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Winning the Heisman Trophy isn't easy. So many things need to go right and fall into place. Preseason hype, team record, national exposure, highlights and actual on-field production all come into play.

 

There’s also another factor to consider: conference affiliation. Along those lines, winning the Heisman while playing outside of the Power Five conferences has become nearly impossible as of late. Not since Houston's Andre Ware and BYU's Ty Detmer won it in back-to-back years in 1989 and '90 respectively has a player from one of the current Group of Five conferences (American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt) won the award.

 

2016 Heisman Trophy Candidates by Conference: I I I I I

 

Regardless of that fact, these 10 players from the Group of Five have the talent to put up the numbers, make highlight-reel plays and gain the national attention necessary to win 's most prestigious individual award.

 

Top 10 Group of Five Heisman Candidates for 2016

 

10. Matt Breida, RB, Georgia Southern

Few teams love to run the ball as often as Georgia Southern does, and Breida is going to get the bulk of those carries. In 2015, he made the most of his touches, toting the rock 203 times for 1,608 yards (7.9 ypc, No. 2 in the nation) and 17 touchdowns.

 

9. Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

Davis is likely the next NFL star to come out of the MAC, but Sundays will have to wait. His Broncos are the favorites to win the MAC in 2016, and his presence is a big reason why. In 2015, the big (6-3, 205) wideout hauled in 90 passes for 1,436 yards and 12 scores.

 

8. Nick Mullens, QB, Southern Miss

Few signal-callers aired it out in 2015 like Mullens did. The Senior led the Golden Eagles to a nine-win regular season on the back of completing 63.5 percent of his passes for 4,476 yards, 38 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. If he can match that pace for the first half of 2016, he'll be getting serious Heisman consideration by midseason.

 

7. Brent Stockstill, QB, Middle Tennessee

The Blue Raiders are expected to be one of the more dangerous Group of Five teams in the country, and Stockstill is a big reason why. As a freshman in 2015, he completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 4,005 yards, 30 touchdowns and only nine interceptions.

 

6. Quinton Flowers, QB, South Florida

Flowers is quite simply one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. In 2015, he completed nearly 60 percent of his throws for 2,296 yards, 22 scores and only eight interceptions. He also ran for 991 yards and 12 touchdowns.

 

5. Duke Catalon, RB, Houston

There are no stats or solid production back up Catalon sitting this high on the list. What we do have, however, are that show the Texas transfer hitting his top speed the second he touches the ball. The thought of his talent plugged into Houston's offense is scary. Even more frightening is the fact that his head coach, Tom Herman — always known to be a straight shooter — has mentioned him in

 

4. Donnell Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State

Pumphrey returned for his senior season to cap off one of the better careers a college running back has ever had. In three seasons at San Diego State so far, he has piled up 4,272 yards  and 45 touchdowns on the ground. He also has tallied 810 receiving yards. If the Aztecs are in the hunt for the Mountain West title like many expect them to be, Pumphrey will be in the Heisman conversation all season.

 

3. Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State

The Broncos should once again be the cream of the crop of the Group of Five. They'll have plenty of national exposure, and when people tune in to their games, they'll see an NFL-ready passer slinging the ball with precision all over the blue turf. As a freshman in 2015, Rypien threw for 3,353 yards and 20 scores. With the talent Boise State returns on the offensive side of the ball, it's not crazy to think he could improve those numbers by 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2016.

 

2. Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise State

The primary beneficiary of Rypien's increased production would likely be McNichols. As a sophomore in 2015, the Bronco running back piled up 1,337 yard (5.6 ypc) and 20 touchdowns on the ground and 460 yards and six touchdowns through the air. He is as complete a back as there in college football. Between the talent of his signal-caller, his offensive line, Boise State's scheme and schedule, McNichols has the potential to put up one of the greatest all-purpose production seasons we've ever seen.

 

1. Greg Ward Jr., QB, Houston

The Houston Cougars seem to be the sexy dark horse pick to crash the College Football Playoff this season. If that is to be the case, it will be because Ward repeated and likely improved upon his outstanding 2015 numbers. The Tyler, Texas, native completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 2,828 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions. It was on the ground, however, where he set himself apart. Ward ran for 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns. Duke Catalon's presence will force defenses to respect the Houston running game even more than they did last season, likely opening up the secondary for Ward to do more damage through the air. If Ward can eclipse the 3,000-yard mark through the air and repeat his 1,000-yard performance on the ground, he should be a lock for an invitation to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Teaser:
Top 10 Group of Five Heisman Candidates for 2016
Post date: Friday, July 29, 2016 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/why-tennessee-will-wont-make-college-football-playoff-2016
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The have been trending in a positive direction each and every year under head coach Butch Jones. Jones and his Vols will need to continue that trend in 2016 if they are to have any chance of making it into the College Football Playoff. That said, 2016 appears to be extremely promising for a loaded team poised to make its long awaited return back to the forefront of the and on to college football’s biggest stage.

 

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The Tennessee roster is stockpiled with experienced talent, and for the first time, in a long time, off-the-field distractions are at a minimum. That is not to say that the Vols are completely without issue, or that Tennessee’s path to the SEC Championship Game or Playoff is without its potential stumbling blocks. Which begs the question, do the 2016 Tennessee Volunteers have what it takes to become one of the last four teams standing at season’s end?

 

Three Reasons Why Tennessee Will Make the College Football Playoff

 

1. Experience

The good news is that the youth angle that was so often played up by head coach Butch Jones during his first three seasons in Knoxville is no longer a talking point. The youngest team in college football is all grown up now with 18 starters returning from last year’s team. Many of those players have more than one year of starting experience under their belt, so the struggle of playing so many freshmen and sophomores over the last couple of years should finally pay huge dividends. In fact, Tennessee will be one of the most experienced teams in the nation this season. There may not be a more valuable commodity in college football than experience, and it will undoubtedly provide Tennessee with a big advantage in its quest to become one of the last four teams standing.

 

2. The Running Game

A successful rushing attack is crucial for any team that has aspirations of making the College Football Playoff. And there is absolutely no reason to think that Tennessee will not have one of the best rushing attacks in the nation this season. The Vols return one of the country’s top running back tandems in bruiser Jalen Hurd and dynamic speedster Alvin Kamara. But it is the addition of Joshua Dobbs, an elusive and fleet-footed quarterback, which completes the formula for success. This formidable trio combined to rush for an astonishing 2,657 yards and 30 touchdowns last season, and there’s no reason to think those numbers can’t be improved upon. Tennessee also returns four starters along an offensive line that paved the way for the second-most rushing yards in program history in 2015.

 

3. Special Teams

One of the most underrated aspects of a successful football team is special teams. Great special teams, or lack thereof, can make all the difference in winning and losing. The Volunteers return arguably the best special teams unit in the nation. Evan Berry and Cameron Sutton should once again combine to form the most dangerous return duo in college football. Berry’s 38.3 yards per kickoff return was tops in the country for 2015 and culminated in the second-best average in NCAA history. Berry also added three touchdowns among his returns. Sutton was almost equally as impressive, averaging an FBS-best 18.7 yards per punt return in 2015 to go along with two scores. Additionally, punter Trevor Daniel is back after breaking the school record for punting average (45.7 ypp), good for eighth in the nation. The only question mark on special teams for the Vols is placekicker Aaron Medley, a three-year starter who should improve on a lackluster 2015.

 

Three Reasons Why Tennessee Won’t Make the College Football Playoff

 

1. The Passing Game

A potent rushing attack, stellar special teams and a great defense may be enough to carry Tennessee through the SEC East, but a complementary downfield passing game is crucial if the Volunteers have any desire to win the SEC outright and garner Playoff consideration. While quarterback Joshua Dobbs is fairly solid in the short passing game, and as good as any signal-caller in the nation with his legs, he has consistently struggled with his accuracy on the deep ball. To be fair, his receiving corps hasn’t provided much support either, routinely failing to gain separation from defenders. The good news is that improving the passing game has been a major focal point during the offseason. The Volunteers also seem confident in their potential playmakers at wide receiver and tight end for 2016. That said, the passing game remains an issue of concern, and without improvement, it could very well be the determining factor that prevents the Vols from making a Playoff run.

 

2. The Four-Game Gauntlet

Perhaps Tennessee’s biggest obstacle for 2016 will be a Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M and Alabama in consecutive weeks. A tough slate of games under any circumstance, but particularly brutal in consecutive fashion. If the Vols can somehow navigate their way through this difficult stretch relatively unscathed, they should be able to handle the remaining games on their schedule with ease and set their sights on the SEC title game and a potential Playoff appearance. But, that is a big “If,” and these four games undoubtedly provide several potential stumbling blocks that could easily derail Tennessee’s quest to be one of the final four teams standing.

 

3. Late-Game Meltdowns

The Volunteers had a reasonable opportunity to win each and every game in which they played in 2015. Needless to say, they ultimately fell short in four of those contests, becoming notorious for late-game meltdowns in the process. Jones took quite a bashing from the fan base and media alike as a result. The most common criticism was that Jones, along with offensive coordinator Mike DeBord, became far too conservative in the late stages of close games, squandering leads and any chance for victory. While the Vols’ experience and talent should help alleviate being in similar situations in 2016, Jones’ track record of having an ultra-conservative approach late in games is still an issue of concern that could result in similar outcomes in 2016.

 

Final Verdict

 

Tennessee has high aspirations heading into the 2016 campaign. The goal is simple, but no less lofty: make a run towards an SEC title and a potential berth in the College Football Playoff. Offensively, the Volunteers will have one of the most potent run games in the nation. Defensively, they are loaded with All-SEC-caliber talent, and under the tutelage of new coordinator Bob Shoop, this group should transcend from good to great in 2016. Tennessee should once again be elite on special teams as well. And collectively, this team probably has more experience than any other team in the country.

 

Like any team, Tennessee still has its share of potential pit falls to overcome. An iffy passing game, a brutal four-game stretch in the schedule, a history of questionable late-game coaching decisions and potential injuries are just a few of the obstacles that stand in the Volunteers’ way. But Tennessee has a lot more positives than negatives heading into 2016. Enough in fact to suggest that these Volunteers are legitimate contenders to be a part of college football’s final four at season’s end.

 

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

Teaser:
Why Tennessee Will or Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2016
Post date: Thursday, July 28, 2016 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/college-fantasy-football-2016-defense-and-kicker-rankings
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While the days of daily college fantasy football appear to be over (sadly), the season-long game remains alive and well as we head into the 2016 season.

 

To help those college fantasy diehards, Athlon Sports has positional rankings to assist in your preparations for the upcoming draft season. Below is the scoring system used to comprise these rankings.

 

Fumbles Recovered = 2 points

Interceptions = 2 points

Sacks = 1 point

Safeties = 3 points

Defensive Touchdowns = 6 points

Extra Point = 1 point

Field Goal = 3 points

 

2016 College Fantasy Positional Rankings: I I  I  I I

 

2016 College Fantasy Football Defense Rankings

 

Rank

Team

Bye Week

1

Michigan

7

2

LSU

9

3

Alabama

9

4

Missouri

6

5

Boston College

7

6

Wisconsin

6

7

Florida State

8

8

San Diego State

4

9

Appalachian State

6

10

Louisville

6

11

Tennessee

8

12

Georgia

8

13

Boise State

3

14

Florida

8

15

UCLA

9

2016 College Fantasy Football Kicker Rankings

 

Rank

Player

Team

Bye Week

1

Greg Huegel

Clemson

8

2

Tyler Rausa

Boise State

3

3

Aider Schneider

Oregon

7

4

Zane Gonzalez

Arizona State

10

5

Nick Weiler

North Carolina

9

6

Gary Wunderlich

Mississippi

6

7

Austin Seibert

Oklahoma

4

8

Michael Badgley

Miami

4

9

Griffin Oakes

Indiana

3

10

Jake Elliott

Memphis

2

11

Aaron Medley

Tennessee

8

12

Andy Phillips

Utah

10

13

Adam Griffith

Alabama

9

14

Daniel Carlson

Auburn

7

15

Jameson Vest

Toledo

4

— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2 

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Post date: Thursday, July 28, 2016 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-sec-running-back-tandems-2016
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Having two running backs is almost essential for every college football team. While some teams have workhorse options that can handle 275 or 300 carries, most programs want to have at least two (and sometimes three) running backs to split up the workload. The thought process is pretty simple: Take the workload off one player and spread it around to keep everyone fresh. This concept seems to gain more steam each year, as a running game is no longer about just one go-to back. Instead, most teams need at least two solid ball-carriers to lead the way on the ground. 

 

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The SEC has its share of talented running backs returning in 2016. Which teams have the best tandems (No. 1 and No. 2 backs) returning in the fall? Here are Athlon's rankings of the best running back tandems in the SEC for 2016:

 

Ranking the SEC RB Tandems for 2016

 

14. South Carolina – David Williams and A.J. Turner

Finding playmakers is one of the top priorities for new coach Will Muschamp. Last year’s leading rusher Brandon Wilds (567 yards) departs, leaving David Williams (299 yards) and A.J. Turner as the team’s top backs. Williams – a four-star recruit out of high school – has the talent to push for a breakout campaign in 2016. 

 

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13. Mississippi State – Brandon Holloway and Aeris Williams

With quarterback Dak Prescott off to the NFL, Mississippi State could lean more on its ground game until a new signal-caller emerges. The Bulldogs have talent here, but is there a go-to back? Brandon Holloway was the team’s top performer at running back last fall, recording 413 yards on 92 attempts. Holloway weighs in at only 165 pounds, so expect to see plenty from Aeris Williams (206 yards in 2015) and Ashton Shumpert (228 yards).

 

12. Missouri – Alex Ross and Nate Strong

There’s potential for this tandem to climb in the rankings this fall. With Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon entrenched as Oklahoma’s top backs, Ross transferred to Missouri as a graduate student with one year of eligibility remaining. In three years with the Sooners, Ross rushed for 786 yards (6.4 ypc) and five scores. He also made a huge impact on special teams, averaging 25.7 yards on 53 returns and recording two scores. This will be his first opportunity to be a full-time feature back, but the 6-foot-1 senior is certainly up to the task. Strong did not qualify at Missouri in 2014 and attended Hinds Community College in Mississippi last fall. However, Strong ranked as a four-star prospect in the 2015 signing class and was regarded as one of the top junior college running backs. He could be an impact recruit for coach Barry Odom. 

 

11. Ole Miss – Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins

Last year’s leading rusher Jaylen Walton expired his eligibility, leaving Judd, Wilkins and redshirt freshman Eric Swinney to contend for the No. 1 role in the Ole Miss backfield. The Rebels had the SEC’s top passing attack last season, so an elite ground game isn’t necessary for coach Hugh Freeze’s offense to fire on all cylinders once again. Judd is the top statistical performer at running back (421 yards), but he shares the top spot with Wilkins on the preseason depth chart. Wilkins rushed for 379 yards and four touchdowns in 2015.

 

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10. Florida – Jordan Scarlett and Mark Thompson

In SEC-only matchups last fall, Florida ranked 13th in the league in rushing (112.3 ypg) and averaged only 3.2 yards per carry. Some of the blame falls on the offensive line, but the Gators need more production and big plays from their running backs in 2016. Kelvin Taylor departed for the NFL after recording 1,035 yards in 2015, leaving Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite as the team’s top returning options. Scarlett – the No. 118 recruit in the 2015 signing class – is the frontrunner for the No. 1 role. However, he’s far from secure as the team’s top back, as Cronkrite was receiving more carries at the end of 2015, and junior college recruit Mark Thompson also joins the mix. 

 

9. Texas A&M – Keith Ford and James White

There’s a lot of potential surrounding Texas A&M’s backfield for new play-caller Noel Mazzone. Keith Ford started his career at Oklahoma and rushed for 526 yards and six touchdowns in two seasons. The former five-star prospect brings big-play ability to the Aggie backfield and could push for All-SEC honors in his first opportunity for snaps in College Station. At 220 pounds, White can add some power to the ground game and move the pile in short-yardage situations. True freshman Trayveon Williams is another name to remember.

 

8. Arkansas – Kody Walker and Rawleigh Williams

Even though Arkansas will miss Alex Collins, the Razorbacks are still in good shape at running back. Coach Bret Bielema has a track record for finding standouts at running back, and there are three intriguing candidates vying for snaps. Kody Walker is the veteran of this group and enters his sixth season on campus with 644 yards and 13 scores. He will get the first shot at replacing Collins, but Williams – expected to return to full strength from a neck injury – will make a strong push for the starting job. Williams rushed for 254 yards in seven appearances last year. True freshman Devwah Whaley represents the future answer for Bielema but is also expected to see his share of attempts this fall. 

 

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7. Vanderbilt – Ralph Webb and Josh Crawford

Ralph Webb recorded the second-most rushing yards (1,152) in a single season in school history last year and is poised to push that total even higher in 2016. The junior has emerged as one of the SEC’s top backs over the last two seasons. Coordinator Andy Ludwig is searching for more balance in 2016, but the offense can lean on Webb until quarterback Kyle Shurmur is ready to shoulder more of the workload. Josh Crawford (54 yards) is penciled in as the backup, with Dallas Rivers and Khari Blasingame also receiving carries.

 

6. Auburn – Jovon Robinson and Kerryon Johnson

Auburn’s depth at running back took a hit with Peyton Barber’s early departure to the NFL, along with the decision of Roc Thomas to transfer to Jacksonville State. However, the Tigers aren’t hurting for talent and still have one of the SEC’s top running back tandems. Robinson was regarded as the top junior college recruit in the 2015 signing class and rushed for 639 yards in his first season with the Tigers. However, Robinson came on strong at the end of 2015, recording 126 yards against Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl and 159 against Texas A&M on Nov. 7. Johnson rushed for 208 yards and three scores as a true freshman last fall. He’s poised for a bigger role in 2016.

 

5. Kentucky – Boom Williams and Jojo Kemp

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops made one of the SEC’s top assistant hires by bringing in Eddie Gran from Cincinnati as the program’s new play-caller. Gran’s top task is to upgrade the passing game and develop quarterback Drew Barker. But until the passing game clicks, Gran should build the offense around Kentucky’s deep backfield. Williams is one of the nation’s top-big play threats, averaging 6.9 yards per rush through two seasons. Kemp has accumulated 1,360 rushing yards over the last three years. 

 

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4. Alabama – Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris

Scarbrough and Harris have combined for only 64 career attempts entering 2016, but there’s a lot of promise surrounding this duo. Both players ranked as five-star prospects and should keep Alabama’s ground attack performing at a high level. Scarbrough has a similar build (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) to Derrick Henry, while Harris earned MVP honors for Alabama’s spring game after a 114-yard performance.

 

3. Tennessee – Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara

The Volunteers rank third on this list, but that’s largely a statement on the strength of the SEC’s stable of running backs. Jalen Hurd has been the go-to back for coach Butch Jones since he stepped on campus in 2014. After recording 899 yards and five scores as a freshman, Hurd pushed that total even higher in 2015. The Tennessee native ranked fourth in the SEC by recording 1,288 yards and also added 12 scores on 277 attempts. Kamara – a former Alabama recruit and a playmaker at Hutchinson Community College in 2014 – made an impact as the team’s No. 2 option in his first year in Knoxville, rushing for 698 yards and seven touchdowns.  

 

2. LSU – Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice

Leonard Fournette smashed the LSU record book in his first full season as the starter and emerged as the nation’s best running back. In 12 games last year, Fournette rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 scores (both single-season LSU records) and led the nation by averaging 162.8 yards per game. Additionally, Fournette eclipsed 100 rushing yards in 10 out of LSU’s 12 games and recorded four performances of 200 yards or more. While Fournette is poised to challenge for the Heisman Trophy once again and is an easy pick for first-team All-America honors, backup Derrius Guice is due for more work in 2016. Guice flashed promise in limited action last year, rushing for 436 yards and three scores on just 51 attempts. 

