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Path: /college-football/case-nashville-hosting-sec-championship-game
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Since 1994, the 's football championship game has been played inside the Georgia Dome. However, Atlanta has not always served as the site. The first two championship games occurred in Birmingham in 1992 and '93. Despite the success of the SEC's title game, another city, Nashville, deserves to host this annual event.

 

Both Atlanta and Nashville have an NFL stadium. Neither stadium has another tenant. Therefore, freeing up one weekend for the SEC title game should not pose any more of a problem in Nashville than in Atlanta.

 

College Football: Big 12 adds title game, Vegas odds and Jeffery Simmons



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Closer proximity of many of the SEC's campuses to Nashville stands out as one of the city's advantages. Eight members' campuses are nearer to Nashville than to Atlanta. Three campuses are more than 600 miles away from the Georgia Dome; only one is that far from Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans. Four campuses are within 200 miles of Nashville. Only two are within that distance of Atlanta. Of those six closer to Atlanta, the distance to Nashville is less than 70 miles farther away for two of them.  One only need to look at a map to realize Nashville is ideally placed as an annual site.

 

With Nashville's central location, another advantage to this city as the host lies in that it is within a state that borders six other states with one or more SEC members. Therefore, fans within that half of a dozen other states would have a shorter drive. For example, those living in northern Alabama, southern Kentucky and eastern Arkansas are about as close to Nashville as they are to their universities' campuses.  

 

Nashville and its residents would have more reason to embrace this as the major sporting event in their city. With the inception of the College Football Playoff, Atlanta hosts one of the semifinals once every three years. That game garners more national interest than the SEC title game does. Even during the other two years of the rotation, Georgia has another high-profile game in the form of the Peach Bowl as part of the New Year's Six bowl games. Nashville has no comparable college football game of significance every season. Therefore, the related fanfare should exceed that of Atlanta and give fans more incentive to visit the host site, even for fans lacking tickets to the game.

 

What are the drawbacks to Nashville? Some might argue that Nashville's outdoor stadium could become a problem due to inclement weather. First of all, football had been exclusively an outdoor sport for nearly a century before the first domed stadium hosted a game. Secondly, Nashville's average and low temperatures in early December are a daytime high of 53 degrees and an overnight low of 34 degrees. Those do not compare to the frozen tundra of Green Bay where football has been played for many decades without a catastrophe occurring. Also, starting in 2010, the ACC has played its conference championship game in an outdoor stadium in the state due east of Nashville without any calamities. Why can the SEC not do the same?

 

Granted, if Vanderbilt were to advance to the conference title game, the Commodores would have a de facto home-field advantage.  Vanderbilt would be incredibly fortunate to play the most significant football game in its program's history just a few miles from its campus. However, Vanderbilt has never won an SEC championship in football. That is a drought dating back to when the SEC title was first awarded in 1933. No one should expect the Commodores to become a serious contender any time soon and ruin the neutrality of the title game being played in Music City.

 

— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.

Teaser:
The SEC Football Championship Game has been played in Atlanta for more than 20 years. A change of venue is needed for this event.
Post date: Friday, June 10, 2016 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/calvin-johnson-shows-gruesome-finger-injury-detroit-lions-panthers-charles-tillman-instagram
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This is not for the faint of heart.

 

Calvin Johnson's finger hasn't bent normally since 2013. After the Lions receiver suffered an injury and then wore a split in order to keep it straight. Johnson felt it was time to share his finger, and part of the surgery, with the world. 

 

(Warning: It's VERY gruesome)

 

Johnson said he posted the picture after seeing an Instagram photo of former Panthers cornerback Charles Tillman's damaged finger. The formal rivals are still trying to outdo each other. 

 

 

A photo posted by Charles Tillman (@peanuttillman) on

 

No one really wins here.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, June 10, 2016 - 10:35
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/conference-usa-football-2016-predictions
Body:

WKU cruised to the Conference USA title last season behind quarterback Brandon Doughty and a dynamic offense. However, with Doughty off to the NFL, the gap between the Hilltoppers and the rest of the league should close in 2016. Marshall and MTSU are threats to WKU’s division crown, and Southern Miss returns 12 starters from a team that won the West Division last season.

 

Only five Conference USA teams finished with a winning record and qualified for a bowl trip last year. That number should grow in 2016, as WKU, Marshall, MTSU, Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech are safe bets for bowls, with FAU, Old Dominion and UTEP expected to take a step forward this fall. New coaches Seth Littrell (North Texas) and Frank Wilson (UTSA) should provide a spark, but both programs have a ways to go before contending for a winning record.

 

5 Key Questions That Will Shape C-USA in 2016

 

1. Replacing Brandon Doughty at WKU

Brandon Doughty leaves big shoes to fill at quarterback after guiding WKU to a 12-2 record and a Conference USA title last season. Finding the right answer under center is likely the difference between the Hilltoppers winning the league once again or falling just short of the division title. Coach Jeff Brohm is one of the nation’s top offensive minds, and there’s a strong supporting cast in place to alleviate some of the concern at quarterback. USF transfer Mike White is the frontrunner to replace Doughty, and the Florida native showed promise in his limited action with the Bulls. Nelson Fishback was expected to push White for the starting job, but he is out 4-6 months due to a pectoral injury. Louisville transfer Tyler Ferguson and sophomore Drew Eckels are the next in line behind White. It’s unrealistic to expect White to match Doughty’s 2015 totals, but the USF transfer has the talent to be one of Conference USA’s top quarterbacks.

 

2. Marshall, WKU or MTSU in the East?

Most of the discussion in Athlon’s Conference USA prediction meeting was spent sorting out the top of the East Division. Not much separates WKU, Marshall and MTSU, and all three teams have key question marks to address. For WKU, how quickly will Mike White settle into the quarterback role and replace Brandon Doughty? Additionally, the Hilltoppers return only four starters on defense, and the schedule features road trips to MTSU, Marshall and Louisiana Tech. MTSU returns the league’s top pass-catch combination in quarterback Brent Stockstill and receiver Richie James, but Rick Stockstill’s team has a few voids to patch on both sides of the ball. Additionally, there’s a road trip to Marshall in mid-November that could decide the division title. The Thundering Herd have the best collection of talent in Conference USA and return promising sophomore quarterback Chase Litton. A crossover game against Southern Miss is challenging, but Marshall hosts WKU and MTSU. Litton needs a few weapons to emerge in the supporting cast, while the defense suffered key losses at each level. There’s no clear favorite in the East, but Athlon eventually picked MTSU thanks to its edge at quarterback.

 

3. Impact of Coaching Change at Southern Miss?

Coaching changes are never easy, especially ones that take place late in the offseason. Todd Monken’s departure to Tampa Bay came as a surprise, but Southern Miss landed a quality replacement in Jay Hopson. The Mississippi native has a wealth of experience as an assistant (including two previous stints at Southern Miss) and guided Alcorn State to a 32-17 record over the last four seasons as the program’s head coach. Hopson has to put his own stamp on the program, but it’s hard to envision many major changes for 2016. The Golden Eagles return 12 starters from a team that won Conference USA’s West Division last year and own one of the top offenses from the Group of 5 ranks. While the transition may have a few bumps in the road, Southern Miss still has quarterback Nick Mullens to lean on. That should be more than enough to win the West Division and push for the overall league title.

 

4. FAU and Old Dominion Poised for a Breakout Year?

MTSU, Marshall and WKU are the clear favorites at the top of Conference USA’s East Division, but FAU and Old Dominion are two teams to keep an eye on. The Owls have recruited well under Charlie Partridge, and the pieces are starting to fall into place for the third-year coach. After losing four games by seven points or less in 2015, the development of FAU’s young talent this offseason could translate into a bowl for 2016. The Monarchs played better over the second half of last year and just missed on a six-win season after a two-point defeat to FAU in the finale. Coach Bobby Wilder is a sharp offensive mind, and the Old Dominion attack should get back on track in 2016. Quarterback David Washington is expected to recover from a knee injury by the opener, and sophomore Shuler Bentley had a promising close to 2015. The defense surrendered 35.8 points a game last year, but there’s hope for improvement with seven returning starters. FAU and Old Dominion are longshots to win the division. However, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see both teams make a trip to a bowl in 2016.

 

5. Which Team Can Challenge Southern Miss in the West?

Even though the coaching change has added some uncertainty at Southern Miss, the Golden Eagles are a heavy favorite to win the West Division. But if Jay Hopson’s team slips, Louisiana Tech and UTEP should have the best shot at the top spot. The Bulldogs must replace quarterback Jeff Driskel and running back Kenneth Dixon and return only three starters on defense. However, Louisiana Tech has a good foundation in terms of talent and coaching in place, which should prevent a major drop in wins. Injuries hit UTEP hard last season, including a season-ending knee injury to standout running back Aaron Jones early in the 2015 campaign. With Jones back to full strength and a favorable schedule in place for coach Sean Kugler’s team, the Miners should easily rebound back into the postseason. With Southern Miss visiting El Paso on Sept. 24, UTEP has a chance early in the year to stake its claim for the division title. 

 

Conference USA 2016 Team Previews
East Division
 

National

Rank:

125 103 105 73 70 104 76
West Division
 

National

Rank:

85 128 109 68 92 123

 

 

Visit the  to order a copy of the 2016 National College Football Preview Magazine, which features in-depth analysis and previews for all 128 teams, predictions, rankings and features to prepare for the upcoming year. 

 

Conference USA Predictions for 2016
         
East Division
Rank Team   Projected C-USA Record Overall Record
1

(No. 70)

6-2 8-5
.
2

(No. 73)

6-2 8-4
.
3

(No. 76)

6-2 8-4
.
4

(No. 103)

4-4 6-6
.
5

(No. 104)

4-4 6-6
.
6

(No. 105)

3-5 4-8
.
7

(No. 125)

1-7 2-10
.
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected C-USA Record Projected Overall Record
1

(No. 68)

7-1 10-3
.
2

(No. 85)

5-3 7-5
.
3

(No. 92)

4-4 7-5
.
4

(No. 109)

3-5 4-8
.
5

(No. 123)

2-6 3-9
.
6

(No. 128)

1-7 2-10
.
 
Conference USA Championship
 Southern Miss over MTSU 
 
C-USA 2016 Superlatives and Season Predictions
 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

David

Fox

 
Offensive POY

Nick Mullens

QB, USM

Nick Mullens

QB, USM

Nick Mullens

QB, USM

Brent Stockstill

QB, MTSU

Defensive POY Trey Hendrickson
DE, FAU

Trey Hendrickson

DE, FAU

Trey Hendrickson

DE, FAU

Jaylon Ferguson

DE, La. Tech

Coach of the Year

Rick Stockstill

MTSU

Jay Hopson

USM

Jay Hopson

USM

Rick Stockstill

MTSU

Coach on Hot Seat

Ron Turner

FIU

Ron Turner

FIU

Ron Turner

FIU

David Bailiff

Rice

Top Freshman

Daniel Parr

QB, FAU

Daniel Parr

QB, FAU

Daniel Parr

QB, FAU

Kevin McCrary

DT, FAU

Top Newcomer

Mike White

QB, WKU

Mike White

QB, WKU

I'Tavius Mathers

RB, MTSU

Mike White

QB, WKU

Sleeper Team UTEP UTEP FAU FAU
Top Coordinator Hire

Tony Franklin

OC, MTSU

Tony Franklin

OC, MTSU

Tony Franklin

OC, MTSU

Tony Franklin

OC, MTSU

Key Position to Watch MTSU LBs MTSU LBs MTSU LBs MTSU LBs
Hardest to Evaluate WKU WKU WKU Old Dominion
Coach on the Rise

Jeff Brohm

HC, WKU

Jeff Brohm
HC, WKU

Jeff Brohm

HC, WKU

Jeff Brohm

HC, WKU

Must-See Game

MTSU at

Marshall

MTSU at

Marshall

MTSU at

Marshall

MTSU at

Marshall

Breakout Player

David Washington

QB, ODU

I'Tavius Mathers

RB, MTSU

Jeffrey Wilson

RB, N. Texas

Jarveon Williams

RB, UTSA

Comeback Player Aaron Jones
RB, UTEP

Jordan Budwig

OL, FIU

Graysen Schantz

DE, Rice

David Washington

QB, ODU

 

Ranking Conference USA's Coaches for 2016

 

1. Jeff Brohm, WKU

2. Doc Holliday, Marshall

3. Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech

 

 

Grading Conference USA's New Coach Hires for 2016

 

1. Seth Littrell, North Texas (B+)

2. Jay Hopson, Southern Miss (B+)

3. Frank Wilson, UTSA (C+)

 

 

Ranking Conference USA's Quarterbacks for 2016

 

1. Nick Mullens, Southern Miss

2. Brent Stockstill, MTSU

3. Chase Litton, Marshall

4. Alex McGough, FIU

5. Mike White, WKU

 

Conference USA's Top 10 Players on the Rise for 2016

 

1. Jaylon Ferguson, DE, Louisiana Tech

2. Chase Litton, QB, Marshall

3. Mike White, QB, WKU

4. Azeez Al-Shaair, LB, FAU

5. Keith Brown, LB, WKU 

6. Jeffrey Wilson, RB, North Texas

7. I'Tavius Mathers, RB, MTSU

8. Oshane Ximines, DE, ODU 

9. Darian Yancey, DE, Southern Miss

10. Calvin Anderson, OT, Rice

 

Conference USA's Top Five Non-Conference Games for 2016

 

1. WKU at Alabama (Sept. 10)

2. Louisville at Marshall (Sept. 24)

3. Marshall at Pittsburgh (Oct. 1)

4. Vanderbilt at WKU (Sept. 24)

5. MTSU at Vanderbilt (Sept. 10)

 

Key Coordinator Hires for 2016

 

1. Tony Franklin, Offensive Coordinator, MTSU

2. Travis Trickett, Offensive Coordinator, FAU

3. Tom Mason, Defensive Coordinator, UTEP

4. Frank Scelfo, Offensive Coordinator, UTSA

5. Tony Pecoraro, Defensive Coordinator, Southern Miss 

6. Graham Harrell, Offensive Coordinator, North Texas

 

Top Incoming Freshmen for 2016 ()

 

1. Jaquan Yulee, LB, Marshall

2. Xavier Gaines, QB, Marshall

3. Pro Wells, TE, Marshall

4. Jaquelle Green, S, UTSA

5. JaCorey Morris, LB, Southern Miss

6. JaQua Daniels, RB, Marshall

7. Sir Patrick Scott, CB, Marshall

8. Jon Randall Belton, QB, Louisiana Tech

9. Steven Frank, QB, FAU

10. Keon Howard, QB, Southern Miss

Teaser:
Conference USA Football 2016 Predictions
Post date: Friday, June 10, 2016 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News, Magazines
Path: /college-football/explain-yourselves-athlon-answers-questions-about-2016-big-12-predictions
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Before each college football season, Athlon Sports hears from readers wanting to know why one team was favored over another in our preseason rankings. Why this team was ranked so high or that team so low.

 

Some of these questions are in — um — colorful language.

 

That’s why Athlon takes you inside our decision process for some of the biggest questions you ask. Believe it or not, some of these questions are the ones we grappled with through our rankings meeting.

 

Here are the questions we anticipated about our .

 

The Athlon Sports 2016 SEC Preview is 

 

Were there thoughts on not picking OU?

 

Not really — due in part to our confidence in the Sooners and in part to a lack of confidence in the other top teams. Oklahoma did lose some key personnel last year — most notably wide receiver Sterling Shepard, linebacker Eric Striker and cornerback Zach Sanchez — but this is still the most complete team in the league. A year ago, Oklahoma outgained Big 12 opponents by an average of 192.2 yards per game — by far the best in the league — en route to an 8–1 record. The offensive line could be an issue, but OU boasts one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Baker Mayfield and an elite running back duo in Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon.

 

How did the situation at Baylor affect the Bears’ ranking?

 

We ranked Baylor second in the Big 12 during the spring. Obviously, things have changed with the firing of Art Briles, the hiring of Jim Grobe and the turmoil with what’s left of the current roster. Grobe is a fine coach, and he’ll have a talented quad. That said, Baylor doesn’t seem likely to contend for the Big 12 without Briles’ command of the offense, never mind the toll on morale for the remaining players. There are simply too many variables to make any kind of informed decision on Baylor. We originally projected Baylor to go 9-3 overall and 6-3 in the Big 12, a feat that would probably earn Grobe Big 12 Coach of the Year consideration. Baylor is probably closer to seven or eight wins. Given the non-conference schedule and games against Kansas and Iowa State, 5-7 would be the worst case scenario. We split the difference and moved Baylor to fourth behind Oklahoma, TCU and Oklahoma State.

 

 

Why did TCU get the nod over Oklahoma State?

 

TCU endured a string of significant injuries last season yet still went 11–2 overall and 7–2 in the league — a testament to Gary Patterson’s coaching and the overall talent in the program. The Horned Frogs return only one starter on offense, but the drop-off in production shouldn’t be too great. There are plenty of talented returning players at running back and wide receiver to help ease the transition for quarterback Kenny Hill, a transfer from Texas A&M who posted gaudy numbers with the Aggies in his half-season as the starter. And the TCU defense, with seven starters back, should be among the most improved in the nation. Oklahoma State, after winning 10 games a year ago, figures to receive some love in the preseason polls. The Cowboys have some quality talent at quarterback and receiver, and their defense should be decent, but this team still has some significant areas of concern. And it must be noted that the Pokes were fortunate to win seven league games; they outgained league opponents by only 10.9 yards per game, and four of their seven Big 12 wins came by seven points or fewer. One more note: Oklahoma State’s road schedule includes trips to Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma. That is not easy.

 

What went into picking West Virginia fifth?

