Articles By Athlon Sports
No. 16 Virginia enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2013-14, sweeping the ACC regular season and tournament titles for the first time in school history. Star guard Joe Harris is gone, but coach Tony Bennett has built a program to last around Malcolm Brogdon and more.
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Virginia arrived on the national scene last season, very much at its own measured pace. After four years of incremental progress under Tony Bennett, the Cavaliers broke through the program’s longtime ceiling, winning the ACC regular-season title outright for the first time in 33 years, the conference tourney for the first time in 38 and advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time since 1995.
It was validation of Bennett’s methodical approach, both on and off the court, and he was rewarded with a contract extension through 2021. It further solidifies him as a long-haul sort of guy, who never wavered from his principles, despite multiple player defections and criticism that Virginia’s deliberate style of play is not exciting.
“You have a vision when you take the job,” he told Virginiasports.com. “You kind of have a plan in place. You hope that if things progress or go as you envision, you’ll have a chance to touch those special things: conference championships, tournament championships, deep runs in the NCAA Tournament, ultimately a chance at a national championship. That’s always the ultimate goal. But until you get close to it and knock on the door to it, you always wonder, ‘Can we?’ But (2013-14) just validates that it is possible.”
Indeed, with three starters and seven of its top nine scorers back, Virginia should be in the hunt in the ACC once again. Bennett must replace sharp-shooting Joe Harris and the dependable Akil Mitchell, but there’s no shortage of depth and talent in a program that has established a firm identity and looks to be on solid footing for years to come.
No. 16 Virginia Facts & Figures
Last season: 30-7, 16-2 ACC
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
Consecutive NCAAs: 1
Coach: Tony Bennett (106-60 overall, 48-36 ACC)
ACC Projection: Fourth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Sweet 16
Even with graduation of Mitchell, a stalwart defender and rebounder who epitomized Virginia’s team-first approach, the Cavaliers have size, depth and experience up front.
The man in the middle is 6-11 Mike Tobey, who has shown flashes of ability as a low-post scorer and will be counted on for more consistency now that he’s an upperclassman.
“When you go from being an underclassman to an upperclassman, now you’re without excuse, we like to say,” Bennett says.
Also in that category is junior Anthony Gill, who provided a shot of physicality and aggressiveness off the bench last season. Gill, who began his career at South Carolina, should move into the starting lineup. A versatile scorer, he’ll be able to show more of the skills that he demonstrated while averaging 12.7 points in the ACC Tournament.
Darion Atkins, who was lost in the shuffle at times last year, should get more playing time, particularly if he can do some of the dirty work Mitchell was so good at. Evan Nolte is a perimeter sniper. For freshmen Jack Salt and Isaiah Wilkins and Marial Shayok, playing time will depend on their ability to pick up Bennett’s non-negotiable defensive principles.
No one puts up eye-popping numbers in Virginia’s share-the-wealth system, and that is the primary reason Malcolm Brogdon failed to earn All-ACC numbers. Make no mistake, though, the versatile guard was the most valuable player on the league’s best team. He’s also making the turn from underclassman to veteran, and should be one of the conference’s top performers.
Point guard London Perrantes was a freshman find. Teammates dubbed the Los Angeles product “Cali Swag” for his cool, steady floor generalship. Justin Anderson, voted the conference’s Sixth Man of the Year, is capable of getting up and down with the best of them when Virginia lets its hair down in transition. Devon Hall, coming off a redshirt season, should be ready to back up Perrantes.
As in the frontcourt, Virginia is loaded.
The bar has been raised at Virginia. Winning the ACC, earning a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and taking Michigan State to the brink in a Sweet 16 game has changed perceptions of what’s possible, and not just for fans.
Last year proved that if things go well, big goals are “not as far away as you think,” Bennett says.
Bennett’s system remains an acquired taste. The Cavaliers make the extra pass — or three — and they played at the nation’s sixth-slowest tempo last season. The selflessness and commitment to defense that Bennett requires of players is not for everybody.
It’s hard to argue with the results, though, and last year’s success has only left players and fans wanting more.
The Cavaliers may not have the ACC’s top class, but they might have its most pedigreed. Isaiah Wilkins, the Gatorade Player of the Year in Georgia, is the son of Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins. Guard B.J. Stith is the son of Bryant Stith, who is Virginia’s all-time leading scorer and played 10 years in the NBA. Jack Salt brings a reputation for physical play. Marial Shayok originally signed with Marquette.
No. 17 Colorado is enjoying the best era of basketball in program history. Tad Boyle has led the Buffaloes to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments and four consecutive postseason appearances despite an injury to their top player a year ago. Colorado has managed to recover from injuries and major departures, and the Buffs, when healthy, should be in Pac-12 contention.
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The Buffs advanced to their third consecutive NCAA Tournament and fourth consecutive postseason — but the season felt like it ended in January.
When point guard Spencer Dinwiddie went down with a torn ACL and freshman guard Tre’Shaun Fletcher suffered a sprained knee —both in the same game at Washington on Jan. 12 — it was obvious the Buffs weren’t going to go as far as they hoped.
Tad Boyle managed to rally his young team to a to a tie for third place in the Pac-12 and a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Buffs played poorly in their only postseason game and were ousted with ease by Pittsburgh.
Dinwiddie bolted for the NBA to no one’s surprise, but the remainder of the team returns. This will be Boyle’s deepest and most talented team from top to bottom even if it lacks that one true star in the mold of Dinwiddie, Andre Roberson or Alec Burks.
For the second consecutive season, CU will have legitimate goals of contending for a Pac-12 title and advancing to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. That’s the next big step for a program that has significantly raised the expectations of its fan base since Boyle was hired.
No. 17 Colorado Facts & Figures
Last season: 23-12, 10-8 Pac-12
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAAs: 3
Coach: Tad Boyle (92-49 overall, 39-31 Pac-12)
Pac-12 Projection: Second
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
Forward Josh Scott is expected to be one of the elite big men in the the nation in his junior season after a sophomore campaign in which he averaged 14.1 points and 8.4 rebounds. He has produced 15 double-doubles in his first two college seasons combined with the majority coming last year. Scott made 51.1 percent of his shots and knocked down 81 percent of his free throw attempts. The area in which he must improve is handling double teams and passing out of them.
The program is hoping for a jump in production from sophomore Wesley Gordon, who is one of the most athletic players on the team. Gordon started 27 games last season but wasn’t much of an offensive threat. He averaged 5.9 points per game and shot under 50 percent from the floor.
The addition of 6-9 freshman Tory Miller will boost depth in the post. Boyle describes Miller as “physically ready to play at this level.” Junior Xavier Johnson and sophomore Dustin Thomas are the only other players on the roster who are capable of providing minutes inside, though both generally play on the wing.
Senior guard Askia Booker has the opportunity to become the first player in CU history to play in the NCAA Tournament in all four years of his career. He started every game the past two seasons. Booker improved as a decision-maker as a junior, but he still has a tendency to try to do too much, and he’s not a consistent enough shooter to take chances. He made only 37-of-136 3-point attempts as a junior.
Boyle calls Fletcher the X-factor because he was developing nicely in the first two months of his freshman season before his injury. “He never really kind of got back in the flow and never really got back in the rotation cause he came back so late,” Boyle says. “He has great length and great size. He can put the ball on the floor. He can shoot it. He’s got a chance to really make an impact on this team.”
Point guards Xavier Talton and Jaron Hopkins averaged more than 18 minutes per game last season. The hope is one takes control of that job this season to allow Booker to play his role as a shooter and freshman Dominique Collier to ease into the college game.
Both Talton and Hopkins to approve their assist-to-turnover ratio in a big way. If neither player shows significant improvement, Collier could move into a significant role as a true freshman.
Junior Eli Stalzer and sophomore George King each played in 27 games last season. They add solid depth.
The Buffaloes have the talent an depth to compete for a Pac-12 title. It’s not a team without flaws, however. To make a serious run at Arizona — the overwhelming favorite to win the league — Colorado must identify a primary point guard and improve its shooting from the perimeter.
Guard Dominique Collier comes to Boulder with big expectations after winning the state championship on his future college home court.. CU also landed big man Tory Miller, who should add some physical toughness immediately. He will be asked to rebound and defend first.
There was a time when Robert Griffin III’s future in Washington seemed limitless. In fact, some said he represented the future of the NFL. Like Michael Vick was supposed to be a decade or so earlier, RGIII was to become a new-age quarterback/weapon. The first quarterback who could be truly as dangerous throwing as he was on the run.
His unlimited potential is why the Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to move up to get him with the second pick of the 2012 draft. It’s why he instantly became a favorite of owner Dan Snyder, who even forced coach Mike Shanahan out when he reportedly took RGIII’s side in an internal squabble. It’s why, in his two NFL seasons, so many opposing defenders spoke of him with awe.
But now that RGIII is out with a dislocated ankle – the second major injury of his young career – it’s fair to wonder if he has much of a future at all. The Redskins appear to thrive when the less-mobile, more pocket-oriented Kirk Cousins is under center. And it sure looks like the ‘Skins are at least open to the idea of Cousins permanently taking RGIII’s place at the helm.
“Crazy things have happened in the NFL,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said when asked about that possibility. “I am not going to discount anybody or anything. I am not going to try and pull out a crystal ball and say what is going to happen tomorrow or next week. I know for the next six weeks we are going to concentrate on Kirk as a quarterback. We feel very strongly that he can get the job done.
“Whatever happens after that, I will deal with then.”
Well, imagine this scenario, then. Cousins turns the hapless Redskins into winners and the team thrives in its new offense with a quarterback who plays a more traditional style. Griffin still has “significant” value around the NFL, according to a report in the Washington Post. So could Washington recoup some of its losses in an offseason trade?
It’s certainly possible if RGIII recovers fully from his latest serious injury. And if he does, here are some of the teams that should be knocking at the Redskins’ door:
Tennessee Titans – Jake Locker is in his fourth and what should be his final season with the Titans, who need a fresh start all around. RGIII wouldn’t just jumpstart their offense, he’d give them a huge boost of excitement and energy which they’ve lacked since coach Jeff Fisher left town.
Dallas Cowboys – Jerry Jones regretted not drafting Johnny Manziel about five minutes after the Cowboys passed on him, because he thought Johnny Football would help keep his franchise relevant. Well, RGIII – again, a Texas native – would do the same. And it would give them a future beyond the career of Tony Romo, who is 33.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Josh McCown isn’t a long-term or short-term solution for their problems, and the Lovie Smith regime seems set against handing the ball to young Mike Glennon. They are destined to draft a QB in the first round next spring – possibly with the No. 1 overall pick. They might be able to fix their problems quicker if they get one with experience, like RGIII.
St. Louis Rams – Sam Bradford was once supposed to be their future, but he’s had worse injury luck than Griffin. Now the Rams are stuck with Shaun Hill and Austin Davis and they have to be looking toward their next franchise quarterback. Coach Jeff Fisher once had a lot of success turning a quarterback who liked to run in Steve McNair into a terrific all-around weapon. Maybe with RGIII he could do the same.
New England Patriots – Tom Brady is 37 years old and they don’t yet have a succession plan. Brady said he’s going to play until he stinks, and he’s not close to that yet. RGIII would be a little too high-octane to be a backup, but if any organization can handle that it’s the Bill Belichick machine.
—By Ralph Vacchiano
No. 18 Gonzaga is gearing up for another run beyond an West Coast Conference title and an NCAA Tournament appearance, which has become the standard in 15 seasons under Mark Few. The Zags have brought in a handful of transfers to combine with the veteran inside-out duo of Kevin Pangos and Przemek Karnowski for a program hoping to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009.
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In one of those way-too-early preseason polls released shortly after Connecticut won the NCAA championship in April, Gonzaga checked in at No. 9, and according to coach Mark Few, there’s a possibility that this could be his best team.
On paper, it’s hard to argue, and those who know Few know he’s not prone to hyperbole, particularly when his team is involved.
Two years removed from the program’s first No. 1 ranking and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Zags have assembled a team that looks long on promise and short on weaknesses. The Bulldogs have experience, depth, size, shooters, post-up options and versatility.
