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It's not just Steph Curry with the shot, boy.
Curry's wife, Ayesha, can drain a 3-pointer just as well as her husband. The kicker, Ayesha did it while nine months pregnant. That's pure skill right there.
"9 months pregnant and can still knock em down!!! NBA 3 pt line btw. I was 2 for 2 and had to leave on a good note... Just trying to make Steph proud," Ayesha's caption read.
It's not a fluke. Mrs. Curry also drilled others while barefoot.
Who is Jeremy Johnson?
We know he’s the next starting quarterback for the Auburn Tigers. He had an “outstanding spring” according to his head coach, Gus Malzahn. But most importantly he’s the next breakout star in college football.
Johnson enters his first season as a full-time starter with high expectations. In 2014, he threw for 858 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions on 57-of-78 passing in 11 appearances.
So what makes a guy with a small sample size a potential Heisman Trophy candidate? The right scheme and plenty of weapons.
Johnson is the perfect fit for Malzahn’s up-tempo offense. At 6-5, 240, he has a similar frame and skill set to former Auburn quarterback and Heisman winner Cam Newton, albeit somewhat less explosive yet more polished as a passer.
Newton’s Heisman-winning season in Malzahn’s scheme led the Tigers’ BCS championship run in 2010. Several odds makers are expecting the same from Johnson, who will also take over the offense as a junior.
It doesn’t hurt that he’ll have plenty of options. Auburn has one of the SEC’s most talented offenses even after the departures of leading rusher Cameron Artis-Payne and receiver Sammie Coates.
D’haquille Williams enters the 2015 season as the NFL’s top wide receiver prospect, according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper. Ricardo Louis told Al.com that he’s “more consistent” after dropping just four passes in 15 spring practices. The Tigers also signed a pair of four-star wide receivers in Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis.
Even with the loss of Artis-Payne, Auburn still has a talented tandem at running back. The Tigers will split carries between sophomore Roc Thomas and top JUCO transfer Jovon Robinson. Thomas entered as a four-star prospect but saw little action behind Artis-Payne and fellow senior Corey Grant.
Robinson is “an intriguing blend of power and quickness who possesses good natural instincts,” according to Al.com‘s Joel A. Erickson.
But the most underrated factor in Johnson’s Heisman chances may be the improvement of Auburn’s defense. In 2014, the Tigers were a bad defense — and several lapses — away from being a true contender in the SEC West. Instead, the team finished fourth behind Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
The addition of Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator should propel Auburn. Muschamp has coached defenses ranked in the top 10 in FBS each year since 2009.
No Heisman candidacy is secure without a player leading a winning program. If Auburn becomes a national contender, Johnson’s odds improve.
The SEC also has a lack of star power at quarterback. Aside from Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, the conference doesn’t have a bonafide star at the position.
Like Johnson, players such as Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs and Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen are expected to have breakout seasons, but again, it’s based solely on potential and a small sample size. Whichever player emerges as the conference’s top quarterback also will have the backing of the SEC media, as well as a 24-hour television station pushing his candidacy.
Johnson could be a serious Heisman contender should he exceed lofty preseason expectations. He has the talent to excel in Auburn’s up-tempo offense and should be one of college football’s most exciting players in 2015.
— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhallFSN.
In the last two seasons, one Oklahoma team went 11–2 and upset Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Another went 8–5 and got offensive coaches fired. According to the statistical profile, one of those teams was better and it wasn’t the one hoisting a bowl trophy.
Let’s take a closer look.
Football Outsiders F/+ ratings are an opponent-adjusted look at per-play and per-drive efficiency. They take into account the components that go into winning in the long term, and they can frequently differ from poll rankings or teams’ records because they, like most systems of computer ratings, look at what is most sustainable and controllable.
From 2006-12, Oklahoma ranked in the F/+ top 10 every year, peaking at second in 2008 and otherwise oscillating between sixth and ninth. In 2013, the Sooners stumbled to 23rd, but in 2014, they bounced up to 19th.
“Years of nearly elite play, followed by a stumble in 2013 and a slight rebound.” That’s exactly how you remember Oklahoma’s recent football history, right? No? You’re more inclined to remember the actual results (improvement to 11–2 in 2013, followed by a preseason top-5 ranking and a collapse to 8–5)? Of course you are.
Perhaps no blue-blood program has seen its stats and narratives disagree more in recent times than Bob Stoops’ Sooners. Part of this is the Sooners’ own fault. Of their 28 losses since 2006, 13 have been by double digits, and six have been by at least 28 points. Since Nick Saban took over in 2007, Alabama has lost by double digits only four times and has never lost by more than 14. And until the Rose Bowl embarrassment against Oregon in January, Florida State had made it almost five full seasons without losing by more than 11.
Be it a product of iffy motivation or smoke-and-mirror disguises of potential problems, Oklahoma doesn’t stumble — the Sooners fall down a manhole. We remember their failures more because of the significance of them.
At the same time, randomness has played a huge role in how we perceive the last decade or so of the Stoops era. And it has completely impacted the narratives surrounding the Sooners’ 2013 “rise” and their 2014 “collapse.”
In 2013, Oklahoma fell to 23rd in the F/+ ratings because it couldn’t stop the run and, until the out-of-nowhere dominance of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, its offense couldn’t do anything at a particularly elite level. The Sooners gave up a total of 510 rushing yards and averaged just 3.9 yards per play in losses to Texas and Baylor. They gave up huge per-carry rushing averages against Notre Dame, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, too, and their offense was average at best against ULM, West Virginia and Kansas. But they continued to survive — 16–7 over West Virginia, 20–17 over TCU and 38–30 over Texas Tech. And when they improved late, they still had a chance to play for some high stakes. And then the luck kicked in.
No matter how much we want to convince ourselves that there is skill in recovering fumbles or that you create your own breaks, that is only so true. If your guys run a lot and stay near the ball carrier, you’ll have more bodies available when a fumble hits the ground. And playing a certain aggressive style on defense can lead to more forced fumbles and passes defensed (and therefore more opportunities for turnovers and lucky bounces). But you don’t control it nearly as much as you want to.
So when Oklahoma recovered nine of nine fumbles in the Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Alabama games, there was no way to spin that beyond, “That was amazingly lucky.” On a per-play basis, the Sooners were outgained in all three games — Kansas State averaged 7.3 yards per play to OU’s 6.5; OSU gained 5.7 to OU’s 4.9 and Alabama averaged 7.9 to OU’s 5.8. That Oklahoma won all three of these games by at least nine points was a combination of timely play, fortitude and pure, unadulterated luck of the bounce. And in 2013, Oklahoma proved it was a resilient, lucky team, not one destined for a national title run.
In 2014, however, luck reverted for the Sooners in a way that it hadn’t since 2009, when they lost four games by a combined 12 points. After a 4–0 start that included easy wins over what would prove to be solid Louisiana Tech (F/+ ranking: 35th) and Tennessee (24th) teams, the Sooners fell to an awesome TCU squad by four in Fort Worth. The per-play yardage was nearly even (TCU 6.01, OU 5.91), and OU won the turnovers battle, 3-to-2, but randomness played a role. First, TCU’s Trevone Boykin fumbled near the OU goal line, and his teammate Cliff Murphy recovered it for a touchdown. Then, Paul Dawson picked off a Trevor Knight pass early in the fourth quarter and returned it 41 yards for a go-ahead score.
Two weeks later, OU suffered what might have been the most random, unlikely loss in the 2014 season. The Sooners outgained Kansas State by 148 yards and created eight scoring opportunities (first downs inside the opponent’s 40) to KSU’s four. But Michael Hunnicutt, an otherwise solid placekicker, missed an extra point, a 32-yard field goal, and, in the closing minutes, a 19-yard chip shot. That was seven nearly automatic points off of the board. Plus, Knight’s only interception of the game came from his end zone and resulted in a 5-yard pick-six. The game featured 14 rather fluky points, and OU lost by one.
The Oklahoma State loss was perhaps even less expected. Despite losing star rusher Samaje Perine to injury, the Sooners held a 35–21 lead with five minutes to play, and OSU was attempting a comeback with a freshman quarterback. But Mason Rudolph connected twice with Brandon Sheperd, first for 14 yards, then for a 43-yard score, to cut the Sooner lead to 35–28. Then, after an OU interception all but iced the game, the Sooners punted from OSU territory with under a minute left. Stoops elected to re-kick after a running-into-the-kicker penalty, presumably to kill more time and perhaps pin OSU a little bit deeper, but with just under a minute left, Jed Barnett kicked a returnable ball to Tyreek Hill, who returned the punt 92 yards for the game-tying score. Following another missed Hunnicutt field goal — this one from 44 yards — OSU made a 21-yarder and stole a win.
In 2013, Oklahoma recovered 68 percent of all fumbles. In 2014, the Sooners recovered 39 percent. In 2013, they went 8–0 in games decided by 15 or fewer points. In 2014, they lost three games by eight combined points. The dis-spiriting losses to Baylor (48–14 in Norman) and Clemson (40–6 in the Russell Athletic Bowl) proved that the Sooners were not an elite team, but 2013’s late-season luck set an unfair bar. And when Oklahoma failed to meet that bar, the demands for change set in.
Barring any further changes, Stoops will take the field in September with four new assistants on the staff. That OU hasn’t produced a top-10 finish (in the F/+ rankings) for two years running suggests change might not be a bad thing, but demanding change, in part, because of fluky losses to Oklahoma State and Kansas State made no more sense than building OU into a title contender because of fluky 2013 wins against the same teams.
Our perceptions and reactions are based off of wins and losses. Players get rings because of them. Coaches get promotions and pink slips because of them. This makes sense, of course. If our team wins because of fumbles luck, we don’t say “Yeah, but that didn’t really count” afterward. We celebrate, just as we vent after losses. But stats can sometimes remind us just how fickle football can be.
-By Bill Connelly, Football Study Hall/SB Nation
Big 12 expansion is the story that won’t go away. On Wednesday, Oklahoma president David Boren said, “I’m advocate of a 12-member Big 12.” And previously this summer, West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons also mentioned he was in favor of expansion.
It’s only two athletic directors out of 10, but it’s no secret expansion has been and will continue to be an ongoing source of debate for the Big 12.
But here’s the million-dollar question. Does it actually make sense for the conference to expand?
Currently, the Big 12 splits its television revenue among 10 teams. If the conference expands, does the available money pie get bigger or stay the same? Adding additional revenue is always a priority for conference commissioners, athletic directors and school presidents. Losing money is not something that appeals to any school in this case.
Expanding to 12 or 14 teams would certainly help with a conference championship game, which is another stream of revenue for the Big 12. But as we mentioned before, a championship game also comes with its own share of problems. Just because a team is ranked in the top four for the College Football Playoff doesn’t mean that a league championship game will help its case. A loss or close win could hurt its case.
If the Big 12 decides the money works out and wants to expand, it has to believe there are enough candidates to add value. But is that the case?