 

Sorting out the middle of the Big 12 was very difficult. After much debate we settled on West Virginia at No. 5 over Texas Tech and Texas. There is some unrest in Morgantown — head coach Dana Holgorsen isn’t on the firmest of ground — but this is a team that could surprise in 2016. Despite last year’s 4–5 Big 12 record, West Virginia was rated highly by some of the advanced metrics; the F/+ rating used by Football Outsiders ranked the Mountaineers 31st nationally and fourth in the league. There are holes to fill in the secondary, but the offense has a chance to be very good thanks to the return of quarterback Skyler Howard (who played his best game in the bowl win over Arizona State) and a quality offensive line. The schedule also sets up nicely: Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU all visit Morgantown.

 

Texas at 7, really?

 

Yes, Texas is predicted to finish closer to the bottom than the top. The Longhorns should be improved on defense, but there isn’t much evidence to suggest the offense will take a big step forward under new coordinator Sterlin Gilbert. It’s a positive that this offense will finally have an identity, but it will take time for the Horns to adapt to Gilbert’s version of the up-tempo spread. There have been a few nice wins in Charlie Strong’s two seasons, but the Horns have also been really bad far too often; they’ve lost nine games by 17 points or more under his watch — nine too many for a coach at Texas.

Teaser:
Explain Yourselves: Athlon Answers Questions About 2016 SEC Predictions
Post date: Friday, June 10, 2016 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/big-12-football-2016-predictions
Body:

After missing out on the College Football Playoff in 2014, the Big 12 had better fortune last season, as Oklahoma overcame an early loss to Texas to earn a playoff bid and a trip to the Orange Bowl against Clemson. As the focus shifts to 2016, the Sooners begin this season where they left off and in control of the Big 12. Quarterback Baker Mayfield headlines a dynamic offense, and two huge non-conference games – Houston and Ohio State – provide opportunities for the Sooners to earn marquee wins to build the playoff resume.

 

While Oklahoma is a clear favorite by Athlon Sports for the Big 12 title, TCU is a team to watch as a potential sleeper. The Horned Frogs must replace quarterback Trevone Boykin, but there’s still plenty of talent for coach Gary Patterson to build around, including a defense that could be the best in the conference.

 

Oklahoma State, Baylor, West Virginia, Texas, Texas Tech and Kansas State are all projected by Athlon Sports to earn bowl bids this season. Iowa State should show improvement under new coach Matt Campbell, but the Cyclones face a tough schedule. Kansas should break into the win column for second-year coach David Beaty after an 0-12 record last fall.

 

5 Key Questions That Will Shape the Big 12 in 2016
 

1. Back-to-Back Titles for Oklahoma?

Repeating as a conference champion is never easy, but it’s hard to find a reason to pick against Oklahoma in the Big 12. The Sooners return a solid core of talent with 12 returning starters, and the offense is led by Heisman Trophy candidate and quarterback Baker Mayfield. The combination of coordinator Lincoln Riley and Mayfield provided a much-needed spark for the Oklahoma offense last fall, and there’s optimism for this unit to be just as dynamic in 2016. The one-two punch of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon might be the nation’s best backfield duo, and Dede Westbrook, Mark Andrews and Penn State graduate transfer Geno Lewis headline a solid group of receivers. But there are question marks for Riley to address this offseason. Will a clear No. 1 receiver emerge to replace Sterling Shepard? And how will the offensive line jell after losing two starters? Each level of the defense suffered a key loss, but end Charles Walker, linebacker Jordan Evans and cornerback Jordan Thomas are three of the Big 12’s top returning defenders. With matchups against Houston and Ohio State in non-conference play, along with games against TCU and Texas before the midway point of the season, Oklahoma should quickly find out where it stacks up nationally in its quest to get back to the playoff. There are holes to fill for coach Bob Stoops, but the Sooners are a heavy favorite to win the Big 12 and push for a playoff trip once again.

 

Related:

 

2. TCU or Oklahoma State at No. 2?

While Oklahoma was a clear favorite in Athlon’s Big 12 prediction meeting, there was plenty of discussion between TCU or Oklahoma State for the next spot. The edge eventually went to the Horned Frogs, but both teams are projected as top 25 teams this season. Why TCU over Oklahoma State? Take a look at the schedule. The Horned Frogs catch Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech at home, while the Cowboys have road trips to Baylor, Kansas State, TCU and Oklahoma. Additionally, Oklahoma State had a bit of good fortune on its side with a plus-13 turnover margin and a 4-0 mark in one-score games last year. Despite losing standout end Emmanuel Ogbah, the Cowboys should be one of the Big 12’s best on defense. Quarterback Mason Rudolph and a deep group of receivers will carry the offense, but coach Mike Gundy’s team has to run the ball better and improve the line to push Oklahoma or TCU in the standings. The Horned Frogs have to break in a new quarterback – likely Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill – and retool the offensive line. However, there’s a deep cast of skill players in place, and the defense returns four starters, while four key players return from season-ending injuries. If Hill settles in at quarterback, TCU will have a chance to spoil Oklahoma’s run at back-to-back titles in the Big 12.

 

College Football: Breaking Down Athlon’s 2016 Top 25



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3. Reassessing Baylor for 2016

The fallout from the scandal that has rocked Baylor’s football program will continue well into the 2016 season and beyond. Art Briles transformed the Bears into a national title contender, but there will be a cloud of uncertainty hanging over this program in 2016, as interim coach Jim Grobe attempts to keep the team in contention for the Big 12 title. Even before the off-field issues cost Briles his job, Baylor had significant personnel concerns to address on both lines of scrimmage. Rebuilding both of those units will be an even bigger challenge with the departure of junior college recruits B.J. Autry (OL) and Jeremy Faulk (DL), while the status of the rest of the 2016 signing class is up in the air. Quarterback Seth Russell is expected to return to full strength from a neck injury, and there’s no shortage of skill talent in place with wide receiver KD Cannon and running backs Johnny Jefferson and Shock Linwood. Grobe is a good choice to clean up the program for 2016, but how will his style mesh with the current roster and schemes in place? Additionally, how much will the ongoing uncertainty weigh on this team this fall? After spring practice, Baylor was considered a top 10-15 team for 2016. Fast forward to June and it’s fair to wonder if the Bears will finish as a top 25 team this fall.

 

Related:

 

4. Texas…The Big 12’s Mystery Team

With an 11-14 record in his two seasons at Texas, it’s no secret there’s a lot of pressure on coach Charlie Strong. While the Longhorns continue to reel in solid recruiting classes and have a promising core of talent in place, Strong needs a good season to show the program is clearly headed in the right direction. A breakout year from Texas wouldn’t be a surprise, especially if the pieces fall into place under new offensive play-caller Sterlin Gilbert. The Longhorns are hitting the reset button on offense after averaging only 26.4 points a game in 2015, and true freshman quarterback Shane Buechele should provide stability under center. Buechele needs time to get acclimated to the FBS level, and Gilbert can ease his quarterback into the starting role by leaning on the one-two punch of running backs D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren. More weapons need to emerge at receiver, but the Longhorns are starting to build a good foundation in the trenches. Texas finished fifth in the Big 12 in scoring defense (30.3 ppg allowed) in 2015, and the back seven could take a big step forward with the emergence of sophomores Malik Jefferson (LB), Holton Hill (CB) and Davante Davis (CB). With a non-conference schedule of Notre Dame and California, along with road trips to Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas Tech, the path to marked improvement in the win column isn’t easy. However, if the offense improves as expected and the young talent on defense delivers, the Longhorns will easily exceed Athlon’s projected finish of No. 7 in the Big 12.

 

5. Defensive Question Marks at Texas Tech and West Virginia

With uncertainty surrounding Baylor and Texas still trying to put the right pieces in place, Texas Tech or West Virginia has an opportunity to surprise in the final Big 12 standings. However, both teams must rely on their offense to win games, while the defense looks to fill major voids. Offense hasn’t been the problem for Texas Tech in recent years, and there’s no shortage of firepower in Lubbock with the return of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Coach Kliff Kingsbury has to restock the trenches and find a go-to receiver to replace Jakeem Grant, but the offense shouldn’t miss a beat. Coordinator David Gibbs is the right coach to help Texas Tech’s defense take a step forward, and there’s a lot of work ahead this offseason after giving up 43.6 points a game in 2015. Each level of the defense has significant concerns, but the Red Raiders have two potential impact transfers up front (Kolin Hill and Ondre Pipkins), and a few sophomores – Breiden Fehoko, Jah’Shawn Johnson and D’Vonta Hinton – providing hope for improvement. West Virginia’s offense returns eight starters and needs more consistency out of quarterback Skyler Howard to alleviate concerns on a defense that features a rebuilt back seven. How quickly will both teams find the right answers on defense? 

 

College Football: Others Receiving Votes



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Big 12 Team Previews for 2016
           
 

National

Rank:

25 71 99 48 6
 

National

Rank:

24 17 43 42 40

Visit the  to order a copy of the 2016 Big 12 Preview Magazine, which features in-depth analysis and previews for all 10 teams, predictions, rankings and features to prepare for the upcoming year. 
 

Big 12 Predictions for 2016
         
Rank Team   Projected Big 12 Record Projected Overall Record
1

(No. 6)

7-2 10-2
.
2

(No. 17)

6-3 9-3
.
3

(No. 24)

6-3 9-3
.
4

(No. 25)

5-4 8-4
.
5

(No. 40)

5-4 8-4
.
6

(No. 42)

5-4 8-4
.
7

(No. 43)

5-4 7-5
.
8

(No. 48)

4-5 6-6
.
9

(No. 71)

2-7 4-8
.
10

(No. 99)

0-9 2-10
.

 

 

Big 12 2016 Superlatives and Season Predictions
 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

David

Fox

Braden

Gall

 
Offensive POY

Baker Mayfield

QB, Oklahoma

Baker Mayfield

QB, Oklahoma

Baker Mayfield

QB, Oklahoma

Patrick Mahomes

QB, TTU

Patrick Mahomes

QB, TTU

Defensive POY

Malik Jefferson

LB, Texas

Charles Walker

DL, Oklahoma

Malik Jefferson

LB, Texas

Malik Jefferson

LB, Texas

Malik Jefferson

LB, Texas

Coach of the Year

Gary Patterson

TCU

Gary Patterson

TCU

Bob Stoops

Oklahoma

Gary Patterson

TCU

Gary Patterson

TCU

Coach on Hot Seat

Dana Holgorsen

WVU

Charlie Strong

Texas

Charlie Strong

Texas

Charlie Strong

Texas

Charlie Strong

Texas

Top Freshman

Shane Buechele

QB, Texas

Shane Buechele

QB, Texas

Jameson Houston

DB, Baylor

Jeff Gladney

CB, TCU

Shane Buechele

QB, Texas

Top Newcomer

Kenny Hill

QB, TCU

Kenny Hill

QB, TCU

Kenny Hill

QB, TCU

Kenny Hill

QB, TCU

Kenny Hill

QB, TCU

Sleeper Team Texas West Virginia Oklahoma State Texas Texas
Top Coordinator Hire

Sterlin Gilbert

OC, Texas

Sterlin Gilbert

OC, Texas

Tom Manning

Co-OC, ISU

Sterlin Gilbert

OC, Texas

Jon Heacock

DC, ISU

Key Position to Watch TCU OL TCU OL Oklahoma WR Oklahoma WR TCU OL
Hardest to Evaluate Texas Texas Baylor Oklahoma State Texas
Coach on the Rise

Lincoln Riley

OC, Oklahoma

Lincoln Riley

OC, Oklahoma

Matt Campbell

HC, ISU

Lincoln Riley

OC, Oklahoma

Lincoln Riley

OC, Oklahoma

Must-See Game

Ohio State at

Oklahoma

TCU at

Baylor

Ohio State at 

Oklahoma

Oklahoma at

TCU

Oklahoma at

TCU

Breakout Player

Connor Williams

OL, Texas

Jesse Ertz

QB, KSU

Malik Jefferson

LB, Texas

Justin Stockton

RB, TTU

Connor Williams

OL, Texas

Comeback Player

Seth Russell

QB, Baylor

Dante Barnett

S, KSU

Dante Barnett

S, KSU

James McFarland

DE, TCU

Seth Russell

QB, Baylor

 

Ranking the Big 12's Coaches for 2016

 

1. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

2. Gary Patterson, TCU

3. Bill Snyder, Kansas State 

 

 

Grading the Big 12's New Head Coach Hires for 2016

 

1. Matt Campbell, Iowa State (A+)

2. Jim Grobe, Baylor (B)

 

 

Ranking the Big 12 Quarterbacks for 2016

 

1. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

2. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech

3. Seth Russell, Baylor

 

 

Big 12's Top 15 Players on the Rise for 2016

 

1. Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas

2. Connor Williams, OT, Texas

3. KaVontae Turpin, RB/WR, TCU

4. Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma

5. Kyle Bosch, OL, West Virginia

6. Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech

7. Jordan Brailford, DE, Oklahoma State

8. Jarrell Owens, DE, Oklahoma State

9. Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU

10. Willie Harvey, LB, Iowa State

11. Duke Shelley, CB, Kansas State

12. Ryan Willis, QB, Kansas

13. Breiden Fehoko, DT, Texas Tech

14. Jameson Houston, CB, Baylor

15. Shane Buechele, QB, Texas

 

Big 12's Top 10 Non-Conference Games for 2016

 

1. Ohio State at Oklahoma (Sept. 17)

2. Oklahoma vs. Houston (Sept. 3 - NRG Stadium)

3. Notre Dame at Texas (Sept. 4)

4. Arkansas at TCU (Sept. 10)

5. Texas at California (Sept. 17)

6. Pittsburgh at Oklahoma State (Sept. 17)

7. Texas Tech at Arizona State (Sept. 10)

8. Missouri at West Virginia (Sept. 3)

9. West Virginia vs. BYU (Sept. 24 - Landover, Md.)

10. Kansas State at Stanford (Sept. 2)

 

Key Coordinator Hires for 2016

 

1. Sterlin Gilbert, Offensive Coordinator, Texas

2. Tom Manning, Co-Offensive Coordinator, Iowa State

3. Jon Heacock, Defensive Coordinator, Iowa State

4. Joe Wickline, Offensive Coordinator, West Virginia

 

Big 12's Top 15 Incoming Freshmen (from 247Sports)

 

1. Caleb Kelly, LB, Oklahoma

2. Devin Duvernay, WR, Baylor*

3. Brandon Jones, DB, Texas

4. Patrick Hudson, OL, Baylor*

5. Jeffrey McCulloch, LB, Texas

6. Erick Fowler, LB, Texas

7. Tramonda Moore, OL, Oklahoma State

8. Jordan Elliott, DL, Texas

9. Jean Delance, OL, Texas

10. Sewo Olonilua, RB, TCU

11. Isaiah Chambers, DE, TCU

12. Brendan Ferns, LB, West Virginia

13. Brandon Bowen, DL, Baylor*

14. Amani Bledsoe, DE, Oklahoma

15. Jordan Parker, DB, Oklahoma

 

* Due to the coaching change at Baylor, the incoming recruiting class is unsettled and several players may ask out of their LOI.

Teaser:
Big 12 Football 2016 Predictions
Post date: Friday, June 10, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oklahoma Sooners, Big 12
Path: /college-football/ranking-toughest-games-oklahomas-college-football-schedule-2016
Body:

enters the 2016 campaign as the odds-on favorite to win the and a top contender for a spot in the College Football Playoff. So the schedule must be a cakewalk, right?

 

Related:

 

Hardly. In addition to non-conference games with mid-major flavor of the month Houston and perennial national title contender Ohio State, the Sooners have to navigate the competitive Big 12 slate. Those who pay close attention to the conference know that path is filled with landmines. (Ever been to Lubbock? Morgantown?)

 

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A brutal start and rough finishing kick buttress a workable middle of the season. The schedule is daunting enough to where a bad break or two could send the Sooners tumbling down the bowl pecking order. Here is Oklahoma's 12 regular season games ranked from easiest to most challenging.

 

12. Sept. 10 vs. ULM

ULM is starting fresh with a new head coach, and Matt Viator gets a doozy of a road debut as he takes the Warhawks to Norman. It’s the first of three straight road games for the School Formerly Known as NLU: at OU, at Georgia Southern, at Auburn. Ouch.

 

Historically, Bob Stoops is loath to give his bench much time in live action, including in blowouts. However, he should use the opportunity to give his first team a break in the middle of a rough stretch of games to open the season.

 

11. Oct. 29 vs. Kansas

Second-year Kansas coach David Beaty still has a long way to go filling the holes left in the program by flim-flammer Charlie Weis. Count on the Jayhawks to show more signs of life this season with promising quarterback Ryan Willis leading the charge.

 

Willis will lead that charge into Norman in late October and probably return to Lawrence with a spanking.

 

10. Nov. 3 at Iowa State

Weeknight games in Ames can get kinda dicey. Ask Texas (twice). Or Oklahoma State.

 

The Cyclones probably will be lucky to stay within two or three scores, though. This team will struggle in new coach’s Matt Campbell’s first year.

 

Stranger things have happened, but OU will likely cruise.

 

9. Oct. 15 vs. Kansas State

Based on the last two times KSU has visited Owen Field, this may be underestimating Bill Snyder’s bunch. The Wildcats have had a big hand in watering down the perception of OU’s notoriously strong home-field advantage under Stoops.

 

A week after the Red River Showdown, OU will need to guard against a letdown when K-State comes to town this year. Even so, Stoops’ team blasted the ‘Cats last season in a game reflective of the sizable talent gap between the two squads at this point.

 

8. Nov. 19 at West Virginia

The Mountaineers have hung tough in Morgantown versus the Sooners since joining the Big 12. At some point, they’re going to break through against OU.

 

This doesn’t look like the year. Major losses on defense and erratic QB play from Skyler Howard will likely hamstring Dana Holgorsen’s campaign to keep his job.

