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Conference USA's West Division isn't as talented as its East brethren, which means this is a wide-open race. Louisiana Tech and Rice figure to lead the way with Southern Miss and UTEP as potential wild cards.
There are six teams in Conference USA's West Division. This article will apply the win totals from one online sportsbook and discuss if there is any value in these numbers. A selection is made based on the team's schedule, in which the games are broken down into three categories - easy wins, toss-ups and certain losses. Most conference games are in the toss-up category unless there is a clear difference in talent.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook
Conference USA West Division
(Over 8 wins -115...Under 8 wins -125)
Record Last Year: 9-5, 7-1
Returning Starters: 13 (7 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: Everything on this side of the ball starts with Kenneth Dixon carrying the football. Last year he had 28 touchdowns with 22 of them coming on the ground. Florida graduate transfer Jeff Driskel figures to win the starting quarterback job and if he does, he'll have three returning wide receivers to throw to. The front line also is strong so the offense could be just as productive as last year's (37.4 ppg).
Defense: The Bulldogs were 17th in the country against the run, holding opponents to just 118.2 ypg. Xavier Woods and Kentrell Brice are both playmakers in the secondary while the front line returns several starters. The potential problems occur at linebacker where reshuffling will occur.
Schedule: Louisiana Tech has a home game against Southern before it plays five of the next eight on the road. The Bulldogs travel to Kansas State and Mississippi State out of conference. The final non C-USA game is at home against the Sun Belt's UL Lafayette.
Selection: Small lean to the under for Louisiana Tech, who may be a bit road weary to start the year out. The non-conference slate should give the Bulldogs two wins, but they have some swing games later on in November. Coordinator Manny Diaz's departure will hurt this defense.
(Over 5 wins -120...Under 5 wins -120)
Record Last Year: 4-8, 2-6
Returning Starters: 9 (4 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: This was one of the worst passing attacks in the country last year. North Texas brings back Andrew McNulty under center, but he threw seven interceptions compared to just six touchdowns in six games. He's got a few weapons in seniors Marcus Smith and Carlos Harris. The Problem is that the offensive line is going to be young. This unit could struggle.
Defense: Chad Polk leads the returnees with 5.5 sacks. He has help in Austin Orr and Sir Calvin Wallace up front. The rest of the defense is going to be pretty young and may struggle to start the season out.
Schedule: Yikes. The Mean Green play at SMU, Iowa and Tennessee out of conference. They do have one home game against Portland State. Three of the first four and three of the last four contests are all on the road.
Selection: Big-time lean to the under for the Mean Green. The youth on this team will struggle big time with the massive road stretches. The offense doesn't have too many pieces and the defense is in rebuilding mode. It could be a long year in Denton.
(Over 7.5 wins -115...Under 7.5 wins -125)
Record Last Year: 8-5, 5-3
Returning Starters: 7 (5 on offense, 2 on defense)
Offense: If Driphus Jackson can get healthy, then this unit should be able to produce some points. Jackson had 24 touchdowns for the Owls last year and he'll have Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard back to keep defenses honest on the ground. The receiving corps needs some work after losing Jordan Taylor.
Defense: Rice returns just two starters from last year's defense. The front line lost two big pieces and will have to rely on some younger players. Alex Lyons led the team in tackles last year and will be counted on once again this season.
Schedule: Wagner kicks things off in before three straight road games including tilts at Baylor and Texas. The last non-conference game is Army in October when the Owls play three of four at home.
Selection: Slight lean to the under. While the offense should click early, the defensive issues could hold Rice back. Road games against Big 12 opponents as well as Florida Atlantic will prove problematic. I'm not as optimistic as Vegas on this team.
(Over 4.5 wins +115...Under 4.5 wins -155)
Record Last Year: 3-9, 1-7
Returning Starters: 10 (7 on offense, 3 on defense)
Offense: Another long year could be coming for this unit. Nick Mullens and Tyler Matthews are potential signal-callers and they'll have a veteran offensive line to work with. Running back Ito Smith is just 5-9 and led the team with 536 rushing yards last year. Southern Miss will need more from the ground game this season if it hopes to move the ball with any success.
Defense: The Golden Eagles ranked 109th in the country last year at 35.4 points per game allowed. This year's unit may be just as rough with just three returning starters. Picasso Nelson hopes to paint a masterpiece from the secondary.
Schedule: Southern Miss welcomes Mississippi State to Hattiesburg to open up the year. After that probable loss the Golden Eagles host Austin Peay before road games at Texas State and Nebraska. They have tough road games at Marshall, Rice and Louisiana Tech in conference.
Selection: The money move towards the under is the correct side. This is another team that will struggle to slow anyone down defensively. Much like last year, the offense will be a problem and Todd Monken's seat will get even hotter.
(Over 6 wins -120...Under 6 wins -120)
Record Last Year: 7-6, 5-3
Returning Starters: 11 (6 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: Quarterback Jameill Showers is gone after a solid 2014 campaign. Mack Leftwich will be under center and will be glad to have running back Aaron Jones to hand off to. The junior accounted for over 1,500 yards last year and should be able to find holes behind one of the best offensive lines in the conference.
Defense: The Miners run a solid 4-2-5 defense and were one of the best against the pass last year, holding opponents to under 200 yards passing per game. This is an underrated group that could get pressure with Nick Usher and Roy Robertson-Harris up front.
Schedule: Three straight on the road start things off for the Miners. Included in that stretch are games at Arkansas and Texas Tech. The other two non-conference games are Incarnate Word and New Mexico State. Starting in October, UTEP alternates home and road games in conference.
Selection: The under is the play here but it's close. UTEP could go 0-3 before its first home game on Sept. 26. Getting FAU, Rice and Louisiana Tech at home will help, although each team presents their own challenges.
(Over 2.5 wins -170...Under 2.5 wins +130)
Record Last Year: 4-8, 3-5
Returning Starters: 3 (0 on offense, 3 on defense)
Offense: Last year's veteran team has turned into a ton of youth this year. UTSA struggled down the stretch, losing four of its last six and mustering just 80 points in those games. It's rare to find a unit on either side of the ball that returns no one from last year. Such are the perils of being a relatively new program.
Defense: The defense returns just three starters. Drew Douglas leads the way after making 72 tackles last year. The Roadrunners held four opponents to 20 points or less last year.
Schedule: Larry Coker's bunch will be tested with road games at Arizona and Oklahoma State to go with home contests against Kansas State and Colorado State. Three of four tilts in October are on the road before three of four home games in November.
Selection: I tried real hard to take the under. The lack of returnees is highly concerning, plus the real rough start in September. Normally I'd have no problems with the under, but Coker's presence may be a help. He's 23-23 in four years at the school. I wouldn't be mad if you took the under especially at the value 5Dimes is offering.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
In 2007 South Carolina's most recognizable figure, Steve Spurrier, spoke about how the flag is an embarrassment and should be taken down.
"I realize I'm not supposed to get in the political arena as a football coach," Spurrier said. "But if anybody were ever to ask me about that damn Confederate flag, I would say we need to get rid of it. I've been told not to talk about that. But if anyone were ever to ask me about it, I certainly wish we could get rid of it."
Spurrier most likely feels even stronger about the subject based on what has happened recently. South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner seems to be in agreement.
Transfers are a huge part of any college football season. Whether it’s a graduate transfer eligible right away or a player that sat out the previous year due to NCAA rules, impact players are available in the transfer ranks every year.
Quarterbacks are always under the microscope in the transfer ranks, and there’s no shortage of intriguing moves for 2015. Everett Golson left Notre Dame for Florida State, and Vernon Adams is transferring from Eastern Washington to Oregon.
Here’s a look at 25 key transfers to watch this year:
25 Impact College Football Transfers for 2015
1. The Quarterbacks
Several quarterbacks are slated to make an impact at a new program in 2015. Vernon Adams (Oregon), Everett Golson (Florida State), Jake Rudock (Michigan), Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma), Jeff Driskel (Louisiana Tech) and Max Wittek (Hawaii) are just a few of the key quarterback transfers to watch this year.
2. Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana (from UAB)
Howard is eligible immediately after UAB disbanded its football program in December. The junior rushed for 2,468 yards and 15 scores in two years with the Blazers. Tevin Coleman leaves big shoes to fill, but Howard is capable of being an All-Big Ten running back.
Related: Big Ten 2015 Predictions
3. Josh Harvey-Clemons, S, Louisville (from Georgia)
Even though Louisville’s secondary must replace all four starters from last season, the pass defense won’t suffer too big of a drop with two Georgia transfers stepping into the lineup. Harvey-Clemons was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and made 11 starts for the Bulldogs in 2013.
Related: ACC 2015 Predictions
4. Blake Countess, CB, Auburn (from Michigan)
Auburn’s secondary has to improve after giving up 44 pass plays of 20 yards or more last year. The Tigers have lost a few players here via transfer, but the addition of Countess should help at corner. The Maryland native played in 38 games for the Wolverines, recorded 114 tackles and six interceptions. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2013.
Related: SEC 2015 Predictions
5. Austin Golson, C, Auburn (from Ole Miss)
Golson is making the rare move of transferring within the SEC West, as the Alabama native left Ole Miss after playing in 12 games with the Rebels in 2013. Golson is considered the frontrunner to start at center and replace Reese Dismukes for a talented Auburn offensive line.
6. Matt Hegarty, OL, Oregon (from Notre Dame)
Oregon’s offensive line loses stalwarts in left tackle Jake Fisher and center Hroniss Grasu, but a solid foundation remains intact with three other returning starters. Hegarty started 11 games for the Fighting Irish last season and will push for starting spot at guard or center.
Related: Pac-12 2015 Predictions
7. Devin Lucien, WR, Arizona State (from UCLA)
With the departure of Jaelen Strong to the NFL, Arizona State’s offense is in need of a receiver (or two) to emerge. But the answers are falling into place for coach Todd Graham, as running back D.J. Foster is shifting to receiver, and Lucien is eligible immediately after transferring from UCLA. The California native averaged 12.9 yards per catch in three years with the Bruins.
8. Wayne Lyons, CB, Michigan (from Stanford)
Michigan lost cornerback Blake Countess in a transfer to Auburn but gained a starter in Lyons. The Florida native is a good fit for the Wolverines’ defensive scheme in press coverage and was recruited to Stanford by Jim Harbaugh. Lyons recorded 30 tackles in 13 games with the Cardinal in 2014.
9. Tray Matthews, S, Auburn (from Georgia)
Auburn’s defense should be among the most improved groups in the SEC this season. The addition of Will Muschamp at coordinator will help to turn around a unit that allowed 26.7 points per game in 2014. Matthews is the second defensive back transfer for Auburn to make this list, as the sophomore is likely to start at safety after transferring from Georgia. The sophomore played in eight games for the Bulldogs in 2013 and recorded 36 tackles.
10. Ty Isaac, RB, Michigan (from USC)
Jim Harbaugh loves to establish the run, and the Wolverines are due for improvement in this area after generating only 162.8 yards per game in 2014. Getting junior Derrick Green back to full strength after a broken clavicle last year will help, and Isaac is ready to contribute after sitting out a season due to transfer rules. Isaac was a five-star recruit out of high school and rushed for 236 yards and two scores in 14 games with the Trojans in 2013.
