Articles By Braden Gall
Dan Mullen led Mississippi State to unprecedented heights in 2014.
The Bulldogs had a record-setting, Heisman-caliber quarterback and a veteran-led defense that had MSU in the playoff picture until the final weeks of the season. And the school's first AP No. 1 ranking ever.
Obviously, getting Dak Prescott back is huge news for Mullen and a great place to start. But he has his work cut out for him this spring in other areas for Mississippi State to win 10 games and compete for a SEC West Division crown.
5 Storylines to Watch in Mississippi State’s Spring Practice:
1. New faces on the OL
The Bulldogs return only four starters on offense in 2015. Prescott’s return is huge for Mississippi State but the focus of spring should be revamping the line to protect their senior quarterback. Three key linemen departed, including standout center Dillon Day and guard Ben Beckwith. Junior college recruit Martinas Rankin should help replace left tackle Blaine Clausell.
2. Replace Josh Robinson
Robinson left Starkville for the NFL after a successful 2014 season. He rushed for 1,203 yards and 11 scores last year and came through with huge performances in critical games. The battle to replace Robinson begins this spring, as Brandon Holloway, Ashton Shumpert and Aeris Williams will compete for carries.
3. New face leading the defense
Geoff Collins left to become the co-defensive coordinator at Florida this offseason, and Mullen turned to a familiar face to lead Mississippi State’s defense. Manny Diaz is back after leaving for Texas in 2011. The new DC’s resume is an interesting one, with solid stints in Starkville and at Louisiana Tech. However, he also was a part of some of the worst defenses in Texas history. Which Diaz is Mullen getting and how quickly can he address some major issues on his defense?
4. Build D-line depth
Three of the top four tacklers along the defensive line have moved on. Chris Jones is a special talent but failed to live up to his freshman hype last season. He will be counted on to become a bigger factor this fall. Ryan Brown and A.J. Jefferson need to become stars as well. Mullen has a great track record of developing defensive linemen, but this is a big area of concern this spring for a team in a division that demands quality D-line play.
5. Replace Benardrick McKinney
Two of the top three tacklers on the team and three of the top five linebackers are gone from last year’s unit. Most notably, new defensive coordinator Diaz must fill McKinney’s shoes. The superstar linebacker was the heart and soul of the defense and Diaz must find playmakers at this position this spring. Look for Beniquez Brown to develop into a leader and for guys like Richie Brown, Zack Jackson, Gerri Green, J.T. Gray and Dezmond Harris to take on bigger roles.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Mississippi State:
State has one of the best coaches in the SEC and the best quarterback in the league. But this team plays in the nastiest division in football with major question marks along both lines of scrimmage. Mississippi State should be a preseason top 25 team and one of the nation’s better squads. But it may be a tall order for Mullen's team to finish in the upper half of the SEC West for the second straight season following major losses in the offseason.
Charlie Strong probably feels like he cleared one hurdle in his first season at Texas.
He reestablished a physicality and toughness in the Longhorns that had been long missing under the previous regime.
But entering his second season, there are still many questions about key positions — like quarterback — and now he has to fill massive holes left in the defensive front seven and at wide receiver.
Texas still has the best roster in the Big 12 and has the right man leading the program, but there is tons of work to be done on the 40 Acres this spring.
5 Storylines to Watch in Texas’ Spring Practice:
1. Develop Tyrone Swoopes
Charlie Strong likely won’t have a better option under center than Swoopes unless Jerrod Heard takes major strides forward. The talented athlete had his moments last year (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State or Iowa State) but didn’t do much to prove he could be the long-term solution in Austin. But Texas may be stuck with him, so getting him as many reps as possible this spring is critical.
2. Rebuild defensive line
Malcom Brown was arguably the most dominant defensive player in the league last year. Cedric Reed is as physically imposing as any defensive end in the land. Both were All-Big 12 selections last year and both need to be replaced. This is Strong’s wheelhouse so he should be able to find star power here. Look for names like Hassan Ridgeway, Caleb Bluiett, Shiro Davis and even Desmond Jackson to take steps forward.
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Big 12 Preview
3. Plug voids at linebacker
Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks posted 278 total tackles last fall. Both were All-Big 12 picks and both are gone. Peter Jinkens and Dalton Santos are the only two linebackers who return with any experience, which could open the door for true freshman prodigy Malik Jefferson to start. Jefferson is already enrolled and could be starting from day one. Finding experienced leaders at linebacker is huge this spring for the Horns.
4. Find playmakers on the outside
John Harris and Jaxon Shipley were both All-Big 12 picks last year and both need to be replaced at wide receiver. There is no better way to help a struggling quarterback than with star power on the outside in space. This roster has plenty of talented names filling the depth chart and someone needs to step into the No. 1 (and No. 2) role this spring. Keep an eye on Daje Johnson, Marcus Johnson, Armanti Foreman and Jacorey Warrick to compete for reps.
5. See what the early enrollees can do
Clearly, there are big voids to fill along the defensive line, at linebacker, at wide receiver and behind Johnathan Gray at tailback. Six early enrollees are already practicing for the Burnt Orange and many may be asked to contribute right away. Jefferson could be a starter while junior college end Quincy Vasser may be asked to play early as well. The O-line also gets a big boost with four early enrollees.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Texas:
Texas is very talented and will be extremely well coached. However, there are major concerns at two critical areas of importance: quarterback and defensive front. Strong can work miracles with a defensive front, but offensive issues stemming from inconsistent QB play keeps this team from being a preseason Big 12 contender. Swoopes could prove all doubters wrong but his development could be the difference between six or 10 wins.
Chris Petersen isn’t accustomed to losing.
Washington lost more games in Pac-12 play in Petersen’s debut (5) than he did the three previous seasons combined at Boise State (4).
But this is one of the best jobs on the West Coast and in the Pac-12, and his track record of success speaks for itself.
Does Washington have major holes to plug on defense and questions under center? Certainly, but this is one of the best rosters in the league and should be a tough out every time the Huskies take the field.
And most times out on the field in 2015, Washington will be facing a battle with a quality team — including a juicy opening weekend road trip.
2015 Washington Huskies Schedule
Bye: Week 5, * - Fri., ** - Thurs.
|1.||Sept. 4*||Boise, ID|
|Storyline Opener Petersen's eight seasons in Boise won't be forgotten with just one season of Bryan Harsin. This is one of the most intriguing opening weekend matchups in the nation. The Huskies are 2-1 all-time against Boise — all three against BSU while Petersen was the head coach.|
|2.||Sept. 12||Seattle, WA|
|That's a Sacramento State logo for those who don't know. The one-sided affair will be the first meeting between the Pac-12 power and Big Sky program.|
|3.||Sept. 19||Seattle, WA|
|These Western non-conference foes have played twice before. Washington topped Utah State in 1904 and '98 by a combined score of 98-12. This one should be much closer as the Aggies could be the front-runner in the Mountain West's Mountain Division.|
|4.||Sept. 26||Seattle, WA|
|Pac-12 opener features a division rival that has been kind to UW of late. The Huskies dominated in Berkeley last season (31-7) en route to a sixth straight win over the Bears. Cal last won in Seattle in 2005.|
|6.||Oct. 8**||Los Angeles, CA|
|Primetime Showdown The Huskies and Trojans get the national spotlight to themselves on a Thursday night. USC owns a 51-28-4 all-time record against UW and has won nine of the last 11 meetings. These haven't met since 2012.|
|7.||Oct. 17||Seattle, WA|
|Upset Alert Despite dominating the series with 11 straight victories, the rebuilt Ducks will need to be on high alert in Seattle. The Huskies will get extra time to prep for arguably the biggest game in the Pac-12 North.|
|8.||Oct. 24||Stanford, CA|
|As tough a three-week stretch as any team in the nation will have ends with a road trip to Stanford. These two have pounded on each other of late with Stanford winning six of the last seven. The Huskies lead the all-time series 41-40-4.|
|9.||Oct. 31||Seattle, WA|
|Who could forget The Leap by the Lake and Ortege Jenkins (be sure to mute Van Halen)? These old league rivals have alternated wins for seven straight meetings, with the home team winning every time. The Wildcats are 2-6 in Seattle since The Leap.|
|10.||Nov. 7||Seattle, WA|
|Swing Game A second winnable crossover game at home in a row is the type of tilt that could decide conference pecking order. The Huskies have never lost to Utah, going 8-0 all-time and 2-0 as league foes.|
|11.||Nov. 14||Tempe, AZ|
|Arizona State has won nine straight in the series, including a memorable 24-10 win last year in Seattle that featured two ASU touchdowns in the final three minutes. It will be tough for UW to snap the steak in the desert.|
|12.||Nov. 21||Corvallis, OR|
|Look Ahead Oregon State could be settled into last place by the time UW has to travel to Corvallis. With a rivalry game just six days later, looking ahead could be an issue for a Huskies team that has won three straight over the Beavers.|
|13.||Nov. 27*||Seattle, WA|
|Rivalry Game Petersen is 1-0 against the hated Cougars and Mike Leach is 1-2. The Huskies won easily 31-13 last year and have won five out of six Apple Cup meetings.|
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Pac-12 Preview
There is a lot to like about the 2015 USC Trojans.
