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Jim Harbaugh posted a 44–19–1 record in four years in San Francisco, never had a losing record and took the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game three times. John Fox went 46–18 in four years in Denver, never had a losing record and took the Broncos to a Super Bowl. Yet, when Harbaugh and Fox parted ways with their teams after last season, the NFL reacted with a collective yawn.
“I’ve seen it too many times,” Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian says. “Who knows why these things change. There’s always internal dynamics that you can’t really put your finger on. That’s the way it looks. But it’s been done before, and I’m sure it’ll be done again.”
Harbaugh and Trent Baalke went through a messy divorce, with the coach claiming it was not nearly as mutual as the general manager depicted. Philosophical differences sent Harbaugh to the University of Michigan, leading to the 49ers’ elevation of little-known assistant Jim Tomsula to head coach.
Fox became the first Broncos coach in 30 years not to have final say in all football matters. And he and general manager John Elway eventually reached a point where they agreed to disagree, parting ways when the Broncos failed to get over the hump in three years with Peyton Manning as their quarterback. Fox moved on to Chicago, and Elway hired good buddy Gary Kubiak as the Broncos’ new head coach.
“In any relationship, whether it be player-coach, coach-GM, you’re always going to have bumpy patches,” Elway said at the press conference announcing Fox’s departure. “I think the main thing between John and I was we disagreed on how to get to the next level. We accomplished so much, four AFC West championships. But I think the biggest miss between us was how we can take that next step and what it was going to take to get to that next step. I think that’s where the disagreement came from.”
Why can’t they all just get along?
More than 21 years have passed since Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson parted ways. Yet, they continue to play tug-of-war over credit for the back-to-back Lombardi Trophies the Cowboys won with them. Their five-year relationship ended after a public feud, with Johnson claiming his “girlfriend knows more about football” than Jones, and Jones countering that “any one of 500 coaches could have won those Super Bowls.”
Johnson walked away with a $2 million payoff, and Jones’ Cowboys won another Super Bowl two years later with Barry Switzer as the coach. They haven’t won one since.
The coach Johnson succeeded in Dallas, Tom Landry, lasted 29 years with president/general manager Tex Schramm. Former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo says his research revealed that the Landry-Schramm union stands as the only one in the modern era to last its whole tenure.
“Nobody was jealous of who got the credit,” says Gil Brandt, player personnel director for Dallas from 1960-89. “We got along even though we didn’t always agree. The funny thing is we all lived within a mile of one another. But I’ll say this: It was just a lot easier then than it is now with the salary cap and everything else that goes into it.”
The ugly divorces have become far more common than the long marriages. The Chargers fired Marty Schottenheimer after a 14–2 season and a one-and-done playoff exit in 2006, citing a “dysfunctional situation” between the coach and general manager A.J. Smith.
Sometimes the coach loses the battle; other times it’s the general manager who goes. The Titans fired Floyd Reese after the 2006 season to end a power struggle between the general manager and coach Jeff Fisher.
Fisher worked with general managers Reese and Mike Reinfeldt and president/CEO Jeff Diamond during his 16 seasons in Houston/Tennessee. He enters his fourth season with Les Snead as his general manager in St. Louis.
“It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of trust,” Fisher says. “Communication is important. The responsibilities are so different. You have to share those responsibilities and respect those responsibilities. It starts from Day 1. There are going to be issues and disagreements.”
One of Bill Parcells’ most memorable lines came during his departure from the Patriots after the 1996 season when he said, “If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”
Yet, Parcells’ Super Bowl titles came with George Young as his general manager.
Mike Holmgren, seeking more power, left Green Bay after the 1998 season despite going 75–37 with two Super Bowl appearances and a Vince Lombardi Trophy. With Ron Wolf having final say concerning personnel, Holmgren went to Seattle for the dual role. Yet, Holmgren ended up being stripped of his general manager title in Seattle, going 86–74 with one NFC title in his tenure as head coach.
It’s the reason few owners allow the coach to have control over all football decisions.
Bill Belichick, of course, wields the power in New England, with those around him understanding their roles. Nick Caserio, Belichick’s trusted right-hand man, recently signed a contract extension with the team through the 2020 season. Caserio enters his 15th season with the organization, including his eighth as the director of player personnel, apparently comfortable with Belichick getting most of the credit.
The Eagles became a coach-driven franchise this offseason when they gave coach Chip Kelly all-encompassing power. Howie Roseman lost his title of general manager, which included authority over the draft.
The Cowboys have operated the other way since Johnson left in 1994, with owner Jones also carrying the GM title and having final say. But most organizations split the duties between the general manager and the coach.
“I’ve never wanted the GM to have the authority to hire the coach,” Texans owner Bob McNair says. “I think that puts too much power in the hands of the GM. That’s still my responsibility. The GM and coach have to appreciate each other’s responsibility. They have to understand how we operate, and that they’ve got to get along with each other and respect each other and listen to each other.”
Breakups aren’t always over power. Sometimes, like in Dallas with Jones and Johnson, it comes down to credit.
“Ego,” says Angelo, who spent 11 seasons as the Bears’ general manager. “That’s what it is. It comes down to ego. Who’s getting the credit? The funny thing is, there is so much credit to go around when you’re winning. Everybody is getting the credit. But somebody always thinks they are getting the short straw. That’s unfortunate, because great teams, great organizations win it. It’s not a great coach or a great player or a great owner or a great general manager. It’s a combination of all those things. When one feels like he should be treated more special than the others, that’s when we have a problem.”
The friction between Jon Gruden and Rich McKay began almost the moment the Buccaneers acquired the coach in a trade with the Raiders. The Bucs won a Super Bowl in their only full season together, but Gruden ripped McKay’s personnel decisions and deactivated receiver Keyshawn Johnson. It led to a split in the middle of the 2003 season, with McKay leaving for a division rival, the Falcons, where he remains as their president/CEO.
Both Gruden and McKay continue to take the high road in discussing the fallout.
“It’s as simple as one word — trust,” McKay says. “I don’t think you need to go too far beyond that word. If you trust each other and your agendas are the same — and they’re always the same — then you have a great opportunity for success. As soon as it becomes clear to one of them, whether real or not, that there are different agendas, they can’t necessarily trust them in the way their message is being conveyed to some other party — whether it’s the media, another coach or whoever that may be — then you’ve got a problem. Trust has to be built. The way trust is built up is you work together, and you make concessions together. You don’t go in and say, ‘We’ve got to have this defensive end.’ You go in and say, ‘We want this defensive end. This is why I like him. This is the case for him.’ Then, when I give you a counter-case, you’ve got to take that into account, and you have to reach a joint decision. Trust will go away if one or the two of you decides to become the unilateral decider of fact.”
Sometimes the general manager and coach have different outlooks. Coaches, who generally don’t last long with one team, have a goal of winning now. They rarely are promised next year. General managers, who often have longer leashes, might look more toward the future. They build with a long-term plan in mind.
“There are a lot of dynamics,” Snead, the Rams’ general manager, says. “…You’re trying to come up with the best solution to a problem, so you talk through the different points of view. Often, it’s the head coach going to his staff and the general manager going to his staff to get other points of view and trying to mesh those together to make the best decisions for the organization.”
Most view the Steelers as the model organization. They have had only three head coaches since 1969, and since owner Dan Rooney gave up his general manager duties after the 1970 season, the Steelers have had only three general managers or de facto general managers.
Bill Walsh served as head coach/GM during his 10 years with the 49ers, winning three Super Bowls. In his book, Building a Champion, Walsh wrote of the relationship between general managers and coaches: “The advantage of having a coach and a general manager is obvious: You have two people with clearly defined responsibilities who can concentrate on their individual areas of expertise. There’s certainly enough work for two men.”
If the team wins, there’s credit enough to go around, too.
“Everyone has to check their egos at the door,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid says, “and they have to do what it takes to work together.”
-By Charean Williams, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
All work and no play makes the Buckeyes some very dull boys.
The national champs, including Cardale Jones, were pranked by a fake mannaquin in the team's practice facility. Ohio State will be sure to stay on their toes this season.
We go through this exercise every year. "Who will be the face of the college football season?," we ask ourselves. Recently, names like Mariota, Manziel and Winston have answered that question, putting their own personal stamps on an entire season and making it their own en route to winning the Heisman Trophy.
Every Power 5 conference is filled with players who could potentially do the same. The Big Ten offers arguably the most diverse group of Heisman candidates from a position standpoint. It's been a quarterback's award as of late, but there are plenty of running backs, receivers, all-purpose players and yes — even some defenders — who could make enough noise to get an invite to New York City at the end of the year.