Let’s propose a few possible additions and decide for yourself:
Revamped 12-Team Big 12 - Proposal 1
|Division 1||Division 2|
|Kansas State||Iowa State|
|West Virginia||Texas Tech|
This 12-team league definitely has some intrigue. Cincinnati and BYU are good additions and each team would be competitive right away. UCF, Memphis, Boise State or Tulane also make sense. The divisions are a bit imbalanced. The power is clearly in Division 2 right now, with TCU, Texas and Baylor. But college football is cyclical and that will change.
Or, let’s split the teams up a bit to balance out the divisions
Revamped 12-Team Big 12 - Proposal 2
|Division 1||Division 2|
|Iowa State||Oklahoma State|
|Texas Tech||West Virginia|
How about a 14-team proposal?
Revamped 14-Team Big 12
|Division 1||Division 2|
While the Big 12 would prefer to have new teams from Power 5 leagues, the options are small. The rumor mill churned a few years ago about Clemson, Florida State or other ACC teams leaving to join the Big 12. Barring a complete shift or change of heart, it’s unlikely any team will choose to leave the ACC any time soon.
Without Power 5 teams willing to leave, the Big 12’s candidates to expand would seem to be these schools:
|Air Force||Northern Illinois|
|Boise State||San Diego State|
While none of those options are Florida State and Clemson, there are some quality programs available. BYU is the best option on the board, but programs in fertile recruiting areas (Cincinnati, Memphis and UCF) are intriguing.
The Big 12 doesn’t need to expand to remain viable or make the playoffs on a consistent basis. But it does seem expansion is inevitable at some point.
While getting to 12 and bringing back a conference title game is critical to some, the Big 12 should be in no rush. Let programs like UCF, Memphis and Cincinnati continue to develop and monitor in a few years (after giving the conference more data on the playoff).
There’s potential in a 12- or 14-team Big 12. But expansion anytime soon just doesn’t make sense.
After one of the best stories of the summer last year in which Jackie Robinson West won the United States’ side of the Little League World Series, it was taken away for having ineligible players. After arguing for their case, they have filed a lawsuit against Little League to take back the title. They initially were accused of stretching their geographical boundaries to gain a better selection of players.
Their lawsuit claims that they were the only team to be scrutinized and investigated, pointing out an all African American team as the reason this was done. The team claimed that their ineligible players came by as a mistake, not a way to gain an advantage. It will surely be a while before anything further happens, but most fans would like to see the title given back to them.
Take a look below as they win the US Championship:
Football players get pumped up by doing whatever they can.
Comedy Central's Key & Peele decided to put their own spin on things. The team gets a little too into the excitement but as far as getting pumped up for an NFL game, apparently nothing is too much.
To little surprise, Cavaliers’ forward Kevin Love decided to forgo the final year of his contract in an effort for a better deal. Although he would have been paid over $16 million for the year, he will now enter free agency with the hopes of a bigger, longer contract. After a season that seemed to disappoint, especially with his injury early in the playoffs, he still remains a highly valuable player.
The move, however, does not mean that he will be done in Cleveland. The team figured he would opt out, but they are still very interested in signing him to the long-term. He stated his desire to return to the team next year, but others will be looking for his services. There is also a chance that Lebron James could opt out of his contract to seek a longer deal, although Cleveland would still remain a favorite for him to return to as well.
Here are some highlights from his first year in Cleveland:
Oregon ran away with the Pac-12 North last year, winning all but one of its conference games. This season the Ducks will be without Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, but head coach Mark Helfrich does have options to try and replace him. Stanford should be in the mix while the rest of the division will be fighting for scraps most likely.
There are six teams in the Pac-12's North Division. This article will apply the win totals from one online sportsbook and discuss if there is any value in these numbers. A selection is made based on the team's schedule, in which the games are broken down into three categories - easy wins, toss-ups and certain losses. Most conference games are in the toss-up category unless there is a clear difference in talent.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook
Pac-12 North Division
(Over 5 wins -230...Under 5 wins +170)
Record Last Year: 5-7, 3-6
Returning Starters: 13 (8 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: Another year in the Bear Raid offense should benefit this unit, as the majority of the starters are back. Jared Goff threw for almost 4,000 yards last year while putting up 35 touchdowns. He's got three of his four WRs back to go along with Daniel Lasco in the backfield.
Defense: Several transfers should help this unit after they allowed 61 touchdowns last year. James Looney will help solidify the front line while Michael Barton helps out at LB. The secondary could still be an issue which will force this bunch into a lot of shootouts.
Schedule: Things start out home friendly as Grambling State and San Diego State come to Berkeley, but after that there are road trips to Texas and Washington. The Golden Bears have a pretty balanced schedule the rest of the year with four home and road games.
Selection: The play is the over, but not at this price. There are a lot of secondaries in the Pac-12 that have holes and California will take advantage of that. I wouldn't say there's no shot at the under though so if you are game, then go for it. I just think that six wins seems about right here.
(Over 9.5 wins -135...Under 9.5 wins -105)
Record Last Year: 13-2, 8-1
Returning Starters: 11 (6 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: Vernon Adams gets the keys to the offense as he comes over from Eastern Washington. Adams averaged 9.0 yards per play in FCS. Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner are back to run the ball while Dwayne Stanford, Darren Carrington and Byron Marshall are on the outside. The offensive line is solid on the right side.
Defense: DeForest Buckner makes this front line pretty stout while a pair of linebackers return as well. The secondary needs to replace almost everyone after Ifo Ekpre-Olomu departed for the NFL. Despite the turnover, Don Pellum's unit should be able to improve from last year.
Schedule: Oregon opens up with Eastern Washington, which takes on a new meaning with Adams now a Duck. The Ducks also host Georgia State with a road game at Michigan State in between. October features three of four on the road while November is the opposite with three of four at home including USC and Oregon State back-to-back.
Selection: Slight lean to the under, but only because the number is 9.5. There's a lot to like about this team, but I think they fall once in October as well as at Michigan State and at Stanford. The offense will be fun to watch though with Adams under center.
(Over 4 wins -110...Under 4 wins -130)
Record Last Year: 5-7, 2-7
Returning Starters: 9 (7 on offense, 2 on defense)
Offense: New coordinator Dave Baldwin takes over and is going to try and speed things up for Oregon State. Quarterback is an issue, but whomever wins the job will have some weapons to work with. Storm Woods is back after rushing for 766 yards and five touchdowns. Keep an eye on Jordan Villamin at WR as he's got the tools to be real successful.
Defense: Another new coordinator on this side of ball and he's got less to work with. Oregon State allowed 31.6 points per game last year. Lavonte Barnett and Jaswha James will be counted on to get pressure on the quarterback.
Schedule: Oregon State has three of its first four at home, hosting Weber State and San Jose State as well as Stanford. The Beavers play at Michigan in week 2, which should be a tough road trip. Three of four in October are on the road.
Selection: The under is the play here although I did several scenarios and came up with four wins. There are too many holes on defense and too many new coordinators to expect success in year one. Gary Andersen will need time to build the Beavers into a factor.
(Over 9 wins +130...Under 9 wins -170)
Record Last Year: 8-5, 5-4
Returning Starters: 12 (8 on offense, 4 on defense)
Offense: Kevin Hogan is back and he's got multiple weapons to get the ball to. The Cardinal were a mixed bag offensively last year, scoring 20 points or less in six games while scoring 30 or more in the other seven. Devon Cajuste paces the WRs while Remound Wright and Barry Sanders Jr. lead the way in the backfield.
Defense: Stanford's defense should be just as good as last year. Its linebacking corps is led by Kevin Anderson and Blake Martinez. Martinez had 102 tackles and three interceptions last year. The secondary could be the weak link of this group.
Schedule: Stanford's schedule is bunched up a bit. The Cardinal play three of four on the road before a three-game conference home stand. After that they have two straight on the road before three more at home. The non-conference slate features Notre Dame, Central Florida and a road game at Northwestern.
Selection: I'll take the over. It's asking a lot for Hogan to be consistent all year long, but with a plus price tag, I'll take my chances he plays well and Stanford survives the early grind. Getting UCLA, Arizona, Oregon and Notre Dame at home are all a big help.
(Over 4 wins -350...Under 4 wins +230)
Record Last Year: 8-6, 4-5
Returning Starters: 9 (5 on offense, 4 on defense)
Offense: Not a single passing yard returns from last year for this offense. Whomever is under center will have Jaydon Mickens to throw to and he had 60 receptions last year. Dwayne Washington leads the way at RB. This unit will need time to gel.
Defense: The Huskies defense is changing to a 3-4, but will need to replace most of last year's starters. Shaq Thompson is gone as well as John Timu. The secondary is the strength with Budda Baker leading the way.
Schedule: UW has three of its first four at home before things normalize a bit. The Huskies play at Boise State while hosting Sacramento State and Utah State out of conference. Things will be tough with USC, Oregon, Stanford and Arizona all in a row in October.
Selection: Not going to lie, I went through this schedule trying to get to the under. I'll say this, I wouldn't fault you if you blindly took the under. You won't find too many prices like this in the preseason. Chris Petersen has his work cut out for him.
(Over 5 wins -130...Under 5 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 3-9, 2-7
Returning Starters: 13 (7 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: Luke Falk gets the keys to Mike Leach's offense after his successful stint last year. Falk will rely on River Cracraft and Gabe Marks out wide while Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks run the ball. The offensive line is completely back from last year which will help.
Defense: This was a shaky bunch last year, allowing nearly 300 yards per game through the air. The Cougars have been working on a lot more nickel defense this offseason. The front line will be a veteran bunch led by Kache Palacio and Destiny Vaeao.
Schedule: This group gets a friendly September with home games against Portland State and Wyoming to go with a road game at Rutgers. October features road games at Oregon and Arizona. Washington State misses out on USC.
Selection: Vegas was on the money with this one, as I have them tabbed for five wins. The offense will be fun to watch with Falk under center. The defense will be the question mark. If you asked me to lean either way, then I'd go over.
— 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.
A little more than a week has passed since the Golden State Warriors raised the Larry O’Brien Trophy as NBA champions, and it’s already time to start prepping for next season. On Thursday night, lives and basketball franchises will change forever as the 2015 NBA Draft is set to take place. While Karl Anthony-Towns seems to be the universal choice for the No. 1 overall selection, nothing is certain after he shakes hands with Adam Silver and exits stage left. Trade rumors are starting to run rampant and stocks of prospects continue to rise and fall with each passing moment.
Here is what we at Athlon believe is going to transpire come Thursday night in Brooklyn.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves — Karl Anthony-Towns, Kentucky (7’0, 250)
Towns may not be as NBA ready as Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, but the scouting gap between the two lottery picks has widened recently. Towns is more naturally athletic and possibly has more potential upside in the long-term. But where Towns truly surpasses Okafor is rim protection, something the T’Wolves desperately need.
2. Los Angeles Lakers — Jahlil Okafor, Duke (6’11, 270)
Okafor is an NBA starter right now. His footwork, passing, and ability to finish from the interior is already at an elite level. His game is a back-to-the-basket throwback and should be an interesting fit in the modern NBA. Once drafted, Okafor will be the Lakers’ new go-to-man. Look for possible trade scenarios as reports are surfacing that Dwyane Wade and Demarcus Cousins are on Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak’s radar.