11. Freddie Tagaloa, OT, Arizona (from California)
Rich Rodriguez’s high-powered Arizona offense will be breaking in three new starters on the line this season. Tagaloa should help to ease some of the transition up front, as the California native has starting experience from his two-year stint in Berkeley. The junior is expected to start at left tackle in 2015.
12. Victor Salako, OT, Oklahoma State (from UAB)
Oklahoma State’s offensive line struggled last season, but this unit showed improvement late in the year. Salako transferred to Stillwater after UAB disbanded its football program in December, and the Alabama native is expected to start at left tackle after making 23 starts with the Blazers.
13. Mike Mitchell, LB, Texas Tech (from Ohio State)
It’s no secret Texas Tech’s defense is in need of repair. Coach Kliff Kingsbury took a major step forward in addressing the defensive woes by hiring David Gibbs away from Houston, while the talent on the field is bolstered by the addition of Mitchell. The five-star recruit never played at Ohio State and redshirted in his only season with the Buckeyes.
Related: Big 12 2015 Predictions
14. Shaq Wiggins, CB, Louisville (from Georgia)
Wiggins is the second Georgia transfer to Louisville in this article. Safety Josh Harvey-Clemons is expected to join Wiggins as starters in the secondary for coordinator Todd Grantham. Wiggins started eight games for the Bulldogs in 2013, recording 19 tackles and two interceptions.
15. Brennan Scarlett, DE, Stanford (from California)
Scarlett’s decision to transfer from California to Stanford certainly raised some eyebrows around the Pac-12, but the senior is a solid pickup for the Cardinal defense. Injuries marred Scarlett’s tenure at California, as he never played in a full season and was limited to 17 appearances in four years. Stanford is thin on depth up front, which should allow Scarlett to carve out a role in the trenches this season.
16. Ja’Quay Savage, WR, Louisville (from Texas A&M)
Louisville has some big shoes to fill in the receiving corps with the departure of receivers DeVante Parker and Eli Rogers and tight end Gerald Christian. But the Cardinals aren’t hurting for talent on the outside, as UAB transfer Jamari Staples, junior James Quick and Savage will be a trio of capable targets. Savage (formerly Ja’Quay Williams) transferred to Louisville after one year at Texas A&M. The Georgia native caught four passes with the Aggies in 2013.
17. Isaiah Johnson, S, South Carolina (from Kansas)
South Carolina’s defense struggled mightily last year, giving up 30.4 points per game and 6.2 yards per play. Coach Steve Spurrier hopes the addition of new co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke helps to turn around this unit, along with addition of a few new faces and more experience from the underclassmen. Johnson was one of the few bright spots on a struggling Kansas team last year, recording 75 tackles and one interception. Johnson should push for a starting spot at safety.
18. Richard Mullaney, WR, Alabama (from Oregon State)
Amari Cooper leaves big shoes to fill after catching 124 of Alabama’s 290 passes last year. And Cooper isn’t the only loss for coordinator Lane Kiffin as No. 2 target DeAndrew White and No. 3 receiver Christion Jones have expired their eligibility. Mullaney is a post-spring pickup for coach Nick Saban, and the Oregon State graduate transfer should be a valuable pickup for an inexperienced receiving corps. Mullaney caught 52 passes in 2013 but was limited by injury in 2014.
19. Rodney Coe, DT, Akron (from Iowa State)
Akron’s starting defense could feature five transfers from Power 5 programs. Linebacker Darryl Monroe is a name to watch, but Coe could be the biggest impact transfer for coach Terry Bowden. The 305-pound tackle recorded 37 tackles at Iowa State in 2013 and will anchor the interior of Akron’s defensive front this year.
20. Kelsey Young, RB, Boise State (from Stanford)
With Jay Ajayi moving onto the NFL, uncertainty surrounds the Boise State backfield. Jeremy McNichols and Cory Young are the favorites to replace Ajayi’s production, but Kelsey Young (Cory’s brother) adds to the competition after transferring to Boise for his final year. He rushed for 331 yards on 66 attempts with Stanford in 2014.
21. Kaiwan Lewis, LB, Rutgers (from South Carolina)
Rutgers’ Big Ten debut was a success, but coach Kyle Flood has some work to do in order to get the Scarlet Knights back in the postseason in 2015. Upgrading the performance on defense is a must, and Lewis – a graduate transfer from South Carolina – is slated to compete for the starting job at middle linebacker. Lewis regarded 20 tackles for the Gamecocks last year but made 10 starts in 2013.
22. Mason Halter, OL, Florida (from Fordham)
Florida taking a graduate transfer from Fordham isn’t going to be a common occurrence, but the Gators desperately need offensive line help, and Halter is a good pickup to bolster the available talent. The senior started 33 games at Fordham and was one of the top linemen at the FCS level. With the Gators short on talent and depth, Halter figures to make an impact in his only year in Gainesville.
23. Damore’ea Stringfellow, WR, Ole Miss (from Washington)
Stringfellow certainly has the talent to be an impact receiver for Ole Miss, but coach Hugh Freeze indicated the Washington transfer needs to show more consistency to earn playing time in 2015. In his only season with the Huskies, Stringfellow caught 20 passes for 259 yards and one score.
24. Jake Ganus, LB, Georgia (from UAB)
The Bulldogs are loaded with talent on the outside in the linebacking corps, featuring All-SEC candidates in Lorenzo Carter, Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd. The interior spots in this group are up for grabs, and Ganus could push Reggie Carter or Tim Kimbrough for a starting job. Ganus led UAB in tackles in 2013-14 and was a second-team All-Conference USA selection last year.
25. Kyle Bosch, OL, West Virginia (from Michigan)
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen received good news in late May when Bosch was declared eligible for the 2015 season. The Illinois native played in one game for Michigan in 2014 but started three in 2013. He should push for time at guard in 2015.
Other Transfers to Watch
RB Ralph David Abernathy IV, Cincinnati to Tennessee
RB Andrew Buie, West Virginia to Charlotte
RB Donnell Alexander, Colorado State to Akron
RB Dalyn Dawkins, Purdue to Colorado State
RB Justice Hayes, Michigan to Southern Miss
RB Malin Jones, Northwestern to Louisville
RB Demarcus Kirk, UAB to Georgia State
RB Albert Reid, Maryland to Virginia
RB Patrick Skov, Stanford to Georgia Tech
RB Donovan Wilson, Georgia Tech to Bowling Green
RB/WR D.J. Vinson, UAB to South Alabama
WR Chance Allen, Oregon to Houston
WR K.J. Brent, South Carolina to Wake Forest
WR Dylan Collie, BYU to Hawaii
WR Kenny Golladay, North Dakota to Northern ILlinois
WR Marqui Hawkins, UAB to Indiana
WR Nyiakki Height, UAB to Georgia State
WR A.J. Legree, Kentucky to South Florida
WR Uriah Lemay, Georgia to Charlotte
WR Collin Lisa, UAB to Buffalo
WR Quincy Perdue, UAB to Kansas
WR Robbie Rhodes, Baylor to Bowling Green
WR Jamari Staples, UAB to Louisville
WR T.J. Thorpe, North Carolina to Virginia
WR Andrew Rodriguez, Houston to Utah State
TE Gerald Everett, UAB to South Alabama
TE M.J. McFarland, Texas to UTEP
TE Taylor McNamara, Oklahoma to USC
TE Mitch Parsons, Vanderbilt to Colorado State
TE Kent Taylor, Florida to Kansas
OL Cameron Blankenship, UAB to South Alabama
OL Roscoe Byrd, UAB to Georgia Southern
OL Ruben Carter, Florida State to Toledo
OL Lee Dufour, UAB to South Alabama
OL Derek Edinburgh Jr., LSU to Louisiana Tech
OL Kelepi Folau, UAB to Georgia State
OL Tim Gardner, Ohio State to Indiana
OL Reilly Gibbons, Stanford to USF
OL Rami Hammad, Texas to Baylor
OL Taylor Hindy, Washington to Syracuse
OL Ryan Mack, Louisville to Memphis
OL Kyle Marrs, Oklahoma to Houston
OL T.J. McCoy, NC State to Florida
OL Emeka Okafor, Houston to Texas Tech
OL Kevin Reihner, Stanford to Penn State
OL Sam Rice, SMU to North Texas
OL Ben Wysocki, UCLA to Utah State
DL Justin Akins, Georgia Tech to MTSU
DL Aaron Curry, Nebraska to TCU
DL Kylie Fitts, UCLA to Utah
DL Nick Internicola, Rutgers to FAU
DT Mickey Johnson, LSU to Louisiana Tech
DL Evan Kelly, Richmond to Boston College
DL James Looney, Wake Forest to California
DE Jamal Marcus, Ohio State to Akron
DT Suleiman Masumbuko, Baylor to Tulsa
DL Kevin McReynolds, UCLA to Nevada
DL Robert Mondie, UAB to Arkansas State
DT Jontavious Morris, UAB to WKU
DL Joshua Posley, Cincinnati to Ball State
DL Mark Scarpinto, Michigan State to Pittsburgh
LB Jefferson Ashiru, UConn to Maryland
LB Blake Dees, Texas Tech to South Alabama
LB Samson Faifili, Kansas to Utah State
LB Anthony Harrell, Georgia Tech to Florida
LB Davonte James, West Virginia to Kent State
LB Makani Kema-Kaleiwahe, Arizona to Hawaii
LB TJ McCollum, UAB to WKU
LB Alonzo McGee, UAB to Georgia State
LB Daryl Monroe, Washington State to Akron
LB Otha Peters, Arkansas to UL Lafayette
LB Shawn Petty, Maryland to Marshall
LB Marquise Roberts, South Carolina to Kansas
LB Chad Whitener, California to Oklahoma State
CB Derek Babiash, Arizona to San Diego State
DB Bobby Baker, UAB to Georgia State
DB Kelton Brackett, UAB to UMass
CB Ahmad Christian, South Carolina to Utah
DB Jordan Collier, UAB to Buffalo
DB Zach Dancel, Maryland to Wake Forest
CB Demarco Davis, UAB to Georgia State
CB Lamarcus Farmer, UAB to Troy
DB Travis Green, Kansas State to New Mexico
DB Bryant Gross-Armiento, Rutgers to Wake Forest
DB Eilar Hardy, Notre Dame to Bowling Green
DB Kiy Hester, Miami to Rutgers
CB Larry Hope, Miami to Akron
CB Michael Hunter, Indiana to Oklahoma State
DB Kalen Jackson, UAB to South Alabama
DB Rashad Jackson, New Mexico to North Texas
DB Vershad Jackson, New Mexico to North Texas
DB Rolan Milligan, UAB to Toledo
CB Chris Murphy, Arkansas to Cincinnati
S Avery Sebastian, California to Notre Dame
CB Trenton Trammell, BYU to UTEP
P Blake O’Neill, Weber State to Michigan
P Nathan Renfro, Maryland to Tennessee
Both music and sports are unquestionably a huge part of American culture. So Athlon Sports has decided to combine two of our favorite things — rock and roll with college football.
