Articles By All
After a 7-0 start that included a 23-17 upset victory over Alabama, Ole Miss became a legitimate contender not only in the SEC West, but also for a national title. Even with a loss to LSU, the Rebels were ranked No. 4 in the very first College Football Playoff rankings. Unfortunately for Ole Miss fans, the Rebels stumbled down the stretch and finished 9-4, including an embarrassing 42-3 loss to TCU in the Peach Bowl.
However, Ole Miss returns a lot of talent from last season’s squad, which coupled with a crop of talented newcomers, makes the Rebels a threat again in 2015. But will Ole Miss get over the hump and win the SEC West?
Three Reasons Why Ole Miss Will Win the SEC West in 2015
1. High-End Talent
Head coach Hugh Freeze and his coaching staff have recruited extremely well since they came to Oxford. In fact, the Rebels have put together one of the most impressive collections of players in the nation — especially in terms of high-end, All-America-caliber, NFL Draft-level talent.
Four Ole Miss players are arguably the best players at their position in the SEC — possibly the entire nation: wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, tight end Evan Engram, left tackle Laremy Tunsil and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche. Treadwell, Tunsil and Nkemdiche were all 5-star recruits in 2013 that have lived up to the hype in their first two seasons. Each is likely to be selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and safety Tony Conner, who also is a potential All-America candidate, could be as well.
Simply put, there are very few teams in the nation that have that much elite talent spread across the field. Alabama and Ohio State are close, but that’s it.
2. The Nation’s Best Defense
Ole Miss led the nation in scoring defense last season, allowing just 16 points per game. The unit, led by All-American defensive backs Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt, also ranked in the nation’s top 25 in passing defense (No. 16, 192.1 ypg) and total defense (No. 13, 329.0 ypg). Golson and Prewitt graduated, but seven starters return and the replacements in the secondary could possibly be even better in 2015.
Tony Bridges, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound junior, was the nation’s top-ranked junior college defensive back in the 2015 recruiting class. He’ll step into Golson’s shoes at cornerback. Tee Shepard, a 6-foot-1 junior that was nearly as highly recruited as Bridges out of the JUCO ranks in 2014, is healthy after missing all of last season due to a toe injury. He’ll start at the other corner, replacing last year’s starter Mike Hilton, who moves to safety after leading the Rebels with 71 tackles in 2014. Hilton, who had three interceptions and seven pass breakups last year, isn’t guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup and will compete with Chief Brown, who also missed 2014, at strong safety. And that’s just the secondary.
Despite the loss of leaders Serderius Bryant and Deterrian Shackelford, the linebacker corps is stacked again with Denzel Nkemdiche back in the mix and former defensive end C.J. Johnson moving to middle linebacker. Up front, Issac Gross anchors the middle along with Robert Nkemdiche. Talented ends Victor Evans and Fadol Brown will rush the passer from the outside. Reserve Marquis Haynes was the team’s most successful pass rusher last season, leading the way with 7.5 sacks.
It’s an impressive group that has the talent and depth to be just as good as last year’s top-ranked unit. Maybe even better.
3. The Most Experienced Offensive Line in the SEC
Talent always trumps experience in the SEC, but there’s one position where experience matters more than any other — the offensive line. Luckily for Ole Miss, the Rebels have the most experienced O-line in the SEC.
Overall, Ole Miss linemen have made 120 career starts, which is the third most among all 128 FBS programs. Among SEC rivals, Missouri ranks second with 97 career starts to date. All five primary starters — four seniors and All-America candidate/future first-rounder Tunsil — return from last year’s unit, and backups gained starting experience when Tunsil and Aaron Morris missed time due to injury. Jovon Patterson, a 5-star recruit in the most recent class, will make the Rebels even deeper up front this season.
Unfortunately sophomore Rod Taylor, one of the top reserves and a candidate to unseat one of those four returning senior starters, reportedly suffered a shoulder injury while boxing. Boxing? Luckily, the injury is expected to be less serious than originally reported, and Taylor is expected to miss just a few weeks.
Podcast: Complete 2015 SEC Preview
Three Reasons Why Ole Miss Won’t Win the SEC West in 2015
1. Quarterback Uncertainty
It’s no longer a secret that teams don’t need an experienced signal-caller to compete for conference championships and national titles. Jameis Winston won it all at Florida State as a redshirt freshman in 2013, and took home the Heisman Trophy in the process. Last year, first-year starter J.T. Barrett and third-stringer Cardale Jones helped Ohio State claim the first national championship in the College Football Playoff era. Plus, quarterbacks like TCU’s Trevone Boykin and USC’s Cody Kessler had a huge impact in their first season atop the depth chart.
But, most coaches would rather have a quarterback that’s battle-tested and is familiar with the system heading into the season. That’s not an option this year for Ole Miss because career total offense leader Bo Wallace has exhausted his eligibility.
Therefore, Freeze must turn the keys of the offense over to either former Clemson and JUCO QB Chad Kelly or returning sophomores Ryan Buchanan or DeVante Kincade. Buchanan had the edge in the competition coming out of spring practice, but few outside the Ole Miss program expect him to win the job this fall.
The best bet is Kelly, who led East Mississippi Community College to the NJCAA national championship in 2014 while racking up 3,906 passing yards and 446 rushing yards. That is, if he can stay out of trouble, which has been an issue in the past.
2. Rough Road in the SEC
Every SEC West team faces the same problem — they have to play the other six members of the division, plus two more tough opponents from the SEC East. Ole Miss has the benefit of Vanderbilt being its annual cross-division rival, but every other conference game could be either a win or a loss.
Ole Miss opens SEC play on the road against Alabama, and the Crimson Tide will be out to avenge last season’s upset in Oxford. After hosting the Commodores, Ole Miss must travel to The Swamp to play a talented, albeit rebuilding Florida team. It’s a game the Rebels should win, but winning is never easy in Gainesville.
After a couple of non-conference dates (including a short, tricky trip to Memphis), Ole Miss finishes the season with five straight SEC West showdowns – two of which are road games against league favorite Auburn and archrival Mississippi State.
It’s a similar slate of games to the stretch last season in which Ole Miss lost three SEC contests in a row, which knocked them out of the race in the SEC West.
3. Lack of a Consistent Running Game
The Rebels have a solid, experienced offensive line and a lot of questions at quarterback, which means they would like to be able to rely on the running game early and often in 2015 – especially since the team’s top two returning rushers are back.
However, Ole Miss struggled mightily running the football last season. The Rebels averaged just 155.5 yards on the ground in 2014, which ranked tenth in the SEC, and was inflated by the 402 yards the team rolled up on the ground against FCS opponent Presbyterian. In SEC play, Ole Miss gained just 139 rushing yards per contest, averaging 3.9 yards per carry.
Jaylen Walton led the squad with 586 yards on 106 carries (5.5 ypc) and five touchdowns. Jordan Wilkins followed with 361 yards and a TD on just 52 carries, which gave him an impressive 6.9 yards per carry average. Both Walton and Wilkins showed flashes of big-play ability – but can they pick up the slack needed to take pressure off of a new starting quarterback?
At 5-foot-8 and 166 pounds, Walton doesn’t fit the profile of a typical every-down back, so expect the 209-pound Wilkins to see his role increase as a sophomore. Junior Akeem Judd also should factor in after redshirting last season, and freshman Eric Swinney has exciting potential. A running back by committee may be in the works.
There is a lot for Ole Miss fans to be excited about heading into the 2015 season. Despite the sour taste left in their mouths by the Peach Bowl humiliation, the Rebels have momentum because they can still hang their hats on beating Alabama and Mississippi State — both of whom spent time as the nation’s No. 1 team. Plus, nine wins and a New Year’s Six bowl game are great achievements for Freeze in only his third year in Oxford.
But, in many ways, the season was still disappointing. After reaching the No. 3 spot in the AP Poll and No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings, Ole Miss fans were dreaming of a conference title and national championship in 2014. Despite key losses on both offense and defense, the 2015 Rebels have the talent and experience to avenge last year’s shortcomings. But will they?
If Chad Kelly (or Ryan Buchanan or DeVante Kincade) takes control of the offense with the help of a solid offensive line and one of the SEC’s deepest groups of playmaking receivers, Ole Miss will score lots of points. With one of the nation’s best defenses, points will be tough to come by for the opposition. However, the tough road trips and brutal SEC West schedule may be too much.
Not many teams can survive playing at Bryant-Denny, at The Swamp, at Jordan-Hare and in Starkville, where Hugh Freeze has yet to win and Ole Miss hasn’t beaten the Bulldogs since 2003. If Ole Miss splits those road games – even if the Rebels run the table at home – it won’t be enough to make it to the SEC Championship Game.
Alabama or Auburn probably won’t lose three league games, and Texas A&M, Arkansas and LSU are all better than they were last year (and don’t forget LSU and Arkansas beat the Rebels in 2014). As it looks right now, Ole Miss can afford only one conference loss to have any shot at making it to Atlanta – and that just isn’t likely to happen.
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work on college football can also be found on SaturdayBlitz.com and FanSided.com. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.
Steph Curry is pretty much living the dream at this point. He's an NBA champion and he gets to play golf with the president.
The Warriors star went on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" to talk about the experience of playing golf with President Barack Obama. Fun fact: Obama is quite the trash talker.
Curry also discusses what it was like growing up around the NBA when his father Dell was in the league.
Of course, it wouldn't be a true Curry experience without Riley!
Predicting the ACC Coastal Division is a total crapshoot this season. While the teams, including Virginia Tech, may have different strengths and weaknesses, they all seem to have an equal amount of talent.
Ranking the difficulty of games on a Coastal Division team’s schedule is equally as challenging. For the Michael Brewer and the Hokies, their easiest game is an obvious choice and picking the two hardest contests is pretty simple. But arguments can be made for just about everything in between.
Here are my rankings of Virginia Tech’s games from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 12 vs. Furman
Virginia Tech gets the Purple Paladins five days after facing off with Ohio State, which would normally be a concern. But Furman was a 3-9 FCS team last year so this should not be much of a challenge for the Hokies.
11. Sept. 19 at Purdue
The Hokies get the Boilermakers the week after Furman. Purdue has 15 starters back though it is hard to imagine last year’s 111th-ranked offense doing much of anything against the Virginia Tech defense.
10. Sept. 26 at East Carolina
Ruffin McNeill has built a solid program but the Pirates must replace quarterback Shane Carden and top receiver Justin Hardy. While this road game will not be a complete cakewalk it is one that Virginia Tech will handle.
9. Nov. 28 at Virginia
Last game of the year. Rivalry game. Virginia coach Mike London may be fighting for his life or already gone. Virginia Tech could have a lot riding on this game while the result may not matter to the Cavaliers. Give me the focused, motivated team, especially when it's more talented.
8. Oct. 17 at Miami
Miami has some questions along the offensive line and if there is a team built to exploit those issues, it is Virginia Tech.
7. Oct. 24 vs. Duke
The Blue Devils have beaten the Hokies in consecutive games, meaning motivation should not be a problem for Virginia Tech. Duke has 12 starters returning but this team also has lost some key components to its recent success.
