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In April, the Toronto Blue Jays should have been the class of the American League East — at least on paper. Thankfully, baseball games aren’t played on paper, they’re played on grass and dirt — except at the Rogers Center in Toronto where the game is played on turf.
April and May were ugly for the Jays, as they spent their spring near the bottom of the division and six games under .500. June was what we expected when the Jays went streaking for 11 straight wins and a total of 18 in the month. But the success was to be short-lived.
Fast forward to July 28, when the Jays were eight games behind the first-place New York Yankees, the farthest from the top they had been all season. By this point an argument could be made that Toronto was arguably the most underwhelming team in all of baseball, especially with a top-10 Opening Day payroll of $122.5 million.
But on that fateful Tuesday, Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos decided to shake things up, in a big way. In the most surprising move of what was this season’s trade deadline frenzy, Anthopoulos made a deal to trade former perennial All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes and two minor leaguers to Colorado for veteran relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins and Troy Tulowitzki, perhaps the game’s best shortstop.
What has happened since is something out of an Aaron Sorkin script. The Jays and Anthopoulos have pushed their chips to the center of the table with a “World Series or bust” mentality. But Toronto has been anything but “bust” since adding Tulo. In fact it’s been nothing but sweet victory.
Two days after acquiring Tulo, Anthopoulos struck again, trading for Detroit ace David Price. The move was almost expected, but the cost for Price was higher than the Tulo deal, as the Jays relinquished top pitching prospect Daniel Norris. But when your franchise hasn’t made a postseason appearance in over two decades, the future can wait a season or two — Anthopoulos saw this and acted accordingly.
Price, a pending free agent, is likely nothing more than a rental for the remainder of the season, but for the time being the Jays have the ace they’ve desperately needed for years. Since the trade, Price has been unhittable surrendering just one earned run and six hits in two starts with two wins, and 18 strikeouts in 15 innings pitched. Price, a Cy Young Award candidate, now has a season ERA of 2.88 and strikeout-to walk ratio of 4.59.
Adding Price obviously improves the Jays’ rotation, but he doesn’t necessarily make up for the marginal remaining cast members. The Toronto pitching staff is stuck in the middle of the pack in terms of runs against (14th), team ERA (14th) and WHIP (10th), which could spell trouble in a potential seven-game postseason series against the likes of an Astros or Angels lineup that is packed with power.
What the Jays lack in pitching, they more than make up for with a power-packed offense of their own that rivals that of the Canadian men’s national slow-pitch softball team. The Jays were already tops in baseball in runs scored, doubles, RBIs, total bases, slugging percentage, and OPS — and that was before adding the resurgent Tulowitzki. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons’ lineup card now features four players from the 2015 All-Star Game (Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson) along with slugging DH Edwin Encarnacion.
The only question lingering in the aftermath of the addition of Tulo’s big bat is how well his regenerative frame can hold up playing the most athletically demanding position on the most degenerative surface in baseball. But that can wait, the Jays are too busy going for it all right now.
The additions of Price and Tulowitzki have ignited the Blue Jays and their tormented fan base, as they have won nine of their last 10 games and 11 of their last 12. Toronto is currently riding an eight-game winning streak, with the last three victories coming in the Bronx this past weekend via a sweep of the aforementioned first-place Yankees.
The Jays’ recent success has turned the Rogers Center from a building full of restless fans, impatiently waiting for the next Maple Leafs disappointment, to a raucous crowd that rivals the most rowdy of Rush concerts.
Excited Jays fans aren’t just packing out the Rogers Center, but also tuning in to watch them on TV in record numbers. According to the Toronto Sun’s Brendan Kennedy, Jays games during the current hot streak have almost doubled and that current audience numbers on Sportsnet are reaching over a million sets of eyes.
What was once a team on the verge of being a seller and overall disappointment at eight games back, has morphed into a legitimate World Series contender in a little less than a fortnight. Entering Tuesday's action, Toronto was just a game and a half back of New York for first in the AL East, and a half-game up in the Wild Card race.
The AL East could see the Jays at the top of the heap as soon as Wednesday night and perhaps a few games ahead by the end of this coming weekend when the Yankees come to the Rogers Center starting Friday evening.
Thus far Anthopoulos’ gamble has paid short-term dividends for Toronto and put the rest of the AL on notice — there is a mighty baseball force building north of the border.
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. An avid baseball fan, Rose also takes time to do some play-by-play work for the radio broadcasts of Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider baseball games. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.
Bless this mess.
Eagles fans have started a petition in hopes to get Pope Francis to bless the knees of Sam Bradford. The petition, on Change.org, is almost up to 2,000 signatures, and they need 2,500 to reach the goal.
Here's the pitch:
"With this Eagles season coming up, a lot of our Super Bowl hopes rely on Sam Bradford's knees staying healthy. So, with one of the most religious representatives in the world visiting our wonderful place we call home, how about we get him to bless Bradford's knees during his visit to Philly!"
When you're team hasn't won a championship since 1960, you would try anything too.
It’s small wonder UCLA head coach Jim Mora likes to begin preparation for the college football season in relative seclusion. The Bruins have held training camp every year since his arrival on the campus of Cal State San Bernardino, just south of the wilderness of the San Bernardino National Forest.
Going off the grid is a theme Mora touched on at Pac-12 Media Days.
“I would like no one to ever rank us, and I'd like no one to ever cover us, and I'd like to never be on TV and no one talk about us until the end of the year,” he said.
UCLA won’t get that, but the Bruins are slight underdogs in the Pac-12 South heading into the new season. The Bruins checked in third in the media’s poll, behind favorite USC and Arizona State, and despite returning the most veteran lineup in the Pac-12 – a lineup that beat both the Trojans and Sun Devils by multiple scores last season.
The Bruins lost a handful of key players from 2014's 10-win team, such as defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Eric Kendricks, who were leaders of the defense and NFL Draft selections. But it’s the departure of quarterback Brett Hundley that has UCLA dwelling in obscurity — at least, in comparison to a year ago.
UCLA’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Rosen vs. Neuheisel
No doubt about it, the quarterback competition is clearly UCLA’s predominant storyline heading into fall camp. Mora’s worked his hand like an expert poker player, not tipping in any direction on either 5-star freshman Josh Rosen or veteran Jerry Neuheisel.
Both have qualities that could give either one an inside track. Neuheisel is a veteran with years practicing in offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s system, and last season had the opportunity to lead the Bruins to a win over Texas.
Rosen is a rare talent who has drawn comparisons to Andrew Luck.
“The thing that gives me some measure of comfort is knowing that we've got a pretty veteran group around that player, whomever it may be,” Mora said.
2. Offensive Line Improvements
It doesn’t matter if UCLA starts Rosen or Neuheisel, either one needs the front five to perform more consistently than it did the first half of last season.
Not all of the 40 sacks UCLA surrendered last season were the fault of the offensive line — Hundley sometimes lingered in the pocket while going through his progressions. Still, the quarterback was left on an island far too often in his college career.
Neither Rosen nor Neuheisel has ever demonstrated the mobility Hundley showed, so opposing defenses bearing down on either could be even more problematic for the Bruins in 2015 than it was last year.
3. Another Year, Another Defensive Coordinator
Tom Bradley is UCLA’s third defensive coordinator in as many seasons. The longtime Penn State assistant took over for Jeff Ulbrich, who left for the NFL after a one-year stint replacing Lou Spanos.
But linebacker Deon Hollins, UCLA’s sack leader last season, sees nothing but a smooth transition to the new leadership.
“One of the big things about coach Bradley is his wisdom,” Hollins said. “He comes from Penn State; he comes from a tradition of great players and great success.”
With nine returning starters, including a talented linebacker corps with Hollins and Myles Jack, the cupboard is well stocked for Bradley in his first year. His insight cultivated at “Linebacker U.” could take the Bruins’ defensive play to a new level.
4. Translating Experience to Wins
One thing UCLA’s veteran roster knows is heartbreak. In 2012, the Bruins came a missed field goal from forcing overtime in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
In 2013, a would-be game-winning drive to seal a third straight appearance in the conference title game stalled against Arizona State.
Last year, UCLA had a simple path to Levi’s Stadium: win and you’re in. The Bruins were routed at home by Stanford.
With the most experienced lineup in the Pac-12, UCLA should have an advantage — assuming its knowledge of falling just short helps it get over the hump this time around.
“I'm interested to see if the level of maturity that I felt through spring ball was in fact what I believed it to be,” Mora said. “I felt like our team reached a level of maturity that we'd been striving for, the level of maturity indicated an element of mental toughness and consistency that we've been looking for.”
5. Ending the Punt Return Drought
Cornerback Ishmael Adams’ kickoff return for a touchdown last September at Arizona State marked the Bruins’ first special teams touchdown in seven years. However, another dubious streak persisted into 2015: UCLA has not had a punt returned for a touchdown since Maurice Jones-Drew in 2005.
Adams had one called back against Virginia in Week 1 last season.
With the streak now at a decade, UCLA just might have to invest a few more reps in fall camp.
It was an up-and-down debut for head coach Chris Petersen and the Washington Huskies as they went 8-6 last season. Petersen and the staff had to tear down everything for the most part and build back up from scratch to get the remnants of the Steve Sarkisian era out of the program.
On the surface, this season will be a rebuilding one if Washington has a repeat performance at the quarterback position, as Cyler Miles was atrocious and the veteran offensive line underachieved. The goals for Washington in 2015 are simple: stabilize once and for all the core principles of the program being sound at quarterback, dominate the line of scrimmage with a physicality and nastiness that will cause headaches for opponents, and get enough wins to become bowl eligible.
Washington’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Who Will Win the Quarterback Battle?
The most critical position in all of college football has the most uncertainty for the Huskies. Look for a three-way battle between Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman KJ Carta-Samuels, who was the Scout Team Player of the Year, and highly touted true freshman Jake Browning. Ideally, you don’t play Browning unless you absolutely have to or he flat out wins the job and becomes coach Petersen’s next Kellen Moore. Bottom line, the quarterback position will still be below average at best, which will sadly be a step up from the debacle that was Miles in 2014.
2. Can the Offensive Line Start to Reestablish a Physical Presence?
This will be the ultimate test case of addition by subtraction in 2015. The Huskies will be replacing four starters on the offensive line, which in a normal year would be cause for alarm. The situation with the line is a little more alarming considering the uncertainty at quarterback. But, the upside is strength coach Tim Socha and offensive line coach Chris Strausser will have time under their belts to develop this group physically and technique-wise that it should give the line a chance to overachieve. The lack of quality offensive line play at Washington has been appalling. Also, the fact it has been since 2000 that the Huskies have had a Morris Trophy Award winner for the best lineman in the Pac-12 (Chad Ward), is all you need to know as to why the Huskies haven’t been to a Rose Bowl since January 1, 2001.
3. Who Will Step Up at Wide Receiver?
With the loss of John Ross for the season due to a leg injury, there will be wide-open competition for other guys to step up and make plays. Jaydon Mickens is going to have to have a big bounce-back season, as he should get plenty of opportunity to catch easy passes from whoever wins the quarterback job. If Mickens can’t step up look for Dante Pettis to be called upon to make plays like a No. 1 receiver. Also, you should see a fair amount of two-tight end sets to create opportunities in the passing game with senior tight end Joshua Perkins being the primary target.
4. How Will the Huskies Generate a Pass Rush?
With the loss of Danny Shelton, Shaq Thompson and Hauoli Kikaha to the NFL there is going to be ample opportunity for young guys to step in and get quality playing time on defense right away. Sophomore defensive tackle Elijah Qualls and defensive end Will Dissly are going to have to have carry the weight up front. Travis Feeney is going to have to anchor the linebacker corps. It is going to take a total team effort to try and even come close to replace the 44 lost sacks from a year ago, but if the Huskies can consistently get some pressure on the quarterback even without registering sacks they will stay competitive in games.
