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After only producing one playoff team last season, the NFC East will be looking for a better outcome this year. The top two teams finished with mirror records of the bottom two, as they look to close the gap between them. There is certainly room for improvement among all the teams, as the Cowboys look to take the division for the second straight year.
Here are some of the players in the NFC East who could really make a difference in 2015:
Darren McFadden, Running Back, Dallas Cowboys (1st, 12-4)
How do you replace the NFL’s rushing leader from last year? Well you can’t, but to fill DeMarco Murray's roster spot the Cowboys signed free agent Darren McFadden, who was once the most hyped running back prospect in the draft. However, that was back in 2008 and McFadden has failed to live up to those lofty expectations, as injuries have been a constant for him. But head coach Jason Garrett needs McFadden to produce out of the backfield, and he could benefit running behind one of the NFL’s top offensive lines. McFadden is still relatively young (turns 28 in August), and he has flashed his all-around potential at times during his career. The hope is that Dallas will be the place where he finally puts it all together for a full season.
Another player to watch: linebacker Anthony Hitchens
Sam Bradford, Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles (2nd place, 10-6)
After swapping Nick Foles, who at one point looked like the Eagles' future quarterback, for Bradford the team hopes that its new signal-caller can finally stay healthy. With two torn ACLs in as many years, the move may be risky, but the payoff could be great, considering how well he was performed in the first seven games of the 2013 season. Bradford should get plenty of support from his new backfield of DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews, and also will have two young, promising wide receivers in Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews at his disposal.
Another player to watch: defensive tackle Bennie Logan
Rashad Jennings, Running Back, New York Giants (3rd place, 6-10)
After turning 30, Jennings has hit that ill-fated number that can be ever so damaging to a running back’s career. The Giants signed Shane Vereen in free agency and have second-year back Andre Williams in the fold, but both are complements more so than every-down options. New York's ground game ranked towards the bottom last year, coming in at 30th in yards per carry. The Giants will need more production on the ground if they want to get back to the playoffs, which is why the team signed Jennings to a four-year, $10 million free-agent contract last offseason.
Another player to watch: linebacker Jon Beason
Duke Ihenacho/Jeron Johnson, Strong Safeties, Washington Redskins (4th place, 4-12)
Strong safety has been an area of concern in the past, so the Redskins brought in Johnson, who was a backup for the Seahawks, to create competition with Ihenacho for the starting spot. Ihenacho spent most of last season on injured reserve, but initially started for the team. Both players will need to improve their coverage and scheme responsibility, as the Redskins finished 24th in pass defense last season. They are similar players in many ways, but together this duo must figure out a way to turn what was a weakness in 2014 to a position of strength for Washington's defense.
Another player to watch: linebacker Trent Murphy
Aaron Rodgers does anything he can to keep a competitive advantage in the NFL.
The Packers quarterback, along with his girlfriend Olivia Munn, took some time to work on their sword fighting. Someone needed more work than the other.
A video posted by Olivia Munn (@oliviamunn) on
“That’s a play. That’s not an offense,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson says. “We might run the actual triple option a few times a game.”
A year ago, Johnson was a favorite atop annual lists of coaches on the hot seat, in part because of a contract extension squabble with his employer, but also for his adherence to the option offense. The chatter around college football circles was that Johnson might even step down.
That didn’t happen. What did happen: Another season of 300-plus rushing yards per game, a top-15 scoring offense, a win over rival Georgia, an appearance in the ACC title game and a victory over Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl to cap an 11-win season. Now Johnson and the Yellow Jackets enter 2015 as the favorites to repeat in the ACC Coastal Division. What hot seat?
Related: ACC 2015 Predictions
“It’s the misperception,” Johnson says. “People in the media or coaches want to say things to create an advantage for them. If you’re giving up a bunch of points and yards, best way out is to say ‘We don’t see anything like that offense,’ and ‘You can’t recruit to it,’ and ‘We only had a few days to prepare for it.’”
Podcast: Preseason College Football Playoff Preview
No matter the current trend in college football offenses — spread option, hurry-up no-huddle, Air Raid — Johnson simply doesn’t care. He’s not changing. When asked why people denounce his offense for its “deception” while concepts like the zone read are celebrated for confusing defensive fronts, Johnson shrugs.
“You’d have to define who ‘people’ are,” he says. “I think that truthfully. ‘They’ve’ just had a hard time stopping it.”
This feature and a four-page preview of Georgia Tech are available in the 2015 ACC Preview
Due in large part to the effectiveness of the offense, Johnson has guided one of the most consistently strong programs in the nation since making the move from Navy in 2008. Under Johnson, Tech has finished lower than second in the Coastal Division only once in seven years. The Yellow Jackets have averaged 8.3 wins per season, and seven of the 10 best offensive years in school history have come under his watch.
That’s why Johnson believes critics attack the triple option … er, Johnson’s run-based option offense … on a false premise. And he bristles.
“There’s always been a misnomer about all our cut blocks,” he says. “It’s just (B.S.). If anybody wants to watch the tape, do we cut on the backside? Yeah, just like 50 percent of the teams in college football. But if you talk about it enough, you can get it outlawed; (and then) you don’t have to play against it.”
Johnson’s disposition matches his coaching scheme perfectly: Unconcerned with your opinion. When a young Johnson showed up in Hawaii as the new offensive coordinator in 1987, a quarterback named Ken Niumatalolo heard his teammates start to grumble.
“The communication was tough at first,” Niumatalolo says. “Here’s this guy with a thick Southern drawl and us with our Pidgin English accents. Still, you could tell he was an incredibly intelligent man who believed in what he was teaching.”
Johnson remembers that first season well: “That’s OK, they couldn’t understand me, and I couldn’t pronounce their names.”
Niumatalolo knew why Johnson had come to install the run-option: Despite having NFL-level talent at key positions, the Warriors had grossly underperformed. In six of the next eight seasons, Hawaii would finish as a top-20 offense nationally.
“That’s when I was sold (on) the offense.” Niumatalolo says. “In that first year, I’m asking myself, ‘How does he take a team that lost key guys and we got better as an offense?’ There was no doubt in my mind it worked having played for him.”
Niumatalolo joined Johnson’s staff at Navy after his playing days and took over as head coach in 2007 when Johnson was hired at Georgia Tech. “If anyone had any doubts at all, the early ’90s here at the Academy changed that,” Niumatalolo says. “Week in and week out, being undersized and going against people we had no business playing. … I’d just look across the sidelines in certain games and think we were going to get beaten badly, then you’d ask yourself ‘How are we scoring points on these guys?’ You just couldn’t help it.”
Current Army head coach Jeff Monken is a Johnson disciple who learned the offense while on the staff at Navy from 2002-07. “My first impression was that it worked,” Monken says. “It worked, and we could always adjust to what a defense offered. We didn’t find a situation we couldn’t work to overcome, regardless of the perception of talent on the field.”
Despite Johnson’s growing success as a head coach — first at I-AA Georgia Southern, where he won multiple national championships, then at Navy — critics still refused to believe that he would win in a major conference. And if he stole a few games grinding on opponents, he certainly wouldn’t be able to recruit Division I-caliber players.
“Never been a problem,” Johnson says. “We’ve never had an issue recruiting players. That’s just a myth.”
Every time Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas catches a Peyton Manning touchdown pass, it helps Johnson combat negative recruiting from rival coaches at that specific position.
