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Path: /college-football/sec-football-breakout-players-2014

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


The SEC is college football’s No. 1 conference, and there’s a handful of players waiting to emerge as stars in 2014. The SEC is losing several standout quarterbacks from last season, which opens the door for Missouri’s Maty Mauk and Georgia’s Hutson Mason to contend for all-conference honors. Mauk and Mason are joined on the offensive side with players like Texas A&M receiver Ricky Seals-Jones and Alabama running back Derrick Henry, On defense, sophomores Robert Nkemdiche and Chris Jones are two linemen due for a big season in 2014.


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


SEC Breakout Players for 2014


Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina

Cooper didn’t make a huge impression on the stat sheet last year, recording 202 rushing yards, 29 passing yards and three receptions for 54 yards. However, expect that to change significantly in 2014. The sophomore is an all-purpose threat for the Gamecocks and should see some snaps as a Wildcat quarterback. Cooper is also expected to handle returns this year.


Jordan Cunningham, WR, Vanderbilt

Jordan Matthews dominated the stat sheet for Vanderbilt receivers last year, catching 112 of the Commodores’ 243 passes. With Matthews off to the NFL, it’s up to Cunningham and a host of youngsters to fill the void at receiver. Cunningham played in 13 games as a true freshman last year and caught 15 passes for 123 yards. The sophomore should be the No. 1 target for Vanderbilt’s offense in 2014.


Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia

It’s a bit of a stretch to put Floyd on this list after he recorded 55 tackles (9.5 for a loss) and 6.5 sacks last year. However, we think the sophomore goes from All-SEC contention to All-America honors and earning national recognition. Floyd should anchor one of the edges in Jeremy Pruitt’s defense, and the sophomore is expected to push for 10 sacks.


Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

The No. 1 player in the 247Sports Composite rankings for 2014 could have a monster season in Baton Rouge. The LSU offensive line is one of the best in the SEC with four returning starters, and with a young quarterback (Brandon Harris or Anthony Jennings) slated to start, expect the Tigers to lean on the ground attack. At 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, Fournette has the size and skill-set to be an every-down back in the SEC. If he gets enough carries, the Louisiana native could finish near the top of the conference in rushing yards.


Kris Frost, LB, Auburn

Frost started just one contest for Auburn’s defense last year but played in all 14 games and finished fifth on the team with 59 tackles. The junior is slated to move into the starting lineup in 2014 and should team with Cassanova McKinzy to form a talented duo at linebacker. Frost also tied for the team lead on last year’s defense with two forced fumbles.

Braylon Heard, RB, Kentucky

Heard was a four-star recruit for Nebraska in the 2010 signing class, and the Ohio native rushed for 462 yards and four scores from 2011-12. Heard averaged 6.7 yards per carry in 2012 and will team with Jojo Kemp to form a much-improved Kentucky rushing attack in 2014.


Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama

Fans around the SEC are familiar with Henry through recruiting and his limited playing time last year, but it’s time for the rest of the nation to take notice. Henry rushed for 382 yards and three scores last season, capped by a 100-yard performance in the Sugar Bowl. The Florida native should provide the thunder to T.J. Yeldon’s lightning in 2014, as his 6-foot-3, 241-pound frame is a handful for opposing defenses. Don’t be surprised if Henry surpasses the 1,000-yard mark in 2014.


O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama

For any first-year starting quarterback, a potential All-American at tight end is a nice security blanket to have. That’s the case for junior quarterback Jacob Coker in his first season in Tuscaloosa, as Howard should be one of the top tight ends in the nation after a solid freshman campaign. Howard caught 14 passes for 269 yards and two scores last year, averaging 19.2 yards per reception. Expect Howard to be an even bigger part of the Crimson Tide offense this season, likely doubling his catches under new coordinator Lane Kiffin.

Chris Jones, DL, Mississippi State

Jones ranked as the No. 18 overall player in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100, and the Mississippi native didn’t disappoint as a true freshman. Jones recorded 32 tackles (seven for a loss), three sacks and three pass breakups. He was at his best late in the year, recording three tackles for a loss and a sack against Ole Miss. After a solid freshman year, the best is yet to come from Jones. With a full offseason to work in the weight room and learn under coordinator Geoff Collins, Jones should build off a promising finish to 2014 and challenge for All-America honors.


Denver Kirkland/Dan Skipper, OL, Arkansas

Bret Bielema wants to establish a run-first, smashmouth mentality at Arkansas, and the second-year coach has two budding stars in the offensive line in sophomores Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper. Both players started eight games last year and earned all-freshman honors by Athlon Sports. Considering Bielema’s track record from Wisconsin on recruiting and establishing offensive lines, look for Skipper and Kirkland to develop into future stars for the Razorbacks.


Hutson Mason, QB, Georgia

Aaron Murray’s late-season knee injury allowed Mason to gain valuable experience in 2013, and the senior heads into 2014 with two starts under his belt. Mason threw for 189 yards and one score in relief of Murray against Kentucky, threw 299 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-34 victory over rival Georgia Tech and completed 21 of 39 throws for 320 yards and one score in the Gator Bowl versus Nebraska. Mason has waited his turn by sitting four years behind Aaron Murray. Expect the senior to deliver a big season in his first chance at the full-time starting job in Athens.


Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri

Most around the SEC are probably familiar with Mauk after his short stint as Missouri’s No. 1 quarterback in 2013, but the sophomore is poised for bigger and better things in 2014. Mauk threw for 1,071 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, while recording 229 rushing yards. The Ohio native needs to improve his completion percentage (51.1), but he should continue Missouri’s run of successful quarterbacks under coach Gary Pinkel.


Skai Moore, LB, South Carolina

With the departure of ends Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton, along with tackle Kelcy Quarles, the Gamecocks may use more 3-4 looks in 2014. The linebacking corps should be the strength of Lorenzo Ward’s defense, as Moore led the team with 56 tackles as a true freshman last year. Moore also intercepted four passes and recorded 3.5 tackle for a loss in 2013. Expect Moore to challenge for All-SEC honors this season.


Emmanuel Moseley, CB, Tennessee

The Volunteers will have a handful of young players receiving snaps on the defensive line and in the secondary this year, but Moseley has already made an impression on the coaching staff. Moseley was an early enrollee for spring practice and worked his way to the top of the depth chart at cornerback. The three-star recruit will be pushed for time in the fall, but he’s slated to play a key role in the Volunteers’ secondary this year.


Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss

Yes, as the No. 1 recruit from the 2013 signing class, it seems obvious to mention Nkemdiche as a breakout player. However, the Georgia native seemed to find his role late last year. Nkemdiche finished with 34 tackles (eight for a loss), two sacks and one forced fumble. Six of Nkemdiche’s 10 starts came at defensive end, with the other four coming at tackle. The Rebels will regain the services of end C.J. Johnson (missed most of last year due to injury), and the other end spot is expected to go to FIU transfer Fadol Brown. With Brown and Johnson anchoring the end positions, Nkemdiche should settle back into the interior. The sophomore played better as the season progressed in 2013 and should build off that momentum.


Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M

With Mike Evans, Derel Walker and Travis Labhart departing, the Aggies will be young (and very talented) at receiver in 2014. Redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones also makes our list of top breakout players from the SEC, but Noil is also a name to remember. The Louisiana native ranked as the No. 8 overall prospect in the 2014 247Sports Composite and could see touches in a variety of ways – special teams, catches or handoffs – for coach Kevin Sumlin.


Marquez North, WR, Tennessee

North or running back Jalen Hurd deserves a mention in this space as a breakout player for Tennessee’s offense. North quickly established himself as one of the Volunteers’ top playmakers in the passing game in 2013, catching 38 passes for 496 yards and one score. The North Carolina native only had one 100-yard game last season, but his numbers should get better if Tennessee has more consistency at the quarterback spot.


Aarion Penton, CB, Missouri

The Tigers must replace both starting cornerbacks from last year’s defense, including standout E.J. Gaines. Two sophomores – Penton and John Gibson – should have an inside track to replace Gaines and Randy Ponder. Penton played in all 14 games (two starts) and recorded one interception and 16 tackles as a true freshman last year.


Darius Philon, DT, Arkansas

After redshirting his first season on campus, Philon quietly emerged as a force on Arkansas’ defensive line in 2013. The Alabama native played in all 12 games, recorded 46 tackles (nine for a loss) and three sacks). Philon recorded eight stops against Alabama and six against LSU in the regular season finale. Expect the sophomore to push for All-SEC honors in 2014.


Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

It’s not easy starting as a true freshman on the offensive line in the SEC. However, that’s the likely assignment handed to Robinson in 2014. The touted true freshman – No. 4 player in the 2014 247Sports Composite – could start at left tackle for the Crimson Tide this year. The talent is certainly there for Robinson to have a standout freshman campaign similar to Ole Miss’ Laremy Tunsil last season.


Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State

Dak Prescott will play a key role in Mississippi State’s rushing attack, but the Bulldogs need to find a new running back to replace LaDarius Perkins to take some of the pressure off of their quarterback. Robinson finished third on the team with 459 yards last season and averaged an impressive 5.9 yards per rush. Expect to see Robinson emerge as the No. 1 back in Starkville.


Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU

A number of LSU defenders could earn a mention in this space, but Robinson is Athlon’s pick to have a breakout year on defense for coordinator John Chavis. The 6-foot-3 corner has the size to matchup against the bigger receivers in the conference, along with the speed to prevent big plays in the passing game. Robinson was a late arrival to preseason camp last year but finished with 16 tackles and broke up three passes in 12 games. The emergence of Robinson and sophomore Tre’Davious White should give LSU one of the top cornerback tandems in the nation.


Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M

Seals-Jones was slated to be a key cog in Texas A&M’s receiving corps last season, but an injury sidelined him for the year after the first two games. The Texas native caught three passes for 84 yards and one score in the limited playing time. With Mike Evans departing, the Aggies are counting on Seals-Jones – the No. 25 prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 – to become one of the top options in the passing game. Whether it’s Kyle Allen or Kenny Hill under center for coach Kevin Sumlin, expect to see Seals-Jones making his share of big plays in 2014.


Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida

We could pencil in Tabor or fellow freshman corner Duke Dawson here. Tabor ranked as the No. 14 recruit in the 247Sports Composite and enrolled in time to compete this spring. The Washington, D.C. native could start opposite of sophomore Vernon Hargreaves III at cornerback this year.


Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida

Running back is a position of strength for new coordinator Kurt Roper, as the Gators return three running backs that recorded at least 330 yards last year. Mack Brown led the team with 543 yards, but Taylor turned plenty of heads as a true freshman. In 10 games, Taylor rushed for 508 yards and four scores, including 90 or more yards in two out of his last three outings. If the offensive line is improved, Taylor could push for 1,000 yards.


Ryan Timmons, WR, Kentucky

Kentucky’s offense averaged only 20.5 points per game last year, but there’s hope for improvement with more consistent quarterback play expected in 2014. If Patrick Towles, Drew Barker or Reese Phillips stabilizes the passing game, look for Timmons to have a breakout year. As a true freshman last season, Timmons caught 32 passes for 338 yards and two scores.


Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss

Donte Moncrief’s big-play ability will be missed in Oxford, but quarterback Bo Wallace won’t have to look far for his replacement. Treadwell caught 72 passes for 608 yards and five scores as a true freshman last year and is slated to move from the slot to the outside in 2014. Treadwell averaged only 8.4 yards per catch in 2013, but that number could easily double in 2014.


D’haquille Williams, WR, Auburn

The Tigers may look to throw more in 2014, as running back Tre Mason departed for the NFL, and quarterback Nick Marshall should be more comfortable in his second year under center in the SEC. Auburn’s receiving corps is also deeper in 2014, largely due to the emergence of junior Sammie Coates and the arrival of Williams in the spring. Williams ranked as the top junior college recruit in the 247Sports Composite and caught five passes for 88 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.


Andrew Williamson, S, Vanderbilt

New coach Derek Mason must replace all four starters in the secondary, but the coaching staff should be encouraged about the replacements. Williamson is one of the names generating buzz on West End, as he’s slated to step into a starting role after working as a top reserve in 2013. Williamson recorded 20 tackles and two interceptions last season and should emerge as one of the leaders for Mason in the secondary this year.

SEC Football Breakout Players for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/who-nations-most-clutch-college-football-coach

Perhaps we should have seen the signs for Auburn’s turnaround from winless in the SEC in 2012 to conference champions in 2013.

In only his first season as a head coach, Gus Malzahn had an unblemished record in close games at Arkansas State the year before he arrived at Auburn. He was 4-0 in one-score games with the Red Wolves, but Auburn already may have an idea of Malzahn’s composure under pressure.

In 2010 and 2011, Malzahn’s final two seasons as offensive coordinator, Auburn was 10-0 in one-score games.

Going by numbers like that, Malzahn could make a case to be the most clutch coach in the country.

Indeed, Malzahn’s 11-1 record in one-score games as a head coach gives him the best win percentage in the nation the last five years. No other coach wins more than 90 percent of his games in one-score situations the last five years. Only three coaches who have presided over 10 or more one-possession games have won three-quarters of those matchups.


Granted, two of Malzahn's most dramatic wins — the Prayer on the Plains against Georgia and the Kick Six against Alabama last season — had little to do with great Xs and Os acumen. Even disregarding those two finishes, he remains the only coach who has won 90 percent of his close games the last five seasons, and his only loss came by three points to an otherwise dominant Florida State team in the national title game.

Athlon Sports decided to take a look at how every program and every active coach has fared in one-possession games during the last five seasons, i.e. games decided by eight points or less.

While simply looking at scoring margins does not exactly reflect how close a game was — garbage time touchdowns could skew are metrics — this still gives us an idea of how coaches and teams fare in close games. Our method also doesn't account for games that go out of reach within the final minutes, for example, a team going up — or falling behind — by six points in the final five minutes with a field goal in the final two for a more decisive final margin.

Here’s the data we found for coaches:

Best coaches in one-score games, last five seasons
By win percentage (10+ games)By wins
1. Gus Malzahn, Auburn/Ark. St. (.917, 11-1)1. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame/Cincy (20-8)
2. Pete Lembo, Ball State (.765, 13-4)2. Frank Solich, Ohio (19-9)
t3. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (.750, 15-5)3. Les Miles, LSU (18-9)
t3. Mark Hudspeth, UL Lafayette (.750, 9-3)t4. Bill Snyder, Kansas State (17-6)
5. Bill Snyder, Kansas State (.739, 17-6)t4. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern (17-13)
t6. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame/Cincy (.714, 20-8)t4. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy (17-13)
t6. Dave Doeren, NC State/N. Ill. (.714, 10-4)7. George O'Leary, UCF (16-14)
8. Urban Meyer, Ohio St./Florida (.706, 12-5)t8. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (15-5)
9. Rocky Long, San Diego St. (.688, 11-5)t8. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State (15-12)
10. David Shaw, Stanford (.684, 13-6)10. Six coaches tied with 14 wins

• Malzahn is the gold standard here with an 11-1 record in one-possession games in just two seasons as a head coach. Consider this: Malzahn has won as many one-possession games the last two seasons as Alabama has played (6-5) during the last five years.

• Steve Spurrier’s 15-5 record is impressive enough, but he’s 11-3 in the last three seasons in one-possession games as the Gamecocks have finished in the top-10 each year.

• Brian Kelly started his Notre Dame tenure with a 2-5 record in his first seven one-possession games. The Irish are 14-3 since, including 11 wins in a row.


• Penn State also would be advised to be patient with some heartbreaking losses. Vanderbilt started 1-6 in close games under James Franklin before he finished 6-1.

• Another lesson in the patience category: Louisville went 9-2 in one-possession games in the final two seasons under Charlie Strong after starting 5-10. Granted, one of those losses was a 38-35 home loss to UCF that cost the Cardinals an undefeated season and an AAC title.

• Are we noticing a trend? Washington went 10-4 in close games in the final four seasons under Steve Sarkisian, now the coach at USC.

• Will Muschamp is combustible enough as it is. This might not help. He went 4-0 in close games in 2012 and 0-4 in 2013.

• Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has a nice record (11-8), but it’s probably not a stat he wants people to examine closely. Those close wins have included Troy, Louisiana Tech, UAB, Wake Forest, Bowling Green, Kentucky and Ole Miss (twice).

• Want to know why Ball State’s Pete Lembo and UL Lafayette’s Mark Hudspeth will be hot commodities for Power 5 programs? Lembo is 13-4 in one-possession games in three seasons, including two wins over Toledo, two over Indiana, one over USF and another over Arkansas state in a bowl. Hudspeth is 9-3 with two of those losses at Arizona and at Florida.

• Kevin Sumlin is 12-11 in one-possession games during the last five years. His record is skewed by an 0-4 performance in such games in 2010 at Houston, the year quarterback Case Keenum missed with injury.

• Dave Doeren may be the strangest name in the best win percentage column, considering his first NC State team went winless in the ACC. Still, he went 9-3 in one-score games at Northern Illinois.

• Three coaches have presided over 30 one-possession games the last five years, tied for the most in the country: Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald and Navy’s Ken Niumatalo (17-13 each) and UCF’s George O’Leary (16-14).

• Three coaches have won 80 percent of their one-possession games but didn’t meet our 10-game threshold: UTSA’s Larry Coker (7-1), Fresno State’s Tim DeRuyter (5-1) and Boise State’s Byran Harsin (4-1 at Arkansas State).

