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Fall college fantasy football drafts are right around the corner and Athlon is here to help win your league in 2014. Athlon Sports has teamed with of to provide the latest rankings for the upcoming year.

 

is the No. 1 place for college fantasy news, rankings and weekly projections during the year.

Below is the projected top 20 fantasy wide receivers for 2014. Want to go deeper? Check out draft kit, which contains keeper league information, more rankings and analysis.

 

Scoring system rankings based upon:

 

All draft values are based on a 12-team, 20-round draft using the following scoring system:

 

Passing—25 pass yds = 1 point

Passing TD = 4 points

Rushing—10 rushing yards = 1 point

Rushing TDs = 6 points

Receiving—.5 points per reception, 10 receiving yards = 1 point, Receiving TDs = 6 points

 

Updated: July 4, 2014, by Joe DiSalvo ()

 

Note: This is not a list of the best players in college football. This is a ranking of the best players in terms of fantasy value (players who will have the best numbers in college football for 2014).


College Fantasy Football: Top 20 Wide Receivers for 2014
 

1. Antwan Goodley, Baylor

 

Check out theCFFsite.com's 2014 draft kit, which contains deeper rankings, keeper league information and other draft content to help you win your league this year.

2. Justin Hardy, East Carolina

 

3. Deontay Greenberry, Houston

 

4. Nelson Agholor, USC

 

5. Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

 

6. Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh

 

7. Jamison Crowder, Duke

 

8. Josh Harper, Fresno State

 

9. DeVante Parker, Louisville

 

10. Titus Davis, Central Michigan

 

11. Jaelen Strong, Arizona State

 

12. Tommy Shuler, Marshall

 

13. Jordan Williams, Ball State

 

14. Devante Davis, UNLV

 

15. Dres Anderson, Utah

 

16. Rashad Greene, Florida State

 

17. Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State

 

18. Shane Wynn, Indiana

 

19. Ronnie Moore, Bowling Green

 

20. Corey Davis, Western Michigan

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College Fantasy Football: 2014 Wide Receiver Rankings
Post date: Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/alabama-football-2014-schedule-analysis
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Nick Saban and Alabama are once again picked to win the SEC. They have the best coach, the best roster and, among most contenders, the best schedule.

 

Every SEC schedule is perilous and extremely difficult relative to the rest of the nation. But Alabama’s schedule — as one of the weaker slates in the conference — isn’t that much more difficult than those of other leagues. Like the Pac-12, for example.

 

Alabama’s 2014 run for a national title is fraught with intrigue, upset alerts and four preseason Top 25 teams. But it is very manageable for a team of this caliber.
 

2014 Alabama Schedule Analysis

 

2014 Bama Schedule

WkDateOpp.
1.Aug. 30 (Atlanta)
2.Sept. 6
3.Sept. 13at 
4.Sept. 20
5.Sept. 27Bye
6.Oct. 4at 
7.Oct. 11at 
8.Oct. 18
9.Oct. 25at 
10.Nov. 1Bye
11.Nov. 8at 
12.Nov. 15
13.Nov. 22W. Carolina
14.Nov. 29
Roll Tide, Roll

The trio of West Virginia, FAU and Southern Miss is as easy a three-game start to the season Nick Saban has had since arriving in Tuscaloosa. The Mountaineers were supposed to be better when the game was scheduled and that could eventually hurt Alabama when it comes to the playoff committee. Either way, Bama should crush its way to a 3-0 start when Florida comes to town in Week 4.

 

Crossover breaks again

Alabama beat Tennessee and Kentucky in crossover play last year. Those two teams combined for 17 losses in 2013 and this year’s tandem for Tennessee and Florida didn't fare much better with 15 combined defeats last season. Florida comes to Tuscaloosa in Week 4 fresh off the worst campaign in school history, but still features plenty of talent. In late October, Bama and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will return to Knoxville. So while both Tennessee and Florida figure to be improved from last year and both games are loaded with storylines, it’s hard to see anything but two big wins for the Tide in SEC crossover play.

 

On the road in October

Critical games with Ole Miss and LSU will happen over a month-long span from Oct. 4 to Nov. 8. Mixed in are two more road trips to Arkansas and the aforementioned Tennessee, as well as a home game with Texas A&M. The bookends are the games to focus on here, as both Ole Miss and LSU are ranked in the preseason Top 20 and both are eyeing SEC West contention. Bama hasn’t lost to Ole Miss since 2003 and has an impressive record against LSU in the state of Louisiana. Alabama has won three out of four against LSU in games played in the state and is 10-4 in its last 14 games versus LSU in The Pelican State.

 

The Final Stretch

The final stretch includes two extremely winnable home games with Western Carolina and Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have only won once in Tuscaloosa since 1997 and that win resulted in a coach getting fired and the arrival of Saban. These two games set up what could be a rematch of epic proportions. Before last year never had the Iron Bowl meant as much as it did, but the SEC West could again be hanging in the balance should things go as planned for both Yellowhammer schools. There won’t be another atmosphere in the country like the afternoon a potential top-five Tigers team rolls into town in the season finale with another SEC title on the line.

 

Related:

 

Final Verdict

In all, Alabama is scheduled to play four preseason Top 25 teams and is a heavy favorite in all but one game (the Iron Bowl). The non-conference schedule is as weak as Saban has had at Bama and while crossover play is more intriguing with Florida involved, the Crimson Tide are still significant steps ahead of both the Gators and Vols. Handling their business on the road with four games in five away from Tuscaloosa in October will be critical but none of the bouts appear to be overly taxing. No, it is likely that Bama again will face Auburn with a perfect record and a berth in the SEC title game at stake at the end of the year.

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Alabama Football 2014 Schedule Analysis
Post date: Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/11-pac-12-stats-you-need-know-2014
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Here are Athlon Sports' favorite, most important and most interesting Pac-12 statistics you need to know about in 2014: 

 

7: Top returning passers in the Pac-12

Oregon State’s Sean Mannion led the Pac-12 and was second nationally with 4,662 passing yards.  Washington State’s Connor Halliday led the nation with 714 pass attempts. Both Marcus Mariota and Taylor Kelly posted in excess of 4,000 total yards of offense last year and both have returned. Potential Heisman candidate Brett Hundley and his 35 total touchdowns return to the league as well. In all, the Pac-12 returns its top seven passers from a year ago, including six who threw for at least 3,000 yards. This group doesn’t include USC’s Cody Kessler, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan or Colorado’s Sefo Liufau. It’s pretty clear which league has the best quarterback play in college football.

 

63-10: Marcus Mariota’s career TD-INT ratio

The Ducks' starting quarterback is the front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014. Many will tell you that’s a bad thing, as a true Las Vegas front-runner hasn’t won the award since… Ricky Williams? But the laid-back, Hawaiian dual-threat is one of the best players in the nation and has his team eyeing a return to the national championship discussion. In two full seasons as the starter, Mariota has tossed 63 touchdowns, just 10 interceptions, completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 6,342 yards and rushed 202 times for 1,467 yards and 14 more touchdowns. He also set the Pac-12 record for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception (353) last year and is 23-3 as a starter. There is a reason and could become one of the few to go wire-to-wire chasing the stiff-armed trophy.

 

1997-98: Last time UCLA won at least 10 games in back-to-back seasons

Jim Mora and the that hasn’t been done at UCLA since 1997-98. That was the last time UCLA won at least 10 games in back-to-back seasons. In fact, UCLA has won 10 or more games in back-to-back seasons only twice in school history with the only other occasion coming in 1987-88. UCLA has never won 10 or more games in three straight seasons, further underlining their status as underachieving little brother. USC won at least 10 games in seven straight seasons (2002-08) and even won 10 games in two heavily sanctioned years since (2011, '13). But that could all change this fall. After going 10-3 and finishing second in the Pac-12 South a year ago, Mora and returning star signal-caller Brett Hundley are poised to reclaim the division title and make a run at a playoff berth.

 

4.84: Washington’s average points per trip inside the 40

Finishing drives is one metric Athlon Sports uses to evaluate teams. How many points does a team score per trip inside the opposition’s 40-yard line? Washington was excellent a year ago at finishing drives, scoring an average of 4.84 points per trip inside the 40. That was good for second in the Pac-12 to only Oregon (4.98) and ranked the Huskies 18th nationally. For new coach Chris Petersen, who won 92 games in just eight years at Boise State, repeating this level of efficiency without Bishop Sankey running the ball will be a tall order. Especially, . Interestingly enough, Oregon also led the league in points per trip inside the 40 on defense (3.69).

 

46: Stanford wins over the last four years

Only the Oregon Ducks (47) have more wins among Big 5 schools over the last four years than Stanford (46). The Cardinal have won at least 11 games in four straight seasons but are replacing star power on both the defense and the offensive line. That said, the reason Athlon Sports is picking Oregon to win the Pac-12 North has nothing to do with depth chart replacements but rather what could be the toughest schedule in college football. Stanford will play six preseason Top 25 teams, including five of the top 16. What's worse? . If fans are looking for a reason for Stanford to take a slight step back this fall, look no further than the schedule.

 

444.8 and 35.1: USC's yards and points per game under Coach Sark

Steve Sarkisian knows his way around Heritage Hall. He was the QB Coach from 2001-03 and from 2005-06 under Pete Carroll. He then took over as the offensive coordinator from 2007-08. During those two years — his last two at USC — his offenses averaged 444.8 yards per game and 35.1 points per game while going 23-3 overall and winning back-to-back conference championships. Last year, USC was 74th in total offense (399.1) and 60th in scoring offense (29.7). Sarkisian's offense failed to score 20 points just three times during his last two years as an assistant coach at USC. Last year, , losing three of those contests.

 

6: Departing All-Pac-12 starters on Arizona State’s defense

Todd Graham has had one of the best defenses in the Pac-12 in each of his two seasons in Tempe. However, after losing nine total defensive starters in the offseason, including six who were either first- or second-team All-Pac-12 selections, his . Ten of the team’s top 12 tacklers are gone as are the top five sack artists on the team. Veteran free safety Damarious Randall is the only returning upperclass starter for a team that will face one of the best offensive schedules in the nation.

 

246.3: Arizona yards rushing per game under RichRod

Rich Rodriguez totally transformed Arizona’s identity overnight. The year before he showed up on campus, Mike Stoops' "Air Raid" averaged 94.5 yards rushing per game. In two years since taking over, RichRod’s teams have finished 15th (227.8 ypg) and 11th nationally (264.4 ypg) in rushing. In 26 games as the Wildcats' head coach, Arizona has averaged nearly 250 yards rushing per game. The last time Arizona averaged over 200 yards rushing per game in a season was 1999 when it posted 218.8 yards per game. RichRod hasn’t posted a winning Pac-12 record yet (4-5 both years) but is a perfect 8-0 in non-conference play including two bowl wins. The again in 2014 and it could make Arizona the sleeper team to watch in the Pac-12 South Division.

 

9: Times the Cougars rushed for less than 10 yards under Mike Leach

In 2012, Washington State rushed for negative yards four times and failed to reach 10 yards rushing five times. In 2013, Wazzu improved and was held to negative yards rushing just once (Colorado State) and failed to reach 10 yards rushing four times. So in nine of the 25 games Mike Leach has coached in Pullman, the Cougars failed to reach 10 yards rushing as a team. For the record, WSU rushed for seven yards against USC, two yards against both Oregon and Arizona State and minus-10 against the Rams. While a Leach-run offense will never be centered around the running game, some to compete for division titles.  The good news is the last-ranked rushing offense from last year (53.4 ypg) was actually markedly better than the last place showing the year before (29.1).

 

13-41: Combined Pac-12 record for Utah and Colorado

Stepping up in competition has been hard for all teams across the nation but has been especially difficult on the Pac-12 newcomers. As Larry Scott has his league poised to challenge the SEC for national supremacy this fall, Utah and Colorado are still trying to find their footing. The duo has combined for go 13-41 in three seasons since joining the league. went 21-3 in Mountain West play the three years prior to entering the Pac-12 and has been 9-18 since. The are 4-23 in Pac-12 play. These are two historic programs that have won a national championship and two BCS bowls in the last 25 years, so 41 losses in three years is unacceptable.

 

529.6: Cal’s total yards allowed per game

Sonny Dykes is a well-respected coach but probably didn’t realize what he was getting himself into when he took the Cal job. In his first year, his defense was historically bad. Cal allowed a Pac-12-worst 529.6 yards per game, ranking 124th nationally — out of 125 teams. The Bears had the worst defense of any of the Big 5 conferences and was better than only New Mexico State’s 549.5 yards per game allowed. Cal’s 45.9 points allowed per game were also dead last in the Pac-12 and among all Big 5 teams, finishing 124th nationally (ahead of only Idaho - 46.8). New defensive coordinator Art Kauffman has orchestrated quick turnarounds at both Texas Tech and Cincinnati over the last few seasons but in Berkeley this fall.

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11 Pac-12 Stats You Need to Know for 2014
Post date: Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-coach-hot-seat-rankings-2014
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Hot seat talk among any college football fanbase never seems to end. Of course, it’s the offseason, so everyone is discussing preseason expectations and predictions. And with expectations of records and bowl games comes the pressure on head coaches.

Every head coach is faced with a different set of obstacles and expectations. For example, Alabama’s Nick Saban is held to a higher standard than Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason.

Keeping realistic program expectations in mind is something that factors into the hot seat talk every year.

 

As the 2014 season approaches, it’s clear the No. 1 coach on the hot seat is Florida’s Will Muschamp. The Gators went 4-8 last season, which included a surprising defeat to FCS (now FBS) opponent Georgia Southern. Despite all of Florida's injuries, going 4-8 with one of the nation's top rosters (in terms of recruiting rankings), didn't sit well in Gainesville. Muschamp needs to show the program is headed in the right direction in order to return in 2015.

After Muschamp, Virginia’s Mike London, Kansas' Charlie Weis, Illinois’ Tim Beckman, Rutgers’ Kyle Flood and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen are just a few names to remember for the hot seat watch in 2014.

Which coaches have the hottest seats in the nation? Athlon Sports has ranked the top 10 coaches on the hot seat for 2014, along with a few names that are starting to feel a little pressure. 

 

College Football’s Coach on the Hot Seat Rankings for 2014

 

1. Will Muschamp, (22-16, 3 years)

Even though Florida was hit hard by injuries last season, it’s still difficult to comprehend how this team went 4-8. Yes, the offense struggled, and the injuries took a toll, but the Gators recruit as well as any team in the nation. With the talent in place at Florida, losing records in SEC play should be rare. However, in three years, Muschamp is only 22-16 and has two 3-5 records in SEC play. Fixing the offense has to be Muschamp’s top priority in order to return to Gainesville in 2015. Kurt Roper (hired from Duke as the new play-caller) has to provide a quick repair on an offense that has finished eighth or worse in the SEC in scoring four consecutive years. Considering four of the Gators’ eight losses came by a touchdown or less, any improvement on offense should result in a bowl. Another losing season or 6-6 record would likely spell the end of Muschamp’s tenure in Gainesville. With crossover games against Alabama and LSU, Florida won’t have much margin for error if it hopes to double its win total from 2013.


2. Mike London, (18-31, 4 years)

London appeared to have Virginia’s program moving in the right direction after winning 12 games in his first two years. The Cavaliers won four games in London’s debut (2010) and finished 8-5 with an appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in 2011. Virginia’s 5-3 record in ACC play in 2011 was only its second winning record in conference games since '05. Since 2011 however, this program has been trending the wrong way. The Cavaliers are 6-18 in the last two years and went winless in ACC play in 2013. But despite the on-field struggles, Virginia’s recruiting hasn’t suffered. London has signed four consecutive top-35 classes, and the . Tough non-conference scheduling, inconsistency at quarterback and staff turnover have all contributed to London’s struggles at Virginia. Without a winning record, it’s tough to see London back in Charlottesville in 2015.


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3. Tim Beckman, (6-18, 2 years)

There have been small signs of progress through Beckman’s first two years in Champaign. The Fighting Illini went 2-10 in a disastrous debut for Beckman in 2012, with only one of the eight Big Ten losses coming by 13 points or less. Illinois was more competitive in 2013, largely thanks to the hire of Bill Cubit as the team’s offensive coordinator. The Fighting Illini ranked second in the Big Ten in passing offense and averaged 29.7 points per game. But the defense continues to be problematic for Beckman, as Illinois has allowed at least 30 points per game in back-to-back seasons. A similar theme could play out in 2014, as Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt should thrive at quarterback in Cubit’s offense, while the defense has question marks at each level. Although a winning record would serve Beckman well, getting to 5-7 and being more competitive against the top teams in the Big Ten might be enough to save his job.


4. Charlie Weis, (4-20, 2 years)

Much like Tim Beckman at Illinois, Weis has made small bits of progress over the last two years. But small progress has resulted in just one Big 12 win for the Jayhawks and an overall 4-20 mark. Weis didn’t inherit a wealth of talent, but the program has yet to take a big step forward. Kansas lost nine games in 2013 and only two – Rice and TCU – came by 10 points or less. Weis is handing over play-calling duties to new coordinator John Reagan, which should allow the third-year coach to be more of a program CEO. Considering Weis went 35-27 in five years at Notre Dame, doubts exist about his ability to turn Kansas into a consistent winner. With 14 starters back, the Jayhawks should have enough returning talent to be more competitive in conference play. But if this team goes winless in the Big 12, Weis may not see a fourth season in Lawrence.


