Articles By All
Golf was in the news for a variety of reasons this weekend, not all of them positive. Let's start with the good news.
Rory Fills the Void
Tiger Woods' ongoing struggles with his health and his golf game have left a vacuum at the game's apex. Fortunately, Rory McIlroy has proved more than ready to slide seamlessly into the role of golf's standard-bearer. McIlroy followed up his dominant British Open win with another high-profile, big-money triumph at the WGC-Bridgestone, a win that allows him to retake the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking. McIlroy quickly erased a three-shot deficit to Sergio Garcia, shooting a final-round 66 to Sergio's 71 for a three-shot win at Firestone Country Club. McIlroy is overpowering golf courses with his length off the tee; this weekend, he produced drives of 349 yards, 345 yards, 331 yards and 330 yards.
"If you're hitting arguably the hardest club in your bag that well, then the other stuff should sort of fall in line,” said McIlroy. “Whenever I drive the ball well, I always put myself in positions where I can attack flags and try and make birdies, but when I'm swinging it well with a driver that sort of funnels through the rest of my game."
Garcia is now 3-for-12 in converting 54-hole leads. “I didn't feel comfortable on the greens at all,” said Garcia, who missed five putts inside 10 feet. “With the spin of the greens changing quite dramatically after the rain, they got a little bit -- they were quite slow from the last three days. I started kind of second-guessing myself every single putt, and because of that, I didn't -- the good putt I hit, I misread, and the bad ones, obviously, weren't going the right direction either.”
Still, the McIlroy-Garcia duo has produced consecutive 1-2 finishes in big-time events. At 34, Sergio's still young enough to provide a compelling foil for McIlroy for the next decade.
And not in a good way. After hitting an awkward shot and apparently tweaking his ailing, surgically repaired back, Woods limped through nine holes before walking off the course and into the headlines with his latest physical setback. Tiger had sounded the alarm prior to the Bridgestone with these ominously prescient comments: "There's no comparison between a knee and a back. The knee is so much easier to deal with and rehab from than coming back from a back. I've had Achilles injuries, obviously knee surgeries, but this thing is just way different. Most of the people I talked to who have had the procedure have no idea how I'm even back here playing." Woods has yet to rule out this week's PGA Championship, but his season, and his spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, are very much in jeopardy. Here's what Woods had to say following his withdrawal.
DJ's Leave of Absence
Dustin Johnson was contending for a FedExCup and was expected to be a stalwart for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Now, his future on Tour is up in the air following his announcement that he was taking a leave of absence to deal with "personal challenges," challenges that include reports of a third failed drug test. Not only must the Tour deal with the body blow of a young star's fall from grace, but it also must deal with the public relations fallout of its secretive disciplinary approach. "With regard to media reports that Dustin Johnson has been suspended by the PGA Tour, this is to clarify that Mr. Johnson has taken a voluntary leave of absence and is not under a suspension from the PGA Tour,” Ty Votaw, PGA Tour vice president, said on Friday. That exercise in semantics did no one any favors, Johnson included.
• Adam Scott took his loss of the No. 1 world ranking in stride. "It's all good,” said Scott, who had spent the last 11 weeks at No. 1. “It's been a lot of fun. Obviously, Rory's in incredible form at the moment. He'll be the man to beat next week, by the looks of things, and I'll be gunning for him for sure."
• The last player to win consecutive starts entering the PGA Championship was Tiger Woods in 2009 when he won the Buick Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational before finishing runner-up to Y.E. Yang at Hazeltine. In retrospect, that's looking like Woods' last gasp in major championship golf.
• Phil Mickelson, after bemoaning the state of his game, fired a final-round 62 at the Bridgestone, a round that included 10 birdies, one of them coming on this tasty hole-out from the fairway at 13.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for August 4:
• Yesterday was Evangeline Lilly's 35th birthday. A belated Happy Birthday to Lost's most annoying castaway.
• The first Manning Face of 2014 is epic. Let me be the 1,000th person to say that Eli's already in midseason form.
• Andy Dalton, the star of this classic GIF, just signed a $115 million deal with the Bengals.
• Two boxers had a hilarious confrontation in a restaurant. Had to be staged.
• Tiger's body continues to betray him. Although his caddie is reportedly scouting this week's venue, which sounds like a hopeful sign.
• Rory and Sergio are vying to fill the Tiger void. Not surprisingly, Rory's better at it.
• The D-backs beat the Pirates in controversial fashion.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Less than a month remains to the start of the 2014 college football season, and with fall camps opening, positions on every depth chart are up for grabs.
While battles on the offensive line, defense and receiving corps are important, the quarterback situations across all FBS teams get the most attention in the fall.
There are a handful of top 25 teams searching for answers under center, including Alabama, LSU, Washington and Wisconsin.
Additionally, a program like Texas A&M is searching for a replacement for Johnny Manziel, and offensive guru Rich Rodriguez is searching for answers under center at Arizona after sthe spring provided little clarity.
Here’s a look at the top 10 quarterback battles for the fall, along with a handful of others to watch in 2014:
College Football’s Top 10 Fall QB Battles to Watch
For the first time since 2011, the Crimson Tide enter a fall with uncertainty at quarterback. AJ McCarron graduated after throwing for 9,019 yards over the last four years, and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin didn’t find an answer in the spring. However, Florida State transfer Jacob Coker arrived on campus this summer, and the Mobile, Ala., native is expected to win the job. Coker threw for 295 yards in a relief role with the Seminoles over the last two years but has the talent to be one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC. If Coker does not secure the No. 1 spot, Blake Sims or redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman will start. Sims threw for 167 yards as McCarron’s backup last year and is more of a dual threat than Coker.
Projected Winner: Coker
Rich Rodriguez is regarded as one of college football’s top offensive minds, but he has his work cut out for him this offseason. Arizona opened spring practice with seven quarterbacks vying to replace B.J. Denker and went into the offseason with little clarity under center. Senior Jesse Scroggins has a slight edge over redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, Texas transfer Connor Brewer and junior college recruit (and former LSU quarterback) Jerrard Randall. None of the four frontrunners has ever taken a snap during a regular-season game for the Wildcats. Solomon has the most upside of any quarterback on the roster, but Scroggins likely has the best grasp of the offense. Randall is a wildcard to watch after spending two years at LSU and one at Northeast Mississippi Community College. This battle could continue deep into the season.
Projected Winner: Scroggins
With a stingy defense and a rushing attack that will be among the best in the SEC, LSU won’t ask too much of its quarterback in 2014. And that’s a good thing considering that the Tigers have very little experience at the position. Sophomore Anthony Jennings played sparingly as Zach Mettenberger’s backup in 2013, completing 13-of-29 passes for 181 yards. Jennings led LSU to a last-minute victory over Arkansas and guided the Tigers to a 21–14 win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl. Despite his edge in experience, Jennings failed to separate from true freshman Brandon Harris in the spring. Harris was a top-100 recruit in the 2014 signing class and has intriguing dual-threat ability. Jennings may open the year as the starter, but Harris will eventually take the starting spot.
Projected Winner: Harris
Ryan Williams was expected to replace Stephen Morris, but the senior suffered a torn ACL in spring practice. Williams is slated to return sometime during the year, but it’s unlikely he will be ready by the opener. Needing immediate help at quarterback, the Hurricanes brought in transfer Jake Heaps to play in 2014. Heaps struggled at BYU and Kansas (27 interceptions in three years), but the senior has experience and is likely to take the first snap of the season with redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen suspended for at least one game. Touted true freshman Brad Kaaya could push Heaps, Williams and Olsen for snaps depending on how fast he learns the offense. Olsen — the brother of former Miami standout Greg Olsen — had the inside track to start. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and redshirted last season. Kaaya also ranked as a four-star recruit and went 23–3 as a starter in high school. Kaaya has the most upside, but all signs point to Heaps taking the first snap of the year versus Louisville.
Projected Winner: Heaps
After losing four games by a field goal in 2013 and finishing No. 8 in the Big 12 in scoring, coach Gary Patterson decided to start over on offense. New co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie plan to upgrade the passing attack and speed up the tempo in 2014. Junior Trevone Boykin has thrown for 3,252 yards and 22 scores over the last two years, but he could move to receiver to accommodate Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel. The senior is eligible immediately after leaving College Station this spring. Joeckel completed 22 of 37 passes for 293 yards with the Aggies last year and should have a grasp on the offensive scheme after running a similar offense at Texas A&M.
Projected Winner: Joeckel
Butch Jones enters his second season in Knoxville looking for more consistency at the quarterback position. The Volunteers had three different players start under center last year, with Justin Worley leading the team with 1,239 passing yards and 10 touchdowns. Nathan Peterman played in four games, while Joshua Dobbs started four games as a true freshman. Tennessee closed spring practice without a declared No. 1, but Worley held a small edge over Dobbs and Peterman. Dobbs has the edge in talent, while Worley’s experience is valuable for a team in transition. Both quarterbacks could play significant snaps this season.
Projected Winner: Worley
Johnny Manziel was the starting quarterback for only two seasons, but he left big shoes to fill in College Station. Matt Joeckel’s post-spring transfer left true freshman Kyle Allen and sophomore Kenny Hill battling to replace Manziel. Allen is regarded by some as the top quarterback recruit in the nation and enrolled early to compete in spring practice. Hill has a small edge in experience, completing 16-of-22 passes for 183 yards last season. Although Allen is regarded as a pocket passer, he does have good mobility. However, Hill is the better runner, rushing for 2,305 yards in his last two seasons in high school. With the opener at South Carolina, could Sumlin choose Hill due to the edge in experience? Even if Hill starts the first game, it won’t be long before Allen takes over the No. 1 spot.
Projected Winner: Allen
Chris Petersen’s first spring practice at Washington was filled with uncertainty at quarterback. The transition from Keith Price to Cyler Miles was expected to be seamless. However, Miles was suspended for spring practice after an off-the-field incident and will miss the opener against Hawaii. The sophomore was reinstated to the team in May, but Troy Williams and Jeff Lindquist already have a head start for the No. 1 job, as both quarterbacks had live reps in a new offense this spring. Miles proved he was capable of being a standout quarterback in the Pac-12 in limited action last year. The sophomore is behind heading into the fall, but Miles is Washington’s best quarterback.
Projected Winner: Miles
Joel Stave has thrown for 3,598 yards and 28 touchdowns over the last two years, but he is locked in a battle with Tanner McEvoy for the starting job this offseason. Stave suffered a shoulder injury in the Capital One Bowl loss to South Carolina and was limited in the spring. That allowed McEvoy, who started his career at South Carolina but transferred to Arizona Western after one year, to close the gap. In his first year with the Badgers, McEvoy made 11 appearances at safety. The junior moved back to quarterback in the spring, where his athleticism could be an asset for an offense looking for a spark under center.
Projected Winner: McEvoy
As expected in Blacksburg, the Hokies will have one of the nation’s top defenses in 2014. But after averaging 22.8 points in eight ACC contests last year, the offense is a work in progress. Logan Thomas is gone after an up-and-down career, leaving a host of candidates to contend for the starting job. Mark Leal has thrown 48 passes over the last three years and opened spring as the favorite to replace Thomas. However, sophomore Brenden Motley had a strong showing in the spring, and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer will arrive in the summer. Brewer was limited in Lubbock due to a back injury last season.
Projected Winner: Brewer
Others to Watch
Coach Tim Beckman and coordinator Bill Cubit maintain the starting quarterback job is open, but all signs point to Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt as the team’s No. 1 passer. Lunt threw for 1,108 yards and six touchdowns as a true freshman with the Cowboys in 2012 and sat out 2013 due to NCAA transfer rules. Senior Reilly O’Toole and sophomore Aaron Bailey are fighting to unseat Lunt this fall.
The Wildcats are making progress under second-year coach Mark Stoops, but improvement may not come in the form of wins in 2014. Finding a quarterback is the top priority for Stoops, as four candidates are fighting for time. True freshman Drew Barker, sophomore Patrick Towles, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and junior Maxwell Smith are in the mix, with Towles finishing the spring at the top of the depth chart. Barker is the team’s most-talented passer and will be tough to keep off the field in 2014.
The Tar Heels offense didn’t miss a beat after Bryn Renner was lost for the year due to a shoulder injury against NC State. Williams moved into the starting lineup, and North Carolina went 4-1 over the final five games. Williams has good mobility and improved as a passer last year. He will be pushed by redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky this fall.
There’s plenty of new faces stepping into key roles on offense in 2014, as the Cowboys return just four starters from last year’s group. Despite the turnover, coach Mike Gundy and coordinator Mike Yurcich should keep this offense among the best in the Big 12. J.W. Walsh left spring with an edge over true freshman Mason Rudolph and junior Daxx Garman. Walsh needs to develop as a passer, but his mobility could be an advantage behind a rebuilt offensive line.
As the Scarlet Knights enter Big Ten play, coach Kyle Flood is hoping Ralph Friedgen can push the right buttons for the offense. Friedgen has been out of football for three years but was highly regarded for his work at Maryland and Georgia Tech. Gary Nova had his share of ups and downs during his career and tossed 14 picks last year. Nova will be pushed by junior Mike Bimonte and redshirt freshman Chris Laviano.
New coach Derek Mason opens his first fall practice with six quarterbacks vying for snaps. LSU transfer Stephen Rivers, redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary and sophomore Patton Robinette are considered the favorites, with true freshmen Shawn Stankavage and Wade Freebeck and junior Josh Grady just behind. Rivers should push for the starting job, but he has little experience from his time at LSU.
Finding consistent quarterback play is a must for the Cavaliers to push for a bowl game in 2014. David Watford struggled in 2013, throwing 15 interceptions to only eight touchdowns. Sophomore Greyson Lambert pushed ahead of Watford in the spring and is expected to win the job in the fall. Lambert completed 33 of 75 passes for 340 yards and one touchdown last year.
First-year coach Dave Clawson opens fall practice with significant uncertainty at quarterback. Kevin Sousa moved from receiver to quarterback in the spring, while sophomore Tyler Cameron is the team’s most experienced option. True freshmen Travis Smith and John Wolford could earn playing time if Sousa and Cameron struggle.
Top Battles Outside Power 5 Conferences
The Cardinals have 19 victories over the last two years and should be in the mix for the MAC West title despite the loss of a few key players. Sophomore Ozzie Mann completed 2 of 9 passes for 29 yards last season and opens the fall as the No. 1 option. He will compete with redshirt freshman Jack Milas and true freshman David Morrison.
Derek Carr departs Fresno State after throwing 50 touchdown passes and 5,083 yards in 2013. Replacing Carr’s production is impossible in 2014, but the Bulldogs should remain in the mix to win the Mountain West. Duke transfer Brandon Connette, junior Brian Burrell and redshirt freshman Zack Greenlee are battling to replace Carr, with Connette and Burrell considered the frontrunners. Connette scored 27 touchdowns with the Blue Devils last year.