“When we got here, Demaryius was buried on the depth chart in a pro-style offense,” Johnson says. “We asked him to block, showed him what he could achieve. The proof is out there — look at Stephen Hill. Yet now coaches in our league are telling recruits if they want catch any passes (not to come here), and we’ve had more receivers go to the (NFL) than his program. Recruiting is about the player, not the offense. You do have to find the right player for this system. And I do think that there are players out there who, if you asked, ‘Do you want to catch 100 passes or do you want to win?’ there’s some that just want to catch passes.”
So if Johnson has proven that offensive efficiency and recruiting haven’t suffered while running an option attack at the game’s highest level, why aren’t more schools running this offense? After all, there are plenty of programs running the hurry-up, spread attacks that former high school coaches Art Briles and Gus Malzahn introduced into college football in the last decade.
Monken believes others have taken notice and incorporated the concepts to the point that they are not that unique anymore.
“I’m not sure there’s a tactical advantage anymore because there’s some form of option in so many offenses,” Monken says. “So many schools have so many good athletes that are so well coached. I think that while it’s very effective, I don’t buy into that there’s a tremendous advantage anymore.”
But Johnson and his two former assistants, Monken and Niumatalolo, are alone in proudly announcing their intentions to use the “run-based option” at the FBS level. It may be hard to sell what many perceive as old-school football to fans, but Johnson knows that fans respond to winning more than anything.
“Fans learn to understand,” he says. “I think we had an identity at Georgia Southern. The kids believed in it, and the fans believed in it. No one was more disappointed than their fans when they got away from (the offense) after we left.
“But that’s just football. By the time I left Hawaii, fans were sick of it. They kept complaining about wanting to pass the football. Then years later when June (Jones) has them going run-and-shoot, I hear fans saying they wished they’d run the ball more.”
The fans at Georgia Tech might be singing a different tune in the future, but for now, the vast majority of Yellow Jacket faithful are just fine with Johnson’s option-based attack.
After all, who doesn’t like to win?
–By Steven Godfrey, SB Nation
The Johnny Manziel Circus came to Baton Rouge in late November 2013 promising all sorts of offensive fireworks. And, if LSU fans were lucky, perhaps the notorious Texas A&M quarterback would pull some kind of reality TV stunt, like trying to paint Mike the Tiger maroon.
Instead of Johnny Football fun, those assembled were treated to an old-style game of ball control by the home team. LSU dumped the Aggies, 34–10, running up a 40:19–19:41 time of possession advantage en route to 517 total yards. In an attempt to slow down the A&M spread scheme, Tigers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron instructed QB Zach Mettenberger to be as deliberate as possible when triggering the LSU attack.
“I said to Zach, ‘Run the offense, but don’t snap the ball until there is one second left on the play clock,’” Cameron says. “Johnny Manziel didn’t really get to play that much.”
A&M averaged 73.4 plays per game during the ’13 season but ran just 59 in the loss to the Tigers. It’s possible LSU could have still beaten the Aggies by trying to match the visitors on their fastbreak terms, but that’s not how things are done in Baton Rouge. LSU is committed to defense first, and its offense is designed to work with the other side of the ball to make sure the Tigers minimize the advantages opposing attacks can gain.
Related: SEC 2015 Predictions
When personnel questions at key offensive positions arise, as they did in 2014 when LSU had to replace its primary quarterback, top rusher and two best receivers, the team can’t rely on its tricky scheme to keep the cascade of points going. The 2013 Tigers finished 10–3 and had a 3,000-yard passer (Mettenberger), a 1,400-yard rusher (Jeremy Hill) and a pair of 1,000-yard receivers (Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.). None of those players could be found on the ’14 roster, and LSU dropped to 8–5 behind an attack that fell from tied for 23rd in the country in scoring to a deadlock for 73rd place and an offense that fell from 35th to 77th in total yards per game. Cameron admits that “every year can be different,” but the one constant is LSU’s overriding commitment to being a strong defensive team, first and foremost.
“We play complementary offense,” he says. “Our defense plays lights out, and we recruit great punters. (Head coach Les Miles’) philosophy is that we play team offense and team football.”
Critics of the 2014 Tigers said that they were more like half a team, thanks to their offensive travails. Heading into 2015, the question is whether the Tigers will be able to contend in the ultra-competitive SEC West, or if their offense will once again sputter, as it did last year, when LSU tied for fourth in the division. The one thing we can count on is that there will be no dramatic changes in scheme as a result of last year’s slump. The Tigers will try to run a two-back offense, provided they have a suitable fullback. If that doesn’t work out, Cameron will look at his crop of tight ends, in the hopes of finding a group that allows him to be versatile at that position. But he isn’t going to spread ’em out, let it rip and try to score 60 a game.
“Our plan offensively is to win the game,” he says. “When we’re three touchdowns up, we’re not looking to make it seven touchdowns. We‘re looking to hammer you and control the clock. The mindset we want to have is that we don’t always have to have the pedal to the floor.”
This Feature and a Six-Page Preview of LSU are Available in the 2015 Athlon Sports SEC Preview
Like just about every offensive coach in college football, Cameron would like to have the kind of quarterback depth Ohio State enjoyed during its national title run. He doesn’t just want to declare a winner in the competition for the starting job under center; he wants to have two starters, the better to foster daily competition and protect against injury. Two years ago, Mettenberger tore his ACL in the Tigers’ season finale against Arkansas. Anthony Jennings, a freshman at the time, relieved him and rallied the Tigers to a win and then played wire to wire in a bowl win over Iowa.
But Jennings was erratic last year. The Tigers couldn’t throw the ball reliably and had to rely too much on Leonard Fournette and the ground attack. LSU ran it more than twice as often as it threw last year, an imbalance that must improve.
“It comes down to more accuracy and ball security,” Jennings says. “Elite quarterbacks win championships at the NFL level and the college level. If I get to that level, I think our offense can get to that level.”
Jennings had a tough 2014 season, completing 48.9 percent of his attempts and giving opponents little concern about the Tigers passing attack. When his backup, true freshman Brandon Harris, took his turn as a regular, LSU was hammered, 41–7, at Auburn. For the year, LSU averaged 162.9 passing yards per game, good for 114th in the nation. Given the team’s inability to throw, it is a borderline miracle Fournette was able to average 5.5 yards per carry against defenses that had everybody but the mascot in the box. If Jennings can produce more this year, Fournette might go for 2,000 yards and blast his way into Heisman consideration.
“Anthony can control the game, and he knows where everybody belongs,” Fournette says. “He’s a great quarterback and a better person.”
Fournette’s endorsement of Jennings is nice, but fans aren’t interested in whether the quarterback is an Eagle Scout. They want him to put pressure on opponents through the air. Cameron has said that he needs to do a better job tailoring the offense to Jennings’ talents, which sometimes is a coach’s code for the fact that the player in question isn’t able to run the complete scheme.
It didn’t help last year that the receiving corps was younger than the average boy band. This year, the wideouts will be more experienced, Fournette is five pounds lighter and much more confident — “I understand the game better,” he says. “I know where my cuts are and what the blocking scheme is.” — but the key to LSU’s success is whether Jennings can be more efficient.
He threw only seven interceptions last year, but he was sacked 22 times and was often indecisive. Even though the Tigers scored 51 points combined in their final two games — after managing a total of 23 in their previous three — there is a lot of work to do.
