wisconsin (+12) at Alabama

The Badgers defense is legit behind coordinator Dave Aranda, but the UW offense will have to find balance if it wants to move the ball on arguably the best defensive front in the nation (which it won’t be able to do). The talent, experience and coaching differential is vast despite the national stature of Wisconsin. Prediction: Alabama -12

Week 1 College Football Against the Spread Predictions
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Iowa Hawkeyes, Big Ten
Path: /college-football/iowa-hawkeyes-vs-illinois-state-redbirds-preview-and-prediction-2015

College football’s 2015 season officially arrives in Iowa City Saturday as the Big Ten West Division's Iowa Hawkeyes play host to the Missouri Valley Football Conference and STATS FCS preseason No. 2 Illinois State Redbirds in a game most pundits will be looking past as the collegiate season opens across the country.


Don't let the lack of enthusiasm or coverage of this game fool you. If Iowa was looking to end it's lackluster performances in recent season openers against FCS teams, it certainly chose the wrong horse for this contest. Illinois State is coming off a record 13-win season, which ended in the national championship game where the Redbirds finished runners-up to eventual champion North Dakota State by a score of 29-27, but had a chance to win it in the final minute and couldn't get it done.


Iowa on the other hand has lost five of its last seven games, dating back to the Oct. 18, 2014 contest at upstart Big Ten East Division rival Maryland. In last season's home opener for the Hawkeyes, they needed an 88-yard drive with just under seven minutes to play to hold on to beat Illinois State's fellow FCS and MVFC member and in-state rival Northern Iowa 31-23.


Expect both teams in this contest to battle for pride, as Iowa has no interest in starting another season on the ropes, while the Redbirds feel they can compete with anyone and hope to send a message to their upcoming FCS opponents.


Iowa and Illinois State have never met on the football field.


Illinois State at Iowa


Kickoff: 12 p.m. EST (Saturday)

TV Channel: Big Ten Network & BTN2Go

Spread: N/A


Three Things to Watch


1. How Will Iowa's Offense Perform Under C.J. Beathard?

The Hawkeyes enter the 2015 season without their offensive statistical leaders in passing yards, rushing yards or receptions for the first time since 2004. Their lone offensive statistical leader to return is WR Tevaun Smith, who led the Hawkeyes with a career-high 46 catches for 596 yards in 2014. More importantly Junior QB Beathard is making just his second career start as a Hawkeye, with the only other start coming in a 24-10 win at Purdue in 2014. But that doesn't mean he hasn't shown he can perform. Entering the game as backup in the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl against Tennessee, Beathard completed 13-of-23 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for a career-high 82 yards on just eight carries. These are statistics that ultimately earned him the starting job over former QB Jake Rudock, who transferred to Michigan after losing out to Beathard in spring practice. Watch for Beathard to do considerably more with what he's been handed than Rudock was able to get done in 2014 behind a much more experienced group of players.


2. Does Illinois State's FCS Division Status Really Matter?

At least on paper, the Redbirds enter this game as the prohibitive favorite. They return 11 starters from a team that finished a field goal and two minutes shy of the FCS national championship in 2014. And four of those returning starters have been named preseason FCS All-Americans. Their offense is led by former Indiana transfer senior QB Tre Roberson and junior RB Marshaun Coprich, who combined to help Illinois State set 16 school single-season offensive records in 2014. In their lone games against a shared opponent, Iowa struggled to hold off Northern Iowa in the final minutes 31-23, while the Redbirds lost to the Panthers by a wider margin of 42-28. And while Iowa is 12-0 against FCS opponents in its history, the Hawkeyes have struggled to break open those games before being able to put away their lower division rivals. Look for Iowa to capitalize on Beathard's considerably stronger arm and come out fast and hard on offense to set the tempo early, unlike past games where the Hawkeyes waited until the fourth quarter to preserve close wins.


3. Which Defense Steps Up?

Last year, Iowa's defense allowed an average of 344.2 yards per game, while the Redbirds fared just slightly worse at 345.5. The Hawkeyes averaged 28.2 points per game in 2014, the Redbirds 38.3. When taking into account the Iowa's lost offensive productivity on Iowa's side of the ball, compared to the Redbirds who return 98.9 percent of their firepower, you'd have to give the edge here to Illinois State. But statistics can often be deceiving, as they are in this case. The Hawkeyes competed in the much stronger and more physical Big Ten, where defense has traditionally won games. While the Redbirds have a deep roster with a great deal of talent, it has come against considerably less talented or well-coached opponents.


