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The Southeastern Conference released their preseason All-SEC football teams on Friday, putting LSU sophomore running back Leonard Fournette in rarified air. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound, bruising playmaker made all three SEC teams, as he was voted first-team running back, second-team all-purpose, and third-team return specialist.
Overall, Georgia running back Nick Chubb led the way with 189 total points followed by Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland (181), and Fournette (180).
South Carolina wide receiver Pharoh Cooper had the honored distinction of making multiple teams as well, earning second-team wide receiver and first-team all-purpose recognition. Texas A&M’s Speedy Noil was voted second-team return specialist and third-team all-purpose.
Other LSU players joining Fournette on the first team were offensive lineman Vadal Alexander and defensive back Jalen Mills. The Tigers did not place any other players on the All-SEC offensive second or third-teams.
Confirming the Tigers will be stacked on defense, linebacker Kendell Beckwith and defensive back Tre’Davious White were named to the second team and defensive tackle Davon Godchaux and defensive back Jamal Adams were selected as All-SEC third-team members.
Ole Miss led the way with three first-team offensive selections. Alabama topped out with three first-team defensive selections — Ragland, defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson and defensive back Cyrus Jones. Auburn placed two on the first-team defense — defensive lineman Carl Lawson and defensive back Jonathan Jones.
Podcast: Cutting through SEC Media Day Nonsense
First Team All-SEC
QB: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
RB: Nick Chubb, Georgia
RB: Leonard Fournette, LSU
WR: Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
WR: D’haquille Williams, Auburn
TE: Evan Engram, Ole Miss
OL: Cam Robinson, Alabama
OL: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
OL: Vadal Alexander, LSU
OL: John Theus, Georgia
OL: Ryan Kelly, Alabama
DL: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
DL: A’Shawn Robinson, Albama
DL: Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
DL: Carl Lawson, Auburn
LB: Reggie Ragland, Alabama
LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
LB: Curt Maggitt, Tennessee
DB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
DB: Cyrus Jones, Alabama
DB: Jonathan Jones, Auburn
DB: Jalen Mills, LSU
P: JK Scott, Alabama
PK: Marshall Morgan, Georgia
RS: Speedy Noil, Texas A&M
AP: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
QB: Jeremy Johnson, Auburn; RB: Derrick Henry, Alabama, Jonathan Williams, Arkansas; WR: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina, De’Runnya Wilson, Mississippi State; TE: Hunter Henry, Arkansas; OL: Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M, Dan Skipper, Arkansas, Denver Kirkland, Arkansas, Greg Pyke, Georgia, Mike Matthews, Texas A&M.
DL: Jonathan Bullard, Florida, Derek Barnett, Tennessee, Jonathan Allen, Alabama, Chris Jones, Mississippi State; LB: Kendell Beckwith, LSU, Leonard Floyd, Georgia, Cassanova McKinzy, Auburn; DB: Tony Conner, Ole Miss, Cameron Sutton, Tennessee, Will Redmond, Mississippi State, Tre’Davious White, LSU.
P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M; PK: Elliott Fry, South Carolina; RS: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina; AP: Leonard Fournette, LSU.
QB: Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee; RB: Alex Collins, Arkansas, Kenyan Drake, Alabama; WR: Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia, Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M; TE: O.J. Howard, Alabama; OL: Sebastian Tretola, Arkansas, Alex Kozan, Auburn, Avery Young, Auburn, Brandon Shell, South Carolina, Evan Boehm, Missouri.
DL: Montravius Adams, Auburn, Jarran Reed, Alabama, Davon Godchaux, LSU, Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss; LB: Kris Frost, Auburn, Antonio Morrison, Florida, Kentrell Brothers, Missouri; DB: A.J. Stamps, Kentucky, Eddie Jackson, Alabama, Jamal Adams, LSU, Johnathan Ford, Auburn.
P: Jamie Keehn, LSU; PK: Austin MacGinnis, Kentucky; RS: Leonard Fournette, LSU; AP: Speedy Noil
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
Sometimes the right joke takes time to come to light.
Ronda Rousey's knockout of Floyd Mayweather at the ESPYS is still being talked about. Some people think it was spur of the moment, but she had been planning it for a year in advance.
Back in July 2014, Mayweather was asked about Rousey and he claimed he didn't know who "he" was. Yes, he. Mayweather didn't even know if she was a man or woman.
"I know for damn sure he knew who I was," Rousey told MMA.com "He was running against me for 'Best Fighter' that year and he had signed MMA fighters, so his feigned ignorance was meant to really be a snarky remark to me."
Rousey mentioned that had she not won the ESPY, she would've kept waiting.
"I waited a whole year to say something," Rousey said. "And you know what? If I didn't win 'Best Fighter' this year, I would have waited two years or three years."
Conference media days are upon us, meaning we have a brand new batch of coach quotes to dissect and preseason rankings to dispute on the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast. On this week’s episode:
• What should we make of Nick Saban’s comments about his players receiving NFL Draft grades before the Sugar Bowl? Is this excuse-making or a sign that Saban has new challenges in preserving the Alabama dynasty.
• We discuss why the “SEC is overrated” talk out of SEC media days is overrated.
• We discuss impressive players from Georgia, and why the college game needs more of guys like Chris Conley and Malcolm Mitchell.
• TCU was an overwhelming favorite in the Big 12 media picks. We talk why that shouldn’t be quite as clear cut, and not just because Baylor is our pick in the league.
• Then, an age-old question: Cow or pig?
• Finally, a new segment that requires your participation: Kids’ Sports Questions. In the first installment, we seriously answer an 11-year-old’s question about Canadian basketball.
The Seattle Seahawks are set to open training camp on July 31 and Russell Wilson is still not signed to a contract extension. So the question is – will this be the beginning of the end for Wilson in a Seattle uniform and is it time to panic if you are a Seahawks fan?
This will not be the beginning of the end of Wilson in a Seahawks uniform if head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider don’t want it to be. With the ability to use a franchise tag on Wilson for the ‘16 and ‘17 seasons, respectively, time is still on the Seahawks side. However, the elephant in the room in this saga is Mark Rodgers, Wilson’s agent.
Rodgers, who has an extensive background in baseball, appears to have to look of a person who has one single goal — to make a name for himself as a football agent and do everything in his power to get Wilson to free agency in 2018. The benefit for Rodgers of getting Wilson to free agency is that the salary cap should be high enough to be able to get Wilson well over $30 million per season.
The risk is that if Rodgers doesn’t get his client signed to a long-term deal sooner, any sort of injury could have even larger ramifications. Along these lines, the argument could be made that the potential of Wilson getting hurt is higher risk heading into the 2015 season because the Seahawks will have a bit of a reloaded offensive line.
There’s little debate that Wilson has done more than enough to earn a long-term contract extension, but does he deserve to be paid more than guys like two-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers? Absolutely not. Despite finding a way to win last season’s NFC Championship Game against the Packers, Wilson’s statistics were not pretty, as he completed less than 50 percent of his passes and threw four interceptions. If it wasn’t for the defense and a timely onside kick recovery by Chris Matthews, a return trip to the Super Bowl would never have happened.
And there’s also the infamous play in the Super Bowl, where Marshawn Lynch did not get the ball as Wilson threw the game-clinching interception that cost Seattle a second consecutive Super Bowl. The question has to be asked does an elite quarterback like Rodgers or Tom Brady find a way to avoid the interception with either an incomplete pass or a touchdown? Yes. Even though the play call itself at the one-yard-line was inexplicable to begin with, Wilson still has to find a way to avoid the interception if he is truly worthy of being paid as the top quarterback in football.
Having said that if you give Wilson a contract in the range of approximately $105-110 million over five years with about $54-60 million guaranteed you should be able to protect yourself if you are the Seahawks while also being able to keep most of the core together. Anything more than that, even with the projected future increases in the salary cap, will be pushing it too far. When you have your guy at quarterback in the NFL the goal should always be to pay him well, but don’t be reckless.
Thus, for the Seahawks that means doing everything possible to put together a deal that pays Wilson at a high level but is not a team-crippling contract three or four years from now. If Seattle can stay disciplined in these negotiations with Wilson and get a deal done, it will set the franchise up very nicely for years to come to be a regular playoff and Super Bowl contender, as long as the Seahawks continue to draft well.
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball.
Athens, GA on a college football Saturday is a special place to be.
On September 5, the Dawgs will take on UL Monroe in their season opener. What better way to commemorate 50 days until kickoff than to give fans a taste of what they're going to see the whole season?
Georgia is ready to get the season started and make its mark on the SEC.