“Last year, I wasn’t completing enough passes for Coach Cameron to put me in position to throw a lot,” Jennings says.
Both Jennings and Harris were highly regarded dual-threat quarterbacks in high school, but neither was seen as a pure pocket passer. Without an air-raid style offense, it will always be difficult for LSU to land a top-shelf thrower. The Tigers will use four- and five-wide formations on occasion, but with a stated goal of controlling the ball on the ground in order to support a stout defense, it’s tough to attract top quarterback talent.
Miles can sell Mettenberger’s development — he started six games for the Titans last year as a rookie — but the roster of LSU quarterbacks over the years isn’t all that overwhelming, and 18-year olds aren’t likely to be swayed by Bert Jones’ exploits during the early ’70s.
So, it’s up to Cameron to find a way to make Jennings and Harris into productive passers within an LSU scheme that wants to score points but is more interested in stifling opponents. The Tigers will mix tempo, vary formations and feature the run. “We are a smash-mouth football team,” Jennings says. Even in 2013, when Mettenberger had a strong year, the Tigers still ran it 197 more times than they threw it.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Oregon had 170 more rushing attempts than throws last year. Alabama ran it 116 more times than it tossed the ball. And national champ Ohio State had a whopping 281 more plays on the ground than through the air. The difference is that each of those teams was far more accurate and efficient than Tigers through the air, creating a balance that made them difficult to defend. In a division that keeps getting better — and is devoting more money than ever to defensive coordinators — LSU simply must improve its offense or find itself continuing to win eight or nine games a year, something that isn’t good enough in Baton Rouge.
“We’re rebuilding some things,” Cameron says. “We’re looking at what Anthony and Brandon can do, and we’re reshaping our offensive line (which loses two starters). The bottom line is that we want to run the football, and we still believe in the play-action pass.”
That may not be enough to keep ’em cheering in Eugene, but for LSU, it’s just fine.
Provided the quarterbacks can do their share.
–by Michael Bradley
"Family Feud" is hard show to win. Not only do you have to be good, but so does your entire team. Even by some chance they give bad answers, you are still forced to stand there, clap, and say, "good answer."
Vernon Davis demonstrated just how difficult the game is by giving bad, but hilarious, answers. The 49ers tight end join other NFL players for an episode of "Celebrity Family Feud" but he clearly stole the show. That's hard to do with a host like Steve Harvey.
Good answer, Vernon. Good answer.
The Phillies have baseball’s worst record with no sign of improvement. And now they’ll be without Hall of Fame manager Ryne Sandberg. After replacing Charlie Manuel as the manager late in the 2013 season, he became the permanent manager later in the year. However, the team has struggled over his tenure, going 119-159, finishing in last place in his only full season.
The struggles of the team are not completely on him, as the team has not gone out to improve the lineup or rotation very much. However, with no sign of hope for the near future, perhaps he would have been let go sometime during or after the season. In the meantime, Pete Mackanin, the team’s third base coach, will serve as interim manager. It may be too late to look for a full time replacement now, but they will surely be on the search for next season.
Enjoy this video of his first win as a manager:
After finishing his storied career in 2014, Derek Jeter is finally celebrating his birthday without baseball, probably for the first time since he was a teenager. Jeter has stepped outside the public’s view since his retirement, as he often tried to avoid during his career. Now, however, he finally has the ability to enjoy life outside the limelight.
Thus, for his 41st birthday, he has been spending time in Italy with his model girlfriend Hannah Davis. Yet, he received backlash for reportedly splitting the check with her at a pizza restaurant. The New York media and fans certainly enjoy following the lives of their athletes in every aspect. Maybe he can’t get totally away from the spotlight, but he’s the Captain, and he makes his own decision now.
Enjoy this Tweet by the Yankees, his team of 20 seasons:
Is it someone’s birthday today? pic.twitter.com/HTj0gv4RaZ— New York Yankees (@Yankees) June 26, 2015
The 2015 college football season is still a ways off, but the preview and look ahead to the upcoming year never stops.
On Friday, Golden Nugget sportsbook released odds on several key games for the upcoming year.
According to BettingMoves.com, Alabama, Auburn, LSU and USC are favored in nine of the games listed by the Golden Nugget.
Check out the full list of first odds for the 2015 season:
Golden Nugget Sportsbook 2015 CFB Games of the Year Lines:
|ARIZONA ST. (Houston)|
|TEXAS A&M (Arlington)|
|BYU (Kansas City)||KANSAS CITY|
|SAN DIEGO ST.||-16|
Early Friday morning, same-sex marriage became legal in all 50 states.
As expected there were people on two ends of the spectrum, those who liked the decision and those who didn't. Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson was one of the latter. Like all athletes, Robinson felt the need to share his thoughts via Twitter.
The cornerback later made his account private, but that wouldn't help the situation. Social media had already caught wind of it and wouldn't let it go quit so easily.
The guy who doesn’t know the difference between gays and pedophiles wants to spread the gospel, but hide his Twitter. pic.twitter.com/v3vHXRUG1v— Darin Gantt (@daringantt) June 26, 2015
Robinson later said he's Christian and will stand by his beliefs, but there has to be a more respectful way to express them.
The age-old question is what is an athlete going to do after his career is over. The Rock is here to provide answers.
In a promo for his new show "Ballers," the actor shows Clay Matthews and Scott Van Pelt the ropes in hosting SportsCenter. He just has a knack for all kinds of things. The Packers star was, umm, not as natural as he is on the field.
Wanted to show good bud ESPN's Scott Van Pelt my favorite part of my house - my brand new, one of kind in the world...#BALLERS SPORTS CENTER in house production studio. And this is what he does.. #YouBreakItYouBuyIt #ThisDeskWasMadeFromUnbornTigersEye #ItsPriceless #DammitScott #DaDaDa #DaDaDa #BALLERS SUNDAY NIGHTS 10pm on HBO.
A video posted by therock (@therock) on
Few programs have heated up the recruiting trail the way Michigan has in the month of June. Over the last 25 days the Wolverines have added 20 verbal commitments including the Thursday pledge of 4-star defensive end Ron Johnson. Michigan landed the 6-3, 240-pound prospect out of Camden High School in New Jersey.
Johnson is not a one-year wonder on the recruiting circuit but is in fact showing he is just starting to develop and come into his own. As a sophomore he racked up 60 tackles, along with four sacks. In 2014 he finished the year with 84 tackles and 10 sacks, catching the attention of teams beyond Big Ten boundaries.
The Wolverines can call Johnson a recruiting coup of sorts landing him over offers from 24 other programs including in-state rival Michigan State, Oregon, Stanford, Notre Dame, Ohio State, North Carolina, Arizona State, Wisconsin, and SEC schools Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, and Ole Miss.
Johnson makes the third commitment for Big Blue in as many days joining Montreal, Quebec defensive back Benjamin St-Juste and 4-star offensive lineman Devery Hamilton out of Gilman School in Baltimore, Md.
The addition of Johnson also softens the blow of losing out on 4-star in-state defensive end Khalid Kareem. The 6-4, 260-pound, Harrison High School recruit from Farmington shocked many in the state of Michigan when he verbally committed to Alabama on Wednesday.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
Ohio State is king right now, and already working for another title.
The Buckeyes released an awesome hype video focusing on their returning players and how they plan to repeat this season. The video is pretty powerful and as far as hype videos go, it's pretty convincing as well.
