Articles By Athlon Sports
Maryland endured plenty of change entering last season: A massive roster overhaul coupled with entry into the Big Ten after more than six decades in the ACC. The Terrapins’ results changed, too. They won 28 games, finished a surprising second in a new league and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years.
With point guard Melo Trimble and wing Jake Layman remaining at Maryland, transfer Robert Carter Jr. eligible and touted freshman Diamond Stone in the fold, coach Mark Turgeon will field his most talented and versatile team since arriving in College Park.
“If we’re playing a smaller team, we can go small,” Turgeon says. “If we’re playing a bigger team, we can take advantage of matchups and go big. We have a lot of good pieces. We can go in a lot of different directions.”
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
Maryland was forced to frequently play small last season. That won’t be necessary this winter. The 6'9" Carter, who averaged 11.4 points and 8.4 rebounds at Georgia Tech in 2013-14, dropped 18 pounds while in putting his transfer year to good use.
“We expect Robert to make a huge impact,” Turgeon says. “He has the complete game. He’s a low-post player who can shoot mid-range shots. He can shoot 3-pointers. He’s become a much better ball handler, and we’ve worked hard defensively with him.”
The Terps also return junior Damonte Dodd and sophomore Michal Cekovsky. Dodd, Maryland’s top rim protector last season, is up to 252 pounds. Meanwhile, the once-wiry Cekovsky is less likely to be pushed around after adding 25 pounds of muscle.
Stone’s addition was significant for Turgeon, who lured the Milwaukee native out of traditional Big Ten territory. But as hyped as Stone is, Maryland doesn’t need him to dominate as a freshman (though it wouldn’t complain if he did). “There’s a lot of pressure on Diamond because he’s so highly ranked,” Turgeon says. “We’re going to be able to take that off him because we have so many good players.”
No. 4 Maryland Facts & Figures
Last season: 28-7, 14-4 Big Ten
Postseason: Second round
Consecutive NCAAs: 1
Big Ten Projection: First
Postseason projection: Final Four
Trimble was an instant difference maker as a freshman, leading the Terps in scoring, assists, steals and 3-pointers made and demonstrating a knack for getting to the line. He quickly established his value and can grow it further with improvement at the defensive end.
“That’ll be a challenge, for him to do that,” Turgeon says. “His assists will go up. He’s got even more good players around him. I think offensively, he’ll still be Melo. He’ll make the plays, get to the foul line. I think he’ll become a more complete player than he was as a freshman.”
Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley mostly played reserve roles last season but could develop larger profiles as sophomores. Nickens’ shooting helped open the offense at times, while Turgeon says Wiley has matured and improved since the conclusion of his first season.
Then there’s Rasheed Sulaimon, who was dismissed from Duke’s program in January and watched his old teammates win a national championship. His second chance comes with the Blue Devils’ old ACC rival, where he will be immediately eligible as a graduate student, have one year of eligibility and help fill the void created by Dez Wells’ graduation.
“Even though he’s new, he’s doing a great job here in the summer developing relationships,” Turgeon says. “He has experience. He’s played at a high level. Defensively, Rasheed is a very good on-ball defender. Dez was a big-time defender. Rasheed gives us that to go with his offense.”
The Terps’ bolstered frontcourt gives the athletic Layman the chance to slide back to his natural wing position. The senior showed steady improvement throughout his first three seasons and already has surpassed the 1,000-point plateau for his career.
Key Losses: G Richaud Pack, F Evan Smotrycz, G/F Dez Wells
Top Players: G Melo Trimble, G Rasheed Sulaimon, F Jake Layman, F Robert Carter Jr., C Diamond Stone
The Terrapins scored a recruiting coup on late March when center Diamond Stone, a McDonald’s All-American, committed to the program. But the coveted big man isn’t Maryland’s only significant addition. Junior college transfer Jaylen Brantley could slide in as Melo Trimble’s backup at the point, and former Duke wing Rasheed Sulaimon will try to script a better ending to his career than his unceremonious departure from Durham last winter.
Maryland will begin the year as a top-10 team. The last time it started a season there, it won the 2002 national title.
These Terps aren’t prohibitive favorites nationally, and they don’t possess the same postseason experience as the 2002 champions did. But they nonetheless are creating considerable excitement about building on a breakout season.
“We have good pieces and good players,” Turgeon says. “The personalities fit. I think the pieces fit. Every indication in how they’re working in the spring and summer is showing me they want to be a great team. We’re on the right track right now.”
The man who contemplated retirement on an annual basis — and actually went through with it a few times, only to change his mind and come back for more — has found peace and happiness now that he’s finally embraced it.
And not even the roar of 67,000 adoring fans welcoming him to home to Lambeau Field in July for his induction into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, or slinging passes to his old teammates during a charity flag-football game the next day, will change his mind.
“I don’t believe I’ll be making a comeback,” Brett Favre said with a laugh after throwing two touchdown passes and an interception to his fellow “has beens” (his words). “My feet are killing me.”
Favre, 45, played 20 NFL seasons, including 16 with the Packers and two with the rival Minnesota Vikings, a move that infuriated many of his fans at the time but is now all but forgotten by most. We caught up with the legendary QB to ask him about his record-breaking career and life after the game with wife Deanna, daughters Breleigh and Brittany and grandsons Parker and A.J.
What’s your life like nowadays?
I would say fairly normal. One of the things Reggie White told me after he retired was, (doing his best imitation of White’s deep baritone) “I’m telling you, the one thing you’re going to miss is NOT football.” And I thought, “He’s crazy.” And I haven’t missed football. I’ve missed [coach] Mike [Holmgren] chewing my butt, rooming with [best friend] Frank [Winters], bus rides. And that’s what I miss. I don’t miss 3rd-and-15 in the Metrodome and we haven’t won a game there in eight years. I don’t miss that. I miss the camaraderie with the guys. I miss the things that Reggie told me I would miss and he’s right. It’s less about the game and more about the people.
You have two grandsons. You once said that if you had a son, you wouldn’t let him play football. Do you still feel that way?
I still kind of feel that way. Now, my two grandsons, one’s five, one’s a year, and what they’ll do, I don’t know. Brittany’s husband is a soccer guy — he’s actually from England — so they may play soccer, they may play football, I don’t know. But there is this, I don’t know what you’d call it — anxiety, knowing what football can do. Now, in saying that, I had a wonderful career. Did I get my share of hits and bumps and bruises? Of course. What are the long-term effects? Time will tell. I don’t know. I don’t think the cumulative of playing 20 years of football, plus in college, that’s 24, plus high school, has a positive effect on you. I would be nervous, for obvious reasons. It’s a violent game.
You were fearless as a player, but it doesn’t sound like you’re that way with the boys.
[My brothers] and I, we were into everything. If Mom and Dad turned their backs, were we out in the street, we were doing who knows what. And how they got through that, I have no idea. Because now as a parent and as a grandpa, every little move and every little detail, I want to be watching and observing and making sure they don’t get hurt or whatever. I would have never thought that I would be that way. But I’m totally the opposite of what I thought I’d be. I do have anxiety. You’d think I’d be, “Hey, throw ‘em out there. Let ‘em go. They’ve got to be kids.” I understand that, but you also know [the dangers].
How does it feel to have reconnected with the Packers and their fans after how ugly things got in the summer of 2008?
I feel much better now because things are in a much better place and I — like most people, probably — questioned if we would ever get to that point. And not only have we gotten to that point, but we’ve gotten there times 100. I remember leaving the stadium and going home [before being traded to the New York Jets in August 2008], and it was like leaving family, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see them, or if we’ll ever be as close as we have been. I remember thinking as I left, just me, just thinking in the car, “How did it ever get to this? I cannot believe we’re at this point, after 16 great years, wonderful years.”
How then did it feel to have 67,000 fans cheering you upon your return to Lambeau Field?
The emotions were far greater than what I thought they were going to be. And that’s a tribute to the fans. It really is. Amazing. I feel like I’m back home. I can’t stress to you how overwhelming it was, not only for me but for my family. What a great feeling.
If the Falcons hadn’t traded you to Green Bay, do you think you would’ve had the career you did?
Let me say this: I’m glad we don’t have to find out. Had I stayed in Atlanta, I don’t see much upside there. I felt stuck. [Falcons coach] Jerry [Glanville] didn’t like me. I had gotten lost in the shuffle. No one really, I walked past players and no one even knew who I was. And I just don’t know if time would have allowed for that to happen. And then you fall through the cracks — it happens all the time. But the great thing about Atlanta is it got me to Green Bay. And the rest is history. It was a perfect fit. It just all fell into place. I think I related to the fans there more than I would have anywhere else. It could not have happened any better.
Is it tougher for young professional athletes today than when you played?
There’s no doubt today it is tougher. You can criticize your coaches on Twitter, your teammates on Facebook, and things like that and it’s instantaneous. The old-timey coaches are like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” We’re all human. We all make mistakes. But as athletes, celebrities, it’s more visible. You live and learn. I’m thankful that I survived the early stages of my career. I haven’t had a drink since ’98, and I’m very thankful for that. I survived drug addiction and seizures and so forth. God was looking out for me, even though I was not looking out for myself. And a lot of the things that I’ve done, I obviously regret, but it’s about moving on and becoming a better person. I have a long ways to go, never will be perfect, but I do strive to be that person.
How do you view your career?
I had dreams and aspirations. All I thought about was playing pro football and pro baseball as a kid. Now, probably most kids think that way. But I’m one of those that can say, ‘My dreams came true.’ But then, also, say they were surpassed. When things went bad [in Green Bay] … it was unfortunate. It hurt me, it hurt the Packers fans, it hurt the Packer organization emotionally. But I knew what I had done spoke for itself. And it’s kind of like looking in a mirror and liking what you see. We all have flaws, we’ve all made bad decisions, we’ve all made mistakes that we later regret, but just the body of work. Was it perfect? Absolutely not. But I played as hard as I could, I did everything I possibly could. I committed myself to the team, the organization and the fans, and more than anything, if there was anything that bothered me, it was that I didn’t do more. But I do know that I did all I could.
by Jason Wilde
Once again, Connecticut is an easy choice to take the women’s basketball national title. The Huskies will be aiming for their 11th championship, which would tie the fabled UCLA men’s program for the most all time.
There will be some talented teams pursuing the Huskies, but the crew from Storrs is an overwhelming favorite.
1. Connecticut (38-1)
The Huskies lost All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, but the program is so strong that it should only be a bump in the road. It starts with senior forward Breanna Stewart, who was the consensus 2015 National Player of the Year. UConn will also rely on returning double-digit scorers Moriah Jefferson, Morgan Tuck and Kia Nurse. Katie Lou Samuelson, the nation’s top-rated recruit according to the All Star Girls Report, could step into Mosqueda-Lewis’ spot.
2. Notre Dame (36-3)
Coach Muffet McGraw will have to replace standout Jewell Loyd, but the Fighting Irish have successfully replaced All-Americans before. Four proven starters are back, and a tremendous recruiting class will join the program. Sophomore Brianna Turner may be Notre Dame’s next All-American, and she will be joined in the starting lineup by Lindsay Allen, Taya Reimer and Michaela Mabrey. Arike Ogunbowale leads a freshman class that includes three top-20 recruits.
3. Tennessee (30-6)
Mercedes Russell and Diamond DeShields were two of the best freshmen in the country in 2013-14, and they both sat out last year. Now, Russell (who underwent surgery on both feet) and DeShields (who transferred from North Carolina) will be playing together for the Lady Vols. Add in returnees Bashaara Graves and Jasmine Jones, plus two outstanding recruits, and Tennessee could be the top team in the SEC.
4. South Carolina (34-3)
Tiffany Mitchell returns as the Gamecocks’ unquestioned leader, but the spotlight at USC may fall on sophomore A’ja Wilson and junior Alaina Coates. Those two delivered impressive numbers last year while coming off the bench. Can they move to another level as starters in 2015-16?
5. Ohio State (24-11)
The Buckeyes should top the Big Ten under third-year head coach Kevin McGuff. Ohio State will be powered by sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell, who netted 24.9 points per game as a freshman. Backcourt partner Ameryst Alston will provide senior leadership, while forwards Shayla Cooper and Alexa Hart are also returning starters.
6. Mississippi State (27-7)
A very young Bulldogs team set the school record for wins last year, so expectations are soaring in Starkville. MSU’s nucleus will feature four returning starters: juniors Breanna Richardson and Dominique Dillingham, plus sophomores Victoria Vivians and Morgan William. Teaira McCowan, a 6'7" freshman center, should also make an impact this winter.
7. Baylor (33-4)
The talented tandem of junior forward Nina Davis and senior point guard Niya Johnson will make the Bears a serious Final Four contender. Juniors Imani Wright, Khadijiah Cave and Alexis Prince are proven veterans. The contributions of newcomers Alexis Jones (a Duke transfer) and freshman post players Kalani Brown and Beatrice Mompremier could be critical.
8. Louisville (27-7)
The Cardinals lost three starters, so they will be looking for help from one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. Louisville, which has reached the Final Four two times over the last seven years, will be paced by the team’s top two scorers from 2014-15, sophomore forwards Mariya Moore and Myisha Hines-Allen. Asia Durr, who was listed as the No. 2 prospect in the country by the All Star Girls Report, leads an outstanding five-player recruiting class.
9. Texas A&M (23-10)
The Aggies should have strong senior leadership and an equally strong bench this year. Courtney Williams and Courtney Walker return after they both tallied over 14 points per game in 2014-15, and point guard Jordan Jones should be back after suffering a knee injury during the season.
10. Texas (24-11)
Heading into her fourth season in Austin, coach Karen Aston has done a tremendous job rebuilding the Longhorns. Eight players who saw significant minutes last year return, with 6'5" junior Kelsey Lang and 6'7" senior Imani McGee-Stafford forming an impressive baseline tandem. The development of freshman shooting guard Lashann Higgs could prove to be a key for Texas.
11. Oklahoma (21-12)
The Sooners used a balanced attack to cross the 20-win plateau last year, and they have four starters returning. A productive perimeter group features juniors Peyton Little and Gioya Carter, along with sophomore Gabbi Ortiz. Senior forward Kaylon Williams will need some help on the baseline.
12. Northwestern (23-9)
After reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 18 years, the experienced Wildcats should have their sights set even higher in 2015-16. Four starters return for coach Joe McKeown, and all four scored in double figures last year. That quartet includes seniors Maggie Lyon and Lauren Douglas, plus juniors Nia Coffey and Ashley Deary.
13. Duke (23-11)
Elizabeth Williams is gone, but Azurá Stevens appears to be the heir apparent to Williams’ All-American legacy. Stevens, a 6'6" sophomore wing, contributed 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game as a freshman. Rebecca Greenwell is another sophomore who is a proven scorer, and the Blue Devils will also rely on Amber Henson, Oderah Chidom and an outstanding recruiting class that features four top-50 prospects.
14. Arizona State (29-6) The Sun Devils were the surprise team of 2014-15, and they have a strong cast returning. Senior sharpshooter Katie Hempen is the top scoring threat, and junior Sophie Brunner is productive in the paint. Senior Elisha Davis will be back running the point, with junior Quinn Dornstauder returning in the post.
15. Florida State (32-5)
The Seminoles enjoyed a great run last year, and four the of the team’s five double-digit scorers will be back in Tallahassee. Senior center Adut Bulgak will lead the way after she averaged 12.3 points and 9.5 rebounds in 2014-15. Bulgak should get plenty of help from junior center Leticia Romero, junior forward Ivey Slaughter and sophomore forward Shakayla Thomas.
16. Maryland (34-3)
The Terrapins have reached the past two Final Fours, but the graduation of Laurin Mincy and the late transfer of Lexie Brown created major voids. Senior Malina Howard and juniors Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Brionna Jones will form a solid foundation, but highly regarded freshmen Brianna Fraser and Kiah Gillespie will have to adapt to the college game quickly.
17. Stanford (26-10)
The Cardinal will rely on 3-point shooting and a strong junior class that features guard Lili Thompson, who led a balanced attack with 13.3 points per game last year. Thompson will be supported by classmates Erica McCall, Briana Roberson and Karlie Samuelson, and sophomore Kaylee Johnson is another proven performer.
18. Oregon State (27-5)
The Beavers are coming off their best season in school history, and expectations should be even higher in Corvallis for 2015-16. Four starters return, including three who piled up impressive numbers last year. Jamie Weisner (13.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Ruth Hamblin (12.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg) and Sydney Wiese (12.7 ppg, 5.6 apg) will give Oregon State an outstanding core.