Steve Sarkisian has a year under his belt as the head man at Heritage Hall and this roster is loaded with elite-level talent. The quarterback position is locked down by a potential Heisman candidate and the offensive line is filthy good.
However, that doesn’t mean the Men of Troy don’t have plenty of work to do this spring.
5 Storylines to Watch in USC’s Spring Practice:
1. Rebuild the front seven
The Trojans lose three All-Pac-12 players from their front seven in Leonard Williams, Hayes Pullard and J.R. Tavai. Like always with USC, the returning depth chart is impressively talented but is lacking in developed star power. Can Anthony Sarao or Delvon Simmons develop into All-Americans this offseason? Sarkisian should consider this part of his roster a top priority — which is especially difficult for a team still lacking in front seven depth due to a rehab-heavy spring roster.
2. Develop offensive playmakers
The talent in the receiving corps is painfully obvious but will still be young. And the backfield is now missing Buck Allen. Coach Sark needs to continue to develop JuJu Smith, Darreus Rogers, Steven Mitchell and even Adoree Jackson (regardless of which side of the ball he plays on) on the outside while Justin Davis, Tre Madden and James Toland IV battle for carries. USC also is replacing All-Pac-12 tight end Randall Telfer and has no obvious replacement on the roster at that position.
3. See what the young guns can do
The sanction-free Trojans welcomed a full 24-man class on National Signing Day, five of which enrolled early. This includes five-star blocker Chuma Edoga and four-star prospects Cameron Smith (LB) and Ricky Town (QB), as well junior college wideout Isaac Whitney. This group, teamed with a very talented but still very young 2014 freshman class, should give USC’s staff plenty of young bodies to work with this spring. Getting these players acclimated and developed as quickly as possible should be a focus.
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Pac-12 Preview
4. Experiment along the O-line
There are some proven commodities along the O-line for the Trojans — namely Max Tuerk at center. But keep an eye on where players land this spring as new O-line coach Bob Connelly looks to find his best five blockers and develop key reserves. Toa Lobendahn is currently the starting left tackle while Chad Wheeler rehabs. Sophomore Nico Falah could also be in the mix at tackle as well while Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao may have the inside track on the guard positions. Khaliel Rodgers being sent home midway through practice also has shook up the two-deep.
5. Stay healthy
With scholarship numbers not quite back to full strength, one key spring (and summer) storyline for USC will be keeping as many bodies healthy as possible. Most notably, star quarterback Cody Kessler. He needs to be kept upright at all costs. This has been a major concern over the last half decade but is beginning to even out as Coach Sark inches closer to a full 85-scholarship roster.
Pre-Spring Outlook on USC:
This roster is the best in the Pac-12 and could easily make the Trojans a playoff-caliber team in ’15. Staying healthy and overall depth have been issues for this program since NCAA sanctions went into effect, but those are now over and done with and this roster is deeper than it’s been in six years. With Kessler and his O-line leading the way, expectations are rightly soaring in Southern California this spring.
The Heisman Trophy is the most prestigious award in sports and gambling is a huge part of the game of football.
Put them together and you get preseason odds for the coveted stiff-armed trophy.
Bovada recently released an updated list of Heisman Trophy front-runners for 2015 and, for entertainment purposes only, we’ve offered up our unsolicited gambling advice.
Remember, last year Marcus Mariota was the first wire-to-wire preseason front-runner to win the award in more than a decade.
The Betting Favorites:
1. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State (6/1)
The Buckeyes running back gets the nod because Ohio State is the surest bet to win its conference title and make the playoff. He plays a stat-friendly position in a stat-friendly offense.
2. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State (7/1)
The best quarterback in the best league is returning to an offense that is perfectly suited for his skills. However, his supporting cast won’t be as good this year and his schedule is downright nasty.
3. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU (15/2)
Possibly the most physically gifted runner in the nation should be the focal point of LSU’s offense. Like Prescott, however, he plays a brutal schedule and will get no support from the passing game.
4. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU (15/2)
Running the new-look spread offense in Fort Worth reaped huge numbers and a near playoff berth last year. There are holes to plug on the offense but Boykin should post huge numbers and a bunch of wins once again — if he stays healthy.
5. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia (9/1)
The “Beast Mode” of college football hails from Athens. The rocked-up tailback plays in a runner-friendly offense and proved in one year that he is capable of carrying the load.
The Ohio State Conundrum:
According to the Vegas odds, Ohio State has three quarterbacks ranked in the top 12. Common sense tells us that three signal-callers can’t possibly be smart bets. Cardale Jones (10/1) is sixth, J.T. Barrett (16/1) is 11th, and Braxton Miller (20/1) is 12th. If I was dropping cash on a name? I’d take Barrett at 16/1.
The Best Bets:
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State (33/1)
The speedster is poised for a huge season in the ACC. Cook will likely be the focal point of the best team in the league against a schedule that is very manageable. At 33-1, the odds are too juicy to pass up.
Seth Russell, QB, Baylor (33/1)
Russell established himself this spring as THE guy in Waco. This is a unit that has proven to be capable of producing Heisman candidates. With a great offensive line, elite-level wideouts and one of the best coaches in the nation, give me Russell please.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson (20/1)
The odds aren’t as good on Watson but his talent is too good to ignore. Should he stay healthy, he’s capable of leading Clemson to an unexpected ACC title. His dual-threat numbers and highlight-reel plays could be extremely impressive.
Names to Avoid:
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama (14/1)
Part of this is a function of the odds. Henry is a beast but he plays in an offense that has shifted slightly since Lane Kiffin took over and for a head coach who likes to use lots of ball carriers.
Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn (20/1)
Like Henry, I love Johnson the player and the Auburn offense. But he’s not a runner and won’t post Nick Marshall-like dual-threat stats. He could chuck it around for a bunch of yards but this is still his first season as a starter and 20-1 isn’t enough for my blood.
Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA (14/1)
No Brett Hundley, brutal schedule in the Pac-12 South and questions along the offensive line. Perkins is a nice player but isn’t overly special and the odds are way too short.
Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona (N/A)
As just a freshman, Solomon led his team to a Pac-12 South title and compiled 4,084 yards of total offense. His O-line is rebuilt but he has plenty of talent around him and a great offensive system.
Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor (N/A)
The Baylor offense is going to be nearly unstoppable. The offensive line is great, there is little defense in the Big 12, and Art Briles likes to post big numbers.
DeVontae Booker, RB, Utah (N/A)
Utah's offensive line is in good shape and it showed with Booker’s big numbers last year. He is the focal point of the offense and should once again carry the load for a quality team.
Wisconsin and North Carolina have met only one time in the NCAA Tournament, and if this weekend’s Sweet 16 meeting is anything like their first clash, the fans are for a treat.
In 2005, Bo Ryan’s sixth-seeded Badgers gave the consensus No. 1 and Tar Heels all they could handle in the Elite Eight, losing to the eventual national champions 88-82.
It was Williams’ first national championship, and now that the roles are reversed, Ryan is looking to return the favor in search of his first Division I national title.
Wisconsin enters the Sweet 16 after a record-setting season in Madison. Ryan’s bunch earned the legendary coach his first career Final Four last year and has only built on that success by earning a No. 1 seed for the first time in school history.
All but one player (Ben Brust) returned from last year’s Final Four team. The Badgers have size, feature the potential National Player of the Year, deploy great shooters and play Ryan’s vintage, unselfish brand of basketball. Rarely in the Sweet 16 is North Carolina considered the underdog, but the Tar Heels will have to play their best to knock off the Badgers.
Other Sweet 16 Previews
No. 4 North Carolina vs. No. 1 Wisconsin
Region: West (Los Angeles)
Time: Thursday, 7:47 p.m. ET
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller and Dan Bonner
Line: Wisconsin by 5 1/2
Matchup to Watch: Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky vs. North Carolina's Brice Johnson/Joel James
North Carolina center Kennedy Meeks is doubtful to play, putting even more pressure on the Tar Heels' low post. Meeks is the top post scoring threat and leading shot blocker, so his absence would be felt. The svelte Johnson (6-9, 210) and underwhelming James (2.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg) would be charged with stopping what many consider to be the best player in the nation in Kaminsky. Watching Josh Gasser and Marcus Paige go head-to-head will be fun to watch as well.
Tournament Surprise: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
The second Hayes stepped onto the court as a freshman last year, his offensive talent has been obvious. But in postseason play for Wisconsin, he’s taken his game to another level. Hayes has added the 3-point shot to his repertoire after making just 15 shots from three during Big Ten play. In five postseason games, Hayes has made 9-of-20 from behind the arc. He’s topped his regular season scoring average (12.6) in both NCAA Tournament games and dropped a career-high 25 in the Big Ten title win over Michigan State. His inside-outside presence makes this offense virtually impossible to stop.
Wisconsin will win if…
The game isn’t one-dimensional against North Carolina on offense. Frank Kaminsky wasn’t at his best against Oregon and the Ducks nearly pulled off a shocker. However, he was picked up by the play of Hayes and Sam Dekker. Ryan’s multiple attack has dissected defenses all year and could be challenged by a Tar Heels unit that has held both Harvard (38.2 percent) and Arkansas (36.9 percent) to less than 40 percent shooting in the tourney.
North Carolina will win if…
Marcus Paige protects the basketball and makes shots. Wisconsin is known for its defense, but this isn’t one of Ryan’s best defensive teams and Paige is coming off a near perfect showing against Arkansas. He knocked down half of his shots (5-of-10) and posted a sterling 61 assist-to-turnover ratio. The Heels' schizophrenic offense goes as Paige goes.
Athlon Staff Predictions:
David Fox: Wisconsin 74-67
Braden Gall: Wisconsin 78-71
Mitch Light: North Carolina 83-81
Jake Rose: Wisconsin 65-60
Athlon Sports has polled 10 experts from around Major League Baseball in an effort to figure out who is the best big-game pitcher in the game. Who would they want on the mound in Game 7 of the World Series?
A first-place vote earns five points and a second-place vote earned four points — so on and so forth with a fifth-place vote earning one point. Below are the voters and results, including first-place votes and number of ballots.
Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder (and assuming everyone is perfectly healthy).
Tyler Kepner, NY Times
Andy Baggarly, AndrewBaggarly.com
Jeff Wilson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
John Tomase, WEEI
Juan Rodriguez, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Gordon Wittenmyer, Chicago Sun Times
Bill Plunkett, Orange County Register
C. Trent Rosencrans, Cincinnati Enquirer
Derrick Goold, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Jack Magruder, FoxSportsArizona.com
|1.||Clayton Kershaw||38 (4)||10/10|
|2.||Madison Bumgarner||36 (5)||8/10|
|3.||Felix Hernandez||22 (1)||7/10|
Kershaw tops Bumgarner
Based on postseason success, it’s a bit of an upset that Clayton Kershaw gets the nod on the bump in Game 7 over Madison Bumgarner. Mad-Bum landed more first-place votes (5 to 4) over Kershaw, but the Dodgers' three-time Cy Young Award winner was the only pitcher to appear on all 10 ballots. Even our expert poll loves the Giants-Dodgers rivalry.
° Kershaw's postseason stats:
51.0 IP, 1-5, 5.12 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 58 K, 18 BB
° Bumgarner's postseason stats:
88.1 IP, 7-3, 2.14 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 77 K, 15 BB
King Felix top challenger
Outside of the NL West, Seattle’s Felix Hernandez is the only pitcher who came close to earning the start and the only one to land a first-place vote. He landed on 7-of-10 ballots despite never making a postseason start in his career. Adam Wainwright landed on six ballots, meaning only four names landed on more than half of the ballots.
The King of the Northwest is the top arm in the American League but the top of this expert poll was dominated by the National League. The top two, four of the top five and seven of the top nine hail from the senior circuit.
The Dodgers, Chicago White Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies were the only three teams to have multiple pitchers receive votes. While Cliff Lee may not have much left in the tank for the Phils, the Southside duo of Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija should have fans in Chicago jacked up about the upcoming season. Both guys are young and surging into the prime of their careers. Everyone knows how nasty the Kershaw-Zack Greinke tandem will be in Los Angeles this year.
Names not receiving votes
Some of the biggest and best names not to receive a single vote? Washington’s Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, the Mets’ Matt Harvey, San Diego’s James Shields and Oakland’s Sonny Gray — who has been electric in big moments with the season on the line for the A’s. No Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, Gio Gonzalez, Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka or Julio Teheran either.
LSU went unbeaten in the 2011 regular season and won the SEC crown.
Since then the Tigers have dropped from first to second (2012) to third (2013) to fifth (2014) in the SEC West standings.
The coaching in the division has gotten significantly more competitive and LSU has struggled at key positions — like, say, the quarterback.
There is loads of talent on this roster and a head coach who has led his team to two national championship games. But make no mistake, this spring is critical for Les Miles to answer key questions about his roster.
5 Storylines to Watch in LSU’s Spring Practice:
1. Wide-open QB competition
Improving the passing game is a must this offseason for Miles. This unit was awful in 2014, averaging just 140.6 yards passing per game in SEC tilts. With that in mind, Miles has opened up the competition this spring. Both Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris struggled mightily last year and both know that they could be the key to an LSU resurgence. Jennings completed less than half of his passes, as the Tigers finished dead last in the SEC in passing offense. Competition can be very healthy and Miles is hoping an open battle will fix his signal-caller woes.
2. Create a pass rush
The defensive end position is one of pride for most LSU faithful, as the track record for elite-level playmakers rushing the QB in Baton Rouge is impressive. Except, that wasn’t the case last year as LSU finished 103rd nationally with just 19.0 sacks. Both Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter are gone, so establishing a pass rush might be new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s first order of business — with the help of D-line guru Ed Orgeron. Per usual, there are plenty of talented bodies but someone in the law firm of Bower, Clark, Teuhema, Patterson and Neal needs to step up and become a star. Of course, depending on the scheme, a pass rusher could be found in the form of a linebacker.
3. New-look defense
After two years at Alabama, Steele now has full control of one of the best defensive units in the nation. The biggest question surrounding his arrival is concerning the scheme he will implement this spring. Steele has a 3-4 background, but LSU has been a very traditional 4-3 for as long as Miles has been in charge. The tealeaves indicate that the Tigers will use multiple fronts this fall but there is no reason for Steele to tip his hand until the season begins. Steele has a star in the making with the emergence of Kendall Beckwith as well as a solid collection of potential breakout players at linebacker. How many can Steele get on the field and in what down-and-distance situations remains to be seen.
4. Playmaker depth
There’s no doubt running back Leonard Fournette will be one of the nation’s leading rushers in 2015. But with the departure of Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron needs to restock the depth behind Fournette this spring. At receiver, Travin Dural produced plenty of big plays a year ago but LSU needs to develop a consistent No. 2 and No. 3 pass-catching option. This is a big spring for Trey Quinn, Malachi Dupre and John Diarse at receiver. Lastly, no tight end on the roster caught more than seven passes and the one who did is gone.
5. Find the five best blockers
Miles wants to get the best five blockers on the field and that potentially could mean playing some guys at new/different positions. All-SEC guard Vadal Alexander will move to tackle and take on a bigger role this fall. Ethan Pocic, who might be better suited at tackle, looks like he will stay put at center because of team need. Jerald Hawkins will man the other tackle spot. That leaves Josh Boutte, K.J. Malone, William Clapp and Garrett Brumfield vying for the two guard positions and key reserve roles.
Pre-Spring Outlook on LSU:
As long as Miles is in charge, LSU will enter every season stacked with talent at most positions. But this team is trending in the wrong direction as the rest of the division continues to improve. The Tigers have issues at quarterback and have swapped SEC vet John Chavis for Steele and Orgeron on defense. The talent is still there to challenge in the West but the schedule is downright nasty. This staff will need to get work done this spring to move up the standings.
There are many reasons why fans gravitate to the college ranks over the professional ones.
While the level of athlete isn’t comparable in the college game, there are many other reasons why college basketball is more enjoyable than the NBA. Student sections, campus life, small towns, deeply connected alumni bases, dramatic game play, cheerleaders, defensive effort and kids playing for the love of the game are at the top of that list. But college arenas and stadiums are more intimate and interwoven into the history of a school unlike the NBA buildings (minus maybe Madison Square Garden or the Boston Gardens).
And the traditions of the college game — like arena nicknames — are priceless. Here are college hoops best arena nicknames:
1. The Pit, New Mexico (University Arena)
New Mexico’s famous basketball-only arena opened in 1966 as University Arena and was renamed officially as “The Pit” in 2009. It got its nickname from how the building was constructed, as the floor of the arena is 37 feet below “ground level,” meaning the court is actually built inside of a pit. Because it was built into such a small space with steep grading and relatively tight quarters for 15,411 capacity seating, the Lobos have enjoyed one of the loudest home quarter settings in all of college hoops.
2. The Phog, Kansas (Allen Fieldhouse)
Named in honor of former head coach Dr. Forrest C. Allen, who led the Jayhawks program for 39 years and was nicknamed “Phog” for his distinct booming fog-horn voice. Allen Fieldhouse was opened in 1955 following four years of construction, the building currently seats 16,300 and originally cost just $2.5 million to build. The Phog is widely regarded as one of the loudest building in college basketball, and thanks to decades of great teams, is arguably the toughest place to win in all of sports.
3. The Barn, Minnesota (Williams Arena)
One of the older buildings in the nation, Williams Arena was opened in 1928 and cost just $650,000 to build. Its 14,625 rowdy Golden Gophers fans and rounded ceiling shape give it a raucous barnyard feel — which is how the student section (The Barnyard) and building got their of their nicknames. The most unusual characteristic of the building, however, might be the raised floor design. The court is roughly two feet above player benches, press row and the first rows of seats.
4. The Kennel, Gonzaga (McCarthey Athletic Center)
McCarthey Athletic Center was opened in 2004 and goes by The New Kennel or K2 to fans in the know, however, The Kennel is the best and most fitting. The nickname has carried over from the previous facility in Spokane, the Charlotte Y. Martin Center, and couldn’t be more appropriately named. The Bulldogs play extremely well at home and the boisterous fans pack the tight 6,000-person arena each and every home game. The Kennel cost Gonzaga $25 million to build.
5. The RAC, Rutgers (Louis Brown Athletic Center)
Rutgers’ basketball arena was originally titled the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) when it opened in 1977. It was renamed in 1986 as the Louis Brown Athletic Center but the nickname stuck through the name change. The 8,000-seat building hosted the New Jersey Nets from 1977-81 as well as the Scarlet Knights basketball and volleyball teams. The home team hasn’t been a championship contender, but Rutgers plays well at home and the fans are intimidating close to the action. The RAC just sounds like a great place to play hoops.
6. The Slim Gym, San Diego (Jenny Craig Pavilion)
Jenny Craig Pavilion, or the JCP, was opened in 2000 on the beautiful Toreros campus in San Diego, Calif. Named after famous weight loss guru Jenny Craig, the building quickly became known as the Slim Gym for obvious reasons. The punny nickname is one of the most creative and original nicknames in college hoops. JCP seats 5,100 patrons and cost $17.5 million to build.
7. Octagon of Doom, Kansas State (Bramlage Coliseum)
Kansas State plays all of its men’s and women’s basketball games in a place known as The Octagon of Doom. It seats 12,528, was opened in 1988 and cost $17.5 million to build. The nickname comes from the building’s eight-sided shape and was started by fans who would bring octagonal shaped signs with “Doom” written them due to reputation of tenacious defense.
8. The Tad Pad, Ole Miss (C. M. Smith Coliseum)
The Ole Miss Rebels have called C. M. Smith Coliseum home since 1965-66 when the building was originally called Rebel Coliseum. Smith was a three-sport star at Ole Miss, a coach and eventually became the Athletic Director in Oxford. The important Mississippi personality went by “Tad” and so the 9,061-seat building is now referred to as The Tad Pad.
9. Dome of Doom, Wyoming (Arena-Auditorium)
With a formal name like Arena-Auditorium, its no wonder the fans in Laramie came up with a nickname for their basketball arena. The 15,028-seat building was built in 1982 for $15 million and is officially the highest arena in NCAA Division I basketball. Situated at 7,220 feet above sea level, the Dome of Doom, or “Double-A,” literally causes headaches to opposing teams and fans.
10. The Rock, Seton Hall/NJIT (Prudential Center)
165 Mulberry Street in Newark, N.J., is home to one of the most well-used buildings in college sports. Named affectionately for the Rock of Gibraltar corporate logo of Prudential Financial, The Rock is home to three different hockey teams, namely the New Jersey Devils, and has hosted both the New Jersey Nets and New York Liberty of the professional basketball ranks in the past. But why it makes this list is famed Seton Hall basketball — as well as NJIT — calls The PC home. The 18,711-seat building (for basketball) cost an astronomical $375 million to build back in 2007.
The Best of the Rest:
11. The Thriller Dome, Georgia Tech (Alexander Memorial Coliseum)
12. Dean Dome, North Carolina (Dean Smith Center)
13. The Hump, Mississippi State (Humphrey Coliseum)
14. The Dunk, Providence (Dunkin Donuts Arena)
15. The O-Dome, Florida (Stephen O’Connell Center)
16. The Pete, Pitt (Petersen Events Center)
Old-School Honorable Mention:
Big Brown Box that Rocks, Loyola-Chicago (Alumni Gym)
From 1924 to 1996, Loyola-Chicago called Alumni Gym home. The 2,000-seat building was known for its crazy fans and eventually became known as the Big Brown Box That Rocks.
Chamber of Horrors, New Orleans (Human Performance Center)
New Orleans began playing Division I basketball in 1969 and called the Human Performance Center home until 1983 and then again following Hurricane Katrina from 2005-08. It seated just 1,200 fans was known as The Chamber of Horrors.
The annual NFL owners meeting is taking place in Phoenix this week and 23 new rules have been proposed.
The NFL adopted six new rules a year ago and most will not get passed. Additionally, it appears that NFL will eliminate the blackout rule and is on the verge of announcing how the league will venture into the Los Angeles market.
Here are the winners and losers from a very eventful week in the NFL:
The NFL will eliminate television blackouts in 2015. There wasn’t a single blackout in 2014 and the league had only two in 2013. Long been in place to encourage sell outs, the blackout rule used to routinely enrage local fans who couldn’t get to the game (or afford the ridiculously priced tickets). Every game on every TV? Sounds good for my couch (and is conveniently timed for the Los Angeles market…).
City of Los Angeles
It appears that not just one, but two teams are moving to Los Angeles, possibly as early as 2016. If that were to happen, there are two options in place: San Diego and St. Louis moving to Inglewood in Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke’s dream stadium or San Diego and Oakland moving to Carson. Either way, Los Angeles wins. Whether or not they care is another matter. In the short term — aka, 2016 — the teams would likely be housed in USC's Coliseum or UCLA's Rose Bowl (which would leave a lot of empty seats).
Protection of the brain
There is too much replay in general. But adding a better system of checks and balances for head injuries is probably a good thing. Not only will more head-to-head hits be reviewable, but also one proposal adds a certified athletic trainer to each stadium who has the power to stop the game if a player appears disoriented.
One personal favorite rule change isn’t a rule change at all. The NFL has floated the idea of expanding the playoffs — which appears like a win-win for the owners and league. The equation is simple: More playoff inventory, more money. Apparently, there is plenty of resistance to this idea, however, so it appears that any changes, should they happen, will take longer than originally anticipated. More than one-third of the league already makes the playoffs and expanding to 14 teams would put nearly half of the league into the postseason. Reaching the NFL playoffs needs to be a big deal and needs to be exclusive.
Instant replay appears to be ready to expand — be it on subjective plays like pass interference or helmet-to-helmet contact. Reducing the risk of concussions is a smart move we can all get behind but adding subjective penalties to the reviewable process seems like way too much. No league in the history of sport has ever reduced instant replay (only added to it) so the officials can expect their jobs to get even tougher. Especially, if Bill Belichick gets his way where every aspect of every play would be reviewable.
Additionally, there are proposals to add a third coach’s challenge and a review of the play clock. Both would make the officials' job that much tougher.
Bryant represents all pass catchers here. While the league has continually tweaked rules to help the passing game, changes to how players complete a catch won’t help the receivers. Bryant’s controversial catch in the playoffs looked to be a reception by common sense but was deemed an incompletion by the letter of the law (correctly, by the way). The language will go from “making a football move” to “establishing themselves as a runner.” Losing the ball while going to the ground is still not going to be a completion. Vague? Yes. Difficult to interpret consistently? Yes. Bryant’s play under the new rules? Still no.
Point After TD
Tweaks will be made to the extra point. Some want it moved to the one-yard line, which would add excitement. The Colts want to offer some bizarre, backyard 50-yard PAT following a successful two-point play — which also would be exciting. If either of those proposals happen, then I’d move the extra point to the “winners” category. However, the most likely option is moving the extra point to the 15-yard line. And that’s just boring — since kickers made 272-of-301 field goals between 30-39 yards.
Either way the Los Angeles expansion goes, it sounds like the Raiders are leaving the Bay Area. The attire is strange, there is no doubt, but the fans in Oakland are among the most passionate in the league. It sounds like they will be without a team very soon. If the team lands in St. Louis, would the name change? Can you imagine an NFL without the Raiders?
City of St. Louis
Best-case scenario for St. Louis is a brand-new stadium on the Mississippi with the Rams staying put. But this city could be out of an NFL franchise all together or it could be swapping 20 years worth of Jerome Bettis, Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt for the spiked dog-collars and shoulder pads of Raider Nation? It seems like an odd swap to me.
The last time South Carolina lost six games in a season was back in 2009.
After unprecedented success and 42 wins from 2010-13, the Gamecocks came crashing back down to earth with six losses — five in the SEC — in 2014.
Steve Spurrier’s resume speaks for itself and South Carolina isn’t devoid of talent, but there is plenty of work to be done this spring in Columbia.
5 Storylines to Watch in South Carolina’s Spring Practice:
1. Find a pass rush
It’s no secret how bad South Carolina’s pass rush was last season. Spurrier has spoken openly about it all offseason, so something must be done to improve the SEC’s worst pass rush (14.0 total sacks). No one on the team posted more than 2.0 sacks a year ago and new co-defensive coordinator (along with Lorenzo Ward) Jon Hoke’s first job is to find a way to get after opposing quarterbacks.
2. Is Connor Mitch the guy?
Dylan Thompson needed a bowl win over Miami to give South Carolina a winning record in his only season under center. He’s gone and Spurrier is looking to break in another starting quarterback for a second straight season. Sophomore Connor Mitch (6-3, 210), who has thrown six career passes, will have the inside track on the job but will be pressed by Perry Orth (6-1, 212) and Michael Scarnecchia (6-4, 201) this spring.
3. Rebuild the offensive line
A big part of the preseason hype for South Carolina entering last season was the stable and veteran offensive line. But with Corey Robinson and A.J. Cann now gone, this offense needs to rebuild its front heading into the summer. Brandon Shell is back and is a good piece to build around, but names like Clayton Stadnik, Alan Knott, Cody Waldrop and Will Sport need to step into bigger roles.
4. Stop the pass
The Gamecocks were 11th in the SEC in giving up pass plays or 10 yards or more (118) and 10th in pass plays of at least 20 yards or more (42). This secondary was filled with young players last year and it ranked 70th nationally in passes intercepted (11). Of the top six returning defensive backs, five were underclassmen last year and it’s Hoke's job to develop this group.
5. Develop star power
South Carolina has claimed some of the biggest stars in the SEC in recent years. With Alshon Jeffery, Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney or Connor Shaw, the Cocks had star power. With Thompson, tailback Mike Davis and tight end Rory Anderson gone on offense, only Pharoh Cooper returns with any fanfare on either side of the ball. Cooper is the only returning member of the roster with any All-SEC recognition of any kind.
Pre-Spring Outlook on South Carolina:
Spurrier has proven to be a magician in the past and he will need to work some minor miracles with old buddy Hoke if South Carolina wants to get back into the SEC title race. This team has lots of young talent that was forced into action early last year and it falls to the coaching staff to develop it. The SEC East is improving rapidly around Spurrier, so his squad needs to do the same.
Expectations are starting to soar in Knoxville for a reason.
Butch Jones has quickly rebuilt the Tennessee depth chart with two incredibly talented recruiting classes. The results on the field were tangible as well, as the Vols got back to the postseason and were extremely impressive against quality competition like Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Iowa.
However, there are major strides this program still needs to take before it can become an SEC title contender.
5 Storylines to Watch in Tennessee’s Spring Practice:
1. Handle the training room
Butch Jones has implemented a unique day-on, day-off strategy for spring practice due in large part to his lack of healthy starters. There are big-time names on both sides of the ball — like Jalen Hurd, Curt Maggitt and Derek Barnett, for example — who will not be going through much contact this spring, if at all. With nine players off the depth chart this spring, Tennessee needs to win in the rehab room as much as it does on the field.
2. Build the D-line
Nowhere is the lack of starting bodies more obvious than along the defensive line. Barnett, Maggitt as well as Danny O’Brien and incoming star freshman Kyle Phillips are considered “out” while other D-line contributors will be limited. This leaves the Vols with five defensive linemen in spring camp — which not only hurts the much-needed development of the defensive line but also the progress the offensive line could make as well.
3. Stop opposing pass rushers
Speaking of the offensive line, the Vols allowed 43 sacks last year. That number ranks 122nd nationally and dead last in the SEC by a large margin. The good news is this unit should be improved in 2015. Jones’ offensive line returns four starters and the depth behind the starters has gotten better as well. Marcus Jackson won’t be available this spring but that may only aid in the development of younger prospects.
4. The DeBord-Dobbs marriage
Baring some unforeseen circumstances, Joshua Dobbs is the starting quarterback in Knoxville. The rising junior will now be under the tutelage of new coordinator Mike DeBord. How does DeBord’s tweaks to the offense (if any) mesh with Dobbs’ skill set? Building the young playmaker's repertoire and keeping him healthy could lead to an All-SEC type breakout season from the Vols' signal-caller. And it could put the Big Orange in contention in the East.
5. Temper expectations
Jones constantly talks about raising a football team and keeping this group grounded will be a big part of his offseason duties this year. The bowl win was almost too impressive and has led to many experts touting the Vols as a potential division front-runner. The depth chart isn’t there yet and both sides of the ball have a long way to go before an SEC crown is within reach. How this extremely talented, but extremely young roster handles rising expectations will be imperative this spring and summer.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Tennessee:
The anticipation growing in East Tennessee will only continue to boil over until Week 1 of the 2015 season. There are plenty of reasons for optimism with a depth chart getting better by the day and a playmaker finally developing under center. But issues in the trenches and on the training table should keep this group grounded and focused. If Jones and company keep grinding, this team will begin to push for SEC East supremacy. The question is whether or not it happens in '15 or ’16.
Clemson has won 42 games in the last four seasons.
However, all of the talent — both on the field and calling the plays on the sideline — that helped Dabo Swinney reach that number has moved on. There is plenty left in the cupboard, namely star quarterback Deshaun Watson and the second-most talented roster in the ACC, but another brutal schedule will make getting to the ACC title game a tall order.
The Tigers' slate in 2015 is dotted with landmines. Two tricky road trips in the Atlantic Division to Louisville and NC State won’t be easy. Crossover play against Georgia Tech (home) and Miami (road) could feature the top two teams in the Coastal. The non-conference schedule is just as brutal with Notre Dame and South Carolina on tap.
And then there is that little meeting on Nov. 7 in Death Valley against the Florida State Seminoles.
The Tigers will likely enter the summer a top-25 team but will have to earn their way through a tough schedule to win its first ACC title since 2011. Here is a game-by-game breakdown of what Clemson faces in 2015:
2015 Clemson Tigers Schedule
Bye: Week 4, Sept. 26; * - Thursday
|1.||Sept. 5||Clemson, SC|
|In-state tune up with Wofford in the season opener should be extremely one-sided. Terriers haven't beaten big brother since 1933 and has faced Clemson just three times since World War II.|
|2.||Sept. 12||Clemson, SC|
|The Tigers are 4-0 all-time against Appalachian State. The Mountaineers could be the preseason front-runners in the Sun Belt Conference.|
|3.||Sept. 17*||Louisville, KY|
|First-ever meeting took place last year, a 23-17 Tigers win in Death Valley. This early Thursday night game sets stage for someone to become top challenger to Florida State.|
|5.||Oct. 3||Clemson, SC|
|Historic Meeting The third-ever meeting between the Midwestern powerhouse and the Southern staple should be a fan favorite for both programs. And is likely to feature two top-20 teams — possibly, top 10.|
|6.||Oct. 10||Clemson, SC|
|ACC Championship Game Preview? Star freshman DeShaun Watson's knee issues began in the ugly 28-6 loss to Georgia Tech late last season in Atlanta. The Tigers have won three straight in Death Valley over the Coastal Division defending champs.|
|7.||Oct. 17||Clemson, SC|
|Clemson has beaten BC four straight years and six of the last seven, even though the last matchup was the closest score since 2010. The Eagles' power-rushing attack will challenge the rebuilt Tigers D-line following a game against a triple-option offense.|
|8.||Oct. 24||Miami, FL|
|Leaving Death Valley for only the second time in the first eight weeks, Clemson has to go on the road in crossover play after facing two physical running games. These two haven't met since 2010 and Miami holds a 6-3 edge in the series.|
|9.||Oct. 31||Raleigh, NC|
|Trap Game A clear look-ahead moment for the Tigers with Florida State coming to town the following week. Clemson is 10-1 in its last 11 against Wolfpack but three of last four losses in the series have come in Raleigh.|
|10.||Nov. 7||Clemson, SC|
|Division Showdown The top game in the Atlantic Division each season should once again feature these two teams. The Noles have won three straight overall but the Tigers have won five of six against FSU in Clemson. The Tigers will be looking for revenge after the painful six-point overtime loss in Tallahassee a year ago.|
|11.||Nov. 14||Syracuse, NY|
|Will be just the fourth meeting all-time, as Clemson has won the first two ACC matchups relatively easy by a combined score of 65-20.|
|12.||Nov. 21||Clemson, SC|
|Back-to-back games with bottom feeders (Cuse) should finally allow Clemson to exhale after a brutal heart of the schedule. The Tigers have topped the Deacs in six straight by an average of 25 points.|
|13.||Nov. 28||Columbia, SC|
|Rivalry Game Snapped five-game losing streak to hated Gamecocks with impressive 35-17 showing last year. The Tigers are 3-3 in last six trips to Columbia.|
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 ACC Preview
The Sooners entered last season with loads of hype following a devastatingly impressive performance over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Many had Oklahoma winning the Big 12 title and participating in the College Football Playoff.
Neither of these will be a concern for Bob Stoops and his Crimson and Cream faithful this spring. This team should enter spring practice grounded after a Stoops-worst five losses last year — four of which came in the Big 12. The 5-4 mark was the worst conference record of Stoops' entire career.
