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All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/coastal-carolina-unveils-new-teal-green-turf-2015

Coastal Carolina is one of the nation’s most intriguing programs on the FCS level. The Chanticleers are led by coach Joe Moglia (a former CEO of TD Ameritrade) and will have a new “Teal Green Turf” coming to their stadium in 2015.

The different colors for turfs are no stranger to college football, as Boise State’s blue turf and Eastern Washington’s red field are two recognizable places for fans.

Now Coastal Carolina hopes to make an impression with the new field, which is slated to debut in 2015:

Coastal Carolina Unveils New Teal Green Turf for 2015
Post date: Monday, January 26, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/where-did-college-football-find-its-starting-quarterbacks-2015

Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Jameis Winston are gone, leaving massive voids at three power programs. With another year of turnover under center comes another year of new faces in new places.

So Athlon Sports takes its best shot at projecting each of the Power 5 programs starting quarterback for 2015, and most importantly, where they came from.


As National Signing Day approaches, here are some intriguing geographical facts to consider about the projected starting quarterbacks from the top 65 programs in college football (including Notre Dame) for '15.


Territorial footprint

Bragging about how good your league’s quarterbacks are really is all about conference supremacy. In the ACC, 11 of the 14 starting QBs are from East of the Mississippi and nine are from states touching the Atlantic Ocean. Seven starters from the Big 12 are from Texas and eight are from the Big 12 footprint. Out West, all but one Pac-12 starter is from West of Colorado with 10 coming from within the footprint. The SEC features 10 starters from the conference footprint, two more from border states (OH, NC) and only Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen hailing from outside of the region. Despite having the biggest conference footprint, from both a geographical and population standpoint, the Big Ten is the only league with issues at this position. Only six of 14 projected B1G signal callers hail from the B1G footprint.


Keystone disappearance

Pennsylvania was once a hotbed for Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Johnny Unitas, Jim Kelly, Joe Namath, Johnny Lujack and even Rich Gannon came from the Keystone State. Entering 2015, not one Power 5 team projects to have a starter from Pennsylvania.


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Big Three (or four)

California (10), Texas (10) and Florida (6) have long been the riches recruiting hotbeds and that appears to be the case once again. Of 65 Power 5 teams, 26 feature projected starters from one of these three states. Add in Georgia (6) and basically half of the big school starting QBs hail from four states (32 of 65). The interesting question is what to make of Florida. Six schools will feature a starter from the Sunshine State but only one (Florida) is in-state or considered a national power. The other five programs with starters from Florida? Iowa, Iowa State, NC State, Duke and Wake Forest.


Southeast and East Coast dominate

When it comes to producing talent, it’s hard to argue that the Southeast is where the best prep football is being played. The SEC and Big Ten both brag 11 different states in their footprint but the southeastern footprint is dramatically out-producing the Midwest and Rust Belt. Of the 65 Power 5 starters, 32 hail from the SEC footprint while the B1G footprint produced just nine. Additionally, only two states, not housing a Power 5 team produced a Power 5 quarterback: Delaware (Darius Wade, Boston College) and Nevada (Anu Solomon, Arizona). Here is a breakdown of where starting QBs come from:


N/A:2DE, NV 

* - there is overlap as Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky count as both ACC and SEC. Texas is both Big 12 and SEC.


Kevin Hogan’s journey

Only five of the 65 power programs traveled farther than 2,000 miles to land their starting quarterback. Stanford went the farthest of anyone to land Kevin Hogan, going 2,788 miles from Palo Alto to McLean, Va. In fact, only 16 of 65 Power 5 teams went more than 1,000 miles to get their starter. Here is the list:


Kevin Hogan2,788McLean, VA
Hayden Rettig2,745Los Angelos, CA
Brad Kaaya2,718West Hills, CA
Nate Sudfeld2,172Modesto, CA
Tyler Ferguson2,107Bakersfield, CA
Jake Rudock1,436Weston, FL
Sam Richardson1,332Winter Park, FL
Cyler Miles1,326Centennial, CO
Sefo Liufau1,284Tacoma, WA
Skyler Howard1,267Fort Worth, TX
Michael Brewer1,251Lake Travis, TX
Luke Del Rio1,163Highland Ranch, CO
J.T. Barrett1,084Wichita Falls, TX
Mason Rudolph1,076Rock Hill, SC
Kyle Allen1,045Scottsdale, AZ
Sean Maguire1,014Sparta, NJ

Here are the projected starters from the Power 5 schools broken up state by state. These are extremely early educated guesses at who will be starting for the biggest programs in college football. And where they came from:


California10Cody Kessler, Brad Kaaya, Jared Goff, Mike Bercovici, Josh Rosen, Travis Wilson, Nate Sudfeld, Jeff Lockie, Tyler Ferguson, Hayden Rettig
Texas10Trevone Boykin, J.T. Barrett, Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, Seth Russell, Tommy Armstrong, Skyler Howard, Tyrone Swoopes, Michael Cummings, Michael Brewer
Florida6Jacoby Brissett, Jake Rudock, Treon Harris, Sam Richardson, Thomas Sirk, John Wolford
Georgia6Deshaun Watson, Josh Dobbs, Anthony Jennings, Brice Ramsey, Johnny McCrary, Greyson Lambert
Ohio4Connor Cook, Maty Mauk, Malik Zaire, Austin Appleby
Alabama3Justin Thomas, Jacob Coker, Jeremy Johnson
Virginia2Christian Hackenberg, Kevin Hogan
South Carolina2Mason Rudolph, Caleb Rowe
North Carolina2Marquise Williams, Connor Mitch
Colorado2Cyler Miles, Luke Del Rio
Louisiana2Dak Prescott, Zack Oliver
New York2Terrel Hunt, Chad Kelly
Arizona1Kyle Allen
Arkansas1Brandon Allen
Delaware1Darius Wade
Kansas1Joe Hubener
Kentucky1Patrick Towles
Illinois1Wes Lunt
Michigan1Shane Morris
Minnesota1Mitch Leidner
New Jersey1Sean Maguire
Nevada1Anu Solomon
Tennessee1Chad Voytik
Utah1Luke Falk
Washington1Sefo Liufau
Wisconsin1Joel Stave
Where did College Football find its starting quarterbacks for 2015?
Post date: Monday, January 26, 2015 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-weekend-preview-top-10-games-and-predictions-jan-24

The headline of the week in college hoops will be Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s bid for 1,000 career wins. He’ll try to hit that landmark on the road, making Duke’s game at St. John’s a part of the theme of the weekend.


A number of top teams are looking for key wins on the road, many of which to re-establish their bona fides as conference contenders or national contenders.


Kentucky’s undefeated record wouldn’t seem to be in danger against a cold South Carolina team, but this game may be personal after the Wildcats were embarrassed in Columbia a year ago.


Kansas and Oklahoma, on paper, are Big 12 contenders, but they’ve taken losses in the last week and will look to pick up key wins in the state of Texas.


Meanwhile, teams like Indiana and LSU are facing key show-me moments on the road after building momentum through the week.


College Basketball Weekly Preview and Picks

All times Eastern


Indiana at Ohio State (Sunday, 1:30 p.m., CBS)

Surprise, surprise: Indiana is tied for the Big Ten lead. The season started with Tom Crean’s job in question after a rash of off-court issues and then a home loss to Eastern Washington. The Hoosiers have won four in the row in the Big Ten, and they’re doing it with the most explosive team in the league. In the last four games, Indiana is averaging 1.18 points per possession in the process. A 69-66 win at home over Ohio State started this streak; Another win would further solidify IU as a Big Ten contender.

Prediction: Ohio State 70-67


Duke at St. John’s (Sunday, 2 p.m., FOX)

With the next three games on the road, Mike Krzyzewski likely won’t be able to win No. 1,000 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Madison Square Garden, though, feels like the next best place. Duke is back on track with a pair of lopsided wins over Louisville and Pittsburgh erasing memories of back-to-back losses more than a week ago. St. John’s has cooled since a nice start to the season, but a Red Storm team with guard Rysheed Jordan flourishing will give Duke something to think about.

Prediction: Duke 75-68


Seton Hall at Butler (Sunday, Fox Sports Net, 3 p.m.)

What happened to Seton Hall? The Pirates entered the top 25 after a win over Villanova and a 12-2 start and then promptly went on to lose three of four, including back-to-back games at home. Maybe a trip to Butler will help Seton hall refocus, but the Pirates already lost 79-75 in overtime at home to the Bulldogs on Jan. 13. The difference in this game may be from the 3-point line. Butler is shooting 33.3 percent from 3 in conference games while Seton Hall is holding league opponents to 24.1 percent, the best figure in the Big East.

Prediction: Butler 71-64


Louisville at Pittsburgh (Sunday, 4 p.m., CBS)

Should this game even have a 3-point line? Duke underscored Louisville’s season-long struggles from long range about a week ago, but Pittsburgh isn’t much better. The Cardinals are shooting 30 percent from 3 in ACC play while Pitt is shooting 26.9 percent. The Panthers, though, seem to acknowledge this weakness by taking only 24 percent of their shots from 3.

Prediction: Louisville 76-64


Notre Dame at NC State (Sunday, 6:30 p.m., ESPNU)

Here is NC State’s season since Dec. 12: W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L. The trend says NC State is in for a victory over a solid Notre Dame team. The Irish, though, have one of the best offensive teams in the country, ranking No. 1 in adjusted offensive efficiency on This is a flexible group that went small to beat Miami in the second half last week and then had 6-10 center Zach Auguste go for 16 points against Virginia Tech on Thursday.

Prediction: Notre Dame 75-70

College Basketball Weekend Preview: Top 10 Games and Predictions
Post date: Friday, January 23, 2015 - 18:22
All taxonomy terms: Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, NBA
Path: /nba/steve-kerr-mike-budenholzer-coach-nba-all-star-teams
The formality has taken place, and the NBA’s two best teams will send their respective coaches to the benches for the 2015 NBA All-Star game in New York City, this February.


Funny thing about it: Mike Budenholzer, of the 35-8 Atlanta Hawks, wasn’t even a head coach two years ago this time. Neither was first-year Golden State Warriors man Steve Kerr, who’s led his team to a franchise-best 34-6 start.


Change happens fast in the contemporary, parity-driven NBA, and these two men might as well be the faces of it. Both coaches have improved their teams mightily by getting them to play their most selfless ball possible, trusting each other and some firm principles on defense, and moving the ball around fluidly to a vast array of deep-shooting talent on offense.


At time of publication, The Warriors and Hawks are No. 1 and No. 2 in 3-point field goal percentage, respectively.


Budenholzer and Kerr also share the common ground of a history with renowned San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Budenholzer was an assistant under Pop for the majority of his stint in San Antonio, while Kerr played for the Spurs toward the end of his career, winning two titles with the team.


While the All-Star game is all about hijinks, levity and celebrity, this coaching showdown could very well prove to augur more serious stuff — the Hawks and Warriors are on a collision course in the NBA Finals. It’s just January, so there’s plenty of time for that to change; but there’s a fair chance we’ll look back on this event as the beginning of an epic NBA rivalry. 


For now, the All-Star game can wait, but you certainly shouldn’t miss basketball’s two best teams as they finally square off two weeks from today in Atlanta.


— John Wilmes


Post date: Friday, January 23, 2015 - 15:45
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-january-23-2015

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 23: 


Anna Kournikova, once an Internet marvel, has quietly resurfaced on Instagram.


JaKarr Sampson suffered some quality, weapons-grade rookie hazing.


While the NFL dithers, new details seep out in Ball-ghazi.


While Tom Brady talked about balls, Twitter turned into a giggling 13-year-old boy.


Gillette's publicty from DeflateGate: almost priceless.


The scandal gets the "Few Good Men" treatment.


Meanwhile, the pearl-clutching has shifted into overdrive. What about the children?


Blake Griffin sexually harrassed a trainer last night.


A brawl erupted at the Alabama-Auburn women's basketball game. (Kramer voice) yeye, catfight.


• Always fun: Super Bowl prop bets.


Julian Edelman posted a Patriots "Growing Pains" parody clip. Not bad.


• The Bucks did a little quality trolling of the Patriots.


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

Post date: Friday, January 23, 2015 - 10:45
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/who-will-be-next-college-basketball-coach-1000-wins

Even Mike Krzyzewski’s records are made to be broken. The Duke coach will be the first men’s college basketball coach to reach the 1,000-win mark, but he won’t be the last.


One Division I coach is right on his heels. Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, the only other major college basketball coach well over the 900-win mark, could join him next season.


Assessing the next crop of potential 1,000-win coaches is no easy task and in many ways puts Krzyzewski’s (and eventually Boeheim’s) feat into further perspective.


Simply put, any coach looking to hit 1,000 should probably get his first head coaching job around age 30 and plan to coach until he’s around 70, probably both, and most important, be at the top of his game for most of four decades.


Jim Boeheim, Syracuse

Age: 70

Wins entering 2014-15: 948 in 38 seasons (24.9 per season)

Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 2

Notes: Boeheim, who already has the record for wins at a single program, would be the odds-on favorite to match Krzyzewski’s 1,000 wins. He sits at 14-5 right now, meaning he could hit 1,000 wins in 2016-17.


Bob Huggins, West Virginia

Age: 61

Wins entering 2014-15: 740 in 32 seasons (23.1 per season)

Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 11.2

Notes: Huggins’ pace has had a few hiccups. First, he missed one season in between his departure at Cincinnati and his arrival at Kansas State in 2006. More recent, Huggins also slipped below 20 wins for three consecutive seasons before this year. That said, he could still get to 1,000 by his early 70s.


Roy Williams, North Carolina

Age: 64

Wins entering 2014-15: 724 in 26 seasons (27.8 per season)

Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 9.9

Notes: In terms of games, Williams is among the fastest coaches to landmark wins — 700, 600, 500, 400 and 300. That’s part of the benefit of coaching at Kansas and North Carolina. Williams, though, didn’t become a head coach until he was 38, meaning he may have to coach into his mid-70s to hit the 1,000 mark.


Rick Pitino, Louisville

Age: 62

Wins entering 2014-15: 629 in 29 seasons (21.7 per season)

Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 17.1

Notes: Pitino may need to coach until he’s 80 to reach the 1,000-win plateau. Of course, he could have reached it sooner if not for six non-consecutive seasons in the NBA. Michigan’s John Beilein (626 wins at age 61) never left the college game, but he is on a similar pace.