19. Kentucky (24-10)
The Wildcats were inconsistent last year, but a veteran backcourt should keep UK on target this winter. Senior point guard Janee Thompson will work with juniors Makayla Epps and Linnae Harper on the perimeter. Highly regarded newcomers Evelyn Akhator (the No. 1 junior college recruit in the nation) and freshman Batouly Camara will be counted on for immediate help.
20. North Carolina (26-9)
The Tar Heels have talent, but these are tumultuous times in Chapel Hill. After Diamond DeShields transferred following a tremendous 2013-14 freshman campaign, leading scorer Allisha Gray opted to transfer this summer. Stephanie Mavunga and Xylina McDaniel will give UNC two talented forwards, but freshmen Stephanie Watts and Destinee Walker will have to step up immediately in the backcourt.
21. George Washington (29-4)
The Colonials will have plenty of depth and plenty of size. The impressive George Washington frontline will be led by senior Jonquel Jones, who averaged a double-double in 2014-15. The 6'4" Jones will be joined on the baseline by 6'5" sophomore Kelli Prange and 6'2" junior Caira Washington. Junior Hannah Schaible will be the Colonials’ top perimeter threat.
22. Chattanooga (29-4)
The gaudy 2014-15 win total included victories over Tennessee and Stanford, and a strong nucleus returns for veteran coach Jim Foster. Junior forward Jasmine Joyner led the Mocs in scoring and rebounding last year, and senior point guard Alicia Payne is back to run the show. Junior Chelsey Shumpert and sophomore Keiana Gilbert are also reliable contributors.
23. South Florida (27-8)
All five starters return for the Bulls, including a pair of supremely talented seniors. Courtney Williams delivered 20.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game last year, while Alisia Jenkins posted 12.8 points, 11. 3 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots.
24. Syracuse (22-10)
The Orange are another program with five returning starters. The backcourt combo of Alexis Peterson and Brianna Butler will lead the way after they combined for just under 30 points per game last year. The key performer may be center Briana Day, who contributed 9.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per contest as a sophomore.
25. Princeton (31-1)
The Tigers ripped off 31 straight wins before they fell to Maryland in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Princeton lost the player on top of its scoring column, but the next six players on that list return. Most important, the Tigers will have five proven seniors — guards Michelle Miller and Amanda Berntsen, plus forwards Alex Wheatley, Annie Tarakchian and Taylor Williams.
The defending world champion New England Patriots open defense of their title on Thursday night at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers to kick off the 2015 NFL regular season. While football fans everyone are overjoyed that the attention on the nation's most popular sport will finally shift back to what happens on the field, the ultimate goal for all 32 teams remains the same — get to Super Bowl 50.
The Patriots are the champs looking to pull of another repeat, while the Seahawks would like to make some history of their own by becoming just the third team to play in three straight Super Bowls. The Buffalo Bills were the last to do so back in the early 1990s. Can Seattle be the next? Not likely, according to the panel of Athlon editors who have made their predictions for how the upcoming season and postseason will play out.
There does seem to be mutual agreement when it comes to the top and bottom of each division, as all five editors have the same champion for six of the eight and the same cellar dweller for all but one (NFC South). The only disagreement when it comes to first-place teams is in the AFC North and NFC East. After that, opinions vary, but in the end this panel seems to believe that Green Bay will wind up on top of the football world when all is said and done.
In addition to the predicted standings for every conference, Athlon’s editors also make their Wild Card (WC) picks as well as the respective conference championship game (CG) matchups and their best guess as to which teams will face off at Levi's Stadium on Feb. 7, 2016 with the Lombardi Trophy on the line.
Super Bowl 50
College football is back, and the competition off the field is nearly as heated as the competition on game day.
The Athlon Sports College Football Experts Club presented by Nexium & Advil gives you the chance to compete with your friends and our experts each week.
Think you’re up for taking on our experts every week? Think you can beat the writers and editors each week? Join our weekly pick ‘em game and compete for tons of cool prizes.
Here are this week’s top picks from Athlon Sports senior writer David Fox:
North Carolina vs. South Carolina (Charlotte)
Both teams need to re-boot their defenses under new coordinators. South Carolina has the stiffer test in the opener against Marquise Williams.
Fox’s Prediction: North Carolina 28–21
WKU at Vanderbilt
Western Kentucky put up points on just about everyone last season. Derek Mason’s life won’t get any easier if his first game at DC is a showcase for WKU QB Brandon Doughty.
Fox’s Prediction: WKU 35–21
Michigan at Utah
Jim Harbaugh may have won the offseason, but he’s going to need solid offensive line play to win his debut at Michigan. That’s been in short supply.
Fox’s Prediction: Utah 24–21
TCU at Minnesota
Trevone Boykin’s Heisman bid gets an early test in a rematch against the standout Minnesota secondary.
Fox’s Prediction: TCU 28–14
Baylor at SMU
A neat game for head coaches who worked their way from Texas high schools to being offensive masterminds. Unfortunately, it won’t be close.
Fox’s Prediction: Baylor 56–14
Washington at Boise State
Washington’s defense is rebuilding. So is Boise State’s backfield. I’ll throw my lot in with the Broncos.
Fox’s Prediction: Boise State 35–28
Stanford at Northwestern
Stanford will have a lopsided advantage in the trenches and has the more experienced quarterback. The Wildcats could go 0-for-the-Bay Area the last two openers.
Fox’s Prediction: Stanford 28–21
BYU at Nebraska
Nebraska’s 29-game season-opener winning streak might end if we see the same Taysom Hill we saw at the start of last season.
Fox’s Prediction: BYU 28–24
Louisville vs. Auburn (Atlanta)
Jeremy Johnson might be the most hyped first-year starting quarterback in a preseason since Tim Tebow. Facing Louisville in an opener is an interesting test.
Fox’s Prediction: Auburn 28–21
Penn State at Temple
Christian Hackenberg and P.J. Walker combined for six interceptions in this game last year. This game has to be better, right?
Fox’s Prediction: Penn State 24–14
Virginia at UCLA
UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen’s first start comes against a team rebuilding the pass rush.
Fox’s Prediction: UCLA 35–21
Bowling Green vs. Tennessee (Nashville)
Can Tennessee live up to the hype? The Volunteers might have to play through some nerves as they start the season.
Fox’s Prediction: Tennessee 35–17
Arizona State vs. Texas A&M (Houston)
This game could set up as a shootout. Arizona State will be the team that can make the critical stop or force the crucial turnover.
Fox’s Prediction: Arizona State 35–28
New Mexico State at Florida
Treon Harris is a surprise starting quarterback for new Gators coach Jim McElwain. Can he hang onto the job?
Fox’s Prediction: Florida 49–14
Texas at Notre Dame
Expect some nasty defense in this one. Notre Dame has the experience on defense and a functional offense, making this an easy pick for the Irish.
Fox’s Prediction: Notre Dame 24–10
Wisconsin vs. Alabama (Arlington)
Wisconsin’s normally stout offensive line is a question this year. Alabama will have a major edge.
Fox’s Prediction: Alabama 31–14
Texas State at Florida State
FSU won’t have much trouble, but Everett Golson’s progress will be worth watching.
Fox’s Prediction: Florida State 41–10
Mississippi State at Southern Miss
Mississippi State will go as far as Dak Prescott can take the Bulldogs.
Fox’s Prediction: Mississippi State 28–10
Colorado at Hawaii
This is actually an interesting late-night game. Well-traveled USC transfer Max Wittek might give the Warriors a chance, and those late games at Hawaii are always tricky.
Fox’s Prediction: Colorado 28–21
Ohio State at Virginia Tech
The Buckeyes will be better prepared for anything Bud Foster throws at them this time around.
Fox’s Prediction: Ohio State 28–14
Just about every sports fan is tied to their team’s logo, which makes ranking logos complicated. To get an educated opinion on what is a good logo and what isn't, Athlon Sports turned to one of the people most responsible for helping produce some of the best-looking magazines on the newsstands, graphic designer Daly Cantrell.
After going through each of the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC) with her trained eye, Cantrell decided to look at the FBS a whole. Here is her ranking of the top 20 logos in the FBS ranks, and five she just doesn't care for:
Talk about classic. The Longhorns’ logo is simply unique and is arguably one of the best in college football.
|2.||North Carolina||The Tar Heels’ logo is a staple. The font used fits the NC perfectly together creating a timeless look.|
I love a good script font that is gender neutral… and this logo does the trick. The color scheme along with the beautiful flow of the letters makes this logo top in my book in the Pac-12.
|4.||Penn State||A very underrated logo, Penn State’s Nittany Lion looks like it is ready to hunt someone down. The oval makes this animal-based logo different from the others and gives it an all-around aggressive feel. I love it.|
|5.||Tennessee||The Volunteers’ power T is probably the best logo in the SEC for one reason: it’s so recognizable. The unique style of the T is unlike any other and who can forget that bright orange?|
|6.||Miami||The uniqueness of the Canes’ logo is unlike any others. I am a big fan of the symmetry and the color scheme works perfectly together.|
|7.||Oregon||The Ducks' O displays simplicity at its finest. The font of the O has a great shape that gives it a different compared to your average O.|
|8.||Clemson||There are so many different animal logos, but the tiger paw print is synonymous with Clemson. Also, the roughness of the lines gives the logo a nice edgy feel, which goes perfectly with the bright orange.|
|9.||Notre Dame||The Notre Dame logo will always be a favorite in my book because of how perfectly the interlocking letters go together. The D is so different than most Ds, and by itself might look off, but placed with the N the pair is simple, readable and creative.|
|10.||West Virginia||Perfect placement. The placement of the WV is what makes this logo. It’s different and the sharp edges really bring a strong, tough look to the logo.|
|11.||LSU||I love that LSU finally realized its initials alone are very recognizable. This newer look is sleeker and not so busy. Though the LSU tiger is also very well known and loved, the Tiger is much better as a secondary logo in this case.|
The Spartans’ logo is spot on; I particularly enjoy the curves of the helmet.
|13.||Auburn||My roommate is an Auburn grad and I can hardly stand the site of the mass amount of Auburn things in our apartment, but if you actually look at the logo, for what it is, then you’ll notice how well done it is. The pairing of AU is perfectly placed where both letters stick out, but also evolve into its own logotype. It has a great look and they do a good job not overdoing it.|
|14||UConn||The UConn logo is exactly the way a stylized animal logo should look like. The sharpness of the lines give an aggressive feel along with the color scheme. I also really enjoy how the eyes are blue and the tongue is red, they are subtle and simple details that really make the Huskies' logo unique.|
|15.||Indiana||The placement of the Hoosiers logo is what makes it distinctive, and the simplicity of it makes it stand out among the rest.|
The Commodores’ logo is flashy and fun. The gold and black keep sleekness to the logo and the white V really pops next to the black.
|17.||Georgia||I actually really love the Georgia logo, but I also love the Green Bay Packers’ logo and they look identical. Georgia’s logo is perfectly clean, both in color combination and in the marriage of the G and the thin red oval.|
The Syracuse S is simple, stylish and sophisticated. This logo screams “sports” and I enjoy the clean edges of the S paired with the color scheme.
|19.||USC||The interlocking letters make this logo. That subtle detail in the crossing gives just enough detail to really bring this logo to the next level.|
|20.||Texas A&M||Thank you Aggies for beveling your T correctly. I can only hope some schools take notice of how well done this look is (cue Texas Tech).|
And her picks for the worst college football logos in 2015 (in alphabetical order):
The Jayhawk has design potential, but this cartoon look isn’t it. Someone needs to jump into the 21st century and modernize this bad boy.
|Oregon State||I am just not a fan of the beaver... it looks like a blob.|
|.||South Carolina||Gamecocks, you’ve got too much going on in your logo. It all starts to blur together and then it’s hard to see what it really is.|
|Utah||This logo could be really cool, but the circle bothers me. The block U and feather detail is great, but it the circle gives an off-balanced feel.|
|Wisconsin||This logo wouldn’t be that bad if the W didn’t look like it is dancing. This gives it a cartoonish look and the drop shadow doesn’t help its case.|
Just about every sports fan is tied to their team’s logo, which makes ranking logos complicated. To get an educated opinion on what is a good logo and what isn't, Athlon Sports turned to one of the people most responsible for helping produce some of the best-looking magazines on the newsstands, graphic designer Daly Cantrell.
Here is what she had to say about the SEC's football logos:
|1.||Tennessee||The Volunteers’ power T is probably the best logo in the SEC for one reason: it’s so recognizable. The unique style of the T is unlike any other and who can forget that bright orange?|
|2.||LSU||I love that LSU finally realized its initials alone are very recognizable. This newer look is sleeker and not so busy. Though the LSU tiger is also very well known and loved, the Tiger is much better as a secondary logo in this case.|
|3.||Auburn||My roommate is an Auburn grad and I can hardly stand the site of the mass amount of Auburn things in our apartment, but if you actually look at the logo, for what it is, then you’ll notice how well done it is. The pairing of AU is perfectly placed where both letters stick out, but also evolve into its own logotype. It has a great look and they do a good job not overdoing it.|
The Commodores’ logo is flashy and fun. The gold and black keep sleekness to the logo and the white V really pops next to the black.
|5.||Georgia||I actually really love the Georgia logo, but I also love the Green Bay Packers’ logo and they look identical. Georgia’s logo is perfectly clean, both in color combination and in the marriage of the G and the thin red oval.|
|6.||Texas A&M||Thank you Aggies for beveling your T correctly. I can only hope some schools take notice of how well done this look is (cue Texas Tech).|
|7.||Ole Miss||This logo is near and dear to me, being an Ole Miss grad. I personally think it looks good on everything, but that’s just me finding sentiment in the logo (which I told myself I wasn’t going to do). If you really take a look at the logo for what it is, it could definitely be updated. The brush script font went out of style ten years ago, but I guess it just works for Ole Miss… or so I think.|
|8.||Alabama||The Crimson Tide’s logo is hard for me to take seriously because I think the Alabama A and the Atlanta Braves A are identical. One of the teams needs to claim it.|
|9.||Mississippi State||I like the look of the Bulldogs’ power M. It has a great shape to it and the slabs of the typeface are not overdone. The ribbon adds a nice touch, but I do not think it is necessary to outline the entire thing in gray unless it is behind a dark color.|
|10.||Florida||The colors in this logo blend too much. The gator logo is very well designed, but I wish the gator popped a little more.|
|11.||Kentucky||The Wildcats’ logo has improved a lot since their old one, but I wish the typeface did not look so stretched out. I liked the condensed look of the old one.|
|12.||Arkansas||This logo has improved a lot throughout the years, but it could still take a more modern route. Animal logos do much better when they are more stylized.|
|13.||Missouri||Missouri has an aggressive logo. Toning it down a bit by taking off some of the detail would take this logo to another level.|
|14.||South Carolina||Gamecocks, you’ve got too much going on in your logo. It all starts to blur together and then it’s hard to see what it really is.|
Just about every sports fan is tied to their team’s logo, which makes ranking logos complicated. To get an educated opinion on what is a good logo and what isn't, Athlon Sports turned to one of the people most responsible for helping produce some of the best-looking magazines on the newsstands, graphic designer Daly Cantrell.
