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All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/final-four-game-preview-and-predictions-wisconsin-vs-kentucky
Body:

In many ways, Kentucky-Wisconsin isn’t a rematch.

 

The coaches are the same, the jerseys are the same and many of the players are the same from the Wildcats’ 74-73 win in last year’s Final Four. But at the same time, these are two different teams meeting in the national semifinal.

 

The most obvious change is with Kentucky. The Wildcats reached last year’s Final Four without an injured Willie Cauley-Stein and before freshmen Karl-Anthony Towns, Trey Lyles and Tyler Ulis arrived.

 

And for Wisconsin, Nigel Hayes — now one of Wisconsin’s top three players — logged only seven minutes in last year’s Final Four game.

 

Even the returners are different, says Kentucky coach John Calipari.

 

“I just saw (Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky) out in the hallway, and I said, ‘Look, I'm so tired of looking at your tape right now,’” Calipari said. “I said to Bo how much better he's gotten in a two-year period is almost scary. He and (Sam) Dekker both. They both have a swagger about them, they both have a high belief in their teams. They know how they're going to play.”

 

The development of Kaminsky and Dekker and the presence of Cauley-Stein and Towns sets up one of the most anticipated Final Four matchups in several years.

 

The nation’s top offensive team and top defensive team in terms of efficiency will face off Saturday, and only one of those teams hopes history repeats itself.

 

Related:

31 Reasons This Will Be The Best Final Four Ever

Ranking Every National Champion since 1985

The Top 20 Players in the 2015 Final Four

 

No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 1 Wisconsin

Time: 8:49 p.m. ET, Saturday

TV: TBS

Announcers: Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill

Line: Kentucky by 5

 

Matchup to Watch: Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker vs. Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein

Wisconsin has two big guys who can run the floor, play the perimeter and score down low. Kaminsky and Dekker are a combined 87-of-236 (37 percent) from 3 this season. Cauley-Stein, though, is different from most defenders. He’s a seven-footer who can defend the perimeter. Kaminsky and Dekker were a combined 7-of-11 from the field with 23 points in last year’s meeting, and that was when Cauley-Stein didn’t play.

 

Player on the Spot: Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns

Towns had a miserable game against West Virginia — scary, considering Kentucky still won by 39 — and John Calipari didn’t let it slide. Towns responded to his one-point performance with a dominating 25-point game against Notre Dame. Towns finished 10-of-13 from th efield and 5-of-6 from the line with four assists, to boot.

 

Trending: Wisconsin’s offense

Anyone who says Wisconsin can’t score is not paying much attention. No, the Badgers aren’t one of the highest-scoring teams in the country, but they are the most efficient this season (a year after they ranked fourth). Ask Arizona if Wisconsin can score. Arizona is one of the best defensive teams in the country, and the Badgers shredded the Wildcats in the second half of the Elite Eight. Wisconsin shot 15-of-19 from the field and 10-of-12 from 3 in the final 20 minutes against the Wildcats.

 

Number of Note: 439

Free throw attempts for opponents against Wisconsin. The Badgers are one of the most stingy fouling teams in the country. Opponents get 4.5 field goal attempts for every free throw against the Badgers, the best rate in the country. Kentucky is a good free throw shooting team (72.5 percent), especially from its big men. If the game is close, Kentucky’s trips to the line will be watched closely.

 

Kentucky will win if...

Aaron Harrison hits big shots. Harrison hit the key shots against Wichita State, Louisville and Wisconsin in last year’s Tournament, and he did it again against Notre Dame. Wisconsin allows its share of open 3s. Teams shoot 37. 1 percent from 3 against the Badgers, ranking 301st nationally. But those shots are earned. Wisconsin allows 3-pointers at the sixth-best rate of any team this season.

 

Wisconsin will win if...

The Badgers can stretch the Kentucky defense. This game is between the No. 1 team in offensive efficiency and the No. 1 team in defensive efficiency. The difference may be from 3-point line. Kaminsky and Dekker against Cauley-Stein and Towns will be a game-long battle. If Wisconsin can stretch the court and hit 3s, Kentucky may have to ease up on Kaminsky, Dekker and Nigel Hayes. Bronson Koenig and Josh Gasser are a combined 11-of-27 from 3 in this Tournament. If that’s going to change, it will happen against the best 3-point defending team in the country (26.7 percent).

 

Athlon Sports Staff Predictions

David Fox: Kentucky 68-63

Braden Gall: Kentucky 72-70

Mitch Light: Kentucky 72-66

Jake Rose: Wisconsin 68-62

Teaser:
Final Four Game Preview and Predictions: Wisconsin vs. Kentucky
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/final-four-game-preview-and-predictions-michigan-state-vs-duke
Body:

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is trying to play coy that his team was not a Final Four contender from the start. 

 

True, this was a Blue Devils team that lost three of six during a stretch in January, including a loss to Miami at home. But this was also a preseason top-four team that only solidified those credentials with 10-point wins over Michigan State and Wisconsin by early December, both away from Durham.

 

“I don't know who expected us to be here,” Krzyzewski said. “We have eight guys and four freshmen. I think at times you expect a program to be here instead of looking at a team.”

 

That’s not entirely true, but if Krzyzewski is going to try to play up the underdog card, he’s going to have a tough time pulling it against Michigan State.

 

Last year’s Spartans team was the one that seemed preordained to go to the Final Four. Every senior who played four years for Tom Izzo to that point had reached the Final Four, and Izzo had two seniors who had never been to the Final Four.

 

The trend ended with Adreian Payne and Keith Appling reaching merely the Elite Eight. This team lost Payne, Appling and Gary Harris and lost five games before the new year, including a home game against Texas Southern.

 

Nevertheless, Michigan State has put it together in the last few weeks and now the Spartans are where they’d be expected to be many years — in the Final Four.

 

“Maybe it wasn't as expected — we had a little rougher run during the year,” Izzo said. “When you get your program to a certain level, I think that's our expectations, that's what we want our kids' expectations, the media and fans.”

 

Related:

31 Reasons This Will Be The Best Final Four Ever

Ranking Every National Champion since 1985

The Top 20 Players in the 2015 Final Four

 

No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 1 Duke

Time: 6:09 p.m. ET, Saturday

TV: TBS

Announcers: Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill

Line: Duke by 5

 

Matchup to Watch: Michigan State’s Travis Trice vs. Duke’s Quinn Cook

This is a question of which senior guard is going to get baskets at critical times. Of course, this is a more pressing matchup for Trice, who does not have the luxury of Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow (though Spartans Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson are very good). Trice is averaging 19.8 points per game in the tournament (more than four points better than his season average). Cook is averaging 14.5 points per game in the Tournament and hitting 12-of-14 from the free throw line in the last two games.

 

Player on the Spot: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor

Opponents in the regional did a good job of containing the damage from Okafor. Mind you, that’s at the expense of Winslow having his way on both ends of the court against Utah and Gonzaga. Okafor scored a combined 15 points in two games last week and shot 7-of-16 from the field. Okafor averaged 17.5 points and shot nearly 67 percent during the season. He’ll need to approach that if Duke is going to win a title.

 

Trending: Michigan State’s free throw shooting

The Spartans free throw shooting was the weak link during the season, and history suggests that it will bite them during the Tournament. Yet Michigan State recently found its stride at the line. The Spartans hit 6-of-6 free throws in crunch time against Oklahoma and then went 15-of-20 against Louisville. Michigan State shoots 63.2 percent from the line this season, ranking 338th overall.

 

Number of Note: 22-to-6

Justise Winslow has raised his game during the NCAA Tournament, but let’s not overlook point guard Tyus Jones. The freshman has 22 assists and six turnovers during the Tournament. He’s averaging 3.7 assists per turnover in the last four games compared to 2.8 during the regular season. He’s also thrown in two steals per game in the Tourney.

 

Michigan State will win if...

Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello play out of their minds against Okafor. Michigan State’s big men aren’t the first names anyone considers when it comes the Spartans this season. Now, they’re in the critical spot against Okafor. Can they contain him like Utah and Gonzaga did and can they get some baskets agains Okafor’s suspect defense? Michigan State needs that to pull the upset.

 

Duke will win if...

Michigan State’s time is up. The Spartans are a great story and deserve credit for beating the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seeds in the East region. But this is a No. 7 seed that didn’t hit its potential until late in the year. Duke perhaps hasn’t played its best game of the Tournament and still ended up beating Gonzaga by 14, outscoring the Bulldogs 21-10 in the final 10 minutes.

 

Athlon Sports Staff Predictions

David Fox: Duke 70-61

Braden Gall: Duke 78-62

Mitch Light: Duke 68-57

Jake Rose: Duke 73-70

Teaser:
Final Four Game Preview and Predictions: Michigan State vs. Duke
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 13:37
All taxonomy terms: Tiger Woods, Golf
Path: /golf/golf-experts-poll-are-tigers-problems-mental-or-physical
Body:

Tiger's decision regarding The Masters dragged on into the 11th hour, much like waiting through a boring Oscars telecast for the Best Picture announcement. We finally know that he will, in fact, be on hand for the season's first major.

 

Although he's decided to tee it up at Augusta National on Thursday, he's clearly not the steely-eyed golf machine he once was, having displayed an all-too-human vulnerability to an aging body and decaying confidence. We never thought we'd say this, but we hope he doesn't embarass himself come Thursday.

 

Athlon polled a number of golf insiders on a variety of topics, but we start with this question: Are Tiger's problems primarily physical or mental?

 

Participants

Jay Coffin, Editorial Director, Golf Channel, @JayCoffinGC

Jason Deegan, Senior Staff Writer and Golf Advisor with The Golf Channel online, @WorldGolfer

Steve DiMeglio, USA Today, @Steve_DiMeglio

Bob Harig, ESPN, @BobHarig

Dan Jenkins, Author, Golf Digest Contributor, @danjenkinsgd

Garrett Johnston, Golf journalist, @JohnstonGarrett

Dave Kindred, Golf Digest, Sports on Earth Contributor, @DaveKindred

Alex Miceli, Senior Writer, Golfweek, @alexmiceli

Dan O’Neill, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Dave Shedloski, Golf World, @DaveShedloski

Art Spander, Global Golf Post, @artspander

 

Are Tiger's problems mental or physical?
Mental       4
Physical    1
Both          6

 

Comments
• Started mental as the scandals ended his aura of invincibility and led to a loss of confidence in every aspect of his life, even the swing.

 

• He's worn out between the ears after nearly two decades of carrying the game on his shoulders.

 

• Mental. Everybody but him seems to know it.

 

• It's 90 percent in his head and 50 percent physical. Yeah, the math doesn't add up, but that's how I see it.

 

• He will never be 100% healthy physically, but his mental game pulled him through. Now with his mental game in flux his game in general is substandard.

 

• He’s in a vicious circle right now. He needs to play a lot of golf to get out of his funk, but his body isn't healthy enough to do that.  

 

• Based on his play this year, he obviously has some confidence issues. He admits to being less focused than he was in the past and his physical problems hinder his ability to practice, much less play frequently. Not a good combination.

Both, I believe. If you have back or knee troubles, in golf or baseball (or tennis), well, they are games of swinging. And once doubts creep into the mind, you have what you had in Phoenix, the former greatest golfer in the world  chili-dipping and blasting long. That's a man untrusting of his game at the current time.

 

• Both. His back problems might be better, but he was still away from the game for long period of time and he needs to practice. In the meantime, he changed coaches, altered his swing and saw those problems creep into his short game. For one of the best ever around the greens, it is surely more than physical. There are issues of confidence and doubt that have come along with all the other changes.

 

• Tiger's struggles are more physical than mental. His inability to perform physically is hurting the mental part, however.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 10:51
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/baseballs-greatest-opening-day-moments-2015
Body:

Monday marks Opening Day of the 2015 MLB season, although the games actually begin with Sunday night’s matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Whether Opening Day ever becomes an official national holiday, something more than 100,000 Americans supported via an online petition posted on the White House’s Web site last year, remains to be seen, but it’s clear the first day of the baseball season holds a special place in the hearts of the fans of America’s pastime.

 

Related: Ranking the National League Ballparks in 2015 (Expert Poll)

 

Besides signaling the start of a new season and the opportunity to cheer on their favorite team and/or player, Opening Day also has been the catalyst for some of baseball’s most historic moments and impressive achievements.

 

The Day Baseball Changed Forever

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson, 28, played first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American to play in MLB’s modern era in the process. By breaking the color barrier, Robinson forever changed America’s pastime and this also represented the start to his eventual Hall of Fame career. Even though he went hitless (0-for-3) in his first game, Robinson’s impact on the game is unmistakable, as evidenced by the fact his No. 42 has been retired permanently.

 

“The Judge” Holds Court in the Dugout and at the Plate

Similar to Jackie Robinson, Frank Robinson was a trailblazer in his own right. A Hall of Fame player with 586 career home runs, two MVP awards and a Triple Crown, Robinson debuted as player-manager of the Cleveland Indians back on April 8, 1975, becoming the first African American manager in major league history.

 

Facing the New York Yankees at home, Robinson batted second as the team’s DH and gave the fans at Cleveland Stadium something to cheer about early when he homered off of Doc Medich in the bottom of the first. The Indians would go on to win 5-3, giving Robinson the first of the 1,065 wins he would amass in his 16 seasons as a manager. Robinson also was no stranger to going deep on Opening Day. His eight career Opening Day home runs are the most in history, a mark he shares with Ken Griffey Jr.