5. Will the Secondary Step Up and Carry the Defense?
This unit was very young a season ago but did get better as things went along and returns the most experience on the defense. Budda Baker will be looking to continue his development in eventually becoming a shutdown type of defensive back that you don’t throw on. Sidney Jones had a solid freshman season and will be looking to take a big step forward in 2015. This secondary should give Washington encouragement in regard to the ability of this staff to develop players and help them get better, something that defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake did an excellent job in laying the foundation for last season.
— 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.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are bringing in three kickers on Tuesday in hopes of identifying a replacement for Shaun Suisham, who tore his left ACL on kickoff coverage in Sunday night’s preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Though kickers are more accurate than ever before, in four of the five seasons Suisham has played for the Steelers he has made more than 90 percent of his field goal attempts, impressive since he was picked up 10 weeks into the 2010 season after Jeff Reed was released following a missed chip shot field goal.
True, last season Suisham missed a chip shot, a 23-yarder against the New York Jets, that probably secured the Steelers' 20-13 loss. But otherwise, Suisham was extremely reliable in 2014, his only other misses among his 32 field goal attempts coming from 50 yards or longer. Ironically, both came at the end of the first half in what turned out to be three-point losses.
Suisham also came through in the clutch, however, including the 41-yarder to beat Cleveland in the season opener.
But with Suisham now lost for the 2015 season, here’s a look at the three potential candidates head coach Mike Tomlin will be taking a look at today.
Hartley's career peaked during New Orleans’ Super Bowl season in 2009. The then-29-year-old kicker made four big kicks in the playoffs of 40 or more yards after being suspended the first four games for a violation of the league’s policy on the use of banned substances (Adderall).
Hartley last played for the Cleveland Browns at the end of last season, where he made all five of his kicks — three field goals and two extra points.
One warning flag: with extra points now moved from the 20-yard line to the 32, Hartley missed eight of his 35 career field goal attempts from 30-39 yards.
One interesting fact about Hartley: though he has played much of his career in the Superdome, indoors and on artificial turf; historically he has made only 75 percent of his field goal attempts in domes and 89.1 percent outdoors. He also has made five of six field goal attempts in stadiums with a retractable roof.
Career accuracy: 81.7 percent (85 for 104)
Career long: 55 yards
Career from 50 yards and out: 6 for 8
Henery, 27, was the most accurate kicker in the history of the NCAA, converting 89.5 percent of his attempts in his Nebraska career. Remember, in college the hash marks are wider apart, hence the angles are more difficult.
He also was athletic enough to get a soccer scholarship from Creighton.
Henery played three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, making at least 82 percent of his attempts in each. But he was released prior to the start of last season, losing his job to undrafted Cody Parkey. Henery landed with Detroit, but he was awful, missing four of five field goal attempts in Weeks 4 and 5 before getting cut.
Included in that mix was a 50-yarder at home against Buffalo in Week 5 with just 26 seconds remaining in a tie game. It was Henery's third miss in the game, and gave the Bills the ball back on their 40. With just 21 seconds on the clock, Kyle Orton was able to complete a 20-yard pass to Sammy Watkins to set up a 58-yard attempt from Dan Carpenter, which he hit to give the Bills a 17-14 victory.
From 30-39 yards Henery is 24-for-28 in his career.
Career accuracy: 82.4 percent (75 for 91)
Career long: 51 yards
Career from 50 yards and out: 3 of 8
Though some may remember Feely most from Dane Cook's portrayal in a “Saturday Night Live” skit after a game in which Feely missed three kicks at Seattle and then had to land the New York Giants' airplane returning home, the veteran kicker led the NFL in field goals made in 2002 with 32.
More recently, Feely, 39, was the Chicago Bears' kicker for the last four games of the 2014 season, making three of four field goal attempts and five of six extra point attempts.
Though he has played mostly for warm-weather or dome teams in his career, in addition to Chicago, Feely also has spent two seasons kicking for each of New York’s teams. His accuracy outdoors is 83.3 percent, whereas it is 78 percent indoors and 87.2 percent under retractable roofs.
One wonders about diminishing leg strength as a kicker gets older, but two years ago Feely tied a career high with three successful field goals (in five attempts) of 50 or more yards for the Arizona Cardinals. Just three years ago he kicked a 61-yard-field goal, his career long.
An interesting note: in the Steelers' 3-0 victory against Miami in 2007, played on a muddy Heinz Field that limited the offense, Feely was the Dolphins' placekicker. He did not attempt a single extra point or field goal, but was able to boot the opening kickoff 58 yards. However briefly, Feely has a background with the improved-but-historically treacherous kicking conditions of the Steelers' home field at its worst point.
He is 17-for-19 from 30-39 yards over the past three seasons, and 119-for-138 (86.2 percent) from that distance in his career.
Still, Tomlin has been attracted to youth when putting together his roster. If Feely becomes the Steelers' new kicker, one can imagine he will have significantly distanced himself from his competition in tryouts.
Career accuracy: 82.6 percent (332 for 402)
Career long: 61 yards
Career from 50 yards and out: 18 for 32
Auburn was predicted to win the SEC championship during a poll conducted at SEC Media Days. Many speculate that the team's offseason adjustments will pay off and the Tigers will dethrone archrival Alabama in the SEC West.
There are several storylines to watch as Auburn prepares for a season of high expectations. Here are the Tigers' five biggest questions that need to be answered in fall camp.
Auburn’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Will Muschamp's Defensive Improvements
Auburn made Will Muschamp the highest paid assistant in college football this offseason. But the Tigers hope the estimated salary of $1.6-$1.8 million will bring an immediate defensive improvement. Muschamp-coached defenses have ranked in the top 10 in the FBS each year since 2009. Auburn hasn't finished higher than No. 60 in the past six seasons, a span that includes two teams (2010, ‘13) that either made it to or won the BCS title game. The move pairs the defensive guru with head coach Gus Malzahn, one of the best offensive minds in college football, which continues to raise high expectations for Auburn fans.
2. Is Jeremy Johnson's Heisman Hype Valid?
Johnson is a Heisman candidate. Jeremy Johnson is the next Cam Newton. These are some of the expectations the junior faces in his first full season as Auburn's starting quarterback. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, he has a similar frame and skill set to Newton — who won a Heisman Trophy while leading Auburn to its 2010 BCS National Championship — and is an ideal fit for a Malzahn-coached offense. Not to mention Johnson will step into one of the most talented offenses in the SEC. The stage is set for him to have a historic season but he must prove his validity as a top-tier college quarterback.
3. Is Carl Lawson Back to 100 Percent?
Lawson enjoyed a breakout season as a freshman before suffering a knee injury during spring practices in 2014. He underwent surgery May 1 to repair his ACL and was forced to miss the entire season. Still, Auburn fans should remain optimistic for a strong return from Lawson, who returned to practice last December. "I tested in my 10-yard split faster than I ever have," he told Al.com in March. Lawson should see a spike in production with the addition of Muschamp and a talented supporting cast that includes two of the SEC's best linebackers in Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost.
4. Which Running Back Will Emerge as No. 1 Option?
Cameron Artis-Payne led the SEC with 1,608 yards rushing and 303 carries. Auburn looks to replace his production with two talented backs in Roc Thomas and Jovon Robinson. Thomas had 214 yards and two touchdowns during limited action as a true freshman. Robinson was the top junior college transfer for the 2015 class and has a "blend of power and quickness who possesses good natural instincts," according to Al.com's Joel A. Erickson.
5. Is D'haquille Williams Ready to Be the Primary WR Option?
Williams is the top wide receiver prospect for next year's NFL Draft, according to ESPN's Mel Kiper. He may be the most naturally gifted wideout in the SEC. But is he ready to step up as the team's primary option? Williams shared targets with newly drafted Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Sammie Coates and had mirror-image numbers. The duo combined for 70 receptions, 1,471 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014. Coates' departure should mean more targets for Williams, who will still have a strong supporting cast to take away double coverage.
— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhallFSN.
With fall camps opening across the nation, all 128 college football teams are putting the final stamp on depth chart battles and preparations for the upcoming season. And as is the case every year, all teams in the national title picture have question marks that must be answered in order to win the college football playoff.
Ohio State is the overwhelming favorite to repeat as the national champion, with Alabama, Auburn, TCU, Baylor and USC mentioned in the next group of contenders.
Will any team knock off Ohio State in 2015? And which team will emerge to push the Buckeyes this season? Here’s a look at the biggest title concerns for Athlon’s projected top 15 teams for 2015:
Biggest Concerns for National Title Contenders
1. Ohio State: Defensive End
The Buckeyes are loaded with proven talent and depth, so it’s hard to pinpoint one concern that could derail their national title hopes. Repeating as a national champion isn’t easy, and Ohio State’s biggest obstacle could be...Ohio State. The week-to-week pressure of the playoff quest and the challenge to be perfect for 15 games is no easy assignment. But if there’s a specific position to watch in fall camp, it has to be at defensive end where the Buckeyes are searching for a replacement for Steve Miller/Rashad Frazier. Additionally, Joey Bosa is suspended for the opener, leaving Ohio State with two new starters at end against Virginia Tech. How quickly will the Buckeyes sort out their options in the trenches?
Key Player to Watch: DE Tyquan Lewis/Sam Hubbard/Jalyn Holmes/Jashon Cornell
2. Alabama: Wide Receiver/Quarterback
With one of the nation’s top defenses and rushing attacks, Alabama doesn’t necessarily need an explosive passing offense to win the SEC. However, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the offense as fall camp opens. Will Florida State transfer Jake Coker win the quarterback job over redshirt freshman David Cornwell? The growth of the quarterback is something to watch this fall, but a bigger concern for coordinator Lane Kiffin has to be at receiver. Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones have departed Tuscaloosa. That leaves Chris Black (11 catches), Robert Foster (six catches), ArDarius Stewart (12 catches), Oregon State transfer Richard Mullaney and true freshman Calvin Ridley as the top targets at receiver.
Key Player to Watch: WR Calvin Ridley/QB David Cornwell
3. Baylor: Secondary
The good news for coordinator Phil Bennett is all four starters in last year’s secondary return in 2015. The bad news? This unit allowed 20 passing scores in Big 12 games and surrendered 28 passing plays of 30 yards or more. With one of the nation’s best defensive lines leading the way up front, the Bears’ secondary may not have to cover for too long. However, after taking their lumps in 2014, Baylor needs its secondary to take a step forward in order to claim a playoff spot in 2015.
Key Player to Watch: CB Xavien Howard
4. Auburn: Depth in the Secondary
There’s not a glaring concern for coach Gus Malzahn to address this fall. Sure, the receiving corps outside of Duke Williams (assuming he plays in 2015) needs to emerge, and the pass rush has to step up. However, the Tigers are in relatively good shape for a run at the SEC title. The four starting spots in the secondary are expected to go to Jonathan Jones (CB), Tray Matthews (safety), Blake Countess (cornerback) and Johnathan Ford (safety). However, proven depth is a concern, and new coordinator Will Muschamp may have to utilize a couple of true freshmen for major snaps.
Key Player to Watch: CB Carlton Davis
5. TCU: Back Seven on Defense
TCU has a strong track record of success on defense under coach Gary Patterson, but this unit enters 2015 as the biggest obstacle to a playoff spot. How quickly will the Horned Frogs find replacements in the back seven? Gone from last year’s standout defense are linebackers Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet, along with defensive backs Kevin White, Sam Carter and Chris Hackett. Cornerback Ranthony Texada and safety Derrick Kindred are two proven pieces for Patterson to build around in 2015.
Key Player to Watch: CB DeShawn Raymond/S Kenny Iloka
6. USC: Defensive Line
Is there another Leonard Williams on USC’s defensive line? The cupboard certainly isn’t bare for coordinator Justin Wilcox, but the Trojans may not have a standout performer up front. Williams generated seven sacks and 9.5 tackles for a loss last season and was among the nation’s best at defensive end.
