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Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin made one of the biggest hires of the offseason in luring defensive coordinator John Chavis away from SEC West rival LSU. Chavis is a defensive-minded guru who should turn around that side of the ball for the Aggies. Measurable defensive improvement coupled with Sumlin’s offensive repertoire could have Texas A&M going from pretenders to yearly contenders, perhaps as early as this season.
However, it cannot be overlooked that Sumlin has seen his record in College Station trickle from a 11-win debut in 2012, to nine wins in ’13, and just eight a year ago. Former Big 12 foes and in-state rivals, Baylor and TCU, are at an all-time high in terms of on-the-field performance and enthusiasm within the Lone Star State. Even with the Texas Longhorns still struggling to find their footing that does little to change the high expectations emanating from the 12th Man.
The 2015 college football campaign brings promise of a new season along with hopes and a few expectations. Aggie fans expect Chavis to turn around a defense that finished ranked 102nd in the nation under Mark Snyder, are hopeful that Sumlin will find a return to a powerful running attack, while maintaining what was one of the nation’s best passing attacks (306 ypg) in 2014. With seven starters returning on offense and six on defense the possibility for contending for a SEC West title is favorable, once a few question marks are answered, and thanks to the schedule.
Texas A&M’s 2015 slate shapes up pretty favorably. The Aggies do not leave the state of Texas until Oct. 24, which means they six games in front of home state fans before facing a hostile crowd. It’s three more home games after that before closing out the regular season with back-to-back road games at Vanderbilt and LSU. But don’t take this to mean Texas A&M’s schedule is easy, however, as after all the Aggies do reside in the SEC West. All seven teams in the West made Athlon Sports’ preseason Top 25.
Based on home-field advantage vs. being on the road, projected toughness of opponent, and Texas A&M’s style of play vs. opponent, the following is a ranking of the Aggies’ regular season games from easiest to toughest in 2015.
12. Sept 12. vs. Ball State
The Cardinals will be just what the Aggies need after a tough opening game against Arizona State. Ball State finished 5-7 in 2014 out of the Mid-American Conference. Look for Sumlin and Chavis in Week 2 to address any soft spots or areas of weakness that came to light against the Sun Devils.
11. Nov. 14 vs. Western Carolina
The Catamounts amount to a working bye week after an exhausting six-game haul through SEC opponents. Western Carolina, a FCS program out of the Southern Conference, is a nice, padded game after Auburn and before traveling to Vanderbilt.
10. Sept. 19 vs. Nevada
The layout of the schedule may be ideal but the actual quality of opponent is tough. The Wolf Pack is not a rollover team out of the Mountain West. Nevada went 7-6 in 2014, beating Washington State 24-13, putting a scare into Arizona before falling 35-28, and defeating BYU 42-35. Nevada returns six on offense and five on defense making this a tougher early-season matchup than Sumlin and company may want. The Aggies should still come out with a win.
9. Nov. 21 at Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt could be one of the surprise teams in the nation in 2015. The flipside is Derek Mason may not be a head coach but just an excellent defensive coordinator.
The Commodores return eight players on offense and nine on defense. If this was any other squad in the SEC with this much returning talent, national title talk would smother the program. As is, Vanderbilt has a nice mix of seniors coming back complemented by the underclassmen, making this a tricky game.
Favoring A&M is Vandy’s schedule leading up to the showdown in Nashville. The Commodores play at South Carolina, home against Missouri, at Houston, at Florida, host Kentucky, and then host the Aggies.
8. Oct. 31 vs. South Carolina
The frightening thought of playing South Carolina has seemingly disappeared. Steve Spurrier has lost too much talent on defense without replacing it when times were good, same goes for key positions on offense.
The Gamecocks have four starters back on offense and six on defense. At this point in the season whoever has won the right to be South Carolina’s starting quarterback is either getting into a groove or is so shell-shocked by Spurrier’s constant yelling that he does not know what to do one way or the other.
In favor of A&M, South Carolina does not have a “gimme” game on the schedule until facing Citadel on Nov. 21. The Gamecocks do have a bye after playing Vanderbilt before heading to College Station.
7. Oct. 3 vs. Mississippi State
The Aggies have four games on the schedule they should win with the rest potentially going one way or the other. The Bulldogs are another team, much like South Carolina, that seems to be in a rebuilding mode. Mississippi State has four starters back on offense and three on defense but if you listen to the chatter out of Starkville the new starters got valuable game snaps in 2014, making this unit a little bit more experienced than what is on paper.
Facing a quarterback with Dak Prescott’s abilities gives Mississippi State a puncher’s chance. In favor of the Aggies is the Bulloddogs’ prior game against Auburn. The Bulldogs travel to Jordan-Hare. Aggies fans have to hope Mississippi State turns this one into, knockdown, drag-out fight. If Auburn jumps out to a big lead early in the second half, the Bulldogs could their focus to the next game and decide to rest key players in the fourth quarter.
6. Oct. 24 at Ole Miss
The “toughness” scale of this game could easily slide up a game or two if Ole Miss can answer a few questions going into the season. Those questions are the eligibility of left tackle Jeremy Tunsil, the health of wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, and the assurance of a running attack. Perhaps the biggest unknown is the production that will come from under center. Bo Wallace is gone and a battle in fall camp has begun between JUCO transfer Chad Kelly, dual threat option DeVante Kincade, and pocket passer Ryan Buchanan.
Ole Miss’ schedule lays out favorably to pick up some momentum in spurts. The Aggies could be facing a Rebels squad with a win-loss record of 6-1 before Ole Miss faces the meat of its SEC West schedule. Texas A&M will test the talented Rebels’ secondary for what should be an entertaining strength vs. strength matchup.
5. Nov. 28 at LSU
Another swing game on the toughness scale for Texas A&M that could move either direction. The highlight of the game is Chavis returning to Baton Rouge to face his old employer, LSU head coach Les Miles. Chavis and Miles know one another’s tendencies, making this a fun college football chess match.
The game within the game is LSU’s secondary vs. the Aggies’ passing attack. Texas A&M has as good of a receiving corps as there is in college football. The same can be said about the Tigers’ secondary.
This is the last regular season game for both teams. If either is dealing with unrealized expectations headed into this game, it could turn out to be a one-sided affair. This also could be a slugfest if one team or both teams are jockeying for a potential SEC West crown or better bowl positioning.
4. Sept. 26 vs. Arkansas (at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas)
The Aggies escaped the Hogs last season, winning 35-28 in overtime after being down 28-14 in the third quarter. Former starting quarterback Kenny Hill exposed the Razorbacks’ secondary in the fourth with two long scoring plays — an 86-yarder to Edward Pope and a 59-yard pitch and catch with Josh Reynolds — to send the game into overtime. On the Aggies’ opening play of the extra period, Hill found Malcome Kennedy for the game-winning, 25-yard touchdown, with the defense stopping the Razorbacks on 4th and 1 to seal the come-from-behind victory.
Arkansas gets a great warm-up game the week before against Texas Tech, which is similar to Texas A&M in terms of offensive philosophy. If Arkansas’ secondary figures everything out against the Red Raiders this could be a tough game for the Aggies.
3. Sept. 5 (Saturday) vs. Arizona State (at NRG Stadium in Houston)
The Sun Devils present a very tough season opener for Texas A&M. Arizona State has five returning starters, plus senior quarterback Mike Bercovici, back on offense and seven on defense. The Sun Devils were 10-3 last year and easily could have been 12-1 suffering an eight-point loss on the road to Oregon State (35-27) and a seven-point defeat to in-state rival Arizona (42-35).
Bercovici is talented and one could easily argue that he should have been the starter last season over Taylor Kelly. As a junior, Bercovici replaced an injured Kelly against UCLA. The Bruins laid a bombshell on the Sun Devils, winning 62-27, but Bercovici still threw for 488 yards and two scores, but also had two costly interceptions. The following week on the road against USC he lit up the Trojans for 510 yards with five touchdown passes and zero picks. Against a tough Stanford defense the next week he completed 23-of-33 for 245 yards with one score and zero picks. Kelly came back in the following week, putting Bercovici back on the bench until the regular season finale against Arizona.
This one could be decided in the head-to-head matchup of Arizona State’s secondary vs. Texas A&M’s passing attack.
2. Oct. 17 vs. Alabama
If you are an SEC fan you should have seen the final two top “tough” games coming. The Crimson Tide may not be as stacked from top to bottom as in recent years, but Alabama still has a lot of talent to work with. No one, not even Nick Saban or offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin knows what Bama will have on offense until a starter under center is named and said quarterback starts to play some games.