Here is what she had to say about the Pac-12's football logos:
I love a good script font that is gender neutral… and this logo does the trick. The color scheme along with the beautiful flow of the letters makes this logo top in my book in the Pac-12.
|2.||Oregon||The Ducks' O displays simplicity at its finest. The font of the O has a great shape that gives it a different compared to your average O.|
|3.||USC||The interlocking letters make this logo. That subtle detail in the crossing gives just enough detail to really bring this logo to the next level.|
|4.||Washington||The Huskies’ W is so classic and sleek that it works.|
|5.||UCLA||The Bruins’ logo is a classic take on a script logo. Underlining the letters make the logo stand out and gives a great softness to all the curves.|
|6.||Washington State||A lot of creativity went into making this logo. The subtle WSU in the body of the cougar is a really cool concept.|
|7.||Colorado||I really like the concept behind this logo, but I wish the CU was a little easier to read.|
|8.||Stanford||Stanford’s S is extremely classic. The touch of white and red trim makes the logo.|
|9.||Arizona||I like the concept, but I hate that two typefaces were made in the making of this. The inner A is too pointed for the slab serif A around it.|
|10.||Arizona State||I am glad they finally dropped the words that used to be incorporated with this logo. The pitchfork has an edginess to it and is quite different to the rest the logos in college football.|
|11.||Utah||This logo could be really cool, but the circle bothers me. The block U and feather detail is great, but it the circle gives an off-balanced feel.|
|12.||Oregon State||I am just not a fan of the beaver... it looks like a blob.|
Here is what she had to say about the ACC's football logos:
The Tar Heels’ logo is a staple. The font used fits the NC perfectly together creating a timeless look.
|2.||Miami||The uniqueness of the Canes’ logo is unlike any others. I am a big fan of the symmetry and the color scheme works perfectly together.|
|3.||Clemson||There are so many different animal logos, but the tiger paw print is synonymous with Clemson. Also, the roughness of the lines gives the logo a nice edgy feel, which goes perfectly with the bright orange.|
The Syracuse S is simple, stylish and sophisticated. This logo screams “sports” and I enjoy the clean edges of the S paired with the color scheme.
|5.||Virginia Tech||The combination of the V and T goes together flawlessly and makes it one of the most recognizable initial-based logos.|
|6.||Florida State||Last year FSU modernized its very historic Seminoles logo. Thank you. There is nothing wrong with a little upgrading and bringing it up to pace with the rest of the world. Props.|
|7.||Pitt||Pittsburgh is the only logo that uses its shortened name and it works. Arching the block font and adding a drop cap gives the logo a funky (in a good way) look.|
|8.||Duke||I think this logo had good intentions, but didn’t follow through. The definite points on a more rounded letter makes this logo different, but by connecting the two objects in the center, making the D, the logo would make more of a statement.|
|9.||Virginia||I really enjoy the two sabres crossed beneath the serif V. It’s both creative and symmetrical… I just wish the V was filled in.|
|10.||Wake Forest||Props to the Demon Deacons for finally changing their primary logo. This logo is more modern than the old cartoon-looking one they use as their secondary.|
|11.||NC State||I would do one of two things. Change the placement and keep the same colors or change the colors of NC and keep the placement. There is just too much going on.|
|12.||Georgia Tech||The arrangement of the GT makes the Yellow Jackets ‘logo. Also, changing the color to a more brown-based gold instead of the old yellow gold gives this logo a more up-to-date look.|
|13.||Louisville||I love this particular logo, but when text is added to it, like for the Cardinals’ secondary logo, I really dislike it. The cardinal stands out on its own well. It’s creative and fierce… you don’t need anything else.|
|14.||Boston College||The color scheme in this logo doesn’t do it for me. I almost wish the eagle was gold so that it broke up the letters a little more. Just a thought.|
The NFC West is poised for another great year, as the Seahawks will once again begin as the presumed favorites. Meanwhile, the Cardinals and the Rams appear to be capable of contending, while there are plenty of unknowns when it comes to the 49ers. The Cardinals might have the best chance to take down the Seahawks, especially if Carson Palmer can play a full season. However, the Rams seem to be headed towards a great season with such a strong defense. The 49ers disappointed last season and had a tumultuous offseason, but they're only two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance. The biggest question seems to be, can the Seahawks make it back to a third straight Super Bowl?
In order to get an accurate assessment of the four NFC West teams heading into 2015, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Cardinals, Rams, 49ers and Seahawks.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
“The Cardinals opened 9-1 a year ago, but lost QB Carson Palmer after six games, could not compensate at the position, and lost five of their last seven including a wild card exit against Carolina."…
"Bruce Arians has an ability to tap into the mentality of pro players and they have responded to his approach in a big way."…
"If Palmer can come back healthy, their passing game should pick up where it left off before his injury."…
"Larry Fitzgerald is on the back-nine of his career, but between him, Michael Floyd and John Brown, the rookie sensation from Pitt State (Kan.), they have an excellent combination of styles and ability."…
"TE John Carlson chipped in 33 receptions a year ago, but because of their past RT problems, the tight ends are often kept in to help with pass protection."…
"With that said, they drafted Florida OT D.J. Humphries in the first round and plan to insert him into the lineup right away."…
"Arians is very high on RB Andre Ellington, but there were lots of doubts he could be the lead pony and it proved to be true when he ran for only 660 yards (3.3 ypc) and only three touchdowns. He did catch 46 passes, but Northern Iowa RB David Johnson (6-1, 224), the team's third-round pick, has been added to the mix."…
"LT Jared Veldheer was a solid addition in free agency last year and the Cardinals hope LG Mike Iupati (49ers) can do the same this year. Iupati is a power player all the way and can help them improve their run game, which ranked 31st in the league (81.8 ypg)."…
"Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles parlayed their defensive success into the head coaching job with the Jets, so James Bettcher takes over the role."…
"Arizona is based in a 3-4, but they love to play their ‘big’ nickel/three-safety package. Deone Bucannon was a surprise first-round selection in 2014, but he found a contributing role and registered 86 total tackles."…
"Rashad Johnson led the team with 101 total stops and four interceptions."…
"CB Patrick Peterson is an elite player and Jerraud Powers is expected to take over the other side with the departure of Antonio Cromartie back to the Jets."…
"The front seven is going through some changes with the loss of Darnell Dockett, Dan Williams, Larry Foote and Tommy Kelly, however, they still have Calais Campbell with Cory Redding and Corey Peters both being signed as free agents."…
"Other than Alex Okafor who had eight sacks in 2014, this linebacker group needed a boost, so Missouri's Markus Golden was their choice in the second round. He is extremely tough and was discounted by the media because of all the attention on Shane Ray."…
"The window for winning is closing with an aging and vulnerable Palmer, so there is palpable urgency inside the Cardinals' building to make a huge push in 2015.”
“Not sure how a possible move to LA affects the players and coaches in 2014, but the Rams certainly look like an organization on the move based upon owner Stan Kroenke’s activities in Southern California."…
"Head Coach Jeff Fisher goes into his fourth season with a record of 20-27-1, so this is a huge year for his future."…
"Having grown weary of all the injuries to QB Sam Bradford and his unwillingness to re-structure the contract, they dealt him and a fifth-round pick to the Eagles for Nick Foles and a pair of draft choices (including a 2016 second-round choice). They are hoping Foles’ availability will win the day as compared to the oft-injured Bradford."…
"Brian Schottenheimer left for Georgia as offensive coordinator, so Frank Cignetti takes over and he will need better play from a substandard offensive line."…
"Last year’s first-round selection Greg Robinson will likely go back to LT after starting 12 games at guard."…
"At pick No. 10, they opted for talent over need as Georgia RB Todd Gurley was the choice. He is coming off a November ACL, but they saw him as the best player in the entire 2015 class."…
"This is a defensive-centric team, but after a slow start in 2014, they only finished tied for 16th in scoring and 17th in total yards."…
"Their front line has phenomenal talent in DEs Robert Quinn and Chris Long, plus DTs Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and new addition Nick Fairley."…
"Akeem Ayers was signed in free agency from New England as a Sam linebacker, while James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree are very active defenders."…
"In the back end, the Rams traded for Bucs’ safety Mark Barron in October and they are hoping that he, T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod can give them the ability to put three safeties on the field together to contend with the taller wide receivers and bigger tight ends of the league."…
"The corners are good enough with pressure up front as Janoris Jenkins has always been athletic and E.J. Gaines was an impressive sixth-round find in last year’s draft."…
"With San Francisco losing so many starting caliber players in the offseason, maybe the door is open for the Rams to get out of the NFC West cellar."…
"How Foles plays behind a shaky OL will determine much of what happens both on and off the field in 2015.”
“As many in the league anticipated, the 49ers’ brass got what they wanted at the end of 2014, head coach Jim Harbaugh departing for another job. In what was discussed and speculated on for almost two years, the divorce finally happened when the parties mutually agreed to part ways and Harbaugh left for Michigan."…
"DL coach Jim Tomsula takes over and he was rumored to be the internal favorite all along."…
"He will have his hands full trying to make QB Colin Kaepernick into a bona fide starter and figuring out how to replace five notable players that retired or left in free agency on the defensive side of the football."…
"Kaepernick spent the offseason in Arizona re-tooling his mechanics and it will be interesting to see if that training can translate to the real season."…
"RB Frank Gore hit free agency and ended up with Indianapolis, so Carlos Hyde, who only had 333 yards rushing last year, will become the feature back."…
"The offensive line is still in the top third, if everyone is healthy, and should bounce back from a subpar showing in 2014."…
"Mike Iupati opted for the Cardinals, which opens his LG spot for Brandon Thomas who essentially ‘redshirted’ last season with an ACL tear."…
"WR Anquan Boldin had his seventh 1,000-yard plus season despite the 49ers ranking 30th in passing at 191.4 yards per game…
"Torrey Smith was brought in from the Ravens to replace Michael Crabtree, who went across the Bay to Oakland."…
"Maybe the biggest key for Kaepernick will be getting TE Vernon Davis back into the offense, he only caught 26 balls for a 9.4 average and two touchdowns last season."…
"On defense, DE Darnell Dockett decided to stay within the division and he will bolster the front in the absence of Ray McDonald and the retired Justin Smith."…
"They also drafted Oregon DE Arik Armstead to help put the unit back together again."…
"The linebacker position was jolted when All-Pro Patrick Willis, their spiritual leader, retired from the game at age 30, only to have rookie Chris Borland walk away from the sport less than a week later."…
"NaVorro Bowman missed the entire season, but is expected to be 100 percent healthy for the 2015 campaign."…
"With Aldon Smith only playing seven games, Ahmad Brooks and Aaron Lynch combined for 12 sacks, so this might be their deepest position."… [Editor's note: Aldon Smith was released by the 49ers on Aug. 7 shortly after he was arrested on DUI, hit-and-run and vandalism charges.]
"Former Chargers’ CB Shareece Wright was signed as a starter with Tramaine Brock, Chris Cook and Dontae Johnson battling at the other post."…
"It appeared San Francisco was set at safety with Antoine Bethea and maybe the best young centerfielder in the game in Eric Reid, but they made a surprise pick in the second round by choosing Samford FS Jaquiski Tartt."…
"Expect Jimmie Ward, who was plagued by a foot problem all year, to play a more prominent role in 2015."…
"On paper, the 49ers have definitely taken a step back from a personnel perspective, now we will see if the same is true in coaching as well.”
“Don’t expect a case of the Super Bowl ‘blues’ with this team. Pete Carroll and John Schneider really operate from the same sheet of music in terms of communicating their philosophy of competition and high energy for the entire organization."…
"Russell Wilson is exceptionally instinctive as a player and with the trade for TE Jimmy Graham, he will have another option down the seam and on scrambles."…
"Because of Graham’s capacity to detach and play from the slot, his presence should create even more air inside the box for RB Marshawn Lynch. ‘Beast Mode’ re-upped after his feelings were hurt and he left the country for a few weeks post-Super Bowl, but he should be able to play out the deal for the next three seasons."…
"Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn departed for the Falcons’ head coaching position, but Seattle still has talent at every level of the D."…
"They have more of a ‘rotational’ front four now, but the linebackers complement each other well and play outstanding football. Bobby Wagner still doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, yet people around the league know exactly what he represents as a player."…
"Three-quarters of the secondary starters return with Cary Williams replacing Byron Maxwell opposite of Richard Sherman and he should be an adequate fit in this scheme."…
"Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor form the best safety tandem in the entire NFL, they are spectacular together, but of course, Thomas is coming off shoulder surgery and may not be available until October."…
"The Seahawks have mastered the art of bringing in players that ‘have something to prove’ and built a roster of hungry individuals that should keep them right at the top of the NFC.”
Here is what she had to say about the Big Ten's football logos:
|1.||Penn State||A very underrated logo, Penn State’s Nittany Lion looks like it is ready to hunt someone down. The oval makes this animal-based logo different from the others and gives it an all-around aggressive feel. I love it.|
The Spartans’ logo is spot on; I particularly enjoy the curves of the helmet.
|3.||Indiana||The placement of the Hoosiers logo is what makes it distinctive, and the simplicity of it makes it stand out among the rest.|
|4.||Iowa||The Hawkeye is fierce, without being too intense. Keeping a one-color scheme makes the logo pop.|
|5.||Ohio State||I actually like the Buckeyes logo a lot, but it is a little busy. The color scheme is on point though. Also, does anyone else think the spacing of the words is a little off?|
|6.||Nebraska||The Huskers’ logo is straightforward and clean. I am a fan of this block letter N.|
|7.||Michigan||Every thing but the "Michigan" banner is great.|
|8.||Minnesota||The treatment and color scheme of this logo works, but I am not a fan of how large the seraphs are.|
|9.||Purdue||The slant of this logo is really harsh and combined with the lightness of the gold it makes this logo hard to read.|
|10.||Maryland||I know there is an attachment to the state flag, but this added detail is unneeded. It’s too tiny and detailed to be in a logo.|
|11.||Illinois||I prefer the old power “I” to this one (without the text), but this logo is a little more modern and looks a lot sleeker than the old logo with Illinois written over the top of it.|
|12.||Rutgers||Illinois and Rutgers seem to be thinking the same things. While modernizing their logo they have taken all creativity and washed it away. However, I am a fan of some of their secondary logos.|
|13.||Northwestern||Northwestern hasn’t updated their logo in a while and it’s noticeable. The shape of then N just doesn’t work by itself.|
|14.||Wisconsin||This logo wouldn’t be that bad if the W didn’t look like it is dancing. This gives it a cartoonish look and the drop shadow doesn’t help its case.|
Since the NFC South's inception in 2002, only one team has won back-to-back division titles — the Carolina Panthers from 2013-14. However, they finished with a sub-.500 record last yea. With no true dominant team, this division is really a toss-up. Any of these teams could win this division, but will any of them clearly stand out from the others?
In order to get an accurate assessment of the NFC South heading into 2015, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Falcons, Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
“The lack of difference-making talent on this Falcons roster cost head coach Mike Smith his job, so now the organization has shuffled the deck in the player personnel department and hired Dan Quinn from the Seahawks to fix the worst defense in the league."…
"Scott Pioli will have more say in the draft, but GM Thomas Dimitroff will inevitably lean on Quinn to shape their philosophy."…
"The heat is on because Matt Ryan does have franchise QB ability, but will be entering his 10th season when Atlanta moves into a new stadium for the 2017 season."...
"When healthy, Julio Jones is at the top of the league’s wide receivers, however, the offensive line has been a total failure and they still haven’t found a top-shelf replacement for Tony Gonzalez at tight end."…
"Third-round draft pick Indiana RB Tevin Coleman brings big speed to the table and he should pair off well with Devonta Freeman."…
"Amazingly, the defense is in worse shape. The Falcons were 32nd in rush, total and third down defense because they simply could not rush the passer and no one in the secondary has shut-down capability."…
"To upgrade the pressure issue, they drafted Clemson DE Vic Beasley at sixth overall and he should fit their coveted ‘hybrid’ DE/OB spot."…
"Paul Worrilow has emerged as a steady linebacker after injuries decimated the position each of the past two seasons."…
"CBs Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford are OK, but neither has the height/weight/speed to contend with the giant-sized receivers in this division, so the club took a shot in the second round on LSU CB Jalen Collins (6-1, 203)."…
"At safety, maybe William Moore will finally reach his potential in Quinn’s scheme and the club is counting on second-year prospect Dezmen Southward to become a capable starter."…
"While things have not gone well for two straight seasons, none of their NFC South brethren have run off and dominated the division, so the Falcons have real hope that Quinn can engineer a quick turnaround.”
“As expected, Carolina took a step back in 2014 after the retirement of LT Jordan Gross and the free agent departure of WR Steve Smith, however, the entire division literally went ‘south,’ so the Panthers got into the playoffs and actually won a game over a QB-depraved Arizona Cardinals squad."…
"QB Cam Newton was harassed and hit all year behind a porous offensive line and then capped off the season with a near-tragic car accident."…
"In the draft, LSU’s La'el Collins was off the board due to a bizarre set of circumstances surrounding the death of a female acquaintance and Pittsburgh’s T.J. Clemmings was not a consideration at No. 25 due to a stress fracture, so they opted for Washington LB Shaq Thompson."…
"2014 first-round pick WR Kelvin Benjamin showed that he was far more advanced than people expected and looks like a future star in the league."...
"TE Greg Olsen has quietly enjoyed a very productive NFL career after being traded from Chicago in July 2011."…
"The Greg Hardy legal situation drained the entire organization on and off the field, and while he spent almost the entire season on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, the Panthers still managed to finish 10th in total defense."…
"Their front seven is strong with legit interior defensive linemen and all-star LBs Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis."…
"The secondary survived due to the emergence of two rookies: CB Bene Benwikere and SS Tre Boston, but surprisingly, the entire unit was not addressed in the draft."…
"With Newton and Kuechly as their cornerstones, Carolina will always contend for division honors, the question is can they improve enough everywhere else to challenge for a Super Bowl?."...
"The guess here is probably not due to their weaknesses at OT and in the secondary.”
