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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.
Every athlete has their own unique way of celebrating, and anybody watching Novak Djokovic’s victory over Roger Federer at Wimbledon surely saw how he embraced the moment. Right after he won and shook hands with the chair umpire, he reached down to the famous grass on the court. He ripped out a few pieces and began chomping away on it.
The action required a double-take from viewers to confirm what they were seeing, and reporters after the game asked him about this odd celebration in front of the crowd. He announced that this was something he had dreamed about as a child, to do something crazy after an incredible moment. Well, he did it alright.
Watch Djokovic eat the grass below:
Tennessee's season opener is still nearly two months away, but the Volunteers are already making national headlines, placing five players on the preseason watch lists for the Maxwell and Bednarik Awards. The five representatives on the two watch lists is two more than other team in the SEC.
For the Robert W. Maxwell Award, which has been given out annually to the best player in college football since 1937, Tennessee is represented by junior quarterback Joshua Dobbs and sophomore running back Jalen Hurd. A trio of Volunteers made the watch list for the Chuck Bednarik Award, which has honored college football’s best defensive player at the conclusion of each season since 1995. Sophomore defensive end Derek Barnett, senior linebacker/defensive end Curt Maggitt and junior cornerback Cameron Sutton are among those vying for the prestigious honor.
Dobbs and Hurd are the first Vol players to make the Maxwell watch list since 2012 when quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receiver Da’ Rick Rodgers garnered the honor. The first and only Tennessee player to win the Maxwell Award was Peyton Manning in 1997.
Dobbs is coming off of a very successful 2014 season that concluded with MVP honors in the TaxSlayer Bowl in a lopsided victory over Iowa. Dobbs started five games last season, leading the Vols to a 4-1 record. In six total games played, the dual-threat standout completed 63 percent of his passes and amassed 1,675 yards of total offense and 17 total touchdowns (9 passing, 8 rushing). Dobbs also has been named to several preseason All-SEC lists by various publications, including third team by Athlon Sports.
Hurd will attempt to be the first Vol running back to win the Maxwell. Last season, Hurd rushed for 899 yards and five touchdowns on 190 carries, while adding 35 receptions for 221 yards and two scores. The former 5-star recruit concluded his 2014 campaign by rushing for 122 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Hurd has also been receiving his share of preseason accolades (third-team All-SEC by Athlon), as most expect a breakout season for the rising sophomore in 2015.
As previously mentioned, the Vols are also well represented on the Bednarik watch list with three defensive standouts making the cut, more than any other team in the SEC, and matched only by Oklahoma and Notre Dame nationally. Tennessee has never had a player win the prestigious Bednarik award, but two Vols have been named semifinalists — linebacker Kevin Burnett in 2004 and defensive back Eric Berry in '08. The last Tennessee player to make the watch list was former linebacker A.J. Johnson, who landed on the list in both 2013 and '14.
All three of the Volunteer players represented on this season's Bednarik watch list are worthy of the honor and possess the talent to win the award, but none more so than Barnett. In route to Freshman All-American and second-team All-SEC honors, Barnett led all SEC true freshman with 72 tackles last season. He also broke UT freshman records for sacks in a season (10), a game (3, vs. both South Carolina and Ole Miss), as well as total tackles for a loss (20.5).
To put Barnett’s 2014 numbers into perspective, compare them to former South Carolina star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney’s freshman totals. In 13 starts, Clowney had half as many total tackles with 36, almost half the number of tackles for a loss with 12 and two fewer sacks than Barnett.
A Vol fan favorite, fifth-year senior Maggitt also should make a strong case for the Bednarik in 2015. Last season, Maggitt recorded a team-best 11 sacks, which were good enough to rank third in the SEC. He also collected 48 tackles and 15 tackles for a loss. He is listed on several preseason All-SEC lists (Athlon second-teamer) for 2015, and a big senior season should result in multiple accolades at year’s end.
The final Tennessee player to be named a preseason Bednarik contender is Sutton. The star cornerback and punt returner has started every single game since he set foot on campus in 2013. As a sophomore, Sutton proved to be one of the better defensive backs in the SEC by successfully breaking up 13 passes, which tied him for the most in the league in 2014. This, in spite of opposing quarterbacks often choosing to avoid throwing in his direction. He also had three interceptions, a forced fumble and made 37 tackles last season.
As a punt returner, Sutton averaged just over 11 yards per punt return in 2014. His biggest return was a 76-yarder for a touchdown against Vanderbilt. Like Barnett and Maggitt, Sutton’s name can be found on multiple preseason all-conference lists for both roles. He's a second-teamer on defense on Athlon's 2015 All-SEC team and made the fourth team as a punt returner.
The Maxwell Football Club will announce the semifinalists for both the Maxwell and Bednarik Awards on Nov. 2, followed by the selection of the three finalists on Nov. 23. The winners of each award will be announced as part of "The Home Depot College Awards Show," which will be televised by ESPN on Dec. 10.
— 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
If your kicker can make a field goal from almost parking lot distance, your team is in pretty good shape.
Nick Rose has the leg of something that's not human. The Texas kicker is seen here crushing an 80-yarder with ease.
80 or easy idk pic.twitter.com/ocAjwWHsnc— Nick Rose 2⃣3⃣ (@NickRozay23) July 12, 2015
Yes, this is the same guy who does the backflip field goal as well.
This should be a stern warning that no game will be out of reach with this guy on the team.
The College Football Playoff Committee proved the general trend of tougher scheduling last fall.
There are nearly two dozen great non-conference games in the ACC in 2015.