3. Philadelphia 76ers — D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State (6’5, 195)
Russell is a complete point guard that can score any way he wants to. His game has a natural flow, reminiscent to that of Chris Paul, but with more physicality and roughly the same game command. The Sixers need a franchise player and D’Angelo Russell could be their new answer.
4. New York Knicks — Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia (6’11, 210)
The 19-year-old Porzingis has been catching scouts and GM’s attention after a series of fantastic workouts in recent weeks and seems to almost be a lock for the Knicks at No. 4. Porzingis is still raw but offers a lot of offensive upside down the road. Look for him to hit the Garden hardwood after he hits the weight room.
5. Orlando Magic — Justise Winslow, Duke (6’6, 225)
Winslow worked his way into the lottery after a brilliant run through the NCAA tournament that displayed his incredible physical acumen. Winslow is still underdeveloped as a pure scorer but has the tools to step in immediately as a role player for the Magic who desperately need depth.
6. Sacramento Kings — Mario Hezonja, Croatia (6’8, 200)
Emmanuel Mudiay and Winslow could also be considerations for the Kings at No. 6. Hezonja is a well rounded scorer, especially for being just 20 years old. Hezonja will definitely add depth and firepower to a marginal Kings offense. Trade talk for Demarcus Cousins is beginning to heat up and this pick could be used as a chip in such trade talks. Cousins could wind up a Laker as the Kings take the No. 2 pick.
7. Denver Nuggests — Emmanuel Mudiay, China (6’5, 200)
Mudiay is a physical specimen for being just 19 years old. Mudiay, originally committed to SMU, spent his one year of ineligibility playing professional in China. With whispers escalating that Ty Lawson’s time in Denver being over (and possibly traded to Sacramento), Mudiay could be the Nuggets new starting point guard come October. While Mudiay is exceptional in most categories, shooting will be his biggest weakness.
8. Detroit Pistons — Stanley Johnson, Arizona (6’7, 240)
Johnson was one of the better two-way players in college basketball this past season, but if he wants big NBA minutes, his offensive game is going to have to develop. Johnson is already a pro-ready defender that can be a great building block for Stan Van Gundy’s new direction Pistons.
9. Charlotte Hornets — Devin Booker, Kentucky (6’6, 205)
After the Lance Stephenson experiment fell flat — embarrassingly flat — the Hornets are left with a hole on their perimeter. Enter 18-year old Devin Booker, the sweet stroking freshman wing from Kentucky. Booker should compete for starter’s minutes immediately and lure double teams away from Kemba Walker.
10. Miami Heat — Trey Lyles, Kentucky (6’10, 240)
Pat Riley goes against his norm of drafting for now and will draft Trey Lyles for the Heat future. After losing Chris Bosh to a blood clot, Riley has to be thinking youth first, and the physical Lyles could be a solid fit amongst a group of Miami bigs that struggle to score. This pick could be a possible chip in a trade that sends Dwyane Wade to the Lakers.
11. Indiana Pacers — Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin (7’0, 230)
This pick could be the most interesting pick in the draft. The Pacers have several needs and Murray State point guard Cameron Payne or Willie Cauley-Stein make a lot of sense here too, but Kaminsky is ready to contribute right away for a Pacers squad that is looking for more ways to score, especially on the interior. Kaminsky is a man of many offensive skills and could fit nicely in Indy’s pick-and-roll scheme with Paul George and George Hill.
12. Utah Jazz — Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky (7’0, 240)
If WCS isn’t scooped up by the Heat or Pacers, he is a good fit for the Jazz. Protecting the rim has become vital in the modern NBA, and Cauley-Stein is the best in the draft at guarding the iron. WCS is a student of the game and is sure to pick up the slack in his offensive repertoire as he develops.
13. Phoenix Suns — Myles Turner, Texas (7’0, 240)
Turner could end up being the steal of the draft — we just wont find out for a few years. Turner is very raw offensively, but has shown glimpses of an inside-out game that has been on display for recent workouts. Turner is ready defensively and will see solid minutes if drafted by Phoenix.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder — Cameron Payne , Murray State (6’2, 185)
The Thunder can only hope Payne is available at No. 14, and if he is, take him. By many scouts observation, Payne is ready to be an NBA point guard right now. Putting Payne at the point could limit the number of ridiculous shots that Russell Westbrook takes, freeing up Kevin Durant to win another MVP trophy.
15. Atlanta Hawks — Kelly Oubre, Kansas (6’7, 205)
Oubre definitely underachieved at his only season under Bill Self, a mass producer of NBA talent, and Ourbre’s draft stock has been fluid as of late, but that isn’t scaring away NBA GMs who see him as a first-round risk. Oubre is arguably the most athletic wing in the first round but lacks offensive prowess. The Hawks may just be looking for best available talent at No. 15. Oubre could be their option.
16. Boston Celtics — R.J. Hunter, Georgia State (6’6, 185)
Hunter has impressed execs in his recent draft workouts with his sweet shooting and could go as high as No. 10 to Miami. The Celtics need perimeter spacing, and Hunter could be the gunner that allows for Marcus Smart to be a more free-flowing point guard. Trade rumors have the Celtics using their two first-round picks and trading up into the lottery. No one on the C’s roster could be safe.
17. Milwaukee Bucks — Bobby Portis, Arkansas (6’11, 245)
Portis could be one of the safer picks in the draft, as his game is as well rounded as other big men that will be selected ahead of him. Portis is a true rim protector but also has a balanced offensive game that includes a decent jumper. Portis is gritty and physical, just what the Bucks need as they continue to develop.
18. Houston Rockets — Tyus Jones, Duke (6’1, 185)
Jones proved to the basketball world time and time again last season that he has the ability to hit big shots and run a high-scoring offense. Jones may not be a lock as a franchise point guard but he will certainly be an upgrade over Father Time (Jason Terry) and Pablo Prigioni, who can contribute offensively from behind the arc. Tyus Jones is a no-brainer for Houston.
19. Washington Wizards — Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona (6’6, 220)
Hollis-Jefferson would be joining an already set core of John Wall, Otto Porter and Bradley Beal. But the Arizona product would bring his NBA-ready defensive game to a team that lacks it on the perimeter. RHJ has developing to do offensively but could prove to be a nice piece off the bench in the Playoffs for the Wizards, who are so close to being the class of the East.
20. Toronto Raptors — Sam Dekker, Wisconsin (6’9, 220)
Dekker will be the player to watch on Thursday night. Dekker could be drafted anywhere from No. 10 to Miami to the last pick in the round to Golden State. Toronto could also use this pick to go big (if any are available) and upgrade over Tyler Hansborough. Dekker is ready to contribute to an NBA offense immediately and could be a fantastic piece for the Raptors as they continue their rise.
21. Dallas Mavericks — Jerian Grant, Notre Dame (6'5, 200)
Grant might be the most NBA ready wing in this class, as he can score any way that he wants to. Grant also has great size for his position that will allow him to be a combo guard that has become so popular in recent seasons. With Rajon Rondo more than likely on his way out of Dallas, Grant would be a fine replacement weapon in Rick Carlisle’s offense.
22. Chicago Bulls — Justin Anderson, Virginia (6’6, 225)
The Bulls can go many different directions with this pick. Hollis-Jefferson, Dekker, and Grant are all options for Chicago if available. Anderson will provide great athleticism and game intuition on the perimeter that will allow for parting with the aging Mike Dunleavy and Kirk Hinrich much easier.
23. Portland Trailblazers — Montrezl Harrell, Louisville (6’8, 253)
Harrell might struggle finding a permanent position in the NBA. At Louisville, he was the Cards defensive anchor and secondary scoring option, but his game translates awkwardly to the next level. Too small for a full-time power forward and not offensively polished enough for a full-time small forward, Harrell is going to have to use his excellent rebounding ability to make a name for himself and secure major minutes.
24. Cleveland Cavaliers — Rashad Vaughan, UNLV (6’6, 210)
This pick is all about depth for the Cavs. They were greatly exposed in the NBA Finals and are desperately seeking second unit scoring. Vaughan could be their answer at No. 24. If Cleveland is able to bring back their high-priced free agents, Vaughan could be a very serviceable role player with tons of long-term upside being only 18 years old.
25. Memphis Grizzlies — Kevon Looney, UCLA (6’9, 222)
Looney’s stock has fallen since the beginning of the college basketball season. Once thought of as a lottery pick, questions about his oft-injured hips and unusual frame for a big man have raised questions for NBA execs. The Griz are looking for more front court depth to back up an aging Zach Randolph. Bobby Portis could also be in play for this pick.
26. San Antonio Spurs — Delon Wright, Utah (6’6, 181)
Delon Wright might be the perfect player for Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. Wright is a multifaceted offensive weapon who is extremely intelligent and efficient on both ends of the floor. Wright could serve as a combo guard off the bench while learning how to be an NBA point guard under future Hall of Famer Tony Parker.
27. Los Angeles Lakers — Terry Rozier, Louisville (6’2, 190)
The Lakers need a lot, and they need it in a hurry if they hope to contend in the near future. This pick is likely to be gone via trade by the time its due. But if the Lakers hold the pick, Rozier should be available and Kupchak should pull the trigger. Rozier is very talented offensively in spurts but is also very sporadic at times. Some time on the bench learning the position could do Rozier worlds of good.
28. Boston Celtics — Jonathan Holmes, Texas (6’9, 242)
If the Celtics keep this pick, which is unlikely, Holmes would be a nice choice of GM Danny Ainge and head coach Brad Stevens and their analytically driven model. Holmes has the experience and wherewithal to be a good role player for a long time. The Celtics lack depth and Holmes could serve as a remedy to that problem.
29. Brooklyn Nets — Jarell Martin, LSU (6’9, 239)
The Nets are in dire need talent on their roster. Home-run talent is going to be sparse at No. 29 and making a trade with little to nothing to bargain with is going to be hard to do. Martin could very well slip to the second round as he is a second-tier talent in terms of big men in this draft. Most execs see Martin as a versatile stretch-four who can run the floor well for his size. Chris McCullough from Syracuse could also be in play here.
30. Golden State Warriors— Cliff Alexander, Kansas (6’8, 240)
Alexander is a bit of a wild card who used to be considered a lottery pick However, a shaky career at Kansas has sent his stock sliding to the point of being a second-round pick. Alexander is very talented and plays his best when off the ball offensively. Alexander is probably most noted for his defensive ability who could be worth the risk at No. 30.
The Athlon Sports editorial staff agonized, argued and then settled on a number.
It happens every year with certain predictions for the preseason magazines and the Top 25. In 2015, Baylor or TCU in the Big 12 was a huge debate. USC or Oregon in the Pac-12 was a heated discussion. Which team is the best in the ACC and will it be good enough to make the second annual College Football Playoff?
After hours of debate, it appears that the more things change, the more they stay the same in the ACC.
There is plenty of grey area about whether or not the ACC champ will be good enough to get in the Playoff but there was no debate about who the class of the ACC is going to be in 2015.
It's Clemson and Florida State.
