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Path: /college-football/nebraska-running-back-ameer-abdullah-speech-big-ten-media-day

CHICAGO — At first, Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah wasn’t thrilled when Nebraska's sports information director put his name in the running for the featured player speech at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon without his knowledge.


“I didn’t want my name on the ballot at all,” Abdullah said during a small roundtable interview session Tuesday before his speech. “I’m terrible at speaking. Ironically, they picked me, so here goes nothing.”

He was being self-deprecating. Abdullah did just fine during his comments to hundreds of Big Ten fans and media.

Abdullah mentioned “capitalism” in college athletics as a reference to the ongoing unionization issue at Northwestern and the autonomy and cost-of-attendance discussion going on around the power five conferences.

Instead of dwelling on those hot-button topics, Abdullah focused on the advantages of being a student-athlete. Nowhere was that more evident than when he returned home to Alabama to find one of his high school friends, who went to college as an athlete himself, kicked out of school and facing a drug addiction. Another was in jail.

“These aren’t people I read about or saw on TV,” Abdullah said. “These are my friends. If it can happen to them, it can happen to any student-athlete in this room.”

Abdullah’s growth in Lincoln has been stark, he says.

By his own admission, Abdullah was “socially awkward” as a high school senior from Homewood, Ala. At a high school all-star game — at a time when Abdullah was still being recruited as a defensive back — he and eventual Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon struck up a friendship that would last into their college years.

Both were introverts, so they ate breakfast together all week. By last spring, they were Nos. 1-2 in the Big Ten in rushing and contemplating going to the NFL Draft. They talked it over and elected to return to school.

“We’ve been clicking ever since then,” Gordon said. “We talk all through the season. He’s a great person to know. We’re good friends.”

At Nebraska, Abdullah had no choice but to come out of his shell. Nebraska recruits nationally, so Abdullah arrived in Lincoln around a handful of players from all walks of life.


Abdullah will talk anything now. He’ll joke with reporters. A day before his speech to Big Ten fans and media, he joked: “Speech? I’m making a speech? Uh oh.”

But if you really want to get Abdullah going, start talking draft trends and running backs. No running back has been drafted in the first round since three did it in 2012. What does that mean for Abdullah and his pal Gordon?

“Now we’re talking. Now we’re talking,” Abdullah said.

A self-described film junkie since age 7 when his father filmed park league games, Abdullah said he watches NFL Live on ESPN regularly. That leads him to believe the days of running backs are coming back.

“Football works in fads,” Abdullah said. “This is the D-end fad.”

Abdullah sees tall, stand-up defensive ends and outside linebackers like South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and UCLA’s Anthony Barr — both first-round picks last year — and sees his future. Those two players are built to rush the passer.

The answer? Abdullah says its the running back.

“Everything eventually comes full circle,” Abdullah said. “At some point, the NFL is going to come to the conclusion that the stand-up guys aren’t the best guys against the run. To beat those guys, you’ve got to get more running backs. It’s going to come back around to running backs in the first round.”

But just in case the running back pendulum doesn’t swing back to Abdullah in time for the 2015 draft, he’s doing everything he can to improve his pro potential.

Abdullah is a slippery back and tough to tackle. But he’s only 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds. Even if running backs become en vogue in the next year, he’ll need to round out his skill set. He’s playing on special teams in 2014. He says he wants to block punts, return punts and return kickoffs.

If that makes him a Heisman contender, he won’t say. And what’s the point of projecting? Abdullah remembers last season’s surprises all too well.

“I don’t like to get caught up in preseason accolades because (Boston College running back) Andre Williams didn’t know he was going to win the Doak Walker award. (Oregon State wide receiver) Brandin Cooks as well with the Biletnikoff.

“You never know when it’s your time.”

Nebraska Running Back Ameer Abdullah Speech at Big Ten Media Day
Post date: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - 14:52
All taxonomy terms: Big Board, Fantasy Football, rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /early-fantasy-football-2014-big-board-top-280

NFL training camps are in full swing now and even though the games that count are still more than a month away, that doesn’t mean what’s happening on the practice field doesn’t impact fantasy football. For example, injuries have already made their mark, both in a good and bad way, which has resulted in some shuffling on Athlon Sports’ Fantasy Football Big Board (Top 280).


From the “good” standpoint, there has been no more welcome sight in Foxboro, Mass., than a healthy Rob Gronkowski on the field. It’s still early, but Gronk appears to be progressing in his recovery from the torn ACL and MCL he suffered last December. There’s still plenty of risk when it comes to Gronk’s fantasy value, but the potential reward is enough to move him up in our rankings.


Unfortunately, the news has not been as optimistic in other camps. Running backs Vick Ballard (Achilles) and Kendall Hunter (ACL) already have seen their 2014 seasons come to an abrupt end due to season-ending injuries, while several others are dealing with other ailments of varying degrees. Regardless of the severity, these injuries and other happening on or off of the field (such as suspensions or retirements) have a twofold effect as it relates to fantasy. Not only do they potentially change the outlook for teammates on their respective teams, but they also necessitate numerous adjustments to our Big Board. And keep in mind that preseason action has yet to begin. More changes are sure to come.


Early 2014 Fantasy Football Big Board (Top 280)

(Last updated on 7/29/14)


1LeSean McCoyPHIRB 
2Jamaal CharlesKCRBShortest training camp holdout ever?
3Adrian PetersonMINRBSays Vikes' O no longer "predictable."
4Matt FortéCHIRB 
5Calvin JohnsonDETWR 
6Marshawn LynchSEARBHow long will Beast Mode hold out?
7Jimmy GrahamNOTETE and contract status no longer in doubt.
8Demaryius ThomasDENWR 
9Peyton ManningDENQB 
10A.J. GreenCINWR 
11Julio JonesATLWRBeing brought along slowly.
12Eddie LacyGBRB 
13Brandon MarshallCHIWR 
14Dez BryantDALWR 
15Arian FosterHOURBIf healthy, he should see plenty of work.
16Doug MartinTBRB 
17DeMarco MurrayDALRB 
18Zac StacySTLRB 
19Le'Veon BellPITRBCould be big beneficiary of improved O-line.
20Montee BallDENRB 
21Antonio BrownPITWR 
22Jordy NelsonGBWRShort-term future secure with 4-year extension.
23Alshon JefferyCHIWR 
24Andre JohnsonHOUWRAppears to be on board w/ team's direction.
25Vincent JacksonTBWR 
26Randall CobbGBWRReady to prove he's worthy of new deal.
27Alfred MorrisWASRB 
28Giovani BernardCINRB 
29Reggie BushDETRB 
30Ryan MathewsSDRB 
31Drew BreesNOQBWants to play 10 more years.
32Aaron RodgersGBQB 
33Larry FitzgeraldARIWR 
34Victor CruzNYGWR 
35Pierre GarconWASWR 
36Keenan AllenSDWR 
37Roddy WhiteATLWR 
38Wes WelkerDENWR 
39Percy HarvinSEAWR 
40Matthew StaffordDETQB 
41Julius ThomasDENTE 
42Rob GronkowskiNETESo far, so good.
43DeSean JacksonWASWR 
44Michael CrabtreeSFWR 
45T.Y. HiltonINDWR 
46Torrey SmithBALWR 
47Frank GoreSFRBTeam already down one back (Hunter, ACL).
48C.J. SpillerBUFRBSays his ankle is 100 percent.
49Ben TateCLERB 
50Julian EdelmanNEWR 
51Vernon DavisSFTEWants new contract, but he's in camp.
52Jordan CameronCLETE 
53Michael FloydARIWR 
54Cordarrelle PattersonMINWRExpanded role in Turner's O coming?
55Jeremy MaclinPHIWR 
56Andre EllingtonARIRBAdded weight in the offseason.
57Trent RichardsonINDRBPlayed hurt last season. Bounce back coming?
58Chris JohnsonNYJRBReportedly looking "explosive" in camp.
59Ray RiceBALRBDon't forget he will miss the first 2 games.
60Toby GerhartJACRBDon't discount him as an every-down back.
61Steven JacksonATLRB 
62Rashad JenningsNYGRB 
63Reggie WayneINDWRLooking good in his return from ACL tear.
64Marques ColstonNOWR 
65Sammy WatkinsBUFWRHas yet to play a game and already on "Hot Seat."
66Shane VereenNERB 
67Stevan RidleyNERB 
68Joique BellDETRB 
69Andrew LuckINDQB 
70Russell WilsonSEAQB 
71Bishop SankeyTENRB 
72Pierre ThomasNORB 
73Cam NewtonCARQB 
74Robert Griffin IIIWASQBRG3 likes what he's seen from Gruden, new O so far.
75Jason WittenDALTE 
76Greg OlsenCARTE 
77Dennis PittaBALTEHealthy Pitta could be difference-maker for Ravens.
78Jordan ReedWASTE 
79Knowshon MorenoMIARBStarting job may not be his to lose in first place.
80Maurice Jones-DrewOAKRB 
81Darren SprolesPHIRB 
82Fred JacksonBUFRB 
83Nick FolesPHIQB 
84Colin KaepernickSFQBNew contract leaves plenty of room for growth still.
85Matt RyanATLQB 
86Kendall WrightTENWR 
87Mike WallaceMIAWRKnows he needs to better this season.
88Golden TateDETWR 
89Eric DeckerNYJWR 
90Tom BradyNEQBHealthy Gronk could mean return to vintage Brady.
91DeAngelo WilliamsCARRB 
92Danny WoodheadSDRB 
93Lamar MillerMIARBReportedly already ahead of Moreno.
94Emmanuel SandersDENWR 
95Cecil ShortsJACWRExpected to miss 2 weeks b/c of hamstring injury.
96Riley CooperPHIWR 
97Anquan BoldinSFWR 
98Kyle RudolphMINTEPending FA no longer after signing 5-year extension.
99Tony RomoDALQB 
100Philip RiversSDQB 
101Jay CutlerCHIQB 
102Ben RoethlisbergerPITQBOL and WRs both could be better this season.
103Charles ClayMIATE 
104Martellus BennettCHITE 
105Delanie WalkerTENTE 
106Zach ErtzPHITE 
107Heath MillerPITTE 
108Bernard PierceBALRBWill have 2 games to make strong impression.
109Khiry RobinsonNORB 
110David WilsonNYGRBGot medical clearance (neck) to return to field.
111Chris IvoryNYJRBInjured hamstring keeping him out of camp.
112Terrance WilliamsDALWR 
113DeAndre HopkinsHOUWR 
114Antonio GatesSDTE 
115Ladarius GreenSDTE 
117Shonn GreeneTENRBWon't give up starting job w/o a fight.
118Tre MasonSTLRB 
119Darren McFaddenOAKRB 
120Danny AmendolaNEWR 
121Dwayne BoweKCWRReported to camp in great shape.
122Hakeem NicksINDWR 
123Greg JenningsMINWR 
124Steve SmithBALWR 
125James JonesOAKWR 
132Andy DaltonCINQB 
133Eli ManningNYGQB 
126Carson PalmerARIQB 
127Tavon AustinSTLWR 
128Marvin JonesCINWR 
129Rueben RandleNYGWR 
130Justin HunterTENWR 
134Christine MichaelSEARBLynch's holdout increases appeal.
135Mark IngramNORB 
136Jeremy HillCINRBRookie off to good start in camp.
137Andre BrownHOURB 
138Donald BrownSDRB 
139Coby FleenerINDTE 
144Jarrett BoykinGBWR 
145Brandin CooksNOWRLots to like, but still a rookie.
146Eric EbronDETTE 
147Dwayne AllenINDTE 
148BenJarvus Green-EllisCINRB 
149LeGarrette BlountPITRB 
150James StarksGBRB 
151Roy HeluWASRB 
152Mike EvansTBWR 
153Kelvin BenjaminCARWRWill miss some of camp due to a bone bruise.
154Denarius MooreOAKWR 
155Doug BaldwinSEAWR 
156Markus WheatonPITWR 
159Kenny StillsNOWR 
160Aaron DobsonNEWRStill recovering from foot surgery.
161Andrew HawkinsCLEWR 
162Rod StreaterOAKWR 
163Marqise LeeJACWRAce Sanders taking leave of absence for personal reasons.
164Josh McCownTBQB 
165Joe FlaccoBALQB 
166Ryan TannehillMIAQB 
167Johnny ManzielCLEQBNo rookie under more scrutiny than Johnny Football.
172Alex SmithKCQB 
173Sam BradfordSTLQBMay not play in first preseason game as precaution.
174Tyler EifertCINTE 
175Odell Beckham Jr.NYGWROff to sluggish start due to hamstring injury.
176Brian HartlineMIAWR 
177Knile DavisKCRB 
178Latavius MurrayOAKRB 
179C.J. AndersonDENRB 
180Jonathan StewartCARRBCan't seem to shake injury bug.
181Carlos HydeSFRBHunter's (ACL) loss could be Hyde's gain.
182Terrance WestCLERB 
183Jonathan DwyerARIRB 
184Ahmad BradshawINDRBVick Ballard (Achilles) out for season.
185Miles AustinCLEWR 
186Stevie JohnsonSFWR 
187Jerricho CotcheryCARWR 
188Owen DanielsBALTE 
189Jared CookSTLTE 
190Matt PraterDENK 
191Stephen GostkowskiNEK 
192EJ ManuelBUFQB 
193Jake LockerTENQBSays his foot (Lisfranc injury) is completely healed.
194Geno SmithNYJQBThinks he'll be a top 5 QB in 2 years.
195Matt SchaubOAKQB 
196Jordan TodmanJACRB 
197Austin Seferian-JenkinsTBTE 
198Jace AmaroNYJTESustained minor knee injury early in camp.
199Robert WoodsBUFWR 
200Marlon BrownBALWR 
201Jerome SimpsonMINWR 
202Jermichael FinleyFATEIf he signs, he could shoot up rankings.
203Ryan GriffinHOUTE 
204Steven HauschkaSEAK 
205Justin TuckerBALK 
206Phil DawsonSFK 
207Mason CrosbyGBK 
208Dan BaileyDALK 
211Ka'Deem CareyCHIRB 
212Devonta FreemanATLRB 
213Jerick McKinnonMINRB 
214Chris PolkPHIRB 
215Brandon LaFellNEWR 
216Kenny BrittSTLWR 
217Nate BurlesonCLEWR 
218Harry DouglasATLWR 
219Mike WilliamsBUFWR 
220Jermaine KearseSEAWRSidney Rice's retirement creates opportunity.
221Jordan MatthewsPHIWR 
222Andre RobertsWASWR 
223Dexter McClusterTENWR 
224Mohamed SanuCINWR 
225Chris GivensSTLWR 
226Lance MoorePITWR 
229Ryan FitzpatrickHOUQB 
230Chad HenneJACQB 
231Brian HoyerCLEQBHas reportedly taken early lead over Manziel in camp.
232Michael VickNYJQB 
233Teddy BridgewaterMINQB 
234Matt CasselMINQB 
235Garrett GrahamHOUTE 
236Andrew QuarlessGBTE 
237Scott ChandlerBUFTE 
238Marcedes LewisJACTE 
241Alex HeneryPHIK 
242Nick NovakSDK 
243Adam VinatieriINDK 
244Jermaine GreshamCINTE 
245Levine ToiloloATLTE 
246Stepfan TaylorARIRB 
247Mike JamesTBRB 
248Andre WilliamsNYGRB 
249Jacquizz RodgersATLRB 
250Robbie GouldCHIK 
251Shayne GrahamNOK 
252Mike GlennonTBQB 
253Shaun HillSTLQB 
254Kirk CousinsWASQB 
255Blair WalshMINK 
256Matt BryantATLK 
257Marcel ReeceOAKRB 
258Robert TurbinSEARB 
259Bryce BrownBUFRB 
260Mike TolbertCARRB 
261DuJuan HarrisGBRB 
262Brandon BoldenNERB 
263Charles SimsTBRB 
264Marcus LattimoreSFRB49ers taking their time w/ Lattimore.
265Joseph RandleDALRB 
266Jason AvantCARWR 
267Paul RichardsonSEAWR 
268Davante AdamsGBWR 
269Allen RobinsonJACWRMissed parts of OTAs b/c of hamstring injury.
270Cody LatimerDENWR 
271Jarvis LandryMIAWR 
272Kenbrell ThompkinsNEWR 
273Blake BortlesJACQB 
274Brandon PettigrewDETTE 
275Rob HouslerARITE 
276Travis KeceKCTE 
277Mark SanchezPHIQB 
278Lance DunbarDALRB 
279Bobby RaineyTBRBHe and Mike James could battle for roster spot.
280Brandon WeedenDALQB 

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

Early Fantasy Football 2014 Big Board
Post date: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - 12:00
Path: /nfl/nfl-grow-its-representatives-must-grow

In light of Ray Rice’s recent two-game suspension for his part in an altercation that ended with the decorated Baltimore Raven carelessly dragging his unconscious then-fiancée - now wife – Janay Palmer out of a New Jersey casino elevator, the NFL has been taking some well deserved heat from reporters and journalists all over the nation. The criticism has been rampant but warranted; it’s obvious that the league dropped the ball in disciplining the star running back. In an interview with ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning," Aldopho Birch, the Senior Vice President of Labor Policy & Government Affairs, insisted that the Rice decision, a punishment that essentially translates into a $500,000 fine, demonstrates that the NFL does not condone his actions. But Birch, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and the rest of the league’s leaders are missing the point. Yes, the NFL is a business, but that does not mean that every action and transaction involving the league should be measured in dollars.