And here’s the other side of the equation:


Worst coaches in one-score games, last five seasons
By win percentage (10+ games)By losses
Kevin Wilson, Indiana (.154, 2-11)Kirk Ferentz, Iowa (12-17)
Dave Clawson, Wake/Bowling Green (.263, 5-14)Larry Fedora, North Carolina/So. Miss (12-16)
Bob Davie, New Mexico (.273, 3-8)Troy Calhoun, Air Force (6-15)
Troy Calhoun, Air Force (.286, 6-15)Larry Blakeney, Troy (12-15)
Charlie Weis, Kansas/Notre Dame (.333, 5-10)Dave Clawson, Wake/Bowling Green (5-14)
Joey Jones, South Alabama (.357, 5-9)Bret Bielema, Arkansas/Wisconsin (11-14)
Bobby Hauck, UNLV (.364, 4-7)Brady Hoke, Michigan/San Diego St. (11-14)
Terry Bowden, Akron (.400, 4-6)Gary Andersen, Wisconsin/Utah St. (11-14)
Mike MacIntyre, Colorado/San Jose St. (.412, 7-10)Skip Holtz, La. Tech/USF/E. Carolina (14-14)
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa (.414, 12-17)George O'Leary, UCF (16-14)

• Kevin Wilson has lots of what-ifs in that 2-11 mark. Those losses include two to Ball State, two to Navy and one to North Texas.

• This makes sense: There are very few coaches with dismal records in close games. Most of the coaches with poor records in close games end up getting fired before putting up a truly lopsided number.

• Wake Forest traded a coach who was 11-17 in close games (Jim Grobe) for one that is 5-14 (Dave Clawson at Bowling Green).

• Among the lowlights for former coaches: Dennis Erickson (4-11 at Arizona State), Derek Dooley (2-7 at Tennessee) and Houston Nutt (2-6 at Ole Miss).

Who is the Nation's Most Clutch College Football Coach?
Post date: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/10-tips-winning-your-fantasy-football-league

Getting ready for your fantasy football draft? Be sure to read these 10 tips from Athlon contributor before plotting your championship-winning plan of attack.


1. Gather as many studs as possible, Then worry about everything else

League-wide offensive production is growing each and every year. The recent wave of fast-paced and pass-heavy offenses has led to more fantasy points than we’ve ever seen. As a result, there are more fantasy-relevant players at every position. “Wait at <enter position name here>” is a common piece of advice from fantasy pundits, but in this day and age, you truly can wait at any position and end up with a competent group of starters. So what’s the message here? The focus of your first few picks should not be on need or replacement value; rather, it should be on selecting superstars until none remains. I always suggest drawing lines on your cheat sheet to create tiers. Be sure that only superstars are in that first tier at each position. The players who fit the superstar bill can fluctuate depending on your league’s scoring, but they’re usually not terribly hard to determine. This year, it’s the top seven or so running backs, top six wide receivers and tight end Jimmy Graham. Unless your scoring is obscenely favorable for quarterbacks, no passers should be in this conversation.


2. Be prepared to adjust on the fly

There are a lot of draft strategies out there: value-based drafting, high ceiling, wide receiver heavy, best player available, tiers. The list goes on and on. Although you’re best served having a game plan in mind come draft day, it’s important that flexibility and the willingness to adjust are a part of your mindset. No two drafts are the same, which means that all the preparation in the world can’t prevent the inside-the-box thinker from panicking when his target is swooped up right before he’s on the clock.


There are a few ways you can stay ahead of the game during your draft. The most obvious one is to cross every selected player off your board. Not only does this help you avoid the embarrassment of selecting a player taken four rounds earlier, but it also allows you to keep an eye on the flow of the draft. Maybe you’re in a 12-team league and haven’t picked a quarterback yet. You notice 10 are already off the board. Should you panic and snatch one up? Unless you’re staring at a major value, of course not. The owners who already have quarterbacks will be addressing other positions for a few rounds, which means you can take advantage and wait even longer to select a signal-caller.


Drafting near the turn? Glance at the rosters of the teams who pick between your two selections on the short side of the turn. Let’s say you have the 10th pick of the fifth round in a 12-team league, and you’re trying to decide between a quarterback and wide receiver. You glance at the rosters of the teams picking 11th and 12th. Both have a quarterback. The odds of either team picking a second quarterback are extremely low. That makes your decision easy. Pick the best wide receiver and go with the quarterback the next time around.


Those are just a few examples of how to adjust on the fly during your draft. Keeping tabs on everything going on around you is the best way to maximize your roster.


3. Don’t be the guy who drafts Peyton Manning

Earlier, I mentioned that quarterbacks do not fit the bill as early-round must-target superstars. That’s despite the fact that there are several superstar talents at the position. On top of that, Peyton Manning was arguably the fantasy MVP last season, breaking all sorts of records en route to blowing all other quarterbacks out of the water in terms of fantasy points. So why am I advising against selecting Manning this season? Simple: He’s not going to live up to his average draft position (ADP).


In early mock drafts, Manning is coming off the board in the mid-to-late first round. If you believe Manning will equal his 2013 performance, that’s not a bad pick. If you expect regression, it’s a poor selection. And you should expect regression. Manning set the single-season records for passing yards and passing touchdowns, and his team set the records for most points, touchdowns and 50-plus point games. Historically, teams that have put up extremely high touchdown totals have regressed the very next season. Consider that over the past six years, 12 offenses have averaged at least three touchdowns per game over a full season. Two-thirds of those teams saw a drop in scoring the next season. The average drop-off was a massive 22 percent, and every team dropped by at least 12 percent. Of the four teams that scored more the next season, three saw a boost of just three percent. The fourth was, go figure, the Broncos, who went from 3.1 TDs per game in 2012 to 4.1 per game in 2013.


I should also point out the loss of Eric Decker and the fact that we already saw regression from the Denver offense in the second half last season. After averaging an absurd five offensive scores per game through their first eight games, the Broncos put up 3.4 per game the rest of the way. That’s still a very healthy number, but it puts them right there with the league’s other elite offenses. Manning remains a top fantasy quarterback, but the inevitable regression makes him a poor first-round pick.


4. With two exceptions, wait at tight end

Much like last year, the tight end position is shaping up to drop off after the top two before leveling off, for the most part, until around the No. 12 spot. Jimmy Graham is your clear No. 1 option, but Rob Gronkowski is so productive when healthy — sometimes more so than Graham — that he has to be considered in the third round. After that, we have a tier of tight ends who will put up similar numbers. A case could be made that Julius Thomas should be in his own tier, but he usually comes off the board before Gronkowski despite overlooked durability questions of his own.


The true values come later in the draft. Jordan Cameron, Jason Witten, Jordan Reed, Dennis Pitta and Greg Olsen can all be had in the middle rounds. Even better, the likes of Kyle Rudolph, Martellus Bennett and breakout candidate Zach Ertz usually last into and beyond the ninth round. High-ceiling fliers like Ladarius Green, Travis Kelce, Tyler Eifert and Dwayne Allen can be had with late-round picks.


Graham and Gronkowski (assuming he remains on track to play in Week 1) are worth the early-round pick, but otherwise, the smart move is to wait for a major value later.


5. React reasonably to hype

Each year, the fantasy football industry grows exponentially. Punditry grows as a result. We all have guys we love and guys we hate, which leads to a constant seesaw of market value for each player. One week, I write a piece suggesting a breakout season for Justin Hunter. His ADP skyrockets. The next week, Joe Analyst writes a piece explaining why Tavon Austin will bust out during his sophomore season. Hunter’s ADP returns to earth, and Austin becomes overvalued for a while.


The key is to take every single piece of advice with a grain of salt. Does the advice make sense? Does the math add up? Is the player truly in a situation where he can succeed? Is he really as good as the analyst suggests?


Savvy owners take advantage of overreacting owners by avoiding the noise and sticking to their boards, making occasional tweaks only when it makes sense.


6. Go get these sophomore wideouts

All the talk is about the depth of this year’s crop of rookie wide receivers. Sorted by my favorite values, don’t overlook these sophomores:


I foreshadowed this earlier, but Justin Hunter actually is an excellent breakout candidate in Ken Whisenhunt’s wide receiver-friendly, pass-first offense. Terrance Williams will start opposite Dez Bryant in Dallas’ pass-heavy offense. Aaron Dobson figures to play nearly every down in an offense operated by Tom Brady. DeAndre Hopkins struggled along with the rest of Houston’s offense last season, but he will be rejuvenated with Bill O’Brien in control. Tavon Austin disappointed as a rookie but showed big-play ability and will be a key part of the Rams’ improving offense. In Buffalo, Robert Woods is being overshadowed by rookie Sammy Watkins, but the sophomore has an excellent shot to play nearly every down in 2014. Markus Wheaton and Kenny Stills have been promoted into starting roles in good (Pittsburgh) and great (New Orleans) offenses, respectively. The likes of Quinton Patton, Stedman Bailey, Marquise Goodwin, Ace Sanders, Marquess Wilson and Brice Butler should be monitored.


Keenan Allen and Cordarrelle Patterson are fine picks as well, but both will come off the board in the first half of your draft, making them expensive investments.


7. Draft post-hype superstars

We see it every year. A highly talented player makes perfect sense as a breakout. Selected in the first few rounds of every single draft, the player inevitably disappoints before finally busting out the very next season. Last year, Ryan Mathews was a fine example. Knowshon Moreno, DeMarco Murray, Rashad Jennings, Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas also fit the bill.


This season, C.J. Spiller should be on your radar. Considering that he was a first-round pick in most drafts, the 2013 season was a major disappointment. Despite dealing with injuries and sharing the Buffalo backfield with Fred Jackson, Spiller still managed 202 carries and eclipsed 1,100 total yards. A lack of usage near the goal line remains a concern, but Spiller is only 27 and one of the top talents at the position. Available in the third round of most drafts, Spiller has top-five upside.


Looking for other post-hype candidates? Consider Jake Locker, Mark Ingram, David Wilson, Stevan Ridley, Danny Amendola, Tyler Eifert, Keenan Allen and Ladarius Green.


8. Raise the roof

Once you’re comfortable with your starting lineup, ensure that your focus is on acquiring the players with the highest ceiling. Obviously you want to draft high-upside players early as well, but for the most part, the players in this category are unproven. Spending early-round picks on speculative players is risky and best saved for the mid-to-late rounds. I’ve mentioned a bunch of these players throughout this piece, but there are a few categories breakout players tend to fall into. The most obvious one is “talented.” Players drafted in the last three years who have a ton of raw talent but were injured or buried on their team’s depth chart are usually worthy of late-round consideration. Last season, Alshon Jeffery, Zac Stacy, Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron fit this category. Another is “opportunity.” These players might not be quite as naturally gifted, but they’ve fallen into a situation where they’ll be playing a significant offensive role or playing enough of a role in a high-scoring offense. The likes of Riley Cooper, Charles Clay and Julian Edelman fit the bill in 2013.


9. Be wary of rookies

Each year, there is a massive amount of attention given to the NFL Draft. That, combined with recency bias toward the college superstars of the past season, often leads to rookies being overvalued in fantasy drafts. Last year, 14 rookies were drafted in the top 200 of most drafts. Only four players (Eddie Lacy, Gio Bernard, Le’Veon Bell and Cordarrelle Patterson) outperformed their ADP. The other 10 players were nothing more than waiver wire fodder for most of the season. That was the case for Patterson for a good chuck of the season as well. There were a few other rookies who shined, but the likes of Andre Ellington, Keenan Allen, Jordan Reed, Zac Stacy and Mike Glennon went undrafted in most leagues. The message here is that rookies tend to be overhyped, and you should be very skeptical about choosing them during the first dozen rounds of your draft.


10. Don’t draft your handcuffs; draft the best handcuffs

It’s inevitable. The guy who picks Toby Gerhart is going to draft and/or waste a valuable roster spot on Jordan Todman. Trent Richardson owners will stash Vick Ballard. Gio Bernard owners will snag BenJarvus Green-Ellis. You get the picture. There are a lot of backup running backs who qualify as handcuffs but who are not very good and/or would be no more than a committee back in the event that they were called on to start. Todman, Ballard and Green-Ellis fall into that category and shouldn’t be stashed over running backs with higher ceilings. You don’t need to own Jamaal Charles in order to snatch up Knile Davis. Or Matt Forté to grab Ka’Deem Carey. Christine Michael, LeGarrette Blount, Bernard Pierce, Carlos Hyde, Donald Brown, Jerick McKinnon, Tre Mason, Charles Sims and Devonta Freeman all make for solid late-round targets.

10 Tips For Winning Your Fantasy Football League
Post date: Monday, August 11, 2014 - 16:30
Path: /nascar/weekend-triumph-and-tragedy-world-motorsports

So often when people look at tragedy they forget its human cost. Rarely are incidents involving death clear-cut — a battle of good versus evil like we read about as children. No one, with any shred of conscience, deserves to bear the guilt of killing a man, a catastrophe they carry the rest of their lives regardless of accident or intention. It’s a punishment worse than any court can impose, a daily nightmare where one can never hit the “Stop” button. Most importantly, there’s the victim, through which the word “recovery” is impossible. No one deserves to die in vain the way a 20-year-old young man named Kevin Ward Jr. did while walking down the track at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park Saturday night.


It’s the disgusting way it happened, a gut-wrenching video as easily accessed as clicking on YouTube that gives so many chills this Monday morning. It’s made an otherwise enjoyable NASCAR race at Watkins Glen virtually irrelevant, and a heartwarming victory by a driver who deserved it rings hollow. Death has a way of doing that. Its impact is the prescription for conquering joy while leaving all involved in various states of grief.


That’s where we focus right now while awaiting the results of an investigation that could take weeks. You have a young man, his whole life in front of him, taken down on a track he loved not because of a wreck or a safety malfunction, but by taking a few small steps into traffic. A talent will never be realized, but a life will also never be lived. There will be no happy marriage, no children, no adventures to one day tell the family on the rocking chair.


There are people connected to Ward, including his parents, who were in the stands that fateful Saturday night. There to cheer on their son, what they saw instead was a scene no parent should ever have to witness. It’s hard enough to endure the loss of a child; just ask those within the world of motorsports like Kyle Petty. But to watch that death unfold while sitting next to random strangers is a scenario for which there are no words, only tears.


But in this type of tragedy, where intention is forever unclear, it’s both sides that feel the hurt. For those accusing Tony Stewart of a callous heart, the victims of last February’s horrible Nationwide Series crash at Daytona think otherwise. Stewart visited those fans in the hospital, unsolicited, and has checked in to ensure some of their lives are back on track. The countless kids whose lives he’s touched through charitable endeavors pursued when the cameras are off are feeling the pain of a hero turned human. Stewart is single, but he has a family too, all of whom are helping heal the guilt that is overwhelming and will never completely disappear.


There are countless employees of Stewart-Haas Racing and Tony Stewart Racing whose grief this morning takes on many forms. They’re mourning their boss, who has a hands-on nature and know most in the shop so personally. One half of their brain asks how they can help a fallen leader as the other rational half produces fears of worry. Millions of dollars are on the line here, and the ruination of Stewart could mean the fall of SHR, TSR and hundreds of people losing jobs. SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli, thrust into the role of replacement leader, has the difficult balance of playing emotional therapist while sitting in the boardroom of emotionless corporate damage control.


There’s a reason why so many in NASCAR Nation have gone one, perhaps two days without sleep. It’s the type of horror that makes you go home, hug your loved ones and remember what’s really important in life. Remember the perfection of now because the imperfection of tomorrow is always lurking.


In life, joy is finite. Kevin Ward Jr. taught us all in just a few small steps. 



FIRST GEAR: The latest on Stewart-Haas Racing  

Before transitioning to the race itself, how could we ignore the goings-on at the No. 14 Chevrolet? Stewart, who pulled out of the race Sunday morning, was replaced by Regan Smith, JR Motorsports’ full-time Nationwide Series driver who flew up to Watkins Glen with Sprint Cup owner Rick Hendrick. Arriving an hour before race time with no practice and an unfamiliar crew, Smith did an admirable job under the circumstances. Charging from the rear, he was a potential top-10 car until a late-race accident left him an innocent victim en route to 37th.


Hendrick, arguably the most powerful car owner in Cup, clearly flew up from North Carolina on a mission. PR spin, with the impact still blossoming, is the school of thought as an investigation continues into Ward’s death. Sponsors must be assured it’s a tragic accident; anything less, from either the police or doubtful minds, put Stewart’s expansive economic empire in jeopardy. Those who back his Cup car could bolt, along with those supporting one of NASCAR’s few bright spots these days in Eldora Speedway. Stewart’s absence, more pronounced than breaking his leg one year ago, will be felt far and wide across the spectrum of racing.


As for what happens next? It’s hard to say for sure. Some believe Stewart is a shoe-in to be behind the wheel again Sunday at Michigan. I find that, as well as a brief decision to race at the Glen until more rational heads prevailed, incredibly hard to get behind. With many fans jumping to guilt over innocence how can Stewart focus enough to be effective inside the car? The security surrounding him, with fans angrily shouting “murderer” like they did on Twitter this weekend, would have to be unprecedented in nature. NASCAR, for the time being, has said there’s nothing precluding the driver from competing but I have a feeling that’s going to change by Sunday.