 

When a road trip to face the ‘Eers is one of the easier games on your schedule, it’s a sign of a reasonably tough slate.

 

7. Oct. 22 at Texas Tech

People in Big 12 country have waited three years for Baker Mayfield to return to Lubbock. The former Red Raider can expect a less than hospitable reception in his old stomping grounds.

 

Kliff Kingsbury remains short on statement wins in his tenure at his alma mater. This one would likely qualify as his biggest yet if Tech can pull it off, and it also would buy some goodwill with a fan base growing increasingly restless.

 

Mayfield will undoubtedly relish the opportunity to put a big number on his former team, too. A fun shootout could be in store.

 

6. Sept. 3 vs. Houston (NRG Stadium, Houston)

Um, this is not the game OU signed up for. The Sooners thought they were getting kittens when they agreed a few years ago to play the Cougars. Instead, they’re squaring off against some mid-major beasts.

 

Tom Herman had his squad primed to play Power 5 opponents last season as the Cougs snared Ws over Louisville and then Florida State in the Peach Bowl. In theory, the hype around UH should help keep the Sooners focused the 2016 opener, and they could have a crowd advantage despite playing in H-Town.

 

5. Dec. 3 vs. Oklahoma State

If everything breaks right for these two, a Big 12 title could be on the line when they meet during the last week of the season.

 

Four of the last six contests between these in-state rivals have been decided by a touchdown or less, including two overtime games. That’s not a throw-out-the-record-books stat, but more a sign of how competitive the two programs have become lately.

 

Speaking of competitive, last season’s installment of the Bedlam rivalry was not. OU handed the Cowboys a whooping, which means the Pokes will probably be salty entering this year’s edition in Norman.

 

4. Nov. 12 vs. Baylor

The self-inflicted chaos at Baylor right now is clouding over forecasts for the Bears’ season. Even without Art Briles, BU still has a wealth of dangerous skill players on offense. That makes the boys from Waco a tough out, no matter the level of disarray surrounding the program.

 

Frankly, though, this matchup could tumble down the list quickly if more Baylor coaches or players get booted before the season starts. (Clearly, that’s not out of the question.) There’s also the matter of retaining talented 2016 recruits looking for an out.

 

3. Oct. 8 vs. Texas

The Red River Showdown has provided Longhorn fans with some of the few bright spots in a dreary stretch of football. Texas has taken two of the last three games from the Sooners, and the ‘Horns should have won the third.

 

Stoops and his staff have been accused of taking UT lightly as of late. Anyone who has watched the games knows that’s not true. On those three Saturdays, Bevo’s boys have played with a level of physicality that has been otherwise missing when they’ve taken the field.

 

If OU doesn’t put a beating on a Texas team that is once again in transition on offense, he’ll hear about it from the Sooner faithful. Sounds like a lot of pressure.

 

2. Sept. 17 vs. Ohio State

Despite being two of college football’s marquee teams, the Sooners and Buckeyes haven’t played since the 1970s. Now, the blue bloods are going to treat us to games in two straight years.

 

If a team that recruits as well as Ohio State can have a rebuilding year, ‘16 is a likely candidate. The Buckeyes return just a handful of starters from last season. One of them is stud quarterback J.T. Barrett, however, which should keep OSU from cratering.

 

Ultimately, this game will come down to Urban Meyer’s stockpile of talent versus OU’s experience and home field. Sounds like a slobberknocker of a non-conference matchup. All eyes will be on Norman in week three.

 

1. Oct. 1 at TCU

At this point, we can all agree that Gary Patterson just has Stoops’ number.

 

Yes, TCU is just 1-3 against OU since the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12 in 2012. However, the series has quickly turned into the most exciting in the league, with Patterson’s teams playing the Sooners down to the wire in each of the three defeats.

 

Oklahoma’s disappointing slide in 2014 started with an upset loss at Amon Carter Stadium. TCU, a dark horse candidate to win the conference, will look to get the upper hand in the standings once again with a win in the Big 12 opener for both squads.

 

— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
Ranking the Toughest Games on Oklahoma's College Football Schedule in 2016
Post date: Friday, June 10, 2016 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/ranking-toughest-games-notre-dames-2016-college-football-schedule
Body:

 plays a national schedule making travel an issue every year. But this year's slate is especially taxing. Two trips to Texas, dropping down to Dixie a couple of times, a jaunt to the Northeast, and a season-ending flight to Los Angeles is extremely daunting. The Irish also welcome Michigan State, fresh off their College Football Playoff appearance, back to the schedule.

 

Related:

 

While there are obvious challenges, some aspects of the schedule set up very nicely for Brian Kelly and company. They get the two service academies on their schedule, and their option offenses, in consecutive weeks. Having an off week after what should be a physical game against Stanford is very helpful. And the ACC portion of the schedule does not include any of the conference’s four teams that are ranked in .

 

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Here is the how the 2016 Notre Dame schedule stacks up, ranked from easiest games to the most challenging matchups.

 

12. Nov. 12 vs. Army West Point (San Antonio)

The Black Knights of the Hudson return the core of a pretty solid defense and most of their skill position talent. But they have some holes to fill on the offensive line and the overall talent level isn’t close to matching Notre Dame’s. The Irish also get Navy the week before so they should be able to control Army’s ground attack.

 

11. Sept. 10 vs. Nevada

Former ND assistant Brian Polian has guided the Wolf Pack to consecutive bowl appearances and returns nine starters on offense. But that unit wasn’t explosive in 2015 and a new offensive coordinator – with a new system – has been hired. Nevada has a very inexperienced defensive front seven, a situation that ND’s big offensive line should be able to exploit in week two.

 

10. Oct. 1 vs. Syracuse (East Rutherford, N.J.)

Technically, Syracuse is hosting this contest. Right. Irish fans will pack MetLife Stadium creating a home game atmosphere. New Orange head coach Dino Babers will implement his high-octane offense with quarterback Eric Dungey pulling the strings. But it’s doubtful that a Cuse defense that struggled in 2015 will be much better this fall.

 

9. Oct. 8 at NC State

The Raleigh crowd will be pumped up for Notre Dame’s first-ever visit to Carter-Finley Stadium and NC State is a program that has given many a highly ranked team fits in the past. But the combination of a youthful offensive line and a new quarterback could be problematic for the Pack.

 

8. Nov. 5 vs. Navy (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Playing Navy is never easy. Fortunately, the Midshipmen’s do-it-all quarterback Keenan Reynolds has finally graduated, leaving senior Tago Smith as the commander of the offense. Smith will lead a unit that is short on experience across the board. Like last year, Navy should be pretty good on defense. But ND has averaged 47 points per game over the last five meetings with Navy and hung 41 on that pretty good defense last year.

 

7. Sept. 24 vs. Duke

Head coach David Cutcliffe recently indicated that quarterback Thomas Sirk could be ready by the season opener after rupturing an Achilles tendon in February. Sirk had a big 2015, leading the team in rushing while also throwing for more than 2,600 yards. Duke loses some important pieces that will be difficult to replace, most notably star safety and ACC Defensive Player of the Year Jeremy Cash. The timing of this game, the week after what should be a hotly contested battle with Michigan State, is concerning.

 

6. Sept. 4 at Texas

It will be a raucous environment in Austin for this Sunday night clash, especially since Texas will be looking to avenge last year’s season-opening loss. But the Longhorns have a quarterback question mark, so much so that true freshman Shane Buechele may start the opener. Sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson has All-America talent and he will be counted on to deliver because the defensive line will be very young.

 

5. Oct. 29 vs. Miami

The Hurricanes have not visited Notre Dame Stadium since 1990 and this will be a game that they circle on their schedule. Brad Kaaya is a sensational quarterback and he has a 1,000-yard rusher in Joseph Yearby that can provide some offensive balance. The defense is talented but also prone to breakdowns, something new head coach Mark Richt would like to rectify. The Irish are off the week prior, giving them two full weeks to prepare for the Canes.

 

4. Nov. 19 vs. Virginia Tech

I don’t believe that the Hokies are as talented as Miami. New coach Justin Fuente is an offensive guru, but Virginia Tech has struggled on that side of the ball for some time and the new system may take a while to develop. Also, defensive coordinator Bud Foster must replace some key contributors like Dadi Nicolas, Luther Maddy and Deon Clarke. But the Irish get Virginia Tech following the two academies and their option offenses and the week before the trip to USC. That’s a tough spot.

 

3. Sept. 17 vs. Michigan State

New quarterback D.J. O’Connor is a more effective runner – and less proficient passer – than the departed Connor Cook, meaning the Spartan offense may look a bit different in 2016. MSU will also have to endure key losses along the offensive line, most notably first-round NFL Draft pick Jack Conklin. But the defense should again be stout and head coach Mark D’Antonio will have his troops ready for their trip to ND.

 

2. Oct. 15 vs. Stanford

Christian McCaffrey is back and that in and of itself will make this one of the most difficult games on the Irish schedule. Stanford loses Joshua Garnett and two other offensive linemen and the defense will have to deal with their own departures, including leading tackler Blake Martinez. But head coach David Shaw has rebuilt offensive lines and defenses before and he probably will again.

 

1. Nov. 26 at USC

The most talented team on the ND schedule – as it is most every year – is USC. New quarterback Max Browne was a 5-star recruit and he will have the luxury of being able to throw to JuJu Smith-Schuster, one of the nation’s most productive wide receivers. There are questions along the defensive line but the back seven should be strong. The Trojans face a brutal schedule in 2016 and assuming they’re not beat down by this point, they should be Notre Dame’s toughest test.

 

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the  for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
Ranking the Toughest Games on Notre Dame's College Football Schedule in 2016
Post date: Friday, June 10, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/cavaliers-fan-sends-tweet-steph-curry-sister-fired-job-riley-daughter-sydel-warriors-twitter
Body:

Tweets are getting people in trouble left and right these days. Many times the person brings the attention themselves.

 

Before Game 3 of the NBA Finals, Steph Curry's sister Sydel tweeted about the trip to Cleveland. Nothing out of the ordinary.

 

 

Evidently a Cavaliers fan, Moe Wahdan, wasn't too happy about the Curry family being in Cleveland and promptly responded.

 

 

Sydel responded with class, addressing the Curry family would be leaving after Game 4.

 

 

From there came a firestorm of tweets at Wahdan for attacking the Curry family, especially Steph's daughter Riley. It ended with the employer stepping in and terminating the twitter troll.

 

 

James Wise, the owner of The Holton-Wise Property Group where Wahdan was working, issued a statement on the incident via .

 

"Shortly after Moe made his inappropriate comments Twitter members started tagging The Holton-Wise Property Group twitter account. At about the same time this was happening, I was notified via email from multiple people who were offended by his actions. I immediately what was going on... At Holton-Wise, we expect our employees to conduct themselves in a professional manner at all times. The behavior demonstrated by Moe towards the Curry family, as well as the inappropriate content I discovered while investigating what was happening with the Curry family tweets led me to terminate him immediately. We do not condone harassment or hate speech of any kind."

 

Wahdan and Sydel had a quick back and forth after that but, as many twitter spats end, she eventually blocked him.

 

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Post date: Thursday, June 9, 2016 - 13:44
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The Mountain West is a step behind the American Athletic Conference for the nod as the top Group of 5 league, but this conference has two programs – Boise State and San Diego State – capable of challenging Houston as the top team from the Group of 5 ranks in 2016. After winning the conference and defeating Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl in 2014, the Broncos took a step back in coach Bryan Harsin’s second season. However, the continued development of quarterback Brett Rypien provides plenty of optimism for Boise State to return to the top of the Mountain West. In the West Division, the Aztecs are a heavy favorite and an undefeated regular season mark isn’t an unreasonable expectation.

 

Boise State and San Diego State are Athlon’s projected top teams from the Mountain West, but Air Force – the defending Mountain Division champion – could knock off the Broncos from the top spot in the division once again. There’s plenty of depth behind Boise State and Air Force, as Utah State, Colorado State and New Mexico should earn bowl bids in 2016. Additionally, Wyoming is expected to take a step forward under coach Craig Bohl.

 

Nevada and San Jose State are San Diego State’s biggest threats in the West Division, but there’s a considerable gap between the Aztecs and these two teams. Fresno State, UNLV and Hawaii rank in the next tier, with the Rebels trending up under second-year coach Tony Sanchez.

 

Five Key Questions That Will Shape the Mountain West in 2016

 

1. Will Boise State Find the Right Answers on Defense?

Scoring points won’t be a problem for the Broncos in 2016. Eight starters return from an offense that averaged 39.1 points a game last season, and this unit will only get better with the development of sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien. Running back Jeremy McNichols also returns after leading the conference with 20 rushing scores in 2015, while top receiver Thomas Sperbeck provides a big-play threat for Rypien after catching 88 passes last fall. The offensive line has to be retooled a bit, but Boise State’s biggest question mark in 2016 is a defense that returns only four starters. The defensive line is new coordinator Andy Avalos’ biggest concern, as this unit was hit hard by departures after 2015. The return of Gabe Perez from injury should help, and junior college recruit Daniel Auelua should push for immediate snaps. However, considering Boise State will have to face a talented group of running backs in 2016 – including a potential matchup against San Diego State in the Mountain West title game – the front line’s development holds the key to the Broncos’ season.

 

Related:

 

2. Christian Chapman’s Development at San Diego State

San Diego State isn’t going to stray too far from its formula for success. Rocky Long’s team will lean on its punishing ground attack and defense to contend for another season of 10 (or more wins) and the Mountain West title. Sophomore quarterback Christian Chapman showed promise in limited action last year, finishing 2015 by completing 8 of 11 passes for 113 yards and one score in the Hawaii Bowl win over Cincinnati. While Chapman doesn’t have to be an All-Mountain West quarterback this season, his development could be the difference in San Diego State finishing as a top 25 team or losing to Boise State in the Mountain West title game. The Aztecs also have to find Chapman a few targets on the outside and get more consistency out of the receiving corps.

 

3. Sorting Out the Middle of the Mountain West

Most of the preseason attention in the Mountain West is likely to surround Boise State and San Diego State. However, the conference quietly has a solid group of teams forming in the next tier after Boise State, San Diego State and Air Force. Utah State, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Jose State and Nevada are all projected to reach at least .500 in Athlon’s predictions. Which of these teams could surprise this fall? Utah State has some significant voids to fill on defense, but the Aggies return a rising star at quarterback in Kent Myers and are led by one of the Mountain West’s top coaches in Matt Wells. Colorado State should improve in coach Mike Bobo’s second year, and there’s a solid core of talent in place on offense despite the loss of receiver Rashard Higgins to the NFL. Nevada should have one of the league’s top offenses, but the defense suffered heavy losses in the front seven. San Jose State and New Mexico took a step forward in the win column last season and another jump in victories isn’t out of the question. Both programs need to improve on defense in order to challenge for a better finish in their respective division.

 

Related:

 

4. UNLV…A Team on The Rise?

Making the jump from high school coach to leading a FBS program is no easy task. However, Tony Sanchez certainly proved he is capable of guiding the Rebels. UNLV only won three games but lost four games by eight points or less last season. Additionally, the Rebels improved to No. 105 nationally last year after ranking No. 118 in 2014 in Football Outsiders F+ rankings. More improvement is expected out of UNLV this fall, as the home schedule features winnable games against Wyoming, Fresno State and Nevada, and junior college recruit Johnny Stanton should provide a spark at quarterback. A bowl game is probably a year away, but the Rebels have some positive momentum headed into 2016.

 

5. Will Fresno State Rebound in 2016?

Tim DeRuyter’s tenure at Fresno State started with 20 wins and a Mountain West title in 2013. However, the Bulldogs have been trending in the wrong direction over the last two seasons. Fresno State is just 9-17 since 2014, and last year’s 3-9 mark was the program’s lowest win total since 1978. DeRuyter wasted no time making changes this offseason, as two new coordinators – Eric Kiesau (offense) and Lorenzo Ward (defense) – provide optimism for improvement. Finding a quarterback is Kiesau’s biggest concern after four players took snaps in 2015, and a new running back must emerge to replace Marteze Waller. On defense, Fresno State returns only four starters, with significant concerns in the front seven. With a schedule that features crossover games against Air Force, Utah State and Colorado State, there’s very little margin for error as DeRuyter hopes to get Fresno State back on track. 

 

Mountain West Conference 2016 Team Previews
Mountain Division
 

National

Rank:

51 34 89 93 82 114
West Division
 

National

Rank:

108 121 86 36 96 106

 

Visit the  to order a copy of the 2016 National College Football Preview Magazine, which features in-depth analysis and previews for all 128 teams, predictions, rankings and features to prepare for the upcoming year. 

 

Mountain West Conference Predictions for 2016
         
Mountain Division
Rank Team   Projected MW Record Projected Overall Record
1

(No. 34)

7-1 11-2
.
2

(No. 51)

6-2 10-2
.
3

(No. 82)

5-3 7-5
.
4

(No. 89)

4-4 6-6
.
5

(No. 93)

3-5 6-6
.
6

(No. 114)

1-7 3-9
.
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected MW Record Projected Overall Record
1

(No. 36)

7-1 10-3
.
2

(No. 86)

5-3 7-5
.
3

(No. 96)

5-3 6-6
.
4
(No. 106)
2-6 4-8
.
5

(No. 108)

2-6 3-9
.
6

(No. 121)

1-7 3-10
.
         