One known entering the 2015 season is Alabama’s defense. Saban is a defense-first coach and coordinator Kirby Smart is given credit for being among the best of the best. Bama has seven starters back on defense and a mean and nasty front seven that no offense wants to face this season.
1. Nov. 7 vs. Auburn
The good news is Texas A&M gets Auburn at home. The bad news is Auburn will be ridiculously talented on offense with Jeremy Johnson taking over for Nick Marshall under center and 5-star JUCO transfer Jovon Robinson (6-0, 230) set to replace Cameron Artis-Payne, the SEC’s leading rusher last season.
The Tigers, like the Aggies, upgraded in the offseason at defensive coordinator with former Florida head coach Will Muschamp. Auburn had the nation’s 64th-ranked defense in 2014, giving up 399 yards per game. Texas A&M’s was worse, coming in at No. 102 at 451 yards per game. In terms of reclamation projects, Muschamp seems to have an easier road getting his defense into shape compared to Chavis.
One thing, okay two things, appear to favor the Aggies: 1) Texas A&M beat Auburn last year in Jordan-Hare in a 41-38 shocker. 2) Auburn has a tough stretch of games prior to this one —at Kentucky, at Arkansas, home against Ole Miss. And after the Aggies, Auburn will go back to home to face a potential top-10 team in Georgia. Could this be a trap game for Gus Malzahn’s Tigers?
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
Some of the ACC’s biggest names and best players from the 2014 season are playing on Sundays this fall, but the league still has a strong core of talent for 2015. The ACC boasts a solid overall group of quarterbacks and talent on defense with the return of Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey and Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller.
With the season right around the corner, Athlon Sports sought to answer this question: Who is the best player in the ACC this year?
In order to rank the top 15 players in the ACC for 2015, Athlon Sports sought the insight of several experts from the conference. The voting process was simple. Using criteria such as career performance so far, 2015 potential/projection, pro outlook, recruiting ranking, value to team or overall talent, each voter was asked to rank their top 15 players for 2015.
A point system was assigned, giving 15 points for a player with a No. 1 vote, 14 points for a No. 2 vote, 13 points for a No. 3 vote and so on.
Podcast: Complete 2015 ACC Preview and Predictions
Ranking the ACC's Best Players for 2015 (Experts Poll)
|1||Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State (7 first-place votes)||281|
|2||Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson (6)||278|
|3||James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh (7)||276|
|4||Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech||242|
|5||Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh (1)||227|
|6||Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech||152|
|7||Jeremy Cash, S, Duke||122|
|8||Quin Blanding, S, Virginia||109|
|9||Dadi Nicolas, DE, Virginia Tech||105|
|10||Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State||103|
|11||Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami||77|
|12T||Marquise Williams, QB, North Carolina||69|
|12T||Mike Williams, WR, Clemson||69|
|14||Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson||44|
|15||Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State||39|
|16||Artavis Scott, WR, Clemson||35|
|17T||Jacoby Brissett, QB, NC State||29|
|17T||Roberto Aguayo, K, Florida State||29|
|19||Landon Turner, OG, North Carolina||28|
|20||Everett Golson, QB, Florida State||26|
|21||Terrance Smith, LB, Florida State||23|
|22T||Luther Maddy, DT, Virginia Tech||22|
|22T||Devonte Fields, DE/LB, Louisville||22|
|24||Sheldon Rankins, DL, Louisville||20|
|25||James Burgess, LB, Louisville||19|
|26||Keith Kelsey, LB, Louisville||14|
|27||Nate Andrews, DB, Florida State||12|
|28||Jon Hilliman, RB, Boston College||10|
|29T||Adam Bisnowaty, OT, Pittsburgh||6|
|29T||Ryan Switzer, WR, North Carolina||6|
|29T||Mario Pender, RB, Florida State||6|
|32||Ken Ekanem, DE, Virginia Tech||5|
|33T||Matt Skura, C, Duke||3|
|33T||Adam Gotsis, DT, Georgia Tech||3|
|35T||Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech||2|
|35T||Brandon Chubb, LB, Wake Forest||2|
|35T||Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson||2|
|38T||Reggie Northrup, LB, Florida State||1|
|38T||Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson||1|
|38T||Matt Dayes, RB, NC State||1|
* Four players received first-place votes. Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey and Pittsburgh running back James Conner received the most first-place votes (seven). Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson received six, while Pittsburgh receiver Tyler Boyd received one.
* Four of the top 12 players in this poll were quarterbacks. According to the voting panel, Watson is No. 1, followed by Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas, Miami’s Brad Kaaya and North Carolina’s Marquise Williams.
* Seven different teams were represented in the top 10.
* Despite the uncertainty surrounding his status for 2015, Florida State running back Dalvin Cook ranked No. 10 in this expert poll.
* Florida State (nine) had the most players voted for in this expert poll. Clemson was second with six, followed by Virginia Tech (five) and Louisville (four).
As the Big Ten Conference improves, so too does the incoming talent. The end result is a new crop of players talented enough to crack their respective starting lineups and make an impact throughout the season.
The Big Ten has a group of freshmen as talented as any conference in the country. They'll be stepping into starting roles or regular rotations and likely having a say in how the 2015 college football season plays out.
Here are the ten freshmen to watch in the Big Ten this fall.
Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan
Peppers made this list last season but ended up redshirting after playing limited downs. Various reports out of Ann Arbor say that Peppers is quite simply the best player on Michigan's roster. He's going to lead Michigan's secondary and be an integral part of what Jim Harbaugh wants to do on special teams. Don't be shocked to see him used on offense as well.
Madre London, RB, Michigan State
The departure of Jeremy Langford leaves a gaping hole to fill in the Spartan backfield. It's looking more and more like that hole will be filled by committee for the time being. London figures heavily into that committee and could eventually emerge as the bell cow. He's as complete a back as Michigan State has on its roster, physical enough to get tough yards inside and quick enough to shoot 30 yards downfield in a blink.
Derwin Gray, T, Maryland
The 6-foot-5, 328-pound Gray is a monster with unlimited potential. He'll be thrust into a starting role immediately and will be a key piece in Maryland's quest to play in a bowl. In an offense with not a lot of individual playmaking talent at the skill positions, the ability to protect the pocket and own the edge will be instrumental to Maryland's success in 2015.
Vayante Copeland, CB, Michigan State
Copeland is one of the more decorated high school players to come out of Ohio in recent memory. He'll compete for a starting spot at corner, but will be a regular fixture in the Spartan secondary regardless of whether or not he wins the starting role. His ability to play like an upperclassman will be critical in a year where Michigan State is considered by many as a dark horse in the College Football Playoff conversation.
Nick Allegretti, G, Illinois
Protecting Wes Lunt and opening holes for Josh Ferguson are steps one and two in the plan for Illinois offensive success in 2015. Allegretti will be the youngest member of an offensive line that returns three starters. If the Illini are to make a repeat bowl appearance, Allegretti will play a pivotal role in that attempt.
Isaiah Gentry, WR, Minnesota
In an offense with limited skill position weapons, Gentry could be a major factor — particularly in the red zone. The departure of Maxx Williams leaves quarterback Mitch Leidner without a big, dependable target downfield. Gentry's prototypical (6-4, 210), NFL-caliber frame is going to be very inviting to a quarterback who likes to throw on the run.
Markell Jones, RB, Purdue
The Boilermaker offensive line returns five starters and figure to be the strength of Purdue. Markell Jones — Indiana's 2014 Mr. Football — is likely to be the feature back running behind the group. Jones is a patient runner with good vision. He may very well be the difference for Purdue down the stretch in close games, eating up yards and clock to preserve a couple of wins.
T.J. Edwards, LB, Wisconsin
Edwards joins a talented linebacker corps that includes Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel. The former high school quarterback will be tasked with reading some of the better signal-callers in the conference and using his speed and athleticism to make key stops. It's important that Wisconsin does not get into shootouts throughout the season. Edwards will play a key role in that effort.
Dedrick Young, LB, Nebraska
Husker fans and media alike can't stop blushing and gushing over Young's physical attributes. "Grown man" is a term commonly used to describe him, and that's going to have to be the case in 2015. He figures to play plenty of snaps — if not start — in what may be Nebraska's thinnest position group from both a talent and depth standpoint. If he can step in and pick up the new defense quickly, it would prevent a lot of would-be heartburn in Husker Nation.
