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Tennessee Volunteers head coach Butch Jones and his staff got a head start on its 2018 class on Monday when local (Knoxville Catholic High School) offensive lineman and Tennessee Volunteer legacy, Cade Mays, pledged a verbal commitment to play football at the University of Tennessee. Mays made the news public via his Twitter account yesterday afternoon.
The all-state high school sophomore, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds, has already garnered plenty of attention on the national stage, including being named to Max Prep’s 2014 Freshman High School All-American Team. He was also named to Max Prep’s Top 50 prospects for the class of 2018. While Mays has yet to be formally evaluated and assigned a star rating by recruiting services, it is widely suspected that he will be one of the top ranked offensive lineman in the nation for the class of 2018.
Mays picked the Volunteers over an impressive list of suitors which included such schools as Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, to name a few. Mays’ offer list is said to have reached well into the double digits, which serves as a glowing endorsement for any high school prospect, much less one that has yet to reach the age of 16. He becomes Tennessee’s first public commit for the class of 2018.
Mays’ father, Kevin, also played offensive line for the Vols, serving as team captain in 1994 in route to first team All-SEC honors that same year.
— 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
It may be difficult for me to convince anyone that Teddy Bridgewater will be a top-10 fantasy quarterback in 2015. Aside from being a sophomore in the NFL, having minimal changes in his offensive line, I also am a loyal Vikings fan.
That alone may be reason enough to doubt my opinions, and I can understand that. However, I typically use a combination of the good ol’ gut feeling along with data. Yep, I think statistics are cool, and most importantly I enjoy some of the lesser known, or favored statistics in football.
That is where my fan obsession, especially after his rookie campaign, becomes a data-driven reality.
I am sure I won’t convert everyone, but I hope to at least provide four big reasons why Bridgewater can break through in and emerge as a top-10 fantasy quarterback this season.
Note: Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
1) Look At His Final Four Games
Bridgewater was a top-10 fantasy quarterback in December. That is right, he has already accomplished the feat. Bridgewater dazzled. With a completion rate of 72 percent, and surpassing 1,092 yards passing in his final four games, Teddy Bridgewater let the league know he has arrived.
2) Bridgewater Was Phenomenal Under Pressure in 2014
Bridgewater was under pressure frequently in his rookie season, to the tune of just under 40 percent to be exact. Considering he was also a rookie makes his decision-making, and ability to still complete plays even more impressive.
Need to visualize how well Bridgewater performed under pressure? Check out this chart from ProFootballFocus.com observing Passing Under Pressure in 2014. It shouldn’t take too long to find the Vikings’ quarterback.
Looking ahead to 2015, he has a full season under his belt, he has more familiarity with the offense, and will get a helping hand from one of the best players in the game rushing the ball in Adrian Peterson. This season the odds of a repeat performance are very high, and most fans are hoping Bridgewater’s pressure percentage drops in 2015.
3) Performance on Third Downs
Bridgewater also held his own and was able to move the chains on third downs in his rookie campaign. It may not be something most fantasy owners look at but having a fantasy quarterback, one that is able to convert on third downs over half of the time, especially at longer distances is huge. They get more plays, and prolonged drives usually mean more yardage, and of course increased touchdown potential.
First I will let you look at Drew Brees’ numbers from 2014.
Now we will look at Bridgewater’s:
Bridgewater had comparable or better numbers than Brees. Don’t misinterpret this as stating the second-year signal-caller is on Brees’ level. That is not the point, as much as showing how much poise, and ability he showed as a rookie AND under pressure. The talent is there, and he has more offensive weapons in 2015.
4) Mike Wallace and Adrian Peterson Additions
We all know how much Peterson will help an offense when he is on the field. Having a legitimate running game only helps quarterbacks in occupying defenses and spreading the field.
Bridgewater had a running game last season, but it was largely volume-based and with inexperienced runners in Matt Asiata and fellow rookie Jerick McKinnon. With Peterson in the backfield defenses are forced to game plan. This can only help Bridgewater.
Wallace is a speedster and deep threat. Someone the Vikings had hoped they had (have) in Cordarelle Patterson, but with Wallace on board Bridgewater now has a legitimate downfield option along with Charles Johnson and Patterson.
The 2015 season is very bright for Bridgewater and the Vikings, and although they have the 12th-most difficult strength of schedule this season, his new, and somewhat new weapons should only help him develop into an even more appealing fantasy option. Perhaps even top-10-worthy.
— 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.
The Big 12 may have missed out on the inaugural College Football Playoff last season, but that doesn’t mean the conference lacks for impact players. While some are more household names than other, each Big 12 team has their “wild card” players that figure to play a big role in how their respective season will pan out.
Related: Big 12 Football 2015 Predictions
There are different interpretations when it comes to a “wild card” player. Sometimes it’s a do-everything, x-factor type guy that everyone is well aware of. Other times it may be a player who is flying under the radar or someone who is poised to break out this season.
Whatever the definition, here is “wild card” offensive and defensive player for each Big 12 team for the 2015 season:
Offense: KD Cannon, Wide Receiver
As a true freshman Cannon averaged 17.8 yards per catch last season. His speed alone makes him a nightmare matchup, forcing teams to game plan to try and slow him down. He led the nation in receptions longer than 60, 70 and 80 yards. Don’t expect anything less from him this season.
Defense: Shawn Oakman, Defensive End
Oakman is just scary, period. At 6-foot-9, 280 pounds Oakman is not just big but also strong and athletic. With a school-record 11 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss last season Oakman will lead a defense that is again stacked with talent.
Offense: Quenton Bundrage, Wide Receiver
Bundrage’s performance in the spring has stirred up some optimism for Cyclones fans. After sitting out most of last season with a torn ACL he now seems to be 100 percent. Bundrage caught 20 passes for 232 yards in 2012 and will lead a much-improved receiving corps in Ames this fall.
Defense: Sam E. Richardson, Cornerback
Not to be mistaken for QB Sam Richardson, Sam E. Richardson will have to take the reigns as a defensive captain this season after losing teammates to graduation and dismissals. Kamari Cotton-Moya, last season’s Defensive Freshman of the Year in the Big 12, returns as well but he has been limited since being hospitalized for a head injury sustained in the spring.
Offense: Taylor Cox, Running Back
It just keeps getting worse for Kansas with the announcement that leading rusher Corey Avery has left the program. That leaves the running responsibilities to Cox, who was recently granted a sixth year of eligibility. Cox hasn’t played since rushing for 464 yards on 91 carries in 2012. Now he will be tasked with leading a Kansas offense that desperately needs some playmakers to emerge.
Defense: Fish Smithson, Free Safety
Smithson, who finished fifth last season in tackles, is one of the unit’s top returning contributors. Kansas is going through a large rebuilding process on defense and this unit will likely lean on Smithson for both leadership and production.
Offense: Cody Whitehair, Tackle
Probably the most versatile offensive lineman in the Big 12, Whitehair has played almost every position on the line. His athleticism and size makes him a nightmare for defensive linemen. Even though he never touches the football, Whitehair is one of the Wildcats’ offensive players that must be accounted for by opposing defenses.
Defense: Dante Barnett, Safety
Along with Danzel McDaniel, Barrett may be part of the best secondary in the Big 12. Second on the team with 77 tackles last season, Barnett will be looked upon to lead a defense that lost most of its front seven from 2014.
Offense: Samaje Perine, Running Back
Perine burst onto the scene last season when he rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns against West Virginia in Morgantown. He topped that later by rushing for an FBS single-game record 427 yards against Kansas. Perine is no longer an “under the radar” player, as his production will be key for an onffense that’s transitioning under new coordinator Lincoln Riley.
Defense: Eric Striker, Linebacker
Striker is the heart and soul of the Sooners’ defense, known for his ability to excel as a pass rusher or in pass coverage. While his stats were not indicative of his play, he was disruptive presence last season whenever he was on the field. Expect more of the same this season.
Offense: Mason Rudolph, Quarterback
Forced into action earlier than head coach Mike Gundy wanted, Rudolph proved he was the future under center for the Cowboys last season. With an improved offensive line and veterans at the receiver position everything appears in place for Rudolph to have a breakout season.
Defense: Emmanuel Ogbah, Defensive End
The reigning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year, Ogbah is back looking to not only improve his stock for the 2016 NFL Draft, but also help his Cowboys win another conference title. Ogbah impressed with his 11 sacks last season, but now he must do the same against offenses that will game plan and scheme against him as the anchor of a defensive line featuring two new starting tackles.
Offense: Trevone Boykin, Quarterback
Make no mistake, every defense is fully aware of who Boykin is and what he’s capable of doing. But as the early favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and the most important player on a team with College Football Playoff aspirations, Boykin’s margin for error is razor thin. The “wild card” factor lies in what happens if Boykin doesn’t match his production from last season, even if the Horned Frogs keep winning? How much do “style points” matter when it comes to Heisman voters and the Playoff selection committee? We may find out this fall.
Defense: Davion Pierson, Defensive Tackle
As the most experienced player for the Horned Frogs entering this season (31 career starts), Pierson will be looked upon to lead a defense that must replace six starters and several other key contribtors. He may not get the accolades he deserves but if there are linebackers getting into the backfield rest assured Pierson is helping to make that happen.
Offense: Tyrone Swoopes, Quarterback
Many Longhorn fans probably don’t want to see this name as their offensive wild card this season but the truth is Swoopes will HAVE to perform. Texas is returning just one starter at the skill positions, so the junior signal-caller will need to take the lead on offense. He has the athletic ability to be great, but has yet to develop the consistency necessary to produce on a week in, week out basis. If he performs like he did in the bowl loss to Arkansas last season, Swoopes could lose his job to redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard.
Defense: Malik Jefferson, Linebacker
Jefferson hasn’t even played a down in a Longhorns uniform yet but is already expected by many to immediately make an impact. Rated the best LB recruit in the nation in the 2015 class, Jefferson enrolled early in Austin and has already impressed. With the Longhorns set to replace six starters on defense Jefferson figures to get every opportunity to play right away, and he appears to have the skill set to be a difference-maker sooner rather than later.
Offense: DeAndre Washington, Running Back
Known for their passing attack, the Red Raiders will be young at the outside receiver position and will continue to deal with a QB situation that was unstable last season. Washington’s 1,103 yards rushing last season made him the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 1998. Until Texas Tech can dial in its passing attack expect to see a heavy dose of Washington.
Defense: Pete Robertson, Linebacker/Defensive End
Among those defenders named on the preseason watch lists for both the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award, Robertson will anchor a defense that as much room for improvement this season. The Big 12’s sack leader in 2014 (12), Roberston will need to continue to make plays for new defensive coordinator David Gibbs, if the Red Raiders want turn around lasts season’s 4-8 record.
Offense: Jordan Thompson, Wide Receiver
While the Mountaineers will try and replace first-round NFL Draft pick Kevin White on the outside, look for Thompson to be a primary target out of the slot. Thompson has shown flashes of greatness while sometimes leaving fans scratching their heads. The best aspect of Thompson is that he is ready to be that impact player and fully embraces the responsibility, as West Virginia also will have a new face at quarterback.