6. Oct. 31 at Boston College
Boston College should struggle offensively, which would not appear to be a good recipe for success against Virginia Tech this season. But the Eagles have a strong defense, the game will be played in Chestnut Hill, and the Hokies have to avoid looking ahead to Georgia Tech.
5. Oct. 9 (Thursday) vs. NC State
Both teams only have six days to prepare for this match up, with the Hokies squaring off with Pittsburgh the weekend prior while the Wolfpack take on Louisville in their first real test of the season.
4. Oct. 3 vs. Pittsburgh
The Hokies' defense could be tested by the Panthers' offensive weapons. Plus, if new Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi can stiffen what was a decent defense, this game could be a battle for Virginia Tech. Pittsburgh will have an off week prior to going to Blacksburg.
3. Nov. 21 vs. North Carolina
North Carolina should be improved in 2015, but this ranking is based primarily on where the game falls on the schedule. Virginia Tech is at Georgia Tech the week before and a win or a loss in Atlanta could be a letdown after playing the Yellow Jackets.
2. Nov. 12 (Thursday) at Georgia Tech
While the trip to Atlanta may not be the most difficult game on the schedule, it is the most important. On that Thursday night in November, both teams should be contending for the ACC Coastal crown and the winner will get a huge leg up in that race.
1. Sept. 7 (Monday) vs. Ohio State
The virtually unanimous No. 1 preseason pick and defending national champion will come to Virginia Tech to open the season with the Buckeyes looking to avenge their only loss of 2014. Suspensions or no suspensions, beating Ohio State will be a chore.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
Steve Smith is always watching.
It all started with a simple tweet praising Smith for being great, as fans are known to do from time to time.
A Browns fan, and SB Nation blogger, couldn't see that scroll down their timeline without saying something.
The same guy who broke a team mates nose and challenged other players to fist fights? He's a punk. https://t.co/YveXosmph8— Dawgs By Nature (@DawgsByNature) August 18, 2015
Smith is never one to back down to someone on Twitter. The Ravens receiver fired back at him, stating when he would be in the neighborhood.
What were you expecting? A time & place to fight? I'm an adult. My dad can beat up your Dad too. https://t.co/3yPp9XFsbI— Dawgs By Nature (@DawgsByNature) August 18, 2015
All I said is that he isn't a bad ass, he is a punk who beats up team mates. Think he showed that I was correct. https://t.co/UvXK12Dcc0— Dawgs By Nature (@DawgsByNature) August 18, 2015
A good effort, but Smith (and his children) got the last laugh.
Smith may be on the brink of retirement but he's still one of the best on Twitter.
Is there anything J.J. Watt can't do? The answer is no.
The Texans star throws a perfect spiral during a game of catch with a fan. The difference here is that this fan was in the upper deck. Watt is spot-on even though he's throwing the ball almost directly in the air.
Eyes of the collective Chicago media were surely rolling inside The Cubby Bear, Wrigleyville’s most popular bar, when new Cubs manager Joe Maddon proclaimed, “In my mind’s eye I’m going to be talking playoffs this year,” at his introductory press conference.
Maddon then later hailed for the nearest bartender and offered to buy the first round of drinks for all the media present, “A shot and a beer…That’s the Hazleton Way.”
That press conference was last November. Fast forward to today, where the Cubs at 67-49, have the fourth-best record in baseball, third best in the National League, and an 86 percent chance of making the postseason.
Eyes have stopped rolling.
The Cubs are good — the Cubs are really, really good.
Before July 27, the Cubs were sitting at a respectable record of 51-46, a record that every Cubs fan was praying for…in 2016 or even ‘17. But the post All-Star break Cubs were coming back down to earth it seemed, back to what an everyday lineup featuring four rookies should have been, back to realistic expectations.
It was a perfect opportunity to gain ground on the rest of the NL, but the Cubs went 5-8 after the break, all against teams with below .500 records — a stretch that was capped off by getting swept and no-hit at Wrigley Field by the abysmal Phillies.
It was on Monday, July 27, that many are pointing to as the turning point in the Cubs’ 2015 season. That night rookie third baseman Kris Bryant rocked a two-out, second-pitch slider from then-Rockies closer John Axford to deep left-center field into the renovated Wrigley bleachers for a walk-off, two-run home run.
Since Bryant’s game winner, the Cubs have won 16 of their last 19 games, a stretch that included a 10-game winning streak that was only stopped by an outrageous 15-strikeout performance by White Sox ace Chris Sale on Sunday.
Less than a month ago this team seemed to be heading toward another “next year” mantra. Now, the Cubs are sitting with one of the best records in the majors (67-49), four games up on the Giants for the second NL wild card spot, and nipping at the Pirates’ heels for the top wild card slot.
This begs the question — How did the Cubs become good? I mean, really, this good?
In what seemed to be the perfect offseason storm, Cubs’ president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer made the two biggest moves of their North Side tenure by signing rotation ace and anchor Jon Lester and scooping up baseball mad scientist Maddon to be their team’s manager — making the obvious and purely business decision to fire then-skipper Rick Renteria.
What followed was a series of less celebrated, yet equally significant offseason moves: acquiring pitchers Jason Hammel (again) and Jason Motte, catchers Miguel Montero and David Ross, and centerfielder Dexter Fowler.
These kind of moves the Cubs have been making the past several seasons — calculated, not flashy. Calculated, like bringing in pitchers Jake Arrieta, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and outfielder Chris Coghlan.
Lester, Arrieta, and Hammel have all had strong seasons, turning the Cubs’ rotation into one of the NL’s best. The Cubs starters rank first in the NL in strikeouts-per-nine innings (8.57 K/9), second in FIP (3.34) and WHIP (1.15).
Lester, the $155 million man, was shaky at the start, but over the month and a half he has been worth every penny. Since July 1, Lester has started eight games and posted a 1.92 ERA, giving up just 12 earned runs over 56 innings pitched, striking out 63 batters and only walking nine.
Arrieta (2.39 ERA, 2.67 FIP, 0.99 WHIP, 4.2 WAR) has turned himself into a bona-fide ace, giving the Cubs the best one-two pitching punch this side of Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw — and forcing Maddon to dodge questions about who he would start between Lester and Arrieta in a one-game, Wild Card playoff. A conundrum Cubs’ managers historically aren't used to.
Hammel (3.10 ERA, 3.41 FIP) couldn’t have picked a better time to have a career year. The six-foot-six righty re-signed with Chicago after being dealt with Jeff Samardzija to Oakland last season in the Addison Russell deal. Hammel’s resurgence has been a welcome surprise for the Cubs, as his current 1.042 WHIP is better than that of Michael Wacha, Gerrit Cole, Cole Hamels or even his teammate Lester.
The starters aren’t the only group of Cubs arms that have been revived. The additions of Tommy Hunter, Motte, and revivals of Rondon, Strop, and Justin Grimm give Maddon plenty of weapons to use out of the bullpen in late-game situations. The Cubs’ bullpen ranks in the top four in the NL in ERA (3.24), FIP (3.28), and holds (73), all while not having a traditional go-to closer. Rondon (1.65 ERA, 0.988 WHIP, 21 saves) has been the man of late, but Maddon isn’t afraid to move his guys into different roles, as four different relievers have multiple saves.
No pitching staff is complete without the entire battery, a need the Cubs finally addressed this winter. In acquiring Lester, the Cubs also added his favorite target in veteran catcher Ross and also the free-swinging Montero. Together, the catching duo has provided the needed on-field tools and clubhouse leadership the Cubs’ inexperience and youth require.
Another area the Cubs’ brass addressed was the need for an improved outfield. In comes Fowler, a plus-defensive centerfielder known for stealing bases and scoring runs, which he has done better than any other Cub in 2015, leading the team in both categories with 17 and 76, respectively.
The Cubs’ conglomerate of veterans and Joe Maddon’s unique managing approach has made the transition for the club’s four rookies in the starting lineup a smooth one.
Top prospect Kris Bryant was making Cubs fans giddy early in the season as he and first baseman Anthony Rizzo were named to the NL All-Star team and participated in Home Run Derby. Bryant finished the first half with 12 home runs, 52 RBIs and an OPS of .858. Since the break, Bryant’s average has dipped to .254 and he’s currently leading the NL in strikeouts, however; Bryant is still showing plate discipline, boasting a .361 on-base percentage and OPS just north of .800.
Rizzo, on the other hand, has been a force all season long, hitting .296/.407/.543 with 23 home runs, 30 doubles, 15 stolen bases, and a .950 OPS. Over the past 19 games, Rizzo has hit .369/.462/.769, with an insane 1.231 OPS, with seven home runs and 17 RBIs.
Where Bryant left off is where rookie catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber has picked up and taken off along with Rizzo. Since his second call up from Triple-A Iowa on July 17, Schwarber has hit .300/.402/.578 with an impressive .980 OPS, seven home runs, 22 runs, and 21 RBIs in 28 games.
Fellow rookies Russell and Jorge Soler haven’t received the publicity that Bryant and Schwarber have but both have been instrumental in the Cubs’ success. Russell, only 21, has proven that he has the athleticism and raw talent to be a plus defender at short stop, recently winning over the full-time job from the incumbent and two-time All-Star, Starlin Castro.
Castro was thought to be part of the Cubs’ young core, but has sharply declined since last season’s All-Star campaign and has been temporarily moved to a much less prominent role off the bench and spot starting at second base.
Soler has essentially been learning to play right field as he goes, but has been one of the more reliable bats for Maddon’s daily lineup — especially during the Cubs’ recent surge. Soler is hitting .323/.391/.403, with a .795 OPS, 20 hits and 14 RBIs since July 27.
The unique mix of savvy veterans, second-chance pitchers, rookies playing beyond their age, and Maddon’s savvy has given these Cubs a legitimate chance at making noise this fall. And for the first time since 2008, Cubs fans have a legitimate reason to pack Wrigley Field to the brim.
It’s okay to admit that it feels that baseball is just a little bit more fun when the Cubs are good and Wrigleyville is buzzing, or as Joe Maddon might say, “It’s really groovy, man.”
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. An avid baseball fan, Rose also takes time to do some play-by-play work for the radio broadcasts of Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider baseball games. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.
The SEC is in a state of crisis. Well, maybe not really.
The league was considered strong enough to produce the No. 1 seeded team in the College Football Playoff and as many as three teams in the top four in early polls.
But the conference is also two seasons removed from a national championship (even though Auburn and Alabama both ahad a shot at a title in each of the last two seasons). Bowl season put a damper on banner seasons for Ole Miss and Mississippi State. At the same time, perhaps no league is closer to producing multiple playoff teams. Will that happen in 2015 or will the league find itself out of the playoff altogether?
On this edition of the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast:
• We tackle the big question on if the SEC can produce two playoff teams or could the league beat itself up and out of the top four.
• We break down the SEC East into tiers. Which of the Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina group has the best reason to be optimistic?
• We discuss how our opinions changed over the summer regarding the top tier of the SEC East. We like Tennessee and Missouri better than we did in the spring, but do the Volunteers and Tigers have what it takes to overtake Georgia at the top?
• We breakdown the brutal SEC West, where the best quarterback in the league might be destined for a last place finish in his division.
• After conceding Alabama and Auburn as the top two in the conference, how does the rest of the West division break down. We have strong cases for Ole Miss, LSU and Texas A&M as the No. 3 teams in the conference.