John Calipari, Kentucky

Age: 55

Wins entering 2014-15: 555 wins in 22 seasons (25.2 per season)

Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 17.7

Notes: As long as he’s at Kentucky, Calipari will have a chance at 1,000 wins. Take that projection of 17.7 years from the start of this season with a grain of salt. Calipari has averaged 32 wins per year since 2005-06 at Memphis. Keep up that pace and he could be to 1,000 wins around age 70.


Billy Donovan, Florida

Age: 49

Wins entering 2014-15: 486 in 20 seasons (24.3 per season)

Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 21.1

Notes: Donovan started his career with the nickname of “Billy the Kid,” taking the Marshall job at age 28, the same age Krzyzewski was when he started at Army. Donovan will hit 500 wins before he turns 50, something even Krzyzewski can’t say.


Bill Self, Kansas

Age: 52

Wins entering 2014-15: 532 in 21 seasons (25.3 per season)

Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 18.5

Notes: Another coach with a ton of wins at a relatively young age at a place where he’s going to build his win total. Kansas has won fewer than 30 games just once since 2009, so Self is ahead of that 18-season pace to 1,000.


Thad Matta, Ohio State

Age: 47

Wins entering 2014-15: 377 in 14 seasons (26.9 per season)

Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 23.1

Notes: The low-key Matta may be a dark horse in this race, but that 27-wins-per-season average can’t be ignored. He’s also remarkably consistent. He’s never won fewer than 20 games in a season and has won more than 30 games three times.


Mark Few, Gonzaga

Age: 52

Wins entering 2014-15: 403 in 15 seasons (26.9 per season)

Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 22.1

Notes: At first, Few seemed like the perfect coach who could challenge for 1,000 wins — young(ish), wildly successful already and at a place where he could reel off seasons with 27 wins or more until the end of his career. But Few also was in his late 30s when he took over at Gonzaga, meaning age will catch up to him before 1,000 wins.


Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics

Age: 38

Wins entering 2014-15: 166 in six seasons (27.7 per season)

Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: N/A

Notes: We include Stevens as a hypothetical. Taking over at Butler at age 30 and racing to two 30-win seasons and two Final Fours in his first four seasons put him on a torrid pace. Should he ever return to the college game, he’ll probably take over a plum job, helping him pick up where he left off. But the if and when of such a scenario is uncertain.


Shaka Smart, VCU

Age: 37

Wins entering 2014-15: 137 in five seasons (27.4 per season)

Seasons to 1,000-wins at current pace: 31.5

Notes: A lot can happen in 30 years, but Smart is one of the only realistic coaches who could approach 1,000 wins on Kzyzewski’s timetable of 67 years old. See you in 2046?


Sean Miller, Arizona

Age: 46

Wins entering 2014-15: 249 in 10 seasons (24.9 per season)

Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 30.1

Notes: This one is a little surprising. Miller is young and successful. He’s at a power program and even better days seem to be in his future with the foundation he’s built at Arizona. He’ll probably better his career average over the next few seasons — he won 17 games in his first year at Xavier and 16 in his first year at Arizona — but he also started his first coaching gig at 36.


Rick Byrd, Belmont

Age: 61

Wins entering 2014-15: 689 in 33 seasons (20.8 per season)

Seasons to 1,000 wins at current pace: 15

Notes: Here’s a reminder that non-Division I wins will count in at least a section of the NCAA record book. Byrd reached the 700-win club this season at Belmont, a program that was in the NAIA when he started. The transition means Byrd went seven consecutive seasons without posting 20 wins. Belmont has averaged 24 wins since 2005-06, meaning Byrd could get to 1,000 wins two seasons earlier.

Who Will be the Next College Basketball Coach to 1,000 Wins?
Post date: Friday, January 23, 2015 - 10:41
All taxonomy terms: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA
Path: /nba/kobe-bryant-has-torn-rotator-cuff

One of the last guardians of the NBA’s fading generation of old superstars, Kobe Bryant, may be seeing the end of his road a little sooner than expected.


The Los Angeles Lakers announced Thursday that their 36-year-old legend has a torn rotator cuff. ESPN’s Baxter Holmes and Ramona Shelburne say that many within the organization fear that Kobe will need season-ending surgery. If that’s the case, Bryant will have played 35 games in a season in which he’s being paid $24 million to lead a 12-31 Lakers squad into the draft lottery.


Things aren’t ending as well as they started for Bryant. The Lakers traded for Bryant after the Charlotte Hornets drafted him, and then for a decade and a half he played almost exclusively in important games, on important teams. He was always near his sport’s competitive zenith. But now, the Black Mamba is more of a mascot than a feared competitor, yukking it up with LeBron on the sideline as L.A. loses and the next wave of top ballers takes things over permanently.


The Lakers are stuck in a strange purgatory until Kobe’s fate is known for good. As long as he’s around, it’s hard to see a new era starting. The franchise will likely proceed as a sort of traveling nostalgia act until they gut the roster and adopt a fresh direction.


Some have speculated that this is happening — that general manager Mitch Kupchak has allowed the team to go on in their current fashion because it’s leading them right where they need to be: atop the NBA Draft.


Whether or not this is the case, it’s certainly a strange time to be a Lakers fan. One of the proudest, most accomplished outfits in all of pro sporting is in a lull, and Bryant is the breathing symbol of their sitting on the fence between gold and whatever’s much worse than bronze. 


— John Wilmes


Post date: Friday, January 23, 2015 - 10:04
Path: /college-football/early-acc-football-predictions-2015

College football’s 2014 season has ended, and the focus shifts from the national championship picture to signing day, spring practice and early preseason rankings for 2015. While last year and Ohio State’s national title victory over Oregon is still fresh in our minds, it’s never too early to think about next season.


Florida State dominated the ACC over the last two seasons, but the gap between the Seminoles and the rest of the league has narrowed entering 2015. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team has several personnel concerns, and Clemson returns promising sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson. On the other side of the league, Georgia Tech is the favorite to repeat as the Coastal champion. Virginia Tech is a team to watch next season if coach Frank Beamer’s team improves on offense.


Early Atlantic Division Rankings for 2015


1. Florida State
2014 Record:
13-1 (8-0)

It’s a close call between Florida State and Clemson for the top spot in the Atlantic. And in a potential tiebreaker between these two programs, this year’s game is in Death Valley. But for now, the Seminoles get the nod as the favorite in this division. The losses on both sides of the ball are heavy for coach Jimbo Fisher. However, only one team – Alabama – has a better average recruiting rank than Florida State over the last five seasons. Junior Sean Maguire is the favorite to replace Jameis Winston at quarterback. Maguire threw for 304 yards (Clemson) in his only career start. Until Maguire settles in under center, expect the offense to use a heavy dose of running back Dalvin Cook. In addition to replacing Winston, four starters are gone from the line and receiving targets Rashad Greene (WR) and Nick O’Leary (TE) expired their eligibility. After holding opponents to 12.1 points per game in 2013, Florida State’s defense regressed on the stat sheet. The Seminoles allowed 25.6 points per game and 5.5 yards per play in 2014. Getting the defense back to an elite level next year will be a challenge with the departure of tackle Eddie Goldman, end Mario Edwards Jr. and cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams. However, much like the offense, there’s no shortage of promising young talent waiting to emerge next season.

2. Clemson
2014 Record:
10-3 (6-2)

The Tigers are coming off their best four-year stretch in school history, and coach Dabo Swinney’s team is poised to contend for the league title in 2015. Quarterback Deshaun Watson shined in limited action, and if healthy, will be one of the top signal-callers in the nation next year. Receivers Artavis Scott (1,002 total yards) and Mike Williams (18.1 ypc), and running backs Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye headline a talented group of skill players. Protecting Watson is a priority, and the line needs to be revamped with three starters departing. While there’s a lot of talent in place, coordinator Chad Morris – arguably one of the top offensive minds in the nation – left to be the head coach at SMU. Can Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott continue to keep the offense performing at a high level? And the biggest concern for this team in 2015 will be replacing the defensive losses from a unit that led the nation in fewest yards per play allowed (4.0) in 2014. Standouts Vic Beasley (DE), Corey Crawford (DE), Grady Jarrett (DT), Stephone Anthony (LB) and Garry Peters (CB) have expired their eligibility. How quickly can coordinator Brent Venables restock the cupboard?

3. Louisville
2014 Record:
9-4 (5-3)

Louisville’s first season in the ACC was a success. The Cardinals lost four games, but three of those defeats were against Florida State, Georgia and Clemson – teams ranked among the top 15 in the nation in the final Associated Press poll. Coach Bobby Petrino has some rebuilding to do this offseason to get Louisville back into the mix for nine wins in 2015. Who starts at quarterback in 2015? Will it be Reggie Bonnafon, Kyle Bolin or Will Gardner? Or will Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson win the job in the spring? In addition to settling the quarterback battle, top receiver DeVante Parker, tight end Gerald Christian and three starters on the offensive line must be replaced. The biggest surprise in 2014 was the defense, which despite the return of only four starters, limited opponents to 4.5 yards per play in ACC games. This unit loses a key player at each level, including safety Gerod Holliman, cornerback Charles Gaines and linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin.   

4. NC State
2014 Record:
8-5 (3-5)

The Wolfpack improved by five victories in coach Dave Doeren’s second season in Raleigh. The five wins were the biggest jump in overall improvement by an ACC team from 2013 to 2014. NC State probably won’t see another five-win increase in victories next year, but this team should take another step forward under Doeren. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett is back after passing for 2,606 yards and 23 scores last year. The senior helped the offense score at least 30 points in each of its last three games. Brissett’s return will help this unit continue to improve statistically, but top receivers Bo Hines and Marquez Valdes-Scantling decided to transfer. The running back duo of Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes should be one of the best in the ACC next year. It’s a good thing the Wolfpack should have no trouble scoring points, as the defense allowed 31.3 points per game in ACC contests in 2014. Improvement should be expected on defense, but there are some significant losses in the trenches – Art Norman, Thomas Teal and T.Y. McGill.

5. Boston College
2014 Record:
8-5 (3-5)

Make no mistake: The Eagles are going to lose some key pieces off last year’s team. But after winning seven games in 2014 with just nine returning starters, it’s safe to assume coach Steve Addazio will find a few answers this offseason and keep this team in contention for bowl games. The biggest question mark of the spring will be who replaces Tyler Murphy at quarterback. Darius Wade is expected to replace Murphy, and the sophomore is considered another dual-threat option with potential in the passing game. The strength of Boston College under Addazio has been its offensive line and rushing attack. However, Addazio must replace all five starters on the line and more playmakers need to emerge at receiver to help an inexperienced quarterback. A handful of key defenders depart from a unit that allowed only 21.3 points per game in 2014.

6. Syracuse
2014 Record:
3-9 (1-7)

Scott Shafer’s second season saw a four-game regression in the win column, and Syracuse’s only victory in ACC play came against Wake Forest. Needless to say, the third year is a critical one for Shafer. Can the program get back on track? Or will the Orange finish 3-9 again? Injuries were partly to blame for Syracuse’s regression in the win column, but there’s hope for improvement with a healthy Terrel Hunt at quarterback. In addition to Hunt’s return, the offense needs receivers Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime to avoid injuries after each played in only five games in 2014. Left tackle Sean Hickey and running back Prince-Tyson Gulley are other key losses for an offense that failed to score more than 17 points in each of its last five games. The defense suffered losses at each level, including standout safety Durell Eskridge and leading tackler (LB) Cameron Lynch.

7. Wake Forest
2014 Record:
3-9 (1-7)

Dave Clawson has been a head coach in the FCS and FBS ranks at four different programs. At his first two stops, Clawson’s team showed marked improvement from the first season to year two. Expect Wake Forest to take a step forward on the stat sheet and on the field in 2015, as Clawson inherited a roster in need of repair and a young depth chart. The Demon Deacons aren’t slated to lose many players, but cornerbacks Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel, safety Anthony Wooding Jr. and end Zach Allen are big losses on defense. Improvement on offense is a must after averaging just 3.1 yards per play in eight ACC contests this year. The statistics weren’t pretty, but Wake Forest has some promising young talent in the mix. Quarterback John Wolford and tight end Cam Serigne are two players for Clawson to build around. However, the skill talent won’t matter if the Demon Deacons can’t fix their offensive line (48 in 2014).

Early Coastal Division Rankings for 2015

1. Georgia Tech
2014 Record:
11-3 (6-2)

The defending Coastal champs should be the favorite to win this division in 2015. Georgia Tech rebounded from a 14-13 record from 2012-13 to finish 11-3 in 2014 – its first season of double-digit victories since 2009. A big reason for the improvement in the win column was the emergence of quarterback Justin Thomas. In 14 games, Thomas rushed for 1,086 yards and eight scores and passed for 1,719 yards and 18 touchdowns to only six interceptions. Having a veteran quarterback like Thomas executing the triple option offense is critical, especially since Georgia Tech is losing five of its top seven rushers from 2014. Guard Shaquille Mason was one of the best in college football and will be missed next year. The defense gave up 6.2 yards per play in 2014 but compensated by forcing 29 turnovers. With a chunk of the starting 11 on defense returning, improvement on the stat sheet should be expected. A key scheduling note for 2015: Georgia Tech hosts Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.

2. Virginia Tech
2014 Record:
7-6 (3-5)

Thanks to a favorable schedule and 13 returning starters, Virginia Tech was considered by some to be a contender in the Coastal Division in 2014. However, the Hokies never emerged as a threat to win the division and needed a victory over Virginia in the season finale to get bowl eligible. In order for coach Frank Beamer’s team to contend in the ACC once again, fixing the offense has to be a priority. Quarterback Michael Brewer has to cut down on his mistakes (15 picks) but also needs more help from the offensive line and young receiving corps. Having a healthy stable of backs after injuries robbed Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie of large chunks of playing time in 2014 will help an offense that averaged only 4.9 yards per play. As usual under coordinator Bud Foster, the defense should be among the best in the ACC. Safeties Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner and linebacker Chase Williams are key losses, but the defense regains the services of tackle Luther Maddy and cornerback Brandon Facyson after both missed nearly all of last season due to injury. Cornerback Kendall Fuller is one of the ACC’s top defenders.