By the way, has anyone heard from Brian France, the most powerful racing commissioner in America? Someone should tell him one of his sport’s biggest names is the lead story on every news station in the country. He might want to step up and say something soon. Just a thought.



SECOND GEAR: A heartwarming victory amongst the madness  AJ Allmendinger

Two years ago, AJ Allmendinger was out of NASCAR, serving a suspension for a failed drug test while his racing career sat on life support. Squandering a top-tier opportunity with Penske Racing, the question was not when but if he’d race in the big leagues again. Rarely do 30-something drivers sans a Sprint Cup victory come back to the table armed with a second opportunity.


However, Allmendinger proved Sunday that he’s a very special case. Outfitted with an infectious personality — the type you can’t help but like — the California driver has charmed the pants off so many. It’s to the point former boss Roger Penske himself wound up giving out Nationwide and IndyCar rides to the ‘Dinger a year after said suspension. 


JTG-Daugherty Racing, a single-car team with years of middling success, then got convinced to take a flyer on a guy who has always seemed filled with potential. It’s a decision they won’t soon regret, as the road course ace manhandled their No. 47 Chevrolet to the front in what was one of, if not the best, finish to a Cup race all year.


In the closing laps, it was Allmendinger versus Marcos Ambrose — the sport’s finest road course racer — with a bid to the postseason squarely on the line. Win? You’re in the Chase. Lose? You’re almost certainly out of it. The side-by-side, wheel-banging action over the final 10 laps brought fans to their feet and ended with a driver getting the race-life redemption he thought might never be achieved. 


“It’s just a memorable day to go out there and remember everything that just happened,” Allmendinger said. “I hope I win a lot more, but if I don’t, to be able to remember it like this, it’s pretty awesome. (A) dream come true.”


Even his Australian rival, whose loss may confirm a trip back Down Under in 2015, admitted Allmendinger deserved this victory, the first Cup win for JTG-Daugherty Racing. It was also the first single-car Cup win in three years with a team that was largely out of contention with former driver Bobby Labonte. Now, they’re in the Chase, a reality like heavyweights Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle can’t say quite yet.






THIRD GEAR: Safety at Watkins Glen must be addressed

The other enduring incident from the weekend not involving Stewart or Ward will be a mid-race accident on Sunday that nearly split Michael McDowell’s car in two. Occurring off the dangerous carousel turn at Watkins Glen, a slip by Greg Biffle caused Ryan Newman to lose control, bounce off an Armco barrier and pinball into McDowell at high speed. The resulting debris field, along with damage to the fence, clearly showed one of the hardest hits for any driver to have taken all season.


“The SAFER Barrier doesn’t exist here, there are no concrete walls,” Newman said during an extended red flag to clean up the mess. “It’s just a very antiquated racetrack and the safety is not at all up to NASCAR’s standards. It’s a shame that we have to have accidents like that to prove it. Hopefully, something will change the next time we come back with our Caterpillar Chevrolet.”


Newman made a fair point that NASCAR, through its track arm International Speedway Corp., is spending $400 million to renovate Daytona International Speedway’s grandstand area, but refuses to spend a few million at tracks like the Glen to ensure these SAFER Barriers are at key portions of the track. One would think the key stakeholders would learn from the Ward incident Saturday night, tragic in nature, but real in the damage an on-track death does to the court of public opinion. NASCAR can’t risk another Dale Earnhardt moment — and it’s come too close at the Glen with both this wreck and Sam Hornish Jr.’s vicious crash out of the same corner three years ago. NASCAR has some smart people, and they need to come up with a solution for 2015.



FOURTH GEAR: Kyle Larson’s sneaky fourth-place finish  Kyle Larson

Kevin Harvick may be NASCAR’s “closer,” but there’s something about Kyle Larson these days. His charge from around 10th to fourth by the final lap at Watkins Glen was akin to his out-of-nowhere jump to second at Fontana in March. To do what the rookie did at a road course where he has limited experience showcases the type of range only a few in this sport will ever possess. To me, Larson’s first year is shaping up very much like Jeff Gordon’s did in 1993; come close to a few wins, make a big impression and get yourself set up for year two. Everyone knows what happened to Gordon, as by year three, he was holding a championship trophy.


The way Larson drives, a title by year three wouldn’t surprise me either.




Jimmie Johnson’s late wreck gave him yet another disappointing finish over the summer. But keep in mind that in 2010, Johnson went seven straight races in July-August with finishes of 10th or worse. And last season he averaged a 36th-place finish in the regular season’s final four events. On both occasions he came back to win the series title. … Kyle Busch’s inconsistency continued at the Glen after a mechanical failure led to several laps inside the garage. Over the last six races, he now has three second-place finishes, two DNFs and Sunday’s 40th-place result. … Two red flags pushed the total race time of the Glen to well over four hours. While the racing was fantastic, fans were again forced to stick around through a season of rain delays and extended stoppages. It’s a level of patience fewer are having the time to squeeze into their busy lives; can the sport evolve in line with America’s short attention span? … Dale Earnhardt Jr. now holds the Sprint Cup Series points lead after Jeff Gordon suffered mechanical problems at the Glen. That hasn’t happened this late in a season since 2004.



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Reaction from the NASCAR weekend, including the tragedy in New York involving Tony Stewart and AJ Allmendinger's win in the Sprint Cup Series' race at Watkins Glen.
Post date: Monday, August 11, 2014 - 13:49
Path: /nfl/nfl-scouts-talk-anonymously-about-nfc-west-2014

Home to the defending Super Bowl champions and the only division that featured three 10-win teams last season; there is little debate that the NFC West is the NFL’s toughest division entering the 2014 season. So how is Seattle shaping up as the Seahawks prepare their title defense and what about the three other chasing them out west?


In order to get an accurate assessment of the four NFC West teams heading into 2014, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Cardinals, Rams, 49ers and Seahawks.


Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff. 


Arizona Cardinals


“The Cardinals have as much front-line talent as any NFL team. The problem is that they reside in the toughest division in the league and there is no guarantee to even make the playoffs.” …


“Bruce Arians has had quite a run since taking over as interim coach of the Colts in 2012 and then leading Arizona to a 10-6 mark last year. The players love Arians’ approach and really believe they can go win the Super Bowl in 2014, and they might be right.” …


“As Carson Palmer heads into the twilight of his career, he is surrounded by elite-level ability. Larry Fitzgerald has enjoyed a remarkable career despite being, at times, hamstrung by inept QB play, and Michael Floyd is poised to advance his game in his third season.” …


“Arians has raved about Andre Ellington, but he had major durability concerns coming out of Clemson, and it would be difficult to think of him as a workhorse over the course of 16 games and the playoffs. For that reason, Jonathan Dwyer was signed from Pittsburgh and Stepfan Taylor could be a stopgap option.” …


“With Jonathan Cooper returning from a leg fracture and Jared Veldheer being signed during free agency, this line should be much improved. John Carlson gives them a better-than-average answer at tight end and some inside the organization still think Rob Housler has more to offer from a physical standpoint.” …


“Arizona’s front seven has a mixture of experience and youth, but all of them can play. John Abraham can still rush the passer, Darnell Dockett has matured into a consistent Pro Bowler, and Calais Campbell is a force due to his height and athleticism.” …


“The Cardinals signed Antonio Cromartie to pair off with Patrick Peterson, and with Tyrann Mathieu expected to successfully return from knee surgery, they can be multiple in their coverage packages. They addressed their need at safety with Washington State’s Deone Bucannon in the first round ” …


“The backup-caliber players need to understand that special teams could be the difference between them and the Seahawks and 49ers.” …


“If Palmer stays healthy and upright, this team is highly motivated and stronger than people realize.” …


St. Louis Rams


“Head Coach Jeff Fisher is widely respected and well thought of in league circles because of his work on the Competition Committee and overall presence as a leader of the coaches. However, some are beginning to question his won-loss record and lack of success in St. Louis.” …


The Rams appear content to go forward with QB Sam Bradford, but there is no denying the risk involved because of his past injury history. Offensively, the line has been bad for two years running and their best ball-carrier emerged in the form of [2013] fifth-round pick, Zac Stacy from Vanderbilt. They addressed both of those areas in the draft with a pair of Auburn Tigers, OT Greg Robinson and RB Tre Mason.”…


“TE Jared Cook has very good skill and should thrive more with a healthy Bradford, but the wide receivers have been a major work in progress over the past two campaigns. It took nearly ten weeks to get rookie Tavon Austin cranked up, so the assumption will be that he picks up where 2013 ended. STL has gotten little out of former second-round pick Chris Givens, so this will be a make-or-break year for him.”…


“They were lucky that Rodger Saffold returned to them after the physical fiasco in Oakland and the plan might be to play him at RG with Joe Barksdale at RT and Robinson aligning as a LG.” …


“The Rams now have the best defensive front four in the game after selecting Pittsburgh All-American Aaron Donald with their second first-round pick. The linebacking corps isn’t bad, either, with James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree.” …


“The Achilles’ heel has been the secondary and that is where they added Florida State’s super-competitive Lamarcus Joyner who can play safety, corner or nickel. And with even more pressure coming from Robert Quinn and Chris Long, this secondary should be improved.”…


“The Michael Sam story will get some play upon his arrival and maybe during training camp, but his shot to make the team will be as a situational pass rusher and special teams contributor, period.”…


“GM Les Snead and Fisher appear to work well together, but their time in the Gateway of the West will begin to run down without significant progress in football’s most difficult division.”


San Francisco 49ers


“The 49ers may have the most physically imposing and best-looking team in the entire league. They are big and strong along both lines and have tough, athletic skill players on offense and defense.”…


“Despite some of the communication issues between head coach Jim Harbaugh, GM Trent Baalke and football administration director Paraag Maranthe, this is an organization that has built a quality team. “ …


“Many inside the NFL think 2014 could likely be Harbaugh’s last season in SF, so it has been interesting to monitor the upward movement of former Jets and Browns coach Eric Mangini. He is currently the TEs coach, but made his name in New York and New England on the defensive side of the football. There is no question that he is reinventing himself for another run at a head job and would love the opportunity to take over a roster that is absolutely loaded, although DL coach Jim Tomsula would be the in-house favorite.” …


“The 49ers have hitched their wagon to QB Colin Kaepernick’s unique combination of rare size and speed at the position. If there is a criticism, it is his penchant to throw almost every pass on a line with no touch whatsoever. On play-actions and bootlegs, he can rifle a flat ball in between defenders, but in the drop-back game, he tends to try and throw it through rather than around people.” …


“Expect SF to have more of a backfield-by-committee in place for ’14 as RB Frank Gore still has some in-between-the-tackles ability and they picked Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde in the second round.” …


“Defensively, it’s all about what happens with NaVorro Bowman’s return from the brutal knee injury suffered in the playoffs and the off-field problems experienced by Aldon Smith.” …


“Look for second-year player Tank Carradine to make a splash after ‘redshirting’ last season. “ …


“They are so strong up the middle and that is where Patrick Willis has become this generation’s ‘Ray Lewis.’”…


“If they are light anywhere, it would be on the corner where Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers left for Oakland and the remaining group is headlined by Eric Wright [Editor’s note: he retired in June] and Chris Culliver with the anticipation that first-round choice Jimmie Ward will likely be the nickel in 2014. FS Eric Reid is a Pro Bowl talent and they signed Antoine Bethea to replace Donte Whitner.” …


“The ‘body’ of this team is ready to return to the Super Bowl, the ‘head’ of this team is what will determine their fate.” …


Seattle Seahawks


“Pete Carroll became only the third coach in football history to win both a college national championship and Super Bowl joining Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer in that elite club. He was rewarded with an extension during the offseason and between the leadership combination of himself, GM John Schneider and Russell Wilson, this team isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.” …


“Offensively, Wilson should be able to expand his game to provide more balance to their attack (4th in rushing, 26th in passing) and Percy Harvin is obviously a difference-maker for them when he is healthy and on the field. Golden Tate moved on to the Lions, so Harvin and Doug Baldwin will need to step up in 2014.” …


“The offensive line lost Breno Giacomini, but the other four starters return and RT Michael Bowie gained valuable experience as a rookie when he started 8 games during the regular season.” …


“Marshawn Lynch has prospered since arriving from Buffalo and his Beast Mode style matches the toughness of their defense.” …


“They traded for Terrelle Pryor prior to the draft, so that is a situation to monitor in regards to their backup QB situation.” …


“Defensively, the Legion of Boom will continue uninterrupted after Earl Thomas received a new contract in April and Richard Sherman did the same a few weeks later.” …


“Up front, the Seahawks lost Clinton McDonald, Red Bryant and Chris Clemons to free agency, but they did retain Michael Bennett and still have Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin on the outside. Jordan Hill should figure more prominently on the inside as a second-year player to rotate with Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel.” …


“Bobby Wagner, T.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith are ideal fits for this scheme because of their versatility against the run and pass.” …


“Byron Maxwell’s emergence opposite Sherman allowed them to let Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner to walk, so expect to see more of Jeremy Lane and Tharold Simon this year. Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor form the league’s best safety duo where they complement each other’s skill set unbelievably well.” …


“Seattle is built to last because of the QB, a solid OL and the quality of their overall defense. They preach competition and that’s exactly what they will get from their division rivals in 2014.” …

NFL Scouts Talk Anonymously About the NFC West Teams
Post date: Monday, August 11, 2014 - 12:15
All taxonomy terms: Minnesota Vikings, NFC, NFC North, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/minnesota-vikings-2014-team-preview-and-predictions

General Manager Rick Spielman created 13 categories that he thought described a successful NFL coach. He identified 10 preferred candidates, interviewed seven and fell in love, professionally speaking, with just one. “It’s like when I met my wife,” he said. “You just know.”


Mike Zimmer, the self-proclaimed “fixer” and first-time head coach at any level, replaces the fired Leslie Frazier. And, boy, does he ever have some fixing to do after a 5–10–1 season that featured the league’s worst scoring defense and a three-headed fiasco at quarterback. Zimmer and Spielman immediately infused the defense with youth and depth, signing five unrestricted free agents before spending seven of their 10 draft picks on that side of the ball.


Offensively, Norv Turner has been entrusted with maximizing a group of talented players and a less-than-ideal quarterback situation that already looks more promising with the franchise-wide acceptance that Christian Ponder never will be a franchise quarterback.



The Ponder experiment is over. Matt Cassel, who had opted out of the second year of his original contract with the Vikings, re-signed in part because he trusts that Turner and Zimmer are committed to him as the starter. That wasn’t the case last year when the Vikings waffled between Ponder, Cassel and Josh Freeman despite obvious examples that Cassel, though not great by any stretch, had the most poise, courage to throw the deep ball and overall success (a 3–3 record).


Ponder will start only if Cassel is injured. And even that would depend on whether rookie first-round draft pick Teddy Bridgewater is ready or not. Ideally, the Vikings want Cassel to be a one-year bridge and then back up Bridgewater in 2015.


Unlike former offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, Turner can be counted on to not only groom a young quarterback, but also produce a creative and diverse offense. He’s proven over decades that he gets the most out of quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends while still being able to satisfy Hall of Fame-caliber running backs. And, of course, Adrian Peterson will remain the focal point of the Vikings’ play-action, run-first attack.


Musgrave’s approach was simple, predictable and puzzling in that it failed to incorporate obvious superstar-in-waiting receiver Cordarrelle Patterson until the team’s season had already collapsed. Patterson, an All-Pro kick returner as a rookie last year, will excel in Turner’s offense even though it’s more complex and he’s still a bit raw as a route-runner.


Up front, the offensive line underachieved last season and needs to live up to the level one would expect of a unit that’s still young and enters its third season intact. Left tackle Matt Kalil, a Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2012, had too many lapses in his second season. Left guard Charlie Johnson struggled and may be challenged by younger players.


Peterson is 29 and has had knee, hernia and groin surgeries the past three years. But he looks ready to surpass his 1,266-yard effort from 2013. Peterson will get some help from rookie Jerick McKinnon, the kind of third-down, change-of-pace back Turner likes. 



The Vikings have played a Cover-2 base defense since 2006. Zimmer, meanwhile, has displayed admirable versatility throughout his career. He’s a 4-3 guy who has posted top-10 defenses using his own 4-3 scheme and a 3-4 alignment he learned working for Bill Parcells.


The selection of UCLA’s Anthony Barr ninth overall fills a huge need at strong-side linebacker and will be a key ingredient as Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards transform the Vikings into a more unpredictable unit capable of easily mixing fronts, coverages and blitz packages. Barr, who has played linebacker for only two years, is raw, but his 6'5", 255-pound frame comes with unusual length, speed and cornerback-caliber agility. He’s a natural rusher from the up or down positions and has the skills to cover the seam downfield, which has been a weakness for the Vikings.


Up front, the Vikings said goodbye to Jared Allen and Kevin Williams and hello to a dramatic youth movement. Everson Griffen, 26, steps in for Allen after four years as an heir apparent. He possesses a freakish combination of speed, size, position flexibility and potential. Meanwhile, Sharrif Floyd, who had a nondescript rookie season, takes over for Williams and will be given a chance to live up to being a 23rd overall pick. Linval Joseph, 25, moves in at nose tackle, giving the Vikings their first legitimately sized nose since Pat Williams in 2010.


