Articles By All

Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2016-defense-special-teams-rankings-week-16
Body:

After Denver shut down Tom Brady and the Patriots last Sunday, the Broncos earned the top spot in the fantasy defense/special teams (DST) Week 16 rankings. Denver will be at Arrowhead Stadium on Christmas night to face Kansas City in a critical AFC West showdown. Both DSTs are great fantasy options for Week 16, as this has the makings of being a low-scoring, defensive struggle.

 

The Tennessee Titans sneak into the top 10 this week, although their defense has struggled recently. However, the Titans are playing Jacksonville this week, which has been a good matchup for opposing DSTs (fifth-most fantasy points allowed) this season. The Jaguars fired head coach Gus Bradley last Sunday, so the team could either rally behind interim Doug Marrone or just pack it in with only two games to play in what has been a disappointing season all around. Either way, the Jags’ offense hasn’t been that special, so the Titans are a good streaming DST option for Week 16.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

 

 

 

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

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet: Defense/Special Teams Rankings Week 16
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 08:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2016-quarterback-rankings-week-16
Body:

In Weeks 13 and 14, Drew Brees was pretty much useless to those who owned the usually productive fantasy quarterback. In each of those two games, he threw zero touchdowns and three interceptions. Because of this, and the fact that the stakes were even higher, many chose to bench him in Week 15, due to a combination of his struggles, being on the road in Arizona and having to face one of the toughest pass defenses in the NFL.

 

And all Brees did this past Sunday out in the desert is explode for 389 yards and four touchdowns. This Sunday, Brees gets a second shot at Tampa Bay, against whom he had one of his 0-3 games, but this time it’s at home. It may seem reactionary, but Brees is back atop the quarterback rankings for Week 16.

 

Tom Brady was a disappointment in Week 15, but he was playing Denver’s stout defense on the road. The Broncos have given up the fewest fantasy points to opposing QBs and lived up to their lofty reputations against Brady. But like Brees, Brady is back at home this week, against the New York Jets, and is a clear-cut, top-three option for fantasy championship week.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

 

 

 

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

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet: Quarterback Rankings Week 16
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, syndicated, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/nfl-best-daily-fantasy-football-lineups-fanduel-and-draftkings-week-16-2016
Body:

It is Christmas week(end) folks and that means there is plenty to do and going on, especially on the fantasy front. Because of the holiday, the NFL schedule looks a little different with 12 games on Saturday and just two on Sunday. This means you won’t have an extra day to prepare your lineups, whether that’s for a daily contest or seasonal league. Then again, if you are in the latter and playing for a championship this shouldn’t matter that much because my guess is you are ready to get the games started.

 

It has been an interesting fantasy season to say the least and I will miss NFL DFS now that I have been winning on a regular basis over the past five weeks. I know it took me a while to get to this point, but what can you do?

 

Whatever your preference, I wish you the best as we wrap up this season, and hopefully your Christmas will be splendid and filled with family, food and gifts. And what could help make it a little bit better and brighter? Why winning money from a league championship and/or some DFS contests of course.

 

What I will be doing in this space is sharing my top plays for the week, a value play, and most importantly a lineup or two. I will likely be focusing on cash games (50/50 and Double Up) and not GPP (tournaments, multi-player) contests. My Week 15 lineups should work in both formats.

 

So let’s get into my top plays, value play and lineups for Week 16 shall we? As always any questions, arguments, or glowing praise can be sent to me via Twitter @fantsychillpony.

 

Week 16 Top Plays

 

These will be my top plays of the week. These are players who I will try to have in as many lineups of mine as possible. If I can, I will use all three in one lineup. A reminder for cash games: going with an elite quarterback is typically recommended. If you opt for a value quarterback he MUST meet value for your loaded lineup to be worth it.

 

QB: Drew Brees, New Orleans vs. Tampa Bay ($8,500 FanDuel/$7,400 DraftKings)

Brees certainly rewarded owners last week who stuck with him after his two abysmal performances in Weeks 13 and 14. This week, he’s back at home where he typically can thrive, and faces a Buccaneers team that allows the fourth-most passing yards per game and the sixth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. I realize last time Brees was mentioned here he was in an even better spot against Detroit and laid an egg. This time and after last week I am confident for him to continue his home-field dominance and meet value.

 

RB: David Johnson, Arizona at Seattle ($8,700 FanDuel/$9,200 DraftKings)

This may be one of the toughest matchups for Johnson this season. Seattle is No. 2 against the run, so he will not be a shoo-in for 20-plus fantasy points as he has been all season. However, he is such a volume hog in the Cardinals’ offense that no matter how good the Seahawks are against the run Johnson will be catching passes, and getting touches. If you are willing to take a risk, and spend up (especially in GPP) Johnson could be a great play. DeMarco Murray may be a safer play for those who are risk-averse or in cash games this week ($8,400 on FanDuel, $7,000 on DraftKings).

 

WR: Jordy Nelson, Green Bay vs. Minnesota ($7,800 FanDuel/$7,000 DraftKings)

Nelson is coming off of a big Week 15 and seemingly back to his old pre-injury self. And it couldn’t have come a better time for the player or his team. Over the last three games, Nelson has averaged nine targets per game and has two 100-yard games and a total of three touchdowns during that span. With 22.4, 22.1, and 28.8 DraftKings points over his last three he is red hot. The issue is he will likely be matched up against Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes, who has been one of the best shutdown cornerbacks this season. Playing at home, I still like Nelson to find the end zone at some point, although he may not get a bunch of yards. Aaron Rodgers loves throwing the deep ball to Nelson, although you don’t get fantasy points for any pass interference calls he draws.

 

TE: Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay at New Orleans ($5,600 FanDuel/$3,900 DraftKings)

Brate has scored at least eight DraftKings points over his last four games with two monster games of 20.6 and then 18.3 last week. This week Brate gets the Saints, who have struggled some against tight ends (21st vs. position). Brate is averaging better than five targets over his last four games and has found the end zone twice during this stretch. I like his odds to score double-digit points this week, even if he doesn’t get a touchdown.

 

Value Play of the Week

 

Rishard Matthews, Tennessee at Jacksonville ($5,700 FanDuel/$4,900 DraftKings)

Matthews has been one of the more consistent wide receivers over the last six games. Aside from his Week 14 stinker (3.8 points on DraftKings) he has produced 15 or more fantasy points each week. The Jaguars actually have done pretty well against the pass, so the matchup is not ideal. But assuming Matthews gets around six targets and a touchdown he can easily hit three times his value. It’s risky, but aren’t all value plays just that?

 

The Lineup(s)

 

This week I am only posting one lineup for each site. Again these are lineups that should work well, in addition to encompassing my top plays for the week in some fashion. However, I don’t recommend only using this lineup. Find values and mix it up. Making your lineup your own is more fun and challenging.

 

This week I constructed a lineup I will be playing in both types of games (Cash and GPP) on both sites.

 

FanDuel Cash/GPP Lineup

 

DraftKings Cash/GPP Lineup

 

— Written by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.

Teaser:
NFL Best Daily Fantasy Football Lineups for FanDuel and DraftKings (Week 16)
Post date: Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/hawaii-bowl-preview-and-prediction-hawaii-vs-mtsu-2016
Body:

The pre-Christmas portion of college football's 2016-17 bowl slate concludes on Dec. 24, as MTSU makes the long trek to Honolulu to take on Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl. The Rainbow Warriors are back in the postseason for the first time since 2010 and have to defend their home turf in Aloha Stadium against the Blue Raiders. MTSU is making its second consecutive bowl trip and has earned a postseason bid in three out of the last four years.

 

Under new coach Nick Rolovich, Hawaii showed marked improvement after a 3-10 record in 2015. The Rainbow Warriors finished 6-7 – the program’s first season of more than four wins since 2011 – and were on the cusp of a winning record with two losses by seven points or less. Rolovich’s team had a brutal schedule to start 2016, as Hawaii played California in Australia in the first game of the year, then battled Michigan in Ann Arbor the following Saturday. After a home date against UT Martin, the Rainbow Warriors went back to mainland to play Arizona on Sept. 17. Despite the tough schedule, Hawaii scrapped and fought to get to six wins and ended the year on a two-game winning streak.

 

Related: College Football 2016 All-America Team

 

MTSU has become one of Conference USA’s most consistent programs under coach Rick Stockstill, recording five consecutive seasons of at least a .500 record. The Blue Raiders finished 8-4 in 2016 but two of those losses came without quarterback Brent Stockstill. The sophomore suffered a collarbone injury in the 45-25 loss against UTSA and his status for the Hawaii Bowl is one of the biggest storylines surrounding this game. MTSU also lost at Vanderbilt (47-24) and lost by one point in overtime against eventual C-USA champ WKU (44-43).

 

This is the second meeting between Hawaii and MTSU. The Rainbow Warriors defeated the Blue Raiders 35-14 in Honolulu in 1999. Hawaii is 3-4 in seven previous appearances in the Hawaii Bowl. However, the Rainbow Warriors are 0-3 in their last three bowl trips. MTSU has also lost its last three bowl games and has just one postseason victory in six postseason contests.

 

MTSU vs. Hawaii (Hawaii Bowl)

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: No Line

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Brent Stockstill or John Urzua?

As mentioned above, the status of MTSU quarterback Brent Stockstill is the biggest storyline surrounding this game. Can Stockstill return to the starting lineup just over a month removed from a collarbone injury against UTSA? On Friday, all signs suggested Stockstill was set to return to the lineup and cleared to play. Prior to the injury, Stockstill was on pace for another prolific season. The sophomore threw for 2,801 yards and 27 scores in nine contests and also added 232 yards on the ground. Stockstill is practicing but no announcement from MTSU is expected prior to kickoff. If Stockstill doesn’t start or is ruled out, the Blue Raiders will turn to John Urzua. The redshirt freshman gained valuable experience over the last four weeks in the regular season and threw for 816 yards and eight scores in 2016. Urzua was injured in the finale against FAU, prompting receivers Dennis Andrews and Richie James and running back I’Tavius Mathers to attempt passes.

 

Stockstill is clearly the better quarterback and one of the best in the Group of 5 ranks when healthy. If Stockstill starts, he faces an enticing matchup against a Hawaii secondary ranked 117th nationally in pass efficiency defense. No spread is listed for this game due to the uncertainty surrounding Stockstill’s status. Assuming he plays, Stockstill would swing this matchup in favor of MTSU.

 

Related: Predictions for Every College Football Bowl Game

 

2. Hawaii’s Ground Attack

Rolovich comes from the Run-and-Shoot offensive style under former coach June Jones, but the Rainbow Warriors were more of a balanced attack in 2016. The offense ranked fourth in the Mountain West with 222.3 passing yards per game, and the ground attack ranked 10th by recording 160.6 yards per contest.

 

Senior Ikaika Woolsey opened the season as the starting quarterback but was replaced by Dru Brown on Sept. 17 against Nevada. The sophomore had his share of ups and downs as the starter but posted an overall solid year for his first action at the FBS level. Brown threw for 2,214 yards and 15 scores and completed 62 percent of his throws, while also adding 283 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Receiver Marcus Kemp (70 catches) is Brown’s go-to target, with John Ursua (47) and Dylan Collie (29) also working as key contributors in the passing attack.

 

Brown’s development during bowl practices is a storyline to watch, but the focus of Hawaii’s offense on Saturday night should be the running game. The Blue Raiders ranked seventh in Conference USA in rush defense, allowing just under 200 yards per game (198.2) this season. Additionally, MTSU surrendered 35 rushing scores and gave up at least 200 yards in five out of the last six contests. The Rainbow Warriors use a trio of running backs to anchor the ground attack, as Diocemy Saint Juste leads the team with 836 yards, followed by Paul Harris (537) and Steven Lakalaka (415). Saint Juste and Harris provide more big-play ability to the rushing game, while Lakalaka (210 pounds) is a force around the goal line with 12 touchdowns.

 

MTSU’s rush defense has been problematic all year and has another tough assignment ahead on Saturday night. If Hawaii establishes the run and controls the clock, Stockstill or Urzua will have a few less opportunities to attack a suspect secondary. The Rainbow Warriors rank last in the Mountain West in third-down offense and the Blue Raider defense would like to keep this unit in third-and-long situations.

 

3. MTSU’s Dynamic Playmakers

Regardless of which quarterback starts on Saturday night, the gameplan for MTSU coordinator Tony Franklin is pretty simple: Find ways to get the ball in the hands of I’Tavius Mathers and receiver Richie James. Mathers finished second among rushers in Conference USA during the regular season by recording 1,504 yards and 16 scores on 220 attempts. He was also a big factor in the passing game, catching 62 passes for 589 yards and three touchdowns. James needs just three receptions to reach the 100-catch mark for the second consecutive year. The sophomore grabbed 97 receptions for 1,463 yards and 11 touchdowns and also added 300 rushing yards and for scores on the ground. James isn’t the only target in the receiving corps. Ty Lee (53 catches), Dennis Andrews (28) and Patrick Smith (28) are key weapons for Stockstill or Urzua.

 

How can Hawaii contain MTSU’s offense? A deep look at the numbers shows coordinator Kevin Lempa is going to have his hands full. Hawaii’s defense ranks ninth in the Mountain West by surrendering 6.3 yards per play and last by giving up 37.5 points per game. In addition to those totals, the Rainbow Warriors have forced just 14 turnovers and allowed 37 plays of 30 yards or more.

 

Winning the battle in the trenches is essential for Hawaii after allowing 243.8 rushing yards per game this year. If Mathers is able to find running room, it won’t matter whether Stockstill or Urzua starts. The Rainbow Warriors haven’t allowed a ton of big plays through the air, so this unit will make Stockstill or Urzua work their way down the field in small chunks.

 

James and Mathers are two of the best skill players Hawaii has played this season. Can Lempa find a way to keep these two players in check?

 

Final Analysis

 

It may seem like a broken record, but let’s state it once again: The status of MTSU quarterback Brent Stockstill is going to have a huge impact on this game. Stockstill was cleared to play, which should help the Blue Raiders win this one by a touchdown (or more). The sophomore could be rusty in his return, but running back I’Tavius Mathers and receiver Richie James will be enough to keep the offense moving at a high level. However, if Stockstill doesn’t play, the margin for error for MTSU gets a little smaller. Regardless of what happens with the quarterback situation for MTSU, Hawaii’s offense is going to give its share of headaches to Stockstill’s defense. The guess here is Stockstill plays and sparks MTSU’s offense to a huge performance on Christmas Eve in Honolulu. Hawaii is headed in the right direction under Rolovich, but there’s just too much firepower on the offense for the Blue Raiders.

 

Prediction: MTSU 41, Hawaii 31
Teaser:
Hawaii Bowl Preview and Prediction: Hawaii vs. MTSU 2016
Post date: Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar/nascars-new-logos-revealed
Body:

NASCAR New LogoNASCAR has a new look. Well, a new logo at least. NASCAR unveiled a new official brand identity which will replace the bar mark used by the sanctioning body going back to 1976.

 

NASCAR's Old Logo

How does it differ from the old logo? There's not a dramatic difference. Here's the old NASCAR logo for comparison.

 

The announcement was made in conjunction with news that Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be the new name of the sport’s premier series, beginning January 1, 2017. Monster Engergy will replace Sprint as the primary sponsor of the series.


The new brand mark and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series mark, which prominently features the iconic Monster Energy logo (pictured below), together represent a new era in NASCAR and were first shared today across NASCAR social and digital media channels.  

 

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Logo


The NASCAR brand identity has been in development since early 2016 as part of a broader effort to refresh the NASCAR brand. It was designed to pay tribute to the storied history of NASCAR, incorporating elements of all four previous marks since the company’s inaugural season of 1948.

 
"Our new NASCAR mark is modern, timeless, and embraces the heritage of our sport," said Jill Gregory, NASCAR senior vice president and chief marketing officer. "It was important for us to recognize our history and implement a piece of each previous mark in the new design. Our goal was to evolve the sport’s visual identity to make it concise, relevant and functional, while respecting and maintaining the unique qualities of the original mark."


The first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points race will be the 59th running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 26 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). 

