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All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC North, Cleveland Browns, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/burning-questions-cleveland-browns-enter-training-camp
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The AFC North is arguably the NFL's most competitive division with three teams having made the playoffs last season. Even through all the woes of the Browns in the past, they still finished 7-9. However, they fell apart at the end of the season, losing five straight. They were certainly a surprise team up until that point, although they still have glaring problems. While the other teams have enjoyed success for some time now, the Browns have to make some adjustments if they want to truly compete throughout a full season.

 

Related: 2015 NFL Training Camp Dates and Locations

 

Is Josh McCown the sure starting quarterback?

A few months back, Mike Pettine named McCown as the team’s starting quarterback and sounded pretty firm in his decision. Johnny Manziel spent some time in rehab during the offseason in hopes to get a better focus on the field and fix personal issues. With that, McCown, a journeyman, looks to provide some stability to the Browns. The rest of the AFC North teams all have franchise quarterbacks, while the Browns haven’t had even a solid starter since they returned to the NFL as an expansion team in 1999. The Browns really need somebody better than McCown at quarterback, so there will be plenty of eyes on Manziel during training camp. He’ll certainly be getting plenty of reps because it is almost certain that he will get some playing time this upcoming season.

 

How will the wide receivers help their quarterback?

To give their quarterback someone to throw to since Josh Gordon is suspended for the entire 2015 season, the Browns signed Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline, presumably for starting roles. Both receivers have had success at some point during their respective careers, but neither figures to be a big red-zone threat. Hartline had just two touchdowns after a reduced role last season with the Dolphins, and Bowe recorded none for the Chiefs. Andrew Hawkins will probably also get significant time after emerging as the team's leading receiver last year. But touchdowns didn’t come much his way either. The Browns only had 12 total passing touchdowns, last in the NFL.

 

The offense will certainly rely on the rush, but how reliable will that be?

The Browns’ offense really doesn’t have a standout playmaker, but they do have a solid offensive line anchored by All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas. Thus Cleveland’s trio of running backs will play a monumental role in the offense Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West showed some flashes of strong running, but they combined to average four yards per carry, as the team ranked near the bottom of the NFL in this category (3.6 ypc, 28th). Cleveland also drafted Duke Johnson in the third round this year, who figures to get some playing time. The Browns don’t have a solidified star back, so it will be so essential to get better production from its ball carriers as a whole.

 

Can the league's worst rush defense improve?

The Browns were last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, and a big reason for that came at the expense of the defensive line. However, they went out during the offseason to fix problems there, drafting NT Danny Shelton in the first round and signing veteran DE Randy Starks in free agency. Shelton will certainly be the most important player along the line because he will be tasked with jamming the middle and allowing for linebackers to get to the running back quicker. Cleveland recognized an obvious need and made sure to get help immediately. However, it remains to be seen if the changes will produce results on the field.

 

Can the defense, specifically the pass defense, lead this team to a strong season?

There is little doubt that the Browns’ secondary is the premier unit on this team, and it will have to lead the way, just like it did last year. Joe Haden is certainly the best defensive player on the team, and perhaps the team’s best player. Quarterbacks avoid throwing his way because of his ability to consistently win one-on-one matchups. The Browns also added Tramon Williams this offseason to line up opposite Haden. Williams is coming off of a down year, so his performance early on is worth watching. The team also hopes that 2014 first-round pick Justin Gilbert will take a big step forward and be more of a factor and playmaker this season. Safeties Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson take care of the back end. They were both among the league's best at their positions last season, as Gipson was second in interceptions and Whitner was sixth in tackles by a defensive back. 

Teaser:
Questions as the Cleveland Browns Enter Training Camp
Post date: Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Overtime
Path: /overtime/ohio-state-michigan-ends-arrests-assault-charges-jet-express-buckeyes-wolverines-rivalry
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If you're talking about Ohio State vs. Michigan, you better come ready for war.

 

Two couples got into an argument about the football powerhouses. When a sports debate leads in arrests and charges, you know it's gone a bit too far.

 

"They were arguing, cursing at each other," a witness said. "As the argument went on, the Michigan fan's girlfriend stood up, pulled the hair of the Ohio State fan's girlfriend ... the wife actually. He tried to defend his wife by shoving the Michigan's fan's girlfriend. The Michigan fan stood up and tried to defend his girlfriend. And after that they mutally started to fist fight and swing on each other. It was crazy."

 

It's not crazy, it's sports.

The best part of the video was having to get a Michigan State fan to be the voice of reason.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - 10:50
All taxonomy terms: College Football, NFL, News
Path: /college-football/roger-goodell-you-hate-him-nfl-loves-him
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You probably hate Roger Goodell.

 

He botched BountyGate. He bungled the Ray Rice scandal. His handling of Adrian Peterson was anything but perfect. Who knows what really happened in the Greg Hardy situation?

 

And it’s taking longer to sort out over-inflated footballs than it took to work out an Iranian nuclear deal.

 

But you know who loves the NFL’s commissioner?

 

The owners. Or, as they are more affectionately known, “The 32.”

 

The NFL handed out $187.7 million per team in 2013 in league-wide national revenue sharing — which equates to about $6 billion in revenue.

 

That number jumped 21 percent to $7.3 billion in 2014. That’s $226.4 million per team doled out by the NFL to its 32 franchises.

 

Recently the Green Bay Packers reported a record $376 million in total revenue last season. Sure, a really good football team and elite-level fan support will lead to record-setting profit margins.

 

However, the overall power and strength of the NFL brand is also a huge part of that revenue spike.

 

Exponentially increasing television revenue, national sponsorships, licensing agreements, merchandise sales and an expanding international brand campaign have been wildly successful under Goodell’s watch. This is a business and the Commish has made The 32 incredibly happy by filling their pockets with gold.

 

Goodell has taken slings and arrows for handling the league’s disciplinary issues. Rightly so, he’s been inconsistent at best and negligent at worst. All the while, making over $40 million per year in salary.

 

But he’s paid that money to take the PR punches from social media and the court of public opinion so that The 32 are protected.

 

Much like the NCAA, where the individual schools hold all of the power while the NCAA takes all of the heat, the NFL allows its figurehead to take all of the flack while the real power brokers sit back and count stacks of cash.

 

Fans pay exorbitant amounts of time and money to support their favorite players and teams. We love the NFL and we love to hate Roger Goodell.

 

But that’s exactly what the owners want. As long as the commissioner continues to increase revenue, his job isn’t in any danger. And the only way revenue stops increasing is if we collectively stop watching.

 

And who wants to do that?

Teaser:
Roger Goodell: You Hate Him, NFL Loves Him
Post date: Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/why-ohio-state-will-or-wont-make-college-football-playoff-2015
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Ohio State enters the 2015 college football season, happily perched at the top as the reigning national champions. While there are many Ohio State fans content to revel in the last season’s national title, head coach Urban Meyer has been actively preparing the Buckeyes to repeat.

 

Related: Ohio State Buckeyes 2015 Preview and Prediction

 

For those who actively follow Ohio State, the 2015 team has been the squad pointed to by Meyer as a likely national championship contender. This entirety of this team is made up of players who were recruited by Meyer and his staff to come to Columbus. One of the lone holdovers from the seemingly distant Jim Tressel era is quarterback Braxton Miller, who returns after redshirting last season because of a shoulder injury.

 

Here’s a look at three reasons why Ohio State will once again make the College Football Playoff and three reasons the Buckeyes won’t finish in the top four.

 

Three Reasons Why Ohio State Will Make The College Football Playoff In 2015

 

1. The Talent Is Abundant

Ohio State lost talented and experienced players from its 2014 national championship team, but so many others return. First and foremost, Meyer will need to determine a starting quarterback, from the aforementioned Miller, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones. Ezekiel Elliott returns at running back. Joey Bosa returns at defensive end. And it goes on and on, with yet another highly touted recruiting class arriving in Columbus. The Buckeyes’ talent level is at its highest point under Meyer, and does not seem to be peaking yet.

 

Related: College Football 2015 All-America Team

 

2. The Coach

The aforementioned Meyer is arguably at the top of his profession, with three national championships to his resume. A master motivator, Meyer truly has his pulse on the heart and psyche of his team, knowing the right moves to make and the proper buttons to push.

 

3. The Schedule

The 2015 schedule has its share of challenges, yet lays out well for the Buckeyes. The season opener at Virginia Tech will qualify as "must-see" TV for college football fans, as the Hokies were the lone team to defeat the Buckeyes in 2014. The other non-conference games (Hawaii, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan) shouldn’t pose much of a threat to the Buckeyes in the friendly confines of the Horseshoe. The Big Ten conference schedule brings Penn State, Minnesota and Michigan State to Columbus. Of course, the conference schedule concludes with a trip to Ann Arbor, where Ohio State will battle Michigan, That Team Up North.

 

Ohio State's 2015 Schedule

DateOpponent Athlon Projected Rank for 2015Projected Record
Sept. 7at Virginia Tech358-4
Sept. 12Hawaii1143-10
Sept. 19Northern Illinois808-4
Sept. 26Western Michigan817-5
Oct. 3at Indiana606-6
Oct. 10Maryland576-6
Oct. 17Penn State328-4
Oct. 24at Rutgers655-7
Nov. 7Minnesota458-4
Nov. 14at Illinois646-6
Nov. 21Michigan State710-2
Nov. 28at Michigan347-5

 

Three Reasons Why Ohio State Will Not Make The College Football Playoff In 2015

 

1. Injuries

The 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes overcame the loss of Miller, who was considered one of the preseason favorites to win the Heisman Trophy, thanks to the emergence of J.T. Barrett, followed by Cardale Jones, at quarterback. Can Ohio State handle a key personnel loss to another position group, such as offensive or defensive line?

 

2. The Quarterback Decision

Meyer has publicly stated that this decision at the most important position on the team will be exceptionally difficult to make. Miller, Barrett and Jones have their supporters among the fanbase. Could a quarterback controversy possibly fracture the team, helping to derail its repeat national championship hopes?

 

3. Complacency

Possibly the most dreaded word in the English language to Meyer, the concern that the Buckeyes may go through the motions this fall, will be closely watched by the head coach and his staff. The 2014 Florida State Seminoles were the defending national champions and survived several close calls before a dominating loss to Oregon in the Playoff. Meyer and his assistant coaches will do everything possible to avoid a similar fate.

 

Final Verdict

 

Ohio State is the prohibitive favorite to not only return to the College Football Playoff, but also repeat as national champions. The talent is in place, the coaching staff is well-respected and among the best in the country, and the schedule is challenging enough to keep the Buckeyes on their toes. Ohio State's biggest opponent will be the dreaded sentiments of complacency and entitlement, feelings Meyer will be continually be looking out for throughout the season.

 

Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking:  1

Athlon’s Projected Final Record:  13-0

Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds:  11

CG Technology Over/Under Odds: 11.5

5 Dimes Projected Over/Under Odds:  11

 

— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a diehard Ohio State fan. Minnich also writes and podcasts for menofthescarletandgray.com, a site dedicated to Ohio sports with a special emphasis on the Buckeyes. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.