In the secondary, Spielman is finally starting to assemble a solid unit after the team experienced some bad misses in the draft. Free safety Harrison Smith, a first-round pick in 2012, is instinctive, fast, physical and will be an All-Pro one day if he stays healthy. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes, a first-round pick in 2013, is a potential Pro Bowler who needs to prove he can be durable.


Meanwhile, the other starting corner is Captain Munnerlyn, a prized free-agent signing and a huge upgrade over Chris Cook, who was a four-year disappointment on and off the field. Munnerlyn also can slide inside over the slot in the nickel, something Josh Robinson failed at last year when asked prematurely to fill that role after Antoine Winfield was cut in a salary cap move. Finding a suitable third corner on the current roster will test Zimmer’s reputation as “the fixer.”



Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer was one of Frazier’s three assistants retained by Zimmer. That’s because the Vikings are as good if not better top to bottom than any other team when it comes to special teams. Patterson, the kick returner, turned a ridiculous combination of size and speed into an NFL-leading 32.4-yard average and a league-record 109-yard return. Meanwhile, at punt returner, Marcus Sherels staved off being released and averaged a franchise-record 15.2 yards per return, good enough for second in the league.


Kicker Blair Walsh, an All-Pro as a rookie when he made a record 10-of-10 field goals of 50 yards or longer, struggled from long range last year (2-of-5), but he will be fine. Punter Jeff Locke was typically inconsistent as a rookie last year but should improve.   



If turnovers aren’t an issue at quarterback, there’s enough firepower in Turner’s creative hands to maintain a balanced, run-oriented attack that highlights Peterson, camouflages Cassel and taps the potential of Patterson. Defensively, there’s more of a leap of faith required. How quickly can a unit that’s been overhauled with youth get up to speed in Zimmer’s system? The schedule-maker doesn’t give them much time with an opener on the road at St. Louis followed by games against Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers, the latter on the road on a Thursday night. An 8–8 finish might be a nice place to start.


PREDICTION: 4th in NFC North


(Teddy Bridgewater photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings' Web site, )

Minnesota Vikings 2014 Team Preview and Predictions
Post date: Monday, August 11, 2014 - 12:15
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Jacksonville Jaguars, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/jacksonville-jaguars-2014-team-preview-and-predictions

Phase 1 for the regime of general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley in Jacksonville was about survival, attempting to cobble together a roster last year that would avoid being totally outclassed. And the Jaguars did stay upright — barely, winning four games in the season’s second half. And now there is Phase 2, which is about being competitive in general and against the NFL’s best teams in particular.


The Jaguars went 0–7 last year against teams that made the playoffs, losing each game by at least 16 points. In 2014, the team wants to cut that margin and maybe even win some of those contests to confirm that it’s on the right path. To that end, Caldwell was active in free agency, adding eight players while also waving goodbye to veterans like running back Maurice Jones-Drew, right guard Uche Nwaneri and the retired Brad Meester and Russell Allen.



The Jaguars’ message to quarterback Blake Bortles once they drafted him third overall in May: Hurry up and wait. The Jaguars produced the draft’s first “Wow!” moment when they a) stayed at No. 3 instead of trading down and b) chose Bortles instead of higher-ranked names like Sammy Watkins and Khalil Mack. Bortles is the future, but Chad Henne is the present. Henne is well versed in the offense, respected in the locker room and huddle and stands tall in the pocket. But he’s also a player who is 18–32 as a starter in his career and has 55 touchdowns and 62 interceptions. Henne will keep the seat warm until Bortles is deemed ready to play (maybe at midseason, maybe after the Week 11 bye, maybe 2015). What should help Henne is a free-agent and draft season that re-tooled the offense. The Jaguars ranked last in points and second-to-last in yards, and upgrades were necessary. The end result is new faces, fresher legs and more speed.


After eight years and one league rushing championship, Jones-Drew was allowed to walk in free agency to Oakland. He will be replaced by Toby Gerhart, who averaged 4.7 yards per carry in four years as Adrian Peterson’s backup in Minnesota. The Jaguars were intrigued by Gerhart’s lack of wear and tear, his ability to get yards after contact and experience as a receiver out of the backfield. A hip flexor injury kept him out of the first preseason game, but that was probably more for precautionary reasons than anything.


The Jaguars then took advantage of a deep receiver class in the draft. USC’s Marqise Lee fell to them at No. 39, and then they traded up to No. 60 late in the second round to take Penn State’s Allen Robinson. Both bring what the Jaguars have lacked in the passing game — a willingness to go over the middle for the tough catch and a knack for getting to the end zone. The Jaguars hope that their presence will open up the seam routes for tight end Marcedes Lewis and that the coverage downfield will shade away from Cecil Shorts. Getting Lewis back for a full year after he was slowed by a calf strain last September/October gives the Jaguars a fine blocker (they averaged 0.6 more yards per carry when he was on the field) and a red-zone target (touchdowns in four straight games last year).


But the Jaguars’ most expensive signing was designed to improve an offensive line that has been plagued by performance and durability issues in recent years. Zane Beadles arrived from Denver on a five-year, $30 million contract to play left guard and serve as a leader. Luke Joeckel, coming off a broken leg, has moved from right tackle to left tackle. Brandon Linder, whom the Jaguars traded up in the third round to draft, is the likely new right guard. Mike Brewster will enter camp as the favorite to start at center, and Austin Pasztor, a former guard who impressed last year, will start at right tackle. The goals of this group are to stay healthy, run-block better and prevent a third straight year of 50 sacks by its opponents.



The Jaguars basically have to do everything better on defense. In addition to increasing their sack total, they have to stop the run better (29th last year), produce more takeaways (only 21) and be more effective on third down (27th).


Call the Jags’ defense “Seattle South,” both in the personnel and the scheme. Red Bryant was signed to be an early-down run-stopper at defensive end, and Chris Clemons was added to improve a pass rush that was last in 2012 and tied for last in 2013. Both played for Bradley and defensive line coach Todd Wash in Seattle. The scheme: Use big bodies at three of the defensive line spots and replace them with speedy pass-rushers on third down.


Bradley often says a team can’t have enough pass-rushers, and that is reflected in the Jaguars’ acquisitions. Clemons and draft pick Chris Smith join holdovers Jason Babin and Andre Branch. Ideally, Bradley wants to have four “Leo” (open-side end) players active on Sundays.


At linebacker, the Jaguars hope they’ve added an ascending player in Dekoda Watson, who had only six career starts in four years with Tampa Bay but signed with the Jaguars hours after the free-agent market opened. They believe he can add a dimension against tight ends, a season-long bugaboo in 2013, and also fit into the pass-rushing defensive end rotation. He joins middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, a tackling machine who is the defense’s heart and soul, and Geno Hayes, who is coming off knee surgery.


If the Jaguars are better stopping the run and more effective with a four-man pass rush, that could mean good things for a secondary that started three rookies at various points last year. Veteran Alan Ball returns at one corner and is paired with second-year pro Dwayne Gratz, who has a nose for the football but was sidetracked by two high-ankle sprains last year. At strong safety, former second-round pick Johnathan Cyprien came on during the season’s second half. At free safety, Winston Guy (another Seattle alum) and Josh Evans will compete in camp. Guy and Evans are hard hitters but need to become surer tacklers.



The Jaguars were top 10 in covering kicks and punts and returning kicks, but last in punt returns. Ace Sanders was drafted as a receiver/punt returner but never got untracked on special teams. The second-year player from South Carolina also announced prior to the start of training camp that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence from the team after he was notified he would be suspended the first four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.  A candidate to replace Sanders is Tandon Doss, signed as a free agent from Baltimore. The Jaguars’ kicker-punter-long-snapper team of Josh Scobee-Bryan Anger-Carson Tinker returns intact. Scobee still gets good distance on his kickoffs and is adept at the directional kick, and Anger’s consistent hang time allows his teammates to get down the field.



Is it OK to say “Wait until next year” before the current year has even started? In the Jaguars’ case, probably. The goal this year should be to play better against the league’s elite teams, decide which players should make up the core moving forward and get Bortles late-season experience so that he’s ready to start in 2015.


PREDICTION: 4th in AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars 2014 Team Preview and Predictions
Post date: Monday, August 11, 2014 - 12:15
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-august-11-2014

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for August 11:

• We missed Anna Kendrick's 29th birthday last week. .




• A little something to whet your college football appetite: .




. Yasiel Puig is not human.


. But it is okay to be a little weirded out by .


• Rory didn't just win — .







• Jay Bruce robbed Giancarlo Stanton of a homer.

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

Post date: Monday, August 11, 2014 - 11:28
Path: /golf/rory-mcilroy-new-tiger-woods

Jack Nicklaus once said of Tiger Woods that he "could win as many Masters as Arnold (Palmer) and me combined." That's 10 green jackets, if you're counting.


Earlier, this week, the Golden Bear made similar comments about the heir to Tiger's throne atop the world of golf. "I think Rory (McIlroy) is an unbelievable talent," Nicklaus said. "I love his swing, I love his rhythm, I love his moxie. He's got a little swagger there, it's a little bit cocky but not offensive. I like that. I like the self-confidence in a young man. He's got an unbelievable amount of speed in his golf swing, he obviously hits the ball a heck of a long way. And he hits in there consistently and how he controls it. I think Rory has an opportunity to win 15 or 20 majors or whatever he wants to do if he wants to keep playing."


After a thrilling PGA Championship win in the gathering gloom at Valhalla Golf Club, McIlroy is well on his way to making a prophet out of the course's architect. After earning his fourth major championship at age 25, McIlroy has earned his comparisons to a young Tiger and a young Nicklaus — the only two men of the modern era to win major No. 4 at a younger age.


Like Woods, McIlroy has now won majors in every conceivable way — comfortably (two eight-shot wins) and in grind-it-out fashion (yesterday's nerve-rattling march to the Wanamaker Trophy). He's also won a major in a way Tiger never has — by making a final-round charge from behind. Rory made the turn on Sunday facing a three-shot deficit, with the players in front of him (specifically Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson) eliciting pine-rattling roars from the record galleries. But on 10, needing a jump-start, McIlroy pulled a Tiger-esque rabbit out of his Nike cap, drilling a 3-wood laser within 10 feet on the difficult par 5 and calmly draining the eagle putt. From there, it was a (literal) sprint to the finish for McIlroy, who posted a back-9 32 and a 16-under par finish.


Now that the Woods era seems to be truly on the wane, it's time to anoint a new king. Science tells us that nature hates a vacuum, and after two eight-shot wins in majors in the last 14 months, Rory McIlroy looks ready to fill the void at the top of golf. And more than that, Rory looks likes he could be the kind of historic force in the game that Woods was. The proof comes when you compare the two at similar points in their careers. - See more at:
Now that the Woods era seems to be truly on the wane, it's time to anoint a new king. Science tells us that nature hates a vacuum, and after two eight-shot wins in majors in the last 14 months, Rory McIlroy looks ready to fill the void at the top of golf. And more than that, Rory looks likes he could be the kind of historic force in the game that Woods was. The proof comes when you compare the two at similar points in their careers. - See more at:

With the Woods era seems to be truly on the wane, it's time to anoint a new king. Science tells us that nature hates a vacuum, and with four major championship wins at age 25, McIlroy is more than ready to fill the void that Tiger has left at the game's apex. And more than that, Rory looks likes he could be the kind of historic force in the game that Woods was. His win delivered the kind of ratings bonanza once reserved for Tiger in his prime. In fact, the 2014 PGA earned the tournament's best ratings since Woods' loss to Y.E. Yang in 2009 — in retrospect, possibly Tiger's last gasp in major championship golf.


McIlroy wisely continues to dismiss all the talk about chasing down the major totals of Woods (14) and Nicklaus (18). He’s just enjoying the moment.

“I'm on a nice track at the minute and I'm on a nice path,” he said. “I've still got a long way to go, but to be in their company at this age is very special.”


Rory's reluctant to make the comparison, but we're not. Here's a look at Tiger and Rory at similar points — Tiger through the 2000 PGA Championship, which he also won at Valhalla in a spirited duel with Bob May, and Rory following yesterday's win for the ages. Clearly, Tiger's breathtaking run at the dawn of the 21st Century will be impossible for anyone to replicate, but Rory's on his way to a legendary career of his own.


Rory McIlroy-Tiger Woods Career Comparison (Through Their PGA Championship Wins at Valhalla)


 Tiger WoodsRory McIlroy
Tournaments won (worldwide)    2415
Majors won         54
Cumulative winning margin in majors      37 strokes19 strokes
Major top 5s      87
Major top 10s1110
Total weeks at No. 1 in the World   12141
Largest winning margin in major15 strokes8 strokes (twice)
Lowest scoring avg. for a season            67.79 (2000)68.87 (2012)
<p> Is Rory McIlroy the new Tiger Woods?</p>
Post date: Monday, August 11, 2014 - 10:43
Path: /college-football/marshall-unveils-new-green-jerseys-2014

Marshall could be set for a special year in 2014, as the Thundering Herd has a favorable path to an undefeated record in the regular season.

And in college football’s new playoff format, a 12-0 regular season mark, combined with a C-USA Championship in early December, and Marshall could be the top team from the Group of 5 leagues to play in one of the premier bowl games.

Marshall unveiled new green jerseys for 2014 on Sunday, which features a new gradient number and black stripes on the sleeves.

Check out the Thundering Herd’s new green uniform for 2014:

Marshall Unveils New Green Jerseys for 2014
Post date: Monday, August 11, 2014 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/secs-top-freshmen-watch-2014

The beauty of college football lies in its unpredictability and volatility. 


Roster turnover is largely responsible for the tremendous amount of variability from year to year within the sport. Key graduations, early entries into the NFL Draft, dismissals and a massive influx of tomorrow's stars in the form of bright-eyed freshmen create more personnel turnover in college football than any other major sport in the country.


It's these (relatively) unknown commodities that offer fans a renewed hope of future success. Who are the top freshmen to watch in the SEC this fall?


Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

The conversation about 2014's top freshmen not only in the SEC but in the nation begins with the No. 1 prospect in the class. From a power and speed standpoint, Fournette might be the closest thing college football has seen Adrian Peterson began his career at Oklahoma over a decade ago. He is a 6-foot-1, 230-pound sure thing and is likely a front-runner for national freshman of the year.


Cam Robinson, OL, Alabama

The mammoth 6-foot-6 freshman from West Monroe (La.) High School was the No. 1 offensive line prospect in the nation. He enrolled early and has already been working with the first team offense for most of the summer. How many national title contenders will have a true freshman anchoring the left tackle position?


Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M

The No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation is a tall, pocket passer from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Desert Mountain. The 6-foot-3 signal-caller is a student of the game and is battling Kenny Hill for full-time starting duties in College Station. Many believe Allen is the future and will eventually wrestle the starting job away from Hill permanently.


Ricky Seals-Jones | Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M

Seals-Jones was a five-star top 25 prospect in the 2013 class. He redshirted last year after catching three passes in two games early in the year. His massive frame is a mismatch nightmare for most SEC defenses. Packaged with the smaller, more explosive and versatile Noil, this duo could easily develop into one of the SEC's best. 


Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee

The Nashville product is every bit of 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds and he stands out on Tennessee's practice field. He's dealt with some health issues during his outstanding prep career, but if he can stay on the field, his rare combination of size and speed makes him an instant impact player for Butch Jones — both as a runner and pass-catcher.


Jalen Tabor | Duke Dawson, DB, Florida

Both enrolled early in January and both will compete for the starting spot opposite All-American Vernon Hargreaves III. The loser of that battle will likely be the top nickelback — a position that is almost a starter in the modern SEC. Tabor is slightly more talented and fits better as a corner, while the more physical Dawson has the ability to make plays around the line of scrimmage. Florida is the LSU of the East in terms of producing defensive backs.


Matt Elam, DT, Kentucky

The massive 6-foot-7, 350-pounder (depending on the time of day) is already entrenched as a starter for Mark Stoops' defensive line. The head coach can barely hide his excitement about injecting this talented in-state product into the heart of his developing defensive front. Elam will go through growing pains but has the astounding quickness and agility that NFL scouts drool over when it comes to guys his size.


Jamal Adams, S, LSU

In just a few trips to the practice field, Adams already has Les Miles raving about his overall ability. The big-time defensive back prospect is already working with the starting defensive unit for coordinator John Chavis and is set to become the next in a ridiculously impressive run of elite secondary players for LSU.


Tre Williams, LB, Auburn

He may not start the season in the starting lineup but fans can expect to see plenty of Williams this fall. Behind an impressive work ethic and willingness to learn, Williams has placed himself in the running to steal a starting spot in his first fall camp. 'Headhunter' is the word starter Cassanova McKinzy used to describe Williams.


Brandon Harris, QB, LSU

He is battling with Anthony Jennings but the 6-foot-2, 195-pound dual-threat signal-caller brings a new dimension to LSU's offense. He may not win the starting job right away but all signs are pointing to this dynamic freshman as the future for Cam Cameron and Les Miles in Baton Rouge.


Myles Garrett | Justin Manning, DL, Texas A&M

The only player rated ahead of Garrett in the national recruiting rankings was Fournette. The freakish 6-foot-4, 250-pounder is set to carve out a critical role for a defensive line in desperate need of development. Garrett and former four-star redshirt freshman Justin Manning are two names who should establish themselves as future All-SEC types in 2014.