Final Analysis


Look for Iowa's bigger and more physical defense to hold Illinois State scoreless for much of the first half. On offense, give the edge ever so slightly to the Hawkeyes as well, behind the potent throwing-rushing ability of new signal-caller Beathard. The Hawkeyes simply have too much size for the Redbirds and will eventually wear them out three downs at a time.


Prediction: Iowa 38, Illinois State 21


— Written by Robert A. Boleyn, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a native Iowan currently living in Los Angeles. A University of Iowa graduate, Boleyn is a Hawkeye fanatic and former contributing writing for The Daily Iowan. Follow him on Twitter @BoleynRobert.

Illinois State Redbirds vs. Iowa Hawkeyes Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 09:55
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/referees-blow-colorado-chance-against-hawaii-touchdown

Losing in the final seconds is never easy, it's even worse when the referees can't get their act together and spot the ball correctly.


In Thursday's game between Colorado and Hawaii, the refs had problems throwing and catching the ball to one another as precious time ticked off the clock. Colorado trailed 28-20 with about 12 seconds to go, which is usually enough time for another play, unfortunately the refs were ready to get out of there.



Hawaii obviously went on to win, 28-20. 

Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 09:49
Path: /college-football/way-too-early-top-10-nfl-draft-eligible-prospects

With the college football season now upon us, it seems like the perfect time to give a sneak peek at who I see being the top 10 NFL Draft-eligible prospects entering the 2015-16 season.


This list came to fruition from many hours of tape study and does not factor in any possible character concerns. With that said, some honorable mentions are Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin, Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, Alabama defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson, Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, and USC safety Su'a Cravens.


1. Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame

Smith has tremendous size, speed, and athleticism while at the same time being highly intelligent on the field. Smith finished last season with 112 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, and 3.5 sacks. On tape Smith can do it all, stop the run, play on the inside or the outside, while also having the ability to drop back and make plays in coverage. Smith is a special talent and will be a thrill to watch this college football season.


2. Joey Bosa, DL, Ohio State

Had Bosa been draft eligible in 2015, he may have been the first defensive player off the board. He may not be a once in a generation like talent that some have caked him up to be, but he has all the tools; prototypical size, good speed, and great athleticism. He slots in as a defensive end or tackle but probably best suited as a 3-4 defensive end. Bosa recorded 13.5 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss as a true sophomore while showing, at times, purely dominating ability. He plays the game with such determination and tenaciousness that he made for a clear choice here.


3. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida

Hargreaves is without a doubt the top cornerback in college football with the talent and ability to be a top five pick in next year's draft. Although Hargreaves' size isn't anything spectacular, it's serviceable and what he lacks in that area he makes up for with outstanding instincts superior ball skills, and pure lockdown ability. Hargreaves exceeds all expectations in press coverage and has no trouble playing off either. Hargreaves led the SEC last season with 13 pass breakups and also recorded three interceptions, all while demonstrating his aggressive, confident playing style. I have full confidence that he'll truly be the next great corner to arise from the ranks of college football.


4. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss

Tunsil is a former five-star recruit from Lake City, Florida. Much like Notre Dame tackle prospect Ronnie Stanley he has the prototypical height and bulk to be a cornerstone tackle at the next level (6-5, 305). In addition Tunsil has great length and unquestionable athleticism for the position. Tunsil's biggest strength is his ability in pass protection, utilizing his clean footwork, length, and excellent anchoring ability to fend off pass rushers. Despite his size, Tunsil can really bend well and is very technically sound when it comes to hand usage. Tunsil has been a starter for Ole Miss since the first game of his true freshman season and has only given up two sacks in two seasons, in a conference many people refer to as the best in the country.


5. Jalen Ramsey, S, Florida State

Ramsey has been a do it all player during his time with Seminoles, playing numerous secondary positions while in Tallahassee. Last season Ramsey recorded two interceptions, 12 pass breakups, 97 tackles, and 9.5 tackles for a loss. In 2013, Ramsey became the first true freshman to start at cornerback for the Seminoles since “Primetime” Deion Sanders.


6. Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame

Like Tunsil, Stanley is another big, long (6’5”, 315 lbs) offensive tackle from Notre Dame. Had he decided to declare for the 2015 NFL draft, without question he would’ve been my number one offensive lineman prospect. He plays with incredible balance, agility, power, and has great feet. Much like Tunsil, he can bend really well for someone his size and is technically sound in basically every aspect of the game. Stanley started his Notre Dame career by starting 13 games at right tackle in 2013 and then 13 games at left tackle in 2014 and he did so with only allowing one sack. In addition, Stanley also recorded 16 knockdown blocks last season.


7. Jacoby Brissett, QB, North Carolina State

Brissett comes in having the prototypical size for the quarterback position (6’4”, 231 lbs) while in addition also has an great arm which allows him to make all of the throws. His true strength lies within the pocket, but he has shown time and time again that he’s a threat outside of the pocket. In only one season as the Wolfpack’s starting quarterback, he threw for 2,606 yards and 23 touchdowns while limiting his interceptions down to 5. It wasn’t always easy going for Brissett in 2014 due to a poor Wolfpack offensive front, which in many games left him fending for his life more often than not. There's no doubt in my mind that if he has a big year in 2015 he will be highly coveted by NFL teams come May.


8. Andrew Billings, DL, Baylor

Billings has outstanding quickness which allows him to penetrate and make plays, in addition he also moves really well laterally and is incredibly light on his feet for someone his size (6’2”, 310 lbs). Billings has tremendous strength, but he also does a really good job keeping his pad level low. Billings has some serious upside and should be very entertaining this college football season.


9. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA

Myles Jack is an absolute jack of all trades for the Bruins. He's been a big time playmaker on both sides of the ball for the Bruins at running back and linebacker. Jack's an explosive athlete that comes in at 6'1", 232 lbs. He plays with unmatched passion for the game as well as aggression. He's extremely physical and excels at stopping the run. Jack has 25 starts at linebacker over his first two seasons and one at running back. He has 163 tackles, 15 tackles for loss,  and 10 rushing touchdowns in two seasons at UCLA. At this point in time, Jack is one of my absolute favorite players to watch in college football


10. Dadi Nicolas, EDGE, Virginia Tech

Nicolas is a very athletic pass rushing prospect, with great explosion and bending ability. Despite his biggest knock being his size (6’4”, 236 lbs), Nicolas has tremendous upside once he fills out his frame and adds on bulk and strength. Nicolas has supreme quickness off the ball while in addition showing incredible speed. Over the past two seasons for Virginia Tech Nicolas was able to rack up 12.5 sacks and 25 tackles for a loss. While still somewhat raw as a pass rusher, Nicolas is a fun player to watch and once he figures things out, watch out.


— Written by Rob Donaldson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An NFL Draft analyst and writer for, Donaldson also recently founded his own site,, and also pays careful attention to his beloved Iowa Hawkeyes and Pittsburgh Steelers. Follow him on Twitter @RobDonaldsonOTC.

Way-Too-Early Top 10 NFL Draft-Eligible Prospects
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 09:45
Path: /college-football/kent-state-golden-flashes-illinois-fighting-illini-game-preview-and-prediction-2015

Heading into the season the hot seat was as hot as any for Illinois head coach Tim Beckman. That seat hit a boiling point of no return last week, just one week prior to the first game of the season for Illinois. With Beckman losing his job amid controversy, Illinois looks to regain the focus on the field with Bill Cubit taking over as interim head coach with the Illini preparing to open the season Friday night against Kent State. Illinois has shown some signs of progress on the field and hopes to put the distractions behind them out of the gate.


Kent State at Illinois


Kickoff: 9 p.m. (Friday)

TV Channel: Big Ten Network

Spread: Illinois -14.5


Three Things to Watch


1. How easily does Illinois move past the off-field distractions?

Losing your head coach a week before the start of the college football season surely has to have some impact on Illinois. Even if the removal of Tim Beckman is seen by many as a reprieve, the transition happening so quickly and so close to the start of the year presents some unforeseen concerns. Bill Cubit takes over as the interim head coach, and with no other changes to the coaching staff it would appear everything else should be fairly stable. Still, Cubit is now given some more tasks in addition to preparing the offensive game plan. Now he will be tested on some defensive situations and special teams work. How he handles it and how the players rally behind him will determine what level of success the Illini can have out of the gates.