Key Player to Watch: DE Delvon Simmons
7. Michigan State: Secondary
The secondary has been an annual strength in recent years for the Spartans, but this unit enters 2015 as the biggest question mark on defense. Gone are All-Big Ten performers in Trae Waynes and Kurtis Drummond, leaving junior Darian Hicks and RJ Williamson as new leaders for this group. However, Hicks is out indefinitely with mononucleosis, leaving Arjen Colquhoun, Jermaine Edmondson, Demetrious Cox and Vayante Copeland as the top options at corner. While the concerns at cornerback may take a few games to sort out, the situation is much better at safety. Williamson and rising star Montae Nicholson should be a standout duo.
Key Player to Watch: CB Vayante Copeland/S Montae Nicholson
8. Oregon: Offensive Line
Even though Oregon will miss quarterback Marcus Mariota, the offense should be in good hands whether Jeff Lockie or Vernon Adams takes the first snap of the year against Eastern Washington. And despite the loss of running back Thomas Tyner, the ground attack is in good shape with Royce Freeman. While there are minor concerns for the Ducks’ high-powered offense in the backfield and the personnel turnover on defense, the biggest issue resides up front on the offensive line after the departure of Hamani Stevens, Hroniss Grasu and Jake Fisher. The return of Tyler Johnstone from a knee injury should solidify the left tackle spot, and Notre Dame transfer Matt Hegarty will bolster the interior.
Key Player to Watch: OL Matt Hegarty/Tyrell Crosby
9. Florida State: Defensive Improvement
Quarterback play is going to steal all of the offseason headlines in Tallahassee. However, coach Jimbo Fisher is one of the nation’s top quarterback gurus, and the offense should be in good shape regardless of whether Sean Maguire or Everett Golson takes the first snap. The defense is a bigger concern for Fisher, as the Seminoles finished ninth in the ACC in points allowed and gave up 5.5 yards per play. With the departure of end Mario Edwards Jr., tackle Eddie Goldman and cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, how much will this unit improve in 2015? The linebacker corps is a major concern with depth and injury issues, while the coaching staff hopes to generate more of a pass rush under new line coach Brad Lawing.
Key Player to Watch: DE Lorenzo Featherston/S Derwin James/LB Reggie Northrup
10. Georgia: Passing Attack
The Bulldogs are set at running back with Nick Chubb entrenched as one of the nation’s best. And the defense should be solid with six returning starters, along with the addition of elite recruit Trent Thompson on the defensive line. However, Georgia’s hopes of winning the SEC and earning a playoff spot hinge on the development of the passing game. There’s a three-way battle at quarterback, with sophomore Brice Ramsey holding an edge over Greyson Lambert and Faton Bauta. At receiver, will the Bulldogs get a healthy year from Malcolm Mitchell? And will a No. 2 and No. 3 target emerge at receiver?
Key Player to Watch: QB Brice Ramsey/WR Isaiah McKenzie and Terry Godwin
11. Ole Miss: Quarterback Play
Uncertainty at quarterback is a theme among SEC teams for 2015. The Rebels are loaded on defense, but coach Hugh Freeze’s team won’t be able to win the conference and push for a playoff bid without a better output on offense. Last season, Ole Miss averaged 28.3 points per game and scored just 34 points over the final three games. Finding a quarterback is Freeze’s biggest preseason concern, and three candidates – Chad Kelly, Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade – open fall practice with a chance to win the job. Will one quarterback emerge as the clear starter? Or will this battle continue into the season?
Key Player to Watch: QB Chad Kelly
Related: SEC Quarterback Rankings for 2015
12. Notre Dame: Defensive Line
Injuries and suspensions hit Notre Dame’s defense hard last season, as this unit allowed 29.2 points per game and struggled to stop the run (171.2 yards per game allowed). While last year’s defense took its share of lumps in the second half of 2014, improvement should be noticeable in 2015. Cornerback KeiVarae Russell is back from an academic suspension, and coordinator Brian VanGorder has 10 returning starters to work with in the second year of this scheme. Stopping the run and generating a better pass rush are two critical areas for the Fighting Irish to improve on in 2015. Senior Sheldon Day is among the nation’s top linemen, but Notre Dame needs more from Isaac Rochell, Jarron Jones and Romeo Okwara.
Key Player to Watch: DT Jarron Jones/DE Andrew Trumbetti/DT Jerry Tillery
13. Arizona State: Pass Rusher
The receiving corps is also worth a mention after Jaelen Strong left for the NFL, but the Sun Devils landed graduate transfer Devin Lucien from UCLA and moved D.J. Foster from running back to alleviate some of the concerns on the outside. Coach Todd Graham likes to be aggressive with his blitz packages, and despite the loss of Marcus Hardison (10 sacks) and touted junior college recruit Davon Durant, the pass rush won’t regress too much. However, Graham would like to find a dominant edge rusher, and running back Kalen Ballage is spending some time at the Devilbacker position. Can Ballage or Ismael Murphy-Richardson or another player fill the void?
Player to Watch: RB/LB Kalen Ballage
14. Clemson: Offensive Line
The Tigers return just two starters on defense, but coordinator Brent Venables should keep the unit performing at a high level. The bigger concern for coach Dabo Swinney has to be with the offensive line. After all, quarterback Deshaun Watson is coming off a torn ACL. The line returns just one starter (center Ryan Norton) and has a combined 29 career starts from the projected lineup.
Key Player to Watch: LT Mitch Hyatt
15. LSU: Quarterback
It’s no secret LSU had issues at quarterback last year. The Tigers completed only 50 percent of their throws and managed just seven passing scores in SEC games. The edge in talent goes to sophomore Brandon Harris. However, Anthony Jennings has a better grasp of the offense.
Key Player to Watch: QB Brandon Harris
ESPN catches a lot of grief for the way they handle college football. Most notably, the way they are all over the SEC.
Why wouldn't the worldwide leader in sports cover much of the SEC? They have the SEC network and it's arguably the most dominant coverage in football. ESPN's College Gameday host Kirk Herbstreit took to Twitter in order to set the record straight on why things seem to be a little biased in the SEC's favor, and made note of the fact that the first camp the gameday crew stopped at was that of Ohio State.
I thought @espn only cared about the SEC?? Weird their first day of camp coverage is at Ohio St.?! . So much for that tired conspiracy!— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) August 10, 2015
Can you imagine if the B1G won SEVEN straight National Titles the amount of coverage the B1G would receive?! https://t.co/8kftH8qvIw— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) August 10, 2015
No, just think people need to recognize Natl coverage is directly related to winning. That's why OSU everywhere now https://t.co/xXj4PcTksw— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) August 10, 2015
You mean years of winning. New champion now--gets the coverage. Simple. https://t.co/y74mnOwT92— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) August 10, 2015
Same as if Michigan St wins it ESPN will be all over the Spartans. Champions get more coverage. Whoever it is! https://t.co/DWkfxMvSvh— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) August 10, 2015
Long story short, whoever wins gets the most coverage.
Entering the 2015 season the Iowa Hawkeyes have big questions. Gone are six proven offensive performers, including quarterback Jake Rudock, who'll likely enter the season as Michigan's starting quarterback, running back Mark Weisman, and wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley. Also no longer on the roster are five defensive starters, namely All-Big Ten tackle Carl Davis.
Last season, the Hawkeyes struggled to maintain consistency, finishing things off with a threegame losing streak. Entering fall camp, questions abound for head coach Kirk Ferentz and his young staff. Can the Hawkeyes dig deep enough to win at least eight games against a relatively weak schedule, and put themselves back in contention to battle Nebraska and Wisconsin for a shot at the Big Ten West Division title? Or will they allow the late-season skid to erode their confidence to the point of no return?
Iowa’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Beefing Up the D-line
Keep an eye on Drew Ott here. Iowa is not expected to line up this season with the size the Hawkeyes have traditionally exhibited on the defensive line. But what they lack in pure size, they make up for in talent and experience. If Ott and his fellow linemen can stop big plays, it could mean a return to the Hawks’ traditional defensive dominance.
2. Quarterback Development
Junior C.J. Beathard's “the guy.” But will he show the potential the Iowa coaching staff foresaw while running off Rudock and his 4,819 career passing yards to Michigan? There's no question Beathard is a more versatile quarterback. He can make plays with his arm and his legs. How he comes together with the rest of this offense in the upcoming practices will go a long way towards putting him firmly in charge of this team’s 2015 fate.
3. How Will the Tight Ends Be Used?
In recent years the more Hawkeye tight ends had their numbers called in key situations, the more likely those plays were successful. With three returning lettermen from the 2014 squad set to line up there, including senior Jake Duzey, how they figure into Iowa's offensive schemes will be a key to how much the offense improves.
4. Will Experience Matter in Secondary?
No question about it, Iowa will likely have to lean on its secondary given the lack of depth and areas of concern elsewhere. The front line is strong, but has holes. And if opposing offenses find a way to exploit those gaps it could be off to the races. The Hawkeyes simply can't give up the long passing plays they did in 2014 and expect to win big games.
5. Coaching, Coaching, Coaching
Eight of Iowa's 14 assistant coaches have fewer than four years’ worth of experience with the Hawkeyes. Given those four years have been when Iowa has underachieved, it's a now-or-never season for this staff. Will the coaches finally gel with their players and each other to find a winning formula, or will they stay in neutral and coast to the anticipated postseason ruling on their fate? The answer to this question could come Oct. 3 when the Hawkeyes line up against Wisconsin in Madison for their Big Ten opener.
— 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.
The 2012 Ohio State football recruiting class is technically the first of head coach Urban Meyer's players that were signed and brought to Columbus. I write the phrase "technically" because there are many extenuating factors that need to be remembered and contemplated when looking back at the 25 players who signed on the dotted line in February 2012 and became Buckeyes.
First and foremost, I have been reviewing Ohio State recruiting classes over the years. I have looked back at the recruiting classes going back to 2005, which included players such as James Laurinaitis, Brian Hartline and Malcolm Jenkins. The 2005 class was relatively small with 18 players signed, and was not highly rated by the recruiting analysts, but the Buckeyes only lost three from that class to transfer or academic issues, resulting in 15 who either started or contributed to Ohio State during their careers. This 83 percent success rate ranks that group highly in the unofficial "Rule of Thirds" concept that is applied to recruiting classes.
“The Rule of Thirds” is pretty simple — within any class, there will be approximately a third who will develop into starters as the coaching staff hoped and recruited, a third will be contributors in some fashion, and a third will not work out, leaving due to transfer, injuries or possibly disciplinary reasons.
Let's get back to the extenuating factors that impacted Ohio State's recruiting efforts that led up to February 2012 — this will not be a happy stroll down memory lane for Ohio State fans, just to forewarn you. In the winter and spring of 2011, Jim Tressel was under siege by the national media for his role in "TatGate," ultimately resulting in Tressel's resignation on May 30, 2011.
Left to pick up the pieces for the upcoming 2011 Ohio State football season was Luke Fickell. Fickell was promoted to the head coaching position after Tressel's resignation, and did his best to keep recruited players in the fold, as the 2011 season eventually resulted into a 6-7 record. Meyer was hired on Nov. 28, thus clarifying the somewhat lackluster Ohio State recruiting efforts until signing day in February 2012.
Now let's get back to the "Rule of Thirds." Considering all of the events that the program experienced throughout the fall of 2011, there should be little wonder why the 2012 recruiting class lacked any cohesiveness.
The first part of this article will look at those players who eventually left the Ohio State program. As was referenced earlier, some of these players left due to injury, playing time or disciplinary reasons. I will address each player, based upon when the player verbally committed to the Buckeyes.