Teaser:
Why Ohio State Will or Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
Post date: Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/15-most-important-storylines-nfl-training-camps-begin
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The countdown to the 2015 NFL regular season has begun. Rookies for three teams are scheduled to report to training camp today with more and more joining the fray until the full rosters for all 32 squads are back on the field by Aug. 1.

 

Related: 2015 NFL Training Camp Dates and Locations

 

With the coaches and players going back to work, the countdown to the Sept. 10 opener between the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers has begun.

 

As in every season, the storylines heading into 2015 are rich. Uncertainty around Tom Brady and the Patriots stemming from Deflategate will be worth monitoring until the quarterback takes a snap. The Seahawks’ blunder on the goal line in the Super Bowl may be a cloud over the season in Seattle. Quarterbacks like Sam Bradford, Jay Cutler, Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin III are reaching career crossroads.

 

As camp breaks around the country, here is a look at the top storylines:

 

Buy the 2015 NFL Preview Magazine

 

1. The Seahawks’ recovery

 

The Seahawks spent the entire offseason picking up the pieces from the ill-fated, goal-line play in Super Bowl XLIX. It might take more than duct tape and Super Glue to put the team’s mojo back together. Coach Pete Carroll took responsibility for the second-down play call from the 1-yard line that resulted in a Russell Wilson interception with 20 seconds left.

 

The call now arguably ranks as the most second-guessed in NFL history, with even running back Marshawn Lynch questioning why the Seahawks chose not to run the football. Conspiracy theorists, including some Seahawks players, wondered whether the Seahawks were positioning Wilson to play the part of hero instead of Lynch.

 

Carroll and his staff will have to regain the trust of the locker room before they begin a quest to become the first team to reach three Super Bowls in a row since the Buffalo Bills (1991-93).

 

Related: Should Russell Wilson Become the Highest-Paid Quarterback in the NFL?

 

2. Watt the MVP

 

The chants began in NRG Stadium at midseason: “M-V-P!” And Texans defensive end J.J. Watt became a serious contender for the award after the Texans finished 9–7, a seven-win improvement over 2013. Watt had 27 tackles, 11 sacks, 20 hits on the quarterback, a touchdown (while playing tight end) and a safety in the final five games when Houston went 4–1. He finished with 20.5 sacks to become the first player with at least 20 sacks in two different seasons.

 

Although Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers won the award with 31 of the 50 votes, Watt became the first defensive player this century to garner more than three votes; he finished second with 13 votes.

 

Watt already owns two Defensive Player of the Year awards and should match Lawrence Taylor with three. But Watt stands a decent chance of becoming only the third defensive player ever to win MVP honors, joining Taylor (1986) and Alan Page (1971).

 

3. Colts’ next step

 

The Colts went 11–5 and lost in the wild-card round in 2012. They went 11–5 in 2013 and won a wild-card playoff game. They took another step last year, going 11–5 and winning not only a wild-card game but also reaching the AFC Championship Game with a road victory over the Broncos in a divisional game.

 

Indianapolis got older in the offseason, adding running back Frank Gore (32), receiver Andre Johnson (33), linebacker Trent Cole (32) and offensive lineman Todd Herremans (32). Chuck Pagano insists that the Colts also got better. But the coach enters 2015 as a lame duck. Is it Super Bowl or bust for him?   

 

4. Cutler’s last stand?

 

The Bears’ new braintrust — general manager Ryan Pace, coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase — has no ties to Jay Cutler. They have not given the quarterback a vote of confidence, either. Cutler’s contract, which has a salary-cap hit of $16.5 million this season, offered them no choice but to ride with him this season.

 

Cutler, 32, has earned a reputation as a “coach killer.” He has played for three other head coaches besides Fox, and Gase becomes his sixth offensive coordinator. Cutler, the 11th overall pick in 2006, barely has a winning record in his nine-year career at 61–58. He has only one playoff appearance and only one postseason victory, and even that 2010 season ended in controversy.

 

That’s why Cutler’s seventh season in Chicago might well be his last.

 

5. Ring-bearer Brady

 

Tom Brady joined Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks ever to win four Super Bowls. Only Hall of Fame defensive lineman Charles Haley has more, with five.

 

But Brady’s titles have not come without controversy. Haley stands among those to call out Brady after Deflategate, tabbing Brady’s championships as “tainted.” In the Spygate scandal, the NFL penalized coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots for video-taping the Jets’ sideline defensive signals. Brady was handed a four-game suspension to start the season, but how that holds up remains in question after a lengthy appeal hearing in June.

 

Brady, who turns 38 in August, has a record 21 playoff wins and plans to play into his 40s. No matter how many titles he wins or how many seasons he plays, Brady’s Hall of Fame career likely ends with debate about his legacy.

 

6. 49ers’ makeover

 

The signs of unrest were there last offseason. After a third consecutive trip to the NFC Championship Game, it became glaringly obvious that a split was coming between Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers after the 2014 season. But who could have predicted all the other changes that have occurred since Harbaugh left for the University of Michigan?

 

Their inside linebackers surprised everyone by retiring. Their starting cornerbacks left in free agency. Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree, key weapons in the offense, found new homes, too. The 49ers released Ray McDonald and Jonathan Martin.

 

Torrey Smith and Reggie Bush are among the players added in the team’s makeover as new offensive coordinator Geep Chryst tries to improve on a unit that ranked 30th in passing and 25th in scoring. Thus begins a new era of 49ers football.

 

7. Suh’s impact

 

The Dolphins made the biggest noise in free agency, nabbing Ndamukong Suh with a record-breaking deal. The Pro Bowl defensive tackle signed a six-year, $114 million contract that guarantees him $60 million in the first three years. He joins a defensive line that includes defensive ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, who have combined for 56.5 sacks the past three seasons.

 

Suh, 28, has 239 tackles and 36 sacks the past five seasons, leading all NFL defensive tackles. He also has 35 penalties in his career, including seven last season, which leads all defensive tackles.

 

He should have an instant impact on a defense that ranked 12th overall, including 24th against the run.

 

8. Bradford’s health

 

Sam Bradford considered retiring after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee for the second time in nine months. He has played only seven games the past two seasons, while making $23 million with the Rams.

 

But Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, gets a fresh start in Philadelphia after the Eagles swapped Nick Foles and draft picks for Bradford. The Eagles are hoping Bradford stays healthy, though they have options behind him.

 

Bradford, 27, has an 18–30–1 record with a 58.6 completion percentage, 11,065 passing yards, 59 touchdowns and 38 interceptions. The move to Chip Kelly’s offense might be just what Bradford needs. If he can stay healthy...

 

9. Manziel’s wild ride

 

Johnny Manziel has earned nicknames other than Johnny Football since arriving in the NFL. He slipped to No. 22 on draft day and failed to beat out Brian Hoyer until late in the year. Manziel then went 0–2, with a 51.4 completion percentage, 175 passing yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 42.0 passer rating before injuring his hamstring.

 

He missed a rehab session on his hamstring the final week of the season, prompting questions about his work ethic and commitment to the game.

 

Manziel voluntarily entered substance-abuse rehab during the offseason, spending 10 weeks trying to get things right. Now the questions become: Can he repair the damage in the locker room, win the starting job and succeed as an NFL quarterback?

 

10. Rice’s second chance?

 

Greg Hardy signed with the Cowboys. Ray McDonald signed with the Bears (albeit temporarily). But Ray Rice can’t find work.

 

A judge convicted Hardy of domestic abuse, but he walked when charges were dropped because his accuser failed to appear in court for his appeal. McDonald was cleared of domestic violence accusations, but the 49ers released him in December after he was investigated for sexual assault. Rice missed last season after striking his then-fiancée unconscious in an elevator during the 2014 offseason. McDonald did sign with Chicago in late March, but the Bears released him two months later following another arrest.

 

The league reinstated Rice in December, but he has yet to convince anyone to take a chance on him. Rice, 28, has 6,180 rushing yards, a 4.3 yards per carry average and 37 total touchdowns in six seasons. But he had a career-low 3.1 yards per carry average in 2013, his last season, when he gained only 660 yards with four touchdowns on the ground.

 

11. Ryan’s upstate move

 

Rex Ryan’s first order of business after leaving the Jets and joining the Bills was changing the color of his tattoo from green to blue. Bills fans were rejuvenated by the hiring of Ryan and the team’s offseason moves, giving them thoughts of a playoff berth for the first time in 16 years.

 

The Bills look similar defensively after re-signing Jerry Hughes, returning the biggest names to a unit that finished fourth in yards allowed and led the league with 54 sacks. The offense, though, has a new look after trades for quarterback Matt Cassel and running back LeSean McCoy and the signings of tight end Charles Clay and wide receiver Percy Harvin.

 

All of it has turned the Bills into a popular playoff pick.

 

12. RG3’s future

 

The Redskins gave up a king’s ransom to get Robert Griffin III with the second overall pick in 2012. It took only two years for Griffin to lose his status as “franchise quarterback,” and he could end up elsewhere next season. The Redskins picked up Griffin’s option for 2016 at $16.2 million, but they still could rescind it if he stays healthy. Therein lies the problem…

 

Griffin never has played a full season injury-free, and twice, when healthy, he has been benched. He showed potential his rookie season, earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors after completing 65.6 percent of his passes for 3,200 yards with 20 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 102.4 passer rating. His career, though, has gone downhill since, and he enters 2015 with a tenuous hold on the team’s starting quarterback job.

 

13. NFL’s Return to L.A.

 

The Rams, Chargers and Raiders all are prime candidates to move to Los Angeles next year. The nation’s second-largest city hasn’t had an NFL team to call its own since 1994 when the Rams relocated to St. Louis and the Raiders returned to Oakland. Now, the Rams and Raiders have an interest in returning to L.A.

 

The NFL owners annual spring meetings included L.A.-area stadium proposals, with league executives expressing confidence professional football is on the verge of returning to L.A. Rams owner Stan Kroenke owns 60 acres in Inglewood, Calif., and the Raiders and Chargers have a joint proposal for a privately financed $1.7 billion stadium they would share in Carson, Calif.

 

Los Angeles is the favorite to land the NFL Draft in 2016 and would be a future Super Bowl and possibly Pro Bowl host with a new billion-dollar stadium.

 

14. Peterson’s fresh start

 

Adrian Peterson played one game for Minnesota last season. Will it be his last time in a Vikings uniform? The running back requested a new start elsewhere after being reinstated to the NFL on April 16. But the Vikings all along insisted that Peterson would play for them in 2015, a mindset that was validated on Tuesday when Peterson and the team agreed to restructure the final three years of his deal, which runs through 2017.

 

He has six 1,000-yard rushing seasons since the Vikings made him a first-round pick in 2007, including his MVP season of 2012 in which he ran for 2,097 yards. Peterson turned 30 this spring and has 2,054 carries. But with fresh legs and much motivation, he could help Minnesota win its first playoff game since 2009 if he fully commits to the Vikings’ cause.