Here now are the top 15 Heisman candidates in the Big Ten for 2015 (with current Bovada odds):
1. Ohio State Quarterback
It doesn't matter if J.T. Barrett (12/1) or Cardale Jones (16/1) wins the starting the job — whoever goes under center for the Buckeyes is going to be in the driver's seat. Based on the entire production at the position from a season ago and given all the skill position talent that returns, you can expect the guy who wins the job to approach 3,700 passing yards, 40 touchdown passes and flirt with 1,000 yards on the ground. Combine that with leading what should be the nation's top team for most of the season and it's almost a lock for the starter to be a Heisman finalist.
2. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State (7/1)
If anyone in the conference can upstage Ohio State's quarterback, it's the guy playing right behind him. Elliott exploded onto the national scene with his video game-like postseason numbers — kicking off a 2015 Heisman campaign nearly eight months before the season started. As previously mentioned, quarterbacks have had the upper hand in Heisman races lately, but a season filled with performances like the ones he turned in during the College Football Playoff would almost certainly put him in the pole position.
3. Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin (50/1)
The Wisconsin offense is built for its running backs to post big numbers. Clement nearly eclipsed the 1,000 yard-mark a season ago while playing second fiddle to Melvin Gordon. The spotlight and the bulk of the touches will now all belong to Clement, who will be out to prove that Elliott isn't the premier back in the conference.
4. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State (25/1)
Cook will have a chance early to establish himself as a front-runner. A big performance (and a win) over Oregon will shoot him to the top of the national conversation and set him up to stay there until his Spartans travel to Columbus in late November. He'll get extra credit for a big season, given the fact that he lost the majority of his primary weapons from 2014.
5. Jalin Marshall, WR, Ohio State
Marshall is going to step into a role for the Buckeyes that will be conducive to creating plenty of "Heisman moments." Not only is he likely to replace Devin Smith as the primary deep threat for the Buckeyes, but Marshall also will have the benefit of returning what will likely be a high number of punts by opposing teams — thanks to Ohio State's elite defense. A couple of big touchdown catches here and there combined with a handful of trips to the end zone on special teams could be enough to catapult Marshall to the top of the race — much like it did for Desmond Howard years ago.
6. De'Mornay Pierson-El, WR, Nebraska
Speaking of returning punts, Pierson-El might do it better than anyone in the country. He's projected to play a larger role in Nebraska's offense in 2015, even though he scored from three different positions last season. With a few more carries and the ability to score from anywhere, the former high school quarterback might score four different ways this fall, which would make him hard to ignore in the Heisman race.
7. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Hackenberg will enter the season as one of a handful of surefire NFL prospects in college football. The fact that he plays quarterback makes him a serious contender to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He'll have a lot of eyes on him all year. If he can excel with those eyes on him and play well enough to get Penn State into the No. 2 spot in the Big Ten East, that may be enough for him to take home some hardware.
8. R.J. Shelton, WR, Michigan State
Using the same formula as Pierson-El and Marshall, Shelton will likely shine on special teams for the Spartans as well as provide Cook with a much-needed, big-play weapon. If he can evolve into the primary threat and play a major role in a win over Ohio State, he'll be tough not to talk about.
9. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Sure, he's a defensive player, but he's also going to be in the conversation as the best player in the country. He'll be the leader of a defense loaded with stars. If he can turn in enough performances to make himself the face of the 2015 Buckeyes, it'll be impossible not to invite him to the trophy presentation.
10. Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana
Howard, a transfer from UAB, replaces one of the best running backs in the nation in Tevin Coleman. If he can post another 1,500-yard season and help get the Hoosiers bowl-eligible, he'll deserve consideration.
11. Jabril Peppers, S, Michigan
All signs point to Peppers looking the part of the highly touted recruited he was a couple of years ago. Solid play at safety, success on special teams and a highlight-reel play or two on offense could put him on the Heisman radar.
12. Josh Ferguson, RB, Illinois
The "do-it-all" back is going to again be the focal point of the Illini offensive attack. If he can carry his team into the conversation for the Big Ten West title, he'll deserve some attention from voters.
13. Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers
It's tough for a pure receiver to win the Heisman. In fact, it's only ever been done twice and both previous winners were significant contributors on special teams. Be that as it may, Carroo is probably the most talented wideout in the conference. He's a long shot, but one worth mentioning.
14. Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State
He's going to do much more than just line up at receiver. That said, Miller will need to maximize his production in limited touches. The Buckeye offense is loaded with talent at the skill positions. Miller's position change adds to that talent, but does not guarantee that he'll be the focal point of any offensive package.
15. Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska
It wouldn't be the first time in recent memory that a Nebraska defensive tackle generated Heisman buzz. Collins plays with the same level of intensity and violence as Ndamukong Suh once did for the Huskers. He's going to jump off the TV screen this season. How much attention it will get him remains to be seen.
Others to watch: DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State, Nate Sudfeld, QB, Indiana, Tommy Armstrong, QB, Nebraska, Mitch Leidner, QB, Minnesota, Jalen Myrick, CB/KR, Minnesota
Athlon Sports is going division by division, asking and (trying to) answering the biggest question for every team in the league entering the 2015 season.
Dallas: Can the misfit toys come together on defense?
The only questions on offense are Tony Romo’s back and can the stable of backs collectively replace DeMarco Murray. Basically, there shouldn’t really be any concerns about this high-octane offense. But the defense is stacked with talented, but enigmatic players. Sean Lee is a rock in the middle but is recovering from ACL surgery (and moving to the weak side) while Rolando McClain has had his fair share of off-field issues and is suspended for the first four games. Morris Claiborne missed 12 games with an injury and rookie first-rounder Byron Jones is expected to play right away in the secondary. And the defensive line is a total unknown. Free-agent acquisition Greg Hardy also will sit for the first four games, second-year end Demarcus Lawrence played just seven games last year and rookie Randy Gregory dropped to the second round because of dedication issues. If all of these pieces fit well, it’s a Super Bowl team. If not, it might not even win the division.
NY Giants: Can Steve Spagnuolo be the savior?
With one of the best offenses in the league, New York’s biggest questions loom on defense. Tom Coughlin tabbed former partner in crime Steve Spagnuolo to run his defense in 2015 — the same guy who led the 2007 Giants past the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl. The schemes will be different (look for defensive backs to be blitzing), the players will be different and hopefully the results will be as well. This team ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing defense, 29th in total defense and gave up 25.0 points per game in 2014. With Jason Pierre-Paul’s future an unknown at this point and an influx of free agent additions and draft picks (Landon Collins, Owamagbe Odighizuwa), this unit should look (and play) totally differently this time around.
Philadelphia: Will Sam Bradford stay healthy?
Okay, Tim Tebow moves the headline needle and Chip Kelly is a rock star but the real reason the Eagles will win (or lose) an NFC East title is Sam Bradford. If he stays healthy, he’s got more than enough ability to lead this elite-level offense to a deep playoff run. Kelly’s system is all about getting the football out of the quarterback’s hands quickly and with the right read into space so playmakers can make things happen. This is stuff Bradford has excelled at when healthy. The running game and defense will be improved as well so as long as Bradford can stay healthy, these Eagles might be the team to beat in the division.
Washington: Is this Robert Griffin III’s last stand?
Jay Gruden was supposed to be an offensive wizard and his first year in Washington was marred by having to start three different quarterbacks and total dysfunction on that side of the ball. Certainly, a team that won four games has loads of questions but Gruden needs to find out if Robert Griffin III is the long-term answer at quarterback. He’s already been named the starter (which is good) but has yet to prove he can adjust and adapt his playing style for consistent success in the NFL. If he does not show improvement and stay healthy, this will be his last chance at being the Redskins' starting quarterback. Signs of growth and improvement would be a huge step in the right direction for a franchise embroiled in bizarre headlines.
Ah, Twitter. Who knew that 140 characters can cause such a big deal? Junior Galette certainly didn't know.
The former Saints linebacker deleted his personal account and then started tweeting through his girlfriend's account. That never ends well. Galette was understandably upset after being dropped by the team before training camp.
Galette went through the trouble of sending out a series of tweets going after the Saints and head coach Sean Payton.
Not even Drew Brees, who's generally a likeable guy in the NFL, was safe from the tirade.
The authenticity of the person behind the account is to be debated, although many are saying it's Galette himself. If it's not, then his girlfriend sure knows an awful lot about football.
When it comes to dance moves, J.J. Watt isn't afraid to ask for help.
As the Texans star visited a YMCA, he asked a group of kids to teach him how to do the popular "Nae Nae" dance. They obliged, and sang to him at the same time. Yes, this is the cutest thing you'll see all day.