In the 1970s and ‘80s, a number of notable players were given lifetime bans for drug and crime-related incidents. But that was a time when the on-the-field action was more brutal, as was the iron-fist style of discipline that we saw from Pete Rozelle, who reigned over the NFL from 1960 to the end of the '80s.


The modern equivalent of the discipline seen during the NFL’s older days can be found in the Michael Vick dog-fighting scandal. Vick was suspended indefinitely without pay for running an operation consisting of pit bull fights that were accompanied by hefty wagers. The shifty Falcons quarterback went on to serve 548 days behind bars, but by Week 13 of the 2009 season, he was back on the field throwing touchdowns yet again. Simply put, if this is the most damning penalty levied by Goodell in his tenure, he has failed dramatically. The final outcome: Vick took a three-year hiatus from football for abusing animals and managing an illegal gambling ring. In any other profession, a fall from grace of this magnitude would be tremendously difficult to return from. But in today's NFL, money overshadows morality. Vick is a well-known character who can sell merchandise and put fans in the stands. The quarterback's treatment shows that the commissioner has been more of a buddy to players than a boss.


In a second high-profile case in 2010, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. In another case related to the mistreatment of women, Roethlisberger was accused two separate times of sexual assault, a situation equally troubling to the one that Rice created in February. But no one talks about Big Ben’s shady behavior anymore. He disappeared from the starting lineup for a few games and then returned to the field. That same year, eight players were suspended for the same length or longer for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.


If the NFL cared about the concept of “integrity” as much as it would like everyone to believe, Roethlisberger would have been sidelined significantly longer than those eight peers who personally jeopardized their own health to gain a competitive edge, not the other way around. In handing down the suspension to Rice, Goodell wrote that the NFL “simply does not tolerate conduct that harms others.” If that’s the case, it should be reflected in the league’s actions; words are meaningless here.


Today, have at least one player on their rosters with a domestic violence or sexual violence charge on his record. The owners of the individual teams could care less about a player’s wrongdoing in the past; it's all made right on the field if you're scoring points. This is a despicable attitude but not an incomprehensible one. These organizations are out to make a profit and they need to field the best possible talent in order to do so, criminal or not. But here is where Goodell should step in. In his interview with "Mike & Mike," Birch suggested that the way the NFL determines discipline is “based on both the conduct and the importance of making the right message for the league.” The right message would be that domestic and sexual violence is inexcusable, but for men blinded by the pursuit of monetary gains, it seems to be harder to arrive at that conclusion.


Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon will most likely miss the entire year for smoking pot, which is now legal in two U.S. states. All 14 of the other suspensions this offseason will have a player sit for at least four games. Rice will serve just two for incapacitating his wife with a vicious punch. You can see the hypocrisy in it all with just a surface-level glance. This is bad news for all parties involved, and a more ominous thought is that Rice’s peers have not seriously condemned him for his actions.


The league’s stance on the abuse of women is shown by its handling of numerous cases over the years. I would summarize it as so: if you don’t make us money, you’re on your own. To retired players who sue the league for fumbling the concussion crisis, the answer is the same. The NFL is willing to invest millions and even change the game’s traditional rules to preserve the health of stars in their prime. But for anyone besides the beer-bellied, jersey-donning fanatics filing into stadiums across America every Sunday, if you can’t suit up, your opinion doesn’t matter.


At some point the NFL needs to stop treating these conduct-related incidents from players, coaches, and team administration (see: Jim Irsay) as if they exist in a vacuum. All of these men are role models for young children around America, and if Commissioner Goodell had his way, the rest of the world. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States. This accounts for more harm each year than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined. Each case is unique and so are state laws, but in the US judicial system, a conviction can bring a sentence of up to four years. For sexual assault, the terms are similar. However, Roethlisberger received a penalty of four games, Rice just two. True, these men were not convicted for their crimes, but neither was O.J. Simpson or Ray Lewis.


Currently, women represent approximately 45 percent of the NFL fan base, according to Scarborough Research, and 33 percent of viewers based on Nielsen data. To increase profits, the league must find ways for these numbers to increase organically. The NFL now offers pink jerseys and other feminine gear for those interested. But in order to truly reel in this potential fan base for good, the NFL cannot continue to treat women as though they are unimportant to the league’s goals. If it were not enough that women are people too, then I would urge the NFL to consider that women are fans too. As a member of society, the NFL is failing to meet its social responsibilities. What Goodell and the rest of the league office fail to realize is that if the league’s disciplinary policies are not remarkably transformed soon, the NFL's business model may fail, or at least be damaged mightily, as well.


As the NFL’s reach grows in coming years to cover new geographic and demographic regions across the globe, so will the marriage of the world’s attention and the influence of NFL employees and members. Sadly, for now the NFL can get away with having a reputation of condoning violence against women. But if Commissioner Goodell’s aims at expansion are genuine, the league will have to prioritize an ethical operating system over the quality of its product moving forward.

Post date: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - 11:11
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-july-29-2014

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 29:

• This one's for the nerds: .


. Regrets, they've got a few.



• Speaking of Toronto, .

. Anyone think ping pong isn't a sport?

. I'm shocked, I tell you.

. (Language alert)

. Harry Styles, he's coming for you.

• Watch a jorts-clad Japanese actress/martial artist break cinder blocks with her head prior to a baseball game.


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

Post date: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - 10:44
Path: /college-football/big-12-football-breakout-players-2014

Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Whether it’s a true freshman playing for the first time, a junior college recruit stepping into the lineup or a player on the roster that’s finally ready to assume a starting job, predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task.


The Big 12 is home to a handful of intriguing names for 2014. Oklahoma has young talent ready to emerge at running back, including Keith Ford and Joe Mixon. In-state rival Oklahoma State has an emerging star in Jhajuan Seales at receiver, while West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley is a key cog in the defense in Morgantown.


Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2014 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season. So while some of these players on this list are known to fans of a particular team, the rest of the conference or nation might not be as familiar.


Big 12 Breakout Players for 2014


B.J. Catalon, RB, TCU

After averaging only 20.9 points per game (conference-only matchups) in 2013, TCU’s offense was overhauled in the offseason. New co-coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham plan to increase the tempo and run more spread looks, which should help the Horned Frogs take a step forward on offense this year. There’s uncertainty at quarterback and receiver, but Meacham and Cumbie should be able to utilize Catalon more in 2014. The Texas native caught 11 passes and led TCU with 569 rushing yards and six touchdowns last season. Catalon’s 5.3 yards per carry was impressive, especially behind an offensive line that struggled to find consistency last year. Don’t expect Catalon to log 250 carries, but he should find plenty of touches on the ground and through the air this season.


Terrell Clinkscales, DT, Kansas State

Predicting what type of impact junior college recruits will have in a given season is never easy. For every success story, there are a handful of players who struggle to adapt to the transition. Kansas State has a strong track record of developing junior college recruits, and Clinkscales has a chance to push for a starting role in 2014. The Illinois native played in one season at Dodge City Community College and recorded 7.5 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks. Clinkscales rated as the No. 10 junior college recruit by 247Sports. Even if Clinkscales doesn’t start, the 315-pound tackle will contribute as a key piece of K-State’s defensive line rotation.


Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor

Baylor’s receiving corps is one of the deepest in the nation, headlined by Antwan Goodley (18.9 yards per catch in 2013) and seniors Levi Norwood and Clay Fuller. But with Tevin Reese departing, the Bears are looking for a new speed threat for quarterback Bryce Petty. Coleman impressed as a freshman in 2013, catching 35 passes for 527 yards. And in a good sign for Coleman’s development, the best game (seven receptions for 88 yards) of his 2013 campaign was the Fiesta Bowl. Expect the sophomore to become an even bigger target for Petty in 2014.


Reginald Davis, WR, Texas Tech

Eric Ward and Jace Amaro leave big shoes to fill in Texas Tech’s receiving corps, and the answers for quarterback Davis Webb could come in the form of a few players. The Red Raiders may not have a dominant No. 1 option in 2014, but there’s still a lot of talent for Webb to target. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez combined to catch 114 passes last year and will play a bigger role in the offense in this year, while Davis is a name many in Lubbock expect to have a breakout year after catching 15 passes for 200 yards in 2013. He showed his explosiveness by catching a 38-yard pass against Arizona State and by returning a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.


Keith Ford, RB, Oklahoma

Oklahoma loses its top three statistical running backs from last season (Brennan Clay, Damian Williams and Roy Finch), but Bob Stoops’ team isn’t hurting for talent. Off-the-field issues have clouded touted freshman Joe Mixon’s status for now, but Ford is a five-star talent ready for an opportunity to star in the Oklahoma backfield. The Texas native played in 10 games last season and rushed for 134 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries. Ford never recorded more than seven carries in a game but rushed for 34 yards on six attempts against Texas and 15 yards on three carries against Alabama. With one of the Big 12’s top offensive lines leading the way, Ford should find plenty of running room for the Sooners in 2014.


Nick Harwell, WR, Kansas

Fans of MACtion will remember Harwell from his time at Miami, Ohio. The Texas native transferred to Lawrence after three seasons with the RedHawks and is poised to be the No. 1 target for quarterback Montell Cozart in 2014. Harwell caught 229 passes in three years in Oxford, including a monster 2011 season (97 catches, 1,425 yards and nine touchdowns). Asking Harwell to replicate those numbers with a young quarterback is unrealistic, but the senior is a much needed difference maker for a receiving corps that has struggled mightily under coach Charlie Weis.


Tyreek Hill, RB/WR, Oklahoma State

Hill drew significant praise from coach Mike Gundy at Big 12 media days, and it’s clear the junior college recruit is going to play a major role in Oklahoma State’s offense this year. Gundy and coordinator Mike Yurcich plan to use Hill in an all-purpose role and indicated the junior will touch the ball 15-20 times each week. The Georgia native possesses elite speed and won the Big 12 indoor 200 meters title this year. Expect Gundy to get Hill involved in a variety of ways in 2014.


Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor

While Baylor’s offense grabbed most of the headlines for last year’s Big 12 championship, the defense quietly led the conference in fewest yards allowed per play (4.7) in 2013. This unit has to be remodeled in 2014, as only four starters return for coordinator Phil Bennett. The secondary must replace three starters, including standout safety Ahmad Dixon and cornerbacks K.J. Morton and Demetri Goodson. Howard played in 13 games in a reserve role last season and recorded five tackles and one interception. Opposing offenses will test the revamped secondary early, but Howard (an imposing 6-foot-2 cornerback) should ensure there’s not a drastic drop in the secondary this season.


Marcus Johnson, WR, Texas

Depth in the receiving corps for Texas has dwindled recently, as Montrel Meander and Kendall Sanders were suspended indefinitely due to an off-the-field incident. With Sanders (37 receptions) out of the picture, Johnson should have a bigger role in the offense. He caught 22 passes for 350 yards (15.9 yards per catch) and two scores last season. Johnson should benefit from the return of quarterback David Ash, along with a rushing attack that features standouts Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray. Even if Johnson doesn’t catch 60 passes, his big-play ability will help Ash stretch the field in 2014.


Luke Knott, LB, Iowa State

Knott was on his way to a breakout season in 2013 but a hip injury sidelined him for the final six contests. Through the first six games, Knott recorded 45 tackles, one forced fumble and two pass breakups. The Missouri native was one of the Cyclones’ most active defenders in Big 12 play, recording 11 stops against Texas and 10 against Texas Tech. Knott is expected to start at weakside linebacker, and the sophomore should be one of the leaders in a revamped Iowa State defensive front.


Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State

It might be unrealistic to ask Lazard to make a huge impact as a freshman, but the Iowa native is simply too talented to sit on the bench. Lazard ranked as the No. 11 receiver in the 247Sports Composite and caught 105 passes and 34 touchdowns during his high school career. Lazard should give quarterback Grant Rohach another weapon in the passing game, as the Cyclones already have reliable options in tight end E.J. Bibbs and receiver Quenton Bundrage. If Lazard picks up the offense this fall, he will play a significant role in the passing game for Iowa State.


Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor

Lache Seastrunk’s big-play ability will be missed in Waco, but Baylor’s backfield should still rank among the best in the Big 12 this season. Linwood played in 12 contests last year and finished second on the team with 881 yards and eight scores. The Texas native recorded four 100-yard efforts, including 182 yards in the 41-12 victory over Oklahoma. Linwood should handle the bulk of the carries in Baylor’s backfield, but redshirt freshman Johnny Jefferson, sophomore Devin Chafin and true freshman Terence Williams will all factor in to the mix. Linwood is a projected first-team All-Big 12 back by Athlon Sports for 2014.


Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor

At 6-foot-9 and 275 pounds, Oakman is an imposing figure off the edge for Phil Bennett’s defense. The Pennsylvania native started his career at Penn State but transferred after a redshirt year. Oakman’s first game experience in college occurred last season, as he played in all 13 games, recorded 33 tackles (12.5 for a loss) and two sacks. Most of Oakman’s production came early in the year, including 3.5 tackles for a loss against Wofford and two against Iowa State. He only recorded 0.5 tackles for a loss over the final six games, but the experience gained by Oakman through his first extended playing time should be valuable in 2014. Expect the junior to be one of the top defensive ends in the Big 12 this year.


Kevin Peterson, CB, Oklahoma State

NFL first-round pick Justin Gilbert leaves big shoes to fill in the Oklahoma State secondary. Gilbert’s presence was a key reason why the Cowboys allowed only 11 passing scores in Big 12 games last year, and coordinator Glenn Spencer is counting on Peterson and Ashton Lampkin to raise their game in 2014. Peterson recorded 24 tackles (three for a loss), two interceptions and four pass breakups last year. The Oklahoma native received plenty of attention opposite of Gilbert, but he’s likely tasked with defending opposing team’s No. 1 receivers in 2014. Expect Peterson to challenge for all-conference honors. Another name to watch on Oklahoma State’s defense: Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah.


Zack Sanchez, CB, Oklahoma

With Aaron Colvin departing, Oklahoma is counting on Sanchez to be the top cornerback on a defense that should be one of the nation’s best. Most Sooner fans are familiar with Sanchez after a standout freshman season, but the Texas native is poised to emerge as one of the Big 12’s top defensive backs. As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Sanchez started all 13 games, recorded 46 tackles and intercepted two passes. With Colvin on the other side last year, it was no surprise Sanchez was frequently targeted. However, he responded by defending 15 passes. Opposing Big 12 quarterbacks will likely stay away from Sanchez this season.