 

15. Bucs great hope

 

Bucs general manager Jason Licht became enamored with Jameis Winston during the Florida State quarterback’s Heisman season. He never dreamed, though, that his team would end up with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft. For the fifth time, the Bucs have used a first-round choice on a quarterback. The other four didn’t work out so well.

 

In their 39-year history, the Bucs have had 36 starting quarterbacks, including three the past two years. It’s why they have had only 10 postseason appearances in their history, and six postseason victories. Winston has given Bucs fans hope yet again that the future will be different.

 

-By Charean Williams, Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram

Teaser:
The 15 Most Important Storylines as NFL Training Camps Begin
Post date: Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/why-notre-dame-will-or-wont-make-college-football-playoff-2015
Body:

Just before midnight on Oct. 18, 2014, for a fleeting moment, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish had made their mark. For one of the few times during the past 20 years, Notre Dame had stamped itself as a true national championship contender. Quarterback Everett Golson hit Corey Robinson for a touchdown and the then-No. 5-ranked Irish were about to take down top-ranked and defending national champion Florida State.

 

Then the flag flew. And the wheels came off the bus.

 

Brian Kelly’s team stumbled down the stretch, losing its last four games. But a strong showing against LSU in the Music City Bowl, a victory with a quarterback that now takes the reins as the new starting signal-caller, has given the Irish faithful hope. And with 17 starters back and a star defender returning from suspension, perhaps there is reason for optimism.

 

Here are three reasons why Notre Dame will make the College Football Playoff this season and three reasons why the Irish will be left out when the selections are announced.

 

Three Reasons Why Notre Dame Will Make the College Football Playoff

 

1. Skill Position Talent

Notre Dame entered 2014 looking for a No. 1 wide receiver and found Will Fuller. The Philadelphia native had 76 catches for 1,094 yards and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore last fall. He’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball and is supported by Chris Brown, Corey Robinson, Amir Carlisle and a number of young, talented wideouts looking to emerge. Running back Tarean Folston had 889 yards rushing last year, C.J. Prosise is a big-play threat as a runner and receiver, and once Greg Bryant returns from his four-game suspension, he will provide considerable depth.

 

Related: Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2015 Preview and Prediction

 

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2. Offensive Line

Ronnie Stanley would have been chosen in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. But he decided to come back to Notre Dame and he will lead a very talented unit. Stanley’s presence will ease the learning curve for the new left guard, whether it is Quenton Nelson or Alex Bars, two highly regarded sophomores. Nick Martin is healthy again and is expected to return to his 2013 form at center. Steve Elmer is solid at right guard and right tackle Mike McGlinchey had a very good showing in the bowl game against LSU. This is a big, physical group that is well suited for the offense that is expected to be run this fall.

 

Related: Notre Dame Wild Card Players for 2015

 

3. Impact Players On Each Level of the Defense

In defensive lineman Sheldon Day, linebacker Jaylon Smith and cornerback KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame has a player that could garner All-American consideration at each level of the defense. When Day is healthy (and staying on the field has been his biggest weakness), he is a disruptive force whether he lines up inside or outside. Athlon Sports had Russell as a preseason fourth team All-American last year before he was suspended prior to the start of the season for an academic issue. The most talented of all the Irish defenders is Smith, a freakish athlete that led Notre Dame in tackles and is a preseason Athlon second team All-American.


Related: College Football 2015 All-America Team

 

Notre Dame’s 2015 Schedule

DateOpponent Athlon Projected Rank for 2015Projected Record
Sept. 5Texas337-5
Sept. 12at Virginia614-8
Sept. 18Georgia Tech188-5
Sept. 26UMass926-6
Oct. 3at Clemson149-3
Oct. 10Navy549-3
Oct. 17USC611-2
Oct. 31at Temple627-5
Nov. 7at Pittsburgh418-4
Nov. 14Wake Forest824-8
Nov. 21vs. Boston College*566-6
Nov. 28at Stanford248-4

*Neutral-site game at Fenway Park in Boston

 

Why Notre Dame Will Not Make the College Football Playoff in 2015

 

1. Quarterback Inexperience

When Golson departed for Florida State, the expected quarterback controversy went with him. It is Malik Zaire’s time to step up to the plate and the Music City Bowl MVP enters the year with a lot of weight on his shoulders. The fact is, no one really knows what Zaire will do. He can run, he has a big arm, and has shown the leadership skills of an upperclassman. At the same time, he has not taken that many live snaps and his throwing accuracy has been a concern. At the end of the Music City Bowl, after Zaire lost his helmet on the final drive, Golson came in and stayed in until the Irish were deep into field goal range. There will be no such option for Kelly this season.

 

2. Defending Up-Tempo Teams

Injuries decimated the Notre Dame defense late last season. But there was a cause for concern prior to middle linebacker Joe Schmidt, Day, and several others going down. The week before Florida State, Notre Dame had difficulty containing North Carolina, who was the first team with an effective, fast-paced offense that the Irish had seen. It exposed a weakness that opponents exploited the rest of the season. Defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder has had all offseason to correct this flaw and he better, because teams like Clemson, Georgia Tech, USC, and the new-look Texas offense will be moving as fast as they can against the Irish.

 

Related: Ranking the Toughest Games on Notre Dame's College Football Schedule in 2015

 

3. Notre Dame Independence

 In no way should this be construed as a referendum for Notre Dame to join a conference. However, in the current Playoff system, Notre Dame is at a disadvantage. Ohio State made it into the Playoff over Baylor and TCU for reasons that can be debated. But winning a 13th game and being the sole champion of the Big Ten did not hurt. Notre Dame will not be playing an extra game and will not be a conference champion. That puts the Irish in a situation where they have to be a clear choice to make the Playoff because it is not likely that they will be given the benefit of the doubt from the selection committee.

 

Final Verdict

 

This is the most talented and deepest roster that Kelly has had since he’s been at Notre Dame. They also have a schedule that has some showcase opportunities (Texas, Georgia Tech, Clemson, USC) and some soft spots at good times that can help right some wrongs (UMass, Temple, Wake Forest). But to assure a spot in the final four, the Irish may have to go undefeated. There will be a time or two that Zaire will have to win a game by standing in the pocket and throwing the football. We haven’t seen him do that yet. To go 12-0 (or even 11-1) the defense will have to take a large leap forward, especially against teams that like to snap the ball quickly, and I’m not sure how big of a jump Van Gorder’s group can make. I think this is an Irish team that will be slightly better than the current projections and should be playing in a major bowl. But they will not be in Miami or at Jerry’s World on New Year’s Eve.

 

Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 12

Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 9-3

Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 9

CG Technology Over/Under Odds: 9

5 Dimes Projected Over/Under Odds: 9

 

— 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.

Teaser:
Why Notre Dame Will or Won’t Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
Post date: Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/picture-day-2015-acc-coaches-captioned
Body:

It was picture day at ACC Media Days 2015 on Tuesday.

 

There is just something hilarious about this photo of 14 grown adult men in golf shirts posing together. Some look happy, some look angry, some look like they have no idea what they're doing posing for a class photo. So here are a few captions. (Feel free to send your ideas to @AthlonSports.)

 

First row (left to right):

 

David Cutcliffe, Duke: Inventor of the Man-Spread Offense

 

Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech: F@$& this $h!%

 

Al Golden, Miami: It's like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.

 

Larry Fedora, North Carolina: MUSCLE MILK! PROTEIN! POWERBARS!

 

Pat Narduzzi, Pitt: Does this shirt make me look Big Ten?

 

Mike London, Virginia: Who wins in a fight: Pythons or Hokie birds?

 

Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech: Hey, Cutt, let me ask you about this "offense" you speak of.

 

Second row (left to right):

 

Steve Addazio, Boston College: Nobody puts Dude in a corner.

 

Dabo Swinney, Clemson: Heidely-ho, neighbor!

 

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State: Why am I always standing next to an a$$hole?

 

Bobby Petrino, Louisville: Yo, Jimbo. Where’s the party at tonight?

 

Dave Doeren, NC State: I’ll terk all of yer jerbs.

 

Scott Shafer, Syracuse: I love lamp!

 

Dave Clawson, Wake Forest: There are literally zero reasons I should be this happy.

Teaser:
Picture Day 2015: ACC Coaches Captioned
Post date: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 15:49
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/rob-gronkowski-david-ortiz-dunkin-donuts-love-song-ice-coffee-patriots-red-sox
Body:

Can you ever get enough of Rob Gronkowski and David Ortiz? (Spoiler: the answer is no.)

 

The dynamic Boston duo is back with another music video for Dunkin' Donuts. This time, they're not as turnt up and keep it smooth for all the ladies out there.

 

Swoon.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 14:34
All taxonomy terms: New Orleans Saints, NFC, NFC South, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/burning-questions-new-orleans-saints-enter-training-camp
Body:

The fact that the Saints missed the playoffs by less than a game, while sporting a losing record, is simply unbelievable. But that shows how up in the air the NFC South is, and how minor improvements can have drastically positive consequences. They ranked first in total offense and in the top 10 in points, but ranked near the bottom in total yards and points allowed. The offense should continue to put up big numbers, so the real question is how the defense can improve.

 

Related: 2015 NFL Training Camp Dates and Locations

 

How will the running backs factor in this season?

After being labeled as one-dimensional on offense, the Saints significantly improved their running game last season. Much of this was the result of Mark Ingram finally breaking out for a great year after getting the opportunity to carry the load. With the outbreak from last year, he will surely remain atop the depth chart. However, the Saints went out and signed C.J. Spiller to complement Ingram. Spiller is hoping for a comeback campaign of his own, after suffering through yet another injury-shortened season. In addition, third-year back Khiry Robinson figures to get some playing time. New Orleans will certainly look to make its running game a more significant part of the offense, especially after trading away Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills. Drew Brees still has strong receiving targets, but the 1-2 punch of Ingram and Spiller could be among the league’s best backfield duo. It will be interesting to see how many reps both backs get and also the run-pass balance on play calls during the preseason.

 

Can second-year wide receiver Brandin Cooks step up?​

As long as Brees is getting the snaps, the Saints' passing game will remain potent. Marques Colston will line up opposite Cooks at wide receiver. With two of last season's top three receiving targets traded away, the young Cooks will certainly need to play beyond his years. He showed plenty of speed and production with 550 yards as the team’s third-leading wide receiver last year and will have to make a large jump this season. In addition, Colston must become more of a red-zone threat like he once was, considering Graham doubled him in touchdowns last year (10:5). The veteran Colston led the team with 17 receptions of 20-plus yards, so he still remains a constant deep threat.

 

Can the defensive line return to its 2013 form?

The Saints have plenty of youth along their defensive line. However, both Akiem Hicks and Cameron Jordan struggled last season, which contributed to the Saints’ lackluster defense. Both ends had very down years compared to the 2013 season. Hicks managed just 42 tackles and two sacks, while Jordan’s 7.5 sacks were down from 12.5 the year before. Inconsistency was one of the main issues, as each showed flashes of brilliance at times but failed to have much of an impact at others. Jordan especially can put up impressive sack numbers, but he’s going to need some help from the pass coverage to give him some extra time to get to the opposing quarterback.

 

Will the secondary live up to its potential?

