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Path: /college-football/notre-dame-switches-fieldturf-new-field-design-unveiled
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Notre Dame is switching from natural grass to FieldTurf in 2014, and the Fighting Irish will also have a new field design.

The traditional blank field with diagonal striping in the endzones has been a staple at Notre Dame Stadium, but there will be a slight alteration to the FieldTurf in 2014.

The FieldTurf will feature a Notre Dame logo at the 50-yard line, along with shamrocks at the 35-yard line for kickoffs.

Check out the for more information on the new field design for 2014:

Teaser:
Notre Dame Switches to FieldTurf; New Field Design Unveiled
Post date: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 14:25
All taxonomy terms: Johnny Manziel, NFL, News
Path: /johnny-manziel-brings-new-hope-cleveland-browns
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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had barely finished announcing the name of the 22nd overall draft pick when all hell broke loose in Cleveland. Browns fans wasted no time in changing Johnny Manziel’s nickname from “Johnny Football,” interrupting his post-draft press conference at Radio City Music Hall with chants of “John-ny Cleve-land!”

 

Manziel has become the city’s newest savior.

 

In the 16 hours after drafting Manziel, the Browns sold 2,000 new season tickets. It took only slightly longer for Manziel’s No. 2 jersey to become the best-selling in the NFL since April 1. The league’s official website store sold almost as many Manziel jerseys during draft weekend as it did Robert Griffin III, Tim Tebow and Andrew Luck jerseys during their draft weekends combined.

 

Related:

 

Manziel’s popularity extends far and wide. He counts Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, recording artists Drake, Wale and the Jonas Brothers, NBA star LeBron James and the “Duck Dynasty” crew among his admirers. He’s been photographed with model Kyndal Kyaire’s arm around his neck.

 

If Manziel can carry the success he had at Texas A&M into the NFL, he stands to become the biggest star in the most popular professional sports league in the U.S. Thus, the NFL finds itself rooting for “Johnny Cash” almost as much as Browns fans.

 

“Johnny Football!” Goodell says. “I think he represents so much passion for the game, so much excitement. If he brings that to the NFL, that would be a great thing for us, and I think a great thing for the fans. He’s a wonderful young man. … He’s obviously focused and determined to be successful. I wouldn’t count him out, that’s for sure.”

 

Joe Namath ranks as the closest any NFL player has come to Manziel’s stardom, which transcends football, but the Hall of Fame quarterback played in an era that lacked social media and 24-hour sports stations.

 

During the first round of the draft, which went three-and-a-half hours, 5.2 percent of all Twitter messages mentioned Manziel. TV ratings soared as NFL teams kept passing on Manziel. ESPN drew 9.9 million viewers, making it the most-watched draft in the 35 years the network has carried it. Another 2.4 million viewers tuned into The NFL Network for first-round draft coverage.

 

“He’s a celebrity. He’s Elvis Presley,” says Jones, whose Cowboys passed on Manziel with the 16th overall pick. “And, by the way, he just happens to be a football (player), too. That is what this is all about and the kind of visibility and the kind of interest (he brings), and he is that, so that’s a plus.”

 

Spurned by LeBron James (Editor's note: This story was written shortly after the NFL Draft in May before James decided to return to play for his hometown Cavaliers.) and disappointed by their NFL and MLB franchises many times over, Cleveland fans finally have something to celebrate. After twice passing on Manziel — first at No. 4 by trading with the Bills and then at No. 8 when they selected Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert — the Browns traded up later in the first round to nab Manziel.

 

It prompted some Browns fans to greet Manziel with chants of “Super Bowl!” when he arrived for the first time at the team’s headquarters in Berea, Ohio.

 

The Browns last won an NFL title in 1964, the pre-Super Bowl era. That also marks the last time Cleveland won a title in any major sport.

Manziel knows the team’s sad history. As soon as he declared for the draft in January, he used the Internet to research all the quarterback-needy teams with top picks. In the only interview he granted before the scouting combine, Manziel mentioned the Browns’ inability to find a franchise quarterback, the biggest reason they are 77–163 since returning to the NFL as an expansion team in 1999.

 

Manziel’s quote sounded a bit like a Namath-esque guarantee. 

 

“If … it’s the Cleveland Browns that draft me, I’m going to pour my heart out for the Dawg Pound and try to win a Super Bowl for Cleveland,” Manziel said. “I don’t care if they’ve had 20 starting quarterbacks since 1999. I’m going to be the 21st, and the guy that brought them the Super Bowl.”

 

Of their 18 first-round draft selections since 1999, the Browns now have used four on quarterbacks. Cleveland made Tim Couch the No. 1 overall pick in 1999. Brady Quinn (2007) and Brandon Weeden (2012), like Manziel, were selected No. 22 overall, a fact Manziel called coincidence rather than foreshadowing.

 

None offered the excitement and the promise the Browns hope Manziel does.

 

“He’s always must-see,” says George Whitfield Jr., Manziel’s personal quarterbacks coach. “He’s always exciting. You don’t know what you’re going to see. It’s like watching Michael Jordan. You watch him, and there’s a good chance you’re going to see something you’re still talking about next week. That’s how Johnny is. He honestly feels if he has something to do with the circumstances, his team is going to win. ‘These couple of sticks? I can make a fire.’”

 

Manziel, 21, casts himself as a small-town kid who made good. He was born in Tyler, Texas, a town of 99,000, and played high school football in Kerrville, Texas, with a population of 22,000. Because of his small stature, Manziel received only a handful of scholarship offers despite a decorated schoolboy career that earned him the famous nickname that has followed him since.

 

He chose A&M over Oregon, and after a redshirt season, Johnny Football hit the big stage. In the school’s first season in the SEC, Manziel led the Aggies to an 11–2 record, including a victory over eventual national champion Alabama. He set the conference record for most total yards (5,116), accounted for 47 total touchdowns and became the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy.

 

Manziel posted a 20–6 record in his two seasons as the Aggies’ starter, with his final game a 52–48 victory over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in the biggest comeback in school history. In his two seasons with the Aggies, Manziel passed for 7,820 yards and 63 touchdowns, ran for 2,169 yards and 30 touchdowns and became the most entertaining, and arguably the most productive, quarterback in college football history.

 

Now, Manziel takes his show to Cleveland, a city of nearly 400,000 in need of good luck, good times and good news.

 

“We definitely liked his ability to perform and make plays,” Browns general manager Ray Farmer says. “We liked a guy who brought all the things when we talk about ‘Play Like a Brown.’ He was passionate. He was relentless. He played fearless. He was competitive. We added a guy to our roster we thought could help us win.”

 

But questions remain about Manziel’s transition to the NFL: He stands under 6'0", a big reason he lasted until late in the first round; he took only one snap from under center at A&M; Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, a former NFL defensive back, tweeted that Manziel played “backyard ball,” which won’t work at the next level; and a scouting report, reputedly from the Patriots, appeared on the website BroBible.com that included criticism of Manziel’s work ethic.

 

While his critics continue to talk the talk, Manziel vows to continue to prove them wrong.

 

“Criticism never gets to me all that much,” says Manziel, who admits he lives with a chip on his shoulder.

 

Manziel had insisted he would measure “exactly 72 inches” at the scouting combine. Instead, he stood 5'11 ¾", making him only the third modern-era quarterback shorter than 6'1" drafted in the first round. Michael Vick and Rex Grossman are the others.

 

It was Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson who opened the door for Manziel. Wilson measured 5'10 5⁄8"at the 2012 combine and wasn’t drafted until the third round but became the Super Bowl XLVIII-winning quarterback. Now, Manziel gets his chance to show that size really doesn’t matter.

 

“It’s hard to relate to LeBron because he’s 6'8", or Cam Newton because he’s 6'6",” Whitfield says. “They’re almost mythical. But when Johnny comes in wearing an extra-large shirt like you do, or gets in the car and doesn’t have to push back the seat, or he’s in a crowd seeing eye to eye with just about everybody else, he really is an everyman. But he’s out there playing among these giants. It sets him apart. It’s like he becomes Superman. But he’s the same size as us. I can’t believe it. There’s a level of disbelief.”

 

Manziel insists his heart allows him to play taller than he is, and he repeatedly refers to himself as “a winner.” But Manziel first has to win the job. Incumbent Brian Hoyer goes into training camp as the starter, with Manziel having a lot to learn.

 

Hoyer, a Cleveland native, posted a 3–0 record as a starter last season before tearing the ACL in his right knee. After Farmer informed Hoyer the team was taking Manziel, Hoyer responded: Bring him on. Manziel began readying for the competition three days after the draft when he arrived in Cleveland. He’s put his head into the playbook and his heart into trying to live up to expectations of Browns fans. It’s Super Bowl or bust.

 

“I want to come in and compete,” Manziel says. “I’m a highly competitive person. That’s absolutely a goal to come in and compete and try to make our team better.

 

“He’s obviously had a head start on getting to learn some of these things and he knows these guys better than I do, so there’s a lot I can take away from him.”

 

Manziel already has an ending in mind for a story he expects to be a bestseller.

 

“It’s a great story,” Manziel says. “It’s perfect for me to end up with a team that has fans that are as passionate as I am on the field. Those guys have heart. They’re passionate about a team that hasn’t had an incredible amount of success, and they’re still very loyal, very diehard. That means a lot. … I’m going to come in and pour my heart out for this organization and for this team and for these fans and try to bring some excitement. More than anything, we want to win. That’s how I am. I am a winner, and I want to continue that trend.”

 

— Written by Charean Williams for Athlon Sports. This article is featured in , which is available on newsstands or can be purchased online.

Teaser:
Johnny Manziel Brings New Hope to the Cleveland Browns
Post date: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, Johnny Manziel, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /does-johnny-manziel-have-any-fantasy-value-2014
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Even though Johnny Manziel wasn't the first player selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, let alone the first quarterback, no one drew more attention this May than Johnny Football. After passing on him with their first pick, the Cleveland Browns traded up to select the Heisman Trophy-winning dual-threat quarterback from Texas A&M at No. 22 overall.

 

Related:

 

Now that Manziel will call the Dawg Pound home, the question becomes, does he have any fantasy value this season? Athlon editors and fantasy contributors chime in with their thoughts on Manziel's fantasy outlook as a rookie.

 

Braden Gall (),

Without a doubt, the most productive fantasy quarterback in the history of the SEC has fantasy value for the Cleveland Browns. Will Johnny Manziel start every game — or stay healthy for the entire season? The answer is likely no, but his playmaking ability and overall competitiveness mean he won’t sit behind Brian Hoyer for very long. As soon as Manziel is in the starting lineup, he becomes a top-20 quarterback.

 

He proved he could make all of the throws from the pocket a year ago — he is the all-time most accurate passer in SEC history (68.9 percent) — while scoring 93 total touchdowns and churning out nearly 10,000 total yards of offense in just two seasons in America’s toughest league. He is a perfect late-round keeper option and should provide value the moment he enters the starting lineup.

 

David Gonos (), /

Manziel absolutely does have fantasy value for this season, but he is more of an in-season player to consider than one to draft in July or August. I expect him to start the season on the bench for a couple games, maybe seeing spotty action, before eventually being installed as the starter. With just 12 quarterbacks (on average) starting in fantasy leagues, it’s tough to make an argument that Manziel is a top-12 player once he becomes the starter. But his fleet feet and ability to improvise and make plays, a la Tim Tebow, make him someone to consider as a bye-week replacement once he is playing. If he’s starting, and Josh Gordon isn’t suspended all season, Manziel could make a nice fantasy starter in Week 9, when the Browns play Baltimore and six other teams are on a bye. He has fantasy value, but only on a per-game basis, not necessarily all season.

 

Steven Lassan (),

The only way I see Manziel having any fantasy value in 2014 is through a keeper format. Without Josh Gordon (assuming he will be suspended some length of time) and with an NFL learning curve after playing in a spread offense at Texas A&M, Manziel is going to take his lumps as a rookie. Also, Cleveland shouldn’t be in a rush to get Manziel in the lineup, as this team is still a few seasons away from contending in the AFC North. Brian Hoyer showed last year he could be a capable bridge to the rookie.

 

Additionally, the Browns’ schedule doesn’t give Manziel any breaks. Cleveland has to play Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore — three of the AFC’s top defenses — two times each during the regular season. Also, improving defenses like New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Houston and Carolina will give the Browns trouble. If you are desperate for a backup in a redraft league, Manziel is a late-round possibility, but I don’t see him having much value in 2014.

 

Eric Mack (),

The easy answer is yes. The more difficult questions are at what point and just how much value he’ll have on draft day. The Cleveland Browns are going to have some shred of value in fantasy leagues, and the quarterback figures to be a part of that. Coming out of OTAs, it looked as if Brian Hoyer might start initially. Once Hoyer proves to be the career backup he has been, Manziel should step forward and be a contributor in fantasy, mostly in two-quarterback formats.

 

You should not consider drafting the Manziel wild card until the late rounds — even if hype might force you to do so before that point. Sure, he could be a factor like Cam Newton was in blowout games and by scoring rushing touchdowns, but until he proves something on the field, he is probably not worth his draft-day cost.