Jhajuan Seales, WR, Oklahoma State

There’s a significant amount of roster turnover for Oklahoma State in 2014. The Cowboys return only eight starters and lost 28 seniors from last season’s team. Despite the turnover, Mike Gundy’s team can still push for eight wins. For Oklahoma State to push for a spot among the top four teams in the Big 12, quarterback J.W. Walsh has to play with more consistency after an up-and-down stint in 2013. But Walsh should have plenty of help at the skill positions, as running back Desmond Roland rushed for 811 yards last year, and Seales is primed for a breakout year at receiver. As a redshirt freshman in 2013, Seales grabbed 39 receptions for 571 yards and three scores. The Texas native is a physical presence on the outside but also has the speed to be a big-play threat for Walsh.


Rushel Shell, RB, West Virginia

Remember him? Shell was a four-star recruit in the 2012 signing class and rushed for 641 yards and four scores during his freshman season at Pittsburgh. The Pennsylvania native transferred following the 2012 season and landed at West Virginia. After sitting out 2013 due to NCAA transfer rules, Shell is poised to be one of the top playmakers for the Mountaineers. The sophomore will battle with Dreamius Smith, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie for carries, but Shell has the most upside and talent among the running backs in Morgantown. With quarterback Clint Trickett recovering from shoulder surgery, West Virginia’s offense could feature the run more in 2014. If Shell picks up where he left off in 2012, he could push for All-Big 12 honors.

Ranthony Texada, CB, TCU

Jason Verrett will be missed, but there’s optimism in Fort Worth that TCU’s secondary is still the best in the Big 12. The safety spots are in good hands with Sam Carter and Chris Hackett, and cornerback Kevin White is a second-team All-Big 12 selection by Athlon Sports for 2014. Texada was a spring standout for the Horned Frogs after redshirting in 2013, and the Texas native should team with White to help the defense ease the loss of Verrett. 


Dalvin Warmack, RB, Kansas State

In the last seven years, no Kansas State freshman running back has rushed for more than 400 yards in a season. Could that change in 2014? The Wildcats lack a clear replacement for John Hubert, with Demarcus Robinson, Jarvis Leverett and Charles Jones considered the early favorites for the No. 1 job. Warmack is a name to remember this fall, as the true freshman could stake his claim for playing time. The Missouri native rushed for 2,223 yards and 29 touchdowns at Blue Springs High School in 2013 and ranked as a three-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite.


Daryl Worley, CB, West Virginia

Worley has generated plenty of buzz this offseason in Morgantown. As a true freshman, the 6-foot-1 cornerback from Philadelphia played in 11 games in 2013 and recorded 45 tackles and broke up five passes. Considering the offensive firepower in the Big 12, having a shutdown corner with the size to matchup against big receivers is a valuable asset for any defense. And the Mountaineers’ defense may have to shoulder more of the load in 2014, as the offense – especially the quarterback spot – is a work in progress. With another year to develop, expect Worley to challenge for all-conference honors this year.  

Big 12 Football Breakout Players for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/national-college-football-awards-predictions-2014

Walk into any major college football facility and you will likely be greeted by some sort of massive trophy case.


Some are bigger than others, some are more stocked than others and some are featured more prominently than others. But every school has one.


Largely, they are used to show off former exploits and accomplishments on the field to future recruits. “Come to State U and you can win a Heisman Trophy.”


Yes, there are also bowl trophies in those same cases but the BBVA Compass Bowl championship trophy doesn’t resonate with a star athlete like an individual award can.


Who are the front-runners to win those esteemed and coveted national awards in 2014? Here are Athlon Sports’ preseason predictions for each of the major individual awards:


Heisman: Marcus Mariota, Oregon

The odds are stacked against Jameis Winston repeating and the safest bet, should he stay healthy, is the Ducks' superstar signal-caller. Mariota has the numbers, the stats, the highlight-reel plays and a potential run at a national championship. Finalists: Jameis Winston, Braxton Miller, Brett Hundley


Maxwell: Jameis Winston, Florida State

The Heisman Trophy winner rarely gets the nod as “Player of the Year.” Tim Tebow was the last player to win both and only one defensive player since Hugh Green in 1980 has won it (Manti Te’o). The Maxwell is a nice consolation prize for Winston. Finalists: Melvin Gordon, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley


Davey O’Brien: Jameis Winston, Florida State

Part of the reason Mariota is the pick to win the Heisman is his athletic ability. While Winston may not repeat as the stiff-armed champion, he is still likely to be the best passer in the game this fall. Again, a nice consolation prize for the Noles' quarterback. Finalists: Bryce Petty, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley


Doak Walker: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin

This class of tailbacks is absolutely loaded and a dozen of them have a legit case to be the Doak Walker winner. Gordon, who posted over 1,600 yards in a timeshare situation last fall, is the star of the show for an offense known for producing elite running backs. The outstanding O-line, easy schedule and Todd Gurley’s penchant for missing time pushes Gordon to the top of the list. Finalists: Todd Gurley, Ameer Abdullah, Mike Davis


Biletnikoff: Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss

This is certainly a bit of a projection but there is little doubting Treadwell’s overall ability. He is a sure-fire, first-round NFL talent who is playing in an up-tempo offense in the nation’s toughest league with a senior quarterback. The production is there and one or two upsets over, say, Alabama or Auburn would only increase Treadwell's profile nationally. Finalists: Nelson Agholor, Amari Cooper, Tyler Boyd


Mackey: O.J. Howard, Alabama

Bama wideout Christion Jones told me at SEC Media Days that Howard was the best and most important player on the Tide roster. He is a freakish athlete, both physically and mentally, and he might be the best blocker on a team picked to play in the national championship game. Finalists: Nick O’Leary, Jeff Heuerman


Outland: Andrus Peat, Stanford

This team is known for producing elite offensive lineman and Peat might be the best of the bunch. He has the size, athleticism, production, team success and every other aspect to a resume deserving of being labeled the best in the nation. Finalists: Cameron Erving, Brandon Scherff, Cedric Ogbuehi


Rimington: Hroniss Grasu, Oregon

Grasu plays for one of the best offenses in the nation, one picked to win the Pac-12 championship. He was named first-team All-American in the preseason this summer and that makes him the front-runner to claim the honor of best pivot in the land. Finalists: Reese Dismukes, B.J. Finney


Johnny Rodgers: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

Lockett has elite speed, quickness, burst and has proven to be extremely dangerous in the return game. The first-team preseason All-American return man will have many chances to post highlight-reel plays against top-10 teams Auburn, Oklahoma and Baylor. Finalists: Ty Montgomery, Nelson Agholor


Bednarik/Nagurski: Shaq Thompson, Washington

Thompson is in a great situation to excel in 2014. After shifting to linebacker, Thompson may actually add running back to his already impressive resume. The Huskies' star tackler will post huge numbers for a team that could very easily be the story of the Pac-12 by season’s end. He has elite physical ability and won’t disappoint this fall. Finalists: Shilique Calhoun, Vic Beasley, Eric Striker


Lombardi: Chris Jones, Mississippi State

As just a true freshman, Jones proved he was worthy of his lofty five-star recruiting status. The 6-foot-5, 300-pounder appears to be a lock as a future NFL star and should be virtually unmovable in the SEC West this fall. Watch for the Bulldogs to surprise some people based on Jones and a very stout defensive front seven. Finalists: Leonard Williams, Vic Beasley, Randy Gregory


Hendricks: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State

There are a lot of great defensive ends around the nation but Calhoun could be the best. He makes game-changing plays (see three defensive TDs last fall) and he will be the star of what should once again be one of the nation’s elite defenses. A win over Ohio State and another Big Ten title would supplant Calhoun as the nation’s top DE. Finalists: Leonard Williams, Vic Beasley, Randy Gregory


Butkus: Shaq Thompson, Washington

Thompson is a tackling machine who uses superior physical ability to fly all over the field. He will be in most national defensive award races all season long and should the Huskies upset the cart in the Pac-12 North, it will be because of guys like Thompson. Finalists: Jaylon Smith, Eric Striker, Myles Jack


Thorpe: Vernon Hargreaves, Florida

Much like Jones at Mississippi State, Hargreaves quickly established himself as a superstar as just a freshman last fall. He is the nation’s top pure coverman and he could play for one of the most improved teams in the nation in Gainesville. Finalists: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Landon Collins, Jalen Ramsey


Coach of the Year: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

This one is nearly impossible, as the Coach of the Year is rarely the guy who is picked to win the league or national title. Names like Chris Petersen, Gary Pinkel, Todd Graham, Dan Mullen and Bill Snyder could dramatically overachieve this fall. Freeze, should he lead Ole Miss to a nine- or 10-win season, would certainly fall into that category. Finalists: Chris Petersen, Gary Andersen, Dan Mullen


Freshman of the Year: Leonard Fournette, LSU

There are few names on this list I feel better about getting correct than Fournette at LSU. The superstar No. 1 running back in the nation will be running behind a great veteran O-line and there is little doubt he will burst onto the national scene in just his first year. Finalists: Jabrill Peppers, Kyle Allen, Joe Mixon


Frank Broyles: Chad Morris, Clemson

The top offensive assistant in the land has his work cut out for him as stars Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant and Roderick McDowell have all departed. Despite all of this turnover, look for Morris to turn Cole Stoudt into an All-ACC passer and for the Tigers to push for 10 wins again this fall. Finalists: Pat Narduzzi, Mike Stoops, Justin Wilcox

National College Football Awards Predictions for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /nascar/gordon-hendrick-remain-atop-nascar-charts-brickyard-win

Speeding past the sport’s best drivers 20  years ago, Jeff Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 en route to starting his own legacy. Much has been made of the win’s impact — his second of 90 Cup victories, — even though it was hardly surprising at the time. After all, Gordon was blooming in his second season and the Indiana native was expected to morph into one of the sport’s all-time best. For me, on its 20th anniversary, the bigger statistic that remains is just two active drivers remain competing on the Cup circuit from that race: Gordon and Bobby Labonte, who popped up as part of his limited schedule Sunday.


So much has changed since then, but who would have thought at age 43 Gordon would be the only Cup driver to survive NASCAR’s robust growth period? It’s hard to believe, and a stark reminder of how short the careers of athletes can be even in NASCAR. To complete 21 Brickyard 400s, Jimmie Johnson needs to race until the year 2022 (age 47). To match that total, Tony Stewart must race until 2019 (age 48). Do you honestly see either driver lasting in the Cup Series that long with the amount of outside commitments, the grueling nine-month schedule and the push to keep up performance? Burnout can be mental just as much as physical and the pressure wears out even the best of athletes.


Once a generation, we still might have someone pop up like a Kyle Larson, who’s young enough and mentally tough enough to last that long. We’re still waiting on the next Mark Martin freak that enters the Cup Series late — in his 30s — but has the physical fitness regimen to stay active long into their early 50s. But for most, the clock ticks quickly once they hit a certain age — for every Martin there’s a Darrell Waltrip, who stopped winning by age 45. Ditto for Richard Petty, while Cale Yarborough cashed in for the final time at 46. Heck, we might be witnessing the beginning of the end for Stewart (43) right this second and not know it yet. 


So Gordon, who once said he’d be done racing by his early 40s, should be celebrated for his longevity — and his success. Just one of the other 42 drivers in that first Brickyard field even had enough talent to qualify for Sunday’s race, let alone have the competitive fire and talent to make it to Victory Lane. Johnson may have overshadowed Gordon’s success at Hendrick Motorsports over the last decade, but make no mistake — he is still one of the greatest this sport will ever see.


“Through the Gears,” post-Indy we go …



FIRST GEAR: Hendrick remains atop the charts

Gordon’s victory, which cemented his lead atop the Sprint Cup standings, is also another notch in Hendrick’s belt. After a month outside Victory Lane, HMS simply dominated, with Kasey Kahne leading a race-high 70 laps and Gordon following close behind, armed with the fastest car. While Joe Gibbs Racing finished 2-3-4 — a sign of continued improvement — it’s clear that when all the cards are shown in “major events” like Indy, it’s still Hendrick that remains a step above everyone else. The organization may have just seven of the 20 Sprint Cup wins so far this season but that total’s still good enough to lead all teams on the circuit.


Although snookered on the final restart, Hendrick’s most promising showing may have come from Kahne, who put himself in position to win. Now only four points out of a Chase spot, the success of the No. 5 team of late has most thinking it will make the postseason, either by sneaking in the old-fashioned way or via a trip to Victory Lane at Michigan or Bristol.


“It is the strongest effort the team has put out all season long,” Kahne said after coming home sixth. “All of us working together, yeah, we can take a lot out of here.”


So with Gibbs and even Penske Racing a step behind, at this “major” it’s clear Hendrick can take the words “title favorite” and wear them proudly around the shop once again. With Gordon on pace, Kahne seemingly on the brink, Dale Earnhardt Jr. making a push in his final year with Steve Letarte and Johnson being … well, Johnson, you get the picture. 


It wouldn’t be surprising to see a Gordon-Earnhardt-Johnson contingent inside the Final Four — and if Kahne reaches Victory Lane, any kryptonite within the organization disappears. And let’s not forget Chase Elliott making the Nationwide Series his personal playground right now, his three victories and continued development leaving HMS in position to stay at the top of NASCAR’s ladder over the long-term. 



SECOND GEAR: Kevin Harvick’s swings and misses

For Kevin Harvick, the off week was a chance to regroup and relearn how “The Closer” can finish races with what has arguably been the fastest car on the circuit. Leading 894 laps, only Johnson has run up front more, but Harvick, despite two victories, has seen a long list of team-inflicted mistakes take their toll. He’s got only one top-5 finish in the last eight races, with another missed opportunity at Indy on Sunday. Winning the pole in demanding fashion, he failed to find the handle over the course of the race and wound up a disappointing eighth. It’s part of a trend, the eighth straight event in which the No. 4 — which admittedly often qualifies up front — has finished worse than its starting spot.


“Yeah, we just started off bad really from the first lap,” he said. “We were just way too tight as we went through the day and we never could make it better.  Just made it worse most of the day.  So yeah, just way too tight.” 


Harvick’s frustration has clearly built over the last few months and often led to public criticism of his team. While others like Johnson can struggle pre-Chase and get the team together, you get the sense Harvick’s emotion makes this team in its first year a different case. So watch the performance of the No. 4 closely over the next month; while they’ve clinched a Chase spot, a poor performance now is likely a good predictor of how they’ll do when the races really count.




THIRD GEAR: Indy’s single-file parade

For those who watched the Eldora Truck race, where passing happened every turn of every lap, Sunday’s Indy slate was a bore by comparison. One observer, taking photos in Turn 1, quipped that the field was single-file, first to 43rd, every time within the first two green-flag laps. That’s par for the course at Indy, whose racing has suffered exponentially since Goodyear’s embarrassing tire debacle of 2008.


Since then, the route has been to go towards conservative, same speed, single-file racing at a track already hard to pass rather than risk a handful of blowouts. So teams have now resorted to fuel strategy, stretching their stops and trying to go off sequence in a race that feels more like a road course than an oval. Why not? If you’re stuck in 25th with no hope of moving up, daring pit calls are your only hope to get to the front.


Here’s the difference between Indy and say, Watkins Glen: people play around in the pits on road courses and actually pass. At Indy, there’s little if any of that, which is why it’s no surprise the stands look emptier every year. It’s a broken record that’s got to be fixed one of these years if the race is ever going to match the hype.



FOURTH GEAR: Danica’s Indy drought continues

It’s been nearly a decade since Danica Patrick put herself on the map, contending for victory as a rookie at the Indianapolis 500 in 2005. Now, in 2014, her limited success stories are getting old, improvement seemingly not fast enough as her sophomore season at Stewart-Haas Racing has passed with little more than a blip on the radar screen. 


That’s why Indy is so important, a chance for her to connect to past success. Instead, for the second straight year, Patrick wasn’t really a factor, as a broken rear gear erased a strong qualifying run and added to the list of disappointments this season.