3. North Carolina
2014 Record:
6-7 (4-4)

Since an 8-4 record in Larry Fedora’s debut in 2012, North Carolina has regressed in the win column over the last two seasons. The Tar Heels went 6-7 last season and continued to struggle mightily on defense. North Carolina allowed 6.5 yards per play and gave up 39 points per game. While the defensive numbers aren’t pretty, there’s reason for optimism entering 2015. Most of the depth chart on defense was comprised of underclassmen last season, and new coordinator Gene Chizik has a strong track record. If the Tar Heels find a few answers on defense, they can contend in this division in 2015. The offense averaged 33.2 points per game in 2014 and returns largely intact. Quarterback Marquise Williams should be in the mix for All-ACC honors, while all five starters are back on the offensive line.

4. Miami
2014 Record:
6-7 (3-5)

Miami is just 16-16 in ACC play under coach Al Golden. Is this the year the Hurricanes win the division crown or finish in the final Associated Press poll for the first time since 2009? Running back Duke Johnson and standout left tackle Ereck Flowers left for the NFL, but the offense can build around rising star Brad Kaaya at quarterback. As a true freshman, Kaaya threw for 3,198 yards and 26 scores in 2014. Joe Yearby is a breakout candidate as Johnson’s replacement, and the Hurricanes need receiver Stacy Coley to regain his explosiveness (17.9 ypc in 2013) after averaging only eight yards per catch in 2014. The performance on defense has been an ongoing issue for Miami under Golden, but this unit limited opponents to 4.9 yards per play in ACC games. However, the Hurricanes struggled to get stops on third downs and in the red zone, while recording only 15 sacks in conference play. Linebacker Denzel Perryman and end Anthony Chickillo are two huge losses on defense.

5. Duke
2014 Record:
9-4 (5-3)

Duke’s 19 wins from 2013-14 is the best two-year stretch in school history. Coach David Cutcliffe has elevated the program, and the Blue Devils will be in the mix for a finish among the top three in the division once again. Quarterback Anthony Boone, receiver Jamison Crowder and guard Laken Tomlinson are big losses for an offense that averaged 32.4 points per game in 2014. Running back Jela Duncan’s return from an academic suspension deepens a backfield that already returns Shaquille Powell (618 yards) and Shaun Wilson (7.7 ypc). Thomas Sirk is the favorite to replace Boone at quarterback. The defense was hit hard by departures in the front seven, but the secondary could be among the best in the ACC with the return of safety Jeremy Cash. 

6. Pittsburgh
2014 Record:
6-7 (4-4)

Pat Narduzzi is Pittsburgh’s fourth head coach in six seasons. Stability at the head coach position is crucial for the Panthers in the long-term, and Narduzzi seems to be the right fit in the Steel City. Pittsburgh lost five games by five points or less in 2014, so a little improvement on both sides could result in a two-game swing in the win column. Narduzzi’s speciality is defense, which is an area of focus for the Panthers after giving up 29.6 points per game in 2014. Running back James Conner and receiver Tyler Boyd are two of the ACC’s top players, and both should thrive under new coordinator Jim Chaney. Quarterback Chad Voytik threw for 2,233 yards and 16 scores in his first season as the starter, and to help the junior progress as a passer, Chaney needs to find a few more weapons to complement Boyd in the receiving corps. The offensive line returns largely intact, but standout tackle T.J. Clemmings must be replaced.

7. Virginia
2014 Record:
5-7 (3-5)

2015 is a make-or-break year for coach Mike London at Virginia. The Cavaliers showed improvement in 2014, going from 2-10 (2013) to 5-7 last season. But even though the five victories represent the second-highest total of London’s tenure, Virginia has only one winning season over the last five years. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for the Cavaliers. Using the 2010-14 signing classes, Virginia has the No. 6 roster in the ACC. For this team to reach the six-win mark, the offense has to take a step forward. The Cavaliers averaged 20.9 points per game in eight ACC contests last season and lost 24 turnovers. The defense was the strength of this team in 2014, but standouts Eli Harold (DE), Max Valles (LB), Henry Coley (LB) and Anthony Harris (S) must be replaced. 

Early ACC Football Predictions for 2015
Post date: Friday, January 23, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: super-bowl, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/all-time-all-super-bowl-team-nfl

Super Bowl XLIX features plenty of the game's top players, including New England's Tom Brady, Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson. And with a big performance in the Feb. 1 matchup, those players could earn a spot among the best to play on the NFL's biggest stage. Here's a look at Athlon's All-Time Super Bowl team, highlighting the best performance in the big game.

All-time All-Super Bowl Offense:


QB: Joe Montana, SF

With four Super Bowl wins, Montana has a career Big Game passer rating of 127.8, the best ever. Joe Cool tossed 11 touchdown passes to six different receivers with no interceptions. During his Super Bowl career, he threw 28 passes on third down, completing 19 of them for 14 first downs. Honorable Mention: John Elway, DEN


RB: Franco Harris, PIT

There is no shortage of candidates at running back. Harris rushed for 354 yards in Pittsburgh’s four Super wins in the 1970s and had another 114 yards receiving. In the four games, Harris had 18 touches on third down resulting in 10 first downs and three touchdowns. And Harris is the only runner with more than 100 carries in Super Bowl history. HM: Emmitt Smith, DAL


RB: Roger Craig, SF

In three Super Bowls for San Francisco, all wins, Craig amassed 413 yards from scrimmage with four touchdowns, including 101 yards receiving in Super Bowl XXIII. HM: Terrell Davis, DEN


WR: Lynn Swann, PIT

Fans who saw him in the Super Bowl probably remember flying, acrobatic catches. But Swann meant more to the Steelers than just a couple of circus catches. He is second all-time with 364 receiving yards, all coming in three Super Bowls. HM: John Stallworth, PIT


WR: Jerry Rice, SF

Rice is another no-brainer. Let’s see: most Super Bowl receptions in a career (33), most yards receiving in a career (589) and game (215), most yards from scrimmage in a career (604), the only player to score three TDs in a game twice. Oh, and he earned an MVP. HM: Isaac Bruce, STL


TE: Jay Novacek, DAL

One of quarterback Troy Aikman’s favorite clutch targets, Novacek scored the first Dallas touchdown in Super Bowls XXVII and XXX. In three wins he totaled 148 yards and two scores on 17 catches. HM: Shannon Sharpe, DEN/BAL


LT: Jon Kolb, PIT

The only constant along the Pittsburgh offensive line during their run of four Super Bowls in the 1970s, Kolb led the way for Franco Harris’ running and protected Terry Bradshaw in the passing game. HM: Mark Tuinei, DAL


LG: Nate Newton, DAL

Emmitt Smith became the all-time leading NFL rusher thanks in large — and we do mean large — part to Newton. In Newton’s three Super Bowls, the Cowboys scored 52, 30 and 27 points. HM: Russ Grimm, WAS


C: Jim Langer, MIA

Langer anchored the line during Miami’s back-to-back titles in the 1970s. In Super Bowl VIII, Miami rushed 53 times for 196 yards, most of it straight up the middle with bruiser Larry Csonka. HM: Ray Mansfield and Mike Webster, PIT


RG: Joe Andruzzi, NE

In three New England wins, the Patriots rushed for 372 yards, and Andruzzi helped protect MVP Tom Brady allowing him to stay comfortable in the pocket. HM: Jerry Kramer, GB


RT: Erik Williams, DAL

The heart and soul of the Cowboys’ offensive machine was the offensive line. Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin were the beneficiaries of the hard work done by the likes of Williams. HM: Forrest Gregg, GB


All-time All-Super Bowl Defense:


DE: Charles Haley, SF/DAL

Haley was more of an outside linebacker in San Francisco's 3-4 alignment. He is the only player to win five Super Bowls. Honorable Mention: Reggie White, GB


DE: Richard Dent, CHI

The Monsters of the Midway had a stacked roster of defensive stars but Dent won the MVP in Super Bowl XX with 1.5 sacks as the Bears gave up a total of 10 points to New England. HM: Richard Seymour, NE


DT: Joe Greene, PIT

As the heart of the front of the Steel Curtain, Greene intimidated quarterbacks, running backs and offensive linemen. In four Super wins, opponents averaged less than 100 yards rushing against Pittsburgh as Greene made life miserable for Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton and Vince Ferragamo. HM: Alan Page, MIN


DT: Russell Maryland, DAL

The offense received much of the credit, but Dallas recorded eight interceptions and held teams to less than four yards a carry in their three Super Bowl wins in the 1990s. Maryland was a load up front in all three games. HM: Jethro Pugh, DAL


LB: Jack Lambert, PIT

Lambert was in the middle of all things defensively for the Steelers for 11 seasons, including four trips to the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh would not have been 4-0 in the most important game of the season without him. HM: Tedy Bruschi, NE


LB: Ray Lewis, BAL

Lewis is one of two linebackers to win a Super Bowl MVP (XXXV) and nearly a decade later posted seven tackles in winning his second Lombardi Trophy with the Ravens. It was his final game in the NFL. HM: Keena Turner, SF


LB: Chuck Howley, DAL

This Cowboy is one of two at his position to ever win an MVP (V) and is the only player to win an MVP for a losing team in Super Bowl history. He also won a Super Bowl the following year with a big performance (INT, fumble recovery) in Dallas' win over Miami. HM: Mike Vrabel, NE


CB: Herb Adderley, GB/DAL

Adderley was a member of Green Bay’s first two title teams, returning an interception 60 yards for a score in Super Bowl II. He played in two more for Dallas, winning one and losing one. HM: Ty Law, NE


CB: Mel Blount, PIT

Blount played for four winners, and contributed with an interception in Super Bowls IX and XIII. HM: Deion Sanders, SF/DAL


S: Cliff Harris, DAL

One of only 13 players in NFL history, Harris changed the way the free safety positon was played. He won Super Bowl VI and XII. HM: Troy Polamalu, PIT


S: Ronnie Lott, SF

Instrumental in the Niners’ four Super Bowl wins, Lott played corner in the first two before moving to safety. None of his nine postseason interceptions came in the Super Bowl, probably because quarterbacks avoided him. HM: Jake Scott, MIA


RS: Desmond Howard, GB

Earned MVP honors in Super Bowl XXXI with a kick return for a touchdown, but also had two punt returns of more than 30 yards. HM: Jacoby Jones, BAL


K: Adam Vinatieri, K, NE/IND

Never has there been a more clutch kicker in the Super Bowl.


P: Larry Seiple, MIA

Always a threat to take off and run (also played some tight end), Seiple kept the Redskins and Vikings bottled up in Super Bowls VII and VIII.

Athlon Sports' All-Time Super Bowl Team
Post date: Friday, January 23, 2015 - 08:30
Path: /nba/meet-nbas-new-slam-dunk-contestants-videos

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the NBA has already decided upon four exciting contestants for their annual All-Star weekend slam dunk contest — to be held on Saturday February 14, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Here are those four advance names:


Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

6’11” sensation from Greece, Giannis is also a delightful character; a twenty-year-old with wide eyes about fame and America, who the NBA has proudly begun to tailor into one of the upcoming new faces of their game. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s capable of doing things like this:


Like many of his fellow All-Star dunkers, Giannis will also be partaking in the Rising Stars challenge. The catch this year? The game won’t pit sophomores and rookies against each other, but will instead draw from the pool of second- and first-year players to pit USA against the Giannis and the rest of his World squad.



Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic

No one has benefitted more from the Magic’s new uptempo style than Victor Oladipo. It gives him a chance to get up and down the floor and let his athleticism do the talking for him. Like this:


Victor also has a secret weapon in store in the event that the contest still allows for one cooperative dunk with a teammate: savant passer and fellow Magic guard Elfrid Payton.



Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets

You might have a hard time distinguishing Mason from his brother Miles, a center with the Phoenix Suns. The most clear difference between them, though, is Mason’s ability to perform dances like this around the rim:


It’s a down year for the Nets and New York Knicks — the co-host franchises of this year’s midseason celebration. But if Plumlee can win this contest as an underdog contestant, it’ll provide a bright spot for NYC on this glitzy weekend.



Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves

Next to Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine makes for the most hoptastic young backcourt in the league. Some of the LaVine dunking Vines in circulation are straight-up hard to believe:


This guy, with an open invitation to make music out of basketball with the world’s attention? I won’t be missing it.



— John Wilmes



Post date: Thursday, January 22, 2015 - 15:47
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-january-22-2015

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 22:


New photos of Kate Upton. Need I say more?


Bill Belichick on DeflateGate: Talk to the quarterback. If you're interested in parsing his statement, here it is in its entirety.


The Internet has had its way with the scandal. Thank goodness.


• New wrinkle: Did the Ravens tip off the Colts about deflated balls?


• I enjoyed the headline to this story.


• There is a football game coming up. Here are the greatest plays in that game's history. And no, I'm not talking about the Pro Bowl.


Dustin Johnson and Paulina Gretzky posted an Instagram photo of their new arrival.


The Golden Bear got a lot of Twitter love on his 75th birthday.


Jeff Gordon announced that this will be his last year behind the wheel.


Longform read on Coach K. Worth a click just for the classic photo.


• Kevin Durant had an authoritative dunk over Marcin Gortat.


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

Post date: Thursday, January 22, 2015 - 10:27
All taxonomy terms: Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, NBA
Path: /nba/chicago-bulls-are-turmoil
Whatever the Cleveland Cavaliers recently had, their divisional rival Chicago Bulls seem to have caught it. Losers of six of their last eight games, the Bulls are reeling. Despite boasting their most talented roster of the Tom Thibodeau era, the team appears not to be in harmony with their hard-driving coach.


As Derrick Rose would assert, nobody in their locker room is clicking too well these days. "Everybody has to be on the same page," Rose told reporters after a 108-94 shellacking at the hands of Cleveland. "Until then, we're going to continue to get our ass kicked. It's just the whole team. I think communication is huge. We’re quiet when we're out there, and it's leading to them getting easy baskets. We got to give a better effort. It seems like we're not even competing, and it's f---ing irritating.”


