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Quarterback play is always under the microscope for every college football team. Finding and developing a reliable starter isn’t easy for some programs, but for other schools, the next quarterback steps in and the offense doesn’t miss a beat.
With the 2015 season just days away, who has the best quarterback situations in college football? And which teams should be concerned? We ranked all 128 quarterbacks – with a few stipulations. This is not a list of career achievements or NFL Draft stock. Both of those elements were considered, but we also weighed value to the team, scheme, projection for 2015, recruiting background, talent and production so far. Anything you can think of to evaluate quarterbacks was used in this ranking.
Ranking All 128 College Football's Starting QBs for 2015
1. J.T. Barrett/Cardale Jones, Ohio State
Urban Meyer isn’t going to name a starter for the opener against Virginia Tech, and both players are likely to see snaps against the Hokies. Regardless of who starts or finishes a game, this is the best quarterback situation in college football.
2. Trevone Boykin, TCU
Boykin was arguably the most improved quarterback in the nation last season. He’s a Heisman frontrunner in 2015.
3. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Prescott guided Mississippi State to just its third season of double-digit wins in program history in 2014 and earned first-team All-SEC honors. Prescott’s return for his senior year is a big reason why Mississippi State will remain a factor in the SEC West.
4. Connor Cook, Michigan State
Cook is 23-3 as a starter at Michigan State and will keep the Spartans in the mix for a playoff spot this fall. Cook is also regarded as one of the top quarterback prospects in next season’s draft.
5. Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Watson could rank among the top three quarterbacks on this list by the end of 2015. Injuries limited Watson to just eight games last season, but he finished with 1,466 yards and 14 passing scores.
6. Cody Kessler, USC
Kessler closed 2014 on a high note by recording nine touchdown passes over the final two games and at least 300 yards through the air in four out of the last five contests. Additionally, Kessler’s 69.7 completion percentage ranked third nationally.
7. Jared Goff, California
Sonny Dykes’ Bear Raid offense is in good hands with Goff at the controls. The junior is rising on NFL boards for next year’s draft after throwing for 3,973 yards and 35 scores last season.
Podcast: Week 1 Preview w/ Rece Davis
8. Jeremy Johnson, Auburn
High expectations surround Johnson. All signs point to a breakout year from the junior in coach Gus Malzahn’s high-powered offense.
9. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
Didn’t have the best sophomore season, but there’s no question about talent. Hackenberg needs more help from his supporting cast.
10. Taysom Hill, BYU
A leg injury sidelined Hill for the second half of 2014, but the senior is back at full strength this fall. While he’s always garnered attention for his rushing ability, Hill quietly showed marked improvement as a passer last year, completing 66.7 percent of his passes through five games.
11. Brad Kaaya, Miami
Kaaya was among the nation’s most impressive freshman quarterbacks in 2014, throwing for 26 scores and 3,198 yards. Expectations are even higher for the sophomore in 2015.
12. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech
Thomas was nearly flawless in his first season as the starter in coach Paul Johnson’s option attack. He led the team with 1,086 rushing yards and connected on 14 passing plays of 30 yards or more.
13. Marquise Williams, North Carolina
North Carolina’s defense has been an issue in recent years, but the offense should be among the best in the ACC once again. Williams slightly averaged under 300 total yards (296.6) a game in 2014 and recorded 34 overall scores.
14. Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati
Kiel had a prolific debut as Cincinnati’s starter, throwing 14 scores in his first three games and finishing the season with for 3,254 yards and 31 touchdown tosses. With a loaded receiving corps, Kiel is poised for another huge year in 2015.
15. Jacoby Brissett, NC State
Brissett sparked a turnaround at NC State last season, guiding the Wolfpack to a five-win improvement in the win column. The Florida transfer tossed 23 scores to only five picks in 2014.
16. Keenan Reynolds, Navy
Reynolds is the perfect match for Navy’s option attack and has the Midshipmen among the favorites to win the American Athletic Conference this season. The Tennessee native has recorded back-to-back seasons of 1,000 yards on the ground and has 54 rushing scores in that span.
17. Vernon Adams, Oregon
Adams could be the most intriguing quarterback in college football this season. Replacing Marcus Mariota won’t be easy, but the senior had a prolific career at Eastern Washington and should be a good fit in Eugene.
18. Brandon Doughty, WKU
Doughty shattered the WKU single-season passing record by throwing for 4,830 yards and 49 scores last year. The senior enters 2015 as the nation’s leading passer among active quarterbacks (7,800 yards).
19. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Rudolph had the redshirt removed in late November and started the final three games of 2014. A rising star in the Big 12 ranks.
20. Seth Russell, Baylor
Russell has only one career start, but coach Art Briles has a strong track record with quarterbacks and the supporting cast is among the nation’s best. The junior will try to become the fourth Baylor quarterback to throw for at least 4,000 yards in five years.
21. Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
Dobbs’ late-season emergence is a big reason why Tennessee is on the rise in the SEC East.
22. Kyle Allen, Texas A&M
Allen faced a challenge for the starting job from talented freshman Kyler Murray, but the sophomore was named the No. 1 quarterback and should build off a promising end to the 2014 season (four touchdowns in the Liberty Bowl).
23. Anu Solomon, Arizona
Solomon was steady in his first year as Arizona’s starter and recorded 4,084 total yards and 30 scores. A leg injury slowed Solomon at the end of 2014. He should benefit from another year under coach Rich Rodriguez.
24. Mike Bercovici, Arizona State
Led Arizona State to a 2-1 record in three starts last season. Strong-armed senior should thrive in his first full year as a starter.
25. Everett Golson, Florida State
Golson left Notre Dame after spring practice and will spend the final year of his eligibility at Florida State. After guiding the Fighting Irish to an appearance in the national championship in 2012, Golson was ineligible in 2013 and threw for 3,445 yards and 29 scores last season. Coach Jimbo Fisher picked Golson as Florida State's No. 1 quarterback on Monday.
26. Kevin Hogan, Stanford
Will Hogan pick up where he left off at the end of 2014? Over the last three games of last season, Hogan tossed only one interception and completed at least 70 percent of his passes in each contest. Here’s the most important stat for Hogan and coach David Shaw: Stanford went 3-0 in that stretch.
27. Malik Zaire, Notre Dame
With Everett Golson off to Florida State, Zaire is the unquestioned starter in South Bend. The sample size is limited, but all signs point to a huge year for the sophomore.
28. Chuckie Keeton, Utah State
Knee injuries have sidelined Keeton for significant chunks of time in each of the last two seasons. Will the senior return to full strength and regain his form from 2012 (3,992 yards, 35 scores)?
29. Paxton Lynch, Memphis
Lynch was one of the nation’s most improved passers in 2014. After throwing for 2,056 yards and nine touchdowns as a freshman, Lynch threw for 22 scores and 3,031 yards last season.
30. Blake Frohnapfel, UMass
Graduate transfer provided an instant boost for UMass’ offense last season. Frohnapfel’s season was cut short by a leg injury, but he threw for 3,345 yards and 23 scores and earned first-team All-MAC honors.
31. Maty Mauk, Missouri
Mauk had his share of ups and downs in his first full year as a starter but guided Missouri to the SEC East title. Needs to improve completion percentage in conference games (48.9 last year).
32. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
The next star quarterback at Texas Tech? Mahomes tossed 14 scores over the final three contests last season.
33. Fredi Knighten, Arkansas State
Dynamic dual-threat quarterback led the Sun Belt by averaging 312 total yards per game last season.
34. Kevin Ellison, Georgia Southern
Ellison is sidelined for the first two games due to suspension this year. Led all Sun Belt quarterbacks with 1,082 rushing yards last season and averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
Related: Sun Belt Predictions for 2015
35. Matt Johnson, Bowling Green
Johnson’s 2014 season was cut short after a hip injury in the opener. Expect a huge statistical season at the controls of coach Dino Babers’ “Falcon Fast” offense.
36. Zach Terrell, Western Michigan
Terrell led the MAC by completing 67.9 percent of his passes last season and should have a huge 2015 with one of the conference’s top receiving corps at his disposal.
37. Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska
How quickly Armstrong adapts to new coach Mike Riley and coordinator Danny Langsdorf will play a huge role in how high Nebraska climbs in the Big Ten West.
38. Sefo Liufau, Colorado
Rising star for coach Mike MacIntyre after throwing 28 touchdowns and completing 65.3 percent of his passes in his first full year as Colorado’s starter.
39. Chad Voytik, Pittsburgh
Quietly closed 2014 on a high note, finishing with seven touchdowns to just one interception over final five games.
40. Brandon Allen, Arkansas
Won’t post huge numbers in Arkansas’ run-first offense but poised for his best overall season.
41. Patrick Towles, Kentucky
Towles was steady as a passer last season (2,718 yards, 14 passing scores) and added 303 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. New coordinator Shannon Dawson is tasked with taking Towles’ game to the next level.
42. Drew Hare, Northern Illinois
Hare is poised to emerge as the next star quarterback at Northern Illinois. Threw for 18 scores and added 900 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games last year.
43. Wes Lunt, Illinois
Talented passer but has yet to start for a full season. Missed nearly half of 2014 due to a leg injury but passed for 1,763 yards and 14 scores in eight games.
44. Nate Sudfeld, Indiana
Missed half of 2014 due to a shoulder injury. Sudfeld’s return should be a huge boost for Indiana’s bowl hopes in 2015.
45. Joe Licata, Buffalo
Licata is one of the nation’s underrated quarterbacks, passing for 53 touchdowns over the last two years. Should thrive under new coach Lance Leipold.
46. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
From walk-on at Texas Tech to earning the starting job at Oklahoma after leaving Lubbock, Mayfield has one of the most interesting backstories for a starter at the FBS level. Should be a good fit in new Oklahoma’s new offense under coordinator Lincoln Riley.
47. Travis Wilson, Utah
Returned from injury-shortened 2013 campaign to post career high in touchdown passes (18) last season. Working under new co-coordinators Jim Harding and Aaron Roderick this year.
48. Justin Holman, UCF
Emerged as a solid replacement for Blake Bortles last season and should take another step forward in 2015.
49. Skyler Howard, West Virginia
Junior college recruit showed promise as West Virginia’s starter at the end of 2014. Howard passed for 346 yards and three scores in the Liberty Bowl but needs to improve completion percentage (50.9 in 2014).
50. Reggie Bonnafon, Louisville
Bonnafon has yet to be named the starter, but the sophomore is the favorite to take the first snap of Louisville’s opener against Auburn.
51. Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech
Guided Virginia Tech to an upset win over Ohio State in early September but had an up and down debut. Should be better in his second season as the starter.
52. Josh Rosen, UCLA
There’s plenty of pressure on Rosen as a true freshman starter, but the five-star recruit isn’t lacking for confidence or talent.
53. Greg Ward, Houston
Started the final eight games of 2014 at quarterback and should thrive under new coach Tom Herman - if he wins the job over Adam Schulz.
54. Jake Rudock, Michigan
Rudock is making the rare intra-conference transfer from Iowa to Michigan. Expected to beat Shane Morris for the starting job.
55. Sam Richardson, Iowa State
Richardson should benefit from another offseason under coordinator Mark Mangino. Quietly threw for 2,669 yards and 18 scores last year.
56. Tyler Jones, Texas State
Jones nearly led Texas State to its first bowl appearance last season, recording 3,209 total yards and 28 overall scores.
57. Taylor Lamb, Appalachian State
Emerging star in the Sun Belt helped Appalachian State close 2014 on a six-game winning streak.
58. Thomas Sirk, Duke
Sirk is coach David Cutcliffe’s next star quarterback.
59. Phillip Ely, Toledo
Alabama transfer was off to a solid start (4 TDs, 541 yards) but suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 2.
60. Driphus Jackson, Rice
Jackson accumulated 3,243 total yards last season en route to leading Rice to its third consecutive bowl.
61. Mitch Leidner, Minnesota
Leidner is a good runner, but he has to progress as a passer for Minnesota to win the Big Ten West.
62 Cooper Rush, Central Michigan
Rush turned in a solid sophomore campaign and finished the season with seven touchdown tosses in the 49-48 loss to WKU in the Bahamas Bowl.
63. C.J. Beathard, Iowa
Iowa coaches hope the switch to Beathard gives the offense more big-play ability.
64. P.J. Walker, Temple
Walker had a solid freshman season (20 TDs, 8 INTs) but regressed in 2014 (13 TDs, 15 INTs). A better supporting cast in 2015 should help.
65. Nick Arbuckle, Georgia State
Solid junior college pickup for coach Trent Miles in 2014. Arbuckle recorded three games of at least four touchdowns for the Panthers last season.
66. Cody Clements, South Alabama
UAB transfer should have a seamless transition to South Alabama with Bryant Vincent (last year’s coordinator at UAB) calling the plays.
67. Ryan Finley, Boise State
New starter at quarterback? That's usually no problem for the Broncos. Finley completed 12 of 27 passes for 161 yards and two scores last year and will be tested right away with matchups against Washington and BYU to start the season.
