Articles By Steven Lassan

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Alabama has claimed three out of the last five national championships, and Nick Saban has the Crimson Tide poised to challenge for another one in 2016. Alabama has set the bar high for the rest of the nation in recent years and has not lost more than two games since a 10-3 record in 2010.

 

With 11 starters back and a strong defense leading the way, the Crimson Tide are Athlon’s pick to win it all in 2016. However, Saban has a few question marks to address this season. For the third consecutive year, Alabama has a preseason question mark at quarterback. Cooper Bateman is the frontrunner, but he will be pushed for time by David Cornwell and Blake Barnett. Running back Derrick Henry must be replaced, and the offensive line has to find the right mix.

 

As if the personnel losses weren’t enough to overcome, Alabama faces a brutal road slate in 2016 with trips to Baton Rouge (LSU), Oxford (Ole Miss), Knoxville (Tennessee) and Fayetteville (Arkansas).

 

Can Alabama go three-for-three in playoff appearances? Here are three reasons why Alabama will make the Playoff... and three reasons why they won’t.

 

Three Reasons Why Alabama Will Make the CFB Playoff

 

1. Another Elite Defense

Despite key personnel losses in the front seven, don’t expect Alabama’s defense to take a step back in 2016. On average over the last six seasons, the Crimson Tide has not allowed more than 4.9 yards per play or 18.4 points a game. In that span, Alabama has boasted some of the nation’s best defenses, including a 2011 unit that limited opponents to just 3.3 yards per play. The losses from the 2015 unit are staggering, as standouts in linemen A’Shawn Robinson, Darren Lake and Jarran Reed, linebacker Reggie Ragland and cornerback Cyrus Jones all must be replaced. However, Alabama’s cupboard of talent on defense is still stocked thanks to elite recruiting. Senior Jonathan Allen anchors the line, while Reuben Foster is poised to become one of the nation’s top linebackers in his last year on campus. The secondary could be the best in college football with three returning starters, including a likely All-America pick at safety in senior Eddie Jackson. But that’s not where the talent ends. Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson are a deadly duo of pass rushers off the edge, and junior Da’Shawn Hand will help fill the void left behind by Robinson, Reed and Lake in the trenches. Alabama’s defense will miss the departed players, but there’s more than enough talent here to keep this unit performing at a high level for new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

 

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2. Recruiting + No Other Elite Teams

Is there an elite team in college football this year? The guess here is no. Clemson’s offense is loaded behind quarterback Deshaun Watson, but the Tigers suffered heavy personnel losses on defense. Florida State is Athlon’s pick to play Alabama in the national championship game. However, the Seminoles must break in a new starter at quarterback and navigate a tough schedule. Ohio State returns only six starters and has plenty of question marks on both sides of the ball. Is Michigan, LSU, Notre Dame or Oklahoma a cut above any of those teams? Probably not. That’s why it’s easy to have confidence in Alabama as one of the four playoff teams. Sure, the Crimson Tide have their share of question marks, but there’s not a better coach in the nation than Nick Saban, and this program has reeled in . With a talent advantage over the rest of the SEC and other contenders, Alabama will eventually sort out its question marks on both sides of the ball by the end of the year and emerge as the favorite to win it all in 2016.

 

3. Lane Kiffin Will Find the Right Answers on Offense

Nick Saban’s decision to hire Lane Kiffin as the play-caller after the 2013 season raised plenty of eyebrows. However, Kiffin has answered any doubts about his ability to develop and coordinate an offense over the last two years. And Kiffin’s job hasn’t been easy, as Alabama has entered each of the last two seasons with uncertainty at quarterback. Despite the question marks under center, the Crimson Tide ranked second in the SEC in scoring (36.9) in 2014 and fourth (35.1 ppg) in 2015. As Kiffin enters his third season in Tuscaloosa, there’s a familiar theme surrounding the offense. Alabama must find a new starter under center, but the supporting cast is strong with six returning starters. Receiver Calvin Ridley is already one of the nation’s top targets after a standout freshman campaign, tight end O.J. Howard should build off a huge performance in the national title game, and there’s a solid foundation in place up front. Running back Derrick Henry must be replaced, but Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris form a promising one-two punch. This unit has its share of question marks. However, Kiffin’s track record suggests there won’t be any drop in 2016. Unless…

 

Three Reasons Why Alabama Will Not Make the CFB Playoff

 

1. Too Many Question Marks on Offense

The strength of Alabama’s offense is a receiving corps that’s arguably the best in the nation. But the other position groups are filled with question marks. Can Kiffin make it three-for-three in finding the right answer at quarterback? Cooper Bateman emerged as the frontrunner in the spring, but Blake Barnett and David Cornwell have more raw talent. Can Bateman step up as the clear answer or will this battle continue into the season? Left tackle Cam Robinson is not expected to miss any snaps after an off-field incident, but guard Alphonse Taylor was indefinitely suspended after a DUI arrest. The offensive line is just as much of a concern as the quarterback play is, as the Crimson Tide could have two sophomores and two freshmen taking the first snap of the year against USC. Also, guard Ross Pierschbacher has big shoes to fill in replacing Ryan Kelly at center. How quickly will Alabama find the right answers here? Running back has been an annual strength for the Crimson Tide, but Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris have combined for just 64 career attempts. Additionally, there’s not much in the way of depth behind Harris and Scarbrough.

 

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2. Defensive Line Depth

This isn’t a huge issue, but Alabama lost four key performers from last year’s defensive line. Is that too much to replace in one offseason? As long as senior end Jonathan Allen stays healthy, and junior Da’Shawn Hand and sophomore Da’Ron Payne have the breakout seasons as expected, this unit should be fine. However, those three players can’t play every snap, which is why this unit needs valuable (and effective) snaps from backups Dalvin Tomlinson, Joshua Frazier and Quinnen Williams. A long-term injury to one of the starters could be problematic for coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

 

3. The Schedule

Repeating as a national champion in college football is no easy task. After all, just one team – Alabama – went back-to-back since 1998. And through two seasons of the playoff, Nick Saban’s team is the only program with trips in each of the last two years. The odds and history are stacked against an Alabama repeat, and the road for the Crimson Tide only gets tougher with a glance at the schedule. Alabama faces road tests at Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU and Ole Miss. That’s easily one of the toughest away slates for any team in 2016. Even though the Crimson Tide has the nation’s best roster in overall talent, could a tough schedule be too much to overcome?

 

Final Verdict

 

The expectations for Alabama are simple in 2016: Repeat as SEC champs and win the national title. That’s a lofty goal for a team facing a tough road schedule and question marks on offense, but it’s tough to pick against Saban’s team. Considering Lane Kiffin’s track record as a play-caller, it’s safe to assume the offense will find the right answer at quarterback. And until a quarterback clearly emerges, Kiffin can lean on a talented (but unproven) duo at running back in Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough, while utilizing quick passes to the edge to receivers Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart. Additionally, with a defense that should be among the best in the nation, Alabama won’t need 30 points a week from its offense. It’s not easy to repeat as a national champion or win back-to-back SEC titles. However, despite the personnel question marks and tough schedule, the Crimson Tide will find their way into the College Football Playoff once again. A loss in conference play in the regular season should be expected, but Alabama is too talented and has the nation’s best coach on its sideline to suffer more than one defeat in 2016.

 

Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 1

Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 12-1

Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 9.5

5 Dimes Projected Over/Under Odds: 9.5

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Why Alabama Will or Won’t Make the College Football Playoff in 2016
Post date: Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - 11:30
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Projecting the outcome of a  season, playoff teams and national champion is no easy task. Several factors go into predictions, including the schedule, coaching changes, returning starters, in-depth statistics, results from the previous year, breakout players and recruiting – just to name a few. Experience and star power at quarterback is another factor that most would consider important for preseason predictions. After all, the quarterback position is the most important job on the field, and the success (or lack thereof) factors prominently into the win-loss record and playoff hopes of every team.

 

However, just how important is quarterback experience? Eight of the last 10 teams to play in the title game had a first-year starter at quarterback. Could overall quarterback experience be overrated when making preseason predictions?

 

Since the BCS era, 16 quarterbacks played for the national title or reached the playoffs in their first season:

 

1998: Tee Martin, Tennessee - W

1999: Michael Vick, Virginia Tech - L

2002: Craig Krenzel, Ohio State - W

2007: Matt Flynn, LSU - W; Todd Boeckman, Ohio State - L

2009: Greg McElroy, Alabama - W

2010: Cam Newton, Auburn - W; Darron Thomas, Oregon - L

2011: AJ McCarron, Alabama – W

2012: Everett Golson, Notre Dame – L

2013: Jameis Winston, Florida State – W; Nick Marshall, Auburn – L

2014: Blake Sims, Alabama – L; Cardale Jones, Ohio State - W

2015: Deshaun Watson, Clemson - L; Jake Coker, Alabama - W

 

Will the trend of successful first-year starters continue in 2016? Here are 10 teams (and quarterbacks) that fit the mold this year:

 

10 First-Year Starting QBs Who Could Win the National Title in 2016

 

(Note: To be considered a returning starter at quarterback, a player must have started seven overall games or the last six contests of last season at their current school.)

 

10. Dakota Prukop/Travis Jonsen, Oregon

Even though Marcus Mariota was missed last season, the Ducks still led the Pac-12 in scoring offense (43 ppg) and yards per play (7.1). Eastern Washington graduate transfer Vernon Adams was a big reason for that success, and Oregon coach Mark Helfrich is hoping for a similar impact by another FCS transfer – Dakota Prukop. In three seasons at Montana State, Prukop accounted for over 7,000 yards of total offense and earned first-team All-America honors by the Associated Press in 2015. Prukop is a better runner than Adams but also completed 63.8 percent of his throws with the Bobcats. While Prukop has the edge in overall experience and certainly wasn’t brought in to sit on the sidelines, he is being pushed for time by redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen. Regardless of which quarterback starts, the offense is going to lean heavily on running back Royce Freeman, and there’s hope for improvement on defense with the addition of new play-caller Brady Hoke. 

 

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9. Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina

The Tar Heels are a longshot to win the national title in 2016, but the path is certainly there for coach Larry Fedora’s team. The first step would be a win over Georgia in the opener, along with a victory at Florida State on Oct. 1. If North Carolina crosses both of those obstacles and wins the Coastal Division, a rematch with Clemson in the ACC Championship could have playoff implications. The Tar Heels took a step forward on defense last fall, but this unit still has to stop the run better. Even if the defense struggles to improve on last year’s totals, the offense is capable of carrying North Carolina to the Coastal Division title. Quarterback Marquise Williams departs, but there’s little concern in Chapel Hill. Trubisky has shined in limited action, completing 82 of 125 throws for 1,014 yards and 11 scores. Additionally, Trubisky has rushed for 131 yards and three scores on just 27 attempts. Trubisky may not provide the same punch on the ground as Williams did, but the junior is a better passer and should push for All-ACC honors in his first year as the starter.

 

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8. Jacob Eason, Georgia

It’s no secret Eason represents the future for new coach Kirby Smart. However, the future isn’t going to wait until 2017 or 2018 for the Bulldogs. Eason may not start the opener against North Carolina, but the guess here is the true freshman unseats Greyson Lambert for the starting nod early in the 2016 campaign. Eason was regarded as a five-star prospect and the No. 2 quarterback in the 247Sports Composite and enrolled in time to compete in spring practice. Eason’s right arm would provide a spark for a Georgia offense that ranked 10th in the SEC in passing last year. However, the question marks for the Bulldogs aren’t limited just to quarterback development. The offensive line needs to find the right mix, and there’s an overhauled front seven on defense. There’s a lot of pressure on Eason’s shoulders, but all of the tools are there to be one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks by the end of 2016.

 

7. Kenny Hill/Foster Sawyer, TCU

Oklahoma is the clear favorite in the Big 12 for 2016, but TCU has all of the necessary components to challenge the Sooners for the top spot. The Horned Frogs will lean heavily on their defense until the right pieces fall into place for an offense that returns only one starter. While the low number (one) of returning starters is concerning for any team, that total isn’t as bad as it appears. TCU is loaded with talented skill players, and some of the new starters up front gained valuable experience in 2016. But the biggest question mark for coach Gary Patterson remains the starting quarterback. Will it be the Texas A&M transfer – Kenny Hill – or sophomore Foster Sawyer? Hill threw 2,649 yards and 23 scores as Texas A&M’s starter in 2014 but lost his job to Kyle Allen just after the midpoint of the season. Sawyer completed 11 of 27 passes for 155 yards and two scores in six appearances last year. Regardless of which quarterback wins the job, play-caller Doug Meacham should find the right mix to keep this offense among the best in the Big 12. 

