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As we turn our calendars over to August, the college fantasy football season is kicking into high gear. Are you prepared?
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Below, you will find AthlonSports.com contributor and CFG writer Mike Bainbridge's top five JUCO transfers for 2015. To see the full in-depth article, make sure to check out CollegeFootballGeek.com.
Jovon Robinson (RB, Auburn)
2014 JUCO Stats: 2,387 rushing yards / 34 TDs
CFG Preseason rank: 41
The top JUCO prospect in all the land, Robinson was expected to be the starter from Day 1 for an Auburn team that ran the ball 600-plus times last season. The offense will be altered some in 2015 to fit the skills of new quarterback Jeremy Johnson, but the Tigers will still run and run it often. Despite missing a game last season for Georgia Military College, Robinson still posted 2,387 rushing yards and a combined 34 touchdowns, but he also lost five fumbles, which is a concern moving foward. As of now, it sounds as if Roc Thomas and possibly even Peyton Barber have the edge over Robinson during fall camp, but we do not expect that to last long. Robinson is too big of a talent to remain on the sidelines.
DeDe Westbrook (WR, Oklahoma)
2014 JUCO Stats: 76 receptions / 1,487 yards / 13 TDs
CFG Preseason Rank: 49
In just eight games at Blinn (Texas) College, incoming Oklahoma recruit DeDe Westbrook amassed 76 receptions and more than 1,400 yards, scoring a touchdown in each game and recording double-digit catches in all but two. With the Sooners moving towards a more up-tempo passing attack under new coordinator Lincoln Riley, that kind of production is needed as Oklahoma is expected to be in four-wide receiver sets frequently in 2015. Westbrook should help take the pressure off of fellow receiver Sterling Shepard who was far too often the only pass-catching threat the Sooners had last season — a big reason why the season went south for Oklahoma.
Chris Carson (RB, Oklahoma State)
2014 JUCO Stats: 994 rushing yards / 9 TDs
CFG Preseason Rank: 68
For just the second time in the Mike Gundy era and first since 2005, the Cowboys failed to average four yards or more per carry for the season. That is expected to change in 2015, as Gundy reinforced both the offensive line and backfield by bringing in a few transfers including Carson. The 4-star recruit initially committed to Georgia, but Carson likely saw the depth the Bulldogs already had at the RB position and flipped to Oklahoma State for the opportunity of immediate playing time. In his final season in the JC ranks, Carson averaged 110 yards per game on the ground, and should challenge leading returning rusher Rennie Childs for the starting role.
Alvin Kamara (RB, Tennessee)
2014 JUCO Stats: 1,253 rushing yards / 18 TDs
CFG Preseason Rank: 132
Remember back to 2013 when Alabama signed four 4-star RB prospects in one class? You just knew there were not enough carries to go around and that some would pop up at different schools looking for more touches. One of those eligible this season is Kamara, who landed at Tennessee after totaling more than 1,200 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. Kamara will now team with sophomore Jalen Hurd to form possibly the top running back tandem in the SEC. The biggest question here in terms of fantasy football is how will carries be divided up between Kamara, Hurd and the mobile Joshua Dobbs?
Chad Kelly (QB, Ole Miss)
2014 JUCO Stats: 3,906 passing yards / 47 TDs
CFG Preseason Rank: 52
While none of the Ole Miss QBs were particularly impressive in the team’s spring game, Kelly did perform the best amongst the bunch as the only Rebel quarterback to throw a touchdown. Transferring in from East Mississippi Community College after starting his career at Clemson, Kelly tossed 47 touchdowns last season while also rushing for 446 yards and four scores, showing detractors why he was so highly rated coming out of high school. Kelly is in a three-way battle currently with Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade, but in terms of pure talent, Kelly is head and shoulders above his fellow competitors. If he can grasp the playbook and keep his head on straight, Kelly will start for the Rebels out of the gate.
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and current writer for CollegeFootballGeek.com. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.
(Alvin Kamara photo courtesy of UTSports.com)
Believe it or not, there are still Dolphins fans who are bitter about Nick Saban leaving the franchise after continuously denying he was going anywhere.
Tosh (a noted Dolphins fan) took time on "Tosh.0" to read excerpts of the book to children, and the results were probably as good as one would expect. If you're a Alabama fan, or just live in the state, beware.
The first week of the 2015 college football season features a boatload of FBS vs. FCS matchups. Most people out there refuse to bet on those games, but sometimes they represent some of the best value out there. There are multiple FCS teams that are live underdogs with some having the chance to win outright. Here’s a look at some season openers of note (lines courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook):
Youngstown State (+12) at Pittsburgh
The Penguins check in 16th in the preseason Top 25 FCS Coaches Poll. They are led by Bo Pelini, who is out to show that he can coach football. This is a Youngstown State team that lost 28-17 at Illinois to open up the 2014 season. The Penguins return 26 letterwinners on offense and 18 on defense. This is a veteran team with several players who received preseason All-Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC) recognition. Pittsburgh has a road game at Akron following this one, and the Panthers definitely have revenge on their mind against the Zips. This isn't my favorite FCS/FBS matchup on the board, but it bears watching . Any sort of injuries or suspensions that impact the Panther and the Penguins suddenly become a live dog, at least betting-wise.
Villanova (-3) at UConn
The rare FCS favorite in week one, as the Wildcats take on the Huskies. Last year a mediocre Stony Brook team almost beat UConn in Storrs, with the final score 19-16. Villanova's got the better quarterback (John Robertson) and coach (Andy Talley). The one saving grace could be the Huskies’ defense, which returns seven starters. Their offense is atrocious though and may struggle to score against Villanova. Nova lost by one in double overtime at Syracuse to open up the 2014 campaign.
Towson (+30.5) at East Carolina
This could potentially be a spot play for the savvy gambler. Towson was picked to finish ninth in the CAA this season and that's widely considered the best FCS conference. The Tigers lost 54-0 at West Virginia last year and had only four wins overall. The reason they may be the play for this one is because the Pirates have a road game at Florida in week two and will be breaking in a new quarterback. The defense has some holes as well.
Florida A&M (+28) at South Florida
The Rattlers have several things going in their favor in this one. They are ineligible for the 2015 MEAC title so games like this are going to be their Super Bowl. Four of their players made preseason all-conference teams, led by defensive lineman Michael Lovejoy. Last year they only lost 41-7 at Miami, which is a better team than South Florida. The Bulls’ offense is run-based with Marlon Mack while the defense is seeking to improve after a rough 2014. USF also has a big game on the road at Florida State in week two and while the Bulls have no shot to beat the Seminoles, they may not be focused on Florida A&M.
Northern Iowa (+8) at Iowa State
UNI isn't afraid of playing FBS opponents. In 2014, the Panthers lost by eight at Iowa and by three at Hawaii. This year's team checks in 10th in the Top 25 FCS Coaches Poll. They have 11 returning starters led by QB Sawyer Kollmorgen. Iowa State meanwhile returns an inconsistent Sam Richardson and a shaky defense that was gashed for 30 points or more in all but one game in 2014. Ironically, the look-ahead factor is actually with Northern Iowa, which hosts FCS power Eastern Washington in week two. Still, I think the Panthers are focused here and cover this number.
South Dakota State (+5.5) at Kansas
Another game where the FCS opponent is favored...oops sorry Kansas only plays like an FCS team. The Jayhawks have holes all over and nearly lost to SE Missouri State last year (34-28 final) to open up the season. South Dakota State is 15th in the Top 25 FCS Coaches Poll and kept up with Missouri last year in a 38-18 loss. Five Jackrabbit players made a MVFC preseason team led by T.J. Lally, who led SDSU with 117 tackles last year.
Richmond (+20.5) at Maryland
The Spiders are no stranger to FBS upsets, having taken down Duke in 2011. They have several starters returning and while they are breaking in a new quarterback, Richmond has several options on the outside to throw to. Maryland, meanwhile, has several holes to fill especially on the defensive side of the ball. Standout cornerback William Likely will be challenged by this Richmond attack. The Spiders are a live dog. The one thing that gives me a bit of a worry is that James Madison, one of Richmond’s peers in the CAA, lost 52-7 to these Terps last year.
Norfolk State (+38) at Rutgers
Norfolk State just had their quarterback, Terrance Ervin, leave the program for personal reasons, so you have to figure that they won't be much of a threat, right? Replacing Ervin under center is former Florida Atlantic signal-caller Greg Hankerson, who has some experience of his own. Norfolk State returns eight other starters on offense and five on defense. Rutgers returns just eight starters from last year's team, which struggled to beat FCS opponent Howard 38-25. To make matters worse, the Scarlet Knights’ head coach, Kyle Flood, is already feeling some heat after being named the target of an internal investigation by the school and several players have been suspended for the first half of the opener, including standout wide receiver Leonte Carroo.
Wagner (+29.5) at Rice
Another potential spot play here as Rice hosts Wagner. The Owls return just seven starters from last year and are travelling to Texas in week two for a matchup with the Longhorns. Wagner went 7-4 last year and is returning seven offensive starters. They are led by quarterback Chris Andrews, who has two wide receivers and three offensive linemen back. I think the Seahawks are a good bet in week one.
Savannah State (+50.5) at Colorado State
The only reason I'm posting this line is to alert you that the 50.5 may not be enough. Colorado State has a solid offense and eight starters back on defense. Last year the Tigers lost 61-7 to Middle Tennessee and 64-0 to BYU. Things were just as bad in 2013 when they fell 77-7 to Miami and 66-3 to Troy. Point is, if you are looking for a good play on an FBS team vs. an FCS opponent then look at the Rams.
Fordham (+7) at Army
It's a rematch in week one of an intriguing battle between Army and Fordham. The Black Knights won this game 42-31 last November, but getting another win could be difficult in 2015. Army is returning just six starters overall with two of those coming on offense. Meanwhile Fordham is picked to win the Patriot League and has a lot riding on this coming season.
Which of these are my favorite? I'm not going to divulge that right now. One thing to consider with FCS/FBS games is that these lines are a bit volatile due to a lack of action. If you agree with some of my logic, I'd consider taking it now so you don't lose value.
(Florida A&M, Norfolk State, Richmond and Savannah State logos courtesy of SportsLogos.net)
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
The Tennessee Volunteers were able to strike gold on the recruiting trail on back-to-back days, proving once again why head coach Butch Jones is an ace recruiter. On Monday, Tee Higgins, who ranks as the top high school prospect in the state of Tennessee for the 2017 class, pledged to stay home and play his college football on Rocky Top.
Higgins’ announcement followed another huge announcement for Tennessee on Sunday when Brownsburg, Ind., 5-star quarterback, Hunter Johnson, also pledged his future services to the Vols. Johnson is ranked as the No. 1 quarterback in the entire nation for the class of 2017.
