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Path: /nfl/weirdest-things-happened-nfl-last-season

The NFL is like any other sport in that not everything goes according to plan. And while mix ups on play calls, botched handoffs, dropped passes and special teams breakdowns are just part of the game, there are often other things that occur, both on and off the field, that are a little harder to explain.


Here’s a rundown of the most bizarre things that took place during the 2013 NFL season, also known as Athlon Sports’ “Calendar of the Weird.”



Aug. 21 The league fines Bears linebacker Jon Bostic $21,000 for an “illegal” hit that, for the past several days, had been featured on the video module of the website.



Sept. 8 The first scores of three different games on Kickoff Weekend are safeties.


Sept. 9 For the 19th straight season, the Eagles’ initial offensive play of a season is something other than a handoff to a running back.


Sept. 12 The Patriots win a game for the first time in the 14-year Bill Belichick era in which they have more punts (11) than first downs (nine).


Sept. 15 Packers receivers gain 283 yards after the catch in a rout of Washington.


Sept. 15 The Texans open their campaign with two victories on the final play of the game, making them the first team to do that since the merger. (They then fail to win again all season.)


Sept. 16 Fewer than 20 people — about the same number that actually enjoy watching the Jaguars — attend the Sign Tebow Rally in Jacksonville.


Sept. 22 The Jets beat the Bills despite 20 penalties — most by a victorious team in 62 years.


Sept. 22 Spencer Lanning of the Browns punts five times, lines up for a fake punt that results in a first down run, throws a TD pass as the holder on a fake field goal and kicks an extra point.


Sept. 22 Jordan Cameron and Cameron Jordan finish the week among the league’s top 10 in receptions and sacks, respectively.


Sept. 23 Peyton Manning puts 37 balls in the air against Oakland — 32 complete, four that hit his receivers’ hands but are not caught, and one that is batted away.


Sept. 24 Nate Burleson breaks his arm in a car wreck, losing control when he reaches to keep pizza boxes from sliding off the passenger seat.



Oct. 6 6:47 after the Seahawks score on a blocked punt, their opponents — the Colts — score on a blocked field goal.


Oct. 6 With 1:55 left to play, opposing second-year stars Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck each have completed 15 passes in 27 attempts for two TDs and no INTs. Wilson has thrown for 210 yards, Luck for 209.


Oct. 13 291 defensive plays into their season, the Steelers register their first takeaway.


Oct. 13 The Raiders commit 11 penalties, take 10 sacks and don’t snap the ball a single time in the red zone during a loss to the Chiefs.


Oct. 13 The Red Sox pull out an AL Championship Series contest in which their chances at one point (according to ESPN) were 3.8 percent. A few

hours later, their state-mate Patriots score with five seconds left to stun the Saints in a game in which their chances were once 5.3 percent.


Oct. 13 Oakland runs a play on a third-and-48.


Oct. 14 The week ends with 71 percent of games to date having been within seven points during the fourth quarter — an all-time high at this juncture.


Oct. 20 The first-ever implementation of Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 — which makes it a penalty to push a teammate into the formation — gives Jets kicker Nick Folk a second chance at a game-winning field goal, which he nails to beat the Patriots in overtime. Controversy over its interpretation ensues immediately and, within two hours after the game, the wording of the rule on is changed.


Oct. 27 Fantasy enthusiasts revel in Calvin Johnson’s regulation-game-record 329 yards, but cringe as he gets tackled inside the Dallas 5-yard line four times.


Oct. 31 The league’s three Florida teams go 0-for-October. Technically. The Dolphins’ overtime victory occurs after midnight.



Nov. 3 Of the 38 teams since 1968 to rush fewer than 10 times in a game, the Cowboys (who beat the Vikings) are just the second to win. Meanwhile, the Raiders endure the largest margin of defeat (49–20 to the Eagles) in 35 years by a team that rushes for 200 yards.


Nov. 3 For the second time this season, three of one team’s receivers catch at least 120 yards worth of passes and score a TD, doubling the number of previous times it had happened in NFL history.


Nov. 7 By hanging a goose egg on Washington in the fourth quarter, the Vikings end their streak of having allowed points in 24 consecutive quarters.


Nov. 10 A trio of former 1,000-yard rushers (Chris Johnson, Shonn Greene and Maurice Jones-Drew) combine to gain 93 yards on 42 carries.


Nov. 11 Miami, which had rushed for its season highs (120, 156 and 157 yards) in three straight weeks, is held to a franchise record-low two yards on the ground in a loss to the previously winless Bucs.


Nov. 17 Matthew Stafford eclipses Bobby Layne — quarterbacks who both attended Highland Park High School in Dallas — for most passing yards in Lions history.Nov. 17 Ten games into the season, Jacksonville scores its first TD in the state of Florida.


Nov. 17 The Jets, who have been outscored by 85 points to date, move to 5–5.


Nov. 17 Jacksonville’s Jason Babin proudly brandishes a handful of Andre Ellington’s five-year-old dreadlocks that he yanked out while tackling the Cardinals rookie.


Nov. 24 The Packers and Vikings battle to the seventh NFL tie since 1989 — all in the month of November, but the first to end in a score of 26–26. They also become the only opponents since overtime was adopted to play each other to a draw twice.


Nov. 25 For the first time in either college or the pros, a Robert Griffin III-led offense fails to score a touchdown.


Nov. 28 The Ravens and Steelers play a ninth game in their last 10 regular-season meetings that is decided by three or fewer points.


Nov. 28 Detroit wins by 30 points despite four turnovers, and Baltimore prevails despite allowing two more TDs than it scores.



Dec. 1 Toronto mayor Rob Ford — he of the crack-smoking in a “drunken stupor” — arrives at the Rogers Centre with six minutes left in the Falcons-Bills game wearing a Fred Jackson jersey just as the Buffalo back scores, then steals the seat of Canadian rocker Matt Mays, who appeals to security to get him relocated.


Dec. 1 The Giants’ Justin Tuck begins the game with 2.5 sacks, then plants Robert Griffin III four times in the span of seven Washington snaps.


Dec. 1 Geno Smith becomes the first QB since 1977 to neither complete 10 passes nor throw for a TD in four consecutive starts.


Dec. 8 The Patriots are the first team since 1993 to win three straight games in which they trail by double digits in the second half.


Dec. 8 As per the Elias Sports Bureau, Eli Manning suffers his NFL-high 41st tipped interception of the decade.


Dec. 8 Tavon Austin carries the ball just once in a Rams-Cardinals game that includes 50 other totes, yet he leads both teams with 56 rushing yards.


Dec. 9 The Cowboys become the first team in 73 years that fails to force its opponent to punt in two games of a season.


Dec. 12 Philip Rivers beats the Manning brothers in back-to-back weeks — something only Vince Young had ever done.


Dec. 15 The Chiefs, who score 56 points despite just 51 snaps from scrimmage, are the second team ever to notch at least 35 points in the first half of back-to-back games. (The first was the 2002 Chiefs.)


Dec. 15 Buoyed by five losing teams that tallied at least 30 points, the league scores a one-day-record 763 points.


Dec. 22 For the fifth time in six games, the Lions are vanquished despite holding a fourth-quarter lead.


Dec. 29 Michael Floyd’s string of 25 straight receptions that moved the chains ends on the first snap of the game.



Jan. 19 Colin Kaepernick is intercepted twice by Seattle in the NFC title game, giving the Seahawks seven of the 16 picks he has thrown in his career (including the postseason).



Feb. 2 Elias reports that, in the more than 10,000 regular-season and playoff games since the merger, the Super Bowl-winning Seahawks are just the third team to score in the first minute of each half.


— Compiled by Bruce Herman for Athlon Sports. This article is featured in , which is available on newsstands or can be purchased online.

The Weirdest Things That Happened in the NFL Last Season
Post date: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 - 14:00
Path: /college-football/what-move-big-ten-means-maryland-and-rutgers

Just imagine Jim Nantz saying it now: and in the , a tradition unlike any other.


Nothing encapsulates the big-money posturing of conference expansion more than two middling East Coast football programs joining a historically celebrated conference thanks to branding and TV viewership.


Commissioner Jim Delany sent ripples through college football when plucking the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights out of the and Big East, respectively, in November 2012, creating instability for those two conferences while strengthening the Big Ten’s strategic ground.


Never mind that Maryland and Rutgers are a combined 61–65 in football since 2009, or that the campuses are 11-plus-hour drives from the Big Ten’s home office in Chicago, or that more long-standing rivalries will likely be severed as a result.


Conference realignment was never about all that. It’s about the projected $270 million for the Big Ten Network in 2013. It’s about commercial markets, where Maryland and Rutgers happen to be well positioned. Yes, it’s about tradition — Maryland and Rutgers were playing football in the 1800s.


But it’s also about something happening four hours north of Maryland’s campus — the Big Ten office that Delany is building in Manhattan.


Not only did the moves partner Penn State with two East Coast schools, but they also accentuate the notion that the conference can get away with this because of its deep alumni base coast-to-coast.


SEC fans are unmatched, particularly in the South, but the Big Ten’s list of donors from California to New York is impressive.


So when cash-strapped Maryland needed a financial boost and Rutgers saw a bleak future in the depleted Big East, they showcased their meticulous resource/facility investments to offset any lagging football results.


Maryland and Rutgers were willing to jump when others — such as North Carolina and Georgia Tech — apparently were not.


Their reward: Entering a conference that’s expected to distribute $25.7 million to each of its schools next year, mostly from a contract with ESPN/ABC and the joint BTN venture with FOX, which also has the East Coast-based YES Network.


With both sides consummating the marriage in July, what will this long-distance relationship look like? And what do the football programs of Maryland and Rutgers really offer?


Maryland and Rutgers On the Field


While the Big Ten gets Maryland at a relatively good time in the Terps’ transitional arc, Rutgers has work to do to avoid the bottom of the seven-team East division.


Maryland coach Randy Edsall survived a shaky two-year start and produced seven wins last year despite several key injuries offensively. When healthy, receiver Stefon Diggs is one of the country’s best playmakers. Diggs will return as a top target for C.J. Brown, a quarterback who won’t overwhelm but has impressed many ACC coaches with his football acumen.


Having two solid coordinators — Mike Locksley on offense and Brian Stewart on defense — eases the transition. Maryland has been stout at linebacker and defensive back under Stewart, who loses top corners Dexter McDougle and Isaac Goins.


Inexperience is an issue on the offensive line, but that’s why Maryland brought in former LSU offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, one of three new Terrapins coaches.

Maryland won’t dominate in Year 1 but comes in as a respectable ACC team with program improvements looming.


Rutgers seems to have the steeper climb of the two. That can change if the Knights prove they have a reasonable quarterback option. Gary Nova flashed brilliance but hampered the offense with 14 interceptions. Nova is one of several quarterbacks competing for the starting spot.


The firing of defensive coordinator Dave Cohen amid bullying accusations from a former player cost Rutgers several highly ranked recruits. Rutgers’ 2014 class dipped to a No. 60 ranking on Signing Day. With the problems of basketball coach Mike Rice, the school couldn’t tolerate similar allegations. Recruits noticed.


Rutgers enters Big Ten play with two new coordinators, most notably Ralph Friedgen, a well-respected play-caller who enters the Big Ten at the same time as a Terps team he used to coach. Rutgers is counting on Friedgen to stabilize a rhythm-less offense. He’ll start by finding someone to get the ball to talented receiver Leonte Carroo.


One American Athletic Conference coach believes Rutgers will have a tough time competing in the Big Ten. “I think they will struggle to be .500 in that league, especially in the East,” he says.


How Much of an Upgrade is the Big Ten for These Two Teams?


The Big Ten is probably the country’s third- to fifth-best league, depending whom you ask.


The SEC still has the strongest profile. The Pac-12 and Big 12 have serious depth, and FSU’s national title lifts the ACC’s profile.


You could argue that Maryland is downgrading in football competition, though both leagues are probably equal top to bottom. Rutgers is upgrading, but this isn’t Division II to FBS. It’s a manageable move.


The Big Ten East should be a beast, though. It features Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers and Indiana. The first four on that list range from national title contenders to potential conference winners. Maryland and Rutgers must play all six divisional opponents plus two crossovers.


But the bottom third of the league still plays uninspired football. Purdue, Indiana and Illinois have been bad for a while, and Northwestern is coming off a 1–7 conference season.


“The Big Ten is getting better,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer says. “Michigan State, Penn State coming off the sanctions, Wisconsin is a helluva football team. We were right there on the 35-yard line to beat Clemson. Traditionally there’s an Iowa, that’s a helluva team. I think it’s coming.”


A fully loaded Big East/American was known in coaching circles for its physical teams. Syracuse, Pitt and Boston College — current ACC schools with roots in the Big East — each won seven games last season with power-run principles.


The best move for Rutgers might be to mirror those programs.


For Maryland, improving in College Park will help its league debut. The Terps are 3–9 in conference home games since 2011. The games won’t get easier with Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State visiting Byrd Stadium this year.


The Big Ten East


Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big Ten Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Coaches and athletic directors use the word all the time — branding.


In the big picture, the branding presence of Maryland and Rutgers will be less about the schools and more about Big Ten sprawl. Not many New Yorkers will watch Rutgers sports over the Yankees, nor will D.C. fans watch Maryland over the Redskins. But these schools are in huge markets where the Big Ten will capitalize.


If the Big Ten ever goes to 16 teams, it will undoubtedly add East Coast schools to create a five-team division for travel purposes and commonality.


The question is, will Rutgers and Maryland lose their identities in the process? Maryland was a founding member of the ACC. When people talked about the ACC, Maryland was probably among the first seven teams the common fan would list.


Rutgers was in a league it was capable of winning. Greg Schiano had resurrected the program.


Of course, Rutgers would make about 10 times less in the American, which makes a few more potential losses on the field easier to bear.


Joining the Big Ten was never a 12-month decision for either school. It was a move made for the long term, with financial stability the primary motivation. And as strange as it feels — and it feels awfully strange — it just might work out for everyone involved.

Written by Jeremy Fowler () of  for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 Big Ten Football Preview Editions.  to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Post date: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /nfl/14-things-watch-during-2014-nfl-season

The start of NFL training camps is still several weeks away and the 2014 regular season won’t kick off until September, but for all intents and purposes, America’s game has become a year-round sport.


So to help whet your appetite for some pigskin while counting down the days until the action returns to the gridiron, here are 14 storylines that will help shape how this season plays out.


1. Denver’s pursuit of its first Super Bowl win since the 1998 season

The Broncos had the AFC’s best record each of the past two seasons only to come up empty in the postseason. They went all in during free agency. It started with the signing of punishing strong safety T.J. Ward, a Pro Bowler for the Browns a year ago, to a four-year, $23 million deal with $14 million guaranteed. Cornerback Aqib Talib then signed a six-year, $57 million deal with $26 million guaranteed to replace Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Broncos’ best cover corner last season. The rich only got richer when outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware signed a three-year, $30 million deal with $20 million guaranteed to give the Broncos a potent pass-rushing tandem.


The Broncos hope that the moves will improve a defense that ranked 19th last season in yards allowed, gave up 24.9 points per game and surrendered 43 points to the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.


2. More quarterback drama in New York

Michael Vick declared Geno Smith the Jets’ starter upon his arrival in New York, and the Jets want the second-year quarterback to win the job. But the Jets signed Vick to a one-year, $5 million deal as insurance, providing yet more quarterback drama for the team.


Vick made six starts last season in Philadelphia, eventually losing his starting job to Nick Foles. With the Jets, he reunites with Marty Mornhinweg, who coached Vick from 2009-12 as the Eagles’ offensive coordinator. Vick, who turns 34 in June, had his best season in 2010, going 8–3 with a 62.6 completion percentage, 3,018 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and six interceptions. It ranks as his only season completing better than 60 percent of his passes. Vick only went 20–20 as a starter in five seasons in Philadelphia.


Still, he could provide the best option for an offense that finished 25th in total yards, including 31st in passing, with Smith’s 66.5 passer rating ranking 37th.


3. Playoffs or bust for Jason Garrett

Jason Garrett enters his fourth season as a full-time head coach and the final year of his contract, having produced only a 29–27 record since taking over for Wade Phillips as the interim head coach in 2010.


The Cowboys have not made the playoffs since winning the division in 2009, going 30–34 over the past four seasons combined. It’s looking like playoffs or bust for Garrett. Jerry Jones has hired seven head coaches since buying the Cowboys in 1989. Only Jimmy Johnson lasted more than four years, leaving after his fifth season in Dallas.


4. The Cardinals’ quest for a “Super” home game

You can make a strong case the two best teams in the NFL reside in the NFC West. The Seahawks are fresh off of a dominating win in the Super Bowl, and the 49ers — who have advanced to the NFC Championship Game in each of the last three seasons (with one win) — might have the best overall roster in the game. But there’s another potentially elite team out West. The Arizona Cardinals quietly won 10 games in 2013 under first-year coach Bruce Arians and are poised to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.