Clemson enters 2015 looking to reload after the departure of several key players from last year’s team. However, momentum in Death Valley remains strong, as the Tigers have won at least 10 games in four consecutive seasons. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is a Heisman contender, and there’s no shortage of young talent in the mix for a breakout season on both sides of the ball. Even with five returning starters for 2015, Clemson is one of the favorites to win the ACC.
The first season of the college football playoff was a huge success. With less than 50 days until kickoff, it’s time to evaluate some of the top contenders for the 2015 playoffs.
Here’s a look at three reasons why Clemson will make the playoff, followed by its schedule and three reasons the Tigers won’t finish in the top four.
Three Reasons Why Clemson Will Make the CFB Playoff in 2015
1. Deshaun Watson and a Loaded Group of Skill Players
It’s not far-fetched to suggest Deshaun Watson could be the nation’s best quarterback by the end of 2015. The No. 41 overall recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite lived up to the hype as a true freshman, completing 93 of 167 passes for 1,466 yards and 14 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Watson also added 200 rushing yards and five scores. An ACL injury from November will be healed in time for the opener, and the sophomore is Athlon’s pick to be the first-team All-ACC quarterback in December. But it’s not just Watson leading the way on offense for Clemson. Sophomore running back Wayne Gallman is back after rushing for 769 yards last year, and the Tigers are loaded at receiver. Sophomore Artavis Scott and junior Mike Williams are the top targets for Watson, but freshman Deon Cain is too talented to sit on the sidelines. The offense should be explosive once again in 2015.
Related: ACC 2015 All-Conference Team
2. Talent Waiting in the Wings
Similar to Florida State, Clemson has a promising core of young talent waiting to emerge. But here’s the million-dollar question: How quickly will the young talent mesh? Can everything come together before the road trip to Louisville on Sept. 17? Or is the Oct. 3 date against Notre Dame more realistic? Using team recruiting rankings over the last five years, Clemson ranks as the No. 2 roster in the ACC. The five-year average among all 128 teams is 13.2, while Florida State has a 4.4 mark. The Tigers won’t have many senior starters this season, but that’s not a bad thing considering all of the talent in the freshman, sophomore and junior ranks.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2015
It’s unfair to say Clemson’s schedule is easy, but the Tigers did catch a few breaks. Florida State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech all visit Death Valley this year, and coach Dabo Swinney’s team should be favored in its other crossover game with the Coastal (Miami). A road trip to Louisville in mid-September will be tough, and the rivalry matchup at South Carolina certainly won’t be easy. Clemson is 0-3 in its last three trips to Columbia and has won just one out of the last six meetings against the Gamecocks.
Clemson's 2015 Schedule
|Date||Opponent||Athlon Projected Rank for 2015||Projected Record|
|Sept. 12||Appalachian State||90||8-4|
|Sept. 17||at Louisville||38||7-5|
|Oct. 3||Notre Dame||12||9-3|
|Oct. 10||Georgia Tech||18||8-5|
|Oct. 17||Boston College||56||6-6|
|Oct. 24||at Miami||43||7-5|
|Oct. 31||at NC State||39||9-3|
|Nov. 7||Florida State||9||11-2|
|Nov. 14||at Syracuse||85||3-9|
|Nov. 21||Wake Forest||82||4-8|
|Nov. 28||at South Carolina||37||7-5|
Three Reasons Why Clemson Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
1. The Offensive Line
The Tigers had question marks up front at the conclusion of spring practice, and the concerns grew after Isaiah Battle declared for the NFL supplemental draft. With Battle leaving, Clemson returns only one starter (center Ryan Norton) and true freshman Mitch Hyatt will likely start at left tackle. Additionally, this unit wasn’t necessarily a strength in 2014. The Tigers allowed 27 sacks last season, while rushers only generated 3.5 yards per carry. With Deshaun Watson coming off a torn ACL, protecting the quarterback is even more essential for Clemson’s offense in 2015. This unit will be under the spotlight early in the year.
2. Too Many Holes to Fill on Defense
As mentioned above, it’s no secret Clemson has a plethora of promising young talent. However, will the personnel losses on defense be too much to overcome? The Tigers were hit hard with departures at each level. End Vic Beasley and tackle Grady Jarrett will be missed up front, the linebacking corps must replace Stephone Anthony, and the secondary lost second-team All-ACC cornerback Garry Peters. On the positive side for Clemson, coordinator Brent Venables is one of the best in college football. Junior end Shaq Lawson is a good place to start the rebuilding effort up front, and sophomore cornerback Mackensie Alexander is already one of the best in the ACC. However, can this unit count on bring contributions from true freshmen like Albert Huggins, Mark Fields and Christian Wilkins?
3. Departure of Chad Morris
This is the biggest x-factor surrounding Clemson in 2015. Chad Morris was one of the premier play-callers in college football and will be missed. Swinney promoted from within to fill Morris’ position, tapping Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott as co-coordinators. Elliott is expected to call the plays, and his first audition in the Russell Athletic Bowl (40 points against Oklahoma) was a huge success. However, developing a gameplan for a bowl with weeks to prepare is a different task than the grind of the regular season. How much will Morris be missed in Death Valley this year? If Elliott and Scott continue to keep this offense performing at a high level, Clemson will push Florida State for the ACC title.
The Sept. 17 game at Louisville will be a huge chance for Clemson to show its offensive line and rebuilt defense is up to the task of winning the ACC title. With Watson under center, combined with one of the best sets of skill talent in the nation, scoring points shouldn’t be a problem. Of course, Morris’ departure is something to watch. Athlon Sports picked Florida State to win the ACC in 2015 but little separates these two teams. The oddsmakers like Clemson around the nine-win mark this year. If that scenario plays out, the Tigers’ losses could look something like this: at South Carolina, Florida State and at Louisville. That’s reasonable. However, it’s also reasonable to expect Clemson to win all three of those games but lose against Georgia Tech or at NC State. The Tigers will be entertaining and explosive on offense. However, there’s just enough personnel concerns to miss out on a playoff spot.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 14
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: (9-3, 6-2 ACC)
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 9
CG Technology Over/Under Odds: 9
5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 8.5
The Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation did little to honor their award's namesake when the preseason Fred Biletnikoff Award watch list was released on Wednesday, as several marquee wide receivers expected to make a lot of noise on the collegiate gridiron in 2015 were missing.
Of the 48 names listed by 215 national journalists, broadcasters and former players, the overshadowing failure to include Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell, Auburn’s D’haquille “Duke” Williams, and Pitt’s Tyler Boyd is an embarrassment to the award. Both Boyd and Treadwell are selected as Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-Americans, with Williams landing on the second team.
In nine games last season Treadwell was as good of a receiver as anyone else in the nation. The numbers show 48 receptions for 632 yards with five scores, but he was the heart and soul of the Rebels’ offense and a tremendous run-blocker. Treadwell was stopped from a game-winning, last-minute touchdown against Auburn on a play that also ended his season. If he can bounce back from his leg injury, Treadwell will be one of the best in the nation.
Williams is another SEC wideout to watch out for in 2015. Williams was a JUCO transfer, who had to learn Gus Malzahn’s offense last season. He also had dual-threat quarterback Nick Marshall and his run-first mentality under center. New starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson throws darts and should help expand the Tigers’ offense vertically and laterally, giving Auburn a true game-changing threat in the pocket, which in turn should present more stat-filling opportunities for Williams.
The omission of Boyd is perhaps the most embarrassing of all. Boyd has posted back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons for the Panthers, earning first-team All-ACC honors as a sophomore last season. After pulling down 78 passes for 1,261 yards with eight touchdowns, while averaging 98 receiving yards per game last season, he is now on a collegiate career track similar to that of another Pittsburgh great, Larry Fitzgerald. The big question for Boyd this season is will new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney help or hurt his cause?
Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins' presence on the list is noteworthy in that he was one of the three finalists for last year's award. Higgins led the nation with 1,750 receiving yards and 17 touchdown catches on 96 receptions as a sophomore last season. Higgins, Alabama's Amari Cooper and West Virginia's Kevin White were the 2014 finalists with Cooper winning the Biletnikoff Award after leading the nation with 124 catches, which went for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns (second nationally in both categories).
As far as Higgins' 2015 outlook goes, his production might see a slight drop off with record-setting quarterback Garrett Grayson, starting running back Dee Hart, and head coach Jim McElwain all gone, but all may not be lost. When McElwain left for Florida Mike Bobo left his position as Georgia’s offensive coordinator to take over the Rams. Sophomore Nick Stevens has picked up the offense and Higgins does have running mate Joe Hansley on the other side of the field to help keep defenses honest.