Higgins, who plays for nearby Oak Ridge High School, is currently ranked as the No. 8 wide receiver and No. 43 overall player nationally for the ’17 class according to 247Sports. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound pound prep star chose the home state Volunteers over offers from such schools as Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma and Texas A&M to name a few. In total, the 4-star high school junior had already accumulated 15 offers from some of the biggest programs in the country.
Higgins becomes the second verbal pledge for the Vols' 2017 recruiting class. Tennessee has already received a commitment from the Volunteer State's top-ranked prospect for the class of 2016 in 4-star linebacker Daniel Bituli. In addition, Butch Jones has secured a pledge from offensive lineman Cade Mays, who projects to be the top-ranked player in the state of Tennessee for 2018. Jones is definitely putting up a fence around the state of Tennessee as the Vols aim towards building something special with homegrown talent.
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McVey is a diehard Tennessee Volunteers' fan who loves singing "Rocky Top" every opportunity he gets. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS
The Floyd Mayweather-Ronda Rousey beef has taken another turn.
TMZ Sports caught up with the UFC fighter and of course asked her about the beef between her and Mayweather.
"[Floyd] said 'You make $300 million a night, then you can give me a call' ... and I actually did the math and given the numbers of my last fight, I'm actually the highest paid UFC fighter and I'm a woman."
This was in response to Mayweather's shot to Rousey during an appearance on SportsCenter. She continued, referencing Mayweather's known reading problem.
"I think I actually make 2-3 times more than he does per second ... so when he learns to read and write, he can text me."
The camera man asked, "so you actually make more than he does?"
"Yeah, I'm just more efficient," Rousey responded.
Every college football team has personnel issues or question marks entering the 2015 season. But some concerns are bigger than others for teams in the national title or playoff mix. Whether it’s a quarterback battle, an open spot at defensive tackle or cornerback, every personnel concern is magnified in the race to win a national championship.
Which players could shape the national title emergence this season? We’ve compiled 10 names to watch this fall, with a small caveat. It’s no secret quarterback play is critical to winning a national championship or earning a spot in the four-team playoff. However, it’s the player development and emergence of new stars at other positions that can also make-or-break a team’s playoff chances. We could list a quarterback for several of Athlon's projected top 10-15 teams this season but attempted to identify players at positions with question marks as much as possible.
10 Players Who Will Decide College Football's 2015 National Title
Vernon Adams, QB, Oregon
Life after Marcus Mariota begins in Eugene this fall, with Jeff Lockie and Adams locked into a tight battle to replace the Heisman Trophy winner. Lockie’s experience within the offense and spring stint as the starter certainly bolsters his case to open the year as the No. 1 quarterback. However, Adams is more dynamic and brings more of a big-play element to the offense. How quickly will the Eastern Washington transfer pickup the offense and supplant Lockie as the starter? Or could coach Mark Helfrich play both quarterbacks all season? Oregon has a solid supporting cast and enough talent to return to the College Football Playoff if Adams or Lockie takes the quarterback spot from a question mark to a strength.
Vayante Copeland, CB, Michigan State
Copeland, Arjen Colquhoun, Darian Hicks and Demetrious Cox are fighting for two open cornerback spots in Michigan State’s secondary. Pass defense has been a strength in East Lansing in recent years, but the Spartans “No Fly Zone” may take a step back if this position spot remains unsettled. Copeland redshirted in his first season on campus and is making a strong push for a starting job. His emergence is critical for a secondary that held opponents to just six passing scores in Big Ten games last year.
Mike Freeze, LB, TCU
Scoring points won’t be a problem for the Horned Frogs this fall. While the defense is usually a strength under coach Gary Patterson, there are holes to fill in the back seven with the departure of four All-Big 12 performers. Freeze enrolled early and competed in spring practice, stating a strong case to earn a starting job this fall. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound linebacker has big shoes to fill after the departure of Paul Dawson. Can this freshman ensure there’s no drop off in production at linebacker this season? Cornerback Ranthony Texada and safety Kenny Iloka are also worth a mention as key defenders in TCU’s remodeled back seven.
Everett Golson/Sean Maguire, QB, Florida State
Florida State has several players we could mention here, but the quarterback position is under the biggest microscope after Jameis Winston’s departure to the NFL. Maguire has one start under his belt (Clemson, 2014), while Golson transferred to the Seminoles after spring practice at Notre Dame. Coach Jimbo Fisher hasn’t picked a starter yet, but it’s not out of the question both quarterbacks start a game this year. Even though Florida State has concerns outside of the quarterback spot on offense, as well as question marks on defense, a young Seminoles’ roster can compete for a playoff spot if Golson or Maguire solidifies the position.
Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
A receiver – Robert Foster or ArDarius Stewart – is worth a mention here, but Alabama’s secondary is a preseason concern for the second year in a row. The Crimson Tide ranked 11th in the SEC after allowing 10 passing plays of 40 yards or more last season. Senior Cyrus Jones has one cornerback spot locked down, but Humphrey and sophomore Tony Brown are competing for the other. Humphrey redshirted last season, and the former five-star recruit could provide an upgrade at cornerback and help a secondary already replacing standout safety Landon Collins.
Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson
Keeping quarterback Deshaun Watson healthy is essential for Clemson to contend for the ACC title or a playoff bid. The offensive line lost starting left tackle Isaiah Battle to the NFL’s supplemental draft this summer, leaving senior Ryan Norton as the lone returning starter. Hyatt – a five-star recruit in the 2015 signing class – is slated to protect Watson’s blindside this fall. The true freshman is a future star for coach Dabo Swinney, but he has a huge test early in the year with a road trip to Louisville in Week 3.
Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
Lawson missed last season due to injury after recording 7.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks as a true freshman in 2013. All signs point to the sophomore returning at full strength in 2015, which is a huge boost for an Auburn defense that managed only 10 sacks in SEC play last season. With Lawson poised to jumpstart the pass rush and the addition of coordinator Will Muschamp, the Tigers have reasons to be optimistic about improving a defense that allowed 26.7 points per game and 5.7 yards per play last year.
Tyquan Lewis, DE, Ohio State
The Buckeyes know what they have on one side of the defensive line in Joey Bosa. But who will emerge at the other end spot? As good as Bosa is, Ohio State needs more than just one player to generate a pass rush. All signs point to Lewis as the starter opposite of Bosa, as the North Carolina native looks to build off a promising 2014 campaign. In 15 games, Lewis recorded nine tackles (2.5 for a loss) and one quarterback hurry. The sophomore’s emergence is critical to keep opposing offenses from consistently sending double teams in Bosa’s direction.
Seth Russell, QB, Baylor
We tried to avoid quarterbacks in this article, but it’s hard to finding a glaring concern on Baylor’s roster. Sure, the Bears have to defend the pass better and replace Bryce Hager at linebacker. However, it’s the play of Russell that could be the difference in Baylor winning the Big 12 or finishing second to TCU. Russell has been solid in limited action, completing 74 of 128 passes for 1,231 yards and 11 scores. Coach Art Briles has a strong track record of finding the next star at quarterback. All signs point to Russell emerging as one of the Big 12’s top passers this season.
Delvon Simmons, DE, USC
Leonard Williams wreaked havoc on opposing Pac-12 offensive lines last season, and the first-round NFL draft pick won’t be easy to replace. USC may not have a difference maker like Williams this season, but there’s a collection of linemen ready to pickup the slack in the trenches. Simmons – a Texas Tech transfer – recorded 44 tackles and one sack last season and is expected to be a bigger piece of the puzzle up front in 2015.
5 Other Players to Watch
Brandon Harris, QB, LSU
LSU isn’t hurting for talent and has the necessary pieces to push for the SEC West title. Will Harris provide an upgrade for a passing attack that struggled mightily in 2014?
Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia
Georgia’s quarterback situation remains unsettled, but the passing attack could use a healthy Mitchell to stretch the field. After battling injuries the last two years, can Mitchell regain his 2012 form (40 catches for 572 yards)?
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
How far can the talented true freshman take the Bruins in 2015?
Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame
True freshman is expected to start after Jarron Jones was lost for the year due to a knee injury.
Jaylen Walton/Akeem Judd/Jordan Wilkins, RB, Ole Miss
The quarterback battle is getting most of the preseason attention in Oxford, but the Rebels have to run the ball better in 2015.
Georgia Tech is coming off its first 11-win season in 24 years, when it won the national championship in 1990. The Yellow Jackets completed a great season by defeating in-state rival Georgia and then Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl to cap off an 11-3 campaign.
The Jackets return Justin Thomas, a quarterback who was tailor-made for Paul Johnson’s offense and the best play-caller he has had upon his arrival at Georgia Tech. With 12 other returning starters and the best offensive line in the ACC, Georgia Tech will look to defend its Coastal division title. It won’t be easy though. The Jackets are without seven of their eight leading rushers from 2014 and have a schedule that leaves little room for error.
Here are Georgia Tech’s 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 3 (Thursday) vs. Alcorn State
This will be the first meeting between the Yellow Jackets and the Braves. Alcorn State, on paper, looks to be a good opponent to open the season, as the Braves went 10-3 last year and won the SWAC title. Since 2001, Georgia Tech is 13-0 against FCS competition. Georgia Tech may need to work out some early-season kinks, but they will do it fairly easily.
11. Sept. 12 vs. Tulane
The Green Wave gave Georgia Tech first-half fits last year but then again a lot of teams kept it close against the Yellow Jackets. Tech should put this one away pretty early and start the season 2-0.
10. Oct. 31 at Virginia
Depending on how the first half of the season goes, Tech may need this win to secure a halfway decent bowl invitation. Tech cruised to an easy win last year and should do the same in 2015.
9. Oct. 17 vs. Pittsburgh
Last year Pittsburgh lost six fumbles in the game. I would be willing to bet that doesn’t happen again (although I would love to see a line where I could bet on that). The Panthers do return 15 starters but also have a new head coach in Pat Narduzzi. Tech should win this home game.
8. Nov. 21 at Miami
This will be Tech’s last ACC game of the year and it will have to make it count. Paul Johnson is 38-21 in ACC games. Miami is trying to bounce back from a disappointing 6-7 2014 showing and will ride sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya as far as he can take the team. Tech had lost five straight against the Hurricanes until last year.
7. Nov. 12 (Thursday) vs. Virginia Tech
Both Tech teams will be coming off a bye entering this Thursday night matchup. Georgia Tech barely escaped last year with a last-minute field goal to win 27-24. The Hokies are still taking applications for quarterbacks. The Yellow Jackets are 1-4 in their last five meetings against the Hokies.
6. Oct. 3 vs. North Carolina
The North Carolina game is nestled right between back-to-back away games against Duke and Clemson. In the last five seasons, these two teams have combined to score an average of 93.6 points per game. Larry Fedora hired former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik as his defensive coordinator and rest assured that Fedora is on a hot seat if he doesn’t start winning games. Tech can’t afford a home loss with so many tough road games.
5. Sept. 26 at Duke
Duke defeated Georgia Tech for the first time in 10 years last year and finished strong at 9-4. The Blue Devils return 13 starters and will have home-field advantage in this early-season matchup. Tech also will be coming off a road game against Notre Dame so it will be interesting to see how the team reacts to these back-to-back road trips.