Mountain West Championship
Boise State over San Diego State 

 

Mountain West 2016 Superlatives and Season Predictions
 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

David

Fox

 
Offensive POY

Donnel Pumphrey

RB, SDSU

Donnel Pumphrey

RB, SDSU

Donnel Pumphrey

RB, SDSU

Donnel Pumphrey

RB, SDSU

Defensive POY

Damontae Kazee

CB, SDSU

Damontae Kazee

CB, SDSU

Weston Steelhammer

S, AFA

Weston Steelhammer

S, AFA

Coach of the Year

Rocky Long

SDSU

Bryan Harsin

Boise State

Rocky Long

SDSU

Rocky Long

SDSU

Coach on Hot Seat

Tim DeRuyter

Fresno State

Tim DeRuyter

Fresno State

Tim DeRuyter

Fresno State

Tim DeRuyter

Fresno State

Top Freshman

Chason Virgil

QB, Fresno State

Chason Virgil

QB, Fresno State

Kayode Rufai

DE, Boise State

Chason Virgil

QB, Fresno State

Top Newcomer

Daquawn Brown

CB, Fresno State

Johnny Stanton

QB, UNLV

Johnny Stanton

QB, UNLV

-
Sleeper Team Nevada San Jose State Colorado State Utah State
Top Coordinator Hire

Tim Cramsey

OC, Nevada

Tim Cramsey

OC, Nevada

Zak Hill

Co-OC, Boise State

Tim Cramsey

OC, Nevada

Key Position to Watch Boise State DL SDSU WR Boise State DL Boise State DL
Hardest to Evaluate Utah State Utah State Wyoming New Mexico
Coach on the Rise

Nick Rolovich

HC, Hawaii

Mike Bobo

HC, CSU

Mike Bobo

HC, CSU

Brian Polian

HC, Nevada

Must-See Game

Boise State at

Air Force

Boise State at

Air Force

Wazzu at

Boise State

Boise State at

Air Force

Breakout Player D. Sumner-Gardner
S, Boise State

Jalen Robinette

WR, AFA

Hasaan Henderson

WR, Nevada

Lexington Thomas

RB, UNLV

Comeback Player

Nate Romine

QB, AFA

Nate Romine

QB, AFA

Josh Allen

QB, Wyoming

Dakota Cox

LB, UNM

 

Ranking the Mountain West Coaches for 2016

 

1. Troy Calhoun, Air Force

2. Rocky Long, San Diego State

3. Bryan Harsin, Boise State

 

 

Ranking the Mountain West's Quarterbacks for 2016

 

1. Brett Rypien, Boise State

2. Kent Myers, Utah State

3. Nick Stevens, Colorado State

4. Kenny Potter, San Jose State

5. Tyler Stewart, Nevada

 

Mountain West's Top 10 Players on the Rise for 2016

 

1. Kent Myers, QB, Utah State

2. Dylan Sumner-Gardner, S, Boise State

3. Timothy McVey, RB, Air Force

4. Johnny Stanton, QB, UNLV

5. Daquawn Brown, CB, Fresno State

6. Kyle Kelley, DE, San Diego State

7. Justin Holmes, WR, San Jose State

8. Izzy Matthews, RB, Colorado State

9. Malik Reed, DE, Nevada

10. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

 

Mountain West's Top 10 Non-Conference Games for 2016

 

1. Washington State at Boise State (Sept. 10)

2. California at San Diego State (Sept. 10)

3. Navy at Air Force (Oct. 1)

4. BYU at Boise State (Oct. 20)

5. San Diego State at Northern Illinois (Sept. 17)

6. Nevada at Notre Dame (Sept. 10)

7. Colorado State vs. Colorado (Sept. 2)

8. Utah State at BYU (Nov. 26)

9. Boise State at Oregon State (Sept. 24)

10. Utah at San Jose State (Sept. 17)

 

Key Coordinator Hires for 2016

 

1. Tim Cramsey, Offensive Coordinator, Nevada

2. Zak Hill, Co-Offensive Coordinator, Boise State

3. Eric Kiesau, Offensive Coordinator, Fresno State

4. Ron English, Defensive Coordinator, San Jose State

5. Frank Maile, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Utah State

6. Kevin Lempa, Defensive Coordinator, Hawaii

 

Mountain West's Top Incoming Freshmen for 2016 ()

 

1. Cameron Alexander, DE, San Jose State

2. Armani Rogers, QB, UNLV

3. Alexander Mattison, RB, Boise State

4. Trevion Armstrong, WR, Nevada

5. Kayode Rufai, DE, Boise State

6. Teton Saltes, DE, New Mexico

7. Christian Colon, DT, Colorado State

8. Donte Coleman, TE, Fresno State

9. Freddie Holly, RB, Hawaii

10. Anthony Smith, DE, Colorado State

Teaser:
Mountain West Football 2016 Predictions
Post date: Thursday, June 9, 2016 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/adidas-misspells-colombia-soccer-ad
Body:

With Colombia topping the Group A standings in the Copa America Tournament, Adidas recently launched a new ad campaign to celebrate the South American team in the tournament. However, the country's name was misspelled "Columbia" instead of its native spelling. These spelling errors extended to Adidas's website which have now been fixed.

 

Fans and natives of Colombia quickly noticed and took to Twitter and Instagram to show their frustration with the company. Adidas quickly issued an apology via the stating:

 

“We value our partnership with the Colombian Football Federation and apologize for our mistake. We removed these graphics and are quickly installing new versions today.”

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, June 9, 2016 - 11:01
Path: /college-football/pac-12-football-2016-predictions
Body:

Most preseason predictions and rankings have the Pac-12 on the outside of the playoff picture for 2016, but there’s no shortage of intrigue or potential surrounding this league. Stanford has lost only nine conference games in coach David Shaw’s tenure, and despite significant personnel losses, the Cardinal is penciled in as one of the favorites for the 2016 title. However, with Stanford likely to take a small step back, the door is open for Washington, Oregon and Washington State to win the North Division.

 

The battle to win the South Division is likely to come down to one of the league’s top rivalry games – UCLA vs. USC. Clay Helton had the interim tag removed at the end of 2015 and the coaching stability should help the Trojans. However, Helton needs to find an answer at quarterback, develop a few standouts on the defensive line and navigate one of the nation’s toughest schedules. Utah is a step behind USC and UCLA in the South Division, but the Utes will be a tough out for the rest of the league. And if junior college recruit Troy Williams is the answer at quarterback, Utah will inch closer to the Bruins and Trojans in the South. Arizona State and Arizona have significant question marks to answer, but both programs should reach the postseason in 2016. Mike MacIntyre has Colorado trending in the right direction and could push for a bowl if Sefo Liufau returns to full strength at quarterback.

 

Five Key Questions That Will Shape the Pac-12 in 2016

 

1. How Fast Will Stanford Reload?

Stanford has claimed three out of the last four Pac-12 titles, but coach David Shaw has his work cut out for him in 2016. The Cardinal have to retool on both sides of the ball with only nine returning starters, and the schedule won’t do Shaw’s team any favors. Running back Christian McCaffrey is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman Trophy, but the junior’s supporting cast is surrounded in uncertainty. Can Keller Chryst replace Kevin Hogan at quarterback? And how quickly will the Cardinal find the right mix on a rebuilt offensive line? The defense should be strong in the secondary, but the line is thin on depth and proven options, while the linebacking corps must find a replacement for standout Blake Martinez. While all of those areas are a concern for Shaw, the top contenders in the North – Oregon, Washington and Washington State – each have their own set of concerns. Simply, there’s not going to be one dominant team in this division. Over the last five years, in recruiting ranks – just a few spots behind Oregon. The Cardinal may not match last year’s 12 wins, but this program is better equipped to handle personnel losses than in previous seasons. Don’t expect a huge drop off for Shaw’s team in 2016.

 

Related:

 

2. Washington is Poised for a Breakout Season

Choosing the projected champion of the North Division was easily the longest discussion of Athlon’s Pac-12 prediction meeting. Washington State and Oregon were considered, but Stanford and Washington eventually emerged as the favorites. The Cardinal has won three out of the last four Pac-12 titles, but a changing of the guard could be in order for 2016. The Huskies have made steady progress under coach Chris Petersen and capped a seven-win season in 2015 with an impressive victory over Southern Miss in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. While the overall win total (seven) has room to improve, advanced metrics were a big believer in Washington last year. In Football Outsiders’ F+ rankings, the Huskies ranked as the No. 13 team in 2015. And with 17 starters returning, Washington should take a big step forward in the win column. Quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin lead the way for the offense, while the defense should be the best in the Pac-12 after limiting opponents to 18.8 points a game in 2015. The Huskies have road trips to Utah, Oregon and Washington State to navigate, but Stanford visits Seattle on Sept. 30 in a game that could decide the North Division winner.

 

College Football: Breaking Down Athlon’s 2016 Top 25



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3. USC vs. UCLA in the Pac-12 South

, but the Bruins have some big advantages in their favor this season. UCLA has a clear edge at quarterback with sophomore Josh Rosen, and the schedule – including a home date against the Trojans – is significantly in favor of the Bruins. Additionally, the coaching element favors UCLA. Clay Helton guided USC to the South Division title last season, but there’s a better track record of success for Jim Mora. Despite the advantages in UCLA’s favor, the Bruins do have a few question marks to address. What tweaks will new coordinator Kennedy Polamalu implement for the offense? Additionally, Polamalu needs to revamp the receiving corps and fill a few voids on the offensive line. UCLA has to get tougher against the run after surrendering 198.5 yards a game in 2015. However, the return of Eddie Vanderdoes from injury should bolster the defensive line. Provided Max Browne provides steady play at quarterback, USC’s offense should be dynamic. But even if the offense ranks near the top of the Pac-12, a thin defensive line and brutal schedule could be too much to overcome.

 

Related:

 

4. Oregon and Washington State Lurking in the North

Washington and Stanford are Athlon’s projected top teams in the North, but Oregon and Washington State aren’t far behind. The addition of Brady Hoke should be a huge boost to the Ducks’ struggling defense, and the offense will be dynamic as usual. New play-caller Matt Lubick can lean on running back Royce Freeman until a quarterback – Dakota Prukop or Travis Jonsen – emerges as the No. 1 quarterback. The schedule has its share of challenges for coach Mark Helfrich’s team, but Stanford and Washington visit Eugene. Mike Leach guided Washington State to nine wins in 2015 – the program’s highest mark since winning 10 games in 2003. Quarterback Luke Falk and receiver Gabe Marks form one of the nation’s top pass-catch combinations, and the defense made progress under coordinator Alex Grinch last season. Washington State did have a bit of good fortune on its side in 2015 with five wins by one score. However, the Cougars are trending up for 2016, and Leach’s explosive offense could be enough to carry Washington State to nine (or more) wins this fall.

 

5. Rebuilding at Arizona and Arizona State

Arizona and Arizona State opened 2015 with high expectations, but these two programs finished with a combined 13-13 record. The Wildcats (2014) and Sun Devils (2013) aren’t far removed from an appearance in the Pac-12 Championship Game, and neither program is in danger of suffering another steep drop in 2016. However, both teams are likely headed for a rebuilding year. Arizona State finished spring practice without an answer at quarterback, question marks on the offensive line and concerns in the secondary. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez revamped his defensive staff after this unit allowed 35.8 points a game in 2015. The Wildcats also need a healthy year out of quarterback Anu Solomon and running back Nick Wilson to exceed last year’s seven wins. Both programs are in good shape for the long haul, but Arizona and Arizona State face a tough path just to get bowl eligible in 2016.

 

College Football: Others Receiving Votes



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Pac-12 Team Previews for 2016
North Division
 

National

Rank:

44 23 90 12 11 30
South Division
 

National

Rank:

50 46 61 14 22 32

 

Visit the  to order a copy of the 2016 Pac-12 Preview Magazine, which features in-depth analysis and previews for all 12 teams, predictions, rankings and features to prepare for the upcoming year. 

 

Pac-12 Predictions for 2016
         
North Division
Rank Team   Projected Pac-12 Record Projected Overall Record
1

(No. 11)

6-3 10-3
.
2

(No. 12)

6-3 9-3
.
3

(No. 23)

5-4 8-4
.
4

(No. 30)

5-4 8-4
.
5

(No. 44)

3-6 6-6
.
6

(No. 90)

1-8 2-10
.
         
South Division
Rank Team   Projected Pac-12 Record Projected Overall Record
1

(No. 14)

7-2 9-4
.
2

(No. 22)

6-3 8-4
.
3

(No. 32)

5-4 8-4
.
4

(No. 46)

4-5 6-6
.
5

(No. 50)

4-5 6-6
.
6

(No. 61)

2-7 4-8
.
 
Pac-12 Championship
Washington over UCLA 

 

Pac-12 Superlatives and Season Predictions
 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

David

Fox

Braden

Gall

 
Offensive POY

Christian McCaffrey

RB, Stanford

Christian McCaffrey

RB, Stanford

Christian McCaffrey

RB, Stanford

Christian McCaffrey

RB, Stanford

Christian McCaffrey

RB, Stanford

Defensive POY

Budda Baker

S, Washington

Budda Baker

S, Washington

Budda Baker

S, Washington

Budda Baker

S, Washington

Budda Baker

S, Washington

Coach of the Year

Chris Petersen

Washington

Chris Petersen

Washington

Chris Petersen

Washington

Chris Petersen

Washington

Chris Petersen

Washington

Coach on Hot Seat

Mike MacIntyre

Colorado

Mike MacIntyre

Colorado

Todd Graham

Arizona State

Mike MacIntyre

Colorado

Mike MacIntyre

Colorado

Top Freshman

Mique Juarez

LB, UCLA

Theo Howard

WR, UCLA

Mique Juarez

LB, UCLA

Mique Juarez

LB, UCLA

Mique Juarez

LB, UCLA

Top Newcomer

Davis Webb

QB, California

Davis Webb

QB, California

Davis Webb

QB, California

Davis Webb

QB, California

Davis Webb

QB, California

Sleeper Team

Washington

State

California California Utah

Washington

State

Top Coordinator Hire

Brady Hoke

DC, Oregon

Brady Hoke

DC, Oregon

Brady Hoke,

DC, Oregon

Marcel Yates

DC, Arizona

Brady Hoke

DC, Oregon

Key Position to Watch Stanford OL USC DL Oregon DL Stanford OL Stanford OL
Hardest to Evaluate USC USC Utah Arizona State USC
Coach on the Rise

Pete Kwiatkowski

DC, Washington

Alex Grinch

DC, Wazzu

Pete Kwiatkowski

DC, Washington

Tee Martin

OC, USC

Chip Lindsey

OC, Arizona State

Must-See Game

Stanford at

Washington

USC at

Washington

USC vs. 

Alabama

Stanford at 

Washington

Stanford at

Washington

Breakout Player

Ronald Jones

RB, USC

Ronald Jones

RB, USC

Jake Browning

QB, Washington

Soso Jamabo

RB, UCLA

Ronald Jones

RB, USC

Comeback Player

Eddie Vanderdoes

DL, UCLA

Eddie Vanderdoes

DL, UCLA

John Ross

WR/KR, Washington

Nick Wilson

RB, Arizona

Eddie Vanderdoes

DL, UCLA

 

Ranking the Pac-12's Coaches for 2016

 

1. David Shaw, Stanford

2. Chris Petersen, Washington

3. Kyle Whittingham, Utah

 

 

Ranking the Pac-12's Quarterbacks for 2016

 

1. Josh Rosen, UCLA

2. Luke Falk, Washington State

3. Jake Browning, Washington

 

 

Pac-12's Top 10 Players on the Rise for 2016

 

1. Ronald Jones, RB, USC

2. Jake Browning, QB, Washington

3. Cameron Smith, LB, USC

4. Soso Jamabo, RB, UCLA

5. Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford

6. Kareem Orr, DB, Arizona State

7. Joe Williams, RB, Utah

8. Darrien Molton, CB, Washington State

9. Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford

10. Dakota Prukop, QB, Oregon

 

 

Pac-12's Top 10 Non-Conference Games for 2016

 

1. USC vs. Alabama (Arlington - Sept. 3)

2. Notre Dame at USC (Nov. 26)

3. Stanford at Notre Dame (Oct. 15)

4. UCLA at Texas A&M (Sept. 3)

5. Oregon at Nebraska (Sept. 17)

6. BYU at Utah (Sept. 10)

7. Texas at California (Sept. 17)

8. Washington State at Boise State (Sept. 10)

9. UCLA at BYU (Sept. 17)

10. Texas Tech at Arizona State (Sept. 10)

 

Pac-12's Key Coordinator Hires for 2016

 

1. Brady Hoke, Defensive Coordinator, Oregon

2. Chip Lindsey, Offensive Coordinator, Arizona State

3. Clancy Pendergast, Defensive Coordinator, USC

4. Marcel Yates, Defensive Coordinator, Arizona

5. Tee Martin, Offensive Coordinator, USC

6. Jake Spavital, Offensive Coordinator, California

7. Morgan Scalley, Defensive Coordinator, Utah

8. Kennedy Polamalu, Offensive Coordinator, UCLA

 

Pac-12's Top 15 Incoming Freshmen for 2016 ()

 

1. Mique Juarez, LB, UCLA

2. Demetris Robertson, WR, California

3. Oluwole Betiku, DL, USC

4. Jack Jones, DB, USC

5. Tyler Vaughns, WR, USC

6. Kaden Smith, TE, Stanford

7. K.J. Costello, QB, Stanford

8. N'Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

9. Michael Pittman, WR, USC

10. Curtis Robinson, LB, Stanford

11. E.J. Price, OL, USC

12. Jamel Cook, DB, USC

13. Byron Murphy, DB, Washington

14. Theo Howard, WR, UCLA

15. Boss Tagaloa, DL, UCLA

Teaser:
Pac-12 Football 2016 Predictions
Post date: Thursday, June 9, 2016 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News, Magazines
Path: /college-football/explain-yourselves-athlon-answers-questions-about-2016-pac-12-predictions
Body:

Before each college football season, Athlon Sports hears from readers wanting to know why one team was favored over another in our preseason rankings. Why this team was ranked so high or that team so low.

 

Some of these questions are in — um — colorful language.