 

1. Georgia – Nick Chubb and Sony Michel

Injuries have cast a shadow over this tandem for the start of the 2016 season. However, if both players are healthy, Georgia’s backfield duo of Chubb and Michel will rank among the nation’s best. Prior to a season-ending knee injury last fall, Chubb rushed for 747 yards and seven scores. Michel ensured there was no drop off in production for the ground attack with Chubb sidelined, as he finished the year with 1,161 yards and eight scores. Michel also closed 2015 on a high note, recording at least 132 rushing yards in three out of Georgia’s final five games. 

Teaser:
Ranking the SEC Running Back Tandems for 2016
Post date: Thursday, July 28, 2016 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: AAC, ACC, Air Force Falcons, Akron Zips, Alabama Crimson Tide, Appalachian State Mountaineers, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats, Arkansas Razorbacks, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Army West Point Black Knights, Army Black Knights, Army West Point Black Knights, Auburn Tigers, Ball State Cardinals, Baylor Bears, Boise State Broncos, Boston College Eagles, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, BYU Cougars, California Golden Bears, Central Michigan Chippewas, Charlotte 49ers, Cincinnati Bearcats, Clemson Tigers, College Football, Colorado Buffaloes, Colorado State Rams, Connecticut Huskies, Duke Blue Devils, East Carolina Pirates, Eastern Michigan Eagles, FAU Owls, FIU Panthers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Fresno State Bulldogs, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Southern Eagles, Georgia State Panthers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, Hawaii Warriors, Houston Cougars, Idaho Vandals, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Kent State Golden Flashes, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Louisville Cardinals, LSU Tigers, Marshall Thundering Herd, Maryland Terrapins, Memphis Tigers, Miami Hurricanes, Miami Ohio RedHawks, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, MTSU Blue Raiders, Navy Midshipmen, Navy Midshipmen, NC State Wolfpack, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, New Mexico State Aggies, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Texas Mean Green, Northern Illinois Huskies, Northwestern Wildcats, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Old Dominion Monarchs, Ole Miss Rebels, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Pittsburgh Panthers, Purdue Boilermakers, Rice Owls, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, San Diego State Aztecs, San Jose State Spartans, SMU Mustangs, South Alabama Jaguars, South Carolina Gamecocks, South Florida Bulls, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Stanford Cardinal, syndicated, Syracuse Orange, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Longhorns, Texas State Bobcats, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Toledo Rockets, Troy Trojans, Tulane Green Wave, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, UAB Blazers, UCF Knights, UCLA Bruins, UConn Huskies, UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, UL Monroe Warhawks, UMass Minutemen, UNLV Rebels, USC Trojans, Utah State Aggies, Utah Utes, UTEP Miners, UTSA Roadrunners, Vanderbilt Commodores, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, West Virginia Mountaineers, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Western Michigan Broncos, Wisconsin Badgers, Wyoming Cowboys, American Athletic, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC
Path: /college-football/top-25-college-football-non-conference-games-2016
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When the College Football Playoff was first announced, many believed that the use of a committee would help foster a host of high profile non-conference matchups in the sport. If you buy into that line of thinking, consider the 2016 season the fruit of that labor.

 

Opening week is loaded with blockbuster games and the state of Texas alone may play host to the biggest weekend of college football games ever — and that’s not really over-the-top hyperbole either given some of the names involved. You want blue bloods playing other blue bloods? You got it. Looking for Playoff contenders facing off against other final four-caliber teams? Check and check. In short, the 2016 season is a bit of nirvana for the college football fan looking for some great games outside of the conference schedule.

 

Top Non-Conference Games: I I I I

 

With that in mind, here is a list of the top 25 non-conference games of the season across the country.

 

1. Ohio State at Oklahoma (Sept. 17)

These two schools claim 15 national titles between them and feature two of the greatest coaches in the sport in Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops. From a historical perspective, this meeting of blue bloods is about as good as they come but it’s made even juicier by the fact that each is a top-six team in 2016 and favorites to make it into the College Football Playoff. Don’t forget about the significant Heisman Trophy implications in this one either with quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Baker Mayfield.

 

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2. Florida State vs. Ole Miss (Orlando, Fla, — Sept. 5)

Florida State has become a trendy national champion pick over the summer and the Seminoles will be put to the test right away in this meeting of top-10 teams in Orlando. Jimbo Fisher’s squad has the talent advantage given all the young players they return but are breaking in a new quarterback. Hugh Freeze gets the benefit of having veteran signal-caller Chad Kelly lead the Rebels onto the field but has his hands full when it comes to a thin linebacker corps trying to contain Heisman contender Dalvin Cook.

 

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

Call it a battle of sleeping giants under the warm Texas sun in what might be Week 1’s most intriguing non-conference matchup. UCLA was picked by the media to win the Pac-12 South this season and have been undergoing an offensive transformation to suit the talents of star quarterback Josh Rosen. The Aggies are entering a new era with former Bruins offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and transfer QB Trevor Knight but they might have a trump card on defense in the potential No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick next year, Myles Garrett.

 

4. Oklahoma vs. Houston (Houston — Sept. 3)

Can a non-Power Five program ever crash the College Football Playoff? We asked a similar question with Boise State for years but Houston might have the best shot of any outsider in 2016 thanks to a strong non-conference slate. It won’t be easy for head coach Tom Herman and star quarterback Greg Ward Jr. however, with a top-six team to open the year in Oklahoma. Get past the Sooners however, and the hype train for the Cougars will be stratospheric.

 

5. Florida at Florida State (Nov. 26)

One of the few late-season matchups on this list could have significant postseason stakes for both teams. This could be the final major hurdle for a Playoff spot for Florida State and Florida head coach Jim McElwain is hoping that things go much better in this rivalry game than they did last year. The fact that the Seminoles had state champion rings made last year will no doubt be brought up in the lead up to this game.

 

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6. Alabama vs. USC (Arlington, Texas — Sept. 3)

When it comes to a meeting of all-time historical powers in the sport — 24 national titles between the two — it will be hard to top the eighth meeting between Alabama and USC. Nick Saban is obviously coming off another national championship and will be back in the familiar confines of AT&T Stadium looking to show once again that the Tide are contenders for another in 2016. USC has some talented players like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Adoree’ Jackson but face a tough road to another Pac-12 title and their early schedule does new head coach Clay Helton no favors.

 

7. Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee (Bristol, Tenn. — Sept. 10)

Butch Jones has steadily re-built Tennessee to the point where expectations are sky high around Knoxville and anything less than an SEC East title in 2016 will be a disappointment. There’s a reason for that but quarterback Joshusa Dobbs and end Derek Barnett shouldn’t expect an easy first game at all against the Hokies with new head coach Justin Fuente sporting a solid group of returnees and veteran defensive coordinator Bud Foster. The fact that this game is at Bristol Motor Speedway and could be in front of as many as 160,000 fans should make for a bonkers atmosphere and unique setup.

 

8. Wisconsin vs. LSU (Green Bay, Wis. — Sept. 3)

Few programs went through as much drama last season as LSU did and off-the-field events have drawn plenty of attention to the football team’s place in the Baton Rouge community. All those headlines obscure the fact that the Tigers are loaded with talent though and could be primed to dethrone Alabama in the SEC and make a run at the Playoff. This will be the first tough test Wisconsin has in a brutal schedule as the Badgers face an uphill climb in 2016 but they should be able to draw on a bit of magic that will likely come from playing in the storied venue of Lambeau Field.

 

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9. Stanford at Notre Dame (Oct. 15)

This has been one of the most competitive rivalry games in the country over the past five years and has delivered some classics as a result. The two have annually faced off with huge postseason implications at stake and the past four meetings have all come down to a one score. Expect much of the same again this year when the two meet in South Bend in what should be a big game for Cardinal all-purpose dynamo Christian McCaffrey’s Heisman hopes.

 

10. Louisville at Houston (Nov. 17)

If you like high-flying offenses and dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks, this game is for you. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson was a big part of the Cardinals’ strong close to 2015 when they won six of their final seven and has enough talent to develop into one of the ACC’s best behind center. Houston’s Greg Ward Jr. is a big reason why the Cougars are being talked about as a team that could crash the final four and, at the minimum, this game could have big implications for the team making a New Year’s Six bowl.

 

11. Clemson at Auburn (Sept. 3)

If this were on another weekend, it would probably get more attention but a host of other high-profile matchups have pushed this down the list a bit. Still, it’s hard to argue with watching a loaded Clemson squad looking to get back to the national title game and a showcase for the arm (and legs) of terrific quarterback Deshuan Watson. There’s plenty of intrigue on the other side too, even if Auburn isn’t a top-25 team to begin the season as Gus Malzhan looks to bounce back from a very disappointing 2015. Keep an eye out for defensive end Carl Lawson in particular as he faces off against top tackles Mitch Hyatt and Jake Fruhmorgen.

 

12. Notre Dame at Texas (Sept. 4)

Two of the top three winningest programs of all time will hook up once again in Austin for yet another incredible opening weekend contest. Last year, Notre Dame thoroughly embarrassed Texas and helped set the tone for another disappointing season under Charlie Strong. The Longhorns’ head coach seems to be firmly on the hot seat and a big win in the opener would no doubt cool things off considerably, especially when you consider Notre Dame will start the year off in the top 10 and has two very good quarterbacks to flummox the Horns with.

 

13. Washington State at Boise State (Sept. 3)

This Pacific Northwest special has the potential to be the most entertaining game of the year. Boise State sports the productive backfield of Brett Rypien and Jeremy McNichols and will no doubt have a full bag of trick plays at the ready. Mike Leach’s Cougars love to throw it around and why wouldn’t they with a quarterback like Luke Falk posting video game numbers every week. The Broncos could run the table if they can capture a win in this big-time home game while Wazzu has an early chance to show the nation that last year’s nine-win outing was no fluke.

 

14. Notre Dame at USC (Nov. 26)

The greatest intersectional rivalry in the country checks in a little lower on this list in 2016 than in past years but that’s more about other matchups being so good as opposed to this one slacking off. Both squads are top 25-caliber and the special nature of this game always adds to the atmosphere in the air at the Coliseum. Given the stakes that usually accompany this meeting, don’t be surprised if a potential New Year’s Six bowl bid is on the line either.

 

15. Oregon at Nebraska (Sept. 17)

Oregon is plenty familiar with Mike Riley dating back to the head coach’s days at Civil War rival Oregon State but the two will face off in a new locale for this non-conference matchup. The Ducks are fairly overshadowed in the Pac-12 this season for once but they still have plenty of talent on offense and recently brought in former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke to re-tool the defense. Nebraska had about as unlucky a year as one could have in 2015 and are hoping to reverse fortunes in a big way with a statement in this game from Tommy Armstrong and company.

 

16. Michigan State at Notre Dame (Sep. 17)

There’s a little luster lost in this rivalry game with Michigan State having to replace so many starters from last year’s Big Ten title team but this still figures to be an incredible matchup in a series that has given everybody some memorable moments. Notre Dame harbors Playoff hopes once again and has a ton of skill position talent that the Spartans must contain while also figuring out their own quarterback situation moving forward.

 

17. Arkansas at TCU (Sept. 10)

This non-conference game is going a bit under the radar given all of the other great ones going on in the state of Texas during September but it shouldn’t. Both of the former Southwest Conference teams will find themselves in the top 25 polls during the year and both are hoping they have an answer at quarterback that can handle this kind of test early on. Arkansas’ run game against Gary Patterson’s tough Horned Frogs defense should be reason enough to tune in.

 

18. BYU at Utah (Sept. 10)

The Holy War between Utah and BYU is among the most hotly contested rivalries in the country and the regular season version of the game returns for the first time in three years. The two are very familiar with each other having just played in a Las Vegas Bowl that was as wild as one can imagine given the locale. New Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake will have his hands full in the first big test of his career as BYU looks to put an end to Utah’s five-game winning streak.

 

19. Miami at Notre Dame (Oct. 29)

Those of a certain age remember fondly when these two powerhouses waged for a few seasons what was mockingly described as a battle between “Catholics and Convicts.” While no national titles will be on the line when the pair hooks up again, the trip to South Bend will nevertheless be fascinating to watch for Hurricanes fans pining to take a step forward with a big win under new head coach Mark Richt. Quarterback Brad Kaaya will be a handful for a young Irish defense to contain, while an aggressive Hurricanes squad will look to slow down a high-powered Fighting Irish offense led by RB Tarean Folston and WR Torii Hunter Jr on its home turf. Don’t be surprised if a shootout develops under the watchful eyes of Touchdown Jesus.

 

20. Georgia vs. North Carolina (Atlanta — Sept. 3)

Normally, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is the must-watch contest of Week 1. This year’s matchup at the Georgia Dome doesn’t quite rise to that level but it still should be as entertaining and interesting as it has been in years past. Many local fans are no doubt going to turn out to see the start of the Kirby Smart era at Georgia but the new head coach won’t have an easy opener with questions all over his two-deep. On the opposite sideline, the Tar Heels’ Larry Fedora is hoping to continue the momentum from last year’s 11-win campaign and would love for nothing more than to spoil Smart’s debut.

 

21. Penn State at Pitt (Sept. 10)

Penn State is finally at a full 85 scholarships in 2016 and has high expectations going into James Franklin’s third season in Happy Valley. The team will be breaking in a new quarterback after Christian Hackenberg’s departure to the NFL but luckily they’ll be able to lean on the terrific Saquon Barkley in the backfield. A hard-nosed Pitt team returns 16 starters, however, and gets back former ACC Player of the Year James Conner after he battled cancer over the past year.

 

22. Kansas State at Stanford (Sept. 2)

Two of the most respected head coaches in the game will square off in Palo Alto, Calif., to open the year in a matchup that should give us a glimpse at what we can expect from both teams in 2016. Bill Snyder battled a ton of injuries last year and still managed to make it to a bowl game but nothing will be as difficult for the savvy old veteran as containing dynamite Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey. It’s a good thing David Shaw’s Cardinal team has the impressive young tailback too considering the team is breaking in a new quarterback against an underrated Wildcats defense.

 

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

Do you like shootouts? If so, this game might be one for you. Kliff Kingsbury’s Red Raiders have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in the dynamic Patrick Mahomes but a victory in this contest might have to come down to if Tech’s defense can show improvement from last season. Todd Graham will no doubt be excited for this non-conference game in order to feature his typical blitz-happy defense and a slightly new look to his “high-octane” offense.

 

24. Texas at Cal (Sept. 17)

While the opener against Notre Dame likely won’t cause anybody to change their minds about Texas should the Longhorns lose, this game against Cal could be described as a bit of a referendum on Charlie Strong and whether he can win a big non-conference game while in Austin. UT will be sporting a new-look spread offense to go along with a defense that has some impressive playmakers like linebacker Malik Jefferson. Cal surprised last year behind No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick Jared Goff and his replacement is somebody who knows the burnt orange quite well in former Texas Tech signal-caller Davis Webb.

 

25. UCLA at BYU (Sept. 17)

UCLA fans would rather forget what happened the last time they traveled to Provo (a 59-0 shellacking in favor of BYU) but things are quite different this time around starting with the coaches on the sideline. This will be new head coach Kalani Sitake’s second straight game against a Pac-12 opponent and he will no doubt be hoping that the home opener will be a bit of a house of horrors for the Bruins like it once was. If nothing else, this should be a terrific matchup between quarterbacks, with Josh Rosen in the powder blues and either Tanner Mangum or Taysom Hill under center for the Cougars.

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at .

 

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Teaser:
Top 25 College Football Non-Conference Games of 2016
Post date: Thursday, July 28, 2016 - 10:00
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The quarterback is easily the most important on-field position for any college football team. Signal-callers can truly make their teammates better and enhance their play on the field. While quarterback - especially proven ones - are valuable, this position is not easy to evaluate and the overall performance can depend on some of the help from the supporting cast. These pocket passers and dual-threats are some of the best in the nation and these clashes should make it an enjoyable season in the ACC. Here are the top 10 quarterback matchups involving ACC teams for 2016:

 

ACC's Best QB Matchups of 2016
 
1. Lamar Jackson (LOU)vs. Deshaun Watson (CLEM)10/1
What a matchup this will be in Death Valley with two of the premier dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation squaring off in a huge ACC contest. This game has potential to be one the of most electrifying games of the year. 
 
2. Brad Kaaya (MIAF)  vs. DeShone Kizer (ND)  10/29
This game features a couple of signal-callers who don't use their legs as much as the first two above. The pair combined to throw for 6,122 yards and 37 scores last fall. 
 
3. Lamar Jackson (LOU) vs. Greg Ward Jr. (HOU) 11/17
Jackson and Ward are arguably the best athletes playing quarterback in the Power 5 and Group of 5 ranks. Expect these both players to put up some impressive numbers in the air and certainly on the ground as well. 
 
4. Deondre Francois (FSU)  vs. Chad Kelly (MISS)  9/5
Can the redshirt freshman (Francois) hold his own against a great Ole Miss defense? Francois will have to battle the best quarterback in the SEC to get the first win of his career. 
 
5. Brad Kaaya (MIAF)  vs. Mitch Trubisky (UNC)  10/15
Kaaya should thrive under new coach Mark Richt, but there is plenty of intrigue surrounding the other signal-caller in this game. Trubisky has impressed in limited action and inherits a supporting cast that's among the best in the ACC. 
 
6. Deshaun Watson (CLEM) vs. John Franklin III (AUB)9/3
Franklin - a former quarterback at Florida State - will go against the best QB the ACC has to offer in Watson. This game will set the tone for Clemson's hopes of a repeat playoff bid and if Auburn will turn some heads this year.
 
7. Thomas Sirk (DUKE)  vs. Justin Thomas (GT) 10/29
Two productive runners (Sirk, 809 rushing yards and Thomas, 485 rushing yards) look to improve on their passing stats from last year. Just how healthy is Sirk after an offseason Achilles tear?
 
8. Brad Kaaya (MIAF)  vs. Taylor Lamb (APP)  9/17
First of all, hats off to Appalachian State Athletic Director Doug Gillin for getting the U to come to Boone. Secondly, we will see two signal-callers who have (and will) shatter numerous school records. 
 
9. Mitch Trubisky (UNC)  vs. Greyson Lambert (UGA) 9/3
One of the many Top 25 clashes the first weekend of college football, these two hold the keys to the car of some talented offenses. Can Lambert hold off talented true freshman Jacob Eason?
 
10. Nathan Peterman (PITT)vs. Mason Rudolph (OKST)9/17
Peterman posted 2,287 passing yards and 20 passing touchdowns last season, while Rudolph led the Big 12 in yards per completion with 14.28. 
 
Teaser:
ACC's Top 10 Quarterback Matchups of 2016
Post date: Thursday, July 28, 2016 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News, Magazines
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A chance meeting with Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin in Atlanta in 2014 presented Keary Colbert with a tough decision.

 

Colbert, a standout receiver at USC from 2000-03 and an NFL wideout from 2004-11, was then the wide receivers coach at Georgia State when he attended a Georgia high school coaches’ luncheon and bumped into Kiffin, a familiar face from his days with the Trojans.

 

Kiffin mentioned the possibility of Colbert joining Alabama as an “analyst.” For Colbert, taking the position would mean leaving a full-time assistant coach job with a program that had just moved up to the FBS and the Sun Belt.

 

One path was traditional for a young assistant — a position coach with a fledgling program. The other was an off-field role with the premier power in the sport and the nation’s top coach in Nick Saban.

 

Colbert chose Alabama, where he spent the 2014 and ’15 seasons as an offensive analyst on a coaching and support staff that has grown to include eight analysts who work with nine position coaches and four graduate assistants.

 

 “I had to make a decision to leave a full-time job and go to Alabama and learn from Coach Saban and learn from his program and people on his staff,” Colbert says. “It was a growth opportunity for me to get underneath that umbrella and to use those experiences going forward.”