Jordan Lynch leaves big shoes to fill in DeKalb after recording 4,800 total yards in each of the last two years. Three candidates – junior Matt McIntosh and sophomores Drew Hare and Anthony Maddie – are vying for snaps in the fall. McIntosh completed two passes for 54 yards, while Hare rushed for 68 yards last season.
Garrett Gilbert closed out his collegiate career by guiding the SMU passing offense to a No. 1 rank in the American Athletic Conference. Gilbert has expired his eligibility, but the cupboard isn’t bare for coach June Jones. Sophomore Neal Burcham is the frontrunner and started the final two games of 2013. Burcham will face competition from junior college recruit (and former Texas A&M signal-caller) Matt Davis.
The Rockets – Athlon’s pick to win the MAC West in 2014 – have a three-way battle to replace Terrance Owens. Alabama transfer Phillip Ely, sophomore Logan Woodside and redshirt freshman Michael Julian are battling to start, with Woodside owning a slight edge due to his experience in four games last year.
New coach Bob Diaco inherits an offense that averaged only 20.6 points per game in 2013. Diaco’s job in turning around the offense got tougher in the summer when running back Lyle McCombs was dismissed. Sophomores Tim Boyle and Casey Cochran and senior Chandler Whitmer will battle to start this fall. Cochran threw for six touchdowns to no interceptions in the final two games of 2013 and enters the fall with an edge on Boyle and Whitmer.
Blake Bortles departed for the NFL after leading the Knights to a 12-1 mark last year. Replacing Bortles won’t be easy, but UCF can lean more on its defense and rushing attack with a young quarterback under center. Sophomore Justin Holman left the spring with an edge over redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo and Boise State transfer Nick Patti. Holman completed 9 of 14 passes for 75 yards and one score last year.
BYU running back Jamaal Williams is expected to contend for All-America honors this season, but the junior is suspended for the season opener against UConn.
The news of Williams’ suspension was announced after BYU’s first fall practice. According to the Desert News, Williams is suspended due to an honor code violation.
Williams rushed for 1,233 yards and seven scores and caught 18 passes for 125 yards last season.
With Williams sidelined, Paul Lasike, Alge Brown and Adam Hine are expected to handle the bulk of the carries against the Huskies.
BYU is favored by 17 points against UConn, but Williams will be missed in the opener. Expect to see the Cougars lean heavily on quarterback Taysom Hill and their defense to beat the Huskies in Week 1.
Jamaal Williams suspended one game, will miss opener at UConn. http://t.co/L7MFjZEESt— Vanquish The Foe (@VanquishTheFoe) August 2, 2014
Official school logos have been and will always be the simplest and most important way for a college program to classify and separate itself from its peers. Some change dramatically over time while others are literally set in stone for decades. Some are edgy, exciting and extremely busy while others are clean, classic and simple.
Every college football program in the nation has an official logo and the goal is to be the most recognizable brand in the nation.
Since Athlon Sports has been designing the best-looking magazines on newsstands for the better part of half a century, we asked our senior graphic design guru to rank college football's best and worst logos. Here is what Art Director Matt Taliaferro had to say about the SEC's football logos:
|1.||Georgia||Find me a more effective marriage of color and simplicity of design and I'll hand these writing duties over to you. Georgia's logo is so timeless that I can't remember there ever being another that represented the football team. When you see this, there's no confusion as to what you're looking at.|
|2.||Auburn||Hard to find fault in the interlocking A-U. Again, trimming away all the waste and boiling a logomark down to its most basic typically nets the best results.|
|3.||Tennessee||As a logo, Tennessee's is as direct and to-the-point as it gets. Think what you will of the orange (personally, I'm no fan), but the unique working of the "T" is as good as it gets. As an aside, UT's retro Davy Crockett logo is badass.|
|4.||Texas A&M||Someone from A&M needs to call Texas Tech and explain how effective beveling is done. Like Vandy, Texas A&M's logo is simple and therefore works as a potent branding mark.|
|5.||Vanderbilt||The star and the "V." Nothing flashy. Message delivered. Simple, effective. Well done. (Although Vandy has never been able to get the right shade of mustard or gold or whatever that color is.)|
|6.||LSU||Another SEC school logo that is vastly improved from its previous incarnation, I like the contemporary font used for LSU. The Illustrator'd "tiger" lacks some punch, but I'm learning to live with it. If I must.|
|7.||Alabama||Alabama's logo screams "college!" as much as any in the conference. I'm not a fan of the font used for the "A," as more stylized scripts exist that could naturally center it up.|
|8.||Kentucky||Being a UK grad, I'm admittedly biased, but that may be a good thing. Because I have a vested interest, I can say this slightly modernized block logo is light years beyond the old vertical "UK" with the cat in the background. Oftentimes you are your favorite team's worst critic, but this is one incarnation of the logo that I hope is utilized for years to come.|
|9.||Missouri||Missouri has a dynamic logo that screams aggression, and they get points simply for not going the huggable animal route. Carving some of the fat off this mark — a la Michigan State's spartan — would tone the activity down and make for a sharper brand.|
|10.||Mississippi State||I actually like what MSU has done to update what was once a run-of-the-mill "block logo." The faux-banner works, as does the contemporary "M" that has one stem in yesterday, the other in today.|
|11.||Florida||It's the colors. That's what has always bothered me about Florida's logo. The green on blue is harsh on the eyes while the entire concept of the cartoon gator is too ... "rounded." This is an alligator with razor sharp teeth, right? So borrow some of Missouri's hard, dynamic angles, give me some streamlining and scare me!|
|12.||Arkansas||Well, it's a hog. Like Kentucky's, this logo is a vast improvement on Arkansas' previous incarnation. My issue it that animal logos are best used as stylized representations, not literal "drawings." There is mucho potential here ... get the university's design department cranking up the creativity!|
|13.||Ole Miss||I know there's some tradition that I'm most likely stomping on, but the Brush Script feel of this font-only logo is dated. (For those unaware, the font "Brush Script" went out of style about the time Archie Manning was moving from Oxford to New Orleans.) On the plus side, they've managed to not incorporate the rebel flag, so that's saying something.|
|14.||South Carolina||Surprisingly, it's not the gamecock that turns me off here, it's the 90 degree angles on the inside of the "C" — shave those off and the awkwardness of this logo is minimalized. Sure, the rooster could use an upgrade, but let's be honest, it may be time to start from scratch.|
There are a few numbers college football fans need to know when it comes to the Heisman Trophy and how to handicap the race for the 2014 stiff-armed trophy.
First, QBs have won the award four straight years and 12 of the last 14. Mark Ingram (2009) and Reggie Bush (2005) are the only running backs since the turn of the century to win the award.
Second, only once in the nine-decade history of the award has anyone ever repeated (Archie Griffin, 1974-75). Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram and Johnny Manziel all failed to repeat in the last decade.
Third, only twice since Griffin has a conference even won two consecutive Heisman Trophies. USC repeated with Leinart and Bush (2004-05) and the SEC did the same with Ingram and Cam Newton (2009-10).
Finally, only one true defensive player (Charles Woodson) and only two wide receivers (Tim Brown, Desmond Howard) have ever won the award.
With this in mind, here are the top 25 candidates to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014 (with current Bovada odds):
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon (11/2)
He is arguably the most gifted athlete in the country and he is running one of the most prolific offenses in the nation. Should he stay healthy, Oregon is also the front-runner to win the Pac-12 and play in the inaugural College Football Playoff. The talent, the numbers, the winning and championship could all be in Mariota’s corner.
2. Braxton Miller, Ohio State (7/1)
The dual-threat signal-caller is a perfect fit for his offensive system and he is leading a team picked by many to win the Big Ten and land in the playoff. Add to it dynamic, highlight-reel plays and huge numbers and fans in Columbus have themselves a Heisman Trophy candidate under center. Staying healthy and winning the Big Ten are keys for Miller this fall if he wants to get to New York (which he should).
3. Jameis Winston, Florida State (4/1)
The only reason Winston wouldn’t be the front-runner is because he won the award last year. He is the most talented player on what should be the best team and will likely have the best numbers on a championship squad. He is competing with himself.
4. Bryce Petty, Baylor (12/1)
There is no question regarding the top Heisman candidate in the Big 12. The guy who scored 46 times and threw just three interceptions while winning his school’s first-ever Big 12 championship. Petty won’t have the same supporting cast this year but Art Briles' system is a proven commodity. If Petty can do something that’s never been done — Baylor winning at Oklahoma — then his numbers and team success will be enough to get him to New York.
5. Brett Hundley, UCLA (16/1)
One of my favorite bets on this list, the UCLA quarterback is eyeing everything that Mariota is targeting. His numbers should be comparable and the Bruins will have a chance at home to knock off the Ducks late in the year. If UCLA makes a run at the playoff, Hundley could easily be in New York.
6. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin (20/1)
From a talent standpoint, few in the nation can match Gordon’s speed, power and explosiveness. And few players are in a better situation to make a run at the Heisman than the Wisconsin tailback. James White is gone, the offensive line is stacked and he plays for an offense predicated on handing the ball off.
7. Todd Gurley, Georgia (12/1)
He is the most gifted player at his position in the nation and it’s one that has Heisman pedigree. On just 202 touches due to injuries, the 230-pounder rolled up 1,430 yards from scrimmage and scored 16 times. When healthy, he is unstoppable.
8. Nick Marshall, Auburn (10/1)
He is a perfect fit for Gus Malzahn’s offense — a unit that should be even better and more balanced this year. He should blow past last year’s passing totals (1,976 yds, 14 TDs) and could easily match last year’s rushing production (1,068 yds, 12 TDs). Add in another run at an SEC title and Marshall could wind up in New York by season's end.
9. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama (18/1)
Alabama’s starting tailback has been in the Heisman conversation ever since Nick Saban arrived in 2007. Yeldon is coming off back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons and has scored at least 13 times in each of his first two years. Another big year could mean a berth in the playoff and a Heisman Trophy for Yeldon.
10. Taysom Hill, BYU (--)
The BYU signal caller has an elite combination of size, power and athleticism that most quarterbacks only dream about. His ability to embarrass defenses with his feet is obvious — try 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground — but it’s his continued development as a passer that makes him a Heisman contender. He finished eighth in the nation with 4,282 yards of total offense — ahead of names like Winston, Boyd, Bridgewater and Bortles. With a schedule filled with solid but not overly taxing games, Hill will post monster numbers for a team with double-digit wins.
11. Trevor Knight, Oklahoma (16/1)
There were two Trevor Knights last year. The guy who played in the Sugar Bowl and the guy who played in every other game for Oklahoma. Knight has big-time, big-play ability and is leading the team who is clearly the front-runner to win the Big 12 and possibly land in the playoff. If he can stay healthy, he should post big numbers and win almost every game, making him an extremely viable Heisman candidate.
12. Mike Davis, South Carolina (28/1)
The situation around Davis is extremely conducive at a run for the Heisman. He plays for a top 15 team with marquee showdowns, has a shot at a playoff berth and his entire offensive line returns intact. If he can stay healthy, Davis — who posted six 100-yard games in his first seven last fall — could pace the SEC in rushing.
13. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska (33/1)
Gordon gets all of the headlines in the Big Ten but it was Abdullah who actually led the Big Ten in rushing (1,690). The Nebraska ball-carrier is a special talent who can catch passes, constantly gets critical yards and has proven capable of a heavy workload. The key for Abdullah is team success, as the Huskers need to make a run at the Big Ten title for the Big Red runner to get into the Heisman mix.
14. Duke Johnson, Miami (33/1)
From a talent standpoint, Johnson is the only other option in the ACC who can compete with Winston. He has elite-level breakaway speed and explosiveness. The biggest speed bump in The Duke’s Heisman campaign will be staying healthy. The smallish back has dealt with injuries but if he can stay on the field and post 250 touches, his numbers could be ridiculously good.
15. Everett Golson, Notre Dame (14/1)
Irish fans are happy to welcome back their starting quarterback after a one-year hiatus. Golson took major strides during his one year as the starter, not only leading Notre Dame to the national championship game, but also proving to be a dynamic playmaker along the way. He is a perfect fit in the Brian Kelly system, a scheme that allows for big statistics from the QB position. Big numbers and lots of marquee wins at Notre Dame generally means national acclaim.
16. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State (66/1)
Not many players have thrown for at least 3,000 yards and rushed for at least 500 in the last two years but Kelly is one of them. He led ASU to the Pac-12 title game a year ago and another run at a league title — along with another 4,000-yard season — could get Kelly into the national discussion.
17. Byron Marshall, Oregon (--)
The Ducks have five starters back along the offensive line and an offense that has churned out Heisman candidates at running back. Marshall rushed for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns on just 168 carries last fall. If he can get upwards of 250 touches, he could lead the nation in rushing for Oregon. His only concern might be that backup Thomas Tyner is too good to keep off the field for very long.
18. Leonard Fournette, LSU (66/1)
He’s already been compared to Michael Jordan by his coach and to Adrian Peterson by his teammates. No pressure, young fella. Fournette is going to be great. The question is how quickly? And will the rest of his offense support him? The ground game will be electric in Baton Rouge but this unit needs balance to get the true freshman into the Heisman conversation.
19. Cole Stoudt, Clemson (--)
The keys to one of the shiniest offenses in the nation have fallen in Stoudt’s lap and he deserves his opportunity. Stoudt has waited his turn behind Tajh Boyd and all signs point to him being more than capable of running Chad Morris’ attack. He’s all about tempo and is a solid fit for an offense that consistently posts huge statistics. An early upset over Georgia or Florida State is almost a must, however, to get into the mix.
20. Karlos Williams, Florida State (33/1)
By default, the starting tailback at Florida State should be a high-profile, highly productive position. And Williams has all the raw physical tools to become a star on the national level. He averaged over eight yards per carry and scored 11 times while splitting time with two other guys — both of whom have moved on. With a full workload, Williams could post Doak Walker Award-worthy numbers.
21. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State (--)
There aren’t too many players with as many physical skills as Hackenberg. He is a sure-fire, first-round, NFL Draft pick in two springs, as he set 11 school records as a true freshman last year. The offensive line and overall depth is a major concern and keeps him from being mentioned alongside names like Hundley, Petty and Miller, but Hackenberg is just as talented. Look for the PSU QB to continue to grow with no limits on his upside.
22. Connor Cook, Michigan State (33/1)
Michigan State entered last fall with questions under center. By the time the Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl were over, they had a star at quarterback. Cook posted back-to-back 300-yard games (setting career highs) in wins over Ohio State and Stanford. Look for more development from the underrated athlete in his second season as the starter.