5. Dana Holgorsen, (21-17, 3 years)

With the program shifting from the Big East to the Big 12, it’s tough to evaluate Holgorsen as a head coach after just three seasons. West Virginia went from being the No. 1 program in the Big East to the . And it’s not easy being at a geographic disadvantage in a tougher conference. Holgorsen’s tenure started with a promising 10-3 record and a Big East championship, along with a huge Orange Bowl win over Clemson in 2011. The Mountaineers carried that momentum from the bowl win in 2012 by starting 5-0, but West Virginia finished the season 2-6 and was dominated in the Pinstripe Bowl against Syracuse. In 2013, the Mountaineers slipped to 4-8 and won just two conference games. In an odd storyline, West Virginia has struggled to find a quarterback since Geno Smith expired his eligibility. Considering Holgorsen’s background, it’s a surprise quarterback play is a concern heading into 2014. There is hope for West Virginia to get back to the postseason this year, especially if Clint Trickett can stay healthy at quarterback, and the defense takes a step forward under new coordinator Tony Gibson. Interestingly enough, athletic director for 2014. The Mountaineers need some time to get acclimated to their new conference, as well as improve their recruiting to push for a Big 12 championship. If Holgorsen can show on-field progress – which figures to be difficult with a challenging schedule – in 2014, he should move safely away from the hot seat for 2015.


6. Kyle Flood, (15-11, 2 years)

The Scarlet Knights were one of the biggest winners of the latest round of realignment, landing in the Big Ten’s new 14-team setup. But moving from the Big East/American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten means the stakes and competition are higher. Flood was appointed to the top spot after Greg Schiano left for the NFL in late January (2012) and managed to sign the No. 24 recruiting class. The Scarlet Knights tied for the Big East title in Flood’s first season (2012) and finished 9-4 overall. Rutgers slid to 6-7 in Flood’s second year and . Both sides of the ball will have new coordinators this season, including former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen as the offensive play-caller. Friedgen should help bolster an offense that managed only 26.5 points per game in 2013, but the defense – especially the secondary – will be a work in progress. Flood has a tough assignment ahead, as he guides the program through a difficult conference transition. With Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State on the schedule every year, Rutgers is facing an uphill battle just to get to a bowl game on a consistent basis.


7. Norm Chow, (4-20, 2 years)

Chow’s hire was greeted with much fanfare in Honolulu. As a native of Hawaii, this was viewed as a good fit for a program looking to rebound after Greg McMackin posted three seasons of at least seven losses from 2008-11. However, two years into his tenure with the Rainbow Warriors, Chow has struggled to get the program on track. Hawaii went 3-9 in Chow’s debut and won just one game in 2013. The Rainbow Warriors were more competitive on the scoreboard last year, losing five games by a touchdown or less. For Hawaii to increase its win total in 2014, Chow needs to find a quarterback and hope new defensive coordinator Kevin Clune can solidify a unit that gave up 38.8 points per game in 2013. With three Pac-12 non-conference games, along with a road trip to Rice in early October, Hawaii could be 1-4 before opening Mountain West play against an improving Wyoming team. Chow likely has a longer leash than some coaches on this list, but he needs to show the Rainbow Warriors are moving closer to the top teams in the Mountain West this year.


8. Bill Blankenship, (22-17, 3 years)

Blankenship inherited plenty of talent from former coach Todd Graham and went 19-8 in his first two seasons at Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane went 14-2 in conference play during that span and won the Liberty Bowl in 2012. However, Tulsa struggled mightily last year. The Golden Hurricane had a significant amount of roster turnover and slumped to 3-9 (2-6 in C-USA play). Blankenship isn’t to blame for all of the struggles last year, but with Tulsa moving to the American Athletic Conference, he needs to show marked improvement in 2014. Of course, that’s easier said than done with a non-conference schedule that includes Oklahoma and a tough road date at Colorado State, while road trips to UCF and Houston await in American Athletic play.


9. Ron Turner, (1-11, 1 year)

Turner was an odd hire after the surprising dismissal of Mario Cristobal. Prior to the 2013 season, Turner had stops as a head coach at San Jose State and Illinois, recording a 42-61 mark in nine seasons. Turner was hired at FIU after one season as an assistant at Tampa Bay, and the Panthers finished 1-11 in his debut. FIU’s only win was a one-point victory over Southern Miss (1-11 in 2013), and the Panthers lost to FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman 34-13. FIU also ranked near the bottom nationally in scoring offense (9.8 points a game) and scoring defense (37 points allowed per game). The Panthers still have talent in the program and 15 starters return for 2014. If Turner can win a couple games and show the team is headed in the right direction, he should be safe in the 2014 offseason. However, another one- or two-win season would likely end his tenure at FIU.


10. Paul Johnson, (47-32, 6 years)

Considering Johnson has never finished below .500 in ACC play at Georgia Tech, it seems odd to place the seventh-year coach on the hot seat. But the Yellow Jackets failed to build off a strong start to Johnson’s tenure, which included a 19-7 mark and an ACC title (2009) through the first two years. Only once over the last four seasons has Georgia Tech finished with more than seven wins, while the program has just one bowl victory under Johnson’s watch. for Johnson, as he inked two top-50 classes from 2010-11, but the Yellow Jackets have signed the Nos. 52, 76 and 54 recruiting hauls over the last three seasons. Although the option offense is often criticized, Georgia Tech has ranked among the top five in the ACC in yards per play (conference-only games) in six out of the last seven years. 


Getting Warm?

 

Dan Enos, (19-30, 4 years)

After starting his tenure 6-18, Enos has made slight improvement in the win column over the last two years. The Chippewas have gone 13-12 the past two seasons and won the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2012. However, a deeper look at Enos’ results shows Central Michigan has defeated only two teams with winning records over the last two years. With 16 starters returning, along with Northern Illinois and Ball State losing some key personnel, the Chippewas have the potential to climb in the MAC West standings this year. Central Michigan went 32-7 in MAC games from 2005-09 but is only 13-19 under Enos in conference play over the last four years.

 

Brady Hoke, (26-13, 3 years)

Hoke’s tenure at Michigan started on a high note, as the Wolverines finished 11-2 and won the Sugar Bowl in 2011. But that’s been the peak of Hoke’s three-year run in Ann Arbor so far. Michigan is just 15-11 over the last two seasons and finished 3-5 in Big Ten play in 2013. Recruiting certainly hasn’t been an issue for Hoke, as the over the last three years. Despite the edge in talent, Michigan’s win total has declined since the 2011 season, and the offense ranked No. 10 in the Big Ten in total yards per game last year. The talent is there for the Wolverines to make a jump in wins. But can Hoke find answers on the offensive line and help the defense reach its potential in 2014?

 

Bo Pelini, (58-24, 6 years)

Pelini might be the toughest coach in the nation to judge for either of these sections. He’s 58-24 in six seasons with the Cornhuskers and has won at least nine games every year. Nebraska has also finished in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll for five consecutive years. Despite all of Pelini’s highlights, there are lofty expectations in Lincoln. Is nine wins the best-case scenario for this program in the current climate of college football? Or is Nebraska still capable of being a top 10-15 team on a consistent basis? If you believe the recruiting rankings, the Cornhuskers are winning at an appropriate level relative to their talent ().

 

Kyle Whittingham, (76-39, 9 years)

It’s hard to place Whittingham anywhere near the hot seat given his track record at Utah prior to the move to the Pac-12. But since joining the Pac-12, the Utes are 18-19 and the win total has declined in conference play for two consecutive years. Moving from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 wasn’t an easy task for Utah, so it will take some time to recruit and develop depth to compete with the top teams in the Pac-12 South. However, in a slight surprise, the Utes have . Utah inked the No. 42 class in 2010 and slipped to No. 47 in '13 and No. 63 in '14. Whittingham shouldn’t be in any danger, but he could move to the hot seat section if the Utes miss out on a bowl for the third consecutive year.

 

Kevin Wilson, (10-26, 3 years)

Indiana has made noticeable improvement in Wilson’s three years. The Hoosiers went 1-11 in 2001 but improved to 4-8 in '12 and 5-7 last year. Indiana was just a few plays away from making the postseason, losing to Navy by six and to Minnesota by three points. Make no mistake: This is not an easy job. Wilson has transformed Indiana into one of the Big Ten’s best offenses (38.4 points per game in 2013), but the defense continues to struggle. Although there has been progress, the Big Ten’s new divisional alignment will present a challenge for Wilson. Playing Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State every year won’t leave much room for error in terms of wins and losses for Indiana. Wilson shouldn’t be on the hot seat, but with a tough division, the Hoosiers can’t afford to slip too far behind in 2015.

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College Football's Coach on the Hot Seat Rankings for 2014
Post date: Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/reviewing-most-important-college-football-news-summer
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College football has made plenty of news this summer, and some of it hasn’t involved attorneys or conference realignment.

The summer — officially — has recently begun, but it’s starting to feel like the season is just around the corner. Part of that is because we’re less than 50 days away from the first day of the season. And SEC media days, the unofficial kickoff to the preseason, begins next week.

Rosters are starting to settle into place with transfers in, transfers out and all the violations of team rules to bring about suspensions and dismissals.

If you’ve stepped away from the minutiae of college football news, that’s OK. We’ll help you get caught up. Here are the key developments since spring practice that could impact the 2014 season.

1. Oklahoma takes a chance on Dorial Green-Beckham
The dismissal of Dorial Green-Beckham from Missouri in April was perhaps the biggest personnel shakeup in college football in spring practice. That is, until he landed at Oklahoma. The Sooners may seek a waiver for Green-Beckham to play this season since he was dismissed from Missouri rather than leaving as a traditional transfer. That he was dismissed after he was named a suspect in a burglary incident . , Green-Beckham pushed a woman down at least four stairs, but the alleged victim declined to prosecute. Whether he’s eligible in 2014 or 2015, Oklahoma adds a former No. 1 overall recruit who amassed 883 receiving yards with 12 touchdowns for the SEC East champions.

2. Jameis Winston experiences summer as a Heisman winner
Every summer news nugget is a little bigger and a little more ridiculous for underclassman Heisman winners. Just ask Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel and now Jameis Winston. The sophomore quarterback brought some of this on himself when he walked out of a grocery store without paying for crab legs, an alleged heist that launched . Other than that, Winston spent the summer with the Florida State baseball team, striking out 31 batters in 33.1 innings, and . The latter is notable because he is the first defending Heisman winner since Sam Bradford to purchase such a policy. Others have purchased “total permanent disability” policies.

 

3. Max Wittek did not end up at Texas
At one point, Texas looked like it would have former USC starting quarterback Max Wittek in its fall camp as a contender for the job in 2014. Those plans fell apart when Wittek did not graduate in spring and wouldn’t be eligible for the upcoming season. Instead, Wittek and be eligible in 2015. That leaves incumbent David Ash and Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard at Texas’ quarterback position.

4. Washington regains a quarterback, loses a receiver
For most of spring practice, the assumption was that Cyler Miles would eventually become Washington’s starting quarterback this season. That came a step closer to becoming official when coach Chris Petersen . At the same time, wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow transferred to Ole Miss. Both players were mentioned in an alleged assault of Seahawks fans on the night of the Super Bowl. Miles was not charged, and Stringfellow pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors.




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5. Jake Heaps joins uncertain QB situation in Miami
Solid (or better) quarterback play at Miami used to be a given. That hasn’t been the case for a few years, and certainly not this offseason. Projected starter Ryan Williams went down with a torn ACL in April, and although he he’s hopeful to return in time for the opener, that’s a quick turnaround for knee reconstruction. If Williams is unavailable, Miami’s quarterbacks are down to redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen, who struggled in the spring, two true freshmen and now Jake Heaps. Heaps was a highly regarded prospect out of high school but lost a starting job at BYU and then Kansas before transferring to Miami. Heaps has thrown 32 touchdowns and 27 interceptions in three seasons.

6. No more Joker Phillips at Florida
The revolving door that is Florida’s wide receiver coach position continued when Phillips resigned abruptly in early June. Phillips was photographed sitting with a recruit in a restaurant during a dead period in recruiting, . He was replaced by graduate assistant and former Florida quarterback Chris Leak, the fourth receivers coach in four seasons. This also means the end to .

7. Missouri loses an assistant
Schools lose assistants all the time, but the retirement of co-offensive line coach Bruce Walker was unique on a couple of fronts. First, Walker retired in July. Second, he was a part of one of the most stable coaching staffs in the country. Walker was one of six assistants who had been with Gary Pinkel at least since he started at Missouri in 2001.

8. Clemson spends $4.42 million on assistants
How much is a coaching staff worth? At Clemson, the . Defensive coordinator Brent Venables and defensive ends coach Mario Hobby both earned raises, and the entire staff earned deals to extend them for the next two years. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris, a potential head coaching candidate, was the only assistant who did not get a new deal.

9. Eastern Michigan announced it will start losing on a new field
OK. So we made part of that up. But Eastern Michigan rarely wins and decided to with a new gray turf at Rynearson Stadium that will be nicknamed “the Factory.”
 

 


10. St. Petersburg Bowl gets new sponsor
Normally, bowl sponsors aren’t big news ... unless said sponsor makes weedeaters or slays taxes. Joining the pantheon of great bowl sponsors is the , which will sponsor the St. Petersburg Bowl.

11. James Franklin ruffles feathers
The SEC is normally ground zero for coaches saying interesting things on the booster and fan fest circuit. Nice to know James Franklin took that with him from Vanderbilt to Penn State. Franklin said Maryland may as well be the Nittany Lions’ home state and other programs “don’t have a chance.” Maryland coach Randy Edsall responded by saying “.” Worth noting that Maryland and Penn State are now division rivals in the Big Ten and Franklin was once Maryland’s head coach-in-waiting.

12. Clint Trickett named West Virginia’s starting quarterback
Most starting quarterback announcements either occur at the end of spring or during preseason camp. There are a handful, though, that trickle out during the summer. West Virginia announced Clint Trickett as its starting quarterback for the opener against Alabama after he recovered from shoulder surgery. Trickett, the  Florida State transfer, started at West Virginia during the second half of last season, including an improbable win over Oklahoma State.

13. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson cleared to play
The Utes quarterback will get a chance to finish off his career on a high note after he was cleared in late June to return to football. Doctors had been watching an injury to an intracranial artery, an ailment discovered after Wilson sustained a concussion Nov. 9. Utah started 4-2 last season, including an upset of Stanford before a hand injury derailed Wilson’s and Utah’s seasons.

14. Notre Dame gets DaVaris Daniels back
Notre Dame’s most experienced receiver was reinstated after academic concerns held him out of spring practice. Between Daniels’ return to the team and Everett Golson’s return from a year-long absence, the Irish have at least one formidable pass-catch duo down the field.

15. Lastly, a few of the notable dismissals, departures and transfers:
• Texas A&M’s struggling defense took a hit when the Aggies dismissed starting linebacker Darian Claiborne (89 tackles) and nose guard Isaiah Golden after they were charged with aggravated robbery in June.
• The Aggies’ quarterback situation also cleared out when Matt Joeckel elected to transfer to TCU. He’ll be eligible in 2014 as a graduate transfer and could compete for the starting job.
• Georgia dismissed projected starting safety Tray Matthews after he was one of four players charged with theft by deception after allegedly trying to cash scholarship checks twice. Matthews announced he intends to transfer to Auburn.
• Miami immediately dismissed linebacker Alexander Figueroa, a projected starter, and Jawand Blue after they were charged with sexual battery on a physically helpless victim on July 5.
• Baylor dismissed wide receiver Robbie Rhodes, one of the school’s major recruiting victories in 2013. Rhodes had been arrested in May on charges of marijuana possession and tampering with physical evidence. A second violation of team rules during the summer prompted his dismissal.
• Indiana quarterback Tre Roberson announced he’d transfer. Roberson had passed for 2,443 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for 973 yards the last three seasons. Roberson was expected to share the job with Nate Sudfeld.
• After a move from part-time quarterback to full-time wide receiver, Kansas State’s Daniel Sams transferred to McNeese State, where he’ll be eligible immediately.
• UConn running back Lyle McCombs won’t return to the Huskies after new coach Bob Diaco announced he was no longer with the team. McCombs is the schools fourth-leading career rusher.

 

 

Teaser:
Reviewing the Most Important College Football News of the Summer
Post date: Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: player rankings, tight end, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2014-nfl-player-rankings-tight-ends
Body:

In the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports’ , we called on Ourlads Scouting Services to rank the NFL’s best at every position on the field. When it comes to determining who is the best , , , linebacker, cornerback, etc., who better to make that determination than a company that’s been in the gridiron talent evaluation business for nearly three decades?

 

Now that there’s no dispute (at least in the NFL’s eyes) that Jimmy Graham is a tight end, there’s absolutely no risk in revealing that Ourlads ranks him No. 1 at his position. Even though he played more than half of last season with a partially torn plantar fascia, Graham still put up numbers (86 rec., 1,215 yards, 16 TDs) that wide receivers dream about, forget tight ends.