• And finally, the Iron Bowl again looms over the division. Both Alabama and Auburn have major shoes to fill and unproven, if talented, quarterbacks.
Oregon draws USC and Arizona State in cross-divisional play, both of which appear on the back half of the Ducks' 2015 schedule. The Trojans and Sun Devils were picked No. 1 and 2 by the Pac-12 media preseason poll, respectively.
The Ducks' 2015 slate also includes treacherous road trips to Stanford and the Week 2 date with Michigan State. Oregon's trip to East Lansing, Mich., is a rare non-conference tilt with potential College Football Playoff implications at stake.
The lower half of Oregon's schedule does not look too difficult, on paper, but business picks up considerably in the Ducks' marquee games.
12. Sept. 19 vs. Georgia State
Fledgling program Georgia State is still seeking its elusive, first win over a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent since moving up in 2013. When that will come is unclear, but a resounding certainty: It won’t come against Oregon.
11. Sept. 5 vs. Eastern Washington
You are probably well aware that possible Week 1 starting quarterback Vernon Adams lit up Eastern Washington’s Inferno for the past three seasons. You may have also read Adams scored a whole lot of touchdowns against Pac-12 opponents Oregon State and Washington while donning the Eagles' red, white and black.
In order for Adams to do so, he needed a pretty good team around him. Eastern Washington is no pushover under head coach Beau Baldwin, having routinely played in the FCS Playoffs. The Eagles won the last national title that didn't go to North Dakota State. While its limitations make this a difficult matchup, Oregon can't expect Eastern Washington to lay down in Week 1.
10. Nov. 27 vs. Oregon State
Oregon’s Civil War rival Oregon State will have played an entire regular season, and thus not be the inexperienced roster upon which it enters the season. Nevertheless, there’ll likely be a considerable gap between the Ducks and Beavers at the conclusion of Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen’s first year at the helm.
9. Oct. 10 vs. Washington State
Washington State has played Oregon tough in Mike Leach’s tenure on the Palouse. The Ducks escaped Pullman last season with a one-score victory, and in the Cougars’ last visit to Autzen Stadium, they forced three turnovers to keep a would-be laugher competitive through the first half.
Washington State is in something of a state of flux heading into 2015. Leach parted ways with both his special teams and defensive coordinators, and his version of the "Air Raid" offense has not quite flourished with the Cougars as it did with Texas Tech. Forcing a competitive game in Autzen Stadium should prove challenging for this bunch.
8. Oct. 3 at Colorado
Since Colorado moved into the Pac-12 in 2011, last year’s 44-10 Oregon win was the Ducks’ most narrow margin of victory in four meetings. Buffs head coach Mike MacIntyre has his best team in three years on the job, and Colorado will play spoiler to someone in 2015. But Oregon is simply a bad matchup for this squad.
7. Oct. 17 at Washington
Decidedly one-sided of late, Washington hasn’t taken a decision in this rivalry since 2003. And, whether the winner was Oregon or Washington, the margin of victory was last within 17 points in 2000.
Second-year Huskies head coach Chris Petersen had Oregon’s number for a time in his stint at Boise State. That’s no longer the case. A Washington team shrouded in uncertainty will be hard-pressed to end the streak.
6. Nov. 7 vs. Cal
Quarterback Jared Goff leads an intriguing dark-horse competitor in the Pac-12 North race. The Golden Bears can score points in bunches, operating out of head coach Sonny Dykes' "Bear-Raid" offense. When the two teams met last year in Levi's Stadium, Cal's potent offense kept the Golden Bears in the game until late in the fourth quarter.
Continued defensive strides under second-year coordinator Art Kaufman are a must, because Oregon has deluged Cal for 43, 55 and 59 (twice) points in the teams' last four meetings.
5. Sept. 26 vs. Utah
Utah's M.O. against Oregon the last two meetings has been similar. The Utes play the Ducks tough for a half, but seemingly run out of gas in the second half. Both those encounters came in the final month of the regular season, so whether drawing Oregon earlier into the slate this time around helps or hurts Utah to that end could be a major factor.
Utah's hard-nosed defensive style does resemble schemes that has given Oregon fits in the past. The Utes lose Nate Orchard at defensive end, but should still have one of the better lineups on that side of the ball in the Pac-12.
4. Nov. 21 vs. USC
There may not be a more highly anticipated date on the Pac-12 ledger than this one, USC and Oregon's first encounter since 2012. The Ducks ran roughshod over the Trojans then, exacting revenge for the 2011 meeting. That was USC's last visit to Autzen Stadium, and the Trojans escaped to L.A. with an upset in tow.
These are obviously two entirely different teams, with two different head coaches. The stakes should be high, however, as the Pac-12 standard bearers for each of the last two decades square off in a late-season showdown that could be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship Game just two weeks later.
3. Nov. 14 at Stanford
Oregon successfully exorcised its demon last November in a blowout of burgeoning rival Stanford. As gratifying as that win may have been, however, the Cardinal being relatively down had to put something of a damper on the Ducks' first win in the series since 2011.
That should be of no concern in 2015. Stanford is poised for a bounce back, and should be in contention for the Pac-12 North when the Ducks come to The Farm for this one.
2. Oct. 29 (Thursday) at Arizona State
Mid-week contests have posed problems to Oregon recently, with two of the Ducks’ last three, regular season losses coming on Thursday nights. Not that Arizona State's typically rowdy student section needs that as added motivation to get Sun Devil Stadium rocking, however. The party on Mill Avenue will spill into the stands to make for a noisy and intimidating atmosphere.
Arizona State head coach Todd Graham has not shied from talking national championship, and this is one the Sun Devils need to make their case as viable contenders for that crown Oregon came oh-so-close to a season ago.
1. Sept. 12 at Michigan State
The Ducks repay Michigan State’s visit to Eugene last September in a showdown of College Football Playoff hopefuls. This looks to be the most intriguing non-conference matchup of the entire college football slate, with the Spartans’ typically tenacious defense juxtaposed against Oregon's quick-strike offense.
Michigan State dominated the first half of last year's encounter, but the Ducks went to work in the second, burying the Spartans in the quicksand so many Pac-12 opponents experienced previously.
The Pac-12 is generally known for its high-scoring offenses. While there’s plenty of firepower on the offensive side of the ball in 2015, the Pac-12 returns two of the nation’s top defenders in UCLA’s Myles Jack and Arizona’s Scooby Wright. This linebacker duo earned the top two spots in Athlon’s Pac-12 media expert poll, but the offense playmakers and top quarterbacks weren't far behind.
With the season right around the corner, Athlon Sports sought to answer this question: Who are the best 15 players in the Pac-12 for 2015?
In order to rank the top 15 players in the Pac-12 for 2015, Athlon Sports sought the insight of several experts from the conference. The voting process was simple. Using criteria such as career performance so far, 2015 potential/projection, pro outlook, recruiting ranking, value to team or overall talent, each voter was asked to rank their top 15 players for 2015.
A point system was assigned, giving 15 points for a player with a No. 1 vote, 14 points for a No. 2 vote, 13 points for a No. 3 vote and so on.
Ranking the Pac-12's Best Players for 2015 (Experts Poll)
|1||Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona|
(16 first-place votes)
Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
|3||Cody Kessler, QB, USC|
(2 first-place votes)
|4||Jared Goff, QB, California||181|
|5T||Devontae Booker, RB, Utah||175|
|5T||Su'a Cravens, LB, USC||175|
|7||DeForest Buckner, DL, Oregon||160|
|8||Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon||154|
|9||Adoree' Jackson, CB/WR, USC||151|
|10||Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA||82|
|11||Max Tuerk, C, USC||81|
|12||D.J. Foster, WR, Arizona State||61|
|13||Nelson Spruce, WR, Colorado||48|
|14||Kyle Murphy, OL, Stanford||44|
|15||Kenny Clark, DL, UCLA||43|
|16||JuJu Smith, WR, USC||27|
|17||Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona||24|
|18||Budda Baker, S, Washington||21|
|19||Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford||20|
|20||Vernon Adams, QB, Oregon||19|
|21||Byron Marshall, WR, Oregon||16|
|22||Hunter Dimick, DE, Utah||9|
|23||Cayleb Jones, WR, Arizona||8|
|24||Bralon Addison, WR, Oregon||7|
|25T||Mike Bercovici, QB, Arizona State||6|
|25T||Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford||6|
|27T||Victor Bolden, WR, Oregon State||5|
|27T||Pharoh Brown, TE, Oregon||5|
|27T||Eddie Vanderdoes, DL, UCLA||5|
|30T||Demario Richard, RB, Arizona State||4|
|30T||Kenny Lawler, WR, California||4|
|32T||Gionni Paul, LB, Utah||3|
|32T||Tom Hackett, P, Utah||3|
|32T||Jake Brendel, C, UCLA||3|
|35||Joshua Garnett, OL, Stanford||2|
|36T||Sefo Liufau, QB, Colorado||1|
|36T||Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA||1|
|36T||Tyler Johnstone, OT, Oregon||1|
|36T||Deon Hollins, LB, UCLA||1|
* UCLA and Oregon tied at seven with the most selections by team.
* Balance of power? 23 of the 39 players receiving votes play in the South Division. Additionally, seven of the top 10 selections play for teams in the Pac-12 South.
* 11 of the Pac-12’s 12 teams were represented in this poll.
* Seven quarterbacks received votes, including UCLA freshman Josh Rosen.
Is there anything better than winning your fantasy football league? Whether or not you get to rub your victory in your friend’s faces or just let it rain greenbacks, winning in fantasy football is supremely satisfying.
But winning is easier said than done.
Of course, if you could guarantee that you’d have Le’Veon Bell, Jamal Charles, Megatron, A.J. Green and let’s say Jimmy Graham on your team then winning would be easy.
But assembling a team like that is never going to happen… unless you play in a four-team league.
Yes, you need studs to win at fantasy football, but they aren’t invincible. They can get injured, have poor matchups and even go into slumps.
The people who win fantasy football champions are the ones who best identify those players who are severely underrated and grab them at such an amazing value that everyone thinks they are some kind of fantasy savant.
Identifying players that no one else thinks is going to break out is fun, challenging and super frustrating.
So here are some players for the 2015 season that are extremely underrated that just may help carry your team to fantasy football glory.
1. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins
Believe it or not Tannehill finished last year as a top-10 fantasy quarterback. Not bad for someone who went undrafted in most leagues. Now he enters his second year under offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s system and while the Dolphins let Mike Wallace walk (boo hoo), they added some serious weapons in Kenny Stills, Jordan Cameron, Greg Jennings and explosive rookie DeVante Parker to go along with their current stud wideout Jarvis Landry and finally No. 1 RB Lamar Miller.
Tannehill is also a decent runner for a quarterback; last year he finished fifth in QB rushing yards, which are just bonus points when it comes to QBs in fantasy football.
The reason Tannehill is tops on this list is not only because of his ability, his weapons or his gaining experience, it’s because he also won’t cost nearly as much on draft day. Tannehill will put up top-5 QB numbers this year and he will be drafted anywhere from being the eighth off of the board at the position to No. 15.
