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This summer is the five-year anniversary of conference realignment that shook up college football. Nebraska announced in 2010 it would join the Big Ten. The dominoes of Utah and Colorado to form the Pac-12 followed that same summer.

 

At the same time, BYU made perhaps the most risky move of all by choosing to go independent. By 2015, the Cougars, Notre Dame and Army would be the only independents in Division I.

 

Here’s how and why the move happened.

 

Originally published in Athlon’s Pac-12 2015 Annual.

By Michael Bradley

 

Last summer, when schools throughout the Big 12 Conference were wondering about their athletic futures as Texas and its cronies wondered whether it made sense to go West, the idea of football bachelorhood seemed ridiculous. Why would anybody want to go it alone, when strength was obviously to be gained by affiliating with the biggest, baddest programs around? After years of sensible groupings based on geography and reasonable travel, ages-old rules no longer applied. 

 

Colorado was a “Pacific” school. So was Utah. TCU would eventually join the Big East. The Rust Belt now extended to the Plains and Nebraska. And Hawaii was in the Mountains. There was talk of adding Rutgers to the Big Ten and Texas A&M to the Southeastern Conference — even though the Aggies were once proud Southwest Conference members.

 

Up was down. Hip-hop was Easy Listening. Dogs and cats, living together. All in the name of a secure home and access to BCS dough.

 

And then, late last August, BYU saw other schools’ craziness and raised them in absurdity. At a time when conference membership was everything, the Cougars declared their independence. They would no longer be part of a conference for football and were leaving the Mountain West for the West Coast Conference in every other sport. Some referred to the move as “bold.” Many thought it was crazy. And even BYU understands that the move is not a guaranteed success.

 

“We’re in uncharted waters,” Cougar athletic director Tom Holmoe says. 

The culprit in all of this is television, that demon tube (or flat screen) that has spawned all of the seismic activity on the collegiate sports front. The Cougars have surplus programming and a large audience they believe wants it, and their old arrangement with the MWC didn’t allow them to get it all on the air. Holmoe insists the school tried to work out an agreement with its former league, but it just didn’t happen. It thought about returning to the WAC, its ancestral conference home. It knew the Pac-10 wasn’t interested. So, instead of complaining about not having control over its future, BYU decided to go alone.

 

“(The Mountain West) didn’t have the foresight to see what we wanted,” Holmoe says. “There were nine teams in the conference, with Boise State coming in. They knew we were unhappy with the TV arrangement, but it didn’t seem to matter.”

 

On the surface, it appears as if the Cougars are taking a huge chance, even if they do have an eight-year deal with ESPN to televise most of their home games and the freedom to assemble a schedule that suits them. There are only three independent teams in the FBS ranks. One, Notre Dame, has a special deal with the BCS and its home games on the Notre Dame Broadcasting Company, er, NBC. The other two, Army and Navy, have national followings, no need to increase endowments or win a facilities arms race, and bowl tie-ins that provide postseason homes if they earn as many as six wins. It makes sense for them to be on their own. But BYU? Now, you’re talking crazy.

 

Or are you? The Cougars have their own TV network, Brigham Young Broadcasting, which brings “family programming” to 55 million people around the country. The school’s 300,000-plus living alumni are scattered throughout the nation — particularly California and the Pacific Northwest — making that network ripe for growth. And through its affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU has a vast audience for its message and brand. 

 

“A number of years ago, we said that we have this incredible resource in BYU Broadcasting that we could take advantage of,” Holmoe says. “But we weren’t able to. One way to do it was to go independent.”

 

Last year, when the Big Ten was looking to grow and was considering its options, it reached out — again — to Notre Dame. The Irish looked at their choices, considered the possibilities and stayed independent. From South Bend, BYU’s decision to go alone is not rash or ill conceived. In fact, it’s quite logical.

 

“To do this, you need a reason that is related to the school’s mission,” ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick says. “It makes sense for BYU, just as it does a Catholic school like Notre Dame.”

 

The Cougars are following the Irish model, since they will be rugged individualists only on the gridiron. Just as ND is a member of the Big East for all other sports, BYU will participate in the WCC off the football field. It is easily argued that the school has taken a step down from the Mountain West, until the secret weapon steps in. Without ESPN, BYU’s decision would be particularly ill-advised. But with the four-letter folks picking up all but one (Idaho State) of the Cougars’ home games this year and working to assemble a contract that highlights BYU, Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and the rest of the West Coast Conference schools on the hardwood, the concept makes sense.

 

Of course, it all starts with football. That’s what brought ESPN on board. The network’s relationship with BYU goes back to the days when the school was the scourge of the WAC and was playing in the Holiday Bowl — and on ESPN — almost  every year.

 

 

“I think people associate BYU football with exciting offense,” says Dave Brown, who helped put together ESPN’s football schedule for years and now runs the Longhorn Network. “People will play BYU, so we’ll get good games on our schedule.”

 

The Cougars’ 2011 home campaign isn’t going to inspire a run on the ticket office, but a six-year deal with Notre Dame has blockbuster potential. Texas visits Provo in 2013. Georgia Tech will be coming to town down the line, as will Boise State. “There haven’t been too many teams we have called that we haven’t been able to work out a deal with,” Holmoe says. Lining up quality opposition is the easy part. Balancing the schedule is more difficult. Swarbrick admits that it’s tough to put some easier games on the slate, particularly when the TV networks are asking for quality matchups. But he has learned to avoid loading the slate.

 

“Being independent gives you the opportunity to play anybody,” he says. “You feel obligated to take advantage of it. You have to find a balance. If you have a TV partner, you feel obligated to schedule good games.”

 

The Cougars will play good teams, on practically every night of the week, the better to get on ESPN’s main station and away from The Deuce, ESPNU and ESPN Classic. They will strive for excellence in order to qualify for BCS paydays. “We’re like any other college that’s ranked in the system,” Holmoe says of the BCS. And they will play basketball against the Zags and their WCC brethren, with a contract that could well be better than what the Mountain West had. 

 

While Holmoe talks about the aforementioned “uncharted waters” of independence, at a time when everybody else is looking for the most secure home possible, he also says, “We didn’t want to wait.”

Brigham Young is moving ahead. Boldly. Confidently.

 

And, maybe, it’s just a little crazy. Then again, what in college athletics makes sense these days?

Teaser:
Athlon Archive: BYU Football is a Lone Cougar
Post date: Thursday, June 11, 2015 - 13:47
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/fcs-top-25-and-all-american-team-2015
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When it comes to college football dynasties, North Dakota State has every reason to stake its own claim to one of the greatest eras in the sport's history.

 

No, the Bison aren’t Alabama, USC, Oklahoma or Notre Dame, but North Dakota State is amid one of the most rare streaks in college football with four consecutive national titles. None of the aforementioned power programs can match that streak.

 

Only two other programs in any NCAA division can claim a streak of four championships — Michigan from 1901-04 (using retroactive models) and Division III Augustana (Ill.) from 1983-86.

 

A fifth straight title would be unprecedented in the NCAA record book, and North Dakota State has plenty of reason to believe history is within its grasp.

 

1. North Dakota State

For a change, the four-time defending FCS national champion Bison have a better offense than defense. Senior quarterback Carson Wentz, named the Most Outstanding Player of last season’s title win over Illinois State, will work behind a terrific offensive line and get the ball to wide receivers Zach Vraa and RJ Urzendowski and running back King Frazier, a transfer from Nebraska. On defense, coach Chris Klieman loses a lot, but both starting cornerbacks, Jordan Champion and CJ Smith, return, and defensive tackle Nate Tanguay is a handful up front. The Fargodome will keep rocking.

 

2. Illinois State

Dual-threat quarterback Tre Roberson and running back Marshaun Coprich (FCS-high 2,274 rushing yards) are basically unstoppable, but coach Brock Spack’s national runner-up squad must replace key personnel on offense. An athletic defense will soar again behind ends Teddy Corwin and David Perkins and leading tackler Pat Meehan at linebacker. In the 10-team Missouri Valley, the Redbirds and North Dakota State won’t meet during the regular season.

 

3. Sam Houston State

After coach K.C. Keeler guided the Bearkats to the national semifinals in his first season, he gets back 19 starters. Dual-threat quarterback Jared Johnson threw for over 3,000 yards and was one rushing yard shy of 1,000. Sophomore defensive end P.J. Hall racked up 30 tackles for a loss.

 

4. Jacksonville State

OVC Defensive Player of the Year Devaunte Sigler, LaMichael Fanning and Chris Landrum form an intimidating defensive line, and quarterback Eli Jenkins keeps getting better. Plus, the veteran Gamecocks and coach John Grass are motivated by last year’s early playoff exit as the No. 3 seed.

 

5. Villanova

Senior quarterback John Robertson (3,924 total yards, 46 total touchdowns) seeks an encore after winning the 2014 Walter Payton Award. Linebacker Don Cherry nearly matched Robertson’s excellence on defense, finishing second in the Buck Buchanan Award voting.

 

6. Eastern Washington

Lost in the transfer of star quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. to Oregon is the fact that the Eagles must improve a defense that ranked 90th in scoring defense and 95th in total defense. Emerging defensive end Samson Ebukam is a part of the solution. New signal-caller Jordan West will target junior Cooper Kupp, who’s caught 37 touchdowns in two seasons.

 

7. Coastal Carolina

Only North Dakota State has more FCS wins than Coastal’s 24 the last two seasons. The Chanticleers will continue the momentum behind dual-threat quarterback Alex Ross and 1,500-yard running back De’Angelo Henderson. Quinn Backus, a three-time Big South Defensive Player of the Year, departs, leaving senior end Roderick Holder in charge.

 

8. Chattanooga

Quarterback Jacob Huesman has made his dad (coach Russ Huesman) proud in winning back-to-back conference titles and SoCon Offensive Player of the Year awards. Few FCS secondaries are better than the unit boasting Cedric Nettles, Dee Virgin and Lucas Webb.

 

9. New Hampshire

Coach Sean McDonnell’s back-to-back national semifinalists are guarding against a step backward. Despite the loss of influential seniors, the Wildcats have veteran leaders in quarterback Sean Goldrich, linebacker Akil Anderson and defensive back Casey DeAdrade.

 

10. Youngstown State

Former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini steps into a ready-to-win situation at YSU, where school president Jim Tressel guided the Penguins to four national titles in the 1990s. A youthful offense features sophomore quarterback Hunter Wells and junior running back Martin Ruiz. Defensive ends Derek Rivers and Terrell Williams combined for 24 sacks.

 

11. Northern Iowa

If UNI survives a tough five-game opening stretch, it will be a top-10 team. Transfers Aaron Bailey (Illinois quarterback) and Savon Huggins (Rutgers running back) join a strong corps featuring quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen, running back Darrian Miller, linebacker Brett McMakin, safety Tim Kilfoy and placekicker Michael Schmadeke.

 

12. Liberty

Coach Turner Gill’s Flames expect to build on their first-ever playoff appearance. The passing duo of Josh Woodrum and Darrin Peterson is superb, there are two excellent running backs in D.J. Abnar and Desmond Rice, and placekicker John Lunsford has the strongest leg in the FCS.

 

13. Montana State

Dual-threat quarterback Dakota Prukop was having a dominant campaign until a late-season knee injury slowed him down last year. With a veteran offensive line, the Bobcats will think run first while chasing the Big Sky title. Coach Rob Ash’s squad must make improvements on defense.

 

14. James Madison

Quarterback Vad Lee, after leading the FCS in total yards (4,288) last season, will challenge Villanova’s John Robertson for All-CAA honors. The young talent, including running back Khalid Abdullah, linebackers Kyre Hawkins and Rhakeem Stallings and cornerback Taylor Reynolds, has come of age.

 

15. Eastern Illinois

A bounce-back season for the Panthers appears likely in coach Kim Dameron’s second season. Kentucky transfer Jalen Whitlow came on strong after he got acclimated at quarterback, and the running game added some transfers alongside Shepard Little. Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill is one of the top defenders in the OVC.

 

16. McNeese State

There probably aren’t enough touches to go around in the Cowboys’ deep rushing attack, which includes quarterback Daniel Sams and running backs Ryan Ross and Derrick Milton. Coach Matt Viator, who has yet to have a losing record through nine seasons, seeks a rebound.

 

17. Montana

Former Colorado School of Mines coach Bob Stitt has taken over the Grizzlies’ historically powerful program. He won’t be the only new face in a retooled lineup, although there are key returnees in linebackers Kendrick Van Ackeren and Jeremiah Kose and 1,000-yard receiver Jamaal Jones.

 

18. Idaho State

After a breakthrough season for a program that had been a Big Sky cellar-dweller, the Bengals must replace record-setting quarterback Justin Arias (4,076 yards, 38 TDs in 2014). But Arias’ replacement will be able to rely on big-time weapons in running back Xavier Finney and wide receiver Madison Mangum.

 

19. South Dakota State

No team has a bigger hole to fill than the Jackrabbits after three-time 2,000-yard rusher Zach Zenner moved on. The focal point of the offense shifts to sophomore wide receiver Jake Wieneke (73 receptions for 1,404 yards and 16 TDs).

 

20. Richmond

Despite the departure of quarterback Michael Strauss and a 23-member senior class, the Spiders return leading rushers Seth Fisher and Jacobi Green and 1,000-yard receivers Reggie Diggs and Brian Brown. Linebacker Omar Howard is coming off a breakout season.

 

21. Eastern Kentucky

Dy’Shawn Mobley rushed for nearly 1,500 yards after transferring from Kentucky. His old school will get another look at him on Oct. 3 as part of the Colonels’ challenging road schedule. Former Ohio State defensive end Noah Spence also has landed at EKU.

 

22. Harvard

If Tim Murphy coaxes another unbeaten season out of his team, he might be the national Coach of the Year. The team’s strength is at the skill positions, with quarterback Scott Hosch, running backs Paul Stanton Jr. and Semar Smith and wide receiver Andrew Fischer.

 

23. Western Carolina

Every offensive starter is back from a Catamounts team coming off its best season in nearly a decade, none bigger than dual-threat quarterback Troy Mitchell. Trips to Tennessee and Texas A&M await.

 

24. Cal Poly

Quarterback Chris Brown (1,265 yards, 17 TDs on the ground) and slot back Kori Garcia (1,039 yards) fuel a triple-option that has led the FCS in rushing yards per game the last two seasons. But a veteran team has to overcome a brutal first half of the schedule.

 

25. Indiana State

Ten starters, led by linebacker Connor Underwood and safety Mark Sewall, return to a punishing defense. The key for the Sycamores is a steady transition for junior college transfer quarterback Zach Kline. 

