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Path: /college-football/where-did-college-football-teams-find-their-starting-quarterbacks-2017

As college football programs sign new future star quarterbacks while faces we became familiar with move on to the NFL, it is time to figure out just where all of this talent comes from.


For the third year in a row, Athlon Sports has tracked the roots of every projected starting quarterback for the upcoming season in the Power Five conferences, along with BYU and Notre Dame.


In 2015, there were 26 states that produced these QBs. Last year that number grew to 28. This year, it’s back to 26 states.


Some results are surprising. Others, less so.


It’s Texas, then the other big two, then everyone else

We often hear Texas, California and Florida grouped together as the “Big Three” when it comes to producing football talent. And while those three once again lead the way in this project, you could make the case for a Big One: Texas.


The Lone Star State has produced 13 quarterbacks who are expected to start at college football’s highest level in 2017. Five of those 13 QBs have stayed in state, but most of the players making names for themselves elsewhere are certainly familiar faces to college football fans everywhere, from Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett to Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield to Alabama’s Jalen Hurts.


California eked past Florida for the No. 2 spot, producing seven expected starters to the Sunshine State’s six. But the distribution between the two states could not be any more different: All seven of those California QBs are in the Pac-12, while Florida has signal-callers in all each of the Power Five conferences.


From those two states, only Cal, Miami and Stanford have gone elsewhere for their expected starter under center.


Some surprise risers

Alabama may have made it to the national title game with a true freshman QB, but the Crimson Tide’s signal-caller, Jalen Hurts, was from Texas.


Why is that a bit of a surprise? Because Alabama actually finished fourth this year in numbers of expected starting QBs produced, with four: Jake Bentley (South Carolina), Matthew Jordan (Georgia Tech), Tyrell Pigrome (Maryland) and Malik Rosier (Miami). That is an improvement of three from a year ago, when the state had just one QB: Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas.


Like Alabama, Washington made the College Football Playoff last year with an out-of-state QB. And, like ‘Bama, this is mildly surprising considering the QB talent in its backyard: Washington — just like it did in this project last year — is expected to have three starting QBs among Power Five teams in 2017: Ross Bowers (Cal), Max Browne (Pitt), Jacob Eason (Georgia).


Elsewhere, ACC country is quite the QB hotbed, with North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia each producing three expected starters as well.


Cross-country signal-callers

Stanford QB Kevin Hogan held the distinction of playing his college ball the farthest from home two years ago, having come from McLean, Va., and it’s yet another Virginia-bred Cardinal QB leading the way this time in Ryan Burns.


Last year’s top two, Eric Dungey and Jacob Eason, are at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, while Pitt’s Max Browne and NC State’s Ryan Finely also find themselves more than 2,000 miles away from home. (Both players transferred, from USC and Boise State, respectively.)

10 Farthest From Home

Quarterback School Miles Hometown
Ryan Burns 2,803 Stone Bridge, VA
Eric Dungey 2,791 Lake Oswego, OR
Jacob Eason 2,726 Lake Stevens, WA
Max Browne 2,521 Sammamish, WA
Ryan Finley 2,171 Phoenix, AZ
Brian Lewerke 1,944 Phoenix, AZ
Peyton Bender 1,487 Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Jacob Park  1,214 Charleston, SC
Mason Rudolph 1,088 Rock Hill, SC
Dwayne Lawson 1,073 Tampa, FL


Thanks for playing, Georgia, Ohio... and New York?

Last year’s project had eight expected starting QBs from the states of Georgia, Ohio and New York. The first two names are known prep hotbeds, so that is not too surprising. But New York getting two Power Five starters most certainly was.


No surprises this time, as New York has zero this year. Even more surprising is the fact Georgia and Ohio have combined for just one: Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald.


Of course, the projected top three QBs in this year’s draft are all from those two states: DeShone Kizer (Ohio), Mitch Trubisky (Ohio) and Deshaun Watson (Georgia). So things aren’t too bad for those states.


Hometown heroes

Austin Allen is a Fayetteville native, so he is no stranger to the University of Arkansas, where his older brother, Brandon, played, and where his father, Bobby, is the Razorbacks’ director of high school and NFL relations. Likewise, Justin Herbert is in all too familiar territory in Eugene, as the University of Oregon’s quarterback became the Ducks’ first true freshman starter in 33 years.


Elsewhere, Manhattan Beach native Josh Rosen is hoping his third year in Westwood as UCLA’s starter is the year he can restore the Bruins to the class of the Pac-12, while rival USC is banking on Capistrano Beach product Sam Darnold to deliver a Playoff bid.


Not surprisingly, Texas schools are also heavy on local talent at QB, with Southlake native Kenny Hilly at TCU and Grandview product Zach Smith hoping to make head coach Matt Rhule’s first year at Baylor a successful one.


10 Closest to Home

Quarterback School Miles Hometown
Austin Allen 0 Fayetteville, AR
Justin Herbert 0 Eugene, OR
Josh Rosen 16 Manhattan Beach, CA
Kenny Hill 25 Southlake, TX
Clayton Thorson 35 Wheaton, IL
Kelly Bryant 49 Calhoun Falls, SC
Zach Smith 52 Grandview, TX
Sam Darnold 63 Capistrano Beach, CA
Drew Barker 76 Burlington, KY
Drew Lock 124 Lee’s Summit, MO


Projected 2017 Power Five Conference*
Starting QBs by State


State No. Quarterbacks
Texas 13 J.T. Barrett (Ohio State), David Blough (Purdue), Shane Buechele (Texas), Quinten Dormady (Tennessee), Kenny Hill (TCU), Jalen Hurts (Alabama), Richard Lagow (Indiana), Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma), Kellen Mond (Texas A&M), Steven Montez (Colorado), Nic Shimonek (Texas Tech), Zach Smith (Baylor), Jarrett Stidham (Auburn)
California 7 Blake Barnett (Arizona State), Jake Browning (Washington), Sam Darnold (USC), Brandon Dawkins (Arizona), Marcus McMaryion (Oregon State), Josh Rosen (UCLA), Troy Williams (Utah)
Florida 6 Peyton Bender (Kansas), Deondre Francois (Florida State), Feleipe Franks (Florida), Lamar Jackson (Louisville), Dwayne Lawson (Illinois), John Wolford (Wake Forest)
Alabama 4 Jake Bentley (South Carolina), Matthew Jordan (Georgia Tech), Tyrell Pigrome (Maryland), Malik Rosier (Miami)
North Carolina 3 Will Grier (West Virginia), Daniel Jones (Duke), Chazz Surratt (North Carolina)
South Carolina 3 Jacob Park (Iowa State), Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State), Kelly Bryant (Clemson)
Virginia 3 Ryan Burns (Stanford), Trace McSorley (Penn State), Wilton Speight (Michigan)
Washington 3 Ross Bowers (Cal), Max Browne (Pitt), Jacob Eason (Georgia)
Arizona 2

Ryan Finley (NC State), Brian Lewerke (Michigan State)

Illinois 2 Demry Kroft (Minnesota), Clayton Thorson (Northwestern)
Louisiana 2 Tanner Lee (Nebraska), Shea Patterson (Ole Miss)
Michigan 2 Josh Jackson (Virginia Tech), Giovanni Rescigno (Rutgers)
Pennsylvania 2 Alex Hornibrook (Wisconsin), Kyle Shurmur (Vanderbilt)
Oregon 2 Eric Dungey (Syracuse), Justin Herbert (Oregon)
Arkansas 1 Austin Allen (Arkansas)
Delaware 1 Darius Wade (Boston College)
Georgia 1 Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State)
Idaho 1 Tanner Mangum (BYU)
Indiana 1 Danny Etling (LSU)
Iowa 1 Jesse Ertz (Kansas State)
Kentucky 1 Drew Barker (Kentucky)
Maryland 1 Kurt Benkert (Virginia)
Missouri 1 Drew Lock (Missouri)
New Jersey 1 Brandon Wimbush (Notre Dame) 
Utah 1 Luke Falk (Washington State)
Wisconsin 1 Nathan Stanley (Iowa)

*List also includes BYU and Notre Dame


— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.

Where Did College Football Teams Find Their Starting Quarterbacks for 2017?
Post date: Monday, January 30, 2017 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/marshawn-lynch-skittles-scotland-houston-commercial-super-bowl

Marshawn Lynch may not be in the NFL anymore, but that doesn't mean he isn't must-see TV.


The former Seahawks running back headed to Houston for the Super Bowl, but not the one in Texas. Lynch went over to Scotland for a Skittles promo and just like that, hilarity ensued. 



Lynch really needs his own primetime television show. 

Post date: Monday, January 30, 2017 - 10:17
Path: /college-football/10-toughest-players-replace-big-12-2017

After capping off their second consecutive Big 12 crown, the Oklahoma Sooners will have to fill some big holes to fill if they intend on capturing a third this fall.


Two of the 10 toughest players to replace in the Big 12 this year played for Bob Stoops last season, and there’s an argument to be made for a few more departed Sooners. (A Heisman Trophy finalist and the OU’s all-time leading rusher didn’t even make the list.)


Other names on the list for 2017 include a workhorse running back from the Lone Star State, the conference’s defensive player of the year and someone who played for Kansas.


Toughest Players to Replace in 2017: ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC


10 Toughest Players to Replace in the Big 12 in 2017


(In alphabetical order)


KD Cannon, WR, Baylor

The Bears’ electric wideout terrorized opposing defenses in 2016 with his ability to get loose on any given play. He made his last game in a BU uniform a memorable one, torching Boise State in the Cactus Bowl for 226 yards and two touchdowns on 14 catches. New Baylor head coach Matt Rhule’s meat-and-potatoes offensive approach doesn’t exactly maximize Cannon’s strengths, so it’s not a surprise to see him headed to the NFL after three years in Waco.


Josh Carraway, DL, TCU

Carraway’s speed and length as an edge rusher fit exceptionally well into TCU head coach Gary Patterson’s defense. In three seasons as a starter for the Horned Frogs, Carraway proved to be a consistently disruptive force on the outside of TCU’s anti-spread scheme. Patterson typically has a plan for the next man up, but replacing Carraway might not be typical.


Jordan Evans, LB, Oklahoma

Evans struggled with consistency through the first half of the year before turning into the clear MVP of the OU defense down the stretch. He not only led the Sooners in tackles, but he also forced a bevy of turnovers that were turned into points. However, Evans appears on this list as much for who wasn’t behind him as what he did on the field. Stoops’ squad is staggeringly thin at inside linebacker heading into the fall.


D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texas

Foreman led the country in rushing in 2016 with an average of 184.4 yards per game, almost 30 yards per game more than the next closest finisher. Of course, he did that on nearly 30 rushes per game, which also led the nation. New Texas head coach Tom Herman definitely could have used a consistent back like Foreman to help ease through his bridge year.


Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech

Texas Tech’s 2016 game plan: “Let’s see what Pat can do.” Kliff Kingsbury essentially put his entire team’s fortunes in the hands of Mahomes. The Red Raiders’ gifted QB couldn’t do it all often enough to get Tech bowl-eligible, but he thrilled audiences trying. Whoever takes snaps in Lubbock next year probably has the biggest shoes to fill of anyone in the entire Big 12.


Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

Samaje Perine left OU with the school’s all-time rushing record, but the loss of his backfield mate Mixon looms larger. Mixon’s infamy away from the field overshadowed the fact that by the end of last season, he might have been the best running back in the country. At the very least, none of his peers could match his all-around skill set, which OU coordinator Lincoln Riley leveraged as well as you could ask of an offensive tactician.


Tyler Orlosky, OL, West Virginia

An underrated offensive line played a big part in a 10-win season that came out of nowhere for the Mountaineers. At center, Orlosky, a first-team selection for the all-conference team, was the cornerstone of the unit.


Fish Smithson, DB, Kansas

Not much to celebrate on the gridiron in Lawrence for the last few years, but Smithson constitutes an exception. The Jayhawks’ gritty safety finished in the top 10 of the conference in tackles in 2015 and ‘16. He also picked off four passes last year, including one in KU’s stunning upset of Texas.


Vincent Taylor, DL, Oklahoma State

Taylor was a load (6-3, 310) in the middle of the Cowboys’ defense for the last two years, as his size alone made life tough on opponents. Interior offensive linemen won’t miss battling him every week. Taylor logged 13 tackles for a loss this past season.


Jordan Willis, DL, Kansas State

A Bill Snyder special. The three-star recruit out of Kansas City with a limited list of scholarship offers blossomed into the best defensive player in the Big 12 by his senior year. A tenacious edge rusher, Willis led the Big 12 in sacks last season with 11.5.


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

10 Toughest Players to Replace in the Big 12 in 2017
Post date: Monday, January 30, 2017 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Air Force Falcons, Akron Zips, Alabama Crimson Tide, Appalachian State Mountaineers, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats, Arkansas Razorbacks, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Army West Point Black Knights, Army Black Knights, Army West Point Black Knights, Auburn Tigers, Ball State Cardinals, Baylor Bears, Boise State Broncos, Boston College Eagles, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, BYU Cougars, California Golden Bears, Central Michigan Chippewas, Charlotte 49ers, Cincinnati Bearcats, Clemson Tigers, College Football, Colorado Buffaloes, Colorado State Rams, Connecticut Huskies, Duke Blue Devils, East Carolina Pirates, Eastern Michigan Eagles, FAU Owls, FIU Panthers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Fresno State Bulldogs, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Southern Eagles, Georgia State Panthers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, Hawaii Warriors, Houston Cougars, Idaho Vandals, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Kent State Golden Flashes, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Louisville Cardinals, LSU Tigers, Marshall Thundering Herd, Maryland Terrapins, Memphis Tigers, Miami Hurricanes, Miami Ohio RedHawks, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, MTSU Blue Raiders, Navy Midshipmen, Navy Midshipmen, NC State Wolfpack, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, New Mexico State Aggies, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Texas Mean Green, Northern Illinois Huskies, Northwestern Wildcats, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Old Dominion Monarchs, Ole Miss Rebels, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Pittsburgh Panthers, Purdue Boilermakers, Rice Owls, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, San Diego State Aztecs, San Jose State Spartans, SMU Mustangs, South Alabama Jaguars, South Carolina Gamecocks, South Florida Bulls, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Stanford Cardinal, Syracuse Orange, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Longhorns, Texas State Bobcats, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Toledo Rockets, Troy Trojans, Tulane Green Wave, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, UAB Blazers, UCF Knights, UCLA Bruins, UConn Huskies, UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, UL Monroe Warhawks, UMass Minutemen, UNLV Rebels, USC Trojans, Utah State Aggies, Utah Utes, UTEP Miners, UTSA Roadrunners, Vanderbilt Commodores, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, West Virginia Mountaineers, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Western Michigan Broncos, Wisconsin Badgers, Wyoming Cowboys, American Athletic, Big 12, Big Ten, Conference USA, Independents, MAC, Mountain West, Pac 12, SEC, Sun Belt, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-2017-recruiting-all-name-team

National Signing Day typically happens on the first Wednesday in February every year, but perhaps it should be moved to December 25 since it essentially represents Christmas for college football head coaches across the nation. All of the hard work and long hours put in by the coaching staffs will finally bear fruit as high school seniors and a handful of junior college prospects will make their intentions official with the signing of their Letters of Intent to the school of their choice.


Starting Feb. 1, more than 3,000 players will be joining the FBS ranks and to do so they will need to put their name on the dotted line. And speaking of names, it should come as no surprise that there are some interesting and entertaining ones associated with this incoming crop of college players. Fortunately for you, Athlon Sports has pored through’s extensive database to round up the best (and most interesting) names in the Class of 2017. Enjoy!