In some drafts, guys like Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick are being drafted before him, that’s just crazy. If you wait on a QB and fill up your other roster spots and can grab Tannehill in, let’s say, the ninth round, you’re making the playoffs – guaranteed.
My guess: 4,372 passing yards, 28 TDs
2. Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans
Cooks was having himself a decent rookie season until Week 10 when he broke his thumb, ending his 2014 campaign. He was getting better and better each week and you could tell that he was quickly becoming one of Drew Brees’ favorite targets.
Now Cooks enters his second year fully healthy and as the Saints’ most explosive playmaker. Gone are Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, and while Marques Colston is still around, his value and production have gone down each of the past three years.
This is the year that New Olreans switches to a more balanced and more run-focused offensive approach with Mark Ingram showing that he can carry the load, along with the addition of C.J. Spiller. But while Drew Brees might be on the decline (see my top 8 overrated players), he still is going to throw for over 4,000 yards and get 30 TD passes. Someone has to catch those balls, and Cooks will be the man.
The other thing to note here is that because Cooks missed the last six games of last year, he probably won’t be on many people’s radars this year. This is where you can swoop in and reap the benefits as he puts up solid WR1 numbers.
My guess: 79 catches, 1,117 yards, 9 TDs
3. C.J. Spiller, RB, New Orleans
Remember 2006 when the Saints had a dynamic running back duo in Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush? That’s the last time that head coach Sean Payton has had a thunder-and-lightning RB tandem. That year both McAllister and Bush finished in the top 15 in fantasy scoring among RBs. Not bad.
Now past production is not a good way to predict future success, especially when it come to fantasy football, but if you look at the Saints, what do you see?
An aging quarterback in Drew Brees, who has lost some of his magic, a team that traded away it best offensive weapon in Jimmy Graham for a stud center in Max Unger and whose No. 1 wide receiver is a second-year guy coming off a broken thumb (but also a player I view underrated).
The trade for new center Max Unger should really stand out. This year the Saints will transition to more of a balanced run team utilizing Mark Ingram between the tackles and Spiller in the open field and on screen plays.
If you are in a PPR league get your hands on Spiller as quickly as you can. He will be an excellent RB2 and will fight to be a RB1. Not bad for a guy going in the fourth round of most drafts.
My guess: 160 carries, 768 rushing yards, 3 TDs, 71 receptions, 623 receiving yards, 4 TDs
4. Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati
How can a guy who was a top-3 fantasy running back in the second half of last year be considered a breakout candidate this year? Well, if you do some research you’ll notice that Hill is usually being drafted in the mid-to-late second round and is currently ranked on average as the 11th RB. The eleventh-best running back? You should take that ranking all the way to the bank when Hill finishes as a top-6 fantasy RB this year.
After Giovani Bernard suffered a hip injury in Week 8, Hill managed to gain over 140 yards rushing four times in nine games and scored nine TDs. No one can trust Andy Dalton to carry a team to any kind of success, and even with stud WR A.J. Green and his counterpart Marvin Jones coming back from injury, the only way the Bengals make the playoffs and lose in the first round again, is on Hill’s legs.
Now it’s true that Bernard is healthy and ready to go to start the season, but Hill is the man in the Bengals’ backfield. Unfortunately Bernard is too talented to keep off the field, so Hill won’t be the third down back or get many chances to catch balls in the open field.
What Hill will do is get you almost 100 yards rushing every game and score a ton of TDs. That’s what you want from every running back, especially one that you might draft as your RB2.
My guess: 280 carries, 1,316 rushing yards, 13 TDs, 26 catches, 247 yards, 1 TD
5. Eli Manning, QB, NY Giants
Most people don’t want anything to do with the other Manning unless their starting QB is on a bye week. It makes perfect sense. Two years ago he was terrible – throwing 18 TD passes and a whopping 27 picks. It also didn’t help that Manning and the entire Giants offense really struggled out of the gate last year as they adapted to new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s new system.
Then came along is guy named Odell Beckham Jr. and what happened? Manning took off – he finished the year with over 4,000 passing yards, 30 TD passes and only 14 picks.
Now Manning is in his second year of McAdoo’s system (and by the way McAdoo’s the guy who ran the Green Bay offense until last year and it’s safe to say that Green Bay had an okay offense) so he’ll be more comfortable and his numbers will rise.
Manning also should get a full year out of Beckham Jr. (provided his most recent hamstring issue is nothing serious), will welcome Victor Cruz back from injury, has an ever-improving Reuben Randle as his No. 3 WR, an emerging tight end in Larry Donnell and a fairly deep stable of running backs.
If the Giants are going to be any kind of serious contender this year they will do it on the arm of Manning, aided by the one-hand catches of Beckham Jr.
Manning is ranked outside of the top 12 QBs, which means he’s being drafted in the late rounds as a QB2. If you take the strategy to wait on a QB and stockpile fantasy gold at other positions and end up with Manning as your starting QB, you might not love it at first, but you will.
My guess: 4,885 yards passing, 32 TD passes
6. Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland
If you can get a top-15 running back in the fifth round you can go to sleep with a big smile on your face.
Murray is the man in Oakland after he finally grabbed the starting job in December and flashed the crazy raw skills that have tempted many fantasy owners over the previous two years. Think of Murray like this – he’s got Eddie George size (6-3, 225) and Jamal Charles-like speed (he ran a 4.38 40 at his pro day).
Add all of that together with the fact that Murray has zero competition for the starting job (no, Roy Helu doesn’t count) and that second-year QB David Carr will improve on a decent rookie season. Especially with the addition of coveted rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper.
The Raiders’ offense is going to be better than a lot of people think and Murray is going to be a big reason why. He won’t catch many balls out of the backfield, but he will get his carries and score TDs. That’s a recipe for success, especially coming from a guy who is being drafted as the No. 23 option among RBs.
My guess: 1,113 rushing yards, 8 TDs, 21 catches, 186 yards, 1 TD
7. Justin Forsett, RB, Baltimore
When you think of the Baltimore Ravens you don’t usually think of fantasy football stars. But that needs to change this year because in the offseason the Ravens hired ex-Bears coach Marc Trestman as their new offensive coordinator.
With Trestman on board the sky's the limit for Forsett. He will be used exactly the same way that Matt Forté was used in Chicago. Forté was always a first-round pick in fantasy drafts. Forsett is currently ranked on average as the 16th-best fantasy running back and is being drafted in the fourh and fifth rounds.
Last year Forsett came out of nowhere (at the start of the season he was fourth on the Ravens’ depth chart) and he finished the year as fantasy’s No. 8 RB. While it’s true that this year Forsett turns the much dreaded running back age of 30, he has never been a feature back before so he has plenty of gas left in the tank.
Forsett also will be a PPR monster. Last year in Trestman’s offense Forte caught a single-season RB-record 102 passes. That’s insane value from a RB in a PPR league. Forsett might not catch 100 balls, but he’s going to get a lot of opportunities and you should target him early in a PPR league.
My guess: 1,236 rushing yards, 6 TDs, 78 catches, 685 yards, 4 TDs
5 other players that are severely underrated…
Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore – because he has Marc Trestman as his offensive coordinator
Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans – because the Saints are going to run the ball more than ever
Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco – because last year Frank Gore ran for over 1,100 yards at the age of 31
Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego – because he’s healthy this year and his value has dropped
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina – because IF he can stay healthy, he can be a top-10 fantasy RB
— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.
It has been almost a decade since the Tennessee Volunteers have entered a season with so much fanfare. The media and Vol fans alike, have set the “expectations bar” fairly high and with good reason. Tennessee returns 18 starters from a 2014 team that won four of its last five games, culminating in a lopsided victory over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Head coach Butch Jones also has stockpiled a wealth of young talent by way of highly rated recruiting classes in 2014 and '15. For the first time in years, Tennessee has the talent and depth on both sides of the football to compete in big games.
Standing in the way of the Vols’ quest to return to relevance are 12 proud football programs that have no intention of making that journey easy. On paper, Tennessee’s 2015 football schedule is slightly more forgiving than it has been in years past with eight of the 12 matchups taking place in the Volunteer State. That being said, there is no such thing as an easy path to success when you play in the SEC, especially when teams such as Alabama, Florida and Georgia reside on your schedule annually. Add in a tough, non-conference matchup against Big 12 power Oklahoma, and you still have the makings for one of the tougher schedules in all of college football. It will not be a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination, but Vol fans finally have cause for optimism heading into a season after years of being confined to mediocrity.
Here now is a look at Tennessee’s 12 regular season opponents, ranked from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 19 vs. Western Carolina
The Vols do not have too many cupcakes on the schedule, but this is one of them. Like the Vols, the Catamounts return most of their starters from 2014. They are also expected to make some noise this season in the FCS, coming in at no. 23 in Athlon Sport's FCS preseason Top 25. That said, they are no match for the unfriendly confines of Neyland Stadium. Tennessee wins big.
11. Nov. 14 vs. North Texas
Sadly, North Texas lost the majority of its top players from 2014 to graduation. Even sadder, that same 2014 team only managed to go 4-8 with a schedule that ranked as the second easiest in the nation. The Mean Green could not have picked a worse time to pay a visit to Knoxville. The Vols will steamroll a rebuilding North Texas squad.
10. Sept. 5 vs. Bowling Green (in Nashville)
The good news for the Falcons is that they should field a very solid offense that returns 10 starters from 2014. The bad news is that they only return five starters from one of college football’s worst defenses in 2014. They also have to play the Vols in (not so neutral) Nashville, Tenn. Bowling Green will likely score more points than Vol fans are anticipating, but it will not be enough to keep it close.
9. Nov. 28 vs. Vanderbilt
In spite of a terrible 2014 season for Derek Mason’s Commodores, they still managed to give Tennessee a run for its money, losing to the Vols by just seven points in Nashville. Vanderbilt should be improved across the board in 2015, but not nearly as much as Tennessee. This should be the year that the balance of the universe gets restored, heavily favoring the Vols in this historically one-sided affair.
8. Oct. 31 at Kentucky
Mark Stoops has Kentucky headed in the right direction, but it is a tall order to compete in the SEC in football at a school known, first and foremost, for basketball. The Wildcats have a solid corps of skill players returning in 2015, and junior QB Patrick Towles may be the most underrated signal-caller in the SEC. Regardless, Tennessee has dominated this rivalry for the better part of 50-plus years now. The Vols take care of business once again in Lexington.
7. Nov. 7 vs. South Carolina
Butch Jones is now 2-0 against Steve Spurrier as the Vols' head coach. On paper, there is nothing to suggest that South Carolina will field a better football team in 2015 than it did in the previous two seasons. Thus, simple logic would tell you that the Vols should once again come out on top against the Gamecocks in Knoxville.
6. Sept. 12 vs. Oklahoma
There is little doubt that the Vols’ 2015 home opener against the Sooners will be pivotal in determining just how much Tennessee has turned the corner. Oklahoma handed a young Tennessee team, with plenty of question marks, a solid beating in Norman last season. This year, the Sooners are the road team with more questions than answers. This game could honestly go either way, but the Vols are slight favorites at home.