Other notable players to watch as possible Biletnikoff Award semifinalists include TCU’s Josh Doctson (65-1,018-11), Western Michigan’s Corey Davis (78-1,408-16), and Baylor’s Corey Coleman (64-1,119-11).
The Biletnikoff Award has been presented to the top wide receiver in college football since 1994. Other notable winners include Randy Moss (Marshall – 1997), Antonio Bryant (Pitt – 2000), Larry Fitzgerald (Pitt - 2003), Calvin Johnson (Georgia Tech – 2006), Michael Crabtree (Texas Tech – 2007, '08), and Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State – 2010, '11).
One thing to keep in mind, Treadwell, Williams and Boyd (and any other wide receiver not named) can be added to the watch list as the season progresses. The ten semifinalists will be announced on No. 16 and the three finalists will be named on Nov. 24. The winner will be revealed on Dec. 10.
Biletnikoff Award Watch List
Victor Bolden, Oregon State
Devonte Boyd, UNLV
Daniel Braverman, Western Michigan
Ryan Burbrink, Bowling Green
KD Cannon, Baylor
Leonte Carroo, Rutgers
Rashon Ceaser, Louisiana-Monroe
Corey Coleman, Baylor
Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
River Cracraft, Washington State
Jared Dangerfield, Western Kentucky
Corey Davis, Western Michigan
Josh Doctson, TCU
Travin Dural, LSU
Alex Erickson, Wisconsin
William Fuller, Notre Dame
Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State
Donovan Harden, Georgia State
Carlos Harris, North Texas
Rashard Higgins, Colorado State
Ajalen Holley, Louisiana-Monroe
Cayleb Jones, Arizona
Corey Jones, Toledo
Isaiah Jones, East Carolina
Marcus Kemp, Hawaii
Roger Lewis, Bowling Green
Keevan Lucas, Tulsa
Byron Marshall, Oregon
Mitch Mathews, BYU
Teldrick Morgan, New Mexico State
Jordan Payton, UCLA
Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M
Jalen Robinette, Air Force
Demarcus Robinson, Florida
Alonzo Russell, Toledo
Artavis Scott, Clemson
Hunter Sharp, Utah State
Tajae Sharpe, Massachusetts
Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
Thomas Sperbeck, Boise State
Nelson Spruce, Colorado
Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky
Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech
Michael Thomas, Ohio State
Shaq Washington, Cincinnati
Mike Williams, Clemson
Ron Willoughby, Buffalo
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
Terrell Owens is no longer a part of the active sports world, but some people in it still bother him.
While on The Rich Eisen Show, the former NFL wide receiver mentioned one ESPN personality and kept it real when describing him. Around the 9:00 mark, Owens says talks about just the kind of person Skip Bayless is.
"Skip is Skip," Owens said. "He's an idiot. Sometimes I literally was like, I was a good target for him. I think he needed to say my name to make himself relevant."
Despite the departure of a bevy of NFL talent and their defensive coordinator over the last couple of seasons, the Michigan State Spartans are still widely regarded as the second-best team in the Big Ten.
There is still plenty to be excited about in East Lansing, starting at quarterback. Senior signal-caller Connor Cook is expected to be one of the premier passers in the nation and the face of yet another Big Ten title run.
The Michigan State schedule is a bit top-heavy, which means a couple of things. Most notably, it means there will be little margin for error — not just in those big games — but in games Mark Dantonio's team will be heavily favored in. The Spartans will need to take care of business and do so soundly each week if they want to stay in the College Football Playoff conversation.
Here now are Michigan State's 12 regular season games, ranked according to degree of difficulty from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 26 vs. Central Michigan
This is the first of two in-state matchups with MAC teams. Talent and home-field advantage should be enough to make this a lopsided win for the Spartans. Anything less would be cause for concern.
11. Sept. 4 at Western Michigan
It's rare for a high-profile team like the Spartans to open on the road against a "Group of Five" school, but that's exactly what's happening here. If this were anything but the first game of the season, I might be nervous. As it is, a more talented Spartan team has been prepping for this game all summer and likely won't be challenged in this one.
10. Oct. 24 vs. Indiana
Unlike last season, Indiana's strength on offense is more than likely going to be the passing game. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, that's been the strength of Michigan State's defense recently. Additionally, the Hoosiers don't have enough on defense to contain Connor Cook and Co.
9. Oct. 3 vs. Purdue
The Boilermakers get the nod over Indiana on the strength of what they return on offense. Purdue is likely to challenge Michigan State's defense with a more balanced attack. Be that as it may, this should still just be a tune-up for the Spartans as they prepare for the meat of the Big Ten schedule.
8. Nov. 14 vs. Maryland
This has trap game written all over it. The home contest with Maryland is sandwiched between road trips to Nebraska and Ohio State. It'll be a tough one for the Spartans to get hyped for, but their talent should be enough to get them through it.
7. Sept. 19 vs. Air Force
Preparing for Air Force is always difficult due to the Falcons' unique offensive attack. Making this even more difficult for the Spartans this season will be the fact that they will be coming off of a matchup with Oregon that will likely be an exhausting one — both mentally and physically. This game has a chance of being Michigan State's first surprise stumble of the season.
6. Nov. 28 vs. Penn State
There are two likely scenarios heading into this game: Michigan State is either coming off of a loss to Ohio State and could be vulnerable, or the Spartans just knocked off the Buckeyes and will have one more hurdle to clear in order to make it to Indy for the Big Ten title game. Either way, the Spartans will need to be focused to face Christian Hackenberg and a talented Penn State squad.
5. Oct. 10 at Rutgers
This is another trap game scenario. After three straight weeks of going through the motions against inferior teams, the Spartans must avoid looking past Rutgers before their trip to Ann Arbor. The Rutgers faithful will be pumped to welcome another Big Ten giant to their unfriendly confines - likely with either a white, red or black-out serving as the backdrop. Focus, again, will be key for Michigan State.
4. Oct. 17 at Michigan
Records won't matter in this one. Michigan fans will pack the Big House for Jim Harbaugh's first matchup against the in-state rival/little brother, hoping to once again claim dominance. It will be loud, emotional and grueling, regardless of the talent level on either side.
3. Nov. 7 at Nebraska
The Spartans were lucky to come out of their last two matchups against Nebraska with wins. Questionable calls/antics by former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini helped Michigan State in those games. They likely won't be so lucky this season, as Mike Riley brings a more focused and disciplined approach to the Nebraska program. The Huskers return the core of a team that won nine games and nearly knocked off USC in the postseason. The trip to Lincoln won't be an easy one for the Spartans in 2015.
2. Sept. 12 vs. Oregon
Marcus Mariota is gone, but plenty of talent remains on the Oregon roster. The Ducks are still a team loaded with speed on both sides of the ball. Michigan State will need to counter Oregon blow for blow and hope to wear the Ducks down with a power-running game late.
1. Nov. 21 at Ohio State
This is the No. 1 game on the Buckeyes' schedule as well. It's a season-defining contest for both teams, and they'll each try to dictate the tempo with different strengths. The Buckeyes will likely be favored, but Cook's leadership and the resiliency shown against Baylor in the bowl game last season are both reasons to believe the Spartans can win this one.
If you're stepping to Ronda Rousey, you better come correct.
During the ESPYS, Cardale Jones sent a few tweets to the fighter and although she wasn't checking Twitter at that time, she did answer the next day. The Ohio State quarterback wasn't afraid to take his shots with Rousey, and she seemed to have fun with it.
The College Football Playoff Committee proved the general trend of tougher scheduling last fall.
The SEC doesn't have nearly as much problem with scheduling, as its league schedules are the toughest in college football (along with the Pac-12). But to top it off, the SEC has more high-level non-conference games than any other league in the nation.
Which is why the SEC might be the only league that could get a two-loss team into the College Football Playoff.
The modern Big Ten power and traditional SEC power have only met once in history, a 15-0 Badgers win at home in 1928. The fast track in Arlington, Texas, should help an already superior Alabama team. The Crimson Tide is a 10-point favorite over the Big Red. A win by Wisconsin would rock the college football world right out of the gate.