 

That’s why Athlon takes you inside our decision process for some of the biggest questions you ask. Believe it or not, some of these questions are the ones we grappled with through our rankings meeting.

 

Here are the questions we anticipated about our .

 

The Athlon Sports 2016 Pac-12 Preview is 

 

UCLA was a relatively easy pick in the South. Why are we so confident?

 

At first glance, the Bruins’ 8–5 record last season might be considered a disappointment. They went only 5–4 in the Pac-12, lost to crosstown rival USC by 19 points and dropped their bowl game to a Nebraska team that had a losing record. But we can’t forget that UCLA started a true freshman at quarterback and was ravaged by injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Now, Josh Rosen — the No. 1 QB in the 2015 recruiting class — is a sophomore with 13 starts under his belt and figures to be one of the top quarterbacks in the nation in 2016. And the defense returns nine starters — not including standout tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, who went down with a torn ACL in early September. His return should help UCLA improve against the run, an area of weakness last year. Also, the schedule is very, very forgiving; the Bruins do not play Washington or Oregon — two of the top three teams in the North — and host both USC and Utah. The UCLA pick also indicates our lack of confidence in USC. The Trojans will once again have a ton of talent, but there are questions at quarterback and with the coaching staff.

 

Why did Utah get the nod over the Arizona schools for third in the South?

 

The Utes loses some key players from last year’s surprising 10-win team, but Kyle Whittingham has built a solid foundation that will keep this program competitive. The overall offensive numbers were not good last season, but Utah still managed to run the ball with consistency and play well defensively — two staples of the Utes in recent years. And while All-Pac-12 tailback Devontae Booker is gone, Joe Williams appears more than ready to step into the role as primary ball-carrier. Arizona State was one of the more disappointing teams in the league last season and has some significant holes to fill on both sides of the ball. Arizona will continue to score a ton of points, but the Wildcats have issues on defense — again.

 

 

How did Washington get the nod over Stanford, a team that has either won or shared the Pac-12 North title in four of the last five seasons?

 

The record wasn’t overly impressive — 7–6 overall and 4–5 in the league — but Washington showed significant improvement in Chris Petersen’s second season. For the most part, when the Huskies won, they won impressively, and when they lost, they lost close games to good teams. UW returns two of the top young skill-position players in the league in quarterback Jake Browning and tailback Myles Gaskin and welcomes back explosive receiver John Ross from injury. Stanford isn’t going anywhere, but the Cardinal suffered too many key personnel losses and must identify a new starting quarterback. Washington also has the easier conference schedule and gets Stanford at home (on Sept. 30).

 

Why no respect for Oregon?

 

It’s not time to panic, but the Ducks lost four games in 2015 — the most since 2007 when Mike Bellotti’s penultimate Oregon team went 9–4. The positive spin? Three of the four losses came by seven points or fewer and two of the three losses came with quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. either slowed by an injury or out with an injury. The negative spin? Adams is no longer around, and the team has significant concerns on both the offensive line and defensive line. Dakota Prukop put up huge numbers at Montana State, but there is no guarantee he will be as successful as Adams, last year’s FBS transfer. There is also a coaching transition, with a new offensive coordinator (Matt Lubick) and defensive coordinator (Brady Hoke). Hoke figures to be a significant upgrade over Don Pellum — demoted to linebackers coach — but don’t expect too big an improvement in 2016.

Teaser:
Explain Yourselves: Athlon Answers Questions About 2016 SEC Predictions
Post date: Thursday, June 9, 2016 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/young-cancer-survivor-shows-prosthetic-cubs-eye-chicago-beckham-zobrist
Body:

Beckham Zobrist fought cancer and doesn't want his battle to go unnoticed. 

 

The 7-year-old survivor is taking his hard-fought victory and showing it off in a prideful manner with a prosthetic eye. Zobrist lost one of his eyes to retinoblastoma and a new eye was on his wish list after being teased at school. His wish was granted and more with a special Cubs prosthetic. 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, June 9, 2016 - 10:28
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Missouri Tigers, SEC
Path: /college-football/ranking-toughest-games-missouris-college-football-schedule-2016
Body:

heads into the fall with what looks to be one of the 's best defenses. The Tigers also have continuity on the coaching staff, with former defensive coordinator Barry Odom taking over as head coach after Gary Pinkel announced his retirement this past November.

 

Related: 

 

But after going a whole month without a touchdown at one point last season, Mizzou will no doubt be looking to improve on offense, starting with sophomore quarterback Drew Lock. If the Tigers are going to get back to a bowl game in 2016, they will have to win a few key SEC games on the schedule. Luckily, the schedule sets up pretty well.

 

Here is a look at Missouri’s 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to toughest:

 

12. Sept. 24 vs. Delaware State

Delaware State lost its first 10 games in 2015 before knocking off Howard 32-31 in its season finale. There really isn’t anything that jumps off the page to make you think the Hornets will be much better this year. Missouri should be able to get plenty of reps for its younger players in the second half of this game.

 

11. Sept. 10 vs. Eastern Michigan

Like Delaware State, Eastern Michigan also had only one win last season. But at least the Eagles’ win came on the road against an FBS opponent (Wyoming). Former 4-star quarterback recruit Brogan Roback returns after filling in admirably for Reggie Bell last season, but Eastern Michigan probably won’t have enough of a supporting cast to give Mizzou a game in week two.

 

10. Oct. 22 vs. Middle Tennessee

Chances are the Tigers will be able to cruise against a couple of their non-conference opponents. However, that likely won’t be the case against Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders return plenty of talent from last year’s 7-6 squad that narrowly lost at home to Vanderbilt. This program has proven over the years it isn’t afraid to take on SEC opponents. Missouri may have its hands full against MTSU.

 

9. Oct. 29 vs. Kentucky

When it comes to the SEC slate, Missouri should have some winnable games at home. Kentucky squeaked by Mizzou last year, 21-13 in Lexington, but the ‘Cats may not match up well this time around. Kentucky’s strength appears to be its offense, but Missouri should be stout on the defensive side once again in 2016. If the Tigers can manage some offense, they will have the advantage in this one. 

 

8. Nov. 12 vs. Vanderbilt

Last year, Missouri and Vanderbilt battled in a defensive struggle (or maybe it was more of an offensive struggle), with the Commodores eventually winning 10-3. Vanderbilt has 12 starters returning under Derek Mason, and a trip to a bowl game is not out of the question for this season. Luckily, the Tigers get to play this one in CoMo.

 

7. Nov. 5 at South Carolina

South Carolina is rebuilding the roster under new head coach Will Muschamp. The Gamecocks are expected to be improved on defense, but there still just isn’t a lot of talent in the cupboard right now. Mizzou should have a chance to win this game if South Carolina’s offense hasn’t drastically improved. Still, winning at Williams-Brice Stadium will not be an easy task.

 

6. Sept. 3 at West Virginia

Missouri opens the 2016 season at West Virginia, which could prove to be one of the most difficult road tests on the Tigers’ schedule. For years, teams have feared traveling to Morgantown, where couches burn freely in the streets. West Virginia returns quarterback Skyler Howard and seven other starters on offense. The Mountaineers like to put up points. If Missouri can’t keep pace, this one could get out of hand.

 

5. Oct. 15 at Florida

The defending SEC East champions lose some key pieces on both sides of the ball heading into the fall, but Florida still looks to be able to compete near the top of the division. Missouri will be coming off a bye week before traveling to The Swamp to take on the Gators. The last time these teams met in Gainesville, Missouri annihilated Florida, 42-13.

 

4. Nov. 25 vs. Arkansas

If this game were played in September, I would have ranked it behind Florida and probably West Virginia, too. However, under Bret Bielema, the Hogs have proven to be downright scary in November. Arkansas has to replace its quarterback, top two running backs, tight end, and the majority of its powerful offensive line from a year ago. It won’t be easy, but by Thanksgiving weekend, the Razorbacks will probably have it figured out.

 

3. Sept. 17 vs. Georgia

Georgia has a new head coach for the first time in 15 years and fans are expecting a national championship in the near future. This year’s team has plenty of depth on both sides of the ball to compete with the SEC’s best, although there are some big shoes to fill on defense. Missouri will need to find its rhythm early in order to avoid falling to 0-1 in conference play.

 

2. Nov. 19 at Tennessee

Last year, Tennessee finally got over the hump against Missouri, defeating the Tigers 19-8 in Columbia. The Volunteers are stacked on both sides of the ball heading into this season.  By November, there is a good chance Tennessee will be looking to close out the SEC East race behind the legs of Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Neyland Stadium will be rocking.

 

1. Oct. 1 at LSU

Could Mizzou have gotten a tougher draw from the SEC West? Maybe Alabama would be worse, but maybe not. LSU has all the pieces in place to get to the College Football Playoff this season. The Bayou Bengals’ depth chart appears to be one of the best in all of college football. Missouri will have its work cut out for it when the East Tigers meet their West counterparts in Death Valley.

 

— Written by Cody McClure, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a radio host and lead SEC Writer for . Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
Ranking the Toughest Games on Missouri's College Football Schedule in 2016
Post date: Thursday, June 9, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-2016-fcs-all-america-team
Body:

The Athlon Sports FCS Preseason All-America team features plenty of high-powered offensive players who will light up scoreboards all season.

 

But it comes with a defensive unit that the offensive standouts probably wouldn’t want to run into.

 

Related:
 

The talent is soaring in the FCS – as evidenced by Carson Wentz leading 20 FCS selections in the NFL Draft this past April – and it’s widespread as well. There are 11 conferences and 21 schools represented on the Athlon preseason team. Not surprisingly, it’s a senior-dominated group.

 

Five-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State, national runner-up Jacksonville State, Chattanooga, The Citadel, James Madison and New Hampshire have two selections each.

 

Athlon Sports 2016 FCS All-America Team

 

  Offense   Defense   Speciailsts
QB Eli Jenkins
Jacksonville State
DE Keionta Davis
Chattanooga
K Nick Dorka
William & Mary
RB Chase Edmonds
Fordham
DE P.J. Hall
Sam Houston State
P Chris Fraser
Cornell
RB Kade Harrington
Lamar
DT Isaiah Golden
McNeese State
KR Lorenzo Jerome
Saint Francis
FB Tyler Renew
The Citadel
DT Caleb Kidder
Montana
PR Khris Gardin
NC A&T
WR Cooper Kupp
Eastern Washington
LB Andrew Ankrah
James Madison
   
WR Jake Wienke
South Dakota State
LB Nick DeLuca
North Dakota State
   
TE Jordan Powell
New Hampshire
LB Christian Kuntz
Duquesne
   
C Casey Dunn
Jacksonville State
CB Casey DeAndrade
New Hampshire
   
G Zack Johnson
North Dakota State
CB Dee Delaney
The Citadel
   
G Corey Levin
Chattanooga
S David Jones
Richmond 
   
T Julie'n Davenport
Bucknell
S Donald Payne
Stetson
   
T Mitch Kirsch
James Madison
       

 

— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for . He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter .

 

(Eli Jenkins photo courtesy of Jacksonville State University Athletic Communications; Keionta Davis photo courtesy of University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Athletic Communications)

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Athlon Sports 2016 FCS All-America Team
Post date: Thursday, June 9, 2016 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Air Force Falcons, Akron Zips, Alabama Crimson Tide, Appalachian State Mountaineers, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats, Arkansas Razorbacks, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Army West Point Black Knights, Army Black Knights, Army West Point Black Knights, Auburn Tigers, Ball State Cardinals, Baylor Bears, Boise State Broncos, Boston College Eagles, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, BYU Cougars, California Golden Bears, Central Michigan Chippewas, Charlotte 49ers, Cincinnati Bearcats, Clemson Tigers, College Football, Colorado Buffaloes, Colorado State Rams, Connecticut Huskies, Duke Blue Devils, East Carolina Pirates, Eastern Michigan Eagles, FAU Owls, FIU Panthers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Fresno State Bulldogs, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Southern Eagles, Georgia State Panthers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, Hawaii Warriors, Houston Cougars, Idaho Vandals, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Kent State Golden Flashes, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Louisville Cardinals, LSU Tigers, Marshall Thundering Herd, Maryland Terrapins, Memphis Tigers, Miami Hurricanes, Miami Ohio RedHawks, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, MTSU Blue Raiders, Navy Midshipmen, Navy Midshipmen, NC State Wolfpack, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, New Mexico State Aggies, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Texas Mean Green, Northern Illinois Huskies, Northwestern Wildcats, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Old Dominion Monarchs, Ole Miss Rebels, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Pittsburgh Panthers, Purdue Boilermakers, Rice Owls, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, San Diego State Aztecs, San Jose State Spartans, SMU Mustangs, South Alabama Jaguars, South Carolina Gamecocks, South Florida Bulls, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Stanford Cardinal, syndicated, Syracuse Orange, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Longhorns, Texas State Bobcats, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Toledo Rockets, Troy Trojans, Tulane Green Wave, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, UAB Blazers, UCF Knights, UCLA Bruins, UConn Huskies, UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, UL Monroe Warhawks, UMass Minutemen, UNLV Rebels, USC Trojans, Utah State Aggies, Utah Utes, UTEP Miners, UTSA Roadrunners, Vanderbilt Commodores, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, West Virginia Mountaineers, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Western Michigan Broncos, Wisconsin Badgers, Wyoming Cowboys, American Athletic, Big 12, Big Ten, Conference USA, Independents, MAC, Mountain West, Pac 12, SEC, Sun Belt, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-10-most-explosive-running-backs-returning-2016
Body:

Having a running back who has the ability to turn on the jets after getting to the second level of the defense and also make something out of nothing is a must for a great ground game. These running backs have the unique ability to turn ordinary plays into pay dirt and six points for the offense. They come in different shapes and sizes, but there are a few qualities each big-play back seems to possess—speed, acceleration and great vision. This spreadsheet below shows runs that went over 30, 40 and 50 yards in the 2015 season and these are the top big-play threats coming back this year. Without further ado, here are the most explosive running backs in college football.

 

College Football's 10 Most Explosive RBs Returning for 2016

Name

30+

40+

50+

Total

Matt Breida (GSU)

13

9

6

28

Dalvin Cook (FSU)

13

6

6

25

Leonard Fournette (LSU)

10

7

4

21

Larry Rose III (NMSU)

10

6

5

21

Donnel Pumphrey (SDSU)

10

5

4

19

Jeremy McNichols (BSU)

9

5

3

17

Jamauri Bogan (WMU)

7

6

4

17

Ito Smith (USM)

9

5

2

16

James Butler (Nevada)

6

5

5

16

Mike Warren (ISU)

6

6

3

15

 

Matt Breida, 5’11, 190 lbs., Georgia Southern

The no-glove phenom averaged a nation-leading 7.9 yards per carry (minimum 100 carries) last season.

 

Dalvin Cook, 5’11, 206 lbs., Florida State

Became the Seminoles’ all-time single-season leader in rushing yards (1,691) last year exceeding Warrick Dunn’s 20-year record of 1,242 yards.

 

Leonard Fournette, 6’1, 230lbs., LSU

Only player in LSU history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons.

 

Larry Rose III, 5’11, 184 lbs., New Mexico State

Tallied three 200-yard rushing games and seven 100-yard rushing games last fall.

 

Donnel Pumphrey, 5’9, 180 lbs., San Diego State

Set the single-season school record with 1,867 rushing yards last year and has 13 career 100-yard rushing games.

 

Jeremy McNichols, 5’9, 207 lbs., Boise State

Set the Mountain West record for most consecutive games with a rushing touchdown (12).

 

Jamauri Bogan, 5’7, 187 lbs., Western Michigan

Accomplished quite the feat of rushing for four touchdowns in a game twice in 2016.

 

Ito Smith, 5’9, 195 lbs., Southern Mississippi

The all-purpose back racked up 1,128 rushing yards, 515 receiving yards, 233 kick return yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

 

James Butler, 5’9, 200 lbs., Nevada  

The Wolf Pack went 6-1 when he eclipsed 100 yards last fall and led the Mountain West in yards per carry with 6.3 (minimum 100 carries).

 

Mike Warren, 6’0, 200 lbs., Iowa State

Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and his 1,339 rushing yards was the third-best effort by a freshman in Big 12 history.

Teaser:
College Football's 10 Most Explosive Running Backs Returning for 2016
Post date: Thursday, June 9, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/chad-johnson-corrects-people-who-keep-confusing-him-bachelorette-contestant
Body:

Chad Johnson is running into yet another name-related problem. 

 

Johnson, who once changed his name to Chad Ochocinco, is having trouble with some Twitter users who are confusing him for a contestant on the Bachelorette named Chad Johnson.

 

 

 

Obviously people were so embarrassed they ended up deleting their tweets, but "Black Chad" took it in stride.

 

 

Johnson is still trying to help the other Johnson become more likeable.  

 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, June 8, 2016 - 14:27
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Utah Utes, Pac 12
Path: /college-football/ranking-toughest-games-utahs-college-football-schedule-2016
Body:

Can take another step and claim a championship this season? The Utes have made a steady climb up the Pac-12 South ladder each of the last two years behind aggressive defense, a rugged running attack and game-changing special teams play.

 

Utah notched its second consecutive winning season and second straight bowl victory in 2015. The Utes went 10-3 and finished ranked 17th in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

 

Keeping it going in 2016 will not be a simple task. Utah must replace several major contributors on both sides of the ball including Devontae Booker, Travis Wilson, Britain Covey, Gionni Paul, Jared Norris and Tom Hackett. The schedule also is tough as usual. The Utes will face nine bowl teams from last season.

 

Related: 

 

Here's a look at Utah's 2016 schedule, ranking opponents from easiest to toughest:

 

12. Sept. 1 vs. Southern Utah

SUU is no slouch as far as FCS opponents go. The Thunderbirds are defending Big Sky champions and have reached the FCS playoffs twice in the last three seasons. Still, Utah should not have much trouble improving its record to 38-0 against Big Sky teams.