Either the Tigers or Seminoles have won the Atlantic Division in six consecutive seasons and the ACC championship four straight years. NC State appears to be improving rapidly under third-year coach Dave Doeren. Boston College always looks like a tough out under Steve Addazio. And Louisville is going to be a consistent player in the division race for decades to come.
The ACC is clearly getting better and slowly earning back its national respect, particularly at the quarterback position. But can the league be all the way "back" if the best team in the league finishes No. 9 in the nation?
Florida State enters the preseason ranked ninth in the nation while Clemson ranks 14th. The only other team in the ACC to land inside of the top 35 is Georgia Tech at No. 18.
It doesn't take a calculus professor to realize that's well outside of the top four.
There's a lot to like about the Yellow Jackets. And Miami, Virginia Tech, Pitt, Louisville, NC State, Duke and North Carolina. These are solid teams and they've bolstered the depth in the ACC. And both Florida State and Clemson have a lot great pieces under two coaches surging through the prime of their careers.
But it looks like the ACC will be the league left out in the cold in '15.
Florida State and Clemson are clearly the best collections of talent in the ACC, boasting the No. 2 and No. 11-ranked rosters in the nation entering the season.
But Clemson returns just two starters on offense, loses offensive wizard Chad Morris and has a superstar quarterback who needs to prove he can stay healthy.
Florida State has just three starters back on offense after losing four offensive lineman, the program's all-time leading receiver, a John Mackey award-winning tight end and fourth-quarter savior Jameis Winston.
Add to it tougher schedules because of the developing underbelly of the ACC (and Notre Dame) and it's hard to see either of these teams winning the league with fewer than two losses. Ironically, the Fighting Irish could be a main culprit in eliminating the league from the Playoff with games against both Clemson and Georgia Tech.
Not to mention, a one-loss Irish squad would certainly be ranked at season's end ahead of a two-loss ACC champ.
Barring some unforeseen circumstances at places like Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech, the final standings in the ACC will look exactly like they've looked for the past six seasons with the Noles and Tigers on a tier by themselves. And just like the last 15 years — with the obviously exception in 2013 — the ACC's title winner is likely to be the lowest ranked of the Power 5 champions.
Then it would be John Swofford's turn to spend an offseason complaining about the Playoff Committee.
Most sports fans would agree that overtime is the most dramatic and exciting part of any game, should it come down to that. Hockey is unique in that if a game remains tied after overtime, it moves onto a shootout. However, there will soon be a change to limit shootouts per a vote by general managers in the NHL. They just recently passed a referendum to make overtime a 3 on 3 period, as opposed to the 4 on 4 now.
The move is being made in order to remove dependence on a shootout, and it also should help make the overtime even more thrilling. The shootout has been seen by many as too important for such a small event, and that games should really be decided in another way. This new rule will go to the Board of Governors for the NHL, who is expected to pass it through sometime today.
With the potential rule change, enjoy a couple of T.J. Oshie's shootout goals against Russia in the Winter Olympics last year:
The terms “on the hot seat” or “under pressure” usually apply to quarterbacks and head coaches. After all, there’s an enormous amount of pressure on quarterbacks and coaches for any college football team. And needless to say, it’s difficult to challenge for a conference championship or national title if the quarterback play is an issue all year or if the coaching staff’s status is uncertain after a slow start.
Despite most of the preseason focus on other positions, the battles in the trenches, at linebacker, cornerback or in the receiving corps are just as important to any team’s success in 2015.
Related: Big Ten Football 2015 Predictions
With that in mind, let’s set aside the quarterbacks and head coaches for a moment and examine some of the other positions that must produce in 2015.
14 Big Ten Position Groups Under Pressure in 2015
Illinois Offensive Line
Keeping quarterback Wes Lunt healthy is priority No. 1 for Illinois in 2015. With Lunt in the lineup, the Fighting Illini can push for a bowl appearance. Without Lunt, Illinois could struggle just to reach two wins in Big Ten play. The offensive line had its share of issues last year, giving up 37 sacks and only clearing the way for rushers to average 3.6 yards per carry (Big Ten-only games). Three starters are back in 2015, including standout senior Ted Karras. Will all of the pieces mesh up front for Illinois this year?
Indiana Defensive Backs
Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for coach Kevin Wilson’s team in 2015. Even though running back Tevin Coleman left for the NFL, the Hoosiers landed UAB transfer Jordan Howard, and quarterback Nate Sudfeld is back from a season-ending shoulder injury. Defense has been an issue for Indiana in recent years, ranking near the bottom of the Big Ten in points allowed in each of the last seven seasons. The Hoosiers gave up 18 passing plays of 30 yards or more in 2014 and will have four new starters in the secondary with the dismissal of safety Antonio Allen.
Related: Big Ten 2015 All-Conference Team
Reloading at linebacker usually doesn’t present much trouble for coach Kirk Ferentz. But the Hawkeyes head into 2015 with uncertainty at this position, as Iowa needs to replace Quinton Alston and Reggie Spearman. The projected starting trio at the end of spring featured all sophomores, including Josey Jewell (51 stops in 2014) and Bo Bower (38 tackles, two sacks last year). With two defensive tackles stepping into the lineup, the linebackers will have to take on a bigger role in stopping the run and an overall presence in the front seven.
Maryland Wide Receivers
A couple of positions – defensive line, linebacker or offensive line – are worth a mention for Maryland here. But the receiving corps is the pick, as the Terrapins have been hit hard by player departures since 2014. Stefon Diggs left for the NFL, Deon Long expired his eligibility, while Marcus Leak and Juwann Winfree departed the team over the summer. The Terrapins need big contributions from senior Levern Jacobs, junior Amba Etta-Tawo and sophomore Taivon Jacobs.
Michigan Offensive Line
In addition to quarterback play, this unit is the biggest concern for new coach Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines have struggled to get steady play from this group over the last two years and allowed 17 sacks in Big Ten play last season. Not only are tweaks and improvements coming to the offense under Harbaugh, the offensive line also has a new coach in Tim Drevno. With four starters back, Harbaugh and Drevno should be able to squeeze some improvement out of this group. Left tackle Mason Cole is a name to watch in 2015.
Michigan State Defensive Backs
Michigan State’s “No Fly Zone” is looking a little vulnerable headed into fall camp. The Spartans lost safety Kurtis Drummond and cornerback Trae Waynes from a unit that allowed only six passing scores in Big Ten play in 2014. Junior Darian Hicks is a returning starter in the secondary, but both cornerback spots are up for grabs. Senior Arjen Colquhoun and freshman Vayante Copeland will compete with Hicks, one starting job at safety is in good hands with senior RJ Williamson, while sophomore Montae Nicholson is a breakout candidate in the secondary. The Spartans have one of the best defensive fronts in college football. Will the secondary quickly reload under new co-defensive coordinators Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel?
Minnesota Wide Receivers
Quarterback Mitch Leidner has to play better, but the Golden Gophers also have to get more production out of their receiving corps to upgrade the passing attack. Minnesota’s receiving corps featured only one player with more than 18 catches last year (tight end Maxx Williams). With Williams off to the NFL, which receivers will step up to give Leidner a big-play threat or consistent possession option? Senior KJ Maye is the veteran of the receiving corps, while freshmen Isaiah Gentry, Desmond Gant, Melvin Holland and Jeff Jones are expected to play a large role.
New coordinator Mark Banker will spend a lot of time watching over this group in the fall. The Cornhuskers are thin on depth and proven options, and the overall outlook for the linebacking corps changed even more when David Santos left the team in June. Junior Michael Rose-Ivey is projected to start but is also coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss all of 2014. Josh Banderas has to be the anchor for this unit in 2015, and the junior is back after recording 50 tackles in 12 games last year. This fall will be a critical one for sophomore Marcus Newby and freshmen Dedrick Young and Luke Gifford.
Northwestern Wide Receivers
Northwestern is looking to generate more production out of its passing attack after connecting only six plays of 30 yards or more. Quarterback play is still a concern after three players were locked into a tight battle at the end of spring practice. But who steps up as big-play targets for the quarterbacks? Christian Jones is back after missing 2014 due to a knee injury, and fellow seniors Miles Shuler and Cameron Dickerson combined for 47 catches last year. The senior trio needs to step up in 2015, while getting help from the next group of receivers to help the passing game grow behind the new starting quarterback.
Ohio State Defensive Line
As the defending national champs, combined with 14 returning starters, there’s very little in the way of personnel concerns that should concern coach Urban Meyer. Considering the overall depth and roster talent, it seems odd to even list a position here. However, the Buckeyes lost a couple of key contributors up front, including standout tackle Michael Bennett. While Joey Bosa (DE) and Adolphus Washington (DT) are All-Americans, who will step up at the other spots and develop as key contributors for depth?
Related: 2015 All-America Team
Penn State Offensive Line
Much has been made of the performance of Penn State’s offensive line last year. The Nittany Lions couldn’t generate much of a push in the rushing attack and allowed 44 sacks. And headed into the 2015 season, this unit is still the team’s biggest question mark. Line coach Herb Hand is one of the best in the nation, and there’s reason to believe improvement will be noticeable with four starters back. Junior college recruit Paris Palmer could be a huge addition on the left side of the line, as this group has to do a better job of giving quarterback Christian Hackenberg time to throw.
Purdue Running Backs
The Boilermakers head into coach Darrell Hazell’s third season looking to take a significant step forward after a 4-20 record over the last two years. Improving the quarterback play is a priority for Hazell, but the rushing attack is also under the spotlight after the departures of Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert. That duo rushed for 1,478 yards of Purdue’s 1,886 yards on the ground last season, leaving sophomore Keyante Green and freshman Markell Jones as the top options for Hazell. Will this duo match or exceed the production from Mostert and Hunt?
Rutgers Offensive Line
The Scarlet Knights have more concerns than just the offensive line, but this unit is replacing three starters off a group that allowed only 19 sacks in 2014. Senior left tackle Keith Lumpkin and junior guard Chris Muller are two solid building blocks for new coordinator Ben McDaniels and line coach Mitch Browning. But filling the other three spots up front will be critical with a new quarterback stepping in, as well as the talent returning at running back.
Wisconsin Wide Receivers
New coach Paul Chryst has to get better play from his quarterback Joel Stave, but the supporting cast at receiver also has to provide more help. Last year, no Badger receiver with at least 10 catches averaged more than 14 yards per reception. More big plays are needed from this group, along with a second option to help Alex Erickson (55 catches in 2014).
Drake. No matter how you slice it, he's had his hand on almost every big part of the NBA season.
The Toronto rapper made the phrase "Steph Curry with the shot boy" famous, little Riley Curry sang his part in Big Sean's "Blessed, and now his lyrics are being read by NBA prospects.
Frank Kaminsky, Willie Cauley-Stein, and more give a very passionate reading of Drake's iconic words.
Drake doesn't even have to die to be a legend.
(H/t Bleacher Report)
The overall unpredictability of a college football season is one of the main reasons to tune in each Saturday during the fall. While preseason predictions and rankings are often accurate and correctly project the amount of wins for specific teams, each season always brings a surprise or two in the top 25.