With an overhauled coaching staff, a rebuilt line of scrimmage on both sides and questions under center, Oklahoma has its work cut out for it this spring. That said, this is still one of the most talented rosters in the nation led by one of the best head coaches, so expectations aren't going anywhere in Norman.
5 Storylines to Watch in Oklahoma’s Spring Practice:
1. The Quarterback Battle
Trevor Knight was supposed to be a Heisman candidate in 2014, but his season spiraled out of control after a pick-six cost the Sooners the TCU game. Now he is in a dogfight with Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield and former OU baseballer (and spot starter) Cody Thomas for the Sooners' starting gig. Stoops and new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley need to depart spring camp with a good idea of the QB pecking order. The good news for Knight is that he brings something totally different to the table with his athleticism than either Mayfield or Thomas — IF that is what Riley wants under center.
2. Plug two big gaps at tackle
Departed defensive tackles Jordan Phillips and Chuka Ndulue have left Stoops with a huge void in the middle of his defensive line. There are plenty of linebackers returning and despite issues giving up big plays, the secondary returns plenty of talent too. But those position groups may not matter if OU can’t hold the point of attack up front.
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Big 12 Preview
3. Rebuild the O-line
The quarterback position is critical and we will get to the backfield, but the biggest concern on offense for the Sooners is up front along the line. Four starters are gone from this unit, leaving Riley and Stoops to completely rebuild the offensive front. The first task will be at tackle where OU loses two first-team All-Big 12 players in Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson. Stabilizing this group will go a long way to helping develop a quarterback.
4. Divide the workload
This collection of ball carriers might be the best in Norman since the current regime arrived 16 years ago. Which is saying something for a school with Adrian Peterson, Quentin Griffin and DeMarco Murray filling up pages in the record books. Samaje Perine, Alex Ross, Keith Ford, possibly Joe Mixon and incoming freshman Rodney Anderson might form the best backfield in the nation and the new offensive staff needs to figure out a way to get as many of them involved as often as possible. Riley's background as an Air Raid disciple makes this storyline even more intriguing.
5. Stabilize the sideline
One of the biggest storylines for Stoops this spring might have nothing to do with his players. With an entirely new coaching staff around him, meshing on the sidelines and in meeting rooms is just as important as anything else in Norman. Lincoln Riley brings a new offense from East Carolina and designing the right system for the roster will be huge for the Sooners. A reinvention worked for Gary Patterson and TCU last year, the same could be true for Oklahoma.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Oklahoma:
Oklahoma is always one of the most physically gifted teams in the Big 12 and is led by a potential Hall of Fame coach. Needless to say, the Sooners are always a threat to compete for a league title, especially with one of the best running back corps ever assembled. However, this current roster doesn't feel like one of his best so Stoops will have to find answers under center, along both lines of scrimmage and on the sideline. Should things come together this spring, however, and double-digit wins in the fall appear to be well within reach.
For the second time since 2011, Florida enters a season with a new leader at the helm of its once pristine football powerhouse.
Jim McElwain comes to Gainesville checking every box that Jeremy Foley needed in a new head football coach. He wanted a guy with head coaching and SEC experience (check and check). He wanted a guy known for developing high-powered offenses at a championship level (check and check). He wanted a guy who will rally the fan base and build a quality staff (check and check).
But that doesn't mean McElwain doesn't have loads of depth chart issues to overcome in his first spring.
5 Storylines to Watch in Florida’s Spring Practice:
1. The Quarterback Battle
There is no doubt Treon Harris sparked the Gators' offense when he took over full-time midway through the season. But he was far from All-SEC good, completing just 49.5 percent of his passes and averaging just 126 yards per game in six starts to end the year. He will be pressed by a new coaching staff as well as redshirt freshman Will Grier. McElwain needs to figure out if either can be the future star at quarterback Gators fans have craved since No. 15 departed.
2. Replace four starters up front
The best way to help a struggling offense is to rebuild the offensive line, protect the passer and open up running lanes. That's been easier said than done for Florida lately and it won't get any easier for the new staff this spring. Only Trip Thurman returns to a group that needs to replace both tackles, the center and a guard all in one offseason. Remember, someone might just be keeping the seat warm for consensus No. 1 offensive tackle prospect Martez Ivey.
3. Develop some playmakers
This also has long been an issue in Gainesville but this is a program located in a state that should never want for playmakers. Demarcus Robinson has special ability and is back, but no other returning Gator caught more than 15 passes. Additionally, leading rusher Matt Jones left early for the NFL. McElwain has some nice pieces to work with in Robinson and Kelvin Taylor, but he needs to find All-SEC-type stars to get the football too. He did it at Colorado State with Kapri Bibbs and Dee Hart, he should be able to do it at Florida.
4. Fill Dante Fowler's shoes
Be it Ronald Powell, Dominique Easley, Sharrif Floyd or Dante Fowler, the Gators have long been inking five-star defensive line talent. CeCe Jefferson is the next in that long line but won't get to Gainesville until the summer. So with Fowler leaving, new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins needs to find a star pass rusher this spring. Jonathan Bullard can be a rock in the middle but isn't the explosive athlete Collins needs on the D-line. Alex McCalister and Bryan Cox both played significant minutes, combining for 10 sacks last fall. More will be expected of them this spring. The rest of the defense is stacked so a quickly developing D-line could give Florida the top defense in the division.
5. Get your swag back
These are the Florida Gators we are talking about here and this program needs to regain its former swagger. Part of the reason Will Muschamp was able to win 11 games in 2012 was the physical nature of the team and the overall confidence of the roster. This program has lost its confidence and Collins' defensive attitude needs to set the tone this spring. After all, this is a team that really won eight games last year (Idaho was cancelled) and was just quarters (not games) away from winning the East.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Florida:
The issues, in particular on offense, are obvious for the Gators: Develop a quarterback, find some playmakers and rebuild the offensive line. However, Florida isn't short on talent and there may not be an elite, playoff-caliber team in the East. This team wasn't nearly as bad last season as the headlines portrayed, so if McElwain is as good as advertised, this squad could easily be competing for an East title in 2015.
Hosts Braden Gall and Steven Lassan go in-depth with an early 2015 Pac-12 conference preview.
Has the Pac-12 caught the SEC as the nation's best conference? Is the Pac-12 South the best division in football? Or is this league too tough to produce a playoff team in 2015?
Is the State of Arizona or the City of Los Angeles better equipped to make a run at the Pac-12 South Division title? Is there someone other than Stanford or Oregon in the North that is ready to challenge for the crown?
The fellas touch on every team and how the predictions might shake out in the Pac-12 in 2015.
Hosts Braden Gall and Steven Lassan go in-depth with an early 2015 ACC conference preview.
Has the ACC elevated itself into national prominence with the likes of the SEC and Pac-12? Who are the best quarterbacks in the league and who will start for Florida State?
Just how wide open is the Coastal Division? Are Miami and North Carolina the wild cards to watch? Can Duke maintain their current level of play? Which Tech school has the best shot to win the division?
The rise of NC State and Boston College combined with the addition of Louisville has helped boost the ACC's standing, but can any of the three challenge the balance of power in the Atlantic Division?
The fellas touch on every team and how the predictions might shake out in the ACC in 2015.
Fantasy baseball leagues can be won from every location in the draft — early in the round or late — and with any variety of strategies. Some take pitching early while others wait on arms. Some like to go after veteran players in the twilight of their careers with low risk, while others go after youthful upside and the risk that comes along with it.
There are a ton of decisions to be made on draft day when constructing a fake baseball team. And while a fantasy league cannot be won in the first few rounds, it most certainly can be lost. Screwing up an early pick can decimate a roster in no time flat.
Enter Athlon Sports' consensus fantasy baseball Big Board. Rankings culled from CBS Sports (Scott White), ESPN, FOX, MLB.com, USA Today, Sports Illustrated (SI) and Yahoo! (in order) have been combined and averaged to offer the best possible fantasy baseball rankings on the web.
Note: Yu Darvish has been omitted from FOX Sports (33rd), Sports Illustrated (27th) and Yahoo! (36th) rankings due to his elbow injury, which resulted in season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Athlon Sports official preview magazine can be purchased here.
2015 Fantasy Baseball Big Board:
Never before has scheduling been a bigger issue than the 2014 College Football Playoff.
The committee clearly took a stance on Baylor’s weak non-conference matchups and it cost the Bears a chance at the national championship. That shouldn’t ever be the issue in the Pac-12 — also known as college football's second-best league.
Most will point to the depth of the South Division and how five different teams could be picked to win it. But the North continues to win league championships and compete for national titles.
Scheduling is a huge part of Athlon Sports’ process of making predictions. Here is what you need to know about the Pac-12's football schedules in 2015.
North’s Best Game: Oregon at Stanford (Nov. 14)
Stanford had pushed the Ducks around en route to Pac-12 championships prior to last year’s drubbing in Autzen Stadium. Oregon made a statement in this game last year and these two programs will likely enter the summer as the two front-runners in the North once again.
