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When it comes to the Heisman Trophy, the little guy gets no respect.
And by the little guy, I don’t mean Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton. I mean 300-pound defensive lineman or 6-foot-4 fire-breathing linebackers.
No, when it comes to the most prestigious trophy in sports, the entire defensive side of the ball has been largely ignored for the better part of a century. Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997 is the only true defensive player to ever win the award.
Recent runs to New York by Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh in 2009 and Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o in '12 may be a sign of things changing slowly, but odds are still heavily stacked against the defensive side of the ball.
Assuming that both halves of the field will get a fair shake this fall, who are the top defensive Heisman candidates for 2014?
Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
Fans and experts all point to Myles Jack as the top defensive candidate to break through this fall but he isn’t expected to be used on offense. Thompson, on the other hand, could see more than spot duty for the Huskies' offense. He is a freak athlete, an All-American candidate and could be the next two-way star in college football.
Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
The nation’s top returning sack master is the Tigers' star — who posted 13 sacks a year ago. For a defense that could be the best Clemson has had in years, Beasley’s explosive playmaking ability should make for national headlines.
Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
The Big Ten’s top returning sack master (9.5), Gregory is hoping to restore the Nebraska defense to Blackshirt status. He should be able to build on his monster 2013 campaign that featured 65 tackles, 16 for a loss and 15 quarterback hurries. Like Calhoun, Gregory should perform like the projected first-round NFL Draft pick that he is.
Eric Striker, LB, Oklahoma
The big-play linebacker shows up all over the field. He constantly disrupts the opposing backfield and regularly imposes his will with physicality and explosiveness. He should build on his stat line from last year: 50 tackles, 10.6 TFL, 6.5 sacks.
Listen to the latest Cover 2 college football podcast:
Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
Not many players earn first-team preseason All-American honors as a true sophomore but that is what VH3 has done. He might be the nation’s top pure cover corner and should only build on his excellent first season in Gainesville.
Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
He was the No. 1 recruit in the nation at his position for a reason. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound athlete stepped into a starring role for Notre Dame and produced as just a freshman last fall. He posted 67 tackles (third on the team), 6.5 for a loss and made one freakish interception against USC. With a move to the inside, Smith should find himself around the ball on every play and the Irish have already proven that their middle linebacker can land in New York.
Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
The massive (6-5, 260) defensive end was a star last year as just a sophomore (37 tackles, 14 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 3 defensive touchdowns). With much less help at linebacker, the Spartans' defensive line now takes center stage. Calhoun is the star of that bunch due to elite NFL upside.
Landon Collins, S, Alabama
He is one of the most gifted tacklers in the nation. When Collins arrives at the ball, the entire country knows about it. The lone returning starter in the Crimson Tide secondary could be the nation’s best safety. And he plays a position that has recently become a marquee spot with names like Mark Barron and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix excelling for the Tide.
Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Jack made a huge name for himself last fall while playing two ways. Unfortunately, coach Jim Mora has talked openly about returning his star linebacker to an exclusively defensive role. Either way, he is a star athlete who will be a national award winner at some point.
Leonard Williams, DE, USC
The lanky defensive end is a projected top pick in the NFL Draft in the spring and should he dominate the line of scrimmage once again — he has 26 TFL and 13 sacks in two seasons — he should be in line for national acclaim.
Jalen Ramsey, S, Florida State
Not many true freshmen start every game for a national champion but that is what the former five-star recruit did for the Noles a year ago. The lanky playmaker should develop into one of the best defenders in the nation and should be an All-American this fall.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
The first-team All-American cornerback consistently makes highlight-reel plays on defense. He has seven interceptions and seven forced fumbles in the last two seasons while making 147 total stops. He could be the most high-profile member of a Pac-12 championship defense.
Su’a Cravens, S, USC
From a talent standpoint, few can match Cravens’ size and speed combination. He proved as a true freshman last year that he could be special, posting 53 tackles and four interceptions.
Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State
As a true freshman, Jones — who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds — made a much bigger impact than even his five-star status indicated. He posted 32 tackles, seven for a loss and three sacks and constantly disrupted the opposing backfield. He is a sure-fire future NFL star.
Cedric Reed, DE, Texas
He is a massive part of the Longhorns' rebuilding project on defense, figuratively and literally. At 6-6 and 260 pounds, Reed towers above the competition regularly and his numbers back it up as well. He posted 77 tackles, 16.5 TFL and 10 sacks last year and should only be better this year.
Arizona has restored its spot atop the Pac-12 thanks to back-to-back signing classes headlined by major recruits. The trend should continue.
Aaron Gordon spent one season surrounded by veterans last season. Now, Stanley Johnson will do the same for another Final Four contender.
UCLA under Steve Alford hopes to follow the lead of the Wildcats. Alford will have two impact newcomers who were major recruits in Kevon Looney and, after a one-year delay, Isaac Hamilton.
No program in the Pac-12 is able to match Arizona and UCLA in recruiting, even though Stanford was able to add a McDonald’s All-American this season. Other programs are relying on Division I and junior college transfers to keep up in 2014-15.
1. Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Arizona trades out one star freshman (Aaron Gordon) for another in Johnson, who was the No. 4 prospect in the 247Sports Composite. Like Gordon, Johnson steps into a veteran cast ready to compete for the Final Four. Johnson figures to be more of an offensive threat who could fill the scoring void left by Nick Johnson. The 6-foot-7, 226-pound shooting guard will be a threat to score from all over the court.
2. Kevon Looney, UCLA
UCLA was thin in the frontcourt last season, but that may not be the case anymore with the arrival of the 6-9, 208-pound power forward Looney. Of course, without Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine, the Bruins will need help everywhere. UCLA is counting on Looney, the No. 12 prospect in the 247Sports Composite, to contribute on the boards and in the post.
3. Isaac Hamilton, UCLA
Hamilton sat out last season after backing out of his Letter of Intent to UTEP and coach Tim Floyd. The 6-foot-5, 185-pound McDonald’s All-American is expected to split time with Bryce Alford at point guard. Hamilton figures to be a more dynamic scorer than Alford for a team replacing most of its key players from a year ago.
4. Reid Travis, Stanford
The arrival of Travis, a McDonald’s All-American, is a major recruiting victory for Stanford, giving the Cardinal a chance to capitalize on the momentum from a Sweet 16 appearance. Travis should become an contributor right away thanks to his relentless rebounding on both ends of the court.
5. Kadeem Allen, Arizona
Junior college transfer
Allen was the National Junior College Player of the Year after averaging 25.9 points per game. Clearly, he’s not going to replicate that in the Pac-12, but he’ll be a key addition in the backcourt for a team that struggled to find its offense at times. Allen is expected to battle for the starting off guard spot.
6. Katin Reinhardt, USC
Transfer from UNLV
Andy Enfield needed to replenish the roster in a major way in his first season at USC, a year that yielded only two Pac-12 wins. Reinhardt, who sat out last season after his transfer, will be a major part of that. He started 34 games as a freshman at UNLV, averaging 10.1 points and 2.5 assists per game. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound sophomore will be a combo guard in Enfield’s system in Los Angeles.
7. Quevyn Winters, Washington
Junior college transfer
Washington already has point guard locked down with Nigel Williams-Goss, one of the few sure things on the roster next season. Winters, then, will step in for C.J. Wilcox at the two guard spot. Winters averaged 9.6 points as a freshman at Duquesne before transferring to junior college. Winters was 55-of-145 from 3-point range (37.9 percent) during his only season with the Dukes.
8. Kyle Kuzma, Utah
Utah is expected to have a breakout season with Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge returning. One key pice, though, will be the freshman Kuzma. He’s a 6-foot-8 small forward who should be a matchup problem on both ends of the court.
9. JaQuan Lyle, Oregon
Scandal cost Oregon three players from the 2014-15 roster, so the Ducks need their top recruit to contribute immediately. Even that, though, is in question as Lyle’s academic situation is unsettled. If he’s on the court, Lyle can hold down either guard spot.
10. Robert Upshaw, Washington
Transfer from Fresno State
Upshaw could be an impact player in the Washington frontcourt, but his situation is uncertain. He was suspended three times while at Fresno State and is not certain to play with the Huskies. His production was meager at Fresno State, but the 6-11 explosive big man has plenty of potential.
The Athlon Sports Cover 2 college football podcast is finally back in Nashville after trips to SEC and Big Ten Media Days.
To offer a complete media days recap and a general state of college football address, Braden Gall and David Fox are joined by SBNation's Steven Godfrey.
The guys break down autonomy, the future of scheduling, the impact of sweeping changes on the fans and much more.
Three AFC teams changed head coaches this offseason and two of those hires alone resulted in openings at either offensive or defensive coordinator elsewhere in the conference. That combined with both of Cincinnati's coordinators leaving for head-coaching gigs in the NFC and one other getting another shot at the top are the primary reasons why half of the AFC's 16 teams will have at least one new coordinator this season.
Related: 2014 NFC Coordinator Carousel
Here is a rundown of the coordinator changes in the AFC entering the 2014 season:
Baltimore Ravens, Offensive Coordinator
NEW: Gary Kubiak
OLD: Jim Caldwell
Fired after going 61–64 in eight seasons as the head coach of the Houston Texans, Kubiak returns to the role he filled on Mike Shanahan’s staff in Denver from 1995-2005. During those 11 seasons, the Broncos finished outside of the top 14 in total offense just once.
Buffalo Bills, Defensive Coordinator
NEW: Jim Schwartz
OLD: Mike Pettine
Schwartz was fired by the Lions after making the playoffs just once in five seasons as the head coach. The Titans’ defensive coordinator from 2001-08 before leaving for Detroit, Schwartz will look to mold a young Bills defense into one of the more feared units in the AFC.
Cincinnati Bengals, Defensive Coordinator
NEW: Paul Guenther
OLD: Mike Zimmer
After Zimmer left to become the head coach in Minnesota, Marvin Lewis decided to promote from within to fill the vacancy. Guenther has been on Lewis’ staff since 2005 and previously served as linebackers coach.
Cincinnati Bengals, Offensive Coordinator
NEW: Hue Jackson
OLD: Jay Gruden
Oakland’s head coach in 2011 (8–8), Jackson joined Marvin Lewis’ staff in Cincinnati after the Raiders fired him. The Bengals’ running backs coach last season, Jackson has 27 years of collegiate and NFL coaching experience, including stints as the offensive coordinator for the Redskins, Falcons and Raiders.
Cleveland Browns, Defensive Coordinator
NEW: Jim O’Neil
OLD: Ray Horton
O’Neil has worked with new Browns head coach Mike Pettine in each of the past five seasons. They were both part of Rex Ryan’s staff with the Jets before O’Neil joined Pettine in Buffalo last season as the Bills’ linebackers coach. O’Neil also played for Pettine’s father, Mike Sr., in high school in Pennsylvania.
Cleveland Browns, Offensive Coordinator
NEW: Kyle Shanahan
OLD: Norv Turner
Shanahan served as the Redskins’ offensive coordinator the past four seasons under his father, Mike, before both were fired in December. Before going to Washington, Shanahan served in the same role for the Texans from 2008-09, during which time he was the NFL’s youngest coordinator (28 at the time of promotion).
Houston Texans, Defensive Coordinator
NEW: Romeo Crennel
OLD: Wade Phillips
The former head coach of both the Browns (2001-04) and Chiefs (2011-12), Crennel got his NFL coaching start as the special teams coach of the Giants back in 1981. He has served as the defensive coordinator for three other teams — Patriots, Browns and Chiefs.
Houston Texans, Offensive Coordinator
NEW: Bill O’Brien
OLD: Rick Dennison
The former Penn State head coach and offensive coordinator for the Patriots (2011), O’Brien will oversee the Texans’ offense while also serving as head coach. After leading the Nittany Lions to 15 wins in two seasons, O’Brien will shift his focus to turning around a team that scored the second-fewest points in the NFL last season.
Miami Dolphins, Offensive Coordinator
NEW: Bill Lazor
OLD: Mike Sherman
Virginia’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2010-12, Lazor returned to the NFL as Philadelphia’s quarterbacks coach under Chip Kelly last season. He was an offensive assistant and QBs coach previously with Atlanta, Washington and Seattle, though this will be Lazor’s first stint as a coordinator in the pros.
San Diego Chargers, Offensive Coordinator
NEW: Frank Reich
OLD: Ken Whisenhunt
A quarterback for four different teams over 14 NFL seasons, Reich is getting his first shot at being a coordinator following Whisenhunt’s departure to Tennessee. An assistant coach in Indianapolis and Arizona previously, Reich served as the Chargers’ QBs coach last season.
Tennessee Titans, Offensive Coordinator
NEW: Jason Michael
OLD: Dowell Loggains
An NFL assistant coach for eight of the past nine seasons, Michael worked alongside new Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt in San Diego as the Chargers’ tight ends coach in 2013.
Tennessee Titans, Defensive Coordinator
NEW: Ray Horton
OLD: Jerry Gray
Horton left the Browns to reunite with new Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt. The two first worked together on Bill Cowher’s staff in Pittsburgh before Whisenhunt hired Horton as his defensive coordinator in Arizona in 2011. Horton’s defenses have ranked 18th or better in the NFL in yards allowed in each of the past three seasons.
Similar to the AFC, three head-coaching changes have resulted in some shuffling among the coordinator positions among the NFC's teams. Detroit, Minnesota and Tampa Bay aren't the only NFC teams who will have at least one new coordinator in charge either, as Dallas, the New York Giants, St. Louis and Washington also made a change in this respect. The net result for the NFC is that five former head coaches (Leslie Frazier, Rod Marinelli, Jeff Tedford, Norv Turner and Gregg Williams) have been added to the coordinator ranks, although one of these (Tedford) is a "rookie" when it comes to the NFL.
Related: 2014 AFC Coordinator Carousel
Here is a rundown of the NFC's coordinator changes entering the 2014 season:
Dallas Cowboys, Defensive Coordinator
NEW: Rod Marinelli
OLD: Monte Kiffin
Marinelli, who was Kiffin’s defensive line coach last season, replaced his boss after the Cowboys finished dead last in the NFL in yards allowed (415.3 ypg). As the Bears’ defensive coordinator from 2010-12, Marinelli led his units to top-10 finishes in both total and scoring defense twice (2010, ’12).
Detroit Lions, Defensive Coordinator
NEW: Teryl Austin
OLD: Gunther Cunningham
Austin has been coaching in the NFL for a decade, but this will be his first season as a coordinator on the pro level. This also will be his third stint working alongside new Lions head coach Jim Caldwell. The first came when Austin was Caldwell’s defensive backs coach at Wake Forest from 1993-95, and they both were on John Harbaugh’s staff in Baltimore the past two seasons.
Detroit Lions, Offensive Coordinator
NEW: Joe Lombardi
OLD: Scott Linehan
The grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi, Joe has spent the past seven seasons on Sean Payton’s staff in New Orleans. After starting as an offensive assistant, Lombardi moved to quarterbacks coach in 2009, the season the Saints won the Super Bowl. During his time as quarterbacks coach, Drew Brees set numerous passing records and averaged nearly 5,000 yards and 39 touchdowns per season.
Minnesota Vikings, Defensive Coordinator
NEW: George Edwards
OLD: Alan Williams
Miami’s linebackers coach the past two seasons, Edwards was tabbed by new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer to help improve the NFL’s most generous (30.0 ppg allowed) defense in 2013. A coaching veteran with more than 20 years of experience on the college and professional levels, Edwards’ resume includes stints as the defensive coordinator for the Florida Gators as well as the Redskins and Bills.
Minnesota Vikings, Offensive Coordinator
NEW: Norv Turner
OLD: Bill Musgrave
After one year in Cleveland, Turner joins Mike Zimmer in Minnesota to oversee one of the NFL’s least productive passing attacks (214.2 ypg, 18 TDs in 2013). A three-time head coach (Washington, Oakland, San Diego), Turner will be working for the ninth different franchise of his career, which began in 1985 as the wide receivers coach for the Los Angeles Rams.
New York Giants, Offensive Coordinator
NEW: Ben McAdoo
OLD: Kevin Gilbride
After seven seasons leading the Giants’ offense, Gilbride retired (much to the delight of the team’s fan base), resulting in McAdoo getting his first shot at being a coordinator on any level. A position coach for Green Bay the past eight seasons, McAdoo first started working with tight ends before moving to quarterbacks coach in 2012.
St. Louis Rams, Defensive Coordinator
NEW: Gregg Williams
OLD: Tim Walton
Williams was initially hired by Rams head coach Jeff Fisher in February 2012 before being suspended indefinitely for his role in the Saints BountyGate scandal. Reinstated last season, Williams is reunited with Fisher. The two worked together from 1994-2000, with Fisher as the head coach and Williams the defensive coordinator of the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Defensive Coordinator
NEW: Leslie Frazier
OLD: Bill Sheridan
Fired after Minnesota went from 10–6 and in the playoffs in 2012 to 5–10–1 last season, Frazier landed on his feet as part of new head coach Lovie Smith’s staff in Tampa Bay. The Vikings’ defensive coordinator from 2007 until he replaced head coach Brad Childress with six games remaining in ‘10, Frazier also has coached for the Eagles, Bengals and Colts.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Offensive Coordinator
NEW: Jeff Tedford
OLD: Mike Sullivan
The head coach at California from 2002-12 (82–57), Tedford will be a rookie NFL coordinator this season. He is known for his track record of developing NFL-caliber quarterbacks, most notably Aaron Rodgers, but he also coached All-Pros Marshawn Lynch and DeSean Jackson, as well as Keenan Allen during his tenure with the Golden Bears.
Washington Redskins, Offensive Coordinator
NEW: Sean McVay
OLD: Kyle Shanahan
The youngest (28) offensive coordinator in the NFL, McVay was not merely retained by new Redskins head coach Jay Gruden; he was promoted. The tight ends coach the past three seasons, McVay had previously worked with Gruden when both were offensive assistants on Jon Gruden’s staff with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008. McVay has the title of offensive coordinator, but Jay Gruden will call the plays.
Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith will evaluate the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report will include twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with the drivers, and more.
Prior to his 21st-place finish at Pocono Raceway, rookie Cole Whitt, driver of the No. 26 BK Racing Toyota Camry, sat down with David for an exclusive, extended interview. What follows is an edited transcript of their chat.