 

Check out the entire 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Schedule to see more. 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - 10:42
Path: /college-football/acc-all-freshman-team-2016
Body:

With two of the nation’s best in Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson leading the way, quarterback play was a strength across the ACC in 2016. And the future of the position is in good hands in this league, as Florida State’s Deondre Francois and Duke’s Daniel Jones posted solid debuts this fall and headline the 2016 ACC All-Freshman Team by Athlon Sports. The strength of the 2016 freshman class in the ACC was on defense, as Florida State end Brian Burns, Clemson tackle Dexter Lawrence and Miami linebacker Shaq Quarterman were among the best in the nation at their position with freshmen contributors.

 

With bowl games up next, it’s time to look back the 2016 season and hand out some hardware to the league’s top freshmen. 

 

Related: College Football 2016 Postseason All-America Team

 

Which freshmen had the best year in the ACC this fall? Here is the 2016 Athlon Sports ACC All-Freshman Team:

 

ACC All-Freshman Team for 2016
 

First-Team

Offense

Second-Team

Offense

QB

Deondre Francois

Florida State 

Daniel Jones

Duke 

RB

Dedrick Mills

Georgia Tech

Chawntez Moss

Pitt 

RB

Cade Carney

Wake Forest 

Moe Neal

Syracuse 

AP

Davon Jones

Boston College  

Sean Riley

Syracuse 

WR

Ahmmon Richards

Miami 

Tre Tipton

Pitt 

WR

Kelvin Harmon

NC State 

Aaron Young

Duke 

TE

Carl Tucker

North Carolina 

Seth Dawkins (WR)

Louisville 

C

Colin Byrne

Syracuse 

Evan Adams (OL)

Syracuse 

OL

Parker Braun

Georgia Tech 

Sean Pollard

Clemson 

OL

Landon Dickerson

Florida State 

Jahaziel Lee

Georgia Tech 

OL

Tommy Hatton

North Carolina 

Zach Baker

Duke 

OL

Elijah Johnson

Boston College 

Tremayne Anchrum

Clemson 

     
 

First-Team

Defense

Second-Team

Defense

DL

Brian Burns

Florida State 

Trevon Hill/Tim Settle

Virginia Tech 

DL

Dexter Lawrence

Clemson 

Aaron Crawford

North Carolina 

DL

Joe Jackson

Miami 

Josh Black

Syracuse 

DL

Clelin Ferrell

Clemson 

Eli Hanback

Virginia 

LB

Joe Giles-Harris

Duke 

Jordan Mack

Virginia 

LB

Shaq Quarterman

Miami 

Zach McCloud

Miami 

LB

Michael Pinckney

Miami 

Mark Gilbert (DB)

Duke  

DB

Amari Henderson

Wake Forest 

Kyle Meyers

Florida State 

DB

Jessie Bates 

Wake Forest 

Malek Young

Miami 

DB

Levonta Taylor

Florida State 

Christopher Fredrick

Syracuse 

DB

Bryce Hall

Virginia 

Patrice Rene

North Carolina 

     
 

First-Team

Specialists

Second-Team

Specialists

K

Ricky Aguayo

Florida State 

N/A
P

Sterling Hofrichter

Syracuse 

Dom Maggio

Wake Forest 

KR

Joe Reed

Virginia 

Sean Riley 

Syracuse 

PR

Jessie Bates

Wake Forest 

Sean Riley

Syracuse 

 

Teaser:
ACC All-Freshman Team for 2016
Post date: Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/dollar-general-bowl-preview-and-prediction-ohio-bobcats-vs-troy-trojans-2016
Body:

The Ohio Bobcats and Troy Trojans arrive in Mobile, Alabama, for the Dollar General Bowl fresh off of solid seasons where both teams nearly won conference titles. Their consolation prize is a trip to the Gulf Coast for what appears to be an underrated and hotly contested matchup between two of the finest programs in the Group of Five.

 

The Dollar General Bowl will feature a clash of styles, as Frank Solich's Bobcats subscribe to that stereotypical "rust belt" toughness — grinding out wins with a stingy defense and a consistent rushing attack. Troy head coach Neal Brown employs a more wide-open offensive style predicated on the big play. Defensively, the Trojans employ an aggressive, attacking approach that can be suffocating, but also leaves the door open for disciplined opponents to score on big plays of their own.

 

Dollar General Bowl: Ohio vs. Troy (Mobile, Ala.)

 

Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 23 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Ladd-Peebles Stadium (Mobile, Ala.)

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Troy -4

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. The Coaching Matchup: Old School vs. New School

Troy head coach Neal Brown is one of college football's youngest head coaches and a name to keep an eye on in the coming years when some high-profile jobs open up. As previously mentioned, he employs a "pin your ears back" style on both sides of the ball – an exciting brand of football that is sure to attract top-notch schools looking to re-energize their programs. For now, Brown needs to focus on facing one of the most seasoned head coached in the FBS ranks, Frank Solich. The Ohio Bobcats are a reflection of their coach — calm and calculated. Solich will have his team focused, disciplined and ready to pounce as soon at the Trojans take too big of a gamble on either side of the ball.

 

2. A Couple of Possible Future NFL Starters at Skill Positions
If you are looking for some future fantasy football "diamonds in the rough" or even some sleepers who could one day help your favorite NFL teams, this game has two players for you to keep an eye on. Ohio’s Sebastian Smith is your prototypical big-bodied No. 1 wide receiver. His size (6-3, 206) and leaping ability make him a nightmare to cover in the red zone, and his ability to win those jump balls could be the difference in this one.

 

When Troy has the ball, it won't be hard to notice Trojan running back Jordan Chunn. He's a big (6-1, 231), powerful back in the mold of LSU's Leonard Fournette. Chunn has no problem running over linebackers in the trenches and running past safeties in the open field. He'll be the x-factor for Troy against a physical Ohio defense.

 

3. Ohio Quarterbacks vs. Troy Secondary
We could see both Greg Windham and Quinton Maxwell under center in this game for the Bobcats. Regardless of who is taking the snaps and when, short, high-percentage passes are going to be Ohio's best bet for moving the ball through the air. Troy picked off 18 passes this season — seventh most in the FBS. The Trojans’ ball-hawking secondary will be foaming at the mouth for Ohio to take shots downfield and over the middle. It will all come down to the discipline of the Bobcats’ passing attack as to whether or not Troy can add a couple of more interceptions to their season total and change the momentum of what should be a close game.

 

Final Analysis

 

This is going to be a fun game to watch on a Friday night, as two well-coached teams take turns delivering body shots. You get the sense, however, that Ohio might be on the defensive most of the time, trying to contain Troy's explosive offense and working too hard on not making its own mistakes when the Bobcats have the ball. That's not going to be a recipe for success against these Trojans, who are constantly attacking and playing to win by any means necessary. Look for a couple of early turnovers to be the catalysts that gives Troy the lead, allowing the team from the Sun Belt to control the rest of the game by feeding the ball to star running back Jordan Chunn.

 

Prediction: Troy 30, Ohio 20

 

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

 

(Jordan Chunn photo courtesy of www.troytrojans.com; Sebastian Smith photo courtesy of www.ohiobobcats.com)

Teaser:
Dollar General Bowl Preview and Prediction: Ohio vs. Troy
Post date: Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: syndicated, NFL
Path: /nfl/predictions-every-nfl-game-week-16-2016
Body:

There’s just two weeks left in the NFL regular season and still plenty to sort out for the playoffs. Four teams (New England, Dallas, Seattle, Oakland) have clinched spots, but only two divisions have been decided. With 11 divisional games and a modified schedule on tap, Christmas could come early for some teams in Week 16.

 

Along those lines, the New York Giants sew up a wild card spot with a win on Thursday night in Philadelphia. With Christmas falling on a Sunday, most of the games will take place on Saturday, and the Christmas Eve slate is full of divisional pairings, including Miami-Buffalo and Minnesota-Green Bay. The Dolphins can get a step closer to securing their spot in the playoffs with a win over the Bills, while the Vikings need a win at Lambeau Field to stay in contention and the Packers are hoping to extend their winning streak to five games. Atlanta can claim the NFC South with a win in Carolina coupled with a Tampa Bay loss at New Orleans.

 

One of the non-divisional games this week features Indianapolis making the cross-country trek to the Bay Area to face the Raiders. The Colts must win to keep their playoff hopes alive while Oakland is trying to fend off Kansas City for the AFC West title and that all-important first-round bye. The Chiefs will host the Broncos on Christmas night and can essentially put an end to the defending Super Bowl champions’ reign or let Denver keep its slim playoff hopes alive.

 

The NFL’s other Christmas present to fans is an AFC North showdown between Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The Steelers hold a slim one-game lead over the Ravens for the lead in the division, but Baltimore won the first meeting. These two teams don’t like each other so the only thing that will be exchanged at Heinz Field that afternoon will be hard hits and probably a lot of trash talking.

 

The holiday festivities on the gridiron conclude on Monday with Dallas hosting Detroit. The Lions could wrap up the NFC North with a win and loss by Green Bay, but more likely we are headed towards a Week 17 winner-take-all matchup in Detroit. The Cowboys are in the playoffs, but need one more win to sew up the NFC East, a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

 

So which teams will come out on top in every NFL game in Week 16? Athlon's own Rob Doster (AthlonDoster), John Gworek (JohnGworek), Steven Lassan (AthlonSteven), and Mark Ross (AthlonMarkR), along with AthlonSports.com contributor Bryan Fischer (BryanDFischer), predict the winners for every game this week:

 

NFL Week 16 Predictions

 

 

Rob

Doster

Bryan
Fischer

John

Gworek

Steven

Lassan

Mark

Ross

NY Giants at
Philadelphia (TNF)

Miami at
Buffalo (Sat.)

NY Jets at
New England (Sat.)

Tennessee at
Jacksonville (Sat.)

Minnesota at
Green Bay (Sat.)

San Diego at
Cleveland (Sat.)

Washington at
Chicago (Sat.)

Atlanta at
Carolina (Sat.)

Indianapolis at
Oakland (Sat.)

Tampa Bay at
New Orleans (Sat.)

Arizona at
Seattle (Sat.)

San Francisco at
Los Angeles (Sat.)

Cincinnati at
Houston (Sat.)
Baltimore at
Pittsburgh
Denver at
Kansas City (SNF)

Detroit at
Dallas (MNF)

Week 15 12-4 10-6 12-4 12-4 12-4
Season 153-69 131-19 133-89 138-84 139-83

 

Note: Ties are not included in season record.

Teaser:
Predictions for Every NFL Game in Week 16
Post date: Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/big-ten-all-freshman-team-2016
Body:

The Big Ten had a standout year on the gridiron, as Ohio State made the College Football Playoff as the No. 3 seed, and Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan finished inside of the top 10 of the final poll. While the Buckeyes have a shot to win it all in January, the future of the program is in good hands with seven freshmen earning a spot on Athlon’s Freshman All-Big Ten team for 2016. Running back Mike Weber was one of the conference’s top playmakers, and the defensive line is stocked for the next few seasons, as three players earned a spot on the all-freshman team. Additionally, the Nittany Lions, Wolverines and Badgers combined for 15 other selections. Needless to say, the rich are getting richer over the next couple of years.

 

With bowl games up next, it’s time to look back the 2016 season and hand out some hardware to the league’s top freshmen. 

 

Related: Ranking the Watchability of All 40 Bowl Games

 

Which freshmen had the best year in the Big Ten this fall? Here is the 2016 Athlon Sports Big Ten All-Freshman Team:

 

Big Ten All-Freshman Team for 2016
 

First-Team

Offense

Second-Team

Offense

QB

Alex Hornibrook

Wisconsin 

Tyrrell Pigrome

Maryland 

RB

Mike Weber

Ohio State 

Lorenzo Harrison

Maryland 

RB

Chris Evans

Michigan 

Bradrick Shaw

Wisconsin 

AP

Reggie Corbin (RB)

Illinois 

Eddie McDoom

Michigan 

WR

Donnie Corley

Michigan State 

John Moten (RB)

Northwestern 

WR

Jawuan Harris

Rutgers 

K.J. Hill

Ohio State 

TE

Kyle Penniston

Wisconsin 

Brycen Hopkins

Purdue 

OL

Coy Cronk

Indiana 

Matt McCann

Purdue 

OL

Ben Bredeson

Michigan 

Terrance Davis

Maryland 

OL

Michael Jordan

Ohio State 

Cole Chewins

Michigan State 

OL

Ryan Bates

Penn State 

Connor McGovern

Penn State 

OL

Jon Dietzen

Wisconsin 

David Edwards

Wisconsin 

     
 

First-Team

Defense

Second-Team

Defense

DL

Nick Bosa

Ohio State 

Tai'yon Devers

Minnesota 

DL

Anthony Nelson

Iowa 

Carlos Davis 

Nebraska 

DL

Rashan Gary

Michigan 

Raequan Williams

Michigan State 

DL

Kevin Givens

Penn State 

Robert Landers

Ohio State 

LB

Dre'Mont Jones (DL)

Ohio State 

Carter Coughlin

Minnesota 

LB

Markus Bailey

Purdue 

Tyreek Maddox-Williams

Rutgers 

LB

Cam Brown

Penn State 

Navon Mosley

Purdue 

DB

Marcelino Ball

Indiana 

Manny Rugamba

Iowa 

DB

Patrick Nelson

Illinois 

Damon Arnette

Ohio State 

DB

Trae Williams

Northwestern 

A'Shon Riggins

Indiana 

DB

Antoine Winfield

Minnesota 

Stanley Green

Illinois 

     
 

First-Team

Specialists

Second-Team

Specialists

K

Keith Duncan

Iowa 

J.D. Dellinger

Purdue 

P

Blake Gillikin

Penn State 

Wade Lees

Maryland 

KR

Tre Bryant

Nebraska 

Miles Sanders

Penn State 

PR

Jawuan Harris

Rutgers 

Brian Lankford-Johnson (KR)

Purdue 

 

Teaser:
Big Ten All-Freshman Team for 2016
Post date: Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar-schedule-2017
Body:

NASCAR's new logo (2017)The 2017 NASCAR season will soon be upon us. With it will come a new title sponsor—hello Monster Engery NASCAR Cup Series and goodbye Sprint Cup—a returning Dale Jr., a new NASCAR logo (pictured) and more. To help you find plan your weekend TV schedule (FOX, FS1, NBC, etc.) this season, check out the new NASCAR schedule, which features tracks, times, TV networks, radio and more. 

 

Date

Location

Network

Race Start

Radio 

2/18

The Unlimited at 

Daytona International Speedway 

FS1

 

8 p.m. 

 

MRN / SiriusXM

2/19

DAYTONA 500 Qualifying at 

Daytona International Speedway 

FOX

 

3 p.m. 

 

MRN / SiriusXM

2/23

Can-Am Duel at 

Daytona International Speedway 

FS1

7 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

2/26

DAYTONA 500 at

Daytona International Speedway

FOX

2 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

3/5

Atlanta Motor Speedway

FOX

2:30 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

3/12

Las Vegas Motor Speedway

FOX

3:30 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

3/19

Phoenix International Raceway

FOX

3:30 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

3/26

Auto Club Speedway

FOX

3:30 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

4/2

Martinsville Speedway

FS1

2 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

4/9

Texas Motor Speedway

FOX

1:30 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

4/23

Bristol Motor Speedway

FOX

2 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

4/30

Richmond International Raceway

FOX

2 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

5/7

Talladega Superspeedway

FOX

2 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

5/13

Kansas Speedway

FS1

7:30 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

5/20

NASCAR All-Star Race at

Charlotte Motor Speedway 

FS1

6 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

5/28

Coca-Cola 600 at

Charlotte Motor Speedway

FOX

6 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

6/4

Dover International Speedway

FS1

1 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

6/11

Pocono Raceway

FS1

3 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

6/18

Michigan International Speedway

FS1

3 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

6/25

Sonoma Raceway

FS1

3 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

7/1

Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway

NBC 

7:30 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

7/8

Kentucky Speedway

NBCSN

7:30 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

7/16

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

NBCSN

3 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

7/23

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

NBC

3 p.m.