 

Presidential First Pitch

Twelve U.S. presidents have thrown out the ceremonial first pitch of the MLB season. The first to do so was William Howard Taft back on April 14, 1910. A noted baseball fan, Taft attended the Washington Senators’ opener at Griffith Stadium. While several other presidents, including Woodrow Wilson (pictured above in 1916), preceded Ronald Reagan in fulfilling this duty, he is the first Commander-in-Chief credited with throwing out the first pitch from the mound rather than the stands. Reagan did so in 1984 as part of an unscheduled appearance at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.

 

Since Reagan, each of the sitting presidents have participated in at least one Opening Day, the most recent being Barack Obama’s appearance at the Washington Nationals’ season-opener in 2010 — the 100th anniversary of the presidential first pitch.

 

The Bambino Christens His House

It was known as “The House That Ruth Built” and if there was every any doubt as to why, just go back to what happened on April 18, 1923. On the first Opening Day in Yankee Stadium (the original, not the one that opened in 2009), Ruth fittingly produced the first home run – a three-run shot into the right field bleachers. This blast helped the Yankees defeat the Red Sox, Ruth’s former team, and was the first of 259 home runs Ruth would hit at his house.

 

Related: Ranking the American League Ballparks in 2015 (Expert Poll)

 

The Hammer Ties the Bambino

On April 4, 1974, Hank Aaron forever etched his name into the record books when he hit a three-run home run off of Cincinnati’s Jack Billingham in the top of the first inning at Riverfront Stadium. Besides staking his Atlanta Braves to an early 3-0 lead, it represented the 714th home run in Aaron’s career, tying Babe Ruth for the most in MLB history. Aaron finished his Hall of Fame career with 755 home runs, a mark that many still acknowledge as the all-time record.

 

Feller’s No-No

Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller threw three no-hitters in his career, including one on April 16, 1940. Taking the mound for the Cleveland Indians against the Chicago White Sox at the original Comiskey Park, Feller made one run stand, holding the home team hitless while allowing five walks and striking out eight. This remains as the only no-hitter thrown on Opening Day.

 

Going the Distance

On April 13, 1926, the Washington Senators and Philadelphia A’s opened their season by needing 15 innings to decide the winner. While on the surface that may not seem that impressive, consider that the two starting pitchers – Walter Johnson and Eddie Rommel – were on the mound for the entire game!

 

Johnson, the Hall of Fame righty who is considered one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, allowed just six hits and struck out 12 in his 15 innings of work for the Senators. Opposing him was the knuckleballer Rommel, who surrendered nine hits and walked five. The Senators broke through in the bottom of the 15th, giving Johnson a 1-0 win in a pitching matchup for the ages.

 

In fact, Johnson owned Opening Day in many ways, as the man known as “The Big Train” took the mound for 14 season-opening starts. In those starts, he went 9-5 with 12 complete games, including three that went to extra innings. Seven of his nine victories were shutouts, and he struck out more batters (82) than hits allowed (81) in 124 innings pitched.

 

Opening Day Power

Toronto’s George Bell hit three home runs off of Kansas City starter Bret Saberhagen on April 4, 1988 to become the first player to do so in his team’s opener. Chicago Cubs outfielder Tuffy Rhodes was the next to accomplish this feat when he took New York Mets ace Dwight Gooden out of Wrigley Field three times exactly six years later. Rhodes’ power display was certainly unexpected, as he entered that game with just five home runs in four seasons and wound up with a total of 13 in 590 career at-bats.

 

The most recent to go yard three times on Opening Day was Detroit’s Dimitri Young, who tamed Comerica Park with three home runs on April 4, 2005. Two of Young’s taters came off of Kansas City starter Jose Lima, while he victimized reliever Mike MacDougal with two outs in the bottom of the eighth for his third round-tripper.

 

Giving Fans Their Money’s Worth

Those in attendance at Progressive Field on April 5, 2012 got to see plenty of baseball action. The Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays battled for 16 innings, the longest Opening Day game in MLB history. Although the home team lost, 7-4, those that stuck around for the entire game basically got a two-for-one deal with their ticket.

 

Saving Their Best For Last

In 1901, the Detroit Tigers, playing their first-ever game, trailed the Milwaukee Brewers 13-4 headed into the bottom of the ninth. The home team mounted a monumental rally, tallying 10 runs to beat the Brewers, 14-13. More than 110 years later it remains the greatest Opening Day rally in major league history.

Teaser:
Baseball's Greatest Opening Day Moments
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/florida%E2%80%99s-billy-donovan-might-be-headed-nba
Body:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

 

University of Florida’s long-tenured head coach, Billy Donovan, is said to be looking for an opportunity in the NBA. The 49-year-old saw his Gators disappoint this season, finishing below .500 and missing the NCAA tournament, so now he’s reportedly peering toward the pros for his next campaign.

 

Donovan’s most likely landing spot could be with his in-state Orlando Magic, a team that already has a coaching vacancy lined up for the summer.Donovan would, in theory, be a terrific fit with the team’s young core, including Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic.

 

The Magic may be hesitant to get involved with Donovan, though — he’s left them feeling burned before. In 2007, Orlando and Donovan went so far as to introduce Billy as their new head coach at a press conference, only to have Donovan retract his agreement in the coming days, after having second thoughts about leaving the college ranks.

 

The Denver Nuggets will also have an opening on their bench, and the New Orleans Pelicans and Chicago Bulls are candidates to follow suit.

 

Donovan’s friend Rick Pitino believes the 49-year-old is ready to make the jump after nearly two decades in Gainesville. "I think Billy has looked at it,” Pitino said on ESPN Radio, “I think he has an urge to coach in the NBA — a strong desire to coach in the NBA — and would like to try it, very similar to Brad Stevens, who is doing a wonderful job with the Celtics. I think people like that, with that type of personality, will do very well.

 

“If Billy doesn't do well, he can go back to college. Brad Stevens can go back to college. When you get to be our age, Tom [Izzo] and my age, where are you going back to? The McBurney's YMCA on 37th Street or 34th Street? If you're happy where you're at, it's a good place to stay."

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 10:25
All taxonomy terms: Dustin Johnson, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-4-dustin-johnson
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 4: Dustin Johnson

 

Born: June 22, 1984, Columbia, S.C. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 9 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,249,180 (12th) World Ranking: 7

2014 Key Stats:

      Driving Distance: 311.0 (2nd)

      Fairway Proximity: 27’9” (1st)

      Par Breakers: 23.39% (4th)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Starting with his rookie year in 2008, Johnson has won in eight consecutive seasons on the PGA tour, which is something very few players have done. In fact, going back over 50 years, only Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer have matched this feat, putting the South Carolinian in Hall of Fame company. That Dustin is amongst the most talented golfers in the world is no question — he gets so much for free, it seems — but just as big as his talent are the questions that follow his commitment to the game and his off-the-course activities. In taking a leave of absence for professional help with personal problems late in 2014, Dustin missed the Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship, the latter being the second major he has missed in recent years for questionable reasons. His return to the PGA Tour is accompanied by a lot of buzz, and for good reason, since he’s one of the longest and straightest hitters in the game. Nobody on tour hit their approach shots closer to the hole on average in 2014, and with the improvement he made in his short shots and putting, only Adam Scott ranked higher than him in the All-Around category. He could be one of the greatest players of all time if he respected his talent the way his peers do.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 20
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T4
British Open - T12
PGA Championship - DNP

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T3 (2013)
U.S. Open - T4 (2014)
British Open - T2 (2011)
PGA Championship - Cut (2013, '14)
Top-10 Finishes: 1
Top-25 Finishes: 3
Missed Cuts: 3

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 10:17
Path: /college-football/nebraska-cornhuskers-2015-schedule-and-analysis
Body:

A new era of football begins in Lincoln this season as Mike Riley takes over at Nebraska.

 

The Huskers boast the best roster in the division and could be considered the front-runner in the West. Since joining the Big Ten, Nebraska hasn't gotten any favors from the schedule and that could once again be an issue in 2015.

 

If Riley's bunch makes it to the B1G title game, however, it will have earned it and could have an outside shot at a playoff spot.

 

Related: 2015 Nebraska Spring Football Preview

 

2015 Nebraska Cornhuskers Schedule

 

Bye: 12, * - Fri.

 

WkOpp.DateLocation
1.Sept. 5Lincoln, NE
Sneaky Good Opener Generally, Week 1 is the best weekend of non-conference action nationally and this one in Lincoln is sneaky good. BYU and Nebraska have never played, but the blues and reds will look great on the turf of Memorial Stadium.
2.Sept. 12Lincoln, NE
For the second straight week, the Huskers will face a team they've never played before. South Alabama is a tricky out after reaching a bowl game a season ago.
3.Sept. 19Miami, FL
Historic Rivalry Aside from Nebraska's 41-31 win last season in Lincoln, this matchup has carried with it national title implications. The five previous meetings came in a national title situation beginning with the infamous two-point try to cap the 1983 season. Nebraska leads the all-time series 6-5.
4.Sept. 26Lincoln, NE
These two have met only five times (all since 1999) and Big Red faithful will never forget what took place in 2004. Southern Miss' lone win in the series came in a 21-17 upset in Lincoln. The Huskers have crushed the Eagles in two meetings since (2012-13).
5.Oct. 3Champaign, IL
Nebraska hasn't lost to Illinois since 1924 and is 9-2-1 all-time in the series. As Big Ten foes, the Huskers outscored the Illini 84-33 in two blowout wins the last two seasons. This will be the first visit to Champaign since 1986.
6.Oct. 10Lincoln, NE
Big Red Clash A huge divisional showdown between what should be the top two teams in the West could decide one half of the B1G title game by early October. The Badgers have won four of the last five meetings, but are 0-3 all-time in Lincoln. Nebraska has allowed 129 points in the last two meetings.
7.Oct. 17Minneapolis, MN
Road Test Possibly the biggest road game of the year for Mike Riley's bunch. This old-school Midwest rivalry has been rekindled since NU joined the Big Ten and last year's heart-breaking loss at home was an instant classic. The Huskers won every meeting from 1963-2012 (16 games) but have now lost twice in a row to the Gophers.
8.Oct. 24Lincoln, NE
Weird things happen when these two get together. Nebraska leads the all-time series (6-2), but this budding rivalry has seen its share of bizarre occurrences. The Wildcats impressed in Lincoln in 2011, Taylor Martinez erases a 12-point fourth-quarter lead in Evanston a year later and, of course, the Hail Mary of '13. Buckle up, folks.
10.Oct. 31West Lafayette, IN
These two have met a total of three times, as Nebraska has crushed the Boilermakers twice since joining the Big Ten. Purdue has been outscored 79-21 in the past two matchups.
11.Nov. 7Lincoln, NE
Season-Defining Moment Nebraska could still win the West and the Big Ten title if it loses this game, but how it plays in this game will define the Huskers '15 campaign. The last three meetings have been exciting and close. The Cornhuskers won the first seven meetings in the series but have lost the last two get-togethers. 
11.Nov. 14Piscataway, NJ
Trap Game There will be a lot of red on the field in New Jersey when Nebraska plays its first-ever game in Piscataway. Rutgers fell 42-24 a year ago in Lincoln and appears to be trending in the wrong direction, but NU will be coming off a massive battle with MSU the previous week.
13.Nov. 27*Lincoln, NE
Rivalry Game Nebraska exacted some revenge on Iowa a year ago with a thrilling comeback in Iowa City. The Big Red is 29-13-3 all-time against Iowa and has won three of the four meetings since moving to the B1G. However, the only loss came in a 38-17 embarrassment in Lincoln two years ago.

 

Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Big Ten Preview



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Teaser:
Nebraska Cornhuskers 2015 Schedule and Analysis
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/31-reasons-will-be-best-final-four-ever
Body:

For a sport that’s supposed to be in a state of crisis, college basketball has given us a doozy of a final weekend.

 

Criticism of the sport has been almost as big as the season itself in 2014-15. The game is too slow. The final minutes of the game stretch on forever. The officiating is inconsistent. The game has few household names actually playing the game.

 

All of these will be lingering issues, but not until Tuesday.

 

For now, we have an epic Final Four to watch.

 

This year’s Final Four is poised to give the sport a final weekend for the ages, perhaps approaching the legendary status of 1979, 1985, 1991 or 2008.

 

We’ve counted down the ways this will be possibly the greatest Final Four of all time — 31 ways to be exact, one for each Final Four since the field expanded to 64 in 1985.

 

1. 40-0

Kentucky already has The Unforgettables and The Untouchables. The Wildcats are looking to add The Unbeatables. No team in college basketball has been 38-0. No team since UNLV in 1991 has made it to the Final Four undefeated (34-0). And no team since Indiana in 1976 has finished a season undefeated (32-0). Kentucky is chasing basketball immortality.

 

2. Wire-to-wire great teams

The NCAA Tournament is random, and even teams that were great all season lose before the final weekend. It’s a statistical improbability that four of the best teams during the season actually make it to the Final Four. Three No. 1 seeds are in the Final Four for the first time since all four made it in 2008 and only the fifth time since seeding began in 2008. Not only are Kentucky, Duke and Wisconsin No. 1 seeds, they have been consensus top-five teams for most of the season. Kentucky has been No. 1 all year. Duke has been in the AP top five all year. And Wisconsin spent one week ranked seventh this season and never lower than that.

 

3. A Kentucky-Duke title game

Not that we’re rooting for a Kentucky-Duke national championship game — upsets of either would be monumental on their own — but the prospect of an all-blue title game is tough to resist. They’re two of the most polarizing teams in the country. Someone will surely pit John Calipari’s vacated Final Fours against Mike Krzyzewski’s “doing things the right way” (even though Coach K has had his share of one-and-dones). The game has the baggage of Christian Laettner’s game-winning shot in overtime of the 1992 Elite Eight. 