DeMarco Murray jumped ship, but stayed in the NFC East, taking his almost 2,000 yards rushing to Philadelphia where he can torment Dallas twice a year. Time will tell if that's enough to tip the scales to the Eagles in this division. We know that the Giants also will have something to say, especially if Victor Cruz can get healthy. The Redskins are building towards respectability, but are probably at least another year away from contending.
Much like I did with the college football win totals, I will break down the schedules in terms of home and road opponents outside the division. In most situations, I'll give a split to each team in divisional play with them winning at home and losing on the road. Vegas is much more on the ball in the NFL compared to college football so the numbers are a lot sharper.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook
(Over 9.5 wins -140, Under 9.5 wins +120)
Record Last Year: 12-4
Offense: DeMarco Murray's departure leaves a huge hole at running back for Dallas. The Cowboys added Darren McFadden, but he joins a crowded group with Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Ryan Williams also vying for touches. Williams, a former all-conference performer at Virginia Tech hasn't been mentioned much, but if healthy, he could be a wild card. Pretty much everything else is in place and stable now that Dez Bryant got his money and is happy.
Defense: Greg Hardy's suspension has been reduced to four games, which will help a unit that is dying to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Dallas also had Nebraska's Randy Gregory fall to them in the draft, giving them more potential pass-rushing options. Byron Jones will help a secondary that was 26th against the pass in 2014.
Schedule: The toughest stretch could be from Weeks 10-14 when Dallas plays at Tampa Bay and Miami followed by a quick turnaround at home against Carolina. After the Panthers, the Cowboys get road games at Washington and Green Bay. Heck, it doesn't get easier with a Saturday night home tilt with the Jets after that.
Prediction: I'm taking the under with Dallas. Road games at New Orleans, Miami, Green Bay and Buffalo are just part of a schedule that I think has the Cowboys back to their familiar 8-8 finishes. This is just not as fierce an offense without a competent ball carrier.
(Over 8.5 wins +120, Under 8.5 wins -140)
Record Last Year: 6-10
Offense: Just in case you lived under a rock last year, Odell Beckham Jr. had a pretty good rookie season for the Giants. He scored 12 touchdowns in 12 games and nearly hauled in 100 catches. The big key for this offense is Victor Cruz and his health. Even if he spends the start of the season on the PUP list, Cruz can be a factor. The injury to Will Beatty is a huge problem for the offensive line, as first-round pick Ereck Flowers will probably start and may not be ready to. Running back Shane Vereen is an underrated addition, especially given his ability to catch passes out of the backfield.
Defense: It was an interesting offseason for this side of the ball. Jason Pierre-Paul severely injured his hands in a fireworks accident and there's no timetable for his return nor does anyone know how effective after having his right index finger amputated. The Giants drafted Landon Collins out of Alabama and he'll step right in at safety, a position that desperately needs help. Linebacker Jon Beason being completely healthy will be huge as he's a critical piece to this defense.
Schedule: New York has one of the latest byes (Week 11), which won't bode well for a team that has had injury issues in the past. The Giants play one set of back-to-back home games and one set of back-to-back road contests.
Prediction: I like the under for the Giants too. With all of the NFC East teams getting the AFC East in crossover play, you will probably see lower win totals in this division. Too many questions for this Giants team as of now for me to have any confidence in the over.
(Over 9.5 wins +125, Under 9.5 wins -145)
Record Last Year: 10-6
Offense: Chip Kelly went to work on this side of the ball. He brought in the aforementioned Murray, as well as Sam Bradford, Ryan Mathews and Miles Austin, and drafted Nelson Agholor in the first round. Leaving Philly was Nick Foles, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans. One could argue that the combination of Murray and Mathews will be better then McCoy, but will that once stout offensive line still be good without two veteran starters? Bradford and Mark Sanchez will have one of the best quarterback competitions in training camp and the winner should put up good statistics despite Maclin leaving.
Defense: This horrific secondary got a complete overhaul from last year. Gone are Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Nate Allen and in comes Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond and second-round pick Eric Rowe. Whomever is back there should benefit from a front seven that will put plenty of pressure on the QB. This defense had 49 sacks last year and should be fun to watch.
Schedule: Things start fast for Philly with three of the first four on the road with the lone home game coming in Week 2 against Dallas. The Eagles host Buffalo, Arizona and Washington Weeks 14-16 before a road game at the Giants to finish out the year.
Prediction: I'm abstaining from this selection based on the fact that I'm an Eagles fan and can't clearly make a prediction. You can also point to the uncertainty at QB and the sheer number of moves that were made this offseason. Chip Kelly is setting himself up for backlash if the grand experiment fails.
(Over 6.5 wins +120, Under 6.5 wins -140)
Record Last Year: 4-12
Offense: It's pretty easy to see that this unit goes as Robert Griffin III goes. The weapons are there all around RG3 with Jordan Reed, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Alfred Morris. The front line is a question mark although Brandon Scherff is a great pick to build around alongside Trent Williams. Rookie Matt Jones is a nice complement to Morris at RB.
Defense: This side of the ball was the focus of the offseason with Chris Culliver, Dashon Goldson, Ricky Jean-Francois, Terrance Knighton and Stephen Paea all being added to a unit to only lost Jarvis Jenkins and Brian Orakpo. The secondary was picked apart at times and should see some improvement with another year of seasoning for Bashaud Breeland and David Amerson.
Schedule: Three of the first four are at home with the Dolphins, Rams and Eagles coming to FedEx Field. It gets rough at the end of the year with three of the final four on the road (Chicago, Philly and Dallas).
Prediction: There's value with the over. The talent is there for the Redskins if Griffin improves from last year. The Redskins finally have a GM in place who knows what he's doing and it's going to start to show on the field.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
The Florida Gators' recruiting efforts had run dry since early June when last picking up commitments from cornerback Aaron Robinson and wide receiver Josh Hammond. All of that changed over the weekend during Florida’s Friday Night Lights when first-year head coach Jim McElwain and staff landed four recruits — OL Brett Heggie, SS Quincy Lenton, LB Jeremiah Moon, and QB Kyle Trask.
Of the four who verbally committed only Heggie is an in-state product. The Mount Dora High School product was widely recruited, choosing the Gators over 18 other reported offers. Among the heavy hitters that offered included the likes of West Virginia, Iowa State, Louisville, South Carolina, Mississippi State, NC State, Cincinnati and in-state brethren Miami and UCF.
Landing Moon was a big recruiting win for Florida. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound outside linebacker is a product of Alabama's Hoover High School, one of the top prep programs in the Keystone State. The Gators went up against Auburn, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Kentucky, Louisville, and Mississippi State among others to get Moon.
Lenton was another victory for McElwain and staff as the Gators are re-establishing their recruiting status within the SEC. A one-time Mississippi State commit, Lenton (6-0, 190) changed his mind in mid-May before switching over to Florida. Other SEC teams to offer Lenton included Auburn, Georgia, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.
Trask, a tall Texan, is a relative unknown on the recruiting traill. Before Florida offered only Houston Baptist, Lamar and McNeese State went after the quarterback, who stands nearly 6-6. McElwain was not able to secure a signal-caller in his first recruiting class, making the need for one in 2016 a priority.
The other oddity about Trask is the fact that he was not a starter for Manvel (Texas) High School last year and more than likely will not be in 2015. That honor belongs to D’Eriq King, a TCU commit. King is a dual-threat option while Trask is a pocket passer. King passed for 3,193 yards with 47 touchdowns and ran for another 780 with 12 more scores leading the Mavericks. Trask completed 48 of 68 pass attempts for 786 yards with six touchdowns and no picks.
Florida’s 2016 Class now has 18 verbal commitments. The Gators’ class while solid has not impressed recruiting services. 247Sports only has three of Florida’s commits ranked as 4-star prospects- Moon, CB Chauncey Gardner and RB Mark Thompson.