The Cardinals boast one of the league’s top defenses and have enough firepower on offense — as long as Carson Palmer behaves — to hang with Seattle and San Francisco. A year ago, Arizona went 1–3 against the “Big 2,” splitting two games with the Seahawks and losing a pair to the Niners by an average of 7.5 points.


Arizona has extra motivation to make a deep postseason run: The Cards want to be the first team to play the Super Bowl at home.


5. Cam Newton’s ankle

Cam Newton had surgery March 19 to repair an ankle injury he has had since college. Coach Ron Rivera said Newton tweaked the ankle in a Dec. 22 victory against the Saints. With a recovery time of four months, Newton missed out on an entire offseason of working with a new cast of receivers.


The Panthers released Steve Smith, the team’s all-time leading receiver. Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon all signed with other teams in free agency. Carolina signed Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood in free agency and drafted Kelvin Benjamin out of Florida State, but of Newton’s top four targets, only tight end Greg Olsen returns.


6. Eli Manning’s rebound

Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, but he didn’t play like it last season. His 69.4 passer rating ranked below the likes of Matt Schaub, Brandon Weeden, Chad Henne and rookie EJ Manuel. In fact, only Terrelle Pryor’s and Geno Smith’s passer ratings were worse than Manning’s. And no quarterback threw more interceptions than Manning, who tossed 27, with three returned for touchdowns. Manning now has thrown 42 interceptions in his past 32 games.


The question is: Will Manning, 33, regain his golden touch? The Giants brought in new coordinator Ben McAdoo to fix Manning and the offense, which ranked only 28th last season and had an NFL-worst 44 giveaways. But with Manning signed only through 2015, the Giants are taking a wait-and-see approach before committing to more years with him as their quarterback.


7. Julius Peppers with the Pack

Julius Peppers, 34, appears to be on his last legs. He had only 7.5 sacks last season, and the Bears released him March 11. The Packers, though, believe Peppers has enough left to help them to the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl title. They signed him to a three-year deal with $7.5 million in guarantees.


Peppers, who has 118.5 sacks in 12 seasons, finally gets a chance to play in a 3-4. He should help the Packers defense improve from 25th. The question remains, though, whether he finally gets his first Super Bowl ring.


8. Jadeveon Clowney’s impact

The Chiefs would have made Jadeveon Clowney the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 if the South Carolina defensive end had been eligible for the draft. He wasn’t, but he played last season like he would have preferred the NFL. Clowney had only three sacks in 2013 and was heavily criticized for not going hard on every play.


But Houston, despite being in need of a quarterback, was won over by Clowney’s size, speed and athleticism. He stands 6'5", weighs 266 pounds, runs a 4.53, has a 37.5-inch vertical and has an arm length of 34.5 inches.


The Texans will pair him with the best defensive player in football in J.J. Watt, who desperately needed pass-rush help. Watt’s sack numbers dipped from 20.5 in 2012 to 10.5 in 2013 because opponents were able to consistently double-team him. As a team, the Texans recorded only 32 sacks.


Clowney will play outside linebacker in the Texans’ 3-4 base defense and then down in passing situations. Together, Clowney and Watt should return the Texans to their former status as one of the top defensive units in the NFL. The Texans’ only problem now is that they still lack a sure-fire franchise quarterback.


9. Andy Dalton’s future

Andy Dalton took the Bengals to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons. The Bengals, though, still haven’t won a playoff game since 1990. They lost at home in the wild card round last season, 27–10 to the Chargers, and have averaged 11 points in their three postseason losses the past three seasons — games in which Dalton has a combined one TD and six INTs.


Despite his 30–18 regular-season record as a starter, Bengals fans aren’t sold on Dalton as their franchise quarterback. The Bengals seem to be sold, however, with coach Marvin Lewis touting a long-term deal for Dalton.


10. Brady vs. Manning encore

It ranks as arguably the greatest quarterback rivalry in NFL history: Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. Manning and Brady have met 15 times. The first meeting came in 2001 in Brady’s first career start, with Brady’s Patriots beating Manning’s Colts 44–13. Their most recent meeting came in the AFC Championship Game last season, with Manning’s Broncos winning 26–16.


Brady leads the series 10–5, with his Patriots scheduled to host Manning and the Broncos this season. With Brady turning 37 in August, and Manning already 38, every meeting could be their last meeting.


11. Jim Harbaugh vs. the 49ers

There might be some unrest in the 49ers organization, but the boys in Las Vegas don’t seem overly concerned. Only Seattle and Denver have better post-draft Super Bowl odds than the 49ers do at 15–2.


 Jim Harbaugh has taken San Francisco to NFC Championship Games in three consecutive seasons, with a trip to the Super Bowl to end 2012. The 49ers, who had 39 wins in seven seasons before Harbaugh’s arrival, have posted a 36–11–1 record since 2011. They will contend again in 2014, despite the unrest of this offseason when reports surfaced that the Browns attempted to trade for Harbaugh.


Harbaugh elected to stay put, but speculation is that Harbaugh wants more power and/or money. He may or may not get along with general manager Trent Baalke, and may or may not want a raise from the five-year, $25 million deal he signed upon leaving Stanford. It won’t matter this year, but Harbaugh’s future in San Francisco no doubt is cloudy.


12. Michael Sam makes history

Michael Sam expects to fit in an NFL locker room just as easily as he did at Missouri. That might be easier than making the Rams’ roster. Though he recorded 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss and shared the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year award, Sam stands only 6'2", weighs only 255 pounds and had a mediocre performance at the scouting combine. He ran the 40 in 4.91, recorded 17 reps in the 225-pound bench press and had a 25 ½ inch vertical. The Rams return Robert Quinn, Chris Long, William Hayes and Eugene Sims at defensive end, though Gerald Rivers, an undrafted rookie, did make the roster for 13 games last season. The NFL is rooting for Sam to make the Rams. He already has a following, thanks in part to a top-selling jersey.


13. Washington’s new weapon

DeSean Jackson stayed unemployed only for a weekend, accepting a three-year, $24 million deal with the Redskins shortly after the Eagles released him. Jackson helped Philadelphia win the NFC East last season with a career-best 82 catches for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. He could change the balance of power in the division this season.


Though the Redskins ranked 16th in passing offense, Pierre Garcon had 113 catches for 1,346 yards and five touchdowns. Garcon and Jackson give Washington the best set of receivers in the division, if not the NFL. Robert Griffin III could have a bounce-back season, as could the Redskins.


14. Ravens on the rebound

The Ravens went to the playoffs five consecutive seasons before missing out last season with an 8–8 record. Still, owner Steve Bisciotti gave his coach a vote of confidence by adding a year to John Harbaugh’s contract. General manager Ozzie Newsome spent a busy offseason trying to get the Ravens back to being Super Bowl contenders. He traded for center Jeremy Zuttah, signed safety Darian Stewart and receiver Steve Smith and re-signed receiver Jacoby Jones, left tackle Eugene Monroe, middle linebacker Daryl Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta. The Ravens are counting on a bounce-back season from quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw 19 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.


— Written by Charean Williams for Athlon Sports. This article is featured in , which is available on newsstands or can be purchased online.

14 Things to Watch During the 2014 NFL Season
Post date: Monday, June 30, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/west-virginia-searching-answers-after-rocky-start-big-12

So this is a sobering reminder from ’s coach about last season. “We did not play winning offense,” Dana Holgorsen says.

This would be a fairly innocuous comment for most coaches coming off a 4–8 season, but we’re talking about Holgorsen, whose offensive prowess was supposed to ease WVU’s transition — not derail it.

From 2007-12, Holgorsen’s offenses at Texas Tech, Houston, Oklahoma State and ranked in the top 13 nationally in scoring — and three times in the top three. Last year, however, an combination of inexperience and uninspired quarterback play led to a national ranking of 79th.

Holgorsen isn’t about to change his coaching style. He still knows the intricacies of the Air Raid better than most. But last year proved that you can’t simply plug in any quarterback and expect to post gaudy offensive numbers. And if you don’t have elite skill players, you better have solid depth throughout your roster — something the Mountaineers are lacking.

“There aren’t many Geno Smith- or Tavon Austin-type bodies running around right now,” Holgorsen says, referring to his former All-America quarterback and wide receiver, respectively. “We have to win as a team. We’ve got to win with good depth. I think we’re at that point right now.”

The same factors that held the Mountaineers back — they have lost 14 of their last 20 games since that resounding 5–0 start to 2012 — can actually set them free.


Cluster at QB

played three quarterbacks last year, which tells you everything you need to know about 2013 in Morgantown.

Holgorsen’s offense is about timing, rhythm and a deep understanding of the system, and simply didn’t have that luxury last year. Clint Trickett, a transfer from Florida State and son of Seminoles offensive line coach Rick Trickett, didn’t arrive on campus until the summer and battled injuries during the season. Ford Childress wasn’t ready, as evidenced by his suspension and subsequent transfer to a junior college. Paul Millard is considered the proverbial “program guy” — good for the locker room, serviceable player, but not a long-term answer.

Two signees, junior college transfer Skyler Howard (expected to redshirt) and incoming freshman William Crest, will have the opportunity to compete for the job, but both likely will need time. This year’s show belongs to Trickett, who missed spring workouts because of shoulder surgery.

Looking back, Holgorsen wasn’t too upset with the offense’s overall production; after all, the Mountaineers averaged more than 400 yards per game. What drew Holgorsen’s ire were the turnovers (ninth-worst in the Big 12), third-down conversions (eighth) and red-zone production (ninth).

That, friends, is how you lose to Kansas in November.

“Things get hard on third down when you’re in the red zone,” Holgorsen says. “We need to handle that better.”

Trickett fits the coach’s-son mold Holgorsen likes and, given a full offseason to absorb the plays, should improve. His 88-of-149 performance for 1,104 yards over his last four full games isn’t stellar but is something to work with. “I’m really confident he’ll be able to play better,” Holgorsen says.


Numbers Game

Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big 12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

West Virginia seemed the ideal candidate to handle the demands of the upgrade to the Big 12. The Mountaineers won (or shared) six conference titles from 2003-11 in the Big East, and they did so with high-powered offenses — the specialty of the Big 12.

As Holgorsen sees it, the biggest issue in West Virginia’s transition has been a lack of depth. In 2011, Holgorsen’s first year, he carried 65 scholarship players — “borderline I-AA numbers,” he says. Initially, that wasn’t a huge issue, because play counts in the Big East ran in the low 60s. The Big 12, however, averages in the high 70s.

Holgorsen has since beefed up his roster, signing a combined 59 players from 2012-13, but WVU’s still not at 85 scholarship players.

The coach has a friend who can relate.

“(TCU’s) Gary Patterson and I have talked about that,” Holgorsen says. “You need to be able to play 50 or 60 bodies consistently.”

The Horned Frogs, who joined the Big 12 in 2012, also went 4–8 last season, losing four games by three points or less. Patterson, however, will get more of a pass because he has five conference titles on his résumé. Despite his Orange Bowl victory in his debut 2011 season, Holgorsen doesn’t have the same clout yet.

That can change if his players grow up in a hurry.

WVU’s 2013 recruiting class featured three junior college skill players — running back Dreamius Smith and receivers Mario Alford and Kevin White — who are talented but inconsistent. No Mountaineer receiver broke 600 yards last year. Expect White to make a jump.

Losing do-everything back Charles Sims is costly, but high-profile transfer Rushel Shell, who recorded 641 yards as a freshman at Pittsburgh two years ago, garnered buzz in the spring.

And there is hope that the much-maligned defense, which has ranked no higher than eighth in the league in WVU’s two seasons in the Big 12, might actually be a relative strength this fall. The Mountaineers return seven defensive starters and could be especially salty in the secondary.  


On an Island

If Holgorsen gets enough time, West Virginia might have a stout roster by 2015. The Mountaineers polished off a top-40 recruiting class in February and are off to a very strong start with the 2015 class. Heading into late June, WVU was ranked in the top 20 nationally in the 247Sports Composite, headlined by five players from South Florida.

West Virginia has done well for years recruiting South Florida, and that shows no signs of slowing down. This summer, Holgorsen hired Damon Cogdell away from Miramar High, the school that produced recent Mountaineer stars Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey.

This is a reminder that no school from a power conference faces a more unique recruiting setup than West Virginia. The other nine Big 12 teams are relatively close to the conference hub in Dallas. West Virginia is a 19-hour drive from the Metroplex, with no travel partner.

The Mountaineers are building a roster with players from everywhere but Texas or West Virginia. The school signed players from 12 different states last year — with only one from West Virginia and one from Texas.

Holgorsen sees his outlier status as an advantage.

“We’re not competing with the guys we’re playing,” Holgorsen says.

“Our recruiting battles happen with Florida schools, the East Coast. It’s obviously tough to beat Ohio State on Ohio kids, but we get into Ohio. A lot of good football players there and in Pennsylvania. We get into New Jersey. Maryland.”

The bottom line, of course, is winning. Holgorsen can sell the ‘Big 12 East’ to players who might not otherwise be exposed to the conference, but these players must be able to compete in the Big 12. And Holgorsen must prove he is up to the task of serving as the CEO of a major-conference program. Making the move from respected coordinator to head coach isn’t always smooth.

The jury is still out on Holgorsen, who is 21–17 overall and 11–14 in league play in three seasons — and that includes the 10–3 mark in a first year highlighted by a 70–33 win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl. The Mountaineers have had three losing streaks of at least three games in the past two seasons. And last November, West Virginia capped its season with consecutive losses to Kansas and Iowa State.

That is not what West Virginia had in mind when it joined the Big 12 — or when it tabbed Holgorsen to lead its program into a new era.

Written by Jeremy Fowler () of for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 Big 12 Football Preview Editions.  to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

West Virginia Searching for Answers After Rocky Start in Big 12
Post date: Monday, June 30, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Missouri Tigers, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/missouris-qb-factory-will-continue-maty-mauk-helm

From the time he was in fifth grade through the end of his sophomore year in high school, James Franklin could be found just about anywhere on the football field except under center.


He played receiver, tight end, defensive end and linebacker. He was the backup quarterback on his prep sophomore team, but that was more of an emergency thing. A year later, Franklin’s high school coach, Jeremy Males, finally tired of hearing Franklin begging to play quarterback and installed him at the position. It was a good move.


Almost immediately, Franklin showed the big arm that had come to him through the wonders of genetics. “My dad could throw the ball 85 yards,” he says. As a high school junior, Franklin threw for 2,464 yards and 23 scores. A year later, he threw for 2,360, rushed for 1,282 and accounted for 41 TDs. Rivals rated him the nation’s fourth-best dual-threat QB. Tom Lemming considered him the nation’s fifth-best hybrid.


But most colleges didn’t share the same assessment of the 6'2", 230-pound Texan. They saw him as an “athlete,” that dreaded appellation applied to someone who might look good in the slot or at tailback. Perhaps he could play linebacker. Those schools were excised quickly from Franklin’s list.


Then there was Missouri.


“One of the biggest things about the school was that they recruited me as a quarterback,” Franklin says. “A lot of schools weren’t recruiting me for that position.”


It makes sense that the Tigers would see what others couldn’t, since over the past 13 years, they have produced some of the most successful college passers in the nation. Since Gary Pinkel took over after the 2000 season, Mizzou has become a quarterback factory of sorts, boasting a series of prolific passers, each of whom has moved on to play in the NFL. It began with Brad Smith and continued with Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert and Franklin. In 2014, Maty Mauk will likely take over, based on his strong relief work last year when Franklin was injured. The quartet sits atop the school’s career total offense list, and each is among the top five in passing yardage. The Tigers haven’t yet reached the same level as BYU did from 1973-99 — when it cranked out the likes of Steve Young, Jim McMahon and Ty Detmer — but they are on quite a run.


Pinkel and his staff look for the usual things when assessing a quarterback prospect. Arm strength, accuracy and superior athletic ability are vital. But Pinkel has a more nebulous characteristic in mind when he focuses on someone who could run his offense some day.


“For me, I have to get a good feeling that the quarterback has the ‘It’ factor, that this guy is special and is a great competitor,” Pinkel says. “We look for mentally and physically tough kids who are tenacious competitors.”


Pinkel’s quarterback lineage goes back well before his time at Missouri. While an assistant to his college coach, Don James, at Washington from 1979-90, Pinkel helped develop Husky standouts Steve Pelluer, Chris Chandler and Cary Conklin, all of whom spent at least five years in the NFL. “And every one of our quarterbacks at Toledo was all-conference,” he says.


When Pinkel left Toledo in November 2000 to take the job in Columbia, he was recruiting Smith, a dual-threat passer from Youngstown, Ohio, whom he convinced to follow him to Missouri. Okay, so David Yost really sold Smith on becoming a Tiger. No story about the Mizzou quarterback lineage can be told without Yost, who is now an inside receivers coach at Washington State. The shaggy-haired offensive savant created schemes that fit his team’s talent and pressured defenses from a variety of formations and strategic approaches. Pinkel delegated a lot of day-to-day control to his assistants, and Yost used that authority to build an attack that showcased the Missouri passers.