 

4. People are watching

The game is still facing an existential crisis in terms of year-round popularity and the quality of product. That said, it’s tough to call the game “unwatchable” when so many people are watching. Kentucky-Notre Dame was the highest rated college basketball game in cable history. An increase of 2 percent compared to last season was still enough to give the NCAA Tournament its biggest audience since 1993. Maybe it’s Kentucky, Duke, Wisconsin. Maybe it’s the availability of every Tournament game on basic cable. Maybe it’s the ever-increasing access to streaming games. Whatever the reason, the Final Four is viable water cooler conversation.

 

5. The Big Men

The national semifinal is going to give us Frank Kaminsky trying to navigate the stout defense of Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns. And the winner of that battle may draw Duke’s Jahlil Okafor in the national championship game. A Towns-Okafor matchup in the title game would be the first time the top two picks in the draft met in the national championship game. UCLA’s Bill Walton and NC State’s David Thompson faced each other in the 1974 title game but were selected No. 1 overall in separate drafts. The top two picks (Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) in the 2012 draft played in the same title game, they just played for the same team (Kentucky).

 

6. Pro Prospects

Beyond Okafor and Towns as the consensus top two picks, the Final Four is full of future pros. As many as nine players in the Final Four are in DraftExpress’s most recent first-round projection and five in the lottery: No. 1 Towns, No. 2 Okafor, No. 5 Justise Winslow of Duke, No. 6 Cauley-Stein of Kentucky, No. 10 Kaminsky, No. 16 Sam Dekker of Wisconsin, No. 17 Devin Booker and No. 19 Trey Lyles of Kentucky, No. 26 Tyus Jones of Duke.

 

7. All-Americans

There’s plenty of star power here with three first-team All-Americans in the Final Four in Okafor, Kaminsky and Cauley-Stein. This is only the third time in the last decade three first-team All-Americans have played in the Final Four.

 

8. The coaches

Every coach in the Final Four has won a national championship — Bo Ryan’s came in Division III, but more on that later. Still, we’ve got a combined 2,532 career wins, 203 NCAA Tournament wins, 27 Final Fours and six Division I championships in this group. All four coaches were ranked in the top 10 of Athlon’s preseason coach rankings, including each of the top three.

 

9. Coach K’s historic year

The big number for Krzyzewski is 1,000 as he became the first men’s college basketball coach to 1,000 career wins with a Jan. 25 victory over St. John’s. The season has been historic in a handful of other ways. He’s now tied with John Wooden for the most Final Four appearances (12), moving ahead of Dean Smith’s 11. A championship would give him five titles, breaking his tie with Adolph Rupp and moving him to No. 2 to Wooden’s unbreakable 10 titles. He’s also tied Jim Boeheim for the most Tournament appearances (31), and he passed Smith’s record for career ACC wins (432).

 

10. The Hall of Fame

The two coaches facing each other Saturday — in their second consecutive Final Four — are both up for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. It’s not certain either or both will get in, but they will get in eventually. Krzyzewski is already in. Izzo is a virtual lock, meaning this Final Four in history’s eyes will have four Hall of Famers. The last time we can guarantee such a thing was 2001 when Krzyzewski, Izzo, Arizona's Lute Olson and Maryland's Gary Williams were in the Final Four.

 

11. Bo Ryan’s bid for history

To think, there was a time when the knock on Ryan was that he couldn’t win in the Tournament, never mind that he won four Division III championships at Wisconsin-Platteville from 1991-99. If Ryan wins a Division I national title, he’ll be the first coach in NCAA history to win championships in multiple divisions.

 

12. Michigan State is the underdog

No Final Four is complete without an unlikely team, and in this group of three No. 1 seeds and power teams, Michigan State gives the national semifinal an appropriate underdog. The Spartans have only one McDonald’s All-American (Branden Dawson) and few highly rated pro prospects. Remember, last year’s team with Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling seemed destined for a Final Four. This Michigan State team was on the bubble at one point his year.

 

13. Tom Izzo

College athletics need more big-time coaches who don’t take themselves too seriously and aren’t afraid to wear their emotions on their sleeve. In just the last year, Izzo dressed like Gene Simmons at Midnight Madness and crumpled in embarrassment when his team missed free throws in a win over Indiana.

 

 

14. Willie Cauley-Stein

Cauley-Stein is a defensive whiz, the most experienced player on a potential 40-0 team and an eminently quotable college basketball player. He’s also a rarity in the sport. He’s an All-American averaging 9.1 points per game, making him the first All-American to average fewer than 10 points per game since 1944-45. That player? Notre Dame’s Bill Hassett, who averaged 8.6 points per game that year. 

 

15. Kentucky’s unselfishness

Not only is Cauley-Stein a rare All-American in terms of scoring, the entire Kentucky team would be an oddity if the Wildcats win a national title. Since the field expanded in 1985, only six national champions didn’t have a 15-points per game scorer. The lowest-scoring top scorers on a title team in the 64-team era are Kansas’ Brandon Rush in 2008 and Florida’s Taurean Green in 2007, both at 13.3 points per game. At 11 points per game, Kentucky’s top scorer Aaron Harrison would shatter that mark.

 

16. Aaron Harrison’s clutch shots

No one was more emblematic of Kentucky’s title game run last season than Aaron Harrison, who hit game-winning shots in the final seconds against Wisconsin in the Final Four and Michigan in the Elite Eight and a go-ahead shot against Louisville in the Sweet 16. With a go-ahead shot against Notre Dame in the Elite Eight this season, Harrison has proven he still has it.

 

17. Quinn Cook’s humility

Kentucky’s players aren’t the only ones who had to learn to put ego aside to reach the Final Four. Quinn Cook had been Duke’s starting point guard for two seasons before Krzyzewski recruited Tyus Jones. In essence, Coach K was asking his senior point guard to move to shooting guard to make room for a freshman. Cook did it without complaint and both have flourished as a result. The result was moments like this:

 

 

18. Justise Winslow’s emergence

He’s managed to upstage Okafor and Jones as Duke’s best freshman in the Tournament. His all-around play hasn’t been a revelation necessarily — he’s been a great scorer, rebounder and defensive presence all year — but it has been the critical piece of the puzzle for Duke.

 

19. Sam Dekker’s emergence

It wouldn’t be fair to say Dekker hadn’t reached his potential at Wisconsin, but he never was an overwhelming player for the Badgers, either. That has changed as Dekker has twice set career highs (23 points against North Carolina, 27 against Arizona) in the regional. The 6-9 forward was unstoppable in the second half against the Wildcats with 5-of-5 3-pointers.

 

20. Tyler Ulis

At 5-foot-9, Tyler Ulis is already one of the smallest players for a major program. Playing on a team with Kentucky’s size only makes his stature more pronounced. He doesn’t back down, though, as evidenced by this exchange with Auburn’s 7-2 center Trayvon Reed.

 

 

21. Nigel Hayes

Every Tournament introduces America to a character who happens to play college basketball. Nigel Hayes is that year’s player. Hayes messed with a stenographer and got caught on a hot mic admiring a lady in the room.

 

22. Karl-Anthony Towns

A potential No. 1 overall pick who photobombs his coach? Sure.

 

 

23. Wisconsin’s laid-back team

Seriously, this is just about every press conference for this team. No one is having more fun than Wisconsin right now.

 

 

24. An All-Big Ten title game?

A Wisconsin-Michigan State championship game would require two upsets on Saturday, which on its own would be monumental. Those upsets would also set up a title game involving two teams from the same conference, something that’s happened only twice in the 64-team era (Kansas over Oklahoma in 1988, Villanova over Georgetown in 1985). It would be the first all-Big Ten final since Indiana beat Michigan in 1976.

 

25. Travis Trice’s mom

Do you hear that banshee-like scream when Michigan State’s opponents are attempting free throws? That’s Travis Trice’s mom.

 

26. Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr.

That’s the name of Michigan State’s freshman guard. His given name Lourawls is from his father, who was named for the 60s-70s singer Lou Rawls. “Tum Tum” is from a character the 1992 kids movie 3 Ninjas. That’s how you end up with a Louralws “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr.

 

27. The NCAA has a social conscience

The NCAA and its members are still trying to tackle many issues, from violence against women to compensation for players and more. Credit the NCAA for leaving no wiggle room on its position on Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act. On the eve of the Final Four taking place in Indianapolis, the NCAA was one of the first of many national entities to condemn the law and threaten to move events to other states.  

 

28. Bill Raftery

Bill Raftery is one of the nation’s most beloved college basketball color commentators, but for various reasons, he’s never called a Final Four until this season. Send it in...

 

29. Rematches

The matchups don’t need any more juice than they already have, but there’s plenty of familiarity here. Kentucky beat Wisconsin 74-73 in the Final Four a year ago. The Wildcats lost to Michigan State in Chicago early in the 2013 season. Duke beat Michigan State 81-71 in November. Of course, Wisconsin and Michigan State are conference foes, but they played an epic overtime bout in the Big Ten championship game.  

 

30. Vicarious wins

Congratulations, Texas Southern, Rutgers and Miami, you beat teams in the Final Four.

 

31. Crowd-watching

We’ve got Ashley Judd (Kentucky), Aaron Rodgers and Olivia Munn (Wisconsin), Magic Johnson (Michigan State) and members of the Dallas Cowboys (Duke) sharing the arena with guys like this...

 

Teaser:
31 Reasons This Will Be the Best Final Four Ever
Post date: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Florida State Seminoles, Oregon Ducks, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-2015-why-pro-days-are-completely-useless
Body:

The only thing worse than the NFL Combine is a pro day.

 

It’s like the Combine but with home-field advantage. And no defense.

 

Jameis Winston’s 2015 pro day was rather uneventful and did very little to change his stock as the presumptive No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. That’s good because a pro day shouldn’t do much of anything to anyone’s stock.

 

Winston completed 92-of-102 passes against air and a few household cleaning items.

 

A week earlier, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota drew mixed reviews during his workout at the Ducks’ facility.

 

BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

 

The short answer is nothing.

 

Related: 2015 AFC Team Needs

 

Winston is still a big-armed, NFL-ready pocket passer with above average athleticism, a track record for winning games and questionable off-the-field decision-making skills.

 

Mariota is still a quiet, unassuming, electric athlete with a strong arm but very little experience reading defenses and running a pro-style offense.

 

We pretty much knew all of this stuff because, get this, we watched them play college football.

 

The lesson here is that pro days actually mean less than the Combine. At least at the Combine, you have an equal measuring stick for every player from around the nation regardless of exercise or conference or position.

 

A pro day is a contrived group of drills using teammates and coaches that are extremely well-known in the comfort of a familiar facility against no opposition whatsoever.

 

Need more?

 

I give you JaMarcus Russell and Teddy Bridgewater.

 

According to NFL Network scouting guru Mike Mayock, Russell produced “the best pro day I’ve ever seen.” Throwing a football 70 yards through some goalposts on one knee is extremely impressive but I have yet to see it happen in a game. But his pro day workout cemented Russell atop the 2007 NFL Draft.

 

Mayock touted Bridgewater’s pro day as “average at best” with “a lot of flutters and a lot of inaccuracy.” It caused Bridgewater to drop to the last pick of the first round last spring.

 

Related: 2015 NFC Team Needs

 

Russell went 7-18 as an NFL starter in three seasons, throwing 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions while completing just 52.1 percent of his passes. That’s epically bad for a No. 1 overall draft pick.

 

In just 12 career starts, Bridgewater has nearly matched Russell’s career stats and has clearly proven he belongs under center in the NFL. He won six of his 12 starts as a rookie, throwing 14 touchdown passes and completing 64.4 percent of his passes.

 

Russell was a freakish athlete with a huge arm and tendency to turn the ball over. Bridgewater is a tough leader who helps his teams consistently win games.

 

But no one needed a pro day to see that. No, all you needed was a TV and some free time on Saturdays.

Teaser:
NFL Draft 2015: Why Pro Days Are Completely Useless
Post date: Thursday, April 2, 2015 - 12:09
Path: /college-football/tennessee-volunteers-2015-football-schedule-and-analysis
Body:

Expectations are soaring into the summer for the Tennessee Volunteers.

 

Butch Jones has had as big an influx of young talent in the last two years as any team in the nation. Which is why so many might be quick to prematurely mention his team as a possible contender in the SEC East.

 

Either way, Big Orange Nation will get its money's worth in 2015 with a schedule loaded with marquee games

 

Something Rocky Top hasn't been accustomed to in years.