While such pronounced profanity isn’t common for Rose, stern lectures from his coach are. "We got to decide when enough's enough," Thibodeau said after the loss to the Cavs. "The way we're playing is not acceptable, so we have to change it.”


Some familiar vultures have begun to swirl around Thibodeau and his job security. Bulls experts have long speculated that the coach’s intensity is a double-edged sword; despite his fiery approach often turning the Bulls into relentless warriors, it also seems linked to their constant injury troubles.


The latest Bull to hit the hurt list is 2014 Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah. After lighting the NBA on fire last season, Noah got knee surgery over the summer and has been hobbled by a collection of maladies throughout 2014-15. In order for the Bulls to play up to championship expectations, they need the elite, volcano version of Noah — who simply hasn’t been existent this year.


My prediction? Just as it did Cleveland, the hysteria in Chicago will die down as soon as the Bulls — a talented, driven team who are simply going through a dog-days slump — put together a few quality victories. Catch Chicago try to get things back on track tonight, as they square off against the San Antonio Spurs at home, at 8:00 PM ET on TNT.


— John Wilmes


Post date: Thursday, January 22, 2015 - 09:54
Path: /college-football/early-sec-football-predictions-2015

College football’s 2014 season has ended, and the focus shifts from the national championship picture to signing day, spring practice and early preseason rankings for 2015. While last year and Ohio State’s national title victory over Oregon is still fresh in our minds, it’s never too early to think about next season.

The SEC had a disappointing bowl season, but the conference is loaded for another run at the national title in 2015. Georgia opens as the slight favorite in the East Division, while it’s hard to pick against Alabama as the early frontrunner in the West. However, Auburn is a close No. 2 in the West. In a loaded division, it’s difficult to expect any team to run the table in 2015. Could we see a couple of one-loss SEC teams in contention for a playoff spot next year?


Early East Division Rankings for 2015


1. Georgia
2014 Record:
10-3 (6-2)

There’s a lot of uncertainty among the East Division teams for next season, but it’s hard to pick against Georgia as the early favorite. However, the Bulldogs aren’t without question marks or personnel concerns. How will new play-caller Brian Schottenheimer adjust after spending the last 15 seasons in the NFL? Schottenheimer doesn’t need to overhaul the offense, as Georgia ranked second in the SEC (conference-only games) by averaging 6.4 yards per play in 2014. The ground attack should remain the staple of the offense, headlined by rising star Nick Chubb and Sony Michel next season. Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta and Jacob Park will compete to replace Hutson Mason at quarterback. The defense took a step forward under Jeremy Pruitt’s direction in 2014 and should be one of the best in the conference next year. A potential roadblock in Georgia’s East Division title hopes could be its schedule, Alabama and Auburn – the likely No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the SEC next season – both play the Bulldogs in 2015.

2. Missouri
2014 Record:
11-3 (7-1)

Even though Missouri has some significant personnel losses, it would be foolish to dismiss the Tigers from the SEC East title picture. After all, this team has won the division in back-to-back years and has one of the league’s top coaches in Gary Pinkel. Quarterback Maty Mauk had his share of ups and downs in his first year as the starter but finished with 25 passing scores. Mauk will have plenty of help in the form of four returning starters on the offensive line and talented running back Russell Hansbrough in 2015. The receiving corps must be revamped after Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White expired their eligibility after the Citrus Bowl. The losses are heavier on defense, as coordinator Dave Steckel left to be the head coach at Missouri State, while All-SEC ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray and standout safety Braylon Webb are off to the NFL.

3. Tennessee
2014 Record:
7-6 (3-5)

There’s a lot of positive momentum building in Knoxville. Tennessee is a program on the rise entering coach Butch Jones’ third season, and the Volunteers are coming off their first winning season (7-6) since 2009. There’s no shortage of young talent in the program, and another offseason should help the development of players like quarterback Joshua Dobbs, running back Jalen Hurd and defensive end Derek Barnett. Dobbs and the growth of the offensive line will be critical to how high Tennessee can climb in the East next year. The defense returns nearly intact, with cornerback Justin Coleman, tackle Jordan Williams and linebacker A.J. Johnson (suspended last three games) the unit’s departing seniors. With Georgia visiting Knoxville next year, combined with personnel losses at Missouri and Florida, the Volunteers have a chance to surprise in the East.  

4. Florida
2014 Record:
7-5 (4-4)

New coach Jim McElwain has plenty of work to do this spring. The Gators won seven games in 2014 and lost three contests by a touchdown or less. However, the expectations in Gainesville are higher than finishing 7-5, and this program has just one season of more than eight wins since 2010. McElwain’s background on offense should help a unit that averaged 4.9 yards per play in 2014. Quarterback Treon Harris showed promise in limited action, but the Gators are shorthanded on proven options at receiver, and the offensive line returns only one starter from the Birmingham Bowl depth chart. Even though end Dante Fowler will be missed, the strength of Florida’s team will once again be the defense. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III is among the nation’s top defensive backs, and there’s talent returning in the front seven. McElwain’s arrival should help the offense, but the Gators may have to lean on their defense once again in 2015.

5. South Carolina
2014 Record:
7-6 (3-5)

The Gamecocks went into 2014 with East Division title aspirations, but coach Steve Spurrier’s team finished with its lowest win total (seven) since 2009. Both sides of the ball enter spring with question marks. The offense must replace quarterback Dylan Thompson, running back Mike Davis and the top two players on the line – tackle Corey Robinson and guard A.J. Cann. Brandon Wilds and David Williams should be an effective one-two punch at running back, and receiver Pharoh Cooper is one of the best in the SEC in 2015, but the losses up front and at quarterback will be tough to overcome. The defense is in need of major repair after allowing 6.5 yards per play in SEC contests last season. That’s the bad news. On the bright side, South Carolina returns most of its personnel from the final depth chart. Can the returning talent improve after gaining experience and working with the staff in spring ball?

6. Kentucky
2014 Record:
5-7 (2-6)

Kentucky had a three-game improvement in the win column from 2013 to 2014 and missed out on a bowl by one victory. Third-year coach Mark Stoops has this program moving in the right direction and another step forward should come in 2015. New coordinator Shannon Dawson is tasked with elevating the offense after Neal Brown established a solid foundation over the last two seasons. Quarterback Patrick Towles accounted for 20 touchdowns in 2014, and if he can hold off redshirt freshman Drew Barker, the junior should be poised for a jump in production with the skill talent returning to Lexington next year. The Wildcats bring back Stanley “Boom” Williams, Jojo Kemp and Mikel Horton at running back, while Ryan Timmons, Garrett Johnson and Dorian Baker return at receiver. While the offense won’t lose much from last season’s group, there are bigger question marks on defense. Ends Za’Darius Smith and Bud Dupree must be replaced, and the secondary loses safety Ashely Lowery. Dupree recorded 7.5 sacks in 2014 and was the team’s top force in the trenches.

7.  Vanderbilt

2014 Record: 3-9 (0-8)


James Franklin set the bar high for Derek Mason, and the first-year coach struggled in his debut on West End. The Commodores finished winless in SEC play for the first time since 2009, averaged just 12.8 points in conference games and allowed 5.7 yards per play. Mason decided to shake up the staff following the three-win season and hired veteran play-caller Andy Ludwig to coordinate the offense. Ludwig inherits a veteran offensive line and a talented running back in Ralph Webb, but the quarterback situation is filled with uncertainty. Johnny McCrary, Patton Robinette and Wade Freebeck each started a game in 2014 and will contend for the job in the spring. Mason is going to call the defensive signals in 2015 and returns the bulk of the depth chart from a unit that allowed 35.4 points in SEC games. The good news for Mason is there’s plenty of room to grow with a defense that featured several young players receiving major snaps last season.

Early West Division Rankings for 2015

1. Alabama
2014 Record:
12-2 (7-1)

The SEC’s West Division is loaded once again. Alabama gets a slight nod as the pre-spring favorite, but the gap between the Crimson Tide and Auburn is slim. Talent isn’t an issue in Tuscaloosa, as Alabama has owned the top spot in the recruiting rankings from 2010-14 and is expected to ink the No. 1 class in 2015. However, there are a few glaring personnel concerns for this team going into next season. Who steps up to replace Blake Sims under center? Is it Florida State transfer Jacob Coker? Or could freshmen (redshirt) David Cornwell or Blake Barnett (true) compete for the starting job? The supporting cast for the new quarterback is solid, but a go-to target must emerge to replace Amari Cooper at receiver. Alabama’s defense will be among the nation’s best once again in 2015. The front seven is loaded with talent and depth. However, the secondary is the biggest concern once again. Safety Landon Collins must be replaced, and coach Nick Saban needs another cornerback (or two) to emerge after giving up 19 plays of 30 yards or more in 2014.

2. Auburn
2014 Record:
8-5 (4-4)

The Tigers were unable to recapture the magic from the run to the national championship game in 2013 and fell to an 8-5 record last season. But Auburn wasn’t far off from double-digit wins, as coach Gus Malzahn’s team lost two games by three points (Texas A&M and Wisconsin). Auburn’s defense will receive most of the offseason attention. The Tigers have allowed at least six yards per play in three consecutive years and gave up 68 plays of 20 yards or more (most in the SEC). New coordinator Will Muschamp is one of the offseason’s top assistant hires, and the former Florida coach inherits a group that returns a good chunk of talent. The defense should get a boost from the return of end Carl Lawson from injury. A few key pieces must be replaced on offense – quarterback Nick Marshall, running back Cameron Artis-Payne, receiver Sammie Coates and center Reese Dismukes – but expect Malzahn to keep this unit near the top of the SEC. Junior Jeremy Johnson is a rising star at quarterback.

3. LSU
2014 Record:
8-5 (4-4)

LSU is just 9-7 in the SEC over the last two seasons, but the talent is there for a rebound in 2015. The passing game is still a major question mark until Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris consistently beat defenses with their arm. However, until the passing attack develops, the Tigers can lean on a veteran line and running back Leonard Fournette. The defense is under the direction of new coordinator Kevin Steele but should be a strength with the return of cornerback Tre’Davious White, safety Jamal Adams, linebacker Kendell Beckwith and tackle Davon Godchaux. LSU also has a manageable schedule, featuring crossover games against South Carolina and Florida, along with Texas A&M and Arkansas visiting Baton Rouge next season.

4. Ole Miss
2014 Record:
9-4 (5-3)

The Rebels head into 2015 with similar question marks about the roster. The defense should be among the best in the SEC, but the offense has major question marks at quarterback and at running back. Is junior college recruit (and former Clemson QB) Chad Kelly the answer under center? Or will coach Hugh Freeze turn to DeVante Kincade or Ryan Buchanan? In addition to finding an answer at quarterback, the offense has to develop more consistency on the ground. I’Tavius Mathers and Mark Dodson decided to transfer at running back, which leaves Jaylen Walton (5.5 ypc, 586 yards) as the No. 1 option. Having a healthy Laquon Treadwell at receiver and Laremy Tunsil at left tackle will be critical for the Rebels’ chances of winning the West in 2015. The defense has a few holes to address, but the line will be one of the best in the nation. The secondary loses standout safety Cody Prewitt and cornerback Senquez Golson, but the return of linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche and cornerback Tee Shepard from injury will help the defense maintain its 2014 production.

5. Arkansas
2014 Record:
7-6 (2-6)

Bret Bielema’s rebuilding project at Arkansas is ahead of schedule after a 7-6 record in 2014. The Razorbacks were closer to 10 victories than some may have realized, as this team lost four games by a touchdown or less. Even though coordinator Jim Chaney left for Pittsburgh, the formula for success on offense isn’t going to change. Arkansas has a run-first mentality, with 1,000-yard rushers Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins leading the way on the ground. Also, the offensive line should be one of the best in the nation next year. Quarterback Brandon Allen improved in his second year as the starter but more weapons must emerge at receiver. Robb Smith was one of the nation’s top assistant hires in the 2014 cycle, and the Arkansas defense did not allow an opponent to score more than 21 points in each of its last five games. Smith will have his hands full in the spring trying to find replacements for end Trey Flowers, tackle Darius Philon and linebacker Martrell Spaight.

6. Texas A&M
2014 Record:
8-5 (3-5)

Since the Aggies joined the SEC, the offense has clearly been the strength of this program. However, has coach Kevin Sumlin finally found an answer for the defense? New coordinator John Chavis is one of the best in college football and comes to College Station after six years at LSU. Chavis will make a difference with Texas A&M’s defense, especially if Sumlin continues to reel in elite talent on the recruiting trail. End Myles Garrett will flourish even more under Chavis’ watch, and the defense doesn’t lose much from a unit that has plenty of room to improve after allowing 6.9 yards per play in SEC games last season. Quarterback Kyle Allen is expected to build off his Liberty Bowl performance (294 yards, 4 TDs) in 2015. The receiving corps is loaded with talent, but the line loses tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and guard Jarvis Harrison.

7. Mississippi State
2014 Record:
10-3 (6-2)

Regardless of which team is picked No. 7 in the preseason by the media, keep in mind that program will be a top 25 team in 2015. So whether it’s Mississippi State, Arkansas or Texas A&M, a team is going to be picked to finish last, yet could be ranked No. 20 in the final poll next year. That’s how loaded this division is. The Bulldogs return quarterback Dak Prescott – the likely first-team All-SEC signal-caller in 2015 – but there’s some work to do to fill out the offense. Running back Josh Robinson, receiver Jameon Lewis and tight end Malcolm Johnson depart, and the line loses three starters, including left tackle Blaine Clausell and center Dillon Day. Manny Diaz has returned to Starkville to call the defensive signals, and just like the offense, the defense has holes to fill this spring. Each level of the defense has key contributors to replace, but the biggest loss is in the linebacking corps with the departure of Benardrick McKinney to the NFL. 

Early SEC Football Predictions for 2015
Post date: Thursday, January 22, 2015 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/grading-college-footballs-head-coach-hires-2015

College football’s coaching carousel for the 2014-15 season has finished and only 14 programs changed coaches. The 14 changes among FBS programs is the lowest mark since the 2006 season (11). After at least 21 teams changed coaches from 2009-13, there’s a period of stability settling into the coaching ranks. However, the drop in changes isn’t expected to last forever.