4. Oct. 24 vs. Florida State
This will be a rematch of the 2014 ACC Championship Game and Tech will have revenge on its mind. What better revenge than a homecoming win against an ACC front-runner and College Football Playoff contender?
3. Nov. 28 vs. Georgia
Clean, Old-fashioned hate. Arguably the best nickname for a rivalry game in all of college football. Tech escaped last year with an overtime win, which led to an Orange Bowl invitation. This game means more to Tech fans and two in a row would add fuel to the fire.
2. Sept. 19 at Notre Dame
The Notre Dame visit will begin a brutal four-game series in which Tech travels away from Atlanta in three of those four games. Last time Tech defeated the Irish in South Bend was 2007. That also was the year the Naval Academy broke a 43-game losing streak to Notre Dame, led by head coach Paul Johnson. Also, Tech fans are still yelling that Rudy was offsides.
1. Oct. 10 at Clemson
When the Yellow Jackets travel to Death Valley, Tech will be battle-tested for sure. Best-case scenario, Tech enters 5-0, worse case 3-2. Either way, a win over Clemson would be a huge step in the right direction. Tech’s last win at Clemson came in 2008. This could be an early look at the ACC title game with Clemson and Tech both favored to win their divisions by the media. Will fatigue finally set in for Tech, in what will be their third road trip in four games, or can they run the gauntlet?
— Written by Justin Nails, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @justinnails
Picking the top linebacker units in college football is no easy task. After all, schemes dictate how linebackers are used and the rise of spread offenses generally means more defensive backs on the field. Regardless of whether a scheme utilizes a 4-3, 3-4, 4-2-5 or nickel package, linebackers are a critical component to any defense. How should a team with four starters at linebacker compare to one that uses only two? That's a tough question we tried to address.
How did we come up with these rankings? A couple of factors were considered. Depth, overall talent, production, level of competition and projected output in 2015 all factored into the rankings for the backfield. While some teams may have experienced a down year last season, having a different quarterback or a change of scheme can make a huge difference. These rankings reflect projection for 2015, not solely what teams have accomplished in 2014.
College Football's Top 30 Linebacker Units for 2015
The addition of Jeremy Pruitt as coordinator paid big dividends for Georgia’s defense, as the Bulldogs held opponents to 20.7 points per game in 2014. This unit is only going to improve with six starters back this season, anchored by a linebacking corps that features standout edge rushers in Lorenzo Carter, Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. The trio combined for 25 tackles for a loss and 15.5 sacks in 2014. The interior must be rebuilt with the departure of Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera, but Reggie Carter, Tim Kimbrough, Jake Ganus and Natrez Patrick should ensure little drop in production.
2. Ohio State
Two-year starter Curtis Grant departs, but the Buckeyes won’t miss a beat at linebacker. In fact, this group could be even better than it was in 2014. Darron Lee was an impact defender as a redshirt freshman last season, finishing second on the team with 16.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. Joshua Perry returns for his senior season after leading the team with 124 tackles and recording three sacks and one interception. Grant’s departure opens the door for Raekwon McMillan — the No. 22 recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite — to move into the starting lineup.
Reggie Ragland is the next star in Alabama’s run of standout linebackers under coach Nick Saban. In 14 games last year, Ragland anchored the interior of Alabama’s 3-4 scheme, recording 95 tackles (10.5 for a loss) and one forced fumble. Senior Denzel Devall is the only other returning starter at linebacker for the Crimson Tide, but talent certainly isn’t an issue at the other spots. Ryan Anderson and hard-hitting Reuben Foster have the inside track to fill the starting positions, but Shaun Dion Hamilton, Tim Williams, Dillon Lee and Rashaan Evans will factor into the rotation.
The Sooners enter 2015 with question marks about the defensive line and secondary, but coordinator Mike Stoops has little concern about the linebackers. All three starters are back this season, with senior Eric Striker the group’s leader and one of the Big 12’s top impact defenders. Striker recorded nine sacks and 17 tackles for a loss in 2014. Joining Striker as starters will be Dominique Alexander and Jordan Evans, but Frank Shannon is back from suspension and is a key addition to this group after recording 92 tackles in 2013.
5. Notre Dame
The linebacker unit is the strength of the Fighting Irish in 2015, as Jaylon Smith returns after earning second-team All-America honors by the Associated Press last season. Smith led the team with 112 tackles and also recorded 3.5 sacks in 2014. Joe Schmidt started eight games and recorded 65 tackles before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Getting Schmidt and Jarrett Grace both back to full strength from injury is critical to help a run defense that ranked 72nd nationally in 2014. Sophomore Nyles Morgan is another name to watch.
Eric Kendricks must be replaced, but UCLA’s linebacker corps should remain one of the best in the Pac-12. Myles Jack returns as the headliner, and the junior is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2015. The Washington native is also a two-way threat, spending a little time on offense for the Bruins. Deon Hollins finished 2014 on a tear, recording six sacks over UCLA’s final four games. If Hollins picks up where he left off, any concerns about the pass rush will be erased. Sophomore Kenny Young and senior Aaron Wallace are likely to fill the remaining starting spots.
For the second consecutive season, the Cardinal enters a season with a few holes to fill at linebacker. However, expect this unit to quickly reload and remain one of the Pac-12’s top groups. Seniors Kevin Anderson and Blake Martinez lead the way for coordinator Lance Anderson. This duo combined for 9.5 sacks last season. Sophomore Peter Kalambayi is poised for a breakout year after recording 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for a loss in 2014. Kalambayi and Anderson will man the outside spots, Martinez is locked into one position on the interior, with Kevin Palma the favorite at the other inside position. Junior Noor Davis is expected to miss a few games due to injury.
After a stingy 2014 first season under coordinator Todd Grantham, Louisville’s defense could be just as strong in 2015. It seems odd to suggest that notion with a revamped secondary, but the front seven is loaded with talent and depth. Keith Kelsey and James Burgess are the headliners for Grantham, and both players should push for first-team All-ACC honors. Kelsey is the team’s top returning tackler (87), while Burgess registered 71 stops last season and recorded 10 tackles for a loss. Sophomore Henry Famurewa is due for a bigger role on the outside, and Keith Brown returns after recording 20 tackles in a reserve role last season. The wild card of this group is former TCU end/linebacker Devonte Fields. The junior college transfer arrived on campus in August and has the talent to be a difference maker for Grantham.
With defensive end Leonard Williams off to the NFL, there’s added pressure for the other units to step up for the Trojans in 2015. The linebacking corps should be a strength for coordinator Justin Wilcox, as this unit is headlined by junior Su’a Cravens and seniors Lamar Dawson and Anthony Sarao. Dawson missed 2014 due to an injury, but his return should alleviate the loss of Hayes Pullard and J.R. Tavai. There’s also help in the form of junior Scott Felix and touted true freshmen Porter Gustin, John Houston Jr. and Osa Masina.
10. Penn State
“Linebacker U” is never hurting for talent and impact defenders in this group. Mike Hull’s 140 tackles won’t be easy to replace, and his toughness and leadership will be missed. However, the Nittany Lions return two proven options in Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell. Wartman ranked second on the team with 75 stops last season, while Bell finished with 47 tackles and two sacks. Sophomore Jason Cabinda is a rising star after recording 17 tackles in eight games last year. There’s quality depth in the form of senior Ben Kline and freshmen Troy Reeder and Koa Farmer.
14. Utah State
16. Arizona State
18. Boise State
20. Oklahoma State
22. Michigan State
24. Wake Forest
25. West Virginia
28. Florida State
30. San Diego State
LSU enters the 2015 college football season ranked No. 15 in Athlon Sports' preseason Top 25 and the coaches throughout the SEC seem to back that position, if not believing the Tigers should be higher. On Tuesday the Preseason Coaches All-SEC teams were released with seven Tigers occupying 10 positions on the various teams, tying SEC West rival Alabama for the most selections among the conference’s 14 teams.
The Tigers placed two on the first-team offense with right tackle Vadal Alexander and running back Leonard Fournette considered among the best of the best. Fournette added a second-team and a third-team selection as an all-purpose player and return specialist, respectively. LSU’s presence on the offensive teams was rounded out by junior wide receiver Travin Dural (third team).
The Tigers had the third-ranked pass defense in the nation in 2014 and one of the ring leaders, senior safety Jalen Mills, is back. Mills was named to the first-team defense, while linebacker Kendell Beckwith and cornerback Tre’Davious White earned second-team honors. Sophomore defensive tackle Davon Godchaux landed on the third-team defense.
The final LSU player selected was senior punter Jamie Keehn (second team). Keehn handled all 71 of the Tigers’ punts in 2014, averaging a field-flipping 44.9 yards per kick with 25 punts fair caught and 27 downed inside the 20.
The complete listing of 2015 Preseason Coaches All-SEC Teams can be found at secsports.com.
Breaking Down LSU’s 2015 Preseason Coaches All-SEC Selections:
Fournette was a standout as a true freshman rushing for 1,034 yards while scoring 10 touchdowns on the ground. The Louisiana native also had 127 yards in the passing game off of seven receptions. He helped put the Tigers in great field position on kickoff returns, averaging 26 yards per return on 24 attempts, taking one back 100 yards for a score.
Dural was the Tigers’ leading receiver with 37 receptions for 758 yards and seven touchdowns in 2014. Alexander is no stranger to All-SEC recognition, earning All-SEC Freshman honors from the coaches in 2012 and was named to the second team last season.
On defense White tied (Ronald Martin, Rickey Jefferson) for the team lead in interceptions with two; while also collecting 33 tackles, three tackles for a loss, a sack, eight passes defended and six breakups. Mills had 62 tackles, three tackles for a loss, one pick, and five defended passes in 2014.
Godchaux received amble playing time as a freshman coming up with 42 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, and three quarterback hurries in 2014. Beckwith was the team’s second-leading tackler with 77, to go along with 7.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and one interception.
— 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.
Once upon a time, Pittsburgh Steelers fans hated their quarterback.
It didn't really matter who it was. From 1983, when Terry Bradshaw could play only a quarter in his final season, to 2004, when Ben Roethlisberger became the Steelers' signal-caller, Cliff Stoudt, Mark Malone, Bubby Brister, Neil O'Donnell, Mike Tomczak, Kordell Stewart, and Tommy Maddox all had their day as Pittsburgh's primary starting quarterback.
All seven of these quarterbacks took the Steelers to the playoffs. Yet bring up any of these names to a Steelers fan who saw them play, and their reaction is likely to be negative.
Frustrations with Maddox when he slumped in 2005 or Landry Jones in his recent preseason performances aside, the vitriol Steelers fans gave their on-field leader has gone away since Roethlisberger took over.
But wait, Steelers fans can go back to having contempt for their quarterback. Only now it isn't the starter, it's new backup Michael Vick.