 

Related: 2015 Tennessee Spring Football Preview

 

2015 Tennessee Volunteers Schedule

 

Bye: Week 7

 

WkOpp.DateLocation
1.Sept. 5Nashville, TN
The first-ever meeting with the Falcons should be a nice warm-up for the Sooners. That said, Bowling Green could test the Vols' defense after averaging 432.9 yards and 30.0 points per game last year.
2.Sept. 12Knoxville, TN
Marquee OOC Showdown The Sooners topped the Vols 34-10 in Norman last year in just the third meeting between the two blueblood programs. In Knoxville, an upset for Tennessee wouldn't be a shock and could catapult the Big Orange into a big 2015 campaign.
3.Sept. 19Knoxville, TN
This game gives Tennessee a well-timed, lower-tier opponent between two physical showdowns. This will be the first-ever matchup against Western Carolina, one that should have the Vols healthy and ready for a huge trip south to Florida.
4.Sept. 26Gainesville, FL
Elimination Game The once vaunted SEC rivalry appears to be on the way back into national relevance, as the winner could become the top challenger to Georgia in the East. The Gators have won 10 consecutive meetings and haven't lost at home to the Vols since 2003.
5.Oct. 3Knoxville, TN
A sneaky awesome early October matchup could feature two surging unbeaten programs. It will be the third physical matchup for Tennessee's defense in the first five weeks. The Vols are 13-4 all-time against the Hogs and haven't lost at home in the series since 1992. Arkansas won 49-7 in Fayetteville in 2011 in the last meeting.
6.Oct. 10Knoxville, TN
Divisional Showdown Georgia was lucky to escape Neyland Stadium the last time it visited and Butch Jones' group hasn't forgotten. The Dawgs have won five straight in the series but the all-time series is tied 21-21-2. The winner likely takes control of the East.
8.Oct. 24Tuscaloosa, AL
Third Saturday in October The historic SEC rivalry has been a series of streaks for decades. Alabama is currently on an eight-game winning streak over Tennessee, including five consecutive blowouts. Bama has won those five by an average of 28.4 points per game.
9.Oct. 31Lexington, KY
Tennessee has won 30 of the last 31 meetings with the Wildcats, but the last four in Lexington have been tight, including Kentucky's lone win since 1984. Mark Stoops' squad is getting better but couldn't hang with the Vols a year ago in a 50-16 loss.
10.Nov. 7Knoxville, TN
Butch Jones is 2-0 against Steve Spurrier, including a historic, comeback win in Columbia last season. Tennessee leads the all-time series 24-7-2 but the series has been very even for a decade, as the two have split the last 10 matchups.
11.Nov. 14Knoxville, TN
Cupcake Alert Like many SEC teams, the Vols host a cupcake in November. The Mean Green have faced the Vols once in history — a 21-14 Tennessee win in Knoxville in 1975.
12.Nov. 21Columbia, MO
A budding SEC East rivalry has gone the way of the Tigers every time these two have met. Mizzou has won all three meetings with the Vols by a total score of 111-72. The only meeting in Columbia was a 31-3 drubbing two years ago.
13.Nov. 28Knoxville, TN
The in-state rivalry has long been a one-sided affair for the Vols (74-29-5). But the Dores have been extremely competitive of late, winning in both 2012 and '13 and losing a close one to Big Orange (24-17) last year. Tennessee generally gets Vandy's best shot every year.
Teaser:
Tennessee Volunteers 2015 Schedule and Analysis
Post date: Thursday, April 2, 2015 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-15-quarterbacks-hot-seat-2015
Body:

Quarterback is easily the position with the most pressure in any college football season. Whether it’s a quarterback fighting to keep a starting job, replacing a standout from the prior season or just looking to elevate their overall play, signal-callers will be securitized and watched closely all offseason.

 

With spring practice underway, quarterback play is under the spotlight and battles across the nation are up for grabs. Which 15 quarterbacks head into 2015 with big expectations as they replace a big name? And which quarterbacks are fighting to hold onto the job this offseason?

 

Here are 15 names to consider as names on the hot seat (for various reasons) in 2015: 

 

Six Quarterbacks on the Hot Seat…Fighting to Remain a Starter

 

Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech

Brewer experienced his share of ups and downs in 2014, and the pressure is on the Texas native to take a step forward. In 13 games last season, Brewer threw for 2,692 yards and 18 scores and led the Hokies to an upset win over Ohio State. However, he also tossed seven picks in ACC play, passed for only 80 yards in a loss to Miami and threw for 126 yards and one interception in a 6-3 defeat against Wake Forest. Virginia Tech has one of the nation’s best defenses, and a talented group of skill players returning in 2015. If Brewer cuts the number of interceptions and plays with more consistency, the Hokies can challenge for the Coastal title. If Brewer stumbles, Brenden Motley appears to be next up on the depth chart.

 

Jake Coker, Alabama

Coker was expected to win the starting job after transferring from Florida State to Alabama last season. However, Blake Sims held off Coker for the No. 1 spot and threw for 3,487 yards and 28 scores. With Sims expiring his eligibility, the job is Coker’s to lose this spring. The senior will see competition from freshmen David Cornwell and Blake Barnett and junior Alec Morris. With an elite defense and rushing attack, Alabama doesn’t need Coker to be an All-SEC passer. But can he deliver with the game on the line and make enough timely throws to elevate the Crimson Tide into the national title?

 

Anthony Jennings, LSU

According to the recruiting rankings, LSU has one of the SEC’s best rosters. But even with a roster loaded with raw talent, the Tigers won’t contend for the West Division title unless the quarterback play improves in 2015. Jennings completed only 48.9 percent of his passes last season and finished 2014 by averaging only 110.4 yards in SEC contests. Jennings is locked into a tight battle for the starting job, as sophomore Brandon Harris ranked as the No. 75 prospect in the 2014 247Sports Composite and played in eight games last year.

 

Trevor Knight, Oklahoma

Settling the quarterback job is the top priority for new coordinator Lincoln Riley. The Sooners have ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in passing offense in back-to-back seasons and averaged only 184.8 yards through the air in conference contests in 2014. Knight appeared to be a rising star after his performance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, but he finished with just 14 touchdowns to 12 interceptions last year. Knight will be pushed by Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield and Cody Thomas this spring. Can he find the form that propelled the Sooners to a bowl win over Alabama at the end of the 2013 season? Or will Knight lose the battle to start under center?

 

Joel Stave, Wisconsin

Defense and the stellar play of running back Melvin Gordon led the way for Wisconsin last season. The Badgers averaged only 150 passing yards in Big Ten games, with Stave throwing for 1,350 yards and nine scores. He also tossed 10 picks and completed 53.4 percent of his passes. Even though Gordon is off to the NFL, the rushing attack should be strong with Corey Clement in a full-time role. But how much of a difference will new coach Paul Chryst make with the passing attack? Tanner McEvoy moved to defensive back, leaving Bart Houston, D.J. Gillins and freshmen Alex Hornibrook and Austin Kafentzis as candidates to push Stave for the starting job. The sluggish passing game isn’t all Stave’s fault, as Wisconsin has to develop more weapons at receiver this offseason.

 

Tyrone Swoopes, Texas

A similar storyline is set to unfold at Texas in coach Charlie Strong’s second season. The Longhorns will be strong on defense and enter the year with question marks on offense. Swoopes finished 2014 with 2,409 passing yards and 13 scores and added 262 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Texas plans to make a few tweaks to its offense in 2015, which includes utilizing the quarterbacks more on the run. Swoopes will be pushed for time by redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard this spring and needs to show marked improvement in order to stay at the top of the depth chart for 2015.

 

Five Players Under Pressure At National Title Contenders

 

Vernon Adams, Oregon

Replacing a Heisman Trophy winner is never easy. However, that’s the task ahead for Oregon coach Mark Helfrich this offseason. Adams is transferring from Eastern Washington but won’t arrive on campus until this summer. The California native was one of the top players on the FCS level over the last three seasons and should be a good fit in the Ducks’ high-powered offense. Adams is a dynamic playmaker and could be one of the Pac-12’s top quarterbacks in 2015. How quickly will he pickup the offense and adjust to play on the FBS level?

 

Jeremy Johnson, Auburn

All signs point to Johnson as the next breakout star at quarterback. The junior is at the controls of coach Gus Malzahn’s high-powered offense and played well in limited action through the first two seasons of his career. Johnson is a different quarterback than his predecessor Nick Marshall. The Montgomery native is a 6-foot-5 pocket passer with a cannon for an arm. Johnson certainly isn’t a statue in the pocket, but the quarterback runs under Marshall likely won’t be as prominently featured in 2015. If Johnson lives up to the hype, Auburn could win the SEC title and rank among the four teams for a playoff bid.   

 

Sean Maguire, Florida State

Maguire has the monumental task of replacing Jameis Winston after one of the best two-year runs by a starting quarterback. While losing Winston to the NFL was a huge blow to Florida State, coach Jimbo Fisher is one of the top offensive minds in the nation and a noted quarterback guru. Maguire made his first career start against Clemson last season, completing 21 of 39 passes for 304 yards and one score. The New Jersey native is expected to claim the starting job this spring and will have a strong supporting cast at his disposal in 2015.

 

Brice Ramsey, Georgia

Out of the quarterbacks in this section, Ramsey is the one with the least amount of job security. The sophomore entered spring as the frontrunner to replace Hutson Mason but will face competition from Jacob Park and Faton Bauta. In eight games last season, Ramsey completed 24 of 39 passes for 333 yards and three scores. Will Ramsey emerge as the favorite under new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer? The Bulldogs have one of the nation’s top running backs in Nick Chubb, along with a defense that should be better in coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s second season. Contending for a national title could hinge on how quickly Georgia settles its quarterback situation.

 

Seth Russell, Baylor

Russell saw significant action last year, which included one start while Bryce Petty was dealing with a back injury. In eight appearances, Russell completed 48 of 85 throws for 804 yards and eight scores. Coach Art Briles is one of the best in the nation at finding and developing the next star at quarterback, and Baylor’s offense won’t miss much of a beat with Russell under center. However, if he stumbles, Jarrett Stidham – the No. 38 prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite – will be ready to push for snaps.

 

Not in Danger of Losing the Starting Spot…But Has to Play Better

 

Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska

If Armstrong develops as a passer under coach Mike Riley and Nebraska’s new offense, the Cornhuskers can win the Big Ten’s West Division in 2015.

 

Kevin Hogan, Stanford

Hogan turned in two solid performances at the end of 2014, and it’s critical for Stanford’s offense to shoulder more of the load in 2015 with several key players departing on defense.

 

Mitch Leidner, Minnesota

Leidner is a good fit for Minnesota’s offense with his mobility (452 yards and 10 scores in 2014), but he has to improve his completion percentage (51.5).

 

Maty Mauk, Missouri

Mauk completed only 48.9 percent of his passes in SEC games last season. Improving that number is critical to Missouri’s hopes of winning the East once again in 2015. However, the Tigers must replace their top three receivers from last year.

Teaser:
College Football's Top 15 Quarterbacks on the Hot Seat for 2015
Post date: Thursday, April 2, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Jordan Spieth, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-5-jordan-spieth
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 5: Jordan Spieth

 

Born: July 27, 1993, Dallas, Texas | Career PGA Tour Wins: 2 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,342,748 (11th) World Ranking: 4

2014 Key Stats:

      Birdie or Better Conversion Percentage: 34.24% (2nd)

      Total Birdies: 389 (2nd)

      Scrambling from the Rough: 62.01% (9th)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Spieth, after having a share of the 54-hole lead at the 2014 Masters, went on to finish second, and in doing so became the youngest-ever runner-up at the year’s first major. One month later, he very nearly captured The Players Championship. For most of the rest of the year his play was not as spectacular, but it’s what he did in the brief offseason that turned heads and dropped jaws. There is no bigger predictor of superstardom than contending in majors at an early age and winning tournaments by a wide margin while one is still in their early 20s. Though Jordan didn’t win The Masters, his play there left no doubt that major wins are in his future, and his six stroke win at the Australian Open and 10-stroke blowout at the Hero World Challenge in December showed a gear that no one knew he had. For the year, he led the tour in one-putt greens and was 13th in scrambling but struggled with his driver until an offseason fix by his teacher Cameron McCormick put him on track. It is that change and his runaway wins that put him among the favorites to win multiple times this year. His play thus far in 2015 — a win at Valspar, a runner-up at the Valero Texas Open and three other top-7 finishes — has done nothing to diminish those expectations.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 8
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - T2
U.S. Open - T17
British Open - T36
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T2 (2014)
U.S. Open - T17 (2014)
British Open - T36 (2014)
PGA Championship - Cut (2013, '14)
Top-10 Finishes: 1
Top-25 Finishes: 3
Missed Cuts: 3

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, April 2, 2015 - 10:14
Path: /college-football/kansas-state-wildcats-2015-spring-football-preview
Body:

Bill Snyder is a mad scientist when it comes to building a roster and developing talent.

 

His challenge this offseason for Kansas State might be one of his biggest, however, as the Wildcats lose a glut of elite senior leaders.

 

Will Kansas State likely outperform their preseason expectations anyway? Probably. But that will require more wizardry from Snyder this spring.

 

Related: 2015 Big 12 Spring Primer and Power Rankings

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Kansas State’ Spring Practice:

 

1. Who replaces Jake Waters at quarterback?

Waters wasn’t an elite talent but he was a great leader and consistently willed his team to wins. He must be replaced this spring. Joe Hubener will have the first crack at earning the starting job as he brings a similar skill set to the table as Waters and previous starter Collin Klein. However, Jesse Ertz and early enrollee Alex Delton will be in the mix this spring.

 

2. Find pass catchers

Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton both topped 1,000 yards receiving last season, the first time a WR duo had done so in Kansas State history. Both are gone along with dependable tight end Zach Trujillo. Kody Clark has some upside and played well in a supporting role last fall. Deante Burton, Judah Jones, Stanton Weber and Andre Davis should all get plenty of looks on the outside. Someone needs to step up as KSU looks to find dependable pass catchers.

 

Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Big 12 Preview



Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

 

3. Plug holes in the front seven

End Ryan Mueller and leading tackler Jonathan Truman are both gone along with tackle Valentino Coleman and linebacker Dakorey Johnson. Mueller will be the toughest one to replace, so finding a pass rusher is a top priority this spring. Jordan Willis needs to take the next step. There are plenty of linebackers on the depth chart prepared to step in and fill voids — Will Davis, Elijah Lee, Charmeachealle Moore — but setting the depth chart this spring is key. 

 

4. Find a consistent running game

All-American center B.J. Finney needs to be replaced up the middle on an offense that ranked just 104th nationally in rushing offense last year. Cody Whitehair and Boston Stiverson return to the left side of the line but this unit must improve on the ground. Leading rusher among running backs Charles Jones is still around, but there is no experienced depth behind him. Settling the O-line, finding some backs and getting a push up front needs to be a focus this offseason.