No. 18 Gonzaga Facts & Figures
Last season: 29-6, 15-3 West Coast
Postseason: NCAA round of 32
Consecutive NCAAs: 16
Coach: Mark Few (403-100 overall, 193-25 WCC)
WCC Projection: First
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
Przemek Karnowski’s development seems to be right on track. The 7-1 center has made noticeable changes to his body, trimming off pounds while adding strength and endurance. He’s expanded his offensive arsenal and excels at putting opposing bigs in foul trouble. He was a force on defense, swatting 62 shots and, for the most part, doing a better job of avoiding foul trouble himself as the season progressed. He had double-doubles in GU’s two NCAA Tournament games.
Sam Dower Jr., Karnowski’s sidekick last season, has moved on to the professional ranks. Enter Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer, a highly skilled 6-10 forward. He spent last season working with trainer Travis Knight, who helped remodel Kelly Olynyk’s body during a redshirt year prior to his breakout season in 2013. Wiltjer, who came off the bench for Kentucky’s 2012 national championship team, has shooting range beyond the 3-point line, and his added muscle should help him operate in the lane.
Domantas Sabonis, another skilled 6-10 forward, could be the first big off the bench. The 18-year-old Sabonis, son of Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, has held his own against some of the best players in the world.
It’s a much different scenario than last season, when Gonzaga often turned to 6-7 Drew Barham and 6-5 Kyle Dranginis as Dower’s primary backups.
Angel Nunez is another option. The athletic, 6-8 Nunez was eligible for the final two-thirds of last season and made contributions in several games. With a full season in the program and an offseason to develop, Nunez could see more minutes. Seven-footer Ryan Edwards could redshirt or serve as Karnowski’s backup for the second straight year.
Guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. cracked the starting lineup as freshmen, and they’ve been there ever since, combining for 187 starts. Both are career double-figure scorers (Pangos 13.3 ppg, Bell 10.1 ppg) and excellent 3-point shooters (Pangos 40.9 percent, Bell 42.8 precent), and they also do a good job taking care of the basketball.
The two have dealt with a lot of wear and tear on their bodies. Pangos played with toe and ankle injuries from early December through the remainder of the season but didn’t miss a game. Few has called Pangos the toughest kid he’s ever coached. Bell has had offseason surgeries the last two years.
The wing position isn’t as settled, but there are quality options in Kyle Dranginis, USC transfer Byron Wesley and possibly Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan. Dranginis had a solid sophomore season, stepping in as a starter when Bell was sidelined by a broken hand. His versatility was reflected in his stats with averages of 6.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals. Wesley, who is eligible immediately, led USC in scoring (17.8 ppg) and rebounding (6.4 rpg) last season. McClellan, who will be eligible in December, was Vanderbilt’s leading scorer (14.3 ppg) before being dismissed from the team after 12 games.
Gonzaga also has highly regarded incoming freshmen Josh Perkins and Silas Melson.
The Zags are heavy favorites to win their 14th WCC crown in 15 seasons. They have an impressive roster, led by the rock-solid backcourt of Pangos and Bell Jr. and possibly one of the nation’s better frontcourt tandems in Karnowski and Wiltjer. Any of those four players could be considered a WCC Player of the Year candidate, though the team’s balance might overshadow individual honors.
But Gonzaga’s goals extend beyond the WCC. The Zags have played in the NCAAs in 16 straight seasons, and they have the potential to make their stay in this season’s tournament a long one.
Kyle Wiltjer’s knowledge of the game and ability to spread the floor should help his pairing with Przemek Karnowski flourish. Wiltjer’s offseason work in the weight room figures to bring an inside-outside balance to his game. Byron Wesley should have an impact at both ends of the floor, and Eric McClellan could eventually do the same. Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, the backcourt of the future, and the talented Domantas Sabonis figure to have roles in the rotation.
For the early part of the 2014 season, Nick Saban was looking for a quarterback to step up and lead his Alabama team. Blake Sims has done just that.
Sims threw five touchdown passes against Florida on Saturday and amassed 445 yards through the air. And with the convincing 41-21 victory over Florida in Tuscaloosa, Alabama jumped Florida State to take over the No. 1 spot in the Legends Poll Top 8. The Tide received eight of the 14 first-place votes.
Second-ranked Florida State managed to squeak by Clemson in overtime, 23-17, playing at home without star quarterback Jameis Winston. On short notice, backup Sean Maguire was asked to step in due to Winston’s suspension, and Maguire hung tough against a blitz happy Clemson defense. The Seminoles received 5 first-place votes.
Oklahoma notched the other first-place vote and jumped up to the No. 3 after beating West Virginia 45-33 in Morgantown, WV. Freshman RB Samaje Perine rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns in the Big 12 match-up.
Oregon slid two places to No. 4 after a tight win over Washington State, 38-31. Mariota threw for 329 yards and five touchdowns, continuing his Heisman Trophy campaign, despite being sacked seven times.
No. 4 Oregon was followed by Auburn, Texas A&M, and Baylor in the Legends Poll rankings.
No. 8 Notre Dame made its debut in the Legends Poll Top 8 this week, replacing LSU, which was stunned at home by Mississippi State, 34-29, Saturday night.
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
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No. 19 VCU continues to be one of the most consistent programs outside of a major conference with at least 24 wins in the each of the last eight seasons. The Rams are poised for more that simply consistent production with a highly touted signing class and a challenging non-conference schedule.
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Last season was a transition year for VCU as a program. The Rams graduated from a program that could be a national player in the wake of their 2011 Final Four run to a program that is a national player. VCU earned its second straight No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament and was upset by Stephen F. Austin in its opening game. The fact that VCU has moved from underdog to heavyweight is the storyline going into this season.
Coach Shaka Smart adds a top-30 rated recruiting class as he looks to earn his first Atlantic 10 title. That class may provide the kind of depth he desires to wear out the opposition in his havoc style.
“We do what we do, and that’s be an up-tempo team that attacks for all 94 feet,” Smart says. “(The freshmen) can add to our depth, which plays into our style of play and hopefully takes us to another level, to be more successful than last year.”
The Rams will be picked atop the Atlantic 10 not because of the incoming freshmen, but rather for a roster stocked with firepower and aggressiveness. VCU boasts the A-10 preseason Player of the Year in Treveon Graham and defensive menace Briante Weber. The duo meshes with a talented returning cast, adding up to a group that will be a formidable foe every time it steps on the court.
No. 19 VCU Facts & Figures
Last season: 26-9, 12-4 Atlantic 10
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAAs: 4
Coach: Shaka Smart (137-46 at VCU, 62-24 CAA/A-10)
A-10 Projection: First
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
Smart has to replace two-time All-A-10 performer Juvonte Reddic on his frontline. Sophomore Mo Alie-Cox may be the answer. Cox is freakishly built, a muscled 6-6 specimen who resembles a tight end but jumps like a pogo stick. Alie-Cox, who blocked five shots in a March win over Saint Louis, is a rim protector on defense but has a limited (for now) offensive game.
“Our team feeds off of him and the plays he makes,” Smart says, “and we’re excited about his improvement.”
For offensive production on the front line, Smart can turn to 6-9 redshirt freshman Antravious Simmons and his old school back-to-the-basket game or senior Jarred Guest, a spidery 6-8 face-up post player with a 15-foot jumper. Freshmen Mike Gilmore and Justin Tillman will also battle the returnees for playing time. Both carry the skill to make a difference but also need to adjust to the college game.
Graham will also slide down to play the 4 to give VCU a matchup advantage.
Weber has been among the league leaders in steals during his three-year career. He adjusted well to a new position last season, point guard, and enters his senior year a more mature player. “It’s been an ongoing process, but he’s made huge strides,” Smart says, “and we’re excited in terms of Briante as a leader and a winner.” Weber has a steady backup in speedy sophomore JeQuan Lewis.
Melvin Johnson hurt his knee twice last season but can be a lights-out shooter. Johnson hit eight 3s against Virginia Tech and has bought in to the system. Jordan Burgess hit 26 3-pointers in his freshman season and brings a level of toughness to the court that cannot be ignored.
Graham is within range of breaking the school’s all-time scoring record. He can hit the 3 but also earned the nickname Freight Train for his ability to steam down the lane, absorb contact and score.
Terry Larrier, a pure athlete and Smart’s best-ever recruit, will also see significant minutes on the perimeter.
Next season will begin with VCU riding a 20-game home winning streak and with 50 consecutive home sellouts. The Rams also have made the NCAA Tournament a habit, with bids in each of the last four seasons. Over the past 10 years, VCU has 251 wins, which ranks 14th-most in the country over that span.
VCU will be tested in the non-conference this season. Games against Virginia, Villanova, Tennessee and Cincinnati dot a stacked schedule. But for Smart, it isn’t about the opponent. It’s about VCU.
“Our overall team shooting needs to be better. We shot too low a percentage for us from the field,” he says. “But we’re a much-improved shooting team this year, which will make us a higher-scoring team.”
It’s a loaded class for Shaka Smart, led by silky Terry Larrier, rated a consensus top-50 recruit who could make immediate waves. Justin Tillman is explosive at 6-7 and will also challenge for time in the frontcourt. Mike Gilmore has a promising future, and Jonathan Williams is a commanding presence at point guard. Antravious Simmons is a redshirt freshman who can score on the low block.
The Big Ten finally put together a solid weekend as a conference, which means sorting through the box scores for some notable stats was far less of a chore. The big theme of the week seemed to be success in the running game, with two of the top running backs in the country having huge performances. But that was not all to take note of this week around the Big Ten.
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 4 in the Big Ten
12: Number of Big Ten teams to win in Week 4
It may not be quite enough to make up completely for some of the recent struggles throughout the conference, but it was certainly a more enjoyable weekend around the Big Ten for Big Ten fans. That is, of course, except for those in Ann Arbor. The only two Big Ten teams not to win this weekend were Michigan and Ohio State. The Buckeyes get a pass after having a bye week. Michigan, though…
756: Total offensive yards for Wisconsin against Bowling Green
Wisconsin’s offense had a field day against visiting Bowling Green. The Badgers were led by running back Melvin Gordon (more on him in a moment) as Wisconsin piled up 644 rushing yards. The total offensive yardage compiled by Wisconsin was more total offensive yards than six different FBS teams had compiled all season heading into the weekend (Vanderbilt, Eastern Michigan, North Texas, Wake Forest, Kent State and SMU).
19.5: Average rushing yards per carry for Melvin Gordon
If you forgot just how good Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon could be, his performance against Bowling Green should serve as a gentle reminder. Gordon rushed for career highs of 253 yards and five touchdowns, averaging an astounding 19.5 yards per rushing attempt. As a team, Wisconsin averaged 10.7 yards per rushing attempt against the defending MAC champions.
482: Combined rushing yards for Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah
With Wisconsin’s Gordon rushing for a career-high 253 yards against Bowling Green, the challenge was set for Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah to try and keep up. Abdullah may have come up shy of matching Gordon’s rushing total, but with Abdullah's 229 yards and two touchdowns in a win against Miami, the Big Ten’s top two running backs combined for 482 yards and seven touchdowns on Saturday. That combined rushing yardage total is more than 39 FBS schools have rushed for, and the combined touchdown total is more than 41 FBS schools have recorded this season.
5: Rushing touchdowns for Penn State against UMass
One part of Penn State’s game that has struggled to get on track in the first month of the season has been the running game. Against UMass the Nittany Lions finally found some traction. Entering the game Penn State had just two rushing touchdowns in the first three games of the season. Against UMass the Nittany Lions entered the end zone five times on the ground. Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak each had two, and Akeel Lynch added a fifth.
1: Third-down conversion allowed by Michigan State to Eastern Michigan
The game figured to be a mismatch between the Spartans and Eagles, but the complete domination by Michigan State at home was quite an exhibition in defensive supremacy. Michigan State allowed just one third-down conversion out of 13 to visiting Eastern Michigan. The Spartans allowed only 135 yards, most of that coming in garbage time with Michigan State blowing away the Eagles, 73-14. Michigan State controlled the football for 42 minutes, 41 seconds.
1: Third down conversion by Indiana in a win at Missouri
Everything Indiana did in winning at Missouri seemed to go against the grain for the Hoosiers. The defense actually came up with some key plays, and the Hoosiers managed to convert just one third down conversion out of 14. Normally winning on the road requires converting third downs but somehow Indiana managed to escape with converting just one (although Indiana was 2-fr-2 on fourth down conversion attempts).
3: Rushing yards allowed by Penn State against UMass
Penn State’s defense also had a relatively easy afternoon against an overpowered opponent at home. The Penn State defensive line never allowed the Minutemen to get going on the ground and the defense stuffed quarterback Blake Frohnapfel for a loss of 31 yards to limit the UMass ground game to just three yards.