2015 will be no different, as there will be a handful of teams that jump into the top 25 that weren’t ranked there in the preseason. And who knows, maybe there is a program poised to emerge as a national title contender.
So whether it’s a team finishing in the top 10 that no one expected in the preseason or another program struggling to reach .500 after a successful stretch, each year presents many different case studies when trying to project teams for the upcoming season. And some teams quickly rebound after a disappointing year to contend for a conference title or crack the top 25 once again.
When it comes to judging improvement in college football, it doesn’t always come in the form of wins and losses. Improvement can simply come as a result of a team being more competitive within its conference and reducing the margin of defeat.
Kickoff for college football’s 2015 season is just over 70 days away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about which teams will be some of the most improved in the nation.
College Football's Most Improved Teams for 2015
Power 5 Teams
Auburn could go from a .500 team in SEC play to a playoff contender. The Tigers are explosive on offense and feature rising star Jeremy Johnson at quarterback to replace Nick Marshall. The defense has to improve after giving up 6.4 yards per play in SEC games last season. With six starters back, Will Muschamp calling the signals and end Carl Lawson back from injury, this group should show marked improvement. And it certainly doesn’t hurt Auburn’s national title hopes that Georgia and Alabama must visit Jordan-Hare Stadium in 2015.
Related: SEC 2015 All-Conference Team
Thanks to a brutal schedule, major improvement in the win column seems unlikely for California. However, a one or two-game jump in victories is certainly within reach. The Golden Bears improved from 1-11 in 2013 to 5-7 last year and return 13 starters for 2015. The offense averaged 38.3 points per game last season, and there’s little reason to expect this unit to slow its performance. Quarterback Jared Goff continues to develop entering his junior campaign, running back Daniel Lasco quietly rushed for 1,115 yards last year, and the receiving corps is deep with proven options. The defense was the biggest concern for coach Sonny Dykes last year and is an issue once again. But with Washington taking a step back and question marks at Stanford and Oregon, California could pull an upset (or two) and should reach the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Related: Pac-12 2015 All-Conference Team
Indiana’s bowl hopes ended shortly after quarterback Nate Sudfeld suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last year. The Hoosiers were never able to find consistent production at quarterback the rest of the year, as the offense never eclipsed more than 179 passing yards over the final seven games. With Sudfeld back in the mix, Indiana has a good shot at getting to a bowl in 2015. Of course, replacing running back Tevin Coleman and finding receivers for Sudfeld are two key question marks to address, but the Hoosiers have a favorable non-conference slate and play three key swing games at home. UAB transfer Jordan Howard should be a capable replacement for Coleman, and talented sophomore J-Shun Harris is a breakout candidates at receiver. Improving the defense is another priority for coach Kevin Wilson, as this unit gave up 32.8 points per game and allowed too many big plays. Making matters worse, star safety Antonio Allen was dismissed after an offseason arrest.
Jim Harbaugh is one of the nation’s top coaches, and it won’t be long before Michigan is back in contention for the Big Ten title. The Wolverines may not have elite talent right now, but there’s more in place than the recent on-field performance would suggest. Defense is the strength of Harbaugh’s first team, as six starters return from a unit that limited opponents to 4.8 yards per play in 2014. Offense is Harbaugh’s specialty, and this unit needs a lot of attention after averaging 20.9 points per game last year. Iowa transfer Jake Rudock could start at quarterback but expect to see plenty of running backs Derrick Green and Ty Isaac in the gameplan.
The Fighting Irish’s 2014 season took a huge hit before the first game was played. Defensive standouts in cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive end Ishaq Williams were suspended for the entire year, leaving a massive void on a defense breaking in a new scheme under coordinator Brian VanGorder. Russell is slated to return in 2015, and Williams appears to be on track as well. In addition to suspensions, Notre Dame was hit hard by the injury bug and struggled on defense in the second half of 2014. With Everett Golson transferring to Florida State, the starting quarterback job clearly belongs to Malik Zaire. The sophomore showcased his talents in the Music City Bowl win over LSU and will have plenty of help from a standout receiving corps and offensive line. The schedule isn’t easy, but Notre Dame also has enough talent to push for a 10-2 record.
Related: All-America Team for 2015
A projected one-game jump in the win column isn’t necessarily the best indicator of how Oklahoma State should improve in 2015. The Cowboys were headed to a 5-7 finish last year, until a late punt return by Tyreek Hill against Oklahoma gave Oklahoma State an opportunity to score a win over its in-state rival in overtime. Hill’s punt return propelled the Cowboys to a bowl game, which coach Mike Gundy’s team responded with a solid 30-22 win over Washington in the Cactus Bowl. Oklahoma State should go from a fringe bowl team to a contender for a spot in the top 25 in 2015. Quarterback Mason Rudolph is a rising star, and the sophomore is anchored by an improving offensive line and deep receiving corps. The defense is also expected to improve with seven starters returning. And how’s this for scheduling: Oklahoma State plays three home games in November – TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma. That’s a good recipe for a team on the rebound as the Cowboys will be peaking in the second half of 2015.
There’s not much separating the teams in the Coastal Division. While Georgia Tech is the favorite, the Panthers could surprise in coach Pat Narduzzi’s first year. The offense scored at least 30 points in each of the last five games of 2014, and eight starters are back for 2015. Running back James Conner and receiver Tyler Boyd are two of the top skill players in the nation, and the offensive line could be the best in the ACC. Narduzzi and new coordinator Josh Conklin should make a big impact on defense, as this unit has to play better after giving up 26.3 points per game in 2014. With a favorable schedule – no Florida State, Clemson or NC State in crossover play – Pittsburgh could push for a finish among the top three in the Coastal.
The SEC East is Georgia’s division to lose in 2015. But what happens if the Bulldogs struggle to find a quarterback? Tennessee is positioned for a run at the division title if that happens, and the Volunteers should post their best record under coach Butch Jones. Tennessee returns 17 starters and additional help is on the way in the form of another stellar recruiting class. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs is poised to push for All-SEC honors after an impressive second half of 2014. The junior has help in the form of a talented duo at running back, an experienced receiving corps and four returning starters on the offensive line. Tennessee should take a big step forward in Jones’ third year on Rocky Top.
Related: SEC 2015 All-Conference Team
Kliff Kingsbury’s tenure at Texas Tech started fast. The Red Raiders opened 7-0 in 2013 but lost their final five regular season games. However, since the 7-0 start in 2013, Texas Tech is just 5-13 and is coming off a disappointing 2-7 mark in Big 12 play last year. While this team underachieved in 2014, a rebound is in store for 2015. As usual, the offense will be explosive. Running back DeAndre Washington is an underrated player, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes showed promise in a late-season stint. But for the Red Raiders to get back to the postseason, improving the defense is a must. Hiring David Gibbs as coordinator will pay immediate dividends for this unit, and there’s only one way to go after giving up 41.3 points per game last year. After posting a -13 in the turnover margin in 2014, Texas Tech is due for better luck in this department in 2015.
Virginia Tech recorded eight consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins from 2004-11, but the Hokies have not won more than eight in each of the last three years. Can coach Frank Beamer return this program to national prominence? The pieces are in place for improvement in 2015. The defense is one of the best in college football with the return of eight starters, along with two players – cornerback Brandon Facyson and tackle Luther Maddy – back from injury. While the defense will be salty, the offense has to improve for the Hokies to win the Coastal. There’s optimism on that side of the ball, as quarterback Michael Brewer has a full offseason to work as the No. 1 signal-caller, and there’s good skill talent in place at running back and receiver. The offensive line remains a concern after giving up 34 sacks in 2014. With no Florida State, Clemson or Louisville on the schedule, Virginia Tech has a favorable path to the Coastal title. Is this the year Beamer gets the Hokies back to being a top 25 team?
Related: ACC 2015 Predictions
Others to Watch
Mike MacIntyre has Colorado trending in the right direction. However, it’s going to take some time before the Buffaloes are ready to move up in the South Division.
Since a 10-3 mark in 2012, the Wildcats are just 10-14 in their last two years. This team has experienced some bad luck in close games in that two-year window, but 15 returning starters should give coach Pat Fitzgerald reason to expect improvement. If the Wildcats find a quarterback, a bowl game should be within reach.
The Nittany Lions will be better in coach James Franklin's second season. How much? That depends on an offensive line that struggled last season.
The Cardinal is coming off its first season of fewer than 11 wins under coach David Shaw. The defense loses several key contributors from 2014, but the offense is poised to take a step forward in quarterback Kevin Hogan’s senior year. Can Stanford push Oregon in the North?
Offense certainly isn’t a concern for the Aggies. How much will the defense improve under new coordinator John Chavis?
Group of 5 Teams
Akron is still looking for a breakthrough year under coach Terry Bowden. The Zips have won five games in back-to-back seasons and just missed a .500 mark in league play for the second consecutive year after a three-point loss to Kent State in late November. Akron needs more from Kyle Pohl or Pittsburgh transfer Tra’Von Chapman at quarterback, but the defense should be among the best in the MAC. With no Northern Illinois, Toledo or Western Michigan on the schedule in crossover play, Akron has one of the MAC’s most favorable slates. Getting to six wins is a very reasonable goal for the Zips.
Related: MAC Predictions for 2015
Scott Satterfield’s squad finished 2014 as one of the hottest teams in the Sun Belt. The Mountaineers won six in a row to close out last year, including victories over bowl teams UL Lafayette and Arkansas State. With 20 starters back, Appalachian State should push for the Sun Belt title. Quarterback Taylor Lamb and running back Marcus Cox will be two of the league’s best players, and the defense will show improvement after allowing 27.3 points per game in 2014.
Related: Sun Belt Predictions for 2015
Last season's 5-7 mark was only the second losing record of Pete Lembo’s coaching career. With 17 returning starters, don’t expect a repeat of last year’s record. The Cardinals found their quarterback late last season in Jack Milas, and the sophomore has a solid group of receivers to lean on and all five starters up front. The defense has room to improve after giving up 27.2 points per game in 2014. The front seven is solid, but the secondary will have three new starters. Expect to see Ball State back in the mix for a spot in college football’s postseason in 2015.
Related: MAC Predictions for 2015
New coach Lance Leipold was one of the offseason’s top hires, and the Bulls return nine starters from a team that won five games in 2014. While the defense and offensive line have plenty of holes to plug, the offense should be explosive behind quarterback Joe Licata and running back Anthone Taylor. Buffalo has three winnable games in September, and a 3-1 start would give Leipold’s team a chance to reach bowl eligibility. Leipold went 109-6 in eight years at Wisconsin-Whitewater, and it won’t be long before the Wisconsin native has Buffalo in contention for the MAC East title.
Related: MAC Predictions for 2015
It seems odd to suggest a team that has won eight games in back-to-back years could be on the most-improved list. However, the Cougars are a team on the rise headed into 2015. New coach Tom Herman is a rising star, and the former Ohio State play-caller should transform Greg Ward Jr. into one of the American Athletic’s top quarterbacks. With Cincinnati, Navy and Memphis all visiting TDECU Stadium in 2015, Houston has a chance to push for double-digit wins in 2015.