Vick is a polarizing figure. Say what you will about paying his debt to society for running an illegal dog fighting ring, there is an evil element in the act neither prison time nor upbringing absolves.
Mike Tyson did not become a figure of character after serving his prison sentence for rape, and his status as the contemporary face of boxing may be as much a cause for the demise of the heavyweight division as anything.
While the Steelers' popularity will not diminish with Vick's place on the roster, it will create at least a contemporary mainstream identity for the franchise that will be uncomfortable.
* The Steelers’ two most well-known quarterbacks will have both served two of the most prominent suspensions in recent NFL history.
* Their top running back, Le'Veon Bell, will be suspended for the first two games of the 2015 season for illegal drug use.
* After every other team had passed on him for illegal drug use during the NFL Scouting Combine, the Steelers drafted Mike Adams in the second round of the 2012 draft. He later was involved in a bizarre late-night incident in Pittsburgh's South Side neighborhood where he claimed to have been stabbed and a carjacking victim, only to find the defendants acquitted and Adams' own actions in the ugly incident questioned.
* Other high-profile Steelers have been involved in controversy in recent times. Wide receiver Cedric Wilson was released in 2008 after being charged with assault of his girlfriend at a Pittsburgh restaurant. In 2011, running back Rashard Mendenhall tweeted criticism of people celebrating Osama bin Laden being brought to justice. The Steelers also signed running back Isaac Redman in 2009 after being passed up in the draft despite pleading guilty to criminal sexual conduct in high school.
* Even Jerome Bettis, one of the most popular and engaging people to ever play for the Steelers, admitted to being a drug dealer in his formative years in Detroit in the days prior to his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement this month.
The signing of Vick comes at a curious time. Even with the season-ending finger injury suffered by primary backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski last Sunday, third-stringer Landry Jones engineered two touchdown drives of 60 and 54 yards to lead the Steelers to a 24-19 preseason victory against Green Bay.
Though Jones' performances prior to this game have been underwhelming, the Steelers have kept him on their roster for the previous two seasons. It is an odd, though understandable, circumstance that only after his most successful game that the Steelers choose to stagnate Jones’ career.
True, Vick has more upside potential. Just last year he led the New York Jets to a 20-13 upset of the Steelers.
He also made $5 million. Initial media reports have him earning $1 million this season. So is such a salary wise for a player everyone ultimately hopes will not play?
Furthermore, swapping Jones with Vick for backup quarterback duties is swapping a devout individual for Ron Mexico.
In a previous generation character was an integral part of the Steelers' team makeup.
Now, we have to ask how important the Steelers’ front office considers character when choosing players.
That can't be 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.
Whenever you're set to have surgery, you always want to know the risks.
Ivan Applin, a 10-year-old boy from Ohio, will soon undergo surgery on his heart and wanted to make sure things weren't going to change in his life. He's a die-hard Ohio State fan, but because his surgery would have to take place at the University of Michigan hospital, he was scared this would make him a fan of the Wolverines.
As pediatric cardiologist Dr. Ronald Grifka showed 10-year-old Ivan Applin the wire-framed device that would be used to fix the holes in his heart, the Toledo fourth grader had just one burning concern.
"He asked if the Michigan doctors were going to make his hear love University of Michigan instead of Ohio State," his mother Jennifer laughs.
That's a valid concern. Even though little Ivan will forever be a Buckeye, surely there will always be a place in his heart for Michigan.
This is simply not the way to handle it. Not in any way, shape or form. And he must make this right. Now.
Jason Pierre-Paul, the New York Giants’ Pro Bowl defensive end, has been at home in South Florida trying to rehab from a horrific firework accident that occurred on July 4. Since that day, the Giants have not seen their best defender and pass rusher in person.
Let me repeat that last statement for clarity… the Giants have not physically seen Jason Pierre-Paul since before his accident.
The magnitude of that statement is truly mind-boggling. I cannot truly understand why a young man, who is not currently under contract (but has made his entire fortune with the the Giants), has not allowed his team to see him, or to work with him as he recovers from serious injuries.
As a result of the fireworks accident, it has been widely reported that Pierre-Paul broke his thumb and had to have his right index finger amputated. There may be even more damage, but no one really knows since no one has seen him since the accident.
And more importantly, no one knows what solutions Pierre-Paul has come up with to compensate for these injuries, specifically the loss of one of his fingers. No one knows where his head is at. No one knows if he is in shape or getting out of shape, or if he can even work out at all. No one knows if he can still be the dominant sack artist he has been.
No one knows… anything.
And that is the problem. For the life of me, I cannot understand why a young man, who is looking for a multimillion dollar contract from the Giants, has not reported and worked with the team to resolve and move forward in an effort to get back on the field. I get that he wants to make sure he is 100 percent before he returns to the team, you’re your finger has been amputated bruh… so 100 percent is out of the question!
I think Pierre-Paul’s approach is reflective of a new generation of athletes who feel as though they may be entitled to these opportunities instead of understanding that they are a privilege. They are earned in partnership WITH the team, not something that comes with talent as a birthright.
Pierre-Paul’s accident also points to a bigger issue that is happening with young athletes. He was not the only player this offseason that injured his hand in a fireworks-related accident. He was not the only player this offseason that did something unnecessary and caused injury to his body and ultimately cost him money. He was not the only person who made questionable life decisions that created problems for him.
Pierre-Paul is, however, the only player that cut off access to his employer, and told them that he would report when he felt he was “ready to contribute.” This is an admirable statement, without question, but not business savvy in any way. Without an analysis of the injury, the Giants not only don’t know whether they will have their star defensive player back this year, but also whether they will have their star defensive player back at all.
Pierre-Paul has shown no allegiance to a team that has been extremely supportive to him at a time where the franchise has no reason to be. When he arrived in New York, he was generously listed as a “project” player, and taken fairly high in the draft considering his limited experience. He was placed around supreme talent and nurtured to be great. And he became just that… great. However this greatness was achieved through a gamble from an organization that saw something in him and took a chance. For JPP to not take that same chance on the Giants, that they would help him, and that they would invest in real solutions for him, is a bit crazy.
From a purely business perspective, the Giants would not be at fault in any way, if they just moved on. They need to have another strong defensive end on their roster, and they have no idea if they have that in Pierre-Paul. I’m not sure how much longer they can wait. Through their first two preseason games, the Giants have watched most of their secondary get hurt in some fashion, the biggest being rookie Mykkele Thompson, who is out for the season with a torn Achilles. With a back end that is limping its way to Week 1, and a completely untested group of defensive ends trying to fill the gap, the Giants need to decide if they should go a different route. And they have been more than patient with JPP.
The real miracle of this entire situation is that the Mara/Tisch family has not exploded with frustration. This is one of the few franchises that ride it out with their players, until that just simply isn’t possible (see: Plaxico Burress, David Wilson). They have always tried to understand the extenuating circumstances, and make adjustments accordingly. Whoever is advising JPP is advising him incorrectly. You don’t run from your mistakes and responsibilities when you are in trouble. You run towards them. That’s the one way out of your situation, by dealing with your bad decisions and the subsequent consequences head on.
“I’m beyond the point where I’m annoyed,” Giants co-owner John Mara told Mike Francesa, in an interview on New York’s the FAN. “I wish he’d handled it better but we’re beyond that. Do I wish he came here and had our doctors look at him? Yes.”
As co-owner of the Giants, Mara is one of the guys who sign the checks for the team, so it’s probably not a good idea that he is “beyond the point where I’m annoyed.” Instead of building trust, and concern coming out of a horrific accident, Pierre-Paul has created an unnecessary tension, amassed ZERO goodwill, trust and faith in his recovery and return to dominance. So you have to ask this question – Why on earth would the Giants pay JPP, if he is not the man he was when he left the field last December/January?
Wouldn’t it have made far more sense towards contract negotiations to make the guys signing the checks far more comfortable than they are right now?
JPP bet on himself, but it feels like he should have bet on his organization.
— Written by Lloyd H. Spence Jr., who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Spence has covered both high school and college sports for several years, and has written for several outlets, incuding ESPNLouisville.com and CardinalSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TalkinNOIZ.
The stakes will be high and the storylines will be many nearly every week in the nation's oldest conference.
1. Michigan State at Ohio State (Nov. 21)
This is more than likely a de facto College Football Playoff qualifier, as both teams are projected to have either one or no losses heading into the matchup. The winner will be in the driver's seat in the Big Ten East and probably a heavy favorite in the conference title game in Indianapolis.
2. Oregon at Michigan State (Sept. 12)
This rematch of a season ago has these two "new" powers switching roles. It is the Ducks who travel across the country to play a contender with a high-profile signal-caller this time around. College Football Playoff projections will rest heavily on the outcome of this game for most of the rest of the season.
3. Wisconsin vs. Alabama (Sept. 5 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX)
There are whispers that this could be the first rebuilding year in Tuscaloosa since Nick Saban's first campaign as coach at Alabama. We'll find out immediately, as Wisconsin shows up with an experienced, underrated defense and the same old rushing attack that has become the cornerstone of the program.
4. Ohio State at Virginia Tech (Sept. 7)
The initial thought is that the defending champs have revenge on their minds and are ready to roll into Blacksburg and blow the house down. Common sense and history, however, tells us that the night atmosphere at Lane Stadium is always one of the most electric in the nation. Add Ohio State to that atmosphere and the fact that Virginia Tech's roster is made of primarily of players from one of the most talent-rich regions in the country, and anything is possible in this one.
5. Ohio State at Michigan (Nov. 28)
If you are just looking at rosters and recent results, this game has no business being ranked this high. That said, it's still Ohio State-Michigan — not to mention Jim Harbaugh's first appearance on the sideline in this historic rivalry.
6. Texas Christian at Minnesota (Sept. 3)
The Gophers are being touted as one of the best teams in the Big Ten West. The Horned Frogs are being touted as one of the best teams in the nation. This has statement game for both sides — and both conferences — written all over it.
7. BYU at Nebraska (Sept. 5)
A new head coach at Nebraska faces endless questions about his team's talent and potential in his first campaign. Add in an NCAA-record home-opener winning streak on the line and one of the most electric players in the nation coming of a broken leg. Grab the popcorn.
8. Michigan at Utah (Sept. 3)
Anytime Michigan opens on the road against a Pac-12 school, you want to watch. The fact that this is Jim Harbaugh's debut coaching his alma mater put this game at a whole different level of must-see TV.
9. Minnesota at Ohio State (Nov. 7)
This is a rematch of a 2014 matchup that was decided by one score. Two of the best coaches in the conference — if not the country — clash in what might not be the only meeting between them in 2015.
10. Wisconsin at Nebraska (Oct. 10)
The Badgers and the results of the recent meetings between the two teams are a large part of why Bo Pelini no longer coaches Nebraska. Wisconsin is the biggest hurdle the Huskers need to climb according to their fan base in order to get back to national relevancy. This game also will play a significant role in the division race.