5. Oct. 3 vs. Arkansas
Like the Vols, Arkansas is a team on the rise with soaring expectations. They return almost their entire offense from 2014, including a punishing running attack that will be led by Alex Collins following the foot injury to fellow All-SEC ball carrier Jonathan Williams. However, the Razorbacks lose plenty of star power from a defense that ranked 10th nationally a season ago. This will be a physical battle for Tennessee, especially being sandwiched in between the Florida and Georgia games, but playing at home could be the edge the Vols need.
4. Nov. 21 at Missouri
Mizzou has somehow managed to fly under the radar every preseason since joining the SEC. And every regular season, opposing teams pay the price by underestimating the back-to-back SEC East champions. Tennessee gets Mizzou late in the year, so it typically already know what to expect, and yet the Vols still haven’t been able to get past Gary Pinkel’s Tigers. Tennessee has more talent than Mizzou in 2015, but that guarantees nothing on the road in Columbia.
3. Oct. 10 vs. Georgia
The undermanned Vols have given the Bulldogs all they could handle in each of their last two meetings. Unfortunately, it was not enough to get the win in either meeting. This year, Tennessee finally has the weapons to match up against a Georgia squad with plenty of question marks on offense. It does not hurt matters that Georgia has to play Alabama the week prior. This is a must-win game for the Vols in Knoxville if they want to have any shot at the SEC East title. It is also a game that Tennessee is more than capable of winning, but that is easier said than done.
2. Sept. 26 at Florida
The Gators have been the Vols’ kryptonite for the better part of two decades now. If Tennessee is going to once again compete in the SEC and on the national stage, it starts by getting this long festering thorn out of its side. Tennessee has the better team in 2015, but that has been the case in past meetings as well, and the result always seems to be the same. It does not help matters by having to play the Gators in “The Swamp” where the Vols have not won since 2003.
1. Oct. 24 at Alabama
The Vols played Alabama tough in the second half of last year’s 34-20 contest in Knoxville, thanks in large part to QB Joshua Dobbs entering the game. This could be the year that Tennessee makes this long-standing SEC rivalry competitive once again. The gap is definitely narrowing, but a visiting team coming out of Tuscaloosa with a victory may be the most difficult task in all of college football.
— 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
At schools like Florida State and Clemson, four- and five-star recruits waltz onto campus every year. This year’s superstar-in-waiting is competing with last year’s hotshot, who has spent a full year in the system and in the strength and conditioning program. It gives those with multiple years on campus the upper hand in the quest for playing time.
But the two ACC powers had a large amount of contributors leave the program after last season, leaving holes to fill. Both the Seminoles and the Tigers have freshmen ready to show that they can make an impact in 2015.
Of course, the other ACC programs have standout freshmen ready to roll as well. Here is a list of some of the top freshmen to watch in the ACC in 2015.
Derwin James, S, Florida State
How do you get to be considered one of the best safety prospects of the last decade? Standing 6-foot-3, weighing 212, running like a wide receiver, and bench-pressing 405 pounds before your 19th birthday is a good start. James could team with Jalen Ramsey to give the Seminoles two freak athletes in the secondary.
Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson
If Deshaun Watson is not pressured from the blind side, you’re going to hear about Hyatt. If Watson is continually getting crunched from behind, you’re going to hear about Hyatt. Either way, you’re going to hear about Hyatt.
Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State
Sweat was one of the top prospects in America coming out of Chesapeake, Va. A terrible knee injury suffered last September led everyone to believe that a redshirt year was waiting in Tallahassee. However, Sweat is practicing with the Seminoles and it is possible that he could play this year.
Nyheim Hines, WR, North Carolina State
At worst, Hines is going to give the Wolfpack a boost in the return game. If Saturday’s scrimmage is any indication, he should be able to provide a whole lot more. The 5-foot-9, 190-pounder had a long touchdown reception and could be another valuable asset for quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
Christian Wilkins, DL, Clemson
Clemson lost a lot of bodies off last year’s defensive front seven. Wilkins looks like he is going to grab a spot in the rotation. The 6-foot-5, 299-pound, five-star prospect has been very impressive this August.
Jalen Dalton, DE, North Carolina
The early enrollee did enough in spring practice to put himself in contention for a starting position this fall. The Tar Heels’ defense needs an influx of talent and talent is something Dalton has.
Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
Alexander started impressing the Louisville staff the moment he stepped on campus in January. The Charlotte, N.C., product exited spring ball on the two-deep and now he is pressing to be one of the four new starters in the Cardinals’ secondary.
Ray Ray McCloud, RB, Clemson
The Tampa product has shown some versatility by being able to catch the ball coming out of the backfield. That is a good way for McCloud get on the field as a reserve for starter Wayne Gallman.
C.J. Stalker, LB, Virginia
The Ohio native came to Charlottesville with a four-star reputation and so far he has performed. The Cavaliers have to replace all three linebackers and in the spring Stalker staked his claim to the weak-side position. He has shined again in preseason camp, so a starting spot is likely.
Jordan Whitehead, S, Pittsburgh
There is a chance that Whitehead is a starting safety by the end of the season. He has also been getting reps as a return man. The Pittsburgh staff knows that he is a special talent that has to be utilized in some way.
Mavin Saunders/Ryan Izzo, TE, Florida State
One of the two will start in place of the departed Nick O’Leary. Both will play. Saunders is the more dynamic athlete; Izzo is more fundamentally sound. Jimbo Fisher likes to use the tight end, so both will be featured at times.
Corey Martinez, C, Florida State
Martinez is above fellow redshirt freshman Alec Eberle on the depth chart. The 6-foot-4, 295-pounder has drawn high praise from the coaching staff and seems to have the position locked down.
Chris Taylor, WR, Duke
No one is going to completely fill the void left by the graduations of Jamison Crowder and Isaac Blakeney. Taylor, however, can be one of the main cogs in the Duke passing game this season. An unheralded recruit out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder hopes to team with Max McCaffrey in the same way Crowder and Blakeney did for the Blue Devils.
Kendall Joseph, LB, Clemson
So far this camp, Korrin Wiggins has been injured and lost for the season and Korie Rogers has decided that he no longer wants to play football. Clemson needs Joseph to emerge as a quality linebacker.
Holland Fisher, LB, Virginia Tech
Fisher is currently No. 2 on the depth chart behind Ronny Vandyke, a player with a history of getting hurt. A heavily sought after recruit that had offers from Alabama, Ohio State and Tennessee, Fisher will get a lot of playing time this year.
Other true freshmen to watch:
Tabari Hines, WR, Wake Forest
Tommy Hatton, C, North Carolina
Tim Settle, DT, Virginia Tech
Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
Albert Huggins, DT, Clemson
Marcus Marshall, RB, Georgia Tech
Jacques Patrick, RB, Florida State
Ben Humphreys, LB, Duke
Other redshirt freshmen to watch:
Carson Lydon, LB, Virginia Tech
Richard Yeargin, DE, Clemson
Kayton Samuels, DT, Syracuse
Chris Lindstrom, OG, Boston College
Alex Bookser, OG, Pittsburgh
David Njoku, TE, Miami
Qua Searcy, RB, Georgia Tech
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
If you want a Gatorade, you have to work for it.
J.J. Watt, Peyton and Eli Manning are starring in commercials for Gatorade proving that theory. Don't just think you're going to put your money in and get a drink that way, there's more to it than that. The Texans star even stiff arms a vending machine to get his point across.
Not to be outdone, the Mannings give their pitch for Gatorade by putting some young teens to work. Nothing comes easy.
NFL stars are always good for a laugh.
The Green Bay Packers have won four straight NFC North titles, and that grasp atop the standings doesn't seem to be fading away anytime soon. However, this certainly remains a very interesting division, and each team's success could revolve around just a few key players. The Vikings will have Adrian Peterson back, so that should have a strong impact on the team. Will it be enough to make the playoffs though? How will these teams compete with the dominant Packers?
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the four NFC North teams are shaping up heading into the 2015 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Bears, Lions, Packers and Vikings.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
“With high hopes for 2014, the Bears’ season quickly dissolved into a 5-11 campaign due to a dysfunctional locker room, no apparent leadership from the head coach or QB positions and a defense that made zero strides as a unit."…
"Marc Trestman and GM Phil Emery were shown the door and veteran coach John Fox and first-time GM Ryan Pace were hired in the offseason."…
"New offensive coordinator Adam Gase followed Fox from Denver and he has the unenviable task of ‘fixing’ Jay Cutler."…
"WR Brandon Marshall was traded to the Jets, but Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett all return, and West Virginia WR Kevin White was chosen at pick No. 7, so there is ‘talent’ in the building."… [Editor's note: Kevin White will start the season on the Physically Unable to Play (PUP) list because of a stress fracture in his shin that will require surgery. He will miss the first six games, at minimum.]
"OG Kyle Long has proven to be a Pro Bowl-level player, but the rest of the offensive line is a work in progress."…
"Vic Fangio comes to the Windy City from the 49ers as the defensive coordinator and he has one of the toughest jobs in football as Chicago tries to transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4."…
"They signed a notable free agent at every level of the defense in OLB/DE Pernell McPhee (Ravens), LB Mason Foster (Buccaneers) and safety Antrel Rolle (Giants). McPhee has never been a full-time player, Foster missed most of 2014 with an Achilles injury and Rolle is on the backside of his career, however, they can provide a new voice and serve as a conduit for Fangio to the other defensive players."…
"PK Robbie Gould struggled with a nagging quad injury all season and only made 9-of-12 field goals in 12 games."…
"Fox and Co. will try to push the reset button with a roster of mixed pieces and parts, but this looks like the weakest team in the division.”
“Give Jim Caldwell and his staff credit, they cleaned up the turnover margin (minus-12 to plus-seven) and put themselves in position to win 11 games last year."…
"They dialed back QB Matthew Stafford and relied on a defense that finished top two in run, total and scoring defense."…
"DT Ndamukong Suh and his contract situation dominated the headlines for months on end before they opted not to franchise tag him and he signed with the Dolphins. Now, the trick will be to see if Haloti Ngata and a host of others can replace Suh in the middle."…
"Calvin Johnson continues to be a preeminent talent in the league, but he did miss three games in 2014."…
"The Lions are looking for much more from last year’s first-round pick, TE Eric Ebron, to give Stafford another safe option in the passing game."…
"Joique Bell is a dependable RB and Theo Riddick will assume the Reggie Bush role…The offensive line was uneven last year, but first-round pick, Duke OG Laken Tomlinson should help right away."…
"DE Ziggy Ansah is developing nicely as a complete player and their linebackers are underrated as a group."…
"Overall, this secondary was OK with Suh and that front, but they did add a pair of rookie corners in Stanford’s CB Alex Carter and Texas’ Quandre Diggs."…
"After shuffling through three placekickers, Matt Prater came onboard and was adequate enough to hold the job."…
"GM Martin Mayhew made the right call on Caldwell as coach in 2014. With more organizational leadership stability and financial flexibility post-Suh, it will be interesting to see if the Lions can chase down the Packers in the division.”