68. Jaquez Johnson, FAU
Johnson was a bright spot for FAU’s offense last year, recording 2,728 total yards and 17 passing scores in 11 games.
69. Jeff Driskel, Louisiana Tech
Driskel’s career didn’t pan out at Florida, but he’s got one more opportunity after transferring to Louisiana Tech.
70. Jake Coker, Alabama
Alabama’s Week 1 starter is a mystery. However, Coker seems to hold a slight edge over Alec Morris and Cooper Bateman.
71. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
Kelly was named the starter by coach Hugh Freeze on Monday. The former Clemson passer and junior college product is an intriguing talent. Can he put it all together in 2015?
72. Will Grier, Florida
While Grier – a redshirt freshman and four-star recruit – is considered the favorite to start, Treon Harris will also see time in the opener. New coach Jim McElwain should help the offense take a step forward after managing only 24.9 points in SEC games last year.
73. Brandon Harris, LSU
LSU’s passing attack is in desperate need of a spark. Talent certainly isn’t the issue for Harris, and he showed improvement throughout the offseason.
74. Luke Falk, Washington State
Should post huge numbers in coach Mike Leach’s offense. However, Falk also needs to take better care of the ball (seven picks in last four games of 2014).
75. Matt Davis, SMU
Breakout candidate to watch in new coach Chad Morris’ high-powered offense.
76. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
Thorson was a huge catch on the recruiting trail for coach Pat Fitzgerald, ranking as a four-star recruit and the No. 188 overall player in the 2014 247Sports Composite. The redshirt freshman is an intriguing player to watch this fall.
77. Dane Evans, Tulsa
Evans had a nice statistical season last year (3,102 yards and 23 scores) and should thrive under new coach Philip Montgomery.
78. Tyrone Swoopes, Texas
Quarterback play will be under the microscope for Texas in 2015. Will Swoopes improve enough to hold off Jerrod Heard?
79. Terrel Hunt, Syracuse
Hunt never had a chance to build off a promising end to the 2013 season. A leg injury limited Hunt to just six games, while the rest of the Syracuse offense also had its share of issues. Despite playing in just six contests, Hunt finished 2014 as the leading passer for the Orange (983 yards).
80. Joel Stave, Wisconsin
Which Stave will Wisconsin get in 2015? The version that threw for 22 touchdowns and 2,494 yards in 2013? Or the one that struggled last year?
81. Perry Hills, Maryland
Hills started seven games for the Terrapins in 2012 but suffered a torn ACL and used 2013 as a redshirt. Edged Caleb Rowe and Daxx Garman for the job this fall.
82. Matt Johns, Virginia
Johns made three starts last season and edged Greyson Lambert for the starting job in spring ball. Willing to take chances downfield (seven passing plays of 30 yards or more) but also needs to raise completion percentage (54.9).
83. Nick Stevens, Colorado State
New coach Mike Bobo and coordinator Will Friend should keep Colorado State’s offense among the best in the Mountain West. Stevens only has 25 career pass attempts, but he has one of the best receivers in the nation at his disposal in junior Rashard Higgins.
84. Jack Milas, Ball State
Milas is a rising star to watch in the MAC this year. Threw for 1,302 yards and nine scores in six appearances in 2014.
85. John Wolford, Wake Forest
Wolford was placed into a no-win situation last season with a lackluster rushing attack and struggling offensive line. Threw for 2,037 yards and 12 scores in 12 games.
86. Darius Wade, Boston College
Promising sophomore with all of the necessary physical tools to thrive under coach Steve Addazio.
87. Jake Browning, Washington
Browning isn’t guaranteed to start the opener against Boise State. However, he’s the most talented quarterback on the roster.
88. Hayden Rettig, Rutgers
LSU transfer is slated to start the opener after Chris Laviano was suspended. Rettig ranked as a four-star recruit in the 2013 signing class.
89. Seth Collins, Oregon State
Collins and fellow freshman Marcus McMaryion will play in the opener against Weber State.
90. Greyson Lambert, Georgia
In a mild surprise, Lambert was picked as Georgia’s starter over Brice Ramsey. The Virginia transfer struggled with the Cavaliers last year (10 TDs, 11 INTs).
91. Nate Romine, Air Force
Air Force doesn’t have much trouble replacing starting quarterbacks under coach Troy Calhoun. Romine is an interesting player to watch, as he is regarded as a better passer than runner.
92. Max Wittek, Hawaii
Big-time pickup for Hawaii coach Norm Chow. Will Wittek live up to his recruiting hype this season? Could be much higher on this list by the end of 2015.
93. Maxwell Smith, San Diego State
Kentucky transfer returns home for last season of eligibility. Started 11 games with the Wildcats and should be an impact addition for coach Rocky Long.
94. Cameron Coffman, Wyoming
Indiana transfer should be an upgrade for Wyoming’s quarterback spot in 2015.
Related: Mountain West Predictions for 2015
95. Brooks Haack, UL Lafayette
Breakout candidate? Haack was solid in limited action last year (20 of 23 for 179 yards).
96. Michael Birdsong, Marshall
James Madison transfer has the tough task of replacing Rakeem Cato.
97. Connor Mitch, South Carolina
Mitch steps into the starting lineup under the watchful eye of coach Steve Spurrier. Keep an eye on true freshman Lorenzo Nunez
98. Lamar Jordan, New Mexico
Regarded as an excellent runner (612 yards last season), but Lobos hoping for more from passing attack. Junior college transfer Austin Apodaca – a better passer – is expected to see snaps in the opener.
99. Reginald Bell, Eastern Michigan
Promising sophomore emerged as playmaker for Eastern Michigan last season. Bell led the team with 562 rushing yards and threw for 409 yards in a loss to Ball State. Could be much higher on this list by the end of 2015.
100. Austin Appleby, Purdue
Purdue hopes to take a step forward in coach Darrell Hazell’s third season. The Boilermakers need better quarterback play to escape the Big Ten West cellar.
101. Brandon Silvers, Troy
New coach Neal Brown should help Silvers’ development. Threw for 1,836 yards and 11 scores last season.
102. Jesse Ertz, Kansas State
Mystery in Manhattan. Will Ertz, Joe Hubener, Jonathan Banks or Alex Delton start at quarterback? Ertz is the favorite to take the first snap and has yet to throw a pass on the FBS level.
103. Tanner Lee, Tulane
Lee had an up and down season as a freshman and did not throw a touchdown pass in the final three games after tossing eight in the first three weeks.
104. Nick Mullens, Southern Miss
Southern Miss is trending in the right direction under third-year coach Todd Monken. Mullens is also on the hot seat with TCU transfer Tyler Matthews also expected to play.
105. Brent Stockstill, MTSU
Son of the head coach (Rick Stockstill) edged Austin Grammer for the starting job this fall.
Related: Conference USA Predictions for 2015
106. Kyle Pohl, Akron
Will Pohl hold onto the starting job? Former Pittsburgh signal-caller Tra’von Chapman is making a push for snaps.
107. Derrius Vick, Ohio
Ohio’s passing attack needs a spark after managing only 11 passing scores last season.
108. Shuler Bentley, Old Dominion
Taylor Heinicke won’t be easy to replace, but Shuler – the two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in South Carolina – is an intriguing replacement.
109. Alex McGough, FIU
McGough showed promise as a true freshman last season, throwing for 1,680 yards and 14 scores in 12 games. Should be better as a sophomore.
110. Tyler Stewart, Nevada
Inherits big shoes to fill in replacing Cody Fajardo.
111. Johnny McCrary, Vanderbilt
New play-caller Andy Ludwig should help a Vanderbilt offense that managed only 12.8 points in SEC games last year. McCrary is competing with Wade Freebeck for the No. 1 spot.
112. Quinton Flowers, USF
Beat Penn State transfer Steven Bench for the starting job this fall, only completed 8 of 20 passes for 111 yards last year.
113. Joe Gray, San Jose State
Gray finished 2014 as the starter, but junior college recruit Kenny Potter is making a push for the job this offseason.
114. Tyler Rogers, New Mexico State
Should have plenty of opportunities to throw the ball in 2015 (436 attempts last year) but needs to cut the interceptions (23).
115. Montell Cozart, Kansas
Pressed into starting role after Michael Cummings was lost for the year in the spring game. Has eight career starts.
116. Zack Greenlee, Fresno State
Greenlee started one game in 2014 and finished the year with 213 yards after completing 18 of 41 passes. Former West Virginia quarterback Ford Childress is also expected to see time for the Bulldogs this season.
117. Bryant Shirreffs, UConn
NC State transfer needs to spark a UConn offense that averaged only 15.5 points per game in 2014.
118. Colin Reardon, Kent State
Reardon has passed for 26 scores over the last two seasons and should benefit from the addition of Don Treadwell at coordinator and the return of Trayion Durham at running back.
119. Blake Decker, UNLV
Junior college transfer passed for 2,886 yards in his first season in Las Vegas.
120. Matt Linehan, Idaho
Getting receiver Dezmon Epps back, as well as another year of experience should help Linehan after he tossed 18 picks in 2014.
121. Andrew McNulty, North Texas
Three quarterbacks received snaps for the Mean Green last season. McNulty is expected to start over DaMarcus Smith this fall.
122. Blake Kemp, East Carolina
Projected starter Kurt Benkert suffered a torn ACL in fall practice. Kemp – a junior college transfer from Mesa Community College – is the new projected No. 1. He’s yet to throw a pass on the FBS level.
123. Mack Leftwich, UTEP
Started four games for the Miners in 2013 and used a redshirt year last season. Miners plan to lean heavily on one of C-USA’s best offensive lines and running back Aaron Jones.
124. Matt Johnson, Charlotte
49ers join the FBS ranks in 2015. Johnson threw for 1,941 yards and 13 scores before a season-ending knee injury.
125. Blake Bogenshutz, UTSA
Bogenshutz played in four games last season before taking a medical redshirt. Completed 8 of 14 passes for 82 yards against Oklahoma State in 2014.
126. Garrett Smith, ULM
Promising redshirt freshman topped senior Brayle Brown for the No. 1 spot this offseason.
127. Gus Ragland, Miami, Ohio
Redshirt freshman is locked into battle with Drew Kummer for the starting job.
128. Ahmad Bradshaw, Army West Point
Bradshaw did not play last season and passed A.J. Schurr for the top spot this offseason.
While we knew the starters for most teams would play in the third NFL preseason game, we simply hoped no major injuries would crop up. Obviously no one ever wants a player to get hurt, but for those in fantasy football leagues that have already drafted, you don't want to see one of your guys go down with injury.
Thankfully, this week seems to have gone with only a few injuries, none of which appear to be too serious as of now. The biggest name and injury scare was Randall Cobb. After already losing Jordy Nelson for the season, Aaron Rodgers watched as his current top wide receiver left the field in pain.
While the questions surrounding Cobb's injury were whether it was a fractured collar bone or shoulder injury, the MRI results, as reported, revealed a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. Clearly this is better than a fractured collar bone, but AC joint injuries can linger in receivers.
While the Packers won't rush Cobb back until he's ready, be prepared to be without your WR1 for Week 1. The reports are optimistic, but after losing Nelson, the Packers want to make sure that they will have their top wideout for the long haul. If Cobb is out Week 1, Rodgers' fantasy value does take a hit, but he's still Aaron Rodgers. Even if he is throwing to Davante Adams, Jeff Janis and Ty Montgomery. The long-term implications of Cobb's situation shouldn't affect season-long fantasy owners, but daily fantasy owners need to be prepared to grab bargain receivers in Green Bay.
Also, in deeper leagues, don't overlook Janis and Montgomery. If Cobb misses time for this injury or something else down the road, they will be the guys to fill in as much as possible.
Other Injuries Around the League
Julius Thomas, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars (hand)
This isn't a new injury, as Thomas has been sidelined with a broken bone in his hand since the first preseason game. However, initially the reports were that the hand would heal on its own and he'd be ready for Week 1, wearing just a protective cast. Now it appears that Thomas needs surgery on his hand, and will likely be out for at least the first month of the season. Tight end Marcedes Lewis will take over, but Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns will likely end up seeing most of Blake Bortles' targets. This is a blow to Jacksonville's offense, especially in the red zone. Thomas drops out of the top 10 tight ends with this news. Unless fantasy owners draft back-up tight ends, Thomas can remain undrafted.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts (head)
In the third preseason game, Hilton suffered a concussion and is now in the league's concussion protocol. He did look good in the game, but he does need to be cleared in order to play in Week 1. Keep an eye on his practice schedule to see how he progresses. If he were to miss the first week of regular games, Andre Johnson and tight end Dwayne Allen should pick up some extra targets. No need at this point to worry about the season; just cross your fingers he's ok to be cleared soon.
Tre Mason, RB, St. Louis Rams (hamstring)
Everyone knew Mason's time as the starting running back in St. Louis was limited with the addition of Todd Gurley, however, everyone thought that Mason would at least get through the first few games of the season before Gurley started taking carries away. Apparently even that is questionable, as Mason injured his hamstring in the third preseason game of the year and is questionable for Week 1 of the regular season. Benny Cunningham is now poised to be the starting running back for the Rams. While the plan was to ease Gurley into game action, the Rams may be forced to bring him along sooner than they originally intended. Mason, at this point, is only worth a late-round pick. Gurley is the back to own in St. Louis, but don't reach for him.