The Saints were one of only eight teams to allow over 4,000 passing yards in 2014, and that surely had to be disappointing, especially after signing Jairus Byrd to a huge free-agent contract. However a knee injury ended his season after just the fourth game, leaving the defense with a glaring hole. Kenny Vaccaro was ranked as one of the least effective safeties in the league after a strong rookie season the year prior. Cornerback Keenan Lewis also struggled, one of the reasons why the Saints signed free agent Brandon Browner, who has been a member of the past two Super Bowl-winning teams. More than anything else, Byrd will need to stand out in this secondary. The Saints need him to be healthy all year, or last year’s problems could easily come back to haunt them.

 

Can the Saints stop the run?

The Saints couldn’t cover the pass well, and they arguably couldn’t stop the run any better. They ranked second to last in yards allowed per rush, while giving up a league-high 19 rushes of 20 or more yards. Their linebacker corps is best highlighted by OLB Junior Galette, although he is certainly more of a pass rusher, after collecting 10 sacks. Meanwhile, they added Anthony Spencer and Danell Ellerbe, who both have serious injury questions after only limited game time last year. David Hawthorne is the leading returning tackler, but this group has plenty of questions surrounding it. Ellerbe in particular will need to bounce back and have an impact against the run if the Saints want to improve upon last season's disappointing numbers.

Teaser:
Questions as the New Orleans Saints Enter Training Camp
Post date: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 12:30
Path: /college-football/why-arizona-state-will-or-wont-make-college-football-playoff-2015
Body:

Todd Graham is unambiguous about his ambitions for the Arizona State football program. The head coach talks of pursuing Pac-12 and national championships, and in three years with the Sun Devils, he’s had the west’s sleeping giant on the cusp of those goals.

 

Related: Arizona State Sun Devils 2015 Preview and Prediction

 

The 2015 season could be Arizona State’s best opportunity yet to take the next step with a Pac-12 title and berth in the College Football Playoff. The Sun Devils return the conference’s second-most veteran starting roster, rife with potential breakout stars.

 

On the flip side, Arizona State must establish itself in one of, if not the deepest and most competitive divisions in college football. The Sun Devils are up against four other teams that finished the 2014 season with at least nine wins and ranked in the final polls.

 

Three Reasons Why Arizona State Will Make the College Football Playoff

 

1. An Explosive Offense Stacked at Skill Positions

Sun Devils offensive coordinator Mike Norvell operates one of the most effectively unpredictably — or unpredictably effective — offenses in college football. Arizona State has ranked no lower than No. 16 nationally in points per game each of Norvell’s three seasons in Tempe.

 

The 2015 offense may be his best yet.

 

Demario Richard moves into the feature back role, with jack-of-all-trades D.J. Foster transitioning to receiver in response to losing All-American Jaelen Strong. Foster proved himself a more than capable pass catcher the previous three years at running back, while Richard has a two-way rushing and receiving skill set reminiscent of 2013 star Marion Grice.

 

Grice tied the program record for touchdowns in a season with 22 before suffering an injury in the penultimate game of the campaign.

 

With high-potential playmakers at the skill positions, and three returning starters on the offensive line, the x-factor that will decide the productivity of the offense is quarterback Mike Bercovici. Bercovici spelled three-year starter Taylor Kelly in various stretches last season, leading a fourth-quarter comeback to beat USC and nearly mounting a rally against rival Arizona.

 

Related: Ranking the Pac-12's Offensive Triplets for 2015

 

2. Discipline

Graham’s first priority upon taking over for Dennis Erickson after the 2011 season was cultivating a more disciplined attitude. Arizona State finished dead last that season not only in a heavily penalized Pac-12, but also in all of college football, averaging 79.8 yards worth of flags per game.

 

Graham’s message resonated immediately. Players come out for penalties, so his Sun Devils have responded by becoming the least-flagged team in the conference. Last season, Arizona State garnered just 32.4 yards of laundry per game.

 

In a perhaps fitting twist, Arizona State sealed its spot in the 2013 Pac-12 Championship Game in part because of penalties. UCLA had possession with a chance to win in the final drive, but a series of holding calls against the Bruins pushed them back and allowed the Sun Devils' front seven to tee off in the waning seconds.

 

Arizona State has seen firsthand the value of keeping penalties low, and in the flag-happy Pac-12, it could mean the difference in winning a title and not.

 

3. Key Pac-12 Games at Home

Make no mistake: Arizona State plays a tough schedule. After opening with Texas A&M, the Sun Devils get USC and UCLA back-to-back in the first two weeks of Pac-12 play.

 

Arizona State also sees defending conference champion Oregon in cross-divisional action. The Sun Devils haven’t beaten the Ducks since 2004.

 

While the above could easily be chalked up as a reason the Sun Devils won’t reach the College Football Playoff, successfully navigating such treacherous water almost assures Arizona State voyage into the Promised Land. And, if you’re going to play a resume-building schedule, you might as well get as many key games at home as possible.

 

Arizona State opens its Pac-12 slate hosting USC, gets Oregon in Sun Devil Stadium on a Thursday night in late October, and also draws rival Arizona at home. Of the biggest games on the docket in Pac-12 play, only UCLA is on the road — and the Sun Devils have won their last two times in Los Angeles (at UCLA in 2013, at USC last October).

 

Arizona State's 2015 Schedule

DateOpponent Athlon Projected Rank for 2015Projected Record
Sept. 5vs. Texas A&M*207-5
Sept. 12Cal Poly
Sept. 18New Mexico964-8
Sept. 26USC611-2
Oct. 3at UCLA239-3
Oct. 10Colorado675-8
Oct. 17at Utah317-5
Oct. 24Oregon810-3
Nov. 7at Washington State664-8
Nov. 14Washington466-6
Nov. 21Arizona308-4
Nov. 28at California476-6

*Neutral-site game in Houston, Texas

 

Three Reasons Why Arizona State Will Not Make the College Football Playoff

 

1. Defensive Question Marks

After an impressive 2013, in which Arizona State rode Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton, the Sun Devils had to replace 10 starters going into 2014. The result was a step backward both in points allowed and sacks, the bread-and-butter of this defense.

 

While Arizona State is considerably more experienced on that side of the ball this season, returning nine starters, there are still some questions that need to be addressed — and fast, with high-scoring Texas A&M kicking off the Sun Devils’ 2015 season.

 

The dismissal of 5-star recruit Davon Durant this offseason leaves ASU still seeking a reliable answer at devil backer. The devil backer position is integral to the blitz-heavy scheme Graham favors. Carl Bradford manned it expertly in 2013, stunting as well as he blitzed and knowing when to pull back the reins.

 

While aggression is key to the Sun Devils' style, over-aggression leaves Arizona State open to big plays, and last season, this unit gave up 51 plays of 20-plus yards (No. 116 nationally), 27 of 30-plus yards (No. 120) and 12 of 40-plus yards (No. 94).

 

2. Losing An Element in the Run Game

Bercovici was impressive in relief of Kelly, sure, but he’s never been "The Man" for the Sun Devils. Taking over as the No. 1 quarterback full-time is a whole different set of challenges and pressures separate from playing backup.

 

In his first career start, last September against UCLA, Bercovici threw three touchdown passes and for 488 yards; he was also intercepted twice, including once at the goal line before halftime in a pivotal swing that the Bruins rode to an easy win.

 

More importantly for the overall outlook of Arizona State’s season is that Bercovici is a much different style quarterback than Kelly, the No. 1 throughout Graham’s tenure to date. Kelly played a key role in the rushing attack, going for 516 and 608 yards in 2012 and '13. He was slowed by his foot injury last season, yet managed three touchdowns and 256 yards rushing.

 

Bercovici is not a runner, and Michael Eubank — used occasionally in goal-line and short-yardage packages in 2012 and '13 — transferred out of the program before last week.

 

Arizona State faces adjustment to this new style, and its brutal schedule allows for little acclimation time if the Sun Devils are going to compete for the Playoff.

 

3. Weak Replacing Strong

Few receivers in college football last season were as vital to their team’s passing game as Jaelen Strong was to Arizona State. Strong’s 82 receptions and 1,165 yards accounted for 29 and 33 percent of the Sun Devils' passing offense, respectively.

 

Foster’s move to receiver is meant to help address the loss of Strong, and the converted running back is indeed Arizona State’s top returning receiver. But Foster will operate out of the slot, leaving the Sun Devils in search of that reliable, possession receiver in hopes of replacing Strong's production.

 

Someone adequately filling this role is especially important, given the move to more emphasis on the passing game with the drop-back quarterback Bercovici behind center. 

 

Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking:  13

Athlon’s Projected Final Record:  9-3

Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds:  8.5

CG Technology Over/Under Odds: 8

5 Dimes Projected Over/Under Odds:  8.5

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of CFBHuddle.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

Teaser:
Why Arizona State Will or Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
Post date: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 12:00
Path: /nfl/examining-overunder-2015-win-totals-afc-east
Body:

The AFC East will be one of the most intriguing divisions in the NFL this season. With Tom Brady suspended by the NFL, the Patriots become a bit more vulnerable in a division that is continually trying to catch them. Buffalo, Miami and New York all improved themselves, but was it enough? LeSean McCoy, Ndamukong Suh and Brandon Marshall are some of the new faces in the division.

 

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

 

AFC East

 

Buffalo Bills

(Over 8.5 wins -115, Under 8.5 wins -105)

 

Record Last Year: 9-7

 

Offense: The Bills bring in LeSean McCoy from Philadelphia and the first thing he'll notice is an offensive line that is nowhere near as proficient as the Eagles'. This is a group that allowed 39 sacks and only helped Buffalo score seven rushing touchdowns. To make things tougher for McCoy, the quarterback position is unsettled with Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel and Tyrod Taylor all vying for the job. Whomever wins the position will get to throw to Percy Harvin, Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. This is a unit with a lot of potential that should come once the signal-caller is selected.

 

Defense: Kiko Alonso went to the Eagles in the McCoy deal, opening a bit of a hole at linebacker. The good thing for Buffalo is that its front line is stout with Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. The secondary also is pretty nice with Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore out wide. This unit held Green Bay in check at home last December.

 

Schedule: The toughest stretch for Buffalo comes from Weeks 10 to 15, when the Bills have five road games in six weeks. They play at the Jets, Patriots and Chiefs from Weeks 10 to 12 before getting Houston at home followed by the Eagles and Redskins at their place. Four of the Bills' first six are in Buffalo with the last two there as well.

 

Prediction: Slight lean to the over on the Bills. They have a great setup for the start of the year when they may be experiencing some offensive growing pains. If they rack up enough wins before their Week 8 bye, then the over is a great play. It's not one of my favorites, because none of these QBs inspire confidence.

 

Miami Dolphins

(Over 8.5 wins -165, Under 8.5 wins +145)

 

Record Last Year: 8-8

 

Offense: I'm not going to lie, I really like Ryan Tannehill and think this is the year he breaks out. Tannehill is still growing as a passer because he was a WR to start his college career. The tall signal-caller will have to deal with some new weapons around him with the additions of Jordan Cameron, Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills. Those three replace Charles Clay, Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace, all of whom were shown the door. I think it's an upgrade especially since Stills was a solid piece in New Orleans. I also can't forget DeVante Parker out of Louisville who was a nice possession receiver. Knowshon Moreno's departure means Lamar Miller should dominate the RB carries from the start, although Jay Ajayi is a solid option as well.

 

Defense: Ndamukong Suh will be a huge help to Cameron Wake, who was already a real good pass rusher. The worry with the former Lions' lineman is that he'll get fat and happy with his new contract and not be productive. The linebacker corps is a question mark with Koa Misi, Jelani Jenkins and Chris McCain among others. The secondary is solid with Brent Grimes and Louis Delmas. Miami allowed 27 passing touchdowns last year.

 

Schedule: The Dolphins will be tested early with seven of their first nine games outside of Miami. They have three straight road games - at New England, Buffalo and Philadelphia - from Weeks 8 through 10. If they survive the early stretch, five of the final seven matchups are in Sun Life Stadium.

 

Prediction: Slight lean to the under. While that closing stretch is at home, the quality of opponent is high with Baltimore, Indianapolis and New England on the slate. There's a lot to like about this squad outside of the schedule. As I said above, I think Tannehill busts out and this offense will roll at times. The problem may be on the other side where there are some holes.

 

New England Patriots

(Over 10 wins -190, Under 10 wins +150)

 

Record Last Year: 12-4

 

Offense: Get to know Jimmy Garoppolo as Tom Brady's suspension sits at four games, although the decision on his appeal should come soon. Garoppolo may be the signal-caller of the future, but he'll be called on early in 2015. The unit also will be without LeGarrette Blount for the opener against Pittsburgh. That's going to hurt a bit as Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley are no longer on the roster. Jonas Gray and Brandon Bolden were in the lineup at one point in 2014, but Bill Belichick is very fickle with his running backs and their usage. As long as Rob Gronkowski is healthy, this offense should continue to flourish.

 

Defense: This side of the ball took several hits during the offseason. The secondary lost Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis as well as defensive line stalwart Vince Wilfork, who plugged up the middle. It's stunning how year after year players fall into the Pats' laps and Malcom Brown out of Texas is no different. It'll take him time, but Brown will be a nice start at replacing Wilfork. This is a real good linebacker group with Dont'a Hightower, Jerod Mayo and Jamie Collins. Pressure will be needed to help this young secondary led by Super Bowl hero Malcolm Brown.

 

Schedule: The Pats play four games over a five-week span from Oct. 25 until Nov. 23. The schedule lines up nicely at the beginning with home games against a weakened Pittsburgh and Jacksonville to go with a road game at Buffalo before the early Week 4 bye. New England also has road games at Denver, Indianapolis and Dallas.

 

Prediction: The over is the play here and that's with me trying to find value in the under. There are some tough opponents and I have them winning some tough road games, but when you get right down to it, there's no way I'm betting against Belichick and Brady when it matters.

 

 

New York Jets

(Over 7.5 wins -150, Under 7.5 wins +130)

 

Record Last Year: 4-12

 

Offense: There will be no excuses for Geno Smith this year if he fails. New York picked up Brandon Marshall to go with Eric Decker and rookie Devin Smith at wide receiver. Smith also has Chris Ivory and Stevan Ridley in the backfield. Should the former West Virginia quarterback struggle, New York could turn to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is a solid game manager. The offensive line is real steady and should be better with the addition of former Seahawk James Carpenter.

 

Defense: The hire of Todd Bowles as head coach should benefit this unit given his defensive background. It's going to be hard throwing on the Green and White with Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis manning the corners. A fantastic defensive line improved with Leonard Williams falling into Jets' laps in the draft. He can spell Muhammad Wilkerson up front. It will hurt to lose Sheldon Richardson for four games, but there is some decent depth there. Quinton Coples and David Harris lead the way in the middle.

 

Schedule: Any sort of playoff hopes will be tested Weeks 15 through 17 with road games at Dallas and Buffalo to go around a home game against the Patriots. The Jets also benefit by drawing the Raiders and Jaguars as their AFC swing games.

 

Prediction: The Jets are one of my sleeper win total selections although the money move means they aren't off the radar at all. New York's defense will keep them in a lot of games, giving the offense a chance to win if the Jets can score 20 points or more. Heck, this unit can put up 17 and win a couple of close contests. There's a lot to like here.

 

— 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.

Teaser:
Examining the Over/Under 2015 Win Totals for the AFC East
Post date: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 11:30
Path: /mlb/brandon-phillips-dazzles-behind-back-toss
Body:

Not much has been going right for the Cincinnati Reds this season, but Brandon Phillips may have made one of the top plays of the season. With men on first and second down by one, the Cubs’ Jorge Soler hit a tough grounder right up the middle that could’ve tied up the game. However, Phillips raced to the ball, slid to the ground, and flipped the ball behind his back to the bare-hand of shortstop Eugenio Suarez. Suarez then stepped on the bag to end the inning.

 

Incredible defense is nothing new to Brandon Phillips. He consistently ranks among the top defensive second basemen in the league and makes plays like this regularly. While several key Reds might be headed out at the trade deadline, he will still be there to make these incredible plays. 


See the play below:

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 11:26
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/minor-league-baseball-player-leaves-ticket-ronda-rousey-game-anthony-giansanti
Body:

Ronda Rousey is the most unattainable woman on the planet right now.

 

She's been getting hit on by Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones and now a minor league player is trying to bribe his way to her heart. Cubs Triple-A player Anthony Giansanti leaves a ticket for Ms. Rousey at every single one of his games. That's dedication.

 

 

 

We're all eagerly awaiting her reply.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 11:21
All taxonomy terms: NBA, News
Path: /nba/becky-hammon-coaches-spurs-summer-league-championship
Body:

For years, Becky Hammon has been rising through the professional basketball ranks. Now, she is a champion. As the head coach of the Spurs' Summer League team, she led the team to a championship in Las Vegas. She was the first woman to be a head coach in the league and seems poised for an even greater future within the NBA.

 

After a storied career in the WNBA, Gregg Popovich brought her in as an assistant coach for the Spurs last year. At 38 years old, she has a long future ahead of her, as many believe that she will become the first woman’s head coach in the NBA. 

See her talk about the win below:

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/could-2015-be-year-west-virginia-mountaineers
Body:

The last two seasons have been tough on West Virginia fans with up-and-down success from the both football and basketball teams. But an unexpected Sweet 16 run by the latter has fans prepared for what could be the Mountaineers' best seasons on the gridiron and court since joining the Big 12 conference.

 

Let's begin with the football team, which is expected to be a contender in the Big 12 conference after a season in which the Mountaineers' contention hopes were marred by injuries and untimely mistakes.

 

Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers 2015 Preview and Prediction

 

The defense will be the strongest part of this year's team,  as it returns all but two starters with experienced playmakers expected to fill those holes. The secondary is expected to be one of the top units in FBS, led by Daryl Worley, Karl Joseph, KJ Dillon, Dravon Askew-Henry, and top JUCO CB prospect Rasul Douglas. Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski is the heart and soul of this Mountaineer defense and is one of the top linebackers in the nation. Look for the Mountaineer defense to make great strides and become one of the nation's top units this season.

 

The offense is where the Mountaineers will hope for instant chemistry after losing it's top two playmakers in wide receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford, but there are weapons ready to step in and contribute right away. Dakiel Shorts, Shelton Gibson, Jordan Thompson, KJ Myers, Lamar Parker and Ricky Rogers all appear to be the most likely instant impact candidates, with freshman Jovan Durante and Gary Jennings also possibilities. Skyler Howard will be given the reigns as the signal-caller of this offense after stepping in for Clint Trickett last season. The early reviews on the junior appear promising. Wendell Smallwood and Rushel Shell will lead the rushing attack that will be running behind a very underrated offensive line that will feature Michigan transfer Kyle Bosch.

 

Now let's move to the program that made an unexpected run to the Sweet 16 before ultimately losing to Final Four participant Kentucky. The Mountaineers will lose two starters in Juwan Staten and Gary Browne but feature one of the top recruiting classes Bob Huggins has had during his time at WVU.

 

Newcomer Esa Ahmad is the prize recruit that Huggins has been waiting on and was recently cleared by the NCAA to enroll this summer. Trevon Myers was the one of the top JUCO scorers in the nation last season, while James Bolden is an underrated guard who will replace Staten at the point. Lamont West is a late bloomer that the Mountaineers jumped on and will provide a presence in the paint that will allow starters Devin Williams and Jon Holton to rest. The wildcard here could be if the Mountaineers are able to land uncommitted guard Maverick Rowan, who would provide this team with another scorer that is a very good shooter, an area the Mountaineers struggled in last season.

 

Among the returnees who will be counted on to lead the group of newcomers known as "Press Virginia" is Devin Williams. An underrated star that will likely be one of the top players in the Big 12, if not an All-American, Williams figures to become the face of the Mountaineers this season. Forwards Jon Holton, Elijah Macon, Nathan Adrian, Brandon Watkins,and Marshall transfer Tyquane Goard all will need to step up to provide a presence in the paint. The experienced guards also will be called on to to replace the contributions of Staten and Browne. Daxter Miles, Jaysean Paige, Jevon Carter and Tarik Phillips are next in line after gaining valuable experience last season.

 

The pieces appear to be in place for the Mountaineer football and basketball teams to break through in not only the Big 12 but also on the national landscape. Each team will need some key players to step up to achieve a high level of success, but either way it's going to be an exciting year for Mountaineer athletics.

 

— 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.

Teaser:
Could 2015 be the Year of the Mountaineers?
Post date: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Overtime
Path: /overtime/watch-classic-mets-highlights-read-voices-simpsons-buckner-new-york
Body:

Baseball highlights aren't always the most exciting, but Hank Azaria finds a way.

 

The voice of multiple characters on "The Simpsons" decided to read highlights starring his favorite team, the Mets. Moe the bartender, Apu, and Chief Wiggum make us all wonder if Azaria is available to start calling games in his spare time.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 10:55
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Tennessee Volunteers, SEC
Path: /college-football/tennessee-volunteers-georgia-tech-yellow-jackets-face-2017-chick-fil-kickoff-game
Body:

Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game organizers have confirmed that the Tennessee Volunteers will face off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Atlanta on Monday night, Sept. 4, 2017.

 

The game will be broadcast in primetime on ESPN. It will be the second of two games in the 2017 Chick-fil-A Kickoff series, the nation’s longest-running kickoff game. The first game of the Labor Day weekend doubleheader, featuring Alabama vs. Florida State, will take place two days prior on Sept. 2.

 

“With Georgia Tech and Tennessee, you’re talking about two powerhouse programs that we expect to be ranked in the top 25 coming in to the game,” said Gary Stokan, Peach Bowl, Inc. president and CEO. “We’re looking at a sure sellout and a lot of anticipation for a matchup like this.”

 

The 2017 college football season openers will be held in the Atlanta Falcons' new stadium, which is currently under construction. The state-of-the-art facility will replace the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game’s past and current home, the Georgia Dome. The New Atlanta Stadium is set to open in time for the beginning of the 2017 football season, making the Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee match up one of the first events ever to be held in the facility.

 

“We’re excited to have the opportunity to play in one of the first games at the Atlanta Falcons’ new stadium,” said Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech's head coach. “Playing an SEC team like Tennessee in the non-conference is important for us and we’re grateful for the opportunity to play them in our backyard.”

 

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones added, “We are looking forward to and are very excited to open the 2017 season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta. It will be a great opportunity for our program to play in a new state-of-the-art facility while playing on a national stage. The state of Georgia is very important to us as a recruiting footprint, and that coupled with our alumni base and passionate fans, will make for a very exciting experience.”

 

Dave Hart, Tennessee vice chancellor and director of athletics, echoed Jones' sentiments. “We are excited to play in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in 2017 as part of the opening weekend of the college football season," Hart said. “That same weekend also marks the opening of the much anticipated new stadium. The chance to play in that venue, in primetime, presents a great opportunity for our players and fans alike."

 

“I know our team, coaches and fans are excited for the renewal of this old SEC rivalry. This is a fantastic chance for Georgia Tech to play in prime time and on a national stage,” said Mike Bobinski, Georgia Tech director of athletics. “Being part of the opening college football weekend in the spectacular new Atlanta stadium will be a unique opportunity for Georgia Tech fans and the entire Atlanta community to support the Yellow Jackets and experience this best-in-class facility.”

 

“This will be the renewing of a long and beloved rivalry that’s been off the board for far too long,” said Percy Vaughn, Peach Bowl, Inc. chairman. “And it’s a great addition to the long-standing ACC vs. SEC rivalry games we have been able to put together.”

 

The game will mark the first time in 30 years that the Vols and Yellow Jackets have played one another. The two teams last met in 1987, with Tennessee earning a 29-15 victory. Historically, the two teams have faced off a total of 43 times. Tennessee holds a 24-17-2 advantage in the series.

 

This is Georgia Tech's first invite to play in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. The Vols last competed in the event in 2012, earning a 35-21 victory over NC State.

 

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McVey is a diehard Tennessee Volunteers' fan who loves singing "Rocky Top" every opportunity he gets. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS

Teaser:
Tennessee Volunteers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Selected to Play in 2017 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game
Post date: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: NBA, Overtime
Path: /overtime/deandre-jordan-keeps-it-real-why-he-stayed-clippers-mavericks-cuban-parsons
Body:

We've all been there, having second thoughts or buyer's remorse. Our regrets weren't broadcasted for millions to see.

 

In a video for The Player's Tribune, DeAndre Jordan talks about the crazy free agency process that caused him to ultimately diss the Mavericks and head back to the Clippers.

 

"I woke up Monday morning like there was something missing," Jordan said.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 10:01
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Florida Gators, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/setting-first-year-expectations-floridas-jim-mcelwain
Body:

Florida is one of the premier jobs in college football. The location in a fertile recruiting area allows the Gators to have access to some of the nation’s top talent, and the program won two BCS national championships under Urban Meyer. However, Florida slipped under former coach Will Muschamp. After winning 13 games in three out of four seasons from 2006-09, the Gators went 28-21 in Muschamp’s four years in Gainesville. Jim McElwain was hired from Colorado State to return Florida back into a SEC title contender, along with pushing the Gators back into the national title conversation.

 

McElwain went 22-16 in three years at Colorado State and has experience in the SEC from his time as a coordinator at Alabama. McElwain is known for his ability to coach offense, which is an area of significant concern for the Gators in 2015.

 

While all of the positives for Florida as a program are clear, the Gators have their share of roster concerns for 2015. Just because the recruiting rankings suggest the talent is in place, Florida has a lot of work to do and obstacles to overcome to contend for the SEC title.

 

Is McElwain the right fit at Florida? Can he elevate the program to win SEC Championships? Let’s take a look at the former Colorado State coach and his outlook for 2015 and beyond.

 

Jim McElwain's Job History

 

2012-14: Colorado State – Head Coach

2008-11: Alabama – OC/QBs

2007: Fresno State – OC/QBs

2006: Oakland Raiders – QBs

2003-05: Michigan State – Asst. HC/WRs/Sp. Teams

2000-02: Louisville – WRs/Sp. Teams

1995-99: Montana State – OC/WRs/Sp. Teams

1987-94: Eastern Washington – QBs/WRs

1985-86: Eastern Washington – Graduate Assistant

 

Key Obstacles to Overcome in 2015

 

Quarterback Play

Considering the high school talent in the state of Florida, along with the success of Florida’s offense under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, it’s hard to imagine the Gators struggling to score points. However, that’s been the case in recent years. In each of the last four seasons, Florida has ranked seventh or worse (SEC-only games) in scoring offense. Reversing that trend starts in the trenches and at quarterback. Last year, the Gators threw only seven touchdown passes and completed just 50 percent of their throws in SEC contests. Treon Harris replaced Jeff Driskel as the starter last season, but the job could switch hands again, as Will Grier (a redshirt freshman) is expected to start. Grier is a good fit for McElwain’s offense and will have two non-conference games as tune-ups before Florida’s SEC opener at Kentucky on Sept. 19.

 

Related: SEC Predictions for 2015

 

Offensive Line

While most of the offseason attention on Florida is focused on the quarterback battle, the play in the trenches is a bigger concern for McElwain. This unit was hit hard by departures, as D.J. Humphries and Tyler Moore left for the NFL, Rod Johnson’s career was cut short by injury and Max Garcia and Chaz Green expired their eligibility. Senior Trip Thurman is the lone returning starter, and depth is a major concern. True freshman Martez Ivey could start at one of the tackle spots this season, and Fordham graduate transfer Mason Halter should find a spot on the two-deep. Needless to say, line coach Mike Summers has his work cut out for him in 2015. This group is young, inexperienced and lacking in overall proven options. How quickly will Summers and McElwain find the right answers?

 

Playmakers…?

In addition to the positions above, finding playmakers is going to be a priority this fall for McElwain and new coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Kelvin Taylor, Adam Lane and Jordan Scarlett are a capable trio at running back, but more punch is needed from this group. At receiver, can the Gators find another go-to target to help take the pressure off of Demarcus Robinson? 

 

Team Strengths for 2015

 

One of the Top Defenses in the SEC?

Lost in all of the offensive woes under Will Muschamp, Florida’s defense remained one of the best in the SEC. And that’s quite an accomplishment considering the bad situations the defense inherited throughout the year. Last season, the Gators held SEC opponents to 25.8 points per game and finished second in the conference in 2013. New coordinator Geoff Collins inherits seven returning starters, including one of the nation’s top defensive backfields. End Dante Fowler will be missed, but there’s enough returning talent to keep this unit near the top of the SEC.

 

Related: College Football's Bowl Projections for 2015

 

Playmakers…?

This section of the roster was also mentioned under obstacles to overcome, but there’s also reason to be optimistic. Demarcus Robinson is one of the SEC’s top receivers, tight end Jake McGee is back from injury, and running back Kelvin Taylor has recorded back-to-back 500-yard seasons. While Florida needs more from its playmakers, there’s a solid core in place to build around. 

 

Roster Talent/Recruiting Trends

 

Florida's Roster Rank in the SEC for 2015: 5

 

YearConference RankNational RankThree-Star ProspectsFour-Star ProspectsFive-Star Prospects
201510211732
2014791581
20132313132
2012248132
20115117111

Recruiting rankings aren’t everything, but it’s notable the Gators have ranked No. 7 and No. 10 among SEC teams over the last two years. The overall five-star prospects brought to Gainesville has remained steady, as three have arrived over the last two seasons. However, the four-star prospects have dropped from at least 11 each year from 2011-13 to just 11 over the last two seasons. Florida finished No. 21 in last year’s signing classes, but it’s tough to evaluate the Gators recruiting efforts since McElwain didn’t have a full year to build a class. While the talent level has dipped slightly, attrition is also a concern at certain spots, especially on the offensive line. 

 

Schedule Analysis

 

Crossover Games Versus West Division: Ole Miss, at LSU

Bye Week: Oct. 24

 

Five Critical Conference Games for Florida in 2015

 

1. Georgia (Jacksonville, Oct. 31)

2. at Tennessee (Sept. 26)

3. at Missouri (Oct. 10)

4. Ole Miss (Oct. 3)

5. at LSU (Oct. 17)

 

Best Non-Conference Game: Florida State (Nov. 28)

 

Final Analysis

 

Georgia is the favorite in the East, with Tennessee picking up steam as a darkhorse candidate. In order for Florida to challenge for the division title, a lot has to go right. The schedule certainly isn’t easy, as Ole Miss and LSU are the crossover opponents, and road trips to Kentucky and Missouri will be a challenge. Not only is the schedule an obstacle, but Florida has to find a quarterback and develop an offensive line short on depth and experience. McElwain is known for his background on offense and should help to improve a struggling Florida attack in 2015. But expectations need to be lowered. While this is one of the best jobs in college football and recruiting talent won’t be a problem, patience is needed in Gainesville. The Gators need another season to bolster the depth up front and find a quarterback, and the schedule isn’t friendly for a coach breaking in new schemes. Athlon’s 2015 projection has Florida on the optimistic side of the win total at eight victories. However, if the quarterback play and offensive line are slow to develop, a 7-5 or 6-6 record is realistic. McElwain is the right fit for Florida, but the former Colorado State coach could have his share of ups and downs in year one. 

 

Athlon 2015 National Projection: No. 26 nationally, No. 3 SEC East

Athlon 2015 Record Projection: 8-4, 5-3 SEC

Bovada Over/Under Odds: 7.5

CG Technology Odds: 7

5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 7.5

Teaser:
Setting First-Year Expectations for Florida's Jim McElwain
Post date: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Jay Ajayi, Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/breakdown-miami-dolphins-running-backs-entering-2015-season
Body:

Coming into the 2014 season, Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno were both supposed to lead the Miami Dolphins’ rushing attack. After a good start to the season, Moreno tore his ACL on Oct. 12 against the Green Bay Packers and missed the rest of the season. Miller stepped up in Moreno’s absence and rushed for 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns.

 

Now that training camp is right around the corner and Miller is the definitive No. 1 on the depth chart, who are the other running backs that will make the Dolphins’ final roster?

 

Related: Miami Dolphins 2015 Team Preview and Prediction

 

Miami drafted former Boise State standout Jay Ajayi in the fifth round of May’s draft. The former third-team All-American has the size and strength to be an every-down running back in the NFL. When the Dolphins are in third and short situations, Ajayi could be the back that gets a bulk of the carries.

 

Damien Williams, Mike Gillislee and LaMichael James are the other running backs competing for spots on the Dolphins’ roster.

 

After having a surprising training camp and preseason in 2014, Williams recorded 36 carries for 122 yards. Gillislee has had been a disappointment since being drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. He only has six career carries for 21 yards.

 

James will likely claim one of the rosters spots as a special teamer and kick return specialist. The former Oregon Duck has 26 career kickoff returns for 738 yards.

 

Miller and Ajayi are expected to form a tag team for the Dolphins this season. With James likely to be used on special teams that leaves Williams and Gillislee on the roster bubble.

 

Gillislee is considered fifth on the depth chart right now, although he does bring some value on special teams. But unless he shows the Dolphins he can help the team on offense, Gillislee could be the odd man out before Week 1 comes around.

 

- 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.

Teaser:
Breakdown of the Miami Dolphins Running Backs Entering the 2015 Season
Post date: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/college-football-bubble-about-burst
Body:

If college football ever needed validation that it’s really, really popular — and the game doesn’t need the ego boost, trust us — it was on display as Ohio State won the first College Football Playoff championship game.

 

Ohio State showed that almost anything is possible in the new playoff era. The Buckeyes snuck into the four-team field as the No. 4 seed, then beat Alabama to end the SEC’s eight-year streak of reaching the national title game. OSU then knocked off Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks for the national title — doing all this while using its third-string quarterback.

 

The Ohio State-Oregon championship game drew an audience of 33.4 million people to set a new cable television viewing record. How popular was college football’s mini-Super Bowl? The Academy Awards attracted only slightly more viewers at 36.6 million. LeBron James, America’s most well-known sports star, cheered on the Buckeyes from their sideline in the final minutes of the championship game inside Jerry’s World — the massive, billion-dollar Dallas Cowboys stadium that screams entertainment and excess.

 

College football is as popular as ever. That’s likely not changing anytime soon. But popularity doesn’t guarantee that bubbles will never burst. There are challenges facing the sport and, to varying degrees, they are very real:

 

• Declining attendance in the regular season and at some bowl games

 

• Increasing financial gap between the haves and have-nots as schools provide more benefits to players

 

• Growing health concerns about concussions that could limit football’s talent pool

 

• External threats to pay players and/or give them more legal rights

 

“College football is an extraordinary game,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby says. “I think the months of October and November are the best regular season in all of sports, and I think there’s a lot right with college football. But we ought to be thoughtful, or we’ll find ourselves in a much different place in the future.”

 

Buy the Athlon Sports 2015 College Football Preview

 

The bubble isn’t close to bursting in the eyes of Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott.

 

“I’m not worried about football,” Scott says. “I think the fundamentals are very strong and, in fact, getting stronger in terms of the popularity of college football and the passion and entertainment value around the game. It’s hard to predict anything too far into the future, but football continues to be the most popular sport in this country.”

 

Still, it’s worthwhile to take a look at the challenges that face the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut that is college football.

 

Declining attendance

 

Smaller crowds were bound to happen given how the paradigm has shifted in college sports. Football television money drives the engine, and with nearly every game on TV or available via streaming, it’s so much easier and cheaper for fans to stay home and watch comfortably on their HDTV.

 

Football Bowl Subdivision crowds for home games averaged 43,483 fans in 2014, down four percent from 2013 and the lowest since 2000. Last year marked the sixth straight season that crowds averaged below 46,000 since they peaked at 46,456 in 2008.

 

“I have some questions about sustainability,” Bowlsby says. “We are seeing troubling trends in attendance, especially among young attendees. The product that’s on television is so good and you can fast forward or go to other games during the commercials or watch on mobile devices. The fact is we’re consuming our sports differently than we have in the past, and that’s going to continue to change.”

 

The good news: 72 percent of the top-25 attendance leaders experienced increases or remained the same (all of the top 25 were from Power 5 conferences or Notre Dame). The bad news: Only 48 percent of the remaining Power 5 schools maintained or increased their crowd average, and many schools in smaller conferences continued to decline.

 

“In some ways the sport is probably as popular as it’s ever been, and the TV ratings suggest that,” MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher says. “Yeah, we have instances of dips in attendance, which I think we can link in large part to how we’ve made it very easy to stay home and watch the game.”

 

Conferences and schools have understood this for years. Realignment didn’t help by taking away some attractive games. Some rivalry games have disappeared (goodbye, Texas-Texas A&M and Kansas-Missouri). Bigger conferences mean that some schools see certain attractive opponents on their campuses far less often.

 

Some schools are creating better in-game experiences through technology and the game-day environment. Some are downsizing their stadiums and building more club suites to generate revenue. There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. Winning, of course, usually solves attendance problems.

 

Bowl games continue to be impacted by smaller crowds. Announced attendance at last season’s 35 returning postseason games declined four percent, and the average bowl crowd was down for the fifth straight year.

 

Television ratings for the regular-season remained strong. ESPN’s New Year’s Eve audience for bowl games averaged 7.1 million viewers, up from 4.6 million in 2013 when less-attractive games were played on that date.

 

A big question in the next two seasons: How will ratings look for the playoff’s semifinals on Dec. 31 instead of Jan. 1? In order to protect the Rose and Sugar bowls, the College Football Playoff is potentially hurting its New Year’s Day brand again with the semifinals on New Year’s Eve two out of every three years. Last season’s New Year’s Day was a hit with exciting Auburn-Wisconsin and Baylor-Michigan State games leading into semifinal matchups of Florida State-Oregon and Alabama-Ohio State. Meanwhile, the sport will reach 40 bowl games (counting the championship game) when Orlando adds another postseason game in 2015.

 

“Some of our bowl games exist purely for the experience, and I think that’s where we probably need to focus as much as anything,” Football Bowl Association executive director Wright Waters says. “I don’t think you can have a discussion about the health of bowls and limit it to attendance and payouts and ratings. If the attendance is down four percent and that’s the same as the regular season, I think it just speaks to the larger issue that we’ve got to get our arms around as an industry.”

 

For college football, the fight is on to keep its next generation of fans at stadiums.

 

Financial gap

 

In mid-November of last year, the College Football Playoff rankings looked as if “Moneyball” had come to the sport. Half of the top eight teams in the rankings (at that time) live in the middle class financially — Baylor (36th in national revenue by athletic department), TCU (43rd), Arizona State (51st) and Mississippi State (56th).

 

A month later, the playoff featured some bluebloods: Alabama, Florida State, Oregon and Ohio State. That doesn’t mean the so-called “Moneyball” schools can’t compete for the national title. Now more than ever, it may be easier for those schools to compete given that everyone has TV exposure these days.

 

Also, money doesn’t buy success. Go ask Texas, which led the country in athletic department revenue in 2012-13 ($165.7 million) and went 6–7 in football last year. Baylor ($86.9 million in ’13-14) and TCU ($77.1 million in ’13-14) shared the Big 12 title, and both flirted with making the playoff.

 

The reality is that the financial gaps will only increase. And although TV money continues to pour in for many major conferences, the gap will likely present a challenge for some football programs. The new NCAA governance structure gives the Power 5 conferences the autonomy to create legislation to provide more benefits to players. Those benefits come with costs that schools can elect to pay or not pay.

 

Cost of attendance is the first new benefit, and it’s an important one. If schools want to, they can now pay players an extra stipend of a couple thousand dollars to cover the actual cost of attending college beyond the NCAA’s previous limit on scholarships. The cost of attendance numbers will vary by school and are set by financial aid officers under federal guidelines.

 

“We’re all at the point where the intent is right, but there’s going to be some problems with managing it,” Steinbrecher says. “We’ve really got to have some faith that people are going to do the right things. The NCAA doesn’t have the staff to monitor this. The question that I have for our own folks is, do we need to develop a conference monitoring system for this? The numbers shouldn’t be dramatic each year.”

 

Schools can now provide unlimited meals and snacks to players in conjunction with their participation. There’s the possibility that more players could have their education paid for by returning to college at a later date. Covering medical costs for players after their careers is another discussion that’s going to come up.

 

American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco, who wants to position his league as the sixth “power conference,” understands what he calls “headwinds” in college sports facing his league.

 

“We hate that term ‘power conference,’” Aresco says. “We know it’s used a lot. It’s harder on us. We don’t have as much resources. But if you use money correctly and spend it wisely, you can compete. Our guys don’t have the margin for error that other guys clearly have. Also, we realize probably half of those schools (in the Power 5 conferences) are going to struggle with this. They’re not all Michigan and Alabama and Texas and Ohio State. This is a new world where we can compete because we do have scholarship limits and transfer rules, and we fought hard for those in the (NCAA) governance redesign. With those two things in place, you can compete.”

 

But the money gap also increases the difficulty for some schools to retain coaches — or even hire them in the first place. The SEC West will now have a last-place coach who makes at least $4 million annually. Back in 2007, Nick Saban was the only coach in the country who made $4 million.

 

Many coordinators at high-profile schools would have to take pay cuts to be a head coach at a smaller school.

 

“It used to be back in the day you’d be an assistant coach and you might be a head coach at Division II and migrate to a Division I program and migrate again,” Steinbrecher says. “Or in the case of the MAC, it wasn’t unusual to be picking up who was the hot coordinator at that time. But when you look at what’s going on with salaries at the very highest level, not only with head coaches but with assistants, it’s changing where I think all of us are starting to look when we replace a coach.”

 

Central Michigan lost head coach Dan Enos, who left to become Arkansas’ offensive coordinator, and replaced him with John Bonamego, a 16-year NFL assistant who was mostly a special teams coordinator. Buffalo hired Lance Leipold, who won six Division III national championships at Wisconsin-Whitewater with a 109–6 record in eight seasons. Steinbrecher compared the hiring of Leipold to Wisconsin’s basketball team many years ago picking Bo Ryan, who had won four Division III national titles.

 

“Look at people who were high school coaches six or seven years ago. They’re head coaches at the highest level,” Steinbrecher says. “That wouldn’t have occurred a decade ago. There are people at all levels who can flat-out coach. I think savvy administrators will have to work hard to figure that out.”

 

Concussions

 

The image was frightening last season. Visibly woozy Michigan quarterback Shane Morris had just taken a hit to the head and wobbled around, staying on his feet only by leaning on a teammate. Morris stayed in the game for one play after the hit. As if that weren’t bad enough, he later returned for one more play.

 

How Michigan handled the aftermath was also troubling. After the game, then-Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said Morris “wanted to be the quarterback, and so, believe me, if he didn’t want to be he would’ve come to the sideline and stayed down.” That comment represents the old-school football culture that concussion experts are trying to change.

 

In the ensuing days, Hoke said he didn’t think Morris had been diagnosed with a concussion. Then his athletic director confirmed that a concussion had in fact occurred and apologized for how Michigan handled the injury.

 

The Michigan example is a long way of saying this: Concussions aren’t going away. They’re a serious health issue that’s heavily scrutinized now by the public. Football at all levels must continue to evolve or risk losing its current popularity.

 

“I’ve had very high-placed football coaches tell me that they even question the sustainability of football as a whole going forward,” Bowlsby says. “Youth participation is down in each of the past two or three years. You saw Mike Ditka’s interview where he said he wouldn’t want his kids or grandkids playing the game. I think football is under siege in a lot of ways.”

 

The NCAA has been mired in a lawsuit over concussions. The proposed settlement between the NCAA and the plaintiffs would provide money to former college athletes to be tested for long-term brain injuries if they meet certain criteria from a questionnaire. The $70 million medical monitoring fund would not pay for the actual treatment of the injuries — a criticism some have levied against the settlement.

 

“I think it’s very unfortunate,” says prominent concussion expert Dr. Robert Cantu, who was named to serve on the NCAA’s medical monitoring fund committee. “Unfortunately, where it’s left is these individuals are going to be able to be given the diagnosis and then they’ve got to sue either in a class or individually, and they either have to go after a given school, or if they want to include the NCAA they can. I think a lot of individual schools will get sued.”

 

Medical experts and economists who created the NCAA medical monitoring fund estimate that 50 to 300 former college athletes in all sports who played from 1956 to 2008 will be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a degenerative brain disease that has been found in 76 of the 79 brains of former NFL players examined after their deaths. Other factors such as genetics may contribute to CTE, but the disease has been repeatedly linked to head trauma.

 

In recent years, the NCAA has set new guidelines and spent money on research and education. Reluctant to accept liability, the NCAA, conferences and schools have passed the buck back and forth over who’s in charge of new concussion guidelines. There is not enough support yet for penalties to be attached to a new safety committee that will oversee concussion protocol for the Power 5 conferences, even though NCAA president Mark Emmert and NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline have publicly said that they want some type of enforcement mechanism.

 

Why is there not enough support to attach NCAA penalties to return-to-play concussion guidelines? “Because some people aren’t doing it correctly,” Bowlsby says. “They want to have local control, (but) their coaches (are) saying, ‘I don’t want to be told what to do on the sideline.’”

 

In 2013, the Chronicle of Higher Education found that nearly half of the trainers surveyed in major college football said they felt pressure from coaches to return concussed players to the field before they were medically ready. A 2010 NCAA survey revealed in the lawsuit showed that nearly half of responding universities said they returned athletes in the same game after a concussion diagnosis.

 

“What the NCAA has to do — and it’s easy for me to say and not easy to do — they have to police so the policies get done,” Cantu says. “They’re leaving it self-policed until there’s a whistle blown.”

 

College football has progressed from where it was a couple years ago with concussions. The sport’s head is no longer buried in the sand. Certainly, no one wants long-term health problems for players.

 

Still, there’s going to be constant tension in college football over this issue. There may be a day when rules changes more dramatic than the NCAA targeting penalty are needed. Educating players will be important, starting at younger ages (if youth football even continues to exist in the future). More players willing to speak up and sit down when they have symptoms of a concussion will help the sport, but that cuts against the grain of football’s mentality.

 

“You have to keep watching what we’re doing to make sure we’re doing everything possible to make a high-velocity impact sport as safe as possible,” Steinbrecher says. “I think technological advances could help, whether it’s sensors in the helmets or pads to trigger protocols that say if you have a collision measured at X, maybe that’s a player you need to look at immediately to monitor.

 

“There’s an awful lot we don’t know medically, but we’re learning more and more.”

 

Litigation

 

Talk to conference commissioners about the health of college football and they almost unanimously agree on the biggest threat: The attempt to get players paid and/or be considered employees.

 

Change is coming to the NCAA. What exactly that change will look like remains to be seen, but it’s becoming very likely that college athletes will be allowed to get paid in some form beyond their scholarship value.

 

Maybe there will be group licensing deals with schools and third parties allowing equal payments to every player on a team for the use of their name, image and likeness on television or products. Maybe players will be allowed to cut their own deals to receive outside endorsement money. Maybe — in what’s described by critics as the doomsday scenario — players will be allowed to shop their services to the highest-bidding school.

 

The Ed O’Bannon lawsuit opened legal doors and helped change the public dialogue. So did all of the money pouring into the college sports industry as schools chased new conference homes for money and created their own television networks. A federal judge ruled last August that the NCAA violated antitrust law and that schools are allowed (but not required) to provide deferred payments to football and men’s basketball players after their eligibility expires. The NCAA could cap the amount at no less than $5,000 per year.

 

The NCAA appealed the ruling. As of early May, the appellate court had not made a decision. The NCAA faces the prospect of having to create new rules for allowing these payments. Under the O’Bannon injunction, schools could begin offering the extra money to current players and recruits on Aug. 1 with payouts starting in 2016-17.

 

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick says that college sports could manage a group-licensing concept for athletes to be paid immediately and not even wait for deferred payments. Swarbrick believes the industry brought this on itself with rules that differentiate athletes from the general student body, such as not allowing athletes to make money off their own names.

 

“From a risk perspective, O’Bannon was a very favorable ruling for everybody,” Swarbrick says. “The (Martin) Jenkins and (Shawne) Alston cases are much more troubling. You can find ways to manage a finite exposure, which is what O’Bannon gave us. Some people may cut sports, some people may increase revenue, some people may endow more, whatever. The open-ended case, that’s problematic.”

 

The Jenkins case — which for now is consolidated with the Alston cost-of-attendance lawsuit — is the big one everyone fears in college sports. The Jenkins case is led by high-profile sports labor attorney Jeffrey Kessler, who helped bring free agency to the NFL and wants an open market for college football and basketball players.

 

Meanwhile, the Northwestern unionization case before the National Labor Relations Board remained unresolved as of early May. An NLRB regional director ruled last year that Northwestern football players are employees who can attempt to form a union. Northwestern appealed the decision.

 

If Northwestern football players are deemed employees, the ballots they voted on will be counted to see if they want to unionize. Even if the players voted no, a precedent will have been set by the NLRB for private schools.

 

Any attempt to form player unions at public universities would depend on state labor laws. Michigan and Ohio have already put in place legal mechanisms to prevent college athletes at public universities from being declared employees.

 

“You just hope that fans generally don’t get fatigued with all of the legal issues and debates about whether players are employees, whether they should be paid,” ACC commissioner John Swofford says. “All of the fan feedback and surveys I’ve seen seem to indicate the American public and college sports fans want to see college players and by and large believe they are going to school and part of the collegiate experience. If that changes dramatically, I think that will negatively impact how people view college sports in the long run.”

 

The Pac-12’s Scott sounds a similar tune.

 

“The USFL and XFL weren’t very successful for a reason. The D-League isn’t very successful for a reason,” Scott says. “The public isn’t very interested in development or semi-pro sports. The plaintiffs would like to turn college sports into semi-pro sports. I think that would kill college football or college basketball.”

 

It’s worth noting that doom-and-gloom claims such as these have been heard before in various sports. The public was supposed to lose interest in Major League Baseball when free agency arrived and in the Olympics when professionals were allowed to participate. Needless to say, judging by their media rights deals, baseball and the Olympics are doing just fine.

 

Right now, nothing is killing college football. The first playoff proved that, after years of predictions that a playoff would hurt the sport.

 

“It’s a fun game,” the AAC’s Aresco says. “I’m a little concerned about the fact offenses are maybe getting a little ahead. I’m not used to football where scores are 61–58. But it’s an incredible game. I don’t think college football can become much more popular.”

 

College football’s bubble remains intact.

 

But bubbles can pop when you least expect them to. It’s up to smart and thoughtful decision-makers to maintain the game’s popularity.

 

-by Jon Solomon, CBSSports.com

Teaser:
Is the College Football Bubble about to Burst?
Post date: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA, Overtime
Path: /overtime/shaquille-oneal-scottie-pippen-instagram-michael-jordan-mjs-sidekick-lakers-bulls
Body:

What started off as an innocent "what if" Instagram post, turned in to a all-out war between two NBA greats.

 

Shaquille O'Neal posted this to Instagram. Just a simple post saying the five greatest Lakers could beat the five greatest Bulls... by FIFTY.

 

 

Bulls legend Scottie Pippen didn't really like the post, so he responded with this.

 

 

Pippen did win more championships with the Bulls than O'Neal with the Lakers, but that didn't stop Shaq from getting another dig in. O'Neal uses the hashtag #youwereok and completely ethers the former Bull by photoshopping Michael Jordan's face over his.

 

 

O'Neal didn't stop there. It was on as Shaq Diesel put Pippen's face on an old T-Mobile Sidekick.

 

 

Pippen did answer back talking about the only thing you can with O'Neal, his free throw shooting. He also continues with the sidekick talk saying O'Neal always needed Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Anfernee Hardaway, etc. to win.

 

 

 

If you know anything about O'Neal, you know he has to get the last word.

 

 

 

The final nail in the coffin was the video of Bryant's crossover and infamous alley-oop pass to O'Neal as they came back on the Trailblazers during the playoffs.

 

 

Let this be a lesson to us all, don't come for O'Neal unless you're ready to battle. Chances are he won't let up.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 08:49
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/nick-saban-responds-plaxico-burress-remark-lsu-michigan-state-alabama
Body:

Last week during SEC Media Days, Nick Saban said things that ruffled some feathers.

 

The Alabama coach talked about his players focusing on the draft and things of that nature. That prompted former NFL receiver Plaxico Burress to open up an old wound about Saban leaving for LSU. At the time of what would be Burress' last season at Michigan State, Saban allegedly told players he was passing up on the LSU job. 

 

Yes, Burress still remembers like it was yesterday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course Saban isn't one to let comments such as these slide. During his appearance on SportsCenter, the Alabama head coach had to set the record straight.

 

"Plaxico Burress was a great player for us. He was a fantastic player. He had a great career. He made the right decision to go out for the draft. He was a first-round draft pick. He had a great career as a pro player. I'm proud of what Plaxico Burress has been able to accomplish."

 

He went on to say Burress must've gotten it wrong in regards to the conversation and timing of his departure. 

 

"I've never knowingly told a player any information that I get, I get from someone else. And I can't even remember the conversation. I actually left Michigan State right after the Penn State game. I didn't stay for the bowl game when I went to LSU, and that was Plax's senior year. We're proud of what he's been able to do and we're happy to see him have as much success as he's had."

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, July 20, 2015 - 15:39
All taxonomy terms: Zach Johnson, Golf, News
Path: /golf/zach-johnson-wins-british-open-three-person-playoff
Body:

As Jordan Spieth highlighted the leaderboard late into the final round of the British Open, he ultimately came up one shot short of a three-way playoff. Zach Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen, and Marc Leishman all finished the tournament at -15. Thus that led to a playoff, which is formatted into a 4-hole aggregate, combining scores on holes 1,2, 17, and 18.

 

Zach Johnson narrowly won the playoff with a -1, making it his second career major championship, having won The Masters in 2007. Ranked 25th in the world, Johnson shot a 66 in the final round to give him a strong chance at the title. As the winner, he will take home a nice sum of $1.8 million. 

See Johnson's caddie celebrate his putt on 18 that put him at -15:


Teaser:
Post date: Monday, July 20, 2015 - 15:04
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Overtime
Path: /overtime/nfl-rookies-react-madden-ratings-winston-mariota-coates-gurley
Body:

Madden ratings are important. It's a game that a majority of the current NFL players grew up playing.

 

Every year, Madden is a way to see how players measure up in the virtual world. NFL draft picks Todd Gurley, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Sammie Coates, and more get to see their ratings for the first time.

 

For some it's suprising, others just use it as fuel for when the next game comes out.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, July 20, 2015 - 14:22

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