Articles By Braden Gall

Path: /college-football/accs-top-10-heisman-candidates-2014
Body:

Using the past to project the future has major flaws but in the case of the Heisman Trophy, the past can be extremely useful.

 

There are a few numbers college football fans need to know when it comes to the Heisman Trophy and how to handicap the race for the 2014 stiff-armed trophy.

 

First, quarterbacks have won the award four straight years and 12 of the last 14. Mark Ingram (2009) and Reggie Bush (2005) are the only running backs since the turn of the century to win the Heisman Trophy.

 

Second, only once in the nine-decade history of the award has anyone ever repeated. Ohio State’s Archie Griffin won in 1974 and was successful in defending his award the following year. Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram and Johnny Manziel all failed to repeat in the last decade.

 

Third, only twice since Griffin has a conference won two consecutive Heisman Trophies. USC repeated with Leinart and Bush (2004-05) and the SEC did the same with Ingram and Cam Newton (2009-10). In fact, only twice since 1955 has a conference won consecutive Heismans with two different teams. UCLA’s Gary Beban and USC’s O.J. Simpson went back-to-back in 1967-68.

 

Finally, only one true defensive player (Charles Woodson) and only two wide receivers (Tim Brown, Desmond Howard) have ever won the award.

 

With this in mind, here are the ACC’s front-runners to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014:
 

1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

The only reason Winston wouldn’t be the front-runner in the ACC is because he won the award last year. He is the most talented player on the best team and will likely have the best numbers on a championship team. Picking anyone else is just being cute here.

 

2. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami

From a talent standpoint, Johnson is the only other option in the ACC who can compete with Winston. He has elite-level, breakaway speed and explosiveness. The biggest speed bump in The Duke’s Heisman campaign will be staying healthy. The smallish back has dealt with injuries but if he can stay on the field and post 250 touches, his numbers could be ridiculously good.

 

3. Cole Stoudt, QB, Clemson

The keys to one of the shiniest offenses in the nation have fallen in Stoudt’s lap and he deserves his opportunity. Stoudt has waited his turn behind Tajh Boyd and all signs point to him being more than capable of running the Chad Morris attack. He is all about tempo and is a solid fit for an offense that consistently posted huge statistics. An early upset over Georgia or Florida State are almost a must, however, to get into the Heisman mix.

 

4. Karlos Williams, RB, Florida State

By default, the starting tailback at Florida State should be a high-profile, highly productive position. And Karlos Williams has all the raw physical tools to become a star on the national level. He averaged over eight yards per carry and scored 11 times while splitting time with two other guys — both of whom have moved on. With a full workload, Williams could post Doak Walker-type numbers.

 

5. Marquise Williams, QB, North Carolina

Williams flashed a lot of ability last fall and should only continue to develop. The Tar Heels went 6-1 over their final seven games and the offense averaged over 40 points per game due in large part to his play. With a full season of making plays, Williams has a chance to get into the national conversation.

 

6. Tyler Boyd, WR, Pitt

No wide receiver belongs this high on Heisman lists — normally — but Boyd is a special talent with rare ability. He has elite NFL upside and plays for a head coach who normally produces big numbers in the passing game. Look for Boyd, just a sophomore, to make a run at the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wideout. Should that happen, landing in the Heisman conversation isn’t out of the question.

 

7. Will Gardner, QB, Louisville

This is a bit of a leap but there are many things worse than betting on a Bobby Petrino quarterback. Gardner is a tall, pocket passer who fits his system perfectly. And with a gifted offensive line and deep supporting cast, it’s not unthinkable that Gardner becomes the second-best passer in the ACC.

 

8. Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State

The star wideout for the Noles could have gone pro but decided to return for his fourth year in Tallahassee. He has scored 22 receiving touchdowns and is coming off his best season. With Winston still throwing passes and the best OL in the nation, there is no reason Greene won’t be an All-America candidate.

 

9. Dominique Brown/Michael Dyer, RB, Louisville

While the QB gets all of the attention, Petrino's running backs have been nationally acclaimed as well. Michael Bush scored 24 times in 2005 and Knile Davis was a star in the SEC in '10. With a solid veteran offensive line returning, both Cardinal tailbacks could find themselves in All-ACC territory this fall.

 

10. Chad Voytik, QB, Pitt

Looking for a longshot breakout star in the ACC? Look no further than Pitt’s Chad Voytik. The first-year starter has a superstar wideout to throw to, a mad scientist designing the passing offense in Paul Chryst and plays in a league devoid of star power under center. Look for Voytik and Pitt to make some waves this fall in the ACC.

 

Others to consider: Nick O’Leary, TE, Florida State; Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke; Devante Parker, WR, Louisville; Shadrach Thornton, RB, NC State; Kevin Parks, RB, Virginia

 

Five defensive players who should but won't be in the mix:

 

Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson

The nation’s top returning sack master is the Tigers star — who posted 13 a year ago. For a defense that could be the best Clemson has had in years, Beasley’s explosive playmaking ability should make for national headlines.

 

Jalen Ramsey, S, Florida State

Not many true freshmen start every game for a national champion but that is what the former five-star recruit did for the Noles a year ago. The lanky playmaker should develop into one of the best players in the nation and should be an All-American this fall.

 

Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

Much like Ramsey, Fuller is a big-time, five-star recruit who delivered in a big way as just a true freshman in 2013. Fuller picked off six passes and posted 58 tackles and is in store for a breakout season for the Hokies this fall.

 

Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson

Finally delivering on his elite recruiting potential, Anthony posted his best season last fall. He registered career highs in tackles (86), tackles for a loss (15.0) and sacks (4.5). He simply makes plays and with another big season, could find himself attending postseason award ceremonies.

 

Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami

The veteran All-ACC performer has racked up 240 tackles in the last three years, including 108 in 2013. Miami’s defense must improve and it falls to leaders like Perryman to transform the unit. If it does improve, the Canes could easily win the Coastal Division. 

Teaser:
The ACC's Top 10 Heisman Candidates for 2014
Post date: Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/big-12s-top-10-heisman-candidates-2014
Body:

Using the past to project the future has major flaws but in the case of the Heisman Trophy, the past can be extremely useful.

 

There are a few numbers college football fans need to know when it comes to the Heisman Trophy and how to handicap the race for the 2014 stiff-armed trophy.

 

First, quarterbacks have won the award four straight years and 12 of the last 14. Mark Ingram (2009) and Reggie Bush (2005) are the only running backs since the turn of the century to win the Heisman Trophy.

 

Second, only once in the nine-decade history of the award has anyone ever repeated. Ohio State’s Archie Griffin won in 1974 and was successful in defending his award the following year. Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram and Johnny Manziel all failed to repeat in the last decade.

 

Third, only twice since Griffin has a conference won two consecutive Heisman Trophies. USC repeated with Leinart and Bush (2004-05) and the SEC did the same with Ingram and Cam Newton (2009-10). In fact, only twice since 1955 has a conference won consecutive Heismans with two different teams. UCLA’s Gary Beban and USC’s O.J. Simpson went back-to-back in 1967-68.

 

Finally, only one true defensive player (Charles Woodson) and only two wide receivers (Tim Brown, Desmond Howard) have ever won the award.

 

With this in mind, here are the Big 12’s front-runners to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014 (with current Bovada odds):

 

1. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor (12/1)

There is no questioning who is the top Heisman candidate in the Big 12. The guy who scored 46 times and threw just three interceptions while winning his school’s first-ever Big 12 championship is the only place to start. Petty won’t have the same supporting cast this year but Art Briles' system is a proven commodity. If he can do something that’s never been done — Baylor winning at Oklahoma — then his numbers and team success will be enough to get him to New York.

 

2. Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma (16/1)

There were two Trevor Knights last year. The guy who played in the Sugar Bowl and the guy who played in every other game for Oklahoma. Knight has big-time, big-play ability and is leading the team who is clearly the front-runner to win the league and possibly land in the inaugural College Football Playoff. If he can stay healthy, he should post big numbers and win almost every game, making him an extremely viable Heisman candidate.

 

3. Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech

He only played in 10 games but he finished No. 2 in yards (2,718) and touchdowns (20) as just a freshman in the Big 12 last year. Since every other person on campus who is capable of throwing a football has left Lubbock, Webb is now the star of the Kliff Kingsbury show. Look for massive numbers from the Tech QB and if he can pull a marquee upset (like, say, Texas or Oklahoma at home), Webb could find himself in national awards circles at season’s end.

 

4. Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor

The Bears had the Big 12’s leading rusher last year in Lache Seastrunk but also boasted the No. 6 rusher too. Linwood, a freshman last year, rushed for 881 yards and eight TDs on just 128 carries. Imagine what he could do with a year of seasoning and a full workload?

 

5. Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State

Waters really settled into the role of starter in the second half of last season, prompting a switch from Daniel Sams. Waters went 6-1 as a starter while throwing 14 of his 18 touchdowns and only four interceptions over the final seven games. If Kansas State makes a push for a Big 12 title and Waters builds on his quietly impressive 2013 campaign, he could find himself in the national conversation come season’s end.

 

6. Desmond Roland, RB, Oklahoma State

Roland led all Big 12 players with 13 rushing touchdowns last year. It was his first season as the starter for a team that has a track record of producing big numbers in the running game. Look for Roland to take another step this fall, as he will likely will become the focal point of the Pokes' normally very solid offense.

 

7. Antwan Goodley, WR, Baylor

The leading returning receiver in the Big 12 in terms of yards (1,339) and touchdowns (13) is Goodley. Those numbers were among the best in the league last fall and with Petty back and Tevin Reese gone, Goodley could be in for another monster season. Obviously, wideouts have a tough time gaining Heisman notoriety (especially, with a bona fide contender under center as a teammate) but he has the goods to be a national star in Waco.

 

8. Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State

One of the most explosive players in the nation returns to Manhattan for another year of long touchdowns and All-American production. He led the league at 105.2 yards per game last year as well as averaging 26.5 yards per kickoff return. He is Waters' favorite target and don’t be surprised if he is incorporated into a more versatile role this fall in an effort to utilize his unique skill set.

 

9. Keith Ford, RB, Oklahoma

The Sooners have had a long tradition of producing elite tailbacks and many in Norman are excited to hand the ball to Ford in a full-time capacity this season. He has the power, explosiveness, quickness and toughness to be a star in this league. He plays for a national front-runner and will have multiple shots in marquee showdowns to prove himself to the national audience. Look for big things from Ford this fall — as long as uber recruit Joe Mixon doesn’t steal too many carries.

 

10. Nick O’Toole’s Mustache

I can't do the West Virginia punter's facial hair justice so I will let the pictures do the talking. I mean, who wouldn't vote for this?

 

Others to consider: Aaron Wimbley, RB, Iowa State; Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas; E.J. Bibbs, TE, Iowa State; Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma

 

Five defensive players who should but won’t be in the mix:

 

Eric Striker, LB, Oklahoma

The big-play linebacker plays all over the field. He constantly disrupts the opposing backfield and regularly imposes his will with physicality and explosiveness. He should build on his stat line from last year: 50 tackles, 10.6 TFL, 6.5 sacks.

 

Cedric Reed, DE, Texas

He is a massive part of the Longhorns' rebuilding project on defense, figuratively and literally. At 6-6 and 260 pounds, Reed towers above the competition regularly and his numbers back it up as well. He posted 77 tackles, 16.5 TFL and 10.0 sacks last year and should only be better this year.

 

Ryan Mueller, DE, Kansas State

Mueller is the top returning sack artist in the league after posting an impressive 11.5 QB takedowns last fall. On a loaded defensive line, Mueller should be able to gain national acclaim for his performance.

 

Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas

Fans in Austin have been waiting for Diggs to develop into the superstar many believed he’d become. He has all of the tools and some explosive ability to make big plays, he just needs to put it all together in his final season at Texas.

 

Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia

He posted 102 tackles as a freshman starter and added 68 stops last year as a sophomore. With two full seasons under his belt as a starter and a chance to be on the field ALL OF THE TIME, Joseph has a chance to make a name for himself nationally in 2014.

 

Teaser:
The Big 12's Top 10 Heisman Candidates for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/pac-12s-top-10-heisman-candidates-2014
Body:

Using the past to project the future has major flaws but in the case of the Heisman Trophy, the past can be extremely useful.

 

There are a few numbers college football fans need to know when it comes to the Heisman Trophy and how to handicap the race for the 2014 stiff-armed trophy.

 

First, quarterbacks have won the award four straight years and 12 of the last 14. Mark Ingram (2009) and Reggie Bush (2005) are the only running backs since the turn of the century to win the Heisman Trophy.

 

Second, only once in the nine-decade history of the award has anyone ever repeated. Ohio State’s Archie Griffin won in 1974 and was successful in defending his award the following year. Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram and Johnny Manziel all failed to repeat in the last decade.

 

Third, only twice since Griffin has a conference won two consecutive Heisman Trophies. USC repeated with Leinart and Bush (2004-05) and the SEC did the same with Ingram and Cam Newton (2009-10). In fact, only twice since 1955 has a conference won consecutive Heismans with two different teams. UCLA’s Gary Beban and USC’s O.J. Simpson went back-to-back in 1967-68.

 

Finally, only one true defensive player (Charles Woodson) and only two wide receivers (Tim Brown, Desmond Howard) have ever won the award.

 

With this in mind, here are the Pac-12’s front-runners to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014 (with current Bovada odds):

 

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (11/2)

He is arguably the most gifted athlete in the country and he is running one of the most prolific offenses in the nation. Should he stay healthy, Oregon is also the front-runner to win the Pac-12 and play in the playoff. The talent, the numbers, the winning and championship coattails could all be in Mariota’s corner.

 

2. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA (16/1)

One of my favorite bets, the UCLA quarterback is eyeing everything that Mariota is targeting. His numbers should be comparable and Hundley will have a chance at home to knock off the Ducks late in the year. If UCLA makes a run at the Playoff, Hundley could easily be in New York.

 

3. Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State (66/1)

Not many players have thrown for at least 3,000 yards and rushed for at least 500 in the last two years but Kelly is one of them. He led ASU to the Pac-12 title game a year ago and another run at a league title — along with another 4,000-yard season — could get Kelly into the national discussion.

 

4. Byron Marshall, RB, Oregon (N/A)

The Ducks have five starters back along the offensive line and an offense that has churned out Heisman candidates at running back. Marshall rushed for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns on just 168 carries last fall. If he can get upwards of 250 touches, he could lead the nation in rushing for Oregon. His only concern might be that backup Thomas Tyner might actually be the better player.

 

5. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State (50/1)

The Beavers quarterback threw for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns last year, trailing only Derek Carr as the nation’s leading passer. If he can cut back on interceptions — he threw 12 in the last five games — and lead his team to a few more wins, Mannion should have the numbers to get to New York.