Note: Positions of players can vary from recruiting service. Players below are listed by position according to

2017 College Football Recruiting All-Name Team




Tua Tagovailoa (St. Louis School), Honolulu, Hawaii
Hendon Hooker (Dudley High School), Greensboro, North Carolina
Braxton Burmeister (La Jolla Country Day School), La Jolla, California
Rocky Lombardi (Valley High School), West Des Moines, Iowa
Reyondous Estes (East St. Louis Senior High School), East St. Louis, Illinois
Danny Vanden Boom (Kimberly High School), Kimberly, Wisconsin
Kingsley Ifedi (Zebulon B. Vance High School), Charlotte, North Carolina
Miklo Smalls (Plano East Sr. High School), Plano, Texas
Z'Khari Blocker (Pensacola Catholic High School), Pensacola, Florida
Seth Boomer (Collinsville High School), Collinsville, Oklahoma
Tyger Goslin (Moorpark High School), Moorpark, California
Clay Czyzynski (New Trier Township High School), Winnetka, Illinois
Legend Brumbaugh (Trinity Christian Academy), Jacksonville, Florida
Holden Hotchkiss (Lakeland Senior High School), Lakeland, Florida
Stone Smartt (Del Oro High School), Loomis, California
Cephus Johnson (W.P. Davidson High School), Mobile, Alabama


Running Back


Jamari Peacock (Yulee High School), Yulee, Florida

D’Andre Swift (St. Joseph’s Prep School) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Khalan Laborn (Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School), Virginia Beach, Virginia
Eno Benjamin (Wylie East High School), Wylie, Texas
Zaquandre White (North Fort Myers High School), North Fort Myers, Florida
Cyrus Habibi-Likio (St. Francis High School), Mountain View, California
Chuba Hubbard (Bev Facey Community High School), Alberta, Canada
Biaggio Ali-Walsh (Bishop Gorman High School), Las Vegas, Nevada
Tayon Fleet-Davis (Potomac High School), Oxon Hill, Maryland
Kesi Ah-Hoy (Kahuku High School), Kahuku, Hawaii
Journey Brown (Meadville High School), Meadville, Pennsylvania
Chris Chukwuneke (St. John Vianney Regional High School), Holmdel, New Jersey
Xazavian Valladay (Brother Rice High School), Chicago, Illinois
Ula Tolutau (East High School), Salt Lake City, Utah


Wide Receiver


Jhamon Ausbon (IMG Academy), Bradenton, Florida
Jerry Jeudy (Deerfield Beach High School), Deerfield Beach, Florida
Henry Ruggs (Lee High School), Montgomery, Alabama
CeeDee Lamb (Foster High School), Richmond, Texas
Osiris St. Brown (Mater Dei High School), Santa Ana, California
Charleston Rambo (Cedar Hill High School), Cedar Hill, Texas
OrTre Smith (Wando High School), Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
Laviska Shenault Jr. (DeSoto High School), DeSoto, Texas
Mac Hippenhammer (R. Nelson Snider High School), Fort Wayne, Indiana
Evidence Njoku (Wayne Hills High School), Wayne, New Jersey
Jayden Comma (Roswell High School), Roswell, Georgia
Caleb Stoneburner (Dublin Coffman High School), Dublin, Ohio
Emeka Emezie (Marvin Ridge High School), Waxhaw, North Carolina
Kymbotric Mason (Noxubee County High School), Macon, Mississippi
Whop Philyor (Plant Senior High School), Tampa, Florida
Pascal Mondombo (Byron Nelson High School), Trophy Club, Texas
Ja'Sir Taylor (Brick Township High School), Brick, New Jersey


Tight End


Jaeger Bull (Flour Bluff High School), Corpus Christi, Texas
Cole Kmet (St. Viator High School), Arlington Heights, Illinois
Jimmy Jaggers (Roseville High School), Roseville, California
Peyton Hendershot (Tri-West Hendricks High School), Lizton, Indiana
Latrell Bumphus (Hardin County High School), Savannah, Tennessee
Erik Krommenhoek (Monte Vista High School), Danville, California
Sire Woods (La Mirada High School), La Mirada, California
Griffin Hammer (St. Charles North High School), St. Charles, Illinois
Liam Soraghan (Divine Child High School), Dearborn, Michigan
Wix Patton (Landmark Christian School), Fairburn, Georgia
Tabyous Casterberry (Joliet West High School), Joliet, Illinois


Offensive Line


Walker Little (Episcopal High School), Bellaire, Texas
Alex Leatherwood (Booker T. Washington High School), Pensacola, Florida
Josh Lugg (North Allegheny High School), Wexford, Pennsylvania
Chuck Filiaga (Aledo High School), Aledo, Texas
Saahdiq Charles (Madison-Ridgeland Academy), Madison, Mississippi
Matt Bockhorst (St. Xavier High School), Cincinnati, Ohio
K'Rojhn Calbert (Warren County High School), McMinnville, Tennessee
Mustafa Khaleefah (Dearborn High School), Dearborn, Michigan
Onesimus Lutu-Clarke (Waianae High School), Waianae, Hawaii
Massaman Bagayoko (Bishop Alemany High School), Mission Hills, California
Creed Humphrey (Shawnee High School), Shawnee, Oklahoma
Poutasi Poutasi (Desert Pines High School), Las Vegas, Nevada
Broc Bando (IMG Academy), Bradenton, Florida
Zelan Tupuola (JSerra Catholic High School), San Juan Capistrano, California
Loic Nya (Springbrook High School), Silver Spring, Maryland
Ye'Majesty Sanders (Spencer High School), Columbus, Georgia
Jamezz Kimbrough (Homewood-Flossmoor High School), Flossmoor, Illinois
Nicolo DiFronzo (Oaks Christian High School), Westlake Village, California
Dontae Bull (Belmont Secondary), Victoria, British Columbia
Maxim Moore (Eagle High School), Eagle, Idaho


Defensive Line


Livingston Paogofie (Bowie High School), Arlington, Texas

Chase Young (DeMatha Catholic High School), Hyattsville, Maryland
Aubrey Solomon (Lee County High School), Leesburg, Georgia
Marlon Tuipulotu (Central High School), Independence, Oregon
Phidarian Mathis (Neville High School), Monroe, Louisiana
Luiji Vilain (Episcopal High School), Alexandria, Virginia
Lagaryonn Carson (Liberty-Eylau High School), Texarkana, Texas
Markaviest Bryant (Crisp County High School), Cordele, Georgia
Yetur Matos (Chancellor High School), Fredericksburg, Virginia
Popo Aumavae (St. Mary’s High School), Stockton, California
My-King Johnson (Tempe High School), Tempe, Arizona
Miki Suguturaga (Punahou School), Honolulu, Hawaii
Esezi Otomewo (Ben Davis High School), Indianapolis, Indiana
Stone Edwards (Orange Senior High School), Hillsborough, North Carolina
Rutger Reitmaier (David Lipscomb Campus School), Nashville, Tennessee
Sincere David (Sandalwood High School), Jacksonville, Florida
Octavious Pringle (Brookland Cayce High School), Cayce, South Carolina




Addison Gumbs (Stellar Preparatory High School), Hayward, California
Mohamed Sanogo (Plano West Senior High School), Plano, Texas
Sampson Niu (Madison Senior High School), San Diego, California
Maverick Wolfley (Morgantown High School), Morgantown, West Virginia
Ariel Ngata (Folsom High School), Folsom, California
Seyddrick Lakalaka (Punahou School), Honolulu, Hawaii
Feleti Afemui (Maui High School), Kahului, Hawaii
Faavae Faavae (Mater Dei High School), Santa Ana, California
Santino Marchiol (IMG Academy), Bradenton, Florida
Juliano Falaniko (Leone High School), Pago Pago, American Samoa
Olakunle Fatukasi (Grand Street High School), Brooklyn, New York
Zane Zandier (Thomas Jefferson High School), Clairton, Pennsylvania


Defensive Back


Chaz Ah You (Timpview High School), Provo, Utah
Devon Hunter (Indian River High School), Chesapeake, Virginia
Bubba Bolden (Bishop Gorman High School), Las Vegas, Nevada
Deommodore Lenoir (Bishop Marie Salesian High School), Los Angeles, California
Isaiah Pola-Mao (Mountain Pointe High School), Phoenix, Arizona
Cheyenne Labruzza (Albany High School), Albany, Louisiana
Hamsah Nasirildeen (Concord High School), Concord, North Carolina
Ameer Speed (Sandalwood High School), Jacksonville, Florida
Yusuf Corker (Woodland High School), Stockbridge, Georgia
Kendarian Handy-Holly (Jackson High School), Jackson, Alabama
Je'Quari Godfrey (Bishop O’Dowd High School), Oakland, California
WyDale Flott (Saraland High School), Saraland, Alabama
Imhotep Wilson (Crowley High School), Crowley, Texas
Somtochukwu Achebo (Granger High School), West Valley City, Utah
Phazione McClurge (Mount Carmel High School), Mount Carmel, Illinois




Chadarius Townsend (Tanner High School), Tanner, Alabama
Patrick Queen (Livonia High School), Livonia, Louisiana
Noah Igbinoghene (Hewitt-Trussville High School), Trussville, Alabama
DeeJay Dallas (Glynn Academy), Brunswick, Georgia
Lakendrick VanZandt (Henderson High School), Henderson, Texas
Dayo Odeyingbo (Ranchview High School), Irving, Texas
Kalil Pimpleton (Muskegon High School), Muskegon, Michigan
JaTarvious Whitlow (Lafayette high School), Lafayette, Alabama
Thabo Mwaniki (Guyer High School), Denton, Texas
Wyryor Noil (Madison High School), Portland, Oregon
Tupac Blanch (East Lake High School), Tarpon Springs, Florida
Hamze Elzayat (Fordson High School), Dearborn, Michigan


Special Teams


Diego Cacho-Sousa (Loyola High School), Los Angeles California (K)
Kirk Christodoulou (Balwyn), Melbourne, Australia (K)
Briggs Bourgeois (St. Amant High School), St. Amant, Louisiana (K)
Reeves Mundschau (Canyon High School), New Braunfels, Texas (P)
Noah Cannon (Rabun County High School), Tiger, Georgia (P)

College Football's 2017 Recruiting All-Name Team
Post date: Monday, January 30, 2017 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/25-key-big-ten-players-returning-injury-2017

Injuries are an unfortunate part of any college football season and usually take a toll on every FBS team by the end of the year. Several key players were hit by the injury bug in 2016, including a handful of big names from the Big Ten. Wisconsin linebacker Jack Cichy, Indiana receiver Simmie Cobbs, Michigan offensive lineman Grant Newsome and Illinois wide receiver Mike Dudek are just a few of the top players returning from injury into Big Ten action this fall. 


Additionally, Michigan State cornerback Vayante Copeland, Iowa receiver Matt VandeBerg, Wisconsin linebacker Chris Orr and Rutgers receiver Janarion Grant are just a few of the other key players slated to return to action in 2017.


25 Key Big Ten Players Returning From Injury in 2017


Dante Booker, LB, Ohio State

Booker opened the year as Ohio State’s starter at weakside linebacker, but his 2016 season was derailed due to a knee injury. After recording two tackles in the opener, Booker did not record a stat the rest of the season and was credited with just two game appearances by Ohio State. He should return as a key contributor for the linebacker unit in 2017.


Related: Very Early College Football Top 25 for 2017


Jack Cichy/Chris Orr, LB, Wisconsin

With T.J. Watt off to the NFL and Vince Biegel out of eligibility, Wisconsin needs a few reinforcements at linebacker. The good news for the Badgers? Two standouts are back from injury. Cichy recorded eight tackles for a loss and five sacks in 2015 but was limited to seven games due to injury in 2016. Orr was lost for the year in the opener against LSU and should build off a promising freshman campaign (46 tackles in 2015).


Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana

Cobbs ranked as one of the Big Ten’s top receivers in 2015, catching 60 passes for 1,035 yards and three touchdowns. However, Cobbs wasn’t able to make an impact in 2016 after an ankle injury suffered in Week 2 against Ball State. His return is critical with Indiana losing two out of its top three receivers from 2016.


Vayante Copeland, CB, Michigan State

Copeland started in five of Michigan State’s first seven games and recorded 36 tackles and two passes. However, Copeland’s season was cut short by a foot injury in late October. He returns as a key cog in Michigan State’s secondary in 2017.


Chayce Crouch, QB, Illinois

The Fighting Illini offense was forced to start three different quarterbacks due to injury in 2016. Crouch replaced Wes Lunt after an injury and completed 18 of 32 passes for 249 yards and one score and added 176 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in four appearances. However, Crouch suffered a season-ending injury in mid-October. He will compete with junior college transfer Dwayne Lawson and Jeff George Jr. for the starting job this spring.


Related: College Football's Top 15 Teams on the Rise for 2017


Mike Dudek, WR, Illinois

Dudek emerged as one of the Big Ten’s top receivers in 2014 but missed the last two seasons due to knee injuries. In 13 games as a true freshman in 2014, Dudek caught 76 passes for 1,038 yards and six touchdowns. His return to the lineup would provide a much-needed boost to the supporting cast for Illinois’ offense in 2017.


Dennis Finley, OL, Michigan State

Finley emerged as a starting lineman for Michigan State in 2015 but a serious leg injury sidelined him in early October. While the Detroit native couldn’t return to the starting lineup in 2016, he did manage to play in one game (Rutgers) in late November. If Finley is back at full strength, that’s a boost to a Michigan State offensive line that allowed 22 sacks in Big Ten games in 2016.


Rafael Gaglianone, K, Wisconsin

Gaglianone has emerged as one of the Big Ten’s top kickers over the last three years and should push for all-conference honors in 2017. Despite connecting on seven of his first eight attempts, Gaglianone was sidelined after Week 3 due to an injury. He’s connected on 44 of 57 attempts in his career.


Janarion Grant, WR, Rutgers

Rutgers averaged only 138.3 passing yards per game last season, but there’s hope for improvement in 2017 under new coordinator Jerry Kill. The offense also regains the services of its best receiver. Grant caught 20 passes for 210 yards through the first four games of 2016 but was sidelined the rest of the season due to injury.


Related: Grading College Football's First-Year Coaches from 2016


J-Shun Harris II, WR, Indiana

Harris was an impact player for Indiana’s offense in 2014, catching 18 passes for 168 yards and two scores as a true freshman. However, Harris has missed the last two years due to knee injuries.


Justin Hilliard, LB, Ohio State

Hilliard ranked as one of the nation’s top linebacker recruits in the 2015 signing class and took a redshirt year in his first season on campus. The Cincinnati native worked his way into a backup role in 2016 and accumulated four stops through the first three games. After missing the rest of 2016 due to injury Hilliard should compete for snaps in a reserve role once again.


Taivon Jacobs, WR, Maryland

Jacobs ranked third on the team in 2015 with 21 catches for 264 yards and two touchdowns. The Maryland native missed 2016 due to injury but is slated to return to the lineup in 2017.


Related: Grading College Football's First-Year Coaches from 2016


Drake Johnson, RB, Michigan

Michigan’s crowded backfield could have another name to watch if Johnson returns for 2017. After finishing second on the team with 271 yards and four scores in 2015, Johnson missed 2016 due to a hamstring injury.


Brandon Knight, OL, Indiana

Indiana’s offensive line has a few huge voids to fill this offseason. Not only is this unit losing standout guard Dan Feeney, but the coach for this group (Greg Frey) is headed to Michigan. Knight played in eight games (with six starts) but missed the rest of the year due to an injury.


D.J. Knox, RB, Purdue

The Boilermakers have a solid No. 1 option at running back (Markell Jones), but depth is an issue here. Knox rushed for 409 yards and two touchdowns in 10 appearances in 2015 and missed all of 2016 due to a knee injury suffered in the spring. Assuming he’s 100 percent healthy, Knox will return as a key reserve for new coach Jeff Brohm.


Brandon Lingen, TE, Minnesota

Lingen’s return is a huge boost for new coach P.J. Fleck. The Minnesota native was one of the Big Ten’s top tight ends in 2015, catching 33 passes for 428 yards and three scores. However, Lingen was lost after three games in 2016 due to an injury.


Related: College Football's Early Top 50 Players Returning in 2017


Brendan Mahon, OL, Penn State

Mahon entered 2016 with 20 career starts under his belt and opened the season as the starting left tackle. He eventually flipped to the right side before suffering a season-ending injury against Iowa in early November.


Andrew Nelson, OL, Penn State

The overall depth and talent for Penn State’s offensive line has improved significantly over the last two years. This unit should be a strength in 2017 with only one starter (Brian Gaia) departing. Nelson started all 13 games in 2014 but has missed time in each of the last two seasons due to injury. After suffering a season-ending injury against Maryland in early October, Nelson is slated to return in 2017 and likely claim a starting job at one of the tackle spots.


Grant Newsome, OL, Michigan

Newsome started the first five games of the season at left tackle before suffering a significant knee injury against Wisconsin. The Virginia native is working to return in 2017.


Cody Poock, LB, Minnesota

Minnesota’s linebacker corps is slated to lose Jack Lynn (77 tackles), but this unit will get a boost with the return of Poock. The Iowa native ranked as the team’s No. 2 tackler in 2015 (99 stops) and recorded 24 stops in seven appearances in 2016. Poock was ruled out for the season in November due to a shoulder injury.


Jon Reschke, LB, Michigan State

After recording 75 tackles (5.5 for a loss) in 2015, Reschke was poised to emerge as one of the leaders for a Michigan State defense that returned only five starters. However, Reschke played in only two games due to injury and was sidelined for the rest of 2016 after recording 13 combined tackles against Notre Dame and Wisconsin.


Tracy Sprinkle, DL, Ohio State

Ohio State’s defensive line should be one of the best in the nation in 2017, and this unit will receive a little extra reinforcement with Sprinkle’s return. The sophomore was penciled in as the starter for the opener against Bowling Green but suffered a knee injury and was sidelined for the rest of the year.


Related: Very Early Big Ten Predictions for 2016


Matt VandeBerg, WR, Iowa

VandeBerg was Iowa’s leading receiver (65 catches) in 2015 and caught 19 passes through the first four games of 2016. However, a foot injury forced VandeBerg to miss the rest of the year. He will return as Iowa’s No. 1 target for 2017.


Keith Watkins, CB, Northwestern

Watkins was slated to take over as a full-time starter after earning two starts in 2015. However, the Ohio native was lost for the year after a preseason knee injury. His return will bolster a cornerback spot that also returns Montre Hartage (9 PBU) and Trae Williams (7 PBU).

25 Key Big Ten Players Returning From Injury in 2017
Post date: Monday, January 30, 2017 - 09:00
Path: /montana

Joe Montana was always “Joe Cool” on Super Bowl Sunday, winning four Super Bowl titles (XVI, XIX, XXIII and XXIV) and three Super Bowl MVPs with the San Francisco 49ers. With an unblemished 4–0 record and a perfect 11 TDs to zero INTs in the Big Game, Montana established himself as the standard by which all other QBs are measured when the Vince Lombardi Trophy is on the line.


These days, the 60-year-old Hall of Famer is a champion for “Breakaway from Heart Disease”, teaming up with AMGEN, the American Heart Association and Schwinn Bicycles to bring awareness to heart disease and promote heart health. We caught up with “The Comeback Kid” to talk heart health, Tom Brady, John Candy and Super Bowl traffic.


What is your favorite Super Bowl memory?

There are a lot of great memories through the years. But probably throwing a touchdown pass to John Taylor to win Super Bowl XXIII.


That’s the game-winning drive that started with you saying, “Isn’t that John Candy?” in the huddle, right?

I was telling one of our offensive tackles (Harris Barton) about it more than the team, because he was a people person. Every night the week of the Super Bowl, we were free for dinner and he’d come back and couldn’t wait to tell you — like a little kid — how excited he was about what celebrity (he saw). We were standing out there for a TV timeout for so long and I didn’t remember Harris talking about John Candy. He just happened to be standing on the sidelines and I saw him between two shoulder pads, and I thought he would appreciate it.



How did you stay so cool in pressure situations?

I just enjoyed competition. I don’t like to lose. And I was never afraid. I always wanted to have the ball in my hand. Growing up, I’d much rather be a part of it. Win or fail on me. I think you either like it or not. You like the pressure situations. Some people, doesn’t really bother them. (Tom) Brady is one of them. 


Where do you think Tom Brady ranks all-time?

He might be the best one going. He’s played a long time. He’s in a little bit of a different era. It’s really hard to compare, when you look at the guys today. Not only from when I played, but if you go back and look at guys like Otto Graham and Sammy Baugh. They were so far ahead of their time. Had they been playing today, where you won’t take anywhere near as many hits, you can stay healthier, the rules are about throwing the ball instead of running it… Makes a big difference, so it’s really hard to pin who’s the top guy.


Brady admired you. What Super Bowl quarterback did you admire growing up?

Probably (Joe) Namath. Namath grew up in Beaver Falls, which is 20-30 miles from where I grew up (in Monongahela, Pennsylvania). He and (Terry) Bradshaw, because Terry went through a lot of tough times and then bounced back to win four Super Bowls.


Quarterback competition was a big part of your career. What are your thoughts on the Dak Prescott and Tony Romo situation in Dallas?

It’s a tough one because if Tony was younger, I would say it would be a competition. But Dak’s played pretty well, and it’s hard when you’re playing that well to go back. Even though Tony’s had great success, you don’t want to take the momentum from the team. The competition is always there, and I think Tony realizes that. Each situation is different in how it comes up.


Did you have a pregame routine before the Super Bowl?

I never took a lot of time to get dressed, so I was always getting on the last bus. And unfortunately for us going to the first Super Bowl (XVI), the Vice President (George H.W. Bush) was coming to the game and they stopped traffic everywhere. We were about a mile from the stadium. And once we got there, we had like 10 minutes to totally get dressed, taped, and out on the field for warmups. After that, as soon as I woke up on Super Bowl morning I’d head straight to the stadium. Even if it’s 6:30 in the morning and we didn’t play till 7:30 that night, I would get there as soon as I could.


Talk about Breakaway from Heart Disease…

(My wife) Jennifer and I are trying to bring awareness to heart disease. This is a great campaign that’s being put on, with AMGEN, the American Heart Association and Schwinn (Bicycles). It’s an awareness campaign. We’re trying to get people to understand the danger of heart disease. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol soon after I retired. It was tough to get my arms around at first because I thought this was a disease for a lot older people than I was at the time. I never thought I’d have high blood pressure or be at risk for heart disease.


What lifestyle changes have you made since then?

I think the one thing we all do in this country is we eat way too much food. The easiest way for me was to start cutting back portion sizes and slowing down my eating. My younger son and I, as soon as the food’s down, it’s gone! It’s almost like a race. It’s one of those things that you find if you slow down, you don’t need as much food. You give your stomach time to tell your brain that you’re full. Getting the saltshaker away from me has been the hardest part.

Joe Montana was always Joe Cool on Super Bowl Sunday
Post date: Saturday, January 28, 2017 - 14:54
All taxonomy terms: Life
Path: /life/pick-6-our-favorite-things-januaryfebruary-2017

In each issue of Athlon Sports & Life, we pick six of our favorite things. They may be books, automobiles, games, gear, booze, apparel or whatever happens to be awesome. Here's what made our shortlist this month: 


Withings Body Cardio

We were first introduced to Withings via their stylish, fitness-tracking “smart” watches. The brand’s latest offering brings a similar style and ingenuity to this high-tech bathroom scale that measures just about everything—weight, heart rate, body fat, water percentage, muscle mass, and bone mass. The slender scale syncs wirelessly via mobile app that allows you to track your day-to-day progress, and serves up advice to help you reach predetermined goals. Bonus: the scale can also display the day’s local forecast. Seriously., $180


Compete Energy Bites

In recent years there’s been an onslaught of caffeine-infused energy drinks and bars to hit the market. We’ve tried our share, looking for that perfect blend of great taste and pick-me-up that works as a either pre-workout boost or a late-afternoon desk-jockey rejuvenator. Our search is finally over. Each “bite” (there are two per package) has the caffeine kick of 12 ounces of coffee, and the "energy" comes on slow and steady, leaving you invigorated but never shaky. The best part is the taste. Both the chocolate and mocha flavors are delicious. Not just delicious for an energy bar, but delicious for any type of bar. Consider us impressed., $24 (12 pack)


Bushnell NEO iON Golf GPS Watch

We love technology, especially when it’s easy to use and helps improve our golf game. Bushnell incorporates GPS technology to take the guessing game out determining distance from your ball to the center, front and back of the green. Which, in turn, helps you choose an ideal club for the distance. (Sorry, it won’t help your actual swing.) The watch comes pre-loaded with more than 35,000 courses, which means you don’t have to download anything or pay a monthly fee. Simply walk out on the course and, based on your location, the watch will offer up selections. Choose your course, and boom, you’re all set. It also has auto-hole advance so it automatically resets between each hole. Charging is easy and should last three full rounds between boosts. The rubbery, flexible band feels comfortable during your swing, and we also like the added built-in pedometer which tracks your steps for the day. For the price, you won't find a better option., $199


2017 Dodge Challenger GT AWD

Although this unique Challenger may be getting overshadowed by its forthcoming, firebreathing cousin the “Demon,” it’s still worthy of our praise, considering it’s the first two-door American muscle car with all-wheel drive. The added all-wheel traction is ideal for those who don’t want to give up their toys during a nasty winter. A 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine is standard, delivering 305 horsepower at 6,350 rpm and a responsive 268 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,800 rpm. Unfortunately, a V-8 option isn’t available. Of course, do you really need more than 305 horses when there’s snow and ice on the ground? That’s debatable, but we love where Dodge’s head is at and look forward to seeing what they’ve got up their sleeve next., starting at $33,395


Skulpt Scanner

For those who are meticulous about their workouts and tracking their progress, we’ve got the perfect gadget for you. This iPhone-sized device allows you to measure muscle quality and fat percentage on very specific parts of your body: 24 different spots, to be exact. The idea is simple, if you can target and monitor your weaknesses and imbalances, you can improve those areas and your overall health and performance. The scanner is simple to use. Download the free app, which shows you how to use the scanner and specifically where to place it to get an accurate reading. It also comes with a small spray bottle to fill with water (water helps the scanner’s connection against your skin), and a charging port., $99


Olympia Provisions Summer Sausage Football

What better way to celebrate the Super Bowl than with some tasty meat shaped like a football. Each ball is a full pound of garlic and mustard-spiked summer sausage that tastes fantastic. We sampled it (OK, we ate the whole thing) during a recent NFL playoff game with mustard, cheese, crackers and, of course, lots of cold beer. The result? Smiles all around., $10



Post date: Friday, January 27, 2017 - 16:06
All taxonomy terms: Clint Bowyer, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/clint-bowyer-2017-nascar-season-driver-preview

If frustration breeds hunger, then the field had better watch out for Clint Bowyer this year.

That’s because 2016 was an exercise in frustration for Bowyer, who was racing for underfunded HScott Motorsports while he waited for his seat at Stewart-Haas Racing to open after Tony Stewart’s retirement. After his Michael Waltrip Racing team closed its doors, that meant a year with HScott in the interim.

While running in the 20s every week for a 27th-place points finish isn’t an easy pill for an elite driver to swallow, Bowyer has a lot to be proud of: He owns three quarters of the team’s top-10 finishes in its three-plus-year existence, its best-ever points finish and average finish, and best-ever number of lead-lap finishes — all with the fewest DNFs in the team’s brief history. Bowyer answered the question of how an elite driver would perform in sub-par equipment — the numbers weren’t very pretty by his standards, but he elevated the team a notch.

Moving into the No. 14 at SHR won’t be a seamless transition either. Bowyer is replacing Stewart, a three-time champion, in the seat, but the team has struggled over the last couple of years to find the consistency that teammates Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick experienced. 

Waltrip’s team struggled in its last seasons to recover from a 2013 cheating scandal in which Bowyer was implicated, and that leaves Bowyer labeled to an extent as damaged goods. He’ll need to call on the qualities that have brought him five top-10 points finishes in 11 full seasons in NASCAR’s Premier Series, including a runner-up finish in 2012.

Another obstacle: The team’s switch to Ford for 2017. While the manufacturer’s top-notch support and the elite power from Roush Yates engines are as good as anyone else in the business, there will be growing pains — time spent on preparing cars in the offseason in years past will be time spent building them this year. There will be new engineers and engine tuners in the mix, as well. Ford brings a lot to the team in terms of support, especially with a state-of-the-art research and development facility not far from SHR headquarters. 

2017 NASCAR Preview MagazineAthlon Sports’ 2017 Racing magazine delivers full NASCAR driver profiles, schedules, track information, fantasy insight, as well as complete 2017 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

Bowyer has been teammates with Kevin Harvick in the past during his stint with Richard Childress Racing, but he’ll have two new — and volatile — teammates as well in 2017 in Busch and Danica Patrick. He’ll also have a new crew chief to work with in Mike Bugarewicz, who’s still relatively inexperienced. Even the best teams need time to develop chemistry.

Bowyer also lost longtime sponsor 5-hour Energy to youngster Erik Jones, and backing is a bit of a question mark. Mobil 1 will sponsor a few races, and Haas Automation will undoubtedly pick some up, but other sponsorship was an unknown as the new year approached. Backing is a major key to a four-car organization’s overall success.

Despite all the challenges, though, Bowyer should be a good fit with SHR. He’s got an outgoing personality, and he can wheel a car. In 2016, he was an elite driver in an underfunded car who in the end wasn’t able to overcome his equipment.  There will be no such worries this year. It may take a year for him to settle in and make the Chase — don’t be surprised if he misses this year — but this time it’s more a question of how long it will take to get back in top form and not whether he has what it takes.

Post date: Friday, January 27, 2017 - 12:45
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/ranking-running-back-recruiting-classes-2002-2017

The resurgence of running backs in recent years shows no letting up in college football. Even in a game designed to run through the quarterback with more and more ease, running backs continue to be an essential ingredient of a successful offense. Fortunately, college football has never really been without a healthy dose of talented running backs.


Some years have been leaner than others, but the last few years have shown some tremendous results from the young stable of running backs throughout the country. But where do recent classes that have included the likes of Derrick Henry and Ezekiel Elliott stack up against classes with the star power like Reggie Bush, Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy?


Here is a look at how the running back recruiting classes have stacked up against each other since 2002.


1. Class of 2003


Best of the Class: Reggie Bush, Maurice Jones-Drew, LenDale White


Best of the Rest: Austin Scott, Laurence Maroney, Tashard Choice, Alex Woodley, Michael Turner


Since the turn of the century we have not had too many recruiting classes bring with it a Heisman Trophy-winning running back, but 2003's group had one of the best in Reggie Bush. The dynamic running back was one half of a strong running duo during USC’s national title run. LenDale White joined him as two of the top 10 backs in the class. UCLA’s Maurice Jones-Drew proved to be a solid running back as well, especially in the NFL. Between two first-round and two more second-round NFL Draft picks, and a Heisman winner, not to mention a handful of others who would go on to play in the pros – Laurence Maroney, Tashard Choice, Michael Turner – 2003 was a very good year for running backs.


2. Class of 2006


Best of the Class: LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray, C.J. Spiller, Toby Gerhart


Best of the Rest: Beanie Wells, Knowshon Moreno, Ben Tate


As good as the Class of 2003 was, 2006’s group was not very far behind. Two of the top NFL running backs today came from this class with Pitt’s LeSean McCoy and Oklahoma’s DeMarco Murray. Clemson’s C.J. Spiller added some sizzle to the class as well before moving on to the NFL, and Stanford’s Toby Gerhart was one of the key players under Jim Harbaugh that helped transform the Cardinal program into what it is today. Throw in Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno and Ohio State’s Beanie Wells and you have the makings of a solid and deep running back recruiting class.


3. Class of 2004


Best of the Class: Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster


Best of the Rest: Mike Hart, Ian Johnson, Justin Forsett


The cream of the crop in the Class of 2004 was pretty darn good. A unanimous All-American in Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson, who has gone to become a seven-time Pro Bowler and NFL MVP. Cal’s Marshawn Lynch would earn Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year and a pair of bowl game MVP honors before going on to be a Super Bowl champion and five-time Pro Bowler. Tennessee’s Arian Foster led the league in rushing touchdowns twice before retiring this past season. Mike Hart set a Michigan freshman rushing record and ended his career as the school’s all-time ground gainer. Ian Johnson was an instrumental piece of Boise State’s rise to fame, helping the Broncos stun Peterson and the Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl.


4. Class of 2014


Best of the Class: Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, D’Onta Foreman


Best of the Rest: Samaje Perine, Nick Chubb, Royce Freeman, Joe Mixon, Sony Michel, Elijah Hood, Duke Catalon, Kamryn Pettway, Devine Redding


Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey was a Heisman finalist in 2015 and LSU’s Leonard Fournette was the clear and dominant front-runner for two-thirds of the same season before some late stumbles. Both are leaving for the NFL a year early, which is a shame for college football fans, although each got banged up in 2016. Not to be overlooked is Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, who was on equal footing with both Fournette and McCaffrey, if not above them. This is a deep running back class too with Oklahoma’s duo of Samaje Perine (FBS single-game rushing record holder) and Joe Mixon. Georgia has a one-two punch as well with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and do not make the mistake of forgetting about Oregon’s Royce Freeman. Much of the class is already turning pro, leaving big shoes to fill.


5. Class of 2002


Best of the Class: Maurice Clarett, DeAngelo Williams, Jerious Norwood


Best of the Rest: DeShawn Wynn, Ciatrick Fason


College football’s Class of 2002 may not have quite the level of achievement as some other classes, but it does carry one of the ultimate “what if” players in Ohio State’s Maurice Clarett. Clarett was arguably the most impressive freshman running back the game had seen since Herschel Walker and was a key player on Ohio State’s BCS title run against Miami. He set the Ohio State freshman rushing record but unfortunately saw his college career come to an end amid controversy. But this class had some strong positives as well, like first-round NFL Draft pick DeAngelo Williams of Memphis and third-round pick Jerious Norwood out of Mississippi State.


6. Class of 2012


Best of the Class: Todd Gurley, Duke Johnson, Ameer Abdullah, Mike Davis, Kenyan Drake


Best of the Rest: Tevin Coleman, Keith Marshall, Mario Pender, KeiVarae Russell, Dennis Norfleet,


How good was the Class of 2012? Georgia’s Todd Gurley, despite a serious knee injury, ended up being a top-10 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. The class also turned out Duke Johnson from Miami, who earned All-ACC honors all three years he was on the field and was named the ACC’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012. Indiana’s Tevin Coleman also earned unanimous All-American status in 2014. Both Johnson and Coleman would go in the third round of the 2015 draft. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah also was in this bunch, and he was a second-round draft pick that quickly had an impact in the NFL with his all-purpose abilities. Mike Davis was a standout at South Carolina, carrying the torch from Marcus Lattimore and Kenyan Drake had some key contributions for Alabama.


7. Class of 2005


Best of the Class: Darren McFadden, Ray Rice, Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Stewart


Best of the Rest: Jamaal Charles, Mike Davis, Marlon Lucky, Antone Smith, LaMarcus Coker, Toney Baker


Moving down the list we come to the Class of 2005, which may not have been ripe with all-time talent but certainly had some impactful players. Perhaps no player had as huge an impact on his college program as Ray Rice at Rutgers. Rice finished his freshman season as a 1,000-yard rusher in the first winning season at Rutgers in 25 years and he would later be a valid candidate for the Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award. Rice would go on to be a second-round draft pick, but this class also had three first-round selections by NFL franchises – Darren McFadden of Arkansas, Jonathan Stewart of Oregon and Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois. Longhorns running back Jamaal Charles was a third-round draft pick, but he has since become a four-time Pro Bowler for Kansas City.


8. Class of 2009


Best of the Class: Montee Ball, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy


Best of the Rest: Bryce Brown, Carlos Hyde, Knile Davis, Stepfan Taylor, Dri Archer, Dion Lewis


Wisconsin’s Montee Ball ended his collegiate career as the FBS’ all-time leader in rushing touchdowns and most career total touchdowns (marks since broken by Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds). For one week, Ball also held the single-game rushing record (now held broken by Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine). Ball was a Heisman Trophy finalist and won the Doak Walker Award in 2012. That same class also turned in another Doak Walker Award winner with Alabama’s Trent Richardson, who made for quite a running combo with Eddie Lacy. Richardson and Lacy helped keep Alabama’s offensive foundation in strong hands and would combine for five BCS championship victories between them. This class also cooked up Knile Davis, Stepfan Taylor, Carlos Hyde and Dri Archer, each of who were huge players for their respective programs.


9. Class of 2008


Best of the Class: Mark Ingram, LaMichael James


Best of the Rest: Kenjon Barner, Andre Ellington, Tauren Poole, Cyrus Gray, Jonas Gray, Chris Polk, Jacquizz Rodgers


The Class of 2008 may not be particularly deep with star players, but the top two help carry the load. That includes Alabama’s first Heisman Trophy winner, Mark Ingram and Oregon’s LaMichael James. Ingram was a rock for Nick Saban and Alabama en route to a BCS championship in 2010, in which the bruising back won title game MVP honors. Ingram would later be the only running back chosen in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. LaMichael James, who actually beat out Ingram for the Doak Walker Award in 2010 and was a finalist for the Heisman that same year, would end up as a second-round draft pick a year later. The next-level guys in the class have had some NFL success as well, including Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers.


10. Class of 2013


Best of the Class: Derrick Henry, Ezekiel Elliott, Alex Collins


Best of the Rest: Wayne Gallman, Derrick Green, Kelvin Taylor, Corey Clement


The Class of 2013 cracks the top 10 this season after witnessing what Ezekiel Elliott did in his rookie season in the NFL. That was enough to help boost this overall batch of running backs up one spot, especially when it includes three key contributors on College Football Playoff championship teams and a Heisman Trophy winner, Derrick Henry of Alabama. You may be hard-pressed to find two more running backs in the same class with that kind of success in a short period of time, and that helps carry what is an otherwise lacking running back class.


11. Class of 2011


Best of the Class: Melvin Gordon, Ka’Deem Carey, Tre Mason, Bishop Sankey, Devonta Freeman


Best of the Rest: De’Anthony Thomas, Isaiah Crowell, Kenny Hilliard, Javorius Allen, Akeem Hunt, Mike Bellamy, Jordan Canzeri


The Class of 2011 was a solid group of running backs, but also one without much fanfare outside of Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, a unanimous All-American, Doak Walker Award winner and Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2014. Washington’s Bishop Sankey was a first-round draft pick in 2014 but played his college years in relative obscurity out west despite setting school rushing records previously held by Corey Dillon. Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, a fourth-round pick in 2014, was more heralded, earning consensus All-American honors in 2012 and ‘13. Auburn’s Tre Mason helped the Tigers win an SEC title and play for a national title, and LSU’s Kenny Hilliard also won an SEC title. Devonta Freeman won a national title at Florida State and decided to turn pro after posting 1,016 rushing yards.


12. Class of 2015


Best of the Class: Saquon Barkley, Derrius Guice, Mike Weber, Damien Harris


Best of the Rest: LJ Scott, Ronald Jones II, Soso Jamabo, Myles Gaskin


This group is taking some big steps forward and could start to work its way up these rankings the next time this list is updated. LSU’s Derrius Guice took over the bulk of LSU's running game from Leonard Fournette in 2016 due to injury, and ended the year as the SEC’s No. 2 rusher. Penn State’s Saquon Barkley was a key player in a revitalized offense and continues to impress, especially in this year's Rose Bowl Game. And Alabama’s Damien Harris rushed for 1,000 yards in a split role. Keep a real close eye on this class of running backs during the 2017 season.


13. Class of 2007


Best of the Class: Joe McKnight, Noel Devine, Jonathan Dwyer


Best of the Rest: Shane Vereen, Fozzy Whittaker, Omar Bolden


The Class of 2007 was a relative down year for running backs, at least in the long-term view. Joe McKnight was a highly rated recruit for USC but never achieved more than third-team All-Pac-10 and honorable mention status. Noel Devine was a record-setting player at West Virginia and helped make a push for a national title shot in Morgantown and would later went undrafted. The most successful back out of this class might be Cal’s Shane Vereen. Vereen flew under the radar for much of his college career with just one season of more than 1,100 yards on the ground, but he would go on to be a second-round draft pick of the Patriots in 2011 and is still active today.


14. Class of 2010


Best of the Class: Marcus Lattimore, Giovani Bernard


Best of the Rest: Silas Redd, Michael Dyer, Lache Seastrunk, Zach Zwinak


The Class of 2010 looked like a solid crop of running backs at the time, but unfortunately, some of the hype could not be matched for one reason or another. South Carolina landed the top running back with Marcus Lattimore, who was fantastic when healthy. Injuries would become a troubling trend for Lattimore though, both in college and prevented him from ever playing an NFL game. Up across the northern border, Giovani Bernard was busy racking up yards for North Carolina as well after battling back from his own injury woes early on. Bernard would go on to be an early second-round draft pick and the first running back off the board in 2013. The Class of 2010 also included Silas Redd, who split playing time between Penn State and USC. Michael Dyer helped Auburn win a national title before quickly going on another path that eventually led to Louisville. Lache Seastrunk predicted he would the Heisman Trophy, but needless to say that never happened.


15. Class of 2016


Best of the Class: Trayveon Williams, Miles Sanders, Tavien Feaster, Devwah Whaley


Best of the Rest: B.J. Emmons, Demario McCall, Devin White, Kareem Walker, Elijah Hollyfield, Damian Alloway


There is much unknown about a number of the top names from the running back class from a year ago, but the early returns on some are promising. Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams rushed for 1,057 yards and eight touchdowns in his first season with the Aggies, and he started in three games. Devwah Whaley also got involved early with Arkansas and rushed for 602 yards and three touchdowns. Some of the top name sin this class have yet to be utilized to their full potential, although Miles Sanders has gotten involved on special teams at Penn State (Saquon Barkley leads the way there, of course), and Clemson’s Tavien Feaster will hope to see more of a role for him in 2017 for the defending national champions.


— 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 contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook

Ranking the Running Back Recruiting Classes Since 2002
Post date: Friday, January 27, 2017 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: super bowl, NFL
Path: /nfl/super-bowl-mvps-complete-list

In the Super Bowl’s 50-year history, 44 different players have been named MVP. Not surprisingly, quarterback has been the most awarded position (27). Tom Brady, Joe Montana (thee each), Terry Bradshaw, Eli Manning and Bart Starr are responsible for 12 of those as the only multiple winners of the honor. Brady will have a chance to break his tie with Montana when New England faces Atlanta in Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5, 2017.


Here is a complete list of Super Bowl MVPs, from I to 50:


Super Bowl I — QB Bart Starr, Green Bay
Super Bowl II — QB Bart Starr, Green Bay
Super Bowl III — QB Joe Namath, N.Y. Jets
Super Bowl IV — QB Len Dawson, Kansas City
Super Bowl V — LB Chuck Howley, Dallas
Super Bowl VI — QB Roger Staubach, Dallas
Super Bowl VII — S Jake Scott, Miami
Super Bowl VIII — RB Larry Csonka, Miami
Super Bowl IX — RB Franco Harris, Pittsburgh
Super Bowl X — WR Lynn Swann, Pittsburgh
Super Bowl XI — WR Fred Biletnikoff, Oakland
Super Bowl XII — DT Randy White and DE Harvey Martin, Dallas
Super Bowl XIII — QB Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh
Super Bowl XIV — QB Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh
Super Bowl XV — QB Jim Plunkett, Oakland
Super Bowl XVI — QB Joe Montana, San Francisco
Super Bowl XVII — RB John Riggins, Washington
Super Bowl XVIII — RB Marcus Allen, L.A. Raiders
Super Bowl XIX — QB Joe Montana, San Francisco
Super Bowl XX — DE Richard Dent, Chicago
Super Bowl XXI — QB Phil Simms, N.Y. Giants
Super Bowl XXII — QB Doug Williams, Washington
Super Bowl XXIII — WR Jerry Rice, San Francisco
Super Bowl XXIV — QB Joe Montana, San Francisco
Super Bowl XXV — RB Ottis Anderson, N.Y. Giants
Super Bowl XXVI — QB Mark Rypien, Washington
Super Bowl XXVII — QB Troy Aikman, Dallas
Super Bowl XXVIII — RB Emmitt Smith, Dallas
Super Bowl XXIX — QB Steve Young, San Francisco
Super Bowl XXX — CB Larry Brown, Dallas
Super Bowl XXXI — KR-PR Desmond Howard, Green Bay
Super Bowl XXXII — RB Terrell Davis, Denver
Super Bowl XXXIII — QB John Elway, Denver
Super Bowl XXXIV — QB Kurt Warner, St. Louis
Super Bowl XXXV — LB Ray Lewis, Baltimore
Super Bowl XXXVI — QB Tom Brady, New England
Super Bowl XXXVII — S Dexter Jackson, Tampa Bay
Super Bowl XXXVIII — QB Tom Brady, New England
Super Bowl XXXIX — WR Deion Branch, New England
Super Bowl XL — WR Hines Ward, Pittsburgh
Super Bowl XLI — QB Peyton Manning, Indianapolis
Super Bowl XLII — QB Eli Manning, N.Y. Giants
Super Bowl XLIII — WR Santonio Holmes, Pittsburgh
Super Bowl XLIV — QB Drew Brees, New Orleans
Super Bowl XLV — QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
Super Bowl XLVI — QB Eli Manning, N.Y. Giants
Super Bowl XLVII — QB Joe Flacco, Baltimore
Super Bowl XLVIII — LB Malcolm Smith, Seattle
Super Bowl XLIX — QB Tom Brady, New England
Super Bowl 50 — LB Von Miller, Denver

Super Bowl MVPs: A Complete List from Super Bowl I to 50
Post date: Friday, January 27, 2017 - 11:00
Path: /nfl/who-are-10-greatest-players-never-play-super-bowl

Tom Brady, a lock to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame once he’s eligible, is getting ready to play in his record seventh Super Bowl. While Brady’s success on Super Sunday (four rings, three MVPs) is a big part of his legacy, there are numerous Hall of Famers who never even made it to the Super Bowl, let alone win one. Here are 11 (yes, we couldn't even narrow it down to just 10) NFL legends who never played on Super Sunday.


1. Barry Sanders, RB (1989-98)

Playoff record: 1–5

Best team: 1991 Lions (12–4 record, lost in NFC Championship Game)

Closest call: 1991 (NFC Championship Game, 41–10 loss at Redskins)


After winning his playoff debut 38–6 against the Cowboys, Sanders lost his next five postseason games. Shockingly, one of the most exciting players of all-time was limited to 13 or fewer carries in four of his six playoff contests. The only time No. 20 was given more than 20 carries, he ripped off 169 yards in a 28–24 loss to the Packers. Although Sanders ran wild every year on Thanksgiving Day, he never showed up to the party on Super Bowl Sunday.


2. Deacon Jones, DE (1961-74)

Playoff record: 0–2

Best team: 1967 Rams (11–1–2 record, lost in Divisional Round)

Closest call: 1969 (Divisional Round, 23–20 loss at Vikings)


The “Secretary of Defense” was known for head-slapping opposing offensive linemen, but the two-time Defensive Player of the Year must have been doing some head-scratching after retiring with zero playoff wins on three different teams — and zero Super Bowl appearances — despite an unofficial total of 173.5 sacks during his Hall of Fame career.


3. Dick Butkus, LB (1965-73)

Playoff record: 0–0

Best team: 1965 Bears (9–5 record, missed postseason)


Arguably the greatest middle linebacker in history, Butkus played for George Halas — the legendary coach whose name graces the trophy awarded to the winner of the NFC Championship Game — and on the same team as Hall of Fame triple-threat playmaker Gale Sayers. Despite looking great on paper at the time and even better in historical hindsight, Butkus’ Bears were unable to make the playoffs, which is the first step toward advancing to the Super Bowl.


4. Gale Sayers, RB (1965-71)

Playoff record: 0–0

Best team: 1965 Bears (9–5 record, missed postseason)


Butkus and Sayers were drafted Nos. 3 and 4 overall, respectively, by the Bears in 1965. But the Hall of Fame duo were unable to translate their individual achievements into team success. Sayers notched a record six TDs in a single game — with nine carries for 113 yards and four TDs, two catches for 89 yards and one TD, and five punt returns for 134 yards and one TD as a rookie — but failed to score even a single Super Bowl trip.


5. Earl Campbell, RB (1978-85)

Playoff record: 3–3

Best team: 1979 Oilers (11–5 record, lost in AFC Championship Game)

Closest call: 1979 (AFC Championship Game, 27–13 loss at Steelers)


The “Luv Ya Blue” bulldozer was unable to take down the powerful “Steel Curtain” during back-to-back AFC Championship Game losses. In two painful defeats at Pittsburgh, Campbell had a combined 39 carries for 77 yards (1.97 ypc), two catches for 15 yards, and zero TDs. Campbell’s two scoreless games against the Steelers were the only two playoff games in which he failed to find the end zone.


6. O.J. Simpson, RB (1969-79)

Playoff record: 0–1

Best team: 1974 Bills (9–5 record, lost in Divisional Round)

Closest call: 1974 (Divisional Round, 32–14 loss at Steelers)


Another victim of the mighty Steelers, the Juice had better luck than Campbell — with 18 touches for 86 total yards and one TD — but was unable to lead the Bills to victory in what would be his only postseason appearance. The actor and defendant never basked in the spotlight of the Super Bowl but he was seen by millions during his days as Lt. Nordberg in the "Naked Gun" franchise and his starring role in the Trial of the Century.


7. Eric Dickerson, RB (1983-93)

Playoff record: 2–5

Best team: 1985 Rams (11–5 record, lost in NFC Championship Game)

Closest call: 1985 (NFC Championship Game, 24–0 loss at Bears)


Upon first glance, the single-season rushing yards record holder posted solid playoff numbers. But take off the goggles and you’ll see that Dickerson’s 248-yard, two-TD outburst during a 20–0 win over the Cowboys in 1985 accounted for one-third of his career postseason rushing yards and half of his total TDs.


8. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB (2001-11)

Playoff record: 4–5

Best team: 2006 Chargers (14–2 record, lost in Divisional Round)

Closest call: 2010 (AFC Championship Game, 24–19 loss at Steelers)


Infamously sulking on the sideline, injured and wearing a Darth Vader facemask and trench coat at New England in the 2007 AFC Championship Game — after just two carries for five yards — was clearly the low point of L.T.’s playoff career. Staying on the dark side, three of his five playoff losses were by margins of three points, one defeat came by four points and the most lopsided was a nine-pointer. His postseason struggles aside, Tomlinson was still a force to be reckoned with on the gridiron and is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2017 in his first year of eligibility.


9. Tony Gonzalez, TE (1997-2013)

Playoff record: 1–6

Best team: 2003 Chiefs (13–3 record, lost in Divisional Round)

Closest call: 2012 (NFC Championship Game, 28–24 loss vs. 49ers)


It took Gonzo 16 seasons to finally earn a playoff win. Then, with the Falcons holding a 17–0 lead over the 49ers in the NFC title game, it looked like the future Hall of Fame tight end would be punching his ticket to the Super Bowl and possibly riding off into the sunset as a champion. The massive comeback by the Niners would be the all-time great’s final playoff game.


T-10. Cris Carter

Playoff record: 4-10
Best team: 1998 Minnesota Vikings (15-1, lost in NFC Championship Game)
Closest call: 1998 (NFC Championship Game, 30-27 OT loss vs. Atlanta)
The Hall of Famer played in two NFC Championship Games, and even though one of them ended up being a blowout (41-0 loss to New York Giants, 2000 playoffs), it doesn’t compare to how the Vikings’ 1998 season ended. No. 1 seed Minnesota was up 27-17 at home early in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game, but Atlanta wasn’t about to go away quietly. A missed 38-yard field goal by the Vikings’ Gary Andersen with a little more than two minutes remaining gave the Falcons the chance to tie the game, and they went on to win it in overtime on, you guessed it, a 38-yard field goal.


T-10. Warren Moon, QB (1984-2000)

Playoff record: 3–7

Best team: 1993 Oilers (12–4 record, lost in Divisional Round)

Closest call: 1993 (Divisional Round, 28–20 loss vs. Chiefs)


Moon won five consecutive Grey Cups and was twice named Grey Cup MVP in the Canadian Football League. But in these United States south of the border, the former CFL champion was unable to translate his prior success to the NFL playoffs. Moon’s waning moment came in the worst collapse in postseason history, as his Oilers watched a 35–3 lead evaporate into a 41–38 overtime loss against the Frank Reich-led Bills.

Who are the 10 Greatest Players Never to Play in a Super Bowl?
Post date: Friday, January 27, 2017 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/what-went-wrong-michigan-state-2016-and-how-fix-spartans

There are surprise teams every college football season, on both the good and the bad end of things. The 2016 season seemed particularly heavy on the bad end, with a number of highly-touted teams in the preseason — or teams that were coming off strong ‘15 campaigns — falling flat on their faces and missing out on bowl games.


We’ll be taking a look at some of those heavyweights who took a big dip in 2016, dissecting what went wrong and spotting reasons for optimism heading into this fall. Plenty went wrong for Michigan State late season as the Spartans went from defending Big Ten champions to a game out of last place in the East Division.


Michigan State Spartans


2015 recap: 12-2 (7-1 Big Ten), Big Ten Champions, College Football Playoff participant, No. 6 final ranking (both polls)
2016 preseason: No. 12 AP, No. 11 coaches
2016 recap: 3-9 (1-7 Big Ten)

What Went Wrong

For one, the Spartans lost three-year starting quarterback Connor Cook. That cannot be underestimated. Moreover, they said goodbye to four other key contributors who were drafted: two offensive linemen (C Jack Conklin, G Donovan Clark), wide receiver Aaron Burbridge and pass-rushing machine Shilique Calhoun. Of course, draft departures are nothing new to MSU, and for as much as this program has accomplished in recent years under Mark Dantonio, a 3-9 season is absolutely perplexing.


So, what exactly happened? As Chris Vannini noted over at, Michigan State saw its production in four major-but-often-overlooked categories take huge dips: The Spartans had the third-largest turnover margin decrease and the fifth-largest third-down offense decrease. Additionally, their third-down defense went up 7.3 percent and their red-zone offense decreased by 11.4 percent.


And yet... the Spartans were a two-point conversion away from beating Ohio State, they gave Michigan a game and they absolutely controlled the game against Notre Dame in a win — albeit against a Notre Dame team that finished 4-8.


How It Can Be Fixed

The aforementioned results suggest that there is talent on this roster, and that 2016 was just one of those rare seasons where everything that can go wrong, does. This was a young team, one with the highest-rated freshman class under Dantonio since 2009 (No. 18 nationally, according to Rivals).


Dantonio has promised changes this offseason, although those will likely come through behind-the-scenes dealings. Michigan State doesn’t lose a whole lot talent-wise, as only defensive lineman Malik McDowell and safety Montae Nicholson declared early for the NFL Draft. Perhaps that could embolden some of the younger talents to assert themselves.


Additionally, recent history shows that the Spartans are used to stability at the QB spot: Both Kirk Cousins (2009-11) and Connor Cook (2013-15) were three-year starters before they were drafted. That gap year, 2012, saw them struggle to a 7-6 season after going 11-3 in 2011. Of course, MSU must settle on a starter from the group competing for that right in 2017: Damion Terry, Brian Lewerke and Messiah deWeaver.


A 3-9 campaign should put everyone on notice in East Lansing. But if recent history is any indication, Dantonio knows the proper ingredients to right the ship and restore a sense of normalcy to Michigan State in 2017.


— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.

What Went Wrong for Michigan State in 2016 and How to Fix the Spartans
Post date: Friday, January 27, 2017 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/recruiting-championship-team-vs-4-8-squad-closer-look-clemsons-notre-dames-recent-classes

National Signing Day in college football is fast approaching and the current national champions, the Clemson Tigers, are ready to do what they do best: sign a boatload of four- and five-star players. Conversely, Notre Dame stumbled to a 4-8 record this past season. Their problem, obviously, was that they have not recruited enough top-level players.




It is true that Clemson’s roster is stuffed with five-star talent. But what were their players’ recruiting rankings coming into college and how do the Tigers' recruiting classes stack up to a program that had a losing record in 2016?


The bulk of the Clemson roster that now wears the crown – as well as the 2016 Fighting Irish – were assembled in the 2013-15 recruiting cycles. Let’s take a look at how each program recruited each of those three years with rankings courtesy of 247Sports' Composite team rankings.



Clemson – 22 Recruits                                                                   

Final Team Ranking: 15

Average Recruit Rating: .8838

Key Contributors: Mackensie Alexander, Dorian O’Daniel, Tyrone Crowder, Shaq Lawson, Ben Boulware, Jayron Kearse, Mike Williams, Scott Pagano, Wayne Gallman, Cordrea Tankersley, Jordan Leggett, T.J. Green, Jadar Johnson, Ryan Carter


Notre Dame – 24 Recruits

Final Team Ranking: 5

Average Recruit Rating: .9137

Key Contributors: Jaylon Smith, Tarean Folston, Steve Elmer, Isaac Rochell, Cole Luke, Mike McGlinchey, Colin McGovern, Torii Hunter Jr., Durham Smythe, Will Fuller, James Onwualu


The 2013 Clemson class had just one five-star recruit, Mackensie Alexander, and he lived up to the hype. But it was the rest of the class that made it so special. The group listed above combined for 15 All-ACC nods over the course of their careers.


Even though Notre Dame’s class was rated 10 spots ahead of Clemson’s, the contributions fell far short. Jaylon Smith played like a five-star talent, Will Fuller is now a solid NFL receiver, and Mike McGlinchey has Sunday potential. But the rest of the class was a bit underwhelming.


Additionally, Notre Dame thought it had landed five-star defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes on signing day in 2013. But he never made it to South Bend and wound up at UCLA.



Clemson – 19 Recruits

Team Ranking: 17

Average Recruit Rating: .8778

Key Contributors: Deshaun Watson, Artavis Scott, C.J. Fuller, Kendall Joseph, Taylor Hearn, Greg Huegel


Notre Dame – 24 Recruits

Team Ranking: 11

Average Recruit Rating: .8852

Key Contributors: DeShone Kizer, Quenton Nelson, Nyles Morgan, Alex Bars, Andrew Trumbetti, Sam Mustipher, Drue Tranquill, Greer Martini, Tyler Newsome


Neither team knocked it out of the park in terms of productive quantity. But Deshaun Watson was on another level and Artavis Scott also was a special player for Clemson. Added to this group was a walk-on wide receiver named Hunter Renfrow.


Notre Dame got Kizer, who is projected to go in either the first or second round of the upcoming NFL Draft. The offensive line got three starters from this group and Nyles Morgan led the Irish in tackles this fall. But this was not a very exciting class overall.


Related: Ranking the Quarterback Recruiting Classes Since 2002



Clemson – 24 Recruits

Team Ranking: 9

Average Recruit Rating: .8919

Key Contributors: Mitch Hyatt, Deon Cain, Christian Wilkins, Ray-Ray McCloud, Albert Huggins, Jake Fruhmorgen, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, Van Smith, Tanner Muse


Notre Dame – 24 Recruits

Team Ranking: 13

Average Recruit Rating: .8944

Key Contributors: Equanimeous St. Brown, Jerry Tillery, Asmar Bilal, C.J. Sanders, Josh Adams, Tevon Coney, Nick Coleman, Justin Yoon


For a group that just finished their true sophomore seasons, this is already an impressive class for Clemson. Christian Wilkins is a star and Mitch Hyatt, Clellin Ferrell, Van Smith, and Deon Cain were indispensable this championship season.


Equanimeous St. Brown had a very good sophomore campaign and Josh Adams is a solid feature back. But the Irish are still waiting for the rest of the class to develop.


Overall Analysis

Team Recruits Avg. Team Ranking 5-Stars 4-Stars Avg. Recruit Ranking
Clemson 65 13.7 4 29 0.8845
Notre Dame 72 9.7 2 47 0.8978


Clemson signed two more five-star recruits over this three-year period than Notre Dame; but just one more if you count Vanderdoes. However, the Fighting Irish inked 18 more four-stars and their recruits’ average ranking is higher.


So why is Clemson positioned at the top of the mountain and Notre Dame under an avalanche?


Clearly, Clemson has done a better job of evaluating and developing talent. The Tigers’ five-star recruits have all hit and they have had a better success rate with the three- and four-star prospects as well. Beyond Jaylon Smith and perhaps DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame has not developed many elite players once they arrived on campus, while Clemson has seen guys like Deshaun Watson, Christian Wilkins, Shaq Lawson and Mackensie Alexander have a significant impact, and then some.


Plus, Notre Dame has had an attrition problem. Nineteen (nearly a third of the 72 total signed) recruits over this three-year period were not with the program as of the end of this past season, which saps depth and makes injuries even more damaging.


During Brian Kelly’s first press conference at Notre Dame, the incoming head coach said that he would be targeting RKGs – Right Kinda Guys. The star rating didn't matter as much as how the player fits into the program. But Kelly has neither recruited the Right Kinda Guys nor has he developed them to their fullest potential.


But Dabo Swinney sure has.


— 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.

Recruiting a Championship Team vs. a 4-8 Squad: A Closer Look at Clemson’s and Notre Dame’s Recent Classes
Post date: Friday, January 27, 2017 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/10-toughest-players-replace-sec-2017

In fairness, the SEC as a whole was not as good as the conference usually is in 2016. Alabama was great. But after that, you had a huge pile of mediocrity, with every team in the conference having at least four losses.


However, the lack of dominance certainly didn’t happen because of a shortage of talented players. The SEC had some of the nation’s best players, and that will show come draft time. A good majority of talent is returning next season, but there are going to be some tough players to replace.


Excluding from this list guys like Alabama’s star offensive tackle Cam Robinson and Florida’s impressive, all-conference cornerback tandem of Jalen “Teez” Tabor and Quincy Wilson wasn’t easy. But as always, the SEC has a ridiculous amount of talented players.


So, here are the 10 toughest players to replace in the SEC in 2017. Keep in mind these aren't necessarily the best players leaving, but the toughest for their respective teams to go on without. That’s why you won’t see Leonard Fournette below, since LSU returns Derrius Guice, the conference’s second-leading rusher last season and a player many consider to be a Heisman Trophy contender for 2017.


10 Toughest Players to Replace in the SEC in 2017


Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

For much of his career, Garrett was a lone bright spot on a bad Aggies defense. His leadership helped anchor the defensive line and by the time he got to his junior year, that unit was better. Garrett had 8.5 sacks in 2016 and 15 tackles for a loss. He’s also a prototypical pro-style defensive end, with all the tools necessary to succeed at the next level. Picked by many to go No. 1 overall in the upcoming NFL Draft, this guy will be tough to replace.


Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama

A case could be made that Allen deserved the Heisman Trophy last year. Many believe he was the nation’s best player. In fact, he received more first-place votes for the Heisman than Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers — even though Allen wasn’t invited to the ceremony. Allen did win the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Chuck Bednarik Award, and was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. It was his impact on a game that was most impressive, not his stats. Just take a look at the highlight reel.


Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt

It’s pretty simple with Cunningham; he was the SEC’s best tackler. Cunningham brought down opposing ball carriers 125 times in his junior year, with 71 of those tackles being solo stops. And this was after he posted 103 tackles in 2015. He anchored a stout Vanderbilt run defense and helped guide the Commodores to a bowl game. As one of the nation’s best linebackers, Cunningham could hear his name called in the first round. 


Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee

For all of the criticism he took for not being able to throw the ball downfield in his junior season, Dobbs showed tremendous improvement as a passer in 2016, throwing for almost 3,000 yards and 27 touchdowns. He also was a major threat on the ground throughout his tenure with the Volunteers. Dobbs made Tennessee’s offense nearly unstoppable in the second half of the season, as the Vols averaged close to 48 points per game over their final five contests.


Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

He never quite got the praise that peers Myles Garrett or Jonathan Allen got, but all Barnett did throughout his entire Tennessee career was ball out. He led the SEC in sacks with 13 last season, and also paced the conference with 19 tackles for a loss. Perhaps his greatest achievement was notching his 33rd career sack in the final minutes of the Music City Bowl against Nebraska. That broke Reggie White’s school record. Not bad company. Barnett, arguably, is Tennessee’s best defensive player… ever.


Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss

It’s sort of hard to argue against the importance of a player who led the SEC in passing yards per game with more than 300. He also happened to torch Alabama’s defense twice. But after throwing for more than 4,000 yards in 2015, Kelly had to miss the final three games of his senior season. In his absence, Ole Miss was blown out 38-17 by Vanderbilt and 55-20 by Mississippi State. That pretty much says it all, right?


Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama

Foster was second in the SEC in total tackles last year with 115. The senior Crimson Tide linebacker had 60 solo stops, including nine against Florida in the SEC Championship Game. Foster anchored the nation’s top run defense, and also had 13 tackles for a loss. Foster won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker and was a unanimous first-team All-American.


Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss

It’s not often you see a tight end as the SEC’s No. 2 pass catcher, but that was the case with Engram, who had 926 receiving yards and eight touchdowns last season. As Chad Kelly’s favorite target, he quietly took care of business as the SEC’s best tight end. Engram only played in 11 games, too. Had he played in 12, he may have very well been the No. 1 “receiver” in the conference. 


Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn

Statistically speaking, Auburn’s defense was simply better when Lawson was on the field. His presence alone dictated how opposing offensive lines game planned, which freed up his teammates to make plays. Lawson had nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss, ranking in the top 10 in the SEC in both categories. Despite battling injuries throughout his career down on the plains, Lawson still managed to emerge as one of the Tigers’ best players.


Jamal Adams, S, LSU

A three-year starter, Adams has been a key part of the Tigers’ defense since arriving in Baton Rouge. A first-team All-SEC selection this past season, Adams finished in the top 20 of the conference in total tackles with 76 and also recorded 7.5 tackles for a loss. Projected by some as the first defensive back to come off of the board in the upcoming draft, Adams appears a safe bet to maintain LSU’s reputation as “DBU.”


— Written by Cody McClure, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a radio host on Sports Radio 1180 WVLZ in Knoxville, Tenn. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.

10 Toughest Players to Replace in the SEC in 2017
Post date: Friday, January 27, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar/nascar-camping-world-truck-schedule-2017

The 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck series season will soon be upon us. To help you find plan your weekends this season, check out NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series schedule below, which features tracks, start times, and TV networks. 


7:30 PM ET Daytona International Speedway
4:30 PM ET Atlanta Motor Speedway
2:30 PM ET Martinsville Speedway
8:30 PM ET Kansas Speedway
8:30 PM ET Charlotte Motor Speedway
5:30 PM ET Dover International Speedway
8:00 PM ET Texas Motor Speedway
8:30 PM ET Gateway International Raceway
8:30 PM ET Iowa Speedway
7:30 PM ET Kentucky Speedway
9:00 PM ET Eldora Speedway
1:00 PM ET Pocono Raceway
1:00 PM ET Michigan International Speedway
8:30 PM ET Bristol Motor Speedway
2:30 PM ET Canadian Tire Motorsports Park
8:30 PM ET Chicagoland Speedway
1:00 PM ET New Hampshire Motor Speedway
8:30 PM ET Las Vegas Motor Speedway
1:00 PM ET Talladega Superspeedway
1:30 PM ET Martinsville Speedway
8:30 PM ET Texas Motor Speedway
8:30 PM ET Phoenix International Raceway
8:00 PM ET Homestead-Miami Speedway

Check out the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup schedule.

Check out the XFINITY Series schedule


Post date: Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 15:08
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar/xfinity-nxs-series-schedule-2017

The 2017 XFINITITY NASCAR series season will soon be upon us. To help you find plan your weekend TV schedule (FOX, FS1, NBC, etc.) this season, check out the new NASCAR schedule, which features tracks, start times, and TV networks. 


3:30 PM ET Daytona International Speedway
1:30 PM ET Atlanta Motor Speedway
4:00 PM ET Las Vegas Motor Speedway
4:00 PM ET Phoenix International Raceway
4:00 PM ET Auto Club Speedway
1:30 PM ET Texas Motor Speedway
12:30 PM ET Bristol Motor Speedway
12:30 PM ET Richmond International Raceway
1:00 PM ET Talladega Superspeedway
1:00 PM ET Charlotte Motor Speedway
1:00 PM ET Dover International Speedway
1:00 PM ET Pocono Raceway
1:30 PM ET Michigan International Speedway
8:30 PM ET Iowa Speedway
7:30 PM ET Daytona International Speedway
8:00 PM ET Kentucky Speedway
4:00 PM ET New Hampshire Motor Speedway
3:30 PM ET Indianapolis Motor Speedway
3:30 PM ET Iowa Speedway
2:00 PM ET Watkins Glen International
3:30 PM ET Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
7:30 PM ET Bristol Motor Speedway
3:00 PM ET Road America
3:30 PM ET Darlington Raceway
7:30 PM ET Richmond International Raceway
3:30 PM ET Chicagoland Speedway
8:00 PM ET Kentucky Speedway
3:00 PM ET Dover International Speedway
8:00 PM ET Charlotte Motor Speedway
3:00 PM ET Kansas Speedway
8:30 PM ET Texas Motor Speedway
3:30 PM ET Phoenix International Raceway
3:30 PM ET Homestead-Miami Speedway


Check here for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

Post date: Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 14:42
All taxonomy terms: Ryan Blaney, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/ryan-blaney-2017-nascar-season-driver-preview

Ryan Blaney and the Wood Brothers Racing team promise to enter this season on footing that feels much more stable than the ground they stood upon ahead of last year’s season opener. It remains a stretch, however, to think that the combination will allow the team to make significant headway in an otherwise stacked front half of NASCAR’s top level.

A year ago, Blaney, 23, was staring at the prospect of his first full-time season being much more of a challenge than originally expected. NASCAR’s Charter system made its debut mere weeks before the Daytona 500, guaranteeing starting positions for 36 teams that had competed full time in the Premier Series for the previous three years. The Wood Brothers team, despite being the longest active operation in NASCAR, didn’t make that cut and therefore joined the ranks of “open” teams. The key difference? Open teams had to qualify on speed each week, while each Charter team had a guaranteed spot in every race.

Ryan Blaney NASCAR driver informationThe move was an ominous early shot at the No. 21 team’s plan to run a full season for the first time since 2008. But Blaney and the Wood Brothers handled the new challenge with aplomb. They qualified for each race, and Blaney posted top-15 finishes in half of his starts.

“Ryan now has a full year under his belt,” team co-owner Leonard Wood said at the end of last season. “He’s run all the tracks, and (2017) will be a lot better for him. In our first year back we were able to get Ryan in the top 20 in the final points standings. That’s a significant accomplishment, and I feel certain we can improve on that next year.”

Blaney, the son of former Cup driver Dave Blaney, did find himself in potential winning situations more than once last season. The closest shot came at Chicagoland Speedway in September, when crew chief Jeremy Bullins left Blaney on the track during a late pit sequence. He restarted that race from the lead on old tires with two laps left and held on for a fourth-place finish.

“We were able to get the lead at Chicago and it was looking like we had a chance to win that race,” Blaney said in an end-of-season team highlight video. “It just didn’t work out for us, unfortunately. I think that showed the strength of our team, and I feel like it was a definitely good learning point moving forward.”

Weeks later, Blaney hung near the front in the late stages of the 500-miler at Talladega Superspeedway as he helped Team Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano in the draft. Blaney finished 11th while Logano won. The single-car Wood Brothers team has a tight relationship with Penske and receives chassis and engines from the multi-team operation.

2017 NASCAR Preview MagazineAthlon Sports’ 2017 Racing magazine delivers full NASCAR driver profiles, schedules, track information, fantasy insight, as well as complete 2017 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

A key aspect of Blaney’s season — one that routinely showed flashes of better things to come — was that Penske support. Going forward, that relationship will continue to pressure Blaney (technically a Penske developmental driver) to improve on the track. Areas for Blaney to focus on this season: avoid continued slumps (he had a nine-race stretch last summer without a top-10 finish) and make fewer mistakes that result in finishes off of the lead lap. 

At least Blaney won’t have to worry about qualifying. December shuffling of Charters left the Woods with one leased from another Ford team, Go FAS Racing. 

One more year of development should put Blaney close to making his first postseason. Whether he will get there is a 50/50 proposition. 

Post date: Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 11:50
All taxonomy terms: NBA, Overtime
Path: /overtime/nbl-player-eye-pops-out-socket-during-game-new-zealand-akil-mitchell-injury

National Basketball League player Akil Mitchell suffered a terrible eye injury during a game in New Zealand.


Mitchell went up for a rebound and another player accidentally poked him in the eye, causing it to come out of the socket. He can be seen on the ground in pain and relied on the help of his teammates to help him off the court. Mitchell left for the hospital shortly after.


WARNING: The video is graphic.


Mitchell tweeted that he was ok and even showed his sense of humor. 



Luckily it was one of those cases of looking much worse than it actually was.

Post date: Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 11:40
Path: /college-football/12-toughest-players-replace-pac-12-2017

College football follows a specific life cycle. A new cycle begins in just a few days from the publication of this article with 2017 National Signing Day. The new wave of incoming talent onto the landscape replaces those athletes exiting. 


Replacing players so frequently contributes to the excitement and unpredictability of the sport. It also makes the task coaching staff face particularly challenging.


Coaches around the Pac-12 face an offseason with some uncertainty at key positions, the result of losing premier playmakers. The voids left by the following 12 Pac-12 standouts (in alphabetical order) will be responsible for the most hours logged among coaching staffs around the conference this offseason.


Related: 10 College Football Players Who Will Replace NFL Draft Early Entrants in 2017


Budda Baker, S, Washington 

Defense paved Washington's road to its first conference championship since 2000. The engine for the Huskies' No. 8-ranked scoring defense was their do-everything safety. Baker registered a team-high 71 tackles on the season, providing support against both the run and pass.


He blitzes as effectively as he disrupts passes -- and he disrupts passes quite expertly.


Jimmie Gilbert, DE, Colorado 

Colorado owes much of its surprisingly resurgent season to the performance of a stellar defense. Despite a couple of lopsided losses to close an otherwise great campaign, the Buff defense still managed to finish ranked No. 20 nationally in points allowed.


Credit the tenacity of pass-rushing expert Gilbert for much of the Buffs' success. Gilbert made 10 sacks with 14 tackles for a loss on the year, setting the tone for a defense that ranked 20th against the pass.


Zane Gonzalez, K, Arizona State 

The descriptor "best" gets thrown around too loosely in today's sports media climate, but Gonzalez has the statistical credentials to back up any such declarations. Gonzalez leaves Arizona State as the NCAA's all-time most prolific kicker with 96 made field goals.


Having Gonzalez on the roster virtually guaranteed the Sun Devils at least three points any time they crossed opponents' 40-yard line.


Adoree' Jackson, CB/Ret., USC 

College football has seen few quite like Jackson. That's not just recently, either. Jackson's multifaceted skill set make him a historical outlier in a vein similar to 1997 Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson.


Jackson won the Jim Thorpe Award as college football's top cornerback in 2016, but his unique playmaking abilities as both a wide receiver and returner added a dynamic to USC that head coach Clay Helton will not be able to duplicate employing just one player. The job of replacing Jackson is a multiple-person endeavor.


Sefo Liufau, QB, Colorado 

No Buff was more synonymous with Colorado football's return to prominence than Liufau. He signed onto head coach Mike MacIntyre's first recruiting class, took over as the starting quarterback midway through the 2013 campaign, and only relinquished the job due to injury.


And, as Colorado's 10-win campaign proved, losing Liufau was indeed a difficult proposition. He was sidelined for stretches, if not all of the Buffs' four losses. Perhaps the game experience backup Steven Montez gained will have him prepared to fill Liufau's shoes.


Gabe Marks, WR, Washington State 

Wide receivers with lofty numbers come standard in Mike Leach's air-raid offense. But career statistics that put Marks among the best pass catchers in conference history do not explain the full extent of his place with the Cougars.


Marks combined speed and elusiveness that often turned short and mid-range throws into long gains. He could also blow past coverage for game-breaking gainers. 


Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

McCaffrey dazzled for each of the last two seasons, shouldering every responsible put upon him in Stanford's offense. The 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up functioned as a dependable, every-down back, but also served as one of the Cardinal's most reliable pass-catching options. 


Add his explosiveness in special teams, and replacing McCaffrey is a multifaceted endeavor for Cardinal head coach David Shaw. 


Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA

McKinley arrived on UCLA's campus midway through the 2014 season, a JUCO transfer with plenty of unrefined promise. He evolved into the heir apparent for Bruin standouts like Owa Odighizuwa and Cassius Marsh. McKinley even outshined former 5-star recruit Eddie Vanderdoes as the breakthrough star on UCLA's defense this past season, racking up 10 sacks.


Even when McKinley wasn't racking up sacks, he made life difficult on opposing quarterbacks, establishing residency in opponents' backfields.


UCLA head coach Jim Mora must replace both McKinley and Vanderdoes. Neither will be easy, but McKinley's uncanny motor should prove more difficult to replicate.


John Ross, WR, Washington

Few players can match the speed Ross brought to both the offense and special teams at Washington. Ross' big-play ability manifested in an eye-popping 17 touchdown receptions in 2016, complementing a season-long total of 1,150 yards.


He also averaged nearly a quarter-field per kickoff return, and ran one kickoff back for a touchdown. That's a difficult dynamic for Chris Petersen to replicate as the Huskies seek to repeat as Pac-12 champions.


JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC

USC has a long-standing tradition of game-changing wide receivers. A 5-star recruit coming out of local powerhouse Long Beach Poly, there was never any doubt Smith-Schuster had the potential to become the latest in the Trojans' impressive lineage. 


He leaves USC with more than 3,000 career yards and 25 touchdowns, but numbers only tell part of the story. His reliability as a possession receiver keyed the USC offense, and the threat he poised whenever he lined up opened the field for Trojan teammates to get loose.


USC remains well-stocked with talented receivers, like Rose Bowl Game hero Deontay Burnett. But someone must emerge as the go-to guy Smith-Schuster functioned as for the last two seasons. 


Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford

Stanford's #PartyInTheBackfield lived on through 2016, thanks to Solomon Thomas. The standout defensive end anchored the Cardinal defense in 2015, and had a 2016 Rose Bowl Game worthy of national attention -- were it not for teammate Christian McCaffrey putting on one of the most spectacular, individual efforts ever seen in the Granddaddy of 'Em All.


This year's bowl game, the stage belonged to Thomas. He ended his collegiate career with two tackles for a loss, a sack and seven tackles in the Sun Bowl. That performance provided a fitting cap to a stellar career.


Tedric Thompson, CB, Colorado

In 2014, the Colorado defense combined for three interceptions all season long. Thompson was responsible for each and every one. Fast-forward two years, and Thompson more than doubled his production with seven picks. The final two came, fittingly, in Colorado's Pac-12 South-sealing win over Utah.


The entire Buff secondary was outstanding in 2016, and Colorado's also faced with replacing standout Chidobe Awuzie. However, it's Thompson's ball-hawking that will prove most difficult to replace for the Buffaloes' new defensive coordinator.


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

12 Toughest Players to Replace in the Pac-12 in 2017
Post date: Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/what-went-wrong-oregon-2016-and-how-fix-ducks

There are surprise teams every college football season, on both the good and the bad end of things. The 2016 season seemed particularly heavy on the bad end, with a number of highly-touted teams in the preseason — or teams that were coming off strong ‘15 campaigns — falling flat on their faces and missing out on bowl games.


We’ll be taking a look at some of those heavyweights who took a big dip in 2016, dissecting what went wrong and spotting reasons for optimism heading into 2017. While some were expecting Oregon to take a step back last season, few probably didn’t see a 4-8 record and a head coaching change in store for the once mighty Ducks.


Oregon Ducks


2015 recap: 9-4 (7-2 Pac-12), Alamo Bowl loss, No. 19 AP ranking, No. 20 coaches ranking

2016 preseason: No. 24 AP, No. 22 coaches

2016 recap: 4-8 (2-7 Pac-12)


What Went Wrong

Like most places that experienced downward spirals, you can start with quarterback play, as graduate transfer Dakota Prukop was yanked after four games for freshman Justin Herbert. But there was so much more plaguing the Ducks in 2016. The hire of Brady Hoke as defensive coordinator simply did not work out, with the Ducks’ 4-3 scheme falling short in the Pac-12. Oregon ranked 126th in both total defense (518.4 ypg) and scoring defense (41.4 ppg) in the FBS.


Offensively, the Ducks could no longer simply out-scheme everyone, as the rest of the Pac-12, and the nation, caught up to their high-speed attack. The talent was sub-par, at least compared to league rivals like USC and Washington, who both blew the Ducks out. And it certainly didn’t help that, according to, offseason conditioning was simply a mess.


Cries of selfishness were commonplace. A disappointing finish to 2015 — a 31-point collapse to TCU in the Alamo Bowl — seemingly bled into the following campaign. There was no mistaking the downward trajectory of the program under fourth-year head coach Mark Helfrich, who was unable to sustain Chip Kelly’s winning ways without the services of former Heisman-winning QB Marcus Mariota. Hence, it was time for a change, with AD Rob Mullens firing Helfrich and hiring Willie Taggart from USF.


How It Can Be Fixed

So... about that change. Taggart led USF to a 10-2 regular season and was widely considered to be one of the nation’s brightest young coaches, albeit one whose Florida roots might be a bit out of place in Eugene, Oregon. His “Gulf Coast Offense” broke all sorts of school records with the Bulls, and the Harbaugh family disciple’s “enthusiasm unknown to mankind” was just what a geographically-challenged program needed on the recruiting trail.


But things have gotten off to a sour start. Strength coach Irele Oderinde has been suspended after three players ended up in the hospital following a winter workout. Co-offensive coordinator David Reaves is in the process of being fired following a DUI arrest. There’s no way around it: This is all a terrible, terrible look for the new regime.


Can things change? Of course they can. Taggart has won everywhere he’s been, from Western Kentucky to USF. And his USF start was awfully rocky through two-plus years as well, although those shortcomings were limited to on-field play. So this is going to be a process in Eugene, where fans accustomed to the heights of the past two regimes may not be as patient as they were before. But with a 54,000-seat stadium and a less-than-ideal location — compared to other Pac-12 blue bloods — it is important to remember all that the new staff is up against. Taggart will likely tap into his connections and have the Ducks recruiting better than they ever did, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle for a program coming off its first head-coach firing in 40 years.


— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.


(Top photo courtey of

What Went Wrong for Oregon in 2016 and How to Fix the Ducks
Post date: Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: super bowl, NFL, Monthly, Overtime, News
Path: /nfl/10-worst-teams-ever-play-super-bowl

For the first time in four years, the Super Bowl won’t feature the AFC’s and NFC’s No. 1 seeds, but that doesn’t mean a matchup between the top scoring offense (Atlanta) and top scoring defense (New England) is a bad alternative. However, that has not always been the case for the NFL’s biggest game.


As these teams can attest, just because you are playing on Super Sunday that doesn’t mean your squad is championship-caliber. The Patriots make a couple of appearances below, but that’s somewhat a byproduct of playing in the most Super Bowls (this is No. 9) of any franchise.


Athlon Sports' 10 Worst Teams to Play in a Super Bowl


1. 1985 New England Patriots

Super Bowl result: Lost 46-10 to Chicago in Super Bowl XX


New England went 11-5 in the regular season to earn a wild card berth, getting hot at the right time. The Patriots won eight out of nine during one stretch and then rode their defense late in the season and in the playoffs. New England forced 16 turnovers in its three postseason victories, including six against Miami in the AFC Championship Game. An opportunistic defense carried an inconsistent offense all season long, at least up until the Super Bowl.


Despite taking an early 3-0 lead, Chicago scored 44 straight points and thoroughly dominated New England in posting the biggest victory in Super Bowl history at the time. For the game, the Patriots managed 123 total yards on offense, including just seven yards rushing, turned the ball over six times and gave up seven sacks.


2. 1979 Los Angeles Rams

Super Bowl result: Lost 31-19 to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XIV


Credit Los Angeles for taking full advantage of its schedule and division, as the Rams (9-7) won the NFC West even though they beat only two teams that finished with a winning record. The offense was marginal, as their quarterbacks combined for a 19:29 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the regular season, and the team finished with a negative (-8) turnover differential.


In the postseason, Los Angeles downed Dallas 21-19 in the Divisional round thanks to a tipped pass that resulted in a 50-yard touchdown with 2:06 remaining. In the NFC Championship Game against Tampa Bay, the Rams' offense managed just three field goals, but that was more than enough thanks to a stifling defensive effort that held the Buccaneers to zero points, just five completed passes and seven first downs.


The first team to make the Super Bowl having won just nine games in the regular season, Los Angeles hung with defending world champion Pittsburgh for the first three quarters. The Rams held a three-point lead at halftime and went ahead by two in the third quarter, only to watch the Steelers score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to pull away for a 31-19 win. If not for three interceptions by Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw, Super Bowl XIV may not have ended up as close as it did.


3. 2003 Carolina Panthers

Super Bowl result: Lost 32-29 to New England in Super Bowl XXXVIII


This Carolina team mastered the art of winning the close one. Champions of the NFC South with an 11-5 record, the Panthers won just two games in the regular season by more than six points. Seven of the victories were by three points or fewer, as the team’s point differential was plus-21, or 1.3 per game. The Panthers out-rushed their opponents, but this was mainly due to the fact they had nearly 100 more rushing attempts. Still the ground game produced just nine rushing touchdowns (opponents had 10), while quarterback Jake Delhomme posted a 19:16 touchdown-to-interception ratio.


The Panthers seemed to get all of the breaks in the postseason, starting with a 29-23 double overtime victory in St. Louis in the NFC Divisional round. Carolina squandered an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead to the Rams that included St. Louis head coach Mike Martz opting to hold the ball for a game-tying field goal even though the Rams were inside the 20 with less than a minute remaining and still had one time out. Both teams missed field goals in the first overtime session, as John Kasay made his 40-yard attempt only to find out it didn’t count due to a delay of game penalty on the Panthers. He then missed the subsequent 45-yard attempt. Delhomme took matters into his own hand at the start of the second overtime period, hitting Steve Smith for the game-winning, 69-yard touchdown only 10 seconds into it. Carolina’s defense came up big on the road in the NFC title game against Philadelphia, injuring Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and picking off four passes in the 14-3 win.


Carolina’s reward for earning the franchise’s first NFC crown was a Super Bowl XXXVIII matchup with New England. The game was scoreless until 3:05 left in the second quarter, when the teams combined for 24 points, including a 50-yard Kasay field goal that cut the Patriots’ lead to 14-10 at the half. All the other scoring took place in the fourth quarter, including Delhomme’s game-tying touchdown pass to Ricky Proehl with 1:08 left, but Kasay proceeded to kick the ball out of the bounds. Tom Brady got the ball on the 40-yard line and six plays later, Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-winning 41-yard field goal with just four ticks remaining. While the final score may have been close, New England dominated the box score, outgaining Carolina by nearly 100 yards (481-387) and nearly doubling the Panthers in first downs (29 to 17).


4. 2008 Arizona Cardinals

Super Bowl result: Lost 27-23 to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLIII


The greatest season in Arizona Cardinals franchise history is largely the product of great timing and having all of the breaks go your way, at least up until the game that counts the most. Arizona won the NFC West with a 9-7 record that included a spotless divisional mark (6-0) thanks to one of the top scoring offenses in the league at 26.7 points per game.


The flip side of this, however, is the fact that the rest of the division went a combined 13-35, as the Cardinals beat just two teams in the regular season that finished with a winning record and stumbled into the postseason losing four of their final six games. A suspect defense (team outscored opponents just one point in regular season), caught a break in the Wild Card round when it got to face Atlanta rookie quarterback Matt Ryan making his first career playoff start on the road. The Cardinals then got plenty of help from Carolina’s Jake Delhomme, who tossed five interceptions at home in their Divisional matchup. Arizona claimed its first conference championship with a 32-25 home victory over No. 6 seed Philadelphia, thanks to a late Kurt Warner touchdown pass and despite being outgained by the Eagles (454 to 369).


In the Super Bowl, Arizona had its chance to completely cash in on all of its good fortune, fighting back from a 13-point, third-quarter deficit against Pittsburgh to take a 23-20 lead on a 64-yard touchdown pass from Warner to Larry Fitzgerald with less than three minutes remaining. Alas, it was not meant to be, as Ben Roethlisberger found Santonio Holmes in the end zone with 42 seconds left for one of the more memorable plays in Super Bowl history, much to the chagrin of the Cardinals and their fans.

5. 1994 San Diego Chargers

Super Bowl result: Lost 49-26 to San Francisco in Super Bowl XXIX


San Diego won the AFC West with an 11-5 record, and its losses were by seven or fewer points except for one. That one game, you ask? It was a 38-15 loss to San Francisco in Week 15. Foreshadowing perhaps? This was not a powerful team by any stretch, as the Chargers’ point differential (+75) translated into an average of less than five points per game, and the ground game averaged less than four yards per carry.


San Diego's defense carried the team throughout the season, and especially in the playoffs. The Chargers came back from a 21-6 halftime deficit to Miami in the AFC Divisional round, winning the game 22-21 on a touchdown pass with 35 seconds left followed by a missed 48-yard field goal by the Dolphins with one second on the clock. In the AFC Championship Game, San Diego trailed Pittsburgh 13-3 at one point only to take a 17-13 lead with 5:13 remaining. The Chargers needed one final goal-line stand with just over a minute left to finish the job, despite being outgained by a wide margin (415 to 226) and having the ball less than 23 minutes.


San Diego entered Super Bowl XXIX against San Francisco as the biggest underdog ever (18.5 points) and lived up to that billing. Steve Young threw four of his Super Bowl-record six touchdown passes in the first half, as the closest the Chargers ever were to the 49ers in this one was 14-7 late in the first quarter. The 49ers led 42-10 with less than five minutes left in the third before the Chargers scored two meaningless touchdowns. This game still holds the records for most combined points (75) and total touchdowns (10) in Super Bowl history, with the majority of the damage (49 and 7) done by game MVP Young and his 49ers.


6. 1987 Denver Broncos

Super Bowl result: Lost 42-10 to Washington in Super Bowl XXII


Denver took full advantage of a strike-shortened season, not to mention three games played with replacement players, to win the AFC West with a 10-4-1 record. Quarterback John Elway led one of the more productive passing offenses in the league, but the Broncos' rushing offense (3.9 ypc) lagged behind. The Broncos needed another miracle (see No. 8 below) to get past Cleveland in the AFC title game, this time at home. And just like what took place the previous season with "The Drive," the Browns delivered once again, as a late fumble sealed the Broncos’ 38-33 win and return trip to the Super Bowl. But Denver's third Super Bowl trip was anything but a charm. The Broncos jumped out to a 10-0 lead on Washington in the first quarter, only to watch the Redskins storm back with 35 points in the second quarter. Washington finished with a Super Bowl-record 602 total yards, including a record 280 yards rushing, in the rout. Denver was outgained by its opponent in all three of its playoff games, so perhaps the end result against Washington wasn’t all that surprising after all.


7. 1996 New England Patriots

Super Bowl result: Lost 35-21 to Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXI


Before the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady reign began in New England, the head coach-star quarterback pairing was Bill Parcells and Drew Bledsoe. However, this Patriots team relied more on defense than offense, as it won the AFC East with an 11-5 record. Bledsoe did throw for more than 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns in the regular season, but the defense allowed just as many yards through the air. New England's D was much more stout against the run, giving up less than 94 yards rushing per game, but its own ground attack fared even worse (92 ypg).


New England got a major break in the playoffs when Jacksonville upset top-seeded Denver (13-3) at home in the Divisional round. The Patriots then dispatched of the upstart Jaguars 20-6 at home to earn the franchise’s second AFC crown. Even though the offense sputtered against Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXI, the Patriots hung around until the Packers scored 17 unanswered points in the second quarter. Bledsoe threw four interceptions and the Patriots finished with a grand total of 43 yards rushing, as the Packers sealed the deal with MVP Desmond Howard’s 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the latter part of the third quarter.


8. 1986 Denver Broncos

Super Bowl result: Lost 39-20 to New York Giants in Super Bowl XXI


Denver got off to a 6-0 start to the season, but finished just 5-5. Still the Broncos’ 11-5 record was good enough to win the AFC West, thanks to a defense that led the conference in rushing yards allowed. The problem for the Broncos’ offense, however, was that it only generated 27 more yards on the ground than their defense gave up. After getting by New England 22-17 at home in the Divisional round, quarterback John Elway orchestrated “The Drive” late in the fourth quarter in Cleveland to get the Broncos to their second Super Bowl. Unfortunately, this one ended like the franchise’s first big game appearance (vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XII in 1978), as the Broncos managed just 52 yards rushing and Elway got sacked four times (one went for a safety) in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.


9. 1992 Buffalo Bills

Super Bowl result: Lost 52-17 to Dallas in Super Bowl XXVII


This Buffalo team maintained the Bills’ run in the AFC, capturing the East division title with a 11-5 record, powered by the NFL’s top rushing offense and third-ranked scoring offense (23.8 ppg). The defense was average in terms of where it ranked in points allowed, but generally got the job done. A third straight trip to the Super Bowl almost didn’t happen, however, as Buffalo trailed Houston 35-3 early in the third quarter of its wild card game. Backup quarterback Frank Reich, filling in for an injured Jim Kelly, orchestrated what became known as “The Comeback” with the Bills pulling out a 41-38 victory in overtime.


Buffalo then easily defeated Pittsburgh and Miami by a combined score of 53-13 to reach its third straight Super Bowl, this time against Dallas. The Bills held a 14-10 lead in the second quarter, only to watch the Cowboys score the next 17 points and pile on 21 more in the fourth quarter. As talented and good as this Dallas team was, Buffalo could ill afford to give the Cowboys many breaks, which the Bills certainly did. The Bills turned it over a Super Bowl-record nine times, including five fumbles, which led to 35 of the 52 points the Cowboys scored.


10. 2000 New York Giants

Super Bowl result: Lost 34-7 to Baltimore in Super Bowl XXXV


After losing two games in a row in early November, New York’s record stood at 7-4. Undeterred, head coach Jim Fassel guaranteed that this team would not miss the playoffs. He made good on that promise as the Giants won their last five, albeit just one of those victories came against a team that finished with a winning record, to capture the NFC East title.


Similar to Baltimore, their eventual opponent in the Super Bowl, this Giants team was built around defense. The G-Men held opponents to 15.4 points per game and less than 1,200 yards rushing total (72.3 ypg) during the regular season. This was especially the case in the playoffs, as the Giants yielded a total of 10 points in wins over Philadelphia and Minnesota, including shutting out the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game by holding them to 114 total yards and forcing five turnovers.


The problem for the Giants, however, was their offense and this was especially the case in Super Bowl XXXV against the Ravens. Baltimore’s defense, considered one of the best in the history of the game, kept the Giants’ offense scoreless, as their only points in the game came on a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Ron Dixon in the third quarter. For the game, the Giants’ offense mustered a total of 152 yards and quarterback Kerry Collins was responsible for four (all INTs) of the Giants’ five turnovers.

10 Worst Teams to Ever Play in a Super Bowl
Post date: Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/which-fantasy-football-rookie-wide-receiver-came-out-top-2016

Throughout the fantasy football season, dynasty owners (in particular) were watching the rookie wide receivers. Some fantasy owners drafted some of these first-year pass catchers, and it worked out well. With a few others... not so much.


Related: Fantasy Football’s Biggest Draft Busts and Values of 2016


In looking at targets in particular, we can gauge how well these rookies performed – and what might be in store for the future.


Sterling Shephard, New York Giants

Shepard was the first rookie wide receiver to come off of the board in fantasy drafts. He had potential in an offense that had no running game and a banged-up Victor Cruz as his primary competition to the No. 2 role behind Odell Beckham Jr. However, Shepard just wasn't able to step up like fantasy owners thought he would. He had one game with more than 100 yards (Week 2) and eight touchdowns on the season. In most stat categories, he was the second-best rookie, but his potential for 2017 is likely more of the same. Beckham is the No. 1 target for the Giants and that's not going to change.


Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

While Thomas was the second rookie taken (in most drafts), he finished as the most productive in 2016. Thomas led the freshman class in targets with 121, receptions (by far) with 92, and receiving yards (also by far) with 1,137. He had nine touchdown catches, and either was first or second in fantasy points among rookie wideouts, depending on league scoring. He gave Drew Brees a red-zone target that he has desperately been searching for since Jimmy Graham left. Thomas heads into 2017 as a WR1.


Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

Prior to Week 10, Hill had one game with more than 40 receiving yards. From Week 10 on, he had six games with more than 40 receiving yards. In the other two games, he had at least 68 rushing yards and a touchdown in each contest. It's going to be hard to trust Hill next year, just like it was hard to trust him this year. He was tied for fourth in targets among rookie wide receivers, but he is still dealing with Alex Smith as his quarterback and will have to compete with Jeremy Maclin (and tight end Travis Kelce) for targets. Maclin was injured prior to Week 10, and that's when Hill started becoming fantasy relevant. He's going to be a late-round flyer in 2017.


Tajae Sharpe, Tennessee Titans

Sharpe tied for fourth in targets for rookie wide receivers. Most of Sharpe's production came at the beginning of the season before Rishard Matthews surpassed him as the Titans’ go-to receiver. In fantasy drafts, Sharpe went shortly after Michael Thomas, but he was outgained by his classmate by 615 yards. Tennessee’s offense is a run-heavy attack, unlike New Orleans’ pass-happy approach, so Sharpe may not much fantasy value in 2017. However, plenty of upside remains, not only for the future but also in leagues where you get fantasy points for return yards.


Will Fuller, Houston Texans

Fuller finished with the third-most targets among rookie wide receivers, which is pretty impressive considering how pedestrian the Texans’ passing game was for most of the season. But the pecking order in Houston is clear: Fuller had 92 targets, DeAndre Hopkins had 151. Fuller finished with 635 receiving yards, Hopkins 954. The most telling stat, however, is that the two of them combined for just six touchdowns. Fuller was clearly a part of Houston’s offense, but his impact and fantasy production suffered behind inadequate quarterback play. He started the season with back-to-back 100-yard games but had more than 50 just three other contests the rest of the way. Fuller’s value (as well as Hopkins’) will largely depend on what the Texans decide to do with their quarterback situation.


Tyler Boyd, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

With 81 targets, Boyd finished just behind Hill and Sharpe in this category, but he did end up with more receiving yards than either. Boyd had just one touchdown on the year, and didn’t step up his production even with A.J. Green injured late in the season. Boyd was solid as a rookie, but hardly spectacular. With a healthy Green and tight end Tyler Eifert, Boyd is no more than the Bengals’ No. 3 option in the passing game looking ahead to 2017.


Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns

Current off-field issues aside, Coleman was projected to have a much better rookie season than he ended up having. Some of that can be attributed to breaking his hand prior to Week 3, while the quarterback carousel in Cleveland was an important factor too. And Terrelle Pryor emerging as the No. 1 WR didn’t help Coleman either. Coleman’s fantasy value for 2017 will depend on who the Browns go with at quarterback, but also whether Pryor, a free agent, returns to the team or signs elsewhere. Coleman has the potential to be a No. 1 WR, but a lot of factors need to fall into place for that to materialize.


Malcolm Mitchell, WR, New England Patriots

After doing next to nothing for the first 10 games of the seasons, Mitchell helped some fantasy owners get to and win in the playoffs in Weeks 11-14. However, the rest of his season was forgettable. He did have four touchdowns, but in the Patriots’ offense, nothing is to be taken for granted. Tom Brady loves to throw the ball, but with so many mouths to feed, Mitchell may fall to the bottom of the pecking order. Wait and see what the offseason brings in New England before putting too much stock in Mitchell’s fantasy value for 2017.


Robby Anderson, WR, New York Jets

If, for some reason, Bryce Petty is the starting quarterback for the New York Jets in 2017, Anderson's fantasy outlook is promising. However, the Jets’ quarterback situation is anything but certain at this point; therefore Anderson's future fantasy value is as well.  He had 78 targets on the year (only five behind Tyreek Hill and Tajae Sharpe), but with a healthy Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall still possibly in the picture, Anderson is a gamble. A lot will depend on what happens to New York’s offense this offseason.


— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Which Fantasy Football Rookie Wide Receiver Came Out on Top in 2016?
Post date: Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Louisville Cardinals, NFL
Path: /nfl/nfl-scouting-combine-watch-louisville-outside-linebacker-devonte-fields-2017

Great pass rushers are few and far between in the NFL. With the game having shifted to mainly pass-centric schemes over the last decade or so, the ability of a defense to get to a quarterback and disrupt his timing is paramount. As a result, we've been seeing plenty of pass rushers go early and often in recent drafts.


One of the most talented edge rushers eligible for the 2017 NFL Draft is Louisville outside linebacker Devonte Fields.


The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Fields began his college career at TCU where he logged 10 sacks in 2012 to earn Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors. After missing most of the 2013 season due to injuries, he was dismissed from TCU the following summer after being accused of assaulting a female acquaintance and threatening her with a firearm. He subsequently spent a season in the JUCO ranks and transferred to Louisville in 2015.


During his two seasons with the Cardinals, Fields continued to prove to be one of the best pass rushers in college football logging a total of 17 sacks. When he wasn't getting to the quarterback, he was piling up tackles in the backfield and applying play-altering pressure to opposing quarterbacks on a consistent basis. His versatility is an attractive trait, as he has had experience and success playing both with his hand in the dirt in a 4-3 scheme and coming off the edge standing up in a 3-4.



Fields is currently projected to go in the middle rounds of the upcoming draft, and that's largely due to his off-field history. Unless he lays an egg in his workouts at the Scouting Combine, the fourth round should be his floor in terms of where he's selected.


The biggest thing to look (or listen) for is the reaction of NFL teams to Fields' interviews. As we know, young people are prone to making foolish decisions. If he shows well in the Combine drills and is able to convince teams during the interview process that he has matured and is worth the risk, you could see him go as high as the second round.


— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on,, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

NFL Scouting Combine Watch: Devonte Fields
Post date: Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Air Force Falcons, Akron Zips, Alabama Crimson Tide, Appalachian State Mountaineers, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats, Arkansas Razorbacks, Arkansas State, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Army West Point Black Knights, Army Black Knights, Army West Point Black Knights, Auburn Tigers, Ball State Cardinals, Baylor Bears, Boise State Broncos, Boston College Eagles, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, BYU Cougars, California Golden Bears, Central Michigan Chippewas, Charlotte 49ers, Cincinnati Bearcats, Clemson Tigers, College Football, Colorado Buffaloes, Colorado State Rams, Connecticut Huskies, Duke Blue Devils, East Carolina Pirates, Eastern Michigan Eagles, FAU Owls, FIU Panthers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Fresno State Bulldogs, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Southern Eagles, Georgia State Panthers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, Hawaii Warriors, Houston Cougars, Idaho Vandals, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones, James Madison Dukes, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Kent State Golden Flashes, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Louisville Cardinals, LSU Tigers, Marshall Thundering Herd, Maryland Terrapins, Memphis Tigers, Miami (OH) RedHawks, Miami Hurricanes, Miami Ohio RedHawks, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, MTSU Blue Raiders, Navy Midshipmen, Navy Midshipmen, NC State Wolfpack, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, New Mexico State Aggies, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Texas Mean Green, Northern Illinois Huskies, Northwestern Wildcats, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Old Dominion Monarchs, Ole Miss Rebels, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Pittsburgh Panthers, Purdue Boilermakers, Rice Owls, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, San Diego State Aztecs, San Jose State Spartans, SMU Mustangs, South Alabama Jaguars, South Carolina Gamecocks, South Florida Bulls, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Stanford Cardinal, Syracuse Orange, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Longhorns, Texas State Bobcats, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Toledo Rockets, Troy Trojans, Troy University, Tulane Green Wave, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, UAB Blazers, UCF Knights, UCLA Bruins, UConn Huskies, UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, UL Monroe Warhawks, UMass Minutemen, UNLV Rebels, USC Trojans, Utah State Aggies, Utah Utes, UTEP Miners, UTSA Roadrunners, Vanderbilt Commodores, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, West Virginia Mountaineers, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Western Michigan Broncos, Wisconsin Badgers, Wyoming Cowboys, American Athletic, Big 12, Big Ten, Conference USA, Independents, MAC, Mountain West, Pac 12, SEC, Sun Belt, News
Path: /college-football/grading-college-footballs-first-year-coaching-hires-2016

College football’s coaching carousel was active prior to the 2016 season, as 28 programs hired a new full-time coach. It’s no secret coaching changes can have an instant impact on a problem, but some hires need a couple of years to rebuild a mess inherited from the previous staff. Winning right away as a new coach doesn’t necessarily guarantee long-term success, but it’s easy to get a read on the outlook for any coach after one season. Virginia Tech's Justin Fuente ranks as Athlon's No. 1 coaching hire after one year, followed by USC's Clay Helton, UCF's Scott Frost and Hawaii's Nick Rolovich.


With the season officially in the books, Athlon Sports has ranked and graded the 28 full-time coaching hires from the 2016 coaching carousel. Interim coaches (Jim Grobe at Baylor) were not considered for this ranking.


Grading College Football's First-Year Coaching Hires for 2016


1. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

2016 Record: 10-4


Fuente ranked as Athlon’s No. 1 hire for 2016 and maintains that place in the postseason after a strong debut in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech finished 10-4 last year and claimed the ACC Coastal Division title for the first time since 2011. The Hokies scored key road wins over divisional foes Pitt (39-36), North Carolina (34-3) and handled Miami 37-16 in Blacksburg. Additionally, Fuente’s team scored a road win over Notre Dame, rallied from a 24-0 deficit to beat Arkansas 35-24 in the Belk Bowl and gave Clemson (42-35) all it could handle in the ACC Championship Game. Fuente’s background on offense provided a needed spark for the Hokies. This unit averaged 34.1 points in league matchups, compared to 25.4 in 2015. The offense also recorded 5.8 yards per play in ACC contests, up from 4.65 from the previous year. With Bud Foster handling the defense, and Fuente working with Brad Cornelsen to run the offense, Virginia Tech will quickly reload and push for another trip to the ACC title game in 2017.


Final Grade: A


Related: Early Top 50 College Football Players for 2017


2. Clay Helton, USC

2016 Record: 10-3


USC was one of the nation’s most-improved teams throughout the course of the 2016 season. The Trojans started 1-3 but found a spark behind redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold. USC finished 2016 with a nine-game winning streak, which included a win at USC, victories over rivals UCLA and Notre Dame, along with a 52-49 thrilling win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl. The 10-win season was USC’s first in double digits since 2013. Additionally, the Trojans earned their first Rose Bowl trip since 2008. Helton is 16-7 overall as head coach at USC and has this team primed to contend for the College Football Playoff in 2017.


Final Grade: A-


3. Scott Frost, UCF

2016 Record: 6-7


Under Frost’s direction, it’s safe to say UCF is a program on the rise and one to watch over the next couple of years. The Knights’ six-game improvement in the win column tied for the most among FBS teams in 2016. Additionally, all seven defeats came at the hands of bowl teams from 2016, and three losses came by seven points or fewer. Even though Frost was regarded for his work on offense, UCF’s defense led the way for this team last fall. The Knights limited opponents to 24.6 points per game and ranked second in the American Athletic Conference by holding opposing offenses to 4.8 yards per play. With another offseason for Frost to find the right answers on offense, UCF could be USF’s biggest challenger in the AAC’s East Division in 2017.


Final Grade: A-


4. Nick Rolovich, Hawaii

2016 Record: 7-7


With playing experience at Hawaii under June Jones and a tenure under Greg McMackin as an assistant, Rolovich was the perfect coach to take over in Honolulu after Norm Chow’s dismissal. The Rainbow Warriors showed marked improvement in Rolovich’s first year and finished 2016 with a four-game jump in the win column. Rolovich inherited a team with plenty of issues, so this wasn’t an easy fix. Hawaii finished last in the Mountain West in scoring offense and 11th in scoring defense in 2015. Additionally, a brutal schedule, which featured a trip to Australia to start the year, followed by a road matchup at Michigan the following Saturday wasn’t easy to overcome. But Rolovich helped the offense take a step forward, and Hawaii finished the season by winning its final three games, including a 52-35 victory over Middle Tennessee in the Hawaii Bowl.


Final Grade: A-


Related: College Football's Top 15 Teams on the Rise for 2017


5. Kalani Sitake, BYU

2016 Record: 9-4


After Bronco Mendenhall’s departure to Virginia, BYU dipped into its past and hired Sitake to take over. The former BYU fullback under LaVell Edwards worked under Kyle Whittingham at Utah (2005-14) and Gary Andersen at Oregon State (2015) prior to taking the top job in Provo. Sitake’s debut was a success, as he guided BYU to a 9-4 record and a bowl win over Wyoming. Additionally, all four of the defeats came by three points or fewer, including a one-point loss at rival Utah and a three-point defeat to West Virginia. The Cougars scored three wins over Power 5 opponents last season by knocking off Arizona, Mississippi State and Michigan State.