 

 

Many programs have expanded their own support staffs in recent seasons. Colbert, for example, left Alabama to be an offensive administrative assistant at USC, one of four total administrative assistants on Clay Helton’s staff.

 

Auburn had six analysts last season, including one hired away from Alabama. Jim Harbaugh’s first staff at Michigan included five aides with some variation of the title “analyst.” Florida State’s staff last season included 12 assistants with the words “quality control” in their titles.

 

Whether teams call them analysts, quality control coaches or administrative assistants, the poster child of the practice is Alabama.

 

The Crimson Tide first had three members of their staff listed as analysts in 2010, then six in 2011 and 10 in 2012 before settling on eight in each of the last three seasons.

 

Their roles are a blend between graduate assistant and advance scout. Unlike a quality control position in the NFL or a graduate assistant in college, analysts are not among the group of coaches the NCAA allows to instruct players. Analysts and quality control coaches, like GAs, are not permitted to recruit. By NCAA rules, GAs also must be enrolled as graduate students, as the name suggests. Analysts do not need to be enrolled in classes.

 

“It’s kind of taken to the pro format,” Helton says of his staffing at USC. “When you look at the NFL, you have the first assistant and second assistant. You have a full-time coach who is actually coaching the position and a quality control that’s getting a lot of the work done for the coach from a cut-up standpoint or computer standpoint. It’s almost like he has his own assistant for meeting preparation.”

 

 

Many former and current analysts at Alabama are similar to Colbert — young coaches looking to move up in the profession. Since 2010, most of Alabama’s analysts have been previously graduate assistants or video coordinators in Tuscaloosa or elsewhere. Others were full-time assistants at the FCS level or high school coaches.

 

“The fact that we can have a few extra guys now to be analysts, to break down film, to do quality control-type work, I think as an entry level that is beneficial to some guys that can move on maybe to be graduate assistants, get on the field and get some coaching experience,” Saban said during his team’s preparations for the National Championship Game against Clemson.

 

Dan O’Brien joined the Alabama staff in 2007 as a graduate assistant after serving one season as scouting assistant intern with the New England Patriots and one season as a safeties coach at Harvard. When O’Brien, the son of former Boston College and NC State coach Tom O’Brien, finished his graduate work, Alabama wanted to keep him on the staff. The Tide added him in their first wave of analyst hires in 2010.

 

O’Brien describes the role as the college version of an NFL advance scout, reporting tendencies noticed on film.

 

“It saved the full-time coaches from doing a lot of extra stuff,” says O’Brien, who is now the secondary coach at Navy. “You try to take a little off their plate and allow them to focus on the game-planning aspects of things.”

 

Only three analysts were on the Alabama staff when O’Brien was there — he left Tuscaloosa to become the defensive backs coach at Elon — but the role of analysts as extensions of the coaching staff was clear. O’Brien worked in conjunction with defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who is now the head coach at Georgia.

 

“For my four years there I was Kirby’s shadow, other than the on-the-field stuff,” O’Brien says. “If Kirby needed something, I’d make sure it got done.”

 

During his time as a high school coach in Mobile, former Alabama cornerback Kelvin Sigler had been trying to break into college coaching, and specifically with the Crimson Tide. He went after director of player development positions that were eventually filled by Jeremy Pruitt (now the defensive coordinator at Alabama) and Kevin Sherrer (now the outside linebackers coach at Georgia). Sigler’s foot in the door was an analyst position in 2012. His job was to work closely with Pruitt, who by then had been promoted to defensive backs coach, on breaking down film and installing game plans.

 

“It doesn’t put a lot on one GA or intern to break down film because you have so many guys who can do those things,” says Sigler, who has been the linebackers coach at Northern Illinois and South Alabama since leaving his analyst position. “It speeds up the process with so many people you can depend on.”

 

When Sigler was hired, he brought with him his longtime friend and assistant at Blount High School, Chris Samuels. An Outland Trophy winner at Alabama and a Pro Bowl tackle with the Washington Redskins, Samuels also was looking to break into coaching.

 

He took a graduate assistant position for two seasons, working on the sideline, holding up cards and signaling plays. After earning a degree, he moved to an analyst role installing the offense for the scout team.

 

Having a connection to Alabama or the coaching staff is a good way to get an analyst position, but old-fashioned hard work (and being cordial) landed Samuels as a graduate assistant and then as an analyst.

 

Samuels left college coaching to become the coach at Manassas (Va.) Osbourn High School.

 

Jules Montinar, a former player at Eastern Kentucky and graduate assistant at Purdue, didn’t have any connection to Alabama other than seeing a job open up on FootballScoop.com. He sent a résumé and followed up several times and left a positive impression with Saban’s administrative assistant Linda Leoni. When Smart and then-director of player of development Glenn Schumann were down to the final candidates, Leoni mentioned Montinar.

 

“Kirby called me and two days later I was on the plane interviewing,” Montinar says. “The rest is history.”

 

Montinar, who is now the cornerbacks coach at Texas State, ended up working closely with Saban. As other analysts worked side-by-side with assistants, Montinar drew the assignment of coaching cornerbacks with Saban.

 

“You’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game every time,” Montinar says. “There’s nowhere to hide.”

 

This feature and more on Alabama and the SEC are available in the .

 
 

Jake Peetz, a former walk-on at Nebraska who worked with the Jaguars and Redskins in quality control roles, also believes he got the job on hustle.

 

After Peetz was part of a staff that was fired in Jacksonville, he got clearance to visit from Smart. Peetz worked under Mike Mularkey in Jacksonville. Mularkey, the current coach for the Tennessee Titans, had been Saban’s offensive coordinator for a year with the Miami Dolphins.

 

That shared connection, though, isn’t the only reason Peetz believes he earned a spot working with Alabama’s then-offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier in 2013.

 

“I hope that he saw that I drove from Jacksonville to Alabama because I wanted to be there,” says Peetz, who is now assistant quarterbacks coach with the Raiders. “I was a young guy who had a lot of energy and enthusiasm and wanted to learn the right way to do things.”

 

Not all of Alabama’s analysts have been up-and-coming head coaches. Some have been brought in for a specific purpose.

 

When Alabama wanted to refine the no-huddle, up-tempo elements of the offense in 2015, Saban and Kiffin approached Eric Kiesau, who had helped install tempo offenses at Washington and Cal. Kiesau had been the wide receivers coach at Kansas in 2014 and had intended on taking some time off before Alabama contacted him. Like some other analysts Alabama has hired, Kiesau could afford to take a pay cut from what he would make as a full-time assistant to be an analyst because he was still receiving buyout payments from Kansas. (CBSSports.com reported in January that analysts’ salaries range from $23,462 to $47,409.)

 

Instead of serving as a quality control staffer or an assistant to a position coach, Kiesau described his role as a consultant.

 

Normally, coaches looking to tweak an offensive or defensive system would hire an outside coach full-time or would visit with another coaching staff for a teaching session.

 

In Kiesau, Alabama hired someone on staff to work on the transition in real time.

 

“If you wanted to [tweak an offense], you’d send your coordinator in the offseason to a team in the spring and visit for a couple of days, and they would take a bunch of notes and then take it back and incorporate that into their own system,” Kiesau says. “That’s why it was so invaluable for me to be there all day, every day, all year long because when things came up, it was ‘How did you handle this?’”

 

Kiesau helped Alabama trim its playbook for an up-tempo system and work on play-call sheets. And like many analysts at Alabama, he used his position to learn about Saban’s organization and system to apply it to future work. Kiesau returned to a full-time assistant role when he was hired as Fresno State’s offensive coordinator this season.

 

The analyst role also has been a valuable training ground for eventual full-time assistants at Alabama.

 

In 2014, Alabama hired former Cal and Washington defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi as an analyst. Lupoi was a highly regarded recruiter in the Pac-12 before he was at the center of an NCAA investigation that he paid for a recruit’s tutoring. Neither Lupoi nor Washington was penalized, but the inquiry meant that he couldn’t join Sarkisian at USC or stay with the Huskies.

 

Lupoi found a home at Alabama and was eventually promoted to serve as the Tide’s outside linebackers coach.

 

Billy Napier served as offensive coordinator and other roles at Clemson until he was fired in 2010. He landed as an analyst at Alabama in 2011 and followed former Tide offensive coordinator Jim McElwain to Colorado State. Napier returned to Alabama as wide receivers coach in 2013.

 

The expanded coaching staff gives Alabama, in some ways, a minor league or training system for eventual assistants.

 

“Regardless of where they need to start professionally, I think this is a great thing for our profession, to be able to help develop coaches,” Saban said in January. “And I think those guys now have created a role and a niche for themselves that’s very important to every program because we all depend on them.”

Teaser:
Behind the Scenes: What Exactly Does an Alabama Football Analyst Do?
Post date: Thursday, July 28, 2016 - 09:00
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It’s no secret that the Olympic Games cost a lot of money to produce. After all, it’s the largest international sports competition and it’s an event that attracts the attention of the world.

 

With the grand stage also comes an equally grand budget to make it all happen. Consider that the most recent Olympics, the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, reportedly cost around $42 billion. While some of the cost was for turning the Russian city into a mountain resort, a large chunk of that money went into the construction of the sports facilities and infrastructure.

 

Speaking of facilities, when it comes to the Summer Olympics, typically most of the attention is paid to the main stadium. Not only is it the home of the track and field events, it’s also the host of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Not surprisingly, no expense is usually spared on these venues. With the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro quickly approaching, here is a list of the eight most expensive stadiums in Summer Olympics history.

 

8. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Los Angeles, United States) 1984 Summer Olympics - $13.3 million*

 

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was commissioned in 1921 as a memorial to area World War I veterans and cost about $955,000 to build ($13.3 million in 2016 US dollars). Already the largest stadium in Los Angeles with a capacity of 75,144 when it opened in 1923, the stadium was expanded to 101,574 in 1930 in preparation for the 1932 Summer Olympics. The stadium has been the home for numerous professional sports teams, hosted musical concerts and other major events, including the 1984 Summer Games. Currently, the Coliseum serves as the primary home of the USC Trojans as well as the temporary home of the NFL's Los Angeles Rams.

 

7. Estádio Olímpico João Havelange (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) 2016 Summer Olympics - $192 million

 

The venue for this year’s Summer Games, Estádio Olímpico João Havelange, was opened in 2007 after costing six times the stadium’s original construction budget. Surprisingly, the stadium was not used when Rio held the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but has been used for the soccer club Botafogo de Futebol e Regatas’s home games. The Brazilian national soccer team uses the stadium, which has hosted the 2007 Pan American Games, as well as multiple concerts. The seating capacity for the Olympics is expected to increase to 60,000.

 

6. Centennial Olympic Stadium (Atlanta, Georgia, United States) 1996 Summer Olympics - $207 million

 

Construction on Centennial Olympic Stadium started in 1993 with it being completed just two months before the start of the 1996 Summer Games. The venue for the Opening and Closing Ceremony, as well as track and field events, the stadium held 85,000. After the conclusion of the Summer Games, the stadium was reconfigured into what became Turner Field, the home of MLB’s Atlanta Braves. The presence of the nearby Georgia Dome, which originally opened in 1992, meant there was no need for a second permanent track and field venue in downtown Atlanta. The Braves’ first season at Turner Field was 1997 and this current season is set to be their last. In 2017, the Braves will call SunTrust Park, a brand-new stadium built in nearby Cobb County, home. The stadium site was sold to Georgia State University last December, and the school has plans to renovate Turner Field and use it as a football stadium.

 

5. Olympic Stadium of Athens “Spyros Louis” (Athens, Greece) 2004 Summer Olympics  - $291 million*

 

Olympic Stadium was built in 1982 to host the 1982 European Championships in Athletics. It also hosted the 1991 Mediterranean Games and the 1997 World Championships in Athletics to prove that it was capable of hosting major sporting events after failing to win the bid for the 1996 Summer Olympics. The stadium underwent extensive renovation prior to the 2004 Summer Games, at an estimated cost of $265 million Euros, which converts to $291 million US dollars using current exchange rates. Capacity was reduced to 71,030 for the Games, although only 56,700 seats were made available for the public for track & field events and slightly more for the soccer final. Since the Olympics, the stadium has held the 2007 UEFA Champions League Final, but no other major sporting event. Unfortunately, the astronomic cost (reported $9 billion Euros or $11 billion US) that Greece incurred to hold the Summer Games contributed to the economic crisis that has plagued the European nation.

 

4. Seoul Olympic Stadium (Seoul, South Korea) 1988 Summer Olympics - $430 million*

 

Seoul Olympic Stadium was built in 1984 for the 1988 Summer Olympics. The stadium was built for around 491 million won, which translates to $430 million US dollars (using current exchange rates). The venue was first used to host the 10th Asian Games, a multi-sport event held every four years for athletes from throughout Asia. However, it's most known for being the centerpiece of the Summer Olympics in the South Korean capital. The stadium seats 69,950 and is currently used by professional soccer club Seoul E-Land FC.

 

3. Beijing National Stadium (Beijing, China) 2008 Summer Olympics - $465 million*

 

Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest, was designed for the 2008 Summer Olympics and will be used again in the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Built for what amounts to $465 million (2014 US dollars), the stadium is set to become the first venue to ever host both the Summer and Winter Games. Construction stared in 2003 and took five years to complete. During the 2008 Summer Games, the stadium held 91,000 people. Since the Olympics, the stadium has largely been used for soccer games. However, many clubs have backed out of using the stadium due to it not being able to draw many spectators. The Chinese national soccer team has played some of its 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches in the Bird’s Nest.

 

2. Stadium Australia (Sydney, Australia) 2000 Summer Olympics - $690 million

 

Stadium Australia, also known as ANZ Stadium, was completed in 1999 to host the 2000 Summer Olympics. The venue was the largest Olympic Stadium ever built, holding 110,000 spectators. The evening track and field sessions on day 11 had 112,524 spectators, which remains the world record for attendance for any Olympic event. Today, the venue hosts a variety of sports, including the National Rugby league, Australian Football League, cricket, and racing, as well as a variety of concerts.

 

1. Olympic Stadium (London, England) 2012 Summer Olympics - $767 million

 

Olympic Stadium was built in 2011 for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Although the stadium is the most expensive Olympic venue ever built, construction actually finished under budget, albeit with a reported price tag of $486 million pounds ($767 million US). The design received mixed reviews from “magnificent” to “tragically underwhelming,” which were a result of the comparisons to the Beijing National Stadium and due to the extreme cost of construction. The site is currently under renovation to replace the lower bowl seating with a retractable seating system to allow for both athletics and pitch sports. Once reopened later this year, seating capacity will be 60,000. Since the Olympics, the stadium became the host of the West Ham United Football Club as well as hosting several 2015 Rugby World Cup matches, the 2017 International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) World Championships in Athletics and the 2017 International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletics World Championships.

 

*For the sake of comparison, some costs referenced have been converted to account for inflation and/or current exchange rates and are close approximations.

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Many of the reside out West. A nine-game conference schedule certainly contributes to the degree of difficulty many Pac-12 teams face in the upcoming campaign, but plenty arranged challenging non-conference slates, as well.

 

In fact, some of the most anticipated non-conference games in the 2016 season feature Pac-12 squads.

 

Top Non-Conference Games: I I I I

 

1. USC vs. Alabama (Arlington, Texas — Sept. 3)

Despite being two of the most historically powerful and extensively decorated college football programs, at the same time in a few decades. The Crimson Tide are there now as defending national champions, while the Trojans try to get back there under their third, full-time head coach in three years, Clay Helton.

 

Still, when two of the all-time great programs clash on opening weekend, it's cause for celebration.

 

This also is a rare opportunity for USC, in one game, to vault itself back to the forefront of the national conversation.

 

2. Stanford at Notre Dame (Oct. 15)

Just 19 combined points separated Notre Dame and Stanford in the last four installments of this cross-country rivalry. The last two meetings in South Bend — both Fighting Irish wins — came down to a controversial overtime call (2012) and final-minute, red-zone stand (2014).

 

Both Stanford and Notre Dame harbor realistic College Football Playoff aspirations in 2016, and each feature potential Heisman Trophy contenders (2015 runner-up Christian McCaffrey for the Cardinal, quarterbacks Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer for the Fighting Irish).

 

And, after the bizarre ending that kept Notre Dame out of last year's Playoff down on The Farm, the Irish have payback in mind.

 

Related: 

 

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

Meetings between Pac-12 and SEC programs, played in honest-to-goodness college venues, are all too rare. Kudos are in order for UCLA and Texas A&M opening the season at Kyle Field for an intriguing, cross-conference showdown.

 

Both the Bruins and Aggies enter the campaign as potential dark-horse challengers to their conference championships, though how each adjusts to offseason staffing changes will determine the full capacity of their potential.

 

Interestingly enough, the changes each underwent are directly tied: UCLA parted ways with offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who is now at Texas A&M.

 

4. Notre Dame at USC (Nov. 26)

One of the game's most storied rivalries adds its 88th installment on Thanksgiving weekend. The outlook for both teams heading into 2016 is foggy; Notre Dame's a popular pick for Playoff contention, while USC caps a treacherous schedule with a fitting bang.

 

Should the Irish still be in national title contention on the final weekend, spoiling that would be quite the coup for the Trojans. However, two of the last three meetings in the Coliseum went to the Fighting Irish. 

 

5. UCLA at BYU (Sept. 17)

UCLA's willingness to hit the road for marquee, non-conference dates separates it from much of college football. Whether that hurts or helps the Bruins' long-term plans will obviously play out over the course of the season, but navigating such difficult terrain early on could give UCLA an inside track on the Playoff.

 

Going to Provo, Utah, just two weeks after visiting College Station is about as difficult as it gets in the first month of the season (not to mention Stanford coming to the Rose Bowl a week later). If UCLA can somehow escape September undefeated, it will have a serious stake to No. 1.

 

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

No matter if the head coach was Chris Petersen, or now Bryan Harsin, Boise State's been an albatross for Pac-12 opponents. The Broncos opened 2015 beating Washington in Petersen's return to the Smurf Turf, and they get another home shot at the other side of the Apple Cup, Washington State.

 

The , picked fourth in the crowded Pac-12 North despite rising to nine wins a season ago. Washington State's 2015 success was predicated in large part on its ability to win big games away from the Palouse; continuing that trend into 2016 with a win at Boise State could vault the Cougars to a huge season.

 

As for Boise State, adding another Pac-12 notch to its belt could give the Broncos an inside lane on the Group of Five's New Year's Six bowl bid — if not a surprise Playoff spot, should the stars align perfectly.

 

7. Oregon at Nebraska (Sept. 17)

This date would have been a homecoming for former national championship-winning Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost. However, the Oregon offensive coordinator left Eugene for the head coaching position at UCF.

 

Instead, the Ducks renew an old rivalry with longtime Oregon State head coach Mike Riley, now entering his second season at Nebraska.

 

The Cornhuskers struggled somewhat adjusting to new schemes under Riley and his staff, but salvaged a sub-.500 season with a Foster Farms Bowl defeat of UCLA. Nebraska should be improved in 2016, and the always-packed Memorial Stadium will prove inhospitable to an Oregon team still seeking clarity at quarterback and on defense.

 

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

Arizona State's best season (2013) since coming one play shy of the 1996 national championship ended unceremoniously with a Holiday Bowl loss to Texas Tech.

 

A possible receipt comes almost three years later, with largely new players on both sides of the ball. Still, head coaches Todd Graham and Kliff Kingsbury remain. Their presence on opposing sidelines promise fireworks.

 

Both teams can and will push the tempo offensively. How Arizona State's blitz-reliant defense handles the Tech take on the air-raid could provide a crystal ball into the Sun Devils' Pac-12 season.

 

9. BYU at Utah (Sept. 10)

Other rivalries might match the intensity of the Holy War, but no two programs can claim to dislike each other more than BYU and Utah.

 

It's only right these in-state foes face off, but those tensions put the series on the temporary hiatus. The Las Vegas Bowl intervened to salvage the Holy War last December, with Utah riding a huge first quarter to stave off a BYU comeback. After the near-miss of last season, the Cougars will surely be hungry to make a statement now.