What if our favorite football programs were rock and roll bands? Below you will find a musical match for every team in Athlon Sports' Preseason Top 25. This same exercise was applied to every Power 5 team as well, so if your favorite band or school isn't in the top 25, just keep digging.
1. Ohio State: The Black Keys
The pride of Akron, Ohio, the Black Keys are the biggest and best rock band going today. They are No. 1 in the nation, the reigning arena tour of the current landscape. They are loaded with elite talent and led by a guy who doesn’t care what you think. He’s going to do whatever he wants, do it well and then laugh at the smoldering rubble he leaves in his wake. One of their biggest rivals is Jack White (Penn State).
2. Alabama: Metallica
One of the most powerful bands of its time, which has been extremely successful and popular for a long period of time. They are big, loud, extremely talented but also obnoxious and whiny at times. Hall of Famers but really, really like to get their way.
3. Baylor: Justin Timberlake
The early work leaves a lot to be ashamed of — be it on television as a youngster or in a boy band. But over time, his extraordinary talent single-handedly began to dominate an entire industry with big highlights and cool style. Now, he’s one of the hottest things in the world and generally beloved by almost everyone (except maybe some of those former boy band members).
4. Auburn: Johnny Cash
When it’s good, it is revolutionary, earth-shattering, industry-changing brilliance — even if a little dark at times. When it’s bad, it’s arrested, divorced, thrown in jail or rehab and generally upset at the more powerful and successful industry power (Alabama/Columbia Records).
5. TCU: Taylor Swift
She dominated her genre to near unprecedented levels and decided to make a big switch to a new place. In short order, she has managed to shift her style by adding lots of production value/new facilities and still produces in a big way. A little crazy but does her own writing and that gives her respect among experts and fans.
6. USC: Led Zeppelin
Possibly under appreciated on the East Coast (especially during their height) but beloved on the West Coast. Generally, this team is led by a heartthrob superstar who dominated his industry while on the team but never reached the same levels of success in the next phase of his career (and the most gifted architect of the team was always someone else — Troy Polamalu, Mike Patterson, Reggie Bush). Slightly self-destructive, extremely elite and powerful and somewhat misunderstood during its time.
7. Michigan State: Bruce Springsteen
Is there a more blue-collar program in the country that has been more successful riding the work ethic train more than the Spartans? This has been a quality product in many different decades and appeals to the hard-working, middle class. And both have produced some serious Hall of Fame tracks.
8. Oregon: David Bowie
Flashy, experimental and big on wardrobe changes makes David Bowie a perfect fit in Eugene. Extremely well respected but a little weird and far-out most of the time and never won the national title of the music industry despite being somewhat ahead of his time. He’s been around a long time and loves to try new things and act a little crazy, earning critical acclaim in the process.
9. Florida State: Justin Bieber
No one has a more rabid and vocal following — especially on Twitter — than the Beebs and the Noles. The fans are crazy passionate and will do anything to support their guys. Both are astronomically successful but so easy to hate from the outside.
10. Georgia: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Even the name Heartbreakers fits (SEE: SEC Championship Games). This is a really solid, consistently good quality product over a long period of time that got a ton of talent from Florida.
11. Ole Miss: KISS
How they look and dress is extremely impressive and important. The loud and awesome party pretty much overshadows everything else — like the play on the field. Very important in history for a variety of reasons but never really one of the best musical talents of their time.
12. Notre Dame: Elton John
They are sophisticated, classy and educated — and will tell you about it as much as possible. The presentation is glitzy and glamorous and mostly elite in the 70s and 80s — with a slight one-hit resurgence in the modern era.
13. Arizona State: Daft Punk
No one can really name anyone who plays on the team but no one misses the party. The kings of the club scene, they dominate the charts once every eight years with electric and innovative play-calling and a high level of talent. There is no better place to hang out than when they are on the big stage.
14. Clemson: Kings of Leon
Both have been downright unstoppable at times but consistently get in their own way. You think they are really good but you’re never really sure. Both are led by outspoken and occasionally intense and controversial leaders.
15. LSU: Black Sabbath
A very successful program with an extremely rabid fanbase that goes over the top to celebrate their favorite people, including a leader who is a little strange. Which football program is most likely to bite the head off a bat, do a line of ants and be involved in the dark arts?
16. Arkansas: Allman Brothers Band
True southern, classic, kickass rock and roll with some historically elite songs. However, they were at their best a long time ago and both had a meteoric rise to power halted by a tragic motorcycle accident.
17. Oklahoma: The Rolling Stones
On the surface, The Stones are bitter rivals with The Beatles (Texas) — despite plenty of overlap between Keith Richards and John Lennon. The Stones are the gruff, more abrasive side of the rivalry that has been successful for a much longer period of time. The highs maybe weren’t as high as The Beatles' but there were a lot more of them. Texas is pop and Oklahoma is the blues.
18. Georgia Tech: Pink Floyd
Slow, methodical and precise. The structures are complex, layered and intentionally hard to follow. Yet, somehow it’s just beautiful to behold and consistently solid over a long period of time in a variety of locations.
19. Wisconsin: Foo Fighters
Extremely consistent since their early 1990s emergence. They are catchy, tough to beat, classic rock and roll that hasn't ever been bad for more than two decades. But this group has never really been capable of winning a national title despite plenty of conference championships.
20. Texas A&M: Lynyrd Skynyrd
Southern rock in its truest form with the most rabid followers who don’t take no for an answer. However, they are extremely self-destructive and never considered the best at what they do. Both were at their best when playing something related to Alabama despite being from a different conference originally.
21. Mississippi State: Blue Oyster Cult
A one-hit wonder that is loaded with cowbell. To be fair, that one-hit wonder (Dak Prescott) is as beloved, popular and influential as any song of its time. And it spawned this.
22. Tennessee: Pearl Jam
They were at their best in the 1990s when they were grungy and a little rough around the edges. The entire program will always be slightly overshadowed by one elite superstar. However, the band has been largely boring and absent since the turn of the century despite the large fanbase and respected history.
23. UCLA: Coldplay
One of the best light shows in the business belongs in the City of Lights. This is a big band with big budgets, tons of record sales and a high-profile name. However, the substance has been severely lacking for most of its existence and has never really been better than 8-4. And like UCLA basketball, Chris Martin’s spouse is more well-known.
24. Stanford: Neil Young
One of the most creative, intelligent and forward-thinking individuals in the history of music. He’s had a long and incredibly decorated career with major (yet possibly) underrated successes over a 50-year period of time. The Silicon Valley of music (he holds numerous U.S. patents) has impacted nearly every angle of the industry.
25. Boise State: Arcade Fire
This is a North of the border group that has risen quickly from obscurity to national prominence in just a decade. No one can really tell what genre they belong to, be it the WAC, Big East, Mountain West or even the Big 12. And the city of Boise is pretty much located in Canada.
The Golden State Warriors are NBA champions and the happiest person that's not on the team is probably Marshawn Lynch.
The Seahawks running back joined Draymond Green on his float for the Warriors parade and he was surely grateful.
Marshawn Lynch hugs Draymond Green's mom at the Warriors' parade...which also featured Hammer & Nancy Pelosi pic.twitter.com/Ow8HfXiuDR— J.A. Adande (@jadande) June 19, 2015
Riley Curry was there, being her awesome self and collecting confetti.
Oh and Green got a little, um, too into the parade shall we say.
Andre Iguodala and Andre Iguodala Jr. seem to be happy to be there as well.
A photo posted by Andre Iguodala (@andre) on
It was a great day in The Bay.
No one is more excited about the Clippers new logo than ultimate hypeman and owner, Steve Ballmer.
Some like it, some don't but he went through a lot to find just the right one. In a video for FunnyOrDie.com, Ballmer gets help from Blake Griffin on how to make the logo unique.
Logos for any sports franchise or league are a critical part of identification and merchandise. And tweaking a logo is one way to drive up a little revenue.
But the internet has succeeded in creating awesome redesigned or tweaked logos. At Uproxx, the question was posed: What if NFL logos were Canadian.
As you can imagine, the results were terrific.
A few of our favorites are below. Click here to view all of the redesigned logos.
It's so secret Tiger Woods isn't what he used to be.
On ESPN's "First Take" Skip Bayless talked about how difficult it is to see Woods fall from the heights he was at once.
"I have never seen the greatest player in a sport lose it the way Tiger Woods has completely and utterly lost it," Bayless said. "It is a disgrace to me to see a man with this much talent, who dominated this sport like nobody will ever dominate again, lose it this badly. And what happened last night ... with trains constantly passing by Chambers Bay golf course, we saw the golfing train wreck that is Tiger Woods."
Forget satellite camps. Jim Mora is satellite scheduling.
Look at a map showing the states from which the most college football recruits emanate. These are the states in which UCLA is choosing to play its non-conference games for the next decade.
UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero announced three new non-conference dates on Wednesday, two of which are home-and-home series against Cincinnati and Georgia. It's no coincidence that Ohio and Georgia are two of the top states when it comes to producing college football talent.
UCLA is one of just three Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) members to have never played a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent, and Mora's advocated marquee games in his collegiate tenure. Certainly the next 10 years of non-conference dates UCLA has lined up speak to a desire to test itself against high-quality competition, but who exactly the Bruins are scheduled to play also speak to a strategic purpose.
Mora's recruiting strategy at UCLA since taking over in the 2012 offseason placed emphasis on establishing Bruins football nationwide. The program's non-conference barnstorming from Texas to Ohio to Georgia in the coming decade is a sort of recruiting manifest destiny, planting blue-and-gold flags throughout the highest priority areas in our nation.
Last season's date with Texas in AT&T Stadium gave the Bruins a physical presence in the Lone Star State — a state Mora and his staff have recruited aggressively.
UCLA is headed back to Texas in 2016 for the first half of a series with Texas A&M, adding to the Bruins' exposure in a state from which current players Jake Brendel, Eldridge Massington, Deon Hollins, Caleb Benenoch, Soso Jamabo and Will Lockett all hail.
Of course, UCLA is located smack-dab in the middle of one of the nation's richest talent pools. And indeed, Southern California has been the most fruitful and greatest focus pipeline for the Bruins.
But every Bruins signing class since 2012 featured high-profile prospects from the country's other talent-rich areas.
In the 2012 class, Mora's first at UCLA, wide receiver Devin Fuller came from Westwood, New Jersey — the Bruins play a home-and-home series against Rutgers in 2020 and '21.
The 2014 signing class included Louisiana linebacker Kenny Young; UCLA travels to LSU and Death Valley in 2024.
UCLA isn't just focusing on the top-tier of talent-producing states, either. This year's tilt against BYU will be repaid next season in Provo, Utah, a homecoming for Bruins 2015 signee and Herriman offensive line product Andre James. His fellow offensive line freshman, Josh Wariboko, returns to his Oklahoma home in 2018 when the Bruins face the Sooners at Gaylord Memorial Stadium.