David Smith: You’re 20 or so races into your first full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. What one aspect of the sport do you feel you’ve improved upon from the opening race to now?
Cole Whitt: The biggest thing I’ve improved upon is just putting a race together. There were times at the beginning of the year where I had really good speed at certain tracks, but would make a mistake or end up crashing myself in times where I shouldn’t have. Now, further into the season, I’ve gotten better at putting a full race together, being smart when I need to and being aggressive when I need to and telling the difference between the two. I’m just doing what needs to be done to have a good day.
At what point did you identify the need to pick your battles?
Probably around the time of the Darlington race. There was a stretch of six or eight races where we probably crashed in half of them. After races, I’d start looking at the guy I was racing hard against and look at our position in the finishing order and realize if I had just let that one car go, I would’ve given up just one spot and finished 19th or 20th, which is really good for us, but instead I was trying to hold up that one car, and I’d end up crashing myself out of the race or finishing 38th or 40th. Seeing that every week made me realize that sometimes one spot isn't that big of a deal and it’s a spot that I could probably get back based on strategy.
The relationship between a driver and a crew chief is crucial to communication, which ultimately dictates success. You’re fortunate enough to go through your rookie season with Randy Cox, a guy who’s been in your corner since your time at Red Bull Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, as your crew chief. In your mind, what makes Randy a keeper?
The relationship goes beyond racing. We both respect each other and I know he’s going to give everything to make a car good. I think he believes, truthfully, that if he gives me as good of a car as everyone else has, I’ll out-drive them all. Having that confidence in each other is huge. We’re friends regardless of racing. I’m going racing with one of my buddies. It’s not a business to us. It’s a life style that takes us away from our families and having each other for aspects of our personal lives makes it easier.
Let’s talk a little bit about your development as a driver. You came up through the open-wheel ranks, first as a Kart racer, then in Sprint Cars and Midgets. You won the 2008 USAC National Midget championship driving for legendary USAC team owner Keith Kunz. You were good before you linked up with Keith, but it seems as if you grew as a driver while running for him. How much were you able to learn from him?
I learned a lot. He made it really easy on me for my USAC racing, to the point that I learned enough to branch off on my own and race locally (in Indiana). It allowed me to get a lot of seat time and try a lot of things we talked about. When someone tells you something and you’re able to put it to work that weekend and it proves successful, that builds a lot of trust in that person. I feel as if we made each other better – we won a lot of races the next year, too – which is kind of cool.
You’re not the only driver to race for Keith and emerge as a star. What is it about Keith or that team that makes everyone better? You talked about pushing one another to be better. Does he do that with other young drivers?
Yeah, I think Keith does that all the time. I know he’s winning a lot of races still and is helping progress drivers. There will be drivers coming out of his camp that might replace me one day or race against me. There’s never a shortage of talent coming up through the ranks, and Keith is one of those guys who never settles. His cars get better each year and he’s gotten hold of the right drivers. And he’s earned that by being one of the best guys around with all of his good relationships in USAC. Bryan Clauson came through, I came through and Darren Hagen came through. He had (Kyle) Larson and has Rico (Abreu) and (Christopher) Bell right now. He’s always had the right talent coming to him. There’s no reason it shouldn’t. He teaches everyone. He and Pete (Willoughby, the team’s co-owner) are good guys and they really coach up their drivers and prepare them well mentally instead of just giving them seat time.
You averaged a 14th-place finish for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2012. At the end of the season, you and the team parted ways. You landed at Mark Smith’s Tri-Star Motorsports shop in 2013 initially as a shop hand, correct?
Oh yeah (laughs).
You worked your way into 15 races with the Tri-Star team and, despite the vast resource discrepancy between JRM and Tri-Star, still managed to average a finish within two spots of what you earned in the prior season (14.0 to 15.7). Have you reflected on what you were able to do last year? It seems like some serious overachieving took place.
Yes. It definitely got me to where I am right now. I wouldn’t have a Cup ride without that season. If Mark hadn’t given me an opportunity to drive, my career probably would have ended right there because I certainly didn’t have anything. I went into that season looking for work and talked with him about driving for him, but at the time we didn’t know how that would happen. So I started working for him in the shop. I was there every day. Things progressed and one of their drivers wasn’t working out. Randy was over there with me and we were trying to make that program the best we could in case an opportunity for us came up. I will say Mark gave us a great opportunity that would be hard for him to repeat. He definitely stretched himself thinner than he needed to, going above and beyond to help us out. There were times we picked up a few small sponsorships to make sure we got our full allotment of tires. Running a limited schedule was actually kind of nice for us because we didn’t stretch ourselves thin. It provided an opportunity to set aside a car, or Randy and I would build one from the ground up and take our time putting the best car we possibly could on the racetrack. I think we had decent equipment, which helped take some people by surprise, but at the same time it was a lot of hard work.
Do you feel your time at Tri-Star prepared you for this season, first at Swan Racing and now at BK, driving for a team that, to put it politely, is still finding its competitive footing?
Absolutely. I learned at Tri-Star about putting a team together and getting a team to believe in itself. When a team sits where they are for so long, it’s easy to get stagnant. Showing them you can run well, when you have that opportunity, is a chance to see how they react and change. We did that a little bit at Tri-Star and are trying to do that at BK. Stacy Compton’s Truck team also prepared me for this situation. People forget about that – that was a big learning curve for me, being thrown into the Truck Series early in my career without having a whole lot of resources. There was a time where we led the standings and we were in the top 10 in points all year. That’s probably where this niche started. It means a lot to see a team grateful for overachieving in their equipment, doing something they didn’t think was possible.
So you would recommend that every young driver should link up with an underfunded team at some point?
I don’t know. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s career either, because it can be hard (laughs). I haven’t had the easiest route, but it’s made me who I am and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Last question for you: Barring a victory in the next five or six races, you’re going to miss out on the Chase. At that point, what becomes your goal for the final 10 races?
Nothing changes for us. We’re going to try to get every position possible and bring the best car to every race. It might sound like a simple answer, but I just want us to get everything we possibly can out of a weekend. For example, at Indy we expected to go there and be better than we were, but considering how off we were in practice and how close we got by the end of the weekend, it was a huge improvement. So trying to eliminate why we were so far off from the beginning is a goal. Running in the top 25 consistently is the next goal. We’re just trying to be a little bit better.
Follow David Smith on Twitter: @DavidSmithMA
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for August 5:
• Wow. LeBron is scary skinny. Dude, you can afford to eat.
• How adorbs is this? Justin Verlander tossed girlfriend Kate Upton a baseball, eliciting a precious reaction.
• Play "Spot the Typo" on this Michigan State locker room sign. Hint: A word is not spelled accurately.
• The eight least disgusting sports injuries of all time. That's right, I said least.
• Chris Bosh is launching a line of ties. The name? Mr. Nice Tie. Seriously.
• Ezequiel Carrera made the catch of the year last night. Move over, Jim Edmunds.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year.
In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2014, Athlon asked coaches in the SEC to talk anonymously about their opponents.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
SEC Coaches Anonymously Scout Conference Foes
“They are the ones that I think can have the quickest turnaround because of who they have on defense.”…
“Their talent on defense is fantastic, but that talent didn’t always work hard last year. There were a lot of guys who were worried about next-level play instead of worrying about this level of play.”…
“If they can stay healthy offensively, they can have a quick turnaround. They’ve got a lot of talent on defense I’m not saying they’ll make it to a national championship game, but they could have an Auburn-like turnaround.”…
“They didn’t have a lot of guys that could make plays at wideout, which is amazing at a place like Florida.”…
“The quarterback situation is bad. When Jeff Driskel got hurt, the kid that left in the offseason (Jacoby Brissett) could have played but they didn’t have anybody there. Driskel goes down and the offense was devastated. That’s the danger of when you stockpile a bunch of quarterbacks or you miss on a quarterback. All of a sudden your starter gets hurt and then the guy who wasn’t the starter but was pretty good leaves. The days of waiting until the fifth year to start are few and far between.”…
“They lost Jon Halapio, who was a good player but was dinged up. When you have to play a lot of guys up front, it usually pays dividends down the road. Maybe that’s what happens for them”…
“Kurt Roper is a sharp guy.”…
“Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was one of the best young players I have seen in the game in a long time, and he deserved every bit of accolades that came his way.”…
“Their defensive line was the freakin’ real deal. Darious Cummings, an inside guy, he’s a pretty powerful guy in there. Tough to handle. They’ve done a good job recruiting defensive linemen.”…
“They were pretty darn young on defense, which isn’t always an excuse, because they were loaded there.”…
“Youth is more important with offense than defense. A young defense can really struggle.”…
“They have talent on defense, but the talent has to play hard. (Former defensive coordinator) Todd Grantham is a good coach, but his guys didn’t always seem to play hard.”…
“They’ve had guys dismissed at defensive back, which will hurt.”…
“With the new defensive coordinator (Jeremy Pruitt) it will be a learning curve but they are very talented. They were very young last year.”…
“Replacing the quarterback is a big, big loss. Aaron Murray was a heckuva player. Last I heard they are pretty high on the new guy (Hutson Mason) but to ask him to do all the things Murray did will be tough. Just his overall command of the offense and his composure was impressive.”…
“I don’t know what they have coming back up front offensively but it seemed they had a pretty good core coming back.”…
“The running back, Todd Gurley, as long as he can stay healthy, he’s the real deal. He’s big time.”…
“Gurley is as good as I have seen in the league. I think he is better than the backs that Alabama has had. He has game-changing ability. The Bama backs have all been good, but they have had great talent around them. Gurley is great without any help. Nobody wants to tackle the kid, and he runs away from everybody on the defense.”…
“Any time you have inexperience, it’s going to sting you eventually. That was kind of their deal was their lack of experience.”…
“They recruit so well that there won’t be a huge dropoff, and last year’s injuries were brutal. Everybody in the SEC East has questions next year – everybody. So it will be an interesting year.”…
“Just average. That’s the reality of the situation.”…
“I know they have to be excited about the quarterback, Drew Barker. We loved him coming out. He’s the real deal. There’s one thing that’s hurt them in the past, they haven’t had solid quarterback play in a long time. They might give him a baptism by fire and just throw him in, see what he can do. What else do they have there? Probably not much. Might as well.”…
“I think they liked a few things Max Smith did there but I’m not sure he’s the answer long term.”…
“Mark Stoops deserves a lot of credit for getting the recruiting pieces he needs. They’ve recruited really well.”…
“Some of the guys they have coming in are not typical Kentucky players. Getting the 370-pound nose tackle (Matt Elam) over Alabama? That doesn’t happen at Kentucky. They haven’t had talent there for a long time. Now they have to do something with the talent. I hope they give him time to do so.”…
“As far as the roster returning, they had some decent linebacker play and both defensive ends are decent – not spectacular but decent. That pretty much sums it up.”…
“They have a good coaching staff but the players they inherited don’t really jump out at you or scare you.”…
"I liked the linebacker (Avery Williamson), he was active and a good tackler, but he’s gone now.”…
“They are replacing a lot on the defensive front and the quarterback, though I think they like the young guy, Maty Mauk.”…
“They lose a middle linebacker that was really physical, a straight-line guy but really solid. One of the inside guys was a senior as well. They’ll have some work to do from that regard”…
“What a blessing that quarterback situation was. James Franklin was in and out because of injury but with Mauk coming in to play, now they know what they have and I think they like what they have. It’s a positive experience for them. That will work out well for them in the long run.”…
“The wideouts were matchup problems, but the top three receivers from last year are gone.”…
“The running back, Josey, was a senior. They’ve got some work to do in the running game.”…
“Maty Mauk is a tough competitor, comes from good football family. Experience he gained from last year will pay huge dividends. That stuff still counts.”…
“For what they do, their offensive line is very effective. They aren’t overpowering guys, won’t maul people out there but are good at space blocking. Evan Boehm is a really good player.”…
“They’ll ride the Mauk kid I’m sure. Their receivers are so rangy and long and can get downfield in a hurry that they will make life easier for Mauk in his first full year. Some of those guys you can get physical with, but for the most part that offense will get theirs.”…
“It’s inevitable that they will take a step back on defense next year. Any time you lose that many guys on the defensive front, you are going to take a step back.”…
“We thought Connor Shaw was outstanding. The other kid (Dylan Thompson) got a lot of good reps. But Shaw was what made everything work there.”…
“When they were really getting it, Mike Davis ran hard. I would put him right in there with Todd Gurley as far as SEC East backs who are big time.”…
“I thought the inside guy, Kelcy Quarles, was a really good player – it wasn’t just Clowney there. I don’t know how the depth is there.”…
“Most will say Clowney was this or that – I’ll tell you, you had to gameplan for him. You had to have a special plan for him, anybody who said they didn’t was full of (expletive). That was the one guy in the county you had to do that for. That changes things for them. We had protections designed to slide toward him so we were not putting tackles in a lot of one-on-one situations. I didn’t think their other ends were incredibly great, so they won’t command that sort of attention.”…
“The safeties were OK.”…
“Thompson is probably a lot like the Mauk kid. Like Georgia and Mizzou, they all had quarterbacks that were their guys, but at one point or another the starters got hurt and backups came in and got valuable experience.”…
“Traditionally South Carolina was always at seven or eight wins and Steve has been able to get them up to the 10-win mark, which is impressive. It will be interesting to see how much longer he’ll go.”…
“They are still trying to figure themselves out. They’ve recruited well but they are replacing all five starters up front that will be a heckuva task there now. They lost a lot of starts there, including the Tiny Richardson kid who was powerful.”…
“You want to catch those guys early. You don’t want to play them late because they’ll be better but will be a little disjointed early. They’ll have a lot of young guys playing so you want to catch them in September. Get them before they kind of get their feet on the ground.”…
“I like linebacker A.J. Johnson. I was surprised he came back. I thought he might’ve declared. He was a good player. Very active.”…
“Their defensive line was average, linebackers are pretty good, secondary wise they were young and weren’t overly impressive as far as being an SEC-caliber defense but that youth will help them.”…
“The biggest question on offense is replacing those linemen.”…
“I thought quarterback Josh Dobbs was average. He’s a really smart kid and all that stuff, but from a talent and skill level, average. I’m talking about precision, getting the ball out on time, throwing with accuracy - you like to have a guy who can push the ball downfield. He was average in those areas, but a lot of that comes with young, so maybe he can develop that. Some guys need to see a guy wide open before they throw the ball and it’s too late. That’s the difference between good and great ones, getting the ball on time.”…
“Losing Jordan Mathews is going to be huge for them. That’s 100-plus catches that they’ll have to replace. That’s the biggest question mark.”…
“On defense - they lost the whole secondary, basically. Thy have some good young talent in there but it’s unproven.”…
“On the front, the defensive front should be pretty solid. They have some really good young linebackers, three guys I think could be impactful, but they are going to a 3-4 under Derek Mason, so I’m curious how they’ll fit those guys into the personnel.”…
“The defensive ends left there were pretty solid. The front seven will be solid and can compete each week in the SEC. The secondary is the big question mark.”…
“On offense, I don’t know how many catches they have coming back at receiver – it might be less than 30.”…
“The quarterback situation, the Johnny McCrary kid’s very talented but a little bit of a loose cannon. Patton Robinette is a really solid kid but can he carry them late in games? I don’t know.”…
“The offensive line guys, they lost Wesley Johnson, who was one of the best lineman in the league, but they have a lot returning, a lot of guys that know how to win in the SEC. that will help them.”…
“The previous staff recruited well, so there is some talent on that roster.”…
Listen to the Cover 2 college football podcast with guest Steven Godfrey:
“Defensively they’ll be OK, probably won’t be up to their great standard. Losing Deion Belue, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Vinnie Sunseri – that’s really going to hurt on the back end. Linebackers, they’ll be slightly above average. Up front on the defensive line they might actually be better. D.J. Pettway is a more disciplined a player than Adrian Hubbard.”…
“The quarterback, I don’t know who it will be. It’s almost like what they do in the spring really doesn’t matter because they are bringing in (FSU transfer Jacob Coker).”…
“It’s probably the best receiving corps as a whole since Nick’s been there.”…
“The running backs are really solid, not as good as the 2010 lineup but really good. Kenyon Drake is maturing and Derrick Henry is doing a lot better with protections, assignments, developing the passing game – he could always run the ball.”…
“Losing Chad Lindsay is going to hurt because they had depth issues at offensive line. I think they wanted to move Ryan Kelly to left tackle. Now they have to rely on some young kids coming in.”…
As it sits, Alabama might be an eight-win team on paper. Obviously a lot hinges on how well the FSU kid does coming in - will be make or break the season? The freshman, David Cornwell, is not ready. If they have to go with Blake Sims, their offensive play-calling will be very limited. They would run the ball a lot, wouldn’t be very exotic with the passing game.”…
“It will be interesting to watch Lane Kiffin run the offense – Doug Nussmeier was really good. Lane can do it but I’m curious to see how strong his running concepts are with this team, because that’s obviously a big strength for them.”…
“I didn’t think they were very explosive last year with some of their skill players on the offensive side of the ball.”…
“The secondary was not really impressive.”…
“They did have a couple of good defensive linemen, especially Chris Smith, but he’s gone now.”…
“They will continue to struggle a little bit. They should be better but continuing to struggle.”…
“Based on what they are doing, I just don’t think they can score enough. It starts with the offense – they are not set up to score a lot of points. It’s ball control, grind it out, I-formation, play-action football.”…
“Their quarterback is back (Brandon Allen) and they should be better as a result, but I’m not sure if he’s the answer long-term.”…
“Alex Collins is a hard-nosed runner, physical kid. I do really like him. He can get them tough yards and a few scores. But that can’t be your whole offense.”…