 

FCS 2015 Preseason All-America Team

 

OFFENSEDEFENSE
QB Josh Robertson, VillanovaDE James Cowser, Southern Utah
RB Marshaun Coprich, Illinois StateDE Jonathan Woodard, Central Arkansas
RB Dy'shawn Mobley, Eastern KentuckyDT Javon Harvgrave, South Carolina State
WR Cooper Kupp, Eastern WashingtonDT O.J. Mau, Gardner-Webb
WR Darrin Peterson, LibertyLB Don Cherry, Villanova
TE Josh Cook, Idaho StateLB Luke Rhodes, William & Mary
C Robert Booker, Missouri StateLB Connor Underwood, Indiana State
G Jonathan Burgess, LibertyCB Jermaine Hough, Jacksonville State
G JP Flynn, Montana StateCB Harlan Miller, Southeastern Louisiana
T Joe Haeg, North Dakota StateS Case DeAdrade, New Hampshire
T Donald Jackson III, Sam Houston StateS Donald Payne, Stetson
K John Lunsford, LibertyKR Pokey Harris, Murray State
P Ben LeCompte, North Dakota StatePR Anotnio Hamilton, South Carolina State

 

Teaser:
FCS Top 25 and All-American Team for 2015
Post date: Tuesday, June 9, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News, Magazines
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No more signing day. No more spring practice. All that stands between you and college football season are the long summer months.

 

Luckily, Athlon can help you fill that college football void and prepare for the 2015 season.

 

Here’s what is in the pages of Athlon Sports to get you ready for another wild football season:

 

 

Available in every magazine

 

  • The numbers and trends that determine in predicting team performance, by SB Nation’s Bill Connelly. 
  • Why college football is in a golden age ... any why it could end, by CBSSports.com’s Jon Solomon.
  • How Ohio State is pulling the Big Ten into the future, by SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey.
  • Breakdowns of key quarterback battles that will determine the season.
  • National unit rankings of every position group.
  • Heisman Trophy contenders, new coach rankings, coaches on the hot seat, key newcomers and players returning from injury, new coordinator breakdowns.
  • National top 25, bowl and conference predictions, national unit rankings.
  • FCS top 25.
  • 247Sports recruiting rankings.

 

Only available in the national edition

 

  • Rankings, previews and depth charts written by team insiders for all 128 teams.

 

 

Only available in the SEC edition

 

  • Six-page previews on each SEC team, including anonymous opponent scouting reports, depth charts and recruiting reports.
  • Four-page bonus preview of Notre Dame.
  • Previews and depth charts for regional teams such as UCF, Memphis, Southern Miss, WKU, Tulane and USF.
  • 10 trends to watch in the SEC for 2015.
  • Why paying top dollar for a coordinator is a must for winning teams.
  • Profile of new Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson.
  • Profile of Tennessee running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara.
  • A look at the future of LSU’s troubled quarterback position.
  • Advanced stats for every team in the SEC.

 

 

Only available in the Big Ten edition

 

  • Four-page previews on each Big Ten team, including anonymous opponent scouting reports, depth charts and recruiting reports.
  • Four-page bonus preview of Notre Dame.
  • Previews and depth charts for every MAC team.
  • Profile of Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott.
  • Profile of Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
  • Profile of new Nebraska coach Mike Riley.
  • Profile of new Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst.
  • Advanced stats for every team in the Big Ten.

 

 

Only available in the Big 12 edition

 

  • Six-page previews on each SEC team, including anonymous opponent scouting reports, depth charts and recruiting reports.
  • Four-page bonus preview of Notre Dame.
  • Previews and depth charts for regional teams such as Houston, SMU, Marshall, Tulsa and North Texas.
  • Why Oklahoma has been both the most lucky and most unlucky team in the league.
  • Why recruiting has become a major in Big 12 country.
  • Why a letter from Bill Snyder is the greatest trophy in college football.
  • Profiles of key new coordinators at Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Kansas.
  • Advanced stats for every team in the Big 12.

 

 

Only available in the ACC edition

 

  • Four-page previews on each ACC team, including anonymous opponent scouting reports, depth charts and recruiting reports.
  • Four-page bonus preview of Notre Dame.
  • Previews and depth charts for East Carolina, Navy, Charlotte and Old Dominion.
  • Profile of high school-now-college rivals Dalvin Cook (Florida State) and Joseph Yearby (Miami).
  • How Clemson’s offense will evolve without Chad Morris.
  • How Georgia Tech and Paul Johnson continue to prove the critics wrong.
  • Why Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and Virginia coach Mike London are facing critical seasons.
  • Advanced stats for every team in the ACC.

 

 

Only available in the Pac-12 edition

 

  • Four-page previews on each Pac-12 team, including anonymous opponent scouting reports, depth charts and recruiting reports.
  • Four-page bonus previews of BYU and Notre Dame.
  • Previews and depth charts for every Mountain West team.
  • 12 Trends to Watch in the Pac-12 in 2015.
  • Advanced stats for every team in the Pac-12.
Teaser:
Buy the 2015 Athlon Sports College Football Preview Here
Post date: Friday, June 5, 2015 - 07:36
Path: /nba/nba-finals-cavs-warriors-preview-and-prediction
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For five straight seasons, now, LeBron James has sat in the Eastern Conference throne. Only two of his past four trips to the NBA Finals, however, have resulted in championships. And if James is to win a third this June, he’s got his work cut out for him.

 

The Golden State Warriors were the NBA’s best team this year, and it wasn’t close. Their 67-win campaign makes them one of the 10 best regular-season teams of all time. The bad news for the Cavs is that Golden State hasn’t looked much worse in the postseason.

 

The Warriors can do pretty much everything, and do it very well. Their collective basketball IQ on both sides of the ball is unparalleled across the league, as is their ability to switch assignments on defense. Perhaps most daunting of all for Cleveland is that Golden State has arguably the best possible collection of players to throw at James, in Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. The lengthy Shaun Livingston may even get spot minutes covering LeBron.

 

The Warriors, by all rational measures, are the favorites to win this series. They’ve been historically great in every statistical category. Teams who play this well simply win championships.

 

But the giant caveat, as always, is that one of these teams has LeBron, and the other doesn’t. Despite an inefficient run by the numbers, James’ postseason has been remarkable. He’s put an injured, inexperienced team on his shoulders. And the depleted Cavs have found lightning in the surge of Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov in the front court, who look emboldened by a bigger stage. Add the the hot shooting of a mercurial J.R. Smith to the mix — along with a hopefully healthy Kyrie Irving — and this is an improbably dangerous squad.

 

The Warriors should win this series, but don’t be a surprised if the duel is a more hotly contested struggle than anticipated.

 

Prediction: Warriors in six.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, June 1, 2015 - 14:53
All taxonomy terms: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans, NBA
Path: /nba/new-orleans-pelicans-name-alvin-gentry-new-head-coach
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Anthony Davis has a new molder. The best young NBA big man this side of Shaquille O’Neal was the best selling point for any free agent coach this offseason, once Davis’ New Orleans Pelicans created an opening by dismissing Monty Williams after five years of service.

 

Now, Golden State Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry takes Williams’ old job. The former head coach of the Phoenix Suns, Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Clippers has been in the league, in one capacity or another, since 1989. One of the shrewdest offensive strategists of today, he propelled the Suns’ seven-seconds-or-less squad to their deepest playoff run, when they came within two games of the Finals in 2010.

 

Gentry has also been integral to Steve Kerr’s adjustment curve as a rookie head coach for the Warriors, and the advancement of Stephen Curry’s game to an MVP level. Before he takes over in New Orleans, of course, he still has to help his current roster through the 2015 Finals, against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

 

"I'm truly honored for the opportunity to lead the Pelicans as their head coach and am anxious to get started," Gentry said in a public statement. His contract is said to be worth $13.7 million, over four years, with a team option in the fourth year.

 

Whether New Orleans exercises the fourth year, and whether Gentry’s tenure is considered a success, will likely hinge upon how far he can take Davis and Co. into the playoffs. Ownership had made it clear to Williams that his job would not be safe if the Pelicans missed the postseason in 2015, but they fired him even though New Orleans grabbed the eighth spot in the stacked Western Conference.

 

Clearly, expectations are high for Gentry in his new position — as they should be when Davis, a generational talent, is in tow. Honorable of a job as Williams did, Gentry is by all accounts the right man to take the best young player in the game to the next level. This is going to be fun.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, June 1, 2015 - 10:10
Path: /college-football/college-football-2015-rankings-and-predictions-81-100
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The 2015 college football season is still a few months away, but it’s never too early to project how the upcoming year will play out on the field. Athlon Sports has released its top 25 for this season and continues the countdown to September with a look at the teams ranked No. 26-128.

 

The 81-100 rankings release features only three teams from the Power 5 leagues. The majority of the programs in this batch of rankings is from the Group of 5 leagues, including a program on the rise in Western Michigan, two talented Sun Belt programs in UL Lafayette and Appalachian State and Air Force and Nevada from the Mountain West.

 

Follow @AthlonSports college football staff on Twitter: Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Braden Gall (@BradenGall), David Fox (@DavidFox615), Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch) and Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)

 

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

 

Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2015 season

 

College Football's 2015 Projected Rankings: No. 81-100

 

81. Western Michigan

 

WMU won eight games in 2014, but “we probably won more games on paper than what kind of football team we actually had,” P.J. Fleck says. “We kind of got on a roll.” This year’s team might be better and win less. The schedule is unforgiving. In an apparent effort to win the Big Ten’s East Division, the Broncos get Michigan State and Ohio State in September, opening with the Spartans in Kalamazoo. They close with midweek road games at division rivals Northern Illinois and Toledo, both of which Fleck has yet to beat. “We’ve done all the work to earn expectations,” Fleck says. Meeting them will be a bear.

 

Read the full 2015 Western Michigan Broncos Team Preview

 

82. Wake Forest

 

Coach Dave Clawson, coming off two straight bowl games at Bowling Green, walked into a disaster. The Deacons will be one of the nation’s youngest teams again, and the offense could feature eight underclassmen as starters. They have a difficult schedule and are likely a year away from being truly competitive, but Clawson’s recruiting classes have been historically good, giving hope that he can transform the program.

 

Read the full 2015 Wake Forest Demon Deacons Team Preview

 

83. Air Force

 

The Falcons averaged 31.5 points per game in 2014. That number could jump to near 40 this season. The fullbacks and receivers are at historical strength, and if opposing defensive coordinators stack against the run, Romine owns the arm power and accuracy to torch defensive backs.

 

But can the defense keep opposing offenses in check? The Falcons win, and win big, when their undersized defenders consistently keep opponents under 25 points per game.

 

Expect the Falcons to rush to a winning record, which would be the seventh in nine seasons under coach Troy Calhoun, but the youthful defense must quickly jell for the Falcons to again flirt with 10 wins.

 

Read the full 2015 Air Force Falcons Team Preview

 

84. Purdue

 

Having yet to win a Big Ten home game in coach Darrell Hazell’s first two seasons and having failed to win any game after the first week of October, Purdue needs to take a big step in 2015 to placate a fan base that is grumbling after a November free fall that included losing to rival Indiana for a second consecutive season. The defense has a chance to be much better, and the offensive line is sound with six players back who started at least six games in 2014. But other than receiver Danny Anthrop, the Boilermakers are lacking in proven playmakers — and he is coming off a torn ACL.

 

Finding a way to get out of the Big Ten West basement will be quite a challenge.

 

Read the full 2015 Purdue Boilermakers Team Preview

 

85. Syracuse

 

Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer has his work cut out to improve on a 3–9 season. Margin for error will be slim with a new offensive system and eight new defensive starters. And with (now former) athletic director Daryl Gross choosing to “take on new challenges” following the NCAA’s handing down of sanctions in March, Shafer could be coaching for his job.

 

Read the full 2015 Syracuse Orange Team Preview

 

86. Louisiana Tech

 

The Bulldogs are expected to repeat as C-USA West champs, though their two most challenging league games — Western Kentucky and Rice — are both on the road. Two other significant road challenges will come at Kansas State (9–4 in 2014) and Mississippi State (10–3), although coach Skip Holtz should plan on another bowl trip this holiday season. Florida transfer quarterback Jeff Driskel’s acclimation to his new offense is the key. He has plenty of skill pieces in place to propel him to the consistent level of success he never enjoyed at Florida. The defense is again loaded with playmakers, but linebackers must emerge if it wants to be one of the league’s best units. This should be another fun season in Ruston.

 

Read the full 2015 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Team Preview

 

87. UL Lafayette

 

This is a program that has thrived under coach Mark Hudspeth’s leadership, and the Cajuns are expected to continue to enjoy success again this year. They have posted four consecutive 9–4 records and four straight New Orleans Bowl appearances. While competition will be strong, Lafayette is expected to contend for the Sun Belt title once again. There is concern based on inexperience at a couple of key positions, most notably quarterback and on the defensive line, but there is also a confidence among those in the program based on recent success.

 

Read the full 2015 UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns Team Preview

 

88. MTSU

 

MTSU has been bowl-eligible in five of the past six seasons, and the 2015 squad has enough talent and experience to add to that total. But the schedule doesn’t do the Blue Raiders any favors. Two weeks after a trip to Alabama, MTSU begins a three-game stretch against Illinois, Vanderbilt and high-powered rival Western Kentucky. The senior-laden squad could be coach Rick Stockstill’s best in a few years, but the record might not show it.

 

“We’ve got some tough road games; it’s not just our out-of-conference games,” Stockstill says. “Western Kentucky could be favored to win the East, and we go there. Louisiana Tech could be favored to win the West, and we go there. But for us to contend (in Conference USA), we have got to stay healthy through those first five games so we can play well down the stretch in our conference.”

 

Read the full 2015 MTSU Blue Raiders Team Preview

 

89. Rice

 

Rice has come a long way since the days of being “everybody’s homecoming game,” head coach David Bailiff says. The best three-year stretch in school history has produced three straight bowl appearances (two wins), 25 victories and a 2013 C-USA title. Construction began this offseason on a $31.5 million end-zone training facility, and there are talks about a much-needed facelift for Rice Stadium. With so many questions — and a tough opening month — it might be asking too much to come close to the win totals from the last three seasons, but the Owls should be in position for another bowl trip.

 

Read the full 2015 Rice Owls Team Preview

 

90. Appalachian State

 

The transition from FCS powerhouse to Sun Belt newcomer was likely a jarring one for Mountaineers fans who fondly recall the heady days of winning national titles and authoring an all-time great upset at Michigan. But this season should provide them with a pleasant taste of their new normal.