“David Yost was the biggest part of it,” Smith says. “I was with him every day, installing the offense and working on fundamentals and techniques. Coach Yost molded guys. He was passionate and spent countless hours on the offense to find ways to help players get better. He was very smart, and guys respected him.”


The excitement began almost immediately. In 2002, his redshirt freshman season, Smith became the second player in Division I-A history to throw for 2,000 yards (2,333) and run for 1,000 (1,029), a performance he would repeat in 2005 (2,304/1,301).


Pinkel’s first few seasons featured a more conventional attack, but by the time Smith was a senior, Yost had spread things out, put the QB in the shotgun and reaped the benefits. Mizzou went 7–5 and topped South Carolina in the Independence Bowl. Missouri won at least eight games in each of its next six seasons — the longest such streak in program history — and hit double figures in wins three times.


“It’s a really good offense,” Smith says. “It forces the defense to do more of what you want it to do.”


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Daniel was next in line, and he didn’t have the running ability Smith did, gaining fewer yards on the ground in his career (970) than Smith did in three of his four seasons as a starter. But Daniel could sling it. He topped 4,300 yards through the air twice and helped the Tigers to a pair of Big 12 North championships. Daniel thrived in the wide-open system that took advantage of his ability to make quick decisions and deliver the ball on time.


“The mental side of the game is so difficult, and exciting,” Pinkel says. “Understanding the complexities of the defense requires constant training.”


Gabbert followed by throwing for at least 3,000 yards during both of his seasons as a starter. Then, it was Franklin’s turn. During his four campaigns — three as a starter — he completed 62.1 percent of his throws and finished third on the school’s all-time yardage list. “I felt really good as a senior, and I knew the offense really well,” Franklin says. “I understood it.”


Next up is Mauk, an aggressive bomber with a strong arm and little fear. It’s a good bet he’ll be the next Missouri quarterbacking standout and help fuel the brand that Pinkel now sells. Different schools have been known for developing successful players at various positions, and as Mizzou continues to be what Pinkel calls “a destination job,” he and his staff will herald their ability to produce outstanding passers.


“There is no question we sell it,” Pinkel says. “We evaluate well, and we do an excellent job of player development. Everybody does it, but we do it better than most.”


James Franklin can attest to that.


Maty Mauk: Next In Line as Missouri’s Next Standout QB


When Missouri starting quarterback James Franklin suffered a shoulder separation against Georgia last October, Tiger fans had to wonder whether Maty Mauk was going to handle the assignment of stepping in.


Earlier in the year, the redshirt freshman had been sacked twice in the Tigers’ win over Toledo and admittedly “wasn’t being me.” So, Mauk stopped “stressing” himself and pretended he was in high school all over again, when it was five wide and let it fly.


The results were encouraging. Mauk helped the Tigers extend their 28–26 fourth-quarter lead to a 41–26 triumph over the seventh-ranked Bulldogs. “It felt like high school again,” Mauk says. “After that, it was amazing how much the game slowed down.”


Mauk started the next four contests for Mizzou and posted a 3–1 record that included a tough overtime loss to South Carolina. Though his completion percentage (51.1) didn’t sparkle, he demonstrated the ability to get the ball downfield and played with a fearlessness not usually associated with a first-time starter.


“He really likes to make plays and sling the ball around,” Franklin says. “Even if he makes a mistake, he’ll come back and take a chance the next time. He’s not afraid.”


The Kenton, Ohio, native chose Missouri because of the family atmosphere he experienced on his visit. “Coach (Gary) Pinkel is like a second dad,” he says. His brother, Ben, was a quarterback at Wake Forest and Cincinnati, so Mauk has a good pedigree. Now, it’s about becoming a full-time starter at a school where quarterbacks are expected to stand out.


“I’m a playmaker,” Mauk says. “That’s why I’m here.”


Written by Michael Bradley () for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 SEC Football Preview Editions.  to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Missouri's QB Factory Will Continue With Maty Mauk at the Helm
Post date: Monday, June 30, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: Baylor Bears, College Football, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/art-briles-baylor-football-big-12-power-success

It would make for great copy if Bryce Hager, the son of University of Texas’ all-time tackling leader, had spurned earnest pleas from his daddy’s alma mater to be part of the Art Briles Project in Waco and help fuel the renaissance that has angered all proud Longhorns.

But that wouldn’t be telling the truth.

Fact is, Hager had only one BCS scholarship offer, and it came from the Bears. About three weeks before 2010’s National Signing Day. That made leaving Austin a little easier, and no doubt put him in good company with a lot of other BU players at the time, who had chosen to play for Briles at a school that was in the midst of a 14-year string of losing seasons.

“I met with Coach Briles, and I thought () was the right fit for me,” Hager says.

These days, isn’t just a match for players with limited options; it’s a destination for some of the state’s best. Briles has turned the Bears from a Texas-sized ragdoll into one of the hottest programs in the country. BU is not merely winning, but it is doing so with a kind of flash that has 18-year-olds around the country paying close attention. The Bears are fashion plates. Their offense is electrifying. And this season, they’ll move into a new 45,000-seat on-campus stadium. The momentum is building at a place that was once thought to be immune to excitement.

“Coach Briles told me, ‘We have a plan, and we want you to be part of the plan,’” Hager says.

Many coaches have plans when they approach significant restoration projects, but only a few are capable of carrying them out. Briles has taken Baylor to four straight bowl games, doubling the longest streak in school history, and he won the 2013 Big 12 title. He has coached a Heisman Trophy winner. And he is now charged with doing something no one thought was possible at Baylor: adjusting to life as a powerhouse.

Imagine that. Instead of suffering from gridiron envy, the Bears are causing other programs to covet their prosperity. That didn’t happen when BU was in the Southwest Conference, and it sure hadn’t been part of its Big 12 narrative.

“People want to have Baylor as an official visit now,” says senior quarterback Bryce Petty, last year’s Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. “It’s not, ‘I have to go to Baylor.’ It’s, ‘I want to go to Baylor.’”

That change in attitude comes courtesy of Briles, who arrived in Waco after four years at Houston, where he sent footballs flying all over the field. He understood that winning was vital but that doing it in a way that appealed to recruits was also important. His offense certainly did that, and when Robert Griffin III won a Heisman at its helm, high school players noticed. When Baylor started wearing uniforms that took the school’s green-and-gold colors in every direction possible, the program became cool. The Bears aren’t quite at the Jackson Pollock level favored by Oregon, but they have quite a menagerie of modern football costuming.

“When I came in, we didn’t have cool uniforms,” Hager says. “Last year, we were excited to wear the new uniforms with gold helmets and flat black. You want to be looking good.”

It’s all part of the new Baylor brand. More established, tradition-bound programs, like Alabama and Penn State, can outfit players in apparel better suited for the 1960s, because their national profiles are set. Baylor lacks that kind of historical narrative, so it must attract attention in other ways. Scoring lots of points will do it. Fancy threads will, too. Mom and Dad may not like matte black helmets and gold facemasks, but Junior sure does. It’s all part of selling the program.

“In this age, everything is visual,” Briles says. “Very seldom do people lock themselves in a room without a TV or computer. Kids see us, with our stadium and uniforms and style of play, and they like it.

“The team is trending up.”

The most obvious manifestation of Baylor’s new prosperity is $250 million McLane Stadium, which sits on the banks of the Brazos River and replaces the Bears’ old Floyd Casey home, which sat across town from campus. It offers slips for boats to dock before the game, a la Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium and Washington’s Husky Stadium, and will lead to increased participation by students, who can now walk to games, and alumni, who will be drawn to campus on Saturdays.

Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big 12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

“It integrates football and the campus environment, and that’s something we have never had,” AD Ian McCaw says. “It connects the students and alumni and creates a pageantry around football games that we’ve lacked.”

The uniforms and stadium are all part of the overall presentation. But looking good doesn’t matter at all if a team is losing. One thing Baylor has on its side is the lack of historical perspective present in its target recruiting market. Teenagers have never been great students of past events, but this generation is particularly averse to anything that happened even 10 years ago.

“Tradition starts for these guys at age 15,” Briles says. “When we talk to high school students in the state of Texas about Baylor football, they think it’s the best thing in the world.”

That showed in February, when the Bears amassed a top-30 recruiting class heavy on wideouts and athletes needed to propel Briles’ offense. Granted, it wasn’t Bama’s five-star haul, but it continued the school’s recent upward movement and was a huge improvement from even five years ago, when Baylor struggled to get four-star talents to visit campus.

The influx of talent is vital, because no program can sustain success with B-list players. Briles’ challenge is to take the next step in his strategic plan. He has established the Bears. He has won a title. Now, he has to create something that can win and compete regularly. That’s the tricky part, because at a place like Baylor, a couple shaky seasons can kill any momentum that has been generated.

“That’s why it’s so hard for teams to repeat and stay on top at any level, be it college, the NFL or high school,” Briles says. “Once you hit that mark, everybody wants a piece of you. You have to learn how to practice with a target on your back. That’s what we’re going through as a program and a university. It’s at the forefront of our minds.

“Now, we’ve become the hunted.”

That brings problems. For Baylor football, those are good problems to have.

Written by Michael Bradley () for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 Big 12 Football Preview Editions.  to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Art Briles has Baylor Football Built for Big 12 Success
Post date: Friday, June 27, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: food, Life
Path: /college-football/how-grill-perfect-steak

You may never play like a legendary athlete, but at least you can grill like one. To help up your game, we asked James O’Donnell, executive chef at Michael Jordan’s Steak House in Chicago, to give us his best tips for grilling a steak worthy of MJ’s name.  


Buy a great steak

Ask for a “dry-age” USDA prime steak. Dry-age steaks are just that, aged in a dry atmosphere, where the moisture evaporates and concentrates the flavors. Get a steak that’s about 2 inches thick. O’Donnell prefers a large (around 30 ounces to serve several people) bone-in rib-eye, which has a lot of marbling that results in a lot of flavor. “Plus, it’s a manly looking steak,” he says. 


Pull out of fridge 90 minutes before cooking

Bringing the steak to room temperature will allow it to cook at an even temperature and get a nice medium rare throughout. 


Season liberally

And O’Donnell means “liberally.” Pat dry and sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Rub a teaspoon of olive oil over the salt and pepper.


6-6-6 Rule

Get the grill as hot as possible and place the steak. Leave unattended for 6 minutes. Don’t fiddle with it. Flip, cook unattended 6 more minutes. Flip, shut off the grill and let the steak roast in the covered grill for 6 more minutes. 


Put steak on cutting board and walk away for 10 minutes

At this point the “juices in the hot steak are running around like wild,” he says. It’s important to give them time to redistribute in the fibers. If a steak doesn’t rest, “you’ll end up with a plate full of pink liquid,” O’Donnell says.  

​You may never play like a legendary athlete, but at least you can grill like one. To help up your game, we asked James O’Donnell, executive chef at Michael Jordan’s Steak House in Chicago, to give us his best tips for grilling a steak worthy of MJ’s name.
Post date: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 - 18:22
All taxonomy terms: Life
Path: /nfl/how-recover-common-sports-injuries

Whether you’re on the softball field, the basketball court or on a morning run, injuries are part of any sport. To get you back in the game, we talked to Jeff Ferguson, the San Francisco 49ers’ head athletic trainer and VP of football operations, for some advice on bouncing back from injuries. 


Throwing a shoulder out 

Prevention is easier than rehab, Ferguson says. “We have our throwers ice post-practice, shoulder and the elbow.” If you’re in a softball league and you just finished playing a game, throw some ice on for 15-20 minutes to minimize inflammation.

Tennis Elbow (a.k.a. elbow tendinitis)

Ferguson recommends a good ice massage for five to seven minutes at a time, a compression sleeve for support and maybe some OTC anti-inflammatories (check with your doctor first). Focus on progression when you come back. “For our throwers, we start off with some 10-yard soft toss, make sure the technique is sound, then go 20, 30, and then route progression as he heals,” he says. 

Pulled Hamstring

After 48 hours of  RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation), go to work on mobility. “We’ll have players walking. Then have them go through dynamic warm-ups (low-intensity exercise like high knees, butt kickers) getting all the muscles firing without prolonging the injury,” Ferguson says. The activity affects more than your health, though. “Building confidence, that’s a key component. We don’t want there to be any hesitation when guys are coming back from injury.”

Ankle Sprain

After 72 hours of RICE,  focus on learning to use the ankle again. “Proprioception (the ability to balance without looking at your foot) is critical when you’re coming back from these injuries,” Ferguson says. For your ankle, do a single-leg balance, and have someone toss a ball to you while you’re balancing.

Jogger’s Heel (a.k.a. plantar fasciitis)

Massage the bottom of your foot by stepping on a frozen water bottle and moving your foot around. “You get the benefit of both the ice and the compression/massage.” And with all foot-related issues, check your shoes. “Shoes are such a simple fix.”


—by Billy Brown

Post date: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 - 18:05
All taxonomy terms: College Football, World Cup
Path: /college-football/summarizing-usa-vs-portugals-world-cup-game-one-gif

In case you missed Sunday's incredible World Cup game when the US squared off against Portugal, this GIF pretty much summarizes it. 



In case you missed Sunday's incredible World Cup game when the US squared off against Portugal, this GIF pretty much summarizes it.
Post date: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 - 10:31
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/13-things-you-need-know-about-college-football-recruiting

There are the hats and the star rankings, the Signing Day ceremonies and the fanbase hopes that are rewarded or dashed with each announcement. February’s National Signing Day, as it’s known across the country, is the conclusion of a long cycle that’s complete with living room visits, phone calls and countless bags of mail.

A signature is just the beginning. College football recruiting is almost an entirely different sport — outside the hashmarks, complete with its own etiquette, rules, and regulations. Here are 13 things you need to know about it.

Players Commit to a Coach But Sign With a School

When James Franklin left Vanderbilt for Penn State earlier this year, he took with him eight Commodore coaches, four Commodore administrators and three Commodore strength coaches.

And, perhaps most controversial of all, he took five recruits who had been committed to Vanderbilt.

Verbal commitments are non-binding, but that certainly didn’t stop people in Nashville from accusing Franklin and the Penn State staff of poaching players.

“I didn’t see it that way,” says Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, who made the move to Happy Valley with Franklin. “These kids were calling him, asking, ‘How can we come with you?’ It was kinda awkward at the time.”

Idealistically, recruits choose and enroll in schools. But they build personal relationships with those schools’ coaches, who check in with them about their grades and their lives and have sit-down conversations with their families in their living rooms.

It follows, then, that those recruits would wish to tag along with the coaches who sold them on the school to which they originally committed. Still, those who take advantage of the relationships they fostered are roundly criticized if the end result is recruits jumping ship after a coach changes jobs.

“It’s kinda hypocritical,” Shoop says. “I watch some get recognized as great recruiters for flipping guys, then we were criticized when guys said they wanted to come with us to Penn State. Coach (Franklin) got a bad rap for that.”

The Best Recruiters Are The Recruits Themselves

When consensus four-star quarterback Drew Barker, a native of Burlington, Ky., committed to Kentucky in May 2013, he revived the Wildcats’ credibility in the Commonwealth. Barker’s commitment was an initial piece of evidence that the new Kentucky staff, led by former Florida State assistant coach Mark Stoops, would be one to reckon with on the recruiting trail.

But just being a potential cornerstone for a struggling in-state program wasn’t enough. Barker wanted more; specifically, he wanted more players, as talented as himself, to join him at Kentucky.

So he grabbed the digital megaphone that is Twitter and challenged his peers to join him. He created a Twitter account (@UK2014Class) and sent out tweets like, “THE 2014 UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY RECRUITING CLASS WILL GO DOWN IN HISTORY!” and, “Come be a HERO.”

Recruits sift through letters and endure countless monotonous phone calls from college coaches. When a committed (literally and figuratively) recruit has another prospect’s ear, it can be a valuable asset for coaching staffs.

“(Drew) became the face of the class,” Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown says. “The class kind of gravitated to him. He took it and ran with it himself. He took the reins with the whole class.”

With an assist from Barker, perhaps, Kentucky’s 2014 signing class was its highest-ranked in the history of Rivals, at 17th overall — better than Ole Miss, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.

Recruits sift through letters and endure countless monotonous phone calls from college coaches. When a committed (literally and figuratively) recruit has another prospect’s ear, it can be a valuable asset for coaching staffs.

“(Drew) became the face of the class,” Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown says. “The class kind of gravitated to him. He took it and ran with it himself. He took the reins with the whole class.”

With an assist from Barker, perhaps, Kentucky’s 2014 signing class was its highest-ranked in the history of Rivals, at 17th overall — better than Ole Miss, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.

Unofficial Visits Are More Important Than Ever

One of the universally accepted facts of recruiting in college football is that unless you can get a prospect on campus for an unofficial visit — i.e., on his own dime — chances are, the prospect won’t choose your school.

There are two types of visits in recruiting: One is the official, which one Pac-12 staffer calls “sacred.” Under the official visit guidelines, schools are permitted to pay for things like transportation, hotel rooms, food (three meals a day) and entertainment. Each Division I prospect is allowed to take five such visits beginning in September of his senior year.