 

Right now Graham simply has no peer and that could be the case even if Rob Gronkowski was healthy. Gronk and Graham both ushered in a new era for the tight end with their breakout 2011 campaigns, but Tom Brady’s favorite target has missed (14) nearly as many games as he’s played (18) over the past two seasons. If both are healthy and survive the entire season this could be an entertaining head-to-head battle, if you will, to watch this fall.

 

Rankings courtesy of

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Tight Ends

 

1. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans

Led the Saints with 86 receptions for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns. Excellent eye-hand coordination. Exceptional leaping ability to high-point the ball. Has developed his route-running over the past four years and is a matchup nightmare.

 

2. Rob Gronkowski, New England

Struggled with health issues in 2013. A big red-zone target with long arms. Physically dominates in the end zone. Can’t be covered one-on-one. Has soft hands with the ability to make the tough catch.

 

3. Vernon Davis, San Francisco

Has elevated his week-to-week and year-to-year consistency to become one of the NFL’s most complete blocking and receiving tight ends. He scored 13 touchdowns among his 52 receptions in 2013.

 

4. Jason Witten, Dallas

Performed at a high level again in 2013. The 32-year-old has been a model of pass-catching and blocking consistency over his career.

 

5. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia

He began to assert himself as the season wore on. He became a reliable blocker and receiver, particularly in two-tight end formations.

 

6. Delanie Walker, Tennessee

Had as big a season as the Titans could hope for after he departed San Francisco. The athletic receiver and willing blocker caught 60 passes for 571 yards and six touchdowns.

 

7. Coby Fleener, Indianapolis

Stepped up last fall to fill a void after budding star Dwayne Allen missed all but one game with an injury.

 

8. Julius Thomas, Denver

Had a breakout season and hauled in 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. The former basketball star is a matchup problem with his size and speed.

 

9. Martellus Bennett, Chicago

Responded in his first year with the Bears by snagging 65 passes for 759 yards and stepped up his in-line run-blocking.

 

10. Ladarius Green, San Diego

Made his move in 2013 to receive the pass-catching torch from dependable veteran Antonio Gates. He is fast, athletic and has reliable hands.

Teaser:
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Tight Ends
Post date: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: player rankings, wide receiver, WR, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2014-nfl-player-rankings-wide-receivers
Body:

In the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports’ , we called on Ourlads Scouting Services to rank the NFL’s best at every position on the field. When it comes to determining who is the best , , wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback, etc., who better to make that determination than a company that’s been in the gridiron talent evaluation business for nearly three decades?

 

There’s little debate, if any, that Calvin Johnson is the top wide receiver in the NFL. Besides holding the single-season record for receiving yards (1,964, 2012), the man known as Megatron has averaged 88 yards per game over his seven seasons. That is No. 1 all-time, even better than Hall of Famer Jerry Rice (75.6 ypg), who is considered the greatest of all-time at the position. If anyone has a chance to potentially supplant Rice as the GOAT, it’s Johnson.

 

In fact, the top four in career receiving yards per game can be found in Ourlads’ top 10. After Johnson, this list goes Andre Johnson (82.2 ypg), A.J. Green (81.6) and Julio Jones (80.5). That said, there is only one team in the league that boasts two of the top 10 wide receivers. The Chicago Bears have both Brandon Marshall (No. 4) and Alshon Jeffery (No. 8) to torment opposing defenses. Two explosive pass-catchers (not to mention the and No. 9 TE) AND a lucrative, seven-year contract? Jay Cutler is a lucky man.

 

Rankings courtesy of

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Wide Receivers

 

1. Calvin Johnson, Detroit

Shrugged off some injuries and caught 84 balls, racking up 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall. A rare combination of measurables, athletic ability and intelligence. Can break a tackle or make a defender miss.

 

2. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona

Has been a reliable, sure-handed and consistent playmaker over his career, and 2013 was no different with 82 receptions, 954 yards and 10 touchdowns. A polished route-runner who changes up his speeds well to set up defenders.

 

3. A.J. Green, Cincinnati

An explosive All-Pro talent. Has rare quickness and leaping ability. A consistent and sharp route-runner with a strong and wiry build.

 

4. Brandon Marshall, Chicago

Led the Bears with 100 receptions and was second in yards with 1,295. He is also an uncompromising blocker. A physically strong wide receiver who can beat coverage with quickness or strength.

 

5. Andre Johnson, Houston

Will be 33 this season but hasn't slowed down. Once again, he led the Texans with 100-plus catches and 1,400-plus yards. An imposing physical specimen who is an excellent athlete.

 

6. Demaryius Thomas, Denver

A physically gifted receiver who led the Broncos with 92 receptions and 1,430 yards. A playmaker who will reach and extend for the ball away from his body. Uses his size and strength to dominate between the hash marks.

 

7. Josh Gordon, Cleveland

An exciting and emerging talent for the Browns. Has the speed to get behind secondaries and take the ball away from small defensive backs. Explosive player after the catch.

 

8. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago

Had a breakout year, leading the Bears with 1,421 yards and catching 89 passes. Many of his catches were of the circus-style variety. Makes plays with his big frame and long arms.

 

9. Dez Bryant, Dallas

Is a roller coaster of emotions, but his talent is undisputed as is his production — 93 catches for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

 

10. Julio Jones, Atlanta

Was hurt last year and finished the season on injured reserve. He is a big, physical receiver with rare speed for his size. Will sacrifice his body for the ball.

 

11. Anquan Boldin, San Francisco

12. Percy Harvin, Seattle

13. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay

14. DeSean Jackson, Washington

15. Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay

16. Keenan Allen, San Diego

17. Eric Decker, NY Jets

18. Michael Crabtree, San Francisco

19. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh

20. Golden Tate, Detroit

21. Marques Colston, New Orleans

22. Marvin Jones, Cincinnati

23. Wes Welker, Denver

24. Nate Washington, Tennessee

25. Kendall Wright, Tennessee

26. Pierre Garcon, Washington

27. Michael Floyd, Arizona

28. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis

29. Julian Edelman, New England

30. Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis

Teaser:
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Wide Receivers
Post date: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-july-9-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 9:

• In honor of Germany's historic 7-1 beatdown of Brazil, enjoy .

.

• Brazilians waxed: . While it was happening, .

.

• This is hilarious: .

• Schadenfreude alert: .

: physical anomalies at every position.

• Irony, or something: .

. What's next, calculating WAR for duck-duck-goose?

• Have a hankering for a two-foot taco? .

• Germany's goals get the Jim Ross treatment.

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 10:45
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas Longhorns, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/texas-football-2014-schedule-analysis
Body:

A new era of Texas football is set to begin in a few weeks.

 

Charlie Strong steps into the most powerful athletic department in the nation with immediate pressure to win games. His roster is loaded with elite recruits but there are some serious questions marks under center and along the offensive line.

 

Most believe the coaching staff Strong has assembled is perfectly constructed to manage the Horns' areas of weakness (i.e., the O-line). But this team won’t compete for a national playoff spot unless it can maneuver a very difficult schedule.

 

2014 Texas Schedule Analysis

 

2014 Texas Schedule

WkDateOpp.
1.Aug. 30
2.Sept. 6
3.Sept. 13 (Arlington)
4.Sept. 20Bye
5.Sept. 27at 
6.Oct. 4
7.Oct. 11(Dallas)
8.Oct. 18
9.Oct. 25at 
10.Nov. 1at 
11.Nov. 8
12.Nov. 15at 
13.Nov. 22Bye
14.Nov. 27
Non-conference showdowns

The start of the Strong Era in Austin won’t be an easy one. Certainly, an easy win over North Texas should be expected in the season opener. However, the next two games will be dripping with national intrigue. No one in Burnt Orange has forgotten what Taysom Hill and BYU did to the Texas rushing defense last year and now BYU comes to Austin. The following week, a national playoff spot could be up for grabs when a likely top 10-ranked UCLA squad comes to The Lone Star State to play the Horns in Arlington. Both games are winnable for Strong and it would make a huge statement should Texas start the year 3-0.

 

Two most important games

After Texas opens Big 12 play on the road against lowly Kansas, the two most important games of the year will take place in back-to-back weeks. Baylor comes to town in Week 6 while Texas will have to head back to The Cotton Bowl for the Red River Showdown the following week. These two teams are picked No. 1 and 2 in the Big 12, and if Texas wants to compete in the league, the Longhorns will have to — at minimum — split with the Bears and Sooners. The good news is neither matchup will come as a true road game. Texas also will essentially have three weeks to prepare with an off weekend falling before the Kansas game.

 

Tricky true road tests

After facing Baylor and Oklahoma in back-to-back weeks, Texas will get a slight breather with Iowa State coming to town in Week 8. However, the Horns will need to get healthy quickly as the two toughest true road games loom when the calendar flips to November. Texas will visit Kansas State and Texas Tech and could be playing for a Big 12 title (or possibly more).

 

Home stretch

The home stretch is fairly manageable for Strong and company. West Virginia at home should be an easy win and TCU, who is expected to be a much improved team, should be another win in the season finale — especially, with an off weekend before to prepare. A road trip to Stillwater looks a lot tougher late in the year than early, as Mike Gundy’s very inexperienced team should improve throughout the season. Either way, with two home games and a bye week in the final four weeks, Texas could cruise home to a Big 12 title if it can win the tough early games.

 

Related:

 

Final Verdict

The bad news is Texas is breaking in a brand-new coach and could face three top 10 opponents as well as five other potential bowl teams. The good news is Texas won’t face any of the top 10 opponents (Baylor, Oklahoma, UCLA) in a true road game. And a loss to UCLA doesn’t do anything to the Big 12 race. A split early with Baylor and Oklahoma would set up massive road trips to Manhattan, Lubbock and Stillwater late in the year. Should Texas get on a roll early, the front-loaded schedule could be a blessing for Strong in his first season.

Teaser:
Texas Football 2014 Schedule Analysis
Post date: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Fantasy, News
Path: /college-football/college-fantasy-football-2014-running-back-rankings
Body:

Fall college fantasy football drafts are right around the corner and Athlon is here to help win your league in 2014. Athlon Sports has teamed with of to provide the latest rankings for the upcoming year.

 

is the No. 1 place for college fantasy news, rankings and weekly projections during the year.

Below is the projected top 20 fantasy running backs for 2014. Want to go deeper? Check out draft kit, which contains keeper league information, more rankings and analysis.

 

Scoring system rankings based upon:

 

All draft values are based on a 12-team, 20-round draft using the following scoring system:

 

Passing—25 pass yds = 1 point

Passing TD = 4 points

Rushing—10 rushing yards = 1 point

Rushing TDs = 6 points

Receiving—.5 points per reception, 10 receiving yards = 1 point, Receiving TDs = 6 points

 

Updated: July 4, 2014, by Joe DiSalvo ()


Visit to play college fantasy football in 2014.
 

Note: This is not a list of the best players in college football. This is a ranking of the best players in terms of fantasy value (players who will have the best numbers in college football for 2014).


College Fantasy Football: Top 20 Running Backs for 2014
 

1. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin

 

Check out theCFFsite.com's 2014 draft kit, which contains deeper rankings, keeper league information and other draft content to help you win your league this year.

2. Jeremy Langford, Michigan State

 

3. D.J. Foster, Arizona State

 

4. Todd Gurley, Georgia

 

5. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska

 

6. Mike Davis, South Carolina

 

7. Jay Ajayi, Boise State

 

8. Tevin Coleman, Indiana

 

9. Travis Greene, Bowling Green

 

10. Byron Marshall, Oregon

 

11. Jahwan Edwards, Ball State

 

12. Duke Johnson, Miami

 

13. Kareem Hunt, Toledo

 

14. Jamaal Williams, BYU

 

15. Shock Linwood, Baylor

 

16. Ezekiel Elliot, Ohio State

 

17. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama

 

18. Javorius Allen, USC

 

19. Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State

 

20. Thomas Tyner, Oregon

Teaser:
College Fantasy Football: 2014 Running Back Rankings
Post date: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/north-carolina-football-2014-schedule-analysis
Body:

It’s been since 1997 that the Tar Heels did two things. It was the last time North Carolina finished a season ranked in the AP poll and it was the last time it posted an ACC record with fewer than three losses.

 

Larry Fedora has thoughts of ending both of those droughts in 2014.

 

Fedora has recruited well enough to be considered one of the contenders in a very deep, balanced and impossible to predict ACC Coastal Division. There are holes to plug on both sides of the ball and the team needs to get more consistent across the board.

 

This means week-in, week-out consistent production against one of the more difficult ACC schedules. 
 

2014 North Carolina Schedule Analysis

 

2014 UNC Schedule

WkDateOpp.
1.Aug. 30Liberty
2.Sept. 6
3.Sept. 13Bye
4.Sept. 20at 
5.Sept. 27at 
6.Oct. 4
7.Oct. 11at 
8.Oct. 18
9.Oct. 25at 
10.Nov. 1at 
11.Nov. 8Bye
12.Nov. 15
13.Nov. 20at 
14.Nov. 29
Easier start?

The Tar Heels started the season 1-5 last year with an ugly loss to South Carolina in the season opener. North Carolina should begin this fall in much better fashion. Wins in the first two games are musts and a victory over giant-killer and in-state rival East Carolina on the road could easily give UNC a 3-0 start — especially, with two weeks to prepare for the Pirates. From there, however, things toughen up considerably.


Late September grind

The toughest stretch of the schedule appears to be from Week 5 through Week 8. North Carolina will play its toughest non-conference game against Notre Dame on the road, the best ACC team it will play in Clemson on the road and possibly the two most important divisional games of the year against both Tech schools at home. Virginia Tech, picked to win the Coastal, has to come to Chapel Hill but the Tar Heels must face the Hokies smack dab between arguably the toughest two teams on the schedule in Clemson and Notre Dame. North Carolina could crumble during this stretch (like, say, 1-3) or could set itself up for an ACC title run (with a 3-1 mark).

 

Coastal Round-Robin

The Coastal Division is always wide open and the Tar Heels get a couple of breaks in the round-robin with Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Pitt all coming at home. Having to visit Miami and Duke won’t be easy but if UNC can hold serve at home, it has a good shot at being in the thick of division contention all the way to the end of the season. The road trip to Miami on Nov. 1 could become a de facto division title game should The U take steps forward on defense.

 

Difficult stretch run

The final three games of the year won’t be easy for Fedora’s guys. Pitt is much improved and won’t be an easy out at home in Week 12. Then the year ends with back-to-back rivalry games within the state against the defending Coastal champs — who figure to be much better at season’s end — and an improving NC State team. The important divisional games may already be behind the Heels at this point of the year, but these final three weeks will be very tricky and important. The good news is North Carolina gets a bye week to catch its breath in Week 11 after not getting a break from Week 4 through Week 10.

 

Related:

 

Final Verdict

There is a lot to like about the Tar Heels entering 2014. There is talent to work with and Fedora should have his system well in place entering his third season. The schedule breaks up into three distinct pieces with an easy first three games, a brutal middle stretch and a manageable but tricky final swing. Should Carolina make it to the bye week with only one or two ACC losses, it will have as good a chance as any team to win the Coastal Division. A three-loss team could easily win the division if the three losses come against the right opponents.

Teaser:
North Carolina Football 2014 Schedule Analysis
Post date: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/qa-michigan-states-shilique-calhoun
Body:

You can call Shilique Calhoun whatever you want — he has at least three nicknames so far — but be sure to call him one of the best defensive ends in the nation.

 

Calhoun, a 6'4", 257-pound fourth-year junior from Middletown, N.J., shunned early entry into the NFL, despite a first-round draft grade, to return to with the intent of earning his degree and leading the Spartans into the College Football Playoff.

 

finished last season 13–1 and ranked No. 3 in the nation after a 24–20 victory over Stanford in the Rose Bowl and a 34–24 win over previously unbeaten Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.

 

Calhoun scored three defensive touchdowns for the Spartans in 2013 and recorded 7.5 sacks, 14 tackles for a loss and 18 QB hurries en route to being named the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year.

 

Coordinator Pat Narduzzi, whose defensive units have ranked in the nation’s top six each of the past three seasons, referred to Calhoun as “Shilique the Freak’’ in the days leading up to the Rose Bowl.

 

Athlon Sports caught up with the loquacious Calhoun, the unofficial spokesman of Spartan Nation, during the offseason.

 

Why did you choose Michigan State?

 

The biggest reason for me to come to was not only the players, but also the coaches. It was like a close family here. Being here I was a part of a family. I didn’t feel like I was leaving home. My mom loved it here, and after my official visit here, she told me Michigan State was the measuring stick. When I came here, I actually had a Mohawk, and the guys at the table were having fun with me. It was like they were my older brothers, so I felt like it was family, even though they didn’t know who I was, and I was a simple recruit. It was like they’d known me for years. I just bought into this program.

 

Why do you think you weren’t rated higher than a 3-star recruit coming out of high school?

 

I’m not worried about where I’m rated or ranked. I feel like if I come out and play as hard as I can each and every day, I’ll be fine. Those stars and numbers don’t mean much to me. Part of the ratings process is going to camps, and I didn’t go to many; Rutgers was the only camp I went to. I didn’t have the resources to go to those camps. What I could do was go hard every play. It did push me to work harder. It was a motivator for me to work hard.

 

What are your various nicknames, and where did they come from?