1. Frank Epitropoulos, WR/P
Epitropoulos verbally committed in April 2011, before Tressel's resignation. The son and nephew of former Buckeye players, Epitropoulos played sparingly, redshirting in 2012. Epitropoulos left the team in 2014 to concentrate on academics, as he plans to eventually attend medical school, but he recently announced that he will be walking on at Michigan State.
True Greek Spartan pic.twitter.com/jVEoY2yIQF— Frank Epitropoulos (@F_Epitropoulos) July 28, 2015
2. Blake Thomas, TE
Thomas committed in May 2011, also prior to Tressel's resignation. Thomas redshirted in 2012, played spring football in 2013, and was forced to give up playing due to medical concerns.
3. Najee Murray, DB
A verbal commitment to Fickell, Murray actually played for the Buckeyes in 2012, primarily on special teams before getting injured. After a violation of team rules, Murray transferred to Kent State in 2013, and actually played against his former teammates last season.
4. Luke Roberts, LB
Another verbal commitment to Fickell, Roberts played in 2012 but decided to leave Ohio State for Harvard in summer 2013. Roberts was immediately eligible to play for Harvard and played last season.
5. Ricquan Southward, WR
A verbal commitment to Fickell the day before Ohio State announced the hiring of Meyer, Southward redshirted in 2012. Near the end of the 2012 season, Southward announced his decision to transfer, landing at Arizona Western College, a junior college.
6. Se'Von Pittman, DE
Meyer flipped Pittman, a one-time Michigan State commit, in December 2011. Pittman redshirted in 2012 before requesting his release in March 2013. He’s entering his second year as a starter for Akron.
7. Noah Spence, DE
Quite possibly the most talented player in the 2012 class, and one of the most disappointing endings to an Ohio State career in recent years. Spence played extensively in 2012 and ‘13, and was projected to be an early first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. But in December 2013, news broke that Spence tested positively for the drug Ecstasy, effectively ending his Ohio State career. Spence transferred to Eastern Kentucky, where he plans on playing his final season before a probable declaration for the 2016 draft.
8. Joey O'Connor, OL
Originally a Penn State commit, O'Connor switched to Ohio State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. O'Connor redshirted at Ohio State in 2012, but decided to transfer back home to Colorado and play for Colorado State. Unfortunately, knee issues forced him to give up football this summer.
9. David Perkins, LB
Another Meyer flip, Perkins switched from Notre Dame to Ohio State, but played sparingly in 2012, primarily on special teams. Perkins' Buckeye highlight took place in spring practice in 2013, when he leveled Brutus Buckeye. Perkins eventually transferred to Illinois State.
10. Jamal Marcus, DE
A 2012 signing day addition, Marcus played primarily on special teams in 2012 and saw extensive action in the 2014 Orange Bowl loss to Clemson. That was the last time Marcus suited up for the Buckeyes, as he transferred to Akron prior to the start of the 2014 season.
11. Kyle Dodson, OL
Dodson had originally committed to Wisconsin, but signed with Ohio State. Due to medical issues, Dodson was forced to give up football.
So out of 25 players in the 2012 class, 11 players, or 44 percent, are no longer Buckeyes. No matter how you look at it, all I can write and think is ouch, as that is substantially higher than previous recruiting class departures. In part two, I will look at the remaining players from the 2012 recruiting class, as there are some notable contributors and starters who have stuck with Ohio State.
— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a diehard Ohio State fan. Minnich also writes and podcasts for menofthescarletandgray.com, a site dedicated to Ohio sports with a special emphasis on the Buckeyes. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.
With 128 teams in the FBS and around 100 players on a roster, there are certainly some interesting names that pop-up throughout the course of production for Athlon's 2015 college football magazine.
We took a look through the rosters for the 128 teams and pulled out some of the funniest and more interesting names in college football for the 2015 season.
Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame
Jeb Blazevich, TE, Georgia
Quaide Weimerskirch, RB, Georgia Tech
Spencer Drango, OL, Baylor
Cole Boozer, TE, Temple
Johnathan Boring, OL, Troy
Jake Butt, TE, Michigan
Soso Jamabo, RB, UCLA
Geronimo Allison, WR, Illinois
Bozidar Antunovic, OL, SMU
Edgar Poe, WR, Army
Faton Bauta, QB, Georgia
Forrest Lamp, OL, WKU
Taiwan Deal, RB, Wisconsin
Chad President, QB, Tulsa
Ray-Ray McCloud III, WR, Clemson
Zander Diamont, QB, Indiana
Evan Butts, TE, Virginia
Squally Canada, RB, BYU
Julian Good-Jones, OL, Iowa State
Freddy Canteen, WR, Michigan
LA Ramsby, RB, Georgia Southern
River Cracraft, WR, Washington State
Freedom Akinmoladun, TE, Nebraska
Britain Covey, WR, Utah
Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech
Tank Davis, OL, Texas A&M
Riley Lovingood, OL, Tennessee
Mak Djulbegovic, OL, USF
Bear Fenimore, QB, Houston
Daxx Garman, QB, Maryland
Grant Lingafelter, OL, West Virginia
Tanner Farmer, OL, Nebraska
Will Clapp, OL, LSU
Tuli Wily-Matagi, TE, Oregon State
Lake Kirven, OL, Clemson
Taz Bateman, RB, Georgia State
Q’ Drennan, WR, New Mexico
Driphus Jackson, QB, Rice
Gunner Kiel, QB, Cincinnati
Thor Jozwiak, OL, USF
Obe Fortune, WR, Georgia Southern
Brynjar Gudmundsson, OL, USF
Nyiakki Height, WR, Georgia State
Jazzmar Clax, FB, UConn
Brisly Estime, WR, Syracuse
Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M
Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor
Kolby Listenbee, WR, TCU
Mikingson Marsaille, OL, FAU
Gunnar Holcombe, QB, Marshall
Tommy Mister, RB, Indiana
Jester Weah, WR, Pittsburgh
Ross Pierschbacher, OL, Alabama
Grayson Muehlstein, QB, TCU
Shug Oyegunle, WR, FIU
Rafe Peavey, QB, Arkansas
Michiah Quick, WR, Oklahoma
Devine Redding, RB, Indiana
Deric Phouthavong, WR, Bowling Green
Blaze Ryder, OL, Navy
Ja’Quay Savage, WR, Louisville
Stone Wolfley, TE/FB/ West Virginia
Harley Scioneaux, TE, ULM
Bruno Reagan, OL, Vanderbilt
Pig Howard, WR, Tennessee
Lawyer Tillman, RB, Auburn
Austin Apodaca, QB, New Mexico
Lucky Jackson, WR, WKU
Wolfgang Zacherl, OL, Charlotte
Bobo Beathard, WR, Appalachian State
Bolu Olorunfunmi, RB, UCLA
Easy Anyama, S, Texas State
Keke Coutee, WR, Texas Tech
Jordan Diamond, OL, Auburn
Kermit Whitfield, WR, Florida State
Richie Worship, RB, Purdue
Chongo Kondolo, OL, Nebraska
Shawn Stankavage, QB, Vanderbilt
Tyrin Stone-Davis, WR, Illinois
Bar Milo, OL, Miami
Dawit Woldu, WR, Colorado State
Poet Thomas, OL, Texas Tech
Dillon Middlemiss, OL, Colorado
JaMycal Hasty, RB, Baylor
Cody Whitehair, OL, Kansas State
Devonaire Clarington, TE, Texas
Tiger Scheyd, QB, LSU
Juan Day, RB, Arkansas
Joshua Whippy, RB, BYU
Workpeh Kofa, WR, Charlotte
Tennessee Su’esu’e, OL, Boise State
Thaddeus Snodgrass, WR, Kentucky
Jazz Ferguson, WR, LSU
Daniel Imatorbhebhe, TE, USC
Gunner Hudspeth, QB, Cincinnati
Chico McClatcher, WR, Washington
Skyler Howard, QB, West Virginia
Rowdy Simon, RB, Tulsa
Stone Underwood, OL, West Virginia
Achilles Wynn, WR, Idaho
Hosey Williams, RB, Cincinnati
Maurice Ways, WR, Michigan
T.V. Williams, WR, Kentucky
Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina
Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State
Bearooz Yacoobi, OL, Purdue
Storm Norton, OL, Toledo
Sebastian Sock, TE, Kansas
Damore’ea Stringfellow, WR, Ole Miss
Kenneth Santa Marina, OL, Tulane
Man Berg, WR, Illinois
Boom Williams, RB, Kentucky
Denver Kirkland, OL, Arkansas
Mason Sledge, OL, Charlotte
Tad France, OL, Kent State
Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
Mike Tyson, S, Cincinnati
Matt Smallbone, DL, Miami (Ohio)
Deuce Wallace, CB, ULL
Faith Ekakitie, DL, Iowa
Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona
Bright Ugwoegbu, LB, Oregon State
Destiny Vaeao, DL, Washington State
Jeryl Brazil, DB, ULL
Poncho Barnwell, DE, Old Dominion
Chevy Graham, CB, Kansas
Deuce Mataele, DL, Boise State
Blair Manly, CB, New Mexico
Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE, Miami
Gladimir Paul, LB, Virginia
Tee Shepard, CB, Ole Miss
Taylor Comfort, LB, Washington State
Budda Baker, S, Washington
Prentice McKinney, S, Oklahoma
Shadow Williams, LB, Old Dominion
Gussie Busch, LB, Alabama
Ryan Watercutter, LB, Indiana
Nick Czar, DL, Navy
Porter Gustin, LB, USC
Zykiesis Cannon, CB, Louisville
Simba Short, LB, Northwestern
Kingsley Opara, DL, Maryland
Illiad Kelly, DL, Southern Miss
Nomluis Fruge, LB, Houston
Justice Davila, S, Old Dominion
Hootie Jones, DB, Alabama
Blessuan Austin, DB, Rutgers
Mook Reynolds, DB, Virginia Tech
Imarjaye Albury, DL, FIU
Stody Bradley, DL, New Mexico State
King Newton, DT, UTSA
Olajuwon Tucker, LB, USC
Mufu Taiwo, DL, Old Dominion
Boise Ross, CB, Buffalo
C.J. Stalker, LB, Virginia
Micah Awe, LB, Texas Tech
Bull Barge, LB, South Alabama
Will Barrow, CB, Tulsa
Zeek Bigger, LB, East Carolina
Bam Bradley, LB, Pittsburgh
Winston DeLattiboudere, DL, Minnesota
Mookie Carlile, DB, UTEP
Lion King, DL, Eastern Michigan
Blake Countess, DB, Auburn
Skyler Cracraft, DB, Washington State
Evan Rambo, S, California
Mehdi El Attrach, DB, Boston College
Tee Sparrow, DB, Louisiana Tech
Armonze Daniel, DL, Marshall
Corn Elder, DB, Miami
Hercules Mata’afa, DL, Washington State
Cassanova McKinzy, LB, Auburn
Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State
Prince Charles Iworah, DB, Western Kentucky
Step Durham, DB, Georgia Tech
Shattle Fenteng, DB, Georgia
Poona Ford, DT, Texas
Colton Thrasher, DL, Idaho
Justin Tranquill, DB, Western Michigan
Houston Glass, S, Buffalo
Alanmichael Harkness, DL, Appalachian State
Vegas Harley, S, Georgia Southern
Dedrick Shy, CB, Tulane
Hershey Walton, DL, Temple
Osazuwamen Igbinosun, DL, Ball State
Zaycoven Henderson, DT, Texas A&M
Marvell Tell, DB, USC
K’Hadree Hooker, DL, East Carolina
Jamez Brickhouse, CB, Old Dominion
Money Hunter, DB, Arkansas State
Prosper Mekoba, DL, Temple
Trevarris Saulsberry, DL, Tennessee
Prince Tega Wanogho, DE, Auburn
Great Ibe, LB, Eastern Michigan
Dee Liner, DL, Arkansas State
Abu Lamin, DL, South Carolina
Finesse Middleton, DE, Louisville
Chaiziere Malbrue, LB, ULL
Iggy Porchia, DL, UNLV
Praise Martin-Oguike, DL, Temple
Mercy Maston, CB, Boise State
SteveO Michel, LB, Colorado State
Zelt Minor, DL, SMU
Charmeachealle Moore, LB, Kansas State
Silverberry Mouhon, DL, Cincinnati
Leviticus Payne, DB, Cincinnati
Picasso Nelson Jr., DB, Southern Miss
Noble Nwachukwu, DL, West Virginia
Tito Odenigbo, DL, Illinois
Jock Petree, DL, UCF
Cody Poock, LB, Minnesota
Gimel President, DL, Auburn
Johnny Ragin III, LB, Oregon
Shy Tuttle, DL, Tennessee
Gusty Schwartzmeier, DL, Buffalo
Aziz Shittu, DL, Stanford
Fish Smithson, S, Kansas
Creed Richardson, LB, BYU
Oshane Ximines, DE, Old Dominion
Breeland Speaks, DL, Ole Miss
Weston Steelhammer, DB, Air Force
Finis Stribling, DB, Missouri
Dwellie Striggles, DB, Buffalo
Eric Striker, LB, Oklahoma
Wonderful Terry, DB, Western Kentucky
Toronto Thomas, LB, Appalachian State
Sir Calvin Wallace, DT, North Texas
Prince Mayela, DB, Charlotte
Maximo Espitia, LB, California
Jihad Ward, DL, Illinois
Freedom Whitfield, LB, FAU
Psalm Wooching, LB, Washington
Carlutorbantu Zaramo, DL, Ball State
Mike Freeze, LB, TCU
D.J. Polite-Bray, DB, Texas Tech
Moose Bingham, K, BYU
Stone Wilson, K, FIU
Chris Blewitt, K, Pittsburgh
Jonathan Song, K, TCU
Colby Delahoussaye, K, LSU
Younghoe Koo, K, Georgia Southern
Worth Gregory, P, East Carolina
Logan McElfresh, P, Minnesota
Ronda Rousey can defeat opponents in less than a minute.