 

5. Junior college contributors

Snyder has made a living on providing instant depth with junior college transfers during his time in Manhattan. Kansas State didn’t enroll a single JUCO prospect this spring, but a large group that failed to contribute much last season could be ready to step into prominent roles. The aforementioned Davis, offensive lineman A.J. Allen, nose guard Terrell Clinskcales and cornerback Jesse Mack could be the top names to watch from a ’14 class that included nine JUCOs.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Kansas State:

 

Kansas State is always better than most expect. But this team has major holes to fill at key positions after losing historically great players. Quarterback and the defensive front seven are big areas of concern but there are options in the cupboard for Snyder. Should these two areas come into focus, the Wildcats could once again surprise in the Big 12.

Teaser:
Kansas State Wildcats 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, April 2, 2015 - 10:00
Path: /nba/san-antonio-spurs-are-beautiful-again
Body:

After a season spent lying about with a championship hangover, the San Antonio Spurs finally look like title contenders again.

 

Following a 12-3 March campaign, they seem like the only legitimate Western Conference threat to the dominant Golden State Warriors. The Spurs have regained their dazzling, selfless form — the giant has awakened from its slumber, with no game more telling than their recent 114-95 road spattering of the Atlanta Hawks.

 

Atlanta has been the apple of the league’s eye for much of the year, running out to the East’s No. 1 seed with a formula that coach Mike Budenholzer brought over from the decade-plus tenure he had under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. But the Spurs quickly reminded the league that no one plays their brand of ball as well as they do, with the win.

 

At the center of their resurgence is Tony Parker, who shot 56 percent from the field through March — an almost unheard-of figure for a point guard. Parker had shot around 40 percent for the previous two months, clearly exhibiting some malaise and creaky body issues, but now he’s back to being the dark horse leader that’s fueled the Spurs’ offense for years.

 

Alongside Parker’s rise back to prominence has been the continued improvement of Kawhi Leonard, who missed games with various injuries throughout the year but now looks more and more every day like he’s eclipsing Carmelo Anthony, to enter the rare air of top-three NBA small forwards — Kawhi’s still got work to do to stand up to LeBron James and Kevin Durant. But Leonard’s relentless length on defense is difficult for any team to account for.

 

The ever-steady Tim Duncan, meanwhile, continues to amaze. The soon-to-be-39-year-old has been the Spurs’ most consistent player in 2014-15, netting the seventh best defensive real plus-minus in the league — Leonard’s is fourth.

 

Perhaps most encouraging of all, though, is the rejuvenation of the league’s most consummate postseason wild card — Boris Diaw. Parker’s French friend is the crazy glue that turns the Spurs into something unstoppable, and that’s just what San Antonio might be again… even against the Warriors.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 16:31
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, New England Patriots, NFL
Path: /nfl/five-perfect-nfl-draft-fits-new-england-patriots
Body:

This offseason there seem to be more holes than usual in the New England Patriots' personnel. With the departure of both starting cornerbacks and long-time stalwart Vince Wilfork, as well as questions at guard and unproven depth at running back, the Patriots could have a number of rookies immediately step into starting slots.

 

The other concern is at linebacker, where both Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower are recovering from injuries and might not be ready to go at the start of the season. The Pats pursued Rolando McClain to reinforce the position, but he ended up re-signing with Dallas.

 

Usually the Pats have at least a serviceable starting 22 by the draft, but now, in early April, questions still remain.

 

Here are five potential draft picks that would be great fits in New England.

 

1. Eddie Goldman - DT - Florida State

The Patriots drafted defensive tackle Dominique Easley in the first round last year and he showed some promise before being shut down to get fully recovered for the 2015 season. Easley is a penetrator and would make a great pairing with Goldman, one of the top defensive tackles in this year's draft class. Goldman is not Wilfork, but has the size to be effective both as a two-gapper and getting up field after the quarterback.

 

Versatility is key in Bill Belichick's defensive scheme, where the base nickel package has two space-eating defensive tackles at the heart of it. Stopping the run with a six-man box is vital, and Goldman would immediately become a significant part of a rotation with Easley, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones and veteran Alan Branch.

 

2. A.J. Cann - OG - South Carolina

There might not be another position in more need of a youthful talent infusion than guard and this draft class is rich with prospects who could immediately step in. With captain Dan Connolly still taking free agent visits, the need at the position is almost unheard of at this point in the offseason. Cann could immediately step in and start at left guard, just as Logan Mankins did a decade ago.

 

Cann's experience, disciplined play and toughness all check key boxes for the Patriots' draft requirements. He would instantly solidify a huge need and form one of the best young interior offensive line tandems with second-year starter Bryan Stork at center.

 

3. Byron Jones - CB - UConn

With the departure of both Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner many are now clamoring for a cornerback in the first round, but the Patriots' standards are extremely high. The last cornerback they took in the first round was Devin McCourty, thought by many to be more of a special teamer than cornerback prospect at the time. However, what he turned into was a four-down player who made the Pro Bowl both as a cornerback in this rookie year and as a safety last season.

 

Jones has shot up the draft boards with impressive performances at both the combine and UConn's pro day. He's the ultimate leader, something the Patriots definitely look for in prospects. Like McCourty, he could be a four-down player and contribute immediate value, even if he doesn't immediately lock down a starting spot on defense. His athleticism and size would be a welcome addition to the secondary.

 

4. Duke Johnson - RB - Miami

With Stevan Ridley's likely departure, the Patriots do have some need at running back, although second-year player Tyler Gaffney, plucked off of waivers from the Carolina Panthers, should compete for a role. LeGarrette Blount is a solid piece, but the Pats prefer a committee of running backs and Blount won't be asked to carry the load.


Enter Duke Johnson, an explosive running back, who would immediately bring a new dimension to the Patriots' backfield. Johnson is a downhill runner who will break initial contact and pick up extra yards. He's also a capable receiver and while his protection skills might keep him off the field early in his career, he'll be protected in this respect via the backfield-by-committee philosophy.

 

5. Bernardrick McKinney - ILB - Mississippi St.

With Mayo and Hightower questionable for the start of training camp, and no experienced depth behind Jamie Collins, the Patriots must bring in some talent to their linebacker corps. They will continue to look at free agent options, but they'll also look at the rookie crop long and hard.

 

McKinney isn't a flashy choice, he's the kind of player that plays within the defense and makes plays. He has excellent size and length, and runs well enough to not be a major liability in the passing game. While it's always preferable to ease a rookie linebacker in, McKinney would carve out a role even with the eventual return of Mayo and Hightower.

 

 

— Written by Mike Dussault, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writer/editor of PatsPropaganda.com (@PatsPropaganda), a comprehensive blog covering the New England Patriots.

Teaser:
With notable departures in free agency, the Pats still have some holes to fill. Here are five instant starters.
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/tiregate-defines-nascar-season-following-denny-hamlins-victory-martinsville
Body:

As NASCAR prepares for its Easter break, the mood around the garage had turned optimistic. Martinsville, long one of the circuit’s best tracks produced an excellent finish between Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski. After weeks of dominance by Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota flexed some muscle as some new faces made their way to the front. It seemed like the biggest news item this week would simply be following Kyle Larson doctor visits after the young driver fainted and was taken to a Charlotte hospital.

 

Then, out of the blue NASCAR dropped an anvil straight on an unsuspecting sport. Ryan Newman was docked 75 points Tuesday night when his team was found to make improper adjustments to his tires during the race. According to officials, holes were being poked in his Goodyears to slowly “bleed air pressure” during a run, increasing grip and allowing the handling of his car to stay more consistent. The advantage was costly, as crew chief Luke Lambert was fined $125,000 and suspended for six races. Tire technician James Bender and team engineer Philip Surgen have been suspended for the next six races as well.

 

Officials had been sniffing around with tires the last few weeks, confiscating them from several top teams following races but had not found anything out of the ordinary, until now. The Newman penalty, while affecting the No. 31 team directly, serves as a stern warning for everyone else. NASCAR has done a lot of work the last few years trying to carve out any type of “gray area” in what was a rulebook that once appeared to be written in invisible ink. The sport is preaching parity and any modifications to major pieces, like tires and engines will be dealt with swiftly and effectively.

 

At the same time, for Newman the penalty could have been far worse. Early in the season, a six-week suspension gives them plenty of time to recover and regain rhythm before the Chase. While dropping to 27th in the standings, a win will be all it takes for Newman to still gain entrance into the postseason field (he was last year’s championship runner-up). Richard Childress Racing has shown plenty of speed, with its single-car alliances of JTG-Daugherty Racing and Germain Racing posting top-5 and top-10 performances, too. Opportunities will be there for Newman to cash in over the spring and summer, making tiregate a distant memory.

 

It was the easiest way for NASCAR to fire a warning shot, with Newman the example they’re trotting out in front of the masses. In a year where passing is difficult, teams are trying every which way to get the slightest advantage that will push them through traffic during a long, green-flag run. But playing with fire will come with a steep price, one they won’t want to risk during the postseason. That message was the sport’s Easter egg gift to America.

 

Let’s take a look back at what else we should focus on heading into NASCAR’s off week.

 

FIRST GEAR: Joe Gibbs Racing back on track

 

Hamlin’s Martinsville victory, his fifth at the track, led a strong effort by the sport’s top Toyota outfit. Teammates Matt Kenseth and David Ragan also wound up inside the top 5, the first time that’s happened all season. It was a strong response to the news that team President J.D. Gibbs is undergoing treatment for issues impacting brain function.

 

“It was about 12, 13 years ago when J.D. happened to just show up at a Hickory test where we were running some late models,” Hamlin explained. “He made a phone call to his dad and thought maybe he had something there that was special. [JGR] signed me up, and J.D. was the key to making that happen.”

 

As the team has rallied together, prepared to support Gibbs through the illness there’s also signs of recovery from Kyle Busch’s devastating leg injury at Daytona. While Busch keeps pushing through rehab, Ragan seems to have finally gotten comfortable with the No. 18 team in his absence. His first top-5 finish makes it more likely he’ll be in the car for a longer period rather than handing off the reins to youngster Erik Jones.

 

SECOND GEAR: Hendrick’s horrible day

 

This year, Hendrick Motorsports cars have flashed the most speed to compete with defending champion Kevin Harvick. But Martinsville, traditionally a strength with teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, turned out to be a huge bump in the road. Johnson was never a factor, getting involved in wrecks and failing to lead a lap en route to 35th. Gordon, on the other hand was in position until a late penalty for speeding sent him to the back of the lead lap during the race’s final caution. He fought his way to ninth but that was small consolation for a car that was one of the fastest in the field.

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won at Martinsville last fall, was a mess all day. Suffering from multiple broken shifters, he wound up plowing into a wreck and finished one spot behind Johnson in 36th. Young Chase Elliott, making his Sprint Cup debut had a similar problem, a chain-reaction incident leaving him a whopping 73 laps down in 38th. Only Kasey Kahne, who ran 11th avoided significant problems on the day.

 

“You can’t do anything about bad finishes like this,” explained Earnhardt. “You just have to learn from everything that happened to us and come back here a little stronger next time.”

 

THIRD GEAR: 1, 2, 3, Contact

 

After a series of questionable debris cautions, the yellow flag waved 16 times Sunday for (mostly) legitimate reasons. Martinsville lived up to its short track reputation, with three wrecks involving five or more cars dwindling the number of lead-lap finishers to 21. Among the big names involved included Earnhardt, Elliott, Newman and Justin Allgaier.

 

It was a carnage-filled event but one that harkened back to the old-school days of NASCAR, when you could bump each other and not worry about losing speed or the dreaded “aero push.” During a season where there’s been so little contact, drivers creating their own personal space shortly after a restart the bumping and grinding was nice to see.

 

FOURTH GEAR: Danica hanging in there

 

A seventh-place finish, for some would be a drop in the bucket toward building a Chase-contending resume. But for a driver like Danica Patrick, simply looking to survive in the Sprint Cup Series it’s a huge confidence boost for her and crew chief Daniel Knost.

 

“It’s a disaster to be off and struggling with the car and it’s really fun to have a good car,” she explained, claiming her top-10 finish was a dogfight. “We had both of them today. I don’t think I’ve really been in that situation before.”

 

Patrick, in the final year of her contract desperately needs to put some finishes together and show she can succeed in Cup over the long-term. Stewart-Haas Racing, pairing her with the inexperienced Knost hadn’t done her any favors but suddenly, their little group is making a bit of noise. If the season ended today, Patrick would be tied for the final Chase spot and she’s done a better job of making the most of her situation each week. In theory, the speed is there to get the job done, especially with teammate Harvick dominating nearly every week. Her position in points, however tenuous, makes her a story to keep an eye on.

 

OVERDRIVE

 

Harvick, who led a race-high 154 laps Sunday saw his streak of eight top-2 finishes end. He wound up eighth, shrinking his lead in the points over Joey Logano to just 24… The 31 lead changes we saw at Martinsville, a season high, were more than the last two races combined… Martin Truex Jr. now has six top-10 finishes to start the season with Furniture Row Racing. That’s a career high for him and more than he scored with FRR all of last season… Carl Edwards, 17th on Sunday, still has yet to register a top-10 finish with his new team over at Joe Gibbs Racing.

 

— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site Frontstretch.com. He can be reached at tom.bowles@frontstretch.com or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Tiregate Defines NASCAR Season Following Denny Hamlin’s Victory at Martinsville
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/oregon-ducks-2015-spring-football-preview
Body:

For the second time in five seasons, Oregon came up 60 minutes short of a national championship.

 

This time the Ducks have to rebuild without arguably the greatest player in the history of their program. Five starters are back on defense and seven are back on offense, but the loss of Marcus Mariota obviously cannot be understated.