 

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6. Keller Chryst, Stanford

Even though David Shaw’s team returns only nine starters, don’t count out the Cardinal from making another run at the College Football Playoff. Stanford has won at least 11 games in four out of the last five seasons, and the rebuilding effort will start with one of the nation’s top Heisman contenders in running back Christian McCaffrey. The junior will have to carry the Stanford offense early on, as the line needs to be retooled with just two starters, and there’s uncertainty at quarterback with Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns battling to replace Kevin Hogan. Chryst is the frontrunner after completing 5 of 9 passes for 59 yards and one score as Hogan’s backup in 2015. The California native was a four-star prospect out of high school and ranked as the No. 51 overall recruit by the 247Sports Composite. Assuming he wins the job, Chryst won’t have much time to get acclimated. Stanford opens with Kansas State, followed by conference matchups against USC, UCLA and Washington in the first month of the season.

 

5. Tyler O’Connor/Damien Terry, Michigan State

Michigan State has won at least 11 games in five out of the last six seasons and repeating as the Big Ten champion isn’t too far out of reach in 2016. To win the East Division and make a trip to the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive year, the Spartans have some key losses to replace on both sides of the ball, including at quarterback where Connor Cook departs after a 34-5 career mark in East Lansing. Coach Mark Dantonio got an early glimpse of his quarterback situation for 2016 when Cook was forced to miss the Ohio State contest due to injury. O’Connor and Damien Terry guided the Spartans to a 17-14 upset win in Columbus and are fighting for the starting nod this fall. O’Connor has an edge over Terry, as the senior has 14 career appearances under his belt and completed 34 of 54 passes for 374 yards and four scores in limited action. O’Connor is also an effective runner (48 yards on 14 attempts last year), but Terry is considered the better athlete. The Spartans should be strong on defense once again and return one of the Big Ten’s top running backs in LJ Scott. However, the development of this position will be critical to a repeat bid to the College Football Playoff.

 

4. Malik Zaire, Notre Dame

Zaire was poised for a breakout season as Notre Dame’s starter last fall, but a leg injury suffered against Virginia in Week 2 ended his 2015 campaign. Prior to the injury, Zaire completed 26 of 40 passes for 428 yards and four touchdowns and added 103 yards on 19 carries. Zaire is back at full strength and participated in the spring game, completing 6 of 15 throws for 120 yards. Zaire brings more playmaking ability on the ground than Kizer but isn’t guaranteed to regain the starting spot. Kizer finished spring with a slight edge for the No. 1 job.

 

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3. John O’Korn/Wilton Speight, Michigan

The quarterback battle between Speight, O’Korn and Shane Morris will extend into fall camp after little clarity emerged in spring practice. While it’s a three-man race, O’Korn and Speight seem to have an edge over Morris for the No. 1 spot. O’Korn started 11 games as a true freshman at Houston in 2013 and earned the American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year honors. During that season, O’Korn threw for 3,117 yards and 28 scores but lost his job to Greg Ward in 2014. While O’Korn struggled at Houston in 2015, all of the tools are there for a rebound year as Michigan’s starter in 2016. Speight redshirted in 2015 and received his first game action last year, completing 9 of 25 passes for 73 yards and one score in seven appearances. Both quarterbacks have plenty to prove, but Michigan doesn’t necessarily need an all-conference player under center. The Wolverines have an elite defense, an improving offensive line and plenty of good skill players in place. The quarterback simply needs to manage the offense and not make the big mistake.

 

2. Deondre Francois, Florida State

With Sean Maguire sidelined in spring ball due to an ankle injury suffered in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Francois got an early start on unseating the senior and staking his claim for the starting job. The Orlando native ranked as the No. 64 overall recruit by the 247Sports Composite in the 2015 signing class and redshirted in his first year on campus. While it’s tough to read too much into the spring game, Francois had a solid showing, completing 20 of 33 passes for 246 yards and two scores and adding 37 rushing yards. Francois is far from a finished product, but he brings more playmaking ability and overall upside in the passing game than Everett Golson or Maguire provided in 2015. Maguire is set to return to 100 percent in time for fall practice. However, Francois is Florida State’s best option under center and is more than capable of guiding coach Jimbo Fisher’s team to a berth in the College Football Playoff.

 

1. Cooper Bateman/Blake Barnett/David Cornwell, Alabama

For the third year in a row, there’s a familiar theme surrounding Alabama’s offense entering fall practice. The Crimson Tide have uncertainty at quarterback once again, with four inexperienced options – Cooper Bateman, Blake Barnett, David Cornwell and Jalen Hurts – battling for the starting nod. While Hurts enrolled early and competed in spring ball, Bateman, Barnett and Cornwell are considered the favorites to take the first snap. While this position has been a question mark at the start of the last two seasons, coordinator Lane Kiffin has pushed all of the right buttons. Blake Sims threw for 3,487 yards and 28 scores and led the Crimson Tide to the College Football Playoff in 2014. Jake Coker threw for 3,110 yards and 21 touchdowns last season and guided Alabama to a national championship over Clemson. Bateman has the most overall experience out of this trio (one start) and completed 37 of 52 passes for 291 yards last year. The guess here is Bateman starts the season, but the upside of Cornwell or Barnett may eventually unseat the junior. 

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10 First-Year Starting QBs Who Could Win College Football's National Title in 2016
Post date: Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/5-reasons-why-utah-pac-12-souths-sleeper-team-2016
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The Pac-12 doesn’t have a clear frontrunner to win the conference title in 2016, but there’s no shortage of intrigue surrounding the league. Washington, Stanford, Oregon, UCLA and USC are the early favorites to win the conference and compete for a playoff spot, but with little separation among the top teams, a dark horse contender could emerge.

 

Utah is coming off its best record (10-3) since joining the Pac-12 and returns 11 starters for 2016. The Utes have one of the nation’s top defenses in place, along with a strong ground attack and offensive line. The development of the passing attack is the biggest concern for coach Kyle Whittingham, but the pieces are still in place to win the South Division. The schedule is also on Utah’s side. The Utes host Oregon and Washington in crossover play with the North Division, and USC visits Salt Lake City in late September.

 

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UCLA and USC are generating most of the preseason attention as the Pac-12 South favorite. But could Utah surprise both teams and claim the division crown? Here are five reasons to believe the Utes could surprise in 2016:

 

5 Reasons Why Utah Can Surprise in the Pac-12 South in 2016

 

1. Defense Wins Championships

The honor of the best defense in the Pac-12 for 2016 is a toss up between Washington and Utah. Regardless of which team deserves the No. 1 spot, the Huskies and Utes are both among the nation’s best on this side of the ball. Defense is where Utah has made its mark in the Pac-12, as the Utes led the league in fewest yards per play allowed in 2011, ranked fourth in 2014 and third in 2015. Additionally, this unit has recorded 92 sacks over the last two years. New coordinator Morgan Scalley won’t allow this defense to miss a beat in 2016, as the Utes return six starters, including three first-team All-Pac-12 selections by Athlon Sports – end Kylie Fitts, tackle Lowell Lotulelei and safety Marcus Williams. The Utes led the Pac-12 in rush defense last fall and allowed only 13 passing scores in nine conference games. While the linebacking corps has to be retooled, the defensive line and secondary rank near the top of the Pac-12 in terms of the best defensive units returning in 2016. Expect the Utes to field another shutdown defense this fall.

 

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2. The Utes Win the Battle at the Line of Scrimmage

The unquestioned strength of Utah’s 2016 squad is up front in the trenches. With four returning starters, the Utes are competing with USC for the nod as the Pac-12’s top offensive line. This unit only gave up 19 sacks in conference play and cleared the way for Utah to average 183 rushing yards a game last season. Some shuffling could be in order after Hiva Lutui’s career ended due to injury, but there’s a strong foundation in place with the return of Athlon Sports fourth-team All-American J.J. Dielman and standout guard Isaac Asiata. Additionally, Garett Bolles was one of the nation’s top junior college recruits and should figure prominently into the mix up front. On defense, Utah possesses the top line in the Pac-12 and one of the best in the nation. Kylie Fitts and Hunter Dimick lead a standout pass rush off the edges, while junior Lowell Lotulelei anchors a stout run defense. The battle at the point of attack isn’t as flashy as quarterback play or skill players. However, the line of scrimmage is where games are won and lost. Utah’s offensive and defensive lines are among the best in the nation and will carry this team in 2016.

 

Ranking the Conferences in 2016



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3. Joe Williams is a Capable Replacement for Devontae Booker

A Utah running back has eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in four out of the last five years. Devontae Booker led the way on the ground by recording 1,261 yards last season, but he missed the final three games due to injury, opening the door for Joe Williams to get an early audition for the starting job. Williams recorded at least 25 carries in each of the final three games and rushed for 399 yards and three scores in that span. Even though Booker leaves big shoes to fill in Salt Lake City, Utah’s ground attack shouldn’t miss a beat with Williams receiving the bulk of the carries.

 

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4. Upside in the Passing Game?

The passing attack is the biggest question mark surrounding Utah’s offense in 2016. However, the Utes haven’t finished higher than ninth in the Pac-12 in passing offense over the last five seasons, so this team can contend without an elite aerial assault. Travis Wilson finished his career by throwing for 2,095 yards and 13 scores last year, leaving a three-man battle for the starting nod in 2016. Junior Brandon Cox is the team’s most-experienced option in a Utah uniform (three career pass attempts), but the other quarterbacks on the roster – junior college recruit Troy Williams and freshman Tyler Huntley – bring a lot of upside to the passing game. Williams started his career at Washington and transferred to Santa Monica College for an opportunity to start in 2015. He threw for 2,750 yards and 31 scores last season and ranked as a four-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite. Huntley enrolled in time to compete in spring practice and impressed in his first semester on campus. The passing game certainly has question marks at quarterback and receiver, but Utah can lean on its ground attack and defense until this position is settled. While Williams and Huntley are unproven at the FBS level, both players have a lot of upside and could help spark a passing game that connected on only 12 passes of 30 yards or more in 2015.

 

5. The Timing is Right for a Wild Card Winner in the South

The Pac-12 enters 2016 without a clear favorite in either division. Washington, Oregon, Stanford and Washington State are all generating consideration for the North, while USC, UCLA and Utah are in the mix for the South. Considering the gap between contenders seems to be pretty small, the climate is right for a dark horse pick to emerge. Utah is also coming off its best record (10-3) since joining the Pac-12 and also finished No. 17 in the Associated Press poll – the highest mark by the program since 2009. 

 

Bonus: Utah kicker Andy Phillips is One of the Best in the Nation

Punter Tom Hackett won’t be easy to replace, but Utah’s special teams are still among the best in the Pac-12 with the return of kicker Andy Phillips. Over the last three seasons, Phillips has connected on 63 of 75 field goals and 132 extra points. With Utah likely to be involved in a handful of close games this season, Phillips could be the difference in a couple of contests. He’s also a second-team All-American pick by Athlon Sports for 2016. 

 

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5 Reasons Why Utah is the Pac-12 South's Sleeper Team in 2016
Post date: Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-12-running-back-tandems-2016
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Having two running backs is almost essential for every college football team. While some teams have workhorse options that can handle 275 or 300 carries, most programs want to have at least two (and sometimes three) running backs to split up the workload. The thought process is pretty simple: Take the workload off one player and spread it around to keep everyone fresh. This concept seems to gain more steam each year, as a running game is no longer about just one go-to back. Instead, most teams need at least two solid ball-carriers to lead the way on the ground. 

 

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Oklahoma’s one-two punch of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon is the best in the Big 12, but Baylor and Texas also have solid tandems in place for the 2016 season. Here are the Big 12 teams ranked by the running back tandems (projected No. 1 and No. 2 rushers) for the upcoming year.

 

Ranking the Big 12 RB Tandems for 2016

 

1. Oklahoma – Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon

The nation’s No. 1 backfield duo for 2016 resides in Norman, Okla. After rushing for 1,713 yards and 21 scores and setting the single-game FBS rushing record (427 yards) as a freshman, Perine posted another standout campaign in 2015. In 13 games, Perine recorded 1,349 yards and 16 scores and rushed for at least 131 yards in three out of Oklahoma’s final four games. After sitting out 2015 due to a suspension, Mixon showcased the big-play potential that made him a five-star recruit in the high school ranks. Mixon rushed for 753 yards and seven scores on 113 attempts and chipped in 28 receptions for 356 yards and four touchdowns. Mixon’s four rushes of 30 or more yards tied for sixth among Big 12 rushers last fall.  

 

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2. Baylor – Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson

The Linwood-Jefferson tandem is the nation’s only returning duo where both players reached the 1,000-yard mark in 2016. Linwood was slowed by injuries late in the year but still managed to finish fourth in the Big 12 by recording 1,329 yards. Additionally, Linwood’s 6.78 per-carry mark was the highest by any back in the conference with at least 150 carries. Jefferson recorded only one 100-yard effort through the first seven games and did not record a carry against Kansas State and Oklahoma. However, Jefferson came on strong over the final four games, posting at least 62 yards in each contest, including 299 against North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl. 