11. Michigan State at Nebraska (Nov. 7)
As good as Michigan State has been recently, the Huskers always seem to play well against them. There are a number of teams in the Big Ten West who pose a threat to Michigan State's conference title hopes. Nebraska is one of them. This should be another backyard brawl between the two.
12. Michigan State at Michigan (Oct. 17)
The hiring of Jim Harbaugh has reignited the swagger of the Wolverine fan base. They'll be excited to show "little brother" that there's a new sheriff in town (or state), while the Spartans and their fans look forward to continuing their tradition of using Michigan as a speed bump on their way to bigger and better things.
13. Penn State at Ohio State (Oct. 17)
There will be NFL talent all over the field in this one — including possibly the first three picks of the 2016 NFL Draft. Penn State took the Buckeyes to overtime in 2014. If the Nittany Lions can protect Christian Hackenberg in this one, things could get interesting.
14. Wisconsin at Minnesota (Nov. 28)
Given where this falls on the schedule and how good both teams are projected to be, this very well could be for a trip to the conference championship game. It will be a hard-hitting contest in what is likely to be bone-chilling conditions between two teams that nearly mirror one another.
15. Iowa at Nebraska (Nov. 27)
This might be the most underrated border war in the conference in terms of fan intensity. The rallying cry from Iowa fans is "beat Nebraska to shut them up." In Nebraska, it's more like "We gotta beat Iowa. I mean, c'mon, it's Iowa!." There isn't much separation between the two teams heading into 2015 when you factor in both talent and coaching. Both have outside hopes of making a trip to Indianapolis the following week.
Best of the Rest:
16. Nebraska at Miami (Sept. 19)
17. Michigan at Penn State (Nov. 21)
18. BYU at Michigan (Sept. 26)
19. Nebraska at Minnesota (Oct. 17)
20. Michigan at Minnesota (Oct. 31)
Every season of college football starts out the same way. We have all of these things that we think are knowns — lead-pipe locks as one popular radio host calls them. Then, by midseason, we're all wrong, sitting around wondering what happened to all that we thought was written in stone.
It shouldn't surprise us, considering that we are dealing with young men in their late teens and early 20s, but it always does.
According to most preseason predictions and rankings, it would appear that one of the knowns in the ACC is that there are only two — maybe three — teams that can be considered legitimate contenders to win the conference. That sounds like a good enough reason to toss out some outrageous predictions about the ACC that go against the grain in 2015.
Youngstown State will upset Pitt in Week 1
New Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi is going to have a tough time motivating his team for a home opener in a half-empty Heinz Field against an FCS opponent. One the other side of the field, Bo Pelini is a man with nothing to lose, coaching one of the stronger FCS teams in the nation, complete with some of his former Nebraska players on the roster.
Miami won't break .500
These are not your Daddy's Hurricanes and this isn't the weak ACC from recent years. Miami's schedule is no joke, with road trips to Cincinnati, Florida State, Duke, North Carolina and Pitt. The home slate might be tougher, with visits from Nebraska, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Georgia Tech. Al Golden's seat will be red hot by season's end.
Clemson will lose at least 5 games
The Tigers will play road games at Louisville, Miami, NC State and South Carolina. They'll play Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and Florida State at home. That's a tough group of games for any team in the country to handle, let alone a preseason darling that has hemorrhaged NFL talent over the last couple of seasons.
Neither Florida State nor Clemson will play in the conference championship game
For starters, one of them is going to have at least one loss from playing the other. They'll both also play games against Miami, Louisville, Georgia Tech and NC State. Florida State will lose at least one of those games. Clemson will lose more than one (see above). NC State or Louisville will come out of the Atlantic Division with only one loss and qualify for the ACC Championship Game.
The ACC will not be represented in the College Football Playoff
As the underrated conference beats up on itself all season, Notre Dame looms large as the de facto replacement when everyone else finishes with one or two losses. Combine that with two serious contenders in the Big 12, the SEC champ and either the Big Ten or Pac-12 champ, and all of a sudden the ACC is on the outside looking in.
Seems like every Alabama national title run in recent years has had one —an Alpha dog linebacker. There was Rolando McClain in 2009, Dont'a Hightower in '11, and C.J. Mosley in '12.
And it looks like Alabama's got another Alpha dog-type linebacker this season in Reggie Ragland. Whether or not it will translate into another run to the top of the college football heap remains to be seen. For now, it's a least a reason for optimism heading into the 2015 season.
Not too many people would have pegged Ragland as a future Alpha dog linebacker back during his freshman campaign in 2012. He played mostly on special teams that year and recorded eight tackles — for the entire season. He became a little more of a contributor in 2013, logging 17 tackles as a reserve linebacker and special teams stalwart.
Then came last season.
The Madison, Ala., native started his first career game at the Will linebacker spot in the season opener against West Virginia. And never looked back. He finished the season with 95 tackles, second on the team behind only All-America safety Landon Collins’ 102 stops. Ragland's 10.5 tackles for a loss ranked third on the team.
Ragland continued to impress in the spring, receiving the Woodrow Lowe Linebacker Award, and he was one of the top vote getters in preseason All-SEC balloting in July, earning first-team accolades in overwhelming fashion. With the 2015 season just around the corner now, just how good could Ragland be for the Tide as a now-seasoned starter and bona fide standout at inside linebacker?
How about pretty good, as in 100-plus-tackles good. Hey, Mosley and McClain each accomplished that feat. Mosley, in fact, did it in back-to-back seasons. There's no reason to think Ragland won't follow suit, considering what he did last year.
"Reggie's a guy that's gotten more and more confident each year," Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said of the 6-foot-2, 252-pounder earlier this fall camp. "He came in very talented, but he came in not as knowledgeable and not as instinctive at inside backer. He's gotten better every season. He practices hard. He plays hard. It's important to Reggie."
Ragland's been helped too this fall by having Smart back coaching inside linebackers after the 39-year-old, who earned the Broyles Award in '09 as the nation's top assistant coach, tutored defensive backs last season.
"It's already making an impact on the team, especially with me, Reuben (Foster) and Shaun (Hamilton)," Ragland said of Smart's return. "He's showing us the tiniest things that we gotta look out for... If we're messing up and not doing right, the whole defense is everywhere, so he's always on us to make sure we're doing the right thing."
The fact that Ragland is starting to take a bigger picture approach to doing things the right way and understanding how the entire defense is affected isn't happening by accident.
"He wants to lead the group as a unit," Smart said of Ragland.
Trey DePriest was the linebacker last season who kind of quarterbacked Alabama's defense. DePriest has moved on now. And Ragland, according to fellow linebacker Denzel Devall, has “embraced” his new role as Alabama's defensive QB.
"Every day out there in practice you always hear Reggie before every play," Devall said this week. "He'll give you the calls. He'll let you know, 'Let's go! Let's get these gaps! Let's play the run! Let's play the pass!' He's a very good vocal leader out there."
It's a role Ragland takes very seriously. "I'm getting more comfortable, and I'm doing the best I can so Coach can have the best trust in me, so when the pressure comes at the end of the game, I can step up and make the right call," he said.
But leading isn't just about making the right calls. It's also about making sure your teammates on defense have the right mindset. On each and every play. Especially after a deflating play.
"When a bad play happens you gotta make sure everybody is staying down in the right position and make sure that we don't go berserk," Ragland said. "You gotta make sure everybody is level-headed, and we just keep doing what we gotta do on the field. It's just like in life — when you get hit in the mouth, you gotta get right back up."
Few people expect this Bama defense to get hit in the mouth much this season. It figures to be one of the better units in the SEC, particularly along the defensive front. And what about the Tide’s linebacker corps?
"I think this is probably one of the best groups I've been around — personality and skill-wise," Ragland said of his position mates.
Of course, it always helps when there's an Alpha Dog leading the way.
— Written by Erik Stinnett, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Stinnett is an experienced college football beat writer who has been covering Alabama since 2009.
After 234 days without a college football game, fans may be tempted to say they’d watch any game.
Really? How about that Savannah State-Colorado State tilt? VMI-Ball State? UC Davis-Nevada? Would those games test fans’ verve for college football?
Certainly, by the first week of the season, fans will be ready to test out any and every college football game, but some are more exciting than others — and, yes, even some of those games between power conference powerhouses and MAC, Sun Belt and FCS programs.
Athlon is happy to be of service in helping you plan your way through all 87 games of the first weekend of college football season, from Thursday at 6 p.m. Eastern through Monday night at 8 p.m.
1. Ohio State at Virginia Tech (Monday, 8 p.m., ESPN)
Perhaps no game could overturn the college football world in 2015 more than a second Virginia Tech upset of Ohio State. The Buckeyes are the unanimous preseason No. 1 and Virginia Tech a fringe top 25 team. Clearly, the Ohio State team that beat Alabama and Oregon for the national championship isn’t the same as the one that lost to the Hokies in Columbus last season. J.T. Barrett — who was making his second career start against Virginia Tech last year — and Cardale Jones have notched plenty of wins, and the defense and offensive line should be among the best in the country. But Ohio State will be without defensive end Joey Bosa, H-backs Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson and wide receiver Corey Smith. Those suspensions might not be fatal to Ohio State, but they will make things a little more interesting.
2. Texas at Notre Dame (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., NBC)
Notre Dame is a potential College Football Playoff contender, but no one really knows how A.) the selection committee will view an independent and B.) how Notre Dame’s offense will complement what should be a nasty defense. On the defensive side alone, Notre Dame should have an edge against the Longhorns’ lackluster offense. If Malik Zaire can give the Irish a comfortable win against a Charlie Strong-coached D, Notre Dame will have legitimacy in the playoff race.
3. Louisville vs. Auburn in Atlanta (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS)
Atlanta will be the first look at Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson as the unquestioned leader of the Tigers’ offense, and it will be against a stout Louisville front seven. Louisville won’t have the most imposing offense, but it will be a key barometer for Auburn’s defense with Will Muschamp in charge and with defensive end Carl Lawson back in the mix
4. Arizona State vs. Texas A&M in Houston (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN)
This is arguably the most interesting game of the first weekend. Opinion on the Pac-12 South seems to be divided among USC and UCLA, and picks for the SEC West are split between Alabama and Auburn. The Sun Devils have an aggressive defense, and the Aggies should have a high-flying offense again. Will the outcome of that matchup cause anyone to change anyone’s expectations of the Pac-12 and SEC races?
5. Alabama vs. Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas (Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC)
Arlington will match two big-name programs, both of which will be the top contenders in their respective divisions. Alabama, though, shouldn’t have a ton of trouble with Wisconsin; Such is the gulf between the SEC West and the Big Ten West. What could be most telling is how Alabama’s quarterback — whether it’s Jake Coker, David Cornwell or Blake Barnett — handles a well-coached Wisconsin defense.