5.6: Michigan quarterback Shane Morris’s QBR rating
If you thought all Michigan head coach Brady Hoke needed to do was change quarterbacks to find a spark on offense, perhaps you were wrong. Morris replaced starter Devin Gardner following a lengthy weather delay at home against Utah, with the Utes in full control. Morris had a very rough go of things, completing four of 13 passes for 42 yards and throwing one interception.
5: Number of first downs allowed and quarterbacks played by Michigan State
Going back to Michigan State’s pure dominance against Eastern Michigan, the Spartans only allowed five first downs to the Eagles. That number also matched the number of quarterbacks the Spartans used during the course of the game. Connor Cook received a nice early exit, giving way to Damion Terry and Tyler O’Connor. Eventually the Spartans were able to give walk-ons Tommy Vento and Paul Andrie some playing time as well.
No. 20 Ohio State enters 2014-15 without trusty point guard Aaron Craft. Thad Matta, as usual, has a plan with players like Shannon Scott and transfer Anthony Lee ready to take the next step for a Big Ten contender.
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To say that Thad Matta has given Ohio State 10 good years is to give short shrift to a Hall of Famer in waiting. He never gets labeled as the premier coach in the business, but the solid work and successful seasons roll on. Matta has racked up five Big Ten titles and a sparkling postseason record that includes four league tournament championships and a pair of appearances in the Final Four.
Still, OSU’s latest effort showed that even the elite programs are not immune to a subpar season.
The Buckeyes fell out of league contention and were dumped in their NCAA Tournament opener for just the third time in program history. Adding insult was the fact that the season-ending loss came at the hands of in-state foe Dayton.
Regaining some mojo won’t be easy with catalyst and defensive pest Aaron Craft among OSU’s three departed starters. Still, Matta knows how to reload and find lofty results.
“When I came here, our goal was to try to build a top-10 college basketball program — not that you’re going to win the thing every year but be in the hunt,” the coach says.
No. 20 Ohio State Facts & Figures
Last season: 25-10, 10-8 Big Ten
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAAs: 6
Coach: Thad Matta (275-83 at Ohio State, 121-53 Big Ten)
Big Ten Projection: Fourth
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
Amir Williams and Trey McDonald are seniors, but Matta has bolstered the interior both in the short term and for the future. Along with landing in-state prospect David Bell and accepting a transfer from former Virginia Tech center Trevor Thompson, the Buckeyes have welcomed senior Anthony Lee, a sturdy 6’9’’ graduate transfer from Temple who figures to be an immediate top option in the post.
Williams and McDonald were largely ineffective last season, combining for less than 10 points and eight rebounds per game. Lee should approach that productivity by himself. He averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds at Temple last season; the latter figure led the American Athletic Conference.
The 6’11” Thompson will have to sit out this season but the coaches are excited to have an athletic big man who showed flashes last season — like when he scored 15 points at Duke. He will have three years of eligibility.
Newcomer Keita Bates-Diop is a skilled combo forward who should help OSU on both ends of the court. The similarly built Marc Loving also shows promise, but he hit the freshman wall last season with eight scoreless games in February and March combined.
Despite his 6’4” frame, freshman Jae’Sean Tate is a junkyard dog capable of fitting in at forward. He’s a willing defender who has a knack for tracking down rebounds and loose balls.
The senior sendoff for Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. was both a joyous occasion and sad reminder that the program would have to move on without two proven warriors. They set the defensive tone and won at a high rate, even for the Matta era.
Fortunately, Shannon Scott will be comfortable taking over full-time duties at point guard, Sam Thompson could be ready for an all-league senior season on the wing, and the Buckeyes are blessed with two dynamic young talents at shooting guard in freshmen D’Angelo Russell and Kam Williams.
Scott’s numbers from last season, projected over 40 minutes, basically mirror Craft’s. Plus, he is a two-time member of the Big Ten All-Defensive Team. OSU’s leading returning scorer (7.9 ppg last season), Thompson also is a topflight defender and premier athlete. He isn’t likely to double his point production and replace LaQuinton Ross’ output, but he is capable of becoming a consistent double-figure scorer.
Williams was slowed by mononucleosis in preseason camp and ended up sitting out last season. Still, those who observed practice believe he could be an instant factor. Russell, meanwhile, may be the key to the entire campaign. The Louisville native won a national title at the prep level last spring and appears to be just the type of alpha male this team needs.
The Buckeyes are an interesting collection of talent. Matta’s roster is devoid of superstars — at least at the moment — but is deeper and more dangerous-looking than a year ago. Plus, Ohio State should be hungrier after a rare flameout in the NCAA Tournament. Thompson and Scott must embrace leadership, Lee needs to be a board-eater, and someone else, most likely Russell, has to show he can make winning plays. If it all falls in place, watch out.
Anthony Lee is a pest on the boards who often gets to the foul line because of his activity. He’s already slotted in at power forward. A smooth lefty, D’Angelo Russell just needs to show his skills translate. Keita Bates-Diop can shoot and pass effectively for his size and should fit OSU’s system. Jae’Sean Tate is a scrapper worthy of a role, while David Bell is a project who is likely to redshirt.
No. 21 Stanford enters 2014-15 after its first NCAA Tournament appearance in six years seasons, a run that resulted in an upset of Kansas and a trip to the Sweet 16. The Cardinal follows that with a veteran core and standout signing class that could keep Stanford in the NCAA conversation.
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The pressure is off coach Johnny Dawkins and his Cardinal, but the bar is now set higher. Dawkins’ future with Stanford was in question throughout his sixth season until a late run gave the program its first NCAA Tournament bid during his tenure. An upset victory over Kansas advanced the Cardinal into the Sweet 16 and gave fans a reason to expect an encore performance.
“It benefits us going forward because we’re returning three guys who were part of a really good run at the end of the year, guys who have accomplished things,” Dawkins says. “That’s a big part of us going forward.”
Stanford returns three starters, including senior guard Chasson Randle, but must find replacements at forward for NBA Draft picks Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis, who combined for 43 percent of the team’s rebounding total.
Even before being given a contract extension, Dawkins had landed a recruiting class that ranks among the nation’s top 20. That group will merge with the returnees to create a roster that should compete for a return trip to the NCAAs.
No. 21 Stanford Facts & Figures
Last season: 23-13, 10-8 Pac-12
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
Consecutive NCAAs: 1
Coach: Johnny Dawkins (117-87 at Stanford, 49-59 Pac-12)
Pac-12 Projection: Third
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
Senior center Stefan Nastic returns after an unexpected late-season surge in which he averaged 11.7 points in three NCAA games and shot a stunning 87.1 percent (27-for-31) from the field over the team’s final seven outings. “He really had a presence for us, playing with passion and intensity,” Dawkins says. “He needs to keep developing offensively and stay out of foul trouble.” Nastic fouled out nine times last season.
Sophomore Rosco Allen, who played one game last season before being shelved by a stress fracture in his foot, will get the chance to win the job at small forward. “We missed his versatility,” Dawkins says. “He has a good feel for the game, the ability to pass the ball. He thinks the game very well.”
A key is freshman power forward Reid Travis, who had a minor arthroscopic procedure on his knee in July but is expected to be fully recovered well before practice begins. “He’s got a heck of a motor,” Dawkins says.
Randle and Anthony Brown give the Cardinal the Pac-12’s most experienced backcourt tandem. Randle has been a starter his entire career and last season produced 16 games of 20 or more points. Dawkins believes he “will be in the conversation” for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Stanford again figures to at least start the season without a true point guard, using Randle to bring the ball up court and then shifting him to the wing. “Chasson is a scorer by nature,” Dawkins says. “We don’t want to take that away from him. We’re going to tweak what we do based on our personnel.”
While Powell was Stanford’s top assist man last season, Dawkins is eager to see what he gets from freshman point Robert Cartwright. “We think he can come in and contribute,” the coach says. “He has the mindset for it.”
Brown, who rebounded nicely last season after missing the 2012-13 campaign with a hip injury, gives Stanford defensive length and a perimeter scoring threat from the wing. He averaged just 6.5 points over the final four games, but Dawkins likes his upside. “He’s had moments where he’s as good as any player at his position in the country,” Dawkins says. “His growth will be in realizing how good he can be and be that player every game.”
Sophomore Marcus Allen (twin of teammate Malcolm but unrelated to Rosco Allen), had a solid freshman campaign as a combo guard and should play an elevated role.
Dawkins has much to replace with the departures of Powell and Huestis, but he has a nice returning nucleus, led by Randle, whose confidence should be at a peak entering the season. Stanford’s strong recruiting class will have to contribute immediately, but there is reason for optimism.
“I think we’re a team that can develop and learn the things we have to do,” says Dawkins, alluding to defense and rebounding in particular. “If we can shore those areas up, I think we can be a tournament-caliber team.”
Returning to the NCAA Tournament is not a make-or-break proposition for Dawkins and his team. But it’s now the expectation, and the Cardinal have enough parts to make a legitimate run at an upper-division Pac-12 finish and another NCAA bid.
Power forward Reid Travis, a McDonald’s All-American, is physically mature enough at 6-8, 240 pounds to immediately step into the lineup. Johnny Dawkins says Travis’ offensive game is more developed at the same stage than former Cardinal star Mark Madsen. Robert Cartwright, the team’s only true point guard, will get the chance to play early. Forward Michael Humphrey needs to add strength to his length.
The reality in the NFL is that teams generally can’t afford slow starts. Unlike in other sports, there just aren’t enough games to absorb an early stumble. The percentage of teams that lose their opener and go on to make the playoffs is low. It’s exponentially lower for 0-2 teams, and the odds are virtually non-existent at 0-3.
So there are seven teams, all 0-2, on the dangerous hot seat as they head into a “must-win” Week 3 showdown against somebody. Most of them probably already have no shot at making the playoffs. Anyone that loses next week definitely won’t.
So of the seven two-time losers, who has the best shot at pulling off a stunning turnaround and salvaging their season? Here’s a look at their chances in order of most likely to save their season all the way down to most likely to already be done:
New Orleans Saints (Next up: vs. Minnesota Vikings) – They were victimized by two surprising collapses and some shockingly bad performances by their once-respected defense. But it’s important to remember that both their first two losses were on the road (at Atlanta, at Cleveland). They still have the ability to score in bunches (they are 2nd in the NFL with 29 points per game and 3rd with 434.5 yards) and they still have all-pro quarterback Drew Brees and an assortment of weapons. Their return to the Superdome to face a Vikings team reeling from the Adrian Peterson mess should be one of the easiest bets of the year, and don’t be surprised if the Saints take off from there.
Indianapolis Colts (Next up: at Jacksonville Jaguars) – Whom did the Colts anger in the NFL office that they drew an opening game at Denver and a Week 2 game against the Philadelphia Eagles? That immediately put their thin defense, their powerful offense, and their come-from-behind abilities to the test. They nearly did pull things out in Denver, falling by a touchdown, and their defense coughed up the game against the Eagles. The Jaguars, Ravens and Texans are next, which should give Andrew Luck and his team a chance to get right back on track.
New York Giants (Next up: vs. Houston Texans) – They have looked absolutely terrible in the first two games, on offense and on defense. But here’s the thing: They spent $116 million in the offseason to improve the roster and they brought in a whole new offensive coaching staff. They are destined to be better than they were last year, but putting all the pieces together will take time. They don’t have that, of course, but they’ll buy themselves some if they can beat the Texans at home on Sunday. Eli Manning and the offense showed signs of life in a loss to Arizona, and in theory it will only get better from there.
Kansas City Chiefs (Next up: at Miami Dolphins) – Their offensive line has been terrible and their already shaky offense has paid the price, and that was before the loss of running back Jamaal Charles. And really, this was coming last season when the Chiefs faded as bad as anyone down the stretch. The problem now is the schedule does them no favors. The Dolphins look pretty good, they play the Patriots, then at San Francisco, then at San Diego. They may be the best of the remaining 0-2 teams, but forget about them turning this around during a stretch like that.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Next up: at Atlanta Falcons) – You were expecting more out of a Josh McCown led offense on a team where Jonathan Martin gets just nine carries in two games. Lovie Smith took over a rebuilding project in Tampa and it’s obviously going to take some time. Last week’s game against St. Louis was his best opportunity to get an early win. Now the Bucs hit the road for a three-game trip against the Falcons, Steelers and Saints? They just don’t have the horses on either side of the ball to keep up.