“It just one of those things,” she said after ending the day inside the garage. “It’s too bad and these things never happen when you’re having a bad day. We were having a good day. We were the fastest car out there at times. We qualified better and had a good car for the race, it just didn’t end the way we wanted it to.”


For Patrick, it was one of the last times this season she had a chance to jump into contention. The Chase will leave her all but invisible, on the outside looking in to what’s been a disappointing Cup career.




Indy, notoriously a poor track for rookies, was forgiving to Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon. Both top freshman contenders ran inside the top 10 Sunday, while Austin’s brother, Ty, won the Nationwide Series race at the track on Saturday. Both youngsters find themselves on the Chase bubble as the regular season winds down. … It was a tough day for Paul Menard, who was one of the few drivers to make contact with the outside wall Sunday. A 34th-place disappointment at the only track where he’s won a Cup race leaves him on the outside of the Chase looking in. Chances are that’s where he’ll stay. … Carl Edwards was 15th after his long-rumored departure from Roush Fenway Racing was made official. Look for Edwards to join Joe Gibbs Racing in a fourth car, with sponsorship and details to be announced in early September. For its part, RFR quickly re-signed Greg Biffle to ensure it still has one veteran to team with youngsters Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne next season. And no, no one was surprised. 



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Post-race reaction from Jeff Gordon's win in NASCAR's Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Post date: Monday, July 28, 2014 - 23:18
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-big-ten-players-special

Big Ten Media Days are here, and Athlon Sports is live from Chicago, Ill., to talk all things Big Ten with coaches, players and writers alike. 


Braden Gall visited with Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan, Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.


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

Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: Big Ten Players Special
Post date: Monday, July 28, 2014 - 18:35
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-big-ten-media-days-2014

Big Ten Media Days are here, and Athlon Sports is live from Chicago, Ill., to talk all things Big Ten with coaches, players and writers alike. 


Braden Gall and David Fox were joined by Big Ten Network studio host and author as well as Big Ten Network reporter . Order Revsine's book, .


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

Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: Big Ten Media Days 2014
Post date: Monday, July 28, 2014 - 17:38
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-quarterback-braxton-miller-big-ten-media-day

CHICAGO — Braxton Miller has been good — very good — the last two seasons. Only now, though, is Ohio State coach Urban Meyer starting to see his quarterback nearing his potential.

“He’s real close,” Meyer said from Big Ten Media Day Monday. “I made the comment that you couldn’t see the ceiling (before). You can see the ceiling with him now.”

That ceiling is a mix of a lethal run-pass threat at quarterback and a leader of a potential national title-contending team. To reach that ceiling and for Ohio State to remain in championship contention, Miller may have to get through a season unscathed.

Meyer tried to deflect some attention away from Miller to an offensive line that returns only one starter, but it’s clear the quarterback is the key. Ohio State has sent him to work with Jon Gruden and brought in a former NFL general manager to meet with him.

“We’ve pulled out every possible stop to make sure he’s ready to go and he embraced it,” Meyer said.

Miller isn’t shy about talking about the possibility of what could happen if he has a season at his potential. This is a guy who walks past seven Heisman Trophies on his way through the Ohio State football facility. He’s twice finished in the top 10 and appeared on several watch lists.

“I’ve been in the Heisman talk since my sophomore year,” Miller said. “I walk past that all the time, and I think about what I need to do to walk across that podium.”

With a Sept. 6 game against Virginia Tech — ranked 27th by Athlon Sports in the preseason — Miller will need to get off to a healthier start than he did a year ago if he's going to achieve those kinds of goals.

Miller missed two full games and most of a third in September last season with a knee injury. Lucky for Ohio State, those games were against San Diego State, Cal and Florida A&M. Miller, though, returned to the lineup at full strength, throwing four touchdown passes in a 31-24 win over Wisconsin on Sept. 28.

But Miller also struggled by the end of the year. He was a combined 14-of-36 for 234 yards passing against Michigan and Michigan State, though he rushed for nearly 300 yards and five touchdowns as the Buckeyes split games against the Spartans and Wolverines. He also played through a shoulder injury in the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson, in which he accounted for three total touchdowns but also threw two interceptions.

Miller without surgery for the first seven weeks of the offseason before deciding to undergo outpatient surgery in late February. The surgery kept him out of spring practice, which may not have been all bad for Miller.


"It's probably what I needed," Miller said. "Just learning the game from the defensive coaches. Learning how practice is without you practicing."


Since his offseason surgery, Miller says he's been throwing for two weeks, and he has returned to full strength.

The margin for error, though, will be slim. Ohio State is counting on Miller like never before. Perhaps that’s a strong statement for a quarterback who has passed for more than 2,000 yards and rushed for more than 1,000 the last two seasons. But it’s accurate.

Ohio State will need to replace Carlos Hyde, who rushed for 1,521 yards in 11 games last season. Two starting receivers return, but Meyer was displeased with the progress of the entire position group during the spring.

Perhaps most important is the departure of Kenny Guiton, a senior who flourished in his role as backup the last two seasons. Guiton completed 68.4 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions in September last season, and a year earlier, he led Ohio State to an overtime win over Purdue in relief of an injured Miller.


Ohio State’s backup quarterback is now sophomore Cardale Jones, who has thrown two career passes. Of course, the Buckeyes hope the season doesn’t come down to a backup.


A healthy Miller may be the difference between a solid Ohio State team and one looking to make up for near misses the last two seasons.

In 2012, the Buckeyes went 12-0 but missed a chance at a Big Ten championship and a potential national championship game while serving a bowl ban. Had Ohio State served its bowl ban a year earlier — when the Buckeyes wrapped up a 6-7 season with a Gator Bowl loss — the 2012 team may have been able to play for a national championship.

And last season, Ohio State started 12-0 before losing 34-24 to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and 40-35 to Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

In addition, a healthy and productive season could make Miller the most prolific quarterback for Meyer and the Big Ten.

With a career year, Miller could top Florida’s Tim Tebow in career total offense among Meyer quarterbacks. Miller enters his senior season 3,886 yards short of the 2007 Heisman winner. With a monster year, Miller could challenge Purdue’s Drew Brees’ for the Big Ten record of total offense. Miller is 4,346 yards short of Brees’ record of 12,692 total yards.

Granted, Miller’s average the last two seasons is 3,236 yards per year, both times in 12 games. Ohio State, ranked No. 3 in the Athlon preseason top 25, has aspirations of playing more than a dozen games, though.

The goal isn’t the numbers. It’s the balance. Meyer needs Miller to improve his ability in the passing game to reach that ceiling that’s now in his quarterback’s sights.

“We have to be very balanced,” Meyer said. “We have been too one-dimensional with him. He’s got the skill set and we believe he has the knowledge, and we believe the personnel around him is better.”

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller from Big Ten Media Day
Post date: Monday, July 28, 2014 - 17:22
Path: /college-football/penn-state-coach-james-franklin-big-ten-media-day

CHICAGO — This is not the Penn State program Mike Hull thought he was joining.

Now, that’s not a bad thing, but the James Franklin style is not one Hull thought he’d be embracing when he was a recruit from Canonsburg, Pa., in 2009.

“My perception of Penn State was straight-edge, take-care-of-business kind of team,” Hull said from Big Ten Media Day on Monday. “But (Franklin) is putting himself out there. That’s what you need to do as a program these days.”

Putting himself out there is Franklin talking up Penn State, continuing to hang out in the SEC territory and boasting of the work he’ll put in to recruit the backyards of new Big Ten foes Maryland and Rutgers.

“From time to time that gets me in trouble, but I don’t want to lose that aspect of who I am,” Franklin said. “I come to things like this and don’t want to be this boring standard coach who gives these dry answers. I want to have fun.”

This is a strange sight, a Penn State coach who doesn't mind ruffling feathers.

Predecessor Bill O’Brien may have been the perfect figure to lead Penn State as it recovered from the death of  Paterno and Jerry Sandusky scandal. O'Brien was around Penn State.

Paterno every now and then would take a dig at Jackie Sherrill and Barry Switzer, but before the scandal that tainted his legacy, Paterno aimed to keep college athletics as a place of humility and virtue.

Franklin may try to re-establish that message. At the same time, though, he’s shown no sign of backing down from poking other programs. In a speech to boosters in Baltimore, Franklin said he considers the states of Maryland and New Jersey to be in-state as far as recruiting is concerned, a shot across the bow for the Terrapins and Rutgers. “They might as well shut them down because they don’t have a chance,” Franklin told the crowd, .


“I get up and talk to our fans and try to get them excited,” Franklin said. “I probably said a few things I shouldn’t have said because I’m trying to get our fans excited.”

Franklin said he’s not surprised by the attention. Poking a potential rival drives clicks to web sites, he says.

Franklin also kept his Southeastern ties alive as he and his staff served as guest coaches at Georgia State and Stetson football camps in June. The camps in Atlanta and Central Florida mean Franklin can do something SEC coaches cannot — work camps in the Southeast. SEC rules prohibit league coaches from working camps more than 50 miles away from campus; Big Ten rules have no such limitations.

SEC coaches and administrators .

Franklin has at least a few good reasons for his bravado.

He led Vanderbilt to three consecutive bowl games without a quarterback garnering serious consideration for All-SEC. At Penn State, he’ll have Christian Hackenberg, who is already one of the nation’s top passers as a sophomore.

As a true freshman, Hackenberg was third in the Big Ten at 246.3 passing yards per game. He was arguably the top passer in the league in the final month of the season. In November, he threw eight touchdowns to two interceptions and averaged 8.2 yards per attempt. Penn State also returns its entire stable of running backs, led by Zach Zwinak.

But the Nittany Lions also lose Hackenberg’s top target in Allen Robinson and have a line that may be among the worst in the league. Left tackle Donovan Smith is the lone returning starter on a thin unit filled out by freshmen.

The schedule, at least, includes no non-conference opponent tougher than a UCF team without Blake Bortles and no crossover games with Athlon’s top three teams in the West (Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa).


As a rival coach might say, “talk is cheap.” Franklin will find out soon if the edge he’s brought to Penn State will yield dividends.

“Sometimes we think it’s too much,” Hull joked. “But it makes you want to play for someone who is that passionate.”

Penn State coach James Franklin from Big Ten Media Day
Post date: Monday, July 28, 2014 - 16:33
Path: /college-football/nebraska-coach-bo-pelini-big-ten-media-day

CHICAGO —  The Bo Pelini image makeover isn’t a makeover at all, at least as far as his players are concerned.


Pelini’s sideline blowups have been well-documented. During the season, he can be short and gruff with answers to the media.


But his players are perplexed the outside world is starting to see the new, looser side of their embattled coach.


“It’s funny, man, everyone keeps saying he’s changed. He hasn’t changed a bit to me,” Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah said from Big Ten Media Day on Monday. “He’s the same guy as when he sat on my couch recruiting me.”


The coach Abdullah knows is the one who brings a cat to the spring game and hoists the feline into the air to present the him in to the crowd. The coach Abdullah knows is the one who teamed with former defensive tackle Thad Randle for a prank in which Pelini .


That’s the coach Nebraska safety Corey Cooper knows, too.


“The cameras are on him when he’s at his most stressful point — when he’s coaching,” Cooper said. “We see him every day, and he’s a player-friendly guy. I wouldn’t want to play for any other coach.”


That’s the side those around Pelini — those he trusts and sometimes the staff, he says — want him to show more often.


“Some people around me have encouraged me to show that side,” Pelini said. “I guess I’ve always chosen not to. I guess I’m I private person. When I’m away from the office I’m to myself. I spend 99 percent of my time away from football with my kids. I haven’t really let a lot of people in.”


That’s starting to change, especially compared to where he was near the end of last season.

Pelini wrapped up his sixth regular season in defiant fashion, telling reporters that Nebraska could “go ahead” and fire him if the administration wanted. The frustration of another four-loss season had boiled over.

Nebraska didn’t fire Pelini and instead extended his contract. At the least, it’s a vote of confidence that Pelini is the coach who will keep Nebraska nationally prominent. At this stage, though, the program has been stagnant. Pelini has lost exactly four games every season at Nebraska. He’s also won nine or 10 games each season and reached a conference championship game three times.

But Pelini’s record isn’t an outlier in recent Nebraska history. The Cornhuskers haven’t lost fewer than four games since 2003 and haven’t finished in the top 10 since a national title game appearance in 2001.

If Nebraska is going to struggle again, Pelini seems determined to make sure he isn’t the one contributing to the “negativity” he says played a role in the Huskers’ inconsistency in 2013.


Pelini’s public persona may have done little favors for Nebraska’s season, but it’s been a part of him since he played safety at Ohio State.


“They see this part of you, and they think that’s you all the time,” Pelini said. “But that was the case when I was playing. They see that side of me and then they get to know me and it’s night and day. That’s the case with a lot of people."


Which brings us to the cat.

Younger Nebraska fans, good luck explaining to your parents or grandparents why Bo Pelini hoisting a cat into the air at a spring game is a meaningful gesture.

First, explain the parody Twitter account @FauxPelini, a caricature of Pelini’s explosive temper. And in that parody, an image of Pelini holds a cat in a cheesy Olan Mills pose.

Then, on the night of the national championship game, Pelini (the real one) does this:

Nebraska with his Twitter parody, posting an image of a cat in Pelini’s office and an image of an assistant leaving for a recruiting trip with a cat carrier.

Then came this:

So, this is a long way to explain show that Pelini and Nebraska is going to great lengths to shed the coach’s stern exterior. Pelini seems conscious his image could use a makeover, if for no other reason than to do his part to keep "negativity" from harming his team.

After Nebraska lost 41-21 to UCLA on Sept. 14, a tipster leaked to Deadspin an audio recording from 2011 of Pelini’s profane comments regarding fans and local media. () “We'll see what they can do when I'm (expletive) gone,” Pelini says in the recording.

Was it unfair for a tipster to release audio from two years earlier? Perhaps. But Pelini didn’t really help his case at the end of the year after wrapping up another four-loss season with a 38-17 loss at home to Iowa.

“They want to fire me, go ahead,” Pelini . “I believe in what I’ve done. I don’t apologize for what I’ve done. I don’t apologize to you. I don’t apologize to anybody."

The question now is if 9-4 or 10-4 should be considered a success with this season’s group. Gone is Nebraska career passing leader Taylor Martinez, who played only four games last season.

On the plus side, Nebraska returns Tommy Armstrong, who went 7-1 as a starter after Martinez was lost to injury. Abdullah returns after rushing for 1,690 yards, the fourth-highest total in school history. The Huskers also have an Athlon second-team All-America pass-rusher in Randy Gregory. But the offensive line returns only one starter, and only five starters return to the defense.

The schedule may be more manageable with a home game against Miami replacing the series with UCLA. The Big Ten West figures to be easier to navigate than the East, but Nebraska must visit division contenders Wisconsin and Iowa while facing Michigan State on the road.

So the next question is if Pelini will have as much fun with the on-field performance as he is with his players.


“He’s a very passionate guy. He loves football,” Abdullah said. “You don’t want to play for anyone who isn’t passionate about football.”

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini from Big Ten Media Day
Post date: Monday, July 28, 2014 - 15:23
Path: /nascar/transcendent-jeff-gordons-indy-victory-epitomizes-his-nascar-career

For some athletes, career achievements are done on a grander scale. Every accomplishment has a little more flare, it has more of a trailblazing bent and therefore seamlessly falls into place, making a good story not only great, but transcendent. Think Jeter, Jordan and Montana.


Think Jeff Gordon.


His victory at Indianapolis on Sunday — a record fifth Brickyard 400 triumph — was the 90th of Gordon’s star-studded NASCAR career. He is a four-time Cup champion and has won nearly everything there is to win in the sport, but we’ll get to the gaudy numbers soon enough. See, Gordon was destined for notoriety from the start.


