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Deshaun Watson’s national championship game performance was the kind of night that childhood dreams are made of — the rising junior threw four touchdowns and had 478 yards of total offense — except for the final minutes.
It’s possible that casual fans hadn’t watched Watson lead a quietly elite Tigers program through an undefeated regular season. In marquee regular-season wins over Notre Dame and Florida State, the Tigers offense wasn’t quite as explosive; but after the national championship game, Watson was a household name. That’s what slicing up an Alabama defense does.
Now the Clemson quarterback enters 2016 as a Heisman favorite on the NFL’s radar, leading a team that was so painfully close to beating back the Alabama dynasty. The first task for one of college football’s brightest talents: Take all the good of 2015, break it down, learn from it and then leave it in the past.
This article and more can be found in the Athlon Sports 2016 ACC Football Preview magazine, available now on newsstands and in our online store.
Did you feel like there was any kind of hangover after the title game? What’s it been like to get back to work?
I’m doing really well. School is going good and the off-field training has been, too. It feels good to get back and make it about the work on the field. We had some time off right after [the national title game] to refresh and reflect on the journey, and since then it’s been focusing on what we can accomplish in 2016.
Have you watched the title game, and if so, how many times?
I’ve watched it maybe about six or seven times. I’ve watched it to correct myself, to look at my mistakes, and honestly I’ve just watched it to watch it. That game is behind us now, but it was still a great experience. There are thousands and thousands of athletes who want to play in that game, so why not watch it? Sit back and enjoy it, even though it didn’t turn out the way we wanted.
What are you looking for when you watch one of your games repeatedly? What are you picking up on?
It depends. Every time you find something different. There’s usually something you didn’t see the last time — decision-making, technique, how I read a defense and seeing what I didn’t get to see on the field. Probably the biggest things are looking at my decision-making and my footwork. I’m looking for things I can improve.
At this point in your career, who do you think is the best defensive player you’ve faced?
That’s hard. I would probably say [former Florida State defensive back] Jalen Ramsey if you’re talking about the opposing team. If you’re including our team I’d probably say Shaq Lawson, Stephone Anthony or Mackensie Alexander.
Clemson has had a ton of defensive talent head to the NFL. Your scrimmages must be pretty intense.
Absolutely. We’ve had Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett. Clemson has been very talented on the defensive side, which helps me as a quarterback.
What’s your favorite stadium to play at when you’re on the road? Have you had one favorite experience as the visiting team?
Florida State is a really great environment to play in, especially when it’s Clemson and Florida State against each other. The place I would want to go to and play at that I haven’t … LSU, Oregon, maybe the Rose Bowl or at USC. I could go on and on, but those are the big ones.
Do you think you could be a two-sport athlete at Clemson if you had to?
I think so. I could play basketball. I had an opportunity to play here at Clemson and had some other offers when I was being recruited, but I really wanted to focus on football. I played shooting guard in high school.
Who is your favorite pro athlete right now, and growing up?
It’s always been LeBron James. Even when I was growing up through today. It’s the way he prepares for games and the way he performs, but also the way he takes criticism. It’s everything about how he handles himself. He’s someone I loved to watch and will watch whenever I can.
When you aren’t playing the game, do you consider yourself a college football fan?
I love college football, going back to when I was a little kid. I just love the different teams around the country, watching how they play and prepare, and not so much to compare them to us but just to see how the game is different in different environments.
Are there non-Clemson players you tune in to watch?
I used to love to watch [Trevone] Boykin at TCU. But right now I’d say Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey. Those are the guys at the top of my list right now.
What was it like to be recruited by (former offensive coordinator) Chad Morris and watch him leave for a head coaching job (at SMU)? What’s your advice to kids being recruited?
In high school I never had a big change. Honestly, it’s probably the biggest change of my career. I didn’t have one going all the way back to middle school and pee wee. When you’re being recruited you really need to trust your heart. Focus on what you’re looking for in a school. It’s a business. For you it’s life changing — it’s where you’ll be for three or four or five years. You have to have a balance between the place and the coaches. You love football, but you’ll only be playing there six or seven days a year. You have to be comfortable there all those other hundreds of days.
When did you know Clemson would be special last season?
Probably all the way back in the summer, when we’d get together off the field and compete. Running drills, player-led meetings, activities, all that. Then heading into fall camp we were already working hard. We knew.
It has been anything but a quiet offseason for the Big 12. Shifting the focus to on-field matters, here are the most important or interesting stats to know for the 10 Big 12 teams to help get you ready for the upcoming season.
Related: Big 12 Football 2016 Predictions
26: Baylor NFL Draft picks in eight seasons under Art Briles
The once-lowly Bears produced a grand total of six NFL Draft picks in the eight years prior to Briles’ arrival. College football junkies showered accolades on Briles for his offensive acumen, but the program’s biggest strides under his watch came in the talent department. With six draftees in 2016, the Bears will have to fill the shoes of some coveted prospects this fall.
47%: Opponents’ third-down conversion rate versus Iowa State in 2015
Of the Cyclones’ numerous problems last season, the defense’s inability to get off the field was among the biggest. ISU ranked in the bottom 10 in the country in preventing opposing teams from converting on third down. Cutting this number significantly this year will offer a sign that the ‘Clones are on the right track under new leadership.
1.5: Vegas’ over/under for Kansas' total number of wins in ‘16
The Jayhawks slogged through a winless campaign a year ago, so just getting head coach David Beaty his first victory would represent progress. Cashing the over ticket might sound like a pipe dream, but KU has reasons for optimism, starting with gritty quarterback Ryan Willis and tackling machine Fish Smithson at defensive back. A light non-conference schedule should help the cause, too.
17 out of 23: Years in which Kansas State has made a bowl during Bill Snyder’s two stints as head coach
At 77, it wouldn’t shock many in Big 12 country if Snyder decided to call it quits at the end of the year. Adding an 18th appearance in a bowl game in 24 seasons would make a fitting way to go out for the architect of the greatest program turnaround in history.
32%: Sterling Shepard's share of Oklahoma's receiving yards in 2015
The Sooners have a number of important pieces back from last season’s Big 12 title and College Football Playoff run, but Shepard will cast a rather large shadow over the receiving corps this season. The fact that he accounted for nearly a third of OU’s receiving yardage shows his value to the passing game. Now, Baker Mayfield has to either find a new security blanket or count on an array of wideouts to make up for No. 3’s absence.
114: Oklahoma State's national ranking in yards per rushing attempt
The Cowboys’ rushing attack has lost some major pop lately, and last season marked a major low point. The Pokes churned out a meager 3.6 yards per attempt, which put stress on QB Mason Rudolph and the passing game to keep the chains moving. An experienced offensive line might help OSU push the pile forward a little more this season.
0: Number of college snaps taken by Texas' presumed starting quarterback, Shane Buechele
New offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert has a couple of experienced options to run Texas’ offense in QBs Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard. However, it sounds as though Buechele might be the future and the present at the position for embattled head coach Charlie Strong. Starting a true freshman under center rarely bears fruit right away, but it might be the best of a bad lot for Texas this fall.
-21: The difference in turnovers gained by TCU from 2014 to ‘15
The Horned Frogs didn’t have quite the same sting on D last season as in years past. The dramatic decline in forced turnovers from the previous season, from 40 to 19, spoke to TCU’s inability to make the opposing team pay for mistakes.
106: Texas Tech’s average national ranking in yards allowed per rush under Kliff Kingsbury
Defense in general really hasn’t be a strong suit for the Red Raiders in about 20 years. Tech has carried on that tradition under Kingsbury, who could use some wins this year to ease supporters’ concerns about the future. In particular, the Raiders need to figure out a way to keep from routinely getting mauled on the ground.
214: Combined tackles of West Virginia’s starting linebackers in 2015
The Mountaineers lost a number of quality defensive players at the end of last season. WVU’s ultra-active linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski, Shaq Petteway and Jared Barber are leaving an especially glaring hole in the second line of what was a salty D. West Virginia isn’t good enough offensively at the moment to make up for a severe regression on the other side of the ball.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.
The Pac-12 Conference marketed its athletics in the 2015-16 school year with the motto, "The Power of 12." In recognition of the league's mathematical slogan, the following are 12 statistics to know heading into the Pac-12's next college football campaign.
Related: Pac-12 Football 2016 Predictions
The numbers of a season ago provide insight into how last year shaped up, and gives a forecast for what's to come in the autumn.
49.2: Arizona's PPG yield in losses
Arizona struggled defensively in each of Rich Rodriguez's first two seasons as head coach, but showed marked improvement en route to the Pac-12 Championship Game in 2014. The Wildcats regressed in a big way in 2015 — losing the best defensive player in the nation can do that to a team, which Arizona experienced with Scooby Wright missing most of last season due to injury.
But even without Wright, last season's almost 50-point per game yield in six losses exposed major issues in the Wildcats system. That prompted Rodriguez to replace longtime assistant Jeff Casteel with Marcel Yates, previously of Boise State.
0: Total college passes thrown by Arizona State QBs
Taylor Kelly started each of head coach Todd Graham's first three seasons at Arizona State, including an injury-plagued 2014 in which veteran reserve Mike Bercovici gained invaluable game experience. Bercovici took over last season as a fifth-year senior, after having arguably outplayed Kelly in the year prior.
The changing of the guard at quarterback this season looks considerably different than a year ago. The Sun Devils competing for the vacant starting spot — Manny Wilkins, Bryce Perkins and Brady White — have zero in-game pass attempts between them at the college level.
38: Cal receiving TDs lost to departures
Get used to hearing some new names in Cal head coach Sonny Dykes' "bear-raid" offense. Not only do the Golden Bears replace No. 1 NFL Draft pick Jared Goff — the only starting quarterback the program's known in Dykes' three-year tenure — but they also lose the top six pass-catchers.
Those players caught a whopping 38 of Cal's 44 passing touchdowns a season ago.
9: Colorado's average margin of defeat vs. Pac-12 South
Colorado's seen incremental progress in head coach Mike MacIntyre's tenure, and the Buffs have moved ever-so-close to being truly competitive in the Pac-12 for the first time since joining the conference in 2011.
Colorado dropped five divisional games last season by a combined 45 points — nine points per game. Take away a lopsided loss at Arizona State early in the docket, and the Buffs were a gut-wrenching five-point per game losers against Arizona, UCLA, USC and Utah combined. Returning the second-most starters (15) of any team in the Pac-12 next season, Colorado may finally be ready to turn some of those narrow losses into wins.
1,882: Yards Royce Freeman needs to set Oregon's rushing record
Oregon running back Royce Freeman might be the most underrated player in the country, given his outstanding production through two seasons. The power-back from southeastern California bulldozed his way to 1,365 yards as a freshman in 2014, and 1,836 as a sophomore last year.
Freeman broke LaMichael James' single-season rushing record of 1,805 last year. If Freeman can set the bar for his own program-best just five first downs higher in 2016, he'll surpass James as the Ducks' all-time leading rusher.
225: Rushing yards Oregon State allowed per game in 2015
Oregon State finished worst among all Pac-12 defenses against the run in head coach Gary Andersen's first season, allowing 225 yards on the ground per game. Among Power Five conference programs, only Kansas and Texas Tech were worse.
The Beavers face a tough road to turn it around in 2016, replacing defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake. Sitake accepted the head coaching vacancy at BYU, leaving Oregon State to find answers under newcomer Kevin Clune.
3,903: Christian McCaffrey's yardage logged in 2015
Heisman Trophy runner-up Christian McCaffrey racked up serious yardage last season. The do-everything Cardinal star rushed for 2,019 yards; caught 645; returned kickoffs for 1,070; ran back 130 in punt returns; and passed for 39 yards just for good measure. All together, that's nearly 2.3 miles. Add up the space he covered on cut-backs and jukes, and McCaffrey probably could have crossed the Bay from Stanford and back.
Along the way, McCaffrey become just the third player in college football history to run, catch, pass and return both a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns in a single season, joining Reggie Bush (2005) and C.J. Spiller (2009).
245: Passes Josh Rosen threw without an INT
Some folks needed to pump the brakes on the Heisman Trophy talk thrown Josh Rosen's way in Week 1 of his true freshman campaign at UCLA. While he couldn't maintain the otherworldly level of his debut, however, Rosen was pretty terrific last season, including setting a program record of 245 pass attempts without an interception.
Rosen's final interception total came to 11 — the same as predecessor Brett Hundley in his debut campaign — while Rosen's 3,669 yards were just 71 behind Hundley's 3,740 in 2012, despite playing in one less game.
99: Combined wins in 2015 for USC's 12 2016 opponents
USC ushers in the toughest schedule not only in the Pac-12 next season, but arguably all of college football, by playing defending national champion Alabama. It gets easier from there for the Trojans — but not by much.
USC's 2016 schedule features 11 opponents that played in bowl games in 2015 — the lone exception is Colorado, which took the Trojans to the wire in a late November matchup — and all 12 squads combined to win 99 games a season ago. In addition to defending national champion Alabama, USC sees reigning Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champion Stanford, and a Notre Dame squad that came one field goal shy of participating in the College Football Playoff.
34: Turnovers gained by the Utah defense in 2015
Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, Utah has consistently featured one of the better defenses in the conference, even in losing seasons. It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the best Ute defenses of the last five years performed in a breakthrough, 10-win campaign.
Utah held 11 of its 13 opponents last season below 30 points, and generated a Power Five-best 34 turnovers. Only American Athletic Conference champion Houston forced more (35).
11.4: Opponent scoring average in Washington's wins
Lofty preseason buzz welcomes the Washington Huskies into the 2016 season, due in no small part to the outstanding defensive effort of the 2015 squad. Eight starters return from a defense that finished last season ranked 13th nationally in points allowed per game at 18.8, but that impressive figure only tells part of the story.
In seven wins, the Huskies trimmed a full touchdown and extra point off that yield at 11.4. Remove a postseason win over Southern Miss, in which the Golden Eagles scored 31 points, and Washington allowed a staggering 49 points to six opponents — a little more than eight points per win.
18: Receiving TDs Gabe Marks needs to set a Pac-12 record
Former USC star Dwayne Jarrett's career mark of 41 receiving touchdowns has endured through a decade in which pass-happy offenses became prevalent around the conference. Gabe Marks would need a record-setting season to surpass Jarrett and became the Pac-12's new receiving touchdown king, but it's anything but impossible for the fifth-year Cougar senior.
Marks set a new Washington State single-season scoring mark last season, hauling in 15 touchdown catches. Eschewing the NFL Draft for a year to pair with Luke Falk one more time, Marks is capable of smashing his own record to break another.
Today is when dreams become a reality. The NBA Draft is always a special time for young men with the aspirations of playing in the best basketball league in the world. Some players draft stock has sky rocketed over the last few days and weeks, and others stock has plummented. Who will land where?
|1 76ers||Ben Simmons||F||LSU|
|2 Lakers||Brandon Ingram||F||Duke|
|3 Celtics||Kris Dunn||G||Providence|
|4 Suns||Marquese Chriss||F||Washington|
|5 Timberwolves||Buddy Hield||G||Oklahoma|
|6 Pelicans||Jamal Murray||G||Kentucky|
|7 Nuggets||Dragan Bender||F||Croatia|
|8 Kings||Jaylen Brown||F||California|
|9 Raptors||Domantas Sabonis||F||Gonzaga|
|10 Bucks||Henry Ellenson||F||Marquette|
|11 Magic||Skal Labissiere||F||Kentucky|
|12 Hawks||Wade Baldwin IV||G||Vanderbilt|
|13 Suns||Jakob Poeltl||F||Utah|
|14 Bulls||Timothe Luwawu||G||France|
|15 Nuggets||Furkan Korkmaz||G||Turkey|
|16 Celtics||Deyonta Davis||F||Michigan State|
|17 Grizzilies||Malachi Richardson||F||Syracuse|
|18 Pistons||Brice Johnson||F||North Carolina|
|19 Nuggets||Demetrius Jackson||G||Notre Dame|
|20 Nets||Juan Hernangomez||F||Spain|
|21 Hawks||Taurean Prince||F||Baylor|
|22 Hornets||Ivica Zubac||C||Bosnia|
|23 Celtics||Denzel Valentine||G||Michigan State|
|24 76ers||Malik Beasley||G||Florida State|
|25 Clippers||DeAndre Bembry||F||Saint Joseph's|
|26 76ers||Dejounte Murray||G||Washington|
|27 Raptors||Cheick Diallo||F||Kansas|
|28 Suns||Ante Zizic||C||Croatia|
|29 Spurs||Damian Jones||C||Vanderbilt|
|30 Warriors||Diamond Stone||F||Maryland|
Be it a savory brat haze floating over State Street, towering Georgia pines surrounding the 40 Watt Club or 1.5 million bats emerging nightly from slumber, the uniqueness of college football is captured by the individuality of the college towns it calls home.
They are literally and figuratively the foundation of the sport.
Madison, Austin and Athens are just three of the dozens of exceptional locales in college football. All of them offer an original experience for college football goers every fall Saturday.
In an effort to determine the top destination, however, Athlon Sports asked 10 experts who have traveled the nation for decades visiting these football sanctuaries to rank their favorite places in the country. Of the 128 possible choices, 29 different towns got at least one vote, five different places got first place votes and only one, Madison, Wi., appeared on all 10 ballots.
The Voting Panel
Rick Neuheisel, CBS Sports/SiriusXM
Andy Staples, SI
Bruce Feldman, Fox Sports
Pat Forde, Yahoo!
Ralph Russo, AP
Dan Rubenstein, The Solid Verbal
Stewart Mandel, Fox Sports
Matt Hayes, College Football Writer
Travis Haney, ESPN
Steven Godfrey, SB Nation
1. Athens, Ga.
Rich in musical history, Athens’ natural charm has long lured college football fans to Northeast Georgia. Bordering the evergreen campus to the North, the Downtown District is home to some of the South’s best music venues, bars and restaurants. There is a plethora of parks, trails and greenways for those who like the fresh air, but come nightfall, be sure to find your way to The 40 Watt Club or Georgia Theatre for a show. Top it all off with Five Points, a mix of mansions and fine dining.
“It has it all. A great downtown area with a lot of great restaurants and bars, a pretty campus and my favorite football stadium.” - Pat Forde, Yahoo!
2. Madison, Wis.
The second-biggest city and state capital of Wisconsin is home to one of the greatest pedestrian thoroughfares in the nation. State Street connects campus with the downtown Capitol Square that towers over the entire city. Nestled between two gorgeous lakes — Monona and Mendota — Madison is equal parts wonderfully diverse cultural center and booze-fueled shindig featuring the World’s Largest Brat Festival and the State Street Halloween Party. An early morning brat haze welcomes fans from across the Big Ten every fall Saturday.
“On game days, the city connects to UW in a manner that’s more seamless than any town on this list. You’re not sure where gameday ends and Madison begins.” - Steven Godfrey, SB Nation
3. Austin, Texas
An inherently weird and progressive oasis in the heart of Texas, Austin offers big-city activities with a collegiate appeal. The downtown urban campus is surrounded by must-see attractions such as the famous Sixth Street food and music drag, Congress Avenue Bat Bridge and Colorado River. For BBQ, blues and football buffs, the Live Music Capital of the World is a perfect destination — just be sure to dodge the traffic jams and construction cranes.
“So much great everything.” – Andy Staples, Sports Illustrated
4. Boulder, Colo.
Located in the foothills of the great Rocky Mountains, Boulder is one of the most gorgeous college settings in the country. No major college football town is more intertwined with nature and the outdoors than home of the Buffaloes. Which may be why Boulder — with its clean mountain air and mild temperatures — is routinely ranked highly in health, quality of life and general happiness. Take the Chautauqua Trailhead to the top of Green Mountain for a view of Folsom Field; it’s a vista few campuses in college football can match.
“Welcome, everyone, to nature. Hippy style. The most walkable campus in all of college sports, from the spectacular views of the Flatirons to the Pearl Street area with its food and shops and vendors, Boulder is a jewel.” – Matt Hayes, College Football Writer
5. Ann Arbor, Mich.
Nicknamed “Tree Town” for its dense forestation, Ann Arbor is a beautiful combination of small college town and growing urban landscape. It’s a place steeped in political activism, outdoor activities and Big Blue football. The crisp autumn experience is unlike any found in the rival southern college football locales — and there’s a lot more to do here. A lunch stop at Zingerman’s is a must (many believe it to be the best deli in the nation) before sliding down to one of the city’s many breweries for a nightcap.
“This is a classic Big Ten town with college charm but also doesn’t turn into a ghost town 24 hours after a home game.” – Bruce Feldman, FOX Sports
6. Oxford, Miss.
Quintessential is the word that comes to mind when thinking about the college town that houses Ole Miss. The Grove on a Saturday morning is a portrait of college football perfection, complete with the most glamorous and impressive tailgate in the nation. Oxford, known as art center of the South, has a rich literary history. Where else does a bookstore (Square Books) top the list of a city’s main attractions? After the game, mosey over to The Square for food, libations and more people watching.
“The square makes you feel like you’re in a [John] Grisham novel. It’s a really cool spot.” – Rick Neuheisel, SiriusXM/CBS Sports
“Everything you want in a college town. Small, traditional, deep-South charm. It’s the hospitality on The Square every day of the week, and the unforgettable fall Saturdays in The Grove. Drive by Faulkner’s Rowan Oak home, and soak in the stately south. Hotty Toddy, baby.” - Matt Hayes, College Football Writer
College Football: Breaking Down Athlon’s 2016 Top 25
7. Eugene, Ore.
Residents can go north to a big city (Portland), west to a gorgeous coastline, east to snowboard (Mt. Bachelor) and south to The Golden State. All within 200 miles. Eugene marks the south end of the Willamette Valley, home to more than 40 breweries and where consuming said beverages is a pastime. In fact, it’s so important that “Animal House” was filmed here, and it houses the inspiration for Moe’s Tavern from “The Simpsons.” Bring a raincoat, but in case you forget yours, swing by Nike’s headquarters and pick one up. Eugene is as pristine a college football environment as there is in the country.
“Eugene is just cool; you could get from a hardcore football tailgate to a hemp shop within five minutes.” – Stewart Mandel, FOX Sports
8. Palo Alto, Calif.
This is anything but a typical college town, but it’s an awfully cool place to hang out. Cost of living is high, but so is the standard of living — in the community, in the classroom and in the workplace. Nearly the entire student body population lives on campus, and the bars, shops and restaurants are as good (and relaxed) as any other college town in the nation. What makes this place unique, however, is that it’s in the heart of Silicon Valley — and, yes, that includes Erlich Bachman. It’s a city boiling over with future leaders of industry who push the boundaries of how a town should live, work and play. Essentially, this town’s “whole corporate culture is that there is no corporate culture.” There is no dead weight in this incubator.
“Definitely NOT your average college town. The vibe is more laid-back when it comes to football, which is refreshing. The masses don’t lose their minds when the Cardinal lose.” – Ralph Russo, Associated Press
“Everything is beautiful up there. Many great restaurants. The only thing keeping it out of the top five is the bar scene is probably too tame for most looking for a college town.” – Bruce Feldman, Fox Sports
9. Chapel Hill, N.C.
Sure, the rolling North Carolina hills are gorgeous and the campus is exemplary, but the food! This town prides itself on its farmers, chefs and Southern flavor. Be it James Beard Award-winning fine dining, or street food festivals, or Sugarland’s desserts, or The TOPO (Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery) for a nightcap after a big Tar Heel win, this town has a taste for everyone. Just stroll up and down Franklin Street for all of the above, music, movies and much more. It’s beautiful, it’s cultural and it’s uniquely American.