 

3. Texas – D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren

New coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was brought in to provide some much-needed direction and spark an offense that has ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in scoring in back-to-back years. In addition to the new offense, the Longhorns are expected to turn to freshman quarterback Shane Buechele as the new starter. While Buechele’s long-term future is bright, the freshman won’t have to shoulder the offense in 2016. Instead, Gilbert and Buechele can lean heavily on the one-two punch of Foreman and Warren. Foreman led the Longhorns with 681 yards (7.2 ypc) last season, while Warren collected 470 yards and four rushing scores on just 71 carries. Warren was hardly involved in the offense through the first 10 games and exploded with 276 yards against Texas Tech on Thanksgiving, followed by 106 against Baylor in the season finale.

 

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4. Iowa State – Mike Warren and Sheldon Croney

The Cyclones may not have a clear No. 2 option yet, but there’s no doubt Mike Warren is one of the Big 12’s top running backs. After redshirting his first year on campus, Warren earned Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors after rushing for 1,339 yards and five scores in 2015. With DeAndre Washington and Wendell Smallwood off to the NFL, Warren’s 1,339 yards are the most by any returning Big 12 player for 2016. Croney took a redshirt year last fall. He will compete with Mitchell Harger and David Montgomery for the No. 2 role.

 

5. West Virginia – Rushel Shell and Kennedy McKoy

Even though coach Dana Holgorsen is known for his roots in the Air Raid attack, West Virginia ranked second in the Big 12 in rushing offense last season. Leading rusher Wendell Smallwood (1,519 yards in 2015) departs, but the cupboard isn’t empty in Morgantown. Rushel Shell – a former five-star prospect – returns after ranking second on the team with 708 yards and eight rushing scores last fall. Shell has rushed for 1,571 yards in his career with the Mountaineers but is still looking for that breakout year. True freshman Kennedy McKoy impressed in spring practice and is slated to work in the No. 2 role, with junior college recruit Justin Crawford at No. 3.

 

6. TCU – Kyle Hicks and Sewo Olonilua

The Hicks-Olonilua backfield is largely unproven, but there’s also a lot of potential. Hicks ranked as the No. 204 recruit in the 2013 signing class and showed intriguing potential in limited snaps. The Arlington native recorded 262 yards and three scores on just 56 attempts last season, while adding 13 receptions for 104 yards. Olonilua is another promising prospect for co-coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham. The true freshman enrolled in time for spring practice and received extensive work in the final scrimmage. Olonilua ranked as the No. 125 overall recruit in the 2016 247Sports Composite, and at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, provides a power element to the backfield. Junior Trevorris Johnson and Michigan graduate transfer Derrick Green are also in the mix for carries.

 

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7. Texas Tech - Justin Stockton and Demarcus Felton

DeAndre Washington was one of the nation’s most underrated running backs during his career with the Red Raiders. He leaves big shoes to fill this year, but Justin Stockton and Demarcus Felton should be a solid duo for coach Kliff Kingsbury. Stockton has been a dynamic change-of-pace option over the last two years, averaging a whopping seven yards per carry on 109 attempts. Demarcus Felton only received six carries last season but rushed for 73 yards and one score. He is competing with Quinton White for the No. 2 role in Texas Tech’s backfield.

 

8. Oklahoma State – Barry Sanders and Chris Carson

Oklahoma State usually has one of the Big 12’s top ground attacks, but the Cowboys have sputtered over the last two years. In 2014, Oklahoma State finished seventh in the Big 12 in rushing offense, averaging only 3.5 yards per carry. The numbers weren’t much better last fall, as the Cowboys ranked ninth in the league and generated only 3.58 per carry. However, there is hope for improvement in 2016. A struggling offensive line has been one of the primary culprits for the subpar ground attack, but this unit returns five starters and the overall depth has improved. Carson returns after leading the Cowboys with 517 yards last season, and Sanders transferred from Stanford in search of more playing time. Sanders recorded 672 yards and five scores in his career with the Cardinal. 

 

9. Kansas State – Charles Jones and Justin Silmon

Kansas State recorded only three rushing plays of 30 yards or more last season, so it’s imperative for the ground attack to find a spark in 2016. Charles Jones is back after leading the team with 696 rushing yards last year, but he will face competition for carries from sophomores Justin Silmon and Dalvin Warmack. Silmon showed promise in limited action (355 yards) in 2015, while Warmack ranked as one of Kansas State’s top recruits in its 2014 signing class.

 

10. Kansas – Ke’aun Kinner and Taylor Martin

Kinner started his Kansas career on a high note, as the junior college recruit recorded back-to-back 100-yard efforts to open 2015. However, injuries prevented Kinner from building on his fast start. The Texas native finished the year with 566 yards and five rushing scores on 134 attempts. Martin is penciled in as the No. 2 back after recording 42 yards on 16 carries last fall. He will be pushed for time by Ryan Schadler and James Sullivan.

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Ranking the Big 12 Running Back Tandems for 2016
Post date: Monday, July 25, 2016 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/5-critical-position-groups-watch-big-ten-west-2016
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The balance of power in college football and the strength of divisions is always cyclical. The Big Ten West is on the wrong side of the cycle in 2016, as Nebraska, Wisconsin and Northwestern enter the year with key question marks and projected to finish outside of the top 25 by most preseason prognosticators. Iowa is the heavy favorite in the Big Ten West this fall, but the Hawkeyes have a few question marks of their own. The receiving corps needs a few playmakers to emerge, and the offensive line loses two standouts. Nebraska returns one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks in Tommy Armstrong, but the defense was hit hard by departures up front. Wisconsin returns a solid core of talent and one of the league’s top defenses. However, the Badgers must navigate a difficult schedule.

 

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As mentioned above, Iowa is the clear favorite in the Big Ten West. But which position groups could be the difference between the Hawkeyes challenging the East champ for the conference title or Nebraska winning the West crown? Here are five key position groups to watch for development in 2016: 

 

5 Critical Position Groups to Watch in the Big Ten West

 

Iowa Special Teams

The development of the receivers outside of senior Matt VandeBerg and the battle to replace offensive line standouts Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh are two other areas to watch, but let’s focus on Iowa’s special teams. Kicker Marshall Koehn departs after connecting on 16 of 20 field goals last season, and punter Dillon Kidd also expired his eligibility (40.2 avg.). While special teams aren’t as flashy as quarterback play or a skill position, this unit could decide the outcome in a couple of close games. After all, Iowa won five games by eight points or less last season. Sophomore Miguel Recinos and Mick Ellis (0 for 1 career field goals) are the frontrunners to replace Koehn, while redshirt freshman Colten Rastetter holds an edge at punter. Central Michigan graduate transfer Ron Coluzzi (39.2 avg. in 2015) is another name to watch at punter. Iowa should find the right answers here, but this could be something to watch in close games early in the 2016 season.

 

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Minnesota Secondary

Opponents didn’t find much room to throw on Minnesota’s defensive backs last season. The Golden Gophers finished 25th nationally in pass efficiency defense, allowed only 13 passing scores and surrendered only five plays of 40 yards or more. Jay Sawvel will handle the play-calling duties after Tracy Claeys was promoted to head coach at the end of last season and will work with new assistant Dan O’Brien on reloading the secondary. Standout cornerbacks Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun and safety Antonio Johnson expired their eligibility after 2015. The cupboard isn’t bare, but Sawvel and O’Brien have to find the right mix. Senior cornerback Jalen Myrick should push for all-conference honors, with sophomore KiAnte Hardin likely to start on the opposite side after recording 13 tackles in 2015. Adekunle Ayinde and Ace Rogers should battle for one of the starting spots at safety, with senior Damarius Travis (returning from injury) claiming the other job. Travis recorded 10 tackles in last season’s opener but missed the rest of the year. His return is a huge boost for this unit.

 

Nebraska Defensive Line

The development of this unit will be critical to Nebraska’s hopes of challenging Iowa for the Big Ten West Division title. The Cornhuskers will have four new starters up front, with the departure of standout tackles Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine leaving a void on the interior. Nebraska ranked second in the Big Ten against the run last season but only generated 24 sacks. Who will step up for new line coach John Parrella this fall? Sophomore Freedom Akinmoladun is a name to watch on the edge after generating 4.5 sacks in nine games last fall. Senior Ross Dzuris and freshmen Alex Davis and DaiShon Neal are also expected to provide support at end. Senior Kevin Maurice (21 tackles) is the leader on the interior, but talented redshirt freshmen Carlos and Khalil Davis are two names to watch.

 

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Northwestern Wide Receivers

If Northwestern wants to repeat last year’s 10-win campaign, it’s no secret the Wildcats need more out of the passing game. Quarterback Clayton Thorson should take a step forward in his second season as the starter, but coach Pat Fitzgerald needs a few playmakers to step up on the outside. Northwestern loses leading receiver Dan Vitale (33 grabs) and its No. 3 target Christian Jones (23 catches). Who will step up for Thorson this fall? Senior Austin Carr (16 receptions) and two players making a position change – Solomon Vault from running back and Marcus McShepard from defensive back – are three names to remember. Superback Garrett Dickerson should be a key weapon for Thorson, and if the Wildcats need to tap into their recruiting class for help, Ben Skowronek or Riley Lees are two potential instant-impact prospects. A key stat to remember: Northwestern connected on just seven passing plays of 30 yards or more in 2015.

 

Wisconsin Offensive Line

Wisconsin’s offensive line is usually one of the best in the Big Ten, but this unit didn’t perform up to its normal standard last fall. The Badgers ranked eighth in the conference in sacks allowed (24) and struggled to open up running lanes (3.82 yards per carry). Youth and injuries had a lot to do with the performance of the front five, but there’s plenty of hope for quick improvement in 2016. Four starters are back for coach Paul Chryst, and UW-Stevens Point transfer Ryan Ramczyk is penciled in at left tackle. Sophomores Micah Kapoi, Michael Deiter and Beau Benzschawel should all show improvement in their second year as starter. The development of this unit is critical with a new quarterback taking over, as well as a brutal first-half schedule.

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5 Critical Position Groups to Watch in the Big Ten West in 2016
Post date: Thursday, July 21, 2016 - 10:00
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Every  team has players most would consider underrated. However, defining underrated players is no easy assignment, as that term varies in meaning between fans and experts. With the 2016 season approaching, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look at some players deserving of more preseason accolades or discussion. In an effort to get to 50 names, we tried to stick to players that had yet to earn all-conference honors in their career. However, a few exceptions were made.

 

After taking a look at the most underrated players in each conference, Athlon Sports has rounded up the top 50 names for the 2016 season. Here are some of the players we think deserve more attention as kickoff for 2016 quickly approaches: 

 

By Conference:  |  |  |  |

 

College Football's Top 50 Underrated Players for 2016

 

Isaac Asiata, OL, Utah

The unquestioned strength of Utah’s offense is its line. All five starters are back for coach Kyle Whittingham, and there’s good depth in place with the addition of junior college recruit Garett Bolles. Tackle J.J. Dielman is generating plenty of attention as an All-America candidate for 2016, but Asiata also shouldn’t be overlooked up front. The Utah native played in six games (and four starts) as a freshman in 2013 and has accumulated 26 starts over the last two years. After earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2015, Asiata is poised to earn a spot as one of the league’s top linemen.

 

Chidobe Awuzie, S, Colorado

Awuzie was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection last season, but the San Jose native deserves more attention for a standout career with the Buffaloes. In 13 games last year, Awuzie was all over the field for coordinator Jim Leavitt. He accumulated 90 stops (second on the team), four sacks, one forced fumble and 10 pass breakups. During his first two years on campus (2013-14), Awuzie recorded 123 tackles and 12 pass breakups. If Awuzie continues to build off his first three seasons in Boulder, he could develop into an All-American at safety this fall.

 

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Jacob Bennett, LT, Bowling Green

Keeping Bowling Green’s offense at the top of the MAC is one of the top priorities for new coach Mike Jinks. The first-year coach isn’t hurting for talent on that side of the ball, as the Falcons return four starters from one of the MAC’s top offensive lines. Bennett is the leader for this group, as the Ohio native enters 2016 with 42 consecutive starts. Bennett has started every game in his collegiate career. 

 

Eric Boggs, LB, Appalachian State

All four of Appalachian State’s starting linebackers from last year’s standout defense are back in 2016. The Mountaineers led the Sun Belt in scoring defense in 2015, limiting opponents to just 19.1 points a game. Boggs played a key role in the performance of this defense last fall, collecting 104 tackles (7.5 for a loss), four sacks, three interceptions and one pass breakup. After earning second-team All-Sun Belt honors in 2015, Boggs is poised to rank among the Sun Belt’s top defenders this season.

 

Devonte Boyd, WR, UNLV

Fans around the Mountain West know of Boyd’s big-play potential, but it’s time the rest of the nation takes notice. After sitting out his first year on campus (2013), Boyd has emerged as one of the Group of 5’s top receivers. He caught 65 passes for 980 yards and four scores as a freshman in 2014 and followed up that season with a strong sophomore campaign. Boyd played in all 12 games for the Rebels and caught 54 passes for 904 yards and seven scores. Boyd’s 16.7 per-catch average ranked first among Mountain West receivers last fall.