Oakland Raiders (Next up: at New England Patriots) – They had to know there were always going to be growing pains the moment they made a late switch to rookie quarterback Derek Carr. At that moment, the Raiders season ceased being about this year and started focusing on 2015. And back-to-back losses to two beatable opponents – the Jets and Texans – only cemented that fact. It won’t get any easier in future weeks with the Patriots, Dolphins, Chargers and Cardinals up next in order. And don’t forget they still have a home-and-away looming with the Denver Broncos, too.
Jacksonville Jaguars (Next up: vs. Indianapolis Colts) - There was a moment in their opener, when they led 17-0 at halftime against the Philadelphia Eagles, where it looked like everyone was wrong about the Jaguars and they had finally turned their fortunes around. In the six quarters since then, though, they were outscored by the Eagles and Washington Redskins 75-10. They stink on defense. They stink on offense. And they were blown out by two teams in a division (the NFC East) that might end up stinking too. Their 0-2 start could turn into 0-6 or worse in a blink of an eye. They should think about turning the show over to rookie quarterback Blake Bortles so they can focus on their future, because at this point it sure looks like they’ll be a contender again for the No. 1 pick in the draft.
—By Ralph Vacchiano
No. 22 Syracuse moves into 2014-15 with a freshman point guard and a handful of role players expected to take starring roles. Jim Boeheim has major personnel challenges, but he’s rebuilt a roster in short order before.
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Jim Boeheim has been through this before. Of course, a coach who’s been around for 38 years has probably experienced just about all there is in college basketball.
Boeheim is used to players leaving his program early. And over the years, the veteran coach has done a remarkable job of guiding his teams to successful seasons following the loss of a star player. The year after Pearl Washington left, Syracuse went to the NCAA championship game. Following Billy Owens’ departure, Syracuse won 22 games and went back to the NCAA Tournament. After Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA championship, Syracuse went to the Sweet 16 the next season.
In recent years, Boeheim has seen Donté Greene, Jonny Flynn, Dion Waiters, Fab Melo and Michael Carter-Williams leave school early for the NBA. In the next season, Syracuse has never failed to reach the NCAA Tournament.
So here are Syracuse and Boeheim again. In this case, Boeheim is having to deal with the loss of three starters from last year’s team that went 28–6 overall after winning its first 25 games. The loss of C.J. Fair, who led the Orange in scoring as a senior, was expected. Then Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant decided to cut their college careers short, leaving Boeheim with yet another rebuilding job.
No. 22 Syracuse Facts & Figures
Last season: 28-6, 14-4 ACC
Postseason: NCAA round of 32
Consecutive NCAAs: 6
Coach: Jim Boeheim (948-319 at Syracuse, 14-4 ACC)
ACC Projection: Fifth
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
Syracuse struggled to score in 2013-14. The Orange averaged just 68 points per game, their lowest output since the 1962-63 season. And Syracuse’s most consistent scoring came from a frontcourt that’s now depleted.
Fair averaged a team-high 16.5 points per game. Grant chipped in with 12.1 points. The only returning starter is senior center Rakeem Christmas, who posted 5.8 points and 5.1 rebounds.
“Rak’s getting better,” Boeheim says. “He’s a late-developing big guy. I think he’s figured it out. He’ll have a good year.”
DaJuan Coleman, who started 12 games last year, is coming off his second knee surgery in as many seasons, and Boeheim doesn’t expect him to return to the court until October at the earliest.
That leaves Boeheim with a frontcourt that’s both young and thin. He’ll look to sophomores Tyler Roberson and B.J. Johnson along with incoming freshman Chris McCullough. Chino Obokoh, a 6-10 center, redshirted last season and could provide some depth this year.
Don’t be surprised if Michael Gbinije, a 6-7 combo guard, sees some time at small forward due to the Orange’s lack of depth up front.
Syracuse’s backcourt situation is a little steadier than its frontcourt, but there is still one gaping hole to fill. Ennis played superbly as a freshman last year. He proved to be the ultimate playmaker, doling out 5.5 assists per game against just 1.7 turnovers. Kaleb Joseph, a 6-2 freshman, will be the fourth starting point guard in as many years for Syracuse. He’s a terrific athlete, but will he have the poise and maturity that enabled Ennis to handle the position as a freshman?
Trevor Cooney, a 6-4 junior, is coming off an up-and-down season, which was his first as a starter. Through SU’s first 22 games, Cooney was making 44 percent of his 3-point attempts, but he slumped in the final third of the season. He finished the year at 37.5 percent from the arc. Gbinije, a former top-40 national recruit, played both guard positions last year and will again in 2014-15. After shaking off the rust of the redshirt year taken after his transfer from Duke, Gbinije should provide more consistent contributions as a junior.
Ron Patterson, a 6-2 guard, didn’t see any meaningful minutes as a freshman. This could be a make or break year for the Indiana native.
This could be one of Boeheim’s biggest challenges in years. When previously facing major personnel losses, Boeheim has had a young player like Sherman Douglas, Wes Johnson, Carter-Williams or Fair waiting in the wings.
For this year’s Orange to earn an NCAA Tournament berth for the 32nd time in Boeheim’s 39 years, Christmas must emerge as a scoring option down low, Roberson will have to take a big jump as a sophomore, and McCullough and Joseph — the two true freshmen — will have to play like upperclassmen.
Syracuse brings in just two freshmen, but in all likelihood, both will start for the Orange this season. Kaleb Joseph figures to step into the starting point guard role. Chris McCullough is the prototypical Syracuse forward. He’s long and lean. McCullough averaged 22 points and 9.0 rebounds per game at IMG Academy last year.
Michigan continues our top 25 countdown at No. 23 as the Wolverines look to replace Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and more. Michigan has bounced back quickly before under John Beilein. Will that trend continue in 2014-15?
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All those years wandering the post-Fab Five desert are over in Ann Arbor, and it’s not a mirage.
Coming off a 2013 Final Four appearance that most credited to National Player of the Year Trey Burke and sidekick Tim Hardaway Jr., coach John Beilein proved his program had staying power last year. With Burke and Hardaway departed, he took his youth-laden Wolverines, featuring one senior and one junior, to a Big Ten regular-season championship and an Elite Eight appearance.
Now Beilein, a 61-year-old entering his eighth season at Michigan, gets to rebuild all over again. Three more Wolverines — Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary — bolted for the 2014 NBA Draft after two seasons, leaving U-M again as one of the youngest teams in the country.
No. 23 Michigan Facts & Figures
Last season: 28-9, 15-3 Big Ten
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Consecutive NCAAs: 4
Coach: John Beilein (150-94 at Michigan, 70-56 Big Ten)
Big Ten Projection: Fifth
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
The loss of McGary still stings, but the enigmatic forward played only eight games last season due to injury and was facing a yearlong ban from NCAA play due to a failed drug test. What in fact stings worse is a complete overhaul on the Michigan frontcourt.
Beilein plays only one true post player in his famed two-guard offense. That spot was split last year between two veterans who have also departed, Jordan Morgan (graduation) and Jon Horford (transfer to Florida).
What’s left is 6-10 redshirt freshman Mark Donnal, an inside-outside forward; junior forward Max Bielfeldt, a burly 6-7 career reserve; and Ricky Doyle, a 6-9 freshman. Donnal drew strong reviews for his practice play last season and is expected to earn a starting role and be the pick man in U-M’s ball-screen offense. He can step out and hit the 3, but questions remain whether he can handle the rigors of post play in the Big Ten.
Two additional freshmen, Kameron Chatman and D.J. Wilson, are likely to play offensively as wings but defend the 4 spot on the other end of the floor. Chatman, at 6-8, boasts a methodical offensive game and a high skill set. Wilson, a wiry 6-8 forward, is athletic but needs development.
Of them, only Bielfeldt has appeared in a collegiate game.
Related: Caris LeVert joins the Athlon Sports All-Junior Team
As it always has under Beilein, Michigan’s success will hinge on its guards. The 2014-15 Wolverines will go as far as the trio of Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin takes them.
LeVert is Michigan’s leading returner in points (12.9 ppg), rebounds (4.3 rpg) and assists (2.9 apg). Much of Beilein’s offense will operate through the 6-6 junior, who emerged from relative obscurity to earn All-Big Ten honors last year. Before leaving U-M as a lottery pick, Stauskas pointed out: “Caris is ready to blow up a little bit. I think Caris is ready to make that jump to a star player.”
The hope is that Walton and Irvin can take similar freshman-to-sophomore leaps seen from LeVert and Stauskas. Walton is a true point guard but will look to increase his scoring and is capable of doing so. Irvin, a 42.5 percent 3-point shooter, is a gifted 6-6 scorer needing to prove he can be versatile offensively and add rebounding on both ends.
Junior point guard Spike Albrecht returns as a steadying force in the backcourt and a threat from 3-point distance. Freshmen Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins, a pair of wings who signed late in the spring, add depth and will look to crack the rotation.
With every starting player from its 2013 Final Four appearance having entered the NBA early, Michigan is a clean slate.
From last year’s roster, Stauskas, Robinson, Morgan and Horford accounted for 54.5 percent of the team’s total points, 55.8 percent of its made field goals and 52.4 percent of its rebounds.
That’s gone, but the expectations aren’t. Beilein’s system has proven resilient and is bolstered by a keen eye on the recruiting trail. Having already rebuilt Michigan, Beilein says this team “isn’t starting over.”
“I think the foundation is there and now we have to start putting the bricks back in,” he adds.
Starting in the backcourt, Michigan has the talent to return to the NCAA Tournament and potentially compete for a top-three Big Ten finish. Youth, scoring options and questions surrounding rebounding and interior defense, though, leave plenty of uncertainty.
Six of Michigan’s 12 scholarship players are first-year freshmen, while a seventh belongs to redshirt frosh Mark Donnal, a potential starter. Kameron Chatman, a top-50 recruit, should make an immediate impact. D.J. Wilson and Ricky Doyle add much needed length. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins, (Johnny’s son) were late signees and add depth.
Earlier this year, the San Francisco 49ers moved out of their old digs at Candlestick Park and into their new home, the $1.2 billion Levi’s Stadium. The Santa Clara, Calif., venue, which seats approximately 68,500, is more than just a place to catch a game; it’s a cathedral to football and an homage to the Silicon Valley. And it’s blowing fans’ minds. Here’s why:
1. It's Wired!
Befitting a stadium in the heart of the Silicon Valley, you're never more than 10 feet away from a wireless hotspot. Seventy miles of Wi-Fi specific cable offer 40GB/s of bandwidth (40 times more than any other stadium). Which is good, because…
2…You’re Plugged In
The 49ers’ new app lets you order food for pickup or have it delivered to your seat (for an extra $5), gives you turn-by-turn directions to locations like bathrooms and parking areas, and allows access to real-time instant replays. Speaking of which…
3. Comprehensive Instant Replay
Thirteen stadium cameras and a TV crew of 40-plus will be filming the game, providing at least six replay angles of every play, making attendees the most informed armchair referee in the league.
4. It's Green (figuratively)
Levi’s Stadium’s 38,000 square feet of solar panels soak up the sun and keep the stadium running on its own electricity.
5. It’s Green (literally)
The natural grass stadium has a 27,000-square-foot garden on the roof of the suite tower is made up of local plants that require minimal water. It soaks up heat, minimizes the HVAC cooling requirements, and grows herbs for the concession stands.
6. Eat Up!
Want a burger? How about a jalapeno cheddar kielbasa? The fare at Levi’s Stadium befits the area’s foodie atmosphere. Vegan franks, curry stations, crepe desserts and Chef Michael Mina’s onsite Bourbon Steak and Pub restaurant give “stadium food” a whole new meaning. There’s even an $18 Double Barrel Wagyu topped with pork chicharrones that may be the craziest hot dog in sports.
7. Pedestrian Expressways
They've organized the pedestrian walkways to be more efficient than Candlestick: the food lines don't intersect with the bathroom lines anymore, and they've created lanes on the exterior of the stadium so you don't have to wade through the food lines to get from one end of the stadium to the other.
8. It’s Drought-Friendly
All of the plumbing fixtures are low flow, almost twice as efficient than building code requirements, and 85 percent of the water used is recycled water provided by the city.