 

Mark Helfrich still might have the team to beat in the Pac-12 but will have to address some major issues with his roster this spring if he wants to win a second consecutive conference title.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Oregon’s Spring Practice:

 

1. Keep the seat warm

Vernon Adams threw for 10,438 yards, rushed for 1,232 and accounted for 121 touchdowns in three years at Eastern Washington. He’s likely Oregon's next starting quarterback but won’t show up until June. That leaves Jeff Lockie, Morgan Mahalak and Taylor Alie to run the offense this spring. Having a backup plan ready before Adams arrives would be advised. Keep an eye on true freshman early enrollee Travis Jonsen as well.

 

2. Fill massive gaps along the line

Hroniss Grasu, Hamani Stevens and Jake Fisher all earned All-Pac-12 honors and all three must be replaced this spring. Tyler Johnstone returns to anchor the unit but the rest of this group is extremely inexperienced and unproven. Look for guys like Doug Brenner, Matt Pierson and Jake Pisarcik to step into bigger roles this offseason. This might be the biggest concern for Helfrich this spring.

 

3. Develop the secondary

Veterans Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill are gone at cornerback while Erick Dargan departs at safety. And the backups stepping into bigger roles are very young. Reggie Daniels needs to be a leader while Tyree Robinson, Chris Seisay, Khalil Oliver and others will need to step up. Even true freshman early enrollee Ugo Amadi and former wide receiver Charles Nelson could see first-team reps this spring. 

 

Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Pac-12 Preview



Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

 

4. Defensive line rotation

DeForest Buckner is back for Oregon and could be the best player on the entire roster. He likely won’t be a part of spring ball, as he recovers from an unknown leg injury, so Don Pellum needs to establish a defensive line rotation. This unit is stacked with depth but needs to replace Arik Armstead and Sam Kamp while accounting for Buckner’s absence. Alex Balducci and Tui Talia are excellent veterans, but the rest of the unit needs to be organized this spring.

 

5. Keep playmakers happy

Oregon has a lot of guys who will touch the football this fall and keeping them all happy will be important. Organizing the workload in the backfield is an enviable task with Royce Freeman, Thomas Tyner and hybrid Byron Marshall returning. Bralon Addison returns after missing all of last year with a knee injury and will fight for reps with a deep collection of young playmakers on the outside. There is only one football and the Ducks have 8-10 guys who could be stars with the ball in their hands.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Oregon:

 

The Ducks are loaded with young talent and are returning a core group of players who have won a ton of games. But critical positions — quarterback, offensive line and defensive back — are glaring concerns for Helfrich and staff that need to be addressed this spring. In a brutal conference with loads of quality programs, the Ducks might still be considered the front-runner, provided they can answer a few questions this spring.

Teaser:
Oregon Ducks 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/ranking-sec-wests-toughest-college-football-schedules-2015
Body:

Let’s get one thing clear right away. There is no such thing as an “easy” schedule in the SEC.

 

When putting together Athlon Sports' college football preview magazines each year, a huge part of the process is scheduling. Non-conference games, crossovers, home-road splits and timing all play a role in determining order of finish.

 

And don’t forget that the College Football Playoff Committee made it very clear in its first season that it values scheduling.

 

Related: Ranking the SEC East's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2015

 

So who has the toughest schedule in the SEC West this fall?

 

* - neutral site

 

1. Arkansas

Non-Con: UTEP, Toledo, Texas Tech, UT Martin

West Home: Auburn, Mississippi St

West Road: Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU, Texas A&M*

Crossover: at Tennessee, Missouri

 

How about the toughest road schedule in the SEC: Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU, Tennessee and neutral field against Texas A&M in Arlington. Getting Auburn, Missouri and Mississippi State at home is nice but this SEC slate is brutal. The non-conference slate isn’t overly taxing but still features a Big 12 opponent (who can score points).

 

2. Alabama

Non-Con: Wisconsin, MTSU, ULM, Charleston So.

West Home: Ole Miss, Arkansas, LSU

West Road: Texas A&M, Mississippi St, Auburn

Crossover: at Georgia, Tennessee

 

Crossover play for Alabama might be the toughest of any team in the West, and Wisconsin could be the best non-conference game in the division as well. With both Auburn and Georgia on the road, battles against the top two challengers to the Tide’s SEC title will come away from home. However, road trips to Texas A&M and Mississippi State could feature the worst two teams in the division. Huge swing games (Ole Miss, Arkansas, LSU) will come at home.

 

3. Ole Miss

Non-Con: UT Martin, Fresno St, New Mexico St, at Memphis

West Home: Texas A&M, Arkansas, LSU

West Road: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi St

Crossover: Vanderbilt, at Florida

 

The non-conference schedule has two tricky, but beatable foes with Memphis and Fresno State on the schedule. Crossover play against Vanderbilt and Florida is, at worst, a split. The road slate in the division is what might keep Ole Miss from winning the West, having to visit Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State. Fans also get two big revenge games with LSU and Arkansas at home this year.

 

Related: SEC West 2015 Spring Preview and Power Rankings

 

4. Texas A&M

Non-Con: Arizona St*, Ball St, Nevada, W. Carolina

West Home: Mississippi St, Alabama, Auburn

West Road: Ole Miss, LSU, Arkansas*

Crossover: South Carolina, at Vanderbilt

 

The Aggies-Sun Devils season opener is just awesome — but very difficult. Only having two true road games in the division helps. The best two teams in the league likely have to visit College Station (Alabama, Auburn) and crossover play with the Gamecocks and Commodores is the easiest of any team in the West. Texas A&M will leave the state of Texas just three times all year.

 

5. LSU

Non-Con: McNeese St, at Syracuse, E. Michigan, W. Kentucky

West Home: Auburn, Arkansas, Texas A&M

West Road: Mississippi State, Alabama, Ole Miss

Crossover: at South Carolina, Florida

 

The non-conference slate is very manageable and crossover play works in LSU’s favor as well this year with Florida visiting Death Valley. Three road games in the division to Starkville, Tuscaloosa and Oxford, however, keep LSU from having the easiest slate in the West. Add a marquee home schedule with two revenge games (Arkansas, Auburn) and cap it all off with Texas A&M.

 

6. Auburn

Non-Con: Louisville*, Jacksonville St, San Jose St, Idaho

West Home: Mississippi St, Ole Miss, Alabama

West Road: LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M

Crossover: at Kentucky, Georgia

 

Louisville is a salty start to the season but this year’s Cardinals team doesn't have the look of a vintage Bobby Petrino squad. All four SEC road trips will take place against teams that are all likely picked well behind the Tigers in the preseason standings. The three biggest games of the season (Ole Miss, Alabama, Georgia) all take place on The Plains.

 

7. Mississippi State

Non-Con: at So. Miss, Northwestern St, Troy, La. Tech

West Home: LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss

West Road: Auburn, Texas A&M, Arkansas

Crossover: Kentucky, at Missouri

 

The non-conference slate will once again offer up four should-be wins for Mississippi State. Crossover play could feature two bottom-half teams in the East. And three of the top four teams in the West will likely have to visit Starkville. There is no schedule that is easy in the West, but State gets the nod here for the purpose of this exercise.

Teaser:
Ranking the SEC West's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2015
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Hot Seat, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-coaches-hot-seat-2015-spring-practice-edition
Body:

Coaching changes are a big part of any college football offseason. The 2015 carousel was relatively quiet with just 15 changes. However, from 2009-13, there were at least 21 coaching moves each year. While it’s too early in the season to know how many changes could be coming at the end of 2015, it’s never too soon to take a look at which coaches are on the hot seat.

 

Virginia’s Mike London tops the list of coaches on the hot seat, with Illinois’ Tim Beckman a close No. 2. Hawaii’s Norm Chow is the first coach from outside of the Power 5 conferences on this list. Here’s a spring edition of the top coaches on the hot seat for 2015.

 

Top 10 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2015

 

1. Mike London, Virginia

Record at Virginia: 23-38 (5 seasons)

 

London was on the hot seat last season but returns to the Virginia sideline after a 5-7 record. The five wins in 2014 was the Cavaliers’ second-highest victory mark under London, but Virginia still finished at the bottom of the Coastal Division. London has recruited well, but the Cavaliers have ranked ninth or worse in the ACC in scoring offense in four consecutive years. Getting to a bowl this season likely would keep London in Charlottesville for 2016.

 

2. Tim Beckman, Illinois

Record at Illinois: 12-25 (3 seasons)

 

Beckman’s teams have showed improvement over the last three years. Illinois finished 2-10 and winless in Big Ten play during Beckman’s first season (2012). However, the Fighting Illini won four games in 2013 and improved to 6-7 with an appearance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl last year. While Illinois won six games in 2014, it suffered a 38-27 loss to Purdue and posted narrow victories over Texas State (42-35) and Western Kentucky (42-34). Additionally, the Fighting Illini is just 4-20 under Beckman’s direction in Big Ten games.

 

3. Norm Chow
Record at Hawaii:
8-29 (3 seasons)

 

Hawaii isn’t an easy job, but Chow is just 8-29 in his three seasons. The Rainbow Warriors started Mountain West play 1-15 under Chow and have lost at least nine games in each of the last three years. San Diego State should be the clear favorite in the Mountain West’s West Division in 2015 and plenty of uncertainty surrounds usual contenders Nevada and Fresno State. With major question marks for the teams outside of the Aztecs in the West Division, there’s an opportunity for Hawaii to improve. With a new athletic director in place, the pressure is on Chow to win in 2015.

 

4. Al Golden, Miami

Record at Miami: 28-22 (4 seasons)

 

After taking a Temple program that was among the worst in the nation to respectability in the MAC, Golden seemed like a good fit to elevate Miami back into the ACC’s elite. However, it hasn’t worked out for Golden in four years, and there’s plenty of pressure on this coaching staff in 2015. The Hurricanes are just 16-16 in four years in ACC play under Golden and finished 3-5 in league action last season. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for Miami. However, this program is still looking for its first appearance in the ACC Championship since joining the league in 2004.

 

5. Ron Caragher, San Jose State

Record at San Jose State: 9-15 (2 season)

 

San Jose State has regressed since Mike MacIntyre left for Colorado. Even with standout senior quarterback David Fales under center, the Spartans finished 6-6 and missed on a bowl appearance in 2013. The program took another step back last season with a 3-9 record, with just two victories coming in Mountain West play. Caragher made a few staff changes this offseason, including well-traveled assistant Al Borges as the team’s offensive coordinator. San Jose State outgained its conference opponents by an average of 81.1 yards per game in 2014, and if Borges can find an answer at quarterback, the Spartans could inch closer to .500 play in the Mountain West.

 

6. Willie Taggart, South Florida

Record at USF: 6-18 (2 seasons)

 

Taggart was regarded as one of the top coaching hires prior to the 2013 season, but the Bulls are just 6-18 under his watch. USF won only two games in Taggart’s debut and increased its win total by two last season (4-8). According to recruiting rankings, the Bulls have one of the top rosters in the American Athletic Conference. Will it show in the win column in 2015? Getting to six victories is a realistic goal if the scheme change to an up-tempo attack on offense works out, along with the development of the team’s young talent.  

 

7. Ron Turner, FIU

Record at FIU: 5-19 (2 seasons)

 

FIU’s hire of Turner was an unusual one, and the Panthers slumped to 1-11 in his debut in 2013. But there were a few signs of life from Turner’s second team last season. FIU finished 4-8 overall and went 3-5 in conference play. The Panthers also lost four games by three points or less last season, providing hope for a winning record in 2015 if the team’s young offense develops this spring. Turner’s staff was hit hard by departures this offseason, including rising star defensive coordinator Josh Conklin leaving for Pittsburgh.

 

8. Paul Haynes, Kent State

Record at Kent State: 6-17 (2 seasons)

 

Kent State has recorded only one winning record since 2002, and Haynes’ first two seasons have been a struggle with a 6-17 mark. Considering Haynes is a former Kent State defensive back and worked as an assistant with the Golden Flashes as an assistant in 1999-00, he certainly knows what it takes to win at this program. The hire of Don Treadwell as the team’s offensive play-caller should pay dividends for a unit that managed only 16.4 points per game in 2014. 

 

9. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Record at Iowa: 115-85 (16 seasons)

 

Ferentz is the third-longest tenured coach in college football, and he’s had plenty of success at Iowa. During his 16 seasons in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes have recorded 115 victories and played in 12 bowl games. But is a fresh start needed for Iowa? The Hawkeyes have not finished in the final Associated Press poll since 2009 and has only one winning record in Big Ten play since 2010. And a Ferentz mention in a hot seat article wouldn’t be complete without a reference to his hefty buyout. While it can be accomplished, it’s not easy for a coach to stay in one place and succeed for a long time. Has Iowa reached its breaking point if Ferentz goes 6-6 or 5-7 in 2015?

 

10. Kevin Wilson, Indiana

Record at Indiana: 14-34 (4 seasons)

 

Indiana is a tough place to win consistently in the Big Ten, and the challenge for the Hoosiers only increased with the new divisional alignment featuring annual games against Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. Wilson improved Indiana’s win total in each of his first three seasons, but the program took a step back after an injury to quarterback Nate Sudfeld in 2014. With Sudfeld back in the mix, along with the addition of UAB transfer Jordan Howard at running back, the Hoosiers should be in good shape to make a run at a bowl game in 2015.

 

Getting Warm?

 

Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech

Beamer isn’t going to be fired, but it’s worth noting Virginia Tech is just 22-17 over the last three years. That’s a big downgrade after recording eight consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins from 2004-11.

 

Larry Fedora, North Carolina

The ongoing NCAA mess around North Carolina (if it results in sanctions or any additional scandal) could make it difficult to find a new coach if Fedora is fired. The Tar Heels are 21-17 under Fedora but will have a revamped (and improved) defensive staff in 2015.