 

Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida

Florida has three potential all-conference candidates in the trenches this season with the return of Brantley, Cece Jefferson and Bryan Cox. Brantley won’t post huge numbers as an interior player, but the 6-foot-2 tackle anchors a rush defense that gave up only 128.1 yards per game in 2015. In 13 appearances last season, Brantley recorded 29 tackles (6.5 for a loss) and three sacks. Even though the SEC is loaded with talent up front, Brantley should make a strong push for all-conference honors this year.  

 

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DeAngelo Brown, DT, Louisville

Sheldon Rankins leaves big shoes to fill in the trenches for coordinator Todd Grantham’s defense. While Rankins will be missed, the Cardinals aren’t completely rebuilding up front. Brown has been a key part for the defensive line over the last two years, finishing 2015 with 40 tackles (6.5 for a loss) and two sacks. The Georgia native should push for all-conference honors this fall.

 

Richie Brown, LB, Mississippi State

The SEC has its share of standout linebackers returning for 2016, but Brown shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to discussing the league’s top performers at that position. The Mississippi native has been a key cog in the Bulldogs’ defense over the last three years and racked up 109 stops (13 for a loss) in 2015. And with the departure of defensive tackle Chris Jones and linebacker Beniquez Brown, the senior should take on an even bigger role in leadership for new coordinator Peter Sirmon and anchor the middle of Mississippi State’s 3-4 scheme.

 

Oren Burks, LB/DB, Vanderbilt

Burks is slated to play a key role for coach Derek Mason’s defense this fall by shifting from to a hybrid “star” defensive back/linebacker position. Moving Burks to this role will allow Vanderbilt’s defense to match up better against some of spread attacks this unit will face in 2016. Burks is coming off his best season for the Commodores after accumulating 59 tackles (two for a loss), one forced fumble and three interceptions in 2015. The Virginia native’s versatility is a huge asset for a defense that allowed only 21 points a game last fall.

 

Darren Carrington, WR, Oregon

Carrington gets the nod here as Oregon’s most underrated player, but a strong case could be made running back Royce Freeman still doesn’t get enough credit for his 2015 season. Despite not playing in the Ducks’ first six games, Carrington ranked second on the team with 32 catches for 609 yards and six scores. Additionally, had he qualified in the conference statistics, Carrington would have ranked second among receivers by averaging 19.03 yards per reception. With Bralon Addison off to the NFL, Carrington should see even more passes in his direction this fall.

 

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Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana

Only three receivers – Cobbs, Aaron Burbridge and Chris Godwin – eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for receivers in the Big Ten last fall. While Burbridge and Godwin both earned a spot on the All-Big Ten team, Cobbs’ 2015 season was largely overlooked. In 13 games, he grabbed 60 passes for 1,035 yards and four scores. Additionally, Cobbs recorded four 100-yard efforts over Indiana’s final seven contests.

 

Dakota Cox, LB, New Mexico

The Lobos showed marked improvement on defense last season, limiting opponents to 28.4 points a game after giving up 35.9 per contest in 2014. Cox was one of the driving forces behind the defensive improvement, as the Utah native led New Mexico in tackles for the third straight season. Over the last three years, Cox has recorded 312 stops (14 for a loss), five sacks, two interceptions and one fumble recovery. 

 

P.J. Davis, LB, Georgia Tech

At 5-foot-11 and 231 pounds, Davis doesn’t possess the prototypical size for a linebacker, but the Georgia native is a standout playmaker for coach Paul Johnson’s defense. Davis has accumulated 237 tackles (20 for a loss) and four forced fumbles in his three seasons with the Yellow Jackets. His best overall year took place in 2014, recording 119 stops and three forced fumbles in 14 appearances.

 

Winston Dimel, FB, Kansas State

A fullback is often a fossil in a league known for its high-scoring offenses and spread attacks. However, Dimel is a key cog in Kansas State’s offense and was a first-team selection on the 2015 All-Big 12 team. Dimel’s opportunities to touch the ball are limited. However, he certainly maximizes his opportunities. In 13 games, Dimel recorded 86 rushing yards and six touchdowns on just 28 attempts and caught eight passes for 261 yards (32.6 ypc) and two scores.

 

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Michael Dunn, OT, Maryland

From walk-on to potential All-Big Ten player – that’s the quick way to describe Dunn’s career in College Park. The Maryland native has emerged as a key cog in Maryland’s offensive line after a redshirt season in 2012. Over the last three years, Dunn has started 37 games and earned honorable mention all-conference honors in 2015.

 

Dane Evans, QB, Tulsa

Tulsa showed marked improvement under first-year coach Philip Montgomery last season. After a 2-10 record in 2014, the Golden Hurricane finished 6-7 last year and made the program’s first bowl trip since 2012. In addition to Montgomery’s arrival, a big reason for the improvement in the win column is due to Evans’ development. The Texas native threw for 4,332 yards and 25 scores last season and ranked seventh nationally by averaging 333.2 passing yards per game.

 

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Gerald Everett, TE, South Alabama

San Jose State’s Billy Freeman and FIU’s Jonnu Smith get most of the preseason attention as the top Group of 5 tight end. However, Everett shouldn’t be overlooked in that conversation, as the UAB transfer was a big-time playmaker for coach Joey Jones in 2015. In 12 games, Everett grabbed 41 receptions for 575 yards and eight scores (14.02 ypc). Additionally, Everett eclipsed the 100-yard mark (108) against a stout San Diego State defense and caught two scores against Troy.

 

Tanner Gentry, WR, Wyoming

Injuries and a youth movement hit Wyoming’s offense hard last season. The program’s top two quarterbacks – Cameron Coffman and Josh Allen – missed chunks of time due to injury, while Gentry’s season ended after the seventh game due to a shoulder ailment. But prior to his injury, Gentry grabbed 37 receptions for 678 yards and four scores. Had Gentry played enough games to qualify for the Mountain West statistical leaders, his 18.3 per-catch average would rank No. 1 in the league among receivers.

 

Ryan Glasgow, DT, Michigan

Just how valuable was Glasgow to Michigan’s run defense in 2015? Here’s a stat to consider: Through the first nine games, the Wolverines did not allow an opponent to rush for more than 145 yards in a single game. However, with Glasgow sidelined due to injury, Michigan surrendered over 300 rushing yards in games against Indiana and Ohio State. Glasgow finished the season with 25 tackles (five for a loss) and one sack, but his impact goes beyond the box score as a key cog on the interior for coordinator Don Brown.

 

Max Halpin, C, WKU

With all five starters returning, WKU’s front five has a strong case as the best offensive line from the Group of 5 ranks in 2016. Left tackle Forrest Lamp is a candidate for All-America honors, but center Max Halpin shouldn’t be overlooked this preseason. The Kentucky native started seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2013 but suffered a season-ending back injury after three starts in 2014. However, Halpin rebounded in a big way last year, starting all 14 games for the Hilltoppers and helping to anchor a line that gave up only 16 sacks in 2015.

 

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Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina

Jones’ play-making ability and overall talent is no mystery to opposing American Athletic Conference coaches. However, Jones doesn’t get enough credit on the national level after a standout 2015 season. In 12 games, Jones grabbed 98 receptions for 1,099 yards and five scores. And for his career, Jones has 241 receptions and ranks third in school history with 2,533 receiving yards. After earning second-team American Athletic all-conference honors last season, Jones should receive a spot on the league’s first team for 2016.

 

Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee

Tennessee’s backfield tandem of Jalen Hurd and Kamara is among the nation’s best, and it’s no secret Hurd gets most of the preseason attention as an All-America candidate. But let’s give Kamara some credit, as the former Alabama running back quietly had a standout debut in his first season on Rocky Top. Kamara rushed for 698 yards and seven scores and caught 34 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns last season.

 

Des Lawrence/M.J. Stewart, CB, North Carolina

Both Lawrence and Stewart earned a mention on the ACC’s all-conference team last season, but it’s probably fair to say these two players deserve more credit on the national level. Lawrence played in 14 games in 2015 and finished the year with 59 tackles, two interceptions and 14 pass breakups. Stewart was just as effective, recording 62 tackles (2.5 for a loss), four interceptions and 14 pass breakups. The play of Lawrence and Stewart was a big reason why North Carolina ranked 12th nationally in pass efficiency defense.

 

Mike McGlinchey/Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame

Replacing left tackle Ronnie Stanley, center Nick Martin and guard Steve Elmer won’t be easy. However, the cupboard is far from bare up front for coach Brian Kelly. McGlinchey and Nelson are the new headliners in the trenches, and both players should push for All-America honors in 2016. McGlinchey has 14 career starts under his belt, while Nelson is expected to start at left guard after earning 11 starts last fall. There’s no question Stanley will be missed, but McGlinchey and Nelson are capable of keeping this group performing at a high level.

 

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Travon McMillian, RB, Virginia Tech

McMillian emerged as Virginia Tech’s go-to back in the second half of last season and finished 2015 with 1,042 yards and seven scores on just 200 carries. After recording only 32 carries through the first five games last year, McMillian posted double-digit attempts in each of the final eight contests, including 33 against Boston College. He also recorded three 100-yard efforts and scored twice in Virginia Tech’s bowl win over Tulsa. McMillian is poised to take on an even bigger role in 2016 under new coach Justin Fuente.

 

Matt Milano, LB, Boston College

Boston College’s defense was one of the nation’s best in 2015, and despite a few personnel losses, the Eagles should rank near the top of the ACC in 2016. New coordinator Jim Reid won’t have standout linebacker Steven Daniels at his disposal, but this unit is still anchored by Milano and fellow standout Connor Strachan. Milano recorded 60 tackles (including a team-high 17.5 for a loss last season), 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Milano should be one of the ACC’s top linebackers in 2016.

 

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Demetrius Monday, CB, Kent State

We could list any of Kent State’s returning starters in the secondary here, as all three players are deserving of more national recognition. Monday gets the nod as our pick as the underrated player from this group. The Georgia native played in all 12 games for the Golden Flashes in 2015 and recorded 35 stops, six pass breakups and six interceptions. Monday has 13 pass breakups over the last two seasons and is on the radar for NFL scouts as a prospect to watch for the 2018 draft. 

 

Noble Nwachukwu, DL, West Virginia

Coordinator Tony Gibson has a major rebuilding effort on his hands this offseason. The Mountaineers return only three starters on defense and most of the back seven has to be replaced. The clear area of strength for Gibson’s defense will be the line, which could feature three senior starters. Nwachuwku is one of the proven returners for Gibson, as the Texas native enters 2016 with 26 consecutive starts. Over the last three years, Nwachukwu has recorded 86 overall stops and led the team with 13 tackles for a loss in 2015.

 

Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

As we mentioned earlier in this article with other linemen, it’s not easy to judge the effectiveness of a defensive tackle just by glancing at the stat sheet. And in Alabama’s 3-4 scheme, it’s essential to have a couple of space-eaters in the middle to clog the line of scrimmage and allow the linebackers to make plays. That’s exactly the role Payne contributed in last fall, as he worked as a rotational player on Alabama’s standout defensive front. Payne received snaps in all 15 games and recorded 13 tackles, one pass breakup and one forced fumble. He is expected to anchor the interior of Alabama’s defensive line this fall, with Jonathan Allen and D’Shawn Hand working off the edges.

 

Steven Parker, S, Oklahoma

Anchored by cornerback Jordan Thomas and two standout safeties, Oklahoma’s secondary should be among the best in the nation this year – even after cornerback Zack Sanchez left for the NFL. Parker was thrown into the fire as a true freshman in 2014, recording 31 tackles in 13 games. The Tulsa native earned a starting spot in all 13 contests for the Sooners last fall and delivered a standout season, recording 60 tackles (four for a loss), 1.5 sacks and four pass breakups. The 6-foot-1 junior is just scratching the surface of his potential and it’s time to consider him among the top defensive backs in the Big 12.

 

Aarion Penton, CB, Missouri

Most of the attention on Missouri’s standout defense surrounds its standout line, but the back seven has its share of All-SEC candidates, including Penton at cornerback, Michael Scherer at linebacker and Anthony Sherrils at safety. Penton was quietly effective in 2015, recording 59 tackles, one interception and eight pass breakups. Additionally, his play at cornerback was a big reason why the Tigers allowed only 10 passing scores last season.

 

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Kalif Phillips, RB, Charlotte

The 49ers took their share of lumps in 2015, which was the program’s first at the FBS level. While the long-term future at Charlotte is bright, 2016 could be another transition year for this program. Phillips is an underrated star for the 49ers, as he nearly eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark (961) in 11 appearances. In his career, Phillips has rushed for 3,113 yards and 37 scores.

 

Billy Price, OL, Ohio State

Considering Ohio State returns only six starters and has several new faces stepping into the starting lineup, it’s not easy to pinpoint a player that is underrated in 2016. However, Price is a good candidate for this award, as the Ohio native has started all 28 games in his career for the Buckeyes. Price earned third-team All-Big Ten honors in 2015, but he could be among the nation’s best at his position this fall.