9. It's LOUD!
The lower bowl has over 45,000 seats (one of the largest in the NFL), and the glass-fronted box seats on the West side will provide a reverberating effect. The result could spell an end to Seattle’s title as the NFL’s loudest stadium.
As college football evolves into the playoff era, the Legends Poll is changing with it. Each week the Legends Poll will release its Top 8 teams, which its panel of voters believe will inevitably be the next step in the evolution of the playoffs.
And in the first release of the 2014 season, the SEC West dominated the rankings, making up half of the Top 8.
Florida State opened up where it left off last season at No. 1, and will face its first true test against Clemson at home this coming weekend.
Second-ranked Oregon has impressed the Legends Poll panel with its tough early slate of games — knocking off Michigan State in week two. No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Oklahoma rounded out the Top 4.
Auburn debuted at No. 5, followed by Texas A&M, Baylor, and LSU to round out the Top 8.
What looked like a lackluster slate of games this past Saturday turned out to be anything but.
Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks pulled out an upset victory over Georgia, considered a heavy favorite going in to win the SEC East, 38-35. The loss kept Georgia out of the top 8.
USC and Virginia Tech had come off an emotional high after knocking off Stanford and Ohio State, respectively just a week ago. But Boston College stunned USC 37-31 and East Carolina upset Virginia Tech 28-21.
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
|1||Florida State (10)||2-0||106||-|
The third week of the season was not quite the bounce back week the Big Ten may have been hoping for, but there were a few good things happening around the conference after a dismal week two. Let’s dive into some of the numbers from around the Big Ten this past week and the first three weeks of the college football season.
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 3 in the Big Ten
2: Number of FBS teams with a winning record beaten by Big Ten teams
Time will tell how telling this stat is with a number of victories over schools projected to have winning records by the end of the season off to slow starts, but the numbers tell the story of how difficult it has been for the Big Ten through the first three weeks. Ohio State’s victory over Navy and Minnesota’s win over Middle Tennessee are the only FBS victories the Big Ten has claimed over teams with a winning record. Penn State’s victory over Rutgers does not count, of course.
2: Number of undefeated teams in the Big Ten entering Week 4
Nebraska and Penn State are the only unbeaten teams left standing amid the Big Ten rubble, just as we all predicted at the start of the season. It is fair to say other top contenders in the Big Ten (Wisconsin, Michigan State) have faced a stiffer challenge with games against LSU (Wisconsin) and Oregon (Michigan State), both coming away from home. Credit to Nebraska for picking up a win on the west coast in Week 3 at Fresno State. Penn State also has a win in Ireland, giving the Big Ten wins on three coastlines this season. Penn State is one of three schools with a home, road and neutral site win in the first three weeks (UCLA, Ole Miss).
3: Big Ten quarterbacks averaging at least 6.0 yards per rushing attempt
You thought Braxton Miller was the only dual-threat quarterback in the Big Ten? Think again. Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong leads the Big Ten in average rushing yardage per carry with 9.56 yards per attempt. Wisconsin’s Tanner McEvoy is also picking up good yardage when he tucks the ball, averaging 6.33 yards per carry. Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown rushed for a game-high 161 yards against West Virginia to raise his average to 6.26 yards per carry. All three appear in the top ten in the Big Ten in this category.
4: Big Ten teams with a perfect scoring percentage in the red zone
You can pile up the big yards all you want, but what you do in the red zone will ultimately be a difference maker at some point during a season. So far, so good when Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern get inside the opponent’s 20-yard line as all four have left the field putting points on the scoreboard. Minnesota has had the most success in their red zone trips by scoring a touchdown each time they reach the red zone. Of course, all four have struggled at times just getting inside the 20-yard line. All four are in the bottom half of the Big Ten in total red zone opportunities (MSU and Northwestern have also only played two games).
9: Second-half lead changes between Indiana and Bowling Green
Talk about a seesaw battle. Indiana held on to a 14-13 lead at the half on the road against preseason MAC favorite Bowling Green, but things went off the hook after the break. The Hoosiers and Falcons exchanged the lead nine times before Bowling Green got the last laugh with a short touchdown pass with nine seconds to play.
11: Straight games Indiana running back Tevin Coleman has scored a touchdown
Indiana’s talented running back rushed for 190 yards and a trio of touchdowns against Bowling Green, earning quality losing effort status in week three. With Coleman’s trip to the end zone, he ties a school record for most consecutive games with a touchdown scored.
52: Red zone points scored by Ohio State vs. Kent State
The Buckeyes scored seven touchdowns inside the red zone against in-state foe Kent State. Just for good measure, Ohio State added a field goal to the mix as well as the Buckeyes dominated Kent State from start to finish. On nine trips to the red zone, Ohio State scored points on eight.
30-1: Ohio State’s record against schools from the MAC
With Ohio State’s victory over Kent State, the Buckeyes added to their dominant and lopsided winning record against the MAC. At least somebody is beating the MAC. The Big Ten has already lost three games to the MAC this season and a MAC school has defeated a Big Ten team in eight straight seasons. Ohio State also extended its winning streak over in-state opponents to 39 straight games. That will be challenged by Cincinnati after a bye week this weekend for the Buckeyes.
39: Blocked kicks by Rutgers since 2009
Forget about Virginia Tech and Beamer Ball. It is well past time to start giving props to what Rutgers is doing on special teams. On Saturday night the Scarlet Knights added to more to their FBS-leading blocked kick total since 2006 by blocking one Penn State field goal attempt by Sam Ficken and later blocking a punt.
43.9: Percent of third downs converted for first downs by the Big Ten
There are only 22 schools around the country that have converted at least 50 percent of their third down opportunities for first downs, but just two of those reside in the Big Ten. Indiana (51.7%) and Northwestern (51.2%) have kept drives alive on third down plays to lead the conference, respectively. Iowa (49.0%), Penn State (47.9%) and Illinois (46.2%) have been respectable as well, but it has been a surprise to see Ohio State (38.9%) and Wisconsin (37.0%) struggle on third downs early on this season.
College basketball season is creeping up fast, and Athlon Sports is counting down to Midnight Madness and the start of practice on Oct. 17.
Harvard continues our countdown at No. 24 as the Crimson continue an unprecedented in program history under Tommy Amaker. After three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, could Harvard be ready to take the next step and reach the Sweet 16?
A full preview of Harvard and the entire Ivy League are available in every edition, available on newsstands everywhere this week and in the online store.
The Crimson are looking for their fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, and despite losing three cornerstones of the program’s success, Tommy Amaker has more than enough left in the cupboard to get his team back to the NCAAs.
Three seniors — Kyle Casey, Brandyn Curry and Laurent Rivard — are gone. Casey and Rivard were 1,000-point scorers, and Curry was a versatile guard who provided leadership throughout his career. They will all be sorely missed, but Amaker still has plenty of talent.
This team may not appear as powerful as the one that knocked off Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament, but it has terrific, veteran guards in Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers and no shortage of size to dominate Ivy League foes.
The question isn’t whether Amaker, who spurned Boston College this past offseason to remain at Harvard, will have enough to claim another league title. That’s almost a given. But it’s whether he can pull off a third consecutive win in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Harvard Facts & Figures
Last season: 27-5, 13-1 Ivy
Postseason: NCAA round of 32
Consecutive NCAA appearances: 3
Coach: Tommy Amaker (138-70, 67-31 Ivy)
Ivy Projection: First
Postseason projection: Round of 32
Harvard is deep and talented on the front line this season, especially with the return of Kenyatta Smith and the addition of freshman Chris Egi.
Senior forward Steve Moundou-Missi is a virtual lock to start after averaging 10.5 points and 6.0 boards last season. After that, it’s anyone’s guess who gets the nod. Smith logged just two minutes a year ago due to a foot injury, but he’s healthy now and gives Amaker a guy who can score in the post. Two years ago, Smith averaged 5.8 points and 4.3 rebounds as a part-time starter. Those numbers could double with more playing time.
Heralded top-100 recruit Zena Edosomwan played sparingly last season as a freshman, but the 6-9, 250-pound California native will find a way to get on the court more due to his physical presence and high motor.
Senior Jonah Travis is an undersized forward who does all the dirty work. He filled in admirably last season with Smith out of the lineup. Junior Evan Cummins is 6-9 and has made strides in each of his two seasons in the program. Egi is a 6-9 athlete from Canada who also had offers from Florida and UConn.
Perimeter depth is a cause for concern in Cambridge, but Amaker has two of the best guards in the league — and maybe even in the nation. Saunders is the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year after leading the team in scoring last season at 14.2 points per game and ranking in the top 10 in the league in seven statistical categories. He will team with Chambers, a junior point guard who does everything Amaker needs from the position. The 6-0 Chambers scores (11.1 ppg), distributes (4.6 apg) and also shoots it (38 percent 3-pointers).
The key here, though, is who else steps up to help out Saunders and Chambers on the perimeter. Candidates include Corbin Miller, who played in 2011-12 before spending the last two years on a LDS Church mission; long and athletic 6-8 junior Agunwa Okolie and 6-5 freshman wing Andre Chatfield. Miller may be the most likely to step in due to his experience and, more important, his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. He shot 45.6 from 3 as a freshman.
Veteran guard Matt Brown, who also plays wide receiver for the Harvard football team, could figure into the equation as well due to his toughness and defensive intensity.
Saunders and Chambers aren’t just talented and among the best at their position in the country, but they also bring experience to the table. Amaker has six big men he can rotate in and out of the lineup, if he so chooses.
The key, though, will be whether the Crimson can find a wing to complement the backcourt duo. Harvard will miss Rivard’s ability to space the floor and knock down shots. Miller could be the missing piece.
It’s Harvard and then everyone else in the Ivy — even after losing three seniors who helped build the program. But the goal now is whether the Crimson can make noise in the postseason, and its guards certainly give them a chance.
Corbin Miller returns from an LDS Church mission after averaging 3.8 points as a freshman in 2011-12. Chris Egi, a Canadian who played at Montverde (Fla.) Academy, is the highest rated of the three freshmen. Andre Chatfield will have a chance to play on the wing. Zach Yoshor will have a tough time carving out a role on a deep front line.
College basketball season is creeping up fast, and Athlon Sports is counting down to Midnight Madness and the start of practice on Oct. 17.
Arkansas kicks off our top 25 countdown at No. 25 as we preview the Razorbacks in what they hope is a breakout season under Mike Anderson.
The Arkansas edition is one of dozens available on newsstands everywhere this week.
A streak of eight wins in a nine-game stretch, including road victories at Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and No. 17 Kentucky, appeared to have Arkansas on the brink of an NCAA Tournament berth in Mike Anderson’s third season. Then the Razorbacks inexplicably lost by 25 points at Alabama and fell to South Carolina in the SEC Tournament, and their would-be NCAA invite evaporated.
That late rejection is fuel for an Arkansas program that has shockingly not been to the NCAAs since 2008.
“I just look at the almosts,” Anderson says. “We were so close. We were just plays away from having a really, really special year. So we take that experience, and this year will be a special year.”
Arkansas boasts a roster loaded with talent, experience and depth, with veterans Ky Madden, Michael Qualls and Anthlon Bell at guard and big men Bobby Portis, Alandise Harris and Moses Kingsley supported by an improved cast of role players. Five players with starting experience and seven who averaged nine minutes or more are back from last season’s 22–12 club.
The Razorbacks led the SEC in assists (15.3 apg), steals (8.4 spg), turnover margin (+5.5) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3), all key elements in Anderson’s full-court style. But they struggled big time on the glass and consistently allowed too many second-chance opportunities.
Anderson understands the time is now to put Arkansas back on the college basketball map.
“This is the first year (in which) most of the guys fit what I’m doing,” Anderson says. “So from that standpoint, this probably will be the best team that we field, from top to bottom.”
No. 25 Arkansas Facts & Figures
Last season: 22-12, 10-8 SEC
Postseason: NIT second round
Last NCAA appearance: 2008
Coach: Mike Anderson (59-39 at Arkansas, 26-26 SEC)
SEC Projection: Third
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
Portis, who has grown to 6-11, was outstanding as a freshman, but he needs to improve his shooting (.509), rebounding (6.8 rpg) and low-post repertoire to become one of the elite big men in the nation. Portis worked at the Nike big man skills camp and the LeBron James Skills Academy in the summer and plans to have a stronger rebounding presence and upgrade his scoring and defense.