But, in the age of booming scouting websites, football coaches can’t wait until a prospect is a senior — which is why the unofficial visit has taken on more and more importance in today’s recruiting world. Prospects can take as many unofficial visits as their hearts desire. Many times, these happen in the form of Junior Day camps, where schools work hands-on with hordes of junior prospects in the spring.

“Everybody is basing their decision off of the experience of the unofficial visit,”

Tennessee assistant Mark Elder says. “Unofficial visits are unbelievably crucial. You go and look at recruiting rankings, and half the kids are committed by Sept. 1 of their senior year (the first day they can take official visits).”

Official Visits Are Not All-Expenses-Paid-Vacations

On a recent spring afternoon from his office in Tempe, Ariz., Patrick Suddes could only marvel at the weather.

“It’s perfect, man,” Arizona State’s recruiting coordinator said. “78 degrees. Slightly windy. It’s just perfect.”

With that kind of beauty, though, comes a challenge for Suddes and his coaching cohorts. They heavily research and vet prospects before inviting them to come to campus for an official visit. The Sun Devils don’t want to simply be a temporary vacation spot for a recruit; they want to ensure that there’s legitimate interest on the recruit’s end in attending the school.

“We don’t want guys to come in just to see the palm trees,” Suddes says. “So you do as much research as possible.”

Though places like Arizona State, Hawaii and Miami are some of the more aesthetically pleasing locales in the country, the problem isn’t unique to them. When Suddes was at Alabama, he said prospects took official visits just so they could get a taste of the environment at Crimson Tide home games.

“No matter where you are, if your school has a certain niche or is on some kind of bucket list, you always kind of experience that problem,” Suddes says. “You try to do as much on the front end, but you can’t tell a top kid he can’t visit for the experience.”

Letters Can Be More Headache Than Heartfelt

Drew Richmond is a consensus Top 50 junior offensive lineman prospect from Memphis University School. That being the case, he gets heaps upon heaps of letters from just about every school in the nation. One day, he came home to 200 pieces of mail — most of it sprawled out on the street — from an SEC school. For Richmond, hand-written equals hassle — because where could all this mail possibly fit?

“You get so much mail,” says the 6'6", 315-pound lineman, who has offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson and more. “That stuff doesn’t really mean a lot. I’m more of a Twitter guy.”

Richmond prefers his written interactions with college coaches be condensed into 140 characters (or less). That way, he can sift through recruiting pitch after recruiting pitch with one swipe and not have to worry about finding a place to stow them.

Not to say there haven’t been pieces of mail that stuck out. The University of Memphis, Richmond’s hometown school, sent him a mock newspaper article that laid out a detailed scenario in which the Tigers, led by Richmond in this fantasy world, could make the College Football Playoff in 2016.

Early Commitments Aren’t Always Firm Commitments

Tennessee assistant coach Mark Elder likens committing early to a college — as, say, an underclassman — to getting married at 19. It might work if you’ve found the right person. But, more than likely, you haven’t had enough life experience to know if you’ve found the right person.

If Elder were a relationship therapist, he would recommend more relationships. Since he’s a college football coach, he recommends that a prospect take as many visits as possible before settling down.

“If you’ve got a kid willing to commit that hasn’t been a lot of places and is just sort of wanting to commit to the best place he’s seen to that point, it’s too early,” Elder says. “You haven’t seen places and you haven’t had the experience.”

Those are the prospects, Elder says, who get cold feet — though there are exceptions. Legacies and local players who grew up Volunteer fans are always welcome. It varies case-by-case; when Tennessee makes the decision whether to accept an underclassman commitment, they properly vet the committing party beforehand.

“Early commitments can be very beneficial, especially if you can get a guy who can get involved in recruiting other kids,” he says. “The tough part is if you don’t feel it’s a strong one — if it’s more reservation than commitment — he can be difficult to hang on to for a long time.”

Location, Location, Location Still Matters Most

For as much as Nebraska has to offer, with its tradition and unrivaled state support, there are recruiting stigmas the Cornhuskers must face. Nebraska’s biggest battle, unfortunately, is one it can do nothing about: its location.

In an age when unofficial visits are more important than ever, it’s a constant challenge for a program like Nebraska’s — smack-dab in the middle of the Midwest — to get recruits on campus on their own dime. The recruiting pool in the state is shallow at best.

“If you drew a four-hour circle around every school in the Big Ten, we would have the least population,” Nebraska director of recruiting Ross Els says. “It puts us at a disadvantage, purely on numbers.”

It’s not like Nebraska is exactly going without on the recruiting trail; its 2015 class is currently ranked No. 17 by Rivals, and three of the last four Huskers classes finished in the top 25.

Once prospects set foot on campus officially, the program sells itself. But, for Nebraska, the official visit tends to be more of a culmination of the recruiting process. And what precedes it.

The Huskers coaches first must debunk myths for their targets: It’s not, in fact, simply a cornfield where they play football. To facilitate that cause, the coaches in Lincoln have a program in place called “Teach Nebraska.” They start recruiting players as early as possible, sending them waves and waves of information through social media, mail and every medium available to them.

A prospect may or may not be able to make it to Nebraska for an unofficial visit — but this way, at least, he’ll know exactly what the school has to offer.

“We do have a lot of contacts throughout the country,” Els says. “We develop those relationships and the trust factor and send kids as much information as possible so that they can realize just what a special place we have here.”

High School Senior Seasons Are An Afterthought

With the explosion of combines, camps and websites like HUDL, which allow prospects to upload their own highlights, college coaches agree: As it concerns top prospects, the senior season is obsolete.

Recruiting works at hyper-speed in 2014. Coaches race to get to a prospect first simply to call dibs. The prevalence of unofficial visits and online scouting websites has sped up the cycle. By early May, 33 of Rivals’ Top 100 2015 prospects were committed to a school.

Bob Shoop, the defensive coordinator at Penn State, says he and his staff have already watched film of 150 safeties in the Class of 2015 and a “significant” number of local 2016 prospects in the region. These days, coaches can’t afford to wait for senior film; they have to evaluate prospects and determine if they’re good enough much earlier.

“A significant portion of evaluation is done well prior to the senior year,” Shoop says. “It’s sort of become, ‘Let’s get an offer out to this guy, let’s get one out to that guy.’”

As always, there are exceptions. As a junior at Katy High School in Texas, Andy Dalton didn’t even start full-time at quarterback. He split time and wasn’t handed the reins until he was a senior. Now an NFL starting quarterback, Dalton had just two offers in high school: UTEP and TCU, where he ultimately ended up.

“Sometimes people can get overlooked,” says Memphis coach Justin Fuente, who coached Dalton at TCU. “We take a little bit more of an old-school approach to it. We try to slow down just a little bit.”

Dead Period? What Dead Period? There is None

By definition, the dead period in college football recruiting keeps a coach from making any evaluations or basic in-person contact with a prospect. Telephone calls are allowed. The next dead period in the 2014 calendar, for example, goes from June 30 to July 13.

When asked about the existence of a dead period, however, more than one college coach laughed. You follow the rules, of course, but make no mistake: For a good recruiter, dead period does not mean days off.

On Christmas Day, there are Merry Christmas texts to be sent. Don’t you dare forget about birthdays, either.

“There’s always recruiting going on,” Tennessee assistant Mark Elder says. “You have to be constantly recruiting. If you’re not, somebody else is.”

The dead period isn’t the only contact period coaches have to navigate. There’s the quiet period, which allows coaches to make in-person contact in addition to phone calls with a prospect and his family provided it’s on campus. The evaluation period gives coaches the freedom to visit prospects for practices or games to assess their skill level.

While the dead period regulates in-person contact, the NCAA’s restrictions on social media use are far less stringent, giving coaches another way to circumvent the limitations of the recruiting calendar.

“You’ve got to stay in constant contact,” Nebraska’s Ross Els says. “Recruiting never stops. Never, ever, ever.”

Don’t Forget to Recruit Coaches and Family Members

There is a growing concern among college football coaches that their sport’s recruiting is becoming more and more akin to college basketball, where AAU coaches and self-serving family friends with the self-applied label of “mentor” suddenly find themselves with influence over a college recruit’s decision.

There’s no AAU football, but there are traveling 7-on-7 tournament teams. And it’s those organizers and outside influences that concern coaches like Memphis’ Justin Fuente.

Fuente encourages and expects parents and high school coaches to be involved in the recruiting process. As a man who spent several years in Texas, where high school football is part sport, part religion, Fuente is used to high school coaches having a say. He’s not, however, a fan of the grey area that handlers and mentors sometimes represent and exploit.

“It’s part of our charge as coaches to keep it within the family and high school coaches in football recruiting,” Fuente says.

Two years ago, a 7-on-7 coach based in Nashville named Byron De’Vinner was at the center of an NCAA investigation when he was said to have witnessed a Mississippi State booster hand money to then-Bulldogs recruit Will Redmond.

The increased presence and influence of characters like De’Vinner is what disappoints Fuente and other coaches the most.

“Are we going the direction of AAU with these handlers?” Nittany Lions assistant coach Bob Shoop says. “It’s just another piece and another angle. It’s become challenging.”

Today’s Recruits Are Savvier Than Ever Before

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University of Memphis offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey has coached in Division I since 1985. His career has taken him everywhere from Memphis to New Mexico and back to Memphis again. No part of college football has changed more in the last 30 years, he says, than recruits’ awareness.

Thirty years ago, coaches used to have to explain the recruiting process to parents and kids. Those days are no longer. Nowadays, recruits know everything from depth charts to contract extension statuses.

“Used to, in December, you’d go in the living room and have to explain they have five official visits,” Dickey says. “They know all that now. They’re much better educated than they used to be. Social media has had a pretty big impact on recruiting — and it’s not just us keeping up with them.”

Drew Richmond, a four-star offensive lineman, studies depth charts. He knows what recruits are coming in and what players are graduating or leaving for the NFL. If avoiding a transfer down the line is the goal, poring over as much information as is available is the key.

“Coaches will tell you anything,” Richmond says. “You believe (some of) it to a certain extent, but I’d rather have more proof for myself.”

Recruiting Budgets Vary Widely Within Conferences


There’s a common denominator with every coach at every school in the country: Coaches want full support and commitment from their administration. Whether it’s as big-picture as facility work or immediate as a recruiting budget, it’s difficult for coaches to operate without resources.

Tennessee spent $2.4 million on recruiting in the 2012-13 fiscal year. Kentucky spent $1.7 million. Ole Miss spent $1.2 million. Mississippi State spent just over $1 million.

There’s a wide range of recruiting budgets throughout the country, but the expenses are generally universal: Mail, coaching visits and official visits.

Earlier this year, Kentucky grabbed headlines when it sent 182 letters in one day to 372-pound defensive lineman Matt Elam.

One American Athletic Conference coach, however, downplays certain aspects of an engorged recruiting budget.

“People can out-mail you and out-propaganda you through spending dollars,” the coach says. “There’s always someone out there with a bigger stick.”

A long expense sheet in recruiting doesn’t always correlate to a huge recruiting class, just as a more modest budget doesn’t doom a program to mediocrity. Florida State, for instance, spent a hair over $1 million — less than most of the SEC — and still finished with the No. 4-ranked recruiting class, according to Rivals.

An Offer is Not an Offer Until the LOI is Signed

It’s an instant-information, instant-gratification recruiting world we live in, and nothing has proven to be more ambiguous than the scholarship offer. Prospects get lost in coach-speak and half-hearted overtures, oftentimes confusing interest for a concrete, all-expenses-paid invitation to join the program.

In taking steps to avoid misinterpretation, assistant coaches Mark Elder and Darrell Dickey say they try to be as crystal-clear as humanly possible.

“We don’t deal in committable vs. non-committable,” Elder says. “We’re not offering someone that (we wouldn’t accept) on the same day. That’s not how we do business.”

Dickey, the former head coach at North Texas, says he tried to avoid casting an overly-large net knowing he had only 25 spots to fill.

“There’s places out there that have 150 offers out and only so many spots,” Dickey says. “I never felt very comfortable having thousands of offers out there and then all of a sudden you’ve got to tell kids you can’t take them.”

There’s an important difference, however, between rescinding an offer and a prospect being misled.

Unlike in basketball, where coaches can afford to ride out an elite-level prospect’s recruitment until the end due to smaller numbers on the roster, the task for college football coaches is more complex. Every year, there’s a (usually) set number of holes to fill. If a prospect waits too long and a school takes another player at the same position, it’s not that he was lied to about having an offer — he was simply beaten to the spot.

“The offer is good at that moment,” Elder says. “But it may not be good all the way up to Signing Day, because we may offer, for example, a couple of other tight ends. It’s good until we fill up at that position.”

Written by John Martin (), columnist for 92.9 FM ESPN Radio in Memphis, Tenn. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 College Football Regional Preview Editions.  to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

13 Things You Need to Know About College Football Recruiting
Post date: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/virginia-techs-frank-beamer-crossroads-2014

As the Sun Bowl approached last December, the reward for an 8–4 regular season, coach Frank Beamer offered a rare moment of candor regarding his future. The resignations of Texas’ Mack Brown and Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe, two of his contemporaries and closest friends in the coaching business, weighed heavily on his mind.

“It just kind of reminds you that nothing is certain about this business,” the 67-year-old Beamer said. “I’m very sensitive to staying around too long. …

“It’s just the reality of the business. I understand it. I haven’t seriously thought of (retiring), but I’ve certainly thought about it. But I feel good about things right now. Our recruiting is going great. I like my coaching staff very much. Things are really very positive right now.”

There are few things tougher to pull off in football than the graceful exit of a long-time coach. Joe Paterno’s end was ugly at Penn State. Bobby Bowden’s wasn’t as scandalous but still came too late at Florida State.

With those situations as a backdrop, the question now facing Virginia Tech is this: Can Beamer, the winningest active Division I coach and about to begin his 28th season in Blacksburg, pull the Hokies out of a two-season swoon and get back to competing for ACC championships?

Beamer is partly a victim of his own success. Virginia Tech was the standard bearer for consistency for much of the 2000s, winning at least 10 games in eight straight seasons from 2004-11. But the bottom has fallen out recently. Years of offensive indifference and the decline of Tech’s play on special teams — not many people have been using the term “Beamerball” of late — finally caught up to the Hokies, putting the program at a crossroads.

A 7–6 mark in 2012, when Tech nearly missed a bowl game for the first time in two decades, prompted an overhaul to the offensive coaching staff. The Hokies went 8–5 last year on the back of a top-five defense and could have gotten back to 10 wins if not for several turnover-plagued games.

Still, 15 wins in two years and no ACC Championship Game appearances — amazingly, the longest drought the Hokies have had since the inception of the title game in 2005 — aren't what folks in Blacksburg are accustomed to.

“We’re used to winning 10 games a year, and we haven’t done that,” running backs coach Shane Beamer says. “Not to justify it, but at some places if you win eight, you win seven, they’re giving everyone contract extensions and having celebrations. That’s not our expectation here at Virginia Tech. Our expectation each year, why these players came here, is to win championships.”

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Those around the program — and even former players like running back Kevin Jones, who was on the committee that recently hired new athletic director Whit Babcock — are confident that the last two years have only been a brief hiccup, although the Hokies’ task of reclaiming their spot atop the ACC they dominated for so long is made tougher by Florida State’s resurgence and Clemson’s recent run.

The hope comes from the changes Virginia Tech made on offense prior to the 2013 season. After years of underachieving on that side of the ball, Beamer revamped his staff, going outside the program to hire former Temple and Auburn offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and two more offensive assistants (and since then, another one). For Beamer — who hadn’t hired an outside coordinator since 1994 and, it was reported later, considered calling upon old pal Ralph Friedgen to run the offense — it was a bold step, one outside his comfort zone.

“I think what he did last year as far as the coaching change showed that the guy still has a burning desire to go win a national championship and see this program continue to grow,” says defensive coordinator Bud Foster, whose consistently strong group has put the Hokies in the mix for two decades now. “You just don’t do that if you don’t have fire. … We’re not going to be complacent here. I think that’s a telltale sign.”

While Year 1 under Loeffler wasn’t a wild success — Tech actually went backward in the national rankings in total yardage, from 81st to 101st, and had one of the worst rushing attacks in Beamer’s tenure — it provided a starting point in modernizing the Hokies’ offense, utilizing multiple shifts and more complex schemes than Virginia Tech had used in the past.

The issue now is talent. The offense lacks difference-makers of the recent past like Tyrod Taylor, David Wilson and Ryan Williams, the result of several subpar recruiting classes, although Loeffler and Co. have gone about fixing that on the recruiting trail. In the new staff’s first full recruiting cycle, it signed 16 offensive players to replenish the ranks, the biggest influx of talent the program has had on that side of the ball in years.

In addition to a pair of freshman quarterbacks, Andrew Ford and Chris Durkin, Loeffler convinced Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer to join the Hokies, adding to the competition to replace three-year starter Logan Thomas.