“Bustling Franklin Street with the adjacent campus make for an idyllic setting, both for students and visitors.” – Travis Haney, ESPN
10. Charlottesville, Va.
It’s hard not to be overcome with a sense of American history when walking through this picturesque college town. Reminders of Thomas Jefferson and both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars are everywhere, including the iconic Rotunda, Lawn and Monticello plantation. Edgar Allen Poe, James Madison, William Faulkner and James Monroe are just a few other historical luminaries to have called Charlottesville home. The classic brick and plaster is ubiquitous, including on the campus, the Downtown Mall and The Corner. Shenandoah National Park and its Skyline Drive offer plenty of outdoor scenery for those who favor nature over one of the city’s excellent vineyards or breweries (we recommend South Street).
“It’s definitely a nicer, old-money area, but holy wow is it gorgeous, green and idyllic. Feels like a stock photo in the best possible way.” – Dan Rubenstein, The Solid Verbal
ORV: Auburn, Ala., Tempe, Ariz., Colombia, Mo., Columbus, Ohio, Morgantown, W.V.
College Football: Others Receiving Votes
The summer temperatures in Texas maybe soaring into the triple digits but the heat building up under the seat of Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has to be feeling even hotter for the embattled leader. The Aggies have descended down the SEC ranks since an 11-win 2012 season and have faced a fair share of public embarrassments over the past two years. The 2016 season could be a double-digit win or go home campaign for Sumlin and company.
The Aggies started the 2015 season out hot, beating then-No. 15 Arizona State 38-17 on the way to a 5-0 start. But much like the past two years Alabama put a crashing halt to a great start beginning a slide on the field and in the locker room. At the end of the 2014 season, starting quarterback Kenny Hill transferred to TCU. At the end of last season, starting quarterbacks Kyle Allen (Houston) and Kyler Murray (Oklahoma) both decided the grass was much greener outside of College Station. The revolving door at the quarterback position has caused concern.
The good news for Aggie Nation is that former Oklahoma starting quarterback turned graduate transfer Trevor Knight arrived on campus in January and has won the job. Perhaps even more important, the Aggies have arguably the best wide receiver corps in the nation with Ricky Seals-Jones, Christian Kirk and Josh Reynolds giving new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone a lot of pieces to play with.
On defense, coordinator John Chavis returns for Year 2 with stud ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall along with fantastic safeties Justin Evans and Armani Watts, but that is about it. The defense still has a lot of rebuilding to do but hopefully can hold the fort down enough for the Aggies’ dynamic offense to win games.
Here is a look at Texas A&M’s 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to the most difficult matchup.
12. Sept. 10 vs. Prairie View A&M
The Panthers may have posted an 8-2 mark a year ago but did not face a single FBS team in the process. Head coach Willie Simmons will have his hands full trying to slow down the Aggies’ high flying offense.
11. Oct. 29 vs. New Mexico State
New Mexico State had a rough 2015, going just 3-9. The offense returns four starters but none in the backfield and just two up front. On defense, seven starters are back, but that should not matter too much even if another Texas A&M implosion takes place following a potential loss to Alabama.
10. Nov. 19 vs. UTSA
The Roadrunners are beginning a new era following the resignation of former head coach Larry Coker after five seasons. UTSA went 3-9 a year ago and bring back six starters on each side of the ball. Maybe the Roadrunners and new head coach Frank Wilson (a former LSU assistant) can make the game interesting considering it’s sandwiched between dates with Ole Miss and LSU?
9. Oct. 1 at South Carolina
The schedule out of the gate is very tough for A&M with the lone potential breather being a visit to South Carolina. The Gamecocks are undergoing a coaching change with former Florida head coach and Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp taking over. South Carolina has some talent and a quality offensive coordinator in Kurt Roper. However, the new regime will have to work wonders in 2016 to make a lot of noise out of Columbia.
8. Nov. 5 at Mississippi State
The Bulldogs have enough talent returning on defense to have a solid year but too many question marks on offense with quarterback Dak Prescott off to the NFL. The Aggies beat Prescott and company 30-17 in College Station last year, expect something similar if Knight finds his groove in the pocket.
7. Sept. 24 vs. Arkansas (Arlington, Texas)
Sumlin has Bret Bielema’s number. The two teams play each other close but A&M always finds a way to pull it out in overtime. Could this be the year Arkansas wins the Southwest Classic? The only way Arkansas could top the Aggies is if former Iowa State head coach Paul Rhodes has worked his magic with the Razorbacks secondary. Arkansas has nine starters returning on defense but can the revamped offense generate enough points to keep up with the Aggies?
6. Sept. 17 at Auburn
Even though Auburn was down last year, the Tigers got revenge for the 2013 season by beating the visiting Aggies 26-10. The loss came in between the shuffling under center for A&M. It’s tough to tell what to expect from Auburn in 2016. Gus Malzahn’s team could be fighting to stay around .500 or be just talented enough to hand some good SEC teams losses when they visit Jordan-Hare.
5. Nov. 12 vs. Ole Miss
The Rebels have 4,000-yard passer Chad Kelly returning but that should not worry the Aggies. Going point-for-point to win a game fits Sumlin’s style. Ole Miss has six tough games in a row then gets a breather with Georgia Southern before heading to College Station. The Rebels could still be beat up but will have their full focus on the Aggies with Vanderbilt on tap the following week.
4. Sept. 3 vs. UCLA
It’s only fitting that former UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone will face off against his former team for a Pac-12 vs. SEC showdown that will have national interest during the opening weekend of the season. UCLA has some great pieces back on defense with eight starters returning. Chavis make ask Mazzone for any insight on how to prevent Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen from picking apart the Aggies’ defense. UCLA will have plenty of new faces in starting roles on offense, so the opportunity should be there for Sumlin’s team to get off on the right foot in 2016.
3. Oct. 8 vs. Tennessee
The 2016 schedule plays out really well for A&M as far as getting most of its toughest games at home. Tennessee should be with 18 total starters returning (nine on each side of the ball), including quarterback Joshua Dobbs and along with the addition of new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.
Both teams could be looking ahead with dates against Alabama looming. The Aggies have a bye before facing the Crimson Tide, while the Volunteers return home after this one to host the defending national champions. Texas A&M gets South Carolina the week prior to this matchup, while Tennessee will be coming off back-to-back tilts against fellow SEC East contenders Florida and Georgia.
2. Oct. 22 at Alabama
The Aggies head to Tuscaloosa to face the reigning SEC and national champs a year after the Crimson Tide whipped them 41-23 in College Station. Timing could end up helping Texas A&M as Alabama will be coming off of back-to-back games against Arkansas and Tennessee.
1. Nov. 24 vs. LSU
Chances are whichever team wins the Alabama-LSU game on Nov. 5 will be in the driver’s seat for the SEC West title and looking good for a spot in the College Football Playoff. LSU could be on the verge of losing head coach Les Miles, just like last season, or could be one step away from reclaiming former glory. Texas A&M could stand in the way of the Tigers accomplishing their goals. The Aggies will be tasked with slowing down LSU running back Leonard Fournette, who enters the season as one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.
Quarterback play is always under the microscope for every college football team. This position is the toughest to evaluate, develop and project for upcoming seasons. Finding a new starter or replacing a departing senior comes easy for some teams. While all teams would prefer to develop a quarterback pipeline through the recruiting ranks, a transfer from another program could be the right fit as the new starter. Whether it’s a one-year stopgap solution or a player that could develop into a multi-year starter, transfers can have an immediate impact for any program. It’s no secret transfers are a huge part of any offseason and can help the coaching staff bridge the gap to the next prospect or fill a void after a player didn’t develop as expected.
Related: Ranking All 128 FBS Coaches for 2016
The transfer carousel featured some big movement in the quarterback ranks this offseason. Here’s a look at the top 30 transfers - ranked by expected impact - at quarterback for the 2016 season:
Ranking College Football's Top 30 Impact QB Transfers for 2016
30. Zach Kline, California to ?
Kline is a well-traveled passer looking for a new team after spending the spring with Cal. The California native originally started his career in Berkeley and threw for 443 yards and three scores in 2013. Kline transferred to Butte College for the 2014 campaign and landed at Indiana State for the 2015 season. He played in three games with the Sycamores last year and completed 6 of 13 passes for 47 yards. Kline appears to have interest in transferring to Fresno State for the upcoming year.
29. Anthony Jennings, LSU to ?/Connor Mitch, South Carolina to ?
The transfer destinations for Jennings and Mitch - two former SEC starters - are uncertain. Both players announced their intention to leave their current school as graduate transfers at the end of spring ball. Jennings started 13 games at LSU, while Mitch had two career starts at South Carolina.
28. Cole Garvin, South Alabama (from Marshall)
Garvin is part of a three-man quarterback battle at South Alabama. The Marshall transfer did not play in 2014 with the Thundering Herd and sat out 2015 due to NCAA transfer rules. Dallas Davis and Evan Orth ended spring with a slight edge on Garvin for the starting nod.
27. Eddie Printz, Texas State (from Missouri)
Printz played sparingly at Missouri over the last two seasons and left Columbia in search of more playing time. Texas State returns Tyler Jones at quarterback, but there’s a new coach (Everett Withers) and staff in place. Can Printz quickly pick up the new offense and challenge Jones for the starting job?
26. Asiantii Woulard, USF (from UCLA)
Woulard was a four-star recruit out of Winter Park High School and spent two years at UCLA before transferring back to his home state. Quinton Flowers is entrenched as USF’s starter, but the Bulls have a good backup plan in Woulard in case of injury.
25. Austin Appleby, Florida (from Purdue)
Florida’s offense stalled after Will Grier’s suspension last season, but the quarterback depth in Gainesville looks a lot better for 2016. Appleby and Luke Del Rio are eligible as transfers, while true freshman Feleipe Franks also joined in time for spring ball. Appleby recorded 11 starts in three years at Purdue and threw for 2,777 yards in 17 overall appearances. The senior is likely to open the season as the Gators’ No. 2 quarterback.
24. Danny Etling, LSU (from Purdue)
It’s no secret LSU needs more from its passing offense to push Alabama and Ole Miss in the SEC West this season. Brandon Harris threw for 2,158 yards and 13 scores last year and only completed 53.6 percent of his passes. Etling was brought in to push Harris and compete for the starting job and closed spring ball by completing four of eight passes for 93 yards and two interceptions in the final scrimmage. Etling threw for 2,490 yards and 16 scores in two years at Purdue. He’s expected to begin 2016 as LSU’s No. 2 quarterback.
23. Tyler Ferguson, WKU (from Louisville)
WKU is Ferguson’s third stop at the FBS level. The California native began his career at the College of the Sequoias and transferred to Penn State in 2013. After playing in five games with the Nittany Lions that season, Ferguson transferred to Louisville and used the 2014 campaign as a redshirt year. With one season of eligibility left, Ferguson is vying with USF transfer Mike White and sophomore Drew Eckels to replace standout Brandon Doughty under center in Jeff Brohm’s high-powered offense.
22. Faton Bauta, Colorado State (from Georgia)
Second-year coach Mike Bobo landed a familiar name from his old job to add depth to the quarterback position in 2016. Bauta transfers from Georgia to Fort Collins with an opportunity to push starter Nick Stevens for the starting job. Stevens earned second-team All-Mountain West honors and threw for 2,679 yards and 21 scores in 2015, so it won’t be easy for Bauta to earn the starting job. However, Bauta has good mobility, which could provide a different dimension for Bobo’s offense.
21. Tyler Matthews, New Mexico State (from Southern Miss)
New Mexico State is Matthews’ third stop at the FBS level. The Texas native has previous stints at TCU and Southern Miss, but he has only four appearances in his career. Matthews was regarded as a four-star prospect out of high school and is expected to push Tyler Rogers for the starting job.
20. Ricky Town, Arkansas (from USC)
Replacing Brandon Allen won’t be easy, but Arkansas seems to have a capable candidate in Austin Allen, along with good depth in the form of Town, Rafe Peavey and Ty Storey. Town was the highest regarded quarterback out of that mix, ranking as a four-star and top-100 prospect in the 2015 signing class. However, Town didn’t challenge for the starting job in the spring and is likely ticketed as the No. 3 or No. 4 quarterback to open fall practice.
Related: SEC Predictions for 2016
19. Conner Manning, Georgia State (from Utah)
Nick Arbuckle finished his Georgia State career in 2015 as one of the nation’s top Group of 5 quarterbacks. En route to earning first-team All-Sun Belt honors, Arbuckle threw for 4,368 yards and 28 scores last season. Manning is part of a three-man battle to replace Arbuckle after transferring from Utah. Manning played in only one game with the Utes and completed two of six passes for 28 yards in 2014. Sophomore Emiere Scaife and redshirt freshman Aaron Winchester will compete with Manning for the starting job in the fall.
18. Grant Rohach, Buffalo (from Iowa State)
With Grant Merchant transferring at the end of spring ball, Buffalo’s quarterback battle is down to Rohach and promising redshirt freshman Tyree Jackson. Rohach made five starts in three years with the Cyclones and finished his career in Ames with 1,491 passing yards and 10 touchdowns. Rohach also has good mobility and figures to be a solid fit under second-year coach Lance Leipold and coordinator Andy Kotelnicki – if he can edge Jackson for the No. 1 spot.
17. Zack Greenlee, UTEP (from Fresno State)
With Mack Leftwich sidelined for the 2016 season, Greenlee was a key pickup late in the spring for the Miners. In two years at Fresno State, Greenlee threw for 1,079 yards and 14 touchdowns to six interceptions. The California native did not transfer in time for spring practice but is expected to be locked into a tight battle with sophomores Ryan Metz and Kavika Johnson for the starting nod this fall.
16. Zach Allen, Rutgers (from TCU)
Quarterback play is one of the biggest areas of concern for new coach Chris Ash. Chris Laviano (2,247 yards) is the team’s top returning option, and Hayden Rettig also received action in five games last season. However, Rutgers has a new offense, and coordinator Drew Mehringer is looking for more running ability out of his signal-caller. Allen announced his intentions to transfer to the team in early June after three years at TCU. The Texas native was used some at receiver during his stint with the Horned Frogs and also completed two passes for 17 yards in 2014. Allen’s mobility should be a good fit for this offense, but the junior has a lot to prove as a passer.
Related: Big Ten Predictions for 2016
15. Kurt Benkert, Virginia (from East Carolina)
Even though Virginia has a returning starter (Matt Johns), new coach Bronco Mendenhall wasn’t afraid of adding competition to boost the team’s overall talent level and depth at quarterback. Benkert was slated to start at East Carolina before a knee injury sidelined him prior to the 2015 campaign. In 2014, Benkert played in three games with the Pirates and completed 8 of 10 passes for 58 yards. Johns is still the favorite to start, but Benkert showed promise in limited snaps at East Carolina and adds competition for a rebuilding Virginia team this fall.
14. Chad Voytik, Arkansas State (from Pitt)
Fredi Knighten departs after a successful two-year stint as Arkansas State’s starter, but coach Blake Anderson has two promising options vying for the starting job. Junior college transfer (and former Oklahoma signal-caller) Justice Hansen and Pitt transfer Chad Voytik are set to battle for the No. 1 spot in the fall. Voytik started all 13 games for Pitt in 2014 and threw for 2,223 yards and 16 touchdowns and added 466 yards and three scores on the ground. Voytik lost the starting job at Pitt to Nathan Peterman in 2015 but is a key pickup for Anderson and the potent Arkansas State offense for 2016.
13. Ryan Finley, NC State (from Boise State)
Jacoby Brissett leaves big shoes to fill in Raleigh this season, and the Wolfpack exited spring with Jalan McClendon and Jakobi Meyers locked into a tight battle for the No. 1 spot. However, McClendon and Meyers will have competition in the fall, as Finley is eligible as a graduate transfer after three years at Boise State. Finley redshirted in his debut with the Broncos and completed 58 passes for 646 yards and three scores over the next two years. Finley was slated to be Boise State’s starting quarterback in 2015 but was sidelined after the third game for the remainder of the season due to an ankle injury.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2016
12. Philip Nelson, East Carolina (from Minnesota/Rutgers)
Nelson has traveled an interesting road to East Carolina and has yet to play in a FBS game since the 2013 season. The Minnesota native spent two years with the Golden Gophers from 2012-13 and threw for 2,179 yards and 17 scores in that span. Additionally, Nelson added 548 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. After two seasons with Minnesota, Nelson transferred to Rutgers but was later dismissed from the team after an off-field incident in 2014. Nelson edged Kurt Benkert (transferred to Virginia after spring ball) for the starting the job and has a chance to have a solid senior year with a strong supporting cast at East Carolina.
11. Jared Johnson, UTSA (from Sam Houston State)
UTSA ranked 11th in Conference USA in passing offense last season, but new coach Frank Wilson hopes to generate improvement with the addition of Johnson through the graduate transfer rank and the hire of veteran assistant Frank Scelfo to call the plays. Johnson was the Southland Offensive Player of the Year after accounting for 2,686 total yards and 23 overall scores in 2015. Johnson should provide a spark for UTSA’s offense and will be an impact transfer for Wilson.
10. Alec Morris, North Texas (from Alabama)
New coach Seth Littrell has a lot of work to do in his first season in Denton. North Texas finished 1-11 and averaged only 15.2 points a game last year. Littrell is one of the nation’s top offensive minds and should get this program back on track over the next couple of seasons, and there’s immediate help on the way in the form of Morris – a graduate transfer from Alabama. In three seasons with the Crimson Tide, Morris attempted only one pass and played in eight games. However, the Texas native should be a good fit for Littrell’s offense, and the former three-star recruit should provide a spark for the Mean Green attack.
9. Darell Garretson, Oregon State (from Utah State)
Oregon State’s offense struggled mightily last season, finishing 12th in the Pac-12 by averaging only 19 points a game. Coach Gary Andersen wasted no time making changes this offseason, as Kevin McGiven and T.J. Woods were promoted to co-coordinators, with last year’s quarterback – Seth Collins – switching to a slash/all-purpose role in 2016. Garretson started seven games at Utah State as a true freshman in 2013 and finished the year with 1,446 passing yards and 10 scores. He was pressed into duty once again due to injuries in 2014 and threw for 1,140 yards and eight touchdowns in five appearances. Garretson also displayed his mobility to make plays on the run with the Aggies, adding 344 yards and 18 scores in two seasons. He's slated to take the take the first snap for Oregon State this fall.
8. Patrick Towles, Boston College (from Kentucky)
Despite owning one of the nation’s top defenses last season, Boston College finished 3-9 and winless in conference play. Offense was the primary culprit for the Eagles, as this unit managed only 9.1 points a game in ACC contests and failed to score more than 20 points in each of the last 10 contests. However, help is on the way for coach Steve Addazio. With Drew Barker entrenched as Kentucky’s starter, Towles transferred to Boston College looking for a starting job for his final year of eligibility. In three seasons of playing time with the Wildcats, Towles threw for 5,099 yards and 24 scores, including two years of 2,000 or more passing yards (2014-15). Towles isn’t expected to push for All-ACC honors, but he should give the Boston College offense a much-needed boost after managing only 110.9 passing yards per game in 2015.
7. John O’Korn, Michigan (from Houston)
Jim Harbaugh had a lot of success with a transfer quarterback (Jake Rudock) last season. Could the same formula work once again for the Wolverines in 2016? O’Korn had a promising start to his career at Houston, throwing for 3,117 yards and 28 scores in 2013. However, O’Korn struggled in 2014 and was benched in favor of Greg Ward after tossing eight interceptions through the first five games. The Florida native should benefit from a change of scenery and the opportunity to work under Harbaugh. O’Korn finished spring locked into a tight battle with Wilton Speight for the starting job.
6. Mike White, WKU (from South Florida)
Brandon Doughty closed out a prolific career at WKU with a standout senior season as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. Doughty torched opposing defenses for 5,055 yards and 48 touchdowns in 2015 and earned third-team All-America honors by Athlon Sports. Replacing Doughty’s production won’t be easy, but Jeff Brohm is one of the nation’s top offensive minds and should keep the WKU offense on track. White showed promise in a two-year stint at USF, throwing for 2,722 yards and 11 scores from 2013-14. The junior is the frontrunner to replace Doughty as WKU’s starter for 2016.
5. Luke Del Rio, Florida (from Oregon State)
Florida’s offense struggled mightily once Will Grier was lost for the year due to a suspension. The Gators averaged only 22.7 points in SEC contests last season and tossed only five touchdown passes over the final six games. While the offense still has to prove in game action it found the right answers this offseason, it’s hard to envision this unit performing at the same level. Del Rio is eligible after sitting out 2015 as a transfer from Oregon State and finished spring as Florida’s No. 1 quarterback. Luke – the son of NFL coach Jack Del Rio – spent one year at Alabama (2013) and played the 2014 season at Oregon State. In his time with the Beavers, Del Rio completed 8 of 18 passes for 141 yards. His experience is limited, but Del Rio should provide a boost for Florida’s passing game.
4. Dakota Prukop, Oregon (from Montana State)
A graduate transfer (Vernon Adams) from the FCS level at quarterback worked out well for Oregon in 2015. Prukop should be another good fit for the Ducks in their dynamic offense, as he transfers to Oregon after accounting for 3,822 yards and 39 total scores at Montana State last season. Additionally, Prukop earned first-team All-America honors by the Associated Press in 2015. It’s hard to read too much into spring game statistics, but Prukop appears to be making an easy transition into the program. The senior completed 20 of 29 throws for 190 yards and two touchdowns in Oregon’s spring game. While Prukop has an impressive resume from his stint at Montana State, he will be pushed by Travis Jonsen for the starting job. Prukop may not be the dynamic playmaker through the air that Adams was, but he will present a bigger threat on the ground to opposing defenses.
3. Trevor Knight, Texas A&M (from Oklahoma)
The December decisions by Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray to transfer from Texas A&M left coach Kevin Sumlin searching for immediate help at quarterback. Sumlin didn’t have to look too far for an answer, as Knight wanted an opportunity to start in his senior year with Baker Mayfield entrenched as Oklahoma’s No. 1 quarterback. Knight appeared to be on the verge of a breakout season after torching Alabama for 348 passing yards and four touchdowns in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. However, Knight didn’t build off that performance and finished the 2014 season with 2,300 passing yards and 14 touchdown passes. Mayfield supplanted Knight as Oklahoma’s starter in 2015. The senior should be a good fit in new coordinator Noel Mazzone’s offense and is surrounded by a deep group of skill players, including one of the SEC's top receiving corps. If Knight can stay healthy, he has a chance to finish 2016 as one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks.
Related: Athlon Sports 2016 All-America Team
2. Kenny Hill, TCU (from Texas A&M)
Even though TCU’s offense suffered some heavy losses, this unit may not slip too far on the stat sheet in 2016. Trevone Boykin leaves big shoes to fill at quarterback, but the Horned Frogs have two capable options – Kenny Hill and Foster Sawyer – waiting in the wings. Hill replaced Johnny Manziel after he left for the NFL in 2014 and started the first eight games of the season. The Texas native threw for 2,649 yards and 23 scores and added 156 yards on the ground during his starting stint. However, Hill struggled midway through the year and was eventually replaced by Kyle Allen. Since the arrival of co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, TCU has averaged over 40 points in back-to-back seasons. With a loaded group of skill players at his disposal, Hill could be the point guard of an explosive TCU attack in 2016. However, he still has to hold off Sawyer for the starting job this fall.