 

6. D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State (N/A)

Marion Grice scored 20 touchdowns last year so Foster could flourish in his expanded role as top running back. While he won’t be a true workhorse, Foster has shown he can be used all over the field. In his two-year career, Foster has rushed for 994 yards on 195 carries while posting 1,186 yards on 101 receptions. If he can get more than 200 touches, the Sun Devils' smallish star will be on national radars.

 

7. Buck Allen, RB, USC (N/A)

Javorius “Buck” Allen took control the starting tailback job at USC in the second half of last year and it has vaulted him into award conversations. Allen rushed for over 100 yards in four of the last six games and scored 12 times during that span. A full season workload could make Allen the top true workhorse back in the conference this year.

 

8. Nelson Agholor, WR, USC (N/A)

The first-team All-American is dynamic enough and versatile enough to get onto Heisman ballots. He scored twice on punt returns last fall while excelling as a No. 2 wideout for USC. Now, Agholor is the top target for an offense that will be much improved. He will get the ball in a lot of different ways and that could mean a monster season.

 

9. Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State (N/A)

The numbers will be there for the Mike Leach-coached quarterback. Halliday was third in the nation with 4,597 yards and 34 touchdowns last year while getting Washington State back into the postseason. Much like Mannion, a few more wins and a few less turnovers would do wonders for Halliday.

 

10. Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington (N/A)

Fans and experts all point to Myles Jack as the top defensive candidate to break through this fall but he isn’t expected to be used on offense this fall. Thompson, on the other hand, could see more than spot duty for the Huskies. He is a freak athlete, an All-American candidate and could be the next two-way star.

 

Others to consider: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State; Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford; Cody Kessler, QB, USC; Austin Hill, WR, Arizona; Thomas Tyner, RB, Oregon

 

Five defensive players who should but won’t be in the mix:

 

Myles Jack, LB, UCLA (33/1)

Jack made a huge name for himself last fall while playing two ways. Unfortunately, Jim Mora has talked openly about returning his star linebacker to an exclusively defensive role. Either way, he is a star athlete who will be a national award winner at some point.

 

Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington

See above.

 

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon

The first-team All-American cornerback consistently makes highlight-reel plays on defense. He has seven interceptions and seven forced fumbles in the last two seasons while making 147 total stops. He could be the most high-profile member of a Pac-12 championship defense.

 

Leonard Williams, DE, USC

The lanky defensive end is a projected top pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and should he dominate the line of scrimmage once again — he has 26.0 TFL and 13.0 sacks in two seasons — he should be in line for national acclaim.

 

Su’a Cravens, S, USC

From a talent standpoint, few can match Cravens’ size and speed combination. He proved as a true freshman last year that he could be special, posting 53 tackles and four interceptions.

Teaser:
The Pac-12's Top 10 Heisman Candidates for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/secs-top-10-heisman-candidates-2014
Body:

Using the past to project the future has major flaws but in the case of the Heisman Trophy, the past can be extremely useful.

 

There are a few numbers college football fans need to know when it comes to the Heisman Trophy and how to handicap the race for the 2014 stiff-armed trophy.

 

First, quarterbacks have won the award four straight years and 12 of the last 14. Mark Ingram (2009) and Reggie Bush (2005) are the only running backs since the turn of the century to win the Heisman Trophy.

 

Second, only once in the nine-decade history of the award has anyone ever repeated. Ohio State’s Archie Griffin won in 1974 and was successful in defending his award the following year. Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram and Johnny Manziel all failed to repeat in the last decade.

 

Third, only twice since Griffin has a conference won two consecutive Heisman Trophies. USC repeated with Leinart and Bush (2004-05) and the SEC did the same with Ingram and Cam Newton (2009-10). In fact, only twice since 1955 has a conference won consecutive Heismans with two different teams. UCLA’s Gary Beban and USC’s O.J. Simpson went back-to-back in 1967-68.

 

Finally, only one true defensive player (Charles Woodson) and only two wide receivers (Tim Brown, Desmond Howard) have ever won the award.

 

With this in mind, here are the SEC’s front-runners to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014 (with current Bovada odds):

 

1. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia (12/1)

He is the most gifted player at his position in the nation and it’s one that has Heisman pedigree. On just 202 touches due to injuries, the 230-pounder rolled up 1,430 yards from scrimmage and scored 16 times. When healthy, he is unstoppable.

 

2. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn (10/1)

He is a perfect fit for Gus Malzahn’s offense — a unit that should be even better and more balanced this year. He should blow past last year’s passing totals (1,976 yds, 14 TDs) and could easily match last year’s rushing production (1,068 yds, 12 TDs). And another run at an SEC title could put Marshall back in New York.

 

3. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama (18/1)

Alabama’s starting tailback has been in the Heisman conversation ever since Nick Saban arrived in 2007. Yeldon is coming off back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons and has scored at least 13 times in each of his first two years. Another big year could mean a berth in the College Football Playoff and a Heisman Trophy for Yeldon.

 

4. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina (28/1)

The situation around Davis is extremely conducive at a run for the Heisman. He plays for a top-15 team with marquee showdowns, has a shot at a playoff berth and his entire offensive line returns intact. If he can stay healthy, Davis — who posted six 100-yard games in his first seven last fall — could pace the SEC in rushing.

 

5. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU (N/A)

He’s already been compared to Michael Jordan by his coach and to Adrian Peterson by his teammates. No pressure, young fella. Fournette is going to be great. The question is how quickly? And will the rest of his offense support him? The ground game will be electric in Baton Rouge but this unit needs balance to get the true freshman into the Heisman conversation.

 

6. Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss (N/A)

Who finished second to Johnny Manziel last year in the SEC in total offense? Not Aaron Murray, Nick Marshall, A.J. McCarron or Connor Shaw. No, Wallace’s 3,701 yards were well ahead of third place (and well behind Manziel). Now fully healthy and with a developing young corps of supporting players, Wallace is in store for a monster final season.

 

7. Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri (N/A)

The youngster is brimming with confidence and now has the keys to an offense known for producing big-time stars at quarterback. Brad Smith, Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert and James Franklin have all run Gary Pinkel’s offense to perfection. Mauk is just the next and might be the best pure passer in the SEC.

 

8. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State (40/1)

State is dying for a star at quarterback and Prescott could be the guy. He posted big numbers in the second half of the season, topping 300 yards of total offense in four of his last five games. With another year of seasoning, Prescott could become State’s first 3,000-yard passer.

 

9. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama (25/1)

He’s a load to tackle and has all the ability in the world. As fans should expect from the nation’s most prolific high school running back in history. He got just 35 carries last fall but eight of them (and 100 yards) came in the Sugar Bowl win over Oklahoma. Look for a breakout campaign from Henry this fall even if he has to share carries with Yeldon.

 

10. LaQuon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss (N/A)

From a talent standpoint, few are as gifted as Treadwell. He has the size, speed, power and agility to be a star in the NFL. With his quarterback healthy and a move to his more natural outside position, Treadwell could blossom into one of the nation’s elite pass catchers.

 

Others to consider: O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama; Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, RB, Arkansas; Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama; Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia; Jerron Seymour, RB, Vanderbilt

 

Five defensive players who should but won’t be in the mix:

 

Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida

Not many players earn first-team preseason All-American honors as a true sophomore but that is what VH3 has done. He might be the nation’s top pure cover corner and should only build on his excellent first season in Gainesville.

 

A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee

He is a big-time playmaker on defense. But what could give him some national notoriety would be his contributions on offense. If Butch Jones (which is unlikely) decides to use him like Derek Dooley did in 2012 (6 rush TDs), Johnson would be a household name nationally in no time.

 

Landon Collins, S, Alabama

He is one of the most gifted tacklers in the nation. When Collins arrives at the ball, the entire country knows about it. The lone returning starter in the secondary could be the nation’s best safety. And he plays a position that has recently become a marquee spot with names like Mark Barron and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix excelling for the Tide.

 

Dante Fowler, DE, Florida

Fowler is a beast and can simply take over games but he will need to improve his consistency in order to get mentions for national awards. Physically, he is nearly impossible to stop and he should lead the Gators in sacks and plays made behind the line of scrimmage.

 

Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State

As a true freshman, Jones — who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds — made a much bigger impact than even his five-star status indicated. He posted 32 tackles, 7.0 for a loss, 3.0 sacks and constantly disrupted the opposing backfield. He is a sure-fire future NFL star.

Teaser:
The SEC's Top 10 Heisman Candidates for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-alabama-georgia-ole-miss-and-kentucky-media-days
Body:

SEC Media Days are here, and Athlon Sports is live from Hoover, Ala., to talk every team around the league. Day 4 featured Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss and Kentucky.

 

Day 4 was highlighted by the king of the SEC, Alabama's Nick Saban, a very brash Mark Richt, Kentucky's Mark Stoops and a surging Ole Miss program.

 

Braden Gall and David Fox were joined by SiriusXM's Greg McElroy, the Macon Telegraph's Seth Emerson and Alabama wide receiver Christion Jones.

 

Have a question or comment? Contact us at podcast@athlonsports.com or on Twitter at @AthlonSports, @BradenGall and @DavidFox615

Teaser:
Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss and Kentucky from Media Days
Post date: Thursday, July 17, 2014 - 14:23
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-complete-sec-network-preview
Body:

 

 

SEC Media Days are here, and Athlon Sports is live from Hoover, Ala., to talk every team around the league. With the launch of the much-anticipated SEC Network right around the corner, the guys caught up with some of the biggest names involved in the launch. 

 

Braden Gall and David Fox were joined by lead sideline reporter Maria Taylor, studio host extraordinaire Dari Nowkhah and Mr. College Football himself Tony Barnhart to talk all things SEC Network and the upcoming season.

 

Have a question or comment? Contact us at podcast@athlonsports.com or on Twitter at @AthlonSports, @BradenGall and @DavidFox615

 

Related: Day 1 Cover 2 Podcast Recap with Edgar Thompson and Brandon Marcello


Related: Day 2 Cover 2 Podcast Recap with Billy Liucci, Josh Ward and Josh Kendall 


Related: Day 3 Cover 2 Podcast Recap with Allie LaForce, Dave Matter and Ron Higgins

Teaser:
Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: Complete SEC Network Preview
Post date: Thursday, July 17, 2014 - 09:17
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-lsu-missouri-arkansas-and-playoff-media-days
Body:

 

SEC Media Days are here, and Athlon Sports is live from Hoover, Ala., to talk every team around the league. Day 3 featured the College Football Playoff, LSU, Missouri and Arkansas. 

 

Day 3 was highlighted by a Playoff presentation from Bill Hancock, a visit with Les Miles, an entertaining Bret Bielema and Missouri's Gary Pinkel.

 

Braden Gall and David Fox were joined by CBS' Allie LaForce, Dave Matter of the St. Louis-Post Dispatch and NOLA.com's Ron Higgins.

 

Have a question or comment? Contact us at podcast@athlonsports.com or on Twitter at @AthlonSports, @BradenGall and @DavidFox615

 

Related: Day 1 Cover 2 Podcast Recap with Edgar Thompson and Brandon Marcello

Related: Day 2 Cover 2 Podcast Recap with Billy Liucci, Josh Ward and Josh Kendall 

Teaser:
Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: LSU, Missouri, Arkansas and The Playoff
Post date: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 18:46
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-south-carolina-tennessee-texas-am-and-mississippi
Body:

SEC Media Days are here, and Athlon Sports is live from Hoover, Ala., to talk every team around the league. Day 2 featured South Carolina, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Tennessee. 

 

Day 2 was highlighted by a visit with Steve Spurrier, Kevin Sumlin deflecting Johnny Manziel questions, a very confident Dan Mullen and Tennessee's Butch Jones. 

 

Braden Gall and David Fox were joined by Billy Liucci of TexAgs.com, Josh Ward of Mr. SEC and The Sports Animal in Knoxville as well as Josh Kendall of The State covering the Gamecocks.

 

Have a question or comment? Contact us at podcast@athlonsports.com or on Twitter at @AthlonSports, @BradenGall and @DavidFox615

 

Related: Day 1 Cover 2 Podcast Recap with Edgar Thompson and Brandon Marcello

Teaser:
Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Mississippi State from Media Days
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 18:19
Path: /college-football/10-most-important-terrible-qb-matchups-2014
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Sure, we are all looking forward to Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota battling it out for a potential playoff spot in mid-October. How about Bryce Petty visiting Trevor Knight for a Big 12 championship? I can’t wait for Braxton Miller’s shot at revenge against Connor Cook in East Lansing.

 

Fans can only hope to get a Mariota-Jameis Winston quarterback matchup in the national championship game. Or Miller vs. Winston. Or Miller vs. Mariota. Or Hundley vs. any of them.

 

There are plenty of elite quarterback matchups set to take place in 2014. But what about the best, most important matchups of the year that could feature seriously questionable quarterback play?

 

Here are the most anticipated matchups of the year that will likely feature less than stellar play under center:

 

LSU at Florida (Oct. 11)

Brandon Harris could eventually be a star in the SEC but he will go through lots of growing pains in 2014 should he earn the starting spot. Florida welcomes back Jeff Driskel to the starting lineup as well as a new offensive coordinator for the third time in four seasons.  Both teams have aspirations of competing within their respective divisions but QB play will be a huge storyline to track for both traditional SEC powers.

 

Miami at Virginia Tech (Oct. 23)

The Hokies are picked first in the Coastal Division and the Hurricanes are picked second. Both will feature a transfer under center and neither team has any idea what it will get from the QB position this fall. Michael Brewer comes to Blacksburg from Texas Tech and has lots of ability while Miami could turn to former BYU and Kansas signal-caller Jake Heaps.

 

LSU vs. Wisconsin (Aug. 30)

LSU figures to get improved QB play as the year goes along from either Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris. Wisconsin has an incumbent in Joel Stave but Gary Andersen has made it known the starting spot is up for grabs. So in Week 1 and with two of the best running games in the nation, this Big Ten-SEC showdown could feature upwards of 100 handoffs.

 

Miami at Nebraska (Sept. 20)

Both the Huskers and Hurricanes feel like they have a shot to win their respective conference's division this year and both will have question marks under center. Tommy Armstrong got plenty of experience last year and has upside but needs to prove it as just a sophomore. Miami is in much worse shape as Kansas transfer Jake Heaps could take over the reins. Expectations are high for both teams and an early-season, non-conference matchup in Lincoln should be fun to watch. Especially, considering the national title history between these two.

 

Florida vs. SEC East

Jeff Driskel has a chance to redeem himself in 2014 and many expect Florida to be much better this fall. But Driskel has to prove he can stay healthy and be consistent for that to happen. The good news is the rest of the SEC East is also dealing with unknowns at the QB position. Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri feel confident in the guy they will be running out there but none have ever been a starter. And Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky could be using first-year starters.