“I see the young talent,” Shane Beamer says. “You look around this room and there’s a lot of young faces of guys that have three years or more of eligibility left. And our talent level hasn’t been probably what it needs to be the last couple years in certain positions, and we’ve known that. We’ve tried hard to get it right in recruiting and I feel like we have.”

A significant turnaround might be a matter of time and timing — time for those recruits to mature and timing to get all the parts lined up. This season, the Hokies have to retool on defense after losing seven senior starters and have no known entity at quarterback, despite an older offensive line that could start as many as four seniors. Next year, when an experienced quarterback might be in place and the defense is a year older, the offensive line could be starting an overhaul.

Will Beamer still be on the sideline by then? His current contract runs through 2016, and those closest to him say he hasn’t slowed down with age or taken on a figurehead role that many assume is the case.

“I’m his son, and we’ve never once talked about how long he’s going to coach,” Shane Beamer says. “Not one time. … I don’t see him slowing down at all.

“Anything you need him to do recruiting-wise, he does it. ‘Hey, I need you to call these 10 high school coaches today.’ The next day, he’s got it done. We just played Georgia Tech on a Thursday, he’s in Richmond all day Friday going to high school football games. If he was slowing down, I think he’d say, ‘You know, I think I’d rather just stay home and watch college football all day.’ But he ­doesn’t. Whatever needs to be done, he does.

“He sees the youth. The youth on this team keeps us all young. And I know he’s excited about the next step.”

Written by Andy Bitter () of the for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 ACC Football Preview Editions.  to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Is Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer at a Crossroads in 2014?
Post date: Friday, June 20, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/everything-you-need-know-about-college-football-analytics

Analytics have become commonplace in sports. Casual baseball fans know about Moneyball and the value of on-base percentage over batting average and have at least heard of WAR (Wins Above Replacement), even if they don’t really know what it’s good for. Casual basketball fans were probably exposed to John Hollinger’s PER (Player Efficiency Rating) system at some point, know about Houston general manager Daryl Morey’s background, and may have even picked up on stylistic shifts that were impacted by analytics — more corner 3s, a shunning of long 2-pointers, et cetera.

The analytics revolution has not quite reached mainstream status with the country’s most popular sport, however. Football is a more random, complicated sport, with a pointy ball and 22 players who all carry out unique tasks at one time or another. There is more luck and specialization involved in football than in most team sports, and it makes it more difficult to draw obvious conclusions about players, teams or front offices.

Still, at the NFL level, there has been progress. A lot of teams have analytics departments, and sites like Football Outsiders, Advanced NFL Stats and others have been gaining a foothold. Any breakthroughs for football analytics, however, have taken place at the professional level. In college football, where the head coach is the general manager and some graduate assistant is the analytics department, things are a little trickier. Some teams and coaches have a much better feel for when to go for it on fourth down, but that’s only one aspect of stats in football.

But the college football statistics community does exist and has been putting out some interesting work for a while. We are on an everlasting quest for more hands on deck, but we get a little further, a little more detailed and a little more engrained with each passing season.

At this stage in the game, what you need to know about college football analytics can be more properly explained by certain truisms instead of specific measures. Here are five points that you need to know about college football and its stats.


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1. There are Five Factors to Winning a Football Game

So much of football boils down to where you start, how you move the ball, how you finish, and whether or not the pointy ball bounces in your direction. Or to put it another way: The five stats that matter most in football are efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives and turnovers.

• If you win the field position battle, you win the game 72 percent of the time.

• If you win the turnover battle, you win the game 73 percent of the time.

• If you finish drives better than your opponent, you win 75 percent of the time.

• If you are more efficient than your opponent, you win 83 percent of the time.

• If you are more explosive than your opponent, you win 86 percent of the time.

The college football box score hasn’t changed much since the 1920s, and if we were to rebuild it from scratch, we would be well served to build it around these five factors. These concepts are in no way advanced stats, but they are and could be the basis for such.


2. The Difference Between Standard Downs and Passing Downs is the Difference Between Winning and Losing

You can define standard downs as first down, second-and-7 or fewer, or third- or fourth-and-4 or fewer. Passing downs are the other plays: second-and-8 or more, third- or fourth-and-5 or more.

We’ve all heard coaches preach the importance of staying on schedule. It is a cliché, but sometimes clichés exist for a reason. A team’s Success Rate on standard downs was, on average, 48 percent in 2013; on passing downs, it was 32 percent. Once you fall behind schedule, it is rather difficult to catch up.


Interested in learning more about advanced stats? for an in-depth look at all things college football, the issues facing the sport in future seasons and a detailed breakdown of advanced statistics and what they mean.
3. In Advanced Stats, Adjusting for Opponents is Everything


One of the biggest problems with college football stats is that you cannot simply look at them and come to immediate conclusions. Fresno State averaged more yards per game than Texas A&M in 2013, and Northern Illinois averaged more than Ohio State. Marshall and Rice won 10 games while Washington won only nine. We know to pause and ask, “Yeah, but who have they played?”

Statistically speaking, there are countless ways to adjust for the quality of the opponent at hand (some better than others), but no matter how you do it, you have to do it. In essence, it is what makes “advanced stats” advanced, and while we account for this in every sport, it is never more vital than in college sports. The talent gap from team to team is just too wide.


4. Garbage-Time Stats are Mostly Garbage

One of the least productive moments of the BCS era (1998-2013) came when decision-makers decided margin of victory should play no role in the BCS formulas. They didn’t want to encourage teams to run up the score against overwhelmed opponents. (This ignores that human pollsters are still very much swayed by big margins.) If Team A beat Team B by one point, it was the same as beating that team by 38. It intentionally removed the most telling piece of data for systems that use only points scored and allowed.

There’s a better way, anyway. Play-by-play and full-drive college football data can be found publicly now, either at the NCAA’s official site, on school sites or at . And when you use data beyond simple points scored or total yards gained, you can filter out what happens in garbage time, when the game is out of reach. You can look only at what transpired when a game was considered competitive, which retains the important piece that we gleaned from point differential (level of dominance) while removing the part nobody likes (running up the score).


5. Pace Adjustments are Almost as Essential

If 2013 offense had run at Baylor’s pace, the Seminoles would have projected to average 633 yards and 63 points per game. If Georgia’s 2012 offense had played at Oregon’s pace, the Bulldogs might have averaged 575 yards and 47 points per game.

We get distracted by big, shiny point and yardage totals, and we sometimes fail to recognize the offenses or defenses that are truly the strongest (or weakest). If you play in the Big 12 or Pac-12, your defense is going to face a ton of high-paced, high-quality offenses and will by default give up more points and yards. That doesn’t mean the defenses in those conferences stink any more than it means that ACC or Big Ten defenses are better because they face fewer plays. If advanced stats aren’t your thing, you could still do yourself a huge service by looking at yards per play in the box score instead of total yards.


Measuring The Five Factors:


In this article and in the , you’ll find a series of references to what we call the Five Factors. They are interrelated and are more descriptive than prescriptive — you can’t simply say, “We need to improve on turnovers” and make it so — but they are wonderfully useful in examining what went right or wrong for a team in the previous season.

So what’s the best way to look at these factors? Some are more simple and direct than others.

Field Position: Simply looking at a team’s (and its opponent’s) average starting field position is a clean way of determining how a team leveraged the field in its favor. A team can create an advantage (or disadvantage) through numerous means — good kicking or punting, good returns, turnovers, avoiding three-and-outs (and creating plenty for the opponent) — but average starting field position is the easiest way to measure the result.

Finishing Drives: In the , we took a look at one simple measure to judge the ability to finish drives: points per trip inside the opponent’s 40. There is more separation between good and bad teams if you stretch the “scoring opportunity” definition to the 40, but you can get a good feel for drive-finishing ability by looking at the typical red-zone definition, too. WARNING: Avoid “red zone scoring percentage” averages. Over time, there is an enormous difference between scoring a touchdown and settling for a field goal, and “scoring percentage” treats them the same. Aim more toward touchdown percentages or the superior “points per trip.”

Visit to get in-depth team previews, advanced stats and features for the 2014 season .

Turnovers: You can certainly look at turnover margin to roughly gauge the impact of turnovers. You can also look into the field position and points immediately created by those turnovers if you want to get a little bit more accurate.

To aim at both the effect and randomness of turnovers, you will find in the a comparison of actual numbers and “projected” turnovers based on what a team’s turnover margin would have been with an average number of fumble recoveries (50 percent on average, obviously) and interceptions (a team normally averages one interception for every four pass break-ups). That will give you an idea for both who committed and forced the most and who was particularly lucky or unlucky regarding the bouncing of the pointy ball.

But what about efficiency and explosiveness? They are dominant when it comes to winning football games, but how do we most easily and effectively measure those terms?

Efficiency: Success Rate is an on-base percentage for football; it creates a definition of success for every play — 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, 100 percent on third or fourth down — and, over time, gives you a clean, easy look at how well a team stays on schedule and ahead of the chains. Explosiveness, your ability to create big plays and easy scores, is often seen as the most important factor in football, but you still have only three to four plays to gain 10 yards, and Success Rate tells you almost everything you need to know about how teams perform in that regard.

Explosiveness: In a pinch, Yards Per Play will suffice just fine when it comes to gauging explosiveness. From an advanced level, there are other options. PPP measures the equivalent point value of every play by assigning a point value to every yard line (based on the net points an offense is expected to generate from yard to yard). Isolated PPP looks at the point value of a team’s successful plays (as determined by the Success Rate equation above). With IsoPPP, you can boil offense down to two questions: How often were you successful? And when you were successful, how successful were you?

How do efficiency and explosiveness interact? Here are a couple of examples.

offense was quite explosive in 2013. The Hurricanes ranked 11th in yards per play (6.8) and third in IsoPPP (1.38), but they were just 51st in Success Rate (44.5 percent). This paints the picture of an offense that could eat up wide swaths of yardage in a short amount of time but made too many mistakes to score consistently.

Alternately, Arizona State’s defense ranked a healthy 13th in allowing only a 36.5 percent Success Rate; the Sun Devils were able to create plenty of passing downs and three-and-outs, but they also ranked 67th in yards per play allowed (5.5) and 118th in IsoPPP allowed (1.33). The big plays they allowed were far too big.

Written by Bill Connelly () of for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 College Football Preview Editions.  to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.

Everything You Need to Know About College Football Analytics
Post date: Thursday, June 19, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-june-13-2014

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for June 13.


• How would the ? Find out. 


Thank you, GQ. Just thank you.

• Things just keep getting better for Michael Jordan. According to sources,

• Apparently following the Spurs win over the Heat in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

• In honor of Father's Day, .

. Go on, you know you want to. 

• …again.


• Minor leaguer Quinton Berry wasn't happy about his ejection from a recent game,

• In case you were wondering what the , wonder no more.

• Who are

• During last night’s Yankees-Mariners game in Seattle, . This gets us every time. 

Post date: Friday, June 13, 2014 - 12:43
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Overtime
Path: /college-football/every-fifa-world-cup-ball-one-gif

With the World Cup kicking off today, the interweb is abuzz with excitement. What better way to show our excitement than checking out the balls that have graced the soccer field over the decades.


Every FIFA World Cup Ball




With the World Cup kicking off today, the interweb is abuzz with excitement. What better way to show our excitement than checking out the balls that have graced the soccer field over the decades.
Post date: Thursday, June 12, 2014 - 10:04
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/2014-fcs-all-america-team

College football’s talent pool isn’t just relegated to the FBS ranks, as plenty of NFL products have emerged from the FCS level.

and now it’s time to take a look at the All-America team.

Eastern Washington’s Vernon Adams headlines the team at quarterback, followed by David Johnson at Northern Iowa and South Dakota State’s Zach Zenner at running back.

2014 FCS All-America Team

First-Team Offense



Year of Eligibility


QB Vernon Adams6-0, 190Jr.Eastern Washington
RB David Johnson6-3, 225Sr.Northern Iowa
RB Zach Zenner6-0, 220Sr.South Dakota State
FB Emmanuel Holder5-11, 255Jr.Towson
WR Sam Ajala6-0, 195Sr.Fordham
WR Cooper Kupp6-2, 195So.Eastern Washington
TE MyCole Pruitt6-3, 250Sr.Southern Illinois
C Max Holcombe6-3, 290Sr.Jacksonville State
G Robert Booker6-3, 315Jr.Missouri State 
G Collin Seibert6-4, 280Sr.Eastern Illinois
T Antione Everett6-3, 325Sr.McNeese State
T Jack Rummells6-5, 301Sr.Northern Iowa
First-Team Defense
DE Zach Hodges6-3, 235Sr.Harvard
DE Davis Tull6-3, 240Sr.Chattanooga
DT O.J. Le’iatua Mau6-2, 302Jr.Gardner-Webb
DT Troy Moore6-3, 285Sr.Sacred Heart
LB Quinn Backus5-10, 215Sr.Coastal Carolina
LB Tony Bell6-1, 200Sr.UT Martin
LB Lynden Trail6-7, 260Sr.Norfolk State
CB Harlan Miller6-0, 170Jr.Southeastern Louisiana
CB Tye Smith6-0, 170Sr.Towson
S Daniel Fitzpatrick6-2, 210Sr.Tennessee State
S Caleb Schaffitzel6-0, 214Sr.Missouri State
First-Team Specialists
K Thomas Kinney5-8, 174Sr.Southern Illinois
P Kyle Loomis6-2, 210Sr.Portland State
KR Xavier Roberson5-9, 170Jr.Southeastern Louisiana
PR Adrian Wilkins5-8, 170Jr.North Carolina Central


2014 FCS Football All-America Team
Post date: Thursday, June 12, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/2014-college-football-fcs-top-25-and-predictions

College football isn't just about the major conferences, as the FCS has provided plenty of intrigue on a national level in recent years. North Dakota State has dominated the FCS ranks with three consecutive national titles, but Eastern Washington ranks as Athlon’s projected champion for 2014, with the Bison picked No. 2 nationally.

The Bison lost coach Craig Bohl to Wyoming, and there are a handful of key seniors departing. However, the defense should be solid, and there’s still talent at the skill positions on offense.

The Eagles are explosive on offense with quarterback Vernon Adams back at the controls, and the defense is expected to improve in 2014. Eastern Washington will have a chance to play spoiler at Washington on Sept. 6.

2014 FCS Top 25 and Playoff Predictions

1. Eastern Washington
Few teams are motivated quite like the Eagles, who have lost at home in the FCS semifinals the last two seasons. Coach Beau Baldwin’s program has the firepower to match the 2010 national championship squad, as opponents must pick their poison between trying to stop quarterback Vernon Adams (4,994 yards, 55 TDs), wide receiver Cooper Kupp (93 receptions, 1,691 yards, 21 TDs) and running back Quincy Forte (1,208 rushing yards, 16 total TDs). While the offense scores in bunches, linebackers Ronnie Hamlin and Cody McCarthy will push for improvement from the defense.


2. North Dakota State

(15–0, 8–0 Missouri Valley) New coach Chris Klieman inherits a team that graduated 24 seniors, so the Bison must display the overall depth built up by the previous regime while chasing what would be an FCS-record fourth straight national title. The nation’s best defense for three straight years still features linebacker Carlton Littlejohn and safety Colten Heagle. New quarterback Carson Wentz has go-to weapons in wide receiver Zach Vraa and running back John Crockett.


3. Southeastern Louisiana

(11–3, 7–0 Southland) Former Oregon quarterback Bryan Bennett has set the bar high for the many transfers whom coach Ron Roberts has brought into the program. The 2013 conference Player of the Year is a dual threat, but he also wants to get the ball to playmakers Rasheed Harrell and Xavier Roberson. Pass-rushing linebacker Isiah Corbett fuels the defense.


4. New Hampshire

(10–5, 6–2 CAA) Many key players return from last season’s surprising national semifinalists, including 1,000-yard rusher Nico Steriti and 1,000-yard wide receiver R.J. Harris. The big plays on coach Sean McDonnell’s defense often come from linebacker Akil Anderson and safety Casey DeAndrade. New Hampshire doesn’t face Villanova or Towson in CAA play.


5. Northern Iowa

(7–5, 3–5 Missouri Valley) The Panthers ended the 2013 season strong after injuries wrecked their promising start. Better health with quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen, running back David Johnson and linebacker Jake Farley, son of coach Mark Farley, could lead to a conference title run. Opposing ball-carriers will look to avoid 6'4", 311-pound defensive tackle Xavier Williams.


6. Jacksonville State

(11–4, 5–3 OVC) Offensive coordinator John Grass was elevated to head coach after Bill Clark left for UAB. Grass’ veteran team will keep relying on bulldozer running back DaMarcus James and sophomore quarterback Eli Jenkins. The Gamecocks added Alabama transfer LaMichael Fanning, a defensive end.