Some of these dates are so far in the future, there's hardly any guarantee the landscape of college football will look at all similar, say nothing for the UCLA program itself. Games and series can and will be bought out or altered for any number of reasons.
Nevertheless, this bold scheduling strategy and Mora's continued efforts to expand UCLA's reach nationally is a long-term play that could keep the Bruins in the national recruiting spotlight throughout the decade to come, all the way to the first half of the announced series with Georgia.
The NFC West managed to be a strong division last year, even with the 49ers disappointing and only going 8-8. This division has many strengths, however, with plenty of potential to send multiple teams to the playoffs once again. There should definitely be some late-season drama as teams jockey for postseason positioning.
Here are some NFC West players who could make a major difference for their respective team this season:
Lemuel Jeanpierre, Center, Seattle
Seahawks (1st place, 12-4)
It’s hard to find areas of improvement on a team that’s played in two consecutive Super Bowls and should have won them both. However, they did trade away Max Unger, who was a two-time Pro Bowler and integral part of the past few years’ success. This will be Jeanpierre’s sixth season, and he has only seen limited playing time. As the team’s center, he will have to take on a strong leadership role along the line and must be able to at least be decent at blocking. Pete Caroll and the Seahawks shouldn’t be hurting too much though despite the personnel changes at several key positions.
Another player to watch: cornerback Cary Williams
Jerraud Powers, Cornerback, Arizona Cardinals (2nd place, 11-5)
The Cardinals were an interesting team last year — they gave up a lot of yards and didn’t gain many, yet still found ways to win a bunch of games. Their pass defense was rough, although they have an elite corner in Patrick Peterson. Powers put up his best season last year mostly in the nickel, but he may be moving back to a larger role on the outside. Thus, he will need to improve in that area to help limit opponents’ passing attacks. The Cardinals, however, do have depth at the cornerback position now.
Another player to watch: running back Andre Ellington
Tramaine Brock, Cornerback,
San Francisco 49ers (3rd place, 8-8)
The 49ers had one of the roughest offseasons, highlighted by several high-profile retirements. They also lost two of their top four wide receivers, No. 1 running back, and two starting cornerbacks. The latter seems to be the issue of most concern right now because of the ambiguity at the position, with several players fighting for their spot on the cornerback depth chart. Brock figures to be one of the starters, but he has to stay healthy, after only playing three games last season. The 49ers have plenty of cornerbacks, but they don’t seem to have two clear-cut starters right now.
Another player to watch: running back Carlos Hyde
Nick Foles, Quarterback,
St. Louis Rams (4th place, 6-10)
The Rams finally gave up on Sam Bradford, and they hope Foles can be the answer at quarterback. He’s going to need some help though, especially from wide receivers Brian Quick and Kenny Britt, as well as Tre Mason and first-round pick Todd Gurley in the backfield. Foles figures to have very good upside, but whether or not his supporting cast can help him out will be seen during the season. The Rams also hope to get some better production out of Tavon Austin, the No. 8 overall pick in 2013.
Other players to watch: centers Tim Barnes/Barrett Jones/Demetrius Rhaney
(Nick Foles photo at top courtesy of St. Louis Rams)
LSU faithful received troubling news about their football program on Thursday night, following the arrest of four players. Defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao was arrested after an incident at a Baton Rouge bar on Tuesday night. Hours later Maquedius Bain, Dwayne Thomas, and 2014 starting quarterback Anthony Jennings were booked into a local prison on unlawful entry charges.
Per reports, Jennings filed a report to local police on June 10 that three pairs of shoes, a PlayStation 4 game system, and a MacBook Air laptop were stolen out of his apartment. Three days later, Bain retrieved the laptop for Jennings from a Nicholas Anderson. Anderson claimed he purchased the laptop for $150 on June 11 from an unidentified third party. Anderson was then arrested and charged with possession of stolen property.
Related: SEC Football 2015 Predictions
On June 12, Jennings confronted Anderson’s roommate asking about the stolen goods from his apartment. The unidentified roommate denied knowledge of the incident. After the initial confrontation Jennings, Bain and Thomas entered the apartment without permission to further interrogate Anderson’s roommate. After various threats including one by Bain and Thomas stating, “Not to wait until the situation got out of control,” the trio left but for a third time confronted the roommate when he left his West Campus apartment.
The incident came to a head later on June 12 when six to seven “large males” knocked on Anderson’s apartment door. The unidentified roommate answered the door with the men stating they were going to wait in the living room until Anderson returned. The roommate reportedly went into his bedroom then heard noise coming from Anderson’s bedroom. Thomas allegedly busted down Anderson’s locked bedroom door, gaining entrance and then leaving with three pairs of Air Jordan shoes worth $500 and a PlayStation 4 game system.
Reports have not been made clear if the shoes or the PlayStation 4 taken from Anderson’s room were the items stolen from Jennings’ room.
On June 14, the incident was reported to the police with the unidentified roommate identifying the men in the incident via a photo lineup to the LSU Police Department. The LSU PD then issued an arrest warrant for the LSU players involved on a charge of unauthorized entry into a home. Thomas was given an additional charge of simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling.
In Louisiana, the charge for unauthorized entry into a home carries a maximum sentence of six years in prison and a $1,000 fine. Thomas could face a maximum sentence of seven years for the simple burglary charge.
Lealaimatafao also was arrested on Thursday after robbing a man and punching a woman in the parking lot of Reggie’s Bar in Tigerland. Per the Baton Rouge Police Department, Lealaimatafao and several other men beat a man unconscious, but the 6-foot-3, 300 pound, redshirt freshman then searched the beaten man’s pockets, robbing him. The girlfriend of the beaten man reportedly yelled at Lealaimatafao to stop what he was doing when he punched her, knocking her to the ground and then proceeded to go through the victim’s pockets. The Texas native was arrested on simple battery and attempted simple robbery charges. How the altercation was initiated has not been made clear.
The former Warren High School (San Antonio) star has had two other reported run-ins since joining the LSU program in 2014. He was arrested for stealing a bicycle near the LSU library and then missed much of the 2014 season after punching out a window at the team’s indoor practice facility, suffering an arm injury as a result.
Jennings, Thomas, Bain and Lealaimatafao have been suspended indefinitely per a statement head coach Les Miles released Thursday night. The statement read, “We have suspended these players. It has been our policy to suspend players who have been involved with legal issues. I have met with all three players involved extensively. We are still working with campus housing and the authorities to determine what exactly took place. This is an ongoing investigation and our players will cooperate fully.”
During the 2014 season, LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron split time under center with Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris. Jennings started 13 games with Harris getting one start. However, neither player proved to be a reliable option on passing downs, especially in SEC action. As a sophomore, Jennings finished the season with a stat line of 1,611 yards passing, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions, completing just 48.9 percent of his attempts. Harris dropped back to pass 45 times, recording 452 yards in the air with six touchdowns against two picks.
Bain, a 6-foot-4, 299 pound, sophomore from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was redshirted in 2013 but played in 10 games as a backup defensive tackle in 2014.
Thomas, a 6-foot, 182 pound, junior has been plagued with injury problems since arriving on campus from O. Perry Walker High School in New Orleans. As a true freshman in 2012, he played in four games before missing the remainder of the season due to injury, later granted a redshirt by the NCAA. In 2013, he played in 11 games missing two games due to injury. Thomas played in the first five games of 2014 before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Thomas was expected to be a key contributor in the Tigers' secondary in 2015.
Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
Chris Singleton plays baseball for Charleston Southern, and the recent shooting in the church hit home for him.
Singleton's mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, was one of the nine victims in the shooting. She was a high school track and field coach and a pastor at the church. Her son talked about the legacy she will leave behind.
"Honestly my knees are a little weak right now," Singleton said. "But I'm trying to stay as strong as I can while I press on."
The bravery and courage of Singleton is remarkable.
Here are the most important and interesting stats you need to know about the Big 12 in 2015:
4: Top 15 finishes between 1961-2010 for Baylor
Between 1961 and 2010, the Baylor Bears finished ranked in the top 15 of the AP poll just four times. The No. 9 postseason ranking in 1951 had been the best finish in school history until last year. Over the last four seasons, the Bears have finished in the top 15 three times, including a program-best No. 7 ranking last fall.
6-foot-4: Average height of the Cyclones' top three WRs
If there is an area of strength for Iowa State entering 2015 it’s the wide receivers. A trio of massive targets gives the Clones one of the best sets of pass catchers in the nation. Sophomore Allen Lazard (6-5, 218) stared in 12 games as a freshman last year. D’Vario Montgomery (6-6, 236) was the leading receiver last year and Quenton Bundrage (6-2, 195) returns from injury and might be the best of the group.
5: Returning starters for Kansas
Only UTSA (3) has fewer returning starters in the nation. Certainly, some of that might be addition by subtraction considering the record. However, it’s hard to replace your top three receivers, the left side of the offensive line and 10 of the top 13 tacklers, including the three best players on the unit. David Beaty was hired for his ability to rebuild a roster but it may take a while.
185 and 2,574: Combined receptions and yards from Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton
Tyler Lockett (106 rec., 1,515 yards) and Curry Sexton (79 rec., 1,059 yards) are the only two Kansas State receivers to ever top 1,000 yards in the same season and both are gone from Manhattan. The duo combined for 185 of the team’s 250 total receptions and 2,574 of the team’s 3,235 passing yards. Bill Snyder has big shoes to fill on the outside, especially without his quarterback or tight end as well.
371.9: East Carolina’s passing yards per game
Bob Stoops shook up his coaching staff after one of his worst seasons in Norman by hiring East Carolina’s Lincoln Riley to run the offense. The Pirates were third nationally last year in passing offense at 371.9 yards per game. Riley's offense completed 63.1 percent of its passes for 4,835 yards in 13 games. He is charged with picking a quarterback at Oklahoma that best fits the overhauled offense.
20.2: Oklahoma State’s lowest scoring output of the Gundy era
The Cowboys scored just 20.2 points per game in 2005, Mike Gundy’s first as the head coach. Last fall, Oklahoma State scored its fewest points per game (27.6) since Gundy’s first season. In fact, until 2014, only once since then had the Pokes even averaged less than 34 points and that was in 2009 (28.4). With seven starters back on offense, including Mason Rudolph under center, Gundy’s squad should be back above 30 points per game in ’15.
5: All-Big 12 defensive selections no longer on TCU's roster
The Horned Frogs' biggest concern heading into what could be a magical year is the big voids left by the best defensive players on the team. Gary Patterson will be without the services of two first-team All-Big 12 picks in Paul Dawson and Chris Hackett and three second-team picks in Chucky Hunter, Sam Carter and Kevin White. TCU must replace the team’s best defensive lineman, the team’s best linebacker (and leading tackler) and three all-conference defensive backs.
5: Times Tyrone Swoopes' QB rating was under 100
Texas' Tyrone Swoopes finished his first full season under center with a quarterback rating of 116.46. That number ranked 90th in the nation behind players like LSU’s Anthony Jennings, Michigan's Devin Gardner and Virginia Tech’s Michael Brewer. Five times Swoopes failed to post a QB rating of at least 100 and his play has to improve for the Horns to have any chance in the Big 12.