 

LSU at Texas A&M (Nov. 27)

LSU once again makes an appearance and odds are that both the Aggies and Tigers have much better QB play on Thanksgiving than they will early in the year. Kyle Allen looks to be the heir apparent to Johnny Manziel but will be just a true freshman — albeit an extremely highly-touted freshman. Should problems persist for both teams under center, this season finale could end up defining either's 2014 campaign.

 

Nebraska at Wisconsin (Nov. 15)

Fans of both teams should expect growth at the QB position throughout the course of the season but there is no guarantee that either Armstrong or Stave is still the starter by mid-November. With a potential trip to the Big Ten title game on the line, quarterback play will become imperative for both squads by the time these two meet near the end of the year.

 

Washington at Arizona (Nov. 15)

The Huskies are not only breaking in a new head coach in Chris Petersen but also a new quarterback after Keith Price departed. Cyler Miles looks the part of a future star but has yet to prove it on the field. Rich Rodriguez has plenty of options (maybe, too many) and will have to settle on either a guy who doesn't fit his system (Jesse Scroggins) or a very inexperienced player (Anu Solomon). For two popular sleeper teams in the Pac-12, quarterback play will be a huge storyline all season long.

 

TCU at Texas (Nov. 27)

Both teams look to be improved this year and both are eyeing the postseason. But both could have major quarterback questions all season. The questions for David Ash aren't talent-related. There is no telling how long he can stay healthy. Meanwhile, in Fort Worth, Matt Joeckel transfers in from Texas A&M and tries to stabilize a position that has flustered Gary Patterson since the departure of Andy Dalton. Pecking order in the Big 12 figures to hang in the balance when these two developing Lone Star rivals get together on Thanksgiving Day.

 

Duke vs. Miami/Virginia Tech

The defending champs of the ACC's Coastal Division return Anthony Boone but the Duke starter struggled at times last year. With Brandon Connette gone to Fresno State, all of David Cutcliffe's eggs are in Boone's basket. And when the Blue Devils play Miami (Sept. 27) and Virginia Tech (Nov. 15), the Coastal title could be on the line. All three teams have concerns at the position entering the year.

Teaser:
10 Most Important Terrible QB Matchups of 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/10-must-see-quarterback-matchups-2014
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Ali-Frazier. Manning-Brady. Magic-Bird. Mariota-Hundley?

 

Okay, maybe I’m over doing it a bit. But as far as college football fans are concerned, there will be no bigger quarterback matchup in 2014 than when UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota battle it out on the same field.

 

College football entered the “super quarterback” era when Michael Vick ran around on the Superdome floor in the 2000 Sugar Bowl nearly bringing Virginia Tech what would have been one of the most improbable national championships in college football history. And it’s never looked back since. Names like Hundley and Mariota now regularly wow fans with precision passing, electric athletic ability and spotlight showcases.

 

Since Vick took the football world by storm, names like Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel have stolen the college football headlines. There is no reason to think this season won’t be any different.

 

Here are the most anticipated quarterback battles of the 2014 college football season:

 

1. Marcus Mariota at Brett Hundley

Oregon at UCLA, Oct. 11

 

It would take UCLA or Oregon reaching the national title game against Florida State for there to be a better QB matchup than when Brett Hundley welcomes Marcus Mariota to town in mid-October. Division, conference and national championship implications are on the line for two players who could be top-10 draft picks next May. Each has unique dual-threat and leadership abilities for two top-10 teams. Every fan of every team should kick back and enjoy this one.

 

2. Bryce Petty at Trevor Knight

Baylor at Oklahoma, Nov. 8

 

The Big 12 title could very well hang in the balance when Baylor visits Oklahoma on Nov. 8. Petty, who accounted for 46 touchdowns and just three interceptions last year, put a 41-12 beatdown on the Sooners last year. Knight, fresh off an immaculate Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama, is looking for revenge in what should be a breakout season. Petty is more experienced, more of a passer, runs an offense as good as any in the land and is a defending Big 12 champ. Knight is a superstar in the making who can drop jaws and is leading the team picked to win the Big 12.

 

3. Braxton Miller at Christian Hackenberg

Ohio State at Penn State, Oct. 25

 

Penn State could have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft under center and Urban Meyer could have a Heisman Trophy candidate running his offense. The Buckeyes will face two difficult road tests en route to what many believe will be a playoff berth and visiting Happy Valley will be one of them.

 

4. Brett Hundley at Taylor Kelly

UCLA at Arizona State, Sept. 25

 

These two quarterbacks will square off for the third time in three years. Hundley and UCLA won 45-43 in Tempe in 2012 while Kelly and Arizona State knocked off the Bruins in the Rose Bowl 38-33 last fall. The fireworks should continue in what could be a de facto Pac-12 South Division championship game.

 

5. Braxton Miller at Connor Cook

Ohio State at Michigan State, Nov. 8

 

The first meeting between these two signal-callers was an epic battle in the Big Ten title game that won’t soon be forgotten by either. Miller rushed for 142 yards, threw for 101 and scored three times in the loss. Cook had his coming out party, throwing for a career-high 304 yards and made clutch plays down the stretch to lead the Spartans to their first Big Ten crown in nearly three decades. And a trip back to the Big Ten title game will likely be on the line in this contest.

 

6. Everett Golson at Jameis Winston

Notre Dame at Florida State, Oct. 18

 

Golson returns after sitting out last year with a nearly perfect record as a starter. The Irish could be the best team on the Seminoles' schedule and Golson makes them a playoff contender now that he is back in control. Winston’s resume speaks for itself and his best matchup under center comes against Notre Dame.

 

7. Connor Cook at Marcus Mariota

Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6

 

It’s the biggest marquee non-conference showdown in college football and it will feature two quarterbacks eyeing a trip to the college football playoff. Cook set career highs with 300 yards passing in both the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl. Mariota, now fully healthy, might be the nation’s best player. The X's and O's on both sides of the ball will be fascinating to watch, as both teams will likely be ranked in the Top 10 when they meet in Week 2.

 

8. Chuckie Keeton at Taysom Hill

Utah State at BYU, Oct. 3

 

When it comes to pure athletic ability, few players in the nation can match Hill’s speed and size. He is a must-watch player every time the ball is in his hands. Keeton, arguably Utah State’s greatest football player, returns to the team after missing the entire second half of last season because of injury. Add popcorn and beer, shake well and enjoy.

 

9. Nick Marshall at Bo Wallace

Auburn at Ole Miss, Nov. 1

 

Last year, Wallace threw for 336 yards as Ole Miss significantly out-gained Auburn (464 to 375) but lost at home to the Marshall-led Tigers. The Auburn quarterback threw for just 93 yards but ran for 140 on the ground and scored two touchdowns in the thrilling and critical SEC West win. Both teams have eyes on getting to Atlanta in 2014.

 

10. Connor Cook at Christian Hackenberg

Michigan State at Penn State, Nov. 29

 

There is a good chance Michigan State is still in playoff contention when the season finale in Happy Valley rolls around. Hackenberg will be finishing his second full season and will have a chance to make an early Heisman statement for 2016, especially if Penn State doesn’t have a bowl game to go to again. Just ask Wisconsin fans what it’s like to face Hackenberg in a season finale.

 

Best of the rest:

 

Texas Tech vs. Baylor: Davis Webb vs. Bryce Petty

Notre Dame at Arizona State: Everett Golson vs. Taylor Kelly

Oregon at Oregon State: Marcus Mariota vs. Sean Mannion

Oklahoma at Texas Tech: Trevor Knight vs. Davis Webb

Auburn at Mississippi State: Nick Marshall vs. Dak Prescott

Stanford at Oregon: Kevin Hogan vs. Marcus Mariota

Oregon at Washington State: Marcus Mariota vs. Connor Halliday

Stanford at UCLA: Kevin Hogan vs. Brett Hundley

Auburn at Kansas State: Nick Marshall vs. Jake Waters

Mississippi State at Ole Miss: Dak Prescott vs. Bo Wallace

 

Football Nerds Unite!

 

Keenan Reynolds vs. Braxton Miller

Navy vs. Ohio State, Aug. 30

This duo combined for 2,414 yards rushing and a staggering 43 scores on the ground last year.

 

Cody Fajardo at Taysom Hill

Nevada at BYU, Oct. 18

Two of the most explosive athletes in the nation go at it in mid-October.

 

Rakeem Cato at Taylor Heinicke

Marshall at Old Dominion, Oct. 4

The top two QBs in C-USA combined for 7,938 yards and 72 passing TDs last year.

 

Terrance Broadway at Fredi Knighten

UL Lafayette at Arkansas State, Oct. 21

The top two signal callers in the Sun Belt battle for a potential league title.

 

Nate Sudfeld at Matt Johnson
Indiana at Bowling Green, Sept. 13

This could be a shootout pitting two elite passing attacks early in the year.

Teaser:
10 Must-See Quarterback Matchups of 2014
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/secs-best-college-football-traditions
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SEC Media Days kicks off today in Hoover, Alabama.

 

While it can be quite burdensome to cover and navigate for the novice journalist — and is probably too big for its own good — SEC Media Days has become a tradition in and of itself down South.

 

No real news happens in Hoover. Coaches aren’t ripping apart the Playoff Committee or honestly explaining why they are so vehemently opposed to the nine-game schedule. More than 1,300 credentialed media folks gather to listen to coaches and players say nothing of real importance.

 

But it signifies the start of the college football season. That camps are opening up across the nation. That football is back.

 

Part of what makes the SEC the best league in America is the passion of the fans and the interwoven nature of the community with their favorite team. It’s these traditions that make college football the best sport in the land and the SEC the best conference in the sport.

 

Here are our favorite SEC football traditions every fan needs to add to their bucket list of sports experiences:

 

The 12th Man

Born in January 1922, the phrase and tradition stemmed from one particular game with the nation’s top team at the time, Centre College. Because the team was so battered and injured, head coach Dana Bible had to call for E. King Gill, a basketball player at the time, from the stands to join the team. Texas A&M went on to win 22-14 and although Gill never made it into the game, he was the last and only man standing on the sideline. He answered the call to help his team and no one has ever forgotten about it.

 

The Grove

It just might be the best place on Earth. This beautiful collection of oak, elm and magnolia trees surrounds a 10-acre plot adjacent to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. The party in The Grove has been going on since football began at Ole Miss, but became the Holy Grail of Tailgating by the 1950s. The gorgeous, um, scenery is second to none and the setting is historic. Everyone is undefeated in The Grove.

 

Death Valley, La.

There is no singular way to describe a night home game in Tiger Stadium. The variety and flavor of an LSU tailgate is second to none with a wide-ranging menu from some of the best chefs in college football. And the stadium is arguably the loudest in the nation, especially when the Bayou Bengal fans have had all day to marinate.

 

Toomer’s Corner

May it rest in peace… for now. The Harvey Updyke saga is one of the most bizarre tales of fandom gone wrong in history. At the corner of Magnolia Avenue and College Street in front of 130-year-old Toomer’s Drug store, Auburn fans have rolled the two massive southern live oaks for roughly six decades. While those trees have been poisoned and subsequently cut down, there is hope that the new entryway to campus and new trees will continue one of the SEC’s greatest traditions.

 

Cockaboose Railroad

Since 1990, 22 immovable cabooses have sat dormant on an unused railroad track behind the south end of Williams-Brice Stadium. Each caboose is privately owned and features running water, restrooms, working television, air condition and heat. The set up offers a perfect way to tailgate in style before each Gamecocks home game and provides a cool resting spot afterwards while traffic clears out. Packaged with the "2001: A Space Odyssey" entrance, the pre-game rituals in Columbia are second to none.

 

The Vol Navy

It isn’t nearly as picturesque as Sailgating on Lake Washington, but Tennessee has its own fan flotilla every Saturday. The tradition of floating to the game instead of driving actually began when former broadcaster George Mooney didn’t want to sit in traffic and instead traveled by boat down the Tennessee River to Neyland Stadium.

 

The Cheers:

 

Midnight Yell

Originally an impromptu post-dinner get-together to “learn heartily the old time pep,” Midnight Yell Practice at Texas A&M didn’t officially start until 1931. Today, the tradition is held on Friday nights before home games at Kyle Field and Thursday before road games at The Arches. It is a fairly self-explanatory tradition as fans and cadets gather to practice cheering for the Aggies — and making out some too.

 

Rocky Top

It might be the most recognizable fight song in the nation. Yes, visiting teams and fans get tired of the jingle after the 30th or 40th rendition on any given Saturday but Big Orange Nation never tires of the Felice and Boudleaux Bryant song written back in 1967.

 

Woo Pig Sooie

There isn’t a clear story as to when or how this one came about, but since at least the 1920s, Arkansas fans have been Calling the Hogs. The high-pitched chant echoes throughout the hills of Arkansas over and over and over again every Saturday.

 

Hotty Toddy

Supposedly, the origin of Ole Miss’ famous chant remains unknown only adding to its mystique. Some claim it was taken from Virginia Tech’s “Highty Tighties,” which was an old World War II cheer about, appropriately, an alcoholic beverage.

 

Rammer Jammer

Combine The Rammer-Jammer, the University of Alabama's student newspaper and a Yellowhammer, the state bird, and you get this unique and signature cry, which dates back to the '20s. And generally speaking, it is at its best at the end of the game when Bama just “beat the hell out of you!”

 

Cowbells

Like many of the older SEC traditions, no one is quite sure when or why or how Mississippi State started bringing cowbells to football games. However they got there, the cowbells were so effective that the SEC had to ban artificial noisemakers in 1974 — before reversing course on the decision in 2010.

 

Gator Chomp

Stemming from Mississippi State’s band’s version of "Jaws" in 1981, some Florida band members modified the tune slightly and added the famous vertical chomping motion. It eventually spread across the stadium and is now synonymous with Gators football.

 

The Mascots:

 

War Eagle

Possibly the best pre-game, live mascot ritual in all of college football, Auburn’s Golden Eagle “Nova” performs the War Eagle Flight down through the rabid home crowd and onto its perch. Nova is officially the eighth such bird to grace Jordan-Hare Stadium as War Eagle I is said to have started the timeless tradition in 1892.

 

Smokey the Dog

Dating back to 1953, the Tennessee Vols have played with Smokey the Blue Tick Hound at their side. The Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity cares for him and currently Smokey X, who made his debut last fall, will be standing on the sidelines in Neyland Stadium each Saturday.

 

Mike the Tiger

In 1934 some LSU powers that be decided they wanted a live Bengal tiger on the field in Death Valley. Conveniently placed near the visitors’ entrance to the field, Mike the Tiger has been striking fear into opposing players and coaches for over nearly 80 years. Few mascots embody their school like Mike does.

 

Uga

Nine different English Bulldogs have stood on the Georgia sideline dating back to 1956 with Uga I. However, this pup gets the royal treatment between the hedges, residing in his own air-conditioned dog house. The marble mausoleum near the entrance of the Southwest corner of Sanford Stadium is the resting place for Ugas of yesteryear.