Tony Brown | Marlon Humphrey, DB, Alabama

One of the few weaknesses for Alabama is at cornerback where graduation and the NFL Draft have finally caught up with Nick Saban. Brown (6-fooot, 190) enrolled early and will be fighting for one of two open corner sports all camp long. He was the top defensive back signee in the SEC and was considered the No. 9 overall prospect in the nation. Humphrey is no less talented and he brings an equally impressive 6-foot-1 frame to a secondary in need of quick help (relatively speaking).


Oren Burks, S, Vanderbilt

The redshirt freshman moved from linebacker to safety when new coach Derek Mason took over. Mason wants his size (6-2, 215) at the back end of his defense. He has a chance to be one of the most imposing playmakers in a totally rebuilt secondary.


Malkom Parrish, DB, Georgia

Both players can play multiple positions and both have seen time at various spots. Parrish has excelled backing up J.J. Green at the Star position and has pressed for starting time at corner. Additionally, Aaron Davis, a redshirt freshman and starting corner in spring practice, is now playing at safety due to Parrish's emergence. Both could start this fall in coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's reworked secondary.


Wesley Green, CB, South Carolina

Few teams took a bigger hit at one position like the Gamecocks did at cornerback. Which is why Steve Spurrier signed five defensive backs in this class. Green and fellow freshman Chris Lammons will get every opportunity to land starting roles in Lorenzo Ward's secondary.


Best of the rest:


Bijhon Jackson, DT, Arkansas

Rod Taylor, OL, Ole Miss

Malachi Dupree, WR, LSU

Josh Malone, WR, Tennessee

Braden Smith, OL, Auburn

Dillon Bates, LB, Tennessee

J'Mon Moore, WR, Missouri

Peyton Barber, RB, Auburn

Nigel Bowden, LB, Vanderbilt

Nifae Lealao, DT, Vanderbilt

Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia

Aeris Williams, RB, Mississippi State


Special Teamers to Watch:


Daniel Carlson, K, Auburn

JK Scott, P, Alabama

Cole Hedlund, K, Arkansas

Gary Wunderlich, P, Ole Miss

The SEC's Top 15 Freshman to Watch in 2014
Post date: Monday, August 11, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-transfers-watch-2014

Free agency isn’t an option in college football, but player movement is still a big part of every offseason. The transaction wire was busy over the last year with several players changing homes for the 2014 campaign.

Several quarterbacks changed addresses for 2014, including graduate transfers Michael Brewer (Virginia Tech), Jacob Coker (Alabama), Jake Heaps (Miami), Matt Joeckel (TCU) and Stephen Rivers (Vanderbilt).


In addition to the graduate transfers, the quarterback position has a handful of names that sat out 2013 as a result of NCAA transfer rules. NC State’s Jacoby Brissett and Illinois’ Wes Lunt are two transfers expected to make a huge impact in 2014.


Key transfers weren’t just limited to quarterbacks, as running back Rushel Shell left Pittsburgh for West Virginia, receiver Jordan Leslie left UTEP for BYU, while defensive tackle Delvon Simmons transferred from Texas Tech to USC.


Which players might make an impact as a transfer in 2014? Let’s take a look:


Power 5 Conference Transfers at Quarterback


Conner Brewer, Arizona (from Texas)

Arizona opened fall practice with a wide-open battle for the starting job. Brewer redshirted in his only season at Texas and is battling Jesse Scroggins, Jerrard Randall and Anu Solomon for time.


Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech (from Texas Tech)

Virginia Tech’s offense is searching for a spark after averaging only 22.5 points per game last season. Logan Thomas expired his eligibility as the No. 1 quarterback in Blacksburg, leaving Brewer, Brenden Motley and Mark Leal competing for the starting job. In two seasons at Texas Tech, Brewer completed 41 of 58 passes for 440 yards and five touchdowns.


Jacoby Brissett, NC State (from Florida)

NC State’s offense struggled to find consistency from its quarterback position in 2013. But the Wolfpack should show significant improvement on offense behind Brissett in 2014. In two seasons with Florida, Brissett completed 41 of 74 passes for 455 yards and three scores. NC State quarterbacks combined to throw only 11 touchdowns last year, but Brissett will easily surpass that mark in 2014.


Jacob Coker, Alabama (from Florida State)

With Jameis Winston entrenched as Florida State’s No. 1 quarterback, Coker left Tallahassee for a chance to start for Nick Saban. The Alabama native played sparingly in two years with the Seminoles, completing 18 of 36 passes for 250 yards and one interception in 2013. Coker has the size and arm strength coaches want in a prototypical quarterback. With a strong supporting cast, he won’t be asked to win many games for the Crimson Tide, but Coker’s performances in key SEC contests could decide whether or not Alabama returns to Atlanta in early December.


Jake Heaps, Miami (from Kansas)

Heaps ranked as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in the 2010 signing class and spent his first two years with BYU. Heaps threw 24 touchdown passes with the Cougars but transferred to Kansas after losing the starting job to Riley Nelson. In one year with the Jayhawks, the Washington native completed only 49 percent of his throws and tossed 10 picks. With Ryan Williams suffering a torn ACL in spring practice, and the suspension of Kevin Olsen, Heaps is slated to start the opener against Louisville.


Matt Joeckel, TCU (from Texas A&M)

In an effort to find a spark on offense, the Horned Frogs are changing offensive schemes to an up-tempo, spread attack in 2014. Trevone Boykin and Joeckel will battle to win the starting job, with Joeckel likely holding a slight edge due to his experience at Texas A&M in a similar offense. Joeckel completed 27 of 48 passes for 335 yards and two scores from 2012-13 with the Aggies. If Joeckel wins the quarterback battle, Boykin is expected to move to receiver.


Wes Lunt, Illinois (from Oklahoma State)

Tim Beckman’s hire of Bill Cubit as the team’s play-caller paid big dividends for the Illinois’ offense in 2013. The Fighting Illini averaged 29.7 points per game last year and could take that number even higher in 2014. Lunt – a former four-star recruit – is eligible after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. In 2012 at Oklahoma State, Lunt threw for 1,108 yards and six touchdowns. With a struggling defense, expect Lunt and the Fighting Illini offense to be involved in plenty of shootouts in 2014.


Tyler Murphy, Boston College (from Florida)

Murphy played sparingly prior to last season, but an injury to Jeff Driskel pressed the Connecticut native into his first extensive action with the Gators. Murphy started six games and finished 2013 with 1,216 yards and six passing scores, while rushing for 61 yards. The Eagles are expected to shift to a spread attack in 2014, which fits Murphy’s skill-set better than the offense did at Florida in 2013. Murphy should take the opening snap for Boston College this year.


Stephen Rivers, Vanderbilt (from LSU)

First-year coach Derek Mason heads into 2014 hoping to improve an offense that managed only seven passing scores in SEC games last year. Mason and coordinator Karl Dorrell have options at quarterback, including Patton Robinette, Rivers and promising redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary. Rivers spent three years at LSU and misfired on both passes he attempted in limited action. The Alabama native lacks mobility, but has intriguing size (6’7”) and is the brother of NFL star Philip Rivers.


Kendal Thompson, Utah (from Oklahoma)

Thompson transferred to Utah after three years at Oklahoma. After redshirting in his first season, Thompson did not play in 2012 and only attempted 13 passes with the Sooners in 2013. If healthy, Travis Wilson is Utah’s starter, but Thompson adds more depth to a position that has been hit hard by injuries in recent years.


Group of 5 Transfers to Watch at QB


Rob Bolden, Eastern Michigan (from LSU)

Bolden was regarded as one of the top quarterback recruits in the 2010 signing class. Fast forward to 2014 and Bolden is on his third school and vying for a chance to start at Eastern Michigan. Prior to his stop in Ypsilanti, Bolden was at Penn State for two years and had a two-season stint at LSU. Bolden threw seven touchdowns and 14 picks from 2010-11 at Penn State.


Brandon Connette, Fresno State (from Duke)

Derek Carr will be missed, but Fresno State is still in good shape at quarterback. Connette transferred from Duke after spring practice and is competing with Brian Burrell for the starting job this fall. Connette scored 27 total touchdowns for the Blue Devils in 2013.


Phillip Ely, Toledo (from Alabama)

Alabama transfer is part of a three-way battle to replace Terrance Owens. Ely was a three-star recruit by Rivals in the 2011 signing class and played in six games with Alabama in 2012.


Blake Frohnapfel, UMass (from Marshall)

With Rakeem Cato entrenched at Marshall, Frohnapfel transferred to UMass with an opportunity to start in 2014. Frohnapfel threw for 206 yards and three scores in limited snaps with the Thundering Herd in 2013.


Andrew Hendrix, Miami (Ohio) (from Notre Dame)

New coach Chuck Martin’s rebuilding effort at Miami (Ohio) will have some help from a couple of Notre Dame transfers, including Hendrix at quarterback in 2014. The former four-star recruit completed 25 of 58 passes for 360 yards and one score in three years with the Fighting Irish.


Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati (from Notre Dame)

The Bearcats led the American Athletic Conference by averaging 6.3 yards per play in league games last year. Quarterback Brendon Kay has expired his eligibility, but Cincinnati’s offense shouldn’t miss a beat with Kiel at the controls. The Indiana native ranked as the No. 27 overall recruit in the 2012 signing class by 247Sports Composite and redshirted in his debut with the Fighting Irish. Kiel has yet to take a snap on the college level, but he’s a promising option for a Cincinnati team expected to contend for the American Athletic Conference title.


Nick Patti, UCF (from Boise State)

Patti is battling Justin Holman and Pete DiNovo to replace Blake Bortles. The Florida native is eligible immediately after transferring from Boise State.


Cody Sokol, Louisiana Tech (from Iowa)

Sokol transfers to Ruston after two years at Iowa. The former Scottsdale Community College quarterback did not record any statistics with the Hawkeyes and is competing with Ryan Higgins for the starting job.


Pete Thomas, ULM (from NC State)

Thomas is on his third stop in his collegiate career, transferring to ULM after a stint at NC State. The California native played from 2010-11 at Colorado State and tossed four touchdowns to nine interceptions with the Wolfpack in 2013. Thomas is competing with Brayle Brown for the starting job.


Other Key Transfers


RB Dee Hart, Colorado State (Alabama)

Former five-star recruit transferred to Colorado State after three years at Alabama. Hart is reunited with former coordinator Jim McElwain and could push for the starting job with the departure of Kapri Bibbs.


RB Thomas Rawls, Central Michigan (from Michigan)

Rawls moves two hours north from Ann Arbor to Mount Pleasant and joins the Chippewas after rushing for 333 yards in three years with the Wolverines.


RB Rushel Shell, West Virginia (from Pittsburgh)

Shell ranked as a five-star recruit in the 247Sports Composite in 2012 and played in 12 games as a freshman for Pittsburgh, recording 641 yards and four touchdowns on 141 attempts. Shell is competing for time in a crowded backfield, but he could be an All-Big 12 player if he gets enough opportunities in 2014.


RB Braylon Heard, Kentucky (from Nebraska)

Heard was a four-star recruit for Nebraska in the 2010 signing class, and the Ohio native rushed for 462 yards and four scores from 2011-12. Heard averaged 6.7 yards per carry in 2012 and will team with Jojo Kemp to form a much improved Kentucky rushing attack in 2014.


WR Nick Harwell, Kansas (from Miami, Ohio)

The Jayhawks have struggled to find playmakers at receiver in recent years, but the addition of Harwell and Nigel King should help. Harwell caught 229 passes in three years with Miami (Ohio) and posted a 1,000-yard season in 2011.


WR Cayleb Jones, Arizona (from Texas)

Arizona’s receiving corps could be one of the deepest in the nation in 2014. Jones – a Texas transfer – played in 10 games as a freshman in 2012 with the Longhorns and caught one pass. Jones was a four-star recruit in the 2012 signing class.


WR Nigel King, Kansas (from Maryland)

King was a late addition to Kansas’ roster this summer after catching 33 passes for 450 yards and four scores with Maryland in 2013. The North Carolina native adds talent to a position that has struggled for the Jayhawks in recent years.


WR Jordan Leslie, BYU (from UTEP)

Leslie should be a key piece of BYU’s passing attack in 2014. In three seasons at UTEP, the Texas native caught 125 passes and averaged 19.1 yards per catch in 2012. With Cody Hoffman departing, the Cougars need a new No. 1 target in 2014.


WR Davonte Neal, Arizona (from Notre Dame)

Neal is a name to remember this year, as the former Notre Dame receiver could play in an all-purpose role for the Wildcats. The Arizona native caught one pass for the Fighting Irish in 2012 but the sophomore has game-changing ability and should be a key piece in the offense in 2014.


WR Shakim Phillips, Boston College (from UConn)

The Eagles’ receiving corps is thin on proven options heading into 2014, but the return of Phillips should give Boston College a go-to target for quarterback Tyler Murphy. Phillips started his career with the Eagles but transferred to UConn for the 2012-13 seasons. The New Jersey native caught 28 passes for 406 yards and three touchdowns in 2013.


WR Marvin Shinn, South Alabama (from Alabama)

Shinn was a four-star recruit for Alabama in the 2011 signing class and played in 14 games in 2012 for the Crimson Tide. Shinn should be a key weapon for new quarterback Brandon Bridge.


WR Miles Shuler, Northwestern (from Rutgers)

Shuler is a key pickup for a Northwestern team hoping to rebound after a 5-7 mark in 2013. The New Jersey native caught five passes in two years with Rutgers from 2011-12 and adds another speed threat to the Wildcats’ receiving corps.


WR LeKendrick Williams, Fresno State (from Texas A&M)

Williams caught seven passes in three years at Texas A&M, but he should easily surpass that mark in 2014 with Fresno State. The Texas native will help replace some of the production left by Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse.


TE Jake McGee, Florida (from Virginia)

McGee is a significant pickup for a Florida offense that desperately needs playmakers in the receiving corps. The Virginia native caught 71 passes and seven touchdowns in three seasons with the Cavaliers. McGee should be a good fit in Gainesville under new coordinator Kurt Roper.


TE Alex Welch, Miami (Ohio) (from Notre Dame)

Welch caught only one pass during his time at Notre Dame, but the Ohio native is slated to start for the RedHawks in 2014.


OL Malcolm Bunche, UCLA (from Miami)

Bunche played in 31 games in three seasons with the Hurricanes, including 12 starts at left tackle in 2012. He could play at guard or tackle for the Bruins in 2014.


OL Cameron Jefferson, Arkansas (from UNLV)

Jefferson transferred to Arkansas after UNLV’s bowl ban (later rescinded) was announced. The Las Vegas native started all 13 games for the Rebels in 2012 and earned honorable mention All-Mountain West honors in 2013.


OL Alex Lewis, Nebraska (from Colorado)

Lewis is expected to start at left tackle for Cornhuskers in 2014 after starting 12 games at Colorado in 2012.


OL Chad Lindsay, Ohio State (from Alabama)

Lindsay is a graduate transfer from Alabama and joins the Buckeyes after starting four games with the Crimson Tide in 2013. He could push for a starting spot on the interior this year.


OL Ian Silberman, Boston College (from Florida)

Silberman is a graduate transfer from Florida and is slated to start at right tackle for Boston College in 2014. In three years with the Gators, Silberman appeared in 20 games and made four starts in 2013.


OL Christian Westerman, Arizona State (from Auburn)

Westerman ranked as a five-star recruit in the 247Sports Composite for the 2011 signing class, and he transferred to Arizona State after two years with Auburn. The Arizona native played in the Holiday Bowl loss to Texas Tech, but this will be his first extended opportunity at playing time since high school. Westerman is expected to start at left guard, allowing Jamil Douglas to play at left tackle in 2014.


DL Jordan Allen, Arizona (from LSU)

Allen is another key transfer pickup for coach Rich Rodriguez. In three years at LSU, Allen played in 17 contests and recorded two sacks. He will push for playing time on a line that is considered the weak spot on Arizona’s defense.


DL Houston Bates, Louisiana Tech (from Illinois)

Bates’ departure was a significant blow for Illinois’ defense and a huge gain for Skip Holtz and Louisiana Tech. The Louisiana native was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection in 2013 and finished his Fighting Illini career with 81 tackles (14 for a loss) and three forced fumbles. Bates should push for All-Conference USA honors in 2014.


DL Fadol Brown, Ole Miss (from FIU)

Brown is a promising sophomore for Ole Miss’ defense, as he transferred from FIU after just one season (eight tackles, 1.5 sacks). The South Carolina native adds depth to a line that could be one of the best in the SEC this year.


DL Jalen Grimble, Oregon State (from Miami)

Oregon State’s defensive line is under construction with only one returning starter (Dylan Wynn). Grimble was a four-star prospect by Rivals in the 2011 signing class and played in 15 games in his first two years at Miami. Grimble is slated to play significant snaps at defensive tackle in 2014.


DL Se’Von Pittman, Akron (from Ohio State)

Pittman was a top-100 recruit in the 2012 signing class and redshirted in his first season at Ohio State.