Florida Gators 2016 Verbal Commitment List
OG Branton Autry, 6’5”, 320 lbs, Coffeyville C.C., Coffeyville, KS
DE JaQuan Bailey, 6’3.5”, 230 lbs, Raines HS, Jacksonville, FL
OT Stone Forsythe, 6’7.5”, 325 lbs, West Orange HS, Winter Garden, FL
CB Chauncey Gardner, 6’0”, 194 lbs, Cocoa HS, Cocoa, FL
WR Joshua Hammond, 6’0”, 180 lbs, Hallandale HS, Hallandale, FL
OC Brett Heggie, 6’4.5”, 300 lbs, Mt. Dora HS, Mount Dora, FL
WR Isaiah Johnson, 6’3”, 198 lbs, Dwyer HS, Palm Beach Gardens, FL
LB Vosean Joseph, 6’2”, 210 lbs, Norland HS, Miami, FL
SS Quincy Lenton, 6’0”, 190 lbs, Meridian HS, Meridian, MS
CB Christopher McWilliams, 5’11”, 161 lbs, Southwest Miami HS, Miami, FL
DE Eric Mitchell, 6’1”, 220 lbs, Miami Central HS, Miami, FL
LB Jeremiah Moon, 6’4”, 205 lbs, Hoover HS, Birmingham, AL
RB Lamical Perine, 5’11”, 210 lbs, Theodore HS, Theodore, AL
CB Aaron Robinson, 6’1”, 185 lbs, Deerfield Beach HS, Deerfield Beach, FL
RB Mark Thompson, 6’2”, 230 lbs, Dodge City C.C., Dodge City, KS
RB Tyrek Tisdale, 6’1”, 199 lbs, Oak Ridge HS, Orlando, FL
QB Kyle Trask, 6’5.5”, 210 lbs, Manvel HS, Manvel, TX
WR Rick Wells, 6’0”, 185 lbs, Raines HS, Jacksonville, FL
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
The Denver Broncos won the AFC West with ease in 2014, finishing last year ranked in the top five in both total offensive yards and defensive yards allowed. However, they cleaned house over the offseason and brought in a new coaching staff. With great talent and new coaches, will this finally be the year that the Broncos take the next step and win the Super Bowl?
How will the running back situation play out?
With Peyton Manning at quarterback, it can be easy to overlook the Broncos' depth at running back. There is some competition at the position, but coming off a Pro Bowl campaign, C.J. Anderson should be the starter. Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman will also compete for plentiful playing time as backups. Ball played very little, after suffering a groin injury, while Hillman played well as both a starter and backup. Even Juwan Thompson played well in the mix last year. With an added emphasis on the run this year, it will be more of a question of who to play as opposed to how good it will be.
How will the line be in protecting Peyton and fostering the run game?
With Peyton Manning still going strong at 39 years old, the offensive line will need to protect him from taking hits. Losing four-time Pro Bowler Ryan Clady has to be one of the biggest losses in the league to date, considering the overhaul on the offensive line. During training camp, the starters were Chris Clark, Louis Vasquez, Gino Gradkowski, Ben Garland, and Ty Sambrailo. Of those five listed starters, only two of them made starts last season. That certainly has to be of concern to Peyton Manning and the running game. However, Gary Kubiak will be implementing a zone blocking scheme, which worked extremely well in Baltimore last year. Peyton Manning is also arguably the best at avoiding sacks, but there should still be some concern. With an emphasis on the running game, the ability for the line to create lanes will be more crucial. Manning can get the ball out of his hand quickly, but with an expanded running game, the offensive line has to outperform preseason expectations.
How will Gary Kubiak change this team?
One decade later and Gary Kubiak is back with the Broncos, now as the head coach of an already dominant team. After leading the Baltimore Ravens’ offense to an impressive season, he looks to take the Broncos to a Super Bowl that they’re definitely worthy of. With his zone blocking scheme and added emphasis on the run, he should be able to bring some more balance to the Broncos’ offense. Just these small adjustments could ultimately be the difference between just another playoff run and a Super Bowl appearance. Kubiak is solely an offensive mind, so new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will be handling any changes on that side of the ball.
Will the linebackers be fully healthy?
While the Broncos have star outside linebackers in Demarcus Ware and Von Miller, they have some concerns about the health of their two inside ones. Brandon Marshall is recovering from an offseason foot surgery, while Danny Trevathan missed most of the 2014 campaign because of a knee injury. Both are very young players, who have demonstrated great instinct and athleticism in their playing time. However, they only have 30 totals games started between the two of them over the past three seasons. With health concerns looming in the near past, they will be looked at with a cautious eye. They’re certainly not the premier players on this defense, but they’ve proven to be valuable assets.
Is this the last season for Peyton?
Toward the end of the past season, Peyton had a significant drop-off in production that led to an early playoff departure. That has to be a little concerning to the team this year, but more importantly to his future. While he has denied that this will be a farewell season, there has to be some chance that it could be. He’s now 39 years old, and a few years removed from a serious neck injury. As the season progresses, it will be important to keep an eye on his production and health. Even if it’s not his last season, perhaps it might be the Broncos' last best shot to win a Super Bowl. This team has been close over the past few years under his leadership, but time is running out.
Frank Beamer has had a long, wonderful run at Virginia Tech. During the 83 years prior to Beamer arriving in Blacksburg, the Hokies had been to just six bowl games and had won just one - the 1986 Peach Bowl. In 1993, Virginia Tech went to its first bowl under Beamer and has been in the postseason every year since, winning 10 times and playing for the national title in 1999.
From 1993 to 2011, Virginia Tech had double-digit wins in 13 seasons and never lost more than five games. But in the past three years, the Hokies have not had a 10-win season and two six-loss seasons have sandwiched a five-loss campaign.
The question is, why the drop off? What is Virginia Tech doing, or not doing, that has led to three disappointing seasons in a row? A look at the stats from the past three seasons may shed some light on the reasons and how Beamer and Virginia Tech can right the ship in 2015.
In the years when it was most effective, the Virginia Tech offense had a productive running game, routinely ranking in the top 30 nationally in rushing offense. There was always a back to carry the load whether it was David Wilson or Darren Evans or Ryan Williams. Going back further there was Lee Suggs, Kevin Jones, and several other very good ball carriers.
But in 2012, Virginia Tech ranked 81st in the country in rushing yards per game. Two years ago and 2014 were even worse, as the Hokies finished 110th and 89th, respectively. The single-season rushing leader from 2012 to ‘14 was Trey Edmunds, who ran for 675 yards in 2013.
Because the offense struggled to establish a running game, Virginia Tech ran the ball fewer times. In this new age of fast-paced college football, more snaps are occurring. So if Virginia Tech was not running the ball, it was going in the air. That put more pressure on quarterbacks Logan Thomas and Michael Brewer, and they responded by throwing a lot of picks. Over that three-season span, Virginia Tech quarterbacks threw 47 total interceptions, causing the team’s normally strong turnover margin to plummet.
As a result, Virginia Tech lost the field position game. According to Football Outsiders, in 2014 Virginia Tech ranked 114th in Starting Field Position Delta; which is the difference between the Hokies’ starting field position and their opponents. That put the defense in one tough spot after another and though the unit often responded, it could only do so much.
Brewer was not the only problem with the passing game last year. The offensive line allowed 34 sacks, ranking 101st in the country. So to summarize, the offensive line has had trouble opening holes in the running game and has struggled protecting the quarterback. The running backs have not made the best use of the holes that were opened and the quarterback that has been under pressure has held the ball too long on some occasions and thrown it to the other team on others.
With eight starters back on defense this season, including stars in cornerback Kendall Fuller and defensive ends Ken Ekanem and Dadi Nicolas, defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s guys should again be very tough. But does the offense have the ability to run the ball and take pressure off Brewer? Can Brewer protect the ball to take pressure off the defense?
Three starters are back on the offensive line, including both members of the left side in tackle Jonathan McGlaughlin and guard Wyatt Teller. In the backfield, J.C. Coleman closed the year with a flourish and was named MVP of the Military Bowl after rushing for 157 yards against Cincinnati. Edmunds also returns from injury and there are new options in freshman Deshawn McClease and converted quarterback Travon McMillan. Also, Shai McKenzie has shown promise, but off-the-field issues have hampered his progress.
The strength of the offense resides in pass catchers Bucky Hodges and Isaiah Ford, meaning Brewer will still be asked to throw the ball quite a bit. It is obviously incumbent upon him to protect the football no matter how often he is asked to pass.
One thing Virginia Tech has going for it is that with a defense that could be among the best in the country, the offense does not have to be spectacular. It just needs to be efficient. The Hokies also don’t have to solely lean on the run, like say Army, for this to be a successful season. They need the threat of the run more than anything and an increase of 20 more yards rushing per game, getting them into the 50s in terms of the national rankings, would do wonders for this offense and the team as a whole.
The ACC Coastal Division is there for some team to take. Georgia Tech has some questions on defense and the Yellow Jackets are replacing many of their offensive skill players. Duke needs a new quarterback and all-conference wide receiver Jamison Crowder is gone. North Carolina’s defense was abysmal last year. Despite having the ACC’s leading returning receiver, Pittsburgh struggled throwing the ball. Miami has to rebuild just about everything except the quarterback. And Virginia has numerous challenges.
Most importantly, none of these teams have a defense like Virginia Tech. If the offense does just a little bit more, a Coastal championship could be waiting for Beamer and the Hokies.
— 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 Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
Auburn has a fast and physical defense, and they're going to need it.
In the SEC West, wins are a little more difficult to come by. Although the offense is more electrifying these days, the Tigers released a video letting everyone know their defense is still to be feared and revered.