2. How efficient is Illinois QB Wes Lunt?

Injuries turned what could have been a promising season for the former Oklahoma State quarterback into a bit of a mess. If healthy, Lunt has a chance to be one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the Big Ten. He will play behind an experienced offensive line, with three returning starters on his throwing side, but Illinois replaces both starts on his blind side. Quick passes will be the key for Lunt.


3. Does Kent State find an offensive flair?

Kent State’s offense was nowhere to be found a season ago and the offensive line has to replace three starters. Getting things off on the right foot may prove difficult, but having Trayion Durham back should add some muscle to the ground game. Kent State’s running game may have lost some sizzle with Dri Archer moving on, but the Golden Flashes can bring some thunder on the ground if Durham is having an impact.


Final Analysis


Despite the negativity surrounding the program leading up to the first kickoff, Illinois looks to be a solid pick in this game. Wes Lunt could turn in a good performance to calm the nerves of the Illini faithful, and Cubit seems prepared for this opportunity in front of him. It may not be pretty, but Illinois gets it done to open the season.


Prediction: Illinois 26, Kent State 13


— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.

Kent State Golden Flashes vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/richmond-spiders-vs-maryland-terrapins-preview-and-prediction-2015

Maryland welcomes Richmond to College Park for Saturday’s season opener. Richmond, an FCS member, rolls into Byrd Stadium ranked No. 18 in the FCS Coaches Poll, after posting a nine-win 2014 season that ended with a loss to Coastal Carolina in the second round of the FCS playoffs.


In 2014 Maryland finished third in the Big Ten East behind Ohio State and Michigan State, and played in its second consecutive bowl game. The Terrapins haven’t lost a home season opener since 1997 and will look to push their all-time record to 13-5-1 against the Spiders.


Richmond at Maryland


Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ESPNU

Spread: Maryland -19


Three Things to Watch


1. Will Caleb Rowe See Action at QB?

A few people were surprised to see Maryland junior quarterback Perry Hills tabbed to replace the departed C.J. Brown as a starter. Hills was thrown into action last season when Brown and current backup Caleb Rowe were lost to injury. Hills played in three games for the Terrapins in 2014 and passed for 86 yards and a touchdown on 10 attempts. In 2012 he started seven games as a freshman and became the first freshman quarterback since 1999 to open the season as a starter. Rowe appeared to have a firm grip on the backup role to Brown last year before an ACL tear in an October practice prematurely ended his season. If head coach Randy Edsall gives Rowe a good number of snaps Saturday, it could mean that he’s not shutting the door completely on Rowe’s chances to eventually start at the position.  


2. Can Maryland’s Efficient Offense Keep it Up?

The disparity in talent levels between Maryland and Richmond is quite glaring, but it will be interesting to see if Maryland can pick up where it left off last year in offensive efficiency as a large part of Maryland’s success in 2014 was attributed to the Terrapins’ red zone efficiency rate. In Maryland’s 35 trips to the red zone last season, it scored 24 touchdowns and 11 field goals for an eye popping 91-percent score rate. 


3. Can William Likely Carry the Defense?

Maryland junior William Likely returned a kickoff 100 yards in last year’s Foster Farms Bowl matchup against Stanford. He’s a pretty good defensive back, too. His nine pass deflections and six interceptions — which tied for first in the conference — in 2014 earned him first team All-Big Ten honors from coaches. He also added 83 tackles, the fourth highest amount on the team. Likely will be tasked Saturday with helping new defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski implement a new 4-3 defensive scheme, and offsetting the loss of seven defensive starters.


Final Analysis


This is the type of game that has given Maryland trouble in the past. But that shouldn’t be the case Saturday, even though Richmond is a formidable FCS opponent. Edsall appears to have Maryland on the upward trajectory and while the final score isn't likely to be a blowout, the Terrapins should control this one from start to finish.


Prediction: Maryland 34, Richmond 17


— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12

Richmond Spiders vs. Maryland Terrapins Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 09:20
Path: /oregon-state-beavers-vs-weber-state-wildcats-preview-and-prediction-2015

Corvallis became the nexus for some of the most unusual twists and turns in the offseason coaching carousel. It started with long-time head coach Mike Riley bolting Oregon State for Nebraska and ended with the Beavers bringing in former Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen to take over the program.


Andersen and his staff inherit an Oregon State team in full rebuild mode. The Beavers stumbled to a 5-7 finish in 2014 after losing six of their final seven games. Oregon State has enough pieces to work with on offense and defense to defy dismal preseason predictions. Andersen showed his capability for turning programs around during his stint at Utah State from 2009-12.