Projected Playoff Teams


» Coastal Carolina (Big South champ)

» Eastern Washington (Big Sky champ)

» Fordham (Patriot champ)

» Furman (at-large)

» Jacksonville State (OVC champ)

» McNeese State (at-large)

» Montana (at-large)

» Montana State (at-large)

» New Hampshire (CAA champ)

» North Dakota State (Missouri Valley champ)

» Northern Iowa (at-large)

» Richmond (at-large)

» Sacred Heart (NEC champ)

» Sam Houston State (at-large)

» San Diego (Pioneer champ)

» South Carolina State (MEAC champ)

» South Dakota State (at-large)

» Southeastern Louisiana (Southland champ)

» Southern Illinois (at-large)

» Chattanooga (Southern champ)

» Tennessee State (at-large)

» Towson (at-large)

» Villanova (at-large)

» William & Mary (at-large)

7. Montana

(10–3, 6–2 Big Sky) Senior quarterback Jordan Johnson ignites an offense that has plenty of options with wide receiver Ellis Henderson and running backs Jordan Canada and Travon Van. Although there are big losses at linebacker, defensive end Zack Wagenmann is among the best in the nation. The special teams are strong.


8. Villanova

(6–5, 5–3 CAA) Last year’s CAA favorites were among the nation’s more disappointing teams, but the Wildcats will return to prominence behind dual-threat quarterback John Robertson, who can be unstoppable, and running backs Kevin Monangai and Austin Medley. Linebackers Don Cherry and Joey Harmon both had breakthrough seasons.


9. McNeese State

(10–3, 6–1 Southland) Coach Matt Viator must replace quarterback Cody Stroud and other key players on offense, but running backs Kelvin Bennett and Derek Milton, a Mississippi State transfer, are ready for lead roles. There were fewer losses on defense, where senior end Everett Ellefsen is the leader.


10. Towson

(13–3, 6–2 CAA) The early departure of 2,500-yard running back Terrance West to the NFL has set back the national runner-up Tigers. But his understudy, Darius Victor, impressed as a freshman last season, and coach Rob Ambrose has raised the talent level. Defensive end Ryan Delaire and cornerback Tye Smith are difference-makers.

11. South Dakota State

(9–5, 5–3 Missouri Valley) Senior running back Zach Zenner can become the first FCS player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season three times. The Austin Sumner-to-Jason Schneider passing combo takes pressure off Zenner. Still, the Jackrabbits have to fill some holes on both lines.


12. Chattanooga

(8–4, 6–2 Southern) The Southern Conference is down, and the Mocs, seeking their first FCS playoff berth since 1984, return the SoCon Offensive Player of the Year (quarterback Jacob Huesman) and Defensive Player of the Year (end Davis Tull). A healthier Keon Williams could make a run at a 1,000-yard season.


13. Fordham

(12–2, 0–0 Patriot) The Rams, who began awarding scholarships three years before the rest of the Patriot League, are eligible for the league title again. Senior quarterback Michael Nebrich (4,380 yards, 35 touchdowns) will pick apart defenses with his three 1,000-yard wide receivers — Sam Ajala, Tebucky Jones and Brian Wetzel.


14. Coastal Carolina

(12–3, 4–1 Big South) Junior quarterback Alex Ross is one of the better-kept secrets in the FCS. Running back De’Angelo Henderson will try to replace All-American Lorenzo Taliaferro. Speaking of All-Americans, linebacker Quinn Backus already owns two Big South Defensive Player of the Year awards.


15. William & Mary

(7–5, 4–4 CAA) There will be a mugging or two reported in Williamsburg, where the Tribe have a suffocating defense led by All-CAA selections Mike Reilly at end and Airek Green and Luke Rhodes at linebacker. The offense features running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor and wide receiver Tre McBride.


16. Montana State

(7–5, 5–3 Big Sky) One of the easier Big Sky schedules will help the Bobcats try to rebound from a disappointing season. All-purpose standout Shawn Johnson racks up the yards, and Na’a Moeakiola returns from injury to join Alex Singleton at linebacker.


17. Tennessee State

(10–4, 6–2 OVC) Ball-hawking safety Daniel Fitzpatrick allows defensive end Anthony Bass and linebacker Nick Thrasher to dominate in the front seven. Quarterback Michael German needs to remain on the field, although Ronald Butler is capable of spelling him.


18. Richmond

(6–6, 4–4 CAA) The CAA’s most dangerous passer, senior Michael Strauss, will operate behind a veteran offensive line and alongside excellent weapons, including wide receiver Stephen Barnette. The defense forces turnovers, and defensive tackle Evan Kelly gets into opposing backfields.


19. Furman

(8–6, 6–2 Southern) Coach Bruce Fowler flipped the switch on a team that was 2–4 in mid-October. Much of the talent is back, including quarterback Reese Hannon, blue-collar running back Hank ­McCloud and the defensive playmakers, defensive end Gary Wilkins and nickel Jairus Hollman.


20. Southern Illinois

(7–5, 5–3 Missouri Valley) Sophomore quarterback Ryan West will spread the ball around to running back Malcolm Agnew, All-America tight end MyCole Pruitt and all-purpose threat LaSteven McKinney. The former FCS power has to win more of the close games.


21. Sam Houston State

(9–5, 4–3 Southland) Former FCS title-winning coach K.C. Keeler from Delaware is the new sheriff in Huntsville, Texas, but change was coming regardless after the Bearkats’ standout senior class moved on. Running back Keshawn Hill is a breakaway threat, while free safety Michael Wade fuels a retooled defense.


22. James Madison

(6–6, 3–5 CAA) The big crowds at Bridgeforth Stadium are hoping for quick returns from new coach Everett Withers, who was the interim head coach at North Carolina in 2011. Georgia Tech transfer Vad Lee takes over at quarterback. Safety Dean Marlowe and linebacker Gage Steele are standouts on defense.


23. Delaware

(7–5, 4–4 CAA) The Trent Hurley-to-Michael Johnson passing connection is dangerous, and linebacker Patrick Callaway fortifies the defense. The Blue Hens missed the 2013 playoffs by losing their final three games last season.


24. Eastern Illinois

(12–2, 8–0 OVC) A drop-off is likely after the Panthers lost star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the NFL and coach Dino Babers to Bowling Green. First-year coach Kim Dameron still has top receivers and playmaking running back Shepard Little (1,551 yards, 19 total TDs).


25. Youngstown State

(8–4, 5–3 Missouri Valley) Opponents will key on sophomore tailback Martin Ruiz now that four-year quarterback Kurt Hess is gone. The new signal-caller will have a strong group of receivers, but the four-time FCS championship-winning program hasn’t been to the postseason since 2006.

2014 College Football FCS Top 25 and Predictions
Post date: Thursday, June 12, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/keenan-reynolds-poised-lead-navy-new-heights-2014

By Kyle Kensing, 

San Jose State defenders hesitated as Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds faked a pitch to Darius Staten. It was flawless execution of the Midshipmen’s signature, triple-option offense.

A block down the field left nothing but daylight ahead of Reynolds, and he scampered 25 yards to cap a wild, 58-52 Navy win in triple-overtime.

“That’s a testament to our offense and production as a team,” Reynolds said of the Mids’ historic night.

The game-winner was Reynolds’ eighth touchdown of the contest and seventh via the rush. He said on the cross-country trip from San Jose back to Annapolis, Maryland, the magnitude of his performance hit him.

“On the plane ride, it kind of dawned on me that I’d scored every touchdown,” he said. “I’d never done that in middle school or Pee Wee [League]. That’s the most I’ve ever scored.”

No one in NCAA history can say they scored as many rushing touchdowns in one game, either.

And no other Football Bowl Subdivision quarterback can stake claim to 31 rushing touchdowns in a single season, as Reynolds can.

In Navy’s next outing, its annual rivalry encounter with Army, Reynolds surpassed former Kansas State standout Collin Klein and Navy alum Ricky Dobbs to break the record with touchdown No. 28.

He tacked on one more against the Cadets for good measure, then added two in the Armed Forces Bowl win over Middle Tennessee State.  

The single-season record was a goal Reynolds said he set for himself, but had “lost track” of his progress during the season’s course. It wasn’t until the San Jose State trip and those seven rushing touchdowns that the mark was in sight.

 “I definitely didn’t expect that,” he said.

Presumably, neither did the national television audience tuned in on ESPN. The Mids and Spartans commanded the football spotlight in the only game that late-November Friday night, and Reynolds delivered a star performance that has brought him attention since.



“The biggest mistake you can make is starting to believe your own hype.”

In the wake of his record-setting campaign, accolades are making their way to Reynolds. Preseason Heisman Trophy watch lists, such as Chris Huston’s via, include his name.

“It’s a big deal and I’m definitely grateful to be [mentioned] in the presence of great athletes who have won the Heisman like Jameis Winston and others who are going to be first-round [NFL] draft picks,” he said.

With 39 total touchdowns, Reynolds was not far behind Winston, the Florida State quarterback who claimed the award in 2013 with 44 scores—albeit in one game more than Reynolds and Navy played.

Certainly he’s a dark horse for the most prestigious individual award in college football. Voters follow a pattern that does not have room for players beyond the cast of power-conference programs.

The last Heisman recipient outside of one of those five leagues was Ty Detmer in 1990. The last service academy player to hoist the Heisman was Navy quarterback Roger Staubach in 1963.

Still, even being suggested for the award is an honor in and of itself for Reynolds. He called it “very humbling,” but added his focus is elsewhere as the 2014 season approaches.

“My concern is Ohio State. All that matters is Aug. 30,” he said.

Aug. 30 is when the Mids kickoff the 2014 season against Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes, a team expected to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

The date is the second half of a series first played in 2009. Behind Dobbs’ four touchdowns that September afternoon, the Mids took the Buckeyes to the brink.

Ohio State escaped with a 31-27 victory, but Navy’s performance—and especially that of Dobbs--left an impression on Reynolds.

“Even before I knew about Navy football, I watched the Ohio State game in 2009, so I knew the legacy [Dobbs] had left,” Reynolds said. “He’s on the flyer they send out [to recruits].”

Since setting the rushing touchdown record, Reynolds is well on his way to establishing his own Navy legacy—another goal he said he set for himself.

“I wanted to do some great things with special guys that other people here haven’t been able to do,” he said.

Upsetting a juggernaut such as Ohio State would certainly qualify. And he’ll have had almost eight months to focus on it by the time the Buckeyes and Mids kickoff in Baltimore.

“Jan. 1,” Reynolds said is when the team turned attention to Ohio State, just two days after the Armed Forces Bowl. “As soon as the new year started…[the team discussion] was ‘we have Ohio State next year.’”

Navy’s months of preparation for a likely Top 10-ranked opponent are not being invested in simply putting up a good fight.

Reynolds described an attitude at Navy that certainly applies to the Ohio State matchup.

“Every Saturday, we got out to play and win,” he said. “We’re not there to survive. We’re there to win.”

 Playing with the Buckeyes, winners of 24 games combined in the past two seasons, is certainly a challenge. But then, playing football, being a student and working toward commission as an officer at the Naval Academy is about routinely overcoming challenges.

A decision for “20-30 years down the road”

Coming out of Madison, Tennessee’s Goodpasture Christian School, recruiting feelers came Reynolds’ way. Navy was one suitor that offered him an opportunity to play his prep position, quarterback.

But Mids head coach Ken Niumatalolo could also offer an opportunity for Reynolds to start as freshman. Navy replaced Kriss Proctor after the 2011 season, opening a competition Reynolds won by the Mids' Week 5 game against Central Michigan. Prior, he traveled for the 2012 season opener in Dublin, Ireland, against Notre Dame, his first exposure to the college game.

“That was a big opportunity, to go to another country to play a game,” he said.

Opportunity defines Reynolds’ decision to enroll at the Naval Academy. The student-athlete experience in Annapolis is unique, as he explained.

“The midshipman life [compared] to the normal college student life,” he said. “It’s a complete 180.”

And for Navy football players, the process can be even more demanding.

“Everyone, for the most part, is allotted four weeks of leave. [Football players] take one or two,” he said. “The rest of the time we’re training up in Annapolis. We sacrifice most of our summer.

“But that’s something we knew coming into the Naval Academy, joining the military,” he added. “We were going to have to be part of the structured lifestyle to better prepare ourselves to be Naval officers.”

Receiving commission as either a naval or Marine Corps officer is an opportunity Reynolds said goes beyond what he does on the football field.

“There are so many great things that come from graduating from the Naval Academy,” he said. “I even had a coach recruiting me to a different school tell me, ‘you’d be dumb not to take [the Navy] offer.’

“’Make this decision for 20-30 years down the road, not five years down the road.’”

Much like his game-winning touchdown rush to beat San Jose State in triple-overtime that late-November night, there’s daylight ahead for Keenan Reynolds—20 years down the road, or simply in the upcoming football season.

Keenan Reynolds Poised to Lead Navy to New Heights in 2014
Post date: Wednesday, June 11, 2014 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/college-football-2014-rankings-and-predictions-61-80

The start of the college football season is less than 100 days away, and Athlon Sports is counting down the top teams for the upcoming year.

Florida State is Athlon’s pick to win the national championship, with Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide projected to finish No. 2 nationally. Of course, there's a new element to college football's regular season with the addition of a four-team playoff, and Athlon Sports is picking Ohio State to finish No. 3 and Oklahoma to finish No. 4. The debate in the preseason is no longer about No. 1 and No. 2 and instead more about the top four teams in the nation.

While there is always plenty of intrigue in filling out the top 25, Nos. 26-40 feature a handful of teams that just missed. The No. 41-60 range features teams like Texas Tech, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arizona. The No. 61-80 projection features a few bowl teams from last season, including Syracuse, Boston College and Rutgers, along with some top teams from outside the power conferences (Northern Illinois, Ball State, Fresno State and Colorado State).

With the completion of Athlon's  , it's time to take a look at the rest of the rankings.  and .

Follow the top 25 on Twitter  and join the debate at . Follow Athlon's College Football Writers on Twitter: Steven Lassan (), Braden Gall () and David Fox ().

Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2014 season

College Football 2014 Projected Rankings: 61-80

61. Syracuse
With numerous returners on each side of the ball and the momentum from the Texas Bowl win over Minnesota, Syracuse is poised to take another step in 2014. Yet the talent gap between the Orange and ACC Atlantic Division members Florida State and Clemson remains huge. Every other game will be a crapshoot, and another upper-division finish and bowl are attainable.

62. Fresno State
Tim DeRuyter has enjoyed a pretty good run: two seasons and two MWC titles. But the job’s about to get a lot tougher, breaking in a new quarterback against a brutal early schedule.

After tangling with USC, Utah and Nebraska, it’s possible Fresno State will be 1–3 for the conference opener. Yet there’s enough talent to hang another championship banner. It may depend on whether the Bulldogs are steeled by those early games — or battered by them.

63. Arkansas
Arkansas should be improved on both sides of the ball, but that doesn’t mean another winless SEC season is out of the question for the Razorbacks, who are still trying to stabilize and upgrade their roster after the disruption of the Bobby Petrino affair. Qualifying for a bowl berth would be a significant step in Year 2 under Bret Bielema, as Arkansas chugs forward with a difficult rebuild.

64. Boston College
Steve Addazio was responsible for one of the more underrated coaching jobs last year, boosting Boston College from two to seven wins in his debut season by packaging a power-run attack around Andre Williams. Addazio’s creativity could be tested even more in 2014 since nearly all of the Eagles’ all-conference performers from a year ago are gone. Boston College is counting on the young players left over from the Frank Spaziani era and Addazio’s first two recruiting classes to form the Eagles’ identity.

The running game and solid line play will always be Boston College staples, but how will the Eagles stretch the field? They’ll need at least one or two young wide receivers to grow up in a hurry. The defense has a chance to improve after last year’s unit under coordinator Don Brown was opportunistic but not overwhelming in any one area.

A return to a bowl game is a realistic expectation, but the Eagles aren’t likely to pose much of a threat to the top teams in the ACC Atlantic Division.

65. NC State
Little went right for Dave Doeren in his first season. The Wolfpack lost their final eight games and went winless in ACC play for the first time since 1959. But with Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett at quarterback and a staggering 51 new true or redshirt freshmen on the roster, Doeren’s hoping the only way to go is up. With a manageable schedule, especially out of the league, there might be a way to speed up the rebuilding process and get back to a bowl game.

After such a poor finish in 2013, the Wolfpack do have motivation on their side.

“We want to make people forget last year," Bryan Underwood says. “This is us now, we’re a new team.”

66. Iowa State
Iowa State must improve significantly on both sides of the ball if it hopes to bounce back from last season’s disappointing three-win season. With Mark Mangino on the staff, there is legitimate hope for better production on offense. There are some nice pieces at the skill positions for the former Kansas head coach to work with. Defensively, however, there are major issues. The staff will be relying on several junior college transfers — always a dangerous proposition. If the Cyclones want to reach a bowl game in 2014, they will have to do it by simply outscoring the opposition.

67. West Virginia
It may be summer in Morgantown, but the heat has been on Dana Holgorsen for a couple of seasons. In 2012, the Mountaineers went 2–6 after a 5–0 start that included a win at Texas. Last year, WVU finished 4–8 and out of the bowl picture. Athletic director Oliver Luck felt compelled to issue a statement after the latter “difficult and trying” season and backed the coach, if seemingly only for this season, adding he has “high expectations” for 2014. The problem for Holgorsen is that the Mountaineers might be better, but that might not translate into a sterling record. WVU opens with Alabama, visits Maryland and plays a full Big 12 schedule.