23. Chuckie Keeton, Utah State (--)
In 2012, Keeton was exceptional by throwing for 3,373 yards and 27 touchdowns with only nine picks while also rushing for 619 yards and eight touchdowns. The Aggies were 11-2. Last year, Keeton accounted for 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions with 1,629 yards of total offense in just six games before getting hurt for the season. Utah State has some marquee games at Tennessee, BYU and Boise State.
24. Sean Mannion, Oregon State (50/1)
The Beavers quarterback threw for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns last year, trailing only Derek Carr as the nation’s leading passer. If he can cut back on interceptions — he threw 12 in the last five games — and lead his team to a few more wins, Mannion should have the numbers to get to New York.
25. Rakeem Cato, Marshall (66/1)
Marshall could go undefeated and Cato should be able replicate his monster season from a year ago (4,210 yards of total offense and 45 total TDs). Should those two things happen, the Herd is likely to be ranked in the top 15 so the star QB (See: Blake Bortles) has a chance to get into the national conversation.
It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year.
In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2014, Athlon asked coaches in the Big Ten to talk anonymously about their opponents.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
Big Ten Coaches Anonymously Scout Conference Foes
Opposing coaches size up the Hoosiers:
“Defensively I’m sure their focus this season will be finding a way stop the run.” …
“They had some kids that looked good, especially on offense. They were youthful from what I remember.” …
Offensively they are scary as hell with very good running backs and receivers. Kevin Wilson does a nice job with that scheme. They are pretty multiple and can spread it out on you. They are a threat to score a bunch of points.” …
“It’s hard to pinpoint what the issues were on defense, but they’ll have to try to get bigger and stronger up front and plug in holes with recruiting.” …
“The spread offense and stopping the run game are priorities for them. That’s sort of been their M.O. for a long time.” …
“They’ve had some great offenses in the past and put up a gazillion points and still win five games. It’s sort of strange.” …
“I can’t really name any of their top defensive guys. A lot of times they either had trouble getting pressure or they couldn’t cover on the back end. But they were a huge threat offensively.” …
“Wide receiver Cody Latimer is a great player – he’s gone, or at least I hope so.” …
Opposing coaches size up the Terrapins:
“An explosive team that has tools at positions that can and should make a significant impact for them.” …
“Their issues are the best players are not all the time available or healthy. It was a scouting report factor to look at. They’ve had on and off the field issues with players leaving, which does not help.” …
“Stefon Diggs is as good as any skill player in the country. He is as good as advertised.” …
“Randy Edsall, despite what some say, is a good coach.” …
“Another important factor: Will recruiting hold up and can they keep the best players in state? That remains to be seen.” …
“Penn State with James Franklin will make things interesting along the 95 corridor and the beltway.”…
“The linebackers and the secondary groups were the best.” …
“Their quarterback, C.J. Brown, was a pretty good player. He is impressive.” …
“Mike Locksley is a really good football coach, their offensive coordinator.” …
“Their special teams are well coached schematically, that’s one thing we were impressed with.” …
“They aren’t overly impressive on the offensive and defensive lines. Just normal there. Nobody stood out.” …
“They didn’t have a really big time player except the quarterback when we played them. He was the best player on the team I thought.”…
Opposing coaches size up the Wolverines:
“What are they going to do new offensively? They just hired Doug Nussmeier. Where they’ve struggled, they haven’t been what they thought they’d be on the offensive line. They lost both their tackles now.”…
“Devin Gardner’s back, so it will be interesting to see, are they building an off for Gardner for one more year or building for the future for Shane Morris or whomever they recruited? Nussmeier comes from Alabama, and the Alabama model offensively is to be pretty conservative, run the ball with play-action passes. That wasn’t a quarterback-driven offense but McCarron was great at what they needed. So if you’re not going to use Devin’s feet and athleticism, are you going to miss the boat? Because I don’t think he’s like McCarron – he’s got to make up for lack of accuracy with his legs and creativity and extending plays.”…
“I think they were very meager running the football. They struggled protecting the quarterback. The statistical things you evaluate – offensive line, rushing yards, yards per carry, they were pretty poor in those areas.”…
“Defensively, I don’t think they were near what they want to be. They have a great defensive coordinator, he’s a very good coach, but as the defense is designed to stop the run it’s become more of a passing league in some ways. Great, you held them to 100 yards rushing but they threw for 350 and you got beat.”…
Opposing coaches size up the Spartans:
“Their model is good. They know how to reload the pieces to fit their scheme.”…
“I expect them to be coming out of the gate as the best defense in the conference, even though they lose several starters.”…
“That November game against Ohio State in East Lansing will go a long way. They’ll certainly be good enough to win at least 9-10 games and stay in the thick of conference race. They’ll probably be better on offense, too.”…
“They’ve found a little identity there. I thought Connor Cook was one of the difference makers for him the second half of the season. His play against Ohio State and in the Rose Bowl was very good. He was a little bit of a late bloomer.”…
“Mark Dantonio worked for Jim Tressel all those years, so they model their program where it’s replacing pieces and not overhauling. They can recruit to their positions for development.”…
“Darqueze Dennard will be hard to replace, and Denicos Allen will be missed, Marcus Rush will be a good player for them coming back. He’s a solid guy.”…
“Both of their corners played well all season, and they get one back.”…
“They limit what routes you can run against them. They know how to stop the routes you can run. They kind of minimize their exposure. You can’t run every play in your offense because they are ready for at least half of it.”…
“They aren’t going to miss Max Bullough as much as everybody thought. The kid who replaced him in the Rose Bowl was pretty good.”…
“They might be a little bit less on defense but improved on offense, which will balance itself out.”…
“Defensive end Shilique Calhoun was quick off the edge, I thought.”…
(EDITOR'S NOTE: All quotes obtained prior to Braxton Miller's season-ending injury.)
Opposing coaches size up the Buckeyes:
“A very quarterback-driven offense. Without a doubt they have good skill. They have a good scheme.”...
“I have a lot of respect for the running back Carlos Hyde, he’s was a really good player. They’ll miss him a bunch.”…
“Philly Brown, had a good skill set but kind of played spotty last year. He was versatile, though – they had him all over the place. They should have good depth at receiver even without him.”…
“Defensively, I love the freshman defensive end (Joey Bosa). I love the way he played, pad level, intensity. Inside backer (Ryan Shazier) is really good and he’s gone. The back end, they were able to make a few plays but could give up a few big ones, too.”…
“Talented, talented team. If you can match up with them on the offensive and defensive lines, you can give them a good fight. For us it wasn’t like, ‘Oh no, you have to play OSU again.’ They can overwhelm people sometimes, though. “…
“With the running backs I’ve seen they have, they can make do without Hyde, but the offensive line loses a ton of experience. An athletic quarterback like Braxton Miller can complement a new offensive line, which helps.”…
“Obviously, they will coach Braxton up to not take as many hits but Braxton is a cool customer, he doesn’t seem to get fazed.”…
“If you can get your play-action passes going, you can make some big plays against them. They were a little bit suspect in the defensive backfield.”…
Opposing coaches size up the Nittany Lions:
“They are not as far down as people want to make it seem. Maybe it’s depth or whatever you talk about, but you just watch them, start with the defensive line, they had some great players. The cupboard was not bare.”…
“The defensive ends were good, the backers are exactly what you’d expect from Penn State.”…
“Offensively they had a nice crew at wide receiver and they had a great quarterback.”…
“Christian Hackenberg – great player, makes a lot of good decisions. Where he was from the beginning of year to the end was much different.”…
“They are not a team where you look at them and think, ‘Oh my gosh they’ve been on NCAA restrictions.’…
“With the front crew they can play against anybody. They made some big plays against us.”…
“I don’t know much about James Franklin, but he seems like a high-energy guy.”…
“With O’Brien, Penn State did a good job understanding what the quarterback needed to do. I thought he did very good job as offensive coordinator developing his kids and getting his guys in the right spots. It was a structured offense. They didn’t vary from it, they were who they were. Play-calling was excellent, and they could change plays with what they saw. With using the young quarterback to get the play called, they were as good as I’ve been around.”…
“We’ll see how they do without O’Brien’s playcalling.”...
“They’ll miss defensive tackle DaQuan Jones – he was the best in the league, in my opinion. He was physically stout, didn’t have a weakness. It’s like no one talked about him. They’ve got to replace a few guys on the line.”…
Opposing coaches size up the Scarlet Knights:
“New offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen is a big hire for them. He will get the most out of the talent they have.”…
“Without a proven quarterback and only Leonte Carroo as a marquee receiver, they will not be dynamic enough to win consistently in the Big Ten.”…
“Carroo will be their best player. It’s hard to say how good he can really be because their quarterback play has been so bad.”…
“I thought they looked good up front on both sides of the ball.”…
“Their secondary was their biggest weakness. They were young there from what I remember.”…
“There’s decent skill there at receiver but not a lot of breakout star power.”…
“The quarterback play was very inconsistent. That was the biggest issue. Gary Nova had some good moments early in the year but every time you looked over during the season, he was giving the ball away. He killed their momentum. We didn’t think he was that good coming in.”…
“I think they will struggle to be .500 in that league, especially on the east side.”…
“The defensive line was really solid. They had good athleticism and can apply pressure.”…
“They had a good recruiting class going but lost some key guys after that Dave Cohen incident (claims of bullying a player). Was terrible timing after what happened with the basketball coach.”
Listen to the Cover 2 college football podcast with guest Steven Godfrey:
Opposing coaches size up the Fighting Illini:
“They were athletic. They’ve had their ups and downs. Maybe in Year 3 they will have both sides of the ball clicking at once. They haven’t had that yet.”…
“I loved Nathan Scheelhaase. He was a really good football player. He probably didn’t get enough credit but he moved the ball.”…
“They have some good-looking skill players and are on the verge of potentially taking the next step. I thought they were coached well and we were able to make some plays against them. You can get some big plays on them early in the game and then they’ll eventually make plays but then they are behind. Just seemed to play from behind a lot. Hard to win that way.”…
“I thought personally it was a physical team and they did some good things. Settling into what they want to do on offense and defense will be key, because they have quite a lot of things going on schematically, especially on offense with the passing concepts, so that takes time. But they are right there.”…
“You have a team that’s close but not close enough yet. If they catch fire and believe they can win, that’s infectious.”…
“Their wideouts are good looking. It’s not like you’re looking at players that don’t look the part.”…
“I haven’t heard much about the new quarterback (Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt).”…
“No defensive players necessarily jumped out at you – a few good inside backers are gone now.”…
Opposing coaches size up the Hawkeyes:
“If you like old-school, grind-it-out, knock-the-snot-out-of-each-other-for-four-quarters style of football, that’s what our game against Iowa was like last year. It was amazing.”…
“I like the way they carry their program.”…
“They have a very tough front seven on defense. As tough as there is, snap in snap out – they sort of say, here’s what we do, come get us, we’re going to play well and tackle well.”…
“I love the James Morris kid. They’ll miss him.”…
“With their outside linebacker, they had one of the best tandems in the league. They lost a lot of experience there and that both of those guys are gone.”…
“They are settling in at the quarterback position. Jake Rudock was good in the play-action game, checking runs in the right spots. He wasn’t flashy but he got it done.”…
“They had the best offensive line in the conference. The left tackle, Brandon Scherff – he’s all that. If he’s not a first round draft pick, I’d be absolutely shocked.”…
“I don’t know if there’s an area where you can expose them. You just have to pick the spots and make the plays. Maybe if you can break a few big runs and get out early you’ll be in good shape because they aren’t necessarily built to play from behind, or at least they won’t put up 50 a game, but it’s a fistfight against them.”…
“You won’t outscheme Iowa. Your kids have to make a play to beat them.”…
Opposing coaches size up the Golden Gophers:
“They are a tough crew. It’s a slugfest. They are built much like Iowa. They are very physical, fundamentally sound. I have a lot of respect for the coaching staff for the way they prepare their kids, especially on the defensive back end where they are physical.”…
“Losing the big kid inside on defense (Ra’Shede Hageman) is a big deal but they appeared to be recruiting well. Hageman could dominate some games and then others he wouldn’t really impact all that much.”…
“Offensively, they did a few different things. They do enough to keep you on edge. You have to coach your tail off against them. The way they use the fly sweep is creative. They are creative in the running game and in play-action.”…
“The wide receiver spot offensively is a bit of a problem for them. They have a good offensive line and good running backs but can they get the ball consistently downfield in the passing game? Getting a go-to receiver will be a huge deal for them.”…
“On defense, their skill guys were very good. They maybe had the most or one of the top guys in the league on skill on the defensive back end.”…
“Minnesota’s a really tough place to play when it’s colder than hell, soldout crowd and they’re always hanging in there. They are a difficult team to play.”…
“Philip Nelson, who transferred to Rutgers (later dismissed), didn’t necessarily scare you but they are high on their new quarterback (Mitch Leidner).”…
Opposing coaches size up the Cornhuskers:
“They hadn’t been what they wanted to be on defense, considering Bo Pelini is a defensive coach. Where they’ve been a little disappointing is defensive consistency. For John Papuchis, his first defensive coordinator gig is Nebraska. That’s a big job. It’s not like he started at a springboard place. Nebraska’s still Nebraska.”…
“They were pretty young on defense last year, so maybe another year will have Bo’s defense where he wants it.”…
“Having Randy Gregory back will help. He is an absolute stud. He’s so explosive and fast for his size. He’s physical, can cover, just a smart player. Doesn’t really have a weakness.”…
“Bo was on the perceived hot seat but they are always solid. There hasn’t really been a dropoff. They’ve been consistent, even with their starting quarterback out all year.”…
“They couldn’t do everything they wanted to last year because even when Taylor Martinez came back against UCLA, he wasn’t the same and they couldn’t run him very much.”…
“Last year they lost a guard (Spencer Long) to injury. He was really good.”…
“This year they should have more options with Tommy Armstrong, whom I know they are high on.”…
“Ameer Abdullah just gets it done, whatever they need. It will be interesting to see how much they try to run the option with Armstrong and Abdullah, because they did that some last year but that was maybe in part because the quarterback was inexperienced.”…
“They have enough to win the division, no doubt. Their offensive line will be young but it will be talented.”…
Opposing coaches size up the Wildcats:
“Injuries everywhere – just a tough, tough, tough year for them. Their kids played tough and they never quit or stopped believing.”…
“Tougher than hell. Compete every single week. They’ll be in the right spots, are fundamentally and technically sound.”…
“The speedy guy, Venric Mark, he changes the team. Makes them a different team on offense, and not just because of his athleticism, but competitiveness, too. He draws the whole team toward him. My guess is he’s a tremendous leader and a lot of kids follow him in a good way. Getting him back is a huge thing for them.”…
“They’ll have a chip on their shoulder, ready to play.”…
“They’ve got to replace the quarterback (Kain Colter). When they were smoking on offense, the (Trevor Siemian) kid would come in and pace them, but without Colter they wouldn’t be as dynamic in the quarterback running game. Maybe they have another guy they like but I would doubt they’d go back to a two-quarterback system.”…
“They just lost a bunch of hard fought games.”…
“They had a couple big, tall defensive linemen that were talented players.”…
“Salty on defense on the front seven, always where they needed to be.”…
“The offensive line was very functional for what their offense was built for, which became tough because of injuries. They weren’t going to overwhelm you there.”…
“I don’t look at Northwestern and say they were outmatched in the Big Ten. I thought they were physical and tough. It wasn’t that these guys were outmatched.”…
“When we played against them it was still fairly early and they hadn’t lost their sails yet. They had a tough go but I have a lot of respect for Darrell Hazell.”…
“I really like them, they played hard the whole year and felt pretty good about recruiting, so it will be interesting to see the steps they take.”…
“I’m sure they know what they want to do on offense and defense and just need to find a way to implement those plans.”…
Quarterback, they have to get that fixed. Not sure what the plan is there.”…
“They are a pretty good-looking team when they jog out there, though. It was just, the pieces to the puzzle - they couldn’t really handle the running game very well. There was probably a lot of transition that goes into that, so they had some pieces to the puzzle they had to figure out.”…
“I think Darrell’s a good coach. He didn’t seem fazed or, ‘Oh my God what’s next’ from what I noticed. It’s like anything else, it’s a matter of recruiting.”…
“I thought they had some stout looking kids on the defensive line inside, the safety and the corner did some good things. I don’t think they are overwhelmed. They have some good players. They’ll be fine.”…
Opposing coaches size up the Badgers:
“It will be interesting to see what transpires in Year 2 under Gary Andersen. It’s a really good defensive system but they lose a lot of good players. They’ll have to rebuild that. They have a good coordinator, a good defensive plan with tough, hard-nosed kids, very similar to Michigan State that away.”…
“It will be interesting to see how much they develop the passing game. Joel Stave got exposed a little bit as things played out. They are not sure if he can win close games for them. They know he can win the games where he’s running the offense and they could win regardless. They’ll probably search within what they’ve got.”…
“They recruited a really good player from New Jersey – running back Corey Clement He’s got a chance to be really good but he’s playing behind Melvin Gordon, who’s also great.”…
“Obviously it’s not just they have a great of line and a great system, they have some talent. Their lines are always good and they love having a 1-2 punch attack running the ball.”…
“You have to be able to throw the ball against them. You can get some big plays against them throwing the football.”…
“They lose Chris Borland, the center of the defense. Phenomenal player. I don’t know if you have a replacement for them. Team leader.”…
“We tried to use speed against them, because they know how to stop the interior run game. You have to get the ball on the perimeter with speed and throw the ball downfield.”…
“I’m not sure if they are strong enough on the back end similar to Michigan State where they can play tight man coverage.”…
“They were a little one-dimensional in the passing game offensively.”…
“They play two deep on the defensive line. Whoever they lose up front, they are probably already set to replace them.”…
How does Kansas keep winning the Big 12 regular season title year after year? For starters, take a look at two of the top three newcomers in the league for 2014-15.