 

Matt Schauf (),

Since 1969, just four rookie quarterbacks have rushed for at least 400 yards. All four finished among the top-12 fantasy passers.

 

Johnny Manziel doesn’t approach Cam Newton or Robert Griffin III in overall talent. He’s not nearly as polished a passer as Russell Wilson. But Vince Young finished 2006 as fantasy’s No. 12 quarterback despite starting just 13 games. He did so despite just 2,199 passing yards and 12 touchdown passes, because he ran for 553 yards and seven scores.

 

Fantasy folks perennially underrate a quarterback’s rushing value. Manziel racked up 2,169 yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground in college. He joins a Browns team missing Josh Gordon and coached by Kyle Shanahan, who helped design the run-heavy offense that made Griffin a top-five fantasy quarterback in 2012.

 

Manziel will have starter-level fantasy weeks this year and belongs on a roster in your league.

 

(Top photo courtesy of the Cleveland Browns' Web site, .)

 

Athlon Sports' 2014 Fantasy Football magazine is now available for purchase at newsstands everyone or online. The ultimate draft-day resource, this year's edition features 419 in-depth player reports, informative features, a 20-round mock draft, team-by-team analysis from NFL beat writers and much more. Whether your fantasy league is head-to-head, roto, PPR or IDP, this magazine has all the stats and insight you need to help you get ready for the upcoming season.

Teaser:
Does Johnny Manziel Have Any Fantasy Value in 2014?
Post date: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 14:00
Path: /college-football/everything-you-need-know-about-sec-network
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SEC fans may call the Big Ten slow, but it had a head start on what the SEC will gain in less than a month.

The SEC Network will join the Big Ten Network and Pac-12 Networks as the nation’s big three college sports conference-oriented networks. With a partnership with ESPN and fueled by the SEC’s fans, the SEC Network could be the biggest of all of them.

That might not be the case when the SEC Network launches in mid-August, though. One major provider have not come to an agreement with ESPN on distribution, though it’s tough to see the holdout lasting much longer.

For those who will have the SEC Network, here’s what you can expect.



Athlon Sports Cover 2 College Football Podcast
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Where can I watch SEC Network?

The SEC announced Friday that Comcast will distribute the SEC Network, joining AT&T U-Verse, Cox and Dish Network as the biggest carriers. That leaves. That leaves DirecTV as the biggest remaining holdout. DirecTV is the biggest remaining holdout. ESPN senior vice president of programming Justin Connolly said from SEC Media Days that negotiations are ongoing.

“We’re confident and our confidence is based on the demand that’s out there from SEC fans,” Connolly said. “(The hold up is) long negotiations, complicated issues. A lot of times these things don’t come down until the very end.”

Update: ESPN announced in early August that DirecTV will carry the SEC Network.

Which football games will the SEC Network air?

CBS still retains the first pick of an SEC game each week, but ESPN and the SEC Network will continue to air secondary games. The SEC Network, though, ends CBS’ exclusive window in the 3:30 p.m. Eastern time slot. Sixteen games, including three conference games, are scheduled before Sept. 20. The entire season will feature 45 exclusive football games.



SEC Network: The first 16 games:

Aug. 28: Texas A&M at South Carolina
Aug. 28: Temple at Vanderbilt
Aug. 30: UT Martin at Kentucky
Aug. 30: Arkansas at Auburn
Aug. 30: Southern Miss at Mississippi State
Aug. 31: Utah State at Tennessee
Sept. 6: FAU at Alabama
Sept. 6: Arkansas State at Tennessee
Sept. 6: Eastern Michigan at Florida
Sept. 6: Nicholls State at Arkansas
Sept. 6: Lamar at Texas A&M
Sept. 6: Sam Houston State at LSU
Sept. 13: UCF at Missouri
Sept. 13: UL Lafayette at Ole Miss
Sept. 13: Kentucky at Florida
Sept. 20: Troy at Georgia



Which talking heads will be on the SEC Network?


Sports fans, especially in SEC land, will find plenty of familiar faces and voices on the SEC Network. Brent Musburger moves off the Saturday night game of the week spot on ABC to the top game on the SEC Network. Chris Fowler will take Musburger’s spot on ABC.

The other broadcast teams will be:
• Brent Musburger, Jesse Palmer and Maria Taylor
• Dave Neal and Andre Ware
• Tom Hart and Matt Stinchcomb

Other studio analysts will include former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, former LSU stars Marcus Spears and Booger McFarland and veteran journalist Tony Barnhart.

The SEC Network also will televise the Birmingham-based Paul Finebaum Show and, as Connelly put it, “some of the most colorful fans in the conference.” That may be one way put the show, which showcases the SEC, and specifically the Alabama and Auburn rivalry, at its most colorful, passionate and ugly.

“We’ve had Paul on air on the radio side for a year now. You can say he’s toned it down,” Connolly said. “It’s a different role. It’s going to change a little bit, but we want Paul to be Paul and we want him to bring that passion and that audience.”

What non-game programming will the SEC Network air?

The SEC Network aims to offer a treasure trove of non-game content. For Xs and Os fans, the highlight will be “Film Room,” a program every Wednesday night featuring an SEC coach breaking down game film.

The SEC Network will continue its SEC Storied series, a documentary series that has already included features on the Alabama-Auburn rivalry, the Manning family and Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson.

The first four documentaries on the SEC Network will feature Ole Miss’ Chucky Mullins (“”), Florida and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier (“”), Auburn’s star athletes during the 80s (“”) and SEC Passion (“”)

“We’re not going to have the news infrastructure that ESPN has,” Connolly said. “We’re not going to do a lot of investigative journalism.”

How much of a cash cow is this?

In addition to the SEC’s broadcast deals with ESPN and CBS, the SEC Network has been estimated to bring $26 million to each school within a year.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 13:15
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-july-16-2014
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This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 16:

. No wonder Verlander's been distracted this season.

• Over in Liverpool, : with SpongeBob pants.

• Yeah, Jeets: The word Jeter was spoken 100 times in last night's broadcast. .

, and all hell broke loose on social media. .

.

.

.

, as he proved at SEC Media Days.

.

: "I don't know who he is."

• Some Internet wizard edited LeBron into a classic Dumb and Dumber scene.

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 10:41
All taxonomy terms: College Football, UCLA Bruins, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/ucla-unveils-alternate-la-steel-uniforms-2014
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UCLA’s uniforms haven’t changed much in recent seasons, but the Bruins used an alternate “LA Midnight” look last season and recently unveiled a new “LA Steel” uniform for 2014.

These uniforms are quite a change from the classic UCLA jersey and helmet and feature metallic design additions to the shoulder pads and around the numbers, which is a tribute to the bright lights of Los Angeles.

According to the release on the official school website, this will be the first gray uniform in school history.

Here’s a look at UCLA’s new alternate jerseys for 2014: 

Teaser:
UCLA Unveils Alternate "LA Steel" Uniforms for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 10:32
Path: /nascar/balance-power-fords-nascar-camp-has-shifted-team-penske
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After playing second fiddle to Chevrolet and powerhouse NASCAR organization Hendrick Motorsports for a decade, Ford Racing seems to have found its groove with four consecutive race wins in the Cup Series. And it’s led by a face familiar to the sport but new to Ford’s roster.

 

Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski, who won the 2012 Sprint Cup championship while driving for Dodge in its final season in NASCAR, is hitting on all cylinders. The 30-year-old driver and crew chief Paul Wolfe have reeled off two dominating victories in the past three weeks, with wins at Kentucky Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Further, since the beginning of June, their No. 2 team has recorded five runs of third or better in seven races.

 

“I think in a lot of ways we’re stronger than (2012),” Keselowski said after Sunday’s win in Loudon, N.H. “I don’t think we’ve had this much speed before. We had tremendous speed today, and I think there’s potential left. So that’s all very encouraging to me.  Brad Keselowski

 

“I feel like I’m in a really strong rhythm right now. I think some of last year’s struggles put me in a spot to work harder and become a better race car driver, and I think we’re combining all those things and we’re seeing the fruits of that labor with, like I said, more to come.”

 

Traditionally, Ford’s Cup success was dependent on Roush Fenway Racing and drivers such as Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards. However, it has not enjoyed a championship season since Busch won the inaugural Chase for the Championship in 2004. The company’s future performance is also in question, as Edwards is expected to bolt at season’s end, while Biffle’s contract status hangs in limbo.

 

Enter Team Penske. After a year of acclimation in 2013 when the organization switched to a new manufacturer, a new engine supplier and welcomed a new driver-crew chief combo in Joey Logano and Todd Gordon, it’s overtaken RFR as the Ford flag bearer. Keselowski and Logano have combined for five wins in the season’s 19 events and are locks for NASCAR’s postseason.

 

“We had to understand the aerodynamics, the new package, putting together an engine program with Roush-Yates where we were not the ones that made the calls every day,” team owner Roger Penske says. “We have a team that is working together, I think is very transparent with Ford what we’re doing, and at the end of the day, I’d have to say it was the right move.”  Roger Penske

 

Keselowski echoes the sentiment and, having gone toe-to-toe with six-time champion Jimmie Johnson in the past and won, understands that it takes something extra to win the Chase.

 

“We’re executing, which is really important. We have a lot of momentum and I think we have a lot of potential still left in our team that we’ve got to keep working to get to because everybody is going to turn it up a notch when the Chase comes. We need to have another gear to grab to be able to run for a championship here in 2014.”

 

To get that championship, Keselowski and Logano will have to go through Hendrick Motorsports’ vaunted four-car team of Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne. Prior to Ford’s current four-race win streak — its longest since 2001 — Hendrick’s trio of Johnson, Gordon and Earnhardt tallied five consecutive victories over a commanding early-summer stretch. 

 

At the time, Keselowski quipped that Hendrick’s engine department could be as much as a year ahead of the competition. It seems apparent, though, that Team Penske has found something that has shifted the balance of power — a combination of horsepower gains and aerodynamic know-how.

 

Heading into an off-weekend before a crown-jewel showdown with HMS at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Keselowski says his team will have the luxury of enjoying the recent success:

 

“For me personally (and) I know for the team, to have about eight days to really soak it in before we head off to Indy, I think that’s a real pleasure for us and something that we can enjoy — and obviously a little bit of rest is never a bad thing. 

 

“I think we’re close, but I want to keep pushing, and I’m committed to getting another championship. I know Roger and Paul sitting next to me are committed to it, and we want to make it happen.”

 

 

Follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter:

Photos by

Teaser:
After playing second fiddle to Chevrolet and powerhouse NASCAR organization Hendrick Motorsports for a decade, Ford Racing seems to have found its groove with four consecutive race wins in the Cup Series. And it’s led by a face familiar to the sport but new to Ford’s roster: Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski.
Post date: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 10:23
Path: /college-football/byu-football-game-game-predictions-2014
Body:

enters its fourth season of independence poised to push for 10 wins for the second time in four years.

The Cougars are coming off back-to-back eight-win campaigns, but the return of 13 starters, combined with the development of quarterback Taysom Hill, should allow Bronco Mendenhall’s team a chance to finish in the final top 25 poll.

Hill is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, and junior running back Jamaal Williams could push for All-America honors with another 1,000-yard season.

BYU’s biggest question mark is on the offensive line, and the defense needs to find a linebacker to replace Kyle Van Noy.

Related:  |  |


The Expert Panel:


Steven Lassan (),
Mark Ross (),
Mitch Harper (),
Braden Gall (),
Jeremy Mauss (),
David Fox (),
Kevin Schaefer (),
Kyle Kensing (),


Early BYU Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
 Steven
Lassan
Mark
Ross
Mitch
Harper
Braden
Gall
David
Fox
Kyle
Kensing
Kevin
Schaefer
Jeremy
Mauss
at UConn
at Texas
Houston
Virginia
Utah State
at UCF
Nevada
at Boise State
at MTSU
UNLV
Savannah State
at California
Final Prediction10-210-29-310-211-19-310-29-3
Steven Lassan ()

BYU is going to be a fascinating team to watch in 2014. The Cougars have a realistic shot at winning every game on the schedule, and in college football’s new playoff format, 11 wins has to at least get them in the conversation for one of the top bowl games on New Year’s Day. While I don’t expect BYU to go unbeaten, getting to 10 wins in the regular season would be a solid year for Bronco Mendenhall’s team. Quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams form an explosive backfield, with a revamped receiving corps and offensive line the biggest question marks on offense. Hill is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback, but he still needs to take the next step as a passer. And with the losses at receiver, it may take a couple of games for the passing attack to improve. Standout linebacker Kyle Van Noy is gone, but six starters return on defense. The schedule is favorable, as BYU should be favored to win at least 9 or 10 games. I do think the late-season road trip to an improving California team is tougher than some expect, but dates at Boise State and UCF are manageable. In Athlon’s projected final top 25 for 2014, we projected BYU to finish No. 35. However, if the pieces fall into place on offense, the Cougars should have a good shot at finish in the final top 25 poll.
 