DL Shaquille Riddick, West Virginia (from Gardner-Webb)

Riddick is one of the most intriguing transfers for 2014. The Ohio native is eligible immediately after transferring from Gardner-Webb, where the 6-foot-6 defensive end earned FCS All-America honors in 2013. Riddick recorded 10.5 sacks from 2012-13 and is slated to push for a starting spot with the Mountaineers.


DL Josh Shirley, UNLV (from Washington)

Shirley is a late summer pickup for UNLV. The California native earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2013 and recorded 18 sacks at Washington from 2011-13.


DT Delvon Simmons, USC (from Texas Tech)

Simmons spent two years at Texas Tech, recording 27 tackles and two sacks in 2012. He is expected to play a key role in USC’s defensive line this year.


DL Gavin Stansbury, Houston (from Texas A&M)

Stansbury was expected to be a key piece of Texas A&M’s defensive line rotation, but he transferred to Houston this summer. Stansbury recorded 47 tackles and three sacks with the Aggies last year.


LB A.J. Hilliard, Texas A&M (from TCU)

Hilliard played in 11 games as a true freshman with TCU in 2012. He is expected to push for snaps in Texas A&M’s linebacking corps this season.


LB Gionni Paul, Utah (from Miami)

Paul transferred after two years at Miami and was expected to be a key piece of Utah’s linebacking corps in 2014 until a foot injury sidelined him in the spring. Paul recorded 61 stops for the Hurricanes in 2012.


DB Ty-Meer Brown, Boston College (from UConn)

Brown was a three-year starter for UConn, recording at least 45 tackles in every season from 2011-13. The Pennsylvania native missed the final five games of 2013 due to a neck injury and transferred as a graduate student to Boston College. Brown is expected to be a significant contributor for Eagles’ secondary in 2014.


S Harvey Jackson, BYU (from Nebraska)

BYU’s secondary got a late-spring boost with the addition of Jackson from Nebraska. The Texas native played in 35 games in three years with the Cornhuskers and recorded 54 tackles.


DB Lo Wood, Miami (Ohio) (from Notre Dame)

Wood is one of three Notre Dame players following new coach Chuck Martin from South Bend to the MAC. Wood played in 32 career games with the Fighting Irish and recorded 20 tackles.


CB Cody Riggs, Notre Dame (from Florida)

The Fighting Irish could have one of the nation’s top cornerback duos in 2014, as KeiVarae Russell is a standout junior on one side, and he will be joined by Florida transfer Cody Riggs. In three years with the Gators, Riggs recorded one interception, 107 tackles and one forced fumble.


Other Players Transferring in 2014


QB Luke Del Rio, Oregon State (from Alabama)

QB Matt Floyd, South Alabama (from USF)

QB Anthony Maddie, Northern Illinois (from Western Michigan)

QB T.J. Millweard, Kansas (from UCLA)

QB David Olson, Clemson (from Stanford)

QB Brent Stockstill, MTSU (from Cincinnati)

QB Mike Wegzyn, Tennessee (from UMass)

RB Justus Pickett, Tennessee (from Maryland)

RB Lucky Radley, San Diego State (from Utah)

RB Anthon Samuel, FIU (from Bowling Green)

RB Adonis Smith, Arizona (from UNLV)

WR Rodney Adams, USF (from Toledo)

WR Aaron Bradley, Ohio (from Nevada)

WR Trevor Davis, California (from Hawaii)

WR Gehrig Dieter, Bowling Green (from SMU)

WR Chandler Dorrell, Vanderbilt (from Stanford)

WR Eric Dungy, USF (from Oregon)

WR Nick England, Old Dominion (from FIU)

WR Kenny Golladay, Northern Illinois (from North Dakota)

WR Jeff Greene, Ohio State (from Georgia Tech)

WR Donovan Harden, Georgia State (from Illinois State)

WR Charlie Hegedus, Georgia (from NC State)

WR Alex Kenney, UMass (from Penn State)

WR D’Vario Montgomery, Iowa State (from USF)

WR Keanu Nelson, BYU (from Stanford)

WR Cam Oliver, Houston (from ULM)

WR Quinton Pedroza, Hawaii (from Utah)

WR E.J. Scott, Wake Forest (from Virginia)

WR Paul Turner, Louisiana Tech (from LSU)

WR Andrew Turzilli, Rutgers (from Kansas)

WR Jackie Williams, UCF (from UAB)

WR Cameron Wilson, Ohio (from Iowa)

TE Darien Bryant, West Virginia (from Vanderbilt)

TE Michael Cooper, Indiana (from Arizona)

TE Davis Dudchock, Vanderbilt (from Stanford)

TE Iona Pritchard, Oregon State (from BYU)

TE Evan Tatford, UL Lafayette (from Tulane)

TE Jacob Wark, Oregon State (from California)

OL James Bodanis, Michigan State (from Toronto)

OL Shane Callahan, Colorado (from Arizona)

OL Travis Cross, Houston (from Oklahoma State)

OL Ben Dew, Houston (from Hawaii)

OL Ethan Hutson, Troy (from Ole Miss)

OL Blake Muir, Baylor (from Hawaii)

DT Richard Ash, Western Michigan (from Michigan)

DL Jacoby Briscoe, UL Lafayette (from Miami)

DL Bruce Heggie, Ball State (from Notre Dame)

DL K’Hadree Hooker, East Carolina (from NC State)

DL Terrell Jackson, Bowling Green (from Pittsburgh)

DL Lawrence Lagafuaina, Hawaii (from Washington)

DL Langston Newton, Purdue (from Kentucky)

DL Ernest Suttles, Memphis (from Nebraska)

DL Sam Ukwuachu, Baylor (from Boise State)

DL Anthony Williams, Troy (from Georgia Tech)

DL Ricardo Williams, Marshall (from Miami)

DL Brandon Willis, UNLV (from UCLA)

LB Jeremy Castro, Hawaii (from UCLA)

LB Trey Grainer, UL Lafayette (from LSU)

LB Ruben Ibarra, Arizona State (from Purdue)

LB Harvey Langi, BYU (from Utah)

LB Cameron Nwosu, SMU (from Rice)

LB Deaysean Rippy, Colorado (from Pittsburgh)

LB Anthony Wallace, North Texas (from Oregon)

LB Eric Wilson, Cincinnati (from Northwestern)

DB Anthony Alford, Ole Miss (from Southern Miss)

S Cullen Christian, West Virginia (from Pittsburgh)

CB Bruce Dukes, Georgia State (from UCF)

S Justin Ferguson, Western Michigan (from Notre Dame)

S Josh Furman, Oklahoma State (from Michigan)

CB Daniel Gray, Utah State (from Tennessee)

DB Bryan Harper, Fresno State (from Arizona)

DB Lee Hightower, Houston (from Boise State)

CB Donaldven Manning, Marshall (from Virginia Tech)

S Reggie Mitchell, Pittsburgh (from Wisconsin)

CB Najee Murray, Kent State (from Ohio State)

DB Damian Payne, UTEP (from Houston)

DB Cleveland Wallace, San Jose State (from Washington)

CB Tyler White, Houston (from Utah)

K James Hairston, Rice (from LSU)

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch in 2014
Post date: Monday, August 11, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/examining-biggest-concerns-college-footballs-playoff-contenders

College football’s new four-team playoff has added extra intrigue to the upcoming season.

No one knows exactly how this year will play out and what the committee will value when it comes to evaluating and ranking the teams. However, with four teams getting a chance to play for the national championship, the margin of error has slightly increased.

Instead of trying to get to the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, teams can get into the No. 3 and No. 4 positions and still win the national title.

Despite the extra margin of error, every team in the nation has a concern or weakness heading into the season.

Some concerns are obvious, while some are just minor.

, let’s take a look at the biggest concerns for the top 15 teams.

Top Concerns for College Football's Playoff Contenders


1. Florida State

Defensive tackle: The Seminoles have a few departures on the interior, including standout Timmy Jernigan. Eddie Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample are solid, but which players emerge to help with depth? Redshirt freshman Keith Bryant or one of the touted true freshman: Derrick Nnadi, Arthur Williams or Demarcus Christmas could help in 2014.

Wide Receivers: Talent certainly isn’t an issue here. The Seminoles boast an All-American receiver on one side in Rashad Greene, and a standout tight end Nick O’Leary attacking over the middle. But the spot opposite of Greene is up for grabs, with seniors Christian Green and Jarred Haggins competing for snaps, along with sophomore Jesus Wilson and freshmen Ermon Lane and Traivs Rudolph.


Punter: It’s easy to overlook special teams, but punting is an area of concern for coach Jimbo Fisher. Cason Beatty needs to be more consistent and will face competition from Jonathan Hernandez and Larry Lawson III.

2. Alabama


Cornerback: Opposing quarterbacks completed only 55.5 percent of their throws against Alabama’s defense in 2013, but the cornerback position is still a concern for Nick Saban heading into the fall. 11 of the 13 touchdown passes allowed by the Crimson Tide last season came in three games (Oklahoma, Auburn and Texas A&M), and cornerback Deion Belue must be replaced. Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart need more consistent production from their corners and could call on two true freshmen (Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey) to help in 2014.


Quarterback: This position has generated most of the offseason buzz in Tuscaloosa, but with a strong rushing attack and defense, Alabama won’t need too much from its quarterback position. Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is considered the favorite to start over Blake Sims. Coker completed 18 of 36 passes for 250 yards with the Seminoles in 2013 but does not have a start in his college career. The Crimson Tide can win a lot of games with so-so quarterback play. However, when the game is on the line against Auburn, LSU and Ole Miss, can Coker or Sims make the necessary throws to elevate the Crimson Tide to a victory?

3. Ohio State

Offensive Line: It’s a tough call to pick the No. 1 concern for the Buckeyes, as the offensive line, receiving corps, secondary and linebacking corps are all worth a mention. However, the offensive line is perhaps the biggest concern for coach Urban Meyer, especially with quarterback Braxton Miller’s injuries last season. Keeping Miller healthy is the No. 1 priority this year, as Kenny Guiton is no longer around to provide insurance. Left tackle Taylor Decker is the lone returning starter, but guard Pat Elflein had a promising stint at the end of 2013. The left guard, center and right tackle spots are still up for grabs. Winning the Big Ten – especially on Nov. 8 at Michigan State – and contending for a playoff spot rests largely on how quick the Buckeyes can develop their offensive line.

4. Oklahoma

Playmakers for Trevor Knight: The Sooners return 14 starters from a team that went 11-2 last year, and there are few glaring concerns for coach Bob Stoops. Quarterback Trevor Knight ended 2013 with his best performance of the year, throwing for 348 yards and four scores against Alabama. For Knight to continue his growth as a passer, the coaching staff needs to find new weapons at receiver. Three of last year’s top four receivers are gone, including Jalen Saunders (61 catches). Junior Sterling Shepard is an All-Big 12 receiver, but who steps up into the No. 2 and No. 3 roles? Is it Durron Neal or K.J. Young? How about Dannon Cavil, Derrick Woods or Jordan Smallwood? True freshman Michiah Quick is another name to watch this fall.

5. Auburn


Lines of Scrimmage: It’s a bit cliché, but teams have to be strong in the trenches in order to win in the SEC. Auburn’s offensive line was one of the best in the nation in 2013 and was projected to rank near the top once again. However, guard Alex Kozan will miss 2014 due to a back injury, which adds to a giant void on the left side with Greg Robinson leaving for the NFL. The defensive front is also uncertain, as Carl Lawson could miss most of 2014 due to a torn ACL. Sophomores Montravius Adams and Elijah Daniel are promising, and there’s depth with the addition of junior college recruits DaVonte Lambert and Devaroe Lawrence. However, after giving up 162.1 rushing yards per game last season, Lawson's injury, and the departure of Dee Ford to the NFL, the Tigers head into 2014 with concerns (albeit small) about the defensive line.

6. Oregon


Transition on defense: Second-year coach Mark Helfrich doesn’t have many glaring concerns to address this offseason, but the defense is under the direction of first-year coordinator Don Pellum after Nick Aliotti retired. Pellum is no stranger to Oregon football, as he’s worked in Eugene for the last 21 seasons. However, this will be his first opportunity to coordinate the Ducks’ defense. What tweaks will he install into the scheme? Personnel-wise, there’s not a ton of concerns, but Oregon needs to develop depth on the interior of the line and sort out its new starters in the secondary.


Offensive line: The Bruins struggled to find consistency with this unit in 2013, and line coach Adrian Klemm now must find a replacement for standout guard Xavier Su’a-Filo. UCLA played a handful of young players up front last season, which should pay dividends for 2014. Additionally, Miami transfer Malcolm Bunche is expected to solidify a spot on the left side. With more snaps, this unit should emerge as a strength for the Bruins. However, this unit will be tested right away against an underrated Virginia defensive line in the opener and against Texas in Week 3. Another position to watch for UCLA: The rushing attack. Coach Jim Mora needs to find a consistent presence on the ground to take some of the pressure off of quarterback Brett Hundley.

8. Georgia


Secondary: New coordinator Jeremy Pruitt inherits a defense with potential, but this unit allowed nearly 30 points per game in 2013. Pruitt helped Florida State’s defense rank among the nation’s best last season and should work a quick turnaround in 2014. The front seven is among the best in the SEC, but the secondary is a significant concern. Safety Josh Harvey-Clemons was dismissed prior to spring practice, and cornerback Shaq Wiggins transferred to Louisville, while safety Tray Matthews landed at Auburn. The overall depth has been depleted with the player departures, and Pruitt could look to the freshmen ranks for answers. Junior college transfer Shattle Fenteng is expected to help at cornerback or safety, while true freshman Malkom Parrish and redshirt freshman Aaron Davis are also in the mix. Considering the uncertainty with this unit, it’s critical Georgia’s front seven is able to generate a pass rush against opposing offenses – at least early in the 2014 season.

9. South Carolina


Cornerbacks/defensive line: Coordinator Lorenzo Ward will have his hands full through the first couple weeks of the season, as the Gamecocks take on three explosive offenses in Texas A&M, East Carolina and Georgia. The defensive line returns only one starter (J.T. Surratt), but there’s enough talent returning to ensure there’s not a huge drop in production from last year’s unit that featured Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles. But the secondary is a bigger concern for Ward, as South Carolina could lean on three true freshmen for major snaps: Carlos Lammons, Wesley Green and Al Harris Jr. With the turnover up front and in the inexperience in the secondary, the Gamecocks could use more 3-4 fronts in 2014.

10. Baylor


Revamped defense: Coordinator Phil Bennett has brought noticeable improvement to Baylor’s defense over the last few years, and the Bears ranked second in the Big 12 in 2013 (league-only games) by allowing only 4.8 yards per play. Just four starters return for 2014, but the defensive line could be one of the best in the Big 12, and senior Bryce Hager is back to anchor the linebacking corps. The biggest concern for this unit is the secondary, which has to replace standout safety Ahmad Dixon and cornerbacks K.J. Morton and Demetri Goodson. Also, keep an eye on offense with left tackle Spencer Drango. The standout lineman had back surgery last season and needs to quickly return to full strength in order for Baylor to repeat as Big 12 champs.


11. Michigan State

The Spartans check in at No. 11 in Athlon’s projected top 25 for 2014, but coach Mark Dantonio’s team should be higher. This team doesn’t have many glaring concerns, and the defense is one of the best in the nation. Finding replacements for a few defensive standouts (Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough and Denicos Allen) is the biggest priority for the Spartans.


12. Stanford

A brutal schedule awaits Stanford in 2014. The Cardinal play five road games against teams projected to finish in the final top 25. Personnel-wise, coach David Shaw needs to find a replacement for running back Tyler Gaffney, as well as fill the voids on defense left behind by linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov, linemen Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro and safety Ed Reynolds.


13. Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish have concerns on both sides of the ball, but the offense should get a boost with the return of quarterback Everett Golson. A revamped front seven highlights the defense, as new coordinator Brian VanGorder has to replace standout linemen Louis Nix III and end Stephon Tuitt.


14. USC

New coach Steve Sarkisian’s biggest obstacle is depth. The Trojans are short on scholarships due to NCAA sanctions and an injury to a couple of players in the starting lineup could be difficult to overcome.


15. Wisconsin

The Badgers return only eight starters and have concerns at quarterback and on the front seven on defense. However, a favorable schedule should keep coach Gary Andersen’s team in the hunt for the West Division title. 

Examining the Biggest Concerns for College Football's Playoff Contenders
Post date: Monday, August 11, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-college-footballs-best-and-worst-logos-2014

Official school logos have been and will always be the simplest and most important way for a college program to classify and separate itself from its peers. Some change dramatically over time while others are literally set in stone for decades. Some are edgy, exciting and extremely busy while others are clean, classic and simple.


Every college football program in the nation has an official logo and the goal is to be the most recognizable brand in the nation.


Since Athlon Sports has been designing  on newsstands for the better part of half a century, we asked our senior graphic design guru to rank college football's best and worst logos.


Here is what Art Director  best (and worst) logos in college football. 

Note: Since college football is now an autonomous sport, only the Big 5 (including Notre Dame) are eligible.