|These two historic programs have only met twice. Clemson won the last meeting 16-10 in 1979 in South Bend. Two years earlier, Joe Montana led the Irish to a 21-17 victory in Death Valley in the battle of two top 15 teams. Both teams could be ranked in the top 10 when they meet Oct. 3 for the rubber match.|
|The Gators lead the all-time series lead in the Sunshine State rivalry 34-23-2, but the Noles have been the better team since Jimbo Fisher arrived. Florida State has won four of the last five, including his last two trips inside The Swamp.|
|The Jackets and Irish will be playing for the 35th time — 27 of which resulted in Notre Dame wins. The last time they met, however, Georgia Tech crushed the Golden Domers 33-3 in South Bend. There is a good chance both of these teams could reach 10 wins in 2015.|
|National television on Labor Day Night to begin a national title defense sounds like fun to me. Bud Foster and one of the nastiest defenses in the nation will test whichever Buckeyes quarterback Urban Meyer decides to run out there. One coach desperately needs a national statement win and the other coach has major revenge on the mind after the Hokies upset win last fall.|
|Paul Johnson's squad broke through with a huge 30-24 win over the Dawgs in Athens last season. It was just Johnson's second win in seven tries against the Dawgs and his first since beating Mark Richt in his first year in Atlanta in 2008. There is an outside chance both teams are poised to play in a championship game a week after the meeting.|
|Related: ACC Teams as Rock and Roll Bands|
|Bobby Petrino has won all 10 season openers but will have a tough time against the heavily-favored Tigers. Louisville won the only previous meeting between the two programs with a 16-3 win over Auburn in Birmingham back in 1974.|
|The Tigers own a 66-42-4 all-time series lead but are coming off their first win in the rivalry since 2008. Clemson could be eyeing a playoff bid in the season finale and will be looking for their first win in Williams-Brice Stadium since 2007. Dabo Swinney is 2-5 against Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks.|
|Nebraska's 41-31 win in Lincoln last year broke the all-time series tie (6-5). Both teams should be good enough to make a run in their respective leagues but both head coaches need a marquee win (for different reasons). However, there is no national title on the line like in many previous Miami-Nebraska bouts.|
|The Carolina Bowl has only taken place twice since 1991 with the South side winning both times (2007, 2013). The season opener features two defenses that are in desperate need of improvement if either team has any prayer of competing in their respective divisions.|
|The Panthers and Irish have played a pretty even series almost every year since 1999 with Notre Dame winning seven of the 12 meetings during that span. The last six meetings in Pittsburgh are split 3-3, including a memorable 28-21 Panthers upset win in the last tangle,|
* - neutral site
Best of the Rest:
Louisville at Kentucky, Nov. 28
Miami at Cincinnati, Oct. 1
LSU at Syracuse, Sept. 26
Boston College vs. Notre Dame, Nov. 21*
Pitt at Iowa, Sept. 19
Notre Dame at Virginia, Sept. 12
Virginia Tech at East Carolina, Sept. 26
Northwestern at Duke, Sept. 19
Virginia at UCLA, Sept. 5
Boise State at Virginia, Sept. 25
Indiana at Wake Forest, Sept. 26
Wake Forest at Notre Dame, Nov. 14
Illinois at North Carolina, Sept. 19
You hear the term "blue blood" tossed around quite a bit when talking about college sports. I've used it myself. It's a term we media members and fans use to describe programs that have historically been dominant, and as such, supposedly possess a certain element of prestige.
That's no longer the case in college football.
Sure, you have your Alabamas and Ohio States — both of whom would presently be classified as blue bloods — still sitting at or close to the top of the college football world. But you also have newly successful programs that, for whatever reason, are right there with them and don't appear to be going away.
It used to be that Texas could pull a recruit away from Baylor simply by showing interest. TCU was never a factor. Boise State was a commuter school. Coaches at programs like Nebraska, Michigan, Notre Dame and USC could wow and pull in recruits just by showing up on their doorstep wearing the school colors. Once inside the house, these same coaches could then entertain the entire family with legends and folklore that embodied the rich traditions at that particular university. It made recruits want to be part of it. It made families want to be part of it.
Going to one of these schools meant that you would be playing at a place with NFL-caliber facilities. It meant that there would be seemingless endless funds and resources available to you to help develop you into the best player you could be. It meant you'd be playing on national television and have the chance to become a household name long before you left college. And it likely meant you'd have an even greater chance to get to the NFL.
The not-so-well-kept secret nowadays is that there aren't many FBS programs in the country that can't provide you those things. In fact, I can't think of a Power 5 program where a player wouldn't have all of those things.
I've written a couple of articles about this topic in the past, with the bulk of them directed at Nebraska. The end result was arguments with fans and Nebraska media members alike who disagreed with what I had to say. The thing is, it's not just Nebraska — it's everywhere.
No college football program in 2015 can rest on its logo and history and assume it's a more desirable option for potential recruits based on those two things alone. I cringe when I hear fans or media members say thing like "Eight or nine wins is just not acceptable here at School X." They say things like that because of history. It's like there is some scientific formula that only fans and supporters of these "blue blood" schools know about that says "Because this happened here in the past, we should not settle for anything less happening here in the future, because we are School X."
Again, you can't do that in 2015.
The elephant in the room — and I know Nebraska fans hate hearing it— is that 18-year old kids don't care about your history or traditions. They don't care about sellout streaks, Blackshirts, Bear Bryant's hat, The Four Horseman, slapping the sign, rubbing the rock, The Big House or Something for Joey. They just don't care.
Because of this, the coach, his personality and his system are far more important in 2015 than the brand will ever be.
Those 18-year-old kids only want the answers to these questions:
1. Will I see playing time?
2. Will I get on TV?
3. Will I play in a fun, exciting and winning system?
4. Will I have a shot at making it to the NFL?
After that, it's the coach, not the program's history and traditions, who must convince recruits that the answer to all four of those questions is "Yes."
I've called Urban Meyer a "used car salesman" in the past. That's not an insult. It's a necessity for success at the college level. In a world where everyone wants to be thought of as the quiet genius, striving to be as Belichickian as they can, it's as though coaches and athletic directors forget what builds successful college football programs in 2015. Meyer is personable. He's likeable. He sells his program with a smile to recruits and families. He then sells his system — one that historically wins everywhere he's been. And then he sells them on getting to the NFL. He's always closing the sale, and right now, he and Ohio State are reaping the rewards.
Ohio State's history, tradition and money have little to do with it. Would you bet against Meyer at West Virginia or Iowa?
Neither would I.
Coaches like Meyer, Art Briles, Steve Sarkisian, James Franklin and Gary Patterson are what drive success in college football in 2015. It's not the maize "M", the red "N", the golden helmets or the 100,000 seats in your ancient stadium. If a school has the fan and booster support combined with the money to invest in being competitive, it's really all you need, regardless of history or tradition. Most schools have tradition. Most have money. It's tougher to change traditions than it is to change how you spend money.
Blue bloods have been replaced by new bloods and new ideas. It's happening all over the world in every business. College football is not immune to it and it's not going back to the way it was. Fans, media and athletic directors at "blue blood" schools — if they haven't done so already — need to get on board or get left behind.
What's ok and what's not in the world of journalism. These days the line between right and wrong is severely blurred.
After news broke that Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul may have his finger amputated, Adam Schefter caught a lot of flack for tweeting his medical records. In an interview with SI.com, the ESPN NFL insider defended his actions.