“The Packers major in evaluating college prospects and their own team, then they sit back and use this knowledge to selectively sign pro free agents and fill specific needs in the draft."…
"GM Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy are the longest-tenured duo in the entire NFL and that continuity pays dividends when it comes to scouting and developing players."…
"Offensively, Green Bay is set at all of the skill positions with Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb all at the top of their respective games."…
"The offensive line is more functional than spectacular, but they found a fifth-round gem in OC Corey Linsley last year."…
"This is a middle-of-the-league defense and they will rely on a wave of linemen and the flexibility of Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers to bolster their front, while they drafted Arizona State DB Damarious Randall in the first round and Miami-OH CB Quentin Rollins in the second."…
"Much will be expected of Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde, so the competition for playing time will be intense in training camp."…
"McCarthy announced over the winter that he would no longer call plays in order to focus on the entire team, this coming after the Packers gave up seven blocked kicks during the season and melted down in the final minutes of the NFC title game on special teams. Still, as long as Rodgers is healthy, they are the clear front-runners in the NFC North.”
“Mike Zimmer put his imprint on this team with a no-nonsense, tough guy approach that resulted in a very competitive 7-9 record despite not having RB Adrian Peterson for the final 15 games."…
"There are three major coaching chores for the Vikings on offense in 2015: the continued development of QB Teddy Bridgewater, getting OT Matt Kalil back to Pro Bowl form and tapping into the raw talent of underachieving WR Cordarrelle Patterson."…
"Bridgewater looks like the future at the position after starting 12 games and hitting 64.6 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, while leading the team to four come-from-behind victories."…
"The Peterson suspension/reinstatement, ‘I Don’t Want To Play in Minnesota Anymore Game,’ grabbed all the headlines during the spring, but at the end of the day, he was not traded, so the anticipation is that he will be in a purple uniform by September."…
"They traded for Mike Wallace from the Dolphins to give them a vertical threat, while figuring out what happens with Patterson."…
"TE Kyle Rudolph is solid and the rest of the offensive line is intact, so there is a degree of continuity around Bridgewater."…
"DE Everson Griffen and rookie OLB Anthony Barr are both playmakers, and the Vikings added an immediate starter in Round 2 with the selection of UCLA LB Eric Kendricks."…
"The secondary has more ‘ability’ than results, but still added the draft’s consensus No. 1 corner, Trae Waynes from Michigan State."…
"The reality is that there is a blue-chip talent in virtually every position group on this roster. If DT Sharrif Floyd, safety Harrison Smith and CB Xavier Rhodes continue to improve, this defense has the makings of becoming a top-third unit in the league.”
It is hard to believe that fantasy football is right around the corner. Preseason games have begun, injuries have occurred and if you are smart, draft prep has already begun. Maybe you even took the first step and purchased Athlon Sports’ 2015 Fantasy Football Guide.
Even though many of you may have already been drafting for the last month or more in MFL10s, draft season is officially here. It is hard for some who have been playing fantasy for eons not to shrug off draft prep, or get overly concerned about mock drafting. After all, you may have won the league two of the last three seasons. You know what is going on right?
You certainly may, and perhaps you know all of the helpful rules, but if not, being prepared for your draft and having the right tools and weapons at your disposal are critical to any fantasy owners’ success.
I will provide my top 5 ways to dominate your fantasy football draft. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter @fantsychillpony to share yours. Good luck with your draft prep, and actual drafts folks.
1. Know Your League(s) Rules and Scoring
This is the cardinal rule in my world and you would be amazed at how many people don’t know it, or care enough to follow it. Bottom line is if you want to actually compete and win your league you simply need to know and understand your league rules PRIOR to the draft. Ask yourself these questions if you are newer to the game, or even if you consider yourself a veteran. Being prepared and knowing your league in and out will only help you.
*Do you know your league(s) basic rules and roster setup? Make sure you do mock drafts for the same, or as close as you can to the same scoring and roster settings. If you are studying, or doing mock drafts in a 12-team league and your league is only 10 teams you will have skewed results.
*Are you in a Superflex, or 2-quarterback league? Two-QB leagues have a very unique impact on fantasy drafts. If you are planning on rolling into a 2-QB league draft with the “wait on a quarterback” philosophy, you will be in trouble.
*Do you fully understand your league's scoring? Are passing touchdowns four points, or six? Are there yardage bonuses for yards thrown or gained? How about field goal yardage (I know… yuck). Is it a full point, or only half point PPR?
*Any odd or unique scoring rules? Find these and make sure you are ready, and even exploit them. I tell the story of joining a friends league the night of the draft and completely dominated the season. I lost however to a team that started Josh Cribbs and Devin Hester at WR with Leon Washington at RB. If you didn’t guess already this league awarded points for return yards, along with significant bonuses for touchdowns.
2. Make Your Own Cheat Sheet
I know pre-made sheets are nice and easy and in many ways they can work just fine. However I much prefer to nerd out and make my own. I love Google Docs, or Excel spreadsheets too much not too. If your league is truly standard, no scoring tweaks, roster size adjustments, or extra rounds then a cheat sheet found online or in a magazine/guide could work.
I like to make my own and add a top 3 list for each round and pick I have in the draft for snake drafts. For auction leagues I try to forecast my roster as much as possible and include targets along with ADP, auction values and a budget balance ledger you can use as you are drafting.
Either way having a sheet of rankings, tiers, and other details for your league can help you far more than a top 300 sheet ever will. Also, by default you will be more prepared for the draft by making the sheet in advance.
3. Use Tiers and ADP Instead of Straight Rankings
If you have been reading my posts for a while you know how much I love tiers. I use them as my primary weapon during drafts. They help utilize rankings, and ADP if you set it up that way, but most importantly they break up players into, well, tiers. Each position once grouped can then be ranked based on tier level, remaining players in that tier, and by your roster needs.
2015 Positional Tiers and Rankings:
The problem with rankings is it may make owners feel obligated to take a player based solely on ranking rather than considering positional depth, or need for their rosters. Just because Roddy White is available and the highest overall ranked player doesn’t mean owners should always take him. What if they have two WR already or there are five more players left in White’s tier and only one RB remaining in the third tier?
Draft based on talent and need more often than not, but when you get to the middle of drafts having tiers to help make important decisions easier while also breaking up the draft in easy to follow groups. Maybe you can pass on that QB one more round and go for the final remaining WR in a tier.
4. Keep An Eye on Positional Battles and Injuries
This offseason has already been filled with some surprises and injuries. The Bears lost their newest weapon and first-round pick Kevin White, possibly for the season already. This news by default boosts Matt Forté, Eddie Royal, and Alshon Jeffery’s value.
Dallas’ RB situation is still a question mark and although it certainly looks as if they are rolling with Joseph Randle. However, with names like Chris Johnson still floating around the Cowboys’ backfield remains murky, and very important to follow for fantasy reasons. Whoever is appointed the lead back in Big D will have immense fantasy value.
5. Know or Observe Your League’s Draft Tendencies
Sure you may read an expert's columns on draft strategy, listen to Sirius/XM Fantasy, follow industry drafts and mock drafts and feel prepared. You just may be, but what if you are in a league that over-values quarterbacks? Can you still afford to wait on a QB like all the experts say?
Do you have an owner who is notorious for taking two QBs early? Will expecting the top 4 RBs to be gone by the eighth pick in the draft be accurate because of mock drafts? What if you have owners who will take Andrew Luck and/or Aaron Rodgers in round 1? What if you have a die-hard Giants fan and they jump on Odell Beckham Jr. as the first WR off the board?
Want to mock draft? Check out this Mock Draft Simulator powered by FantasyPros.com
If you have been in your league for a long time, then you likely know other owners’ tendencies and which bits of knowledge or recommendations to take seriously from industry experts. It may make complete sense, and actually work well, but it is pointless if your league has unique scoring options, or owners who consistently make unexpected decisions.
If you are new to your league and you can keep track of owners’ moves and make note for future reference it can play into your advantage. Knowing which owner seems to drool over rookies, or the owner stocking up on RBs with intent to drain the pool can help you plan your next pick.
Live drafts bring a far different atmosphere and make the observations easier to accomplish than online or slow drafts. It can still be done though and knowing your league-mates and their styles is critical to winning your league and dominating your draft, along with a little luck of course.
— Written by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.
Just about every sports fan is tied to their team’s logo, which makes ranking logos complicated. To get an educated opinion on what is a good logo and what isn't, Athlon Sports turned to one of the people most responsible for helping produce some of the best-looking magazines on the newsstands, graphic designer Daly Cantrell.
Here is what she had to say about the Big 12's football logos:
|1.||Texas||Talk about classic. The Longhorns’ logo is simply unique and is arguably one of the best in college football.|
|2.||West Virginia||Perfect placement. The placement of the WV is what makes this logo. It’s different and the sharp edges really bring a strong, tough look to the logo.|
|3.||Oklahoma||Again, like the West Virginia logo, this logo stands out because of the placement of the letters. It’s clean, bold and gets right to the point.|
|4.||Kansas State||Kansas State’s logo is an aggressive take on a silhouette, and I love it. The simplicity in the details is what makes this logo shine.|
|5.||TCU||The block-style font is classic in the world of sports logos. A three-letter logo can sometimes be tricky to keep balanced, but curving the letters was the right way to go.|
|6.||Baylor||The placement of this logo is similar to the Sooners one, but in my book, the thickness of the gold stroke weakens this logo.|
|7.||Iowa State||I am a fan of block letters and arched text, but this logo has too much going on. Backing off on something — beveling, stoke or color would strengthen the logo.|
|8.||Oklahoma State||This is not a monogram, but a logo. If the words did not vary so drastically in size I think the logo would have a stronger presence. I do enjoy the use of the black and orange, but the thin grey stroke is unnecessary.|
|9.||Texas Tech||Great placement; too much beveling. The two-toned colors along with both a white and black stroke makes this logo look overdone.|
|10.||Kansas||The Jayhawk has design potential, but this cartoon look isn’t it. Someone needs to jump into the 21st century and modernize this bad boy.|
Kickers don't get enough shine.
Justin Tucker is out to change that. The Ravens kicker stars in a Carbiz ad and mimicks the iconic (term used loosely) Matthew McConaughey Lincoln commercial. The resemeblance is uncanny.
Tucker pretty much nails the pensive nature of McConaughey in the original version.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs accomplished great things in 2014. After a 6-0 start, which included three straight wins over top-10 teams, the Bulldogs catapulted from unranked to No. 1 in the country. It actually only took five weeks for them to go from unranked to the top spot in the Associated Press Top 25, which was the fastest rise in the history of the poll (and they unseated undefeated, defending national champion Florida State to do it).
Overall, Mississippi State capped the best season in the history of the program with 10 wins and a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game. But last year has come and gone. Now, head coach Dan Mullen faces the task of living up to the expectations that come with past results, as well as his new $4 million salary.
Here are five things to keep an eye on Mississippi State prepares for the upcoming season:
1. New Faces on the Offensive Line
Mississippi State returns just four starters on offense and three on defense from last season’s squad. The seven total returning starters is the lowest number in the SEC. One of the hardest hit positions is the offensive line, which lost three starters to graduation, including four-year starting center Dillon Day. No player on the roster has appeared at center in a collegiate game and projected starter Jamaal Clayborn hasn’t played center since he was 12 years old.
The players that return on the O-line have made just 32 career starts combined, which is the second fewest of any unit in the SEC and ranks 118th out of 128 FBS programs. Those that graduated started a combined 108 games for the Bulldogs.