Defense: Karl Joseph, Safety
Joseph is undoubtedly the most punishing safety in the Big 12 and possibly the country. He will anchor a defense that should be one of the best in the conference and has the ability to be a difference-maker whenever he is on the field. If Joseph doesn’t play up to his level, West Virginia’s defense will probably struggle.
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.
If you've ever heard the phrase "we're short a guy," then you've probably played sports at some point.
Anthony Davis, Mike Trout, and Andrew Luck star in a new Nike ad that will have you feeling just a bit nostalgic.
The College Football Playoff Committee proved the general trend of tougher scheduling last fall.
The Pac-12 may not get a team in the Playoff because this league might be too good and too deep to provide a one-loss champion. To top it off, the Committee can't blame the Pac-12 for taking it easy in the non-conference either.
Here are top 10 non-conference games in the Pac-12 in 2015.
|Two national title contenders finishing the back half of a home-and-home? Yes, please. The Spartans will be fired up at home and have revenge on their minds after the 46-27 loss in Eugene last fall. The winner will get a huge Playoff notch in its belt in what should be one of the best games of the year regardless of conference.|
|The 87th meeting between USC and ND could carry a lot of Playoff weight if all goes according to plan for both. USC smoked the Irish in L.A. last season and is 5-1 in its last six trips to South Bend. However, that lone loss came in the Trojans' last visit two seasons ago.|
|The Aggies and Sun Devils have never met before and fans on both sides should be thoroughly entertained throughout the pseudo-neutral site season opener. Two great offenses should light up the Houston skyline en route to a feather-in-the-cap non-con win.|
|This should be a physical, hard-hitting affair once again. And both are Playoff sleeper teams. Stanford has won three straight in the series at home and four of the last six overall. Notre Dame needed an epic fourth quarter to beat the Cardinal 14-10 last fall in South Bend.|
|Chris Petersen returns to Boise in charge of a Pac-12 name brand that is in clear rebuilding mode. The blue turf won't be nearly as welcoming as the Broncos have eyes on another Mountain West title and New Year's Day bowl berth. The Huskies' major questions under center and on the D-line will have to be answered to leave Idaho with a win.|
|Related: Pac-12 Football Teams as Rock and Roll Bands|
|These two have only met three times with all three games taking place in Ann Arbor. Utah has won two of those meetings, including a 26-10 thumping of the Wolverines last season. On a Thursday night with Jim Harbaugh leading the way, this game should be much more intriguing.|
|The Cougars and Bruins have played 10 times with UCLA claiming seven wins. However, BYU has won the last two meetings, including a 58-0 embarrassment in 2008. Jim Mora's defense will need to be on its toes early against an athlete like Taysom Hill.|
|This could be a program-defining win for Sonny Dykes and Cal in Austin in Week 3. The Horns are at home and more talented (and can actually play defense) but quarterback Jared Goff is a superstar in the making and could set himself up for a nationally acclaimed season with a win in Texas. The Bears are 0-5 all-time against the Longhorns.|
|Throw the SAT scores out the window in the season opener for both. The Cardinal will have to kick off the season at 9 a.m. PT in Evanston against a Wildcats team that is looking to get back into the postseason. Stanford holds a 3-1-2 series lead but hasn't faced NW since 1994.|
|These in-state rivals have played 111 times with Utah holding a substantial 78-29-4 lead in the series. Only once since 1997 has Utah State pulled the upset but that was with Chuckie Keeton running the offense in 2012. Keeton posted 302 total yards in that win and has returned for his final season in Logan after missing 11 games last fall.|
* - neutral site
Best of the Rest:
UCF at Stanford, Sept. 12
UCLA at Virginia, Sept. 5
Utah State at Washington, Sept. 19
Oregon State at Michigan, Sept. 12
Colorado vs. Colorado State, Sept. 19*
Washington State at Rutgers, Sept. 12
Utah at Fresno State, Sept. 19
Arizona at Nevada, Sept. 12
Eastern Washington at Oregon, Sept. 5
Arkansas enters the 2015 college football season with high expectations, coming off a 7-6 showing in 2014 that concluded with a 31-7 bowl win over old Southwest Conference rival Texas. The Razorbacks' offense should be the strength of the team with four offensive linemen returning, along with a pair of 1,100-yard rushers in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, and a third-year starting quarterback in Brandon Allen.
What was a 7-6 record last season for the Hogs very easily could have been 10-3. Arkansas used an old school blend of tough-nosed defense and a punishing ground game to shorten the clock and wear down opponents. The Razorbacks finished the season ranked 11th out of 14 SEC teams with 2,444 total passing yards. The passing game ranked 10th in the conference in touchdown passes with 21 and tied Georgia for the fewest interceptions in SEC play with just six.
The troubles for the offense happened on those few times Arkansas was stuck in a third-and-long situation. The strength of last year’s passing attack was the tight ends, and will be again in 2015, but more production is needed out of the wide receivers.
Senior Keon Hatcher is the top returnee in terms of receptions (43), yards (558), and touchdown catches (six). Tight end and All-American candidate Hunter Henry was second on the team with 37 catches and 513 yards. Arkansas lost backup tight end AJ Derby to the NFL. Derby, a converted quarterback, was third on the team with 22 receptions for 303 yards with three scores. Derby also missed two games due to injury.
Arkansas cannot take that next step with its third-leading receiver barely producing 300 yards of offense.
Sophomore wideout Jared Cornelius has the potential to do great things in the Arkansas offense. He had 18 receptions for 212 yards with two scores but like all the other receivers never showed breakaway speed or the ability to win a game on a five-yard slant by taking it to the house.
Cody Hollister (13-137-1) and Drew Morgan (10-181-1) have been more possession receivers rather than fearsome targets that require more than one SEC defender to cover.
The receiving unit may receive a boost in 2015 from redshirt freshman JoJo Robinson, true freshman La’Michael Pettway, and junior college transfer Dominique Reed.
Robinson was a 4-star recruit out of Miami Northwestern. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound speedster showed flashes of brilliance during last season's fall camp, but various injuries and some off-the-field complications kept him on the sidelines as a redshirt. His speed and playmaking ability could be just what the Hogs' receiving corps needs.
Pettway (6-2, 190) is an incoming freshman who could contribute immediately. Time will tell if the Nashville, Ark., native is a chain-mover or a game-changer. The big addition to the 2015 recruiting class was Reed. Reed tore it up at Coffeyville (Kan.) C.C. last season, coming up with 61 receptions for 1,157 yards, and 19 touchdowns in 11 games.
Reed’s presence on the field fills two much-needed gaps, a legitimate speed burner who can stretch the field and help open more running lanes for the tailbacks while giving space for underneath routes and he is also a dream red-zone target. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, and boasting 4.3 speed, the Camden, Ark., native could be the big piece of the puzzle that helps push the Hogs from pretender to contender in 2015.
Another key factor in the Razorback passing attack in 2015 is new offensive coordinator Dan Enos. While many of the Arkansas spring practices were closed to the public and media, word around the water cooler is Enos intends to throw the ball more and spread out the defense. The running backs are supposed to be featured in the passing game as well, something not utilized at all under former coordinator Jim Chaney.
While there are plenty of questions for Arkansas at wide receiver, the Razorbacks appear rather loaded at tight end. It all starts with Henry, but Arkansas, without question, also signed the best group of tight ends in the 2015 recruiting class, landing 4-star Will Gragg, underrated 3-star Austin Cantrell, and 4-star C.J. O’Grady.
And there's also junior tight end Jeremy Sprinkle, who appears to have the skill set but just hasn't been able to put it together on the field. Sprinkle (6-6, 243) has showed glimpses over the past two years but has not produced consistently. The White Hall, Ark., native had a really good spring which could mean the Hogs are in business spreading out linebackers and safeties with two tight ends that can have an impact both as a receiver and run-blocker.
Two other players that have a shot at making some noise are wide receivers Kendrick Edwards and Deon Stewart. Edwards (6-5, 212) caught just four balls last season as a true freshman, but he averaged 17.5 yards per reception, one of those going for a touchdown. Edwards is currently suspended from the team but could return if he fulfills the obligations laid out by Bielema.
Stewart has nothing to lose going into his freshman season. Often overlooked despite recording 49 receptions for 1,005 yards with 11 touchdowns during his senior year, the former Highland High School star has a lot of upside without the pressure of producing from the moment he steps foot on campus. Listed at 6-1, 165, and with 4.48 speed, Stewart could be the speedy receiver in the slot that makes enough plays here or there that add up to wins by season’s end.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
Once among the perennial elite, the Dolphins have been largely irrelevant for quite a while now, without a playoff win since Dec. 30, 2000. While the fans are long past impatient, owner Stephen Ross leaned toward a youth movement in the offseason. “I wouldn’t want to be getting old veterans to win that year and then get back to where we were,” Ross says. “I want to build something that is going to be a dynasty that people want to see year in and year out.”
That’s not to say Ross spent the past several months sitting idle. Yes, he kept his embattled coach, Joe Philbin, and Philbin kept both of his coordinators, Bill Lazor on offense and Kevin Coyle on defense. But the front office was overhauled, with former Jets executive Mike Tannenbaum hired to oversee an operation that still includes general manager Dennis Hickey. And the team may have as many as 10 new starters, including the prize of the free-agent market, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who signed a six-year, $114 million contract with nearly $60 million guaranteed. “This is obviously a great day,” Suh said at his introductory press conference. “And there’s obviously many more to come after that.”
How soon? We’ll see.
It got largely lost due to the team’s lack of overall progress, but the Dolphins did make gains on offense last season, with their best yardage ranking (14th) since 2008 and best points ranking (11th) since 2001, which happen to be the franchise’s last two playoff seasons.
They should make more strides, now that Lazor has had more than a year to implement his schemes — with some use of the read option — and increase the unit’s tempo, something that didn’t occur as planned last season. Much of that will fall on Ryan Tannehill, who seems to be a quarterback on the rise. That’s one of the reasons the Dolphins rewarded him with a six-year contract extension in May that could be worth as much as $96 million and is guaranteed to pay him no less than $45 million. “The good news is he’s gotten better every year,” Philbin says.
That’s supported by the statistics, as the third-year player posted his highest passer rating (92.8) largely due to a dramatic increase in completion percentage (60.4 to 66.4). And yet, his yards-per-completion continued its decline, from 11.7 as a rookie to 11.0 in his second season to 10.3 in his third. While it wise for the Dolphins to play to his strengths, Tannehill still needs to become more accurate with his deep throws to make the Dolphins a truly dynamic attack.
He won’t be trying to connect with Mike Wallace anymore. After two expensive and uneven seasons, Wallace was sent to Minnesota to make way for a younger, cheaper core. Miami will have three receivers in their regular rotation who are under 24 years old, including Kenny Stills, a speedy import from New Orleans who had 63 catches on 85 targets last season, compared to 67 on 115 for Wallace.