In a season after the Jayhawks lost Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to the top three picks in the NBA Draft, Kansas replaces them with another pair of standout freshmen. Granted, Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre might not be top draft picks in 2015, but they’ll make sure Kansas remains the favorite for an 11th consecutive Big 12 title.
Kansas, though, will have company. Texas adds big man Myles Turner to a veteran roster that surprised by winning 24 games and saving Rick Barnes’ job. Turner will be another feather in the cap for the longtime Longhorns coach.
Of course, no list of Big 12 newcomers would be complete without transfers. Thank Fred Hoiberg and Iowa State for that.
1. Cliff Alexander, Kansas
Kansas replaces Joel Embiid, who flirted with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft before injury concerns dropped him to No. 3, with another highly rated big man to team with Perry Ellis. Alexander was the third-ranked prospect in the 247Sports Composite. The 6-9, 240-pound power forward will replace Embiid’s offensive skill with a physical presence in the paint.
2. Myles Turner, Texas
Texas already returned every key player from one of the surprise teams in the country. The Longhorns bolster their chances to contend for the Big 12 title by adding the Turner, the final major recruit from the 2014 class to pick a school. Turner gives the Longhorns a 6-10, 223-pound skilled big man, but more important, the Euless (Texas) Trinity product gives Rick Barnes a sorely needed in-state recruiting victory.
3. Kelly Oubre, Kansas
Kansas figures to have plenty of able bodies at the 2 and 3 in 2014-15 season, but Oubre should have plenty of opportunity to shine. The 6-7, 190-pound McDonald’s All-American wing has a varied offensive game. He can hit the 3 and get to the rim. He’ll be an All-Big 12 contender.
4. Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State
Transfer from UNLV
The Iowa State transfer trend continues with Dejean-Jones, who is on his third stop after transferring from USC to UNLV to Ames. Dejean-Jones averaged 13.6 points per game in 31 games in his final season with the Runnin’ Rebels. He’s an effective scorer who will have to integrate himself into a lineup including returning point guard Monte Morris and Georges Niang.
5. Jonathan Holton, West Virginia
Junior college transfer
Iowa State isn’t alone in the Big 12 in bringing in a slew of transfers. West Virginia has added Juwan Staten (Dayton) and Aaric Murray (La Salle) and now another player who started his career in the Atlantic 10. Holton averaged 10.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game as a freshman at Rhode Island in 2011-12. Holton, who was dismissed from Rhode Island, pleaded no contest to a charge of video voyeurism when he was accused of secretly recording a sexual encounter and posting video to Facebook. Holton spent a season at junior college and then a redshirt season at West Virginia, where he’ll be a regular double-double threat.
6. Anthony Hickey, Oklahoma State
Transfer from LSU
Oklahoma State will need a number of players to fill the gaps left by Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. At least Travis Ford will have a veteran point guard in the mix in Hickey, who was a three-year starter at LSU. Hickey’s scoring output dropped in his final season in Baton Rouge, but he finished second in the SEC with a 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio and averaged 3.8 assists per game in his career. He averaged nearly three steals per game as a sophomore.
7. Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Scott Drew has brought in his share of highly touted recruits, but Motley was more of a project. Motley redshirted last season and is poised to become an impact player in his second season on campus. The 6-9, 210-pound forward could be one of the Bears’ top post players while bringing an expanded offensive game away from the basket.
8. Justin Edwards, Kansas State
Transfer from Maine
Edwards was a prolific scorer at Maine before leaving for a more high-profile program in the Big 12. The 6-foot-4 guard from Ontario led America East in scoring with 16.7 points per game in 2012-13 before sitting out a year at Kansas State. The Wildcats will hope a better supporting cast will improve his efficiency numbers: Edwards has shot 27 percent from 3-point range and averaged 3.6 turnovers per game in his career.
9. Michael Cobbins, Oklahoma State
Returning from injury
Cobbins’ Achilles injury at the end of December was one of the first dominoes in a season that unraveled in conference play for the Cowboys. Oklahoma State went 12-1 with Cobbins in the lineup and 9-12 the rest of the way. The 6-8, 230-pound forward contributed far more than his 5.4 points per game. His interior defense forced coach Travis Ford to shuffle the lineup with limited success.
10. Jameel McKay, Iowa State
Transfer from Marquette
Dejean-Jones won’t be the only impact transfer for Iowa State. McKay will join Niang in the frontcourt. McKay has yet to play a game in the Division I level after transfer from junior college to Marquette. He comes from the same JUCO as Cyclone Dustin Hogue and should be a factor on Iowa State’s defense.
Miami’s quarterback situation is one of the biggest uncertainties in the ACC this year. However, the Hurricanes appear to have some clarity about their quarterback battle, as redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen has been suspended for at least one game due to a failed drug test. The news was reported by Adam Kuperstein of WQAM.
With Olsen suspended for the opener, Kansas transfer Jake Heaps is expected to start against Louisville. Heaps began his career at BYU but transferred to Kansas after two seasons in Provo.
Heaps was touted as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2010 signing class but struggled at BYU and Kansas. Heaps completed only 49 percent of his passes and tossed 10 picks to eight touchdowns with the Jayhawks in 2013.
The Hurricanes were slated to start Memphis transfer Ryan Williams in 2014. However, the senior suffered a torn ACL in spring practice and is out indefinitely. Williams is expected to return early in the year, but a return date has not been set.
True freshman Brad Kaaya ranked as the No. 7 pro-style quarterback in the 247Sports Composite for the 2014 signing class. Barring a return by Williams for the opener, Kaaya will likely serve as Heaps’ backup.
Miami Hurricanes QB Kevin Olsen will be suspended for at least 1 game this season for failed drug test. No comment from UM at this point.— Adam Kuperstein (@AKuperstein) August 1, 2014
First, Seattle Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” mic Richard Sherman went all Tony Montana on Erin Andrews. “I’m the best corner in the game,” Sherman ranted after the NFC title game. “Don’t open your mouth about the best or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick.” Then, Arizona Cardinals’ triple-threat Patrick Peterson became the Internet’s highest-paid troll after becoming the league’s richest cornerback. Even the New York Jets’ delusional Dee Milliner “ain’t gonna say that somebody else is better.”
These days, every cornerback who backpedals for a living is fluidly flipping their hips and running their mouth at 4.3 speed claiming the title of “NFL’s best.” But really, who is the top cover man in an increasingly pass-happy league? It’s not Deion Sanders anymore, that’s for sure.
Here are the top 10 cornerbacks in the GIF game today, when factoring in size, speed, age, health, proven production and 2014 potential to cover the full spectrum of downfield receiving threats — from monsters like “Megatron” Calvin Johnson (6’5”, 236) to track stars like DeSean Jackson (5’10”, 178).
1. Richard Sherman, 26, Seattle Seahawks
6’3”, 195, Stanford (No. 154 pick, 2011)
48 G, 167 T, 57 PD, 20 INT for 227 yards (11.4 ypr), 2 TDs, 4 FF, 1 SK
You mad, bro? Don’t be. Sherman is in his loud-mouthed, lockdown prime. He’s got a Super Bowl ring and a fat new four-year, $56 million contract. The big-play maker made his biggest splashes on the biggest stages and arguably deserved to be named 2013 Defensive Player of the Year after recording eight INTs for 125 yards (15.6 ypr) and a 58-yard pick-six — his second straight eight-INT, one-TD season. Plus, Sherman allowed only one TD for the Seahawks’ top-ranked defense. Floyd Mayweather is the champ. But Sherman has the CB title belt.
2. Darrelle Revis, 29, New England Patriots
5’11”, 198, Pittsburgh (No. 14 pick, 2007)
95 G, 344 T, 109 PD, 21 INT for 367 yards (17.5 ypr), 3 TDs, 5 FF, 2 SK
Bill Belichick is looking forward to an extended vacation on Revis Island, where defensive schemes are much easier to gameplan with one side of the field on lock. After a Lost-like couple of seasons dealing with injury and contract issues in New York and Tampa Bay, Revis is likely to return to his all-time prime this year in New England.
3. Patrick Peterson, 24, Arizona Cardinals
6’1”, 219, LSU (No. 5 pick, 2011)
48 G, 161 T, 42 PD, 12 INT for 124 yards (10.3 ypr), 1 SK
Money talks. And five years, $70 million currently has the floor. Peterson has the potential to top this list — and likely will, sooner than later. But as of this season, one of the game’s best all-around athletes needs his cover skills to catch up with his walk-off punt return highlight reel and even bootleg passing ability.
4. Joe Haden, 25, Cleveland Browns
5’11”, 195, Florida (No. 7 pick, 2010)
57 G, 234 T, 67 PD, 13 INT for 222 yards (17.1 ypr), TD, 3 FF, 2 SK
Who knew Cleveland had an NFL team before Johnny Football? The Browns have the league’s top left tackle in Joe Thomas and a realistic shot at having the best cornerback in Haden, who makes very few mistakes by the lake — but would probably have trouble guarding LeBron James, though.
5. Aqib Talib, 28, Denver Broncos
6’1”, 205, Kansas (No. 20 pick, 2008)
77 G, 242 T, 70 PD, 23 INT for 348 yards (15.1 ypr), 4 TD, 2 FF
Clearly, he feels like a boss, which is necessary to run with the likes of A.J. Green and Dez Bryant. A volatile young Buc, mellowed ex-Patriot turned big-money Bronco, Talib has struggled to stay on the field. But when he’s on, there are few with the size, speed and swag necessary to match Talib’s talents.
6. Desmond Trufant, 23, Atlanta Falcons
6’0”, 190, Washington (No. 22 pick, 2013)
16 G, 70 T, 17 PD, 2 INT (0 ypr), 1 FF
Following in the high-steps of Deion and DeAngelo Hall — who also wore No. 21 at cornerback for the Falcons — the third Trufant brother to play in the NFL (along with big bros Marcus and Isaiah) had an incredible rookie season and appears to be the next elite cover corner. And you can’t knock his hustle, unless you’re C.J. Spiller.
7. Alterraun Verner, 25, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5’10”, 187, UCLA (No. 104 pick, 2010)
64 G, 288 T, 50 PD, 11 INT for 124 yards (11.3 ypr), TD, 2 FF
One of the big winners of the offseason, Verner snagged a four-year, $26.5 million deal and will be heading from Tennessee to Tampa Bay, where he will play for defensive guru Lovie Smith. Verner is a ball-hawk who has never missed a game (64-for-64) and continues to add veteran moves to an already dangerous arsenal.
8. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, 28, N.Y. Giants
6’2”, 193, Tennessee State (No. 16 pick, 2008)
92 G, 246 T, 98 PD, 19 INT for 409 yards (21.5 ypr), 5 TD, 3 FF, 1 SK
DRC isn’t the toughest guy on the block but he’s not a punk, either. A cheap shot from Michael Floyd — who outweighs DRC by roughly 30 pounds — deserves to be answered with another cheap shot. What he lacks in physicality, DRC makes up for in speed, length and cocky attitude, which often borders on arrogant (just ask Kirk Cousins).
9. Brent Grimes, 31, Miami Dolphins
5’10”, 190, Shippensburg (Undrafted, 2006)
75 G, 314 T, 73 PD, 17 INT for 257 yards (15.1 ypr), TD, 1 FF
A blue-collar scrapper, Grimes doesn’t fit in with the rest of this list and may be a one-time-only inclusion. But the undrafted free-agent deserves mention heading into 2014, following a couple standout campaigns that bookended an injury-shortened 2012 season.
10. Vontae Davis, 26, Indianapolis Colts
5’11”, 207, Illinois (No. 25 pick, 2009)
70 G, 245 T, 51 PD, 13 INT for 150 yards (11.5 ypr), TD, 1 FF, 2 SK
Vernon Davis’ little brother has all the raw talent in the world but his production never matched his potential until last season. The tools were always there, however. And since his brother was a late-bloomer before exploding onto the scene, maybe Vontae will follow Vernon’s lead-block and vault up these rankings in the near future. There’s no doubt Davis can run with anyone, taking over routes for greats like Andre Johnson.