Related: American Athletic 2015 Predictions
The Lobos have won 11 games in coach Bob Davie’s three years, but progress has been noticeable. New Mexico won two games in Mountain West play last season and was competitive in losses against Boise State (11 points) and Utah State (seven). With 11 starters back, combined with a favorable schedule, the Lobos may have enough to push for bowl eligibility. Getting to six wins will largely depend on the development of Lamar Jordan or Austin Apodaca at quarterback, along with a defense that has struggled mightily in recent years.
Related: Mountain West Predictions for 2015
The Mustangs made one of the offseason’s top hires by bringing in Chad Morris as the program’s new head coach. Morris has strong recruiting ties to the state of Texas from his experience as a high school coach, and his offense should have no trouble attracting talent to Dallas. Junior quarterback Matt Davis is a breakout candidate and a good fit for Morris’ spread attack. Despite last year’s 1-11 record, SMU has talent in the program. An immediate boost in the win column is coming for the Mustangs in 2015.
Related: American Athletic 2015 Predictions
Cincinnati is the heavy favorite to win the American Athletic’s East Division in 2015, but keep a close watch on the development of Temple. The Owls return 17 starters from a team that made a four-game improvement in the win column last year. Quarterback P.J. Walker needs more help from the supporting cast for the offense to improve off last year’s totals. The good news for Walker: Running back Zaire Williams is healthy, and receiver Robby Anderson (17.9 ypc average in 2013) are expected to return to the team. The defense could be the best in the American Athletic this season, as linebacker Tyler Matakevich anchors a unit that held opponents to 17.5 points per game last year.
Related: American Athletic 2015 Predictions
The Minutemen showed significant progress in Mark Whipple’s return to Amherst. UMass won three games, which was more than it won in two years (2012-13) under Charley Molnar. But the Minutemen were much closer to .500 than some may realize, as this team lost by three points to Colorado and Vanderbilt and fell by a touchdown or less in MAC games against Bowling Green, Miami (Ohio) and Toledo. With 18 starters back, Whipple should have UMass in the mix to play in a bowl in 2015. Quarterback Blake Frohnapfel is one of the best in the Group of 5 ranks, and receiver Tajae Sharpe (85 catches) is back as his top target.
Related: MAC Predictions for 2015
Just like last year, Athlon Sports' 2015 NFL Preview magazine includes NFL player rankings at every position. The rankings in the magazine are provided by Dan Shonka of Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services, a company that's been in the football talent evaluation business for more than three decades.
While the Rob Gronkowski vs. Jimmy Graham debate is sure to pick back up this season, there was no doubt that Gronk was the best tight end in the league last season. Following his injury-plagued 2013 in which he played in just seven games, Gronkowski made it through the 2014 campaign injury free and posted some mighty impressive numbers along the way. Graham was no slouch himself, catching 10 touchdown passes, but some nagging injuries limited his big plays, as he averaged a career-low 10.5 yards per catch. This season, while Gronk will team up with Tom Brady once again to wreak havoc, Graham will be catching passes from Russell Wilson instead of Drew Brees, as the big target looks to add a new element to Seattle's offense in its quest for a third straight trip to the Super Bowl.
Rankings courtesy of Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services
2015 NFL Player Rankings: Tight Ends
1. Rob Gronkowski, New England
The huge red-zone target with long arms made it through the 2014 season injury-free. He corralled 82 passes for 1,124 yards, averaging 13.7 yards per catch, and scored 12 times.
2. Jimmy Graham, Seattle
Fought through a shoulder injury in 2014 but still came up with 85 catches good for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns. He will have a new role in Seattle as a blocker, as well as a featured receiver.
3. Jason Witten, Dallas
Has caught 943 passes in his 12-year career, good for 10,502 yards and 57 touchdowns. He also has played in 187 straight games.
4. Greg Olsen, Carolina
Was second only to Gronkowski in tight end receiving yards with 1,008. Has played in 126 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in the NFL among active tight ends.
5. Martellus Bennett, Chicago
Led all tight ends with 90 catches, averaging just over a first down per reception at 10.2 yards. He broke Hall of Famer Mike Ditka’s single-season record for most catches by a Bears tight end.
6. Travis Kelce, Kansas City
Showed good run-after-catch ability, gaining 20 yards or more on 15 of his 67 catches. For a big man, he has the speed to get vertical down the field.
7. Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis
Allen and teammate Coby Fleener became the first tight end duo on the same team to each record eight touchdowns in a season. He’s a versatile athlete who can play fullback, wide receiver and in the slot.
8. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia
A dependable pass catcher who is smart and athletic. Effective blocker when on the move. Productive with 58 catches for 702 yards.
9. Virgil Green, Denver
A natural hand catcher with speed. Demonstrated good-enough ball skills and athletic ability that the Broncos decided to let Julius Thomas go in free agency.
10. Julius Thomas, Jacksonville
Signed with Jacksonville as an unrestricted free agent. Became the first tight end in NFL history to catch at least 12 touchdown passes in consecutive seasons.
11. Antonio Gates, San Diego
12. Delanie Walker, Tennessee
13. Heath Miller, Pittsburgh
14. Charles Clay, Buffalo
15. Jared Cook, St. Louis
16. Owen Daniels, Denver
17. Coby Fleener, Indianapolis
18. Jermaine Gresham, Free Agent
19. Vernon Davis, San Francisco
20. Larry Donnell, N.Y. Giants
The AFC South was the weakest division in the AFC because of the horrendous seasons by the Jaguars and Titans, who both saw major setbacks last year. The Colts remained very consistent and dangerous, while the Texans moved from last place in 2013 to a very respectable 9-7 second-place finish.
Look below for players from each AFC South team who will be vital to their team’s success in 2015:
Arthur Jones, Defensive End, Indianapolis Colts (1st place, 11-5)
After signing a large contract, Jones was very disappointing in his first year with the team, after he played well with the Ravens. An ankle injury limited him to only nine games, starting in only three of those. He recorded just one sack, while he recorded more than four in each of the two years prior. The talent and upside are there for Jones, as he has proven it in the past. Remaining healthy will be key because the Colts really need his ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
Other players to watch: centers Khaled Holmes/Jonotthan Harrison
Jadeveon Clowney, Linebacker, Houston Texans (2nd place, 9-7)
Another player to watch: quarterback Brian Hoyer
Luke Joeckel, Left Tackle, Jacksonville Jaguars (3rd place, 3-13)
The Jaguars have been one of the league’s worst teams for several years now, as they haven't even finished .500 since 2010. Thus, most of their players will really need to step up if 2015 is going to bring any improvement in the win column. However, Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2013 draft, has really not played up to his draft status. He was a part of an offensive line that gave up the most sacks in the league last year, which contributed to quarterback Blake Bortles' struggles and growing pains as a rookie. Bortles needs the support of his line if he's going to continue to develop, which is where the onus falls on Joeckel as he enters his third season in the league.
Another player to watch: quarterback Blake Bortles
Marcus Mariota, Quarterback, Tennessee Titans (4th place, 2-14)
With all the speculation surrounding what the Titans would do with the second pick, they ultimately took Mariota because they want him to be their franchise quarterback. It may be unfair to name him as a player who needs to step up because he is a rookie, but Tennessee needs some hope. He doesn’t even have to be great right away, but he’ll need to show growth and consistency so hopeful fans don’t become quickly disappointed. It’s hard to expect so much from one player, but he is a huge investment with great upside.
Another player to watch: running back Bishop Sankey
When the Clemson offensive coaches meet, Robbie Caldwell has to feel a little bit out of place, even if he has been coaching the Tiger offensive line for four seasons.
Leading the meeting is likely to be Jeff Scott or Tony Elliott, the program’s new co-coordinators and each a former Clemson wide receiver. Tight ends coach Danny Pearman played the position for the Tigers. Graduate assistants Tyler Grisham and Thomas Austin wore the Orange.
Caldwell went to Furman. It’s in South Carolina, but that’s not the same.
So, what happens during the meetings? Perhaps the other coaches make Caldwell bring coffee and donuts every day. They could force him to sing “Hail the Purple and White,” the Furman fight song. Or maybe “Tiger Rag,” the Clemson battle hymn, would be more appropriate. Do they speak in code around him? Grill him about school traditions, like the $2 bill?
“He’s been here longer than a lot of the other coaches have,” Elliott says about Caldwell. “Plus he has a daughter at Clemson. He belongs.”
It’s unlikely any program in the country has so many of its alumni coaching on one side of the ball. And while Caldwell no doubt feels comfortable amidst all of those Tigers, it will be interesting to see how he and the others handle the departure of former coordinator Chad Morris — now the boss at SMU — and the dual ascensions of Elliott and Scott to the vacant spot. Clemson’s attacks under Morris were extremely potent, and one of the more interesting stories heading into the 2015 season is how well Scott and Elliott, in their new co-coordinator roles, will be able to replicate Morris’ success.
In 2012, the Tiger offense was ninth nationally in total yards (512.7 ypg) and sixth in scoring (41.0 ppg). The following season, Clemson was again ninth in total offense (508.5 ypg) and tied for eighth in scoring (40.2 ppg). That performance earned Morris AFCA National Assistant Coach of the Year honors. Although the losses of weapons such as wideout Sammy Watkins and quarterback Tajh Boyd caused a drop in the Tigers’ 2014 production, Morris remained a man in demand, and the Mustangs hired him last Dec. 1, leaving Clemson coach Dabo Swinney with a decision to make. He stayed in-house, elevating Scott, who had been the Tigers’ receivers coach, and Elliott, who handled the running backs.
Related: Buy the 2015 ACC Preview Magazine
“This has been my plan for a while,” Swinney says. “It’s one of the easiest decisions I have had to make. The last four years, we have had a lot of success, and Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott are huge reasons why. They are incredibly bright young coaches who know what we do and love Clemson. It’s an easy fit.”
But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy job. No coach in Clemson history has won more games during a four-year period than has Swinney. But there is a sense that his strong assistant coaching staff, led by Morris and defensive coordinator Brent Venables, has been largely responsible for his success. Losing Morris, who had been one of the hottest assistants in the country, could interrupt that success.
No pressure, Jeff and Tony. Just keep cranking out units that score 40 points per game, and everything will be all right.
“Every coach knows they are judged by wins and losses and how the offense does,” Scott says. “When you move up the ladder and get coordinator titles, the expectations go up.
“We want to perform better than any Clemson offense has performed.”
• • •
Morris gets the awards, the attention, the opportunity to resurrect SMU’s flagging fortunes — and a fat contract to do. But during any given week over the past four seasons, he had a lot of help. Scott, Elliott and the rest of the Clemson offensive staff didn’t just focus on their positions. They had significant roles in developing gameplans.
For instance, Scott, the wideouts coach at Clemson for four of his seven years on the staff, was involved in deciding which passing plays the Tigers would use on first and second downs. He also decided which deep throws would work best against specific opponents and helped put together the offensive options on third-and-long situations. During games, Scott would make suggestions to Morris about when to try long shots.
“Coach Morris did a good job of delegating gameplan responsibilities among the other four coaches in the (offensive) room,” says Scott, the son of former South Carolina head coach and Clemson assistant Brad Scott. “This isn’t a huge transition.”