 

SUU must replace several key playmakers on both sides of the ball. The T-Birds will also be breaking in a new head coach, Demario Warren, after Ed Lamb left to take an assistant coaching job at BYU. It isn't a good formula for springing an upset against the Utes. Utah has outscored its last four Big Sky opponents 194-31.

 

11. Sept. 17 at San Jose State

Mountain West teams have struggled against Utah since it joined the Pac-12. The Utes are 5-0 against MW teams since 2013 and won all but one game by a double digit margin. San Jose State is unlikely to break that trend. Utah is 6-1 all-time versus the Spartans – including 4-0 in San Jose.

 

The Spartans are an experienced team, returning a total of 17 starters on offense and defense. Still, San Jose must find a suitable replacement for top running back Tyler Ervin, who totaled 1,601 yards and 13 touchdowns on 294 carries a year ago. That's bad news for a team facing an elite Pac-12 run defense.

 

10. Oct. 15 at Oregon State

The bottom fell out for Oregon State a year ago. The Beavers did not register a win against a Pac-12 foe for the first time in two decades and lost to Utah 27-12 after totaling just 312 yards on offense. A steep uphill climb lies ahead for Gary Andersen and company in 2016.

 

Oregon State should be improved on offense with Utah State transfer Darell Garretson at quarterback. Garretson totaled 2,586 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 13 games over two seasons with the Aggies. His presence might not matter much, though, if the Beavers can't significantly improve a defensive unit that ranked 114th nationally in scoring defense last season.

 

9. Oct. 1 at California

Life after Jared Goff could be rocky for the Bears. Replacing the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft is never a simple task. Losing six receivers who combined for 3,878 yards and 38 scores on 265 catches last season makes things even tougher.

 

California lessened some growing pains by adding transfer quarterback Davis Webb. Webb started part-time as a freshman and sophomore for Texas Tech and totaled 5,557 yards and 46 touchdowns in three seasons. Still, the Bears struggled to move the ball against Utah's defense last season even with Goff at the helm. Goff threw five interceptions against the Utes in a 30-24 loss.

 

8. Nov. 26 at Colorado

If the Buffaloes can finally take a step forward this season, they could give Utah more headaches than usual. The Utes have won four straight in the series. But all four games were decided by an average margin of 6.0 points.

 

Colorado's progress could be limited with the graduation of top wide receiver Nelson Spruce and starting quarterback Sefo Liufau rehabbing a Lisfranc foot fracture he suffered late last season against USC. Liufau originally planned to redshirt in 2016 and may not be close to 100 percent by fall camp. The three-year starter has totaled 7,397 yards and 49 touchdowns over his career.

 

7. Sept. 10 vs. BYU

BYU has seemingly become trapped in a “Groundhog Day” style time loop against Utah. The Cougars have dropped five straight in the Holy War – including a 35-28 setback in the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl. Will the script change in 2016?

 

The pieces are in place for BYU to take a step forward. Running back Jamaal Williams is back after sitting out last season and the Cougars have two dynamic playmakers at quarterback in Tanner Mangum and Taysom Hill. BYU must take better care of the ball against the Utes to have a chance. Utah is plus-13 in turnover margin against the Cougars in the last four meetings.

 

6. Nov. 10 at Arizona State

The Utes finally snapped an 11-game losing streak against the Sun Devils last season, prevailing 34-18 for their first win in Salt Lake City over Arizona State since 1973. Now they are looking to beat Arizona State in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

 

Taking down the Sun Devils may pose less of a challenge than a year ago. Arizona State must replace four starting offensive linemen, quarterback Mike Bercovici and top receiver D.J. Foster. Inexperience on offense will only put more pressure on a defense that surrendered 337.8 passing yards per game in 2015 – the worst average of any FBS school and the highest amount in school history.

 

5. Oct. 8 vs. Arizona

Even in a down season, the Wildcats still found a way to top Utah. Arizona outlasted the Utes 37-30 in double overtime and improved to 4-0 against Utah under Rich Rodriguez. Getting five in a row could hinge on the health of quarterback Anu Solomon and running back Nick Wilson.

 

Solomon and Wilson were sensational as freshmen in 2014 and then took a step back last season while battling through multiple injuries. Arizona will need an explosive offense. The defense has been overhauled with a new staff and system after yielding 466.8 yards and 35.8 points per game in 2015.

 

4. Nov. 19 vs. Oregon

Utah dismantled the Ducks in every possible way during a 62-20 victory last season. It exposed an Oregon team that ranked just 115th nationally in scoring defense (37.5 points per game) and 116th nationally in total defense (485.3 yards per game).

 

Stopping the run may be the key to grounding the Ducks again this season. Montana State transfer Dakota Prukop brings true dual-threat potential at quarterback. Prukop finished with 7,347 yards of total offense during his Bobcat career. It should keep defenses honest in trying to slow down Royce Freeman, a junior running back who has posted consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

 

3. Sept. 23 vs. USC

Utah's dreams of claiming a Pac-12 title started to unravel after a 42-24 loss to the Trojans last season. Given the wealth of talent and experience at USC's disposal this season, the Utes start conference play with one of their toughest opponents on the schedule.

 

USC breaks in a new starting quarterback in Max Browne. That's the only major change on offense. The entire offensive line returns. JuJu Smith-Schuster gives Browne a reliable downfield target after totaling 1,454 yards and 10 touchdowns on 89 receptions last season. On defense, Cameron Smith – the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year – tormented Utah with three interceptions a year ago.

 

2. Oct. 29 vs. Washington

Utah finally broke the ice against the Huskies a year ago, earning its first-ever win in the series after forcing four turnovers to power a 34-23 win in Seattle. The Utes may need to rely a similar degree of defensive dominance this fall.

 

Washington features a dynamic sophomore tandem on offense in quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin. Browning threw for 2,955 yards and 16 touchdowns in his debut season and Gaskin churned up 1,302 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Huskies are no slouches on defense either, leading the Pac-12 in scoring defense (18.8 ppg) a year ago.

 

1. Oct. 22 at UCLA

It's always a hard-fought contest when Utah and UCLA play. This season should be no different. The Bruins shut down the Utes a year ago in a 17-9 victory and are capable of doing similar things in 2016, even with several key players graduated from last year's squad.

 

UCLA is already an early favorite to claim the Pac-12 South title with the return of quarterback Josh Rosen. In his debut season for the Bruins, Rosen threw for 3,669 yards and 23 touchdowns. Passing against UCLA should be tough again this year. Every starter returns in a secondary that helped the Bruins lead the Pac-12 in pass defense (203.2 yards per game) during the 2015 season.

 

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter

Teaser:
Ranking the Toughest Games on Utah's College Football Schedule in 2016
Post date: Wednesday, June 8, 2016 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: National League, MLB
Path: /mlb/mlb-june-what-watch-national-league
Body:

The 2016 season is still young, but the storylines keep churning from the diamond. The National League is filled with plenty of early drama that will surely continue into the dog days of summer. With June arriving and the quarter mark of the season passing, here are a few narratives In the Senior Circuit to keep an eye on.

 

Related: 

 

Murphy for MVP?

Last October, when Daniel Murphy was swinging the bat more like Mickey Mantle, there was talk the NLCS MVP was cruising his way towards a $75 million free agent contract. When the World Series rolled around, Murphy fell back to earth, as his .421 postseason average dipped to .150 with no RBIs and seven strikeouts. The demand for Murphy on the open market also dipped. Ultimately, Murphy left the Big Apple for DC, signing with the Nationals for three years and just over $37 million.

 

Since making the move to Washington, Murphy has tapped into his power source from last fall, leading the majors in batting average (.379) while pacing the NL in hits (81), OPS (1.032), OPS+ (171), and total bases (132, tied) entering Wednesday's games. Murphy’s early-season surge may be unlikely given his age, 31, and history at the plate, but it wouldn’t be fair to say that his success is a fluke this season. Quite frankly, the answer could simply be that Murphy has finally figured it out.

 

According to FanGraphs, Murphy is doing a much better job of driving the ball than in past seasons. His ground ball rate is down 12 percent from last year, while his fly ball and line drive rate, along with his percentage of medium to hard contact, has increased notably.

 

Murphy and catcher Wilson Ramos (.348-8-32 with .953 OPS) have been the pleasant surprises for an offense that has been stuck in the middle of the NL in most categories. Despite the offensive mediocrity, Washington sits atop the NL East by two games over the Mets with a weekend series against the Phillies looming. If the Nats hope to stay atop the heap in the East, Murphy is going to need some help at the plate.

 

Cubs Cruising

In spring training, Cubs skipper Joe Maddon was preaching “Embrace The Target” to his squad. So far, so good. Monday night’s victory in Philadelphia was the team’s 40th of the season, making the Cubs the fastest team to that mark since the 2001 Mariners, who would go on to tie the single-season record of 116 victories.

 

Maddon’s lineup card is going to grab the most attention, but let’s focus on the Cubs’ pitching. Jake Arrieta continues to compete with Clayton Kershaw as the best pitcher in baseball. Jake’s 1.80 ERA, 2.49 FIP, and 0.963 WHIP, in addition to another no-hitter earlier this year, proves that the reigning NL Cy Young winner may not be a one-year wonder after all. He did suffer his first loss in almost a full calendar year on Sunday at home against Arizona — but it took an absurd .900 BABIP to do it and he still struck out 12 in five innings.

 

As a whole, the Cubs’ starting rotation has been remarkable, especially lefty Jon Lester. Lester has posted a 2.06 ERA in 78 2/3 innings of work, while striking out nearly five batters for every walk he’s issued.  In nine of Lester’s 12 starts, he has surrendered one or no earned runs, giving the Cubs the best one-two punch in the league.

 

The Cubs’ rotation doesn’t stop with Arrieta and Lester. Free agent addition John Lackey (2.88 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 0.973 WHIP) is putting together one of his best seasons ever at 37 years old. Kyle Hendricks (2.90 ERA, 3.05 FIP, 0.937 WHIP) has found his groove in his second full season. The former Ivy Leaguer isn’t blowing hitters away with his fastball (avg. velocity 89.8 MPH), but he has cut back on his walks and chopped his home run rate in half compared to last season. Jason Hammel (2.14 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 1.079 WHIP) has helped solidify the back end of the rotation, as his renewed commitment to training in the offseason has paid off to this point.

 

Runs come and go throughout the course of an entire season, even for the Cubs’ fantasy-friendly lineup. Pitching has to be the constant. So far this season, the starters are looking equally October-worthy, even if it’s only June.

 

Mets Making a Move?

The Mets are dying for offense. Much like last season, Terry Collins has had to deal with his share of injuries, especially when it comes to filling out a lineup. David Wright is out for the foreseeable future while catcher Travis d’Arnaud, and first baseman Lucas Duda are also on the 15-day DL.

 

Last season New York made the deal of the year for slugger Yoenis Cespedes. The move paid dividends, as the Mets rode his bat all the way to the World Series. This year is more of the same — the Mets, arguably the worst offense in the NL, need to make a move. But will they?

 

The Mets’ financial situation is still fluid, and many pundits think the team will be hesitant to deal any top-end prospects for a half-season rental. If the front office decides to pull the trigger, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy could make sense. Lucroy would certainly be an upgrade both behind the plate and with the bat, and would be affordable for this year and next with a cheap team option ($5.25 million) in 2017. Also, A’s third baseman Danny Valencia could be a fit. Valencia, 31, is playing under a one-year deal and is putting together his best numbers, hitting .343 with a .968 OPS.

 

Lately, much has been made about the possibility of Evan Longoria being traded from Tampa Bay to New York. I wouldn’t bank on it. Longoria is putting together a great season (.281 average, 14 HRs), and is going to command an impressive collection of prospects in order for the Rays to trade their franchise cornerstone. With six and a half years and approximately $118 million left on his contract, I can’t see the Mets ponying up for Longoria. But one thing is clear, in the jam-packed NL East, the Mets need to find a solution, and fast.

 

— Written by Jake Rose, an avid baseball fan who also is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter .

 

(Photos courtesy of )

Teaser:
MLB in June: What To Watch in the National League
Post date: Wednesday, June 8, 2016 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/mac-football-2016-predictions
Body:

The MAC enters another year with familiar faces at the top of the projected standings, but could there be a changing of the guard in the West Division? Northern Illinois has won six consecutive West Division titles and is positioned for another run at the MAC Championship with 12 returning starters. However, Western Michigan is a team on the rise behind coach P.J. Fleck, and the Broncos host Northern Illinois on Oct. 8 for a game that could decide the division winner. New coach Jason Candle isn’t expected to make many changes at Toledo, and the Rockets remain squarely in the mix for the West Division title.

 

The picture is murkier in the East Division. Ohio is Athlon’s pick to win this division, but Bowling Green and Akron aren’t far behind. And it may not take a 7-1 or 6-2 record to win the East. The Falcons have to replace quarterback Matt Johnson, the Zips lost key players on both sides of the ball, and the Bobcats also have to find an answer under center. Athlon’s projections have the top three teams from the East tied at 5-3 for the league title, with Ohio – the projected champion – checking in at No. 91 nationally.  

 

Five Key Questions That Will Shape the MAC in 2016

 

1. Will Northern Illinois Win its Seventh West Division Title in a Row?

Dominant. It’s a simple word, but it’s the best way to describe Northern Illinois’ run in the MAC West over the last six years. The Huskies have claimed six straight trips to the MAC title game and earned three conference titles in that span. And under coach Rod Carey, Northern Illinois has lost only three conference games since 2013. While last season’s six losses were the most since 2009, there’s no reason to panic in DeKalb. Injuries were largely to blame for last year’s losses, including a season-ending ailment to starting quarterback Drew Hare in early November. With Hare back under center, the Huskies should own one of the MAC’s top offenses once again. Additionally, new coordinators Kevin Kane (defense) and Mike Uremovich (offense) should provide a spark on both sides of the ball. However, there are obstacles for Carey’s team to overcome. The Huskies lose three All-MAC performers on defense, and two first-team all-conference linemen depart on offense. The schedule also features a road game at Western Michigan, and the home date against Toledo was moved to U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.   

 

Related:

 

2. Western Michigan or Toledo in the West?

While Northern Illinois has owned the MAC West over the last six seasons, Athlon is picking against the Huskies in 2016. It’s a close call at the top, but Western Michigan and Toledo are Athlon’s pick to take the top spots in the West. Why Western Michigan? The Broncos host both the Rockets and Huskies this season – a critical scheduling note after all three teams tied at 6-2 at the top of the league in 2015. Western Michigan also returns eight starters from a dynamic offense. Quarterback Zach Terrell is the MAC’s top signal-caller, and receiver Corey Davis should be an All-American pick in 2016. Additionally, Western Michigan has recruited well under coach P.J. Fleck, and this program has been trending up over the last two seasons. While Matt Campbell was a rising star at Toledo, new coach Jason Candle will keep the Rockets in contention for the MAC title. A deep backfield and standout line leads the way on offense, while the addition of graduate transfers Earl Moore (DT) and Jeremi Powell (LB) add talent to a defense that returns only four starters. Another tight race at the top of the division should be expected, but Western Michigan’s favorable home slate should help this program earn its first trip to the MAC title game since 2000.

 

3. Is there a Clear Favorite in the East Division?

Not at all. The MAC’s East Division was one of the toughest leagues to sort out in Athlon’s prediction meetings for the magazine. Bowling Green has won the last three East Division titles, but the Falcons have a new coach (Mike Jinks) and lose standout quarterback Matt Johnson and receivers Roger Lewis and Gehrig Dieter. Jinks should keep a similar offensive style in place, but he’s never been a head coach or coordinator at the FBS level. Akron has made progress under coach Terry Bowden and is coming off the best season in program history. However, the Zips return only six starters and must replace five starters on the offensive line. With uncertainty at Akron and Bowling Green, Athlon’s pick to win the East is Ohio. The Bobcats haven’t had a losing record since 2008 and are a steady winner under coach Frank Solich. Ohio isn’t without its share of personnel concerns, as a quarterback must emerge, and the secondary needs to find three new starters. However, the Bobcats host Bowling Green and Akron and won’t have to play Northern Illinois or Western Michigan from the West Division in crossover play.

 

Related:

 

4. Central Michigan…a Sleeper in the MAC West?

The balance of power in the MAC is clearly slanted to the West Division for 2016. The league’s top four teams reside in that division this year. Northern Illinois, Toledo and Western Michigan are considered the top three teams, but Central Michigan shouldn’t be overlooked. Under first-year coach John Bonamego, the Chippewas tied for the MAC West title at 6-2 in league play last season. Central Michigan is aiming even higher in Bonamego’s second year, and the return of quarterback Cooper Rush should keep the Chippewas within striking distance of the top three. Rush is surrounded by a deep group of receivers, and the ground attack should improve with a full year from running back Devon Spalding. Additionally, the defense returns seven starters, with the line getting a boost from Joe Ostman’s return from injury. Central Michigan has to play at Northern Illinois and Toledo, but rival Western Michigan visits Mount Pleasant. The Chippewas are just a step behind the top three in Athlon’s overall power rankings for 2016. However, Rush is capable of carrying this team to the MAC title game.

 

5. Miami and Buffalo on the Rise?

As mentioned above, there’s not a clear favorite in the East Division. And with the uncertainty and personnel question marks surrounding Ohio, Akron and Bowling Green, could a surprise team emerge to win the division? If so, keep a close eye on Buffalo and Miami. The RedHawks have made steady progress under coach Chuck Martin, and with 13 returning starters, this team is poised to challenge for at least a .500 mark in conference play. Miami needs to settle on a quarterback, but a favorable schedule should allow the RedHawks to easily exceed last year’s three wins. Lance Leipold was one of the top head coach hires from 2015, and the future for the Buffalo program is still bright after a 5-7 record last season. Quarterback Joe Licata must be replaced, but the Bulls should be solid on defense and have promising pieces – quarterback Tyree Jackson and running back Jordan Johnson – to build around on offense. 