Duke Johnson, RB, Cleveland Browns (head)
Rookie Johnson could have been the starting running back for the Browns… if only he could stay healthy. He's missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury already. He was able to play in the third preseason game, but ended up suffering a concussion, and is now in the league's concussion protocol. Depending on how he responds, it is still feasible he will be ready for Week 1, but not a guarantee. Currently Isaiah Crowell is the No. 1 running back for Cleveland, although it's mostly by default at this point. If possible the Cleveland running back situation is one to avoid for fantasy owners. Crowell will get you some carries, at least early in the year. Johnson has potential to be the feature back as the year goes on or he could be a complete bust. Both backs should only be drafted in the late rounds.
Garrett Hartley, K, Pittsburgh Steelers (hamstring)
It's not a good year to be a kicker for Pittsburgh. First, Shaun Suisham tore his ACL; now Hartley has a hamstring injury severe enough that the Steelers placed him on Injured Reserve. Former Jacksonville kicker Josh Scobee will now try his luck for the Steelers. In 11 seasons in Jacksonville, he's made 317 out of 322 extra points and 235 out of 291 field goals (mostly from over 40 yards). He's worth drafting in fantasy leagues, but only in the last round of your draft.
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.
The Nebraska football program finds itself with a clean slate, thanks to a new head coach, offense and defense. Still, after seven years of four-loss seasons under coach Bo Pelini, it's hard for the media to give Mike Riley the benefit of the doubt right out of the chute.
The Amway USA Today Coaches Poll was less than kind, giving the Huskers a mere 27 votes.
Props do go out to Brian Howell (Daily Camera), Gary Horowitz (Statesman Journal), Matt McCoy (610 WTVN-AM, Columbus, Ohio) and Mike Sorensen (Deseret News, Salt Lake), who dipped a toe and added the Cornhuskers to their Associated Press ballots.
Those four will likely be vindicated once the college football season is over. I know, blasphemy to talk about such things before it's even begun.
Thanks to suspensions and BYU's porous defense, Nebraska should jump into the Top 20 quickly. With Miami (FL)'s mass exodus of players to the NFL, an undefeated non-conference slate is far from unattainable for the Big Red.
At this point, if the Huskers aren't at the No. 19 spot or better, they have a grand opportunity to not only bust into the Top 15, but take a firm hold of the Big Ten West division lead as Wisconsin comes to Lincoln.
Not only is this a pivotal game, but All-Everything Nebraska sensation DeMornay Pierson-El may be ready to step back onto the field and make first-year Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst's initial visit to the Cornhusker State anything but pleasant.
Nebraska has to trudge through nine games before welcoming the Michigan State Spartans to Lincoln and I've been predicting that game as a loss for quite some time. Conditioning can only do so much, but if Riley can manage to beat coach Mark Dantonio, he deserves...I don't know, is it too early to build a statue?
If WWE has taught us anything, no, it is not.
Very winnable games against Rutgers and Iowa (which visits following the much needed and only bye week of the Huskers' season) set up Nebraska for an oh so fun matchup in the Big Ten Championship Game, likely against Urban Meyer's merciless Ohio State Buckeyes.
I’m certainly not naive enough to think the Huskers take home the Stagg Championship Trophy. However, I do believe that if this is all to unfold, not only does the Big Red make the aforementioned pollsters look like powerful prognosticators, but there’s a shot at the Fiesta Bowl or the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
A 10-2 regular season record is very feasible. I personally feel double-digits is a safe bet. Get on board, pollsters. You’ll only look 10 times better if you do so now.
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Cavanaugh is founder of Eightlaces.com, a site devoted to in-depth Nebraska coverage. Be sure to follow Brandon on Twitter @eightlaces and Periscope (eightlaces), and like his Facebook page.
The early strain of another season in the SEC West is already taking a toll on the LSU coaching staff after head coach Les Miles was reportedly taken to a local hospital Monday morning after not feeling well.
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva addressed the situation 30 minutes after a scheduled luncheon with the media was supposed to start. Alleva updated the press stating, “Coach Miles was a little bit under the weather this morning in his office. He went down to see the trainers and they told him it would be best for him to go to the hospital. They wanted him checked out on a precautionary basis.”
Miles returned to Tigers’ athletic facility in the afternoon for LSU’s practice.
The scare for Miles comes on the heels of Friday’s announcement that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron had received several weeks of treatment for prostate cancer. Fortunately for Cameron, his cancer is reportedly in remission and he will be able to fulfill his duties on the Tigers’ staff this season.
LSU kicks off the season on Sept. 5 against McNeese State.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
Happy September, folks.
If college football season seems a little later this season, that's because it is. The first FBS game of the college football season is on Sept. 3, the latest opener since 2009. For the first time since 2011, the season didn't feature at least one August football game. Labor Day doesn't fall until Sept. 7, so the college football schedule follows, making the wait that much longer.
If only every fan base could enjoy that offseason optimism through the fall months. Alas, some teams might have their hopes dashed early in the season while others are just getting started on a potential journey to a special season. These are the games in the first month of the season that may send a team on one path or the other.
|1.||Sept. 12||East Lansing, Mich.|
|Oregon defeated Michigan State 46-27 in Eugene to set the table for a College Football Playoff appearance and a Heisman Trophy last season. In the Ducks' return trip, Michigan State is looking for revenge — and to show the Big Ten that Ohio State isn't the only contender in the league.|
|2.||Sept. 7||Blacksburg, Va.|
|Ohio State's 35-21 loss to the Hokies seems like ages ago. Whether J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones starts, the Buckeyes quarterback will face a nasty defense on the road. The Buckeyes' suspensions, including defensive end Joey Bosa, add drama to a game that already had plenty of storylines.|
|3.||Sept. 19||Baton Rouge, La.|
|An even series has gone into LSU's favor recently (6-2 in the last eight). A standout performance by Jeremy Johnson against the stout Tigers defense in Death Valley would be eyebrow raising. An LSU win puts the Tigers into SEC West contention.|
|4.||Sept. 19||Tuscaloosa, Ala.|
|Along with Auburn-LSU, this Saturday sets up as a monster day for the SEC West. Ole Miss has not won in Tuscaloosa since 1988 and has never defeated Alabama in back-to-back years. Alabama has lost to only one opponent in back-to-back seasons under Nick Saban (LSU, 2010-11).|
|5.||Sept. 19||Los Angeles|
|With any luck, this game will be more entertaining than Stanford's 13-10 win last season. Both teams are expecting more after being conference also-rans a year ago. Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan is looking for a rebound year while USC's Cody Kessler is looking to prove himself against a top-flight defense.|
|6.||Sept. 5||South Bend, Ind.|
|Texas visits South Bend for the first time in 20 years. A Longhorns win would be a surprise as new Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire looks for an early signature moment.|
|7.||Sept. 12||Knoxville, Tenn.|
|Oklahoma clobbered Tennessee 34-10 in Norman last season. In the interim, Oklahoma has become an afterthought in the Big 12 to TCU and Baylor while Tennessee is one of the "it" teams in the SEC. Time now to see how much has really changed.|
|Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson has thrown 78 passes in two seasons, but his reputation preceeds him. In his first game as the unquestioned starter, Johnson faces a stout Louisville defense.|
|9.||Sept. 5||Arlington, Texas|
|A sneaky good matchup in the first Saturday of the season could turn the winner into a Playoff contender overnight.|
|10.||Sept. 26||Tempe, Ariz.|
|Last season's meeting ended on a Mike Bercovici Hail Mary to Jaelen Strong for a Sun Devils' win. With Bercovici facing Kessler and plenty of skill talent again, expect more fireworks.|
|11.||Sept. 17||Louisville, Ky.|
|After facing Wofford and Appalachian State to start the season, Clemson and Deshaun Watson will face their first post-Chad Morris test against Louisville on a Thursday night.|
|12.||Sept. 26||Tucson, Ariz.|
|UCLA will be tested against Virginia and BYU by the time of its Pac-12 opener against Arizona. After facing a soft non-conference schedule, Arizona will try to use this game prove its Pac-12 South credentials.|
|13.||Sept. 26||Arlington, Texas|
|A lesson in identity football — Arkansas' grinding run-offense vs. Texas A&M's hurry-up passing attack — will play a key role in determining the pecking order in the SEC West.|
|14.||Sept. 12||Provo, Utah|
|Both Boise State and BYU have tough September matchups. The Broncos might not need to go undefeated for a major bowl bid (they lost twice last season), but BYU probably does.|
|15.||Sept. 19||South Bend, Ind.|
|The Yellow Jackets bring the elite option offense to face a salty Notre Dame defense. Who blinks first?|
|16.||Sept. 26||Gainesville, Fla.|
|Tennessee plays Oklahoma before its SEC opener in Gainesville, but the Volunteers need to beat Florida for the first time since 2004 if only for the sake of their collective psyche heading into the conference season.|
|17.||Sept. 26||Austin, Texas|
|Oklahoma State has won three in a row in Austin after losing 11 in a row, dating to before the formation of the Big 12. Meanwhile, the Cowboys and Longhorns are embroiled in a lawsuit concerning whether former Pokes assistant Joe Wickline calls the offensive plays for Texas.|
|18.||Sept. 5||Arlington, Texas|
|Alabama will be a clear favorite in another neutral-site opener. A more compelling storyline will be how either Jake Coker or David Cornwell fares against Dave Aranda's Wisconsin defense.|
|TCU defeated Minnesota 30-7 in Fort Worth last season and will be favored to win at Minnesota. Horned Frogs quarterback and Heisman contender Trevone Boykin will face one of the best defensive backfields on the road.|
|20.||Sept. 19||Austin, Texas|
|Cal is getting plenty of run as a sleeper team but only if the Bears' defense can give Jared Goff and the Air Raid a chance. With its brutal schedule, Cal will need to win games like this to get to a bowl.|
Nebraska’s defense received big news on Monday. With the season just around the corner, the defensive staff handed out the “Blackshirts” practice jerseys to 11 players.
This annual tradition of handing out black practice jerseys is a big deal for the defense, and this video captured the reactions as they walked into the locker room.
Needless to say, the Cornhuskers’ defenders were excited about this moment with the 2015 season inching closer:
To commemorate 10 years since NBC started broadcasting Sunday Night Football games, they've decided to have a little Q&A with some of the NFL's biggest stars.
Isabella Dayyeah gets the honor of interviewing Andrew Luck, Patrick Peterson, Dez Bryant Clay Matthews, Kam Chancellor, Demarco Murray, and Odell Beckham Jr. FYI, they weren't ready for her.
What they thought was a nice, innocent interview turned into something completely different.
Life comes at you fast.
After the explosive trailer for Will Smith's new movie "Concussion" was revealed today, people started talking.
There's talk this movie is good for people to see, but others are saying this will bring a damper to the game of football by bringing up the whole CTE issue. Whichever side of the fence you're on, it's something you'll be talking and hearing about for months to come.
The NFL knew the movie's trailer had been all over the internet by early after and had no choice but to issue a statement about it.
"We are encouraged by the ongoing focus on the critical issue of player health and safety. We have no higher priority. We all know more about this issue than we did 10 or 20 years ago. As we continue to learn more, we apply those learnings to make our game and players safer."
"Concussion" is set to hit theaters in December.
Football is life.
A young Bears fan is using the quarterback for his hated rivals as motivation. Miguel Reyes, a 14-year-old Bears fanatic, has a brain tumor that causes him headaches, among other problems. It was the idea of Reyes' former teacher Peg Kelly to give the tumor a name.
"I said, 'You need to name that tumor so we can kill it,'" Kelly told The Elkhart Truth. "You know what he named it? Rodgers. Aaron Rodgers. What a stinker!"
If you haven't noticed, Kelly is a die-hard Packers fan, hence the stinker comment. On the other hand, she's all for what ever motivation Reyes needs to beat kill his tumor. She even got him a German shepherd last year, hoping he could help detect Reyes' seizures and prevent him from bumping into things. The dog's name? Devin Hester
If you want to contribute, Reyes has a GoFundMe page to raise money to properly train Hester.
Unless your fantasy football league doesn't use them, kickers need to be drafted too. And just like any other football player kickers are subject to injury and/or competition. That has been the case this preseason as Pittsburgh's Shaun Suisham is already lost due to a torn ACL, while Denver cut Connor Barth on Aug. 26. The Steelers had signed veteran Garrett Hartley to replace Suisham, but he too got hurt in a preseason game. Pittsburgh traded for Jacksonville's Josh Scobee on Monday, as the Steelers are hoping the third kicker is the charm. The Broncos meanwhile have turned back to Brandon McManus, who originally replaced Matt Prater after he was suspended for four games at the start of the 2014 season. McManus would up losing the job to the aforementioned Barth. As far this kicker roulette goes, McManus obviously carries some interest because he kicks his home games at altitude and for a pretty potent offense. Scobee likewise should at be on your radar because his situation greatly improves going from the Jaguars' work-in-progress offense to the Steelers' high-powered attack. And as far as Jacksonville goes, it appears the Jaguars are going to go with first-year kicker Jason Myers, who played at Marist and spent time in the Arena Football League last season.