“They have a hard time covering in the secondary. They sort of regressed as the year went on. They were probably better early on because they still had the confidence.”…
“Keep in mind, Bret didn’t inherit much. The recruiting transition from Petrino leaving to John L. Smith for a year was never going to be smooth. There were guys on that roster they wouldn’t have taken when he was at Wisconsin. So he needs time to get that done. But they need a boost at the skill positions, such as receiver and cornerback. They just don’t have a lot of playmaking there.”…
“Looking at them on defense, they lost Dee Ford and they lost Chris Davis – just a few players, but if you look at the plays they made in the big games, especially Ford, those are significant losses based on Auburn’s body of work. They are going to be missed but they do have a lot of players returning.”…
“The linebackers will be average. A few of them are just guys.”…
“The secondary’s not tremendous with ball skills but they do have a lot of speed and recoverability. That’s their strength.”…
“Up front, I think they’ll have the best defensive linemen. Montravius Adams, he’s gonna be the next Glenn Dorsey.”…
“Losing the left tackle, Greg Robinson, he was the best in the SEC. I think he’s better than the (Jake) Matthews kid.”…
“If Auburn can develop a passing game, they will be probably the best team in the West.”…
Defensively, they are going to stop a lot of people.”…
“The only time the offensive line matters in Gus’ offense is when they go from tackle to wildcat, to the three-man side.”…
“They’ll miss (Tre) Mason. They were really high on him.”…
“Can Nick Marshall develop into a passer? If he doesn’t they’ll have to let their defense keep them in a lot of games. Being one-dimensional can only get you so far.”…
“Obviously they had a lot of success, but they’ll want to do something new, because Gus will want to grow that thing and be more multiple. If he can do it, they’ll be deadly next year.”…
“Obviously losing quarterback Zach Mettenberger hurts them a little bit. They have a couple of talented options coming up there but it will be interesting to see how they develop that talent. Cam Cameron has the personnel to go to a dual-threat quarterback but he’s more of a pro-style guy.”…
“They might have lost a few key players up front but return that good left tackle (La’El Collins).”…
“Those two receivers they had are gone and they were two of the best. I’m not really sure who’s filling those roles because they got the ball so much.”…
“Obviously the question is, who is the quarterback that will step up?”…
“The defense last year was pretty inexperienced and quite honestly weren’t very good.”…
“John Chavis’ scheme isn’t really that hard. He always does a good job hiding deficiencies just enough where he puts players in position to make plays. They had a lot of growing up to do up front. It all depends on how those guys develop. If they don’t get better up front, their team won’t be better. There really wasn’t one from last year that stood out, at least not compared to the standard LSU has set for that spot.”…
“Losing those guys will catch up with them. Slowly, if you lose kids to Alabama or Texas schools, you can still have stars but do they still have quality depth they used to?”…
“None of those guys on defense coming back really stuck out to me.”…
“They’ve always been known for having a big-time defensive lines.”…
“Linebacker Benardrick McKinney, he’s a pretty decent player. He’s active.”…
“The guys up front were monsters when we played them. You could really struggle with them. I thought they were pretty impressive. Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins does a good job.”…
“If they ever get a really good quarterback, they can be pretty darn good. I know they are pretty high on Dak Prescott but since he didn’t start all of last season I’m not exactly sure what they have in him. He’s talented but still a bit of an unknown.”…
“Losing Gabe Jackson on the offensive line is big – he just mauled people. He created holes that you don’t know are going to be there now.”…
"This is a big year for Dan Mullen, who’s done a nice job there but hasn’t really broken through. I’d imagine they think it’s time to do that since they return a lot of starters and they are counting on Prescott to make a jump. But their defense will always keep them respectable. The question is, can they beat the teams they aren’t supposed to? They haven’t done much of that.”…
A lot of their success will depend on which defensive linemen are coming back, and it seems like they are returning a bunch. The best one they have is Chris Jones. He’s got NFL-type talent. He’s a little raw but the ability is obviously there.”…
“Mississippi State is an intriguing team. It could go either way for them – they could break through or be toward the bottom of the SEC West.”…
“They are probably the second-best team in the West, maybe better.”…
“It’s a young defense with really good athletic ability, Dave Wommack a heckuva coach.”…
“They are going to be hard to beat. Playing them at home is tough.”…
“Bo Wallace is not a big time quarterback but he’s functional. He won’t really screw it up a lot. Sometimes that’s what you need.” …
“The Nkemdiche brothers – both Denzel and Robert are studs.”…
“Tony Conner is great. He’s an absolute stud. They can run up front, on the back end. Great instincts, physical player, everything you’d want, he’s got it.”…
“The defensive coordinator keeps it simple enough for them to not mess up assignments. They fly to the football.”…
“Losing Donte Moncrief hurts.”…
“The offensive line was young but pretty dang good. I think they’ll be good up front. The Laremy Tunsil is a darn good player, young left tackle, he’s as big time as it gets.”…
“I like the big Ndemdiche kid (Robert) better. He’s more disruptive as a player than his brother. His brother’s a good player, good instincts, physical player. I like them both, but if I was in a draft room, the younger one brings more to the defense.”…
I think Ole Miss is going to be dang good. Don’t be shocked if they win the division. I wouldn’t. It’s sort of wide open this year with Alabama possibly down and LSU losing playmakers – they’d have to knock off Auburn, which should still be great. Huge year for Hugh Freeze.”…
“They had really young guys on defense, so the biggest deal with them was they weren’t very big and got knocked off the ball up front. Even when they were decent in the secondary, you could run the ball in between the tackles. As long as those guys have stated growing and continue to develop, you won’t be able to do that.”…
“They’ll be good on defense. Mark Snyder got a lot of flack last year because people put up some points but he’s a good coordinator. He’s going to get those guys in position to make plays.”…
“What’s going to kill them is losing not only Johnny Manziel, but a couple of really good receivers and the Jake Mathews kid.”…
“How well they do as a team depends on how their defense does.”…
“I don’t know if their offense will have enough firepower – they’ll always be pretty good under Sumlin, but losing a guy like Evans, he was a playmaker. Losing him will really hurt them.”…
“Last year they had a safety that was terrible, defensive line wasn’t good, really nobody on defense. Those studs they had in 2012, four guys that were difference-makers. When those guys left, there was nobody.”…
“Sumlin has always been a good recruiter. They’ll get good young players. How soon can they be ready to play is the question? They’ve stockpiled a lot of skill guys and some talented defensive front seven guys the last two years so we’ll see if they can emerge.”…
Defining the term “dark horse” was actually the toughest part of this exercise.
Finding really talented players who could breakout into prominent roles is actually the easiest part of trying to pick Heisman Trophy sleepers. Part of what makes college football the greatest sport in the world is its volatility and unpredictability.
After debates with many trusted advisors within the Athlon Sports walls, I decided to let Las Vegas define dark horse for me. There are 24 names listed on Bovada’s Heisman Trophy season odds page (for those who enjoy gambling) and those 24 players are ineligible (according to me) to be included as dark horses.
This includes players who I would call "dark horses" like Alabama’s Derrick Henry, who isn’t even a true starter, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, who hasn’t played a single down of college football, or Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, who’s never started a full season.
Top Heisman Sleepers:
Taysom Hill, BYU
The BYU signal-caller has an elite combination of size, power and athleticism that most quarterbacks only dream about. His ability to embarrass defenses with his feet is obvious — try 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground — but it’s his continued development as a passer that makes him a Heisman contender. He finished eighth in the nation with 4,282 yards of total offense — ahead of names like Winston, Boyd, Bridgewater and Bortles. With a schedule filled with solid but not overly taxing games, Hill will post monster numbers for a team with double-digit wins.
Byron Marshall, Oregon
The Ducks have five starters back along the offensive line and an offense that has churned out Heisman candidates at running back. Marshall rushed for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns on just 168 carries last fall. If he can get upwards of 250 touches, he could lead the nation in rushing for Oregon. His only concern might be that backup Thomas Tyner is too good to keep off the field for very long.
Cole Stoudt, Clemson
The keys to one of the shiniest offenses in the nation have fallen in Stoudt’s lap and he deserves his opportunity. Stoudt has waited his turn behind Tajh Boyd and all signs point to him being more than capable of running Chad Morris’ attack. He’s all about tempo and is a solid fit for an offense that consistently posts huge statistics. An early upset over Georgia or Florida State are almost a must, however, to get into the mix.
Davis Webb, Texas Tech
Captain Kliff believes in Webb so much that anyone else on the Lubbock campus who can throw a football left town this offseason. Webb proved enough as a freshman last fall to entrench himself as the star of the show at Texas Tech. He threw for over 300 yards five times in just six starts, including 385 yards against Oklahoma and 403 in Holiday Bowl upset win over Arizona State. The offense should provide huge numbers and a few upsets at home (like, say, against Texas or Oklahoma) could put Webb into national conversations.
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
There aren’t too many players with as many physical skills as Hackenberg. He is a sure-fire, first-round NFL Draft pick in two springs as he set 11 school records as a true freshman last year. The offensive line and overall depth is a major concern and keeps him from being mentioned alongside names like Brett Hundley, Bryce Petty and Braxton Miller, but Hackenberg is just as talented. Look for the PSU QB to continue to grow with no limits on his upside.
Maty Mauk, Missouri
The youngster is brimming with confidence and now has the keys to an offense known for producing big-time stars at quarterback. Brad Smith, Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert and James Franklin have all run Gary Pinkel’s offense to perfection. Mauk is just the next and might be the best pure passer in the SEC.
Chuckie Keeton, Utah State
In 2012, Keeton was exceptional by throwing for 3,373 yards and 27 touchdowns with only nine picks while also rushing for 619 yards and eight touchdowns. The Aggies were 11-2. Last year, Keeton accounted for 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions with 1,629 yards of total offense in just six games before suffering a season-ending injury. Utah State also has some marquee games at Tennessee, BYU and Boise State which can help increase Keeton's profile.
Jeremy Langford, Michigan State
Ameer Abdullah led the league in rushing and Melvin Gordon got most of the accolades, but Langford was arguably the most important tailback in the Big Ten last year. He rushed for 1,422 yards and 18 scores on the year but 1,070 yards, 13 touchdowns and all eight of his 100-yard games came in conference play. Langford belongs being mentioned alongside the star runners of the B1G.
Buck Allen, USC
Javorius “Buck” Allen took control the starting tailback job at USC in the second half of last year and it has vaulted him into award conversations. Allen rushed for over 100 yards in four of the last six games and scored 12 times during that span. A full season workload could make Allen the top true workhorse back in the conference this year.
Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
Who finished second to Johnny Manziel last year in the SEC in total offense? Not Aaron Murray, Nick Marshall, AJ McCarron or Connor Shaw. No, Wallace’s 3,701 yards were well ahead of third place (and well behind Manziel). Now fully healthy and with a developing young corps of supporting players, Wallace is in store for a monster final season.
Five Super Sleepers:
Stefon Diggs, Maryland
If he could just stay healthy, Diggs could make a run at the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver. He does special things with the ball in his hands but has missed seven games in his first two seasons. With a talented quarterback returning, Diggs has a chance to post a breakout season in College Park. The Big Ten will find out quickly how dangerous Diggs can be.
Marquise Williams, North Carolina
Williams flashed a lot of ability last fall and should only continue to develop. The Tar Heels went 6-1 over their final seven games and the offense averaged over 40 points per game due in large part to his play. With a full season of making plays, Williams has a chance to get into the national conversation.
Shock Linwood, Baylor
The Bears had the Big 12’s leading rusher last year in Lache Seastrunk but also boasted the No. 6 rusher too. Linwood, a freshman last year, rushed for 881 yards and eight TDs on just 128 carries. Imagine what he could do with a year of seasoning and a full workload?
Tyler Boyd, Pitt
Boyd is a special talent with rare ability. He has elite NFL upside and plays for a head coach who normally produces big numbers in the passing game. Look for Boyd, just a sophomore, to make a run at the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wideout. Should that happen, landing in the Heisman conversation isn’t out of the question.
Will Gardner, Louisville
There are many things worse than betting on a Bobby Petrino quarterback. Gardner is a tall, pocket passer who fits his system perfectly. And with a gifted offensive line and deep supporting cast, it’s not unthinkable that Gardner becomes the second-best passer in the ACC.
After a successful four-year stint under Charlie Strong, Louisville reached into its past to find its next coach. Strong left for Texas after a 12-1 record in 2013, and athletic director Tom Jurich hired Bobby Petrino from Western Kentucky to guide the Cardinals into the ACC.
Returning to Louisville was a strange journey for Petrino. After leaving to be the head coach with the Falcons in 2007, he spent four years at Arkansas, which culminated in his firing in the spring of 2011. Petrino sat out the 2012 season and resurfaced in '13 for one year with the Hilltoppers.
Louisville was a winner in college football’s realignment cycle, moving into the ACC after spending a season in the American Athletic Conference. While the Cardinals will benefit from the security of playing in the ACC and have a place in one of college football’s Power 5 leagues, this isn’t an easy transition. Louisville will play in the Atlantic Division, creating annual games against Florida State and Clemson. Additionally, the overall league is tougher, with crossover games against the Coastal and off-and-on matchups against Notre Dame increasing Louisville’s strength of schedule.
While the schedule will be tougher, Louisville is a capable of being a top 25 program. The Cardinals were No. 29 in Athlon’s job rankings and No. 6 in the ACC. With good facilities, and the ability to attract talent from Ohio and Florida, Louisville will be a factor in the ACC.
Petrino’s Job History:
2012-13: Western Kentucky – Head Coach
2008-11: Arkansas – Head Coach
2007: Atlanta Falcons – Head Coach
2003-06: Louisville – Head Coach
2002: Auburn – Offensive Coordinator
2001: Jacksonville Jaguars – Offensive Coordinator
1999-00: Jacksonville Jaguars – Quarterbacks
1998: Louisville – Offensive Coordinator
1995-97: Utah State – Offensive Coordinator
1994: Nevada – Offensive Coordinator
1992-93: Arizona State – Quarterbacks
1990-91: Idaho – Offensive Coordinator
1989: Idaho – Quarterbacks
1987-88: Weber State – Wide Receivers
1985-86: Carroll College – Offensive Coordinator
Obstacles to Overcome:
Transitioning to a New League: Moving from the American Athletic Conference to the ACC will be an increased challenge for Louisville. The Cardinals play only three teams from last year’s schedule, with just one of those (Miami) coming in conference play. Each team affected by realignment to a tougher league is a different case study. However, Utah, West Virginia and TCU have struggled in transitioning leagues, while Missouri, Texas A&M and Nebraska have experienced plenty of success in their new conference. With a new league, different opponents in conference play and road environments, it will take a couple of years before Louisville is acclimated to the ACC.
The Secondary: The Cardinals finished 2013 ranked No. 1 in the American Athletic Conference in pass efficiency defense. Louisville allowed only eight passing scores, and quarterbacks completed just 50.7 percent of their passes against this secondary. New coordinator Todd Grantham has work to do in the defensive backfield, as safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor have departed after standout careers. Junior Charles Gaines should be one of the ACC’s top corners, while senior Terell Floyd could shift between corner and safety. With Pryor and Smith gone, the safety position is the biggest concern on defense. Redshirt freshmen Richard Benjamin and Chucky Williams will factor into the mix to start, while Petrino inked junior college recruit James Sample to provide immediate help. The overall inexperience at safety is a concern, and there’s a drop-off expected without Smith and Pryor in the secondary.
Team Strengths for 2014:
Offense: It seems strange to call Louisville’s offense a strength after quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. However, new quarterback Will Gardner looks capable of contending for All-ACC honors, the backfield has two potential starters (Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer), receiver DeVante Parker is a legitimate threat and four starters are returning along the offensive line. Despite the loss of Bridgewater, averaging over 30 points per game is within reach for this Cardinals team.
Front Seven on Defense: New coordinator Todd Grantham plans to switch Louisville’s scheme to a 3-4 approach, and the necessary pieces are in place to make that transition in the front seven. Rush end/linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin recorded 9.5 sacks last year and will be one of the ACC’s top defenders. Sophomore DeAngelo Brown is back after missing all of 2013 due to injury to anchor the interior, while the linebacking corps is a strength with Nick Dawson and James Burgess returning. With the concerns in the secondary, it’s critical for Louisville’s front seven to be active and have success in getting to the quarterback.
Roster Talent/Recruiting Trends
|Conference Rank*||National Rank||Three-Star Prospects||Four-Star Prospects||Five-Star Prospects|
|*Rankings from 247Sports Composite|
Louisville's rank among ACC teams was compiled using 247Sports National rankings for 2010-13.
Recruiting rankings aren’t everything, but there are some interesting trends. It’s tough to ask Louisville to out-recruit Florida State or Clemson on an annual basis, but the program has averaged a 41.4 finish nationally over the last five years. The 41.4 finish puts the Cardinals at No. 7 in the ACC during that span. Only one of Charlie Strong’s classes from 2010-13 ranked inside of the top 30.
Petrino’s first class ranked No. 47 but that doesn’t include talented transfers like former Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, fromer Texas A&M receiver Ja’Quay Williams and former Georgia cornerback Shaq Wiggins. Those three transfers will be eligible in 2015.
If you can’t sign elite classes, having a head coach who is one of the best in the nation at play-calling and scheming is a must. That’s what Louisville has in Petrino. And it doesn’t hurt to gamble on talented transfers, especially while Petrino and his staff find their footing in the ACC.
Upgrading the overall talent is essential to competing with Florida State and Clemson. By comparison, the Seminoles have inked 16 five-star prospects and 49 four-star recruits since 2010. Louisville has signed no five-star recruits in that span and only 12 four-star prospects.
As mentioned above, the move to the ACC has resulted in a tougher year-to-year schedule for Louisville. But that’s certainly a manageable assignment for one of the ACC’s top six programs. The Cardinals play six 2013 bowl teams this fall, including Clemson and Florida State. Road trips to Notre Dame, Syracuse and Boston College should be swing games for Petrino’s team. A win over Miami in the opener could propel Louisville to a 7-0 record before playing at Clemson on Oct. 11. Transitioning to a new league and playing in new environments might cost Louisville a game it will be favored to win. Yes, the schedule is tougher. However, for a program that has 23 wins over the last two years, the Cardinals should be a lock to earn bowl eligibility and push for nine wins in 2014.
Yes, Bobby Petrino comes with some baggage. The backstory on Petrino is no secret, and his history of job hopping is mentioned frequently. However, considering what transpired at Arkansas, Petrino is running out of options. Another mistake and he might not land another head coaching job at a Power 5 program.