Kevin Schaefer (),

I'm really curious to see how BYU's offense looks this season. The Cougars had a very exciting rushing attack last season, led by two 1,000+ yard rushers in QB Taysom Hill and RB Jamaal Williams. Unfortunately, the Cougars passing game couldn't match that success and the offense as a whole left too many points on the field in the their losses. Now with a full year under offensive coordinator Robert Anae's uptempo offense and a few new weapons at wideout, the Cougars should have the improved passing attack they will need to have a more successful season than they did a year ago.

 

BYU's schedule isn't nearly as demanding as it was last season and it should set the Cougars up nicely for double digit wins. The trip to Austin in the second week of the season will likely be the most difficult test the Cougars will face, but BYU should also watch out for UCF, Houston, and Boise State.
 

Mitch Harper (),

This schedule sets up very well for BYU. There’s not one team on this schedule that BYU can’t beat. But there are some trap games. The biggest game though is in Week 2 against Texas. If BYU gets out of the gates with a 2-0 start, and one of those wins coming against the Horns in Austin; the nation will be talking about the Cougars as a team to get one of the at-large spots in the New Year’s Day bowls. As the last true independent in college football, that’s all BYU can ask for at this point is being in the national conversation on a weekly basis. With all that said, picking that BYU-UT game today, I have the Cougars falling in a close one. BYU is only 1-6 in games away from Provo in the month of September since becoming independent in 2011.

 

BYU will go undefeated at home this season without breaking much of a sweat. The game against Houston on a Thursday night in week three could be dicey. UH and BYU put on a 47-46 shootout last year in Reliant Stadium, so expect more offensive fireworks in BYU’s home opener on ESPN.

 

The other two games that raise concern on this 2014 slate are Central Florida and Boise State. UCF obviously lost Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson to the NFL, but the Knights were one of the youngest teams in the country last year, and everyone returns this season. Then with Boise State, it’s all about the blue turf. In BYU’s two visits to Boise in program history the Cougars have came up short in both games. Losing by a total of two points in those games.  Remember the 7-6 thriller in 2012? I try to forget as well.

 

The key for BYU, as it always has been under Bronco Mendenhall, will be to get off to a fast start with a pair of wins on the road. All the pieces are in place for BYU to have a big season with QB Taysom Hill, RB Jamaal Williams, & a pair of transfer wide receivers in Jordan Leslie (UTEP) & Devon Blackmon (Oregon) at the skill positions. The Cougar offense will continue to “go fast & go hard” and the defense has built an identity of being one of the most consistent defenses in the country.


Kyle Kensing, (),

BYU's 2013 schedule was pretty much the gold standard the program was striving for when it went independent in 2011. There were teams from the Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten and ACC on the docket, as well as quality non-AQ opponents. The strong Group of Five teams like Boise State, UCF and Utah State remain, but the matchups with the Power 5 aren't quite as impressive. The exception is a rematch of BYU's marquee win since leaving the Mountain West, the return against Texas. That Week 2 contest will speak volumes about the potential of this BYU team. An undefeated season isn't inconceivable--but neither is a disappointing 7-win campaign.
 

Jeremy Mauss, (),

The 2014 schedule takes a giant step back form 2013 and anything less than 10 wins should be seen as a disappointment for the Cougars. BYU's offense should be in full swing in the second year of offensive coordinator's Rober Anae's go fast, go hard offense. Everyone has another year in the system which will make everything go much more smoothly, and the only question is how the new wide receivers will step up with transfers Jordan Leslie, Ashanti Blackmon and Nick Kurtz. If those wide receivers can pick up the offense then this offense could be one of the best in the country.


Mark Ross, ()

BYU's status as an independent helps create one of the more interesting schedules in the nation. The Cougars will play teams from the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12, as well as the American Athletic, C-USA and Mountain West. With dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill a potential dark horse Heisman Trophy contender and running back Jamaal Williams an explosive threat out of the backfield, the Cougars should be a handful for opposing defenses. The defense has some key personnel to replace, but given the schedule, the only games that should pose any challenge appear to be Texas, Utah State and Boise State. Only two of these matchups are on the road, so as long as Hill stays healthy and the defense can stand its ground, Bronco Mendenhall's team could reach double digits in the win column before the bowl season.


Braden Gall ()

BYU might be the best non-Big 5 in the nation. The Cougars might have the best shot of reaching the playoff or going unbeaten of any team outside of the Big 5. Games on the road against Texas and Boise State look like the toughest games this team will face all year. Otherwise, it's a lot of home cooking and winnable games against solid but beatable mid-major teams like UCF, Utah State and Nevada.


David Fox ()

This could be a mighty interesting season for BYU. There are few games on the schedule that I would say is a lock for a loss, and that’s not something easy to say about a team that went 8-5 the last two seasons. And the game I picked BYU to lose — a road trip to Texas — is a rematch of the game that was the beginning of the end for Mack Brown. Certainly, there’s not a lot of heavy lifting here for BYU. Cal is the lone representative from the Pac-12, Virginia the only team from the ACC and three from the American. If BYU can continue to have a steady defense and a playmaking offense with quarterback Taysom Hill, the Cougars should surpass the 10-win mark.

Teaser:
BYU Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/it-time-panic-michigan-football
Body:

It’s easy. Or at least that’s what Devin Gardner says. The fifth-year quarterback and his teammates found little difficulty ignoring the criticisms and outrage directed at them during — and following — last year’s dreary 7–6 performance.

 

“We know what goes on in our building and on the field, and the outside noise is something we ignore,” Gardner says. “(Critics) know nothing. It’s not hard to ignore people who know nothing.”

 

Fans and media are indeed unaware of the inner machinations of a football program. They only know what they see, and last year the optical evidence against was pretty damning. The Wolverines lost to both Michigan State — the Spartans punched them in the mouth — and Ohio State. They finished 102nd nationally running the football and 105th in sacks allowed, slaps to the face of a program that has boasted about its toughness since Bo Schembechler first growled on an Ann Arbor sideline in 1969. Their bowl meltdown against Kansas State was partially due to the foot injury Gardner suffered against OSU (although freshman Shane Morris acquitted himself well) but mostly the responsibility of a munificent defense that allowed the Wildcats to pile up 420 total yards. And the first month of 2014 featured a groggy end to the recruiting season that dawned with so much promise in the summer of ’13.

 

Last year at this time, many — this magazine included — were heralding a return to the old days of the Big Ten, in which ancestral rivals and Ohio State would rise above the rabble and stage yet another Ten Year War. Now, some are wondering whether the Wolverines will catch up to the Buckeyes and the Spartans, both of whom played in BCS bowls last year. And now there is reason to fear Penn State. The Nittany Lions have remained competitive despite crippling NCAA sanctions and are beginning to recruit at an elite level under new head coach James Franklin. Michigan, meanwhile, dropped the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, 31–14. “Whatever happened last year has nothing to do with this year,” U-M head coach Brady Hoke says. “(Michigan State’s and Ohio State’s bowl games) are achievements you want, and expectations you have. Is it incentive? I think so. It always is.”

 

By the end of last season, his third in Ann Arbor, Hoke was hearing dissatisfaction among Wolverine fans, a first since he arrived promising Big Ten titles and a definitive move away from Rich Rodriguez’s disastrous tenure. Perhaps most galling was the team’s inability to match up when rivals used roughneck tactics against it. It’s one thing to lose six games, and another to get pushed around doing it.

 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big Ten Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Hoke counters that four of Michigan’s losses came by a combined 11 points, and that the team wasn’t far from a double-figure win season. That’s true, but he also refers to “the toughness you need to have from a mental perspective” as a prerequisite for reversing that trend of close defeats. That’s not a poke at the 2013 team’s ability to handle the tough times, but it does illuminate one of the program’s missions for this campaign — specifically, to prohibit rivals from bullying it.

 

“As much as anything else, that’s the identity we’re striving for,” Hoke says. The most apt barometer for that personality is the running game. Michigan averaged a feeble 3.3 yards per carry last year, an embarrassment for a program that has sold itself — except for the forgettable Rodriguez interregnum — as a rugged Rust Belt offense. Then-offensive coordinator Al Borges used five different starting combinations on the line, to no avail, and the backs lacked the necessary horsepower to burst through whatever holes did materialize.

 

Borges is out. And whether his removal was the doing of hands-on AD Dave Brandon or Hoke, who insists it was his decision, a new era has dawned under former Alabama OC Doug Nussmeier, who has simplified some of the team’s schemes and promises that the Wolverines will run the ball better this year. “The offensive line is nastier,” senior middle linebacker Jake Ryan says. “You can definitely tell that.”

 

Whether U-M can replicate Bama’s success without Bama’s personnel is another question. Gardner, however, is convinced. “We’re going to be able to run the football. I promise you that,” he says.

 

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, whose salary will approach $1 million per year by 2016, has some work to do also. Though the 2013 numbers on his side of the ball aren’t as gloomy as the offense’s, Michigan did surrender 97 points in its final three games and must get stouter along the front seven. That has been a priority in the spring.

 

“I think we’ll be more physical,” says Ryan, a playmaker who moved to the inside this year. “We’ll be a tough-nosed, downhill team.”

 

Michigan will also be a more veteran squad. Hoke won’t say it, but Rodriguez’s recruiting efforts have hurt the program. Rich Rod pursued smaller, faster players, the better to fit his system. He succeeded in making U-M a less robust team, and that has hurt Hoke’s efforts to play a more physical brand of football. There are only 12 scholarship seniors and 18 juniors on the roster, so underclassmen comprise the vast majority of the Michigan personnel. In a way, last year could have been predicted, since 25 members of the 44-man offensive and defensive depth chart for the KSU game had either freshman or sophomore eligibility.

 

“We’re still a young program in a lot of ways,” Hoke says. “We’re really backloaded. That’s a positive thing. A lot of them played last year, too. Are they going to be like someone who started 35 games? No. But they are getting a lot of reps in spring ball.”

 

Filling the pipeline with more talent is vital to the Wolverines, especially since the Buckeyes continue to dazzle recruiting experts with their classes. Michigan could sign only 16 newcomers in February, because of its crowded roster. And though 11 of them were rated four stars or higher (five-star cornerback Jabrill Peppers leads the pack) by ESPN, there were some setbacks, like when defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand startled many by choosing Alabama over U-M, and in-state five-star defensive tackle Malik McDowell chose MSU. Two commitments for the 2015 class backed out of their pledges as well, although both continue to list Michigan among their finalists. The Wolverines still had a great class, but the defections created a sense of lost momentum.

 

Hoke pledges to get it back. The 2014 schedule is tough and features road games at Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State. But Gardner is a fifth-year senior with plenty of experience, the depth chart is dotted with talent and growing experience, and the young depth is of a Michigan quality. Nussmeier is expected to make the offense more productive, and Mattison vows an angrier defense.

 

“Everybody sees how close we were to a 10-win season last year,” Gardner says. “Losing (four games) by 11 points combined is pretty good and also bad. We had the opportunity and didn’t take advantage of it. That makes it worse. You feel horrible. Eleven points more. We have to give that effort.”

 

And produce results that anybody can see.

Written by Michael Bradley () for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 Big Ten Football Preview Editions.  to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Teaser:
Is it Time to Panic at Michigan?
Post date: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/dak-prescott-poised-make-mississippi-state-history
Body:

HOOVER, Ala. — Here’s a fun party game for anyone steeped in SEC history: Pick an SEC school and start rattling off that school's great college or pro quarterbacks.

Alabama has Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, AJ McCarron. Tennessee has Peyton Manning and Heath Shuler. Auburn has Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton. Even Vanderbilt has Jay Cutler.

Where does that list begin and end for Mississippi State?

The only Bulldogs quarterback to reach the SEC championship game completed fewer than half of his passes. The last Mississippi State All-SEC quarterback ended up playing running back in the NFL. In the modern era, Mississippi State has only three All-SEC first-teamers at the position. Never mind a 4,000-yard passer, Mississippi State is the only program in the SEC that hasn’t produced a 3,000-yard passer in a season.

This may be the season Mississippi State has a quarterback star it can finally call its own.
 


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Dak Prescott has started only seven games in his career, but it speaks to that quarterback history that junior from Haughton, La., has a realistic chance to be the best Starkville has produced.

“It’s one one of those things where State fans go into it with a little bit of apprehension,” said Matt Wyatt, a Mississippi State quarterback from 1996-99 and now the color analyst on the Bulldogs’ broadcast team. “We’ll see it and then believe how good someone is because we’ve never really had a great one.”

When Mississippi State signed Prescott, coach Dan Mullen could tout his quarterback proteges from other stops — Alex Smith at Utah and Tim Tebow at Florida. The brag sheet of great Mississippi State passers wasn’t there.

That was enough to get Prescott to Starkville, but it may not be enough for other prep quarterbacks.

“I don’t really pay attention to the past,” Prescott said. “I control my destiny. If I can get better I don’t worry about it. I know coach Mullen has coached some good guys, and that’s all that matters to me.”