A rising open wheel talent, his intended path to Indianapolis Motor Speedway was derailed before it ever truly began. Unable to bring the personal or sponsorship money it took to break into the open-wheel big-time, Gordon instead gave stock cars a whirl and realized his true calling.


This is where the intangibly special, now-mythic story of his NASCAR career took shape. Following a couple seasons honing his skills in the Busch (now Nationwide) Series, Gordon was swiped away from Ford team owner Bill Davis by Chevy’s Rick Hendrick. Fittingly, he made his first Cup Series start in a race many point to as the most significant of NASCAR’s modern era: the 1992 Hooter’s 500.


Still considered the greatest championship finale the sport witnessed until its made-for-TV playoff “Chase,” that race in Atlanta is now recognized as a true game-changer for the NASCAR. As Richard Petty — the figurehead of all-things-NASCAR — participated in his final race, Jeff Gordon  — the soon-to-be choice of a new generation — was to start his first. Nearly 22 years later the event drips symbolism.


The season that followed was marked by bent sheet metal and hard lessons learned for the 21-year-old. However, by his sophomore campaign in 1994, Jeff Gordon was ready to burst out. And burst out he did.


Twenty years ago, Gordon won his first Cup race, the Coca-Cola 600, in Charlotte. Just over two months later, he received a hometown welcome for the inaugural Brickyard 400 in Indiana. Although stock cars “invading” Indy’s hallowed ground was viewed as blasphemous by some open-wheel traditionalists at the time, there was no denying the race would go down as a defining moment in motorsports history. So what better place for Gordon to have his coming out party? 


Having moved with his family from California to Pittsboro, Ind., as a teen to advance his racing career, the storybook victory that weekend in front of a quarter of a million spectators — mind, at that point he had two Cup wins, both crown jewel events — kick started a run that was unequalled until protégé Jimmie Johnson hit the circuit in 2002. 


The next season Gordon won his first Winston Cup championship. Three more followed by 2001. In that seven-year run of brilliance, Gordon won 56 races, tacked on two additional wins at both the Brickyard and in the Coke 600 as well as two Daytona 500 championships and a dazzling four Southern 500 triumphs. He did so while viewed by many fans as an outsider. Worse, he upstaged and at most every turn got best of the great Dale Earnhardt — a point that drew the ire of many an old-schooler.


In fact, NASCAR’s skyrocketing popularity at the time could be boiled down to the Earnhardt-Gordon rivalry; gruff, old-school Southerner vs. young, hot-shot Hollywood type. They couldn’t have been more different in their approach or in their persona; it was the perfect duel. 




All the while, NASCAR team owners studied intently the mold in which to sculpt their own next find — and the impersonators came in droves. Few stuck, though. Gordon combined the best of both worlds in a way none of the other hopefuls could: his acumen as a corporate pitchman was exceeded only by his talent behind the wheel. Gordon was the white-hot catalyst that brought about change to a regional sport already on the brink of national prominence. 


He became the face of NASCAR.


Still, 20 years ago no one could have predicted his tenured relevance, despite the obvious greatness and his penchant for rewriting record books. (Gordon himself quipped at various points throughout his career that he didn’t see racing into his 40s.) Yet, here he is. NASCAR’s elder statesman. Hot-shoe turned vet. Playboy turned family man. Playing through nagging back pain. Still driven, though now by different priorities.


“My wife and kids, they’ve never experienced (a championship),” Gordon says of his quest for a fifth title. “We're just putting everything we possibly can into it.”




Is a title at 43 years of age feasible? Bobby Allison won the 1983 Cup at the age of 45, becoming the oldest champion in the sport’s history. Of course, Allison did so competing in a format that rewarded sustained success throughout a season. For the last decade, Gordon has battled a system focused on garnering television ratings more than placing a premium on crowing the most deserving driver a champion.


“I’m not thinking about anything else, in all honesty, other than going race-to-race in this season to try to battle for a championship,” Gordon says. “That’s the only thing I’m thinking about at this point.”


Maybe under NASCAR’s newest iteration of the Chase, crown jewel wins are more meaningful than championships. The biggest and best teams roll out their primo stuff for the most prestigious races — and beating everyone at their best is the true mark of a champion. Much more so than surviving a concocted Roulette wheel of a playoff scheme.


Regardless, a title is still viewed as the ultimate endgame. If Gordon, who has led the point standings for 14 consecutive race weeks, can capture championship No. 5 this season, he’ll do so in a manner epitomizing his 1994 and 2014 Brickyard wins: by making good stories great and great stories transcendent.



Follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter:

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Jeff Gordon delivered a win in the Brickyard 400 that NASCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway needed.
Post date: Monday, July 28, 2014 - 12:53
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-july-28-2014

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 28:

• This should help with your case of the Mondays: .


• Catnip for grammar nerds like me: .

• Now that Tony La Russa is safely ensconced in Cooperstown, .

. Zombie Steinbrenner then tried to fire him.

• Stephen A. Smith had a bad week last week. At this point, for Stephen A. .

. It didn't go well.

, although she apparently thinks congratulations is spelled with a "d".


She's cute, but if this is what passes for outrageous hotness in Kazakhstan...

• If you've got a few minutes, watch Frank Thomas' emotional Hall of Fame speech.


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

Post date: Monday, July 28, 2014 - 10:40
Path: /college-football/taysom-hill-everett-golson-lead-independent-heisman-candidates-2014

Using the past to project the future has major flaws but in the case of the Heisman Trophy, the past can be extremely useful.


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, quarterbacks 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 Heisman Trophy.


Second, only once in the nine-decade history of the award has anyone ever repeated. Ohio State’s Archie Griffin won in 1974 and was successful in defending his award the following year. 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 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). In fact, only twice since 1955 has a conference won consecutive Heismans with two different teams. UCLA’s Gary Beban and USC’s O.J. Simpson went back-to-back in 1967-68.


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 Independent Heisman Trophy candidates in 2014:


1. Taysom Hill, QB, 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. After three games last year, Hill was completing less than 40 percent of his passes but as the season progressed, so too did his accuracy and efficiency. 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 could post monster numbers for a team with double-digit wins. And that should get him into Heisman conversations.


2. Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame

Irish fans are happy to welcome back their starting quarterback after a one-year hiatus. From all accounts, Golson spent his year away from campus honing his skills as a passer and it should allow him to slide back into college football with relative ease. 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 Brian Kelly's 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.


3. Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy

The Navy quarterback won’t ever make headlines for passing the football but Reynolds certainly made a statement as a runner last fall. Reynolds set the single-season TD record for a quarterback with 31 rushing scores. He finished with 1,346 yards on 300 carries to go with 1,057 yards passing, eight more touchdowns and only two interceptions. This team has increased its win total three straight years and a jump again in 2014 would likely mean All-American consideration for Reynolds. Few people are better suited to run the triple option than the current Navy quarterback.


4. Jamaal Williams, RB, BYU

As just a sophomore, Williams broke onto the scene with a very productive 1,233-yard, 7-TD season. He averaged nearly six yards per carry (5.7) and posted his biggest games late in the year in important moments. He rushed for 219 yards on the road against Nevada and rolled up 107 yards against Boise State — both wins for the Cougars. He struggled against elite competition (Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Washington) but so did most tailbacks against those three defenses. Look for a jump in production and another big year from the Cougars' rushing attack.


5. 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 proven that their middle linebacker can land in New York.

Taysom Hill, Everett Golson Lead Independent Heisman Candidates in 2014
Post date: Monday, July 28, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/setting-first-year-expectations-vanderbilts-derek-mason

is coming off one of the best three-year stretches in program history. The Commodores won 24 games under James Franklin, including back-to-back bowl victories and top-25 finishes in the Associated Press poll for the 2012-13 seasons. Franklin left for Penn State after Vanderbilt’s win over Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl and was replaced by Derek Mason.


Mason arrives at after three years as Stanford’s defensive coordinator. Under Mason’s watch, the Cardinal defense was a driving force in the program’s back-to-back Pac-12 Championships. Stanford ranked first or second in fewest yards per play allowed (conference-only games) and points allowed in Mason’s three-year tenure.


Franklin set the bar high for Mason. has just three seasons of nine victories, with two coming under Franklin’s direction.


After a successful three-year stint under Franklin, Mason is tasked with taking the program to new heights and pushing the Commodores into SEC title contention.


Expectations are usually high for any first-year coach. There’s a new excitement and buzz throughout the program. However, immediate success isn’t always guaranteed.


Let’s take a look at Mason’s history and set the realistic expectations for 2014:


Mason’s Job History:


2011-13: Stanford – Defensive Coordinator

2010: Stanford – Defensive Backs Coach

2007-09: Minnesota Vikings – Asst. Defensive Backs Coach

2005-06: Ohio – Wide Receivers Coach

2004: New Mexico State – Wide Receivers Coach

2003: Saint Mary’s – Co-Defensive Coordinator

2002: Utah – Wide Receivers/Special Teams Asst. Coach

1999-01: Bucknell – Defensive Backs Coach

1997-98: Idaho State – Running Backs Coach

1995-96: Weber State – Wide Receivers Coach

1994: Mesa Community College – Wide Receivers Coach


Obstacles to Overcome:


The Passing Game: The Commodores finished ninth in the SEC in passing offense last season, averaging just 227.5 yards per game. Total yards per game can be deceiving when judging offenses, but Vanderbilt has not ranked higher than eighth among SEC teams in passing offense in the last seven years. The passing game is a huge concern for Mason and coordinator Karl Dorrell in 2014. The Commodores could turn to LSU transfer Stephen Rivers at quarterback, while top receiver Jordan Matthews (112 of Vanderbilt’s 243 receptions in 2013) departs. The offensive line and rushing attack should carry the offense, but the Commodores have to develop a passing game to top last year’s win total.


The Secondary: The defensive backfield was a strength for Vanderbilt last season, finishing sixth among SEC teams (conference-only games) in pass efficiency defense. This unit heads into fall practice under construction, as four new starters must emerge. The secondary isn’t without talent, as junior Andrew Williamson and sophomore Paris Head are two building blocks for 2014.


Team Strengths for 2014:


Rushing Attack/Offensive Line: The backfield is headlined by Jerron Seymour (716 yards in 2013), Brian Kimbrow (341 yards) and freshmen Ralph Webb and Dallas Rivers. Until a quarterback emerges, expect Vanderbilt to rely on its ground attack and an offensive line that returns four starters.


Front Seven on Defense: Mason plans to change Vanderbilt’s scheme on defense to a 3-4. Although it’s a significant shift in philosophy, the Commodores have the personnel to make it work. Vince Taylor is poised for a breakout year as the team’s nose guard, and the outside linebacker positions are manned by Kyle Woestmann and Caleb Azubike (10 sacks in 2013). Establishing a pass rush is critical with four new starters in the secondary.


Roster Talent/Recruiting Trends


 SEC RankNational RankThree-Star ProspectsFour-Star Prospects

: 14


Despite a late start on recruiting in 2014, Mason managed to ink the No. 45 overall class (247Sports Composite). Vanderbilt’s class ranked last in the SEC, but Mason and his staff signed two four-star and 16 three-star prospects. Those totals were almost equal to Franklin’s class in 2012 but did not match the No. 26 rank in 2013. The No. 26 class in 2013 is the outlier in Vanderbilt’s five-year recruiting trend. Over the last five seasons, the Commodores averaged a 46.5 rank in recruiting and have only one finish (26) above 45.


The Schedule


Vanderbilt should be favored in its four non-conference games (Old Dominion, Temple, UMass and Charleston Southern), which leaves the Commodores just two wins short of bowl eligibility. Getting two wins in SEC play will be a challenge, as Vanderbilt plays an improving Ole Miss team in LP Field on Sept. 6 and travels to Mississippi State on Nov. 22 in crossover games with the West. The Sept. 27 date at Kentucky and the Nov. 29 game against Tennessee are two key swing games.


Final Analysis


Mason is walking into an interesting situation. The Commodores could show improvement on the field, yet finish with a worse record. Last year, Vanderbilt was outgained by 75.5 yards per game in SEC play and finished with a -28 scoring differential. A +6 turnover margin helped the Commodores narrow the gap in yardage and scoring.


Winning eight games in 2014 would be a surprise, especially with Tennessee, Florida and Kentucky all expected to improve.


Vanderbilt isn’t hiring a head coach to rebuild or help the program get to a bowl game. Instead, Mason was picked to take this program to the next level and in contention for SEC titles. This is Mason's first season as a head coach, and life in the SEC is never easy. Expect plenty of growing pains over the next few years, as Mason needs time to mold the roster to his liking and settle into his new role. Defense will be the backbone of Mason's teams, especially in 2014 while the offense develops under Dorrell. 


The Commodores closed the gap under Franklin and should chip away at it even more under Mason. But expecting Mason to elevate Vanderbilt into SEC title contention in 2014 is too much to ask. With a glaring question mark at quarterback, along with a scheme change on defense, a bowl game (and seven wins) is a reasonable first-year expectation for Mason.


Final Prediction


Vegas Expectations: 6.5 over/under (5Dimes)

Athlon 2014 Magazine Projection: 6-6

Setting First-Year Expectations for Vanderbilt's Derek Mason
Post date: Monday, July 28, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas A&M Aggies, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/texas-ams-fall-practice-do-list-2014

Texas A&M opens its third set of fall practices under Kevin Sumlin searching for answers on both sides of the ball. The Aggies went 4-4 in SEC play last season and must replace three first-round draft picks in quarterback Johnny Manziel, offensive tackle Jake Matthews and receiver Mike Evans.


Replacing Manziel is the top offseason storyline for Sumlin, but Texas A&M’s defense is a bigger concern. The Aggies allowed 6.7 yards per play in SEC contests last year and gave up 36.5 points per game.


Texas A&M has plenty of positive momentum heading into the 2014 season, as a newly renovated Kyle Field is one of the top stadiums in college football, and Sumlin continues to reel in elite talent on the recruiting trail.

What should Sumlin and the Texas A&M coaching staff concentrate on this fall? Here’s a few things to watch when fall practice begins in College Station.


Texas A&M 2014 Fall Practice Priorities


1. The Quarterback Battle

As mentioned above, this is the position generating the most interest in fall practice among fans from rival SEC schools. The two candidates vying to replace Johnny Manziel are true freshman Kyle Allen and sophomore Kenny Hill. Allen ranked as the No. 10 prospect in the 247Sports Composite and enrolled in time to compete in the spring. Hill played in four games last year, completing 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards and one score. Both quarterbacks are capable of running Texas A&M’s high-powered offense, but neither have much in the way of experience. While game snaps and playing time as a backup can be overrated, Allen and Hill won’t have much time to acclimate to life as a starter with a road trip to South Carolina in game one.


Will Sumlin and coordinator Jake Spavital get separation between Allen and Hill this fall? Or will this battle continue into the opener and beyond?


2. Fixing the Defense

Where should we start? The good news for Texas A&M: It’s hard to get any worse. The bad news? The Aggies may not show dramatic improvement on defense in 2014. 


Texas A&M ranked 14th in the SEC in points allowed, last in the conference against the run and generated only 14 sacks in eight league matchups. The Aggies also allowed 42 scores on 48 redzone trips by their opponents. 


Each level of the defense has concerns, which were magnified by the loss of tackle Isaiah Golden, end Gavin Stansbury and linebacker Darian Claiborne this offseason. With only five returning starters, coordinator Mark Snyder has his work cut out for him this fall.


Talent certainly isn’t an issue, but there’s a good chance the Aggies will field a defense with only eight seniors in the defensive two-deep. How quickly will the young talent reach its potential? 


The line will be counting on true freshman Myles Garrett to play right away, while sophomores Hardreck Walker and Daeshon Hall need to take on a bigger role. Redshirt freshman Justin Manning and true freshman Zaycoven Henderson will be asked to play significant snaps on the interior. As mentioned above, the line has talent, but it's also very young. Snyder needs this group to be stronger at the point of attack and eliminate some of the big plays allowed on the ground in 2013 (84 rushes of 10 or more yards).