Elliott was in charge of studying opponents’ blitz packages and devising pickup strategies for the running backs, whom he coached for the past four seasons at Clemson. He also decided which plays would comprise the first- and second-down ground package. During games, he would recommend running plays to Morris.
Both coaches expect to have a similarly collaborative effort in the coming seasons. The process worked well in the Tigers’ 40–6 rout of Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl that gave Swinney his fourth straight season with at least 10 wins. Although Clemson managed a modest 387 total yards, much of the second half was spent protecting the giant lead it had amassed in the first 30 minutes. Elliot and Scott, who were teammates and stretching partners during their time at CU, worked well together during the month leading up to the game and expect similar harmony moving forward.
Related: Clemson 2015 Preview and Prediction
“We complement each other well,” says Elliott, who has a degree in industrial engineering. “There are no egos involved. We want to put young men into position to succeed. It’s not going to be about me or Jeff.
“We are battle tested together. When you play with someone, you develop a bond that’s deep. When we get put into tough situations that we have to get through, the foundation of our friendship will help.”
Elliott will spend game days in the booth, where he is most comfortable, and will make the final decision on playcalling. Scott is more comfortable on the field, especially since he will continue to coach the receivers and needs to be close to the action to manage substitutions. The concept of co-coordinators has been gaining some steam in college football of late. TCU went to that model last season, and Ed Warinner and Tim Beck are splitting the position at Ohio State. Florida State, Mississippi State and Michigan State were among 2014’s top teams that employed the concept, so it’s not like Swinney was doing something outrageous when he elevated Elliott and Scott.
Since the two spent the past four years working under Morris and learning how he implemented the system, there is limited risk. Granted, it’s impossible to tell how their playcalling will work out and if they can maintain production with an offense that will include plenty of new faces. But Swinney hasn’t done this hastily.
“Four years ago, it wasn’t the right time for (Elliott and Scott) to be coordinators,” he says. “But I knew it was coming. Those guys are more than ready now.”
Scott and Elliott will direct an offense that hopes to have DeShaun Watson back as its primary triggerman. Watson underwent surgery for a partially torn ACL in December but expects to be ready for fall practice. In eight games last year (Watson missed three due to a broken bone in his throwing hand), the true freshman completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 1,466 yards and 14 TDs with only two interceptions. He also ran for 200 yards and five scores. He is perfect for the Tigers system and will have a bunch of talented skill players around him. Wayne Gallman (769 rushing yards, four TDs) leads a deep stable of backs, and Artavis Scott (76 catches, eight TDs) and Mike Williams (57 catches, six TDs) are back on the outside.
“I feel the same way I felt last year under Coach Morris,” Watson says. “I’m comfortable with the offense. I want to go out each game and get a W, get a lot of points, score touchdowns and play with a fast tempo. I want to spread the ball around so everybody gets the chance to make plays.”
Sounds like the Clemson way. Elliott and Scott are ready to keep the good times going, and they have plenty of Orange support in the meeting room — even from Caldwell.
LeBron James is testing out his vocal abilities in the new movie Trainwreck.
The Cavaliers star won't be starring as Batman as he always hoped, but he actually seems funny in this clip of the movie. Director Judd Apatow talked to Conan about working with James.
While many have become outraged by the recent trend in All-Star voting, including players, fans, and experts alike, MLB Network’s Greg Amsinger seems to have come up with the best way yet. The idea is not necessarily original, but he thinks that the MLB should take an approach similar to the Presidential election. By this method, voting is only open on one day, shortly before the All-Star Game. Votes could then be tracked in real time and viewed by fans to see who holds the lead.
He still believes that fans should be able to vote the allotted 35 times, but only within the time frame of a day. This would surely make the All-Star selection much more exciting, giving the drama that would unfold. In its current state, there is little excitement and just a simple announcement of the team. However, if revolutionized like this, it would create an event in itself that would also help better promote the actual game. Hopefully Amsinger is right on this one, as he has predicted several big plays in the MLB in the past.
Watch below as Amsinger correctly predicts a Mike Trout triple in last year's All-Star Game:
While famous rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs has been involved in a fight at UCLA with a coach, the bigger sports story that seems to arise out of it comes from the coach involved, Sal Alosi. While most may not remember that name, he happens to be the same person involved in the Jets’ tripping incident back in 2010. He was suspended for the action and resigned soon after because of the backlash from the incident.
He joined UCLA football as a strength and conditioning coach, where he allegedly toughly treated the rapper’s son, a defensive back on the team. Whether he was the victim or the one who provoked the altercation is unknown, but Alosi apparently treated players tough in the NFL. In addition, back when he was in college, he was accused of assault, but later pleaded guilty on harassment instead.
Take a look back at Alosi's tripping incident:
Mark Wahlberg is definitely one of the most famous Boston die-hards.
The "Ted 2" actor went on "The Today Show" to talk about his new movie and of course, Tom Brady's balls.
It was a previously scheduled trip with some college buddies to experience the whole Sin City thing after finishing their senior year at Michigan. There were the usual Vegas trappings, coupled with the added bonus of being in town during one of the most memorable sporting days in recent memory. But there were a few times — actually, more than a few — when Miller found himself in his hotel room, flipping on ESPN or the NFL Network to see what was happening with the draft.
He watched the scroll and saw names of familiar foes throughout the Big Ten. Names of kids he knew from high school games and offseason camps. And of course, three of his Wolverine teammates.
A few years ago, Miller would’ve pictured this day unfolding differently. He’d be watching with eagerness. He’d be thinking how a year from now, he’d be waiting for his name to be called — waiting to find out which NFL team would be providing his livelihood for the next decade. Instead, Miller was having what he calls his “rare days.”
Days where he misses football.
“There are days where it’s hard,” Miller says, “where I think, ‘Boy, I do miss the game.’ There’s no other way in the world where you can hit somebody at full-speed and not get in trouble for it. Part of that, I have to get used to. But at the end of the day, I know it was the right decision for me. And I’m at peace with it.”
Jack Miller is 21 years old. He’s in his second month of retirement from the game of football.
His story, though, is becoming far less uncommon. Miller, a 16-game starter at center for Michigan, announced in early March that he would be leaving the team and quitting football before his fifth season with the Wolverines. One reason was that he was burned out from the game. Another was that he was concerned about his own health, largely because of concussions. He was a kid with a potential future in the NFL who decided that continuing to play wasn’t worth the risk.
And he’s not the only one who has recently made the difficult decision to walk away. Patrick Willis, the San Francisco 49ers All-Pro linebacker, retired in the offseason at the age of 30 after eight seasons. Jason Worilds, the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker, retired in March at the age of 27 after five seasons — despite being one of the most coveted free agents this offseason. Jake Locker, the Tennessee Titans quarterback and eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft, called it a career after only four seasons at age 26. And Chris Borland, a linebacker and teammate of Willis in San Francisco, retired at the age of 24 after only one season in the NFL.
“I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health,” Borland told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” in March. “From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”
He’s not alone.
Getting out too late?
By the time that Hunter Hillenmeyer decided to retire, there wasn’t much football left for him to play. At 29, he’d already maxed out his potential with the Chicago Bears. A fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt in the 2003 draft, he was selected by the Green Bay Packers and was assigned to the team’s practice squad. He was cut by the end of the preseason but resurfaced with the Bears and spent most of his rookie season on special teams.
A year later, he started 11 games at strong-side linebacker. The next season, 12 starts. Pretty soon, he was an invaluable member of a Bears linebacking corps that was the nucleus for the 2006 NFC champion team, which lost to the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI.
He also was being concussed at an alarming rate.
“I had a concussion in the preseason of 2010, got out there for the season-opener and, without even getting hit, just didn’t feel right,” Hillenmeyer recalls about his final game. “They pulled me off the field and ran the battery of tests. And after the game, we went through my entire history of my five diagnosed concussions. And the fact is that I had gotten to a susceptibility point where I really couldn’t take a hit to the head.”
That was when Hillenmeyer knew it was time to retire.
Today, at 34, he doesn’t consider his decision to retire to be anything like that of Borland, Willis, Worilds or Locker. Those players decided to walk away from the game while their health was still intact. Hillenmeyer didn’t, despite being at the forefront on the head trauma issue during his time in the league. He managed his career around his concussions instead of stopping it because of them.
He says he is symptom-free of any concussions five years later. He doesn’t have chronic headaches or memory loss or any of the early signs of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), which has been linked to concussions related to football. Yet, he wonders sometimes if a headache is just a headache or if it’s a warning sign of something more serious. If forgetting a phone number or where he put the car keys is cause for alarm.
Hillenmeyer has great respect for the players who choose to walk away early, because for them, staying in the game another year for another big payday or fame or any of the other trappings associated with being in the NFL simply isn’t a priority.
“I feel great,” Hillenmeyer says. “In some ways, the fact that I was as informed as I was for a player playing during the 2000s helped. Even in 2006-07, I was aware that I needed to be very cautious with how I handled a brain injury. But when you’re a retired player in your 30s and you look at the generation ahead of you — I’ve been to a couple of alumni events in Chicago — and anecdotally, they paint a pretty grim picture.”
Hillenmeyer knows that his situation might be on the rosier side, too. He was an academic All-American at Vanderbilt and while in the league served on the NFL’s Player Safety and Welfare Committee. He was privy to the arguments being made by the medical community about the long-term effects of concussions.
Hillenmeyer, who co-founded the gaming app company OverDog, where fans can compete against pro athletes, wonders what his life might be like in a few years if that “grim picture” becomes a reality for him. He never hid concussions from the Bears, but he also continued to play the sport even though he was aware of the risks. He wonders if going the route that Borland, Worilds and Willis took might not have been the better plan.
“You don’t see a lot of guys that are aging very well — and that scares you,” Hillenmeyer says of his conversations with older NFL retirees. “Unless you’re just burying your head in the sand, any player would get a little nervous when they look at that. So at worst, you’re headed in the exact same trajectory. So you do have to step back, take pause and ask yourself, ‘Was it all worth it?’”
‘It’s kind of like a depression’
Before the end came for Reggie Wilkes, he had begun the process of preparing himself. A linebacker with the Eagles and Falcons from 1978-87, Wilkes took classes at Temple University’s School of Medicine early in his career. After realizing that medical school and the NFL couldn’t co-exist, he turned his attention to business, and he began taking classes at Penn’s Wharton School.
Midway through his career, he started working for Merrill Lynch in the offseason as a second job. So when he was released following an injury during the 1987 season, he decided it was time for the next step.
“I was just ready, mentally, to go and move on,” Wilkes says. “I knew it was going to end.”
Why is Wilkes’ story an important one? Because he was prepared for life after the NFL. He parlayed his experiences with Merrill Lynch while he was a player into a successful career in business, returning to the wealth management giant in 2007. He is now a senior financial advisor in suburban Philadelphia, where many of his clients are current or former professional athletes.
And more often than not, he sees players who think they are mentally ready to leave professional sports. But most aren’t.