The UFC female bantamweight champion took time to do a Reddit AMA, and someone asked if she could beat Floyd Mayweather in a fight. Mayweather recently ranked himself as the best fighter of all time, but Rousey's ranking looks a bit different.
"Floyd is one of the best boxers of all time," Rousey said. "He would definitely beat me in a boxing match. I unfortunately don't get into 'matches.' I fight for a living. In a no rules fight, I believe I can beat anyone on this planet. Boxing is a sweet science with strict rules that I respect very much and aspire every day to improve at. But you said a ruleless fight, and that's my honest answer."
Rousey is never one to back down, no matter who the opponent is.
In 2014, the AFC North sent three teams to the playoffs. The division is once again poised to be a battle and continues to rank among the most competitive in the NFL. The Steelers, Bengals, and Ravens all have very legitimate chances to make the playoffs again. But what about Cleveland, which hasn’t made the postseason since 2002 and has had a revolving door at both head coach and starting quarterback since rejoining the NFL in 1999?
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC North looks heading into the 2015 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Ravens, Bengals, Browns and Steelers.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
“In a year dominated by the Ray Rice episode, Baltimore used a familiar formula to maintain their focus on the field and made the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons under John Harbaugh."
"They led the league in sack differential at plus-30 when they allowed only 19 sacks and racked up 49 of their own."
"Under former offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, they ran the ball well and found the needed balance to protect and help QB Joe Flacco."
"Kubiak departed for another head coaching opportunity with long-time friend John Elway in Denver, so Marc Trestman takes over as the OC and he must stay away from taking the Ravens down a pass-happy road again."
"They let Torrey Smith walk as a free agent, but got great mileage out of Steve Smith and drafted UCF WR Breshad Perriman and TE Maxx Williams in the first two rounds of the draft."
"The offensive line rebounded in 2015 and stabilized with Eugene Monroe and Ricky Wagner playing the tackle spots, while Kelechi Osemele and Marshall Yanda were solid on the interior."
"It took a year, but the Baltimore defense returned to the top 10 statistically in 2015 after some growing pains the previous season without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed."
"With Haloti Ngata on the verge of being cut due to his high cap number, GM Ozzie Newsome was able to swing a trade with Detroit for two mid-round draft picks."
"He had that luxury because of the play of young DTs Brandon Williams and Tim Jernigan."
"The Ravens pressured the QB with the formidable duo of Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs."
"Pernell McPhee was lost to the Bears in free agency, but he is another in a long line of defenders that have left the organization for bigger riches after being quality support players here."
"C.J. Mosley was a gift at pick No. 17 (fell due to concerns about his shoulder) and emerged as an elite linebacker as a rookie."
"This will be a huge year for LB Arthur Brown and FS Matt Elam, who have both been major disappointments in their early careers."
"Jimmy Smith finally put it all together in terms of his consistency and availability on the field, and they will cross their fingers that Lardarius Webb will stay healthy in 2015."
"PK Justin Tucker and P Sam Koch may very well be the best combination of placekicker/punter in the entire league."
“Marvin Lewis received a one-year contract extension through 2016, so that will lessen some, but not all the pressure on the Bengals as they try to get a breakthrough win in the playoffs. Along with QB Andy Dalton, the focus is squarely on a team that has been a consistent winner during the regular season, but a failure in the postseason."
"Cincinnati has a very solid group of offensive players with a true superstar in WR A.J. Green."
"They could definitely use another wide receiver right now, but opted for two tackles in early part of the draft, Texas A&M’s Cedric Ogbuehi and Oregon’s Jake Fisher, for future use."
"TE Tyler Eifert will have an expanded role in 2015 with the departure of Jermaine Gresham in free agency."
"RB Jeremy Hill had a big rookie year and with a healthy Giovanni Bernard, they should be even more dynamic this season."
"Defensively, the Bengals were dead last in sacks with 20 for the entire campaign. DE Michael Johnson inked a huge deal with Tampa Bay, only to be released a year later and re-signed here. They have to get more production from Wallace Gilberry and Margus Hunt in order to get their defensive line rotation back in order."
"The Vontaze Burfict micro-fracture surgery is a major concern, so A.J. Hawk was brought in to provide some insurance at the position."
"The secondary is going through a transition with the emergence of CB Dre Kirkpatrick who should take over a starting full-time role, while Darqueze Dennard will be assessed as the heir apparent to Leon Hall."
"It’s hard to imagine Lewis and Dalton getting a sixth year together if they don’t win a playoff win in 2015, but the Brown family likes them both and the stability they have brought to the organization.”
“2014 was almost a repeat of what has gone on in Cleveland since the organization returned in 1999. High hopes during the draft weekend, signs of progress at different times throughout the season and then a full meltdown in December."
"The Ray Farmer/Mike Pettine combo will return this year, but the GM faces a four-game suspension over texting staff members during games about personnel use and play-calling. In the fallout of Textgate, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan worked his way out the door and QB coach Dowell Loggains went, too."
"The Johnny Manziel era was put on hold initially because Brian Hoyer led the team to a 7-5 record before he hit the wall. Manziel started two games, looked out of place, got hurt and ended up in rehab for 10 weeks during the offseason. He was released mid-April and is back in the building, but the Browns signed Josh McCown as the 'new bridge to a yet-to-be-determined QB."
"Statistically, the Browns have lost because offensively they cannot convert on third downs (32nd in NFL/29.5 percent) and defensively they have not been able to stop the run (32nd in NFL/141.6 yards allowed per game). With that said, after missing 11 games in 2014, Josh Gordon is out for the entire season this time around after being suspended again, while TE Jordan Cameron opted for Miami in free agency."
"Dwayne Bowe was signed from Kansas City and Andrew Hawkins is a quality No. 3/4 receiver, but neither will require special game-planning from a defensive coordinator... Amazingly, LT Joe Thomas has not missed a snap since he was drafted in 2007. Cleveland’s run game went down after center Alex Mack suffered a season-ending knee injury, so they picked Florida State OL Cam Erving to play RG/RT in preparation for another injury or Mack’s contract expiring."
"LG Joel Bitonio was their best rookie and should be a fixture in the lineup for the next several seasons."
"Both RBs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell flashed ability, but the question remains if one or the other can be a major difference-maker, or if third-round pick Miami’s Duke Johnson can become a factor."
"As for the defense, Washington DT Danny Shelton was the choice at No. 12 overall to shore up the porous run defense."
"OLB Paul Kruger bounced back from a sub-par 2013 with 11 sacks, but Jabaal Sheard left for New England in free agency."
"Barkevious Mingo has been marginal in his first two seasons, so they selected Utah’s Nate Orchard in the second round."
"Karlos Dansby was adequate in the middle and Donte Whitner provided some leadership in the back end with CB Joe Haden continuing to perform at a high level."
"Buster Skrine departed for the Jets and Justin Gilbert’s rookie season was one to forget, so corner is still a concern.”
“There is good news and bad news in the Steel City."
"The offense clicked to the tune of 411.1 yards per game, but the defense has aged out and is under construction with a coordinator not named Dick LeBeau."
"QB Ben Roethlisberger got an extension after he performed at a very high level in 2014. He played superb football all year and finished with 32 touchdowns against only nine interceptions."
"WR Antonio Brown might spend the offseason squawking about his current deal that has two years left, but he has become one of the most exciting players in the entire league. He had a remarkable 129 receptions and 13 touchdowns as the Steelers averaged over 300 yards per game through the air. Markus Wheaton responded with 53 catches, while rookie Martavis Bryant surprised with 26 grabs, including eight touchdowns."
"TE Heath Miller has been underappreciated his entire career and has now accumulated over 500 catches."
"The offensive line held up last year, because Pittsburgh actually ran the ball some in 2014."
"RB Le’Veon Bell had a breakout campaign with 1,361 yards rushing and 83 receptions. He is a superstar in the making, but will miss the first two games after he and [former Steeler, now Patriot] LeGarrette Blount were cited with marijuana last summer."
"Defensively, Pittsburgh finished 18th in total yards allowed and scoring defense, mainly because of their struggles to pressure the QB and create turnovers."
"OLB Jason Worilds actually retired at age 27 and former first-round pick Jarvis Jones has three career sacks in two seasons."
"James Harrison is back, but the need was so substantial that they took Kentucky LB Bud Dupree with the 22nd pick overall."
"LB Lawrence Timmons is a quality player and they are hoping Ryan Shazier can return to form after missing seven games with separate knee and ankle injuries."
"The secondary will be completely remade in 2015 with Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor both retiring."
"Major help is needed at corner and safety."
"Mike Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas will open at the safety spots, but the two corner positions are wide open."
"Big Ben will be expected to carry the team while the defense is reconfigured. This team can have a winning record and even make the playoffs, but they are not good enough to make a deep run.”
Georgia returns 13 starters from a 10-win team including star playmakers Nick Chubb, Malcolm Mitchell, Isaiah McKenzie and defensive leaders Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. Only time will tell if losing offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who helped lead the Bulldogs to the most points per game in the SEC in last year, will affect the offense going forward.
With one of the best running back trio’s returning and a defense led by second-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, Georgia is the heavy favorite to win the SEC East and advance to Atlanta to play for the conference championship.
Georgia should be favored in every game except three this fall. Alabama and Tennessee are shaping up to be pick ‘em games, while the Bulldogs will probably be underdogs at Auburn. This sets up a favorable schedule for the remaining nine games of the season, but Georgia can ill afford a slip up against a lesser opponent like Mark Richt’s team has done in the past.