This is not to say Prescott could be an All-SEC first-teamer. Auburn’s Nick Marshall, Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace and Missouri’s Maty Mauk may have a head start, to say nothing about the quarterbacks at Alabama, Georgia or South Carolina.

This is not to say Prescott could be Mississippi State’s first 3,000-yard passer, even in an age where crossing that benchmark and more is commonplace even in the SEC grind. He may end up too productive in the run game and read option to put up prolific passing numbers. Prescott is a dual threat who passed for 2,134 yards and rushed for 947.

Prescott’s accuracy in the deep passing game needs work, but if he can add that to his repertoire, he may be the complete package.

For a quarterback, he doesn’t shy away from hits, earning the respect of his defensive teammates. More than that, Prescott impressed teammates by playing against Texas A&M in November last season, less than a week after he lost his mother Peggy to a long bout with colon cancer.

Prescott said it was the toughest time of his life but told his teammates that his mom would want him to play.

“When he lost his mom, you didn’t know something was wrong with him,” linebacker Bernardrick McKinney said.

That determination may bode well for a quarterback with a chance to do things no one else at Mississippi State has done.

“Everyone wants their name in the history books, but it’s not something I’m looking for,” Prescott said. “I don’t want to have the most yards in Mississippi State history. I want to be the winningest quarterback in Mississippi State history.”

Teaser:
Dak Prescott Poised to Make Mississippi State History
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 19:57
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-south-carolina-tennessee-texas-am-and-mississippi
Body:

SEC Media Days are here, and Athlon Sports is live from Hoover, Ala., to talk every team around the league. Day 2 featured South Carolina, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Tennessee. 

 

Day 2 was highlighted by a visit with Steve Spurrier, Kevin Sumlin deflecting Johnny Manziel questions, a very confident Dan Mullen and Tennessee's Butch Jones. 

 

Braden Gall and David Fox were joined by of TexAgs.com, of Mr. SEC and The Sports Animal in Knoxville as well as of The State covering the Gamecocks.

 

Have a question or comment? Contact us at [email protected] or on Twitter at @AthlonSports, @BradenGall and @DavidFox615

 

Related: 

Teaser:
Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Mississippi State from Media Days
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 18:19
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas A&M Aggies, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/kevin-sumlin-isnt-interested-your-johnny-football-questions
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HOOVER, Ala. — If you have a question for Kevin Sumlin about a quarterback, maybe start with Case Keenum, his record-breaker at Houston. Or Sam Bradford, whom he coached at Oklahoma.

Sumlin’s not going to talk about Kyle Allen or Kenny Hill, one of which will make his first career start against South Carolina to start the season.

And he doesn’t have time for your stinkin' questions about Johnny Manziel.

“Is this SEC Media Days?” Sumlin asked following a question leading with Manziel party photos. “That’s a great question about the Cleveland Browns. Anybody else got something?”


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Now, Sumlin’s not being mean-spirited. This is said in jest.

But it’s also clear that Sumlin believes the Manziel circus has left town. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner was one of the most important figures in A&M history, ushering the Aggies into the SEC era. The Manziel absence and the lack of a clear successor casts a shadow over the program.

Certainly, a worthy topic is how A&M moves on, but getting Sumlin to address it head on in a public forum may be a challenge.

“Let me get this straight, the question was: What's it like not coaching Johnny Manziel,” Sumlin said.

Indeed it was.

“You wouldn't be so excited if you hadn't recruited the Gatorade Player of the Year out of the state of Texas at quarterback and the No. 1 quarterback in the country behind him,” Sumlin said. “We understand, I understand there's not going to be another Johnny Manziel, the way he played the game, that's all part of it.”

Teaser:
Kevin Sumlin isn't Interested in your Johnny Football Questions
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 16:00
Path: /college-football/south-carolina-or-florida-which-tenure-spurriers-most-impressive
Body:

HOOVER, Ala. — Steve Spurrier likes to squeeze in impressive facts on the sly.

He snuck in that his tenure has seen South Carolina's first win in Knoxville and first win in Gainesville since Carolina joined the SEC. “Somebody told me,” he amends. He’s not wrong either.

But one factoid surprised even Steve Spurrier.

He’ll be the first coach in SEC history to spend 10 years at two different schools when he completes his first decade at South Carolina this season.

That brings about the question: Is Spurrier’s second act in the SEC at South Carolina’s coach more impressive than his first act at Florida?


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If Spurrier stays at South Carolina until 2017 he would have been the Gamecocks coach longer than he was the coach for the Gators. When he retires, he’ll be arguably the most important coach in either program’s history.

At SEC Media Day on Tuesday, a Florida columnist asked Spurrier if winning the SEC at South Carolina would be more impressive than doing it at Florida. The NCAA record books — as Spurrier often says — credits him with the first SEC title in Florida history. (The 1984 title has been vacated by the NCAA).

The Gators won six official SEC titles and the 1996 title under Spurrier. The 1990 title, again, was won on the field, but it was erased due to sanctions.

Although Florida achieved more under Spurrier than South Carolina has so far, Spurrier notes the head start in Gainesville.

“When I got to Florida in 1990, the team was already there,” Spurrier said. “There was no recruiting to be done for about two years. ... They were ready to play, offense, defense.”

When Spurrier started at South Carolina, the Gamecocks had one booster who had donated $1 million. Now that number has exceeded a dozen.

“The big donors are very important, extremely important to all athletic programs. There's no question about that,” he said. “You got to have the facilities to keep up. Within the last eight, nine years at South Carolina, ours are up there amongst the best now. That's been a big reason for our success.”

That success has meant three consecutive 11-win seasons and three consecutive top-10 seasons. Before Spurrier, South Carolina had never even gone to bowl games in three consecutive seasons.

Not bad for a second act even Spurrier didn’t expect before a short-lived experiment with the Washington Redskins.

“When I left Florida after 12 years, I thought I was going to coach NFL five or six years and retire to the beach and play golf a bunch and travel around,” Spurrier said. “That was a bad plan. Later you found out, that was not a real good idea.  But that's the way I was thinking back then. ...

“I wanted to go out a winner, not a loser.”

Teaser:
South Carolina or Florida? Which Tenure is Spurrier's Most Impressive?
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 14:19
Path: /nascar/nascar-rookie-report-how-glairing-weaknesses-can-be-remedied
Body:

Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith will evaluate the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report will include twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with the drivers and more.

 

Today, David attempts to isolate each rookie from his team and equipment and properly rank the driving chops of each member of this year’s rookie class.

 

 

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is off this week and will return next weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to begin a homestretch that includes 17 consecutive races. For the seven rookies that comprise this year’s freshman class, it’s a chance to improve upon the facets of the sport that have been holding them back from better on-track production.

 

The wide eyes should be sharpening because, after all, this bunch is closer to not being rookies with the season over halfway complete.

 

This week’s Rookie Report rankings focus on the current weak spots of each rookie and the game plans that are necessary to get better:

 

 

Kyle Larson1. Kyle Larson, No. 42 (previous ranking: 1)

Weakness: He isn’t a front-runner.

 

How to Improve: There is precedence for Larson’s lack of laps led. He ranked sixth in this category, only leading 64 laps, during the 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season in which we was crowned champion. He led 102 laps in NASCAR Nationwide Series competition in 2013. Prior to last week’s race at New Hampshire, where he led 14 laps, he had only led seven. It’s just not in his wiring, it seems, to be a race-long dominator. Eventually, he will have to shift in this direction. Only one driver with an average running position lower than Larson’s 18.5 — Aric Almirola (18.8) — has scored a win this season, and .

 

 

2. Austin Dillon, No. 3 (previous: 2)  Austin Dillon

Weakness: He is passing below value.

 

How to Improve: He won the 2013 Nationwide Series championship despite passing rather horrendously (48.33 percent efficiency), but he won’t crack open a bottle of champagne any time soon in the Cup Series while sporting a similar 48.86 percent efficiency through 19 races. It falls 1.8 percent of a driver in his 19.3-place average running position. Considering the other drivers near his running whereabouts — Aric Almirola (18.8-place average running position, minus-0.06 percent surplus value), Tony Stewart (19.0, plus-1.4), Marcos Ambrose (20.2, minus-0.18) and Martin Truex (20.6, minus-0.17) — all have more balanced SPVs, it’s clear that Dillon is allowing himself to get out-muscled. The good news is that passing is a learned trait, and as soon as Dillon learns to pass for position and defend said position, with his strong closing numbers he’ll be in regular contention for top-10 finishes.

 

 

Michael Annett3. Michael Annett, No. 7 (previous: 3)

Weakness: He is inconsistent.

 

How to Improve: Per his 7.1 finish deviation, Annett is the second-most inconsistent finisher among rookies (Larson’s is tops, but I’m inclined to settle for his Daytona follies as long as he rewards me with top-5 finishes). There aren’t statistical fluctuations — in average speed rank, in positions accrued on pit road (or via short-pitting) or in upticks in crashing — that warrant such change. The Michael Annett that showed up during the Pocono-to-Daytona stretch was one that scored four finishes inside the top half of the field during a five-race span; the one who finished 32nd at New Hampshire didn’t look like the same guy. Maybe it’s his affinity for the larger tracks skewing the results, but some enhanced week-to-week focus is needed in order to close the season the right way.

 

 

Justin Allgaier4. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 (previous: 4)  

Weakness: He isn’t closing out races.

 

How to Improve: Allgaier’s 66 positions lost from the race’s 90-percent mark to completion — the “red zone” — ranks as the third-worst tally among all teams. Whether it is a crash out of the race like last Sunday at New Hampshire or a miscue late on the final restart at Richmond, things tend to go wrong for the HScott Motorsports bunch during crunch time. To be clear, he doesn’t need to all of a sudden become a plus-infinity closer. He just needs to maintain the running position he has at the start of the red zone, and holding onto to 23rd or 24th at the end of the race — his average running spot at that point is 23.5 — shouldn’t be daunting. Keeping his spot won’t earn back all the positions lost during the first half of the year, but it’ll be a step in cauterizing the wound.

 

 

NEW HAMPSHIRE | 

 

 

5. Cole Whitt, No. 26 (previous: 5)

Weakness: He is too conservative.

 

How to Improve: Maybe one could survive on a diet of 27th- and 28th-place finishes — Whitt has nine of them this year — but every now and then a splurge for something greater can provide a serious health benefit. Per his 5.5 finish deviation, Whitt is the second-most consistent results-getter in the series, but with a 30.5-place average finish that isn’t all that spectacular. We have yet to see what Whitt and his team looks like when going for broke. This BK Racing unit is the best in the stable according to a bevy of peripheral numbers, but acting as a metronome of mundane finishes doesn’t take advantage of the team’s better-than-it-should-be stature.  Cole Whitt and Alex Bowman

 

 

6. Alex Bowman, No. 23 (previous: 6)

Weakness: He is passing inefficiently.

 

How to Improve: If it weren’t for Michael McDowell’s 43.47 percent adjusted pass efficiency, Bowman (45.86 percent) would be the least efficient passer in the Cup Series. An inability to climb through traffic is a problem, but it’s not an interminable one. Passing can improve, , but he is on his second consecutive year of poor efficiency after notching a 48.13 percent mark — anything below 50 percent warrants a negative pass differential — last season in the Nationwide Series. Lucky for him, , all of whom have made killings thanks to their heightened passing ability. Some pointers from them could expedite an otherwise slow-burn process.

 

 

Ryan Truex7. Ryan Truex, No. 83 (previous: 7)

Weakness: He crashes too often.

 

How to Improve: I analyzed his passing splits last week and though Truex has improved his traffic navigation, it has yet to lead to elevated results. Sure, his revolving door of crew chiefs could do a significantly better job of finding spots through short-pitting tactics, but Truex’s best bet would be to stay off the wall. Per his series-worst terminal crash frequency (once every four races), his crashes aren’t exactly routine scratches and dents. This could very well be something that dissipates over time, but Truex would be served well to either keep his head on a swivel or purchase his spotter a new pair of binoculars.

 

 

David Smith is the founder of and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projection, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at

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Teaser:
Ranking the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' Rookie of the Year contenders
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 13:57
Path: /college-football/steve-spurriers-top-quotes-2014-sec-media-day
Body:

HOOVER, Ala. — South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is generally the high point of SEC media day, always good for a quip, some perspective and maybe a little smack.

Here are his greatest hits from the 2014 edition, touching on former quarterback Stephen Garcia, rivalries and boosters.

“He got his long hair back. I said it looked like he had joined Duck Dynasty instead of the media. They assured me he's with the media now.”
-On former quarterback Stephen Garcia

“If you ask our fans at South Carolina, I can assure you a majority would say, We would rather beat Clemson than win the SEC. That is how big it is to them, that one game. Personally I'd rather win the SEC. I don't mind saying that. Personally that's the bigger trophy.”

“Gus Malzahn is one of the best coaches in the country, not just the SEC. I think everybody knows that. They didn't win that national championship (in 2010) unless he was there. I think everybody knows that, too.”