Most programs seemed to hit the right marks in their coaching search this season. Michigan was the biggest winner in the carousel by hiring Jim Harbaugh from the 49ers. Harbaugh should win at a high level in Ann Arbor and is a critical hire for a program that needs to get back to the nation’s elite. Oregon State (Gary Andersen), Houston (Tom Herman), SMU (Chad Morris), Buffalo (Lance Leipold), Florida (Jim McElwain) and Pittsburgh (Pat Narduzzi) also earn high marks for their new coaching hires.   

Grading College Football's New Coaching Hires for 2015

1. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
Previous Job:
49ers head coach
Career Record: 29-6 (San Diego), 29-21 (Stanford), 44-19-1 (49ers)

We could spend thousands of words discussing Harbaugh’s hire at Michigan, but it’s simply summed up in this statement: This is the best hire for the Wolverines and an opportunity for the program to reclaim its status as one of the nation’s elite. Harbaugh was the top target for Michigan after Brady Hoke was fired and is the best fit for a program that has been trending in the wrong direction since an 11-2 mark in 2011. Harbaugh’s ties to Michigan are no secret. He played four seasons for coach Bo Schembechler  and was the 1986 Big Ten Player of the Year. Harbaugh played in the NFL from 1987-2001 and worked as a volunteer assistant coach with his father (Jack) at Western Kentucky from 1994-2001. After his playing career in the NFL was finished, Harbaugh worked with the Raiders from 2002-03 and was named San Diego’s head coach in 2004. The Toreros went 29-6 under Harbaugh’s direction, who left in 2007 for Stanford. The Cardinal increased their win total in each of the four seasons under Harbaugh, culminating in a 12-1 record in 2010. And Harbaugh was successful in the NFL, finishing his tenure with the 49ers at 44-19-1. Michigan needed a home-run hire to get the program back on track. Harbaugh is exactly what the Wolverines needed, and his arrival certainly doesn’t hurt the Big Ten as a whole. If Michigan is in contention again, it only helps the perception of the conference.

Final Grade: A+

2. Gary Andersen, Oregon State   

Previous Job: Head coach at Wisconsin
Career Record: 19-7 (2013-14, Wisconsin), 26-24 (2009-12, Utah State), 4-7 (2003, Southern Utah)

Andersen’s decision to leave Wisconsin for Oregon State qualifies as one of the biggest surprises in coaching moves in recent years. Under Andersen’s watch, the Badgers went 19-7 and won the Big Ten West Division in 2014. Prior to his two-year stint in Madison, Andersen went 26-24 at Utah State, which included an 18-8 record over the final two seasons. In the six years before Andersen’s tenure in Logan, the Aggies did not win more than three games in a season. However, he guided Utah State to back-to-back bowl games and a No. 16 rank in the final Associated Press poll in 2012. Andersen also spent one year at Southern Utah (2003) and was an assistant from 1997-2002 and 2004-08 at Utah. Even though Andersen was successful at Wisconsin, he wanted to get back on the West Coast and Oregon State was open after Mike Riley left for Nebraska. Oregon State isn’t an easy job, but Andersen’s recruiting ties out west and in the junior college ranks will help to establish a solid talent base. Andersen is arguably one of the top 25-30 coaches in the nation. This is a great hire for an Oregon State program that struggled mightily prior to Riley’s first tenure in 1997.  

Final Grade: A

3. Tom Herman, Houston
Previous Job:
Offensive coordinator at Ohio State
Career Record: First season

Few coaches had a better 2014-15 season than Herman. The Ohio native played a huge role in Ohio State’s national championship run, won the Broyles Award as the top assistant in college football and landed a FBS head coaching gig at one of the best jobs in the American Athletic Conference. Herman was born in Ohio, but he has deep coaching roots in Texas. After a playing career at California Lutheran, Herman was hired as Texas Lutheran’s wide receivers coach in 1998. After one season at Texas Lutheran, Herman worked as a grad assistant at Texas from 1999-2000 and was hired at Sam Houston State from 2001-04 as a wide receivers/special teams assistant. Herman coordinated Texas State’s offenses from 2005-06 and spent the next two years at Rice (2007-08), guiding the Owls to an average of 41.3 points per game in 2008. After three seasons at Iowa State, Herman jumped at the opportunity to coordinate Ohio State’s offense in 2012. The Buckeyes averaged 37.2 points per game in Herman’s first year and jumped to 45.5 per game in 2013 and 44.8 in '14. Herman’s coaching ability was on full display this season after Ohio State lost starting quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller due to injuries, and third-stringer Cardale Jones guided the Buckeyes to the national championship. Despite this being Herman's first opportunity to be a head coach, there are few negatives for Houston. Herman is the right hire at the right time for the Cougars.

Final Grade: A

4. Chad Morris, SMU
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator at Clemson
Career Record: First season

Morris has been considered one of college football’s rising stars in the assistant ranks since he ascended to the play-caller position at Clemson in 2011. The Texas native lands in a good situation at SMU, as the program has the necessary resources and talent base to contend in the American Athletic Conference, and Morris has many ties to the state. June Jones helped the program get back on track after the Mustangs posted just one winning season from 1989-2008. However, Morris seems like the right hire to elevate SMU into conference title contention. The 46-year-old coach coordinated one of the nation’s top offenses at Clemson, guiding the program to its three highest point totals in school history. Additionally, the Tigers won at least 10 games in each of Morris’ four seasons and shared or won the ACC Atlantic Division title twice. Prior to the last four years at Clemson, Morris served as Tulsa’s play-caller in 2010 and guided the Golden Hurricane to an average of 41.4 points per game. He also worked as a high school head coach from 1994-2009 at five programs in Texas. The only downside to Morris is the lack of FBS head coaching experience. However, that shouldn’t prevent Morris from winning at a high level at SMU.

Final Grade: A

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5. Lance Leipold, Buffalo
Previous Job:
Head coach at Wisconsin-Whitewater        

Career Record: 109-6 (2007-14 at Wisconsin-Whitewater)

Leipold has the best record among new coaches taking over a FBS program in 2014. The Wisconsin native went 109-6 in eight years at Wisconsin-Whitewater, leading the Warhawks to six national championships in that span. Under Leipold’s direction, Wisconsin-Whitewater had only one season of more than two losses (2012). Prior to taking over at UW-Whitewater, Leipold worked as an assistant coach from 1987-2006 at a handful of programs. Leipold served as Nebraska-Omaha’s offensive coordinator from 2004-06, was an assistant at Nebraska from 2001-03 and worked as a graduate assistant under Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin from 1991-93. If Leipold continues to win at a high level, he won’t be at Buffalo for more than five years. But that’s a good problem for the Bulls to (potentially) have. Stepping up to the FBS level will present a few challenges, but Buffalo hit a home run by getting Leipold away from Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Final Grade: A

6. Jim McElwain, Florida
Previous Job:
Head coach at Colorado State
Career Record: 22-16 (2012-14 at Colorado State)

Florida is one of the top jobs in the nation, but this program has just one 10-win season since 2010 (11-2 in 2012). McElwain is tasked with bringing Florida football back to the nation’s elite and fix an offense that has struggled mightily in recent years. The Gators have not averaged more than 5.1 yards per play (in SEC play) since 2009. McElwain’s background on offense should pay dividends, as he helped to guide a Colorado State attack that averaged 33.9 points per game in 2014. And under McElwain’s direction as Alabama’s coordinator, the offense averaged at least 5.8 yards per play (SEC matchups). The Rams showed steady improvement in the win column, improving from 4-8 in McElwain’s first year to 8-6 in 2013 and 10-3 in '14. In addition to his stints at Colorado State and Alabama, McElwain spent time as an assistant at Fresno State, Michigan State, Louisville and in the NFL with the Raiders. McElwain isn’t necessarily the big-name hire most expected Florida to make. But what’s not to like about this hire? He’s a proven winner as a head coach, has worked in the SEC at Alabama and has been successful in developing offenses. McElwain should get Florida back on track in the next few years.

Final Grade: A-

7. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh
Previous Job:
Defensive coordinator at Michigan State
Career Record: First season

Narduzzi was widely regarded as one of the top assistants in college football, and after eight years at Michigan State, the Youngstown native departs for his first opportunity to be a head coach. Under Narduzzi’s direction, the Spartans led the Big Ten in fewest yards per play allowed from 2011-13 and finished first in the conference in scoring defense in the 2012 and '13 seasons. And Narduzzi’s aggressive approach has paid off, as Michigan State recorded at least 32 sacks in four out of the last six seasons. Prior to his stint with the Spartans, Narduzzi worked at Cincinnati (2004-06) and Miami, Ohio (2003) as a defensive coordinator. And he also has stops as an assistant at Northern Illinois and Rhode Island. After having three coaches in the last five years, Pittsburgh needs stability at the top spot. Narduzzi is familiar with the area, is one of the nation’s top defensive minds and is ready to be a head coach. Everything points to this being a successful hire, but Narduzzi will need a year or two to shape the roster and accumulate the defensive talent needed to show marked improvement on that side of the ball.

Final Grade: A-


8. Mike Riley, Nebraska    

Previous Job: Head coach at Oregon State
Career Record: 93-80 (1997-98, 2003-14 at Oregon State), 14-34 (Chargers, 1999-2001)

Riley’s departure from Oregon State to Nebraska caught the college football world by surprise. Most expected Riley to finish his career in Corvallis, but the 61-year-old coach was ready for a new challenge. When Riley left his position as USC’s offensive coordinator to take the head coach job at Oregon State, he inherited a program that was just 13-52-1 in the six seasons prior to his arrival. The Beavers showed marked improvement under Riley’s watch, recording an 8-14 mark in his first two seasons. Riley left Oregon State for a four-year stint in the NFL, but he helped to build the foundation that allowed the Beavers to record three winning seasons in four years under Dennis Erickson. After Erickson left for the NFL, Riley came back to Oregon State. Since 2003, the Beavers have made eight bowl appearances, finished the season ranked in the Associated Press poll four times and only recorded one season of fewer than five wins. While Riley’s overall record (93-80) isn’t overly impressive, it’s important to remember Oregon State is one of the toughest jobs in the Pac-12. Simply, it’s not easy to win in Corvallis. Riley has a knack for finding and developing overlooked recruits into star players. If he can continue that trend at Nebraska, along with maintaining his success in recruiting the state of Texas, Riley should help the Cornhuskers continue to win around nine games every year. Riley may not have been the home-run hire most expected when Bo Pelini was fired, but he won a lot of games at a program that’s much tougher to win at than Nebraska.

Final Grade: B+


9. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin      
Previous Job:
Head coach at Pittsburgh
Career Record: 19-19 (2012-14 at Pittsburgh)

Chryst is returning to familiar surroundings after three seasons at Pittsburgh. The Madison native played quarterback at Wisconsin from 1986-88 and coached with the Badgers in 2002 and from 2005-11. Prior to his stint with the Badgers in 2005, Chryst called the plays at Oregon State from 2003-04 and spent three years in the NFL with the Chargers (1999-2001). Chryst is a highly regarded offensive guru, and under his direction, Wisconsin led the Big Ten in scoring offense from 2009-11. The Badgers set a school record by averaging 44.1 points per game in 2011, and Pittsburgh averaged 6.2 yards per play in 2014 (fourth in the ACC). Chryst’s overall record with the Panthers was just 19-19, but he also inherited some personnel problems and roster gaps from the previous coaching staffs. However, Pittsburgh had a favorable schedule in 2014, two of the ACC’s top players in wide receiver Tyler Boyd and running back James Conner and only went 4-4 in conference play. Chryst knows what it takes to win at Wisconsin, and after losing two coaches in the last three seasons (Gary Andersen and Bret Bielema), athletic director Barry Alvarez has his long-term answer as the team’s head coach. Fit isn’t necessarily the best indicator or judge of a hire, but Chryst’s familiarity with the program should keep Wisconsin at the top of the Big Ten West Division.

Final Grade: B+

10. Mike Bobo, Colorado State
Previous Job:
Offensive Coordinator at Georgia
Career Record: First season

After a successful stint under a previous SEC offensive coordinator (Jim McElwain) Colorado State is trying to replicate that same formula. Bobo is another successful offensive play-caller from the SEC, but is an odd fit since he has spent only one season (Jacksonville State) outside of the state of Georgia in his coaching career. While the geographic fit may not be perfect, Bobo – despite some of the criticism from Georgia fans – was one of the SEC’s underrated coordinators in recent years. Over the last seven seasons, the Bulldogs’ offense has not finished lower than sixth in the conference in yards per play. And Georgia led the SEC twice (2012, '14) during that span. Bobo has never been a head coach on any level but is a successful coordinator and hired a solid staff to help his transition. Will Friend followed Bobo from Georgia to Colorado State, while Tyson Summers was a key pickup from UCF as defensive coordinator.

Final Grade: B+

11. Neal Brown, Troy
Previous Job:
Offensive Coordinator at Kentucky
Career Record: First season

At 34 years old, Brown is the second youngest head coach in the FBS ranks. The Kentucky native is a highly regarded offensive mind and returns to Troy after working under Larry Blakeney from 2006-09. Brown worked as the team’s play-caller in 2008-09, and the Trojans averaged at least 32 points per game in both seasons. In 2010, Brown left Troy to join Tommy Tuberville’s staff at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders averaged at least 31 points per game in each of Brown’s three seasons calling the plays in Lubbock. Brown joined Mark Stoops’ staff at Kentucky in 2013 and helped the Wildcats take a step forward on offense. Kentucky averaged only 17.9 points a game in the season prior to Brown’s arrival, but the offense jumped to 20.5 points per contest in 2013 and 29.2 in '14. Additionally, the Wildcats averaged five yards per play (SEC games) last season for the first time since 2010. There’s very little downside to Brown’s hire at Troy. He has experience working at Troy, is a talented offensive coach and his youth should bring a spark to a program that has not recorded a winning record since 2010.