Michael Deiter, G, Wisconsin
Running the ball down the opponent's throat has become both Wisconsin's strategy and identity. That's not likely to change under new head coach Paul Chryst. The Badgers are expecting big things from running back Corey Clement in 2015, and Deiter will play a key role if those big things coming to fruition. If he can play anywhere near the level of returning starters Tyler Marz and Dan Voltz, the Badgers should once again field one of the better offensive lines in the conference.
We've all been there. Listening to a friend who just got a ring, and pretending to be happy for them.
Rob Gronkowski tells the story of how he got his ring in the new "This is SportsCenter" ad. Neil Everett, Stan Verrett, and Kenny Mayne put on their best "I'm so happy for you" faces as Gronk gives the details.
It's important to never get too carried away after the first NFL preseason game, but there's no denying Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots continue to replenish their cupboard with solid rookies who can immediately play. In fact, quite a few of them were on display Thursday night against the Packers.
With near-complete turnover at cornerback and running back, along with retirement and injuries at guard, the Pats have quite a few significant roles up for grabs. Here are five young players who will be names to remember come September.
1. Rookie Guards Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason
Jackson and Mason played almost all of the first preseason game, just as they've seen the majority of the snaps in training camp. Despite no experienced veterans around them, they showed well against Green Bay. Mason looked especially comfortable in a pulling role where he helped spring Jonas Gray's 55-yard touchdown run. Jackson was solid as well, in the workman-like right guard role. Veteran Ryan Wendell remains sidelined on the PUP list, but could be inserted for Mason once he returns. Regardless, the Patriots look like they have two keepers at a position that needed an upgrade this offseason.
2. Second-year Running Back James White
White is a lead candidate to replace Shane Vereen in the receiving back role and showed some flashes against the Packers, grabbing four catches for 53 yards, while showing the ability to make defenders miss in space. White will still likely split time early in the season with Travaris Cadet and Brandon Bolden, but showed he can contribute with a different dimension. His willingness in pass protection was apparent, even if he did whiff a couple times.
3. Rookie Defensive End Trey Flowers
Suddenly defensive end is a position of solid depth for the Patriots, with the rookie Flowers being the cherry on top after free agent Jabaal Sheard had a great showing himself. Flowers' best highlight was his sack of Aaron Rodgers, but left the game after appearing to take a knee to the stomach. In a league where you can never have too many edge defenders/pass rushers, Flowers looks like the most promising rookie at the position since Chandler Jones. He might be buried a bit on the depth chart, but should get some chances in spot duty.
4. Rookie Safety Jordan Richards
The second-round pick out of Stanford looked like he belonged against the Packers, finishing second on the team with six tackles, playing 45 of 88 snaps. Richards played a strong safety role that had him both in the box and dropping into coverage. Richards' emergence will put Tavon Wilson right on the roster bubble and if the amount of playing time is any indication, Wilson is currently looking up at Richards on the depth chart. Richards has the smarts to find himself on the field both on special teams and in three-safety packages this season.
5. Running Back Jonas Gray
Technically this is Gray's fourth year in the NFL, but he should be a significant part of the Patriots’ ground attack. LeGarrette Blount is the team's best early-down back, but Gray should see significant carries, and, at the very least, be the primary back for the season opener while Blount is suspended. Gray showed impressive burst on his 55-yard touchdown run against the Packers. Explosive plays and hard running like that are just what the Patriots need.
(Jonas Gray photo by Keith Nordstrom, courtesy of www.patriots.com)
Notre Dame left spring practice with a lot of bodies along the defensive line. Then defensive ends Jhonny Williams and Kolin Hill announced their decision to transfer, lessening the depth on the edge.
But a much bigger blow came on Friday when defensive tackle Jarron Jones tore his MCL and was lost for the season. The 6-foot-5, 315-pounder from Rochester, N.Y., was coming back from a foot injury suffered in the first quarter of 2014’s home finale against Louisville. While his progress from that injury had been slow, he was making strides and was on track to start the season on the field.
The question that is now being asked by all Notre Dame fans is how much will Jones’s injury affect the 2015 Irish?
Obviously, it’s not going to help. Jones established himself as a powerful presence in the middle of the Irish line last year and a healthy Jones, along with Sheldon Day on the interior, would have been a major strength for Notre Dame.
In some ways, though, last year’s injury may help Notre Dame in 2015. Daniel Cage and Jay Hayes saw meaningful snaps as freshmen and Jacob Matuska made some plays at that position as well.
Another option is to move defensive end Isaac Rochell inside. Rochell played tackle in the Music City Bowl and seemed to take to the position quite naturally. He is a big, strong guy who isn’t a natural pass rusher, so he would be a fit as a replacement for Jones. The problem is that he sets the edge very well against the run at end. While Andrew Trumbetti has a bright future, he just doesn’t boast the size (6-3, 260) needed to be a force up front like Rochell.
The wild card is true freshman Jerry Tillery. The early entry was the talk of spring practice and will be at the very least part of the rotation in the middle. Tillery (6-6, 305) is similar in size to Jones.
It is true that none of these players are known commodities. But the good news is that Notre Dame has a few options, increasing the likelihood that at least one of them will pan out.
Notre Dame comes into the season with lofty goals and despite the loss of Jones, the bar is still set very high. While the injury stings badly, it is by no means a death blow to the Irish’s hopes of earning a spot in the College Football Playoff.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
Dan Mullen and Hugh Freeze don't come together for much, but this is one thing they agree on.
In a full-page ad appearing in the Clarion-Ledger, the Mississippi State and Ole Miss coaches along with Morgan Freeman, Archie Manning, and others are calling for the state flag to be changed.
Since other states are progressing and removing the state flag, some figures in Mississippi figure it's time for the state to follow suit.
The ad reads as follows:
"It's simply not fair, or honorable, to ask black Mississippians to attend schools, compete in athletic events, work in the public sector, serve in the National Guard, and go about their normal lives with the state flag that glorifies a war fought to keep their ancestors enslaved. It's time for Mississippi to fly a flag for all its people."
Freeze has gone on record before to say the flag needs to be changed.
"I'm a Mississippian," Freeze said. "No one understands the pride of the people and the heritage of that state any better than I do. While I'm not a political figure, that symbol [the Confederate flag] has been hijacked by groups that have meant ill will toward other people. I think it's time we move in a different direction with the state flag."
Ah, yes, preseason football! A time when the Steelers’ first team comes in, marches down the field for a touchdown on the opening drive, and even take the 2-point conversion. Makes it look easy.
And then there are the backups, who go on to lose the game 23-21.
That said, here's what we took from Friday night's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
What’s this? A 2-point conversion after the first score?
In theory, if a team felt it could be successful at 2-point conversions more than 50 percent of the time, then it would make sense to go for two more often since that’s twice as many points as a PAT.
In practicality, it doesn't make a lot of sense. Still, this is preseason football, where new ideas can be explored. On the Steelers' radio network pregame show it was revealed the Steelers have had a competition where they line up for 2-point conversions seven times, offense and defense. They are said to be spirited competitions where score is not only kept, but the unit that gets beat is reminded of it.
Therefore it wasn't that much of a surprise when the Steelers went for two, and got it, in the first quarter after Ben Roethlisberger marched the team down the field a six-play, 80-yard drive. With extra points now kicked from 32 yards out instead of 20, some have theorized teams will attempt 2-point conversions more often. After all, the extra point on the scoreboard was the impetus for Jacksonville to go for its own 2-point conversion following Stephen Morris' go-ahead, one-yard touchdown put the Jaguars up 23-21, as overtime is frowned upon in the preseason.
The conversion failed, and the Steelers could have won the game with a field goal. While in the regular season such a touchdown would likely have been followed with a regular kicking conversion, it would have made the score 24-21, and a field goal would still be en vouge.
Is this a new strategic element in NFL games? Two-point conversion attempts were all the rage this week in preseason. Possibly, but it should be mentioned such ploys are not new in the preseason. In Pittsburgh’s 31-10 victory at Buffalo to kick off the 1995 preseason, Bill Cowher also decided to go for two following the Steelers’ first touchdown.
On Friday night, Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley elected to have Jason Myers attempt a 58-yard field goal in the third quarter. It's unlikely in the regular season such a decision would have been made, and though Myers' attempt was unsuccessful, his long kicks meant the Steelers did not return a kickoff in the game.