 

Jake Replogle, DT, Purdue

Lost in Purdue’s struggles in the win column recently has been the development of Replogle into one of the Big Ten’s top defensive linemen. After appearing in seven games as a backup in 2013, Replogle started all 12 games for the Boilermakers in 2014 and finished the year with 10.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks. He took those totals even higher in 2016, as Replogle recorded 60 tackles (14 for a loss), two sacks and two pass breakups.

 

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Demario Richard, RB, Arizona State

Richard was one of six Pac-12 running backs to hit the 1,000-yard mark in 2015. In 12 appearances, Richard rushed for 1,104 yards and seven scores. Additionally, he was also a valuable pass-catcher out of the backfield, nabbing 31 receptions for 303 yards and three touchdowns. After rushing for over 1,000 yards in his first full season as Arizona State’s go-to running back, the arrow on Richard’s career in Tempe is clearly pointing up for 2016 and beyond.

 

Jalen Robinette, WR, Air Force

Opportunities in the passing game are limited for Air Force’s receivers, but Robinette certainly knows how to make the most of his targets. The Ohio native has caught 85 passes for 1,738 yards and 12 scores during his three years with the Falcons. Additionally, Robinette has averaged at least 18 yards per catch in each season, culminating in a 20.4 career mark.

 

Nico Siragusa, OL, San Diego State

Anchored by All-America candidate Donnel Pumphrey at running back and a standout offensive line, the Aztecs have one of the nation’s top ground attacks. Siragusa is the leader for coach Rocky Long’s offensive line and has quietly emerged as one of the nation’s top guards. The California native enters 2016 with 28 career starts and is a first-team All-Mountain West pick by Athlon Sports.

 

Dawuane Smoot, DL, Illinois

Smoot’s 2015 season might have been one of the most underrated performances by a defender in the Big Ten. In 12 games, Smoot recorded 40 tackles (15 for a loss), eight sacks and three forced fumbles. Despite the standout campaign, Smoot did not earn all-conference honors. However, with new coach Lovie Smith and coordinator Hardy Nickerson calling the shots on defense, it’s a safe bet Smoot takes the next step in his development this fall.

 

Riley Sorenson, OL, Washington State

There’s big shoes to fill in Pullman, as Joe Dahl and Gunnar Eklund depart the left side of Washington State’s offensive line. But the cupboard is far from bare for coach Mike Leach. Three starters are back for 2016, including center Riley Sorenson and promising right tackle Cole Madison. Sorenson has quietly anchored the interior for Leach over the last two seasons, starting 11 games in 2015 and 10 in 2014. The senior should be the Pac-12’s top center in 2016.

 

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Jon Toth, C, Kentucky

Toth has been a fixture on Kentucky’s offensive line over the last three seasons. The Indiana native has started 35 consecutive games and was named to the Rimington Trophy watch list for the 2016 campaign. Toth should clear plenty of running lanes for dynamic running back Boom Williams this season, and the senior should rank as one of the SEC’s top linemen.

 

KaVontae Turpin, RB/Return Specialist, TCU

Three. That’s how many spots Turpin appears on for Athlon’s projected All-Big 12 team in 2016. The Louisiana native was a standout performer in his freshman campaign last season, leading TCU with 1,675 all-purpose yards and scoring eight times on offense. Turpin also averaged 10.6 yards on punt returns (with one score) and 27 yards per kickoff return last year. Turpin is one of the nation’s top all-purpose players and is due for an even bigger role this fall.

 

Fred Warner, LB, BYU

New coach Kalani Sitake plans to shift BYU’s defense to a 4-3 approach in 2016, but the change in scheme won’t slow Warner from performing as one of the unit’s top players. After playing in 10 games as a freshman in 2014, Warner emerged as a standout defender for the Cougars last fall, recording 67 stops (11.5 for a loss), four sacks, two interceptions and four fumble recoveries.

 

Ben Weaver, LB, Boise State

The Broncos are reloading in the trenches, but the front seven isn’t in bad shape thanks to the return of two standout linebackers. Tanner Vallejo earned honorable mention All-Mountain West honors last season, but Weaver’s contributions were overlooked. The Texas native has been a consistent force for Boise State’s defense over the last three years, recording 219 tackles (11 for a loss), three sacks and one forced fumble in that span. 

 

Marquez White, CB, Florida State

Jalen Ramsey was the unquestioned leader and top player in Florida State’s secondary last season, but White quietly turned in a standout 2015 campaign and is poised to emerge as an All-America candidate this fall. White’s statistics last fall – 25 tackles, one interception and three pass breakups – were low due to teams avoiding his side of the field. White did not earn All-ACC honors last season but should be one of the league’s top defenders in 2016.

 

Jarveon Williams, RB, UTSA

New coach Frank Wilson has worked with plenty of talented running backs during his 11 years as an assistant at the collegiate level. And the first-year coach inherits one of Conference USA’s top backs to utilize in 2016, as Williams returns after posting 1,042 rushing yards and eight scores on just 173 attempts in 2015. In league games, Williams ranked fourth among C-USA rushers with an average of 96 yards per contest.

 

Brandon Wilson, CB, Houston

The departure of safeties Trevon Stewart and Adrian McDonald and cornerback William Jackson III leave big shoes to fill in Houston’s secondary for 2016. However, coordinator Todd Orlando can start the rebuilding effort around Wilson. The Louisiana native was a valuable two-way player for the Cougars at the end of last season and finished the year with 58 tackles, two forced fumbles, one interception and averaged 26.6 yards on kickoff returns. With injuries limiting running backs Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson, Wilson stepped into the backfield and contributed 111 yards in the 52-31 win over Navy and 70 yards against Temple in the American Athletic Conference Championship.

 

Deatrich Wise, DE, Arkansas

In SEC-only matchups last fall, Wise ranked third in the league with eight sacks generated. In a conference that features Derek Barnett (Tennessee), Myles Garrett (Texas A&M) and Jonathan Allen (Alabama), it’s easy to overlook Wise’s production for the Razorbacks. However, Wise was one of the SEC’s top defenders in November last season, recording seven of his eight sacks over Arkansas’ last four games. He also finished the year with 10.5 tackles for a loss and forced two fumbles. Wise is a darkhorse candidate to lead the SEC in sacks this fall.

 

Taylor Young, LB, Baylor

Baylor’s defensive line was one of the league’s best units over the last two seasons and often overshadowed Young’s performance. As a redshirt freshman in 2014, Young recorded 92 tackles (8.5 for a loss), four sacks and two forced fumbles. He followed up that performance with a solid sophomore campaign, amassing 80 tackles (13.5 for a loss) and one fumble recovery. Young is quietly one of the Big 12’s top linebackers and should earn a spot on the all-conference team by the end of 2016.

Teaser:
College Football's Top 50 Underrated Players for 2016
Post date: Wednesday, July 20, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Air Force Falcons, Akron Zips, Alabama Crimson Tide, Appalachian State Mountaineers, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats, Arkansas Razorbacks, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Army West Point Black Knights, Army Black Knights, Army West Point Black Knights, Auburn Tigers, Ball State Cardinals, Baylor Bears, Boise State Broncos, Boston College Eagles, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, BYU Cougars, California Golden Bears, Central Michigan Chippewas, Charlotte 49ers, Cincinnati Bearcats, Clemson Tigers, College Football, Colorado Buffaloes, Colorado State Rams, Connecticut Huskies, Duke Blue Devils, East Carolina Pirates, Eastern Michigan Eagles, FAU Owls, FIU Panthers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Fresno State Bulldogs, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Southern Eagles, Georgia State Panthers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, Hawaii Warriors, Houston Cougars, Idaho Vandals, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Kent State Golden Flashes, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Louisville Cardinals, LSU Tigers, Marshall Thundering Herd, Maryland Terrapins, Memphis Tigers, Miami Hurricanes, Miami Ohio RedHawks, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, MTSU Blue Raiders, Navy Midshipmen, Navy Midshipmen, NC State Wolfpack, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, New Mexico State Aggies, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Texas Mean Green, Northern Illinois Huskies, Northwestern Wildcats, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Old Dominion Monarchs, Ole Miss Rebels, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Pittsburgh Panthers, Purdue Boilermakers, Rice Owls, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, San Diego State Aztecs, San Jose State Spartans, SMU Mustangs, South Alabama Jaguars, South Carolina Gamecocks, South Florida Bulls, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Stanford Cardinal, Syracuse Orange, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Longhorns, Texas State Bobcats, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Toledo Rockets, Troy Trojans, Tulane Green Wave, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, UAB Blazers, UCF Knights, UCLA Bruins, UConn Huskies, UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, UL Monroe Warhawks, UMass Minutemen, UNLV Rebels, USC Trojans, Utah State Aggies, Utah Utes, UTEP Miners, UTSA Roadrunners, Vanderbilt Commodores, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, West Virginia Mountaineers, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Western Michigan Broncos, Wisconsin Badgers, Wyoming Cowboys, American Athletic, Big 12, Conference USA, Independents, Mountain West, News
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-12-expansion-candidates-2016
Body:

The Big 12 could be expanding by two or four teams in the near future, as the conference’s board of directors on Tuesday authorized commissioner Bob Bowlsby to evaluate and gather information on programs interested in joining the league. The timeline for expansion is expected to move fast, as the new programs could join the Big 12 in time for the 2017 season. While expansion isn’t guaranteed, all signs point to the Big 12 growing in the next year or two.

 

As with any league looking to expand, wins and overall success aren't necessarily the only things that matter when conferences evaluate perspective candidates. During Tuesday’s meeting with the media, Oklahoma president David Boren outlined the factors that the Big 12 would consider when evaluating potential expansion candidates: strength of the overall athletic department, fan base, media markets, academic and research standards, and reputation of the program.

 

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Which teams should be at the top of the Big 12’s expansion list? BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, UCF and UConn are just a few of the front-runners, with Memphis and Boise State also in the mix. Athlon Sports ranks the top 10 candidates for Big 12 expansion:

 

Ranking the Big 12 Expansion Candidates

 

1. Cincinnati

 

Pros: Solid all-around athletic department and the potential to tap into a fertile recruiting area in Ohio. Cincinnati also is willing to invest in its facilities, as the program recently renovated Nippert Stadium. There’s the Cincinnati media market to tap into, and the program would provide an eastern partner for West Virginia. On the field, the Bearcats have only one losing season since 2006.

 

Cons: Not much. It’s fair to wonder how much of the Cincinnati market the Bearcats could capture, but more exposure and better teams in the Big 12 certainly helps. The Bearcats have made no secret of their interest in the Big 12, but one of the key players in the pitch – former president Santa Ono – departed the school for the University of British Columbia.

 

Podcast: Expansion Analysis and Big 12 preview



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2. BYU

 

Pros: A national fanbase and arguably the best job not currently in a Power 5 conference. BYU had the highest cumulative attendance of any program outside of Notre Dame and the Power 5 teams in 2015. The Cougars could join as a football-only member, eliminating some of the logistical issues of not playing on Sundays. Success on the gridiron is nothing new to this program and BYU would be competitive right away in the Big 12. The Cougars have only four losing seasons since 1972.

 

Cons: If BYU is invited, how much of a logistical challenge would this present the conference for its sports that play on Sundays? If the Big 12 invites BYU as a football-only member, would the league’s No. 12 team be a football-only member as well to prevent 11 basketball programs? Is the Big 12 more interested in expanding east to bridge the gap to West Virginia?

 

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3. Houston

 

Pros: The Big 12 doesn’t need to overthink this one: Houston is a program on the rise and more than capable of holding its own in the Big 12. There’s also a new stadium and other improved facilities on the way. The city of Houston is the fourth largest in the United States, which also presents an opportunity to tap into a huge television market. Adding Houston could help the Big 12 strengthen its recruiting area within the city and state of Texas.

 

Cons: Houston doesn’t add a new market to the Big 12. Instead, the program simply strengthens an area it already has a good chunk of in the state of Texas.

 

4. UConn

 

Pros: Adding UConn could help the Big 12 tap into the valuable media markets in the Northeast. The Huskies would provide a boost to the conference’s basketball product, and head coach Bob Diaco has the football program trending in the right direction. Academics – mentioned as a factor by the Big 12 in expansion – is a strength for UConn.

 

Cons: UConn wouldn’t bring much in the way of a new recruiting area for Big 12 teams. While the Huskies are a solid program, they wouldn’t move the needle much in terms of the overall football product.

 

5. Memphis

 

Pros: $$$. With support from FedEx, Memphis has corporate support on its side. The football product is improving, and the Tigers also have the potential for a strong basketball program. Memphis ranks as the No. 48 television market. The state of Tennessee isn’t Ohio, Florida or Texas but still brings a solid recruiting area. Adding Memphis also helps the conference bridge the gap to West Virginia.

 

Cons: Justin Fuente helped Memphis take a step forward on the gridiron, but the Tigers have only six winning seasons since 1995. Facility improvements are needed.  

 

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6. UCF

 

Pros: UCF adds a new market and is a program with a lot of potential to grow in the coming years. Expanding into Florida with UCF or USF likely provides Big 12 teams with more access to a rich recruiting area. UCF also is among the nation’s largest in terms of overall enrollment. One other potential benefit: this program brings a good media market – No. 19 nationally.