This marks the first meeting between Oregon State and Weber State and the Beavers will be heavy favorites. The Wildcats have won a total of six games over the last three seasons and are still a season or two away from being one of the better Big Sky Conference teams in FCS.


Weber State at Oregon State


Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Friday)

TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks

Spread: N/A


Three Things to Watch


1. Quarterback platoon

Andersen is bucking conventional wisdom by deploying two quarterbacks to run the Oregon State offense. Freshmen Seth Collins and Marcus McMaryion will both get snaps behind center and earn a chance to show they have the skills to succeed Sean Mannion. Both are dual-threat quarterbacks with big-play ability. Andersen noted there is zero separation between Collins and McMaryion coming out of fall camp. Both players should see plenty of time against Weber State and both will benefit from a veteran offensive line anchored by Outland and Lombardi Trophy candidate Isaac Seumalo.


2. Building a better defense

Aggressive hard-hitting defense could be a trademark for Oregon State in a short time. New defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake brings a track record of success to the Beavers. He oversaw a Utah defense in 2014 that led the nation in sacks and ranked among the top FBS teams in several other key categories. Sitake has some promising talent to work with in his first year. Jaswha James, in particular, should wreak havoc all over the field from his hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end position. Justin Strong could enjoy a breakout season in the secondary after tallying 56 tackles as a nickel back in 2014.


3. Youthful Wildcats

Second-year coach Jay Hill, who coached with Andersen and Sitake at Utah, has committed to build Weber State without relying on tons of junior college transfers. That means the Wildcats have a roster filled with sophomores and juniors who will play big roles. Leading rusher Zach Smith returns after gaining 742 yards on 129 carries last season and the junior anchors a deep backfield in 2015. Cam Livingston is a capable threat at receiver after tallying 856 yards on 57 catches a year ago. Jadrian Clark enters the season as the starting quarterback after starting the final five games last fall.


Final Analysis


Oregon State will likely struggle to finish above .500 in Andersen's first season, but the Beavers will be competitive with most teams. Beating a rebuilding Weber State squad should not be a problem. The Wildcats have not defeated an FBS opponent since beating Nevada 47-30 in 1993 and simply don't have enough talent to hang with Oregon State for four quarters.


Prediction: Oregon State 42, Weber State 14


Written by John Coon,who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.

Weber State Wildcats vs. Oregon State Beavers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 09:15
All taxonomy terms: Alabama Crimson Tide, College Football
Path: /college-football/top-10-alabama-preseason-qb-battles-post-bear-bryant-era

For two years in a row now, Alabama's starting quarterback job has been hot topic No. 1 throughout August's preseason practices.


Related: Ranking All 128 College Football Starting Quarterbacks for 2015


With Jake Coker, the guy many figure to get first crack under center this Saturday when No. 3 Alabama meets No. 20 Wisconsin at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, set to begin his final season at Alabama, there's a good possibility the Crimson Tide could be dealing with a third-straight starting quarterback quandary next fall.


Yes, it's beginning to feel like an annual preseason storyline now, but headline-making quarterback battles haven't always consumed Augusts in Tuscaloosa. In the post-Bear Bryant era, which began in 1983, there have been a number of seasons in which Alabama coaches, players and fans knew exactly who the guy under center would be when the season got under way.


And those other seasons? Yes, there have been several of those too during the post-Bear Bryant era — 2014 and 2015 being two of those. So where do Alabama's preseason quarterback battles of 2014 and 2015 rank among the other speculation-laden preseason quarterback battles that have taken place in Tuscaloosa since Alabama's legendary coach with the houndstooth hat called it a career? 


Glad you asked.


Here's my top 10:


1. Andrew Zow vs. Tyler Watts, 2001

As far as preseason Alabama quarterback battles in the post-Bear Bryant era, the most hotly-contested, most heavily-debated, most scrutinized and the one most filled with mystery and speculation has to be the Tyler Watts-Andrew Zow duel in 2001. First-year Alabama coach Dennis Franchione apparently made his pick during fall camp, but the former TCU head man was completely tight-lipped about it, fueling all sorts of predictions among Bama fans, most of whom had sided with one or the other of the two passers. The drama stretched right on up to kickoff of the season-opener against UCLA at Bryant-Denny Stadium and finally ended when Watts trotted out for Alabama's first offensive series against the Bruins.