At linebacker, Tommy Sanders or A.J. Hilliard will get first crack at replacing Claiborne on the weakside. This unit as a whole has to perform better and will be needed to help plug a run defense that was gashed frequently in 2013.


Establishing a consistent pass rush will help the secondary, which allowed 23 touchdowns in eight SEC contests last year. The defensive backfield could be the strength of Snyder’s defense, especially if cornerback Deshazor Everett plays at an All-SEC level. Junior De’Vante Harris has 18 starts under his belt and will start on the opposite side of Everett. The Aggies have to get better play from their safeties, which include senior starters Floyd Raven and Howard Matthews.


It's hard to envision this defense performing any worse than last year, but it may take a chunk of the season for the defense to find its footing with the young players stepping into the lineup.


3. Solidify the Offensive Line

Out of the three fall practice goals, this is the least of Kevin Sumlin’s worries. The Aggies have a future first-round pick in Cedric Ogbuehi anchoring the line at left tackle, while Mike Matthews is one of the best centers in the SEC. Senior Jarvis Harrison starts at left guard, and sophomore Germain Ifedi returns after starting 13 games as a redshirt freshman. Ifedi will move from guard to tackle in 2014.


The only open spot on Texas A&M’s line is at right guard, where junior Joseph Cheek holds an edge over junior college recruit Jermaine Eluemunor. With Cheek stepping in at right guard, combined with Ogbuehi and Ifedi changing positions, the line needs snaps to jell in the fall. 

Texas A&M's Fall Practice To-Do List for 2014
Post date: Monday, July 28, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/2014-15-college-basketball-big-easts-top-transfers-freshmen-and-more

The Big East perhaps would like to say that help is on the way. The league produced four NCAA teams in its new alignment. And while the league had the national player of the year in Doug McDermott, no team made it to the Sweet 16.

Reinforcements, though, aren’t immediately clear.

Granted, Villanova returns the bulk of last year’s team and won’t need to rely on freshmen or transfers. But the impact newcomers in the league largely are going to teams that didn’t reach the field.

Marquette, Seton Hall and Butler are among the teams counting on transfers, freshmen and players returning from injury in 2014-15. Those moves might keep those teams competitive, but won’t make any of them top-flight programs next season.

Beyond those three, Georgetown and Xavier welcome new players that will be key to their hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament. Our look at the top newcomers for 2014-15 continues with the Big East, profiling the freshmen, the transfers and players returning from injury who will impact the league race.

1. Matt Carlino, Marquette
Transfer from BYU

Steve Wojciechowski will be off to a rough start roster-wise at Marquette. Lucky for the first-year coach, a point guard in the transfer market had an uncle who played at Marquette and a mother who is from Milwaukee. Carlino should step in immediately and play point guard for the Golden Eagles after averaging 12.5 points and 4.6 assists per game in three seasons at BYU.

2. Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall

Whitehead could be the key player of Kevin Willard’s tenure at Seton Hall after the Pirates slipped to 17-17 overall and 6-12 in the new Big East. Seton Hall’s first McDonald’s All-American since 2000, Whitehead joins a backcourt that already includes Texas transfer Sterling Gibbs and Jared Sina. Whitehead, at 6-4 and 195 pounds, should add scoring punch to a team that ranked 123rd nationally in offensive efficiency on KenPom.

3. Isaac Copeland, Georgetown

Copeland, at , will help improve a lackluster Hoyas frontcourt from last season. He’s a slender 6-10 at 187 pounds, but he can be a matchup problem at the 3 and the 4. He and fellow freshman Paul White should give Georgetown the presence at small forward they lacked as the Hoyas slipped from Big East champions to 8-10 in the league.

4. Roosevelt Jones, Butler
Returning from injury

Butler was due for a down year after the departure of Brad Stevens and a move into a more competitive Big East. A season-ending wrist injury to its top wing Jones before last season was just another blow to the team. Jones averaged 10.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 2012-13 and should be one of the key veterans in second-year coach Brandon Miller’s program.

5. Duane Wilson, Marquette
Redshirt freshman

Wilson was one of the top players in Marquette’s freshman class a year ago with expectations to contribute right away. Instead, a broken leg in October forced him to redshirt, depleting the Golden Eagles at the point guard position. He’ll be ready this season in a remade backcourt.

6. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier

Bluiett is the top prospect in a that includes three 247Sports Composite top-100 players. As Xavier loses its top two scorers — Semaj Christon to the draft and graduate Justin Martin to a transfer — Bluiett needs to step in and contribute immediately. The 6-6 wing from Indianapolis was the runner up for Indiana’s Mr. Basketball to Kentucky freshman Trey Lyles.

7. Ricky Kreklow, Creighton
Transfer from Cal

Kreklow’s experience will be key for a team that loses mainstays like Doug McDermott, Grant Gibbs, Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat. No combination of players will be able to match their production, but Kreklow could be a playmaker. The 6-6, 210-pound forward averaged 5.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists in his final season at Cal.

8. Angel Delgado, Seton Hall

Delgado may be overshadowed by the McDonald’s All-American Whitehead, but the four-star recruit is nearly as important. A prospect from the Dominican Republic, he should challenge for a starting job at power forward.

9. Luke Fischer, Marquette
Transfer from Indiana

With the departures of Davante Gardner, Chris Otule and Jamil Wilson, Marquette needs a major upgrade in the frontcourt. It will have to wait until the 6-11 center is eligible in December, though. Fischer was a top-100 prospect in the Hoosiers’ 2013 signing class.

10. Myke Henry, DePaul
Transfer from Illinois

Oliver Purnell has said the 6-foot-6 Henry was one of DePaul’s best players while he sat out due to NCAA transfer rules. He’ll need to be an impact player now that he’s eligible of DePaul is going to escape the Big East cellar.

2014-15 College Basketball: The Big East's Top Transfers, Freshmen and More
Post date: Monday, July 28, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Hot Seat, tight ends, wide receivers, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/15-nfl-wide-receivers-and-tight-ends-hot-seat-2014

Twenty-four players went over 1,000 yards receiving in the NFL last season, even though just five caught 100 or more passes. And this group doesn’t include the likes of Julio Jones, Roddy White, Percy Harvin or Rob Gronkowski, who each missed a significant amount of time because of injuries.


With offenses relying and more and more on the passing game, the number of 1,000-yard and 100-catch wide receivers and tight ends will only continue to grow. Subsequently, the pressure for these players to produce in each category will likewise increase.


With that in mind, here are 15 pass-catchers who need to make the most of their targets in 2014:


1. Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks

Seattle paid handsomely (three draft picks and a six-year, $67 million contract) for Harvin last March and got a total of three games out of him because of a torn labrum that required hip surgery. That said, the reason the Seahawks willingly give up so much in the first place was evident in the Super Bowl when Harvin returned the second half kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown and led all rushers in the game with 45 yards on just two carries. The hope is that he can offer similar production over the course of an entire season, especially with last year’s No. 1 receiver, Golden Tate, now in Detroit.


2. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs

Everyone knows Kansas City’s offense begins and pretty much ends with Jamaal Charles, but if the Chiefs want to have any semblance of a passing game they need more from Bowe. After catching 81 passes for 1,159 yards in 2011, Bowe’s numbers have declined to just 57 and 673 last season. The 2007 first-round pick is making too much money ($8.8 million base this year, $30 million more through 2017) for that type of production, especially on a team that’s limited on pass-catching options to begin with.


3. Mike Wallace, Miami Dolphins

Similar to Percy Harvin, Wallace also signed a lucrative contract as a free agent last offseason. Unlike Harvin, Wallace doesn’t have an injury to blame for his lack of production (12.7 ypc, just 5 TDs) in 2013. There’s still a bunch of money remaining on Wallace’s five-year, $60 million ($30 million guaranteed) pact, so he’s not going anywhere. Unfortunately, the Dolphins as a team may not either unless Wallace performs more like the No. 1 receiver he’s being paid to be.


4. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

Outside of Julian Edelman, the Patriots’ passing game was very much hit-or-miss last season, and the majority of it was “miss.” This is where Gronkowski comes in, who is every bit the matchup nightmare that Jimmy Graham is, when he’s on the field. With just 18 games played over the last two seasons, it may be too much to expect Gronkowski to survive a full season, but there’s no denying his impact when he’s out there. In the last two years, Tom Brady has thrown 33 touchdowns compared to just eight interceptions when Gronk has been on the field. Brady’s 25 touchdown passes in 2013 (Gronk played just seven games), were his fewest in a full season (2008 doesn’t count) since ’06 (24).


5. DeSean Jackson, Washington Redskins

Jackson led the Eagles with 82 catches for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns last season. So why did Chip Kelly release his most productive target and eat more than $6 million in dead money in the process? Opinions vary on that, but it had to be a pretty good reason, considering the move allowed Jackson to join NFC East rival Washington. Fit and team chemistry are some of the words that have been tossed around in this regard, so it’s on Jackson to show that’s not the case, especially on a team that’s looking to bounce back with a new coaching staff in place.


6. Hakeem Nicks, Indianapolis Colts

This time last year, Nicks was looking to put together a strong season with free agency on the horizon. While he managed to stay relatively healthy, the production just wasn’t there, as Nicks didn’t score a single touchdown despite playing 15 games and catching 56 passes. Nicks signed with Indianapolis in March, but it’s a one-year deal so the 2009 first-round pick better treat this season as an audition or he may find himself in the same situation next year.


7. Danny Amendola, New England Patriots

As important as Rob Gronkowski is to the Patriots’ passing game, Amendola needs to live up to the contract he signed last offseason too. Once again injuries played a major role, limiting Amendola to just 12 games and only six starts. And outside of two 10-catch games, Amendola hauled in a total of 34 passes in his 10 other appearances and scored just two touchdowns. Amendola was signed with the intent of replacing Wes Welker. At this point, there are getting half of the production for basically the same cost (both earning $3 million in base salary this season).


8. Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams

St. Louis traded up to snag Austin with the eighth pick of the 2013 draft and the expectations were the all-purpose dynamo would be unleashed. This didn’t exactly transpire, however, as Austin failed to make an immediate impact and the Rams struggled with how to use him in their game plans. Progress was made as the season went on, including a two-touchdown (one receiving, one return) breakout against Indianapolis. The hope for this season is that both the player and the team will be on the same page. The Rams have a championship-caliber defense in place; it just needs the offense to do its part.


9. Eric Decker, New York Jets

Decker cashed in on two strong seasons in Denver to the tune of a five-year, $36 million contract with the Jets. Now, it’s just a matter of proving he’s worthy of being paid so well in his first season with his new team. A team that just so happens to be in the media capital of the world. Oh, there’s also no Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker or Julius Thomas to draw attention away from Decker. And do I really need to bring up his ?


10. Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills

Watkins is in many ways this year’s Tavon Austin. A dynamic, explosive, all-purpose threat that starred in college that a team traded up for in the first round to get. The Bills paid a pretty hefty price (first- and third-round picks in 2015) to move up four spots to land Watkins, so there’s little doubt they have high hopes for the former Clemson All-American. However, as was the case with Austin last season, there’s no guarantee that rookies pay immediate dividends. And having a young wide receiver (and vice versa) only adds to the degree of difficulty.


11. Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers

Benjamin’s not getting near the attention of Sammy Watkins, but that doesn’t change his situation in Carolina. The Panthers’ first-round pick (No. 28 overall), Benjamin has as much experience with the team as pretty much anyone else in the receiving corps – zero games. The top four wide receivers from last season are no longer on the roster, which means the defending NFC South champions are really hoping that Benjamin literally catches on sooner rather than later.


12. Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles

Maclin missed all of last season with a torn ACL, so there are plenty who are eager to see how well he fits in Chip Kelly’s offense. Besides coming back from a serious injury, however, Maclin also will be replacing the departed DeSean Jackson as a starter opposite Riley Cooper. So he needs to not only get rid of the rust pretty quickly, he also needs to grasp Kelly’s complex system. On top of that, Maclin’s signed for just one year, so in essence he’s playing for his next paycheck. No pressure, right?


13. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans

Houston’s first-round pick (27th overall) last year, Hopkins got off to a strong start as a rookie before struggling to find consistency. After catching 18 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown in his first three games, Hopkins posted just 34 receptions for 559 yards and another score the rest of the way. Included in those final 13 games were three one-catch efforts. Granted quarterback play was a big issue in 2013, but new head coach Bill O’Brien needs Hopkins to make his presence known this season if the Texans’ offense is to rebound. This is especially the case if All-Pro Andre Johnson maintains his stance about not wanting to be a part of the rebuilding effort under O’Brien.


14. Jared Cook, St. Louis Rams

After signing a big contract (five years, $35 million) with St. Louis last offseason, the expectation was that Cook would finally capitalize on the talent and potential he had teased everyone with his previous two seasons in Tennessee. While he did post a career-best 51 catches, the yardage (671) and touchdown (five) totals still leave something to be desired. While Tavon Austin certainly needs to take his game to a new level this fall, it’s not fair for him to shoulder all of the blame. Cook also needs to be accountable, especially since his .


15. Levine Toilolo, Atlanta Falcons

Toilolo’s inclusion on this list is not due to any fault of his own. Rather it’s because the second-year pro has the unenviable (and pretty much impossible) task of following a legend, future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez. No one really knows what the Falcons have in Toilolo, the 2013 fourth-round pick from Stanford, but they do know what Matt Ryan had in Gonzalez. And that was a consistent, reliable target that averaged 82 receptions and seven touchdowns over his five seasons in Atlanta.


Other Names to Watch

(alphabetical order)


Miles Austin, Cleveland Browns

Josh Gordon’s fate should be known fairly soon, but it’s safe to say he will miss a fair number of games, at minimum. Whether it’s “veteran” Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel at quarterback, they will need Austin or Nate Burleson or Andrew Hawkins to give defenses someone else to worry about besides tight end Jordan Cameron.


Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

There’s no denying the difference-maker Jones is for the Falcons’ offense. Matt Ryan really needs a healthy, explosive Jones if this team wants to get back to its winning ways, especially with Tony Gonzalez now retired.


Steve Smith, Baltimore Ravens

Carolina’s all-time leading receiver heads to the Ravens to provide a productive option at receiver behind Torrey Smith. Hopefully the bulk of the attention Steve Smith generates with his new team will be what takes place on, not off of, the field.


Golden Tate, Detroit Lions

Seattle’s No. 1 receiver the past two seasons doesn’t have to worry about filling that role in Detroit. Still, Calvin Johnson has yet to be paired with a suitable sidekick and the Lions need Tate to be just that, especially given how much he’s being paid (five years, $31 million, $13.25 of it guaranteed).

Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh Steelers

Antonio Brown is the No. 1 wide receiver and tight end Heath Miller is a favorite target of Ben Roethlisberger, but the Steelers need someone to replace Emmanuel Sanders. The hope is that Wheaton, the team’s third-round pick in 2013, can emerge after a hand injury basically wiped out his rookie season.


(DeSean Jackson photo courtesy of Washington Redskins' Web site, )

15 NFL Wide Receivers and Tight Ends on the Hot Seat in 2014
Post date: Saturday, July 26, 2014 - 12:00
Path: /nascar/twenty-years-after-first-brickyard-win-jeff-gordon-shoots-fifth

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, Geoffrey is at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where a batch of storylines lead the series up to the race once simply known as The Brickyard 400. Among them: the importance of practice and qualifying this weekend, NASCAR’s weariness to change the schedule in 2015 and the importance of Sunday’s race for three particular drivers.



SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Qualifying at the Brickyard is always among the most important of the season for Sprint Cup teams in terms of how it will affect their Sunday race strategy. The 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway is notoriously difficult in the passing department and the tight confines of pit road give a sizable advantage to those in prime spots — the same teams qualified up front.


So Saturday at Indianapolis will be a pressure-filled time for those who want to kiss the bricks Sunday, even before weather concerns  and NASCAR’s new qualifying format was tossed in the mix.