 

Reveille

The “First Lady of Aggieland” is the highest-ranking member of the Corps of Cadets, as she is technically a Five-Star General. She showed up at games in 1931 for the first time and the full-blooded Collie is cared for by Company E-2.

 

The Rivalries:

 

World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party

This rivalry is so great that these two SEC East powers won’t even agree on how many times they have played. Georgia claims 92 meetings while Florida claims 91 (1904 is in dispute) and all but two since 1933 — when the SEC was created — have come in Jacksonville, Fla. When thousands of fans from both teams pour onto St. Simon’s Island East Beach the Friday before the game, the term Outdoor Cocktail Party comes to life.

 

The Iron Bowl

The state of Alabama is the most territorial in the nation when it comes to college football. Just ask Paul Finebaum or Mr. Updyke or Chris Davis. And many times, the in-state season finale carries great importance in the SEC standings. The name stems from Birmingham’s historic role in the steel industry, as up until the mid-'90s the state's biggest game hosted the game.

 

The Egg Bowl

It may not carry the national importance of other famous rivalries but this Magnolia State showdown is as heated as any in the land. Mississippi State and Ole Miss have met 110 times dating back to 1901 and it's the longest continuous rivalry game in the nation.

 

The Third Saturday In October

Each year on the third weekend in October, Alabama and Tennessee get together one more time. These two have met 95 times and Alabama holds the edge 51-37-8.

 

Deep South's Oldest Rivalry

Georgia and Auburn began playing in 1892 and have met 117 times with the series standing nearly deadlocked at 55-54-8 (Auburn).

Teaser:
The SEC's Best College Football Traditions
Post date: Monday, July 14, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/11-big-12-stats-you-need-know-2014
Body:

Here are Athlon Sports' favorite, most important and most interesting Big 12 statistics you need to know about in 2014:

 

3: Players who declared early for the NFL Draft

A record 98 underclassmen declared early for the 2014 NFL Draft — up from the previous high of 73 set in '13. The SEC had 28 early departures and the Pac-12 lost 25 underclassmen to the NFL. The Big 12, however, was last among all Big 5 conferences with just three early departures. The overall trend of diminishing elite talent in the Big 12 is a concern and the recruiting rankings don’t provide any comfort. The entire league signed seven Top 100 recruits in 2014 (247Sports). Alabama signed 13 and Texas A&M almost matched the entire Big 12 on its own with five. To top it all, the Texas Longhorns went without a player taken in the NFL Draft for the first time since 1937.

 

0: Times Baylor has won in Norman

Baylor and Oklahoma have played 24 times total in history and the Bears have only won twice. One of those was a 41-12 beatdown the Bears put on the Sooners last season in Waco. The other was a 48-38 win in Waco in 2011. But to defend their Big 12 championship in 2014, Baylor will have to beat Oklahoma (and Texas) on the road this season. Baylor is 0-11 in Norman all-time against the Sooners. So while the Bears have won two of the last three against Oklahoma (and three out of four against Texas), Baylor will most likely have to do something it has never done before in 2014 if it wants to have a chance of repeating as conference champs.

 

46 and 3: Bryce Petty total TDs and INTs

Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy. Nick Florence set multiple school records. But Bryce Petty took Art Briles' offense to a new level statistically. Petty accounted for 46 total touchdowns a year ago (32 pass, 14 rush) while throwing just three interceptions in 403 pass attempts. Baylor scored 70 points four times and scored at least 59 points seven different times en route to the team’s first-ever Big 12 title. Petty also helped Baylor set a single-game Big 12 record with 872 yards against West Virginia — which would be a record in every other conference in the nation except the Pac-12. Petty is back with a plethora of talented wide receivers and should find himself in New York as a Heisman finalist at season’s end.

 

5: Touchdowns thrown by Trevor Knight in the regular season

Most fans only remember the remarkable Sugar Bowl performance from Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight in which he completed 32-of-44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Alabama. No one really remembers the fact that he threw a grand total of five touchdowns during the entire regular season — three of which came against Louisiana-Monroe in Week 1. He missed five games due to injury and does a lot of damage with his legs, but he also was benched due to inconsistency at times. The Sooners' offense is now his alone in Norman and most believe he has the talent to develop into a superstar, but there could still be plenty of learning curves to navigate for the Oklahoma signal-caller.

 

11-4: Texas' record the last two years with David Ash starting at quarterback

Over the last two years, David Ash has been the starter in 15 games for the Longhorns. He missed 10 games a year ago and the Kansas State game in 2012. In those 15 games, the Longhorns went 11-4 and averaged 6.4 yards per play on offense. In the other 11 games, Texas went 6-5 and averaged just 4.9 yards per play. For perspective, 6.4 yards per play would have averaged 22nd in the nation last fall while 4.9 would have tied Akron for 108th nationally. Needless to say, Texas needs Ash to stay healthy for Charlie Strong to build a winner.

 

23-3: Charlie Strong’s record in 2012-13

Texas has been ranked in the final AP poll just once since 2009 (19th in 2012) and the fall off from the BCS national title game in ’09 led to the hiring of Charlie Strong. The no-nonsense defensive guru brings with him a sterling resume of success at Louisville. The Cardinals won 23 games over the last two years, including two top 15 finishes and a BCS bowl thumping of Florida two years ago. Strong won at least 11 games in each of the last two years, something Texas hasn’t done since 2009.

 

8.5: Average margin of defeat for TCU

The Horned Frogs suffered their first losing season since 2004 and lost as many games in Big 12 play last year (7) as it had during its entire seven-year tenure as a member of the Mountain West Conference. A big reason, however, why Athlon Sports likes TCU to bounce back in 2014 was how those losses took place. TCU lost eight games in 2014 by an average of just 8.5 points per game. Included in the Frogs' seven losses were just two by more than 10 points and four by a field goal or fewer points. With eight starters returning to a defense that ranked sixth in the nation in average yards allowed on first down (4.4), Gary Patterson should expect to be back in the postseason this fall.

 

32: Oklahoma State departing lettermen

Mike Gundy has his work cut out for him this fall and part of the reason the Pokes aren’t really considered in the mix for a Big 12 championship is roster turnover. Oklahoma State loses 32 of 70 players who earned a letter last year. That 54.3 percent rate of returning letterman is ranked dead last in the nation (128th), making the Cowboys the least experienced team in the entire country. Basically, it’s the worst possible time to face the defending national champions in the first week of the season.

 

48.6: Points allowed per game by Texas Tech in its last five games

Kliff Kingsbury began his career as the Red Raiders head coach with seven consecutive wins. But his team lost five straight games and allowed nearly 50 points per game along the way. Coach Skinny Jeans had a lot of work to do on his defense in his first full offseason in Lubbock after allowing 48.6 points per game over the final five games of regular season a year ago. The schedule isn’t that much different this time around either, as Tech will face the top three teams in the preseason rankings (Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas) in the final month of the season.

 

7.8: West Virginia's average yards to go on third down

Staying ahead of the chains is a big deal in football. In fact, there are entirely new statistical measures of offensive efficiency dedicated to defining a “successful offensive play.” Basically, gaining at least 50 percent of necessary yards on first down, 70 percent on second down and 100 percent on third or fourth down would be considered successful. West Virginia, a team that averaged nearly 40 points per game just two seasons ago, was behind the chains constantly a year ago. The Mountaineers ranked 115th nationally by averaging 7.8 yards to go on third down a year ago and it led to West Virginia scoring just 26.3 points per game (79th).

 

4.29: Kansas' yards per play

Kansas averaged just 4.29 yards per play last year on 825 offensive snaps. That number ranked 122nd nationally and dead last among all Big 5 teams — worse than Florida, UConn, Purdue, Virginia and Wake Forest. The Jayhawks were also one of just eight teams in the nation to average less than 300 yards of total offense per game (294.7 ypg) and finished last in the Big 12 and 119th in the nation at finishing drives. Kansas scored just 3.27 points per trip inside the opponent's 40-yard line. Basically, the KU offense was completely inept, something that should be totally unacceptable for a head coach who has made a serious living as an offensive guru.

Teaser:
11 Big 12 Stats You Need to Know for 2014
Post date: Friday, July 11, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/michigan-football-2014-schedule-analysis
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Brady Hoke is entering a critical fourth season in Ann Arbor.

 

His offense, particularly on the ground, has taken progressive steps backwards in all three seasons and it led to the firing of longtime Hoke assistant Al Borges. Michigan didn’t waste any time hiring former Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier in the same afternoon.

 

The hope is that the changes will reinvigorate the running game and stabilize inconsistent passer Devin Gardner.

 

With tricky non-conference games and a move into a much tougher division, the Wolverines' schedule in 2014 is anything but easy. That doesn’t mean, however, that the Maize and Blue can’t make a run at a division crown should things break their way this fall.

 

2014 Michigan Schedule Analysis

 
2014 Michigan Schedule
DateOpp.
Aug. 30Appalachian St
Sept. 6at 
Sept. 13
Sept. 20
Sept. 27
Oct. 4at 
Oct. 11
Oct. 18Bye
Oct. 25at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 8at 
Nov. 15Bye
Nov. 22
Nov. 29at 
Archrival no more

Although there will be some serious revenge on the minds of Michigan faithful when Utah and Appalachian State come to town in September (SEE: 2007-08), the biggest non-conference game of the year is by far the trip to South Bend. The Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry is ending after this meeting for the foreseeable future and both coaches have taken to the court of public opinion to make their sentiments heard. There will be no love lost between these two and a Michigan win over a ranked Irish team on the road could jumpstart a big year. Conversely, an ugly defeat gives Notre Dame bragging rights and creates concern about the trajectory of the season in just the second weekend of action.

 

Late October

Minnesota at home to open Big Ten play isn’t all that scary, while a road trip to Rutgers for the first-ever meeting between the Knights and Wolverines should be a cinch. But a late-October, two-game home-and-home with Penn State and Michigan State will be enormous. Michigan lost both last year by allowing an embarrassing 72 total points to the Nittany Lions and Spartans. Michigan will either be leading the Big Ten East Division or will be completely out of the race by the end of October. The good news is Hoke and company will get two weeks to prepare for the road trip to East Lansing.

 

Don’t look ahead

The final stretch of play in November isn’t all that scary for Michigan. Home games with Indiana and Maryland are games the Wolverines need to win and a road trip to Northwestern, while very tricky, should also be a winnable game. The key for Hoke and his staff is to keep his team focused on the game at hand during November and make sure his squad doesn’t look ahead to the Ohio State battle. The loss at home on a failed two-point conversion was one of the great moments of a crazy ’13 season but another loss to “Ohio” this fall would make 10 defeats in 11 tries. And that simply isn’t going to cut it for Michigan fans.
 

Related: 2014 Michigan Wolverines Team Preview

 

Final Verdict

Hoke has a lot of quality pieces to work with this fall and has a new name leading his offense. The schedule isn’t easy — either within the league or out — but is broken up into manageable segments. Notre Dame early, a two-game stretch late in October and a road trip to Ohio State are the four games fans are likely circling. Pull an upset in that group and take care of business against teams like Minnesota, Indiana and Northwestern and Michigan could find itself right in the thick of the Big Ten title race at season’s end. 

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Michigan Football 2014 Schedule Analysis
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Nick Saban and Alabama are once again picked to win the SEC. They have the best coach, the best roster and, among most contenders, the best schedule.

 

Every SEC schedule is perilous and extremely difficult relative to the rest of the nation. But Alabama’s schedule — as one of the weaker slates in the conference — isn’t that much more difficult than those of other leagues. Like the Pac-12, for example.

 

Alabama’s 2014 run for a national title is fraught with intrigue, upset alerts and four preseason Top 25 teams. But it is very manageable for a team of this caliber.
 

2014 Alabama Schedule Analysis

 

2014 Bama Schedule

WkDateOpp.
1.Aug. 30 (Atlanta)
2.Sept. 6
3.Sept. 13at 
4.Sept. 20
5.Sept. 27Bye
6.Oct. 4at 
7.Oct. 11at 
8.Oct. 18
9.Oct. 25at 
10.Nov. 1Bye
11.Nov. 8at 
12.Nov. 15
13.Nov. 22W. Carolina
14.Nov. 29
Roll Tide, Roll

The trio of West Virginia, FAU and Southern Miss is as easy a three-game start to the season Nick Saban has had since arriving in Tuscaloosa. The Mountaineers were supposed to be better when the game was scheduled and that could eventually hurt Alabama when it comes to the playoff committee. Either way, Bama should crush its way to a 3-0 start when Florida comes to town in Week 4.

 

Crossover breaks again

Alabama beat Tennessee and Kentucky in crossover play last year. Those two teams combined for 17 losses in 2013 and this year’s tandem for Tennessee and Florida didn't fare much better with 15 combined defeats last season. Florida comes to Tuscaloosa in Week 4 fresh off the worst campaign in school history, but still features plenty of talent. In late October, Bama and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will return to Knoxville. So while both Tennessee and Florida figure to be improved from last year and both games are loaded with storylines, it’s hard to see anything but two big wins for the Tide in SEC crossover play.

 

On the road in October

Critical games with Ole Miss and LSU will happen over a month-long span from Oct. 4 to Nov. 8. Mixed in are two more road trips to Arkansas and the aforementioned Tennessee, as well as a home game with Texas A&M. The bookends are the games to focus on here, as both Ole Miss and LSU are ranked in the preseason Top 20 and both are eyeing SEC West contention. Bama hasn’t lost to Ole Miss since 2003 and has an impressive record against LSU in the state of Louisiana. Alabama has won three out of four against LSU in games played in the state and is 10-4 in its last 14 games versus LSU in The Pelican State.

 

The Final Stretch

The final stretch includes two extremely winnable home games with Western Carolina and Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have only won once in Tuscaloosa since 1997 and that win resulted in a coach getting fired and the arrival of Saban. These two games set up what could be a rematch of epic proportions. Before last year never had the Iron Bowl meant as much as it did, but the SEC West could again be hanging in the balance should things go as planned for both Yellowhammer schools. There won’t be another atmosphere in the country like the afternoon a potential top-five Tigers team rolls into town in the season finale with another SEC title on the line.

 

Related: 2014 Alabama Crimson Tide Team Preview

 

Final Verdict

In all, Alabama is scheduled to play four preseason Top 25 teams and is a heavy favorite in all but one game (the Iron Bowl). The non-conference schedule is as weak as Saban has had at Bama and while crossover play is more intriguing with Florida involved, the Crimson Tide are still significant steps ahead of both the Gators and Vols. Handling their business on the road with four games in five away from Tuscaloosa in October will be critical but none of the bouts appear to be overly taxing. No, it is likely that Bama again will face Auburn with a perfect record and a berth in the SEC title game at stake at the end of the year.