However, even with Petrino’s history and baggage, this is the right hire for Louisville. Athletic director Tom Jurich certainly knows what he is getting with Petrino and needed a home-run hire to help Louisville compete right away in its new conference. The Cardinals are entering a critical time with a move to the ACC. Within the Atlantic Division, Florida State is a national title contender, Clemson has won at least 10 games in three consecutive years, and Boston College and Syracuse went to bowl games last year. Louisville cannot afford to fall behind in the ACC, as it’s a lot tougher to make the climb back to the top. The ACC may lack for national title contenders in the Atlantic after Florida State and Clemson, but the overall depth of the conference is better than the American Athletic.
Petrino will have to raise his recruiting level to beat Florida State and Clemson consistently, but he is one of the best X’s and O’s coaches in the nation. With Petrino’s offensive acumen and ability to get everything out of the roster, the Cardinals can mask some of their personnel concerns or talent gap.
Fully adapting to the ACC will take some time. But Petrino is a good fit at Louisville and should add to the strength of the Atlantic Division by consistently keeping the Cardinals right around the top 25 on a national level.
Vegas Expectations: 8 over/under (Bovada)
Athlon 2014 Magazine Projection: 8-4 (5-3)
Official school logos have been and will always be the simplest and most important way for a college program to classify and separate itself from its peers. Some change dramatically over time while others are literally set in stone for decades. Some are edgy, exciting and extremely busy while others are clean, classic and simple.
Every college football program in the nation has an official logo and the goal is to be the most recognizable brand in the nation.
Since Athlon Sports has been designing the best-looking magazines on newsstands for the better part of half a century, we asked our senior graphic design guru to rank college football's best and worst logos.
Here is what Art Director Matt Taliaferro had to say about the Pac-12's football logos:
|1.||Washington||Simple, tasteful, unchanging and very obvious. This emblem with its signature gold trim is one of the best in the nation and leaves little doubt as to what it represents.|
|2.||USC||The interlocking "S-C" is as famous as any logo in the nation. The other logo with the script team nickname above the "SC" isn't needed for a major brand like USC.|
|3.||UCLA||The script "UCLA" is one of the most well-known logos in all of sports much less college football. And the way the word Bruins is incorporated makes it one of the most informative in the nation while still being fairly simple.|
|4.||Stanford||Michigan State and NC State know exactly what the smart kids from Palo Alto were thinking when this logo was created. It's classic and simple with a touch of style in the stroked white/red trim. Stanford boasts one of the best brand logos in the nation.|
|5.||Oregon||It doesn't get any simpler than the Oregon "O." There is some subtle style to the font that makes it cooler than the average "O." The clean classic look works but some yellow trim might make it the best in the league.|
|6.||Colorado||The Buffs' logo balances all of the key aspects to a company logo. It's simple and classic but with just enough style and flair while also being incredibly unique.|
|7.||Arizona||It's a clean, classic logo that hasn't needed upgrading for years. The use of two fonts is a bit odd but the two-tone, two-layered "A" leaves little doubt as to what this logo represents.|
|8.||Washington State||Anyone who has watched College Gameday knows about this logo. It is creative in an effort to combine the W-S-U with the Cougar head emblem. It is busy and complicated but very solid nonetheless.|
|9.||Arizona State||The pitchfork by itself is pretty solid looking with some edgy style. I'm glad the primary logo no longer includes the block "ASU" as it was too forced and busy.|
|10.||Utah||The standard block U is great and the school did an excellent job to incorporate Ute Nation into the look. However, the circle has an outdated helmet feel to it. An upgrade could make this pop.|
|11.||Cal||Cal updated their football logo this offseason and it has been met with mixed reviews. The traditional script "Cal" was a smooth look that had been around for some time. The new Bear looks much edgier and more aggressive.|
|12.||Oregon State||The Beavers updated their look recently with a new edgier looking logo. And, frankly, they did a good job. This one is smoother and streamlined and is more aggressive. It's tough to make a beaver look mean, however.|
With nearly every major conference operating its own television network — we see you, SEC Network, finally joining hands with DirecTV — fans have unprecedented access to their favorite college teams.
There’s one area, though, where we’d like to see college teams take a cue from HBO and NFL Films. Every season, HBO provides an inside look at training camp for one NFL team. Today, the ninth season of Hard Knocks premieres with a behind-the-scenes look at the Atlanta Falcons.
The series has shown a rarely seen side of the pro game, from the personalities of players to the gut-wrenching process of cutting a player or being cut.
College football, too, should provide plenty of content for a Hard Knocks-style program. Certainly, TV networks and the schools themselves have shown glimpses, but all feel a little sanitized. Here are the schools we’d like to see get the full-on Hard Knocks treatment.
The defending national champions are the easy choice for the top team for a behind-the-scenes look. Jameis Winston has had a quiet offseason since the crab legs incident, but there’s still plenty of intrigue on how the defending Heisman winner handles his season. He’s been in the news for off-field scandal, but his command over the locker room has never been questioned. Meanwhile, fast-talking Jimbo Fisher tries to keep his squad hungry as it starts the season at No. 1.
Again, we’re enjoying the fantasy world where Nick Saban peels back the curtain just for fun. This is the same coach who allows his coordinators to speak to the media just once a year — and unfortunately for us he has one of the most compelling coordinators in the country. Offensive boss Lane Kiffin says he’s enjoying concentrating on coaching football this season rather than the other obligations of being a head coach. That in and of itself would be interesting as Kiffin tries to work integrate new quarterback Jacob Coker into a loaded offense.
Who knew Bo Pelini would be the comic relief of the preseason? The coach says he’s always had this sense of humor, but it’s just never been on display. This is the chance for Pelini to show the whole picture — and more than just riffing on @FauxPelini and the cat. Beyond the Bo Show, running back Ameer Abdullah and wide receiver Kenny Bell have personality in spades.
On this week’s episode: A grad assistant teaches a confused Will Muschamp how to use Twitter. Muschamp, of course, has bigger problems than sending direct messages intended for recruits to the general public. He has a new offensive coordinator working with a quarterback returning from injury. The results of that tandem may determine if the Gators coach has a job next season.
Ann Arbor is quite the pressure-cooker this offseason. Brady Hoke may or may not be a hot seat guy as his chief rivals, Ohio State and Michigan State, are riding high. Streaky quarterback Devin Gardner has a new coordinator, and defensive end Frank Clark likes to talk. All of this leads into an uncomfortable rematch with Appalachian State.
What’s life like behind the scenes with Les Miles? Players say he’s the same wacky personality with his players as he is with the media. Players indeed have impressions ready for his post-meeting sign (“Well, men, see ya!”). He generally has compelling teams, but this year will be more interesting than most. LSU has an unsettled quarterback situation and a young defense getting ready for the rough-and-tumble SEC West. Miles also has one of the top freshmen in the country in Leonard Fournette.
Rich Rodriguez is sealing his spot as the best talker in the Pac-12. His football team will have plenty of intrigue, too, as he tries to sift through a four-man quarterback race.
The opulent new football facility would probably be more appropriate footage for MTV or E! programming, and Johnny Manziel is off to the NFL. Still, we’d like to take a peek at Kevin Sumlin’s program. The defense is a mess, the quarterback situation is uncertain, and his squad has discipline issues resulting in dismissals of key players during the summer. All of this in the face of an opener against South Carolina.
Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury is a draw all on his own with his movie-star looks, sense of fashion and whatnot. He’s also entering his second season as a head coach with only a bowl win over Arizona State giving his program momentum after a five-game losing streak to end the Big 12 season. Davis Webb is the last quarterback standing after Kingsbury had to play three last season.
Might as well finish up the tour around the Lone Star State with a look at Texas. Charlie Strong isn’t the most dynamic personality for the cameras, but he’s certainly laying down the law. His fire-and-brimstone approach to the roster would be an episode all to itself. He dismissed five players and suspended three more last week alone.
Like Strong, Chris Petersen might not be the most compelling coach for the cameras, either, but he’s taking over a program that likes to think of itself as a national power. Washington has one of the top defensive players in the nation in Shaq Thompson, who could also find himself on offense during camp. Petersen also has a quarterback question with Cyler Miles. The Huskies’ top player at the position missed all of spring and is now suspended for the opener against Hawaii.
The Bruins arguably have the two biggest football stars in Los Angeles in Brett Hundley and Myles Jack. UCLA has higher expectations this season than its crosstown rival.
Offensive line coach Herb Hand has already appeared on the Food Network’s Chopped, so you know Penn State’s new regime is OK with unconventional publicity. How does a force of personality like James Franklin take over a Penn State hampered by scholarship limitations and its own troubled pass? With a quarterback like Christian Hackenberg, that’s how.
Mike Leach wrote a book on the leadership strategies of Geronimo during the offseason. Just another day in Pullman.
Bret Bielema talks like he’s 8-0 in the SEC. His record is 0-8. What does the big guy have in store for Year Two?
Seven NFL teams will be under new leadership for the 2014 season. Of the latest crop of head coaches, four are rookies as it applies to the pro level, while three are getting a second chance to head up an NFL team. Last season, Philadelphia's Chip Kelly and San Diego's Mike McCoy wound up in the postseason in their first season as an NFL head coach, while Cleveland's Rob Chudzinski went 4-12 and promptly got fired.
So which members of the coaching class of 2014 are most likely to succeed or potentially be interviewing for a new job sooner rather than later? Here's a breakdown (alphabetical order) of the NFL's newest head coaches.
Jim Caldwell, Detroit Lions
Previous job: Offensive coordinator, Baltimore Ravens
Pros: Tony Dungy’s successor-in-waiting with the Colts went 24–8 over his first two seasons as an NFL head coach, with an upset loss to Drew Brees and the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV. Those, however, were the final two years of the Peyton Manning era in Indy. After a three-year run with the Colts, Caldwell was hired as QB coach of the Ravens. He then was promoted to offensive coordinator following the midseason firing of Cam Cameron. With Caldwell calling the plays, Joe Flacco threw 15 TDs and only one INT — leading Baltimore to a Super Bowl XLVII “Harbaugh Bowl” victory over the 49ers.
Cons: The 59-year-old Caldwell went 2–14 in his one season without Manning in Indy and 26–63 in eight seasons as the coach at Wake Forest. The Motor City is bringing in a retread who may not be capable of producing the high-performance results fans have expected since the 10–6 run of 2011.
Final Analysis: The hiring of Caldwell is the most depressing news at Ford Field since Nickelback played at halftime of the Thanksgiving Day game.
Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins
Previous job: Offensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals
Pros: Jay is Jon Gruden’s brother and, as a result, the subject of hilarious Frank Caliendo impressions like the recent instant classic “Gruden vs. Gruden QB Camp.” Jay won Super Bowl XXXVII as an offensive assistant for his older brother. He also coached the Orlando Predators to two ArenaBowl championships after winning four ArenaBowl titles as quarterback of the Tampa Bay Storm. After leaving the AFL for the NFL, Gruden was the offensive coordinator of the Bengals, making the playoffs each of his three seasons.
Cons: Jay is not Jon Gruden and, as a result, may disappoint fans expecting a Super Bowl-winning, live-wire head coach. Also, most of Jay’s success has come in the Arena Football League, which is played indoors on fields that are 50 yards long with starting lineups of eight players on each side.
Final Analysis: Since taking control of Washington in 1999, owner Daniel Snyder has hired six coaches — Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs, Jim Zorn, Mike Shanahan and Gruden. Three of those were proven NFL head coaches; the other three — Gruden included — were ex-quarterbacks with zero NFL head-coaching experience.
Bill O'Brien, Houston Texans
Previous job: Head coach, Penn State
Pros: In his first head-coaching gig, O’Brien did an admirable job after inheriting a disaster at Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal and the death of Joe Paterno. The 44-year-old went 15–9, with wins over Michigan and Wisconsin, and he swept the Big Ten Coach of the Year awards in 2012. The quarterback guru has extensive experience in the NFL with the Patriots, as an offensive assistant who worked his way up to offensive coordinator — losing Super Bowls XLII and XLVI to Eli Manning’s Giants along the way.
Cons: O’Brien is the eighth Bill Belichick assistant to become an NFL head coach, joining Al Groh, Nick Saban, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, Jim Schwartz and Charlie Weis. Once out from under the protection of the short-sleeve hoodie, disciples of Belichick not named Saban have struggled. And even the great Saban — who has enjoyed tremendous success on the collegiate level — went only 15–17 in two NFL seasons.
Final Analysis: The third coach hired by Bob McNair follows in the footsteps of Dom Capers and Gary Kubiak, who delivered the 13-year-old franchise’s only two playoff appearances in 2011 and 2012 before tanking to 2–14 in his final season. O’Brien has been handed a playoff-ready team in what was the league’s weakest division in 2013. The pieces are in place for immediate success.
Mike Pettine, Cleveland Browns
Previous job: Defensive Coordinator, Buffalo Bills
Pros: Since the expansion Browns rejoined the NFL in 1999, the franchise has hired seven different head coaches and enjoyed just two winning seasons. Butch Davis in 2002 is the only one of those coaches to reach the playoffs. Expectations are low, despite the fact that the original Browns (now the Ravens) have won two Super Bowls since leaving Lake Erie. Pettine arrives alongside Johnny Manziel, whose personality and playing style likely will make or break his head coach.
Cons: Owner Jimmy Haslam's truck-stop company, Pilot Flying J, agreed in July to pay $92 million in fines following a federal investigation related to customer fraud. Last year’s coach, Rob Chudzinski, was fired after only one season. The expansion Browns have a cumulative minus-1,399 point differential over 15 seasons. Simply put, this is one of the worst jobs in pro sports.
Final Analysis: Pettine is the son of legendary Pennsylvania high school football coach Mike Pettine Sr. and the one-time right-hand man of Rex Ryan. If the Johnny Football experience goes well, the 47-year-old Pettine could be the franchise’s longest-tenured coach since Bill Belichick coached the final five seasons of the original Browns from 1991-95.
Lovie Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Previous job: Head coach, Chicago Bears
Pros: The 56-year-old Smith is a familiar face re-hired by the Glazer family, having served as the Bucs’ linebackers coach from 1996-2000. He helped Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin perfect the Tampa-2 defense while coaching Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks. Smith then served as the defensive coordinator for the Rams, losing to Tom Brady and the underdog Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI. After taking over the top spot for the Bears in 2004, Smith posted an 81–63 record with three NFC North division titles and a 3–3 postseason mark, including a loss to Peyton Manning and the Colts in Super Bowl XLI.
Cons: Smith doesn’t inspire cannon fire; his personality is more Dungy than Jon Gruden. The lack of fireworks likely contributed to Smith’s firing in Chicago, despite a 10–6 record in his final season.
Final Analysis: The 2005 AP Coach of the Year has had just three losing seasons in nine years as a head coach. There’s less style but plenty of substance with Smith, who has assembled a strong staff led by Leslie Frazier (defensive coordinator), Jeff Tedford (offensive coordinator) and Bucs legend Hardy Nickerson (linebackers).
Ken Whisenhunt, Tennessee Titans
Previous job: Offensive coordinator, San Diego Chargers
Pros: A former tight end with seven years of NFL experience under his belt, Whisenhunt was a Super Bowl XL-winning offensive coordinator with the Steelers — famously calling the only TD pass thrown by a wide receiver in Super Bowl history, with Antwaan Randle El tossing a 43-yard scoring strike to Hines Ward to seal the victory over the Seahawks. After being hired as head coach of the Cardinals in 2007, Whisenhunt turned around and lost to his former team in Super Bowl XLIII.
Cons: Whisenhunt’s tenure in Arizona got off to a hot start before burning out, or maybe just fading away. A 27–21 record with two playoff appearances in his first three years was followed by an 18–30 mark. The coach failed to develop Matt Leinart — a jilted passer who recently claimed Kurt Warner, not Whisenhunt, should be credited with the Cards’ early offensive success.
Final Analysis: The 52-year-old Whisenhunt is the first coaching hire in Oilers-Titans history made by someone other than franchise founder Bud Adams (1923-2013). And unlike predecessors Mike Munchak and Jeff Fisher, Whisenhunt doesn’t have Oilers-Titans blue blood. Whisenhunt is bringing a new tune to Music City.
Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
Previous job: Defensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals
Pros: Zimmer has weathered a few storms in his day. He survived four coaching tenures — Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, Dave Campo and Bill Parcells — over 13 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, winning Super Bowl XXX as defensive backs coach. He spent one fateful season as Bobby Petrino’s defensive coordinator with the Falcons before joining the Bengals, where he coached for six seasons and made four trips to the playoffs.
Cons: The 58-year-old Zimmer has made a name for himself on defense. But he was hired as a head coach only after serving as the defensive coordinator under Marvin Lewis, who is a defensive mastermind in his own right — having coordinated the Ravens’ Super Bowl XXXV-winning defense before taking over the top spot in Cincy.
Final Analysis: After interviewing for the Browns job last offseason and being on the short list of several openings this year, Zimmer has finally earned his shot . But he’s never been a head coach on any level, and the NFL is a tough place to learn on the job.
(Bill O'Brien photo courtesy of Houston Texans' Web site, www.houstontexans.com; Jim Caldwell photo by Stuart Zaas, courtesy of Detroit Lions' Web site, www.detroitlions.com; Mike Pettine photo courtesy of Cleveland Browns' Web site, www.clevelandbrowns.com, Ken Whisenhunt photo courtesy of Tennessee Titans' Web site, www.titansonline.com)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran into the media center, jumping up to the podium like a four-year-old kid in a candy store. “I’m not gonna run,” quipped crew chief Steve Letarte, but the driver ignored him, jumping up center stage to sit at the same podium where victory tasted so sweet two months earlier. A horde of fans sat pinned to the glass, trying to figure out every word of every answer during a 50-minute press conference where it felt like the participants, including some special moments for a Make-A-Wish kid named Chris, were willing to sit and talk 500 minutes more.
It’s a World Tour touching everyone in NASCAR, this special Earnhardt Renaissance, even though his rise back to prominence isn’t quite saving the sport. At age 39, even the best tweets don’t quite grab America like they used to, rekindling the fire for fans lost, but that shouldn’t take away for a minute this “aura” surrounding the No. 88 car. Earnhardt shrugged it off when asked if this season felt “magical,” but the reality is that owning three race victories and on a ticking clock with current crew chief Steve Letarte, there’s a strong feeling within this group that they’re in position to get the job done now. Yes, new crew chief Greg Ives will be welcome in 2015 when Letarte heads to the broadcast booth, but the chemistry within the whole team might never be better than it is right this very second.