Fantasy Football 2015 Kicker Rankings
(Updated Aug. 31)
Want to mock draft? Check out this Mock Draft Simulator powered by FantasyPros.com
Usually Jim Harbaugh is the brother making headlines for interviews.
This time John Harbaugh is the one giving a not-so-good interview during halftime of the Ravens' preseason game. Even the coaches are bored and grouchy when it comes to the preseason.
Gracious halftime interview from John Harbaugh pic.twitter.com/RWqzF3TUlU— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) August 30, 2015
A very difficult schedule awaits a young and rebuilding Washington footall team, under the direction of second year head coach Chris Petersen. With a new starting quarterback and a virtually brand new offensive line this has the look of a season that will start slow and finish strong. If the Huskies can achieve bowl eligibility and solve the quarterback issue with Jake Browning then the season will be a success.
Here are Washington's 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 12 vs. Sacramento State
The Hornets will get their sizable paycheck and coach Petersen should be able to get a guys a lot of playing time in a comfortable win for the Huskies.
11. Sept. 19 vs. Utah State
This matchup with the Aggies will be a nice test for the Washington defense as Chuckie Keeton is a tremendous playmaker for Utah State. Washington is going to have to control the line of scrimmage and pound the football down the Aggies throats with Dwayne Washington and Myles Gaskin in order to get the win.
10. Nov. 27 vs. Washington State
This Apple Cup could very well be "a winner is bowl eligible" and "loser leave town" matchup as the Huskies should be able to use the home field advantage to get their sixth win of the season to become bowl eligible.
9. Sept. 26 vs. California
The Golden Bears are getting a ton of preseason hype with Jared Goff back at quarterback. But, until California proves they actually play something that resembles defense, they will be vulnerable in this swing game for the Huskies.
8. Nov. 21 at Oregon State
Corvallis is never an easy place no matter who is coaching the Beavers. This is a matchup that Washington should have a chance to win on the road if they stay healthy and take care of the football.
7. Nov. 7 vs. Utah
This will be another litmus test to see just how much better Washington has gotten at the line of scrimmage as the Utes will turn this matchup into an old-fashioned street fight.
6. Oct. 31 vs. Arizona
Washington let the Wildcats off the hook with the infamous chart debacle by head coach Chris Petersen. Arizona will be playing its tenth game in 10 straight weeks. So the opportunity could be wide open for the Huskies to knock off the Wildcats.
5. Oct. 8 at USC
A Thursday night trip to the Coliseum will provide a highly motivated Washington team with a chance to make a big-time statement against former head coach Steve Sarkisian. The Trojans have the superior team but the wild card in this will be the level of focus with USC as Sark’s teams tend to play down to their competition.
4. Oct. 24 at Stanford
Will the after effects of playing Oregon the week before rear its ugly head again down in Palo Alto? Washington has played Stanford tough the last couple of seasons. This would be a huge confidence-boosting win if the Huskies could somehow escape with a win.
3. Nov. 14 at Arizona State
The state of Arizona has been a house of horrors for Washington and this will be a critical game in November to see how far the young quarterbacks and young offensive line have progressed. Look for the Sun Devils to relentlessly attack the Huskies defensively all game long.
2. Oct. 17 vs. Oregon
To call this matchup with the Ducks a true rivalry is not justified as the Huskies have not been close to competitive against the Ducks since 2003. A good step forward for Washington would be to keep the game within 17 points or less as Oregon will dominate the line of scrimmage once again and wear down the Huskies.
1. Sept. 4 at Boise State
Washington will play more talented teams on their schedule in conference play. However, with Chris Petersen’s return to Boise and the inexperience at quarterback this is going to be the toughest game of the season for the Huskies.
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @scottwhittum
Typically Defenses/Special Teams (DST) are the second-to-last position that is drafted in fantasy football. DSTs are undervalued and usually for good reason. In many leagues, you get points for your defense based on how many points they allow, plus additional points for interceptions, sacks and defensive/special teams touchdowns.
The key to knowing when to draft a DST is knowing the scoring in your league. While that should be standard fantasy football advice, quite often people assume that a defense is worthless or they can just pick one up off waivers each week. However, in some leagues, defenses can be a hidden source of points (or even negative points). Let's take a look at how DSTs compare depending on a scoring system.
In league No. 1, DSTs are given 20 points for zero points scored against (PA), 15 points for 1-6 PA, 10 points for 7-13, five points for 14-20, three points for 21-27, negative five (-5) points for 28 to 34 PA and negative ten (-10) points for over 35. Negative points are also given for defensive yards allowed (negative five points for 400-499 yards allowed, negative ten points for 500 or more).
In league No. 2, DSTs are given 10 points for zero PA, seven points for 1-6, five points for 7-13, three points for 14-20 points against, one point for 21-27 against, zero points for 28 to 34 points against and negative two (-2) points for over 35 PA. No points are awarded or subtracted for yards against.
In both leagues, the same scoring applies for sacks. In league No. 1, interceptions and fumble recoveries are one point; in league No. 2 they are two points. Here is how the points ended up in 2014:
League No. 1
League No. 2
Surprised? Based on the scoring, it seems that league No. 1 would have more points from the DST, but actually more points were taken from the DST because of the negative scoring. In most leagues, the scoring is similar to league No. 2, and you don't count on a lot of points from your DST from points allowed. Rather you want a DST that gives you points from either special teams or sacks/interceptions. Here's how the DSTs stacked up in 2014 (all DSTs with at least 50 percent ownership are included):
2014 % Owned
Special Teams TDs
What about the outlier here? Minnesota, owned in just 12 percent of leagues, actually put up the 13th-most fantasy points in league No. 2 and the 11th-most in league No. 1.
What does this prove? You don't need to reach for a defense on draft day, unless your league does have some crazy scoring system that is far from the norm. Everyone wanted to own Seattle last year (and still does this year), yet in league No. 2, Seattle is the ninth-best team in terms of fantasy points.
Look at the team. Look at the division; these are the teams they play twice. Look at the players on the team. While most fantasy owners don't follow defensive positions as closely as offensive positions, just skim through the defensive news.
Also know that more games are likely to be over 35 points than under six. Take that knowledge and apply it to your league. At the end of the day, the best option is sometimes to "stream" defenses. Use free agency or the waiver wire each week to grab a defense that has the best matchup. For example, teams playing Jacksonville in 2014 were usually great DSTs to use. (Note: Carolina plays Jacksonville in Week 1 of the 2015 season).
Don't reach on a defense, but if you do end up with one that is going well for you, stick with it. Since you will need a DST to start the year, if you are looking for ideas on which to draft, here are my 2015 DST rankings:
1. Seattle Seahawks
2. Buffalo Bills
3. New York Jets
4. St. Louis Rams
5. Houston Texans
6. Miami Dolphins
7. Detroit Lions
8. New England Patriots
9. Denver Broncos
10. Baltimore Ravens
11. Philadelphia Eagles
12. Arizona Cardinals
13. Kansas City Chiefs
14. Carolina Panthers
15. Indianapolis Colts
16. Minnesota Vikings
17. Green Bay Packers
18. Cincinnati Bengals
19. Dallas Cowboys
20. San Francisco 49ers
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.
Todd Graham brought stability in his first three years as head coach, something not seen since the days of Sun Devil legend Frank Kush. But after seasons of eight, 10 and 10 wins, Graham has Arizona State talking national championship ahead of his fourth.
The Sun Devils get to test their championship mettle immediately, opening a difficult slate in a virtual road game against an SEC opponent. Week 1 is a fitting tune-up for the hazard-laden road ahead of Arizona State, which must find a way to navigate the potholes of the Pac-12 South to reach Graham's goal.
12. Sept. 12 vs. Cal Poly
Cal Poly's option offense makes it one of the Football Championship Subdivision's most prolific rushing teams, as well as an especially challenging squad for which to game-plan. The Mustangs could be dark-horse contenders in the Big Sky Conference, but Tim Walsh's bunch faces a harsh reality in Week 2: Tempe isn't Big Sky Country.
Arizona State will either be high off a marquee win in Week 1, or looking to exorcise its frustration from a pivotal loss. Either way, expect the Sun Devils to make very quick work of the Mustangs.
11. Sept. 18 (Friday) vs. New Mexico
Former Western Athletic Conference rivals met last September, their first encounter since a Kush-led Arizona State left the WAC to turn the Pac-8 into the Pac-10.
The Sun Devils won last year, just as they had every meeting since World War II. Don't expect seven decades of history to be broken when the Lobos visit Tempe this season.
10. Nov. 14 vs. Washington
Washington teams historically struggle in the desert. While past results with players and coaches long-since gone from the program have no bearing on the 2015 installment, an 0-6 record in the Grand Canyon State since 2006 does suggest a trend.
The Huskies appear to be in rebuilding mode this season, particularly on the offensive end. That doesn't bode well for a team that in last year's home loss to Arizona State mustered just 10 points. In fact, one must go back to 2007 for the last time any Husky squad reached even 20 points against the Sun Devils.
9. Oct. 10 vs. Colorado
Despite residing in bordering states, Arizona State and Colorado have played just six times. The Sun Devils won all six.
An improved Colorado team is going to pick off one of the Pac-12 South's contenders in 2015, but the Buffs are most likely to do so in Boulder. Arizona State gets them in the confines of Sun Devil Stadium, which should mitigate some of the risk playing this low-key dangerous bunch.
8. Nov. 7 at Washington State
Memories of Oregon State last November are fresh enough that this late-season date on the Palouse jumps out as a potential trap. Maybe last year's loss to a similar team provides this Arizona State team enough of a jolt to get up for a likely middling Washington State team.
7. Nov. 28 at Cal
An intriguing matchup, in part because Graham and Sonny Dykes have yet to face. Cal was one of two North division teams Arizona State missed on its schedule in 2013 and 2014, the other being Oregon.
What the Sun Devils can expect in their visit to Berkeley is a fast-tempo offense, navigated by one of the best quarterbacks in college football, Jared Goff. Given the unusual timing of this meeting — Thanksgiving/rivalry weekend — Goff and the Golden Bears could be seeking to play spoiler to Arizona State's Pac-12 Championship Game aspirations.
6. Oct. 17 at Utah
Utah is winless against Arizona State since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, but the last two seasons produced memorable finishes that could have gone either way. Utah's always-stout defense has posed offensive coordinator Mike Norvell's turned-up scheme problems each of the last two years.
With Arizona State remaining as the sole Pac-12 South team the Utes have yet to beat, they'll have added motivation going into this pivotal conference matchup.
5. Sept. 5 vs. Texas A&M (in Houston)
This rare Pac-12 vs. SEC nonconference crossover uses a stick of dynamite to usher in the 2015 season. Arizona State and Texas A&M feature two of the nation's most explosive offenses. Both ranked in the Top 30 nationally in points scored a year ago, and each was a Top 10 scoring offense in 2013.
Expect a final score that would make Bobby Hurley and Billy Kennedy, the school's respective basketball coaches proud.
Arizona State isn't just playing for itself; the Sun Devils are playing for bragging rights in the growing narrative of Pac-12 vs. SEC for college football supremacy.
4. Sept. 26 vs. USC
Graham referred to quarterback Mike Bercovici's Hail Mary heave — known in Tempe as the "Jael Mary," for wide receiver Jaelen Strong — as the greatest moment in Sun Devil history. So, yeah, the bar is set considerably high in the return match.
The 2014 conclusion is one that haunted USC throughout the campaign and into the offseason. The Trojans won't be lacking for motivation in one of the first marquee showdowns on the Pac-12 South slate, but the stakes are just as high for the Sun Devils. Arizona State is also defending a modest streak in this series, which USC once overwhelmingly dominated.
After going winless through the late 1990s and 2000s, the Sun Devils are 3-1 against the Trojans since 2011.
3. Nov. 21 vs. Arizona
The Duel in the Desert is among the nation's most acrimonious rivalries. Thanks to head coaches Graham and Rich Rodriguez, the annual meeting for the Territorial Cup has taken on significance equal to the hate.
Last year's meeting became the de facto Pac-12 South championship game. The 2015 installment won't be as historic — not because the Sun Devils and Wildcats aren't both title contenders, but rather because of the earlier placement on the schedule. This year's meeting in Tempe is the Saturday before Rivalry Week in order to line up with Stanford and Cal's Big Game.
So the Territorial Cup presentation might not come with a ticket to Levi's Stadium, but similar implications could be on the line.
2. Oct. 3 at UCLA
While the Duel in the Desert decided the South last season, the Arizona State-UCLA meetings in 2012 and '13 were both crucial to the divisional race. In fact, the South's representative in every Pac-12 Championship Game before last year's came from the winner of ASU-UCLA.
The results have matched the stakes. Before UCLA's bizarre, lopsided win last September, each game since 2011 was decided by just one score. Expect a similar nail-biter in the Rose Bowl with both teams harboring very real championship ambitions.