Stills’ presence on the outside, along with the development of first-round pick DeVante Parker, should allow Jarvis Landry and new tight end Jordan Cameron to exploit the middle. As a rookie, the hard-working Landry showed terrific instincts and good hands, catching 84 passes, albeit for just 9.0 yards per catch. That number should increase, if Tannehill can sit back in the pocket a little longer — he took 46 sacks, down 12 from the previous season but still too high. It’s remarkable that Tannehill has started every game in three straight seasons.
Branden Albert solidified the left tackle spot prior to a season-ending knee injury, so his return to full health is critical. With Albert, center Mike Pouncey (newly signed to a lucrative extension) and right tackle Ja’Wuan James (coming off a good rookie season), Miami appears settled at three spots. The guard spots are in flux; the Dolphins may need fourth-round rookie Jamil Douglas to step in immediately.
They’ll be blocking for Lamar Miller, who had some ups and downs after taking over as the primary ball carrier. Miller, however, finished strong with 270 yards in the season’s final two weeks. Now the question is whether he can handle an even greater load; he averaged 5.1 yards per carry but never had more than 19 attempts. There’s questionable depth at the position.
Coming off a tumultuous season — with players questioning the coordinator (Coyle) — the Dolphins invested heavily in Suh to instill some fear in opposing offenses. While he’s created controversy with some of his on-field antics, there’s never been any question about Suh’s ability, not only to disrupt running and passing plays but also to make his teammates better. A few of his teammates are already pretty good, notably defensive ends Cameron Wake (57.5 sacks over the past five seasons) and Olivier Vernon (18 sacks over the past two seasons), cornerback Brent Grimes (coming off two straight Pro Bowls) and safety Reshad Jones (who had a bounce-back year). And defensive tackle Earl Mitchell should be a solid complement to Suh, holding up blockers and helping to stuff the run.
But plenty of others will need to exceed expectations for the Dolphins to improve from their 2014 rankings (20th in points, 12th in yardage). That starts with the entire linebacker group. Koa Misi is serviceable in the middle, and Jelani Jenkins was a positive surprise as a fourth-round pick in 2013. But there’s no clear playmaker in the group, especially after the Dion Jordan experiment failed. Jordan, the No. 3 pick in the 2013 draft, was a disappointment for two seasons and will miss the 2015 campaign due to a failed drug test.
In the secondary, veteran safety Louis Delmas returns after ACL surgery, and either Jamar Taylor or Will Davis will need to emerge as a consistent complement to Grimes at corner to allow newcomer Brice McCain play the nickel. Miami allowed opposing quarterbacks to compile an 89.7 passer rating last season, with 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions — not the league’s worst, but not contender material.
Two seasons into his NFL career, Caleb Sturgis still hasn’t cemented his status, not after making 77.5 percent of his field-goal attempts, including 20-of-33 from 40 yards or more. If he’s not better, he’ll likely be replaced. Brandon Fields didn’t have his best season, with his lowest percentage (36.2) of punts inside the 20-yard-line since 2009, and he was in danger of being released prior to restructuring his contract. Landry was the primary punt and kickoff returner last season and — a couple of hiccups aside — did decent work. Ideally, though, the Dolphins would like more of a burner at those spots to save Landry for his receiving duties. So that search will continue.
The Dolphins have been stuck in the middle, or just below, for so long that it’s hard to predict anything better than a .500 finish. But if Tannehill can make another leap, and Suh can energize what was at times a listless defense, there’s potential here to squeak out 10 wins. Philbin may need that many to retain his job, even though Ross signed the coach to an extension through 2016 to remove the perception of lame-duck status. “There has to be improvement,” Ross added, after the announcement. “I’m looking to make the playoffs, and I think Joe is looking to make the playoffs.” Otherwise, this team may look even more different in 2016.
Prediction: 3rd AFC East
While it’s not as simple as overhauling the front office, coaching staff and secondary, the Jets this offseason made plenty of moves in the right direction as they try to put last season’s 4–12 misery behind them. New GM Mike Maccagnan was aggressive in free agency, as he upgraded the Jets’ beleaguered defensive backfield. So far, new head coach Todd Bowles has brought a more businesslike approach to the organization than his predecessor, Rex Ryan.
The Jets did some great things under Ryan. They made the AFC Championship Game in each of his first two seasons, 2009 and 2010. But they haven’t made the playoffs since, and they are 26–38 during this four-year slide, with zero winning records.
But there’s still a nagging question surrounding this team: For as promising as the Jets’ new secondary looks, their quarterback situation is still a giant question mark. Can they overcome that and be a legitimate factor in 2015?
The Jets should be able to run the ball. That hasn’t been an issue in recent seasons. Power running back Chris Ivory is still around. He has rushed for 833 and 821 yards, respectively, in his two seasons with the team. And the Jets added Stevan Ridley in free agency, though you have to wonder if he can return to his old form after last season’s torn ACL and MCL. The Jets still lack a back with breakaway speed.
A bigger issue for this team is the passing game. The past three seasons, the Jets ranked 32nd, 31st and 30th in the NFL in passing offense. Nowhere to go but up, right? In two seasons, quarterback Geno Smith has 41 turnovers, including 34 interceptions. It is time for him to take a step forward with his decision-making in 2015.
The Jets traded for Ryan Fitzpatrick in the offseason, and he will compete for the starting job with Smith. Fitzpatrick is competent enough, but if he beats out Smith in training camp — or replaces him during the season — the Jets will be in the market for a quarterback after this season, as they will almost certainly dump Smith.
Trading for Brandon Marshall this offseason gives the Jets a big-bodied wide receiver who can be a red-zone threat, even if he isn’t as effective overall as he was earlier in his career. Marshall had a streak of seven straight seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving snapped last fall. The Jets have been pitiful in the red zone recently, ranking 32nd, 27th and 25th in the NFL the past three seasons in red-zone efficiency.
The Jets’ second-round draft pick, Ohio State’s Devin Smith, is a deep-threat receiver, and maybe nothing more. But he could help stretch the field and force defenses to play more honest coverage against Marshall and Eric Decker.
The secondary was, by far, the Jets’ biggest defensive shortcoming last season. Maccagnan went out and signed two new cornerbacks — familiar faces Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie — and acquired a free safety, Marcus Gilchrist. The latter should allow second-year pro Calvin Pryor (last year’s first-round pick) to play closer to the line of scrimmage as a strong safety, where he is most comfortable. Maccagnan also signed corner Buster Skrine in free agency.
Between the revamped secondary and the already strong defensive line, the Jets have a chance to be one of the NFL’s top defenses. Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson are two of the league’s best young defensive linemen. Then the Jets saw USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams (maybe the best overall player in the draft) fall into their lap with the No. 6 pick, which creates an issue for Bowles: How does he deploy all these linemen? It’s a good problem to have, especially since Richardson is suspended the first four games for a violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy.
A bigger issue for the Jets comes at the edge rusher/outside linebacker spot in their 3-4 defense. Strong-side linebacker Calvin Pace turns 35 in October. Backup rush linebacker Jason Babin, a pass-rushing specialist, is already 35. The Jets would love for Quinton Coples, their 2012 first-round pick, to develop as a rush linebacker. But he has disappointed so far in his career. He has 16.5 sacks in three seasons, with a high of 6.5 last fall.
The Jets’ defense wasn’t terrible last season under Ryan. The unit finished sixth in the league in yards allowed but was 24th in points allowed and 26th in red-zone defense. Having a better secondary — and a dominant corner like Revis — should help improve those latter two stats.
Nick Folk is back as the Jets’ kicker and Ryan Quigley returns as the punter. This will be Folk’s sixth year with the Jets, and Quigley’s third season. Folk wasn’t as good last season (32-of-39 on field goals) as he was in 2013 (33-of-36), though three of his misses last season came on kicks of 50 yards or longer. Quigley last season ranked 14th in the NFL (45.9-yard average), after ranking 17th in 2013 (45.5).
Worth noting: The Jets this season will have a different special teams coach for the fourth straight year, as longtime special teams coach Bobby April arrives, following Thomas McGaughey, Ben Kotwica and Mike Westhoff, a special teams coaching pioneer. Receiver Jeremy Kerley seems likely to return punts again, though the Jets have options there, just as they do at the kickoff return spot. It will be interesting to see if they give Smith, their blazing-fast rookie receiver, a shot on kickoff returns. He dabbled in them during his time at Ohio State.
You can’t win in today’s NFL unless you have at least competent quarterback play. And there have been plenty of times over the past two seasons when Smith has looked totally incompetent under center. In fact, it’s been a long time since the organization has enjoyed steady, reliable play at the most important position on the field.
So that’s what it boils down to for these Jets: Unless Smith takes a step forward in 2015, or Fitzpatrick performs well as his replacement, it’s hard to envision this team being anything better than average.
Yes, the defense has a chance to be elite, with stars such as Revis and Wilkerson and Richardson. Yes, the Jets should be able to run the ball well, presuming their aging — but still not yet crumbling — offensive line holds up. But without a better passing game, the Jets will probably hover around 7–9 to 9–7. The latter wouldn’t be all that bad for a team coming off 4–12 with a rookie head coach. Either way, look for the Jets to be in the hunt for a playoff spot entering December. This team isn’t going to start 1–8 like last year’s group did.
Keep an eye on the final three games, though — at Dallas, home against New England and at Buffalo. With a playoff spot potentially on the line, those challenges could prove too daunting for a team in transition.
Prediction: 4th in AFC East
When coach Doug Marrone up and quit on the team on New Year’s Eve, the Buffalo Bills were doing what they always do: leading the NFL in dysfunction. Marrone was on the job just two years and had led the team to a 9–7 finish, Buffalo’s best in a decade but still not good enough to end a 15-year playoff drought.
But just when it seemed to be business as usual, new owner Terry Pegula and second-year general manager Doug Whaley began making blockbuster moves all over the place. It began with the hiring of Rex Ryan, jettisoned by the rival New York Jets, to replace Marrone. It reached a fever pitch when a trade was swung with the Philadelphia Eagles to acquire running back LeSean McCoy.
“Is this thing on? Because it’s going to be on,’’ blurted the colorful Ryan into the microphone.
Whether Buffalo has improved on offense enough to complement one of the league’s top defenses remains to be seen. But Team Dysfunction has finally gotten its act together.
The Bills have lacked true star power on this side of the ball, but things are turning. The McCoy acquisition vastly upgraded the club’s moribund rushing game that fell to 25th in the NFL at 92.6 yards per game as veteran Fred Jackson and the departed C.J. Spiller (New Orleans) battled injuries. As a team, the Bills set a franchise record for fewest rushing yards in a 16-game season with 1,482.
McCoy, just 27, had 1,319 yards on 312 attempts all by himself for the Eagles. With 9,074 combined career yards and 54 touchdowns, he is an elite talent with workhorse stamina for whom teams will have to game-plan.
Without the McCoy deal, along with the signing of Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton, Ryan’s proclamation of “ground and pound’’ would amount to ground chuck. Now the Bills — under new coordinator Greg Roman, who rode Frank Gore with the San Francisco 49ers — can complement the quarterback with a running game that can dictate tempo.