The green flag will wave on Session 1 of the three-round qualifying at 2:10 p.m. ET should rain stay away. The National Weather Service Friday gave the track a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms during that time period. Any delay would be tough on an otherwise packed track schedule with the Nationwide Series race set to start at 4:30 p.m. ET, meaning a wet track would likely mean total cancellation of the session in favor of Friday’s practice speeds.


But should the rain stay away, the three-round session will see a bunch of drivers all trying to time a lap in the best weather conditions possible — i.e., more clouds and less sun.



NASCAR growing weary of schedule suggestions

The two years of success for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Eldora Speedway as a mid-week, primetime feature has certainly been a boon to both the series and the sport at large. With the 2015 national series schedules still unannounced and previous overtures of significant change from the sport’s leaders — assertions largely since retracted by CEO Brian France — the topic of more NASCAR races on weeknights has become a popular one.


Ryan Newman, last year’s winner of the Brickyard 400, was completely in favor of the idea Friday at Indianapolis.


“I’d turn some races into Wednesday night races, some into Saturday night or Sunday races when it made sense,” Newman said before noting the schedule could be condensed without dropping races. “I think just realigning it and being able to be on TV on our own special event on Wednesday night — especially in football season — would be good for our sport.”


Of course, such a shift would be dramatic for the sport often slow to change. It would also require crossing several hurdles in terms of logistics and politics — a point that NASCAR’s chief communications officer Brett Jewkes wanted to make crystal clear Friday on Twitter.


“Armchair schedule-makers at full froth this week,” Jewkes wrote. “Amazing how, quick and easy it sounds. #ItsNot


So much for that, right? In a clarifying tweet, Jewkes wrote “Love all the ideas, don’t love the notion that there’s a magic wand and it’s easy. It’s not.”


For fans desperate for a shake-up in the season schedule, it sure seems like the wait will continue despite some fascinating ideas and what-ifs.



Gordon extra confident on 20th anniversary of inaugural Brickyard win

Buzz of Jeff Gordon’s inaugural Brickyard 400 win 20 years ago — and after Sunday’s green flag, 21 races ago — has been steady this week at IMS. The track is selling t-shirts commemorating the first of Gordon’s four Brickyard wins and the mayor of Indianapolis even declared Sunday as “Jeff Gordon Day” in the city that once served as his transplanted home.


But Gordon, the current Sprint Cup points leader with a 12-point advantage on Dale Earnhardt Jr., made it clear among the pomp-and-circumstance of the anniversary that he’s serious about winning a fifth. He thinks his Chevrolet is decidedly strong for Sunday’s race — and that’s saying something for a driver with a career average finish of 8.8 at the track.


“From an overall strength of the team and speed of the car, this is by far the best chance we’ve had at winning in a long time,” Gordon said Friday at IMS.


It’s been 10 years since Gordon was a winner at Indy, but he’s nabbed four top-5 finishes and seven top-10 runs in that period. 


“We’ve come in here and didn’t really have what it took to win and made more out of it than I anticipated once the green flag dropped,” Gordon said. “This weekend there’s no doubt I feel like this is the best chance that we’ve had at winning this race legitimately with the speed of the car as we’ve had in a very, very long time.”



Montoya searching for right feel in pursuit of elusive Brickyard

Twice, Juan Pablo Montoya watched tremendous chances to become the first driver to win the Brickyard 400 and the Indianapolis 500 disappear in painful fashion. In the former, he led 116 laps in 2009 and blew the race with a pit road speeding penalty and ended the 2010 edition in a crash after fighting to recover from bad pit strategy.


He’s back at IMS this weekend in his new part-time role as a third driver in Penske Racing’s No. 12 and finished Friday’s first practice a little disappointed with the feel of his car.


“I wasn’t that happy with the car to be honest,” Montoya said during his off-week from his full-time Penske IndyCar ride. “It’s hard because they’re so different and what Brad (Keselowski) and Joey (Logano)  drive every week and what they look for in the car is a little bit different than what I want out of the car.”


Montoya, the 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner, was 28th fastest in the one practice session Friday after running 20 laps.


“I think I’ve been pretty good here and I know what I want out the car,” Montoya said. “So that makes it a lot easier so we know what we need to work on to be a little better.”



Kurt Busch makes second trip to Indianapolis in 2014

Kurt Busch added his name to the list of drivers who have competed in the famed Memorial Day weekend double — he raced both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in May — but he enters this weekend’s Brickyard 400 as the first among that group to be at the same place numerically (25th) in both series’ point standings entering the 400.


It’s both a dubious and unimportant distinction, but still a fascinating one considering Busch is currently locked in the Chase for the Sprint Cup thanks to his Martinsville win. He’s 25th in IndyCar points with the 80 points he earned in May’s double points-paying 500 and 25th in Sprint Cup points after one win, four top-5 finishes and just nine lead-lap finishes in 19 races.


Busch was optimistic Friday that his team had made progress toward more consistency.


“Our (Sprint Cup) team has turned a good corner since Indianapolis when I ran here in May,” Busch said. “When we unloaded at Pocono in June, that seemed like we were grabbing another gear and our team has found a good rhythm since then.”


Busch finished third in that Pocono race at a track that many teams like to use as a barometer for IMS success. 


“We’re hoping to cash in on some of those setup notes and procedures that we’ve been following since the first Pocono,” Busch said.


Busch, sixth in the Indianapolis 500, can take over the crown of best average finish in the same year’s 500 and 400 with a top-10 finish on Sunday.



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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, Geoffrey is at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where a batch of storylines lead the series up to the race once simply known as The Brickyard 400. Among them: the importance of practice and qualifying this weekend, NASCAR’s weariness to change the schedule in 2015 and the importance of Sunday’s race for three particular drivers.
Post date: Friday, July 25, 2014 - 17:14
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-july-25-2014

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 25:

• Instagram has gone from novelty to national treasure .


• So apparently, .

• Walter Payton would have turned 60 today. .

• This is bizarre: .

• Another question:


• Today in irrelevant roided-up '90s has-beens: .


• Like a scene from "Fletch":

• Ryan Raburn made the worst throw in the history of throws. Carly Rae Jepsen called to say you're doing it wrong.


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

Post date: Friday, July 25, 2014 - 10:47
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/10-most-pathetic-nfl-teams-expansion

The Seattle Seahawks own the 16-game NFL record for fewest points scored with 140 in 1992. Seattle also owns the all-time mark for fewest yards in a game when it totaled minus-7 yards against the L.A. Rams in 1979.


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers set the modern NFL mark for worst point differential by being outscored by 287 points in 1976. The Baltimore Colts allowed an NFL-record 533 points back in 1981. The Houston Oilers claim the NFL mark for most interceptions thrown in a single season with 48 picks tossed in 1962. And the Philadelphia Eagles own the NFL’s single-season sacks allowed mark with 104 back in 1986.

Needless to say, there are many ways to measure NFL ineptitude. So while offensive and defensive statistical production (or lack thereof) is a huge factor in measuring pathetic-ness, wins and losses are still the most important way to evaluate any team.

Who are the worst NFL teams since expansion in 2002?

1. 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16)

Point Differential: -249 (268 PF, 517 PA)

Offense: 30th (268.3 ypg), 27th (16.8 ppg)

Defense: 32nd (404.4 ypg), 32nd (32.3 ppg)

No other team has ever gone winless in the modern NFL era (16-game regular season), which means the Detroit Lions must be considered the worst team due in large part to the massive "0" in the win column. Winning is all that really matters in sports and the Lions failed in truly epic fashion. Top it off with the worst defense of the expansion era, as this team fell just 16 points shy of setting an NFL record for points allowed (533). This team posted an NFL-worst four interceptions on defense, was next to last in sacks allowed (52.0) and finished 14th in the NFC in turnover differential. Dan Orlovsky led a five-man QB platoon that featured 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions and a combined 71.3 QB rating.

2. 2009 St. Louis Rams (1-15)

Pt Differential: -261 (175 PF, 436 PA)

Offense: 29th (279.4 ypg), 32nd (10.9 ppg)

Defense: 29th (372.8 ypg), 31st (27.3 ppg)

This team redefined the term offensive struggles as its 175 points were only 35 away from the NFL mark set by Seattle (140) in 1992. It is the all-time low for a Rams team that played 16 games while the 261-point differential is the worst in franchise history as well. Marc Bulger was the leading passer with 1,469 yards, 5 TDs and 6 INTs. The team itself finished with 12 total TD passes and 21 INTs and a collective passer rating of 64.0. The Rams were shutout twice and scored 10 or fewer points in nine games. St. Louis also finished 31st in the NFL in turnover margin (-13). The Rams were one of only three teams since 2002 to win one or fewer games.

3. 2009 Detroit Lions (2-14)

Pt Differential: -232 (262 PF, 494 PA)

Offense: 26th (299.0 ypg), 27th (16.4 ppg)

Defense: 32nd (392.1 ypg), 32nd (30.9 ppg)

While the '09 Rams set offensive football back two decades, the '09 Lions continued to show its lack of defensive prowess. The Rams did defeat the Lions (17-10) that year, but for the season, Detroit scored nearly 100 more points and won twice as many games. This Lions team also finished dead last in turnover margin (-18) and No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford missed the final six games of the season. The Lions went 0-6 after Stafford was lost.

4. 2007 Miami Dolphins (1-15)

Pt Differential: -170 (267 PF, 437 PA)

Offense: 28th (287.5 ypg), 26th (16.7 ppg)

Defense: 23rd (342.2 ypg), 30th (27.3 ppg)

This version of the Fish lost the first 13 games of the season before winning their only game of the year over Baltimore. Cleo Lemon was 1-6 as the starter, John Beck went 0-4 and Trent Green was 0-5. The trio combined to throw 12 touchdown passes — 16 fewer than the opposition. Ronnie Brown led the team in rushing after playing only seven games (602 yards) while Jesse Chatman actually got the most carries (128). The only shot Cam Cameron has had to be a head coach in the NFL was his one-win season at the helm of the Dolphins.

5. 2008 St. Louis Rams (2-14)

Pt Differential: -233 (232 PF, 465 PA)

Offense: 27th (287.3 ypg), 31st (14.5 ppg)

Defense: 28th (371.9 ypg), 31st (29.1 ppg)

The 233-point scoring differential was a franchise record at the time and would still be the Rams' worst-ever scoring season had it not been for the 2009 team that came along the next year. This team lost the final 10 games of the year and scored only 19 offensive touchdowns all season. In fact, this offense was the most scored upon OFFENSE in the NFL. That is right, the Rams offense had seven turnovers returned for touchdowns, a number that tied for the league lead.

6. 2011 St. Louis Rams (2-14)

Pt Differential: -214 (193, 407)

Offense: 31st, (283.6 ypg), 32nd (12.1 ppg)

Defense: 22nd (358.4 ypg), 26th (25.4 ppg)

If not for the 2008 and '09 teams, this team would have been the most outscored Rams team in history. The 193 total points scored are the second-worst in team history for one that played 16 games. Losing Sam Bradford to an injury after 10 games certainly didn't help the offense as the team finished with nine touchdown passes and a paltry 53.2 percent completion rate. St. Louis also led the league in sacks allowed with 55.0 while the rushing attack contributed only seven scores of its own.

7. 2010 Carolina Panthers (2-14)

Pt Differential: -212 (196 PF, 408 PA)

Offense: 32nd (12.3 ypg), 32nd (258.4 ppg)

Defense: 18th (335.9 ypg), 26th (25.5 ppg)

The offense did little to contribute to this football team whatsoever. Not only were the 196 total points scored the worst in the 18-year history of the franchise, but this season also was the only time the Panthers failed to reach 250 points. Jimmy Clausen (1-9), Matt Moore (1-4) and Brian St. Pierre (0-1) combined for a nasty 9:21 TD:INT ratio while finishing 30th in 3rd downs (30.4 percent) and 25th in turnover margin. To top it off, the 408 points allowed were third worst in franchise history on the defensive side of the ball.

8. 2011 Indianapolis Colts (2-14)

Pt Differential: -212 (196 PF, 408 PA)

Offense: 32nd (12.3 ypg), 32nd (258.4 ppg)

Defense: 18th (335.9 ypg), 26th (25.5 ppg)

Obviously, without Peyton Manning, the Colts experienced its worst season since 1998, No. 18's rookie year. If not for a "torrid" 2-1 finish to the year, the Colts were in danger of challenging the winless Lions of 2008. In the first 13 losses, Indy allowed less than 23 points only one time. The total points scored, which included only 14 total touchdown passes (or 12 less than Manning's career low), and point differential were the worst numbers for the Colts since the 1993 season. The top ball carrier, Donald Brown, led the team in rushing despite making just two starts all year (645 yards).

9. 2004 San Francisco 49ers (2-14)

Pt Differential: -193 (259, 452)

Offense: 26th (286.6 ypg), 30th (16.2 ppg)

Defense: 24th (342.6 ypg), 32nd (28.3 ppg)

San Francisco was two games worse than every other team in the NFL that year, and, technically, the 49ers were winless in regulation as both wins came in overtime. The Niners were 30th in the NFL in points scored and dead last in points allowed while finishing 31st in turnover margin (-19). Tim Rattay (1-8) and Ken Dorsey (1-6) were equally ineffective, throwing 16 TDs against 21 INTs and completing only 57.9 percent of their passes. The ground game finished 30th in the NFL in rushing at just over 90 yards per game. The 452 points allowed were one point shy of the franchise record set in 1999 and the 193-point differential was an organizational record.

10. 2005 Houston Texans (2-14)

Pt Differential: -171 (260, 431)

Offense: 30th (253.3 ypg), 26th (16.3 ppg)

Defense: 31st (364.0 ypg), 32nd (26.9 ppg)

There were some bad Texans team and David Carr paid a big price. After getting sacked a league-worst 76 times as a rookie, Houston once again led the league in sacks allowed in 2005 with 68. This franchise will be playing in just its 13th season this fall, but the '05 team set the benchmark for fewest wins (tied with last year's team), points allowed and point differential, all of which led to the firing of Dom Capers. Carr started every game and averaged a pathetic 155.5 yards passing per game, threw only 14 touchdowns to go with 11 interceptions and fumbled 17 times.

The...Worst of the Rest?

2012 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)

This team was outscored by nearly 200 points (minus-189), yet beat the Tennessee Titans as well as a shocking early season upset of the Colts. This team ranked 29th in total offense and 30th in total defense in 2012.

2004 Cleveland Browns (4-12)

Began 3-3 before losing nine straight in which they scored more than 15 points only one time. Trailed only the Niners for worst record. The offense was led by Jeff Garcia for 10 games, Luke McCown for four and Kelly Holcombe for two.

2002 Houston Texans (4-12)

The lowest scoring team in franchise history (213 pts) finished last in total offense as well as sacks allowed with 76. The first year of the Texans was salvaged by two strange wins over playoff teams (NYG, PIT) and is the only thing keeping this team out of the top ten.

2011 Tampa Bay Bucs (4-12)

The Bucs led the league in turnovers (40) and posted the worst turnover margin (-16) in 2011. After starting 4-2, Tampa Bay crumbled down the stretch with 10 straight losses and set a franchise mark with 494 points allowed (keep in mind, that is a BUCCANEERS franchise record).

2008 Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)

This team couldn't get off the field in 2008 as it was the worst 3rd down team in the league (47.4 percent) and dead last in sacks (10). It finished 31st in total defense and the 440 points allowed and -149-point differential are Chiefs single-season records.

2006 Oakland Raiders (2-14)

The Silver and Black defense was good enough to keep them out of the top ten, but the offense was nearly historic in its struggles. The 168 points scored were 28 away from the all-time NFL mark, these Raiders finished dead last in sacks allowed (72), turnover margin (-20) and both scoring and total offense. Oakland was also 31st in the league with 23 interceptions thrown.

10 Most Pathetic NFL Teams Since Expansion
Post date: Friday, July 25, 2014 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/wisconsin-football-game-game-predictions-2014-0

Gary Andersen’s first season in Madison was a successful one, as the Badgers went 9-4 with all four losses coming by 10 points or less.