IMS / SiriusXM

7/30

Pocono Raceway

NBCSN

3 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

8/6

Watkins Glen International

NBCSN

3 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

8/13

Michigan International Speedway

NBCSN

3 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

8/19

Bristol Motor Speedway

NBC

7:30 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

9/3

Darlington Raceway

NBCSN

6 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

9/9

Richmond International Raceway

NBCSN

7:30 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

9/17

Chicagoland Speedway

NBCSN

3 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

9/24

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

NBCSN

2 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

10/1

Dover International Speedway

NBCSN

2 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

10/7

Charlotte Motor Speedway

NBCSN

7 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

10/15

Talladega Superspeedway

NBC

2 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

10/22

Kansas Speedway

NBCSN

3 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

10/29

Martinsville Speedway

NBCSN

1 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

11/5

Texas Motor Speedway

NBC

2 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

11/12

Phoenix International Raceway

NBC

2:30 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

11/19

Homestead-Miami Speedway

NBC

2:30 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

Note: All times Eastern.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - 17:51
Path: /stern
Body:

NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern was one of the outspoken voices in favor of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992, which effectively outlawed wagering on sporting events nationwide — with a few exceptions, most notably Las Vegas. But since stepping away from the NBA’s top office in 2014, Stern, 74, has changed his tune on sports betting.

 

“Over time I’ve come to accept the notion that a properly run gambling operation — or ‘gaming’ as we like to say in Las Vegas — is protective and not deleterious to the health of sports,” says Stern, who believes the solution is to amend PASPA, ensuring the issue remains consistent on a federal level (rather than having 50 different state laws). We sat down one-on-one with Stern, who was the keynote speaker at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas.

 

How did former referee Tim Donaghy’s conviction of illegally betting on games that he officiated influence your opinion on gambling in sports?

Interestingly enough, I viewed the Donaghy thing as a black swan because the Las Vegas infrastructure didn’t pick it up, and even our post-event analysis didn’t come to any particular conclusion. But it did influence me in the context of coming to better understand what Las Vegas does, and how that might be amplified to help all sports leagues that are concerned about betting.

 

Would legalized sports betting and increased transparency help promote or prevent future sports gambling scandals?

If you ultimately open it up to more people, and you encourage betting — which I think would be a natural progression of what we’re talking about — there will be more opportunities for potential irregularities. You have to be even more vigilant and, as a result, that’s why I would be very supportive of a super-sleuthing law enforcement devoted to sports and sports gaming.

 

We’ve been lucky in this country. The major “scandals” have for the most part, involving players at least, have been at the collegiate level. Of course, there were the (1919 Chicago White Sox) Black Sox, whatever those were — not even I was born then. But we have to be vigilant because I see what’s happened in lower level soccer and not-so-lower-level tennis, in cricket. It’s kind of scary.

 

Would you consider becoming the national sports gambling czar?

Me? No, no, no. I’m happy to be informed and outspoken, but I am looking to small opportunities that in the totality may keep me busy, but nothing that consumes large portions of my time.

 

Have you ever thought of making the NBA Draft Lottery a made-for-TV event, where the results are shown live — like the Powerball lottery does?

I was thinking perhaps I could come back and come out of a cake to make it more exciting as a live event. The reality is that what you have to do for a lottery is pop a lot of ping pong balls. I’ve actually never been inside that room, because I’ve usually been on stage or near the stage. But it’s not our job to give you the best theatre. It’s a really a tedious process. Because of the integrity of it, it’s done in a certain way and that’s the way we do it.

 

Did you ever joke with Michael Jordan about the rumors that his first retirement was really a secret gambling suspension?

We never discussed it. No. … It was actually someone made that up. An ESPN reporter (Bill Simmons) said, “I’ll bet Michael Jordan was sitting in David Stern’s living room.” And my wife said, “Where was I?” It was literally made up. That’s the way the media works.

 

Do you think the “one-and-done” rule will be changed in the next collective bargaining agreement?

It’s likely to stay the same, because of the built in biases of the parties. But I think that what’s going to happen is that the NBA Development League at full strength, 30 teams, is actually going to become a more viable alternative to college for kids who just decide that their business is basketball. And rather than just going (to college) and not going to classes, they’ll do good things at the D-League and that’ll be a good. KD (Kevin Durant) used to say that if he had come out of high school, he would’ve been playing video games and walking malls. He appreciated a year at the University of Texas. I believe him.

 

What are your thoughts on your successor, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver?

I know him as a good person, a hard worker, sensitive person, and he took over at a time when a different approach was necessary. When I was growing the league, it needed a lot of protecting. I viewed my job as stepping in in front of bullets and trains. There were people — many of them in the media — who were brutal and wanted to see the worst of us and were more than ready to condemn almost anything. I adopted, “If you come after my league, you’re going to have to come through me.” We built this incredible $40-to-$50 billion enterprise, which needs the kind of leadership and development that Adam and the group of people with whom he’s surrounded himself are ready to do.

 

What is the highlight of your tenure as NBA Commissioner?

Before I took over, our players were in the basement of the pyramid of celebrity status. And as we sit here today, they’re at the point of that pyramid, the very top. Whether it’s KD (Kevin Durant) and Russell Westbrook on fashion, or LeBron (James) and Carmelo (Anthony) on social responsibility, or D-Wade (Dwyane Wade) on difficult criminal issues in Chicago… When they stop and talk, people listen. Because they’re respected. It would’ve been impossible to project and believe. And it’s the end result of the work of hundreds, if not thousands, of people that work at the NBA and its teams.

Teaser:
David Stern discusses the future of sports gambling and his legacy as NBA Commissioner.
Post date: Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - 16:28
All taxonomy terms: syndicated, NFL
Path: /nfl/nfl-power-rankings-week-16-2016
Body:

We had another one of those magical moments on Sunday afternoon as the early NFL games were all coming to a close at the same time and we had great finish after great finish cap some furious action. That wasn’t the case in many of the other games this week but we did see a lot more of the playoff picture get locked into place on the flip side.

 

Related: NFL 2016 Regular and Postseason Predictions

 

With that in mind and factoring in everything from overall roster strength, to quarterback play, to the coaching staff, to injuries, here is the latest edition of NFL power rankings and where every team stacks up from 1 to 32.

 

Week 16 NFL Power Rankings

 

1. Dallas Cowboys

Last week: 1

After a week hearing about Tony Romo, Dak Prescott followed up his worst game in a Cowboys uniform with one of his best in going 32-of-36 against the Buccaneers. The defensive line also impressed on Sunday might as Dallas’ recent struggles now look more like a blip than a long-term issue.

 

2. New England Patriots

Last week: 2

The Pats looked un-Pats like in Denver with that quality run game and stingy defense powering their way to another first-round bye. Chances are this team will need to grind out a similar win in January so the effort against the Broncos is encouraging for the AFC favorite.

 

3. Oakland Raiders

Last week: 5
It’s been a long, long time but the Raiders are finally back in the NFL postseason. That win over San Diego wasn’t pretty but it was enough for a team that is back in contention for the AFC West too.

 

4. New York Giants

Last week: 8
Another big win over a playoff team and another big-time performance by that re-tooled Giants defense. All that talk that this team is channeling those Super Bowl squads of recent history might not be too far off the mark if things keep trending upward.

 

5. Atlanta Falcons

Last week: 7
Back-to-back 40 point games is impressive offensively but the way the defense has clamped down on inferior opponents the past two weeks is a solid sign these might not be the same old Falcons we’re used to seeing in December.

 

6. Green Bay Packers

Last week: 13
Everybody kind of chuckled when Aaron Rodgers talked about winning out. Nobody is laughing now as this is the hottest team in the NFC.

 

7. Pittsburgh Steelers

Last week: 6
A win is a win but Pittsburgh left way too many points on the board against Cincinnati by having to fall back on field goals instead of scoring touchdowns. Still, that’s five in a row heading into the big showdown with Baltimore.

 

8. Seattle Seahawks

Last week: 10
The Seahawks reverted to looking like a team that could win the NFC in that victory over the lowly Rams. The question is, can they keep that up against Arizona next week and close out the season with that No. 2 seed?

 

9. Kansas City Chiefs

Last week: 3
If it’s best to be lucky and good, the Chiefs were neither on Sunday against the Titans. While it didn’t cost them a postseason slot, it did make the uphill road to a division title that much harder and could mean no first-round bye for a team that desperately wants one.

 

10. Detroit Lions

Last week: 4
With all those fourth-quarter comebacks, you knew there would come a time where the team wouldn’t quite be able to replicate that magic once again. Unfortunately for the Lions, it came at the wrong time to the wrong team.

 

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last week: 9
The Bucs didn’t look completely overmatched with the spotlight on them Sunday night but they didn’t come up with the big plays they needed in the fourth quarter either. Now Jameis Winston and company are in a real dogfight for that final wild card spot.

 

12. Baltimore Ravens

Last week: 12
Having to stop a two-point conversion in the final seconds isn’t what this team wanted, but the Ravens got it done and remain in control of their postseason fate. Still, that narrow win over the Eagles was a perfect example of it still being a mystery as to exactly how good this team really is.

 

13. Denver Broncos

Last week: 11
The good news? The defense slowed down Tom Brady again. The bad news? The offense continued to be this team’s Achilles heel and it may cost them a spot in the postseason.

 

14. Miami Dolphins

Last week: 16
The Matt Moore era got off to a great start with four touchdown passes against the lowly Jets. The next two games figure to be a much bigger jump in competition though and a truer test of what’s to come for the Dolphins.

 

15. Tennessee Titans

Last week: 14
Some more Mariota magic and a surprising leg from their kicker allowed the Titans to keep pace in the AFC South and remain in playoff contention. Even though the team got the win though, you have to wonder about that two-point conversion attempt from head coach Mike Mularkey.

 

16. Washington Redskins

Last week: 15
That Monday nighter was yet another frustrating loss that Redskins fans have seen all too many times with this team. The defense looked ready for the season to be over at times and that loss to the Panthers may very well have been the nail in the coffin for this year.

 

17. Buffalo Bills

Last week: 17
We can’t learn much from that romp over the Browns but it is very clear that there will be some big and far-reaching decisions about this roster, the coaching staff and the front office soon to come in Buffalo.

 

18. Houston Texans

Last week: 18
The cheer that came from Houston fans when Bill O’Brien finally benched Brock Osweiller and put in Tom Savage was not at all surprising and said plenty about how this season has gone. It also signaled that somebody in the organization is bound to be looking for work as a result of that free agent signing.

 

19. New Orleans Saints

Last week: 21
Those were some fun fireworks (on the road no less) against Arizona as Drew Brees got back into form for a win. Giving up 41 and allowing Carson Palmer to turn back the clock only underscores the work that will need to be done defensively in the offseason though.

 

20. Indianapolis Colts

Last week: 25
That was an impressive first half against Minnesota, made all the more special because the defense finally stepped up to stop somebody. The team is still barely alive in that AFC South race but it’s better than the alternative at this point in the year.

 

21. Philadelphia Eagles

Last week: 19
You have to like what Carson Wentz did late in the game in getting the team in position to win. Given that there’s not much left to play for right now, the decision to go for two and the win was nice to see and doubly so on the road against a solid team.

 

22. Minnesota Vikings

Last week: 20
It’s one thing for the defense to struggle containing a quarterback as good as Andrew Luck, it’s another for the offense to play terribly against a Colts defense that hasn’t really stopped anybody this season.

 

23. Carolina Panthers

Last week: 22
The door remains open to finishing at .500, which would be mildly impressive given the way the season started. While there wasn’t a ton of takeaways from the win over Washington, leaving points on the board and making mistakes in the second half can’t happen as the competition level rises the next two weeks.

 

24. Arizona Cardinals

Last week: 23
Bruce Arians’ first losing season makes you realize just how good a job he did previously with this team. It will be interesting to see if that was a flash in the pan for Carson Palmer against that Saints defense or something he can build on going forward.

 

25. San Diego Chargers

Last week: 24
It was bad enough that the team dropped to 5-9 after another game was lost as a result of turnovers down the stretch. It was even worse for the Chargers to see San Diego’s biggest crowd come as a result of the legions of Raiders fans in what might be the final matchup between the two teams in the city. 

 

26. Chicago Bears

Last week: 27
That was a brutal way to lose at the hands of your rival thanks to Aaron Rodgers’ magic arm. On the flip side though, that offensive backfield looked pretty good when Matt Barkley wasn’t turning the ball over and should be something to build around in 2017.

 

27. Cincinnati Bengals

Last week: 26
Normally you’d be happy with holding teams to field goals instead of touchdowns but it sums up the Bengals’ year when they combine that with blowing another game they could have had to the Steelers.

 

28. New York Jets

Last week: 28

Bryce Petty getting crushed in the middle of two Dolphins defensive linemen perfectly summed up the year for this team. At least we’re one step closer (probably) to seeing what Christian Hackenberg might look like in uniform on the sidelines.

 

29. Jacksonville Jaguars

Last week: 29

Gus Bradley was finally put out of his misery on Sunday before the team plane even took off. Now the question is, will he be the only major staffer let go or will others in the front office be joining him?

 

Related: 5 Replacements for Fired Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley

 

30. Los Angeles Rams

Last week: 30

The first game without Jeff Fisher looked like many of the ones with their now-fired head coach. Football in Los Angeles seems like it will stay focused on the upcoming Rose Bowl.

 

Related: 5 Replacements for Fired Los Angeles Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher

 

31. San Francisco 49ers

Last week: 31

You really have to admire how hard the 49ers are chasing the Browns for that No. 1 overall draft pick. After a stretch where the team looked pretty competitive, San Francisco has reverted back to form as the least talented team in the NFC.

 

32. Cleveland Browns

Last week: 32

There were some flickering moments where the Browns looked like they would avoid 0-16 but the calendar turning to December has extinguished most of those hopes.

 

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

Teaser:
NFL Power Rankings: Week 16
Post date: Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/pac-12-all-freshman-team-2016
Body:

The Pac-12 has produced plenty of standouts in the freshmen ranks in recent years, and the next star from this season’s crop of freshmen is clearly quarterback Sam Darnold at USC. Darnold’s emergence as the starter was a big reason why the Trojans are playing in the Rose Bowl against Penn State in January and could have this program in the mix for a playoff spot in 2017. Oregon freshman Justin Herbert also impressed late in the season and is a building block for new coach Willie Taggart. Receivers N’Keal Harry (Arizona State and Demetris Robertson (California), Oregon center Jake Hanson and Washington safety Taylor Rapp are just a few of the other freshmen that impressed this fall and will be making plenty of noise in 2017.

 

With bowl games up next, it’s time to look back the 2016 season and hand out some hardware to the league’s top freshmen. 