New Orleans Saints
“On paper, the Saints made a financial commitment for the 2014 season that was going to put them in position to challenge for a Super Bowl championship. Instead, they finished 7-9 and found themselves $30 million over the salary cap heading into the 2015 league year."…
"After all the contract angst about TE Jimmy Graham last year, they traded him to Seattle on the eve of free agency for a first-round pick (No. 31) and center Max Unger. The offensive line still has OG Jahri Evans and they drafted Stanford OT Andrus Peat with the 13th overall selection."…
"RB Mark Ingram was extended, while C.J. Spiller was added to the backfield in March."…
"Drew Brees is a tactical QB and needs precision around him in the form of timing and disciplined routes. WR Kenny Stills was shipped to Miami and, from afar, it appears that he and Graham were not on the same page with the face of the franchise."…
"The defense hit rock bottom in nearly every statistical category and it all began with the knee injury to Jairus Byrd after four games."…
"The Rob Ryan scheme never generated the chaos needed to create fumbles and interceptions and the Saints finished the year minus-13 in turnover margin."…
"With Seattle's first-round pick, New Orleans drafted Clemson LB Stephone Anthony who will bring leadership and production to the position.”
"If DE Cameron Jordan can return to form and Byrd and fellow safety Kenny Vaccaro bounce back from their injuries, with the addition of CB Brandon Browner to counter the big receivers in this division, New Orleans could bounce back in a big way in 2015."…
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
“In the first year of the Lovie Smith/Jason Licht era, the Buccaneers were very aggressive in free agency and praised for all their additions last March. After a disastrous 2-14 campaign, veterans Josh McCown, Anthony Collins and Michael Johnson were released and Tampa Bay appears ready to start over with No. 1 pick QB Jameis Winston as the central figure in their rebuilding efforts."…
"He will have the ability to play 'above-the-rim' with over-sized WRs Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans on the perimeter, but someone needs to emerge as a slot receiver and the offensive line has to be better than last year’s horrid group that contributed to the Bucs being 29th in rushing offense and tied for 29th in sacks allowed."…
"Penn State OT Donovan Smith and Hobart College OG Ali Marpet were both selected in the second round, so that’s a start to constructing a pocket for Winston who needs room to operate because of his leggy build and one-speed athleticism."…
"Dirk Koetter is the new offensive coordinator and he will be tasked to maximize the abilities of TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins who flashed as a rookie."…
"Defensively, DT Gerald McCoy and LB Lavonte David are Pro Bowl-caliber players, but no one else must be game-planned for by opponent offenses."…
"The pass rush was not addressed in the draft, so George Johnson (trade with Lions) and Jacquies Smith will enter camp as the opening day starters."…
"The back end has been turned over completely since 2013 with only CBs Johnthan Banks and Alterruan Verner returning from last year’s unit."…
"Safeties Mark Barron (in-season trade to Rams) and Dashon Goldson (March trade to Redskins) were both jettisoned, so while the offense has received all of the media attention, the defense has been completely re-worked from front to back, but this is a group that is a work in progress.”
The Green Bay Packers have won four straight NFC North titles, and that grasp atop the standings doesn't seem to be fading away anytime soon. However, this certainly remains a very interesting division, and each team's success could revolve around just a few key players. The Vikings will have Adrian Peterson back, so that should have a strong impact on the team. Will it be enough to make the playoffs though? How will these teams compete with the dominant Packers?
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the four NFC North teams are shaping up heading into the 2015 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Bears, Lions, Packers and Vikings.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
“With high hopes for 2014, the Bears’ season quickly dissolved into a 5-11 campaign due to a dysfunctional locker room, no apparent leadership from the head coach or QB positions and a defense that made zero strides as a unit."…
"Marc Trestman and GM Phil Emery were shown the door and veteran coach John Fox and first-time GM Ryan Pace were hired in the offseason."…
"New offensive coordinator Adam Gase followed Fox from Denver and he has the unenviable task of ‘fixing’ Jay Cutler."…
"WR Brandon Marshall was traded to the Jets, but Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett all return, and West Virginia WR Kevin White was chosen at pick No. 7, so there is ‘talent’ in the building."… [Editor's note: Kevin White will start the season on the Physically Unable to Play (PUP) list because of a stress fracture in his shin that will require surgery. He will miss the first six games, at minimum.]
"OG Kyle Long has proven to be a Pro Bowl-level player, but the rest of the offensive line is a work in progress."…
"Vic Fangio comes to the Windy City from the 49ers as the defensive coordinator and he has one of the toughest jobs in football as Chicago tries to transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4."…
"They signed a notable free agent at every level of the defense in OLB/DE Pernell McPhee (Ravens), LB Mason Foster (Buccaneers) and safety Antrel Rolle (Giants). McPhee has never been a full-time player, Foster missed most of 2014 with an Achilles injury and Rolle is on the backside of his career, however, they can provide a new voice and serve as a conduit for Fangio to the other defensive players."…
"PK Robbie Gould struggled with a nagging quad injury all season and only made 9-of-12 field goals in 12 games."…
"Fox and Co. will try to push the reset button with a roster of mixed pieces and parts, but this looks like the weakest team in the division.”
“Give Jim Caldwell and his staff credit, they cleaned up the turnover margin (minus-12 to plus-seven) and put themselves in position to win 11 games last year."…
"They dialed back QB Matthew Stafford and relied on a defense that finished top two in run, total and scoring defense."…
"DT Ndamukong Suh and his contract situation dominated the headlines for months on end before they opted not to franchise tag him and he signed with the Dolphins. Now, the trick will be to see if Haloti Ngata and a host of others can replace Suh in the middle."…
"Calvin Johnson continues to be a preeminent talent in the league, but he did miss three games in 2014."…
"The Lions are looking for much more from last year’s first-round pick, TE Eric Ebron, to give Stafford another safe option in the passing game."…
"Joique Bell is a dependable RB and Theo Riddick will assume the Reggie Bush role…The offensive line was uneven last year, but first-round pick, Duke OG Laken Tomlinson should help right away."…
"DE Ziggy Ansah is developing nicely as a complete player and their linebackers are underrated as a group."…
"Overall, this secondary was OK with Suh and that front, but they did add a pair of rookie corners in Stanford’s CB Alex Carter and Texas’ Quandre Diggs."…
"After shuffling through three placekickers, Matt Prater came onboard and was adequate enough to hold the job."…
"GM Martin Mayhew made the right call on Caldwell as coach in 2014. With more organizational leadership stability and financial flexibility post-Suh, it will be interesting to see if the Lions can chase down the Packers in the division.”
“The Packers major in evaluating college prospects and their own team, then they sit back and use this knowledge to selectively sign pro free agents and fill specific needs in the draft."…
"GM Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy are the longest-tenured duo in the entire NFL and that continuity pays dividends when it comes to scouting and developing players."…
"Offensively, Green Bay is set at all of the skill positions with Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb all at the top of their respective games."…
"The offensive line is more functional than spectacular, but they found a fifth-round gem in OC Corey Linsley last year."…
"This is a middle-of-the-league defense and they will rely on a wave of linemen and the flexibility of Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers to bolster their front, while they drafted Arizona State DB Damarious Randall in the first round and Miami-OH CB Quentin Rollins in the second."…
"Much will be expected of Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde, so the competition for playing time will be intense in training camp."…
"McCarthy announced over the winter that he would no longer call plays in order to focus on the entire team, this coming after the Packers gave up seven blocked kicks during the season and melted down in the final minutes of the NFC title game on special teams. Still, as long as Rodgers is healthy, they are the clear front-runners in the NFC North.”
“Mike Zimmer put his imprint on this team with a no-nonsense, tough guy approach that resulted in a very competitive 7-9 record despite not having RB Adrian Peterson for the final 15 games."…
"There are three major coaching chores for the Vikings on offense in 2015: the continued development of QB Teddy Bridgewater, getting OT Matt Kalil back to Pro Bowl form and tapping into the raw talent of underachieving WR Cordarrelle Patterson."…
"Bridgewater looks like the future at the position after starting 12 games and hitting 64.6 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, while leading the team to four come-from-behind victories."…
"The Peterson suspension/reinstatement, ‘I Don’t Want To Play in Minnesota Anymore Game,’ grabbed all the headlines during the spring, but at the end of the day, he was not traded, so the anticipation is that he will be in a purple uniform by September."…
"They traded for Mike Wallace from the Dolphins to give them a vertical threat, while figuring out what happens with Patterson."…
"TE Kyle Rudolph is solid and the rest of the offensive line is intact, so there is a degree of continuity around Bridgewater."…
"DE Everson Griffen and rookie OLB Anthony Barr are both playmakers, and the Vikings added an immediate starter in Round 2 with the selection of UCLA LB Eric Kendricks."…
"The secondary has more ‘ability’ than results, but still added the draft’s consensus No. 1 corner, Trae Waynes from Michigan State."…
"The reality is that there is a blue-chip talent in virtually every position group on this roster. If DT Sharrif Floyd, safety Harrison Smith and CB Xavier Rhodes continue to improve, this defense has the makings of becoming a top-third unit in the league.”
Here is what she had to say about the Big 12's football logos:
|1.||Texas||Talk about classic. The Longhorns’ logo is simply unique and is arguably one of the best in college football.|
|2.||West Virginia||Perfect placement. The placement of the WV is what makes this logo. It’s different and the sharp edges really bring a strong, tough look to the logo.|
|3.||Oklahoma||Again, like the West Virginia logo, this logo stands out because of the placement of the letters. It’s clean, bold and gets right to the point.|
|4.||Kansas State||Kansas State’s logo is an aggressive take on a silhouette, and I love it. The simplicity in the details is what makes this logo shine.|
|5.||TCU||The block-style font is classic in the world of sports logos. A three-letter logo can sometimes be tricky to keep balanced, but curving the letters was the right way to go.|
|6.||Baylor||The placement of this logo is similar to the Sooners one, but in my book, the thickness of the gold stroke weakens this logo.|
|7.||Iowa State||I am a fan of block letters and arched text, but this logo has too much going on. Backing off on something — beveling, stoke or color would strengthen the logo.|
|8.||Oklahoma State||This is not a monogram, but a logo. If the words did not vary so drastically in size I think the logo would have a stronger presence. I do enjoy the use of the black and orange, but the thin grey stroke is unnecessary.|
|9.||Texas Tech||Great placement; too much beveling. The two-toned colors along with both a white and black stroke makes this logo look overdone.|
|10.||Kansas||The Jayhawk has design potential, but this cartoon look isn’t it. Someone needs to jump into the 21st century and modernize this bad boy.|
The NFC East is tough. From an external look, the Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants all have legitimate chances to win this division. The Redskins need to improve a lot, but they're headed in that direction. There's a reason that this division has some of the most intense rivalries, and that should play out over the course of the season. Each team has won the division once in the past four seasons. Is it time again for a new team to take the title?
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the NFC East looks entering the 2015 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Cowboys, Giants, Eagles and Redskins.
“The pick of OG Zack Martin in last year’s firstround over QB Johnny Manziel showed a discipline and direction uncommon to the Cowboys since the Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells tenures."…
"Jerry and Stephen Jones wisely added to their offensive line, which helped the run game, protected QB Tony Romo better and gave some cover to their suspect defense."…
"Romo enjoyed a Pro Bowl-level season by hitting nearly 70 percent of his passes with 34 touchdowns and only nine picks."…
"DeMarco Murray led the league in rushing with 1,845 yards, but he hit free agency, and again, the Jones’ demonstrated their new-found restraint and did not chase him beyond the predetermined budget. To their surprise, he ended up in Philadelphia, and it seemed obvious that a RB would be taken in the first three rounds of the draft."…
"That did not happen, so at present, free agent Darren McFadden, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar will shoulder the load behind this OL."…
"TE Jason Witten is one of the most competitive, consistent performers in the league, all he does is block, catch passes and lead by example."…
"Dez Bryant is a dominant force on the outside because of his physical stature and desire to go after the football."…
"WR Terrence Williams flies under the radar, but he had 37 catches last year, eight of which went for scores and Cole Beasley re-upped as their slot receiver (37 grabs in 2015), too, so they are set out wide."…
"Head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan must stay balanced and lean on their run game to set up for success on third downs (47.1 percent conversions/2nd in NFL), rather than wanting to throw the football all over the lot."…
"Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli made enough lemonade out of this group to keep the Cowboys competitive all year and into the playoffs."…
"They signed DE Greg Hardy to help with the pass rush (28 total sacks/28th in league), and was was a 10-game suspension was reduced upon appeal to just four."…
"Nebraska pass rusher Randy Gregory fell into the second round after his well-chronicled marijuana issues and the Cowboys were more than willing to take him at pick No. 60."…
"DT Henry Melton took his five sacks to Tampa Bay as a free agent, so DE Jeremy Mincey is their top returning producer with six from last season."…
"LB Sean Lee returns from a knee injury and should, if healthy, bolster a group that includes Rolando McClain (87 total tackles) and Anthony Hitchens (84 total tackles), a nice find for them from the 2014 draft."… [Editor's note: McClain is suspended for the first four games due to a violation of the leagues' substance-abuse policy.]
"The secondary needed a boost at cornerback because Brandon Carr has not produced big plays and Orlando Scandrick is better as a nickel back than full-time starter, so they added UConn CB Byron Jones as their first-round pick."…
"Barry Church led the team in tackles from one safety post, while J.J. Wilcox has developed into a dependable starter."…
"The Cowboys must stick with their formula in order to win the NFC East again, and that is to run the football, set up manageable third downs, score touchdowns in the red zone (64.7 percent TD rate/2nd in NFL) and continue to mask their sub-standard defense.”
“The Giants stuck with head coach Tom Coughlin and GM Jerry Reese, while making sweeping changes to their offense with the hiring of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo last year."…
"After some growing pains for the entire offense, Eli Manning took off and finished with 30 touchdowns and cut his interceptions in half from 27 to 14. He enters the final season of his seven-year/$107 million deal, but if he plays like he did in 2014, another extension at $20 million-plus per year will be on the table."…
"In only 12 games, WR Odell Beckham earned a Pro Bowl trip with 91 receptions for 1,305 yards (14.3avg) and 12 touchdowns. He is a terrific, hand-eye coordination athlete with change-of-direction skills and big speed."…
"Victor Cruz went down after six games with a patellar injury and his 100 percent return is in question for September/October."…
"Rueben Randle doesn’t get much recognition, but he chipped in 71 catches and three touchdowns, and has developed into a solid No. 3 WR."…
"The biggest surprise may have been the performance of TE Larry Donnell, who ended 2014 with 63 grabs and six touchdowns. Everyone knew the McAdoo offense was TE-friendly, but very few felt he could be a legitimate answer."…
"The offensive line was upgraded when Miami OT Ereck Flowers was picked at No. 9 in the first round, so with OC Weston Richburg and OT Justin Pugh, they now have three young prospects that can be secure long-time starters."…
"While the offense showed progress, the defense struggled all year, so defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was shown the door and Steve Spagnuolo was hired as his replacement."…
"Spags will find some pieces to work with in DE Jason Pierre-Paul, who returned to form with 12.5 sacks and DT Johnathan Hankins (7 sacks), plus OLB Devon Kennard."… [Editor's note: Pierre-Paul has yet to sign his franchise tender and his return to the Giants is up in the air after he seriously injured his hands in a July 4 fireworks accident. His injuries were so bad he had to have his right index finger amputated.]
"Kennard played well as a rookie when he registered 43 total tackles and 4.5 sacks."…
"Jameel McClain stepped up in Jon Beason’s absence and totaled 116 tackles, but this is probably the weakest position on their roster."…
"After Antrel Rolle signed in Chicago, the safety position was the most vacant spot on a depth chart in the NFL until the Giants traded up in the second round to select Alabama’s Landon Collins."…
"Veteran cornerbacks Prince Amukamara (missed eight games with torn bicep) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie give them a start in their base defense, but depth is a concern in the nickel package."…
"No one in the NFC East is invincible, so if the Giants can stay healthy and improve their turnover margin again, they can be in the mix with Dallas and Philadelphia.”