 

Darrell Hazell, Purdue

Hazell’s 2014 team showed progress after a 1-11 record in his debut at Purdue in 2013. Barring a complete collapse in 2015, Hazell should be back on the Boilermakers’ sidelines in 2016.

 

Derek Mason, Vanderbilt

A young roster provides optimism for Vanderbilt in 2015, but there’s still major concerns about the offense after averaging only 17.2 points per game last year. The Commodores can’t afford to fall too far behind in the SEC East.

 

Paul Rhoads, Iowa State

Iowa State is one of the toughest Power 5 jobs, and Rhoads guided the program to three bowl appearances in his first four years. The Cyclones have slipped over the last two seasons, winning only two Big 12 games and finishing 5-19 overall.

 

Scott Shafer, Syracuse

Shafer will be working under a new athletic director in 2015, and the Orange finished 2014 by losing nine out of their last 10 games. It’s critical for Shafer to show this team is headed in the right direction.

Teaser:
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat: 2015 Spring Practice Edition
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 10:00
Path: /nba/warriors-clippers-rivalry-rages
Body:

If L.A. is basketball’s capital city, then California is most certainly its most important republic. And no NBA storyline is doing the state more good these days than the current rage between the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors.

 

Golden State beat Lob City 110-106 last night, and the game provided a rare dose of intrigue during the stale final weeks of the regular season. The Clippers are still fighting for optimal playoff seeding, and while the Warriors have already locked down the West’s No. 1 seed, their season-long mission toward perfection wasn’t about to stop against their thorniest foe.

 

Steph Curry delivered a deep blow to the Clippers swagger in the contest, when he crossed L.A. leader Chris Paul over so hard that all he could do was engage in crab-walk stance:

 

The Warriors overcame a terrific performance from Blake Griffin, who dropped 40 points and 12 rebou nds at the Staples Center, on 16-of-25 shooting. Perhaps even more encouraging, though, was who Golden State got the victory without — Defensive Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green sat for this one. 

 

 

But Draymond, as he’s wont to do, still made his presence felt. When asked by reporters about his reason for missing action (rest) Green said, “I’ve got Blake-itis,” taking a jab at Griffin.

 

Dubs coach Steve Kerr also beamed confidence before the game, stating matter-of-factly that "this game is really important to them. It's more important to them than it is to us… If this meant anything,” he said about Green, “we would play him.”

 

The Clippers have been playing very well this spring, coming into the game against G.S. on a seven-game winning streak. But what the Warriors are doing is singular, historical, special. They’ve now won ten games in a row when their regular season stakes are all but risen to zero, because they’re a cocky, destructive winning machine now. At 61-13, they’re still in the running for one of the league’s all-time best records.

 

Can anyone in the West hope to beat them?

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

(h/t Diamond Leung, Bay Area News Group)

 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 09:59
All taxonomy terms: Sergio Garcia, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-6-sergio-garcia
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 6: Sergio Garcia

 

Born: Jan. 9, 1980, Borriol, Castellon, Spain | Career PGA Tour Wins: 8 (11 on the European Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,939,606 (5th) World Ranking: 8

2014 Key Stats:

      Scoring Average (Actual): 69.38 (2nd)

      Strokes Gained, Total: 1.984 (2nd)

      Scrambling: 66.67% (2nd)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Garcia is no longer called El Nino (“the little boy”), as he was referred to when he first skipped-jumped into golf stardom at the age of 19. Nor is he El Jefe (“the boss”) as the world of golf might have thought he would’ve grown into by the age of 34. What he is, is a victim of his own early success and exuberance. It seems that nothing that he has ever achieved has been good enough for his critics — nor, at times, for him. Chronologically cursed to play in his youth against Tiger Woods and now as a thirtysomething against Rory McIlroy, he plays the role of immensely talented supporting player to superstars, a similar fate to ‘70s players Tom Weiskopf and Bruce Crampton. Those two had the misfortune to play when Jack Nicklaus was playing his best as well, leaving them both endlessly frustrated, which is not an unfamiliar disposition for Sergio. In recent years though, Garcia’s smile and his game have returned, perhaps in conjunction with his newfound aptitude around and on the greens to complement his genius from tee to green. Only Rory had a lower scoring average than Sergio in 2014 and only Jim Furyk was able to get up and down around the greens more frequently than the talented Spaniard. With the U.S. Open being played at Chambers Bay on the Puget Sound southwest of Tacoma, Wash., and the PGA Championship being played at Whistling Straights on Lake Michigan, links golf will be rewarded more than usual in 2015, and given his penchant for that style of play, so too might Garcia.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 65
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T35
British Open - T2
PGA Championship - T35

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T4 (2004)
U.S. Open - T3 (2005)
British Open - 2/T2 (2007, '14)
PGA Championship - 2/T2 (1999, 2008)
Top-10 Finishes: 19
Top-25 Finishes: 28
Missed Cuts: 18

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 09:49
Path: /college-football/cover-2-college-football-podcast-2015-big-ten-early-preview
Body:

 

Hosts Braden Gall and Steven Lassan go in-depth with an early 2015 Big Ten conference preview.

 

The Big Ten enters a season as a defending champ for the first time since 2002 and only the third time since 1968. However, could a repeat be more likely than you think?

 

Who are the top challengers to the Buckeyes in the East? How does Michigan State move forward without former defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi? Can James Franklin address issues along the O-line at Penn State? And what sort of impact can Jim Harbaugh make in his first season at Michigan?

 

In the West, potential front-runners Wisconsin and Nebraska each welcome a new head coach. Who can make their mark quicker? Can Jerry Kill keep working miracles in the Twin Cities? Where is the breaking point for Iowa and Kirk Ferentz? 

 

The fellas touch on every team and how the predictions might shake out in the Big Ten in 2015.


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

Teaser:
Cover 2 College Football Podcast: 2015 Big Ten Early Preview
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: New York Knicks, NBA
Path: /nba/phil-jackson-sends-video-letter-knicks-ticket-holders
Body:

It’s been a historically bad year for the New York Knicks. At 14-60, they’re the worst team in the NBA, with little sight of Carmelo Anthony or any other recognizable star at Madison Square Garden for months.

 

Maybe that’s a good thing, though. Team executive Phil Jackson is hoping season ticket holders can believe so, anyway.

 

In a recent video letter from Jackson to the Knicks’ customers, he made sure to mention that the Knicks, for the first time in a long time, will have a top pick in June’s draft, and enough cap space to lure a big-name free agent. The bottoming out of 2014-15, unsightly as its been, is laden with silver linings; this is what it takes to move on from the bloated mistakes of years past, goes the argument.

 

"We have a clear plan and expect our efforts to take really take shape as we enter the 2015 draft and free agency in the months ahead," Jackson said in the video, as reported by ESPN’s Ian Begley. "I ask that you remain optimistic and hope you will join us on our continued journey as we build a team that once again reflects the spirit of being a New York Knick.”

 

Of course, “the spirit of being a New York Knick” hasn’t meant anything too honorable for the better part of the young century. Skeptics of the team and Jackson’s vision for the future will be quick to note that large salary offers and the glitz of Manhattan have only done so much to build title-worthy teams in years past, and that young talent hasn’t blossomed in New York, either.

 

Jackson, of course, has nothing to do with those sorry old campaigns — only his own, inaugural folly of the 2014-15 season. He deserves fair judgment, to be sure, but the chips are stacked way against the Zen Master as he strives to break the Knicks’ curse.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 17:01
All taxonomy terms: College Football, UCLA Bruins, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/ucla-bruins-2015-spring-football-preview
Body:

UCLA is coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since 1997-98 and 18 starters are back from a team that nearly won the Pac-12 South last year. Coach Jim Mora has reeled in four consecutive top 20 classes on the recruiting trail, so talent certainly isn’t an issue for 2015. However, there’s a big question mark surrounding the Bruins, as standout quarterback Brett Hundley must be replaced. Talented freshman Josh Rosen enrolled in time to compete in spring ball, but Jerry Neuheisel has the edge in experience. Outside of replacing Hundley, UCLA also has to replace linebacker Eric Kendricks.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in UCLA’s Spring Practice

 

1. Quarterback Battle

The quarterback battle between Jerry Neuheisel and freshman Josh Rosen is easily the top offseason storyline to watch at UCLA. Brett Hundley left for the NFL after passing for 3,155 yards and 22 scores and rushing for 644 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Neuheisel has the edge in experience and guided the Bruins to a win over Texas in 2014 after Hundley left due to injury. Rosen ranked as the No. 12 prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite and enrolled in time for spring ball. Can Rosen pass Neuheisel in time for the opener? Or will Neuheisel’s experience pay off for the top spot?

 

2. Solidify the Offensive Line

UCLA’s offensive line struggled early in 2014, allowing 25 sacks through the first six games. However, this unit showed improvement in the second half of the year, allowing 15 over the final seven contests. The emergence of Conr McDermott at left tackle helped to stabilize the starting unit, and all five starters from the Alamo Bowl win over Kansas State return in 2015. Center Jake Brendel earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season, while guard Scott Quessenberry and tackle Caleb Benenoch earned honorable mention honors. There’s no shortage of talent here and the overall depth has improved. Line coach Adrian Klemm was suspended indefinitely this offseason due to an investigation into rules violations. How will his absence impact this group?

 

3. Tom Bradley’s Stamp on the Defense

Tom Bradley was a key addition to UCLA’s staff this offseason, and the veteran assistant inherits a group with eight returning starters and a talented cast of young players. What stamp will Bradley put on this defense? Mora has used a 3-4 approach over the last few years, but Bradley is experienced in the 4-3 from his time at Penn State and the 3-3-5 from spending 2014 at West Virginia.

 

4. Who Replaces Eric Kendricks?

UCLA’s defense returns eight starters but has a massive void to fill at linebacker. Eric Kendricks won the Butkus Award in 2014 after recording 149 tackles and three interceptions. Kendricks has expired his eligibility and will be playing on Sundays in 2015, which opens the door for Myles Jack, Deon Hollins, Kenny Orjioke and Kenny Young to take on a bigger role in the defense. Jack is already one of the Pac-12’s top defenders and should elevate his performance even higher in 2015. But who replaces Kendricks? Could freshmen Keisean Lucier-South, Josh Woods, Cameron Griffin or Dwight Williams factor prominently into the rotation?

 

5. Replacing Owa Odighizuwa

Few question marks exist for UCLA’s defense in 2015, but the losses of Kendricks, end Owa Odighizuwa and safety Anthony Jefferson are significant. Odighizuwa recorded six sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss in 2014. Who steps up to replace his production? The Bruins are set with Eddie Vanderdoes at one end spot, while Kenny Clark is a rising star at defensive tackle. Is Takkarist McKinley or Jacob Tuioti-Mariner ready to claim the other end spot opposite of Vanderdoes this spring?

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on UCLA in the Pac-12:

 

USC is the early favorite in the South Division for 2015. However, UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State aren’t far behind. The Bruins don’t lose much from last year’s team, but the personnel losses are significant. Quarterback Brett Hundley and linebacker Eric Kendricks will be tough to replace in 2015. Until a quarterback emerges, UCLA can lean on a solid defense and running back Paul Perkins. However, the schedule provides few breaks, as road trips to Arizona, Stanford, Utah and USC will be challenging, along with home dates against BYU and Arizona State. If the Bruins struggle to replace Hundley, finishing third or fourth in the South Division is a realistic possibility. However, if Rosen or Neuheisel steps up under center, UCLA will be in the thick of the South title picture.

Teaser:
UCLA Bruins 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-25-defensive-players-rise-2015
Body:

With the volume of high-powered offenses and talent at the skill positions every year, it’s not easy being a defensive coordinator or a player on that side of the ball. However, there’s no shortage of standouts that emerge each season out of spring practice and the regular season.

 

After taking a look at the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers on the rise for 2015, it’s time to shift focus and take a look at the top defensive players on the verge of a breakout year.  

 

RELATED: Top 20 Wide Receivers on the Rise for 2015

 

Note: To be considered for the “on the rise” designation, a player could not have earned all-conference (first or second team honors last season). 

 

Otaro Alaka, LB, Texas A&M

Texas A&M’s defense should take a step forward with John Chavis as the coordinator in 2015. And in addition to Chavis’ arrival, the Aggies have a talented group of young players primed to take on a bigger role in the defense. Alaka is one of those players, as he played in 12 games last season and recorded 33 tackles and two forced fumbles. After starting the final five games as a true freshman in 2014, Chavis is counting on Alaka for an even bigger role in 2015.

 

Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson

Alexander is one of two Clemson players to make this list. The Florida native was forced to redshirt in 2013 due to injury but quickly emerged as the team’s top defensive back last season. Alexander started all 13 games, recorded 21 tackles and six pass breakups, while also playing the most snaps by a freshman in school history. Alexander should be one of the ACC’s top cornerbacks in 2015.

 

Budda Baker, S, Washington

Washington’s secondary experienced its share of ups and downs last season. However, after playing freshmen and sophomores in major roles in 2014, the Huskies should see improvement from a secondary that gave up 55 passing plays of 20 yards or more. Baker was regarded as the No. 55 recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite and played significant snaps as a true freshman. In 13 games, Baker recorded 80 tackles, one sack, one interception and six pass breakups. 

 

Kendell Beckwith, LB, LSU

Beckwith ranked as one of the top 100 recruits in the 2013 signing class but had a relatively quiet debut (11 tackles). However, the Louisiana native became a bigger part of the defense in 2014, starting the final seven games and recording 77 tackles, two sacks and one interception on his final stat line. Over LSU’s final seven games, only one opponent (Notre Dame) managed more than 140 rushing yards. Beckwith’s emergence at middle linebacker is a key reason why the Tigers were tougher against the run in the second half of 2014, and the junior is primed for a big season with a full-time starting spot in Kevin Steele’s defense.