6. TCU at Minnesota (Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
Minnesota, oddly enough, became one of the key opponents for the College Football Playoff picture. The Gophers finished the season ranked No. 25, giving both Ohio State and TCU each an additional win over a ranked team (the Buckeyes won in Minneapolis). They also lost to Wisconsin, setting up the Badgers to losing 58-0 in the Big Ten championship game and vaulting Ohio State to No. 4 in the Playoff. Will TCU-Minnesota turn out to be just as important? Perhaps. TCU facing a respectable Big Ten team on the road could end up being a feather in the cap for the Horned Frogs.
7. BYU at Nebraska (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC)
Welcome back, Taysom Hill. The BYU quarterback accounted for 15 touchdowns in the first five games last season and showed improvement as a passer before sustaining a broken leg in the Cougars’ first loss of the season. BYU has a brutal first month against Nebraska, Boise State, UCLA and Michigan with only the game against the Broncos in Provo. Besides facing BYU in his Nebraska debut, coach Mike Riley will visit Miami in Game 3.
8. Michigan at Utah (Thursday, 8:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Harbaugh Mania will either keep going strong or fizzle momentarily after the Wolverines open the season at Utah, a team that beat Michigan 26-10 in Ann Arbor last season. Salt Lake City is a tough venue to begin with, much less against a rebuilding team under a new coach and new quarterback. Michigan’s run defense was feast or famine last season and now opens the year against the underrated Devontae Booker.
9. North Carolina vs. South Carolina in Charlotte (Thursday, 6 p.m., ESPN)
Both teams need an early win in the worst way. South Carolina never recovered from last year’s shocking 52-28 loss to Texas A&M in the opener. North Carolina has gone 6-7 in August and September under Larry Fedora and 15-10 otherwise. New Tar Heels defensive coordinator Gene Chizik has a simple assignment in his debut: Keep the ball away from Pharoh Cooper.
10. Stanford at Northwestern (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
With the way both Stanford and Northwestern like to schedule like-minded rigorous academic programs in the non-conference, it’s surprising these two teams haven’t played since 1994. Both coaches were players at their alma maters at the time — Pat Fitzgerald as a linebacker at Northwestern and David Shaw as a receiver at Stanford. The game ended in a 41-41 tie. Other than that bit of trivia, this is a key litmus test for both teams looking to return to form.
11. Washington at Boise State (Friday, 10:15 p.m., ESPN)
The job isn’t getting easier for Washington coach Chris Petersen. The Huskies went 8-6 last season despite having four players selected in the first 44 picks of the NFL Draft. They lost their most experienced offensive lineman, Dexter Charles, a little more than two weeks before the season. And now Petersen will take his new team (as an underdog, probably) to visit his old employer. Boise State, for the record, produced one draft pick, a fifth-rounder, off last year’s 12-win team.
12. Michigan State at Western Michigan (Friday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
The Kalamazoo crowd will get its first visit from either Michigan State or Michigan when the Spartans come to town. In the year of the freshman running back, Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin rushed for 1,551 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. His matchup against Michigan State’s defense will be intriguing.
13. Bowling Green vs. Tennessee in Nashville (Saturday, 4 p.m., SEC Network)
Fans are expecting a breakout season for Tennessee, but the opener won’t be an automatic W. With 10 returning starters on offense (which doesn’t include 2013 starting QB Matt Johnson), Bowling Green is the projected champion in the MAC East. Both teams have an important September ahead of them: Tennessee with Oklahoma and Florida, Bowling Green with Maryland, Memphis and Purdue.
14. Penn State at Temple (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Temple will give Penn State’s beleaguered offensive line an immediate test. The Owls return their entire starting defensive line and tackling machine Tyler Matakevich. Temple, though, hasn’t defeated Penn State in 39 tries going back to 1941.
15. Western Kentucky at Vanderbilt (Thursday, 8 p.m., SEC Network)
No team was more exciting at the end of last season than Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers handed Marshall its only loss of the season with a 67-66 win in overtime and then withstood a fourth-quarter comeback from Central Michigan for a 49-48 win in the Bahamas Bowl. Both games were decided two-point conversions — successful on WKU’s part against Marshall and unsuccessful on Central Michigan’s part. The Hilltoppers have a mighty interesting September with Vanderbilt, Louisiana Tech and Indiana in the first three games.
16. Eastern Washington at Oregon (Saturday, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
How often does this happen? A quarterback plays three seasons with one team, transfers and the opens the season against his former team? If Vernon Adams gets the starting job — only weeks after taking his last final exam at Eastern Washington — that’s the scene in Eugene. Adams was wildly productive with Eastern Washington, but with that kind of turnaround into the Oregon offense, he could struggle in the opener.
17. Georgia Southern at West Virginia (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports local)
West Virginia could have the top defense in the Big 12 this season, but the Mountaineers open against Georgia Southern’s option offense. The Eagles have some giant-killer to their game, upsetting Florida in 2013 and losing one-score games at NC State and Georgia Tech last season.
18. Virginia at UCLA (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., FOX)
Bruins freshman quarterback Josh Rosen might be making his first career start against a team that hasn’t won a road game since Nov. 3, 2012 and hasn’t won a game west of the Mississippi since 1999.
19. Oklahoma State at Central Michigan (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
Why is Oklahoma State opening its season in a MAC stadium? The Cowboys will get two return visits from Central Michigan in Stillwater in 2016 and 2018. A visit from a Big 12 program should be a treat for a Central Michigan fan base whose previous coach left to become the offensive coordinator at Arkansas.
20. Baylor at SMU (Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN)
If SMU scores a touchdown in against Baylor — something that happened once in the first four games last season — new Mustangs coach Chad Morris will be well ahead of last season’s pace.
21. Colorado at Hawaii (Friday, 1 a.m., CBS Sports Network)
Those who stay up late enough on the first night of the college football season will get a nice quarterback matchup. Colorado’s Sefo Liufau emerged to pass for 3,200 yards and 28 touchdowns last season. Former USC quarterback Max Wittek, who also tried to transfer to Texas last season, will take the snaps for Hawaii.
22. Purdue at Marshall (Sunday, 3 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Rakeem Cato is gone, but Marshall expects to keep its high-powered offense moving with James Madison transfer Michael Birdsong at quarterback. Purdue coach Darrell Hazell is in for a long season if the Boilers can’t win in Huntington.
23. Illinois State at Iowa (Saturday, noon, Big Ten Network)
The best FBS vs. FCS matchup features Athlon’s No. 2 team in the FCS (Illinois State) against a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team with a tendency to play close games no matter the opponent. Illinois State quarterback Tre Roberson, a transfer from Indiana, won’t be awed by playing in a Big Ten stadium.
24. Northern Iowa at Iowa State (Saturday, 8 p.m.)
The Panthers have been a regular thorn in the side of their big brothers in the Big Ten and Big 12. Northern Iowa gave the Hawkeyes trouble in a 31-23 loss last season, and two years ago, the Panthers upset the Cyclones 28-20 in Ames. Longtime Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley is 2-6 all-time against Iowa State.
25. UL Lafayette at Kentucky (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
The upstart Wildcats get a legitimate test in the opener against a Sun Belt contender. UL Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth, a former Mississippi State assistant, is a contender for major jobs after four consecutive nine-win seasons and four bowl wins.
26. UTEP at Arkansas (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU)
This game will turn back the clock on up-tempo offenses. Arkansas’ ground-and-pound offense is well-established, but UTEP has a similar approach. The Miners were the slowest team in college football, averaging 30.5 seconds between plays.
27. Mississippi State at Southern Miss (Saturday, 10 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Hattiesburg should be pumped for Mississippi State’s first visit since 1989 even if Southern Miss will be a long shot to pull the upset. Ole Miss, for the record, hasn’t played at Southern Miss since 1976.
28. Arkansas State at USC (Saturday, 11 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
USC might be tested for a quarter or so against veteran QB Fredi Knighten and Athlon’s projected Sun Belt champ.
29. Akron at Oklahoma (Saturday, 7 p.m., Fox Sports local)
Remember when Akron beat Pittsburgh last season … by 11 points? The Zips’ four other wins were over Howard, Eastern Michigan, Miami (Ohio) and UMass.
30. ULM at Georgia (Saturday, noon, SEC Network)
The Nick Chubb Heisman campaign gets started against Athlon’s No. 7 team in the Sun Belt.
31. Troy at NC State (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN3.com)
Not long ago, this would be the kind of game that would have a middling ACC foe on upset alert. That’s probably not the case this season. NC State is on the rise, and Troy under first-year coach Neal Brown is a long way from being a bowl regular again.
32. UTSA at Arizona (Thursday, 10 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
UTSA challenged Arizona early last season in a 26-23 loss. Don’t put Arizona on upset alert this time around: Scooby Wright will feast on an offense that returns a grand total of zero starters.
33. FIU at UCF (Thursday, 6 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
This is a more important game for FIU, which is trying to build legitimacy in the third season under Ron Turner. UCF is just trying to avoid a loss to an in-state program further down the food chain.
34. Sam Houston State at Texas Tech (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Fox Sports local)
Major programs have received the message not to schedule North Dakota State or risk embarrassment. Sam Houston State — No. 3 in Athlon’s preseason FCS rankings — will have to represent the FCS against the Big 12.
35. Youngstown State at Pittsburgh (Saturday, 1 p.m., ESPN3.com)
With Bo Pelini at Youngstown State and Pat Narduzzi at Pittsburgh, maybe this game should count in the Big Ten standings. Pelini and Narduzzi were on opposite sidelines for some classic Nebraska-Michigan State matchups in recent seasons.
36. Kent State at Illinois (Friday, 9 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Tim Beckman will proudly and repeatedly tell you he is truly pumped for the Illinois-Kent State tilt.
37. Duke at Tulane (Thursday, 9:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
David Cutcliffe has taken a course at the Bill Snyder school of scheduling, winning 10 consecutive regular season non-conference games against the likes of Tulane, Troy, North Carolina Central and Memphis.
38. Villanova at UConn (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., SNY)
Psst, UConn, Villanova is probably a more logical rival for you than UCF. The Wildcats were a natural rival from the Big East basketball days and may have a better program than struggling UConn. ‘Nova, the projected Colonial champs, may have the top QB in the FCS ranks in John Robertson.
39. UNLV at Northern Illinois (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Fun with numbers: Northern Illinois has won 57 games under three coaches during the last six seasons. UNLV has won 58 games under three coaches during the last 11 seasons. That’s why UNLV rolled the dice on Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez this season.
40. Texas State at Florida State (Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPNews)
FSU’s opener is notable merely for the performance of the backfield of Everett Golson and Dalvin Cook, who presumably won’t need to play much of the second half.
41. New Mexico State at Florida (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., SEC Network)
Wake up Gainesville for the Tennessee game. These are Florida’s season openers since 1993: Eastern Michigan (twice), Toledo, Bowling Green, FAU, Miami (Ohio), Charleston Southern, Hawaii, Western Kentucky, Southern Miss (twice), Wyoming, San Jose State, UAB, Marshall, Ball State, Western Michigan, The Citadel, UL Lafayette, Houston, New Mexico State (twice) and Arkansas State.