“I’ve never been as close to my team, the relationships that me and Steve and (crew members) Jason and Kevin and all the guys on the team have, Adam, everybody,” said Earnhardt, who also thanked team owner Rick Hendrick seemingly 1,000 times on the phone in Victory Lane. “My personal life’s great. I’ve never had the relationships work this well.
“I was really close to the guys on the 8 team. Obviously, a lot of those guys are family. I still have great relationships with them. But I think I’m smarter about my friendships now, you know. When I was younger, it was more about, how can this help me … I was not as concerned about helping them and being their friend as I was about them being my friend. So I think I’m better at being a friend these days.”
Earnhardt’s also better, at, well, everything. Keeping his mouth shut when frustrated inside the car so Letarte can simply lead instead of shutting down the criticism. Spending time at the Hendrick shop with his team to the point he took them for a paintball excursion on Saturday after practice. Being more open than ever, with everyone from his teammates to his girlfriend, Amy Reimann, to even a media group where he’s never been completely closed off. (Sunday’s revelation? Earnhardt thought Hendrick had the right to fire him mid-contract a few years back when the results were so terrible because things “just weren’t working out.”)
Most importantly, NASCAR’s most popular driver feels a sense of loyalty to those around him now that simply drives him to be better. A man who has seen so much — the lows of losing a father and the grief of losing a family heirloom (DEI) — has risen to a level where his confidence knows no bounds.
For years, those inside the sport wondered if Earnhardt could get to this level of happiness again. The fact he’s there, spreading joy for all the world to see, is a feel-good story even if millions of causal fans aren’t bothering to notice.
Two Pocono victories take up only so much room on the shelf. The momentum produced by them? You can’t find enough space to put it inside Earnhardt’s head.
“Through the Gears” we go after an eventful race at Pocono …
FIRST GEAR: Big week for Earnhardt culminates in big sweep
It was Jeff Gordon, not Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had the fastest car on long runs Sunday. Gordon led a race-high 63 laps and would have run away with it had the cautions not fallen just right for Earnhardt and Co. to play catch-up. But after a multi-car wreck on lap 117 that changed everything (more on that in a moment), crew chief Steve Letarte figured a little strategy in the form of a fuel-only final stop could propel the No. 88 ahead of the pack.
“That pit strategy,” Letarte said. “(Engineer) Kevin (Meendering) and I argued about it for three or four laps, under caution, what we needed to do. And we drew it out on a piece of paper — we had the times, the plan, the this, the that — and when we left pit road we had it like to the tenth of a second and that was that moment in time that, man, we might have somewhat of a clue what we’re doing. And it was awesome.”
Earnhardt’s stop pushed him out ahead of Gordon and in position to quickly dispose of Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick — drivers that tried to simply stay out and stretch mileage after a series of late cautions bunched up the field. While the No. 24 car struggled to get up to speed in traffic, Earnhardt took control and held off Harvick when he found an extra ounce of speed inside the No. 4 during the final few laps.
“That was mano a mano, guy versus guy,” Earnhardt said. “He’s going to be brave and I got to be brave.”
In the past, Harvick would have honestly gotten the upper hand. Just not this year, Earnhardt’s first with three-plus victories since 2004 and only the third time in his 15-year career he’s totaled that high. Sunday was also his first sweep of both races at a track during the same season since 2002 (Talladega).
Can we take the next step and say Earnhardt is a title contender? Teammates Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, along with perhaps Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowsk and Joey Logano will have a say about that when all’s said and done. But with a series-best 10 top-5 finishes, Earnhardt is flexing some consistency muscle that should get him in solid position to make the Final Four at Homestead. In the first year of this crazy format, it’s definitely the best opportunity for Earnhardt to hit paydirt and cash in.
SECOND GEAR: The “Big One” … at Pocono?
Typically, a 13-car wreck is reserved for the restrictor plate chaos of Daytona and Talladega. Denny Hamlin had other plans, though, as a bobble off Turn 1 caused Brian Vickers to check up shortly after a double-file restart in a move that spun his No. 55 and wiped out a quarter of the field.
“The 15 (Clint Bowyer) was right on my door and it sucked me around,” said Hamlin, adding to a tumultuous week where a P5 penalty for infractions at Indy cost him 75 points, the team a hefty fine and six-week suspensions for both car and crew chief. “I was just hanging on at that point and I think it was mayhem from everyone checking up from behind.”
Vickers’ bobble left nowhere to go for “bubble” Chase contenders like Paul Menard and Tony Stewart, who wound up on top of each other after the wreck. (Stewart joked, referring to a previous crash; “I’m always on top of Paul Menard … Car wise! Car wise!”) Vickers, Matt Kenseth and AJ Allmendinger were also among those who lost valuable points.
If anything, the incident clarified who’s left in position to make the Chase through points. Greg Biffle, who avoided it, ran fifth, a strong run to move into the final “bubble” spot by just one point over Kasey Kahne. Rookie Austin Dillon sits two points back, while fellow rookie Kyle Larson sits five points ahead of Biffle. If no other drivers break into the win column down the stretch, those four will be battling for the final two spots while winless Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer appear far enough ahead of the pack that they’re safe.
What about Menard, Stewart, Vickers and Allmendinger? They join Jamie McMurray in a clear strategy over the final five weeks: Win. That’s it; making the Chase on points just isn’t in the cards, especially if Marcos Ambrose takes Watkins Glen and further tightens the window of “points opportunity.” That could lead to some wild racing up ahead, especially with Stewart’s strength at upcoming tracks and how well Vickers has run at Bristol. Buckle up, race fans; August is about to get pretty awesome on-track.
THIRD GEAR: Jimmie Johnson’s battle with Goodyear
It’s impossible to say Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team are in trouble, despite chalking up their third DNF in four races on Sunday. They’ve stumbled into the Chase every which way, either on top or completely off their game, only to turn around and slaughter the field. No one dares hop off the Johnson-Knaus bandwagon until there’s compelling evidence to do so.
But one running theme that is interesting is Johnson’s propensity for tire failures. He had at least one at Pocono, an issue the driver claimed came from hitting the outside wall before a second hard hit ended his day on lap 112. Finishing 39th, it’s his seventh in-race tire failure of 2014, a much higher rate than other top-tier teams. It makes you wonder if Knaus is going way too edgy with air pressure. If he does that during the Chase, ignoring recommendations, one flat Goodyear could flatten Johnson’s hopes for title seven.
Of course, it could just be aggressive testing so the No. 48 doesn’t go overboard come September. I’ll keep my vote in that column, for now regardless of what’s said out of that camp.
FOURTH GEAR: Kevin Harvick scrambles to success
As mentioned plenty in this column in the past, mistakes within Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 team have led to heavy frustration over the summer. Winless since the spring, several races were simply thrown away through pit road mistakes or driving boo-boos that wiped top 5s — even wins — off the table. So a second place Sunday was critical, not just to build momentum but for the team to prove they could rebound from adversity instead of wilting when the going got tough.
“I think today was very important,” Harvick told me Sunday, after a pit road speeding penalty put the team behind before his involvement in the lap 117 wreck left the car in need of repair. “That’s what we talked about as we came back from the break was just scrambling, being able to scramble and get a finish of some sort to get something out of a day.
“We didn’t have the car that we wanted. I felt like we had a top-three car today. We were going to need track position and things were not really going well. They were able to fix the car after we wrecked it. That’s what you’re going to have to do the last 10 weeks and today, we were able to accomplish that. Hopefully, this is a good sign of things to come.”
For a new team where the consensus has been “fastest car on track” most of the season, it’s runs like these that will make believers they’ll go deep into the Chase.
Different strokes for different folks: it’s a quote that can apply to racetracks, as well. There were eight green-flag lead changes in the first 80 laps at Indy, and people were calling for stock cars to exit, stage right. There were eight lead changes in the first 80 laps at Pocono and fans thought it was one of the better races there in several years. … Danica Patrick said, midway through the race on the radio, that her car was so bad and she “didn’t know why.” Um, maybe that’s because you blew a tire and slammed the wall several laps earlier? It was a miracle her No. 10 didn’t wind up on the back of a wrecker; eventually, they sent it to the garage for repairs, but a promising 10th-place qualifying effort wilted into a 3oth-place result, four laps off the pace. … It was a disappointing day for two favorites. Rookie Kyle Larson won the pole, but never led a lap en route to a ho-hum 11th-place finish. Brad Keselowski, who dominated in June, never got out front either, pulling a “save of the year” not to wreck in the first few laps and then got involved in that multi-car wreck. He wound up 23rd. … A race of survival benefited the underdogs, as rookie Justin Allgaier (16th) and veteran David Gilliland (17th) posted season-best results. David Ragan (19th), Gilliland’s teammate, also made it two cars in the top 20 for under-funded Front Row Motorsports.
Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
Golf was in the news for a variety of reasons this weekend, not all of them positive. Let's start with the good news.
Rory Fills the Void
Tiger Woods' ongoing struggles with his health and his golf game have left a vacuum at the game's apex. Fortunately, Rory McIlroy has proved more than ready to slide seamlessly into the role of golf's standard-bearer. McIlroy followed up his dominant British Open win with another high-profile, big-money triumph at the WGC-Bridgestone, a win that allows him to retake the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking. McIlroy quickly erased a three-shot deficit to Sergio Garcia, shooting a final-round 66 to Sergio's 71 for a three-shot win at Firestone Country Club. McIlroy is overpowering golf courses with his length off the tee; this weekend, he produced drives of 349 yards, 345 yards, 331 yards and 330 yards.
"If you're hitting arguably the hardest club in your bag that well, then the other stuff should sort of fall in line,” said McIlroy. “Whenever I drive the ball well, I always put myself in positions where I can attack flags and try and make birdies, but when I'm swinging it well with a driver that sort of funnels through the rest of my game."
Garcia is now 3-for-12 in converting 54-hole leads. “I didn't feel comfortable on the greens at all,” said Garcia, who missed five putts inside 10 feet. “With the spin of the greens changing quite dramatically after the rain, they got a little bit -- they were quite slow from the last three days. I started kind of second-guessing myself every single putt, and because of that, I didn't -- the good putt I hit, I misread, and the bad ones, obviously, weren't going the right direction either.”
Still, the McIlroy-Garcia duo has produced consecutive 1-2 finishes in big-time events. At 34, Sergio's still young enough to provide a compelling foil for McIlroy for the next decade.
And not in a good way. After hitting an awkward shot and apparently tweaking his ailing, surgically repaired back, Woods limped through nine holes before walking off the course and into the headlines with his latest physical setback. Tiger had sounded the alarm prior to the Bridgestone with these ominously prescient comments: "There's no comparison between a knee and a back. The knee is so much easier to deal with and rehab from than coming back from a back. I've had Achilles injuries, obviously knee surgeries, but this thing is just way different. Most of the people I talked to who have had the procedure have no idea how I'm even back here playing." Woods has yet to rule out this week's PGA Championship, but his season, and his spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, are very much in jeopardy. Here's what Woods had to say following his withdrawal.
DJ's Leave of Absence
Dustin Johnson was contending for a FedExCup and was expected to be a stalwart for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Now, his future on Tour is up in the air following his announcement that he was taking a leave of absence to deal with "personal challenges," challenges that include reports of a third failed drug test. Not only must the Tour deal with the body blow of a young star's fall from grace, but it also must deal with the public relations fallout of its secretive disciplinary approach. "With regard to media reports that Dustin Johnson has been suspended by the PGA Tour, this is to clarify that Mr. Johnson has taken a voluntary leave of absence and is not under a suspension from the PGA Tour,” Ty Votaw, PGA Tour vice president, said on Friday. That exercise in semantics did no one any favors, Johnson included.
• Adam Scott took his loss of the No. 1 world ranking in stride. "It's all good,” said Scott, who had spent the last 11 weeks at No. 1. “It's been a lot of fun. Obviously, Rory's in incredible form at the moment. He'll be the man to beat next week, by the looks of things, and I'll be gunning for him for sure."
• The last player to win consecutive starts entering the PGA Championship was Tiger Woods in 2009 when he won the Buick Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational before finishing runner-up to Y.E. Yang at Hazeltine. In retrospect, that's looking like Woods' last gasp in major championship golf.
• Phil Mickelson, after bemoaning the state of his game, fired a final-round 62 at the Bridgestone, a round that included 10 birdies, one of them coming on this tasty hole-out from the fairway at 13.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for August 4:
• Yesterday was Evangeline Lilly's 35th birthday. A belated Happy Birthday to Lost's most annoying castaway.
• The first Manning Face of 2014 is epic. Let me be the 1,000th person to say that Eli's already in midseason form.
• Andy Dalton, the star of this classic GIF, just signed a $115 million deal with the Bengals.
• Two boxers had a hilarious confrontation in a restaurant. Had to be staged.
• Tiger's body continues to betray him. Although his caddie is reportedly scouting this week's venue, which sounds like a hopeful sign.
• Rory and Sergio are vying to fill the Tiger void. Not surprisingly, Rory's better at it.
• The D-backs beat the Pirates in controversial fashion.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Less than a month remains to the start of the 2014 college football season, and with fall camps opening, positions on every depth chart are up for grabs.
While battles on the offensive line, defense and receiving corps are important, the quarterback situations across all FBS teams get the most attention in the fall.
There are a handful of top 25 teams searching for answers under center, including Alabama, LSU, Washington and Wisconsin.
Additionally, a program like Texas A&M is searching for a replacement for Johnny Manziel, and offensive guru Rich Rodriguez is searching for answers under center at Arizona after sthe spring provided little clarity.
Here’s a look at the top 10 quarterback battles for the fall, along with a handful of others to watch in 2014:
College Football’s Top 10 Fall QB Battles to Watch
For the first time since 2011, the Crimson Tide enter a fall with uncertainty at quarterback. AJ McCarron graduated after throwing for 9,019 yards over the last four years, and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin didn’t find an answer in the spring. However, Florida State transfer Jacob Coker arrived on campus this summer, and the Mobile, Ala., native is expected to win the job. Coker threw for 295 yards in a relief role with the Seminoles over the last two years but has the talent to be one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC. If Coker does not secure the No. 1 spot, Blake Sims or redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman will start. Sims threw for 167 yards as McCarron’s backup last year and is more of a dual threat than Coker.
Projected Winner: Coker
Rich Rodriguez is regarded as one of college football’s top offensive minds, but he has his work cut out for him this offseason. Arizona opened spring practice with seven quarterbacks vying to replace B.J. Denker and went into the offseason with little clarity under center. Senior Jesse Scroggins has a slight edge over redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, Texas transfer Connor Brewer and junior college recruit (and former LSU quarterback) Jerrard Randall. None of the four frontrunners has ever taken a snap during a regular-season game for the Wildcats. Solomon has the most upside of any quarterback on the roster, but Scroggins likely has the best grasp of the offense. Randall is a wildcard to watch after spending two years at LSU and one at Northeast Mississippi Community College. This battle could continue deep into the season.
Projected Winner: Scroggins
With a stingy defense and a rushing attack that will be among the best in the SEC, LSU won’t ask too much of its quarterback in 2014. And that’s a good thing considering that the Tigers have very little experience at the position. Sophomore Anthony Jennings played sparingly as Zach Mettenberger’s backup in 2013, completing 13-of-29 passes for 181 yards. Jennings led LSU to a last-minute victory over Arkansas and guided the Tigers to a 21–14 win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl. Despite his edge in experience, Jennings failed to separate from true freshman Brandon Harris in the spring. Harris was a top-100 recruit in the 2014 signing class and has intriguing dual-threat ability. Jennings may open the year as the starter, but Harris will eventually take the starting spot.
Projected Winner: Harris
Ryan Williams was expected to replace Stephen Morris, but the senior suffered a torn ACL in spring practice. Williams is slated to return sometime during the year, but it’s unlikely he will be ready by the opener. Needing immediate help at quarterback, the Hurricanes brought in transfer Jake Heaps to play in 2014. Heaps struggled at BYU and Kansas (27 interceptions in three years), but the senior has experience and is likely to take the first snap of the season with redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen suspended for at least one game. Touted true freshman Brad Kaaya could push Heaps, Williams and Olsen for snaps depending on how fast he learns the offense. Olsen — the brother of former Miami standout Greg Olsen — had the inside track to start. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and redshirted last season. Kaaya also ranked as a four-star recruit and went 23–3 as a starter in high school. Kaaya has the most upside, but all signs point to Heaps taking the first snap of the year versus Louisville.
Projected Winner: Heaps
After losing four games by a field goal in 2013 and finishing No. 8 in the Big 12 in scoring, coach Gary Patterson decided to start over on offense. New co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie plan to upgrade the passing attack and speed up the tempo in 2014. Junior Trevone Boykin has thrown for 3,252 yards and 22 scores over the last two years, but he could move to receiver to accommodate Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel. The senior is eligible immediately after leaving College Station this spring. Joeckel completed 22 of 37 passes for 293 yards with the Aggies last year and should have a grasp on the offensive scheme after running a similar offense at Texas A&M.
Projected Winner: Joeckel
Butch Jones enters his second season in Knoxville looking for more consistency at the quarterback position. The Volunteers had three different players start under center last year, with Justin Worley leading the team with 1,239 passing yards and 10 touchdowns. Nathan Peterman played in four games, while Joshua Dobbs started four games as a true freshman. Tennessee closed spring practice without a declared No. 1, but Worley held a small edge over Dobbs and Peterman. Dobbs has the edge in talent, while Worley’s experience is valuable for a team in transition. Both quarterbacks could play significant snaps this season.
Projected Winner: Worley
Johnny Manziel was the starting quarterback for only two seasons, but he left big shoes to fill in College Station. Matt Joeckel’s post-spring transfer left true freshman Kyle Allen and sophomore Kenny Hill battling to replace Manziel. Allen is regarded by some as the top quarterback recruit in the nation and enrolled early to compete in spring practice. Hill has a small edge in experience, completing 16-of-22 passes for 183 yards last season. Although Allen is regarded as a pocket passer, he does have good mobility. However, Hill is the better runner, rushing for 2,305 yards in his last two seasons in high school. With the opener at South Carolina, could Sumlin choose Hill due to the edge in experience? Even if Hill starts the first game, it won’t be long before Allen takes over the No. 1 spot.