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“It's a shame that Texas and Texas A&M don't play each other, though. I don't mind saying that. Two schools that have been playing for over a hundred years, just because one of them joins another conference, get mad at each other, We're not playing you anymore, we're not playing you anymore. So I don't know. I think it is sad.”

“All of you know I'm an advocate for giving some expense money to college football and basketball players. Those two sports bring in billions. They deserve a little bit more. I know the commissioner has addressed that. I wish something would happen sooner than we hope it's going to happen.  But that should happen real soon down the road.”

“The big donors in college are similar to like an owner in the NFL because they put the money up. The best part of it, they don't tell us what to do, though. They're sort of the owners from a distance. They don't tell you who to play, what plays to call, so forth.”

“We found some boosters, some big‑time donors that give over a million bucks. When I got there we had one person to give over a million bucks in the history of the school. Now we have 12 or 13, something like that.”

Teaser:
Steve Spurrier's top quotes from 2014 SEC Media Day
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 12:12
Path: /nfl/2014-nfl-player-rankings-defensive-backs
Body:

In the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports’ , we called on Ourlads Scouting Services to rank the NFL’s best at every position on the field. When it comes to determining who is the best , , , , cornerback, etc., who better to make that determination than a company that’s been in the gridiron talent evaluation business for nearly three decades?

 

When it comes to the current NFL, bigger is better in the secondary. Just ask Seattle, as the defending Super Bowl champions claim not only the best cornerback in the league (Richard Sherman), but the best safety (Earl Thomas) too. Combined with Ourlads’ No. 10 safety Kam Chancellor and No. 13 cornerback Byron Maxwell, and it’s pretty clear to see why the Seahawks’ defensive backfield is considered the best in the league.

 

With three of the four defenders taller than six foot and all but one weighing in at more than 200 pounds, this foursome has earned their “Legion of Boom” moniker for the heavy hits they deliver on the field. It also certainly doesn’t hurt to have a to represent them off of it either.

 

Rankings courtesy of

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Cornerbacks

 

1. Richard Sherman, Seattle

No one has more than the 20 interceptions he has collected since 2011. A smart and aggressive playmaker who is highly competitive. Good hands and hip flexibility. Uses height (6'3") and length to his advantage.

 

Related:

 

2. Darrelle Revis, New England

Was the Patriots’ target after Aqib Talib defected to Denver. New England is gambling that the league’s most dominant corner before his knee injury will return to his elite form.

 

3. Patrick Peterson, Arizona

Making a run as the NFL’s top corner. Big, fast, athletic, flexible, strong, intelligent, confident and competitive. Outstanding eye-hand coordination.

 

4. Vontae Davis, Indianapolis

Has had his ups and downs over his career, but was up in 2013. As the mainstay corner, he shows outstanding athletic ability. Reacts quickly on run support and forces the action quickly.

 

5. Aqib Talib, Denver

Staying on the field has been a bit of an issue in recent seasons, but when he’s out there, Taiib is one of the best cover corners in the league. There’s a reason the Broncos gave Talib $26 million in guaranteed money in his six-year contract and it just wasn’t to sign him away from rival New England.

 

6. Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona

Is listed at corner, but played free safety and lined up in the nickel packages as a corner. His athleticism gives the Cardinals’ secondary flexibility.

 

7. Desmond Trufant, Atlanta

Had a solid rookie season and demonstrated good short-area quickness, competitiveness and the ability to mirror receivers’ cuts. Confident and focused in his play.

 

8. Chris Harris, Denver

A playmaker who has few mental and physical errors. Good open-field wrap-up tackler. Rarely gives up run-after-catch yards.

 

9. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, NY Giants

Signed during free agency. After six years in the league, the Giants are hoping that the best is yet to come. A fluid and smooth athlete with good hands and quick feet.

 

10. Brent Grimes, Miami

Played big in 2013 despite coming off a torn Achilles tendon. He was rewarded with a long term deal. A consistent competitor who makes plays on the ball. Aggressive and smart in his play.

 

11. Alterraun Verner, Tampa Bay

12. Jason McCourty, Tennessee

13. Byron Maxwell, Seattle

14. Captain Munnerlyn, Minnesota

15. Brandon Boykin, Philadelphia

16. Tramaine Brock, San Francisco

17. Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo

18. Joe Haden, Cleveland

19. Keenan Lewis, New Orleans

20. Alan Ball, Jacksonville

21. William Gay, Pittsburgh

22. Lardarius Webb, Baltimore

23. Johnathan Joseph, Houston

24. Prince Amukamara, NY Giants

25. Drayton Florence, Free agent

26. Rashean Mathis, Detroit

27. Nickell Robey, Buffalo

28. Corey Graham, Buffalo

29. Walter Thurmond, NY Giants

30. Orlando Scandrick, Dallas

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Safeties

 

1. Earl Thomas, Seattle

The best free safety in the league and a defensive leader. A safety with corner skills. Has an inside feel for secondary play. Competitive and aggressive. Can force the run coming downhill or play the ball deep down the field.

 

2. Eric Weddle, San Diego

An instinctive safety with range and good ball skills. An intense and aggressive playmaker who makes plays when tight on a receiver. Has been highly productive over his career.

 

3. Devin McCourty, New England

Continues his renaissance at safety since moving from corner a few years ago. A good athlete with range and finishing speed. Drives quickly on the ball and can make a big hit or slap the ball away.

 

4. Jairus Byrd, New Orleans

A Pro Bowl-caliber safety with corner skills. Athletic and productive. May be the most instinctive safety in the league. Sudden to read and react. Will make all the calls in Rob Ryan’s defense.

 

5. Donte Whitner, Cleveland

One of the NFL’s most impactful hitters and instinctive players. Productive and active. Good anticipation. An intense competitor who can reroute receivers.

 

6. Eric Berry, Kansas City

Is a leader in the secondary and a Pro Bowl player at strong safety. An intelligent and instinctive player who has the awareness to recognize and quickly analyze offensive set tendencies.

 

7. Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh

Plays at an elite level when he’s on the field. He is fighting off age and time to continue to be one of the NFL’s dynamic playmakers. Intense and explosive.

 

8. T.J. Ward, Denver

Is a consistent tackler who is a hard hitter and has improved his overall pass-coverage skills. A competitor with good body control. Takes good support and pursuit angles.

 

9. Will Hill, NY Giants

When on the field he has all the tools and play of a Pro Bowl safety, but he is now facing his third suspension in three years.

 

10. Kam Chancellor, Seattle

One of the largest safeties in the league and has had several splash-type collisions over his career. His coverage skills have gotten better each year he has been in the league.

 

11. Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans

12. Antrel Rolle, NY Giants

13. Eric Reid, San Francisco

14. Michael Griffin, Tennessee

15. Chris Clemons, Houston

16. Glover Quin, Detroit

17. James Ihedigbo, Detroit

18. Reggie Nelson, Cincinnati

19. Bernard Pollard, Tennessee

20. Rafael Bush, New Orleans

21. Marcus Gilchrist, San Diego

22. Aaron Williams, Buffalo

23. George Iloka, Cincinnati

24. Jamarca Sanford, Minnesota

25. Michael Mitchell, Pittsburgh

26. Robert Lester, Carolina

27. Reshad Jones, Miami

28. George Wilson, Tennessee

29. Rashad Johnson, Arizona

30. Charles Woodson, Oakland

Teaser:
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Defensive Backs
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Richard Sherman, NFL, News
Path: /sherman
Body:

One of the big developments of the 2013 NFL season was the emergence of Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. He was not only a superior football player, but also a fixture in the headlines, making big plays and big noise. We caught up with the league's  shortly after he signed a new four-year, $57 million contract extension in early May.

 

Related:

 

Athlon Sports: You might be one of the most recognizable people in the world now, going to the White House Correspondents Dinner, getting saluted by Time Magazine and turning up everywhere. Has this new-found fame surprised you, and do you worry that it might change you?

Richard Sherman: I guess it’s unusual. I never expected to be thrown into the spotlight like this. I take it for what it is. I try to stay the same person. I know who I am. I don’t worry about it changing me too much. I’m pretty set in my ways. I just want to get better and be different.

 

After you were taken to task for speaking your mind, people now want your opinion on just about everything. Do you feel like you are the voice of the NFL?

I don’t mind it. It’s an honor that people think that way. I don’t know if I speak for the entire NFL. Everybody has their voice. But I like giving my opinion. I don’t mind being criticized either.

 

Is the NFC title game play referred to as “the Immaculate Deflection” the biggest play of your career?

Athletically, I’ve made better plays. As far as a big one, I don’t think I’ve made a bigger play. It got us into the Super Bowl. I had a feeling I’d get a chance. It was the final drive, cover 3, the strong safety leaned over. It was something we practice. We practice the tip drill all the time.

 

Who is the toughest wide receiver in the NFL to cover?

Doug Baldwin. I go against him every day. He’s super quick. He’s hard to stop. He runs different routes every time. On other teams? Megatron (Detroit’s Calvin Johnson) is a pretty tough cover. He’s real fast, real big and real strong.

 

What is your favorite opposing stadium to play in?

Dallas. They always have a party going on during the game. You go to a game in Dallas, and you know what I mean.

 

What other coach in the NFL, besides your own, would you like to play for?

Gus Bradley. I played for him before. His message is always the same: Think positive. It’s very similar to what we do in Seattle.

 

Some former Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls during their careers. With talk of a mini-Seattle dynasty, would four satisfy you? If not, how many?

I don’t know. It would have to be a lot. I’m a guy who tries not to limit himself. I wouldn’t limit myself to that. If we got five, then we’d want six.

 

You were a wide receiver at Stanford before switching to corner. Could you have been an elite NFL pass-catcher?

I think I’d be pretty good. You never know. I think I’d be able to at least hold my own. Elite? I couldn’t tell you unless I got out there. But with a good quarterback, a good system, I think I’d be OK.

 

Who is the best cornerback in NFL history and can that be you some day?

It’s somewhere between Mel Blount and Deion (Sanders). I’d need a lot more interceptions. I’ll figure it out soon enough. Anything is possible.

 

With three Pro Bowlers in the mix, and you and at your respective positions, who’s the Seahawks’ best defensive back?

Each one of us thinks he’s the best defensive back on the team. It’s a battle. Do we say anything to each other about it? Not really. It’s a known deal on the team that everybody really believes it’s him.

 

You were mad that you were a fifth-round draft pick. Does that mean you were mad at the Seahawks? And did you ever ask them why they waited so long to take you?

I was mad. I wasn’t as mad at them because they gave me opportunity. You can’t be too mad at them. I did ask them about it and they said they had me in the third round. But they said nobody took me and they had to address other needs.

 

When you were a kid, did you envision yourself playing in the NFL and for what team?

I always pictured it once I figured out they were paying people for a game I was playing for free. It was, oh man, I want to do that. The Raiders were the team. We saw them the most in L.A. I wore their stuff. My whole family did.

 

It’s hard for anyone to play for just one NFL team. Do you think you will spend your entire career in Seattle?

The city surprised me. I was incredibly happy with it. It’s unique from any place I’ve ever been, with its greenery and outdoor stuff, all that boating. It’s been a great opportunity. One team? I get a couple more years with this, so we’ll see.

 

When your pro football career is done, what comes next for you? Will you be mayor of Los Angeles? Or Seattle?

I’m trying to figure out what I want to do. I want to stay around the world of sports, but I want to be a philanthropist and be a positive influence around kids. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll do, but philanthropy will be part of it.

Teaser:
Q&A with Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-july-15-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 15:

. Just copy and paste the name for future reference.

.

, and of course it was glorious.

• If the Yankees are just playing out the string, . Of course, the Captain will have a tough time topping .

.

• Tight end, wide receiver, longsnapper, doesn't matter:.

, and it was awesome with a capital a.

. Many of these I was aware of, but not all.

• Cool old story that is new to me: .

.

• Watch Rudy explain the college football playoff.

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 10:47
All taxonomy terms: Baylor Bears, College Football, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/baylor-football-game-game-predictions-2014
Body:

Baylor is coming off its first outright conference title since 1980. The Bears finished 11-2 last year, which included victories over Oklahoma and Texas, along with a 35-25 win over Kansas State in early October.

The expectations at Baylor are on the rise. Under coach Art Briles, the Bears have played in four consecutive bowls, upgraded their recruiting, and there’s a new stadium on the way for 2014.

Baylor is considered by most to be a frontrunner for the Big 12 title, but there are holes to fill. The offensive line lost standout guard Cyril Richardson, and the defense returns only four starters.

With a trip to Oklahoma in late November on tap, Baylor should have plenty of time to fill the voids on both sides of the ball.