42. FAU at Tulsa (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
FAU, a school with the name of an ocean in its title, will travel 1,400 miles to a landlocked state to play a team with the word “Hurricane” in its nickname. This sport makes no sense.
43. McNeese State at LSU (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., SEC Network)
A legitimate question: Which team will get better quarterback play? McNeese State is quarterbacked by ex-Kansas State signal caller Daniel Sams, a Slidell, La., native.
44. Alcorn State at Georgia Tech (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., ACC local)
The Yellow Jackets tend to clobber their annual FCS opponents by margins of 30, 40 or 50 points. That might be tougher against a defending SWAC champion that averaged 44 points per game.
45. Wofford at Clemson (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., ACC network)
Clemson’s rebuilding defense gets an interesting first game in 2015 against Wofford’s triple option.
46. Southern Utah at Utah State (Thursday, 9 p.m.)
Chuckie Keeton’s latest comeback bid — he’s played nine games since his breakout season in 2012 — will be worth keeping an eye on.
47. Grambling State at Cal (Saturday, 5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
The proud Grambling program got back on track last season, going 7-2 in the SWAC. In 2012-13, Grambling went 2-21, forfeiting an Oct. 20, 2013 game against Jackson State amid a player walkout due to poor facility and travel conditions. Grambling is making its first trip west of Texas since a 2008 opener at Nevada, a 49-13 loss in Reno.
48. Colgate at Navy (Saturday, noon, CBS Sports Network)
Is Navy QB Keenan Reynolds a Heisman Trophy darkhorse? He’s accounted for a touchdown in 19 consecutive games with a total of 49 TDs in that span.
49. Richmond at Maryland (Saturday, noon, ESPNU)
The Spiders face a Big Ten team for the second time in school history and first time since a 7-6 loss to Wisconsin in 1978.
50. San Diego at San Diego State (Saturday, 8 p.m., Mountain West Network)
The two campuses are separated by less than 10 miles, but they’ve faced each other once — in 1961.
51. Abilene Christian at Fresno State (Thursday, 10 p.m., Mountain West Network)
Abilene Christian moved to the FCS from Division II in 2013 and already grabbed a win over a Sun Belt team, defeating Troy 38-35 last year, and came close to a second in a 38-37 loss to Georgia State in last season’s opener.
52. Southern at Louisiana Tech (Saturday, 7 p.m., American Sports Network)
Southern doesn’t get a ton of shots at in-state FBS program. The Jaguars lost 45-6 to UL Lafayette last season, haven’t played Tulane since 2002 and have never faced Louisiana Tech, LSU or ULM.
53. Ohio at Idaho (Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN3.com)
If Idaho's coach is in the news after a 2-21 record in two seasons, it's probably not for a good reason.
54. New Hampshire at San Jose State (Thursday, 10 p.m.)
New Hampshire, ranked No. 9 in the FCS in Athlon Sports preview magazine, travels across country to face a San Jose State team coming off a 3-9 season. One question: Will former UNH offensive coordinator Chip Kelly stay up to watch the web-only broadcast?
55. Tennessee Tech at Houston (Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN3.com)
Say this for Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown: A coach has to be pretty good to stay in the profession to lose more than 200 games. Brown, the brother of former Texas coach Mack Brown and the coach of UAB from 1995-2006, could add to his record of 204 career losses against the Cougars. This game also will be the debut of first-year Houston coach Tom Herman.
56. Portland State at Washington State (Saturday, 2 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Former Wazzu quarterback Connor Halliday threw 62 passes against Portland State last season, a mark he topped four times in 2014.
57. Jackson State at Middle Tennessee (Saturday, 7 p.m.)
Trivia note: Jackson State has a Run and Shoot system run by offensive coordinator and former Hawaii quarterback Timmy Chang, who is No. 2 in FBS history in career passing yards.
58. Maine at Boston College (Saturday, 1 p.m., ESPN3.com)
It’s a battle of chowder vs. lobster. Boston College has faced Maine three times since 2006, winning by a combined score of 96-13.
59. Missouri State at Memphis (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN3.com)
Funny how the dominoes work: Memphis coach Justin Fuente lost his red-hot defensive coordinator, Barry Odom, to Missouri because Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel left to become the head coach at Missouri State.
60. Southern Illinois at Indiana (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPNews)
Without Jerry Kill — now the head coach at Minnesota – Southern Illinois has become a .500 Missouri Valley team. Indiana shouldn’t have much trouble here.
61. Bethune-Cookman at Miami (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN3.com)
Oh, what could have been in the matchup of sideline attire. Miami still has Al Golden sweating through a dress shirt on the sideline. Bethune-Cookman once had Alvin Wyatt Sr., but that was two head coaches ago.
62. Morgan State at Air Force (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Root Sports)
Air Force went from two wins to 10 last season, the most wins for the Falcons since going 12-1 in 1998. The Falcons should be even more prolific offensively after averaging 31.5 points per game last season.
63. North Dakota at Wyoming (Saturday, 4 p.m.)
Wyoming coach Craig Bohl won three national championship trophies during his decade as the head coach at North Dakota State. One thing he never claimed, though, was the Nickel Trophy, the rivalry game trophy between NDSU and North Dakota. The Fighting Sioux defeated Bohl’s first NDSU team 28-21 in the 110th meeting in the series in 2003, and the two teams haven’t played since.
64. South Dakota at Kansas State (Saturday, 7 p.m.)
Kansas State is two years removed from its season opening loss to four-time FCS champion North Dakota State. This is not that Dakota. South Dakota is led by Joe Glenn, who won two Division II championships at Northern Colorado and a Division I-AA title at Montana. Between a 7-28 stint at South Dakota and an ill-fated tenure at Wyoming, Glenn hasn’t had a winning season since 2004.
65. South Dakota State at Kansas (Saturday, noon, Fox Sports local)
After perhaps the only winnable game on the schedule, Kansas fans can turn their attention to basketball season.
66. Charlotte at Georgia State (Friday, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU)
One way or another, one of these teams will pick up its first win over an FBS opponent in school history.
67. Old Dominion at Eastern Michigan (Saturday, 3 p.m., ESPN3.com)
Old Dominion went 6-6 in its first season in the FBS last year. Eastern Michigan has finished 6-6 or better once since 1995.
68. UT Martin at Ole Miss (Saturday, noon, SEC Network)
UT Martin upset Memphis three years ago. That won’t happen against Ole Miss.
69. Southeast Missouri at Missouri (Saturday, 4 p.m., SEC Network)
Another non-descript SEC vs. FCS game. At least the money stays in state.
70. Norfolk State at Rutgers (Saturday, noon, ESPNews)
Rutgers is one of seven Big Ten teams playing an FCS team this season, a scheduling practice set to end in the conference in 2016.
71. Elon at Wake Forest (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN3.com)
Wake could use this confidence boost. Elon has opened the last three seasons against ACC opponents, losing by a combined score of 184-13.
72. Rhode Island at Syracuse (Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN3.com)
Syracuse opens 2015 against two putrid offenses in Rhode Island and Wake Forest. Rhody has scored more than 20 points just once in the last 19 games.
73. Fordham at Army West Point (Friday, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Army West Point returns only six starters, one of which is a receiver named Edgar Allen Poe.
74. Albany at Buffalo (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN3.com)
New Buffalo coach Lance Leipold is riding a 32-game win streak (all at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater). Leipold may lose as many games this season as he lost in eight seasons at UW-Whitewater (six).
75. Weber State at Oregon State (Friday, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Gary Andersen might not have a ton of wins on the schedule in his first season at Oregon State. Lucky for him, he debuts against a team that’s gone 6-29 during the last three seasons.
76. Alabama A&M at Cincinnati (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN3.com)
This may be as close as Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel, a one-time LSU commit, will get to facing Alabama.
77. Florida A&M at USF (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN3.com)
This may be the Bulls’ best chance for a win in September.
78. Towson at East Carolina (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN3.com)
East Carolina rebuilds without quarterback Shane Carden, receiver Justin Hardy and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, starting against a Colonial Athletic Association team that went 4-8 last season.
79. Wagner at Rice (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., American Sports Network)
Wagner’s former coach, Walt Hameline, retired last season after more than 30 years at the Staten Island school. His 223 career wins is three fewer than Steve Spurrier and seven more than Brian Kelly.
80. Howard at Appalachian State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN3.com)
Appalachian State is a Sun Belt contender in only its second season as an FBS member. Howard changed its logo to look less like the Buffalo Bills.
81. Stony Brook at Toledo (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN3.com)
We’re all ready for college football, but streaming a game between a MAC contender against a 5-7 FCS team might be going a little too far.
82. Gardner-Webb at South Alabama (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN3.com)
South Alabama could be one of the favorite teams for wayward UAB fans. The Jaguars picked up seven ex-Blazers, including projected starting quarterback Cody Clements, wide receiver D.J. Vinson and guard Cameron Blakenship.
83. Mississippi Valley State at New Mexico (Saturday, 8 p.m.)
The Lobos, 4-8 last season, open the season against a team whose only wins last season were against Jackson State and the University of Faith.
84. Presbyterian at Miami-Ohio (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN3.com)
Presbyterian went 6-2 against FCS teams last season — and lost by a combined score of 145-3 to Northern Illinois, NC State and Ole Miss. The Blue Hose should give Miami U a chance to win its first season opener since 2007.
85. VMI at Ball State (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN3.com)
VMI has not had a winning season since 1981.
86. UC Davis at Nevada (Thursday, 10 p.m., Mountain West Network)
UC Davis (2-9) is coming of its worst season in 54 years.
87. Savannah State at Colorado State (Saturday, 4 p.m., Mountain West Network)
Go ahead and pencil in Mike Bobo for a 1-0 start to his career: Savannah State has lost to seven FBS teams by a combined 490-26 during the last three seasons. And that was before practice restrictions due to APR violations.
Bill Belichick has always been fascinated by special football players. Maybe it's the football historian part of his DNA, or maybe he just loves to coach players he admires, but Belichick is always willing to take a chance on a great player even if his best years are behind him.
The list of these kind of players Belichick has taken a chance on is long.
Junior Seau gave the Patriots nearly four seasons from 2006-09 in his late 30s. Chad Johnson was always a Belichick favorite and got his own chance with the Pats in 2011, though he struggled to pick up the offensive system. Torry Holt had a training camp in New England, as did John Lynch. Bryan Cox, Rodney Harrison, Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Andre Carter and Joey Galloway were others who got a shot late in their career with Belichick with varying degrees of success.
Many were shocked Belichick didn't take a shot on Ed Reed last season, whom Belichick called the greatest free safety in NFL history, but each season there always seems to be at least one former star getting one last chance with the Patriots.
This year it is Reggie Wayne, who signed a one-year deal worth up to $3 million with incentives on Monday.
We immediately heard how Wayne was done. That he was a shell of himself in 2014, and how he wasn't even worthy of Darrelle Revis' time when the Pats whooped the Colts in last year's regular season.