Despite having just eight returning starters, the Badgers are Athlon’s early favorites to win the Big Ten West Division in 2014.


Wisconsin won’t play Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State in crossover play and host Nebraska in mid-November.

The Badgers have some uncertainty at quarterback, as Joel Stave is locked into a tight battle with Tanner McEvoy for the No. 1 spot. The defense has several new faces stepping into the starting lineup, but there’s plenty of potential in the revamped front seven.


Expert Panel:


Steven Lassan (),

Brent Yarina (),

Mark Ross (),

Kevin McGuire (),

David Fox (),

Mike Fiammetta (),

Brandon Cavanaugh (),


Early Wisconsin Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Western Illinois
Bowling Green
at Northwestern
at Rutgers
at Purdue
at Iowa
Final Projection10-29-39-310-210-211-110-2
Steven Lassan ()

Even though Wisconsin has question marks, I still like the Badgers to win the West Division. The schedule is very favorable, as Wisconsin won’t play one of the top four teams from the East and Nebraska visits Madison in late November. With games against the Huskers and Iowa coming later in the year, it should allow coach Gary Andersen plenty of time to find reinforcements on the front seven on defense and in the receiving corps. Wisconsin won’t have an explosive passing offense, but the rushing attack will be among the best in the nation. As long as Melvin Gordon and the offensive line stays healthy, the Badgers will reach double-digit wins in Andersen’s second year.


Brent Yarina (),

Gary Andersen and company couldn’t have asked for a better 2014 schedule. This is one of the Big Ten’s most favorable slates – yes, even with mighty LSU in the opener. Speaking of LSU, one could make the argument it’s the only real test until mid-November, when the Badgers host Big Ten West rival Nebraska on Nov. 15. Here’s a crazy stat: Wisconsin’s Big Ten opponents went a combined 22-42 (.344 winning percentage) in 2013 conference play - this includes Maryland and Rutgers, which went 3-5 in the ACC and AAC, respectively. The Badgers lost a lot of talent, particularly on defense, and their leading returning receiver (Jeff Duckworth) caught just 12 passes, but they have a forgiving schedule that can help ease in the new faces.


Brandon Cavanaugh (),

Time to take off the training wheels for Badgers' second-year head coach Gary Andersen. Last year, he had the talent to introduce himself properly to the Big Ten. More importantly, he had an immense amount of leadership on the field.


As always, Wisconsin has its punishing running game to rely on. One of the best one-two punches in the nation returns in Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. Who'll be handing off to them is a mystery as questions loom about Joel Stave's future under center. He's been serviceable, but Tanner McEvoy could oust him come fall camp. Who's going to replace Jared Abbrederis is a huge question mark as is what the receiver corps is going to look like in the first place.


Wisconsin offers up a treasure trove of offensive linemen yet again such as left tackle Tyler Marz. The entire line should not only be able to protect whomever's under center, but clear a path for the Gordon-Clement tag team.


Defense looks to be touch-and-go for Anderson's crew. The front seven suffered major losses in three starting defensive linemen and All-Everything linebacker Chris Borland. The Badgers have a stud in the secondary in Sojourn Shelton who started every game as a freshman in 2013 while leading the team in picks. There's enough talent in the defensive backfield to produce a quality secondary and the Badgers' Egyptian cotton-soft schedule gives them plenty of time to do so.


While Wisconsin's schedule should allow them to make a mistake or two on their way to Indianapolis, the bad news is the Big Ten East's representative likely tops them easily


David Fox ()

That schedule, woof. Wisconsin might have a nice record, but there are not a lot of ranked teams on that schedule, especially if teams like Nebraska and LSU regress. Wisconsin’s run game give the Badgers a chance in every game, especially against the dregs of the Big Ten. I’ve tabbed LSU and a road game against Iowa as losses, and I threw in Maryland. Wisconsin, with an unproven defense and unsettled quarterback situation, isn’t good enough not to have a lapse or two. With Maryland’s impressive receivers, the Terps may be able to catch the Badgers napping.


Kevin McGuire (),

With Wisconsin, you know what you are going to get year-in and year-out. The Badgers are going to run the football, and this fall they will do so with one of the best running backs in the country in Melvin Gordon. Wisconsin may very well open the season with a loss against LSU in Houston, but little should be standing in the way of a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game at the end of the year. Wisconsin gets Nebraska at home for what could be the deciding game in the west, but Wisconsin must stay alert with a road trip to Iowa the following week. That has letdown written all over it for me right now, but ultimately it should not be enough to keep the Badgers from booking a trip to Chicago. The big question for me is who steps up as a go-to receiver and will this defense be as good as it has in recent seasons in Madison? Wisconsin will be good, but they will not be great in 2014. 

Mark Ross ()

The season opener with LSU in Arlington will be a tough test, but after that, Wisconsin's schedule opens up about as big as some of the holes All-America candidate Melvin Gordon will be running through. Bowling Green is a good team, but it won't be able to take down the Badgers at Camp Randall. Other than a road game at Northwestern and a visit from Nebraska in the middle of November, I don't see any big potential land mines on the Big Ten slate either. The Badgers are the big winners of the Big Ten's conference realignment as far as 2014 goes and I fully expect them to represent the new West Division in Indianapolis at the conference championship game on Dec. 6.

Mike Fiammetta (),

Picking an 11-1 schedule for Wisconsin surely seems radical. Coming from a Wisconsin writer, it probably comes off as obscenely biased. But considering the Badgers' weak-on-paper schedule in the Big Ten West Division, the ceiling is very high for UW in Gary Andersen's second season. Questions persist on offense -- a starting quarterback may not be named until well into fall camp and there is not one proven receiver on the roster, but as the old saying goes, "Death, taxes and Wisconsin rushing yards." Or something like that. Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement are back, primed to prove to the nation that they form the best rushing duo in the country. The offensive line should also be solid once again, and while quarterback issues are never encouraging, some combination of Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy is expected to be solid enough to keep the Badgers atop the division.


Defensively, the 3-4 base defense moves into year two without Chris Borland and Dezmen Southward, two mainstays of the past several years. Losing Borland especially hurts, and while there are questions as to where quarterback pressure and other big plays will come from, there are several breakout candidates including defensive ends Chikwe Obasih and Alec James, as well as inside linebacker Leon Jacobs. The secondary is still kind of young, but sophomore cornerback Sojourn Shelton could be on his way toward becoming one of the conference's best. On special teams, the Badgers might be going with a true freshman kicker in Rafael Gaglianone, and while that might be troubling to some, the Brazilian can really boot it.


Back to the schedule -- everything hinges on that LSU game in Houston. A win there, no matter the margin, gives Wisconsin the genuine possibility of running the table. That's not exactly bold reasoning, but most people picking wins/losses at this juncture likely having Wisconsin dropping a game or two, like, at Northwestern or Iowa. Even in that scenario, a 9-3 season would be welcomed by most Badgers fans, I'd say. That should be enough to land a spot in Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game and possibly another Rose Bowl.

Wisconsin Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Post date: Friday, July 25, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Florida Gators, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/florida-football-game-game-predictions-2014

Florida is one of college football’s most intriguing teams to watch in 2014, as the Gators have the talent to win the SEC East but are coming off a 4-8 season with an offense full of question marks.


Coach Will Muschamp sits squarely on the hot seat this season and likely needs at least seven wins to return for 2015. Muschamp shuffled his offensive staff in the offseason, hiring Kurt Roper from Duke to fix a unit that averaged only 19.9 points per game in SEC contests.

Getting quarterback Jeff Driskel back to 100 percent will help, but Florida also needs improvement from its offensive line and receiving corps.

The Gators should have one of the SEC’s top defenses, which includes standout cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.

With a schedule that features home games against LSU, South Carolina and Missouri, Florida will have a chance for a quick rebound in 2014.


Expert Panel:

Steven Lassan (),

Chad Neipling (),

Josh Ward (),

David Fox (),

Brandon Larrabee (),

Mark Ross (),


Early Florida Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014


at Alabama
at Tennessee
at Vanderbilt
South Carolina
Eastern Kentucky
at Florida State
Final Projection8-48-47-58-48-49-3
Steven Lassan ()

Florida is a tough team to project in 2014. On one side, the talent is there to win 10 games. The . However, Florida’s offense struggled mightily last year and averaged only 4.7 yards per play (conference-only games) in 2013. New coordinator Kurt Roper was a solid hire, and his first assignment is to help quarterback Jeff Driskel reach his potential. Driskel may not win All-SEC honors in 2014, but that’s not the biggest problem facing the offense. The line and receiving corps are huge question marks, and both units have to improve for Florida to contend in the East. With seven starters back, expect the Gators’ defense to rank among the best in the SEC once again this year. With South Carolina, Missouri and LSU visiting Gainesville, Florida has the schedule for a quick turnaround. However, this team doesn’t have much room for error, which is why I think they lose a game they probably shouldn’t.


Josh Ward (),

This isn’t the best time for Will Muschamp to have to add a road trip to Alabama onto the Gators’ schedule. But that’s what Florida will face, along with LSU from the SEC West and a game at Florida State to finish up the regular season.


I didn’t consider picking Florida against Alabama or Florida State. Those teams are just too powerful right now. That road trip to Tennessee will be critical. If Florida wins that game, which I picked it to do, the Gators could go on a bit of a run. In the end, I think Georgia and South Carolina bring back too much for Florida to handle. I have the Gators finishing with an 8-4 record, which should be good enough to save Muschamp’s job. Anything less than that and he’s in trouble.


David Fox ()

Florida’s schedule will help the rebuilding process in Gainesville. Having potential swing games against LSU and Missouri, plus a key divisional game against South Carolina, at home should serve Florida well. I don’t know if the Gators can win all of those games, but winning two out of three is possible. Florida’s offense will be better, if no other reason than the fact that it can’t get much worse. The defense will keep Florida competitive, but this team still has a long way to go to compete with Georgia and South Carolina. The offense, too, may have trouble keeping up with a dynamic offense like the one at Missouri.


Brandon Larrabee (),

Florida might be the hardest team in the SEC to figure out heading into this season. Don't let last year fool you: there's still plenty of talent in Gainesville. The offense will improve and the defense will be solid. But how much better will the Gators be? Have they completely caught back up with Georgia and South Carolina? And there's a clear trap game looming in Knoxville. The Gators are better than the Volunteers this year, but either an upset win at Alabama or looking ahead to the game against LSU could cause Florida to slip up. If they can get through that game, though, a three-week stretch that includes games against Georgia and South Carolina should decide who wins the East.

Mark Ross ()

Florida may not make it all the way back in one season, but I do think better days are ahead for embattled coach Will Muschamp's team. The offense is the key, which starts with quarterback Jeff Driskel staying healthy and new coordinator Kurt Roper jumpstarting one of the nation's worst units last season. Even if the offense shows only modest improvement, it should be good enough for a few more Ws because of the strength of the defense. The SEC is tough, no doubt about that, but there's just one conference road game (at Alabama) that Gator fans should worry about. As long as Florida takes care of business at home, something that didn't happen frequently in 2013, this team could build momentum and find enough confidence to potentially make things interesting in Tallahassee Thanksgiving weekend. How's that for a turnaround?


Chad Neipling (),

This year will be the turn around year for Florida following an abysmal 4-8 season, the worst since 1979. Roper's offense is going to bring speed of play and a faster release for Driskel, which hopefully turns in to a better red zone performance. The Alabama game is a definite loss since the Crimson Tide will be playing with an even bigger chip on their shoulder this season than the Gators. LSU will feature a lot of youth but they've done so for the last two seasons with success. This one could be a toss up since they play each other so closely. But luckily for Florida, LSU travels to Auburn the week before. Georgia is another toss-up game for the Gators and could very well depict Muschamp's future in Gainesville. As of late, the Dawgs have had the Gators’ number with three straight wins, so I wouldn't be surprised with a loss here for Florida. SC in the swamp is a win. UF was leading in the 4Q last season 14-13 and if not for SC's two FG's Florida would have won the game. I'm probably one of the few that think the FSU game is a win. The away team is 3-0 in this series and Florida is on the road this year. 

Florida Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Post date: Friday, July 25, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/big-tens-top-10-heisman-candidates-2014

Using the past to project the future has major flaws but in the case of the Heisman Trophy, the past can be extremely useful.


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, quarterbacks 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 Heisman Trophy.


Second, only once in the nine-decade history of the award has anyone ever repeated. Ohio State’s Archie Griffin won in 1974 and was successful in defending his award the following year. 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 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). In fact, only twice since 1955 has a conference won consecutive Heismans with two different teams. UCLA’s Gary Beban and USC’s O.J. Simpson went back-to-back in 1967-68.


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 Big Ten’s front-runners to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014 (with current Bovada odds):


1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State (7/1)

For a league many are down on currently, the Big Ten boasts some serious star power at both quarterback and running back. And Miller is the brightest star of the bunch. The dual-threat is a perfect fit for his offensive system and he is leading a team picked by many to win the league and land in the College Football 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 key for Miller this fall if he wants to get to New York (which he should).


2. Melvin Gordon, RB, 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 in a system predicated on handing the ball off. Look for Gordon to build on his 1,600-yard, 12-TD season from last fall.


3. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (33/1)

Gordon got all of the headlines and Jeremy Langford got a lot of press down the stretch last year 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.


4. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State

There aren’t too many players with as many physical skills as Hackenberg. He is a sure-fire, first-round 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 Miller, but Hackenberg is just as talented. Look for the PSU QB to continue to grow with no limits on his upside.


5. Connor Cook, QB, 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.


6. Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State

Abdullah led the league in rushing and Gordon get 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.


7. Stefon Diggs, WR, 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.


8. Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern

The talented and versatile Wildcats tailback played just three games last fall but fans in the Big Ten better not forget about him. He can make big plays as a receiver and return man as well as a runner. He posted 2,166 all-purpose yards two seasons ago and anything approaching that mark (no pun intended) again this fall likely puts him into the national conversation.


9. Nate Sudfeld, QB, Indiana

The junior quarterback is the leader of the best passing offense in the Big Ten and now the keys to the unit are his alone. With Tre Roberson leaving campus, Sudfeld is poised for a huge season in Bloomington. Look for him to build on his 2,523 yards and 21 touchdowns from a year ago.


10. Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan

He was wildly inconsistent and turned the ball over entirely too much but Gardner still was No. 2 in the Big Ten in total offense (3,443 yards) and No. 2 in passing yards (2,960) in 2013. This is his final season and if there is going to be a redemption story in the Big Ten, the Michigan quarterback is the best bet. This team still has talent but running the ball better would go a long way to making Gardner’s job easier.


Others to consider: C.J. Brown, QB, Maryland; Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana; David Cobb, RB, Minnesota; Trevor Siemian, QB, Northwestern; Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan; Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska


Five defensive players who should but won’t be in the mix:


Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State

The massive (6-5, 260) defensive end was a star last year as just a sophomore (37 tackles, 14.0 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.


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.


Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB, Northwestern

The senior Wildcat tackler is the top returning tackler in the Big Ten and a preseason first-team All-Big Ten pick. He posted 106 tackles, six for a loss, four interceptions and two sacks. With Northwestern projected to bounce back in a big way, Ariguzo should find himself on national award lists.


Kurtis Drummond, S, Michigan State

One of the top defensive backs in the nation, Drummond returns as a team leader to a defense that is rebuilding to some degree. He registered 91 tackles and four interceptions for the nation’s best defense a year ago. Look for more from Drummond and Sparty in 2014.


Mike Hull, LB, Penn State

There is a long and distinguished list of Penn State linebackers. Dan Connor, Sean Lee, NaVorro Bowman, Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, Glenn Carson and now Hull. Hull posted 78 tackles last season and steps into a more prominent role with Carson moving on. Look for yet another elite season from a PSU tackler.

The Big Ten's Top 10 Heisman Candidates for 2014
Post date: Friday, July 25, 2014 - 07:15