 

Related: Ranking the Watchability of All 40 Bowl Games

 

Which freshmen had the best year in the Pac-12 this fall? Here is the 2016 Athlon Sports Pac-12 All-Freshman Team:

 

Pac-12 All-Freshman Team for 2016
 

First-Team

Offense

Second-Team

Offense

QB

Sam Darnold

USC 

Justin Herbert

Oregon 

RB

James Williams

Washington State 

Steven Montez (QB)

Colorado 

RB

Artavis Pierce

Oregon State 

Zack Moss

Utah 

AP

Melquise Stovall (WR)

California 

Siaosi Wilson (WR)

Utah 

WR

Demetris Robertson

California 

Isaiah Johnson-Mack

Washington State 

WR

N'Keal Harry

Arizona State 

JJ Arcega-Whiteside

Stanford 

TE

Daniel Imatorbhehe

USC 

Caleb Wilson

UCLA 

C

Jake Hanson

Oregon 

Nathan Eldridge

Arizona 

OL

Tim Lynott

Colorado 

Nick Harris

Washington 

OL

Nate Herbig

Stanford 

Brady Aiello

Oregon 

OL

Gus Lavaka

Oregon State 

Shane Lemieux

Oregon 

OL

Calvin Throckmorton

Oregon 

Blake Brandel

Oregon State 

     
 

First-Team

Defense

Second-Team

Defense

DL

Justin Belknap

Arizona 

George Lea

Arizona State 

DL

Nnamdi Oguayo

Washington State 

Boss Tagaloa

UCLA 

DL

Rick Wade

UCLA 

Dylan Jackson

Stanford  

DL

Elu Aydon

Oregon State 

Gary Baker

Oregon 

LB

Troy Dye

Oregon 

Casey Toohill

Stanford 

LB

Sean Barton

Stanford 

Benning Potoa'e (DL/LB)

Washington 

LB

D.J. Beavers

Washington 

Andrzej Hughes-Murray

Oregon State 

DB

Xavier Crawford

Oregon State 

Frank Buncom

Stanford 

DB

Jalen Thompson

Washington State 

Tristan Cooper

Arizona 

DB

Taylor Rapp

Washington 

Isaiah Hayes

Arizona 

DB

Brenden Schooler

Oregon 

Jaylinn Hawkins

California 

     
 

First-Team

Specialists

Second-Team

Specialists

K

JJ Molson

UCLA 

Davis Price

Colorado 

P

Austin Kent

UCLA 

N/A
KR

Anthony Julmisse

Colorado 

Demetris Robertson

California 

PR

Dillon Mitchell

Oregon 

J.J. Taylor

Arizona 

 

Teaser:
Pac-12 All-Freshman Team for 2016
Post date: Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/top-10-worst-sports-twitter-accounts-clay-travis-jason-whitlock-schilling-rovell-bayless-stephen-smith-kanell-may
Body:

A person has to try really hard to be bad on Twitter. It's not an easy thing because the platform welcomes differing opinions. There are times you get the occasional troll who wants nothing more than to annoy or torment the object of their obsession, but you can ignore those people.

 

These are the sports-related people you may see pop up on your timeline for something outrageous or annoying they may have said, and they aren't going away anytime soon (sorry).

 

10. Carl Weathers (@TheCarlWeathers) - As much as we'd like to move the guy who played Apollo Creed in "Rocky" off the list, we still can't. Last year he came he came in at No. 9 and now he's No. 10, so that's something. However, the same hashtag in every single tweet still earns a spot on the list. #BePeace

 

9. Danny Kanell (@DannyKanell) - Some Twitter accounts are acquired tastes, and as more and more time passes, that's what Kanell is becoming. Obviously twitter is a place for opinions but, as many of Kanell's followers have pointed out, he sometimes trying too hard to have a differing opinion.

 

8. Mark May (@mark_may) - May will always be May. You either love him or hate him. He would announce every time he took an absence from twitter, then every time he came back, and it just became repetitive after a while. Now that he's somewhat active, it's just blah. You'd have to be a huge May fan to click the follow, and even then you might question what you've just done.

 

7. Stephen A. Smith (@stephenasmith) - Smith's tweets are only for two reasons, to upset people and to boost ratings for ESPN's "First Take." He does both and has no remorse at all. When he got into a little Twitter spat with some of the Redskins players, it became clear he's just tweeting in the hopes that people will hate-watch his show.

 

 

6. Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) - Darren Rovell is one of those accounts people hate to follow but they do it because there are times he tweets useful information. Then there are times he's tweeting things that could be taken differently than he intended. After Ezekiel Elliott jumped into a gigantic Salvation Army kettle after a touchdown on Sunday night in primetime n NBC, the Salvation Army Twitter account made a timely statement about giving back, to which Rovell quipped it wasn't subtle. Add the Salvation Army to the list of people who have correctly replied to the ESPN business reporter.

 

 

5. Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) - King has been described by many as a "hate-follow" that you put up with because he offers useful information at times. But often his tweets that aren't about sports are pretty tone-deaf and we're hoping he doesn't realize how they come off to people... or he might and just doesn't care.

 

4. Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) - We all know about Bayless and the never-ending trolling he does. Nothing has changed now that he's on a different network. He's still the same old, player-hating commentator he always was. Also keep in mind he doesn't follow anybody so, just like on television, he only likes to hear what he has to say. 

 

3. Curt Schilling (@gehrig38) - There's so much you could say about Schilling. His tweets and far-right ideology got him fired from ESPN. We won't embed one of them here but many have been pretty bad. His whole social media presence is like a never-ending migraine.

 

2. Jason Whitlock (@WhitlockJason) - Whitlock has plenty of epic Twitter moments and unless you mute him, it's impossible not to have seen one of them. Just recently when ESPN's Damien Woody asked a rhetorical question during an NFL game, Whitlock took it upon himself to "school" the two-time Super Bowl champion. Peak Whitlock.

 

 

1. Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) - Travis super fans, avert your eyes; although it can be argued that even his fans know he can be annoying at times. From his degrading language of anyone who disagrees with him, to his unbelievable arrogance, there's a lot to take in on his feed. Travis has his own special way of belittling you if you aren't on "his side of things." It was actually this tweet that lost him his Jack Daniels advertisement deal.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - 10:51
Path: /college-football/big-12-all-freshman-team-2016
Body:

The Big 12 had several key players depart after the 2015 season but several new faces emerged as the league’s future stars as freshmen in 2016. Texas quarterback Shane Buechele averaged 246.5 passing yards per game and tossed 21 touchdowns as a true freshman for former coach Charlie Strong. Buechele will be a building block for new coach Tom Herman to build around in 2017. Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill and West Virginia running back Kennedy McKoy are two other players with a bright future on offense, while Texas end/linebacker Malcolm Roach, Kansas State end Reggie Walker and Kansas defensive back Mike Lee are just a few names to watch on defense.

 

With bowl games up next, it’s time to look back the 2016 season and hand out some hardware to the league’s top freshmen. 

 

Related: Ranking the Watchability of All 40 Bowl Games

 

Which freshmen had the best year in the Big 12 this fall? Here is the 2016 Athlon Sports Big 12 All-Freshman Team:

 

Big 12 All-Freshman Team for 2016
 

First-Team

Offense

Second-Team

Offense

QB

Shane Buechele

Texas 

Zach Smith

Baylor 

RB

David Montgomery

Iowa State 

JaMycal Hasty

Baylor 

 

RB

Justice Hill

Oklahoma State 

Alex Barnes

Kansas State 

AP

Kennedy McKoy (RB)

West Virginia 

Da'Leon Ward (RB)

Texas Tech 

WR

Blake Lynch

Baylor 

Pooh Stricklin

Baylor 

WR

Devin Duvernay

Texas 

Collin Johnson

Texas 

WR

Deshaunte Jones

Iowa State 

Isaiah Zuber

Kansas State 

OL

Bobby Evans

Oklahoma 

Julian Good-Jones

Iowa State 

OL

Colton McKivitz

West Virginia 

Tyler Mitchell 

Kansas State 

OL

Marcus Keyes

Oklahoma State 

Terence Steele

Texas Tech 

OL

Scott Frantz

Kansas State 

Mesa Ribordy

Kansas 

OL

Hakeem Adeniji

Kansas 

Zach Shackelford

Texas 

     
 

First-Team

Defense

Second-Team

Defense

DL

Malcolm Roach

Texas 

Adam Shuler

West Virginia 

DL

Reggie Walker

Kansas State 

Trey Dishon

Kansas State 

DL

JaQuan Bailey

Iowa State 

Tyrone Hunt

Baylor 

DL

Neville Gallimore

Oklahoma 

Clay Johnston (LB)

Baylor 

LB

David Long

West Virginia 

Jordan Williams

Baylor 

LB

Jordyn Brooks

Texas Tech 

Jeffrey McCulloch

Texas 

LB

Caleb Kelly

Oklahoma 

Calvin Bundage

Oklahoma State 

DB

Mike Lee

Kansas 

Douglas Coleman

Texas Tech 

DB

Mike Johnson

Iowa State 

Jameson Houston

Baylor 

DB

Jordan Parker

Oklahoma 

Grayland Arnold

Baylor 

DB

Jeff Gladney

TCU 

Desmon Smith

Texas Tech 

     
 

First-Team

Specialists

 

K

Ryan Graf

TCU 

 
P

Adam Nunez

TCU 

 
KR

Kene Nwangwu

Iowa State 

 
PR

Tony Nicholson

Baylor 

 

 

Teaser:
Big 12 All-Freshman Team for 2016
Post date: Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/bahamas-bowl-preview-and-prediction-old-dominion-vs-eastern-michigan
Body:

A tripleheader of bowl action on Friday starts with the only postseason game outside of the United States, as Eastern Michigan and Old Dominion meet in the third edition of the Bahamas Bowl. The matchup of the Monarchs and Eagles is one of the best feel-good stories of the bowl season. Old Dominion is making its first postseason trip in program history, while Eastern Michigan is playing in its first bowl since 1987.

 

Eastern Michigan’s turnaround under third-year coach Chris Creighton has been one of the best storylines of the 2016 season. This job is one of the toughest in the nation, but Creighton guided the Eagles to their first winning mark since 1995 and engineered a six-game improvement after a 1-11 record in 2015. For some perspective on how difficult this job is, Eastern Michigan has just three non-losing records since 1990. The Eagles knocked off two division champs this year – Ohio (MAC East) and Wyoming (Mountain West Mountain Division). The addition of coordinator Neal Neathery has been one of the biggest reasons for improvement in Ypsilanti. The Eagles limited opponents to just 5.8 yards per play – a clear improvement after surrendering 7.02 in 2015.

 

Behind coach (and rising star) Bobby Wilder, Old Dominion has been on a fast rise since restarting its program in 2009. The Monarchs disbanded the football program after the 1940 season but returned to the gridiron in 2009. As an FCS Independent from 2009-10, Old Dominion went 17-5 and later went 21-5 with two playoff trips from 2011-12. The Monarchs transitioned as a FCS Independent in 2013 (8-4) and recorded a .500 season (6-6) in their first year at the FBS level. ODU went 5-7 last season but rebounded to 9-3 and lost only one conference game this fall. The Monarchs recorded a strong nine-win resume, with the only losses coming against Appalachian State, NC State and WKU. ODU has one of the top offenses in Conference USA (36 ppg), while the defense limits opponents to 5.4 yards per play.

 

Related: Ranking All 40 Bowl Games for 2016

 

Old Dominion and Eastern Michigan have played two previous matchups. The Monarchs have won both games, including a 38-34 shootout in Ypsilanti last season. ODU won 17-3 in Norfolk, Va. in 2014.

 

Old Dominion vs. Eastern Michigan (Bahamas Bowl)

 

Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 23 at 1 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Old Dominion -4

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Eastern Michigan’s Passing Attack

The strength of Eastern Michigan’s offense is the passing game. The Eagles rank second in the MAC by averaging 295.8 yards per game through the air, with quarterback Brogan Roback throwing for 2,394 yards and 16 scores in nine games. Playing mistake-free ball is always key for a quarterback, but Roback’s split stats show how critical turnovers have been for this offense. In four losses that Roback played in, the junior tossed five picks and completed 55.6 percent of his throws. However, in five wins, Roback threw for 11 touchdowns and completed 62.7 of his passes. Roback isn’t a dynamic runner, but he’s not a statue in the pocket either. The junior rushed for 195 yards and two scores on 195 carries this season.

 

The 6-foot-3 quarterback leads the MAC with an average of 36.2 attempts per game and also has a wealth of receiving options at his disposal. Six Eastern Michigan players have caught at least 20 passes, with Sergio Bailey (55 catches) leading the way. The Eagles aren’t one-dimensional on offense but earning a victory in the Bahamas will be on the shoulder of Roback.

 

Old Dominion will counter Roback and the EMU passing game with a secondary that ranks fifth in Conference USA in pass efficiency defense. Cornerback Brandon Addison is the headliner in the secondary for Wilder, earning second-team All-Conference USA honors after recording 43 tackles, two interceptions and 10 pass breakups in 2016. Helping the secondary is a relentless pass rush, as Old Dominion recorded 34 sacks in 12 games this fall. Oshane Ximines (7.5) and Bunmi Rotimi (seven) anchor the rush in the trenches.

 

The Eagles have a deep group of receivers and a quarterback capable of carrying the offense to a win. Can Old Dominion’s secondary and pass rush keep Roback in check?

 

Related: Predictions for All 40 Bowl Games in 2016

 

2. Old Dominion’s Ground Game

The Monarchs’ balanced and explosive attack is going to be a handful for Eastern Michigan’s defense. Old Dominion ranks fourth in C-USA in yards per play (6.4) and points per game (36). The Monarchs are also fourth in the league in plays of 40 yards or more, generating 19 through 12 contests.

 

Wilder’s offense has evolved a bit over the last three years, as Old Dominion attempted 455 passes with Taylor Heinicke under center in 2014. The Monarchs attempted 354 this season, but the dip in passing isn’t a concern. Instead, Old Dominion has one of the better tandems at running back in the Group of 5 ranks. Ray Lawry rushed for 1,122 yards and 11 touchdowns this season and reached 1,000 yards for the second consecutive year. Jeremy Cox recorded 685 yards and 13 touchdowns on 119 attempts and also contributed 11 receptions. Quarterback David Washington is another threat on the ground for Wilder, as the senior posted 205 yards and one touchdown on 65 carries this season.

 

Eastern Michigan’s rush defense has showed marked improvement this fall after surrendering a hefty 316.6 yards per game on the ground in 2015. The Eagles cut that total to 164.3 per contest this season and limited opponents to 4.3 yards per carry. Lineman Pat O’Connor (12.5 TFL) missed 2015 due to injury, but his return has helped this front seven become tougher against the run and better at generating pressure against the quarterback.

 

While the Eagles are clearly better up front, can they contain Cox and Lawry? The Monarchs rushed for at least 200 yards in seven contests this year, including 312 in the regular season finale against FIU. Whichever team wins the battle in the trenches in this area is likely to come out on top.

 

3. Old Dominion QB David Washington

David Washington’s career at Old Dominion has taken its share of turns. The North Carolina native started his career at quarterback in 2013 and later moved to receiver in 2014. During the 2014 campaign, Washington caught 47 passes for 599 yards and four touchdowns. He began the 2015 season at receiver but later moved back to quarterback midway through the year. Washington sparked the Old Dominion offense last season once he stepped in at quarterback but had his year cut short by a knee injury. The senior has avoided the injury bug and showed no ill-effects from the knee injury this fall, as he passed for 2,648 yards and 28 scores through 12 contests. In addition to his efficient play (only four interceptions), Washington is also connecting on his share of big plays (18 completions of 30 yards or more).

 

Washington has been an unheralded star in the Group of 5 ranks this season, and there’s a good chance the senior ends his 2016 campaign on a high note. Eastern Michigan ranks seventh in the MAC in pass efficiency defense and 80th nationally. Coverage has been an issue at times, as the Eagles have surrendered eight plays of 50 or more yards and four out of the last six opponents threw for at least 250 yards. Old Dominion’s receiving corps features four players with at least 20 catches, including Zach Pascal (63) and Jonathan Duhart (45). Can Washington connect with Pascal and Duhart for big plays? Or will the Eastern Michigan secondary rise to the challenge and contain Washington through the air while forcing a couple of mistakes?

 

Final Analysis

 

History isn’t the best indicator of what will happen in a bowl game, but the first two editions of the Bahamas Bowl featured high-scoring affairs. In 2014, WKU edged Central Michigan in a 49-48 thriller, and Western Michigan defeated MTSU 45-31 last season. Another high-scoring affair could be in order on Friday, as Old Dominion and Eastern Michigan both average over 30 points a game. The Monarchs should be able to test the EMU front seven, but Roback and his receiving corps will provide its share of headaches for the ODU defense. If Washington continues his standout season and the Monarchs establish the run, Eastern Michigan will have trouble keeping pace. Another reason to like Old Dominion in this game is the turnover battle. The Monarchs are plus-13 this season and have forced 22 takeaways. As we mentioned in the intro, both teams should have plenty of motivation and excitement surrounding this trip. However, one team’s dream season falls short. Old Dominion caps a standout year with a victory, earning their first double-digit win total since joining the FBS level.