"This wasn't as if some player were admitted to the hospital with a secret illness or disease ... the extent of his injuries were going to come to light, maybe that day or later that week, but soon," Schefter said.
Schefter went on to say that the image of the medical records came to him and that he never requested anything. Although the ESPN reporter doesn't apologize for what he did, he did admit that he should've done a little more before tweeting.
"In hindsight I could and should have done even more here due to the sensitivity of the situation," Schefter said. "ESPN has trusted me on any number of stories over the years, and granted me great latitude, fortunately. Sometimes in the fast-paced news world we live in, it's easy to forget you should lean on the knowledge and experience of the people surrounding you ... On this one, there should have been even more discussion than there was due to the sensitivity of the story; that's on me."
It's a tough lesson for many journalists to learn. In the end, if you can believe, Schefter will be even better for it.
Renovations, scheduling, prices, realignment and weather can impact attendance numbers. Even how a school reports its given numbers can vary from program to program (unfortunately).
Most notably, however, is the quality of the team. The easiest solution to "fixing" dropping attendance numbers is to win more games.
In 2014, Texas A&M (+21 percent), Maryland (+14), LSU (+11), Mississippi State (+10), Rutgers (+9), UCLA (+9) and Florida State (+9) led the Power 5 teams in attendance growth for different reasons.
The SEC schools saw boosts from renovations while the two Big Ten teams each saw a spike from joining a new league. The Bruins' attendance grew simply because the team was expected to be and was really good.
So Athlon Sports looked back at all 65 Power 5 teams and ranked them by average capacity based on the reported numbers. How packed was your favorite team’s stadium?
|2||Bill Snyder Family Stadium||106.2||53,081||38th|
|14||Notre Dame Stadium||100.0||80,795||16th|
|15||Doak Campbell Stadium||99.9||82,211||14th|
|17||Davis Wade Stadium||99.6||61,127||28th|
|20||Amon Carter Stadium||99.3||44,719||52nd|
|21||Camp Randall Stadium||99.0||79,520||18th|
|23||Ben Hill Griffin Stadium||96.9||85,834||12th|
|24||Jones AT&T Stadium||96.8||58,934||29th|
|25||High Point Solutions Stadium||96.5||50,632||43rd|
|26||Papa John's Stadium||96.3||52,972||39th|
|30||Jack Trice Stadium||95.3||52,197||41st|
|32||Milan Puskar Stadium||94.5||56,686||34th|
|34||Darrell K. Royal Stadium||93.9||94,103||8th|
|41||TFC Bank Stadium||91.1||47,865||45th|
|44||Boone Pickens Stadium||90.3||54,387||37th|
|45||Bobby Dodd Stadium||88.2||48,519||44th|
|46||Sun Devil Stadium||86.8||57,179||32nd|
|47||Kenan Memorial Stadium||86.7||54,667||35th|
|54||Wallace Wade Stadium||80.4||27,291||82nd|
|55||Sun Life Stadium||80.3||52,518||40th|
There was a time when many considered South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore as one of the best college running backs. However, after two knee injuries in consecutive years, including one of the most gruesome ever seen, his future quickly looked bleak. The San Francisco drafted him with a 4th round pick in 2013, but he never recovered fully from the injury, retiring late in 2014.
Reflecting upon his time with the 49ers, he told reporters, “It was hell. Every day.” However, he never really let the team know that, as he participated with a faux smile on. The pain from his knees was apparently too much to bear, and he could no longer go on playing on it. It leaves eevrybody wondering what could have been for the college star.
See the play that forever changed his career:
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Cook was allegedly involved in the battery of a woman outside of a bar. The article from the Tallahassee Democrat indicates the police report was heavily redacted and noted the victim was intoxicated and suffered minor bruises.
Charges have yet to be filed, but ESPN reports Cook will be charged with misdemeanor battery. An arrest warrant is expected to be issued.
Additionally, the ESPN report indicates Cook allegedly punched the woman in the face several times.
Earlier this week, Florida State dismissed quarterback De’Andre Johnson after video was released of an incident at a bar, which the freshman punched a woman in the face.
Cook was a key part of the Seminoles’ playoff run last season and was considered one of the top running backs in the nation.
Needless to say, Cook’s future at Florida State will depend heavily on how this case plays out in the next few months.
After both winning their semifinals matches in straight sets, No. 1 Novak Djokovic will take on No. 2 Roger Federer for the Wimbledon title for the second straight year. Djokovic enters the match as the defending Wimbledon champion, while Federer has won seven titles there previously. The two have been great rivals for several years now, having faced one another 39 times prior.
And in those previous head-to-head matchups, Roger Federer holds the lead by one win, with a record of 20-19. Djokovic has won the previous three matchups, and he looks to tie up the all-time series with his third Wimbledon victory. However, a win for Federer would give him the most men’s singles Wimbledon titles.
Here's something to expect this Sunday:
Several weeks after his appeal, Greg Hardy’s suspension has been cut from 10 to 4 games for the upcoming NFL season. The suspension came about for his alleged involvement in a domestic abuse case. The troubled NFL star was suspended for 15 games last season with the Carolina Panthers.
The Cowboys certainly have to be glad that Hardy will be on the field for more games, having signed him to a one-year deal worth $11.3 million in free agency. The reduced suspension may surprise many, considering all of the backlash for the seemingly lenient punishments last year. It will be interesting to see how people react to this change.
See what Hardy brings to the Cowboys:
Twenty years have passed since the Cowboys last raised the Vince Lombardi Trophy. They have had only nine winning seasons since, with a 158–146 regular-season record and a 3–8 postseason mark. Yet, Jerry Jones has never lost faith.
This year begins no differently, although the Cowboys owner actually has reason to believe. The team has turned the momentum from last season into real, live Super Bowl hopes. The Cowboys saw a healthy Tony Romo for the first time in three offseasons. They welcome back the same offensive and defensive coordinators for the first time in four years. The league’s best offensive line returns intact. They helped their defense with some offseason additions. “I like the future of this team,” Jones says.
There’s nothing like the present, though.
The Cowboys believe as long as they have Romo, they have a chance. Romo underwent two back surgeries in two years, and last season he missed a game with two fractures in his transverse process. But he entered the offseason fully healed. Despite throwing for only 3,705 yards, Romo had one of the best seasons of his career with a 12–3 record, 34 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He led the league in completion percentage (69.9), yards per attempt (8.5), passer rating (113.2) and game-winning drives (five), putting his name in the MVP conversation. The Cowboys insist that Romo, 35, has a few good years left. They sought to upgrade their backup quarterback situation, but it appears Brandon Weeden will once again be the No. 2 signal caller.