 

The ante's upped this time around, too, with former Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake returning to Rice-Eccles Stadium as head coach of the Cougars. His approach promises a physical slug-fest — just the kind of recipe needed for some rivalry game fireworks.

 

10. Arizona vs. BYU (Glendale, Ariz. — Sept. 3) 

BYU loaded up on Pac-12 competition in 2016, part of the Cougars' effort to build a Playoff resume through their independent schedule. The only way the Cougars will get a crack at their first national title in 32 years is with a clean sheet, which Arizona aims to spoil right out of the gate.

 

The Wildcats stumbled through a disappointing 2015. The encore to one of the best years in program history (2014) was marred by injury and ugly losses away from home. Still, Arizona finished above .500 for the fourth time under head coach Rich Rodriguez, and an offseason to recuperate should have the Wildcats in a better place for 2016.

 

11. Kansas State at Stanford (Sept. 1) 

Stanford's bid for a Playoff appearance last season soured early, the result of losing to a purple-clad bunch of Wildcats. Now, Kansas State isn't Northwestern, but Bill Snyder's 'Cats pose the Cardinal a very real, early-season threat.

 

The perennial overachievers at K-State visit The Farm at a most opportune time. Stanford will still be adjusting to life without Kevin Hogan, the team's starting quarterback for the previous four years. The Cardinal also break in new contributors in the receiving corps.

 

After the Wildcats finished ranked near the bottom for all passing defenses nationally a year ago, Stanford will need to be able to attack that secondary. How effectively it does Week 1 could set the tone for the season.

 

12. Colorado vs. Colorado State (Denver — Sept. 2)

In-state rivals Colorado and Colorado State have had some memorable games over the years, even as the Buffaloes struggled and the Rams fell from the heights reached under legendary coach Sonny Lubick.

 

Both should be improved from 2015, with Mike Bobo entering his second year at Colorado State, and Mike MacIntyre boasting his best roster since taking over at Colorado in '13. But this, MacIntyre's fourth year, is a pivotal one.

 

The Buffs need to make a bowl game run, and winning in the opener against a quality opponent is paramount. The Pac-12 landscape is crowded, leaving little margin for error if Colorado is to reach that six-win mark. Given their non-conference slate also includes a trip to Michigan on Sept. 17, the Buffs are best serve opening the season 2-0 before heading to the Big House, then embarking on the Pac-12 docket.

 

— 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 .

Teaser:
Top 12 Pac-12 Non-Conference Games of 2016
Post date: Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/why-alabama-will-or-wont-make-college-football-playoff-2016
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Alabama has claimed three out of the last five national championships, and Nick Saban has the Crimson Tide poised to challenge for another one in 2016. Alabama has set the bar high for the rest of the nation in recent years and has not lost more than two games since a 10-3 record in 2010.

 

With 11 starters back and a strong defense leading the way, the Crimson Tide are Athlon’s pick to win it all in 2016. However, Saban has a few question marks to address this season. For the third consecutive year, Alabama has a preseason question mark at quarterback. Cooper Bateman is the frontrunner, but he will be pushed for time by David Cornwell and Blake Barnett. Running back Derrick Henry must be replaced, and the offensive line has to find the right mix.

 

As if the personnel losses weren’t enough to overcome, Alabama faces a brutal road slate in 2016 with trips to Baton Rouge (LSU), Oxford (Ole Miss), Knoxville (Tennessee) and Fayetteville (Arkansas).

 

Can Alabama go three-for-three in playoff appearances? Here are three reasons why Alabama will make the Playoff... and three reasons why they won’t.

 

Three Reasons Why Alabama Will Make the CFB Playoff

 

1. Another Elite Defense

Despite key personnel losses in the front seven, don’t expect Alabama’s defense to take a step back in 2016. On average over the last six seasons, the Crimson Tide has not allowed more than 4.9 yards per play or 18.4 points a game. In that span, Alabama has boasted some of the nation’s best defenses, including a 2011 unit that limited opponents to just 3.3 yards per play. The losses from the 2015 unit are staggering, as standouts in linemen A’Shawn Robinson, Darren Lake and Jarran Reed, linebacker Reggie Ragland and cornerback Cyrus Jones all must be replaced. However, Alabama’s cupboard of talent on defense is still stocked thanks to elite recruiting. Senior Jonathan Allen anchors the line, while Reuben Foster is poised to become one of the nation’s top linebackers in his last year on campus. The secondary could be the best in college football with three returning starters, including a likely All-America pick at safety in senior Eddie Jackson. But that’s not where the talent ends. Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson are a deadly duo of pass rushers off the edge, and junior Da’Shawn Hand will help fill the void left behind by Robinson, Reed and Lake in the trenches. Alabama’s defense will miss the departed players, but there’s more than enough talent here to keep this unit performing at a high level for new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

 

Related:

 

2. Recruiting + No Other Elite Teams

Is there an elite team in college football this year? The guess here is no. Clemson’s offense is loaded behind quarterback Deshaun Watson, but the Tigers suffered heavy personnel losses on defense. Florida State is Athlon’s pick to play Alabama in the national championship game. However, the Seminoles must break in a new starter at quarterback and navigate a tough schedule. Ohio State returns only six starters and has plenty of question marks on both sides of the ball. Is Michigan, LSU, Notre Dame or Oklahoma a cut above any of those teams? Probably not. That’s why it’s easy to have confidence in Alabama as one of the four playoff teams. Sure, the Crimson Tide have their share of question marks, but there’s not a better coach in the nation than Nick Saban, and this program has reeled in . With a talent advantage over the rest of the SEC and other contenders, Alabama will eventually sort out its question marks on both sides of the ball by the end of the year and emerge as the favorite to win it all in 2016.

 

3. Lane Kiffin Will Find the Right Answers on Offense

Nick Saban’s decision to hire Lane Kiffin as the play-caller after the 2013 season raised plenty of eyebrows. However, Kiffin has answered any doubts about his ability to develop and coordinate an offense over the last two years. And Kiffin’s job hasn’t been easy, as Alabama has entered each of the last two seasons with uncertainty at quarterback. Despite the question marks under center, the Crimson Tide ranked second in the SEC in scoring (36.9) in 2014 and fourth (35.1 ppg) in 2015. As Kiffin enters his third season in Tuscaloosa, there’s a familiar theme surrounding the offense. Alabama must find a new starter under center, but the supporting cast is strong with six returning starters. Receiver Calvin Ridley is already one of the nation’s top targets after a standout freshman campaign, tight end O.J. Howard should build off a huge performance in the national title game, and there’s a solid foundation in place up front. Running back Derrick Henry must be replaced, but Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris form a promising one-two punch. This unit has its share of question marks. However, Kiffin’s track record suggests there won’t be any drop in 2016. Unless…

 

Three Reasons Why Alabama Will Not Make the CFB Playoff

 

1. Too Many Question Marks on Offense

The strength of Alabama’s offense is a receiving corps that’s arguably the best in the nation. But the other position groups are filled with question marks. Can Kiffin make it three-for-three in finding the right answer at quarterback? Cooper Bateman emerged as the frontrunner in the spring, but Blake Barnett and David Cornwell have more raw talent. Can Bateman step up as the clear answer or will this battle continue into the season? Left tackle Cam Robinson is not expected to miss any snaps after an off-field incident, but guard Alphonse Taylor was indefinitely suspended after a DUI arrest. The offensive line is just as much of a concern as the quarterback play is, as the Crimson Tide could have two sophomores and two freshmen taking the first snap of the year against USC. Also, guard Ross Pierschbacher has big shoes to fill in replacing Ryan Kelly at center. How quickly will Alabama find the right answers here? Running back has been an annual strength for the Crimson Tide, but Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris have combined for just 64 career attempts. Additionally, there’s not much in the way of depth behind Harris and Scarbrough.

 

Related:

 

2. Defensive Line Depth

This isn’t a huge issue, but Alabama lost four key performers from last year’s defensive line. Is that too much to replace in one offseason? As long as senior end Jonathan Allen stays healthy, and junior Da’Shawn Hand and sophomore Da’Ron Payne have the breakout seasons as expected, this unit should be fine. However, those three players can’t play every snap, which is why this unit needs valuable (and effective) snaps from backups Dalvin Tomlinson, Joshua Frazier and Quinnen Williams. A long-term injury to one of the starters could be problematic for coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

 

3. The Schedule

Repeating as a national champion in college football is no easy task. After all, just one team – Alabama – went back-to-back since 1998. And through two seasons of the playoff, Nick Saban’s team is the only program with trips in each of the last two years. The odds and history are stacked against an Alabama repeat, and the road for the Crimson Tide only gets tougher with a glance at the schedule. Alabama faces road tests at Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU and Ole Miss. That’s easily one of the toughest away slates for any team in 2016. Even though the Crimson Tide has the nation’s best roster in overall talent, could a tough schedule be too much to overcome?

 

Final Verdict

 

The expectations for Alabama are simple in 2016: Repeat as SEC champs and win the national title. That’s a lofty goal for a team facing a tough road schedule and question marks on offense, but it’s tough to pick against Saban’s team. Considering Lane Kiffin’s track record as a play-caller, it’s safe to assume the offense will find the right answer at quarterback. And until a quarterback clearly emerges, Kiffin can lean on a talented (but unproven) duo at running back in Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough, while utilizing quick passes to the edge to receivers Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart. Additionally, with a defense that should be among the best in the nation, Alabama won’t need 30 points a week from its offense. It’s not easy to repeat as a national champion or win back-to-back SEC titles. However, despite the personnel question marks and tough schedule, the Crimson Tide will find their way into the College Football Playoff once again. A loss in conference play in the regular season should be expected, but Alabama is too talented and has the nation’s best coach on its sideline to suffer more than one defeat in 2016.

 

Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 1

Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 12-1

Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 9.5

5 Dimes Projected Over/Under Odds: 9.5

Teaser:
Why Alabama Will or Won’t Make the College Football Playoff in 2016
Post date: Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/why-memphis-should-or-shouldnt-join-big-12
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Just when you thought it was all over, the has reversed course and pulled schools across the country back into the murky waters of college realignment. After going back and forth for months on the subject, commissioner Bob Bowlsby surprised many in the college athletics world at the league’s media days by saying the Big 12 is essentially opening its doors to new members.

 

Related: 

 

There should be no shortage of schools that want to walk through those doors to join the Power Five club and Bowlsby’s phones are likely to be ringing off the hook over the next six to nine months. While the latest round of musical chairs won’t be quite as involved as in recent years, it nevertheless should make for a fascinating 2016.

 

But who should get in? Who shouldn’t stand a chance? We’ve already gone over the case for and against ,  and , but what about ?

 

Three Reasons Why Memphis Should Join the Big 12

 

1. FedEx

Headquartered in Memphis, FedEx has been a key factor in the city’s resurgence the past few decades and has helped out considerably on the sports scene. Founder Fred Smith is a big proponent of Tigers athletics and seems willing to write a check tomorrow to make the company a big backer of the Big 12, especially the upcoming league title game. That close tie-in with a Fortune 500 company could also allow the school to pitch a better deal when it comes to receiving a partial share of revenues in the future too.

 

2. Historically strong basketball program

The Big 12 already has several powerhouse basketball programs and adding Memphis would make one of the deepest leagues in the country even deeper. The Tigers have dropped off a bit since John Calipari left but they’re typically in the NCAA Tournament every season and can get back to being a top-10 program under recently hired veteran Tubby Smith.

 

3. Lifeline to West Virginia while not being remote to others

Memphis sits just about right at the halfway mark between eastern-most member West Virginia and western-most member Texas Tech. It’s not a bad road trip away from the Oklahoma schools either and isn’t out of the way for Iowa State and other members. Aside from Houston, Memphis makes the most geographical sense for the Big 12 and has the added bonus of bringing a new TV market into the fold.

 

Three Reasons Why Memphis Shouldn’t Join the Big 12

 

1. No track record for sustained football success

Dating back to the days of Memphis State, the Tigers have had some fleeting success on the gridiron but have never been able to sustain it. Justin Fuente revived the program from the dark days it suffered under Larry Porter but nobody quite knows if first-time head coach Mike Norvell can keep the momentum rolling after two of the best years in program history.

 

2. It’s still in SEC territory

While Memphis’ geography makes sense from a Big 12 standpoint, pulling out and looking at the bigger picture still doesn’t change the fact that the city itself is located in the heart of SEC country. The state overall is firmly Tennessee orange and there are tons of Ole Miss and Mississippi State fans in the area as well. Chances are, if there’s a good player in Memphis, the Tigers are the last option and not the first.

 

3. Academic profile is lacking

Memphis is not ranked by U.S. News & World Report, which isn’t the end of the world but is notable because school presidents are the ones doing the voting, not coaches or administrators. The Big 12 is already behind its power conference peers when it comes to things like AAU membership and Carnegie I classification. Memphis adds zero to this part of the equation and would need at least a decade to play catch up to current members.

 

Final Verdict

 

The Tigers would not even be on the Big 12 radar had they not hired Justin Fuente to salvage the football program from the bottom of the FBS ranks. But they did and have made progress in multiple areas to at least get a seat at the table when it comes to conference expansion. Are they the top target the Big 12 is considering? Hardly, but that doesn’t mean Memphis is out of the running by any stretch.

 

One just can’t discount the fact that they have a mega-booster in Fred Smith and corporate partner in FedEx however. That counts for a lot when you consider this round of expansion and realignment is being done almost all for the money. Memphis is a school on the way up based on all the moves university leadership has made and is very much a candidate for expansion that looks best when viewed from the big picture and not judged on the rankings it may hold.

 

If the Big 12 expands by just two schools, one can reason that other more attractive candidates will beat out the Tigers on a head-to-head basis. If the conference takes a more macro-level view of things though, Memphis has a chance — especially if four golden tickets are being sent out to schools across the country. 

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at .

Teaser:
Why Memphis Should or Shouldn't Join the Big 12
Post date: Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/big-tens-top-heisman-candidates-2016
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The has not had a Heisman Trophy winner since Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith posed with the stiff-armed trophy in 2006. It is the longest Heisman drought for the Big Ten since Archie Griffin’s second Heisman Trophy in 1975 and Michigan’s Desmond Howard in ‘91. Could it be a Buckeye that snaps the Heisman-less streak this season?

 

In what is already heralded as a star-studded Heisman Trophy competition in 2016 with players like LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, there just may be a player or two from the Big Ten worthy of wiggling into the conversation as the season plays out, especially with some head-to-head matchups against potential College Football Playoff contenders and Heisman hopefuls.

 

2016 Heisman Trophy Candidates by Conference: I I I I I

 

There is, however, one that appears to stand tall above the rest of the Big Ten’s best when it comes to the Heisman Trophy discussion entering the 2016 season. Will it remain that way?

 

The Favorite

 

J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State

As far as Big Ten Heisman Trophy candidates go, it looks to be Barrett starting the season miles ahead of the competition from his own conference. Barrett will be given an early opportunity to establish himself in the field as well with a big road test at Oklahoma in mid-September, where he will lead the Buckeyes against another Heisman hopeful (and fellow QB) in the Sooners’ Baker Mayfield. This is an early chance to grab a Heisman moment for a player that can throw and run and may be relied on heavily in September as Ohio State looks to replace a number of key players and roles from last season.

 

Next in Line

 

Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Arguably the top running back in the Big Ten, Barkley has the moves to leave defenders looking silly at times. Barkley should be a player racking up some yardage this season behind what should be a (finally) improved offensive line and a more effective offensive scheme. Leading Penn State to a win over Michigan, Ohio State and/or Michigan State will put him in the mix.

 

Related:

 

Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin

It’s been a couple of years since Wisconsin had a running back enter the Heisman Trophy discussion, but that could end this year with a healthy Clement. Clement will have a chance to stand out with games against Leonard Fournette and LSU and J.T. Barrett and Ohio State. Taking Wisconsin to the Big Ten Championship Game would help too.

 

LJ Scott, RB, Michigan State

Michigan State is widely expected to take a little bit of a step back this season, at least at first, but Scott has already become one of the top young running backs in the conference worth watching. Scott has 1,000-yard potential and should carry more of the offense in 2016.

 

Tommy Armstrong, QB, Nebraska

No quarterback returning to the Big Ten in 2016 had more passing yards than Armstrong. One drawback though is that nobody threw more interceptions among Big Ten passers either. Cutting down on that will certainly be essential to any potential Heisman chances the Cornhuskers’ QB will have, but 3,000 passing yards and 22 touchdowns with 400 rushing yards and seven touchdowns is not to be ignored.

 

Ultimate Sleepers

 

C.J. Beathard, QB, Iowa

Iowa’s quarterback helped guide the Hawkeyes to an undefeated regular season in 2015 with 2,809 yards, 17 touchdowns and five interceptions at the end of the season. Beathard is a good, steady quarterback. If he guides Iowa back to the Big Ten Championship Game and can pull off another undefeated or even a one-loss regular season, there will be some suggesting he is worthy of a trip to New York, but he will have to be truly extraordinary to make the cut in a potentially talented field.

 

Wes Lunt, QB, Illinois

Few players in the Big Ten may benefit from some stability on the sidelines than Lunt. He has the arm to put up some big numbers and if the Fighting Illini can get their offense in gear, he will be a big reason why.

 

Mitch Leidner, QB, Minnesota

Some may be hyping Minnesota’s quarterback as a potential top prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft, but like most passers in the Big Ten it would appear Leidner will have to have a truly standout season to even be considered for a Heisman Trophy run. Leidner had just 14 touchdowns to 11 interceptions last season and 270 rushing yards with six scores.

 

Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern

While most of the focus on Big Ten running backs tends to fall on guys like Barkley and Clement, it is Northwestern’s Jackson who is the conference’s leading returning rusher (Ezekiel Elliott is off to the NFL). Jackson ran for 1,418 yards but just five touchdowns for the Wildcats last season.

 

Janarion Grant, WR, Rutgers

As a junior last season, Grant may not have put up huge receiving numbers, but he was the type of game-changing player the Scarlet Knights desperately needed on special teams. Grant had three kickoffs returned for a touchdown, and one more on punt returns. If he can keep that going and see a dramatic rise in his receiving yards, he could be viewed as one of the top multiple-threat players in the Big Ten.

 

If You Believe Defensive Players Are Worth Discussing

 

Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan

The last time a defensive player won the Heisman Trophy, he did so wearing maize and blue. Can Peppers join former Wolverine great Charles Woodson (1997) in this exclusive club? Just like Woodson, mixing Peppers in on offense may not hurt because he certainly has the talent, but making big plays on special teams and defense will be essential. Peppers had no special teams touchdowns last season and no interceptions in 12 games.

 

Will Likely, DB, Maryland

Maryland’s Likely, on the other hand, excelled on special teams. He not only returned a pair of punts for touchdowns, he also averaged 18.22 yards per punt return to lead the Big Ten in each category. And he threw in a kickoff return for a score for good measure.

 

Desmond King, DB, Iowa

The defending Big Ten West champions received a great boost King opted to return for another year rather than head to the NFL. King led the Big Ten last season with eight interceptions, including one that he returned for a touchdown. King also got involved on special teams, but didn’t provide a touchdown in that phase of his game.

 

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to  and  as well as hosts the . Follow him on Twitter  and Like him on .

Teaser:
The Big Ten’s Top Heisman Candidates for 2016
Post date: Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - 10:30
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Projecting the outcome of a  season, playoff teams and national champion is no easy task. Several factors go into predictions, including the schedule, coaching changes, returning starters, in-depth statistics, results from the previous year, breakout players and recruiting – just to name a few. Experience and star power at quarterback is another factor that most would consider important for preseason predictions. After all, the quarterback position is the most important job on the field, and the success (or lack thereof) factors prominently into the win-loss record and playoff hopes of every team.