 

By finishing third in the Sun Belt last season, the Mountaineers showed they could compete. With loads of experience back and plenty of confidence banked from last year’s strong finish, there’s no reason to believe this season can’t be even better.

 

Throw in the fact that the Mountaineers could now earn a bowl invite — they were barred from it last season — and have a schedule that features home games against league heavyweights UL-Lafayette, Arkansas State and longtime Southern Conference rival Georgia Southern, and life on the FBS level should begin to feel just right.

 

Read the full 2015 Appalachian State Mountaineers Team Preview

 

91. Nevada

 

With questions at quarterback, offensive line and receiver, Nevada will rely on its improving defense. Still, there will be bumps.

 

San Diego State is the favorite in the West Division, but Nevada isn’t far behind. A favorable home conference slate should help Nevada land a bowl game for the 10th time in 11 years.

 

Read the full 2015 Nevada Wolf Pack Team Preview

 

92. UMass

 

UMass won just one game in each of its first two FBS seasons. Last year it jumped up to three wins and nearly had more as a play or two might have changed the results of several games. With most of last year’s team returning, the Minutemen have a chance to take a significant step forward. It’s a critical year for UMass, which is leaving the MAC after the season for an undetermined stretch as an Independent. It’s hoped that a strong year capped by UMass’ first bowl appearance since 1972 might pique the interest of a conference willing to offer permanent membership.

 

Read the full 2015 UMass Minutemen Team Preview

 

93. Texas State

 

Texas State has been knocking on the door for a bowl game during the past two seasons. In fact, the Bobcats were the only 7–5 bowl-eligible team not to receive a postseason invite last season. To secure its first bowl berth in program history, Texas State will likely ask its offense to carry the torch early in the hope that its defense will flourish toward the end of the season. The Bobcats have a favorable home schedule but must face league powers Arkansas State, Georgia Southern and UL Lafayette on the road. If Texas State can sweep its home slate and steal one or two games on the road, coach Dennis Franchione’s team should finally bust down the bowl door.

 

Read the full 2015 Texas State Bobcats Team Preview

 

94. Ball State

 

Blessed with 17 returning starters from a group that won four of its final six games, Ball State ought to be able to shrug off last year’s step back and be a factor in the tough MAC West. The key is how Jack Milas grows into the starting quarterback role. “I’m not going to say he has arrived by any means,” Pete Lembo says, “but he’s more comfortable out there.”

 

Read the full 2015 Ball State Cardinals Team Preview

 

95. Wyoming

 

Wyoming is still a work in progress after switching offensive and defensive philosophies when Craig Bohl was hired. More development should occur this season with a more manageable schedule, but the Cowboys are still a couple of years away from being serious contenders in the Mountain West.

 

Read the full 2015 Wyoming Cowboys Team Preview

 

96. New Mexico

 

New Mexico faces five teams that won four or fewer games last season, plus FCS member Mississippi Valley State, so getting to six wins is not an impossible task. Should quarterback Austin Apodaca adjust to the running portion of the offense and create a legitimate passing attack, New Mexico is going to score enough to win some games.

 

Defensively, the team gave up more than 28 points per game against unranked opponents, a number that simply has to come down. A bowl game is the ceiling for this year’s team, but it is a ceiling that at least appears to be reachable for the first time in the Bob Davie era.

 

Read the full 2015 New Mexico Lobos Team Preview

 

97. Akron

 

The third year of the Terry Bowden era was a major disappointment as the Zips finished with a second straight 5–7 record. Led by some key returnees and a host of talented transfers, Akron should take a step forward in 2015 and contend in the MAC East Division. Anything short of a winning record will be considered a disappointment.

 

Read the full 2015 Akron Zips Team Preview

 

98. Ohio

 

Coming off a 6–6 season in which the Bobcats were blown out several times, Ohio should rebound nicely in 2015. With experienced depth across the board, an aggressive, quick defense, and an emerging star in running back A.J. Ouellette, the Bobcats won’t be learning on the fly like they were in 2014. Ohio will be a factor in the MAC East, and a bump in wins and a bowl berth should be the expectation.

 

Read the full 2015 Ohio Bobcats Team Preview

 

99. South Florida

 

It has the look of a produce-or-else season for Willie Taggart, who is 6–18 with the Bulls and must avoid the program’s fifth straight season without a bowl appearance. Taggart fired three assistant coaches immediately after last season, including both coordinators. He changed the offensive style of play, shocking observers who said Taggart was too stubborn.

 

Running back Marlon Mack is a wonderful weapon. There are some building blocks on defense. But the schedule is formidable, and the Bulls must make a big jump to reach the postseason. The offense may be picking up the pace, but Taggart is running out of time.

 

Read the full 2015 South Florida Bulls Team Preview

 

100. UTEP

 

In just three springs, coach Sean Kugler has built exactly the team he wants at his alma mater: An offense that pounds the ball up the middle, a stout defense that makes plays and a squad that avoids penalties and turnovers. UTEP’s problems have come when it runs into teams with a similar mentality and better personnel, which happened in four of the six losses last season and figures to happen in the first game of the season at Arkansas. These Miners, though, should be better than last year, and for the first time since 2006, they’re building off a winning season.

 

Read the full 2015 UTEP Miners Team Preview

Teaser:
College Football 2015 Rankings and Predictions: #81-100
Post date: Monday, June 1, 2015 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/college-football-2015-rankings-and-predictions-61-80
Body:

The 2015 college football season is still a few months away, but it’s never too early to project how the upcoming year will play out on the field. Athlon Sports has released its top 25 for this season and continues the countdown to September with a look at the teams ranked No. 26-128.

 

The 61-80 rankings release features more teams from the Power 5 leagues, as well as some predicted champions from the Group of 5 conferences. WKU leads the way in C-USA teams at No. 69, while Marshall is one spot behind at No. 70. Toledo also ranks No. 75 as the first MAC team in the 128 rankings. 

 

Follow @AthlonSports college football staff on Twitter: Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Braden Gall (@BradenGall), David Fox (@DavidFox615), Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch) and Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)

 

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

 

Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2015 season

 

College Football's 2015 Projected Rankings: No. 61-80

 

61. Virginia

 

Coach Mike London is no stranger to the hot seat. He’s been under a cloud for three seasons. Last year’s improvement from 2–10 to 5–7 was encouraging to a point. But a second-half fade after a 4–2 start raised old questions about the team’s inability to finish close games under London.

 

Last year’s progress earned London a last chance. Nothing short of a bowl game appearance is likely to keep him around. With the usual questions on offense and big shoes to fill on defense — as well as another brutal non-conference schedule — Virginia has a lot to overcome for that to happen. Too much, probably.

 

Read the full 2015 Virginia Cavaliers Team Preview

 

62. Temple

 

Temple went from two wins in 2013 to six a year ago. There is reason to believe they can at least get back to a bowl game for the first time in four seasons, and a run at the American Athletic Conference East Division crown is not out of the question. To take that next step, the offense must produce as it did in Matt Rhule’s debut season of 2013, and Temple must find what it takes to win more close games against better opponents.

 

Read the full 2015 Temple Owls Team Preview

 

63. UCF

 

Despite losing key players who helped the program clinch a share of its second consecutive American title in 2014, coach George O’Leary emphasizes that it’s a reload, not a rebuild. It’s hard to argue with O’Leary, who has averaged 9.4 wins over the past five seasons. Though there are question marks at certain positions, there’s an expectation that UCF has the talent to again be a contender for the conference title.

 

Read the full 2015 UCF Knights Team Preview

 

64. Illinois

 

It is a simple question with a complicated answer: What does Tim Beckman need to do to continue as Illinois football coach? The coach enters his fourth season with a 12–25 overall record and a 4–20 mark in the Big Ten. No doubt the team has improved during Beckman’s tenure. But the bar was set low with a 2–10 mark his first year. The Illini won four in 2013 and six in 2014. The fans demand more.

 

The schedule doesn’t help. The Illini travel to North Carolina and Iowa, while hosting Big Ten powerhouses Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Another bowl bid is doable, and six wins should keep Beckman at the school for at least another season.

 

Read the full 2015 Illinois Fighting Illini Team Preview

 

65. Rutgers

 

No one expected life in the Big Ten to be easy for Rutgers, and losses to Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State by a combined 180–44 score showed that the Scarlet Knights have a long way to go before they can compete with the cream of the conference crop. Rutgers’ quest to reach a bowl game for the 10th time in 11 years will depend on whether coach Kyle Flood can find enough offense to compensate for a young defensive corps that figures to struggle against elite Big Ten competition once again.  

 

Read the full 2015 Rutgers Scarlet Knights Team Preview

 

66. Washington State

 

After making their first bowl game in a decade in 2013, the Cougars backslid last season. Experience and depth are still issues, but the hope in Pullman is that the coaching changes combined with an infusion of junior college talent will help this team get back to the postseason.

 

Read the full 2015 Washington State Cougars Team Preview

 

67. Colorado

 

Colorado won only two games in coach Mike MacIntyre’s second season and went winless in conference play for the first time in 99 years. Despite those harsh realities, there were tangible signs that the program is finally on the right track and in position to become more competitive in the Pac-12. Four of the Buffaloes’ nine league losses came by five points or fewer, including double-overtime losses to Cal and UCLA. The goal in Year 3 is to turn some of those close losses into wins and make a move out of the Pac-12 South basement.

 

Read the full 2015 Colorado Buffaloes Team Preview

 

68. San Diego State

 

San Diego State has gone to five consecutive bowl games for the first time in program history and has been steady but not spectacular in four seasons under coach Rocky Long’s leadership. The seven victories in 2014 were the Aztecs’ fewest since 2009 (under Brady Hoke), and there is now an expectation of a winning season and bowl game appearance every year.

 

If Maxwell Smith can avoid the injuries that hindered him at Kentucky and can provide the downfield passing attack San Diego State lacked last season, the Aztecs will be a solid threat to reach the Mountain West title game. The defense is strong enough for San Diego State to win the division crown, and there is enough overall talent for the Aztecs to set winning the conference championship as a legitimate goal.

 

Read the full 2015 San Diego State Aztecs Team Preview

 

69. WKU

 

Few programs have transitioned to the FBS level as well as WKU, which is just six years into its move up from FCS. Of 27 teams to make the jump since 1987, only eight reached a second bowl game during a six-year window. Eight of 20 head coaching openings in the country last year were filled by first-time head coaches, and Jeff Brohm was the only one of the eight to win a bowl game.

 

With all the offensive weapons returning, especially quarterback Brandon Doughty and running back Leon Allen, the Hilltoppers will continue to score points. If the defense can at least start to slow teams down, WKU is poised to make that next jump to becoming a consistent Conference USA challenger. 

 

Read the full 2015 WKU Hilltoppers Team Preview

 

70. Marshall

 

Running back Devon Johnson’s return and a bevy of talented receivers help ease the pressure on new quarterback Michael Birdsong for an offense that has eclipsed 500 yards per game on average for each of the last three seasons. If the defense provides anything this season, the Herd — who face another soft schedule — should be in contention for a Conference USA Championship and potential New Year’s Six bowl berth.

 

Read the full 2015 Marshall Thundering Herd Team Preview

 

71. Colorado State

 

It will be hard to match the success the Rams had last season, when they won nine games in a row and posted only the fifth 10-win season in school history. There’s bound to be a drop-off as they learn new schemes and replace key players. Jim McElwain left the program in good shape, though, with solid depth at most positions and some talented players who are ready to step into starring roles. A third consecutive bowl appearance is well within reach.

 

Read the full 2015 Colorado State Rams Team Preview

 

72. East Carolina

 

Ruffin McNeill, on a cane all spring after hip surgery, can stand tall with what he has done in Greenville at his alma mater. The Pirates were 5–3 in their first year in the American Athletic Conference and went to their fourth bowl in McNeill’s five seasons. He graduated the leading passer (Shane Carden) in school history and the FBS’s all-time receptions leader (Justin Hardy), but he had a 105-man roster out in spring, certainly a sign of a healthy program. If his young quarterback comes through, it looks like he has another bowl team to lean on.

 

Read the full 2015 East Carolina Pirates Team Preview

 

73. Oregon State

 

Oregon State has been trumpeting the “new era” motto, and for good reason. After former coach Mike Riley pulled off arguably the biggest stunner of the coaching carousel by bolting for Nebraska, Oregon State’s luring Gary Andersen away from Wisconsin was almost as shocking. Andersen rebuilt Utah State in a short time and has hired a top-notch staff to help him do the same in Corvallis. But with so much youth at quarterback, plus a slew of holes to fill on a defense that will consistently match up against some of the nation’s most potent offenses, can Oregon State expect to contend for a bowl game in a loaded Pac-12? The Beavers are likely still at least a year away from making serious progress in the win/loss column. 

 

Read the full 2015 Oregon State Beavers Team Preview

 

74. Iowa State

 

There is significant pressure on Paul Rhoads, whose program has won a total of five games in the past two years, to show significant improvement this season. First and foremost, for that to happen, the Cyclones have to stay healthy. After that, the offense needs to be more explosive and efficient. The defense should be improved, but not enough to consistently slow down quality Big 12 offenses. Getting to six wins — and reaching bowl-eligibility — will be a challenge for the 2014 Cyclones.

 

Read the full 2015 Iowa State Cyclones Team Preview

 

75. Toledo

 

Toledo has the luxury of playing seven home games in 2015, and the Rockets return of plenty of playmakers on defense and some extremely talented individuals at running back and receiver. But all of the optimism has to be tempered by the fact that Toledo has gone from having one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country last year with five senior starters to having one of the least experienced this time around. The development of that new line is the key to the season. If the offensive line grows up fast, the Rockets should be a championship-caliber team in 2015.

 

Read the full 2015 Toledo Rockets Team Preview

 

76. Arkansas State

 

The Red Wolves’ depth chart started to show the effects of four coaching changes in four seasons last fall. ASU was critically thin in key areas, starting with the defensive line, before a rash of season-ending injuries made matters worse. Still, there was enough talent on hand to pull out seven victories and make a fourth straight bowl trip. Blake Anderson’s second season starts with a difficult non-conference schedule, but ASU won’t face defending Sun Belt champion Georgia Southern in conference play. While the Red Wolves should put up plenty of points, they will have to improve defensively to maximize their potential.

 

Read the full 2015 Arkansas State Red Wolves Team Preview

 

77. Georgia Southern

 

Georgia Southern’s first year as an FBS member could hardly have gone better, as the Eagles went 8–0 in the Sun Belt and came within a couple plays of knocking off NC State and Georgia Tech. Don’t count on the Eagles getting complacent either, as NCAA rules governing FCS-to-FBS transitions prevented them from playing in a bowl game.