Oh yes, quarterback. The Bills will hold a wide-open competition for the job among 2013 first-round pick EJ Manuel, savvy veteran Matt Cassel, picked up in a trade with Minnesota, and free agent Tyrod Taylor.
For Manuel, who was benched after a month in favor of the departed Kyle Orton, this is a crossroads. Unless he’s the clear-cut best player through the preseason, Ryan and Roman will be more than content to have Cassell game-manage their run-based attack. Cassell, 31, led 10-win teams in New England and Kansas City in the past, and his 96-to-70 TD-to-interception ratio for his career has to be respected.
But don’t get the impression Buffalo will be all run and no fun. The Bills receiving corps is young and dynamic, led by last year’s rookie sensation Sammy Watkins, who set team rookie marks for catches (65) and yards (982), and second-year man Robert Woods. The well-traveled Percy Harvin was also added to the mix, and Chris Hogan is an emerging talent. The tight end position received a huge boost as well with the signing of Miami free agent Charles Clay, who will give the Bills many matchup advantages downfield.
The line will remain a bit unsettled through the summer but figures to shake itself out just fine. Free agent guard Richie Incognito, who spent a year in exile after “Bullygate’’ in Miami, brings attitude and toughness to a unit that produced just seven rushing TDs and yielded 39 sacks. The other guard spot is up for grabs, but there is no shortage of candidates, including rookie John Miller. Underrated center Eric Wood will man the middle for a seventh season.
In 2014, the Bills ranked fourth in yards allowed (312.2), behind only Seattle, Detroit and Denver. They also ranked fourth in points allowed (18.1), first in sacks (54), third in takeaways (30), third in pass defense and first in third-down efficiency.
That makes for a pretty tough encore for new coordinator Dennis Thurman, who came over with Ryan from the Jets. But it is one Buffalo — given its wealth of talent — is capable of.
It all starts up front where the Bills feature not one, not two, but three Pro Bowl linemen: Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. With Jerry Hughes, who was re-signed as a free agent, Buffalo is able to generate immense pressure on opposing quarterbacks without having to blitz much; those four combined for 39.5 of the team’s NFL-leading 54 sacks in 2014. Things are so good at this position, the backups could start for other teams, although Dareus will miss the season opener after being suspended for violating the league’s policy on substance abuse.
Ryan is known as a 3-4 proponent, but in truth, he matches his scheme to his personnel, so the Bills will feature a lot of four-man looks (disguised as three-man). Mario Williams and Hughes can play off the line as outside linebackers as well.
Depth in the front seven is one reason Buffalo was able to deal star middle linebacker Kiko Alonso, who missed last season with a knee injury, to the Eagles for McCoy. The linebacker corps features young talents in Preston Brown, who led the team in tackles as a rookie with 109, and Nigel Bradham, who had 104. Ty Powell, Randell Johnson and rookie sixth-round pick Tony Steward will battle it out for playing time.
In the secondary, the Bills lost starters Jairus Byrd and Da’Norris Searcy the past two years in free agency but still have plenty on hand. The corner spots are manned by former first-round picks Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin, who combined for seven interceptions last year. McKelvin was having a strong season until sitting out the final six games with a broken ankle. Stepping in superbly was veteran Corey Graham, a free-agent signee who finished with a team-high 15 passes defended.
Aaron Williams, a 2011 second-round pick and former corner, has blossomed at strong safety and chipped in 76 tackles and five pass breakups. Third-year man Duke Williams will get the nod to replace Searcy at the free spot. Overall depth in the secondary remains a team strength, led by the likes of Ron Brooks, Nickell Robey and Bacarri Rambo, who intercepted Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers twice in a game last year. Things got even better when Buffalo spent its top pick in the draft on Florida State cornerback Ronald Darby.
Placekicker Dan Carpenter set a franchise record with 34 field goals. The former Miami Dolphin has embraced the challenging weather conditions of Ralph Wilson Stadium. With Jordan Gay handling kickoffs, Carpenter can focus solely on the uprights. Punter Colton Schmidt was an August waiver find, and the California native also found an unlikely home, averaging 42.9 yards an effort with 31 dropped inside the 20. Return specialist Marcus Thigpen returns to handle punts and kickoffs.
Ryan is the biggest coaching hire in Buffalo since Chuck Knox in the late 1970s, and expectations are high that the NFL’s longest playoff drought will come to an end at 15 seasons. Nobody’s toppling New England in the AFC East as long as Tom Brady is slinging passes, and landing a wild-card spot will take at least 10 wins. But the Bills got to nine last year and could finally knock down the door.
Prediction: 2nd in AFC East
Injuries are a big part of any college football season. Whether it’s a starting quarterback, a No. 2 receiver or a defensive lineman part of a deep rotation, injuries will always have an impact on a team.
To help preview the season, Athlon is taking a look at some of the injured players from 2014 and their return in 2015.
Related: SEC Predictions for 2015
Players with a season-ending injury or ones that missed a major chunk of the 2014 campaign were considered for the article. Players that just missed a few games because of injuries and returned were not considered for this article.
Here’s a look at a handful of key players returning from injuries from the SEC in 2015:
SEC's Top Players Returning from Injury
Jeff Badet/Alexander Montgomery, WR, Kentucky
Badet and Montgomery combined for 38 receptions in 2013 but finished 2014 with zero catches due to injuries. Getting both players back will help improve the overall talent and depth at receiver for quarterback Patrick Towles.
Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida
Davis is expected to push for a starting job under new coordinator Geoff Collins, but the Georgia native is recovering from a knee injury suffered against South Carolina. Prior to his injury, Davis made one start and recorded 23 tackles last year.
Kenyan Drake, RB, Alabama
Drake suffered a season-ending leg injury in Alabama’s 23-17 loss to Ole Miss. Prior to the injury, Drake recorded 112 yards and four rushing scores and caught five passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Even though Derrick Henry is expected to be a workhorse and one of the nation’s top running backs, there’s plenty of carries for Drake as Alabama’s No. 2 option.
Related: SEC Predictions for 2015
A.J. Hilliard, LB, Texas A&M
The linebackers are under the spotlight in College Station this year, as last season’s group had its share of ups and downs. Hilliard was a starter for the Aggies in 2014 but missed 12 games after suffering a broken ankle in the opener against South Carolina. He’s expected to start in 2015.
Jonathan Jones, CB, Auburn
Jones emerged as one of the SEC’s top cornerbacks in 2014. In 13 games last season, Jones recorded 36 tackles, 11 pass breakups and six interceptions. The senior had offseason foot surgery and is expected to be at full strength by the opener.
Related: SEC 2015 All-Conference Team
Alex Kozan, OG, Auburn
A back injury forced Kozan to miss all of the 2014 season, and the Colorado native’s return will be a huge addition to a solid offensive line. Kozan started all 14 games for Auburn in 2013 and earned freshman All-SEC honors. He should be among the nation’s best at guard this season.
Davonte Lambert, DL, Auburn
Lambert was a key pickup in the junior college ranks for coach Gus Malzahn, as the Georgia native played in 11 games and recorded 3.5 sacks last year. However, Lambert suffered a torn ACL late in the season and did not participate in the spring.
Related: SEC Predictions for 2015
Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
Auburn’s defense has struggled under coach Gus Malzahn, but there’s plenty of optimism entering 2015. New coordinator Will Muschamp was a one of the top hires of the offseason, and Lawson’s return should bolster a pass rush that managed only 10 sacks in SEC games. The Georgia native recorded four sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss in 2013 and is expected to be at full strength from a knee injury by the fall.
Kendrick Market, S, Mississippi State
The Bulldogs are set at cornerback with Will Redmond and Taveze Calhoun, but concerns remain at safety for coordinator Manny Diaz. Talented freshman Jamal Peters is expected to see significant snaps, but Market’s status for the upcoming year is uncertain after a torn Achilles in the Egg Bowl. In 12 games last season, Market recorded 49 tackles and one pass breakup.
Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia
After a promising freshman season (759 yards and eight scores), Marshall has been limited by injuries in each of his last two years. The North Carolina native has only played in eight games since 2013 and has 270 yards and one score in that span. If he can stay healthy, Georgia will find opportunities for Marshall as a backup to Nick Chubb.
Related: SEC Predictions for 2015
Mike Matulis, OG, South Carolina
The Gamecocks have to retool their offensive line after the departures of guard A.J. Cann and tackle Corey Robinson. Matulis is expected to push for a starting job at guard, and the senior has missed a majority of snaps the last two years due to injuries. Matulis has 10 career starts.
Jake McGee, TE, Florida
McGee was a graduate transfer pickup from Virginia, but his 2014 season never got on track. The senior suffered a broken leg in the opener and missed the rest of the year. McGee caught 71 passes in his career with the Cavaliers.
Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia
After catching 85 passes through his first two years, Mitchell has played in just 10 games and caught 31 passes over the last two seasons. A knee injury has limited Mitchell since 2013, but the senior hopes to finish out his career on a high note. If healthy, Mitchell is an All-SEC receiver and needs to have a big season with the departures of Chris Conley and Michael Bennett.
Antonio Morrison, LB, Florida
Morrison was an All-SEC linebacker last season, finishing 2014 with 101 stops, one interception and one sack. However, Morrison suffered a significant knee injury in the bowl win over East Carolina. Will Morrison return to full strength by the opener?
Denzel Nkemdiche, LB, Ole Miss
The injury bug hit Ole Miss hard on both sides of the ball last season. Nkemdiche suffered a broken ankle in the loss at LSU and finished 2014 with 28 tackles and one sack. Getting Nkemdiche back to full strength will be a huge boost for coordinator Dave Wommack, as the senior can push for All-SEC honors in 2015.
Marquez North, WR, Tennessee
A shoulder injury derailed North’s hopes of building off a solid freshman campaign. In 2013, North caught 38 passes for 496 yards and one score. However, in 10 games in 2014, North grabbed 30 receptions for 320 yards and four touchdowns. The junior is expected to be the No. 1 target for quarterback Joshua Dobbs.
Related: SEC 2015 All-Conference Team
Tee Shepard, CB, Ole Miss
Shepard has bounced around a lot in his collegiate career, signing with Notre Dame in 2012 and later playing one season with Holmes Community College. Shepard was poised to push for a starting job in the secondary last year. However, a toe injury in fall camp prevented Shepard from playing in 2014. He’s expected to start in 2015.
Related: SEC 2015 Predictions
Steven Scheu, TE, Vanderbilt
Scheu was one of Vanderbilt’s top offensive players last season, catching 39 passes for 525 yards and four scores. The Commodores need Scheu at full strength this year, but the senior suffered a leg injury in the spring and is questionable to play in the first game of 2015.
Dwayne Thomas/Corey Thompson, DB, LSU
Defensive backs coach Corey Raymond is getting a few reinforcements for 2015. Thomas played in only five games in 2014 due to a knee injury and finished the year with 24 tackles and one pass breakup. Thompson missed all of 2014 with a knee injury and was not at full strength in the spring. Thompson has played in 23 career games and made five starts from 2012-13.