 

MAC 2016 Team Previews

East Division
 

National

Rank:

98 97 113 118 112 91
West Division
 

National

Rank:

116 88 124 80 79 69

 

Visit the  to order a copy of the 2016 National College Football Preview Magazine, which features in-depth analysis and previews for all 128 teams, predictions, rankings and features to prepare for the upcoming year. 

 

 

MAC Football 2016 Predictions
         
East Division
Rank Team   Projected MAC Record Projected Overall Record
1

(No. 91)

5-3 7-6
.
2

(No. 97)

5-3 6-6
.
3

(No. 98)

5-3 6-6
.
4

(No. 112)

3-5 4-8
.
5

(No. 113)

3-5 5-7
.
6

(No. 118)

1-7 3-9
.
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected MAC Record Projected Overall Record
1

(No. 69)

6-2 9-4
.
2

(No. 79)

6-2 8-4
.
3

(No. 80)

6-2 8-4
.
4

(No. 88)

5-3 7-5
.
5

(No. 116)

2-6 3-9
.
6

(No. 124)

1-7 3-9
.
         
MAC Championship
 Western Michigan over Ohio 

 

MAC 2016 Superlatives and Season Predictions
 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

David

Fox

 
Offensive POY

Corey Davis

WR, WMU

Corey Davis

WR, WMU

Kareem Hunt

RB, Toledo

Kareem Hunt

RB, Toledo

Defensive POY

Shawun Lurry

CB, NIU

Shawun Lurry

CB, NIU

Shawun Lurry

CB, NIU

Shawun Lurry

CB, NIU

Coach of the Year

P.J. Fleck

WMU

P.J. Fleck

WMU

P.J. Fleck

WMU

John Bonamego

CMU

Coach on Hot Seat

Paul Haynes

Kent State

Paul Haynes

Kent State

Paul Haynes

Kent State

Paul Haynes

Kent State

Top Freshman

Keishawn Watson

WR, WMU

Matt Falcon

RB, WMU

Tyree Jackson

QB, Buffalo

Keishawn Watson

WR, WMU

Top Newcomer

Warren Ball

RB, Akron

Tee Shepard

CB, Miami

Warren Ball

RB, Akron

Earl Moore

DT, Toledo

Sleeper Team Miami Miami Akron Central Michigan
Top Coordinator Hire

Brian George

DC, Toledo

Tim Daoust

DC, Ball State

Brian George

DC, Toledo

Brian George

DC, Toledo

Key Position to Watch WMU DL WMU DL WMU DB WMU DB
Hardest to Evaluate Bowling Green Bowling Green Bowling Green Ohio
Coach on the Rise

P.J. Fleck

HC, WMU

P.J. Fleck

HC, WMU

P.J. Fleck

HC, WMU

Jason Candle

HC, Toledo

Must-See Game

Toledo at 

W. Michigan

Toledo at

W. Michigan

W. Michigan at

Illinois

Toledo at

W. Michigan

Breakout Player

Jordan Johnson

RB, Buffalo

Teo Redding

WR, BGSU

Alonzo Smith

RB, Miami

Devon Spalding

RB, CMU

Comeback Player

Pat O'Connor

DL, EMU

Joe Ostman

DL, CMU

Drew Hare

QB, NIU

Drew Hare

QB, NIU

 

Ranking the MAC's Coaches for 2016

 

1. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan

2. Frank Solich, Ohio

3. Rod Carey, Northern Illinois

 

 

Ranking the MAC's Top Five Quarterbacks for 2016

 

1. Zach Terrell, Western Michigan

2. Cooper Rush, Central Michigan

3. Drew Hare, Northern Illinois

4. Thomas Woodson, Akron

5. Logan Woodside, Toledo

 

MAC's Top Five Non-Conference Games for 2016

 

1. Western Michigan at Northwestern (Sept. 3)

2. San Diego State at Northern Illinois (Sept. 17)

3. Western Michigan at Illinois (Sept. 17)

4. Georgia Southern at Western Michigan (Sept. 24)

5. Toledo at BYU (Oct. 30)

 

Key Coordinator Hires for 2016

 

1. Brian George, Defensive Coordinator, Toledo

2. Kevin Kane, Defensive Coordinator, Northern Illinois

3. Tim Daoust, Defensive Coordinator, Ball State

4. Mike Uremovich, Offensive Coordinator, Northern Illinois

5. Neal Neathery, Defensive Coordinator, Eastern Michigan

 

Top Incoming Freshmen ()

 

1. Matthew Falcon, RB, Western Michigan

2. Tony Poljan, QB, Central Michigan

3. Stefan Claiborne, S, Western Michigan

4. Spencer Kanz, OL, Western Michigan

5. Armani Posey, DB, Bowling Green

6. Matt Little, QB, Western Michigan

7. Tristian Pipp, LB, Western Michigan

8. Eric Rogers, LB, Western Michigan

9. Keevon Harris, ATH, Ohio

10. Dontre Boyd, CB, Western Michigan

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Braden Gall, David Fox and Mitch Light are back in the booth talking the latest in college football.

 

- Did the Big 12 get it right by adding a conference championship game? What are the benefits and drawbacks of a 13th data point? How should the new divisions be divided?

 

- How good of a job is Baylor? Where does it rank nationally and within the Big 12? Where did it rank before Art Briles?

 

- Will Art Briles ever work again in college football? The guys disagree on this one.

 

- Did Mississippi State miss a chance to make a difference with Jeffery Simmons? What number of games would have been the right number to suspend Simmons?

 

- New Vegas odds are out for the 2016 national championship and the guys offer up their best bets and favorite long shots.

 

Check out the .

 

You can order your preseason .

 

Send any ideas, questions or comments to  @AthlonMitch or @DavidFox615 or email . The podcast can be found on  and our .

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The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry has produced plenty of memorable moments throughout its history, and the battle on Nov. 26 should have plenty at stake, as the East Division title and a spot in the College Football Playoff could be up for grabs. With Jim Harbaugh taking over in Ann Arbor, the intensity in this rivalry has only increased over the last two years. The Wolverines took a step forward last season and should be even better in 2016 with 14 returning starters. The Buckeyes aren’t hurting for talent, but coach Urban Meyer’s team has to retool on both sides of the ball. That task is made easier with the return of quarterback J.T. Barrett and talented options at each level on the defense.

 

While most of the preseason attention is focused on Ohio State and Michigan, Iowa and Michigan State – the two division winners from 2016 – shouldn’t be overlooked. The Spartans suffered some key personnel losses, but coach Mark Dantonio should have this team back in the mix for 10 wins. The Hawkeyes return one of the nation’s top defenders in cornerback Desmond King and enter the season as the clear favorite in the West Division. Wisconsin has the talent to push Iowa for the top spot, but the Badgers face a brutal schedule in coach Paul Chryst’s second year in Madison. Nebraska could be the biggest threat to the Hawkeyes if Mike Riley’s team quickly retools on the defensive line and cuts down on the turnovers after a minus-19 margin in 2015.

 

Five Key Questions That Will Shape the Big Ten in 2016

 

1. Ohio State or Michigan in the East Division?

Michigan State shouldn’t be overlooked in the Big Ten East, but Michigan and Ohio State are favorites in this division for 2016. How much separation is there between these two teams? Not much. In Athlon’s projected 128 rankings for 2016, Ohio State is picked to finish No. 3 overall, while Michigan checks in at No. 5. The Wolverines took a big step forward in Jim Harbaugh’s first season, increasing their win total by five games after a 5-7 mark in 2014 and finishing No. 12 in the Associated Press poll. And Michigan wasn’t too far from a playoff bid last season after losing two games by seven points or less, including the last-second loss to Michigan State. The Wolverines need to find a quarterback to replace Jake Rudock, but the rest of the team is in good shape. New coordinator Don Brown guides one of the nation’s best defenses, while the offense features an improving line and one of the Big Ten’s top receiving corps. Ohio State has significantly more question marks this preseason than the Wolverines, but Urban Meyer has recruited as well as any coach in the nation. There’s plenty of talent in place for the Buckeyes – it’s just unproven. J.T. Barrett is the unquestioned starter at quarterback, and a full offseason as the No. 1 option should help the junior return to his freshman form. The defense returns only three starters, but there’s not much concern for this unit. New co-coordinator Greg Schiano inherits one of the nation’s top linebackers in junior Raekwon McMillan and a pair of standout ends in Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard. What could be the deciding factors in the Ohio State-Michigan battle to win the East? The Buckeyes host the Wolverines on Nov. 26 – plenty of time for Meyer’s team to reload – and there’s a clear edge at quarterback with J.T. Barrett over John O’Korn or Wilton Speight.

 

Related:

 

2. How Fast Will Michigan State Reload?

As mentioned above, Michigan State shouldn’t be overlooked in the Big Ten East Division. However, the Spartans have several key personnel issues to address from a team that finished 12-2 and earned a spot in the College Football Playoff in 2015. On offense, the line has to be retooled following the departures of Jack Conklin and Jack Allen, a new No. 1 receiver must emerge, and quarterback Connor Cook expired his eligibility. Defense has been a strength for Michigan State under coach Mark Dantonio, and there’s a strong foundation in place with five returning starters. Shilique Calhoun will be missed at defensive end, but tackle Malik McDowell is back to anchor the line of scrimmage, and linebacker Ed Davis and cornerback Vayante Copeland return from injury. With Dantonio at the helm, Michigan State is better equipped to handle personnel losses and reload quicker than in previous years. Additionally, the Spartans host Michigan and Ohio State in two games that will define where this team stacks up in the East Division. Michigan State may not match last year’s 12 wins but another double-digit victory total isn’t out of the question.

 

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3. Can Nebraska or Wisconsin Push Iowa for the Top Spot in the West?

Probably not. The Hawkeyes may not replicate last year’s run into the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings, but Kirk Ferentz’s team is still the best in the Big Ten West. Quarterback C.J. Beathard is the Big Ten’s No. 2 quarterback behind Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, and there’s a solid stable of backs to lean on until a few playmakers emerge at receiver. The defense limited opponents to 20.4 points a game last season and returns eight starters, including All-America cornerback Desmond King. Another huge boost to Iowa’s division title hopes is a favorable schedule. The Hawkeyes catch Michigan in crossover play with the East Division, but Iowa does not have to play Ohio State or Michigan State, while Nebraska and Wisconsin visit Iowa City. Wisconsin finished a solid 10-3 under new coach Paul Chryst last year and has enough returning talent to win the division. However, the Badgers face a brutal schedule and enter fall practice with uncertainty at quarterback. Nebraska might be the Big Ten’s biggest wild card team for 2016. The Cornhuskers weren’t as bad as their 6-7 record indicated in 2015, and better luck in the turnover department (minus-19 last year) and close games should equal improvement in the win column. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong is back and is surrounded by one of the Big Ten’s top receiving corps. But second-year coach Mike Riley has some big question marks to address on the defensive line. Nebraska should be better in 2016, but Iowa has the best collection of talent and favorable schedule to win another West Division title.

 

Related:

 

4. Is Penn State on the Right Track in James Franklin’s Third Year?

High expectations surrounded James Franklin when he replaced Bill O’Brien in Happy Valley prior to the 2014 season. Through two years, Franklin is 14-12 at Penn State, but he has reeled in three consecutive top 25 recruiting classes. With the talent level on the rise and a full allotment of scholarships, things aren’t all bad in Happy Valley. Sure, Franklin needs to show progress in the win column, but the Nittany Lions return 14 starters, including one of the Big Ten’s top running backs in Saquon Barkley. Additionally, the hire of Joe Moorhead as the new play-caller should spark the offense, and the promotion of Brent Pry to coordinator to replace Bob Shoop should keep continuity on defense. Franklin’s biggest concern in 2016 is the development of quarterback Trace McSorley, as well as a rebuilt defensive line. The schedule certainly isn’t easy, but Penn State could exceed seven wins for the first time since 2012.

 

5. Which New Coach Will Have the Biggest Impact in 2016?

The Big Ten has four new coaches in 2016: Lovie Smith (Illinois), Chris Ash (Rutgers), Tracy Claeys (Minnesota) and D.J. Durkin (Maryland). Smith is arguably the most interesting hire of the 2016 cycle, as the former Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach returns to the college ranks for the first time since 1995. However, Smith inherits a team that finished 5-7 last season and has significant question marks from a defense that returns only four starters. Minnesota hopes Claeys picks up where Jerry Kill left off and continues to elevate the program within the West Division. Claeys also wasted no time putting his stamp on the program with changes to the staff this offseason. Durkin and Ash face an uphill battle in the East Division against Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State, but both coaches appear to be the right hire. Ash has arguably the toughest path to success in year one, while Durkin inherits a team that should have more talent than last year’s win total suggested. However, the Terrapins have a major question mark at quarterback, and there are few guaranteed wins in Big Ten play. 

 

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Big Ten Team Previews for 2016

East Division
 

National

Rank:

55 66 5 13 3 39 87
West Division
 

National

Rank:

74 19 60 31 45 95 33

 

Visit the  to order a copy of the 2016 Big Ten Preview Magazine, which features in-depth analysis and previews for all 14 teams, predictions, rankings and features to prepare for the upcoming year. 

 

Big Ten Football 2016 Predictions

         
East Division
Rank Team   Projected Big Ten Record Projected Overall Record
1

(No. 3)

9-0 12-1
.
2

(No. 5)

8-1 11-1
.
3

(No. 13)

7-2 9-3
.
4

(No. 39)

5-4 7-5
.
5

(No. 55)

3-6 6-6
.
6

(No. 66)

2-7 5-7
.
7

(No. 87)

1-8 3-9
.
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected Big Ten Record Projected Overall Record
1

(No. 19)

7-2 10-3
.
2

(No. 31)

6-3 8-4
.
3

(No. 33)

5-4 7-5
.
4

(No. 45)

4-5 7-5
.
5

(No. 60)

3-6 6-6
.
6

(No. 74)

2-7 4-8
.
7

(No. 95)

1-8 3-9
.
         
Big Ten Championship
 Ohio State over Iowa 
 
Big Ten 2016 Superlatives and Season Predictions
 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

David

Fox

Braden

Gall

 
Offensive POY

J.T. Barrett

QB, Ohio State

J.T. Barrett

QB, Ohio State

J.T. Barrett

QB, Ohio State

J.T. Barrett

QB, Ohio State

J.T. Barrett

QB, Ohio State

Defensive POY

Jabrill Peppers

LB, Michigan

Jabrill Peppers

LB, Michigan

Jabrill Peppers

LB, Michigan

Jabrill Peppers

LB, Michigan

Jabrill Peppers

LB, Michigan

Coach of the Year

Urban Meyer

Ohio State

Urban Meyer

Ohio State

James Franklin

Penn State

Jim Harbaugh

Michigan

Jim Harbaugh

Michigan

Coach on Hot Seat

Darrell Hazell

Purdue

Darrell Hazell

Purdue

Darrell Hazell

Purdue

Darrell Hazell

Purdue

Darrell Hazell

Purdue

Top Freshman

Mike Weber

RB, OSU

Nick Bosa

DL, OSU

Austin Mack

WR, OSU

Mike Weber

RB, OSU

Mike Weber

RB, OSU

Top Newcomer

Hardy Nickerson

LB, Illinois

John O'Korn

QB, Michigan

John O'Korn

QB, Michigan

John O'Korn

QB, Michigan

John O'Korn

QB, Michigan

Sleeper Team Nebraska Nebraska Penn State Minnesota Nebraska
Top Coordinator Hire

Don Brown

DC, Michigan

Don Brown

DC, Michigan

Don Brown

DC, Michigan

Don Brown

DC, Michigan

Greg Schiano

Co-DC, OSU

Key Position to Watch Ohio State WR Ohio State WR Ohio State WR Michigan State DL Ohio State OL
Hardest to Evaluate Penn State Penn State Nebraska Nebraska Wisconsin
Coach on the Rise

D.J. Durkin

HC, Maryland

D.J. Durkin

HC, Maryland

Don Brown

DC, Michigan

Harlon Barnett

Co-DC, MSU

D.J. Durkin

HC, Maryland

Must-See Game

Michigan at

Ohio State

Michigan at 

Ohio State

Michigan at

Ohio State

Michigan at

Ohio State

Michigan at

Ohio State

Breakout Player

Sam Hubbard

DL, OSU

Mike Weber

RB, OSU

LJ Scott 

RB, Mich. State

Curtis Samuel

WR, OSU

Sam Hubbard

DL, OSU

Comeback Player

Corey Clement

RB, Wisconsin

Corey Clement

RB, Wisconsin

Ed Davis

LB, Mich. State

Vayante Copeland

CB, Mich. State

Ed Davis

LB, Mich. State

 
Ranking the Big Ten's Coaches for 2016

 

1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State

2. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

3. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

 

 

Grading the Big Ten's New Coach Hires for 2016

 

1. D.J. Durkin, Maryland (A-)

2. Lovie Smith, Illinois (B+)

3. Chris Ash, Rutgers (B-)

4. Tracy Claeys, Minnesota (C+)

 

Ranking the Big Ten's Quarterbacks for 2016

 

1. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State

2. C.J. Beathard, Iowa 

3. Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska

 

 

Big Ten's Top 10 Players on the Rise for 2016

 

1. Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State

2. LJ Scott, RB, Michigan State

3. Brian Allen, OL, Michigan State

4. Nick Gates, OT, Nebraska

5. Ke'Shawn Vaughn, RB, Illinois

6. Shannon Brooks, RB, Minnesota

7. Markell Jones, RB, Purdue

8. Grant Haley, CB, Penn State

9. Jonathan Crawford, S, Indiana

10. Grant Newsome, OL, Michigan

 

Related:

 

Big Ten's Top 10 Non-Conference Games for 2016

 

1. Ohio State at Oklahoma (Sept. 17)

2. Wisconsin vs. LSU (Green Bay, Sept. 3)

3. Michigan State at Notre Dame (Sept. 17)

4. Oregon at Nebraska (Sept. 17)

5. Penn State at Pitt (Sept. 10)

6. BYU at Michigan State (Oct. 8)

7. Iowa State at Iowa (Sept. 10)

8. North Dakota State at Iowa (Sept. 17)

9. Duke at Northwestern (Sept. 17)

10. North Carolina at Illinois (Sept. 10)

 

Big Ten's Key Coordinator Hires for 2016

 

1. Don Brown, Defensive Coordinator, Michigan

2. Greg Schiano, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Ohio State

3. Tom Allen, Defensive Coordinator, Indiana

4. Joe Moorhead, Offensive Coordinator, Penn State

5. Walt Bell, Offensive Coordinator, Maryland

 

Related:

 

Big Ten's Top Incoming Freshmen for 2016 ()

 

1. Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan

2. Nick Bosa, DL, Ohio State

3. Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State

4. Michael Menet, OL, Penn State

5. Jonathon Cooper, DE, Ohio State

6. Ben Bredeson, OL, Michigan

7. Shane Simmons, DL, Penn State

8. Demario McCall, RB, Ohio State

9. Brandon Peters, QB, Michigan

10. David Long, CB, Michigan

11. Terrance Davis, OL, Maryland

12. Devin Asiasi, TE, Michigan

13. Austin Mack, WR, Ohio State

14. Lamar Jackson, DB, Nebraska

15. Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State

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Before each college football season, Athlon Sports hears from readers wanting to know why one team was favored over another in our preseason rankings. Why this team was ranked so high or that team so low.