Related:    

 

The Expert Panel:

 

Steven Lassan, (), 
Allen Kenney, (), 
David Fox (), 
Chris Anderson (), 
Braden Gall (), 
Aaron Dickens (),
Mark Ross (), 

 

Early Game-by-Game Predictions for Baylor in 2014
 Steven
Lassan
Allen 
Kenney
David 
Fox
Chris
Anderson
Braden
Gall
Aaron
Dickens
Mark
Ross
SMU
NW State
at Buffalo
at Iowa State
at Texas
TCU
at West Virginia
Kansas
at Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech
(Arlington)
Kansas State
Final Projection:10-210-210-29-311-110-210-2

 

Steven Lassan ()

It’s a close call for the No. 1 spot in the Big 12 this season, but I think Baylor is just a small step behind Oklahoma. Offense and scoring points won’t be a problem in Waco in 2014, as Bryce Petty is considered the No. 1 quarterback in the Big 12, Shock Linwood is set to breakout at running back, and the receiving corps is among the best in the nation. The offensive line should be fine (eventually this year), but there’s definitely concern anytime you have to replace a guard of Cyril Richardson’s caliber, and left tackle Spencer Drango is coming off season-ending back surgery. And it’s a good thing Baylor’s offense is among the nation’s best, as the defense is a work in progress. In conference games last year, the Bears held opponents to only 4.8 yards per play. With just four starters back, the defense has significant holes to fill and leadership voids to replace. The defensive line could be the best in the Big 12, which should help ease the losses in the secondary. I think the road trip to Oklahoma will decide who wins the conference, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Baylor stumbles at Texas or even to TCU in early October. This program is in good shape overall, as improved recruiting has upgraded the depth on the roster. The defense has its share of concerns, and the offensive line has a few question marks. However, Baylor should be a top-10 team in 2014 and could push for the Big 12 title if coordinator Phil Bennett quickly finds the right answers.


Chris Anderson (),

Bryce Petty and Company will still be scoring points with the best of them, but a lack of depth on defense will result in a couple late season losses - and a couple close wins that should have been blowouts.


Aaron Dickens, (),

No team looked better through the first two months of last season than Baylor. The Bears' assault on stats and records tailed off once the scheduled toughened in November but, outside of a 49-17 drubbing in Stillwater and the Fiesta Bowl meltdown to UCF, the wins kept coming.

 

Baylor has had a better four-year run than any other team in the Big 12 and there are plenty of reasons to expect that trend to continue for Art Briles' program.

 

I'll be interested to see how the Bears' defense fares this season. The team's defensive front should be among the league's best but the secondary was decimated by graduation and, obviously, that's always a concern in the Big 12. BU will also be facing a much-improved crop of quarterbacks in the Big 12 -- Bryce Petty and Kansas State's Jake Waters were the only quarterbacks in the league to start every game last season -- so it wouldn't surprise me much to see Phil Bennett's defense be a bit less aggressive than it was in 2013.


Allen Kenney (),

After years of building a program that could challenge for the top of the Big 12, everything came together for Art Briles and his Bears in 2013. The Baylor offense scorched the earth en route to the league title, but it was the defense's emergence that really put the Bears over the top. BU still has the conference's reigning offensive player of the year, quarterback Bryce Petty, and plenty of weapons. The D, on the other hand, lost a host of standout veterans.

 

Petty and Co. have more than enough firepower to stay in the upper echelon of the Big 12. However, Briles and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett probably haven't stocked the other side of the ball well enough to repeat as champs. Catching Oklahoma and Texas on the road this year hurts the Bears' chances, too.


Braden Gall ()

Baylor's entire schedule really comes down to two massive road games at Oklahoma and at Texas. The trip to Austin won't be nearly as challenging but the trip to Norman will likely end up exactly how the first 11 have gone — with Oklahoma wins. Still, if Baylor wins every other game, not only could it share a Big 12 title but could possibly sneak into the playoff. Can you imagine the backlash if two Big 12 teams landed in the playoff?


David Fox ()

Baylor should cruise through the non-conference again. Buffalo is a strange road trip, but no Khalil Mack means no problem for Baylor. I like the way the conference schedule sets up. Matchups against TCU and Kansas State could give Baylor trouble, but both are in Waco. And that TCU matchup is early enough in the year where the Horned Frogs’ offense may be taking shape. That’s why I picked Texas Tech in Arlington as the upset. Teams have to be able to score 35 points or more to beat Baylor. The Red Raiders can do that.


Mark Ross ()

There's little doubt in my mind that Baylor will score a bunch of points again. Bryce Petty could very well earn an invite to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York in December even though he will be throwing to a relatively inexperienced group of pass-catchers. My concerns with Baylor, however, come on the other side of the ball. Losing eight starters from a defense that more than held its own last season will be tough to replace, especially in a offensive-minded conference like the Big 12. Still, the Bears should score enough to get to double-digit wins, provided they take care of business in their new home, McLane Stadium. The Nov. 8 visit to Norman will be tough and could be what ends up deciding the Big 12 title, but Art Briles' team can't overlook a tricky back-to-back in October with Texas and TCU either.

Teaser:
Baylor Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/west-virginia-football-game-game-predictions-2014
Body:

enters its third season in the Big 12 with plenty of work to do. The Mountaineers are just 6-12 in conference play over the last two years and finished 4-8 overall in 2013.

Coach Dana Holgorsen is regarded as one of the top offensive minds in the nation. However, quarterback play is a question mark for West Virginia in 2014, especially if Clint Trickett struggles to return to full strength early in the year.

The Mountaineers weren’t as bad on defense as the numbers indicated last season. Injuries played a role in the final statistics, but this unit is primed for improvement under the direction of first-year coordinator Tony Gibson.

Coming off a 4-8 mark last year, there’s enormous pressure on Holgorsen to show improvement in 2014.

Of course, that’s not going to be easy with a schedule that features games against Alabama and Maryland in non-conference play.

Related:    


The Expert Panel:

 

Steven Lassan, (), 
Allen Kenney, (),
David Fox (),
Chris Anderson (),
Braden Gall (),
Aaron Dickens (),
Mark Ross (),

 

Early Game-by-Game Predictions for West Virginia in 2014
 Steven
Lassan
Allen
Kenney
David
Fox
Chris
Anderson
Braden
Gall
Aaron
Dickens
Mark
Ross
Alabama (Atlanta)
Towson
at Maryland
Oklahoma
Kansas
at TTU
Baylor
at OK State
TCU
at Texas
K-State
at Iowa State
Final Prediction:3-93-95-78-43-94-82-10
Steven Lassan ()

Outside of Texas, West Virginia is the biggest wildcard in the Big 12 this year. The Mountaineers have the talent to top last year’s record, but the schedule is just brutal. I think it’s likely this team will be more competitive on the field and struggle to show any improvement on the win column. Non-conference games against Alabama and Maryland leave little room for error to get to a bowl, and West Virginia plays swing games against Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Iowa State on the road. Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell should help the rushing attack, and the defense returns six starters, while rising stars in cornerback Daryl Worley and safety Karl Joseph should help bolster a secondary that finished last in the Big 12 in 2013. Admittedly, my projection of West Virginia to get to three wins seems low. However, I’m just not sure the schedule is conducive to major improvement in the win column. This will be a better team in 2014, but it may not show in the final win tally.
 

Aaron Dickens, (),

Fit is an extremely underrated aspect of any coaching hire in college football -- just ask Tommy Tuberville -- and I think West Virginia's last 18 games have shown that Dana Holgorsen isn't a great fit for the Mountaineers. Holgorsen hasn't forgotten how to coach in the last two years, but for whatever reason the 'Eers are trending downward and his tenure seems destined to end sooner than later.

 

The cruel part is that WVU would probably be a bowl team were it not for non-conference games away from Morgantown against Alabama and Maryland. Give Baylor's non-conference schedule to the 'Eers and there's little doubt in my mind that the Mountaineers would hit the six-win mark.

 

Clint Trickett is an obvious X-factor for WVU. He was seemingly learning Holgorsen's system on the fly last season and was further limited by a nagging shoulder injury. Trickett is fully healthy -- he sat out spring practice -- and is presumably more comfortable in Holgorsen's Air Raid offense, so it will be interesting to see how much he has improved.

 

Chris Anderson (),

Dana Holgorsen was an offensive genius for over a decade. I don't believe he suddenly lost it. I look for WVU's offense to get back up and running, and an improved defense will be adequate enough to help when the offense sputters.


Braden Gall ()

The Mountaineers should be much better in 2014 but I'm not sure if the record will show that. A brutal non-conference slate makes getting to a bowl game or improving on last year's record highly unlikely. Kansas and TCU at home are the best shots at wins within the league while road wins in Ames and Lubbock will be tough to come by. Five wins feels like a best case scenario and that feels like a big reach for a team that has fallen off the map competitively.

 

Allen Kenney (),

After a disastrous end to the 2012 season and an equally awful 2013, West Virginia should be an improved team in 2014. Unfortunately, that won't show up in the Mountaineers' record.

 

WVU was plagued by subpar quarterback play last season, enabling opposing defenses to key in on what could have been a decent running game. If senior Clint Trickett can stay healthy, it should at least give Dana Holgorsen's team a little stability under center. The players at the skill positions won't exactly keep opponents up at night, though, which means Holgo will have to rely on this patented creativity to manufacture some points. Defensively, the 'Eers have experience and should be solid. A wildcard will be what long-time Penn State assistant Tom Bradley brings to the D as WVU's new defensive line coach.

 

The biggest hurdle for Holgo's crew looks to be the schedule. Notably, WVU is playing almost anything resembling a 50-50 game on the road: Maryland, Texas Tech, OSU and ISU all host the Mountaineers this year. Factor in almost assured loss to Alabama in a neutral site contest and bowl eligibility starts to appear more and more remote.

 

On the whole, the last 18 games or so haven't been kind to West Virginia. Right now, it's hard to see things turning around quickly.

 

David Fox ()

West Virginia still has a long way to go before the Mountaineers get back to where they were before joining the Big 12. Enough went wrong last season that it’s tough to picture West Virginia struggling as much as it did last season with losses to Kansas and Iowa State. A bowl game is an uphill battle. Clint Trickett’s toughness and the arrival of Rushel Shell should solidify the backfield, enough to tease a bowl game as long as West Virginia can beat teams like Maryland, TCU, Texas Tech and Kansas State here. I’ve picked West Virginia to split those toss-up games to fall to 5-7.


Mark Ross ()

It could be another long season for West Virginia fans, and that doesn't bode well for head coach Dana Holgorsen. The Mountaineers sputtered on offense and imploded on defense last season, and it's tough for me to see things getting better this fall. A strong start to the season would be huge, but that's not going to happen with Alabama on tap in the Georgia Dome. The one home non-conference game (Towson) and the date with Kansas are the only "guaranteed" wins that I see. I'm not saying that West Virginia won't finish with more than two wins, but with a home slate that includes Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU and Kansas State, it's hard for me to see this Mountaineers team pile up the wins on the road.

Teaser:
West Virginia Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/great-coaches-improved-facilities-and-new-tv-deal-have-fueled-pac-12s-rise
Body:

It’s understandable that David Shaw would be somewhat conflicted when it comes to the nine-game conference schedule. On the one hand, the fourth-year coach is a competitor, and there is something appealing about being the ruling party two seasons running in a league that tests manhood like no other.

 

He is also a pragmatist, and when he sees the annual parade of late-season scrimmages favored by SEC schools — hello, Furman, Appalachian State, Chattanooga and Florida Atlantic — he gets a little jealous, although he may have chuckled when he saw Georgia Southern knock off Florida last year.

 

“We would have loved to have put a game (like that) between UCLA and last year,” Shaw says.

 

Stanford survived that test against back-to-back ranked opponents. It even knocked off Oregon 12 days later. But the Cardinal eventually succumbed to the grind and dropped a 20–17 decision at USC. Shaw can’t complain too much, because even though the loss was in mid-November, Stanford still won the Pac-12 North and then whipped for the conference crown. By the time the game against ASU was over, the Cardinal had played six league games against ranked opponents. “And that doesn’t include a ranked Notre Dame team and a ranked Michigan State team in the Rose Bowl,” Shaw says.

 

Shaw would be wise to avoid seeking sympathy for his team’s tough schedule. Not too many people would commiserate, given Stanford’s recent run of success under him and predecessor Jim Harbaugh. His point is less a woe-is-me complaint than a celebration of the growth and increased success. Once known for its wacky explosions of points and a rather cavalier approach to defense, the conference has become deeper, stronger and more able to make a national impression. Thanks to improved commitments to on-field success throughout the conference and a more focused branding effort from the conference office, the Pac-12 is escaping its previous image as a league on the fringes, whose Saturday night games served as lullabies for half the country.

 

“Right now, the conference is the best it has ever been,” says coach Mark Helfrich, who grew up in country and has spent more than a decade coaching in the conference. “The depth and talent of teams and coaching staffs are so much better than they were. The facilities and the commitment to the facilities are off the charts.”

 

Last year, Pac-12 schools went 6–3 in bowl competition, an impressive performance that included 75 percent of the conference’s members. (, Utah and Colorado were the lone exclusions.) Thanks to new deals with ESPN and Fox and the league’s bold step to create its own TV network, media revenues are soaring, and thanks to a new program that divides the spoils equally, there is an opportunity for everyone to benefit. Commissioner Larry Scott, who this fall enters his fifth school year atop the conference, has employed his promotional savvy to help bolster the Pac-12 brand throughout the nation.