Senior guard Justin Malone is the most experienced member of the unit, with 16 starts over the last three seasons, while tackle Justin Senior has made 14 total starts, all but one of those coming in 2014. Devon Desper and Rufus Warren, expected to take over at left guard and right tackle, respectively, have two combined starts to date – both by Desper.
2. Replacing Josh Robinson
The Bulldogs have a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the football, but arguably the most important is the one left by Robinson, who rushed for 1,203 yards and scored 11 touchdowns last season before opting for the NFL Draft. A talented receiver out of the backfield, Robinson also caught 28 passes for 370 yards and one TD. His 1,573 total yards accounted for 23.5 percent of the Bulldogs’ offense last season.
The top choice to replace Robinson is junior Ashton Shumpert, who has run for 464 yards and five touchdowns across 24 games the past two seasons. At 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, Shumpert is taller and thinner than Robinson, who was nicknamed “bowling ball” for his 5-foot-9, 225-pound frame.
He’s the only running back on the roster to appear in a college game to date, which gives Shumpert the edge in the competition early in fall camp. However, redshirt freshmen Aeris Williams and Dontavian Lee will compete for carries this fall. The biggest question is whether or not one of the three will be able to replace Robinson’s durability and production.
3. Dak Prescott is More Important Than Ever Before
Despite a lack of experience on the offensive line and at running back, the offense should be in good hands at quarterback with Dak Prescott, who orchestrated the Bulldogs’ offense to a school-record 513.8 yards per game in 2014.
Prescott himself set 12 school records, and he smashed several of them. For instance, no Mississippi State player had ever accounted for more than 3,000 yards of offense in a single season prior to last year when Prescott threw for 3,449 yards and ran for 986 more. He piled on 27 touchdowns through the air and another 14 on the ground in what was easily the greatest offensive season in program history. But he’ll be more important in 2015 than ever before.
A dual-threat signal-caller, Prescott will likely be asked to run even more this season to help replace the production of Josh Robinson, at least until the running back situation shakes out. That would put the 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior in line to take more hits in 2015, which is a concern.
Prescott has the benefit of playmaking wide receiver De’Runnya Wilson, who led the Bulldogs with 47 receptions, 680 receiving yards and nine touchdown catches last season. One of the SEC’s biggest targets, the 6-foot-5 Wilson will team once again with Fred Ross, Joe Morrow and Fred Brown to give Prescott plenty of receiving options to work with. In fact, it would be reasonable to expect Prescott to break his own passing record this season. However, with a newly configured offensive line, Prescott may also be more exposed to oncoming pass rushers.
Keeping Prescott healthy is paramount. If Prescott is injured — and remember that he missed two games and didn’t start against Ole Miss in 2013 because of a shoulder injury — Mississippi State will be in big trouble.
4. New Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz
Like the offense, the Mississippi State defense lost a lot of talented players from the 2014 squad. The Bulldogs must find a replacement for middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney, fellow linebacker Matthew Wells, and defensive lineman Preston Smith, all of whom are now in the NFL. Also, this defense must replace three starters from a secondary that struggled often and finished last in the SEC against the pass (272.8 ypg) in 2014.
Just as important, the Bulldogs lost defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, who left to take the same position at Florida. Diaz, a familiar face that led the Mississippi State defense in 2011 before leaving for Texas, returns after one season at Louisiana Tech.
Last season, Diaz’s unit led Conference USA in rushing defense (118.2 yards per game) and ranked second in scoring (24.7 ppg) and total defense (362.5 ypg). An opportunistic Bulldogs squad also led C-USA in turnover margin (plus-16) because the Tech defense tied for the nation’s lead in interceptions with 26 and paced the country with 42 total turnovers.
Diaz’s attacking style should help Mississippi State overcome its lack of experience. Plus, Mullen and his coaching staff made a point to play two full defensive units early during the 2014 season, so last year’s backups are more experienced than the average replacements at most schools across the SEC.
5. Newcomers to Watch
Mississippi State fans are sick and tired of hearing how inexperienced the Bulldogs are heading into the 2015 season, but it’s a fact that’s hard to ignore. It also means several first-year players will be counted on to play big roles this fall.
At least two freshmen could start for the Bulldogs on defense, though four or more are likely to be key contributors. Redshirt freshman linebacker Gerri Green is expected to replace McKinney at middle linebacker and four-star true freshman Leo Lewis also could be in the linebacker rotation.
In the secondary, true freshman Jamal Peters was the most highly coveted member of the Bulldogs’ 2015 recruiting class, and he and redshirt freshman
Brandon Bryant are both likely to play early and often as safeties this year.
A few junior college transfers are also expected to compete for playing time for the Bulldogs this season, including defensive lineman Johnathan Calvin, linebacker Traver Jung, offensive lineman Martinas Rankin and wide receiver Donald Gray.
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work on college football can also be found on SaturdayBlitz.com and FanSided.com. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.
Alabama’s quarterback battle is one of the biggest in college football this fall, and the ongoing competition to replace Blake Sims took an interesting turn on Monday. Senior Jake Coker – considered by some to be the favorite – missed practice due to a minor foot injury and will be out “several days” according to AL.com.
With Coker out indefinitely, the focus in Tuscaloosa shifts to redshirt freshman David Cornwell and true freshman Blake Barnett. Alec Morris and Cooper Bateman are also competing for snaps, but Cornwell was considered Coker’s biggest challenger, and Barnett was a five-star recruit in the 2015 247Sports Composite.
After suffering a knee injury as a high school senior in 2013, Cornwell benefitted from a redshirt season in 2014. The strong-armed Oklahoma native also has nearly the same amount of experience as Coker within coordinator Lane Kiffin’s offense.
In the spring game, Cornwell completed 12 of 24 passes for 110 yards and one touchdown, while Coker led all quarterbacks with 183 yards on 14 completions.
Barnett might have the most all-around ability of any Alabama quarterback on the roster, but how quickly can he adapt to the offense? Would the Crimson Tide start a true freshman at quarterback?
Considering Cornwell was already pushing Coker for the No. 1 job, Monday’s news of a foot injury for Coker could alter this race. With Week 1 preparations right around the corner, the opportunity to stake a claim for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart is getting smaller.
While Alabama’s quarterback battle will draw plenty of attention and is surrounded with significant uncertainty, it’s important to remember just how this team is built. The Crimson Tide won’t need a 300-yard passer every week. With one of the nation’s top defenses and rushing attacks, the quarterback simply needs to be efficient and eliminate the big mistakes.
With another scrimmage coming on Saturday, Alabama could have clarity in its quarterback battle. However, after Coker’s injury, the focus under center has shifted to the freshmen: Barnett and Cornwell.
Will Cornwell (a pocket passer) or Barnett (more of a dual-threat option) stake a claim for the starting job this week or in the final scrimmage?
The door is open for both players to make a move while Coker is sidelined.
Chris Singleton lost his mother in the Charleston shooting, but he has remained grounded by his teammates and support system.
On "The Today Show," the college baseball player learned he would be throwing out the first pitch at Yankees Stadium, and he was told by none other than some Yankees. John Cena was also on hand to tell the young man how brave he's been throughout the whole tragedy.
So this is a thing. Robert Griffin III thinks he's the best quarterback in the NFL.
In an interview WJLA, the Redskins quarterback talks about the confidence he has in himself and his team. RGIII has always been sure of his abilities, but some fans feel he may be taking it to an extreme in this video.
"I don't feel like I have to come out here and show anybody anything or why I'm better than this guy or better than that guy," Griffin said. "It's more about going out and affirming that for me, I go out and I play, I know I'm the best quarterback on this team. I feel like I'm the best quarterback in the league and I have to go out and show that."
The world will be watching to see if Griffin's right about himself.
After a disappointing 6-7 season, the Miami Hurricanes have made their 2015 goal clear, which is to play in the school’s first ACC Championship Game. In the 11 years since joining the conference, the team has averaged 4.2 wins a season in ACC play.
If quarterback Brad Kaaya and Miami want to win the ACC Coastal Division, the team may have to do a lot better than four wins in the conference. The team will have a tough October schedule, as they play four opponents who could be contending for the ACC title.
Here are Miami’s 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to the most difficult.
12. Sept. 5 vs. Bethune-Cookman
This is what you would call a typical cupcake opponent to begin the season. While Bethune-Cookman finished the 2014 season with a 9-3 record, Miami has way too much talent for this game to be competitive. Bethune-Cookman is the only FCS team on Miami's schedule in 2015, so that’s why this game is at No. 12.
11. Sept. 11 (Friday) at FAU
The FAU Owls return 13 starters from last year’s team, but that team ended the 2014 season with a 3-9 record. While senior quarterback Jaquez Johnson could give the leaky Canes defense a little trouble, the Owls don’t have enough skill position players to keep the game close against Miami. After the Hurricanes visit to FAU, the schedule gets very difficult.
10. Nov. 7 vs. Virginia
Despite losing 30-13 to Virginia last season, this is a game Miami should win. The Cavaliers have major questions at the quarterback position and the game is at Sun Life Stadium.
9. Oct 31 at Duke
Duke will have a lot of major pieces to replace on offense, including at quarterback. While the Blue Devils have given Miami trouble the last few seasons, Duke will have to replace three of its four starters on the defensive line.
8. Nov. 27 (Friday) at Pittsburgh
Miami’s last game of the regular season at Pittsburgh isn’t easy by any means, but the rest of the games on the team’s schedule are more daunting. Both teams are evenly matched, so Pittsburgh cannot be overlooked.
7. Oct. 1 (Thursday) at Cincinnati
The Cincinnati Bearcats have been picked by many to win the American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats return nine starters from a team that won nine games a season ago. This will be the Canes’ tune-up before the trip to face Florida State nine days later.
6. Sept. 19 vs. Nebraska
There’s a new regime at Nebraska, as Mike Riley takes over as head coach. While running back Ameer Abdullah is gone, the team still has quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. Armstrong accumulated 3,400 yards in total offense last season.
5. Nov. 14 at North Carolina
North Carolina hasn’t had a problem scoring points. The team’s biggest issue the last couple of seasons has been giving up too many. With new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik now in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels could be a dark horse to win the ACC Coastal.
4. Oct. 17 vs. Virginia Tech
Last season, Miami ran all over Virginia Tech, rushing for 364 yards in Blacksburg. The Hokies return eight starters on defense, so things could be a bit different this time at Sun Life Stadium.
3. Nov. 21 vs. Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech are the favorites to repeat as Coastal Division champions, but at least Miami will play the Yellow Jackets at home. The Hurricanes will attempt to avenge last season’s 28-17 loss in Atlanta.
2. Oct. 24 vs. Clemson
Clemson could very well end up winning the ACC title this season. The reason this game is at No. 2 on the list is because it is at Sun Life Stadium and not Clemson Memorial Stadium. This will be the third straight ACC contender Miami will play in October.