College Football's Best Official Logos

1.TexasThe best logo in college football, the Longhorn is classic, simple, unchanging but also unique and creative. There is nothing else to say.
2.ClemsonThere are tons of Tigers, Wildcats and Bulldogs in college sports but none use their mascot quite like Clemson. The Tiger Paw print is synonymous with Clemson athletics and is utterly simple but still edgy and creative. 
3.GeorgiaFind me a more effective marriage of color and simplicity of design and I'll hand these writing duties over to you. Georgia's logo is so timeless that I can't remember there ever being another that represented the football team. When you see this, there's no confusion as to what you're looking at.
4.Michigan StIt's clean, classic, gets the point across and is recognizable. It has some fierce edginess to it, the color scheme is perfect and there is no doubt it represents a Spartan.
5.WashingtonSimple, tasteful, unchanging and very obvious. This emblem with its signature gold trim is one of the best in the nation and leaves little doubt as to what it represents.
6.USCThe interlocking "S-C" is as famous as any logo in the nation. The other logo with the script team nickname above the "SC" isn't needed for a major brand like USC.
7.Notre DameIt is one of the most recognizable logos in college sports. There is some creativity in the interlocking N and D but it's done in a simple, classic and vintage way. I like the N better than the D.
8.North CarolinaThe interlocked N-C are as famous as any brand logo in the nation. There are simple touches of style — the font and black trim — that make this logo completely unmistakable.
9.AuburnHard to find fault in the interlocking A-U. Again, trimming away all the waste and boiling a logomark down to its most basic typically nets the best results.
10.TennesseeAs a logo, Tennessee's is as direct and to-the-point as it gets. Think what you will of the orange (personally, I'm no fan), but the unique working of the "T" is as good as it gets. As an aside, UT's retro  is badass.
11.MiamiIt's as simple as it gets but also brings loads of creativity and history. No other logo turns into a hand signal like "The U" and the two-tone color scheme and pattern is unique.
12.Penn StHistorically speaking, few logos are as traditional as the Nittany Lions oval. The smooth looking Lions head has great lines and appears to be hunting... Wolverines or Buckeyes? Few logos combine classy and aggresive like PSU.
13.IowaIt also comes in black, which is slightly more stylish. While maintaining a simple and historic look, the Hawkeye emblen also brings some creativity. In fact, I've no idea what an actual Hawkeye looks like.
14.OklahomaThere is no doubting what the interlocking "O" and "U" stand for, right? The smooth lines and lack of extras in the font make this a fantastic logo. 
15.UCLAThe script "UCLA" is one of the most well-known logos in all of sports much less college football. And the way the word Bruins is incorporated makes it one of the most informative in the nation while still being fairly simple.
16.StanfordMichigan State and NC State know exactly what the smart kids from Palo Alto were thinking when this logo was created. It's classic and simple with a touch of style in the stroked white/red trim. Stanford boasts one of the best brand logos in the nation.
17.OregonIt doesn't get any simpler than the Oregon "O." There is some subtle style to the font that makes it cooler than the average "O." The clean classic look works but some yellow trim might make it the best in the league. 
18.Kansas StAll of Kansas State's design work, color scheme and uniforms are underrated and the logo is the same. Aggressive, stylish but yet still fairly simple and clean.
19.Texas A&MSomeone from A&M needs to call Texas Tech and explain how effective beveling is done. Like Vandy, Texas A&M's logo is simple and therefore works as a potent branding mark.
20.Ohio StateNormally, a name in a logo doesn't work, but the "S" is perfectly designed into the "O" and it works. It makes it busier than the cleaner, more classic logos above. The colors and trim are second to none.

Others receiving votes: West Virginia, Vanderbilt, Colorado, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Indiana

College Football's Worst Official Logos

Oregon StThe Beavers updated their look recently with a new edgier looking logo. And, frankly, they did a good job. This one is smoother and streamlined and is more aggressive. It's tough to make a beaver look mean, however.
NorthwesternThe purple "N" has plenty of things going on around it. The font is seriously bizarre and not really intimidating anyone.
South CarolinaSurprisingly, it's not the gamecock that turns me off here, it's the 90 degree angles on the inside of the "C" — shave those off and the awkwardness of this logo is minimalized. Sure, the rooster could use an upgrade, but let's be honest, it may be time to start from scratch.
KansasThe cartoon Jayhawk is a signature logo but doesn't really create an intimidating image in any sense of the word. And why is it dancing?
Boston CollegeThe cartoon eagle and italicized/overlapped BC just doesn't exude tradition and excellence like some other logos. The colors aren't bad but it's too busy to be considered a great logo..


Ranking College Football's Best and Worst Logos in 2014
Post date: Monday, August 11, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/stewart-miss-nascar-race-following-saturday-incident-results-fatality-0

Tony Stewart will not participate in the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen International today after being involved in a tragic incident at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park in upstate New York on Saturday night.


Stewart struck a competitor, Kevin Ward Jr., with his sprint car after the two were involved in a wreck. Ward exited his car, walking onto the track, to show his displeasure when Stewart’s car clipped the 20-year-old. Ward was thrown by the impact and lay motionless as track safety crews scrambled to the scene. He was announced dead on arrival at a local hospital. Stewart was not injured in the incident.


Stewart was questioned by authorities following the event. They stated that no criminal charges have been filed. Further activities at the dirt track were cancelled.


“When the investigation is completed, we will sit down with the district attorney and review it,” Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said. “But I want to make it very clear: there are no criminal charges pending at this time.”


A telephone call placed to the track by Athlon Sports at 2:00 a.m. EST went unanswered.


Stewart traveled to Watkins Glen overnight with the intention of racing in the NASCAR event today. However, Stewart Haas Racing Competition Director Greg Zipadelli addressed the assembled media at Watkins Glen Sunday morning and announced Stewart would sit out.


“We talked last night and then realizing, going through the night — gave Tony some time to sleep on it — and met with him this morning and he feels strongly this is the right thing to do,” Zipadelli said of the decision. “We at Stewart Haas Racing support it and agree with it. It's a difficult time for both parties. There's not a lot you can do. The only thing we can do is do what we feel is right and this is it. This is what we feel is right and are supporting Tony in it.”


Regan Smith will drive Stewart’s No. 14 SHR Chevy in today’s race.


NASCAR issued a statement Sunday morning, saying, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and fellow competitors of Kevin Ward Jr. We support Tony Stewart’s decision to miss today’s race and we will continue to respect the process and timeline of the local authorities and will continue to monitor this situation moving forward.”


Shortly after the race at Watkins Glen began, Stewart released this statement:


"There aren't words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr. It's a very emotional time for all involved, and it is the reason I've decided not to participate in today’s race at Watkins Glen. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy."


Stewart made his return to NASCAR at the beginning of the 2014 season after being involved in a sprint car accident in August 2013. In that incident, Stewart suffered a broken leg in a crash at Southern Iowa Speedway and missed the final 15 NASCAR events of the season.


Stewart is mired at 19th in the Sprint Cup Series standings, without a win this season.



Photo by Action Sports, Inc.

Tony Stewart will not participate in the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen International today after being involved in a tragic incident at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park in upstate New York on Saturday night.
Post date: Sunday, August 10, 2014 - 13:19
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR News & Notes, Tony Stewart, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/stewart-miss-nascar-race-following-saturday-incident-results-fatality

Tony Stewart will not participate in the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen International today after being involved in a tragic incident at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park in upstate New York on Saturday night.


Stewart stuck a competitor, Kevin Ward Jr., with his sprint car after the two were involved in a wreck. Ward exited his car, walking onto the track, to show his displeasure when Stewart’s car clipped the 20-year-old. Ward was thrown by the impact and lay motionless as track safety crews scrambled to the scene. He was announced dead on arrival at a local hospital. Stewart was not injured in the incident.


Stewart was questioned by authorities following the event. They stated that no criminal charges have been filed. Further activities at the dirt track were cancelled.


“When the investigation is completed, we will sit down with the district attorney and review it,” Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said. “But I want to make it very clear: there are no criminal charges pending at this time.”


A telephone call placed to the track by Athlon Sports at 2:00 a.m. EST went unanswered.


Stewart traveled to Watkins Glen overnight with the intention of racing in the NASCAR event today. However, Stewart Haas Racing Competition Director Greg Zipadelli addressed the assembled media at Watkins Glen Sunday morning and announced Stewart would sit out.


“We talked last night and then realizing, going through the night — gave Tony some time to sleep on it — and met with him this morning and he feels strongly this is the right thing to do,” Zipadelli said of the decision. “We at Stewart Haas Racing support it and agree with it. It's a difficult time for both parties. There's not a lot you can do. The only thing we can do is do what we feel is right and this is it. This is what we feel is right and are supporting Tony in it.”


Regan Smith will drive Stewart’s No. 14 SHR Chevy in today’s race.


NASCAR issued a statement Sunday morning, saying, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and fellow competitors of Kevin Ward Jr. We support Tony Stewart’s decision to miss today’s race and we will continue to respect the process and timeline of the local authorities and will continue to monitor this situation moving forward.”


Stewart made his return to NASCAR at the beginning of the 2014 season after being involved in a sprint car accident in August 2013. In that incident, Stewart suffered a broken leg in a crash at Southern Iowa Speedway and missed the final 15 NASCAR events of the season.


Stewart is mired at 19th in the Sprint Cup Series standings, without a win this season.



Photo by Action Sports, Inc.

Tony Stewart will not participate in the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen International today after being involved in a tragic incident at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park in upstate New York on Saturday night.
Post date: Sunday, August 10, 2014 - 13:16
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /AP

Nobody brings more excitement and passion to his job as an NFL player than Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. We caught up with AD — arguably the best offensive player in football — this offseason to talk about the game, his place in football's hierarchy, and his life-threatening food allergy.


Q. What are your goals this season as far as yards, TDs, etc.?

A. I always set a goal of 2,000 or 2,500 yards. I like to aim high, I am always competing against myself to be better. That’s what keeps me hungry. And a championship – that’s the most important goal because that’s for the entire team and all the fans.


Q. What's your best work-out tip for an average guy?

A. Regular conditioning is key for everyone and anyone. And when you’re pushing yourself, I’ve learned the value of taking care of your body in between workouts. Things like stretching, icing, massages, those things that help your body repair itself, can be overlooked, but the recovery is just as important as the workouts themselves.


Q. Do you get nervous before a game?

A. Nerves are energy — I try to focus my energy on getting pumped up. I’ve been playing football since I was seven and I still love suiting up for a game, the ritual of getting ready, and that adrenaline flow as you step onto the field. From the moment I get to the locker room to suit up, I’m focused on the game.


Q. Do you play fantasy football? 

A. I don’t play, but if I did, I would probably draft Calvin Johnson or Peyton Manning – gotta give it to him, he’s one heck of a quarterback.


Q. What's been the toughest game loss you've ever had playing football?

A. That one is definitely the NFC Championship Game after the 2009 season. We felt like we had the team to do it and had a great chance to win the Super Bowl that year, but the Saints got us in overtime.  That was a tough one to take.


Q. Do you play Madden NFL? If so, do you play as yourself?

A. I play a few games and Madden is definitely one of them. I play as the Vikes sometimes, sure, but I switch it up too.


Q. Do you believe in the Madden cover curse?

A. Nah. I’m just going to work hard and bring it every single day on the field. Same as always.


Q. Who's the best running back in the NFL — other than yourself?

A. My top five running backs in the league, not including me, are Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster, Jamaal Charles and Maurice Jones-Drew. There’s a lot of talent out there.


Q. Where do you think you rank among running backs all-time?

A.  Number one. I feel I’m the best.


Q. What do you feel is the biggest problem facing the NFL today?

A. Right now there is so much discussion about things not related to the game on the field. We need to focus on the players and the game, and not have side issues pull the focus.


Q. What do you want to do after your NFL playing days are over?

A. That feels like a long way off. Right now I’m focused on football and what my goals are on the field this season. But that said … who knows, maybe one day you’ll see me on the big screen or as the next name in real estate. 


Q. Do you want to retire in your prime like Barry Sanders or hang around as long as possible like Brett Favre?

A. I don’t like to look too far ahead but I believe that I can play at a high level for many more years. Maybe ask me again in a few years when I reach my prime. 


Q. Should the NFL expand its schedule to more than 16 games?

A. Expanding the schedule isn’t about the sport or players, it’s about selling more advertising time. I think that the NFL needs to base its decisions on what is best for the players and the game.


Q. Who would you want to play Adrian Peterson in a movie?

A.  Will Smith — when he pumps up, there’s a resemblance, right?


Q. Your discovery of your own food allergy sparked your involvement with a campaign to raise awareness about life-threatening allergic reactions (). What can you tell us about your allergy, and about the campaign?

A. I didn’t know that I had a life-threatening allergy until I experienced a life-threatening allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, during training camp two years ago. After eating one of my favorite foods, seafood gumbo, my eyes started itching and my throat started to swell to the point that I was having trouble breathing. It was pretty scary because I didn’t know what was happening and I didn’t know what to do. Fortunately, when I called my athletic trainer, he recognized the symptoms of anaphylaxis and knew how to respond. He ran to my room with two EpiPen (epinephrine) Auto-Injectors and I administered one in my outer thigh. In the meantime, he called 911 so I could get emergency medical care. I’ve learned a lot of people are like I was – they don’t know how to respond to anaphylaxis. That’s why I’m partnering with Mylan Specialty on the Ready2Go campaign to encourage people to avoid their allergic triggers, know the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis and be prepared to respond if it occurs. I am also encouraging those concerned about life-threatening allergies to talk to their doctor to determine if treatment is the right option for them. The fact is that life happens, and if you have a life-threatening allergy you have to be prepared. 

Post date: Saturday, August 9, 2014 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/michigan-unveils-alternate-jerseys-under-lights-game

Michigan is set to host Penn State in a rare night game in Ann Arbor this year, and the Wolverines will wear a special uniform for the matchup against the Nittany Lions.

The uniforms aren’t drastically different from Michigan’s usual look, but there are some alterations.


The Wolverines will wear a blue jersey and blue pants, while the numbers feature laser-cut stripes.


Michigan-Penn State is slated for Oct. 11. 

Michigan Unveils Alternate Jerseys for "Under the Lights" Game
Post date: Saturday, August 9, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /nascar/earnhardt-looks-exorcise-road-course-demons-watkins-glen

Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s road-racing disdain, Chase-qualifying opportunities for AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose, as well as the performances of Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick highlight Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at the Glen.



1. Earnhardt more favorable of Watkins Glen despite road course disdain  Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Matt Kenseth got to see firsthand just how much Dale Earnhardt Jr. dislikes road course racing when an out-of-control No. 88 stuffed his No. 20 into the barrier at Sonoma in June. Earnhardt, never shy to admit what he thinks is a lack of immense personal skill on the non-ovals, kept up this week his disdain for the twice-annual schedule aberrations.


“Stock car racing is based on cars driving in circles for hours,” Earnhardt tweeted in a reply. “Guess I’m too honest sometimes.”


Fortunately for Kenseth and the rest of the field, Earnhardt feels a bit more positive about Watkins Glen. The most recent Sprint Cup winner likes the higher speeds and fewer tight corners of the Watkins Glen layout.


“Sonoma is a much more technical track and a lot more challenging for me as a driver,” Earnhardt said in a release this week. “When we run the Glen, it’s straightaway then turn, straightaway then turn. I think I can be more of an asset to (crew chief) Steve (Letarte) and help him with the car more so than I can at Sonoma.”


Earnhardt’s best Watkins Glen finish was third in 2003.



2. The last Chase chance?

AJ Allmendinger was fourth-fastest in the first Friday practice at Watkins Glen ahead of what could arguably the most important race of the season for his JTG-Daugherty team. The road course serves as Allmendinger’s best remaining chance to nab an unexpected win and, by default, an entry to the Chase for the Sprint Cup.


It’s all about grabbing a win to get in, thanks to NASCAR’s new playoff field first selecting race winners before reverting to point standings to fill the 16-driver lineup. Second place doesn’t much matter.


The same goes for Marcos Ambrose, the two-time Watkins Glen winner (2011, 2012), who is trying to join teammate Aric Almirola as a 2014 race winner. Both struggled at Sonoma in June – the last time that the Cup Series visited a non-restrictor plate track that serves up more equal team footing than most.


Aside from the road course experts – that’s what we’ll call Allmendinger and Ambrose – a former champion with a road course prowess may look at Sunday as the most golden of remaining Chase-entry opportunities. That former champion, of course, is winless Tony Stewart after a Pocono wreck basically sealed his chance to race in to the championship fight via the point standings.



3. Jeff Gordon mediocre, at best, since last 2001 Watkins Glen win  Jeff Gordon

Don’t believe the hype. Or something.


Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon will get plenty of talk ahead of Sunday’s race. His late 1990s streak of road racing dominance in Sprint Cup created a shadow that has long clouded his abysmal finishes at Watkins Glen since his last win there in 2001.


Gordon, making his 22nd start at the Glen Sunday, won four of five races at the road course from 1997 to 2001. Since, he’s notched only a pair of top 10s and has an average finish of 22nd. There was even that near-miss in 2007 when he spun in Turn 1 while leading comfortably with two laps to go. Brutal.


Gordon was second at Sonoma Raceway in June – creating a tempting predictor of success as the series returns to making left and right turns. But Gordon’s Sonoma success has been much consistent than Watkins Glen with two wins and 12 top 10s since 2001. The lack of translated success illustrates one point: while both are road courses, both tracks are substantially different.



4. Road course qualifying – not strategy – more important to Sunday success

Qualifying in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is important every week. But starting up front at Watkins Glen may prove the most telling of any track for end-of-race success – in spite of the notion that unorthodox pit strategy is how teams can get to the front at road course races.