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
The backstory on Treadwell’s leg injury has been well documented, and it was no secret the Rebels struggled without their No. 1 option. In the last three games against FBS opponents, Ole Miss scored only 34 points and was shutout against Arkansas. Treadwell’s recovery is on track, and the junior is expected to be at full strength by the opener. In nine games last season, Treadwell caught 48 passes for 632 yards and five scores.
Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
The development of Ole Miss’ offensive line is critical after this unit allowed 31 sacks in 2014. Tunsil is the key cog in the trenches, as the junior is the SEC’s top offensive lineman. However, Tunsil is recovering from a leg injury suffered in the Peach Bowl loss against TCU. All signs point to Tunsil making a full recovery by the opener, and he will have two non-conference games to prepare before the showdown against Alabama in Week 3.
Every year as the college football season approaches, anxiety runs high in Husker Nation. The 2015 season is no different. In addition to the usual anticipation, speculation, prognostication and all of the other "ations" that eat up the offseason in Nebraska, the Huskers are beginning a new coaching era for the fourth time in 17 years.
As has been the case in recent years, the Nebraska fanbase is split in terms of their expectations for the 2015 campaign, new head coach Mike Riley's first in Lincoln. In one corner, you have the "cupcakes and rainbows" crew, confident that there is enough talent on the roster to win just about every game on the schedule with the right mentality and preparation. In the other corner, you have the recently consistent contingent of fans who aren't sure what to expect, thanks to nearly two decades of relative obscurity and mediocrity from their favorite team.
Both sides are sizing up the Nebraska schedule with different prisms and expectations — in some cases no expectations. That makes sense, as Nebraska's slate is one with a deceptive degree of difficulty from start to finish. Teams that have historically been elite are no longer such, while some other usually mediocre programs look to be turning a corner.
Here now are Nebraska's 12 regular season games, ranked according to degree of difficulty from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 12 vs. South Alabama
This is a no-brainer, as the Jaguars play the role of the annual non-conference cupcake on Nebraska's schedule. It should be a cakewalk for Nebraska, however, given what nearly happened last season against McNeese State, you can't rule anything out.
11. Sept 26 vs. Southern Miss
Not much is expected from a Southern Miss team that won three games a season ago. That said, the Golden Eagles still have a roster full of athletes from SEC country, some of which could probably play in that conference. Focus and execution will be the keys to Nebraska avoiding an almost inexcusable early-season hiccup in this one.
10. Oct. 3 at Illinois
Every conference road game should make you at least a little nervous. If the Huskers can pressure Wes Lunt and account for Josh Ferguson, they should have enough talent on both sides of the ball to leave Champaign with an easy win. If they have problems doing either, this one will be closer than Nebraska fans would like.
9. Oct. 31 at Purdue
The Huskers head to West Lafayette after what will likely be another hard-fought and emotional game with Northwestern. Purdue returns the bulk of its offense and will feature a highly touted freshman running back. Looking past them to the matchup with Michigan State could prove costly.
8. Nov. 27 vs. Iowa
Make no mistake about it, the only reason this game is so low on the list is the location. Nebraska probably has more talent on its roster than the Hawkeyes, but Iowa has key players — specifically on the defensive line and in the passing game — who could be enough to dictate the tempo in this one.
7. Oct 24. vs. Northwestern
The Huskers will be coming off what should be a physically taxing game at Minnesota to find what some are calling one of their new rivals waiting for them in Lincoln. The strength of this Husker squad as opposed to recent years is expected to be mental preparedness and discipline. They'll need more than that against a Pat Fitzgerald-led bunch that annually specializes in both.
6. Nov. 14 at Rutgers
Nebraska will have just played Michigan State and now travel halfway across the country to unfamiliar territory right before a bye week. The late bye will undoubtedly leave the Huskers exhausted — both mentally and physically — at this point. They'll need to fight the urge to be complacent against a workman-like team that thrives on hosting "big name" programs and forces them to know where the exits are at all times.
5. Sept. 19 at Miami
Nebraska will need to fight the heat and the bowl game-feel during this trip to South Florida. These aren't your daddy's Miami Hurricanes, but there is still NFL-caliber talent all over the field that the Huskers will need to be ready to compete with.
4. Sept. 5 vs. BYU
The Mike Riley era will open with a visit from one of the more respected coaches in the country in Bronco Mendenhall. Like Miami, BYU features plenty of guys who will play on Sundays. The Cougars will be led by what might be the best dual-threat quarterback in the country in Taysom Hill. This could be one of the most interesting games nationally during opening weekend.
3. Oct. 17 at Minnesota
The Gophers bring back Mitch Leidner at quarterback, one of the better cornerback duos in the conference and a high level of confidence that comes with playing for Jerry Kill. Minnesota looks to be turning a corner from a program standpoint and asserting itself as a perennial "big dog" in the Big Ten's West Division. Knocking off the Huskers for a third straight year would go a long way in accomplishing that.
2. Nov. 7 vs. Michigan State
The series between these two is tied at two games apiece since Nebraska joined the Big Ten. All of the games have been entertaining, and this one should be no different. The Huskers have the talent to hang around in this one, especially at home. That said, the Spartans will be the most talented and arguably well-coached team Nebraska faces all season.
1. Oct. 10 vs. Wisconsin
There have been some changes in the Badger program over the past few months. The one thing that hasn't changed is the result of the last meeting between them and the Huskers. Nebraska's defense was scorched to the tune of an NCAA record on the ground by an elite running back last season. There will be a new head coach on Wisconsin's sideline, but the attack won't change. Don't look now, but Corey Clement might be as talented as his predecessor. It'll be gut-check time for a Nebraska team that has basically been dominated by Wisconsin since the Huskers joined the conference a few years back.
Former Florida State quarterback De'Andre Johnson is breaking his silence on what happened that night at the bar when a surveillance camera caught him punching a woman.
Johnson got caught in an altercation with a woman, regardless of how the situation escalated, he says he never should have let it get that far.
"I should've never raised my hand to her," Johnson said.
Johnson goes on to say how sorry he is for hurting his mother by getting caught in a situation like this. He mentioned that she didn't raise him this way and through the tears are words of sincerity. He also understands Florida State's decision to dismiss him.
Ohio State assistant Tony Alford was so giddy at the thought of being Ezekiel Elliott’s new position coach that he temporarily misplaced his filter.
When asked this spring what it will be like to go from Notre Dame to the role of running backs coach at OSU, Alford immediately retorted, “I don’t know. Is it pretty easy to drive a Lexus after you’ve been driving a Volkswagen?”
Alford then gulped and recalled he had several topflight skill players under his tutelage at ND the past six years.
“Those guys are really good players, too,” he said. “But in all seriousness, it certainly helps to come here and have great players around and some guys who really understand how to work.”
The Buckeyes backfield will have its usual array of ball-toting talent this fall, including emerging weapon Curtis Samuel and true freshman Mike Weber among those who can line up behind any one of OSU’s proven quarterbacks, all major running threats in their own right.
But without question, the outlook for the rushing game is blinding primarily because Elliott is revved up for his junior season and projects to be even more dangerous, if that’s possible.
Last year was a breakout season of gridiron-shredding proportions as the 6’0”, 225-pounder raced for 1,878 yards — 696 of them coming at season’s end as the Buckeyes flogged Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and stunned both Alabama and Oregon in the first College Football Playoff.
Taking over the tailback spot admirably for the departed Carlos Hyde, Elliott racked up six 100-yard games in the regular season but apparently was just getting started. He set the tone for the eye-opening postseason with an early 81-yard touchdown gallop against the Badgers. That led to a 220-yard rushing day that paced a 59–0 annihilation of UW.
Elliott topped that performance with 230 yards and two TDs — including a clinching 85-yarder — on just 20 carries in the 42–35 win over No. 1 Alabama. He then destroyed Oregon with 246 yards and four scores to put the Buckeyes on the college football mountaintop.
Afterward, OSU head coach Urban Meyer labeled Elliott a “monster,” but also praised the youngster’s humility.
“I love Zeke because he’s very humble, he comes from a great family, and he understands the offensive line deserves the credit,” Meyer said in the interview room. “However, he’s the most underrated back in America. He’s the most post-contact-yards guy I’ve ever been around, and on top of that he’s a great human being. We get him for at least one more year, so I can’t wait.”
Elliott averaged 6.8 yards per carry and played through all of the grabs and rakes from Oregon defenders. Even when it was clear Elliott was the focal point, the Ducks couldn’t slow him down, let alone stop him. His 36 rushing attempts set a career high.
Elliott capped Ohio State’s final drive of the season with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone. That completed a sophomore season in which he threatened Eddie George’s school-record 1,927 yards set in the Heisman Trophy-winning season of 1995. The St. Louis-area product passed all-time greats Archie Griffin (1,695 in 1974) and Keith Byars (1,764 in 1984) during the Oregon game, and his 246 yards tied the third-best single-game output in OSU history.
It was such a dreamy campaign that it even awed Elliott’s biggest supporter — his father.
“That first long run against Wisconsin, that’s when it really hit me,” says Stacy Elliott. “I had tears in my eyes and remember thinking, ‘Boy, Ezekiel has arrived.’ I was blown away.”
Stacy was an outside linebacker at Missouri, where he met his wife, Dawn, a track standout at the school. Despite their affinity for their alma mater, neither pushed Ezekiel to follow in their footsteps.
“I’ve involved my parents in all my big decisions in life, but they always try to act as a guide for me,” Ezekiel Elliott says. “They never told me to go to school where they went. They wanted me to figure it out for myself.”
Still, Elliott agonized before becoming one of the last to commit to Meyer’s highly rated 2013 recruiting class.
One of Elliott’s many pursuers was Alford, who was still at Notre Dame at the time. The coach says his mouth was agape when watching 2014 OSU game film, although he always expected Elliott would be successful because of his family dynamic.
“When I watched Zeke and his family and they would sit on the couch, his mom would reach over and she would pat him on his knee,” Alford says. “He would turn and hug his dad. He would goof around with his sisters. That shows you they had a lot of admiration and love and respect in that household.”
Further proof that Ezekiel is from good stock: His 16-year-old sister, Lailah, is the John Burroughs High School record holder in the triple jump and an AAU national qualifier in several events, and 9-year-old Aaliyah also is an adept jumper and sprinter.
Still, the genial Ezekiel is an original who marches to a different drummer. He opted for a pink cast after he underwent a second surgery on his left wrist following the season. When the Buckeyes were honored at a Cincinnati Reds game, Elliott vowed to wear a Cardinals cap but instead didn’t attend because he would have missed a class.
Elliott’s flamboyance certainly has been well received. Fans flock to him in public locales. The Columbus Zoo recently named a baby penguin “Zeke” in his honor.
“People have told me they are naming their dogs and even their children after him, so that’s crazy,” Stacy says.
In a recent interview, Dawn described her son as “a bit goofy.” Teammates agree.
“Zeke’s different, but that’s my dude,” safety Vonn Bell says. “I’ll go to war with him every time.”
And when it’s time to make a play ...
“The switch goes on,” Alford says. “And that’s what you want when they click that helmet. You want to see his eyes change. That’s who you want to coach. That’s what I want to coach.”