 

The Pac-12 still must fight the time-difference issue, but its national image is on the rise, and as one of the lucky Big Five conferences that will get preferred treatment with this year’s debut of the College Football Playoff, it is positioned well for future prosperity.

 

Although the league crows about its success in all sports and has won more aggregate national championships than any other confederation, the true measure of the Pac-12’s — or any other conference’s — health is football. In that regard, things are looking good.

 

“We are heading in the right direction from a football standpoint and from the standpoint of a lot of sports,” athletic director Greg Byrne says. “We’ve always been strong historically across the board, but we have seen that schools have done a good job investing in their infrastructures, and some of that has been done through increased conference revenue and donations.”

 

When Scott took over the league in the summer of 2009, the Pac-12 was fifth among BCS conferences — ahead of only the Big East — in terms of TV money and national football perception. While USC was playing great ball, and those Oregon uniforms sure attracted the teenage crowd, depth was lacking. There was some discontent among the ranks, because larger-market schools were getting more of the conference pot than were those in outposts such as Corvallis and Pullman.

 

Within a year, the league had announced the additions of and , negotiated new TV deals with ESPN and Fox that more than tripled revenues from the Pac-12’s previous contracts and decided to split any income evenly among its members. (Utah and Colorado went through a three-year probationary period upon entering the conference, during which they received less than other members.) With the improvement of several programs — went to a bowl last year! — the Pac-12 is now healthy financially and on the rise on the football field. Throw in a concerted effort to bring the conference brand to a wider audience, the better to boost Pac-12 Networks revenue and also enrollment, and you have an impressive package.

 

“Day to day, as coaches, we don’t think about marketing the conference,” Shaw says. “We have a great combination of an unbelievable group of coaches who are pushing players to be national contenders and a commissioner that is pushing the league to be the best in everything. You have to recognize that.”

 

coach Jim Mora was nowhere near Westwood when USC and Pete Carroll were winning back-to-back national title in 2003-04. But Mora, who spent part of his youth in L.A. before moving to Seattle and graduating from the University of , understands fully the value for a conference of having the best team in the country carrying the standard. Over the past several years, there have been some with the temerity to suggest that the SEC isn’t the best conference around. They were shouted down by those who reminded them that no matter how bad some of its members may be, the past seven national champs have been SEC schools. That streak ended in 2013, but not without a conference member (Auburn) staging a pretty good run at the crown.

 

So, Pac-12 fans will have to excuse Mora when he doesn’t jump for joy over last year’s 6–3 bowl record. He’s proud to be part of a league with good depth and plenty of talent, but Mora understands that real recognition doesn’t come until someone from the conference can jab an index finger skyward and shout, “We’re number one!”

 

“It’s great when the whole league is good, because it shines a brighter light on teams excelling in any given year and gives teams the respect they deserve,” he says. “But we need to win some national championships.

 

“The only way we will get national respect is by winning a national championship in football.”

 

Mora understands that the recent success by Stanford and Oregon atop the Pac-12 has attracted more eyes to the league. He also understands that real legitimacy comes from having a team on top. That’s why you’ll probably read a bunch of articles leading up to the start of this season about how ACC football is making great strides, thanks to Florida State’s 2013 national title. It’s nice to have teams that can win the Sun and Hawaii Bowls, but that kind of second-tier success only looks good when a league can also wave the biggest banner of them all.

 

Pac-12 coaches believe there is sufficient talent to make it happen. The state of California alone has enough talent to stock three or four national contenders. Throw in major population centers like Seattle, Phoenix and Denver, and there are a lot of top FBS players from which to choose. Thanks to the improved television coverage, it’s possible to expand that area eastward, the better to offset the recruiting efforts of schools from other parts of the country that pillage the Pac-12’s recruiting stocks.

 

“We’re getting farther east,” Helfrich says. “TV makes this a smaller country and allows us to get players from Florida, New Jersey and Michigan. We can get in a living room and tell parents that they will be able to watch their son on TV every weekend. They’ll be able to look at his face and see if he needs a phone call.”

 

Shaw, who insists that Stanford is “the one true national recruiter in college football,” loves the fact that the Pac-12 Networks, while hardly able to boast universal clearance, still reaches parts of the Northeast and Deep South. For a highly selective private school, that’s a big deal. But it’s not just the Pac-12 Networks. The deals with ESPN and Fox have brought the conference’s product to a much wider audience. When Scott took over, only 39 percent of the league’s football and men’s hoops games were broadcast nationally, and 10 percent of the football games didn’t have any TV exposure, according to a November 2013 New York Times report.

 

“We tell kids to find the Pac-12 Networks and watch us,” Shaw says. “They can see the player profiles and learn about the rest of the conference. They can say, ‘I may be from Virginia, but I can see the stadium and see the school.’ It’s more than just a coach telling them about it.

 

“It makes it real.”

 

What the prospects see is a conference with a lot going on. Many people think of Pac-12 football as just Oregon’s funky uniforms and that crazy duck on the back of a motorcycle. That show has certainly helped the conference’s identity. Stanford’s success has done a lot, too. But now that coaches like Mike Leach, Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham have brought their spread attacks to the league, there may be more potent offenses in the league than ever before.

 

“You have so many different styles,” Shaw says. “You have to tweak what you do every week. You have to be unique with what you do but also be ready to face different kinds of teams every week. There are lots of spread teams, but they are different spread teams. You have to be able to adjust.”

 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Pac-12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The rise of Mora’s UCLA team has made things interesting, too. Granted, it has helped the Bruins that cross-town rival has been struggling with probation, but the Bruins’ success has given the Pac-12 another school capable of attracting national attention.

 

Given UCLA’s recent basketball travails — and the short memories of today’s high school students — the “basketball school” label that has haunted the Bruin football program may not apply in a few years, especially if it can establish itself as the place to go for the Golden State’s talented high school recruits.

 

“California is bursting with talent,” Mora says. “Everybody is in California trying to pluck guys. Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas are all crossing our borders. But there is also a tremendous amount of talent and good football played in the Northwest and throughout the West Coast. There’s a lot of talent here.”

 

Those standouts who choose to stay home and play for Pac-12 schools are doing so as much for the facilities as they are for the cool offensive schemes. And that’s something new. All across the conference, schools are adding new stadiums, offices and workout centers or beefing up existing sites. The new contracts and more equitable distribution program are allowing schools like Washington State to be more competitive with the rest of the league, from a facilities standpoint.

 

Even though Utah didn’t receive a full revenue share during its first three years in the league, that didn’t stop it from transforming the $10 million football center it had planned while still a Mountain West Conference member into a $32 million project once it joined the Pac-12. The school raised half the money through fundraising and the other half through a bond issue, which it had never done before.

 

“We had to decide, ‘Do we want to be in the Pac-12 to have a nice time or to compete?’” Utah AD Chris Hill says. “We want to compete.”

 

While schools boost their facilities’ profiles, and coaches work to make their teams more competitive, Scott sells the Pac-12 brand, bringing football and men’s basketball bosses east before every season to meet with media who don’t cross the Rocky Mountains (or the Mississippi, for that matter) very often. He fights to get the Pac-12 Networks greater carriage on cable and satellite providers across the country. The goal is to create a brand that rivals those of the Big Ten and SEC, which had far better profiles than their western counterpart just a few years ago.

 

It hasn’t all been perfect. Money from the Pac-12 Networks is not exactly pouring in. Rather than partner with an established TV presence like ESPN (SEC) or Fox (Big Ten), Scott decided to go it alone. “No one else has been able to do what we were able to do,” he says. “We can control programming and control branding and the messaging on it. That’s important to our universities.”

 

Some are not happy that the pioneer spirit has resulted in a smaller revenue stream, but Scott points to the opportunity to have flexibility and control down the road.

 

“It’s very much a long-term strategic initiative,” he says. “We are off to a great start.”
 

That can’t be denied. schools are making money, winning on the football field and gaining notice nationwide. There is work to be done, but a lot of problems could be overcome with a national title.

 

“The one thing that will define us as the conference is national championships,” Mora says. “Not one, but multiple.

 

“That will take time.”

 

Not as much as once was thought.

 

Written by Michael Bradley () for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 Pac-12 Football Preview Editions.  to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Teaser:
Great Coaches, Improved Facilities and New TV Deal Have Fueled Pac-12's Rise
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/10-most-important-terrible-qb-matchups-2014
Body:

Sure, we are all looking forward to for a potential playoff spot in mid-October. How about Bryce Petty visiting Trevor Knight for a Big 12 championship? I can’t wait for Braxton Miller’s shot at revenge against Connor Cook in East Lansing.

 

Fans can only hope to get a Mariota-Jameis Winston quarterback matchup in the national championship game. Or Miller vs. Winston. Or Miller vs. Mariota. Or Hundley vs. any of them.

 

There are plenty of elite quarterback matchups set to take place in 2014. But what about the best, most important matchups of the year that could feature seriously questionable quarterback play?

 

Here are the most anticipated matchups of the year that will likely feature less than stellar play under center:

 

LSU at Florida (Oct. 11)

Brandon Harris could eventually be a star in the SEC but he will go through lots of growing pains in 2014 should he earn the starting spot. Florida welcomes back Jeff Driskel to the starting lineup as well as a new offensive coordinator for the third time in four seasons.  Both teams have aspirations of competing within their respective divisions but QB play will be a huge storyline to track for both traditional SEC powers.

 

Miami at Virginia Tech (Oct. 23)

The Hokies are picked first in the Coastal Division and the Hurricanes are picked second. Both will feature a transfer under center and neither team has any idea what it will get from the QB position this fall. Michael Brewer comes to Blacksburg from Texas Tech and has lots of ability while Miami could turn to former BYU and Kansas signal-caller Jake Heaps.

 

LSU vs. Wisconsin (Aug. 30)

LSU figures to get improved QB play as the year goes along from either Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris. Wisconsin has an incumbent in Joel Stave but Gary Andersen has made it known the starting spot is up for grabs. So in Week 1 and with two of the best running games in the nation, this Big Ten-SEC showdown could feature upwards of 100 handoffs.

 

Miami at Nebraska (Sept. 20)

Both the Huskers and Hurricanes feel like they have a shot to win their respective conference's division this year and both will have question marks under center. Tommy Armstrong got plenty of experience last year and has upside but needs to prove it as just a sophomore. Miami is in much worse shape as Kansas transfer Jake Heaps could take over the reins. Expectations are high for both teams and an early-season, non-conference matchup in Lincoln should be fun to watch. Especially, considering the national title history between these two.

 

Florida vs. SEC East

Jeff Driskel has a chance to redeem himself in 2014 and many expect Florida to be much better this fall. But Driskel has to prove he can stay healthy and be consistent for that to happen. The good news is the rest of the SEC East is also dealing with unknowns at the QB position. Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri feel confident in the guy they will be running out there but none have ever been a starter. And Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky could be using first-year starters.

 

LSU at Texas A&M (Nov. 27)

LSU once again makes an appearance and odds are that both the Aggies and Tigers have much better QB play on Thanksgiving than they will early in the year. Kyle Allen looks to be the heir apparent to Johnny Manziel but will be just a true freshman — albeit an extremely highly-touted freshman. Should problems persist for both teams under center, this season finale could end up defining either's 2014 campaign.

 

Nebraska at Wisconsin (Nov. 15)

Fans of both teams should expect growth at the QB position throughout the course of the season but there is no guarantee that either Armstrong or Stave is still the starter by mid-November. With a potential trip to the Big Ten title game on the line, quarterback play will become imperative for both squads by the time these two meet near the end of the year.

 

Washington at Arizona (Nov. 15)

The Huskies are not only breaking in a new head coach in Chris Petersen but also a new quarterback after Keith Price departed. Cyler Miles looks the part of a future star but has yet to prove it on the field. Rich Rodriguez has plenty of options (maybe, too many) and will have to settle on either a guy who doesn't fit his system (Jesse Scroggins) or a very inexperienced player (Anu Solomon). For two popular sleeper teams in the Pac-12, quarterback play will be a huge storyline all season long.

 

TCU at Texas (Nov. 27)

Both teams look to be improved this year and both are eyeing the postseason. But both could have major quarterback questions all season. The questions for David Ash aren't talent-related. There is no telling how long he can stay healthy. Meanwhile, in Fort Worth, Matt Joeckel transfers in from Texas A&M and tries to stabilize a position that has flustered Gary Patterson since the departure of Andy Dalton. Pecking order in the Big 12 figures to hang in the balance when these two developing Lone Star rivals get together on Thanksgiving Day.

 

Duke vs. Miami/Virginia Tech

The defending champs of the ACC's Coastal Division return Anthony Boone but the Duke starter struggled at times last year. With Brandon Connette gone to Fresno State, all of David Cutcliffe's eggs are in Boone's basket. And when the Blue Devils play Miami (Sept. 27) and Virginia Tech (Nov. 15), the Coastal title could be on the line. All three teams have concerns at the position entering the year.