(Editor’s note: Apologies to Honey Badger, Pacman, Nickell and all the nickelbacks covering the slot. You’re doing great work chasing Wes Welker, but the best of the best are on an island on the outside. Plus, Nickelback gets no respect.)
Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, a Dale Earnhardt Jr.-Brad Keselowski rematch, Joe Gibbs Racing's improvement, Carl Edwards' departure from Roush Fenway Racing and Kasey Kahne's Chase hopes take center stage in Sunday's GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway.
Does this one again come down to Earnhardt and Keselowski?
The last time the Sprint Cup Series raced at Pocono, the final laps proved to be plenty gripping in the drama department. Brad Keselowski was being chased by Dale Earnhardt Jr., all while having to deal with an overheating issue due to debris on his car’s front grille.
When Keselowski tried to remedy the issue by closing on the bumper of Danica Patrick’s lapped car, he nearly wrecked in the process. Earnhardt Jr. slid by to take the lead. Keselowski never got the debris removed and never made a substantial run at passing Earnhardt – who also began to suffer overheating issues – again. Earnhardt took the win while Keselowski apologized for what he felt was a blunder.
Together, the drivers combined to lead a majority of the race (106 of 160 laps) with Keselowski taking the lion’s share (95).
Keselowski was optimistic about a replicate performance.
"We feel as though we are better now than we were then in a lot of areas, and that bodes well for us this weekend,” Keselowski says. “I am looking forward to it."
Joe Gibbs Racing looking for Pocono improvements
Hidden in last week’s finishing order at Indianapolis was a strong showing for the Joe Gibbs Racing bunch. For the first time since the fall Richmond race in 2010, all three entered JGR cars finished in the top 5. Of course, the result was later blemished by Denny Hamlin’s penalty for an improperly sealed firewall plates.
But it was a good sign for a team needing some improvement at a place where at least Hamlin formerly dominated. In June, JGR’s best showing came from Hamlin in fourth while Kyle Busch (12th) and Matt Kenseth (25th) scuffled to the checkered flag. In the last three Pocono races, JGR drivers have led just five laps with Hamlin the only driver to break the top 5.
Don’t be worried about Carl Edwards’ performance
There was odd sense of derision from Carl Edwards before last week’s Brickyard 400. He seemed upset that his current team – soon to be former – opted to announce his departure effective in 2015 on the morning of the race. The stance flew in the face of what seemed to be a much choreographed announcement with Roush Fenway Racing team president Steve Newmark referring many times to Edwards keeping him in the loop at every turn of the process.
It’s the type of dissension that can often lead to speculation that a team is throwing in the towel on an outgoing driver. In this instance, that seems highly unlikely because the decision isn’t news to those inside the organization. Edwards let the team know more than a month ago that he was leaving – so any performance regression would have already been visible.
In that span, he has finishes of 17th, 37th (crash), 13th and 15th. It’s not a great run, but excluding crash-affected finishes, it’s a span that has often been par for the course for the struggling RFR team this season. The RFR team as a whole has just one top-10 finish in that stretch.
Kahne short on Chase chances
It was one year ago that Kasey Kahne appeared to put a dagger in teammate Jeff Gordon’s Chase chances when he dominated the four-time champion on a late restart at Pocono. It was a stunning loss for Gordon – he wouldn’t perform well enough in the ensuing five regular season races to officially make the Chase – and a big triumph for Kahne. Of course, Michael Waltrip Racing’s Richmond shenanigans allowed Brian France to reverse Gordon’s exclusion. It left the Pocono point essentially moot.
A year later, the roles are reversed. It’s Gordon with two wins – including last week’s Brickyard 400 win when he passed Kahne on a late restart – and Kahne without any. Kahne isn’t far removed from the Chase as it stands, but he would undoubtedly prefer a little more security down the regular season’s final unpredictable stretch. Currently, he’s three points behind Austin Dillon – the last penciled-in qualifier for the Chase before Pocono.
Kahne owns twos wins at Pocono and has top-two finishes in two of last four races at the track. He can’t afford, however, to repeat finishes of 42nd and 36th that marked the other end of the four-race span.
Goodyear makes slight tire alteration
Tire issues didn’t factor much in the June race at Pocono, but it was a year ago at the track that Jimmie Johnson’s blowout while leading changed the entire race’s complexion. It also left Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus frustrated with a string of tire problems that his team had faced.
Goodyear, the sole tire supplier, hasn’t made major modifications to the tires for Sunday’s race but did make a small adjustment of team recommendations from the June race. Teams will be encouraged the raise the left side tire pressures by one pound – from 18 psi to 19 psi – to prevent issues.
The radial tire in use remains the same as used at the track since 2012.
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
Nebraska is set to honor 125 years of football on its Sept. 27 home date against Illinois. The Cornhuskers will take the field against the Fighting Illini wearing alternate red jerseys.
Alternate jerseys are becoming more prominent in college football, and Nebraska wore a black jersey for a home game against UCLA last season.
The red jerseys certainly aren’t a bad look, but the best part of the unveiling wasn’t the uniform. Coach Bo Pelini (yes you read that right) decided to unveil the uniform by modeling it to the team.
Below are the photos and video from Nebraska’s alternate uniform unveil for 2014:
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for August 1:
• There's a new Miss Hooters International 2014. Mazel tov.
• As a part of his offseason charm offensive, Bo Pelini modeled Nebraska's new uniform.
• Now that her social calendar has opened up, Caroline Wozniacki is training for a marathon. She's also looking smoking hot. What were you thinking, Rory?
• Bad day on Twitter for ESPN's Jim Bowden: He stole a scoop from a fake account, then claimed he was hacked.
• Bizarre, convoluted story from college hoops: Former Bull Rick Brunson pretended to be Patrick Ewing to get a massage, possibly costing Temple a five-star point guard (Brunson's son). Got it?
• Oklahoma kicker Michael Hunnicutt tweeted a screen shot of his playbook. It's, um, uncomplicated.
• Jimmy Fallon can persuade celebs to do anything. Last night, he and Julia Roberts threw balls at each other's faces and watched it back in super slo-mo.
• Texas A&M running back Brandon Williams was so excited to christen the new locker room john that he took to Twitter to announce the news.
• News blooper of the day: A TV station accidentally aired a Spiderman assault video over a Ray Rice apology report.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Air Force is the latest school to unveil an alternate jersey and helmet design for 2014.
The usual white or blue uniforms for the Falcons are some of the best designs in the Mountain West, and the alternate look for 2014 is another awesome uniform for Air Force.
Here are some photos of Air Force’s new uniform for 2014:
More pictures of the new 2014 Alternate Football Uniform! pic.twitter.com/9NtbYqEk9I— Air Force Football (@AFFootball) July 31, 2014
Check out the new 2014 Alternate Football Uniform! Which game do you hope to see them this season? pic.twitter.com/6wMjjscYoL— Air Force Football (@AFFootball) July 31, 2014
Johnny Manziel doesn’t need paparazzi to increase his publicity; he can take care of that all by himself. Here’s a month-by-month review of Manziel’s offseason heading into his rookie year, mostly documented by the former Aggie himself on various social media websites.
Johnny rocks a No. 2 jersey, shoulder pads, and camo shorts for his Pro Day. R&B artist and close friend Drake can be heard blasting throughout the facility while Manziel performs. Oh, and former President George H.W. Bush makes an appearance.
Manziel is drafted No. 22 overall by the Cleveland Browns. His trademark “money sign” follows shortly thereafter.
Johnny hangs out with his competition (for the NFL’s biggest frat star), Rob Gronkowski, in Las Vegas.
The Heisman winner supports his “business partner”, LeBron James, at the NBA Finals. James would go on to lose the championship, but the King will join Manziel in Cleveland this year.
Johnny takes care of some formalities, signing his rookie contract and officially becoming an NFL player.
To celebrate, Manziel drinks champagne on an inflatable swan.
Manziel is found flaunting his wealth, pretending a stack of money is his cellphone.
Johnny parties with fellow celebrities Justin Bieber, Floyd Mayweather, and Tyrese.;
The quarterback hits up a Red Sox game and is spotted chatting up some ladies at Fenway Park.
Johnny Cash is photographed rolling up a $20 bill in a nightclub because… he was tipping the restroom attendant…
Manziel takes a photo with popular icons Drake and Kevin Durant.
The 21-year-old takes his foot off the gas a little and appears to be settling down with a girlfriend.
For now, the circus has quieted down. Training camp has started and Johnny Football is occupied. We can expect to hear slightly less news out of Manziel’s camp while he works towards stealing the starting job away from teammate Brian Hoyer. But if this summer is any indication, Manziel's first season and entire career should be a wild, fun ride that no one wants to miss.
Some coaches are great recruiters. Some are great talent developers. Some are great with the media and power boosters.
Some are simply great CEOs. Only a select few can say they can do it all.
So being able to identify your weaknesses and correct them by surrounding yourself with great personnel is a skill just like coaching defensive backs, luring recruits or glad-handing donors.
Some coaches don’t need to have a great offensive coordinator. Like, say, Steve Spurrier, Mike Leach, Jimbo Fisher, Gus Malzahn or Bobby Petrino. Some don’t need a defensive coordinator like Gary Patterson, Bill Snyder, Charlie Strong or Todd Graham.
Removing the teams whose head coach acts largely as a full-time coordinator, which teams enter the season with the most dynamic duos of coordinators in the nation?
OC: Chad Morris (3 yr)
DC: Brent Venables (2 yr)
Morris is widely considered the top offensive coordinator in the nation and the numbers bear that out, as Clemson has crushed opposing defenses for over 40 points per game in each of the last two years. Venables, who was brought to Death Valley in 2012, has improved the Tigers' defense in each of his two seasons. This unit gave up 29.3 points per game the year before he arrived. Clemson allowed 24.8 ppg in ’12, 22.2 ppg last fall and is poised to be even better this fall.
OC: Lane Kiffin (--)
DC: Kirby Smart (6 yr)
Smart has been a hot head-coaching name for half a decade now and he continues to turn down overtures to stay with Nick Saban. His defenses are among the nation’s best every year he’s been in Tuscaloosa. Kiffin, for all of his faults, is overqualified to be “just” an offensive coordinator. As long as he isn’t handling CEO duties — which he has struggled with in the past — Kiffin could be one of the nation’s top offensive minds in 2014. There is no questioning his ability to coach quarterbacks and develop a passing game.
OC: Josh Heupel (4 yr)
DC: Mike Stoops (2 yr)
Stoops returned to Norman two years ago (replacing Venables) after helping the Sooners win a national title in 2000. His unit showed marked improvement in his first two years and is poised for its best defensive season since that memorable '00 campaign. Heupel’s offenses have been ranked in the top 10 nationally in three of his four seasons and, with a healthy starter under center for a full season, should bounce back in a big way.
OC: Cam Cameron (1 yr)
DC: John Chavis (5 yr)
Cameron was brought in to instill a pro-style balanced attack and he turned Zach Mettenberger from SEC also-ran into an NFL Draft pick in just one season. He has his work cut out for him with the departures in the passing game but the ground attack should be one of the nation’s best. Chavis has a long standing history of SEC success but his unit has gotten worse three consecutive seasons since the 2011 BCS national title game. His squad should rebound in 2014.
OC: Mike Bobo (8 yr)
DC: Jeremy Pruitt (--)
Pruitt comes to Athens after winning two national titles as the defensive backs coach at Alabama in 2011-12. Then he won a national title last year as the defensive coordinator at Florida State. Now, he takes over a Dawgs defense with loads of talent and upside. Bobo has had some tough(er) seasons but largely has produced efficient and effective offenses over a long period of time in the SEC. Georgia has averaged 6.4 yards per play over the last six seasons — which would’ve ranked 22nd nationally last fall.
6. Michigan State
OC: Dave Warner, Jim Bollman (1 yr)
DC: Pat Narduzzi (7 yr)
Narduzzi is the reigning top coordinator in the nation as the 2013 Frank Broyles Award winner for his work with the Spartans defense last fall. He is a proven commodity that carries this staff behind Mark Dantonio. Warner, who has been at MSU for seven seasons, joined Bollman, in his first season with Sparty, as co-offensive coordinators last fall. The unit showed steady improvement and was one of the most balanced attacks in the Big Ten by the end of the season.
OC: Clay Helton (4 yr)
DC: Justin Wilcox (--)
Helton was one of the few hold overs from the previous staff and his offense took major strides as the season went along last fall despite three coaching changes. Wilcox heads to USC with head coach Steve Sarkisian after two seasons in Seattle. Wilcox has been a rising star for years and has proven his worth at Washington. He took a unit that was 108th in yards per play allowed the year before his arrival (6.43 ypp) and turned it into the 20th-ranked defense (4.98 ypp) in the same category in 2013.
OC: Josh Henson (1 yr)
DC: Dave Steckel (5 yr)
Staff stability has been a staple for Gary Pinkel and his current coordinator duo is one of the most underrated tandems in the nation. Henson is largely regarded as the potential head coach in waiting and has the respect of everyone in Columbia. He has been on the Tigers staff for six years and showed in one year running the offense that he is totally capable. Steckel has been with Missouri since 2001 and has been running the defense since '09. He continues to overachieve with middle-of-the-pack recruits.
9. Virginia Tech
OC: Scott Loeffler (1 yr)
DC: Bud Foster (19 yr)
Foster is arguably the nation’s top defensive coordinator. He’s been at Tech since 1987 in some capacity and has produced some of the best defenses in the nation for nearly two decades. Loeffler is much more unproven and will have his work cut out for him after helping Logan Thomas set numerous career school records in his first season. He’s been at Michigan, Florida, Auburn and in the NFL, so clearly, Loeffler is well respected. Now, he needs to deliver in a tough situation.
10. Penn State
OC: John Donovan (1 yr)
DC: Bob Shoop (1 yr)
Both Donovan and Shoop have been James Franklin’s coordinators since taking his first head coaching job at Vanderbilt in 2011. Donovan has been with Franklin even longer, spending time with him at Maryland. Both guys were instrumental in developing the Vandy program but Shoop was the star of the show. The Dores won a lot of games on the defensive side of the ball over the last three years and, now, both guys have a power brand to work with in 2014.
The Best of the Rest:
11. Baylor: Philip Montgomery (OC), Phil Bennett (DC)
12. UCLA: Noel Mazzone (OC), Jeff Ulbrich (DC)
13. Notre Dame: Mike Denbrock (OC), Brian VanGorder (DC)
14. Michigan: Doug Nussmeier (OC), Greg Mattison (DC)
15. Maryland: Mike Locksley (OC), Brian Stewart (DC)
With fall practice set to open around the nation for all 128 college football teams, the time to finalize preseason predictions is coming to an end.