89.2: Texas Tech's penalty yards per game
Two signs of an undisciplined team are turnovers and penalties. Texas Tech hasn’t been good at either since Kliff Kingsbury’s arrival. The Red Raiders finished 128th — that’s last — in the nation with 89.2 penalty yards incurred per game. Baylor (9.8) was the only team in the nation charged with more penalty flags per game than Tech’s 9.3. Tech was 117th in giveaways as well with 28.
4,015: West Virginia average passing yards per season under Dana Holgorsen
Clint Trickett was much better than expected for West Virginia last season, leading the Mountaineers offense to 4,121 total yards. It was the third time in four years that Dana Holgorsen’s offense tallied more than 4,100 yards in a season. Over his four years, WVU has averaged 4,015 yards passing per game — a number brought down by the well-below average 3,145-yard season in 2013. In the three years prior to Holgorsen’s arrival, the Mountaineers threw for 2,403 yards per season.
Just like last year, Athlon Sports' 2015 NFL Preview magazine includes NFL player rankings at every position. The rankings in the magazine are provided by Dan Shonka of Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services, a company that's been in the football talent evaluation business for more than three decades.
While the value of a running back, in terms of salary cap allocation and draft status, may be diminishing, the importance of a strong ground game remains the same. Take Adrian Peterson for example. Even though the 30-year-old back missed practically all of last season, he's still considered the best at his position. Much of that probably stems from the fact that's he's just three seasons removed from rushing for 2,097 yards. The other interesting trend with this year's top 10 list is that three of the members changed teams during the offseason, including DeMarco Murray, the 2014 NFL rushing champion.
And not to be outdone, Ourlads also shows some love to the fullbacks, the unsung heroes in the backfield, whose contributions don't always show up on the stat sheet.
Rankings courtesy of Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services
2015 NFL Player Rankings: Running Backs
1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
Peterson was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list and then suspended indefinitely last November after his much publicized off-the-field issues. He’s back now and is still under contract with the Vikings. Peterson is poised for a big 2015 season.
2. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle
Banged out 1,306 yards, fifth best in the league, and earned a new contract after leading the Seahawks to their second consecutive Super Bowl. The extra-effort runner cuts without the loss of speed.
3. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh
The second-year pro slashed his way to 1,361 yards and eight TDs on the ground in 2014. In addition, he had no fumbles in 373 total touches. Bell likely will sit out the first three games this fall due to a marijuana arrest.
4. DeMarco Murray, Philadelphia
Led the NFL in rushing with 1,845 yards, averaging 115.3 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry for Dallas. A good fit for the Eagles’ offense with his quick reactions, vision and the ability to split a crease with good body lean.
5. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo
Was traded to Buffalo after jitterbugging his way to 1,319 yards for the Eagles in 2014. The Bills are gambling that McCoy will return to his days of being a north/south runner.
6. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City
Passed former Chiefs great Priest Holmes as the all-time leading rusher in team history despite battling injuries in 2014. He rushed for 1,033 yards, the fifth time he collected more than a 1,000 yards in a season.
7. Arian Foster, Houston
Since 2010, he has rushed for 6,052 yards and 50 touchdowns. In the same time frame, he has caught 219 passes for 1,948 yards and 12 TDs. Foster is a downhill power runner with good vision and cutback ability.
8. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay
He followed his successful rookie season with a 1,139-yard rushing effort in 2014. The former Alabama star improved his route running and snatched 42 passes for 427 yards, averaging 10.2 yards per reception.
9. Matt Forte, Chicago
Forte broke Larry Centers’ record for receptions by a running back by catching 102 passes in 2014. He also rushed for 1,038 yards, the fifth time in seven years he joined the 1,000-yard club.
10. Frank Gore, Indianapolis
Signed as an unrestricted free agent by Indianapolis, leaving the 49ers as their all-time leading rusher with 11,073 yards. The ageless warrior brings a dedication and work ethic to a team seeking to upgrade its running attack.
11. Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati
12. Justin Forsett, Baltimore
13. Mark Ingram, New Orleans
14. Lamar Miller, Miami
15. Joique Bell, Detroit
16. Alfred Morris, Washington
17. Chris Ivory, N.Y. Jets
18. Tre Mason, St. Louis
19. Fred Jackson, Buffalo
20. Darren Sproles, Philadelphia
21. C.J. Anderson, Denver
22. Jacquizz Rodgers, Chicago
23. Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati
24. Rashad Jennings, N.Y. Giants
25. Andre Williams, N.Y. Giants
26. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina
27. Steven Jackson, Free Agent
28. Pierre Thomas, Free Agent
29. Branden Oliver, San Diego
30. Ahmad Bradshaw, Free Agent
2015 NFL Player Rankings: Fullbacks
1. John Kuhn, Green Bay
The pride of Shippensburg University was an All-Pro selection in 2014. The old-school battering ram relishes contact and special teams play.
2. Marcel Reece, Oakland
Brings a complete tool box of block, run and catch to the table. As a pass receiver with rare speed to run away from defenders, he is an explosive check-down option for Derek Carr.
3. Anthony Sherman, Kansas City
A productive role player in the Chiefs’ West Coast offense as a blocker first and occasional receiver. In addition, he is one of the league’s top special teams players.
4. Bruce Miller, San Francisco
Is the most versatile member of the 49ers as a lead blocker, sometime receiver and whirling dervish special teams player. He makes an impact drawing blocks when he doesn’t make the tackle himself.
5. Henry Hynoski, N.Y. Giants
An H-back-type who blocks well on the run. Good size to run over inside linebackers or kick out penetration. Contributes on all special teams.
Steph Curry is riding high off the Warriors' championship win. First he owned Skip Bayless, and now he's doing anything he wants to do.
While driving with his wife Ayesha and sister, Sydel, the MVP felt the rhythm of Phil Collins get to him. Who can honestly resist going 100% on that drum solo?
The real question is who played the better drum? Curry or Mike Tyson?
Music, like sports, sparks debate, creates discussion and can even lead to heated disagreements.
But both are unquestionably a huge part of American culture. So Athlon Sports has decided to combine two of our favorite things — rock and roll with college football.
What if our favorite football programs were rock and roll bands? Every Power 5 team will be represented, so if you don’t see your favorite band or school here, keep your eyes peeled.
Here are the 14 Big Ten schools as rock bands:
A band that was at its peak a long time ago, delivering some of the greatest individual songs/athletes of its generation. But it also produced a lot of slow, soft crap and was basically dormant for about two decades until a bizarre resurgence in 2007. I am picturing Dick Butkus standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona.
A Midwest college throwback that really isn’t all that good — unless you are in college, then it’s awesome. It had one epically good, historically great song that nearly won a Heisman Trophy despite a bad supporting cast near the turn of the century. Antwaan Randle El was a "Crazy Game of Poker" for most defensive coordinators.
Iowa: Grateful Dead
This group is extremely popular but only within a small cross section of the country. It appeals to a very specific type of fan who travels to support their team extremely well. However, the product itself is much slower than you’d think and a lot of people just don’t get it.
A progressive, heavy metal-ish act originally from a different conference (Canada), Rush has had some seriously talented arrangements over the years. They’re on stage performance is as loud as their songs and their wardrobe is even louder (and, at times, stranger). This is an eclectic group with a quirky identity that has been solid for a long time and not always fully understood. There seems to be a lot of red and black involved too.
They’ve been around a long, long time and saw their biggest rise to stardom take place in the 1990s. They are massive, loud and really good but sort of sanctimonious (always) and basically hollow for the last decade. They are good enough to love easily but holier than thou from time to time.
Michigan State: Bruce Springsteen
Is there a more blue-collar program in the country that has been more successful riding the work ethic train more than the Spartans? This has been a quality product in many different decades and appeals to the hard-working, middle class. And both have produced some serious Hall of Fame tracks.
Minnesota: Talking Heads
This is an extremely well-respected group among critics and experts but not really by the mainstream younger generation. Everything about both screams underrated despite some elite-level success a long time ago. The city is underrated, the history is underrated and the general personality is underrated.
Nebraska: Dave Matthews Band
This group totally kicked ass in the 1990s and delivered as much success as any act in the history of the sport. It built a massive, committed and, at times, delusional, fan base that is as supportive of their boys as any in the nation. However, it’s been sort of boring and rarely relevant since about 2003.
Chicago-based intelligent Dad Rock who hates being labeled as such (despite how true it is). In fact, they are almost too smart for their own good. Both are led by frontmen who consider themselves the smartest people in the room (mostly, because they are) and will tell you about it. Neither ever has been as respected as they probably should be.
Ohio State: The Black Keys
The pride of Akron, Ohio, the Black Keys are the biggest and best rock band going today. They are No. 1 in the nation, the reigning arena tour of the current landscape. They are loaded with elite talent and led by a guy who doesn’t care what you think. He’s going to do whatever he wants, do it well and then laugh at the smoldering rubble he leaves in his wake.
Penn State: Jack White
One of Ohio State's/The Black Keys' biggest rivals in the industry today, Jack White is extraordinarily talented despite a big conference move (from Detroit to Nashville). They are both obsessed with a blue and white color scheme and, let’s be honest, both are a little weird while still sustaining elite-level success. The live performances are second to none in the entire industry and both have done some things that have revolutionized the sport.
Purdue: The Yardbirds
Like Purdue quarterbacks going on to the NFL, the Yardbirds did one thing really well: supplying better bands with killer guitar players. Drew Brees is the Jimmy Page of the Big Ten. And good luck trying to find many fans of either in 2015.
Rutgers: The Gaslight Anthem
Grungy, loud, abrasive Northeastern rock that sounds and looks the same all the time. Their success is fairly new and has been pretty solid for a about half-a-decade with some killer songs. Questions about the groups’ long-term upside should be answered in the next few seasons/albums.
Wisconsin: Foo Fighters
Extremely consistent since their early 1990s emergence. They are catchy, tough to beat, classic rock and roll that hasn't ever been bad for the better part of a decade. But this group has never really been capable of winning a national title despite plenty of conference championships.
His middle daughter, Skylar, a 17-year-old high school athlete and Nebraska football fan, needed a history lesson. As the Cornhuskers struggled to become a power in their relatively new Big Ten home, Skylar Taylor wanted a little perspective. Losses to Minnesota and Iowa had stung. So had that conference championship debacle against Wisconsin a couple years back. And the 63–38 embarrassment in Columbus in 2012 wasn’t easy to take, either. So, Skylar asked.
“Dad, were we ever good?”
Somebody get the trainer.
“Wow,” says Taylor, who played for the Huskers from 1985-88 and rolled up a 31–6 record as a starter. “Think about that. We were once a national power.”