Harris provided toughness and a big-game presence last year, but he didn’t rebound enough (3.3 rpg) and too often settled for jumpers. Kingsley, now a sophomore, is a classic shot-blocking center whose offensive skills should be on the rise.
Jacorey Williams brings energy off the bench, but he has to shoot better than 39.8 percent to earn more time. Transfer Keaton Miles, a defensive standout, and signee Trey Thompson are quality players who will provide depth.
After leading the team in scoring (12.7 ppg) and assists (2.8 apg), Madden should benefit from the addition of point guards Jabril Durham and Anton Beard to allow him to play off the ball more.
Qualls was a SportsCenter regular with a variety of circus dunks, but the Hogs hope his jumper earns him more notoriety this year. Qualls had a horrendous shooting slump to open SEC play and wound up shooting 42.9 percent overall. Bell, a streaky shooter, launched a team-high 151 3-pointers and shot 33.1 percent beyond the arc, a number that must improve for the junior to merit increased playing time. His defense is just adequate.
If this Razorbacks team doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament, there will be great frustration in Fayetteville, and for good reason. Portis is a budding superstar who is driven to excel, and there are plenty of key pieces around him. The backcourt is stocked with veterans who can be distribute the ball, add scoring punch and play the kind of defense Anderson demands. This roster gives Anderson great flexibility.
How well Madden deals his role in the backcourt as the new point guards establish themselves, and whether the mercurial Bell can be a more consistent deep threat will say a lot about how far Arkansas can advance in March. The best Arkansas teams during Anderson’s 17-year tenure as an assistant to Nolan Richardson had strong defense, good rebounding, versatile talents, a few sharpshooters and great grit. If this Razorback team can deliver the grit, the ’14-15 season could be special in Fayetteville.
Keaton Miles, a 6-7 transfer from West Virginia, is a versatile forward who fits Anderson’s fast tempo style. Junior college transfer guard Jabril Durham was a good pickup. He and freshman Anton Beard are true points guards who can take some ball-handling pressure off of Ky Madden. Trey Thompson, a 6-9 forward, should give the Razorbacks a quality frontcourt reserve who can take his time to adjust to the college game.
Teams and players spent the last eight months making decisions and sticking by them, feeling good about their choices and insisting they’re convinced they made the right moves.
Then, on Opening Weekend, came the temptation to tear up the entire plan and start all over again.
That’s the way it is in the NFL, where the season is short (relatively), games are important, and the overreactions fly in the wind with the ever-changing mood. One game is enough to build regrets and to burst the bubbles of optimism. Sure it’s early, but it’s never too early to look at some of the offseason moves – or non-moves – that may have completely backfired on some players and some teams:
10. The Cowboys not drafting Johnny Manziel. Jerry Jones now says he wanted Johnny Football as a way to keep the Cowboys’ relevant, and it sure looks like they’re headed for irrelevancy quickly. Their Week 1 loss at home to the 49ers showed that Tony Romo, coming off back surgery, may not be quite ready. Either that or he’s just his usual, turnover-prone mess. Either way, you want relevant? Imagine the conversation in Dallas this week after Romo’s three-interception performance if Texas’ own Manziel was on the bench.
9. The Browns signing RB Ben Tate. The Browns only gave him a two-year, $6.2 million contract, but they entrusted him with their running game as they attempted to begin what seems like a yearly rebuilding project. That’s great, because he’s always been underrated. But it was risky because he’s also always been injury prone. So is anyone surprised that he sprained his knee in Week 1 and might be out a month?
8. The Panthers releasing WR Steve Smith. He’s 35 years old and small and expensive, so it wasn’t crazy that Carolina released the best receiver it ever had. But they had to have second thoughts after seeing his seven-catch, 118-yard, one-TD debut with the Baltimore Ravens. The Panthers had 230 yards passing and 20 points total. Sure it was Derek Anderson and QB and not the injured Cam Newton, but a receiver of Smith’s caliber sure would’ve helped.
7. The Giants not spending more on their offensive line. They spent $116 million in contracts on offseason improvements, but the only moves they made on the line – which was supposedly their “No. 1 priority” this offseason - was to sign G Geoff Schwartz (now on short-term IR) and C J.D. Walton who just played his first game in two years. The result was about what you’d expect. QB Eli Manning dropped back to pass 35 times and was hit nine times and new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s attack never really got off the ground.
6. Ditto for the Chiefs and their offensive line. They let Schwartz go, along with LT Branden Albert and RG Jon Asamoah and flipped 2013 first-rounder Eric Fisher over to LT as they tried to rebuild on the fly. Great move, making things less stable for a QB like Alex Smith. Not surprisingly, the Chiefs offense completely stalled and picked up just 67 yards on the ground. The leading rusher, by the way, was Smith with 36 yards. So at least, when there’s trouble – and there’ll be a lot of it this season – he can run away.
5. WR Eric Decker leaving the Broncos for the Jets. He got a five-year, $36 million contract from the Jets with $15 million guaranteed, so he can laugh on his way to the bank. But he traded QB Peyton Manning for QB Geno Smith and switched from an offense that gained 259 passing yards on a slow night on Week 1 to one that gained 190 on what might be a great night for the Jets. But hey, at least he’s got the cash.
4. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers not drafting a QB. How much does Lovie Smith and his staff hate second-year pro Mike Glennon that they’re willing to endure the 35-year-old Josh McCown, who threw two interceptions and passed for 183 yards in their opening day loss? If it really is as much as people believe, they should’ve drafted a QB at No. 7, when at that point only Blake Bortles was off the board. They may have found a keeper at that spot in WR Mike Evans, but who’s going to throw him the ball?
3. The St. Louis Rams not drafting a QB. It’s not their fault that Sam Bradford got hurt, but it wasn’t terribly surprising after he missed half of last season. Plus, he hadn’t exactly distinguished himself in the NFL yet. But instead of moving on, the Rams simply backed him up with 34-year-old veteran Shaun Hill, who is also now hurt. Now they may be in the hands of Austin Davis, a second-year pro who was undrafted and was once a walk-on at Southern Miss. … Well, Kurt Warner once came out of nowhere too, so anything is possible.
2. The Raiders trading for QB Matt Schaub. No, it didn’t cost much and neither did he, but the move in March seemed to signal that the Raiders were serious about competing. GM Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen are on hot seats and they knew they couldn’t trust Terrelle Pryor or Matt McGloin with their jobs. Well guess what? They couldn’t trust Schaub either. They drafted rookie Derek Carr, he won the job, and wasn’t awful in a tough debut against the Jets (20 of 32, 151 yards, two TDs, no INTs). He will likely experience plenty of rookie struggles. So the Raiders are back in rebuilding mode. And if they get a new coach/GM next season, they’ll be rebuilding again.
1. The Broncos letting RB Knowshon Moreno go. This won’t destroy a team that’s probably destined for the Super Bowl, but the Broncos nearly blew a big lead on Sunday night because they struggled to run the ball when they needed to protect the lead and move the clock. Montee Ball rushed 23 times for 67 yards – just 2.9 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Moreno, who had a breakout year last season, was supposed to be a product of a Denver offense that helps running backs thrive. He was supposed to come back to Earth in miserable Miami. Instead, on Opening Day, he rushed 24 times for 134 yards and a touchdown – a healthy 5.1 yards per rush.
—By Ralph Vacchiano
We're all for tradition, and honoring your region with your team nickname, but some of these are just plain weird. Here they are in no particular order of weirdness. And yes, these are real.
1. Jordan (Utah) Beetdiggers
This nickname inspires fear. If you're a beet.
2. Conway (Ark.) Wampus Cats
A Wampus cat is a fearsome creature from folklore. Doesn't stop it from sounding stupid.
3. Camas (Wash.) Papermakers
4. Kimberly (Wis.) Papermakers
Maybe they can get Dunder-Mifflin to sponsor their uniforms.
5. Badger (Wis.) Badgers
The Badger Badgers? Too bad Duany Duany, Longar Longar and Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje didn't play there.
6. Newburgh Free Academy (NY) Goldbacks
Anything with "backs" attached to the end seems like a slur.
7. Butte (Idaho) Pirates
8. Grafton/St. Thomas (ND) Spoilers
Isn't the nickname "Spoilers" a concession that you suck and can only hope to spoil a good team's season?
9. Mt. Pleasant (RI) Kilties
They've managed to take the word "kilt" and make it even more effeminate.
10. Bellows Free Academy (Vt.) Bobwhites
A bobwhite is a quail that is commonly killed and consumed. Doesn't even have much meat on it.
11. Cairo (Ga.) Syrupmakers
Sweet and sticky are not adjectives I want applied to my football team.
12. Red Bank Catholic (NJ) Caseys
The school took its nickname from a former Monsignor. It makes me think of Casey Anthony. Or Kasey Kasem.
13. Glenville (Ohio) Tarblooders
A tarblooder was apparently a railroad worker who laid ties and cemented them with tar. When you have to explain it, it loses some impact.
14. Austin Westlake (Texas) Chaparrals
They're called the "Chaps" for short. Wonder if they're assless.
15. Dunbar (Md.) Poets
It's a nod to the school's namesake, but Poets? Aren't they the guys the football players should be pummeling?
16. Mt. Clemens (Mich.) Battling Bathers
Not sure you want to combine football and bath time in your nickname.
17. St. Mary's Prep (Mich.) Eaglets
18. Rockhurst (Mo.) Hawklets
Baby birds, even eagles and hawks, don't exactly inspire fear. Hell, they can't even fly.
19. North Little Rock Charging Wildcats
Adding "Charging" seems like overkill. And is a Wildcat really known for charging?
20. Salesianum School (Del.) Sallies
This simply can't be real, can it? Was Nancies already taken?
21. Punahou (Hawaii) Buffanblu
It's not some native Hawaiian bird of prey or anything. Believe it or not, this nickname comes from the school's colors: buff and blue.
22. Shelley (Idaho) Russets
Yes, Idaho is known for potatoes. Doesn't mean you have to incorporate it into your nickname. Would be like calling a Chicago team "the Gang-Related Murders."
23. Watersmeet (Mich.) Nimrods
In the Bible, Nimrod was a mighty hunter. Nobody knows their Bible anymore. Today, a nimrod is merely a moron.
24. Orofino (Idaho) Maniacs
Many think that the team was named for the local mental hospital. Unfortunately, that's not true. It was merely the frenetic style of play the hoops team used to be known for.
25. Teutopolis (Ill.) Wooden Shoes
They're particularly loud on the basketball court. But slow.
26. Chattanooga (Tenn.) Central Purple Pounders
Sounds like a prison team.
27. Mars Area (Pa.) Fighting Planets
Sort of a "War of the Worlds" theme.
28. Beaver (Okla.) Dusters
A Beaver Duster sounds like something you'd order online. On a secure site.
29. Yuma (Ariz.) Criminals
I hope this isn't truth in advertising.
30. Freeburg (Ill.) Midgets
Surprised that the little people lobby hasn’t gotten hold of this one.
31. Webster University Gorloks
The students at Webster came up with this one. Sounds like a Lord of the Rings character.
32. UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs
Big, slimy and disgusting. Kind of like a pregnant Kardashian sister.
33. Columbia College Fighting Koalas
Putting "fighting" in front of an adorable, cuddly creature like a koala doesn't make it any scarier.
34. Presbyterian Blue Hose
I guess it's better than the Presbyterian Depressed Prostitutes.
35. Scottsdale Community College Fighting Artichokes
Ridiculous. Everyone knows artichokes are peaceful vegetables.
36. Rhode Island School of Design Nads
Yes, it's a joke, right down to the anatomically correct mascot and the "Go, Nads!" cheer.
37. Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs
I'd avoid the hot dogs at the ballpark.
38. Savannah Sand Gnats
Annoying sand-based insects are an overlooked genre for mascots.
39. Montgomery Biscuits
Hot, buttery and delicious. Paula Deen's favorite team.
40. Hillhouse (Conn.) Academics
I guess it's one way to flip the saying, "They're known for academics."
Big Ten teams experienced one of the worst weekends in Big Ten history overall, so sifting through the box scores to find 10 interesting stats was a bit of a chore. As you might suspect, most of the stats are alarming in detail and take a deeper look at
just how this weekend went so poorly, but not everything is bad. But most of it is. Proceed with caution, Big Ten fans.