Of course, there are a handful of teams every year that are flagged in the preseason as a wildcard to watch. These "wildcard" teams are often the most difficult team to figure out in predictions.
Most projections for the Big Ten in 2014 designate Ohio State and Wisconsin as the favorites to meet in Indianapolis for the conference title game. While Ohio State and Michigan State are the clear No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the East, there’s more uncertainy in the West.
Wisconsin is pegged as the preseason favorite, but the Badgers return only eight starters. The significant personnel turnover in Madison provides plenty of hope for Iowa and Nebraska to contend for the West Division title.
Could the Cornhuskers be the surprise team in the West Division in 2014? Despite a -11 turnover margin and an injury to starting quarterback Taylor Martinez early in the season, Nebraska finished 9-4 last year. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why to buy into this team and a few reasons to pick against Nebraska in 2014.
Three Reasons Why Nebraska Will Surprise in 2014:
1. Development of front seven on defense:
Ohio State and Michigan State own the top two defensive lines in the Big Ten for 2014, but Nebraska can make a strong case as the No. 3 group in the conference. End Randy Gregory is one of the nation’s best and could improve on last year’s sack total (10.5) in 2014. The Cornhuskers are searching for more options at the other end spot, with Greg McMullen and A.J. Natter leading the way for snaps. While there’s some uncertainty at end, the interior of the line should be improved in 2014. Sophomores Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine are both breakout candidates this year, with junior Aaron Curry and sophomore Kevin Maurice also in the mix for snaps. Combine the emergence of Collins and Valentine on the interior with emerging players like David Santos, Josh Banderas and Michael Rose at linebacker, and it’s easy to see why Nebraska’s defense should be better against the run. The Cornhuskers allowed 4.5 yards per carry against Big Ten offenses and gave up 16 scores in eight conference contests. Expect both of those numbers to improve in 2014.
2. Ameer Abdullah and the Receivers:
Sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong is still developing, but the Cornhuskers can insulate their young passer with a strong rushing attack. Ameer Abdullah is one of the nation’s top backs, averaging 6.1 yards per carry in Big Ten play last season. Abdullah checks in at only 195 pounds, but he’s capable of handling carries between the tackles or bouncing it to the outside to break big plays. The senior can handle 275-290 carries if necessary, but Abdullah has plenty of help from backfield mates Imani Cross, Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor. The Cornhuskers should have one of the Big Ten’s deepest backfields in 2014. Kenny Bell averaged only 11.1 yards per catch last season but inconsistency at the quarterback spot hurt his overall numbers. The senior is one of the Big Ten’s top receivers and should benefit from an offseason to work with Tommy Armstrong as the No. 1 quarterback. Nebraska’s receivers may not have the flash of Maryland or Ohio State, but this group should rank among the top five in the Big Ten. Needless to say, the talent at the skill positions is there for the Cornhuskers.
3. Quarterback Play…
Nebraska’s offense was placed into a difficult spot last year when Taylor Martinez suffered a season-ending foot injury. Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg III each attempted over 130 passes, and the Cornhuskers finished No. 11 in the Big Ten in passing offense. Despite the inexperience at quarterback, Nebraska managed to finish 9-4 and 5-3 in the Big Ten. Armstrong has the physical tools to be a successful quarterback in the Big Ten, but he has to develop as a passer. That goal seems reasonable in 2014, especially as Armstrong is expected to be more comfortable with the offense in his second year, and the Cornhuskers have a strong supporting cast in place. With a tight battle expected at the top in the West Division, Armstrong’s emergence could be the difference between finishing third or playing in Indianapolis in early December.
Three Reasons Why Nebraska Won’t:
1. …Quarterback Play
While improvement is expected, is Tommy Armstrong ready to take a step forward in his development this year? Armstrong is credited with a 7-1 mark as Nebraska’s starting quarterback last season, but he completed only 51.9 percent of his passes and tossed eight picks on 131 attempts. Considering 2013 was his first taste of college snaps, it was no surprise Armstrong had his share of ups and downs. But is he ready to take that next step? Armstrong should have a better overall season than he did in 2013. However, is modest improvement going to be enough to win the West? Or will it take Armstrong having a special season to lift Nebraska to the division title? For the Cornhuskers to win the West Division, Armstrong has to do a better job of protecting the ball in 2014. With a strong rushing attack and defense, Nebraska doesn’t need Armstrong to throw for 300 yards each week. However, limiting mistakes and playing with more efficiency is a must.
2. The Schedule
Out of the projected top three teams in the West, Nebraska has the toughest route to a division title. Wisconsin and Iowa do not play any of the projected top four teams from the East in Athlon’s 2014 Big Ten projections. The Cornhuskers only catch one of the top four teams, but it’s a huge road test at Michigan State. Nebraska also has road trips to Wisconsin and Iowa – the two teams Bo Pelini's squad is likely to be fighting for the division title. The Cornhuskers also travel to Evanston to play Northwestern, and each of the last three meetings against the Wildcats has been decided by a field goal or less.
3. Rebuilt Secondary
Nebraska’s secondary finished 2013 ranked No. 4 in the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense. The Cornhuskers allowed only eight passing scores in conference games last year, but three starters must be replaced. Safety Corey Cooper is the lone returning starter, with Ciante Evans, Andrew Green and Stanley Jean-Baptiste departing from last year’s unit. The secondary isn’t hurting for experienced options, as senior Josh Mitchell has 15 career starts and sophomore LeRoy Alexander played in all 13 games last season. Junior cornerback Charles Jackson had a good spring and is ready to seize a starting job. Can this unit match last year’s totals? The Cornhuskers should have one of the Big Ten’s best defensive lines, so the secondary won’t have to hold their coverage for too long. The schedule doesn’t feature a plethora of standout passing games, but Illinois, Michigan State, Northwestern and Fresno State will each provide a stiff test for Nebraska’s rebuilt secondary. Even with a front seven that will rank near the top of the Big Ten, the Cornhuskers can't afford to give up many big plays in the secondary.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 31:
• July's finally over; here are the ladies who wowed us this month.
• The blockbuster Jon Lester deal finally happened. Guess the A's are serious.
• The WSJ asking the tough questions: Which college football coaches are the biggest chatterboxes?
• Keyshawn Johnson sent out iPads as wedding invitations. Guess he didn't want to spring for a calligrapher.
• Manny Machado's cannon should be illegal.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
From his ill-timed thoughts on player safety to his team’s epic struggles, Bret Bielema is the easiest target in the SEC.
But let’s be honest about his on-field challenges at Arkansas: He inherited a mess of a roster in December 2012 with a stealth move from Madison to Fayetteville.
This isn’t an apologist’s view. Privately, assistant coaches are saying it now as they said it a year ago. Bielema must put in serious work to resurrect the Razorbacks, who are fresh off the program’s first winless conference season since 1942.
“When he took over (at Arkansas), he had players that wouldn’t have made it at Wisconsin,” says a former Bielema assistant coach familiar with both programs.
Bielema did pretty well with those Badgers, finishing 68–24 along with three Big Ten titles. Bielema didn’t exactly dominate top-flight competition — he was 2–4 in bowl games and went 1–5 against Ohio State — but he almost always beat the teams he should have and took advantage of transitional periods at Michigan and Penn State.
His SEC challenge is more daunting. There’s no question which team will occupy the seventh spot in the preseason SEC West rankings — the one that lost eight conference games by an average of 21 points. That is shocking for a program that just three years ago was unpacking back-to-back top 10 seasons and a Sugar Bowl berth.
The handoff from Bobby Petrino to John L. Smith to Bielema was so clumsy (though unavoidable) that athletic director Jeff Long must recognize the extent of the rebuilding job that’s necessary in Fayetteville.
Defensive seniors will have played for three head coaches and four defensive coordinators.
Following Bielema’s ‘Never Yield’ mantra is only one factor in the climb to respectability. Bielema must manufacture a vertical passing game, establish the kind of defensive identity that carried the Badgers and bolster recruiting.
Finding Star Power
Bielema’s staff at Wisconsin coaxed standout performances from mildly recruited players such as linebacker Chris Borland and defensive end J.J. Watt. Finding those players is about talent evaluation and a little luck, but it’s also an inexact process. In other words, a two- or three-star diet in the SEC probably won’t work.
That’s why it’s crucial for Arkansas to improve on four straight years of back-end SEC recruiting (ninth or worse) while developing a few breakout players from the current roster.
Despite impressive defensive line play last season, the Razorbacks still ranked last in the SEC in scoring defense (in league games) because of the inconsistency in the back seven. Finding impact players at linebacker and cornerback will be huge, as if that weren’t obvious from LSU’s final-minutes win over the Razorbacks on an Anthony Jennings’ deep ball. These were the most depleted positions when Bielema took over.
In spring ball, Bielema was high on cornerbacks Jared Collins, Tevin Mitchel and Carroll Washington. The Razorbacks will return at least four impact upperclassmen in the secondary, and don’t be surprised if freshman safety Randy Ramsey plays early and often. One league head coach says Ramsey has All-SEC potential.
Middle linebacker Brooks Ellis and weak-side linebacker Martrell Spaight will have another year of starter’s experience. Otha Peters is finally healthy.
The defensive line is an advantage thanks to All-SEC candidate Trey Flowers off the edge and tackle Darius Philon, who had nine tackles for a loss a year ago. Those two can only do so much to aid Arkansas’ 25 touchdown passes allowed in 2013, second-to-last in the league.
On offense, Arkansas will need continued improvement from tight end Hunter Henry, who was productive yet erratic as a freshman with 28 catches for 409 yards and four touchdowns.
Keep an eye on early enrollee quarterback Rafe Peavey, who might push Brandon Allen for starter’s reps.
Can the Hogs Go Vertical?
Arkansas will have one of the league’s best rushing attacks thanks to Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, each of whom could eclipse 1,000 yards this year. One problem: That’s about all the offense has right now, at least on paper.
Keeping more than seven defenders out of the box could be the difference between 3–9 and bowl eligibility.
Bielema is dedicated to the power-run offense with I-formations and play-actions. Alabama does this, too. Georgia does some of it. So does LSU. But those three programs have enjoyed stability at head coach and surefire top-10 recruiting classes anchored by 320-pounders who specialize in pancakes.
Arkansas might have a decent offensive line but not enough to offset the dearth of playmaking on the edge.
For four straight seasons (2009-12), Arkansas’ passing game produced a 3,000-yard passer, the only SEC team to do so.
Last year, Brandon Allen and his backups couldn’t eclipse 1,800.
Even the SEC is deviating from its traditional ways — most teams run a ton of nickel and dime defense — yet Bielema and Nick Saban still spin the oldies.
Allen’s 10 interceptions and a league-low quarterback rating (109.02) among starters of at least nine games suggest he’s not the answer. But obviously Allen aims to change that.
Wide receiver Demetrius Wilson was supposed to break out last year but tore his ACL before the season. He didn’t practice in the spring. Leading returning receiver Keon Hatcher could make a jump, but his 27 catches a year ago illustrate the team’s lack of depth. The Razorbacks need at least two receivers to emerge.
Collins is phenomenal. The running game will probably be, too. Doesn’t mean Arkansas will score enough. It needs more balance.
Reason for Hope
Mizzou and Auburn playing in the SEC title game was the best and worst thing that could have happened to Arkansas.
The respective Tigers vaulting from a combined two conference wins in 2012 to championship contenders the next reminded Arkansas that SEC teams, like in the NFL, can enjoy quick turnarounds.
But those two teams’ rosters weren’t Brazilian-model-thin like Arkansas’. Auburn had several top-five recruiting classes under Gene Chizik. Mizzou had dynamic playmaking and a stout defensive line.
Now, Arkansas fans might expect a similar ascension in Fayetteville, even if the rebuilding job is far greater.
A near-certainty is that Arkansas will improve. It has to win one conference game, right? A beast of an SEC West doesn’t help, but enough optimism exists for Bielema to sell it at booster tours and press conferences. After October blowouts by South Carolina and Alabama by a combined 104–7 score, Arkansas fought back. The Razorbacks had a chance to win their final three games.
When in doubt, play to your strengths — the offensive/defensive line and the running game. Then, develop a passing game, and Arkansas might have something.
That places the onus on Bielema to reignite his rep as a defensive specialist.
After all that, it’s still gonna take some time.
Written by Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerCBS) of CBSSports.com for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 SEC Football Preview Editions. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.
Each year, Athlon Sports produces conference and national unit rankings for all of the major position groups on the field.
Who has the best receiving corps — both wide receivers and tight ends — in the nation? Who has the best set of linebackers — both inside and out, 4-3 or 3-4?
It’s a fun and illuminating exercise that can help provide clarity when it comes to making predictions. Sure, wide receivers, running backs and safeties are important players but what defines a truly great football team — one that can compete for a national championship — is the line of scrimmage.
A great offensive line can mask issues at tailback or even quarterback. A stout defensive line can make linebackers look like superstars. The game is still played in the trenches and being strong along both lines of scrimmage is generally a calling card for most championship teams.
So, as fall camp is set to open across the nation, which teams have the best combination of offensive and defensive lines in the nation?
Note: There are 17 teams ranked in the top 25 nationally in both offensive and defensive line unit rankings.
OL Rank: 2 | DL Rank: 7
Alabama’s strength doesn’t lie in the elite upside of starters (which is excellent) but the astounding depth along both sides of the ball. A’Shawn Robinson on defense and Cam Robinson on offense could blossom into superstars as just underclassmen and neither was a starter last fall. Steady veterans like Brandon Ivory at nose guard and both Ryan Kelly and Austin Shepard on offense give Nick Saban the best combination of linemen in the nation.
2. Florida State
OL Rank: 1 | DL Rank: 9
The Noles boast five senior starters along the offensive line, including three preseason first- or second-team All-Americans and four returning starters. Only Austin Barron is a new face up front for Jameis Winston. Losing Timmy Jernigan hurts the D-line but Mario Edwards, Eddie Goldman and Chris Casher form one of the nastiest groups in the nation.
OL Rank: 8 | DL Rank: 6
All three starters return along the D-line for the Stoops brothers and two of them (Jordan Wade and Chuka Ndulue) might not even start for the Sooners. The defense will be the best the Sooners have seen in a decade while the O-line continues to churn out big-time players. This unit is going to feature five upperclassmen, including four returning starters, and two bookend seniors at left and right tackle (Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams).
OL Rank: 4 | DL Rank: 14
The offensive line in Baton Rouge has been great since Nick Saban got to town and La’El Collins and Jerald Hawkins form one of the best tackle duos in the nation. There are no holes up front on offense. Defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco could also be one of the best duos in the nation, but Les Miles must replace both interior tackles on defense. The overall talent and depth of these two units should give LSU a chance to win every game this fall.