By the looks of things, the Buckeyes are more than ready to defend the title.
The good people over at ESPN have released the online ballots for the annual ESPY Awards — the only true all-encompassing awards show in sports. As always, I voted. As always, I took it seriously — even if the show itself doesn't always do the same.
I'm enough of a realist to understand that at the core, the ESPYS are nothing more than a popularity contest — a "teen choice" award show for sports fans. I understand that football and basketball dominate pop culture in the United States, while everything else — including even baseball — falls somewhere on the spectrum of being a niche sport. Because of that, I understand the temptation of the casual sports fan to gravitate toward the football and basketball players when casting votes.
Be that as it may, I suppose I am naive enough to expect people to put some actual thought into their otherwise meaningless vote. I'd like to see a little integrity on the part of the voters.
In my mind, it's an easy choice. Regardless of the fact that I am essentially a football writer, I'm still a wrestler at heart — from the time I was seven years old, through high school and briefly in college. I understand the sport. I know of the unique struggles and pain that those who compete in the sport deal with — especially at the elite level.
Logan Stieber is about as elite as a wrestler gets.
Many people reading this haven't seen a wrestling match or don't watch them regularly, so I'll try to keep this rather simple. Stieber just won his fourth Division 1 NCAA Championship. That's a feat that has only been accomplished by three others since the NCAA began allowing freshmen to compete in the late 1960s.
Stieber finished his senior campaign undefeated, capping off an overall record of 119-3 during his college career. I'll save you the math — that's a .975 winning percentage.
In addition to winning the four individual NCAA titles, Stieber did something that none of the other nominees in his ESPY category did during the 2014-15 year, leading his team to an NCAA team title. The four other athletes in his category all made it to the championship final of their respective sports, but they all lost.
People often forget about wrestling being a team sport at the high school and college levels, but it very much is. Each weight class is like a different position on a team. Each member of the team must do his job in order for the team to have success. When you look at it that way, Stieber not only did his job, but also has been the best player at his position during all four years of his college career.
That's something that Marcus Mariota, Frank Kaminsky, Jack Eichel and Dansby Swanson — his fellow nominees — were never able to say during their highly decorated careers.
Two years ago, I was extremely vocal when the voting public gave the same award to Johnny Manziel over Kyle Dake. You all know who Manziel is and what he accomplished. All Dake did was become the first NCAA wrestler to win four national titles in four different weight classes — something that is not likely to happen again. That wasn't good enough for the casual sports fan and ESPY voter to put him ahead of Manziel.
They got it wrong.
Let's make sure we get this one right. Let's make sure we the voters do our best not to turn this annual spectacle into a complete joke once again simply by voting for "the popular kid" in school. Let's make sure Logan Stieber adds one more trophy to his already impressive trophy case — a trophy he rightfully deserves.
(Logan Stieber photo courtesy of Ohio State Athletics)
The New York Knicks surprisingly drafted Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick in the NBA Draft, prompting boos from the Knicks fans in attendance. New Yorkers have a long history of booing their teams, especially against the Jets in the NFL Draft. With one of the worst records last year, they were in line to have their pick of high-caliber athletes to build the future.
Not surprisingly, New York native, Stephen A Smith, took to ESPN to voice his anger over what he believed to be a disappointing, hypocritical pick. He explained that there were several other NBA-ready prospects available, including Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein. Porzingis seems to be touted more as a project with a potentially high upside, but with other more defined players still on the board, the pick was rather surprising. It may take time before Porzingis reaches his full potential, and that is not something a New York fan wants to hear.
See some fan reactions and Stephen A Smith's:
Unlike the Pac-12 North, the conference's southern division will be a lot tighter. USC has the pieces to make it to the College Football Playoff while Arizona State, UCLA and Arizona all could make some noise of their own. Outside of Colorado, we could potentially make a case for the other schools going bowling as well.
There are six teams in the Pac-12's South Division. This article will apply the win totals from one online sportsbook and discuss if there is any value in these numbers. A selection is made based on the team's schedule, in which the games are broken down into three categories - easy wins, toss-ups and certain losses. Most conference games are in the toss-up category unless there is a clear difference in talent.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook
Pac-12 South Division
(Over 7 wins -210...Under 7 wins +160)
Record Last Year: 10-4, 7-2
Returning Starters: 11 (6 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: Anu Solomon was a pleasant surprise his freshman season under center. Solomon had 28 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. Nick Wilson rushed for almost 1,400 yards as a freshman last year. The WRs will be led by Cayleb Jones and Samajie Grant, who each had over six touchdowns thru the air.
Defense: It all starts with Scooby Wright, who had 163 tackles as a sophomore last year. He makes things so much better. The team got good news when Reggie Gilbert was given another year of eligibility on the defensive line. The secondary will have to rebuild after last season.
Schedule: The Wildcats play three of their first four at home, hosting UTSA, Northern Arizona and UCLA. The lone road game in that group is at Nevada, whom they beat 35-28 last year. Starting in October, the team alternates home and road games the rest of the season.
Selection: The over is the play although I'd wait for the price to come down a bit. Arizona's schedule lays out nicely in that the Wildcats get some easy games to start out the year before hitting the stretch where they travel to USC and Arizona in November.
(Over 8.5 wins +130...Under 8.5 wins -170)
Record Last Year: 10-3, 6-3
Returning Starters: 12 (5 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: Taylor Kelly is gone, but ASU brings back experience in Mike Bercovici. The signal-caller had 12 touchdowns last year to just four interceptions. He's got D.J. Foster back, who accounted for 12 touchdowns last season when he split time between running back and wide receiver. The offense was 16th in the country last year, putting up 36.9 points per game.
Defense: Getting pressure up front could be an issue at the start with just one starting returnee on the front line. The good thing is that the secondary is almost all back as well as a stout linebacking corps.
Schedule: The season opens up with Texas A&M in Houston before three straight home games against Cal Poly, New Mexico and USC. The Sun Devils get their bye week towards the end of October.
Selection: The under is the play, but as I've said in other articles, not at this price. The offense could surprise, but this schedule is tough. Getting USC, Oregon and Arizona at home will help, but not enough to sway me to take the over.
(Over 4.5 wins -210...Under 4.5 wins +160)
Record Last Year: 2-10, 0-9
Returning Starters: 15 (6 on offense, 9 on defense)
Offense: Sefo Liufau is back, but he has to improve on his turnovers. Liufau threw 15 interceptions last year, which were drive killers. Nelson Spruce is back and he was an integral part of the offense last year with 106 receptions. Christian Powell should be fresh after getting just 85 carries last year.
Defense: Jim Leavitt comes over from USF to try and fix this side of the ball. The Buffs return nine players here, but last year they allowed 39 points per game. The secondary figures to be a lot better with Ken Crawley leading the way.
Schedule: Colorado gets four non-conference games, as it plays at Hawaii to start the season. After that it's UMass, Colorado State and Nicholls State. The Buffaloes get Oregon, Arizona, Stanford and USC at home.
Selection: I'm going under on the Buffaloes, as I just don't know if they will get a conference victory. Getting the better teams at home helps, but I'm penciling them in for a loss at Hawaii as well as their rivalry game with Colorado State. Add the value that the under gives and we are sold.