1. Oct. 29 (Friday) vs. Oregon
Graham has talked at length about Arizona State being a championship-caliber program. Oregon sets the curve for the entire Pac-12, thus making this Thursday night showdown the barometer by which the Sun Devils are measured.
Arizona State and Oregon haven't played since 2012, but their last encounter was under similar circumstances as the coming season's. The Ducks visited on a Thursday, with the Sun Devil Stadium audience rocking — at least, until sometime in the first quarter when Oregon began to deluge the home-standing Sun Devils.
Taking advantage of drawing Oregon at home once more, on a Thursday night, is critical to Arizona State taking the next step toward Graham's expressed goals.
After going from 3-9 to 8-5 in head coach Dave Doeren’s second season at NC State, optimism ran high among the fan base. With the players the team has returning on both offense and defense in 2015, Doeren and the Wolfpack could potently shake up things in the ACC Atlantic Division.
There are some questions NC State needs to address, most notably on the offensive line as this unit will break in two new tackles. The Wolfpack also will need to find some playmakers at wide receiver. But when you look at NC State’s roster, Doeren and his coaching staff have assembled a lot of talent in a short amount of time.
Here are the four reasons to be excited about NC State in 2015.
1. Jacoby Brissett
After not receiving a fair opportunity at Florida, Brissett transferred to NC State to play for Doeren in January 2013. After sitting out 2013 due to transfer rules, Brissett made a huge impact for the Wolfpack last fall.
In his first season starting for the Wolfpack, Brissett threw for 2,606 yards and 23 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also chipped in 529 yards rushing. The West Palm Beach, Fla., native ended the 2014 season ranking third in the ACC in touchdown passes (23), total offense (3,135) and fewest interceptions thrown (five). Brissett also was fourth in passing efficiency (136.7) and sixth in passing yards (2,606).
Brissett is the only returning starter from a Power 5 conference that posted at least 2,000 passing yards, 300 rushing yards and 20 passing touchdowns while throwing five or fewer interceptions in 2014.
Brissett is a strong-armed, athletic quarterback that can make all the throws. He also is a smart quarterback that doesn’t force the ball into coverage. If Brissett can improve from his 2014 season, there’s no reason to think the Wolfpack won’t at least be one of the top three teams in the ACC Atlantic.
2. Deep Running Back Rotation
In 2014, senior running back Shadrach Thornton led NC State in rushing with 907 yards. He also had help, as junior Matt Dayes led the team in touchdowns (13) and is the top returning receiver.
In addition to Thornton and Dayes, NC State will have a talented group of freshmen joining the team. Johnny Frasier (4-star recruit according to 247sports.com), Nyheim Hines (4-star), and Reggie Gallaspy II (3-star) will all be complements to the Wolfpack offense. Frasier has been mentioned as a potential redshirt candidate.
Thornton will miss the first two games due to a violation of athletic department rules, but NC State should have enough depth to survive his absence and also should be able to deal with any injury issues that occur as the season progresses.
3. Returning Starters on Defense
The NC State defense had a strong finish to the season in wins against Wake Forest, North Carolina and UCF. The team will look to build on that momentum that included more blitzing schemes and few yards allowed.
The Wolfpack returns seven starters on defense, including five in the secondary. Safety Hakim Jones led the team in tackles last season with 80. Sophomore safety Josh Jones recorded a team-best four interceptions in 2014.
Sophomore linebackers Jerod Fernandez and Airius Moore got better as the 2014 season progressed and should only continue to improve. The return of M.J. Salahuddin from a knee injury also will give the linebacker corps more depth.
4. The Schedule
While NC State plays Clemson and Florida State every year in divisional play, their schedule isn’t very daunting. The team’s four non-conference opponents are Troy, Eastern Kentucky, at Old Dominion and at South Alabama. In conference, the Wolfpack will play both Clemson and North Carolina in Carter-Finley Stadium. NC State’s toughest games will come on the road at Virginia Tech and at Florida State.
If the Wolfpack can win their road games, including upset Clemson, they have an outside shot at winning the Atlantic Division. While NC State isn’t projected to win the division, fans should be excited about the rise of this program. Nine wins, with a potential of 10 isn’t out of the question for the Wolfpack this season.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
Recently, longtime NFL linebacker James Harrison compelled his two sons to return participation trophies that they received from their sports league. He did so in order to teach them that trophies should mean more than simply showing up for games and merely trying to accomplish something in games. He declared that trophies are rewards, which should be earned for accomplishments, not just effort. In our society's increasingly "trophy for everyone" attitude toward athletics, others in the world of sports should take this lesson to heart.
1. College football
The NCAA has allowed the number of bowl games to reach an absurd level. Multiple teams without winning records annually receive what used to be a reward solely for a commendable, if not outstanding, season. In 2014, Arkansas, Illinois, Miami, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, South Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia Tech finished 6-6. Fresno State had a record of 6-7. However, each of those teams played in a bowl game. How anyone can argue that teams without a winning record deserve a trip to anywhere other than the weight room for offseason conditioning defies logic and propriety.
In the past several years, a bowl game has turned into a de facto 13th game for more than half of the teams in FBS. Teams with .500 records or worse should be pondering how they could improve to try and prevent the last-minute losses or 30-plus point blowouts that they endured. They should not be given free multi-day trips to tourist destinations in order to receive electronic goodies and complimentary meals in return for mediocrity over the course of the regular season.
If coaches will decry the loss of extra practices, then let every team have same amount of practices after season. Teams with losing records could still hold extra practice sessions without the rewards given to bowl participants.
The big shots that run the most popular and profitable sport in America cling to the absurd notion that every team that won its division not only deserves an automatic playoff berth but also a higher seed than wild-card entries. Teams with inferior records should not be allowed to host playoff games due to merely winning a wretched division. This absurdity has occurred four times in the past 10 seasons — 2008 (8-8 Chargers), 2010 (7-9 Seahawks), 2011 (8-8 Broncos) and 2014 (7-8-1 Panthers).
The playoffs should consist of teams who have shown their mettle over the course of the regular season. The league should revoke automatic bids for teams without winning record and replace them with more wild cards. Additionally, seeding should be based on regular season records, regardless of whether a team won its division or entered as a wild card.
3. College basketball
March Madness is stealthily slipping toward March Mediocrity. When the NCAA Tournament started in 1939, only eight teams participated. The number doubled in 1951. Between 22 and 25 teams were included over the next 22 years. By the end of the 1970s the numbers of spots had grown to 40. In the 1980s, the NCAA boosted the number of teams from 48 to 64. An extra entrant was added in 2001. Ten years later, the current allotment of squads included stands at 68. The tournament is continuously creeping toward the frequently rumored 96-team entity. There is no justification for increasing the number of marginal teams in the tournament. Every year, teams stumble their way to barely above .500, if not worse, and yet sneak into the Big Dance. Their presence, due to hot streaks lasting a few days en route to winning their conference’s tournament and accompanying automatic bids, is odious enough. Fans should not be exposed to even more marginal squads admitted to the event just to pad the number of contests for larger television revenue. The mediocre teams omitted from the Big Dance still can participate in the postseason National Invitational Tournament.
More than half of the league's 30 teams advance to the playoffs. Why bother playing 82 games over seven months in the regular season if the majority of the league will still go to the postseason? Also, why make them play in seven-game series? Is that to increase the chances that a hopelessly overmatched opponent manages to win one game while being routed in the series, just to make the losers feel less like losers? Sixteen of 30 teams making the playoffs diminish the accomplishment of “surviving” the regular season.
See the listing for the NHL and apply the same advice.
Two children received worthwhile messages from their father. Players merely showing up do not merit a trophy. Simply giving an effort does not suffice. Sometimes, despite a person's hardest efforts, one falls short of achieving success. Adults in the world of high-profile college sports and professional leagues need the same lesson as well.
— 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.
There was a time in the not-so-distant past that you couldn't mention Iowa Hawkeye football without a discussion of its talented and over-powering defensive units. Schooled in the basics by former defensive coordinator, the late Norm Parker, Hawkeye defenses didn't do anything fancy. They just played straight up, smash-mouth, Big Ten defense. And they won in the process.
Recruited by Iowa as part of the class of 2012, Drew Ott came along a year too late to get any direct football lessons from the well-respected defensive guru who retired after the 2011 season, but in many ways Ott still embodies and displays that same Parker way of playing defense. It's all about the basics. Done well repeatedly and with measurable improvements each time you hit the field.
A native of Trumball, Neb., Ott was named the 2011 Nebraska Gatorade Player of the Year during his senior year in high school, as well as to the Parade High School All-America Team. At Iowa, he saw limited action as a freshman during the 2012 season, where he watched from the sidelines for the first seven games before entering at Northwestern for his first official duties. He would go on to finish his first collegiate season with one solo tackle and two assists in the final five games. But he was far from finished or from making an impact on the field.
Reflecting back on that first game at Northwestern in 2012, Ott says "I got man-handled a little. Since then I've packed on weight and strength thanks to conditioning coach [Chris] Doyle. I've come a long way."
A long way indeed. By the 2014 season he finished with 26 solo tackles and 31 assists, including 12 tackles for a loss and eight sacks. More importantly, Ott had cemented his status on the Hawkeye squad as a team leader, on and off the field.
Ott is quick to remind Hawkeye fans that wasn't always the case, however.
“For my first two years here, I think I was known more for my scooter than for football.”
While he hasn't set aside the scooters entirely, these days Ott prefers to use his trucker’s license to drive semis full of grain and ponder life after college. He's said he'd like to return home to take over his family's Nebraska farm. That's if the NFL doesn't come calling first. But more importantly, he's thinking about what happens to the Hawkeyes in the upcoming 2015 season.
“I want to win a Big Ten championship. That's what I really want to get out of this season. I want to finish up by leaving the program better than it is as we start this season. That's what I really want.”
While there are those who are still skeptical of that goal, Ott may not be so far from achieving what he set out to do at Iowa. And if the bounces all go in the Hawkeyes’ direction on the field in the next few months, he may well be looking at the chance he wants most of all – a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.
Preseason hype and accolades aside, Ott is keeping his eyes on the prize as Iowa gears up for Saturday’s season opener in Kinnick Stadium against a talented Illinois State team.
“It's nice to be honored. But at the end of the day, it's all about what happens in the fall that matters.”
Somewhere up there the old defensive guru himself is smiling, knowing Iowa's defense has been left in good hands for now.
— 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.
Ole Miss returns 16 starters and 58 lettermen on a team that was better than its 9-4 record from a year ago. With players like Robert Nkemdiche, Evan Engram and a healthy Laquon Treadwell returning this season, the Rebels look to improve on that record.
Ole Miss will replace a three-year starter at quarterback in Bo Wallace with junior college transfer Chad Kelly. Kelly was once a highly recruited quarterback who began his career at Clemson. The Rebels hope Kelly can repeat the success he had at East Mississippi Community College where he led his team to a national championship.
The Rebels will open up the season on back-to-back home games, but road games at Alabama, Florida, Auburn and at Egg Bowl rival Mississippi State will be the defining points in their quest for their first SEC West title since the creation of the SEC Championship Game.
Here are Ole Miss’s 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 5 vs UT Martin
This will be the first meeting between the Skyhawks and Rebels. The last time Ole Miss lost a home opener was in 2010 to another Ohio Valley conference member in Jacksonville State. Don’t look for that to happen again. Ole Miss wins big.
11. Oct. 10 vs New Mexico State
In 2014, Ole Miss defeated SunBelt conference member UL Lafayette 56-15. UL Lafayette then turned around and defeated New Mexico State 44-16. Ole Miss wins easily.
10. Sept. 12 vs Fresno State
This will be the first meeting between these two since 2011 when Ole Miss had to fight back in the fourth quarter to win 38-28. The Bulldogs have played in three straight Mountain West title games but they lost a lot of players last year and only return 11 starters. Rebels should start the 2015 season 2-0.
9. Sept. 26 vs. Vanderbilt
Ole Miss defeated Vanderbilt last year in Nashville 41-3. I can’t imagine a scenario where Ole Miss gets worse at home this season. Rebels win big.
8. Oct. 17 at Memphis
The Rebels defeated Memphis 24-3 at home last year. Memphis went on to win 10 games last year and have a very successful season and bowl win. This year, Memphis gets Ole Miss at home and the Tigers will be coming off a bye week. This game could be close early, but I look for the Rebels to pull away and win in the second half.
7. Oct. 3 at Florida
I usually rank away games as tougher games to win, but in this case Florida is a rebuilding SEC East team. The Swamp just isn’t what it used to be. Rebels also have a warm up game in Vanderbilt the week before so everyone should be rested and healthy.
6. Oct. 24 vs. Texas A&M
The Rebels finally beat the Aggies for the first time in seven tries and did it on the road. A&M will be a better defensive team with the addition of coordinator John Chavis and we all know Coach Sumlin will bring the offense. This should be a very fun game to watch.