 

Prediction: Old Dominion 38, Eastern Michigan 30
Teaser:
Bahamas Bowl Preview and Prediction: Old Dominion vs. Eastern Michigan
Post date: Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/armed-forces-bowl-preview-and-prediction-louisiana-tech-bulldogs-vs-navy-midshipmen-2016
Body:

Two explosive offenses are set to meet in Fort Worth, Texas, for the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. Navy enter this game averaging 37.4 points and 436.7 yards of total offense per game with a 9-4 overall record and an American Athletic Conference (AAC) West Division title. However, the Midshipmen have struggled in recent weeks, averaging just 253.5 yards in back-to-back losses. Navy lost to Temple 34-10 in the conference title game and was beaten 21-17 by Army a week ago – the first loss to its archrivals since 2001.

 

Louisiana Tech has scored 44.0 points per game while gaining 516.1 total yards on average. The Bulldogs are 8-5 overall, and won the Conference USA West, but have also lost two games in a row. The Bulldogs lost to Southern Miss 39-24 in the regular season finale, and fell to Western Kentucky 58-44 in the C-USA title game. Also, Louisiana Tech is just 3-5 in games played outside of Ruston.

 

Armed Forces Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. Navy (Fort Worth, Texas)

 

Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 23 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Where: Amon G. Carter Stadium (Fort Worth, Texas)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Louisiana Tech -5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Navy’s Triple Option
Utilizing its traditional triple-option offense, Navy ranks fourth nationally with 310.9 rushing yards per game and has scored 56 rushing touchdowns – eight more than any other FBS team. The Midshipmen have run for more than 300 yards in eight games this season, but averaged just 112.3 in losses to Air Force, Temple and Army.

 

Quarterback Will Worth leads the team with 1,198 rushing yards and 25 TDs, but he was injured in the AAC Conference Championship Game and won’t play against Louisiana Tech. Zach Abey started against Army, and proved capable of carrying the load with 73 rushing yards and two touchdowns. But he’s had issues when it comes to throwing the ball with four interceptions and no touchdown passes. Abey is a sophomore who started the season as Navy’s third-string quarterback before original starter Tago Smith (torn ACL, Week 1) and Worth went down with injuries.

 

Explosive running back Toneo Gulley (427 yards, 9.9 ypc, 4 TDs) also was injured in the loss to Temple and he will miss the bowl game too. But the Midshipmen still have several quality ball carriers in Chris High (500 yds., 5 TDs), Shawn White (443, 7), Dishon Romine (416, 1), and Calvin Cass (150, 2).

 

2. Louisiana Tech’s Prolific Passing Game
Like Navy, Louisiana Tech has played exceptional offense this season, though the Bulldogs have relied on the pass for the majority of their success. Quarterback Ryan Higgins ranks third nationally with 4,208 passing yards, and has thrown 37 touchdowns and just eight interceptions while completing 65.8 percent of his passes.

 

Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson give Higgins arguably the best wide receiver combination in the country. Taylor ranks second in the FBS with 124 receptions – 10 of which have gone for touchdowns – and is third in the country with 1,570 receiving yards. Henderson ranks eighth with 1,406 receiving yards and second with 17 TD catches. The playmaking junior has averaged 19.5 yards on 72 receptions this season.

 

In addition to Taylor and Henderson, running back Jarred Craft has been a reliable receiving option out of the backfield. Craft leads the team with 1,011 rushing yards and nine scores on the ground, and also has 41 receptions for 339 yards and four more touchdowns.

 

3. Which Defense Has the Advantage?
Despite both teams winning their respective divisions and playing for conference championships, neither Navy nor Louisiana Tech has been particularly good at stopping opposing offenses. The Bulldogs rank No. 70 nationally in total defense (418.0 ypg), and have surrendered an average of 5.68 yards per play, which ranks 64th. Navy has allowed 429.2 yards per game, which ranks No. 76 in the country, but has been even worse with an average of 6.3 yards allowed per play– No. 106 in the nation.

 

However, if there is a matchup advantage for one squad, it’s Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs allowed just 134.4 rushing yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry during the regular season – both of which ranked second in Conference USA and among the top 30 nationally. The Bulldogs rank 121st in the country against the pass (283.6 ypg), but Navy is not a team that likes to throw the ball all over the field as only three teams have been less productive through the air than the Midshipmen (125.8 ypg), who also have a total of eight touchdown passes on the season. Navy may not even want to throw the ball considering Louisiana Tech is seventh in the nation with 42 sacks (8.7 percent of pass plays) while the Midshipmen have allowed 21 despite attempting the third-fewest passes (146 att., sacks allowed 14.4 percent of pass plays).

 

On the other side of the football, Navy ranks 80th against the pass (242.2 ypg) even though it has played some of the worst passing offenses (Air Force, Tulane, Army) in the nation. Take out those three teams (all of which rank 124th or lower), and Navy has given up 283.6 yards through the air per game. This is bad news facing the Bulldogs’ third-ranked passing attack.

 

Final Analysis

 

Playing in Conference USA, Louisiana Tech has faced its fair share of dynamic offenses this season. But, the Bulldogs have not faced an opponent that operates a traditional triple option since Army in 2013 – and any team that faces a this unique system for the first time usually finds itself in a difficult position.

 

However, the Louisiana Tech defense has been at its best against the run this season. That gives the Bulldogs hope of containing Navy’s rushing attack – particularly since the banged-up Midshipmen have struggled to move the ball effectively over the last two games. Louisiana Tech also appears to have a sizeable advantage when it comes to throwing the football. It certainly won’t be easy, but expect the Bulldogs to be able to slow down Navy just enough to win a high-scoring game.

 

Prediction: Louisiana Tech 38, Navy 35

 

— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.

 

(Top photo courtesy of www.navysports.com)

Teaser:
Armed Forces Bowl Preview and Prediction: Louisiana Tech vs. Navy
Post date: Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/famous-idaho-potato-bowl-preview-and-prediction-idaho-vandals-vs-colorado-state-rams-2016
Body:

Idaho has a chance to end its penultimate FBS season in style. The Vandals (8-4, 6-2 Sun Belt) are headed to just their third bowl game in school history after closing out the regular season with four consecutive victories. For a team that won just six games over the previous three seasons, and is moving to the FCS ranks in 2018, it marks a tremendous turnaround in fortune.

 

Colorado State mirrored Idaho's strong finish in many ways. The Rams (7-5, 5-3 Mountain West) won their final two regular season games over New Mexico and Mountain West champion San Diego State to get bowl eligible. This is the fourth straight season Colorado State has played in a bowl game – the longest streak for the program since going to five consecutive under former head coach Sonny Lubick from 1999-2003.

 

Idaho is undefeated in bowl games, winning the 1998 Humanitarian Bowl and the 2009 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Colorado State is 6-9 in 15 previous bowl game appearances. The Rams are seeking their first bowl victory since rallying to beat Washington State 48-45 in the final minutes of the 2013 New Mexico Bowl.

 

Colorado State holds a 4-3 lead in the all-time series with Idaho. The Rams defeated the Vandals 36-34 in 2010 in the most recent game between the two teams.

 

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Idaho vs. Colorado State (Boise, Idaho)

 

Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Albertsons Stadium (Boise, Idaho)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Colorado State -13.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Can Nick Stevens exploit Idaho's pass defense?
Since reclaiming the starting job midway through the season, Nick Stevens has been a model of efficiency at quarterback for Colorado State. The junior has completed 98 of 137 passes for 1,414 yards and 14 touchdowns with just one interception during that six-game stretch.

 

His favorite target has been wide receiver Michael Gallup. The junior college transfer has totaled 1,164 yards and 11 touchdowns on 70 catches. Gallup ranks fifth all-time at Colorado State for receiving yards in a season. His 11 touchdown catches also lead the Mountain West Conference and he ranks in the top 20 nationally in receiving yards, yards per game and touchdowns.

 

Stevens began the season as the starting quarterback, but gave way to Collin Hill after a dismal outing in a 44-7 opening loss to Colorado. He threw for 31 yards on just 6-of-20 passing against the Buffaloes. Stevens earned a second chance when Hill went down with a season-ending knee injury a few weeks later.

 

Can Idaho do anything to slow Stevens down? The odds don't look favorable for the Vandals. Idaho owns one of the worst pass defenses in the nation, giving up 270 yards per game through the air to rank 112th overall among FBS teams. It's a key reason why the Vandals' defense allows 29.8 points per game.

 

2. Will Idaho win the turnover battle?
Turnovers are a major reason why Idaho posted its first winning season since 2009. The Vandals were good at getting takeaways against their Sun Belt opponents. Idaho is tied for 14th among FBS teams with a plus-8 turnover margin and also is tied for 14th in interceptions gained (15). The Vandals have gained an average of two turnovers over their last seven games with the margin split equally between fumbles and interceptions.

 

Linebacker Kaden Elliss and cornerback Jayshawn Jordan have done the most damage in forcing turnovers. Jordan and Elliss tallied five interceptions apiece during the regular season. Elliss also has a knack for creating fumbles. He has forced three fumbles and recovered a pair this season.

 

Colorado State won't make it easy to take the ball away. The Rams have committed just five turnovers in their last eight games and have totaled only five turnovers against non-Power Five teams. In that same eight-game stretch, Colorado State has forced nine turnovers.

 

3. Can Colorado State continue to dominate on the ground?
Stopping the Rams’ running backs has become a major chore for opponents. Colorado State has had five players rush for at least 100 yards over their past two games.

 

Izzy Matthews has accounted for two of those 100-yard rushing performances. He totaled a season-high 107 yards on 14 carries against New Mexico and followed up with 104 yards on 14 attempts against San Diego State. Matthews also has a knack for finding the end zone, totaling 11 touchdowns in his last seven games.

 

An improved running game has equaled a massive jump in offensive production. Over their last five games alone, the Rams have averaged 47.4 points and 520.6 yards per contest. Colorado State has proven to be especially lethal in the red zone. The Rams are 47-of-50 (.940) in red zone conversions this season, with 39 touchdowns and eight field goals. That’s good enough or seventh in the FBS in red zone conversions and is third among all teams in red zone touchdowns.

 

Final Analysis

 

Idaho won both times it previously played bowl games in Boise. The Vandals took down Southern Miss in 1998 and edged Bowling Green on a last-second touchdown in 2009. Getting a third straight postseason win in their home state could prove challenging, however. Colorado State presents too many weapons in a balanced offense for Idaho's defense to handle. The Rams are in peak form after finishing strong in Mountain West Conference play with wins over fellow bowl teams San Diego State and New Mexico. The odds don't favor the Vandals for staying undefeated in bowl games played on Boise State’s well-known and easy recognizable “Smurf Turf.”

 

Prediction: Colorado State 35, Idaho 31

 

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.

 

(Top photo by Eric Paull, courtesy of www.govandals.com)

Teaser:
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Preview and Prediction: Idaho vs. Colorado State
Post date: Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/poinsettia-bowl-preview-and-prediction-byu-cougars-vs-wyoming-cowboys-2016
Body:

The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl is always in the running for longest bowl name of any given bowl season, but this season’s edition actually rates high on the entertainment scale as well with a pair of old conference foes squaring off in America’s finest city.

 

Six years ago, BYU (8-4) left the Mountain West Conference to set its path as a football independent, leaving behind decades of history with teams that the Cougars battled against for conference championships. One of the notable ones was Wyoming.

 

The Cowboys (8-5) didn’t get the better of BYU very often, but the emotion in BYU-Wyoming games was always testy, especially those late November games in Laramie at 7,220 feet.

 

This game will take place at sea level so elevation won’t be a factor, but the two teams look to put an exclamation point on seasons that have went better than many predicted entering the year.

 

Poinsettia Bowl: BYU vs. Wyoming (San Diego)

 

Kickoff: Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 9 p.m. ET
Where: Qualcomm Stadium (San Diego)

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: BYU -10

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Rivalry renewed

On the Wyoming side of this matchup, the Cowboys are titling this game a “rivalry renewed.” For BYU, the Cougars didn’t always view Wyoming as a rival considering everyone in the old WAC and Mountain West looked at them as their rival. But, there were some memorable games.

 

Wyoming’s athletic director Tom Burman said in 2010 after the Cougars left the Mountain West that he doubts that Wyoming would ever be interested in scheduling BYU ever again. There’s some bad blood from fans and administrators but the current teams aren’t familiar with this series and the intensity that comes with it. But don’t be surprised if that intensity shows itself in Qualcomm Stadium, as it should be a fun bowl game atmosphere.

 

2. Pair of great running backs

Bowl games are always more fun when there are great skill players lining up and this game definitely has that in running backs Jamaal Williams for BYU and Wyoming’s Brian Hill.

 

Williams has rushed for 1,165 yards and 11 touchdowns in the nine games he has played in, while Hill has piled up 1,767 yards and 21 touchdowns in 13 games.

 

The question then becomes, which defense is better suited to stopping these talented backs? If you look at the numbers, you’d have to give the edge to BYU.

 

The Cougars are ninth in the country against the run, allowing only 108.4 rushing yards per game. Wyoming on the other hand is 88th in the FBS, giving up 202.7 yards on the ground per game.

 

Related: College Football’s 20 Best Position Battles to Watch in December Bowl Games

 

3. BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum gets his first start since 2015 bowl

Taysom Hill suffered his fourth season-ending injury in the regular season finale against Utah State last month, which means Tanner Mangum will get the start in this Poinsettia Bowl.

 

Mangum is a different flavor than Hill. The sophomore is the better passer but as he will himself admit, running the football is not going to be his thought. Will BYU air it out more than usual with Mangum under center? Probably. But the game plan won’t change too much. Williams is still going to be the focal point, but Mangum’s throwing prowess compared to Hill will keep Wyoming’s defense honest if the Cougar wide receivers can create separation.

 

Final Analysis

 

The city of San Diego has been home to some quality football games over the years. The Holiday Bowl used to be known for wild finishes that usually involved this same BYU program year after year.

 

This Poinsettia Bowl should be another entertaining contest that could go down to the wire, which would nothing new for these two teams with plenty of shared history and crazy finishes. But ultimately defense is going to win this ball game and BYU has the better defense on paper. First-year defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki has done a terrific job with the Cougars and they will be aggressive to make things uneasy for Wyoming QB Josh Allen.

 

Wyoming’s defense will not have an answer for Jamaal Williams. Williams is entering his final game as a BYU Cougar and it’ll be his final opportunity to showcase his talents to NFL scouts before the Scouting Combine in February. Expect the Swagdaddy (as they call him in Provo) to get 25-30 touches en route to a Cougar victory.

 

Prediction: BYU 26, Wyoming 17

 

— 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.

Teaser:
Poinsettia Bowl Preview and Prediction: BYU vs. Wyoming
Post date: Monday, December 19, 2016 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-20-best-position-battles-watch-december-bowl-games-2016
Body:

It’s bowl season and college football fans can celebrate (or is it mourn?) the end of the year with 41 games that have a little bit of everything. While most of the attention is paid toward the two semifinal games and some of the other major bowls, there’s a lot to enjoy among the dozens of intersectional matchups on tap this month. As good as some of the games look on paper however, some of the one-on-ones between the names on the back of the jerseys are even juicier than the ones on the front.

 

Whether you’re a college football fan, a coach or an NFL scout, here are 20 of the best position vs. position battles between offensive stars and their defensive counterparts on the other side heading into December’s bowl games. This doesn’t include the New Year’s Six/College Football Playoff games but that still leaves plenty of other matchups on the docket to consider for this exercise:

 

1. Citrus Bowl: LSU DLs Davon Godchaux and Lewis Neal, LB Arden Key, DBs Tre’Davious White and Jamal Adams vs. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson

A late-season slide didn’t prevent Jackson from taking home the Heisman Trophy and all eyes will be on the young quarterback as he takes the field for the first time as the nation’s most outstanding player in 2016. In one of the most anticipated non-New Year’s Six games, he’ll have a tough task at hand trying to get past scheming defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and his loaded Tigers unit, which will need playmakers at all three levels to step up if they want to stop — or at least slow down — the Heisman winner.