5. Ohio State
OL Rank: 20 | DL Rank: 1
Michael Bennett, an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-American, is the only non-five-star starter along the defensive line for Ohio State. In fact, every member of the OSU two-deep on defense returns. The offense isn’t as lucky but is very talented in its own right. This group doesn’t have the star power it had last fall but it’s a veteran group headlined by Taylor Decker and former Alabama blocker Chad Lindsay.
6. Michigan State
OL Rank: 19 | DL Rank: 3
The defensive line is a proven commodity with national award candidate Shilique Calhoun anchoring things at defensive end. His counterpart Marcus Rush is another stellar edge rusher, giving Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi an elite pass rush. Center Jack Allen and left tackle Jack Conklin headline a veteran O-line that is one of the Big Ten’s best once again.
OL Rank: 2 | DL Rank: 17*
Auburn would have been fifth on this list if not for the crushing injury to Carl Lawson — who might be the Tigers' best defensive lineman. Even without Lawson and first-round pick Greg Robinson, Auburn returns four starters along the O-line and three out of four on the other side.
* - Before Carl Lawson’s injury. Auburn would have been No. 5 on this list if Lawson had been healthy.
OL Rank: 21 | DL Rank: 4
Vic Beasley and Corey Crawford bookend one of the nastiest defensive lines in the nation while three returning interior starters highlight the offensive line. The Tigers' O-line will feature five upperclassmen while the D-line is projected to boast four senior starters. From a talent and experience standpoint, few teams can match what Clemson returns to the trenches.
OL Rank: 6 | DL Rank: 20
How could a unit with one returning starter on offense be one of the nation’s best? Because David Shaw has recruited at an elite level up front along the line and that one starter, left tackle Andrus Peat, might be the nation’s best player at his position. Defensively, Henry Anderson and David Parry return to action with big-time names like Blake Lueders and Aziz Shittu poised to breakout for new coordinator Lance Anderson.
OL Rank: 17 | DL Rank: 13
The Bears lost some star power along both lines of scrimmage but Art Briles has recruited so well that Baylor still figures to be one of the toughest teams up front this fall. Shawn Oakman and Andrew Billings form a dynamic inside-outside tandem on defense while left tackle Spencer Drango is a budding superstar on offense. This ranking is a major testament to the job Briles and Baylor have done restocking the cupboard in the trenches.
OL Rank: 23 | DL Rank: 7
End Cedric Reed and tackle Malcolm Brown form one of the best defensive line duos in the nation. And while the offensive line has struggled of late, new O-line coach Joe Wickline is sure to develop some toughness and tenacity on a line that returns a lot of big-time recruits. A kick in the pants is just what these two lines need in Austin.
Best of the Rest:
11. Washington (OL: 16, DL: 16)
12. UCLA (OL: 22, DL: 10)
13. Kansas State (OL: 14, DL: 21)
14. South Carolina (OL: 5, DL: UR)
15. USC (OL: UR, DL: 5)
The North Division of the Pac-12 has been dominated by Oregon and Stanford since the conference shifted to a 12-team alignment in 2011.
Over the last three years, Oregon is 35-5 overall and 23-4 in Pac-12 play. Stanford is 34-7 overall and 23-4 in conference play during that same span.
Washington hopes to join the Ducks and Cardinal at the top of the Pac-12 North, and after a 34-29 record under Steve Sarkisian, Chris Petersen is tasked with elevating the Huskies into the top tier of the division.
Sarkisian guided Washington to four consecutive bowl games and clearly improved a program that recorded five losing seasons in a row prior to his arrival. The Huskies went 23-16 overall and 15-12 in Pac-12 play over the last three years.
Petersen was regarded as one of the top hires of the offseason, arriving in Seattle after a successful eight-year stint at Boise State. Petersen went 92-12 with the Broncos and finished six times in the final Associated Press top 25 poll.
Replicating that level of success at Washington won’t be easy for Petersen. And the expectations of the program are higher than finishing 5-4 in conference play on a consistent basis. Washington rates as the No. 23 job in the nation – No. 2 in the Pac-12 North. With a renovated stadium, good tradition and fan support, the Huskies can climb higher in the North.
Petersen’s Job History:
2006-12: Boise State – Head Coach
2001-05: Boise State – Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
1995-00: Oregon – Wide Receivers
1993-94: Portland State – Quarterbacks
1992: Pittsburgh – Quarterbacks
1987-91: UC Davis – Head Freshman Coach/Wide Receivers
Obstacles to Overcome:
Quarterback Play?: Cyler Miles is expected to be a breakout star for the Huskies in 2014, but the sophomore missed spring practice due to an off-the-field incident and is suspended for the opener against Hawaii. With a new offensive scheme, it’s important for Miles to get acclimated to new coordinator Jonathan Smith this fall. Although quarterback play should be a strength by the end of the year for Washington, how long will it take Miles to settle into the starting role? With games against Oregon and Stanford early in the Pac-12 slate, Miles is under pressure to perform right away.
Running Backs: Is there a clear replacement for Bishop Sankey on the roster? The Huskies may not need a back capable of toting 275 carries this year, but the pecking order at running back needs to be established. Will sophomore Dwayne Washington claim the No. 1 job? Or will Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper factor into the mix? How about redshirt freshman Lavon Coleman or linebacker Shaq Thompson?
Secondary: This group is the biggest concern for Petersen in year one. The Huskies ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense last season and must replace three starting defensive backs. Junior cornerback Marcus Peters is one of the best in the conference, but safety Sean Parker and cornerbacks Tre Watson and Gregory Ducre have expired their eligibility. True freshman Budda Baker and redshirt freshman Jermaine Kelly are two names to watch in the revamped secondary.
Team Strengths for 2014:
Offensive Line: This unit has been a source of concern in recent years, but the Huskies should have one of the Pac-12’s top lines in 2014. All five starters return this season, including guard Dexter Charles and tackles Ben Riva and Micah Hatchie. Having a veteran line should help ease the transition for new quarterback Cyler Miles.
Front Seven on Defense: New coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski inherits a defense that held opponents to 22.8 points per game last year. The Huskies return six out of the seven starters up front, including All-American linebacker Shaq Thompson and standout end Hau’oli Kikaha. Washington’s defensive line and linebacking corps rank among the top three in Athlon’s 2014 Pac-12’s unit rankings.
Roster Talent/Recruiting Trends
|Pac-12 Rank||National Rank||Three-Star Prospects||Four-Star Prospects||Five-Star Prospects|
|* Rankings from 247Sports Composite|
This area will be one critical aspect of how high Petersen can take this program. Recruiting at Boise State and at Washington are two different challenges. Petersen’s first class at Washington ranked No. 37 nationally in the 247Sports Composite, which was the Huskies’ lowest recruiting haul since a No. 72 finish in 2009. However, Petersen got a late start after taking the job in December and managed to salvage the class after inking 17 three-star prospects.
As of July 30, Washington’s 2015 class ranks No. 63 nationally with only eight commitments.
It’s far too early to make any judgments about Petersen’s ability to recruit. Washington is a top 25 program with plenty of resources, and this coaching staff needs time to build connections. And Petersen’s job on the recruiting trail could get much easier if the Huskies win 10 games in 2014.
However, in order to consistently challenge Oregon and Stanford in the North, Washington needs to consistently bring in top 30 classes. Petersen knows how to develop players, but he has to bring in recruits capable of elevating the program.
Washington has recorded just one season of 10 or more victories since 1992. Could that change in 2014? The Huskies play 13 regular season games and should start 4-0 with non-conference matchups against Hawaii, Eastern Washington, Illinois and Georgia State. The Sept. 27 contest against Stanford is a huge statement game for Petersen and Washington. If the Huskies win, they should be 6-0 heading into a matchup against Oregon on Oct. 18. Also, with home games versus Arizona State and UCLA, Washington has a chance to surprise in the North. Of course, road trips to Washington State and Arizona in November won’t be easy. It’s not unreasonable to think the Huskies can sweep their non-conference and Pac-12 home games, while beating California and Colorado on the road. That leaves road swing contests versus Arizona, Washington State and Oregon.
Washington is a program with potential. Sarkisian did a nice job of getting the Huskies relevant in the Pac-12 once again, but the school hopes Petersen is the right coach to take the program even higher.
Petersen was highly successful at Boise State, but transitioning from a job in the Mountain West to the Pac-12 will require an adjustment period. And even with Petersen’s strong track record of player development and X’s and O’s ability, recruiting at a higher level is a must in Seattle.
While Petersen’s run with the Broncos was impressive, can he do what former Boise State coaches Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins couldn’t in the Pac-12? Koetter and Hawkins both struggled to find success at a higher level away from the blue turf.
The pieces are in place for Washington to push for nine or 10 victories this year. The Huskies should go 4-0 in non-conference play and Stanford visiting Seattle in late September is a huge chance to earn a marquee Pac-12 win.
The Huskies have 14 returning starters, including one of the best offensive and defensive lines in the Pac-12. The question marks are few, but fairly significant. The secondary must be rebuilt, and quarterback Cyler Miles has to settle into the starting role.
Sarkisian is leaving plenty of talent behind, and it’s up to Petersen to capitalize on what’s coming back in 2014 and '15. With Oregon and Stanford both expected to lose plenty of key players after 2014, the door is open for the Huskies to make their move in the division over the next two seasons.
Vegas Expectations: 9 over/under (CG Technology)
Athlon 2014 Magazine Projection: 9-4 (5-4)
USC is one of the premier jobs in college football. With a fertile recruiting area in its backyard, combined with a strong tradition, it’s easy to see why most coaches would consider the Trojans one of the nation’s top-five jobs.
Despite all of its advantages, success isn’t guaranteed at USC. The Trojans failed to win at least 10 games in a season from 1989-2001. And the program has struggled to regain its place among the Pac-12’s elite recently, as the Lane Kiffin era ended after a 28-15 mark in just over three years. Of course, NCAA sanctions have played a role in the Trojans’ record in recent seasons.
After Kiffin was fired, Ed Orgeron was promoted to interim coach and helped to lead the Trojans to a 10-4 record. But Orgeron wasn’t hired as the full-time coach, and former USC assistant Steve Sarkisian was hired from Washington to guide the program back to national prominence.
Sarkisian certainly knows his way around USC, as the California native spent seven years as an assistant with the Trojans. Although Sarkisian’s overall record at Washington was just 34-29, there was noticeable improvement from a program that went 0-12 in the year prior to his arrival. Sarkisian won at least seven games in three out of the last four years and left after an 8-4 mark in 2013.
Is Sarkisian the right fit at USC? Let’s take a look at the former Washington coach and his outlook for 2014 and beyond.
Sarkisian’s Job History:
2009-13: Washington – Head Coach
2005-08: USC – Assistant Coach/Offensive Coordinator
2004: Oakland Raiders – Quarterbacks
2001-03: USC – Offensive Assistant/Quarterbacks
2000: El Camino JC – Quarterbacks
Obstacles to Overcome:
Depth: Scholarship sanctions have significantly reduced USC’s depth. At Pac-12 media days, Sarkisian indicated the Trojans would have around 65 scholarship players in 2014. Needless to say, an injury could be a huge setback to this team, as the depth on the team is razor thin. One area of particular concern is the offensive line, where a couple of freshmen could see time.
Playmakers at Receiver: File this as a minor concern for Sarkisian. Top receiver Marqise Lee must be replaced, but junior Nelson Agholor should be a candidate for All-American honors. But who will emerge as a No. 2 and No. 3 target behind Agholor? Is it sophomore Darreus Rogers? Junior George Farmer or freshman Steven Rogers?
Team Strengths for 2014:
Cody Kessler’s Emergence: Kessler had his share of ups and downs under center early in 2013 but settled into the starting role late in the year. Kessler threw only one interception over the final five games and completed over 60 percent in each contest during that span. Coordinator Clay Helton returns in 2014, and Sarkisian is regarded for his work with quarterbacks and offenses. Kessler should continue to improve this year, especially with standouts at the skill positions in running back Buck Allen and receiver Nelson Agholor.
No. 1 Defense in the Pac-12?: It’s a close call for the No. 1 defense in the Pac-12 this year. Stanford, Oregon, UCLA, USC or Washington each could claim that honor. The Trojans figure to have a strong case for the No. 1 spot, as eight starters are back in 2014. End Leonard Williams, linebacker Hayes Pullard and safety Su’a Cravens could all push for All-America honors. USC held opponents to just 21.2 points per game last year and 4.9 yards per play. Depth is an issue, but the Trojans are strong in the starting 11.
Roster Talent/Recruiting Trends
|Pac-12 Rank||National Rank||Three-Star Prospects||Four-Star Prospects||Five-Star Prospects|
|Rankings from 247Sports Composite|
Despite the late start on building a class for 2014, Sarkisian didn’t miss a beat on the recruiting trail. The Trojans signed the No. 11 class, putting USC’s five-year average at 7.6. USC has plenty of elite talent, inking 12 five-star recruits since 2010. And each class since 2010 has signed at least eight four-star prospects.
With scholarship sanctions coming to an end, USC can sign 25 players in 2015, which will help with the shortage of depth. As of late July, the Trojans rank No. 10 nationally in the 247Sports team rankings and have five-star recruits committed.
Over the last five years, USC’s five-year recruiting average ranks as the best in the Pac-12. The overall numbers aren’t there due to scholarship restrictions, but the Trojans have the best talent in the league.
Sarkisian inherits a roster capable of winning the Pac-12 in 2014. However, this team is just 23-13 in conference play since 2010. Getting elite talent to play up to its recruiting rank and maximizing the roster will be a challenge for this staff.
USC’s schedule is more favorable than its crosstown rival UCLA. The Trojans catch Stanford, Oregon State, California and Washington State in crossover play, while the Bruins play Oregon, California, Washington and Stanford. However, UCLA has won the last two matchups against USC, and the Nov. 22 contest could decide which team wins the South. In non-conference play, the Trojans have a favorable path to a 3-0 record. If USC stays healthy, this team could be a darkhorse contender for a playoff spot in 2014.
Sarkisian’s 34-29 record from his tenure at Washington isn’t particularly overwhelming. However, he inherited a program coming off an 0-12 season and quickly turned the Huskies into a consistent bowl team. Was it fair to expect more of Sarkisian at Washington? Yes. But let’s also not dismiss the difficulty of the Pac-12 North, which featured two national title contenders in Oregon and Stanford.
Sarkisian’s expectations at USC are much higher. Consistently contending for Pac-12 titles and earning a spot in the playoff aren’t unreasonable goals with the talent available in California for the Trojans.
While Sarkisian didn’t elevate Washington into conference title contention, he has a chance to make a splash in 2014. The Trojans return 14 starters and play a favorable schedule. If Cody Kessler continues to improve at quarterback, the offense should take a step forward on the stat sheet. The defense is one of the best in the Pac-12 and should thrive under coordinator Justin Wilcox.
Sarkisian is working with a better roster and is at one of the best jobs in college football. Barring major injuries, finishing 8-5 or 7-6 in 2014 would be a disappointment.