Tennessee and Oklahoma have played three times. The Vols won in 1939 while OU took a '68 meeting and a 34-10 outcome last season. The game last fall was closer than the 24-point margin and this year’s battle means a lot for both teams. Both have conference title aspirations and an early win over a ranked foe could catapult one into national conversations.
|The Aggies and Sun Devils have never met before and fans on both sides should be thoroughly entertained throughout the pseudo-neutral site season opener. Two great offenses should light up the Houston skyline en route to a feather-in-the-cap non-con win.|
|The Gators lead the all-time series lead in the Sunshine State rivalry 34-23-2, but the Noles have been the better team since Jimbo Fisher arrived. Florida State has won four of the last five, including its last two trips inside The Swamp.|
|Paul Johnson's squad broke through with a huge 30-24 win over the Dawgs in Athens last season. It was just Johnson's second win in seven tries against Georgia and his first since beating Mark Richt in his first year at Georgia Tech (2008). There is an outside chance both teams are poised to play in a championship game a week after this meeting.|
|Related: SEC Football Teams as Rock and Roll|
Bobby Petrino has won all 10 season openers but will have a tough time against the heavily favored Tigers. Louisville won the only previous meeting between the two programs, a 16-3 win in Birmingham back in 1974.
The Tigers own a 66-42-4 all-time series lead but are coming off their first win in the rivalry since 2008. Clemson could be eyeing a Playoff bid in the season finale and will be looking for its first win in Williams-Brice Stadium since 2007. Dabo Swinney is 2-5 against Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks.
A bizarre but interesting matchup of underrated coaches takes place at an odd time, halfway through November. The Tigers and Cougars have only played once before, a 21-17 BYU win in the 1983 Holiday Bowl. Taysom Hill vs. Maty Mauk late in the year sounds fun to me (if both can stay healthy).
The Carolina Bowl has only taken place twice since 1991 with the South side winning both times (2007, '13). This season opener features two defenses that are in desperate need of improvement if either team has any prayer of competing in their respective divisions.
|The Governor's Cup and in-state bragging rights hang in the balance for the 28th time and the 22nd straight season. Kentucky leads the all-time series 14-13 but has lost four straight to Louisville, including last season's 44-40 thriller in Papa John's Stadium.|
|A regional rivalry could be a huge mid-season game for both teams. Memphis is coming off a 10-win season and played much better in Oxford last fall than the 24-3 score indicated. Ole Miss has won six straight in the series and is 48-10-2 all-time against the Tigers. Seven of Memphis' 10 wins in the series have come at home.|
|Old conference foes reunited last season for the first time since 1991. Arkansas owns a commanding 29-7 all-time lead and added to it last year with an impressive 49-28 showing in Lubbock. The Hogs are better this year and at home. Good luck, Kliff.|
|Florida beat East Carolina 28-20 in the Birmingham Bowl last season, adding intrigue and familiarity to an interesting early-season test for Jim McElwain. The new Gators coach has an elite defense but major questions on offense and ECU is a good enough program to scare a team as imperfect as Florida. The Gators won the only other meeting in 1983.|
|Twenty years ago, the Orange would have been a huge favorite in this game. With LSU boasting as good a roster as anyone in the nation and Syracuse reeling under Scott Shafer, it's the Tigers who are the huge favorite. That said, it's a road game a long way from home against a Power 5 team. The all-time series is tied 1-1 and hasn't taken place since 1989 and never in the Carrier Dome.|
There are plenty of interesting Group of 5 games within the SEC but Mississippi State's might be the most intriguing. This is a team that needs impressive wins and a mid-October bout with a well-coached program picked to win its league could be testy.
* - neutral field
Best of the Rest:
Toledo vs. Arkansas, Sept. 12*
UL Lafayette at Kentucky, Sept. 5
Missouri at Arkansas State, Sept. 12
Western Kentucky at Vanderbilt, Sept. 5
Georgia Southern at Georgia, Nov. 21
Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee, Oct. 3
It could be a very special season in South Bend. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish return both leading receivers and their leading rusher from a season ago. The ultra-talented Malik Zaire takes over full-time under center behind an offensive line that returns three starters. Additionally, Zaire and Co. will have a defense that returns 10 starters from a season ago as a security blanket.
All that's left is to play the games — and win them, of course.
Notre Dame's schedule is no joke, as the Irish take on three teams that will be in the hunt for their respective conference titles and possibly berths in the College Football Playoff. Given how we saw the new system work a season ago, the Irish will likely need to win every game on their slate in order to be considered for the Playoff. Aside from the obvious stars, four Notre Dame players will need to step up and have big seasons for that to happen.
Here are the "wild card" players for Notre Dame in 2015.
Durham Smythe, Tight End
After catching only a single pass in 2014, it looks as though the 6-4 Texas native will be stepping into that all important starting tight end role for the Irish. Notre Dame's skill players are going to get plenty of attention all season, making Smythe's ability to get open underneath and over the middle that much more important in the crunch. If he can be anything close to as productive as some of his recent predecessors — particularly in the red zone — the Irish could have one of the more explosive offensives in the nation.
Quenton Nelson, Guard
Starting for Notre Dame comes with plenty of pressure as it is. Starting as a freshman in the middle of the offensive line is an entirely different animal altogether. Nelson will be flanked by a talented left tackle and center, but he'll have to step up and be elite on his own for the Irish offense to fire on all cylinders. A lot rests on his ability to handle that pressure.
Joe Schmidt, Linebacker
Schmidt's phenomenal 2014 season was cut short by a month due to injury. His ability to bounce back and pick up where he left off will be key this season. He'll be surrounded by plenty of other talent and experience, but the guys in the defensive huddle will be looking to Schmidt to lead them by example in their quest for a title.
KeiVarae Russell, Cornerback
Russell returns to the Notre Dame starting lineup after missing all of 2014 because of an academic ban. With that behind him, he'll look to reclaim his status as one of the better cornerbacks in the country. He'll need to be exactly that, as the Irish's path to the College Football Playoff includes a couple of elite signal-callers capable of doing damage to any defense they face.
How did your significant other announce she was pregnant? However she did it, it wasn't as awesome as this.
A fan got the help of Texans star J.J. Watt to tell her husband that he's going to be a father.
Let's hope the father was as excited as Watt looks.
Penn State is reverting to the nameless jerseys and fans couldn't be happier about it.
To commemorate such an occassion, the program released a video of former players discussing the importance of having no name on the back of the jersey. The old sayings ring true, it's about team and unity.
"Christian Hackenberg has so much respect for the 14's before him."
Ending an image of the name being torn from the jerseys is Penn State's way bringing back what never should have left.
Then-Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien's decision in 2012 to add names to the back of the Nittany Lions' football jerseys seemed to signal a new era for the program and was seen by many as a clear mark that things will never be the same again. Given the timing of the decision, just months after Joe Paterno had been removed as head coach amid controversy and not too long after the passing of the iconic head coach, O'Brien's new way of running the program had already been a target of criticism by longtime Penn State fans still coming to grips with how things seemingly blew up right in front of them.
O'Brien simply wanted to add names to the uniforms to honor the players, especially since they were already paying a heavy price for others' mistakes. Free transfers to other FBS programs were part of the hefty NCAA sanctions dropped on Penn State's football program upon review of the university's handling and responses to the infamous and disturbing Jerry Sandusky scandal. Adding names to the jerseys was a small change that let everyone watching a Penn State game know the names of those who stayed loyal in the face of adversity. It was a nice touch in 2012 and things stayed that way under James Franklin in his first year on the job.
Aside from one homecoming game, Penn State players kept their names on their jerseys from the season opener through the Pinstripe Bowl victory over Boston College. Now, Franklin is taking the names off the jerseys. The timing was just right for a return to one of the most identifiable traditions associated with the program.
"The 2012 team, permanently recognized in Beaver Stadium, will hold an enduring place in our program’s history," Franklin explained. "Their commitment will never be forgotten. "However, it’s time we bring back the tradition that represented Penn State for 125 years. We are a strong family, playing for one goal, one university and there is only one name that truly matters, Penn State."
Penn State has rarely modified its uniform over the course of the program's history. Changes are often subtle and negligible.The removal of the white collar and sleeve striping happened back in 2011, and at the time that was seen as a big change. When Penn State signed on with Nike in the early 1990s it was a big deal just to see the patented and iconic Nike swoosh added to the jerseys. When the names went on in 2012 it was a completely different issue, and one that carried special meaning to those within the program.
But time has passed by. The NCAA lifted the sanctions on the program after cutting the postseason ban in half just in time to allow Penn State an opportunity to play in a bowl game last season. As far as the program is concerned, it is time to get back to its roots. Penn State is rooted in simplicity, which will be the motto for this upcoming season in Happy Valley.
Black shoes. Basic blues. No names. All game.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.
Having grown up and lived in Mississippi for most of his life, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze stated how the pride he has for his home state. However, that didn’t stop him from stating his opinion that the state flag, which displays the Confederate emblem in the corner, should be changed in some fashion.
Freeze noted how some groups have used the Confederate Flag as a symbol of hate, which has sparked a national debate. At the SEC Media Days, Freeze was asked about his opinion on the issue, and he made his stance clear. Meanwhile, Mississippi State Head Coach Dan Mullen didn’t give a straight answer when asked about the matter, rather explaining the diversity at his school.
See Freeze's post about SEC Media Days:
It is an honor to represent RebelNation and our great University and players at SEC media days. I am blessed and living a dream! #GoRebs— Hugh Freeze (@CoachHughFreeze) July 16, 2015
Colin Cowherd makes three.
The ESPN personality is parting ways with the worldwide leader and some are speculating he's headed to their west coast rival, Fox Sports. ESPN President John Skipper commented on Cowherd's departure.
"We've enjoyed a mutally beneficial run with Colin for over a decade. He came to national prominence on ESPN with his unique perspective on sports and society. Endings also bring new beginnings, for ESPN and Colin, and we thank him and wish him the best."
Cowherd marks the third notable name to leave ESPN in recent months. Bill Simmons and Keith Olbermann will fulfill their obligations, but will not be back either.
Only time will tell if these big departures will have an effect on the worldwide leader.
MLB's All-Star break is a critical point in the season. It allows the players to rest, and everybody else can analyze the first half of the season. There has been incredible pitching thus far, and it is really too close at the top to pick a definitive Cy Young winner now. So take a look at some of the top candidates for the award entering the last half of the season:
AL Cy Young
Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros
Thus far, Keuchel has been outstanding for the surprising Astros, leading the AL in wins, innings pitched, and quality starts. At 11-4, it’s hard to argue against a player who’s won so many games with such a low ERA and a solid 114 strikeouts. His 4.7 WAR is a considerable AL pitching best, showing just how valuable he has been.
Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
Right now for Sale, wins are lacking because of the White Sox inability to put up runs, for the most part. But he surely makes up for it in his domination in striking out batters and limiting hits and walks. Of qualifying pitchers, his 11.84 K/9 and 0.95 WHIP are the league’s best. He’s had a few rough outings, but eight straight games of 10+ strikeouts cannot be overlooked. Sale is league best in creating swing-and-misses with his pitches, which has contributed to much of his success. The White Sox defense has also been among the league’s worst, which should only help bolster his case.
Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics
Quietly in Oakland, Sonny Gray has been among the MLB’s best on the AL’s worst team by record. He currently leads the league in ERA at 2.04 with a .198 BAA, and Gray is tied for third in wins, just one behind the leaders. Among the 20+ pitchers with over 100 innings logged, he has let up the least amount of home runs (5). With such good pitching atop the AL, he will really need to be extra special to stand out even more.
Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
Both Archer and Sale have made headlines because of their strikeout ability, as Archer ranks second in K/9. Archer has one more win than Sale and a very comparable ERA, so deciding between them two is extremely difficult to call right now. However, Sale’s impressive strikeout feat might is enough to separate them at the current moment.
Others to watch: David Price, Felix Hernandez
NL Cy Young
Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
As of late, Scherzer has been described as the league’s best pitcher, mostly because of his one-hitter followed by a no-hitter in mid-June. But he’s been extremely good all year, posting the lowest WHIP (0.80) in the most innings pitched in the NL (132.0). He has posted the second most strikeouts and the third lowest ERA. The only knock on him is seven losses. He only had eight losses in 2013 and 2014 combined. His strikeout to walk ratio is an impressive 10.71; the next best in the NL isn't above eight.
Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers
April 29th, fifth inning: the last time Zack Greinke’s ERA was above 2.00. If Zack Greinke can maintain his ERA throughout the second half, it would be hard to imagine him not winning the Cy Young. His 1.39 ERA is clear best and a 0.84 WHIP shows this is no mistake. He only has eight wins, but he didn’t win seven games where he pitched at least six innings and gave up one run at most. Clayton Kershaw won the Cy Young last year with a 1.77 ERA, and that seemed incredible. It would be the best season ERA since 1968, and it’s the lowest through the All Star break in the last 30 years.
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kershaw has won three of the past four Cy Young awards, so he should certainly not be kept out of this list. With a shutout in his last start before the All Star break, he snuck his ERA below 3.00 for the first time all season. To end the first half of the season, he’s pitched nine straight quality starts. He’s also the league leader in strikeouts (160) with just a 1.02 WHIP. Look out for him in the second half because his stats now don’t tell the whole story.
Others to watch: Jacob DeGrom, A.J. Burnett
MLB's All-Star break is a critical point in the season. It allows the players to rest, and everybody else can analyze the first half of the season. Thus, here's a look at some of the top candidates for the MVP award in each league, as they prepare for the last half of the season:
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
The reigning MVP is making another strong case for the award with an AL-best 5.9 WAR, .614 slugging, 68 runs, and 26 home runs. He’s even putting up the best numbers of his career at the halfway point, so it seems as of now that he holds the MVP lead. Trout is among the league’s most complete players, hitting for power with great speed and excellent defending.
Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays
Donaldson is one of the major reasons the Blue Jays have scored the most runs in the MLB, with 65 runs and 60 RBIs. His combined total of those two stats is the best in the AL, and he is in the top seven in home runs, doubles, and hits. However, he has plenty of competition for the award, including at his own position, so he will need to continue this success.
Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
There has been an incredible power surge in Manny Machado, as he already has 19 home runs this year. Considering his career high is 14, that’s extremely noteworthy. He's batting .298 with an OPS just under .900 and is considered one of the best fielders in the MLB.
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Up until his injury, Miguel Cabrera seemed destined to headline a midseason MVP list. However, his six-week injury recovery will give several other strong players plenty of time to plead their case. He leads the AL in batting average (.350), OBP (.456), and OPS (1.034). Cabrera has won two MVPs in his career, and he has been putting up those caliber numbers so far.
Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians
As Jason Kipnis reaches the halfway mark of the season, there is plenty of wonder to how much better he has been this year than in the past. That doesn’t help his case, as there will be plenty of questioning to how consistent he can remain. But, he’s batting .323 with an MLB-best 27 doubles, in addition to an OPS higher than Donaldson and Machado. His lack of home runs also pits him lower among these players, as all of them have at least 15. Like Machado though, he also bats leadoff.
Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Everything about Bryce Harper sticks out, and he’s been the hottest player in the MLB this year. His stats so far have been arguably historic, with a 6.2 WAR and 1.168 OPS. He has become one of the league’s most feared hitters, as he’s been hitting for incredible power, including a .704 slugging. That’s .090 better than Mike Trout. The MVP is Harper’s if he continues to play this well.
Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
Paul Goldschmidt’s season has been MVP caliber, except Bryce Harper has been beyond great. While he holds a slight lead in average, RBIs, and runs scored, he is behind Harper in slugging, OPS, and WAR, but just barely. He also adds speed with 16 stolen bases and great defense at first base, but there is a pretty significant gap in OPS, which is really making a major difference right now.
Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
Primarily playing catcher adds much to Posey’s value, as he has become an incredible young leader on a team that has faced pitching issues all season. He won the MVP award in 2012 and is outperforming some stats there, but his batting average and doubles are down. He doesn’t seem to be much of a threat to Goldschmidt or Harper right now, with a 4.2 WAR, but Posey is still an incredible all around player.
The Caitlyn Jenner speech at the ESPYS touched some and outraged others.
Philadelphia sportscaster Howard Eskin had a harsh take on ESPN giving the Arthur Ashe Award to Jenner, claiming it was just for the ratings and ultimately "embarrassed the name of Arthur Ashe." The award is for courage and the sportscaster didn't feel the former Olympian exemplified that.
Insulting that #espn selects "Bruce" Jenner to win Arthur Ashe Courage Award w all the stories they have done on kids in sports w cancer— Howard Eskin (@howardeskin) July 16, 2015
He later deleted the tweet and tried again.
Bruce Jenner was selected 2 win Award because ESPY's switched 2 ABC and needed the ratings for the show. Embarrassed name of Arthur Ashe— Howard Eskin (@howardeskin) July 16, 2015
He later continued in conversations with Twitter users to defend his comments regarding Jenner and other transgender people.
When Joe DiMaggio stepped into the batter’s box 74 years ago today, he finalized a record that seems as safe as any. In the first inning of the game, he singled and later scored, as part of a 3 for 4 day. The hit extended his streak to 56 games, where it would ultimately end. From May 15 to July 16, he had at least one hit in every game, collecting a .408 batting average over that span.
The streak is often considered to be an unbreakable record, as the next closest ever was 45 games. It was certainly one of the greatest performances ever seen before in baseball, and the record seems safe with DiMaggio.
See Joe DiMaggio talk about the streak:
Competition in the Pac-12 is unpredictable: divisions decided on the last day, Hail Mary finishes, multiple-touchdown, fourth-quarter comebacks — and that was just 2014.
Related: Pac-12 Football 2015 Predictions
The Pac-12 is truly college football's Wild West. Winning in a conference in which a few plays can be the difference between title contention and mediocrity requires a few wild cards.
Each of the league's 12 teams feature candidates primed to breakthrough as the all-important wild cards, both on offense and defense.
Offense: Khalfani Muhammad, Running Back
Cal running back Daniel Lasco, one of Athlon’s most underrated Pac-12 players in 2015, rushed for more than 1,100 yards and scored 12 touchdowns a season ago. But Golden Bears head coach Sonny Dykes said this spring he’s hoping for even more production from the run game.
With dual-threat quarterback Luke Rubenzer converting to defensive back, Khalfani Muhammad should see more opportunities as the No. 2 option behind Lasco.
Muhammad is a burner, evident in his winning 100-and-200-meter-dash times recorded this past track season. His ability to translate track speed to the gridiron could prove an asset both in establishing a more multifaceted run game, as well as adding to Cal’s potent passing attack, with Muhammad operating as a backfield receiver.
Defense: Luke Rubenzer, Defensive Back
Dual-threat quarterback Rubenzer’s move to defense is certainly intriguing. Dykes used Rubenzer in specialty packages a season ago, and that speed should serve him well in the secondary, where the bulk of Cal’s defensive talent lies.
Rubenzer brings a unique perspective to the defensive backline with his intimate familiarity with the spread offense. His experience throwing passes at the college level could very well turn into an ability to read opposing quarterbacks and pick off a throw or two.
Offense: Vernon Adams, Quarterback
There may not be more of a wild card in the entire Pac-12 – if not all of college football – than Adams. The big-armed, fleet-footed transfer from Eastern Washington is an intriguing prospect to replace Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota at quarterback – assuming Adams will be eligible. He’ll be cutting it close as he finishes his academic obligations to Eastern Washington.
Adams was stellar throughout his career at Eastern Washington, leading the Eagles to the FCS Playoffs each of his three seasons. He proved capable of eviscerating Pac-12 defenses on a one-off basis, going for six touchdowns in a 2013 upset of Oregon State, and scoring seven in a near-miss last year at Washington.
Adams is playing catch-up to Mariota’s backup, Jeff Lockie. Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich raved about Lockie in the spring.
Defense: Arrion Springs, Cornerback
A highly touted prospect in Oregon’s 2014 signing class, it’s now time for former high school All-American Springs to shine at the collegiate level.
Springs will step into a secondary that’s been a decided strength for Oregon in the last half decade, and he has a high standard to meet. Last year’s Duck starters were seniors Troy Hill, who broke up 18 passes, and All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, the star of Oregon’s defense for three seasons running.
Offense: Storm Woods, Running Back
Injuries obfuscated the flashes of brilliance Woods showed off through his first three seasons at Oregon State. He enters his senior season as a possible cornerstone of new head coach Gary Andersen’s spread offensive philosophy.
Andersen’s last starting running back, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, put up numbers that were comparable to a degree to Barry Sanders’ 1988 records. While Gordon was an outlier, running backs playing for Andersen-coached teams have typically flourished.
With Oregon State completely overhauling its offensive philosophy, including starting a freshman at quarterback, establishing a reliable ground game is crucial.
Defense: Luke Hollingsworth, Defensive End
Experience is rare on this Oregon State roster, but the defensive end combination of Lavonte Barnett and Hollingsworth gives first-year Beavers coordinator Kalani Sitake a solid foundation on which to build the defense.
Barnett led the Beavers with 4.5 sacks a season ago and figures to be the driving force behind Oregon State’s pass rush, but the addition of Hollingsworth – who missed five games last season – should keep opposing offensive lines honest in their blocking schemes. Hollingsworth could essentially force them to pick their poison.
Offense: Christian McCaffrey, Running Back
Stanford head coach David Shaw raved about Christian McCaffrey’s progress during spring practices.
McCaffrey’s Stanford career opened with a bang. Playing wide receiver in Week 1, he took a pass 52 yards to the house for a touchdown. His career at receiver sputtered somewhat thereafter, but a late-season move to running back brought the best out of the youngster.
Stanford’s offense struggled without a clear, No. 1 running back in 2014. McCaffrey’s style deviates from past Cardinal running backs like Toby Gerhart and Tyler Gaffney, but his combination of speed and elusiveness should add a new element. McCaffrey also gives quarterback Kevin Hogan another option in the passing game.
Defense: Brennan Scarlett, Defensive End
Stanford’s typically stout defensive line got a new addition from a most unlikely source this season: archrival Cal.
Scarlett joins the Cardinal as a graduate transfer for his final year of eligibility, reuniting with younger brother Cameron, a 2015 Stanford signee. Scarlett missed seven games last season due to an ACL tear, but recorded two sacks in the previous five games.
Scarlett should fit into Stanford’s philosophy of aggressively pressuring the pocket quite well and help the Cardinal offset the loss of 2014 sack leader Henry Anderson.
Offense: Joshua Perkins, Tight End
In the last two seasons of Steve Sarkisian’s tenure as Washington head coach, the Huskies leaned heavily on tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins as one of the top receiving options.
Likewise, throughout his tenure at Boise State, current Huskies head coach Chris Petersen had offenses that used the tight ends effectively as receivers. That carried over nicely in Petersen’s first year at Washington.
Perkins was the second-leading receiver on the team with 25 receptions and three touchdowns. Given the Huskies’ quarterback question marks throughout 2014 and heading into ‘15, the big target Perkins provides in both red-zone and short-yardage situations should give the team’s new signal-caller something of a security blanket early on.
Defense: Travis Feeney, Linebacker
Feeney is first in line to replace the production of Hau’oli Kikaha, the nation’s sack leader a season ago.
While Feeney is working to replace Kikaha, his long frame is perhaps more reminiscent of another recent Pac-12 sack-machine, former UCLA star Anthony Barr. Feeney’s able to use his length to compress the pocket, and also go up to challenge passes. To that end, he has deflected 11 passes in the past two seasons.
Feeney showed his sack potential as a freshman, when he recorded four, but his output dropped each of the last two seasons. Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski’s favors an aggressive pass rush, thus Feeney recapturing that element of his game is a must for the Huskies.
Offense: Jamal Morrow, Running Back
A Mike Leach-coached offense is going to pass. That’s just an incontrovertible fact, evident in Washington State (and previously, Texas Tech) routinely ranking at the bottom nationally in rushing.
Still, Morrow could play a huge role in the Cougars’ pass-happy attack. Morrow averaged just four yards per carry a season ago, but caught 61 passes for 460 yards to contribute quite nicely to the potent aerial attack.
The way Washington State’s air-raid uses passes to the running back functions essentially the same way a rush to the outside would in most other systems.
Defense: Destiny Vaeao, Defensive End
Washington State’s ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks is somewhat underrated, but the emergence of Vaeao in his senior season could help change that.
Vaeao will be a key component of new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s blitzing philosophy. Grinch previously served on Gary Pinkel’s staff at Missouri, which produced the SEC Defensive Players of the Year in both 2013 and ‘14.
Vaeao may not produce at a level approaching either Michael Sam or Shane Ray, but he should be a linchpin in the Cougars’ pass rush.
Offense: David Richards, Wide Receiver
The Arizona wide receiving corps is perhaps the deepest in the Pac-12, if not all of college football, returning 2014 standout Cayleb Jones, dynamic slot playmaker Samajie Grant, Trey Griffey and, returning from injury, Nate Phillips.
The difference between senior Richards and the rest of that corps is that, while the others were all recruited specifically for head coach Rich Rodriguez’s offense, Richards initially signed on to be part of the air-raid Arizona was running with Mike Stoops at the helm.
At 6-foot-4 and nearly 220 pounds, Richards also is much different physically from the speedy Grant and Phillips. As more of a prototypical possession receiver, Richards’ further integration into the offense should give sophomore quarterback Anu Solomon a reliable weapon to set up the rest of the receiving corps for home-run plays.
Defense: Derrick Turituri, Linebacker
The spotlight is fixed firmly on another Arizona linebacker, reigning Bronko Nagurski Award winner Scooby Wright. However, Turituri quietly enjoyed a breakout 2014 season.
After playing sparingly in the opener and missing Week 2, Turituri became a factor for Arizona’s much-improved defense during Pac-12 play. He had six tackles in the come-from-behind win over Cal, a personal-best he matched in defeats of Washington and Utah, and recorded a key sack in the upset of Oregon.
Wright’s emergence as a national star guarantees opposing offensive coordinators will key in on the dynamic ball hawk. Turituri’s continued progression is vital to keep teams from successfully double-teaming Wright.
Offense: Demario Richard, Running Back
Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell is not shy about tweaking his lineup to maximize the skills of his personnel. This year’s big move is shifting leading rusher D.J. Foster from running back to wide receiver, in order to showcase Richard in the backfield.
That’s quite the vote of confidence in Richard, who rushed for 478 yards and four touchdowns as the Sun Devils’ No. 2 back a season ago. Half of those scores came in a 36-31, Sun Bowl defeat of Duke, a contest in which Richard showed off his pass-catching abilities with a pair of touchdown receptions, as well.
Richard’s two-way ability fits how Norvell prefers using the running back, and resembles the Sun Devils’ 2013 star, Marion Grice.
Defense: Ismael Murphy-Richardson/Alani Latu, Linebackers
No one quite filled Arizona State’s blitz-happy “devil backer” position in 2014 to the standard Carl Bradford set a year earlier. Murphy-Richardson and Latu are jockeying to take on a role critical to the Sun Devil defensive philosophy in the season to come.
Whomever emerges from the competition atop the depth chart will have considerable responsibility, as well as a high bar to meet. The Sun Devils have ranked no worse than 13th nationally in sacks each of head coach Todd Graham’s first three seasons in Tempe.
Offense: Shay Fields, Wide Receiver
Nelson Spruce started the 2014 season a house of fire, and finished the year with 1,198 yards and 12 touchdowns. However, as defenses keyed in on the Buffs’ primary passing target, his production dipped.
Springing Spruce for the big plays he’s so well qualified to make is contingent largely on the continued development of Fields. He debuted with a splash in his freshman campaign, catching eight, six, seven and six passes in Colorado’s first four games.
However, he was only above four receptions again three times thereafter – not coincidentally, those instances came against Oregon State, Arizona and Utah, three of the Buffs’ most competitive Pac-12 games of the season.
Defense: Chidobe Awuzie, Cornerback
Tedric Thompson’s three interceptions didn’t just lead Colorado last season – they were the Buffs’ only three picks of the season.
Colorado’s inability to generate turnovers hamstrung its defense. Thompson needs a running mate to that end in 2015, and Awuzie is the most likely candidate.
Awuzie broke into the defensive rotation as a freshman, and has been among the Buffs top tacklers each of his two seasons in the program. He’s also broken up nine passes, and as a freshman, forced a pair of fumbles. However, an interception still eludes him.
Offense: Conor McDermott, Tackle
The offensive line woes that have haunted UCLA throughout head coach Jim Mora’s tenure weren’t necessarily solved when McDermott rejoined the lineup at left tackle midway through 2014. However, the line’s collective play certainly improved in the second half of the season.
McDermott proved himself a reliable option at left tackle, a position at which the Bruins struggled as Simon Goines battled injuries.
With an offseason focused on protecting the quarterback’s blind side, McDermott should be even better in 2015. He’ll serve as a cornerstone for what is collectively the Pac-12’s most experienced front five.
Defense: Takkarist McKinley, Defensive End
Midseason addition McKinley fit nicely into the UCLA defensive line rotation almost immediately as a reserve. Now, heading into his first full season on the roster, he’ll be looked to as one of the leaders in a unit that’s a decided strength.
McKinley takes over at defensive end for Owamagbe Odighizuwa. The NFL draftee Odighizuwa mentored McKinley in his transition from junior college to the Pac-12. Should McKinley perform at a level approaching Odighizuwa’s, with returning standouts Kenny Clark, Eddie Vanderdoes, Deon Hollins, Myles Jack and Kenny Young, UCLA should have one of the best front sevens in college football.
Offense: Steven Mitchell, Wide Receiver
USC lost the cornerstone of its passing attack from a season ago in Nelson Agholor. However, head coach Steve Sarkisian seemed optimistic following the Trojans’ spring game that the 2015 receiving corps would be a strength.
Credit Mitchell’s rise for the optimism. Mitchell’s career has had a series of false starts due to injury, but he shined in what was his first full spring as a Trojan.
The speedy Mitchell offers quarterback Cody Kessler a deep-ball threat, which should come in handy as defenses are forced to focus on the sure-handed JuJu Smith.
Defense: Iman Marshall, Cornerback
If incoming freshman Marshall is a star, it should come as no surprise. The product of Southern California prep powerhouse Long Beach Poly – the same school that produced USC’s 2014 super-frosh JuJu Smith – was rated the nation’s No. 1 cornerback in 2015.
But if Marshall asserts himself as a lockdown corner early, he doesn’t just add depth to the USC secondary; he’ll also give Sarkisian more options at wide receiver.
Adoree’ Jackson emerged as the Trojans’ top cornerback a season ago, but also proved explosive on the offensive end. Sarkisian said at season’s end he hoped to get Jackson more opportunities at receiver. Marshall’s integration into the lineup could allow the USC coach to do just that.
Offense: Siale Fakailoatonga, Tight End
Tight end has been a showcase position in the Utah offense in recent years, with Jake Murphy performing at an All-American level, then Westlee Tonga stepping up as a reliable target in 2014.
Some uncertainty surrounds the position heading into 2015. Fakailoatonga caught just two passes each of the last two seasons, but he should see a considerably heavier workload in the campaign to come.
Fakailoatonga offers the right balance of pass-catching ability and blocking an offense such as Utah’s requires. The Utes will rely heavily on the run game with Heisman candidate back Devontae Booker returning, so the additional blocker up front is a needed commodity.
Defense: Marcus Williams, Cornerback
With the dismissal of starting defensive back Dominique Hatfield last week, and all-conference stalwart Eric Rowe gone for the NFL, 2015 is Williams’ time to lead the Utah secondary. No pressure for a sophomore, right?
Williams had an impressive debut campaign, recording 59 tackles, picking off a pass and forcing two fumbles, playing primarily in multiple-defensive back sets. The unexpected shakeup of the defensive backfield with Hatfield gone leaves Williams to step up as the Utes’ lockdown corner.
If there were an official poll for which NFL player fans dislike the most, Johnny Manziel would seem to be around the top of the list. In fact, in fact, it's no surprise to see Manziel's name high up on these types of lists for several attributed reasons. He’s flashy. He’s overrated. He’s immature. These compounding factors that were first brought to light during his years at Texas A&M have seemed to damage his reputation more than help it now that he's a pro. An NFL.com article that ran last year ranked him as the third-most disliked college football player in history. That’s certainly not a list any player wants to be on. However, Manziel flourished in college, and that bad boy reputation propelled him to the national stage.
When Manziel fell to 22nd and was picked by Cleveland in the 2014 NFL Draft, many basked in this moment, believing this is what he deserved. While Browns fans may have rejoiced that he might be the quarterback they had hoped for after years of inconsistency, questions and concerns immediately arose within the organization. There were rumors of discord and controversy over drafting him, but in the end, the team's leadership truly hoped he would be a franchise savior.
Then the season came around, and Manziel had a lackluster, disappointing debut. Many NFL fans seemingly could not have been happier about his limited production. He started only two games late in the season, including a 30-0 blowout loss against the Bengals and an injury-shortened loss against the Panthers. He finished the season with only 175 passing yards, two interceptions, and one touchdown (rushing). Not the type of numbers any Browns fan would hope for.
But people often look into rookie seasons too much, especially at quarterback, especially one whose role was mostly to be the backup. Brett Favre’s rookie season was much worse, as he threw two interceptions in four passing attempts. At least Manziel completed a pass to his own team. Not that Manziel is anything like Favre, but there’s no reason to give up now on him, especially when many analysts predicted that he would need time to grow and learn.
With NFL training camps set to open the end of this month, it will be a key start to Manziel’s second year. He’s not even the supposed starter, as veteran journeyman Josh McCown is currently atop the depth chart. That’s not to say that Manziel can’t be the guy come Week 1, but it will only make it more difficult for him to attain. However, even if he doesn’t begin as the starter, it seems highly likely that he’ll get plenty of significant snaps, given McCown’s track record, both injury- and performance-wise. Fans in Cleveland want to see Manziel start; they want to see what he did in college on the pro field.