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Alabama Football 2014 Schedule Analysis
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Here are Athlon Sports' favorite, most important and most interesting Pac-12 statistics you need to know about in 2014: 

 

7: Top returning passers in the Pac-12

Oregon State’s Sean Mannion led the Pac-12 and was second nationally with 4,662 passing yards.  Washington State’s Connor Halliday led the nation with 714 pass attempts. Both Marcus Mariota and Taylor Kelly posted in excess of 4,000 total yards of offense last year and both have returned. Potential Heisman candidate Brett Hundley and his 35 total touchdowns return to the league as well. In all, the Pac-12 returns its top seven passers from a year ago, including six who threw for at least 3,000 yards. This group doesn’t include USC’s Cody Kessler, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan or Colorado’s Sefo Liufau. It’s pretty clear which league has the best quarterback play in college football.

 

63-10: Marcus Mariota’s career TD-INT ratio

The Ducks' starting quarterback is the front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014. Many will tell you that’s a bad thing, as a true Las Vegas front-runner hasn’t won the award since… Ricky Williams? But the laid-back, Hawaiian dual-threat is one of the best players in the nation and has his team eyeing a return to the national championship discussion. In two full seasons as the starter, Mariota has tossed 63 touchdowns, just 10 interceptions, completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 6,342 yards and rushed 202 times for 1,467 yards and 14 more touchdowns. He also set the Pac-12 record for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception (353) last year and is 23-3 as a starter. There is a reason he’s the Heisman front-runner and could become one of the few to go wire-to-wire chasing the stiff-armed trophy.

 

1997-98: Last time UCLA won at least 10 games in back-to-back seasons

Jim Mora and the Bruins are trying to do something this year that hasn’t been done at UCLA since 1997-98. That was the last time UCLA won at least 10 games in back-to-back seasons. In fact, UCLA has won 10 or more games in back-to-back seasons only twice in school history with the only other occasion coming in 1987-88. UCLA has never won 10 or more games in three straight seasons, further underlining their status as underachieving little brother. USC won at least 10 games in seven straight seasons (2002-08) and even won 10 games in two heavily sanctioned years since (2011, '13). But that could all change this fall. After going 10-3 and finishing second in the Pac-12 South a year ago, Mora and returning star signal-caller Brett Hundley are poised to reclaim the division title and make a run at a playoff berth.

 

4.84: Washington’s average points per trip inside the 40

Finishing drives is one metric Athlon Sports uses to evaluate teams. How many points does a team score per trip inside the opposition’s 40-yard line? Washington was excellent a year ago at finishing drives, scoring an average of 4.84 points per trip inside the 40. That was good for second in the Pac-12 to only Oregon (4.98) and ranked the Huskies 18th nationally. For new coach Chris Petersen, who won 92 games in just eight years at Boise State, repeating this level of efficiency without Bishop Sankey running the ball will be a tall order. Especially, while breaking in a new quarterback. Interestingly enough, Oregon also led the league in points per trip inside the 40 on defense (3.69).

 

46: Stanford wins over the last four years

Only the Oregon Ducks (47) have more wins among Big 5 schools over the last four years than Stanford (46). The Cardinal have won at least 11 games in four straight seasons but are replacing star power on both the defense and the offensive line. That said, the reason Athlon Sports is picking Oregon to win the Pac-12 North has nothing to do with depth chart replacements but rather what could be the toughest schedule in college football. Stanford will play six preseason Top 25 teams, including five of the top 16. What's worse? Five of those six showdowns will come on the road. If fans are looking for a reason for Stanford to take a slight step back this fall, look no further than the schedule.

 

444.8 and 35.1: USC's yards and points per game under Coach Sark

Steve Sarkisian knows his way around Heritage Hall. He was the QB Coach from 2001-03 and from 2005-06 under Pete Carroll. He then took over as the offensive coordinator from 2007-08. During those two years — his last two at USC — his offenses averaged 444.8 yards per game and 35.1 points per game while going 23-3 overall and winning back-to-back conference championships. Last year, USC was 74th in total offense (399.1) and 60th in scoring offense (29.7). Sarkisian's offense failed to score 20 points just three times during his last two years as an assistant coach at USC. Last year, the Trojans failed to score 20 points five times, losing three of those contests.

 

6: Departing All-Pac-12 starters on Arizona State’s defense

Todd Graham has had one of the best defenses in the Pac-12 in each of his two seasons in Tempe. However, after losing nine total defensive starters in the offseason, including six who were either first- or second-team All-Pac-12 selections, his defense has major holes to plug in 2014. Ten of the team’s top 12 tacklers are gone as are the top five sack artists on the team. Veteran free safety Damarious Randall is the only returning upperclass starter for a team that will face one of the best offensive schedules in the nation.

 

246.3: Arizona yards rushing per game under RichRod

Rich Rodriguez totally transformed Arizona’s identity overnight. The year before he showed up on campus, Mike Stoops' "Air Raid" averaged 94.5 yards rushing per game. In two years since taking over, RichRod’s teams have finished 15th (227.8 ypg) and 11th nationally (264.4 ypg) in rushing. In 26 games as the Wildcats' head coach, Arizona has averaged nearly 250 yards rushing per game. The last time Arizona averaged over 200 yards rushing per game in a season was 1999 when it posted 218.8 yards per game. RichRod hasn’t posted a winning Pac-12 record yet (4-5 both years) but is a perfect 8-0 in non-conference play including two bowl wins. The ‘Cats should continue to pound the rock again in 2014 and it could make Arizona the sleeper team to watch in the Pac-12 South Division.

 

9: Times the Cougars rushed for less than 10 yards under Mike Leach

In 2012, Washington State rushed for negative yards four times and failed to reach 10 yards rushing five times. In 2013, Wazzu improved and was held to negative yards rushing just once (Colorado State) and failed to reach 10 yards rushing four times. So in nine of the 25 games Mike Leach has coached in Pullman, the Cougars failed to reach 10 yards rushing as a team. For the record, WSU rushed for seven yards against USC, two yards against both Oregon and Arizona State and minus-10 against the Rams. While a Leach-run offense will never be centered around the running game, some semblance of balance is needed to compete for division titles.  The good news is the last-ranked rushing offense from last year (53.4 ypg) was actually markedly better than the last place showing the year before (29.1).

 

13-41: Combined Pac-12 record for Utah and Colorado

Stepping up in competition has been hard for all teams across the nation but has been especially difficult on the Pac-12 newcomers. As Larry Scott has his league poised to challenge the SEC for national supremacy this fall, Utah and Colorado are still trying to find their footing. The duo has combined for go 13-41 in three seasons since joining the league. Utah went 21-3 in Mountain West play the three years prior to entering the Pac-12 and has been 9-18 since. The Buffaloes are 4-23 in Pac-12 play. These are two historic programs that have won a national championship and two BCS bowls in the last 25 years, so 41 losses in three years is unacceptable.

 

529.6: Cal’s total yards allowed per game

Sonny Dykes is a well-respected coach but probably didn’t realize what he was getting himself into when he took the Cal job. In his first year, his defense was historically bad. Cal allowed a Pac-12-worst 529.6 yards per game, ranking 124th nationally — out of 125 teams. The Bears had the worst defense of any of the Big 5 conferences and was better than only New Mexico State’s 549.5 yards per game allowed. Cal’s 45.9 points allowed per game were also dead last in the Pac-12 and among all Big 5 teams, finishing 124th nationally (ahead of only Idaho - 46.8). New defensive coordinator Art Kauffman has orchestrated quick turnarounds at both Texas Tech and Cincinnati over the last few seasons but he has his work cut out for him in Berkeley this fall.

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11 Pac-12 Stats You Need to Know for 2014
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A new era of Texas football is set to begin in a few weeks.

 

Charlie Strong steps into the most powerful athletic department in the nation with immediate pressure to win games. His roster is loaded with elite recruits but there are some serious questions marks under center and along the offensive line.

 

Most believe the coaching staff Strong has assembled is perfectly constructed to manage the Horns' areas of weakness (i.e., the O-line). But this team won’t compete for a national playoff spot unless it can maneuver a very difficult schedule.

 

2014 Texas Schedule Analysis

 

2014 Texas Schedule

WkDateOpp.
1.Aug. 30
2.Sept. 6
3.Sept. 13 (Arlington)
4.Sept. 20Bye
5.Sept. 27at 
6.Oct. 4
7.Oct. 11(Dallas)
8.Oct. 18
9.Oct. 25at 
10.Nov. 1at 
11.Nov. 8
12.Nov. 15at 
13.Nov. 22Bye
14.Nov. 27
Non-conference showdowns

The start of the Strong Era in Austin won’t be an easy one. Certainly, an easy win over North Texas should be expected in the season opener. However, the next two games will be dripping with national intrigue. No one in Burnt Orange has forgotten what Taysom Hill and BYU did to the Texas rushing defense last year and now BYU comes to Austin. The following week, a national playoff spot could be up for grabs when a likely top 10-ranked UCLA squad comes to The Lone Star State to play the Horns in Arlington. Both games are winnable for Strong and it would make a huge statement should Texas start the year 3-0.

 

Two most important games

After Texas opens Big 12 play on the road against lowly Kansas, the two most important games of the year will take place in back-to-back weeks. Baylor comes to town in Week 6 while Texas will have to head back to The Cotton Bowl for the Red River Showdown the following week. These two teams are picked No. 1 and 2 in the Big 12, and if Texas wants to compete in the league, the Longhorns will have to — at minimum — split with the Bears and Sooners. The good news is neither matchup will come as a true road game. Texas also will essentially have three weeks to prepare with an off weekend falling before the Kansas game.

 

Tricky true road tests

After facing Baylor and Oklahoma in back-to-back weeks, Texas will get a slight breather with Iowa State coming to town in Week 8. However, the Horns will need to get healthy quickly as the two toughest true road games loom when the calendar flips to November. Texas will visit Kansas State and Texas Tech and could be playing for a Big 12 title (or possibly more).

 

Home stretch

The home stretch is fairly manageable for Strong and company. West Virginia at home should be an easy win and TCU, who is expected to be a much improved team, should be another win in the season finale — especially, with an off weekend before to prepare. A road trip to Stillwater looks a lot tougher late in the year than early, as Mike Gundy’s very inexperienced team should improve throughout the season. Either way, with two home games and a bye week in the final four weeks, Texas could cruise home to a Big 12 title if it can win the tough early games.

 

Related: 2014 Texas Longhorns Team Preview

 

Final Verdict

The bad news is Texas is breaking in a brand-new coach and could face three top 10 opponents as well as five other potential bowl teams. The good news is Texas won’t face any of the top 10 opponents (Baylor, Oklahoma, UCLA) in a true road game. And a loss to UCLA doesn’t do anything to the Big 12 race. A split early with Baylor and Oklahoma would set up massive road trips to Manhattan, Lubbock and Stillwater late in the year. Should Texas get on a roll early, the front-loaded schedule could be a blessing for Strong in his first season.

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Texas Football 2014 Schedule Analysis
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It’s been since 1997 that the Tar Heels did two things. It was the last time North Carolina finished a season ranked in the AP poll and it was the last time it posted an ACC record with fewer than three losses.

 

Larry Fedora has thoughts of ending both of those droughts in 2014.

 

Fedora has recruited well enough to be considered one of the contenders in a very deep, balanced and impossible to predict ACC Coastal Division. There are holes to plug on both sides of the ball and the team needs to get more consistent across the board.

 

This means week-in, week-out consistent production against one of the more difficult ACC schedules. 
 

2014 North Carolina Schedule Analysis

 

2014 UNC Schedule

WkDateOpp.
1.Aug. 30Liberty
2.Sept. 6
3.Sept. 13Bye
4.Sept. 20at 
5.Sept. 27at 
6.Oct. 4
7.Oct. 11at 
8.Oct. 18
9.Oct. 25at 
10.Nov. 1at 
11.Nov. 8Bye
12.Nov. 15
13.Nov. 20at 
14.Nov. 29
Easier start?

The Tar Heels started the season 1-5 last year with an ugly loss to South Carolina in the season opener. North Carolina should begin this fall in much better fashion. Wins in the first two games are musts and a victory over giant-killer and in-state rival East Carolina on the road could easily give UNC a 3-0 start — especially, with two weeks to prepare for the Pirates. From there, however, things toughen up considerably.


Late September grind

The toughest stretch of the schedule appears to be from Week 5 through Week 8. North Carolina will play its toughest non-conference game against Notre Dame on the road, the best ACC team it will play in Clemson on the road and possibly the two most important divisional games of the year against both Tech schools at home. Virginia Tech, picked to win the Coastal, has to come to Chapel Hill but the Tar Heels must face the Hokies smack dab between arguably the toughest two teams on the schedule in Clemson and Notre Dame. North Carolina could crumble during this stretch (like, say, 1-3) or could set itself up for an ACC title run (with a 3-1 mark).

 

Coastal Round-Robin

The Coastal Division is always wide open and the Tar Heels get a couple of breaks in the round-robin with Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Pitt all coming at home. Having to visit Miami and Duke won’t be easy but if UNC can hold serve at home, it has a good shot at being in the thick of division contention all the way to the end of the season. The road trip to Miami on Nov. 1 could become a de facto division title game should The U take steps forward on defense.

 

Difficult stretch run

The final three games of the year won’t be easy for Fedora’s guys. Pitt is much improved and won’t be an easy out at home in Week 12. Then the year ends with back-to-back rivalry games within the state against the defending Coastal champs — who figure to be much better at season’s end — and an improving NC State team. The important divisional games may already be behind the Heels at this point of the year, but these final three weeks will be very tricky and important. The good news is North Carolina gets a bye week to catch its breath in Week 11 after not getting a break from Week 4 through Week 10.

 

Related: 2014 North Carolina Tar Heels Team Preview

 

Final Verdict

There is a lot to like about the Tar Heels entering 2014. There is talent to work with and Fedora should have his system well in place entering his third season. The schedule breaks up into three distinct pieces with an easy first three games, a brutal middle stretch and a manageable but tricky final swing. Should Carolina make it to the bye week with only one or two ACC losses, it will have as good a chance as any team to win the Coastal Division. A three-loss team could easily win the division if the three losses come against the right opponents.

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North Carolina Football 2014 Schedule Analysis
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Here are Athlon Sports' favorite, most important and most interesting SEC statistics you need to know about in 2014: 


39-3: Nick Saban at home since 2008

Since his first year in Tuscaloosa, Nick Saban is 39-3 at home in Bryant-Denny Stadium. During that stretch, Alabama has never lost more than once at home during a season, posted three perfect records and is currently on a 10-game home winning streak. That said, Alabama was beaten at home by Texas A&M (2012), LSU (2011) and Auburn (2010) in marquee national showdowns. Saban and the Crimson Tide will host Auburn, Texas A&M, Florida and Mississippi State in 2014. For what it’s worth, Saban has an SEC-best nine-game winning streak in crossover play as well.