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 2 in the Big Ten
7: Third and longs converted by Virginia Tech against Ohio State
The average distance Virginia Tech had to go to pick up a first down against the Buckeyes on Saturday night was 10.2 yards per third down, and the Hokies picked up 10 first downs on 18 third-down situations. Ohio State’s defense failed to get off the field the first five times they put Virginia Tech in a third down situation, all but one coming from five yards or more. On the flip side, Ohio State was just 4-of-16 on third down against the Hokies.
Listen to the Week 2 recap podcast:
0: Times Michigan reached the red zone against Notre Dame
To say it was a rough evening for the Wolverines in South Bend would be an understatement. Michigan managed to cross the 50-yard line on just four possessions, and the deepest Michigan would get on the field was to the Notre Dame 22-yard line. A sack on fourth down ended that late scoring threat in the fourth quarter, when it was already 31-0. Four of Michigan’s final five possessions ended with some form of turnover, with two Devin Gardner passes being intercepted, a Gardner fumble being recovered by the Irish and a turnover on downs.
0: Seconds Ohio State held a lead against Virginia Tech
It has been a little while since Ohio State last went through a full game without holding the lead. The last time Ohio State played a game without holding a lead at any point came in the 2012 Gator Bowl against Florida. Urban Meyer watched from the sidelines as his former program held off his future team that day. The last time Ohio State played a regular season game without holding a lead at any point was earlier that same season, at home against Michigan State.
1: Seconds it took for Wisconsin to score against Western Illinois
It was the fastest score in Big Ten history, and it happened in bizarre fashion. The opening kickoff to Western Illinois was mishandled by Kyle Hammonds. Hammonds let the ball leave the end zone before he got his hands on it and took a knee in the end zone for what he thought would be a touchback. That was how the game officials initially ruled it, but following a timeout and video review the play was overturned for a safety one second into the game.
20: Shutouts Michigan had pitched since last being shut out
By now you may be well aware Michigan was shut out for the first time by Notre Dame and for the first time by anyone since 1984. What you may not have realized is that Michigan had shut out opponents 20 times in between shutouts by Iowa in 1984 and this weekend’s game at Notre Dame. Included in that bath of shutouts is a pair of shutouts of the Irish, in 2007 and 2003. Notre Dame snapped a streak of 365 games for Michigan without being shut out. Florida now owns the longest active streak without being shut out, with 323 games and counting. Yes, even with that offense the Gators had last year.
10th: Christian Hackenberg’s all-time passing rank at Penn State
It took just 14 games for Penn State sophomore Christian Hackenberg to crack the school’s all-time list for career passing yards. A week after becoming the first quarterback in Penn State history to pass for 400 yards in a game, Hackenberg moved into the top 10 on the school’s passing list while also setting a new school record for most yards in back-to-back games (773 yards, edging the previous mark of 686 yards by Zack Mills in 2002 against Iowa and Wisconsin). On top of that, Hackenberg tied the school record for most career 300-yard passing games with his sixth such performance. One more and he will break the tie with Matt McGloin.
1.8: Average rushing yards per play for Illinois
Illinois managed to pull away from Western Kentucky at home thanks to a big day through the air by quarterback Wes Lunt (456 yards and three touchdowns), but the running game never got on track against the Hilltoppers. Illinois tried to run the football 35 times against Western Kentucky, and mustered just 64 yards in the game (Lunt took a loss of 17 yards). The Illini were not alone in their running ineptitude in the Big Ten this weekend, though. Northwestern managed to rush for just 1.9 yards per rushing attempt.
1: Big Ten running back who rushed for more than 87 yards
It was a bit of a strange week for the Big Ten. Just one running back managed to rush for more than 87 yards in a game this weekend. Minnesota’s David Cobb was responsible for raising the bar as best he could with a 220-yard performance against Middle Tennessee, but after Jeremy Langford’s 86 yards against Oregon, it was not a standout day for the Big Ten running backs. Cobb and Langford aside, the average rushing total for the leading running backs this weekend was 47.5 rushing yards. Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armsrong rushed for 131 yards, more than doubling the output of Huskers running back Ameer Abdullah (54 yards). Quarterbacks were the leading rushers for three Big Ten teams (Nebraska, Purdue and Ohio State).
-14: Big Ten’s collective turnover margin in Week 2
It really was an ugly week for the Big Ten. Across the conference, the Big Ten combined for a turnover margin of -18 with 31 combined turnovers to their opponents. Maryland was the most atrocious with six turnovers on the road at USF for a -5, and Michigan had a -4 at Notre Dame. Ohio State broke even with Virginia Tech but had three turnovers in the process. Penn State was a -3 at home against Akron. The only teams to record a plus turnover margin were Minnesota (+2), Wisconsin (+1), and Rutgers (+1).
-45: Scoring differential for the Big Ten vs FBS teams in Week 2
Perhaps no other stat is more telling to just how bad this weekend was for the Big Ten. Throw out the FCS opponents (which actually nets a +9 scoring differential for the Big Ten) and the Big Ten was hammered. Four Big Ten teams took double digit losses in week two (Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue). Penn State and Minnesota scored double-digit victories but the damage done elsewhere was too much to overcome for the Big Ten against FBS opponents this weekend. The Big Ten was 5-5 against FBS competition in week two.
Locks of the Week
Bank on great teams outclassing good teams and terrible teams stumbling right out of the gate.
Saints (-3) at Falcons
Sean Payton’s Saints are 8–2 against Mike Smith’s Falcons, who struggle with an inferiority complex vs. NOLA.
49ers (-5) at Cowboys
There’s no D in Big D, which will be exploited by a San Fran squad that has been to three straight NFC title games.
Jets (-5) vs. Raiders
Oakland is riding a 12-game losing streak on the East Coast — 1 p.m. Eastern is 10 a.m. Pacific Time, after all.
Broncos (-7.5) vs. Colts
Peyton Manning will have his revenge, after losing 39–33 in his Indianapolis homecoming last season.
Eagles (-10) vs. Jaguars
Bet against the Jags every week until they move to London or start Blake Bortles, whichever comes first.
Straight Up Upsets
A pair of underrated road teams take on familiar foes for ready-made underdog specials.
Titans (+3) at Chiefs
New Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt had K.C.’s number last year as the Chargers OC, winning 41–38 in Week 12 and 27–24 in Week 17.
Bengals (+2) at Ravens
Granted, Cincy’s Andy Dalton has struggled with a 2–4 record, six TDs and 11 INTs against the Ravens.
Stay away from these games unless you’re a degenerate or a hometown homer who has to have action on all the action.
Buccaneers (-2.5) vs. Panthers
This could become a “Lock of the Week” if Cam Newton can’t play for the Cats.
Texans (-3) vs. Redskins
Poor RG3. His Texas homecoming could end in a head-on collision with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
Rams (-4) vs. Vikings
Expect both teams to run as much as possible to avoid their respective liabilities at QB.
Patriots (-4.5) at Dolphins
If only Rob Gronkowski were full-strength for fist-pumping on South Beach.
Steelers (-6.5) vs. Browns
This feels like a lock, but the mighty Steel Curtain is more like a flimsy shower curtain these days.
Bears (-7) vs. Bills
A team that plays in Toronto sometimes visits a team coached by a two-time CFL Grey Cup champ.
Monday Night Moolah
Monday night time is the right time to double up the weekend’s winnings or bounce back from the weekend’s losses.
Lions (-5.5) vs. Giants
Which No. 1 overall pick QB can throw the most INTs on national TV? Nice try, Matthew. But it’s Eli.
Chargers (+3) at Cardinals (-3)
The Bolts will bring electricity to the Monday Night Football double-header nightcap.
The NFL is back, as the 2014 regular season kicks off Thursday night when Seattle opens defense of its Super Bowl crown at home against Green Bay. With the journey to Super Bowl XLIX set to begin, Athlon’s editors have made their predictions for how the upcoming season and postseason will play out.
The Seahawks are trying to do something that hasn’t been done in more than 10 years — win back-to-back Super Bowls — and as a whole, Athlon’s NFL’s pundits don’t seem to like their chances. Only two of the five editors polled even picked Seattle to make it back to the Super Bowl and even those two don't have them pullong off the rare repeat. On the other hand, three editors not only like Denver's odds of getting back to the Super Bowl, they also have the Broncos finishing the deal this time.
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 in Glendale, Arizona, on Feb. 1 with the Lombardi Trophy on the line.
Super Bowl XLIX
They say that hope springs eternal, but that’s really meant for baseball. In football, hope is false, more often than not. Parity in the NFL has made every team enter every season feeling like a contender, when the truth is that couldn’t be further from the truth.
So more than a few fan bases are in for a big fall – either immediately with a slow start, or slowly with a disappointing finish. There are only a few “power” teams left in the NFL. All the rest could go either way depending on a few factors. Sometimes it’s easier to see the truth from outside the fan base. So for those of you caught up in hope that your mediocre team is truly a contender, here’s a little reality check:
Here are five teams you think will be good, but they almost certainly won’t:
1. Carolina Panthers (12-4)
They had a brilliant, coming out party in 2013 and it looked like they had arrived, finally, as an NFC power and Cam Newton had taken a step toward being an elite quarterback. But now Newton is playing with a cracked rib and behind a shaky offensive line. And remember, they got rid of Steve Smith and pretty much all their wide receivers during the offseason.
Yes, their defense is terrific. They led the NFL with 60 sacks last season. And you can win a lot of games with a pass rush like that. But you can’t be a double-digit win team without scoring points. Also, defensive end Greg Hardy is staring at a suspension at some point, possibly as long as six games.
If he gets suspended for that long, and Newton’s injury lingers it could be a really long season. Even if everything works out, the Panthers could be in for a fall back to mediocrity, at least.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
Everyone knew Andy Reid would turn around the Chiefs, but did anyone see 11 wins in his first season? Probably not, because it was unrealistic – as improbable, really as their 9-0 start. It’s also impossible, by the way, to ignore that their 9-0 start became a 2-5 finish, which may have been too big of a correction, but is still a sign of things to come.
This year they’re facing a brutal schedule and Reid will have to continue to make magic with quarterback Alex Smith and a surprisingly powerful running game behind an offensive line that lost three starters to free agency. That’s not usually a recipe for success. Also keep in mind that as the Chiefs swooned late, so did their pass rush which was as responsible as anything for their 9-0 start.
In a tough division where a lot of points are scored, it’s hard to imagine Reid can keep up with the roster he has – just like it was tough to imagine they could sustain it when they were undefeated in Week 10 last year.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
Back to back .500 seasons show they’re deep in mediocrity, but they always feel they have a chance because of the presence of Ben Roethlisberger. And maybe that’s true. But what else do the Steelers have? And shouldn’t everyone be at least a little alarmed by how awful the offense looked this summer?
The hope for more seems to hinge around the running back duo of Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, assuming they don’t end up serving twin suspensions for their arrest on marijuana charges in August. It won’t help ease the burden that the loss of Jerricho Cotchery has thinned the wide receiver corps.
Unfortunately they’re going to need to score points just to get back to .500 again, because that defense, being rebuilt around youth, took a big step back last year and may be poised to step back again.
4. Chicago Bears (8-8)
Doesn’t it seem like every year the Bears are on the verge of contention and Jay Cutler is on the verge of being an elite quarterback? Yet the Bears haven’t been in the playoffs since 2010 and they’ve actually made it just once in the last seven seasons. So why all the optimism this year?
Jay Cutler is what he is, which is an erratic quarterback capable of elite play followed by mindless mistakes. Yes, they scored a lot of points last year (and Cutler was rewarded with a seven-year, $126 million extension). And they should again with the receiving duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey.
But a bad defense last year is now without Julius Peppers and Henry Melton along their defensive line. They brought in Jared Allen to help replace them, though he doesn’t exactly bring young legs. Their secondary isn’t getting any younger either. Yes, if the defense is better and the offense is just as good, this finally could be the year the Bears return to prominence.
But when is the last time everything worked out that well in Chicago? And haven’t we heard all this before?
5. Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
Arguably the biggest disappointment of 2013 was the fall of the Falcons from the best team in the NFC to the worst – a stunning fall for a team that was loaded with weapons (at least on the offensive side of the ball). Now, in 2014, everyone seems to assume that last year’s collapse was an anomaly, that the Falcons are poised to bounce back big.
Granted the return to health of Julio Jones could be big, but take a look at the lines along both sides of the ball. They’re trying to patch things together and hoping it will work, but it doesn’t appear as if they’ll be able to generate a pass rush or stop one. That’s a problem because that’s where games are won and lost.