1. Davis Webb, California (from Texas Tech)
Replacing the No. 1 overall pick (Jared Goff) in the NFL Draft is never easy, but California’s offense should be set with the addition of Davis Webb under center. Webb was the most sought after graduate transfer quarterback this season and was committed to Colorado before switching to California in May. The transition from Texas Tech’s offense to California’s Bear Raid attack should be an easy one for Webb, as new play-caller Jake Spavital operated a similar scheme at Texas A&M and West Virginia. During his three seasons with the Red Raiders, Webb threw for 5,557 yards and 46 scores. The Golden Bears will have a revamped group of receivers for Webb to throw to, but the senior is considered one of the top prospects at quarterback for the 2017 NFL Draft and should push for All-Pac-12 honors.
Baker Mayfield didn’t win the Heisman Trophy in 2015. He didn’t even get invited to New York for the festivities.
He did win the Burlsworth Trophy, awarded annually to the nation’s top player who began his career as a walk-on.
OK, so that’s a bit obscure. Mayfield, however, is anything but obscure. Oklahoma’s flashy quarterback returned to the field a year ago after sitting out 2014 as a transfer from Texas Tech and led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff.
Mayfield is back again, ready to lead a Sooner charge and perhaps even set himself up to strike a pose …
This story and more is available in the Athlon Sports 2016 Big 12 Preview, available now on newsstands and in our online store.
Could you score on Buddy Hield in a basketball game of one-on-one?
Absolutely not. Despite my athleticism, put me on a basketball court and it’ll all disappear. No, not against the best player in the country.
Could you play another college sport?
Baseball. I really am missing baseball. Going to the games and watching (former OU football player) Cody Thomas play makes me miss it. In high school, I was the only junior to start on the field for our baseball team. The spot that was open was first base and I wound up playing first base for the first time in my life. Then my senior year, I kind of played anywhere on the infield where they needed me, mostly at third, although I mixed it up a little bit. I was actually going to play when I was at Texas Tech. I had talked to coach Tim Tadlock; he had seen me play in high school and was all for it. I was set on doing it, but obviously I wasn’t there for the spring and things changed. And football kind of became the primary sport when I got here.
Could you play another position in football?
I could put on weight and go try and play linebacker. Or I could lose weight and try and play inside receiver. I think I could find a spot.
What was your favorite moment from last season?
There were a couple good moments. But winning the Big 12 championship against Oklahoma State was a good one. We really just had fun. Also, the Kansas State win. It was kind of the turning moment in our season, and we all enjoyed it. There were times when we were playing well. But when everybody was having fun at the same time would be my favorites.
What about the Kansas State game made it a turning point, and what did it do for you guys moving forward?
We realized what we were capable of. If we’d just go out and execute our job, nobody could hang with us. And that became our mindset. We realized, ‘Well, if we’re going to do this thing, we need to grind every week at a time and we’ll get to where we need to be.’ And that became our goal.
When you transfer into a program, what’s that like, and is there a sense that you have to go earn the other players’ trust?
Oh yeah, there definitely is. There’s a sense, being the new guy. It was a little different for me, since I had played a good amount the season before I came to Oklahoma. And some of the defensive guys had seen my film, just because of the scouting they did against Texas Tech. But other than that, I had to come in and earn every part of the respect I needed on the offensive side of the ball. And then, I knew that the defense would have to deal with me on scout team, so I didn’t worry too much about that. It was just about practicing with the offense.
How difficult was it knowing you could play at this level, yet having to wait to show it?
It’s pretty disappointing. It’s frustrating, especially since I’d played my first year, then had to sit out after that. And knowing that I had done it before kind of made it more frustrating, having to redshirt a year after you’ve played.
What’s the most valuable thing the team learned on the way through last season?
Never to be satisfied. I think when we figured out that we were never good enough or we hadn’t figured everything out, that was when we always learned to work for a win one week at a time and just focus on that goal.
Have you watched the Orange Bowl?
Yes, I have.
What’s it like to watch a game like that, one that ends your season and doesn’t go the way you want?
It’s frustrating watching those types of games, knowing they did nothing to stop us. We did everything. We left a lot on the field, made a bunch of mistakes. We had a penalty in the first half to stop a drive. I turned the ball over twice, which was very unlike me. And I did it in a big game, which I can’t do. I need to take care of the ball. And it’s frustrating to see that if we would have played the way we should have, we would have won. But the better team won that day. And they went on to the national championship.
Which Big 12 team would you enjoy beating the most next season?
Texas. After last year, not playing very well against them, we need to go out and play a lot better.
Anything you feel like you have to do better in 2016?
I need to keep taking care of the ball. And just pushing my guys every week to never be satisfied and to work for it each week, and to realize if we really want it, that’s how it has to be.
You guys are replacing a couple of key guys on the offensive line. Do you have a role in helping bring those guys along?
I do, just showing what’s to be expected around here. We have three guys who started the whole season coming back. I mean, we’re losing key leadership up front, losing Nila (Kasitati) and Ty (Darlington). It’s never ideal. Those guys were around here and played for a long time. But those other three guys who are coming back, they have full seasons of experience under their belt. They have to come into their own, and we expect them to be huge leaders for our offense, so they have to grow up quickly.
As a leader yourself, how do you express that?
There’s different types of leaders. There are vocal, which I’d say I am. There’s non-vocal types of leaders, like Samaje (Perine). And we’re both in that stage of our careers where we’re the older guys around the program. And Samaje, he just goes about his business and everybody watches what he does. He doesn’t have to say anything, he’s always doing the right thing. And people watching, they can learn from that. I’m a type where I can get on guys. If they’re not doing it right, I’ll tell them to pick it up. If they’re doing well, congratulate them and tell them to keep doing well, it’s not going unnoticed. Things like that go a long way.
You’ve been described as a gunslinger. Is that a tag a Texas guy can really embrace?
I think so. I enjoy it. Coming from an offense like this, if you aren’t described as a gunslinger, something’s wrong, with as many times as we throw it. I’ll take it.
You play with a lot of flair. Is that a reflection of how much fun you’re having on the field?
It definitely is. I truly have a love for the game. It’s a lot better than going to workouts or having to go through practice. Every Saturday that we get an opportunity to go out there and play, I enjoy. And I try to express that every time I can.
Who’s the best defensive player you’ve faced?
I’d have to say a couple of them from our team last year, between Eric Striker and Charles Tapper. My freshman year, when I was at Texas Tech, I played against Jason Verrett, the TCU corner who’s with the San Diego Chargers right now. He was probably one of the best defensive backs I’ve ever played against. He never let up. It didn’t matter who was over there, who he was covering, he was locking them down. And he’d bring the pop when he was hitting people.
What stadium, other than your own, have you enjoyed playing in the most?
You can’t beat the Cotton Bowl. There’s nothing like that. But last year when we went to play Tennessee in Neyland Stadium, that was probably the best game experience I’ve had and probably will ever have. That’s a different type of loud. I can’t even describe it. It was unbelievable.
What’s your take on the Bedlam rivalry?
It’s something different. Being from Texas, I always thought the OU-Texas rivalry was the bigger one. Then when I got up here, I realized how much of a hatred the two schools have for each other. It’s different for me, because I wasn’t born into that. But I enjoy it. I enjoy seeing all the writing when Bedlam week comes along. I have a lot of fun with it.
The Sooners were a little bit of a surprise last year. Will being the target affect the team’s approach this season?
It needs to. When you go 8–5 one year, it’s easy to be very motivated when people say you’re not very good, or that you’re not a part of the national championship picture. Now it’s a sense of people congratulating you and saying you should be there. You can’t be entitled or get complacent in thinking that you’re just going to show up and be in the final four at the end of the year. You’re going to have to work for it. It’s kind of the mentality we had after the Kansas State win. It has to be one week at a time and we’re never good enough.
How cool was it that the Sooners were the first team to make the Final Four in both football and basketball?
I think it’s pretty sweet, especially in the same year. It’s been a pretty special athletic year around here. Getting to watch those guys on the court was so fun.
You’ve been frequently seen dancing on videos. How good of a dancer are you?
Mediocre, at best. It gets a little blown out of proportion. I’m not bad, but it gets blown out of proportion. It’s all a little much.
What coach, other than Bob Stoops, could you see yourself playing for?
I’ve always been a fan of Mike Leach. When he was recruiting me to Washington State when I was in high school, he was just a funny guy. He had the kind of carefree attitude that it didn’t matter what anybody told him, he was just going to go out and do his job. I always kind of related to that. I could see myself playing for him.
A good coach for a gunslinger to play for, right?
Defenses in the FCS can’t stop what they can’t catch.
Most of the best running backs in the FCS this season may be undersized, but they’re fast, deceptively strong and, oh, so electrifying.
Seven of the nation’s top 10 finishers in rushing yards last season are back in 2016, including Chase Edmonds (1,648, fourth). It might be time to say it’s the year of the running back across the FCS.
Here is a countdown of the 10 best returnees:
10. Corey Avery, Sam Houston State (Jr., 5-10, 190)
On a Sam Houston offense that led the FCS in yards per game, Avery stood out in his first season after transferring in from Kansas. With speed and elusiveness, he averaged more than 7.6 yards per carry while racking up 1,483 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground. His season-high 197 yards came in the FCS quarterfinals against Colgate. He led Kansas in rushing yards (631) as a freshman in 2014, but was dismissed from the program for a violation of team rules.
9. Derrick Craine, Chattanooga (Sr., 5-10, 205)
After setting Chattanooga single-season records with 1,251 rushing yards and 230 carries and tying for the Southern Conference lead with 13 rushing touchdowns, the Mocs figure to make their tough featured back an even bigger part of the offense this season. He is shifty going through the offensive line, a good blocker and a reliable pass catcher (37 receptions over last two seasons). He hopes to carry the Mocs to a fourth straight conference title.
8. King Frazier, North Dakota State (Sr., 5-11, 218)
He won’t have the gaudy statistics as other FCS running backs, but no defensive back wants to get caught one-on-one with the powerful and punishing Frazier. While starting in the crowded backfield of the five-time reigning FCS national champion Bison, Frazier rushed for 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Having started his college career at Nebraska, he just bulldozes the opposition.
7. Darius Victor, Towson (Sr., 5-8, 227)
Victor has done well to follow in the footsteps of former Towson running back Terrance West. He was behind West as the 2013 CAA Football Offensive Rookie of the Year on the squad which reached the FCS championship game. A physical back who runs downhill between the tackles, Victor led the conference with 1,305 rushing yards in 2014 and followed it up with another 1,021 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground last season despite being slowed by ankle and back injuries.
6. John Santiago, North Dakota (So., 5-9, 170)
What a debut for Santiago last season, when he was the runner-up for national freshman of the year honors. He was projected to be a wide receiver in college because of his smaller size, but his speed and deceptive upper-body strength allowed him to settle into UND’s backfield. He set the school’s Division I records for rushing yards (1,459) and all-purpose yards (2,159), while scoring 16 touchdowns and averaging 6.5 yards per carry. He surpassed 100 rushing yards in all of his Big Sky Conference games and tied for the national high with nine.
5. Kendell Anderson, William & Mary (Sr., 5-9, 200)
After replacing injured All-CAA running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor last season, Anderson broke off six straight 100-yard games en route to first-team all-conference honors. He rushed for 1,418 yards and 16 touchdowns for a Tribe team that earned a share of the CAA title. He runs over tacklers with toughness. As a senior, he should be even better as he benefits from a veteran offensive line.
4. De’Angelo Henderson, Coastal Carolina (Sr., 5-8, 205)
Coastal won’t quite command the FCS spotlight this year as it transitions toward the FBS level with an independent schedule, but “Hop,” as Henderson is nicknamed, will keep reminding people of his game-breaking ways. He’s set the FCS record by scoring at least one touchdown in 26 straight games. The touchdown machine enters his last campaign with 3,479 rushing yards, 4,210 all-purpose yards and 46 scores (42 rushing). Also an excellent pass catcher (73 receptions over the last two seasons), he will command NFL interest.
3. Tarik Cohen, North Carolina A&T (Sr., 5-6, 173)
At last sight, Cohen was rushing for 295 yards and three touchdowns in A&T’s triumph in the inaugural Celebration Bowl. He has surpassed 1,000 rushing yards in each of his first three seasons, totaling 4,031 yards overall with 40 touchdowns (38 rushing). The three-time Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference first-team selection has 4.30-second speed in the 40-yard dash. He’s also known for being able to catch a football while back flipping.
2. Chase Edmonds, Fordham (Jr., 5-9, 196)
In his first two seasons, Edmonds has been nothing short of unstoppable. He’s gained 3,486 rushing yards, piled up 4,504 all-purpose yards and scored 49 touchdowns (43 rushing), while securing the national freshman of the year honors in 2014 followed by first-team All-America honors last season. He’s gone over 200 yards in a game five times, including a Patriot League-record 347 yards against Lehigh last season. He considered transferring from Fordham after his sophomore season, but has returned to continue his assault on defenses.
1. Kade Harrington, Lamar (Sr., 5-9, 190)
It took only 10 games last season for Harrington to surpass 2,000 rushing yards, and he went on to lead the FCS in total rushing yards (2,092), rushing yards per game (190.2), rushing touchdowns (21) and all-purpose yards per game (213.4). He employs a north-south running style, with a quick burst from defenders, to dominate games. Along with Edmonds, the Southland Conference player of the year shared the FCS single-game high last season with 347 rushing yards (against Abilene Christian). He averaged nearly 7.9 yards per carry while finishing runner-up to Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp as the national offensive player of the year.
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
People are going to disagree with writers. It's the circle of life.
Fox Sports' Clay Travis probably knows more than anybody about people disagreeing with his opinion. Sometimes players are at the point where they just can't take it anymore. Travis recently wrote about the DA's decision to drop the charges against two Alabama players, and mentioned that there are other people who work harder than athletes.
Alabama's Blake Barnett and Mekhi Brown were not going to let that column slide lightly.
Sounds like something an unathletic person would say. "Ignorance is bliss." pic.twitter.com/phuc1teBwp— B² (@Blake8Barnett) June 20, 2016
Great point. Funny how there's a misconception about the work athletes put in. College athletes have 12+ hour days. https://t.co/78tZtVE86z— B² (@Blake8Barnett) June 20, 2016
Put them in our shoes and they'll quit lol. There is a reason why jobs prefer former athletes over the reg students https://t.co/HBrLgYG9PE— Khi (@MekhiBrownn) June 20, 2016
Travis decided to respond to their comments shortly afterward, and obviously Barnett still wasn't going to let it go.
Bama QB thinks athletes work hard compared to doctors, lawyers and investment bankers. So wrong. https://t.co/vkDvefxSU0— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) June 20, 2016
@ClayTravis Sounds like you have the personal experience of being an athlete, doctor, lawyer, and investment banker.— B² (@Blake8Barnett) June 20, 2016
@ClayTravis You're comparing something where there is no need for comparison. No need to dig through things to cause controversy.— B² (@Blake8Barnett) June 20, 2016
Former Crimson Tide player Mike Johnson attempted to school the young guys on the art of Twitter.
These young #Bama players will come to learn that responding to click bait writers on Twitter is exactly what those writers were hoping for— Mike Johnson (@MPJohnson79) June 21, 2016
The 2016 college football season is just around the corner, and it’s time to honor the best of the best for the upcoming year. The 2016 season features plenty of big names returning to the gridiron, including a standout group of players on offense. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, LSU running back Leonard Fournette, Florida State running back Dalvin Cook and Stanford running back/all-purpose threat Christian McCaffrey are just a few of the big names returning on offense for 2016. Leading the way on defense is Texas A&M end Myles Garrett and Iowa cornerback Desmond King.
Athlon Sports released its 2016 all-conference teams earlier this offseason, and now the focus shifts to the All-America team. Whether it’s quarterback, defensive end or a spot on the special teams, picking the best of the best is no easy task.
An important note on the All-America teams: These are based on how players will perform in 2016. Career statistics and previous awards matter in player evaluation, but choosing players for the 2016 All-America team and all-conference teams are largely based on predicting and projecting the upcoming year.
2016 Athlon Sports All-Conference Teams
Athlon Sports 2016 All-America Team
Nick Chubb (RB)
Jarrad Davis (LB)
Conference Breakdown of All-America Selections
Team Breakdown of All-America Selections
|Team||Number of Selections|
|San Jose State||1|
|San Diego State||1|
Cristiano Ronaldo has to be in the right mood in order to give an interview. Evidently, this was not one of those times.
The soccer star was walking along a lake when a reporter came up and asked if Portugal is ready for its upcoming match against Hungary. Ronaldo wasn't in a talking mood.
Note to self: Never talk to Ronaldo near bodies of water.
Yet again the SEC appears loaded entering the 2016 college football season. Not only is Alabama the defending national champion, but five other schools from the conference are also in Athlon Sports’ Top 25.
Related: SEC Football 2016 Predictions
Here are the most important and interesting stats for each team in the SEC that you need to know about in 2016.
1,136: Rushing yards given up by Alabama all of last season
We've always known about the Crimson Tide's reputation for stopping the run, but they made it even more apparent last season. Remarkably, Alabama played 15 games (more than any SEC team), yet still led the conference in fewest yards allowed on the ground by far. LSU was the next closest team, giving up 1,475 yards rushing in 12 games.
167.1: Arkansas' pass efficiency rating
Since Bret Bielema got to Fayetteville in 2013, Arkansas has been known mostly for its bruising offensive lines and stable of running backs. But it is often forgotten just how balanced Bielema's teams usually are. After steady improvement from quarterback Brandon Allen, the Hogs became one of the SEC's best passing teams. That 167.1 efficiency rating led the SEC.
2-7: Auburn's record against ranked opponents last two years
There's no denying the fact that Auburn has been on a slow decline, record-wise at least, since Gus Malzahn's first year. But not only are the Tigers winning fewer games at a pivotal time in Malzahn's tenure, they also are winning fewer games against teams in the Top 25. Last year, Auburn's best win arguably was the bowl victory over Memphis.
.412: Florida's field goal percentage
Florida struggled in the kicking game last season more than any team in the SEC. The Gators went 7-of-17 on field goal attempts, ranking dead last in the conference. Every other team hit at least 60 percent of its field goal attempts. To make matters worse, Florida ranked No. 127 out of 128 teams in the nation in field goal kicking percentage.
244: Passing yards from Jacob Eason in Georgia's spring game
It would be hard to find a true freshman that played cleaner in a spring game. Eason is in a three-way battle for the starting quarterback job in Athens heading into the fall, but it's going to be tough for first-year head coach Kirby Smart to keep the prized recruit off the field. Former Georgia standout Hines Ward recently said he was in favor of Eason becoming the starting quarterback.
2011: The last time Kentucky made it to a bowl game
The Wildcats have the longest bowl drought of any SEC team, having not made it to the postseason in five years. In its last bowl appearance, Kentucky lost 27-10 to Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala to close out its 2011 season. No doubt, head coach Mark Stoops is hoping his team can finally get over the hump and find a way to win at least six games this fall.
97: LSU's penalty total
Sure, we could go on and on about Leonard Fournette and LSU's rushing attack, but you're probably already aware of how good it is. What you might not know is that the Tigers were the SEC's most penalized team last season. LSU lost an average of 65 yards per game in penalties. Those yards could be very valuable in close games.
11,985: Dak Prescott's career total yardage at Mississippi State
Mississippi State fans are sick of hearing it, but it's going to be mighty interesting to see how the Bulldogs fare at quarterback this fall. How bad will the drop-off be now that Prescott is in the NFL? He did it all in Starkville, amassing 114 touchdowns as well.
4: Weeks Missouri went without scoring a touchdown last year
Mizzou put up 24 points against South Carolina on Oct. 3 but didn't muster another touchdown until Nov. 5 against Mississippi State. It was an ugly drought and an ugly year for the offense in general. The Tigers scored only 16 touchdowns all year, averaging 13.6 points per game. Only one other team in all of FBS (Kent State) scored fewer points than Missouri in 2015.
8: 300-yard passing games from Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly
Other SEC quarterbacks can't hold a candle to Kelly when it comes to throwing the ball. Kelly eclipsed the 300-yard mark eight times last season, including a 341-yard performance at Alabama. He finished the season with 4,042 yards through the air and 31 touchdowns. The Rebels are glad to have him back.
217.42: Average opponent rushing yards vs. South Carolina
The Gamecocks' run defense couldn't stop anybody last year. It's an area that new head coach Will Muschamp has already put a keen emphasis on, and for good reason. South Carolina gave up a whopping 396 yards on the ground against LSU. But at least the Tigers had Leonard Fournette. Later in the year, The Citadel, an FCS member, piled up 350.
892: Yards needed for Jalen Hurd to become Tennessee's all-time leading rusher
The Volunteers are poised for a big year on the ground and Hurd will be a key factor. Hurd is close to breaking Travis Henry's career rushing mark of 3,078 yards if he can stay healthy. Last season, Hurd finished with 1,288 yards on the ground and Tennessee ranked second in the SEC in rushing.
20%: Texas A&M's opponents' fourth down conversion rate
Only 20 percent of the time did the Aggies allow their opponents to convert on fourth down. Texas A&M led the SEC by a landslide in that category, giving up only three first downs on 15 attempts. "Chief" John Chavis has the Aggies' defense playing tough when it matters.
-8: Vanderbilt's turnover margin
This stat isn't as bad as it was heading into last season when Vanderbilt was minus-16. But it also doesn’t change the fact that the Commodores finished rank last in the SEC in turnover margin for a second straight season. They lost nine fumbles and 16 interceptions in 2015. The defense continues to do its part but Vandy has to quit turning it over so much. The Commodores showed improvement from 2014 to ’15. Can they make it three years in a row?
Following three straight seasons ending with seven wins, the pressure to start showing some true signs of progress is rising for Penn State head coach James Franklin (Penn State has gone 7-6 in each of Franklin's first two campaigns). A new-look offense will be put to the test early on with road trips to Pittsburgh and Michigan and the home slate is highlighted by visits from Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa.
The 2016 season presents a good number of challenges for Penn State, but the talent pulled together through recruiting has led to some promise for the tradition-rich program that is climbing out of the abbreviated sanction phase. Now it is time to put that potential to the test and show Franklin and his staff can develop the talent. True success and progress will be measured in win totals in 2016.
With that in mind, here is a run through Penn State’s 2016 schedule based on difficulty, from the easiest games on the schedule to the most challenging.
12. Sept. 3 vs. Kent State
Penn State opens the season at home against Kent State, a team it has shut out twice in a row dating back to 2010. The Golden Flashes do return a good chunk of their offensive starters, but this was not a lethal attack in 2016 by any metric. Kent State was just 3-9 last season but can do some things defensively in the right matchup. Penn State’s new offense may be a bit of a work in progress, but even that should be able to overcome any threat Kent State attempts to pose in the opener.