Here are Georgia’s 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 26 vs. Southern
This will be the first meeting between the Jaguars and Bulldogs and SU’s first-ever game against an SEC opponent. The Jaguars finished strong last year, going 9-4 and losing in the SWAC championship game to Alcorn State. The Jaguars have never defeated an FBS team in eight tries and Georgia is 8-0 in the last eight years versus FCS teams, winning by an average of 39 points per game. Georgia will win by the end of the first quarter.
11. Sept. 5 vs. ULM
In 2005, Georgia defeated ULM 44-7. Nothing changes in 2015. ULM is a middle-of-the-pack Sun Belt team and Georgia has only lost one home opener in the Richt era. This won’t be number two. The Bulldogs will start their 2015 campaign 1-0.
10. Sept 12 at Vanderbilt
This game used to be a cause for concern, you know, back when Vanderbilt had a good coach. The Commodores return 18 starters from a three-win team and will need every one of them. Georgia cruises to a 2-0 start of the season.
9. Nov. 7 vs. Kentucky
Kentucky is an improving team but still doesn’t have the depth needed to compete in the SEC. The Wildcats will have a productive offense but are not equipped on the defensive side of the ball just yet. The only trouble Georgia figures to have is stay focused on the task at hand and not look forward to the following week’s showdown against Auburn.
8. Nov. 21 vs. Georgia Southern
Georgia Southern is a defending conference champion, albeit the Sun Belt. Georgia should handle the Eagles pretty easily but with this matchup falling a week after the Auburn game, the Bulldogs could be dealing with a slight case of letdown, regardless if they are coming off a win or a loss to the Tigers. The Eagles’ triple option offense also should be a nice tune up to what Georgia will see the following week in Atlanta against Georgia Tech.
7. Sept. 19 vs. South Carolina
Since Steve Spurrier took the head coaching position at South Carolina, he has been a constant headache for Richt and Georgia. The teams have split the past 10 meetings which makes this a must-watch game each and every year. Georgia is trending up while it looks like Spurrier may be losing his edge in Columbia.
6. Nov. 28 at Georgia Tech
No one will really have a clue on how this game will go until after Nov. 14 when all of Georgia’s SEC games are over. If Georgia is in the SEC East hunt with a shot at making the College Football Playoff, I don’t see this being a game the Bulldogs take lightly. Again, this game rests on whether Georgia actually takes it seriously. The Yellow Jackets are talented but shouldn’t be in the same conversation as the Bulldogs this year.
5. Oct. 17 vs. Missouri
Even though Missouri has won the SEC East the last two years, the Tigers will have revenge on their minds as they were humiliated last year in their own stadium by Georgia 34-0. The SEC East is still the first goal Georgia has to reach and Missouri is high on the list of must wins.
4. Oct. 31 vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)
Georgia and Florida will both be coming off a bye headed into this Halloween day game. Weird things happen on Halloween and even weirder things happen in this rivalry. Last year, Florida literally ran Georgia out of Jacksonville, piling up more than 400 yards rushing and defeating the Bulldogs 38-20. Georgia should head into this matchup with a very good record and revenge will just be icing on the cake.
3. Nov. 14 at Auburn
Georgia only has three true road games this year, playing at Vanderbilt, at Auburn and at Tennessee. Georgia dominated Auburn last year 34-7, but that was last year. This is a new Auburn team and with 12 starters returning and the addition of new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, this figures to be a much-improved team that the media fell in love with at SEC Media Days. Georgia doesn’t need to defeat Auburn to win the East but it will be a must-win if the Bulldogs are in the Playoff race headed into November.
2. Oct. 3 vs. Alabama
I know a lot of people may not agree with me on this pick, but looking at the big picture, Alabama is only the second-most important game of the 2015 season. Georgia can win this game and playing in Athens will surely help its cause. But Georgia not getting run out of Sanford Stadium is more important. A loss to the Tide doesn’t necessarily ruin the Bulldogs’ chances of reaching Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game or even the Playoff. But getting blown away will leave a lasting impression. Bulldog fans remember well the last time Alabama came to Athens. It will forever be known as “The Blackout.” The Georgia faithful are hopeful of a better outcome this time around.
1. Oct. 10 at Tennessee
An early October trip to Knoxville will be the biggest game for the Bulldogs this fall. This game is important for two big reasons. Not only will it be a road test, which in itself is difficult enough, it also will put Georgia in the driver’s seat in the SEC East, as the Bulldogs should be 2-0 in the division entering this game. If Georgia has ANY plans of making a Playoff run it must first win its division. The Volunteers appear to be the Bulldogs’ only real threat in the East and return a very young, but capable team. Georgia has won its last five against Tennessee, including back-to-back trips to Knoxville. However, Georgia will be coming off of its clash with Alabama. In the last four years teams that go on the road the week aftaer playing Alabama are 6-7. A win over Tennessee would help bolster even more momentum going into the second half of the season and could help propel Georgia to earn a trip to Atlanta for the first time since 2012. Lose and it could mean another long season of hoping for someone else to slip up. Either way, this is the date that should be circled in the Bulldogs’ locker room.
— Written by Justin Nails, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @justinnails.
The Oklahoma Sooners went deep into the state of Louisiana for a second time in less than two weeks, pulling out another highly recruited talent from the Bayou State. On Monday, OU secured a verbal commitment from 3-star linebacker Pernell Jefferson.
Jefferson was a beast for Warren Easton Senior High School in 2014, coming up with 115 tackles, 13 sacks, two fumble recoveries and one pick. With Jefferson leading the way, the Eagles posted a 12-3 record before falling to Neville 28-27 in a heart-breaking state championship title game.
The New Orleans-area talent has picked up 13 reported offers from some of the top programs around the region with Miami, Mississippi State, Indiana, Nebraska, TCU, Texas Tech, Kansas, ULM, UL Lafayette, Western Kentucky, UCF, and Colorado State among the programs seeking his abilities at the FBS level.
Jefferson visited UCF, Indiana and Kansas during the offseason and took a trip to Norman for Junior Day. The Sooners landed the stud linebacker over an announced top four of Nebraska, Texas Tech and Arizona State.
The Eagles were a popular stopping point during the 2015 recruiting cycle, as eight players have committed to FBS programs. Wide receiver Darrell Clark and linebacker Kendal Franklin went with Arizona, cornerback Deshawn Capers-Smith sided with Texas A&M, 5-star wide receiver Tyron Johnson went with in-state power LSU, defensive back Jeremie Francis, running back Devin Glenn, and wide receiver Dedrick Shy signed with Tulane, while Oklahoma landed prized 4-star linebacker Arthur McGinnis.
The Sooners now have 10 verbal commitments making up their 2016 recruiting class. On July 30, OU picked up safety Chanse Sylvie from Louisiana prep powerhouse Calvary Baptist Academy.
Oklahoma Sooners 2016 Verbal Commitment List
CB Maurice Chandler, 6-1, 190, NEO A&M C.C., Miami, OK
CB Parrish Cobb, 5-11, 175, La Vega HS, Waco, TX
ATH/WR Adrian Hardy, 6-3, 185, Dekaney HS, Houston, TX
LB Pernell Jefferson, 6-2, 236, Warren Easton Senior, New Orleans, LA
QB Austin Kendall, 6-2, 210, Cuthbertson HS, Waxhaw, NC
WR Ryan Parker, 6-2, 175, Tyler C.C., Tyler, TX
OG Logan Roberson, 6-5, 318, Harrah HS, Harrah, OK
FS Chanse Sylvie, 6-0-, 185, Calvary Baptist HS, Shreveport, LA
LB Jon-Michael Terry, 6-2, 225, Victory Christian HS, Tulsa, OK
LB Bryce Youngquist, 6-2, 210, Los Osos HS, Rancho Cucamonga, CA
— 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.
Les Miles plans to coach LSU all the way to the College Football Playoff.
The Tigers have released their 2015 season hype video and if they play half as tough as they look in this video, everyone should be on guard. As far as hype videos go, LSU is king.
Feel the pulse of the Tigers and be very, very afraid.
Ohio State players aren't known to rock the helmet visor, but that's all about to change.
Star wide receiver Michael Thomas is switching things up and it actually works. Adding a visor to the helmet makes it look better than ever.
#Zone6 (@CoachZachSmith) August 9, 2015
News from NASCAR’s second straight fuel mileage finish took a backseat Monday as one of the sport’s kindest, most well known spokesmen saw his battle with lung cancer hit the start/finish line. Buddy Baker, 74, passed away Monday just a month after stepping away from his gig on SIRIUS XM radio following news he had an inoperable tumor. Known as the “Gentle Giant,” the 6-foot-6 Baker scored 19 career Cup victories, including the 1980 Daytona 500, then transitioned to a role as booth analyst for races televised on The Nashville Network and CBS.
These days, it’s hard to find people as genuine and nice as Baker was to all who knew him. His passion was racing; it’s one he lived and breathed long after hanging up the helmet for Cup in 1994. The son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck, the family’s racing school helped train several modern drivers while bringing them up to speed for stock car racing on tracks like Atlanta Motor Speedway, Rockingham and Charlotte.
A part-time colleague of Buddy’s on SIRIUS XM Channel 90, I never got to host with him but was a frequent guest on one of his shows, “Tradin’ Paint.” What stuck with me from those appearances was always the way in which I was treated. Here was this guy, named one of NASCAR’s “50 Greatest Drivers” in 1998 and he was doting on me like I was the special one. Always well researched, he’d ask thoughtful questions, the type that made you aware he read your columns. In fact, Baker was one of the most knowledgeable SIRIUS XM personnel the channel had, up to speed on the internal workings of the sport all the way up until his death.
You never knew much about Baker’s personal life because, well, you didn’t really need to. Racing was his life and the way in which he and father Buck helped it grow will be remembered decades into the future. Who won’t remember Buddy’s soft-spoken, pointed analysis of the 1990s that was the perfect balance for Ned Jarrett in the CBS booth? Baker’s voice, just like his height remains legendary and forever available for future generations to both listen to and get hooked on the sport he loved.
“Many of today’s fans may know Buddy Baker as one of the greatest storytellers in the sport’s history, a unique skill that endeared him to millions,” said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. “But those who witnessed his racing talent recognized Buddy as a fast and fierce competitor, setting speed records and winning on NASCAR’s biggest stages. It is that dual role that made Buddy an absolute treasure who will be missed dearly.”
One of those records still stands today as Baker won that ’80 Daytona 500 with an average speed of 177.602 miles an hour. Baker the analyst would have plenty to chat about regarding Sunday’s fuel mileage finish but the driver? He was all speed, speed, and more speed. That “go fast” mentality helped him on the superspeedways but he struggled on short tracks throughout his career, a weakness that kept him no better than fifth in the championship standings.
Perhaps the best example of Baker the person though is how he handled his death, armed with both courage and grace. While some crumble under the weight of terminal diagnoses, Baker took an optimistic approach, reminding listeners in his last SIRIUS XM radio broadcast to look on the bright side.
“What a blessed person I’ve been,” he said that night in July. “To have a long career like I’ve had, do not shed a tear. Give a smile when you say my name.”
I can’t imagine everyone held up his or her bargain not to shed a tear today. But there’s a whole lot of people gritting their teeth and smiling through it because they know that’s what Buddy would have wanted them to do.
Through The Gears we go….
FIRST GEAR: Logano Gets Over A Hump Harvick’s Still Stuck On
Sunday’s Watkins Glen race, known as one of NASCAR’s most aggressive, instead played out as rather tame. There was over a 30-lap green-flag run to the finish, turning strategy at the front into a game of fuel mileage for a second straight week.
At Pocono, Joey Logano led the most laps but ran out of gas towards the end, handing victory over to Matt Kenseth. This time, the racing gods looked favorably on Logano when dominant leader Kevin Harvick ran out of fuel with just a few turns remaining on the road course. Logano sped by, making up for his lost opportunity last week, earning his first Sprint Cup victory since February’s Daytona 500.