Nebraska hasn’t exactly been stumbling about the college football landscape throughout Skylar Taylor’s 17 years. The Huskers have won 10 or more games in a season seven times during her lifetime and hit nine on six other occasions, including last year. But it’s not the same in Lincoln as it was from 1970-97, when the Cornhuskers won five national titles and tore through the Big Eight Conference every year in advance of the annual post-Thanksgiving Plains showdown with Oklahoma. That was what drew Taylor, a blue-chip recruit from Fresno, Calif., to commit to Nebraska. It certainly wasn’t the weather.
“I tell people the reason I came to Nebraska was that they always seemed to be first or second in the country, and when I came here on a visit, the facilities were amazing, and the fans were crazy,” Taylor says. “That’s why I decided to come and play in the cold for Nebraska.”
Now a real estate agent in Lincoln and a host of pre- and post-game radio broadcasts on the Husker radio network, Taylor is like many other Nebraska fans who wonder why their beloved team isn’t relevant on the national scene the way it once was.
Since Tom Osborne retired from coaching after the 1997 season — with a national title, by the way — Nebraska has enjoyed the kind of success that many other programs envy. And some would scoff at those Cornhusker supporters who complain after a 9–4 campaign. Think the folks in Bloomington, Ind., Pullman, Wash., or Lawrence, Kan., might enjoy a season like that?
Nebraska had plenty of that under Bo Pelini, who was fired after going 9–4 in 2014. Pelini’s teams never won fewer than nine games during his seven-year tenure, but good isn’t good enough in Lincoln. And trips to the Holiday, Gator and Capital One Bowls aren’t what fans want in their Christmas stockings, especially since the Cornhuskers played in 19 “major” bowls from 1970-97 and four Fiesta classics after it earned major status.
Former Oregon State coach Mike Riley is the latest man charged with returning Nebraska to prominence. He follows Pelini, who took over for Bill Callahan, who replaced Frank Solich. None matched Osborne’s exploits, and as the 2015 season dawns, Skylar Taylor isn’t the only one wondering whether it’s possible for Nebraska to return to college football’s elite.
“The expectations are super high here,” Riley says. “That’s what the history is at Nebraska. They weren’t losing a whole bunch of games in the past. We have to take the next step and move forward.
“There are two things that have to happen. First, recruiting has to get better. We were 30th in the nation in recruiting, and we have to get into the top 25 and higher. It’s proven that teams at the top of the recruiting charts play in championship games. The second is that we have to use our talent in the best way. We get good players, but we have to utilize them in the right way.”
• • •
When junior defensive tackle Maliek Collins played at Kansas City (Mo.) Center High, his practice jersey was black. It was a nod to the famous Nebraska Blackshirt defenders, a tradition dating back to 1964, when the Huskers first went to offensive and defensive platoons and used the ebony pullovers to distinguish the first-team defense. Even though Collins admits he didn’t follow college football too closely while a prep standout, he does remember the days when Nebraska’s regular opponents were from a different part of the country.
“It’s odd,” Collins says. “I was used to seeing them play Kansas State, Kansas and Missouri.”
Related: Big Ten 2015 Predictions
The Huskers joined the Big Ten in 2011, and there remains something of an identity crisis in Lincoln. The last 20 years have produced considerable upheaval among the nation’s conferences, and it’s not unusual that Nebraska bolted the Big 12 for a new home, especially since the state borders Iowa. But it also abuts Kansas and Missouri, Wyoming and Colorado, and there are residents of the state who live closer to Pac-12 country than the Big Ten’s traditional boundaries. When Nebraska played at Wyoming in 2011, it was more of a home game for many Cornhusker fans than are the ones contested in Lincoln. Nebraska’s address may be in the Big Ten’s neighborhood, but the Huskers still have some boxes to unpack before they can be considered true members of the conference.
“(The Big Ten) has impacted us somewhat,” Riley says. “It has to be fixed.”
There are those who wonder whether hiring Riley will solve the problem. No one can deny that he achieved a certain level of success at Oregon State, posting a 93–80 record, but he won more than nine games only once, in 2006. While the Beavers were 6–2 in bowl games during his tenure, they never played in a major bowl or even on New Year’s Day. Riley is universally liked, something that stands in stark contrast to the irascible Pelini, and he is respected. A native of Idaho and an Alabama alum who has spent the majority of his coaching career west of the Mississippi, Riley has to find a way to recruit the Midwest and East Coast.
He also has to get some players from California — like Taylor — as well as dip into the fertile grounds of Texas and Florida. When Osborne had it going at top speed during his tenure, he did it with a core of Plains personnel (not to mention the vaunted walk-on program) but also with some standouts from other parts of the country who were drawn by Nebraska’s success. Quarterback Tommie Frazier, who led the Huskers to national titles in 1994 and ’95, was from Florida. All-America linebacker Broderick Thomas (Texas), Neil Smith (Louisiana) and Irving Fryar (New Jersey) also traveled far to join the Nebraska family. The 2015 roster is heavy on the Heartland, but there are some players from the fertile crescents south and southeast of Lincoln. The key is attracting four- and five-star talents from those areas to augment the base.
“We’re right in the middle here,” Riley says. “We can reach to Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Kansas City, St. Louis and Denver and maybe even Dallas. We can get kids to come unofficially in the spring, and if they can get here, we can grab them.”
While Riley tries to impress prospects, he spent the spring developing a new culture within the Nebraska program. His relentlessly positive attitude was refreshing to the players, who actually found it odd to see him dining with them after practices. With a new staff comes a new opportunity for those who didn’t play as much under Pelini. Although the members of the team haven’t come close to the success their forefathers enjoyed, they understand what is expected at Nebraska.
“We can talk about winning games, but we’re here to win championships,” junior safety Nate Gerry says. “We can think about the Big Ten championship, but we need to make the picture bigger. There’s more out there for us.”
If Riley and his staff can lift the Cornhuskers to the top of the Big Ten, he will create interest throughout the country and get fans, alumni and former players to embrace some new glory days and stop living on prior successes.
“These players don’t have the same commitment to the program,” Taylor says. “They say, ‘Oh, well, there’s always next year.’ Dude, this is Nebraska!
“That’s what I carried on my shoulders, to keep the tradition going. Have times changed? Absolutely. Is there more parity? Absolutely. I can speak for myself when I say that I didn’t want to be part of the (recruiting) class that wasn’t ranked in the top five or top 10.
“When you have that kind of success before you, you want to keep it going.”
In this case, Nebraska wants to get it started. Again.
Courtyard Hotels is giving one guy the greatest Father's Day gift a man could ever want.
A guy who's entire family bleeds yellow and green, got in touch with the hotel and with Clay Matthews on board everything went according to plan. The father got tickets to the Super Bowl (I'm sure he won't mind waiting) and he will get to attend with his son.
The only thing that would make it better is if the Packers are there with them.
Alabama has won plenty of hardware since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide missed out on an opportunity to play for the national championship last year after a loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, but the 2014 team recorded an impressive 42-13 win over Missouri for the SEC title.
And it should be no surprise that Alabama is celebrating the SEC Championship with some fancy hardware.
Check out the Crimson Tide’s 2014 SEC title rings:
Yessirrrrr pic.twitter.com/G2yFKqwC0m— OJ SMITH™ (@juicemane318) June 18, 2015
That's some shiny bling. Check out Alabama's 2014 SEC Championship rings (re: multiple players' Instagram accounts) pic.twitter.com/YxQm3kL6xl— Alex Byington (@abyingtonTD) June 18, 2015
The shooting in Charleston, South Carolina sent a shockwave through America.
An issue of this magnitude was too big for athletes to ignore, and many of them took to Twitter to talk about the shooting.
Prayers for the family and friends of the love ones that loss those in the tragic event in charleston. #PrayersForCharleston— Cj Spiller (@CJSPILLER) June 18, 2015
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:10 #southcarolina— Landry Fields (@landryfields) June 18, 2015
Pray for my city!!! https://t.co/xxLDuXwZ2H— Byron Maxwell (@BMaxx41) June 18, 2015
Send all my prayers to those victims families in Charleston S.C! We have to continue to pray and influence the next generation to do better!— Jordan Crawford (@jcraw55) June 18, 2015
What a horrible tragedy in Charleston. My prayers are with the victims, their families & friends. May justice be served for this terrorist.— Johnny Weir (@JohnnyGWeir) June 18, 2015
This #CharlestonShooting is without question a hate crime. And this man is still out there somewhere. Sickening. God help us!— Chimdi Chekwa (@ChimChek) June 18, 2015
A place of worship should always feel like a safe place. Extremely hard to understand what goes through the minds of some individuals(J-Mac)— Devin&Jason McCourty (@McCourtyTwins) June 18, 2015
If someone walks into a church and shoots people, regardless of race, he's a terrorist. He is causing terror. Step the fuck up, news orgs.— Chris Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft) June 18, 2015
They only wanted to worship in peace. #CharlestonShooting— Sinorice Moss (@sinoricemoss) June 18, 2015
I've completely lost faith in our society. #CharlestonShooting— Sinorice Moss (@sinoricemoss) June 18, 2015
NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala kept it short and simple with his tweet, mentioning Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
See Martin... See Malcolm...— Andre Iguodala (@andre) June 18, 2015
Just like last year, Athlon Sports' 2015 NFL Preview magazine includes NFL player rankings at every position. The rankings in the magazine are provided by Dan Shonka of Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services, a company that's been in the football talent evaluation business for more than three decades.
Quarterback is considered the most important position on the field, so it should be no surprise that the top 10 is littered by those who have taken their team to the ultimate goal — winning a Super Bowl. Led by reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers, this year's top 10 quarterbacks include seven signal-callers that have combined to win 12 Lombardi Trophies and two others who could join this exclusive club in the near future. And while it's entirely likely that first-round draft picks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, will get the starting nod in Week 1 for Tampa Bay and Tennessee, respectively, you won't see either rookie listed below since they have yet to take a single snap in an NFL game.
Rankings courtesy of Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services
2015 NFL Player Rankings: Quarterbacks
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
The consistent and confident signal-caller was awarded his second league MVP after he completed 341-of-520 passes for 4,381 yards and 38 touchdowns. He threw only five interceptions and hit 65.6 percent of his throws.
2. Tom Brady, New England
Joined Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only QBs in NFL history to win four Super Bowls. Brady may now have passed Montana, his boyhood idol, as the greatest QB to play the game.
3. Drew Brees, New Orleans
There was no drop-off in Brees’ performance in 2014 — in fact, he delivered one of the best statistical seasons of his career. He continues to be an outstanding ball handler in play action and is one of the most accurate passers in NFL history.
4. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
Signed a new contract in 2015, confirming the Steelers’ faith that he is playing at an elite level. His career 7.9 yards-per-attempt average is tied for sixth in NFL history.
5. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis
In his third season, the former Stanford Cardinal threw for 4,761 yards and 40 TDs. The big righthander processes information quickly and is a respected team leader.
6. Tony Romo, Dallas
Heading into his 13th year as a pro, Romo time and again has demonstrated the athletic ability to elude the rush, see the open receiver and hit him for a big play.
7. Philip Rivers, San Diego
The five-time Pro Bowler is back in San Diego after some speculated he would be traded to the Titans. Few field generals sense the rush and step up and away from pressure as effectively as Rivers.