Final Grade: A-


6. Mark Richt, Miami

2016 Record: 9-4


Despite a successful (145 wins) tenure at Georgia, Richt was fired at the end of the 2015 season. But it didn’t take long for the veteran head coach to find work. As a former Miami quarterback, the opportunity to return was a homecoming of sorts for Richt. The marriage between Richt and the Hurricanes seems to be a perfect one for the program, and he started things off with a 9-4 record. The first season provided its share of ups and downs, as Miami opened at 4-0 before losing four straight. However, the Hurricanes rebounded to win their final five games, including a 31-14 victory over West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Three of Miami’s losses came by a touchdown or less, which included a one-point defeat to Florida State (20-19). Replacing quarterback Brad Kaaya won’t be easy in 2017. However, Richt has this program on the right track and the ACC Coastal Division title is within reach next fall.


Final Grade: B+


7. Tracy Claeys, Minnesota

2016 Record: 9-4


Claeys’ first (and only) season in Minneapolis ended in controversy after he showed his support for a player boycott prior to the Holiday Bowl. Claeys was dismissed in early January, and Minnesota acted quickly in hiring former Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck to guide the program in 2017. After Jerry Kill’s sudden retirement, Claeys was promoted to the full-time position following the 2015 season. He went 2-4 as the program’s interim coach in 2015 but guided the Golden Gophers to a 9-4 record in '16. The nine-win campaign was only the eighth time Minnesota exceeded more than eight since 1901.


Final Grade: B+


Related: Very Early Big Ten Predictions for 2017


8. Frank Wilson, UTSA

2016 Record: 6-7


Wilson proved he is more than just an ace recruiter in his first season at UTSA. The Louisiana native worked his way through the coaching ranks as an assistant in the SEC at Tennessee and LSU and also was a standout high school coach at O.P. Walker in New Orleans. Wilson replaced Larry Coker (UTSA’s only head coach in its short history) and guided the Roadrunners to a 6-7 mark last season and their first bowl trip in program history. Wilson’s team hung tough against Texas A&M (23-10), nearly defeated Arizona State (32-28) and scored quality conference wins against MTSU and Southern Miss.


Final Grade: B+


9. Will Muschamp, South Carolina

2016 Record: 6-7


South Carolina’s decision to hire Muschamp came as a surprise and so were the on-field results in his first season in Columbia. The Gamecocks were picked last in the SEC East after a 3-9 campaign in 2016 and returned only six starters after a season-ending injury to linebacker Skai Moore. Despite the lack of proven talent, South Carolina was one of the SEC’s biggest surprises this past season. The Gamecocks finished with six victories, including an upset of Tennessee in late October. Muschamp’s team also knocked off Vanderbilt and Missouri in SEC play and only one of its seven losses (Clemson) was by more than 13 points. Not bad for a team with a true freshman at quarterback (Jake Bentley) and several new faces stepping into the lineup on both sides of the ball.


Final Grade: B+


10. Jason Candle, Toledo

2016 Record: 9-4


Candle was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach after Matt Campbell left for Iowa State, and the Rockets didn’t miss a beat in his first year at the helm. Toledo finished 9-4 to post the program’s seventh consecutive winning season, averaged 38 points per game and just missed on finishing with 10 victories. The Rockets lost by three points to Appalachian State in the Camellia Bowl, by five to MAC East champ Ohio and by two at BYU. With quarterback Logan Woodside (45 TD passes) returning in 2017, Toledo should be the favorite to win the MAC next year.


Final Grade: B+


Related: A Very Early College Football Top 25 for 2017


11. DJ Durkin, Maryland

2016 Record: 6-7


Entering the 2016 season, Durkin was considered one of college football’s top coaches on the rise and deserves high marks for his first year on the job in College Park. Maryland finished 6-7 last season – a three-game improvement from 2015. Additionally, the Terrapins returned to a bowl game after a one-year absence. The momentum from Durkin’s first season carried over into the recruiting trail, as Maryland is poised to sign a top 25 class. Durkin’s next task is pretty clear: Close the gap between the Terps and the top tier of teams in the Big Ten East. Maryland did not beat a team with a winning record in 2016 and was outscored 159-20 in losses to Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State.


Final Grade: B+


12. Mike Norvell, Memphis

2016 Record: 8-5


Norvell was one of the top coaching hires in last year’s cycle and ensured Memphis suffered no drop off after Justin Fuente departed for Virginia Tech. The Tigers finished 8-5 and earned a third consecutive trip to the postseason. Norvell guided his team to wins over American Athletic Conference champion Temple (34-27), Houston (48-44) and dominated Kansas (43-7) in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Despite losing quarterback Paxton Lynch to the 2016 NFL Draft, the offense didn’t miss a beat. The Tigers averaged 38.8 points a game and 6.3 yards per play. Norvell should have Memphis in contention to win the AAC West Division in 2017.


Final Grade: B


13. Seth Littrell, North Texas

2016 Record: 5-8


The Mean Green improved their win total by four games in Littrell’s first season and returned to the bowl scene for the first time since 2013 thanks to a high APR. Both sides of the ball took a step forward on the stat sheet last year. After giving up 41.3 points a game in 2015, North Texas cut that total to 32.6. On offense, Littrell’s group went from 15.2 (2015) points per game to 24.8 last year. While there was clear progress in Littrell’s first season, plenty of work remains for this team. North Texas ranked No. 109 in Football Outsiders F/+ rankings, which was the lowest of any bowl team. The defense loses three of its top five tacklers, and the offense needs more consistency from the quarterback position.


Final Grade: B-


Related: College Football's Early Top 25 Games for 2017


14. Matt Viator, ULM

2016 Record: 4-8


Viator inherited a team with just seven returning starters from a two-win 2015 season, a brutal ‘16 slate and had to overcome an injury to No. 1 quarterback Garrett Smith in mid-October. Despite the obstacles, Viator guided ULM to a 4-8 record and picked up three wins in Sun Belt play. The Warhawks also lost two games – to Idaho and Georgia Southern – by a combined five points. Improving the defense is a top priority this spring after this group surrendered 6.65 yards per play in 2016. With Smith returning back to full strength, ULM should have a chance to equal or exceed its win total from last season in 2017.


Final Grade: B-


15. Kirby Smart, Georgia

2016 Record: 8-5


Smart was hired at Georgia to raise this program into contention for the SEC title and College Football Playoff berths on a consistent basis. The jury is still out on Smart’s ability to do that, but he’s winning a handful of battles on the recruiting trail and is poised to sign a top-five class for 2017. As far as Smart’s on-field success in 2016, it was a mixed bag for the Bulldogs. Georgia started 3-0 before losing four out of its next five games. Smart’s team finished with wins in four out of its final five contests, with the lone loss coming against rival Georgia Tech on a last-minute touchdown. Close (or memorable) losses seemed to sum up Smart’s first season. Georgia lost on a last-second Hail Mary pass by Tennessee, was stopped on 4th-and-short against Vanderbilt to prevent a game-winning drive and lost on a late touchdown following a fluke turnover in the finale against the Yellow Jackets. How quickly can Smart’s recruiting prowess pay off for the Bulldogs? It wouldn’t be a surprise if this team is the favorite to win the SEC East in 2017.


Final Grade: C+


Related: Early SEC Predictions for 2017


16. Willie Fritz, Tulane

2016 Record: 4-8


Fritz was one of the top coaching hires in last year’s cycle but faced a transition season in 2016. Moving from a pro-style approach to a ground-based attack wasn’t going to be easy. Tulane finished 4-8 last year and scored a win over UConn (38-13) in the regular season finale to avoid a winless mark in American Athletic Conference play. The Green Wave picked up additional victories over UL Lafayette, UMass and FCS member Southern. But most importantly for Fritz and his coaching staff: This team wasn’t that far from bowl eligibility in a transition year. Tulane lost by seven points to Navy, by four to SMU and by 10 to Memphis. With a full offseason to work under this staff and some help on the recruiting trail, Tulane could be a bowl team in 2017.


Final Grade: C+


17. Matt Campbell, Iowa State

2016 Record: 3-9


As expected, Campbell’s first season in Ames was a struggle. The Cyclones ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in scoring offense and defense in 2015 and won just three games in the final year under Paul Rhoads, so immediate improvement to a bowl was unlikely. For the first time in Campbell’s career as a head coach, he finished a season with fewer than seven wins. Iowa State finished 3-9 with victories over Kansas, Texas Tech and San Jose State. However, the Cyclones were more competitive than their record suggests. Four losses came by seven points or fewer, including defeats to Kansas State and Oklahoma State.


Final Grade: C+


18. Dino Babers, Syracuse

2016 Record: 4-8


Similar to a few other coaches in this range, Babers inherited a rebuilding project and needs another year or two to recruit and improve the overall talent on the team before competing for winning seasons. Babers came to Syracuse after successful stints at Eastern Illinois (19-7) and Bowling Green (18-7) and was regarded as one of the nation’s best offensive-minded coaches. The Orange offense took a step forward under Babers, improving their yards per play total to 5.5 from 5.1 in 2015. Syracuse scored two wins in ACC play, including an upset of Virginia Tech in mid-October and finished the year 4-8 after an entertaining 76-61 shootout loss to Pitt. With quarterback Eric Dungey returning, the Orange should be set on offense for 2017. However, the defense gave up 38.6 points per game in 2016 and is the biggest concern headed into spring practice.


Final Grade: C


Related: Early ACC Predictions for 2017


19. Jay Hopson, Southern Miss

2016 Record: 7-6


Hopson was hired just before National Signing Day to replace Todd Monken after he left Hattiesburg to be an NFL offensive coordinator. While Hopson got a late start, a C-USA West Division title and a potential double-digit win season was within reach for a team that returned quarterback Nick Mullens and six starters on defense. Instead of building off their nine-win campaign from 2015, Southern Miss took a step back. The Golden Eagles started the year with an upset at Kentucky but lost five out of six games over the final month of the season, before a win over Louisiana Tech secured win No. 6 and bowl eligibility. An injury to Mullens and a minus-17 turnover margin certainly played a role in the second-half slide.


Final Grade: C-


20. Barry Odom, Missouri

2016 Record: 4-8


Replacing Gary Pinkel – the winningest coach in Missouri history – was no easy task for Odom in his first opportunity to be a head coach. However, Odom knows what it takes to win in Columbia since he is a former Missouri linebacker and coached under Pinkel before a stint as the defensive coordinator at Memphis (2012-14). From 2012-15, Odom emerged as one of the top assistants in the nation for his work on the defensive side of the ball. But the transition from coordinator to head coach wasn’t easy. In his first year at the helm, Odom guided Missouri to a 4-8 record and watched his defense slip from No. 2 in the SEC in scoring to No. 12 (31.5 ppg). The Tigers did finish the year with a little momentum thanks to wins in two out of their last three games, including a 28-24 upset of Arkansas. Getting the defense back to its 2015 level is a must, but Odom also needs the offense to take a step forward in SEC matchups (22.6 ppg in conference games).


Final Grade: C-


21. Mike Neu, Ball State

2016 Record: 4-8


Ball State dipped into its past after Pete Lembo left Muncie to coach special teams at Maryland. Neu – a former Ball State quarterback from 1990-93 – arrived on campus after coaching quarterbacks with the Saints from 2014-15. In his first season as a head coach at the FBS level, Neu experienced his share of ups and downs. Ball State started 3-1 with victories over Georgia State, Eastern Kentucky and FAU. However, the Cardinals finished the year 1-7 over the final eight weeks. The lone victory in that stretch came against Buffalo (31-21). However, Neu’s team wasn’t far from bowl eligibility. Ball State lost four MAC games by seven points or fewer and was defeated by just 10 against Indiana and Akron.


Final Grade: C-


22. Lovie Smith, Illinois

2016 Record: 3-9


Smith’s first year was a scramble, as he wasn’t hired until early March after athletic director Josh Whitman decided to fire Bill Cubit on his first day on the job. While the move to hire Smith should pay off in the future, the Fighting Illini struggled on the gridiron in his first season. Illinois finished 3-9, with its victories coming against FCS member Murray State, Rutgers and a surprise upset of Michigan State. A 34-31 loss against Purdue was arguably the low point of Smith’s first year, and this team has a ways to go in order to be competitive in the Big Ten West. The Fighting Illini lost five conference matchups by 20 points or more and averaged just 16.8 points per contest in Big Ten games.


Final Grade: D


Related: Early Big Ten Predictions for 2017


23. Mike Jinks, Bowling Green

2016 Record: 4-8


Jinks experienced a fast rise through the coaching ranks. After working as a high school head coach from 2006-12 at Steele High School in Cibolo, Texas, he spent three years as an assistant at Texas Tech (2013-15) before landing the top spot at Bowling Green. Despite inheriting a core of players from a team that won 10 games in 2015, along with an offense that was similar to what was run at Texas Tech (and Steele HS), the Falcons slumped to 4-8. Bowling Green surrendered 77 points two times (vs. Ohio State and Memphis), scored a one-point win over FCS member North Dakota, and missed out on a bowl for the first time since 2011. On the positive side, Jinks’ team finished 2016 on a three-game winning streak – but all three victories came against teams with a losing record.


Final Grade: D


24. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia

2016 Record: 2-10


Virginia’s hire of Mendenhall was a curious one last offseason. The Utah native had never coached east of Louisiana, with most of his experience coming from stints at BYU, New Mexico and Oregon State. From 2005-15, Mendenhall guided BYU to a 99-43 record and went to a bowl game in all 11 seasons in Provo, Utah. And for the first time in his coaching career, Mendenhall is headed into an offseason after a losing campaign. Virginia finished 2-10 and ended 2016 with a seven-game losing streak. The Cavaliers posted wins over Central Michigan and Duke but lost to FCS member Richmond, UConn and were easily handled 52-10 by rival Virginia Tech. The first-year struggles were expected, as Virginia returned only 10 starters from 2015 and entered the year with question marks at quarterback and up front on defense.


Final Grade: D


25. Scottie Montgomery, East Carolina

2016 Record: 3-9


After a stint in the NFL with the Steelers and three years (2013-15) working under David Cutcliffe at Duke, Montgomery was considered an up-and-coming star as an assistant. The North Carolina native started his head coaching career with a 2-0 mark, which included a win over NC State (33-30) in Week 2. However, the Pirates struggled to find success the rest of the way and finished 3-9 with just one win in American Athetlic Conference play (UConn 41-3). Despite an offense that averaged nearly 30 points per game and was led by standout receiver Zay Jones, East Carolina lost its final four games by at least 20 points. Fixing a defense that allowed 36.1 points per contest is a priority this spring. With a handful of key receivers departing Greenville this offseason, Montgomery is facing a rebuilding year in 2017.


Final Grade: D


Related: College Football's Early Top 50 Players for 2017


26. Tyson Summers, Georgia Southern

2016 Record: 5-7


A 5-7 record in your first year as a head coach wouldn’t normally be a cause for concern. However, that’s not the case at Georgia Southern. This job is one of the best in the Sun Belt and the bar is set to win conference championships and compete for bowl bids. Former head coach Willie Fritz left plenty of talent from a nine-win team in 2015 for Summers to work with, including standout running backs Matt Breida and L.A. Ramsby. However, instead of building off the bowl appearance, the Eagles regressed to 5-7 and beat only one team (Troy) with a winning record. The victory over Troy likely saved Summers from a one-and-done year in Statesboro. Summers made staff changes this offseason to bring the offense back to an option attack, and there’s enough talent in place to challenge for a winning record in 2017.


Final Grade: D


27. Chris Ash, Rutgers

2016 Record: 2-10


A quick fix wasn’t going to happen for Rutgers in 2016. Ash inherited a team that went 4-8 in 2015, was littered with question marks on the depth chart (including quarterback) and has slipped in recruiting since reeling in back-to-back top-30 classes from 2011-12. And as expected, the Scarlet Knights struggled mightily in Ash’s first season. Rutgers won just two games and finished winless in Big Ten play. The offense was shut out four times and managed just 9.6 points in conference games. The defense also had its share of issues, surrendering a whopping 40 points in Big Ten contests. Ash still has a lot of work ahead of him in 2017, but the addition of new play-caller Jerry Kill should help the offense, and the staff is putting together a signing class that could reach the top 40. The future looks positive for Rutgers under Ash’s direction. However, another tough year is likely in order for 2017.


Final Grade: D


28. Everett Withers, Texas State

2016 Record: 2-10


Texas State opened 2016 with a road win at eventual MAC East champion Ohio (56-54), but Withers’ team struggled the rest of the year. The only other victory by the Bobcats came against FCS member Incarnate Word (48-17), as this team finished the year on an eight-game losing streak. Both sides of the ball entered 2016 with overall talent and depth concerns, so it’s no surprise Withers’ #PartyInTheEndZone is off to a slow start in San Marcos. A reason for concern: Texas State went 0-8 in Sun Belt play and only one loss came by single digits.


Final Grade: D-

Grading College Football's First-Year Coaching Hires for 2016
Post date: Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/podcast-national-signing-day-recruiting-rules-and-grading-first-year-coaches

Athlon Sports' Braden Gall and Mitch Light are talking college football all offseason. Don't forget to subscribe here and rate us if you like (or don't like) what you hear!


- What is the most important aspect of National Signing Day? What is the most important lesson about recruiting rankings?


- Do the guys agree with the new recruiting rules that could change recruiting forever? How does an early signing period, summer official visits and practice limitations impact the recruiting calendar?


- We also graded every first-year head coach in college football. Who are we buying stock in and who did the best job in year one? 


- Who are the names to know who will be the next stars of the coaching ranks?



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

Podcast: National Signing Day, Recruiting Rules and Grading First-Year Coaches
Post date: Wednesday, January 25, 2017 - 13:01