Elliott gave hints of his explosiveness as a freshman while averaging 8.7 yards per carry. Still, followers of the program paid more attention to hotshot H-back Dontre Wilson of Texas with the belief that he was the key to turning OSU into a big-play offense.
“What a lot of people don’t know is Ezekiel is just as fast as Dontre,” Stacy says.
At John Burroughs High School, Elliott not only toasted football defenders with regularity, but he also captured four state championships in track as a senior by besting the field in the 100-meter dash, 200m, 110m high hurdles and 300m hurdles.
And there’s some grit behind the sizzle.
Elliott actually was sick the entire week of the national championship game. He also played the entire season with a cast and pin implanted into his fractured wrist.
“I couldn’t switch hands; I couldn’t really punch with it,” he says. “I couldn’t really do much. I was pretty handicapped.”
Elliott’s heroic feats and video-game-like production in the College Football Playoff inspired elite recruits such as Weber, a Detroit product, and class of 2016 New Jersey phenom Kareem Walker to commit to Ohio State.
But this fall, the pigskin will go into Elliott’s belly — even if that belly is now covered up due to a new NCAA equipment restriction banning crop tops some are calling “the Elliott Rule.”
“The NCAA has its rules and it’s our job to abide by them,” Elliott says with a wink, even though he signed a petition with more than 10,000 signatures asking the rule to be tossed out.
The day after Ohio State’s spring game, Elliott flew to New York City to attend a ceremony as a finalist for the Sullivan Award. It’s very possible he will return to the Big Apple at the end of the year as a top candidate for another prestigious award — the Heisman Trophy.
“I’m not very surprised by Ezekiel’s success,” his father says, “because he works hard and he doesn’t choke up — he competes. But the Heisman talk and all that kind of stuff, that’s been amazing.”
-by Jeff Rapp, SportsRappUp.com
Damian Lillard is no stranger to the mic.
The Trail Blazers point guard dropped some new music and it's not bad. Usually athlete-rapper crossover never works out, but people are giving Lillard the benefit of the doubt.
The song is pretty dope and worth a listen. If this is a taste of what's to come, then fans are sure to devour the rest that the Portland star has to offer.
Lillard has already proved he has crazy freestyle skills on Sway's morning show.
Would you buy an album by Lillard (and another copy for me)?
It’s amazing what people focus on in a 2015 world marked by 140-character Tweets, five-second Snapchats and zero attention span. Despite a weekend of great Kentucky racing, producing a rules package that holds promise, the largest headline can be shortened to three words.
“Go f**k yourself.”
That’s Danica Patrick’s message to Dale Earnhardt Jr., spoken on the radio and then on pit road after she got wrecked midway through the Quaker State 400 in Kentucky. NASCAR’s two most well-known drivers outside the sport had a rare conflict inside it, Earnhardt losing his brakes and slamming into the left rear of the No. 10 Chevrolet with 60 laps to go. The GoDaddy car then went straight into the wall, ruining Patrick’s night and leaving her exasperated, slamming into the No. 88 on pit road in retaliation.
“If you didn’t have any brakes, why would you drive in underneath me?” she said to no one in particular on the radio. “Weren’t you thinking about that, maybe the corner before that?”
Earnhardt, who had a difficult race of his own, snapped back a bit after finishing the night in 21st.
“We didn’t have any brakes going into the corner,” he explained. “I know better than to run into her because it gets so much attention. There wasn’t nothing I could do. I mean, as hard as I hit her, what the hell did she think I was doing, trying to wreck her? We ain’t got no problem.”
I agree with that assessment; the story should fade away quickly, especially with Earnhardt and Patrick on the same “team.” (Patrick’s car, run by Stewart-Haas Racing shares information and gets both chassis and engines from Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports team). This type of rivalry won’t be allowed to continue under that type of roof; the media blitz can’t force hate where there is none.
The big loser, though when all is said and done is Patrick, her promising season rolling downhill faster than ever. Eight races in, she was 13th in points and coming off a top-10 finish at Bristol. Now, she’s sitting 22nd, 94 points out of a Chase bid that appears near impossible. While teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch assert themselves as top title contenders, Patrick is suddenly lost in space. She’s struggling with similar equipment, early chemistry with crew chief Daniel Knost fading during a time SHR Marketing is desperately searching for sponsors. GoDaddy leaves the team in 2016, no replacement has been named and the clock is ticking as NASCAR’s Silly Season heats up.
So what if you’re a Fortune 500 company hoping Patrick will one day make a breakthrough? You open up the news this week, see the words “go f**k yourself” and how she didn’t act with decorum Saturday night. That’s on top of her poor race results after nearly three seasons in the Cup Series and an advancing age (33) that suggests her window of opportunity is closing. Marketing execs might have slipped some scotch inside their coffee Monday morning….
Sure, Patrick was a victim Saturday night. Wrecks at Pocono last month and Daytona last week wiped away potential top-10 finishes. But the sporting world is full of would haves, could haves, and should haves. Earnhardt claims Patrick needs to “chill out.”
At this point, if performance doesn’t improve she’s on the verge of a permanent “timeout.” It’s a potential loss for the sport, like her or not, because whenever Patrick does so much as sneeze, important people pay attention. But it’s hard to make headlines these days if you’re sitting home collecting an unemployment check.
So begins a critical summer of Patrick’s career. Words won’t get the job done; top-tier finishes will. Time to step up or step out.
Through the Gears we go….
FIRST GEAR: Kyle Slices Up Kentucky Competition
New rules, old hat for Kyle Busch. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver put together a marvelous performance Saturday night, leading 163 of 267 laps to score his second victory in three weeks. Busch, whose career average finish at Kentucky is 3.8, has never finished lower than 10th at the track.
“In the long run our car was really good,” he said. “I just was able to kind of move around and find some grooves that helped me.”
Busch now sits just 87 points behind that magical 30th place in the standings, the threshold from which he’ll earn a Chase bid. None of his competitors for that spot, running 29th through 32nd in points, finished inside the top 20 Saturday night. That’s great news for Busch; even better was that his JGR team has the early edge on NASCAR’s new rules package. All four of their cars finished inside the top 5, a powerful statement for a group that has struggled on these types of 1.5-mile ovals.
For Busch to make the Chase, he’ll need to maximize gains on bigger tracks like Michigan in August and Indianapolis the end of the month. Even with a better rules package the raw speed needed at those places leaves Busch’s main rivals for 30th — Justin Allgaier, Cole Whitt and David Gilliland — without the speed to be competitive.
SECOND GEAR: Passing? Yes, Thank You Very Much
NASCAR’s new package, designed to increase passing, received rave reviews Saturday night – and it should have. Cars could run side-by-side for extended periods of time, drivers moved up and down through the running order, and gone was the single-file parade that has plagued intermediates like Kentucky in 2015.
“I came from two laps down,” said Denny Hamlin, another JGR driver who had a solid performance (third). “I passed a ton of cars throughout the day. There was a pass for the lead with 15 laps to go. And we don’t even have a tire honed in on this racetrack yet.
“I can’t really complain a whole lot.”
Most of the competition agreed, drivers happy the overall outcome is placed more in their hands instead of engineers. In-race adjustments made a bigger difference and cars weren’t “stuck in place” the entire race; a 17th-place car early on in the night could be turned into a fifth-place car and vice versa. It’s a great baseline to draw from.
What still needs work: extra tire falloff, the kind Hamlin was talking about and what Goodyear needs to research. In their defense, these new rules came too quick to put a softer tire on the track for Kentucky. There also needs to less “aero push” up front. Thirteen lead changes, an increase of just one from last year’s race, isn’t exactly an eye-popping number. Yes, Busch and Joey Logano ran hard in the closing laps, but you didn’t get the sense we’d see a heart-stopping finish to the checkered flag.
Looking back at “old school” NASCAR, what would be good to see is the ability for guys to rub fenders a bit, bending up sheet metal while still able to run up front. It feels like everyone is afraid to touch each other for the fear one small wrinkle cuts your speed by five miles an hour. You’ll only get rid of bad aero if you wind up slowing the cars down, another reduction in downforce I feel will be coming within the next year or two.
THIRD GEAR: Bowtie’s Bad Day
Kentucky marked just the second time all season no Chevrolet driver finished inside the top 5. The best anyone could muster was Jeff Gordon in seventh, falling short in his bid to score a victory at the only active NASCAR Cup track where he doesn’t have one. Kevin Harvick, coasting to the regular season points title had a quiet night, failed to lead a lap for the first time on an intermediate track this season, and came home eighth. Teammate Kurt Busch spun out on his own, and was forced to claw back to wind up 10th. Six-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson ran ninth, just one spot better and complained about his car so much you’d think the No. 48 ran 39th.
Should people be concerned? Not really. This package, while getting tested over the summer will be used in exactly zero races come NASCAR’s September Chase. That means the best cars will be the ones who ran well under the old rules – a package Johnson, Harvick, Busch and co. have already mastered. Why work on 2016, like JGR has when you know you have the best chance to win now? These guys will take a week or two behind the curve if it still leaves them on top of the podium come Homestead’s season finale in November.
FOURTH GEAR: Big Misses for Big Names
People were looking for Tony Stewart to run better under a rules package that put control back in the driver’s hands. Instead? He was 33rd, running two laps down at the finish, and got caught up in an accident mid-race. Never so much as sniffing the top 10, feuding with crew chief Chad Johnston intensified on the radio and makes you wonder whether SHR will make a change. Indianapolis, held at the end of the month, is a place Stewart can get his mojo back along with Watkins Glen in early August. But I don’t think he’ll get there without a major adjustment to the status quo.
Kyle Larson, the pole-sitter, also dropped like a rock, albeit more slowly, from his top starting spot. Wrecking late, the 35th-place finish leaves him 86 points outside the final Chase spot. Can he win somewhere? Again, the focus will center around crew chief Chris Heroy. Will Chip Ganassi Racing shake things up for their promising sophomore?
It was a rough weekend for small-time Premium Motorsports. Driver Brendan Gaughan left the team this week, frustrated over poor equipment and was replaced by Reed Sorenson, who did no better (36th). The team’s second car, run by Josh Wise, wrecked at Kentucky, wound up dead last and led to Wise leaving the team Monday. “We have different goals,” the driver said in a cryptic Twitter statement announcing his departure… NASCAR needs to do something about rain-delay qualifying if they want to get new owners involved in the sport. Both Leavine Family Racing and the Wood Brothers missed out when their first practice speeds would have easily qualified them for Saturday night’s race. Why not set the entire field based on the top 36 speeds from first practice, filling out the rest with the provisional system that helps protect full-time teams? The risk is so great for part-timers these days, especially with the financial commitment involved it’s turning potential new owners off from competing.
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
With several strong options at pitcher, AL manager Ned Yost and NL counterpart Bruce Bochy just named their respective team’s starter. Dallas Keuchel will open up the game against Zack Greinke, although they will most likely only pitch one inning apiece.