 

However, just how important is quarterback experience? Eight of the last 10 teams to play in the title game had a first-year starter at quarterback. Could overall quarterback experience be overrated when making preseason predictions?

 

Since the BCS era, 16 quarterbacks played for the national title or reached the playoffs in their first season:

 

1998: Tee Martin, Tennessee - W

1999: Michael Vick, Virginia Tech - L

2002: Craig Krenzel, Ohio State - W

2007: Matt Flynn, LSU - W; Todd Boeckman, Ohio State - L

2009: Greg McElroy, Alabama - W

2010: Cam Newton, Auburn - W; Darron Thomas, Oregon - L

2011: AJ McCarron, Alabama – W

2012: Everett Golson, Notre Dame – L

2013: Jameis Winston, Florida State – W; Nick Marshall, Auburn – L

2014: Blake Sims, Alabama – L; Cardale Jones, Ohio State - W

2015: Deshaun Watson, Clemson - L; Jake Coker, Alabama - W

 

Will the trend of successful first-year starters continue in 2016? Here are 10 teams (and quarterbacks) that fit the mold this year:

 

10 First-Year Starting QBs Who Could Win the National Title in 2016

 

(Note: To be considered a returning starter at quarterback, a player must have started seven overall games or the last six contests of last season at their current school.)

 

10. Dakota Prukop/Travis Jonsen, Oregon

Even though Marcus Mariota was missed last season, the Ducks still led the Pac-12 in scoring offense (43 ppg) and yards per play (7.1). Eastern Washington graduate transfer Vernon Adams was a big reason for that success, and Oregon coach Mark Helfrich is hoping for a similar impact by another FCS transfer – Dakota Prukop. In three seasons at Montana State, Prukop accounted for over 7,000 yards of total offense and earned first-team All-America honors by the Associated Press in 2015. Prukop is a better runner than Adams but also completed 63.8 percent of his throws with the Bobcats. While Prukop has the edge in overall experience and certainly wasn’t brought in to sit on the sidelines, he is being pushed for time by redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen. Regardless of which quarterback starts, the offense is going to lean heavily on running back Royce Freeman, and there’s hope for improvement on defense with the addition of new play-caller Brady Hoke. 

 

Related:

 

9. Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina

The Tar Heels are a longshot to win the national title in 2016, but the path is certainly there for coach Larry Fedora’s team. The first step would be a win over Georgia in the opener, along with a victory at Florida State on Oct. 1. If North Carolina crosses both of those obstacles and wins the Coastal Division, a rematch with Clemson in the ACC Championship could have playoff implications. The Tar Heels took a step forward on defense last fall, but this unit still has to stop the run better. Even if the defense struggles to improve on last year’s totals, the offense is capable of carrying North Carolina to the Coastal Division title. Quarterback Marquise Williams departs, but there’s little concern in Chapel Hill. Trubisky has shined in limited action, completing 82 of 125 throws for 1,014 yards and 11 scores. Additionally, Trubisky has rushed for 131 yards and three scores on just 27 attempts. Trubisky may not provide the same punch on the ground as Williams did, but the junior is a better passer and should push for All-ACC honors in his first year as the starter.

 

Podcast: Official 2016 ACC Preview



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8. Jacob Eason, Georgia

It’s no secret Eason represents the future for new coach Kirby Smart. However, the future isn’t going to wait until 2017 or 2018 for the Bulldogs. Eason may not start the opener against North Carolina, but the guess here is the true freshman unseats Greyson Lambert for the starting nod early in the 2016 campaign. Eason was regarded as a five-star prospect and the No. 2 quarterback in the 247Sports Composite and enrolled in time to compete in spring practice. Eason’s right arm would provide a spark for a Georgia offense that ranked 10th in the SEC in passing last year. However, the question marks for the Bulldogs aren’t limited just to quarterback development. The offensive line needs to find the right mix, and there’s an overhauled front seven on defense. There’s a lot of pressure on Eason’s shoulders, but all of the tools are there to be one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks by the end of 2016.

 

7. Kenny Hill/Foster Sawyer, TCU

Oklahoma is the clear favorite in the Big 12 for 2016, but TCU has all of the necessary components to challenge the Sooners for the top spot. The Horned Frogs will lean heavily on their defense until the right pieces fall into place for an offense that returns only one starter. While the low number (one) of returning starters is concerning for any team, that total isn’t as bad as it appears. TCU is loaded with talented skill players, and some of the new starters up front gained valuable experience in 2016. But the biggest question mark for coach Gary Patterson remains the starting quarterback. Will it be the Texas A&M transfer – Kenny Hill – or sophomore Foster Sawyer? Hill threw 2,649 yards and 23 scores as Texas A&M’s starter in 2014 but lost his job to Kyle Allen just after the midpoint of the season. Sawyer completed 11 of 27 passes for 155 yards and two scores in six appearances last year. Regardless of which quarterback wins the job, play-caller Doug Meacham should find the right mix to keep this offense among the best in the Big 12. 

 

Podcast: Official 2016 Big 12 Preview



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Related:

 

6. Keller Chryst, Stanford

Even though David Shaw’s team returns only nine starters, don’t count out the Cardinal from making another run at the College Football Playoff. Stanford has won at least 11 games in four out of the last five seasons, and the rebuilding effort will start with one of the nation’s top Heisman contenders in running back Christian McCaffrey. The junior will have to carry the Stanford offense early on, as the line needs to be retooled with just two starters, and there’s uncertainty at quarterback with Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns battling to replace Kevin Hogan. Chryst is the frontrunner after completing 5 of 9 passes for 59 yards and one score as Hogan’s backup in 2015. The California native was a four-star prospect out of high school and ranked as the No. 51 overall recruit by the 247Sports Composite. Assuming he wins the job, Chryst won’t have much time to get acclimated. Stanford opens with Kansas State, followed by conference matchups against USC, UCLA and Washington in the first month of the season.

 

5. Tyler O’Connor/Damien Terry, Michigan State

Michigan State has won at least 11 games in five out of the last six seasons and repeating as the Big Ten champion isn’t too far out of reach in 2016. To win the East Division and make a trip to the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive year, the Spartans have some key losses to replace on both sides of the ball, including at quarterback where Connor Cook departs after a 34-5 career mark in East Lansing. Coach Mark Dantonio got an early glimpse of his quarterback situation for 2016 when Cook was forced to miss the Ohio State contest due to injury. O’Connor and Damien Terry guided the Spartans to a 17-14 upset win in Columbus and are fighting for the starting nod this fall. O’Connor has an edge over Terry, as the senior has 14 career appearances under his belt and completed 34 of 54 passes for 374 yards and four scores in limited action. O’Connor is also an effective runner (48 yards on 14 attempts last year), but Terry is considered the better athlete. The Spartans should be strong on defense once again and return one of the Big Ten’s top running backs in LJ Scott. However, the development of this position will be critical to a repeat bid to the College Football Playoff.

 

4. Malik Zaire, Notre Dame

Zaire was poised for a breakout season as Notre Dame’s starter last fall, but a leg injury suffered against Virginia in Week 2 ended his 2015 campaign. Prior to the injury, Zaire completed 26 of 40 passes for 428 yards and four touchdowns and added 103 yards on 19 carries. Zaire is back at full strength and participated in the spring game, completing 6 of 15 throws for 120 yards. Zaire brings more playmaking ability on the ground than Kizer but isn’t guaranteed to regain the starting spot. Kizer finished spring with a slight edge for the No. 1 job.

 

Related:

 

3. John O’Korn/Wilton Speight, Michigan

The quarterback battle between Speight, O’Korn and Shane Morris will extend into fall camp after little clarity emerged in spring practice. While it’s a three-man race, O’Korn and Speight seem to have an edge over Morris for the No. 1 spot. O’Korn started 11 games as a true freshman at Houston in 2013 and earned the American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year honors. During that season, O’Korn threw for 3,117 yards and 28 scores but lost his job to Greg Ward in 2014. While O’Korn struggled at Houston in 2015, all of the tools are there for a rebound year as Michigan’s starter in 2016. Speight redshirted in 2015 and received his first game action last year, completing 9 of 25 passes for 73 yards and one score in seven appearances. Both quarterbacks have plenty to prove, but Michigan doesn’t necessarily need an all-conference player under center. The Wolverines have an elite defense, an improving offensive line and plenty of good skill players in place. The quarterback simply needs to manage the offense and not make the big mistake.

 

2. Deondre Francois, Florida State

With Sean Maguire sidelined in spring ball due to an ankle injury suffered in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Francois got an early start on unseating the senior and staking his claim for the starting job. The Orlando native ranked as the No. 64 overall recruit by the 247Sports Composite in the 2015 signing class and redshirted in his first year on campus. While it’s tough to read too much into the spring game, Francois had a solid showing, completing 20 of 33 passes for 246 yards and two scores and adding 37 rushing yards. Francois is far from a finished product, but he brings more playmaking ability and overall upside in the passing game than Everett Golson or Maguire provided in 2015. Maguire is set to return to 100 percent in time for fall practice. However, Francois is Florida State’s best option under center and is more than capable of guiding coach Jimbo Fisher’s team to a berth in the College Football Playoff.

 

1. Cooper Bateman/Blake Barnett/David Cornwell, Alabama

For the third year in a row, there’s a familiar theme surrounding Alabama’s offense entering fall practice. The Crimson Tide have uncertainty at quarterback once again, with four inexperienced options – Cooper Bateman, Blake Barnett, David Cornwell and Jalen Hurts – battling for the starting nod. While Hurts enrolled early and competed in spring ball, Bateman, Barnett and Cornwell are considered the favorites to take the first snap. While this position has been a question mark at the start of the last two seasons, coordinator Lane Kiffin has pushed all of the right buttons. Blake Sims threw for 3,487 yards and 28 scores and led the Crimson Tide to the College Football Playoff in 2014. Jake Coker threw for 3,110 yards and 21 touchdowns last season and guided Alabama to a national championship over Clemson. Bateman has the most overall experience out of this trio (one start) and completed 37 of 52 passes for 291 yards last year. The guess here is Bateman starts the season, but the upside of Cornwell or Barnett may eventually unseat the junior. 

Teaser:
10 First-Year Starting QBs Who Could Win College Football's National Title in 2016
Post date: Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/why-houston-should-or-shouldnt-join-big-12
Body:

Just when you thought it was all over, the has reversed course and pulled schools across the country back into the murky waters of college realignment. After going back and forth for months on the subject, commissioner Bob Bowlsby surprised many in the college athletics world at the league’s media days by saying the Big 12 is essentially opening its doors to new members.

 

Related: 

 

There should be no shortage of schools that want to walk through those doors to join the Power Five club and Bowlsby’s phones are likely to be ringing off the hook over the next six to nine months. While the latest round of musical chairs won’t be quite as involved as in recent years, it nevertheless should make for a fascinating 2016.

 

But who should get in? Who shouldn’t stand a chance? We’ve already gone over the case for and against ,  and , but what about ?

 

Three Reasons Why Houston Should Join the Big 12

 

1. They have political support in Texas

In a surprising twist to realignment, Houston has suddenly been on a roll of endorsements to be the next school to invite to the Big 12. Both the Texas governor and lieutenant governor have thrown their support behind the Cougars and they wouldn’t be the first in their positions to help a school move to another conference. Perhaps the most astonishing turn of events has been the support that Houston has received from both Texas and Texas Tech. It remains to be seen if this will all result in the necessary votes to get in but momentum is on Houston’s side more than any university under consideration.

 

2. Houston is enhancing its academic and athletic profile

The university has undergone an impressive transformation in the classroom and on the field over the past decade to shed the image of being “Cougar High” and of being a commuter school. UH president and chancellor Renu Khator has personally made a big push to land the school in a Power Five league and is not only pumping money into new buildings and research initiatives, but also new athletic facilities and salaries. Tom Herman might already be the hottest football coach in the country right now and has positioned his Cougars as the highest profile team among the Group of Five leagues. In many respects, the entire school is following the path TCU laid out a few years ago.

 

3. Helps Big 12 in a large market that is close to other schools

The city of Houston already has a large number of fans and alumni from Big 12 schools and doesn’t really have one truly dominant team in the market. But conference leaders have to be mindful of the fact that nearby Texas A&M is doing well in its new league and beginning to turn the area into an SEC town (as TV ratings indicate). Elevating the Cougars into a power conference and having regular appearances from other Texas teams could stem the tide and keep the city under the Big 12 banner. Plus, Houston is already a rival of many Big 12 schools dating back to its SWC days and its location is a lot closer than any other option so travel is a plus and not a glaring minus.

 

Three Reasons Why Houston Shouldn’t Join the Big 12

 

1. It would negatively impact recruiting for most schools

While Texas or Oklahoma probably don’t have to worry about Houston recruiting well in the area near its own campus (as the Cougars are under Herman), other Big 12 teams won’t share the same enthusiasm. The rest of the conference will seemingly lose the ability to play the power league card when going up against Houston one-on-one in recruiting and coaches probably are not too thrilled at the prospect of that happening.

 

2. It will be hard to own the city even if Houston is in the Big 12

The Big 12 doesn’t have its own conference network so TV market isn’t as big of a factor as it might be in expansion. Still, school presidents and other leaders are sure to understand that an invite going out to Houston will not make the city a stronghold. The Cougars have to compete with Texas A&M an hour up the road and their large fan base sprinkled all over the area plus what Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and others bring to the table.

 

3. Fan support hasn’t been at a Big 12 level

In just his first season on campus, Herman wasn’t shy about calling out Cougars fans for a lack of attendance at football games in 2015, despite a run toward a conference title and New Year’s Six bowl. The problem is that Houston has never been a super passionate fan base on the whole and has struggled at times to put people in seats even during the successful “Run and Shoot” days as well as recent stints under Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin. Maybe getting into the Big 12 would change that but nobody is holding their breath.

 

Final Verdict

 

When the Big 12 was first discussing expansion, the general consensus was that if there was a decision made to go forward, Houston would find itself on the outside looking in. The thinking goes that because the school doesn’t add a ton in a market the conference is already in, not even the very competitive football team would be enough to boost the candidacy of the Cougars.

 

Well, things seem to have changed quickly. Public displays of support by key political figures in the state of Texas plus the major endorsement from the Longhorns have quickly made Houston one of the favorites to be added now. There are certainly some negatives when it comes adding another school in the Lone Star State but university leaders at UH appear to be doing their best to reassure everybody that’s a positive and not a negative.

 

From a common sense standpoint, Houston in the Big 12 makes a lot more sense than some options like BYU, Connecticut or Memphis. But common sense is rarely the biggest factor when it comes to conference realignment in college athletics so Cougars fans probably won’t be counting on an invite until one actually comes.

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at .

Teaser:
Why Houston Should or Shouldn't Join the Big 12
Post date: Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Clemson Tigers, College Football
Path: /college-football/why-clemson-will-wont-make-college-football-playoff-2016
Body:

After the Mike Williams injury on the opening drive of the season, everything came together very nicely for in 2015. The line gelled and the holes that were open on defense were filled.

 

Orchestrating a repeat of last year's ACC title and national championship game appearance will present its own set of challenges. But the core of the offense returns led by that guy. The concerns rest elsewhere.

 

Related:

 

Can Clemson find its way back to the College Football Playoff? Here are three reasons why they will and three reasons why they won’t.

 

Three Reasons Why Clemson Will Make the CFB Playoff in 2016

 

1. They Have the Best Quarterback in the Country

The last three national titles have been won by first year starting quarterbacks. Also, half of the eight teams that have qualified for the playoffs have done so with new quarterbacks. So there is no guarantee that a returning starter can lead a team to the Promised Land. But it helps when you have Deshaun Watson coming back to play the game’s most important position. As great as he is, Watson now has the added benefit of knowing how to lead his team to the final game. This is a huge advantage for the Tigers.

 

2. The Rest of the Offense

Who is better? Athlon’s No. 1 ranked receiving group featuring Artavis Scott, Hunter Renfrow, Jordan Leggett, and a healthy Williams? Or Athlon’s top-ranked offensive line spearheaded by left tackle Mitch Hyatt, center Joe Guillermo, and guard Tyrone Crowder? The answer is both. Add in the hard running of Wayne Gallman along with Watson and you have the best offense in America.

 

Podcast: Official 2016 ACC Preview



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3. Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables

Last year, Clemson lost nine starters off a unit that was ranked No. 1 in total defense following the 2014 season. The skeptics predicted a drop in production. But the Tigers finished last season No. 10 in total defense thanks in large part to Venables. A longtime assistant under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, Venables has perhaps done his best work with the Tigers.

 

Three Reasons Why Clemson Won’t Make the CFB Playoff in 2016

 

1. The Personnel Losses on Defense

Yes, Venables knows how to handle this situation as he did it masterfully last year. But it may be more difficult after a second year of losing star players. In 2015, Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson were talented defenders that had played a lot of football in their careers, though they weren't recognized as returning starters. The same was true of Travis Blanks, T.J. Green, and B.J. Goodson. All of those players that emerged for Clemson in their junior and senior seasons are gone and have to be replaced again. The talent on defense is not an issue, but it is young talent and the defense is not nearly as deep as it has been in the previous two seasons. As a result, Clemson must remain injury free on defense.

 

2. Special Teams

Obviously, the special teams played a key role in the loss to Alabama in the Championship Game. There was the Tide onside kick early in the fourth quarter with the score tied 24-24 and the Kenyon Drake kickoff return for a touchdown giving Alabama a two score lead just two minutes later. But the coverage units were a problem long before the title game. Clemson allowed two other touchdown returns on kickoffs, more than any other team except Louisiana Tech, who also gave up three. Punt coverage was better but the punting of Andy Teasdale must improve.

 

3. The Big Game is in Tallahassee

There are many important contests for both Clemson and Florida State, but even now it’s hard not to think about October 29th. Clemson has a loaded offense and talent on defense. But so does Florida State. And the game is at Doak Campbell Stadium. The Seminoles’ home field has been a problem for the Tigers as Clemson has not won in Florida’s state capital since 2006 and have lost 11 of their last 12 games at FSU.  

 

Final Verdict

 

Offensively, all the pieces are in place. They have a Heisman caliber quarterback that is protected by a great line and can get the ball in the hands of electric playmakers. There is also plenty of athleticism on defense and though they are young, Brent Venables has a proven track record of building tough defenses. But I don’t think the ACC will get two teams in the Playoff and Clemson has to get over that Tallahassee hurdle. Florida State is stacked with talent as well and will be hungry to regain their place at the top of the ACC. Clemson has the quarterback. Florida State has the environment. I’ll take the home team.

 

Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking:  4

Athlon’s Projected Final Record:  (11-1, 7-1 in the ACC)

Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds:  10.5

5 Dimes Over/Under Odds:  10

 

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

Teaser:
Why Clemson Will or Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2016
Post date: Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, News
Path: /college-football/podcast-official-2016-acc-football-preview
Body:

Braden Gall, David Fox and Mitch Light officially preview the ACC in 2016.

 

- The State of the ACC Union is much stronger after last week's big announcements. The ACC Network is coming, the Grant of Rights has been extended and Notre Dame has been promised to the ACC.

 

- However, it could be what took place this offseason in the coaching ranks that takes the ACC to the next level of national prominence.

 

- Could Clemson and Florida State both make the Playoff? The guys all agree on something for once and try to poke holes in two great teams.

 

- Which teams are best suited to knock the Tigers or Noles off? Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Miami appear to be the top challengers. What are the strengths, weaknesses and concerns for each of the top challengers?

 

- Is Lamar Jackson really ready for stardom? Does the Hokies schedule make them the favorite in the Coastal? Is Mitch Trubisky capable of keeping the top offense in the nation clicking? Will the Mark Richt-Brad Kaaya marriage bring new love to South Florida?

 

- How good can Pitt be?

 

- Wake Forest, Boston College, NC State and Georgia Tech could all get to a bowl game this year but Duke may not? That doesn't sound right.

 

- How will new coaches fare at Syracuse and Virginia?

 

Check out the .