Considering Sarkisian’s experience at the program and all of the resources available, his task is to elevate USC back into national title contention.
While he wasn’t the home-run hire some may have expected for USC, Sarkisian inherits a team capable of winning a Pac-12 title in 2014. And if Sarkisian can take the Trojans to the Pac-12 Championship and an elite bowl, it will be a huge step forward in answering this overriding question: Is Sarkisian is the right hire?
Vegas Expectations: 8.5 over/under (5Dimes)
Athlon 2014 Magazine Projection: 9-3 (6-3)
Even in a year when Kentucky will have an uncharacteristically veteran team, the Wildcats will feature some of the top freshmen in the SEC.
Karl Towns, Tyler Ulis and Trey Lyles all could be impact players in the league for Kentucky even as they fight for playing time on the national runners up. Meanwhile, many other SEC teams are counting on transfers — from Division I and junior college — to keep them competitive in the league.
Florida is looking toward a transfer and the brother of a former All-SEC performer to keep the Gators atop the league. Alabama and LSU are bringing in transfers to play point guard in an attempt to push the Crimson Tide and Tigers into the NCAA Tournament.
Our breakdown of the top freshmen, transfers and players returning from injury continues with the top newcomers who will impact the SEC standings.
1. Karl Towns, Kentucky
Kentucky may have been loaded in the frontcourt even without this freshman class. Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee all return, meaning perhaps Towns won’t be quite as prolific as recent Kentucky freshman big men. Still, he’s a 7-1, 250-pound center who can can stretch a defense. Towns was named the Gatorade High School Male Athlete of the Year in July, the second Kentucky player under John Calipari to win the award. Towns joins 2010 point guard Brandon Knight as a recipient of the award.
2. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
With guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison back, Ulis won’t be asked to score from the backcourt. That’s no problem. He’s much better as a distributor. As the Harrisons took time to grow into their roles as facilitators, the 5-9 Ulis already has that ability locked down. His vision will be an asset to another loaded Kentucky team.
3. Ricky Tarrant, Alabama
Transfer from Tulane
Tarrant will compete with freshman Justin Coleman for minutes at point guard, where Trevor Releford departs. Tarrant was a second-team All-Conference USA selection in his last season at Tulane in 2013-14. Tarrant averaged 15.3 points and 3.4 assists per game in two seasons at Tulane, needing only 66 games to cross the 1,000-point mark.
4. Trey Lyles, Kentucky
John Calipari may need to get creative to keep Lyles, Towns and the rest of his big men happy. Lyles’ natural position may be power forward, but he can also play small forward. Lyles, though, may be off to a slower start as he (and junior Willie Cauley-Stein) will miss Kentucky’s tour of the Bahamas in early August. Lyles is recovering form a procedure on his left leg.
5. Yante Maten, Georgia
Maten was a big get for Mark Fox as the Bloomfield Hills (Mich.) Andover product was considered a strong Michigan State lean in the recruiting process. Instead, Maten will head to Georgia where the 6-8, 225-pound power forward be a player off the glass.
6. Josh Gray, LSU
Junior college transfer
Sophomore forwards Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin need someone to get them the ball with point guard Anthony Hickey transferring to Oklahoma State. Gray from junior college may be the answer. Before heading to Odessa (Texas) College, Gray averaged 9.6 points and 3.3 assists as a freshman at Texas Tech. He’ll be more than a facilitator, though, as Johnny Jones expects him to score in a variety of ways.
7. Alex Murphy, Florida
Transfer from Duke
Florida may have to wait until the second semester to add Murphy to the lineup. When he’s eligible, Murphy will be a stretch four and another transfer on a roster that includes Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech), Jon Horford (Michigan) and Eli Carter (Rutgers). Murphy is the brother of Erik Murphy, who averaged 12.2 points per game in 2012-13.
8. Antoine Mason, Auburn
Transfer from Niagara
Bruce Pearl isn’t the only interesting newcomer at Auburn. The Tigers at Mason, who was second behind National Player of the Year Doug McDermott in scoring last season. Mason averaged 25.6 points per game, but he took an average of 18.5 shots per game to get there. Auburn’s not going to be a great team in the SEC, but the Tigers won’t need to lean nearly as heavily on Mason as 7-26 Niagara did last season.
9. Cameron Biedscheid, Missouri
Transfer from Notre Dame
Biedscheid is another SEC transfer who will have to wait until the second semester to be eligible. New Mizzou coach Kim Anderson is counting on the 6-foot-7, 205-pound guard to be one of his leading scorers, but he averaged only 6.2 points per game during his freshman season at Notre Dame. Biedscheid will join Deuce Bello (Baylor) and Keith Shamburger (Hawaii) in another round of transfers for Missouri.
10. Robert Hubbs, Tennessee
Returning from injury
As the coach who recruited him left for Cal, Hubbs elected to stay with his home-state school. From Newbern, Tenn., Hubbs was was a five-star recruit out of high school but played only 12 games in an injury-shortened freshman season. Hubbs scored in double figures only twice and shot 30.7 percent in limited duty. New coach Donnie Tyndall will need more from one of the few holdovers on his roster.
On Saturday, Derrick Brooks, Ray Guy, Claude Humphrey, Walter Jones, Andre Reed, Michael Strahan and Aeneas Williams will officially be inducted as the latest members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Their legacies as some of the greatest to ever play in the NFL will be cemented with their addition to the ranks of those forever enshrined in Canton, Ohio.
As far as the present goes, projecting which current superstars will eventually wind up in the Hall of Fame is virtually impossible. But that doesn’t mean it’s not any less entertaining (or potentially controversial) to conduct such an exercise.
With that in mind, limiting the scope to those who were drafted from 2010-12 (this year’s class obviously doesn’t count and one year is too small a sample size for the 2013 group, even for this), here is one football fan’s take on the most likely future Hall of Famers.
Class of 2010:
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans
Unquestionably a tight end, Graham has the opportunity to not only shatter records for his position, but also finish with numbers that compare to some of the most productive wide receivers of all time. A beneficiary of playing in a more pass-oriented league and having a future Hall of Fame quarterback (Drew Brees) throwing to him, Graham is at the forefront of the evolution of the tight end position. A matchup nightmare with his combination of size (6-7, 260), athleticism and explosiveness, Graham is averaging 90 catches, 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns over his past three seasons. His future in New Orleans secure after signing a four-year contract, the numbers should only continue to pile up for one of the NFL’s most dangerous pass-catchers.
NaVorro Bowman, LB, San Francisco
A first-team All-Pro each of the last three seasons, Bowman teams with fellow potential Hall of Famer Patrick Willis to form the best linebacker tandem in the NFL. A third-round pick from the 2010 draft that also netted the 49ers All-Pro offensive lineman Mike Iupati (see below), Bowman has been a terror since becoming a starter in 2011. He has averaged nearly 122 solo tackles alone over the last three seasons, along with a total of 22 pass breakups, nine sacks, five forced fumbles and three interceptions. One of the most feared defenders in the game, Bowman will take on a new challenge this season as he works hard to return from the serious left knee injury (torn ACL and MCL) he suffered in the NFC Championship Game loss in Seattle. Given his track record, toughness and work ethic, it should only be a matter of time before Bowman returns to his All-Pro form.
Mike Iupati, OL, San Francisco
Offensive linemen can be hard to judge when it comes to Hall of Fame credentials, since their contributions are not easily measured. That said, it’s tough to argue with the resume that Iupati has already put together, headlined by his two Pro Bowls and 2012 All-Pro season. A mainstay at right guard, Iupati has started every game he has played (60 total) thus far and has helped establish the 49ers’ running game as one of the league’s best. Over the past three seasons, San Francisco’s rushing offense has ranked no lower than eighth in the NFL. Everyone knows that head coach Jim Harbaugh loves to run the football and Iupati is a big reason why.
Other names from this class to keep an eye on:
Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati
A fourth-round steal, Atkins is a highly productive defensive tackle who has posted 29 sacks in just 57 games.
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas
Back-to-back 90-catch seasons with totals of 2,615 yards and 25 touchdowns could become the norm for talented wideout that plays for America’s team.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England
When healthy, Gronkowski on equal footing with Jimmy Graham as an explosive, dynamic tight end that gives opposing defenses headaches.
Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit
Two-time All-Pro really has yet to scratch the surface on his immense talent and potential.
Class of 2011:
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina
After taking the league by storm with his dual-threat abilities upon entering as the No. 1 pick of the 2011 draft, Newton finally put it all together on the field last season. Posting career bests in completion percentage (61.7), touchdown passes (24) and passer rating (88.8), Newton and one of the league’s stingiest defenses powered the Panthers to a 12-4 record and the NFC South division title. The more Newton develops as a passer the more dangerous he will become since he’s already a tremendous threat (5.6 career ypc, 28 TDs) as a rusher. There’s still much more work to do, but Newton has a chance to establish himself as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the history of the game.
J.J. Watt, DE, Houston
Somewhat unknown as the Texans’ first-round pick (No. 11) in 2011, Watt has become one of the NFL”s most feared players in a short amount of time. The 2012 Defensive Player of the Year, Watt has earned back-to-back Pro Bowl invites and first-team All-Pro honors. A terror off of the edge, Watt has collected 31 sacks over the last two seasons, along with 23 pass breakups and eight forced fumbles. He makes plays consistently despite being the No. 1 target of offensive lines and protection schemes and has a motor that just won’t stop. He’s just 25, but any player that draws comparisons to legends like Reggie White and Bruce Smith is certainly worthy of inclusion in this list.
A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati
A three-time Pro Bowler in as many seasons, Green has become one of the most trusted and productive targets in the NFL. He has put together back-to-back seasons of nearly 100 catches, averaging 1,388 yards and 11 touchdowns during this span. With great hands, elite ball skills, impressive athleticism and more than enough speed, Green is the total package when it comes to wide receiver. Whether it’s moving the chains, catching a pass in traffic, breaking off a long play or coming up big in the red zone, Green does everything required of a No. 1 wide receiver, and then some.
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta
A broken foot limited Jones to just five games last season, but there’s no mistaking what he means to the Falcons’ offense. Atlanta traded a total of five picks, including two first-rounders, to Cleveland to move up and grab Jones with the sixth pick of the 2011 draft, and even just three seasons in, no one is second-guessing the team. One of the toughest covers in the NFL, Jones is averaging nearly 16 yards per reception and has caught 20 touchdown passes in a little more than two full seasons’ (34 games) worth of action. The broken foot has caused some to worry a little about how soon Jones will be back to Pro Bowl form, but keep in mind that he’s only 25 years old, is a physical specimen at 6-4, 220 and prior to the injury he was averaging a ridiculous 116 yards receiving over the five games he played in last season. Jones has the tools as well as the opportunity as Matt Ryan’s No. 1 target to post Canton-worthy numbers. And as NFL fans, we are the fortunate ones who get to sit back and watch him work towards that lofty goal.
Other names from this class to keep an eye on:
Von Miller, LB, Denver
One of the NFL’s most feared pass-rushers and defensive playmakers, Miller has 35 sacks and 13 forced turnovers in 40 career games. Just needs to stay healthy (coming back from torn ACL) and focused (suspended first six games last season) to fully capitalize on his immense talent and maximize potential.
Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle
Not afraid to speak his mind, Sherman backs it up with his play on the field and reputation of being the NFL’s top cornerback. A first-team All-Pro each of the past two seasons, Sherman has 20 interceptions in 48 career games, despite opponents making a point of not throwing to whomever he’s covering.
Aldon Smith, LB, San Francisco
Pass-rushing specialist has a mind-boggling 42 sacks in 43 games, but the off-the-field stuff is starting to pile up too. If Smith can get (and then keep) his act together, he could finish among the game’s greatest sack masters.
Class of 2012:
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis
Peyton Manning’s successor in Indianapolis, Luck has been everything advertised since being the first pick of the 2012 draft. All Luck has done in his first two seasons is win 22 games, break the single-season rookie record for passing yards (4,374), earn back-to-back postseason berths, capture a division title and win a playoff game (in his second appearance). Compare that early success to Manning, who didn't win a playoff game until his sixth season (in his fourth attempt). Luck cut his interceptions in half from his rookie (18) to sophomore (9) campaigns while also increasing his completion percentage (from 54.1 to 60.2). Luck has all the tools needed (and then some) to not only be a worthy successor to Manning’s winning legacy in Indy, but also to eventually join No. 18 in Canton.
Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle
Though not as heralded as first-round peers Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III (see below), Wilson is the most accomplished quarterback of the 2012 class to this point. A third-round afterthought due largely to his size (5-11), Wilson seized the starting job in Seattle as a rookie and enters his third season as a Super Bowl champion. Besides the hardware, Wilson also has more wins (24 regular season, 4-1 in playoffs), more TD passes (52) and a better passer rating (100.6) than either Luck or RG3. The doubters silenced, there’s no question Wilson deserves to be mentioned alongside Luck and Griffin when it comes to the 2012 class. There’s also a chance all three could wind up in Canton together too.
Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina
A tackling machine in college, Kuechly has continued in that vein in his first two pro seasons. The Defensive Rookie of the Year when he led the NFL in total tackles (164), he followed that up by winning Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2013. A Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro last season, Kuechly piled up a ridiculous 24 tackles in the playoff-clinching win against New Orleans in Week 16. That was just one shy of Brian Urlacher’s 26-tackle performance in 2006, which is the current record for the most stops in a single game (NFL didn’t start counting tackles as an official statistic until 2000). Whether Kuechly can maintain this pace or not remains to be seen, but he’s certainly off to a good start to putting together a Hall of Fame career.
Other names from this class to keep an eye on:
Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay
A first-team All-Pro last season, David has posted back-to-back 100-tackle seasons while displaying a nose for the ball (5 INTs in 2013).
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington
The 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year, a serious knee injury stumped both RG3’s production and development last season. He still possesses all of the tools, both athletically and personally, to join 2012 draft classmates Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson as candidates for eventual enshrinement in Canton.
Matt Kalil, OL, Minnesota
One of the NFL’s top tackles, Kalil has the added benefit of paving the way for Adrian Peterson, the league’s top running back. Excelling in both run blocking and pass protection, Kalil has the opportunity to assist Peterson in his run to Canton, and vice versa.
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay
One of the league’s most productive players as a rookie, a torn labrum shortened his 2013 campaign to just six games. A threat as both a rusher and receiver, Martin’s presence in the Buccaneers’ offense should allow him the opportunities to return to 2012’s level of production, provided he stays healthy.
Louisiana Tech is planning a one-game switch for its helmet design in 2014.
The Bulldogs usually wear a helmet with the state of Louisiana headlined by a “T” at the top.
In 2014, Louisiana Tech will wear a red helmet with a Bulldog logo for its red out game against UTEP on Oct. 4.
Here’s a look at the alternate helmet: