Articles By Braden Gall

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Braxton Miller’s season-ending shoulder re-injury might be the biggest piece of offseason personnel news in all of college football this year.

 

It likely makes the Michigan State Spartans the team to beat in the Big Ten, and, when it comes to the B1G earning a College Football Playoff berth, all eyes now turn to Sparty’s trip to Oregon in Week 2. A win in Eugene might be a must if the Spartans want to get into the first-ever playoff.

 

Ohio State is still the most talented team in this league and still has a good shot to win the league title. But games at Michigan State, Penn State and Maryland are now magnified.

 

In the West Division, the three-team round robin at the top should be fun to track all season long until November rolls around when all three face each other in a three-week span.

 

1. Michigan State at Oregon (Sept. 6)

It cannot be overstated what a win for Michigan State in this game would mean for the Big Ten. So Oregon cannot overlook the rebuilt Sparty defense early in the year or the Ducks could be knocked out of playoff contention by Week 2. The schematic chess match between Marcus Mariota and Mark Dantonio's defense should be fascinating to watch.

 

2. Ohio State at Michigan State (Nov. 8)

Some of the luster has certainly worn off this monumental showdown but these are still the two best teams in the Big Ten. The winner of this game is still likely the East Division champ, is still likely to win the Big Ten title and is still in line to snag the final playoff spot. This should still be a physical clash of top-ranked teams.

 

3. Michigan at Ohio State (Nov. 29)

Yes, this game may not have as much meaning to either team at the end of the season in terms of the standings but that didn’t stop last season’s meeting from being an instant classic. Brady Hoke desperately needs wins against a rival and Ohio State could still need this game to win the division. The bottom line is a winless Wolverines-Buckeyes matchup is still must-see TV.

 

4. Wisconsin at Iowa (Nov. 22)

These are the top two teams in the West Division entering the season and both schedules set up for two sterling records to be on the line late in November. These two traditional rivals have produced classic battles dating back to the 1800s and this meeting marks the third straight trip for UW to Iowa City. The Badgers have won the last two in the series, which is nearly dead even at 43-42-2 (UW).

 

5. LSU vs. Wisconsin (Aug. 30, Houston)

From a pure entertainment standpoint, the Tigers-Badgers semi-neutral field battle in Houston might be the one to watch in '14. This game will feature what should be two equally matched opponents, both of whom are expecting to compete for division titles in their respective leagues. LSU and Wisconsin feature two of the best power running games in the land and this game will be a throwback showcase for both.

 

6. Michigan at Michigan State (Oct. 25)

Hoke has snapped both long losing streaks to rivals Ohio State and Michigan State, but lost to both last fall. And the 29-6 drubbing at home to Sparty wasn’t pretty. Late in October, Hoke and his new-look offense will go on the road for a season-defining bout with their in-state rival and everyone will be watching.

 

7. Michigan State at Penn State (Nov. 29)

With the Spartans moving into the driver’s seat in the preseason Big Ten predictions, the season finale road trip to Happy Valley for the “coveted” Land Grant Trophy takes on more meaning. The Nittany Lions could be bruised and battered by that time or perhaps James Franklin will have developed his roster into a solid contender. Pat Narduzzi against Christian Hackenberg? Yes, please.

 

8. Ohio State at Penn State (Oct. 25)

The Lions host two huge games at home against the top two teams in the league and an upset over either for the first-year head coach would be huge. A win over Ohio State, Miller or no Miller, would be a signature moment for Franklin's PSU tenure. That said, Herb Hand and the OL will have to stay healthy and develop quickly to stop OSU’s defensive front.

 

9. Nebraska at Iowa (Nov. 29)

A week after Iowa hosts Wisconsin and two weeks after Nebraska visits Madison, the Cornhuskers have to travel to Iowa City. Big Red fans and Bo Pelini (nor the officials) have forgotten what happened in the season finale last fall in Lincoln where the Hawkeyes smoked the Huskers 38-17. A West Division crown could hang in the balance.

 

10. Nebraska at Wisconsin (Nov. 15)

The lesser of the three big round robin contests out West features the dairy-fed Big Red hosting the corn-fed Big Red. The two best running backs in the conference and two of the best in the nation will be on display when NU heads north to face UW.

 

11. Nebraska at Michigan State (Oct. 4)

This is one of the newly formed rivalries that fans should be excited about now that Nebraska is a Big Ten mainstay. Ameer Abdullah against the Spartans' defense is must-see TV. Even though this one takes place early in October, it could still serve as a Big Ten title elimination game.

 

12. Penn State at Michigan (Oct. 11)

Anytime these two brands get together, the Big Ten pays attention. The Lions and Wolverines have posted some seriously memorable matchups, including last year’s 43-40 overtime thriller in Happy Valley. Look for more fireworks between these two in 2014.

 

13. Michigan at Notre Dame (Sept. 6)

There is rich history and tradition between these two programs, and with the game going the way of the dodo bird, this meeting has more meaning. These two teams are breaking in three new coordinators, most importantly, Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. A win for Brady Hoke entering Big Ten play can’t be overvalued.

 

14. Michigan State at Maryland (Nov. 15)

If fans are looking for a sleeper team in the Big Ten this fall, look no further than College Park. Maryland has an excellent coaching staff, playmakers all over the offense and a stable quarterback situation. Are they good enough to topple the Big Ten champs? Maybe not, but MSU should be on upset alert late in November.

 

15. Ohio State at Maryland (Oct. 4)

One look at the home schedule for the Terps and it’s easy to see why Maryland made the jump to the Big Ten. Along with Michigan State, Randy Edsall’s bunch will host Ohio State, Iowa, West Virginia and Rutgers. Those are marquee brands coming to town this fall… and Rutgers.

 

Best of the Rest:

 

16. Minnesota at Wisconsin (Nov. 29)

17. Wisconsin at Northwestern (Oct. 4)

18. Nebraska at Northwestern (Oct. 18)

19. Miami at Nebraska (Sept. 20)

20. Iowa at Pitt (Sept. 20)

21. Northwestern at Notre Dame (Nov. 15)

22. Iowa at Minnesota (Nov. 8)

23. Michigan State at Indiana (Nov. 18)

24. Iowa at Maryland (Oct. 18)

25. Maryland at Penn State (Nov. 1)

Teaser:
The Big Ten's Top 15 Must-See Games of 2014
Post date: Thursday, August 21, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/accs-top-15-must-see-games-2014
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Conferences don’t win championships, teams do.

 

Nowhere is this more evident than in the ACC. Florida State is so far ahead of the league that a good majority of the best games in this league won’t be conference games. Notre Dame faces five quality ACC teams and, of course, there are plenty of SEC rivalry games as well.

 

But within the league, there are very few marquee matchups because the Seminoles are head and shoulders (and legs and feet) above the rest of the ACC.

 

There are loads of intriguing games within the league once Florida State is removed from the equation but very few will register with a national audience.

 

1. South Carolina at Clemson (Nov. 29)

As far as deeply entrenched rivalries and overall importance of the game to the national landscape go, it's hard to argue the Palmetto State season finale won't be one the biggest non-conference games of the year. Carolina and Steve Spurrier are eyeing an SEC East title and possible playoff berth, so a loss to the Tigers for the first time since 2008 would be crippling to those hopes.

 

2. Clemson at Georgia (Aug. 30)

Last year's meeting was an epic offensive showdown that featured elite playmakers and provided a memorable experience for everyone. This year, Clemson's defense is its strength while Georgia returns nine starters on D. With two new quarterbacks for both teams, expect a sloppier performance from both offenses in the first week of the season — which could be equally as entertaining.

 

3. Florida at Florida State (Nov. 29)

This was a blowout a year ago but Florida expects to be much improved and the historic Sunshine State rivalry could hold national championship implications for the Seminoles. Florida may have the best roster of any team Florida State will face in the regular season so fans should expect a much closer bout this time around — as long as the Gators' coaching staff is still intact by season's end.

 

4. Clemson at Florida State (Sept. 20)

Is this the most important ACC game of the year? Likely. Will it be the closest, most entertaining conference game in the ACC this year? Unlikely. Clemson was smoked at home and is rebuilding on offense while Florida State actually appears to be improving from 2013. Best of luck on the road in Week 4, Tigers.

 

5. Florida State at Louisville (Oct. 30)

It’s later in the year and on the road. That is why the Louisville game might actually be Florida State’s toughest conference test of the regular season. Look for Bobby Petrino’s offense to be in full swing by the end of October and playing in primetime on a Thursday night should make for a raucous atmosphere.

 

6. Notre Dame at Florida State (Oct. 18)

Florida State’s toughest regular season test in 2014 may come from the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame has the talent, gets its signal-caller back under center and could be on a roll by mid-October. Few games in the nation will feature two more powerful brands with more at stake than when Brian Kelly brings his team south to Tallahassee. These two have met seven times with FSU holding a 5-2 edge.

 

7. Louisville at Clemson (Oct. 11)

If the Cardinals and Tigers are the second- and third-best teams in the ACC, then this game should be a fantastic first edition. Chad Morris and Bobby Petrino are two of the top offensive minds in the game and Death Valley is as good a setting as there is in college football. This one should be fun for everyone.

 

8. Virginia Tech at North Carolina (Oct. 4)

Many believe that Tech and Carolina are the teams to beat in the Coastal Division. And while there are four or five other key divisional games in what could be a five-team Coastal round robin, this early October bout in Chapel Hill could be the deciding matchup. Who doesn’t want to see Larry Fedora and Bud Foster scheming against one another?

 

9. North Carolina at Clemson (Sept. 27)

The Tar Heels are the sexy pick in the Coastal right now and Clemson is widely regarded as the second-best team in the league. An early-season trip into Death Valley will provide clarity for those who are eagerly watching North Carolina’s surge this fall.

 

10a. North Carolina at Notre Dame (Oct.11)

Much like Louisville and Notre Dame, North Carolina has a shot at a headline-making, non-conference win if it can go into South Bend and pull the upset. The Tar Heels may not have the same talent as the Seminoles or the coaching of the Cardinals, but North Carolina should be fairly competitive in mid-October. The Heels are 2-16 all-time against the Irish but won the last meeting 29-24 in Chapel Hill in 2008.

 

10b. Louisville at Notre Dame (Nov. 22)

Bobby Petrino has a few marquee showdowns on his schedule this fall and the biggest one might be a trip to South Bend in late November. The meeting will mark the first time in history that these two programs have ever met despite being just four hours apart. The matching of offensive wits between Petrino and Brian Kelly will be a thing to behold and must-see TV.

 

12. Miami at Louisville (Sept. 1)

Some of the intrigue with this game is the timing. A Week 1, Labor Day night, conference game between two teams that played in a bowl game last year has plenty of sizzle. Especially, when the team hosting the bout is playing in its first-ever ACC league game. Miami has plenty of revenge to exact after the 36-9 drubbing to cap 2013.

 

13. Florida State at Miami (Nov. 15)

This was a 41-14 beatdown in Tallahassee a year ago despite Miami’s 7-0 record at the time. Miami appears to be getting better across the board, however, as Al Golden’s freshman class is expected to buoy the defense and the quarterback position. Can they win at home over their archrival late in the year? Anything is possible.

 

14. Miami at Nebraska (Sept. 20)

From an intrigue standpoint, few non-conference games in college football will feature two more powerful brands than this Week 4 meeting in Lincoln. These two have met in multiple national title situations, including four Orange Bowls and three national title games. The last two meetings were a Miami beatdown in the BCS title game in 2001 and a Nebraska national championship-clinching win in the 1995 Orange Bowl. And, of course, who could forget the 1984 Orange Bowl and the most infamous two-point conversion attempt in college football history?

 

15. Miami at Virginia Tech (Oct. 23)

It’s traditionally one of the better matchups in the Coastal Division and this one could carry title game implications. If Tech was visiting the Canes in Florida, this game would be a much bigger test for the Hokies and would rank higher on the list.

 

Best of the Rest:

 

16. Virginia Tech at Pitt (Oct. 16)

17. North Carolina at Miami (Nov. 1)

18. North Carolina at Duke (Nov. 20)

19. Georgia Tech at Georgia (Nov. 29)

20. NC State at North Carolina (No. 29)

21. Florida State vs. Oklahoma State (Aug. 30, Arlington)

22. Virginia Tech at Ohio State (Sept. 6)

23. Pitt at North Carolina (Nov. 15)

24. Pitt at Miami (Nov. 29)

25. Virginia Tech at Duke (Nov. 15)

Teaser:
The ACC's Top 15 Must-See Games of 2014
Post date: Thursday, August 21, 2014 - 08:30
Path: /college-football/secs-top-20-must-see-games-2014
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The SEC is still the nation’s best conference. No conference in the nation can match the week-in, week-out grind that the SEC offers from Aug. 28 through Championship Saturday on Dec. 6.

 

The round robin in both divisions should be superb to watch every single week. Top that off with marquee non-conference showdowns with the Big 12 (Oklahoma, Kansas State), the Big Ten (Wisconsin) and ACC (Florida State, Clemson) and there are no breathers in this conference.

 

It makes for an extremely lengthy list of must-see games this fall.

 

1. Auburn at Alabama (Nov. 29)

Not only are in-state and conference bragging rights on the line for 364 days in the nation’s biggest event this year, but the winner of this one game also played in each of the final five BCS National Championship Games. And after the way last year’s clash ended, fans can bet the intensity will reach a fevered pitch by Rivalry Week — especially, if there is as much on the line in 2014 as there was last fall.

 

2. Alabama at LSU (Nov. 8)

The Tigers aren’t picked to finish first, second or third in the SEC West but that doesn’t take much away from what is a yearly battle between these two powerhouses. Bama doesn’t have too many tests this fall and a trip to Baton Rouge might be its toughest test (until the Iron Bowl). Nick Saban has won three straight overall in this series and has won two of the last three trips to the Bayou.

 

3. Georgia at South Carolina (Sept. 13)

The SEC East title could be on the line in Week 3 when these two tangle in Columbia. South Carolina lost narrowly in Athens last year after three straight relatively easy wins over the Dawgs from 2010-12. Georgia last won at South Carolina in 2008.

 

4. LSU at Auburn (Oct. 4)

The battle of Tigers from Auburn and LSU is one of the yearly treats for SEC fans. Last fall, LSU was the only team to beat Auburn in the regular season and it wasn’t really competitive. Revenge will certainly be on the minds of Gus Malzahn and his squad. The right to challenge Alabama likely also hangs in the balance for this early October meeting as well.

 

5. South Carolina at Clemson (Nov. 29)

As far as deeply entrenched rivalries and overall importance of the game to the national landscape go, it's hard to argue the Palmetto State season finale won't be one the biggest non-conference games of the year. Carolina and Steve Spurrier are eyeing an SEC East title and possible playoff berth, so a loss to the Tigers for the first time since 2008 would be crippling to those hopes.

 

6. Auburn at Ole Miss (Nov. 1)

With the recent influx of talent, Ole Miss finds itself closer to the top of the West Division than the bottom. That means home tests against conference front-runners become marquee showdowns. The Tigers have won eight of the last 10 against the Rebels but Ole Miss dominated Auburn the last time they visited (41-20 in 2012) and has won two out of three in Oxford.

 

7. Auburn at Georgia (Nov. 15)

The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry offered fans one of the most remarkable games in SEC history last fall. While the 2014 edition will be hard pressed to match last year’s drama, the gravity of this year’s showdown could be much greater as both teams eye a College Football Playoff berth. Auburn hasn’t won in Athens since 2005.

 

8. South Carolina at Auburn (Oct. 25)

Auburn got no favors this fall by having to face the top two contenders in the East in crossover play. The difference is the lack of history between these two SEC title contenders. The duo has played just 11 times and Auburn holds a commanding 9-1-1 lead in the series. The Gamecocks would have won the East had it not lost the last meeting in Columbia in 2011. South Carolina’s lone win over Auburn came way back in 1933.

 

9. Florida vs. Georgia (Nov. 1, Jacksonville)

This game is massive for both teams, but especially Gators head coach Will Muschamp. He’s 0-3 against UGA and will need a win in Jacksonville to stay in East contention. Despite winning three straight, Mark Richt’s squad was anything but dominating as it has won those three contests by a combined 15 points.

 

10. LSU at Florida (Oct. 11)

Looking for a midseason signature win for Florida to prove it's back in the SEC mix? This is the one Les Miles better be circling. The home team has won the Muschamp-Miles bout in each of the three years, including a 14-6 suffocating home win for the Gators in 2012. Miles is 1-3 in The Swamp.

 

11. Florida at Alabama (Sept. 20)

Don’t expect Florida to win the game but any time these two marquee southern brands step onto the same field, it’s must-see theatre. Should Florida acquit itself well early in the season — even in defeat — it could be a sign of much bigger things to come for both. Like a possible rematch in Atlanta where these two have staged monumental national title bouts in recent years.

 

12. Ole Miss at LSU (Oct. 25)

Ole Miss has won just three of the last 12 meetings between these two. But that includes last year’s 27-24 thriller in Oxford and an even 3-3 split in the last six bouts. Yet, Ole Miss has played surprisingly well in Baton Rouge. In their last nine trips to the Bayou, the Rebels have won four times. LSU needs to be on high alert when Colonel Reb comes to town for Halloween weekend.

 

13. LSU vs. Wisconsin (Aug. 30, Houston)

From a pure entertainment standpoint, the Tigers-Badgers semi-neutral field battle in Houston might be the one to watch in '14. This game will feature what should be two equally matched opponents, both of whom are expecting to compete for division titles in their respective conferences. LSU and Wisconsin feature two of the best power running games in the land and this game will be a throwback showcase for both.

 

14. Clemson at Georgia (Aug. 30)

Last year's meeting was an epic offensive showdown that featured elite playmakers and provided a memorable experience for everyone. This year, Clemson's defense is its strength while Georgia returns nine starters on D. With two new quarterbacks for both teams, expect a sloppier performance from both offenses in the first week of the season — which could be equally as entertaining.

 

15. South Carolina at Florida (Nov. 15)

It may not be the prettiest game that is played in the SEC, but the East Division could hang in the balance when these two physical programs get together late in November. The Steve Spurrier Bowl is always quirky and the last time the Head Ball Coach visited the Swamp his team was smoked 44-11.

 

16. Alabama at Ole Miss (Oct. 4)

Much like Auburn, a division front-runner from the state of Alabama will have to win in Oxford if it wants to earn a trip to Atlanta. The Crimson Tide has won 10 straight over the Rebels and has outscored Ole Miss 155-34 over the last five. Nick Saban has never lost in Oxford going 5-0 with both Bama and LSU.

 

17. Florida at Florida State (Nov. 29)

This was a blowout a year ago but Florida expects to be much improved and the historic Sunshine State rivalry could hold national championship implications for the Seminoles. Florida may have the best roster of any team Florida State will face in the regular season so fans should expect a much closer bout this time around — as long as the Gators' coaching staff is still intact by season's end.

 

18. Mississippi State at Ole Miss (Nov. 29)

Last season's Egg Bowl was one for the ages and the 2014 edition could be even better. Both programs are surging entering this season with eyes on finally contending in the West Division. Both have proven quarterbacks and respected coaches as well as defenses that are deeper and more talented than possibly ever before. MSU head coach Dan Mullen is 4-1 against Ole Miss.

 

19. Georgia at Missouri (Oct. 11)

If the Dawgs are the front-runner in the East then the trips to both Columbias might be the biggest games of the year in the division. Georgia knocked James Franklin out of this game last year and still couldn’t beat the Tigers at home. Now, UGA must head up to the Show Me State and show the SEC it is the top Dawg in the East.

 

20. Auburn at Kansas State (Sept. 18)

Gus Malzahn's offense led by Nick Marshall and a deep receiving corps faces Bill Snyder's defensive wizardry on the road on a Thursday night. Both teams will have extra time to prepare for the primetime mid-week meeting and both will be contenders for their respective conference championships. From a coaching standpoint, it doesn't get much better than Malzahn vs. Snyder.

 

Best of the Rest:

 

21. Auburn at Mississippi State (Oct. 11)

22. Mississippi State at Alabama (Nov. 15)

23. Mississippi State at LSU (Sept. 20)

24. Texas A&M at Alabama (Oct. 18)

25. Missouri at South Carolina (Sept. 27)

26. Texas A&M at Auburn (Nov. 8)

27. Missouri at Florida (Oct. 18)

28. Missouri at Texas A&M (Nov. 15)

29. Texas A&M at Mississippi State

30. Texas A&M at South Carolina (Aug. 28)

31. LSU at Arkansas (Nov. 15)

32. Ole Miss at Vanderbilt (Aug. 6)

33. Florida at Vanderbilt (Nov. 8)

34. Tennessee at Vanderbilt (Nov. 29)

35. Florida at Tennessee (Oct. 4)

Teaser:
The SEC's Top 20 Must-See Games of 2014
Post date: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 - 08:30
Path: /college-football/pac-12s-top-15-must-see-games-2014
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Good luck figuring out the Pac-12 this fall.

 

At the top, many believe this league is college football’s best. And what separates it from every other league in the nation — including the mighty SEC — isn’t just the fact that two teams will play 10 conference games but that all of the preseason powers will face each other this fall.

 

While other leagues play eight-game schedules and only two crossovers, the Pac-12 plays four crossovers and nine conference games. It’s made for a long list of must-see matchups out West in 2014.

 

1. Stanford at Oregon (Nov. 1)

The Pac-12 South has gotten much better and has its own elite battles but the top ticket in the Pac-12 this fall is still the Ducks and Cardinal. The winner of this game has won the last four Pac-12 titles and that is likely the case again this fall. A knee injury hampered Marcus Mariota last year and a fully healthy QB for Oregon could finally give the Ducks a win over the Cardinal with No. 8 under center.

 

2. Oregon at UCLA (Oct. 11)

There is no better quarterback matchup in the nation than when Mariota and the Ducks fly south to battle Brett Hundley and the Bruins in the Rose Bowl. This is likely a preview of the Pac-12 title game and could have divisional, conference and national championship implications. Loosen up the scoreboard operator for this one.

 

3. Michigan State at Oregon (Sept. 6)

It cannot be overstated what a win for Michigan State in this game would mean for the Big Ten. So Oregon cannot overlook the rebuilt Sparty defense early in the year or the Ducks could be knocked out of playoff contention by Week 2. The schematic chess match between Marcus Mariota and Mark Dantonio's defense should be fascinating to watch.

 

4. USC at UCLA (Nov. 22)

This crosstown rivalry is getting some extra juice, as both programs appear to be surging in the right direction. Both teams are ranked in the preseason top 20 and both have elite starting rosters. Depth could be a big issue for the Trojans come late November but if they can stay healthy, USC could find itself in a winner-take-all South Division title match against one of its biggest rivals.

 

5. Stanford at UCLA (Nov. 28)

The Cardinal are the two-time defending champs but have to play all of its toughest games on the road, including a trip to UCLA on the final weekend of the regular season. These two played in back-to-back weeks two years ago and the Bruins haven’t forgotten. It could happen again this fall. Whether both divisions are already locked up or not, this game should be supremely entertaining.

 

6. UCLA at Arizona State (Sept. 25)

These two have posted back-to-back high-scoring shootouts with the road team winning both matchups between coaches Jim Mora and Todd Graham. Arizona State won 38-33 last year in the Rose Bowl while UCLA won 45-43 in the desert two years ago. This is the first of a group of critical round-robin games in the Pac-12’s South Division.

 

7. Stanford at Washington (Sept. 27)

The last time Stanford visited Seattle, the Huskies pulled off a signature upset in primetime in physical and nail-biting fashion. With a new sheriff patrolling the Washington sidelines, this game figures to be a fascinating schematic chess match. The Huskies are more talented than they’ve been since 2000 and toppling Stanford early in the year could make UW the top challenger to Oregon.

 

8. Texas vs. UCLA (Sept. 13, Arlington)

UCLA has Pac-12 South Division title hopes and possibly more as Brett Hundley enters his third season under center. Texas will be three weeks into the Charlie Strong Era in Austin and will provide a nasty early-season test for the Bruins on a “neutral" field in Dallas. Both teams have outside chances at landing a spot in the College Football Playoff and an early-season slip up must be avoided for both programs.

 

9. Stanford at Notre Dame (Oct. 4)

This historic rivalry has been elevated in recent years after a memorable overtime goal-line stand for Notre Dame in 2012 and a physical 27-20 victory for Stanford a year ago. Only four times have both teams been ranked at the time of the meeting (28 total games) and three of those have come in the last three years. A fourth straight meeting of two ranked teams is likely to happen again this year and a playoff berth could be on the line this time around.

 

10. USC at Stanford (Sept. 6)

Ever since Jim Harbaugh upset Pete Carroll in shocking fashion back in the mid-2000s, this USC-Stanford crossover battle has been a must-see matchup. Both programs have their sights set on a Pac-12 title game in the Bay Area and there is some added juice between these two now that Steve Sarkisian — who upset David Shaw two years ago at Washington — is coaching in Los Angeles. This will be a battle.

 

11. UCLA at Washington (Nov. 8)

The Bruins will get upset somewhere along the way, most likely on the road. And a trip way up north to Seattle is a prime upset alert situation. Other than quarterback, these two rosters are extremely comparable and the Huskies will give Jim Mora’s team all it can handle late in the year.

 

12. Stanford at Arizona State (Oct. 18)

A rematch of last year’s title game will take place in mid-October. In fact, these two played twice last year with Stanford winning both games with relative ease. Todd Graham’s squad will be out for revenge in this preseason top 20 matchup.

 

13. Arizona State at USC (Oct. 4)

The round robin in the South features two early games for Arizona State, one of which will come in Los Angeles against the Men of Troy. This game cost Lane Kiffin his job last year when ASU blitzed the Trojans' defense. USC went on to win seven out of nine after getting smoked by the Sun Devils.

 

14. Washington at Oregon (Oct. 18)

The Ducks are the pick in the North but Washington could become the top challenger by the time Oct. 18 rolls around. The talent gap might be too great for UW to overcome on the road but don’t tell that to Chris Petersen and his Dawgs.

 

15. Notre Dame at USC (Nov. 29)

The battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh will take place for the 86th time in 2014 with both teams eyeing a trip to the postseason. The Irish lead the series 45-35-5 — including the vacated 2005 USC victory — and Notre Dame has won two straight and three out of four overall. Both teams enter the season ranked in the top 15 and by season’s end, each could be positioned to play for a national championship.

 

Best of the Rest:

 

16. Arizona State at Washington (Oct. 25)

17. Arizona State at Arizona (Nov. 28)

18. Oregon at Oregon State (Nov. 29)

19. Washington at Washington State (Nov. 29)

20. Notre Dame at Arizona State (Nov. 8)

21. USC at Arizona (Oct. 11)

22. Arizona at UCLA (Nov. 1)

23. Oregon at Washington State (Sept. 20)

24. Oregon State at Washington (Nov. 22)

25. Washington at Arizona (Nov. 15)

Teaser:
The Pac-12's Top 15 Must-See Games of 2014
Post date: Tuesday, August 19, 2014 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/10-college-football-teams-need-lower-expectations
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Rankings are a big part of any college football season, and even in the playoff format, the polls and projections are still an interesting exercise. For example: The AP Poll came out over the weekend, while the USA Today Coaches Poll came out a few weeks ago. And the Athlon Sports Top 25 has been out since May.

 

With a few small exceptions — Florida ranked in Athlon Sports, Texas being ranked by the Coaches and Nebraska by the AP — all three polls are extremely similar.

 

This doesn’t mean that all three are correct, however. It doesn’t mean that someone in the top 15 could end up missing a bowl game or that one team ranked No. 43 in the preseason couldn’t sneak into the top 10.

 

In fact, both are likely. With that in mind, which teams in college football need to lower their expectations in 2014?

 

UCLA

Most preseason polls have the Bruins are ranked in the top 10. And Jim Mora's team is a popular pick to win the Pac-12 South. While UCLA should win the division, the concept that the Bruins are deep enough and talented enough to go unbeaten or 11-1 in the regular season seems farfetched. The schedule is nasty and there is little to no support around Brett Hundley on offense. The defense could be excellent, and I’m still picking UCLA to win the South. However, they will head to Levi’s Stadium with two or three losses already in hand.

 

Notre Dame

Before the academic scandal, the Fighting Irish was a preseason top-15 caliber team. One that had an outside shot at pushing for a playoff spot and landing a top 10 ranking. With three starters and another key reserve not practicing or playing (mostly likely all season), the upside for the Irish takes a serious hit. This is now a fringe top 25 team that will struggle to win eight games this year.

 

USC

The schedule, like most in the Pac-12, is downright nasty. But this team is extremely talented and is buoyed by a new coaching staff. The issues for USC are still about depth. Key defenders Jabari Ruffin and Kenny Bigelow have already been lost for the season and the lack of scholarships is bound to hurt the Trojans once again this fall. There's no question the starting 22 is talented. However, three or four losses is a definite possibility.

 

Oklahoma State

This one is sort of a no-brainer since the Cowboys aren’t ranked anywhere on the internet. But this is a program accustomed to competing for Big 12 titles and it won’t be anywhere near the title race this fall. Mike Gundy is eyeing a return to prominence in 2015.

 

Texas A&M

The Aggies are going to be much better at the end of the year than they will be at the beginning. Or in the middle. But preseason Top 20 is way too high for this squad. This team is extremely talented on both sides of the ball, but the defense is still a major work in progress and a brutal final two months should drop TAMU to sixth in the West.

 

North Carolina

Are the Tar Heels ready to have a breakthrough season? Maybe so. Or it could be a year early for UNC to reach the ACC Championship. Larry Fedora has some serious talent to work with but it is mostly inexperienced and very young. I asked former OC (and current Arkansas State coach) Blake Anderson if this is the year UNC breaks through and wins the Coastal, and he quickly shot that down, pointing to 2015 as the breakout season in Chapel Hill.

 

LSU

The Tigers have an elite collection of players and are accustomed to competing for national championships. But LSU is missing important veteran pieces. There is no experience or proven talent at quarterback or wide receiver on offense and a true freshman (albeit a great one) is the talk of the running game. And LSU has major holes to fill on defense as well. This is still a great roster, but the SEC schedule is downright nasty with games against Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Florida, Texas A&M and Mississippi State.

 

Texas

Charlie Strong is going to be just fine in Austin, but he has a lot of work to do in making over the Texas program from the inside out. David Ash is healthy, for now, and there is still plenty of talent on the roster. But a brutal schedule and very competitive middle portion of the Big 12 makes Texas a fringe Big 12 contender at best. Best case is probably eight wins.

 

Nebraska

The Cornhuskers are in better shape on defense than they’ve been in years, while the offense has a star in Ameer Abdullah to build around. Despite the optimism about the personnel, expectations need to be lowered in Lincoln due to a tough schedule. Wisconsin and Iowa miss Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan in crossover play, while Nebraska must face Michigan State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Fresno State on the road. The schedule is why Nebraska won’t win the West.

 

Wisconsin

The Badgers have an elite offensive line, superstar tailback and excellent head coach. But the entire defensive front is being reworked, the quarterback position is far from settled and it starts the season facing LSU in Houston. This is a team who could easily win the Big Ten West but it’s not a team that should consider itself a playoff contender (or even someone who could win the Big Ten title).

 

Teaser:
10 College Football Teams That Need to Lower Expectations
Post date: Monday, August 18, 2014 - 10:48
Path: /college-football/big-12s-top-15-must-see-games-2014
Body:

Many believe that the Big 12 is a two-horse race in 2014.

 

While that is likely true, the rest of the conference is going to be extremely entertaining. Kansas State, Texas, TCU, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State all believe they can step into that two-horse race and — because of the beauty of a true round-robin schedule — all five will get to face each other this fall.

 

It means that fans nationally should be paying attention to the Big 12 every Saturday. Here are the top 15 must-see Big 12 games in 2014.

 

1. Baylor at Oklahoma (Nov. 8)

The Bears have never won in 11 tries in Norman and the Big 12 title likely hangs in the balance on Nov. 8 when Art Briles brings his squad into Memorial Stadium. This was a 29-point blowout in favor of Baylor last year in Waco but both teams will be different this fall. Bryce Petty will have to be near perfect and the BU defense must develop before November if it wants to win this marquee showdown.

 

2. Texas vs. Oklahoma (Oct. 11, Dallas)

The Red River Shootout (no, I don’t call it the Rivalry) enters a new era with a new chapter as Charlie Strong takes part in his first Cotton Bowl showdown. Texas won this game inexplicably a year ago and the Sooners should be plenty motivated to get revenge against a first-year coach. For better or worse, Strong’s work with the offensive line will be on full display.

 

3. Baylor at Texas (Oct. 4)

The Bears topped both Texas and Oklahoma at home last year but to repeat as Big 12 champs, Briles’ bunch must top both conference powers on the road this fall. The Bears have won in Austin before but this isn’t Mack Brown's Longhorns anymore. As far as early-season conference games go, this one is fascinating.

 

4. UCLA vs. Texas (Sept. 13, Arlington)

UCLA has Pac-12 South Division title hopes and possibly more as Brett Hundley enters his third season under center. Texas will be three weeks into the Charlie Strong Era in Austin and will provide a nasty early-season test for the Bruins on a “neutral" field in Dallas. Both teams have outside chances at landing a spot the College Football Playoff and an early-season slip up must be avoided for both programs.

 

5. Auburn at Kansas State (Sept. 18)

Gus Malzahn's offense led by Nick Marshall and a deep receiving corps faces Bill Snyder's defensive wizardry on the road on a Thursday night. Both teams will have extra time to prepare for the primetime mid-week meeting and both will be contenders for their respective conference championships. From a coaching standpoint, it doesn't get much better than Malzahn vs. Snyder.

 

6. Kansas State at Oklahoma (Oct. 18)

Many people believe that Kansas State could be the top challenger to the Sooners and Bears. However, the Wildcats must face both on the road. This was a 41-31 home loss for Bill Snyder a year ago and it was KSU’s only loss in the final seven games of the season. Going on the road will be even more difficult.

 

7. Kansas State at Baylor (Dec. 6)

Everything written above about KSU at Oklahoma applies to the trip to Waco as well. Kansas State had the Bears beat through three quarters but allowed Bryce Petty to bring Baylor back in the final period and secure a key road victory (35-25). Again, Snyder will have to be at his best to win on the road against Briles.

 

8. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Dec. 6)

This was a fantastic game a year ago and normally is one of the best in the league. With Oklahoma State taking a small step back into rebuilding mode this fall, the Bedlam Series doesn’t carry the same national weight as usual. But this is still an intense in-state rivalry and Mike Gundy would love nothing more than to knock the Sooners out of playoff contention with a road win over Bob Stoops.

 

9. Texas at Kansas State (Oct. 25)

The Wildcats were more than just a thorn in Mack Brown’s side, Kansas State owned the Longhorns. Before last year’s 31-21 win in Austin, the Wildcats had won five straight and seven out of nine against mighty Texas. So going to Manhattan, Kan., in October will be a huge moment in Strong’s first season.

 

10. Oklahoma at Texas Tech (No. 15)

The Red Raiders host both Texas and Oklahoma this fall and Kliff Kingsbury’s bunch is more than capable of pulling off an upset (or two). This offense is electric and nearly beat the Sooners in Norman last fall. Expect plenty of fireworks late in the season out in Lubbock.

 

11. BYU at Texas (Sept. 6)

A revenge opportunity for the Burnt Orange players and a chance for Strong to land his first big win as the head coach. Especially, the way quarterback Taysom Hill and the Cougars abused the Longhorns' rushing defense a year ago.

 

12. Oklahoma at TCU (Oct. 4)

The Horned Frogs played in a lot of close games last season, including a narrow loss to the Sooners in Norman. Now, Oklahoma has to come to Fort Worth to face a much-improved TCU squad.

 

13. Texas at Texas Tech (Nov. 1)

Just like Oklahoma, Texas must travel to Lubbock in November to take on what could be the league’s top passing attack. This has upset alert written all over it.

 

14. Oklahoma State at Baylor (Nov. 22)

Revenge should be on the mind of Baylor when they welcome the Pokes to new McLane Stadium in the penultimate game of the year. Ok-State won 49-17 over Baylor last fall.

 

15. Baylor vs. Texas Tech (Nov. 29, Arlington)

If you like points and passing games, then look no further than this late-season matchup in Arlington. Davis Webb and Bryce Petty will be on full display. These two scored 97 points last meeting.

 

Best of the Rest:

 

16. TCU at Baylor (Oct. 11)

17. Kansas State at TCU (Nov. 8)

18. Oklahoma State at Kansas State (Nov. 1)

19. Arkansas at Texas Tech (Sept. 13)

20. TCU at Texas (Nov. 27)

21. Texas Tech at Kansas State (Oct. 4)

22. Texas Tech at Oklahoma State (Sept. 25)

23. Oklahoma State at TCU (Oct. 18)

24. Texas Tech at TCU (Oct. 25)

25. Iowa State at Iowa (Sept. 13)

Teaser:
The Big 12's Top 15 Must-See Games of 2014
Post date: Monday, August 18, 2014 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/top-40-impact-freshman-watch-2014
Body:

The beauty of college football lies in its unpredictability and volatility.

 

Roster turnover is largely responsible for the tremendous amount of variability from year to year within the sport. Key graduations, early entries into the NFL Draft, dismissals and a massive influx of tomorrow's stars in the form of bright-eyed freshmen create more personnel turnover in college football than any other major sport in the country.

 

It's these (relatively) unknown commodities that offer fans a renewed hope of future success. Who are the top freshmen to watch this fall?

 

1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

The conversation about 2014's top freshmen not only in the SEC but in the nation begins with the No. 1 prospect in the class. From a power and speed standpoint, Fournette might be the closest thing college football has seen Adrian Peterson began his career at Oklahoma over a decade ago. He is a 6-foot-1, 230-pound sure thing and is likely a front-runner for national freshman of the year.

 

2. Cam Robinson, OL, Alabama

The mammoth 6-foot-6 freshman from West Monroe (La.) High School was the No. 1 offensive line prospect in the nation. He enrolled early and has already been working with the first team offense for most of the summer. How many national title contenders will have a true freshman anchoring the left tackle position?

 

3. Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson

The uber-recruit from Immokalee (Fla.) High redshirted a year ago and is ready to fulfill his lofty recruiting expectations. He’s gained some weight and will be charged with protecting the back end of a defense littered with seniors.

 

4. Matthew Thomas, LB, Florida State

After experiencing some speed bumps in the recruiting process, Thomas is finally ready to contribute in Tallahassee. He has freakish ability and is slated to start alongside Terrance Smith. Jimbo Fisher has proven he will ask big things of first-year starters and Thomas is the next in line.

 

5. Adoree Jackson, ATH, USC

For lack of a better term, Coach Steve Sarkisian adores his true freshman, do-everything dynamo. Jackson is penciled in as the star kick returner but will also get carries as a running back, catch passes as a receiver and could even get reps as a defensive back. Coach Sark will use Jackson in any and all ways this fall because it looks like the freshman can handle it.

 

6. Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan

This list has to begin with the Charles Woodson clone in Ann Arbor. He will begin his career as the nickelback but could easily work into a starting role on defense. Peppers, in true Woodson fashion, is a dynamic return specialist and don’t be surprised if he gets some snaps on offense as well. He was the No. 3 overall prospect in the 2014 class for a reason.

 

7. Khaliel Rodgers, OL, USC

Rodgers, a four-star member of the 2013 class, has been through two springs and was considered the best center in the nation two years ago. He is penciled in at the pivot currently. Toa Lobendahn was a four-star early enrollee this spring and is currently holding the starting left guard position. The Trojans' front line is extremely talented, but also extremely inexperienced.

 

8. Quin Blanding, S, Virginia

The five-star safety from Virginia Beach (Va.) Bayside is slotted to start the moment he steps onto a college field for the first time. He has veterans to learn from but the 6-foot-4, 210-pound dynamo could be a savior at the back end of the Cavaliers' defense.

 

9. Ricky Seals-Jones | Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M

Seals-Jones was a five-star top 25 prospect in the 2013 class. He redshirted last year after catching three passes in two games early in the year. His massive frame is a mismatch nightmare for most SEC defenses. Packaged with the smaller, more explosive and versatile Noil, this duo could easily develop into one of the SEC's best.

 

10. Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State

A man among boys, McDowell has rare size (6-6, 295) and quickness for such a young player. With an injury to Damon Knox, Pat Narduzzi needs McDowell to be ready to start sooner rather than later. He may not start the opener but he will be major factor for the Spartans this fall.

 

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11. Dravon Henry, S, West Virginia

There was a reason Henry was the No. 1-rated player in the state of Pennyslvania last year. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound safety has been working with the starters at free safety before camp even opened. He can cover a lot of ground and has proven he should be on the field as much as possible early on in his career.

 

12. Myles Garrett | Justin Manning, DL, Texas A&M

The only player rated ahead of Garrett in the national recruiting rankings was Fournette. The freakish 6-foot-4, 250-pounder is set to carve out a critical role for a defensive line in desperate need of development. Garrett and former four-star redshirt freshman Justin Manning are two names who should establish themselves as future All-SEC types in 2014.

 

13. Damian Prince | Derwin Gray, OL, Maryland

Both Prince and Gray are in the heat of two position battles for starting time up front for the Terps. Prince (6-5, 295) was recently moved to guard and is the odds-on favorite to earn the starting job. Gray (6-5, 295) is battling Ryan Doyle for the starting right tackle spot. Both Prince and Gray are dramatically more talented options but need to catch on quickly to start all year.


14. Ermon Lane | Travis Rudolph, WR, Florida State

There is plenty of space in the offense behind senior Rashad Greene and both Lane (6-3, 205) and Rudolph (6-2, 185) have been exceptional in fall camp. Greene and quarterback Jameis Winston have had glowing things to say about the two tall playmakers.

 

15. Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M

The No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation is a tall, pocket passer from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Desert Mountain. The 6-foot-3 signal-caller is a student of the game and is battling Kenny Hill for full-time starting duties in College Station. Many believe Allen is the future and will eventually wrestle the starting job away from Hill permanently.

 

16. Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

The star tailback from Oakley (Calif.) Freedom is currently sitting on the sidelines in Norman but was the top-rated recruit in the Big 12 for a reason. He has special ability and would figure into the starting running back situation if he can get onto the field. He has been suspended indefinitely pending an investigation into an altercation that took place in late July.

 

17. Jamal Adams, S, LSU

In just a few trips to the practice field, Adams already has Les Miles raving about his overall ability. The big-time defensive back prospect is already working with the starting defensive unit for coordinator John Chavis and is set to become the next in a ridiculously impressive run of elite secondary players for LSU.

 

18. Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee

The Nashville product is every bit of 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds and he stands out on Tennessee's practice field. He's dealt with some health issues during his outstanding prep career, but if he can stay on the field, his rare combination of size and speed makes him an instant impact player for Butch Jones — both as a runner and pass-catcher.

 

19. Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

The No. 2-rated recruit in the Big Ten was the top inside linebacker in the nation and he is already pressing for starting reps in Columbus. The 242-pounder is breathing down Curtis Grant’s neck at MLB and should see plenty of snaps all year long. The early enrollee is the next great tackling star for Ohio State.

 

20. Jermaine Kelly, DB, Washington

Baker is the highest-rated member of the 2014 Husky class and has already earned a spot in the two-deep at safety. Kelly, a redshirt freshman, is slotted to start at cornerback for new coach Chris Petersen and his reworked secondary. Look for both Kelly and true freshman Budda Baker to lead a group of defensive backs that could feature half a dozen young contributors.

 

21. Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina

Arkansas State head coach and former UNC assistant Blake Anderson told me last week that Hood is as ready made as any true freshman in the ACC. There is a crowded backfield in Chapel Hill but the 220-pounder might be the most talented of the bunch.

 

22. Jalen Tabor, DB, Florida

Both enrolled early in January and both will compete for the starting spot opposite All-American Vernon Hargreaves III. The loser of that battle will likely be the top nickelback — a position that is almost a starter in the modern SEC. Tabor is slightly more talented and fits better as a corner, while the more physical Duke Dawson has the ability to make plays around the line of scrimmage. Florida is the LSU of the East in terms of producing defensive backs.

 

23. Chikwe Obasih | Alec James, DL, Wisconsin

The Badgers could feature two redshirt freshman starting defensive ends in Week 1 against LSU. Obasih (6-2, 245) and James (6-3, 239) are undersized but both bring a quickness off the edge Wisconsin hasn’t had in years. Obasih was the starter throughout spring camp and James, a converted outside backer, has risen quickly into a starting role. There will be a rotation up front this fall but expect both Obasih and James to finish the year as the starters.

 

24. JuJu Smith, ATH, USC

Who knows what side of the ball it will be on but Smith appears to be earmarked for a large role as just a true freshman. He’s already gotten rave reviews as a wide receiver but rumors are swirling about the electric player switching to defensive back to start at nickelback. Wherever he lines up, keep an eye on the explosive youngster.

 

25. D.J. Calhoun, LB, Arizona State

One of three ASU early enrollees, Calhoun has shot up the depth chart to earn a potential starting spot at outside linebacker. His quickness and size allows him to be moved all over the formation. He will battle all fall camp to hold onto that starting spot and will undoubtedly be a long-term contributor for Todd Graham.

 

26. Oren Burks, S, Vanderbilt

The redshirt freshman moved from linebacker to safety when new coach Derek Mason took over. Mason wants his size (6-2, 215) at the back end of his defense. He has a chance to be one of the most imposing playmakers in a totally rebuilt secondary.

 

27. Brandon Harris, QB, LSU

He is battling with Anthony Jennings but the 6-foot-2, 195-pound dual-threat signal-caller brings a new dimension to LSU's offense. He may not win the starting job right away but all signs are pointing to this dynamic freshman as the future for Cam Cameron and Les Miles in Baton Rouge.

 

28. Matt Elam, DT, Kentucky

The massive 6-foot-7, 350-pounder (depending on the time of day) is already entrenched as a starter for Mark Stoops' defensive line. The head coach can barely hide his excitement about injecting this talented in-state product into the heart of his developing defensive front. Elam will go through growing pains but has the astounding quickness and agility that NFL scouts drool over when it comes to guys his size.

 

29. Gyasi Akem, LB, Oklahoma State

The Pokes are thin at linebacker after the departure of Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey but Akem figures to help fill the void. The quick but undersized (6-1, 201) freshman is eyeing a starting spot right out of the gate alongside veteran Ryan Simmons. He uses his speed well both as a pass rusher and dropping into coverage. Look for Akem to see time very early and possibly start against Florida State.

 

30. Andrew Nelson, OL, Penn State

One of the biggest question marks in the Big Ten this fall is the Nittany Lions' O-line. Herb Hand is going to try everything to counteract the concerning lack of depth and that likely means a lot of young players getting reps this fall. Nelson is already slotted to start at right tackle and pretty much any other player on the roster should expect to see time for the depleted Lions.

 

31. Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State

He is one of (if not the) highest rated players to ever sign with Iowa State and apparently he is worthy of the hype. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound wideout is already working with the second unit and will undoubtedly be a starter in no time. His talent is obvious and he could be a historic player for the Cyclones.

 

32. Ranthony Texada, CB, TCU

The Horned Frogs normally are known for having tenacious and talented defensive backs and this redshirt freshmen fit that bill. Texada is already penciled in as the starter opposite All-Big 12 pick Kevin White while fellow redshirt Cyd Calvin is listed as the top backup to both. Look for Gary Patterson to develop these talented youngsters into the next wave of great TCU cornerbacks.

 

33. KC McDermott, OL, Miami

The Hurricanes have plenty of holes to fill and one should be plugged by the monster (6-6, 315) in-state blocker. He has been worked at right tackle with the first team and he could be just one of a few first-year blockers who contribute in a big way for Miami.

 

34. Wesley Green, CB, South Carolina

Few teams took a bigger hit at one position like the Gamecocks did at cornerback. Which is why Steve Spurrier signed five defensive backs in this class. Green and fellow freshman Chris Lammons will get every opportunity to land starting roles in Lorenzo Ward's secondary.

 

35. Chad Thomas, DL, Miami

It’s hard to hide Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio’s excitement about having Thomas on the roster. The local product checks in at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds with excellent burst and great agility. He is the type of South Florida defender the Canes have been sorely lacking.

 

36. Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona

The former standout from famed Bishop Gorman High School has been taking most of the first-team reps and appears to have a leg up on Jerrard Randall and Jesse Scroggins. His skill set fits Rich Rodriguez’ offense perfectly and he’s had a year to sit and learn the playbook. He was a big-time winner in high school and is one of the highest-rated QB recruits to ever sign at Arizona.

 

37. Tony Brown | Marlon Humphrey, DB, Alabama

One of the few weaknesses for Alabama is at cornerback where graduation and the NFL Draft have finally caught up with Nick Saban. Brown (6-fooot, 190) enrolled early and will be fighting for one of two open corner sports all camp long. He was the top defensive back signee in the SEC and was considered the No. 9 overall prospect in the nation. Humphrey is no less talented and he brings an equally impressive 6-foot-1 frame to a secondary in need of quick help (relatively speaking).

 

38. Curtis Samuel, AP, Ohio State

Fans have been pointing to Dontre Wilson as a guy who could fill the Percy Harvin role for Urban Meyer at Ohio State. And while Wilson is going to have an excellent sophomore season, it’s actually Samuel who is drawing the brightest reviews. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder is listed as a wideout but has been getting plenty of carries out of the backfield. Look for Samuel to play a lot in a variety of roles this fall.

 

39. Tyree Robinson, S, Oregon

While twin brother Tyrell will be suiting up for Fresno State after being dismissed from Oregon, Tyree is set to take over as the starting strong safety. The long, rangy athlete has put in the work this offseason and is in line to become a breakout defender in his redshirt freshman season in Eugene.

 

40. Sean Welsh, OL, Iowa

The 6-foot-3, 285-pounder recently was moved into the starting lineup at left guard for Kirk Ferentz. Surrounded by seniors and juniors, the Ohio native is proving quickly that he belongs on the field for Iowa.

Teaser:
Top 35 Impact Freshman to Watch in 2014
Post date: Friday, August 15, 2014 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, SEC, Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/10-shows-wed-see-sec-network
Body:

The SEC Network will be in 91 million homes.

 

It will be the fourth-most accessible sports cable network (ESPN, ESPN2, FOX Sports 1) and will dwarf the launch of every other college sports channel.

 

The list of personalities is impressive. The ESPN-driven documentary-style programming will be second to none. There will be 45 live football games broadcast in the first four months of the channel’s debut alone.

 

Needless to say, the SEC Network is going to be a rousing success.

 

That doesn’t mean we don’t have a few suggestions. Here are some of our favorite new show concepts we’d like to see developed on the SEC Network:

 

Real World SEC

What happens when you throw one lunatic fringe fan from all 14 SEC teams — seven men and seven women — into a house for the entire football season with nothing but booze and flat screens and lock the door? No jobs, no responsibility, no holds barred.

 

Hard Knocks: SEC

This one is pretty straight forward. Both the Big Ten Network (The Journey) and the Pac-12 Network (The Drive) have done something similar, and, generally, fans can’t get enough of behind the scenes stuff when it comes to their favorite team. Rotate to a different team every year and turn the cameras loose on practice, training camp, gameday and more.

 

Spurrier’s Foursome

Each Sunday afternoon, cameras will follow Steve Spurrier’s foursome around whatever golf course he's playing that day. The Head Ball Coach reading menus would be hilarious so I can’t imagine what fun would ensue on the links with his buddies after a big win (or, better yet, a loss).

 

Les Miles Reads the News

The big broadcast networks get their nightly newscast and so too does the SEC Network. Every evening at five o'clock, LSU head coach Les Miles will deliver the world news to SEC fans. It could be the Gaza Strip, a U.S.-Mexico border crisis or Kim-K's latest marriage fiasco. Frankly, it doesn't matter what the topic is because Miles will have something extraordinary to say about it. It might be the highest rated show on the network.

 

Listen to the Cover 2 college football podcast:

 

10 Seconds or Less

The newest and hottest game show on television hosted by Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn where contestants have 10 seconds or less to answer SEC trivia questions. The winner gets tickets to an SEC game against an FCS opponent and an autographed copy of “The Hurry-Up, No-Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy.”

 

Huntin' For Croots

Guns and high school football. That's what Texas does. Modeled after the late great Steve Irwin, this reality show docu-drama features Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin taking the viewer deep into the infested waters of Texas High School recruiting. The biggest croc on the block shows fans from across the Southeast what luring talent is all about. Think Hard Knocks meets Crocadile Hunter.

 

Iron Bowl Fan Cave

Similar to the MLB Fan Cave, an Alabama fan and an Auburn fan are locked in a room for Iron Bowl week and forced to watched the Iron Bowl on the same couch. They will be provided all the drinks and food they want and are only allowed to watch Iron Bowl reruns until the kickoff of the big game. In a perfect world, it would be Harvey Updyke and Charles Barkley.

 

Friday Nights with Mark

On Friday nights — when the SEC takes a breather — the Georgia head coach will sit down in front of his fireplace, chardonnay in hand, and read parables to the fans of the SEC. He will speak to their soul. Occasionally, good friend Hugh Freeze stops by.

 

Hog vs. Food

The SEC has some of the best BBQ and down-home country cooking in the world and most of us enjoy large quantities of it — just like Adam Richman. In this Man vs. Food spin-off, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema tries to achieve digestive success at some of the Southeast’s hottest and most delicious eateries.

 

Hotel Tuscaloosa

Every Wednesday night, Alabama coach Nick Saban and Eagles frontman Don Henley breakdown a different Eagles track. From the writing to the vocals to the live performances, Saban critically analyzes each classic Eagles jam throughout their five-decade run of "rock stardom."

Teaser:
The 10 Shows We'd Like to See on the SEC Network
Post date: Friday, August 15, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-accs-toughest-college-football-schedules-2014
Body:

The ACC preseason talking points were pretty clear.

 

“We are the champions and we broke a record by sending 11 teams to a bowl game.”

 

Unfortunately, conferences don’t win championships, teams do. So while Florida State is the defending champ, it means very little for the rest of the ACC. The rest of the league needs to win marquee non-conference games against both the SEC and Notre Dame to start bragging during the offseason.

 

Within the league, however, there are more than half-a-dozen (mostly, from the Coastal Division) teams who feel like they have a shot to reach Charlotte. So crossover play and home-and-road splits will play a huge role in shaping the ACC Championship Game matchup.

 

So which ACC team has the toughest schedule in 2014?

 

1. Virginia

Crossover: Louisville, at Florida St

Non-con: UCLA, Richmond, at BYU, Kent St

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 102-54 (65.4%, 2nd)

 

Not only does Virginia play the toughest schedule in the Coastal (because they don’t get to face themselves) but it will also play two elite non-conference games and two of the top three teams in the Atlantic Division as well. Mike London is squarely on the hot seat and this schedule is one of the worst in the nation.

 

2. Miami

Crossover: at Louisville, Florida State

Non-con: Florida A&M, Arkansas St, at Nebraska, Cincinnati

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 96-60 (61.5%, 14th)

 

Sort of like Virginia, Miami plays two really tough non-conference games and two nasty crossovers in ACC play with the Seminoles and Cardinals. The divisional schedule is slightly easier with the Wahoos on the slate, but Miami has the toughest path to the Coastal championship of any contender in the division.

 

3. Boston College

Crossover: Pitt, at Virginia Tech

Non-con: at UMass, USC, Maine, Colorado St

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 95-61 (60.9%, 15th)

 

USC and Colorado State won’t be easy non-conference tilts but at least both come at home and a split is likely. In fact, BC should get halfway to a bowl (3-1) in the non-con. Facing the Hokies on the road and Pitt at home is going to be tough in crossover and the trio of Clemson, Florida State and Louisville within the division doesn’t offer too many chances for wins. This team will need to sweep the bottom half of the Atlantic to reach the postseason.

 

4. Syracuse

Crossover: Duke, at Pitt

Non-con: Villanova, at CMU, Maryland, Notre Dame

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 96-57 (62.8%, 8th)

 

Maryland and Notre Dame in the non-conference is going to be very tricky for the Cuse and living in the same division with Clemson, Florida State and Louisville will always be extremely tough. And while most aren’t facing any of the top three picks in crossover play, facing the defending Coastal champs in Duke and a trendy sleeper pick in Pitt won’t be easy. 

 

5. Clemson

Crossover: North Carolina, at Georgia Tech

Non-con: at Georgia, S. Carolina St, Georgia St, South Carolina

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 89-65 (57.8%, 28th)

 

Clemson should face at least three top 15 opponents this fall, two of which bookend the season against the top two teams in the SEC East. Toss in road trips to always pesky Georgia Tech and the defending national champs and the Tigers have one of the tougher slates in the league.

 

6. Wake Forest

Crossover: Virginia Tech, at Duke

Non-con: at UL Monroe, Gardner-Webb, at Utah St, Army

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 97-58 (62.6%, 9th)

 

The non-conference slate may not look like much but a road trip out to Utah State is likely a loss. Crossover with Virginia Tech and Duke won’t be easy either. And being the worst team in the Atlantic Division always means facing the toughest schedule within that half of the ACC. Missing Notre Dame is huge but the Demon Deacons will likely face at least nine bowl teams this fall.

 

7. North Carolina

Crossover: at Clemson, NC State

Non-con: Liberty, San Diego St, at ECU, at Notre Dame

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 92-62 (59.7%, 20th)

 

Having to face an in-state “mid-major” program that regularly upsets quality ACC teams is no easy task. And visiting South Bend could be ugly as well. Crossover play features a road game against the second-best team in the division and a much-improved in-state rival. That said, the key for the Heels is navigating a mid-to-late season stretch from Oct. 18 to Nov. 20 that features five straight divisional foes (three on the road).

 

8. NC State

Crossover: Georgia Tech, at North Carolina

Non-con: Ga. Southern, Old Dominion, at USF, Presbyterian

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 89-61 (59.3%, 23rd)

 

The non-conference should feature plenty of wins with the toughest test coming on the road against a team that lost 10 games last fall (USF). Crossover play is tough at UNC and Georgia Tech at home but could be worse. Road trips to Clemson and Louisville will be nasty but important swing games — ones key for bowl eligibility — against Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech will come at home.

 

9. Louisville

Crossover: Miami, at Virginia

Non-con: Murray St, at FIU, at Notre Dame, Kentucky

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 75-76 (49.7%, 80th)

 

In two odd twists, Louisville will play both crossover games with the Coastal Division by Week 3 with six straight divisional games to end ACC play. Then the Cardinals will play back-to-back non-conference games against Big 5 opponents to end the season. And in between, Bobby Petrino will have to face Clemson (road) and Florida State (home) in a four-week span to end October. There are wins to be had but some marquee showdowns as well.

 

10. Georgia Tech

Crossover: at NC State, Clemson

Non-con: Wofford, at Tulane, Ga. Southern, at Georgia

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 84-67 (55.6%, 43rd)

 

Playing at Georgia has been a miserable way to end the season for the Jackets for more than a decade but a 3-1 record in non-conference play feels like a low-water mark. Having to face Pitt, Virginia Tech and both UNC and NC State on the road is pretty tough in conference. In fact, crossover play will feature two of the top four teams from the Atlantic Division. This is a manageable but tricky slate for Paul Johnson in an important season.

 

11. Florida State

Crossover: Virginia, at Miami

Non-con: Oklahoma St, Citadel, Notre Dame, Florida

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 83-68 (54.9%, 47th)

 

First, it’s pretty clear FSU will be a double-digit favorite in probably every game it plays this fall. But Notre Dame, Clemson, Louisville and Florida will all make for interesting matchups. The non-conference slate is among the best in the nation but both Florida and Oklahoma State have seen better days. Crossover shouldn’t be an issue despite a road trip to archrival Miami. Look for another 13-0 mark from the Noles.

 

12. Virginia Tech

Crossover: Boston College, at Wake Forest

Non-con: William & Mary, at Ohio St, ECU, W. Michigan

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 83-71 (53.9%, 55th)

 

Facing BC and Wake Forest is one huge reason the Hokies are picked to win the Coastal by Athlon Sports. A road trip to Ohio State will be brutal but a great test for Frank Beamer's squad before three straight home games. Back-to-back road trips to North Carolina and Pitt to begin October might be the most important stretch of action. The final month could be a breeze for Virginia Tech.

 

13. Pitt

Crossover: at Boston College, Syracuse

Non-con: Delaware, at FIU, Iowa, Akron

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 78-75 (50.9%, 74th)

 

A win over Iowa at home would be a nice feather in the cap for Paul Chryst’s squad, which should finish non-conference play no worse than 3-1 (if not 4-0). Crossover games with BC and Cuse features two bowl teams but neither is as good as it was last fall. The key for Pitt will be the final six games — all of which feature bowl teams and the five other Coastal contenders.

 

14. Duke

Crossover: at Syracuse, Wake Forest

Non-con: Elon, at Troy, Kansas, Tulane

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 69-82 (45.7%, 101st)

 

The Blue Devils got one of the few likely 4-0 non-conference slates and are facing two teams it should be beat in crossover play. That leaves road trips to Miami, Georgia Tech, Pitt and Cuse in a five-game span as November arrives that will define Duke’s Coastal title defense. If the Blue Devils survive, the two best teams in the Coastal will have to come to Durham (Virginia Tech, North Carolina) late in November.

 

Teaser:
Ranking the ACC's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2014
Post date: Friday, August 15, 2014 - 08:30
Path: /college-football/big-12s-top-freshmen-watch-2014
Body:

The beauty of college football lies in its unpredictability and volatility.

 

Roster turnover is largely responsible for the tremendous amount of variability from year to year within the sport. Key graduations, early entries into the NFL Draft, dismissals and a massive influx of tomorrow's stars in the form of bright-eyed freshmen create more personnel turnover in college football than any other major sport in the country.

 

It's these (relatively) unknown commodities that offer fans a renewed hope of future success. Who are the top freshmen to watch in the Big 12 this fall?

 

Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State

He is one of (if not the) highest rated players to ever sign with Iowa State and apparently he is worthy of the hype. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound wideout is already working with the second unit and will undoubtedly be a starter in no time. His talent is obvious and he could be a historic player for the Cyclones.

 

Steven Parker | Jordan Thomas, DB, Oklahoma

Thomas has received rave reviews from Bob Stoops and the coaching staff for his work in camp thus far. He is in a battle with Julian Wilson for a starting cornerback spot. Parker, meanwhile, is also getting positive grades for his work at safety. He is trying to earn playing time opposite Quentin Hayes. Neither may start but both will play a huge role this fall.

 

Dravon Henry, S, West Virginia

There was a reason Henry was the No. 1-rated player in the state of Pennyslvania last year. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound safety has been working with the starters at free safety before camp even opened. He can cover a lot of ground and has proven he should be on the field as much as possible early on in his career.

 

Derick Roberson, DL, Texas

After Cedric Reed, Charlie Strong has little in the way of pass rushers on his roster. This is why fans in Austin should expect prized recruit Roberson to get plenty of snaps this fall. He isn’t likely to start and needs to bulk up (6-3, 235) but has elite up the field ability that this team desperately needs.

 

Ranthony Texada | Cyd Calvin, CB, TCU

The Horned Frogs normally are known for having tenacious and talented defensive backs and these redshirt freshmen fit that bill. Texada is already penciled in as the starter opposite All-Big 12 pick Kevin White while Calvin is listed as the top backup to both. Look for Gary Patterson to develop these talented youngsters into the next wave of great TCU cornerbacks.

 

Gyasi Akem, LB, Oklahoma State

The Pokes are thin at linebacker after the departure of Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey but Akem figures to help fill the void. The quick but undersized (6-1, 201) freshman is eyeing a starting spot right out of the gate alongside veteran Ryan Simmons. He uses his speed well both as a pass rusher and dropping into coverage. Look for Akem to see time very early and possibly start against Florida State.

 

KD Cannon | Davion Hall, WR, Baylor

He doesn’t have the same skillset or size of Lazard — he stands just six-feet tall and weighs under 170 pounds — but Cannon could have a similar impact on Baylor. The state 4A 100-m champion in Texas brings elite speed to a position that has developed into a marquee role. It shouldn’t shock anyone if Cannon, as well as equally touted wideout Davion Hall (6-3, 186), gets plenty of early playing time. This duo compliments each other extremely well.

 

Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

The star tailback from Oakley (Calif.) Freedom is currently sitting on the sidelines in Norman but was the top-rated recruit in the Big 12 for a reason. He has special ability and would figure into the starting running back situation if he can get onto the field. He has been suspended indefinitely pending an investigation into an altercation that took place in late July.

 

James Washington | Ra’Shaad Samples, WR, Oklahoma State

There is one name drawing the headlines in Cowboys camp when it comes to freshman and Washington is the guy. Coaches and players are raving daily about his raw physical talent. He and the smallish redshirted Samples are on a team that runs four wide receivers regularly and should find their way onto the field this fall.

 

Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

The South Carolina native enrolled at Oklahoma State early and has developed enough confidence with the coaches to earn 25-percent of the reps in fall camp. Odds are J.W. Walsh is the starter for the first half of the season but fans can bet on a quick hook should he struggle. If that happens, the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder may have a chance to steal the starting job.

 

Best of the Rest:

 

Jah’Shawn Johnson, DB, Texas Tech

Darius James, OL, Texas

Dalvin Warmack, RB, Kansas State

Kyron Watson, LB, Kansas

Kamari Cotton-Moya, S, Iowa State

Nigel Bethel II, CB, Texas Tech

Colin Dowling, P, Iowa State

Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech

Foster Sawyer | Grayson Muehlstein, QB, TCU

Jerrod Heard, QB, Texas

Teaser:
The Big 12's Top Freshmen to Watch in 2014
Post date: Friday, August 15, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-official-2014-predictions
Body:

The 2014 season is upon us and the guys make all of their official predictions for each of the Big 5 conferences as well as who will win the first College Football Playoff.

 

Managing Editor Mitch Light joins Braden Gall, David Fox and Steven Lassan to make picks, conduct a Coaching Hot Seat fantasy draft, discuss bathroom etiquette and remember a legendary comedian.

 

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

Teaser:
Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: Official 2014 Predictions
Post date: Thursday, August 14, 2014 - 16:25
Path: /college-football/big-tens-top-freshmen-watch-2014
Body:

The beauty of college football lies in its unpredictability and volatility.

 

Roster turnover is largely responsible for the tremendous amount of variability from year to year within the sport. Key graduations, early entries into the NFL Draft, dismissals and a massive influx of tomorrow's stars in the form of bright-eyed freshmen create more personnel turnover in college football than any other major sport in the country.

 

It's these (relatively) unknown commodities that offer fans a renewed hope of future success. Who are the top freshmen to watch in the Big Ten this fall?

 

Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan

This list has to begin with the Charles Woodson clone in Ann Arbor. He will begin his career as the nickelback but could easily work into a starting role on defense. Peppers, in true Woodson fashion, is a dynamic return specialist and don’t be surprised if he gets some snaps on offense as well. He was the No. 3 overall prospect in the 2014 class for a reason.

 

Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

The No. 2-rated recruit in the Big Ten was the top inside linebacker in the nation and he is already pressing for starting reps in Columbus. The 242-pounder is breathing down Curtis Grant’s neck at MLB and should see plenty of snaps all year long. The early enrollee is the next great tackling star for Ohio State.

 

Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State

A man among boys, McDowell has rare size (6-6, 295) and quickness for such a young player. With an injury to Damon Knox, Pat Narduzzi needs McDowell to be ready to start sooner rather than later. He may not start the opener but he will be major factor for the Spartans this fall.

 

Damian Prince | Derwin Gray, OL, Maryland

Both Prince and Gray are in the heat of two position battles for starting time up front for the Terps. Prince (6-5, 295) was recently moved to guard and is the odds-on favorite to earn the starting job. Gray (6-5, 295) is battling Ryan Doyle for the starting right tackle spot. Both Prince and Gray are dramatically more talented options but need to catch on quickly to start all year.

 

Chikwe Obasih | Alec James, DL, Wisconsin

The Badgers could feature two redshirt freshman starting defensive ends in Week 1 against LSU. Obasih (6-2, 245) and James (6-3, 239) are undersized but both bring a quickness off the edge Wisconsin hasn’t had in years. Obasih was the starter throughout spring camp and James, a converted outside backer, has risen quickly into a starting role. There will be a rotation up front this fall but expect both Obasih and James to finish the year as the starters.

 

Mason Cole, OL, Michigan

Most offensive linemen need to time to develop but Cole is proving he is ready to play right out of the gate. The Florida native checks in at 6-foot-5 and a slighter 285 pounds but has great athleticism and is already working with the first team in camp. Both David Dawson and Logan Tuley-Tillman could see playing time as well up front for a team in desperate need of stability on the O-line.

 

Gelen Robinson, DE/LB, Purdue

The hybrid Purdue freshman has already been moved from outside linebacker to defensive end. The 6-foot-1, 240-pounder was an end in high school and is at his best coming off the edge. The physical player should force his way into the starting lineup by the end of September.

 

Andrew Nelson, OL, Penn State

One of the biggest question marks in the Big Ten this fall is the Nittany Lions' O-line. Herb Hand is going to try everything to counteract the concerning lack of depth and that likely means a lot of young players getting reps this fall. Nelson is already slotted to start at right tackle and pretty much any other player on the roster should expect to see time for the depleted Lions.

 

Freddy Canteen, WR, Michigan

Canteen has already earned high marks from quarterback Devin Gardner and figures to be a big contributor in the slot this fall. He had an excellent spring and has outplayed more highly touted freshman and plenty of upperclassmen. Once Drake Harris is healthy, he also figures to play a role this fall as well.

 

Chris Goodwin | De’Andre Thompkins, WR, Penn State

James Franklin and his staff attacked depth at the wide receiver position on the recruiting trail and landed a quartet of athletic playmakers. Goodwin and Thompkins are the two names that continue to stand out. Thompkins (6-0, 175) is the speedster who can fly while Goodwin (6-2, 205) brings a physical frame and maturity to the position. Both Troy Apke and Saeed Blacknall could see playing time as well.

 

Sean Welsh, OL, Iowa

The 6-foot-3, 285-pounder recently was moved into the starting lineup at left guard for Kirk Ferentz. Surrounded by seniors and juniors, the Ohio native is proving quickly that he belongs on the field for Iowa.

 

Curtis Samuel, AP, Ohio State

Fans have been pointing to Dontre Wilson as a guy who could fill the Percy Harvin role for Urban Meyer at Ohio State. And while Wilson is going to have an excellent sophomore season, it’s actually Samuel who is drawing the brightest reviews. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder is listed as a wideout but has been getting plenty of carries out of the backfield. Look for Samuel to play a lot in a variety of roles this fall.

 

Best of the Rest:

 

Demetrius Cooper, DE, Michigan State

Dominique Booth, WR, Indiana

Jeff Jones | Berkley Edwards, RB, Minnesota

Corey Clements, OL, Purdue

Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State

George Rushing | Natrell Jamerson, WR, Wisconsin

Derrick Willies, WR, Iowa

Enoch Smith, DL, Michigan State
Shane Jones | Jon Reschke, LB, Michigan State
Sebastian Joseph, DL, Rutgers
Myles Nash, LB, Rutgers

Teaser:
The Big Ten's Top Freshmen to Watch in 2014
Post date: Thursday, August 14, 2014 - 08:30
Path: /college-football/accs-top-freshmen-watch-2014
Body:

The beauty of college football lies in its unpredictability and volatility.

 

Roster turnover is largely responsible for the tremendous amount of variability from year to year within the sport. Key graduations, early entries into the NFL Draft, dismissals and a massive influx of tomorrow's stars in the form of bright-eyed freshmen create more personnel turnover in college football than any other major sport in the country.

 

It's these (relatively) unknown commodities that offer fans a renewed hope of future success. Who are the top freshmen to watch in the ACC this fall?

 

Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson

The uber-recruit from Immokalee (Fla.) High redshirted a year ago and is ready to fulfill his lofty recruiting expectations. He’s gained some weight and will be charged with protecting the back end of a defense littered with seniors.

 

Matthew Thomas, LB, Florida State

After experiencing some speed bumps in the recruiting process, Thomas is finally ready to contribute in Tallahassee. He has freakish ability and is slated to start alongside Terrance Smith. Jimbo Fisher has proven he will ask big things of first-year starters and Thomas is the next in line.

 

Quin Blanding, S, Virginia

The five-star safety from Virginia Beach (Va.) Bayside is slotted to start the moment he steps onto a college field for the first time. He has veterans to learn from but the 6-foot-4, 210-pound dynamo could be a savior at the back end of the Cavaliers' defense.

 

Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina

Arkansas State head coach and former UNC assistant Blake Anderson told me last week that Hood is as ready made as any true freshman in the ACC. There is a crowded backfield in Chapel Hill but the 220-pounder might be the most talented of the bunch.

 

KC McDermott, OL, Miami

The Hurricanes have plenty of holes to fill and one should be plugged by the monster (6-6, 315) in-state blocker. He has been worked at right tackle with the first team and he could be just one of a few first-year blockers who contribute in a big way for Miami.

 

Ermon Lane | Travis Rudolph, WR, Florida State

There is plenty of space in the offense behind senior Rashad Greene and both Lane (6-3, 205) and Rudolph (6-2, 185) have been exceptional in fall camp. Greene and quarterback Jameis Winston have had glowing things to say about the two tall playmakers.

 

Wyatt Teller, OL, Virginia Tech

The 6-foot-5, 300-pound redshirt freshman has moved from defensive line to offensive tackle to offensive guard and hasn’t played a down yet. But he looks and acts the part of an interior mauler already. His weight lifting records are a testament to that. He will fight to keep his job but the future is extremely bright for Teller in Blacksburg.

 

Andrew Brown, DL, Virginia

A turf toe injury resulted in surgery at the beginning of fall camp and that has slowed the expectations for the five-star nose guard. The coaching staff still believes the big 300-pounder will be a major contributor this fall but they will ease their prized freshman back into action.

 

Chad Thomas, DL, Miami

It’s hard to hide Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio’s excitement about having Thomas on the roster. The local product checks in at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds with excellent burst and great agility. He is the type of South Florida defender the Canes have been sorely lacking.

 

Bo Hines, WR, NC State

Dave Doeren’s offense will be much improved in Year Two with Jacoby Brissett under center. Hines was impressive in spring camp after enrolling early and there is plenty of space on the depth chart for a talented pass-catcher like Hines to flourish in 2014.

 

Quarterbacks to Watch:

 

Deshaun Watson, Clemson

The talented dual-threat early enrollee needs to stay healthy but should already be entrenched as Cole Stoudt’s backup and the QB of the future.

 

Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina

Marquise Williams is the starter but Trubisky brings pocket talent that Larry Fedora brought in for a reason. He is the future in Chapel Hill.

 

Kevin Olsen, Miami

He’s suspended for at least the opener against Louisville but this situation could be so dire that Olsen could get plenty of reps once he’s out of the doghouse. True freshman Brad Kaaya is also getting a look.

 

Best of the Rest:

 

Bentley Spain | R.J. Prince, OL, North Carolina

Keith Bryant | Derrick Nnadi, DL, Florida State

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

Artavis Scott, WR, Clemson

Wayne Gallman | Tyshon Dye, RB, Clemson

Zach Challingsworth | Jester Weah, WR, Pitt

Joseph Yearby, RB, Miami

Kentavius Street, DL, NC State

Chris Griffin, OL, Georgia Tech

Teaser:
The ACC's Top Freshmen to Watch in 2014
Post date: Wednesday, August 13, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/top-10-most-underrated-college-football-quarterbacks-2014
Body:

Do most SEC fans know who Taylor Kelly is? That he is the only other player in the nation other than the great Johnny Manziel to throw for at least 3,000 yards and rush for at least 500 in each of the last two seasons?

 

Because if not, they should. Which is why Kelly is ranked by Athlon Sports as the No. 8 quarterback in college football heading into the 2014 campaign.

 

So using that list of the best quarterbacks in the nation to determine exactly what “underrated” is — for this exercise, anyone not ranked in the top 15 — here are the most underrated signal-callers in college football this fall.

 

Dak Prescott, Mississippi State (Jr.)

The Bulldogs are one of just three teams from the Big 5 conferences that have never had a QB drafted in the modern era (1977). But with great leadership, poise, toughness and a special blend of size (6-foot-2, 235 pounds) and athleticism (829 yards rushing last year), Prescott could be the first. He should also be the first 3,000-yard passer in school history. Dan Mullen has built a deep roster in Starkville and now he has the quarterback to go along with it. Look for Prescott and the Bulldogs to make plenty of noise this fall.

 

Davis Webb, Texas Tech (So.)

There are few players in the nation who are safer bets to reach 4,000 yards and/or 30 touchdown passes this year than Webb. He proved himself as a freshman last year, throwing for over 300 yards five times in just six starts — including his marquee, 385-yard performance in the upset of Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. Look for monster numbers from Tech’s quarterback this fall.

 

Taylor Heinicke, Old Dominion (Sr.)

He’s started 33 straight games for ODU and is one of the most decorated and prolific passers in college football history. He is one of just 18 Division I quarterbacks to throw at least 100 touchdowns (102) and is 29th all-time in NCAA history with 11,483 yards entering his senior season. The Monarchs will have chances to showcase Heinicke against the ACC (NC State), the SEC (Vanderbilt) and Marshall.

 

Keenan Reynolds, Navy (Jr.)

The Navy quarterback won’t ever make headlines for passing the football but Reynolds certainly made a statement as a runner last fall. Reynolds set the single season TD record for a quarterback with 31 rushing scores. He finished with 1,346 yards on 300 carries. Few players are better suited to run the triple option than the Nashville native.

 

Nate Sudfeld, Indiana (Jr.)

In two seasons splitting time under center, Sudfeld has helped Indiana lead the Big Ten in passing offense twice. He posted numbers comparable to most Big Ten starters last fall (2,523 yards, 21 TDs, 9 INTs) despite sharing the field with Tre Roberson. He now has sole control of Kevin Wilson’s prolific offense and should flourish with huge numbers — and, who knows, maybe a bowl berth for the Hoosiers.

 

C.J. Brown, Maryland (Sr.)

If fans are looking for someone else who could join Kelly as a 3,000-500 guy, look no further than Maryland’s Brown. Finally healthy, the Terps' signal-caller threw for 2,242 yards, ran for 576 and accounted for 25 total touchdowns. All without two potential NFL wideouts in Deon Long and Stefon Diggs. Look for Brown (if healthy) to be one of the surprises in the Big Ten this fall.

 

Cody Kessler, USC (Jr.)

He isn’t a star like most of his Pac-12 brethren, but make no mistake, Kessler has plenty of talent. The Trojans' signal-caller finally grasped Clay Helton’s offense following Lane Kiffin’s firing. He threw 14 touchdown passes and just three interceptions while winning seven of nine games following the regime change. This includes a very impressive 288-yard, TD performance in the marquee win over Stanford. He threw just seven interceptions in 362 attempts and posted career highs (344 yds, 4 TDs) in the season finale bowl win over Fresno State.

 

Cole Stoudt, Clemson (Sr.)