2. AJ McCarron vs. Phillip Sims, 2011

Both AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims were big-time, highly recruited QBs when they signed with Alabama, and when Greg McElroy finished his career at the Capstone following the 2010 season, the battle — and the debate — between McCarron and Sims was on. The competition between the two candidates was extremely tight. Even multiple weeks of fall camp couldn't separate the two in the eyes of Nick Saban and his coaching staff. It wasn't until both guys had the chance to perform in the season opener that McCarron inched ahead and seized the job.


3. Blake Sims vs. Jake Coker, 2014

All the early signs pointed to Florida State transfer and super-hyped Jake Coker winning the Alabama quarterback job for the 2014 season, but Blake Sims, who looked unimpressive in the spring, upped his game during Bama's 2014 fall camp and surprised everyone by beating out Coker. Sims went on to prove his fall camp emergence was no fluke, leading Alabama to an SEC championship and a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoffs.


4. Jake Coker vs. Cooper Bateman vs. Alec Morris, 2015

For the second year in a row, Jake Coker found himself entrenched in a highly publicized, intensely speculative quarterback battle throughout fall camp in 2015. This time his primary challengers were the highly athletic Cooper Bateman and Alec Morris, who probably had the best grasp of the Alabama offense. Morris seemed to gain a little momentum for the job midway through camp, but Coker seemed to be back in the lead, slightly ahead of the surging Bateman, by the close of camp. 


5. Jay Barker vs. Brian Burgdorf, 1994

A late-season knee injury shelved starting QB Jay Barker near the end of the '93 season, and when his backup, Brian Burgdorf, turned in an MVP performance in the 1993 Gator Bowl, the debate on who should be Bama's signal-caller in '94 heated up. In fall camp, Barker, who hadn't exactly wowed fans with his play up to this point in his career, ultimately held off Burgdorf to remain Bama's starting quarterback heading into the '94 season. Barker went on to prove Gene Stallings made the right choice at QB by turning in a senior season to remember. The Trussville native finished fifth in Heisman balloting in '94 and earned the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the nation's top senior quarterback.


6. Greg McElroy vs. Star Jackson, 2009

Greg McElroy came out of the spring with the lead, but many expected redshirt freshman Star Jackson, a prized prospect when he signed with the Tide in '08, to potentially overtake McElroy during fall camp. That never happened. McElroy, despite being viewed as less physically talented than Jackson, held on to the job, went into the season as the clear starter and proceeded to lead the Tide to its first national championship in 17 years.


7. David Smith vs. Jeff Dunn vs. Vince Sutton, 1988

Jeff Dunn went into spring drills with the lead at quarterback but an injury to both him and fellow QB challenger Vince Sutton allowed David Smith, who had started some in '87, to get more reps in the spring. All three guys, all of whom had seen action in '87, seemed to be in the picture when Bama's '88 fall camp opened, but Smith, the less heralded of the three and a former walk-on, eventually secured the job.


8. Mike Shula vs. Vince Sutton vs. Hugh Smith vs. Gene Newberry vs. Paul Fields, 1984

Mike Shula had the lead in the spring, but when he went down with a broken leg during spring drills that opened the door for several other candidates. Highly touted freshman Vince Sutton turned out to be Shula's primary competition, and both guys ended up sharing time under center during the '84 season.


9. Mike Shula vs. Vince Sutton vs. Gene Newberry, 1985

Vince Sutton, who had seen a good bit of action in '84, and promising passer Gene Newberry were still in the quarterback picture when the Tide opened fall camp in '85, but Shula, who had also gained a lot of valuable playing experience in '84, held on to the No. 1 spot going into the season. The son of the NFL coaching legend solidified his job by leading the Tide to a dramatic, come-from-behind win over Georgia in the season-opener.


10. Danny Woodson vs. Jay Barker, 1991

Senior Danny Woodson and redshirt freshman Jay Barker were Alabama's leading quarterback candidates heading into the Tide's '91 fall camp, but there was no clear-cut favorite between the two. Woodson eventually got the nod over Barker to start the season, but Barker would eventually take the reins late in the regular season, beginning with the LSU game, after Woodson got suspended.


— Written by Erik Stinnett, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Stinnett is an experienced college football beat writer who has been covering Alabama since 2009.

Top 10 Alabama Preseason QB Battles of Post-Bear Bryant Era
Post date: Friday, September 4, 2015 - 09:00