Improved special teams play
Against Minnesota the Steelers allowed Stefon Diggs to return a punt 62 yards to set up the Vikings’ second touchdown and Shaun Suisham infamously was hurt making a tackle on a kickoff at midfield.
On Friday the special teams weren't great, allowing 174 return yards. But they were good, as Garrett Hartley made all his kicks in his Steelers debut. More importantly, Shayon Green forced a Storm Johnson fumble, recovered by Sammie Coates, on a kickoff in the fourth quarter to set up the Steelers’ go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Without that fumble, it's unlikely the Steelers would have re-taken the lead because…
This quarterback Jones
Save for the opening series, Landry Jones played his second straight complete game. And save for a 17-yard drive in the fourth quarter where he threw his first touchdown pass in two seasons of preseason football, he continued to be unimpressive.
His defenders stated he didn't have the luxury of playing with first-string players against Minnesota; on Friday his first pass was to Martavis Bryant and was too high. For the game, Jones was 24 for 46 for 200 yards, an embarrassingly low 4.3 yards per pass attempt.
Yes, he suffered some dropped passes. Shakim Phillips is the new Limas Sweed. But at the end of the day Jones' first five drives produced punts. He had three two-minute drives and could never get the team past the 50.
Furthermore, it seemed as if Mike Tomlin kept Jones in the game almost to make a point, or as if to play favorites with his own fourth-round choice of two years ago rather than another team's sixth-round pick of last season.
Tomlin hinted both Tyler Murphy and Tahj Boyd would see action behind center before the game, but it never came. Tomlin also defended Jones' play against Minnesota in his coach's show with Bill Hillgrove, saying he felt he was accurate in the first half of the Hall of Fame Game before his accuracy declined in the second.
Jones' spot on the roster may now lie with Bruce Gradkowski's ability to heal. One gets the feeling Tomlin sees Jones as a similar quarterback to Roethlisberger in that he is willing to let a play develop.
It's just that the plays haven't developed.
On the good side, cornerback William Gay started well. His tackle of Julius Thomas in the first quarter made the big pass catcher flip in the air, and his ensuing footsteps made Allen Hurns drop a pass later on in the drive. Then Gay allowed Allen Robinson to get past him in the first quarter for a 15-yard catch on 3rd and 14.
There were so many little things. Backup Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne threw only one incomplete pass (a drop). Four Steelers penalties, including two consecutive ones on cornerback Jordan Sullen, let a quarterback, Stephen Morris, who completed only 33 percent of his passes in the game, march the Jaguars 92 yards for the winning score late in the fourth quarter.
Clay Harbour's 31-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter came when he beat B.W. Webb when the Steelers were in Cover 2 and the safety was late in response. The play came after Harbour dropped a pass with 9:07 left in the first half when he was wide open in the flat with a clear path to the end zone, much like Minnesota tight end MyCole Pruitt was able to get open for his touchdown reception in the Hall of Fame game.
Thank goodness for Bill Hillgrove and Bob Pompeani
The Jaguars’ radio play-by-play announcer is Frank Frangie, a veteran radio sportscaster who actually spent many of his formative summers in Western Pennsylvania. The background of Frangie's Twitter page is PNC Park.
Unfortunately the Jaguars' television play-by-play broadcaster is Sam Kouvaris, a veteran television sportscaster who votes on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. Hopefully he is more prepared for his selections than this particular broadcast. Consider:
* He opened the broadcast stating the Jaguars were playing their second preseason game of the year and the Steelers were playing their first.
* Did not identify Markus Wheaton on his 2-point conversion catch
* Stated Devin Gardner was still on the Steelers. Gardner was cut when Garrett Hartley was signed on Wednesday.
* Broadcast the game with an overall very dry delivery.
This just made one thankful for Bill Hillgrove's calls on the radio and Bob Pompeani's on KDKA. While Kouvaris is likely as iconic in Jacksonville as Hillgrove and Pompeani are to Pittsburgh, Hillgrove's radio broadcasts are always lively and Pompeani is always sharp.
Much has been made in modern times how warm-weather states are now producing as many football players, if not more, than the traditional breeding grounds of Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Therefore it was refreshing that the three team captains for the Jaguars; Henne, Paul Posluszny and Bernard Pierce, all hail from the Keystone State. True, none are from Western Pennsylvania proper. But it's fun to note Henne was born in Wyomissing, the hometown of former University of Pittsburgh quarterback Matt Lytle and Taylor Swift.
— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson has been a contributor to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 15 years. He has covered the Steelers, Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.
Arkansas’ mighty ground attack suffered a setback this weekend, as the school announced running back Jonathan Williams will miss an extended period of time after a foot injury in a weekend scrimmage.
According to a release from the school, Williams’ left foot injury will require surgery and the timetable for his return is uncertain.
Williams is one of the nation’s top running backs after recording 1,190 yards and 12 scores last season. The senior turned down an opportunity to head to the NFL for one more year with the Razorbacks.
While the timetable for Williams’ return is uncertain, Arkansas’ schedule is manageable in most of September. The Razorbacks host UTEP, Toledo and Texas Tech before the SEC opener against Texas A&M.
The matchup against the Aggies is arguably the first game where Williams would be needed. That’s over a month in terms of a recovery. Optimistically, a return in the Sept. 26 neutral site affair would be the best-case scenario for Williams. On the negative side, Williams could be out even longer.
While Williams is a key piece of Arkansas’ offense, the good news is junior Alex Collins is capable of carrying the rushing attack and is also one of the top running backs in the nation.
Collins rushed for 1,100 yards and 12 scores last season and led the team with 1,026 yards in 2013. The junior has been pushed by coach Bret Bielema this offseason and went into fall camp in better shape.
Collins has been one of the SEC’s top running backs over the last two years and a little extra commitment and improved speed is a dangerous thought for defensive coordinators in the SEC.
After working as co-No. 1’s in Arkansas’ backfield over the last two years, Collins is now the go-to back for the Razorbacks until Williams is back in action.
How much will Arkansas utilize Collins early in September? Without Williams, keeping Collins healthy is now a priority. Expect to see Kody Walker and Rawleigh Williams III filling in for Williams during the non-conference action, which should allow Collins to stay fresh and limit the wear and tear until SEC play on Sept. 26 against Texas A&M.
There’s no doubt Arkansas will miss Jonathan Williams. However, Collins, Walker and Williams III are capable of keeping the ground attack in good shape through the non-conference portion. Additionally, the Razorbacks expect quarterback Brandon Allen to improve in his senior year.
Assuming Williams returns in time for late September or early October, Arkansas shouldn’t miss a beat and will be positioned for improvement in SEC play. If Williams is out longer, his injury becomes a bigger issue for the Razorbacks and a hindrance to the hopes of improving into the top of the SEC West. Even if Williams is out for more than a month, the ground attack is in good shape with an improving (and more dangerous) Collins toting the ball 25-30 times a game.
Vanderbilt unveiled its new alternate uniforms for 2015 during its annual Dore Jam, and the school hit a home run with this design.
The alternate look is the nicknamed “Deep Water” and features a gray uniform with a chrome helmet.
The new alternate look goes with the traditional black, white and gold uniforms the school will wear in 2015.
Check out Vanderbilt’s new alternate uniforms:
#DeepWater (@VandyFootball) August 16, 2015
Jim Harbaugh’s fingerprints are all over the Michigan football program in 2015, and the first-year coach reportedly plans on making an alteration to the Wolverines’ away uniforms.
According to thewolverine.com, Michigan is changing its road uniforms to an all-white design. Usually, the Wolverines wear white jerseys and maize pants in away games. The new all-white look is a tribute to the 1974 team and could be used in all of Michigan’s road contests in 2015.
Here’s a look at Michigan’s new all-white uniforms for 2015:
The pants: pic.twitter.com/udd3aGHjhf— Chris Balas (@Balas_Wolverine) August 15, 2015
This is the 1974 road uniform that Michigan will wear this season: pic.twitter.com/OvJijhFCKV— Drew Hallett (@DrewCHallett) August 15, 2015
One thing you can say about Cortez Lewis is that he has a phenomenal memory.
The Wake Forest wide receiver has a secret handshake with over 50 members of the team. That's a lot of memory being used. You have to remember who's who and which handshake goes with which guy. My goodness, give this kid an MVP just because.
Everyone in college football wants to have the best hype video, but many are put to shame with Arizona's work of art.