68. Illinois
The third year has usually been the charm for Illinois head coaches. Mike White, John Mackovic, Lou Tepper, Ron Turner and Ron Zook all reached bowls in their third seasons. Now, it’s Tim Beckman’s turn to try to keep the streak going. While the school hasn’t issued an ultimatum, a bowl bid would help secure Beckman’s future. The non-conference schedule is set up for success, with winnable home games against Youngstown State, Western Kentucky and Texas State. Take those three, and the Illini are halfway to a postseason berth.

The offense should continue to pile up yards and points, and the defense can’t be much worse. If Tim Banks’ guys climb 20 spots or so in national defensive rankings, it will translate to more wins. Beckman’s short-term goal is to solidify his position as head coach. Competing for a division title is down the road.

69. Houston
There’s a lot to like about Houston, which has acquitted itself well in the call-up from C-USA to the American. This year’s schedule is manageable, and at least eight wins should be the expectation. Houston is a proud place — two of the country’s most established coaches, Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin, were roaming UH sidelines not too long ago. This team always seems to thrive off quarterback play, so the question is whether O’Korn has peaked or is just lifting off. The latter appears to be the case. Playmaking is there on both sides of the ball. Houston should be in the conversation as preseason American favorites along with Cincinnati, East Carolina and UCF.

70. Kentucky
Mark Stoops has done the impossible — keep fans and recruits excited after a 2–10 debut season. He signed a top-25 class and had 35,000 people show up for this year’s spring game, second-most in program history. Now he just needs to win. Although he posted exactly the same record that got Joker Phillips fired a year earlier, the Cats were more competitive in 2013, losing five games by two touchdowns or less and three by single digits. The big payoff is probably still a year away, but a four- or five-win season this fall would probably keep everyone happy.

71. Colorado
The depth and talent are improving in Boulder under Mike MacIntyre. But the program is still in rebuilding mode. The Buffaloes have won a combined four Pac-12 games in their three seasons in the league, including one win in each of the past two years. Last season, the Buffs’ average margin of defeat in their eight conference losses was 29 points. More wins would be nice, but simply being competitive on a consistent basis would show progress in the short term.

72. Virginia
For these keeping track, and everyone is, Virginia’s 2–10 finish last year represented its fewest wins since 1982. The Cavaliers were winless in the ACC for the first time since 1981.

Mike London won’t survive another campaign like that. He might not even make it to midseason. With a maturing roster and the continuity that comes with a second season in offensive and defensive systems installed last year, Virginia should be better. The question, given a challenging schedule and a culture of coming up short, is how much that improvement will be reflected in the bottom line.

73. Rutgers
Rutgers welcomes back a solid group of returning starters, but there is uncertainty at the all-important quarterback position, and the schedule is the most difficult in school history. The defense, torched by teams from the American Athletic Conference in 2013, must show significant improvement. There is a chance Rutgers will be better in 2014 but fail to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2010 and only the second time since ’04.

74. Colorado State
The Rams lost some significant star power with running back Kapri Bibbs’ decision to forego his final two seasons to turn pro and the graduations of Weston Richburg, Shaquil Barrett and All-MW tight end Crockett Gillmore. But they’ve still got a lot to work with in Garrett Grayson and a talented corps of receivers, including three who redshirted last fall. They’ll have to develop enough of a running threat to keep defenses honest but should be able to move the ball effectively through the air. The secondary has to improve for the Rams to be a factor in the pass-happy MW.

A favorable schedule that does not include MW West Division powers Fresno State and San Diego State gives the Rams a legitimate chance to make back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 2002-03, when Sonny Lubick was the coach.

75. Toledo
Toledo has 17 starters back to work on purging the sour taste left from last season, when the Rockets went 7–5 overall and missed playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2009. The schedule is not easy; the Rockets play Missouri, Cincinnati and Iowa State in non-conference action and host Bowling Green, the defending league champs, from the MAC East.

Toledo has a wealth of experience and talent along its offensive front and at linebacker, but the Rockets will be featuring a new starter at quarterback — always a dangerous proposition. If Logan Woodside emerges as viable playmaker and the defense improves, the Rockets should be right back in the MAC East title picture.

76. California
The Golden Bears are starting from an unfamiliar place — the bottom. Sonny Dykes’ debut season in Berkeley was a disaster in every way, and the new regime still is looking for its first victory over an FBS team. The Bears should be deeper and more experienced, and Dykes saw a new resolve during spring ball.

“That’s been the most impressive thing, their mentality,” Dykes says. “They’ve moved on.” Adds running back Khalfani Muhammad: “A season like that, it hurts. It hurt every game. It’s a new year. We all come in here with a lot of confidence.”

Still, there are more questions than answers, and victories are hard to find on a schedule featuring the steadily improving Pac-12 and non-conference games against Northwestern and BYU. How much improvement shows in the standings remains to be seen.

Acknowledged Dykes: “We’re a work in progress.”

77. Northern Illinois
After the best two-year run in school history, Northern Illinois faces a daunting task trying to maintain its level of excellence. There should be some early-season growing pains without Jordan Lynch’s leadership and big-time production spearheading the offense. Following the season opener, the Huskies hit the road to play at Northwestern, UNLV and Arkansas.

Although NIU is loaded at several offensive positions, most notably at tailback, offensive line and wide receiver, Lynch is tough to replace. Rod Carey is emphasizing the importance of finishing strong, with the Huskies losing their last two games last season and not winning a bowl game in the last two years. Even without Lynch, the Huskies return enough talent to contend in the tough MAC West.

78. Kansas
During his first two years at KU, Weis was careful to not set specific win total goals for his rebuilding football team. That’s changed this season, as he enters Year 3 with the most talent he’s had and a solid base of upperclassmen.

“Before you can be a perennial winning program, the first thing you’ve got to do is get to .500,” Charlie Weis says.

Though this probably isn’t a “bowl or bust” season for the Jayhawks, Weis likely will need to improve his win total to avoid the hot seat in the third year of a five-year contract.

79. Ball State
Northern Illinois is the standard-bearer in the MAC West, but nobody in the division has played the Huskies tougher than Ball State. While the Cardinals might not improve their win total for the fourth time in Pete Lembo’s four years at the helm, they appear positioned to stay in the MAC’s elite for years to come.

80. Purdue
Most Purdue fans realized Darrell Hazell was inheriting a rebuilding situation, but last season still ended up being a nightmare. The lone victory was over FCS foe Indiana State, and the season ended with the Boilermakers getting thumped by archrival Indiana.

The non-conference schedule is more forgiving this year, and Purdue gets a break in conference play. It doesn’t play Michigan or Ohio State. Wisconsin and defending Big Ten champion Michigan State visit Ross-Ade Stadium. Still, it’s hard to envision this team making a move in the Big Ten in 2014. The talent level simply isn’t good enough at this point.

College Football 2014 Rankings and Predictions: #61-80
Post date: Friday, May 30, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/lance-stephenson-blowing-lebrons-ear-gives-us-great-memes

The Pacers' Lance Stephenson blew into LeBron James' ear last night in Indiana's 93-96 win in Game Six of the Eastern Conference finals.

That's right. Playoffs. Stephenson. LeBron. Blowing into his ear.


Of course, , everybody. Lance Stephenson, in this year's playoffs.







Lance Stephenson blowing on LeBron's Gives Us Great Memes
Post date: Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 11:07
Path: /college-football/college-football-2014-rankings-and-predictions-41-60

The start of the college football season is less than 100 days away, and Athlon Sports is counting down the top teams for the upcoming year.

Florida State is Athlon’s pick to win the national championship, with Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide projected to finish No. 2 nationally. Of course, there's a new element to college football's regular season with the addition of a four-team playoff, and Athlon Sports is picking Ohio State to finish No. 3 and Oklahoma to finish No. 4. The debate in the preseason is no longer about No. 1 and No. 2 and instead more about the top four teams in the nation.

While there is always plenty of intrigue in filling out the top 25, Nos. 26-40 feature a handful of teams that just missed. The 41-60 range features teams like Texas Tech, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arizona. All four teams have potential to finish higher, but each has question marks entering the 2014 season. This range of teams also features Athlon's projected Mountain West (Boise State), MAC (Bowling Green) and American (Cincinnati) champion. 

With the completion of Athlon's  , it's time to take a look at the rest of the rankings.

Follow the top 25 on Twitter  and join the debate at . Follow Athlon's College Football Writers on Twitter: Steven Lassan (), Braden Gall () and David Fox ().

Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2014 season

College Football 2014 Projected Rankings: 41-60

41. Texas Tech
Overall, the Red Raider offense looks to be a better unit in 2014, as quarterback Davis Webb looks much improved. The offensive line will likely be much better and deeper as well, which likely will result in improved numbers in the ground game. On defense, it’s still a bit of a mystery, as the Red Raider coaching staff will have to wait until fall camp to see the revamped defensive line — heavy with junior college transfers — in action. If these players do live up to their hype, things could be looking up on defense, and overall, for Texas Tech in 2014.

42. Tennessee
Even after a 5–7 debut season, coach Butch Jones has retained his relentlessly sunny attitude, and it seems to be infectious in Knoxville. But here’s the downer: While this team will eventually be better than the 2013 version, the roster turnover represented by 32 newcomers offers plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong. And this schedule (once again) offers little margin for error. Reaching six wins and a bowl game won’t be easy, but it will be a critical hurdle in keeping the Jones-fueled optimism alive and well in Knoxville.

43. Cincinnati
Much depends on the development of Gunner Kiel at quarterback. Kiel has the physical tools and has been a commanding presence at practice, but the test will be how he handles inevitable on-field adversity. UC started slowly last year (3–2) as the players adjusted to Tommy Tuberville and his staff. The coaches are entrenched now, but the lack of quarterback experience is an issue.

The non-league schedule includes trips to Ohio State and Miami (Fla.), but the Bearcats should contend for another upper-echelon finish in the AAC. With talent at the skill positions and improved speed on defense, a fourth consecutive bowl game seems reasonable.

44. Vanderbilt
Derek Mason is in uncharted territory for a first-year football coach at Vanderbilt. Unlike the vast majority of men who have occupied his seat, Mason is not facing a massive rebuild. The former defensive coordinator at Stanford inherits a program that has won 18 games over the last two seasons and been to three straight bowl games. There is enough talent on the roster to extend the postseason streak to four, but some playmakers need to emerge on offense, and the defense must adapt to a very different style of play for this team to finish higher than sixth in the SEC East.

45. Arizona
Rich Rodriguez has twin 8–5 seasons in two years at Arizona, and he has more Pac-12-ready players on the roster for Year 3. The uncertainty at quarterback hovers over the entire operation, but the strengths at receiver and on the offensive line create an optimistic feeling about another winning season. The Wildcats are faster and deeper on defense. The schedule — four winnable games to open the season — sets up favorably.

46. Boise State
Coming off an 8–5 season — the Broncos’ worst since 1998 — there is hope for a quick turnaround with an experienced roster and a new energy created by the coaching change. The schedule sets up well with Fresno State, San Diego State and Utah State set to visit Boise, but the Broncos will count largely on the same players who failed to win the Mountain West Mountain Division last year. They need quarterback Grant Hedrick and the veteran defenders to make noticeable leaps and that young offensive line to jell quickly — particularly if they hope to impress a national audience in the made-for-TV opener against Ole Miss in Atlanta.

47. Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets seem stuck around the seven-win mark, almost always competitive but usually falling short against top-tier competition. If all the variables fall their way, this could be a nine-win team that contends for the Coastal Division title. But if quarterback Justin Thomas struggles and the defense takes a step back, six or seven wins could be the ceiling.

48. Maryland
There’s some talent in tow as Maryland makes the big move to the Big Ten, but there are also questions. After winning seven games last season, fourth-year coach Randy Edsall is still trying to get some traction while he continues to get players out of traction. The team’s top three receivers all return from injuries, and several defensive stalwarts are coming back from offseason surgery. If everyone’s healthy, Edsall has a team that could be explosive on offense (pending the play of the team’s biggest question mark, a makeshift offensive line). And the defense, with nine starters back, should be solid.

But how will a middlin’ (7–6 overall, 3–5 in conference) ACC team fare in the Big Ten? It’s one of this season’s most intriguing questions and one that Edsall’s most veteran Terrapin team — 87 percent of last year’s late-season two-deep returns — is anxious to answer.

“We’ll be ready,” C.J. Brown says.

49. Utah State
Expectations just keep growing for the Aggies. In their first year in the Mountain West, they made it to the inaugural league championship game after capturing the Mountain Division. The largest crowd to attend a spring game turned out in April, and the second-year coach received a contract extension through 2018. USU has been to three straight bowls — something never before accomplished at the school — winning the last two.

Matt Wells lost two assistants on the defensive side, but the transition with the new coaches went smoothly in the spring. There are some challenges with the schedule: The Aggies travel to Tennessee, Arkansas State and BYU in non-conference action and end the season with a trip to Boise State. Another bowl berth and 10 wins are reasonable goals in 2014.

50. East Carolina
Coach Ruffin McNeill has a good thing going at his alma mater, where the Pirates have had the wind at their backs since he arrived, sailing to three bowl appearances in four years. They capped a meaty 10-win season with a 37–20 victory over Ohio in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, and now they’re off to the American Athletic Conference — home to many of the Pirates’ old C-USA rivals.

East Carolina already got a big offseason win, hanging on to offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who was pursued for the same job at some bigger programs. With the swashbuckling Shane Carden at quarterback and the NFL-ready Hardy on the other end of his passes, the Pirates are primed for another big season. That is, if the defense rebounds from heavy losses and a rebuilding offensive line can come together to give Carden time.

51. Northwestern
The good vibes accompanying Northwestern for much of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure vanished after the program’s first bowl-less season since 2007, but Northwestern returns a roster strong enough to return to the postseason and play spoiler in a wide-open Big Ten West. The offense finally has a quarterback and an identity, but questions remain up front. The defense is still reliant on takeaways but boasts good depth throughout the unit.

Northwestern plays Notre Dame, Northern Illinois and Cal in non-league play but misses both Ohio State and Michigan State in the Big Ten. The Wildcats should return to the postseason in 2014.

52. Minnesota
Coming off its best season since 2003, Minnesota has the talent to improve again this year, if the Gophers can survive a more difficult schedule. Coach Jerry Kill’s teams have gone 3–9, 6–7 and 8–5 in his first three seasons. He sees parallels to the way his programs progressed at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois. “We built it on defense, and now you’ve got to bring the offense (along),” he says. “That’s what we’ve done everywhere we’ve been.”

Kill, who turns 53 in August, faced more questions about his health last season after an in-game seizure against Western Illinois and another that kept him from traveling to Michigan.

He was the lowest-paid coach in the Big Ten last year, at $1.1 million, but the university more than doubled his salary with a new deal that will pay him an average of $2.3 million through 2018.

“I think it shows our commitment to football,” Gophers AD Norwood Teague says. “It shows our commitment to Jerry, and it’s the right thing to do at this time.”

Now, Kill will seek to justify his big payday, as the Gophers move into the Big Ten West. They have a non-conference matchup against TCU and two tough draws from the Big Ten East — Michigan and Ohio State.

53. Oregon State
The Beavers return one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Sean Mannion, but he will be operating without receiver Brandin Cooks and must adapt to new offensive coordinator John Garrett, who spent the last seven seasons in the NFL. The defense, with seven returning starters, should be better under veteran coordinator Mark Banker.

The Beavers should get off to a good start with non-conference home games against Portland State and San Diego State along with a trip to Hawaii before opening Pac-12 play with back-to-back road games at USC and Colorado. This looks like another bowl team, but Oregon State doesn’t figure to pose too much of a threat to the top teams in the tough Pac-12 North.

54. Utah
Kyle Whittingham believes the Utes are improving their talent level and depth in their fourth season of Pac-12 membership. They were competitive in every conference game in 2013, including an upset of eventual champion Stanford, but the Utes need to double last season’s total of two conference wins for 2014 to be judged as any kind of success.

55. UCF
UCF will have a tough task replicating its 2013 success without quarterback Blake Bortles, but they have the talent in place to put together another strong season. The Knights will rely on a stingy defense to keep them in every game and a pro-style offense that takes few risks but has playmakers at running back and wide receiver. If UCF finds an answer at quarterback, it should once again be a strong contender in the American.

56. Washington State
Mike Leach has engineered a quick turnaround in Pullman, guiding the Cougars back to a bowl game in his second season. He has eliminated the losing culture and given the program an identity. Leach’s third season figures to be similar to his second. The Cougs, with a senior quarterback and solid corps of receivers, will score a ton of points, but the defense remains an issue. Washington State can be a consistent bowl team as it’s currently constructed but will need to improve on defense to emerge as a contender in the tough Pac-12 North.