8. Peyton Manning, Denver
Age and time may well be the only opponents that the five-time MVP will not be able to defeat in his quest for another Super Bowl win. The 17-year veteran has 14 Pro Bowl appearances and is still one of the league’s undisputed superstars.
9. Russell Wilson, Seattle
The youngest QB to win a Super Bowl, Wilson had a banner 2014 season, throwing for 3,475 yards, rushing for 849 and accounting for 26 touchdowns.
10. Eli Manning, N.Y. Giants
The 34-year-old concluded last season with a career-best 63.1 completion percentage and threw for 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in the Giants’ version of the West Coast offense.
11. Matt Ryan, Atlanta
12. Joe Flacco, Baltimore
13. Cam Newton, Carolina
14. Matthew Stafford, Detroit
15. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati
16. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco
17. Ryan Tannehill, Miami
18. Alex Smith, Kansas City
19. Carson Palmer, Arizona
20. Jay Cutler, Chicago
21. Geno Smith, N.Y. Jets
22. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville
23. Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota
24. Ryan Fitzpatrick, N.Y. Jets
25. Mark Sanchez, Philadelphia
26. Nick Foles, St. Louis
27. Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay
28. Zach Mettenberger, Tennessee
29. Matt Cassel, Buffalo
30. Derek Carr, Oakland
Alabama has made it to November in control of its destiny in the SEC West every year since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007. Although the Crimson Tide have a difficult slate ahead of them in the first two months of the season, no one will be surprised if Saban’s team makes it to November pacing the West once again. Alabama will have to face its two greatest rivals — LSU and Auburn — in the final month of the season, but don’t overlook its Nov. 14 matchup at Mississippi State. Here are four reasons why The Tide’s most important game of the season could be when it plays the Bulldogs in Starkville.
Related: SEC Football 2015 Predictions
1. QB-WR Tandem of Dak Prescott and De'runnya Wilson
Alabama’s struggles against good (sometimes even mediocre) passing attacks have been well documented. Unlike LSU, Tennessee, and Arkansas though, Mississippi State appears to have proven playmakers that can take advantage of Bama’s commitment to man-to-man coverage on the outside and a lack of length at cornerback. In fact, as it stands now, Dak Prescott may be the only true NFL-caliber quarterback in the SEC — certainly the most proven after throwing for 3,449 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. And on the outside, Prescott has a Mike Evans look-a-like in De’Runnya Wilson, who caught nine touchdowns in 2014, tied for the second most among returning SEC players. So, while Jeremy Johnson and D’haquille Williams have enormous potential at Auburn, Prescott and Wilson are proven commodities for the Bulldogs in the SEC.
2. The Physicality of Mississippi State
In their 11 losses since 2008, there have been two requirements for beating Alabama: first, feature a quarterback that can beat man coverage, and second, be physical. In Prescott, the Bulldogs actually have both. Mississippi State had the third-ranked rushing attack in the SEC in 2014, thanks to Prescott’s 986 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. His Tebow-like running style and his more legitimate arm will give his team a chance in every game. On defense, the Bulldogs will lean on three returners — Ryan Brown, Beniquez Brown and Chris Jones — to lead a young front seven, which was the strength of the defense a year ago. Of those three, Jones is widely believed to be most talented and has the ability to be a force against a young offensive line like Alabama’s.
3. The Ultimate Trap Game
Even though every game in the SEC is big, the expectations and the priorities around the Alabama program make Mississippi State a perennial trap game. Bama fans are quick to notice that the Bulldogs don’t recruit like Auburn, LSU or Texas A&M, and they’ve never really rivaled Alabama at any point like Tennessee has. And to the average Alabama fan, Mississippi State isn’t even the best school in its own state. Nick Saban fears the letdown every week, but that hasn’t kept Alabama from sleepwalking through its last couple of trips to Starkville in 2011 and ‘13. If the Crimson Tide make it to November in contention, the fans will breathe a sigh of relief while keeping an eye on the Nov. 28 Iron Bowl finale on the Plains, the scene of the infamous “Kick Six” in 2013.
4. It’s in Starkville
A part of me wants to just say “cowbells” and leave it at that, but I’ll elaborate. Away from home in 2014, Alabama struggled to communicate on both sides of the ball. After a neutral site game against West Virginia to open the season Nick Saban was quick to point out that no one on his defense appeared to know what their assignment was. Even though the Bama-Mississippi State game is the 10th game of the season for the Tide, when you subtract Landon Collins, Trey DePriest, and Xavier Dickson — three of Alabama’s most experienced players — Crimson Tide fans have to wonder who’s going to lead the defense if things start to go wrong on the road. Likewise, on offense, Lane Kiffin worked magic doing what he did with Blake Sims at quarterback. However, that too was less impressive on the road, and the Tide will be breaking in a new quarterback in 2015.
— Written by Eron Jenkings, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Jenkins is a public school teacher in Baton Rouge, has written for several other publications and is an SEC fanatic. Follow him on Twitter @EronJenkins.
When the Baltimore Ravens trudged out of the locker room at Gillette Stadium following a bitter playoff loss to the New England Patriots, feisty veteran wide receiver Steve Smith vowed they’d be back and that the outcome would be different the next time.
Following an offseason defined by change — offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak left to become the Denver Broncos’ head coach; defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was traded to the Detroit Lions; and wide receiver Torrey Smith and pass rusher Pernell McPhee departed as free agents — the Ravens are confident that their roster is well stocked to make another serious playoff run.
The Ravens have made the playoffs six of the past seven years under coach John Harbaugh and are upbeat about their prospects following a strong draft that filled several needs. That included drafting UCF wide receiver Breshad Perriman (a bigger, faster version of Torrey Smith) in the first round and tight end Maxx Williams in the second.
Although the Ravens weren’t particularly active in free agency due to a tight salary cap situation, general manager Ozzie Newsome cautions that he’s not done building the roster.
Although he is never among the first names mentioned in conversations about top NFL quarterbacks, Joe Flacco is a strong-armed, accurate, mobile QB who owns a Super Bowl ring and a $120.6 million contract. Flacco improved significantly under Kubiak a year ago. Now, he’ll collaborate with new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman to try to capitalize on his arm strength in more of a vertical passing game.
Flacco has a faster deep threat to work with in Perriman than Smith, who was no slouch. Flacco could still stand to improve on his deep-ball accuracy but has matured into a sharp football mind who makes sound decisions and gets the football out of his hands quickly. Matt Schaub is Flacco’s new backup.
Justin Forsett has transformed his NFL reputation from undersized journeyman to featured back. Forsett was rewarded with a three-year, $9 million contract. He’ll remain the primary back despite the Ravens drafting USC running back Javorius “Buck” Allen, a big back with pass-catching skills. Lorenzo Taliaferro is in the mix as a red-zone presence but has to concentrate on avoiding the fumbles that sent him to the bench as a rookie.
Despite being 36 years old and entering his 15th NFL season, Steve Smith remains fast enough to create separation. He’s still physical and combative after the catch, not conceding anything and challenging defensive backs every snap. Smith will be targeted frequently, but Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro and Kamar Aiken will also be involved.
Williams is expected to have an immediate impact in a passing game that has sorely missed the presence of Dennis Pitta over the past two seasons as he has twice fractured and dislocated his right hip. Pitta’s career is in doubt.
The offensive line represents one of the major strengths of the team. Flacco was sacked only 19 times last year, and all five starters are back. Powerful left guard Kelechi Osemele and gritty veteran right guard Marshal Yanda are entering contract years and are competing for one big deal with at least one expected to leave after this season. Center Jeremy Zuttah’s size and athleticism represent a major upgrade over Gino Gradkowski, a former starter traded to the Broncos. Left tackle Eugene Monroe is coming off a disappointing season in which he struggled in pass protection and didn’t have as much punch as a blocker after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. Rick Wagner emerged as one of the NFL’s top right tackles, utilizing his strength and sound technique to wall off pass rushers. The top backup is John Urschel, a math whiz from Penn State who can play both guard spots and center in a pinch.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ aggressive 3-4 scheme creates a lot of pressure without blitzing with an emphasis on getting outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs isolated in one-on-one blocking situations. Dumervil and Suggs combined for 29 sacks last season as one of the most formidable pass-rushing tandems in the game.
Ngata was a disruptive force who will be replaced by Timmy Jernigan. Jernigan showed flashes of being a capable full-time starter with four sacks as a rookie. He needs to be more consistent, though, and maintain his intensity. Built low to the ground and with the ability to bench press more than 500 pounds, massive lineman Brandon Williams is one of the top nose tackles in the game. Chris Canty is a starter and an experienced leader but will be pushed by young defensive linemen Brent Urban, Carl Davis and Kapron Lewis-Moore. Defensive end Lawrence Guy is an underrated player who has a nose for the football. This should be a strong rotation.
C.J. Mosley is one of the most instinctive young inside linebackers in the NFL. He has great recognition skills and the speed to chase down running backs in the open field. Middle linebacker Daryl Smith is up in years but rewarded the Ravens’ faith in him last season when he piled up 128 tackles — five fewer than Mosley — and forced two fumbles. Outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw hasn’t shown much more than being a brawny edge-setter; the team needs more pass-rush production out of him. Rookie rush linebacker Za’Darius Smith is the top candidate to replace McPhee as a situational pass rusher.
The secondary was decimated by injuries last season. Jimmy Smith was arguably playing at a Pro Bowl level before suffering a Lisfranc foot sprain that required surgery. The Ravens felt good enough about his recovery this offseason to invest a four-year, $48 million contract in him. Veteran corner Lardarius Webb restructured his contract and has made a sound return from a troublesome back injury that hampered him last year. The Ravens lack a proven nickel back and will audition Asa Jackson, Rashaan Melvin and rookie Tray Walker for that role. The team also signed veterans Kyle Arrington and Cassius Vaughn to add to its cornerback depth and give the coaches more options to look at during training camp.
Safety was one of the weakest positions on the team last season, but rangy new free safety Kendrick Lewis is expected to stabilize the position. Matt Elam has been a bust through two NFL seasons but will get another chance to redeem himself at strong safety, his natural position. Will Hill revived his career last year after off-field problems cost him his job with the New York Giants. Hill is slated to compete with Elam for a starting position.
The kicking game is headlined by Justin Tucker, a former Pro Bowl selection and the most accurate kicker in NFL history. Tucker has enough range that he’s a constant scoring threat. The return game is in flux after the Ravens cut Jacoby Jones. Punter Sam Koch averaged 47 yards last season and has good hang time and directional punting skills. Long snapper Morgan Cox is good enough at his job that the Ravens keep signing him to new contracts, even after he tore an ACL for the second time in his career last year.
Although the schedule is demanding, the Ravens remain playoff contenders — if a receiving corps in flux can get the job done and if the secondary can avoid the injuries that have prevented them from getting past Tom Brady in the postseason.