With fall practice right around the corner, coaches and players are trying to squeeze in the last bit of free time or vacation before the season begins in force. Even though Ohio State is focused on winning another national championship, there’s still plenty of time for the Buckeyes to relax and get away from the summer heat.
Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones is locked into a tight battle for the starting quarterback job with J.T. Barrett, but the junior isn't one to be bothered by pressure.
On Sunday, Jones and a few teammates were hanging out at a pool. And needless to say, just a simple hangout at the pool wasn’t in order for Jones. Instead, the quarterback had a little fun and put a couple of WWE moves on a child at the pool.
Teammate Tyvis Powell captured the wrestling moves on video:
Athlon Sports is going division by division, asking and (trying to) answering the biggest question for every team in the league entering the 2015 season.
Buffalo: Can the QB distribute the ball effectively?
The Bills' coaching staff has been stabilized with the hiring of Rex Ryan. The defense should continue to be one of the league’s best. And with playmaking additions to the offense (LeSean McCoy, Percy Harvin, Charles Clay and Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton), the lone remaining question about a Buffalo playoff run is who plays quarterback? Matt Cassell was brought in to compete with EJ Manuel and Tyrod Taylor for the starting job. Cassell fits the system the best and clearly has the most experience, however, Manuel still has the most upside. If the signal-caller in Buffalo can simply distribute the football quickly, decisively and without turnovers, the Bills could easily end the NFL’s longest playoff drought.
Miami: Are the right leaders in place?
Last year, the defense featured players questioning coordinator Kevin Coyle. The offense never reached the tempo and efficiency talked about by coordinator Bill Lazor. Calls for Joe Philbin’s scalp were ignored by a totally new front office structure. All three were kept, free agent Ndamukong Suh was added to lead the defense and Ryan Tannehill was inked to a monstrous new long-term contract. The time is now for a team that has been middling for years and key leadership positions are filled by coaches and players with major question marks. If Miami isn’t careful, the Dolphins could fall to the bottom of the AFC East.
New England: What does the secondary look like?
Tom Brady’s suspension has dominated headlines but the Patriots' offense will be just fine the second he steps back into the lineup (if he leaves it at all). The real question about a Super Bowl repeat is holes left on the defense. Losing veteran Vince Wilfork from the line hurts but replacing both Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner at cornerback could completely change the way this defense plays. The Pats invested heavily in safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, which helps, but look for a heavy dose of zone defense to make up for the lack of star power at cornerback.
New York Jets: Can the passing game create balance?
Much like Buffalo, the Jets feel more stable under a new head coach in Todd Bowles. The already salty defense should be downright nasty after a very active offseason. But can all that defensive firepower mask the one glaring question about the Jets: Can they produce offense through the air? New York has ranked 32nd, 31st and 30th in passing offense the last three years and the quarterback battle will feature Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick and fourth-round pick Bryce Petty. There is a lot to like about this team on defense and on the ground, but it won’t make a playoff run without some support from a highly questionable aerial attack.
College football coaches are always on the hot seat. The pressure to win now is greater than it was 15-20 years ago. With the 24-hour news cycle, social media and message boards, coaches, teams and players are always on the spotlight.
The terms “hot seat” and “under pressure” don’t necessarily mean a coach is entering a year with concerns about job security, but there are a handful of coaches needing a big season to return in 2016.
Illinois’ Tim Beckman, Virginia’s Mike London and Miami's Al Golden top the hot seat list from Power 5 programs for 2015, while Hawaii’s Norm Chow and San Jose State’s Ron Caragher lead the way from Group of 5 teams.
College Football's Top 10 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2015
1. Tim Beckman, Illinois
Record at Illinois: 12-25 (3 years)
It’s been a difficult offseason for Beckman, as allegations of player mistreatment surfaced in May, adding to the pressure for a program that is just 12-25 over the last three years. Illinois has showed some improvement under Beckman, jumping in wins from just two in 2012 to four in 2013, followed by a 6-7 mark last season. The Fighting Illini needs to get back to a bowl in 2015 to save Beckman’s job.
Related: Big Ten Predictions for 2015
2. Mike London, Virginia
Record at Virginia: 23-38 (5 years)
Recruiting talent to Virginia hasn’t been a problem for London. Since 2011, the Cavaliers rank No. 6 among ACC teams with an average of 31.8 in recruiting rankings. However, there’s room to improve in the on-field performance. Virginia has only one winning season during London’s tenure (2011) and has just five ACC victories over the last three years. London’s 5-7 record in 2014 bought him another season, but the Cavaliers need to get to a bowl in 2015.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2015
3. Norm Chow, Hawaii
Record at Hawaii: 8-29 (3 years)
Chow was a popular hire for the Rainbow Warriors, but the Hawaii native and long-time assistant needs to show progress in 2015. Hawaii is just 8-29 under Chow’s watch but recorded its best mark (4-9) of his tenure last year. Prior to taking over as the head coach for the Rainbow Warriors, Chow was regarded as an assistant during stops at UCLA, USC, Utah, NC State and BYU. 2015 is a make-or-break year for Chow in Honolulu.
Related: Mountain West Predictions for 2015
4. Al Golden, Miami
Record at Miami: 28-22 (4 years)
Is Miami ready to win the ACC Coastal? That question has surrounded the Hurricanes each offseason in recent memory, and the pressure on Golden is increasing in intensity after a 6-7 record last year. Simply, Miami has too much talent to finish with a losing record in ACC play two times in the last four years. Golden inherited a few issues in Coral Gables, including the NCAA/Nevin Shapiro investigation. However, Miami ranks as the No. 3 roster in the ACC and is just 16-16 in conference play over the last four seasons.
Related: ACC 2015 All-Conference Team
5. Ron Caragher, San Jose State
Record at San Jose State: 9-15 (2 years)
Mike MacIntyre set the bar high for Caragher at San Jose State. In three years with the Spartans, MacIntyre went 16-21, including a 10-2 mark (prior to the bowl) in 2012. While reaching 10 wins at San Jose State isn’t easy, Caragher and San Jose State are trending in the wrong direction. After a 6-6 mark in 2013, the Spartans regressed to 3-9 last season. Caragher reeled in a solid recruiting class in the spring, and the third-year coach may need big contributions from a handful of freshmen in 2015.
6. Willie Taggart, USF
Record at USF: 6-18 (2 years)
Taggart was a promising hire for a USF program coming off an 8-16 record from 2011-12 under Skip Holtz. However, the Bulls are only 6-18 over the last two seasons and is picked by most to finish near the bottom of the American Athletic Conference’s East Division. Taggart has recruited well, so talent isn’t an issue. However, there’s a lot of youth on the roster, and assistant/scheme changes on both sides of the ball. USF has enough returning talent to reach a bowl. But there’s also enough concerns to finish 4-8 again.
7. Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Record at Indiana: 14-34 (4 years)
Indiana is one of the Big Ten’s toughest jobs, and Wilson was handed a serious setback after quarterback Nate Sudfeld was lost midway through 2014 with a shoulder injury. The Hoosiers have made progress under Wilson’s watch and nearly made a bowl in 2014 with a 5-7 mark. After a 1-11 record in Wilson’s first year (2011), Indiana has won at least four games in each of the last three seasons. The pressure on Wilson is building, but progress has been noticeable and a postseason trip is within reach for 2015.
8. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Record at Iowa: 115-85 (16 years)
Ferentz is one of the longest-tenured coaches in the nation, entering his 17th season at the helm in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes have played in 12 bowls under Ferentz, finished in the Associated Press poll five times and posted four years of double-digit wins. That’s the positive side of Ferentz’s tenure. However, the Hawkeyes have not won more than eight games and have only one winning mark in Big Ten play since 2009. Ferentz has done a lot of good things for Iowa. But it’s not easy to maintain success at one program for an extended period of time. 2015 probably isn’t a make-or-break year, but Ferentz needs to show this program isn’t growing stale under his watch.
9. Paul Haynes, Kent State
Record at Kent State: 6-17 (2 years)
Maintaining success as been difficult at Kent State. Darrell Hazell guided the Golden Flashes to an 11-3 mark in 2012, which was the program’s first double-digit win total in school history. However, Kent State has struggled under Haynes’ direction, going 6-17 over the last two years. The Golden Flashes went 2-9 last season and won only one game in conference play.
10. Ron Turner, FIU
Record at FIU: 5-19 (2 years)
Turner was a surprising hire at FIU, and the program slumped to a 1-11 record in his first season (2013). However, there were some signs of life by the Panthers last year, as Turner guided the program to a 4-8 mark. With 14 starters returning, FIU has a chance to show more progress in 2015.