 

69.7: Alabama’s opposing completion percentage in losses

Alabama under Saban is 72-9 overall in the last six seasons, finishing ranked in the top 10 in each season. The common thread, however, among those nine losses has been the Tide’s inability to stop the pass. In nine losses over the last six years, Alabama allowed 69.7 percent passing with 12.2 yards per completion. In 72 wins, Alabama allowed just 49.8 percent passing. In the last three losses, the opposing QB has been incredibly effective. Trevor Knight completed 72.7 percent of his passes in the Sugar Bowl, Nick Marshall was good on 68.8 percent of his throws in the Iron Bowl and Johnny Manziel chucked it around at a 77.4 percent clip in the historic upset in 2012. Alabama returns one starter in the secondary this fall.

 

85.3%: South Carolina’s returning letterman

The Gamecocks suffered some marquee departures on both offense (Connor Shaw) and defense (Jadeveon Clowney) but, by one metric, Steve Spurrier’s bunch is the most experienced team in the nation. South Carolina lost just 10 out of 68 players who earned a letter last year, giving Spurrier 85.3 percent of his roster back intact. Are there holes to plug along the defensive line or at cornerback? Of course, but the Cocks return their entire offensive line, a star tailback and a deep linebacking corps. By comparison, Georgia ranks as the 73rd most experienced team in the nation (68.9 percent returning) while Florida is 57th (70.0) and Missouri is 111th (61.9).

 

466.6: Yards per game allowed in SEC play by Auburn

Folks down on The Plains don’t like the word luck when it comes to their improbable run to the SEC title last year. But the ball definitely bounced the Tigers' way last fall as Auburn went 6-1 in games decided by one score or less — with the lone defeat coming in the national title game. While Gus Malzahn’s offense was an utter juggernaut a year ago (and could actually be better this fall), this defense, statistically, had no business playing in the BCS national title game. The Tigers allowed 466.6 yards per game in SEC play in 2013, just ahead of winless Arkansas (475.3) and historically bad Texas A&M (499.1). This team allowed 32.4 points per game against Big 5 teams with a winning record, including 35.5 points per game in its final four contests. By comparison, only 10 times in the previous five seasons did an SEC team allow more than 400 yards per game in league play. One really good sign for Auburn? The Tigers led the SEC in third-down defense a year ago (33.0 percent).

 

27: Total TDs scored by Florida in 2013

Florida was 113th in scoring offense last year at just 18.8 points per game. The Gators managed an SEC-worst 27 total touchdowns scored. Among all Big 5 schools, only Kansas (22) and Purdue (23) reached the end zone fewer times than the traditional SEC East powerhouse. Will Muschamp’s offense was also 113th nationally in total touchdowns scored and both Navy’s Keenan Reynolds and Colorado State’s Kapri Bibbs scored more touchdowns individually (31) than the entire Florida roster. Additionally, the Gators' managed just 3.5 points per trip inside the 40-yard line, ranking 112th nationally. Muschamp better hope Kurt Roper is the answer on offense.

 

4.6: Losses per year for Georgia over the last five years

Despite two SEC East championships in the last three years, Mark Richt is still losing nearly five games per season in Athens. Three times in the last five years (2009, ’10, ’13) the Dawgs lost at least five times for an average of 4.6 losses per year over the last half-decade. Georgia is once again poised to make a run at Atlanta this fall but it’s hard to pick Richt to accomplish something he hasn’t done since 2002 — which is lose just once in a season. In fact, since the 13-1 SEC title run of 2002, Georgia has lost an average of 3.6 games per season. No one questions his resume — eight double-digit win seasons, only one losing campaign — but the Bulldogs have only finished the season ranked twice in five years. The fans in Athens haven’t had many lows but also haven’t had an SEC title since 2005.

 

22,681: Maty Mauk's high school record for career national total offense

Nick Marshall is, rightly so, the SEC’s preseason first-team quarterback. But Missouri’s new official starter could be the best passer in the league by season’s end. Mauk enters the starting lineup with as impressive a prep resume as there has ever been. He owns the national high school records for career total offense (22,681), passing yards (18,932), touchdown passes (219) and completions (1,353). Missouri was 7-1 in games in which Mauk attempted a pass last year and his brief taste of SEC action should be enough to motivate the very confident young gunslinger. The loss of some talented wide receivers is a concern but the offensive line and scheme stability are among the league’s best. Fans shouldn’t be surprised if Mauk is neck-and-neck with Marshall for the SEC’s total offense lead at season’s end.

 

3,701: Bo Wallace's total offense yardage in 2013

Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Connor Shaw, James Franklin and Zach Mettenberger have all departed the SEC leaving a massive void under center in the nation’s top league. Marshall is the first-team option but it’s actually Ole Miss’ Wallace who is the league’s returning leader in total offense. His 3,701 yards of total offense were No. 2 last year to only Manziel and were well ahead of third place (Murray: 3,261). His 284.7 yards per game were No. 3 in the league and Wallace should be poised for his best season to date in Oxford now that he is fully healthy.

 

33.3: Average starting position for Vanderbilt

The Commodores average starting field position was the 33.3-yard line — good for seventh nationally and tops in the SEC. The Dores' defense was excellent at getting third-down stops and creating turnovers, giving the offense the best starting position of any team in the SEC. However, Vanderbilt’s offense didn’t capitalize on its good fortune. The offense averaged just 5.4 yards per play, ranking 80th in the nation in offensive efficiency. Derek Mason’s defense should be equally as effective and opportunistic as the previous regime, but he and coordinator Karl Dorrell will need to improve their offense’s efficiency if Vandy wants to reach a fourth straight bowl game.

 

15.8%: LSU's returning receiving yards

As a team, LSU caught 205 passes for 3,263 yards and 23 touchdowns last fall. Of those numbers, only 35 receptions (17.1%) and 515 yards (15.8%) return to the team. No returning player caught more than seven passes or posted more than 145 yards receiving last season. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. combined for 136 receptions, 2,345 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2013, becoming just the third duo in SEC history to top 1,000 yards in the same season (Florida, 1995 and 2001). Both left early for the NFL along with the team’s third-leading receiver, tailback Jeremy Hill (18 receptions). These departures leave sophomore wide receiver Travin Dural (7 rec., 145 yds) and senior fullback Connor Neighbors (7 rec., 92 yds) as the team’s leading returning receivers. Needless to say, this isn’t a good year for Les Miles to be breaking in a true freshman quarterback.

 

1977: Last time Kentucky had a winning SEC record

Mark Stoops has the Kentucky program headed in the right direction, both on and off the field. But he is battling history in the worst way, as Kentucky hasn’t posted a winning SEC record in nearly 30 years. Four times (1993, 1998-99, 2006) the Wildcats finished 4-4 and twice (1979, ’84) they went 3-3, but Big Blue Nation hasn’t had a winning SEC season since the perfect 1977 campaign (10-1, 6-0). Despite the obvious momentum in Lexington, odds are this streak will continue in 2014.

Teaser:
11 SEC Stats You Need to Know for 2014
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Here are Athlon Sports' favorite, most important and most interesting ACC statistics you need to know about in 2014:

 

0-0: ACC teams in BCS title game not named Florida State

Much like Ohio State and the Big Ten, the ACC sent only one team to the top of the college football mountain. Florida State is the only ACC team that played in the BCS National Championship Game during the 16-year BCS Era. The Noles played in the first three games (1998-2000), losing two and winning the 1999 title. The league went without a team securing a berth in the title game until those very same Seminoles bookended the era with an ACC championship last year. Much like the Big Ten, the ACC needs other programs to develop into national contenders around Florida State in order to keep up with the best leagues in the nation (ahem, the SEC). As a whole, the ACC went 5-13 in BCS bowls with two of those wins coming last year.

 

41-9: Bobby Petrino at Louisville

As a college head coach, there can be no doubting Bobby Petrino’s ability to win games on the field. In four full seasons as the Cardinals' head coach from 2003-06, Petrino won 41 games, including two seasons with at least 11 wins and the school's first BCS bowl berth and victory (Charlie Strong beat Florida in the Sugar Bowl two years ago in the only other BCS appearance by Louisville). The two highest finishes for the Cards in school history are No. 6 in the final AP poll in 2004 and '06. His off-the-field decisions and abrasive personality aside, the bottom line is Petrino wins games and he is likely to make Louisville the best new addition to the league in very short order.

 

42.3: Avg. margin of victory for Florida State

In 13 regular season games, the Florida State Seminoles not only defeated, but obliterated their opponents by an average score of 42.3 points. Jimbo Fisher's squad outscored its 13 regular season opponents 689-139 for an average margin of victory of more than six touchdowns per game. Again, that's more than six touchdowns per game. Even with the tightly-played, three-point win over Auburn in the BCS national title game, Florida State still crushed all 14 opponents last year by an average of 39.5 points per game.

 

73.4: Yards/game Duke was outgained in ACC play

Despite posting the best season in school history, winning the Coastal Division and finishing 6-2 in the regular season, the Duke Blue Devils were still statistically much worse than their opponents. In nine ACC games, Duke produced just 377.7 yards per game of offense while allowing 451.0 yards per game on defense. This means the Blue Devils were outgained by a per game average of 73.4 yards. It’s hard to repeat when the opposition is dramatically out-producing the offense on a regular basis in a league with so much balance.

 

19: Georgia Tech seasons without a losing ACC record

The Yellow Jackets went 1-10 overall and 0-8 in ACC play in 1994 under Bill Lewis. It was his last year in Atlanta and it marked the last time Georgia Tech posted a losing record in ACC play. Since then George O’Leary (7 years), Chan Gailey (6) and Paul Johnson (6) have each kept Tech from a losing ACC record. Johnson has been to a bowl game in all six of his season in charge of the Ramblin’ Wreck.

 

96.8: Yards rushing per game after Duke Johnson got hurt

Miami averaged 214.7 yards rushing per game through the first seven games of last season. The Canes were 7-0 and had scored 19 rushing touchdowns behind the elite play of star tailback Duke Johnson. When Johnson got hurt in the blowout loss to Florida State, the Canes rushing attack went into the tank. Over the last six games of the year, Miami rushed for just 96.8 yards per game, scored six total rushing touchdowns and lost four times. On a team with major quarterback issues, a healthy Johnson is a must if Miami is going to contend in the wide open Coastal Division.

 

5: Miami losses/year since joining the ACC

Speaking of the Hurricanes moving from the Big East to the ACC, here are some staggering numbers to consider about The U. Miami went 46-4 in the four years prior to joining the ACC and 96-25 in the 10 years prior to landing in their new home. In the 10 years since joining the ACC, Miami is 75-50 and has lost an average of five games per season. By comparison, Miami lost five games in a season just once (1997) between 1985 and 2003. The Canes have yet to post a 10-win season since joining the league after posting seven such seasons in 13 years as a member of the Big East.

 

8.3: Yards to go on third down by Virginia Tech opponents

No one in the nation got their opponents into tougher third down situations than the Hokies last fall. Virginia Tech’s opponents faced an average of 8.3 yards to go on third down in 2013, the highest average in the nation. The defense in Blacksburg should once again be dominant so something must be done about an offense that ranked 102nd in the nation a year ago at only 356.0 yards per game if Tech wants to win the Coastal.

 

17.2%: Clemson’s total returning offense

Clemson’s offense produced 6,611 total yards a year ago, ranking ninth in the nation at 508.5 yards per game. With a departing quarterback, running back and two star wide receivers, the Tigers lose 82.8 percent of their total offensive production from 2013. Cole Stoudt (471 yards of total offense), Zac Brooks (246), D.J. Howard (213) and C.J. Davidson (155) are the only four returning players on the team with more than 100 yards of total offense to their name a year ago. Everyone believes that Chad Morris will have the Clemson offense humming again in ’14 at some point, but losing 5,471 yards of total offense off any roster is tough to overcome. 

 

1997: Last time North Carolina lost fewer than 3 ACC games

In Mack Brown’s final season in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels won 11 games, went 7-1 in the ACC and finished sixth in the AP poll — the second-highest finish in school history to only the 1948 North Carolina squad that finished third. Since then, North Carolina has finished above .500 in the ACC only four times (1998, 2001, '04, '12) and has yet to post fewer than three losses in any season. Larry Fedora is the fifth coach to lead the Tar Heels program since Brown left for Texas and he is looking to end a season in Chapel Hill ranked for the first time since ’97. 

 

27: Total TDs scored by Virginia in 2013

Virginia was 110th in scoring offense last year at just 19.8 points per game but managed an ACC-low 27 total touchdowns scored. Among all Big 5 schools, only Kansas (22) and Purdue (23) reached the end zone fewer times than Virginia. The Cavaliers were 113th nationally in total touchdowns scored and both Navy’s Keenan Reynolds and Colorado State’s Kapri Bibbs scored more touchdowns individually (31) than the Wahoos did as an entire football team. Mike London could use an offensive spark in 2014.

Teaser:
11 ACC Stats You Need to Know for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/top-stadiums-college-football-experts-poll
Body:

It’s a cliché for a reason and it’s survived more than 2,000 years for a reason.

 

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” — which some say first originated in 3rd century B.C. — applies to most subjective arguments hundreds of years later. Especially, when it comes to ranking things in the college football world.

 

Ranking past teams, current coaches, logos, uniforms and pretty much anything else that can be bantered about on a message board is, by definition, subjective. Part of what makes college football great (in my opinion) is a vibrant college campus on Saturdays in the fall. Nowhere else in sports is the pageantry, passion and connectivity of a sports team and its fans more obvious than at a great college football game.

 

Colorful tailgating with eclectic menus, picturesque college towns, massive ear-shattering crowds, unique and historic traditions all make college football games special. And varied.

 

Fans can float to a game in Seattle or Knoxville, eat anything under the sun in Baton Rouge, watch an entire team touch a small stone before sprinting down a hill in Clemson and so much more.

 

Athlon has polled 15 experts in an effort to rank the best college football stadiums and game day atmospheres in the nation. Some, like me, value the tailgating experience, the surrounding area and the intimidation factor of the crowd. Others value the traditions steeped in decades of experience. While others only care about home-field advantage.