The Cowboys took pressure off Romo last season by running the ball 508 times (vs. 506 pass plays). They’ll continue that approach in 2015, even though the league’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, left for Philadelphia in free agency. The only change likely comes in how many carries the rushing leader gets. Running back-by-committee appears likely with Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar and Ryan Williams competing for roster spots, playing time and carries. Randle showed signs last season as Murray’s primary backup, averaging 6.7 yards per carry, but he had only 51 attempts. McFadden, the No. 4 overall pick in 2008, gets a new start with a new team after seven injury-plagued seasons in Oakland. He played a full 16-game season for the first time in his career in 2014.
Jason Witten, 33, made his 10th Pro Bowl in 2014. Now in his 13th season, he shows no signs of slowing down. Witten remains Romo’s security blanket, and the tight end ranked second on the team in catches (64) and receiving yards (703) last season.
Dez Bryant became one of the top receivers in the NFL last season, earning All-Pro honors with 88 catches for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns. The Cowboys applied the franchise tag to Bryant in the offseason, and the two parties have been unable to hash out a long-term contract. Bryant has hinted at the possibility of holding out, even if this means missing regular season games. If it remains unresolved by the time training camp opens, Bryant’s contract situation will no doubt be a hot topic and it remains to be seen if this will develop into a team-wide distraction.
Outside of Bryant,Terrance Williams had stretches where he disappeared, but he averaged 16.8 yards per catch and caught eight touchdowns. Romo trusted Cole Beasley as much as Bryant on third down, and Beasley won the job as the third receiver and a new payday at the end of the season.
Having used three first-round picks on offensive linemen since 2011, the Cowboys have built arguably the league’s best line. Zack Martin, who had never played guard until the Cowboys moved him there after drafting him 16th overall last year, earned Pro Bowl honors as a rookie. He was joined by former first-rounders Travis Frederick (center) and Tyron Smith (left tackle) in the all-star game. The Cowboys kept their line intact by re-signing right tackle Doug Free to a three-year, $15 million deal and left guard Ron Leary to a one-year, $585,000 deal. They drafted Chaz Green in the third round to replace swing tackle Jermey Parnell and signed La’el Collins as a free agent after the projected first-rounder went undrafted due to some legal issues.
The Cowboys’ biggest offseason move was the signing of defensive end Greg Hardy. Dallas had only 28 sacks last season; Hardy had double-digit sacks in 2012 and ’13 but played only one game last season before going on the commissioner’s exempt list. Hardy's original 10-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the league was reduced to four games upon appeal. The Cowboys also drafted talented pass-rusher Randy Gregory in the second round, as this defense looks to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. DeMarcus Lawrence, who missed nine games with a broken foot as a rookie last season, will start at left end. Jeremy Mincey, Jack Crawford and Ben Gardner, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, will compete for playing time in the team’s rotation. The Cowboys moved Tyrone Crawford from defensive end to the three-technique last season and were happy with the results. He had three sacks and was solid against the run. Nick Hayden re-signed to play the nose. Terrell McClain also will see playing time in the defensive tackle rotation.
Sean Lee has missed 34 games in his five-year career, including all 16 games last season after tearing the ACL in his left knee on the first day of OTAs. Lee, who has two 100-tackle seasons and 11 career interceptions, will move from middle linebacker to the weak side, the most important linebacker position in the Tampa 2. The Cowboys re-signed Rolando McClain to man the middle, but he will miss the first four games of the season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Anthony Hitchens, who started at all three linebacker positions among 11 starts as a rookie, leads the candidates at strong-side linebacker. McClain
The Cowboys tried to shore up their cornerback position before the 2012 season when they signed Brandon Carr and traded up in the draft to select Morris Claiborne. But Carr hasn’t lived up to the contract, and the Cowboys are expected to ask him to take a pay cut, which could lead to his release. Claiborne missed 12 games last season with a ruptured patellar tendon in his left knee. Even when healthy, Claiborne has done nothing to give the Cowboys an indication that he ever will develop into a shutdown corner. Orlando Scandrick has become the team’s most reliable player at the position, but he did not participate in voluntary offseason workouts while seeking a raise. The Cowboys drafted Byron Jones with their first-round pick and expect him to play a big role as a rookie. Starting safeties J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church rarely make game-changing plays but rarely give up big plays and are sure tacklers.
Dan Bailey ranks as the second-most accurate placekicker in NFL history, converting 89.8 percent of his career kicks. He has nine game-winning kicks, including five in overtime, in his career. Dallas re-signed punter Chris Jones, who had a 39.8 net average last season, though Australian Tom Hornsey will compete for the job. The Cowboys will go into training camp looking for return specialists to replace Dwayne Harris.
Jason Garrett kept his job with an unexpected playoff run last season; he’ll be expected to produce even more this season. The Cowboys kept defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and offensive play-caller Scott Linehan. The addition of Hardy should help the pass rush, but a big question remains about how the Cowboys will replace Murray. They should contend for the division title, but the NFC title still might be a few more good players away.
Prediction: 1st in NFC East
After Mark Cuban explained his frustration in DeAndre Jordan flopping on his contract, Mavericks star Chandler Parsons lashed out at the Clippers’ center. Parsons had been celebrating the new signing, until he found out that he flipped on his decision. On Jordan, he believes that “he wasn’t ready to be a franchise player. He was scared.”
While Parsons saw the huge potential in an increased role for Jordan on the Mavericks, he is now angered and disappointed in the decision. He took this recommitment personally, having spoken to Parsons before and excited to play with him. Now there will certainly be a rivalry between the two teams.
Here is what Jordan will be missing on the Mavericks:
After defeating Japan in the World Cup this past Sunday, the USWNT celebrated as part of a historic parade in NYC. The parade down the famed Canyon of Heroes honored this team, making them the first women’s sport team to receive such an event.
Ticker-tape parades on this same route in NYC have been ongoing since 1886, often honoring politicians and New York championship teams. The parade, which cost the city $2 million, featured the players aboard different floats, which drove past thousands of screaming fans. Along the way, fans up in buildings covered the streets with confetti, as part of the historic tradition.
Look at some pictures of the event below:
The Texans are the newest team to be featured on "Hard Knocks," must to the dismay of J.J. Watt.