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Record at Virginia Tech: 231-115-2 (28 years)
This will be an interesting scenario to watch. It’s unlikely Virginia Tech will fire Beamer, but the Hokies have been trending in the wrong direction since 2011. This program is 22-17 over the last three years and is coming off its worst conference record (3-5) since joining the ACC.
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Record at Vanderbilt: 3-9 (1 year)
James Franklin set the bar high after three successful years in Nashville, and Mason is looking for improvement after a 3-9 record in his debut.
Paul Rhoads, Iowa State
Record at Iowa State: 29-46 (6 years)
Iowa State is easily one of the toughest Power 5 jobs in college football. However, since guiding the Cyclones to three bowl appearances in four years, Rhoads is just 5-19 over the last two seasons.
Scott Shafer, Syracuse
Record at Syracuse: 10-15 (2 years)
Shafer had a solid debut (7-6), but the Orange regressed to 3-9 last season. Injuries hit this team hard last year, and the offense managed only 17.1 points a game. With a new athletic director, Shafer needs to make a good first impression.
USF is searching for improvement in coach Willie Taggart’s third season, and the Bulls hope their quest for a turnaround is bolstered by some sharp new uniforms for 2015.
Some of these designs have been used before, but USF appears to have a new alternate, which features yellow and green stripes on the shoulders (along with bright yellow numbers).
Check out USF’s sharp new uniforms for the 2015 season:
Baylor is a program on the rise under coach Art Briles. The Bears have won at least 10 games in three out of the last four years and just missed out on a playoff appearance last season. There’s no doubt Briles has raised the expectation level in Waco, and this program has staying power as an annual contender to win the Big 12 and compete for playoff appearances.
As the 2015 season approaches, Baylor should be considered one of the favorites to claim a spot among the four playoff teams. The offense will be explosive once again, and the defense should improve with nine starters returning.
The first season of the college football playoff was a huge success. With less than 50 days until kickoff, it’s time to evaluate some of the top contenders for the 2015 playoffs.
Here’s a look at three reasons why Baylor will make the playoff, followed by its schedule and three reasons the Bears won’t finish in the top four.
Three Reasons Why Baylor Will Make the CFB Playoff in 2015
1. New Quarterback, No Problem
TCU has been picked by most as the preseason favorite in the Big 12, and it’s no secret the Horned Frogs have the league’s best quarterback in senior Trevone Boykin. While quarterback play is always a critical component to winning a conference championship, the turnover under center isn’t cause for concern at Baylor. Coach Art Briles is one of the top offensive minds in the nation, and the Bears have reloaded with ease at quarterback in recent years, as Nick Florence and Bryce Petty kept the offense firing on all cylinders after Robert Griffin III left for the NFL. Has Baylor developed into a program that can easily transition between starters and suffer little or no drop in production for the passing attack? It certainly seems that way. Expect Seth Russell to thrive in his first year under center for the Bears.
2. Abundance of Playmakers
It’s not unrealistic to think Baylor might have the nation’s top collection of skill talent. Running back Shock Linwood returns after rushing for 1,252 yards and 16 scores last season, and there’s plenty of depth in the form of Devin Chafin, Johnny Jefferson and Terence Williams. At receiver, the Bears boast the nation’s No. 1 receiving corps. Corey Coleman and KD Cannon are All-America candidates after combining for 19 touchdown scores last season. Antwan Goodley will be missed, but Jay Lee (15.4 ypc in 2014), Davion Hall, Ishmael Zamora and Chris Platt are more big-play threats ready to emerge in 2015.
3. Best Line of Scrimmage in the Nation?
It’s an overused cliché at times, but teams have to be strong in the trenches to compete for a national title. Baylor’s lines of scrimmage are the best in the Big 12 and among the top teams nationally. The Bears return five starters on an offensive line that allowed 19 sacks in nine Big 12 contests, with senior All-American Spencer Drango anchoring the line from the left tackle position. Briles and coordinator Phil Bennett have significantly upgraded the talent on defense in recent years, starting with a line that is tough against the run and also capable of getting to the quarterback. This unit is headlined by end Shawn Oakman, while tackle Andrew Billings might be one of the nation’s most underrated players.
Baylor's 2015 Schedule
|Date||Opponent||Athlon Projected Rank for 2015||Projected Record|
|Sept. 4||at SMU||102||4-8|
|Oct. 3||Texas Tech (Arlington)||48||6-6|
|Oct. 10||at Kansas||103||1-11|
|Oct. 17||West Virginia||36||8-4|
|Oct. 24||Iowa State||74||3-9|
|Nov. 5||at Kansas State||44||7-5|
|Nov. 21||at Oklahoma State||28||8-4|
|Nov. 27||at TCU||5||10-2|
Three Reasons Why Baylor Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
1. November Road Schedule
The biggest obstacle to Baylor’s college football playoff hopes has little to do with its personnel. Instead, the Bears playoff bid could be derailed by a brutal November road slate. Baylor plays at Kansas State on Nov. 5, followed by a home date against Oklahoma, then back-to-back road games against Oklahoma State and TCU. While non-conference scheduling has been a source of criticism for Baylor, the Bears will have one of the nation’s toughest November stretches in the nation.
2. Quarterback Play Isn’t an Easy Transition
All signs point to Seth Russell having an easy transition into the starting role for Baylor. After all, Robert Griffin III to Nick Florence was easy, followed by a seamless transition from Florence to Bryce Petty. But what if it doesn’t go well? Russell should cruise through the first three games against non-conference opponents. How will he perform in his first Big 12 start against Texas Tech? Will he be completely settled into the starting job against Kansas State on Nov. 5?
3. Defense Doesn’t Improve
Baylor’s defense certainly wasn’t bad last year. The Bears held opponents to 25.5 points per game, ranked 16th nationally in rush defense and gave up 5.3 yards per play in 2014. However, there’s certainly room to improve. Baylor allowed at least 40 points in two out of its last three games and surrendered 34 passing plays of 30 yards or more. With nine starters back, improvement should be noticeable on the stat sheet for coordinator Phil Bennett. However, if this unit doesn’t improve, stopping TCU’s high-powered offense in a game that could decide the Big 12 title will be a huge challenge.
Don’t expect a repeat of 2014. The Big 12 will get one team into the college football playoff. TCU is getting most of the preseason attention as the favorite in the Big 12, but Baylor has all of the necessary pieces to win the conference crown. Sure, replacing quarterback Bryce Petty is going to be a challenge. However, Seth Russell looks to be a capable option, and the Bears have a loaded receiving corps and supporting cast to ease the transition. And of course, Baylor hasn’t had much trouble replacing starting quarterbacks recently. The defense has to improve, but Briles has reason to be optimistic with nine returning starters. The road trip to TCU will be a huge challenge and could decide which team wins the Big 12. If the transition to Russell is seamless, and the defense continues to improve, Baylor will repeat as Big 12 champions and earn a spot in the playoff.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 3
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 11-1 (8-1 Big 12)
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 10
CG Technology Over/Under Odds: 10.5
5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 10
The Special Olympics World Games gives the spotlight to those who may not always get the chance to shine.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles knows about that all too well. When he competed in the Special Olympics at the age of 10, he realized just how fast he was.
"Special Olympics gave me the first chance to discover a talent I didn't know I had," Charles explained.
Miami, like every other college football, team will begin its fall camp in August and one of the tough tasks facing the Hurricanes is replacing the most productive running back in school history.
Before entering May’s NFL Draft, Duke Johnson rushed for 3,519 yards (most in Hurricanes’ program history) and 26 touchdowns in his three seasons at Miami. Now that Johnson plays for the Cleveland Browns, the team must find a way to replace his production.
“The biggest thing is, whether it’s by committee or competition or however it shakes out, we don’t want to have a decline there at all,” said head coach Al Golden during ACC Media Week.
At 6-2, 240 pounds, Gus Edwards has a rare gift of power and speed. Last year, he was primarily used in short-yardage situations. But this season, he will be used more in an expanded role. But Edwards won’t be the only running back the Hurricanes use to help fill the void left by Johnson.
While Edwards is more of a power back, Joseph Yearby is more of a slasher. At 5-9, 185 pounds, Yearby is small, but he has great vision and patience and will be a great change-of-pace back. Yearby can’t handle a full load because of his size, but he will bring much-needed explosiveness to the Canes offense.
Both Edwards and Yearby should be a great thunder and lightning tandem in the backfield.
Incoming freshman Mark Walton might also see some carries in 2015. The four-star recruit chose Miami over Auburn, Florida State, Tennessee and South Carolina. Walton rushed for 184 yards and three touchdowns to help Miami prep powerhouse Booker T. Washington High win the 4A State Championship.