5. Nov. 7 vs. Arkansas
No Rebel fan will forget the blunder that came against Arkansas last year. The Razorbacks blanketed the Rebels 30-0 in a game the Rebels were favored in. Hugh Freeze will certainly have this game circled as the Razorbacks are looking to have a breakout season. The Rebels would love to put a damper on that goal.
4. Nov. 28 at Mississippi State
Since 2000, Ole Miss and Miss. State have split a road win in the series, Ole Miss in 2003 and Miss. State in 2010. The Rebels will have the numbers as far as returning starters go, but rivalry games are tricky and it’s the last week of the regular season. All bets are off when it comes to standings.
3. Nov. 21 vs LSU
This rivalry has turned into one of the closest games year in and out. Five of the last six meetings have been decided by a seven points or less. Last year was a defensive battle as the Tigers outlasted the Rebels 10-7. I look for this year’s game to be much more of a scoring affair.
2. Sept. 19 at Alabama
Ole Miss is 1-26 in Tuscaloosa. Last year, The Rebels defeated Alabama for the first time since 2003. If Ole Miss wants to win the West, this is a must-win game. History is not on their side. But new history can be made.
1. Oct. 31 at Auburn
October will be a tough month for the Rebels, as they will go on the road in three of their five games during the month. Waiting for them at the end will be a Halloween date with Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Ole Miss will be coming off of a road game at Memphis, followed by a home game with Texas A&M. The Rebels have defeated Auburn five times since 1971 with one of those wins coming in Hugh Freeze’s first year in 2012.
— Written by Justin Nails, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @justinnails
Don't wear blue if you're in Urban Meyer's class.
The only good to come of that is tremendous arm strength. The Ohio State coach made a couple of students do push-ups when they showed up to class wearing blue. That's a big no-no in Buckeyes' territory.
A photo posted by Tony Alford (@coachtonyalford) on
Missouri enters the 2015 season with little hype, despite coming off back-to-back SEC East division titles. Head coach Gary Pinkel's Tigers were selected to finish third in the East and didn't receive a single vote for eventual SEC champion when polling was conducted during SEC Media Days.
But that's nothing new for Missouri, which surprised many by edging out Georgia to win the division in 2014, despite being picked fourth at the outset. Still, the Tigers must first survive a tough SEC schedule in order to finish atop the East standings for the third consecutive season.
Here now are Missouri's 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to most difficult matchup.
12. Sept. 5 vs. Southeast Missouri State
No surprise here, the Tigers will open their season with a tune-up game against in-state opponent Southeast Missouri State. This kicks off a stretch of three consecutive non-conference matchups before beginning SEC play.
11. Sept. 19 vs. UConn
Once again, the Tigers have an easy September slate against non-conference before entering SEC play. UConn should be an easy victory that should help Missouri finds its groove before the going gets considerably tougher.
10. Sept. 12 at Arkansas State
Of Missouri's first three games, this matchup will be the most difficult. But despite Missouri's underrated offense, the Tigers should be able to open the season with a 3-0 record.
9. Oct. 24 at Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt should be a more competitive team in Derek Mason's second season. But there are just too many unanswered questions on offense to match up favorably against a Missouri defense that still has veteran talent even in the absence of Shane Ray, Markus Golden and an injured Harold Brantley.
8. Sept. 26 at Kentucky
Like Vanderbilt, Kentucky enters its season as one of two SEC teams that didn't play in a bowl game in 2014. But the Wildcats were far more competitive and started out 5-1 before suffering a six-game losing streak to finish at 5-7. The road matchup does create an advantage for Kentucky, but like the Commodores, it’s too soon to expect anything less than a loss to a capable SEC opponent.
7. Oct. 3 vs. South Carolina
While many SEC East teams are trending upward, South Carolina is a team on the decline. Steve Spurrier's recruiting negligence saw the program lose many of its early commitments, resulting in a ninth-place finish among conference peers. Aside from returning Pharoh Cooper, the Gamecocks' biggest fall camp storylines were improving the SEC's worst defensive line and deciding which inexperienced quarterback will replace Dylan Thompson.
6. Oct. 10 vs. Florida
Florida hired Jim McElwain this offseason to improve one of the SEC's worst offenses. Though expectations are high, it will be a slow process in Gainesville that probably won’t measureable success for another season or two. Still, the Gators have enough talent to remain competitive against inferior competition and are capable of pulling off an upset. But Missouri should remain a favorite as the team still looks to figure out its identity before midseason.
5. Nov. 14 vs. BYU
Here's where things get difficult. The Tigers should be able to secure bowl eligibility before November. This could carry momentum, which will be necessary as the team enters its most difficult stretch of games. Missouri hosts BYU one week after a tough matchup against Mississippi State. The Cougars are coming off three consecutive eight-win seasons while playing quality opponents as a FBS independent.
4. Nov. 5 (Thursday) vs. Mississippi State
Following a winnable game against Vanderbilt and a bye week, Missouri faces Mississippi State, a team that finds itself in a similar situation entering 2015. Despite holding its only No. 1 overall ranking in program history for several weeks, the Bulldogs are an under-the-radar team after returning an SEC-low seven starters — four on offense and three on defense. Still, Mississippi State signed its highest-ranked class in program history including several top JUCO transfers and returns Heisman hopeful Dak Prescott.
3. Nov. 27 at Arkansas
Arkansas finished last in the SEC West yet still managed to be one of the conference's top teams. In Bret Bielema's third season, many expect the Razorbacks to make a significant jump in the standings. Missouri will travel to Fayetteville for its final game of the regular season. The Razorbacks should be a tough road outing for the Tigers whether playing for bowl eligibility or contending in a tough SEC West.
2. Nov. 21 vs. Tennessee
Tennessee managed to play a competitive game against Missouri in Neyland Stadium last season, despite a thin depth chart and inexperienced roster. In 2015, many expect the Volunteers to be a dark-horse contender and challenge Georgia for the SEC East division title. Tennessee will be an improved team and should provide a difficult matchup, despite playing on the road. The young Vols managed to work through a season of growing pains and should be ready to take another step in their rebuilding process.
1. Oct. 17 at Georgia
Sandwiched between a home game against Florida and a favorable matchup at Vanderbilt is one of Missouri's most important games of 2015. Facing Georgia is already a difficult task, but the Tigers must do so at Sanford Stadium. Sophomore running back Nick Chubb looks to be the SEC's best player and the Bulldogs have a talented front seven to pressure Maty Mauk and contain Russell Hansbrough. But the home-field advantage creates even more of an edge for a Georgia team expected to end Missouri's two-year reign atop the SEC East.
— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhallFSN.
What college football fans have become accustomed to with LSU under head coach Les Miles, the Tigers again brought in a ridiculous amount of talent in the 2015 recruiting class, landing one of the top-rated groups in the nation. With four 5-star recruits and eight 4-stars, one can easily guess a couple of those guys with that much talent will make an impact this year on the field.
With the season opener against McNeese State just days away, a few true freshman will see the field early and often in 2015 but which ones will make an impact this season?
No. 1 Maea Teuhema, OG
Teuhema (6-5, 327) has come into camp ready to play and has picked up the playbook quickly while showing his ability to move, pull, use leverage, and open holes for the running backs. LSU wrapped up a scrimmage on Aug. 25 and the former Keller (Texas) High School 5-star prospect is already in the two-deep. As Miles put it, “He’s in the top five or six (offensive linemen).”
No. 2 Derrius Guice, RB
LSU now has a legitimate one-two punch in the backfield with sophomore Leonard Fournette and true freshman Guice. Fournette is a little bit heavier than his backfield mate at roughly 230 pounds but the 5-foot-11, 222-pound, former Catholic High School star from Baton Rouge is bringing a punch and exploding through holes in practice giving offensive coordinator Cam Cameron multiple options in the running game this season. This 5-star recruit is living up to the hype.
No. 3 George Brown Jr., OT
George Brown has already put on 20 pounds over the offseason but still might be a little light at 290 going against elite SEC talent. The former 4-star recruit has everything else needed to contribute, starting with his six-foot-7 frame, and should be on the field gaining valuable experience for the possible departure of junior left tackle Jerald Hawkins and the inevitable loss of senior right tackle Vadal Alexander at the end of the season.
No. 4 Kevin Toliver II, CB
Toliver was another one of the 5-star commitments new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele inherited upon his arrival from Alabama. Toliver has been pushing for playing time and is listed on the two-deep at second string. Tough to see anyone beating out Tre’Davious White, leaving three guys to fight for time on the other boundary — Dwayne Thomas, Ed Paris and Toliver.
No. 5 Arden Key, DE
Key has solidified his spot as a back up to Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal. An injury or a needed breather and Key is in the game. LSU pulled the former 4-star recruit out of Hapeville Charter in Atlanta and he has quickly paid off dividends for the Tigers. Can Key work his way on to the field as a starter by the end of the season?
No. 6 Jazz Ferguson, WR
Die-hard LSU fans are gasping for air but after the Aug. 25 scrimmage Ferguson might actually be outplaying former 5-star recruit Tyron Johnson. LSU is loaded at the receiver position with a lot of talent. Ferguson, a 4-star out of in-state West Feliciana High School, and Johnson, out of Warren Easton Senior, will both get time on the field this season but seeing which player emerges from the pack will be fun to watch.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
Tennessee's football team probably doesn't require any more assistance in the hype department heading into the 2015 season, but can you ever really have enough preseason hoopla? Which lends itself to just one more question. What do you get when you take a Tennessee Volunteers hype video and sprinkle in voice overs from legendary Vol announcer John Ward and Breaking Bad's Heisenberg? If you are thinking that the answer is pure awesomeness, you would be correct. Check it out!
— 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.
Projecting college football’s breakout players for any given season is no easy assignment. After all, each person has a different take on what a “breakout player” is, and college football is always home to several new faces throughout the season. While it’s difficult to label breakout players, the new stars of any season can have a huge impact on conference championship or national title races.
With kickoff for the 2015 season just a few days away, Athlon Sports is taking a look at 50 players who could be poised for a breakout year from the Power 5 conferences and Notre Dame. Players from every position were included, and a few true freshmen cracked the list.
College Football's Top 50 Breakout Players for 2015
50. Mike Freeze, LB, TCU
The back seven of TCU’s defense must be retooled this offseason. The Horned Frogs lost standout linebackers Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet, and the secondary lost three all-conference performers. The linebacker position was a work in progress for coach Gary Patterson in the spring, but Freeze made a push for a starting job after enrolling early in spring practice. The three-star recruit is penciled in as one of TCU’s starting linebackers.
Related: Big 12 Predictions for 2015
49. Andrew Brown, DT, Virginia
After battling injuries in his freshman campaign, the Virginia coaching staff hopes for bigger and better things from Brown in 2015. As a five-star recruit, Brown was pegged as an impact newcomer in the ACC last year. But Brown never got on track, finishing with four tackles in six games. He needs to be a difference maker for the Cavaliers in 2015.
48. Nazair Jones, DT, North Carolina
Jones is a key cog in new coordinator Gene Chizik’s efforts to improve North Carolina’s defense in 2015. As a redshirt freshman last season, Jones recorded 35 stops (7.5 for a loss), 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble. With another offseason to develop in the weight room, as well an offseason to learn under Chizik and new line coach Tray Scott, look for Jones to make an even bigger impact this fall.
47. Steven Parker, S, Oklahoma
The Sooners certainly have room to improve in the defensive secondary after giving up 24 plays of 30 yards or more last season. Cornerback Zack Sanchez is one of the best in the nation, but new secondary coach Kerry Cooks is looking for players to step up at the other positions. Parker is expected to take on a bigger role this season after playing in 13 games in 2014. The sophomore recorded 31 tackles, one sack and six pass breakups in limited action.
46. Connor Williams, OT, Texas
Joe Wickline is one of the best offensive line coaches in the nation, and the Longhorns will be looking for improvement up front after inconsistent play in 2014. Four starters are back, but the lineup and starters may change with added competition through the recruiting ranks. Williams enrolled in time to compete in spring practice, and the true freshman is pushing for the starting job at left tackle.
45. Derwin Gray/Damian Prince, OT, Maryland
Gray and Prince are two reasons to be optimistic about improvement for Maryland’s offensive line in 2015. This duo was a key pickup on the recruiting trail for the Terrapins in 2014 and redshirted in their first season on campus. Gray suffered a shoulder injury in the spring, but he should return in September. Prince also battled injuries late in fall camp. This redshirt freshman duo should anchor the Maryland offensive line for the next few seasons.
44. Thomas Sirk, QB, Duke
Duke coach David Cutcliffe is one of the best quarterback/offensive minds in college football. Expect Cutcliffe to work his magic once again in 2015, as Sirk replaces Anthony Boone as the Blue Devils’ starter. The junior was sharp in limited action last season, throwing for 67 yards and three touchdowns on 10 completions. He also added 238 rushing yards and eight scores.
43. Robert Foster/ArDarius Stewart, WR, Alabama
Alabama’s passing attack has to be retooled this offseason. Quarterback Blake Sims has expired his eligibility, and the Crimson Tide must replace the top three receivers from last year, including No. 1 target Amari Cooper (124 catches in 2014). Foster and Stewart are the leading candidates to replace Cooper as the go-to option in the passing attack. This duo combined for 18 catches last season.