His story isn’t told all that often any longer in college football. Most players don’t sit and wait their turn like Stoudt has done at Clemson. Now, he is given the reins to one of the most prolific offensive systems in the nation. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder completed 79.3 percent of his passes last year in mop-up duty but has the tempo and quick release coordinator Chad Morris is looking for in 2014.

 

Will Gardner, Louisville (So.)

The 6-foot-5 pocket passer from Douglas (Ga.) Coffee turned down a scholarship offer from Alabama to attend Louisville. Now, he falls into a Bobby Petrino offense in which his skill set should flourish. A great offensive line, a superstar wide receiver (DeVante Parker) and a talented running game could make this as potent a Petrino offense as any. And it all starts with the 230-pound sophomore.

 

Marquise Williams, North Carolina (Jr.)

Forced into action when Bryn Renner was injured, Williams acquitted himself admirably in his first chance as a starting college quarterback. Over the final seven games of the season, he rushed for 441 yards, threw for 1,308 yards, scored 17 total touchdowns and led the Tar Heels to a 6-1 record. The offense averaged over 40 points per game during that span and he should only continue to get better this fall.

Teaser:
The Top 10 Most Underrated College Football Quarterbacks in 2014
Post date: Wednesday, August 13, 2014 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/pac-12s-top-freshmen-watch-2014
Body:

The beauty of college football lies in its unpredictability and volatility.

 

Roster turnover is largely responsible for the tremendous amount of variability from year to year within the sport. Key graduations, early entries into the NFL Draft, dismissals and a massive influx of tomorrow's stars in the form of bright-eyed freshmen create more personnel turnover in college football than any other major sport in the country.

 

It's these (relatively) unknown commodities that offer fans a renewed hope of future success. Who are the top freshmen to watch in the Pac-12 this fall?

 

Adoree Jackson, ATH, USC

For lack of a better term, Coach Steve Sarkisian adores his true freshman, do-everything dynamo. Jackson is penciled in as the star kick returner but will also get carries as a running back, catch passes as a receiver and could even get reps as a defensive back. Coach Sark will use Jackson in any and all ways this fall because it looks like the freshman can handle it.

 

Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona

The former standout from famed Bishop Gorman High School has been taking most of the first-team reps and appears to have a leg up on Jerrard Randall and Jesse Scroggins. His skill set fits Rich Rodriguez’ offense perfectly and he’s had a year to sit and learn the playbook. He was a big-time winner in high school and is one of the highest-rated QB recruits to ever sign at Arizona.

 

Tyree Robinson, S, Oregon

While twin brother Tyrell will be suiting up for Fresno State after being dismissed from Oregon, Tyree is set to take over as the starting strong safety. The long, rangy athlete has put in the work this offseason and is in line to become a breakout defender in his redshirt freshman season in Eugene.

 

Khaliel Rodgers | Toa Lobendahn, OL, USC

Rodgers, a four-star member of the 2013 class, has been through two springs and was considered the best center in the nation two years ago. He is penciled in at the pivot currently. Lobendahn was a four-star early enrollee this spring and is currently holding the starting left guard position. The Trojans' front line is extremely talented, but also extremely inexperienced.

 

Jermaine Kelly | Budda Baker, DB, Washington

Baker is the highest-rated member of the 2014 Husky class and has already earned a spot in the two-deep at safety. Kelly, a redshirt freshman, is slotted to start at cornerback for new coach Chris Petersen and his reworked secondary. Look for both talented newcomers to lead a group of defensive backs that could feature half a dozen young contributors.

 

D.J. Calhoun, LB, Arizona State

One of three ASU early enrollees, Calhoun has shot up the depth chart to earn a potential starting spot at outside linebacker. His quickness and size allows him to be moved all over the formation. He will battle all fall camp to hold onto that starting spot and will undoubtedly be a long-term contributor for Todd Graham.

 

Bryce Bobo, WR, Colorado

Bobo is the top name in a collection of young freshmen who stand to get playing time this fall in Mike MacIntryre’s offense. Junior Nelson Spruce will be the top target for the Buffs but Bobo leads a deep group of redshirt and true freshmen who are eyeing first-team reps. Bobo, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound redshirt freshman, has the inside track for the No. 2 role in Boulder.

 

JuJu Smith, ATH, USC

Who knows what side of the ball it will be on but Smith appears to be earmarked for a large role as just a true freshman. He’s already gotten rave reviews as a wide receiver but rumors are swirling about the electric player switching to defensive back to start at nickelback. Wherever he lines up, keep an eye on the explosive youngster.

 

Devon Allen | Darren Carrington, WR, Oregon

The Ducks are in desperate need of quality depth at wide receiver and Oregon could have a couple of playmakers in Allen and Carrington. Allen, a world-class sprinter and track star, is a great fit in the offense while Carrington brings a bigger, more traditional frame. These are just two freshmen that coordinator Scott Frost and head coach Mark Helfrich will employ this fall.

 

Austin Hooper, TE, Stanford

Many are excited to see the nation’s No. 1 tight end prospect Dalton Schultz in action but they may have to wait until after he redshirts this fall. This is due, in part, to the development of redshirt freshman Austin Hooper. The 6-foot-4, 250-pounder is excellent at both in-line blocking (a must) and as a pass-catcher (a need) in Stanford’s offense. The three-time state champ from De La Salle is slated to start for David Shaw this fall.

 

Cole Madison, OL, Washington State

The 6-foot-5, 300-pounder is penciled in as the starter at right tackle for Mike Leach. The former tight end recruit has added plenty of weight (obviously) and has been considered the starter on the right side since spring camp. Look for Madison to have a long career in Pullman.

 

Best of the Rest:

 

Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona

Marcus Ball, S, Arizona State

Hunter Jarmon | Walter Jones, WR, Oregon State

Kenny Young, LB, UCLA

Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford

Jacob Alsadek, OL, Arizona

Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

Tre Watson, RB, Cal

Salesi Uhatafe, OL, Utah

Teaser:
The Pac-12's Top Freshmen to Watch in 2014
Post date: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/secs-top-freshmen-watch-2014
Body:

The beauty of college football lies in its unpredictability and volatility. 

 

Roster turnover is largely responsible for the tremendous amount of variability from year to year within the sport. Key graduations, early entries into the NFL Draft, dismissals and a massive influx of tomorrow's stars in the form of bright-eyed freshmen create more personnel turnover in college football than any other major sport in the country.

 

It's these (relatively) unknown commodities that offer fans a renewed hope of future success. Who are the top freshmen to watch in the SEC this fall?

 

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

The conversation about 2014's top freshmen not only in the SEC but in the nation begins with the No. 1 prospect in the class. From a power and speed standpoint, Fournette might be the closest thing college football has seen Adrian Peterson began his career at Oklahoma over a decade ago. He is a 6-foot-1, 230-pound sure thing and is likely a front-runner for national freshman of the year.

 

Cam Robinson, OL, Alabama

The mammoth 6-foot-6 freshman from West Monroe (La.) High School was the No. 1 offensive line prospect in the nation. He enrolled early and has already been working with the first team offense for most of the summer. How many national title contenders will have a true freshman anchoring the left tackle position?

 

Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M

The No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation is a tall, pocket passer from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Desert Mountain. The 6-foot-3 signal-caller is a student of the game and is battling Kenny Hill for full-time starting duties in College Station. Many believe Allen is the future and will eventually wrestle the starting job away from Hill permanently.

 

Ricky Seals-Jones | Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M

Seals-Jones was a five-star top 25 prospect in the 2013 class. He redshirted last year after catching three passes in two games early in the year. His massive frame is a mismatch nightmare for most SEC defenses. Packaged with the smaller, more explosive and versatile Noil, this duo could easily develop into one of the SEC's best. 

 

Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee

The Nashville product is every bit of 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds and he stands out on Tennessee's practice field. He's dealt with some health issues during his outstanding prep career, but if he can stay on the field, his rare combination of size and speed makes him an instant impact player for Butch Jones — both as a runner and pass-catcher.

 

Jalen Tabor | Duke Dawson, DB, Florida

Both enrolled early in January and both will compete for the starting spot opposite All-American Vernon Hargreaves III. The loser of that battle will likely be the top nickelback — a position that is almost a starter in the modern SEC. Tabor is slightly more talented and fits better as a corner, while the more physical Dawson has the ability to make plays around the line of scrimmage. Florida is the LSU of the East in terms of producing defensive backs.

 

Matt Elam, DT, Kentucky

The massive 6-foot-7, 350-pounder (depending on the time of day) is already entrenched as a starter for Mark Stoops' defensive line. The head coach can barely hide his excitement about injecting this talented in-state product into the heart of his developing defensive front. Elam will go through growing pains but has the astounding quickness and agility that NFL scouts drool over when it comes to guys his size.

 

Jamal Adams, S, LSU

In just a few trips to the practice field, Adams already has Les Miles raving about his overall ability. The big-time defensive back prospect is already working with the starting defensive unit for coordinator John Chavis and is set to become the next in a ridiculously impressive run of elite secondary players for LSU.

 

Tre Williams, LB, Auburn

He may not start the season in the starting lineup but fans can expect to see plenty of Williams this fall. Behind an impressive work ethic and willingness to learn, Williams has placed himself in the running to steal a starting spot in his first fall camp. 'Headhunter' is the word starter Cassanova McKinzy used to describe Williams.

 

Brandon Harris, QB, LSU

He is battling with Anthony Jennings but the 6-foot-2, 195-pound dual-threat signal-caller brings a new dimension to LSU's offense. He may not win the starting job right away but all signs are pointing to this dynamic freshman as the future for Cam Cameron and Les Miles in Baton Rouge.

 

Myles Garrett | Justin Manning, DL, Texas A&M

The only player rated ahead of Garrett in the national recruiting rankings was Fournette. The freakish 6-foot-4, 250-pounder is set to carve out a critical role for a defensive line in desperate need of development. Garrett and former four-star redshirt freshman Justin Manning are two names who should establish themselves as future All-SEC types in 2014.

 

Tony Brown | Marlon Humphrey, DB, Alabama

One of the few weaknesses for Alabama is at cornerback where graduation and the NFL Draft have finally caught up with Nick Saban. Brown (6-fooot, 190) enrolled early and will be fighting for one of two open corner sports all camp long. He was the top defensive back signee in the SEC and was considered the No. 9 overall prospect in the nation. Humphrey is no less talented and he brings an equally impressive 6-foot-1 frame to a secondary in need of quick help (relatively speaking).

 

Oren Burks, S, Vanderbilt

The redshirt freshman moved from linebacker to safety when new coach Derek Mason took over. Mason wants his size (6-2, 215) at the back end of his defense. He has a chance to be one of the most imposing playmakers in a totally rebuilt secondary.

 

Malkom Parrish, DB, Georgia

Both players can play multiple positions and both have seen time at various spots. Parrish has excelled backing up J.J. Green at the Star position and has pressed for starting time at corner. Additionally, Aaron Davis, a redshirt freshman and starting corner in spring practice, is now playing at safety due to Parrish's emergence. Both could start this fall in coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's reworked secondary.

 

Wesley Green, CB, South Carolina

Few teams took a bigger hit at one position like the Gamecocks did at cornerback. Which is why Steve Spurrier signed five defensive backs in this class. Green and fellow freshman Chris Lammons will get every opportunity to land starting roles in Lorenzo Ward's secondary.

 

Best of the rest:

 

Bijhon Jackson, DT, Arkansas

Rod Taylor, OL, Ole Miss

Malachi Dupree, WR, LSU

Josh Malone, WR, Tennessee

Braden Smith, OL, Auburn

Dillon Bates, LB, Tennessee

J'Mon Moore, WR, Missouri

Peyton Barber, RB, Auburn

Nigel Bowden, LB, Vanderbilt

Nifae Lealao, DT, Vanderbilt

Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia

Aeris Williams, RB, Mississippi State

 

Special Teamers to Watch:

 

Daniel Carlson, K, Auburn

JK Scott, P, Alabama

Cole Hedlund, K, Arkansas

Gary Wunderlich, P, Ole Miss

Teaser:
The SEC's Top 15 Freshman to Watch in 2014
Post date: Monday, August 11, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-pac-12s-toughest-college-football-schedules-2014
Body:

Will 2014 be the year the SEC is no longer considered the best conference in football?

 

If Larry Scott has anything to do with it, the answer is yes. The Pac-12, on the backs of elite quarterback play and a talented coaching roster, is poised to make a run at the SEC’s supremacy this fall.

 

If it doesn’t eat itself alive, that is. The Pac-12 schedules appear to be the most difficult in the country. Some of that is because the league west of the Rockies plays nine conference games and a championship game. Additionally, most of the heavy hitters in this league also will play a marquee non-conference game.

 

In trying to pick a champion — we settled on Oregon over UCLA after much deliberation — schedules play a huge role. Which Pac-12 schedule is the toughest?

 

1. Stanford

Road: Washington, Arizona St, Oregon, Cal, UCLA

Home: USC, Wazzu, Oregon St, Utah

Misses: Arizona, Colorado

Non-Con: UC Davis, Army, at Notre Dame

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 86-68 (55.8%, 42nd)

 

Road trips are going to be the name of the game for the Cardinal. Stanford has to face four of the Pac-12's six ranked teams (preseason Top 25) on the road, including the top two North Division challengers and Notre Dame. Not only does Stanford have to face each of the top three teams from the South but also it gets UCLA and Arizona State on the road. A perfect home record may not be able to overcome the difficulty of the away schedule this fall.

 

2. UCLA

Road: Arizona St, Cal, Colorado, Washington

Home: Utah, Oregon, Arizona, USC, Stanford

Misses: Oregon St, Wazzu

Non-Con: at Virginia, Memphis, Texas (Arlington)

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 82-72 (53.3%, 60th)

 

The Bruins, like Stanford, will play most of the other preseason-ranked teams in the league. Facing just two — Arizona State and Washington — from this quintet on the road is a small comfort as USC, Oregon and Stanford must all visit Pasadena. The trip to Arlington to play Texas is no joke either. This is a brutal schedule with very few breaks.

 

3. Utah

Road: UCLA, Oregon St, Arizona St, Stanford, Colorado

Home: Wazzu, USC, Oregon, Arizona

Misses: Cal, Washington

Non-Con: Idaho St, Fresno St, at Michigan

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 98-59 (62.4%, 11th)

 

Utah has to play both Stanford and Oregon to go along with the top four teams in the South. It also must visit Michigan on the road — even though the Utes won the last trip to the Big House. The road schedule is one of the toughest in the nation, as there are maybe two guaranteed wins on the slate. Missing Cal from the North really hurts Utah’s bowl chances.

 

4. Washington State

Road: Utah, Stanford, Oregon St, Arizona St

Home: Oregon, Cal, Arizona, USC, Washington

Misses: UCLA, Colorado

Non-Con: Rutgers, at Nevada, Portland St

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 88-67 (56.9%, 36th)

 

There are some wins to be had early for Mike Leach despite two “interesting” non-conference games with Rutgers and Nevada. Other than a visit from Oregon, Wazzu could easily win every other game until Oct. 10. Then the slate gives way to brutal tests each and every week. The final six include Stanford, Arizona, USC, Oregon State, Arizona State and Washington.

 

5. Cal

Road: Arizona, Wazzu, Oregon St, USC

Home: Colorado, Washington, UCLA, Oregon, Stanford
Misses: Arizona St, Utah

Non-Con: at Northwestern, Sacramento St, BYU

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 94-61 (60.6%, 17th)

 

There is no marquee non-conference game but there are two tough ones instead of what should be three gimmies. Cal does get the top three teams in its division at home but unless the Bears pull off a major upset, fans might actually prefer those (almost guaranteed) losses come on the road. There aren’t many winnable games on this schedule.

 

6. Colorado

Road: Cal, USC, Arizona, Oregon

Home: Arizona St, Oregon St, UCLA, Washington, Utah

Misses: Stanford, Wazzu

Non-Con: Colorado St (Denver), at UMass, Hawaii

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 81-74 (52.3%, 66th)

 

The Buffs are slated to play five preseason-ranked conference foes, two of which will come on the road. The home schedule is full of marquee games, but can Colorado capitalize and pull an upset or two? Missing Stanford is a blessing and the non-conference slate isn’t overly taxing but this is still a schedule befitting a team picked last in the division.

 

7. Arizona State

Road: Colorado, USC, Washington, Oregon St, Arizona

Home: UCLA, Stanford, Utah, Wazzu

Misses: Cal, Oregon

Non-Con: Weber St, at New Mexico, Notre Dame

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 84-70 (54.6%, 52nd)

 

Missing Oregon is huge news for the Sun Devils but that is balanced by adding Notre Dame in the non-conference. The home slate is filled with three ranked teams and four bowl teams while the road slate features trips to two potential third-place teams (USC, Washington) and two really dangerous locales (Corvallis, Tucson).

 

8. Oregon State

Road: USC, Colorado, Stanford, Washington

Home: Utah, Cal, Wazzu, Arizona St, Oregon

Misses: Arizona, UCLA

Non-Con: Portland St, at Hawaii, San Diego St

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 82-72 (53.3%, 60th)

 

The non-conference slate should provide three wins for the Beavers and the second half of the schedule is very intriguing. The Beavers miss two great offenses from the South in Arizona and UCLA and will get four out of five games at home in Reser Stadium in the month of November. The road schedule isn’t helpful with trips to Stanford, USC and Washington on the slate.

 

9. USC

Road: Stanford, Arizona, Utah, Wazzu, UCLA

Home: Oregon St, Arizona St, Colorado, Cal

Misses: Washington, Oregon

Non-Con: Fresno St, at Boston College, Notre Dame

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 89-66 (57.4%, 29th)

 

Although Fresno State and Boston College aren’t as good as last year, this is one of the more difficult non-conference slates in the league. So it’s a good thing that USC misses both the Huskies and Ducks from the North. The home slate isn’t all that intriguing while the road schedule is full of speed bumps and showdowns.

 

10. Oregon

Road: Wazzu, UCLA, Cal, Utah, Oregon St

Home: Arizona, Washington, Stanford, Colorado

Misses: Arizona St, USC

Non-Con: S. Dakota, Michigan St, Wyoming

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 84-69 (54.9%, 49th)

 

Missing two of the top three teams from the South is a major positive. Getting to host the top two teams in the North — Washington and Stanford — is another huge plus. There are some tricky road trips to UCLA, Salt Lake City, Corvallis and Pullman, but this schedule sets up pretty well for the Ducks later in the year — despite having to play arguably the biggest non-conference game of the year.

 

11. Arizona

Road: Oregon, Wazzu, UCLA, Utah

Home: Cal, USC, Colorado, Washington, Arizona St

Misses: Oregon St, Stanford

Non-Con: UNLV, at UTSA, Nevada

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 84-69 (54.9%, 49th)

 

Rich Rodriguez should once again be perfect in the non-conference while five home games in league play in Tucson could be exciting. Missing Stanford and Oregon State from up North is a positive and having to face Oregon and UCLA — the two predicted winners and likely losses — on the road may actually be a blessing too. This is a manageable, albeit very testy, slate.

 

12. Washington

Road: Cal, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona, Wazzu

Home: Stanford, Arizona St, UCLA, Oregon St

Misses: Utah, USC

Non-Con: at Hawaii, E. Washington, Illinois, Georgia St

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 85-83 (50.6%, 77th)

 

Missing USC is going to be a blessing (for a variety of reasons) and both Arizona State and UCLA must come North to Seattle. So, too, does two-time defending champ Stanford. And the non-conference slate should provide four easy wins (yes, four). That said, the biggest game of the year could come at Oregon on Oct. 18. Unless U of W can close the gap on the Ducks, the rest of the schedule may not matter.

Teaser:
Ranking the Pac-12's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2014
Post date: Friday, August 8, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/15-defensive-heisman-trophy-candidates-2014
Body:

When it comes to the Heisman Trophy, the little guy gets no respect.

 

And by the little guy, I don’t mean Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton. I mean 300-pound defensive lineman or 6-foot-4 fire-breathing linebackers.

 

No, when it comes to the most prestigious trophy in sports, the entire defensive side of the ball has been largely ignored for the better part of a century. Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997 is the only true defensive player to ever win the award.

 

Recent runs to New York by Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh in 2009 and Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o in '12 may be a sign of things changing slowly, but odds are still heavily stacked against the defensive side of the ball.

 

Assuming that both halves of the field will get a fair shake this fall, who are the top defensive Heisman candidates for 2014?

 

Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington

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. Thompson, on the other hand, could see more than spot duty for the Huskies' offense. He is a freak athlete, an All-American candidate and could be the next two-way star in college football.

 

Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson

The nation’s top returning sack master is the Tigers' star — who posted 13 sacks 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.

 

Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska

The Big Ten’s top returning sack master (9.5), Gregory is hoping to restore the Nebraska defense to Blackshirt status. He should be able to build on his monster 2013 campaign that featured 65 tackles, 16 for a loss and 15 quarterback hurries. Like Calhoun, Gregory should perform like the projected first-round NFL Draft pick that he is.

 

Eric Striker, LB, Oklahoma

The big-play linebacker shows up 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.

 

Listen to the latest Cover 2 college football podcast:

 

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.

 

Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame

He was the No. 1 recruit in the nation at his position for a reason. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound athlete stepped into a starring role for Notre Dame and produced as just a freshman last fall. He posted 67 tackles (third on the team), 6.5 for a loss and made one freakish interception against USC. With a move to the inside, Smith should find himself around the ball on every play and the Irish have already proven that their middle linebacker can land in New York.

 

Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State

The massive (6-5, 260) defensive end was a star last year as just a sophomore (37 tackles, 14 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 3 defensive touchdowns). With much less help at linebacker, the Spartans' defensive line now takes center stage. Calhoun is the star of that bunch due to elite NFL upside.

 

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 Crimson Tide 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.

 

Myles Jack, LB, UCLA

Jack made a huge name for himself last fall while playing two ways. Unfortunately, coach 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.

 

Leonard Williams, DE, USC

The lanky defensive end is a projected top pick in the NFL Draft in the spring and should he dominate the line of scrimmage once again — he has 26 TFL and 13 sacks in two seasons — he should be in line for national acclaim.

 

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 defenders in the nation and should be an All-American this fall.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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, seven for a loss and three sacks and constantly disrupted the opposing backfield. He is a sure-fire future NFL star.

 

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 sacks last year and should only be better this year.

Teaser:
10 Defensive Heisman Trophy Candidates for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, August 6, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-state-college-football-steven-godfrey
Body:

The Athlon Sports Cover 2 college football podcast is finally back in Nashville after trips to SEC and Big Ten Media Days. 

 

To offer a complete media days recap and a general state of college football address, Braden Gall and David Fox are joined by SBNation's Steven Godfrey.

 

The guys break down autonomy, the future of scheduling, the impact of sweeping changes on the fans and much more.

 

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: State of College Football with Steven Godfrey
Post date: Tuesday, August 5, 2014 - 17:22
Path: /college-football/10-darkhorse-heisman-trophy-candidates-2014
Body:

Defining the term “dark horse” was actually the toughest part of this exercise.

 

Finding really talented players who could breakout into prominent roles is actually the easiest part of trying to pick Heisman Trophy sleepers. Part of what makes college football the greatest sport in the world is its volatility and unpredictability.

 

After debates with many trusted advisors within the Athlon Sports walls, I decided to let Las Vegas define dark horse for me. There are 24 names listed on Bovada’s Heisman Trophy season odds page (for those who enjoy gambling) and those 24 players are ineligible (according to me) to be included as dark horses.

 

This includes players who I would call "dark horses" like Alabama’s Derrick Henry, who isn’t even a true starter, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, who hasn’t played a single down of college football, or Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, who’s never started a full season.

 

Top Heisman Sleepers:

 

Taysom Hill, BYU

The BYU signal-caller has an elite combination of size, power and athleticism that most quarterbacks only dream about. His ability to embarrass defenses with his feet is obvious — try 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground — but it’s his continued development as a passer that makes him a Heisman contender. He finished eighth in the nation with 4,282 yards of total offense — ahead of names like Winston, Boyd, Bridgewater and Bortles. With a schedule filled with solid but not overly taxing games, Hill will post monster numbers for a team with double-digit wins.

 

Byron Marshall, Oregon

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 is too good to keep off the field for very long.

 

Cole Stoudt, 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 Chad Morris’ attack. He’s all about tempo and is a solid fit for an offense that consistently posts huge statistics. An early upset over Georgia or Florida State are almost a must, however, to get into the mix.

 

Davis Webb, Texas Tech

Captain Kliff believes in Webb so much that anyone else on the Lubbock campus who can throw a football left town this offseason. Webb proved enough as a freshman last fall to entrench himself as the star of the show at Texas Tech. He threw for over 300 yards five times in just six starts, including 385 yards against Oklahoma and 403 in Holiday Bowl upset win over Arizona State. The offense should provide huge numbers and a few upsets at home (like, say, against Texas or Oklahoma) could put Webb into national conversations.

 

Christian Hackenberg, Penn State

There aren’t too many players with as many physical skills as Hackenberg. He is a sure-fire, first-round NFL Draft pick in two springs as he set 11 school records as a true freshman last year. The offensive line and overall depth is a major concern and keeps him from being mentioned alongside names like Brett Hundley, Bryce Petty and Braxton Miller, but Hackenberg is just as talented. Look for the PSU QB to continue to grow with no limits on his upside.

 

Maty Mauk, Missouri

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. 

 

Chuckie Keeton, Utah State

In 2012, Keeton was exceptional by throwing for 3,373 yards and 27 touchdowns with only nine picks while also rushing for 619 yards and eight touchdowns. The Aggies were 11-2. Last year, Keeton accounted for 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions with 1,629 yards of total offense in just six games before suffering a season-ending injury. Utah State also has some marquee games at Tennessee, BYU and Boise State which can help increase Keeton's profile.

 

Jeremy Langford, Michigan State

Ameer Abdullah led the league in rushing and Melvin Gordon got most of the accolades, but Langford was arguably the most important tailback in the Big Ten last year. He rushed for 1,422 yards and 18 scores on the year but 1,070 yards, 13 touchdowns and all eight of his 100-yard games came in conference play. Langford belongs being mentioned alongside the star runners of the B1G.

 

Buck Allen, USC

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.

 

Bo Wallace, Ole Miss

Who finished second to Johnny Manziel last year in the SEC in total offense? Not Aaron Murray, Nick Marshall, AJ 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.

 

Five Super Sleepers:

 

Stefon Diggs, Maryland

If he could just stay healthy, Diggs could make a run at the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver. He does special things with the ball in his hands but has missed seven games in his first two seasons. With a talented quarterback returning, Diggs has a chance to post a breakout season in College Park. The Big Ten will find out quickly how dangerous Diggs can be.

 

Marquise Williams, 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.

 

Shock Linwood, 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?

 

Tyler Boyd, Pitt

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.

 

Will Gardner, Louisville

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.

Teaser:
10 Dark Horse Heisman Trophy Candidates in 2014
Post date: Tuesday, August 5, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-pac-12s-best-and-worst-logos-2014
Body:

Official school logos have been and will always be the simplest and most important way for a college program to classify and separate itself from its peers. Some change dramatically over time while others are literally set in stone for decades. Some are edgy, exciting and extremely busy while others are clean, classic and simple. 

 

Every college football program in the nation has an official logo and the goal is to be the most recognizable brand in the nation.

 

Since Athlon Sports has been designing the best-looking magazines on newsstands for the better part of half a century, we asked our senior graphic design guru to rank college football's best and worst logos.

 

Here is what Art Director Matt Taliaferro had to say about the Pac-12's football logos:

 

 SchoolLogoAnalysis
1.WashingtonSimple, tasteful, unchanging and very obvious. This emblem with its signature gold trim is one of the best in the nation and leaves little doubt as to what it represents.
2.USCThe interlocking "S-C" is as famous as any logo in the nation. The other logo with the script team nickname above the "SC" isn't needed for a major brand like USC.
3.UCLAThe script "UCLA" is one of the most well-known logos in all of sports much less college football. And the way the word Bruins is incorporated makes it one of the most informative in the nation while still being fairly simple.
4.StanfordMichigan State and NC State know exactly what the smart kids from Palo Alto were thinking when this logo was created. It's classic and simple with a touch of style in the stroked white/red trim. Stanford boasts one of the best brand logos in the nation.
5.OregonIt doesn't get any simpler than the Oregon "O." There is some subtle style to the font that makes it cooler than the average "O." The clean classic look works but some yellow trim might make it the best in the league.  
6.ColoradoThe Buffs' logo balances all of the key aspects to a company logo. It's simple and classic but with just enough style and flair while also being incredibly unique. 
7.ArizonaIt's a clean, classic logo that hasn't needed upgrading for years. The use of two fonts is a bit odd but the two-tone, two-layered "A" leaves little doubt as to what this logo represents.
8.Washington StateAnyone who has watched College Gameday knows about this logo. It is creative in an effort to combine the W-S-U with the Cougar head emblem. It is busy and complicated but very solid nonetheless.
9.Arizona StateThe pitchfork by itself is pretty solid looking with some edgy style. I'm glad the primary logo no longer includes the block "ASU" as it was too forced and busy.
10.UtahThe standard block U is great and the school did an excellent job to incorporate Ute Nation into the look. However, the circle has an outdated helmet feel to it. An upgrade could make this pop.
11.CalCal updated their football logo this offseason and it has been met with mixed reviews. The traditional script "Cal" was a smooth look that had been around for some time. The new Bear looks much edgier and more aggressive.
12.Oregon StateThe Beavers updated their look recently with a new edgier looking logo. And, frankly, they did a good job. This one is smoother and streamlined and is more aggressive. It's tough to make a beaver look mean, however.
Teaser:
Ranking the Pac-12's Best and Worst Logos in 2014
Post date: Tuesday, August 5, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/top-25-heisman-trophy-candidates-2014
Body:

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, QBs 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 award.

 

Second, only once in the nine-decade history of the award has anyone ever repeated (Archie Griffin, 1974-75). 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 even 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).

 

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 top 25 candidates to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014 (with current Bovada odds):

 

1. Marcus Mariota, 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 inaugural College Football Playoff. The talent, the numbers, the winning and championship could all be in Mariota’s corner.

 

2. Braxton Miller, Ohio State (7/1)

The dual-threat signal-caller is a perfect fit for his offensive system and he is leading a team picked by many to win the Big Ten and land in the playoff. Add to it dynamic, highlight-reel plays and huge numbers and fans in Columbus have themselves a Heisman Trophy candidate under center. Staying healthy and winning the Big Ten are keys for Miller this fall if he wants to get to New York (which he should).

 

3. Jameis Winston, Florida State (4/1)

The only reason Winston wouldn’t be the front-runner is because he won the award last year. He is the most talented player on what should be the best team and will likely have the best numbers on a championship squad. He is competing with himself.

 

4. Bryce Petty, Baylor (12/1)

There is no question regarding 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. Petty won’t have the same supporting cast this year but Art Briles' system is a proven commodity. If Petty 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.

 

5. Brett Hundley, UCLA (16/1)

One of my favorite bets on this list, the UCLA quarterback is eyeing everything that Mariota is targeting. His numbers should be comparable and the Bruins 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.

 

6. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin (20/1)

From a talent standpoint, few in the nation can match Gordon’s speed, power and explosiveness. And few players are in a better situation to make a run at the Heisman than the Wisconsin tailback. James White is gone, the offensive line is stacked and he plays for an offense predicated on handing the ball off.

 

7. Todd Gurley, 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.

 

8. Nick Marshall, 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). Add in another run at an SEC title and Marshall could wind up in New York by season's end.

 

9. T.J. Yeldon, 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 playoff and a Heisman Trophy for Yeldon.

 

10. Taysom Hill, BYU (--)

The BYU signal caller has an elite combination of size, power and athleticism that most quarterbacks only dream about. His ability to embarrass defenses with his feet is obvious — try 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground — but it’s his continued development as a passer that makes him a Heisman contender. He finished eighth in the nation with 4,282 yards of total offense — ahead of names like Winston, Boyd, Bridgewater and Bortles. With a schedule filled with solid but not overly taxing games, Hill will post monster numbers for a team with double-digit wins.