 

Cons: UCF averaged only 30,065 fans in 2015, which ranked seventh in the American Athletic Conference. The numbers weren’t much better for the Knights in 2014 either (37,812 per game). How much of the Orlando/Florida media market could UCF or the Big 12 capture with Florida, Florida State and Miami already entrenched?

 

7. South Florida

 

Pros: Similar to UCF, South Florida would add a valuable market. Tampa ranks as the No. 13 media market in the nation, and there’s a fertile recruiting area within USF’s backyard. There’s upside with this program, and head coach Willie Taggart has the Bulls moving in the right direction entering 2016. USF posted four consecutive losing seasons from 2011-14 but played in six consecutive bowl games from 2005-10.

 

Cons: It may seem like a broken record, but let’s look at UCF’s cons here. How much of the Florida media market could South Florida actually capture? USF averaged only 26,578 fans per game in 2015 and does not have an on-campus stadium. 

 

8. Boise State

 

Pros: Could Boise State join as a football-only program? That could help the Big 12 solve its number balance if it invites BYU. The Broncos are the top Group of 5 program, winning at least eight games in every season since 1999. Boise State has finished as high as No. 4 nationally in the Associated Press poll and has three BCS/New Year’s Six Bowl victories. Competing in the Big 12 (and at a high level) wouldn’t be an issue for Boise State.

 

Cons: Boise ranks outside of the top 100 television markets. The city would be a great travel destination for fans, but is the conference more focused on expanding east? 

 

9. Colorado State

 

Pros: Colorado State is set to open a new 40,000-seat stadium in 2017. Adding Colorado State gets the Big 12 back into Colorado (and potentially the Denver market) after the Buffaloes left for the Pac-12. The Rams have been a consistent winner in the Mountain West, playing in 10 bowl games since 1999 and posting three 10-win seasons in that span.

 

Cons: Is expanding west the Big 12’s top priority? All signs seem to suggest a move east. Colorado State has been a consistent winner in the Mountain West, but the Rams haven’t finished in the top 25 of the Associated Press poll since 2000. How much of the Denver market could Colorado State really capture? 

 

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10. Tulane


Pros: Strong academics. Tulane also has location (New Orleans) on its side. The state of Louisiana is a fertile recruiting area – could the Big 12 tap into that with the addition of Tulane? A new on-campus stadium should help this program grow in the future.

 

Cons: Tulane wouldn’t add much to the program’s football product and would be overmatched right away. The Green Wave have only one bowl appearance since 2003 and has not finished in the final Associated Press poll since 1998.

Teaser:
Ranking the Big 12 Expansion Candidates
Post date: Wednesday, July 20, 2016 - 09:15
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Air Force Falcons, Akron Zips, Alabama Crimson Tide, Appalachian State Mountaineers, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats, Arkansas Razorbacks, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Army West Point Black Knights, Army Black Knights, Army West Point Black Knights, Auburn Tigers, Ball State Cardinals, Baylor Bears, Boise State Broncos, Boston College Eagles, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, BYU Cougars, California Golden Bears, Central Michigan Chippewas, Charlotte 49ers, Cincinnati Bearcats, Clemson Tigers, College Football, Colorado Buffaloes, Colorado State Rams, Connecticut Huskies, Duke Blue Devils, East Carolina Pirates, Eastern Michigan Eagles, FAU Owls, FIU Panthers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Fresno State Bulldogs, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Southern Eagles, Georgia State Panthers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, Hawaii Warriors, Houston Cougars, Idaho Vandals, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Kent State Golden Flashes, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Louisville Cardinals, LSU Tigers, Marshall Thundering Herd, Maryland Terrapins, Memphis Tigers, Miami Hurricanes, Miami Ohio RedHawks, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, MTSU Blue Raiders, Navy Midshipmen, Navy Midshipmen, NC State Wolfpack, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, New Mexico State Aggies, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Texas Mean Green, Northern Illinois Huskies, Northwestern Wildcats, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Old Dominion Monarchs, Ole Miss Rebels, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Pittsburgh Panthers, Purdue Boilermakers, Rice Owls, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, San Diego State Aztecs, San Jose State Spartans, SMU Mustangs, South Alabama Jaguars, South Carolina Gamecocks, South Florida Bulls, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Stanford Cardinal, syndicated, Syracuse Orange, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Longhorns, Texas State Bobcats, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Toledo Rockets, Troy Trojans, Tulane Green Wave, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, UAB Blazers, UCF Knights, UCLA Bruins, UConn Huskies, UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, UL Monroe Warhawks, UMass Minutemen, UNLV Rebels, USC Trojans, Utah State Aggies, Utah Utes, UTEP Miners, UTSA Roadrunners, Vanderbilt Commodores, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, West Virginia Mountaineers, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Western Michigan Broncos, Wisconsin Badgers, Wyoming Cowboys, American Athletic, Big 12, Big Ten, Conference USA, Independents, MAC, Mountain West, Pac 12, SEC, Sun Belt, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-25-breakout-quarterbacks-2016
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It’s no secret quarterback play is an integral part of every college football team and its hopes of winning a national title, contending for a conference championship or simply making a bowl. However, this position is also the most difficult one to judge, rank or evaluate. With the uncertainty and difficulty in evaluating this position, it should come as no surprise that a handful of names emerge as breakout stars during every college football season. 

 

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Who are the next breakout stars at quarterback for 2016? Athlon has compiled 25 names to watch, along with a few others to consider. 

 

College Football's Top 25 Breakout QBs for 2016

 

Just Missed: Tyler O’Connor, Michigan State; Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt; Alec Morris, North Texas; Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State

 

25. Garrett Smith, ULM

New coach Matt Viator has plenty of holes to fill in his first year on the job. The Warhawks return nine starters, including just two on defense. While the defense will require some major renovating, ULM has pieces to work with on offense. Smith had a promising debut last season, throwing for 2,033 yards and 17 touchdowns in 10 appearances. He also added 250 yards and two scores on the ground. With a deep group of receivers in place, along with the addition of new coordinator Matt Kubik, Smith is poised to build off his freshman campaign in 2016.

 

24. Johnny Stanton, UNLV

UNLV only improved its win total by one game from 2014 to 2015, but the Rebels took a step forward in coach Tony Sanchez’s first year. And with 16 returning starters in place for 2016, there’s optimism for UNLV to make a push for a bowl this fall. Sanchez has recruited well, which includes a big commitment from Stanton in the 2016 signing class. The former Nebraska quarterback spent 2015 at Saddleback Community College and finished the year by passing for 3,471 yards and 27 scores and adding 747 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Stanton ranked as a three-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite and could be the Mountain West’s top newcomer for 2016.

 

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23. Tago Smith, Navy

Replacing Keenan Reynolds isn’t going to be easy. However, as coach Ken Niumatalolo has done throughout his tenure, the Midshipmen will simply reload and push for eight or nine-win season. Smith is slated to replace Reynolds, and the Georgia native has fared well in limited action. The senior has played in 18 career games and completed 12 of 17 throws for 245 yards and four scores. Additionally, Smith has rushed for 294 yards and five touchdowns. He may not be as dynamic or as valuable as Reynolds, but Smith should be a solid starter for the Midshipmen.

 

22. Trace McSorley, Penn State

After two subpar years on offense, James Franklin hit the reset button this offseason. Joe Moorhead was hired as the team’s new coordinator, and former Minnesota assistant Matt Limegrover is tasked with improving a struggling offensive line. Moorhead is one of the Big Ten’s top assistant hires for 2016 and has to groom a new starter at quarterback with Christian Hackenberg off to the NFL. McSorley played well in limited action last season, completing 20 of 40 passes for 185 yards and two scores. Most of his playing time came against Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl after Hackenberg was lost due to injury. In that contest, McSorley completed 14 of 27 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns and rallied the Nittany Lions from a 24-3 deficit to a 24-17 game late in the fourth quarter. McSorley is still largely an unknown, but the new offense should be more quarterback friendly and there’s no shortage of talent at the skill positions. 

 

21. Jerod Evans, Virginia Tech

New coach Justin Fuente certainly has an eye for quarterback talent and developing players at this position. Under Fuente’s watch, Andy Dalton blossomed into one of the nation’s top quarterbacks at TCU, while Memphis’ Paxton Lynch was a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Could Evans be Fuente’s next star under center? The Texas native ranked as a four-star junior college recruit in the 2016 signing class by the 247Sports Composite and heads to Blacksburg after throwing for 3,164 yards and 38 scores last season.

 

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20. Kenny Potter, San Jose State

Potter was a key pickup on the recruiting trail last year for coach Ron Caragher and was one of the driving forces behind San Jose State’s first bowl appearance in three seasons. As expected with any first-year starter, Potter had his share of ups and downs. However, Potter still finished the season with 1,984 yards and 15 passing scores and added 415 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. The California native also posted back-to-back 300-yard performances in late November and earned honorable mention All-Mountain West honors. With a full season to get acclimated to the FBS level, Potter is due for a breakout year this fall.

 

19. Riley Neal, Ball State

New coach Mike Neu arrives in Muncie after spending the last two seasons in New Orleans working with Drew Brees as the Saints quarterback coach. Neu has a lot of work to do, as he inherits a team that finished 3-9 last fall. However, Neu has plenty of promising pieces to work with on offense, starting with Neal under center. As a true freshman in 2015, Neal threw for 2,276 yards and 16 touchdowns and added 399 yards and two scores on the ground. Neal should easily surpass those totals under Neu’s watch and with a full season of starts.

 

18. Shane Buechele, Texas

Buechele isn’t guaranteed the starting job over Tyrone Swoopes or Jerrod Heard, but the true freshman made a strong impression in spring practice and heads into fall as the favorite to win the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. In the final spring scrimmage, Buechele led the way for the Longhorns’ offense, completing 22 of 41 passes for 299 yards and two scores. The Arlington native ranked as a four-star prospect and the No. 190 recruit nationally in the 2016 signing class by the 247Sports Composite. Buechele should be a good fit for new coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s up-tempo attack.

 

17. Max Browne, USC

Browne still has to hold off redshirt freshman Sam Darnold for the starting job, but the junior left spring with a slight edge in the battle to replace Cody Kessler. Browne is a former five-star prospect and ranked as the No. 11 overall recruit in the 2013 247Sports Composite. The Washington native has only played in nine games through two seasons and completed 11 of 19 throws for 143 yards in that span. Helping Browne’s transition into the starting role is the Pac-12’s top offensive line, standout receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running backs Justin Davis and Ronald Jones.

 

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16. Keller Chryst, Stanford

Kevin Hogan wasn’t flashy, but he was a huge reason why Stanford claimed three out of the last four Pac-12 Championships. While it’s no secret Hogan will be missed, the Cardinal aren’t hurting for talent or options at quarterback. Chryst left spring with a slight edge over Ryan Burns for the starting nod, and the former four-star recruit worked as Hogan’s backup in four games last year, completing 5 of 9 passes for 59 yards and one score. With running back Christian McCaffrey returning, Stanford’s offense will run through its ground attack this fall. However, Chryst has a chance to blossom into a solid starter in his first full year under center for coach David Shaw.

 

15. Brandon Silvers, Troy

Second-year coach Neal Brown has Troy trending in the right direction, and the Trojans should contend for bowl and a spot among the league’s top teams in 2016. Silvers is a big reason for the optimism at Troy after throwing for 2,378 yards and 20 scores in 11 games last year. Additionally, Silvers posted three games of at least four passing touchdowns and finished the 2015 campaign by torching UL Lafayette for 320 yards in the season finale.

 

14. Mike White, WKU

WKU’s high-powered offense is looking for a new signal-caller after Brandon Doughty finished his eligibility with a huge senior season. White is the frontrunner to replace Doughty, and the South Florida transfer showed promise in limited action during his stint with the Bulls. In 11 appearances for USF in 2014, White threw for 1,639 yards and eight scores and connected on 12 passes of 30 yards or more. With a standout receiving corps and offensive line, as well as the opportunity to work with Jeff Brohm – one of the nation’s top coaches on the rise – White should keep the Hilltoppers’ attack performing at a high level.

 

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13. Austin Allen, Arkansas

The Razorbacks quietly led the SEC (conference-only games) in scoring offense (34.4 ppg) last year. The hire of Dan Enos as the program’s offensive coordinator paid huge dividends, and his arrival helped transform Brandon Allen into one of the league’s top quarterbacks. Can Enos work the same type of magic in 2016? The second-year coordinator has plenty of talented candidates on the depth chart to consider, but Brandon’s brother – Austin Allen – is the frontrunner. The Fayetteville native has played in eight games over the last two seasons and completed 9 of 19 throws for 188 yards in that span. Allen has a lot to prove in his first year as the starter. However, the Razorbacks have one of the SEC’s top coordinators in Enos, as well as a deep group of options at receiver.  

 

12. Dakota Prukop, Oregon

Whether it’s Prukop or redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen guiding the Ducks’ offense, it’s a safe bet to assume Oregon will once again rank near the top of the Pac-12 in scoring. After Vernon Adams emerged as one of the Pac-12’s top quarterbacks last season, the Ducks hope to strike gold with another FCS transfer under center. Prukop earned first-team All-America honors by the Associated Press in 2015 after accounting for 39 total scores and 3,822 yards for Montana State. The senior may not be the dynamic option through the air that Adams was, but he will be more of a factor on the ground. 

 

11. Kenny Hill, TCU

Pencil in the winner of TCU’s quarterback battle here. Hill is the favorite, but sophomore Foster Sawyer isn’t far behind. Hill inherited big shoes to fill at Texas A&M after Johnny Manziel’s early departure to the NFL and started the first eight games of 2014. In that eight-game stint, Hill threw for 2,649 yards and 23 scores, while rushing for 156 yards on 52 carries. Hill lost his starting job to Kyle Allen in 2014, but the Southlake, Texas native has a chance to rebound in a big way in Fort Worth. Co-coordinator Doug Meacham has transformed TCU’s offense into one of the best in the Big 12, and Hill’s transition into the starting role is eased by a cast of talented skill players.

 

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10. Kent Myers, Utah State

Injuries pressed Myers into starting duty as a true freshman in 2014 and once again last fall. And in both years, Myers more than held his own and showcased the potential to be one of the Mountain West’s top quarterbacks. After season-ending injuries to Darell Garrettson and Chuckie Keeton in 2014, Myers threw for 866 yards and five scores and added 305 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Myers had an opportunity for extended action last season and led Utah State with 1,593 yards and 16 passing scores, while adding 357 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Myers enters 2016 as the unquestioned starter and should be one of the leaders for a Utah State offense returning nine starters.

 

9. Eric Dungey, Syracuse

Syracuse has ranked near the bottom of the ACC in scoring offense in each of the last three seasons, but help is on the way for 2016. Dino Babers is regarded as one of the nation’s top offensive-minded coaches and arrives at Syracuse after a successful two-year stint at Bowling Green. Under Babers’ direction, the Falcons averaged 42.2 points a game and ranked fifth nationally in passing offense in 2015. Dungey showed promise as a true freshman last fall, throwing for 1,298 yards and 11 scores. The Oregon native also showed an ability to make plays on the ground (351 yards and four rushing touchdowns) but needs to do a better job of avoiding contact after missing four games due to injury. Transitioning to Babers’ offense will take some time for Syracuse’s personnel, but Dungey should get better over the course of the season.

 

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8. Chase Litton, Marshall

Litton supplanted Michael Birdsong as Marshall’s starting quarterback early in the 2015 season and never looked back. The Tampa native finished his true freshman campaign with 2,605 passing yards and 23 scores. Additionally, he tossed only eight interceptions and completed 60.1 percent of his passes. Litton closed the year with a solid performance (23 of 34 for 218 yards) against a stout UConn defense in the St. Petersburg Bowl and also threw for 486 yards in a 34-10 victory over Charlotte. Litton will only get better with more snaps and could lead Marshall back to the Conference USA title game in 2016.

 

7. Deondre Francois, Florida State

2015 was a rare down year for quarterback play at Florida State under coach Jimbo Fisher. However, this position has two promising freshmen – Francois and Malik Henry – and senior Sean Maguire returns after starting six games last year. Maguire missed spring practice as he recovered from an ankle injury suffered in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, allowing Francois and Henry to gain valuable reps as the No. 1 quarterback. Maguire is expected to return to full strength by the opener, but Francois is expected to unseat the senior for the starting nod. Francois was a four-star prospect in the 2015 signing class and was regarded as the No. 64 overall recruit by the 247Sports Composite. Assuming Francois wins the starting job, he won’t have much time to ease into the No. 1 role with an opener versus Ole Miss on tap.  

 

6. Brett Rypien, Boise State

Quarterback play is an annual strength for Boise State, but Rypien has the potential to be the program’s best passer since Kellen Moore. Although Rypien was the top recruit for the Broncos in the 2015 signing class, Ryan Finley opened the year as the starter. However, Finley was lost for the season with an ankle injury in the third game of 2015, giving the starting job to Rypien. The true freshman never looked back, throwing for 3,350 yards and 20 scores. He also completed 63.6 percent of his passes and earned Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors. Look for Rypien to emerge as the Mountain West’s No. 1 quarterback this fall. 

 

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5. Jacob Eason, Georgia

Greyson Lambert may open the 2016 season as Georgia’s starting quarterback, but the guess here is Eason ends the year at the top of the depth chart. The Washington native ranked as the No. 2 quarterback and the No. 5 overall prospect in the 2016 signing class by the 247Sports Composite. In his senior year at Lake Stevens High School, Eason threw for 3,585 yards and tossed 43 touchdowns to only six interceptions. The 6-foot-5, 211-pound passer has all of the tools to thrive in the SEC and emerge as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks over the next few seasons.

 

4. Davis Webb, California

With one season of eligibility remaining, and Patrick Mahomes entrenched as Texas Tech’s starter, Webb decided to leave Lubbock for an opportunity to start for his senior year. The Texas native originally committed to Colorado but changed his mind and landed at California in May. Webb’s decision to transfer to Berkeley alleviates some of the concern for coach Sonny Dykes at quarterback. After all, the Golden Bears lost Jared Goff – the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft – and had a group of inexperienced candidates vying for the starting job. Webb has plenty of experience (14 career starts) and played in a similar offense to California’s Bear Raid attack while at Texas Tech. In three seasons with the Red Raiders, Webb threw for 5,557 yards and 46 scores and completed over 60 percent of his passes from 2013-14. The Golden Bears have an overhauled receiving corps in place for 2016, but Webb has the physical tools and skill-set to rank as one of the Pac-12’s top quarterbacks this fall.  

 

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3. Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina

Despite losing Marquise Williams – the ACC’s second-team all-conference signal-caller last year – there’s not much concern about quarterback play in Chapel Hill. Trubisky has played well in limited action and inherits a loaded group of skill players and four returning starters on one of the ACC’s top offensive lines. Trubisky played in nine games last fall and completed 40 of 47 throws for 555 yards and six scores. He also showcased his mobility with 101 rushing yards and three touchdowns. And in 12 appearances in 2014, Trubisky completed 42 of 78 passes for 459 yards and five scores. While he doesn’t have a start in his career, all signs point to Trubisky thriving in his first season as the No. 1 quarterback for coach Larry Fedora. 

 

2. Lamar Jackson, Louisville

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino is known for his high-powered offenses and success with traditional drop-back quarterbacks. However, adapting to new schemes and talent is nothing new to Petrino, which makes the marriage of Jackson’s dual-threat ability with the Petrino scheme an intriguing storyline to the 2016 season. Jackson’s dynamic playmaking skills were on display last season, as he threw for 1,840 yards and 12 scores and led the team with 960 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. While Jackson is still developing as a passer, Petrino and his staff have a full offseason to build an offense and a gameplan around his strengths. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the ACC, especially after Louisville finished 2015 by winning six out of its last seven games.  

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1. Jake Browning, Washington

Washington’s young offense took its share of lumps in 2015, but the Huskies are poised for a huge breakout in 2016. Browning was the prized recruit in coach Chris Petersen’s 2015 signing class and won the starting job prior to the opener against Boise State. Browning missed one game due to injury but still finished his freshman year with solid numbers. He completed 233 of 369 passes for 2,955 yards and 16 scores. Additionally, Browning’s 63.1 completion percentage ranked third nationally among freshman quarterbacks. Browning’s supporting cast is also expected to take a step forward, as the Huskies regain a valuable deep threat in junior John Ross (missed 2015 due to a knee injury). Browning’s continued growth and development is a big reason why Washington can win the Pac-12 this fall.

Teaser:
College Football's Top 25 Breakout Quarterbacks for 2016
Post date: Monday, July 18, 2016 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/conference-usas-most-underrated-players-2016
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Every  team has players most would consider underrated. However, defining underrated players is no easy assignment, as that term varies in meaning between fans and experts. With the 2016 season approaching, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look at some players deserving of more preseason accolades or discussion. In an effort to get to 13 names, we tried to stick to players that had yet to earn all-conference honors in their career. However, a few exceptions were made.

 

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WKU center Max Halpin, UTSA running back Jarveon Williams and Louisiana Tech receiver Carlos Henderson are just a few of the players flying under the radar in Conference USA for 2016. Here's a look at one underrated player from each team: 

 

Conference USA's Most Underrated Players for 2016
 

Dylan Bradley, DE, Southern Miss

New coach Jay Hopson has a few holes to fill on both sides of the ball this offseason, but the Golden Eagles’ defense has a good foundation in place with six returning starters. One of those starters is Bradley, who anchors the line after a strong junior campaign. In 14 appearances, Bradley recorded 45 tackles (12.5 for a loss), 6.5 sacks and two pass breakups. Despite the huge 2015 season, Bradley only recorded honorable mention All-Conference USA honors. Expect the senior to rank as one of Conference USA’s top defenders this fall.

 

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Jerome Daniels, OL, UTEP

Considering coach Sean Kugler’s background as a former offensive lineman, it’s no surprise UTEP has boasted one of Conference USA’s top lines over the last two seasons. The Miners allowed only 11 sacks last year and cleared the way for rushers to average 4.7 yards per carry in 2014. Daniels is one of the unsung heroes for this group and has quietly emerged as one of Conference USA’s best offensive linemen. Daniels started one game as a redshirt freshman in 2013 and has earned 24 starts over the last two seasons.

 

Dillon DeBoer, OL, FAU

DeBoer has been a key cog in FAU’s offensive line over the last three seasons and is poised to close out his career with a strong senior campaign. DeBoer started six games as a redshirt freshmen in 2013, followed by 11 in 2014. And in 2015, DeBoer started all 12 games for the Owls, including 10 at center after anchoring the right tackle spot in the first two matchups. DeBoer should be one of the leaders for an improved FAU offense in 2016.

 

Max Halpin, C, WKU

With all five starters returning, WKU’s front five has a strong case as the best offensive line from the Group of 5 ranks in 2016. Left tackle Forrest Lamp is a candidate for All-America honors, but center Max Halpin shouldn’t be overlooked this preseason. The Kentucky native started seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2013 but suffered a season-ending back injury after three starts in 2014. However, Halpin rebounded in a big way last year, starting all 14 games for the Hilltoppers and helping to anchor a line that gave up only 16 sacks in 2015.

 

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Carlos Henderson, WR, Louisiana Tech

Trent Taylor (99 catches) is one of Conference USA’s top skill players returning in 2016, but he will have plenty of help in the receiving corps from Henderson. While Taylor garnered most of the attention (and rightfully so) at the end of last year, Henderson showcased his big-play ability by catching 36 passes for 774 yards and five scores. He also averaged 22.1 yards on 21 kickoff returns. Henderson’s 21.5 per-catch average ranked sixth nationally among all receivers.

 

Alex Lyons, LB, Rice

Rice’s streak of seasons with a bowl trip was snapped at three last year, but the Owls are in good position to rebound in 2016. With eight starters returning, a defense gave up 35.8 points a game in 2015 should show improvement and help bolster an offense breaking in a new quarterback. Lyons is one of the leaders on defense for coach David Bailiff after collecting 148 tackles over the last two seasons. Additionally, Lyons has 10.5 tackles for a loss in that span and collected 1.5 sacks in 2015. He should be one of the top linebackers in Conference USA this season. Teammate Zach Wright (wide receiver) is another good candidate from Rice as an underrated player in 2016.

 

Thomas Owens, WR, FIU

With the return of nine starters – including quarterback Alex McGough – hopes are high for improvement on FIU’s offense this fall. The Panthers averaged 25.5 points a game in 2015 but recorded only 5.1 yards per play. Owens was McGough’s preferred target last season, grabbing 51 passes for 638 yards and eight scores. With another offseason to work with McGough under his belt, Owens should push for All-Conference USA honors in 2016.

 

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Zach Pascal, WR, Old Dominion

Old Dominion’s offense struggled to find its footing in the post-Taylor Heinicke era last season. However, there are signs of optimism for coach Bobby Wilder, as the Monarchs now have two proven quarterbacks in David Washington and Shuler Bentley, while the ground game is in good hands with Ray Lawry. Despite the inconsistent quarterback play in 2015, Pascal quietly posted solid totals last fall. In 12 games, Pascal caught 69 passes for 975 yards and eight scores. 

 

Kalif Phillips, RB, Charlotte

The 49ers took their share of lumps in 2015, which was the program’s first at the FBS level. While the long-term future at Charlotte is bright, 2016 could be another transition year for this program. Phillips is an underrated star for the 49ers, as he nearly eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark (961) in 11 appearances. In his career, Phillips has rushed for 3,113 yards and 37 scores.  