The Wildcats went all-out with "Licence to Thrill." The team channels James Bond as they ride around in exotic cars, live it up at exclusive parties, all while styling in nice suits. Let's hope they bring some of that style and finesse to the field this season.
Scooby Wright looks like he had a lot of fun filming as well.
Riding around Tucson with coach Rodriguez in a Ferrari listening to tupac.I guess I can check that off my bucket list pic.twitter.com/P5fRsT7h6s— Scooby Wright III (@TwoStarScoob) August 14, 2015
Bullying has become an issue, which teachers and coaches at all levels and parents with children of all ages have had to confront. Seemingly insignificant cases of verbal attacks and subtle intimidation have led to tragic consequences. Public service announcements and educational programs address bullying of children. The assumption is that this is not an issue facing adults or organizations. Everyone is encouraged to aid the victims and confront the tormenters. After hearing and seeing so much on this issue for so long, I can no longer stay silent.
To the National Collegiate Athletic Association, I must say this: stop picking on the University of North Dakota!
This harassment began several years ago. In 2007, the NCAA browbeat the university into an agreement to drop UND’s nickname, the Fighting Sioux, and its logo within four years, unless two specified Sioux tribes gave their consent to the usage of both. One tribe voiced its approval; the other expressed its opposition. Faced with banishments from postseason tournaments, the university caved to the pressure in 2011. Its teams have competed without an official nickname ever since. Those associated with UND are still grappling with a replacement acceptable to the self-appointed judges of propriety in Indianapolis.
The NCAA began its politically correct jihad in 2005. Arkansas State University, Southeast Missouri State University and the University of Louisiana-Monroe buckled under the threats to drop the historically erroneous nickname “Indians.” Saint John’s University, formerly called “Redmen,” and Marquette University, previously known as “Warriors,” chose other nicknames out of fear of being declared ineligible for postseason participation. Evidently, the NCAA could not be content with strong-arming some members to change their nicknames that lump all aboriginal peoples of the Americas into one non-descript classification.
Then, the NCAA targeted the University of North Dakota. The alleged justification lies in the supposed “hostile or abusive” nature of UND’s nickname and logo featuring a warrior wearing war paint and feathers. How does the use of the name of a specific tribe fit the description of "hostile or abusive"? If that is the standard, why are those hypocrites not harassing Central Michigan University (Chippewas), Florida State University (Seminoles), the University of Illinois (Fighting Illini), San Diego State University (Aztecs) or the University of Utah (Utes)?
If UND’s logo is causing this badgering, then an official from the NCAA needs to explain why Florida State’s logo is not also held to the same standard. Is that because those other programs compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the highest classification of football, and, thus, they have the resources and clout to resist the threats? Perhaps, the busybodies are just starting with the weaker targets before turning their muzzles in the direction of those FBS programs.
The NCAA’s bullying of UND reeks of selective enforcement of a subjective policy. Besides ignoring the use of other tribes’ names, the NCAA conveniently overlooks the names and logos of other members referring to other ethnic groups. Among these are Fighting Irish (University of Notre Dame), Ragin’ Cajuns (University of Louisiana-Lafayette), Spartans (Michigan State University and San Jose State University), Trojans (University of Southern California and Troy University) and Vandals (University of Idaho). Did the NCAA demand a referendum in Ireland, Acadiana, in southeastern Peloponnese, in northwestern Anatolia, or in any of the territories occupied by the Vandals at any point in history to seek approval from the inhabitants of those places for the use of those nicknames and logos?
Does the problem with UND’s nickname lie in the use of the adjective “Fighting"? If so, why does the University of Illinois have an exemption from persecution? It uses the name of a tribe, which is preceded by a word that connotes violence. Also, is the nickname of Notre Dame not perpetuating the negative stereotype of the Irish as drunkards eager to brawl at a moment’s notice? Theses two other examples are no less hostile or abusive than the term “Fighting Sioux”.
I admit that I have no stake in this fight. I am not, nor have I ever been a fan of, or a student at the University of North Dakota. Actually, I have never even stepped inside the borders of that state. I do not even watch games involving Football Championship Subdivision teams, which UND is a member. However, I do resent it when self-important ninnies try to micromanage the behaviors of others. This especially irritates me when the behavior has no bearing on those dictating how others must unquestioningly conform. I suggest that the NCAA tackle important problems facing college athletes and university sports programs instead of a trivial issue such as this one. I advise the universities with nicknames and logos referring to any ethnic group to ban together to resist this usurping of power by sanctimonious bureaucrats before theirs become the NCAA's next target.
— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.
The Titans and Falcons are both coming off of disappointing seasons and look to make 2015 a fresh start. The Titans and second-year head coach Ken Whisenhunt will look to bounce back from a dreadful 2-14 campaign last year. The Falcons hired new head coach Dan Quinn, formerly the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks.
Here are five things to watch for in tonight’s preseason matchup.
1. Marcus Mariota
Since being picked second overall in the 2015 draft, Mariota has been under constant pressure as the face of the franchise. The hype kicked into another gear as Mariota has yet to throw an interception in training camp. Most think he is the closest thing to NFL-ready as any rookie quarterback will be this year. He has become a leader in the locker room, picked up the offense quickly and has kept his headlines to what has happened on the field. Now let’s see what he can do against a live defense.
2. Vic Beasley
It’s safe to say that the Atlanta Falcons haven’t had a pass rush in a very, very long time. Oh they’ve drafted players, but unfortunately they have missed on all of them. The Falcons hope that Beasley, the eighth overall pick a few months ago, will be everything they hoped he would be. Beasley has impressed in practice and looks the part. We know he can get up field, but can he secure the edge and help his team stop the run as well?
3. Dorial Green-Beckham
With their second-round pick, the Titans decided to give Mariota some help on the outside by drafting Green-Beckham, who is talented but has had problems staying out of trouble. If DGB can grow up, this will be the steal of the 2015 draft. If he continues his ways, it will be another miss for the Titans.
4. The running game
Both teams feature a number of young ball carriers that were taken in the last couple of drafts. The Falcons’ Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman will both be sidelined with injuries so that will mean plenty of carries for Antone Smith and Terron Ward. Smith continues to be an enigma, as he is very talented but for some reason can’t get playing time. Look for rookie David Cobb to get a lot of carries for the Titans as the backup to Bishop Sankey. The Titans have faith that Sankey’s rough rookie season was primarily due to him making the adjustment to the NFL.
5. Upgraded defenses
The Titans added free agents Brian Orakpo, Da‘Norris Searcy and Perrish Cox to help DT Jurrell Casey in hopes to upgrade a unit that ranked 27th in total defense in 2014. Bringing in Hall of Famer and longtime Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau should help as well. The Falcons hired a defensive-minded head coach in Quinn and immediately signed defensive help in free agents Brooks Reed and Justin Durant, while loading up on defenders in the draft, including Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Jalen Collins. Then again, considering this unit ranked dead last in total defense, it will need all the help it can get. Both teams needed to make drastic changes on that side of the ball and were aggressive this offseason in doing so. Will it equal better results on the field and in the win column? Only time will tell.
— Written by Justin Nails, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @justinnails
Cam Newton is a popular quarterback in the NFL. After this video, that could change.
The Panthers star belted out a popular song right now by The Weeknd, called "Earned It." Ironically people are wondering what they did to earn this performance because there is serious work to be done.
Cam Newton Sings The Weeknd's "Earned It" Acapella!
Panthers QB Cam Newton has moved on from the Josh Norman scuffle, & now he's ready to sing some CAM-E-OKE with Kiss Mornings crew! #CamNewtonPosted by Kiss 95.1 on Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Clearly Newton has never heard the original version.
Being a quarterback in the NFL is like being a part of a brotherhood, at least if you ask Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers quarterback is sticking by his fellow athlete Tom Brady during the whole Deflategate scandal.
"Tom's a buddy, and he's going through some stuff right now," Rodgers told WEEI.com. "I'm sure we'll have resolution here pretty soon... I don't know enough about it to make any comment on [Deflategate]. But Tom's a buddy, and I'd like to see it get figured out before the season."
Rodgers continued about the different pressures quarterbacks and under and how it's never fun, as a friend or competitor, to see another player held out of the game.
"There's 32 of us," Rodgers said. "A lot of expectations. A lot of adversity. We also have a great opportunity and platform to make a difference. I think you realize how difficult it is to play the position, the stuff you deal with every single day. You wear a lot of hats, as a leader, as an encourager. As a supporter. You lead from a lot of different vantage points. It's also really thrilling. You know what those guys are going through and it's fun to get to know some of the guys."