11. Oct. 29 at Purdue
A week after hosting Ohio State, Penn State could potentially be entering a bit of a trap game at Purdue. The Boilermakers are likely a minimal threat at best, and they will be coming off games against Iowa and at Nebraska. While Penn State should have a clear advantage across the board here, this just has a slight smell of a trap and could lead to an uglier game than predicted. Regardless, Penn State should manage to pick up a win, even if it is an ugly one.
10. Nov. 19 at Rutgers
Rutgers is looking to take a page out of the Ohio State playbook with new head coach Chris Ash (a former Urban Meyer assistant) taking over the program. Ash will have quite the task in front of him in year one on the job as Rutgers has plenty of work to do to improve on offense and defense. However, Rutgers has developed a reputation for playing tougher at home, and Penn State has seen that already. Still, Penn State should have the edge nearly across the board and should manage to leave New Jersey with a third straight win over its newest Big Ten rival. Rutgers also will be coming off a road game at Michigan State, while Penn State will have just played at Indiana.
9. Oct. 8 vs. Maryland
When Maryland last paid a visit to Penn State, things were a little edgy from the start. Maryland has a new head coach in D.J. Durkin, some experience at quarterback and a defensive and special teams playmaker in Will Likely. It could be a dangerous mix for Penn State just before the bye week. Maryland is still a rebuilding project for now though, and perhaps may have more work to do in 2016 than Penn State, giving the Nittany Lions the edge at this moment.
8. Sept. 17 vs. Temple
The last time Penn State had revenge on its mind when facing Temple was 1943. The Owls roughed up Penn State’s offensive line and Christian Hackenberg in the 2015 season opener in Philadelphia in what was a perfect matchup for the Owls. This season things should be a little different as Temple loses some key players from last season and Penn State will be at home with a new-look offense and an improving offensive line (maybe, hopefully?) to work with. Sandwiched between road trips to Pittsburgh and Michigan, this game against Temple would have all the makings of a trap game, but having lost to the Owls last season should help avoid any sort of letdown in this mid-September game.
7. Oct. 1 vs. Minnesota
Minnesota remains a little bit of a wild card team in the Big Ten West. The Golden Gophers could be decent enough to pick up a win at any time on their schedule, but they could also struggle at any point as well. They come to State College for the first time since 2009 and will look for their first win in Beaver Stadium since '03. This will be Minnesota’s first road trip of the season too, and Penn State could potentially be looking for a win to start off October after a challenging September.
6. Nov. 12 at Indiana
Penn State was fortunate to get Indiana at home last year when the Hoosiers were extremely banged up on offense, and that showed. Kevin Wilson's team has a knack for doing some good things on offense, while the defense tends to leave something to be desired. Indiana must replace both quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard this year, meaning Penn State could potentially have another favorable matchup lining up in mid-November if Wilson can’t plug in the players he needs.
5. Sept. 10 at Pittsburgh
The historic in-state rivalry will finally be renewed in western Pennsylvania as Penn State and Pitt are set to collide for the first time since 2000. The emotions will be running high for this one, and it poses a legitimate challenge to a developing Penn State offense. The game should be highlighted by the brilliant running back battle between Penn State’s Saquon Barkley and Pitt’s inspirational James Conner. The stakes for state bragging rights will be on the line in the first in a four-game series between the two.
4. Nov. 5 vs. Iowa
The Hawkeyes return to State College coming off an undefeated regular season that led to a letdown of a postseason. Iowa also is looking to snap a two-game losing streak to Penn State. Iowa will get a week off to prepare for the game (Penn State plays at Purdue the week before), which is always nice. The game will kick in primetime, which may give Penn State a slight boost.
3. Nov. 26 vs. Michigan State
Michigan State remains a bit of a mystery team for a number of reasons given the turnover on the roster, but one thing you can probably count on is the Spartans being tough on defense. Penn State's regular season comes to a close at home against the defending Big Ten champions, but will Mark Dantonio’s crew be as strong a contender as it has been in recent years, or will this be a good year for the Nittany Lions to snap a three-game losing streak in the series? Getting the Spartans at home is a nice perk after being demolished 55-16 last season in East Lansing and 34-10 the year before in Beaver Stadium.
2. Oct. 22 vs. Ohio State
Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes are undefeated against Penn State since he arrived in Columbus, but the Nittany Lions have played tough against a program a few steps ahead of them on the path to being a national contender. Penn State has typically played Ohio State much tougher when playing at home, and that could once again be the case this season. Despite the many players departing for the NFL, the Buckeyes should still be loaded with talent, starting with quarterback J.T. Barrett, and Ohio State should be a much better team overall by mid-October compared to the one it starts the season with as the Buckeyes work to plug some holes in their lineup. Penn State last scored a home victory against the Buckeyes in 2005 and has given up more than 30 points in three of the last four home games in the series. Penn State also gets a bye week to prepare for the game while Ohio State will be coming off a road trip to Wisconsin.
1. Sept. 24 at Michigan
Put aside the hype factor surrounding the Michigan program. The Wolverines may not be quite ready to take a hold of the Big Ten championship race just yet, but they could very well be the toughest challenge for the Nittany Lions in 2016. While Ohio State and Michigan State may still prove to be the teams to beat by the end of the season, Penn State hits the road for the second time in September to open Big Ten play in Ann Arbor against a Michigan squad that could be more settled in and comfortable offensively than Penn State could potentially be at this point in the season. Penn State also has had a tough time winning games in the Big House. Penn State has just one win in Michigan Stadium since 1997, and that came against Rich Rodriguez.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com, TheComeback.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.
ESPN took a lot of heat last year for its decision to give Caitlyn Jenner the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. Now it seems the tide has turned.
This year's ESPYs will honor a young man no one can disagree with. Zaevion Dobson, a high school football player, was shot to death while shielding two girls from gunfire. Dobson was just 15 years old, making him the youngest to ever receive the Ashe award.
Dobson was a sophomore at Fulton High School in Knoxville, Tenn., and had dreams of playing college football. He passed away December 17 this past year, but ended up saving the lives of the young women he was attempting to shield.
"There's nothing more courageous than somebody sacrificing their own life for something else," Maura Mandt, the ESPYs executive producer, told NY Daily News.
Dobson's mother will accept the award on his behalf July 13 at the award ceremony.
The 2016 season marks the sixth year of football independence for BYU. Life as an independent has posed a fair number of challenges for the Cougars, but BYU has made the most of its unique path thus far.
BYU would love if that path eventually led to membership in a Power Five conference (looking at you Big 12), but that hasn’t happened, and who knows if it ever will.
If you’re not in a Power Five conference, the next best thing for a program is to not be lumped in with the Group of Five. That’s one thing BYU has going for it in 2016, as no one around the country will mistake BYU’s independent status on the same level as of that as a Group of Five school. The Cougars are once again facing one of the toughest schedules in the country this fall and quite possibly the toughest September schedule in the country.
BYU’s new head coach Kalani Sitake takes over at his alma mater and inherits a program that is a consistent winner, but can Sitake and his staff put BYU over the top and possibly give the Cougars the needed boost from on-field performance to potentially finally nudge them into the ranks of the P5s?
The 2016 schedule poses as many great opportunities as BYU could possibly imagine with a tough slate of matchups. Let’s take a further look at BYU’s schedule ranking those opportunities from the easiest to the toughest.
12. Nov. 12 vs. Southern Utah
This will be the first-ever meeting with in-state Southern Utah. A few members of BYU’s new coaching staff have experience coaching for the T-Birds in Ed Lamb (SUU’s previous head coach), Jernaro Gilford, and even Kalani Sitake had a brief stop in Cedar City early in his career.
11. Nov. 19 vs. UMass
The Minutemen, like BYU, enter a world of independence this year. Unlike BYU, the Minutemen are fighting to stay afloat in the FBS ranks before potentially going back to the FCS. To help out the Minutemen, BYU scheduled a home-and-home with its fellow independent. There was a case to put Southern Utah over the Minutemen for this exercise, but I still gave a slight edge to the FBS team over the FCS squad.
10. Sept. 30 (Friday) vs. Toledo
It’s not often BYU schedules a game against a school from the MAC, and it’s hard to find a program within the MAC that isn’t a detriment to your strength of schedule. However, BYU found a quality program in Toledo that’s coming off a 9-4 season. Head coach Matt Campbell left for Iowa State but the Rockets are still going to be based around their physical offensive line and do-it-all running back Kareem Hunt.
9. Nov. 26 vs. Utah State
The Battle for the Old Wagon Wheel renews in Provo. Since BYU has been an independent, the three games between these teams at LaVell Edwards Stadium have either gone down to the wire or resulted in Utah State pulling off an upset. Last season, BYU closed out the regular season with a dominating win over the Aggies in Logan and this year’s game will yet again get the Thanksgiving weekend treatment.
8. Nov. 5 at Cincinnati
The battle for who gets into the Big 12? BYU travels to Cincinnati for their first game ever in the state of Ohio to play the second of a two-game series with the Bearcats. Last season, BYU needed 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to defeat Cincinnati, and that was in a game where the Cougars didn’t face quarterback Gunner Kiel.
Similar to BYU, the Bearcats have a lot of new faces on their coaching staff, but by the time these two teams meet that shouldn’t be an issue. In most years, a game against a program of Cincinnati’s caliber would be higher on a list like this. This just speaks to the depth on BYU’s schedule in 2016.
7. Sept. 3 vs. Arizona (Glendale, Ariz.)
The Kalani Sitake era begins with a difficult game against Arizona from the Pac-12 in Glendale. Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon will be one of the best quarterback’s BYU faces in 2016, but the Cougars match up well personnel-wise against the Wildcats. One thing that’ll be interesting to watch for on game day is the crowd at University of Phoenix Stadium. Naturally you’d think the game being in Arizona would lead to Wildcat fans having a bigger turnout, but BYU fans have purchased more tickets as of now and it’s led to Arizona’s athletic director calling out Wildcat fans to buy more.
6. Oct. 20 (Thursday) at Boise State
BYU and Boise State have produced some entertaining games the last few seasons and it has turned into a great regional matchup between the two programs. Last season, BYU won on a Hail Mary from Tanner Mangum to wide receiver Mitchell Juergens. But that was in Provo. The Cougars have yet to win in Boise and the Broncos look primed and ready to have a bounce-back year after a disappointing 8-5 showing in 2015.
5. Oct. 14 (Friday) vs. Mississippi State
The SEC comes to Provo for the first time since the 2000 season, and the last program from college football’s toughest conference to do that was Mississippi State. The biggest question facing the Bulldogs in 2016 is how do they replace quarterback Dak Prescott? Sophomore Nick Fitzgerald looks to be the favorite heading into fall camp. Along with bringing in a new QB, the Bulldogs are installing a new defense. Mississippi State could finish seventh in the SEC West and still be a top 30 team in the country. There’s enough talent on this roster that the Bulldogs will go bowling yet again but you have to commend them for taking a risk traveling west in their non-conference, which isn’t common in the SEC.
4. Sept. 24 vs. West Virginia (Landover, Md.)
Since Geno Smith left Morgantown, there hasn’t been much to be excited about with West Virginia football. Count on that changing in 2016. Quarterback Skyler Howard has some of the best skill players around him that you’ll find in the Big 12 and the Mountaineers have a favorable schedule with the best teams traveling to Morgantown. If the Mountaineers find a way to get past BYU in FedEx Field (home of the NFL’s Washington Redskins), there’s no reason to think the Mountaineers can’t be 5-0 heading into a home game with TCU on Oct. 22.
3. Sept. 17 vs. UCLA
This will be Kalani Sitake’s first home game as the Cougars’ head coach. This game will mark the first time BYU has hosted a Power Five opponent in Provo since Virginia came to town in September of the 2014 season. It’s been a long time, and UCLA is looked at as a favorite to win the Pac-12 South in 2016. Quarterback Josh Rosen had his worst game as a freshman versus BYU in Pasadena last season as the Cougars let a lead slip away to the Bruins and couldn’t find a third straight week of magic.
2. Sept. 10 at Utah
Seeing Utah second on this list might surprise some folks but it’s warranted. BYU has lost nine of its last 12 against the Utes and is currently on a five-game losing streak to its rival. None of that involved Kalani Sitake roaming BYU’s sidelines, but he will have to hear that conversation in the backdrop. Utah’s defensive line is arguably the best in college football next to Alabama’s. If BYU hopes to win in Salt Lake City, a place it hasn’t won in 10 years, the Cougars will need to take care of the football. In the last 10 meetings, BYU sports an ugly minus-20 turnover differential against the Utes.
1. Oct. 8 at Michigan State
The Spartans have established themselves as one of college football’s premier programs under head coach Mark Dantonio. The Spartans won the Big Ten and went to the College Football Playoff last season and are replacing basically everyone on offense. But the Spartans’ defense will be terrific once again and this unit will carry Michigan State through the early part of the schedule. If this game was played in the first two or three weeks of the season, a case could be made to put the Spartans on upset watch. But by the time this game rolls around in October; expect Michigan State to establish itself as one of the teams to beat in the Big Ten once again.
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is publisher of Rivals' BYU site, CougarNation.com, and also is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.
The start of the 2016 college football season is just around the corner. What better way to get you ready for another fall of gridiron action than to give you some stats to chew on. Here's a nice serving of some key numbers to pay attention to in 2016 from around the Big Ten.
89.0: Tackles for a loss by Illinois in 2015
85.8: Percent of Indiana’s offensive yards per game that must be replaced from 2015
4: Interceptions returned for touchdowns by Iowa in 2015
36: Turnovers by Maryland in 2015
27.62: Third-down percentage by Michigan’s opponents in 2015
13: Fumbles recovered by Michigan State in 2015
11: Interceptions thrown by Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner last season
94: Penalties called on Nebraska last season
114: Northwestern's rank among FBS teams in scoring offense
5.62: Ohio State's rushing yards per play in 2015
6: Straight seasons Penn State has finished outside of the AP Top 25
73.68: Purdue's TD percentage in the red zone in 2015
34: Games played since Rutgers last won at home against a team with a winning record
5: Fumbles lost by Wisconsin last season
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com, TheComeback.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.
We've all heard the expression, "I wouldn't bet money on it." That definitely rings true when it comes to Stephen A. Smith's predictions.
ESPN's First Take host has picked the wrong team in the NBA Finals for six straight years. Since 2011, Smith has gone with every single losing team. In a way that's somewhat of an accomplishment. When something is a 50/50 chance, it's hard to be wrong so many times in a row.
Hopefully no one bet money on his picks.
Success with any college football team starts with coaching. Even if a program doesn’t have the resources of the nation’s elite jobs, a good coach can elevate a program into national title contention. However, similar to any position on the field, statistics may not tell the full story when judging a coaching tenure.
This is not simply a list of coaches ranked by accomplishment or wins. While those aspects are important, it doesn’t provide a complete picture of how successful coaches are. Winning 10 games at Alabama is different than winning 10 games at Kentucky. Also, every program has a different amount of resources available. Hierarchy in college football also plays a vital role in how successful programs are. It's always easier for programs with more built-in advantages to contend for a national title on a more consistent basis.
A couple of other factors to consider when ranking coaches: How well are the assistants paid? A staff with two of the nation’s top coordinators could be a sign the head coach is better as a CEO and may not be as strong in terms of developing gameplans. How is the coach in the X’s and O’s? Can the coach recruit? Are the program’s facilities on par with the rest of the conference? Much like assistants, a program needs good facilities to win big. If a team is winning at a high level with poor facilities and a small budget, it reflects positively on the head coach. Is the coach successful at only one stop? Or has that coach built a solid resume from different jobs?
Again, wins are important. But our rankings also take into account a blank slate. If you start a program from scratch, which coach would you hire knowing what they accomplished so far and their career trajectory? Remember, you don't get the assistants - only the head coach. And head-to-head wins do not matter for this ranking. Athlon's editorial staff has voted on a ranking of coaches for all 10 conferences. Here’s the full 128 list of coach rankings, as voted on by the Athlon Sports staff for 2016.
Ranking All 128 College Football Head Coaches for 2016
128. Mike Jinks, Bowling Green
Bowling Green hit a home run with its last coaching hire (Dino Babers), and the program is hoping Jinks keeps the Falcons at the top of the MAC East. Jinks’ hire came as a surprise to most, as he had only three seasons as an assistant (Texas Tech) at the FBS level prior to his hire in Bowling Green. Additionally, Jinks has never worked as a coordinator at this level. His only experience as a head coach came in the high school ranks, spending one year at Burbank High School (2005) and a handful at Cibolo Steele (2006-12). Considering Jinks’ stint at Texas Tech came under Kliff Kingsbury, the transition on offense from Dino Babers’ attack should be minimal.
127. Mike Neu, Ball State
Neu – a former Ball State quarterback from 1990-93 – returns to Muncie as the program’s head coach in 2016. Neu has garnered a variety of experience over the last 18 seasons, spending time as a head coach in the Arena Football League (New Orleans), as a college assistant with Tulane (2012-13) and in the NFL with the Saints (2014-15). While Neu is a former Ball State player and had a one-year stint as a graduate assistant with the program, this is his first opportunity to be a head coach at the FBS level.
126. Frank Wilson, UTSA
Wilson is regarded as an ace recruiter, and his ability to attract talent to a program should be a huge benefit to UTSA. There’s no shortage of talent in San Antonio and the surrounding area, but the first-year coach has to prove he’s more than just a recruiter. Wilson has never worked as a head coach or a coordinator at the FBS level. His only experience as a head coach came in high school, leading O.P. Walker High School from 2000-03.
125. Paul Haynes, Kent State
After a 9-26 record through three seasons, Haynes is entering a critical 2016 campaign. The Golden Flashes had a standout defense in 2015, but the offense averaged a paltry 9.1 points in MAC games last year. Fixing the offense is Haynes’ top offseason priority if Kent State wants to win more than four games for the first time in four seasons. As a former player and assistant with the Golden Flashes, Haynes certainly knows what it takes to win at this program. However, the pressure is starting to build after last year’s 3-9 record.
124. Doug Martin, New Mexico State
This is a tough job, and Martin’s outlook at New Mexico State is only getting tougher with conference uncertainty. The Aggies are slated to be a FBS Independent in 2018, which is not an easy road for a program that has only one winning record since 2000. Martin is 7-29 in three seasons at New Mexico State, but there was progress in 2015. The Aggies finished 3-9 overall but won three games in conference play and lost four by nine points or less. With 11 returning starters – including one of the nation’s top running backs in junior Larry Rose – the Aggies could push for a .500 mark in league play.
123. Seth Littrell, North Texas
Littrell looks like a good fit at North Texas, but he inherited a team in need of a lot of help after a 1-11 record in 2015. Littrell comes to Denton after two seasons at North Carolina, working under coach Larry Fedora as the program’s offensive coordinator. Prior to North Carolina, Littrell worked as an assistant at Indiana, Arizona and Texas Tech. The Oklahoma native’s background with the Air Raid offense should help North Texas attract plenty of offensive talent into the program.
122. Brad Lambert, Charlotte
Building a program from scratch isn’t easy. And it’s even harder to accomplish that goal by transitioning from the FCS to the FBS level. That’s the challenge facing Lambert at Charlotte, as the 49ers are 12-22 over the last three seasons, including a 2-10 mark in their first year at the FBS level in 2015. Prior to taking over as Charlotte’s head coach, Lambert worked from 2001-10 under Jim Grobe at Wake Forest. The fourth-year coach seems to have this program trending in the right direction.
121. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan
Eastern Michigan is arguably the toughest job in college football. This program has only season of more than two wins since 2009, with the last winning record coming in 1995. Considering the lack of success by the program in recent years and the roster situation he inherited, immediate success wasn’t going to be easy for Creighton. Through two years, Creighton is 3-21 overall and 1-15 in conference play. But prior to Eastern Michigan, Creighton went 42-22 at Drake, 63-15 at Wabash and 32-9 at Ottawa.
120. Paul Petrino, Idaho
Idaho has made some progress under Petrino’s watch. After winning two games from 2013-14, the Vandals finished 4-8 last season and could push for a .500 record in 2016. Petrino’s also deserves credit for the developing the offense, which averaged 30.3 points a game in 2015. However, Petrino’s job isn’t going to get any easier over the next two years, as the Vandals are dropping to the FCS level after the 2017 campaign.
119. Scottie Montgomery, East Carolina
Montgomery has been on a fast rise through the assistant ranks and lands at one of the better jobs in the American Athletic Conference for his first FBS coaching opportunity. The North Carolina native started his coaching career under David Cutcliffe at Duke from 2006-09 as a wide receivers coach and later spent three years (2010-12) with the Steelers in the same capacity. Montgomery returned to Duke in 2013, spending one year as a receivers coach before a promotion to offensive coordinator in 2014. This is Montgomery’s first head coaching opportunity, but he’s learned under one of the top FBS coaches (Cutcliffe) and his background on offense should be a good fit at East Carolina.
118. Tyson Summers, Georgia Southern
Willie Fritz set the bar high for Tyson Summers. Fritz helped Georgia Southern transition to the FBS level, as the Eagles finished 18-7 over the last two years and lost only two conference games in that span. Summers has never been a head coach at the FBS level, but he’s a Georgia native and has previous coaching experience at the school as an assistant (2006). Summers also has stops on his resume from stints at UAB, UCF and Colorado State. Georgia Southern returns a strong core of talent for 2016, so Summers will be expected to keep this team near the top of the Sun Belt.
117. Everett Withers, Texas State
Withers was a long-time assistant at a handful of stops before landing his first full-time head coaching opportunity at James Madison in 2014. Over the last two years, Withers guided the Dukes to an 18-7 record and led the program to back-to-back playoff berths. Prior to James Madison, Withers worked as an assistant under Urban Meyer for two years at Ohio State and also worked as the interim coach at North Carolina in 2011. He also has stops as an assistant at Minnesota, Texas, Southern Miss, Louisville and in the NFL with the Titans. Texas State finished 3-9 last year, but there’s a lot of promise for this program with Withers at the helm.
116. David Beaty, Kansas
Beaty inherited a program in need of a massive overhaul and finished his debut in Lawrence with an 0-12 record. The lack of success in 2015 was no surprise, as Beaty needs another recruiting class (or two) just to get this program competitive on an annual basis in the Big 12. In an effort to spark improvement on offense, Beaty is taking over the play-calling duties for the offense in 2016. However, the Jayhawks are likely staring at another double-digit loss season. Beaty is known as a good recruiter and his ties to the state of Texas should help in upgrading the program’s overall talent level over the next few years. Beaty still has plenty to prove in his first opportunity to be a head coach at the FBS level and has to show he can build a program – not just recruit talent to Lawrence.
115. Mark Whipple, UMass
UMass faces an uphill battle as a FBS Independent, but the program is in good hands with Whipple leading the way. Whipple is 6-18 over the last two years, but he posted five winning records in six years with the Minutemen from 1998-03, went 24-16 at Brown from 1994-97 and 48-17 at New Haven from 1988-93. In between the stints at UMass, Whipple worked as an assistant in the NFL with the Steelers, Browns and Eagles and also spent two years at Miami.
114. Nick Rolovich, Hawaii
After the disappointing four-year run under Norm Chow, Hawaii’s program is in good hands with Rolovich. The California native has plenty of work to do over the next few seasons, but there’s not a better coach to rebuild the Rainbow Warriors into a consistent winner. Rolovich played at Hawaii from 2000-01 and also coached in Honolulu as an assistant under Greg McMackin from 2008-11. Since 2011, Rolovich has worked at Nevada as the offensive coordinator. This is Rolovich’s first opportunity to be a head coach and it’s not an easy job. However, the Rainbow Warriors should show improvement over the next few seasons.