 

Some of these questions are in — um — colorful language.

 

That’s why Athlon takes you inside our decision process for some of the biggest questions you ask. Believe it or not, some of these questions are the ones we grappled with through our rankings meeting.

 

Here are the questions we anticipated about our .

 

The Athlon Sports 2016 Big Ten Preview is 

 

 

What separated Ohio State and Michigan?

 

Not much. It was basically a choice between the upstart program with a ton of momentum vs. the old guard that lost a bunch of talent but still possesses a loaded roster. Michigan was one of the surprise teams in the nation last season, winning 10 games overall and recording a 6–2 mark in the Big Ten. We must keep in mind that the Wolverines were fortunate to beat Minnesota (29–26) and Indiana (48–41, 2OT). But we also can’t forget that the loss to Michigan State came on one of the flukiest plays in the history of college football. Jim Harbaugh will have a good team — he always does — but the Wolverines still lag behind Ohio State in overall talent. There are questions at quarterback and some significant holes to fill at linebacker (though Jabrill Peppers’ move to a hybrid backer/safety spot could alleviate some of those concerns). Ohio State needs to replace some elite talent — only six starters return — but Urban Meyer has been stockpiling top-five recruiting classes. Talent will not be an issue in Columbus. Experience might, but it’s a positive that J.T. Barrett will be back to run the offense after sharing the position in 2015 with Cardale Jones. One more reason to like the Buckeyes: Michigan visits Columbus on Nov. 26. 

 

Why isn’t Michigan State, with a 22–2 Big Ten record the last three years, considered more of a contender?

 

Michigan State has made a habit of defying preseason expectations, but this figures to be the season the Spartans take a step back in the Big Ten. The defense should be able to survive some key personnel losses, but the offense must replace quarterback Connor Cook as well as two all-conference linemen. Also, Michigan State might not have been as good as its gaudy record — and spot in the CFB Playoff — suggests. Six of their 12 wins in 2015 came by seven points or fewer, including two against Big Ten lightweights Purdue (three) and Rutgers (seven).

 

 

 

Was Iowa the easy choice in the West?

 

Iowa is far from the sexiest pick, but in the end it was the smartest (we hope). The Hawkeyes return many of the key players who contributed to their 12–0 regular-season run. Among them is quarterback C.J. Beathard, who battled through various injuries yet was still productive in his first season as a starter. There’s also the schedule, which is once again very kind. Kirk Ferentz’s team does not play Ohio State or Michigan State and gets four of its five toughest opponents at home — Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska. The trip to Penn State, which comes after a bye, is by far Iowa’s most challenging road game. We gave serious thought to Nebraska (more on the Huskers to follow) and some thought to Wisconsin, but all signs continued to point to Iowa.

 

Which team was the toughest to project?

 

Nebraska. There’s no denying that Mike Riley’s first season in Lincoln did not go well: The Cornhuskers went 6–7 overall (3–5 in the Big Ten) and lost four games at Memorial Stadium. But there might not have been an unluckier team in college football. Nebraska opened the season by losing on a Hail Mary to BYU and then proceeded to lose five Big Ten games by an average of 4.6 points, including three losses by two points or fewer. Yes, two of those came against Illinois (on an inexcusable coaching blunder) and Purdue (when the Huskers were without starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong), but this team could very easily have won more games. The talent level at NU isn’t up to par with the top teams in the Big Ten East, but the Huskers are good enough to compete with Iowa and Wisconsin for supremacy in the West. This team could win the division, or — if the bad luck and coaching mistakes continue — finish as low as fourth. 

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North Dakota State is playing in the first FCS game of the season.

 

It might be foolish not to believe the Bison will be playing in the final game as well.

 

Having won an NCAA-record five straight national titles, the Missouri Valley Football Conference power doesn’t appear to be letting up.

 

Related:

 

But those giving chase come prepared this season. Sam Houston State, Northern Iowa, Richmond and last year’s national runner-up Jacksonville State – teams the Bison have come to know on the Road to Frisco (Texas) in recent playoffs – return standout quarterbacks and veteran teams. They are the No. 2 through 5 teams in the Athlon Sports FCS Preseason Top 25.

 

North Dakota State, which opens the season Aug. 27 by hosting Charleston Southern in the FCS Kickoff, is ready to take on all challengers.

 

(2015 record in parentheses)

 

1. North Dakota State

(13-2, 7-1 Missouri Valley)

There’s no complacency in Fargo even after the FCS dynasty made it five straight national titles — an NCAA all-division record. With 14 returning starters, the Bison are favored to continue the amazing run. Their punishing defense, led by linebacker Nick DeLuca and defensive end Greg Menard, flattens opponents. Four returning starters on the offensive line will do the same for King Frazier and a deep stable of running backs. Quarterback isn’t a question mark even after Carson Wentz’s graduation because Easton Stick was 8-0 as a redshirt freshman while Wentz was sidelined. The Bison are 71-5 since 2011.

 

2. Sam Houston State

(11-4, 7-2 Southland)

All that’s left for the Bearkats is a national title — they’ve reached the semifinals in four of the last five seasons. Playoff standout Jeremiah Briscoe is the starting quarterback after Jared Johnson left for UTSA as a graduate transfer, while running back Corey Avery dominates. Coach K.C. Keeler seeks stronger defense, and defensive end P.J. Hall will be happy to oblige.

 

3. Northern Iowa

(9-5, 5-3 Missouri Valley)

UNI is ready to stand up to North Dakota State in the Missouri Valley race and beyond. The Panthers’ two returning 1,000-yard rushers, quarterback Aaron Bailey and running back Tyvis Smith, work behind a veteran offensive line. Their defense was hit hard by graduation, but defensive end Karter Schult is back to terrorize opposing quarterbacks.

 

4. Richmond

(10-4, 6-2 Colonial)

Junior Kyle Lauletta was No. 2 in the FCS in passing yards (3,598) and combines again with wide receiver Brian Brown. The 2015 national semifinalist Spiders are even more experienced on defense with linebacker Omar Howard and safety David Jones (nine interceptions) among eight returning starters.

 

5. Jacksonville State

(13-2, 8-0 Ohio Valley)

Coach John Grass bulked up the schedule (LSU, Coastal Carolina and Liberty) after reaching the national championship game. All-America quarterback Eli Jenkins is returning from shoulder surgery, and his go-to target, Josh Barge, is the Gamecocks’ all-time receptions leader. Defensive end Darius Jackson and linebacker Joel McCandless lead a retooled defense.

 

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6. Charleston Southern

(10-3, 6-0 Big South)

Coach Jamey Chadwell appears destined for a bigger job, but there’s an immediate task at hand. The Buccaneers’ record-setting defense returns defensive end Anthony Ellis and linebacker Solomon Brown, and a bruising run game features seniors Darius Hammond, Mike Holloway and Ben Robinson.

 

7. Chattanooga

(9-4, 6-1 Southern)

The Mocs seek a fourth straight SoCon title, but three-time league Offensive Player of the Year Jacob Huesman is gone, leaving lefthander Alejandro Bennifield to take over at quarterback. The nucleus remains strong with running back Derrick Craine (1,251 yards) and defensive end Keionta Davis (13.5 sacks) coming off Mocs single-season records.

 

8. South Dakota State

(8-4, 5-3 Missouri Valley)

A standout Jackrabbits team will usher in the inaugural season at 19,340-seat Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium. The quarterback platoon of Zach Lujan and Taryn Christion will feed the ball to wide receiver Jake Wieneke and tight end Dallas Goedert. The defense is strong up the middle with tackle Cole Langer.

 

9. Coastal Carolina

(9-3, 4-2 Big South; FCS Independent in 2016)

The Chanticleers may struggle to get top-25 support from voters as the former Big South power transitions toward the FBS in 2017. Touchdown machine De’Angelo Henderson will carry the rushing load after the loss of veteran quarterback Alex Ross.

 

10. The Citadel

(9-4, 6-1 Southern)

Offensive coordinator-turned-head coach Brent Thompson will keep the triple option humming. In QB Dominique Allen and backs Tyler Renew and Cam Jackson, the Bulldogs return three players who gained more than 750 yards. The defense features shutdown corner Dee Delaney.

 

11. Illinois State

(10-3, 7-1 Missouri Valley)

All eyes are on sophomore quarterback Jake Kolbe and a running back committee as they take over for the dominating duo of Tre Roberson and Marshaun Coprich, respectively. The other nine offensive starters return, including big-play wide receiver Anthony Warrum.

 

12. Eastern Washington

(6-5, 5-3 Big Sky)

Wide receiver Cooper Kupp, the 2015 Walter Payton Award Winner, has 58 total TDs in his career. But for the Eagles to rebound from a subpar season, quarterback Jordan West needs more consistency and the defense must tighten for — gulp — an opening stretch of Washington State, North Dakota State and Northern Iowa.

 

13. William & Mary

(9-4, 6-2 Colonial)

Physical defense is a staple with the Tribe, but this season quarterback Steve Cluley, tailback Kendell Anderson and wide receiver DeVonte Dedmon will create an offensive mindset. Placekicker Nick Dorka and punter Hunter Windmuller provide a leg up on special teams.

 

14. James Madison

(9-3, 6-2 Colonial)

With his team desperate for playoff success, new coach Mike Houston is keeping the high-powered spread attack, which gets big production from running backs Khalid Abdullah and Cardon Johnson and wide receiver Brandon Ravenel. Linebacker Andrew Ankrah and cornerback Taylor Reynolds fuel the defense.

 

15. North Dakota

(7-4, 5-3 Big Sky)

After being one of the last teams left out of the postseason in 2015, the Fighting Hawks are motivated. They also have super sophomore John Santiago, the Big Sky’s leader in all-purpose yards, and a schedule that doesn’t include Eastern Washington, Montana and Portland State. Playoffs? Indeed.

 

16. Montana

(8-5, 6-2 Big Sky)

Another tough schedule awaits second-year coach Bob Stitt, whose Grizzlies roared with impressive wins in 2015 (including North Dakota State). Quarterback Brady Gustafson’s passing numbers are as big as his 6'7" frame. All-Big Sky defensive tackle Caleb Kidder is one of only three returning starters on defense.

 

17. McNeese State

(10-1, 9-0 Southland)

There is continuity following Matt Viator’s departure to ULM because defensive coordinator Lance Guidry gained the top job. His defense, anchored by 6-foot-2, 335-pound tackle Isaiah Golden, was among the nation’s best last season. Junior running back Ryan Ross is ready for a huge season.

 

18. Towson

(7-4, 5-3 Colonial)

The addition of former Oregon quarterback Morgan Mahalak may be just what two-time 1,000-yard rusher Darius Victor and a veteran offense need. The seniors, who barely missed last year’s playoffs, were freshmen for the 2013 FCS national runners-up.

 

19. Western Illinois

(7-6, 5-3 Missouri Valley)

New coach Charlie Fisher inherits another rugged schedule, but quarterback Trenton Norvell, wide receiver Lance Lenoir and linebacker Brett Taylor are among 17 returning starters. Last season, the Leathernecks became the first 6-5 team to receive an at-large playoff bid.

 

20. Villanova

(6-5, 5-3 Colonial)

Coach Andy Talley, who guided Nova to the 2009 FCS title, enters his 32nd and final season. Dual-threat quarterback Zach Bednarczyk expects to build off his rookie season, and 6-foot-7, 275-pound defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon will have a finishing touch as a senior.

 

21. Portland State

(9-3, 6-2 Big Sky)

Beware, San Jose State and Washington, the Vikings took down two FBS programs and had a six-win improvement last year. Portland State lost a lot of key players, but 2015 FCS Coach of the Year Bruce Barnum is glad quarterback Alex Kuresa isn’t one of them.

 

22. Youngstown State

(5-6, 3-5 Missouri Valley)

After the Bo Pelini era opened to a disappointing record, the Penguins seek their first playoff bid since 2006. Senior defensive end Derek Rivers already holds the school record with 26 career sacks, while running backs Martin Ruiz and Jody Webb also expect big senior campaigns.

 

23. Colgate

(9-5, 6-0 Patriot)

Nine starters return on each side of the ball after the Raiders won two playoff games to reach the national quarterfinals. Senior quarterback Jake Melville is a dual-threat, and wideout Alex Greenawalt is a breakout candidate.

 

24. Northern Arizona

(7-4, 5-3 Big Sky)

Sophomore Case Cookus might be hard-pressed to improve on last year’s 37 touchdown passes — an FCS freshman record — but the return of wide receiver Emmanuel Butler (15 TDs) provides a good start. The Lumberjacks were only 2–4 on the road last season.

 

25. Eastern Kentucky

(6-5, 5-2 Ohio Valley)

Quarterback Bennie Coney can dominate a game and will have support from a healthier Ethan Thomas at running back. Missing the playoffs doesn’t sit well with the Colonels, so new coach Mark Elder was brought in to get them back there.

 

— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for . He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter .

 

(Top photo by Richard Svaleson/NDSU)

 

College Football: Breaking Down Athlon’s 2016 Top 25



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Teaser:
Athlon Sports Preseason FCS Top 25 for 2016
Post date: Wednesday, June 8, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: recipe, Life
Path: /life/double-smoky-ribs-bacon-bourbon-bbq-sauce
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There's nothing like grilling some BBQ ribs during the summer. Rib + bacon + bourbon, this is for sure a recipe you'll want to check out:

 

Kitchen gadgets: medium saucepan, small bowl, grill

 

Ingredients (makes 8 servings):

3 pounds boneless country-style pork ribs, (8 ribs), or pork back ribs

2 tablespoons smoked paprika

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

2 large handfuls apple or hickory wood chips, soaked for 1-2 hours

 

Ingredients for bacon-bourbon bbq sauce:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 12-oz bottle chili sauce (1 cup)

1/2 cup peach preserves

1/3 cup bourbon

1/3 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard

2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons molasses (not blackstrap)

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

 

Time commitment: 20 min of prep, 90 min of cook time

Total time: 1 hour, 50 min

 

To make BBQ Sauce:

  1. Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp and browned, about 5 minutes.
  3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels, leaving fat in saucepan. Let bacon cool. 
  4. Add onion to saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 4 minutes.
  5. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in chili sauce, peach preserves, bourbon, vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and molasses.Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to medium-low.
  6. Simmer, stirring often, until reduced by about one quarter, 20 to 25 minutes.
  7. Finely chop cooled bacon and stir into sauce; add hot pepper sauce. Let cool. Makes about 2 1/2 cups sauce. Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. 


To make ribs:

  1. Mix paprika, sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper together in small bowl.
  2. Season ribs with paprika mixture. Let ribs stand at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes. 
  3. Prepare an outdoor grill for indirect cooking with medium heat, about 350 degrees F. 


For a gas grill: Use a smoker box or create one using small, shallow aluminum foil pan. Remove cooking grates. Preheat grill on high. Turn one burner off. Place disposable aluminum foil pan over a burner, adding 1 handful of drained chips. Replace grates. 

For a charcoal grill: Place large disposable aluminum foil pan on one side of charcoal grate and fill with 1 quart water. Build fire on opposite side, and let burn until coals are coated with white ash. Spread coals in grill opposite pan and let burn 15-20 minutes (you should be able to hold your hand about 1 inch above the grate for about 3 seconds). Add 1 handful of drained chips to coals. Position cooking grate in grill. 

 

  1. Lightly oil grill grate.
  2. Grill ribs with indirect heat, with the lid closed, for 30 minutes.
  3. Add remaining drained chips to box or coals.
  4. Grill, with lid closed, turning occasionally, until tender, about 1 hour more. (On a charcoal grill, add more charcoal as needed to maintain temperature, leaving grill lid open for a few minutes to help charcoal ignite.)
  5. During the last 15 minutes, brush ribs with some of the sauce, turning every few minutes to glaze.
  6. Transfer to platter, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve hot with remaining sauce, if desired. 

 

Recipe provided by . Check out their site for more delicious grill recipes.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, June 7, 2016 - 13:00

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