 

“We deserved a chance to go,” offensive lineman Darien Foreman says. “We felt like it wasn’t fair, but that’s a big motivation for us this offseason.” Georgia Southern should only get more potent as Willie Fritz molds and recruits players who fit his offense. If the defense plays at the same level or improves, the Eagles could easily repeat as conference champs.

 

Read the full 2015 Georgia Southern Eagles Team Preview

 

78. Bowling Green

 

How the expectations have changed. The Falcons won at least eight games for the third straight season, claimed a second consecutive MAC East crown and won their first bowl game in a decade — but it wasn’t enough to reach the team’s lofty goals.

 

When coach Dino Babers and his fast-paced, high-powered offense arrived following the MAC championship season of 2013, visions of 50 points per game and another league title were prevalent. For 2015, Babers has the personnel to pull off that kind of explosive scoring. The Falcons have just about everyone back on an offense that should be among the best in the league. The young and inexperienced defense is suspect, however. Babers will be plugging holes with players he hopes possess the skill set to solidify the defense. If that happens, this should be a championship-caliber team that once again flirts with fulfilling those lofty expectations.

 

Read the full 2015 Bowling Green Falcons Team Preview

 

79. Vanderbilt

 

It’s difficult to put a positive spin on Derek Mason’s first year as a head coach. Coming off back-to-back nine-win seasons, Vanderbilt slumped to 3–9 overall and failed to win a game in the SEC. Mason’s second Vanderbilt team should be improved, thanks in part to more experience on both sides of the ball and upgrades on the coaching staff. But the Commodores will have to be drastically better, especially on offense, to make a move in the SEC East, where seemingly every program — with the possible exception of South Carolina — is on the uptick.

 

Read the full 2015 Vanderbilt Commodores Team Preview

 

80. Northern Illinois

 

Despite the Huskies’ loss of most of their playmakers on offense and top sack specialist, the road to the MAC West title still goes through Northern Illinois. The offense has the potential to be formidable again with a solid group of running backs, an explosive corps of receivers and Hare benefiting from a full offseason as the starting quarterback. Defensively, the Huskies are solid in the secondary with a few spots to fill at linebacker and along the defensive line.

 

The Huskies have lost three straight bowl games, including a 52–23 blowout loss to Marshall in the Boca Raton Bowl last season. Rod Carey is not shying away from using that as motivation. The conference schedule is favorable for a run at a sixth straight West title and fourth conference championship in five years.

 

Read the full 2015 Northern Illinois Team Preview

Teaser:
College Football 2015 Rankings and Predictions: #61-80
Post date: Friday, May 29, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: Chicago Bulls, NBA
Path: /nba/chicago-bulls-come-out-tom-thibodeau-firing-looking-ugly
Body:

The Chicago Bulls made the inevitable into reality early Thursday, firing five-year head coach Tom Thibodeau. The move came after multiple seasons of frigidity and acrimony between Thibodeau and his front office had risen to the point that owner Jerry Reinsdorf, typically distant from team operations, become involved. Here’s what Reinsdorf had to say in the press release:

 

Recent reports indicate that Reinsdorf was especially miffed by Jeff Van Gundy, a confidante of Thibodeau’s, speaking ill of the team during ABC broadcasts. Nothing Van Gundy said was off base, of course: The Bulls have an organizational history of feeling insecure about the greatness of those they employ, and make their stars — however big, however valuable — uncomfortable over time.

 

Just ask Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson. Or Thibodeau’s predecessor, Scott Skiles, who was fired on Christmas Eve. This is a franchise that has long been its own worst enemy, bungling success when it gets large enough and starts feeling that proper credit hasn’t been given to the characters operating behind the curtains.

 

To be sure, this is a front office with considerable basketball acumen. Their record in the NBA Draft has been stellar for close to a decade, with Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler all blossoming into outstanding players. But you can expect the Bulls to continue having bad luck on the free agency market so long as this is how they treat people. 

 

The salty words of Reinsdorf’s press release are in line with the harsh handle they’ve had with their icons, and Thibodeau is most certainly a Chicago icon now; not only does he have the best record of any Bulls coach who isn’t Jackson, but he joins the illustrious ranks of Reinsdorf-induced martyrdom. That annal spreads to Reinsdorf’s Chicago White Sox, too — in 1986, that team had an ugly divorce with none other than Tony La Russa.

 

The Bulls are expected to close on Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg soon. Hoiberg has long been rumored to be next in line after Thibodeau, as he has a good relationship with the front office. Maybe he won't, though, if he becomes too successful. 

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, May 28, 2015 - 13:25
Path: /nba/do-rockets-need-make-changes-after-being-ousted-warriors
Body:

Few people thought the Houston Rockets could make it this far. They were counted out after falling into a 3-1 hole against the Los Angeles Clippers, only to surge and make a historic comeback in the second round.

 

Such a feat was not meant to be repeated. Although the Western Conference finals was closer than many would have you believe, the Rockets ultimately took just one victory home with them as Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors advanced.

 

In the series, Houston could rarely keep up with the Warriors’ offensive production. They lost the first two games in Oakland by a combined five points — James Harden averaged 33 points and nine assists in those games. He scored 45 in their Game 4 win in Houston. When Harden wasn’t playing an excellent game, though, the Rockets sputtered.

 

That was the case in the closeout contest, in which Harden played what was probably the worst game of his career. He shot 2-for-11 and turned the ball over 13 times, an all-time record for anyone in a playoff contest.

 

Houston’s lack of complementary playmakers hurt them more than anything in this series. Though their defensive intensity wavered at times, they showed often enough that they’re as capable as anyone at making the Warriors work hard for their buckets.

 

There’s not a lot that needs to be changed for these Rockets. This is a stellar team, capable of huge things as long as they can keep Dwight Howard on a rest program that has him playing the role of superman rim-protector in the spring. If they run this roster back next year, it’s certainly possible that they could improve and emerge out of the Western Conference.

 

But the cap space Houston has — about $10 million worth — should be spent on someone who can do more with the ball in his hands. As outstanding as Harden is, he has his limits; everyone does. He can only be a one-man offense for so long.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, May 28, 2015 - 11:37
Path: /college-football/college-football-2015-rankings-and-predictions-41-60
Body:

The 2015 college football season is still a few months away, but it’s never too early to project how the upcoming year will play out on the field. Athlon Sports has released its top 25 for this season and continues the countdown to September with a look at the teams ranked No. 41-60.

 

The 41-60 range features two teams breaking in new coaches (Houston and Pittsburgh), along with a handful of midpack teams from Power 5 leagues. North Carolina, Miami, Boston College and Duke all appear in this position from the ACC, while Minnesota and Iowa are in from the Big Ten. Entering a crucial season under coach Mark Stoops, Kentucky is No. 55 in the 2015 rankings.

 

Follow @AthlonSports college football staff on Twitter: Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Braden Gall (@BradenGall), David Fox (@DavidFox615), Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch) and Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)

 

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

 

Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2015 season

 

College Football 2015 Projected Rankings: 41-60

 

41. Pittsburgh

 

Seven years. Five coaches. Zero continuity. That is the storyline for Pittsburgh, which hired Pat Narduzzi in December. The situation is confounding and maddening to a fan base that’s been witness to a program mired in mediocrity. Whether Narduzzi can provide stability is unclear, but the former Michigan State defensive coordinator offers a snappy résumé as a career assistant. Under Narduzzi, Michigan State was the only school in the FBS to rank in the top 10 in total and rushing defense the past four seasons. He inherits a Panthers team that was the youngest in the nation with 81 underclassmen (53 freshmen and 28 sophomores). Fifteen starters return.

 

Pittsburgh features game-changers in running back James Conner and receiver Tyler Boyd, but a transition to a new coaching staff — again — and uncertainty at quarterback and on defense will surely create challenges.

 

Read the full 2015 Pittsburgh Panthers Team Preview

 

42. North Carolina

 

North Carolina's season depends heavily upon two factors: the health of quarterback Marquise Williams, and how much the defense can improve on last season’s disastrous results. The Tar Heels don’t look like a championship contender, but they have a couple of factors in their favor. One, they play in the ACC’s Coastal Division, so they don’t have to worry about league heavyweights Florida State and Clemson in the standings. And two, they don’t have to worry about Florida State and Clemson at all because they don’t play them (or Louisville, for that matter) this season. A winning season and another bowl trip are within reach, and any result substantially better than that could make new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik an appealing candidate for a head coaching job with another program.

 

Read the full 2015 North Carolina Tar Heels Team Preview

 

43. Miami

 

Few coaches in America occupy a hotter seat than Al Golden, who is 28–22 entering his fifth season. The Hurricanes lost four straight to finish 6–7 — UM’s third losing season in the last 35 years. He recruited well through a lengthy NCAA investigation, but fans howl that the program keeps sailing further and further from the glory years.

 

This year’s team is young, after losing a host of NFL-caliber talent, and has to battle a brutal October stretch that includes Florida State (in Tallahassee) and Clemson. The Canes haven’t played for the ACC title since joining the conference in 2004, and it doesn’t look like this will be the year.

 

The ‘U’ stands for ‘Underwhelming’ now, and if Golden doesn’t produce results this season, he might be looking for work elsewhere.

 

Read the full 2015 Miami Hurricanes Team Preview

 

44. Kansas State

 

On paper, Kansas State looks like it lost too many playmakers to match its win total from a year ago, but you can’t count out a Bill Snyder-coached team.

 

“It is obvious there were some critical elements in our program that we lost. When you lose the production that we had offensively, it certainly is sorely missed,” Snyder says. “From a defensive standpoint, we lost fewer people, fewer numbers. The dynamics are difficult, and they are every year. Some positions are a little harder to reconstruct than others. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

 

Read the full 2015 Kansas State Wildcats Team Preview

 

45. Minnesota

 

Jerry Kill was named Big Ten Coach of the Year last season, and he’ll need to work more magic this year against a schedule that includes TCU and Ohio State. The coaches are confident they have enough running back talent to replace David Cobb, but there’s no substitute for a dynamic tight end like Maxx Williams. Mitch Leidner was instrumental in all five Big Ten wins last year. He needs to be more consistent. If the offense finds a way, this won’t be a fun team to play.

 

“We’ve got a chance to be a really, really good football team,” Kill says. “We’re very athletic on both sides of the ball.”

 

The Gophers were picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten West last year but wound up pushing Wisconsin to a final-week showdown for the division title. The Gophers landed their first New Year’s Day bowl appearance since 1962, and more than 20,000 of their fans turned out to watch them play Missouri in the Citrus Bowl.

 

The fans want more. The Gophers haven’t defeated Wisconsin since 2003 and haven’t won a bowl game since 2004. If Kill can get those things done, his popularity will continue to soar.

 

Read the full 2015 Minnesota Golden Gophers Team Preview

 

46. Washington

 

For coach Chris Petersen’s second season, Huskies followers will lower their expectations. Just nine starters return. The defensive front seven must be almost completely rebuilt. A new quarterback needs to be broken in. Now the rebuilding really begins. Six or seven wins would be considered progress.

 

Read the full 2015 Washington Huskies Team Preview

 

47. California

 

Cal was one of the nation’s most-improved teams in 2014. But the Bears were far from satisfied after losing six of their final seven games to miss out on the postseason for the third straight year. “We could have taken the program to the next step,” receiver Kenny Lawler says, “but we just came up short.”

 

No one in the program will be happy with anything less than a bowl game and the chance to compete near the top of the Pac-12 North. Defense remains Cal’s great unknown, and the road schedule is daunting. But quarterback Jared Goff says the team is ready for something different. “There’s so much more confidence on our team,” Goff says. “Expectations are very high.”

 

Read the full 2015 California Golden Bears Team Preview

 

48. Texas Tech

 

In Year 3 of Kliff Kingsbury’s tenure, two things are very clear: The offense must find some consistency and the defense simply has to be better. The addition of coordinator David Gibbs should help stabilize the ailing defense, but all bets are off until they hit the field this fall. The big key, however, is at quarterback. The winner of the Patrick Mahomes vs. Davis Webb battle must play at a high level for Texas Tech to return to form.

 

Read the full 2015 Texas Tech Red Raiders Team Preview

 

49. BYU

 

BYU’s 2014 season did not end well. The loss to Memphis, followed by a postgame brawl, left the Cougars with regrets. The Cougars’ September schedule offers an opportunity for them to feel better about themselves and improve the outside perception of the program. Games with Nebraska, Boise State, UCLA and Michigan will go a long way toward defining BYU’s 2015 season. In an era when BYU is an Independent, coach Bronco Mendenhall is eager to make an impact. “We’re playing our way into contention and national recognition through the best opponents on the biggest stages, mostly away from home,” he says.

 

Read the full 2015 BYU Cougars Team Preview

 

50. Houston

 

A first-time head coach, Tom Herman brings credibility after winning a national title as the offensive coordinator at Ohio State. He’s spent the first several months on the job instilling a toughness that had been lacking in recent years. The Cougars have enough talent to compete in the AAC but will need to figure things out on the offensive line and develop across-the-board depth. A ninth bowl appearance in the last 11 years is certainly within reach.

 

Read the full 2015 Houston Cougars Team Preview

 

51. Utah State

 

Not even a plethora of key injuries derailed the Aggies from going to their fourth straight bowl game and emerging victorious for the third consecutive year. One has to wonder how good they could have been had they stayed healthy. Most of those athletes are back, and a strong recruiting class has been added.

 

With the success Utah State has enjoyed, several key assistants left for bigger schools. The Aggies will have new coordinators on both sides of the ball in Josh Heupel (offense) and Kevin Clune (defense), who was a position coach at USU several years ago. Coach Matt Wells believes the new coordinators have added to the program and brought a new and different enthusiasm.

 

Extending the school record streak of bowl appearances is nearly a given.

 

Read the full 2015 Utah State Aggies Team Preview

 

52. Duke

 

Duke will play the 2015 season amid signs of its revival. The quaint track at Wallace Wade has finally been removed, seating has been brought closer to the field and a new tower of luxury boxes will be under construction during the season.

 

As for the on-field product, the Blue Devils can show progress by managing to maintain their current status quo — a winning season and another bowl trip. There are probably too many question marks on offense to contend for the Coastal Division crown. But a manageable non-conference schedule (Northwestern is the biggest challenge) and avoiding Florida State, Clemson and Louisville in conference provides Duke ample opportunity to get to at least six wins and another bowl berth. The key may be David Cutcliffe’s ability to convince a team that’s won 25 games in the past three years that it still has something to prove.