Related: Mountain West Predictions for 2016
113. Charlie Partridge, FAU
Partridge was known for his recruiting connections in the state of Florida when he was hired as FAU’s head coach in 2014. As expected, the Owls have recruited well over the last three classes, and there’s a strong core of promising players in place for 2016. The on-field results have been slow for Partridge, as he’s posted back-to-back 3-9 campaigns to start his tenure. Prior to taking over at FAU, Partridge was an assistant under Bret Bielema at Wisconsin and Arkansas and also had a stint at Pittsburgh from 2003-07. This is his first opportunity to be a head coach, so it’s no surprise Patridge is still learning on the job entering year three.
112. Ron Turner, FIU
Turner wasn’t the most popular hire after Mario Cristobal’s firing, but FIU has increased its win total in back-to-back years after a 1-11 mark in 2013. The Panthers finished 4-8 in 2014 and nearly qualified for a bowl with a 5-7 mark last season. Turner also has prior stints as a head coach from stops at San Jose State (1992) and Illinois (1997-04). His all-time record as a coach is 52-87, but he did lead the Fighting Illini to a Sugar Bowl appearance in 2001. With 13 starters back, Turner has a good chance to lead FIU to a bowl game in 2016.
Related: Conference USA Predictions for 2016
111. Tony Sanchez, UNLV
Hired from Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, Sanchez was one of the nation’s most intriguing first-year coaches in 2015. The Rebels finished 3-9 in Sanchez’s debut – a one-game improvement from 2014 – but lost four games by eight points or less, a clear sign the program is trending in the right direction. Sanchez also reeled in the Mountain West’s No. 4 recruiting class in the 2016 247Sports Composite and is positioned to push for a .500 mark in conference play in 2016.
110. Matt Viator, ULM
ULM quietly made one of the best coaching hires of offseason in Viator. The Louisiana native takes over in Monroe after a successful 10-year run at McNeese State. From 2006-15, Viator guided the Cowboys to a 78-33 record and five appearances in the FCS playoffs. Additionally, McNeese State did not have a losing record in Viator's tenure and posted three seasons of double-digit victories. 2016 could be a struggle for ULM, but Viator should help this program take a step forward over the next few years.
109. Scott Frost, UCF
After a winless 2015 campaign, a new regime and direction should be a huge positive for UCF. There’s no shortage of potential for this program, and Frost’s background on offense and history with Oregon should attract plenty of recruits to Orlando. Frost arrives at UCF after spending seven seasons with the Ducks. He spent the last three years there as the team’s play-caller, guiding the offense to a top-10 finish in scoring each season. This is Frost’s first opportunity to be a head coach at the FBS level, but there’s a lot to like about this hire for UCF.
108. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State
DeRuyter appeared to be one of college football’s rising stars in the head coach ranks after a 20-6 start to his tenure at Fresno State. During that two-year run, the Bulldogs claimed a share of the conference title in 2012 and won the league championship outright in 2013. However, replacing Derek Carr has been a challenge. Fresno State is just 9-17 over the last two seasons and slumped to 3-9 in 2015 – only the fourth time since 1969 the program has won fewer than four contests. Can DeRuyter get this program back on track?
107. Ron Caragher, San Jose State
Caragher hasn’t had the easiest of paths in his two stints as a head coach. He replaced Jim Harbaugh at San Diego but guided the Toreros to a 44-22 mark from 2007-12. Under Caragher’s direction, San Diego recorded at least eight wins in four out of his six seasons. He left San Diego to replace Mike MacIntyre at San Jose State – just one year after the Spartans won a school-record 11 games in 2012. Through three seasons, Caragher has compiled a 15-22 mark at San Jose State but guided the program to a bowl trip last year. With 15 starters returning this fall, Caragher should have his best team since taking over at San Jose State.
106. Jason Candle, Toledo
Candle is one of the rising stars in the Group of 5 coaching ranks and should move near the top of this list over the next few seasons. Candle’s career path is similar to former coach Matt Campbell, as both played at Mount Union before later coaching with the Purple Raiders as an assistant, followed by a stop in Toledo in the same capacity. Candle was promoted to head coach after Campbell left for Iowa State. The Rockets won’t miss a beat with Candle in charge.
Related: MAC Predictions for 2016
105. Jeff Monken, Army West Point
Army has only two winning seasons since 1994, so Monken has a tough assignment on his hands. Through two years, Monken is 6-18 at West Point, but he went 38-16 during four seasons at Georgia Southern (2010-13). Even though last season’s record (2-10) wasn’t pretty, Army lost seven games by a touchdown or less. Monken seems to have Army West Point moving in the right direction but a bowl game might be a year away.
104. Sean Kugler, UTEP
Injuries hit UTEP hard last season, including an early season-ending ailment to standout running back Aaron Jones. As a result, the Miners slipped to 5-7 in Kugler’s third year on the job. However, UTEP is just one season removed from a 7-6 mark and a bowl appearance in 2014, and a quick rebound should be anticipated for 2016. Kugler is 14-23 in three seasons with the Miners.
103. Chuck Martin, Miami, Ohio
Miami is one of the MAC’s top jobs, but the RedHawks have fallen on hard times. However, Martin seems to have this program moving back in the right direction. After an 0-12 record in Don Treadwell’s last season (2013), Martin is 5-19 over the last two years, but the RedHawks were more competitive in 2015 and return 13 starters for 2016. Prior to Miami, Martin went 74-7 at Grand Valley State and guided the Lakers to three Division II titles.
102. Darrell Hazell, Purdue
Purdue is a tough job, but Hazell looked like the right coach to help this program take a step forward when he was hired in 2013. Prior to becoming the head coach for the Boilermakers, Hazell worked at Ohio State under Jim Tressel as an assistant from 2004-10 and went 16-10 at Kent State (2011-12), including an impressive 11-3 season in 2012. But success at Purdue has been tough to come by for Hazell. The Boilermakers are just 6-30 over the last three years and have only two Big Ten wins in that span. Hazell is on the hot seat entering 2016, but there’s some optimism with 16 returning starters and new coordinators on both sides of the ball.
101. Tracy Claeys, Minnesota
Jerry Kill’s sudden retirement was a setback for a Minnesota program that enters 2016 with four consecutive bowl trips. But the Golden Gophers are hoping to continue Kill’s success with one of his long-time assistants – Tracy Claeys. The Kansas native worked under Kill for 20 years and also served as the program’s interim coach in 2013 and once again in 2015. Under Claeys’ watch, Minnesota finished 2-4 over its final six games last season, including a 21-14 victory over Central Michigan. However, the Golden Gophers were competitive against Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin. Claeys has big shoes to fill in replace his mentor, but Minnesota returns 14 starters and has a favorable schedule that should allow the program to reach at least six wins in 2016.
100. Chris Ash, Rutgers
The Big Ten East Division is one of college football’s toughest divisions, and Rutgers is facing an uphill battle to compete with Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State on an annual basis. But after making more headlines for off-field news than actual on-field results in 2015, this program took a step in the right direction by cleaning house in the athletic department. New athletic director Patrick Hobbs picked Ash as Kyle Flood’s replacement, and the Iowa native seems to be the right fit for the Scarlet Knights. Ash is well versed in the division after spending the last two years at Ohio State as a co-defensive coordinator and he also has a prior stop in the Big Ten from three seasons at Wisconsin (2010-12). Ash also has stops on his resume from stints at Arkansas (2013), Iowa State and San Diego State. This is his first opportunity to be a head coach at the FBS level, but Ash has worked for one of the nation’s best coaches (Urban Meyer) and seems to have the right blueprint and long-term vision to help this program.
99. Mike Norvell, Memphis
Justin Fuente leaves big shoes to fill at Memphis after a 19-6 record over the last two seasons. However, Mike Norvell was one of the rising stars in the assistant ranks and should keep this program trending up for 2016 and beyond. Norvell worked as an assistant under Todd Graham at Tulsa (2007-10), at Pittsburgh (2011) and from 2012-15 at Arizona State. Norvell called the plays all four seasons for the Sun Devils, guiding the offense to an average of at least 34 points every year. Fuente set the bar high, but Norvell is an outstanding hire for this program.
98. Chad Morris, SMU
Expect to Morris move up this list in future seasons. The Texas native took over at SMU after spending four years guiding Clemson’s offense (2011-14). The Tigers’ offense emerged as one of the nation’s most-explosive attacks under Morris’ direction, including back-to-back seasons (2012-13) by averaging over 40 points a game. SMU finished 2-10 in Morris’ first season on the job, but the Mustangs should take a step forward in 2016. Prior to Clemson, Morris worked at Tulsa for one year (2010) and was a high school coach at five different stops from 1994-2009.
97. Lance Leipold, Buffalo
Leipold was one of the top coaching hires in the 2015 carousel, leaving Wisconsin-Whitewater after guiding the program to a 109-6 mark from 2007-14. Winning at the FBS level would require a few adjustments for Leipold and his staff, and the Bulls finished 5-7 in 2015. However, Buffalo just missed out on a bowl after losing three games by five points or less. Year one was just a small speed bump for this staff. The future is still bright for the Bulls with Leipold at the helm.
96. Mike Bobo, Colorado State
Bobo had big shoes to fill in Fort Collins last season. In 2014, Jim McElwain guided Colorado State to a 10-3 mark and an appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl. But with some key personnel losses to overcome and a tough schedule, the Rams dipped to 7-6 in Bobo’s first season. However, Colorado State wasn’t too far from matching the 2014 win total, as the program lost three games by five points or less, including a three-point defeat against rival Colorado. After spending most of his coaching career at Georgia and as a first-time head coach, Bobo is still learning on the job. However, the future looks bright for Colorado State with Bobo at the helm.
95. Neal Brown, Troy
Expect to see Brown move up this list over the next few seasons. In his debut at Troy, there were signs of progress for the Trojans, as this team finished 4-8 overall and 3-5 in league play. Brown is a disciple of the Air Raid offense and learned under two of the best offensive minds in Mike Leach and Tony Franklin. Prior to taking over as the head coach at Troy, Brown spent two years as Kentucky’s play-caller (2013-14) and three seasons as Texas Tech’s offensive coordinator (2010-12). Additionally, he also worked as an assistant under Larry Blakeney at Troy from 2006-09. Brown’s first year was promising, and more progress should be notable in 2016.
Related: Sun Belt Predictions for 2016
94. John Bonamego, Central Michigan
Considering Bonamego had never coached anything other than special teams since 1999, his hire came as a surprise at Central Michigan. However, Bonamego quickly showed he was capable of keeping this program near the top of the MAC, as the Chippewas gave Oklahoma State all it could handle in the season opener. Central Michigan finished 7-6 in Bonamego’s debut, which included a victory over MAC West champion Northern Illinois and a three-point loss at Syracuse. With a full offseason to put his stamp on the program, Bonamego should keep the Chippewas trending up in 2016.
93. Joey Jones, South Alabama
Jones was instrumental in getting South Alabama’s football program started and also guided the Jaguars to the FBS ranks in 2012. South Alabama went 7-0 in its first season in 2009 and finished 16-4 over the next two years. The Jaguars moved to the FBS ranks in 2012 and struggled to a 2-11 finish. However, Jones quickly brought the program up to a competitive level, recording back-to-back six-win seasons from 2013-14, including the program’s first bowl trip in 2014. The Jaguars slipped to 5-7 last year, but Jones should have this team back in the mix for a winning mark in 2016.
92. Jay Hopson, Southern Miss
Hopson is stepping into one of the most favorable roster situations of any first-year coach in 2016. Southern Miss returns 12 starters – including star quarterback Nick Mullens – from last season’s 9-5 team that claimed the Conference USA West Division title. Hopson has several stops as an assistant on his resume, including stints at Marshall, Ole Miss, Michigan, Memphis and Southern Miss. The Mississippi native was hired as Alcorn State’s head coach in 2012 and guided the Braves to a 32-17 mark in four seasons. With previous experience at Southern Miss, success in his only head coaching stop and ties to the state, Hopson looks like a good fit in Hattiesburg.
91. Brian Polian, Nevada
Following Chris Ault wasn’t easy, but Polian has stabilized the program after a 4-8 debut in 2013. The Wolf Pack have recorded back-to-back 7-6 records and finished 2015 on a high note by beating Colorado State in the Arizona Bowl. Prior to taking over at Nevada, Polian was an assistant from 2005-09 at Notre Dame and at Stanford from 2010-11. He’s regarded as a good recruiter and has the Wolf Pack positioned for improvement with the return of nine starters on offense in 2016.
90. Bob Davie, New Mexico
Davie inherited a mess after Mike Locksley’s three-year stint at New Mexico. The Lobos won just three games from 2009-11, but this program showed immediate improvement under Davie’s watch, finishing with a 4-9 mark in 2012. After winning 11 games through the first three seasons, Davie had a breakthrough 2015 campaign. The Lobos finished 7-6 last year and claimed the program’s first bowl trip since 2007.
89. David Bailiff, Rice
With its tough academic standards, Rice is one of the toughest jobs in the Group of 5 ranks. While Bailiff has experienced his share of ups and downs since taking over in 2007, the program has won 53 games in nine years and made four bowl trips. Additionally, the Owls won the 2013 Conference USA title and have recorded two winning marks in league play over the last three seasons. After a 5-7 record last year, Bailiff will be looking to guide Rice to its fourth bowl in five years in 2016.
Related: Conference USA Predictions for 2016
88. Bobby Wilder, Old Dominion
Old Dominion is a program with a lot of potential, and Wilder has the Monarchs poised to challenge for a bowl bid in their third season at the FBS level. Wilder is the first coach at Old Dominion since the program returned to the gridiron in 2009. The Monarchs went 9-2 in their first season, followed by an 8-3 mark in 2010. Wilder led the program to an 21-5 record from 2011-12, which included back-to-back trips to the FCS playoffs. After finishing 8-4 in a transition year to the FBS level, Old Dominion is 11-12 over the last two seasons and just missed on a bowl appearance last year. Wilder should have the Monarchs in contention for a winning record this fall.
87. Trent Miles, Georgia State
Georgia State is the second program Miles has brought significant improvement to in a short amount of time. He took over at Indiana State in 2008, and after a 1-22 mark through the first two years, Miles guided the Sycamores to 19 wins from 2010-12. Miles was picked as the second coach in Georgia State program history and inherited a team in need of major repair. The Panthers were still transitioning to the FBS level and were short on depth and overall talent. This program has made significant strides over the last three seasons, as Miles guided Georgia State to a 6-7 record last season and an appearance in the Cure Bowl. Even though Miles’ record in Atlanta is just 7-30, he’s a coach on the rise for 2016.
86. Clay Helton, USC
Helton enters 2016 with plenty to prove and no shortage of pressure. After filling in as an interim coach for the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl and again last year after Steve Sarkisian was dismissed, Helton was promoted to the full-time job at the end of the 2015 regular season. Helton is 6-4 in his limited stint as the program’s head coach and guided USC to the Pac-12 South title last year. However, this is his first opportunity to be a head coach on a full-time basis – and he’s doing it at one of the nation’s top programs. Helton wasted no time putting his stamp on the program by overhauling the staff and finished strong on the recruiting trail by signing the No. 8 class in the nation in February. Helton doesn’t have the big-time name recognition that Lane Kiffin or Sarkisian brought to the program when they were hired. Could that be a good thing for USC? Only time will tell how this hire will work out.
85. Barry Odom, Missouri
Odom has the tough assignment of following Gary Pinkel at Missouri. Pinkel finished his career in Columbia with a school-record 118 victories and guided the program through a transition to the SEC. While Odom has big shoes to fill, he’s certainly up to the task. He’s a former Missouri player (1996-99) and later worked in Columbia as an off-field assistant with Pinkel from 2003-08, before coaching safeties from 2009-11. In 2012, Odom was hired at Memphis as the defensive coordinator and helped the Tigers engineer significant improvement on that side of the ball. Odom was hired as Missouri’s defensive signal-caller last year and led this unit to a No. 2 finish in the SEC in scoring defense. There’s no question about Odom’s ability to coordinate a defense. However, this is his first opportunity to be a head coach at the FBS level.
Related: SEC Predictions for 2016
84. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
After a rough 3-9 debut in 2014, Vanderbilt showed improvement in Mason’s second season with a 4-8 finish. The Commodores also went 2-6 in SEC play after a winless conference record in 2014. Mason’s decision to assume play-calling duties on defense helped to spur the improvement in the win column, as Vanderbilt limited opponents to 21 points a game and 5.2 yards per play. With the defense on track, Mason’s next goal is to generate more improvement out of an offense that managed only 15.2 points a game last season. If the offense takes a step forward, Vanderbilt could push for a bowl game in 2016.
83. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Stoops is making progress at Kentucky, as the Wildcats have recorded back-to-back 5-7 finishes after a 2-10 record in 2013. However, while 2016 isn’t necessarily a make-or-break year for Stoops, getting to a bowl game is a reasonable expectation. The roster talent has improved over the last four years, with Kentucky recording four straight top-40 signing classes. Additionally, Stoops upgraded his staff with the addition of offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. With three winnable SEC games in Lexington, getting to 6-6 isn’t out of the question for Stoops in 2016. The fourth-year coach isn’t on the hot seat, but the pressure is starting to build.
82. Jim Grobe, Baylor
Turmoil has surrounded Baylor’s football program this offseason and continued with the dismissal of coach Art Briles in late May. Instead of promoting from within, the Bears are turning to Grobe as the program’s head coach for the 2016 season. Grobe has been out of coaching since the end of the 2013 season, but he should be a stabilizing force for Baylor. Grobe coached at Ohio from 1995-00 and accumulated a 33-33-1 record with two winning seasons. He was hired at Wake Forest in 2001 and brought significant improvement to one of the ACC’s toughest jobs. Grobe went 77-82 from 2001-13 in Winston-Salem, which included an ACC title and an Orange Bowl appearance in 2006. Grobe isn’t the long-term answer at Baylor, but he’s a good one-year solution.
81. Kalani Sitake, BYU
As a former BYU player, there’s not a coach better equipped to lead the program than Sitake. He does not have any prior head coaching experience, but Sitake has developed a strong resume as an assistant, including stops at Oregon State, Utah and Southern Utah. Sitake also worked under two good head coaches in Utah’s Kyle Whittingham and Oregon State’s Gary Andersen. The schedule isn’t easy for Sitake’s debut, but the Cougars are in good hands with the former Cougar fullback at the helm.
80. Philip Montgomery, Tulsa
Chad Morris and Tom Herman garnered most of the offseason attention among the coaching hires in the American Athletic Conference last year, but Montgomery quietly pieced together an impressive debut. Tulsa went 6-7 last season, which represented a four-game improvement from 2014. Prior to taking over as Tulsa’s head coach, Montgomery worked as an assistant under Art Briles at Houston (2003-07) and again at Baylor from 2008-14. Montgomery is a sharp offensive mind and should have Tulsa back in contention for a bowl trip in 2016.
79. Will Muschamp, South Carolina
Muschamp was fired at Florida after a 28-21 four-year stint from 2011-14, but he’s getting a second chance in the SEC. After one season as Auburn’s defensive coordinator, Muschamp was hired at South Carolina to replace Steve Spurrier. While Muschamp is certainly familiar with life in the SEC, he’s inheriting a program that needs major repair after a 3-9 2015 campaign. And it’s no secret the challenges of winning at Florida and South Carolina are different. Muschamp hired a good staff and is known as a good recruiter, but the access to talent is different at South Carolina. Muschamp will be better in his second stint as a head coach in the SEC. However, this job is more challenging than the one in Gainesville.
Related: SEC Predictions for 2016
78. Bob Diaco, UConn
Offense seems to be the focal point for a league that features coaches like Houston’s Tom Herman, SMU’s Chad Morris and Tulsa’s Philip Montgomery. However, defense leads the way at UConn with Diaco in charge. The New Jersey native was regarded as one of the nation’s top assistants during a stint as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator (2010-13) and helped the Fighting Irish reach the national championship game in 2012. Diaco went 2-10 in his debut (2014), but the Huskies showed improvement in 2015 by finishing with a 6-7 record. Diaco is building a stellar defense in Storrs, and with a little improvement by the offense in 2016, UConn could push for seven or eight wins this fall.
77. Terry Bowden, Akron
Bowden guided the Zips to a breakthrough season in 2015. Akron won eight games – the most in school history – and claimed the program’s first bowl victory (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl). Bowden is 19-30 through four seasons at Akron, but the program has showed marked improvement under his watch. After a 1-11 debut in 2012, the Zips finished 5-7 in back-to-back years before the 2015 breakout campaign. Prior to his stint at Akron, Bowden went 29-9 at North Alabama, 47-17-1 at Auburn, 45-23-1 at Samford and 19-13 at Salem.
76. Craig Bohl, Wyoming
Bohl is just 6-18 through two years at Wyoming, but there’s no reason to panic. After all, this is the coach that went 104-32 at North Dakota State and won three consecutive national championships from 2011-13. It’s only a matter of time before Bohl has Wyoming back in the mix for winning seasons, and 2015 was clearly a rebuilding year with youth littering the depth chart on both sides of the ball. Progress in the win column could be minimal in 2016, but Bohl is still the right coach for this program.
75. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
MacIntyre inherited a mess and a program that went 4-21 from 2011-12 under former coach Jon Embree. There were no quick fixes in MacIntyre’s rebuilding effort, and the former San Jose State coach has made some progress over the last three seasons. The Buffaloes finished 4-8 in MacIntyre’s first year (2013), regressed to 2-10 in 2014 but finished 4-9 last season. While Colorado has been more competitive under MacIntyre’s watch, this program still has only two Pac-12 wins over the last three seasons. Prior to Colorado, MacIntyre went 16-21 in three years at San Jose State, including a 10-2 record in 2012.
Related: Pac-12 Predictions for 2016
74. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State
After cycling through four different full-time head coaches in four years, Arkansas State has stability at the top. Anderson enters his third season with the Red Wolves and has guided the program to back-to-back bowl appearances and a 16-10 record. Arkansas State claimed the Sun Belt title last season and begins 2016 as one of the favorites to win the league crown once again. Prior to Arkansas State, Anderson worked for two years under Larry Fedora at North Carolina and also has stops on his resume as an assistant from Southern Miss, UL Lafayette, MTSU and New Mexico.
73. Rick Stockstill, MTSU
Consistent. That’s the best way to describe Stockstill’s tenure at MTSU. Since taking over the program in 2006, Stockstill has guided the Blue Raiders to a 64-61 record and has four bowl appearances over the last seven years. MTSU has a winning mark in league play over the last four seasons and has only one year of fewer than six wins since 2009. With one of the league’s top quarterback-receiver combinations (Brent Stockstill to Richie James) in place, 2016 could be the perfect opportunity for Stockstill to break through and win the Conference USA East title.
72. Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech
Holtz’s three-year run at South Florida ended after a 16-21 record, but the rest of his resume as a head coach features plenty of highlights. After a four-year stint as an assistant at Notre Dame from 1990-93, Holtz was hired as UConn’s head coach and recorded a 34-23 mark in five seasons. With a chance to work under his father Lou Holtz, Skip returned to the assistant ranks in 1999 at South Carolina and remained with the Gamecocks until 2004. Holtz took over East Carolina’s program in 2005 and guided the Pirates to a 38-27 record and four consecutive bowl trips. While the stint at USF was a disappointment, Holtz is back on track with a 22-17 mark in three years at Louisiana Tech.
71. Rod Carey, Northern Illinois
Carey inherited big shoes to fill from Dave Doeren in 2012. Doeren guided Northern Illinois to a BCS bowl appearance that year, with the Huskies losing 31-10 in the Orange Bowl to Florida State. The program hasn’t slipped under Carey’s watch, as Northern Illinois is 31-11 and has three trips to the MAC title game over the last three seasons. The Huskies finished 8-6 last year, but the program was hit hard by injuries at the quarterback position. Carey should have Northern Illinois back in the mix to win the MAC once again in 2016.
70. Doc Holliday, Marshall
Holliday is known for his recruiting prowess, but he’s doing more than just winning on signing day for the Thundering Herd. Holliday is 50-28 in six seasons and has guided Marshall to three consecutive years of at least 10 wins. The Thundering Herd won the 2014 Conference USA title and finished No. 23 nationally in the Associated Press poll. Additionally, Marshall is 4-0 in bowl games under Holliday’s watch.
69. Frank Solich, Ohio
Solich is the dean of MAC coaches and enters 2016 with a 138-80 record in his career. Solich guided Nebraska to a 58-19 record from 1998-03 and was hired at Ohio in 2005. The Bobcats are 80-61 under Solich and only have two losing seasons since his arrival. Additionally, Ohio has played in six bowl games over the last seven years and recorded three trips to the MAC title game since 2006. Solich isn’t flashy, but he’s brought consistent success to the Bobcats.
68. Mark Hudspeth, UL Lafayette
Hudspeth opened his tenure at UL Lafayette with four straight 9-4 campaigns and four consecutive trips to the New Orleans Bowl. Even though the Ragin’ Cajuns had personnel losses to overcome for 2015, this program wasn’t expected to suffer too much in the win column. However, Hudspeth’s team slipped to 4-8 and finished the year with a four-game losing streak. Was 2015 just a small speed bump for Hudspeth? The guess here is yes, as the Ragin’ Cajuns should rebound back into a bowl this fall.
67. Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State
Replacing a coaching legend like Jerry Moore wasn’t easy for Satterfield, but the former Appalachian State quarterback has settled in and emerged as the top coach in the Sun Belt. Satterfield went 4-8 in his debut with the Mountaineers in 2013 but guided the program to a 7-5 mark in its first year at the FBS level. Appalachian State fell just short of a Sun Belt title last season with an 11-2 record and also earned the program’s first bowl victory with a 31-29 win over Ohio in the Camellia Bowl. Prior to taking over as the head coach at Appalachian State, Satterfield worked from 1998-08 as an assistant under Moore and also had short stints at Toledo (2009) and FIU (2010-11).
66. Matt Wells, Utah State
Last season’s 6-7 record represented Utah State’s first losing mark since 2010. Even though the six victories was a disappointment, this program has progressed significantly after recording zero winning seasons from 1998-2010. Wells is 25-16 over the last three years and has not finished lower than second in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division. Additionally, Utah State has played in three consecutive bowl games. Injuries and turnover in the assistant coach ranks have hit the program hard over the last couple of seasons, but the Aggies are still in good shape with Wells on the sidelines.
65. Lovie Smith, Illinois
Even though the timing (March) was unusual, new athletic director Josh Whitman wasted no time putting his stamp on the program. On his first official day on the job, Whitman fired Bill Cubit and made a standout hire by bringing Smith to Champaign. While Smith hasn’t coached in college since 1995, he brings plenty of name value to Illinois, which should add credibility on the recruiting trail. In 11 seasons as a head coach in the NFL, Smith went 89-87 and guided the Bears to a Super Bowl appearance in 2006. It may take a year for Smith to adjust to the collegiate ranks, and he’s already getting a late start due to the March hire. However, he hired a good staff to ease the transition and there’s plenty of potential for this program to improve in the Big Ten West.
64. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
Clawson wasn’t going to be able to immediately turn around Wake Forest in his first two seasons, but there have been signs of improvement. The Demon Deacons are 6-18 under Clawson’s direction and have recorded back-to-back 1-7 records in ACC play. But the program’s depth and talent level is improving, as evidenced by four losses coming by eight points or less in 2015. Clawson is a proven winner from three prior stops – Bowling Green, Richmond and Fordham – and has a blueprint for getting Wake Forest back in contention for winning seasons. With a favorable schedule ahead in 2016, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Demon Deacons hit the six-win mark.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2016
63. Dave Doeren, NC State
Doeren replaced Tom O’Brien at NC State after a successful two-year stint at Northern Illinois and has made steady progress over the last three seasons in Raleigh. The Wolfpack went 3-9 in Doeren’s debut but rebounded with an 8-5 mark in 2014 and finished 7-6 last year. Additionally, NC State has recorded back-to-back bowl trips and has inked three consecutive top 50 recruiting classes. While there are signs of progress, Doeren is just 6-18 in conference play and has yet to defeat a Power 5 opponent that finished a season with a winning record. The 2016 schedule is challenging, and the Wolfpack have to break in a new quarterback with Jacoby Brissett out of eligibility. This fall should provide good insight into just how far this program has developed under Doeren’s watch.
62. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan
Fleck is known for his energy and ability to recruit. However, through three seasons at Western Michigan, Fleck is proving to be more than a coach that just wins on signing day. After a 1-11 record in Fleck’s first season (2013), the Broncos are 16-10 over the last two years. Additionally, the program is coming off back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history. Fleck also guided Western Michigan to its first postseason win by defeating MTSU 45-31 in the Bahamas Bowl last year. With 13 returning starters back for 2016, Western Michigan should challenge for its first trip to the MAC title game since 2000.
61. Jeff Brohm, WKU
In just two seasons at WKU, Brohm has quickly emerged as the No. 1 coach in Conference USA. Brohm was promoted to head coach in 2014 after Bobby Petrino left to return to Louisville. The Hilltoppers finished 8-5 in Brohm’s first year but claimed the Conference USA title with a 12-2 mark in 2015. Additionally, Brohm has emerged as one of the top offensive minds in the Group of 5 ranks. WKU has ranked inside of the top 10 nationally in scoring offense over the last two seasons and finished third nationally by averaging 7.23 yards a play in 2015. Even with quarterback Brandon Doughty off to the NFL, WKU’s program is in good hands with Brohm leading the way.
60. D.J. Durkin, Maryland
Durkin was considered one of the rising stars in the assistant ranks over the last few seasons and lands at a program (Maryland) with some upside. The Ohio native comes to College Park after one season at Michigan, where he coordinated a Wolverine defense that ranked third in the Big Ten in fewest points allowed. Prior to Michigan, Durkin worked for five seasons at Florida and also spent time at Stanford (2007-09) and Bowling Green (2005-06). Durkin has a lot of work ahead in 2016 after Maryland finished 3-9 last year. However, Durkin hired a good staff and should be able to utilize his experience as an assistant under two of the nation’s best coaches – Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh – to help Maryland improve over the next few seasons.
59. Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati
After back-to-back 9-4 seasons, Tuberville slipped to 7-6 in his third year at Cincinnati. The win total regression was largely due bad luck with a minus-19 turnover margin. A quick rebound to nine wins again wouldn’t be a surprise for the Bearcats, as there’s a track record of success for Tuberville. He went 20-17 at Texas Tech from 2010-12, 85-40 at Auburn from 1999-08 and 25-20 at Ole Miss from 1995-98. In Tuberville’s 20-year coaching career, he’s had only four seasons with losing records.
58. Matt Rhule, Temple
Rhule delivered a breakout season for Temple in 2015, as the Owls tied a program record with 10 victories. Temple finished 10-4 overall last year and claimed the American Athletic East Division title. Rhule is no stranger to success at Temple, as he worked as an assistant under Al Golden from 2006-10 and again for one year with Steve Addazio (2011). Rhule also has one season of experience in the NFL, working with the Giants’ offensive line in 2012. After three years at Temple, it’s clear Rhule is one of the top coaches in the Group of 5 ranks.
57. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
The bar is set high at any program whenever nine wins is considered a disappointing year. That’s the standard set at Boise State, as the Broncos are one of the top Group of 5 programs and should challenge for the bowl spot in the New Year’s Six on an annual basis. Harsin did just that in year one, finishing 12-2 with a victory over Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl in 2014. However, the Broncos slipped to 9-4 last year and lost the division title to Air Force. Don’t expect Boise State to be under 10 wins for too long, as Harsin has this program on the verge of a quick rebound in 2016.
56. Willie Taggart, South Florida
Taggart was feeling the pressure to produce after a 6-18 start to his tenure at South Florida. But Taggart certainly eased concerns about the direction of the program with an 8-5 mark and a trip to the Miami Beach Bowl last year. The 8-5 record improved Taggart’s overall mark at USF to 14-23, and the Bulls should start out 2016 as the favorite to win the American Athletic East Division. Prior to taking over at USF, Taggart went 16-20 in three years at WKU, which included back-to-back 7-5 campaigns. After a slow start to his tenure, Taggart seems to have this program trending up for 2016 and beyond.
55. Rocky Long, San Diego State
With a fertile recruiting area in its backyard, San Diego State has been considered a sleeping giant. After having some sporadic success from 1986-2009, this program took a big step forward in 2010 with a 9-4 mark in Brady Hoke’s second year with the Aztecs. After Hoke left for Michigan, Long was promoted to the top spot. Under his watch, San Diego State continues to climb even higher in the Mountain West. The Aztecs have earned four consecutive bowl trips and finished 2015 by tying the school record with 11 victories. Long also worked as New Mexico’s head coach from 1998-08, guiding the program to a 65-69 record with five bowl trips. He’s also regarded as one of the top defensive minds in the Group of 5 conferences and should have San Diego State in contention for 10 (or more) wins in 2016.
54. Kirby Smart, Georgia
Smart patiently waited for his first opportunity to be a head coach, and the former Georgia defensive back lands at his alma mater after nine seasons at Alabama. While Smart is back at his alma mater, there’s plenty of pressure to win right away. After all, he’s replacing a coach (Mark Richt) who won 145 games in 15 seasons. The challenge for Smart is simple: Elevate Georgia into contention for playoff berths and be a consistent SEC title contender. That’s something that has eluded the Bulldogs in recent years, as the program’s last SEC title was in 2005. Smart certainly has the right background and experience to win big. However, this is his first opportunity to be a head coach and it comes at one of top 10 jobs in the nation.
53. Willie Fritz, Tulane
Tulane made one of the offseason’s best coaching hires by bringing Fritz to New Orleans after a successful two-year stint at Georgia Southern. From 2014-15 with the Eagles, Fritz went 17-7 and helped the program complete a successful transition to the FBS level. Prior to taking over at Georgia Southern, Fritz guided Sam Houston State to 40 wins from 2010-13 and back-to-back appearances in the FCS Championship (2011-12). He also coached at Central Missouri from 1997-09, recording a 97-47 mark in that span. Fritz has been a winner at each coaching stop and should continue that track record at Tulane over the next few years.
52. Matt Campbell, Iowa State
Campbell was an outstanding hire for Iowa State and easily one of the best coaching moves of the 2015-16 carousel. The 36-year-old coach comes to Ames after four full seasons (and one bowl game in 2011), earning a 35-15 record with the Rockets. Toledo did not have a losing season under Campbell’s watch and recorded bowl trips in three out of four years. Campbell has been on a fast rise through the coaching ranks and played his college ball at the ultra-successful Mount Union program. Iowa State is a tough job, so Campbell will find it tough to match is win total from Toledo on an annual basis. However, the Cyclones should take a step forward under Campbell’s direction and contend for bowl games on a consistent basis.
51. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Kingsbury is known as one of the nation’s top offensive-minded coaches and has Texas Tech trending up after a 7-6 mark in 2015. The Red Raiders went 8-5 in Kingsbury’s debut (2013) but regressed to 4-8 in 2014. However, Texas Tech had a solid rebound year last season and could challenge for a winning mark in Big 12 play in 2016. Prior to taking over as the head coach in Lubbock, Kingsbury engineered some of the nation’s top offenses at Houston and Texas A&M. At 36 years old, Kingsbury is still learning on the job and could move up this list in future seasons.
50. Troy Calhoun, Air Force
Air Force has been a consistent winner under Calhoun’s watch, and the program is coming off its first trip to the Mountain West Conference title game. The Falcons won the Mountain Division last year and lost by three points on the road at San Diego State in the conference title game. Calhoun has recorded a 67-50 mark since replacing Fisher DeBerry in 2007. Air Force also has eight bowl appearances under Calhoun and just one season of fewer than six wins. Calhoun is also the Mountain West’s longest-tenured coach and the 18 victories over the last two years is the best mark by the program since posting 22 from 1997-98.
49. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
Chryst had a solid debut in his return to Madison, as the Badgers finished 10-3 and capped the 2015 season with a victory over USC in the Holiday Bowl. Chryst is entrenched in the program, as he’s a Madison native, played his college ball with the Badgers and spent time as an assistant at Wisconsin under Barry Alvarez in 2005 and with Bret Bielema from 2006-11. However, Chryst will be tested in 2016, as Wisconsin takes on a brutal schedule, including a non-conference game versus LSU and crossover matchups in Big Ten play against Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State. Prior to taking over for Gary Andersen at Wisconsin, Chryst went 19-19 in three years at Pittsburgh. So far, so good for Chryst at his alma mater.
48. Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Things are looking up for Indiana after the Hoosiers reached the postseason for the first time in Kevin Wilson’s tenure. After a 1-11 debut in 2011, Indiana has made progress under Wilson’s watch, finishing with at least four wins in each of the last four seasons. That may seem like a small feat, but this job is the toughest in the Big Ten East and has only two bowl appearances since 1994. Indiana has been more competitive under Wilson, and he was rewarded with a contract extension at the end of the 2015 season. Additionally, the program is investing more into facilities and stepped up in assistant salaries to hire Tom Allen as the program’s new defensive coordinator. The Big Ten East isn’t forgiving, but Indiana will be a tough out for the rest of the division with Wilson continuing to push this program to improve over the next few years.
47. Steve Addazio, Boston College
After starting his tenure at Boston College with back-to-back 7-6 records, the Eagles regressed with a 3-9 mark in 2015. However, it’s unfair to penalize Addazio too much for last year’s record, as the Eagles were hit hard by injuries on offense and averaged only 9.1 points in ACC contests. Can Addazio quickly get Boston College back on track? The defense ranked among the nation’s best last year and still returns enough of a core (six starters) to prevent a huge drop in production. Additionally, the addition of transfer quarterback Patrick Towles should provide some stability to the offense. Prior to Boston College, Addazio went 13-11 in two years at Temple and also worked as an assistant at Florida, Indiana and Notre Dame.
46. Dino Babers, Syracuse
Babers is one of the top coaching hires in the 2015-16 coaching carousel and comes to Syracuse after a successful two-year stint at Bowling Green. The Orange needed to get this hire right, as the program can’t afford to fall too far behind in the top-heavy ACC Atlantic. Under Babers’ watch, the Falcons won back-to-back MAC East titles and finished 18-9 from 2014-15. Prior to Bowling Green, Babers went 19-7 in two seasons at Eastern Illinois (2012-13) and also made stops as an assistant at Baylor, UCLA, Pittsburgh, Texas A&M and Arizona. Babers’ four-year stint at Baylor as an assistant under Art Briles proved to be one of the most influential stops in his career and helped the California native emerge as one of the nation’s top offensive minds. Babers led Bowling Green’s offense to an average of 42.2 points a game last season and also developed Jimmy Garoppolo into a NFL draft pick while at Eastern Illinois. Hiring Babers should help get Syracuse moving back in the right direction.
45. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Holgorsen enters 2016 in an interesting position. Last season, the Mountaineers recorded their highest win total (eight) since joining the Big 12 in 2012. However, contract negotiations between Holgorsen and athletic director Shane Lyons ended earlier this spring. Holgorsen is not signed beyond 2017, so there’s some uncertainty about his future in Morgantown. Under Holgorsen’s watch, West Virginia is 36-28 overall and has played in four bowl games over the last five years.
44. Sonny Dykes, California
Coming off his best season at California (8-5 in 2015), Dykes has momentum and a contract extension on his side. The Golden Bears went 1-11 in Dykes’ first year with the program but improved to 5-7 in 2014 and recorded their first winning season since 2011 with a solid 8-5 campaign in 2015. Additionally, quarterback Jared Goff went No. 1 in the NFL Draft, which certainly doesn’t hurt Dykes on the recruiting trail. The Golden Bears also received good news in mid-May, as transfer quarterback Davis Webb is headed to California instead of Colorado. Repeating last year’s 8-5 mark will be tough, but Dykes has this program trending in the right direction.
43. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia
Mendenhall might be one of the nation’s most intriguing coaches to watch in 2016. Virginia’s decision to hire Mendenhall to replace Mike London was arguably the biggest surprise of the offseason coaching carousel. Mendenhall has spent most of his career out west, including stops as an assistant at Oregon State, Northern Arizona, New Mexico and BYU. Mendenhall was promoted to head coach at BYU in 2005 and led the Cougars to 99 wins over the last 11 years. Mendenhall has a strong track record of success and is regarded for his work with defenses. However, the schedule will be tough on annual basis and adapting to a new recruiting area and conference opponents will require a transition period.
42. Gary Andersen, Oregon State
Andersen’s decision to leave Wisconsin for Oregon State came as a surprise. In his two seasons with the Badgers, Andersen went 19-7 and guided the program to a Big Ten West Division title in 2014. And prior to Wisconsin, Andersen went 26-24 at Utah State and finished his tenure in Logan with back-to-back bowl appearances. While Andersen’s hire came as a surprise, Oregon State’s 2015 performance was not. The Beavers were in clear rebuild mode last year and struggled to a 2-10 finish. Andersen has a track record of success but it’s going to take some time to get the Beavers back in contention for winning seasons.
41. Mike Riley, Nebraska
A 6-7 record in his first season at Nebraska certainly isn’t what Riley had in mind. However, a deeper look at the Cornhuskers’ 2015 season shows this team wasn’t far from eight or nine wins. Six of Nebraska’s seven losses came by eight points or less, with the close defeats largely fueled by a minus-12 turnover margin. With small improvement in the turnover department, the Cornhuskers should be able to rebound back into the right side of the winning column in 2016. Prior to Nebraska, Riley went 93-80 at Oregon State – one of the Pac-12’s toughest jobs – and also spent time in the NFL as a head coach with the Chargers. And here’s another positive sign for Nebraska: The Cornhuskers are off to a great start on the recruiting trail for the 2017 signing class. Riley didn’t inherit a team stocked with depth and was hit by some bad luck last year. 2016 should provide some better insight into the direction of this program under Riley’s watch.
40. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy
Navy embarked on a new era for its football program in 2015 by joining the American Athletic Conference. However, the change from being a FBS independent to a conference member didn’t have any impact on the Midshipmen. Niumatalolo guided Navy to a school-record 11 wins last season and finished No. 18 in the final Associated Press poll. Under Niumatalolo’s direction, the Midshipmen are 68-37 since the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl and have only one season of fewer than eight wins.
39. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh
Narduzzi ranks ninth among his ACC counterparts for 2016, but the second-year coach should move up this list in future seasons. In his first year in the Steel City, Narduzzi led Pittsburgh to an 8-5 overall record and a second-place finish in the ACC’s Coastal Division. Three of the five losses last season were by a touchdown or less, with the other two defeats coming at the hands of Notre Dame and Navy (in its home stadium in the Military Bowl). Narduzzi has Pittsburgh trending in the right direction and should have this team positioned for another run at eight or nine wins in 2016.
38. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
A case could be made for Johnson to rank higher among his ACC counterparts here, but the Yellow Jackets are coming off their worst season (3-9) since a 1-10 mark in 1994. Despite the disappointing 2015 campaign, Georgia Tech is 61-44 under Johnson’s direction and is just one year removed from winning 11 games and the Orange Bowl in 2014. Additionally, the Yellow Jackets have just one losing season (2015) in ACC play under Johnson. A quick turnaround in 2016 wouldn’t be a surprise with Johnson’s track record, as he went 62-10 in five seasons at Georgia Southern (1997-01) and 45-29 at Navy (2002-07) before landing at Georgia Tech in 2008.
37. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Sumlin has slipped on this list over the last few seasons, and 2016 will be an important year for the fifth-year coach. After an 11-2 finish in 2012, Texas A&M went 9-4 in 2013 and recorded back-to-back 8-5 campaigns. Additionally, the Aggies are just 11-13 in SEC play over the last three seasons and have not finished in the top 25 over the last two years. Sumlin’s program also suffered a setback with the departure of two talented quarterbacks – Kyler Murray and Kyle Allen – prior to last season’s bowl game. Graduate transfer Trevor Knight alleviates some of the concern under center, but the Aggies are also breaking in a new offense behind coordinator Noel Mazzone. Sumlin took a step forward by hiring John Chavis to coordinate the defense last year, and now it’s up to Mazzone to provide stability on offense.
36. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
Fedora delivered a breakout year in his fourth season in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels finished 11-3, won the Coastal Division and finished No. 15 nationally in the Associated Press poll. The 11-win season was a huge boost for Fedora after 6-7 mark in 2014. Fedora has a solid 32-20 record over the last four years and has never finished below .500 in ACC play. Prior to North Carolina, Fedora had a successful stint at Southern Miss, recording a 34-19 mark in four seasons. The Tar Heels face a tougher schedule and have a few key personnel question marks to address, but Fedora’s team opens 2016 as the favorite in the ACC Coastal.
35. Jim Mora, UCLA
The Pac-12 has one of the nation’s deepest collections of coaches. Need evidence? Mora ranks eighth on this list, but a strong argument could be made for the UCLA head coach to rank higher after a 37-16 mark over the last four seasons. Under Mora’s watch, the Bruins have won at least eight games every year and claimed the Pac-12 South title in 2012. UCLA has some key players to replace from its 2015 team, but a favorable schedule and the development of sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen has this program poised to enter the 2016 season as the favorite in the South Division.
34. Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Life after Marcus Mariota wasn’t going to be easy, but Oregon’s 2015 season was hindered by an early-season injury to quarterback Vernon Adams. After a 3-3 start, Helfrich guided the Ducks to a 9-4 final record in 2015, which included road wins at Washington, Arizona State and Stanford. The nine-win season elevated Helfrich to 33-8 in three years at Oregon and an impressive 22-5 mark in Pac-12 play. Helfrich faces a couple of challenges in 2016, as the Ducks need to improve on defense and find a quarterback to replace Adams. The hire of Brady Hoke as the team’s new defensive coordinator should help, and Helfrich seems to have two capable quarterbacks in Dakota Prukop and Travis Jonsen.
33. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
Fuente has big shoes to fill in replacing Virginia Tech coaching legend Frank Beamer. However, as Fuente’s four-year run at Memphis showed, he’s certainly capable of keeping Virginia Tech near the top of the ACC. Fuente inherited a Memphis program that was in disarray and won three games in the two years prior to his arrival. The Tigers showed steady improvement under his watch, winning four games in 2012 and transitioned to the American Athletic Conference in 2013. Memphis went 3-9 in the tougher AAC but finished 19-6 from 2014-15. The Tigers’ 10-win season in 2014 set a new program high for wins and also resulted in Memphis’ first top 25 finish in the Associated Press poll. Fuente is also regarded for his work with quarterbacks and played a key role in Andy Dalton’s development at TCU during his stint as the offensive coordinator from 2009-11.
32. Charlie Strong, Texas
With an 11-14 record through two seasons in Austin, the pressure is starting to build on Strong to turn things around. While Strong didn’t inherit a roster filled with talent, Texas is one of college football’s best jobs and the expectation level is certainly higher than six wins. After a 6-7 record in his first year, Strong went 5-7 last season and the losing mark prompted changes. Five new assistants were hired, including Sterlin Gilbert as the team’s play-caller on offense to bring a new spread, up-tempo approach to Texas. Strong has a track record of turning around programs, as evidenced by his 37-15 mark in four years at Louisville (2010-13). Assuming Texas continues to recruit at a high level and the offense improves in 2016, the future still looks bright for Strong’s long-term outlook in Austin.
Related: 15 Biggest Wild Card Teams for 2016
31. James Franklin, Penn State
After a 24-15 three-year stint at Vanderbilt, high expectations surrounded Franklin’s arrival at Penn State. However, improvement has been tough to come by for the Nittany Lions over the last two seasons. Penn State has posted back-to-back 7-6 records under Franklin, but the program was still digging out from recent NCAA sanctions. Entering 2016, Penn State’s overall depth has improved with back-to-back top 20 signing classes, and Franklin is attempting to fix the offensive woes by hiring Joe Moorhead as the program’s new play-caller. Franklin didn’t have the instant success most predicted at Penn State, but there’s still plenty of time for the third-year coach to get the Nittany Lions closer to Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in the Big Ten East pecking order.
30. Jim McElwain, Florida
An argument could be made for McElwain to rank higher on this list after leading the Gators to a SEC East title and a 10-4 record in his first season in Gainesville. McElwain’s first year came with its share of obstacles, as Florida lost starting quarterback Will Grier to a midseason suspension and struggled on offense in the second half of 2015. Despite the offensive woes, the Gators still managed to hold onto the East title and head into 2016 as a projected top 25 team. Prior to Florida, McElwain went 22-16 at Colorado State, increasing his win total each year after a 4-8 debut in 2012. One area for McElwain to work on - recruiting. Florida has ranked No. 13 (2016) and No. 21 (2015) after three top-10 finishes from 2012-14.
29. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Malzahn’s tenure at Auburn started on a high note with a 12-2 record and an appearance in the national championship. The Tigers fell short of winning it all in 2013, but all signs seemed to point to this program as one on the rise. However, that hasn’t been the case. Over the last two seasons, Auburn is just 15-11 and needed a win over Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl to avoid a losing record (7-6). Additionally, the 2-6 mark in SEC play last year was the program’s lowest win total in conference action since 2012. Another problem spot for Malzahn was his side of the ball - the offense. The Tigers averaged 5.4 yards per play – the lowest of Malzahn’s tenure as head coach. With a declining win total in each of the last two seasons, 2016 is shaping up to be a critical year for Malzahn.
Related: SEC Predictions for 2016
28. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
A year after a Pac-12 South title and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, Arizona took a step back in the win column with a 7-6 overall mark and a 3-6 record in league play. The seven wins in 2015 were the fewest by Arizona under Rodriguez’s watch, but despite injuries to key players on offense, the Wildcats earned their fourth consecutive winning record. Rodriguez is widely regarded as one of the nation’s top offensive minds and should get this program back on track over the next two seasons. Scoring points won’t be a problem for the Wildcats, but the defense has to improve. Rodriguez took steps to fix this unit in the offseason, hiring new play-caller Marcel Yates to highlight a revamped staff. Prior to taking over in Tucson, Rodriguez went 60-26 at West Virginia from 2001-07 and 15-22 in three years at Michigan.
27. Todd Graham, Arizona State
High expectations surrounded Arizona State last season, but the Sun Devils finished with their lowest win total (six) in Todd Graham’s four years in Tempe. The 6-7 record last season was just the second losing mark in Graham’s 10-year career as a FBS head coach. However, it’s safe to assume Graham won’t allow Arizona State to be down for long. Graham has a strong track record of success at the FBS level, leading Rice to a six-game improvement in the win column in his only year with the Owls (2006), finishing 36-17 at Tulsa from 2007-10 and leading Pittsburgh to a 6-6 mark in one season (2011) with the Panthers.
26. Mike Leach, Washington State
Entering his fifth year in Pullman, Leach seems to have Washington State poised to challenge for eight or nine wins on a consistent basis. After a surprising loss to Portland State in Week 1 last season, the Cougars rebounded by winning nine games and finished 6-3 in league play – the program’s first winning mark in Pac-12 action since 2003. Under Leach’s watch, Washington State is 21-29 overall and has played in two bowl games over the last four years. Success is nothing new to Leach, as he went 84-43 at Texas Tech from 2000-09. Leach is one of college football’s top offensive-minded coaches and returns one of the nation’s top quarterbacks for 2016 in Luke Falk.
25. Les Miles, LSU
Miles might be the toughest coach to rank in the SEC. He’s won 112 games in 11 seasons, guided LSU to the 2007 national championship and a No. 2 finish in 2011. However, Miles was nearly fired at the end of 2015 and the Tigers have not finished higher than No. 13 in the Associated Press poll over the last four years. That’s not ideal for a program that has the No. 4 roster in the nation and averages a 6.2 finish in signing classes over the last five seasons. Additionally, LSU is just 14-10 in SEC play in the last three years. With Leonard Fournette and a strong defense returning, the Tigers could win it all in 2016. However, after last year’s bizarre coaching drama and recent finishes, LSU – just like its coach – is one of the hardest teams to figure out this offseason.
24. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
A quick peek at Northwestern’s year-by-year history provides plenty of insight into why Fitzgerald deserves a spot among the Big Ten’s top coaches. The Wildcats have made 12 bowl trips in program history, with six coming under Fitzgerald’s watch. Additionally, two of the program’s four double-digit win seasons occurred in Fitzgerald’s tenure. Overall, the former Northwestern linebacker has guided his alma mater to a 70-56 record and two top 25 finishes in the Associated Press poll. Winning at Northwestern isn’t easy, but Fitzgerald has transformed this program into a consistent bowl team.
23. Butch Jones, Tennessee
Tennessee has made steady progress over the last three seasons and is poised to win the SEC East in 2016. Jones is the driving force behind the improvement, as the Volunteers have increased their win total by two games in each of the last two years. Tennessee went 5-7 in Jones’ first season (2013) but rebounded to 7-6 in 2014 and finished 9-4 in 2015. Last year’s nine wins were the most for this program since a 10-win season in 2007. The Volunteers are also recruiting at a higher level, inking three consecutive top-15 classes after recording a No. 24 finish in 2013 and a No. 20 rank in 2012. Tennessee isn’t the first successful coaching stop for Jones, as he went 27-13 in three years at Central Michigan (2007-10) and finished 23-14 in three seasons at Cincinnati (2010-12).
22. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Whittingham’s stock continues to rise among Pac-12 coaches after leading Utah to a 10-3 record last season – the program’s best mark since joining the league in 2011. Additionally, the Utes have back-to-back finishes (2014-15) in the Associated Press poll for the first time since 2008-09. Whittingham has only two losing seasons in his Utah tenure and has four years of at least 10 wins, including a perfect 13-0 mark in 2008. Utah doesn’t recruit on the same level as South Division rivals UCLA or USC, but the Utes will always be a factor in the Pac-12 with Whittingham leading the way.
21. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State has emerged as an annual threat to win the Big 12 title under Gundy’s watch, and last year’s 10-3 mark represented the Cowboys fourth double-digit win season over the last six years. The 10-win season was capped by an appearance in the Sugar Bowl, giving Gundy 10 consecutive bowl trips. In 11 years guiding his alma mater, Gundy is 94-47 and is already the winningest coach in program history. The Cowboys finished No. 3 nationally in 2011 and have not experienced a losing season since 2005.
20. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Mississippi State is the toughest job in the SEC West, but the program has made steady progress under Dan Mullen’s watch. The Bulldogs have recorded six consecutive winning seasons and set a school record with 19 victories over the last two years. Additionally, Mullen has guided Mississippi State to six straight bowl games after the program recorded just one postseason trip from 2001-09. The Bulldogs also spent time as the No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff committee rankings in 2014. Despite losing quarterback Dak Prescott and a couple of other key contributors in 2016, Mullen won’t let Mississippi State slide too far in the SEC West.
19. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Ferentz’s tenure at Iowa seemed to be at a crossroads entering 2015. After an 11-2 finish in 2009, the Hawkeyes failed to win more than eight games in a season over the next five years, which included a 4-8 mark in 2012. And after a 7-6 record in 2014, Ferentz’s seat was starting to warm. However, Ferentz and Iowa responded with a school-record 12 wins, fell just short of winning the Big Ten title and made the program’s first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1990. Since taking over in 1999, Ferentz has recorded a 127-87 record and has only one losing season since 2001.
Related: Big Ten Predictions for 2016
18. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Bielema inherited a program in need of repair after a 4-8 mark under John L. Smith in 2012. Establishing a foundation for success took a year, as the Razorbacks went 3-9 in Bielema’s debut, but there were signs of progress late in the 2013 season. Arkansas used that momentum to finish 7-6 in 2014, which included a 31-7 Texas Bowl blowout over Texas. And the Razorbacks took another step forward in 2015, finishing 8-5 and 5-3 in conference play and just outside of the top 25 in the final Associated Press poll. Considering how difficult the SEC West is, going from 0-8 in conference play (2013) to 5-3 (2015) is quite an accomplishment for Bielema. Entering 2016, it’s clear Bielema has this program trending up and on stable ground.
17. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Over the last few seasons, no team in the SEC West has improved its standing nationally more than Ole Miss. Freeze is a big reason for the improvement, as he came to Oxford with a track record of success. Freeze went 20-5 in two seasons at Lambuth and finished 10-2 in his only year at Arkansas State (2011). It didn’t take long for Freeze to generate improvement at Ole Miss, as the Rebels increased their win total by five games in his first year. And after an 8-5 finish in 2013, Ole Miss continued its rise with a 9-4 record in 2014, followed by a 10-3 mark in 2015. The program has recorded back-to-back New Year’s Six bowl appearances and finished No. 10 in the Associated Press poll last year. While three NFL first-round picks must be replaced in 2016, Ole Miss is equipped to handle the transition with four straight top-20 recruiting classes.
16. Mark Richt, Miami
Despite winning 145 games in 15 seasons at Georgia, Richt was dismissed at the 2015 regular season. While Richt won plenty of games at Georgia, a change of scenery (for both parties) and a return to his alma mater isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Richt seems to be energized by transition to Miami, and his return to Coral Gables should help this program take a step forward. The Hurricanes are still looking for their first trip to the ACC title game, and Richt should be the right coach to get this team back in contention for division titles and top 25 finishes. Another bonus for Miami in the coaching transition: Richt plans on calling the plays in 2016.
15. David Cutcliffe, Duke
Thanks to Cutcliffe’s nine-year run with the Blue Devils, Duke is no longer an easy pick to finish in the cellar of the ACC Coastal. Prior to Cutcliffe’s arrival in 2008, the Blue Devils recorded 13 consecutive losing seasons. Cutcliffe guided the program to 15 wins in his first four years, before leading Duke to a 6-7 mark and a bowl trip in 2012. Since 2012, the Blue Devils are 27-13 and have played in three consecutive bowls, with an ACC Coastal title in 2013.
14. Tom Herman, Houston
The H-Town Takeover for Herman and Houston’s football program is officially underway. In Herman’s first season, the Cougars won the American Athletic Conference, finished with a 13-1 record and defeated Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. And with a strong core of talent returning for 2016, Herman has Houston positioned as the top Group of 5 program once again this season. Herman was regarded as one of the nation’s top assistant coaches prior to his hire with the Cougars. Herman worked as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer from 2012-14 and was an instrumental part of the Buckeyes’ 2014 championship team. Herman also has stops as a play-caller at Iowa State, Texas State and Rice. Herman is the top coach from the Group of 5 ranks.
13. Chris Petersen, Washington
Petersen’s record through two seasons in Seattle is only 15-12, but there are plenty of signs this program is on the right path. The Huskies went 8-6 in Petersen’s first year (2014) and finished 7-6 last season. Despite the slight decrease in wins, Washington was considered a top 25 team in advanced metrics. The seven-win 2015 campaign featured a handful of underclassmen in key roles and an additional year of experience should allow the Huskies to push for a breakout year and contend for the Pac-12 title. Prior to Washington, Petersen went 92-12 and claimed two BCS bowl victories in eight seasons at Boise State. Although it’s a small sample size, Petersen has already emerged one of the Pac-12’s top coaches.
12. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
If this list was just based on the X’s and O’s ability of a coach, Petrino would be ranked No. 2 in the ACC over Clemson’s Dabo Swinney. In his second stint with the Cardinals, Petrino – regarded as one of the nation’s top offensive-minded coaches – is 17-9 over the last two seasons and has Louisville projected to finish among the nation’s top 25 teams for 2016. Petrino also has stops on his resume from Arkansas (2008-11) and WKU (2013), with a four-year run at Louisville from 2003-06. Entering 2016, Petrino has the program on stable ground and poised to be a consistent top 25 team over the next few seasons.
11. Bill Snyder, Kansas State
An argument could be made for Snyder as the top Big 12 coach in Athlon’s 2016 rankings. The Wildcats are always a dangerous opponent with Snyder on the sidelines, and the 76-year-old coach has completely changed the outlook of this program. Prior to Snyder’s arrival in 1989, Kansas State had only two winning seasons since 1955 and just one bowl appearance in program history. After a 1-10 mark in 1989, Snyder went 5-6 in his second year and has won at least four games in every season since his debut. Snyder had a brief retirement in 2006, but he returned to the sidelines in 2009 and has guided Kansas State to six straight bowl appearances and recorded 21 wins from 2011-12. Considering how difficult of a job Kansas State is and the lack of success prior to 1989, it’s a strong testament to Snyder’s coaching ability for this program to have 193 wins under his watch.
10. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish just missed out an appearance in the College Football Playoff last season, but Kelly has the program on stable ground and poised for another run at the top four in 2016. Since taking over in South Bend in 2010, Kelly is 55-23 at Notre Dame, including an appearance in the BCS National Championship game in 2012. The Fighting Irish have won at least eight games in each of Kelly’s seasons at the helm and finished No. 11 in the Associated Press poll last year. Winning at a high level at different programs is nothing new for Kelly. From 1991-03, Kelly went 118-35-2 at Grand Valley State, including back-to-back Division II titles (2002-03). Additionally, he went 19-16 in three years at Central Michigan (2004-06) and 34-6 at Cincinnati from 2004-06. Kelly is a proven winner at four different jobs and clearly has a place among the top 15 coaches in the nation.
9. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Swinney continues to raise expectations at Clemson. The Tigers fell just short in their quest to win the national title last season and are loaded for another run in 2016. Under Swinney’s watch, Clemson has shed its underachieving label. The Tigers have won at least 10 games in each of the last five seasons and claimed the 2011 and 2015 ACC Championships. Swinney has surrounded himself with a good staff of assistants, including one of the nation’s top defensive minds in Brent Venables. Clemson’s recruiting is also trending up. The Tigers average a 13.2 finish nationally over the last five seasons, which is second in the ACC to Florida State (4.6).
8. David Shaw, Stanford
Stanford’s rigid academic standards are no secret, but the tough admissions and smaller prospect pool hasn’t stopped Shaw from transforming this program into a top 10-15 team nationally on an annual basis. Over the last five seasons, Shaw has guided Stanford to a 54-14 record, and the Cardinal finished No. 3 in the final Associated Press poll last year. Additionally, Stanford has claimed three out of the last four Pac-12 titles and has only one season (2014) of fewer than 11 wins under Shaw’s direction. Despite losing several key pieces from last year’s 12-2 team, Shaw’s leadership should ensure the Cardinal won’t slip too far in the national rankings.
Related: Athlon Sports Top 25 for 2016
7. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Fisher has returned Florida State to a spot among the nation’s elite. In six seasons under Fisher, the Seminoles are 68-14 and have won at least 10 games in five of those years. Additionally, Florida State won the 2013 national championship, made the College Football Playoff in 2014 and played in a New Year’s Six Bowl (Peach) last season. Fisher is not only a strong recruiter and a sharp offensive mind, he’s got an eye for identifying talent and moving players from one side of the ball to another or to a different position to find the best fit for their skill set. After winning 10 games in a rebuilding year, Fisher has Florida State poised to contend for a playoff spot and a national title in 2016.
6. Gary Patterson, TCU
As mentioned with Bob Stoops, there’s very little separation among the top three coaches – Stoops, Patterson and Snyder – in the Big 12. With that in mind, we wouldn’t disagree with a ranking that listed Patterson as the No. 1 coach from the Big 12. Patterson has been instrumental in TCU’s rise into a Big 12 title contender, recording a 143-47 record since becoming the program’s coach at the end of the 2000 season. The Horned Frogs have shifted conferences three times under Patterson but appear to be fully entrenched in the Big 12 after winning 23 games over the last two years. Not only is Patterson one of the nation’s top coaches, he’s also one of the best at developing talent and gameplans on defense.
5. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
There’s very little separation among the top three coaches in the Big 12. Stoops returns the No. 1 spot in Athlon’s rankings after slipping down the list last season. After an 8-5 record in 2014, Stoops hit the reset button on offense and made significant changes to his staff. The moves paid off in a big way for Oklahoma, as the Sooners finished 11-2, won the Big 12 title and played in the College Football Playoff. The eight-win season in 2014 was only the fourth time in Stoops’ 17-year tenure Oklahoma won fewer than 10 games. Maintaining a high level of success at any program for nearly 20 years isn’t easy. But Stoops continues to push the right buttons and should have the Sooners in the mix to earn another trip to the playoffs in 2016.
4. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Dantonio has elevated Michigan State to new heights and the Spartans have emerged as an annual contender for the Big Ten title. Under Dantonio’s watch, Michigan State is 87-33 since 2007 and claimed the conference title for the second time in three seasons in 2015. Additionally, last year’s 12-win campaign resulted in a trip to the College Football Playoff. Dantonio has guided the program to at least 11 victories in five out of the last six seasons and has only one losing record (2009) in his tenure in East Lansing. The Spartans lose a handful of key players from last year’s playoff team, but Dantonio should keep Michigan State among the top 10-15 teams in the nation.
3. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
As expected, it didn’t take long for Harbaugh to return Michigan back among the nation's best. The Wolverines finished 10-3 in Harbaugh’s first season – a five-game improvement from the previous year. Additionally, the 10 wins last season nearly matched the program’s combined victory total from 2013-14 (12). And the expectation level is high going into 2016, as the Wolverines are picked among the favorites to contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Prior to Michigan, Harbaugh won 44 games in four seasons with the 49ers, transformed Stanford into a top-five team over four years and also went 29-6 at San Diego. Winning at a high level (and right away) is nothing knew for Harbaugh.
2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
With 50 wins, a national championship and three top-five finishes in the Associated Press poll in the last four years, Meyer continues to set the bar high for success in the Big Ten. Ohio State is 50-4 overall under Meyer’s watch and has lost only one regular season league contest over the last four years. Success at a high level is something Meyer has experienced at each stop in his coaching career. In two years at Bowling Green, Meyer guided the Falcons to a 17-6 record and went 22-2 in two seasons at Utah. At Florida, Meyer won 65 games in six years and claimed two national titles (2006 and 2008). Despite heavy personnel losses in 2016, Meyer won’t allow Ohio State to slip too far in the win column, which should allow the Buckeyes to compete for another playoff bid this fall.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
With three national championships over the last five years, the rest of college football is chasing Alabama and Nick Saban. Under Saban’s direction, the Crimson Tide have won 105 games since 2007 and are the only team to make the College Football Playoff in back-to-back seasons. Alabama has only lost more than one game in SEC play once since 2008 and has not finished outside of the Associated Press top 10 since 2007. There’s no question the bar is set high at Alabama and maintaining this level of success isn’t easy for any program. However, Saban is the unquestioned No. 1 coach in the nation and continues to reel in elite talent every year.
There is new energy in Athens with head coach Kirby Smart heading into his first season at the helm of the Georgia football program. Taking over for longtime coach Mark Richt won't be easy, but Smart is already off to a strong start. Georgia landed the No. 7 recruiting class for 2016, according to 247Sports' Team Composite rankings. Also, the Bulldogs had a lot of positives in spring practice, most notably, the performance of true freshman quarterback Jacob Eason.
Georgia should have an advantage over most of its SEC counterparts when it comes to scheduling. The Bulldogs will have to travel to Ole Miss in week four, but that likely will be the only road game where they aren't favored to win. In all, Georgia only has to travel to four SEC foes — Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Kentucky. It's not exactly murderer's row. However, the 'Dawgs will face a potentially dangerous non-conference schedule.
Here is a look at Georgia's 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to toughest:
12. Sept. 10 vs. Nicholls State
There just isn't much to say about Georgia's week two game. The Colonels of Nicholls State finished 2-8-1 last season after a tough year in the Southland Conference. In one game against Power Five opponent Colorado, the Colonels were beaten 48-0. This one should be over by halftime. Hopefully, both teams will get to play some underclassmen and nobody will get hurt.
11. Nov. 19 vs. UL Lafayette
Georgia and UL Lafayette have met once, back in 2010. Georgia won that game 55-7. After four consecutive nine-win seasons, Lafayette fell to 4-8 last year. There are some bright spots on this year's roster, such as running back Elijah McGuire, who has more than 3,000 career rushing yards. But the Ragin' Cajuns are not a team equipped with enough talent to hang around with one of the top contenders in the SEC East. As a side note, if you are an SEC fan that has the unfortunate duty of attending a fall wedding, try to get the bride and groom to schedule it for the weekend of Nov. 19.
10. Nov. 5 at Kentucky
Some people think Kentucky is this year's sleeper team in the SEC East, which sounds good on the surface. The Wildcats do bring back nine starters on an offense that showed promise at times last season. It's the defense that can't say the same. With only four returning starters on that side of the ball, it's hard to believe Kentucky will be much better. Georgia has mostly scored at will against Mark Stoops-coached Kentucky teams, averaging close to 50 points per game against the Wildcats over the last three years.
9. Sept. 17 at Missouri
With eight starters back, Mizzou will be fine on defense, especially with former defensive coordinator Barry Odom now promoted to head coach. It's the offense that is the biggest concern. The Tigers must find a way to score touchdowns if they expect to compete with Georgia to open SEC play. The last time these teams played in Columbia, Georgia blanked the Tigers 34-0.
8. Oct. 15 vs. Vanderbilt
Getting Vanderbilt at home will be tougher than traveling to Missouri and Kentucky? Call me crazy, but I think so. The Commodores return 12 starters from last year's team. Even though Vanderbilt was beaten up pretty badly in some games, it got better overall. Derek Mason may finally have this team in contention for a bowl game when all is said and done, and the defense is going to be salty once again. Georgia had to earn it against the Commodores last year. Vandy won't go down without a fight in Athens.