(Over 9.5 wins +160...Under 9.5 wins -210)
Record Last Year: 10-3, 6-3
Returning Starters: 17 (9 on offense, 8 on defense)
Offense: The majority of this unit is back although the Bruins will have to replace Brett Hundley under center. Jerry Neuheisel has a bit of game experience, but he'll compete with true freshman Josh Rosen for the job. Whomever wins will have Paul Perkins to hand off to and Jordan Payton to throw to. The offensive line is almost intact from last year as well.
Defense: Myles Jack is back and he's not alone. A questionable secondary will get some help from a front seven that will get after the quarterback.
Schedule: The Bruins play five of their first eight at home. They host Virginia and BYU with a road game at UNLV in between in September. November will be tough with three of their four games on the road.
Selection: I agree with the money move to the under on this one. If UCLA can pull one out at Arizona, Stanford or USC then maybe you can take the over, but I think each one of those road games is a loss.
(Over 8.5 wins -210...Under 8.5 wins +160)
Record Last Year:9-4, 6-3
Returning Starters: 14 (7 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: Cody Kessler figures to be in the thick of the Heisman race this season, especially if he improves in bigger games. Last year he had 39 touchdowns to just five interceptions. JuJu Smith will have to step up and replace Nelson Agholor, who went to the NFL. This offensive line could be the best in the Pac-12.
Defense: There are several big names back led by Su'a Cravens and Adoree Jackson. The front line will need to replace Leonard Williams and Hayes Pullard. The unit will improve on their 115th-ranked pass defense from last year though.
Schedule: The Trojans warm up with three straight home games against Arkansas State, Idaho and Stanford. They have one two-game road trip in November at Colorado and Oregon. Other then that, this is a pretty manageable slate.
Selection: I'm a huge fan of USC this year. I think they finally play like the national power we've always known the Trojans to be. I will say this though, there is a case to be made for the under. Tough road games at Arizona State, Notre Dame, California and Oregon could all be losses.
(Over 7.5 wins -125...Under 7.5 wins -115)
Record Last Year: 9-4, 5-4
Returning Starters: 11 (6 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: Travis Wilson is the key once again. His inconsistency forced the team to yo-yo him in and out of the starting lineup. Devontae Booker ran for over 1,500 yards last year and will be a big help to take a load off Wilson's plate. The offensive line is pretty solid.
Defense: Hunter Dimick is one of the best in the Pac-12 after posting 10 sacks last year. The secondary will have to replace several players, but has Dominique Hatfield to build around.
Schedule: The Utes host Michigan and Utah State before two straight road games at Fresno State and Oregon. They then play three of their next four at home before splitting home and road games in November.
Selection: Small lean to the under for Utah. I think the Utes could make a statement with a win over Michigan in their season opener. As it has been the past few seasons, this team will go as Wilson goes under center.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
There is a lot of moving and shaking happening in the Big Ten these days.
On the field, this league has taken a lot of flack over the years (particularly from the South) about how slow the game is played in the Midwest.
Off the field, Jim Delany has been a brilliant puppeteer of conference expansion and television revenue, making his league the most profitable and stable of any of the Power 5 leagues with quick and decisive action. Penn State and Michigan have made huge, splashy coaching hires that should allow the former college football giants to regain their past stature.
However, the play of the Big Ten on the field is beginning to match its performance off of it.
Ohio State and Urban Meyer got the maligned Big Ten back to the top of the college football mountain by first knocking off hated SEC king Alabama and then crushing Heisman Trophy-led, Pac-12 champion Oregon.
The Buckeyes enter the season ranked No. 1 in the nation with arguably the best roster and path back to the College Football Playoff.
But the rest of this league is what will make 2015 so interesting. In fact, the Big Ten could be in as good a position as any league to get a second team into the Playoff.
Michigan State is that team.
Mark Dantonio has some holes to plug at Michigan State, particularly with right-hand man Pat Narduzzi taking the head coaching job at Pitt. But this team comes in at No. 7 in the preseason rankings for a reason and could easily slip into the Playoff despite a potential road loss to Ohio State.
Connor Cook is an All-American candidate at quarterback who will be playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the nation. Shilique Calhoun and Lawrence Thomas set the edge for what is always one of the most imposing defensive fronts in the nation. Dantonio's squad is loaded again and will be the top challenger to Ohio State in the East Division.
The schedule, though, is what really allows Michigan State to sneak into the Playoff conversation — even with a loss and no division title.
Beating Oregon at home in Week 2 changes the entire complexion of finishing second in the Big Ten East. The Ducks are picked by most to win the Pac-12 North and play in the Pac-12 championship game. Winning the second-best league in America puts Oregon squarely in the Playoff conversation.
Would a one-loss Ducks team get the nod over a one-loss Michigan State team that beat them head-to-head? That's really hard to fathom. Certainly, a two-loss Oregon team wouldn't, right?
The rest of the Spartans' schedule features enough quality games to bolster their Playoff resume as well. Road trips to Nebraska and Michigan will be tough challenges and two quality wins away from East Lansing – something the Committee will have to respect. Home wins over Penn State and Maryland will look solid as well.
With one of the tougher schedules in the Big Ten and a marquee non-conference showdown against a fellow Playoff contender, Michigan State could easily find itself in the postseason conversation even with a loss to Ohio State.
If Michigan State beats the Buckeyes in Columbus on Nov. 21, this entire concept is thrown out the window and the Spartans become not only a lock to make the Playoff but a serious threat to win the national championship.
Of course, Michigan State may have to beat Ohio State again during the four-team tournament to clinch their first national title in over 50 years.
Be careful what you tweet.
The Lakers drafted Larry Nance Jr. with the 27th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, and minutes later Twitter found an old tweet from him about Kobe Bryant. Now, it takes a lot to get on Bryant's good side in the first place, but I'm guessing this won't help.
Seems the Lakers' new draft pick just deleted this old tweet from 2012. Probably a good idea. pic.twitter.com/kC33QuIvPL— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) June 26, 2015
Once the tweet was brought to the attention of Mitch Kupchak, Lakers general manager, he said it was something Bryant and Nance would have to work out.
LAL GM Mitch Kupchak said he & team PR boss John Black addressed Nance's Kobe tweet. Said Kobe & Nance will have to work it out themselves.— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) June 26, 2015
Nance is going to get a lot of Kobe Bryant death stares next season.
Let this be a lesson, nothing goes away on the internet.
Just like last year, Athlon Sports' 2015 NFL Preview magazine includes NFL player rankings at every position. The rankings in the magazine are provided by Dan Shonka of Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services, a company that's been in the football talent evaluation business for more than three decades.
Although often unheralded, a strong offensive line is an extremely valuable, and equally rare, commodity in the NFL. Take Dallas for example. What does having the No. 1 tackle (Tyron Smith) and No. 2 guard (Zack Martin) and center (Travis Frederick) get you? How about the league's second-ranked rushing offense, which also led in time of possession, for a team that won 12 games and the NFC East division title. And while DeMarco Murray, the reigning rushing champion, is no longer a Cowboy, whoever gets the carries this season should be well-positioned for success running behind arguably the league's No. 1 line.
Rankings courtesy of Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services
2015 NFL Player Rankings: Tackles
1. Tyron Smith, Dallas
Physically, he has it all with his extra-long arms, huge hands, strength and athletic ability. He seals the play side with good technique and rare lateral quickness. He is equally skilled as a run blocker or pass protector.
2. Joe Thomas, Cleveland
He has an outstanding combination of size, athletic ability and a gritty style of play. Demonstrates explosiveness and power in the run game.