 

Read the full 2015 Duke Blue Devils Team Preview

 

53. Iowa

 

It seems like with every strength that Iowa has, there is a weakness to offset it. Three starters return on the offensive line, but both tackles have to be replaced, including Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff. Both starters return at defensive end, but neither starter returns at defensive tackle.

 

C.J. Beathard is considered more athletic than Rudock, but he still is mostly unproven as a Big Ten starting quarterback.

 

Iowa has been average over the past three seasons with a 19–19 record. Expect more of the same from this team despite another favorable schedule.

 

Read the full 2015 Iowa Hawkeyes Team Preview

 

54. Navy

 

This is a new era for Navy, which joins the American Athletic Conference following more than a century as an Independent. The Midshipmen own a 34–27–1 record against current AAC members and have regularly played schools such as SMU, East Carolina and Tulane.

 

Veteran coach Ken Niumatalolo says capturing the conference championship has now been added to the annual goals of beating service academy rivals Army and Air Force to secure the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy and qualifying for a bowl game.

 

 “I think joining a conference is something we had to do and will be good for the program over the long haul,” Niumatalolo says. “However, there is a lot of apprehension and nervousness because there are so many unknowns.”

 

Read the full 2015 Navy Midshipmen Team Preview

 

55. Kentucky

 

This is a critical season for Mark Stoops and Kentucky. The administration has given him the resources — huge raises for him and his staff, a $120 million stadium renovation that opens this fall and a $45 million practice facility under construction — and Year 3 is time to deliver results.

 

The positive vibes of a 5–1 start last fall vanished with the Wildcats’ 0–6 finish. But after three straight top-40 recruiting classes and three springs and summers to develop that talent, Stoops is confident the tide is turning. “Significantly better right now,” he says. “I think it’s hard to put into words exactly. I definitely feel like we’re developing them to be a winning football team.”

 

Read the full 2015 Kentucky Wildcats Team Preview

 

56. Boston College

 

Coach Steve Addazio has this program going in the right direction after taking over a 2–10 team and putting together back-to-back winning seasons. Still, the question remains whether or not the Eagles can take that next step and become a true contender in the ACC. The defense should give this team a chance, but an inexperienced offense may prevent any giant leaps forward.

 

Read the full 2015 Boston College Eagles Team Preview

 

57. Maryland

 

The Terrapins surprised everyone with a seven-win season out of the gate in their first Big Ten campaign. Okay, okay, Penn State and Michigan — two big Maryland road victims — weren’t exactly Penn State and Michigan last season, but the Terrapins still managed to finish 4–4 in league play.

 

Moving forward, there are so many variables in play — new quarterback, young but bigger and better offensive line, a new 4-3 defense and just two defensive starters back in the positions they played in 2014 — making the Terrapins a tough team to forecast. Say this at least: They’ve been resilient. Through devastating injuries (they’re just three years removed from a freshman linebacker playing quarterback, and a running back had to play wide receiver last year) and the major move to Midwestern football, the Terrapins have stayed on course, slow and steady.

 

Read the full 2015 Maryland Terrapins Team Preview

 

58. Northwestern

 

A sense of normalcy is back at Northwestern, and so is a sense of urgency. The Wildcats understand what a third consecutive bowl-less campaign would do to a program still fighting the pre-1995 loser label. Coach Pat Fitzgerald has arguably his most talented defense, and if the special teams meet his expectations, the season once again could hinge on reigniting the offense. A drop-prone receiving corps must take a step forward, and an inconsistent line must protect the new quarterback, but there are weapons such as Justin Jackson (RB), Christian Jones (WR) and Dan Vitale (TE).

 

Northwestern must navigate another tricky non-league schedule with Stanford and Duke but once again misses Ohio State and Michigan State in league play. “We’ve got to do the things winners do,” Fitzgerald says. “We’ve got to get that edge back.”

 

Read the full 2015 Northwestern Wildcats Team Preview

 

59. Memphis

 

After going 10–3 last season and claiming a share of the AAC title, the Tigers are poised to repeat those successes. With Paxton Lynch at quarterback, the Tigers will possess a potent offense, one capable of overcoming whatever a rebuilding defense allows. A running game featuring two physical, punishing backs could be potent. Defensively, the Tigers will have to find replacements for eight players, including two — Bobby McCain and Martin Ifedi — who will be playing in the NFL. How quickly the secondary develops in a pass-oriented conference could determine the team’s ability to repeat as league champs.

 

Read the full 2015 Memphis Tigers Team Preview

 

60. Indiana

 

This year matters for coach Kevin Wilson, who has yet to win more than five games in a season. With three years remaining on his contract, Wilson needs to deliver a bowl trip to earn an extension and love from Indiana’s modest fan base. With three home games and a trip to Wake Forest to open the season, the Hoosiers need a big start before sliding into Big Ten play against Ohio State. If quarterback Nate Sudfeld can stay healthy and the defense creates more turnovers, a six-win season is realistic.

 

Read the full 2015 Indiana Hoosiers Team Preview

Teaser:
College Football 2015 Rankings and Predictions: #41-60
Post date: Thursday, May 28, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Steph Curry, NBA
Path: /nba/3-point-shot-has-become-divisive-metaphor-nba
Body:

Thirty-five seasons ago, the NBA instituted its 3-point arc. Much has changed regarding the details of this extra, ever-important stripe on the court, but the simple, essential truth of it has remained the same since then. One shot, much further from the rim, is worth three points instead of two.

 

Only more recently, however, has the value of the 3-point line been understood in exacting fashion. The dawn of analytics in the sport has given way to a re-imagination of court strategy across the league, with 2015 MVP Stephen Curry standing as the evolutionary zenith of how modern talent can fit into a new understanding of the parquet’s real estate. Teams are shooting more from beyond the arc than they ever have.

 

Lost in the discussion about the Year of the Three has been nuance. Old-school polemicists like Phil Jackson and Charles Barkley have very publicly bemoaned offensive styles that start at the perimeter and often end there, too; lane penetration and post play are still integral to the diet of a healthy contender, they say, and deep shooting should be little more than a peripheral benefit of a squad that looks to get to the rim first and foremost.

 

On the other side of the fence stands a pack of progress-obsessed analysts who readily laugh at Jackson and Barkley, insisting that they’re lost in the sands of time as the 3-point shot has become of singular, undeniable importance.

 

The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the more reasonable middle. Three-pointers are important: If you can’t shoot them at least at an average rate, you probably won’t be winning any NBA titles this century. But the fetish of the shot — particularly as it fills in as a metaphor of power for certain branches of thinking — often goes to extreme places in the wrong hands. The direction of play in this sport has been and always will be fluid, and while the upwardly trending nature of 3-point shooting teams is a powerful development, it is far from a permanent one.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, May 27, 2015 - 14:36
Path: /overtime/21-most-unintentionally-dirty-sports-photos-web-2015
Body:

Ahh, photography. It can catch a split-second moment in time and turn it into a hilarious photo that can be interpreted the completely wrong way. And sports provides more of these moments than most other subjects--usually because there's a lot of sweaty dudes rolling around with each other and celebrating as only sweaty dudes know how. Here are 21 unintentionally funny sports photos that are hilarious even if you don't like sports.

Teaser:
<p> These photos caught athletes doing things we only see in the movies (dirty movies.)</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 27, 2015 - 12:00
Path: /nba/after-being-swept-out-playoffs-cavs-what%E2%80%99s-next-atlanta-hawks
Body:

This past January, the Atlanta Hawks looked to be leaders of an NBA revolution. Without a superstar or even many years together, they were working from a blueprint of selflessness and intelligence that was all but unbeatable. They put together a 19-game winning streak to go lossless in the month, and rode their mid-season dominance to 60 wins, the most in the Eastern Conference.

 

Today, many fans may be forgetting all that. The Hawks are merely LeBron James’ latest victim, after he and his Cavaliers swept them out of the conference finals and sent them home for the summer.

 

Even before Cleveland snuffed out their flame, though, Atlanta had looked like a shadow of their regular-season selves this spring. Injuries piled up for them quickly in the postseason. Some of them were bad enough to take players out for the year (Kyle Korver, Thabo Sefolosha), while the rest of them were just making their active players worse (DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Mike Scott).

 

Some may take the Hawks’ swift exit as a referendum on their formula. In at least one way, this is probably true: If nothing else, Atlanta peaked far too early. Had that brilliant team in January been up against LeBron, we would have been watching a terrific version of playoff basketball. But the Hawks didn’t have the resolve or stamina to keep up the blistering pace they’d set.

 

What this loss doesn’t do is prove that you need a superstar to go to the Finals. Had the Hawks played well, there’d be an argument there — but the performance they put in was an iteration of team basketball that lands well below the standard they’d set for themselves. Now, they face an uncertain future together.

 

Carroll and Millsap are both free agents this summer. Many have assumed both will be back to keep the Hawks’ front five together, because of the friendliness and cohesion thats visible among this cast. But neither player has ever made the kind of money that multiple suitors will show them this July, so we’ll have to wait and see how they react when that happens.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, May 27, 2015 - 11:08
Path: /college-football/college-football-2015-rankings-and-predictions-26-40
Body:

The 2015 college football season is still a few months away, but it’s never too early to project how the upcoming year will play out on the field. Athlon Sports has released its top 25 for this season and continues the countdown to September with a look at the teams ranked No. 26-128.

 

In the 26-40 range, there’s no shortage of intriguing teams or programs that could push for a spot among the top 25 by the end of 2015. Florida, Michigan and Nebraska are three programs to watch with first-year coaches, while Missouri just missed the top 25 after winning back-to-back SEC East titles. Oklahoma State is due for a rebound year after finishing 7-6 last year. 

 

Follow @AthlonSports college football staff on Twitter: Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Braden Gall (@BradenGall), David Fox (@DavidFox615), Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch) and Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)

 

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

 

Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2015 season

 

College Football 2015 Projected Rankings: 26-40

 

26. Florida

 

Will Muschamp’s failure to identify an offensive coordinator or quarterback doomed him, leaving new coach Jim McElwain with a program that won just 11 games the past two seasons. The 53-year-old immediately set out to upgrade Florida’s offensive talent and address lagging facilities. Faced with a massive rebuild, McElwain will need time to field an SEC East contender at a school where championships were once the standard.

 

Read the full 2015 Florida Gators Team Preview

 

27. Missouri

 

The Tigers boast solid experience at a majority of units on offense and defense, but they are young at defensive end and ultra-young at receiver, where they must replace all three starters for the second straight year. That seems like a lot to overcome in the battle for a third straight SEC East crown, but suddenly you don’t make much money betting against Pinkel.

 

Read the full 2015 Missouri Tigers Team Preview

 

28. Oklahoma State

 

With the loss of 28 seniors leaving an inexperienced cast to try and contend in the Big 12, the 2014 season always figured to be a rebuilding effort. And it played out as such, turning worse when injuries and a lack of depth left the Cowboys exposed.

 

But quarterback Mason Rudolph’s arrival, both to the lineup and as a key piece to the future, reversed course and momentum. Now there’s talk that Oklahoma State, like TCU a year ago, could rise from seventh place to the top of the Big 12 in 2015.

 

Read the full 2015 Oklahoma State Cowboys Team Preview

 

29. Nebraska

 

Nebraska won nine or more games in each of Bo Pelini’s seven seasons as coach. His overall record was 67–27. So Riley can expect to be held to a high standard. But he is considerably more engaging than his predecessor, which probably means there will be some degree of patience during the transition.

 

The non-conference schedule could be challenging, with an opener at home against BYU and a trip to Miami (Fla.) two weeks later. But the conference schedule is such that nine wins, even in transition, should be possible. Nebraska hasn’t won a conference championship since 1999. Winning one this year would be a stretch, though the Huskers should contend in the Big Ten West if the defense improves.

 

Read the full 2015 Nebraska Cornhuskers Team Preview

 

30. Arizona

 

Arizona has won 26 games in coach Rich Rodriguez’s first three seasons, the most of any three-year period in school history. “I’m not saying we’re ahead of expectations,” says Rodriguez, “because we need to get deeper and tougher.” This is Rodriguez’s top group at Arizona, but it must play 12 weeks in succession without a bye.

 

Read the full 2015 Arizona Wildcats Team Preview

 

31. Utah

 

Utah is getting closer. In their fourth season of Pac-12 membership, the Utes posted their first winning record (5–4) in conference play and competed favorably against nearly every opponent.  Coach Kyle Whittingham likes the program’s trajectory entering its fifth season in the Pac-12. “We’ve taken a step forward every year with our depth and talent on the roster, one through 85,” he says. “It’s still a work in progress … but we feel like last year we made a lot of headway.”

 

In 2015, the Utes hope to overcome a lack of experience at receiver and in the secondary while counting on their senior quarterback to play more consistently as he completes an adventurous career.

 

Read the full 2015 Utah Utes Team Preview

 

32. Penn State

 

The Lions have addressed their glaring weakness, building depth and experience along a patchwork offensive line. They’ll still be young up front, with only one senior on the projected two-deep (two if you count incoming graduate transfer Kevin Reihner), but the line probably won’t be as big of a liability. On the opposite side of the ball, they return seven starters from what was, statistically, the Big Ten’s best defense last season.

 

Of Penn State’s six losses last fall, only two were by more than a touchdown. If the defense holds strong and Hackenberg gets a chance to show what he can do, it’s not hard to imagine the Lions turning a few of those close losses into close wins in 2015.

 

Read the full 2015 Penn State Nittany Lions Team Preview

 

33. Texas

 

Charlie Strong is still rebuilding in many ways after replacing his offense as well as two assistant coaches (Strong fired receivers coach Les Koenning and tight ends coach Bruce Chambers) after one season. Strong brought in former Oklahoma co-OC Jay Norvell as receivers coach, and Traylor replaced Chambers.

 

The defense will undoubtedly be the strength again this year. Special teams must improve. But it will be the direction of an offense that averaged an anemic 21.4 points per game in 2014 that will determine the fate of the Longhorns this season.

 

With a schedule that includes road games against potential top-10 teams Notre Dame, TCU and Baylor, the quarterback play has to lead a turnaround in 2015 or the results could be very similar to last year’s 6–7.

 

Read the full 2015 Texas Longhorns Team Preview

 

34. Michigan

 

If new coach Jim Harbaugh can keep Michigan’s offense from stepping on land mines while showing improvement week to week, the defense is good enough to push the Wolverines to at least eight victories. But if Michigan doesn’t find a quarterback who can protect the football, or get a serious push from its offensive line, the team may struggle to make a huge leap in Year 1 of the Harbaugh era.