Of the 21 tracks on the current Cup schedule, Watkins Glen holds the distinction of having the lowest “worst start to win” record. Steve Park set that mark with his win from 18th in 2000. No one has ever done it at Watkins Glen from further back, and the Sprint Cup worst-to-first average among all tracks is 26th.


Qualifying well at the road course typically bears out a good finish even without taking the checkered flag. Just two drivers who started inside the top 5 in the last five races (Marcos Ambrose in 2013 and Juan Pablo Montoya in 2012) have failed to finish. The remaining 23 top-5 starters have an average finish of sixth.


Strategy? It will play a role Sunday. But it probably won’t matter as much as what happens during qualifications on Saturday.



5. Harvick fast in pursuit of second Watkins Glen win  Kevin Harvick

It’s been eight years since Kevin Harvick scored his only Cup-level road course win on a road course. He did so at Watkins Glen after leading 28 laps in the 2006 race and in the first Friday practice session, he looked to have a car capable of recording career road course win No. 2.


Harvick paced the session with a lap of 68.652 seconds – an elapsed time some three-tenths of a second faster than second-place Jimmie Johnson. The lap speed also broke Marcos Ambrose’s 2013 single-lap track qualifying record.


Nabbing a win Sunday would mark Harvick’s third of the year and put a nice cap on a summer stretch filled some highs and lows for the first-year No. 4 team. From Dover in June to last week at Pocono, Harvick scored two runner-up finishes mixed with three finishes of 20th or worse. The roller coaster stretch slowed Harvick’s rapid ascent in the point standings – he needed just five races to jump from 26th to 12th in points in the spring – but also flashed plenty of signs that the Stewart-Haas operation will be strong when the Chase begins.



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Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s road-racing disdain, Chase-qualifying opportunities for AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose, as well as the performances of Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick highlight Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at the Glen.
Post date: Friday, August 8, 2014 - 15:43
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-august-8-2014

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for August 8:

• This just in: . Now back to our regular programming.

• Scandal brewing: .



• This is interesting: .



• This is possibly good news: .

. Good job, good effort, Sal.



• Johan Kok, a club pro from Brentwood, Tenn., had the shot of the opening day at the PGA Championship — on his first hole of the championship.


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

Post date: Friday, August 8, 2014 - 11:25
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, Oakland Raiders, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/oakland-raiders-2014-team-preview-and-predictions

General manager Reggie McKenzie spent his first two seasons in Oakland cutting high-salaried players and getting the Raiders out of salary cap hell. The Raiders entered free agency this year with around $65 million in cap space, and McKenzie started spending like a man who had won the lottery. He signed nearly a dozen free agents, most of them in their late 20s and early 30s, veterans with strong résumés and huge chips on their shoulders.


“We’re just kind of the throwaways it seems like,” says former Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew. “Everybody here has something to prove. We all know we have something left, whether it was a bad year last year or things didn’t work out from another team, whatever it may be. As a whole, we’re fighting for the same thing, which is respect.”


The Raiders’ free-agent haul also included ex-Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, former Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley and former Green Bay wide receiver James Jones. All three own Super Bowl rings. McKenzie used more of the Raiders’ cap space when he traded for quarterback Matt Schaub, another veteran with something to prove.


After back-to-back 4–12 seasons, McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen will face some heat in Year 3 of their regime. Team owner Mark Davis has proven to be more patient than his father, the late Al Davis, but his patience has limits.



Oakland hopes the 33-year-old Schaub can resurrect his career and rejuvenate the Raiders’ passing attack. Schaub has passed for more than 4,000 yards three times in his career, but he’s coming off his worst season and was benched in Houston. At one point, he threw a pick-six in four straight games, setting an NFL record. Schaub finished with 10 touchdown passes, 14 interceptions and a passer rating of 73.0, by far his lowest since being traded by Atlanta to Houston in 2007. If Schaub falters, Allen’s options will probably be rookie Derek Carr, a second-round pick, and second-year pro Matt McGloin, who started six games last season.


The Raiders added some experience to their young receiving corps by signing Jones. He made 30 starts over the past two seasons for Green Bay, catching a combined 123 passes for 1,601 yards and 17 touchdowns. Rod Streater, who made the roster as an undrafted rookie in 2012, led the Raiders with 60 catches for 888 yards and four touchdowns last season. At 6'3" and 200 pounds, Streater is a big, physical receiver who could complement the smaller, quicker Jones. Denarius Moore has speed to get deep and a knack for making acrobatic catches, but he has lacked consistency since coming to Oakland as a fifth-round pick in 2011 out of Tennessee. Tight end Mychal Rivera, another Tennessee product, flashed big-play ability as a rookie.


If they can stay healthy, Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden could form a powerful one-two punch at running back. Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing in 2011 with 1,606 yards, his third straight season cracking the 1,300-yard mark. He has 8,071 career rushing yards but averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry last season when he rushed for just 803 yards. McFadden, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2008 draft, has been plagued by injuries and has just one 1,000-yard rushing season. In a surprise move, the Raiders re-signed him for one year. Jones-Drew seems more suited for a starting role in the Raiders’ power-running scheme, but McFadden adds explosiveness and versatility with his skill as a pass-catcher. Fullback Marcel Reece, coming off his second straight Pro Bowl season, is another versatile weapon.


Jones-Drew, McFadden and Reece will run behind a new-look offensive line. The Raiders, who lost starting left tackle Jared Veldheer as a free agent to Arizona and released starting right guard Mike Brisiel, could have four new starters joining holdover center Stefen Wisniewski. Menelik Watson, a second-round pick last year, will get a chance to win the starting job at right tackle. Donald Penn, a free-agent pickup from Tampa Bay, is ticketed for left tackle. Former New York Jet Austin Howard should take Brisiel’s spot at right guard unless Watson falters and he’s needed at right tackle. Kevin Boothe, who returned to the Raiders after seven seasons with the New York Giants, will battle Khalif Barnes and rookie Gabe Jackson at left guard.



The Raiders allowed 453 points last year, the second-highest total in franchise history. They ranked 28th against the pass, 13th against the run and 22nd in total defense. A defensive makeover was in order, and that’s what McKenzie and Allen delivered. The Raiders desperately needed to bolster their anemic pass rush and improve their secondary, especially at cornerback. They used free agency to address both needs. They also used the No. 5 overall draft pick to land outside linebacker Khalil Mack, a gifted pass-rusher and a disruptive force.


Tuck will start at right end, while Woodley, an outside linebacker with Pittsburgh, will start at left end in Oakland’s 4-3 scheme. Tuck has 60.5 career sacks, including 11 last season. He’ll likely move inside and play tackle in the nickel, with Mack lining up at right end. Woodley has 57 career sacks. Former Texan Antonio Smith is expected to start at one tackle spot and add a pass-rush push up the middle.


The Raiders signed former 49er cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers. Brown will likely start along with D.J. Hayden, a first-round draft pick last season. Rogers is expected to be the nickel and could start if Hayden struggles after an injury-plagued rookie season. Hayden underwent surgery earlier this summer to repair a stress fracture in his foot, which has turned him into merely an observer during training camp. The team is hopeful he will be back on the field before the end of the preseason.  Free safety Charles Woodson, another veteran with a Super Bowl ring, decided to play another season after returning to the Raiders from Green Bay last year. Starting strong safety Tyvon Branch returns after missing the final 14 games last season with a broken leg.


Mack appears ticketed to start at weak-side linebacker. Middle linebacker Nick Roach, a former Chicago Bear, led the Raiders with 112 tackles and had 5.5 sacks last year, his first with Oakland. Strong-side linebacker Sio Moore, a third-round pick from Connecticut, had 50 tackles and 4.5 sacks as a rookie.



Marquette King took over for long-time punter Shane Lechler and averaged an NFL-best 48.9 yards per punt as a rookie. King, however, had a net of just 40.1, tied for 12th in the league. He needs to combine more control and accuracy with his power. Placekicker Sebastian Janikowski had an off year after signing a four-year contract extension. Taiwan Jones, who has developed into a special teams coverage ace, averaged 24 yards on kickoff returns.



If Schaub can regain his 4,000-yard passing form, Oakland’s free-agent pickups produce and Mack makes an impact, the Raiders have a chance to finish .500. Of course, those are big ifs, and the Raiders face a killer schedule that includes games against defending Super Bowl champion Seattle, New England and San Francisco.



Oakland Raiders 2014 Team Preview and Predictions
Post date: Friday, August 8, 2014 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC East, Washington Redskins, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/washington-redskins-2014-team-preview-and-predictions

In what was a typically tumultuous offseason for the Redskins, the most significant upheaval occurred in the head coach’s office, where the team switched from a gritty ex-quarterback still driven by his failure to make it to the NFL as a player to a gritty ex-quarterback still driven by his failure to make it to the NFL as a player.


The hope, however, is that new Redskins coach Jay Gruden will succeed where Mike Shanahan failed — by instilling a healthier, less suffocating culture around the team, avoiding major personnel blunders and, most important, connecting on both a professional and emotional level with third-year quarterback Robert Griffin III.


On the field, the Redskins’ fortunes remain tethered to the health and production of the talented but headstrong Griffin, whose first 24 months in the NFL included a slew of endorsements, a division title, a Rookie of the Year award, a devastating knee injury and an unceremonious benching at the end of 2013. His third season will be a pivotal one both for Griffin and for the franchise that employs him.



To this point, Gruden’s coaching career has been one long education in offensive philosophy — from his days at Louisville playing under Howard Schnellenberger to his apprenticeship in Tampa Bay under big brother Jon to his many years building a reputation as an offensive savant in football’s bush leagues (AFL, UFL, WLAF). But he has never had a weapon at his disposal quite like Griffin. What will Gruden do with him?


Here’s what he won’t do: Run him 120 times, as Shanahan did in 2012. The read-option offense — a significant and controversial part of the offense Shanahan designed for Griffin — will be used sparingly, as Gruden’s self-described top priority with Griffin is keeping the young man healthy. Griffin may finally get his wish: An opportunity to prove himself as a classic, drop-back passer — albeit one who can still take it to the house with his legs at any time.


The Redskins’ most significant personnel move of the offseason was signing Pro Bowl receiver/kick returner DeSean Jackson away from Philadelphia, simultaneously giving themselves another playmaking receiver to pair with Pierre Garçon and weakening a division rival. The Redskins have so much receiver depth now — with Aldrick Robinson and newly signed Andre Roberts on board — that veteran Santana Moss could have a hard time making the roster.


Gruden’s offenses have traditionally been heavily tight end-centric, which could portend a monster season for Jordan Reed, who was on his way to an 80-catch rookie season in 2013 before a concussion cut short his campaign. Griffin loves him as a target, and even with veteran Logan Paulsen — a superior blocker who can also line up at fullback — returning in 2014, Reed should be a major part of the offense.


Another player who could benefit from Gruden’s arrival is Roy Helu Jr., a talented running back who was sometimes buried in Shanahan’s offense. Although third-year pro Alfred Morris remains the Redskins’ go-to back on first and second downs, Helu’s pass-catching abilities could make him an essential third-down presence in Gruden’s offense, which highly values pass-catching running backs. The third running back on the roster is likely to be sixth-round pick Lache Seastrunk out of Baylor.



Of all the victims of Shanahan’s micro-managing ways, perhaps nobody had it worse than defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who was frequently overruled by his head coach and, by all accounts, forced to rein in his preferred attacking style. That is expected to change under Gruden, who coached under Haslett briefly in the UFL and who has given Haslett full autonomy to run the defense any way he sees fit.


What will that mean on the field? For starters it means outside linebacker Brian Orakpo is likely to be unleashed as a pass-rusher rather than dropping into coverage as he frequently did last season. The same is likely to be true, to an extent, of the other outside linebacker, Ryan Kerrigan. This is a make-or-break season for Orakpo, whom the Redskins hit with the franchise tag, and at the very least he should get an honest chance to prove he is an elite pass-rusher.


Orakpo will have a new partner in the pursuit of quarterbacks after the Redskins signed defensive lineman Jason Hatcher away from the archrival Dallas Cowboys this offseason. Hatcher is 32, but is coming off a career-best 11 sacks in 2013. The Redskins are likely to shift him from tackle to end to take greater advantage of his pass-rushing skills. Hatcher underwent arthoscopic knee surgery in June and missed the early part of training camp, but he should be ready to go for the regular season.


Haslett’s 2013 defense tied for 30th in the NFL in most points allowed, and nowhere were the deficiencies more obvious than in the secondary, which seemed to consist of only two kinds of players — aging veterans and underachieving youngsters. The re-signing of veterans DeAngelo Hall and Brandon Meriweather and the signing of 34-year-old Ryan Clark this offseason suggest the team still doesn’t fully trust younger secondary players such as David Amerson, Philip Thomas and Baccari Rambo. Clark may be the one to step into the leadership void created by the retirement of London Fletcher.   



The Redskins ranked 32nd in net punting average, tied for 31st in yards per kickoff return and 28th in yards per punt return — among other issues. Step one in fixing the problem was hiring Ben Kotwica, a detail-oriented West Point product, away from the Jets to serve as special teams coordinator. Next, the Redskins jettisoned punter Sav Rocca (and added Robert Malone, formerly of the Buccaneers, Lions and Jets), and stocked up on special teams-oriented linebackers, such as Akeem Jordan, Darryl Sharpton and Adam Hayward. The expected return of reliable long-snapper Nick Sundberg from knee surgery should also shore up the punting and field goal units. Kicker Kai Forbath will be in a battle for his job during training camp after the team drafted Zach Hocker out of Arkansas in the seventh round.


The first shot at returning punts is likely to go to either Chris Thompson or Richard Crawford — with Jackson a possible wild card, given his success returning punts early in his career — while kick returning duty could fall to either Thompson or Roberts. 



In the span of a calendar year, Griffin went from the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year to a backup. Over the same year, the Redskins went from an NFC East champion to a 3–13 embarrassment. The parallels are no coincidence; the Redskins will rise or fall in direct relationship with the performance of their quarterback. The hope is that with a new coach he trusts, a bolstered offensive attack and another year between him and knee surgery, Griffin can lead the Redskins back to the playoffs in 2014. They have the pieces to do it.



Washington Redskins 2014 Team Preview and Predictions
Post date: Friday, August 8, 2014 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/coaches-talk-anonymously-about-byu-2014

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year.


In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2014, Athlon asked coaches from around the nation to talk anonymously about BYU.


Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.


Opposing Coaches Anonymously Scout BYU

“They use Taysom Hill to his ability – really, really talented, fast and stronger than you think. He’s a strong runner. A little bit better passer than you think.”…

“I think you’ll see more teams adding a guy in the box against Hill, and he’ll have to make them pay with his arm.”…

“We’ll see if Hill can do it. It’s his decision-making – he’s a decently accurate kid, but I would just say within their scheme, he’s not real disciplined in his reads and progressions. There’s indecision, which causes panic, which causes bad decisions, which causes picks.”…

“They complement Taysom with Jamaal Williams well.”…

“They had some good receivers they will lose this year.”…

“They are just average talent on the offensive line, so what they did with pace and the quarterback run game can minimize an average offensive line.”…

“Not sure what held them back. Their schedule is always pretty tough so they don’t have a lot of gimmes.”…

“They are always long and strong on the defensive line. They always have a four-technique that can hold it down in the run game.”…

“They have overachieving linebackers inside. Kyle Van Noy was one of the most athletic ones we’ve played in a long time. You can do so much with your playc-alling with him because he can rush, he can defend the run. He’s not real physical at point of attack, but he’s a little slithery. Not real sure who will be their leaders with him gone.”…

“A few of their other best defensive players are gone, too.”…

“Being independent can be hard. What are you playing for? Playoffs? OK. But when you’re not in a league it’s tough.”…

Coaches Talk Anonymously About BYU for 2014
Post date: Friday, August 8, 2014 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/gary-nova-named-rutgers-starting-qb-2014

One of the biggest fall question marks for Rutgers entering its debut season in the Big Ten was its quarterback position. However, just a few days into fall practice, the Scarlet Knights have found their starting quarterback in Gary Nova.

Coach Kyle Flood announced Nova as the team’s starter after practice on Aug. 6.

Nova is talented, but the senior has struggled with consistency over the last three years.

In 2013, Nova tossed 14 picks to 18 touchdowns and lost the starting job late in the season to Chas Dodd.

New coordinator Ralph Friedgen should help improve Rutgers’ offense, but Nova needs to do a better job of limiting mistakes if the Scarlet Knights want to make a bowl in their Big Ten debut.

Gary Nova Named Rutgers Starting QB for 2014
Post date: Friday, August 8, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/northern-illinois-unveils-corn-fest-jerseys-season-opener

Northern Illinois opens its MAC West title defense with a home date against Presbyterian on Aug. 28.

The Huskies will open the season in style, as Rod Carey’s team is slated to wear an alternate uniform against Presbyterian.

The alternate uniform features yellow on the shoulder pads as a tribute to DeKalb’s Corn Fest. on Northern Illinois and the Corn Fest.

The “Corn Fest” uniforms will be auctioned to support three local causes.


Northern Illinois Unveils "Corn Fest" Jerseys for Season Opener
Post date: Friday, August 8, 2014 - 08:30