 

Bane, Lynx … it depends on who you’re talking to. Different people have different nicknames for me. I have so many because of the personalities I have with different people. I don’t switch up, but sometimes I may be happy or sad. The nicknames vary. I don’t know really where they come from. I love Bane, I think that’s one that will stick with me when I’m 50. It is unique, and people around the country know it. Hopefully I can get Lynx to stick, too. I want a couple nicknames, because I like to change things up.

 

Other than Michigan State, what is your favorite place to play in the Big Ten?

 

Other than Spartan Stadium, the Woodshed, it would have to be Michigan. Seeing all those Michigan fans booing you out there on the field and telling you how much you suck. That pushes me. I can’t deal with Nebraska, who’s so nice to you. That’s kind of off base. Playing at Michigan, they want to throw you down and give you all these negative comments.

 

What’s your least favorite place to play in the Big Ten?

 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big Ten Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

It would have to be Minnesota. It’s the icy tundra. It’s too much. We played there two years ago, last game of the season. It was freezing. I thought my fingers were going to fall off, and I wasn’t even outside yet. That has to be my least favorite because of the weather.

 

Why did you choose to come back for another season?

 

I would say one main reason was I wanted to get my degree. My mom and my dad were unable to obtain a college degree, so I felt that would be even greater than

making it into the NFL. It’s something that’s special to my family, and something that would be special to my mom would be walking across that stage. But another reason is I wanted to come back and have another year with my brothers. Being out there is like nothing else, running out of the tunnel and playing in front of Spartan Nation is a blessing, and I didn’t feel ready to give that up. I wanted to come back another year, and do great things, and please the coaches, and please the crowd, and play more games with guys I love and the guys I have built relationships with.

 

Who is the best offensive lineman you’ve gone against?

 

I have two. The best offensive lineman I’ve gone against when it pertains to run-blocking would be (Spartan center) Jack Allen, because he was a wrestler, and that man is great with his hands. He knows exactly where to place them to get you off balance. The best pass-protector would be (Spartan left tackle) Jack Conklin. He does that best on this team. He has an idea of the type of ways you’ll set, and how you’ll use your hands. Bull-rushing him isn’t going to work. He’s 320 pounds, so that’s not going to work. He’s not moving. Those are the best I’ve gone up against so far. Just when I think I’m getting a step ahead, they are finding new ways to win against me.

 

Who is the best running back you’ve faced?

 

There are two. One would be (former Spartan and current Pittsburgh Steeler) Le’Veon Bell. He did things you wouldn’t think a guy his size could do. Hurdling guys at 240, but then he wasn’t afraid to run you over and he could also spin. You never knew what you were going to get. The other one is (current Spartan tailback) Jeremy Langford, a guy with a lot of speed who was definitely an underdog. People didn’t know he was as good of a player as he is before last season because we had other great running backs. He’ll beat you with speed, and he’ll try to run you over, also. He’s not big on chopping you. If he has to pass-protect, he’ll stand you up and hold his ground, going against guys 260 and 300 — he doesn’t take the easy way out.

 

Which teammate would make the best coach?

 

That’s a hard one. Two guys come to mind, actually. I would say (former MSU linebacker) Max Bullough definitely. He knows defensive schemes. He knows offensive schemes. He knows the game of football, and his family is embedded into football. He knows all aspects of the game. Then (former MSU defensive end) Denzel Drone. He was an aggressive football player, but he knows how to work with little kids. It didn’t seem like it fit him because of how aggressive he was, but he could work with kids, and he could calm himself down. He was one of my teachers that I looked up to that mentored me. Coming in, I knew close to nothing about football, and he was definitely an influential person to me.

 

What is your hidden talent?

 

My hidden talent would be that I can actually do gymnastics. I can do backflips. When I was younger, me and my brother would try to find different things to do. That was one of the neat things we taught each other, watching other people do it, it was like, “I kind of know what to learn.” Of course, I fell on my head a couple of times, but I was always a trooper, I got back up, and I got back at it, and still to this day I can do it, even at this size. When people see it, they’re like, “Really? That just happened? Do it again.” I definitely don’t do it as often as I used to, but here and there I’ll do a couple flips for the kids.

 

Something interesting that we don’t know about coach Mark Dantonio?

 

Where it pertains to me, something people wouldn’t know is I have not gotten yelled at by Coach Dantonio yet. Maybe I’m doing something right, sitting up straight in the meeting room, or looking him in the eye. That man is a hard book to read sometimes, even for his players. But he is someone willing to talk to you, even though his facial expressions might not always indicate it. He is always willing to listen.

Teaser:
Q&A with Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun
Post date: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas Longhorns, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/charlie-strong-right-hire-critical-time-texas
Body:

Player after player rotated through Charlie Strong’s office at 15-minute intervals. It was mid-January, and the dead period for recruiting was about to end.

 

Strong was about to leave Austin to crisscross the state and try to salvage Texas’ 2014 recruiting class, some of whom he’d never met — with three weeks left until Signing Day. But before he left, he wanted to make a personal connection with each of his players. It was critical in Strong’s mind, not only for first impressions, but also because he knew they were about to be subjected to the grueling workouts of his hulking strength and conditioning coach Pat Moorer.

 

“When a young man knows you care about him, then he’ll do everything that you ask of him,” says Strong, who went 23–3 the past two seasons at Louisville.

 

Much like a military officer conducting basic training, Moorer’s job would be to break down players and rebuild them while Strong was out selling recruits on helping to “Put the ‘T’ back in Texas.” In Strong’s mind, that ‘T’ stands for toughness, trust, togetherness and teamwork.

 

“Those things have to happen,” Strong says.

 

To make those things happen, Strong outlined his expectations for the players, most of which he learned coaching under Lou Holtz at Notre Dame and South Carolina: Live on campus the first three years; go to class every day and sit in the first two rows; no texting in class; no hats, headphones or jewelry in class; no drugs; no stealing; no guns; and treat women with respect.

 

Players were told coaches would be checking on them constantly to ensure compliance.

 

The consequences for violations:

 

A first offense would result in the player running.

 

A second offense would involve that player’s position group running.

 

A third offense would involve the position group and position coach running.

 

A fourth offense would involve the whole team running.

 

Strong also suggested to his new players they not throw their horns up — the hand gesture that has become synonymous with the Longhorns — until they earned that right and truly appreciated what it meant.

 

Gone, too, were the air-conditioned buses that used to take players the half-mile from the football complex to the practice fields.

 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big 12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Then, Strong introduced players to Moorer, who never smiles, and puts injured players in “the pit,” where they often work out harder than the healthy players.

 

Two players — safety Leroy Scott, who expected to be in the two-deep this season, and backup fullback Chet Moss — were dismissed from the team before spring ball. Others were told to pick it up.

 

When Strong wrapped up recruiting on Signing Day, he said his top priority was getting to know his players.

 

“For right now, I just need to find out who this football team is without distraction,” Strong said at the time.

 

Strong doesn’t sleep much, usually five to six hours tops. He gets up every weekday morning at 4:30 a.m. and runs five to six miles. It’s when he clears his mind and sets his priorities for each day. It also allows him to show his players that they are not outworking him.

 

“Every time we work out at 5:30 a.m., he’s already full of sweat,” says Texas offensive coordinator Joe Wickline. “Whatever he’s going to ask a player or a coach to do, he’s going to do more, and that’s an unbelievable mark of leadership.”

 

Strong, a former walk-on at Central Arkansas who can still bench 350 pounds according to friends, spends a lot of time in the weight room with his players. He talks trash, stirs them up, challenges them to bench-press contests and constantly pushes them.

 

“Don’t let this 53-year-old man outwork you,” he yells.

 

And while several Texas players say they’ve never worked harder than they have since Strong arrived, they say it’s what was needed.

 

“I’m sure everybody, at some point in their career, has had hard coaching,” says junior defensive tackle Malcom Brown. “When the new staff came in, I just felt like everybody knew by the way Coach Strong was talking he was serious about what he was going to do. And everything he said he was going to do, he has done.

 

“He outlined the punishments for us, and if you mess up, you’re going to get in trouble. They’re on that. So I feel like everybody knows we have to stay in line. If we do, we’re going to get it right.”

 

Strong knows the key is getting close to his players. So he took the electronic key card locks off the coaches’ offices. He invited players to come hang out in his office or do their homework in his conference room. If they didn’t show up, he reminded them until they did.

 

“He’s always visible, always around them,” says assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson. “He shows the demanding side and shows the humorous side. He does a great job from a fathering aspect. We’ll go to class. We won’t go to interrupt things. We’ll go to make sure the guys are there.

 

“Charlie raises these guys,” Watson adds. “And it’s the same way with the assistants. We want the players around us. They’re starting to be up around our offices now, which is really good. We’re going to be in a foxhole together. The more you get to know each other, the closer you are, the faster you get through issues.”

 

Texas athletic director Steve Patterson has said he narrowed a list of 30 candidates to six to replace Mack Brown. Those finalists included James Franklin, now at Penn State, UCLA’s Jim Mora, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and Baylor’s Art Briles.

 

In the end, Patterson says he was struck by Strong’s desire to have the interview in the kitchen of his Louisville home with Strong’s wife and two daughters sitting there with him.

 

Strong stressed to Patterson that he was relentless about his players going to class and graduating, because he knows it’s the ticket to a better life for many kids who couldn’t otherwise afford an education. And he’s all about building toughness and togetherness through discipline and structure, because he knows kids need it and respond to it, even though they may think otherwise at first.

 

“He’s a tireless worker,” says Wickline, who coached with Strong at Florida under Ron Zook in the early 2000s. “He’s unbelievably organized.

 

“The players see that. The morals he stresses and the fact that he truly cares about them graduating and being a successful human being — you can’t fake that. And it pours out of him.”

 

While Strong was the defensive coordinator at Florida, where he helped win national titles in 2006 and 2008 under Urban Meyer, he recruited quarterback Chris Leak.

 

Leak says Texas will never have to worry about being labeled soft again under Strong.

 

“It’s the mindset he brings,” Leak says. “You see it reflected in the program. You’ve seen it at Louisville. They bought in. Everyone there. Charlie’s been through a lot of adversity in coaching, getting passed over for a bunch of jobs, and all he’s done is prove himself over and over.

 

“As a team, you take on the personality of your coach, and his toughness is one of the biggest things you see reflected.

 

“He’s had that drive to succeed from Day 1. That’s who he is. He’s goal-oriented and has his priorities straight. He wants to win it all, and he has a plan. Charlie always has a plan. He’s always prepared. He wakes up thinking about every detail.”

 

Written by Chip Brown () for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 Big 12 Football Preview Editions.  to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Teaser:
Charlie Strong: The Right Hire at a Critical Time for Texas
Post date: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/11-sec-stats-you-need-know-2014
Body:

Here are Athlon Sports' favorite, most important and most interesting SEC statistics you need to know about in 2014: 


39-3: Nick Saban at home since 2008

Since his first year in Tuscaloosa, Nick Saban is 39-3 at home in Bryant-Denny Stadium. During that stretch, Alabama has never lost more than once at home during a season, posted three perfect records and is currently on a 10-game home winning streak. That said, Alabama was beaten at home by Texas A&M (2012), LSU (2011) and Auburn (2010) in marquee national showdowns. Saban and the Crimson Tide will host Auburn, Texas A&M, Florida and Mississippi State in 2014. For what it’s worth, Saban has an SEC-best nine-game winning streak in crossover play as well.

 

69.7: Alabama’s opposing completion percentage in losses

Alabama under Saban is 72-9 overall in the last six seasons, finishing ranked in the top 10 in each season. The common thread, however, among those nine losses has been the Tide’s inability to stop the pass. In nine losses over the last six years, Alabama allowed 69.7 percent passing with 12.2 yards per completion. In 72 wins, Alabama allowed just 49.8 percent passing. In the last three losses, the opposing QB has been incredibly effective. Trevor Knight completed 72.7 percent of his passes in the Sugar Bowl, Nick Marshall was good on 68.8 percent of his throws in the Iron Bowl and Johnny Manziel chucked it around at a 77.4 percent clip in the historic upset in 2012. this fall.

 

85.3%: South Carolina’s returning letterman

The Gamecocks suffered some marquee departures on both offense (Connor Shaw) and defense (Jadeveon Clowney) but, by one metric, Steve Spurrier’s bunch is the most experienced team in the nation. South Carolina lost just 10 out of 68 players who earned a letter last year, . Are there holes to plug along the defensive line or at cornerback? Of course, but the Cocks return their entire offensive line, a star tailback and a deep linebacking corps. By comparison, Georgia ranks as the 73rd most experienced team in the nation (68.9 percent returning) while Florida is 57th (70.0) and Missouri is 111th (61.9).

 

466.6: Yards per game allowed in SEC play by Auburn

Folks down on The Plains don’t like the word luck when it comes to their improbable run to the SEC title last year. But the ball definitely bounced the Tigers' way last fall as Auburn went 6-1 in games decided by one score or less — with the lone defeat coming in the national title game. While Gus Malzahn’s offense was an utter juggernaut a year ago (), this defense, statistically, had no business playing in the BCS national title game. The Tigers allowed 466.6 yards per game in SEC play in 2013, just ahead of winless Arkansas (475.3) and historically bad Texas A&M (499.1). This team allowed 32.4 points per game against Big 5 teams with a winning record, including 35.5 points per game in its final four contests. By comparison, only 10 times in the previous five seasons did an SEC team allow more than 400 yards per game in league play. One really good sign for Auburn? The Tigers led the SEC in third-down defense a year ago (33.0 percent).

 

27: Total TDs scored by Florida in 2013

Florida was 113th in scoring offense last year at just 18.8 points per game. The Gators managed an SEC-worst 27 total touchdowns scored. Among all Big 5 schools, only Kansas (22) and Purdue (23) reached the end zone fewer times than the traditional SEC East powerhouse. Will Muschamp’s offense was also 113th nationally in total touchdowns scored and both Navy’s Keenan Reynolds and Colorado State’s Kapri Bibbs scored more touchdowns individually (31) than the entire Florida roster. Additionally, the Gators' managed just 3.5 points per trip inside the 40-yard line, ranking 112th nationally. Muschamp better hope .

 

4.6: Losses per year for Georgia over the last five years

Despite two SEC East championships in the last three years, Mark Richt is still losing nearly five games per season in Athens. Three times in the last five years (2009, ’10, ’13) the Dawgs lost at least five times for an average of 4.6 losses per year over the last half-decade. this fall but it’s hard to pick Richt to accomplish something he hasn’t done since 2002 — which is lose just once in a season. In fact, since the 13-1 SEC title run of 2002, Georgia has lost an average of 3.6 games per season. No one questions his resume — eight double-digit win seasons, only one losing campaign — but the Bulldogs have only finished the season ranked twice in five years. The fans in Athens haven’t had many lows but also haven’t had an SEC title since 2005.

 

22,681: Maty Mauk's high school record for career national total offense

Nick Marshall is, rightly so, the SEC’s preseason first-team quarterback. But Missouri’s by season’s end. Mauk enters the starting lineup with as impressive a prep resume as there has ever been. He owns the national high school records for career total offense (22,681), passing yards (18,932), touchdown passes (219) and completions (1,353). Missouri was 7-1 in games in which Mauk attempted a pass last year and his brief taste of SEC action should be enough to motivate the very confident young gunslinger. The loss of some talented wide receivers is a concern but the offensive line and scheme stability are among the league’s best. Fans shouldn’t be surprised if Mauk is neck-and-neck with Marshall for the SEC’s total offense lead at season’s end.

 

3,701: Bo Wallace's total offense yardage in 2013

Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Connor Shaw, James Franklin and Zach Mettenberger have all departed the SEC leaving a massive void under center in the nation’s top league. Marshall is the first-team option but it’s actually Ole Miss’ Wallace who is the league’s returning leader in total offense. His 3,701 yards of total offense were No. 2 last year to only Manziel and were well ahead of third place (Murray: 3,261). His 284.7 yards per game were No. 3 in the league and Wallace to date in Oxford now that he is fully healthy.

 

33.3: Average starting position for Vanderbilt

The Commodores average starting field position was the 33.3-yard line — good for seventh nationally and tops in the SEC. The Dores' defense was excellent at getting third-down stops and creating turnovers, giving the offense the best starting position of any team in the SEC. However, Vanderbilt’s offense didn’t capitalize on its good fortune. The offense averaged just 5.4 yards per play, ranking 80th in the nation in offensive efficiency. Derek Mason’s as the previous regime, but he and coordinator Karl Dorrell will need to improve their offense’s efficiency if Vandy wants to reach a fourth straight bowl game.

 

15.8%: LSU's returning receiving yards

As a team, LSU caught 205 passes for 3,263 yards and 23 touchdowns last fall. Of those numbers, only 35 receptions (17.1%) and 515 yards (15.8%) return to the team. No returning player caught more than seven passes or posted more than 145 yards receiving last season. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. combined for 136 receptions, 2,345 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2013, becoming just the third duo in SEC history to top 1,000 yards in the same season (Florida, 1995 and 2001). Both left early for the NFL along with the team’s third-leading receiver, tailback Jeremy Hill (18 receptions). These departures leave sophomore wide receiver Travin Dural (7 rec., 145 yds) and senior fullback Connor Neighbors (7 rec., 92 yds) as the team’s leading returning receivers. Needless to say, this isn’t a good year for Les Miles .

 

1977: Last time Kentucky had a winning SEC record

Mark Stoops has the , both on and off the field. But he is battling history in the worst way, as Kentucky hasn’t posted a winning SEC record in nearly 30 years. Four times (1993, 1998-99, 2006) the Wildcats finished 4-4 and twice (1979, ’84) they went 3-3, but Big Blue Nation hasn’t had a winning SEC season since the perfect 1977 campaign (10-1, 6-0). Despite the obvious momentum in Lexington, odds are this streak will continue in 2014.

Teaser:
11 SEC Stats You Need to Know for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /nascar/nascar-rookie-report-are-cup-newbies-making-passing-grade
Body:

Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith will evaluate the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report will include twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with the drivers and more.

 

Today, David analyzes the first- and second-quarter passing splits of rookies from the 2014 season.

 

 

Splitting the first half of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season into two quarters allows us to evaluate the growth of the seven rookies in this year’s crop. Average finishes, which tend to be the default barometer of success in NASCAR, have altered — and a lot of that can be contributed to team growth — but just how well have the newbies assimilated to their surroundings?

 

I’m choosing to pay close attention to each driver’s passing splits. Now, some tracks might be kinder to specific drivers (i.e., Kyle Larson favors banked tracks, Michael Annett comes alive at big tracks, etc.) but in large improvements we can ascertain that a driver is adjusting to life in a difficult division of the sport reasonably well.

 

The passing numbers I utilize for the Cup Series are adjusted passing efficiency (APE), which measures the percentage of pass encounters that are successful passes while omitting pit road gains under green-flag conditions, and surplus passing value (SPV), which measures the average difference between a driver’s actual efficiency in a single race versus the expected efficiency from a driver in their average running position, telling us how well a driver passes against the driver in his or her “track position neighborhood.”

 

When you break down the digits of this number-centric sport, passing is a peripheral number that helps explain the greater goal; the ultimate measure of a driver is his or her position at the conclusion of the final lap, and passing is one explanation as to how the result came to be.

 

 

Kyle Larson, , has become a more potent passer. Securing an efficiency of 53.07 percent in the first nine races — that’s pretty stellar right there; 50 percent means that exactly half of your pass encounters are positive passes, and anything beyond that is in the black — he saw a sly increase to 53.42 in the second nine. This is a pretty major development for two reasons.

 

First, that Larson ranks third in the Cup Series in adjusted pass efficiency (he trails Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick) is a big deal, and potentially foreshadows future success. Second is the fact that Larson’s average running position hasn’t fluctuated much — it was 18.8 after the first nine races; to date it is 18.9 — meaning he is improving in his surroundings as well. Of all Cup Series rookies, he saw the third-biggest increase in surplus passing value (plus-1.8 percent), but it might be the most impressive step forward considering he holds the best average running position among them.

 

While Larson has gained, Justin Allgaier, , has regressed.

 

At one point a plus passer (“plus” meaning he passed above the magic 50 percent mark), Allgaier has slipped back into the red, recording a 49.63 percent efficiency in the second nine races and holding a 49.97 percent efficiency for the season. His rookie-best SPV in the first quarter of the season (plus-2.91 percent) saw the biggest drop in the second.

 

One reason for this drop may be due to a minor improvement in running position, going from a 25.3 average place to a 25.0, which means he is more frequently among better-running cars that prove more difficult to pass. The drop in efficiency and value does not completely explain his gargantuan three-position drop in average finish, though (from 24.9 to 27.9).

 

Allgaier and crew chief Steve Addington didn’t have much success in closing races through the season’s first quarter, retaining their position at a race’s 90 percent-to-go mark 66.7 percent of the time for a loss of 16 positions. They’re foible exacerbated in the second quarter; they retained that 90-percent position 55.6 percent of the time and accrued a loss of 39 positions during those stints. The losses in position can be attributed to being passed on the track and on pit road, or due to car setups that lose speed, evident by his two-position drop in average green-flag speed from the third quarter of races (he ranks 26th) to the fourth quarter (ranks 28th).

 

The greatest improvements in efficiency and value belong to Ryan Truex, who increased his efficiency by 3.51 percent and his surplus value by 5.87 percent; however, this didn’t manifest in an improvement of race results. His average finish — from 34.8 through the first nine races to 35.3 in the second — saw a half-position decrease. If the driver became more adept at getting through traffic, what, exactly, transpired to make his finishes worse?

 

His DNFs across the splits increased from one to four, which included three terminal crashes at Talladega, Kansas and Daytona. One could argue that two of those — Talladega and Daytona — were just bad luck. He crashed only four times across the eight races for which he qualified (a frequency of 0.5 times per race); he crashed three times across his first seven starts (a frequency of 0.43), which led to one DNF. The impact of a crash, which determines the damage amount, can often be considered a dice roll. The solution to this problem is to simply crash less. Carnage isn’t the lone culprit for his results decline, though.

 

On his third crew chief of the season, Truex has also dealt with race-callers that appear to vary in pit strategy philosophy. Through the first nine races Dale Ferguson and Doug Richert combined to lose three positions via short-pitting tactics, which is a predominately balanced number. In the next nine races, Richert and Joe Williams provided Truex with a 17-position loss. The team was actually headed in a positive direction in this regard prior to Kentucky, but in the last two races, they gave away 14 and six positions each during green-flag pit cycles. Sure, Truex is becoming a more able passer, but all of his numbers are in sub-50 territory. There isn’t anything that suggests he would be able to make up a significant loss in track position.

 

For Truex, passing has been a significant area of improvement, but the team as a whole, attempting to get the best possible result, requires more gains in other areas to capitalize on a driver that we’re watching mature on a spreadsheet.

 

 

David Smith is the founder of and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projection, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at

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Teaser:
David Smith analyzes the first- and second-quarter passing splits of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookies from the 2014 season.
Post date: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 13:35
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2014-whos-number-1
Body:

You have the first pick in your fantasy football draft and you are on the clock. Who are you taking? Peyton Manning may have lapped the field in fantasy scoring after his record-breaking season, but does that mean you should take him with the No. 1 pick?

 

Not according to the Athlon Sports editors and fantasy football contributors who were posed this exact question. In fact, everyone was in agreement that the first player taken should be a running back, not a quarterback. Which one? Well that apparently is something clearly up for debate.

 

Related: 

 

Jamaal Charles for No. 1

As my draft results in this magazine’s mock draft proved, I’m behind Jamaal Charles as the 2014 No. 1 overall pick. In his first season under new head coach Andy Reid, with Alex Smith at quarterback, Charles posted a career season, with highs in yards, touchdowns, receptions and fantasy points. His 19 touchdowns were five more than the second-best running back.

 

It has often been said that you should draft this year’s fantasy team, never last year’s. There is one caveat with that saying — the person with the No. 1 overall pick shouldn’t be guessing at this year’s best fantasy player. He should take the guy who, barring injury or major offseason roster overhauls, is the best player in fantasy and has yet to be knocked from his seat.

— , /

 

Jamaal Charles for No. 1

This is not exactly a safe pick, because of Charles’ stature — listed at just 199 pounds by the NFL — and injury history, but Charles was the workhorse in Andy Reid’s running back-friendly offense. He is the reigning scoring leader thanks to his added use in the Chiefs’ short passing game, racking up 70 receptions for 693 yards. Charles can take the ball to the house on any given play, and he will touch the ball well over 300 times again, if he stays healthy.

 

Perhaps the clincher is we all should be inclined to knock some value off LeSean McCoy, because the Eagles added Darren Sproles to take some receptions from their lead back. Charles is very clearly his team’s No. 1 weapon. He also happens to be at his physical prime of age 27, which is the same year Adrian Peterson went over 2,000 yards. A.P. is too close to 30. Charles is No. 1 this preseason. 

,

 

Jamaal Charles for No. 1

Is it not said, “To the victor go the spoils”? Well, in that case, Jamaal Charles should be the choice for No. 1, unless you think Peyton Manning will replicate his record-breaking success from last season. After all, Charles not only led all running backs in fantasy points in 2013, but he also finished with more points than every player but five quarterbacks. And only Manning and Drew Brees outscored Charles by more than 12 points.

 

As difficult as it will be for Charles to duplicate his 19 total touchdowns from last season, let’s not forget that he finished third in rushing yards, even though he wound up 10th in the NFL in carries. The appeal with Charles is that you know Andy Reid will do whatever he can to get the ball to him, as evidenced by his 70 catches, and it’s not like the Chiefs have upgraded their pass-catchers this offseason. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Charles gets more than the 329 touches he got in 2013. If that’s the case, who wouldn’t take the guy who has averaged 5.6 yards per carry in his career? 

,

 

LeSean McCoy For No. 1

Chip Kelly’s high-powered offense led the NFL in rushing last season, as the Eagles averaged 5.1 yards per carry and finished with an average of 160.4 yards per game. LeSean McCoy was the team’s workhorse on the ground, posting career-high numbers in carries (314) and rushing yards (1,607). McCoy has never recorded back-to-back seasons of more than 270 carries, but Chris Polk and Darren Sproles won’t eat into his workload in 2014.

 

Another factor working in McCoy’s favor is his offensive line. Philadelphia kept its starting five intact, which should allow McCoy to push for 1,600 yards again. Even if McCoy doesn’t match last year’s rushing yards, he has two scoring areas in which to improve in 2014. He had just two touchdown catches despite hauling in 52 passes, and he recorded only nine scores on the ground on 314 attempts.

,

 

LeSean McCoy For No. 1

If you’re sitting in the top spot, grab LeSean McCoy over Adrian Peterson.

 

I took no college math classes, but even I can see regression potential throughout Jamaal Charles’ 2013 numbers. He more than doubled his career high in total touchdowns and blew up his receiving stats. And then the Chiefs lost their three highest rated O-linemen — according to Pro Football Focus — in free agency.

 

McCoy vs. Peterson is close only because Peterson is superhuman. His 2,000-yard 2012 shows why you can’t judge him by the late-career decline of most backs, but he has missed seven games over the past four years.

 

McCoy’s 26, he just finished leading the league in touches and rushing yards, and he still has touchdown upside. He also tied for just sixth in rushing scores last year despite playing for the league’s No. 4 scoring offense.

— ,

 

Matt Forté for No. 1

In his first year in Marc Trestman’s offense, Matt Forté jumped nine spots from 2012 to finish behind Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy for third place in fantasy points among running backs. And the biggest difference between Forté and leading scorer Charles was the seven additional touchdowns the Chiefs’ workhorse scored.

 

That said, the Chiefs lost three starters on the offensive line, and they still didn’t address the receiver position. Also, De’Anthony Thomas was drafted as a situational back, and Knile Davis is expected to chip away at Charles’ workload. Meanwhile in Chicago, rookie fourth-rounder Ka’Deem Carey is the only one set to challenge Forté. You can’t go wrong with Charles, McCoy or even Adrian Peterson, but I prefer Forté and the weapons around him more than any of the other three. 

,

 

Adrian Peterson for No. 1

Adrian Peterson is the best running back to come through the NFL in a long while, and there is no reason to expect a slowdown for All Day — at least, not in 2014. His long-term keeper value is certainly more of a question, but for the immediate future, there is no one better in the league than Peterson. The Vikings’ offensive line was one of the better run-blocking units in the league last year. In seven pro seasons and three college campaigns, Peterson has never scored fewer than 10 touchdowns and only once rushed for fewer than 1,000 yards — and that was due to his torn ACL late in 2011. He’s not yet 30 years old, and, with rumors swirling about this being his swan song in Minnesota, A.D. should be extremely motivated to produce in ’14. 

,

 

Athlon Sports' 2014 Fantasy Football magazine is now available for purchase at newsstands everyone or online. The ultimate draft-day resource, this year's edition features 419 in-depth player reports, informative features, a 20-round mock draft, team-by-team analysis from NFL beat writers and much more. Whether your fantasy league is head-to-head, roto, PPR or IDP, this magazine has all the stats and insight you need to help you get ready for the upcoming season.
Teaser:
Fantasy Football 2014: Who's Number 1?
Post date: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: fullback, player rankings, running back, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2014-nfl-player-rankings-running-backs
Body:

In the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports’ , we called on Ourlads Scouting Services to rank the NFL’s best at every position on the field. When it comes to determining who is the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback, etc., who better to make that determination than a company that’s been in the gridiron talent evaluation business for nearly three decades?

 

Even though the NFL has become more of a pass-happy league in recent seasons, there’s still plenty of talent at running back. Adrian Peterson, whose career average of 98.2 yards rushing per game ranks third all-time behind only Jim Brown and Barry Sanders, won’t turn 30 until March and checks in at No. 1. LeSean McCoy, the reigning rushing champion, is next followed by Jamaal Charles, whose 5.6 yards per carry average is tops (min. 1,000 rushing attempts). One other thing worth noting, the lifespan of an elite running back isn’t as long as other positions, as evidenced by the fact that 31-year-old Frank Gore (no. 5) is the only one in the top 10 who is older than 29.

 

Related:

 

And not to be left out, Ourlads showed some love to the fullbacks as well. Usually called on to block more than to tote the rock, a valuable fullback’s contributions can’t be overlooked. Of the top five identified by Ourlads, three (Anthony Sherman, John Kuhn and Bruce Miller) led the way for 1,000-yard rushers last season.

 

Rankings courtesy of

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Running Backs

 

1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota

Rushed for 1,266 yards despite being banged up in 2013. Powerful, strong and punishing are his descriptors. Classic downhill runner who gets yards after initial contact.

 

2. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia

Is one of the league’s elite runners and is the feature back in Chip Kelly’s run-oriented high-performance offense. Excellent vision, cutting ability and running skills. Dangerous in space.

 

3. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City

Is a slashing downhill runner who can catch the ball out of the backfield. He produced 1,287 yards as the Chiefs’ leading ball-carrier and snatched 70 passes as the leading receiver.

 

4. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle

His physical running style is catching up to him despite being only 28. Runs between the tackles with battering-ram power. Is blessed with exceptional contact balance and breakaway speed.

 

5. Frank Gore, San Francisco

He is the perfect back for this offense as both the featured runner and pass-protector. The ageless warrior is a competitive runner with great vision and balance. Runs through arm tackles. Has top-level run skills and instincts.

 

6. Matt Forté, Chicago

Was as productive and versatile as any back in the league last year with 1,339 rushing yards and 594 receiving yards. Quick feet in the hole. Finishes his runs with strength.

 

7. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo

A shifty and speedy back who teams up with Fred Jackson to give the Bills a solid one-two punch. A cutback runner with good vision and rare quickness. Quick-twitch enough to get yards out of a poorly blocked play.

 

8. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay

Was voted the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year after rushing for 1,178 yards. Ran with a low pad level and gored tacklers at times like he was back in the SEC. A thick and powerful runner who excels tackle to tackle.

 

9. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh

Is an ascending talent who was drafted in the second round in 2013. He started off slowly with some nagging injuries, but by season’s end was the hammer the Steelers selected.

 

10. Ryan Mathews, San Diego

Had a breakout season in 2013, rushing for 1,255 yards. He was a completely different back playing healthy for the first time in his career. Presses the hole and runs behind his pads.

 

11. DeMarco Murray, Dallas

12. Darren Sproles, Philadelphia

13. Reggie Bush, Detroit

14. Ray Rice, Baltimore

15. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay

16. Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati

17. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans

18. Knowshon Moreno, Miami

19. Fred Jackson, Buffalo

20. Arian Foster, Houston

21. Alfred Morris, Washington

22. Zac Stacy, St. Louis

23. Chris Johnson, NY Jets

24. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina

25. Danny Woodhead, San Diego

26. Joique Bell, Detroit

27. Andre Ellington, Arizona

28. LeGarrette Blount, Pittsburgh

29. Rashad Jennings, NY Giants

30. Trent Richardson, Indianapolis

 

2014 NFL Player Rankings: Fullbacks

 

1. Anthony Sherman, Kansas City 

A willing blocker who has some “pop” in his kickout blocks. Good vision, feet and strength to lead on isolation blocks. Has the courage to create off-tackle running lanes by driving his legs on contact.

 

2.  Mike Tolbert, Carolina
A versatile role player who is tough as a third-down runner and receiver out of the backfield. Has had a positive impact on kickoff and punt coverage units. An explosive blocker with a low pad level.

 

3. John Kuhn, Green Bay
Is an explosive and effective lead-blocker. Solid in pass-protection. A collision player who can put a linebacker or safety on his back. Also productive as a core special teams contributor.

 

4. John Conner, NY Giants
A consistent lead-blocker who takes pride in his blocking. A classic short-necked fullback who is physical kicking out or sealing an off-tackle defender. A major special teams coverage talent.

 

5. Bruce Miller, San Francisco
Is a high-motor, great-effort finisher who sells out every play. A productive lead blocker who is key to the Niners’ physical running game.

Teaser:
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Running Backs
Post date: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-july-8-2014
Body:

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

• According to her Instagram account, .

• Ever wanted to see Prince Fielder naked? . To borrow a phrase from Seinfeld, that's not good naked.

. In his defense, it really wasn't a flattering image. Wonder if I'm risking a subpoena by linking to it?

.

• This is old, but still funny: .

.

.

• Something for the nerds:.

.

.

• The cops are out of control. .

• That crafty old Derek Jeter is getting by on his wits these days.

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 10:44
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Fantasy, News
Path: /college-football/college-fantasy-football-2014-quarterback-rankings
Body:

Fall college fantasy football drafts are right around the corner and Athlon is here to help win your league in 2014. Athlon Sports has teamed with of to provide the latest rankings for the upcoming year.

 

is the No. 1 place for college fantasy news, rankings and weekly projections during the year.

Below is the projected top 20 fantasy quarterbacks for 2014. Want to go deeper? , which contains keeper league information, more rankings and analysis.

 

Scoring system rankings based upon:

 

All draft values are based on a 12-team, 20-round draft using the following scoring system:

 

Passing — 25 pass yds = 1 point

Passing TD = 4 points

Rushing — 10 rushing yards = 1 point

Rushing TDs = 6 points

Receiving — .5 points per reception, 10 receiving yards = 1 point, Receiving TDs = 6 points

 

Updated: July 4, 2014, by Joe DiSalvo ()


Visit to play college fantasy football in 2014.

 

Note: This is not a list of the best players in college football. This is a ranking of the best players in terms of fantasy value (players who will have the best numbers in college football for 2014).


College Fantasy Football: Top 20 Quarterbacks for 2014


1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon

 

Check out theCFFsite.com's 2014 draft kit, which contains deeper rankings, keeper league information and other draft content to help you win your league this year.
2. Bryce Petty, Baylor

 

3. Braxton Miller, Ohio State

 

4. Rakeem Cato, Marshall

 

5. Matt Johnson, Bowling Green

 

6. Davis Webb, Texas Tech

 

7. Taysom Hill, BYU

 

8. Keenan Reynolds, Navy

 

9. Jameis Winston, Florida State

 

10. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State

 

11. Shane Carden, East Carolina

 

12. Nick Marshall, Auburn

 

13. Brett Hundley, UCLA

 

14. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State

 

15. Cody Fajardo, Nevada

 

16. Taylor Heinicke, Old Dominion

 

17. Chuckie Keeton, Utah State

 

18. John O’Korn, Houston

 

19. Marquise Williams, North Carolina

 

20. Maty Mauk, Missouri

Teaser:
College Fantasy Football: 2014 Quarterback Rankings
Post date: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-coordinator-hires-2014
Body:

Coaching changes are a big part of any college football offseason, and several big names switched addresses.

 

And whether it was coaching moves in the SEC or the Sun Belt, this offseason wasn’t short on impact additions or subtractions among teams. Several of these coordinator hires could help a team win a couple of extra games in 2014.

 

Utah and Rutgers were two of the biggest winners in the coordinator carousel, as the Utes added former Wyoming coach Dave Christensen as their offensive play-caller, while the Scarlet Knights hired Ralph Friedgen as their offensive coordinator.

Georgia also made one of the top hires of the offseason by pulling defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt away from Florida State.

 

Athlon examines the top 15 coordinator hires for 2014, as well as some of the other notable moves from the offseason.

 

College Football’s Top 15 Coordinator Hires for 2014

 

Chris Ash, Defensive Coordinator, Ohio State

Fixing the defense is a priority for Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes allowed 24 points a game last year (conference-only games) and allowed 34 or more points in each of the last three contests. Ash returns to the Big Ten after a season at Arkansas, and he is expected to help coordinate the defense with Luke Fickell. Ash’s specialty is coaching defensive backs, which is a specific area of need for the Buckeyes after this unit gave up 20 passing scores in Big Ten games in 2013. Ash isn’t the only key addition to Ohio State’s coaching staff, as former Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr. was also hired in the offseason.

 

Dave Christensen, Offensive Coordinator, Utah

The former Wyoming coach takes over the reins of a Utah offense that averaged less than five yards per play in conference games in two out of the last three years. Prior to his stint as Wyoming’s head coach, Christensen worked as the play-caller for Missouri from 2001-08 and at Toledo from 1997-2000. The veteran assistant is tasked with fixing an offense that has struggled to find consistency since joining the Pac-12. Christensen wants to speed up the tempo, and in order for that to happen, he needs to help quarterback Travis Wilson take the next step in his development.

 

Ralph Friedgen, Offensive Coordinator, Rutgers

Friedgen is easily one of the top – if not No. 1 – coordinator hires for 2014. Rutgers has not averaged more than 5.2 yards per play in a season since 2008, and the Scarlet Knights lost 30 turnovers in 2013. Friedgen has been out of coaching since 2010, but he had a strong track record of success at Georgia Tech and Maryland as a play-caller. The New York native has a tough assignment to fix Rutgers’ offense, but there is talent at the skill positions and an experienced quarterback in Gary Nova returning.

 

Art Kaufman, Defensive Coordinator, California

Injuries played a role in California’s defensive struggles in 2013, but this unit needed a change at coordinator. In steps Kaufman, who was surprisingly fired after a solid 2013 season at Cincinnati. And prior to his one year with the Bearcats, Kaufman’s defense at Texas Tech allowed 5.4 yards per play in 2012. Kaufman’s arrival should immediately help the Golden Bears take a step forward on defense, but it’s unrealistic to expect a quick turnaround to finish as one of the Pac-12’s best defenses for 2014.

 

Lane Kiffin, Offensive Coordinator, Alabama

Without question, Kiffin is the most polarizing coordinator hire of the offseason. After a failed stint as USC’s coach, Kiffin will attempt to rebuild his resume with a stop at Alabama. Although Kiffin’s shortcomings are documented, this role is a good landing spot for the embattled coach. Yes, Kiffin’s offenses were criticized at USC, but . Also, Kiffin’s recruiting ability should shine in Tuscaloosa.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast: Coaches on the hot seat, on the rise and top coordinator hires for 2014:

 

Pete Kwiatkowski, Defensive Coordinator, Washington

Kwiatkowski followed Chris Petersen from Boise State to Washington and inherits a defense that ranked fourth in the Pac-12 by holding opponents to 22.8 points per game in 2013. Kwiatkowski called the plays for Petersen’s defense in Boise from 2010-13, and the Broncos did not finish a season by allowing more than 25 points per game. There’s plenty of talent returning to Seattle, and Kwatkowski’s track record suggests Washington’s defense will be among the best in the Pac-12 in 2014.

 

Seth Littrell, Offensive Coordinator, North Carolina

Littrell was an excellent addition for coach Larry Fedora. The Oklahoma native started his coaching career as a graduate assistant under Mark Mangino at Kansas and spent time at Texas Tech under Mike Leach from 2005-08. Littrell worked under Mike Stoops at Arizona from 2009-11 and left for Indiana in 2012. Over the last two seasons, the Hoosiers have averaged at least 30 points per game and led the Big Ten (conference-only matchups) in 2013 with 22 touchdown tosses. Littrell’s background in developing passing attacks should be a huge boost for quarterback Marquise Williams.

 

Mark Mangino, Offensive Coordinator, Iowa State

Mangino returns to the Big 12 after a four-year absence. After he was forced out at Kansas (50 wins in eight years), Mangino did not coach on the collegiate level from 2010-12 and landed at Youngstown State in 2013. He is tasked with fixing an Iowa State offense that managed just 4.7 yards per play in conference games and averaged just 24.8 points per game in 2013. Mangino has a strong track record of success from stops at Oklahoma and Kansas as a play-caller, and Iowa State’s offense should be better in 2014.

 

Doug Meacham, Offensive Coordinator, TCU

Meacham shares the offensive coordinator title with former Texas Tech quarterback Sonny Cumbie, but the former Houston and Oklahoma State assistant will call the plays. Meacham worked from 2005-12 as an assistant under Mike Gundy in Stillwater and served as Houston’s play-caller in 2013. The Cougars averaged 33.2 points a game last year and had 14 passing plays that went 40 yards or more – with a true freshman at quarterback (John O’Korn).

 

Doug Nussmeier, Offensive Coordinator, Michigan

Not only is Nussmeier one of the top coordinator hires for 2014, but he’s also one of the play-callers under the most pressure in the nation this year. Michigan’s offense averaged only 5.4 yards per play in 2013, which was the team’s lowest mark since 2008 when the offense averaged just 4.4 yards per play. Nussmeier comes to Ann Arbor after two seasons with Alabama, where the Crimson Tide averaged 7.4 yards per play in SEC games in 2013. And he also had a stint as Fresno State’s play-caller in 2008 and at Washington from 2009-11.

 

Jeremy Pruitt, Defensive Coordinator, Georgia

Pruitt inherited a veteran defense at Florida State and certainly made all of the right calls in 2013. The Seminoles’ defense allowed only 4.1 yards per play and only two opponents scored more than 20 points, as Florida State closed out the BCS era with a national championship. Prior to his one-year stint in Tallahassee, Pruitt worked under Nick Saban at Alabama and plans to implement a similar 3-4 approach in Athens. Pruitt has work to do this offseason, as Georgia allowed 31.8 points per game in eight SEC contests in 2013. The Bulldogs aren’t as strong in the secondary as Florida State was last year, but this team should be set in the front seven in 2014. on Georgia's defense this year.

 

Kurt Roper, Offensive Coordinator, Florida

Roper is a pivotal hire for Florida coach Will Muschamp. After the Gators finished 4-8 and averaged only 18.8 points per game last season, or there could be a coaching change in Gainesville at the end of 2014. Roper plans to speed up Florida’s tempo and allow quarterback Jeff Driskel to work more out of the shotgun. Under Roper’s direction, Duke’s offense averaged at least 30 points per game in 2012-13. Roper also has experience in the SEC, spending 1999-04 as an assistant on David Cutcliffe’s staff at Ole Miss.

 

Bob Shoop, Defensive Coordinator, Penn State

Most of new Penn State coach James Franklin’s staff followed him to Happy Valley from Vanderbilt, including Shoop who worked as the defensive coordinator for the Commodores for the last three years. Vanderbilt’s defense was underrated during Shoop’s watch, as the Commodores ranked fifth in the SEC in 2012 by holding opponents to 18.7 points per game. Vanderbilt also twice ranked among the top-five teams in the SEC against the run from 2011-13. Shoop inherits a Penn State defense that is short on depth, but the starting unit could be one of the best in the Big Ten.

 

Joe Wickline, Offensive Coordinator, Texas

Wickline carries the offensive coordinator title, but Shawn Watson is expected to call plays. Even though Wickline won’t be calling the plays, he remains a key piece of new coach Charlie Strong’s staff. Wickline is regarded as one of the best offensive line coaches in the nation, which is a valuable asset for a Texas team that has struggled to develop talent in the trenches in recent years and has not had a lineman drafted since 2008.

 

Justin Wilcox, Defensive Coordinator, USC

Wilcox followed Steve Sarkisian from Washington to USC, and the former Oregon safety is a rising star in the coaching ranks. Wilcox started his coaching career in 2001 at Boise State and made a stop at California from 2003-05 before returning to work with Chris Petersen. From 2006-09, Wilcox worked as Boise State’s defensive coordinator and later spent two seasons (2010-11) at Tennessee. Washington’s defense finished No. 4 in the Pac-12 in fewest points allowed in 2012 and allowed only 4.9 yards per play in 2013. In the year prior to Wilcox’s arrival (2011), Washington ranked No. 11 in the Pac-12 in total defense. Wilcox made a huge impact with the Huskies in just two years, and he should coordinate one of the nation’s top defenses at USC in 2014.

 

Other Key Coordinator Hires for 2014

 

Lance Anderson, Defensive Coordinator, Stanford

Much like Pac-12 North rival Oregon, Stanford stayed in-house to fill a vacancy at defensive coordinator. Derek Mason left to become the head coach at Vanderbilt, and David Shaw promoted Anderson to play-caller. Anderson has worked on Stanford’s staff since 2007.

 

Manny Diaz, Defensive Coordinator, Louisiana Tech

Solid hire for Skip Holtz, as Diaz looks to rebound after a rough stint as Texas’ defensive coordinator.

 

Mike Elko, Defensive Coordinator, Wake Forest

Elko followed coach Dave Clawson from Bowling Green to Wake Forest. Under Elko’s direction, the Falcons defense led the MAC in fewest points allowed for two consecutive seasons (2012-13).

 

Hank Hughes, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Cincinnati

Hughes will share the defensive coordinator title with Robert Prunty, and the New York native joins Cincinnati’s staff after spending the 2001-11 seasons at UConn.

 

Charles Kelly, Defensive Coordinator, Florida State

Kelly was promoted to call the defensive signals in Tallahassee after Jeremy Pruitt left for Georgia. Kelly has a wealth of experience as an assistant, including stops at Jacksonville State, Henderson State, Nicholls State and Georgia Tech. Kelly has been , and he should ensure Florida State’s defense will continue to rank among the best in the ACC. 

 

Scottie Montgomery, Offensive Coordinator, Duke

A rising star in the coaching ranks, Montgomery takes control of the offensive coordinator role for the Blue Devils.

 

Don Pellum, Defensive Coordinator, Oregon

Coach Mark Helfrich stayed in-house to replace veteran defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. Pellum has over 20 years of coaching experience in Eugene, but this will be his first chance to coordinate the Ducks’ defense.

 

John Reagan, Offensive Coordinator, Kansas

Coach Charlie Weis plans to hand the play-calling duties to Reagan, who returns to Lawrence after four years at Rice. Reagan helped coordinate an offense that averaged 31.4 points per game in C-USA play last season.

 

Mike Sanford, Offensive Coordinator, Boise State

Sanford is known as an ace recruiter and joins Bryan Harsin’s coaching staff after spending the last three years at Stanford.

 

John Thompson, Defensive Coordinator, Texas State

A key pickup for Texas State and coach Dennis Franchione. Thompson has a wealth of experience in the coordinator ranks and coordinated an Arkansas State defense that led the Sun Belt in fewest points allowed in 2012.

 

Brian VanGorder, Defensive Coordinator, Notre Dame

VanGorder is a well traveled assistant, as his defensive coordinator assignment will be his third job in three years. Prior to taking over the Notre Dame defense, VanGorder worked as the Jets’ linebackers coach in 2013 and coordinated Auburn’s defense in 2012.  VanGorder worked with coach Brian Kelly at Grand Valley State from 1989-91.
 

Brent Vigen, Offensive Coordinator, Wyoming

Vigen followed Craig Bohl from North Dakota State to Wyoming after coordinating one of the top offenses in the FCS in 2013. The Bison averaged 38.7 points per game last year. Vigen was the play-caller for each of North Dakota State’s three FCS titles.

 

Paul Wulff, Offensive Coordinator, USF

Wulff returns to the college ranks after two years with the 49ers. The former Washington State coach will help Willie Taggart ignite a USF offense that averaged just 13.4 points per game in American Athletic games last season.

Teaser:
College Football's Top Coordinator Hires for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/pac-12-football-breakout-players-2014
Body:

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

 

The Pac-12 is top heavy at quarterback in 2014, featuring Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly. But there’s room for some of the names to move around in the middle of the quarterback rankings, including Colorado’s Sefo Liufau or California’s Jared Goff.

 

On the defensive side, keep an eye on players like Oregon’s DeForest Buckner, USC’s Delvon Simmons and Arizona State’s Salamo Fiso.

 

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

 

Pac-12 Breakout Players for 2014

 

Devon Allen, WR,

With a knee injury expected to sideline Bralon Addison for the 2014 season, the Ducks need new targets to emerge for quarterback Marcus Mariota. Addison isn’t the only loss at receiver in Eugene, as Josh Huff and Daryle Hawkins (85 receptions in 2013) have expired their eligibility. Allen closed out a breakout spring with two catches for 94 yards and two scores in the spring game. And the gridiron isn’t the only place Allen is making news this offseason. He won the U.S. track title in 110 hurdles in late June and won USA Track & Field athlete of the week honors in early July. Allen has the speed and athleticism to become one of the Ducks’ top playmakers in 2014.

 

Victor Bolden, WR,

Brandin Cooks earned the Biletnikoff Award as college football’s No. 1 receiver last season, so Bolden and the other Oregon State receivers have big shoes to fill in 2014. Despite the loss of Cooks, the Beavers still have options in the passing game. Junior Richard Mullaney caught 52 passes last season, and tight end Connor Hamlett is back after grabbing 40 catches in 2013. Bolden caught only six passes for 62 yards, but he averaged 20.6 yards per kickoff return. The sophomore is projected for a bigger role in the passing game in 2014, and his explosiveness will help quarterback Sean Mannion stretch the field this year.

 

Devontae Booker, RB,

Booker has , as he signed with Washington State out of high school but failed to qualify. After a stint at American River College, Booker is finally in Salt Lake City. The Sacramento native capped a breakout offseason with 103 yards and two scores on 19 attempts in the spring game. Utah averaged only 3.7 yards per carry in Pac-12 contests last year. Booker should help that total in 2014 and will push Bubba Poole for the starting job this fall. 

 

DeForest Buckner, DE,

New coordinator Don Pellum’s first assignment this offseason was to solidify the defensive line after the departures of Taylor Hart, Ricky Heimuli and Wade Keliikipi. The Ducks still need to bolster the depth in the trenches, but Pellum’s starting trio could be among the best in the Pac-12. Buckner played in all 13 contests in 2013 and recorded 39 tackles and 2.5 sacks. After starting the final eight games last season, Buckner is still developing as a player but continued to progress with a sack and a forced fumble in the spring game. We mentioned Buckner as a breakout player here, but junior Arik Armstead is another name to remember. Entering his junior year, Buckner is poised to emerge as one of the Pac-12’s top defensive ends.