1. Oct. 10 at Florida State
Despite Florida State only returning three starters on offense, the team is still loaded, especially defensively. This could be the year that Miami ends its five-game losing streak against the Seminoles. The problem for the Hurricanes, however, is that this game is in Tallahassee, where Florida State hasn’t lost since the 2012 season.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
The NFC East is tough. From an external look, the Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants all have legitimate chances to win this division. The Redskins need to improve a lot, but they're headed in that direction. There's a reason that this division has some of the most intense rivalries, and that should play out over the course of the season. Each team has won the division once in the past four seasons. Is it time again for a new team to take the title?
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the NFC East looks entering the 2015 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Cowboys, Giants, Eagles and Redskins.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
“The pick of OG Zack Martin in last year’s firstround over QB Johnny Manziel showed a discipline and direction uncommon to the Cowboys since the Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells tenures."…
"Jerry and Stephen Jones wisely added to their offensive line, which helped the run game, protected QB Tony Romo better and gave some cover to their suspect defense."…
"Romo enjoyed a Pro Bowl-level season by hitting nearly 70 percent of his passes with 34 touchdowns and only nine picks."…
"DeMarco Murray led the league in rushing with 1,845 yards, but he hit free agency, and again, the Jones’ demonstrated their new-found restraint and did not chase him beyond the predetermined budget. To their surprise, he ended up in Philadelphia, and it seemed obvious that a RB would be taken in the first three rounds of the draft."…
"That did not happen, so at present, free agent Darren McFadden, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar will shoulder the load behind this OL."…
"TE Jason Witten is one of the most competitive, consistent performers in the league, all he does is block, catch passes and lead by example."…
"Dez Bryant is a dominant force on the outside because of his physical stature and desire to go after the football."…
"WR Terrence Williams flies under the radar, but he had 37 catches last year, eight of which went for scores and Cole Beasley re-upped as their slot receiver (37 grabs in 2015), too, so they are set out wide."…
"Head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan must stay balanced and lean on their run game to set up for success on third downs (47.1 percent conversions/2nd in NFL), rather than wanting to throw the football all over the lot."…
"Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli made enough lemonade out of this group to keep the Cowboys competitive all year and into the playoffs."…
"They signed DE Greg Hardy to help with the pass rush (28 total sacks/28th in league), and was was a 10-game suspension was reduced upon appeal to just four."…
"Nebraska pass rusher Randy Gregory fell into the second round after his well-chronicled marijuana issues and the Cowboys were more than willing to take him at pick No. 60."…
"DT Henry Melton took his five sacks to Tampa Bay as a free agent, so DE Jeremy Mincey is their top returning producer with six from last season."…
"LB Sean Lee returns from a knee injury and should, if healthy, bolster a group that includes Rolando McClain (87 total tackles) and Anthony Hitchens (84 total tackles), a nice find for them from the 2014 draft."… [Editor's note: McClain is suspended for the first four games due to a violation of the leagues' substance-abuse policy.]
"The secondary needed a boost at cornerback because Brandon Carr has not produced big plays and Orlando Scandrick is better as a nickel back than full-time starter, so they added UConn CB Byron Jones as their first-round pick."…
"Barry Church led the team in tackles from one safety post, while J.J. Wilcox has developed into a dependable starter."…
"The Cowboys must stick with their formula in order to win the NFC East again, and that is to run the football, set up manageable third downs, score touchdowns in the red zone (64.7 percent TD rate/2nd in NFL) and continue to mask their sub-standard defense.”
“The Giants stuck with head coach Tom Coughlin and GM Jerry Reese, while making sweeping changes to their offense with the hiring of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo last year."…
"After some growing pains for the entire offense, Eli Manning took off and finished with 30 touchdowns and cut his interceptions in half from 27 to 14. He enters the final season of his seven-year/$107 million deal, but if he plays like he did in 2014, another extension at $20 million-plus per year will be on the table."…
"In only 12 games, WR Odell Beckham earned a Pro Bowl trip with 91 receptions for 1,305 yards (14.3avg) and 12 touchdowns. He is a terrific, hand-eye coordination athlete with change-of-direction skills and big speed."…
"Victor Cruz went down after six games with a patellar injury and his 100 percent return is in question for September/October."…
"Rueben Randle doesn’t get much recognition, but he chipped in 71 catches and three touchdowns, and has developed into a solid No. 3 WR."…
"The biggest surprise may have been the performance of TE Larry Donnell, who ended 2014 with 63 grabs and six touchdowns. Everyone knew the McAdoo offense was TE-friendly, but very few felt he could be a legitimate answer."…
"The offensive line was upgraded when Miami OT Ereck Flowers was picked at No. 9 in the first round, so with OC Weston Richburg and OT Justin Pugh, they now have three young prospects that can be secure long-time starters."…
"While the offense showed progress, the defense struggled all year, so defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was shown the door and Steve Spagnuolo was hired as his replacement."…
"Spags will find some pieces to work with in DE Jason Pierre-Paul, who returned to form with 12.5 sacks and DT Johnathan Hankins (7 sacks), plus OLB Devon Kennard."… [Editor's note: Pierre-Paul has yet to sign his franchise tender and his return to the Giants is up in the air after he seriously injured his hands in a July 4 fireworks accident. His injuries were so bad he had to have his right index finger amputated.]
"Kennard played well as a rookie when he registered 43 total tackles and 4.5 sacks."…
"Jameel McClain stepped up in Jon Beason’s absence and totaled 116 tackles, but this is probably the weakest position on their roster."…
"After Antrel Rolle signed in Chicago, the safety position was the most vacant spot on a depth chart in the NFL until the Giants traded up in the second round to select Alabama’s Landon Collins."…
"Veteran cornerbacks Prince Amukamara (missed eight games with torn bicep) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie give them a start in their base defense, but depth is a concern in the nickel package."…
"No one in the NFC East is invincible, so if the Giants can stay healthy and improve their turnover margin again, they can be in the mix with Dallas and Philadelphia.”
“This will be the most-watched team in the NFL in 2015. After an offseason of upheaval in the organization and numerous high-profile roster moves during free agency, Chip Kelly has assumed control of all player personnel moves and is pushing to advance the Eagles past the 10-6 threshold."…
"They saw QBs Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez in virtually the same light and felt that the only way to get a better passer would be to take a chance on another signal-caller on the 'rebound.' Sam Bradford was the option and they traded Foles to the St. Louis Rams to get him."…
"Bradford has a pure release and can spin the football, but has not been able to stay healthy and every time he drops back beginning in OTAs, the Eagles’ organization will be holding their collective breath."…
"Even before the QB surprise, there was the trade of RB LeSean McCoy to Buffalo for LB Kiko Alonso, who missed all of 2014 with a torn ACL. Word has it that they felt he was over-priced and spent too much time going East-West, especially in short-yardage and goal-line situations."…
"In a later-than-expected development, the Cowboys would not go beyond their budget for RB DeMarco Murray and he ended up signing in Philly. Prior to last season, he battled his own injury concerns before breaking out to lead the NFL in rushing (1,845 yards). The expectation is that he will give Kelly a more dependable North-South option as a runner, and don’t forget Ryan Mathews was inked as well (from San Diego)."…
"The tight ends are very competent in Zach Ertz and Brent Celek, while USC’s Nelson Agholor was added to a deficient mix of wide receivers as their first-round pick."…
"The offensive line was signed as a five-man unit through 2016, but there are rumblings about OG Evan Mathis being traded and longtime OG Todd Herremans was released and signed by Indianapolis."… [Editor's note: Mathis was released by the Eagles in June and has yet to sign with another team as of Aug. 17.]
"Kelly’s unique offense has put up terrific numbers in his first two seasons, but it certainly is a scheme that leaves the defense on the field."…
"Philadelphia finished 28th in total defense (375.6 yards per game) and 31st in passing yards allowed (264.9 yards per game), despite finishing tied for second with 49 sacks."…
"DE Fletcher Cox is the real deal and scheme-versatile."…
"Alonso will help DeMeco Ryans serve as a signal-caller on the defense, and both can help get LB Mychal Kendricks pointed in the right direction."…
"OLB Connor Barwin broke out with 14.5 sacks last season."…
"The cornerbacks have been re-made with the additions of Byron Maxwell (Seahawks) and Walter Thurmond (Giants) in free agency."…
"FS Malcolm Jenkins will be paired with either Earl Wolff or potentially second-round DB Eric Rowe from Utah."…
"Philly struck gold when they traded for PK Cody Parkey. All he did was hit 32-of-36 field goals and earn a trip to the Pro Bowl as a rookie."…
"However, if the two-point play rule is changed so the football is placed at the 1-yard line, new addition Tim Tebow could represent 2-4 points per game because of his abilities as a run/pass threat in that particular situation.”
“Other than President Barack Obama, no one has more focus on them within the Beltway than Robert Griffin III."…
"Washington has been on a roller-coaster ride since giving up a king’s ransom to obtain him back in 2011."…
"He and head coach Jay Gruden got off to a rough start in 2014, but the hope this year is that everything has been smoothed over, he is 100 percent healthy and will have a better team around him."…
"The set of skill players in DC is not an issue with WRs DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Andre Roberts, plus TEs Jordan Reed and Niles Paul and RB Alfred Morris. Jackson fit in well and produced 56 receptions for a 20.9 yard average and six touchdowns, while Garcon and Roberts are more than capable complimentary pieces."… [Editor's note: Paul is out for the season after breaking his left ankle in the Redskins' first preseason game on Aug. 13]
"Reed is super-talented, but has to find a way to stay healthy (missed five games in 2014)."…
"Morris, behind an inept offensive line and without the threat of the zone-read QB keeper, struggled to reach 1,000 yards."…
"The line is simply awful other than LT Trent Williams and he is no consensus Pro Bowler."…
"They gave up 58 sacks (third highest in the league), and combined with a minus-12 turnover ratio, equaled a difficult year on offense, hence, their selection of Iowa OT/OG Brandon Scherff as a day one starter at fifth overall."…
"Defensively, Jim Haslett survived one season under Gruden, but now Joe Barry is in charge."…
"They tried to rebuild the defensive line by signing Stephen Paea (Bears), Terrance Knighton (Broncos) and Ricky Jean-Francois (Colts) during free agency."…
"OLB Ryan Kerrigan continues to be one of the more under-appreciated players in the NFL, all he does is play hard and produce each year."…
"Brian Orakpo is off to the Titans after being derailed by injuries here."…
"The hope is that Trent Murphy and second-rounder Preston Smith (from Miss State) can become part of a three-man, pass-rushing rotation."…
"The secondary has a lot of names, but not sure how good they will be."…
"Dashon Goldson was acquired from Tampa Bay via trade and they signed Chris Culliver, too."…
"If this sounds like the 49ers from a few years ago, it is, because GM Bruce Allen was bumped up to president and Scot McCloughan was brought in to run their personnel department."…
"David Amerson and Bashaud Breeland have shown flashes of decent play, but will likely be in backup roles to Culliver and DeAngelo Hall."…
"RGIII has been his own soap opera, but the truth is, that the OL and defense have been in disrepair, and until those things are fixed, it may not matter if he ‘talks small and plays big’ in 2015.”
A walk-on earning his scholarship makes for some of the best videos in all of college football.
This time it's NC State cornerback Nick Lacy getting his scholarship after all the hard work and effort he put into the team. His sacrifice was rewarded in a speech by the defensive backs coach George Barlow.
These guys are genuinely happy for their teammate. This is a true team.