7. Oct. 8 at South Carolina
The Gamecocks sum up a handful of SEC East teams that Georgia should beat. The Bulldogs have a much better roster in place for their first-year coach as opposed to what Steve Spurrier left behind. But South Carolina could be dangerous if Will Muschamp revitalizes the defense earlier than expected, plus, this game is in Columbia. Last year the 'Dawgs pummeled the Gamecocks 52-20 in Athens.
6. Nov. 26 vs. Georgia Tech
"Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate." That's the motto in the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry. This one goes way back, more than 120 years to 1893, specifically. The Bulldogs have owned their Peach State brethren, having won 13 of the last 15 matchups between the two teams. But the last few have been close, with the Yellow Jackets squeezing out a win in 2014. Georgia Tech looks to be a middle-of-the-road contender in the ACC Coastal Division this season, despite posting a 3-9 record last year.
5. Nov. 12 vs. Auburn
If Auburn is the fifth-toughest game on Georgia's schedule, that's probably good news for Bulldogs fans. Auburn is in a make-or-break year under head coach Gus Malzahn and the Tigers don't have a lot to work with right now on offense. With that said, this is a rivalry game, and literally anything can happen when these two teams meet on the gridiron. See 2013's "Prayer in Jordan-Hare." Also, Auburn could be fighting for bowl eligibility at this point in the season. Georgia has won eight of its previous 10 matchups with the Tigers.
4. Oct. 29 vs. Florida (Jacksonville, Fla.)
So, is there any team Georgia isn't rivals with? Honestly, this may be the SEC's nastiest rivalry. Alabama and Auburn fans would most certainly beg to differ, but Georgia and Florida hate each other. A lot. The "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" in Jacksonville is usually one of the SEC's most-anticipated regular season games, but it has been lopsided the past two seasons with Florida taking it to the Bulldogs. If there is one team on the schedule that Georgia would like to get its hands on, it's probably the Gators. The Bulldogs lead the series 49-42-2.
3. Sept. 3 vs. North Carolina (Atlanta)
One would be hard-pressed to find a team that wanted a piece of North Carolina last season. After an embarrassing week one loss to South Carolina, the Tar Heels reeled off 11 straight wins and gave Clemson all it wanted in the ACC Championship Game. This year, UNC has to replace some key contributors on both sides of the ball. Still, the Tar Heels return running back Elijah Hood, as well as the ACC's best offensive line. Georgia will have its hands full to open the season, but playing in the Georgia Dome should give the 'Dawgs a needed edge.
2. Oct. 1 vs. Tennessee
Up to this point in the schedule rankings, Georgia probably will be the favorite to win in every game. But there's no doubt the boys in Vegas will have this line set pretty close to even. Since 2011, Georgia and Tennessee haven't played a game that was decided by more than eight points. It's almost guaranteed to go down to the last possession in this series. The Volunteers won last year's meeting, 38-31 in Knoxville. There's also a good chance that this game could decide the winner of the SEC East.
1. Sept. 24 at Ole Miss
No doubt, this game will be a tough out for Georgia. But fans should be happy about the fact that the Bulldogs don't have to deal with Alabama or LSU, at least in the regular season. Chad Kelly is an exceptional quarterback, and Georgia may be at a disadvantage with the loss of pass rushers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. However, one thing Georgia has working in its favor is the fact that Ole Miss will be coming off a physical battle with Alabama. A victory in Oxford could pay off big time down the road for the 'Dawgs.
Roll Tide, roll.
The controversial decision by the Monroe district attorney to drop the charges against Alabama football players Cam Robinson and Laurence Jones sent a shockwave through the sports world. The two players were taken in on charges of possession of a controlled dangerous substance, while Robinson had the added charge of illegal possession of a stolen firearm.
DA declines to prosecute arrested Alabama players Cam Robinson & Laurence Jones due to insufficient evidence. https://t.co/Yoi7eta7gL— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 20, 2016
DA Jerry Jones said his decision was due to "insufficient evidence" and not wanting to ruin the players' lives.
"I want to emphasize once again that the main reason I'm doing this is that I refuse to ruin the lives of two young men who have spent their adolescence and teenage years, working and sweating, while we were all in the air conditioning," Jones told KNOE-TV.
Former Florida State quarterback Danny Kanell claims the reasoning was basically due to "SEC justice."
Wow...SEC justice https://t.co/cm3MfBNBNj— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) June 20, 2016
@CecilHurt because he didn't have AC growing up?? No I'm fairly certain it was because there actually wasn't enough evidence.— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) June 20, 2016
@jaydenrochellee what? so they'll have to run some laps???— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) June 20, 2016
Kanell may want to steer clear of Tuscaloosa for the foreseeable future.
It doesn't get much better than this.
The Cavaliers finally touched down in Cleveland after coming back from a 3-1 deficit against the Warriors. Making history is reason enough for a little gloating here and there. When LeBron James stepped off the plane everyone noticed the shirt he was wearing, giving a subtle nod to the Warriors with the words "Ultimate Warrior" and the iconic wrestler on it.
Bron with the "Ultimate Warrior" shirt is the troll of the century. pic.twitter.com/tN3LcYbTGE— Jasmine (@JasmineLWatkins) June 20, 2016
It's good to be the king.
It's never too early to start dissecting some college football win totals. Last year I went through every conference and gave my thoughts on every team's win total. With regards to my process, I basically break down the games into three categories of definite wins, definite losses and toss-ups. For the most part, conference road games will represent losses unless it's against a bottom dweller. There will be teams that I just don't have a feel on because their number is spot on.
The American Athletic Conference had a very good 2015 with Houston beating Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl as well as wins by Temple (Penn State) and Navy (Pittsburgh in Military Bowl) that put the conference on the map. The Cougars figure to be the class of the league once again with Greg Ward Jr. under center. We'll see if the Owls and Midshipmen can continue to take the next step. South Florida, Cincinnati and Memphis are among the teams that have the potential to make things interesting.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of South Point Las Vegas Hotel and Spa
(Over 6.5 wins -130...Under 6.5 wins +110)
Record Last Year: 7-6, 4-4
Returning Starters: 11 (4 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: Gunner Kiel is back with a new offensive coordinator this season. Kiel and Hayden Moore represented a potent duo under center, but who will they be throwing to? The team lost their top five wide receivers. Tion Green leads a solid group in the backfield.
Defense: This is the classic case of a group returning from last year, but it wasn't exactly an effective unit, allowing 31.2 points per game. There is optimism on this side of the ball though with linebacker Eric Wilson and safety Zach Edwards providing senior leadership.
Schedule: This is a very friendly start to the season with five of the first seven games at home with the road matchups at Purdue and UConn, which could be considered winnable. Outside of Temple, Cincinnati has a very winnable slate away from Nippert Stadium.
Selection: To me, there's great value with the over here. If Kiel can grasp new coordinator Zac Taylor's offense quickly and find some new reliable targets, then this team should start fast. The Bearcats host Houston, USF and BYU so their toughest games will be in front of their own fans. Take the over here unless it starts to fall a lot.
(Over 5 wins EVEN...Under 5 wins -120)
Record Last Year: 6-7, 4-4
Returning Starters: 15 (9 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: Last year, I said this group had nowhere to go but up, and the Huskies took it literally. They moved up one spot in terms of points per game from 122nd to 121st overall. The Huskies managed fewer than 10 points three different times. They are returning a lot of starters and one can hope that continuity will help them here. I do really like running back Arkeel Newsome and wide receiver Noel Thomas if they can get out in space.
Defense: This side of the ball was 15th in the country in points allowed with 19.5 ppg. The secondary figures to be in the mix for the best in the conference with Jamar Summers and Jhavon Williams back.
Schedule: The Huskies are another team with a home-friendly start to their year with four of their first six in Storrs. Their non-conference slate is Maine, Virginia, Syracuse and at Boston College. The road is very unkind in conference playing at Navy, Houston, South Florida and East Carolina.
Selection: I think the under is the play depending on the price. The defense will keep this team in games, but can the offense take the next step? The games with Virginia and Syracuse will be huge for this number because both are toss-ups. Neither the Orange nor Cavaliers have an offense to scare you, but they do have improving defenses.
(Over 5.5 wins +105...Under 5.5 wins -125)
Record Last Year: 5-7, 3-5
Returning Starters: 10 (4 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: The Pirates are in transition with former Duke offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery taking over after the odd firing of Ruffin McNeill. Philip Nelson figures to be under center and he'll have Davon Grayson and Isaiah Jones as weapons outside. The offensive line figures to be strong on the right side, but the rest is a question mark.
Defense: This was a middle of the road group last season, checking in at sixth or seventh in the conference in most of the major categories. The secondary figures to be the strength while the front line continues to gel in the 3-4 defense.
Schedule: ECU will be starting its year out with home matchups against Western Carolina and NC State before road games at South Carolina and Virginia Tech. The Pirates alternate home and road games in conference and have to play at Temple and Cincinnati as well as South Florida.
Selection: Small lean to the under here. There's a lot of question marks surrounding East Carolina this year. Montgomery did good things at Duke, but can he quickly turn the Pirates into a bowl team? I don't think so which is why I'm leaning to the under.
(Over 8.5 wins -110...Under 8.5 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 8-5, 6-2
Returning Starters: 14 (7 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: Running back Marlon Mack had an awesome season for the Bulls last year as he helped take the pressure off quarterback Quinton Flowers. The latter accounted for 34 touchdowns and has even more weapons in 2016. Keep an eye out for Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who comes over from NC State.
Defense: The Bulls' defense held opponents to 22.9 points per game in 2015. The 4-2-5 alignment worked well for this unit, which ranked 17th (tied) nationally in tackles for a loss and 14th (tied) in interceptions. The majority of the defense is back making this team the chic pick to win the AAC East.
Schedule: Florida State comes to Tampa on Sept. 24. The Bulls also host Towson and Northern Illinois with a road matchup against Syracuse on the docket as well. The real test is if they suffer any hangover after the Seminoles game at Cincinnati. The Bulls play at Temple just six days after hosting UConn.
Selection: I'll bite on the hype and lean to the over. Five of the first seven are at home. My one concern is road game sandwiched between the FSU contest and will the Bulls be focused before and after. Last year a loss to the Seminoles started a three-game losing streak.
(Over 8.5 wins -120...Under 8.5 wins EVEN)
Record Last Year: 10-4, 7-1
Returning Starters: 11 (6 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: Quarterback P.J. Walker is back for another season and he’s got Jahad Thomas in the backfield to help out. A lot of the top WRs are gone, but Ventell Bryant and Adonis Jennings should be able to pick up the slack. Hopefully the change at OC will help spark this group as they were stale at times.
Defense: This unit has some work to do as Tyler Matakevich, Tavon Young and Matt Ioannidis all have graduated. The cupboard isn’t completely bare though with Sean Chandler at corner and Stephaun Marshall at linebacker. Coordinator Phil Snow will be a hot name next offseason if he turns this group into a top-20 unit again.
Schedule: The Owls ease into the season with four of their first five at home and all winnable matchups. The road game will be at Penn State, which will be out for revenge after losing in Philly last year. South Florida and Cincinnati both come to Lincoln Financial Field with the toughest road conference game being at Memphis (Oct. 6).
Selection: Temple has to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke. The good thing is that the slate is manageable and the offense has the weapons to move. This team will need the points as the defense could struggle at times. I think this is a good number and have a slight lean to the under.
(Over 5 wins -110...Under 5 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 0-12, 0-8
Returning Starters: 11 (6 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: Quarterback Justin Holman is back for his senior season, but that may not be a great thing. He struggled mightily at times, as this unit scored just 47 points in the last four games. The offensive line will be a strength with four returnees. Maybe new head coach Scott Frost’s influence will help jumpstart everything.
Defense: The Knights' defense was horrendous, allowing almost 40 points per game. The secondary returns three starters, but it could be a long year. Drico Johnson is the leading returning tackler with just 64.
Schedule: The good news is that UCF won’t go winless, especially with an opener against South Carolina State. The bad news is that the Knights may not get too many more victories. Road trips to Michigan and FIU go with a home game against Maryland out of conference.
Selection: Last year, I was optimistic about the Knights. This year, not so much. I think five is quite a bit higher then I’d expect. I think the under for UCF might be my favorite bet in this conference.
(Over 9.5 wins -135...Under 9.5 wins +115)
Record Last Year: 13-1, 7-1
Returning Starters: 11 (6 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: Greg Ward Jr. may be a decent longshot Heisman Trophy candidate if you think he can replicate his 2015. The WR corps has changed with Chance Allen and Steven Dunbar leading the way. The run game is going to have to find someone to replace Kenneth Farrow.
Defense: Houston had the eighth-ranked rush defense in the country and will need a young secondary grows up quick if the Cougars hope to go to another New Year's Six bowl or possibly even crash the College Football Playoff. Linebacker Steven Taylor returns after a 92-tackle, 10-sack, two-interception season.
Schedule: There’s no grace period, as the season starts with Oklahoma in Houston. The rest of the non-conference slate is Lamar, at Texas State and Louisville. Three times this year, the Cougars play games five days apart. It’s the price you pay for being a good team.
Selection: I think Houston wins nine this season. There are a couple of potential pitfalls that make the under very intriguing especially at a plus price.
(Over 6.5 wins -110...Under 6.5 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 9-4, 5-3
Returning Starters: 14 (6 on offense, 8 on defense)
Offense: Paxton Lynch is in Denver so the quarterback position could be a weakness. The good thing is that Doroland Dorceus and Anthony Miller are both back. New head coach Mike Norvell will need to do some work on this side of the ball, but the potential is there.
Defense: The Tigers were the 106th-ranked pass defense last year. There’s a good chance this side of the ball will feature all upperclassmen starters. Jackson Dillon is an intriguing pro prospect at linebacker.
Schedule: Four of the first five are at home with the non-conference slate going SE Missouri State, Kansas, Bowling Green before the road tilt with rival Ole Miss. The Tigers get Temple, South Florida and Houston at the Liberty Bowl.
Selection: I like the Tigers to go over the total. This side of the AAC features way too many win opportunities and they’ll get three outside the conference as well. I’d wait to see if there is a place you can get it at a plus price though.
(Over 6.5 wins -110...Under 6.5 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 11-2, 7-1
Returning Starters: 7 (1 on offense, 6 on defense)
Offense: Record-setting dual-threat quarterback Keenan Reynolds finally graduated, meaning Tago Smith most likely takes over. Jamar Tillman is the only starter back on offense and he’s at WR, which is lightly used anyways. The good thing about the Midshipmen is that they’ll be ready and will run the triple option very precisely.
Defense: This unit may have to shoulder the load early until the offense catches up. The Middies had the 26th-ranked scoring defense last year, which no one really expected. Daniel Gonzales leads the way at linebacker.
Schedule: Navy’s non-conference schedule is pretty much the same every year with games against Fordham, Air Force, Notre Dame and Army. The game against the Irish takes place in Jacksonville, Fla. The Middies have just five true home games.
Selection: I lean to the over, but that’s only if the offense can get its act together. Replacing Reynolds is a huge task, but this coaching staff is very good at their job. I don’t know if the Commander-in-Chief Trophy makes it back to Annapolis again this year.
(Over 3.5 wins -120...Under 3.5 wins EVEN)
Record Last Year: 2-10, 1-7
Returning Starters: 11 (6 on offense, 5 on defense)
Offense: Year two with Chad Morris should be beneficial as the pieces are in place for a team that is capable of scoring more. Matt Davis showed flashes of being a capable QB while Courtland Sutton could be one of the best WRs in the conference. The offensive line needs work.
Defense: Trying to find something nice to say about a defense that allowed 48 points or more eight times is very difficult. To be honest, it will be a concern again this year. The over is in play in almost every game the Mustangs have.
Schedule: The rare team in this conference that’ll be spending the start of the season on the road. SMU opens at North Texas and Baylor before coming home to play Liberty and TCU. Be careful as the Mustangs lost to FCS member James Madison last year and Liberty has some talent as well. Houston, Memphis and South Florida all come to Dallas, but that may not matter.
Selection: The under may be the play here. The Mustangs will be improved on offense, but this poor defense is going to be tested early and often. Getting the better teams at home is a blessing, but it didn’t help last year.
(Over 3.5 wins -110...Under 3.5 wins -110)
Record Last Year: 3-9, 1-7
Returning Starters: 11 (4 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: The Green Wave scored 20 points or less seven times last year and are shuffling the deck once again with just four returning starters on offense. Quarterback is up in the air, but new head coach Willie Fritz coming over from Georgia Southern could help spark some things. He did good work with the Eagles.
Defense: The defense allowed more than 36 points per game last year, but Nico Marley is a good start at linebacker. The secondary brings three players back, but none will be as good as Lorenzo Doss.
Schedule: September features home games against Southern and UL Lafayette as well as a road game at Wake Forest. The non-conference slate is completed with a road tilt at UMass on Oct. 1. For the most part, the latter part of the schedule alternate home and road contests.
Selection: I like the over for the Green Wave. The Fritz hire is a fantastic one, and I think the opportunity is there for the offense to improve. This one won’t sail over the three, but I think there are enough winnable opportunities.
(Over 6.5 wins -120...Under 6.5 wins EVEN)
Record Last Year: 6-7, 3-5
Returning Starters: 13 (6 on offense, 7 on defense)
Offense: Dane Evans is back and so are D’Angelo Brewer and Josh Atkinson. This side of the ball did its part last season, putting up 37.2 points per game. The offensive line has some holes so Evans may be on the run.
Defense: This side of the ball did not do its part, allowing nearly 40 points per contest. Much like some of the other schools in this conference, the unit returns a bunch of starters, but will it really matter? Matt Linscott had 107 tackles and five sacks last year. He’s back along with Craig Suits and Trent Martin.
Schedule: This is an odd arrangement of non-conference games going from hosting San Jose State to playing at Ohio State then Tulsa returns home to take on North Carolina A&T before getting Fresno State on the road. The Golden Hurricane also play at Navy and Houston.
Selection: The under is my slight lean, but only because of the price. Improvement will come in year two with head coach Philip Montgomery, but it’s a long reach for me to count on this defense to win many games for Tulsa.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
Clemson enters 2016 as the defending ACC champion and one of the favorites to return to the College Football Playoff. The Tigers boast one of the nation’s most explosive offenses, led by Heisman Trophy contender quarterback Deshaun Watson. What’s scary is that Dabo Swinney’s offense could be even better this season considering the return of wide receiver Mike Williams, who went for a team-best 1,030 yards receiving in 2014 before missing basically all of last season after suffering a neck injury in the opener.
Related: ACC Football 2016 Predictions
Here are 14 statistics, one for every team, to help get you up to speed on what awaits the ACC this fall.
15: Opponent offensive touchdowns allowed by Boston College in 2015
The Eagles may have lost defensive coordinator Don Brown to Michigan over the offseason, but that side of the ball is still expected to be the strength of this team as Jim Reid takes his place. Despite some key personnel losses, this should be another stingy unit.
20: Receiving yards by Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams in 2015
For as explosive as Clemson's offense was last year, quarterback Deshaun Watson and Co. did it all - for the most part - without the services of primary receiver Williams, who injured his neck in the first game of last season. He returns to give the Tigers even more firepower this fall.
9.5: Number of sacks returning from Duke’s defense
The Blue Devils were tied for 114th in the nation in sacks per game last season, mustering up just 17 in 13 games. It's not likely to see that number dramatically jump this season, as not as single player returns that had at least two sacks in 2015.
6.8: Florida State running back Dalvin Cook's career yards per rushing attempt
There may not be a faster running back in the nation than Cook, who followed up a brilliant freshman campaign with an even better sophomore one. Running behind what will be an experienced offensive line, Cook can build on a 2015 season where he averaged 7.4 yards per carry and 19 touchdowns.
3.17: Penalties per game called on Georgia Tech in 2015
There are plenty of reasons why Paul Johnson is considered one of the top coaches in the ACC, but his ability to instill discipline into his squad should be right up there. This mark was good for second in the country last season, coincidentally, behind Johnson's former program, Navy.
1.73: Tackles for a loss per game by Louisville’s Devonte Fields in 2015
Despite the loss of defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins to the NFL Draft, the Cardinals should be strong in the front seven again. Fields has to be considered one of the best edge rushers in the game, as this mark tied for him for third in the country to go along with 11 sacks.
+11: Miami’s turnover margin in 2015
The Hurricanes will be under quite the microscope this season as former Georgia head man Mark Richt takes over in Coral Gables. If his team can replicate the type of success it had in this statistic, where the Hurricanes were ranked 10th in the country, then his maiden voyage at his alma mater may prove successful.
16: Sacks allowed by North Carolina in 2015
Quarterback Marquise Williams is gone, but Mitch Trubisky takes over behind what should be one of the strongest offensive lines in the country. In 14 games last season, the Tar Heels, who return four starters up front, barely allowed over one sack per game.
202.1: Rushing yards per game by NC State in 2015
No, Georgia Tech is not the only team in the ACC with a fearsome rushing attack. With the loss of quarterback Jacoby Brissett to the NFL, expect the Wolfpack to lean even heavier on the ground game, with senior Matt Dayes returning as the team's leading rusher.
12.23: Possessions per game for Pittsburgh in 2015
While the fast-paced, up-tempo spread has become the norm in college football, it has not been part of the plan in Pittsburgh since Todd Graham left for Arizona State. The Panthers prefer to slow things down now, as this figure was good for tied for fourth in the nation among slowest offenses.
9: Teams that made a bowl game last season on Syracuse’s 2016 schedule
Without question, Dino Babers' first year as the head coach at Syracuse will be a challenging one, even though he returns one of the most experienced teams in the league. The schedule is a killer, as bowl teams like Notre Dame, South Florida and UConn augment an already difficult league slate.
18: Interceptions thrown by Virginia quarterbacks in 2015
There's only so much a team can accomplish if it keeps turning the ball over. As new coach Bronco Mendenhall takes over after coming over from BYU, this is an issue he will have to address, as just seven teams threw more interceptions than the Cavaliers did last season.
.335: Third-down conversion rate of Virginia Tech’s opponents in 2015
Death, taxes and a strong defense from coordinator Bud Foster. Although legendary head coach Frank Beamer has retired and former Memphis coach Justin Fuente has taken over, Foster, an assistant in Blacksburg since 1987, should ensure his side of the ball will be steady once again.
7.42: Opponents tackle-for-a-loss per game against Wake Forest in 2015
Getting behind the chains is one of the worst things to happen in any offensive drive, but the Demon Deacons were pretty proficient at it last year. On an offense that had many problems, Wake kept going backwards, as only nine teams were worse in this statistic last season.
— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.
Skip Bayless' time at ESPN is over, and his ex-coworkers are sending him off right.
The known LeBron James "hater" has spewed a lot of negative things about the Cavaliers star over the years. It all came back to bite him after Cleveland took home the championship Sunday night. Cleveland's win still didn't stop Bayless from tweeting about James.
How can Kyrie Irving not be Finals MVP after his last four games?— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) June 20, 2016
The Spurs would've beaten these Cavs.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) June 20, 2016
Here it comes: Witnesses will now make the case LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) June 20, 2016
Sports media personalities weren't going to let him go out so easily.
The icing on the cake came from Scott Van Pelt who threw a little shade to Bayless on his way out.