The Houston star has said he wasn't into the idea of cameras at practice, but he's going to learn to live with it. In the HBO trailer, the show takes a look at the past while giving a sneak peek in to what's to come with the Texans.
On June 18 a Wayne Davis tweet broke the hearts of 17 schools but kept hope alive for three other programs — the University of Michigan, Virginia Tech and Ohio State. On Thursday he especially broke the hearts of in-state power Virginia Tech when the speedy corner verbally committed to Ohio State.
The 5-foot-11, 187-pound, 4-star recruit from Lake Taylor High School in Norfolk, Va., posted his announcement on Twitter:
Ohio State had an inside edge with former teammate and defensive end Jayln Holmes already in Columbus, but many were hoping the pull of staying in-state would be enough for the Hokies.
There are no points for being a runner-up in recruiting but now at least Virginia Tech’s staff knows what they are up against in hopes of flipping the Tidewater-area star. Other schools like Auburn, Miami, Georgia, Michigan State, Tennessee, North Carolina, Maryland, Louisville, Wisconsin, Duke and Clemson all extended early offers.
Ohio State now has 17 verbal commitments to its 2016 recruiting class. Davis joins Baltimore-area talent Kareem Felder (St. Frances HS) as the other slotted cornerback in the Buckeyes' class.
— 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.
After Jason Pierre-Paul lost part of his finger after a fireworks incident last week, the New York Giants withdrew their long-term contract offer. Yet, they still left their one-year, $14.8 million franchise tag on him, allowing him to take the deal. However, sources say that Pierre-Paul now seems unlikely to sign that tender until he recovers from the injury.
By choosing to sign it later on, it would potentially prevent the Giants from putting him on the non-football injury (NFI) list. If a player starts the season on the NFI, then they have to sit out the first six games without pay. But by waiting to sign the franchise tender, he will be able to start participating in training camp when he feels he can and thus stay off the NFI for now.
See why the Giants want him back healthy:
In just a few short weeks the New England Patriots will open training camp as defending Super Bowl champions for the first time in the last decade. But it's been far from a status quo offseason for the Pats, and really, should we expect anything else?
The top four cornerbacks and top two running backs have departed, long-time stalwart offensive lineman Dan Connolly appears ready to retire and Tom Brady's appeal of his four-game suspension continues to hang over the team. However Bill Belichick has never been one to blink. It will be "next man up" and no matter who's on the field, the well-coached Pats will be a beast for every opponent they face.
Here are the five biggest questions that the Pats will face as they start to form their 2015 version in the early days of training camp.
1. Brady's Suspension
Tom Brady's appeal of his four-game Deflategate suspension is the first major piece of the puzzle to fall into place. This will directly affect how the snaps in training camp and preseason must be allotted between Brady and second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. If Brady's punishment is reduced to only one or two games, and he accepts that, there should be close to an even split of snaps in August. Perhaps more interesting will be if Brady doesn't accept whatever Commissioner Roger Goodell comes back with and decides to take the fight to court. That could put the entire suspension on the shelf until it's ruled on next year. And if that's the case, Brady will be a full go for 2015.
The Patriots stayed healthy for the most part last season aside from the loss of linebacker Jerod Mayo. However after the season ended a litany of surgeries were revealed, putting many key players' start to the season in jeopardy. The headline is the linebacker corps, with Mayo (torn patellar tendon), Dont'a Hightower (labrum surgery) and Jamie Collins (unknown) all in some phase of recovery. Mayo and Hightower seem like locks to open on the PUP list, while Collins was in and out of OTAs and is a much-needed presence for the defense in training camp.
The defensive line has questions as well with Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones and Chandler Jones all coming off surgeries of their own. Add in Dominique Easley, who was shut down in late 2014 to get over his back-to-back ACL tears, and that's a significant chunk of key front seven players who might be unavailable at the start of camp.
3. Starting Over at Cornerback
Turnover is a fact of life in the NFL, but rarely do you see a near-complete purge of an entire position like the Patriots had this offseason at corner. Part of it is the fact that the Pats just don't value long-term deals for corners, while another is the upcoming need to pay their high-round, talented front seven players like Collins, Hightower and Chandler Jones. But now the Patriots must find their starting cornerbacks from a mix of devalued veterans like Bradley Fletcher and Robert McClain, and unproven youngsters like Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan. With 10 corners on the roster there will be plenty of competition, and injuries will likely play a role in determining who plays, but rarely in Belichick's tenure has a position battle been more wide open. Every snap will be vital.
4. Almost Starting Over at Running Back
The presence of Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount doesn't make the running back position quite as wide open as the cornerback one, but there are at least two significant roles up for grabs and a number of unproven faces who could step into them. James White had a redshirt year in 2014 after being selected in the fourth round. He'll compete with free agent Travaris Cadet for the primary receiving back duties, a very important role in the Patriots offense. Meanwhile, second-year player Tyler Gaffney is an unknown commodity in the early-down role. His direct competition will be Jonas Gray, who ran all over the Colts in the middle of last season and was then barely heard from again after arriving late to a meeting because he overslept.
With Blount being suspended for Week 1, the Pats will open the season with a new look in their backfield regardless, but we can expect the new players will bring a new season-long twist to the offense that can't be predicted.
5. On Guard
The Patriots had plenty of experimentation along the interior of their offensive line early last season. It was settled once Ryan Wendell showed he was more than just a center and did a solid job at right guard. Dan Connolly was a captain at left guard, but upgrading the interior offensive line has been a priority ever since Brian Waters left after just one year. The Pats drafted two rookie guards - Tre' Jackson and Shaq Mason - but would they really be comfortable starting two rookies? Wendell is there as an insurance policy, but his starting spot is not etched in stone. Unknowns like Josh Klein, Caylin Hauptmann and Cameron Fleming could also be in the mix, but the uncertainty at the position is the biggest concern on the offensive side of the ball, and one that might not be resolved until a few games into the season.
Jadeveon Clowney is trying to make a name for himself with the Texans, but there's always time to talk a little college football.
As the nation's No. 1 recruit in 2010, Clowney had his share of visits from coaches all around the country. Although he ended up choosing South Carolina, Alabama's Nick Saban left an unflattering impression on the linebacker.
"I don't see no big deal like everybody else," Clowney told The State. "They'd say, 'He's the king of all of football.' The guy ain't nothing but 5'5. He's a short guy. Everybody's going crazy on Nick Saban."
That wasn't all, the former Gamecock talked about Saban's recruiting pitch.