“This will be the most-watched team in the NFL in 2015. After an offseason of upheaval in the organization and numerous high-profile roster moves during free agency, Chip Kelly has assumed control of all player personnel moves and is pushing to advance the Eagles past the 10-6 threshold."…
"They saw QBs Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez in virtually the same light and felt that the only way to get a better passer would be to take a chance on another signal-caller on the 'rebound.' Sam Bradford was the option and they traded Foles to the St. Louis Rams to get him."…
"Bradford has a pure release and can spin the football, but has not been able to stay healthy and every time he drops back beginning in OTAs, the Eagles’ organization will be holding their collective breath."…
"Even before the QB surprise, there was the trade of RB LeSean McCoy to Buffalo for LB Kiko Alonso, who missed all of 2014 with a torn ACL. Word has it that they felt he was over-priced and spent too much time going East-West, especially in short-yardage and goal-line situations."…
"In a later-than-expected development, the Cowboys would not go beyond their budget for RB DeMarco Murray and he ended up signing in Philly. Prior to last season, he battled his own injury concerns before breaking out to lead the NFL in rushing (1,845 yards). The expectation is that he will give Kelly a more dependable North-South option as a runner, and don’t forget Ryan Mathews was inked as well (from San Diego)."…
"The tight ends are very competent in Zach Ertz and Brent Celek, while USC’s Nelson Agholor was added to a deficient mix of wide receivers as their first-round pick."…
"The offensive line was signed as a five-man unit through 2016, but there are rumblings about OG Evan Mathis being traded and longtime OG Todd Herremans was released and signed by Indianapolis."… [Editor's note: Mathis was released by the Eagles in June and has yet to sign with another team as of Aug. 17.]
"Kelly’s unique offense has put up terrific numbers in his first two seasons, but it certainly is a scheme that leaves the defense on the field."…
"Philadelphia finished 28th in total defense (375.6 yards per game) and 31st in passing yards allowed (264.9 yards per game), despite finishing tied for second with 49 sacks."…
"DE Fletcher Cox is the real deal and scheme-versatile."…
"Alonso will help DeMeco Ryans serve as a signal-caller on the defense, and both can help get LB Mychal Kendricks pointed in the right direction."…
"OLB Connor Barwin broke out with 14.5 sacks last season."…
"The cornerbacks have been re-made with the additions of Byron Maxwell (Seahawks) and Walter Thurmond (Giants) in free agency."…
"FS Malcolm Jenkins will be paired with either Earl Wolff or potentially second-round DB Eric Rowe from Utah."…
"Philly struck gold when they traded for PK Cody Parkey. All he did was hit 32-of-36 field goals and earn a trip to the Pro Bowl as a rookie."…
"However, if the two-point play rule is changed so the football is placed at the 1-yard line, new addition Tim Tebow could represent 2-4 points per game because of his abilities as a run/pass threat in that particular situation.”
“Other than President Barack Obama, no one has more focus on them within the Beltway than Robert Griffin III."…
"Washington has been on a roller-coaster ride since giving up a king’s ransom to obtain him back in 2011."…
"He and head coach Jay Gruden got off to a rough start in 2014, but the hope this year is that everything has been smoothed over, he is 100 percent healthy and will have a better team around him."…
"The set of skill players in DC is not an issue with WRs DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Andre Roberts, plus TEs Jordan Reed and Niles Paul and RB Alfred Morris. Jackson fit in well and produced 56 receptions for a 20.9 yard average and six touchdowns, while Garcon and Roberts are more than capable complimentary pieces."… [Editor's note: Paul is out for the season after breaking his left ankle in the Redskins' first preseason game on Aug. 13]
"Reed is super-talented, but has to find a way to stay healthy (missed five games in 2014)."…
"Morris, behind an inept offensive line and without the threat of the zone-read QB keeper, struggled to reach 1,000 yards."…
"The line is simply awful other than LT Trent Williams and he is no consensus Pro Bowler."…
"They gave up 58 sacks (third highest in the league), and combined with a minus-12 turnover ratio, equaled a difficult year on offense, hence, their selection of Iowa OT/OG Brandon Scherff as a day one starter at fifth overall."…
"Defensively, Jim Haslett survived one season under Gruden, but now Joe Barry is in charge."…
"They tried to rebuild the defensive line by signing Stephen Paea (Bears), Terrance Knighton (Broncos) and Ricky Jean-Francois (Colts) during free agency."…
"OLB Ryan Kerrigan continues to be one of the more under-appreciated players in the NFL, all he does is play hard and produce each year."…
"Brian Orakpo is off to the Titans after being derailed by injuries here."…
"The hope is that Trent Murphy and second-rounder Preston Smith (from Miss State) can become part of a three-man, pass-rushing rotation."…
"The secondary has a lot of names, but not sure how good they will be."…
"Dashon Goldson was acquired from Tampa Bay via trade and they signed Chris Culliver, too."…
"If this sounds like the 49ers from a few years ago, it is, because GM Bruce Allen was bumped up to president and Scot McCloughan was brought in to run their personnel department."…
"David Amerson and Bashaud Breeland have shown flashes of decent play, but will likely be in backup roles to Culliver and DeAngelo Hall."…
"RGIII has been his own soap opera, but the truth is, that the OL and defense have been in disrepair, and until those things are fixed, it may not matter if he ‘talks small and plays big’ in 2015.”
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
The Schmitter isn’t named after the greatest Philadelphia Phillie, Mike Schmidt, but it may be the all-time best variation of a Philly cheesesteak. Served at both Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies games, The Schmitter is a McNally’s Tavern original that the City of Brotherly Love adores. We talked to McNally’s Joe Pié about recreating the signature sandwich at home.
1 large Kaiser roll
3 slices white American cheese
1 tablespoon butter
2-3 oz. sliced white onion
4-6 oz. sliced choice bottom round
2-3 oz. sliced cooked salami
3 slices red tomato
¼ cup mayonnaise
1½ tablespoons sweet pickle relish
1 tablespoon tomato ketchup
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Slice Kaiser roll; place 1 slice cheese on each half. Broil Kaiser roll to melt cheese, toasting the edges.
Melt butter. Cook onions until caramelized. Place beef on onions, cook 3-4 minutes. Flip beef and onions, cook 1 minute and flip again. Place beef and onions on bottom of Kaiser roll. Place salami, 1 slice cheese and tomatoes in pan. Cook 2 minutes, until cheese melts.
Flip salami, cheese and tomatoes on top of beef and onions on sandwich (with salami on top). Slather with sauce. Add 1 slice cheese and top of Kaiser roll, cut in half and enjoy.
History is made during the course of every NFL season, and while some of the milestones will be etched on a Hall of Fame bust (Tom Brady’s six Super Bowl starts), some are a little more obscure (LaGarrette Blount’s seven career playoff touchdowns against the Colts).
Certainly, the 2015 season will add to this list of monumental and not-so-monumental firsts.
As the NFL season nears, let’s take a look back at 2014’s weird firsts.
2014 was the first time…
• Won a game by 17 points after being shut out by at least that many points in the first half (Eagles over Jaguars).
• Shoveled itself out of 14-point second-half deficits to win each of its first two games of the year (Eagles).
• Opened a season 3–0 despite trailing in each game by at least 10 points (Eagles).
• Won a game on the road that it once trailed by 25 points (Browns).
• Fielded a running back who rushed for four touchdowns (Marshawn Lynch) and a quarterback who rushed for 100 yards (Russell Wilson) in the same game (Seahawks).
• Lost at least nine of its first 10 games for a third consecutive season (Jaguars).
• Scored 28 or more first-half points in four consecutive home games (Packers).
• Won three games in a row by 20 or more points against teams who were at least three games over .500 (Patriots).
• Fielded a rookie rusher (Andre Williams) and a rookie receiver (Odell Beckham Jr.) who each piled up at least 130 yards in the same game (Giants).
• Went 14 consecutive seasons without being swept in a multiple-game series by a team in its own division (Patriots).
• Allowed an opposing QB to complete 80 percent of its passes and throw for three TDs in three games of a season (Bears).
• Rushed for as many as 355 yards and lost (49ers).
• Had two different backs who broke runs of 85 yards or longer in the same season (Bengals: Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill).
• From the NFC South won its division for a second straight year (Panthers).
• Got a non-offensive TD from 10 different players (Eagles).
• Limited another team to as few as 78 yards in a postseason game (Panthers vs. Cardinals).
• Dropped a fourth consecutive opening-round playoff game (Bengals).
• Fell to 0–7 in postseason road contests (Bengals).
• Overcame a deficit as large as 16 points to win a conference title game (Seahawks).
• Blew a fourth-quarter lead as large as 10 points to lose a Super Bowl (Seahawks).
• Passed for 400 yards for the 14th time in a career (Peyton Manning).
• Compiled a TD-to-INT ratio as high as 18-to-1 the first seven games of a season (Aaron Rodgers).
• Threw a fifth TD pass less than 20 minutes into a game (Joe Flacco).
• Passed for 300 yards and rushed for 100 in the same game (Russell Wilson).
• Completed more than 85 percent of his passes (min. 20 atts.) in a game against a defending Super Bowl champion (Austin Davis).
• Completed seven game-winning TD passes inside the two-minute warning in his first six seasons (Matthew Stafford).
• Passed for 350-plus yards in five consecutive road games (Andrew Luck).
• Completed at least five TD passes in a game nine times in a career (Manning and Drew Brees).
• Threw 418 consecutive passes without an interception in home games (Rodgers; still active).
• Threw for at least three TDs without being picked off in four straight road games (Tony Romo).
• Lost his first 20 road starts against teams that finished with a winning record (Ryan Fitzpatrick).
• Attained a 100.0 passer rating in a sixth consecutive season (Rodgers).
• Lost nine one-and-done starts in the postseason (Manning).
• Started two Super Bowls in his first three seasons (Wilson).
• Started six Super Bowls (Tom Brady).
A RUNNING BACK
• Began a season with eight consecutive 100-yard games (Murray).
• Caught 102 passes in a season (Matt Forte).
• Rushed for seven career TDs against one particular team in postseason play (LeGarrette Blount vs. Colts).
• Made at least five catches for 50 or more yards in 32 consecutive games (Antonio Brown).
• Age 35 or older caught 400 yards worth of passes in his first four games (Steve Smith).
• Went more than nine years between 80-yard touchdown catches (Brandon Lloyd).
• Caught a dozen or more TD passes from the tight end position in successive seasons (Julius Thomas).
• Collected more than 100 yards in a season debut that was as late as Week 12 (Josh Gordon).
• Got to 10,000 yards in as few as 115 games (Calvin Johnson).
• Age 36 or older caught a pass of at least 80 yards (Reggie Wayne).
• Threw a TD pass of longer than 50 yards in a postseason game (Julian Edelman).
• Scored an overtime TD on the only pass he caught in a playoff contest (Jermaine Kearse).
This story and more appears in the 2015 Athlon Sports NFL Preview Magazine, available online now and on newsstands everywhere.
The Denver Broncos continue to lead this division, with Peyton Manning leading the way. However, Manning's not getting any younger, and the Chiefs and Chargers both made some personnel upgrades after each just missed out on a wild card spot last season. They are certainly not far behind, and the Raiders finally appear to have some pieces to build around too. The Broncos remain the team to be beat, but the gap is narrowing.
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC West is shaping up heading into the 2015 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders.
“No one will ever know what would have happened if Peyton Manning didn’t agree to take a ‘haircut’ on his contract and go from $19M to $15M for 2015."…
"Nevertheless, he returns for what might be his last season, although at 39, he feels that a high level of play is still attainable."…
"If it is, it will likely be because Gary Kubiak’s emphasis on the run game and play-action will take some of the load off the future Hall of Famer."…
"Kubiak takes over for John Fox, who flamed out in the postseason for the third year in a row."…
"TE Julius Thomas left in free agency for Jacksonville, but WR Demaryius Thomas was first tagged and then signed to a long-term deal. He is a supremely talented player that has prospered under Manning’s guidance."…
"Emmanuel Sanders filled the slot role well in 2014, but how much will that change under Kubiak?"...
"2014 second-round pick Cody Latimer must take a big step forward after catching only two passes as a rookie."…
"The offensive line is sort of ordinary, but they get by because the QB simply doesn’t hold the football."…
"LT Ryan Clady is clearly their best lineman, but the rest are just guys."… [Editor's note: Clady will miss the 2015 season because of a torn ACL.]
"On defense, they are set up front with Sylvester Williams, Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson in their base 3-4."…
"Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and first-round pick Shane Ray will form one of the best pass-rushing trios in all of football."…
"At safety, T.J. Ward always brings the right kind of demeanor, and former Raven Darian Stewart was signed during free agency."…
"With Aqib Talib, Chris Harris and Bradley Roby at the corner spots, the Broncos have enough variety at the position to match up with most everyone."…
"Despite Peyton’s protests, the theme of the season will be can the Broncos make a final run with No. 18 at the helm? And, if not, what is the plan going forward at QB and for the entire organization?”
“Despite no wide receivers catching a single touchdown pass and a defense that was 28th in the league vs. the run (127.3 yards per game), Andy Reid and Co. still finished with a 9-7 record."…
"With zero explosiveness in the passing game, KC allowed Dwayne Bowe to walk and probably overpaid for the Eagles’ Jeremy Maclin."…
"They are very high on second-year wide receiver Albert Wilson who had 12 of his 16 catches in the final five games and look for De'Anthony Thomas to get an increased role in 2015 as a ‘satellite’ player."…
"Their two best offensive producers are RB Jamaal Charles and TE Travis Kelce."…
"Charles had his third straight 1,000-yard season and caught 40 passes, while Kelce came back from a ‘redshirt’ season and latched on to 67 throws."…
"The offensive line allowed 49 sacks (26th in NFL) and Rodney Hudson left for the Raiders in free agency."…
"They are banking on Eric Fisher getting healthy and playing well at LT, while they traded for the Saints’ Ben Grubbs to fill the LG spot and drafted Missouri OL Mitch Morse to compete at center with Eric Kush. This unit may be the most worrisome on the entire roster."…
"Internally, the organization believes in Alex Smith as a starting QB, but his impending contract situation will tell the world what they really think long-term."…
"Defensively, KC gave up 17.6 points per game (2nd in league), where they were particularly stingy down in the red zone."…
"NT Dontari Poe is a Pro Bowl-caliber player and upped his sack total to six in 2014…Their biggest losses were sustained in Week 1 when both LB Derrick Johnson DE Mike DeVito went down with torn Achilles and their absence left a crater in the middle of the D."…
"Justin Houston was franchised and then signed to a massive deal after a 22-sack season and he has really developed into a complete outside linebacker."…
"His counterpart, Tamba Hali, continues to plug along and will always chip in 6-10 sacks per year."…
"The Chiefs took CB Marcus Peters from Washington with their first-round pick and they are gambling that his character and personality can be managed."…
"He will line up opposite of Sean Smith with the thinking that the Chiefs now have the athleticism and length to compete with the receivers of the AFC West."…
"This division has bunched up some during the offseason, so with Reid at the helm, they should again be competitive and in the hunt for a playoff berth.”
“Everything that was said about the Raiders going into the 2014 season, came true: no firepower on offense and too many aged players on defense."…
"The good news is that GM Reggie McKenzie hit on OLB Khalil Mack, QB Derek Carr and OG Gabe Jackson with his first three picks of the 2014 draft and they are all good, young players to build around in the future."…
"Dennis Allen did not survive the season, so Tony Sparano finished up as the interim coach and now Jack Del Rio gets his second chance as a head coach in the league."…
"Carr is their greatest asset, so they chose Alabama WR Amari Cooper with the fourth overall pick and Miami-FL TE Clive Walford in the third round to give him more options."…
"Cooper is a pro-ready talent that can line up anywhere and help Carr immediately, while Walford is a gifted pass catcher that can threaten the seam."…
"The offensive line should be bolstered in the middle with former Chiefs’ center Rodney Hudson, but still not sure they are good enough on the edges with Donald Penn and Austin Howard."…
"Defensively, Mack was sensational as a rookie and looks to be a star-in-the-making."…
"LB Sio Moore has had two solid years of production and really plays hard…The back end is a work-in-progress and this part of their roster could derail everything."…
"With only Charles Woodson established as a starter, they signed FS Nate Allen from Philadelphia."…
"If they played a game tomorrow, D.J. Hayden and Travis Carrie would be the opening corners, but Keith McGill (’14 fourth round) is expected to challenge for play time."…
"The Raiders were deplorable in total offense and then scoring offense and defense, but their bigger issue was not taking care of the football. They were minus-15 in the turnover margin category (32nd in league) and that is the area Del Rio must clean up first and foremost for them to escape the basement of the AFC West.”
“Word got out this spring that QB Philip Rivers would play out his contract and was not interested in going to LA, if in fact, the Chargers were on the move."…
"Rumors swirled before the draft that San Diego would trade him to the Titans in exchange for the chance to pick Marcus Mariota at No. 2."…
"None of that happened, so now it’s back to trying to work through an extension for the 33-year-old QB."…
"RB Ryan Mathews signed with the Eagles, so SD moved up two spots in the draft for Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon who should help their 30th-ranked rushing attack (85.4 yards per game)."…
"The offensive line has been surprisingly effective over the past two years, especially LT King Dunlap. He has far surpassed most scouts’ expectations as a full-time starter."…
"D.J. Fluker is huge on the right side and has become a staple figure along their front wall."…
"TE Antonio Gates just keeps going, but has indicated that 2015 will be his last season."… [Editor's note: Gates is suspended the first four games of the season for a violation of the NFL's policy on the use of performance-enhancing drugs.]