 

Read the full 2015 Michigan Wolverines Team Preview

 

35. Virginia Tech

 

Virginia Tech is 22–17 overall and a .500 team in the league since 2012, prompting the uncomfortable conversation about how much longer revered coach Frank Beamer will walk the sideline in Blacksburg. A return to prominence would quash that talk, and with 16 returning starters, including a promising group of up-and-coming playmakers on offense and Foster’s usual great defense, Virginia Tech has a chance to challenge in the Coastal Division again. Another middling season, however, will only intensify the chatter that perhaps it’s time for Beamer to pass the torch.

 

Read the full 2015 Virginia Tech Hokies Team Preview

 

36. West Virginia

 

West Virginia, which has been either 4–5 or 5–4 in two of its three seasons in the Big 12, should once again be in the middle of the pack in the league standings.

 

With the exception of what seems to be a quirky 2013 campaign, coach Dana Holgorsen continues to crank out fine offenses. Pair that with what should be a solid defense — especially if you believe Tony Gibson, the unit’s coordinator — and the Mountaineers look like a solid a bowl team that isn’t quite good enough to contend for a conference title.

 

Read the full 2015 West Virginia Mountaineers Team Preview

 

37. South Carolina

 

​South Carolina opened spring practice with a sense of urgency that may have been lacking last season.

 

“Sometimes after you go 11–2 three years in a row, some people just assume, ‘We’re going to keep on winning,’ but it didn’t quite happen that way,” Spurrier says. “We were not a real strong team. We are by a long way not a finished product, but we’ve got time.”

 

The Gamecocks will be breaking in a new quarterback and rebuilding a defense that lost its morale along with a lot of games last year, so the time had better be well spent.

 

Read the full 2015 South Carolina Gamecocks Team Preview

 

38. Louisville

 

Louisville has lost considerable talent and undergone a coaching staff change over the last two seasons. Those are warning signs the program could take a step back in 2015, especially with a schedule that includes Auburn and Clemson in two of the first three games. The Cardinals need a quarterback to emerge, receivers to step forward, three new offensive linemen to step up and a rebuilt secondary to deliver to keep winning big. That’s a lot to ask.

 

Read the full 2015 Louisville Cardinals Team Preview

 

39. NC State

 

NC State improved its win total by five games from 2013 to ’14. The Wolfpack hope to make another jump in 2015 with a veteran quarterback and seven starters back on defense. Another five-game improvement might be asking too much, but coach Dave Doeren won’t put a ceiling on the program’s progress.

 

The key to moving the momentum forward again will be replacing main parts up front on both sides of the ball. But with the return of quarterback Jacoby Brissett and a host of new talented recruits supplementing an already deep backfield, the Wolfpack have an opportunity to at least push Atlantic Division powers Florida State and Clemson.

 

Read the full 2015 NC State Wolfpack Team Preview

 

40. Cincinnati

 

After two consecutive 9–4 seasons and two bowl losses under Tuberville, some believe UC is running in place. The Bearcats did share the AAC title last year, but they lack a signature win in Tuberville’s brief tenure. Tuberville turns 61 in September, and he has not had a team finish in the final AP top 25 since 2007 (Auburn). The 2014 Bearcats don’t look like a top 25 team, either, but they should be considered the favorite in the East Division of the expanded American Athletic Conference. There are some issues on defense, but the offense, led by Kiel, will put UC in position to win eight or nine games once again.

 

Read the full 2015 Cincinnati Bearcats Team Preview

Teaser:
College Football 2015 Rankings and Predictions: #26-40
Post date: Wednesday, May 27, 2015 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: Orlando Magic, NBA
Path: /nba/orlando-magic-are-reportedly-close-hiring-scott-skiles-new-head-coach
Body:

The NBA’s head coach carousel looked like it might wait for Tom Thibodeau’s fate to be known, before it started turning. Now, not so much — suitor teams like the Orlando Magic and New Orleans Pelicans appear to be moving on in their searches, all but refusing to give the Chicago Bulls draft compensation for the right to Thibodeau’s contract.

 

The Magic seem to be on the verge of locking down the beta version of Thibodeau, in Scott Skiles. Skiles, who also coached the Bulls in addition to the Milwaukee Bucks, is known for a defense-first philosophy and an intense vision that’s suited for a young, eager roster like Orlando’s. In Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, they have a backcourt that’s a good coach away from providing some of the best first-line defense in the league.

 

Many Magic fans will groan at the hiring, if it becomes official — Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports that Skiles “has clearly separated himself in the process.” There’s a rightful skepticism about Skiles, as his exits from Milwaukee and Chicago were both ugly, and his style has proven to wear on rosters over time. The ideal scenario for the long-term may be to only keep Skiles on board for two or three seasons, and find the more appropriate man once the Magic are ready to take the next step.

 

Regardless of what could happen in 2017 or 2018, though, the Magic are in an exciting place right now. Skiles doesn’t inspire the kind of galvanizing feel as Thibodeau might, but he has a history of success and will likely help this exciting young roster compete for postseason berths, and perhaps as soon as next season. If the Eastern Conference playoffs have taught us anything, it’s that things on the Atlantic half of the bracket are more than open for a new contender.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, May 26, 2015 - 13:25
Path: /news/athlon-archive-chris-spielman-not-ruthless-just-realistic
Body:

Ohio State linebacker Chris Spielman was one of the most feared linebackers of his day, winning the 1987 Lombardi Award and earning consensus All-America honors in 1986-87. The decorated recruit made an immediate impression as a freshman in 1984, with a style described as “brutality” after his debut against Oregon State.

 

Athlon Sports spoke with Spielman before his sophomore season in this piece from our archives — two seasons before he was an All-American. 

 

Originally published in Athlon’s Big Ten 1985 Annual

By Dick Fenlon

 

It bothers Ohio State linebacker Chris Spielman to be called a sadist. But not enough to change his mind about football.

 

“At this level, it’s a game of survival,” says Spielman. “You hit your hardest, or you take a chance of getting hurt. I hit to put somebody out of the game, and I would expect the same thing from him. It’s clean, but when you hit somebody you try to knock him so he doesn’t get up. I don’t care what anybody says, it’s part of the game.”

 

Speaking to reporters in the locker room after the first game of his college career, Spielman put it even more bluntly. “When I hit somebody,” he told them, “and I see him hurting, just grimacing, it sends something through me that’s hard to explain. A bolt. A charge. You play to hurt somebody.”

 

Thoughts like those — frank, unfettered, uncensored — can get a guy in trouble. Talk about putting somebody out of the game, of hurting him, and a lot of minds turn immediately to players who have been put out of the game permanently. Chris Spielman says that’s not at all what he means, but when he volunteered his football philosophy after Ohio State’s opener with Oregon State last season, a general columnist in a Columbus newspaper concluded that there was something decidedly wrong with his approach to the game.

 

“Is This Youth Or Brutality?” the headline on Mike Harden’s column in The Columbus Dispatch asked. “It may be folly to seek reason and compassion from a game which is comprised, as Roy Blount once said, of grown men flying through the air in plastic hats,” wrote Harden. “That fact notwithstanding, Spielman’s words still had a distinctly ruthless, if not sadistic, ring to them.”

 

“It bothered me a little bit because I think I am a religious person,” says Spielman. “But that’s his opinion. Freedom of the press, I guess.”

 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Big Ten College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

And how, you may wonder, did Spielman come by his football philosophy. “I grew up with it,” he says. “I never had any kids my own age to play football with. They were all my brother’s age. When we played ball, I used to get the heck beat out of me. After a while, I didn’t like it. But if I wanted to keep on playing with older kids, I knew I had to be as tough as they were. So I just kept hitting as hard as could, and I wouldn’t back down for nothing. I’ve always been that way. It’s something you’re born with and grow up with.”

 

Spielman is the son of a football coach who is now a junior high school principal. He’s the younger brother of Rick Spielman, a junior linebacker at Southern Illinois. Chris grew up in Canton, Ohio, and played high school football in Massillon, where the sport itself takes on overtones of a quasi-religious nature.

 

When Spielman arrived at Ohio State, he was accompanied by a reputation uncommon even for Massillon blue chippers. Coach Earle Bruce said he was the best high school player he had ever seen. And everybody knew he was tough as iron.

 

Spielman had started every game at Massillon High and played both ways — as fullback and linebacker. Parade magazine named him the top high school linebacker in the country in 1983. Selected as the All-American Boy football player and pictured on the side of a zillion boxes of Wheaties, he stared at America from the shelves of every supermarket across the land.

 

When Spielman turned 17 on Oct. 11, 1983, he received more than 400 birthday cards from coaches and schools. That astounded even the football-hip Spielman. “Guys who didn’t know me from Adam were saying, ‘How are you doing?’” he says.

 

He visited five schools — Penn State, UCLA, Miami of Florida, Michigan and Ohio State. It came down to the last two. Some schools said he might be able to make it as a fullback, if that’s what he wanted, but he had no delusions about that.

 

“I think I was just an average back,” Spielman says. “If we needed a couple of yards, I’d say, ‘Give me the ball,’ and I’d put my head down and go.” But he know that average wouldn’t be good enough in college. “And I’d rather be the hitter than the hittee. It’s less painful.”

 

Naturally, Bruce was ecstatic when Spielman signed on. Then, in the Ohio High School North-South All-Star game after graduation, he suffered the first injury he could remember, an inversion sprain of his left ankle. He reinjured it in preseason practice. When Ohio State trainer Billy Hill handed Spielman the yellow slip-on that players not sound enough to take part in full practice wear and insisted he wear it for the day, he literally threw it back at him. Only grudgingly did he finally tuck it into his waist.

 

Even with no particular connotation, yellow is hardly Spielman’s favorite hue. “I’m glad to see you back,” Bruce wisecracked the next day. “I thought we changed our colors.”

 

By this time, Spielman had gained something of a reputation among older teammates. He wasn’t just the freshman linebacker with the big reputation and his mug on a cereal box. He was the gung-ho, flaky kid who just wouldn’t ease up, even in practice.

 

“They think I’m a little weird,” admitted Spielman at the time. “When I’m on the field, I’m weird. When I’m not, I’m just a normal 18-year-old freshman.”

 

When the Oregon State opener arrived, Spielman was beside himself. Not starting the first game of his life was bad enough. Getting in for only two plays in the first half was worse. 

 

Finally, with Ohio State trailing, Spielman was inserted to blitz Oregon State quarterback Ricky Greene. In less than a half, Spielman had five tackles, five assists, two tackles for a loss, one sack, one forced fumble — and one victory put on ice. He was voted Ohio State’s Defensive Player of the Game. His career was on fast-start.

 

It didn’t stay in that gear for long. Spielman started the next two games, against Washington State and Iowa, but in the first quarter of a 45-26 rout of Iowa, he tore ligaments in his right ankle.

 

“It was a nightmare,” says Spielman. “I thought I had the strongest ankles in the world, and I never even taped them in high school. I was crushed. I didn’t know what to do. I sat out three weeks, and I told myself that if I had to crawl, I was going to play the next game against Michigan State.”

 

One of the student managers taped his ankles. Tight. If the tape had been around his neck it would have strangled him. Spielman figured that if the tape was tight enough, it would numb the pain, but by the time the game started, he could hardly walk. “Like a dumb, silly kid, I didn’t tell anybody.” he says. “I told them I was feeling great. Pretty dumb, huh?”

 

Pretty dumb. Three plays into the game, a Michigan State tackle landed on the sore ankle and he was out again. When the regular season ended a month later, Spielman was a part-time player, and with 12 tackles and 18 assists, ranked no better than 13th on the Ohio State hit list.

 

When the Rose Bowl game against Southern California began, he was still a substitute, but by this time, both of his ankles had had time to heal. He was also mentally ready.

 

“I wanted to play so bad, and I was determined to play the best game of my life,” Spielman says. “I don’t know if I did, and I hated losing, but my consolation was that I was satisfied with my performance.”

 

He had 12 unassisted tackles and three assists, and the 103,000 fans in the Pasadena gulch and a nationwide TV audience got an eyeful of just how good he can be when healthy.

 

Offensively for Ohio State this season, all eyes will be on senior tailback Keith Byars as he goes for the Heisman Trophy. Many of them will be on the 6-2, 225-pound linebacker Chris Spielman in his sophomore season.

 

“I set my goals high, both for me and the team,” he says. “For the team, I want to go back to the Rose Bowl and win, go 12-0 and be No. 1. For me, I’d like to be All-Big Ten.”

 

What about shooting for All-American?

 

Obviously Spielman is a first-things-first kind of guy. “In my junior year,” says Spielman. “I’d like to be an All-American. I think with a lot of hard work and experience I can be.”

Teaser:
Athlon Archive: Chris Spielman - Not Ruthless, Just Realistic
Post date: Tuesday, May 26, 2015 - 11:00
Path: /news/athlon-archive-orlando-pace-pancake-man
Body:

After the 1995 season, Ohio State tackle Orlando Pace had only scratched the surface of his potential — and at that point he was already a Lombardi Award winner and blocker for a Heisman Trophy recipient. Pace would finish his career as a two-time unanimous All-American, a Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, a top-four finisher for the Heisman Trophy and a likely Pro Football Hall of Famer.

 

Athlon Sports featured Pace prior to his 1996 season when he first grew into his reputation as “The Pancake Man.”

 

Originally published in Athlon’s 1996 Big Ten Annual

By Dick Fenlon

 

When asked to imagine himself on the other side of the ball, as a defensive lineman looking into the eyes of the renowned Pancake Man, Ohio State offensive tackle Orlando Pace wonders what ploy, what diversion, what marvelous feat of athleticism would be needed to avoid being flattened by the best interior offensive lineman in the country.

 

“If I’m across from me,” he says, “I’m thinking, do I want to bull rush? Or maybe I’ll fake him? It’s hard to analyze. Lining up against me? That would be a challenge, definitely.”

 

Pace, a 6-6, 330-pounder who looks as big without shoulder pads as he does with them (maybe they came with the body, installed at the factory, right off the assembly line), speaks so softly you have to lean close to hear him.

 

“Off the field I am calm,” the very large man whispers. “On the field, I have a little different demeanor. When I go out and play, I try and kill them (opposing defenders). It’s the aggression you have to take with you when you play big-time football.”

 

Pace plays football so well that the selectors for the Lombardi Award (presented to the outstanding college lineman) passed over worthy upperclassmen to give the award to an offensive tackle just two years off the high school field in Sandusky, Ohio. That move surprised the first sophomore to win the Lombardi in its 26-year history that he had to revise his own tentative awards schedule.