"He talked the whole time he was there," Clowney said. "I was dozing off. He can talk. A lot. He talked for a whole straight hour."
Clowney did mention that he would've committed to Alabama anyway if they had run his particular style of defense, 4-3, as opposed to the Tide's 3-4.
Fall camp is just around the corner for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes prepare to defend their national title. Head coach Urban Meyer and his staff have already welcomed the incoming freshmen to Columbus. Players have been issued jersey numbers, and are working diligently to make a positive impression upon the coaching staff when fall camp begins.
A challenge for any freshman football player, no matter which program across the country, is to do enough to warrant more and more playing time. Considering Ohio State is coming off a national championship season, with only a handful of players having departed the program for possible NFL stardom, this challenge is even greater.
It would be easy to look at recruiting rankings and suggest this player or that player may be in line for playing time. If that was the case, incoming freshmen linebackers Jerome Baker or Justin Hilliard may be freshmen to keep an eye and ear open for (it is possible either of these players could wind up contributing on special teams from the onset of the season, by the way).
It would also be easy to look at players who redshirted last season, and are prepared to contribute. Defensive end Sam Hubbard is a prominent name who flashed potential in the 2015 Ohio State spring game, and was consistently lauded by Meyer all of last season as a player who possibly should not have redshirted.
Other freshmen enrolled and participated in spring practices. The most impressive of these early enrollees was linebacker Nick Conner, who also played a prominent role in the spring game.
My picks are going to be more of the sleeper variety - players who were somewhat under the radar of recruiting analysts and fans, yet may be able to get playing time in position groups where Ohio State has talent, but may not have tremendous depth.
Rashod Berry, TE
My first pick for a sleeper on the offensive side of the ball is incoming freshman tight end Rashod Berry. Berry was a later addition to the recruiting class, ranked a three-star recruit, and could possibly play at defensive end. Berry intrigues me for these reasons — Nick Vannett will return as the projected starter, with Marcus Baugh the likely backup at the position. Considering the frequency with which Ohio State employs two tight ends, it stands to reason that Berry may get opportunities at tight end, especially in the early portion of the season when Ohio State may be heavy favorites against its opposition.
Robert Landers, DL
My second pick for a sleeper on the defensive side of the ball is incoming freshman defensive lineman Robert Landers. Similar to Berry, Landers was a later addition to the recruiting class. Defensive line, especially along the interior, is usually not a position where freshmen can make an impact. My pick for Landers is based upon Landers' strong performance in the Ohio high school state playoffs last season (which helped to secure Landers his Ohio State offer), as well as the departure of Michael Bennett to the NFL. In 2016 Ohio State will lose Adolphus Washington; it may behoove the coaching staff to get Landers onto the field for needed game experience this season.
Sometimes the best freshmen players are the players who fell under the radar. It will be interesting to note if my sleeper picks contribute in 2015, as well as beyond.
— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a diehard Ohio State fan. Minnich also writes and podcasts for menofthescarletandgray.com, a site dedicated to Ohio sports with a special emphasis on the Buckeyes. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.
The defending national champion may hail from the Big Ten's East Division, but that doesn't mean the West doesn't have its own intrigue. The top storylines to follow this season include new head coaches taking over at Nebraska (Mike Riley) and Wisconsin (Paul Chryst), as well as those (Illinois' Tim Beckman, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, Purdue's Darrell Hazell) that find themselves on the hot seat. Elsewhere Minnesota will look to build on its success under Jerry Kill, albeit without a couple of NFL Draft picks, while Larry Fitzgerald and Northwestern hope to turn things around after a couple of disappointing seasons.
For the purposes of this exercise, projected win totals are broken down into three categories — definite wins, definite losses and toss-ups. Most of the conference games will in the toss-up category, especially ones on the road. This preview will offer thoughts on each team and if there’s any value either over or under.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook
Big Ten West
(Over 3.5 wins -210...Under 3.5 wins +160)
Record Last Year: 6-7, 3-5
Returning Starters: 14 (7 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: Wes Lunt gets another year under center after throwing just three interceptions in 2014. He's got Geronimo Allison and Justin Hardee to throw to while Josh Ferguson returns to the backfield. The offensive line could be a concern.
Defense: Jihad Ward gets one more year to wreck havoc on the Big Ten. This unit regularly was gashed, giving up 30 points or more 10 times last year. Plenty of players return and will be looking for improvement.
Schedule: Kent State, Western Illinois and Middle Tennessee all come to Champaign while the Illini travel to North Carolina for their non-conference slate. Wisconsin and Ohio State are both Big Ten home games for Illinois.
Selection: The over is the play. This is an important season for Tim Beckman whose seat has to be getting warm after going 12-25 the last three years.
(Over 7.5 wins -115...Under 7.5 wins -125)
Record Last Year: 7-6, 4-4
Returning Starters: 10 (4 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: Iowa's returning starters on this side of the ball consist of three O-linemen and WR Tevaun Smith. C.J. Beathard and Tyler Wiegers will compete for the QB position. Jordan Canzeri tries to replace Mark Weisman, who was the Hawkeyes' leading rusher last season.
Defense: Drew Ott brings fierce pressure from the front line while Desmond King is one of the better CBs in the conference. Everyone else around them are question marks as this unit got roughed up to finish last season.
Schedule: Illinois State, Iowa State, Pittsburgh and North Texas make up Iowa's September. The Hawkeyes finish out the year with home tilts against Minnesota and Purdue and a road game at Nebraska as the final matchup.
Selection: The schedule lends itself to an over for Iowa even with the holes that need to be filled. The Hawkeyes shouldn't lose to rival Iowa State, but the home matchup with Pittsburgh will be tough.
(Over 5.5 wins -210...Under 5.5 wins +160)
Record Last Year: 8-5, 5-3
Returning Starters: 11 (4 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: David Cobb and Maxx Williams are gone from an offense that struggled to move the ball through the air. Mitch Leidner had 11 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing TDs. He's going to have to get the ball to Drew Wolitarsky and KJ Maye.
Defense: It will be tough to move the ball through the air against Minnesota with four seniors back there. There's a lot of talent on this side of the ball. Senior punter Peter Mortell flipped the field often for the Golden Gophers.
Schedule: TCU, Kent State and Ohio all come to Minneapolis while a road game exists at Colorado State. In both October and November, the squad starts out with two straight road games before moving to two straight home games.
Selection: There is some value with the under. It's a tough schedule that Minnesota has to navigate. They could lose the first two games and who knows if it spirals a bit after that.