"Keenan Allen and Malcolm Floyd give them a set of legitimate WRs and they helped them finish fourth in the league in third down conversions (45.1 percent)."…
"Most of the success of the 3-4 defense stems from the pass rush and the Chargers were 29th in sacks with just 26 last year."…
"They are banking on Melvin Ingram and Jerry Attaochu to stay healthy and produce better results in 2015 (6.5 sacks between them)."…
"Safety Marcus Gilchrist left for the Jets and Eric Weddle is sitting out the spring, except for the mandatory minicamp, due to a contract dispute."…
"The Chargers are smallish in the back end, but Jason Verrett is a nifty cover man who has to demonstrate that he can survive the rigors of the NFL."...
"San Diego has won between seven and nine games for five straight seasons and nothing seems to indicate that 2015 will be any different.”
As far as strange and bizarre happenings, IK Enemkpali’s sucker punch of starting quarterback Geno Smith — knocking the QB out for 6-19 weeks with a broken jaw — over a matter of $600 qualifies for the calendar of the weird.
On that note, let’s look back at all the strange developments from the 2014 season:
Aug. 30: The Vikings waive linebacker Mike Zimmer, depriving him of the opportunity to play for unrelated head coach Mike Zimmer.
Sept. 7: The Rams open the season with three undrafted quarterbacks on their active roster.
Sept. 7: Vontaze Burfict, attempting a sack, must leave with a concussion after spearing Joe Flacco in the cup.
Sept. 14: Every quarterback who throws an interception sees his team lose the game.
Sept. 14: Jacksonville’s first snap in Washington territory comes with 8:45 left in the contest.
Sept. 21: There are 25 points scored in the Patriots victory over the Raiders — 10 by Stephen Gostkowski, nine by Sebastian Janikowski and six by Rob Gronkowski.
Sept. 21: The Cardinals have only nine guys on the field when they block a 49ers field goal.
Sept. 21: Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch tears his ACL celebrating a sack, then claims afterwards, “I’d do it again, brother.”
Sept. 28: The Packers top the Bears, 38–17, as for just the second time in NFL history, neither team punts.
Oct. 6: Percy Harvin has three touchdowns against Washington called back, including two on successive plays, because of penalties.
Oct. 12: For a few minutes of real time, all four games currently underway are tied during the second quarter.
Oct. 12: The Bucs run a dozen consecutive plays that fail to gain a yard against the Ravens.
Oct. 26: The Cardinals and Eagles combine for 104 passing attempts, yet no quarterbacks are sacked.
Oct. 26: For the second time in three seasons, the Patriots score three touchdowns in less than a minute.
Oct. 26: Jets quarterback Geno Smith completes more passes to the Bills (three) than to his own team (two).
Nov. 2: Carson Palmer wins for a fifth straight time when he is intercepted in his first drive.
Nov. 8: Justin Bieber attends the Steelers’ weekly Bible study.
Nov. 9: After winning their previous two games with scores at 0:00 and 1:48, Detroit does it again at 0:29.
Nov. 9: Anquan Boldin drops as many passes (four) in the first half as he did in all of 2013.
Nov. 9: After recording only one takeaway in their first nine games, the Jets come up with four in an upset of Pittsburgh.
Nov. 9: Jay Cutler falls to 1–10 with 22 interceptions against his team’s archrival, the Packers.
Nov. 13: The Bills have not scored a TD on their last 21 “drives.”
Nov. 16: The Chiefs dump the Seahawks, 24–20, despite completing only two passes (for nine yards apiece) to wide receivers.
Nov. 16: Mark Sanchez tops 300 yards and throws for multiple TDs in his first start for the Eagles — something he never did in 62 starts as a Jet.
Nov. 17: Ben Roethlisberger moves to 18–0 when opposing a rookie quarterback.
Nov. 18: After his Wikipedia entry lists him as deceased, Emmanuel Sanders tweets a photo of himself surrounded by comely females, which he captions, “I must be in heaven.”
Nov. 20: When the Raiders upset the Chiefs, teams with QB Matt Schaub on their roster end their 24-game losing streak.
Nov. 27: Although there never before had been two games ending in a 19–3 score in any NFL season, the Seahawks prevail 19–3 for the second straight week.
Nov. 30: Washington ends its drought of nine entire games and 38 futile attempts by converting a play of 3rd-and-10 or longer into a first down.
Nov. 30: Home teams outscore the visitors 72–16 in the early-kickoff portion of the slate.
Nov. 30: The Steelers tie an NFL record for first downs in a loss by recording 36.
Dec. 3: Peter King calculates that Colin Kaepernick uses 87 words to respond to the 32 questions asked of him at San Francisco’s weekly presser.
Dec. 3: Thirteen years after being released by the Cowboys, Ryan Leaf is released from prison.
Dec. 4: Arian Foster conducts his entire post-practice interview speaking with a British accent.
Dec. 4: For just the second time ever, a quarterback (Tony Romo) completes 80 percent of his passes and a teammate (DeMarco Murray) rushes for more than 175 yards.
Dec. 7: The Panthers, who had scored a total of 30 first-quarter points in their first 12 games, hang 17 on the Saints in the first nine minutes.
Dec. 7: After never having allowed a single player to record more than 3.0 sacks in a game against them in their history, the Dolphins do so for a third time in 2014.
Dec. 7: St. Louis’ captains for the pregame toss in Washington are the six players who were taken with the draft picks dealt for Robert Griffin III.
Dec. 7: The Seahawks limit a third straight foe to its season low in points and yards.
Dec. 14: Seven different Packers receivers drop one pass apiece in a loss to Buffalo.
Dec. 15: Of Jay Cutler’s five “completions” that travel more than 10 yards, three are caught by the Saints.
Dec. 15: Jets owner Woody Johnson, who employs John Idzik as his GM, accidentally “favorites” a tweet from a fan that says: “@woodyjohnson4 You really need to #FireIdzik at this point. The roster is garbagio.”
Dec. 21: The Bucs, Bills and Colts combine for 30 rushing yards on 37 carries in their losses.
Dec. 28: On the 229th pass of his career, Ryan Lindley throws his first touchdown.
Dec. 28: Antonio Brown takes a punt to the house for the third time in his career — all against Cincinnati.
Dec. 28: Kansas City is the third team (and first in 54 years) to go through a season with no TD catches by a wide receiver.
Dec. 28: Russell Wilson fumbles for the 12th and 13th (and final) times of 2014 — all of them recovered by his own team.
Dec. 28: Seattle ends its regular season with a 29th victory by 10 or more points since suffering its last loss by that margin.
Jan. 3: Ryan Lindley averages 1.3 yards on his 32 dropbacks in Arizona’s wild card loss to Carolina, failing to gain yardage on 21 of them.
Jan. 4: Matthew Stafford falls to 0–18 in his career (playoffs included) in road games against teams that finished the season over .500.
Jan. 4: Andy Dalton starts and finishes his fourth playoff game without ever having thrown a pass with the lead.
Jan. 18: Russell Wilson targets Jermaine Kearse six times in the NFC Championship Game, the first four of which are intercepted, the fifth falling incomplete and the last resulting in a TD to win the game in OT.
Jan. 18: For the eighth consecutive time (including the last four in which the winning team trailed in the fourth quarter), the NFC title contest is decided by seven or fewer points.
Jan. 29: The LOWEST price of a Super Bowl ticket on the NFL ticket exchange website, three days before the game, is $10,375.
Jan. 30: New Buffalo coach Rex Ryan, whose arm is tattooed with his wife wearing a Jets jersey, has her shirt re-inked from green to blue.
Feb. 1: Russell Wilson’s late interception to hand New England the Super Bowl title is the first thrown by a quarterback from the opponent’s 1-yard line all season.
This story and more is available in the 2015 Athlon Sports Pro Football Preview Magazine, available online and on newsstands everywhere.
The AFC South was very unbalanced last season, with the Colts and Texans well ahead of the Jaguars and Titans. Indianapolis has dominated the past two seasons, and they don't seem to be in any type of regression this year. They have the only truly established quarterback in the division. With the Colts as the favorite, can any of the other teams compete with them? Will the Jaguars and Titans get better, or will they finish near the bottom of the NFL again?
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC South breaks down entering the 2015 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Texans, Colts, Jaguars and Titans.
“In his first season, Bill O’Brien managed a difficult QB situation and rode the Texans’ opportunistic defense to nine wins last year. Ryan Fitzpatrick moved on to the NY Jets, so they signed Brian Hoyer from Cleveland and will now have two quarterbacks with New England ties battling for the position."…
"Maybe the greatest Texan in club history, WR Andre Johnson departed in free agency and will face his old club twice a year as a member of the Colts."…
"DeAndre Hopkins took over as the No. 1 receiver last fall and he will get support from newly acquired Cecil Shorts (from the Jaguars)."…
"RB Arian Foster ran for 1,246 yards and eight touchdowns, but missed three games, and that allowed Alfred Blue to sub in and gain 528 yards of his own. Foster’s injury history is always a concern, but Blue showed the ability to be a competent stand-in, if something happens long term."…
"The offensive line did enough to help Houston rank fifth in rushing (135.1 yards per game) and tied for fourth in fewest sacks allowed. LT Duane Brown has proven himself to be a quality NFL player, while second-round pick Xavier Sua’Filo is expected to become a starter at LG this year."…
"Despite not getting anything from No. 1 overall choice Jadeveon Clowney, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel maximized the use of all-world DE J.J. Watt and he dominated with 20.5 sacks, five fumble recoveries and a pick-six. He is truly a special player and arguably the top player in the league."…
"Clowney had microfracture surgery, so his effectiveness and long-term impact will be questioned until he can get on the field and prove himself."…
"The Texans signed Vince Wilfork to be part of their rotation and train up last year’s third-round pick, Louis Nix."…
"LB Brian Cushing continues to play at a high level, but Whitney Mercilus has been just OK in his first three years."…
"CB Kareem Jackson was re-signed before he hit the market and Jonathan Joseph has been a solid addition for GM Rick Smith."…
"They drafted Wake Forest CB Kevin Johnson in the first round as the future at the position."…
"’QB and Clowney sum up the major questions for the Texans to surpass nine wins in 2015. O’Brien can figure out the first part in time, but many have serious concerns about Clowney living up to his draft status as an available, big-time player.”
“Chuck Pagano has a 33-15 record through three seasons with the Colts, yet he will go into 2014 on the last year of his deal."…
"You get the sense that everyone here feels the pressure of advancing one more step to the Super Bowl and anything short of that goal will result in major coaching staff changes."…
"With that said, they used Pagano’s University of Miami background to sell RB Frank Gore and WR Andre Johnson on the idea that this is a team ready to win a ring. Gore continues to defy the odds at his age and with significant knee issues earlier in his career, while Johnson should have enough left to take some of the onus off T.Y. Hilton, one of the most exciting and productive players in the NFL."…
"Watch out for WR Donte Moncrief, the third-rounder from Ole Miss, who flashed as a rookie with 32 receptions and three touchdowns."…
"And yet, they had a curious first-round selection in Miami speedster, Phillip Dorsett."…
"The tight end group is very solid with Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and Jack Doyle."…
"The offensive line is adequate at best with no dominant player in the starting five."…
"The central figure for the entire organization is Andrew Luck. He is a transcendent talent that makes every responsibility of being a QB look easy, on and off the field."…
"Every level of the defense could use a boost."…
"Upfront, they will use a ‘wave’ of defensive linemen."…
"They are hoping DE Robert Mathis can return to form after missing 2014 with a suspension and Achilles tear."…
"Former 2013 first-round choice Bjoern Werner had four sacks last year, but must continue to improve as a rusher."…
"Trent Cole was signed during free agency, but he’s on the back nine of his career."…
"Jonathan Newsome quietly came around as the 2014 season unfolded with 5.5 sacks in the final eight games."…
"The corners are better than average with a pass rush and when healthy. The trade for Vontae Davis has worked out well and people inside the building really like Greg Toler."…
"Safety is a huge hole on their depth chart and they passed on Alabama’s Landon Collins in the draft."…
"The hope is that between the veteran and rookie additions this offseason, it will be enough to advance the Colts another rung up the ladder and Pagano will continue as their coach.”
“Owner Shad Khan appears to be in lockstep with head coach Gus Bradley and GM David Caldwell, but after a 3-13 season in 2014, the urgency to take a big step forward is there for this next season."…
"Bradley has done an impressive job of keeping the team’s focus and energy high, but the truth is, the results must improve and almost the entire operation is riding on QB Blake Bortles."…
"Originally, they planned to let him sit behind Chad Henne, but that lasted all of three weeks and the No. 3 overall pick in 2014 was inserted into the lineup. With rookie receivers, no legitimate running game and a porous line, Bortles did well to survive with 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions."…
"The Jags found three rookie receivers in Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns that should develop on the same track as Bortles."…
"At TE, they spent a boatload on free agent and former Bronco Julius Thomas and Marcedes Lewis re-upped, so they should be set there."…
"OT Luke Joeckel bounced back from appearing in only five games as a rookie and opened all 16 in 2014. A capable line is in the works with LG Zane Beadles and RG Brandon Linder."…
"Second-round pick RB T.J. Yeldon should be an instant starter and will pair off with Denard Robinson."…
"Greg Olsen is the new offensive coordinator and he is charged with pulling this group out of the bottom of the barrel (31st in yards and 32nd in points)."…
"Defensively, they spent the third pick in the draft on Florida's Dante Fowler Jr. and he will be a star player in the league."… [Editor's note: Fowler is out for the season after tearing his ACL during rookie minicamp.]
"This unit has made incremental strides under Bradley and Bob Babich, but they have been woefully short in terms of having difference-making talent."…
"DT Sen’Derrick Marks tore an ACL in the last game of the season, but he is an underrated player and along with Tyson Alualu and newly signed FA Jared Odrick, this group should be better."…
"LB Paul Posluszny is a steady-Eddie, while Telvin Smith proved to be a nice late-round pick in 2014."…
"CB Aaron Colvin returned from a pre-draft knee injury to play in the final six games and should line up opposite of Dwayne Gratz or Davon House, who was signed from Green Bay."…
"Jonathan Cyprien and Sergio Brown will man the safety spots."…
"It’s obvious things intensified with ownership after the season, because it felt like Bradley was forced to rebuild his offensive staff."…
"The bottom-line here is that the Jags had a minus-26 sack differential, despite the defense having 45, which tied for sixth in the league.”
“After the Buccaneers selected Jameis Winston as the No. 1 overall choice in this year’s draft, the entire league focused on what the Titans would do at No. 2."…
"Now, we know the answer, they opted to stay put and pick Marcus Mariota and will attempt to get him up to speed as fast as possible in terms of transitioning from the spread he ran at Oregon to a more traditional NFL offense."…
"Jake Locker was a free agent, but retired unexpectedly, and Zach Mettenberger went 0-6, before going down with a shoulder last season, so the Mariota pick really makes sense."…
"RB Bishop Sankey was disappointing as a rookie (569 yards/3.7 ypc/2 TD), but part of his struggles were tied to an underachieving offensive line that should be improved in 2014 with Taylor Lewan firmly entrenched at left tackle, a healthy rebound from Andy Levitre at LG and Chance Warmack rounding back into shape at RG."…
"They signed Byron Bell from Carolina in the second wave of free agency as a stop-gap fix at RT."…
"TE Delanie Walker has more to give with better QB play, he caught 63 passes and four touchdowns despite the passing game issues last year."…
"The Titans do not have a legit No. 1 wide receiver, however, they do have hope for the continued development of Kendall Wright (57 rec./6 TD) and Justin Hunter (28 rec./17.8 ypc/3 TD) and drafted former Missouri WR Dorial Green-Beckham (6-5, 237), who hasn’t played since 2013 due to off-field issues."…
"Ken Whisenhunt has to fix an offense that finished 30th in points (15.9 per game) and 31st in third down conversions (30.1 percent)."…
"Dick LeBeau arrives from Pittsburgh and will orchestrate the defense even though Ray Horton has the coordinator title."…
"Tennessee added three free agents of note in former Redskins pass rusher Brian Orakpo, Bills safety Da’Norris Searcy and 49ers cornerback Perrish Cox."…
"In addition, they re-signed OLB Derrick Morgan, so if all of these veterans can stay healthy, LeBeau may have enough to work with here."…
"The Titans ranked 31st against the run (137.2 yards per game) and gave up 27.4 points per game (tied for 29th in NFL), so there is a ton of work to get done in Nashville."…
"DT Jurrell Casey can play and GM Ruston Webster found a keeper at LB in Avery Williamson last year."…
"In the secondary, they should be set with Cox and Jason McCourty at the corners and Searcy and veteran Michael Griffin at the two safety spots."…
"There is talk of an impending ownership change in league circles, so after a 2-14 campaign in 2014, it’s imperative for the Titans to show progress for the Whisenhunt/Webster administration to continue beyond this season.”