“It's nice that it played out this time,” said Logano, who also earned his first weekend sweep of XFINITY-Cup events. “It feels good to break through and not be the bridesmaid anymore, and actually get to have the checkered flag and have some fun.”
Logano, second in the Cup standings to Harvick, had also earned two runner-up finishes inside the last month. That harnesses the momentum a bit in a Chase format where you only get bonus points entering the postseason for winning races. Logano may be well ahead of Jimmie Johnson during the regular season, for example, but Johnson would earn the top seed in the Chase courtesy of the No. 48 team’s four victories.
The format makes it more important to cash in on chances to win; it’s a growing problem for what has otherwise been a dominant season for Harvick. Losing out on those final turns, the third-place finish didn’t do justice for a No. 4 car that led a race-high 29 laps during the event. It was his 13th top-3 result of 2015 but only two of those have resulted in victories and the precious bonus points needed to distance one from other championship contenders.
“Our cars are faster than pretty much everybody else’s every week,” Harvick said after falling short. “The circumstances have definitely bit us quite a few times. But all in all, if you have the fastest car and you keep running in the top 5 and leading laps, eventually you’re going to wear them down.”
Harvick hopes for a repeat of 2014, when the team overcame similar bad luck, stormed into the Chase and stomped all over the competition. But if, say, a blown engine bites them within the first round in September, we’ll be pointing to races like these as extra “cushion” the No. 4 team could have used to help from being eliminated.
SECOND GEAR: Stewart’s Sticky Situation
It was an emotional weekend for Tony Stewart, fighting through the first anniversary of the tragic death of Kevin Ward Jr. This tragedy, which occurred when Ward was struck by Stewart’s sprint car, has irrevocably changed the life of NASCAR’s three-time Cup Series champion. While ultimately cleared of criminal charges, the Ward family chose Stewart’s return to the region as the time to file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court.
Stewart, who refrained comment on the case, still had it front and center in his mind. It’s a situation from which there are no winners. The driver will always face the demons of Ward’s death, as nothing will ever completely wipe out the reality of striking and killing another man. On the flip side, no amount of money given to the Wards will bring back what they ultimately desire – their son. It appears they also feel that Stewart should have faced charges, a pointed statement released Friday signifying the anger and pain they’re still going through.
"Our son was truly the light of our lives and we miss him terribly every day," they said. "Our hope is that this lawsuit will hold Tony Stewart responsible for killing our son and show him there are real consequences when someone recklessly takes another person's life."
As for the court of public opinion, it seemed the Watkins Glen locals rallied around the driver. Stewart qualified inside the top 10, racing at the track for the first time since 2012,and was introduced to cheers by the sold-out crowd. That the No. 14 team finished 43rd, the victim of a broken rear gear, was inconsequential to an owner/driver whose team is showing signs they might break out of a yearlong slump.
“[The weekend] was as good as it could be,” he said. “I’m happy to get to race here and I’m happy about the couple of weeks we have coming up.”
THIRD GEAR: Kahne’s Crash, Gordon’s Brakes Spice Up Chase Race
What in the world is going on with Kasey Kahne? On lap 50, a chain-reaction wreck that started when Sam Hornish Jr.’s car failed to come up to speed, left Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet a crumpled mess. It was the second straight crash for Kahne, now sitting 51 points outside the Chase with only four races left to make up the distance.
“I made it longer this week than last,” he deadpanned before turning a bit more serious. “At this rate, we’re going to need to win [to make the Chase]. I need to get a little better.”
Kahne claimed a great Bristol test has him highly confident he could win the night race there. Who would wind up an innocent victim should Kahne’s win knock someone else out of the Chase on points? None other than teammate Jeff Gordon, suffering through brake problems at the Glen to give him a second finish outside the top 40 inside the last three races.
“We can’t afford to have these types of finishes,” said the four-time champion, “If we are going to make the Chase.”
Gordon’s problems combined with Kyle Busch entering the top 30 Sunday (officially solidifying his status inside the postseason) makes it a tricky proposition for Jamie McMurray, Gordon, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer. All five of those winless wheelmen are currently Chase-eligible but are jammed within 23 points of each other. Should another driver like Kahne, Stewart, Kyle Larson, or Greg Biffle win – someone positioned well outside the top 16 in points – that would knock one of those five drivers out.
Will it happen? Michigan has long been a Roush Fenway Racing stronghold (Biffle) even though they’ve struggled mightily there the last few years. Kahne claims he could win Bristol. Larson has shown signs of life the last month. You never know….
FOURTH GEAR: Swing And A Miss For Road Course Specialists
Defending Watkins Glen champion AJ Allmendinger, known as a road course specialist, was hoping to fight his way into this year’s Chase once again. But the No. 47 Chevrolet, after leading 20 laps fell back through the field with handling problems. A faulty battery put the nail in the coffin of a 24th-place result that leaves them with a disappointing 2015 season.
The ‘Dinger wasn’t the only road course expert hurting, though. Stewart and Gordon had problems while Boris Said was uncompetitive driving the No. 32 Ford for Frank Stoddard. Gone are the days where a specialist can earn a one-race deal and excel with Cup veterans; equipment means too much compared to driver talent. Should Said retire at the end of 2015, the days of “ringers” slotting in regular Cup rides may be officially over.
Danica Patrick quietly earned a 17th-place finish at the Glen. It’s the first time she’s had back-to-back top 20s in Cup since April… Bowyer, sixth on Sunday now has two straight top-10 finishes since Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman purchased a stake in Chip Ganassi Racing for 2016 – promising to take Bowyer with him… Logano’s 16th-place starting spot was the furthest back anyone had come to win a Cup race at the Glen since Steve Park in 2000.
Stephen Curry never had an easy route to becoming an NBA champion. He was always undersized, had a low shooting form, and it seemed no one wanted him early on.
Obviously things have changed. Curry's an NBA MVP and a champion on top of that. He's the lead man on the cover of 2K16 and the Summer of Curry is just getting started. Spike Lee narrates Curry's journey to get to where he is now... a video game. He's come a long way.
A sneak-peak of the live gameplay is an indicator the game is going to be very life-like.
Floyd Mayweather is probably Floyd Mayweather's biggest fan.
The 48-0 boxer was asked to rank the five best boxers off all time, and his answers are of course biased. Mayweather was quick to put himself up at the No. 1 spot. The suprise was his ranking of Muhammad Ali.
"This is me just being honest," Mayweather said.
Expectations run high for USC upon the outset of Trojans fall camp. The media’s pick to win the 2015 Pac-12 Conference championship and a preseason top-10 team, USC is anticipating competing for the program's first league title since 2008.
Current head coach Steve Sarkisian was at USC as offensive coordinator for that last conference championship, and he made no bones at Pac-12 Media Days about aspiring for more of the same in 2015.
"We came here to win championships," he said. "At some point those expectations are going to be what they were."
Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback Cody Kessler leads a talented and experienced roster, which also is USC's deepest in more than three years. But as fall camp opens, marking an official start to the 2015 season, questions loom that the Trojans must address if they are, in fact, to contend for the Pac-12 title.
USC’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Development of the Run Game
Once he took over as USC’s primary ball carrier midway through the 2013 season, Javorius “Buck” Allen established himself as a cornerstone of the Trojans’ offense. He led USC in rushing each of the last two seasons, last year going for 1,489 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Allen’s running mate Justin Davis returns, as does the back Allen replaced due to injury in 2013, Tre Madden. Both have shown explosive potential in their time at USC, particularly Madden, who was on pace for a 1,000-yard season before his hip injury in 2013.
But shaking off the rust of almost two years on the sideline will determine Madden’s place in the offense in the season to come, while Davis will be in new territory with a heavier share of the workload.
Kessler said, "This year [the offensive line is] going to be doing a really good job at, not only protecting me, but also in the run game."
Playing behind a front five that returns every starter should help, but fall camp will tell us quite a bit about where this facet of the USC stands without its biggest star of the last two years.
2. Wide Receiver Potential vs. Production
Not often can a wide receiver corps lose a player responsible for 104 catches, 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns, as USC does in Nelson Agholor, yet hold realistic expectations of improving. Such is the case for USC, which adds several new weapons into a group led by standout sophomore JuJu Smith.
Two of the candidates for breakout seasons are Steven Mitchell, who only played the last month of 2014, and junior college transfer Isaac Whitney. Mitchell brings breakaway speed that should give Kessler a home-run threat, while Whitney’s size makes him a possible red-zone target.
The unit’s collective depth is intriguing, but needs to establish a firm pecking order. Who will be the reliable No. 2 to Smith that Smith was to Agholor last season? That’s one question the Trojans will begin to answer at fall camp.
3. Who’s Getting Sacks?
Late into the 2014 campaign, USC blitzed less than any other Power 5 conference program in the nation. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is hardly a conservative play caller — his defense the previous year at Washington was one of the most aggressive blitzing teams in the nation — but a number of factors played into his reluctance to blitz last season.
First, the Trojans’ lack of depth precluded Wilcox from getting too aggressive. USC also played one of the youngest secondaries in all of college football; bringing too much heat would have left the youngsters exposed. Third, USC got uncanny pressure up front, thanks to All-American Leonard Williams.
Su’a Cravens playing more linebacker this year likely means more pressure, as he was one of the Trojans' most effective pass rushers when lined up there. The return of Jabari Ruffin to a deep linebacker corps also should allow the Trojans to blitz more regularly.
As far as replacing Williams' production, fall camp will give a glimpse into the prediction Cravens made at media days: "Delvon [Simmons] is poised to have a big, big year."
4. Meet the Freshmen
USC’s top-rated recruiting class embarks on its first year with much fanfare. For many of the newcomers, fall camp is their formal introduction to life in the Pac-12.
The Trojans have held informal, team-run workouts this summer, in which some of the youngsters have had the opportunity to make a splash. Cravens said linebacker Cam Smith is already establishing himself as a potential playmaker come fall.
"He's playing like a veteran," Cravens said of Smith. "He had four or five interceptions in the spring, including two on Cody [Kessler]. He's been carrying himself like a vet."
Smith is part of a linebacker class stocked with talent. Osa Masina and Porter Gustin, a pair of 5-star signees, also could find their way into the rotation.
Other ballyhooed prospects will have the potential to show out come fall camp, like defensive lineman Rasheem Green and cornerback Iman Marshall. Both arrive at USC with 5-star credentials and the potential to make immediate impacts.
5. Solidifying Special Teams
USC’s special teams play was equal parts electrifying and terrifying in 2014. On the positive end, USC had Adoree’ Jackson and Agholor returning kicks. On the negative, coverage was sometimes lacking and a bevy of injuries forced special teams coordinator Johnny Nansen to get creative with his calls.
For example, an injury at long snapper led to Kessler pooch-punting on stalled drives at or around midfield seven times. Resolving the shaky punting situation is a key element of establishing a more consistent special teams.
The biggest question mark on special teams may be replacing Andre Heidari, USC’s placekicker for the previous four seasons. Heidari was sidelined due to injury for a portion of the 2014 campaign, which gave Alex Wood live-game opportunities. Wood connected on all 12 of his extra-point attempts, but didn’t get a shot to try a field goal.
Missouri enters the 2015 season coming off back-to-back SEC East titles. Still, the Tigers seem to be the most overlooked team in the division. While many expect Georgia to be the favorite and Tennessee as a potential surprise, Missouri was picked to finish third in the East during SEC Media Days and — once again — opens the season with little hype.
But the Tigers are definitely a noteworthy team to follow leading up to their Sept. 5 kickoff against Southeast Missouri. Here are Missouri's five biggest questions that need to be answered in fall camp.
Missouri’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Will Terry Beckner Jr. replace Harold Brantley?