 

There is no right or wrong answer. Athlon tabulated the ballots, giving each No. 1 vote 10 points all the way to one point for a No. 10 vote. Here is what we learned:

 

The Panel:

 

Tim Brando, SiriusXM/Fox Sports

Bruce Feldman, Fox Sports

Dave Revsine, Big Ten Network

Stewart Mandel, Fox Sports

Dan Rubenstein, SB Nation

Bryan Fischer, NFL.com

Travis Haney, ESPN

Kevin McGuire, NBC Sports
Jeremy Fowler, CBS Sports

Tom Dienhart, Big Ten Network
JC Shurburtt, 247Sports

Zac Ellis, Sports Illustrated

Mike Huguenin, NFL.com

Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports

Braden Gall, Athlon Sports/SiriusXM

 

The Results:

 

StadiumSchoolPointsBallots
1. Tiger Stadium12013
2. Ohio Stadium10515
3. Autzen Stadium6412
4. Kyle Field619
5. Bryant-Denny Stadium487
6. Notre Dame Stadium479
7. Neyland Stadium436
8. Sanford Stadium4212
9. Husky Stadium367
10. Beaver Stadium317

ORV: UCLA (30), Auburn (30), Clemson (30), Florida (28), Michigan (28), Wisconsin (23), Army (19), Nebraska (13), USC (11), Oklahoma (5), Virginia Tech (4), Texas (3), Air Force (2), BYU (1), South Carolina (1), Stanford (1)

 

Listen to Athlon Sports' latest Cover 2 College Football podcast:


What we learned:

 

• LSU’s Tiger Stadium, which is going through a major upgrade this offseason, was on all but two ballots and ran away with top billing. Death Valley received seven first-place votes, the most of any team in the nation by a wide margin. Notre Dame Stadium and Neyland Stadium were the only other buildings to receive more than one first-place vote. Tiger Stadium was ranked No. 1 or No. 2 on 11 of the 15 ballots.

 

• Ohio Stadium, affectionately known as The Horseshoe, was the only stadium to be on every single ballot. The Buckeyes' home turf was a clear No. 2 and was the only building even close to LSU. It only got one first-place vote from the panel but was no lower than seventh on any ballot.

 

• Kyle Field in College Station could easily become the best place to watch a college football game in the very near future. The Aggies' home venue finished fourth, well behind OSU and LSU and just behind Oregon, but with new renovations underway to make it one of the largest buildings in the nation, Texas A&M could easily jump to the top of this list. It was a fantastic place to see a game well before TAMU joined the SEC or upgraded the building.

 

• Oregon and Washington have underrated venues among most fans but these media experts don’t think so. Both the Ducks' and Huskies' fabulous, high-tech digs landed in the top 10 among experts, ranking third and ninth nationally. Both are extremely scenic and both have produced big winners in the past. Oregon finishing third in the overall rankings might be the biggest surprise of the voting.

 

• S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C. People are tired of hearing it but part of the reason the SEC is the best conference in football is the venues. Five of the top 10 and seven of the top 13 hail from the SEC while eight total stadiums received at least one vote. Interestingly enough, Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium was on less than half of the ballots but was no lower than fifth, while Georgia’s Sanford Stadium was on 12 ballots but was higher than seventh only twice. Florida, South Carolina and Auburn also received votes.

 

• Small(er) stadiums can be charming for a variety of a reasons and Army’s Michie Stadium is a perfect example. It only seats 38,000 people but it landed on three ballots and got one first-place vote for reasons mostly other than football. Overlooking the Hudson River, there are few sights in college football like the West Point cadets marching into a football game on a fall Saturday.

 

• Seven different buildings got a first-place vote. LSU (7), Tennessee (2) and Notre Dame (2) got the majority of the votes but The Rose Bowl, Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ohio Stadium in Columbus and Michie each got one first-place vote as well.

 

• Where is the ACC? Clemson was voted as the top choice to catch a game in the ACC but was tied for 11th overall nationally. Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium was the only other ACC venue to receive a vote (21st).

 

• Nebraska and Oklahoma seem to be the most "underrated" buildings to receive a vote but there are some names I was surprised not to see in the voting. The buildings I was most surprised to see go without a single vote: Doak Campbell (Florida State), Razorback Stadium (Arkansas) and Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium (Ole Miss).

Teaser:
The Top Stadiums in College Football: Experts Poll
Post date: Monday, July 7, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/big-ten-stats-you-need-know-2014
Body:

Here are Athlon Sports' favorite, most important and most interesting Big Ten statistics you need to know about in 2014:

 

0-0: Big Ten teams in the BCS title game not named Ohio State

Nebraska's 2001 national championship game appearance doesn't count for the Big Ten (although, the Big Ten would probably be fine with the Big 12 keeping that one). So other than Ohio State's BCS win in 2002 and losses in 2006 and '07, no other Big Ten team made a showing in the BCS National Championship Game. Some compare conferences by overall depth, focusing on the top of the standings, be it quantity or quality. But at the end of the year, only one conference can be called a champion and the Big Ten did it one time during the BCS' 16-year run. Five different SEC teams made 11 total national title appearances during the BCS Era. Other teams around Ohio State need to elevate themselves to national contention if the Big Ten wants to keep pace with the nation's best. Hiring coaches like James Franklin at Penn State is a great start.

 

$44.5 million: Projected new Big Ten payout

Recently, the Lafayette (Ind.) Journal and Courier reported that the projected payout to Big Ten schools each year from the conference will be a staggering $44.5 million in 2017-18. That's nearly double the league's current and nation-leading $25.7 million payout. Jim Delany added both Maryland and Rutgers not to improve the play on the field immediately but to grow the Big Ten's footprint into population-rich areas. He knows his league is facing stagnant population growth — by far the worst of the major five leagues — and by expanding east into talent-rich areas of the country, he hopes his league will be able to elevate both the Terps and Knights to a new level of competition.

 

5.4%: Population growth in the Big Ten footprint

Before moving to Fox Sports recently, Stewart Mandel reported in Sports Illustrated that the Big Ten's biggest obstacle isn't Nick Saban or the SEC but rather slowed regional population growth. The Big Ten footprint is slated to grow by just 5.4 percent in population by 2030, a number well behind the other four major conferences. The Pac-12 is projected to grow the most, projecting a whopping 28.9 percent growth by 2030. The SEC is second at a projected 25.9 percent growth. The Big 12 isn't far behind at 22.4 percent and the ACC is fourth at 18.6 percent growth. As CFBMatrix.com shows, overall population is directly tied to recruiting base as well as TV contracts. Any way the numbers are sliced, the Big Ten is lagging significantly behind the other major leagues in one of the most crucial statistical categories.

 

42: Wins for Michigan State in the last four years

Among Big 5 schools, only Oregon (47), Stanford (46), Alabama (46), Florida State (45), LSU (44) and Oklahoma (43) have won more games over the last four years than the Spartans. That's more wins than Clemson, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Notre Dame or Auburn, to name a few, and the same number as Ohio State and South Carolina. Mark Dantonio finally broke through last fall, winning a school-record 13 games and claiming both the Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships. Replacing over half of his defensive production will be a tall order, especially with massive road showdowns in Eugene and Happy Valley looming (as well as a visit from OSU), but fans around the country shouldn't expect a significant step back from Sparty in 2014. If anything, Dantonio has proven he can plug holes quickly on both sides of the ball.

 

Listen to the latest Cover 2 College Football podcast:

 

18-8: James Franklin's record the last two years

People are obsessed with James Franklin moving from the SEC to the Big Ten and Athlon Sports might be just as guilty as anyone. Penn State made it into the preseason Top 25 and is picked to win 10 games behind the leadership of its new head coach. The detractors will point to offensive line issues in Happy Valley — a concern that is warranted — and that Franklin has yet to prove himself on the biggest of stages. However, the latter argument holds no water. Franklin led Vanderbilt to unprecedented levels of success. The Commodores had never been to three consecutive bowl games, hadn't won eight games in back-to-back seasons since 1926-27 and hadn't ever beaten Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same season. Franklin did all of that in Nashville during his three seasons leading Vanderbilt. Now, he comes home to The Keystone State where his charismatic persona, progressive thinking and verbal sparring matches will transform Penn State from a traditional program with elite history to a forward-thinking national powerhouse. Franklin's is a personality that the Big Ten desperately needs.

 

48.7%: Wisconsin's opponents winning percentage from 2013

Only two Big Ten teams will play a schedule in 2014 that posted a combined record under .500 a year ago. Wisconsin (48.7%) and Iowa (49.3%) play, statistically, the worst schedules in the Big Ten this fall as both will avoid Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State in crossover play. Using last year's win-loss records to determine overall strength of schedule has many flaws, one of which is the volatile nature of college football rosters, but there is a reason why Athlon Sports is projecting the Badgers and Hawkeyes to finish 1-2 in the Big Ten West Division. Both have extremely manageable schedules that set up very well for a run at a Big Ten title game.

 

6,584 and 64: Braxton Miller total yards and TDs under Urban Meyer

Few players fit into their coach's scheme better than Braxton Miller does with Urban Meyer's spread. In each of the last two seasons under Meyer, Miller has thrown for at least 2,000 yards, rushed for at least 1,000 yards, scored 64 total touchdowns and led his team to a 24-0 record in the regular season. Miller's passer rating, completion percentage and yards per carry has gone up in three consecutive seasons. For his career, Miller has accounted for 84 total touchdowns and has thrown just 17 interceptions. Should he stay healthy and continue his developmental trend, Miller has a shot to land in New York at season's end.

 

3.3: Yards per carry for Michigan's rushing offense

Rich Rodriguez and Michigan averaged 5.6 yards per carry on offense — good for fifth in the nation — during his final season in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines' rushing proficiency has gotten worse every season since he departed. In his first year, Brady Hoke's offense averaged 5.2 yards per carry (16th nationally). That number dropped to 4.8 yards per carry in 2012 (38th nationally) and plummeted to 3.3 yards per carry a year ago. Michigan ranked 115h nationally last year in rushing average, ahead of only Purdue in the Big Ten and only a few other Big 5 teams (Virginia Tech, Washington State, Wake Forest). Hoke's top two returning rushers are Devin Gardner (2.9 ypc) and Derrick Green (3.3 ypc). Needless to say, Doug Nussmeier's first order of business is to fix the Maize and Blue rushing attack.

 

4: Nebraska's losses every year under Bo Pelini

How could it be any other number? Sure, Ameer Abdullah is the nation's leading returning rusher from a year ago at 130.0 yards per game, but that's boring compared to Bo Pelini's remarkable streak of six consecutive seasons with exactly four losses. To lose exactly four games in each of his six seasons at Nebraska seems borderline impossible in the volatile modern college football landscape. And Pelini has done it every way imaginable. He went 6-1 down the stretch and nearly beat national runner-up Texas in the Big 12 title game in 2009. He won the last four and six of seven in his first year in '08 as well. He lost the final two games of the year in '12 in ugly fashion and three out of the last four in '10. He methodically alternated wins and losses down the stretch in both '11 and '13. Most teams in the nation would take nine or 10 wins every season. But expectations in Lincoln have been of the national championship variety for decades, so the relationship between Pelini and his fan base will once again be one of the most fascinating to watch in the nation. Especially, if the Huskers finish third in the division with an 8-4 record this fall. 

 

15.9: Yards per touch for Stefon Diggs

Maryland's receiving corps could be the best in the Big Ten — if it stays healthy. Both Stefon Diggs and Deon Long were lost to season-ending injuries last fall and both are slated to return this summer to full strength. Long is a solid player who was averaging nearly 70 yards receiving per game through seven contests but getting Diggs back could mean the difference in a bowl game or not for the Terps. On 176 career touches, Diggs is averaging 15.9 yards per play and has totaled 2,808 all-purpose yards in just 18 career games. He catches passes (88 rec.), runs the ball (27 att.) and returns both kickoffs (37 att.) and punts (24 att.). Randy Edsall needs his star playmaker in the lineup for a full season.

 

527.9: Yards allowed per game by Indiana

Kevin Wilson has led the Big Ten in passing in each of the last two seasons, averaging over 300 yards per game in both seasons. No Big Ten team had topped 300 yards passing per game for a season since Northwestern and Purdue did it in 2007. So offense isn't Wilson's problem entering a critical fourth season in Bloomington. The defense ranked 123rd in the nation last year at over 527.9 yards allowed per game — ahead of only Cal (529.6) and New Mexico State (549.5). Indiana hasn't been to a bowl since 2007 and hasn't won a bowl since '91, so if Wilson expects to end those droughts this season, he and his revamped defensive staff will have to make major strides with a unit that allowed 6.7 yards per play last year (117th nationally).

Teaser:
Big Ten Stats You Need to Know for 2014
Post date: Monday, July 7, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/auburn-football-2014-schedule-analysis
Body:

The 2013 Auburn Tigers storybook season was one for the ages.

 

Auburn hired Gus Malzahn, went from worst to first in the SEC, played in a thrilling and heartbreaking BCS National Championship Game and most believe the offense could be even better in 2014.

 

Just don’t use the word “lucky” around War Eagle fans. But that is what Auburn was last year en route to two rivalry wins and an SEC championship. In fact, almost every championship team in every sport needed some factor of luck to win its title.

 

So the offense could be just as good and the defense — which gave up over 420 yards per game last year and over 35 points per game in November — could show improvement. But will the bounces go the Tigers’ way again?

 

With a dramatically improved schedule, a repeat as SEC champs will be extremely difficult but isn’t out of the question.

2014 Auburn Schedule Analysis

 

2014 Auburn Schedule

WkDateOpp.
1.Aug. 28
2.Sept. 6
3.Sept. 13Bye
4.Sept. 18at 
5.Sept. 27
6.Oct. 4
7.Oct. 11at 
8.Oct. 18Bye
9.Oct. 25
10.Nov. 1at 
11.Nov. 8
12.Nov. 15at 
13.Nov. 22Samford
14.Nov. 27at 
Perfect Start

The Auburn Tigers should be 2-0 heading into the first off weekend of the year on Sept. 13. The developing rivalry between Malzahn and Arkansas' Bret Bielema is fun to watch off of the field but likely won’t be very competitive on it. So Auburn figures to be 2-0 with extra time to prepare for a brutal road trip to Big 12 outpost Kansas State. The Xs and Os coaching chess match between Malzahn and Bill Snyder figures to be fascinating to watch on a Thursday night in primetime. This game will teach fans of both teams a lot about their team very early on.

 

Home cooking

In the heart of the schedule, Auburn will get three marquee SEC showdowns at home. LSU (Week 6), South Carolina (Week 9) and Texas A&M (Week 11) will all have to visit The Plains in a span of five games. The Tigers are looking for revenge of their own against LSU and will get an extra week to prepare for South Carolina with a bye weekend in Week 8. Both will be physical bouts where the last guy standing will win. And getting the Aggies late in the year isn’t an enviable position to be in for any SEC team, as Texas A&M should be one of the more improved teams over the course of the season.

 

Magnolia State Swing

There may not be a team in the nation that plays a tougher road schedule in the country than the Auburn Tigers. The tricky test in Manhattan is one of the tougher non-conference games the SEC will play all season. But package that with four tremendously difficult road games in the SEC and the Tigers will be lucky to stay in playoff contention. Two road trips to the Magnolia State to face both Mississippi State (Week 7) and Ole Miss (Week 10) come on the heels of physically taxing games against LSU and South Carolina. A 3-0 record in the first three road trips of the year would be a huge success for Malzahn.