South’s Best Game: USC at Arizona State (Nov. 14)
The South’s round-robin format features several great matchups but these two programs could be the top two front-runners in the South entering the season. Who could forget how this one ended last season?
Best crossover: USC at Oregon (Nov. 21)
When it comes to brand equity and national intrigue, it’s hard to argue against the Trojans-Ducks matchup in late November. A playoff berth and spot in the Pac-12 title game could be on the line for both programs.
Other crossovers to watch:
Oregon’s visit to Tempe to battle Arizona State might be as important as the Trojans-Ducks meeting and it could be tougher since it comes on the road. Stanford also plays USC (road), UCLA (home) and Arizona (home) in great crossover action as well.
North’s Toughest Schedule: Cal
There is no easy schedule in the North but Cal is probably the most unlucky team in the division. Road trips for the season include games at Texas, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Utah and Washington with USC and Arizona State at home. Washington also has a tough run starting Week 6: at USC, Oregon, at Stanford, Arizona, Utah, at Arizona State.
North’s Easiest Schedule: None (Oregon State)
I tried hard to find one schedule that stands out as “easiest” but they are all hard. Stanford has three nasty non-conference games, travels to Eugene and plays USC, UCLA and Arizona from the South. Oregon plays road games at Michigan State, Arizona State, Stanford and Washington as well as home tilts with USC and Utah. Oregon State wins the award by default because the Beavers miss both Arizona State and USC in crossover and get Stanford, Washington and UCLA at home. A non-con trip to Michigan still keeps this slate from being far from "easy" however.
South’s Toughest Schedule: USC
Arizona State and USC have the two toughest slates in the South division but the Men of Troy get the nod here. The Trojans have to face Notre Dame on the road in non-conference action as well as the projected top four teams in the North: Oregon (road), Stanford (home), Washington (home) and Cal (road).
South’s Easiest Schedule: Arizona
First of all, there is no easy schedule in the South. Five teams could win the division so crossover play and non-conference games are the deciding factors. UCLA and Arizona have the two easiest slates because both avoid Oregon from the North, but Zona gets the nod due to a non-conference slate that should provide three easy wins.
Top 10 Non-conference games:
* - neutral site
San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland shocked the NFL world by retiring after a stellar rookie season at age 24.
It’s an important, courageous decision not made lightly by a player who is thinking well beyond his playing years.
He isn’t the first player to step away from the game early and he won’t be the last. Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and Robert Smith were superstar running backs, made plenty of money and decided to walk away in the prime of their careers.
Borland's not even the first to do so this offseason, as Patrick Willis (30), Maurice Jones-Drew (29), Jake Locker (26) and Jason Worilds (27) have each retired with plenty of gas left in the tank.
You can think it’s stupid for a rising star who hasn’t made his big paycheck yet — Borland made just under $600,000 in 2014 — to retire from a dream career basked in the glory of the NFL spotlight.
The game is more violent than ever. The players are bigger and faster than ever. But no one has the right to tell anyone else what to do in this situation. The key is informed decision-making.
It’s no different than smoking cigarettes or eating Big Macs everyday. They will both kill you eventually, but this is America and if you want to live off special sauce and nicotine, you are allowed to.
Just as long as you know what’s happening.
If an athlete wants to make millions of dollars playing a sport knowing full well what the risks are who are we to tell them what to do?
"I think when you sign up for this job, you know what you're getting into,” said Lions offensive lineman Dominic Raiola during the NFL’s concussion lawsuit two years ago.
Raiola is making an informed decision and it’s his to make. Just like Borland, Locker, Willis or any parent who is faced with the choice to allow their child to play football.
Is this a concerning trend for the sport? Not according to the bank accounts. The TV ratings are through the roof, the Super Bowl is more popular than ever and the league is printing money with the biggest partnership contracts any sport has ever seen.
The game isn’t going anywhere, and as long as we are all informed, we should be allowed to make whatever decisions we want. Whether we are an All-Pro linebacker who decides to retire at 24 or a concerned parent.
Chip Kelly isn’t the nicest or most humble guy in the room but he’s probably the smartest.
Just ask him.
After all, you don’t go from New Hampshire’s offensive coordinator to NFL head coach and general manager in eights years by being stupid.
Kelly took over as general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles in early January. His first few months on the job have been anything but quiet. A flurry of personnel moves have drawn the ire of just about everyone around the sport.
What’s that guy doing in Phily?
Here’s the thing. Kelly knows exactly what he’s doing.
After just four seasons as a head coach at any level, he took a 4-12 Eagles team to back-to-back 10-6 seasons and the playoffs with one of the least-talented starting quarterbacks in the league.
NFL free agency kicked off this week with a whir of personnel movement that would make a Kelly offense look slow. But Kelly’s plan was being implemented well before the start of the new league year Tuesday afternoon, as the Eagles have made weekly headlines, leaving most fans and experts scratching their heads.
Relax, Kelly knows what he is doing.
He traded fan favorite LeSean McCoy to the Bills who proceeded to sign the seven-year veteran to a long-term (and very expensive) new contract. He shipped Nick Foles — who was 14-4 as a starter under Kelly and 1-5 under Andy Reid — to St. Louis for Sam Bradford. He let Jeremy Maclin walk in free agency to Kansas City.
This, just one season after punting DeSean Jackson, Michael Vick and Jason Avant off the roster as well.
How could anyone get rid of so much proven offensive talent?
His plan isn’t nearly as complicated as people think. He is investing in defense and the offensive line while devaluing positions he thinks he can fill with his system — also known as the offensive skill positions.
Why pay a running back who is 5-foot-10, doesn’t like to practice, has touched the ball 706 times over the last two years and has constantly dealt with injuries when he can draft a starting tailback in the third round for a fraction of the cost?
Instead, he’s bolstered a linebacking corps that was a liability last year with a rising All-Pro who will cost less than a $1 million per season and is just 24 years old.
His plan seems pretty clear. Kelly’s first personnel move as GM was to re-sign linebacker Brandon Hepburn. Then he signed linebacker Brad Jones from Green Bay. Then he agreed to terms with linebacker Brandon Graham. Then he traded for Kiko Alonso. Then he signed defensive backs Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond to revamp the secondary.
Last offseason, he re-signed left tackle Jason Peters to a massive five-year extension and center Jason Kelce to a seven-year deal while four of his six offseason acquisitions came on defense. The year before that he drafted offensive tackle Lane Johnson with the fourth overall pick. In two drafts, 10 of his 15 picks have come on defense.
The blueprint is obvious in Philadelphia. Invest heavily in the defense and the offensive line and then allow Kelly to work his magic with the guys who actually touch the football and score the points.
Trade a fifth-round pick for Darren Sproles. Acquire two former first-round picks at quarterbacks on the cheap in Mark Sanchez and Bradford. Draft future stars in Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews in the second round. Kelly even found a world-class kicker in a preseason trade last year when he shipped running back David Fluellen to Indianapolis for Cody Parkey. Parkey was third in the NFL with 32 made field goals and second with 54 extra points. (For the record, Fluellen has never played a down in the NFL.)
Are there kinks to work out on defense? Certainly. But his offensive system is a proven commodity and the fans need to let his strategy play itself out.
There is a reason that only the Denver Broncos have scored more points (1,088) and gained more yards (13,763) than the Eagles (916 and 13,024) over the last two seasons.
The Patriots (912) and Packers (903) are third and fourth on the scoring list. What is it that those other three teams have in common that the Eagles are clearly lacking? That’s right, Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Kelly is working minor miracles in the City of Brotherly Love so let’s all just let it play out before judging the plan.
Clearly, Kelly knows what he’s doing.
Never before has scheduling been a bigger issue than the 2014 College Football Playoff.
The committee clearly took a stance on Baylor’s weak non-conference matchups and it cost the Bears a chance at the national championship. That shouldn’t ever be the issue in the ACC with Notre Dame and a litany of constant SEC foes dotting the non-conference slate.
The balance of power still appears tilted towards the Atlantic Division with Florida State, Clemson and Louisville. But the Coastal always delivers parity and entertainment.
Scheduling is a huge part of Athlon Sports’ process of making predictions. Here is what you need to know about the ACC’s football schedules in 2015.
Atlantic’s best game: Florida State at Clemson (Nov. 7)
These are the two best teams in the conference and DeShaun Watson could be a superstar by November. This game was ugly in Death Valley two years ago but was much closer last fall. This one could decide half of the ACC title game matchup.
Coastal’s best game: Georgia Tech at Miami (Nov. 21)
Virginia Tech and North Carolina will challenge Georgia Tech as well but the trip to Miami is always interesting and it comes in the second to last weekend of the year. The division title could hang in the balance.
Best crossover: Florida State at Georgia Tech (Oct. 24)
A rematch of the ACC title game? Yes, please. Late in October, Florida State travels to Atlanta to take on the Coastal Division front-runner. Look for another classic showdown and a likely playoff elimination game for what could be two highly ranked opponents.