 

“Just before they awarded the Lombardi, they announced Outland (outstanding interior lineman),” says Pace, “and I didn’t win that one (it went to UCLA senior offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden). So I’m sitting at the awards banquet real relaxed. And I’m thinking, ‘Well, if (Ogden wins the Lombardi, too) I can win it next year, and the year after that.’ When they called my name, it really shocked me. It means a lot to me. It shows me where I stand among linemen. It tells me I did something in history.”

 

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So maybe there’ll be a repeat, or even a three-peat, although, one certainly wouldn’t want to bet on that, not with the scouts from the NFL lusting after him the way a pack of dogs might hunger for 330 pounds of fresh liver.

 

Or maybe he’ll make a run at the Heisman Trophy, which no interior offensive lineman, being perforce faceless, has ever won.

 

OK, so the odds on that off the board. So what? As Pace says, “I can say I’ve got a piece of Eddie George’s.”

 

Believe it. Because without Pace’s pancaking, there would have been no Heisman for Ohio State’s senior tailback last season. George ran past the opposition, both on and off the field and in the balloting, but he wasn’t alone. Much of the time, it was Pace opening the way. or setting the pace. In a 41-3 win over Illinois, George rushed for a school-record 314 yards. Not coincidentally, in that game Pace had 10 pancake blocks.

 

But ask Joe Hollis, Ohio State’s offensive coordinator, if he can come up with the definitive Pace play or series or game, and he can’t do it. He doesn't point to anything that happened in the Illinois game or any other game in Pace’s two seasons as a starter. Instead, he shakes his head.

 

“If you ask me about Orlando Pace, I wouldn’t say, for instance, let’s have a look at the Notre Dame game. I’d tell you to go in and pick out a game. You wouldn’t be in there very long. The other day, the coaches from Eastern Kentucky came to visit, and we were looking at the Iowa film. There’s (backup tailback) Pepe Pearson going 50 or 60 yards to the 2. But what catches your eye when you see this 5-11, 195 pound tailback going up the hash is this huge tackle matching him stride for stride.”

 

What did the visiting coaches have to say about that? “They were amazed,” according to Hollis.

 

Ohio State’s staff has been amazed ever since watching its first film of Pace as a high school junior. That season (1992), 6-5, 315-pound Korey Stringer was making his own mark as a Buckeye offensive tackle, starting in six straight games and earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. The next two years, Stringer was an All-American. After his junior season, he opted for the NFL and was a first-round selection, 24th overall, by the Minnesota Vikings. The chances of finding another talent like him seemed impossible.

 

And yet, says Hollis, “I thought immediately that he looks like another Korey Stringer. By the time Stringer was a high school senior, there was a unanimous thought among the OSU staff: ‘If we can get him to come to Ohio State, we project him as a starter in his first year.’”

 

Pace, athletic enough despite his girth to start and average 18 points for a Sandusky High basketball team that went to the regional semifinals before losing in Ohio’s high school final, played the usual games in keeping football recruiters out of his hair.

 

“I’d answer the phone and tell them I wasn’t home,” he says. “It was difficult. I’d be talking to one coach and I’d have a call waiting, and I’d have to make a choice right there.”

 

But the most important choice was fairly easy.

 

“I had it narrowed down to Ohio State or Michigan pretty early,” he says, “and one reason I came to Ohio State was Korey. I came in the summer and he kind of took me under his wing. What better thing for a young player to do but play under a great player the first year? I learned a lot from him. It was a great thing for me.”

 

But Pace didn’t play under him, he played on the same starting unit with him. He became the first freshman to start an entire season for Ohio State, 13 games and 322 minutes, third-highest among offensive players.

 

“We started with Fresno State (in the Kickoff Classic),” says Pace, “and once I got myself relaxed, it was just like an ordinary game, except that the guys were bigger and stronger. What you’ve got to do, I found, is uplift your level to their level.”

 

It’s been a totally uplifting experience. Pace followed in Stringer’s footsteps in 1994, becoming the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year, and again last year he was named a unanimous All-American.

 

Another Buckeye offensive tackle blazed an even greater trail in 1973. That year, John Hicks won both the Lombardi and Outland trophies and finished second to Penn State’s John Cappelletti in the run for the Heisman.

 

As far as Pace is concerned, as the old saying goes, here’s a man who was big when was still little. By the time he was in junior high school, Pace stood 6-4 and weight 275 pounds. Back then, he though he’d grow up to be a basketball player. But by the time he was starting on the line for Sandusky as a high school sophomore, he knew that football would be his route to fame. And while some might equate working in the trenches with hard labor, he has a refreshing outlook.

 

“Football is fun,” he says. “Right now it’s to a point that it’s extremely fun. During camp you might say to yourself, ‘Boy, I hate football.’ But once the game starts and you’re out in front of 90,000-plus people doing something you like, it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world.”

 

Maybe it’s that exuberance, his passing for what he does, that distinguishes this potentially biggest of all big Buckeyes.

 

“All of the things keep falling in place for Orlando,” says Hollis. “It’s just like a flower that grows and grows and grows. It’s hard for anybody to handle him because he plays so much on the edge of formations and it’s difficult to put people in front of him. He is a dominating player. More than that, he’s a recognized dominating player. It’s easy to go to a game and recognize that in a tailback. But to have gained that much respect and recognition in just two seasons playing where he does, that’s just phenomenal.” 

Teaser:
Athlon Archive: Orlando Pace - The Pancake Man
Post date: Tuesday, May 26, 2015 - 10:03
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/athlon-archive-craig-krenzel-buckeye-bedrock
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Ohio State’s return to year-in and year-out dominance in the early 2000s was led by the most unlikely of quarterbacks. After a brief audition in 2001, Craig Krenzel became the starting quarterback in 2002. Despite modest numbers, Krenzel led Ohio State to a BCS championship and Fiesta Bowl MVP honors for the Buckeyes’ first national championship in more than 30 years.

 

After earning instant hero status in Columbus, Krenzel was still the humble Academic All-American when he returned for his senior season in 2003.

 

Originally published in Athlon Sports’ 2003 Big Ten Preview

By Jeff Rapp

 

The morning after Ohio State’s stunning victory in the Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel admitted one player got left behind in the excitement. The story would have been funny enough if it were a third-string lineman — “Hey, man, you’re missing the party” — but was downright ironic considering it was Craig Krenzel. After all, the Buckcyes never would have been in position to play for a national title without his heroics.

 

“We had to send a police car back to get him,” Tressel said of his starting quarterback. “I hope it wasn’t a violation.”

 

It turns out Tressel either embellished the story or wasn’t aware that Krenzel was able to get a lift back to the team hotel without help from Arizona’s finest.

 

“I don’t know where he hard that but I got a ride back with my parents,” Krenzel says. “It was a long walk back to the car.”

 

Apparently nothing makes you more late for the bus than being the centerpiece on a national championship team. Krenzel was part of the on-field celebration, granting interviews and hugging coaches and teammates. He then addressed the media and was ambushed by a well-wisher who lied to a security guard and said he was in the Krenzel family. That fan was none other than Rex Kern, the beloved quarterback of the 1968 Buckeyes, the last Ohio State team to win the title.

 

As Kern embraced and beamed at Krenzel, the two looked like father and son. It was a moment that harkened back to the glory days. After all, Krenzel had done it the same way as Kern — with poise beyond his years, toughness, smarts and the uncanny ability to make the big play when absolutely necessary.

 

After the very symbolic passing of the torch with Kern, Krenzel did a national radio show and changed in an empty locker room.

 

Outside, the Sun Devil Stadium parking lot was still mostly full. That’s because the 60,000 or so Ohio State fans in attendance din’t know what to do after a four-hour double-overtime thriller other than head directly to Mill Avenue for a desert-sized celebration.

 

The title game compliments of more outstanding defense, clutch play and the gritty performance of No. 16, who outgained teammate Maurice Clarett and the Hurricanes’ Willis McGahee as the game’s leading rusher.

 

Krenzel was named the game’s Offensive MVP, despite completing just 7-of-21 passes and throwing a pair of interceptions. That’s because he took hit after hit en route to 81 rushing yards and two crucial touchdowns, including the tying score in overtime. Earlier in that session he converted a fourth-and-14 — make that fourth and championship — with a sideline strike to Mike Jenkins. Moments later he threw the infamous pass to Chris Gamble in the end zone on another fourth down that was flagged as defensive interference. Many writers and critics said that the late penalty stole the game from Miami and ruined a great contest.

 

“It doesn’t matter to me,” Krenzel says. “We ended up with a victory and a national championship. And people around the country that are saying we shouldn’t have won the game because of that call, that’s probably the same people that were saying before the game that we had no chance.”

 

Krenzel was a main reason there were so many doubters. How in the world could Ohio State beat a superpower like Miami if it couldn’t throw the ball? Krenzel was among the most efficient quarterbacks in the country, but his season stats were rather ordinary. Starting all 14 games in 2002, he completed just 148 passes and managed a little more than 2,000 yards passing. Yet as the wins kept mounting, no one doubted he was the man for the job.

 

Krenzel had paid his dues to be the starting quarterback, and he wasn’t about to risk losing that privilege by demanding more throws. He had seen firsthand how the kamikaze style of his predecessor and roommate Steve Bellisari had turned Bellisari into a feast-or-famine quarterback that often received the blame during the lean years of 1999-2001.

 

While Krenzel liked his friend Bellisari, he endured a few sleepless nights wondering if he was ever going to get the chance to try to lead the team. Certainly he didn’t come from Sterling Heights, Mich., and turn down offers from other major programs to be a career backup.

 

Craig’s brother Brian, who played safety at Duke, says the two spent “many, many nights on the phone” early in Craig’s career. Brian, who won fewer games (13) in four years with the Blue Devils than Craig did last season, often repeated the same advice to his baby brother: Keep your mouth shut, keep working, and believe it will all work out.

 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Big Ten College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

“It’s just a motto that my parents instilled in us: Good things happen to good people, but maybe not on the timetable that you want them to happen,” says Brian, a Louisville medical school graduate who is embarking on a career as an orthopedic surgeon.

 

As a backup to Bellisari, Krenzel played sparingly in seven games in 2000 for head coach John Cooper and spent the 2001 season signaling in plays for Tressel until Bellisari was suspended from the team late in the year. Krenzel played well enough in a home loss to Illinois to earn the start at Michigan, then endeared himself to the Buckeye Nation by calmly directing OSU to its first win in Ann Arbor in 14 years.

 

Last year, Krenzel clearly earned the job over classmate Scott McMullen and freshman phenoms Justin Zwick and Troy Smith. Then the magic began. Eleven straight completions vs. Kent State. A game-winning, twisting touchdown run at Cincinnati. A pair of backbreaking touchdown passes at Wisconsin. A perfectly tossed, season-saving 37-yard touchdown lob to Jenkins on fourth down in the final minutes at Purdue. A had-to-have scoring march in the final minutes against Michigan.

 

Things went so well for Krenzel that he told his brother shortly after the Fiesta Bowl: “I think I’m just going to retire. How do you top this?”

 

Now that very question will gnaw at Krenzel this fall as he tries to lead the Buckeyes back to the promised land in his senior season. If he can pull it off, he will be in very elite company. In fact, since 1980, only one quarterback has led his team to back-to-back national championships — Nebraska’s Tommie Frazier. Many before him have tried and come up short, most recently Miami’s Ken Dorsey.

 

Yet everywhere Krenzel went during his whirlwind offseason of magazine covers and impromptu autograph sessions, he was asked, “Can you repeat?” The question even came up in Detroit, of all places, as Krenzel was feted in his home state in March as the winner of the Socrates Award for the most outstanding college football player on and off the field. A molecular genetics major with a 3.71 GPA, Krenzel showed up to spring practice a little weary after trying to keep up with his studies and his newfound fame.

 

“It kind of went fast,” he says of the three-month break. “It seemed like just yesterday that we played. For those of us who have been here for a while, it seems like we’re getting old.”

 

Krenzel’s roommate, OSU center and fellow senior Alex Stepanovich, said the two talk about their aspirations for 2003. That is when Craig is actually in their apartment. “He’s not around very much. You guys usually have him doing some things or he’s picking up awards and stuff like that,” Stepanovich says. “But we’ve talked about being in more of a leadership role than we were last year at this point. A lot of times the younger guys don’t understand what it takes to do what we did.”

 

But that doesn’t mean Krenzel plans to boss around his underlings like a Hollywood star. In fact, his teammates see absolutely no change in him.

 

“He’ll be the same old guy — cool, calm and collected,” Jenkins says. “That’s just the way he is.”

 

“Craig is a great guy,” adds Stepanovich. “People talk about how smart he is, but I think the great thing about him is that maybe things around him have changed by he stayed the same guy. He stayed Craig and he stayed with what made Craig who he is. He’s the same guy he was before anyone knew he could do what he did.”

 

Krenzel is getting more respect than ever for his on-the-field exploits, but don’t expect to see a different quarterback on the field in 2003. It should be more of the same, even if it is a little boring.

 

“If I proved anything, it’s what it takes to win football games,” says Krenzel, who completed 59.4 percent of his passes and was intercepted just seven times last season. “You don’t need the big, flashy numbers. You have to take care of the football, make good decisions and get the team into the right play.

 

“Personally I just want to get more consistent, more fluid in my mechanics, and just relax a bit and be more comfortable. I also want to improve my decision-making and my reads. We’d like to have more balance this season. It’s going to be fun. There are some guys that can go out and make big plays for us. It’s going to be up to myself to distribute the ball to them and put it where it needs to be.”

 

Krenzel wore a visor on his helmet in the spring as precaution after having Lasik surgery on his right eye, which is naturally weaker than the left. He hopes the procedure helps him dial in on receivers better this season.

 

But whether he is asked to run the option like Kern or carve up defenses like Joe Germaine, he always expects one result — victory. A 15-1 record as a starter will do that for you.

 

“He’s a confident kid,” OSU quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels says. “He had no question he could lead this team. But now he has proven it. That’s the difference for him.”

 

Tressel adds: “I think he’s obviously carrying himself with more confidence. I think he always believed in himself, but he also felt like he needed to establish that over a period of time. As he looks at things now, he can say, ‘I’ve seen that before.’ When you watch film, I think you see a much more mature, more experienced guy.

 

“I’ve been really pleased with the way he’s paid special attention to the little things — his footwork and ball placement. A completion isn’t satisfactory to him. He wants the ball put in the right spot.”

 

Krenzel admits he likes proving detractors wrong as much as anyone else, but that’s not his driving force.