“Every professional athlete — whether you’ve played one year in the league or 10 — goes through a physiological change,” Wilkes says. “It’s kind of like a depression. You’re trying to figure out how you wean yourself off of something that you’ve been so emotionally and physically attached to.”
For Wilkes, his safety net was his financial career. For Hillenmeyer, it was his own company.
Some players transition better than others.
Running back Rashard Mendenhall, a former first-round pick in 2008 with the Steelers, abruptly retired after the 2013 season. He was 26. “Football was pretty cool, but I don’t want to play anymore,” he wrote in an article for The Huffington Post announcing his retirement. Mendenhall is now a screenwriter, living in Los Angeles, where he recently served as a script consultant for an upcoming HBO series about the life of retired pro football players.
Worilds, whose representatives declined an interview for this story on his behalf, left the NFL and began working with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
For others, the absence of football can only make a bad situation worse.
“For football players, on average, the retirement age is 25,” Wilkes says. “You still have 60 years of living, so you’ve got to figure out how your money is going to last. Players don’t think about that — that normal people are earning income until around 55 years, but for football players, it’s half that. The average length of a career is 3.5 years, so once you’re 25, you’re on the down end of your career in football.”
A new path
When he’s asked about football, Miller is clear: He did not leave the game to become a crusader against it.
Without football, he doesn’t get from Perrysburg, Ohio, to the University of Michigan. Without football, he doesn’t get the opportunity to learn some of the life lessons about discipline, accountability and teamwork. Without football, he doesn’t get to begin the next phase of his life — entering the business world.
But at some point, between high school and college, it stopped being fun.
“It’s a job. It’s your livelihood, whereas before that, it’s a game,” Miller says. “It becomes work, and that’s okay. We all know that’s what we’re signing up for.”
Miller had thoughts last season about making the 2014 campaign his final one in a Michigan uniform, but he decided to give it another go after Jim Harbaugh was hired to replace Brady Hoke. He went through the offseason workout programs and the first week of spring practice — which he described as one of his best. But he no longer had the desire to play and announced his intention to leave the team.
“For some people that’s really hard to understand,” he says. “And I understand that. To play college football is a blessing.”
There were some people who tried to convince him that he was making a short-sighted and ill-informed decision. Miller wouldn’t be swayed. He had already suffered one concussion in high school, and he believes he had two or three more at Michigan (though he only reported one). Given what he knows about the long-terms effects, he decided that if he had lost the desire to play, it wasn’t worth it.
Miller wasn’t the only college football player to make that decision this spring. Vanderbilt quarterback Patton Robinette — who started five games in two seasons — retired from the sport in March. Robinette, who will enroll at Vanderbilt’s School of Medicine in the fall, missed five games last fall after suffering a concussion against South Carolina. He also had a concussion in high school.
West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett, a two-year starter, was forced into retirement before the Mountaineers’ bowl game. Trickett had suffered five concussions in a 14-month span. He hid two of them from team trainers in order to keep playing.
That’s a familiar refrain, even at the next level.
“After I retired, I had two good friends of mine who were still on the Bears call me with a slightly different version of the same story,” Hillenmeyer says. “That Tuesday or Wednesday after they took a big hit in a game, they definitely felt a little bit off, but they didn’t tell the trainers or get noticed by the trainers. But now they were pretty sure they had a concussion, and they were trying to decide whether or not to tell the doctors.”
That’s why Borland decided not to risk more years in the NFL. That’s why Willis and Worilds and Locker made the same decision. That’s why Hillenmeyer decided it was time to stop playing and trying to avoid the next big hit. That’s why Wilkes warns players that their careers won’t last forever.
That’s why one of Miller’s “rare days” when he misses football lasted only briefly during the NFL Draft.
It was his dream, but now he has a different one. He hopes to get into high school coaching, where he can work with kids before the game of football gets to be too big.
“Some people love the game more than I do, and that’s their only way,” he says. “And that’s fine. That’s their prerogative. For me, it wasn’t that. And I’m very excited about the next chapter.”
-By Brendan Prunty
Some people are crazy, but Jameis Winston seems to take it to a new level with his latest statement. During a rookie preview for the NFL, he exclaimed that he is most excited for his Week 3 matchup against JJ Watt and the Houston Texans. While most players will cower in fear at last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, Winston seems to be challenging him right out of the gates.
Winston clearly displayed his high caliber skills and production in college, but it may be too early to really challenge Watt. The defensive end surely won’t shy away from the challenge, as he’ll try to continue his success against opposing quarterbacks. He can do it all on defense, and hopefully for Winston he won’t embarrass him like he did to the Titans’ Zach Mettenberger last season. Watt will surely have some celebration lined up for the game.
Take a look below at some of Watt's renown celebrations:
The Finger Wag:
The Discount Double Check:
Gronk loves the limelight, and he has never shied away from displaying how much fun he has. But he shockingly announced that he hasn’t spent any of the money he’s made on his NFL contract. Not even a single cent from it. Instead, he’s been able to support himself financially off of his endoresement deals, which is surely a sizeable amount.
In a league that has often produced players who go into bankruptcy soon after retirement, the NFL’s top tight end seems to understand this common path for many. However, he knows that it is avoidable, and that is why he has saved his money and not made any large, luxurious purchases. As one of the league’s most marketable players, he should be able to continue to live very well off of endorsement alone, as he remains in the midst of a six year, $54 million contract through 2019.
Look below for just one of many of Gronk's endorsements:
There may not be a better general manager/head coach tandem in the NFL than what the Cardinals have with GM Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians. In just two years, they’ve completely transformed the franchise, in terms of both perception and results. But the Cardinals are in a tricky place. Their window to win is small given the age (35) and injury history of quarterback Carson Palmer. Also, Larry Fitzgerald will be 32 when the season begins. Arizona suffered significant losses on defense in the offseason, the most notable being defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who left to become the head coach of the New York Jets. Bowles’ blitzing schemes were widely credited for Arizona’s sum being better than its parts. Given those losses — and Palmer’s knees — it’s tempting to write off the Cardinals. But the Keim/Arians combo engenders more trust — and faith — than any front office in franchise history. Doubt them at your own risk.
Arizona’s offense comes with a big if: If Palmer can stay healthy, the Cardinals should be a productive if not particularly high-scoring offense. The drop-off from Palmer to back-up Drew Stanton is steep; Stanton simply isn’t as accurate and doesn’t throw the deep ball as well as Palmer.
Palmer isn’t the most mobile of quarterbacks but shouldn’t have to be given the resources the Cardinals have put into the offensive line. The addition of Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati and the expected development of former first-round draft pick Jonathan Cooper should fortify what was a weakness last year, the interior of the line.
The line’s improvement also should bode well for the Cardinals’ running game, which took a hit last season when Andre Ellington went down with a knee injury in Week 1 and then was lost for the season in early December due to a hernia. When healthy, Ellington is a game-changer, capable of going long every time he touches the ball. Ellington’s only drawback is his size. He’s not built to carry the ball 20 to 25 times per game or thrive in short-yardage situations. The Cardinals hoped to land either Melvin Gordon or Todd Gurley in the draft to complement Ellington, but both were long gone by the team’s 24th overall pick. Arizona needs either Stepfan Taylor or third-round pick David Johnson from Northern Iowa to step up and carry the ball 10 to 12 times per game. That would help keep Ellington fresh — and dangerous — over the course of the season.
If Palmer stays healthy — there’s that “if” again — the wide receivers should be a strength. Fitzgerald was on pace for a 1,000-yard season in 2014 before Palmer got hurt; without the starting QB he was ineffective and sometimes ignored. Fitzgerald is no longer one of the NFL’s elite receivers, but he can still be a productive No. 1 wideout for a playoff team. Michael Floyd is still too inconsistent heading into his fourth season — there are weeks he disappears — but he still had 841 yards and six touchdowns last year. Like Fitzgerald, he needs Palmer to stay upright. John Brown provides the deep threat. He averaged 14.5 yards per reception last year, his first in the league.
Talk about a unit that suffered some big losses. Bowles left to become a head coach. Defensive end Darnell Dockett, who missed the 2014 season with a knee injury but still was a team leader, signed as a free agent with San Francisco, and nose tackle Dan Williams joined the Oakland Raiders. Inside linebacker Larry Foote retired, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie joined Bowles with the Jets.
The biggest problem — besides losing Bowles’ innovative mind — is the lack of an edge pass rusher. The Cardinals had just 35 sacks last year and didn’t have a single player in double digits. The draft didn’t provide any immediate help, so improvement will have to come from within. The onus falls on defensive end Calais Campbell to become a dominant player. He has his moments — he had seven sacks last year — but there are too many weeks where he’s not a factor.
Williams’ loss can’t be overstated. He was playing at a Pro Bowl level late in the 2014 season, and no one on the current roster can duplicate his abilities. With the Cardinals also being vulnerable at inside linebacker with Foote’s retirement, teams might be able to exploit Arizona up the middle in the run game. The Cardinals signed Sean Weatherspoon to replace Foote, but he’s been injury-prone his entire career, only once playing a full 16-game season.
The strength of the defense will be the secondary, even with Cromartie’s departure. Patrick Peterson had a rough 2014, but some of his issues can be attributed to the discovery that he has diabetes. Assuming he has the disease under control, he should revert back to being one of the best corners in the game. Arizona also believes the combination of Justin Bethel, who’s been a special-teams demon, Jerraud Powers and New England cast-off Alfonzo Dennard can more than make up for Cromartie’s absence. Arizona could have one of the best safety tandems in the league with Tyrann Mathieu and Deone Bucannon. Mathieu is a ball hawk who also will light up receivers, and Bucannon excels against the run. He’s also an effective pass rusher, particularly when the Cardinals blitz.
The Cardinals’ kicking game is in good hands. The same can’t be said yet for the kick returners. Placekicker Chandler Catanzaro had a brilliant rookie season, making 29-of-33 field-goal attempts, including 12-of-14 from 40 yards plus. He could find his way to the Pro Bowl at some point in the near future. Punter Dave Zastudil should be back after a 2014 season that was lost to a nagging groin injury. He led the league in punts inside the 20 in 2013 and ’12. Arizona needs to find someone who can give its return game some pop. Peterson could return punts, but the Cardinals are hesitant to let such a valuable every-down player expose himself to injury on special teams. Look for rookie receiver J.J. Nelson to get a shot. Nelson averaged 38.3 yards per kickoff return for UAB his senior year and was the national leader in combined kick returns (kickoffs and punts).
The Cardinals finished 11–5 last year despite Palmer being lost for the season in early November with a torn ACL and Ellington never being healthy all year. Palmer, whose quarterback rating was 95.6 (the second-highest mark of his career) at the time of his injury, makes Arizona’s offense go; receivers Fitzgerald and Brown in particular were much more effective when he was behind center.
If there’s a concern, it’s the defense. Arizona lost key contributors at every level, from Dockett to Foote to Cromartie. The Cardinals still don’t have a great edge pass rusher, and they have no idea if or when inside linebacker Daryl Washington will return from his league-imposed suspension. But if Arizona can figure out a way to be just average on defense, the offense should be good enough for another double-digit win season and a shot at supplanting Seattle atop the NFC West.