Sophomore Trayone Gray and Walter Tucker Jr., may also receive some playing time this season. Golden said Gray has made a lot of progress but hopes he can become more mature. The 6-0, 226-pound Tucker will be used as a fullback and is an excellent option to catch the ball out of the backfield. Tucker doesn’t exactly wow fans once he gets the ball, but he does a lot of things well.
Miami fans can expect to see some sort of committee at running back to start out the season. Edwards and Yearby will receive a bulk of the carries, but don’t be surprised if you don’t see Walton in a few games this fall either.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
Save for a single program, the Big 12 didn’t budge in the annual offseason coaching carousel. And that’s despite another year of upheaval in the old Southwest: The familiars aren’t as formidable, while two private schools — Baylor and TCU — have leapt up to dominate the league on offense and defense.
But the lack of new names at the top doesn’t mean the Big 12 isn’t riding big changes at the coordinator position: While Texas is still settling in with Charlie Strong, Oklahoma cleaned house after a late-season offensive implosion. And as offense continues to rule this league, Air Raid stalwarts like Texas Tech are at a crossroads to try to moderate their famous shootouts. And at the league’s bottom, Kansas resigned itself to the fate of the modern game: If you can’t beat the Air Raid, join it.
Here are three key coordinator hires to watch in the league this season, each tasked with equally unique and daunting projects.
Meet: Lincoln Riley, offensive coordinator
Formerly: Offensive coordinator, East Carolina
Style: Air Raid
No new hire in the Big 12 will be as scrutinized this season as the 31-year-old Riley, who replaced Jay Norvell and OU legend Josh Heupel after the Sooners’ tumultuous 8–5 season ended with a home loss to Oklahoma State and a 40–6 beatdown by Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
The Sooners averaged 36.4 points per game but faltered when it mattered most. Against Big 12 co-champion Baylor, OU scored twice in the first quarter but failed to score over the final 45 minutes of the game. In the bowl game, the Sooners managed only six points against Clemson (and former OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables).
Riley is a Mike Leach disciple who was promoted to a full-time assistant coach position at the age of 23. He followed former Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeil to East Carolina, where his offenses averaged 82 plays per game and posted the four best offensive seasons in school history.
Riley’s offenses at East Carolina had more balance than typical Leach-coached Air Raid attacks. To that end, his scheme leans more toward the Dana Holgorsen branch of the Leach coaching tree, which is just fine with Stoops. After all, the Sooners welcome back Samaje Perine, who rushed for 1,713 yards as a true freshman last season. Running the ball will no doubt be a big part of the OU attack this fall.
In recent years, Riley had the luxury of a veteran quarterback (Shane Carden) to run the show. In Norman, he’ll have to identify a reliable starter. Trevor Knight struggled for much of last season, meaning that Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield, who played in the Air Raid for one season in Lubbock, could be the favorite.
Unlike Gibbs and Likens, Riley isn’t tasked with a reclamation project. But he still faces a daunting challenge.
The task from Stoops, as stated at Riley’s introductory press conference, is simple: Adapt to the personnel and be successful. Now.
Meet: Rob Likens, offensive coordinator
Formerly: Receivers coach/assistant head coach, California
Style: Up-tempo Air Raid
It’s no shock that Kansas finished dead last in the Big 12 (and 115th nationally) in total offense last season. The death-rattle of the Charlie Weis pro-style era in Manhattan ended with a paltry 17.8 points per game. That number is terrible enough on its own but horrific by comparison with other Big 12 teams: League leaders Baylor (48.2 ppg) and TCU (46.5 ppg) were almost three times more productive. The Jayhawks would’ve needed 10-12 quarters per game to keep pace with the top half of the highest-scoring league in the Power 5.
Enter Likens, an offensive assistant for Sonny Dykes’ Cal and Louisiana Tech offenses. In 2012, Dykes’ Bulldogs led the nation in scoring (51.5 ppg), and in two years at Berkeley, the “Bear Raid” increased output from 23.0 to 38.3 points per game, second only to Oregon last season.
Likens is tasked with installing an attack in Lawrence that’s familiar to almost every conference rival — an aggressive pass-first philosophy that spreads the field at a breakneck pace.
Kansas’ offense could be one of the toughest reclamation projects of 2015: Under Weis the Jayhawks ran a huddled, pro-style attack in the 7-on-7 hellfire of the Big 12. KU averaged 70 plays per game; most Air Raid and hurry-up attacks push for a minimum of 85.
“It’s really frustrating when you first get to a new program and install this offense,” Likens says. “But then next year and the year after, you start to see the players respond faster and faster. Right now we’re just trying to work through mistakes.
“The first day of spring ball, it’s a billion mistakes. You go through and fix those but then you’ve also got to put different plays in, which create more mistakes. You usually skip a day in spring practice, so you’re on a three-day cycle of building, correcting, repeating.”
To Likens, Year 1, Week 1, Day 1 of installing an up-tempo Air Raid is about speed and positivity. Kansas will emphasize tempo to build conditioning, but to also free players from overthinking.
“Repetition builds muscle memory,” Likens says. “Going at our pace allows for as many reps as humanly possible, because this offense is about calling the perfect play, it’s about playing with close to perfect technique.”
Likens and new head coach David Beaty, formerly the receivers coach at Texas A&M, have to identify a starting quarterback. Consistency at the position plagued the Weis and Turner Gill years in Lawrence. KU has entered the season with a new starter in six consecutive years. Junior Montell Cozart and senior Michael Cummings are the front-runners for this season, but two more quarterbacks will join the roster in June.
That’s an immediate concern. Of long-term concern is the fact that Kansas is bringing in an offense that is very familiar to the rest of its Big 12 neighbors. Nowhere in college football is the Air Raid better understood, coached and coached against than Likens’ new league.
“You certainly want to be doing something different. You want to have a kind of uniqueness,” Likens says. “That’s a fine line you have to determine, but right now we’re consumed with understanding the basics. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a player out there right now. You’re going as fast as you can and you’re getting yelled at for mistakes non-stop. So honestly, the toughest task right now is to stay positive with these guys and make them believe.”
Meet: David Gibbs, defensive coordinator
Formerly: Defensive coordinator/interim head coach, Houston
Style: 4-3 Hybrid
Last season, Kliff Kingsbury’s Red Raider offense rolled up the predictably gaudy numbers (504.1 yards and 30.5 points per game) but finished 4–8 thanks largely to a horrific defense that gave up a league-worst 41.3 points per game. Among the grisly moments were games in which Baylor and TCU — the league’s co-champs — rocked the Tech defense for 48 and 82 points, respectively.
To combat years of stigma and to survive in a league dominated by the Air Raid, Texas Tech hired Gibbs, who’s operated with a distinctly Big 12 defensively philosophy for most of his career.
“Don’t worry about total yards allowed,” Gibbs says. “Don’t worry about passing stats. Don’t worry about getting beat on third down, because sometimes that’s going to happen. The goal is to give your offense more opportunities than theirs.”
Gibbs ran a hybrid 4-3 at Houston with a flexible rush end/down lineman who, depending on the call, would stand back as a linebacker or put his hand down as a lineman. This allowed Houston to change looks without huddling, the exact philosophy up-tempo offenses have been using for years.
“Playing good defense is giving your offense the ball back with a chance to win in the fourth (quarter),” Gibbs says. “That’s common sense, but if it’s 49–48 or 27–26 and we can get the ball back for the offense, you’re doing your job.
“Some people see it as craziness, I see it as opportunity.”
Gibbs’ defenses at Houston were wildly opportunistic, forcing an incredible 43 turnovers in 2013 — eight more than any other team in the nation — and 30 last season. The Texas Tech defense forced only 15 turnovers last season.
Turnovers have long been considered uncoachable and “chance opportunities,” but Gibbs increases his defense’s odds of taking the ball away by giving the opposing offense multiple looks as well as encouraging hyper-aggressive ball-strips and allowing his defensive backs to jump routes. It’s a gamble, but Gibbs believes the current offense-centric focus of the game leaves defenses no choice.
“The tempo and point production in this league are unmatched,” he says. “I thought we went fast at Houston, and then I saw Coach Kingsbury’s offense practice. For so many teams in one conference to score this much, wow. As a defensive coach it’s like, ‘Holy cow, man. Good luck.’”
-By Steven Godfrey, SB Nation
Minnesota, along with Pittsburgh, become the first NFL teams to have their full rosters open training camp when the two squads start back to work on Saturday. Rookies for Baltimore, Cleveland, New England and New Orleans have already reported to training camp, but the Vikings and Steelers are the first teams to have everyone present as the NFL gets back to business.