3. Joe Staley, San Francisco
A Pro Bowl talent who is highly competitive and works to finish his blocks with a nasty streak.
4. Jason Peters, Philadelphia
He has anchored the Eagles’ offensive line since being acquired in a trade from Buffalo in 2009.
5. Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati
He is heading into his 10th year in the league as a physical tackle who can manhandle defensive ends and tackles with his hand strength.
6. Lane Johnson, Philadelphia
An ascending tackle who has started 28 straight games for the Eagles after being drafted in the first round in 2013. A physical and aggressive right tackle.
7. Sebastian Vollmer, New England
A native of Germany, Vollmer has become more of a technique player rather than a mauler in the run game.
8. Jared Veldheer, Arizona
Signed as an unrestricted free agent a year ago from Oakland and has been a huge upgrade on the left side of the Cardinals’ line.
9. Duane Brown, Houston
A natural athlete with long arms and big hands for the left tackle position. Good body control and balance.
10. Kelvin Beachum, Pittsburgh
A good athlete who plays square and has an explosive punch. A top-level technique player who plays with confidence.
11. Donald Penn, Oakland
12. Branden Albert, Miami
13. Anthony Castonzo, Indianapolis
14. Ricky Wagner, Baltimore
15. Will Beatty, N.Y. Giants
16. Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay
17. Zach Strief, New Orleans
18. Trent Williams, Washington
19. Derek Newton, Houston
20. Doug Free, Dallas
2015 NFL Player Rankings: Guards
1. Marshal Yanda, Baltimore
Uses his hands well to control the defender. He is the total package of run blocker, pass protector, football instincts, functional strength and hell-bent-for-leather finisher.
2. Zack Martin, Dallas
Made the transition from college tackle to pro guard. Under the tutelage of line coach Bill Callahan (now with the Redskins), Martin took his blue-collar work ethic and talent to another level.
3. T.J. Lang, Green Bay
An intense and competitive blocker who plays square with balance and leverage. Aggressive off the snap and finishes his target with good head position and leg drive.
4. Evan Mathis, Free Agent
Has a reputation as a consistent competitor who battles hard every play. He is an efficient position blocker with good first-step quickness. Was a surprise cut by Philadelphia head coach Chip Kelly earlier this month.
5. Kelechi Osemele, Baltimore
He has elevated his game under line coach Juan Castillo. The wide-bodied road grader has the physical tools to lock up a defensive tackle.
6. Mike Iupati, Arizona
A powerful man with a wide, athletic body, he plays with a good base and competitive streak. Controls the defender with strong hands and an explosive punch.
7. Joel Bitonio, Cleveland
Uses his hands to seal the inside gap from a defender’s penetration. Physical and strong on down blocks.
8. Brandon Brooks, Houston
Has a thick and powerful body and can manhandle a pass rusher if he maintains his knee bend and leverage.
9. Ronald Leary, Dallas
The former undrafted free agent plays with a good power base to position and wall off a defender in the run game.
10. John Greco, Cleveland
A smart and instinctive player who is very technique-conscious. Keeps his hands inside the frame and controls his target.
11. Josh Sitton, Green Bay
12. Kevin Zeitler, Cincinnati
13. Brandon Linder, Jacksonville
14. Kyle Long, Chicago
15. Orlando Franklin, San Diego
16. Andrew Norwell, Carolina
17. Clint Boling, Cincinnati
18. Chance Warmack, Tennessee
19. Larry Warford, Detroit
20. David DeCastro, Pittsburgh
2015 NFL Player Rankings: Centers
1. Nick Mangold, N.Y. Jets
The durable and dependable pivot has an explosive punch that stuns a defender. Plays with good technique and strong hands.
2. Travis Frederick, Dallas
A power player who gets push in the run game. Has demonstrated the size and strength to neutralize a nose tackle or drive down a gap defender.
3. Alex Mack, Cleveland
The leader of the Browns’ offensive line was well on his way to an All-Pro selection when he went down with a broken fibula in October.
4. Rodney Hudson, Oakland
He is undersized by NFL standards but plays with quickness and agility. Especially effective as a zone blocker, getting to the second level where he seals off linebackers and cuts off pursuit.
5. John Sullivan, Minnesota
Plays with light feet in pass protection yet can anchor versus a power rusher. He has the size, strength, balance and base to control a defensive lineman.
6. Jason Kelce, Philadelphia
A classic zone-blocking center who is athletic with good technique and footwork. Quick to redirect and change direction.
7. Max Unger, New Orleans
A strong drive blocker with nifty feet in the run game. Plays with a solid punch, lockout and foot quickness in pass protection.
8. Ryan Kalil, Carolina
He is an intense and sound technician who is physical and aggressive in his play.
9. Kory Lichtensteiger, Washington
A tough and physical throwback blocker who works to finish his blocks. Plays with quick hands and good technique.
10. Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh
Earned an All-Pro selection in 2014 and is recognized in league circles as an athletic center who plays with attitude and aggression.
11. Chris Myers, Free Agent
12. Jeremy Zuttah, Baltimore
13. Corey Linsley, Green Bay
14. Evan Dietrich-Smith, Tampa Bay
15. Stefen Wisniewski, Jacksonville
16. Bryan Stork, New England
17. Eric Wood, Buffalo
18. Luke Bowanko, Jacksonville
19. Samson Satele, Free Agent
20. Russell Bodine, Cincinnati
The Patriots' hate train has picked up another passenger.
Emmanuel Sanders doesn't think New England's Deflate-gate punishment fits the crime. The champs should have to relinquish their title.
"I'm kind of mad," Sanders told ESPN. "I don't think that they [New England] should be the Super Bowl champions this year."
The Broncos wide receiver says cheating of any nature should not be rewarded.
"You aren't supposed to cheat," Sanders said. "Cheating is not good, especially when you've got guys who are working their butts off for 365 days out of the year and one person cheats — whether it helps them win the Super Bowl or not, they still cheated and shouldn't be a champion."
There are others who share Sanders' thoughts on the issue, but Tom Brady doesn't seem to be letting outside chatter take away from his championship win.
Last season, the Cornhuskers finished two games behind Wisconsin in the Big Ten West standings and were defeated 59-24 by the Badgers in mid-November.
What will it take for Nebraska to close the gap in 2015? Quarterback play.
Adjusting to a new scheme or coaching staff is never an easy task for a quarterback. New coach Mike Riley plans on shifting Nebraska’s offense to more of a pro-style attack in this season, and the first-year coach inherits some talented pieces to work with.
The receiving corps could be among the best in the Big Ten, and the offensive line returns two seniors at the tackle positions. At running back, Terrell Newby and Imani Cross should anchor a productive ground game.
Considering the strength of Nebraska’s supporting cast, returning starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong will be under the microscope in 2015.
The junior has showed plenty of promise in his career, but there’s work for coordinator Danny Langsdorf and Riley to do this offseason.
Here’s a quick snapshot of Armstrong’s numbers in 2014 (all games):
|G||Comp||Att||Comp %||Pass Yds||TDs||INTs||QB Rating||YPC||YPG|
In Big Ten-only games:
|G||Comp||Att||Comp %||Pass Yds||TDs||INTs||QB Rating||YPC||YPG|
Against Ranked Opponents:
|G||Comp||Att||Comp %||Pass Yds||TDs||INTs||QB Rating||YPC||YPG|
Armstrong has showed the ability to make plays on the ground, as he ranked second among Big Ten quarterbacks with 705 yards rushing. Although Armstrong's playmaking ability on the ground will be utilized, Langsdorf needs Armstrong to develop as a passer. A 53.3 completion percentage in all games needs to go up, and the interceptions — especially in conference play — need to be cut.