Head coach Gary Pinkel confirmed that Brantley will miss the entire 2015 season after sustaining injuries in an automobile accident in June. Many speculate that Beckner, a five-star incoming freshman, will fill the void at defensive tackle. The 6-foot-4, 293-pound lineman ranked as the nation's No. 13 overall prospect and No. 3 defensive tackle. Brantley will be one of several players competing for a spot on the new-look Missouri defensive line.
2. How Will Missouri’s New Defensive Line Fare?
Speaking of which, the Tigers need to replace the SEC's most dominant pass rush duo of Shane Ray and Markus Golden. Ray was successful in replacing former SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam, but it may be asking too much to expect a three-peat. Charles Harris played in all 14 games (one start) in 2014 and recorded 19 tackles, four for a loss and two pass breakups. He is expected to have a larger role as a potential heir to Ray. Otherwise, the defensive line seems to be a mystery with several positions up for grabs.
3. Will Maty Mauk Show Consistency in 2015?
In a conference full of "Jekyll and Hyde" quarterbacks Mauk may have been the least consistent. Mauk ended his sophomore season with 2,648 yards, 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions on 221-of-414 passing. But his numbers were inflated thanks to strong early performances in non-conference games.
Mauk threw for a combined 14 touchdowns against South Dakota State, Toledo, UCF and Indiana in his first four games. However, he went without a touchdown and was held to an average of 72 passing yards in his next three (South Carolina, Georgia and Florida) yet still went 2-1 in those games. In total, Mauk threw for 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions against SEC competition. In 2015, Missouri will need to win because of its quarterback's play rather than in spite of it.
4. Who Will Emerge as Tigers' Top WR?
Missouri's four leading receivers — including running back Marcus Murphy —are all gone. Considering Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt combined for 1,701 of the Tigers’ 2,648 yards and 19 of the 25 touchdown receptions, this is a big concern heading into the season. Google "Missouri wide receiver" and several pages about Dorial Green-Beckham still come up first. This is a huge problem when your quarterback enters his junior season facing concerns about his consistency.
5. Will Russell Hansbrough Be Among the SEC's Best Running Backs?
Hansbrough is Missouri's best returning offensive player. He rushed for 1,084 yards, good for seventh in the SEC, and scored 10 touchdowns. Hansbrough is one of 10 SEC backs named to the preseason Doak Walker Award watch list and should have an even larger role as one of three returning skill players — along with Mauk and tight end Sean Culkin — that started in 2014.
— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhallFSN.
Expectations in Fort Worth are high this season and for good reason. TCU has the talent and experience to be a national champion contender. Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin will lead a potent TCU offense that was able to score at will last season. And with a home schedule that greatly favors the Horned Frogs this could be the season TCU fans have been waiting for.
Despite the hype there are a few questions that remain entering the 2015 campaign.
TCU’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Can TCU Win in a Shootout?
There is no question TCU was able to win close games last season. The 31-30 victory at West Virginia and the late-season 34-30 win at Kansas showed the Horned Frogs were able to keep their composure. But the loss of key players on the defensive side of the ball may make those close games a little more intense this season.
2. Will Mike Freeze Make an Immediate Impact?
The post-spring depth chart showed Freeze, a true freshman, starting at one of the two linebacker spots in TCU’s 4-2-5 alignment. While Freeze is expected to make an impact, keep in mind he is being asked to play a position he has never played before. A safety in high school, he was converted to linebacker when he arrived on campus. While he may not have the experience, he appears to have the size (6-3, 220) to play in the middle.
3. Can TCU be Successful with a Young Defense?
The Horned Frogs’ defense loses its leaders in interceptions and tackles from last season. While that is not always a recipe for disaster it does raise some concerns. TCU led the Big 12 in total defense last season, but will be looking to younger, inexperienced players to replace key starters. The aforementioned Freeze is on track to start at linebacker, while fellow true freshman Alec Dunham is listed second on the depth chart behind Sammy Douglas for the other spot. Sophomore Torrence Mosley also looks to start at cornerback to replace the departed Kevin White. There is experience along the defensive front but a 4-2-5 defense needs to be solid on the back end too. Will the lack of experience show?
4. Does TCU Have an Answer Behind Boykin?
Just like last season, head coach Gary Patterson has been slow to announce who will serve as Boykin’s backup. Fortunately Boykin has shown durability, especially for a dual-threat quarterback. Senior Bram Kohlhausen currently sits in the No. 2 spot on the depth chart, but he attempted just nine passes in limited playing time last season. That’s still more experience than the next options, redshirt freshmen Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein, have combined.
5. Does Boykin Need to Run as Much?
There is no arguing that half of Boykin’s appeal is his ability to get out of the pocket and make a play with either his arm or his legs. Besides throwing for 3,901 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2014, he also ran for 707 yards (4.7 ypc) and eight scores. However, with the return of standout wide receiver Josh Docton, along with vertical threats Kolby Listenbee and Deonte’ Grey, Boykin has the weapons to stay in the pocket. Furthermore, with the return of running back Aaron Green and the emergence of Kyle Hicks, the TCU backfield also appears to be well stocked. The abundance of offensive weapons at Boykin’s disposal could allow him to stay home more often and only running when absolutely necessary, which may not be much behind an experienced offensive line.
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.
Head coach Derek Mason's first season at Vanderbilt did not go well, to say the least. Coming off back-to-back nine-win seasons under former head coach James Franklin, the Commodores finished 3-9 and were beaten up and down the field with little sigh of relief. Any team that loses by 30 to Temple on its home field clearly has problems.
Yet, despite multiple blowout losses, the Commodores showed some bright spots along the way. As the season trudged along, Vanderbilt stayed within two scores of every SEC East opponent besides Georgia and Florida, proving the talent level wasn't as far behind as some thought. Now, with 18 starters returning from that team and significant coordinator upgrades, Vanderbilt hopes to return to its winning ways in 2015.
Vanderbilt's Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Relying on Ralph & Co.
Although Vanderbilt struggled to put points on the board in 2014 (17.2 ppg, 116th nationally), the Commodores did find some success running the football. Ralph Webb, one of the SEC's most underappreciated players, racked up 902 yards on the ground with four touchdowns. Webb returns this season along with backup Dallas Rivers, who rushed for 218 yards, and four starters on the offensive line. The Commodores' ground attack will be relied on early in the season as the coaching staff figures out the quarterback situation.
2. Quarterback Competition
It seemed like Vanderbilt tried out nearly every player on the roster at quarterback last season. Luckily, the guy who produced the most, Johnny McCrary, returns after throwing for 985 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014. Wade Freebeck is expected to be the most likely candidate to push McCrary for the starting spot. Patton Robinette, famous for his jump pass touchdown against Tennessee in 2013, ended his playing career in March, citing health concerns. Vanderbilt's quarterbacks will have a pair of proven targets to throw to in tight end Steven Scheu and wide receiver C.J. Duncan.
3. Expect an Improved Offense
After last year's pains on offense, the Commodores decided to move in a new direction. Mason hired former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who also served as the Badgers' quarterbacks coach. In 2013, Wisconsin's offense under Ludwig averaged nearly 481 yards per game, setting a new school record. Ludwig is known for his ability to develop quarterbacks, with previous offensive coordinator stops at Oregon and Utah, among others. His expertise will be keen in the development of McCrary and Freebeck.
4. Solid in the Trenches
Vanderbilt is talented where it matters in the SEC — on the defensive line. The Commodores won't have the depth to compete with some of the conference's upper-echelon teams, but their front-end talent is as good as any. Defensive ends Caleb Azubike and Adam Butler are excellent pass rushers. This defense shouldn't have too difficult a time replacing nose guard Vince Taylor, as Jay Woods appears to be a perfect fit to clog gaps in the middle. Woods gained experience last season and moves to the interior after playing defensive end last season.
5. Mason Running the Show
While the defensive line appears to be a positive heading into the season, there are still questions to be answered in the secondary. Instead of hiring a new defensive coordinator, Mason decided it would be best to call the plays himself. It can't be stressed how important this move is for Vanderbilt. As Stanford's defensive coordinator before his arrival in Nashville, there really was no better option for the Commodores. His proven track record makes one wonder, why wasn't he calling the shots all along? Both of Vanderbilt's coordinators will be significant upgrades from 2014.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has been known to address his team collectively in the locker room with often-critical assessments he calls "The News."
Here's "the news" following the Steelers’ performance in their first preseason game, Sunday night’s 14-3 loss to Minnesota Vikings in the Pro Football Hall of Game in Canton, Ohio.
It's hard to imagine a third-string quarterback having any significant impact on any team. The fact is if Ben Roethlisberger were to miss any significant time in 2015, Pittsburgh's Super Bowl hopes would likely be doomed.
But the longer Bruce Gradkowski is on the Physically Unable to Perform list, the more likely the quarterback who would figure to be third-string in 2015 will be only a play away from guiding the team. And Jones has shown nothing to make fans feel he can fill in capably, a la Charlie Batch.
In his last two preseason starts, Jones has produced a grand total of three points. He showed little accuracy in throwing a ball of any distance; his one completion of 35 yards to Shakim Phillips in the second quarter came only after Phillips made a spectacular one-handed catch. While a 12-yard completion to rookie Sammie Coates in the first quarter showed Jones' arm strength, as it came after the ball was tipped but still stayed on target.
One dropped pass is the fault of the receiver. Consistently dropped passes indicates the quarterback lacks touch. The latter seems to be true in the case of Jones, who only completed half of his 32 passes for just 4.2 yards per attempt.
Tomlin coached the game as if he lacked confidence in Jones; calling for a draw play on 3rd and 9 in the first quarter and initially going with Tyler Murphy, attempting to become a wide receiver/quarterback hybrid, behind center in the third quarter after the Steelers fell behind 14-3.
Tahj Boyd must play at Jacksonville on Friday. If the Steelers wish to make Murphy their third-string quarterback (having to play a third-stringer is an act of desperation in the first place; at least Murphy or fellow hybrid Devin Gardner would provide a wild card), a traditional backup must be found if Gradkowski can't begin the season. Boyd, at least, has a history with Martavis Bryant at Clemson.
Now we see a bit of what the Steelers saw in him when they picked him in the first round last year. His ability to take out the lead blocker allowed Steve McLendon to stop Minnesota running back Jerick McKinnon for a slight loss on 4th and 1 in the first quarter, and his two stops in the final minute of the first half forced a Vikings punt.
Nice performance. While there was only one sack, the front seven consistently closed the gaps and put pressure on all three Minnesota quarterbacks. This game could have theoretically been a 3-0 Steelers victory but for a breakdown when Mike Pruitt beat Sean Spence over the middle on a crossing pattern for a 39-yard touchdown pass from Mike Kafka. Another mistake came when Brad Wing outkicked his coverage on a 59-yard punt in the third quarter that led to a 62-yard return from Stefon Diggs to give Minnesota the ball on the Steelers' three-yard line.
Tomlin calls his knee injury made during kickoff coverage "potentially significant." Heinz Field has historically been murder for kickers, but just two years ago Suisham missed only two kicks all season. Suisham is a known commodity. If he is to miss any regular season time, thankfully there is still a month to find a suitable replacement.
Fast. Could have better hands. Could he find his way on the field on first and second downs, too?
Great hustle in tackling Diggs before he could score on the punt return. And the interception, though a case of being in the right place at the right time, deserves praise as Fogg was in the right place at the right time to catch the deflection. Could be a special teams ace, which often leads to bigger and better things.
No safety to pick up Pruitt on his touchdown catch shows there's still much room for improvement.
We presume he is still on the team. But after Phillips' and Coates' emergence, how much longer?
Rookie tight end dropped two passes, including a potential touchdown in the second quarter that could have put the Steelers up at the half. No matter. More Dottie West and less Wiz Khalifa over the Heinz Field loudspeaker and tailgate parties is a good thing.
— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson has been a contributor to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 15 years. He has covered the Steelers, Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.