Keuchel leads the AL in wins (11) and innings pitched (137.1) as the ace of one of the MLB’s most surprising team. On the opposite side, Greinke continues his dominance with the Dodgers, maintaining an MLB-best 1.39 ERA and 17 quality starts. With such great pitchers on the mound, the hitters will certainly have plenty to deal with. Greinke hasn’t allowed a run in 35.2 innings, so let’s see if the AL can push anything across him.
See some reasons why they were chosen below:
The MLB season opened with the St. Louis Cardinals, and the first half of the season wrapped up with them. However, the past two games for the Cardinals have been heartbreakers, having faced their division rival Pirates. Both games have gone to extra innings, and both have ended in a Pirates come from behind walkoff victory.
On Saturday, St. Louis led by two in the 8th, one in the 10th, and one in the 14th, all before the Pirates mounted comebacks and scored a two-run homerun off the bat of Pirates superstar Andrew McCutchen. Then, last night, after tying the game in the 8th, the Cardinals struck early in extra innings, scoring two runs in the 10th. With All-Star closer Trevor Rosenthal on the mound, the game seemed all but locked up. With a man on second and two outs, the Pirates singled three straight times to tie up the game. A walk loaded the bases, and Gregory Polanco drove in the winning run on a single. What a great ending to the first half.
Watch the two walkoff hits below:
The preseason Outland Trophy award watch list was announced on Friday with 81 of the top interior linemen in the nation receiving recognition from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). The watch list included players from all Power 5 Conferences with the SEC leading the pack with 15 nominees. The Pac-12 had 13 players on the list, followed by 11 each from the Big 12 and Big Ten, and seven from the ACC.
Among the early favorites to capture the 2015 honor is the lone returning semifinalist from last season, Baylor’s Spencer Drango. Ole Miss has two potential candidates to earn the honors, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche. South Carolina right tackle Brandon Shell, Ohio State’s Taylor Decker, UCLA defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, and Alabama nose guard A’Shawn Robinson are among the other players who could grind their way to the postseason hardware.
Other SEC contenders with a reasonable shot at winning include Alabama center Ryan Kelly and left tackle Cam Robinson, Arkansas right guard Sebastian Tretola, and Georgia right guard Greg Pyke.
The three semifinalists will be announced on Nov. 19 with the winner being named on Dec. 10 during "The Home Depot College Football Awards Show" at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, which will be televised on ESPN.
Outland Trophy Watch List (SEC players highlighted)
G Vadal Alexander, LSU
C Jack Allen, Michigan State
OT Adrian Bellard, Texas State
DT Andrew Billings, Baylor
DT Beau Blackshear, Baylor
C Austin Blythe, Iowa
C Evan Boehm, Missouri
C J.T. Boyd, East Carolina
C Jake Brendel, UCLA
DT Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
OT Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
DT Kenny Clark, UCLA
DT Maliek Collins, Nebraska
OT Jack Conklin, Michigan State
OT Austin Corbett, Nevada
OT Joe Dahl, Washington State
C Ty Darlington, Oklahoma
DT Sheldon Day, Notre Dame
OT Taylor Decker, Ohio State
OT Spencer Drango, Baylor
G Parker Ehinger, Cincinnati
G Pat Elflein, Ohio State
G Dan Feeney, Indiana
G Joshua Garnett, Stanford
DT Adam Gotsis, Georgia Tech
Darius Hamilton, Rutgers
OT Ike Harris, East Carolina
C Marcus Henry, Boise State
C Joey Hunt, TCU
OT Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M
OT Roderick Johnson, Florida State
DT Gerrand Johnson, ULM
OT Tyler Johnstone, Oregon
DT Chris Jones, Mississippi State
C Ryan Kelly, Alabama
C Nick Kelly, Arizona State
OT Denver Kirkland, Arkansas
G Alex Kozan, Auburn
G Jimmy Kristof, Western Michigan
DT Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech
DT Corey Marshall, Virginia Tech
C Nick Martin, Notre Dame
OT Ryker Mathews, BYU
OT Kyle Murphy, Stanford
C Andrew Ness, Northern Illinois
DT Thomas Niles, UCF
DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
C Tyler Orlosky, West Virginia
DT Joe Ostman, Central Michigan
DT Davion Pierson, TCU
G Greg Pyke, Georgia
DT Jarran Reed, Alabama
G Andrew Reue, Rice
DT Hassan Ridgeway, Texas
DT A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
OT Cam Robinson, Alabama
G Isaac Seumalo, Oregon State
OT Brandon Shell, South Carolina
C Matt Skura, Duke
C Matt Sparks, Massachusetts
OT Garrett Stafford, Tulsa
OT Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
OT Freddie Tagaloa, Arizona
G Chris Taylor, Tulane
G Wyatt Teller, Virginia Tech
G Sebastian Tretola, Arkansas
C Max Tuerk, USC
DT Travis Tuiloma, BYU
OT Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
G Landon Turner, North Carolina
OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU
OT Clint Van Horn, Marshall
DT Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA
C Dan Voltz, Wisconsin
DT Adolphus Washington, Ohio State
G Christian Westerman, Arizona State
OT Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
DT Antwaun Woods, USC
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
The man who brought you the most convincing video for Ezekiel Elliott's bid for the Heisman, is back with another hit.
His beloved Ohio State Buckeyes are the centerpiece yet again. Meshed with highlights and a song the team needs to play in the locker room before each game, this video will get you excited for the second coming of the Silver Bullets.
Darron Lee, Joey Bosa, Elliott and more make appearances and if this is any indication, no one will want to be in the way of these Silver Bullets.
The song is great, but will the Buckeyes' play match?
It was considered a bold move, but Jordan Spieth went ahead and competed in the John Deere Classic this past weekend. And he proved that it was a great idea, as he took home the title in a two-hole playoff with Tom Gillis. Down a few strokes on the back nine, Spieth came roaring back, almost as if it was to be expected.
The win marks his second there and fourth of the year, as he will head to the British Open this week with all the momentum. Without defending champion Rory McIlroy playing, Spieth will come into the event as the favorite. Not only that, but there is a chance for him to claim the No. 1 ranking in the world.
Watch some highlights of the final round below:
The MLB has been bringing its best players together since 1933 in an annual All Star Game. Since its inception, countless memories have been made, from game-winning hits to final farewells. The game started to gain greater importance in 2003, as the winner began to determine home-field advantage for the World Series. This year's game takes place on July 14 at Great American Ballpark, home to the Cincinnati Reds. Take a look at some of the most memorable moments since 2000 (listed chronologically):
2000: Andres Galarraga receives a standing ovation in his first at bat after non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma forced him to sit out the entirety of the 1999 season. He singled in that at bat and later ended the season as the NL Comeback Player of the Year.
2000: In front of his home crowd in Atlanta, Chipper Jones homered off of James Baldwin to left-center field, bringing the crowd to its feet. Hank Aaron hit a homerun when the last All Star Game was in Atlanta, and he happened to throw out the game’s first pitch.
2001: In Cal Ripken’s final All Star Game, he received an ovation and treated the fans to a home run in route to the MVP. When the AL took the field, Alex Rodriguez, the team’s shortstop, surprised Ripken and gave him the position. Ripken had played third base for his first and last few years of his career, but he helped revolutionize the shortstop position.
2002: Barry Bonds had been the league’s most feared hitter and connected on a deep shot that looked to be a home run. However, Torii Hunter, arguably the league’s best fielder, robbed Bonds of the home run. The game ended up tying, thus it proved to be a pivotal play.
2006: With two outs and two strikes in the top of the 9th down 2-1, Michael Young laced a triple to center field to take a 3-2 lead. Even more impressive, the game-winning hit came off of Trevor Hoffman, who is second in career saves in the MLB.
2007: In a feat never accomplished before, Ichiro destroyed a ball to deep right field that hit off the wall and bounced in a strange direction. The ball hit a banner on the wall, which bounced far away from Ken Griffey Jr., who was playing in right field. This allowed for Ichiro to score an inside-the-park-home run, the first and only in All Star Game history.
2010: On the morning of the 2010 All Star Game, George Steinbrenner, one of the winningest owners ever, passed away. To honor him, there was a pregame video followed by a moment of silence at the stadium that displayed the history and admiration for the longtime Yankees owner.
2013: Mariano Rivera, the all-time saves leader, took the All Star field for the final time of his career before retiring later that year. He came out of the bullpen to “Enter Sandman” and took the field alone out of respect. The entire stadium stood on their feet to pay respect to the future Hall of Famer. He came in and pitched a perfect eight inning as expected.
2014: Just one year after his former teammate’s final game, Derek Jeter also played in his last All Star Game. Jeter went 2-2 with a double and a run, although Adam Wainwright, the pitcher he faced in the first inning, claimed after the game that he gave him easy pitches to hit. He drew some questions of integrity over this, but later claimed that he was joking. Jeter came out of the game in the 4th inning to a standing ovation and hugs from the entire dugout.
2015: Just one season removed from their first World Series trip since 1985, the Kansas City Royals sent four starters to the MLB All Star Game. Though only a couple may be truly deserving, their fans have been voting excessively as a reward for last year’s success. However, their voting has brought controversy and a possible reconsideration of the All Star voting process.
The long held theory that Canadian football is not on par with American football is starting to pivot. Each year more and more high school talent from up north is making their way south to play college ball in the U.S. Another recruit helping open the floodgates is wide receiver Chase Claypool.
Colleges south of the Canadian border are very familiar with Claypool. The 6-foot-5, 214-pound receiver reports 14 scholarship offers with teams like Oregon, Rutgers, Michigan, Arizona, Tennessee, Washington and Nebraska seeking the red zone target on their squad at the next level.
On July 7, Claypool broke down his list to five — Rutgers, Notre Dame, Oregon, Michigan and Washington. Many believed the battle was between Oregon and Notre Dame with Washington pushing for a regional advantage.
Claypool committed to the Fighting Irish during ESPNU’s telecast of "The Opening" becoming the 12th verbal commitment for Notre Dame. During the on-the-field activities at the Nike camp Claypool demonstrated his effectiveness in the passing game. Due to his frame and athleticism he could be an outside receiver or add weight and become a nightmare mismatch for defensive coordinators as a pass-catching tight end.
Notre Dame 2016 Verbal Commitment List
OG Parker Boudreaux, 6-4, 287 lbs, Bishop Moore Catholic, Orlando, Florida
WR Chase Claypool, 6-5, 214 lbs, Abbotsford HS, Abbotsford, British Columbia
OT Liam Eichenberg, 6-6, 290 lbs, St. Ignatius HS, Cleveland, Ohio
CB/WR Jalen Elliott, 6-1, 175 lbs, Lloyd C. Bird HS, Chesterfield, Virginia
LB Jamir Jones, 6-3, 230 lbs, Aquinas Institute, Rochester, New York
RB Tony Jones Jr., 6-0, 212 lbs, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Florida
OT Tommy Kraemer, 6-5, 305 lbs, Elder HS, Cincinnati, Ohio
CB Julian Love, 5-11, 175 lbs, Nazareth Academy, LaGrange Park, Illinois
DE Julian Okwara, 6-4, 220 lbs, Ardrey Kell HS, Charlotte, North Carolina
SS Spencer Perry, 6-3, 200 lbs, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Florida
LS John Shannon, 6-2, 230 lbs, Loyola Academy, Wilmette, Illinois
WR Kevin Stepherson, 6-0, 180 lbs, First Coast HS, Jacksonville, Florida
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a team that plays four more high-profile games than BYU does in the month of September. The Cougars open at Nebraska, host Boise State and then travel to UCLA and Michigan to start the season.