Related: 2015 All-America Team
To get a look at how critical Armstrong's development is to Nebraska's 2015 season, let's take a look at Oregon State's offenses under Danny Langsdorf from 2005-13.
|Points Per Game||Yards Per Play||Pass Att. Per Game||Passing Yards Per Game|
For comparison, since 2008 the Cornhuskers have averaged less than 30 passing attempts per game. Under Riley and Langsdorf at Oregon State from 2005-13, the Beavers never dipped below 30 per game.
There’s no doubt Riley and Langsdorf will adapt to the personnel in place to win games in 2015. However, there’s definitely a shift coming for Nebraska’s offense. How quickly will Armstrong develop in this offense? The career trajectory of quarterbacks shows rushing attempts and yards decrease as the player becomes more comfortable as a passer.
Entering his junior season, Armstrong has 21 career starts. Increasing the efficiency and reducing the turnovers are two areas to watch in 2015. If Armstrong accomplishes both of those goals and adjusts to the new scheme, Nebraska could close the gap on Wisconsin in the West.
He’s describing the maturity required to allow a younger teammate to become his mentor. He’s describing the maturity that same teammate must possess not to see him as a threat.
If Tennessee is going to continue on its path back to prominence, the Volunteers are going to need Kamara, a new arrival, to be part of a dynamic duo of running backs — a staple of some of the best SEC teams in recent years.
Tennessee finished last season with half of that equation. Jalen Hurd was one of the Volunteers’ breakout stars during the program’s first winning season since 2009. A five-star recruit and one of the jewels of Butch Jones’ first full signing class in Knoxville, Hurd established himself as one of the best freshman backs in Tennessee history, rushing for nearly 900 yards. But fielding merely one standout running back is not a foundation for SEC championships, so Tennessee added another highly touted prospect in Kamara from junior college.
“I’m older, but he’s established here,” Kamara says. “I came with respect for him. That might be one of the hardest things for guys, putting that pride aside, that ego aside and learning from someone younger than you. I had to come in and be mature about it.”
While Kamara’s addition may be a key development in turning Tennessee into an SEC contender once again, the road to his awakening wasn’t short or direct. The top-100 national recruit from Norcross, Ga., started his college career at Alabama, left the Crimson Tide with more suspensions than carries and landed at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. He arrived at Alabama two years ago amid a talented running back class that included four recruits rated four-stars or better, Derrick Henry among them. And a year before Kamara’s class, Alabama had signed two other four- and five-star running backs, one of them being T.J. Yeldon.
There were only so many carries to go around, but Kamara made decisions easier for Alabama. He suffered a knee injury in the preseason, but he also was not on the sidelines for a 2013 game against LSU due to what Alabama deemed were “behavior reasons.” Alabama later suspended him from the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. Kamara transferred to junior college weeks later.
Kamara’s absence from Division I football, and the SEC in particular, lasted only one year. Getting a second chance at running the ball in the SEC was reason for him to exhale.
“You know when something’s right and you’re stepping into a good situation, you’re like, ‘Ahh, OK,”’ Kamara says. “It was like relief.”
If all goes as planned, the relief in Knoxville will be twofold. Kamara steps onto a roster that’s thin at the position but with its leader firmly established.
Hurd rushed for 899 yards last season, the third-highest freshman total in Tennessee history after Jamal Lewis’ 1,364 yards in 1997 and James Stewart’s 908 yards in 1991.
Kamara, though, started spring as the only healthy scholarship tailback on the roster. Hurd participated in spring drills, but he was still recovering from a shoulder injury from the end of the season. Hurd has twice had shoulder surgery since his senior year of high school. And all too often, the Tennessee offense seemed to rest on those shoulders. Without Hurd running the ball effectively, Tennessee had few other places to turn in the running game.
The arrival of Kamara, in theory, should put another top running back on the field and limit some of the wear and tear on Hurd. Winning in the SEC in 2015 will likely require two or more tailbacks anyway.
Take Alabama and its pairings of Yeldon and Henry, or Eddie Lacy and Yeldon, or Trent Richardson and Lacy, for example. Georgia replaced one Heisman-contending running back (Todd Gurley) with another (Nick Chubb) last season. LSU seemingly has two or three NFL-caliber running backs at its disposal on an annual basis.
Tennessee’s issues have been numerous over recent years. The run game might not even be at the top of the Volunteers’ list of their most pressing priorities, but it will be a part of the solution in 2015.
What has been lacking at Tennessee hasn’t been individual running backs, necessarily; the problem has been running back depth. Tennessee hasn’t finished in the top half of the SEC in rushing since 2004 when Gerald Riggs and Cedric Houston both topped 1,000 yards on the ground that season. Not coincidentally, Tennessee has played in the SEC Championship Game only once since then.
Tennessee also hasn’t had a first-team All-SEC running back since 2001 when Travis Stephens and Travis Henry earned those honors in back-to-back years. (Granted, Houston, Arian Foster and Montario Hardesty all were second-teamers at some point.)
Hurd would seem to be a logical candidate to end that drought, but even with Hurd enjoying a standout season in 2014, Tennessee ranked 13th in the SEC in rushing yards per game (146.4) and yards per carry (3.6).
His value, though, could not be overstated. Hurd had some of his best moments in Tennessee’s most important games. He rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown in a three-point loss at Georgia. He had 125 yards on 21 carries in the 45–42 upset of South Carolina. And he completed his season with a 122-yard, two-touchdown performance on 16 carries in the 45–28 win over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
The final game in that list of Hurd’s highlights might be the key. He had more than a month before the game to get healthy, and there was perhaps a little extra motivation. Bowl practice was also the first time Hurd met Kamara, who was committed to the Vols when he visited Tennessee’s practice in Jacksonville, Fla.
“I need guys to push me every day,” Hurd says. “The more competition we have, the better I’m going to get. When I see him break a long run, I want to break a long run.”
The two backs might be a clear No. 1 and No. 2. Or they might be better suited for particular situations. Or they could be interchangeable. None of that is quite clear yet.
“These guys will carve out who they are as football players on their own,” Tennessee running backs coach Robert Gillespie says. “These guys will determine who they are as playmakers. They’ll determine the role they play in the offense.”
That said, the skill set of each of Tennessee’s top two running backs is easy to see. Hurd is 6'3" and 230 pounds and trying to get bigger before the season. Tennessee would love for Hurd to get to a sturdy 235 pounds.
“It’s hard for me to get fat,” Hurd says. “I was trying to eat everything I could, drink as many shakes as I could, get as many calories as I could.”
Kamara is 5'11" and 210 pounds and more likely to run to the outside. Hurd does some of his best work between the tackles.
“We’re two backs that are going to feed off each other,” Hurd says. “He’s more of a shifty back. That’s something he can push me on. I play a little bit bigger.”
The goal, though, is for both to be complete backs with the ability to excel in all situations.
With a year in the system compared to Kamara, Hurd is used to Tennessee’s up-tempo style, which is a stark contrast to what Kamara experienced at Alabama. Hurd knows the protections and blocking concepts, and he caught 35 passes last season, so he can play on third down.