57. Navy
Navy has been one of the most consistent programs in the FBS with a winning record in 10 of the last 11 years. The Midshipmen also have been the dominant service academy during that time, capturing the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy nine times since 2003. In its final season as an Independent before joining the American Athletic Conference in 2015, Navy should sustain its success on both fronts. The Midshipmen have a contract to appear in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl and should have no problem securing the six wins necessary to be eligible.

58. Indiana
The Indiana football story needs to break the endless loop of great offense, awful defense. A shift should begin this season. The defense looked faster, stronger and more determined during the spring game. The offense has more questions than usual after losing three of its top four receivers. But Indiana has two quarterbacks who have played winning football, one of the Big Ten’s best runners in Tevin Coleman and IU’s best offensive line in a decade. A shift from eight home games to six will hurt. And the non-conference schedule, which includes trips to MAC-favorite Bowling Green and Missouri, is far from easy. Finding six wins will be a challenge.

59. Bowling Green
Immediately after winning its first conference championship in 21 years, Bowling Green lost coach Dave Clawson to Wake Forest. The Falcons recovered quickly, landing Dino Babers after he led Eastern Illinois to a No. 4 final ranking in the FCS — and did so with the division’s No. 1 total offense (589.5 ypg) and scoring offense (48.2 ppg). Babers and his staff — most of which followed him from EIU — changed some things that weren’t necessarily broken, and Bowling Green will be a different animal this fall as Babers unleashes his dizzying pace on offense. The defense has more holes to fill, but there is enough returning talent to make the Falcons the heavy favorite in the MAC East.

60. UL Lafayette
With a healthy Terrance Broadway at the helm, UL Lafayette won eight straight games and earned a share of the Sun Belt title for the first time since 2005. With him out of the lineup, the Cajuns lost two in a row before Broadway returned — not at a 100 percent — to lead them to a win in the bowl game. His value can’t be overstated as the triggerman of what could be the Sun Belt’s most potent offense.
There are some issues on defense, especially against the pass, but this is still the most talented team in the Sun Belt. As long as Broadway remains healthy, the Cajuns are the overwhelming favorite to win the league.

College Football 2014 Rankings and Predictions: #41-60
Post date: Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/50-cent-throws-comedic-first-pitch-bad-puns-ensue

Rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson threw one of the all-time bad first pitches in MLB history last night against the Pirates, joining a lowlight reel that includes Carly Rae Jepsen, John Wall, Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory and Carl Lewis.

Unfortunately, writers and bloggers proved they weren't much better at making hip hop-related puns.

First, video of the failed first pitch and the puns that followed:

-USA Today

-New York Daily News

-Associated Press

-TMZ Sports

-The Sydney Morning Herald

-Fox 59 Indianapolis

-The Today Show

-US Weekly

-Newark (N.J.). Star-Ledger

-Washington Times

-The Week

50 Cent Throws Comedic First Pitch, Bad Puns Ensue
Post date: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 12:59
Path: /college-football/college-football-2014-rankings-and-predictions-26-40

The start of the college football season is less than 100 days away, and Athlon Sports is counting down the top teams for the upcoming year.

Florida State is Athlon’s pick to win the national championship, with Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide projected to finish No. 2 nationally. Of course, there's a new element to college football's regular season with the addition of a four-team playoff, and Athlon Sports is picking Ohio State to finish No. 3 and Oklahoma to finish No. 4. The debate in the preseason is no longer about No. 1 and No. 2 and instead more about the top four teams in the nation.

While there is always plenty of intrigue in filling out the top 25, Nos. 26-40 feature a handful of teams that just missed. Iowa kicks off this batch of teams at No. 26, as the Hawkeyes are capable of winning the Big Ten's West Division. Virginia Tech is Athlon's projected Coastal champion and ranks No. 27. Another intriguing team this release of rankings is Marshall at No. 40 - the highest team from outside of the power conferences in 2014.

With the completion of Athlon's  , it's time to take a look at the rest of the rankings, beginning with Nos. 26-40. 

Follow the top 25 on Twitter  and join the debate at . Follow Athlon's College Football Writers on Twitter: Steven Lassan (), Braden Gall () and David Fox ().

Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2014 season

College Football 2014 Projected Rankings: 26-40

26. Iowa
Many of the pieces are in place for Iowa to continue this latest resurgence under coach Kirk Ferentz, especially on offense. Combine that with a schedule that doesn’t include Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State, and has Iowa State, Wisconsin and Nebraska coming to Kinnick Stadium, and there is reason to believe Iowa can be a legitimate contender in the new Big Ten West Division.

27. Virginia Tech
The offense should benefit from being in Year 2 in coordinator Scot Loeffler’s system, but Year 1 didn’t exactly set the bar high. The Hokies had the 101st-ranked offense nationally in 2013, averaging 356.0 yards per game. Fixing the lagging running game would go a long way toward making Virginia Tech more competitive, since there’s plenty of faith in Blacksburg that defensive coordinator Bud Foster will figure things out like he always does. Frank Beamer is confident that the changes he made to the offensive coaching staff prior to 2013 are taking root but knows that it will take time. Still, the Hokies should contend in a wide-open Coastal Division this year.

28. Louisville
New quarterback, new coach, new conference (the ACC), new, more formidable schedule. There’s a lot to process for a program that won 23 games as well as the Sugar and Russell Athletic bowls the last two seasons. But Petrino has won everywhere he’s coached in college — including a 41–9 record during his first stint at Louisville. If quarterback Will Gardner stays healthy, the Cards have enough weapons to score big on everybody but Florida State, Clemson and Notre Dame. Defense will determine if Louisville can win more than eight.

29. Nebraska
Bo Pelini’s record is 58–24, with at least nine victories in each of his six seasons. But he has yet to coach a conference champion. In fact, Nebraska hasn’t won a conference title since 1999, much too long for a program with three national titles in the five years prior to that.

In the aftermath of a 38–17 regular-season-ending loss to Iowa, speculation spread that Pelini’s tenure as coach might be over. But he has since received a contract extension through the 2018 season. Extension or not, however, there’s pressure to win a championship and return to national relevance. The Huskers should have the defense for that. The question is whether the offense can be balanced enough to get the job done against a schedule that sets up very well in a restructured division of the expanded Big Ten.

30. Miami
Ten wins were once the norm at Miami, and now it’s a place to set the bar for 2014. The last time UM reached double-digit victories was 2003, and the only way it happens this year is with an improved defense and solid quarterback play. Certainly the pieces are in place on offense for an explosive group, but new faces on both sides of the ball need to make significant impacts for Al Golden’s team to reach its goals.

31. North Carolina
The Tar Heels have enough talent to challenge for first place in the ACC’s Coastal Division, which remains unpredictable and up for grabs, but their margin of error is small. In truth, UNC looks to be in better shape for 2015 than for this season. The offense has only one senior on the two-deep depth chart, and the defense would benefit from another year of experience up front and in the secondary. But the Tar Heels have to play the 2014 season first. If they perform better than expected along the offensive line and get a breakout season from someone on a defense that lacks an established star, the future could be now.

32. Michigan
After Michigan went 8–5 and 7–6 over the past two seasons, the shine from Brady Hoke’s 11–2 debut campaign is officially gone. The 2014 season is clearly the most important of Hoke’s tenure at Michigan. This is the youngest team Hoke has had during his time in Ann Arbor, but there is plenty of talent on the roster.

Michigan’s defense should be strong enough to keep it in games early in the season, but if the offense doesn’t show significant improvement, it’s hard to envision this team posing too much of a threat in the new Big Ten East Division.

33. Mississippi State
Expectations are high in Starkville. Mississippi State enters the season with one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC and a defense that has the potential to be among the best in the league. If suitable replacements are found on the offensive line and the special teams improves, the 2014 season could be the best in Dan Mullen’s six years at the school.

34. Texas A&M
A&M’s stadium is undergoing a $450 million redevelopment that will make Kyle Field one of the premier venues in college football when construction is done in 2015. Until that time, however, Kyle Field remains a work in progress. The same could be said for the inhabitants of the facility. With a strong offensive line, a stable of promising, young skill players on offense and a defense that should improve, the Aggies could be a factor in the SEC West. But 2015 may be the year A&M steps back into in the national spotlight.

35. BYU
A tough schedule and a bowl defeat kept BYU stuck on eight victories in 2013, but coach Bronco Mendenhall likes the trajectory of the program. “We win every year, and it’s just a matter of how much,” Mendenhall says. “I think this group wants to do even more than we’ve done before.”

Even after a Fight Hunger Bowl loss ended BYU’s streak of five bowl victories, the Cougars have “tons of momentum,” Mendenhall says. “I like our program a lot right now, and I like our players.”

In BYU’s fourth season of independence, the Cougars are positioned to make some national impact especially if the defensive front seven comes together and quarterback Taysom Hill becomes a more consistent passer.

36. Pittsburgh
In recent vintage, Pittsburgh would best be described as unimpressive and/or average. The words are cringe-worthy for those involved with the program, but not inaccurate. The Panthers are 13–13 in two seasons under Chryst and 19–20 since 2011. The good news is that the program firmly belongs to Chryst — only 17 players remain from previous regimes — and young players are making an impact. Chryst played 12 freshmen extensively last season. Still, the Panthers should expect to experience more growing pains, given the uncertainty at quarterback, the precarious nature of the offensive line and a defense that lost the best lineman in the nation. Victories over Notre Dame, Duke and Bowling Green in ’13 can serve as building blocks, but losses to Navy, Georgia Tech and North Carolina are reminders that more work must be done.

37. Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State lost 28 seniors from a year ago; it was a special group that matched the best four-year win total of any class in program history. So while Cowboys coaches believe they’ve recruited well, so much turnover, coupled with a challenging schedule that opens with defending national champion Florida State, suggests that a step back is in order. Just how far back depends on how quickly the kids grow up.

38. Duke
The Coastal Division race should be wide open again this season, and Duke should be in the thick of it. Thanks to a pillow-soft non-conference schedule, and the absence of Clemson, Florida State and Louisville among Atlantic Division crossover opponents (the Devils get Syracuse and Wake instead), a third straight bowl game seems highly likely for the Blue Devils. A repeat trip to the ACC title game? Duke seemed to catch just about every late-game break in 2013 (for a change). It’s hard to envision a repeat of that level of magic again this fall. And the Blue Devils certainly won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around.

39. TCU
It became clear to coach Gary Patterson during the Horned Frogs’ second year in the Big 12 that major changes were in order on the offensive side of the ball. His defense, long a program hallmark, was maintaining its success in the new league. But the Frogs missed the postseason for the first time since 2004 largely because the offense — which had moved the ball with ease in the Frogs’ final years in the Mountain West — failed to produce.

If the offense, under new leadership, can make modest gains, the Frogs could emerge as a surprise contender in the Big 12. TCU went 4–8 in 2013, but the Frogs lost four games by a combined 11 points, including one in overtime. In two other 10-point losses, TCU had a chance to win late in the game.

With better play at quarterback and along the offensive line — two areas that underperformed in 2013 — TCU will be in position to win a few more of those close games and put itself back into postseason play.

40. Marshall
Could Marshall go undefeated? When Louisville had to postpone its 2014 date with the Herd due to an ACC-obligated matchup with Notre Dame, Rhode Island became Marshall’s final non-conference opponent. The Herd certainly should be favored each week as long as Cato remains healthy (backup QB is a big concern heading into the fall). The three teams that beat Marshall last year that are on the schedule this year all must visit Huntington, where Marshall has won eight straight. A highly productive offense led by an elite quarterback and solid, veteran defense could lift the Herd to a historic season.

College Football 2014 Rankings and Predictions: #26-40
Post date: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /overtime/21-unintentionally-dirty-sports-photos-web

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.

<p> These photos caught athletes doing things we only see in the movies (dirty movies.)</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 22, 2014 - 12:42
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Monthly
Path: /timhoward

If Team USA feels good about its chances at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it's in no small part due to a 6'3", tattooed brick wall named Tim Howard.

Since 2010, the New Jersey native has been Team USA’s starting goalkeeper, compiling a .500 winning percentage in four World Cup games. He is, quite literally, one of the only things standing between failure and the first men's World Cup title for America. Fortunately, the 35-year-old Howard isn't new to the game. He grew up as a soccer prodigy, battling through the uncontrollable muscle twitches caused by Tourette's syndrome, to play his first professional game at age 17. His career has included stops in the MLS with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, as well the English club Manchester United and his current team, Everton.

Ironically, his greatest career achievement might not be saving a goal, but scoring one. In an English Premiere League game, he became only the fourth goalie in league history to achieve the rare feat.

As the men’s national team faces off against powerhouses Germany, Portugal and Ghana in group play beginning June 16, we caught up with Howard to ask about his battle with Tourette's, his miraculous goal, and Team USA’s chances.

Pundits have described Team USA’s draw as the “group of death.” Is that a fair assessment?

If you go to the World Cup and expect to get an easy draw, then I think you’re under some sort of illusion. Also, because of how the seeds were weighted, we were always going to get tough teams. It wasn’t a surprise to the players. We need to play at our best over the course of three games and that won’t change no matter what group we’re in.

The U.S. has fielded arguably its strongest team ever. What’s contributed to the development of American soccer players in recent years?

Our players have gotten better because a lot of them have gone over to play abroad at a young age. Competing against the best competition hardens you as a player, so when we come together, our group is stronger.

How do you decide which way to dive during a penalty kick?

Sometimes it’s luck, sometimes it’s instinct, but strikers today are so clever most of the time goalies don’t get it right. I used to think there were telltale giveaways, but it’s really a chess match. A lot of times strikers go on a hard run up, then slow down or lean one way and shoot the other. It’s a crapshoot.

You’ve been known to play through broken bones. (Late in a 2013 Everton match, he broke two non-weight-bearing bones in his back and finished the game.) Care to explain? 

It’s either toughness or stupidity—I haven’t quite figured it out. Adrenaline is the best pain reliever and often that’s what helped get me through. I’m also of the school of thought that if you can play on, you should. You should never take yourself off the field if you don’t have to. Again, that might be stupid. 

In sixth grade you were diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome. What impact has that had on you?

It has had a huge positive impact on my life. There are all sorts of challenges with Tourette’s because it’s such a noticeable condition. You can’t hide it. Its challenges made me resilient and pushed me beyond whatever barriers were in front of me. I can get knocked down and continue to get back up.

As a member of the Everton team, you live in England most of the year. What aspects of European culture have you embraced?

I drink espresso after every meal. And driving on the opposite side of the road. You have to embrace that or else you won’t last very long.

Tell us how you scored a goal (in 2012).

It was a pass back that set up just right, and I cleared it as hard as I could. It was a blustery night and the ball caught the wind and, as it bounced, the other team’s forward chased it. He threw his goalie off, and the ball skipped and went in. It was crazy, but, unfortunately, we lost the game 2-1.

You’ve got a lot of body art. What is the newest tattoo you’ve had inked?

It was by Cally-Jo who works at Bang Bang studio in New York and is a superstar. I told her I wanted an original piece, and she did an old Victorian-style sacred heart. 

What’s on your training table?

I follow the Paleo Diet pretty religiously—high proteins and fats. Most stuff is off limits, but my cheat meal is usually pizza and Ben & Jerry’s.

You’re 6-foot-3. Can you dunk?

Dunking a basketball has always been a way to measure my athletic ability, going all the way back to high school. I used to be able to dunk it on the first try, but these days I need to warm up first.

What was it like to play your first professional soccer game before you had graduated from high school?

It was tough at the time, but, when I look back on it, I think all of those games paid so many dividends. Those games allowed me to make mistakes, to see things differently, and, as the games got faster at every level, they forced me to get faster in order to move up and climb the ladder professionally.

You can spend large parts of the game not directly involved in the action. What are you thinking about during those lulls?

My mind is very clear. I’m in the moment. I’m doing a lot of talking. Even when people can’t hear me, I’m managing the game. I react more than I think. I don’t think much, to be honest.

As a member of the Everton team, you live in Europe most of the year. What one thing do you miss most from the U.S.?

The weather. The weather over here (in England) sucks. And the American culture. I appreciate European culture, but I also like being home (in North Brunswick, N.J.) and flying under the radar and not being noticed.

Tell us something few people know about you.

I’m very much Jekyll & Hyde on (and off) the field. I’m zoned in, passionate about winning and very demanding of myself and my teammates. And I show that. People see it and say that I yell and scream. Off the field, I’m private and quiet until I warm up to people. I like to keep to myself, but I think sometimes that comes off as arrogance. I’ve got two different sides to me.

—By Matt McCue

Post date: Monday, May 19, 2014 - 14:38
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/video-jameis-winston-crab-leg-surveillance-released

Surveillance video of FSU QB Jameis Winston was released by the Leon County Sheriff's Office yesterday. The video shows the Heisman winner walking into a Publix and then leaving without paying for crab legs on April 29. Winston claims that he simply forgot to pay. You be the judge.

What did we learn?
1. Winston didn't conceal the crab legs.
2. He likes to walk around Publix a lot. We mean A LOT.
3. Despite the fact that your phone can shoot in HD, surveillance cameras apperently are built on technology from the mid-'80s.
Post date: Friday, May 16, 2014 - 08:23