 

Revenge Games

After three already tough road games, Auburn will have to face Georgia and Alabama on the road over the final three weeks of the season. Malzahn will be very aware of the revenge that will be at stake in both games and both will come away from the friendly and fortunate confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. There is no telling what the standings will look like when these two games roll around, but fans can bet these rematches will carry significant weight in both the SEC and potential national championship races. 

 

Related: 2014 Auburn Tigers Team Preview

 

Final Verdict

Auburn could be better in 2014 and still not win the SEC title. The road slate is one of (if not the) toughest slate in the nation with five potential top 25 games taking place away from The Loveliest Village. The offense should be as good, if not better, and the defense should take small steps forward. But to repeat as SEC champs and earn a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Tigers will likely need a few more lucky bounces. It may not be reasonable to expect more fortuitous breaks like Auburn got last year, but they may need them to repeat as SEC champs this fall.

Teaser:
Auburn Football 2014 Schedule Analysis
Post date: Thursday, July 3, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, UCLA Bruins, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/ucla-football-2014-schedule-analysis
Body:

There are some who believe the Bruins will be playing for the national championship come January.

 

Should UCLA earn a playoff berth in the debut edition of the College Football Playoff, there will have been no doubt about its merit. The Bruins are poised to play at least six preseason Top 25 teams with a shot at playing possibly three top 10 teams by season’s end.

 

The offense is still led by all-everything quarterback Brett Hundley and should some playmakers develop around him, the Bruins should once again be one of the top offensive units in the nation. The defense is incredibly talented and maturing every month.

 

With coaching stability and a talented returning corps, UCLA should be ready to face one of the toughest schedules in the nation this fall.

 

2014 UCLA Schedule Analysis

 

2014 UCLA Schedule

WkDateOpp.
1.Aug. 30at 
2.Sept. 6
3.Sept. 13 (Arlington)
4.Sept. 20Bye
5.Sept. 25at
6.Oct. 4
7.Oct. 11
8.Oct. 18at 
9.Oct. 25at 
10.Nov. 1
11.Nov. 8at 
12.Nov. 15Bye
13.Nov. 22
14.Nov. 28
Leaving the West Coast 

Virginia was bad last year. Like, really bad. But they also upset BYU in Week 1 at home in bad conditions. UCLA should roll through the Cavaliers (and Memphis in Week 2) but Mora is likely looking for crisp performances in both games before a Texas-sized showdown in the Lone Star State in Week 3. The Bruins should expect a heavy Burnt Orange crowd in Arlington when UCLA faces Texas. The Horns will have already faced BYU and will be battle-tested under new coach Charlie Strong. A win for either could vault that program into the national spotlight very quickly while a loss could end all playoff hopes for the other. No pressure.

 

Early Pac-12 tests

Before UCLA gets doormats Cal and Colorado at the end of October, the Bruins will have to face a three-game stretch against the defending South Division champs on the road and the preseason Pac-12 favorite at home. The road team has won the first two meetings between Mora and Arizona State and a visit to Tempe won’t be an easy way to break into conference play. Should the Bruins return victorious — and beat Utah at home — then a potential top-5 matchup with Oregon in the Rose Bowl could steal national headlines. Once again, UCLA could be facing a playoff elimination game.

 

Not an easy November

After facing Texas, Arizona State and Oregon in the first two months, UCLA gets no breaks in the month of November. Arizona at home is manageable but the other three tests will be especially difficult. A road trip to Washington has “letdown alert” or “looking ahead” written all over it, as crosstown rival and South Division contender USC comes to town the next game. To top it off, UCLA will have to face two-time defending Pac-12 champ Stanford at home in the season finale. The only comfort for Mora over the final month is that three of the four games come at home and that there is an off weekend before the brutal two-game stretch to end the season.

 

Related: 2014 UCLA Bruins Team Preview

 

Final Verdict

The Bruins could be sitting at 10-0 with four or five marquee Top 25 wins entering the final two weeks of the season. And it all could be for naught. The margin for error in the Pac-12 this year is going to be razor thin and a two-loss team may not reach the playoffs. UCLA has the talent, the leadership and the coaching to be one of the best teams in the nation, but surviving this incredibly perilous slate unscathed seems rather impossible. However, an 11-win regular season and Pac-12 title is well within reach.

 

Teaser:
UCLA Football 2014 Schedule Analysis
Post date: Thursday, July 3, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-12s-toughest-college-football-schedules-2014
Body:

The importance of scheduling in college football cannot be overstated. Sure, coaching, rosters and even a little bit of luck play bigger roles in determining championships in the NCAA ranks. But scheduling in college football plays as big a role as any of those other factors.

 

Non-conference play varies greatly from team to team. So, too, do home and road slates — especially for the championship-deciding, rivalry-bragging, marquee showdowns. And the important bye weekends also play a large role in ironing out win-loss records in any given season.

 

So taking all of the above into account, which team has the toughest schedule in the Big 12 in 2014 and how has that impacted our 2014 Big 12 Predictions.

 

* - indicates neutral site game

 

1. West Virginia Mountaineers

Non-Conference: Alabama*, Towson, at Maryland

Big 12 Road: Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State

Opponents ’13 Record: 97-59 (62.1%, 12th)

 

Things aren’t going to be easy in Morgantown for embattled coach Dana Holgorsen. The Mountaineers play one of the toughest non-conference slates with Alabama in Atlanta to start and a trip to Maryland in Week 3. Wrapping up September is a home date with Oklahoma, all but assuring a 1-3 start to the season. The slate alternates home and road dates over the final two months but features few winnable games with the exception of Kansas at home and Iowa State on the road. Even with five home Big 12 games, West Virginia boasts the toughest schedule in the league in 2014.

 

2. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Non-Conference: Florida State*, Missouri State, UTSA

Big 12 Road: Kansas, TCU, Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma

Opponents ’13 Record: 86-65 (56.9%, 32nd)

 

Starting the season with the defending national champions is literally as hard as it gets, but the rest of the early schedule is manageable. The two other non-conference games are sure-fire wins and the month of October should provide at least three wins. Texas Tech at home (Week 5) and at TCU (Week 8) are two massive swing games in the first half of the season. The importance of an early run for the Pokes cannot be overstated because the second half of the schedule is as tough as it gets in the Big 12. Ok-State will face the top four teams in the league in succession to end the year, including road trips to Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma. 

 

3. Kansas State Wildcats

Non-Conference: Stephen F. Austin, Auburn, UTEP

Big 12 Road: Iowa St, Oklahoma, TCU, West Virginia, Baylor

Opponents ’13 Record: 79-72 (52.3%, 65th)

 

Facing the BCS runner-up at home is a brutal battle in the non-conference but both KSU and Auburn will have two weeks to prepare for the Thursday night showdown. An early road trip to the always pesky Cyclones in the previous game needs to be a win for Bill Snyder’s bunch. Following what should be an easy win over UTEP in Week 5, Kansas State gets no breaks until deep into November. The Wildcats will face Texas Tech, Oklahoma (away), Texas, Oklahoma State and TCU (away) over a six-week span before finally getting a “breather” in Morgantown. A home game with rival Kansas should be merely a tune-up for a road trip to Baylor. In all, Kansas State could face three top 10 teams, including the top two in the Big 12 on the road, and could face four more potential Top 25 teams as well.

 

4. Texas Longhorns

Non-Conference: North Texas, BYU, UCLA*

Big 12 Road: Kansas, Oklahoma*, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State

Opponents ’13 Record: 89-63 (58.6%, 26th)

 

The Longhorns and new coach Charlie Strong play the toughest non-conference slate of any team in the league but both will be in the state of Texas, as BYU comes to Austin and the UCLA game is in Arlington. Texas also has to face Big 12 bowl teams (and Achilles heels) Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech on the road. This, of course, doesn’t include the annual showdown with archrival and Big 12 front-runner Oklahoma. There is one solid home game with TCU and one huge home game with Baylor, otherwise, the majority of the Horns' Big 12 showdowns will come away from the 40 Acres. This schedule has plenty of chances for marquee wins and plenty of chances for major disappointments.

 

5. Iowa State Cyclones

Non-Conference: North Dakota State, at Iowa, Toledo

Big 12 Road: Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas, TCU

Opponents ’13 Record: 97-57 (62.9%, 7th)

 

According to last year’s records, Iowa State will play the toughest schedule in the league. However, everyone knows last year doesn’t count. The non-conference schedule has three very tricky games against North Dakota State (who beat Kansas State in Manhattan last year), archrival Iowa (on the road) and MAC West Division front-runner Toledo. Additionally, TCU and Texas both figure to be improved and both of those will come on the road. Lastly, season ticket holders in Ames should be either very excited or very worried about ’14 as Kansas State (Week 2), Baylor (Week 5), Oklahoma (Week 10), Texas Tech (Week 13) and West Virginia (Week 14) all visit Jack Trice Stadium this fall.

 

6. Kansas Jayhawks

Non-Conference: SE Missouri State, at Duke, Central Michigan

Big 12 Road: West Virginia, Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State

Opponents ’13 Record: 86-66 (56.6%, 38th)

 

First, not getting to face Kansas in Big 12 play makes it hard to find wins for the Jayhawks. Second, Kansas is very unlucky in that Duke is playing the best football of its entire existence, making a perfect 3-for-3 in non-conference play unlikely. Third, beleaguered coach Charlie Weis will face three of the best four teams in the league — Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State — on the road. This could be construed as a positive as the ‘Hawks aren’t likely to be competitive in those games and maybe getting more winnable games at home is the right recipe. TCU, Iowa State or Oklahoma State are spots for upsets at home. No matter where the games are being played, however, wins are going to be extremely tough to come by for a team picked to finish last in the Big 12.

 

7. TCU Horned Frogs

Non-Conference: Samford, Minnesota, at SMU

Big 12 Road: Baylor, West Virginia, Kansas, Texas

Opponents ’13 Record: 87-65 (57.2%, 30th)

 

The non-conference schedule is very manageable with a rivalry game against SMU looking easier by the day and a sneaky good bout with Minnesota coming at home. TCU should start 3-0 and then things heat up in a big way. TCU hosts both Oklahoma schools packaged around a road trip to Baylor to start October in brutal fashion. The second half of the schedule, however, provides plenty of chances for important wins in key swing games, like Texas Tech and Kansas State at home. The Horned Frogs will face four teams picked to finish in the bottom half of the league in the final six weeks. Minus a Thanksgiving road trip to Austin, TCU faces a very workable second half schedule in ’14.

 

8. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Non-Conference: Central Arkansas, at UTEP, Arkansas

Big 12 Road: Oklahoma State, Kansas State, TCU, Iowa State, Baylor*

Opponents ’13 Record: 74-75 (49.7%, 81st)

 

Two teams in the Big 12 will face a schedule whose opponents combined for a sub-.500 record last year and the Red Raiders are one of them (Oklahoma is the other). Arkansas could be a tricky clash of offensive tempos but Texas Tech should be perfect in non-conference play before Big 12 play begins with two tough road trips to Stillwater and Manhattan. Otherwise, Texas Tech won’t face any of the top three Big 12 teams on the road. Both Texas and Oklahoma come to Lubbock and the battle with Baylor is being played again in Arlington. The only problem is that all three of those games will take place in the final four weeks of the year, making another second half slump a concern for Kliff Kingsbury. This is a very manageable slate overall and Tech could be soaring into the final month with some marquee showdowns coming at home late in the year.

 

9. Baylor Bears

Non-Conference: SMU, Northwestern State, at Buffalo

Big 12 Road: Iowa State, Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas Tech*

Opponents ’13 Record: 78-72 (52.0%, 67th)

 

Baylor really faces a two-game schedule in 2014 and both will come on the road. Texas and Oklahoma both host the Bears, but Baylor has handled both programs with ease of late (especially, last year). Revenge against Oklahoma State and a tough game with Kansas State will be served in the friendly confines of brand-new McLane Stadium and a tricky game with Texas Tech comes in Arlington. Outposts in Ames and Morgantown should have Art Briles worried as well, however, Baylor dropped 144 points on Iowa State and West Virginia combined last year. With an easy non-conference slate and just two Top 25 games in the league, Baylor is poised to roll through another schedule.

 

10. Oklahoma Sooners

Non-Conference: Louisiana Tech, at Tulsa, Tennessee

Big 12 Road: West Virginia, TCU, Texas*, Iowa State, Texas Tech

Opponents ’13 Record: 71-78 (47.6%, 93rd)

 

As the team predicted to win the league, Oklahoma has one distinct advantage over every other team: It doesn’t have to face Oklahoma. It also gets Texas on a neutral site — one Bob Stoops has dominated — hosts the Baylor Bears (who have never won in Norman) and plays a very simple non-conference schedule. There is a lot to like about the Sooners' slate as the toughest road test of the year will take place in either Fort Worth or Lubbock. Of the top four teams picked to finish in the top half of the league, Oklahoma will play three of them at home (Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State) and gets Texas in the Cotton Bowl. There is a reason Oklahoma was picked to win the league and land in the College Football Playoff.

Teaser:
Ranking the Big 12's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2014
Post date: Wednesday, July 2, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: Overtime, News, World Cup
Path: /overtime/what-if-americas-greatest-athletes-played-soccer
Body:

You want to know why the United States never has a shot at winning the World Cup?

 

It has nothing to do with our love of capitalism or that many believe the sport is boring. It has nothing to do with our country lacking athletic ability or other nations simply being superior humans.

 

The answer is simple. With no disrespect to Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan or Claudio Reyna, the best athletes in the country grow up dunking basketballs, hitting fastballs and tackling running backs.

 

So imagine what our Men’s National World Cup team would look like if this country’s greatest athletes had grown up kicking a soccer ball for hours everyday instead?

 

Assuming that no current men’s soccer players are eligible — because Howard would probably still make the starting line-up — Athlon Sports took a shot at projecting our starting line-up if everybody in the US played soccer and only soccer.

Men's National Team Starting Line-Up:

 

 

Full 23-man roster:

 

Starting Forward: LeBron James, F, Miami Heat
Starting Forward: Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions

Back-up: A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Back-up: Justin Gatlin, Track & Field

 

Offensive Midfielder: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Offensive Midfielder: Mike Trout, OF, LA Angels
Offensive Midfielder: Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City Thunder

Back-up: Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Back-up: Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints

Back-up: Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals

 

Defensive Midfielder: John Wall, G, Washington Wizards

Defensive Midfielder: Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks

Back-up: Patrick Peterson, DB, Arizona Cardinals
Back-up: Jon Jones, MMA
Back-up: Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs

 

Defender: Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers

Defender: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Houston Texans

Defender: Kawhi Leonard, F, San Antonio Spurs

Back-up: Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers
Back-up: Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay Bucs
Back-up: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

 

Goalkeeper: Jonathan Quick, G, LA Kings

Back-up: Dwight Howard, C, Houston Rockets

Teaser:
What if America's Greatest Athletes Played Soccer?
Post date: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 - 11:39

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