Final Grade: B


12. Philip Montgomery, Tulsa            

Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator at Baylor
Career Record: First season

With an enrollment of under 3,500 undergraduate students, Tulsa is the smallest FBS school in the nation. But despite the lack of a huge student base, the Golden Hurricane has experienced plenty of success in the win column. This program has four seasons of at least 10 victories since 2007, including an 11-3 mark in 2012. Montgomery has plenty of work ahead, as Tulsa has slipped to a 5-19 record over the last two seasons and can’t afford to fall too far behind in the new American Athletic Conference divisions. The Texas native has never been a head coach on the college level and has spent the last 12 years on Art Briles’ staffs at Houston and Baylor. Although Briles played a large role in shaping the offenses at both programs, Montgomery was the play-caller for the Bears. Baylor’s offense averaged at least 6.6 yards per play in each of the last five seasons and recorded 48.2 points per game in 2014. Tulsa needs to prominently recruit Texas and Montgomery’s ties to the state will help in that area. And with Montgomery’s background on offense, combined with the amount of talent at quarterback and wide receiver in the high school ranks, this hire should help get Tulsa back into contention for bowl games on a consistent basis.  

Final Grade: B


13. David Beaty, Kansas
Previous Job:
Wide receivers coach at Texas A&M
Career Record: First season

After missing on its last two hires – Turner Gill and Charlie Weis – Kansas needs to get this one right. Instead of turning to a proven coach, the Jayhawks picked former assistant David Beaty. The Texas native has strong ties to the state and is regarded as an excellent recruiter. In an area where Kansas needs to target for recruits, Beaty’s ties to Texas are a huge plus. Beaty spent the last three years at Texas A&M as the team’s receivers coach (2012-14) and the recruiting coordinator (2013-14). Prior to Texas A&M, Beaty had two previous stints at Kansas (2011 and 2008-09) and short tenures at Rice (2010 and 2006-07) as an assistant. Under Beaty’s watch, the Owls averaged 28.7 points per game in 2010. The biggest concern for Beaty is the lack of experience as a head coach – especially at a place that’s one of the toughest Power 5 jobs in the nation. To help Beaty’s transition, he hired a solid overall staff, which includes Clint Bowen (interim coach last year), Rob Likens (offensive coordinator) and Zach Yenser (OL coach).

Final Grade: C


14. Tony Sanchez, UNLV
Previous Job:
Head coach at Bishop Gorman High School
Career Record: 85-5 (2009-14 at Bishop Gorman)

UNLV is a tough place to win. The Rebels have just one winning season (2013) since 2001 and is 31-92 since 2005. Considering where UNLV resides on college football’s food chain, it wasn’t going to attract a big-name coach or nationally regarded coordinator. Instead, the program went outside of the box and hired Sanchez from Bishop Gorman High School. In six seasons at Bishop Gorman (located in Las Vegas), Sanchez recorded an 85-5 mark and never won fewer than 13 games in a season. To help with Sanchez’s transition to the FBS ranks, he hired a veteran staff, which includes Barney Cotton (former Nebraska assistant), Kent Baer (former Colorado defensive coordinator) and Joe Seumalo (former Oregon State assistant). The last high school to college hire didn’t work well (Todd Dodge, North Texas). However, there’s little risk involved for UNLV. If Sanchez doesn’t work out, the program isn’t worse off than it was in 2014. And who knows, maybe Sanchez can keep some of the talent in Nevada from leaving the state. This hire is worth the risk for UNLV.

Final Grade: C

15. John Bonamego, Central Michigan
Previous Job:
Special teams coach with the Detroit Lions
Career Record: First season

Central Michigan was put in a difficult spot once Dan Enos left Central Michigan for Arkansas less than two weeks before Signing Day. The Chippewas had to scramble to complete their 2015 signing class, and it was tough to fill a head coaching vacancy this late in the process. But Central Michigan found a familiar face in Bonamego that is ready for his first opportunity to be a head coach. Bonamego has worked for the last 12 years as a special teams assistant in the NFL, with his last collegiate experience coming in 1998 at Army. Bonamego played at Central Michigan in the 1980s and was an assistant at Mount Pleasant High School (Michigan) in 1987. As we mentioned earlier, finding a coach in late January/early February is challenging. Bonamego is familiar with Central Michigan and probably isn’t looking to bolt Mount Pleasant anytime soon. The Chippewas slipped after the Brian Kelly/Butch Jones era, and Enos was headed for the hot seat in 2015. Central Michigan is one of the better jobs in the MAC. Bonamego has no previous experience as a head coach and has never been an offensive or defensive coordinator. Hiring a good staff with proven coordinators will be essential.

Final Grade: D

Grading College Football's Head Coach Hires for 2015
Post date: Thursday, January 22, 2015 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/ranking-15-greatest-plays-super-bowl-history

What defines a great play?


Degree of difficulty? Gravity of the moment? The greatness of the players involved and their place in NFL history? Entertainment factor? How about all of the above.


Game-winning touchdowns, heroic out-of-body experiences, historic moments and even some hilarious gaffes — looking at you Garo Yepremian — all make the Super Bowl the greatest sporting event of the calendar year. Hall of Fame careers are made and broken in the final football game of the season and trying to narrow down nearly 50 years of action to the 15 best individual plays is virtually impossible (but we'd tried anyway).


1. XXXIV: One Yard Short

The Titans and Rams put on a second-half show for the fans in Atlanta. Steve McNair whirled his way down the field to the St. Louis 10-yard line to set up the final play of the game. Mike Jones made the play of his career by tackling Kevin Dyson just 12 inches shy of the game-tying touchdown. It would have been the first and only overtime game in Super Bowl history.


2. XXXII: John Elway’s helicopter run

It was the defining moment of what many believe is the best Super Bowl ever played. It was third-and-six from the Packers' 12-yard line with the game tied 17-17 in the second half. One of the game’s greatest players scrambles right and then dives head-first despite being surrounded by three Green Bay defenders. Elway gives up all regard for his body and wills himself to a first down. Terrell Davis scored the go-ahead touchdown two plays later, as Elway goes on to win his first Super Bowl.



3. XXV: Scott Norwood’s wide right

There have been many game-winning field goals in Super Bowl history — but none on the final snap with one team trailing and the chance to win the game. No, Scott Norwood became the only true goat of a Super Bowl when his 47-yard field goal sailed just inches wide right. The miss capped an extraordinary drive that capped an extraordinary game stacked with Hall of Fame players and coaches.


4. XXIII: Joe Montana to John Taylor

The 10-yard pass to Taylor with 39 seconds left wasn’t in and of itself a miraculous play. It wasn’t all that difficult and it wasn’t all that remarkable. But it represents all that Montana was as an NFL Hall of Famer. He got the ball with 3:10 left on the clock down 16-13 on his own eight-yard line and all he can think about is John Candy. This touchdown pass stood as the latest game-winner touchdown in Super Bowl history for nearly 20 years.


5. XLII: Eli Manning to David Tyree

In terms of degree of difficulty, few plays in any game much less the Super Bowl can match this one. Manning's Houdini act in the pocket to avoid getting sacked is nearly as impressive as Tyree’s duct tape and chicken wire helmet catch in traffic 32 yards down the field. Four plays later, Manning floated a 13-yard game-winning touchdown to a wide open Plaxico Burress to give the Patriots their one and only loss of the season.



6. XLIII: Big Ben to Santonio Holmes

Trailing 20-7 to begin the fourth quarter, Kurt Warner and the Cardinals scored 16 straight points to take a three-point lead over Pittsburgh with just over two minutes to play. Ben Roethlisberger then marched his team to the Arizona six-yard line where, with unbelievable accuracy and some magic toes at his disposal, he somehow connects with Holmes with 35 seconds left to play.


7. XVIII: Marcus Allen's 74-yard run

It is likely the most impressive run in Super Bowl history. After twisting and changing directions in the backfield, Allen split the heart of the Washington Redskins defense for the longest run in Super Bowl history (later broken by Willie Parker). The play capped the third quarter and put a fork in the ‘Skins' hopes. Allen finished with 191 yards rushing and was named the MVP.


8. XVII: The Diesel’s fourth-and-one gallop

The Redskins were trailing 17-13 with 10 minutes to go, facing a fourth-and-one on the Miami 43-yard line. Joe Gibbs leaves his offense on the field and calls ’70 chip’ for his star running back John Riggins. The burly runner, nicknamed The Diesel, breaks a tackle, bounces the play off tackle and races 43 yards for the game-winning touchdown.



9. X: Lynn Swann’s Magical Reception

When it comes to acrobatic, spectacular catches, David Tyree might not even be able top the grace of Swann. From deep in his own territory, the eventual game MVP reeled in a 53-yard pass from Terry Bradshaw that changed the game. Mark Washington is in perfect position to make a play on the ball for the Cowboys, but somehow Swann out leaps the defender, bobbles the ball and hauls in the pass as he is falling to the ground. Swann finished with four receptions for 161 yards and the game-winning 64-yard touchdown catch as well.


10. III: Joe Namath’s Finger Wag

It wasn’t technically a play, but Broadway Joe’s guarantee and subsequent finger wag will go down in Super Bowl lore. It was likely the most important Super Bowl ever played. It also was the biggest upset in Super Bowl history. And the moment could have only been made possible by a brash personality like Namath.


11. XLIV: Saints onside kick

Possibly the ballsiest call in Super Bowl history, head coach Sean Payton calls for the onside kick to start the second half. The Saints recover and score on the ensuing drive. The gutsy call sets the tone for New Orleans to dominate Indianapolis 24-7 in the second half to win the franchise's first Lombardi Trophy.


12. XXXVI: Adam Vinatieri Part I

Vinatieri Part I capped Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s coming out party as they upset the heavily favored Rams with a 48-yard game winner.


13. XXXVIII: Adam Vinatieri Part II

One of the more underrated Super Bowls ended with Vinatieri Part II when he broke the 29-29 tie as time expired against the Panthers from 41 yards out.


14. XXVII: Don Beebe chases down Leon Lett

The game wasn’t close and the play didn’t really matter, but no one will ever forget little Beebe embarrassing big Lett at the goal line.


15. I: Max McGee one-hander

A hungover, second-string McGee makes a spectacular one-handed catch (and run) to score the first touchdown in Super Bowl history.


Best of rest:


16. XIV: Terry Bradshaw to Lance Stallworth for the 73-yard game winning touchdown.
17. XX: William Perry steals Sweetness’ touchdown.
18. XLVI: Eli Manning completes 38-yard sideline fade to Mario Manningham to open eventual game-winning drive agianst New England.
19. XIII: Dallas' Jackie Smith is "the sickest man in America."
20. XXXI: Desmond Howard’s 99-yard kickoff return TD.


Ranking the 15 Greatest Plays in Super Bowl History
Post date: Thursday, January 22, 2015 - 08:30
Path: /college-football/cover-2-college-football-podcast-breaking-down-14-new-head-coaches


Hosts Braden Gall, David Fox and Steven Lassan breakdown all 14 new head coaches in FBS college football. The guys rank their favorite (and least favorite) hires and analyze all of the newest trends in coaching in this sideline extravaganza.


Tom Herman vs. Chad Morris? Will Mike Riley win enough at Nebraska? Is Gary Andersen a home run at Oregon State? How many nice things can the guys say about Jim Harbaugh? The is much debate about Jim McElwain at Florida and who is Lance Leipold?


Does "fit" matter when hiring a coach or is it all about winning? Is offense more important than defense? Why aren't defensive coordinators getting jobs and should they be getting more looks? Who is on the hot seat entering 2015?

Send any ideas, questions or comments to @BradenGall @DavidFox615 or @AthlonSteven or email [email protected]. The podcast can be found on, iTunes, Stitcher and our podcast RSS feed.

Cover 2 College Football Podcast: Breaking down the 14 new head coaches
Post date: Wednesday, January 21, 2015 - 16:10
Path: /nba/ranking-nba%E2%80%99s-and-coming-teams

6. Orlando Magic

The Magic haven’t whiffed the mainstream’s attention since Dwight Howard left town via trade in 2012. And while the current 15-29 version of the team hasn’t changed that, they’re a steadily improving young squad with a collection of fascinating players who’ve quickly made them a top watch for hardcore NBA followers. Rookie point guard Elfrid Payton is a stormy, aggressive player who can often turn the task of guarding other ball-handlers into a sort of mid-court wrestling match. The monstrous Nikola Vucevic is one of the best post scorers in the game. And sophomore stud Victor Oladipo — the smooth complement to Payton’s rough-and-tumble approach — is blossoming in the Magic’s increasingly uptempo offense. Look for the Magic to enter the Eastern Conference playoff picture next year.


5. Sacramento Kings

Despite hitting a frustrating rough patch after ownership prematurely canned beloved head coach Mike Malone, Kings fans have cause for optimism. It’s hard not to hold hope when you’ve got DeMarcus Cousins on your roster. Cousins, a dominant 24-year-old center, is arguably the best offensive big man beast this side of Shaquille O’Neal. At 6’11” and 270 pounds, he can knock over just about anyone who defends him — but he can also dance around most matchups with ease. Cousins is fleet of foot and has quick hands and an accurate shot to boot. His nickname, “Boogie,” is a result of his uncanny movement for someone his size. Paired with a rejuvenated Rudy Gay, DeMarcus looks to be in position to take the league by storm. As soon as Vivek Ranadive gets out of the way, expect the Kings’ ascension to continue.


4. Utah Jazz

The Jazz have quietly piled up the best assemblage of young big men in the game. The emergence of freakishly long, crazily athletic French rim-protector Rudy Gay has turned Turkish center Enes Kanter into a luxury asset, as has the best season of power forward Derrick Favors’ career. There aren’t a ton of openings coming up in the stacked Western Conference, but the Jazz might grab one with force if they keep building what they’re building with shrewd first-year coach Quin Snyder. And if lightning-quick Australian rookie point guard Dante Exum begins to blossom behind Gordon Hayward on the wing next year, their seizure of a playoff spot might happen sooner than expected.


3. New Orleans Pelicans

Anthony Davis has been heralded as the next big NBA superstar, and for good reason. The Unibrow is as long as anyone in the sport, and also as skilled. But that doesn’t mean the Pelicans should be much above their .500 mark yet — Davis is still 21 years old. As far as 21-year-old centerpieces go, New Orleans couldn’t do better. But they’ve still got a lot of work to do. For now, the Pelicans are about where they should be: still looking for the right complementary pieces to put around Davis he continues to improve year after year. Soon enough, he’ll be so good that whoever’s around him will be better by virtue of his proximity. That’s the greatness Davis is headed toward.