There is no doubt that Manziel needs to step up, arguably more than any other player in the NFL. The focus will be shifted away from him for some time, especially as Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota make their highly anticipated NFL debuts. But when Manziel does get his chance, the spotlight will surely be placed back on him. Cleveland fans are anxious about his stardom, while NFL fans probably cannot wait to see him struggle more.
Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther stated that he believes Manziel can have a productive future, and he needs to be more like Drew Brees. The nine-time Pro Bowler has fought his career over his 6-foot stature, about the same height as Manziel. Prototypical quarterbacks stand around 6-foot-4, as it allows them to stand behind the offensive line and still have good vision. Smaller quarterbacks, like Manziel and Brees, don’t have the luxury and often have to move around the pocket to get a better look at what's happening in front of them.
Manziel’s feet and speed gained him plenty of notoriety in college, as his scrambling abilities were very much a part of his game. However, the NFL is full of bigger and faster players, looking to hit the quarterback. He thus needs to focus on being more committed to the pass, while his running could help bail him out. Manziel needs to remain in the pocket more so, even though his height may hinder that. But if Brees can do it, there is no reason why Manziel can’t. He probably won't make much of a career as a scrambler, unless he develops a knack for making plays outside of the pocket, a la Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson, and to a degree, Ben Roethlisberger. The bottom line is Cleveland needs a complete quarterback, one that can also pass effectively and efficiently, and electrify the crowd in the process. This season will be critical for Manziel, as it really could be a make-or-break campaign.
The College Football Playoff Committee proved the general trend of tougher scheduling last fall.
The Big 12 may have two major playoff contenders but scheduling could once again be a problem for this league. Whether the Big 12 wants to admit it or not, Baylor's non-conference schedule was a huge factor in why the league was left out of the postseason tournament.
Unfortunately, there aren't many chances for marquee wins in the non-conference in 2015 for the Big 12. Sure, there are some juicy matchups but the most important non-conference game for either Baylor or TCU features an 18-point spread.
Two of the top three winningest programs in college football history will do battle in the best true home game of Week 1. Notre Dame has won four straight and eight of the 10 total meetings all-time and is a touchdown favorite for the season opener. Both quarterback situations should be interesting to track.
Tennessee and Oklahoma have played three times. The Vols won in 1939 while OU took a 1968 meeting and a 34-10 outcome last season. The game last fall was closer than the 24-point margin and this year’s battle means a lot for both teams. Both have conference title aspirations and an early win over a ranked foe could catapult one into the national conversations.
|There are few chances in the non-con this fall for the Big Ten to make a statement than on Thursday night to open the season in the Twin Cities. TCU will be a top-ranked team and is an 18-point favorite heading to TCF Bank Stadium. The Frogs stomped the Gophers 30-7 in Fort Worth last fall but Minnesota has won the only other meeting between the two — a 1974 win in Minneapolis.|
|This could be a program-defining win for Sonny Dykes and Cal in Austin in Week 3. Or a terrifying second loss in three games to start the year for Texas. The Horns are at home and more talented (and can actually play defense), but quarterback Jared Goff is a superstar in the making and could set himself up for a nationally acclaimed season with a win in Texas. The Bears are 0-5 all-time against the Longhorns. This is a must-win for Charlie Strong.|
|This is sort of an underrated rivalry that has seen 51 different editions. West Virginia has won 27 total and eight of the last nine meetings, including an epic 40-37 victory in College Park last fall. These are two very interesting coaches who know each other very well.|
The old conference foes reunited last season for the first time since 1991. Arkansas owns a commanding 29-7 all-time lead and added to it last year with an impressive 49-28 showing in Lubbock. The Hogs are better this year and at home. Good luck, Kliff.
The heated in-state rivalry has been a lone bright spot for Cyclones head coach Paul Rhoads. He’s 3-3 against the Hawkeyes in six years as the head coach in Ames but has won three out of the last four against Kirk Ferentz' team. This has been high-scoring (44-41) and really ugly (9-6) but has routinely been extremely close.
The Bulldogs and Wildcats have met three times before and this is where the drop off in non-conference games takes place. Louisiana Tech is picked to win the West Division in C-USA and offers up the toughest test for KSU outside of the league. Kansas State has won the last two meetings by a combined score of 94-17.
The Battle for the Iron Skillet in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex will be played for the 95th time this fall. TCU leads the series 47-40-7 all-time and has won 13 of the last 15 meetings. The Frogs will be a massive favorite but it’s a rivalry, so it makes the list.
This is where the Big 12 non-con scheduling is at these days. A quality, option-oriented Sun Belt team against a pass-happy, middle-of-the-pack Big 12 team is a top-10 game. The Eagles-Mountaineers matchup is intriguing for football nerds.
Best of the Rest:
Iowa State at Toledo, Sept. 19
Memphis at Kansas, Sept. 12
Kansas at Rutgers, Sept. 26
Akron at Oklahoma, Sept. 5
Baylor at SMU, Sept 4
Rice at Texas, Sept. 12
Kansas State at UTSA, Sept. 12
Rice at Baylor, Sept. 26
Northern Iowa at Iowa State, Sept. 5
The New England Patriots are the defending Super Bowl champions and won't officially open defense of their title until Sept. 10 when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers to kick off the 2015 NFL regular season. However, the real work for Bill Belichick's team begins July 23 when rookies report to training camp in Foxborough, Mass.
Baltimore, Cleveland and New Orleans get a slight head start on New England and rest of the league when their rookies report on July 22, while Indianapolis and Philadelphia don't break camp until Aug. 1. In the end, it really doesn't matter which team gets back at it first or last. Instead it's which two teams will be on the field last — playing in Super Bowl 50 in Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Feb. 7.
Below are the reporting dates for rookies and veterans, and the locations for 2015 training camps for all 32 NFL teams:
|Arizona||University of Phoenix Stadium||Glendale, AZ||7/28||7/31|
|Atlanta||Atlanta Falcons Training Facility||Flowery Branch, GA||7/30||7/30|
|Baltimore||Under Armour Performance Center||Owings Mills, MD||7/22||7/29|
|Buffalo||St. John Fisher College||Pittsford, NY||7/30||7/30|
|Carolina||Wofford College||Spartanburg, SC||7/30||7/30|
|Chicago||Olivet Nazarene University||Bourbonnais, IL||7/29||7/29|
|Cincinnati||Paul Brown Stadium||Cincinnati, OH||7/27||7/30|
|Cleveland||Cleveland Browns Training Facility||Berea, OH||7/22||7/29|
|Dallas||River Ridge Playing Fields||Oxnard, CA||7/29||7/29|
|Denver||Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre||Englewood, CO||7/27||7/30|
|Detroit||Detroit Lions Training Facility||Allen Park, MI||7/28||8/2|
|Green Bay||St. Norbert College||Green Bay, WI||7/29||7/29|
|Houston||Methodist Training Center||Houston, TX||7/26||7/31|
|Indianapolis||Anderson University||Anderson, IN||8/1||8/1|
|Jacksonville||Florida Blue Health & Wellness Practice Fields||Jacksonville, FL||7/27||7/30|
|Kansas City||Missouri Western State University||St. Joseph, MO||7/28||7/31|
|Miami||Doctors Hospital Training Facility||Davie, FL||7/29||7/29|
|Minnesota||Minnesota State University, Mankato||Mankato, MN||7/25||7/25|
|New England||Gillette Stadium||Foxborough, MA||7/23||7/29|
|New Orleans||The Greenbrier||White Sulphur Springs, WV||7/22||7/29|
|New York Giants||Quest Diagnostics Training Center||East Rutherford, NJ||7/30||7/30|
|New York Jets||Atlantic Health Training Center||Florham Park, NJ||7/29||7/29|
|Oakland||Napa Valley Marriott||Napa, CA||7/26||7/30|
|Philadelphia||NovaCare Complex||Philadelphia, PA||8/1||8/1|
|Pittsburgh||Saint Vincent College||Latrobe, PA||7/25||7/25|
|St. Louis||Rams Park||Earth City, MO||7/27||7/31|
|San Diego||Chargers Park||San Diego, CA||7/29||7/29|
|San Francisco||Marie P. DeBartolo Sports Center||Santa Clara, CA||7/27||7/31|
|Seattle||Virginia Mason Athletic Center||Renton, WA||7/30||7/30|
|Tampa Bay||One Buccaneer Place||Tampa Bay, FL||7/27||7/31|
|Tennessee||Saint Thomas Sports Park||Nashville, TN||7/30||7/30|
|Washington||Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center||Richmond, VA||7/29||7/29|
Dates and locations subject to change.
(Top photo by David Silverman, courtesy of www.patriots.com)