42. Jeb Blazevich, TE, Georgia
Georgia’s receiving corps is a question mark, but the concerns over this unit could be eased if Blazevich is more involved in the passing attack in 2014. As a true freshman last year, Blazevich caught 18 passes for 269 yards and two scores. The North Carolina native should be in the mix for All-SEC honors in 2015.
41. Michael Dieter, OL, Wisconsin
It’s safe to assume Wisconsin will field a strong offensive line once again in 2015. However, the Badgers are dealing with a few injuries and overall uncertainty about the position battles in the trenches this fall. There’s work to be done up front, but the coaching staff should feel secure in three positions (left tackle Tyler Marz, center Dan Voltz and Dieter at right guard). After a redshirt season in 2014, Dieter is poised to be a key cog in Wisconsin’s revamped line.
40. Grant Haley, CB, Penn State
Penn State’s secondary should be among the best in the Big Ten this season. Coordinator Bob Shoop is making a couple of tweaks to this unit, as Jordan Lucas shifts from corner to safety, opening the door for Haley to start. He played in 13 games for the Nittany Lions as a true freshman last season, recording 18 tackles, one interception and two pass breakups.
39. Marquavius Lewis, DE, South Carolina
Improving the performance of the defensive line is a huge priority for new co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke this offseason. The Gamecocks registered only 14 sacks last year and surrendered 212.2 rushing yards per game. Lewis is expected to be an impact junior college recruit for Hoke after two standout years at Hutchinson Community College. The South Carolina native was the Jayhawk Conference Defensive Player of the Year and registered 11 sacks in 2014.
38. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Texas A&M’s receiving corps was already one of the best in the nation, and the rich are about to get a little richer in 2015. True freshman Christian Kirk is expected to push for a starting job at one of the inside spots in Texas A&M’s receiver lineup. The Arizona native ranked as the No. 25 recruit in the 2015 247Sports and is expected to be one of the SEC’s top freshman performers in 2015.
Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2015
37. Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
Jalen Hurd returns after leading Tennessee with 899 rushing yards in 2014, but the Volunteers’ backfield will be even deeper with the addition of Kamara from the junior college ranks. Kamara started his career at Alabama and transferred after one year in Tuscaloosa. In nine games in 2014, Kamara rushed for 1,211 yards and 18 scores with Hutchinson Community College. Expect Kamara and Hurd to share the workload in Tennessee’s backfield, which has the potential to emerge as one of the best in the SEC this season.
36. Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State
With the departures of quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett, Kansas State has to lean on its defense in 2015. With six starters back, there’s plenty of talent for coordinator Tom Hayes to rely on. Lee is another impact defender to watch for Hayes, as he impressed in 13 games as a freshman last season. Lee recorded 19 tackles and 4.5 sacks in limited action and should push for all-conference honors in his first full year as a starter.
35. Deon Hollins, LB, UCLA
UCLA’s pass rush needs a spark after recording only 29 sacks in 13 games last season. Could Hollins be the answer for new coordinator Tom Bradley? The Texas native led the team with nine sacks, with six of those coming over the final four games of 2014. Hollins recorded three sacks against Kansas State and one in the 38-20 win over rival USC. The junior’s ability to get to the quarterback should help UCLA create a lot of havoc at the line of scrimmage.
34. Boom Williams, RB, Kentucky
If last season’s finale against Louisville was any indication of what to expect from Williams in 2015, the sophomore is in for a huge year. On 18 carries against the Cardinals, Williams recorded 126 rushing yards and two scores and caught three passes for 13 yards. Williams only received 74 carries, but he averaged a healthy 6.6 yards per carry and accumulated 115.9 all-purpose yards a game in 2014.
33. Dravon Henry, S, West Virginia
High expectations followed Henry in 2014, and the true freshman turned in a solid debut for coordinator Tony Gibson. In 13 games, Henry recorded 45 tackles (one for a loss), two interceptions and two pass breakups. With cornerback Daryl Worley and safety Karl Joseph established as stars, combined with Henry’s development, the Mountaineers should have one of the nation’s top defensive backfields.
32. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
It wasn't unexpected, but coach Jim Mora officially appointed Rosen as UCLA's starter for Week 1 last week. The California native was a five-star recruit in the 2015 signing class and the No. 1 ranked quarterback by the 247Sports Composite. If Rosen is as good as advertised, the concerns about the quarterback spot after losing Brett Hundley will dissipate.
31. De’Mornay Pierson-El, WR, Nebraska
Pierson-El is expected to miss at least the first month of the season due to a foot injury. However, the sophomore is expected to be a key cog in Nebraska’s offense when he returns, as new coach Mike Riley and coordinator Danny Langsdorf planned to take full advantage of his ability to generate big plays. Pierson-El will see touches in a variety of ways, including quick passes or fly sweeps. He is also one of the nation’s top punt returners.
30 Josh Harvey-Clemons, S, Louisville
Even though Louisville is breaking in four new starters in the secondary, don’t expect much of a drop-off in terms of performance in the pass defense. Harvey-Clemons is a big reason why the Cardinals should have one of the top defensive backfields in the ACC this season, as the Georgia transfer is eligible after sitting out 2014 due to NCAA rules. The Georgia native started 11 games with the Bulldogs in 2013 and recorded 66 tackles. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Harvey-Clemons is a physically imposing figure in the secondary for coordinator Todd Grantham.
29. Ranthony Texada, CB, TCU
The secondary is usually a strength under Gary Patterson’s watch at TCU, but this unit will be a work in progress in 2015. The Horned Frogs must replace standout cornerback Kevin White, as well as All-Big 12 safeties Sam Carter and Chris Hackett. Texada joins Derrick Kindred as the returning starters for Patterson, and both players will have to anchor the unit early in the year. Texada started all 13 games as a redshirt freshman in 2014 and recorded seven pass breakups and 31 tackles. Texada should be even better as a sophomore.
28. Wyatt Teller, OG, Virginia Tech
The emergence of Teller in the second half of 2014 is a reason for optimism on Virginia Tech’s offensive line this year. Teller started the last six games for the Hokies last season and enters 2015 as one of the top guards in the ACC. After struggling to find consistency up front over the last few years, Virginia Tech’s line could be poised to turn a corner with Jonathan McLaughlin and Teller anchoring the left side.
27. Trey Marshall/Derwin James, DB, Florida State
Jalen Ramsey is the unquestioned star of Florida State’s secondary, but the junior could have some company on the All-ACC team in December. Marshall (a sophomore) and James (a freshman) are expected to be impact defenders for the Seminoles. Marshall recorded 12 tackles in limited action last season, while James – a five-star recruit – is a physical freak poised for an impact debut in 2015.
26. Charles Harris, DE, Missouri
Even though Shane Ray and Markus Golden have departed, there’s not a ton of concern at defensive end for Missouri. After all, the Tigers continue to produce standout ends under line coach Craig Kuligowski. All signs point to Harris as the next star off the edge. The sophomore played in all 14 games as a reserve last season and recorded 19 tackles and two sacks.
25. Demario Richard, RB, Arizona State
Just how high is Arizona State on Richard and fellow sophomore Kalen Ballage at running back? The coaching staff moved senior D.J. Foster out to receiver for the 2015 season. There was a huge need at receiver with the loss of Jaelen Strong, but there’s plenty of confidence in the available options at running back for coach Todd Graham. Richard averaged 5.7 yards per carry on 84 attempts last year, finishing 2014 with 478 rushing yards and four scores.
24. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
Stanford’s string of six consecutive seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher was snapped in 2014. But the Cardinal could reverse that trend with McCaffrey a bigger part of the offense in 2015. As a true freshman last season, McCaffrey rushed for 300 yards on 42 carries and caught 17 passes for 251 yards and two scores. McCaffrey is poised to emerge as one of the nation’s top all-purpose players.
23. Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson
Hyatt is the first of two Clemson players to make the breakout list for 2015. The Tigers’ offensive line will be under the microscope early in the season, as quarterback Deshaun Watson is recovering from a torn ACL, and there’s only one returning starter up front. But Hyatt’s emergence could go a long way in solidifying this group before a critical showdown against Louisville in a few weeks. The true freshman was a five-star recruit in the 2015 signing class and is expected to protect Watson’s blindside this fall.
22. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
Mahomes isn’t guaranteed the starting job yet, as he will compete with Davis Webb for the No. 1 spot. However, Mahomes showcased his upside as a true freshman and his case for the starting spot in seven games last season. He completed 105 of 185 passes for 1,547 yards and 16 scores and tossed only four picks. In the season finale against Baylor, Mahomes threw for 598 yards.
21. Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State
Johnson is the lone returning starter in the offensive trenches for coach Jimbo Fisher. While breaking in four new starters is never ideal on the line, having Johnson back after a promising stint last season is a good place for Fisher and line coach Rick Trickett to start the rebuilding effort. The Missouri native started the final five games in 2014 and was a major reason why Florida State’s line played better down the stretch. Expect the 6-foot-7 sophomore to push for first-team All-ACC honors.
20. Montae Nicholson, S, Michigan State
Michigan State’s “No Fly Zone” has a few holes to fill this offseason. The Spartans lost standouts in safety Kurtis Drummond and cornerback Trae Waynes, and Pat Narduzzi is now the head coach at Pittsburgh. Nicholson should be one of the new stars for Michigan State’s secondary after recording 31 tackles in 13 appearances as a redshirt freshman. The sophomore should push for All-Big Ten honors.
19. Otaro Alaka, LB, Texas A&M
New coordinator John Chavis inherits a defense that allowed 28.1 points per game last season but has promising young talent to build around. Alaka is one of the players for Texas A&M’s core on defense, as the Houston native had an underrated debut with the Aggies in 2014. As a true freshman, Alaka recorded 33 tackles in 12 games and also forced two fumbles. After earning Defensive MVP honors in the Liberty Bowl, Alaka is poised to push for All-SEC accolades this year.
18. Peter Kalambayi, LB, Stanford
Kalambayi should be the next star linebacker for coach David Shaw. After a redshirt year in 2013, the North Carolina native played in all 13 games last season and finished with 32 tackles and 6.5 sacks. With A.J. Tarpley and James Vaughters departing, there should be more snaps available for Kalambayi in 2015.
Related: Pac-12 Predictions for 2015
17. Charles Nelson, DB/WR, Oregon
Nelson looked like a potential two-way threat in the spring, but after a brief stint on defense, all signs point to the sophomore having a breakout year on offense. Nelson caught 23 passes for 327 yards and five touchdowns last season and scored twice on punt return touchdowns. Look for Nelson to make his share of big plays for the Ducks offense this fall.
16. Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU
LSU isn’t hurting for talent at receiver, but the success of the passing attack heavily depends on the development of quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. Dupre was a five-star recruit in the 2014 signing class and played in 12 contests last year. The New Orleans native caught 14 passes for 318 yards and five scores in his first season on campus and could easily double those totals in 2015.
15. Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee
If Dobbs picks up where he left off in 2014, Tennessee should be in the race to win the SEC East. Over the final six games of last season, Dobbs threw for 1,206 yards and nine scores and rushed for 469 yards and eight touchdowns. After posting big numbers against South Carolina and Kentucky in 2014, Dobbs is tasked with increasing his production against some of the SEC’s top defenses this year.
14. Malik Zaire, QB, Notre Dame
With Everett Golson transferring to Florida State, Zaire has a clear path to the starting job. The dual-threat quarterback is a great fit for coach Brian Kelly’s offense, and the expectations are high after showing promise in a limited stint last season. In seven appearances (and one start), Zaire threw for 266 yards and one touchdown and added 187 yards and two scores on the ground. The arrow is clearly pointing up on Zaire and the Fighting Irish offense.
13. Jalin Marshall, WR, Ohio State
Marshall is suspended for the opener against Virginia Tech, but a one-game hiatus shouldn’t stop the sophomore from becoming an even bigger part of Ohio State’s offense this season. In 15 games last year, Marshall caught 38 passes for 499 yards and six scores. Additionally, he rushed for 145 yards and one touchdown and averaged 11.8 yards per punt return. Marshall could finish 2015 as one of the Big Ten’s top receivers.
12. Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
The Spartans’ defensive line is one of the best in the nation, and this unit will only get better with McDowell’s emergence in 2015. As a true freshman last season, McDowell chipped in 15 tackles (4.5 for a loss) and 1.5 sacks. The Detroit native was a big-time catch for coach Mark Dantonio on the recruiting trail and is poised to claim a starting spot at tackle this fall.
11. Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State
The Buckeyes already have two of the nation’s top linebackers in Joshua Perry and Darron Lee. Add in McMillan’s potential as a sophomore and it’s easy to see why this trio is among the nation’s best linebacker units. McMillan recorded 54 tackles and 2.5 sacks as a reserve last season and could push for All-Big Ten honors in his first year as a starter.
10. Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
Jefferson is only a true freshman, but high expectations surround the Mesquite, Texas native in 2015. Jefferson ranked as the No. 10 overall player in the 247Sports Composite and enrolled in time to compete in spring ball. Jefferson recorded five stops (one for a loss) in the Orange-White scrimmage and is expected to start at linebacker this season.
9. Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M
Talented true freshman Kyler Murray is going to see some snaps this season, but Allen was named the starter for the opener against Arizona State and should handle the bulk of the snaps for coach Kevin Sumlin. Allen was one of the top quarterbacks in last year’s signing class and eventually replaced Kenny Hill as the Aggies’ starter. The Arizona native played in nine games and finished the year with 1,322 yards and 16 scores. Allen’s best performance came against West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl, tossing four scores in a 45-37 win by the Aggies.
8. Seth Russell, QB, Baylor
Robert Griffin III, Nick Florence and Bryce Petty each produced big seasons in coach Art Briles’ offense at Baylor. And Russell has been handed the keys to the high-powered attack after completing 48 of 85 passes for 804 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014. In each of the last four years, Baylor’s starting quarterback has surpassed 3,850 passing yards and 29 scores. Expect Russell to easily eclipse those marks in 2015.
7. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
Rudolph’s emergence in the final three games of 2014 is one of the biggest reasons for optimism in Stillwater this season. Rudolph closed out last season by passing for 853 yards and six passing scores on 49 completions and guided Oklahoma State to a 2-1 mark in the final three games of the year. In the bowl win over Washington, Rudolph passed for 299 yards and two touchdowns. With an improving offensive line and a deep corps of receivers at his disposal, Rudolph should be able to build off a solid finish to 2014 and emerge as one of the Big 12’s top quarterbacks.
6. Mike Bercovici, QB, Arizona State
Bercovici is no secret in the Pac-12 after a solid stint as Arizona State’s starting quarterback last season. After Taylor Kelly suffered a foot injury against Colorado, Bercovici threw for 488 yards against UCLA in a 62-27 loss and passed for 510 yards and five scores in a thrilling 38-34 win over USC. Bercovici has a strong arm and isn’t afraid to take chances downfield. He won’t have top receiver Jaelen Strong, but Bercovici could push for a spot among the Pac-12’s best at quarterback.
Related: Pac-12 Predictions for 2015
5. JuJu Smith, WR, USC
It’s a bit of a stretch to consider Smith a breakout player since he grabbed 54 receptions for 724 yards and five touchdowns last year. However, expect Smith to go from all-conference contender to a potential All-American receiver in 2015. The sophomore should be quarterback Cody Kessler’s No. 1 target this fall.
4. Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
Coordinator Brent Venables guided Clemson's defense to a No. 1 rank in fewest yards per game last season, but there's no shortage of question marks going into 2015. The Tigers return only two starters on defense, and the hits for this group continued in the fall. Linebacker Korrin Wiggins was lost for the year with a torn ACL, and tackle D.J. Reader’s status for 2015 is uncertain. While there are concerns, the Tigers aren't hurting for talent. Lawson is the next star defender in Death Valley after thriving as a reserve for Venables over the last two seasons and recording 11 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks in 2014. He’s expected to join the starting lineup, and the junior should provide plenty of headaches to opposing offensive linemen this fall.
3. Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan
Peppers was poised for a significant role in Michigan’s defense last year, but a season-ending leg injury ended his 2014 campaign after the third game. In limited snaps in 2014, Peppers recorded eight tackles and returned one punt for six yards. Peppers was a five-star recruit in the 2014 signing class and should be an impact defender for new coordinator D.J. Durkin.
Related: Bowl Projections for 2015
2. Jamal Adams, S, LSU
Adams was an impact freshman for coach Les Miles in 2014, and the expectations are even higher for the Texas native in 2015. In 13 games last season, Adams recorded 66 tackles, one sack and five pass breakups. The sophomore's emergence is critical with Jalen Mills out indefinitely with an ankle injury. Adams will help anchor a secondary that is among the best in college football.
1. Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn
Johnson’s mention in this column should come as no surprise. The junior has received plenty of offseason hype, and all signs point to Johnson emerging as an All-SEC quarterback in 2015. In limited action over the last two seasons, Johnson has passed for 858 yards and nine scores.
The goal for the 2015 Texas Longhorns is very simple: Show progress. The Texas faithful do not have delusions of a national championship run, or even to be a sleeper to win the Big 12 championship. But the expectation is that this team WILL be better than last year’s 6-7 performance.
Charlie Strong defenses seem to become much better in Year 2, and Texas will have to ride that defense to victories this year, while the offense finds its identity and productivity. This is a make-or-break year for a lot of people around Austin, especially Strong, to prove that all of the changes and controversy were worth it to get back to winning Longhorn football.
Here now are Texas’s 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to most difficult matchup.
12. Nov. 7 vs. Kansas
This game should have been the season opener to give this young team the opportunity to gel together. Instead, it comes late in the season at a moment that could be a time of desperation. If the Longhorns are not playing well going into this game, making it a must-win situation, then a game that should have been a gimme becomes a pressure-filled experience that could quickly become the death knell for the whole “Strong” experiment.
11. Oct. 31 at Iowa State
The good news is that the Cyclones are far more desperate for wins and culture change than the Longhorns are right now. The bad news? The Cyclones are far more desperate for wins and culture change than the Longhorns are right now. This will make for a very tense and supremely competitive environment in Austin on Halloween. Iowa State will lean heavily on Senior QB Sam B. Richardson, who torched Texas last year for 371 yards and four touchdowns, as the Longhorns barely eked out a 48-45 win. Richardson will have revenge on his mind... and so will the Cyclones, who usually play pretty tough in Ames.
10. Sept. 19 vs. California
What ranks this game so low is the fact that there simply are NO guarantees in sports. On paper, the Golden Bears, which return the majority of their starters back from their 2014 5-7 team, seem to be poised to take a huge step forward in the Pac-12 and nationally. Quarterback Jared Goff leads the Cal offense and is positioned for a true breakout season, and the Bears are becoming the trendy pick to upset Stanford and Oregon. The reality, however, may be that this team may be exactly what it has been, a great offensive team that can’t stop ANYBODY on the other side of the ball.
9. Nov. 26 vs. Texas Tech
The problem with Texas Tech is that they are Texas Tech. And the Red Raiders see themselves as the chief rivals to the Longhorns, regardless if Texas sees it the same way or not. And they are always up for this game, no matter where the game is played. So it really doesn’t matter what the Red Raiders' record is, or if their team is playing poorly, or extremely well by late November, Texas Tech WILL be ready. Texas Tech is the little brother ready to beat the big brother every time they play, and Kliff Kingsbury's players will give it everything they have to win.
8. Oct. 24 vs. Kansas State
It is possible that if things come together defensively for Kansas State, that this could be the toughest challenge the Texas offense will face all season. That will depend a lot on whether sophomore LB Elijah Lee takes the next step as a pass rusher from his impressive 2014 freshman campaign (15 solo tackles, 4.5 sacks). Lee could provide the pressure needed for the Wildcats' secondary, which may be one of the best in the country, to continue carrying this defense. If Texas can’t find ways to move the ball on the ground, the Longhorns will have a very long day against Bill Snyder’s sleeper team.
7. Sept. 12 vs. Rice
After losing its first three games last season, Rice won eight out of 10 to close things, including an impressive and dominant Hawaii Bowl victory over Fresno State. The Owls are back, led by senior QB Driphus Jackson, who begins the year on the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm watch list. This Rice team comes in ready to build on last year’s success and get a signature win, and possess the talent to get it. And if Texas is reeling from their opening day game, the Owls will be poised to take advantage of that.
6. Nov. 14 at West Virginia
What do you get when you add the raucous environment Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown and a stingy defensive team that boasts one of the nation's best secondaries? The Mountaineers at home are unbelievably tough (see: Baylor, TCU in 2014). Even eventual SEC champion and College Football Playoff participant Alabama got all it could happen in the Crimson Tide's season opener. These were all really good, solid football teams, on both sides of the ball. Good luck with this one Charlie!
5. Sept. 26 vs. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys should return to being the nasty defensive team they have been known to be, especially in their secondary. Oklahoma State was embarrassed at home by Texas last year and will go into Austin with payback on its mind. The Cowboys hope quarterback Mason Rudolph steps into his own as a leader and helps stabilize the Oklahoma State offense. If the Cowboys can get production out of their young running backs, they may be poised for a breakout season. The Longhorns may be playing to get to .500 in this game, so this one could get interesting real fast. Could be a season-defining game for both teams.
4. Sept. 5 at Notre Dame
There are only two outcomes for this game. The first outcome sees the Longhorns catching Brian Kelly’s team off guard and pulling off a major upset in 2015. That would mean that an untested offense was able to come together during the offseason and devise a legitimate strategy to score on what could be one of the better defenses in the country. And it also would mean the announcement that Strong’s defense has indeed arrived. The other outcome is the one most expect — a somewhat dominant performance by the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish over a team that is too young to open the season this way.
3. Oct. 10 vs. Oklahoma (in Dallas)
Most seasons, this game is the signature game for any Texas coach. If you lose against the Sooners, the pressure is on for the rest of the season. The challenge is a little different this year, in that the Longhorns are not expected to win this game. If the Longhorns do win, Strong could keep his job, regardless of what happens the rest of the season. The rivalry still holds major weight with the fans and boosters, and a win would signal enough stability to the fan base to probably buy Strong and his staff an extra year. And if it happens to come after beating the preseason No. 2-ranked team in the country...
2. Oct. 3 at TCU
The Horned Frogs have gone from Can They Compete in the Big 12 to The New Big 12 Powerhouse. Gary Patterson has developed a monster that dominates on both sides of the ball and a team that is extremely well coached and well prepared. TCU boasts a true Heisman candidate in quarterback Trevone Boykin, who will not sneak up on anyone this year. This team is ready to move on to bigger and better things, like a national championship opportunity. If the Longhorns are able to catch the Horned Frogs looking ahead and somehow steal this game, it would send shock waves throughout college football.
1. Dec. 5 at Baylor
This is the most significant game of the season because Baylor has become the most significant team in the Big 12. TCU (preseason No. 2) is ranked higher, but Baylor (No. 4) has assumed the position as the “circle the calendar game” for Big 12 teams. The Bears are the measuring stick, a circumstance Texas will face many times this season. An upset victory over Baylor could not only secure a bowl invite, it also could mean job security. It’s a matchup nightmare for Texas, as Baylor’s speed and game pace do not play in favor of the Longhorns, but anything is possible. The challenge will be even greater if Art Briles' Bears are fighting for a Playoff spot and NEED an impressive victory over Texas to enhance their standing with the committee. A blowout by the Bears could cost Strong more than just a winning season.
— Written by Lloyd H. Spence Jr., who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Spence has covered both high school and college sports for several years, and has written for several outlets, incuding ESPNLouisville.com and CardinalSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TalkinNOIZ
Well here we are. Only a couple of days stand between us and the 2015 college football season. It's been, as always, a long offseason filled with anxiety and anticipation. And now its here.
If you've been following along, you seen our "outrageous predictions" for the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC. Now it's time to focus on the whole. Now it's time to focus on the picture that those outrageous predictions for each conference paint of the entire college football landscape for 2015.
No team from last season's College Football Playoff will make the final four this season
If you were following along, you know that a Big Ten West team will win the B1G, eliminating Ohio State from the mix. UCLA will win the Pac-12, knocking out Oregon. Florida State won't even make it to the ACC title game and Alabama will be lucky to finish in the top 3 of the SEC West. New year. New blood. New champion.
Two Group-of-Five teams will finish unbeaten and get left out of the College Football Playoff
The committee spoke loud, clear and early in 2014: The Group of 5 is pretty much in a whole separate class when it comes to competing for a national title. Boise State and Marshall are going to run the table in 2015 and do so with ease. Boise could field the best defense in all of college football. None of it will matter. One of them will play in one of the New Year's Six bowls not included in the College Football Playoff while the other will end up in Las Vegas or Detroit the week after Christmas.
Neither TCU nor Baylor will make the College Football Playoff
Baylor won't even sniff the playoff on the back of a four-loss season, while TCU will drop its early contest with Oklahoma and play the waiting game for the rest of the season, hoping the Sooners lose. It's not happening. We don't need a conference title game to figure out who the Big 12 champion is in 2015. Boomer Sooner is back and everyone else is playing for second place.
Ole Miss Quarterback Chad Kelly will win the Heisman
Sure, he still needs to nail down the starting job. But once he does, it's all downhill from there. He'll have every lineman and skill player from last season in the huddle with him and the SEC's best defense backing him up. From there, his NFL-caliber arm and deceptive speed will make him the face of the best team in the nation's best conference, putting him in the driver's seat for college football's most prestigious award.
Notre Dame will emerge from the College Football Playoff as National Champions
Here's how it'll go down: No. 1 Notre Dame will knock off No. 4 UCLA. No. 2 Ole Miss will take down No. 3 Oklahoma, setting up a showdown between Heisman Trophy winner Chad Kelly and the runner-up, Malik Zaire. On this day, it will be Zaire taking home the hardware, as college football fans/Notre Dame haters toss half-full beverage containers at their televisions and subsequently set their furniture on fire in the street.