(Over 8 wins -150...Under 8 wins +110)
Record Last Year: 9-4, 5-3
Returning Starters: 12 (6 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: There's a lot to like here as Tommy Armstrong Jr. continues to grow. The signal-caller had 28 touchdowns and gets WR Jordan Westerkamp back. The Huskers will have to find some help in the run game whether it's Terrell Newby or Imani Cross.
Defense: It's not quite the Blackshirts, but Nebraska's defense is getting better. Nate Gerry and Daniel Davie help out the secondary while Maliek Collins solidifies the front line.
Schedule: It's a home-friendly September with BYU, South Alabama and Southern Miss all coming to Lincoln, while there's a trip to Miami in the mix. Last year Nebraska beat the Canes 41-31 at home. The Cornhuskers alternate road and home games in conference.
Selection: No feel for this line. There's a lot of toss-up games for the Huskers. It also depends on Armstrong's continued development as a passer.
(Over 6.5 wins +110...Under 6.5 wins -150)
Record Last Year: 5-7, 3-5
Returning Starters: 15 (5 on offense, 10 on defense)
Offense: Justin Jackson is a nice place to start, as he finished the year with six 100-yard rushing performances. Christian Jones will be a welcome sight out wide to whomever is under center. Dan Vitale (40 rec. in 2014) is an underrated pass catcher filling the Wildcats' super back role.
Defense: Continuity is nice on this side of the ball. There's a solid mix of youth and seniors here so there should be some improvement from a group that gave up 25.2 points per game last year.
Schedule: Northwestern gets a big shot early with Stanford at home. The rest of the non-conference slate consists of home games against Eastern Illinois and Ball State while making a visit to Duke. Northwestern hosts Penn State in early November.
Selection: Six wins seems about right here. There's a big question at quarterback and that's going to be a problem for a team that struggled in close games.
(Over 4 wins -145...Under 4 wins +105)
Record Last Year: 3-9, 1-7
Returning Starters: 16 (9 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: Austin Appleby has to cut down the turnovers for this offense to work. He had 11 interceptions to just 10 touchdowns. The whole offensive line is back while Danny Anthrop and DeAngelo Yancey line up outside. Anthrop is coming off injury so who knows when he will be 100 percent.
Defense: The good news is that there's a lot returning, but the bad news is that this group was awful last year. This unit needs to find leaders, which shouldn't be too hard with so many juniors and seniors on the depth chart.
Schedule: A road matchup with Marshall starts things off before home tilts with Indiana State, Virginia Tech and Bowling Green. October could be rough with games against Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Selection: I like the over. The Boilermakers have a chance to improve on last year. If the defense figures things out, this team could approach six wins and be in the conversation for a bowl berth.
(Over 10 wins +160...Under 10 wins -210)
Record Last Year: 11-3, 7-1
Returning Starters: 12 (5 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: Things will look different on this side of the ball without Melvin Gordon although the Badgers will be in good hands with Corey Clement and Taiwan Deal. Joel Stave is back under center and he needs to improve after completing just 53.4 percent of his passes.
Defense: Vince Biegel had 16.5 tackles for a loss last year to go with 7.5 sacks. He'll help again this year with the strength of the defense in the secondary. This should be a very solid defense.
Schedule: The season kicks off with another SEC opponent although this one is a bit tougher. The Badgers get Alabama in Arlington, Texas. After that it's Miami (Ohio), Troy and Hawaii. The first true road game isn't until Oct. 10 at Nebraska.
Selection: No feel for this one. It's a high number that you could make the case for in either direction. Once again, if you find that you like the over, then I endorse it at that price.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
The Heisman Trophy came to Pac-12 Country in 2014, with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota holding off Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon to win the award.
Mariota may be gone, but the Pac-12 can keep the Heisman under its collective umbrella for the first time since 2004 and '05 — or, for the first time as actually recognized by the Heisman Trust since 1967 and '68.
Bovada released updated odds for the 2015 Heisman Tuesday, with Big 12 representative Trevone Boykin of TCU, the Big Ten’s Ezekiel Elliott and Braxton Miller of Ohio State and SEC players Jeremy Johnson (Auburn) and Nick Chubb (Georgia) comprising the top five.
Of course, preseason odds matter little as the fall unfolds, and the Pac-12 has plenty of worthy contenders who could become the new favorite as the season progresses.
A quarterback has won the Heisman every year since 2010, and all but two seasons since 2000. It stands to reason, then, that the Pac-12’s foremost front-runner to keep the bronze statue out West plays behind center.
The campaign for USC quarterback Cody Kessler began in the 2014 season, when Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian touted Kessler’s lofty numbers following a decimation of rival Notre Dame.
“At some point, people are going to recognize him…These are ridiculous numbers he’s putting up right now,” Sarkisian said. Kessler finished the season with 39 touchdown passes to tie the USC record Matt Barkley set in 2011. He was intercepted just four times.
“This year was not easy for him,” Sarkisian added.
Indeed, Kessler had his struggles that kept him out of the Heisman conversation. Most notably, he threw just four touchdown passes and was intercepted three times against the best of the Pac-12 South.
But those bumps are what Kessler sees helping him in his pursuit of bigger things in 2015.
“I’ve seen everything from good games, to average games, to bad games,” Kessler said. “And I think that’s really helped me prepare for the future.”
Playing quarterback certainly helps a Heisman candidacy, and especially playing quarterback at USC. The Trojans have produced two Heisman-winning quarterbacks since 2002, and USC quarterbacks were finalists for the award four times since 1988.
From the best positioned role to winning the Heisman to one of the worst, another Pac-12 candidate who gained national attention at season’s end last fall is Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright.
Wright swept the national defensive awards: Nagurski, Bednarik, Butkus. He also was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, a consensus All-American and finished ninth in the Heisman voting.
No defense-exclusive player has ever won the Heisman. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was close, finishing second to Johnny Manziel in 2012. South Carolina end Jadeveon Clowney had the buildup before the 2013 season, but failed to deliver.
Wright could well have hype approaching that which followed Clowney into the 2013 campaign. Should he live up to the billing, and Arizona again find itself in the hunt for the Pac-12 championship, Wright could be a history-maker.
He’s not the Pac-12’s sole defensive player with a shot at the Heisman, though. Michigan’s Charles Woodson is the only primarily defensive Heisman winner, and that’s exactly who Sarkisian compared three-way threat Adoree’ Jackson to following December’s Holiday Bowl.