Projected Winner: Allen
Chris Petersen’s first spring practice at Washington was filled with uncertainty at quarterback. The transition from Keith Price to Cyler Miles was expected to be seamless. However, Miles was suspended for spring practice after an off-the-field incident and will miss the opener against Hawaii. The sophomore was reinstated to the team in May, but Troy Williams and Jeff Lindquist already have a head start for the No. 1 job, as both quarterbacks had live reps in a new offense this spring. Miles proved he was capable of being a standout quarterback in the Pac-12 in limited action last year. The sophomore is behind heading into the fall, but Miles is Washington’s best quarterback.
Projected Winner: Miles
Joel Stave has thrown for 3,598 yards and 28 touchdowns over the last two years, but he is locked in a battle with Tanner McEvoy for the starting job this offseason. Stave suffered a shoulder injury in the Capital One Bowl loss to South Carolina and was limited in the spring. That allowed McEvoy, who started his career at South Carolina but transferred to Arizona Western after one year, to close the gap. In his first year with the Badgers, McEvoy made 11 appearances at safety. The junior moved back to quarterback in the spring, where his athleticism could be an asset for an offense looking for a spark under center.
Projected Winner: McEvoy
As expected in Blacksburg, the Hokies will have one of the nation’s top defenses in 2014. But after averaging 22.8 points in eight ACC contests last year, the offense is a work in progress. Logan Thomas is gone after an up-and-down career, leaving a host of candidates to contend for the starting job. Mark Leal has thrown 48 passes over the last three years and opened spring as the favorite to replace Thomas. However, sophomore Brenden Motley had a strong showing in the spring, and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer will arrive in the summer. Brewer was limited in Lubbock due to a back injury last season.
Projected Winner: Brewer
Others to Watch
Coach Tim Beckman and coordinator Bill Cubit maintain the starting quarterback job is open, but all signs point to Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt as the team’s No. 1 passer. Lunt threw for 1,108 yards and six touchdowns as a true freshman with the Cowboys in 2012 and sat out 2013 due to NCAA transfer rules. Senior Reilly O’Toole and sophomore Aaron Bailey are fighting to unseat Lunt this fall.
The Wildcats are making progress under second-year coach Mark Stoops, but improvement may not come in the form of wins in 2014. Finding a quarterback is the top priority for Stoops, as four candidates are fighting for time. True freshman Drew Barker, sophomore Patrick Towles, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and junior Maxwell Smith are in the mix, with Towles finishing the spring at the top of the depth chart. Barker is the team’s most-talented passer and will be tough to keep off the field in 2014.
The Tar Heels offense didn’t miss a beat after Bryn Renner was lost for the year due to a shoulder injury against NC State. Williams moved into the starting lineup, and North Carolina went 4-1 over the final five games. Williams has good mobility and improved as a passer last year. He will be pushed by redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky this fall.
There’s plenty of new faces stepping into key roles on offense in 2014, as the Cowboys return just four starters from last year’s group. Despite the turnover, coach Mike Gundy and coordinator Mike Yurcich should keep this offense among the best in the Big 12. J.W. Walsh left spring with an edge over true freshman Mason Rudolph and junior Daxx Garman. Walsh needs to develop as a passer, but his mobility could be an advantage behind a rebuilt offensive line.
As the Scarlet Knights enter Big Ten play, coach Kyle Flood is hoping Ralph Friedgen can push the right buttons for the offense. Friedgen has been out of football for three years but was highly regarded for his work at Maryland and Georgia Tech. Gary Nova had his share of ups and downs during his career and tossed 14 picks last year. Nova will be pushed by junior Mike Bimonte and redshirt freshman Chris Laviano.
New coach Derek Mason opens his first fall practice with six quarterbacks vying for snaps. LSU transfer Stephen Rivers, redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary and sophomore Patton Robinette are considered the favorites, with true freshmen Shawn Stankavage and Wade Freebeck and junior Josh Grady just behind. Rivers should push for the starting job, but he has little experience from his time at LSU.
Finding consistent quarterback play is a must for the Cavaliers to push for a bowl game in 2014. David Watford struggled in 2013, throwing 15 interceptions to only eight touchdowns. Sophomore Greyson Lambert pushed ahead of Watford in the spring and is expected to win the job in the fall. Lambert completed 33 of 75 passes for 340 yards and one touchdown last year.
First-year coach Dave Clawson opens fall practice with significant uncertainty at quarterback. Kevin Sousa moved from receiver to quarterback in the spring, while sophomore Tyler Cameron is the team’s most experienced option. True freshmen Travis Smith and John Wolford could earn playing time if Sousa and Cameron struggle.
Top Battles Outside Power 5 Conferences
The Cardinals have 19 victories over the last two years and should be in the mix for the MAC West title despite the loss of a few key players. Sophomore Ozzie Mann completed 2 of 9 passes for 29 yards last season and opens the fall as the No. 1 option. He will compete with redshirt freshman Jack Milas and true freshman David Morrison.
Derek Carr departs Fresno State after throwing 50 touchdown passes and 5,083 yards in 2013. Replacing Carr’s production is impossible in 2014, but the Bulldogs should remain in the mix to win the Mountain West. Duke transfer Brandon Connette, junior Brian Burrell and redshirt freshman Zack Greenlee are battling to replace Carr, with Connette and Burrell considered the frontrunners. Connette scored 27 touchdowns with the Blue Devils last year.
Jordan Lynch leaves big shoes to fill in DeKalb after recording 4,800 total yards in each of the last two years. Three candidates – junior Matt McIntosh and sophomores Drew Hare and Anthony Maddie – are vying for snaps in the fall. McIntosh completed two passes for 54 yards, while Hare rushed for 68 yards last season.
Garrett Gilbert closed out his collegiate career by guiding the SMU passing offense to a No. 1 rank in the American Athletic Conference. Gilbert has expired his eligibility, but the cupboard isn’t bare for coach June Jones. Sophomore Neal Burcham is the frontrunner and started the final two games of 2013. Burcham will face competition from junior college recruit (and former Texas A&M signal-caller) Matt Davis.
The Rockets – Athlon’s pick to win the MAC West in 2014 – have a three-way battle to replace Terrance Owens. Alabama transfer Phillip Ely, sophomore Logan Woodside and redshirt freshman Michael Julian are battling to start, with Woodside owning a slight edge due to his experience in four games last year.
New coach Bob Diaco inherits an offense that averaged only 20.6 points per game in 2013. Diaco’s job in turning around the offense got tougher in the summer when running back Lyle McCombs was dismissed. Sophomores Tim Boyle and Casey Cochran and senior Chandler Whitmer will battle to start this fall. Cochran threw for six touchdowns to no interceptions in the final two games of 2013 and enters the fall with an edge on Boyle and Whitmer.
Blake Bortles departed for the NFL after leading the Knights to a 12-1 mark last year. Replacing Bortles won’t be easy, but UCF can lean more on its defense and rushing attack with a young quarterback under center. Sophomore Justin Holman left the spring with an edge over redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo and Boise State transfer Nick Patti. Holman completed 9 of 14 passes for 75 yards and one score last year.
BYU running back Jamaal Williams is expected to contend for All-America honors this season, but the junior is suspended for the season opener against UConn.
The news of Williams’ suspension was announced after BYU’s first fall practice. According to the Desert News, Williams is suspended due to an honor code violation.
Williams rushed for 1,233 yards and seven scores and caught 18 passes for 125 yards last season.
With Williams sidelined, Paul Lasike, Alge Brown and Adam Hine are expected to handle the bulk of the carries against the Huskies.
BYU is favored by 17 points against UConn, but Williams will be missed in the opener. Expect to see the Cougars lean heavily on quarterback Taysom Hill and their defense to beat the Huskies in Week 1.
Jamaal Williams suspended one game, will miss opener at UConn. http://t.co/L7MFjZEESt— Vanquish The Foe (@VanquishTheFoe) August 2, 2014
Official school logos have been and will always be the simplest and most important way for a college program to classify and separate itself from its peers. Some change dramatically over time while others are literally set in stone for decades. Some are edgy, exciting and extremely busy while others are clean, classic and simple.
Every college football program in the nation has an official logo and the goal is to be the most recognizable brand in the nation.
Since Athlon Sports has been designing the best-looking magazines on newsstands for the better part of half a century, we asked our senior graphic design guru to rank college football's best and worst logos. Here is what Art Director Matt Taliaferro had to say about the SEC's football logos:
|1.||Georgia||Find me a more effective marriage of color and simplicity of design and I'll hand these writing duties over to you. Georgia's logo is so timeless that I can't remember there ever being another that represented the football team. When you see this, there's no confusion as to what you're looking at.|
|2.||Auburn||Hard to find fault in the interlocking A-U. Again, trimming away all the waste and boiling a logomark down to its most basic typically nets the best results.|
|3.||Tennessee||As a logo, Tennessee's is as direct and to-the-point as it gets. Think what you will of the orange (personally, I'm no fan), but the unique working of the "T" is as good as it gets. As an aside, UT's retro Davy Crockett logo is badass.|
|4.||Texas A&M||Someone from A&M needs to call Texas Tech and explain how effective beveling is done. Like Vandy, Texas A&M's logo is simple and therefore works as a potent branding mark.|
|5.||Vanderbilt||The star and the "V." Nothing flashy. Message delivered. Simple, effective. Well done. (Although Vandy has never been able to get the right shade of mustard or gold or whatever that color is.)|
|6.||LSU||Another SEC school logo that is vastly improved from its previous incarnation, I like the contemporary font used for LSU. The Illustrator'd "tiger" lacks some punch, but I'm learning to live with it. If I must.|
|7.||Alabama||Alabama's logo screams "college!" as much as any in the conference. I'm not a fan of the font used for the "A," as more stylized scripts exist that could naturally center it up.|
|8.||Kentucky||Being a UK grad, I'm admittedly biased, but that may be a good thing. Because I have a vested interest, I can say this slightly modernized block logo is light years beyond the old vertical "UK" with the cat in the background. Oftentimes you are your favorite team's worst critic, but this is one incarnation of the logo that I hope is utilized for years to come.|
|9.||Missouri||Missouri has a dynamic logo that screams aggression, and they get points simply for not going the huggable animal route. Carving some of the fat off this mark — a la Michigan State's spartan — would tone the activity down and make for a sharper brand.|
|10.||Mississippi State||I actually like what MSU has done to update what was once a run-of-the-mill "block logo." The faux-banner works, as does the contemporary "M" that has one stem in yesterday, the other in today.|
|11.||Florida||It's the colors. That's what has always bothered me about Florida's logo. The green on blue is harsh on the eyes while the entire concept of the cartoon gator is too ... "rounded." This is an alligator with razor sharp teeth, right? So borrow some of Missouri's hard, dynamic angles, give me some streamlining and scare me!|
|12.||Arkansas||Well, it's a hog. Like Kentucky's, this logo is a vast improvement on Arkansas' previous incarnation. My issue it that animal logos are best used as stylized representations, not literal "drawings." There is mucho potential here ... get the university's design department cranking up the creativity!|
|13.||Ole Miss||I know there's some tradition that I'm most likely stomping on, but the Brush Script feel of this font-only logo is dated. (For those unaware, the font "Brush Script" went out of style about the time Archie Manning was moving from Oxford to New Orleans.) On the plus side, they've managed to not incorporate the rebel flag, so that's saying something.|
|14.||South Carolina||Surprisingly, it's not the gamecock that turns me off here, it's the 90 degree angles on the inside of the "C" — shave those off and the awkwardness of this logo is minimalized. Sure, the rooster could use an upgrade, but let's be honest, it may be time to start from scratch.|
There are a few numbers college football fans need to know when it comes to the Heisman Trophy and how to handicap the race for the 2014 stiff-armed trophy.
First, QBs have won the award four straight years and 12 of the last 14. Mark Ingram (2009) and Reggie Bush (2005) are the only running backs since the turn of the century to win the award.
Second, only once in the nine-decade history of the award has anyone ever repeated (Archie Griffin, 1974-75). Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram and Johnny Manziel all failed to repeat in the last decade.
Third, only twice since Griffin has a conference even won two consecutive Heisman Trophies. USC repeated with Leinart and Bush (2004-05) and the SEC did the same with Ingram and Cam Newton (2009-10).
Finally, only one true defensive player (Charles Woodson) and only two wide receivers (Tim Brown, Desmond Howard) have ever won the award.
With this in mind, here are the top 25 candidates to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014 (with current Bovada odds):
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon (11/2)
He is arguably the most gifted athlete in the country and he is running one of the most prolific offenses in the nation. Should he stay healthy, Oregon is also the front-runner to win the Pac-12 and play in the inaugural College Football Playoff. The talent, the numbers, the winning and championship could all be in Mariota’s corner.
2. Braxton Miller, Ohio State (7/1)
The dual-threat signal-caller is a perfect fit for his offensive system and he is leading a team picked by many to win the Big Ten and land in the playoff. Add to it dynamic, highlight-reel plays and huge numbers and fans in Columbus have themselves a Heisman Trophy candidate under center. Staying healthy and winning the Big Ten are keys for Miller this fall if he wants to get to New York (which he should).
3. Jameis Winston, Florida State (4/1)
The only reason Winston wouldn’t be the front-runner is because he won the award last year. He is the most talented player on what should be the best team and will likely have the best numbers on a championship squad. He is competing with himself.
4. Bryce Petty, Baylor (12/1)
There is no question regarding the top Heisman candidate in the Big 12. The guy who scored 46 times and threw just three interceptions while winning his school’s first-ever Big 12 championship. Petty won’t have the same supporting cast this year but Art Briles' system is a proven commodity. If Petty can do something that’s never been done — Baylor winning at Oklahoma — then his numbers and team success will be enough to get him to New York.
5. Brett Hundley, UCLA (16/1)
One of my favorite bets on this list, the UCLA quarterback is eyeing everything that Mariota is targeting. His numbers should be comparable and the Bruins will have a chance at home to knock off the Ducks late in the year. If UCLA makes a run at the playoff, Hundley could easily be in New York.
6. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin (20/1)
From a talent standpoint, few in the nation can match Gordon’s speed, power and explosiveness. And few players are in a better situation to make a run at the Heisman than the Wisconsin tailback. James White is gone, the offensive line is stacked and he plays for an offense predicated on handing the ball off.
7. Todd Gurley, Georgia (12/1)
He is the most gifted player at his position in the nation and it’s one that has Heisman pedigree. On just 202 touches due to injuries, the 230-pounder rolled up 1,430 yards from scrimmage and scored 16 times. When healthy, he is unstoppable.
8. Nick Marshall, Auburn (10/1)
He is a perfect fit for Gus Malzahn’s offense — a unit that should be even better and more balanced this year. He should blow past last year’s passing totals (1,976 yds, 14 TDs) and could easily match last year’s rushing production (1,068 yds, 12 TDs). Add in another run at an SEC title and Marshall could wind up in New York by season's end.
9. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama (18/1)
Alabama’s starting tailback has been in the Heisman conversation ever since Nick Saban arrived in 2007. Yeldon is coming off back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons and has scored at least 13 times in each of his first two years. Another big year could mean a berth in the playoff and a Heisman Trophy for Yeldon.
10. Taysom Hill, BYU (--)
The BYU signal caller has an elite combination of size, power and athleticism that most quarterbacks only dream about. His ability to embarrass defenses with his feet is obvious — try 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground — but it’s his continued development as a passer that makes him a Heisman contender. He finished eighth in the nation with 4,282 yards of total offense — ahead of names like Winston, Boyd, Bridgewater and Bortles. With a schedule filled with solid but not overly taxing games, Hill will post monster numbers for a team with double-digit wins.
11. Trevor Knight, Oklahoma (16/1)
There were two Trevor Knights last year. The guy who played in the Sugar Bowl and the guy who played in every other game for Oklahoma. Knight has big-time, big-play ability and is leading the team who is clearly the front-runner to win the Big 12 and possibly land in the playoff. If he can stay healthy, he should post big numbers and win almost every game, making him an extremely viable Heisman candidate.
12. Mike Davis, South Carolina (28/1)
The situation around Davis is extremely conducive at a run for the Heisman. He plays for a top 15 team with marquee showdowns, has a shot at a playoff berth and his entire offensive line returns intact. If he can stay healthy, Davis — who posted six 100-yard games in his first seven last fall — could pace the SEC in rushing.
13. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska (33/1)
Gordon gets all of the headlines in the Big Ten but it was Abdullah who actually led the Big Ten in rushing (1,690). The Nebraska ball-carrier is a special talent who can catch passes, constantly gets critical yards and has proven capable of a heavy workload. The key for Abdullah is team success, as the Huskers need to make a run at the Big Ten title for the Big Red runner to get into the Heisman mix.
14. Duke Johnson, Miami (33/1)
From a talent standpoint, Johnson is the only other option in the ACC who can compete with Winston. He has elite-level breakaway speed and explosiveness. The biggest speed bump in The Duke’s Heisman campaign will be staying healthy. The smallish back has dealt with injuries but if he can stay on the field and post 250 touches, his numbers could be ridiculously good.
15. Everett Golson, Notre Dame (14/1)
Irish fans are happy to welcome back their starting quarterback after a one-year hiatus. Golson took major strides during his one year as the starter, not only leading Notre Dame to the national championship game, but also proving to be a dynamic playmaker along the way. He is a perfect fit in the Brian Kelly system, a scheme that allows for big statistics from the QB position. Big numbers and lots of marquee wins at Notre Dame generally means national acclaim.
16. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State (66/1)
Not many players have thrown for at least 3,000 yards and rushed for at least 500 in the last two years but Kelly is one of them. He led ASU to the Pac-12 title game a year ago and another run at a league title — along with another 4,000-yard season — could get Kelly into the national discussion.
17. Byron Marshall, Oregon (--)
The Ducks have five starters back along the offensive line and an offense that has churned out Heisman candidates at running back. Marshall rushed for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns on just 168 carries last fall. If he can get upwards of 250 touches, he could lead the nation in rushing for Oregon. His only concern might be that backup Thomas Tyner is too good to keep off the field for very long.
18. Leonard Fournette, LSU (66/1)
He’s already been compared to Michael Jordan by his coach and to Adrian Peterson by his teammates. No pressure, young fella. Fournette is going to be great. The question is how quickly? And will the rest of his offense support him? The ground game will be electric in Baton Rouge but this unit needs balance to get the true freshman into the Heisman conversation.
19. Cole Stoudt, Clemson (--)
The keys to one of the shiniest offenses in the nation have fallen in Stoudt’s lap and he deserves his opportunity. Stoudt has waited his turn behind Tajh Boyd and all signs point to him being more than capable of running Chad Morris’ attack. He’s all about tempo and is a solid fit for an offense that consistently posts huge statistics. An early upset over Georgia or Florida State is almost a must, however, to get into the mix.
20. Karlos Williams, Florida State (33/1)
By default, the starting tailback at Florida State should be a high-profile, highly productive position. And Williams has all the raw physical tools to become a star on the national level. He averaged over eight yards per carry and scored 11 times while splitting time with two other guys — both of whom have moved on. With a full workload, Williams could post Doak Walker Award-worthy numbers.
21. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State (--)
There aren’t too many players with as many physical skills as Hackenberg. He is a sure-fire, first-round, NFL Draft pick in two springs, as he set 11 school records as a true freshman last year. The offensive line and overall depth is a major concern and keeps him from being mentioned alongside names like Hundley, Petty and Miller, but Hackenberg is just as talented. Look for the PSU QB to continue to grow with no limits on his upside.
22. Connor Cook, Michigan State (33/1)
Michigan State entered last fall with questions under center. By the time the Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl were over, they had a star at quarterback. Cook posted back-to-back 300-yard games (setting career highs) in wins over Ohio State and Stanford. Look for more development from the underrated athlete in his second season as the starter.
23. Chuckie Keeton, Utah State (--)
In 2012, Keeton was exceptional by throwing for 3,373 yards and 27 touchdowns with only nine picks while also rushing for 619 yards and eight touchdowns. The Aggies were 11-2. Last year, Keeton accounted for 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions with 1,629 yards of total offense in just six games before getting hurt for the season. Utah State has some marquee games at Tennessee, BYU and Boise State.
24. Sean Mannion, Oregon State (50/1)
The Beavers quarterback threw for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns last year, trailing only Derek Carr as the nation’s leading passer. If he can cut back on interceptions — he threw 12 in the last five games — and lead his team to a few more wins, Mannion should have the numbers to get to New York.
25. Rakeem Cato, Marshall (66/1)
Marshall could go undefeated and Cato should be able replicate his monster season from a year ago (4,210 yards of total offense and 45 total TDs). Should those two things happen, the Herd is likely to be ranked in the top 15 so the star QB (See: Blake Bortles) has a chance to get into the national conversation.
It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year.
In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2014, Athlon asked coaches in the Big Ten to talk anonymously about their opponents.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
Big Ten Coaches Anonymously Scout Conference Foes
Opposing coaches size up the Hoosiers:
“Defensively I’m sure their focus this season will be finding a way stop the run.” …
“They had some kids that looked good, especially on offense. They were youthful from what I remember.” …
Offensively they are scary as hell with very good running backs and receivers. Kevin Wilson does a nice job with that scheme. They are pretty multiple and can spread it out on you. They are a threat to score a bunch of points.” …
“It’s hard to pinpoint what the issues were on defense, but they’ll have to try to get bigger and stronger up front and plug in holes with recruiting.” …
“The spread offense and stopping the run game are priorities for them. That’s sort of been their M.O. for a long time.” …
“They’ve had some great offenses in the past and put up a gazillion points and still win five games. It’s sort of strange.” …
“I can’t really name any of their top defensive guys. A lot of times they either had trouble getting pressure or they couldn’t cover on the back end. But they were a huge threat offensively.” …
“Wide receiver Cody Latimer is a great player – he’s gone, or at least I hope so.” …
Opposing coaches size up the Terrapins:
“An explosive team that has tools at positions that can and should make a significant impact for them.” …
“Their issues are the best players are not all the time available or healthy. It was a scouting report factor to look at. They’ve had on and off the field issues with players leaving, which does not help.” …
“Stefon Diggs is as good as any skill player in the country. He is as good as advertised.” …
“Randy Edsall, despite what some say, is a good coach.” …
“Another important factor: Will recruiting hold up and can they keep the best players in state? That remains to be seen.” …
“Penn State with James Franklin will make things interesting along the 95 corridor and the beltway.”…
“The linebackers and the secondary groups were the best.” …
“Their quarterback, C.J. Brown, was a pretty good player. He is impressive.” …
“Mike Locksley is a really good football coach, their offensive coordinator.” …
“Their special teams are well coached schematically, that’s one thing we were impressed with.” …
“They aren’t overly impressive on the offensive and defensive lines. Just normal there. Nobody stood out.” …
“They didn’t have a really big time player except the quarterback when we played them. He was the best player on the team I thought.”…
Opposing coaches size up the Wolverines:
“What are they going to do new offensively? They just hired Doug Nussmeier. Where they’ve struggled, they haven’t been what they thought they’d be on the offensive line. They lost both their tackles now.”…
“Devin Gardner’s back, so it will be interesting to see, are they building an off for Gardner for one more year or building for the future for Shane Morris or whomever they recruited? Nussmeier comes from Alabama, and the Alabama model offensively is to be pretty conservative, run the ball with play-action passes. That wasn’t a quarterback-driven offense but McCarron was great at what they needed. So if you’re not going to use Devin’s feet and athleticism, are you going to miss the boat? Because I don’t think he’s like McCarron – he’s got to make up for lack of accuracy with his legs and creativity and extending plays.”…
“I think they were very meager running the football. They struggled protecting the quarterback. The statistical things you evaluate – offensive line, rushing yards, yards per carry, they were pretty poor in those areas.”…
“Defensively, I don’t think they were near what they want to be. They have a great defensive coordinator, he’s a very good coach, but as the defense is designed to stop the run it’s become more of a passing league in some ways. Great, you held them to 100 yards rushing but they threw for 350 and you got beat.”…
Opposing coaches size up the Spartans:
“Their model is good. They know how to reload the pieces to fit their scheme.”…
“I expect them to be coming out of the gate as the best defense in the conference, even though they lose several starters.”…
“That November game against Ohio State in East Lansing will go a long way. They’ll certainly be good enough to win at least 9-10 games and stay in the thick of conference race. They’ll probably be better on offense, too.”…
“They’ve found a little identity there. I thought Connor Cook was one of the difference makers for him the second half of the season. His play against Ohio State and in the Rose Bowl was very good. He was a little bit of a late bloomer.”…
“Mark Dantonio worked for Jim Tressel all those years, so they model their program where it’s replacing pieces and not overhauling. They can recruit to their positions for development.”…
“Darqueze Dennard will be hard to replace, and Denicos Allen will be missed, Marcus Rush will be a good player for them coming back. He’s a solid guy.”…
“Both of their corners played well all season, and they get one back.”…
“They limit what routes you can run against them. They know how to stop the routes you can run. They kind of minimize their exposure. You can’t run every play in your offense because they are ready for at least half of it.”…
“They aren’t going to miss Max Bullough as much as everybody thought. The kid who replaced him in the Rose Bowl was pretty good.”…
“They might be a little bit less on defense but improved on offense, which will balance itself out.”…
“Defensive end Shilique Calhoun was quick off the edge, I thought.”…
(EDITOR'S NOTE: All quotes obtained prior to Braxton Miller's season-ending injury.)
Opposing coaches size up the Buckeyes:
“A very quarterback-driven offense. Without a doubt they have good skill. They have a good scheme.”...
“I have a lot of respect for the running back Carlos Hyde, he’s was a really good player. They’ll miss him a bunch.”…
“Philly Brown, had a good skill set but kind of played spotty last year. He was versatile, though – they had him all over the place. They should have good depth at receiver even without him.”…
“Defensively, I love the freshman defensive end (Joey Bosa). I love the way he played, pad level, intensity. Inside backer (Ryan Shazier) is really good and he’s gone. The back end, they were able to make a few plays but could give up a few big ones, too.”…
“Talented, talented team. If you can match up with them on the offensive and defensive lines, you can give them a good fight. For us it wasn’t like, ‘Oh no, you have to play OSU again.’ They can overwhelm people sometimes, though. “…
“With the running backs I’ve seen they have, they can make do without Hyde, but the offensive line loses a ton of experience. An athletic quarterback like Braxton Miller can complement a new offensive line, which helps.”…
“Obviously, they will coach Braxton up to not take as many hits but Braxton is a cool customer, he doesn’t seem to get fazed.”…
“If you can get your play-action passes going, you can make some big plays against them. They were a little bit suspect in the defensive backfield.”…
Opposing coaches size up the Nittany Lions:
“They are not as far down as people want to make it seem. Maybe it’s depth or whatever you talk about, but you just watch them, start with the defensive line, they had some great players. The cupboard was not bare.”…
“The defensive ends were good, the backers are exactly what you’d expect from Penn State.”…
“Offensively they had a nice crew at wide receiver and they had a great quarterback.”…
“Christian Hackenberg – great player, makes a lot of good decisions. Where he was from the beginning of year to the end was much different.”…
“They are not a team where you look at them and think, ‘Oh my gosh they’ve been on NCAA restrictions.’…
“With the front crew they can play against anybody. They made some big plays against us.”…
“I don’t know much about James Franklin, but he seems like a high-energy guy.”…
“With O’Brien, Penn State did a good job understanding what the quarterback needed to do. I thought he did very good job as offensive coordinator developing his kids and getting his guys in the right spots. It was a structured offense. They didn’t vary from it, they were who they were. Play-calling was excellent, and they could change plays with what they saw. With using the young quarterback to get the play called, they were as good as I’ve been around.”…
“We’ll see how they do without O’Brien’s playcalling.”...
“They’ll miss defensive tackle DaQuan Jones – he was the best in the league, in my opinion. He was physically stout, didn’t have a weakness. It’s like no one talked about him. They’ve got to replace a few guys on the line.”…
Opposing coaches size up the Scarlet Knights:
“New offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen is a big hire for them. He will get the most out of the talent they have.”…
“Without a proven quarterback and only Leonte Carroo as a marquee receiver, they will not be dynamic enough to win consistently in the Big Ten.”…
“Carroo will be their best player. It’s hard to say how good he can really be because their quarterback play has been so bad.”…
“I thought they looked good up front on both sides of the ball.”…
“Their secondary was their biggest weakness. They were young there from what I remember.”…
“There’s decent skill there at receiver but not a lot of breakout star power.”…
“The quarterback play was very inconsistent. That was the biggest issue. Gary Nova had some good moments early in the year but every time you looked over during the season, he was giving the ball away. He killed their momentum. We didn’t think he was that good coming in.”…
“I think they will struggle to be .500 in that league, especially on the east side.”…
“The defensive line was really solid. They had good athleticism and can apply pressure.”…
“They had a good recruiting class going but lost some key guys after that Dave Cohen incident (claims of bullying a player). Was terrible timing after what happened with the basketball coach.”
Listen to the Cover 2 college football podcast with guest Steven Godfrey:
Opposing coaches size up the Fighting Illini:
“They were athletic. They’ve had their ups and downs. Maybe in Year 3 they will have both sides of the ball clicking at once. They haven’t had that yet.”…
“I loved Nathan Scheelhaase. He was a really good football player. He probably didn’t get enough credit but he moved the ball.”…
“They have some good-looking skill players and are on the verge of potentially taking the next step. I thought they were coached well and we were able to make some plays against them. You can get some big plays on them early in the game and then they’ll eventually make plays but then they are behind. Just seemed to play from behind a lot. Hard to win that way.”…
“I thought personally it was a physical team and they did some good things. Settling into what they want to do on offense and defense will be key, because they have quite a lot of things going on schematically, especially on offense with the passing concepts, so that takes time. But they are right there.”…
“You have a team that’s close but not close enough yet. If they catch fire and believe they can win, that’s infectious.”…
“Their wideouts are good looking. It’s not like you’re looking at players that don’t look the part.”…
“I haven’t heard much about the new quarterback (Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt).”…
“No defensive players necessarily jumped out at you – a few good inside backers are gone now.”…
Opposing coaches size up the Hawkeyes:
“If you like old-school, grind-it-out, knock-the-snot-out-of-each-other-for-four-quarters style of football, that’s what our game against Iowa was like last year. It was amazing.”…
“I like the way they carry their program.”…
“They have a very tough front seven on defense. As tough as there is, snap in snap out – they sort of say, here’s what we do, come get us, we’re going to play well and tackle well.”…
“I love the James Morris kid. They’ll miss him.”…
“With their outside linebacker, they had one of the best tandems in the league. They lost a lot of experience there and that both of those guys are gone.”…
“They are settling in at the quarterback position. Jake Rudock was good in the play-action game, checking runs in the right spots. He wasn’t flashy but he got it done.”…
“They had the best offensive line in the conference. The left tackle, Brandon Scherff – he’s all that. If he’s not a first round draft pick, I’d be absolutely shocked.”…
“I don’t know if there’s an area where you can expose them. You just have to pick the spots and make the plays. Maybe if you can break a few big runs and get out early you’ll be in good shape because they aren’t necessarily built to play from behind, or at least they won’t put up 50 a game, but it’s a fistfight against them.”…
“You won’t outscheme Iowa. Your kids have to make a play to beat them.”…
Opposing coaches size up the Golden Gophers:
“They are a tough crew. It’s a slugfest. They are built much like Iowa. They are very physical, fundamentally sound. I have a lot of respect for the coaching staff for the way they prepare their kids, especially on the defensive back end where they are physical.”…
“Losing the big kid inside on defense (Ra’Shede Hageman) is a big deal but they appeared to be recruiting well. Hageman could dominate some games and then others he wouldn’t really impact all that much.”…
“Offensively, they did a few different things. They do enough to keep you on edge. You have to coach your tail off against them. The way they use the fly sweep is creative. They are creative in the running game and in play-action.”…
“The wide receiver spot offensively is a bit of a problem for them. They have a good offensive line and good running backs but can they get the ball consistently downfield in the passing game? Getting a go-to receiver will be a huge deal for them.”…
“On defense, their skill guys were very good. They maybe had the most or one of the top guys in the league on skill on the defensive back end.”…
“Minnesota’s a really tough place to play when it’s colder than hell, soldout crowd and they’re always hanging in there. They are a difficult team to play.”…
“Philip Nelson, who transferred to Rutgers (later dismissed), didn’t necessarily scare you but they are high on their new quarterback (Mitch Leidner).”…
Opposing coaches size up the Cornhuskers:
“They hadn’t been what they wanted to be on defense, considering Bo Pelini is a defensive coach. Where they’ve been a little disappointing is defensive consistency. For John Papuchis, his first defensive coordinator gig is Nebraska. That’s a big job. It’s not like he started at a springboard place. Nebraska’s still Nebraska.”…
“They were pretty young on defense last year, so maybe another year will have Bo’s defense where he wants it.”…
“Having Randy Gregory back will help. He is an absolute stud. He’s so explosive and fast for his size. He’s physical, can cover, just a smart player. Doesn’t really have a weakness.”…
“Bo was on the perceived hot seat but they are always solid. There hasn’t really been a dropoff. They’ve been consistent, even with their starting quarterback out all year.”…
“They couldn’t do everything they wanted to last year because even when Taylor Martinez came back against UCLA, he wasn’t the same and they couldn’t run him very much.”…
“Last year they lost a guard (Spencer Long) to injury. He was really good.”…
“This year they should have more options with Tommy Armstrong, whom I know they are high on.”…
“Ameer Abdullah just gets it done, whatever they need. It will be interesting to see how much they try to run the option with Armstrong and Abdullah, because they did that some last year but that was maybe in part because the quarterback was inexperienced.”…
“They have enough to win the division, no doubt. Their offensive line will be young but it will be talented.”…
Opposing coaches size up the Wildcats:
“Injuries everywhere – just a tough, tough, tough year for them. Their kids played tough and they never quit or stopped believing.”…
“Tougher than hell. Compete every single week. They’ll be in the right spots, are fundamentally and technically sound.”…
“The speedy guy, Venric Mark, he changes the team. Makes them a different team on offense, and not just because of his athleticism, but competitiveness, too. He draws the whole team toward him. My guess is he’s a tremendous leader and a lot of kids follow him in a good way. Getting him back is a huge thing for them.”…
“They’ll have a chip on their shoulder, ready to play.”…
“They’ve got to replace the quarterback (Kain Colter). When they were smoking on offense, the (Trevor Siemian) kid would come in and pace them, but without Colter they wouldn’t be as dynamic in the quarterback running game. Maybe they have another guy they like but I would doubt they’d go back to a two-quarterback system.”…
“They just lost a bunch of hard fought games.”…
“They had a couple big, tall defensive linemen that were talented players.”…
“Salty on defense on the front seven, always where they needed to be.”…
“The offensive line was very functional for what their offense was built for, which became tough because of injuries. They weren’t going to overwhelm you there.”…
“I don’t look at Northwestern and say they were outmatched in the Big Ten. I thought they were physical and tough. It wasn’t that these guys were outmatched.”…
“When we played against them it was still fairly early and they hadn’t lost their sails yet. They had a tough go but I have a lot of respect for Darrell Hazell.”…
“I really like them, they played hard the whole year and felt pretty good about recruiting, so it will be interesting to see the steps they take.”…
“I’m sure they know what they want to do on offense and defense and just need to find a way to implement those plans.”…
Quarterback, they have to get that fixed. Not sure what the plan is there.”…
“They are a pretty good-looking team when they jog out there, though. It was just, the pieces to the puzzle - they couldn’t really handle the running game very well. There was probably a lot of transition that goes into that, so they had some pieces to the puzzle they had to figure out.”…
“I think Darrell’s a good coach. He didn’t seem fazed or, ‘Oh my God what’s next’ from what I noticed. It’s like anything else, it’s a matter of recruiting.”…
“I thought they had some stout looking kids on the defensive line inside, the safety and the corner did some good things. I don’t think they are overwhelmed. They have some good players. They’ll be fine.”…
Opposing coaches size up the Badgers:
“It will be interesting to see what transpires in Year 2 under Gary Andersen. It’s a really good defensive system but they lose a lot of good players. They’ll have to rebuild that. They have a good coordinator, a good defensive plan with tough, hard-nosed kids, very similar to Michigan State that away.”…
“It will be interesting to see how much they develop the passing game. Joel Stave got exposed a little bit as things played out. They are not sure if he can win close games for them. They know he can win the games where he’s running the offense and they could win regardless. They’ll probably search within what they’ve got.”…
“They recruited a really good player from New Jersey – running back Corey Clement He’s got a chance to be really good but he’s playing behind Melvin Gordon, who’s also great.”…
“Obviously it’s not just they have a great of line and a great system, they have some talent. Their lines are always good and they love having a 1-2 punch attack running the ball.”…
“You have to be able to throw the ball against them. You can get some big plays against them throwing the football.”…
“They lose Chris Borland, the center of the defense. Phenomenal player. I don’t know if you have a replacement for them. Team leader.”…
“We tried to use speed against them, because they know how to stop the interior run game. You have to get the ball on the perimeter with speed and throw the ball downfield.”…
“I’m not sure if they are strong enough on the back end similar to Michigan State where they can play tight man coverage.”…
“They were a little one-dimensional in the passing game offensively.”…
“They play two deep on the defensive line. Whoever they lose up front, they are probably already set to replace them.”…
How does Kansas keep winning the Big 12 regular season title year after year? For starters, take a look at two of the top three newcomers in the league for 2014-15.