That's quite a gauntlet.
Be that as it may, Taysom Hill and the Cougars are a proud and confident bunch that is ready to take on all comers. Hill — a Heisman candidate a season ago before going down with a leg injury — has said recently that he feels like his team will be in position to win every game on its schedule. If that is going to happen, he'll need a lot of support from teammates on both sides of the ball. There are four players in particular who could hold the key to how BYU kicks off and subsequently finishes the 2015 campaign. If these players can step up and play up to or beyond their potential, the ceiling is pretty high for the Cougars this season.
Here are the "wild card" players for BYU in 2015.
Jamaal Williams, Running Back
After rushing for more than 1,200 yards in 2013, injuries plagued his '14 campaign and limited him to 518 total yards on the ground. It appears he's now healthy. With Williams behind Hill in the Cougar backfield, defenses will need to account for two elite runners on every down. That will open up BYU's underrated and already efficient passing game.
Brad Wilcox, Left Tackle
After seeing time in all 13 of BYU's games a season ago, Wilcox steps into the starting left tackle role. Obviously, he'll be charged with protecting his uber-talented quarterback's blindside. Additionally, he'll play a key role in BYU's running game — especially on off-tackle dives and quarterback keepers/designed runs — against some extremely talented defensive front sevens throughout the season.
Bronson Kaufusi, Defensive End
Bronson, the son of BYU's defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi, is projected by many to be one of the better pass rushers in the nation. He'll need to live up to those expectations and possibly exceed them in order for BYU to fulfill Hill's prophecy of being in position to win every game. The Cougars will likely play in many high-scoring shootouts, so Kaufusi should get plenty of opportunities to tee off on opposing signal-callers.
Sione Takitaki, Linebacker
Takitaki should end up being the youngest starter in the linebacking corps. He saw considerable playing time a season ago, using his elite athleticism to make a handful of key plays throughout the season. He has the talent to be one of the better linebackers in the nation. If he can realize his potential in 2015, it'll go a long way in making BYU's defense one to be feared by every opponent on the schedule.
Whether you like sports or not, you're paying for it.
John Oliver talks about how billions of our hard-earned money is being used for sports stadiums, despite the team's owners being good for it. The speech will make you think twice about the amazing luxury boxes and swimming pools inside the stadiums.
(Warning: Some parts of the video are NSFW)
We should all get into games free. After all, we are paying for the stadiums to be built.
Projecting college football’s breakout players for any given season is no easy assignment. After all, each person has a different take on what a “breakout player” is, and college football is always home to several new faces throughout the season. While it’s difficult to label breakout players, the new stars of any season can have a huge impact on conference championship or national title races.
Related: Big 12 Predictions for 2015
The Big 12 has several names waiting to emerge as breakout players for 2015, including three quarterbacks in Baylor’s Seth Russell, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes. There’s no shortage of talent on defense, as Oklahoma State’s Vincent Taylor and Texas’ Malik Jefferson are names to watch in the fall.
Predicting the Big 12's Breakout Players for 2015
Mike Freeze, LB, TCU
The back seven of TCU’s defense must be retooled this offseason. The Horned Frogs lost standout linebackers Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet, and the secondary lost three all-conference performers. The linebacker position was a work in progress for coach Gary Patterson in the spring, but Freeze made a push for a starting job after enrolling early in spring practice. The three-star recruit is penciled in as one of TCU’s starting linebackers.
Related: Big 12 Predictions for 2015
Shelton Gibson, WR, West Virginia
Dana Holgorsen’s high-powered offense is looking for new playmakers at receiver after the departure of Kevin White (109 catches in 2014) and Mario Alford (65 receptions). Jordan Thompson is the team’s leading option at receiver, but the Mountaineers have a collection of young receivers pushing for snaps. Gibson redshirted in his first season with the Mountaineers and caught four passes for 60 yards in 2014. The Ohio native took a step forward in the spring and caught four passes for 84 yards in the final scrimmage. Gibson should be one of the go-to targets for quarterback Skyler Howard in 2015.
Dravon Henry, S, West Virginia
High expectations followed Henry in 2014, and the true freshman turned in a solid debut for coordinator Tony Gibson. In 13 games, Henry recorded 45 tackles (one for a loss), two interceptions and two pass breakups. With cornerback Daryl Worley and safety Karl Joseph established as stars, combined with Henry’s development, the Mountaineers should have one of the nation’s top defensive backfields.
Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
Jefferson is only a true freshman, but high expectations surround the Mesquite, Texas native in 2015. Jefferson ranked as the No. 10 overall player in the 247Sports Composite and enrolled in time to compete in spring ball. Jefferson recorded five stops (one for a loss) in the Orange-White scrimmage and is expected to start at linebacker this season.
Related: Big 12's 2015 All-Conference Team
Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State
With the departures of quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett, Kansas State has to lean on its defense in 2015. With six starters back, there’s plenty of talent for coordinator Tom Hayes to rely on. Lee is another impact defender to watch for Hayes, as he impressed in 13 games as a freshman last season. Lee recorded 19 tackles and 4.5 sacks in limited action and should push for all-conference honors in his first full year as a starter.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
Mahomes isn’t guaranteed the starting job yet, as he will compete with Davis Webb in the fall for the No. 1 spot. However, Mahomes showcased his upside as a true freshman and his case for the starting spot in seven games last season. He completed 105 of 185 passes for 1,547 yards and 16 scores and tossed only four picks. In the season finale against Baylor, Mahomes threw for 598 yards.
Mike Mitchell, LB, Texas Tech
After giving up 41.3 points per game last season, Texas Tech’s defense will be under the microscope in 2015. New coordinator David Gibbs should help this unit improve, and seven returning starters certainly helps the rebuilding process. Mitchell was a five-star recruit in the 2013 signing class and redshirted in his only year at Ohio State. The Texas native sat out 2014 due to transfer rules but is expected to be a key cog in Gibbs’ defense this season.
Steven Parker, S, Oklahoma
The Sooners certainly have room to improve in the defensive secondary after giving up 24 plays of 30 yards or more last season. Cornerback Zack Sanchez is one of the best in the nation, but new secondary coach Kerry Cooks is looking for players to step up at the other positions. Parker is expected to take on a bigger role this season after playing in 13 games in 2014. The sophomore recorded 31 tackles, one sack and six pass breakups in limited action.
Dalton Risner, C, Kansas State
B.J. Finney leaves big shoes to fill on Kansas State’s offensive line. The All-Big 12 center started 52 consecutive games in his career and was a Rimington Trophy semifinalist in 2014. Risner redshirted in his first year on campus and is expected to anchor the center position for coach Bill Snyder in 2015.
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
Rudolph’s emergence in the final three games of 2014 is one of the biggest reasons for optimism in Stillwater this season. Rudolph closed out last season by passing for 853 yards and six passing scores on 49 completions and guided Oklahoma State to a 2-1 mark in the final three games of the year. In the bowl win over Washington, Rudolph passed for 299 yards and two touchdowns. With an improving offensive line and a deep corps of receivers at his disposal, Rudolph should be able to build off a solid finish to 2014 and emerge as one of the Big 12’s top quarterbacks.
Seth Russell, QB, Baylor
Robert Griffin III, Nick Florence and Bryce Petty each produced big seasons in coach Art Briles’ offense at Baylor. And Russell has been handed the keys to the high-powered attack after completing 48 of 85 passes for 804 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014. In each of the last four years, Baylor’s starting quarterback has surpassed 3,850 passing yards and 29 scores. Expect Russell to easily eclipse those marks in 2015.
Kent Taylor, TE, Kansas
Quarterback play is a big question mark for new coach David Beaty after Michael Cummings was injured in the spring game. It’s uncertain if Cummings will make it back by the opener, but if he doesn’t play in 2015, Beaty is expected to turn to Montell Cozart or true freshmen Carter Stanley or Ryan Willis. In addition to the quarterback concerns, the Jayhawks also lack proven options at receiver. Taylor should alleviate some of the concerns from this group, as the Florida transfer is eligible after sitting out 2014 due to NCAA rules. Taylor ranked as the No. 79 recruit in the 2012 signing class.
Vincent Taylor, DT, Oklahoma State
Coordinator Glenn Spencer should have one of the most improved defenses in the Big 12 in 2015. The Cowboys return seven starters, and the overall depth and experience for this unit should be better this season. The defensive tackle position is one of the few positions of concern for Spencer, as last year’s starters – James Castleman and Ofa Hautau – expired their eligibility. Taylor played in 10 games in 2014 and recorded 13 tackles and continued his development with a strong spring performance.
Related: Big 12 Predictions for 2015
Ranthony Texada, CB, TCU
The secondary is usually a strength under Gary Patterson’s watch at TCU, but this unit will be a work in progress in 2015. The Horned Frogs must replace standout cornerback Kevin White, as well as All-Big 12 safeties Sam Carter and Chris Hackett. Texada joins Derrick Kindred as the returning starters for Patterson, and both players will have to anchor the unit early in the year. Texada started all 13 games as a redshirt freshman in 2014 and recorded seven pass breakups and 31 tackles. Texada should be even better as a sophomore.
Demond Tucker, DT, Iowa State
After the Cyclones allowed 246.3 rushing yards per game last season, coach Paul Rhoads wasted no time searching for upgrades. Tucker is one of two junior college recruits brought to Ames to play immediately on the defensive line. The No. 38 recruit in the 247Sports Composite of junior college recruits and was a NJCAA first-team All-American in both years at Copiah-Lincoln Community College. Tucker has to adjust to the Big 12 level, but he could be a difference-maker for the defense.
Mike Warren, RB, Iowa State
Iowa State ranked ninth in the Big 12 by averaging only 124.1 rushing yards per game last season. Assuming the Cyclones have better luck in the health department up front, there should be more consistency and production from the ground attack. Of course, coordinator Mark Mangino also needs a go-to running back to emerge. Last season’s top two running backs (Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy), leaving Warren and sophomore Tyler Brown as the leading candidates. Warren was a three-star recruit and redshirted in his first season in Ames.
Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma
It’s no secret Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard is one of the Big 12’s best receivers. But coordinator Lincoln Riley needs to find other options to take some of the pressure off of Shepard in 2015. Westbrook only recorded two touches in the spring game but finished with 50 yards. The junior college product has big-play potential for the Sooners and his explosiveness should help the passing attack stretch the field.
Connor Williams, OT, Texas
Joe Wickline is one of the best offensive line coaches in the nation, and the Longhorns will be looking for improvement up front after inconsistent play in 2014. Four starters are back, but the lineup and starters may change with added competition through the recruiting ranks. Williams enrolled in time to compete in spring practice, and the true freshman is pushing for a starting spot. If Williams continues to develop in the fall, he should start at one of the tackle positions for Wickline.