 

Harold Brantley, DT, Missouri

Missouri has been a factory for All-SEC talent at defensive end over the last two seasons, but don’t overlook Brantley’s contributions to the defense in 2014. The Pennsylvania native made six starts as a freshman in 2013 and emerged as the team’s top interior player last year. In 14 games, Brantley recorded 30 tackles (five for a loss) and three pass breakups. With two seasons under his belt, Brantley should be poised for his best year in a Missouri uniform.

 

Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia

With Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and Carter returning, Georgia should boast one of the SEC’s top linebacker groups for 2015. Getting all three outside linebackers on the field at the same time will be an interesting offseason experiment for coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, but all three players have All-SEC talent. Carter played significant snaps as a true freshman last season, recording 41 tackles (seven for a loss) and 4.5 sacks. 

 

Hunter Dimick/Jason Fanaika, DE, Utah

The Utes led the nation with 55 sacks last season, and even with Nate Orchard expiring his eligibility, Utah’s pass rush will be among the best in the Pac-12. Dimick and Fanaika were solid complement options up front last season, as the duo recorded combined for 15 sacks. And the edge rushers will have plenty of help from the interior, as tackle Lowell Lotulelei will be in the mix for all-conference honors. Even without Orchard, expect to see the Utes frequently getting after opposing quarterbacks in 2015. 

 

Nate Gerry, S, Nebraska

We will cheat just a bit here and list Gerry in this ranking since he earned second-team honors from the Big Ten media last season but only earned honorable mention by the coaches. The South Dakota native started all 13 games in 2014 and recorded 88 tackles and five interceptions. New defensive backs coach Brian Stewart should help Gerry develop into one of the Big Ten’s top performers at safety in 2015.

 

C.J. Hampton, S, Ole Miss

The Rebels led the SEC by limiting opponents to just 16 points per game in 2014. This unit returns largely intact, but cornerback Senquez Golson and safety Cody Prewitt will be tough to replace. Hampton ranked as the No. 96 player in the 2014 247Sports Composite and played in all 13 games last season. He recorded 10 tackles in limited action. Coordinator Dave Wommack will be counting on Hampton to play a bigger role in the defense in 2015, especially with Prewitt leaving big shoes to fill at safety.

 

Jason Hatcher, DE, Kentucky

Kentucky is starting over at defensive end with the departures of Za’Darius Smith and Bud Dupree. After two years as a backup at the position, Hatcher – a four-star recruit in 2013 – is slated to take on a bigger role in 2015. Hatcher recorded 28 tackles (5.5 for a loss) and 1.5 sacks in 2014.

 

Dravon Henry, S, West Virginia

With the return of safety Karl Joseph and cornerback Daryl Worley, the Mountaineers have one of the Big 12’s top defensive backfields for 2015. And this unit will only get better as Henry continues to develop in his second season in Morgantown. The Pennsylvania posted a strong freshman campaign in 2014, starting all 13 games for coordinator Tony Gibson and recording 45 tackles and two interceptions.

 

Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC

Jackson is one of the Pac-12’s most explosive players and one of the nation’s top all-around playmakers. The Illinois native caught 10 passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns last season and scored four times on special teams. Jackson also recorded 49 tackles (four for a loss) and broke up 10 passes in 2014.

 

Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas

Jefferson ranked as the No. 10 prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite and big things are expected from the Texas native in 2015. With the Longhorns replacing Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond, Jefferson has a clear path to major snaps or a starting role. Expect Jefferson to be one of college football’s top freshmen performers.

 

Derwin James, S/Derrick Nnadi/Lorenzo Featherston, DL, Florida State

Florida State’s roster is loaded with young talent and it won’t be long before the Seminoles are back in contention for the national title. James, Nnadi and Featherston are three future stars in Tallahassee, and each player could see significant snaps in 2015. Nnadi recorded 18 tackles in nine games in his true freshman campaign last season, while Featherston played in 11 games and made 19 stops and one sack. James ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite and is physically ready to start in Florida State’s secondary. Expect to hear plenty about these three players in 2015.

 

Hootie Jones, S/Tony Brown/Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

Improving the secondary is at the top of coach Nick Saban’s priority list this spring after the Crimson Tide allowed 19 passing plays of 30 yards or more in 2014. Adding to the uncertainty of this group is the departure of Landon Collins to the NFL. Cyrus Jones is settled into one cornerback spot, but a second cornerback needs to emerge. Brown and Humphrey were two of the nation’s top 15 prospects in the 2014 signing class and will be asked to take on a bigger role in 2015. Jones recorded two tackles last season and is expected to factor prominently in replacing Collins’ production.

 

Peter Kalambayi, LB, Stanford

Stanford’s defense will have a different look to it in 2015, as only four starters return from a unit that ranked second nationally by limiting opponents to just 16.4 points per game in 2014. While A.J. Tarpley and James Vaughters will be missed at linebacker, Kalambayi is ready for a bigger role in the defense to replace the production lost by the departing seniors. In 13 games, Kalambayi recorded 32 tackles (9.5 for a loss) and 6.5 sacks. He should be in the mix for all-conference honors in 2015.

 

Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn

Lawson missed all of 2014 due to a torn ACL. If he returns at full strength in 2015, Lawson should provide an instant boost to an Auburn pass rush that generated only 21 sacks in 2014. As a freshman in 2013, Lawson played in all 14 games and registered four sacks and seven quarterback hurries. The Georgia native should thrive under new coordinator Will Muschamp.

 

Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

Clemson ranked first nationally by holding opponents to just four yards per play in 2014. But coordinator Brent Venables will have his hands full this spring, as the Tigers return only two starters and lose several standouts from the front seven. Lawson is expected to be one of the defense’s top linemen after recording 34 tackles and 3.5 sacks in a backup role last season.

 

Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State

Even with five returning starters for 2015, the strength of Kansas State’s team should be its defense. The defensive front has a few changes with end Ryan Mueller and linebacker Jonathan Truman departing, but Lee’s freshman debut provides plenty of optimism for coordinator Tom Hayes. In 13 games, Lee recorded 19 tackles (4.5 for a loss) and 4.5 sacks. He’s slated to take on a bigger role in the defense this year.

 

Jordan Lucas, S, Penn State

Lucas had a standout year for Penn State’s defense at cornerback last season, but the New York native is expected to slide to safety for the 2015 season. In 13 contests last year, Lucas recorded 58 tackles, two sacks and nine pass breakups. Lucas will also have extra help in learning the position, as coordinator Bob Shoop oversees the safeties on Penn State’s staff. Expect the Nittany Lions to have a flawless transition from Adrian Amos to Lucas at safety. 

 

Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State

McDowell was a huge catch on the recruiting trail for coach Mark Dantonio, and the Michigan native didn’t disappoint in his true freshman campaign. McDowell played in all 13 games and recorded 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks. With Lawrence Thomas expected to move to defensive end this spring, McDowell is expected to take on a bigger role with the line for 2015. Expect to see McDowell wreaking havoc against opposing Big Ten offensive lines this year.

 

Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

Ohio State’s defense doesn’t have many question marks entering spring ball, but the linebacker corps is looking for a new starter after the departure of Curtis Grant. There should be a flawless transition from Grant to McMillan, as the Georgia native was regarded as the top recruit in the Big Ten for the 2014 signing class. McMillan played in 14 games last season and recorded 54 tackles, one interception and 2.5 sacks.

 

Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan

Peppers was expected to play a meaningful role in Michigan’s secondary last season, but the New Jersey native was sidelined after three games due to a leg injury. With a full offseason to recover, Peppers is ready to become a key contributor for the Wolverines. New coordinator D.J. Durkin plans to use Peppers as a safety in 2015, which should allow the No. 3 prospect in the 2014 247Sports Composite to emerge as a impact defender for Michigan this year.  

 

Chris Seisay, CB, Oregon

Seisay was thrown into the spotlight after Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered a season-ending knee injury prior to the Rose Bowl matchup against Florida State. In the Ducks win over the Seminoles, Seisay recorded six tackles and filled in admirably for Ekpre-Olomu in his second career start. The California native finished 2014 with 33 tackles, four passes defended and one forced fumble. He should claim a full-time starting position at cornerback this offseason.

 

Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee

It’s possible Sutton is the SEC’s most underrated defender. The Georgia native was only a three-star recruit coming out of high school but has developed into one of the league’s top cornerbacks. Over the last 25 games, Sutton has recorded 76 tackles, five interceptions, one forced fumble and 20 pass breakups. Despite his solid 2014 season (16 passes defended), Sutton did not earn all-conference honors. Expect that to change in 2015.
 

 

Other Names to Watch

 

Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB, Purdue

Bentley was a bright spot on a Purdue defense that gave up 31.7 points per game in 2014. As a true freshman last year, Bentley recorded 76 tackles, one interception and recovered three fumbles.

 

Andrew Brown, DT, Virginia

Brown ranked as the No. 11 recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite but was slowed by injuries last year. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound tackle should be one of the top performers for the Cavaliers’ defensive line in 2015.

 

Cam Denson, CB, Arizona

Denson was one of the top recruits in Arizona’s 2014 signing class and shifted from receiver to cornerback. The Arizona native recorded 21 tackles, two interceptions and two pass breakups as a true freshman.

 

Brooks Ellis, LB, Arkansas

Ellis is slated to fill the void left behind by Martrell Spaight in 2015. Ellis recorded 72 stops in 2014.

 

KeShun Freeman, DE, Georgia Tech

Freeman was one of the ACC’s top freshmen performers last year, as the Georgia native played in all 14 games and earned first-team Freshman All-American honors from Athlon Sports. Freeman should push for All-ACC honors after recording 54 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2014.

 

Josh Harvey-Clemons, S, Louisville

Louisville must replace all four starters from one of the nation’s top defensive backfields in 2014. Harvey-Clemons transferred from Georgia after making 11 starts in 2013 and should claim a starting spot at safety.

 

Deon Hollins, LB, UCLA

Hollins finished the 2014 season on a tear, recording six sacks over his final four games. His late-season improvement should help a UCLA pass rush that managed only 29 sacks in 13 contests in 2014.

 

Seth Jacobs, LB, Oklahoma State

Jacobs was a breakout performer for coordinator Glenn Spencer last season. In 13 games, Jacobs recorded 92 tackles (6.5 for a loss) and intercepted two passes.

 

Nazair Jones, DT, North Carolina

New coordinator Gene Chizik inherits six returning starters but plenty of question marks from a defense that allowed 39 points per game in 2014. Jones (a sophomore) is a promising piece of the defensive line after recording 35 tackles (7.5 tackles for a loss) and 2.5 sacks in 2014. 

 

Mike Mitchell, LB, Texas Tech

Mitchell was a top 100 recruit in the 2013 signing class and transferred to Texas Tech after one season at Ohio State. He should be an impact newcomer for the Red Raiders.

 

Yannick Ngakoue, LB, Maryland

The Terrapins are switching to a 4-3 alignment, and Ngakoue is slated to move from linebacker to end. Ngakoue recorded 37 tackles (11.5 for a loss) and six sacks last year.

 

Steven Parker, S, Oklahoma

The Sooners need better play from their secondary after giving up 50 passing plays of 20 yards or more in 2014. Parker played in 13 contests (four starts) and recorded 31 tackles as a true freshman last year. Parker’s development is critical for Oklahoma’s pass defense.

 

Tegray Scales, LB, Indiana

Indiana’s defense needs to take a major step forward this year if the Hoosiers want to go bowling in 2015. Scales is one of the players expected to make a jump in production after recording 46 tackles and two sacks as a true freshman last season.

 

Tashon Smallwood, DT, Arizona State

Smallwood started seven games and recorded 23 tackles and two sacks as a true freshman in 2014. The sophomore should see an increased role in the Sun Devils’ aggressive defense in 2015.

 

Chad Thomas, DE, Miami

Thomas was a big-time catch on the Florida recruiting trail for coach Al Golden, and the Miami native saw limited work in 2014 (seven tackles). Thomas should be slated for a bigger role in the ‘Canes defense in 2015, as starter Anthony Chickillo has expired his eligibility.

 

Jack Tocho, CB, NC State

Tocho has started 20 games in his two-year career at NC State, and the junior should push for All-ACC honors in 2015. Tocho recorded 41 tackles and led the team with 11 pass breakups in 2014.

 

Kemoko Turay, DE, Rutgers

Turay shined as a pass-rush specialist for Rutgers’ defense last year, accumulating 7.5 sacks in 13 games. The sophomore is slated for a bigger role in 2015, as the Scarlet Knights must replace David Milewski at end.

 

Anthony Walker, LB, Northwestern

Walker stepped up after an injury sidelined Colin Ellis and finished the year with 51 stops (nine for a loss) and two interceptions. He should only get better with more experience as a sophomore in 2015.

 

Jihad Ward, DE, Illinois

Ward was an impact recruit from the junior college ranks by the Illinois coaching staff. The Pennsylvania native recorded 51 tackles (8.5 for a loss), three sacks and two forced fumbles in 2014.

 

Stephen Weatherly/Nigel Bowden, LB, Vanderbilt

The strength of Vanderbilt’s defense should be its linebackers in 2015. Weatherly (4.5 sacks) and Bowden (78 tackles) are two promising players for coach Derek Mason to build around.

 

Taylor Young, LB, Baylor

Young emerged as one of the top performers in Baylor’s linebacker corps last season, as he finished 2014 with 92 tackles and four sacks. He should be an All-Big 12 performer in 2015.

Teaser:
College Football's Top 25 Defensive Players on the Rise for 2015
Post date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 11:30

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