 

“I don’t think there’s anyone who is a bigger critic of me than myself,” he says. “I’ll go through and watch film and I’m extremely critical of myself in what I do technique-wise, decision-making-wise, just knowing that there are a lot of little things I need to do to get better.

 

“I guess in that respect I am driven by criticism but it’s more stuff I put on myself.”

 

Krenzel watches so much film of himself and his upcoming opponent that the OSU video staff makes sure he is the first to receive tapes each week.

 

“The video people know he’ll probably spend more time than the coaches on it,” Tressel said.

 

“He’s just an extraordinary kid that’s competitive and wants the ball in his hands. I can’t say enough about Craig Krenzel. He’s a winner.”

 

He’s also fearless. At 6-4, 225, Krenzel is a big target for oncoming linebackers when he takes off with the ball. Yet he always pops up no matter how vicious the hit, including what looked like a near decapitation by Miami hit man Jonathan Vilma in the Fiesta Bowl.

 

“He’s tough,” Stepanovich says. “He’s run for a lot of first downs for us and sometimes he stands back there and takes a shot. It’s great to play with a guy like that.”

 

Krenzel intends to take medical school entrance exams in August. He is as serious about his future as he is about winning games. Off the field and away from the cameras, however, he’s not as serious as you’d think.

 

“He’s pretty much a clown,” says Ben Hartsock, OSU’s starting tight end and Krenzel’s best friend. “I know you guys don’t see much of that but trust me, he has his silly moments. I’ve seen some interesting dives into the whirlpool.”

 

Hartsock and Krenzel thought it would be fun to run out and imprint the snow on the White House lawn moments after the team was honored by President Bush. Fun, that is, until a Secret Service man cut them off at the pass by showing them his gun.

 

Oh well, no harm in trying.

 

“That’s always been Craig’s personality,” his brother says. “He has a way of not taking things too seriously and putting them in the proper perspective. Studies are important, but your test score doesn’t necessarily dictate how well you now the material. A performance on the field statistically doesn’t necessarily dictate how well you performed in game management or something like that.

 

“He keeps all that in view and has an incredible perspective for someone his age.”

Teaser:
Athlon Archive: Craig Krenzel is a Buckeye Bedrock
Post date: Tuesday, May 26, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James, NBA
Path: /nba/lebron%E2%80%99s-latest-title-run-cavs-may-be-his-most-impressive-work
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30-year-old LeBron James is in his twelfth NBA season. This winter, he sat for multiple weeks of action, resting his increasingly human body; James missed 13 games in 2014-15, the most of his career. He hasn’t been a consistently fearsome defender for years, and has developed a very noticeable on/off switch in general.

 

None of that matters at this time of year. LeBron is still the best in the game, and he is proving it as loudly as anybody can in his latest run at an NBA title with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Without Kevin Love or a healthy Kyrie Irving, James has simply ratcheted his own game up to a level so high that everyone around him can’t help but take his lead and thrive.

 

Role players like Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova are all perfecting their bit pieces around LeBron. That’s probably not a coincidence: From Mario Chalmers to Donyell Marshall, there’s a long lineage of secondary characters who have been emboldened to do surprising things next to the King.

 

For all the guffawing about James’ bickering and passive-aggressive power plays with David Blatt, he and the Cavs’ head coach clearly have a relationship that functions well enough to produce wins. Cleveland hasn’t missed a beat despite tough health breaks to two of their best players, embodying a next-man-up ethos unwincingly. Blatt deserves a lot of credit for that, but James is who the roster truly takes their cues from.

 

Building something new is exactly what James came back home to do. Few doubted he could do it — especially with Irving and Love set to be next to him — but probably even fewer thought he could bring Cleveland back to prominence so swiftly, and through this much bad injury luck. The throne appears to be on lockdown this spring.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

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Post date: Tuesday, May 26, 2015 - 09:49
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar/ultimate-indy-500-infographic
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The 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 takes place Sunday, May 24, at 12:15 pm ET at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Ind. To celebrate, we're looking back at some of the most amazing milestones, stats and facts from nearly a century of racing.

 

Indy 500 Infographic

 

 

 

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Post date: Saturday, May 23, 2015 - 15:05
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/all-nba-all-defense-teams-announced-league
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Without further ado, here are the players that achieved top honors for the 2014-15 season:

 

All-NBA, first team

Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
James Harden, Houston Rockets
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

 

All-NBA, second team

Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

 

All-NBA, third team

Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers

 

The most notable snubs here are Kawhi Leonard and John Wall. 

 

This list of 15 also has one major mystery. Pau Gasol had a terrific season in terms of comebacks, but to say he was one of the five best bigs in the game? That’s a bit generous.

 

The biggest surprise here is Cousins’ inclusion—not that he doesn’t belong. An elite, singular talent, he’s been overdue for this kind of recognition for a while. It just comes as unexpected that the media, long his enemy, gave it to him with the votes needed.

 

Here’s the defensive version of things:

 

All-Defense, first team

Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers

 

All-Defense, second team

John Wall, Washington Wizards
Jimmy Butler, Chicago Buls
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors

 

Tony Allen’s “First team, All-Defense” chant proved, of course, to be prophetic here. It’s hard to pick too many bones with this collection, though; 10 is a small number for how many great defenders there are in this league, and there will always be a bushel of them left out of the party.

 

— John Wilmes
@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, May 22, 2015 - 09:26
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/ranking-nba-playoffs-most-significant-injuries
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6. Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets

Had you told any close NBA follower that the Rockets got past the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs, without Beverley, a month ago… they wouldn’t have believed you. The 37-year-old Jason Terry did a shockingly good job slowing Chris Paul down during Houston’s historical comeback series win, and the Rockets are now in the Western Conference finals. Without Beverley’s maniacal defensive pressure to apply to MVP Steph Curry, though, things could end quickly for Houston. Terry is bound to show his age soon, and when the Rockets have to switch wingmen onto Steph, it should open up the offense for his passing genius.

 

5. John Wall, Washington Wizards

John Wall is one of the best players in the NBA, and he missed three games of a playoff series. After he fell on his hand in Game 1 (a dominant, 18-point, 13-assist performance from him, in which he led the Wizards to a 104-98 victory) he then missed the next three contests with a wrist injury. Paul Pierce’s heroics were enough to propel the Wiz to one more win—and nearly to two—but Wall’s absence was ultimately the weakness that Atlanta capitalized on. Wall came back in Game 6 and played another great game, but the Hawks had already taken control while he was gone.

 

4. Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers

Love’s separated shoulder hasn’t had a terrible impact on the Cavaliers—not yet, anyway. They’ve been lucky enough with one big, generous baseline reality: They play in the Eastern Conference. Even without Love, LeBron James and Co. have had enough to get within three games of the Finals. An emboldened Tristan Thompson, conveniently enough, has filled in for Love and done a lot of tough tasks that Cleveland arguably needs more than their missing All-Star’s shooting and playmaking. Thompson has been a voracious rebounder and a relentless defender, looking like just about the best custodian James has ever had. The smart money, however, is on Cleveland missing Love’s modern versatility dearly if they land in the Finals.

 

3. Wes Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers were in rare air for much of the season. Their offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency were both consistently in the league’s top ten, putting them in company with only two other squads who could claim that status: the Warriors and the Hawks. That had a ton to do with Matthews, their best defender and the NBA’s overall leader in made three-pointers at the time of his injury. Without Wes against the Memphis Grizzlies, point guard Damian Lillard struggled as Mike Conley, Courtney Lee and Tony Allen took turns wearing him out. And without Matthews playing defense, Portland’s perimeter stronghold was downright porous.

 

2. Thabo Sefolosha and DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta Hawks

The severity of Carroll’s injury is yet unknown. His MRI concluded that no structural damage has been done to the knee he landed awkwardly on in Game 1 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but we don’t know how effective he can be on a quick turnaround. The thing is, he needs to be extremely effective, as he has the hardest job on the Hawks’ roster for this matchup—and potentially the hardest job in the entire sport—in guarding LeBron. Without Sefolosha either, who’s out for the year with a broken fibula, Atlanta is suddenly looking almost optionless in the face of the King’s warpath toward a fifth straight Finals appearance.

 

1. Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder

The most important injuries in the playoffs are to men who didn’t play a minute in them. In fact, they don't even work for an organization that made the field. But the Thunder’s absence from this bracket has to be the biggest, most bothersome “what’s missing” feeling that’s making this spring feel somehow incomplete. When healthy, this is probably the most talented squad in the league. Now the franchise is undergoing a bit of change, with Billy Donovan hired as their new head coach in place of the outgoing Scott Brooks. Perhaps Donovan can manage the roster’s bodies well enough to help us avoid this sad lacking, a year from now.

 

— John Wilmes
@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, May 21, 2015 - 22:21
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/towns-okafor-might-both-rather-be-no-2-overall-land-lakers
Body:

Opportunities like this don’t come around too often. The Los Angeles Lakers, perhaps the most storied franchise in all of sports, are usually riding high in the championship picture. Winners of 16 titles and 31 NBA Finals appearances, they’re pretty unseasoned with where they are now: the draft lottery.

 

The last time L.A. had a top-five selection? 1982. That’s when they scooped up James Worthy, who went on to be an integral part of the most famous iteration of the team, next to Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

 

It should come as no surprise that this year’s crop of draft prospects—and their agents—understand the rarity of this occasion. The money, notoriety and probably even the winning potential is far greater with the Lakers than it is with any other 2015 lottery team. Bad as they were this past season, the allure of playing for the purple-and-gold is massive. 

Becoming a Lakers star, even when they’re terrible, means global appeal. Just ask Nick Young. Plus, things in the competition department can turn on a dime for them because of their ability to attract elite talent on the free agency market.

 

That might be why Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor are both making gestures that aren’t hard to read as meaning “I’d rather be the No. 2 overall pick, not the No. 1, and play for the Lakers instead of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

 

Exhibit #1 is this tweet sent out shortly after the draft order was determined, by never-wrong league insider Adrian Wojnarowski, of Yahoo! Sports:

 

 

Woj is not a speculator, or much of an opinionist. If he posts something like that, it’s likely a sort of subtle message being delivered through complex, trusted channels of the NBA power network.

 

Okafor, for his part, said this to Sports Ilustrated after the lottery: “I don't know that I should go No. 1… I don't care. I just want to go to the right environment for me and the right team. I think the hype about No. 1 is more for the fans.”

 

This could all be an incorrect reading of the tea leaves. But if clues like these continue to drop, don’t be surprised if you see this story expand quite a bit.


— John Wilmes
@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, May 21, 2015 - 13:01
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/wolves-lakers-sixers-win-big-nba-draft-lottery
Body:

It wasn’t a terrific night for the New York Knicks. The NBA’s saddest big-market franchise lost 65 games last season, and the light at the end of their tunnel of failure was always the chance at a No. 1 overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft.

 

 

The Knicks, instead, landed at fourth overall during last night’s lottery. In a draft class that’s better than okay, this is still a strong position. Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns are likely to go first and second, so New York will have—at the very least—a choice between two elite point guard prospects in D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay, or March Madness standout Justise Winslow, a skilled and powerful wingman.

 

But what the Knicks fanbase wanted is what many fanbases yearn for on lottery night: A pick so good that even their questionable front office can’t mess it up. That’s what the Minnesota Timberwolves got, with the ping pong balls taking them to the top selection, where it would shock the league if they didn’t choose between Okafor and Towns. The Los Angeles Lakers, at No. 2, will probably take whichever of the two fantastic young big men Minnesota passes on.

 

In the third slot are the Philadelphia 76ers. For all the moralizing soreness over Philly’s tanking ways, their war chest of assets and young talent is starting to look incredibly impressive, and the dawn of a winning day is starting to seem more imminent for the Sixers.

 

Behind the top four is a collections of teams who are either, like the Knicks, in need of nothing short of a Godsend with their shaky decision-makers up top (the Sacramento Kings at No. 6, the Denver Nuggets at No. 7, the Charlotte Hornets at No. 9) or who are on the verge of contending again, in need of nothing more than more internal improvement and extra piece of talent (the Orlando Magic at No. 5, the Detroit Pistons at No. 8, the Miami Heat at No. 10).

 

Here’s the full lottery board:

1. Minnesota Timberwolves

2. Los Angeles Lakers

3. Philadelphia 76ers

4. New York Knicks

5. Orlando Magic

6. Sacramento Kings

7. Denver Nuggets

8. Detroit Pistons

9. Charlotte Hornets

10. Miami Heat

11. Indiana Pacers

12. Utah Jazz

13. Phoenix Suns

14. Oklahoma City Thunder

 

— John Wilmes
@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, May 20, 2015 - 11:54
All taxonomy terms: Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA
Path: /nba/nba-eastern-conference-finals-preview-and-prediction
Body:

LeBron JamesLeBron James is still the king of the NBA. Right?

 

His Cleveland Cavaliers took down the Chicago Bulls 4-2 in their last playoff series, despite Kevin Love being out for the season and Kyrie Irving’s injuries turning him into a hobbled, almost ineffectual version of himself. Derrick Rose and Co. were meant to be the biggest threat to James’ throne, but he ultimately looked fairly comfortable pushing them off of it.

 

Up next in LeBron’s challenge to prove he’s still the world’s alpha baller is the Atlanta Hawks, a team who made mutton of the Cavs all season and lit up the league with 60 wins and four All-Star appearances. Atlanta needed six games to thwart the malaise-struck Brooklyn Nets in the first round, however, and six more to beat the Washington Wizards despite a serious injury to John Wall.

 

While the Hawks are not facing any injury issues as damning as losing Love for the year, they have been slowed by body hurts and fatigue. None of their starters have operated with close to the same kind of efficiency as they did in the regular season, with point guard Jeff Teague having some especially noticeable struggles. There’s a lengthy debate to be had about whether the Hawks expelled too much of their batteries in the regular season, and don’t have enough left to prove themselves when it really matters.

 

Atlanta also comes into the series without Thabo Sefolosha, who’s out for the year with a broken fibula. Sefolosha is a seldom noticed reserve, but he happens to have guarded LeBron on the biggest stage possible before—in the NBA Finals, as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012—and to have done it fairly well. That task will fall largely on DeMarre Carroll’s shoulders with Thabo out.

 

In order to beat the Cavs, who should be riding a formidable emotional train after their surprisingly authoritative putdown of the Bulls, Atlanta has to be a team they haven’t been in several weeks. Maybe they can be, but it’ll come as a surprise that you might not want to put your money on.

 

Prediction: Cavaliers in 6

 

— John Wilmes
@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, May 20, 2015 - 10:31

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