There's something about those Green Bay quarterbacks that just make them love Brady.
Michael Jordan or LeBron James? Who would win in a one-on-one?
That's the eternal question. MJ says he would definitely beat LeBron and, as you could imagine, the Cavaliers star is taking himself over the Bulls legend. James is a competitor so he said he would choose himself over anyone. That's fair.
Here's Jordan saying James couldn't beat him.
Jordan's not in his prime anymore, but can we just make this happen already?
If you're a recruit thinking about going to Florida State but scared of the trouble you might get into, then they have a solution for you.
Florida State has started to implement multiple programs to give those Seminoles a fighting chance of staying out of trouble. There's a course designed around the many responsibilities of student-athletes. Although these courses are open to other students, they are a requirement for players. Drug and alcohol abuse, pair with guest speakers are the areas of focus for this class.
Another new frontier Florida State is embarking on is how to deal with money. Student-athletes need to learn how to manage their finances, and the school is planning to help in that area.
"We feel that when it's a course the individual has to invest more into as opposed to when it's an expert coming in talking to the kids," Florida State AD Stan Wilcox told the Palm Beach Post. "They'll touch a good portion of them but there won't be a time they won't get to some kids and then that person is gone. If it's a course that's required the kids have to be vested in it and they have to get more out of it."
With football season set to kick off, now is a good time to talk about another favorite pastime — drinking a beer while watching the game. We sat down for a cold one with Redhook Ale Brewery’s Nick Crandall, who gave us his expert opinion on everything from tailgating tips to Andre the Giant drinking 150 beers once upon a time. (And don’t forget, always find a designated driver and tip your bartender.) Cheers!
[Q] Do you have any tailgating tips?
Plan ahead and always start early.
[Q] What’s the best drinking game to play while tailgating?
I’m a big fan of cornhole, especially drinking when your opponent scores or whenever either of you score. The more drinking, the better.
[Q] What’s the optimal temperature for beer? It depends on the style.
But generally, lagers are around 40°F and ales are around 50°F. But each beer sort of has a sweet spot.
[Q] Which is the best way to serve beer: can, bottle or draft?
I prefer draft, since you’re automatically putting it into a glass, allowing you to smell the beer and appreciate the flavors more.
[Q] What is the proper technique to pour a beer?
Hold your glass at a 45-degree angle to start. Pour onto the side of the glass to reduce foaming. As the glass fills, slowly bring your glass back to vertical and create a little foam by giving some distance to the glass to create a nice thick head.
[Q] Why do some beers have fruit garnishes and others do not?
Some beers don’t need them.
[Q] What’s your personal favorite beer that your company brews?
Winterhook. Our winter seasonal changes a little each year, giving us a fresh new malty and hoppy beer each winter.
[Q] What’s the fastest way to make hot beer cold enough to drink?
I’m going to say liquid nitrogen, but I wouldn’t recommend that for safety reasons.
[Q] There’s a tall tale that Andre the Giant once drank 150 beers in one sitting. Do you believe that? Is that what it would take to get buzzed if you’re 7'4" and 500 pounds?
I do believe that the 8th Wonder of the World drank 150 beers, but I also believe that he was a little more than “buzzed” after that.
[Q] What question are you asked most about beer?
No doubt, how much beer I get to drink while I’m at work.
[Q] How much beer do you get to drink while you’re at work?
Depends on if the boss has gone home already.
[Q] What food goes best with your Winterhook beer?
Burritos. But I kind of just really love burritos.
[Q] How many beers are too many for one sitting?
I don’t know. I usually just end up standing.
Fantasy football is one of the greatest joys of life. But with great joy must come deep, soul-crushing sadness. As can be the case when one of your so-called stud picks turns out to be a complete bust that kills any chance you have of making your fantasy football playoffs.
Busts are a real part of fantasy football and they happen every year. There’s nothing you can do if a player gets hurts, benched or suspended, but there is something you do have control over.
You can (and should) try your best to avoid any player who might not perform to their ADP or even to what they are capable of.
Predicting these players can often be harder than dividing fractions, but luckily here are some players that you should be wary of in 2015.
1. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans
Things aren’t looking good for Brees in 2015 and a lot of it has to do with Brees himself and what people expect of him. A lot of drafters look at past history as a predictor for future success and that’s where they go wrong and ultimately miss the playoffs (hopefully you have a few of these players in your fantasy league). Now Brees was a decent QB1 last year, throwing for almost 5,000 yards with 33 touchdowns. Who wouldn’t take that?
The problem was that he was drafted to be a top-3 fantasy QB and fight to be fantasy’s No. 1 overall player. That was with All-Pro TE Jimmy Graham and speed burner Kenny Stills running down deep balls. Now both Graham and Stills are gone and there really isn’t anyone to replace them. Brees will have second-year WR Brandin Cooks (back from injury) to toss the pigskin to (Cooks is one of my must-have 2015 fantasy breakouts) and he also has new RB C.J. Spiller to take over the role that Darren Sproles once starred in.
The way New Orleans’ offseason went (especially with trading Graham for center Max Unger) and re-signing RB Mark Ingram, it looks like the Saints also realize that Brees’ best days are behind him and they are going to be more of a run-heavy team in 2015. You should draft accordingly and let someone else fall for the idea that Brees is still a top-5 fantasy QB.
2. Julius Thomas, TE, Jacksonville
Believe it or not, the Jags’ offense won’t be terrible this year, but if you draft Thomas to be a top-3 TE and match the numbers he put up in Denver, you’re crazy. First of all Thomas goes from Peyton Manning throwing him the ball to Blake Bortles. That’s never a good thing.
Also, Bortles has a history of ignoring his tight ends. Now that will probably change since Jacksonville paid Thomas a boatload of money and will have plays specifically designed to get him the ball. There’s a good chance that someone will take Thomas way too early in your league and hope that he produces top-5 TE numbers. You can call that person a fool when Thomas is fighting to be the 12th-best fantasy TE in 2015.
3. DeMarco Murray, RB, Philadelphia
This is not a slight against Murray. There is no doubt that he will still be a first-round pick or at the very least, an early second-round pick in almost all fantasy football leagues across the country. So Murray probably won’t really be a bust, so consider this more of a warning.
When thinking about selecting Murray on draft day keep in the back of your mind three things:
1. He’s been injured every year (except last year), even going back to his college days
2. He’s coming off a 392-carry season (that’s an insane workload)
3. He’s no longer running behind the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line
Yes, he now has offensive-minded guru Chip Kelly calling the plays for him, but Murray has to be downgraded on draft day because not only can a lot of his success be attributed to Dallas’ O-line, he also no longer has Tony Romo or Dez Bryant to draw attention from him. Opposing defenses will target Murray, especially early in the season, until they see something from Sam Bradford. Just look at LeSean McCoy’s numbers from last year. They were decent, but not elite, especially considering that McCoy was a top-5 pick last year. Don’t make the same mistake with Murray, he’ll be good, but not great.
4. Joique Bell, RB, Detroit
Bell finds himself in an ideal situation. He is the default No. 1 RB on a team that has a QB with a cannon arm in Matthew Stafford, and one of the best wide receiver combos in the game today in Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Bell probably went into the offseason really excited to start the 2015 season, and then the Lions drafted Ameer Abdullah, casting a large shadow over Bell’s role with the team.
To make things worse Bell is trying to get back to 100 percent health from a knee injury that has hampered him all offseason and now he is dealing with an Achilles issue. So he is pretty banged up and the season hasn’t even started yet.
The only thing that isn’t hurt is Bell’s confidence. He has been quoted this offseason saying “he’s going to rush for over 1,200 yards.” You have to love his confidence, but keep in mind that his career yards per carry average is a weak 3.9, he has never rushed for more than 860 yards in a season and he is 29 years old. Stay away.
5. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Kansas City
This one is so easy. It has nothing to do with Maclin’s ability; he is an excellent wide receiver and has all the intangibles. The problem is that he left the pass-happy scheme of Chip Kelly for wide receiver hell in Kansas City. This sentence basically sums it all up… Jeremy Maclin has Alex Smith throwing him the ball.
Actually, I take that back. This sentence is even better than that one… Somehow, Alex Smith managed to throw zero touchdowns to a wide receiver all of last year.
Read that last sentence again. In a league where passing is off the charts, wide receivers are better than ever and the rules greatly favor offenses, Smith couldn’t manage to throw a touchdown to a single wide receiver. That’s amazing.