By the time Tennessee opens against Bowling Green on Sept. 5 in Nashville, Hurd will try to do what he can to help Kamara get up to speed.
“Running the ball, that’s easy for Alvin,” Hurd says. “He’s a natural athlete. It’s just understanding the scheme of our offense, who to block, where to be, your alignments.”
This is a simple proposition for Hurd: If Kamara improves by fall, then Hurd probably does, too. And if Kamara and Hurd make up one of the best running back duos in the SEC, Tennessee’s rise will be that much quicker.
“(Hurd has) been able to see that some of the best running backs in the league are part of a tandem,” Gillespie says. “Alvin came on where he could see that, too, where everyone would be a bit better with competition.
“We have two guys that are going to be special.”
Auburn is planning to have a massive scoreboard in place by the start of the 2015 season. The video scoreboard measures 190 x 57 feet and is going to be the biggest in the nation.
And the program is celebrating the new scoreboard by having the 2015 football seniors sign the top beam for the frame.
Needless to say, this is a neat way to commemorate the new video board, along with a hat tip to the seniors that helped the program over the last few seasons. (Photos from (@AuburnPix and @FootballAU)
Muhammad Ali arguably remains the greatest boxer ever and his influence still continues worldwide. However, he also must be recognized for his role in creating Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA for short. On this date in 1976, Ali fought Antonio Inoki, a wrestler, in the first match that combined both boxing and wrestling. The background to the fight is both interesting and mysterious, as it allegedly began as a fixed, exhibition, but ultimately became a real fight.
The fight became something of an unexciting spectacle, as many people were disappointed in it. There were many rules and restrictions placed due to the new nature of the fight. However, both fighters suffered brutal injuries, including a broken leg for Inoki and two leg blood cots for Ali. The fight still drew a large audience and has been seen as a reason for the advent of MMA.
Watch the fight below, it's certainly unique:
Offensive lines are often one of the most overlooked groups during the season or with preseason predictions. While the five players in the trenches aren’t going to be on many highlight reels, offensive lines are the key to any team's offensive attack.
Clemson’s offensive line was already far from settled by the end of spring practice. The Tigers had only two returning starters and depth was a concern. And the uncertainty surrounding this unit was increased on Thursday, as left tackle Isaiah Battle entered the NFL’s supplemental draft.
Although Battle had his share of inconsistencies at Clemson, the New York native entered 2014 with 15 starts and was considered a top 10 prospect at tackle for the 2016 NFL Draft.
Without Battle, center Ryan Norton is the only returning starter for coach Dabo Swinney.
Related: ACC 2015 Predictions
A returning starter count isn’t necessarily the best way to judge any position, but it’s no secret Clemson’s offensive line is going to hold the key to the 2015 season. Much of the offseason focus at Clemson has been on new offensive co-coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott, who are tasked with replacing Chad Morris.
However, even if the offense takes a small step back without Morris calling the plays, this group won’t get on track without productive play up front. And adding to Swinney’s concerns: quarterback Deshaun Watson is coming off of a torn ACL.
And it's not as if the offensive line didn't have its own issues in 2014 either. Clemson allowed 27 sacks, and rushers averaged only 3.3 yards per carry in ACC games. The Tigers also ranked No. 101 in Football Outsiders' adjusted line yards measure and No. 126 in power success rate.
On the positive side for Swinney, Clemson’s offensive line has talent ready to emerge in the form of freshmen Mitch Hyatt and Jake Fruhmorgen. Hyatt was a five-star recruit by 247Sports Composite and was the No. 22 overall recruit in the 2015 signing class. Fruhmorgen was graded as a four-star prospect and the No. 119 recruit.
How long will it take for this group to mesh? As fast as possible will be the hope for Swinney. The schedule won’t do the Tigers any favors. Louisville, which has one of the ACC’s top defensive fronts, hosts Clemson in Week 3. And the Tigers play Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and Boston College in the first three weeks of October. All three defenses have enough talent to disrupt Clemson’s offense if the line struggles.
Improvement from the offensive line was needed in order for Clemson to win 10 games for the fifth consecutive season. With the uncertainty up front and new play-callers in place, there’s even more pressure on the shoulders of Watson, who is just a sophomore himself.
Talent certainly isn’t an issue for Swinney. But the question marks for the 2015 team are significant. With Florida State also dealing with similar concerns, Louisville reloading on its offensive line and at quarterback, the ACC Atlantic is going to be an interesting race to watch this fall.
Here’s a look at the projected starting offensive line, with the career starts and recruiting rank:
|Position/Player||Career Starts||Recruiting Rank|
|LT Mitch Hyatt (True Freshman)||0||5 Stars, No. 22 Overall|
|LG Eric Mac Lain (Senior)||1||4 Stars, No. 182 Overall|
|C Ryan Norton (Senior)||24||3 Stars, No. 690 Overall|
|RG Tyrone Crowder (Sophomore)||1||4 Stars, No. 117 Overall|
|RT Joe Gore (Senior)||3||3 Stars, No. 408 Overall|
A triathlon is one of the benchmarks for measuring fitness in the endurance realm. Combining distance swimming, cycling and running, the sport requires at least a moderate mastery of all three disciplines. A full-distance triathlon (a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run) might be too much for the average weekend warrior, but a shorter distance like a sprint (0.5-mile swim, 12-mile bike ride, 3.1-mile run) or an Olympic distance (.96-mile swim, 25-mile bike, 6.2-mile run) is a very reasonable item for your fitness bucket list.
To get you ready, we got some insightful tips from Jesse Kropelnicki, managing director and professional athlete coach at OutRival Racing, a Texas-based endurance sport training service for numerous Ironman champions and professional racers.
“You’ll need about 10-12 weeks for the average person with some sporting background to train for a sprint, 16 weeks for someone who doesn’t,” Kropelnicki says. Pick a local race about three months out, so you have a deadline, then go to work on the three disciplines.
“It’s all about frequency,” he says. “Get in three bikes, swims and runs (per week), even if they’re all equal distance.” If you run 30 minutes three times, ride an hour three times, and swim a half hour three times a week, you’ll be ready by the time race day comes around.
Go Above and Beyond
As you get closer to race day, ramp up the following formula from Kropelnicki: “As a general rule, you should be able to triple the swim yards, ride eight thirds of the bike distance, and run seven thirds of your run distance in at least two weeks in the previous six weeks coming up to the race.” That means for a sprint tri, swim a total of 1.5 miles, bike a total of 32 miles, and run 7 miles in the weeks approaching your race. “Those are the benchmarks to say that durability won’t be the limiter,” he says.
Don’t Worry About Long Sessions
“The biggest mistake beginners make is putting in a long session,” he says. “Especially in the run.” Doing a long run, then doing it again after a two-day layoff, will allow your muscles to tighten up and set you up for an injury on your next run, even though you’re swimming and cycling on that two-day break.
“A good rule of thumb is to never have one run that makes up more than 35 percent of your weekly mileage,” he says. “A lot of runners will do two 45-minute runs and then a two-hour run, and that just crushes them.”
Grab a Bite
About 2.5 hours before the start of the race, Kropelnicki recommends fueling up with food. Here’s his go-to pre-race meal.
0.5 - 2.0 cups of unsweetened applesauce, depending on size of athlete
1 bottle of PowerBar Ironman Perform
1 scoop of whey protein in 2 - 3 oz. of water
—by Billy Brown