Teaser:
10 Most Important Terrible QB Matchups of 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-best-7-7-teams-2014
Body:

The middle of summer is upon us, and for many elite high school prospects, that means 7-on-7 competitions.

If quarterbacks, receivers and running backs aren’t working on passing skeletons in their spare time, they’re probably at one of the showcases or tournaments.

Last week’s 7-on-7 drills at The Opening in Beaverton, Ore., and this week’s National Select 7-on-7 championship in Hoover, Ala., have us wondering which college team would have the best 7-on-7 squad in 2014.

Take away the offensive line and the defense, which offenses would we want to watch play against air? We’ve noted the national unit rankings for quarterbacks, running backs and receivers as published in our 2014 preview magazines.

 A silly exercise, but it is the middle of July.

1. Florida State
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 1 | RB: 7 | WR/TE: 4
Could it be anyone else? The returning Heisman winner at quarterback is the headliner here, but Jameis Winston still has plenty of company despite personnel departures. Kelvin Benjamin and his 15 touchdown catches are gone as are the top two running backs. Rashad Greene may become the school’s career-leading receiver, and Kermit Whitfield and Isaiah Jones are up-and-comers. Nick O’Leary, who averaged 16.9 yards per catch last season, could be the nation’s top tight end. Former safety Karlos Williams proved himself a breakaway threat at running back with 8.0 yards per carry last season. Even while playing against live defenses, Florida State led the nation at 7.7 yards per play.

2. Baylor
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 4 | RB: 19 | WR/TE: 2
Baylor sure looked like a 7-on-7 squad early last season, when it racked up numbers at a record pace against an overmatched non-conference schedule. Eventually, the Bears proved it had depth, too. Receiver Levi Norwood and running back Shock Linwood stepped in for injured starters, and Baylor didn’t miss a beat. Both return in bigger roles this season. And then there’s Bryce Petty, who finished last season with 32 touchdowns and three interceptions in his first season as a starter. He’ll have two returning starters at receiver back in Antwan Goodley and Corey Coleman.

3. Auburn
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 6 | RB: 14 | WR/TE: 7
In a league short on experienced quarterbacks, Auburn will have a leg up on the SEC with Nick Marshall. The Tigers want Marshall to develop as a passer this season. A year ago, backing off Marshall the passer and focusing on the run game helped turned Auburn into SEC champions. A year after averaging 21.5 yards per catch, Sammie Coates earned a spot atop . Auburn should have plenty of bodies in the run game to replace Tre Mason. The question is how Cameron Artis-Payne, the speedy Corey Grant, inside zone threat Peyton Barber and talented freshmen will end up in the rotation.

4. Alabama
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: NR | RB: 1 | WR/TE: 1
Alabama is back to the two-man running back tandem after T.J. Yeldon rushed 115 times more than anyone else last season. Yeldon and Sugar Bowl star Derrick Henry may come closer to approaching the Yeldon/Eddie Lacy duo in 2012 that topped 2,400 yards. Breakaway threat Amari Cooper leads the a veteran receivers group, and O.J. Howard is a weapon at tight end few Nick Saban teams have had. The question is Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. Jimbo Fisher has talked him up since the quarterback left Tallahassee, but he’s still an unknown quantity.

5. Georgia
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: NR | RB: 2 | WR/TE: 3
Georgia would have had one of the best 7-on-7 teams last season had this group stayed healthy. The Bulldogs will make another run for it this season, though with senior Hutson Mason replacing SEC career leading passer Aaron Murray. The star here, though, is Todd Gurley. Think he’s a big deal? Georgia averaged two yards per play more on drives when Gurley carried compared to when he didn’t. The receiver group is deep, especially if it can stay healthy. Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley missed significant time last season, but that allowed Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, who missed two games with an MCL injury, take more prominent roles.

6. Oregon
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 2 | RB: 10 | WR/TE: NR
Marcus Mariota is much more effective when he can run, but he still finished last season with 31 touchdowns and four interceptions despite a balky knee for a stretch. Running back as usual is loaded for Oregon with Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner (1,739 yards, 23 touchdowns combined) returning. The question will be at receiver with sure-handed receiver Josh Huff gone and Bralon Addison out with a torn ACL.

7. USC
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: NR | RB: 8 | WR/TE: 9
Cody Kessler’s season took off in 2013 after the coaching switch, culminating with 344 yards and four touchdowns in the bowl game against Fresno State. Receiver Marqise Lee is out, but USC as usual has another star No. 1 receiver ready to take over in Nelson Agholor. The underrated portion may be the running backs where Buck Allen emerged under the new coaching staff for 785 yards and 15 total touchdowns. The best news in all of this: Offensive coordinator Clay Helton is back.

8. UCLA
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 5 | RB: NR | WR/TE: 18
Brett Hundley will keep UCLA in Pac-12 contention after passing for more than 3,000 yards and rushing for more than 700 to go with 35 total touchdowns. Leading receiver Shaq Evans is gone, but the next four players in line are sophomores and juniors ready to break out. Running back needs an upgrade after linebacker Myles Jack swooped in and propped up the run game with seven rushing touchdowns.

9. Michigan State
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 11 | RB: 11 | WR/TE: 17
Michigan State may not be the program anyone names when it comes to dynamic offense, but the 2014 skill positions are solid across the board. Mark Dantonio trusted Connor Cook with more of the offense as the season went along, and Jeremy Langford topped 100 yards in eight consecutive games before the Rose Bowl victory. The receiver group led by Tony Lippett is deep and underrated.

 

10. Ohio State
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 3 | RB: 15 | WR/TE: 19
Braxton Miller remains one of the nation’s most dynamic quarterbacks, and he’s continuing to get better. His completion percentage went up five points from last season with only a marginal change in yards per attempt. Devin Smith can be a deep threat at receiver, and Evan Spencer is a returning starter. Carlos Hyde is a major loss at running back, so Miller may be under more pressure to handle a heavy burden of the offense.

11. North Carolina
Athlon national unit rankings for 2014:
QB: 19 | RB: 24 | WR/TE: 12
Though his end of season statistics were boosted by a 409-yard, five-touchdown performance against Old Dominion, Marquise Williams did enough in the air and on the ground to signal he could be the best ACC quarterback not named Jameis. North Carolina has a pair of 6-4 receivers (Quinshad Davis and Bug Howard) who combined for 14 touchdown catches last season to go with an effective committee of running backs.

Others of note: BYU, Ole Miss, Stanford, Texas A&M

Teaser:
College Football's Best 7-on-7 Teams for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/appreciate-hassle-players-rules-media-day
Body:

HOOVER, Ala. — In baseball, most pinch-hitters take their at-bat and head back to the dugout. It’s one hitter, one pitcher and the day is done.

Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah pinch hit for more than three hours, taking the best (and sadly, the worst) the SEC media contingent had to offer.

When Auburn coach Gus Malzahn pulled his SEC champion quarterback Nick Marshall from the media day roster Monday, he called on Uzomah.

Instead of a quarterback who passed for more than 1,900 yards and rushed for more than 1,000, Uzomah and his 17 career receptions represented Auburn at media day. Instead of a quarterback who had just been cited for marijuana possession over the weekend, Auburn sent a senior who otherwise expected to enjoy a quiet Monday.

“It is a privilege and a reward to represent Auburn here at the SEC Media Days,” Malzahn said. “Last Friday Nick lost that privilege.”

But is it really a privilege, hearing the same questions over and over again, many of which were the same questions back in the spring and the fall? There’s a way for a player to survive media day. Here’s what we learned from following Uzomah and asking some seasoned vets for the survival guide.

As Alabama quarterback-turned-ESPN and Sirius XM host Greg McElroy says, “appreciate the hassle.”

borrowed from @SEC.

 

Rule 1: Call mom
 

The first call to replace Marshall went from Mazlahn to Uzomah. The second was from Uzomah to mom.

 

Some teams will show up in suits. Some will show up in team polos. Auburn went for suits, and Uzomah didn’t have one on campus.

Never underestimate mom’s devotion to make a kid look good. His mom drove two-and-half hours from Suwanee, Ga., to Auburn, Ala., to bring him his suit.

Maybe mom didn’t bring dress socks. Maybe she did, but Uzomah wasn’t going to pass on a chance to turn his socks into a conversation piece. Uzomah is a U.S. soccer fan and used red, white and blue socks with a small flag hanging off the ankle.

Like Uzomah, Florida’s Dante Fowler called mom for a trip to Men’s Warehouse. Mom picked out the suit, but Fowler needed to accessorize.

“I saw a bow tie, and I said as long as I get this bow tie I’m fine,” Fowler said. “(Defensive lineman) Alex McCallister tied it for me. It was too tight on my neck, but Alex is 6-7 so his long arms helped out.”

Rule 2: Prep for questions


Even on media day, players need to put in some study time. Media has its own tendencies just like any offense or defense.

All of Auburn’s players had to answer to some degree for Marshall. Did he address the team (he did). Does he still have the team’s trust (he does).

“We prepared just like it was a game,” Uzomah said.

When McElroy came for media day before his senior season in 2010, he and his teammates knew most of the questions that were going to be asked.

“What’s Nick Saban like? What’s Trent (Richardson) like? What’s Mark Ingram like? Can you win the national championship? Can you do it again?” McElroy said. “We knew what the questions are going to be.”

 

THE SCHEDULE

 

Here’s where C.J. Uzomah was for SEC Media Day:
11:50-12:00 Radio
12:00-12:10 Fox Sports South
12:10-12:30 TV
12:30-12:50 Print/Online Media
12:50-1:10 ESPN
1:10-1:20 CBS.com
1:20-1:30 CBS
1:30-1:40 SEC Video
1:40-1:50 Sirius XM
1:50-2:00 SEC Radio
2:00-2:10 ESPN.com
2:10-2:40 Radio Row

 

Jeff Driskel, another veteran quarterback, knew the drill Monday, too, although no one was going to ask about going to the national championship game.

He plopped himself down in front of the media horde.

“Do I just pick someone?”

Answer: “Yes”

“All right. Let’s do this.”

Then the standard series of questions on Florida’s new hurry-up offense, Will Muschamp on the hot seat, and his recovery from a broken right leg.

“I’m feeling great ... thanks for asking.”


Rule 3: Stay on schedule


There’s one person on media day whose influence trumps anyone but the coach: The 5-foot-4 woman keeping players on schedule from the main print media room to breakout rooms for SEC broadcast rights holders ESPN and CBS.

Uzomah may be on a roll. The lingering media may still have follow ups. Two more questions in the media pool means two more questions. Exactly.

“She’s the boss,” Uzomah said as he was whisked from newspaper reporters to TV reporters.

And a harsh reminder for reporters: The follow-up to the last question doesn’t start the clock over again.

“They always want to ask more questions,” grumbled one of Monday’s timekeepers.

 

 

Rule 4: Have patience


Not only is Uzomah pinch-hitting. He’s putting in extra time.

A radio row trip isn’t on the schedule, but Auburn wants to get its player to local radio outlets and another in the Atlanta area, where Uzomah played in high school.

The first question in one interview with Uzomah: “Is it ‘Ooh-zah-mah’ or ‘Ooh-zoe-mah?’” Answer: Ooh-zah-mah.

The final statement in said interview: “We’re here with C.J. ‘Ooh-zoe-mah.’”

In between: Several questions about Nick Marshall and yet more questions about how Auburn’s spread offense can improve.

“To me, it was a bit of a drag,” McElroy said. “Because it's room after room. You can’t hit everyone all at once, you’re hitting different questions at different times. I remember leaving here and taking a nap on the way home.”


Rule 5: Embrace the fans


The circus atmosphere of a media day is ramped up a notch for Auburn and Alabama in Hoover. The lobby of the Hyatt Regency on the day the Iron Bowl rivals speak is often laced with dozens of fans from 8 a.m. until the afternoon.

As Uzomah exited the main media ballroom onto radio row — the collection of stations conducting live radio shows in the Hyatt Regency lobby — he was greeted at the end of the escalator with chants of “War Eagle.”

In the middle of a TV interview, a fan walks by and says, “War Eagle.” Uzomah interrupts his own answer to respond in kind.

Uzomah is in the final minutes of being herded like cattle from interview to interview to autograph seekers back to interviews. Is this a privilege or a penance?

“I love it,” Uzomah said. “I’m having fun.”

Teaser:
Appreciate the Hassle: Players' Rules for Media Day
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-auburn-florida-and-vanderbilt-media-day
Body:

SEC Media Day is here, and Athlon Sports is live from Hoover, Ala., to talk every team around the league. Day 1 started with comments from commissioner Mike Slive plus Auburn, Florida and Vanderbilt.

 

On the docket for the first day was Mike Slive's push for autonomy, the absence of Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, Florida's hot seat coach and new offense and higher expectations for Derek Mason at Vanderbilt.

 

Joining us today were and .

 

Have a question or comment? Contact us at [email protected] or on Twitter at @AthlonSports, @BradenGall and @DavidFox615

Teaser:
Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: Auburn, Florida and Vanderbilt from Media Day
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 18:58

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