 

2. Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph, WRs James Washington, Jalen McClesky and Jhajuan Seales vs. Colorado DBs Chidobe Awuzie, Tedric Thompson, Afolabi Laguda and Ahkello Witherspoon

Aside from the Heisman winner in action against LSU, this is easily the best battle of the bowl season pitting one of the best offenses in the Big 12 against one of the stingiest secondaries in the country. Three-quarters of Colorado’s back four made an All-Pac-12 team this season and the fourth still held his own by being second on the team in tackles. They’ll be matched up against Rudolph, who throws a beautiful deep ball, and his speedy wideouts that all average better than 11 yards a catch.

 

3. Las Vegas Bowl: San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey vs. Houston DL Ed Oliver and LB Steven Taylor

Pumphrey needs just 108 rushing yards to break former Wisconsin tailback Ron Dayne’s FBS career record. Standing in his way? Freshman All-American Oliver, who nearly single-handedly stopped the Heisman Trophy winner earlier this season and is backed up by one of the best linebackers in the country in the do-everything Taylor.

 

4. Texas Bowl: Texas A&M OLs Avery Gennesy and Colton Prater vs. Kansas State DLs Jordan Willis and Reggie Walker

A pair of old Big 12 rivals get reacquainted in Houston for what should be a fascinating Texas Bowl. Gennesy was an All-SEC selection this year and looks to be the latest in a long line of premier left tackles to emerge in College Station. His running mate Prater is just a freshman and will have his hands full against the Wildcats’ terrific tandem coming off the edge. Willis was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year while his opposite number in Walker was the conference’s defensive freshman of the year.

 

5. Sun Bowl: North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky, RB Elijah Hood and WR Ryan Switzer vs. Stanford DL Solomon Thomas, LB Peter Kalambayi and DB Quenton Meeks

Everybody will focus on the Sun Bowl being Christian McCaffrey’s final game but there’s some pretty good talent that could leave for the NFL Draft on both sides that also will also be on display. Trubisky has blossomed into one of the best signal-callers along the East Coast and has a handful of weapons to find in the run and pass game with the productive Hood and dangerous Switzer. They’ll be tested by a tough Cardinal defense that includes the Pac-12’s best defensive lineman, an athletic linebacker who went to high school in North Carolina and one of the best cornerbacks out West.

 

6. Belk Bowl: Arkansas OL Dan Skipper and RB Rawleigh Williams III vs. Virginia Tech DE Ken Ekanem and LBs Andrew Motuapuaka and Tremaine Edmunds         

This year sported a bit of a different look on offense for Arkansas given how pass-happy the team was but there were still two mainstays in the ground game with the mammoth Skipper manning the tackle spot and Williams finding lanes to lead the SEC in rushing. Both will have their challenges in the Belk Bowl in trying to get past Ekanem (6.5 sacks) or the two tough linebackers in the middle of Bud Foster’s defense.

 

7. Independence Bowl: NC State RB Matthew Dayes vs. Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham

The Wolfpack snuck into a bowl game this season thanks to a few upsets along the way and when the offense was humming, their senior tailback was usually at the forefront. Dayes was a second-team All-ACC pick this season and could do just about everything out of the backfield as his numbers would attest to. He’ll have a hard time trying to get past Vanderbilt’s defense in this game however since Cunningham is a tackling machine and recently became a unanimous All-American at linebacker.

 

8. Outback Bowl: Florida WR Antonio Callaway vs. Iowa DB Desmond King

Let’s face it, there may not be a ton of scoring in this Outback Bowl season given the two offenses involved but if there are touchdowns or big plays to be had, they’ll likely involve these two players. Callaway has been one of the few reliable threats in the passing game for the Gators and he’ll need his best to go against a potential first-rounder in King. Don’t overlook special teams either, as each returns kicks and knows exactly how to take it to the house.

 

9. Las Vegas Bowl: Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. vs. San Diego State DB Damontae Kazee

Ward has been a part of several huge upsets and more than his fair share of incredible moments during his time at Houston. Now it’s time for him to close out his career with a trip to Las Vegas and see what he can do against a very good defense that sports the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in Kazee. Ward has been beat up this season but should be fairly healthy when he and his wideouts try to go over the top on one of the best corners in the country.

 

10. Arizona Bowl: South Alabama TE Gerald Everett vs. Air Force DB Weston Steelhammer

Few college football fans may know who Everett is but you can bet that a lot of NFL scouts from the South are very familiar with the Jaguars’ stud tight end. He has solid numbers at better than 14 yards a catch and 12 touchdowns the past two season on his way to first-team All-Sun Belt honors. He’ll be challenged by Steelhammer, a first-team All-Name Team pick who is one of the biggest ball hawks in all of college football and a hard hitter.

 

11. Citrus Bowl: Louisville DLs DeAngelo Brown and Devonte Fields, LB Keith Kelsey, DB’s Jaire Alexander, Chucky Williams and Josh Harvey-Clemons vs. LSU OLs Ethan Pocic and K.J. Malone, RB Derrius Guice, and WRs Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural

As juicy as the LSU defense trying to contain the Heisman winner is in the Citrus Bowl, the flip side of that game also is a very interesting matchup. The Tigers offense’ wasn’t anything to write home about many times this season but there’s still plenty of talent, including a terrific tailback in Guice and a pair of wideouts who have more talent than production. They’ll be tested by a very good front seven for the Cardinals and one of the best young corners in the game in Alexander.

 

12. Liberty Bowl: Georgia RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel vs. TCU DL Josh Carraway and LB Travin Howard

There haven’t been a ton of things that have gone right for Georgia this season but through thick and thin, the Bulldogs still have one of the better running back tandems in the country with Chubb and Michel. TCU head coach Gary Patterson is no doubt using the entire month to come up with some schemes to slow them down and sure-tacklers like Carraway and Howard will likely play a key role.

 

13. Outback Bowl: Iowa RB Akrum Wadley vs. Florida DL Caleb Brantley and LB Jarrad Davis

Despite a bit of a slow start to the season, Wadley has really come on as of late and played a big role in upsets over Michigan and Nebraska down the stretch. He received third-team All-Big Ten honors in a league full of good backs and will need to have a big game for the Hawkeyes to get a win in the bowl. Both Davis and Brantley have been banged up the past month but, if healthy, will be tough to run past.

 

14. Russell Athletic Bowl: West Virginia WRs Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts vs. Miami DBs Corn Elder and Sheldrick Redwine

The Mountaineers’ offense has leaned heavily on their run game this season but they still have some dangerous wideouts in this duo of second-team All-Big 12 selections. Whether it’s stretching the field or catching something over the middle of the field, you can expect the terrific Elder and his understudy Redwine to shadow each receiver very closely.

 

15. Poinsettia Bowl: BYU LBs Butch Pau’u and Fred Warner vs. Wyoming RB Brian Hill

This position battle would probably be a little higher on the list if Pau’u was going to be 100 percent healthy for the bowl game but he’s been banged up over the latter half of the season. Warner has picked up the slack and had a terrific season as a true freshman but will face a dangerous runner in Hill. He was overshadowed by Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols and San Diego State’s Pumphrey in the Mountain West, but the Wyoming runner is still a great tailback in his own right and finished fourth in the country in rushing.

 

16. Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami LBs Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney vs. West Virginia RBs Justin Crawford and Rushel Shell III

At the beginning of the season, a lot of folks were worried about Miami’s linebacker corps as injuries hit the unit hard but it turned out to allow the Hurricanes to turn to a pair of terrific young freshmen. Pinckney earned several freshman All-American honors and Quarterman earned significant consideration as the ACC’s freshman defensive player of the year. Each will be tested by the Mountaineers’ solid running back combo.

 

17. Holiday Bowl: Minnesota RBs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks vs. Washington State DL Hercules Mata’afa and LB Peyton Pelluer

The Holiday Bowl is a contrast in styles in the extreme and if the Gophers stand any chance of keeping the Cougars’ Air Raid in check, they’ll need their strong ground game to put up some big numbers and grind the clock. Pelluer, who led the team in tackles, will play a big role in slowing down that run game behind the playmaking lineman with a great name.

 

18. Dollar General Bowl: Ohio DE Tarell Basham vs. Troy OL Antonio Garcia and QB Brandon Silvers

This bowl won’t be on many must-see lists but you should certainly tune in for this matchup of Sun Belt’s co-champion and MAC runner-up. Basham led the MAC with 10 sacks this season and was named the conference’s defensive player of the year to cap off a stellar season for the Bobcats. Garcia was solid at tackle for the Trojans and helped protect Silvers, who had a terrific season with plenty of big numbers but didn’t handle pressure as well as he could have.

 

19. Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami WR Stacy Coley and Ahmmon Richards vs. WVU DBs Rasul Douglas and Kyzir White

Richards was the big-play threat for the Hurricanes and can blow the top off a defense while Coley was Brad Kaaya’s favorite target and led the team in touchdown catches. Douglas was named an All-Big 12 first-teamer at cornerback and teams up with White, who should be roving all over the field trying to slow the Miami pass attack.

 

20. Foster Farms Bowl: Indiana QB Richard Lagow vs. Utah DBs Dominique Hatfield, Marcus Williams Jr. and Chase Hansen

Lagow has had a solid season leading the Hoosiers' pass-happy attack but it will be interesting to see how he deals with the loss of head coach Kevin Wilson for the bowl game. He's already thrown 16 interceptions this year and will have a tough task not adding to that number against the ball hawks of the Utah secondary.

 

Best of the rest:

Boise State DBs Jonathan Moxey and Chanceller James vs. Baylor WR K.D. Cannon (Cactus Bowl)

Northwestern DL Ifeadi Odenigbo and LB Anthony Walker Jr. vs. Pitt OL Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson and RB James Conner (Pinstripe Bowl)

Toledo QB Logan Woodside and RB Kareem Hunt vs. Appalachian State LB Eric Boggs and DB’s Clifton Duck and Mondo Williams (Camellia Bowl)

Arkansas State OL Jemar Clark vs. UCF LB Shaquem Griffin (Cure Bowl)

South Carolina LB T.J. Holloman vs. USF RB Marlon Mack (Birmingham Bowl)

 

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

Teaser:
College Football’s 20 Best Position Battles to Watch in December Bowl Games
Post date: Monday, December 19, 2016 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/travelers-ranking-bowls-outside-new-years-six
Body:

Every college football fan wants his or her team to end up in one of the “New Year’s Six” bowl games. When that happens, folks disrupt their holiday plans and make the trek to Atlanta, Dallas, Miami, New Orleans, Pasadena or Phoenix.

 

However, only 12 teams make that cut each season and there are 34 other bowl games that need to put butts in the seats. Some of these games are worth adjusting holiday plans to go see, while others are not.

 

There are numerous rankings of the bowls this year based on their slated matchups, but choosing to watch a game on television and actually travel to it comes a few more factors, including location, the game’s history and its continued ability to produce quality matchups. Here is a ranking of the bowl games based on those factors.

 

34. St. Petersburg Bowl

Location: Tropicana Field – St. Petersburg, Fla.

Launched: 2008

This Year’s Game: Miami (Ohio) vs. Mississippi State (Dec. 26, 2016)

This one is dead last because it had to extend an invite to 5-7 Mississippi State. That’s a testament to this game’s history and quality.

 

33. Hawaii Bowl

Location: Aloha Stadium – Honolulu

Launched: 2002

This Year’s Matchup: Hawaii vs. Middle Tennessee (Dec. 24, 2016)

This game, which had to extend a bid to 6-7 Hawaii, is ahead of the St. Petersburg Bowl because it is played in Hawaii.

 

32. Nova Loans Arizona Bowl

Location: Arizona Stadium – Tucson, Az.

Launched: 2015

This Year’s Game: South Alabama vs. Air Force (Dec. 30, 2016)

When this game launched last year, it had agreements with the Mountain West and Sun Belt, but the latter did not have a winning team to send. So the MW team sent both Nevada and Colorado State. Fortunately this year, South Alabama finished 6-6 and the Sun Belt was able to meet its obligation.

 

31. AutoNation Cure Bowl

Location: Camping World Stadium – Orlando, Fla.

Launched: 2015

This Year’s Game: Arkansas State 31, UCF 13 (Dec. 17, 2016)

The Cure Bowl is only one-year old and got the last pick from the AAC. Given that it is played in Orlando, it may move up if it lasts.

 

30. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Location: Albertsons Stadium – Boise, Idaho

Launched: 1997

This Year’s Game: Idaho vs. Colorado State (Dec. 22, 2016)

This game has had agreements in the past with the ACC and C-USA, but now pits a member of the Mountain West against a team from the MAC. (This year the bowl committee decided to invite nearby Idaho instead of a MAC team.) It is ranked this low because flying to Boise generally requires a connection and fans then have to watch a game outside in Idaho in December.  The high for this year’s game is predicted to be 28 degrees.

 

29. Quick Lane Bowl

Location: Ford Field – Detroit

Launched: 2014

This Year’s Game: Maryland vs. Boston College (Dec. 26, 2016)

This bowl pits lower-tier schools from the ACC and Big Ten against each other… in Detroit… in December.

 

28. Raycom Media Camellia Bowl

Location: Cramton Bowl – Montgomery, Ala.

Launched: 2014

This Year’s Game: Appalachian State 31, Toledo 28 (Dec. 17, 2016)

Montgomery’s Cramton Bowl only holds 21,000 people, but since this game featured MAC and Sun Belt teams, it did not sell out.

 

27. Popeyes Bahamas Bowl

Location: Thomas Robinson Bowl – Nassau, Bahamas

Launched: 2014

This Year’s Game: Eastern Michigan vs. Old Dominion (Dec. 23, 2016)

The only bowl game played outside the U.S. hosts second-tier MAC and AAC teams. While it is always fun to visit the Bahamas, it may not be worth the money and disrupted holiday plans to watch your non-Power Five team that did not win its conference.

 

26. Miami Beach Bowl

Location: Marlins Park – Miami

Launched: 2014

This Year’s Matchup: Central Michigan vs. Tulsa (Dec. 19, 2016)

In three games, the Miami Beach Bowl has selected only one team, South Florida, who did not have to travel 1,000 miles or more to play.

 

25. Dollar General Bowl

Location: Ladd Peebles Stadium – Mobile, Ala.

Launched: 1999

This Year’s Game: Ohio vs. Troy (Dec. 23, 2016)

This game was originally sponsored by GMAC, then GoDaddy.com before Dollar General took over this year’s contest. It pits quality MAC and Sun Belt schools against each other and there are worse places to go this time of year than Mobile.

 

24. Birmingham Bowl

Location: Legion Field – Birmingham, Ala.

Launched: 2006

This Year’s Game: South Florida vs. South Carolina (Dec. 29, 2016)

The Birmingham Bowl matches one of the best teams in the AAC against one of the SEC’s worst bowl-eligible teams. For fans of the AAC school, it is a chance to see if their team can hang with the big boys in one of the South’s most storied stadiums.

 

23. Gildan New Mexico Bowl

Location: University Stadium – Albuquerque, N.M.

Launched: 2006

This Year’s Game: New Mexico 23, UTSA 20 (Dec. 17, 2016)

The New Mexico Bowl has tie-ins with MWC and the Sun Belt. If the conference is not able to send one, then an at-large team from another conference is selected. The result has been generally good matchups between schools based in the West, and this year’s edition followed in line.

 

22. Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman

Location: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium – Annapolis, Md.

Launched: 2008

This Year’s Game: Temple vs. Wake Forest (Dec. 27, 2016)

This bowl seems to have found its footing since it moved from Washington D.C.’s RFK Stadium to Annapolis and signed agreements with the ACC and AAC. Now it hosts a game in a beautiful town that is generally within driving distance for both schools a few days after Christmas. Well done.

 

21. Boca Raton Bowl

Location: FAU Stadium – Boca Raton, Fla.

Launched: 2014

This Year’s Game: Memphis vs. Western Kentucky (Dec. 20, 2016)

This game is only three years old, but matches good teams from the AAC and C-USA in Boca. If FAU Stadium ever expands its stadium, this game may grow with it.

 

20. Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl

Location: Amon G. Carter Stadium – Fort Worth, Texas

Launched: 2003

This year’s Game: Louisiana Tech vs. Navy (Dec. 23, 2016)

Originally sponsored by PlainCapital Bank, Bell Helicopter took over in 2006 and this game was renamed the Armed Forces Bowl. It has multi-year agreements with the AAC, Big Ten, Big 12, Mountain West, as well as Army and Navy so the quality of the game really depends on the year. Either way, fans can enjoy the nightlife of Fort Worth’s Stock Yards.