 

You can order your preseason .

 

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

Teaser:
Podcast: Official 2016 ACC Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/5-reasons-why-utah-pac-12-souths-sleeper-team-2016
Body:

The Pac-12 doesn’t have a clear frontrunner to win the conference title in 2016, but there’s no shortage of intrigue surrounding the league. Washington, Stanford, Oregon, UCLA and USC are the early favorites to win the conference and compete for a playoff spot, but with little separation among the top teams, a dark horse contender could emerge.

 

Utah is coming off its best record (10-3) since joining the Pac-12 and returns 11 starters for 2016. The Utes have one of the nation’s top defenses in place, along with a strong ground attack and offensive line. The development of the passing attack is the biggest concern for coach Kyle Whittingham, but the pieces are still in place to win the South Division. The schedule is also on Utah’s side. The Utes host Oregon and Washington in crossover play with the North Division, and USC visits Salt Lake City in late September.

 

Related:

 

UCLA and USC are generating most of the preseason attention as the Pac-12 South favorite. But could Utah surprise both teams and claim the division crown? Here are five reasons to believe the Utes could surprise in 2016:

 

5 Reasons Why Utah Can Surprise in the Pac-12 South in 2016

 

1. Defense Wins Championships

The honor of the best defense in the Pac-12 for 2016 is a toss up between Washington and Utah. Regardless of which team deserves the No. 1 spot, the Huskies and Utes are both among the nation’s best on this side of the ball. Defense is where Utah has made its mark in the Pac-12, as the Utes led the league in fewest yards per play allowed in 2011, ranked fourth in 2014 and third in 2015. Additionally, this unit has recorded 92 sacks over the last two years. New coordinator Morgan Scalley won’t allow this defense to miss a beat in 2016, as the Utes return six starters, including three first-team All-Pac-12 selections by Athlon Sports – end Kylie Fitts, tackle Lowell Lotulelei and safety Marcus Williams. The Utes led the Pac-12 in rush defense last fall and allowed only 13 passing scores in nine conference games. While the linebacking corps has to be retooled, the defensive line and secondary rank near the top of the Pac-12 in terms of the best defensive units returning in 2016. Expect the Utes to field another shutdown defense this fall.

 

Related:

 

2. The Utes Win the Battle at the Line of Scrimmage

The unquestioned strength of Utah’s 2016 squad is up front in the trenches. With four returning starters, the Utes are competing with USC for the nod as the Pac-12’s top offensive line. This unit only gave up 19 sacks in conference play and cleared the way for Utah to average 183 rushing yards a game last season. Some shuffling could be in order after Hiva Lutui’s career ended due to injury, but there’s a strong foundation in place with the return of Athlon Sports fourth-team All-American J.J. Dielman and standout guard Isaac Asiata. Additionally, Garett Bolles was one of the nation’s top junior college recruits and should figure prominently into the mix up front. On defense, Utah possesses the top line in the Pac-12 and one of the best in the nation. Kylie Fitts and Hunter Dimick lead a standout pass rush off the edges, while junior Lowell Lotulelei anchors a stout run defense. The battle at the point of attack isn’t as flashy as quarterback play or skill players. However, the line of scrimmage is where games are won and lost. Utah’s offensive and defensive lines are among the best in the nation and will carry this team in 2016.

 

Ranking the Conferences in 2016



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3. Joe Williams is a Capable Replacement for Devontae Booker

A Utah running back has eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in four out of the last five years. Devontae Booker led the way on the ground by recording 1,261 yards last season, but he missed the final three games due to injury, opening the door for Joe Williams to get an early audition for the starting job. Williams recorded at least 25 carries in each of the final three games and rushed for 399 yards and three scores in that span. Even though Booker leaves big shoes to fill in Salt Lake City, Utah’s ground attack shouldn’t miss a beat with Williams receiving the bulk of the carries.

 

Related:

 

4. Upside in the Passing Game?

The passing attack is the biggest question mark surrounding Utah’s offense in 2016. However, the Utes haven’t finished higher than ninth in the Pac-12 in passing offense over the last five seasons, so this team can contend without an elite aerial assault. Travis Wilson finished his career by throwing for 2,095 yards and 13 scores last year, leaving a three-man battle for the starting nod in 2016. Junior Brandon Cox is the team’s most-experienced option in a Utah uniform (three career pass attempts), but the other quarterbacks on the roster – junior college recruit Troy Williams and freshman Tyler Huntley – bring a lot of upside to the passing game. Williams started his career at Washington and transferred to Santa Monica College for an opportunity to start in 2015. He threw for 2,750 yards and 31 scores last season and ranked as a four-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite. Huntley enrolled in time to compete in spring practice and impressed in his first semester on campus. The passing game certainly has question marks at quarterback and receiver, but Utah can lean on its ground attack and defense until this position is settled. While Williams and Huntley are unproven at the FBS level, both players have a lot of upside and could help spark a passing game that connected on only 12 passes of 30 yards or more in 2015.

 

5. The Timing is Right for a Wild Card Winner in the South

The Pac-12 enters 2016 without a clear favorite in either division. Washington, Oregon, Stanford and Washington State are all generating consideration for the North, while USC, UCLA and Utah are in the mix for the South. Considering the gap between contenders seems to be pretty small, the climate is right for a dark horse pick to emerge. Utah is also coming off its best record (10-3) since joining the Pac-12 and also finished No. 17 in the Associated Press poll – the highest mark by the program since 2009. 

 

Bonus: Utah kicker Andy Phillips is One of the Best in the Nation

Punter Tom Hackett won’t be easy to replace, but Utah’s special teams are still among the best in the Pac-12 with the return of kicker Andy Phillips. Over the last three seasons, Phillips has connected on 63 of 75 field goals and 132 extra points. With Utah likely to be involved in a handful of close games this season, Phillips could be the difference in a couple of contests. He’s also a second-team All-American pick by Athlon Sports for 2016. 

 

Podcast: Official 2016 Big 12 Preview



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Teaser:
5 Reasons Why Utah is the Pac-12 South's Sleeper Team in 2016
Post date: Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - 12:00
Path: /fantasy/college-fantasy-football-2016-tight-end-rankings
Body:

While the days of daily college football appear to be over (sadly), the season-long game remains alive and well as we head into the 2016 season.

 

To help those collage fantasy diehards, Athlon Sports has positional rankings to assist in your preparations for the upcoming draft season. Below is the scoring system used to comprise these rankings.

 

Passing Yards, 25 yards = 1 point

Passing TD = 4 points

Rushing Yards, 10 yards = 1 point

Rushing TDs = 6 points

Receptions = 0.5 points per reception

Receiving Yards, 10 yards = 1 point

Receiving TDs = 6 points

 

2016 College Fantasy Positional Rankings: I I  I

 

2016 College Fantasy Football TE Rankings

 

1. Jaylen Samuels, NC State

Samuels is the Swiss army knife of college football with the ability to play running back, fullback, receiver and tight end for the Wolfpack. For the purposes of this ranking, we have Samuels listed at tight end where he certainly separates himself from his peers in terms of fantasy production – projected at three fantasy points per game higher than the next closest tight end. Samuels’ numbers on the ground are likely to be down with starting running back Matt Dayes fully healthy, but he will continue to be an integral part of NC State’s rushing and passing offense.

 

2. Jonnu Smith, FIU

Smith’s numbers were down in 2015 as he only played in eight games due to a season-ending knee injury, but is reportedly 100 percent healthy heading into fall camp. Smith led FIU in receiving in each of the previous two seasons prior, and had his best game of last year prior to the knee injury with 10 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns against Old Dominion. Given the way FIU utilizes its tight ends (combined 78 catches), and Smith’s clean bill of health, the senior is in line for another big year.

 

3. Billy Freeman, San Jose State

Freeman led the Spartans in catches (48), receiving yards (586) and touchdowns (6) last season, though part of that can be attributed to a depleted receiving corps that should be much improved in 2016. With Kenny Potter now the full-time starter at quarterback, the passing game should be upgraded and lead to an increase in targets among all receivers and tight ends – Freeman being at the center of that.

 

4. Ryan Yurachek, Marshall

Yurachek only had 417 receiving yards despite 44 catches, but was a major red-zone threat for the Thundering Herd, as he led the team with nine touchdown grabs. With a depleted receiving group, targets should only increase for the junior tight end who was quarterback Chase Litton’s best friend in the passing game last season.

 

5. Gerald Everett, South Alabama

The first of three Sun Belt tight ends on this list, Everett led the Jaguars in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Everett also was used frequently as a goal-line rushing option, finishing the year with four rushing scores. As if Everett didn’t do enough, he also threw a touchdown pass in 2015. South Alabama will be breaking in a new starting quarterback so there are questions about the passing game, but as you can see, Everett finds the end zone in a multitude of ways.

 

6. Buck Cowan, Idaho

The tight end position is utilized often in the Idaho offense with juniors Cowan and Deon Watson combining for 90 catches, nearly 1,200 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns last season. More of a hybrid WR/TE, Watson is moving to receiver full-time in 2016, which should allow for more targets headed in Cowan’s direction. More than 50 receptions is the expectation.

 

7. David Njoku, Miami

Njoku did not rank this highly a few weeks ago, but with the news of projected starting receiver Lawrence Cager now out for the year due to injury, the sophomore tight end could see some additional reps outside at receiver. That should be no issue at all as Njoku is one of the best athletes on the team, as shown by his team-high 17 yards per reception average as a freshman.

 

8. Jake Butt, Michigan

There is a reason why Jim Harbaugh recruits two or three tight ends every cycle – they are utilized early and often, and then some more in his offense. A second team All-American a year ago, Butt returns for his senior season as the premier tight end in college football, but comes in at No. 8 for fantasy purposes because of his low touchdown totals as he has accounted for just seven in three seasons. That and quarterback concerns for the Wolverines drops his stock on this list.

 

9. Mark Andrews, Oklahoma

Unlike Jake Butt, all Andrews does is score touchdowns. On just 19 catches, Andrews was second on the team in touchdown receptions with seven – good for sixth amongst tight ends in the country. With Sterling Shepard no longer around, the ball figures to be spread out more amongst the surplus of receivers for the Sooners, likely resulting in a significant rise in receptions from Andrews in 2016.

 

10. George Kittle, Iowa

Even as the backup last season, Kittle was an integral part of the Hawkeyes’ offense, finishing fourth on the team in catches (20) and was the team leader in touchdowns with six. Now that Henry Krieger-Coble has graduated, Kittle moves into a starting role in 2016 and could very well double his reception totals. Iowa starting tight ends have averaged more than 32 catches a season over the last five years.

 

11. Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech

Hodges is one of the more physically-imposing tight ends in college football and a massive (6-7) red-zone threat. The redshirt junior made a surprising decision to bypass the NFL and return for another season, and is likely to benefit from new head coach Justin Fuente, who is known as more of an offensive mind than his predecessor. Forty-plus catches and six or seven touchdowns seems to be the standard for Hodges.

 

12. Jordan Leggett, Clemson

Leggett had a breakout season last year with 40 receptions for 525 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns. But Leggett faces a similar situation to that of the other Clemson receiving threats – are there enough targets to go around? With Mike Williams back in the fold, as well as Deon Cain being back in the coaches’ good graces, Clemson has its full complement of receivers heading into 2016. A decline in touchdowns would not surprise one bit.

 

13. Terry Pettis, Middle Tennessee

New Middle Tennessee offensive coordinator Tony Franklin did wonders the last two years at Cal with an athletic hybrid TE/WR in Stephen Anderson, and now inherits a similar type of player this season in Pettis. An excellent athlete, Pettis finished third on the team last year in receptions and touchdowns, averaging more 21 yards per catch. I am expecting the senior to become the No. 2 target in the MTSU offense behind star receiver Richie James.

 

14. Jake Roh, Boise State

Boise State’s lack of a proven No. 3 receiver behind Thomas Sperbeck and Chaz Anderson bumps Roh higher up the list as he should become the third option in the passing game in 2016. All Boise State pass catchers are expected to see their numbers rise as quarterback Brett Rypien continues to develop, and Roh should post his highest totals as a junior.

 

15. Evan Engram, Ole Miss

Engram absolutely belongs among the top five tight ends in the country, but where are the touchdowns? In three seasons, Engram has a total of just seven with his freshman year (3) being his high-water marker thus far. He should be able to top that number as a senior, but projecting a significant jump seems unrealistic.


16. Cam Serigne, Wake Forest
17. Keith Rucker, Georgia State
18. Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas
19. Cole Hikutini, Louisville
20. Brandon Lingen, Minnesota
21. Darrell Daniels, Washington
22. DeAndre Goolsby, Florida
23. Barrett Burns, Appalachian State
24. Elkanah Dillon, South Florida
25. Tyler Cameron, Florida Atlantic
26. Dalton Schultz, Stanford
27. Daniel Montiel, Memphis
28. Mason Schreck, Buffalo
29. Jacob Hollister, Wyoming
30. O.J. Howard, Alabama
 

— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2

Teaser:
College Fantasy Football 2016 Tight End Rankings
Post date: Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/why-ole-miss-will-wont-make-college-football-playoff-2016
Body:

During the first month of the 2015 season, was on top of the college football world. Back-to-back 70-plus point performances to open the year only set the stage for going into Tuscaloosa and pulling off a big upset of Alabama for the second straight year. That victory, in many ways, gave the Rebels the keys to the College Football Playoff at the time and had many believing that the all-star recruiting classes head coach Hugh Freeze had hauled in were finally realizing their potential.

 

But such high hopes and big wins don’t mean much in the weekly grind that every season brings. A road loss to a resurgent Florida was a setback but not a killer to making the final four. Losses to Memphis and Arkansas did however, and turned a season that was potentially historic into just another great one for the Rebels. After throttling Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl and seeing a remarkable exodus from Oxford to the NFL in the offseason, the expectations remain high for the program but everybody seems to be wondering if Freeze and company can keep things rolling — especially in light of a difficult few months dealing with NCAA issues.

 

Related:

 

There are plenty of reasons to think Ole Miss can push past all that and remain in the running to and make another run at the Playoff though, led by record-setting quarterback Chad Kelly. Can the Rebels reach the final four that it looked like they were destined to early last season? Here are three reasons why Ole Miss will make the Playoff... and three reasons why they won’t.

 

Three Reasons Why Ole Miss Will Make the College Football Playoff

 

1. Chad Kelly is back behind center

It was extremely telling at SEC Media Days in July that only three of the league’s 14 teams brought a quarterback — and one hasn’t even started for them (Trevor Knight played at Oklahoma last year before moving to Texas A&M). Of those three, the player who was by far the most accomplished was Ole Miss’ signal-caller. After throwing for more than 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns, it’s easy to say that Kelly enters 2016 as the best quarterback in the SEC and he might be the best East of the Mississippi not named Deshaun Watson. Having him leading the team’s up-tempo offense is easily the biggest reason to think this could be another big year in Oxford.

 

2. The defense still has plenty of talent

Former No. 1 overall recruit Robert Nkemdiche has traded his Ole Miss blue and red for the red and black of the Arizona Cardinals. Tackling machine Mike Hilton also is no longer on campus after several seasons of quality play in the secondary. Former captain C.J. Johnson is among the others moving on after being a mainstay on the “Landshark” defense that was among the best units in the country the past few years. Despite all those losses, there’s still plenty of talent left for defensive coordinator Dave Wommack to work with. D.J. Jones and Tony Conner are two of the biggest names but don’t be surprised to see quality transfers like Rommel Mageo to help boost a unit that should still be highly regarded in the SEC.

 

3. They will use the NCAA scandal as a rallying point

It’s been a tumultuous offseason for just about everybody associated with the Ole Miss program and the biggest reason why centers around the 13 allegations leveled against the school by the NCAA and the subsequent defending of what happened by Freeze and his staffers. Add in further damage caused by the Laremy Tunsil NFL Draft night scandal and it’s pretty clear why the compliance office has been working overtime in Oxford. With all the negative headlines in recent months, you would be forgiven for thinking that some players may be spending too much time worrying about the future of Ole Miss football. To the contrary however, the pessimistic tone set by those outside the program could actually serve as a rallying cry for those inside the walls of the football facilities. Like USC back in 2011, don’t be surprised if all the attacks force the players to take an “us-vs-the-world” mentality that pays off on the field and in the win cloumn.

 

Three Reasons Why Ole Miss Will Not Make the College Football Playoff

 

1. There’s just too much star power to replace

Five Ole Miss players were taken in the 2016 NFL Draft, including an impressive three going in the first round. Those weren’t just quality players either; they were superstars for the Rebels who started multiple seasons. One just can’t replace a Laquon Treadwell overnight and expect everything to be ok no matter how much depth you have or how talented the recruiting class coming in is. It would be one thing to have other experienced players to help pick up the slack coming back too but Ole Miss returns the fewest number of starters (10 total, 5 on each side of the ball) in the entire SEC to further complicate things for the coaching staff.

 

2. The schedule is brutal

Not only does Ole Miss have to contend with a rough and tumble SEC West slate, but its schedule overall is among the toughest in the country and easily one of the most brutal first months of the season anywhere. In the opener the Rebels will have to contend with a team many think can make the College Football Playoff in Florida State and then have just two weeks after that to prepare for a back-to-back offering of division favorite Alabama and an always-talented Georgia. While both of those games are at home, trips to Arkansas, LSU and Texas A&M could prove rocky at best and anything can happen in the Egg Bowl to end the year. If the team winds up in the top 10 of the polls come January, Freeze and company certainly will have earned it.

 

3. Offensive line is a big, big question mark

Tunsil’s NFL Draft night gas mask snafu is the first thing people now think about regarding the former Ole Miss left tackle but that really glosses over just how good the No. 13 overall pick was protecting the blind side of Rebels quarterbacks. He certainly lived up to his lofty recruiting ranking early in his college career and was a big part in limiting the deep stable of pass rushers you see on a weekly basis in the SEC. While his absence will almost certainly be felt, the offensive line is an even bigger mystery for the team since all five players that started the bowl game are gone. There are players who have experience so it’s not a totally green unit coming back for 2016 but it says plenty about the situation Freeze is in that he will likely be protecting Kelly with either a true freshman (five-star signee Greg Little) or a converted quarterback/tight end (Jeremy Liggins).

 

Final Verdict

 

Expectations at Ole Miss are a tricky thing for anybody who has followed the program or knows how quickly a coach can get run out of town at even the faintest signs of slipping. After an up-and-down-and-then-up year in 2015, that puts a lot of pressure on Hugh Freeze to deliver yet another quality campaign despite losing a host of talent and having to deal with an ongoing NCAA scandal. The team has recruited at a high level to get to the point where there won’t be big dips in on-field performance and that’s what makes the team such a fascinating one to follow given all of the storylines.

 

Ole Miss may not win the SEC West in 2016 but even it doesn’t, the Rebels should play a role in which team does given their amount of talent and depth on the roster. Another top-10 finish certainly isn’t out of the question but the team will have to battle through tests early and often if it is to wind up in a New Year’s Six bowl game for the third straight season. Saying the Rebels will make the Playoff might be a bit much but the door isn’t shut on them doing just that in what should be a wild and interesting year for Freeze and his football team.

 

Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 10

Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 9-3

Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 8.5

5 Dimes Projected Over/Under Odds: 8

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at .

Teaser:
Why Ole Miss Will or Won’t Make the College Football Playoff in 2016
Post date: Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/why-connecticut-should-or-shouldnt-join-big-12
Body:

Just when you thought it was all over, the has reversed course and pulled schools across the country back into the murky waters of college realignment. After going back and forth for months on the subject, commissioner Bob Bowlsby surprised many in the college athletics world at the league’s media days by saying the Big 12 is essentially opening its doors to new members.

 

Related: 

 

There should be no shortage of schools that want to walk through those doors to join the Power Five club and Bowlsby’s phones are likely to be ringing off the hook over the next six to nine months. While the latest round of musical chairs won’t be quite as involved as in recent years, it nevertheless should make for a fascinating 2016.