Maybe they’ll be able to score some points – though it’s important to factor in the retirement (for real this time) of tight end Tony Gonzalez. Yet with a questionable defense – that may be switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 – it’s hard to imagine they’ll be able to score enough to vault them back into contention in the NFC. Mediocrity may be their ceiling, and that would be a disappointment again.
—By Ralph Vacchiano
It wasn’t just a bad day at the office. For the Broncos, Super Bowl XLVIII was a painful reality check, one that convinced them that all the offense in the world doesn’t necessarily translate to being the best team on the planet. Seattle was better that day, and San Francisco, the other big bully from the NFC, probably would have been, too. So, general manager John Elway and his lieutenants spent the offseason overhauling their defense, signing three big-ticket free agents — Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware — before using their No. 1 draft pick on Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby.
For all the changes the Broncos have made, their bottom line remains the same: Vince Lombardi Trophy or bust. There may be a tomorrow with Peyton Manning under center; even if the Broncos win Super Bowl XLIX, Manning could return for an encore season. But Elway, who knows a little about playing quarterback on the back side of 30, isn’t counting on it. He wants to win, and right now.
It’s official. Manning called the right career audible when he decided to join the Broncos after being jettisoned by the Colts. Two years after sitting out the entire 2011 season, Manning threw a record 55 touchdown passes and won his fifth MVP award as the Broncos became the first-ever NFL team to eclipse the 600-point mark.
Manning will have several new weapons this year, including Montee Ball, who’ll replace Knowshon Moreno as the starting tailback, and wideouts Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer. Moreno had more than his share of moments in a Denver uniform, including a 224-yard game vs. the Patriots, but Ball gives them a more durable back and a better bet to score near the goal line, where the short field can create issues in the passing game. Not that Ball is only a threat between the tackles. He’s flying under the radar after being a backup as a rookie, but he has big-play potential that could land him in multiple Pro Bowls. Ball underwent an emergency appendectomy in early August, but was back at practice two weeks later and is expected to be ready for Week 1.
Sanders, a free-agent signee from Pittsburgh, replaces Eric Decker, who signed with the Jets. The big news in the passing game, though, came on Day 2 of the draft, when the Broncos traded up in the second round to grab Latimer. With Sanders already on board with emerging superstar Demaryius Thomas, the addition of Latimer sends a clear message that Wes Welker’s days in Denver are numbered. Welker was his usual productive self in 2013, but concussions are becoming more of an issue, such as the one he sustained in the third preseason game. At this point, Welker is probably too high a risk to be counted on week in and week out.
With or without Welker, the Broncos possess a devastating crew of receivers who can move the chains and stretch the field. The rest of the crew includes tight end Julius Thomas, a college basketball player who has become arguably Elway’s best-ever draft pick.
Almost lost in the shuffle of the Broncos’ season: They did it with left tackle Ryan Clady sidelined for most of the year. Clady’s return this season has created a domino effect on the offensive line. Chris Clark, who replaced Clady, will move to right tackle, while incumbent Orlando Franklin will move to left guard in place of Zane Beadles, who left via free agency. Franklin isn’t happy about the move, what with tackles much more appreciated on payday than guards, but it makes all the sense in the world. Clark is the better pass-blocker, and Franklin’s forte is run-blocking — all the more reason to project big numbers for Ball in his second season.
The Broncos hoped to energize their pass rush, but they were shocked to find Ware available. With Ware on the edge, the Broncos may be able to match the kind of pressure the Seahawks and 49ers put on opposing quarterbacks. Ware had 19.5 sacks as recently as 2011, and at 32, he seemingly has a lot left in his tank.
But Ware’s production figures to be linked to the other main pass-rusher, Von Miller. Three years into his career, Miller already is at the crossroads. Will he return to being one of the most feared pass-rushers in the league, or will injuries and off-field issues overshadow his enormous talents? One more drug-related issue, and Miller will be suspended long-term. Not only that, but he’ll also be trying to bounce back from a knee reconstruction. So, in the end, the Broncos won’t know how formidable their pass rush will be until they see how healthy Miller is. Ware and a healthy Miller coming off the corner would be a devastating tandem.
Linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Shaun Phillips departed via free agency, but Denver was in good shape with Danny Trevathan, the team’s leading tackler last season, ready to take over. That was until Trevathan fractured his knee during training camp, sidelining him until the middle of October, at minimum. Nate Irving is expected to start in the middle with Brandon Marshall (not the former Bronco wide receiver who's now in Chicago) and fifth-round pick Lamin Barrow among the candidates to fill in for Trevathan.
The defensive line has some depth issues, what with 2012 second-rounder Derek Wolfe experiencing career-threatening health issues last season, but tackles Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams, last year’s first-rounder, could be a terrific tandem in the middle. Williams started slowly, but after an offseason in the weight room, he could take a giant career leap.
The Broncos had hoped to re-sign cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but when he asked for serious money, they shifted gears and came away from free agency with Talib. The Broncos were also looking for a physical presence at safety and they got it with Ward, a Pro Bowler with the Browns in 2013. With Talib pounding on receivers in bump coverage, and with Ward providing a linebacker-like presence in the middle of the field, the Broncos figure to be much more physical than they were last season.
With Trindon Holliday gone via free agency, the coaches will use training camp to figure out how to divvy up the kickoff and punt return duties. Veteran Andre Caldwell figures to return kickoffs, and Sanders, Welker and Roby will get a look as punt returners, though Welker’s concussion issues make him a long shot.
The kicking game is in great shape with Matt Prater and Britton Colquitt. Altitude or no altitude, Prater is as good as they come, having made 14-of-15 attempts from 40 yards and beyond last season, including 6-of-7 from 50-plus. Translation: All Manning has to do is rack up two or three first downs on a typical drive and the Broncos are all but a lock to score. Colquitt? His steady production usually tilts the field-position battle the Broncos’ way. Not that he’s as busy as he once was: Colquitt punted 65 times in 2013 compared to 101 in 2011, the year before Manning’s arrival.
Prater will have to sit out the first four games of the season for a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse program. Rookie Mitch Ewald was in training camp, but the Broncos also traded a conditional seventh-round draft choice next year to the Giants for fellow rookie Brandon McManus. The waiver wire is another option if the team decides to sign a veteran kicker to fill in during Prater's absence.
The Broncos are in a unique position among NFL teams. They aren’t trying to keep pace with the rest of the league. As long as Manning is under center, their competition will come from only a handful of teams, most notably the Seahawks, 49ers and Patriots. While Denver’s offense is in a class by itself, the Broncos haven’t been as physical as the elite teams in the NFC. They could be this season, but, in the end, they’re relying on Miller to regain his status as one of the league’s best players. If he does, they could be throwing a parade in downtown Denver. If not, they may still have enough to get back to the Super Bowl. The question remains: Can they win it?
PREDICTION: 1st in AFC West
Richard Sherman will tell you that he’s the best cornerback in the NFL, and he has a new four-year $57 million contract to confirm it. Earl Thomas, with his four-year, $40 million extension, acknowledges he has no apparent equal at safety. Russell Wilson says he wants to be the league’s greatest quarterback of all time. With all of this confidence bubbling over, it’s hard to deny the Seahawks anything these days.
Collectively, these guys are coming off one of the most dominant seasons in recent times — including a 35-point Super Bowl victory over Denver after losing three games by a combined 15 points — thinking they can do this all again.
Just eight of 47 previous teams have repeated as Super Bowl champions, none during the past decade — all unable to cope with winner’s complacency, personnel changes or major injuries. Yet Seattle, after boasting the second-youngest Super Bowl roster (26.4 years), building a star-studded defense (led by its secondary) and retaining all of its major contributors (six Pro Bowl players), has no shortage of swagger when addressing this challenge.
“One of the things that happens every so often is teams have a big fallout after they win the Super Bowl,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says. “We’re not in that situation.”
Any major adjustments for this team will come on offense, where the Seahawks must replace two starting linemen and their leading receiver. This doesn’t raise any red flags for a couple of reasons: 1) These positions regularly have been in a state of flux, and 2) Wilson.
Returning for his third season, Wilson has defied every obstacle presented to him at quarterback: Too short, sophomore slump, too young to win a Super Bowl. He makes everyone around him better with his decision-making, elusiveness and deceptively strong arm while running the Seahawks’ zone-read offense in a masterful manner. He’s a proven winner, capturing 28 of 37 games as the starter, including four of five in the postseason.
With 52 TD passes in his brief career, Wilson has done this without a marquee receiver at his disposal. He may finally have one, provided Percy Harvin can stay healthy after sitting out most of his first season in Seattle with a hip injury. Limited to three games, two in the playoffs, Harvin offered a glimpse of what he could do in the Super Bowl with an 87-yard kickoff return for a score and 30-yard run. He brings a huge boost of speed to the offense. Harvin will share receiving duties with the highly efficient Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, plus top draft pick Paul Richardson, who possesses Harvin-like speed.
Marshawn Lynch has been a rushing fiend for three consecutive seasons, piling up more than 4,500 rushing yards and 39 total touchdowns in that time, postseason included. But there is good reason to be wary of him now. The hard-nosed runner affectionately known as Beast Mode has more than 1,800 career carries under his belt, leaving him susceptible to sudden performance falloff that comes with being an overused NFL running back. Seattle will ride Lynch as long as it can, likely spelling him more and more with Robert Turbin.
Considerable patchwork needs to be done on the line, which is anchored by two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger and one-time Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung, both mobile players who open a lot of holes. Vacancies must be filled at left guard and right tackle, where part-time starters James Carpenter and second-round pick Justin Britt are the leading candidates. Carpenter, a former No. 1 pick, hasn’t been the dominant player envisioned by the Seahawks because he can’t stay healthy and lacks speed. Draftee Garrett Scott might be an option for each opening with his size and athleticism. Oddly enough, left guard has resembled an open tryout every year.
No position area across the NFL is as star-studded as the Seahawks’ sensational secondary, nicknamed “The Legion of Boom.” Safety Kam Chancellor, Thomas and Sherman each enjoyed Pro Bowl seasons and huge postseason moments, and there’s no reason to expect anything less in 2014. Byron Maxwell proved to be an able cover corner and became the fourth wheel for this group after original “Boom” member Brandon Browner was suspended for drug-related offenses. Browner signed with New England in the offseason.
The Seattle linebacking corps, more functional than flashy, returns intact with Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright as starters. Irvin, a converted defensive end, is a superb pass-rusher, while Wagner and Wright are solid against the run. The secondary allows them to take chances. An added bonus is having Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith back them up.
Unfortunately, the Seahawks were forced to sacrifice a chunk of their defensive depth, particularly across the front wall, in order to pay for the headliners. Aging starters Red Bryant and Chris Clemons and reserve Clinton McDonald were deemed expendable and signed on with other teams. Seattle still puts a fierce front four on the field with rising star Michael Bennett, plus Cliff Avril, Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel, but it no longer has a proven second wave.
The Seahawks defense was an absolute monster in 2013, ranking No. 1 in the NFL in total defense (273.6 ypg), passing defense (172.0 ypg), points allowed (14.4 ppg), takeaways (39), interceptions (28), turnover differential (plus-20) and opposing QB passer rating (63.4). It will be hard to duplicate that dominance.
Automatic readily sums up the Seahawks’ special teams. Placekicker Steven Hauschka was rewarded with a big contract extension after he connected on 33-of-35 field goals, hitting all three of his attempts over 50 yards. Jon Ryan, a career 44.8-yard punter, downed 28 kicks inside the 20. Harvin, counting his Super Bowl score, has run six kickoffs back for touchdowns in his NFL career. Kearse will move from kickoffs to punt returns.
The Seahawks spent much of the offseason taking bows and renegotiating contracts. Unlike the year before, they didn’t engage much in the free-agent market or instigate any big trades. Once the roster churn was over, they had 10 notable contributors to the title run depart for other teams and often bigger paydays. Which raises a pertinent question: Did the franchise give up too much manpower and break up its uncanny chemistry? The answer likely is no — as long as mainstays such as Wilson, Sherman and Thomas are interspersed throughout the lineup, with a healthy Harvin complementing them. Seattle will attempt to become just the eighth different franchise (Pittsburgh has done it twice) to repeat as Super Bowl champs. Only the Patriots have won consecutive NFL titles in the new millennium. The Seahawks, with so much talent still on their side, appear fully capable of joining the elite repeat club.