Other crossovers to watch:
Miami has two tough crossovers (more on that in a second) and both are must-see TV against Florida State and Clemson. Like the Noles, the Tigers also have to face the Yellow Jackets (home) and Hurricanes (road) in crossover. NC State has two interesting tests with rival North Carolina at home in the season finale and a road trip to Virginia Tech in early October.
Coastal’s toughest schedule: Miami
The Hurricanes play both Florida State (road) and Clemson (home) from the Atlantic and will have to face Nebraska (home) and Cincinnati (road) in non-conference action. Toss in road trips to North Carolina, Duke and Pitt as well as home games with Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, and Miami has the toughest slate of any Coastal contender. The Cavaliers have an equally tough slate but miss both the Noles and Tigers in crossover.
Coastal’s easiest schedule: Duke
Northwestern is the toughest non-conference game in a division with Notre Dame, Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio State and UCLA also on the slate. The Blue Devils' Atlantic foes this season are Boston College at home and a road trip to Wake Forest. And both Georgia Tech and Miami have to come to Durham.
Atlantic’s toughest schedule: Wake Forest
First, the Deacons don’t get to play the Deacons, so that makes their schedule tougher than almost everyone else in the division. Second, they play at North Carolina and Duke at home in crossover action. Finally, Wake Forest travels to Notre Dame and Army as well as hosting Indiana in non-conference play. Don’t forget games with Florida State, Clemson, Louisville, NC State and Boston College.
Atlantic’s easiest schedule: Florida State
Crossover play is tough with Miami (home) and Georgia Tech (road) as well as a non-conference trip to Florida. But the rest of the schedule is one game: At Clemson (Louisville visits Doak Campbell and will be a heavy underdog). Not having to face Florida State almost guarantees the Noles the easiest path to the title game every year.
Top 10 Non-conference games:
* - neutral site
Hosts Braden Gall and Steven Lassan go in-depth with an early 2015 Big 12 conference preview.
The guys debate TCU vs. Baylor at the top of the league. Who should be the frontrunner? Who has more coming back? Which team has bigger holes to fill?
Can Oklahoma or Texas return to prominence? Is this a vintage Sooners team and can Charlie Strong get anything from his QB?
Will Oklahoma State or Texas Tech improve enough to challenge? What should fans make of the middle of this league? Are Kansas State and West Virginia the exact same team? What do we make of the new coach at Kansas?
The fellas touch on every team and how the predictions might shake out in the Big 12 in 2015.
The sky isn’t falling.
When it comes to running backs, however, that certainly feels like the case in Philadelphia, Dallas and Minnesota.
The NFL’s silly season is underway now that teams are “legally” negotiating free agent contracts and here are the running backs stealing the headlines.
But for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.
One of the first big waves to ripple through the NFL was Chip Kelly’s decision to jettison Eagles running back LeSean McCoy to Buffalo for rising star linebacker Kiko Alonso.
The city of Philadelphia was stunned. How could he give up our best player for a linebacker who didn’t play a down in 2015? After looking at McCoy’s new deal with the Bills, it should be easy to figure it out.
McCoy’s five-year, $40 million contract reportedly includes $26.5 million in guaranteed money. Buffalo will supposedly pay the seven-year veteran $16 million this year.
For a 5-foot-10, 210-pounder who plays the most abusive position in the league, has touched the ball 706 times in the last two seasons and only started two full years due to nagging injuries? No, thanks. Especially, for one who doesn’t get along with the head coach.
Kelly knows what he is doing. It’s a foolish move to invest huge chunks of cap space in an aging running back — no matter how talented.
DeMarco Murray and Adrian Peterson aren’t any different. Murray is coming off a breakout season for the Cowboys but Jerry Jones is making the smart move by letting his tailback test the free agent waters. Let someone else pay for his ’14 season.
Murray is one of just 10 players in NFL history to top 390 carries in a season and the disturbing track record for repeat success is enough to keep even Jones from making a football-crazed decision. Other than freak of nature Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson, who did it twice and lived to tell about it, a 390-carry season all but ensures the end is near for ball carriers.
|Larry Johnson||2006||416||158 att., 559 yds., 3 TD|
|Jamal Anderson||1998||410||19 att., 59 yds., 0 TD|
|James Wilder||1984||407||365 att., 1,300 yds., 10 TD|
|Eddie George||2000||403||315 att., 939 yds., 5 TD|
|Gerald Riggs||1985||397||343 att., 1,327 yds., 9 TD|
|Terrell Davis||1998||392||67 att., 211 yds., 2 TD|
|Ricky Williams||2003||392||168 att., 743 yds., 6 TD|
|Barry Foster||1992||390||177 att., 711 yds., 8 TD|
Note: Dickerson carried 390 times as a rookie in 1983 and 404 times in '86.
Including Dickerson, only three players managed to even top 1,000 yards the following year, but even that success was short-lived. Both Gerald Riggs and James Wilder were never the same despite solid encore showings. Riggs started just 28 games in five seasons after his high-water marks in 1984-85 and Wilder scored just three times and never topped 704 yards in his five final seasons after his two breakout campaign.
No running back since Dickerson in 1986 has carried over 390 times and returned to that same level of production. Not only is NFL history against Murray but so is his own past. This is a player who constantly dealt with injuries at Oklahoma and has managed just one full season in four tries for the Cowboys.
In no way is signing Murray to an absurd free agent contract a smart idea. Jones, shockingly, is allowing someone else to make the foolish decision this time.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Vikings brass is working through a bizarre but familiar situation with Adrian Peterson. Sure, head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman are pitching A.D. on returning to the Twin Cities by taking recruiting visits to his Houston-area home.
But it shouldn’t be the rocky relationship or bad off-the-field publicity that leads the Vikings to punt their star tailback. It’s simply good business.
Peterson is set to make roughly $42 million over the next three seasons with a cap number over $47 million. Peterson is the best running back of this generation, but there is no way to justify paying that amount money for a running back in his 30s who has carried the ball (and been hit hard) over 2,000 times.
It may be tough to swallow because fans bond quicker with running backs than anyone else on the field except the quarterback. But Dallas, Philadelphia and Minnesota are better off parting ways with their beloved star runners in an effort to invest in other areas.
There is a reason no running back has gone in the first round in two consecutive drafts.
Athlon Sports has polled 10 experts from around Major League Baseball in an effort to find the best place to watch a game.
Based on criteria like fan support, home-field advantage, amenities, tradition, surrounding area, facilities, gameday atmosphere and more, our 10 experts have ranked all 15 National League parks for 2015.
Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Tyler Kepner, NY Times
Andy Baggarly, AndrewBaggarly.com
Jeff Wilson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
John Tomase, WEEI
Juan Rodriguez, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Gordon Wittenmyer, Chicago Sun Times
Bill Plunkett, Orange County Register
C. Trent Rosencrans, Cincinnati Enquirer
Derrick Goold, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Jack Magruder, FoxSportsArizona.com
Scoring: A first-place vote is worth one point, a second-place vote is worth two points and a 15th-place vote is worth 15 points. The lowest score is voted the best stadium in the National League.
|1.||AT&T Park||14 (7)|
|2.||PNC Park||32 (1)|
|3.||Dodger Stadium||48 (1)|
|5.||Coors Field||60 (1)|
|7.||Citizens Bank Park||75|
|13.||Great American Ballpark||111|
Much like Fenway in the American League, the clear-cut best place to watch a game in the National League is AT&T Park where the defending World Series champion Giants play ball. A beautiful setting, competitive teams and normally comfortable summers make this West Coast shrine a must-see. San Francisco’s home park got seven of the 10 first-place votes.
Best in the West
The Giants were voted the best park in the NL but Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine also got a first-place vote and finished third. Coors Field in Denver got a first-place vote as well, finishing fifth overall. Not to be outdone, Petco Park in San Diego ranked sixth, giving the West Division four of the top six stadiums in the National League. Which brings us to…
Chase for last place
It wasn’t ranked as poorly as The Trop or O.co Coliseum in the American League, but Arizona’s Chase Field was voted the worst place to watch a game on the senior circuit. It finished just behind Atlanta’s Turner Field — which, of course, is getting replaced by a new stadium on the North side of town very soon. Interestingly enough, the worst two stadiums in the National League are two of the biggest in the majors. The Braves park is fourth with a capacity of 49,586 while the Diamondbacks' home field is seventh at 48,633.
It doesn’t boast the same charm as Fenway, which finished as the No. 1 place to see a game in the AL, but it still is well respected at No. 4 in the NL. This is likely due to the age and much-needed renovations that Wrigley is currently undergoing (Fenway has already gone through its facelift). All I know is, as a Mets fan, I went to Wrigley last summer for the first time as a 32-year-old and nearly cried when I first walked under the marquee.
While the West Division appears to be loaded with great places to watch baseball, the East Division seems to be lacking. The Mets, Marlins, Nationals and Braves all saw their home parks ranked in the bottom six. Only Philadelphia was even moderately respected, finishing seventh in the NL. So much for East Coast bias.