2. Milwaukee Bucks

Through injuries, youth, the enigma of Larry Sanders and a new regime under coach Jason Kidd and fresh ownership, the Bucks have been very impressive. At 21-20, they’re bound for the Eastern Conference postseason, and way ahead of the development curve many analysts had laid out for them. Multi-talented “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo has a lot to do with Milwaukee’s success, but so does their undersung leading scorer, Brandon Knight. The rest of it is a strong system, bought into by Kidd’s spry roster. Under his tutelage, they’re the third-most efficient defense in the league. Who said you need lots of experience to defend well as a team?


1. Detroit Pistons

The Pistons remain one of the most curious stories of the NBA season. After struggling out of the gate to a 5-23 record, Detroit amazingly turned things around after sending struggling forward Josh Smith — their highest-paid player — out the door on waivers. Motor City basketball is 11-3 in the exciting post-Smith era, rallying around coach Stan Van Gundy’s vision and the breakout of Brandon Jennings, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. As quickly as it happened, the Pistons might have already moved out of the “up-and-coming” category. These days, it looks like they’ve already arrived.


— John Wilmes



Post date: Wednesday, January 21, 2015 - 15:39
All taxonomy terms: New England Patriots, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/everybody-relax-patriots-deflating-footballs-didnt-matter

A headline from a well-respected columnist about the New England Patriots' latest scandal reads: “On scale of 1-10, it’s 11 for Patriots in deflate-gate mess.”


For an organization that once gave a multi-million dollar contract extension to an alleged murdererI’d say that’s a bit of an overreaction.


Like most, Yahoo!’s Dan Wetzel needs to take a deep breath and step back from “ballghazi” for a moment before breathing fire.


Eleven of the 12 official footballs used by the Patriots in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game win over Indianapolis were under-inflated by about two pounds — roughly 16 percent of the league minimum.


It’s illegal and Roger Goodell is well within his right to punish Bill Belichick and company with appropriate force. But the hand-wringing and finger-pointing reeks of jealousy.


Should we be quick to criticize and over-analyze an organization with a questionable track record when it comes to the rules of the game? Certainly, but did the Patriots defeat the Colts by more than five touchdowns because the balls were slightly softer? Have the Patriots been the best team in the AFC for more than a decade because of slightly less air in their footballs?


That seems as ludicrous as employing someone accused of multiple homicides.


Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, a Super Bowl champion and this season's likely MVP, claims that he prefers an overinflated ball. In fact, before the Packers Week 13 game with New England, the star quarterback casually admitted to Phil Simms that he “likes to push the limits of how much air we can put in the football, even over what they allow you to do.” (Simms was paraphrasing during the broadcast.)


Former Tampa Bay Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson admitted to spending $7,500 to “get the balls right” before Super Bowl XXXVII. Again, does anyone really believe that the amount of air in the football caused the Raiders to enter the fourth quarter trailing 34-9 in that game?


Highly unlikely.


Is Rodgers wrong to overinflate? Was Johnson wrong to pay to fix his footballs? Are the Pats technically cheating by deflating footballs?


Yes, yes and yes. But it sounds like, in an extremely competitive multi-billion dollar industry, that everyone pushes the envelope when it comes to pigskin PSI. The more important question is what type of impact did it have on the game and how should they be punished. Offsides is cheating too and that's a five-yard penalty.


Do the Patriots have any benefits of the doubt left in the court of public opinion? Clearly, the answer is and should be no. New England paid a huge price for Spygate and rightly so. There is a competitive advantage to be gained from watching another team practice and the punishment fits the crime — a total of $700,000 and a first-round draft pick.


But the amount of air pressure in the footballs last Sunday had nothing to do with the outcome of the game. The Colts were a clearly inferior team that has no other excuses for why it lost by 38 points.


New England was better and the NFL should react accordingly. Maybe Goodell should take a page from the Sports Pickles’ book:




Everybody Relax: Patriots deflating footballs didn't matter
Post date: Wednesday, January 21, 2015 - 11:33
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-january-21-2015

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 21: 


It's not too early for the Super Bowl XLIX cheerleader showdown.


A Boston coffee shop is having fun with the scandal du jour.


The Patriots have given us a gift with Deflate-gate. But doctoring balls is nothing new, if you believe former Bucs QB Brad Johnson, who claims he bribed people to alter the balls before Super Bowl XXXVIII.


A handy guide to everything you need to know about Ball-ghazi.


Bleacher went longform about NHL dentists.


Roger Federer had a nasty drop shot in his Aussie Open match.


• An alternate narrative is emerging in the Robert Allenby case: that he passed out and hit his face on a rock.


Sports' most unusual power couple, Dustin Johnson and Paulina Gretzky, have welcomed a baby boy. Mazel tov.


Peyton Manning is planning to return, pending a physical.


Give up and admit that you love the NBA flopping epidemic.


• Watch Alex Ovechkin shatter a net-cam.


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

Post date: Wednesday, January 21, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Dion Waiters, Oklahoma City Thunder, NBA
Path: /nba/dion-waiters-prefers-okc-over-cavs-because-%E2%80%9Ci-actually-touch-ball%E2%80%9D
Dion Waiters, once one of the many problems in the Cleveland Cavaliers organization, is now thriving as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder after moving down south as part of a midseason blockbuster trade involving the New York Knicks.


Waiters has looked more engaged defensively and more confident with his role and motions in the OKC offense. Reigning MVP Kevin Durant predicted an uptick in Waiters’ productivity, saying "we're going to make him feel wanted. I don't think he's felt that the last few years.”


Six games into his Thunder tenure, Waiters seems to be enjoying the extra affirmation and encouragement his new team offers him. Dion turned in an especially on-point performance in the Thunder’s recent 127-115 victory over the Golden State Warriors — OKC’s biggest win of the season. Waiters dropped 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting in the game, to go with four rebounds and three steals. He helped create a defensive swarm that held MVP frontrunner Steph Curry to one of his worst outings of the year.

After he scored 16 points in a win over the Orlando Magic the following night, he offered a pretty straight-forward as to why he’s a better, happier basketball player in a fresh uniform. Per Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman:


“Waiters was asked what he’s learned so far about where his shots will come from and how he fit into the offense.


“He chuckled.


“‘Listen,’ he said, ‘they give me the ball. Like, I touch the ball. Like, I actually, like, you know, touch the ball.’ [...]

“‘I’m able to feel the game out, knowing when to take the shot, when not to. Like I said, we got a great group of guys on this team who’s very unselfish and they want you to be successful. So I think I came into a great situation.’”


— John Wilmes


Post date: Wednesday, January 21, 2015 - 10:13
Path: /college-football/early-pac-12-football-predictions-2015

College football’s 2014 season has ended, and the focus shifts from the national championship picture to signing day, spring practice and early preseason rankings for 2015. While last year and Ohio State’s national title victory over Oregon is still fresh in our minds, it’s never too early to think about next season.


The Pac-12 has moved up the ladder in college football’s conference hierarchy in recent years. With Oregon replacing quarterback Marcus Mariota and a loaded group of teams battling for the top spot in the South Division, the conference has even more intrigue in 2015. Can the Ducks win the conference once again? Or will Stanford or a team from the South win in the championship game for the first time? 


Early North Division Rankings

1. Oregon
2014 Record:
13-2 (8-1)

The biggest challenge of coach Mark Helfrich’s tenure at Oregon starts in 2015. Helfrich must find a replacement for quarterback (and Heisman Trophy winner) Marcus Mariota this spring, and there’s not a proven option ready to take control of the Ducks’ high-powered attack. Could a transfer come into play as Mariota’s replacement? Regardless of which quarterback starts in 2015, the skill talent is among the best in the nation. Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman anchor a talented backfield, while the receiving corps returns Byron Marshall, Devon Allen, Charles Nelson, Dwayne Stanford and Darren Carrington. After finding a replacement for Mariota, the biggest area of concern for Helfrich has to be the offensive line, which loses tackle Jake Fisher, guard Hamani Stevens and center Hroniss Grasu. The defense played better in the second half of the year under new coordinator Don Pellum. However, this unit must replace end Arik Armstead, linebacker Tony Washington and loses defensive backs Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB), Troy Hill (CB) and Erick Dargan (S).

2. Stanford
2014 Record:
8-5 (5-4)

The bar has been raised in Palo Alto. Stanford won 46 games from 2010-13 and recorded four straight years of finishes of 11th or better in the last Associated Press poll. Despite the recent success, the Cardinal slipped to 8-5 in 2014. The defense continued to perform at a high level without coordinator Derek Mason, limiting opponents to 4.2 yards per play. Second-year coordinator Lance Anderson has work to do this spring, as Stanford must replace a handful of key standouts, including end Henry Anderson, tackle David Parry, linebackers A.J. Tarpley and James Vaughters, safety Jordan Richards and cornerback Alex Carter. The offense had its share of ups and downs last season and averaged only 23.8 points per game in Pac-12 contests. Even though left tackle Andrus Peat and receiver Ty Montgomery must be replaced, Stanford should be optimistic about improvement. Running back Christian McCaffrey showed promise in limited snaps, and quarterback Kevin Hogan ended the year on a high note (14 of 20 for 189 yards and 2 TDs against Maryland).

3. Washington
2014 Record:
8-6 (4-5)

Chris Petersen’s first year wasn’t necessarily a disappointment, but the bar was set high in Seattle after he recorded a 92-12 mark at Boise State from 2006-13. Petersen will continue reshaping the program into the offseason, and the Huskies have a chance to play spoiler in the North with Oregon visiting Seattle in mid-October. Quarterback play has to improve for Petersen to elevate the program into division title contention. Cyler Miles threw for 17 touchdowns and completed 66.6 percent of his throws in his first year as the starter. But the Huskies need more from this position, especially after the offense generated only 36 passing plays (11th in the Pac-12) of 20 yards or more. Developing the talent at receiver is another offseason priority for Petersen, and the line loses four starters from a group that limited Pac-12 defenses to just 21 sacks. Revamping the trenches on defense is also a necessity after standouts Danny Shelton (NT) and Hau’oli Kikaha (DE/LB) expired their eligibility, and linebacker Shaq Thompson left early for the NFL. The secondary gave up 55 plays of 20 yards or more in 2014 but should take a step forward in 2015 with Budda Baker, John Ross and Sidney Jones returning.

4. California
2014 Record:
5-7 (3-6)

The Golden Bears were one of the most-improved teams in the Pac-12 this season. After a 1-11 mark in coach Sonny Dykes’ debut, California jumped to 5-7 in 2014 and lost four games by eight points or less. The next step for Dykes is to get the Golden Bears back into a bowl. And there’s a good shot of this team reaching that mark in 2015, as quarterback Jared Goff is one of the best in the Pac-12, and the receiving corps returns standouts in Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler. Running back Daniel Lasco (1,115 yards in 2014) might be the Pac-12’s most underrated player. Dykes needs his offense to score 35-40 points a week until the defense turns a corner under coordinator Art Kaufman. The Golden Bears allowed 44.1 points in Pac-12 contests last season and did not place a player on the All-Pac-12 team. The challenge of getting to a bowl in 2015 won’t be easy with a schedule that features crossover games against USC, UCLA, Arizona State and Utah. Also, California plays at Oregon and Stanford next year.

5. Oregon State
2014 Record: 5-7 (2-7)

Change is inevitable at every college program. For the first time since 2002 (Dennis Erickson), someone other than Mike Riley will roam the sidelines as Oregon State’s head coach. Gary Andersen was one of the top hires this offseason and comes to Corvallis after a 19-7 mark at Wisconsin from 2013-14. Andersen has four consecutive winning seasons as a head coach, but that streak will be in jeopardy in 2015. Oregon State loses quarterback Sean Mannion, and defensive standouts in linebacker D.J. Alexander, cornerback Steven Nelson, end Dylan Wynn, and safeties Ty Zimmerman and Ryan Murphy. Running back Storm Woods and receivers Victor Bolden and Jordan Villamin are a good place to start on offense, and the line – a source of concern in 2014 – should be better with all five starters back and a healthy Isaac Seumalo ready to contribute on the interior. Andersen’s background is on defense, and the hire of Kalani Sitake (Utah) should pay dividends for the Beavers.

6. Washington State
2014 Record:
3-9 (2-7)

The Cougars appeared to be trending in the right direction after a 6-7 mark and a bowl appearance in 2013. But an injury to quarterback Connor Halliday and a struggling defense prevented coach Mike Leach’s team from showing improvement in the win column. Washington State enters spring practice with several question marks, with the No. 1 priority starting at quarterback. Is Luke Falk the answer under center? Falk averaged 443.3 passing yards over the final four games but tossed six picks in his last two appearances. The return of Gabe Marks will soften the blow of losing No. 1 receiver Vince Mayle. New coordinator Alex Grinch inherits a defense that allowed 41.9 points in Pac-12 games and gave up 6.6 yards per play in league action. Grinch is already dealing with a few challenges this offseason, as linebacker Darryl Monroe transferred, cornerback Daquawn Brown was dismissed, and top lineman Xavier Cooper left for the NFL.


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Early South Division Rankings

1. USC
2014 Record:
9-4 (6-3)

The Pac-12 South is one of the toughest divisions in the nation to predict next season. Each team has personnel concerns, but a case could be made for five programs to have a legitimate shot at the division in 2015. The recruiting rankings favor USC as the most talented team in the South next season, but depth is an issue with the program still digging out from NCAA sanctions. Quarterback Cody Kessler is back for his senior year after throwing 39 touchdowns in 2014. Kessler headlines an offense that should be explosive once again, provided replacements are found for receiver Nelson Agholor and running back Buck Allen. The offensive line is slated to return all five starters from the Holiday Bowl, including freshman standouts Toa Lobendahn and Viane Talamaivao. With the loss of defensive end Leonard Williams, linebacker Hayes Pullard and rush end J.R. Tavai, the biggest concerns for USC in 2015 are with its defense. The schedule sets up favorably for a run at the South Division title, as the Trojans host Stanford, Washington, Utah, Arizona and UCLA. 