Jackson’s versatility made him equally effective as a returner and receiver as he is at cornerback, and the only question mark he presents USC coaches is just how to use him.
Oregon had to wait decades to win its first Heisman with a few near-misses along the way. Quarterback Joey Harrington was a finalist in 2001 but finished fourth in the voting. Running back LaMichael James came in third in 2010.
But now that Heisman No. 1 is finally in Eugene, the wait for No. 2 could be as short as 12 months.
Running back Royce Freeman was dynamite in his freshman campaign, complementing Mariota on the quarterback’s way to the Heisman with 1,365 yards and 18 touchdowns on 252 carries.
Freeman is just one running back among the conference’s embarrassment of riches at the position. Fellow 2014 newcomer Nick Wilson has Heisman potential at Arizona, while new Arizona State feature back Demario Richard is a potential dark horse to watch.
Last year’s leading Pac-12 rusher at 1,575 yards, UCLA junior Paul Perkins, is another name to follow in the impending Heisman race.
Perkins is a dual threat who has proven equally effective catching passes out of the backfield as he is taking handoffs.
Like Perkins, Utah’s Devontae Booker was not originally meant to be his team’s No. 1 back. But after breaking off some impressive carries early in the season, Booker took over and never looked back.
His 1,512 yards were second in the Pac-12, giving the Utes a pillar on which to lean while quarterbacks Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson dealt with injuries and inconsistencies.
Head coach Kyle Whittingham started beating the drum for Booker’s candidacy in the spring. Actually saying the H-word might be taboo for some; not Utah’s coach.
“We expect him to have a big year. That’s something we’re counting on,” Whittingham said. “We think can have a better year than he had last year. He’s in the Heisman conversation if he does the things we hope he’s able to do.”
Ultimately, the success of the team plays a huge part in a player’s Heisman candidacy. As great as Mariota was throughout his Oregon career, it’s no coincidence his first invite to the Heisman ceremony came the same year the Ducks were national championship contenders.
Sarkisian said as much in his early campaigning for Kessler.
“That stuff [individual award recognition] comes with a team that performs consistently at a high level. And I know that’s what he wants,” he said. “But at some point, you can’t ignore [great individual play].”
The preseason Rimington Award watch list was released on Wednesday with the SEC placing eight players on the list of the top centers in college football. One of the eight is LSU junior offensive lineman Ethan Pocic.
Listing Pocic on the preseason Rimington Trophy watch list is more of a "just in case" type of recognition. Pocic, when playing center, is one of the bigger snappers in the nation listed at 6-foot-7, 301 pounds and certainly deserving of the potential honor.
Since coming on late during his true freshman season in 2013 when he played in six games while earning one start, he has been a mainstay on the Tigers’ offensive line. In 2014 he started and played in 12 of the Tigers’ 13 games, starting nine games at right guard and three at center. He finished the year third on the team with 72.5 pancake blocks.
After spring practice Pocic was moved from right guard to left guard and is penciled to start there when the 2015 season kicks off with freshman Will Clapp expected to earn the starting center spot with sophomore Andy Dodd backing him up.
The other SEC players named to the preseason Rimington Trophy Award watch list include:
Evan Boehm – senior – Missouri
Ryan Kelly – senior – Alabama
Alan Knott – sophomore – South Carolina
Mike Matthews – senior – Texas A&M
Spencer Pulley – senior – Vanderbilt
Mitch Smothers – senior – Arkansas
Jon Toth – junior – Kentucky
Of this group, Kelly is considered the leader and has a great chance of winning the Rimington Trophy.
In total 63 players were named to the Rimington Trophy preseason watch list. The honorees will be pared down over the course of the season with the finalists announced on Dec. 7.
— 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.
With NFL training camps set to open up in a few weeks, it will be the first real taste of being a professional football player for all the rookies who heard their names called in the draft not too long ago. And in some cases, teams may be counting on some of their first-year players to contribute sooner rather than later.
Here is one key rookie for each of the four NFC North teams to keep an eye on during training camp.
Kevin White, WR, Chicago Bears
The Bears didn’t disappoint the hometown crowd on the opening night of the draft this year when they selected West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White with the seventh overall pick. The Bears hope White can jump right into a starting role opposite Alshon Jeffery. Both White and Jeffery are listed as 6-foot-3 and around 215 pounds, which makes for nightmare matchups against opposing defensive backs. White could put up some huge numbers in a league where rookie wide receivers took over last season. The x-factor in this equation is how much does Jay Cutler look at White in the red zone given his more established chemistry with Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett, not to mention Matt Forté, whose 102 receptions last season were the most ever by a running back.
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Detroit Lions
The Lions ranked 28th in rushing last season, and Reggie Bush left via free agency to sign with San Francisco. Ameer Abdullah looks to continue the success he had with the Nebraska Cornhuskers and make a difference in Detroit. Abdullah will have to compete with Joique Bell and Theo Riddick for snaps. The bright side on being a running back with the Lions is that Matthew Stafford likes to throw the ball to them. Running backs were targeted on more than 28 percent of Detroit’s passing plays last season. If Abdullah can show he’s a reliable receiver out of the backfield, it will only help him carve out a role in this offense.
Ty Montgomery, WR/KR, Green Bay Packers
When Packers general manager Ted Thompson takes a wide receiver in the early rounds of the draft, it’s best to pay a little attention to him. Ty Montgomery could come in and contribute from the first snap of the regular season. The Stanford product has an uphill climb to get snaps given the presence of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, but Montgomery could make his mark early on through special teams, especially as a kickoff returner. While at Stanford, Montgomery returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and averaged 27.4 yards per return over his four years.
Eric Kendricks, LB, Minnesota Vikings
The team from the land of 10,000 lakes looks to take the next step this upcoming season and challenge for a playoff spot in the NFC North. A big part of making this happen might be Eric Kendricks, Minnesota’s second-round pick from UCLA. Kendricks becomes the second linebacker drafted in two years by the Vikings, as they took fellow Bruin Anthony Barr in the first round last year. Kendricks got some first-team reps in OTAs and at minimum should get some early looks in the defense’s nickel packages. If Kendricks, who finished his UCLA career as the program’s all-time leading tackler, can adapt quickly to the pro game, then he and Barr could finally bring some much-needed stability to the Vikings’ linebacker corps.
— Written by Josh Koop, who is apart of the Athlon Contributor Network and Director of New Media with the Bemidji Axemen of the Indoor Football League. You can follow Josh on Twitter at @Koopsnet.