 

Su’a Cravens, S,

Cravens was one of the top defensive players in the 2013 recruiting class and ranked as a five-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite. And as a true freshman, Cravens certainly didn’t disappoint last year. He earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors after recording 52 tackles, four interceptions and one forced fumble. Cravens should benefit from the addition of coordinator Justin Wilcox, as well as another year to participate in offseason practices. Expect Cravens to push for All-America honors this year.

 

Salamo Fiso, LB,

Fiso was a standout freshman performer for Arizona State last season, recording 71 stops and three sacks in 14 games. Fiso only got better throughout the 2013 campaign and is one of just two returning starters for the Sun Devils in 2014. Fiso will anchor a linebacking corps that is talented, but inexperienced. The sophomore should be in the mix for all-conference honors and could lead the team in tackles after finishing third on the stat sheet last year. Another Arizona State linebacker to keep in mind for this list: D.J. Calhoun.

 

Joshua Garnett/Kyle Murphy, OL,

Four starters depart from a Stanford offensive line that was one of the best in the nation last year. However, there’s not much concern from coach David Shaw about the protection for quarterback Kevin Hogan. Left tackle Andrus Peat is an Athlon Sports All-American for 2014, and the line has breakout players like Garnett and Murphy ready to emerge. Murphy played in 13 contests last year, while Garnett made an appearance in 14 and started against Washington State. Both Garnett and Murphy should push for All-Pac-12 honors this year.

 

Jared Goff, QB,

Some may not consider Goff a breakout player after he threw for 3,488 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. However, with California expected to improve overall in the second year under coach Sonny Dykes, along with the return of a talented receiving corps, Goff could approach 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2014. As expected with any freshman quarterback, Goff had his share of ups and downs last season. He threw for 336 yards and one touchdown against Washington and completed 32 of 58 passes for 489 yards against Washington State. Goff finished the year by throwing for less than 200 yards in back-to-back games against Colorado and Stanford. With another offseason under his belt, look for Goff to take a step forward in his development and show a better overall command of the offense.

 

Tahaan Goodman, S,

We could pick a number of UCLA defenders here, but let’s go with Goodman as the breakout player from Jim Mora’s defense. Goodman ranked as the No. 65 prospect in the 247Sports Composite and played in 13 games as a true freshman. The California native recorded only 12 tackles and one forced fumble last season, but he is primed for a bigger role in UCLA’s secondary. With Fabian Moreau returning at cornerback, along with talented players like senior Anthony Jefferson, junior Randall Goforth and sophomore Priest Willis, the Bruins’ secondary should be one of the best in the Pac-12 this season.

 

Sefo Liufau, QB,

It’s not easy being a true freshman quarterback in the Pac-12, but Liufau was thrown into the fire in 2013 and performed well in his first season in Boulder. Liufau finished with 1,779 yards and 12 touchdowns on 149 completions. The Washington native threw for 364 yards and three scores against California and finished the season by completing 23 of 46 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns against Utah. Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre and coordinator Brian Lindgren helped to turn David Fales from a two-star junior college quarterback into one of the top passers in the WAC/Mountain West. Top receiver Paul Richardson will be missed, but MacIntyre and Lindgren should help Liufau take a step forward in his development in 2014.

 

Vince Mayle, WR,

With quarterback Connor Halliday and one of the Pac-12’s top receiving corps returning, the Cougars’ offense will be tough to stop in 2014. Washington State led the nation with 756 pass attempts last year, so there’s plenty of opportunities for players like Mayle to catch passes. Gabe Marks led the team with 74 receptions last season, but Mayle is a name to remember after finishing his first season in Pullman with 42 catches for 539 yards and seven scores. The , and all signs point to Mayle becoming a more prominent target for Halliday.

 

Cyler Miles, QB,

Miles was suspended for spring practice due to an off-the-field incident but was reinstated to the team in May. The sophomore is behind Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams in learning Washington’s new offense, but Miles is expected to claim the starting job by the season opener. The Colorado native ranked as the No. 105 overall prospect in the 2012 signing class by the 247Sports Composite and worked as the backup to Keith Price in 2013. Price missed time against UCLA due to injury, and Miles completed 15 of 22 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns in relief. A week later, Miles threw for 162 yards and one score in a 69-27 victory over Oregon State. The sophomore has plenty of upside, and with an ability to hurt defenses through the air or on the ground with his legs, Miles is a quarterback to watch in 2014.

 

DaVonte’ Neal, WR,

After a one-year stint at Notre Dame, Neal transferred to Arizona and sat out the 2013 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Neal didn’t make a huge impact in his one year with the Fighting Irish, but he’s poised to emerge as a key contributor for the Wildcats. Arizona is loaded with talent at receiver, including senior Austin Hill who returns after missing all of last season due to a torn ACL. In addition to Hill, the Wildcats return Nate Phillips, Samajie Grant and Trey Griffey in the receiving corps. With a crowded receiving corps, expect Arizona coaches to use Neal some in the backfield to take advantage of his athleticism and speed.

 

Tyree Robinson, S,

The Ducks have a few holes to fill in the secondary, but this unit is headlined by All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Three starting spots were up for grabs this spring, with Robinson in the mix at the safety position. The California native ranked as the No. 150 recruit in the 2013 247Sports Composite and used a redshirt year in his first season on campus. At 6-foot-4, Robinson has the size and athleticism to be a future star in Oregon’s secondary.

 

Delvon Simmons, DL,

With Leonard Williams on one side, and Simmons expected to emerge at the other end position, USC’s defensive line will be among the best in the nation. Simmons sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules but recorded 27 tackles (six for a loss) at Texas Tech in 2012. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound defensive end should help to anchor USC’s 3-4 scheme under new coordinator Justin Wilcox.

 

Other Breakout Players to Watch

 

Budda Baker, CB,

Baker was a huge pickup for new coach Chris Petersen. The Washington native ranked as the No. 55 prospect in the 247Sports Composite and has the athleticism to line up at defensive back or on offense at receiver. Marcus Peters is the only proven commodity in the secondary, which means three jobs will be up for grabs in the fall. Expect Baker to push for time at cornerback or safety.

 

Marcus Ball, S,

Ball was expected to play a significant role in the Arizona State secondary last season, but a shoulder injury forced him to take a redshirt year. The Ohio native is poised to start in 2014, as the Sun Devils have a significant amount of turnover on defense this year. Ball has the necessary speed and athleticism to quickly blossom into one of the top freshman defensive backs in the Pac-12.

 

Bryce Bobo, WR,

The Buffaloes are searching for a new No. 1 receiver after the departure of Paul Richardson to the NFL. Bobo and teammate Nelson Spruce appear to be up to the task, as this trio combined for 13 receptions in the spring game. Bobo’s eligibility is a concern, in the opening game against Colorado State in August.

 

Daquawn Brown, CB,

Washington State’s secondary must be revamped after the departure of four starters, including standout safety Deone Bucannon. Brown should be the headliner for the Cougars’ secondary after playing in 13 games as a true freshman last year. Brown recorded 50 tackles, two interceptions and five pass breakups in 2013 and is poised for an even bigger sophomore campaign.

 

Thomas Duarte, WR,

Duarte played in 13 games as a true freshman last season and caught 16 passes for 214 yards and three scores. Expect Duarte to be an even bigger part of the passing attack this year, especially if UCLA’s offensive line plays with more consistency and gives junior quarterback Brett Hundley more time to throw.

 

Gionni Paul, LB,

Miami transfer was slated to play a significant role at linebacker for the Utes in 2014. However, and is expected to miss at least five months. If Paul returns to full strength in time for the season opener, he should be able to regain a spot in Utah’s starting 11 on defense.

 

John Ross, WR,

With Kasen Williams returning from a leg injury, along with the departure of Damore’ea Stringfellow, Ross is primed for a bigger role in Washington’s offense in 2014. As a true freshman last year, he caught 16 passes for 208 yards and one score. Ross also averaged 23.2 yards per kickoff return in 2013.

 

Nick Wilson, RB,

There’s not much in the way of proven options in Arizona’s running back stable for 2014. Ka’Deem Carey left early for the NFL, and Pierre Cormier retired due to a medical condition. Wilson and fellow freshmen Zach Green and Jonathan Haden will compete for carries this fall, but Wilson – the No. 246 prospect in the 247Sports Composite – could emerge as the No. 1 back. 

Teaser:
Pac-12 Football Breakout Players for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, News
Path: /college-football/11-acc-stats-you-need-know-2014
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Here are Athlon Sports' favorite, most important and most interesting ACC statistics you need to know about in 2014:

 

0-0: ACC teams in BCS title game not named Florida State

Much like , the ACC sent only one team to the top of the college football mountain. Florida State is the only ACC team that played in the BCS National Championship Game during the 16-year BCS Era. The Noles played in the first three games (1998-2000), losing two and winning the 1999 title. The league went without a team securing a berth in the title game until those very same Seminoles bookended the era with an ACC championship last year. Much like the Big Ten, the ACC needs other programs to develop into national contenders around Florida State in order to keep up with the best leagues in the nation (ahem, the SEC). As a whole, the ACC went 5-13 in BCS bowls with two of those wins coming last year.

 

41-9: Bobby Petrino at Louisville

As a college head coach, there can be no doubting Bobby Petrino’s ability to win games on the field. In four full seasons as the Cardinals' head coach from 2003-06, Petrino won 41 games, including two seasons with at least 11 wins and the school's first BCS bowl berth and victory (Charlie Strong beat Florida in the Sugar Bowl two years ago in the only other BCS appearance by Louisville). The two highest finishes for the Cards in school history are No. 6 in the final AP poll in 2004 and '06. His off-the-field decisions and abrasive personality aside, the bottom line is Petrino wins games and he is likely to to the league in very short order.

 

42.3: Avg. margin of victory for Florida State

In 13 regular season games, the Florida State Seminoles not only defeated, but obliterated their opponents by an average score of 42.3 points. Jimbo Fisher's squad outscored its 13 regular season opponents 689-139 for an average margin of victory of more than six touchdowns per game. Again, that's more than six touchdowns per game. Even with the tightly-played, three-point win over Auburn in the BCS national title game, Florida State still by an average of 39.5 points per game.

 

73.4: Yards/game Duke was outgained in ACC play

Despite posting the best season in school history, winning the Coastal Division and finishing 6-2 in the regular season, the Duke Blue Devils were still statistically much worse than their opponents. In nine ACC games, Duke produced just 377.7 yards per game of offense while allowing 451.0 yards per game on defense. This means the Blue Devils were outgained by a per game average of 73.4 yards. It’s when the opposition is dramatically out-producing the offense on a regular basis in a league with so much balance.

 

19: Georgia Tech seasons without a losing ACC record

The Yellow Jackets went 1-10 overall and 0-8 in ACC play in 1994 under Bill Lewis. It was his last year in Atlanta and it marked the last time Georgia Tech posted a losing record in ACC play. Since then George O’Leary (7 years), Chan Gailey (6) and Paul Johnson (6) have each kept Tech from a losing ACC record. Johnson has been to a bowl game in in charge of the Ramblin’ Wreck.

 

96.8: Yards rushing per game after Duke Johnson got hurt

Miami averaged 214.7 yards rushing per game through the first seven games of last season. The Canes were 7-0 and had scored 19 rushing touchdowns behind the elite play of star tailback Duke Johnson. When Johnson got hurt in the blowout loss to Florida State, the Canes rushing attack went into the tank. Over the last six games of the year, Miami rushed for just 96.8 yards per game, scored six total rushing touchdowns and lost four times. On a team with major quarterback issues, a healthy Johnson is a must in the wide open Coastal Division.

 

5: Miami losses/year since joining the ACC

Speaking of the Hurricanes moving from the Big East to the ACC, here are some staggering numbers to consider about The U. Miami went 46-4 in the four years prior to joining the ACC and 96-25 in the 10 years prior to landing in their new home. In the 10 years since joining the ACC, Miami is 75-50 and has lost an average of five games per season. By comparison, Miami lost five games in a season just once (1997) between 1985 and 2003. The Canes have yet to post a 10-win season since joining the league after posting seven such seasons in 13 years as a member of the Big East.

 

8.3: Yards to go on third down by Virginia Tech opponents

No one in the nation got their opponents into tougher third down situations than the Hokies last fall. Virginia Tech’s opponents faced an average of 8.3 yards to go on third down in 2013, the highest average in the nation. The defense in Blacksburg should once again be dominant so that ranked 102nd in the nation a year ago at only 356.0 yards per game if Tech wants to win the Coastal.

 

17.2%: Clemson’s total returning offense

Clemson’s offense produced 6,611 total yards a year ago, ranking ninth in the nation at 508.5 yards per game. With a departing quarterback, running back and two star wide receivers, the Tigers lose 82.8 percent of their total offensive production from 2013. Cole Stoudt (471 yards of total offense), Zac Brooks (246), D.J. Howard (213) and C.J. Davidson (155) are the only four returning players on the team with more than 100 yards of total offense to their name a year ago. Everyone believes that Chad Morris will have the at some point, but losing 5,471 yards of total offense off any roster is tough to overcome. 

 

1997: Last time North Carolina lost fewer than 3 ACC games

In Mack Brown’s final season in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels won 11 games, went 7-1 in the ACC and finished sixth in the AP poll — the second-highest finish in school history to only the 1948 North Carolina squad that finished third. Since then, North Carolina has finished above .500 in the ACC only four times (1998, 2001, '04, '12) and has yet to post fewer than three losses in any season. Larry Fedora is the fifth coach to lead the Tar Heels program since Brown left for Texas and he is for the first time since ’97. 

 

27: Total TDs scored by Virginia in 2013

Virginia was 110th in scoring offense last year at just 19.8 points per game but managed an ACC-low 27 total touchdowns scored. Among all Big 5 schools, only Kansas (22) and Purdue (23) reached the end zone fewer times than Virginia. The Cavaliers were 113th nationally in total touchdowns scored and both Navy’s Keenan Reynolds and Colorado State’s Kapri Bibbs scored more touchdowns individually (31) than the Wahoos did as an entire football team. Mike London could use an offensive spark in 2014.

Teaser:
11 ACC Stats You Need to Know for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-best-coaches-under-40-2014
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As Steve Sarkisian packed up his boxes in Seattle to take the USC job, the former Washington coach closed the door on another part of his life — his 30s.

Sarkisian attained one of the best positions in college football before his 40th birthday, but just barely. Sarkisian turned 40 three months after taking the USC job, taking him off our annual list of college football coaches under the age of 40.

Even without Sarkisian, this year’s list still features some notable names. Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern, despite a rocky finish to last season, claims our top spot for the final time before he joins Sark in the 40-and-up club.

Who will be poised to be the top coach under 40 next season? Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech would be a good candidate after his stock rose after one season as a head coach. A number of assistant coaches are also worth watching this season and as their careers progress in the coming years.

*ages are as of Sept. 1, 2014.

1. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern head coach
Age:
39
Buzz: The 2013 season ended in a tailspin as the Wildcats lost seven in a row starting with a fourth-quarter collapse against Ohio State. That’s not going to take Fitzgerald off this list in his final year of eligibility before hitting the big 4-0. The 5-7 mark in 2013 was an aberration. Just a year earlier, Fitzgerald led Northwestern to a 10-3 season, a top-20 finish and the Wildcats’ first bowl win since the 1949 Rose Bowl. With its recruiting limitations, Northwestern rarely will contend for the Big Ten title, but Fitz has the formula for reaching bowl games at Northwestern down to a science.

2. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech head coach
Age:
35
Buzz: Kingsbury’s first team may never have been as good as its 7-0 start suggested. Texas Tech lost five in a row to close the regular season before a 37-23 win over Pac-12 South champion Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. Considering the revolving door at quarterback, Kingsbury had a solid debut as a head coach. As one of the youngest coaches in the FBS, Kingsbury brings the to Lubbock, but also one of the nation’s most productive offenses. Texas Tech led the nation in plays per game last season (87.3).



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3. Willie Taggart, USF head coach
Age:
38
Buzz: Taggart’s record in his first season at USF was ugly at 2-10. Until further notice, Taggart should get the benefit of the doubt. He inherited a team short on talent, especially on offense. Still, USF found a way to beat Cincinnati in October and allowed 4.7 yards per play in the last four games. There's reason to believe he'll get USF turned around. Taggart also started 2-10 at Western Kentucky before building the Hilltoppers into a viable FBS program.

4. Matt Campbell, Toledo head coach
Age:
34
Buzz: In two seasons under Campbell, Toledo continues to be one of the MAC’s top programs and a regular fixture in those mid-week shootouts in November. Even though Toledo missed a bowl game last season, the Rockets finished 7-5 overall and 5-3 in the MAC. Toledo also has averaged better than six yards per play in four of five seasons with Campbell has offensive coordinator or head coach.