Maclin will probably score a few touchdowns this year as he is a major upgrade over all the wide receivers Kansas City had on the roster last year, but most people will draft him based off of name value and not based on his current situation. Don’t be one of those people.
6. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina
Newton had a decent campaign in 2014, but even though he has been in the league now for four seasons, he still gets hype each and every year. This is crazy. If you are seriously considering drafting Newton as your starting QB check out his stats over the last four seasons…
2011: 4,051 passing yards, 21 TDs
2012: 3,869 passing yards, 19 TDs
2013: 3,379 passing yards, 24 TDs
2014: 3,127 passing yards, 18 TDs (14 games)
What stands out? That he is getting worse as he gains more experience, at least fantasy football-wise.
Now Carolina has done him no favors by giving him pathetic options to work with over his career. Yes, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen are nice options, but they are hardly elite, and Benjamin is now out for the season due to a torn ACL. Jonathan Stewart is the starting running back, so if Carolina is going to make it back into the playoffs, it will be up to Newton. This makes him a good QB, but we are talking about fantasy QBs here.
Most drafters fall in love with the fact that Newton can run, which is true. But even his rushing numbers are going down each year and so are his rushing touchdowns and this is simply because he is a valuable asset and Carolina doesn’t want him getting hurt, which makes perfect sense.
Here are his rushing numbers…
2011: 706 rushing yards, 14 TDs
2012: 741 rushing yards, 8 TDs
2013: 585 rushing yards, 6 TDs
2014: 539 rushing yards, 5 TDs (14 games)
Newton will not be a top-12 fantasy QB this year. Yet he is still being drafted ahead of Tony Romo, Ryan Tannehill and Eli Manning. All of which will have a better fantasy year than Newton. You’ve been warned.
7. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver
This has everything to do with the fact that Gary Kubiak is the new head coach and play-caller in Denver. This all but eliminates the run-and-gun approach that Peyton Manning has loved his entire career.
Peyton is going to line up more under center more than ever before, which will mean less shotgun formations and less three-wide receiver sets while Denver pounds the rock.
Last year Sanders was a draft day steal. Most likely drafted after Wes Welker in the later rounds of the draft and he produced as an elite WR2. He will not be able to match last year’s numbers. His targets will be down and this year he will have more competition from fellow wideout Cody Latimer. Plus Sanders has a nasty concussion history and you have to wonder if that will affect him this year.
8. LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo
Arguably the No. 1 overall pick last year, Murray sure didn’t help win many fantasy football championships in 2014. His rushing yards were down, he only scored five total touchdowns and thanks to Darren Sproles, he became an afterthought in the Eagles’ passing game.
Now McCoy finds himself in Buffalo, a fantasy football wasteland, with perhaps the worst coach in terms of fantasy football in Rex Ryan. Yes it’s true that Ryan loves to run the football and yes McCoy will get his touches. The primary backup in Buffalo is 79-year-old Fred Jackson (okay, he’s 34) and then they have a cast-off in Bryce Brown. So if you are looking for volume, McCoy is your guy.
But EJ Manuel or Matt Cassel will be McCoy’s starting QB. That’s not a misprint. Buffalo goes into the 2015 season with by far the worst quarterback situation in the league. Basically opposing defenses can stack all 12 guys in the box to stop McCoy because Manuel or Cassel don’t scare anyone. Plus, Buffalo added Percy Harvin (another perennial, injury-prone bust) and all Harvin is going to do is take catches away from McCoy in space. Oh and somehow Buffalo needs to get the ball to wide receiver Sammy Watkins because he’s their best playmaker. See how much of a mess this is?
Come draft day McCoy will probably be drafted in the first round based off his name value. Don’t be that fool. If he falls to you in the late second round maybe, but there still might be better options with more upside out there.
— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.
In the SEC, the schedule matters every year. The difference between a night game in Bryant-Denny Stadium or at home could mean the difference between a SEC West title and playing a bowl game before New Year’s Day. Heading into last season, Arkansas was returning five starters on offense and four on defense, but had to navigate the NCAA’s toughest-ranked schedule, which is part of the reason why the Razorbacks went 7-6.
Entering the 2015 season, Arkansas is as loaded as any team in the nation on offense, returning nine starters, not counting 1,100-yard rusher Alex Collins. On defense the Hogs have five starters returning, but did lose defensive end Trey Flowers, linebacker Martrell Spaight, and defensive tackle Darius Philon to the NFL.
If Arkansas has hopes of winning the SEC West Bret Bielema’s team must manage a schedule that includes just three home games in Fayetteville against conference opponents while managing two separate back-to-back road trips. Seven of Arkansas’ 12 regular season games come against teams ranked in Athlon Sports’ preseason Top 25.
Based on home-field advantage vs. being on the road, projected toughness of opponent, and Arkansas’ style of play vs. opponent, the following is a ranking of the Razorbacks’ regular season games from easiest to toughest.
12. Oct. 31 vs. Tennessee-Martin
On All Hallows Eve the scariest thing at play for an established program like Arkansas is to overlook a Skyhawks team that finished 6-6 in 2014.
11. Sept. 5 vs. UTEP
Once the Razorbacks get past any opening drive jitters and find their rhythm, Bielema should be able to rest his starters somewhere in the third quarter.
The Miners finished 7-6 last season, including a 5-3 mark in Conference USA. UTEP has some returning talent on offense that could give Arkansas a good early test with new faces at key positions, namely defensive end and linebacker. If the Hogs can shutdown returning 1,300-yard rusher Aaron Jones that should be a good sign of things to come for Razorback Nation.
10. Sept. 12 vs. Toledo (Little Rock)
The Rockets finished the 2014 season 9-4, going 7-1 in the Mid-American Conference. The strength of the team was Toledo’s ability to run the ball, a great second consecutive test for the Hogs’ front seven in preparation for SEC play. Junior running back Kareem Hunt is arguably one of the best running backs in the nation, certainly the best no one has heard of, coming off a 1,631-yard campaign with 16 touchdowns while averaging 8.0 yards per carry.
9. Sept. 19 vs. Texas Tech
The Hogs manhandled Texas Tech last season in Lubbock, winning 49-28. The Red Raiders have eight starters returning on offense and seven on defense. The bad news for the Razorbacks, four of five starters return along Tech’s offensive line. The good news for the Razorbacks is senior defensive end Pete Robertson is the only Red Raider of note returning along the front seven.
Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, likely featuring Patrick Mahones at quarterback, will be the Hogs’ first test against a very efficient passing attack. Tech finished fifth in the nation in 2014 with 351 passing yards per game.
8. Nov. 21 vs. Mississippi State
This game will likely be a gut check, how-much-gas-is-left-in-the-tank kind of game for the Hogs. Arkansas returns home after games against Ole Miss and LSU to face what right now is an unknown entity in the Bulldogs. Chances are Mississippi State will be on a down note only returning four starters on offense and three on defense, but head coach Dan Mullen did give game experience to his 2015 starters as key backups last fall.
The other thing the Bulldogs may have going their way, other than the return of quarterback Dak Prescott and linebacker Beniquez Brown, is the majority of the players expected to fill the gaps left by graduation are all seniors and juniors.
7. Nov. 28 vs. Missouri
Every college football fan outside of the Mizzou faithful are wondering how much longer head coach Gary Pinkel can keep up the double-digit win seasons. The Hogs had Missouri last year in Columbia before surrendering a fourth-quarter lead, losing 21-14.
The Tigers’ defensive front and wide receiver corps was hit hard by graduation and the NFL draft. Missouri could be fighting to become bowl eligible by the time they come to Fayetteville in late November, making this game a state border dogfight.
6. Sept. 26 vs. Texas A&M (Arlington, Texas)
Arkansas’ home game against Texas Tech is the perfect tune-up before heading to Arlington to face the Aggies. If the Razorbacks’ secondary is able to hold up against the Air Raid offense expect them to hold their own against Kevin Sumlin’s passing attack.
Texas A&M’s wide receiver corps is arguably the best in the nation with Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones, and Speedy Noil. If Arkansas does not get pressure up front on defense against quarterback Kyle Allen, this not-so-neutral-site game could be a shootout.
5. Nov. 7 at Ole Miss
As is the case with several SEC West teams, Ole Miss could be either pretty good or pretty average. The Rebels’ defense should be top shelf with seven starters back from a unit that finished 13th nationally last season.