 

19. Foster Farms Bowl

Location: Levi’s Stadium – Santa Clara, Calif.

Launched: 2002

This Year’s Game: Indiana vs. Utah (Dec. 28, 2016)

The Foster Farms Bowl struggled to find its identity before Foster Farms sponsored the game in 2014 and signed agreements with the Big Ten and Pac-12. For fans, it is not quite the Rose Bowl, but there is plenty to do in San Francisco.

 

18. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome – New Orleans

Launched: 2001

This Year’s Game: Southern Miss 28, Louisiana-Lafayette 21 (Dec. 17, 2016)

This game is this high because it’s: a) played in arguably the most festive city in the country, and b) usually selects schools within driving distance to the Crescent City.

 

17. Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl

Location: Cotton Bowl – Dallas

Launched: 2011

This Year’s Game: Army vs. North Texas (Dec. 27, 2016)

If you want to see a bowl game played in the old Cotton Bowl stadium, this is now your only chance to do so since the actual Cotton Bowl is now played at AT&T Stadium. Otherwise this game, which has agreements with the Big Ten, Pac-12 and C-USA (pending other bowl schedules), can be hit or miss with its matchups. For example, approximately 20,000 people showed up last year to watch 6-6 Washington take on C-USA champ Southern Miss. This year, more people will likely be on hand to watch Army play in its first bowl since 2010 against North Texas, which is located in the Dallas suburb of Denton.

 

16. Camping World Independence Bowl

Location: Independence Stadium – Shreveport, La.

Launched: 1976

This Year’s Game: NC State vs. Vanderbilt (Dec. 26, 2016)

Before the bowl explosion that began in the 1990s, the Independence Bowl, which got its name because it launched the year of our nation’s Bicentennial celebration, was considered the worst bowl game because of its location. Nevertheless, Shreveport makes up for its lack of atmosphere by hosting good football. It has historical ties with the Power Five conferences, including its current agreement with the ACC and SEC, and 10 of its last 15 games have been decided by a touchdown or less.

 

15. San Diego Country Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl

Location: Qualcomm Stadium – San Diego

Launched: 2005

This Year’s Game: BYU vs. Wyoming (Dec. 21, 2016)

San Diego is a beautiful city and the games are usually great. A college football fan can’t ask for much more.

 

14. AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl

Location: NRG Stadium – Houston

Launched: 2006

This Year’s Game: Texas A&M vs. Kansas State (Dec. 28, 2016)

All good bowls outside the New Year’s Six strive to create regional matchups against good teams. After the Texas Bowl signed agreements for the Big XII and SEC to begin playing each other in 2014, it began accomplishing that goal. The only problem is that it’s still played in Houston.

 

13. Las Vegas Bowl Presented by Geico

Location: Sam Boyd Stadium – Whitney, Nev.

Launched: 1992

This Year’s Game: San Diego State 34, Houston 10 (Dec. 17, 2016)

The best of the first weekend bowl games pitted the top team in the Mountain West against a Houston team that at one point was in the conversation to be the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six representative. This pairing was made possible because the Pac-12 did not have enough bowl-eligible teams. Even though the game was not a close one, the Las Vegas Bowl did the right thing by inviting the Cougars.

 

12. Franklin American Mortgage Company Music City Bowl

Location: Nissan Stadium – Nashville

Launched: 1998

This Year’s Game: Nebraska vs. Tennessee (Dec. 30, 2016)

No team starts the season saying “Music City Bowl or bust,” but every game in this event’s history except one has been fairly close. Plus, Nashville is the only city where you can walk in and out of countless clubs and hear amazing music.

 

11. Russell Athletic Bowl

Location: Camping World Stadium – Orlando, Fla.

Launched: 1990

This Year’s Game: West Virginia vs. Miami (December 28, 2016)

Originally launched as the Blockbuster Bowl in Miami in 1990, this contest moved north to Orlando in 2001. It currently has agreements with the Big 12 and ACC, but the games of the last 27 years have always interesting matchups between good programs. For example, this year’s game renews the old Big East rivalry between Miami and West Virginia.

 

10. Motel 6 Cactus Bowl

Locations: Chase Field – Phoenix

Launched: 1989

This Year’s Game: Boise State vs. Baylor (Dec. 27, 2016)

Pardon the déjà vu, but this game started as the Copper Bowl in Tucson in 1989 and then moved north to the Phoenix Metropolitan area in 2000. This year, it will be played at Chase Field while Sun Devil Stadium undergoes renovations.

 

9. AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Location: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium – Memphis, Tenn.

Launched: 1959

This Year’s Game: Georgia vs. TCU (Dec. 30, 2016)

It is called the Liberty Bowl because it was played in Philadelphia before moving to Memphis in 1965. As more bowls have emerged, this game has lost some of its prestige, but only one city has Charlie Vergos Rendezvous and Beale Street.

 

8. New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Location: Yankee Stadium – New York

Launched: 2010

This Year’s Game: Pittsburgh vs. Northwestern (Dec. 28, 2016)

Whoever attends this game will have to bundle up, but the upshot is that they will be in New York during the holidays.

 

7. Hyundai Sun Bowl

Location: Sun Bowl – El Paso, Texas

Launched: 1935

This Year’s Game: Stanford vs. North Carolina (Dec. 30, 2016)

Launched in 1935, the Sun Bowl is the second-oldest bowl game along with the Sugar and Orange Bowls (The Rose Bowl is, of course, the oldest.). El Paso’s Sun Bowl was built in a natural bowl and to watch a game there is worth the trip.

 

6. National Funding Holiday Bowl

Location: Qualcomm Stadium – San Diego

Launched: 1978

This Year’s Game: Minnesota vs. Washington State (Dec. 27, 2016)

In 1984, BYU beat Michigan 24-17 to win the national title. It is one of only two bowls on this list that has hosted a national championship-clinching game.

 

5. Belk Bowl

Location: Bank of American Stadium – Charlotte

Launched: 2002

This Year’s Game: Arkansas vs. Virginia Tech (Dec. 29, 2016)

Charlotte is an easy city to fly to; especially for watching a good ACC school take on a good SEC school or vice versa.

 

4. TaxSlayer Bowl

Location: EverBank Field – Jacksonville, Fla.

Launched: 1946

This Year’s Game: Georgia Tech vs. Kentucky (Dec. 31, 2016)

You have probably have heard of this event by its original name, the Gator Bowl. Its 70-year history is one of the richest on this list so shame on TaxSlayer.com for doing away with the original name. Either way, those who go will be watching college football’s sixth-oldest bowl game.

 

3. Outback Bowl

Location: Raymond James Stadium – Tampa, Fla.

Launched: 1986

This Year’s Game: Florida vs. Iowa (Jan. 2, 2017)

Originally started in 1986 as the Hall of Fame Bowl, this New Year’s Day game is a rewarding trip for fans regardless of whether the season lived up to expectations.

 

2. Valero Alamo Bowl

Location: Alamodome – San Antonio

Launched: 1993

This Year’s Game: Oklahoma State vs. Colorado (Dec. 29, 2016)

After paying your respects at the Alamo and enjoying the San Antonio River Walk, you can watch two teams engage in a shootout in the Alamodome. This may be the best atmosphere of the entire college football postseason.

 

1. Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl

Location: Camping World Stadium – Orlando, Fla.

Launched: 1947

This Year’s Game: LSU vs. Louisville (Dec. 31, 2016)

This game has everything. Its history includes hosting Georgia Tech’s 45-21 beating of Nebraska, allowing the Yellow Jackets to clinch a share of the 1990 national title; it is played in one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world; and the matchups are always top-notch. Since 1985, the Citrus Bowl has hosted games between ranked opponents in all but two of the matchups. Only the Gator Bowl – I mean TaxSlayer Bowl – comes close to matching that type of success.

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

Teaser:
A Traveler’s Ranking of the Bowls Outside the New Year’s Six
Post date: Monday, December 19, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/boca-raton-preview-and-prediction-wku-vs-memphis
Body:

The third edition of the Boca Raton Bowl won’t be hurting for points or offense, as Memphis and WKU bring their high-powered attacks to FAU Stadium on Tuesday night. The Hilltoppers rank second nationally in scoring (45.1 ppg), while the Tigers aren’t far behind at No. 17 with an average of 39.5 points per contest. WKU and Memphis were two of the top Group of 5 teams this season, but there’s some uncertainty surrounding the Hilltoppers after Jeff Brohm left to be the head coach at Purdue. With Brohm off to Purdue, defensive coordinator Nick Holt will serve as the interim coach. Notre Dame assistant Mike Sanford was hired as the full-time replacement and will assume the duties after the Boca Raton Bowl.

 

WKU won the Conference USA title and claimed back-to-back seasons of double-digit victories for the first time since joining the FBS level in 2007. Brohm was a big reason why this program claimed 22 wins over the last two years and have ranked inside of the top five nationally in scoring offense. Despite losing quarterback Brandon Doughty to the NFL, the Hilltoppers didn’t miss a beat on offense in 2016. USF transfer Mike White stepped in under center and threw for 4,027 yards and 34 scores and earned second-team All-Conference USA honors. WKU lost to Louisiana Tech (55-52) in the regular season but got revenge in the C-USA title game with a 58-44 victory. The only other losses by the Hilltoppers came against two SEC teams – Alabama (38-10) and Vanderbilt (31-30).

 

Related: College Football's 2016 All-America Team

 

Memphis had a relatively seamless transition from Justin Fuente to Mike Norvell in 2016. After helping the Tigers show marked improvement from 2012-15, Fuente was hired at Virginia Tech to replace Frank Beamer. Norvell inherited a much better situation than Fuente did in 2012, as Memphis returned 14 starters from a nine-win team. The Tigers continued to thrive on offense under Norvell, as this team scored at least 24 points in every game and finished 8-4 after beating Houston in the regular season finale. Additionally, Memphis has recorded a winning record for three consecutive years for the first time since 2003-05.

 

Despite being separated by less than 300 miles, this is the first meeting between these two teams. This is WKU’s fourth bowl appearance. The Hilltoppers are 2-1 in their previous three matchups and have won two bowl trips in a row. The trip to Boca Raton is the ninth bowl appearance for Memphis in school history. The Tigers are 4-4 in their previous bowl games.

 

Memphis vs. WKU (Boca Raton Bowl)

 

Kickoff: Tuesday, Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: WKU -5.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. WKU’s Passing Attack

WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty was one of the best in the nation last season, but Brohm and his staff plugged in Mike White under center and kept the offense performing at a high level. The Hilltoppers finished fifth nationally in passing, averaging 336.8 yards per game. White tossed at least three scores in four of WKU’s final five games and completed 67.4 percent of his passes. The junior is surrounded by a deep supporting cast, including dynamic receivers Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris. This duo has combined for 29 touchdown catches and 162 receptions for 2,839 yards. Lucky Jackson (24 catches) is another valuable weapon for White, while running back Anthony Wales has also pitched in 26 catches.

 

Considering White’s development under Brohm and the talent at receiver, the Memphis defense is obviously going to have its hands full on Tuesday night. This offense isn’t just built to attack the short and mid-range throws, as WKU has connected on 25 passes of 40 yards or more – the most in the nation. With Brohm as the play-caller, WKU consistently attacked downfield and put a lot of pressure on the opposing defense with its tempo. Without Brohm calling the plays, how much will this offense change on Tuesday night?

 

The Tigers rank third in the American Athletic Conference in pass efficiency defense and have surrendered only six plays through the air of 40 yards or more. No Memphis defender earned all-conference honors, but this secondary picked off 15 passes and featured active safeties Jonathan Cook (81 stops) and Chris Morley (73 tackles). Cornerback Arthur Maulet also broke up 13 passes, while the starter on the other side (Chauncey Lanier) recorded seven.

 

With the firepower in WKU’s passing game, the Memphis secondary is going to give up some yards. However, the Tigers have to limit the big plays and do a better job of getting to the quarterback. Norvell’s defense has only 17 sacks in 2016, which is a big concern against a standout offensive line and an explosive passing game. Can Memphis find a way to slow down White and connections to Taylor and Norris?

 

Related: Predictions for Every 2016-17 Bowl Game

 

2. Establishing the Run

These two teams aren’t separated by much in rushing offense per game, but the Tigers and Hilltoppers use a different style in order to get their yardage. WKU relies heavily on one back, as Anthony Wales leads the team with 1,376 yards and 24 touchdowns on just 202 attempts. When Wales needs a break, freshmen Quinton Baker (533 yards) and Marquez Trigg (298) provide plenty of punch on the ground. In addition to having more star power at running back, WKU is also more explosive. The Hilltoppers average 5.4 yards per rush, compared to 4.4 from Memphis. Stopping the run has been a challenge for the Tigers in 2016. This unit ranks ninth in the American Athletic Conference, allowing just over 200 yards (200.2) per game. However, Memphis closed the year by holding Houston to 137 rushing yards and limited Temple to just 86 in early October. Wales gets the headlines for the ground game, but WKU’s offensive line is a standout group, headlined by left tackle Forrest Lamp and center Max Halpin.

 

Memphis uses more of a committee approach, as three players have at least 78 attempts, including Doroland Dorceus, who has rushed for 783 yards and nine scores. Patrick Taylor ranks second on the team with 512 rushing yards, while Darrell Henderson is third with 469. Will Dorceus find any running room against the WKU defense? The Hilltoppers rank first in Conference USA against the run and limited opponents to just 3.04 yards per carry. Linebacker Keith Brown (123 tackles) is the headliner for Nick Holt, while defensive linemen Chris Johnson and Omarius Bryant combined for 21 tackles for a loss.

 

3. Memphis QB Riley Ferguson

Ferguson inherited big shoes to fill in replacing NFL first-round pick Paxton Lynch this spring. While the expectations were high, the former Tennessee quarterback (and later JUCO recruit) finished 2016 as one of the top quarterbacks in the American Athletic Conference. Ferguson threw for 3,326 yards and 28 touchdowns in the regular season and ranked second in the conference with an average of 277.2 passing yards per game. If Memphis is going to win on Tuesday night, it’s no secret Ferguson has to deliver a huge performance. In eight victories this year, Ferguson threw for 1,970 yards and 20 touchdowns to just three picks. However, in four losses, Ferguson was limited to 1,356 passing yards, eight scores and six interceptions. WKU’s secondary ranks third in Conference USA in pass efficiency defense but has also surrendered 21 passing scores and 14 plays of 40 yards or more.

 

Similar to the WKU offense, Memphis has its share of playmakers on the outside. Junior Anthony Miller (84 catches) is a dynamic receiver for Ferguson, while Phil Mayhue (39 grabs), tight end Daniel Montiel (25) and running back Darrell Henderson (20) provide additional support. The offensive line has been problematic for Norvell at times, as this unit gave up 30 sacks in the regular season.

 

Ferguson should have his chances to make big plays against this defense, but he’s also going to need more help from the offensive line and some balance from the ground game. Will WKU’s secondary limit the damage through the air or get to Ferguson to prevent this offense from getting on track? Or will the junior cap off a solid debut with a huge performance against the Hilltoppers?

 

Final Analysis

 

If you like offense, then this is a must-see matchup on Tuesday night. Both teams are capable of putting up points in a hurry, and it’s not crazy to think the offense with the ball last could be the deciding factor. Turnover margin, third-down defense and red zone stops are also a few factors to watch in a game that's expected to be tight on the scoreboard. WKU has been the better team in 2016 and has a few personnel advantages in this matchup. The trio of White, Wales and Taylor is going to present a lot of problems for the Tigers. However, there’s a huge question mark surrounding this team with the departure of Brohm to Purdue. Brohm was the team’s play-caller and designed the WKU attack. Assistant Bryan Ellis will call the plays for the bowl. While the Hilltoppers are the better team, Brohm’s departure is the x-factor and tilts this game in Memphis’ favor. The Tigers use a huge game from quarterback Riley Ferguson and come up with just enough stops in the fourth quarter to pull off the victory.