 

But who should get in? Who shouldn’t stand a chance? We’ve already gone over the case for and against , and , but what about ?

 

Three Reasons Why Connecticut Should Join the Big 12

 

1. They’re one of the biggest basketball brands available

If the Big 12 opts to go with the athletic department with the most rings, UConn is going to be the easy choice for the conference. The Huskies are among the biggest basketball brands in the country for both men and women and are annually in the running for the national title in both sports. If the Big 12 wants to create a strong hoops league to help rival the ACC, making UConn play Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor and others on an annual basis will make for a nice addition.

 

2. ESPN’s backyard

Being an hour away from ESPN hasn’t made UConn a crown jewel in the conference realignment swirl but it certainly doesn’t hurt to be in the worldwide leader’s backyard. The four letter network has a relationship with the school dating back to its founding and there are a healthy dose of alumni roaming the campus in Bristol to this day. Having a Power Five program nearby likely sounds more appealing given its absence in recent years after the school left the Big East. Proximity to New York and Boston also is going to be seen as a big plus.

 

Podcast: Big 12 Expansion Analysis Preview



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3. They have a quality academic profile

Of all the potential expansion targets, UConn grades the highest when it comes to academics — no small thing when you consider that it will be school presidents extending invites. They’re tops among potential schools in U.S. News & World Report rankings and easily the top public university the conference seems to be considering. The state itself has pumped quite a bit of resources into its flagship university and it’s paid off in increasing UConn’s academic profile.

 

Three Reasons Why Connecticut Shouldn’t Join the Big 12

 

1. Storrs is a long way from everybody

A 2,000-mile road trip from Texas to Connecticut doesn’t exactly scream fun and it is really complicated given how many Big 12 schools are in college towns and not next door to major cities (and major airports). Along those lines, trying to get the women’s soccer team from Manhattan, Kansas, to Storrs sounds like a costly and logistical nightmare. Sure charters help for the big sports like football and basketball but when you multiply things out to 20-plus sports, things aren’t so simple. Even as a Northeast lifeline to West Virginia, UConn doesn’t make all that much sense given that Storrs is still a eight-hour drive away.

 

2. They don’t truly deliver the New York City/Boston markets

UConn has a good fan base but the idea that the Huskies are going to put the Big 12 in big markets like New York City and Boston overnight is ridiculous. Yes there are plenty of UConn alumni in both areas but it’s not an overwhelming amount in cities that support dozens of different schools. Much like the Big Ten adding Rutgers, it gets the league in the door of the Big Apple, but it doesn’t get the Big 12 anywhere close to having a dominant school in the market.

 

3. Football has historically been mediocre

The Huskies have been playing football at the FBS level for less than 20 years so they’re still a relatively young program but nobody is confusing them for a Northeastern powerhouse. There have been brief flashes (like reaching a BCS bowl) but for the most part, the program can best be described as mediocre with a few good moments. Things do seem to be on the rise under current head coach Bob Diaco but there is the sense that it’s a program with a glass ceiling given its location, recruiting base and the fact that facilities are nice but not cutting edge.

 

Final Verdict

 

When the Big 12 first announced it was exploring expansion (again) months ago, UConn seemed like a fringe candidate that was mostly being mentioned because the Huskies are a non-Power Five program with a solid brand that was trying to get back in the good ol’ boys club. Most tend to dismiss their chances because of where they are located compared to a Texas-centric league but, suddenly, there appears to be some very real momentum for the Northeast school.

 

Whether that is just because everybody is trying to jump in the pool of candidates or not remains to be seen, but UConn figures to be fully evaluated by Big 12 leaders. There is a solid all-around profile athletically to consider and the academic angle is likely something the leaders making decisions will examine closely. Whether those factors can outweigh being so far away from most schools is anybody’s guess.

 

If you are a UConn fan, you’re going to be pumping out your chest, wearing the school colors proudly and really rooting hard for the Big 12 to expand by four teams over the coming months. It seems pretty hard to see a far-flung conference adding another far-flung school if it only expands by two schools. If it’s four however, there’s a chance — a chance — that UConn winds up in that final four.

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at .

 

(Top photo courtesy of )

Teaser:
Why Connecticut Should or Shouldn't Join the Big 12
Post date: Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/secs-top-10-heisman-candidates-2016
Body:

Last season, the got back to its Heisman-winning ways after Alabama’s Derrick Henry claimed college football’s top prize, piling up more than 2,200 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns.

 

Of course, to win the Heisman Trophy, players also have to be on a pretty good team. That could be a good sign for programs like Alabama, LSU and Tennessee this year. Can the SEC produce another Heisman Trophy winner this year? It certainly has a chance with some of the nation’s best players.

 

2016 Heisman Trophy Candidates by Conference: I I I I I

 

Here is a look at the SEC’s top Heisman candidates for 2016.

 

The Five Clear Favorites

 

1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

If the Heisman Trophy was awarded midseason, Fournette would have had it locked up last year. Fournette is undoubtedly the SEC’s top contender heading into 2016. He rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, but didn’t perform as well in LSU’s three losses to Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss. That just goes to show how important Fournette will be to LSU’s success this fall.

 

2. Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss

The SEC doesn’t have a lot of great passers right now, but don’t tell Kelly that. In his first season as the starter, Kelly threw for more than over 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns last season, and also was a threat on the ground. Most impressively, Kelly threw for 300 or more yards in eight games. He performed well against the Rebels’ toughest opponents, and stayed consistent all season. You can’t really find a game on Ole Miss’ schedule where Kelly performed poorly.

 

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3. Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee

Tennessee is the popular pick to win the SEC East this season. If the Volunteers get to at least 10 wins, they probably will have a player or two in the Heisman conversation. Hurd is a powerful running back, and likely will break Tennessee’s all-time rushing record. Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord loves the running game, so Hurd should continue to get plenty of opportunities to impress the voters.

 

4. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

Last year, Chubb was ranked No. 1 on this list. Unfortunately, he suffered a severe knee injury against Tennessee and wasn’t able to further the momentum from his 2014 season. Chubb is still recovering, and it is unclear whether he will be ready to go in week one against North Carolina. Even if he is back to 100 percent, the injury could linger. That said, Chubb is arguably the SEC’s best running back when he’s at his best. 

 

5. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

The Crimson Tide have a ton of questions on offense heading into the season, but they should be good to go at the receiver position. Ridley put up fantastic numbers in his freshman season, catching 89 passes for more than 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. Ridley is Alabama’s most dynamic weapon, at least for right now. If he gets enough touches, he could contend for the Heisman.

 

The Next Five Candidates

 

6. Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama

In the Nick Saban era, Alabama has relied on strong running backs. Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry, take your pick. But for the first time in Saban’s tenure, Alabama is a little unsure at the running back position. While the backs may be unproven, they are talented. If Scarbrough ends up getting the majority of the carries, he will probably end up in the Heisman conversation. After all, he would be the running back at Alabama.

 

7. Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee

As mentioned before, Tennessee has high expectations this fall. While the Vols will rely mostly on the running game, that doesn’t exclude the quarterback. Dobbs can be a real game-changer with his legs. However, he will need to improve his accuracy when it comes to throwing downfield if he wants to be considered a legitimate Heisman candidate.

 

8. Brandon Harris, QB, LSU

It may come as a surprise to those who always say “LSU could be really good if it had a quarterback.” But the Tigers’ quarterback actually finished in the top five in the SEC last year in yards per attempt. Harris was mostly efficient, throwing 13 touchdowns to only six interceptions, and also has shown an ability to scramble. Obviously, he will need better numbers than he had last year to win the Heisman, and Les Miles loves to run the ball, but don’t rule Harris out if LSU has a stellar season.

 

9. Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

The other Alabama running back, Harris, likely will split carries with Scarbrough. However, one of these guys could emerge as the lead running back at some point in the season. Both are physical rushers, and it’s hard to say which will emerge. But if Harris is the one who ends up as Alabama’s leading rusher, he may very likely be in the Heisman conversation.

 

10. Trevor Knight, QB, Texas A&M

Knight is a bit of a wild card. His 2014 season at Oklahoma was fantastic (mostly), but the hype eventually faded and Knight lost the starting job. Now that Knight is in Kevin Sumlin’s system at Texas A&M, it could end up being the perfect fit. Knight is an offensive weapon, through the air and on the ground. He also will have plenty of playmakers around him, which should help his numbers.

 

Three Dark Horses to Watch

 

Fred Ross, WR, Mississippi State

It isn’t as likely for wide receivers to win the Heisman, but Ross is one of the SEC’s top returners at the receiver position. He had the luxury of catching passes from Dak Prescott last season, and things will definitely be different at the quarterback position in Starkville this fall. But that could help Ross, because Mississippi State will probably have to get more creative in getting him the ball. He’s the best offensive weapon on the Bulldogs’ roster. The Heisman will be a long shot, but it’s not out of the question. 

 

Ralph Webb, RB, Vanderbilt

Because players usually have to be on a winning team to win the Heisman, it increases the degree of difficulty for someone like Webb, but Vanderbilt could at least get to a bowl game this season. Webb is, without question, the Commodores’ best player. With more than 1,100 rushing yards last year, Webb is third behind only Fournette and Hurd among the conference’s returning backs.

 

Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

Michel may be a long shot too, but he’s the clear No. 2 on Georgia’s running back depth chart. His recent broken arm isn’t as severe as the injury Chubb suffered, so when Michel is at full strength, he could get even more carries this season. Michel’s Heisman chances depend mostly on whether Chubb will be at full strength, but if he’s not, Michel has shown that he can fill in adequately.

 

Ranking the Conferences in 2016



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Defensive Players to Watch

 

1. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

A defensive end winning the Heisman would be unheard of. The award almost always goes to a quarterback or running back. The only primary defensive player to win the Heisman was Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997, but even he needed to return kicks and occasionally fill in at wide receiver. It is extremely unlikely that a defensive player will win the award this year, but Garrett will probably have the best chance. His sack numbers should help.

 

2. Johnathan Ford, S, Auburn

Last year, Ford finished third in the SEC in total tackles, with 118 stops from the safety position. He also ran two interceptions back for touchdowns. But the thing that could propel Ford into the Heisman talk, assuming he is near the top of the tackle charts again, is his ability to return kicks. Ford finished second in the SEC last season, averaging almost 30 yards per return.

 

3. Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

Mizzou’s defensive line is so good that teams will have to get creative in double-teaming Harris. They will have to pay nearly as much attention to Walter Brady at the other end spot, plus defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. is back. Harris had 18.5 tackles for a loss last year, which ranked second in the conference, behind only Garrett at Texas A&M.

 

4. Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee

Sutton was a three-star prospect when he got to Tennessee, but he has since made a name for himself as a lockdown corner for the Vols. Sutton rarely gets beat by opposing receivers, but like Auburn’s Ford, he will have to rely on return numbers to be talked about in the Heisman race. Sutton was the SEC’s top punt returner last year. He averaged almost 19 yards per return and got to the end zone twice.

 

5. Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida

The Gators have the SEC’s best corner, period. Tabor is well known already, and likes to trash talk. That’s because he knows he’s one of the SEC’s best players and is confident in his ability. It will be difficult for Tabor to put up Heisman-like numbers on defense, but he’s a solid longshot candidate.

 

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

Teaser:
The SEC's Top 10 Heisman Candidates for 2016
Post date: Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/why-cincinnati-should-or-shouldnt-join-big-12
Body:

Just when you thought it was all over, the has reversed course and pulled schools across the country back into the murky waters of college realignment. After going back and forth for months on the subject, commissioner Bob Bowlsby surprised many in the college athletics world at the league’s media days by saying the Big 12 is essentially opening its doors to new members.

 

Related: 

 

There should be no shortage of schools that want to walk through those doors to join the Power Five club and Bowlsby’s phones are likely to be ringing off the hook over the next six to nine months. While the latest round of musical chairs won’t be quite as involved as in recent years, it nevertheless should make for a fascinating 2016.

 

But who should get in? Who shouldn’t stand a chance? We’ve already gone over the case for and against and , but what about American Athletic Conference (AAC) power ?

 

Three Reasons Why Cincinnati Should Join the Big 12

 

1. They’re the perfect travel partner for West Virginia

There has been plenty of talk in expansion-palooza about the conference finding a travel partner for West Virginia, which is often talked about as being out on an island given its distance from most member schools. Cincinnati is basically on the way from the Big 12’s base in Texas and Oklahoma to West Virginia and a manageable drive away from Morgantown. Plus, both know each other well from their days in the old Big East.

 

2. New market for the conference

The Bearcats have a strong local fan base that helps fill up the games during football and men’s basketball season. While they don’t quite have the numbers of some others, it’s a very solid base and it helps that Cincinnati has the No. 36 television market in the country. Ohio has mostly been Big Ten country, but adding Cincy to a power conference would certainly help make inroads for Big 12 teams in this part of the country too.

 

3. Strong overall football program and athletic department

Cincinnati was a trendy pick to win the AAC last year in football but picked an inopportune time to slide back on expectations. Still, the sport that is driving all this expansion is still pretty solid when taking the macro view given that the Bearcats have captured five conference titles in the past decade and made a bowl game (including two BCS bowls) in all but one year dating back to 2006. Their track record in hiring coaches is impressive with Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly and Butch Jones predating current veteran head coach Tommy Tuberville. A recent $86 million renovation to Nippert Stadium also is a point in the school’s favor, as is a quality men’s basketball team.

 

Three Reasons Why Cincinnati Shouldn’t Join the Big 12

 

1. They’ll still be second fiddle in the region to Ohio State and others

Ohio is highly regarded for the quality and quantity of high school athletes it produces but when it comes to elite players, they typically are not making their way to Cincinnati. The state itself has been rooting solidly for the Buckeyes for ages and Notre Dame, Michigan, and other Big Ten programs are all within driving distance. Even nearby Louisville has a better profile and after the Big 12 missed out on adding the Cardinals a few years ago, some may feel that adding Cincinnati is just trying to make up for that.

 

2. The academics are not as strong as others and there is no president

The school has certainly stepped things up on the academic front and boasts an impressive endowment that would be in the top third of the Big 12. Despite such progress, Cincinnati still lags behind other candidates like BYU and UConn in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings. Complicating matters is the fact that school president Santa Ono, who worked hard to get the Bearcats on the Big 12’s radar, recently left for another university and his replacement isn’t likely to start until 2017. That means the key leader in pitching the Big 12 appears to be athletic director Mike Bohn, who awkwardly helped lead Colorado out of the league a few years ago.

 

3. The athletic department is fairly subsidized by the school

In terms of size and athletic budget, Cincinnati would be at the bottom of the Big 12 and that’s to be expected given that they are outside the Power Five. However, while the Bearcats have a solid profile, it does stand out that 44 percent of the athletic budget is subsidized by the school, according to USA Today figures. That percentage is on the high end of potential Big 12 candidates and when you factor in the program getting a decent amount of TV revenue from the AAC, it’s possible the school won’t want as much of a sweetheart deal when it comes to phasing in Big 12 revenue as others.

 

Final Verdict

 

Cincinnati has been in contact with the Big 12 about a move to the Power Five for nearly two years now and it hasn’t exactly been a well-kept secret. While the Bearcats have lost one of their biggest champions in former president Santa Ono, they are nevertheless a strong candidate to be nabbed in this round of conference expansion and perhaps the best all-around school for the Big 12 when you consider all of the criteria that the presidents are likely looking at.

 

Perhaps just as importantly, the Bearcats appear to have the key support of Oklahoma president David Boren — who has largely driven the topic of Big 12 expansion. That is going to count for a lot when it comes time to tally votes and is a big reason why most believe Cincinnati is at the top of the list commissioner Bob Bowlsby is looking over. Being a travel partner for West Virginia (school president Gordon Gee is on the expansion subcommittee and is familiar with the school from his time at Ohio State) is a big, big plus and the university is located closer to Iowa State and the Kansas schools than Memphis, UConn, Houston and BYU.

 

There’s been a lot of talk about divisions in the Big 12 and if the league decides to bring back a North/South split, it makes a lot of sense to see Cincinnati in the former group. You can never be certain when it comes to something like college realignment but one has to like the Bearcats’ chances of getting an invite no matter if it’s two or four golden tickets being handed out.

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at .

 

(Top photo courtesy of )

Teaser:
Why Cincinnati Should or Shouldn't Join the Big 12
Post date: Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News, Magazines
Path: /college-football/behind-scenes-how-college-football-coaches-assemble-game-plan
Body:

Even if the Pitt Panthers had to line up against the Steelers on a September Saturday afternoon, Matt Canada would have a plan in place to attack the NFL foe. It sounds preposterous that any college team — even mighty Alabama — would have even the most remote hope against professional opposition, and it’s certain the folks in Vegas would be more than happy to take the money of anyone who felt that way.

 

Canada isn’t a dreamer. Better still, the Panthers’ offensive coordinator isn’t delusional. Pitt isn’t beating the Steelers, not if the teams played 100 times. Canada knows that. He also knows that there is always a plan of attack, even if the chances of a positive outcome are practically zero.

 

“No matter how much better they are than us, there is still a worst guy on their defense,” Canada says. “We might be playing the All-Pro team, but there is still a guy that’s the worst on the team.

 

“You find that guy, put together a plan and go after him.”

 

Every week, coaches like Canada perch in stadium press boxes or stand along the sidelines all over the country, hoping their game plans are good enough to offset their opponents’ strategies and personnel. Days of meetings, film breakdown, discussion, revisions and practice produce specific blueprints for three hours — four if it’s a Big 12 game — of successful (they hope) offensive football.

 

The process begins in earnest the moment the previous week’s game ends. The broad strokes are applied several weeks and even months earlier, as graduate assistants and quality control coaches review tape to determine tendencies and situational responses. From there, it’s up to the offensive staff to create a scheme specific to the next team on the schedule.

 

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That plan doesn’t radically change each week. It can’t, or teams would be trying to learn new offensive principles before each game. Coaches don’t do the same things against each opponent, but it is vital that a team’s identity is preserved as the strategy is assembled.

 

“We have a good offensive philosophy that we believe in,” says Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren. “It’s so nice that we know who we are. It’s so comforting.”

 

Once the planning is complete, the coaches take it to the practice field for installation. Come Saturday, it’s about how well the design addresses the problem — provided the problem stays the same.

 

Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis has been coaching for over four decades and calling plays for more than 30 seasons. He doesn’t boast about his experience or ability, but there isn’t too much that’s going to surprise him come Saturday. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some days when all of the planning and practicing are replaced by adjusting and ad-libbing.

 

“Some weeks, you get to the ball game, and the defense does exactly what you expect,” Davis says. “Some weeks, you get to the ball game, and the game plan is out the window to some degree. The defense is doing something different or playing a different coverage in a situation you didn’t anticipate.

 

“But it’s always important you go in with an overall plan, regardless of who you’re playing.”

 

This feature and more are available in every .

 

The Houston offensive staff isn’t very nostalgic.

 

No matter how well or poorly things went on Saturday, the game is all but forgotten by about 2 p.m. Sunday. As soon as the grades are in, and the coaches have watched the tape together, the whole thing heads into the archives. There’s another opponent to consider.

 

“It’s time to move on,” Cougars OC Major Applewhite says.

 

Each team has its own schedule for creating, revising and implementing a game plan. Davis says most teams assemble and install it “like a crossword puzzle”; it goes in piece by piece, not all at once. At UH, the process begins Sunday when the GAs and quality control folks stand up and brief the full-time staff about the next opponent. Until that point, nobody had been thinking about future rivals. The focus remains on the current challenge. You wonder why programs are devoting more resources to support personnel? It’s so that they can handle some of the preparation each week, taking the burden off people like Applewhite.

 

The briefing won’t be too complex. It’s more of a starting point, designed to acquaint everybody with the opponent’s personality. What are their tendencies? How do they react to the staples of the UH offensive canon? Which personnel group is the best? The most vulnerable? If there is anything unique the Cougars haven’t seen to that point during the season, it will be emphasized during that presentation.