 

11. Trevor Knight, 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 Big 12 and possibly land in the playoff. If he can stay healthy, he should post big numbers and win almost every game, making him an extremely viable Heisman candidate.

 

12. Mike Davis, 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.

 

13. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska (33/1)

Gordon gets all of the headlines in the Big Ten but it was Abdullah who actually led the Big Ten in rushing (1,690). The Nebraska ball-carrier is a special talent who can catch passes, constantly gets critical yards and has proven capable of a heavy workload. The key for Abdullah is team success, as the Huskers need to make a run at the Big Ten title for the Big Red runner to get into the Heisman mix.

 

14. Duke Johnson, Miami (33/1)

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.

 

15. Everett Golson, Notre Dame (14/1)

Irish fans are happy to welcome back their starting quarterback after a one-year hiatus. Golson took major strides during his one year as the starter, not only leading Notre Dame to the national championship game, but also proving to be a dynamic playmaker along the way. He is a perfect fit in the Brian Kelly system, a scheme that allows for big statistics from the QB position. Big numbers and lots of marquee wins at Notre Dame generally means national acclaim.

 

16. Taylor Kelly, 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.

 

17. Byron Marshall, Oregon (--)

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 is too good to keep off the field for very long.

 

18. Leonard Fournette, LSU (66/1)

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.

 

19. Cole Stoudt, 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 Chad Morris’ attack. He’s all about tempo and is a solid fit for an offense that consistently posts huge statistics. An early upset over Georgia or Florida State is almost a must, however, to get into the mix.

 

20. Karlos Williams, Florida State (33/1)

By default, the starting tailback at Florida State should be a high-profile, highly productive position. And 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 Award-worthy numbers.

 

21. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State (--)

There aren’t too many players with as many physical skills as Hackenberg. He is a sure-fire, first-round, NFL Draft pick in two springs, as he set 11 school records as a true freshman last year. The offensive line and overall depth is a major concern and keeps him from being mentioned alongside names like Hundley, Petty and Miller, but Hackenberg is just as talented. Look for the PSU QB to continue to grow with no limits on his upside.

 

22. Connor Cook, Michigan State (33/1)

Michigan State entered last fall with questions under center. By the time the Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl were over, they had a star at quarterback. Cook posted back-to-back 300-yard games (setting career highs) in wins over Ohio State and Stanford. Look for more development from the underrated athlete in his second season as the starter.

 

23. Chuckie Keeton, Utah State (--)

In 2012, Keeton was exceptional by throwing for 3,373 yards and 27 touchdowns with only nine picks while also rushing for 619 yards and eight touchdowns. The Aggies were 11-2. Last year, Keeton accounted for 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions with 1,629 yards of total offense in just six games before getting hurt for the season. Utah State has some marquee games at Tennessee, BYU and Boise State.

 

24. Sean Mannion, 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.

 

25. Rakeem Cato, Marshall (66/1)

Marshall could go undefeated and Cato should be able replicate his monster season from a year ago (4,210 yards of total offense and 45 total TDs). Should those two things happen, the Herd is likely to be ranked in the top 15 so the star QB (See: Blake Bortles) has a chance to get into the national conversation.

Teaser:
Top 25 Heisman Trophy Candidates for 2014
Post date: Monday, August 4, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-best-coordinator-duos-2014
Body:

Some coaches are great recruiters. Some are great talent developers. Some are great with the media and power boosters.

 

Some are simply great CEOs. Only a select few can say they can do it all.

 

So being able to identify your weaknesses and correct them by surrounding yourself with great personnel is a skill just like coaching defensive backs, luring recruits or glad-handing donors.

 

Some coaches don’t need to have a great offensive coordinator. Like, say, Steve Spurrier, Mike Leach, Jimbo Fisher, Gus Malzahn or Bobby Petrino. Some don’t need a defensive coordinator like Gary Patterson, Bill Snyder, Charlie Strong or Todd Graham.

 

Removing the teams whose head coach acts largely as a full-time coordinator, which teams enter the season with the most dynamic duos of coordinators in the nation?

 

1. Clemson

OC: Chad Morris (3 yr)
DC: Brent Venables (2 yr)

 

Morris is widely considered the top offensive coordinator in the nation and the numbers bear that out, as Clemson has crushed opposing defenses for over 40 points per game in each of the last two years. Venables, who was brought to Death Valley in 2012, has improved the Tigers' defense in each of his two seasons. This unit gave up 29.3 points per game the year before he arrived. Clemson allowed 24.8 ppg in ’12, 22.2 ppg last fall and is poised to be even better this fall.

 

2. Alabama

OC: Lane Kiffin (--)
DC: Kirby Smart (6 yr)

 

Smart has been a hot head-coaching name for half a decade now and he continues to turn down overtures to stay with Nick Saban. His defenses are among the nation’s best every year he’s been in Tuscaloosa. Kiffin, for all of his faults, is overqualified to be “just” an offensive coordinator. As long as he isn’t handling CEO duties — which he has struggled with in the past — Kiffin could be one of the nation’s top offensive minds in 2014. There is no questioning his ability to coach quarterbacks and develop a passing game.

 

3. Oklahoma

OC: Josh Heupel (4 yr)
DC: Mike Stoops (2 yr)

 

Stoops returned to Norman two years ago (replacing Venables) after helping the Sooners win a national title in 2000. His unit showed marked improvement in his first two years and is poised for its best defensive season since that memorable '00 campaign. Heupel’s offenses have been ranked in the top 10 nationally in three of his four seasons and, with a healthy starter under center for a full season, should bounce back in a big way.

 

4. LSU

OC: Cam Cameron (1 yr)
DC: John Chavis (5 yr)

 

Cameron was brought in to instill a pro-style balanced attack and he turned Zach Mettenberger from SEC also-ran into an NFL Draft pick in just one season. He has his work cut out for him with the departures in the passing game but the ground attack should be one of the nation’s best. Chavis has a long standing history of SEC success but his unit has gotten worse three consecutive seasons since the 2011 BCS national title game. His squad should rebound in 2014.

 

5. Georgia

OC: Mike Bobo (8 yr)
DC: Jeremy Pruitt (--)

 

Pruitt comes to Athens after winning two national titles as the defensive backs coach at Alabama in 2011-12. Then he won a national title last year as the defensive coordinator at Florida State. Now, he takes over a Dawgs defense with loads of talent and upside. Bobo has had some tough(er) seasons but largely has produced efficient and effective offenses over a long period of time in the SEC. Georgia has averaged 6.4 yards per play over the last six seasons — which would’ve ranked 22nd nationally last fall.

 

6. Michigan State

OC: Dave Warner, Jim Bollman (1 yr)
DC: Pat Narduzzi (7 yr)

 

Narduzzi is the reigning top coordinator in the nation as the 2013 Frank Broyles Award winner for his work with the Spartans defense last fall. He is a proven commodity that carries this staff behind Mark Dantonio. Warner, who has been at MSU for seven seasons, joined Bollman, in his first season with Sparty, as co-offensive coordinators last fall. The unit showed steady improvement and was one of the most balanced attacks in the Big Ten by the end of the season.

 

7. USC

OC: Clay Helton (4 yr)
DC: Justin Wilcox (--)

 

Helton was one of the few hold overs from the previous staff and his offense took major strides as the season went along last fall despite three coaching changes. Wilcox heads to USC with head coach Steve Sarkisian after two seasons in Seattle. Wilcox has been a rising star for years and has proven his worth at Washington. He took a unit that was 108th in yards per play allowed the year before his arrival (6.43 ypp) and turned it into the 20th-ranked defense (4.98 ypp) in the same category in 2013.

 

8. Missouri

OC: Josh Henson (1 yr)
DC: Dave Steckel (5 yr)

 

Staff stability has been a staple for Gary Pinkel and his current coordinator duo is one of the most underrated tandems in the nation. Henson is largely regarded as the potential head coach in waiting and has the respect of everyone in Columbia. He has been on the Tigers staff for six years and showed in one year running the offense that he is totally capable. Steckel has been with Missouri since 2001 and has been running the defense since '09. He continues to overachieve with middle-of-the-pack recruits.

 

9. Virginia Tech

OC: Scott Loeffler (1 yr)
DC: Bud Foster (19 yr)

 

Foster is arguably the nation’s top defensive coordinator. He’s been at Tech since 1987 in some capacity and has produced some of the best defenses in the nation for nearly two decades. Loeffler is much more unproven and will have his work cut out for him after helping Logan Thomas set numerous career school records in his first season. He’s been at Michigan, Florida, Auburn and in the NFL, so clearly, Loeffler is well respected. Now, he needs to deliver in a tough situation.

 

10. Penn State

OC: John Donovan (1 yr)
DC: Bob Shoop (1 yr)

 

Both Donovan and Shoop have been James Franklin’s coordinators since taking his first head coaching job at Vanderbilt in 2011. Donovan has been with Franklin even longer, spending time with him at Maryland. Both guys were instrumental in developing the Vandy program but Shoop was the star of the show. The Dores won a lot of games on the defensive side of the ball over the last three years and, now, both guys have a power brand to work with in 2014.

 

The Best of the Rest:

 

11. Baylor: Philip Montgomery (OC), Phil Bennett (DC)

12. UCLA: Noel Mazzone (OC), Jeff Ulbrich (DC)

13. Notre Dame: Mike Denbrock (OC), Brian VanGorder (DC)

14. Michigan: Doug Nussmeier (OC), Greg Mattison (DC)

15. Maryland: Mike Locksley (OC), Brian Stewart (DC)

Teaser:
College Football's Best Coordinator Duos in 2014
Post date: Friday, August 1, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-best-line-scrimmage-2014
Body:

Each year, Athlon Sports produces conference and national unit rankings for all of the major position groups on the field.

 

Who has the best receiving corps — both wide receivers and tight ends — in the nation? Who has the best set of linebackers — both inside and out, 4-3 or 3-4?

 

It’s a fun and illuminating exercise that can help provide clarity when it comes to making predictions. Sure, wide receivers, running backs and safeties are important players but what defines a truly great football team — one that can compete for a national championship — is the line of scrimmage.

 

A great offensive line can mask issues at tailback or even quarterback. A stout defensive line can make linebackers look like superstars. The game is still played in the trenches and being strong along both lines of scrimmage is generally a calling card for most championship teams.

 

So, as fall camp is set to open across the nation, which teams have the best combination of offensive and defensive lines in the nation?

 

Note: There are 17 teams ranked in the top 25 nationally in both offensive and defensive line unit rankings.

 

1. Alabama

OL Rank: 2 | DL Rank: 7

 

Alabama’s strength doesn’t lie in the elite upside of starters (which is excellent) but the astounding depth along both sides of the ball. A’Shawn Robinson on defense and Cam Robinson on offense could blossom into superstars as just underclassmen and neither was a starter last fall. Steady veterans like Brandon Ivory at nose guard and both Ryan Kelly and Austin Shepard on offense give Nick Saban the best combination of linemen in the nation.

 

2. Florida State

OL Rank: 1 | DL Rank: 9

 

The Noles boast five senior starters along the offensive line, including three preseason first- or second-team All-Americans and four returning starters. Only Austin Barron is a new face up front for Jameis Winston. Losing Timmy Jernigan hurts the D-line but Mario Edwards, Eddie Goldman and Chris Casher form one of the nastiest groups in the nation.

 

3. Oklahoma

OL Rank: 8 | DL Rank: 6

 

All three starters return along the D-line for the Stoops brothers and two of them (Jordan Wade and Chuka Ndulue) might not even start for the Sooners. The defense will be the best the Sooners have seen in a decade while the O-line continues to churn out big-time players. This unit is going to feature five upperclassmen, including four returning starters, and two bookend seniors at left and right tackle (Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams).

 

4. LSU

OL Rank: 4 | DL Rank: 14

 

The offensive line in Baton Rouge has been great since Nick Saban got to town and La’El Collins and Jerald Hawkins form one of the best tackle duos in the nation. There are no holes up front on offense. Defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco could also be one of the best duos in the nation, but Les Miles must replace both interior tackles on defense. The overall talent and depth of these two units should give LSU a chance to win every game this fall. 

 

5. Ohio State

OL Rank: 20 | DL Rank: 1

 

Michael Bennett, an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-American, is the only non-five-star starter along the defensive line for Ohio State. In fact, every member of the OSU two-deep on defense returns. The offense isn’t as lucky but is very talented in its own right. This group doesn’t have the star power it had last fall but it’s a veteran group headlined by Taylor Decker and former Alabama blocker Chad Lindsay.

 

6. Michigan State

OL Rank: 19 | DL Rank: 3

 

The defensive line is a proven commodity with national award candidate Shilique Calhoun anchoring things at defensive end. His counterpart Marcus Rush is another stellar edge rusher, giving Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi an elite pass rush. Center Jack Allen and left tackle Jack Conklin headline a veteran O-line that is one of the Big Ten’s best once again.

 

7. Auburn

OL Rank: 2 | DL Rank: 17*

 

Auburn would have been fifth on this list if not for the crushing injury to Carl Lawson — who might be the Tigers' best defensive lineman. Even without Lawson and first-round pick Greg Robinson, Auburn returns four starters along the O-line and three out of four on the other side. 

 

* - Before Carl Lawson’s injury. Auburn would have been No. 5 on this list if Lawson had been healthy.

 

8. Clemson

OL Rank: 21 | DL Rank: 4

 

Vic Beasley and Corey Crawford bookend one of the nastiest defensive lines in the nation while three returning interior starters highlight the offensive line. The Tigers' O-line will feature five upperclassmen while the D-line is projected to boast four senior starters. From a talent and experience standpoint, few teams can match what Clemson returns to the trenches.

 

9. Stanford

OL Rank: 6 | DL Rank: 20

 

How could a unit with one returning starter on offense be one of the nation’s best? Because David Shaw has recruited at an elite level up front along the line and that one starter, left tackle Andrus Peat, might be the nation’s best player at his position. Defensively, Henry Anderson and David Parry return to action with big-time names like Blake Lueders and Aziz Shittu poised to breakout for new coordinator Lance Anderson.

 

10t. Baylor

OL Rank: 17 | DL Rank: 13

 

The Bears lost some star power along both lines of scrimmage but Art Briles has recruited so well that Baylor still figures to be one of the toughest teams up front this fall. Shawn Oakman and Andrew Billings form a dynamic inside-outside tandem on defense while left tackle Spencer Drango is a budding superstar on offense. This ranking is a major testament to the job Briles and Baylor have done restocking the cupboard in the trenches.

 

10t. Texas

OL Rank: 23 | DL Rank: 7

 

End Cedric Reed and tackle Malcolm Brown form one of the best defensive line duos in the nation. And while the offensive line has struggled of late, new O-line coach Joe Wickline is sure to develop some toughness and tenacity on a line that returns a lot of big-time recruits. A kick in the pants is just what these two lines need in Austin.

 

Best of the Rest:

 

11. Washington (OL: 16, DL: 16)

12. UCLA (OL: 22, DL: 10)

13. Kansas State (OL: 14, DL: 21)

14. South Carolina (OL: 5, DL: UR)

15. USC (OL: UR, DL: 5)

Teaser:
College Football's Best Line of Scrimmage in 2014
Post date: Thursday, July 31, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-nebraska-cornhuskers-special
Body:

Big Ten Media Days are here, and Athlon Sports is live from Chicago, Ill., to talk all things Big Ten with coaches, players and writers alike. 

 

Athlon Sports' Braden Gall and David Fox discuss all things Nebraska with Huskers head coach Bo Pelini himself as well as HuskerOnline's Sean Callahan. The guys break down Ameer Abdullah's Big Ten speech, the chances Nebraska has to win the West Division, Bo Pelini's transformation and more. 

 

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: Nebraska Cornhuskers Special
Post date: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - 15:05

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