Prediction: 3rd in AFC North
Building on an 11–5 season and an AFC North title won’t be easy for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The offense is loaded and returns every starter from a unit that averaged 411.1 yards per game last season, second best in the NFL. But the defense is a serious work in progress after the Steelers managed just 33 sacks last season, their lowest total since 1989, and allowed 4.4 yards per carry.
The schedule doesn’t do the team any favors, and by at least one measure it is the most difficult in the NFL. The Steelers’ opponents combined for a .578 winning percentage last season, the highest in the league. What’s more, the Steelers have to visit Seattle, San Diego, Kansas City and St. Louis after playing no games west of the Mississippi River in 2014. The Steelers parlayed a favorable schedule last season and a breakout campaign by the offense into their first division title since 2010. It will be much tougher for them to repeat as division champions, especially in the rugged AFC North.
Mike Tomlin has hardly tempered expectations for the unit that carried the Steelers last season. The ninth-year coach said at the NFL owners meetings in late March that the Steelers could have the best offense in the NFL this season because they “have the goods.” He won’t get any arguments in Pittsburgh or beyond the Steel City. The Steelers have arguably the best quarterback-running back-wide receiver trio in the NFL in Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger threw for 4,952 yards last season and became the first player on franchise history to win a passing title (he shared the honor with Drew Brees). Roethlisberger, who turned 33 in March, is seemingly getting better with age. And the Steelers backed up general manager Kevin Colbert’s assertion that Roethlisberger’s best playing days are still ahead of him by signing Big Ben to a five-year contract extension that could be worth as much as $108 million.
Roethlisberger has reigned in the sandlot style that defined him earlier in his career in large part because the players around him are better. Brown led the NFL in catches (129) and receiving yards (1,698) last season and plays bigger than his listed size of 5'10", 186 pounds because of his ability to separate and make contested catches in traffic. If Brown’s production dips this season, it could be because the Steelers have an emerging star in second-year wideout Martavis Bryant as well as Markus Wheaton, who made a significant leap in his second season after playing sparingly as a rookie.
As good as Roethlisberger and Brown were last season, Bell won the Steelers’ MVP Award — as voted on by the players — and for good reason. The second-year man rushed for 1,361 yards and led all NFL running backs with 854 receiving yards. There is not a better all-around back than Bell, who also excels at picking up blitzing linebackers. The Steelers have to hope that DeAngelo Williams can do a credible job of filling in for Bell, who is out at the start of the season because of an NFL suspension.
The offensive line returns intact and is still young but also experienced. Maurkice Pouncey re-established himself as one of the top centers in the NFL last season after coming back from a major knee injury. Right guard David DeCastro is the Steelers’ best pulling guard since perennial Pro Bowler Alan Faneca.
It wasn’t that long ago that questions about whether the Steelers’ defense had gotten too old were as much an autumn ritual in Western Pennsylvania as the leaves changing colors. Not anymore. The average age of the Steelers’ projected starters on defense is 26.5. That number dips if rookie Bud Dupree, the team’s first-round pick, beats out Arthur Moats at left outside linebacker.
The Steelers have a new defensive coordinator with former linebackers coach Keith Butler taking over for Dick LeBeau. Butler won’t stray from the LeBeau’s core philosophy of shutting down the run first and foremost or the Steelers’ base 3-4 defense. He will try to simplify the defense to accommodate the youth he has inherited, and Butler has said that the Steelers have to become more opportunistic. They forced more than two turnovers in a game just twice last season, and they have 41 takeaways in their last two seasons. To put that into perspective, consider that the Steelers had 35 takeaways in 2010 alone, the last time they made the Super Bowl.
The linebackers playing to their pedigree could go a long way toward the Steelers fielding the kind of defense that can complement the offense. They should, at some point, have former first-round picks starting at all four linebacker spots. Two of those players in particular are key. Right outside linebacker Jarvis Jones has to make a big jump in his third season after missing most of 2014 because of a dislocated wrist. Ryan Shazier may be the most likely candidate to break out after a high-ankle sprain and normal rookie growing pains limited the 15th overall pick of the 2014 draft last season. Shazier’s speed and ability to play in space make him more valuable than ever with the Steelers playing their nickel defense more than 50 percent of the time. He is a playmaker, and the competition at inside linebacker, the Steelers’ deepest position, should only bring out the best in Shazier.
The secondary has gotten younger, and third-year man Shamarko Thomas gets the first crack at replacing the iconic Troy Polamalu at strong safety. Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake has said that the Steelers’ two safety positions are interchangeable, but does the team have a player who can cover ample ground on the back end of their defense? Thomas and starting free safety Mike Mitchell are big hitters who support the run. There are questions about how well both can cover.
Shaun Suisham occasionally stubs his toe on field goals he should make but is otherwise as reliable as they come. Punter Brad Wing has to become more consistent in his second season, and the former LSU All-American will be challenged after having training camp all to himself last season. The Steelers have to get more out of kickoff returns after averaging only 21.7 yards per return last season. They drafted Dri Archer in the third round in 2014 to give them a jolt in the return game. He fared so poorly that he lost his job as the team’s primary kickoff returner before the midway point of the season. Archer, the fastest player on the team, has to emerge this season or he is in danger of becoming a bust.
The offense may have to carry the Steelers until a defense in transition comes together. The offense should be a tour de force if it stays relatively healthy, though the Steelers have to start faster. They managed just 19 points on 16 opening drives last season, and scoring first could help take some pressure off the defense.
Few people expected the Steelers to win 11 games last season, and it will be hard to duplicate that number in 2015. Ten victories could be enough to repeat as AFC North champions if the Steelers win at least four division games.
Prediction: 1st in AFC North
The Browns enter 2015 having changed offensive coordinators again, still searching for a real answer at quarterback and still trying to climb out of fourth place in the rugged AFC North. Though this year’s team should have better overall talent and depth and should benefit from having coach Mike Pettine and several key veterans back, it’s fair to wonder if there’s enough offensive firepower to allow the Browns to compete with the league’s best teams.
The defense has been upgraded, and with better tackling and better health among the front seven, there should be a noticeable improvement against the run. The secondary is an experienced and well-paid bunch, too, and has leaders and playmakers in Joe Haden, Donte Whitner, Tashaun Gipson and Tramon Williams.
The offensive line is the team’s strongest and deepest unit, with Alex Mack set to return at center after an injury-shortened 2014 season and perennial Pro Bowler Joe Thomas back at left tackle. Thomas will tutor second-year guard Joel Bitonio and 2015 first-rounder Cameron Erving, who is Mack’s likely eventual successor at center but could play right guard or right tackle. The Browns will try to establish the run and hope to throw off play-action from that.
They’re still building for the future, too; a year after spending two first-round picks on early draft entries who brought maturity issues to the NFL, the Browns went with older, productive players, many of whom figure as 2015 contributors and 2016 starters.
Brian Hoyer was allowed to leave after starting 13 games at quarterback before giving way to Johnny Manziel, who was totally overwhelmed in two starts and spent 10 weeks of the offseason in a rehab center for undisclosed issues. Veteran journeyman Josh McCown was signed to start at quarterback, and veteran receivers Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline were added after the Browns learned their most talented receiver, Josh Gordon, was suspended for at least one year.
Tight end Jordan Cameron departed via free agency, and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan asked out, meaning 2015 marks a fresh start for almost everybody who will touch the ball. Running backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell showed promise as rookies, and both are strong, physical runners who figure to have a chance to improve as they get more comfortable with the NFL game. Slot receiver Andrew Hawkins is a playmaker whose opportunities to be productive figure to depend on the ability of Bowe and Hartline to get open down the field.
Manziel returned to the team in the spring, but the Browns’ decision not to draft a quarterback affirmed the assumption that McCown will start 2015 and Manziel will be given a chance to learn how to be an NFL quarterback from the sideline. His task is to prove to the team that his admitted work-ethic issues from last season are in the past. McCown took a beating last year in Tampa Bay, but the Browns believe with a better offensive line and a run-first approach, he’ll be more like the player who kept the Bears afloat in 2013 when Jay Cutler was injured.
Improvement will be judged by efficiency and on the scoreboard. The 2014 Browns had the league’s worst completion percentage (54.6) and third-down success rate and were 27th in the NFL in scoring. The loss of Mack was huge to the offense’s identity and ability to convert key short-yardage chances. But even with the line set to return intact — and possibly with more depth — the Browns still have to prove they have the skill players to turn routine plays into big gains and consistently score more than 20 points per game.
The one offensive certainty: Thomas will come to play. Amazingly, the Browns left tackle has not missed an offensive snap since he was drafted in 2007.
The Browns have been aggressive in consecutive offseasons in trying to add talent to every level of the defense and believe they’ve built a unit with the necessary talent and depth to be among the best in the AFC.
The defensive line was overvalued a year ago and suffered when injuries hit. But the linebacking corps got big seasons from Karlos Dansby and Paul Kruger, and the secondary added Williams to a group that could really make a leap if 2014 first-round pick Justin Gilbert can overcome the maturity issues that plagued him a year ago.
Gipson contended for the NFL interception lead, and though Whitner is 30, he’s still active and disruptive. Haden has emerged as one of the league’s top cornerbacks, and the Browns believe Gilbert has the talent to be a playmaker, too. Even with his issues last season he showed flashes on the field.
There’s age across the defense — Dansby, Whitner, Kruger, Williams, defensive end Desmond Bryant and new defensive end Randy Starks all have plenty of experience — but there are some young legs, too, in Haden, linebacker Chris Kirksey and rookie nose tackle Danny Shelton. The Browns considered Shelton, the No. 12 overall pick in the draft, the best player to immediately shore up a run defense that ranked last in the NFL a season ago. The Browns drafted two defensive linemen in the first three rounds with Bryant nearing 30 and former first-round pick Phil Taylor entering the final year of his contract.
The Browns will ask a lot of this defense, but they believe that the group is up to the challenge if the run defense improves. Some help from the offense on the scoreboard and in time of possession would be welcomed, but there are pieces to work with here.
The Browns had to make a change at placekicker last season when Billy Cundiff struggled. Garrett Hartley was a December addition who faced no real pressure kicks, and it’s surprising the Browns didn’t draft a kicker to give him some competition this summer. Young punter Spencer Lanning established himself last season, but the Browns decided to make a change , acquiring Andy Lee from the 49ers in June. In Lee, Cleveland gets a three-time Pro Bowler who averaged 46.2 yards per punt (39.6 net) since taking over as San Francisco's punter in 2004, while the 49ers reportedly will receive the Browns' seventh-round pick in the 2017 draft. Lanning was released to make room for Lee. The punt-return game was a disaster last season, and Travis Benjamin is probably down to his last chance with the Browns in this training camp. Among the other candidates to return kicks and punts are rookie running back Duke Johnson, Gilbert and speedy second-year receiver Taylor Gabriel.
The Browns won seven games last year, the most by the franchise since 2007. But the offense went totally flat late in the year, there were too many off-field incidents, and the season ended with a five-game losing streak. The 2015 team should be equipped with better leaders, better chemistry and better depth, but it’s still fair to wonder who’s going to make big plays and if this team will score enough touchdowns to be a legitimate playoff contender.