But what that leaves out is how Wayne was in his first season after an ACL tear, traditionally a down year for any player recovering from it, and he also tore his triceps during the season. Wayne said it himself that he played all of 2014 injured.
Does this mean Wayne will come in and be the Hall of Fame-level player he was early in his career? No, and that's not what the Patriots need from him. But it's reasonable to think he'll have a little more jump in his stride and be able to better fend off contact.
Injuries to mid-level wide receivers Aaron Dobson, Brandon Gibson and Brian Tyms are what opened the door for Wayne. With Gibson and Tyms ending up on Injured Reserve, the Pats don't need a top target, but a situational receiver who can come in, run a good route, make the catch and pick up a first down.
Wayne's preparation and smarts are well-chronicled and he might even have something to prove after last year's "down" season where he still had 64 catches for 779 yards. He should be able to play that small role for the Patriots' offense perfectly.
While top targets Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman have been out of training camp, both are expected to be ready for the regular season, along with Danny Amendola who broke out in the middle of 2014 and became an invaluable weapon during the Super Bowl run. The Pats have all their big targets back from last year, that's not what they need Wayne to be.
The Patriots need Wayne to be smart and reliable in key passing situations, not explosive and uncoverable as he once was. Maybe Wayne will flourish in this role for a season, or maybe he really is done, but the Patriots' success or failure this season doesn't depend upon him.
The best Saturdays of the year aren't too far off.
College football season will be back relatively soon so many fans are breaking out their best to create hype videos for their favorite team. In the running? This Auburn hype video. Don't blink, you'll want to witness this.
Another day, another ESPN apology for something its employees have done.
Curt Schilling tweeted, and later deleted, a Hitler meme regarding Muslims and Nazis. For future reference, comparing anything to Nazis along with a picture of Hitler, always a bad idea.
Curt Schilling tweeted this a few minutes ago and then deleted it. pic.twitter.com/utGwlnYfOW— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) August 25, 2015
Of course Schilling later deleted it when he realized his mistake, or when people kept saying what a completely idiot he was. ESPN issued the standard PR tweet on the matter.
ESPN Statement on Curt Schilling: Read: http://t.co/cpkXwgxxC2— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) August 25, 2015
Perhaps it would make too much sense not to hire those who have a history in saying questionable things.
Believe it or not, the college football offseason is almost over. This time next week will be an actual game week with teams installing game plans and prepping for real, live opponents.
That brings us to the last of our conference preview podcasts, this one highlighting the Pac-12.
Oregon has won four of the last six league championships with Stanford claiming titles in 2012 and 2013. Since the league began divisional play, the South has been shut out of the Pac-12 title race.
With Heisman winner Marcus Mariota gone, plus a host of impact defenders for the Ducks, Oregon could be seeing its window — as a Pac-12 champ and Playoff contender — closing.
On this week’s podcast, we discuss:
• The hurdles Oregon must overcome to remain a Pac-12 favorite, and not all of them are related to the quarterback position.
• Why Stanford isn’t just a good bet to bounce back from an eight-win season but to challenge for the league title.
• Why picking USC, UCLA or Arizona State in the Pac-12 South is an impossible task.
• Why Arizona and Utah will be dangerous to league favorites again.
• Which four teams might escape the morass of the bottom of the Pac-12 North.
In a report first released by Joe Schad on ESPN.com, Rutgers has suspended five players, including quarterback Chris Laviano and team captain wide reciever Leonte Carroo, for its season opener against Norfolk State. The players are reportedly suspended for the first half of the opener due for a violation of a team curfew rule.
The report comes just minutes after Keith Sargeant of NJ.com reported the school opened an internal investigation on head coach Kyle Flood, who's already on the hot seat with the Scarlet Knights football program, for reportedly inquiring about the status of junior cornerback Nadir Barnwell's academic eligibility.
In addition to Laviano and Carroo, the team also suspended linebacker Kevin Marquez, punter Tim Gleesson, and cornerback Ruhann Peele.
In light of Laviano's suspension, 2014 transfer quarterback Hayden Rettig, who sat out last season after his departure from LSU gets the nod under center in Week 1. Rettig, a former four-star recruit from Los Angeles, Calif. realized he wouldn't see much playing time behind Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings and chose Rutgers as his destination. Flood was recently quoted as saying the decision on a starter was "getting close" after the full-team scrimmage last Saturday night. With Laviano's suspension, obviously that decision was made for him.
The ramifications of these suspensions may not mean much on the field against FCS opponent Norfolk State, but it's just another black eye for a program that's looking to turn the corner after an impressive 8-5 debut campaign in the Big Ten.
Flood needs a solid season to ensure his job security with the Scarlet Knights, especially if this current investigation turns out uglier than expected. It doesn't seem that e-mailing an administrator is a damning offense. However, simply put: He broke the rules. The e-mail incident only gives the school more leverage to fire the up-and-down coach at any point, as they now stand with "cause" in their corner if they feel firing Flood would be necessary.
Follow Chris on twitter @warontheweekend as he continues to update this story.
— Written by Chris Dougherty, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Dougherty also serves as a National Recruiting Analyst for 247Sports.com and has written for other sites, including FanSided.com and Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @warontheweekend.
Don't aim low if you're going to try to tackle Devonte Wilson this season.
The Kansas running back posted videos to his Instagram page that show his leaping ability, and it's nothing to mess with. The growth and solid work ethic has made this guy the posterchild for "practice makes perfect."
According to a report from NJ.com, Rutgers coach Kyle Flood is under investigation for a rules violation. The story from reporter Keith Sargeant indicates the investigation is due to “impermissible contact with a university faculty member regarding the status of one of his players.”
Cornerback Nadir Barnwell is the player in question, as the junior’s status has been a question mark this offseason due to academics. Barnwell is a key piece of the secondary for the Scarlet Knights, starting six games and recording 29 tackles in 2014.
The NJ.com article indicates Flood allegedly sent an e-mail from a personal account to a faculty member regarding Barnwell and his status.
The punishment for the contact could range from a reprimand to a suspension or a firing.
The big question for the investigation will be the content and intent of the e-mail Flood sent. Was it a simple check-in e-mail? Or was there another motive for contacting the faculty member? Flood’s punishment will revolve around the contents of that e-mail.
Flood was promoted to head coach after Greg Schiano left for the NFL after the 2011 season. In three years with Rutgers, Flood is 23-16 and guided the program to an 8-5 record in its Big Ten debut last season.
BREAKING: Rutgers investigating football coach Kyle Flood for possible rules violation http://t.co/olek6NIOZX— Keith Sargeant (@KSargeantNJ) August 25, 2015
Per 2 sources, Rutgers expected to have outside investigator handle investigation and present findings to university general counsel.— Keith Sargeant (@KSargeantNJ) August 25, 2015
Key point: The severity of any potential punishment depends on the content of the email. Intent is also important to uncover.— Keith Sargeant (@KSargeantNJ) August 25, 2015
Every season of college football starts out the same way. We have all of these things that we think are knowns — lead-pipe locks as one popular radio host calls them. Then, by midseason, we're all wrong, sitting around wondering what happened to all that we thought was written in stone.
It shouldn't surprise us, considering that we are dealing with young men in their late teens and early 20s, but it always does.
The Pac-12 Conference is full of a bunch of things we think we know heading into the 2015 season. We think USC is a serious national title contender. We think Oregon will take a small step back without Marcus Mariota. We think the Pac-12 is the best or second-best conference in college football.
As the great Lee Corso always says, "Not so fast, my friend."
Here are some outrageous predictions for the Pac-12 in 2015.
USC will be out of national title contention before November
It would be shocking to see a team with two or more losses qualify for the College Football Playoff. USC has a good chance of losing two games before Halloween. Everyone wants to crown the Trojans as the top dog in the conference, but you don't lose two of the top players in the nation on each side of the ball and just be better than you were a year earlier. After two easy non-conference games, they host Stanford, travel to Arizona State, host Washington, travel to Notre Dame and host Utah. They'll lose two of those games.
Colorado will be bowl eligible by the end of the season
The lowly Buffaloes return their starting quarterback, one of the conference's best wide receivers, two tackles, their center and nine defensive starters. One of the softest non-conference schedules you'll ever see a Power 5 team play is accompanied by two very winnable conference road games at Oregon State and Washington State. Toss in one upset somewhere and you're looking at a seven-win campaign.
Arizona State will lose at least five games
Despite being ranked in nearly everyone's preseason Top 25, the Sun Devils will struggle to finish in the "others receiving votes" category. This is a very young and inexperienced team on both sides of the ball, led by a head coach who really hasn't won anything with guys he actually recruited. They'll play games against USC, UCLA, Oregon, Arizona, Utah, Washington and Texas A&M. I'll be stunned if they win more than two of those.
2015 will be David Shaw's last season at Stanford
No, he's not on the hot seat, and he's won't leave his alma mater for another college. He'll stay right in the Bay Area and follow the footsteps of his Stanford predecessor to the San Francisco 49ers. Shaw is only 43, yet he has 10 years of coaching experience in the NFL. As far as coaching the 49ers, it's not so much that Harbaugh wasn't the "yes man" Jed York wanted, but you get the sense that he's just not a very pleasant guy to be around. Shaw, on the other hand, is about as personable as you'll find.
UCLA will play in the College Football Playoff
This may be the least outrageous of the five predictions. That said, I don't see a whole lot of other people calling it. The Bruins are arguably the most complete and experienced team in the nation with exception of the quarterback position. Normally, I'd say that's a problem. In UCLA's case, however, the inexperience at quarterback comes in the form of Josh Rosen, a talented signal-caller who became a household name in the state of California while still in high school. He'll play on Sundays someday, but not before driving this well-oiled UCLA machine to the top of the college football mountain.
On Monday, Georgia senior wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley was giving instructions on the sideline, instead of receiving them on the field. Scott-Wesley, who is recovering from yet another knee injury, was at practice with his teammates, but not dressed in uniform. Instead he was in shorts and a long-sleeve grey shirt, acting as somewhat of a coach to his fellow wide receivers. Scott-Wesley then posted an Instagram photo (right) that said:
“When one door closes, another opens! That’s how God works! Blessed for the opportunity to learn and teach! #CoachMeCoach”
This comes a month after Scott-Wesley hurt his right knee in practice on Aug. 17. This is the third time he has had an injury to this same knee. On Saturday, Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt even said that Scott-Wesley’s return might not happen this year. In fact Richt went as far to say that Scott-Wesley might not return “for awhile, if at all.”
Scott-Wesley initially tore the ACL in his right knee in October 2013. He returned midway through last season but then needed arthroscopic knee surgery in early July. He was able to return for the start of fall camp before his latest injury.
A fifth-year senior, Scott-Wesley was a 4-star recruit out of high school; injuries have plagued his entire Georgia career. To date, Scott-Wesley only has 25 catches for 498 yards and four touchdowns.
— Written by Justin Nails, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @justinnails.