2. Arizona State
2014 Record:
10-3 (6-3)

The Sun Devils have 20 wins over the last two seasons, which is the best two-year mark for the program since a 20-4 stretch from 1996-97. Coach Todd Graham’s team should squarely be in the mix for the South Division title in 2015, especially with Oregon, Arizona and USC visiting Sun Devil Stadium. Quarterback Taylor Kelly must be replaced, but Mike Bercovici (12 TDs, 4 INTs) has proven capable in limited opportunities. Receiver Jaelen Strong and left tackle Jamil Douglas are key losses for the offense. However, the return of running back (and potential slot receiver) D.J. Foster will help the receiving corps, while Damario Richard and Kalen Ballage is a solid one-two punch at running back. Graham’s aggressiveness on defense paid off with 39 sacks and 98 tackles for a loss. This unit returns largely intact but loses All-Pac-12 safety Damarious Randall and end Marcus Hardison (10 sacks).

3. Arizona
2014 Record:
10-4 (7-2)

The Wildcats are the defending Pac-12 South champions and should be in the mix for the conference title once again in 2015. Provided the line finds capable replacements for tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele and center Steven Gurrola, the offense could surpass last year’s 33.4 points per game average in Pac-12 contests. Quarterback Anu Solomon and running back Nick Wilson are back after standout freshman campaigns, and the receiving corps returns Cayleb Jones, Trey Griffey, DaVonte’ Neal and Samajie Grant. While the offense is among the best in the league, the defense is still trying to find the right pieces under coordinator Jeff Casteel. Linebacker Scooby Wright is one of the nation’s top defensive players returning in 2015.

2014 Record:
10-3 (6-3)

The Bruins are picked No. 4 in our early pre-spring rankings, but that’s largely a byproduct of how loaded this division will be in 2015. And if you need anymore evidence, it’s very likely five teams from the South rank among the top 25 in most preseason polls. How high UCLA climbs in next year’s projections largely depends on its ability to replace quarterback Brett Hundley. Will true freshman Josh Rosen win the job over Jerry Neuheisel and Asiantii Woulard? Replacing a standout quarterback is a huge question mark to overcome, but the Bruins can shield their new starter with a strong supporting cast. Running back Paul Perkins returns after recording 1,575 yards and nine scores, while seven players that caught at least 26 passes are back. Each level of the defense has losses to address, with the biggest coming in the linebacking corps with the departure of Eric Kendricks.

5. Utah
2014 Record:
9-4 (5-4)

It’s been an interesting offseason in Salt Lake City. There was reported friction between coach Kyle Whittingham and athletic director Chris Hill after assistant coaches Dave Christensen (OC), Ilaisa Tuiaki (DL), and Kalani Sitake (DC) departed for other jobs. While the Utes have holes to fill on the coaching staff, this team will be a tough out for the rest of the Pac-12 next year. Left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi left early for the NFL, but the offense returns largely intact. Is Travis Wilson ready to take the next step in his development? Or will Kendal Thompson claim the job after recovering from a knee injury. Until the passing game stabilizes, the offense can lean on running back Devontae Booker (1,512 yards and 10 scores in 2014). Although Sitake will be missed as the team’s signal-caller, Utah’s defense shouldn’t change much with Whittingham’s background on defense. The Utes led the nation with 55 recorded sacks and held opponents to 24.9 points per game. End Nate Orchard, tackle Sese Ianu, safety Brian Blechen and cornerback Eric Rowe are the biggest losses on defense.

6. Colorado
2014 Record:
2-10 (0-9)

The win column may not show it, but Mike MacIntyre has Colorado moving in the right direction. The Buffaloes have won six games under MacIntyre’s watch and are just 1-17 in Pac-12 games. However, Colorado lost four games by five points or less in 2014. The outlook for this team in 2015 has improved thanks to the development of quarterback Sefo Liufau, along with the return of Nelson Spruce to Boulder after he considered jumping early to the NFL. The defense allowed 7.1 yards per play in Pac-12 games and surrendered 43 points per contest in league matchups this season. That’s the bad news. On the positive sign, most of the defensive two-deep returns, and the line regains the services of Samson Kafovalu (missed 2014 due to personal reasons). Expect improvement from Colorado in 2015.

Early Pac-12 Football Predictions for 2015
Post date: Wednesday, January 21, 2015 - 09:30
Path: /nfl/who-are-10-greatest-players-never-play-super-bowl

Being a future Hall of Famer does not guarantee a trip to the Super Bowl. In fact, many of the game’s greatest players never took the field with the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the line. Here are some of the game’s best to have never made it to Super Sunday.


1. Barry Sanders, RB, DET (1989-98)

Playoff record: 1–5

Best team: 1991 Lions (12–4 record, lost in NFC Championship Game)

Closest call: 1991 (NFC Championship Game, 41–10 loss at Redskins)


After winning his playoff debut 38–6 against the Cowboys, Sanders lost his next five postseason games. Shockingly, one of the most exciting players of all-time was limited to 13 or fewer carries in four of his six playoff contests. The only time No. 20 was given more than 20 carries, he ripped off 169 yards in a 28–24 loss to the Packers. Although Sanders ran wild every year on Thanksgiving Day, he never showed up to the party on Super Bowl Sunday.


2. Deacon Jones, DE (1961-74)

Playoff record: 0–2

Best team: 1967 Rams (11–1–2 record, lost in Divisional Round)

Closest call: 1969 (Divisional Round, 23–20 loss at Vikings)


The “Secretary of Defense” was known for head-slapping opposing offensive linemen, but the two-time Defensive Player of the Year must have been doing some head-scratching after retiring with zero playoff wins on three different teams — and zero Super Bowl appearances — despite an unofficial total of 173.5 sacks during his Hall of Fame career.


3. Dick Butkus, LB (1965-73)

Playoff record: 0–0

Best team: 1965 Bears (9–5 record, missed postseason)


Arguably the greatest middle linebacker in history, Butkus played for George Halas — the legendary coach whose name graces the trophy awarded to the winner of the NFC Championship Game — and on the same team as Hall of Fame triple-threat playmaker Gale Sayers. Despite looking great on paper at the time and even better in historical hindsight, Butkus’ Bears were unable to make the playoffs, which is the first step toward advancing to the Super Bowl.


4. Gale Sayers, RB (1965-71)

Playoff record: 0–0

Best team: 1965 Bears (9–5 record, missed postseason)


Butkus and Sayers were drafted Nos. 3 and 4 overall, respectively, by the Bears in 1965. But the Hall of Fame duo were unable to translate their individual achievements into team success. Sayers notched a record six TDs in a single game — with nine carries for 113 yards and four TDs, two catches for 89 yards and one TD, and five punt returns for 134 yards and one TD as a rookie — but failed to score even a single Super Bowl trip.


5. Earl Campbell, RB (1978-85)

Playoff record: 3–3

Best team: 1979 Oilers (11–5 record, lost in AFC Championship Game)

Closest call: 1979 (AFC Championship Game, 27–13 loss at Steelers)


The “Luv Ya Blue” bulldozer was unable to take down the powerful “Steel Curtain” during back-to-back AFC Championship Game losses. In two painful defeats at Pittsburgh, Campbell had a combined 39 carries for 77 yards (1.97 ypc), two catches for 15 yards, and zero TDs. Campbell’s two scoreless games against the Steelers were the only two playoff games in which he failed to find the end zone.


6. O.J. Simpson, RB (1969-79)

Playoff record: 0–1

Best team: 1974 Bills (9–5 record, lost in Divisional Round)

Closest call: 1974 (Divisional Round, 32–14 loss at Steelers)


Another victim of the mighty Steelers, the Juice had better luck than Campbell — with 18 touches for 86 total yards and one TD — but was unable to lead the Bills to victory in what would be his only postseason appearance. The actor and defendant never basked in the spotlight of the Super Bowl but he was seen by millions during his days as Lt. Nordberg in the "Naked Gun" franchise and his starring role in the Trial of the Century.


7. Eric Dickerson, RB (1983-93)

Playoff record: 2–5

Best team: 1985 Rams (11–5 record, lost in NFC Championship Game)

Closest call: 1985 (NFC Championship Game, 24–0 loss at Bears)


Upon first glance, the single-season rushing yards record holder posted solid playoff numbers. But take off the goggles and you’ll see that Dickerson’s 248-yard, two-TD outburst during a 20–0 win over the Cowboys in 1985 accounted for one-third of his career postseason rushing yards and half of his total TDs.


8. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB (2001-11)

Playoff record: 4–5

Best team: 2006 Chargers (14–2 record, lost in Divisional Round)

Closest call: 2010 (AFC Championship Game, 24–19 loss at Steelers)


Infamously sulking on the sideline, injured and wearing in a Darth Vader facemask and trench coat at New England — after just two carries for five yards — was clearly the low point of L.T.’s playoff career. Staying on the dark side, three of his five playoff losses were by margins of three points, one defeat came by four points and the most lopsided was a nine-pointer.


9. Tony Gonzalez, TE (1997-2013)

Playoff record: 1–6

Best team: 2003 Chiefs (13–3 record, lost in Divisional Round)

Closest call: 2012 (NFC Championship Game, 28–24 loss vs. 49ers)


It took Gonzo 16 seasons to finally earn a playoff win. Then, with the Falcons holding a 17–0 lead over the 49ers in the NFC title game, it looked like the future Hall of Fame tight end would be punching his ticket to the Super Bowl and possibly riding off into the sunset as a champion. The massive comeback by the Niners would be the all-time great’s final playoff game.


10. Warren Moon, QB (1984-2000)

Playoff record: 3–7

Best team: 1993 Oilers (12–4 record, lost in Divisional Round)

Closest call: 1993 (Divisional Round, 28–20 loss vs. Chiefs)


Moon won five consecutive Grey Cups and was twice named Grey Cup MVP in the Canadian Football League. But in these United States south of the border, the former CFL champion was unable to translate his prior success to the NFL Playoffs. Moon’s waning moment came in the worst collapse in postseason history, as his Oilers watched a 35–3 lead evaporate into a 41–38 overtime loss against the Frank Reich-led Bills.

Who are the 10 Greatest Players Never to Play in a Super Bowl?
Post date: Wednesday, January 21, 2015 - 08:30
Path: /nba/james-harden-score-45-points-against-pacers-video

Add another line item to James Harden’s MVP resume. The Houston Rockets star scored 45 points against the Indiana Pacers last night, and did it with extreme efficiency. The Beard was 12-for-18 from the field, and 14-for-15 from the charity strike. Watch him run up his box-score digits:



The Rockets won the game 110-98, to improve to 29-13 on the season, good for fourth place in the loaded Western Conference.



"I think the way we came out, that's the way we should come out every single game," Harden said after the game. "We focused on defense and offensively making it easy for each other. They didn't gain any ground on us because we kept being consistent with what we did.”


It’s refreshing to see Harden take on such a bold, team-leading role in his sixth season as a pro. Last year, he looked emotionally pained as he adjusted to the pressures of being the best player on a title-contending team, when Dwight Howard came to town and elevated the Rockets’ competitive status. Harden’s defense demonstrably suffered as he took on extra heat from the limelight.


But now he’s on the short list of players you’d want to build a team around, and his coach Kevin McHale has noticed the transformation. "He's having a special year," McHale said after the victory over the Pacers. "A couple of those shots he made, there's nothing a defender can do.”


At 26.6 points per game, Harden is currently leading the league in scoring. More importantly, he’s become a member of some of the best defensive lineups in basketball — the Rockets have the second-most efficient defense in the sport, and they’re markedly more scary because of it.


Catch Harden and Houston as they look for revenge against the league-leading Golden State Warriors this Wednesday, at 10:30 PM ET on ESPN. Steph Curry and Co. dismantled the Rockets, 131-106, this past Saturday.


— John Wilmes


Post date: Tuesday, January 20, 2015 - 15:48
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-january-20-2015

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 20: 


Swaggy P bought Iggy Azalea a sweet ride after photographic evidence of cheating surfaced.


• The tooth hurts: Tiger was missing something at GF Lindsey Vonn's race. And not everyone is buying what Tiger is selling about the story.


• In other weird golf news: Robert Allenby's story was slightly contradicted by a homeless woman. Kidnapping, random missing teeth — who said the golf beat was boring? And that doesn't even take into account Dustin Johnson's denial of cocaine addiction.


The New York tabloids have their fun with deflate-gate. And in its own way, so does The Onion.


A guy expertly trolled Packers fans at a hockey game, of all places.


Rajon Rondo might have deflated a ball or two with his attempted save off Marc Gasol's junk.


• Got a few hours to kill? Relive the top 100 college football games of 2014.


Derrick Rose is f---ing irritated with the Bulls' struggles.


• Bill Self angry. Bill Self smash.


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

Post date: Tuesday, January 20, 2015 - 12:13
Path: /nba/cleveland-cavaliers-are-surging
Remember four months ago? That was when we were already anointing the Cleveland Cavaliers as Eastern Conference champions, after they had a doozy of a summer by bringing back LeBron James and trading for three-time All-Star Kevin Love.


That was before James became a coach-killer, Love lost his mojo, and the most hyped team of the decade got buried under a barrage of hysteria and dysfunction caused by unmet expectations.


Good thing for the Cavs: The season is long. Mediocrity in early January means little in a league where the stakes don’t rise until April, and Cleveland has swiftly improved after trading Dion Waiters, Lou Amundson and some draft picks for Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.


The new-look Cavaliers spanked one of their top conference rivals, the Chicago Bulls, last night. Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving tallied 18 points and 12 assists as his team prevailed, 108-94. This one was a quick knockout, as the Cavs amassed a 14-point lead in the second quarter and never really looked back.


The Bulls, to their credit, are in a bad way. Losers of six of their last eight contests, they’re without 2014 Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, and starting small forward Mike Dunleavy. But what Cleveland did last night was a statement game nonetheless; they may not put together the perfect season, but they have more than enough talent to scare the rest of the sport.


The Cavs still have a lot of work to do if they’re to be championship contenders this spring. A three-game winning streak is nice (especially if two of the wins are against elite teams) but it doesn’t put you into the rare air of squads like the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks — who, combined, have less than half of Cleveland’s losses. With LeBron leading the way, though, such company seems inevitable these days.


— John Wilmes


Post date: Tuesday, January 20, 2015 - 10:22