Question marks line Mississippi’s offense entering the season from who will win the starting quarterback job, the eligibility of potential first-team All-American left tackle Laremy Tunsil, the health of potential All-American wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, and if head coach Hugh Freeze can find a running game.
4. Oct. 3 at Tennessee
Some history could be made for Bielema in Knoxville in early October. He has yet to win a SEC road game since taking over at Arkansas in 2013. Could the Volunteers be his first victim?
Tennessee returns four starters on the offensive line (three with the loss of senior Marcus Jackson), two being seniors. Junior quarterback Joshua Dobbs could be laying the groundwork for an early Heisman Trophy campaign if Tennessee jumps out of the gate strong. The Volunteers will be tough but still very young.
3. Nov. 14 at LSU
LSU is pushed up these rankings based on location and the fact that Arkansas held the Tigers scoreless last season, winning 17-0, gives this game a revenge factor.
The Tigers always recruit well thus will have great athletic talent on the field but how this team gels going forward is a big question mark. If offensive coordinator Cam Cameron can solve the inconsistent play under center and new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele can mold the unit to his liking, LSU will be tough to play regardless of the site… but this team has the feel of a squad in flux.
Head coach Les Miles always has running back sensation Leonard Fournette to fall back on as needed.
2. Oct. 3 at Alabama
This game represents a stretch of three consecutive tough road matchups for Arkansas, starting with Texas A&M in Arlington and a trip to Knoxville, Tenn., sandwiched in between. Luckily the Crimson Tide will be coming off what should be a tough road game against SEC East favorite Georgia before hosting Arkansas.
Alabama will have a terrific front seven on defense, creating an intriguing strength vs. strength matchup because of Arkansas’ run-heavy offense. Bama’s ground game will always be there but who starts under center and how productive will that quarterback be in 2015?
1. Oct. 24 vs. Auburn
When the Razorbacks take the field in 2015 they should fear no team after how they played last season. Arkansas let five games slip away in the second half after being tied or holding a lead coming out of halftime — Texas A&M, Alabama, Mississippi State, Missouri, and Auburn.
An Arkansas fan could make a logical argument that Auburn got lucky getting the Razorbacks in the 2014 season opener and not somewhere in the second half of the season once the Hogs started putting it all together.
Arkansas gets Auburn after consecutive games against Texas A&M, Tennessee, and Alabama, a daunting stretch for any FBS team. The good news is Arkansas gets a bye the week before Auburn comes to town allowing the Hogs a week to rest and prepare. The Tigers will head to Fayetteville after a road trip to an up-and-coming Kentucky team.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
The battle to replace Marcus Mariota as Oregon’s starting quarterback is officially underway. Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams passed a math test on Thursday, allowing the senior quarterback to receive his undergraduate degree and join the Ducks in time for fall practice.
Adams announced his intentions to transfer to Oregon prior to spring practice but was unable to officially join the team until graduating from Eastern Washington. In three years with the Eagles, Adams recorded over 10,000 total yards and threw 110 touchdown passes.
Oregon started fall camp on Aug. 10, so Adams is joining his new team a few days late in fall camp. Additionally, Jeff Lockie had a good spring and was able to spend the summer working as the No. 1 quarterback and build a rapport with the supporting cast.
Here’s a quick overview of the Lockie-Adams battle:
Enters fourth season on Oregon’s roster. Redshirted as a freshman but played as Mariota’s backup in each of the last two years. Has an edge in experience and grasp of system.
Working with the No. 1 offense in the spring was a boost for Lockie’s chances of winning the starting job.
Edge in talent goes to Adams.
Made strides within the offense in the spring but has just 41 career pass attempts with the Ducks.
Not as dynamic of a runner as Adams or Mariota.
Dynamic playmaker and a good fit for Oregon’s offense as a dual-threat option.
Has an edge in overall talent against Lockie.
Most experience as a starting quarterback on the Oregon roster.
Late arrival to fall practice makes it difficult to win the starting job before the opener.
How quickly will it take Adams to adjust to the FBS level of competition?
Not the biggest quarterback (around 6-foot). Will finding throwing lanes against bigger and more talented defenses prove problematic?
How’s this for a storyline? Oregon’s first game of the year is against Vernon Adams’ old team – Eastern Washington. Although Adams holds the edge in talent and is a good fit for the Ducks’ high-powered offense, Lockie’s experience within the system is will be tough to beat after a late arrival to fall camp. Although Mariota will be missed, Lockie and Adams are reliable options for coach Mark Helfrich. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see both quarterbacks play significant snaps in the first few games.
Prediction: Lockie opens the year as the starter, but Adams eventually takes over the job.
We are gathered here to join the ultimate game day nachos with the classic BLT. No objections, right? It’s that moment when bacon, lettuce and tomato meet layers of chips and melted cheese, drizzled with ranch dressing. This combo of all-time favorites will upgrade your game-watching grub.
8 oz. tortilla chips
12 oz. shredded cheese (Monterey Jack)
8 slices pre-cooked bacon, crumbled
1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered
1 romaine heart, finely shredded
1/3 cup bottled ranch dressing
Rimmed baking sheet or oven-safe platter
Preheat oven to 350 F
Round 1 | Build Foundation
Place half the chips on platter or baking sheet
Sprinkle with half bacon and half cheese
Round 2 | Another Layer
Top the first layer with leftover chips and cheese
Round 3 | Heat Check
Bake nachos about 5 minutes, until cheese melts
Round 4 | Top It Off
Scatter tomatoes, lettuce and remaining bacon over the top
Drizzle with ranch dressing
—Recipe by Laraine Perri
When it comes to college football and Las Vegas, there are many wagers available, depending on your level of interest and risk tolerance. One such area is win totals, which has already been discussed in full in previous articles.
Instead, this article takes a closer look at prop bets. In particular those prop bets that could offer value based on current odds. Prop bets are different from win totals, as they range from picking conference champions to award winners and other things. Using 5Dimes Sportsbook for current values, most of the selections you will see here are either the underdog play or of a reasonable value.
TCU makes the College Football Playoff (+190)
The Horned Frogs return the majority of a potent offense from last season. They also have a schedule that is very conducive for them to make the College Football Playoff. TCU plays Baylor at home while its non-conference slate consists of Minnesota, SMU and Stephen F. Austin. The Big 12 being left out of the Playoff last year, may actually help the Horned Frogs in 2015.
Cody Kessler wins the Heisman Trophy (+1250)
Kessler put up very good numbers last year, throwing 39 touchdowns and just five interceptions. The Trojans may have to rely on their passing game and with the chances they'll be in the mix for a Pac-12 title that means there will be plenty of opportunities for Kessler to impress the voters. Defenses in the conference are mighty shaky, and the same can be said for the majority of USC’s non-conference matchups as well.
Virginia Tech to win the ACC Coastal (+185), ACC Title (+575)
The Hokies have the best defense in the conference with talent all over that side of the ball. Kendall Fuller is a lockdown corner while Dadi Nicholas, Ken Ekanem and Luther Maddy will get pressure on the quarterback. The offense is the big question mark, but quarterback Michael Brewer got a full offseason to get a better grasp of the system. The road slate in the ACC is manageable with the toughest game in Atlanta against Georgia Tech. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has had the Yellow Jackets’ number.
Nebraska to win the Big Ten West (+230)
The West will probably come down to Wisconsin and Nebraska, with the Cornhuskers hosting the Badgers on Oct. 10. Nebraska also gets Michigan State at home and has several winnable road games. If quarterback Tommy Armstrong can continue to develop as a passer and limit the turnovers, this offense could be tough to stop. The Huskers also could use a vintage Blackshirt defense to emerge.
Western Kentucky to win the C-USA (+290)
As I documented in my C-USA win total article, I like the Hilltoppers and their chances this season. They have the best offense in the conference as well as a defense that’s on par with the other teams. My one concern is Western Kentucky’s schedule and the grouping of road games. Quarterback Brandon Doughty is a fun quarterback and there's no reason he can't lead these guys to a conference title.
Tennessee to win the SEC East (+250)
The Volunteers are the flavor of the week entering the 2015 season. A lot of prognosticators are predicting them to win a lot of games, yet you can get some value in taking Tennessee to win the East, which doesn’t appear to be that difficult. The Vols host Georgia at home in October, which is advantageous considering the Bulldogs are the heavy favorites in the division. But Tennessee could play spoiler on the strength of 17 returning starters and momentum from last season’s strong finish.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.