In a season after the Jayhawks lost Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to the top three picks in the NBA Draft, Kansas replaces them with another pair of standout freshmen. Granted, Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre might not be top draft picks in 2015, but they’ll make sure Kansas remains the favorite for an 11th consecutive Big 12 title.
Kansas, though, will have company. Texas adds big man Myles Turner to a veteran roster that surprised by winning 24 games and saving Rick Barnes’ job. Turner will be another feather in the cap for the longtime Longhorns coach.
Of course, no list of Big 12 newcomers would be complete without transfers. Thank Fred Hoiberg and Iowa State for that.
1. Cliff Alexander, Kansas
Kansas replaces Joel Embiid, who flirted with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft before injury concerns dropped him to No. 3, with another highly rated big man to team with Perry Ellis. Alexander was the third-ranked prospect in the 247Sports Composite. The 6-9, 240-pound power forward will replace Embiid’s offensive skill with a physical presence in the paint.
2. Myles Turner, Texas
Texas already returned every key player from one of the surprise teams in the country. The Longhorns bolster their chances to contend for the Big 12 title by adding the Turner, the final major recruit from the 2014 class to pick a school. Turner gives the Longhorns a 6-10, 223-pound skilled big man, but more important, the Euless (Texas) Trinity product gives Rick Barnes a sorely needed in-state recruiting victory.
3. Kelly Oubre, Kansas
Kansas figures to have plenty of able bodies at the 2 and 3 in 2014-15 season, but Oubre should have plenty of opportunity to shine. The 6-7, 190-pound McDonald’s All-American wing has a varied offensive game. He can hit the 3 and get to the rim. He’ll be an All-Big 12 contender.
4. Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State
Transfer from UNLV
The Iowa State transfer trend continues with Dejean-Jones, who is on his third stop after transferring from USC to UNLV to Ames. Dejean-Jones averaged 13.6 points per game in 31 games in his final season with the Runnin’ Rebels. He’s an effective scorer who will have to integrate himself into a lineup including returning point guard Monte Morris and Georges Niang.
5. Jonathan Holton, West Virginia
Junior college transfer
Iowa State isn’t alone in the Big 12 in bringing in a slew of transfers. West Virginia has added Juwan Staten (Dayton) and Aaric Murray (La Salle) and now another player who started his career in the Atlantic 10. Holton averaged 10.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game as a freshman at Rhode Island in 2011-12. Holton, who was dismissed from Rhode Island, pleaded no contest to a charge of video voyeurism when he was accused of secretly recording a sexual encounter and posting video to Facebook. Holton spent a season at junior college and then a redshirt season at West Virginia, where he’ll be a regular double-double threat.
6. Anthony Hickey, Oklahoma State
Transfer from LSU
Oklahoma State will need a number of players to fill the gaps left by Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. At least Travis Ford will have a veteran point guard in the mix in Hickey, who was a three-year starter at LSU. Hickey’s scoring output dropped in his final season in Baton Rouge, but he finished second in the SEC with a 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio and averaged 3.8 assists per game in his career. He averaged nearly three steals per game as a sophomore.
7. Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Scott Drew has brought in his share of highly touted recruits, but Motley was more of a project. Motley redshirted last season and is poised to become an impact player in his second season on campus. The 6-9, 210-pound forward could be one of the Bears’ top post players while bringing an expanded offensive game away from the basket.
8. Justin Edwards, Kansas State
Transfer from Maine
Edwards was a prolific scorer at Maine before leaving for a more high-profile program in the Big 12. The 6-foot-4 guard from Ontario led America East in scoring with 16.7 points per game in 2012-13 before sitting out a year at Kansas State. The Wildcats will hope a better supporting cast will improve his efficiency numbers: Edwards has shot 27 percent from 3-point range and averaged 3.6 turnovers per game in his career.
9. Michael Cobbins, Oklahoma State
Returning from injury
Cobbins’ Achilles injury at the end of December was one of the first dominoes in a season that unraveled in conference play for the Cowboys. Oklahoma State went 12-1 with Cobbins in the lineup and 9-12 the rest of the way. The 6-8, 230-pound forward contributed far more than his 5.4 points per game. His interior defense forced coach Travis Ford to shuffle the lineup with limited success.
10. Jameel McKay, Iowa State
Transfer from Marquette
Dejean-Jones won’t be the only impact transfer for Iowa State. McKay will join Niang in the frontcourt. McKay has yet to play a game in the Division I level after transfer from junior college to Marquette. He comes from the same JUCO as Cyclone Dustin Hogue and should be a factor on Iowa State’s defense.
Miami’s quarterback situation is one of the biggest uncertainties in the ACC this year. However, the Hurricanes appear to have some clarity about their quarterback battle, as redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen has been suspended for at least one game due to a failed drug test. The news was reported by Adam Kuperstein of WQAM.
With Olsen suspended for the opener, Kansas transfer Jake Heaps is expected to start against Louisville. Heaps began his career at BYU but transferred to Kansas after two seasons in Provo.
Heaps was touted as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2010 signing class but struggled at BYU and Kansas. Heaps completed only 49 percent of his passes and tossed 10 picks to eight touchdowns with the Jayhawks in 2013.
The Hurricanes were slated to start Memphis transfer Ryan Williams in 2014. However, the senior suffered a torn ACL in spring practice and is out indefinitely. Williams is expected to return early in the year, but a return date has not been set.
True freshman Brad Kaaya ranked as the No. 7 pro-style quarterback in the 247Sports Composite for the 2014 signing class. Barring a return by Williams for the opener, Kaaya will likely serve as Heaps’ backup.
Miami Hurricanes QB Kevin Olsen will be suspended for at least 1 game this season for failed drug test. No comment from UM at this point.— Adam Kuperstein (@AKuperstein) August 1, 2014
First, Seattle Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” mic Richard Sherman went all Tony Montana on Erin Andrews. “I’m the best corner in the game,” Sherman ranted after the NFC title game. “Don’t open your mouth about the best or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick.” Then, Arizona Cardinals’ triple-threat Patrick Peterson became the Internet’s highest-paid troll after becoming the league’s richest cornerback. Even the New York Jets’ delusional Dee Milliner “ain’t gonna say that somebody else is better.”
These days, every cornerback who backpedals for a living is fluidly flipping their hips and running their mouth at 4.3 speed claiming the title of “NFL’s best.” But really, who is the top cover man in an increasingly pass-happy league? It’s not Deion Sanders anymore, that’s for sure.
Here are the top 10 cornerbacks in the GIF game today, when factoring in size, speed, age, health, proven production and 2014 potential to cover the full spectrum of downfield receiving threats — from monsters like “Megatron” Calvin Johnson (6’5”, 236) to track stars like DeSean Jackson (5’10”, 178).
1. Richard Sherman, 26, Seattle Seahawks
6’3”, 195, Stanford (No. 154 pick, 2011)
48 G, 167 T, 57 PD, 20 INT for 227 yards (11.4 ypr), 2 TDs, 4 FF, 1 SK
You mad, bro? Don’t be. Sherman is in his loud-mouthed, lockdown prime. He’s got a Super Bowl ring and a fat new four-year, $56 million contract. The big-play maker made his biggest splashes on the biggest stages and arguably deserved to be named 2013 Defensive Player of the Year after recording eight INTs for 125 yards (15.6 ypr) and a 58-yard pick-six — his second straight eight-INT, one-TD season. Plus, Sherman allowed only one TD for the Seahawks’ top-ranked defense. Floyd Mayweather is the champ. But Sherman has the CB title belt.
2. Darrelle Revis, 29, New England Patriots
5’11”, 198, Pittsburgh (No. 14 pick, 2007)
95 G, 344 T, 109 PD, 21 INT for 367 yards (17.5 ypr), 3 TDs, 5 FF, 2 SK
Bill Belichick is looking forward to an extended vacation on Revis Island, where defensive schemes are much easier to gameplan with one side of the field on lock. After a Lost-like couple of seasons dealing with injury and contract issues in New York and Tampa Bay, Revis is likely to return to his all-time prime this year in New England.
3. Patrick Peterson, 24, Arizona Cardinals
6’1”, 219, LSU (No. 5 pick, 2011)
48 G, 161 T, 42 PD, 12 INT for 124 yards (10.3 ypr), 1 SK
Money talks. And five years, $70 million currently has the floor. Peterson has the potential to top this list — and likely will, sooner than later. But as of this season, one of the game’s best all-around athletes needs his cover skills to catch up with his walk-off punt return highlight reel and even bootleg passing ability.
4. Joe Haden, 25, Cleveland Browns
5’11”, 195, Florida (No. 7 pick, 2010)
57 G, 234 T, 67 PD, 13 INT for 222 yards (17.1 ypr), TD, 3 FF, 2 SK
Who knew Cleveland had an NFL team before Johnny Football? The Browns have the league’s top left tackle in Joe Thomas and a realistic shot at having the best cornerback in Haden, who makes very few mistakes by the lake — but would probably have trouble guarding LeBron James, though.
5. Aqib Talib, 28, Denver Broncos
6’1”, 205, Kansas (No. 20 pick, 2008)
77 G, 242 T, 70 PD, 23 INT for 348 yards (15.1 ypr), 4 TD, 2 FF
Clearly, he feels like a boss, which is necessary to run with the likes of A.J. Green and Dez Bryant. A volatile young Buc, mellowed ex-Patriot turned big-money Bronco, Talib has struggled to stay on the field. But when he’s on, there are few with the size, speed and swag necessary to match Talib’s talents.
6. Desmond Trufant, 23, Atlanta Falcons
6’0”, 190, Washington (No. 22 pick, 2013)
16 G, 70 T, 17 PD, 2 INT (0 ypr), 1 FF
Following in the high-steps of Deion and DeAngelo Hall — who also wore No. 21 at cornerback for the Falcons — the third Trufant brother to play in the NFL (along with big bros Marcus and Isaiah) had an incredible rookie season and appears to be the next elite cover corner. And you can’t knock his hustle, unless you’re C.J. Spiller.
7. Alterraun Verner, 25, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5’10”, 187, UCLA (No. 104 pick, 2010)
64 G, 288 T, 50 PD, 11 INT for 124 yards (11.3 ypr), TD, 2 FF
One of the big winners of the offseason, Verner snagged a four-year, $26.5 million deal and will be heading from Tennessee to Tampa Bay, where he will play for defensive guru Lovie Smith. Verner is a ball-hawk who has never missed a game (64-for-64) and continues to add veteran moves to an already dangerous arsenal.
8. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, 28, N.Y. Giants
6’2”, 193, Tennessee State (No. 16 pick, 2008)
92 G, 246 T, 98 PD, 19 INT for 409 yards (21.5 ypr), 5 TD, 3 FF, 1 SK
DRC isn’t the toughest guy on the block but he’s not a punk, either. A cheap shot from Michael Floyd — who outweighs DRC by roughly 30 pounds — deserves to be answered with another cheap shot. What he lacks in physicality, DRC makes up for in speed, length and cocky attitude, which often borders on arrogant (just ask Kirk Cousins).
9. Brent Grimes, 31, Miami Dolphins
5’10”, 190, Shippensburg (Undrafted, 2006)
75 G, 314 T, 73 PD, 17 INT for 257 yards (15.1 ypr), TD, 1 FF
A blue-collar scrapper, Grimes doesn’t fit in with the rest of this list and may be a one-time-only inclusion. But the undrafted free-agent deserves mention heading into 2014, following a couple standout campaigns that bookended an injury-shortened 2012 season.
10. Vontae Davis, 26, Indianapolis Colts
5’11”, 207, Illinois (No. 25 pick, 2009)
70 G, 245 T, 51 PD, 13 INT for 150 yards (11.5 ypr), TD, 1 FF, 2 SK
Vernon Davis’ little brother has all the raw talent in the world but his production never matched his potential until last season. The tools were always there, however. And since his brother was a late-bloomer before exploding onto the scene, maybe Vontae will follow Vernon’s lead-block and vault up these rankings in the near future. There’s no doubt Davis can run with anyone, taking over routes for greats like Andre Johnson.
(Editor’s note: Apologies to Honey Badger, Pacman, Nickell and all the nickelbacks covering the slot. You’re doing great work chasing Wes Welker, but the best of the best are on an island on the outside. Plus, Nickelback gets no respect.)
Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, a Dale Earnhardt Jr.-Brad Keselowski rematch, Joe Gibbs Racing's improvement, Carl Edwards' departure from Roush Fenway Racing and Kasey Kahne's Chase hopes take center stage in Sunday's GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway.
Does this one again come down to Earnhardt and Keselowski?
The last time the Sprint Cup Series raced at Pocono, the final laps proved to be plenty gripping in the drama department. Brad Keselowski was being chased by Dale Earnhardt Jr., all while having to deal with an overheating issue due to debris on his car’s front grille.
When Keselowski tried to remedy the issue by closing on the bumper of Danica Patrick’s lapped car, he nearly wrecked in the process. Earnhardt Jr. slid by to take the lead. Keselowski never got the debris removed and never made a substantial run at passing Earnhardt – who also began to suffer overheating issues – again. Earnhardt took the win while Keselowski apologized for what he felt was a blunder.
Together, the drivers combined to lead a majority of the race (106 of 160 laps) with Keselowski taking the lion’s share (95).
Keselowski was optimistic about a replicate performance.
"We feel as though we are better now than we were then in a lot of areas, and that bodes well for us this weekend,” Keselowski says. “I am looking forward to it."
Joe Gibbs Racing looking for Pocono improvements
Hidden in last week’s finishing order at Indianapolis was a strong showing for the Joe Gibbs Racing bunch. For the first time since the fall Richmond race in 2010, all three entered JGR cars finished in the top 5. Of course, the result was later blemished by Denny Hamlin’s penalty for an improperly sealed firewall plates.
But it was a good sign for a team needing some improvement at a place where at least Hamlin formerly dominated. In June, JGR’s best showing came from Hamlin in fourth while Kyle Busch (12th) and Matt Kenseth (25th) scuffled to the checkered flag. In the last three Pocono races, JGR drivers have led just five laps with Hamlin the only driver to break the top 5.
Don’t be worried about Carl Edwards’ performance
There was odd sense of derision from Carl Edwards before last week’s Brickyard 400. He seemed upset that his current team – soon to be former – opted to announce his departure effective in 2015 on the morning of the race. The stance flew in the face of what seemed to be a much choreographed announcement with Roush Fenway Racing team president Steve Newmark referring many times to Edwards keeping him in the loop at every turn of the process.
It’s the type of dissension that can often lead to speculation that a team is throwing in the towel on an outgoing driver. In this instance, that seems highly unlikely because the decision isn’t news to those inside the organization. Edwards let the team know more than a month ago that he was leaving – so any performance regression would have already been visible.
In that span, he has finishes of 17th, 37th (crash), 13th and 15th. It’s not a great run, but excluding crash-affected finishes, it’s a span that has often been par for the course for the struggling RFR team this season. The RFR team as a whole has just one top-10 finish in that stretch.
Kahne short on Chase chances
It was one year ago that Kasey Kahne appeared to put a dagger in teammate Jeff Gordon’s Chase chances when he dominated the four-time champion on a late restart at Pocono. It was a stunning loss for Gordon – he wouldn’t perform well enough in the ensuing five regular season races to officially make the Chase – and a big triumph for Kahne. Of course, Michael Waltrip Racing’s Richmond shenanigans allowed Brian France to reverse Gordon’s exclusion. It left the Pocono point essentially moot.
A year later, the roles are reversed. It’s Gordon with two wins – including last week’s Brickyard 400 win when he passed Kahne on a late restart – and Kahne without any. Kahne isn’t far removed from the Chase as it stands, but he would undoubtedly prefer a little more security down the regular season’s final unpredictable stretch. Currently, he’s three points behind Austin Dillon – the last penciled-in qualifier for the Chase before Pocono.
Kahne owns twos wins at Pocono and has top-two finishes in two of last four races at the track. He can’t afford, however, to repeat finishes of 42nd and 36th that marked the other end of the four-race span.
Goodyear makes slight tire alteration
Tire issues didn’t factor much in the June race at Pocono, but it was a year ago at the track that Jimmie Johnson’s blowout while leading changed the entire race’s complexion. It also left Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus frustrated with a string of tire problems that his team had faced.
Goodyear, the sole tire supplier, hasn’t made major modifications to the tires for Sunday’s race but did make a small adjustment of team recommendations from the June race. Teams will be encouraged the raise the left side tire pressures by one pound – from 18 psi to 19 psi – to prevent issues.
The radial tire in use remains the same as used at the track since 2012.
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Photo by Action Sports, Inc.