In 2014, the AFC North sent three teams to the playoffs. The division is once again poised to be a battle and continues to rank among the most competitive in the NFL. The Steelers, Bengals, and Ravens all have very legitimate chances to make the playoffs again. But what about Cleveland, which hasn’t made the postseason since 2002 and has had a revolving door at both head coach and starting quarterback since rejoining the NFL in 1999?
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC North looks heading into the 2015 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Ravens, Bengals, Browns and Steelers.
“In a year dominated by the Ray Rice episode, Baltimore used a familiar formula to maintain their focus on the field and made the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons under John Harbaugh."
"They led the league in sack differential at plus-30 when they allowed only 19 sacks and racked up 49 of their own."
"Under former offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, they ran the ball well and found the needed balance to protect and help QB Joe Flacco."
"Kubiak departed for another head coaching opportunity with long-time friend John Elway in Denver, so Marc Trestman takes over as the OC and he must stay away from taking the Ravens down a pass-happy road again."
"They let Torrey Smith walk as a free agent, but got great mileage out of Steve Smith and drafted UCF WR Breshad Perriman and TE Maxx Williams in the first two rounds of the draft."
"The offensive line rebounded in 2015 and stabilized with Eugene Monroe and Ricky Wagner playing the tackle spots, while Kelechi Osemele and Marshall Yanda were solid on the interior."
"It took a year, but the Baltimore defense returned to the top 10 statistically in 2015 after some growing pains the previous season without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed."
"With Haloti Ngata on the verge of being cut due to his high cap number, GM Ozzie Newsome was able to swing a trade with Detroit for two mid-round draft picks."
"He had that luxury because of the play of young DTs Brandon Williams and Tim Jernigan."
"The Ravens pressured the QB with the formidable duo of Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs."
"Pernell McPhee was lost to the Bears in free agency, but he is another in a long line of defenders that have left the organization for bigger riches after being quality support players here."
"C.J. Mosley was a gift at pick No. 17 (fell due to concerns about his shoulder) and emerged as an elite linebacker as a rookie."
"This will be a huge year for LB Arthur Brown and FS Matt Elam, who have both been major disappointments in their early careers."
"Jimmy Smith finally put it all together in terms of his consistency and availability on the field, and they will cross their fingers that Lardarius Webb will stay healthy in 2015."
"PK Justin Tucker and P Sam Koch may very well be the best combination of placekicker/punter in the entire league."
“Marvin Lewis received a one-year contract extension through 2016, so that will lessen some, but not all the pressure on the Bengals as they try to get a breakthrough win in the playoffs. Along with QB Andy Dalton, the focus is squarely on a team that has been a consistent winner during the regular season, but a failure in the postseason."
"Cincinnati has a very solid group of offensive players with a true superstar in WR A.J. Green."
"They could definitely use another wide receiver right now, but opted for two tackles in early part of the draft, Texas A&M’s Cedric Ogbuehi and Oregon’s Jake Fisher, for future use."
"TE Tyler Eifert will have an expanded role in 2015 with the departure of Jermaine Gresham in free agency."
"RB Jeremy Hill had a big rookie year and with a healthy Giovanni Bernard, they should be even more dynamic this season."
"Defensively, the Bengals were dead last in sacks with 20 for the entire campaign. DE Michael Johnson inked a huge deal with Tampa Bay, only to be released a year later and re-signed here. They have to get more production from Wallace Gilberry and Margus Hunt in order to get their defensive line rotation back in order."
"The Vontaze Burfict micro-fracture surgery is a major concern, so A.J. Hawk was brought in to provide some insurance at the position."
"The secondary is going through a transition with the emergence of CB Dre Kirkpatrick who should take over a starting full-time role, while Darqueze Dennard will be assessed as the heir apparent to Leon Hall."
"It’s hard to imagine Lewis and Dalton getting a sixth year together if they don’t win a playoff win in 2015, but the Brown family likes them both and the stability they have brought to the organization.”
“2014 was almost a repeat of what has gone on in Cleveland since the organization returned in 1999. High hopes during the draft weekend, signs of progress at different times throughout the season and then a full meltdown in December."
"The Ray Farmer/Mike Pettine combo will return this year, but the GM faces a four-game suspension over texting staff members during games about personnel use and play-calling. In the fallout of Textgate, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan worked his way out the door and QB coach Dowell Loggains went, too."
"The Johnny Manziel era was put on hold initially because Brian Hoyer led the team to a 7-5 record before he hit the wall. Manziel started two games, looked out of place, got hurt and ended up in rehab for 10 weeks during the offseason. He was released mid-April and is back in the building, but the Browns signed Josh McCown as the 'new bridge to a yet-to-be-determined QB."
"Statistically, the Browns have lost because offensively they cannot convert on third downs (32nd in NFL/29.5 percent) and defensively they have not been able to stop the run (32nd in NFL/141.6 yards allowed per game). With that said, after missing 11 games in 2014, Josh Gordon is out for the entire season this time around after being suspended again, while TE Jordan Cameron opted for Miami in free agency."
"Dwayne Bowe was signed from Kansas City and Andrew Hawkins is a quality No. 3/4 receiver, but neither will require special game-planning from a defensive coordinator... Amazingly, LT Joe Thomas has not missed a snap since he was drafted in 2007. Cleveland’s run game went down after center Alex Mack suffered a season-ending knee injury, so they picked Florida State OL Cam Erving to play RG/RT in preparation for another injury or Mack’s contract expiring."
"LG Joel Bitonio was their best rookie and should be a fixture in the lineup for the next several seasons."
"Both RBs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell flashed ability, but the question remains if one or the other can be a major difference-maker, or if third-round pick Miami’s Duke Johnson can become a factor."
"As for the defense, Washington DT Danny Shelton was the choice at No. 12 overall to shore up the porous run defense."
"OLB Paul Kruger bounced back from a sub-par 2013 with 11 sacks, but Jabaal Sheard left for New England in free agency."
"Barkevious Mingo has been marginal in his first two seasons, so they selected Utah’s Nate Orchard in the second round."
"Karlos Dansby was adequate in the middle and Donte Whitner provided some leadership in the back end with CB Joe Haden continuing to perform at a high level."
"Buster Skrine departed for the Jets and Justin Gilbert’s rookie season was one to forget, so corner is still a concern.”
“There is good news and bad news in the Steel City."
"The offense clicked to the tune of 411.1 yards per game, but the defense has aged out and is under construction with a coordinator not named Dick LeBeau."
"QB Ben Roethlisberger got an extension after he performed at a very high level in 2014. He played superb football all year and finished with 32 touchdowns against only nine interceptions."
"WR Antonio Brown might spend the offseason squawking about his current deal that has two years left, but he has become one of the most exciting players in the entire league. He had a remarkable 129 receptions and 13 touchdowns as the Steelers averaged over 300 yards per game through the air. Markus Wheaton responded with 53 catches, while rookie Martavis Bryant surprised with 26 grabs, including eight touchdowns."
"TE Heath Miller has been underappreciated his entire career and has now accumulated over 500 catches."
"The offensive line held up last year, because Pittsburgh actually ran the ball some in 2014."
"RB Le’Veon Bell had a breakout campaign with 1,361 yards rushing and 83 receptions. He is a superstar in the making, but will miss the first two games after he and [former Steeler, now Patriot] LeGarrette Blount were cited with marijuana last summer."
"Defensively, Pittsburgh finished 18th in total yards allowed and scoring defense, mainly because of their struggles to pressure the QB and create turnovers."
"OLB Jason Worilds actually retired at age 27 and former first-round pick Jarvis Jones has three career sacks in two seasons."
"James Harrison is back, but the need was so substantial that they took Kentucky LB Bud Dupree with the 22nd pick overall."
"LB Lawrence Timmons is a quality player and they are hoping Ryan Shazier can return to form after missing seven games with separate knee and ankle injuries."
"The secondary will be completely remade in 2015 with Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor both retiring."
"Major help is needed at corner and safety."
"Mike Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas will open at the safety spots, but the two corner positions are wide open."
"Big Ben will be expected to carry the team while the defense is reconfigured. This team can have a winning record and even make the playoffs, but they are not good enough to make a deep run.”
Winners of 11 of the last 12 division titles, the AFC East has been dominated by New England ever since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady joined forces in 2001. However, with Brady's four-game suspension, along with the departure of several key defensive players, this prolific run could be in jeopardy. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets have new coaching staffs and has added some key pieces, while the Miami Dolphins reeled in the biggest fish on the free agent market this offseason. This division seems more up in the air than in the past several seasons. Can a new team claim supremacy, or will the Patriots find a way to hold on to their crown for a seventh straight season?
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC East shapes up entering the 2015 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Bills, Dolphins, Patriots and Jets.
“In one of the strangest coaching developments in recent memory, Doug Marrone opted out of his contract three days after a 9-7 season and landed in Jacksonville as an assistant. The Bills went with an opposite personality and hired Rex Ryan who had been released by the Jets and he will bring his open-book, player-friendly approach to western New York."
"Since trading their 2015 No. 1 pick last year for WR Sammy Watkins, GM Doug Whaley and the organization have continued with their aggressive tactics to try and add more talent to this roster. They traded for RB LeSean McCoy and QB Matt Cassel, signed TE Charles Clay to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent, inked OG Richie Incognito and also brought WR Percy Harvin into the fold."
"And yet, the question still remains, is EJ Manuel the long-term answer at QB? If he’s not, Cassel will serve as a stop-gap insurance policy, since Kyle Orton decided to retire... The OL is really ordinary to below average without a single big-time starter, although offseason reports indicate that LT Cordy Glenn is in the best shape of his career."
"Their defense is outstanding with quality players across the front, including DTs Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, plus edge rushers Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes... Buffalo gave up LB Kiko Alonso in the McCoy trade, but he missed the entire 2014 season with an ACL and the D still finished fourth overall and first in third downs (33.2 percent)."
"The corners, Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin should give Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman the freedom to use their pressure packages, while they added Florida State CB Ronald Darby in the second round as a potential nickel... With Rex’s energy and ability to motivate, don’t be surprised to see the Bills pull the new pieces together and break their 15-year playoff drought.”
“Cut it any way you like, but owner Stephen Ross brought in former NY Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum to evaluate and determine the fates of head coach Joe Philbin and GM Dennis Hickey following the 2015 season."
"It’s a one-year trial for them and a huge season for QB Ryan Tannehill."
"The Dolphins wanted to make a splash and they did so in free agency by signing DT Ndamukong Suh to the richest defensive player deal in league history. He is a major league talent and the expectation is that he will help control the run game and pressure the interior of the pocket, especially against New England."
"While the front is solid, DEs Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon are maybe the most underrated pair of pass rushers in the league, the linebackers are second-rate and someone has to step up at corner opposite of Brent Grimes."
"Offensively, Miami has rebuilt the offensive line in two short years, but lost TE Charles Clay as an unrestricted free agent to Buffalo. He is a significant loss for Tannehill because the Dolphins also shipped WR Mike Wallace to Minnesota and traded for the Saints’ Kenny Stills."
"WR Jarvis Landry was a nice second-round find last year out of LSU and caught 84 passes as a rookie, but the hope is that first-round pick DeVante Parker can become the complete receiver Tannehill has lacked in his early career."
"TE Jordan Cameron was added from the Browns, but he’s had documented concussion issues despite being a quality receiving target... None of their RBs scare anybody, so Boise State product Jay Ajayi could get on the field right away despite a knee issue that deflated his draft stock.”
“After ten years of tantalizing frustration, the Patriots finally pushed through for their fourth Belichick-Brady Super Bowl title and you get the sense that they are enjoying this one unlike any before. With those two at the helm, everyone else seems to respond and play above themselves."
"Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell complement each other well and became reliable targets in conjunction with TE Rob Gronkowski. It remains to be seen if Aaron Dobson can become a player, but with their offensive line in need of interior help, they added Florida State OG Tre' Jackson and Georgia Tech OG Shaq Mason in the fourth round of the draft."
"The Pats face three formidable fronts within the division as all of their opponents want to attack the base of the pocket and make Tom Brady move off his spot."
"LeGarrette Blount will miss the opener with a personal conduct policy suspension and they let Shane Vereen depart in free agency, but Travaris Cadet was signed from the Saints and there is great hope for James White to become a factor in 2015."
"NE has gotten amazing mileage out of their linebacker corps in the absence of Jerod Mayo over the past two years."
"Jamie Collins is the most versatile piece of their defensive strategy and has become a top player at his position."
"Dont'a Hightower is finally playing to his potential and reminds you of a 1980s New York Giants’ linebacker."
"Rob Ninkovich has thrived in New England because of his motor, technique and scheme fit."
"They did not exercise the Darrelle Revis option and Brandon Browner signed with the Saints, but they didn’t address the position during the offseason, so Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, Bradley Fletcher and Robert McClain are the current top four cornerbacks."
"Devin McCourty was retained as was Patrick Chung, so they are set at safety."
"One of their iconic figures in DT Vince Wilfork was allowed to walk (he went to Houston), but rarely have older players found the same kind of success elsewhere and the Pats are well-equipped to handle his loss with Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga providing some girth up front along with their past two first-round choices, Florida DT Dominique Easley and Texas DT Malcom Brown."
“After sweeping out GM John Idzik and head coach Rex Ryan, the Jets embarked on a cumbersome search for new leadership. Longtime NFL executive Charley Casserly was instrumental in the selection of his former understudy Mike Maccagnan as GM and Todd Bowles as the new coach."
"In an odd twist, both should send thank you notes to Idzik for leaving plenty of cap space, because the Jets have been as active as any team in this offseason."
"Defensively, they brought back the cornerback tandem of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, plus signed Buster Skrine from Cleveland and safety Marcus Gilchrist from San Diego. Those moves speak volumes about their faith in former first-round pick Dee Milliner as he now sits as the fourth cornerback and appears to be on the outside of their secondary plans."
"The front seven should be very good again with Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and emerging LB Demario Davis as the primary playmakers up front." Editor's note: Sheldon Richardson will miss the first four games due to a suspension.
"And despite the defensive line being the strongest unit on their team, give Maccagnan credit for taking the ‘best available’ player in USC DE Leonard Williams who fell in their laps at pick No. 6."
"The fact remains that Geno Smith is the biggest unknown on this football team, and the new regime drafted an excellent developmental candidate in Baylor’s Bryce Petty... They traded for WR Brandon Marshall who will play for his fourth team in ten years. In spite of his career production, it’s hard to predict how this chapter will play out."
"The OL should be steady with James Carpenter being brought in from Seattle, but D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold have played their best football in the past."
"The Jets need Jace Amaro to step up as a second-year pro, because Jeff Cumberland is really just average."
"Stevan Ridley arrives from New England with a surgically repaired knee, but if healthy, he should bolster their backfield-by-committee, which also included a draft-weekend trade for the Rams’ Zac Stacy."
"Everything truly hinges on the QB play and what new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey can create with a bottom half of the league group of skill players.”
The college football fan of 2015 has unprecedented access to their favorite programs. Three major conferences operate their own television networks. Most athletic programs have in-house video content on their web sites.
There’s one area, though, where we’d like to see college teams take a cue from HBO and NFL Films. Every season, HBO provides an inside look at training camp for one NFL team. On Tuesday, the 10th season of Hard Knocks premieres with a behind-the-scenes look at the Houston Texans. The series has shown a rarely seen side of the pro game, from the personalities of players to the gut-wrenching process of cutting a player or being cut.
College football, too, should provide plenty of content for a Hard Knocks-style program. Certainly, TV networks and the schools themselves have shown glimpses, but all feel a little sanitized. Here are the schools we’d like to see get the full-on Hard Knocks treatment.
A behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the quarterbacks — the competition and the chemistry — would be compelling on its own, but Ohio State’s preseason preparation will be so much more. Whether he’s the starting quarterback or not, Cardale Jones is one of the more interesting players — or at least Tweeters — in the sport. Braxton Miller is a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year moving from quarterback to H-back. Sophomore linebacker Darron Lee is a character. Defensive end Joey Bosa might be the best player in the country at any position. And this group seems to genuinely like each other. Plus there’s all the defending national champion/preseason No. 1 drama. No team’s preseason camp will be more interesting.
For the second consecutive season, coach Nick Saban has mentioned that chemistry and/or leadership was lacking as the Crimson Tide fell short of a national championship. Oh, the horror, of simply winning the SEC and entering the College Football Playoff as the No. 1 seed. The standards are different at Alabama, and it will be curious how the Tide respond to Saban’s concerns in the ultra-competitive SEC West. Any insight into the quarterback situation would be worth monitoring as Jacob Coker makes a second bid for the starting job, this time against redshirt freshman David Cornwell. Lane Kiffin worked wonders with this offense last season, but Amari Cooper may have had something to do with the unit’s newfound explosiveness.
No SEC coach is having more fun than Bret Bielema. With Steve Spurrier getting all defensive this week, Bielema seems like the only SEC coach having any fun. He’s self-deprecating. He has colorful ways to describe gratifying kneel downs in bowl games. His goal is to make offensive linemen famous. And he cooks. In a league where most coaches take themselves too seriously, Bielema’s freewheeling attitude is refreshing. Have we mentioned this is a team that’s on the cusp of big things after winning four of the last six last season? This is a great time to join the ride.
A trip inside the world of Les Miles would be compelling TV in any season, no question. This season at LSU is particularly interesting. The Tigers slipped a spot down the SEC standings for the fourth consecutive season, and there’s an idea that LSU is out of excuses. The defense should be back to its normal depth and talent levels, particularly with Ed Orgeron whipping the defensive line into shape. Running back Leonard Fournette is a budding star. The question, as always, is quarterback. The SEC West isn’t getting easier, and LSU will be under pressure to turn the momentum.
With the way Jim Harbaugh has attacked this offseason, perhaps a look at preseason practice in Ann Arbor will be a let down. Harbaugh is a challenging figure with the media, but he’s at home coaching football. And at Michigan, he has a lot of work to do on the offensive side of the ball, starting with a crowded quarterback position. No coach wants to deal with off-field issues, but if a player has to describe a petty theft to the head coach, we wouldn’t complain.
The Seminoles have lost one game during the last two seasons, but the offseason narrative seems to be what’s gone wrong in Tallahassee. Only months after the Jameis Winston era (Saga? Drama?) ended, Jimbo Fisher dismissed a freshman quarterback for hitting a woman in a bar, and is watching for his star running back face his own allegations of violence toward women. Major actions are already being taken internally. Fisher says his team decided as a group to ban themselves from bars and clubs. And while FSU tries to improve its off-field image, the Seminoles still fashion themselves a playoff contender — and one with a transfer quarterback (Everett Golson) trying to pick up a complicated offense in short order.
Art Briles is in an interesting place. His program is on top of the Big 12. Baylor has become something of an “it” program with an exciting offense, new stadium and eye-catching uniforms. Briles can also claim underdog status, all of it in his own Texas-spun way. And that’s just the coach. Shawn Oakman is an outspoken personality even if he doesn’t know the name any of his competitors for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. And he already owns a python and plans to own an octopus some day. LaQuan McGowan is a 400-pound touchdown machine. And Seth Russell is stepping into a quarterback position where Robert Griffin III and Bryce Petty have thrived.
The Nittany Lions are going in the right direction in the second season under James Franklin. The question is how much improvement Penn State can make in one season. The two big questions are the offensive line, which happens to be coached by a man who was making his TV debut on Chopped this time last season. The other question is Christian Hackenberg’s headspace. The frustrations boiled over at times last season. Some of that had to do with the offensive line, a new coaching staff and untested receivers. But he is a high-level NFL prospect who needs a bounce-back year.
The Bruins have 10 returning starters on offense. The 11th starter could be the top freshman quarterback prospect or the 22-year-old son of the previous coach. And have we mentioned that this is a school where a rap mogul got into a tiff with the strength coach?
The Volunteers are on the cusp of returning to relevance in the SEC, and there’s nothing quite like watching a program making a long-awaited leap. Just ask Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Arkansas last season. The Josh Dobbs-is-an-aerospace-engineering major is dangerously close to being the SEC cliché of the year, but it’s still a compelling storyline. Linebacker Derek Barnett may be the best defensive player in the conference, and coach Butch Jones is already a rock star in Knoxville.
Hugh Freeze probably isn’t in as a great a mood as he should be even though his program is in the middle of a steady ascent. For one, his program is still smarting from a 42-3 bowl loss to TCU. His projected starting quarterback is looking to “change his story” after a short, but troubled tenure at Clemson. His most explosive wide receiver is recovering from a devastating broken leg. And his top offensive tackle is embroiled in NCAA questions after an altercation with his stepfather. That's a formula for some preseason intrigue in Oxford.
It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
Big 12 Coaches Anonymously Scout Conference Foes
“They always seem to have not one, but three receivers. They always have a good running back. And their trigger man has been a guy who can run that offense.”
“Their issue has been defense. I don’t know if they’ll be much better this year. That always seems to be the thing that holds them back.”
“Art Briles has transformed the whole perception of that program. They were once great under Grant Teaff, then they hit a bump and lost sort of their tradition and the shine on the program. Art has brought them back with really good recruiting and great relationships with high school coaches and a system that works at a place like that.”
“You look traditionally at defenses that pair up with that style of offense, they don’t match up well at times. Then when you get to a power team, you haven’t seen it in the spring or the summer and it can get you. There’s some disadvantages in that. You’ve got to build yourself in this league to play, basically, five corners. Then you come up against somebody who wants to run the ball and you’ve got to change your mindset. It’s not easy to do it.”
“For seven or eight years now, I keep saying, ‘Oh good, they’re going to lose so-and-so at quarterback.’ Then all of a sudden the next guy comes in and breaks all the records. (Robert) Griffin, (Nick) Florence after him, and then Bryce Petty. The new quarterback isn’t bad, either.”
“They have a tremendous supporting cast. Scheme-wise, they spread the field and their athleticism at wideout and running back is where they’ve gotten better over the years.”
Related: Big 12 2015 Predictions
“They never seem to give up, no matter what their record is. They’re tough and disciplined. They always seem to have a playmaker, good linebackers. They’re solid in the kicking game.”
“Recruiting is difficult for them. They go all over to find kids and they don’t get the first pick, obviously. They have to go get some kids from Florida and obviously get into Texas. Not a lot of players in their backyard. It’s tough.”
“I thought schematically, what Mark Mangino does, he’s so good at studying the opponent and tweaking what he does week to week to move the ball.”
“The quarterback, Sam Richardson, is a guy who’s proven he can move the ball.”
“They’ve had a missing piece as far as a big-time playmaker. With Quenton Bundrage and Allen Lazard, they’ve got a chance to be better in that area. Those guys are talented.”
“If they lose (Luke) Knott, who’s been injured, that’ll be tough. To lose an experienced linebacker like that would be a blow. Depth is always a concern for them anyway, so a couple of injuries can really affect their team.”
“Not very often are they just blown out on the field.”
“The tough thing about them is when you play them in Ames, they’ve got an attitude about them and there’s a mystique. The crowd gets into it and they really support them. They’re different up there.”
Related: Big 12 Breakout Players for 2015
“I definitely think there will be excitement in the program. I think David Beaty brings excitement with his approach. He’s hired a bunch of young coaches who coach enthusiastically and with excitement.”
“They have a junior college resource right there in state that is probably as good as any junior college situation in the country. Maybe they can lean on that.”
“They’ve just got to create more consistency. They’ll have a skill guy here and there, but they never have a lot of them. Still, they’re not that far removed from going to the Orange Bowl, so it can be done.”
“They have to get rid of that basketball stigma and approach football with a different attitude, which I believe David will bring.”
“David knows Kansas. I don’t think he’ll complain about what they don’t have. I think he’ll buy into just making it work with what they have.”
“They’ve gone heavily into the junior college recruiting route recently, and sometimes those kids pan out better their second year. They might have some guys sitting in the wings that not many people know about, who could make a big improvement from their first year to their second.”
“They have some interesting guys at quarterback, guys with some skills, but I’m not sure either of the two are premium guys. And it takes a premium player at that position in this league.”
“Keeping Clint Bowen as defensive coordinator was smart. They’ve been pretty good on that side of the ball, and he’s a big part of that.”
“Two words: Bill Snyder. They’re the most well-prepared, well-disciplined team we play all year. We say the same thing every year, but he’s amazing. It’s incredible what he’s done since he came back (out of retirement).”
“They always seem to find a skill guy who can hurt you. And they always seem to find a quarterback who can run his system. Now, they have to do that again this year, losing Tyler Lockett and Jake Waters, but I always expect them to plug their holes.”
“Offense, defense, special teams, they don’t hurt themselves. When they play ‘perfect football,’ you’ve got to match them, or else every mistake is going to cost you in the game. I think they sort of grind you out until you make a mistake.”
“Kansas State was probably the most physical game we played last year. That’s sort of who they are every year. And you better be ready to get after it against them.”
“Thank goodness their quarterback is gone, because he was dynamic. I thought he was really underrated as far as a guy who could make things happen, throwing and scrambling.”
“They’ll be solid. They’ll be sound. And then they’ll be a very tough team. And they’ve got enough back on defense that they should be in every game.”
“Some teams are more aggressive in their schemes — Kansas State isn’t a big blitz team. They don’t bring a lot of pressure. So they might give up some yards. I don’t see them giving up a whole lot of explosive plays, though. So you have to really earn what you get on offense.”
Related: Big 12 Quarterback Rankings for 2015
“I think what Bob Stoops has done with the staff is try to create a new identity. It comes down to this offense being successful, not only in this league but across the country. Going that route, I think he’s going to restore excitement.”
“They were thin at receiver and they’ll have to be better there.”
“I don’t know who’s going to be the quarterback. And that’s a question mark. But they obviously have great running backs.”
“It’s hard to fathom them not having a great quarterback, but everybody misses in recruiting at times. And then if you miss on a guy like the quarterback, that can set you back. They’ve always been good at recruiting skill guys.”
“Lincoln Riley will bring an offensive philosophy similar to what Oklahoma State does, West Virginia does, Baylor, TCU. He’s a young coach with a great opportunity to be at a special program. I think he can breathe new excitement into it.”
“I’ve seen East Carolina play and I know the family tree — (Riley’s) not necessarily pigeon-holed into doing exactly what’s been done by Mike Leach and that family. He’s moved the ball against some great defenses. That’s what scares you. Watch what East Carolina did without maybe the talent and the recruits that everybody would say he’s playing against. He’s beaten a lot of those ACC teams that supposedly can recruit better than them. I haven’t looked at the stats, but I doubt there’s been a year where he’s been average on offense. That’s why he’s at OU now.”
“They have to find a quarterback, but they can probably win more games than they lose without throwing it one down, and just handing off to that No. 32 (Samaje Perine).”
“Wow, things really turned for the better for them in a hurry. And that all comes down to the quarterback. The (Mason Rudolph) kid was impressive, getting thrown into the fire late and handling the situation so well. Showed great maturity and calm. He looks like a really good one.”
“They were forced to play a lot of kids last year, and it really showed in some games. They got exposed in spots. But now those guys should benefit from the experience and turn depth into a strength, especially on defense.”
“(Emmanuel) Ogbah is a man. He’s so disruptive on the edge, with great speed and power and athleticism. And I think he’s going to be better after a full year as a starter.”
“They lost two really solid and underrated inside guys on the defensive line (James Castleman and Ofa Hautau). That’s not easy to replace, and it’ll be a big question mark going into the season.”
“(Brandon) Sheperd is a hoss when he’s really locked in. But he can drift, too. He was a man in the Oklahoma game and in the bowl. He could be their next stud at wideout, if he figures it all out.”
“They’ve always prided themselves on balance, but the running game was pretty ordinary last year. O-line improvements should help, but is there a game-breaker back there? They’ll be counting on the junior college kid (Chris Carson) to provide some juice.”
“They really miss Tyreek Hill, as much on special teams and for what he did to defenses as his production. You had to be aware of him at all times.”
Related: Big 12 Predictions for 2015
“They’re very skilled. Very well-coached. You can’t say enough about their skill guys. And with everybody coming back, the coaching staff coming back, there’s continuity there on the staff and on offense.”
“Anytime Gary Patterson is involved on defense, they’re going to be good. They’ve lost a lot on defense, but I see them not losing a step.”
“(Trevone) Boykin can be even better. The second year in the system, I’m sure (Doug) Meacham has learned what he can and can’t do and will tailor the game plan to what he does best. He was a completely different quarterback a year ago.”
“Right now, if you go down the schedule, you’d say they’re favored in every game. Now, that doesn’t mean anything now, other than they’re really talented and figure to be the solid favorite in the league. They still have to go out and do it. But they’re capable.”
“In the second year of Meacham’s offense, you don’t see them doing anything but getting better. And that’s scary.”
“They’ll have some tricky road games, at some tough places to play. But they’ve got the program to where that shouldn’t bother them.”
“Their biggest issue will be how they handle success. And how hungry they’re going to stay. That’s the thing you never know about. They rose up last year and had a great year and look like they’ve turned a corner. But you never know.”
“They’ve got the greatest recruiting hotbed in the country. They’ve got tireless workers in recruiting. I just think they’re going to take another step forward.”
“What’s held them back the past couple of years, they’ve gotten commitments early in a kid’s high school career and some of those kids didn’t pan out. And they’ve had some injuries. And some discipline problems where they had to remove some guys from the team. I think it’s a combination of all of that.”
“They could probably contend, because they can fill a few holes and be a lot better.”
“I see a normal progression. Just like Year 2 with players, that next year they’re more mature and they know the expectations, a lot of that same stuff is true for coaches in Year 2. They’re very proud down there. They’re very talented. I don’t think that staff’s going to let them accept mediocrity.”
“They need the quarterback position to develop. Tyrone Swoopes was good at times last year, really good sometimes. But there needs to be consistency. With another year of teaching and watching film and reps, he should get better. And to win a lot of games down there, I don’t think you have to be phenomenal at quarterback. You just have to be reliable.”
“They’ve got some inside receivers who are really good and cause some matchup problems. And the running back is back, and he’s a good one, so they’ve got some talent on offense.”
“This will be what, Kliff Kingsbury’s third year now? I’m sure he’s more comfortable with what he’s doing. And their staff as well. Sometimes it takes some time in transitioning to a new coach and a new system. Kliff has to have time to do that.”
“Defense is the question. They weren’t very good last year. I see that as a weakness.”
“I think the quarterback, Pat Mahomes, he’s a competitor. Last year, I think people saw him as a guy who could do what Kliff wants. I bet this year, he’s really going to give people fits, because he’s seen how people have attacked him, he’ll know where to throw the ball quicker. He can make a play when it’s not there. I was impressed with him last year. Their whole team will be a lot more sound, but he’s going to be the key for them.”
“They’re getting more recruits who fit to their scheme.”
“The defensive coordinator they got from Houston, David Gibbs, he’s highly respected. He does a lot of great things to bother quarterbacks, putting defenders in their eyes.”
“The overall maturity of their team is a question. There’s still youth in some areas.”
“How many dynamic playmakers they have? I’m not so sure. They don’t have as many as other people do, that when a game’s on the line, a guy makes a tremendous play.”
“They lost their quarterback (Clint Trickett) but could really be better there. The (Skyler) Howard kid was good when he got his chance last year. And they’ve got some competition there, too. And Dana Holgorsen knows what to do with good quarterbacks.”
“They’ll need some new receivers, losing two to the NFL. And Kevin White was a monster. He was so good last year, probably the best receiver in the nation. So that’s something to watch, to see if they can find the guys needed to keep that offense humming. They’ve been in this spot before and plugged in replacements. But it’s never automatic.”
“They’re much different and much better in Morgantown. They still have to prove they can go on the road and win big games.”
“They’ll go as far as their defense allows them to go. Speed on that side of the ball has been an issue, although they’ve had a few years now to recruit and build a defense better suited to handle the spread offenses of the league. You would think they will be better.”
“If it’s a close game and they need a kick to win, they’ve got one of the best field-goal guys around in (Josh) Lambert. That kid’s got a big leg. And he’s accurate, too. I don’t want to see him lining up with the game on the line. That is such a luxury to have — a kid who can step up and make a big kick.”
“They’ve got some experience and stability in the secondary, which they haven’t had since they’ve been in the Big 12. (Karl) Joseph is a playmaker back there.”