5. Kirby Smart, Alabama defensive coordinator
Age: 38
Buzz: With how much Smart’s name has been in the rumor mill, it may be tough to believe he’s still in the under-40 crowd. That’s what happens when you go from the playing field to a full-time gig for Nick Saban in six years. Smart has spent all but one season of the last decade working for Saban — the exception being one year as running backs coach at his alma mater Georgia. Saban gets his share of the credit for the defense, but he’s also made Smart the second-highest paid assistant in the country. That has to count for something.

6. Justin Fuente, Memphis head coach
Age: 38
Buzz: The record is not impressive at 7-17 in two seasons at Memphis, but it's a long way from where the Tigers were. Indeed, the Tigers have had a long climb from the 5-31 mark the three seasons before Fuente arrived. The Tigers are becoming more competitive, especially on defense. Memphis has lost six one-score games the last two seasons, including a 24-17 loss to Fiesta Bowl winner UCF.

7. Bryan Harsin, Boise State head coach
Age:
37
Buzz: Harsin became the third one-and-done head coach at Arkansas State, joining Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn with a short-lived tenure in Jonesboro. Programs are gobbling up Arkansas State coaches with good reason. Arkansas State earned a share of the Sun Belt title under Harsin to reach a third consecutive bowl game. Harsin returns to Boise State where the Broncos went 84-8 when he was an assistant under Chris Petersen.

8. Justin Wilcox, USC defensive coordinator
Age:
37
Buzz: Wilcox helped remake the Washington defense under Steve Sarkisian the last two seasons. The Huskies improved from 10th in the Pac-12 in yards per play the year before Wilcox arrived to tied for third last season. For the first time since he was at Boise State, Wilcox won’t be starting from scratch at a new job. USC returns eight defensive starters — surely a different situation than what Wilcox inherited at his last two stops at Washington and Tennessee.

9. Tom Herman, Ohio State offensive coordinator
Age:
39
Buzz: Even though Urban Meyer remains a spread option guru, his offensive coordinator merits attention. Herman has coached an offense that has gone 24-2 the last two seasons, despite an injury to Braxton Miller and a work-in-progress offensive line. Before that, Herman was offensive coordinator for the Iowa State team that upset Oklahoma State’s BCS championship game bid in 2011 and a Rice team that won 10 games. As a bonus, he’s a .

10. Scott Frost, Oregon offensive coordinator
Age:
39
Buzz: Frost is only a year into his job as offensive coordinator, but this post at Oregon has a pretty good track record for head coaches, including Jeff Tedford, Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich. Scott doesn’t have as long a coaching resume as some of the names on this list, partly because he was in the NFL until 2003. He’s made up for it as an assistant coach in four BCS games.

11. Mike Norvell, Arizona State offensive coordinator
Age:
32
Buzz: Todd Graham is usually associated with the offensive side of the ball even though he has a defensive background. That’s because Graham has hired Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris to run his offense. Norvell has been at the position ever since Graham went to Pittsburgh.

12. Dave Aranda, Wisconsin defensive coordinator
Age:
37
Buzz: Aranda is finally getting the attention he deserves now that he’s in the Big Ten. Aranda installed a 3-4 defense at Wisconsin last season as the Badgers finished second in the league in rush defense and third in total defense. Before Wisconsin, Aranda led big play-happy defenses at Utah State and Hawaii.

13. Rhett Lashlee, Auburn offensive coordinator
Age:
30
Buzz: Gus Malzahn received plenty of credit for Auburn’s offenses in 2013 and 2010, but it would be tough to find anyone more steeped in Malzahn’s hurry-up no-huddle than Lashlee. The 30-year-old played for Malzahn at Springdale (Ark.) and worked with him at Arkansas, Arkansas State and now Auburn.

14. D.J. Durkin, Florida defensive coordinator
Age:
36
Buzz: Florida’s struggles might not cut into Durkin’s career goals. He’s a standout defensive coordinator and one of the Gators’ top recruiters. His resume also goes back to Bowling Green with Urban Meyer.

15. Lincoln Riley, East Carolina offensive coordinator
Age:
30
Buzz: Perhaps the lowest-profile name on this list, Riley may be a target for an offensive coordinator for a major program in short order. His four seasons have produced the top four passing seasons in school history. He started his career as Texas Tech’s wide receivers coach under Mike Leach, a job that has proven to put assistants on the fast track.

Teaser:
College Football's Best Coaches Under 40 For 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Aric Almirola, Richard Petty, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/almirola-rpm-win-saved-nascar-forgettable-daytona-weekend
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Thirty years ago, everything lined up just right for NASCAR.

 

The 1984 Fourth of July weekend witnessed the sport’s all-time winningest driver, Richard Petty, score his milestone 200th win. He did so at stock car racing’s cathedral, Daytona International Speedway in a near photo finish — and as if it needed a kicker, with the President of the United States in attendance.

 

Who could have foreseen then that it would be three decades before Petty’s No. 43 would once again grace Daytona’s famed victory circle — a location it had visited nine times prior?

 

History shows that was indeed the case, as on Sunday, 30 years after Petty’s final NASCAR victory, Aric Almirola drove the Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 machine to his first Cup Series win in the rain-delayed and rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at the “World Center of Speed.”

 

In all honesty, though, Petty’s 1984 triumph and Almirola’s 2014 victory have little in common. Yes, the stylized number survives, but little else remains. In ’84, Petty drove a Pontiac; today, Almirola sports a Ford. The iconic STP logo and paint scheme adorned Petty’s ride; Almirola was cloaked in a fitting Air Force blue hue. 

 

Maybe the most glaring difference lies in the team itself: Petty ­didn’t win No. 200 under the Petty Enterprises banner; that season, he took his number and sponsor to a team fielded by Mike Curb before returning in 1986 to Level Cross, N.C. Almirola didn’t hang one for Petty Enterprises, either. The winningest organization in NASCAR history was no more following the 2008 season when it evolved, thanks to a series of mergers and investors, into what is known today as Richard Petty Motorsports. “The King” has his minority stake in the operation — and is still as passionate about the sport as ever, at the track nearly every weekend — but is largely a figurehead for the team.

 

Unlike that July Fourth weekend 30 years ago, nothing could go right for NASCAR at Daytona this year. It battled sporadic rain from the moment the circus hit the beach on Thursday. That rain forced the postponement, cancellation and delay of nearly every planned event — from practice and qualifying sessions to the Cup race itself.

 

Even when the green flag dropped, it seemed NASCAR could not catch a break. A grinding 16-car wreck eliminated many heavy hitters just prior to the 20-lap mark. Another, on lap 99, thinned the field further. By the time the race was mercifully red-flagged for rain on lap 112, 36 of the 43 cars had officially been involved in one (or both) of the melees.

 

DAYTONA | 

 

But, now as then, one constant rose above all else on these two very different weekends: The silhouette of NASCAR, Richard Petty — complete with Charlie 1 Horse, wrap-around shades and tea-cup-sized belt buckle — gave the weekend its appropriate send-off. In 1984, he himself reached an unreachable number. In 2014, his driver, Almirola, achieved the life-long goal he’d set forth: to win at NASCAR’s highest level. 

 

And in the process, he drove the sport’s most famous car number onto the sport’s most hallowed slab of real estate: Daytona’s Victory Lane.

 

“I couldn’t have dreamed of a better place to get my first win,” Almirola said following a soggy victory celebration. “Of all the places I could pick to win, I would pick Daytona because I grew up two hours away. I’ve sat in these grandstands — the Daytona 500, the Firecracker 400s. As a young kid, coming over here and watching, (I) dreamed about what it would be like to have a chance to race at the highest level at this racetrack.

 

“Not only have I done that, I’ve went to Victory Lane. I’m very appreciative of that — I think it’s very cool that we won on this weekend. It’s 30 years to the weekend that ‘The King’ won his 200th race with the president here. That’s really special.”

 

“Well, 30 years ago is history and today is today,” Petty said. “So to be able to win the race, win it for the Air Force, Fourth of July, you know, the whole thing is just great.”

 

With that in mind, maybe this year’s long, soggy July Fourth weekend lined up better for NASCAR than originally thought.

 

 

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Teaser:
Aric Almirola's win in the Coke Zero 400 was the first for a car numbered 43 in NASCAR at Daytona since Richard Petty in 1984.
Post date: Monday, July 7, 2014 - 18:30
Path: /nascar/pettys-no-43-returns-daytona-victory-lane-aric-almirola
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For years, Aric Almirola’s name in the record books has come with a weird asterisk. In 2007 at Milwaukee, he was just a part-time Nationwide (then Busch) Series driver for Joe Gibbs Racing trying to make a name for himself. Pegged as a backup for Denny Hamlin, Almirola was pressed into a start when the Cup driver’s helicopter ran late. Although running from the pole and dominating early, JGR chose to replace Almirola once Hamlin arrived. Hamlin slid in and rode on to an easy victory.

 

Almirola, who “earned” the trophy by starting the car has not won in the series since, and was 0-for-124 to begin his Sprint Cup career. So for many, he remains a relative unknown despite driving one of the most iconic cars in all of motorsports, the No. 43 formerly driven by “The King” Richard Petty. Soft-spoken and mild-mannered, his low-key personality matches a soft track record: four career top-5 Cup finishes and just 15 career top 10s entering Sunday.

 

Now that stat line moves up just a tick after a “wild card” victory at Daytona made him an unlikely Chase candidate. How did it happen? Multiple red flags, two crashes totaling 35 cars in a race ultimately shortened by rain after ending nearly 20 hours after its original Saturday evening start time. Almirola’s car was fast, yes, but the No. 43 earned checkers more through a game of Survivor than anything else. 

 

It’s a good moment for a good man, but somehow, the storybook sounds fitting. Maybe Almirola’s role in this sport is simply to be the man holding the asterisk.

 

“Through the Gears” we go after the last restrictor plate race of the regular season … 

 

 

FIRST GEAR: The long and winding road for Richard Petty Motorsports  Aric Almirola

Almirola’s victory shouldn’t be completely understated; his car was fast, leading 14 laps on Sunday and the Richard Petty Motorsports program has been improving. The two-car operation, which likely earned its first Chase bid in five years, produced a storybook ending 30 years after Petty himself won his 200th and final Cup race at Daytona.

 

“Man, of all the places I could pick to win, I would pick Daytona because I grew up two hours away,” said Almirola, a Tampa native. “I've sat in these grandstands and watched the Daytona 500. I've watched the Firecracker 400s. Me and my family have loaded up every Christmas night after we'd eat Christmas dinner and we'd drive over here and get ready for Kart Week from the time I was eight years old until I was probably 16. That's what everybody always talked about, and as a young kid, coming over here and watching — (I) just dreamed about what it would be like to have a chance to race at the highest level.”

 

The No. 43 car, earning its first victory since 1999 (John Andretti, Martinsville) made co-owner Petty proud, although he had already left the racetrack — he had to enjoy the win from home in North Carolina and phoned in for the post-race presser. His presence is important, but it’s new crew chief Trent Owens who came over from the Nationwide Series this season that’s worked wonders in getting a young driver and a growing team on the same page. Almirola, at just 29 years of age, has plenty of time to work out the kinks if they get it together. Congratulations came from all sides, including former Nationwide Series owner and current Cup rival Dale Earnhardt Jr.

 

Will RPM’s playoff bid result in a first-round exit? Most likely. But by simply making the field, this rare middle-class operation is taking a step in the right direction while keeping itself relevant for all nine months.

 

“Our sponsors, U.S. Air Force and Smithfield Foods and all the brands that they have and STP and GoBowling.com, all those people put in a lot of money to sponsor our race car,” Almirola added. “To be able to go and race for a championship and get that added exposure … everybody knows that sits in here, if you're not in the Chase during those 10 weeks, you don't even get talked about unless you're winning a race.”

 

 

SECOND GEAR: The plate race that would never end  

Plate racing, for everyone connected to NASCAR, is an acquired taste. There is no neutrality, whether you’re a fan, driver or crewman; those four-holed squares dole out some high-level emotions of love and hate. On one side, three-wide, white-knuckle action for three hours produces some of the closest competition in any racing series you’ll ever see. Photo finishes are the norm, not the exception.

 

But the other side, shown through a myriad of rain delays, can make everyone want to tear their hair out. Only a half-dozen cars avoided some type of wreck Sunday, with two “Big Ones” tearing up the field and turning tempers high. The first incident, started among Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, left several heavy hitters inside the garage and smoke steaming out of Stewart’s ears.

 

“I guess is was just Stenhouse being an idiot,” he said. “It didn’t make much sense when we’re coming to the (competition) caution (on lap 20). We’re like a quarter of a lap from getting to the caution and he does something stupid. It tore up a lot of people’s cars and a lot of people’s days.”

 

But others were blaming plate racing, either on camera, on the radio or in private once most media backed off. The drum beat louder after the second wreck, involving 26 cars and turning Kyle Busch upside down. Thankfully, all involved were OK but the damage for race teams will easily top seven figures. 

 

“Just felt like a slow carnival ride,” said Busch, who was an innocent victim after Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle made contact. “I guess that’s fitting for the Fourth of July weekend — but not here in Daytona.”

 

In some ways, that statement could apply to all parts of this restrictor plate weekend. The race, filled with stops and starts, never developed a rhythm between Mother Nature’s interference and the major incidents. Fans, only some of whom stayed the extra day, wound up witnessing one of the weirder events in recent memory. 

 

What’s so funny about how it all played out? The Daytona 500, after its own rain delay, wound up being one of the best plate races we’ve seen in years. When it works, it definitely works. But when it doesn’t, the cries over potential driver injury, a “forced” way for 43 cars to race together in a pack and possible plate removal grow louder. Will there be rule changes? I doubt it, for now at least. But no matter what NASCAR does, what we saw on Sunday is a possible product of this style of racing. You want four-wide at the checkers? Then you’re going to get an occasional clunky, weird, Demolition Derby where nothing appears to make any sense. That’s just part of it — the controversy which, in NASCAR’s mind, generates ratings and attention.

 

We’ll see.

 

 

THIRD GEAR: Sorting through the wreckage  

Behind Almirola, nice runs were checked in by Brian Vickers, Kurt Busch and Casey Mears, all of whom clocked in top-5 finishes. Vickers, for obvious reasons, wanted the race to restart but after a multiple delays (plus the criticism after February’s 500 ran 12-plus hours) NASCAR made the right call. The second-place finisher will always scoff at a race called early — that’s just the natural reaction of a competitive athlete. Vickers will recover, though. He logged a solid run at the perfect time, heading to a race he won last year in Loudon, N.H., this Sunday.

 

But suddenly, the guy to watch is Busch, who notched a fifth straight top-15 finish that all but assures him of a place inside the top 30 in points. Stewart-Haas Racing (though Kevin Harvick has clearly shown the speed to be competitive) is suffering from normal expansion growing pains. Busch bore the brunt of that, as bad luck combined with mechanical failures has found him on a roller-coaster of a ride. Through it all, though, the No. 41 team has earned its spot in the Chase. Remember Stewart a few years ago, barely clawing his way into the postseason field before turning it on behind the No. 14 and charging towards a third championship? If Busch keeps running like he did Sunday, posting consistent results, he could go a bit deeper than an expected first-round exit.

 

 

DAYTONA |

 

 

FOURTH GEAR: Can a lucky break turn Dillon’s season around?  Austin Dillon

NASCAR’s 2014 rookie battle has devolved into a story about one driver only: Kyle Larson. The other six candidates, in various stages of development, have all been a step or more behind since Austin Dillon snared the pole and a ninth-place effort in February’s Daytona 500. For Dillon, it’s been a disappointing effort, driving a car that was top 5 last year and collecting no other top-10 finishes entering Daytona’s July race.

 

But one thing you can say about Dillon is that he’s consistent, as he’s completing all but 11 laps on the year. That means a fifth-place effort, after dodging all the wrecks Sunday, left him 13th in points and his Chase hopes alive. That’s an ace card that rival Larson, whose season has been a bit of a roller coaster as well, simply does not have at the moment. In fact, all three cars at Richard Childress Racing (Dillon, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman) would make the Chase if the season ended today.

 

It’s a great boost for Dillon going forward into Loudon and then the final off week knowing that despite a sub-par effort, his team is still in it. The last half of the season, when rookies visit tracks for a second time, is often when we see the most improvement from freshmen; can Dillon step up and make a serious drive for the Chase? 

 

 

OVERDRIVE

Kudos to Michael McDowell, whose seventh was a career best for not only him but small-time Leavine Family Racing. The No. 95, which is running a limited schedule this season, has been notably improved from recent years. … Terry Labonte, who ran 11th, also deserves credit, running his second-to-last race in the Cup Series for the No. 32 Go FAS Racing team. The veteran is expected to retire following one final plate start, at Talladega in October. … David Gilliland, Reed Sorenson and Landon Cassill were one of the most unlikely trios to start at the front in NASCAR history, put there after a wild, rain-shortened qualifying session in which the underdogs used “suck-up” drafts to post higher speeds. Running up front early, their presence increased aggression at the front of the field as they raced with drivers not used to them being there. Combining to lead 14 laps amongst themselves, each should be commended for his effort, but plate racing is a cruel mistress; wrecks left them all outside the top 30 by race’s end. 

 

 

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Teaser:
Post-race reaction from Aric Almirola's upset win in NASCAR's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Post date: Monday, July 7, 2014 - 12:22

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