 

Prediction: Memphis 45, WKU 44
Teaser:
Boca Raton Preview and Prediction: WKU vs. Memphis
Post date: Monday, December 19, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: syndicated, NFL
Path: /nfl/5-replacements-fired-jacksonville-jaguars-head-coach-gus-bradley
Body:

On Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars fired head coach Gus Bradley just hours after a 21-20 loss at Houston, the team’s ninth in a row. At 2-12, Jacksonville will soon wrap up a sixth straight losing season and will likely wind up with yet another top-five pick in next year’s draft.

 

Bradley, who served as Seattle’s defensive coordinator under Pete Carroll from 2009-12, was hired as Jacksonville’s head coach in January 2013. In three-plus seasons, the Jaguars went 18-48, which is tied with Cleveland for the worst record in the NFL during that span. Bradley’s .226 winning percentage is the second worst in NFL history, behind only Bert Bell’s .179 (10-46-2). Bell is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as he owned the Eagles during his stint as head coach (1936-40) and went on to serve as NFL commissioner from 1946 until his death in ’59.

 

After going 5-11 last season, better things were expected from Jacksonville after an aggressive offseason which focused on rebuilding the defense. Free agents like defensive tackle Malik Jackson, cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Tashaun Gipson, along with the additions of this year’s draft picks Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack were brought in to help turn around a unit that ranked 31st in scoring (28.0 ppg) and 24th in total (375.0 ypg) defense in 2015.

 

Under first-year defensive coordinator Todd Wash, the Jaguars have improved in some areas on that side of the ball, ranking among the top five in the league in total and passing defense, but have struggled when it comes to stopping the run and keeping opponents from scoring (26.0 ppg, 27th).

 

However, the real issues for this year’s team come on offense, as Blake Bortles and company have regressed after showing signs of growth a year ago. Bortles is tied for second in the league with 15 interceptions and ranks 29th in passer rating (77.9). As a team, Jacksonville is near the bottom of the league in scoring (18.5 ppg) and has the second-worst turnover differential (-17) thanks in part to a league-low eight takeaways.

 

Due to an extended period of a lack of success, the Jaguars have been able to stockpile several high draft picks and as a result have a core of players that the next head coach should be able to build around. Because of how this season has progressed, however, one of the biggest questions at this point appears to be if Bortles is the long-term answer at quarterback.

 

Along those lines, it only makes sense that Jacksonville owner Shad Khan and general manager Dave Caldwell will focus their search on offensive-minded candidates. Here are five names to keep an eye on, as there are now two current openings (Los Angeles), with the likelihood that there will be more to come.

 

Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots

McDaniels went 11-17 as Denver’s head coach from 2009-10, a tenure that was highlighted by two decisions revolving around quarterbacks – trading Jay Cutler to the Bears and moving back into the first round to take Tim Tebow in the ‘10 draft.

 

But McDaniels’ track record as an offensive coordinator speaks for itself, as he has won four Super Bowls in New England working under Bill Belichick. Whether McDaniels’ success is mostly due to Belichick and/or Tom Brady is fair to question, but his boss has already come out and said his young protégé is ready for another shot at being a head coach.

 

Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons

Shanahan has been with Matt Ryan in Atlanta the past two seasons. The Falcons’ offense is tops in the NFL in scoring and third in both total and passing yards per game, and Ryan's name has come up in discussion regarding possible MVP candidates this season.

 

Prior to Atlanta, Shanahan was offensive coordinator for Cleveland (2014), Washington (2010-13) and Houston (2008-09). Under his tutelage, Robert Griffin III was named AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 while Matt Schaub was a Pro Bowler and enjoyed the best season of his 13-year career in ’09. Shanahan is the son of two-time Super Bowl champion Mike Shanahan. Is it time for him to follow in his father’s footsteps?

 

Todd Haley, offensive coordinator, Pittsburgh Steelers

Haley’s first shot at being a head coach didn’t go well, as he was 19-26 in Kansas City before he was fired with three games left in the 2011 season. But he did lead the Chiefs to 10-6 record and the AFC West title in ‘10. And like McDaniels, Haley’s reputation as an offensive coordinator is as solid as they come, as he and Ben Roethlisberger have been a formidable pairing the past five seasons in Pittsburgh. A key to Jacksonville’s future is developing Blake Bortles. Maybe Haley is the QB whisperer Bortles and the Jags need.

 

Jim Bob Cooter, offensive coordinator, Detroit Lions

Cooter is just 32 years old, but his stock is definitely on the rise. After serving on coaching staffs in Indianapolis, Kansas City and Denver from 2009-13, Cooter joined Detroit as the quarterbacks coach in ’14. Last season, he was promoted to offensive coordinator following the dismissal of Joe Lombardi and this season the Lions are 9-5 with a one-game lead over Green Bay in the NFC North.

 

While Detroit’s statistics may not jump off of the page, Matthew Stafford is having his best all-around season as the Lions’ quarterback even though his favorite target, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, has retired. Cooter may be too young to make the jump this offseason, but don’t be surprised to hear his name come up for any potential openings.

 

Tom Coughlin, two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach

Coughlin is tied for 14th in NFL history with 170 wins in his 20-year tenure as head coach. He’s most known for the two Super Bowls and success he had with the New York Giants from 2004-15, but he also was Jacksonville’s first-ever head coach. Coughlin guided the Jaguars from their infancy (1995) and in eight seasons went 68-60 and 4-4 in the playoffs. To put it simply, Jacksonville enjoyed its most success under Coughlin. Is the 70-year-old interested in a reunion with the Jags? His experience and old-school mentality and approach may be just what the franchise needs to find its footing.

 

One Other Name to Consider...

 

Jon Gruden, former head coach/current ESPN “Monday Night Football” analyst

Gruden’s name has long been connected to NFL openings as well as high-profile college vacancies, and to this point he’s stayed

in the broadcast booth. But he’s just 53 years old and when you listen to him on ESPN you get the sense he’s not done with coaching just yet.

 

Even with the hiatus, Gruden would bring instant credibility to the job, having won a Super Bowl with another Florida-based franchise that had experienced its share of losing prior to becoming a consistent winner. Gruden also has publicly stated that he believes Blake Bortles can be a quality starting quarterback in the NFL. What better way for Gruden to show his support than to become Bortles’ head coach? It can’t hurt to at least ask, right Mr. Khan?

Teaser:
5 Replacements for Fired Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley
Post date: Monday, December 19, 2016 - 09:30
Path: /nfl/carolina-panthers-vs-washington-redskins-preview-and-prediction-2016
Body:

Washington won the NFC East last year at 9-7. A victory Monday night against the Carolina would put the Redskins at 8-5-1 and with two more chances to match or surpass last year’s win total.

 

But this year, that’s only good enough for third place in their division. Dallas (12-2) has already clinched a playoff spot and can sew up the NFC East with a win next week, while the New York Giants (10-4) are two wins shy of the next closest team in the wild card hunt. The Redskins can solidify their claim over on the second post with a win while a loss would slot them behind the Buccaneers and Packers (both 8-6).

 

For the Panthers, last year’s Super Bowl run seems like a distant memory as they have tumbled to 5-8. Getting back to .500 is the lone goal that remains for a team that went 15-1 and come up a game shy of winning the Lombardi Trophy just a season ago.

 

Series History: Redskins lead 7-5 but Panthers have won last four meetings, including 44-16 in Charlotte last season.

 

Carolina at Washington

 

Kickoff: Monday, Dec. 19 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Redskins -4.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Will the Panthers’ two big stars even play? How effective will they be if they do suit up?

Quarterback Cam Newton is expected to start Monday night despite being limited in practice this week with shoulder soreness. The NFL MVP in 2015, Newton has struggled through a tough season, with four straight games of completing less than half of his passes and just one game with a QB rating of 100 or better (Week 2 vs. San Francisco). Derek Anderson (2 TDs, 5 INTs) hasn’t fared better in his two starts (five total games) in place of Newton, so it’s crucial for him to play if Carolina has any shot of putting together one final winning streak to put together some positive momentum headed into the offseason.

 

But how effective will Newton be? After being benched for the first play in Seattle two weeks ago for a dress code violation, he followed up a poor performance with a season-low 10 completions in 27 attempts at home against the Chargers. Playing like a guy who’s not 100 percent (both physically and fully invested), Newton needs to hit the reset button, get this season over and heal up.

 

Meanwhile, the Panthers’ defensive leader, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is questionable to play due to a concussion. He was cleared from the league-mandated concussion protocol over the weekend, but it’s possible he could just sit out the remaining games with the team all but eliminated from playoff contention.

 

In his absence, the team gave up 75 points to the Raiders and Seahawks in back-to-back lopsided losses before rebounding with a win at home over the Chargers last week. In both Newton’s and Kuechly’s cases, you have to wonder if it’s worth it to put the two faces of the franchise at risk while basically playing for pride.

 

2. Can Kirk Cousins keep it up?
Cousins continues his late-season push in his attempts to improve his bargaining position for a long-term contract in the offseason. Once again, he was brilliant late when it mattered most last week against Philadelphia, leading the final drive that put Washington ahead to stay with less than two minutes remaining. That was the Redskins fifth straight win over their division rivals, as Cousins is earning a reputation for coming up big in major moments. For the season, Cousins is third in the NFL with 4,045 passing yards and sixth with a QB Rating of 100.3. Not bad for a guy who was 0-2 with a touchdown and three interceptions to start the season.

 

Here are the quarterbacks with a better rating right now than Cousins: Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. That’s pretty good company, the type that may force the ‘Skins to pony up to make a long-term deal happen, especially if this season concludes with a second straight playoff appearance. The team now controls its own destiny (win out and Washington is in) and it may be the same for Cousins in terms of his contract.

 

Oh, and did we mention Carolina is 30th in the NFL with 272.4 passing yards per game allowed? Monday night couldn’t be a better opportunity for Cousins to shine.

 

3. How will the Redskins’ run game perform?

Rookie Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson had solid games last week against the Eagles, combining for 101 rushing yards and two touchdowns. But Carolina has been solid against the run, giving up just 90.2 yards per game.

 

The key to success for the Kelley/Thompson combo Monday night is all about finding a rhythm while looking ahead. The Week 17 home date with the Giants could be a must-win situation to get into the playoffs and New York’s defense has been playing lights out lately, including limiting Detroit to two field goals and just 56 yards on the ground in Sunday’s 17-6 victory. Building confidence Monday night against a strong defense would be a key step in Kelley’s development and help him get ready for what could potentially be on the line in a few weeks.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Redskins are playing a game they have to win. The Panthers? They’re playing a game for pride, on the road, where they’re 1-5 this season. It’s hard to see them pulling this one out even if Cam Newton rediscovers his MVP form.

 

Prediction: Redskins 31, Panthers 13

 

— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.

Teaser:
Carolina Panthers vs. Washington Redskins Preview and Prediction
Post date: Monday, December 19, 2016 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/tampa-bay-buccaneers-vs-dallas-cowboys-preview-and-prediction-2016
Body:

A huge clash awaits this weekend on “Sunday Night Football” as a potential playoff preview comes to AT&T Stadium when the red-hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on a Dallas Cowboys squad looking to rebound. In addition to matching two of the best young quarterbacks in the game and some of the top receivers in the league, this one figures to be a fun one that has significant impact on the NFC playoff seeding.

 

Dallas is back at home and hoping to rebound after just its second loss of the season on a cold night against New York last week. The team ran off 11 straight after losing to the Giants in the season opener and are hoping for more of the same starting this week against Tampa Bay. Ezekiel Elliott continues to have an MVP-caliber season behind that big offensive line but the past few games have not been signal-caller Dak Prescott’s best as the team has struggled on third down.

 

Looking to take advantage of all that and keep up their winning ways are the Buccaneers, who have run off five in a row to surge into playoff contention with the No. 6 seed. That stretch has included victories over the Seahawks and Chiefs as the team is using a surprisingly stingy defense to pair effectively with the terrific combo of Jameis Winston and Mike Evans through the air. This should be the team’s biggest test left in the season and could prove a lot of doubters wrong.

 

It was a low-scoring affair when these two teams let last season, a 10-6 win for Tampa Bay as Winston ran for the game-winner with just under a minute left. The Cowboys have dominated the overall series however, with a 13-4 edge overall and a 10-1 mark against the Bucs in Dallas, including the pair’s only meeting at AT&T Stadium back in 2012.

 

Tampa Bay at Dallas

 

Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 18, 8:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NBC

Spread: Cowboys -7

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Boys Bouncing Back
This has been a magical season in Dallas with the surprise resurgence of the Cowboys but suddenly eyebrows are raised after the offense has struggled the past two weeks and their 11-game winning streak came to an end against the Giants last Sunday. How will the team respond? We’re about to find out against a solid Tampa Bay team that has been playing as well as anybody in the NFC. Ezekiel Elliott still leads the NFL in rushing and will be aiming for his seventh game in a row with more than 100 total yards. One key to the ‘Boys getting back on track might be getting Dez Bryant back into the end zone, something he’s done four times in the past four home games.

 

2. Bucs’ Aerial Attack

The core of the Tampa Bay offense has taken its lumps at times the past two seasons but suddenly has turned into the unit everybody thought it would become with a productive quarterback in Jameis Winston, a couple of big-play threats at tailback and wide receiver Mike Evans blossoming into one of the league’s best during his third season in the league. Evans is third in the NFL in touchdown catches and has proven to be a matchup nightmare in the red zone with his size and skill. The emergence of Cameron Brate at tight end (six scores, most at the position) has helped Winston find a reliable second target as well and it should be fun to see the Bucs’ offense try to outscore the Cowboys. One thing Dallas has to do is slow down the wideouts, which the defense did to some degree against the Giants but still allowed several big plays downfield.

 

3. Dak Bouncing Back

Dallas has lost just two games all season, both to the same team in the division in a pair of close contests. Even after all that, the talk has already started to creep into the national conversation that quarterback Dak Prescott is struggling and it’s time for the team to consider making the change to backup Tony Romo. While Cowboys’ brass has insisted that the rookie is still the starter, all this talk hasn’t exactly been squashed so it will be interesting to see how the young signal-caller bounces back against Tampa Bay and its solid, young secondary. Prescott still has posted a QB rating of 100 or better in 10 of 13 games this season so last week’s two-interception outing may be more of an outlier than sign of things to come. But it’s still worth watching how he performs on third down and to see if he can’t come up with some big pass plays when he’s in the pocket.

 

Final Analysis

 

If you told somebody before the season that Tampa Bay’s visit to Dallas would not only be flexed into “Sunday Night Football” but hold significant playoff implications in the NFC, you would probably draw a few funny looks. After all, the Cowboys were coming off a 4-12 season and starting a rookie quarterback while the Buccaneers were beginning a new era after firing their head coach and promoting their offensive coordinator.

 

But here we are. It’s been a special season in Big D as the team has turned into the sudden favorites in the NFC and is in line to capture home-field advantage throughout the postseason (the Super Bowl being played down the road in Houston might even count too). The game plan has been a constant from the boys in blue and a very successful one at that: run the ball, eat up the clock, play sound defense and let Dak Prescott work a little magic on third down. The team has struggled the past two weeks however and suddenly questions are popping up about whether this is a blip in the radar or something much more concerning.

 

Looking to take advantage and secure its spot in the postseason is Tampa Bay, who suddenly is one of the hottest teams in the league. While the defense was an Achilles heel for the team early in the year, the young Bucs have regrouped to look good down the stretch and have been boosted by an offense that has quarterback Jameis Winston maturing and finding a real connection with Mike Evans, who returns to the Lone Star State looking to leave a lasting impression and out-duel fellow star receiver Dez Bryant.

 

While that all may portend a low-scoring affair based on the way these two teams have been playing, we’ll go with something a tad more potent on the offensive end. Things may wind up being close but in the end, Dallas bounces back with a nice win at home and puts away a pesky Tampa Bay team.

 

Prediction: Cowboys 27, Buccaneers 21

 

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

Teaser:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Dallas Cowboys Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 18, 2016 - 09:00

Pages