 

“Say we’re playing Memphis,” Applewhite says. “[GAs and quality control coaches] let us know the base fronts, the base blitzes and base coverages. They tell us who Memphis is in a nutshell.”

 

From there, it’s out to the practice field for a brisk, 30-minute session with the players designed to correct mistakes from Saturday and look ahead to the next week. After practice, the Houston coaches reconvene to watch tape of the opponent’s last two games against offenses similar to the Cougars’. By mid-October, that isn’t a problem, but earlier in the season, it can be difficult to locate tape like that, particularly if the foe has faced, say, Navy’s option attack, a pro-style team or an “air raid” outfit that throws the ball 65 times per game. The Cougars employ a “power spread” scheme that is heavy on the run. (UH ran it 237 more times than it passed in ’15.)

 

Teams with new defensive coordinators are particularly troublesome in September matchups: It’s unwise to consult tape from the previous season due to the change in scheme. In those cases, coaches have to be creative, seeking out film from the rivals’ previous employers or speaking to former colleagues about tendencies and preferences.

 

“The early part of the season can be a nightmare,” Applewhite says. “Sometimes, you end up talking to friends. Three years ago [while he was at Texas], I was up against a former NFL coordinator. I had to call a guy on his [former] staff and ask what principles the coach believed in.”

 

Oklahoma OC Lincoln Riley says there are some benefits to facing a new defensive coordinator. His scheme may be unfamiliar to opponents, but it’s also alien to his players. Sure, it’s hard to know what to study, but it’s unlikely defenders will be comfortable with the system right away. “It’s a guessing game,” says Riley, whose Sooner attack was seventh nationally in total yards last season.

 

On Monday, many staffs complete as much of Davis’ “crossword puzzle” as possible. The Sooners work from 5-8 a.m. on assembling the entire plan. At Houston, Applewhite’s position coaches work on various responsibilities within the scheme. For instance, running backs coach Kenith Pope is responsible for designing answers to opponents’ blitz packages. Tight ends boss Corby Meekins maps out how to attack rival defensive ends. Derek Warehime, the offensive line coach, breaks down the defensive fronts, while Applewhite and new receivers coach Darrell Wyatt will address ways to confront coverages.

 

The rest of the day is spent applying the staff’s recommendations to specific situations, so that a plan can emerge that addresses all of a game’s possibilities. They draw up regular down-and-distance plays — first-and-10, second-and-8 — red-zone strategies, third-and-long schemes, screens, gadget plays and short-yardage possibilities. Staffs don’t come up with new plays for each game because they don’t want to confuse players who have spent weeks learning and executing one system. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some variations.

 

Davis points to the Iowa inside zone running play, which he estimates the Hawkeyes ran “260 times” in 2015. It’s going to be in the game plan; that’s no secret. But the Hawks will most likely run it differently against Wisconsin than they do versus Illinois.

 

“We’re going to run the inside zone, and opponents know we’re going to run the inside zone,” Davis says. “But maybe we’ll make it look a little different. One week, the emphasis will be on using ‘21’ personnel [two backs, one tight end], and the next week the emphasis is on ‘11’ personnel [one of each], with the tight end moving.

 

“Very few plays that show up on Saturday, especially running plays, are designed just for that week.”

 

By the time the players hit the field Tuesday — and more and more programs are practicing in the morning — the plan is in place, and it’s time to get the players familiar with the parts of the offense that will be featured. Pitt’s Canada uses Tuesday for “meat and potatoes” — first- and second-down situations — along with any trick plays that might be used and some seven-on-seven passing drills. Houston follows a similar plan, as does Oklahoma. Riley says that if there is a new play for that game, it goes in Tuesday, the better for players to get maximum time to work on it.

 

The coaches need as many days as possible to evaluate it, too. That goes for every play in the game plan. As the week goes on, staffs spend hours watching practice tape and trying to decide which plays absolutely must remain. The goal is to make sure the players are as proficient as possible in what they will be asked to run, and the more time they can give to a leaner menu, the better prepared they will be. It’s rare to find a staff that is inserting plays as the week goes on.

 

Applewhite likens his staff to accountants — they measure the cost of every play and ask if it’s worth having it in, or if it’s “too expensive” — and he isn’t alone. Every week, Pitt’s graduate assistants will chart how often plays were run during a game and how much practice time was spent on each. The object is to avoid having spent too much time preparing for things that never are used in games.

 

“We almost always have too much,” Canada says. “You see things on film and scratch them. There are enough good plays. Maybe you’ll run some of them twice, instead of once. In the average game plan, there are always too many plays.”

 

 

As soon as an offensive team crosses the opposing 20-yard line, TV commentators begin to talk about red zone scoring percentages. Applewhite considers those statistics meaningless, because the 20 isn’t a sacrosanct border. For his game-planning purposes, the red zone begins when the defense decides it does, and not when the boys in the booth say so.

 

“The red zone starts when the defense changes its alignment,” Applewhite says. “It could be the 25 or the 20. A lot of times, it’s the 12- or the 8-yard line. Where do they change their coverage, and where do the blitzes start to change? Some teams don’t change a lick.”

 

That’s why Wednesday practices are so important for the Cougars. They work on third-down packages, but they also install the red zone strategy. As Applewhite says, it’s quite different every week, due not only to how opponents defend the area, but also to how they define it. Some teams have “split personalities,” according to Applewhite. They may not blitz at all on most of the field, but send everybody but the drumline as the goal line nears.

 

By the end of practice Wednesday, the players should have ingested the entire strategy. From there, it’s a matter of repetition and figuring out which plays work best together. Many coaches will use Thursday or Friday walk-throughs (there is no universal approach to practicing, although some programs are going with full-speed work on Fridays) to have their offenses replicate drives by running seven or eight plays, with varying tempos. This familiarizes everybody with potential combinations and allows coaches to see what works together and what doesn’t.

 

“We practice it the way we call it,” Riley says. “We try to fit it together Friday so that it’s close to how we’ll do it in a game.”

 

Meetings, practices and walk-throughs are important, but at Stanford and a growing number of schools throughout the country, technology plays a big role, too. The Cardinal make use of a virtual reality system that allows players to get extra reps in a classroom by putting on VR goggles and going through practice film to make sure they understand how to attack defenses. If a starter wants more work, he can get it. And if a backup QB wants to see what it’s like to take reps with the first team against the enemy defense, that’s available, too.

 

“If a coach is there, he can see on the TV in the room where [the quarterback’s] eyes went, and say, ‘Whoa! Whoa! Why are you doing that?’” Bloomgren says. “It gives them extra chances to prepare.”

 

As the process of installing and fine-tuning a game plan continues, it’s important for the quarterback to feel comfortable with what’s going to be called. To that end, coaches try to get an idea of what they like in certain situations. Canada may give his quarterback six plays that could be called on third-and-5 and ask him to rank his top three.

 

“So, on the first third-and-5 of the game, if nothing has happened that’s different than what we expected, I’ll call the play that the quarterback likes,” Canada says.

 

Bloomgren asks his passers what plays they would prefer to be called early on. The answers he has received, whether from Andrew Luck or Kevin Hogan, are the same. Each wants an early, easy completion, and each wants to get hit.

 

“They want to feel like they are in a game,” Bloomgren says. “I tell them that it’s my job to make sure they don’t get hit, but they say they want to get their pads loose.”

 

The coaches put together the plan and teach it, but it’s the players who execute it. All of that talk about “Jimmies and Joes” is pretty accurate. No matter how great the scheme might be, it comes down to how well it plays out on the field. It’s easy to look at football as a carefully orchestrated game of parries and ripostes, but rarely does everything proceed according to design. In fact, many games are won by exactly how well teams perform when the whole idea goes to hell.

 

Davis talks about a running play last year in which the back hit the hole, only to find the cornerback unexpectedly waiting for him. Everything else was proceeding properly, but this rogue agent had emerged to trash the run.

 

“The running back made the guy miss and went 45 yards for a TD,” Davis says. “Was that a great play? We blocked well, but the cornerback read it, and our back made him miss.

 

“You’ve got to have a plan, but you have to have the players who can make it work.”

 

To make sure his players will be ready to do that, Applewhite and his staff administer a video test Friday before practice, during which they ask all their players what their assignments are on a collection of plays. It’s a “very military” approach. A play is announced, and the coaches grill everyone on their roles. This is no time for hesitation or casual behavior. “They are to sit up straight and call out the answer,” Applewhite says. “We fire through it, asking all 11 of them. Then we go to the next play.”

 

Although the Cougars are encouraged for the rest of Friday to relax, and coaches aren’t grabbing the players for hours of review, Applewhite does remind them that “their preparation doesn’t end until the foot hits the ball on Saturday.” After kickoff, coaches find out just how good their plans are. Davis emphasizes that while offenses are trying to make what they do look different from week to week, the defenses are doing the same thing. If a certain play looks good against what the opponent has done in the past, it might not be successful when called during a game, thanks to an adjustment to a front or a coverage. In those cases, the key is to address the issue without creating a sense of alarm.

 

“Maybe we thought a certain running play would work against an ‘over’ front, and they are now running a ‘diamond’ front,” Davis says. “We’ll tell the players, ‘Don’t panic. This is still a good play. This is how we have to go about it now.’”

 

It might just work. And if it doesn’t, the process starts again as soon as the game ends.

 

In fact, it’s probably already in progress.

 

— By Michael Bradley

Teaser:
Behind the Scenes of How College Football Coaches Assemble a Game Plan
Post date: Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/josh-gordons-unexpected-return-creates-ultimate-risk-reward-fantasy-option
Body:

NFL training camps have just begun but the wide receiver pool for drafts just got  a lot more interesting with Tuesday’s announcement that Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon has been reinstated on a conditional basis.

 

Gordon, who last played in a game on Dec. 21, 2014, missed all of the 2015 season for multiple violations of the league’s substance abuse policy. He was previously suspended for two games in 2013 and 10 games in ’14 for earlier violations.

 

Under the terms of his conditional reinstatement, Gordon will miss the first four games of the upcoming season, but will be eligible to participate in Browns training camp, which opens on Thursday, and play in the preseason, provided some additional requirements are met.

 

Assuming Gordon is welcomed back by the Browns, he immediately becomes the No. 1 WR on a roster that lists five rookies at the position and the leading returnee (Taylor Gabriel) had 28 catches last season.

 

Gordon, on the other hand, has 161 catches for 2,754 yards and 14 touchdowns in 35 career games since entering the league after being a second round pick of the Browns in the 2012 Supplemental Draft. After a productive rookie season (50-805-5), Gordon exploded in 2013, leading the league in receiving with 1,646 yards on 87 catches (NFL-best 18.9 ypc) to go along with nine touchdowns even though he was suspended for the first two games. He was named to the Pro Bowl and a first-team All-Pro.

 

Not surprisingly, Gordon also was the No. 1 fantasy wide receiver that season, something that most expected him to repeat or at least come close to entering the 2014 season. But that was before the 10-game suspension came, which limited him to just five games. He only managed 24 grabs for 303 yards and no touchdowns in limited action.

 

So now that Gordon has reentered the conversation, where should he fall in the preseason fantasy ranks? If all things were equal, pretty darn high considering this is a guy who posted the first back-to-back 200-yard receiving games in NFL history when he did so in 2013.

 

However, not all things are created equal. First off, Gordon hasn’t played in more than a year. While he’s still just 25 years old he’s got some rust he will have to knock off and that probably can’t be fully accomplished during training camp and the preseason.

 

Second, let’s not forget the four games he will miss, meaning at most he will be able to help your fantasy team in 12 games, but not until October. When it comes to suspended players and their perceived draft values, Gordon is not in the same category as a Tom Brady, who also will miss four games but will still likely be drafted along the lines of a top-10 player at his position.

 

There’s also the matter of the Browns’ offense. Cleveland ranked 21st in the NFL last season in passing and is counting on either Robert Griffin III or Josh McCown to be the starting quarterback. The former is a disgraced No. 2 overall pick and the latter is a journeyman who has played for three teams since 2013. The Browns’ offense leaves a lot to be desired so it’s no sure thing that Gordon will be able to pick up where he left off, especially in comparison to his 2013 breakout. Although to be fair, Cleveland’s quarterbacks that season were Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer, so maybe that’s not as much of a factor.

 

So put it all together and what do you have? A very appealing risk-reward fantasy option whose name will most definitely be called come draft day. Before Gordon’s reinstatement, the presumed No. 1 WR on Cleveland’s roster was first-round pick Corey Coleman, who at best was considered a WR3 and probably fell somewhere between No. 30-40 at the position.

 

While Gordon’s upside is considerably higher than Coleman’s, if for any reason he has a more of a track record, it would be foolish to draft him along the lines of what he did in 2013. Three years is a long time in the NFL and while he finally has a path to return to the field, there’s no guarantee he will be the same type of impact player when he does.

 

There’s nothing wrong with taking a flyer on Gordon in your fantasy draft, but be sure to temper your expectations and get your clear-cut starters first. There’s no reason to pin your championship hopes on a player who has already disappointed fantasy owners on more than one occasion.

Teaser:
Josh Gordon’s Unexpected Return Creates the Ultimate Risk-Reward Fantasy Option
Post date: Monday, July 25, 2016 - 16:15
All taxonomy terms: syndicated, MLB
Path: /mlb/5-biggest-mlb-trade-deadline-sellers-2016
Body:

With the trade of Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs a done deal, the madness that is the Trade Deadline is now in full effect.

 

Chapman was arguably the best available pitcher on the market, and general manager Brian Cashman, who traded for the Cuban hurler in December for four fringe prospects, was able to flip the fireballer for two top-tier prospects in Gleyber Torres and Billy McKinney, as well as versatile pitcher Adam Warren (who the Cubs received in the Starlin Castro deal this past winter) and another prospect.

 

Just because the Yankees have made the first move toward rebuilding doesn't mean they stop now.

 

Here are the biggest Trade Deadline sellers.

 

1. New York Yankees

The Yankees find themselves in No Man’s Land, hovering around .500, filled with aging, under-productive players with bad contracts. The good news is there is a way out of the darkness.

 

The additions of Andrew Miller two seasons ago and Chapman this past offseason to a back end that already featured Dellin Betances not only gave New York arguably the best bullpen arms in baseball, but also serious deadline leverage. Before the Chapman deal, Cashman had been quibbling with ownership as whether to be buyers or sellers. The move to deal Chapman signals the latter as it is time for the Bronx Bombers to think long term.

 

Currently, the Yanks only have two players in their everyday lineup under the age of 32, middle infielders Didi Gregorius and Castro, both 26. In addition to an old big league lineup, the Yankees’ farm system sits smack dab in the middle of the rankings in terms of perceived value of prospects.

 

If I’m Cashman, knowing what I got for Chapman, I'm still shopping Miller to the highest bidders, while hanging on to the younger, cheaper Betances as my closer of the future. Cashman has hinted previously that Miller may not be available, but after the haul of prospects the Cubs gave up for Chapman, surely the Yanks' GM is rethinking his stance.

 

But the biggest trade chip might be a trade deadline regular and possible Hall of Famer, outfielder Carlos Beltran. At 39 years old and in the final year of his contract, Beltran currently leads the team in most offensive categories. The veteran switch-hitter would command at least a middle tier prospect for a half-season rental for a team needing another bat. Keep an eye on the Indians, Rangers, Mariners and Astros as potential landing spots for Beltran.

 

2. Cincinnati Reds

At this point, the Reds need to strip it down to the studs. Of their $89.8 million payroll, $63.5 million belongs to Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, struggling Brandon Phillips and pitcher Homer Bailey, who hasn’t been on the mound for the Reds for more than a year (April 23, 2015 to be specific).

 

Votto and his roughly $170-plus million remaining aren’t going anywhere, so don’t ask. The only trade chips the Reds appear to have are Bruce and shortstop Zack Cozart. Bruce has long been rumored to be a trade target for teams looking for offense, and the Reds cannot afford a repeat of last year’s deadline when Aroldis Chapman wasn’t dealt. Bruce is putting together one of his better seasons (.263, 19 HR, 66 RBI), and could command a high-end prospect as a player option ($13 million or $1 million buyout) for 2017 means he could be more than just a rental. Bruce isn’t much of a fielder, so keep an eye on AL teams looking for a DH to make a move for the big lefty.

 

The other trade chip is Cozart. Already a plus defender at shortstop, Cozart is having his best year at the plate (22 doubles, 15 HR, 40 RBI) and is heading into his third arbitration-eligible offseason before becoming an outright free agent in 2018.  One would think that the Reds would like to pull the trigger on trading Cozart when his value is at its highest as part of its long-term plans to rebuild the farm system.

 

3. Colorado Rockies

The biggest name on the market is Rockies slugger Carlos Gonzalez. But just how available is he? Gonzalez is owed roughly $27 million through the end of 2017. He’s finally proven that he can stay healthy and be consistent at the plate at the same time (.318 BA, .918 OPS, 20 HR, 59 RBI), but will the return be enough for the Colorado front office? The Rockies already have one of the deeper farm systems in terms of position players, so the Colorado brass would likely only deal CarGo if a top-pitching prospect, or two, are involved.

 

The only other Colorado assets that teams may be interested in are lefty reliever Boone Logan (2.70 ERA, 1.80 FIP, .0938 WHIP) and first baseman Mark Reynolds (.277, 10 HR, 31 RBI) both of whom are in their walk years.

 

4. Oakland A’s

If anyone knows how to work the trade deadline, its A’s Executive Vice President Billy Beane. But Beane finds himself in a peculiar situation. His team is in last place and all of his tradable assets are somewhat in limbo.

 

Young ace Sonny Gray is struggling (5.49 ERA, 4.68 FIP, 1.495 WHIP) in the last year of his contract before he is arbitration-eligible. Currently the A’s are not shopping Gray, perhaps signaling the A’s are betting on him bouncing back next season when interest from opposing teams would be higher.

 

Oakland’s best pitcher, and probably it’s best trade chip, right now is 36-year old right-hander Rich Hill (2.25 ERA, 2.55 FIP, 1.092 WHIP), who will be a free agent after this season. But Hill has been limited in recent weeks thanks to a nasty blister on his pitching hand and a groin injury before that. Realistically the A’s are hoping Hill can make a single start prior to the deadline, otherwise the return for the veteran hurler will be much lower than Oakland desires.

 

Outfielder Josh Reddick, also in his walk year, was hoping for a long-term deal with Oakland, but now it seems it’s a forgone conclusion that he will be shipped out of the Bay Area. Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi has connected Reddick with the Cubs, who have a bevy of prospects they could be willing to part with, but probably won’t get too involved in the bidding unless they view him as more than just a rental.

 

The team’s final trade asset is third baseman Danny Valencia, also in the final year of his deal (surprise!). Valencia seems to be hitting his stride (.301/.351/.478, 12 HR) at age 31 and could be just as valuable for his ability to play multiple defensive positions as his bat.

 

5. Tampa Bay Rays

With the starting pitching market being so bare this summer, the Rays are in control of their own deadline destiny. Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer aren’t having their best seasons, as all three have an ERA above 4.30, but they are all viable trade chips who could command a haul of top prospects.

 

Moore and Odorizzi are likelier to be dealt this summer than Archer, the crown jewel. Moore’s contract is up after next season, Odorizzi becomes arbitration-eligible this winter, while Archer still has five and a half seasons remaining left on an affordable contract.

 

Time is on the Rays’ side when it comes to Archer, but they may want to strike while the iron is hot, especially if a contending team with enough top prospects (Cubs, Rangers) is ready to make a blockbuster deal. Teams interested in Moore or Odorizzi are plenty: the Royals, Giants, Tigers, Blue Jays, Orioles, Dodgers, Marlins, and Mets could all be potential suitors.

 

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

Teaser:
The 5 Biggest MLB Trade Deadline Sellers
Post date: Monday, July 25, 2016 - 14:45

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