The Vikings go into camp this season with a little more certainty than previous years, as Teddy Bridgewater looks to take the next step after having a successful rookie campaign. Yet, along with every other NFL team at the start of training camp, there are questions about Minnesota that no one will know the answer to until the pads are strapped on and the helmets are buckled. Here are the biggest questions Vikings fans want and need answers to.
Can Adrian Peterson regain his MVP form after missing nearly all of last season?
Peterson’s last snap in an NFL game was the 2014 season opener against St. Louis. After turning 30 in March, people are starting to wonder if they will ever see the old AP ever again. Traditionally once a running back hits 30 years old, they start to take a turn for the worse. This isn’t just any old running back though, this is the same guy who came back early from an ACL tear and went on to win the MVP award the following season. This is a man who has always bounced back after bad breaks and situations. Chances are we won’t see much of Peterson in the preseason, he traditionally doesn’t play at all in the warm-up games. We will have to wait until the first game of the regular season, which will be on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” on the road against the San Francisco 49ers.
Will Teddy Bridgewater take the next step as a starting NFL quarterback?
Bridgewater enters training camp as the unquestioned franchise quarterback of the Vikings. Coming off a rookie campaign where he started 12 games, he won six and was named the 2014 NFL Pepsi Rookie of the Year. The question is now can he lead a team that only won seven games total last season to the playoffs? Avoiding the “Sophomore Slump” can be tough in the NFL, let alone at the position with the biggest spotlight in sports. Bridgewater has the poise and intellect to take the next step, and has a new wide receiver to work with in Mike Wallace. In the QB-heavy NFC North, Bridgewater will have to work harder than ever before to make a difference and get the Vikings to the playoffs this season. Hey Christian Ponder did it, why can’t Teddy?
Will former No. 4 overall Matt Kalil turn it around this season?
Last season was one to forget for Kalil. After making the Pro Bowl his rookie year, Kalil has taken a tumble down from grace. After only allowing two sacks his rookie year, he has allowed 16 in the past two seasons. That’s a pretty drastic turn of events for a guy who was supposed to solidify the left side of the offensive line for years to come. The Vikings did pick up the last year on his rookie deal option, so this is the true test season for Kalil. If he doesn’t play exceptionally better, the odds are he will be looking at a new team for the 2016 season.
Can the secondary holds its own in one of the league’s best quarterback divisions?
In a division that features quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler, having a good secondary is more crucial than ever. The Vikings are starting to trend in the right direction, but still have to navigate six games against NFC North rivals that all have quarterbacks who have been to the Pro Bowl. Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith are the cornerstones of the defense and should provide good stability, but it takes more than two to have a successful back end of the defense. Guys like Robert Blanton and Josh Robinson will both have to play better. First-round pick Trae Waynes could play a big part this season at cornerback, but that depends on how well he adjusts to head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense.
How much will the former UCLA linebackers contribute?
The Vikings took Anthony Barr in the first round of the 2014 draft, and his former college teammate Eric Kendricks was taken one year later in the second round. These two will be a big factor in determining how well the Viking defense plays this season. Barr is coming off an impressive rookie year, which he was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 8 after he scooped up a fumble and returned it for a game-winning touchdown in overtime. Kendricks has already been getting rave reviews from coaches in OTAs and minicamp. If both stay on the field and can grasp Zimmer’s defense, they both could cause havoc in this league sooner rather than later.
— Written by Josh Koop, who is a part of the Athlon Contributor Network and Director of New Media with the Bemidji Axemen of the Indoor Football League. You can follow Josh on Twitter at @Koopsnet.
If it's one thing Joe Haden loves, it's sneakers.
One of the best cornerbacks in the game has created a Youtube channel and started off giving the fans what they want to see... his sneaker collection. The Browns cornerback is known for his stylish shoes, but most don't even know he has mutliple closets just to house many of his prized possessions.
Check out what has to be the best sneaker collection in all of football.
Haden just signed on with the Jordan Brand, and it's pretty obvious the shoe game is a wrap now.
Junior Seau's death has brought to light the issue of concussions and CTE in football. On a day when his contributions to the sport is going to be remembered, his family's voice will be silenced.
According to The New York Times, instead of allowing the Seau family to speak on his behalf, a video will be shown. After his death in 2012, many placed the blame on his brain injury stemming from critical hits to the head during his football years.
The Seau family has filed against the NFL, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame wants to strictly keep the focus on the football player's on-field accomplishments. Seau had always said he wanted his daughter, Sydney, to introduce him but sadly that dream won't be realized.
"We're not the NFL, but the Pro Football Hall of Fame," executive director of the Hall of Fame, David Baker said. "Our mission is to honor the heroes of the game and Junior is a hero of the game. We're going to celebrate his life, not the death and other issues."
Seau's contributions to the game of football are important, but so are the everlasting results of those years of playing.
Colin Cowherd has recently come under fire for his statements about Dominican baseball players.
After the ESPN radio host made an issue about the sport not being too complex and that a third of the league is Dominican, Jose Bautisa demanded an explanation. Cowherd has finally responded.
"I could've made the point without using one country, and there's a sorts of smart people from the Dominican Republic. I could've said a third of baseball's talent is being furnished from countries with economic hardships, therefore educational hurdles. For the record, I used the Dominican Republic because they've furnished baseball with so many great players. I understand that when you mention a specific country, they get offended... Was I clunky? Perhaps. Did people not like my tone? I get it. Sometimes my tone stinks."
That's as much of an apology as one is going to get out of Cowherd.
The efforts towards putting together Louisville's 2016 recruiting class have been consistent since the ink hit the paper for the 2015 group in February. Methodically, the Cardinals have built their class enjoying a spurt of five commitments since July 16 including two on Thursday, linebacker Tabarius Peterson and wide receiver Keion Wakefield.
Louisville moved the needle on Peterson’s previous announced timeline of late August landing him over offers from Duke, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, South Florida, Memphis, North Carolina, Iowa, Iowa State, Cal and Illinois among others.
Peterson is a two-way star for Tucker (Ga.) High School using his 6-foot-3, 220-pound, frame with his 4.6 speed at tight end and linebacker. He projects as an outside linebacker/defensive end at the next level. Peterson stood out as a top performer during Louisville’s Friday Night Camp (July 17) with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham giving extra attention to the Georgia native.
Wakefield is a true slot and inside receiver that Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino can use to exploit defenses in the ACC. Wakefield may be undersized (5-10, 170), but his 4.45 speed is perfect for dragging across the field from one side to the other gaining separation from corners or creating a mismatch with an outside linebacker or safety covering a zone. He is also an ideal fit as a punt returner.
Louisville Male High School has been consistent with their use of Wakefield over the last two years, getting 41 receptions for 888 yards with 12 scores as a sophomore and 40 receptions for 736 yards and 13 scores in 2014.
Before his verbal commitment Wakefield had more schools showing interest in him than offers, stunted by many believing he was going to stay home for college. Kentucky, Purdue, Illinois, Indiana and Cincinnati all offered but teams like UCLA, Notre Dame, Florida, Alabama, Clemson and Oregon all showed some level of interest at one time or another. During his announcement at Male High on Thursday he had three caps out, picking Louisville over Indiana, Purdue and Kentucky.
The Cardinals now have 17 verbal commitments to their 2016 recruiting class with players from eight different states filling the class. The focus of Louisville’s early recruiting efforts have been on the offensive side of the ball, where up to 11 players could line up once on campus.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
There is no question talks have taken place between West Virginia and Pitt to renew the Backyard Brawl, at least on a short-term basis. Both BlueGoldSports.com as well as media outlets out of Pittsburgh have verified that WVU athletics director Shane Lyons and Pitt AD Scott Barnes have been in discussions.
However, Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen made a statement just yesterday leading some to believe negotiations have broken down and that Pitt has put on the brakes. ESPN’s Brett McMurphy quoted Holgorsen as saying, “We’re begging ’em to play. They chose to play Oklahoma State instead. It makes no sense why it’s not being played.” Pitt choosing to travel to Stillwater to play the Cowboys instead of playing WVU seemed like a clear indication in the past there was no desire to play the Mountaineers. Could that again be the case despite numerous reports both schools have been open to the idea?
Pitt has scheduled future non-conference games against schools such as Cincinnati, Marshall and Oklahoma State seemingly doing everything but choosing to travel down I-79 to play WVU.
While both ADs have appeared to be open to a renewal of this historic rivalry Holgorsen’s statement yesterday is now leaving some doubt as to whether a deal can be made.
West Virginia, on the other hand, has made it a point to renew old rivalries. The Mountaineers have future games scheduled against Virginia Tech, Maryland and Penn State.
The Backyard Brawl has not been played since 2011 after being played almost every year going back to 1900. Pitt leads the all-time series 61-40-3.
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.