 

Daniel Stephens, C, MTSU

Quarterback Brent Stockstill and receiver Richie James are the headliners for MTSU’s standout offense, but don’t overlook the steady play of Stephens up front. The Georgia native started all 13 games for the Blue Raiders last season and enters 2016 with 25 career starts. Stephens will help anchor a line that must replace two starters from last year’s group.  

 

Jarveon Williams, RB, UTSA

New coach Frank Wilson has worked with plenty of talented running backs during his 11 years as an assistant at the collegiate level. And the first-year coach inherits one of Conference USA’s top backs to utilize in 2016, as Williams returns after posting 1,042 rushing yards and eight scores on just 173 attempts in 2015. In league games, Williams ranked fourth among C-USA rushers with an average of 96 yards per contest.

 

Jeffrey Wilson, RB, North Texas

Wilson was one of the few bright spots from a North Texas team that finished 1-11 last season. After rushing for 224 yards as a freshman in 2014, Wilson showcased his talent with 830 yards (in 10 games) and one score on just 155 attempts. He also recorded three 100-yard games in league play. Wilson should eclipse 1,000 rushing yards and is the Mean Green’s top playmaker in 2016 under new coach Seth Littrell.

 

Ryan Yurachek, TE, Marshall

Conference USA had its share of talented tight ends last year, which is a big reason why Yuracheck only earned honorable mention All-Conference USA honors. However, with Davonte Allen and Deandre Reaves departing the Marshall receiving corps, Yurachek is poised to take on a bigger role in Marshall’s offense. As a sophomore in 2015, Yurachek grabbed 44 passes for 417 yards and nine scores. He also closed out the year on a high note, catching a touchdown pass in each of the Thundering Herd’s last five games. 

Teaser:
Conference USA's Most Underrated Players for 2016
Post date: Thursday, July 14, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/american-athletic-conferences-most-underrated-players-2016
Body:

Every  team has players most would consider underrated. However, defining underrated players is no easy assignment, as that term varies in meaning between fans and experts. With the 2016 season approaching, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look at some players deserving of more preseason accolades or discussion. In an effort to get to 12 names, we tried to stick to players that had yet to earn all-conference honors in their career. However, a few exceptions were made.

 

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Tulsa quarterback Dane Evans, USF receiver Rodney Adams and Houston cornerback Brandon Wilson are just a few underrated players to watch in the American Athletic Conference in 2016. Here are a few other names to watch this fall:

 

The AAC's Most Underrated Players for 2016

 

Rodney Adams, WR, USF

Adams earned second-team American all-conference honors last season, but the senior is quietly flying under the national radar. After catching 25 passes in his first two years on campus, Adams had a breakout 2015 campaign, grabbing 45 receptions for 822 yards and nine scores. For the first time in Adams’ career, USF has stability at quarterback with the return of Quinton Flowers. With Flowers expected to take a step forward as a passer this fall, Adams should exceed his 2015 totals in a huge senior year.

 

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Deyshawn Bond, C, Cincinnati

Bond is one of the unheralded stars from a Cincinnati offense that averaged 33.8 points a game in 2015. The Indianapolis native started 12 games last fall and earned second-team all-conference honors. Bond enters his senior year with 33 career starts and is Athlon’s pick as the American Athletic Conference top center for 2016.

 

Doroland Dorceus, RB, Memphis

Even though new coach Mike Norvell has to replace standout quarterback Paxton Lynch, the cupboard is far from bare on offense. The receiving corps is one of the best in the American Athletic Conference, and there’s a solid foundation in place up front. Until Riley Ferguson, Jason Stewart or Brady Davis settles in at quarterback, Norvell should get plenty of mileage out of the running backs. Dorceus leads a solid stable of backs after rushing for 659 yards and eight scores last season. Under Norvell’s direction at Arizona State, the Sun Devils ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in rushing offense last season. Expect Dorceus to threaten the 1,000-yard mark after recording only 155 carries in 2015.

 

Dane Evans, QB, Tulsa

Tulsa showed marked improvement under first-year coach Philip Montgomery last season. After a 2-10 record in 2014, the Golden Hurricane finished 6-7 last year and made the program’s first bowl trip since 2012. In addition to Montgomery’s arrival, a big reason for the improvement in the win column is due to Evans’ development. The Texas native threw for 4,332 yards and 25 scores last season and ranked seventh nationally by averaging 333.2 passing yards per game.

 

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Justin Holman, QB, UCF

Holman’s 2015 season was derailed by injury, but the Georgia native was on the verge of earning a spot among the American Athletic Conference’s top quarterbacks prior to last year. In nine appearances in 2015, Holman struggled with a young supporting cast and injuries and was limited to just 1,379 yards and seven passing scores. That’s a significant drop from his 2014 totals – 2,952 passing yards and 23 scores. With new coach Scott Frost directing a fast-paced spread attack at UCF, Holman should have a huge rebound year in 2016.

 

Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina

Jones’ play-making ability and overall talent is no mystery to opposing American Athletic Conference coaches. However, Jones doesn’t get enough credit on the national level after a standout 2015 season. In 12 games, Jones grabbed 98 receptions for 1,099 yards and five scores. And for his career, Jones has 241 receptions and ranks third in school history with 2,533 receiving yards. After earning second-team American Athletic all-conference honors last season, Jones should receive a spot on the league’s first team for 2016.

 

Nico Marley, LB, Tulane

It may seem strange to list a first-team American all-conference selection here, but more around the nation need to take notice of Marley. The grandson of legendary reggae singer Bob Marley has accumulated 231 tackles (36.5 for a loss) and generated six forced turnovers over the last three seasons. Marley doesn’t have prototypical size (5-foot-10), but the Florida native simply makes plays and is one of the American Athletic Conference’s top defenders.

 

Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

Year two of Chad Morris’ rebuilding effort is underway at SMU, and it’s tough to identify a player flying under the radar going into 2016. However, let’s give a tip of the cap to Sutton. While the American Athletic Conference had a crowded group of talented receivers in 2015, Sutton didn’t earn a spot on the postseason all-conference team after grabbing 49 passes for 862 yards and nine scores. Additionally, Sutton’s 17.6 per-catch average ranked fifth in the conference. The sophomore is not only one of the rising stars in the American Athletic Conference, but he also heads into 2016 as an underrated player.

 

Jamir Tillman, WR, Navy

It’s no secret opportunities to throw will be limited in Navy’s offense. The Midshipmen attempted only 122 passes last season and that was with standout senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds leading the way. While Reynolds will be missed, new quarterback Tago Smith should keep the offense performing at a high level. Tillman has quietly posted solid receiving totals over the last two years and grabbed 27 receptions for 570 yards and five scores in 2015. Additionally, Tillman’s 20.6 yards per catch average ranked second among receivers in the American Athletic Conference. Opportunities are limited, but Tillman has emerged as one of the league’s top big-play threats on the outside. 

 

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P.J. Walker, QB, Temple

Houston’s Greg Ward, Navy’s Keenan Reynolds and Memphis’ Paxton Lynch garnered most of the attention at quarterback in the American Athletic Conference last season. However, Walker quietly produced a solid junior campaign for the Owls, throwing for 2,973 yards and 19 scores. The New Jersey native heads into his senior year with the school record in touchdown passes, total offense and completions, while needing just 121 passing yards to set a new program high.

 

Jhavon Williams, CB, UConn

Anchored by standout cornerback Jamar Summers, UConn’s secondary was one of the best in the nation last year. While Summers is going to garner most of the preseason attention, Williams is a pretty good cornerback in his own right. The Florida native has started every game in each of the last two seasons and has 30 career starts since stepping onto campus. Williams finished the 2015 season with 55 tackles (two for a loss), three interceptions and seven pass breakups.

 

Brandon Wilson, CB, Houston

The departure of safeties Trevon Stewart and Adrian McDonald and cornerback William Jackson III leave big shoes to fill in Houston’s secondary for 2016. However, coordinator Todd Orlando can start the rebuilding effort around Wilson. The Louisiana native was a valuable two-way player for the Cougars at the end of last season and finished the year with 58 tackles, two forced fumbles, one interception and averaged 26.6 yards on kickoff returns. With injuries limiting running backs Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson, Wilson stepped into the backfield and contributed 111 yards in the 52-31 win over Navy and 70 yards against Temple in the American Athletic Conference Championship.

Teaser:
The American Athletic Conference's Most Underrated Players for 2016
Post date: Wednesday, July 13, 2016 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/5-reasons-why-nebraska-big-ten-wests-sleeper-team-2016
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Nebraska’s first year under new coach Mike Riley ended with a disappointing 6-7 final record. While the six-win mark was just the program’s third losing season since 1962, the 2015 campaign wasn’t as bad as the final ledger indicated. With 11 returning starters and a full year entrenched with this coaching staff, the Cornhuskers have the opportunity to surprise in the Big Ten West Division in 2016.

 

The balance of power and overall strength of divisions for any conference is always cyclical. However, the Big Ten heads into 2016 is an interesting position. It’s no secret the East Division is stronger and has more overall depth from top to bottom. With Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State leading the way, the East should have three teams capable of contending for national titles and a spot in the top 10-15 nationally in preseason polls on an annual basis. However, that’s not the case in the West Division. Iowa is the clear favorite in the West, but most preseason polls believe the Hawkeyes will be the only top 25 team from this division. Wisconsin faces one of the nation’s toughest schedules, Northwestern needs marked improvement from its offense to repeat last year’s 10 wins, while Minnesota and Illinois are under the direction of new coaches.

 

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Even though Iowa is a heavy favorite in the West Division, Nebraska has a chance to surprise and earn a trip to Indianapolis to play for the conference title in December. Here are five reasons to keep an eye on the Cornhuskers as a threat to win the Big Ten West:

 

5 Reasons Why Nebraska Can Surprise in the Big Ten West in 2016

 

1. Close Losses in 2015

Last season’s seven losses certainly didn’t sit well in Lincoln. However, a deeper look at the resume shows Nebraska wasn’t far from a winning record or an 8-4/9-3 season. Six of the losses came by eight points or less, while the other defeat was a 10-point loss at Purdue with starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong sidelined due to injury. A few plays here or there could have made a difference in the win column and significantly changed the outlook on Riley’s debut. How might Nebraska make a few plays differently in 2016 that could result in a few wins? Let’s start with turnovers…

 

2. Turnover Margin

Nebraska ranked 13th in the Big Ten with its minus-12 turnover margin in 2016, and it’s minus-11 mark in league play was the worst in the conference. There are some controllable factors when it comes to turnovers, but for the most part, luck plays a big role in this area. After a year of bad luck in the turnover department, Nebraska is due for a few bounces in its direction this season. Small improvement to even or just in the positive category for turnover margin could be the difference in three games this year. Simply, if Nebraska cuts down its mistakes and wins the turnover battle in a couple of games, the Cornhuskers are going to turn close losses into victories.

 

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3. Year Two of the Coaching Staff

Transitioning to a new staff is never easy. After seven years under Bo Pelini, Nebraska had to adapt to new schemes and an overall change in direction for the program. A few coaching changes produce immediate improvement in the win column, but a lot of hires take a season or two to deliver results. In Riley’s case, this was not a one-year fix. The Cornhuskers had depth issues on defense and transitioned to a different scheme on offense, featuring more of a pro-style approach behind quarterback Tommy Armstrong. The answers won’t necessarily come immediately, but Riley inked a solid recruiting class (No. 25 in 247Sports Composite) and is off to a good start for the 2017 haul. That’s a positive sign for the future, as the coaching staff is building a foundation for the program to contend in the Big Ten West once again. While the future looks bright, just having another year of familiarity with this staff is going to pay dividends for Nebraska in 2016.

 

4. Nebraska’s Offense is One of the Best in the Big Ten

If Nebraska is going to contend in the West Division, it will have to do so on the strength of its offense. Six starters are back for coordinator Danny Langsdorf, including quarterback Tommy Armstrong. The Texas native has experienced his share of ups and downs over the last three seasons but finished third in the Big Ten with 3,030 passing yards and fourth in passing scores (20) last fall. As expected under Langsdorf, Armstrong’s rushing totals dropped, but he still averaged 4.1 yards per carry and scored seven times on carries. If Armstrong limits his mistakes and continues to develop within the offense, Nebraska’s attack should be one of the best in the conference. The Cornhuskers are deep at receiver, and this unit will only get better if De’Mornay Pierson-El returns at full strength from a leg injury suffered in 2015. The ground game also appears to be in good hands with running backs Terrell Newby, Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon. While three new starters must emerge on the line, there’s a good foundation in place with tackle Nick Gates and center Dylan Utter. After averaging 32.8 points a game in 2015, Nebraska should be able to increase that total closer to 35 (or higher) in 2016.

 

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5. Defensive Improvement in the Back Seven

The biggest concern for coach Mike Riley in 2016 has to be the defense. The Cornhuskers surrendered 27.8 points a game in 2015 (10th in Big Ten), gave up 5.9 yards per play and ranked 78th nationally in pass efficiency defense. Improving significantly on those totals won’t be easy with a rebuilt defensive line, but there’s plenty of optimism in the back seven. There’s more overall depth and talent here than at the start of 2015. Sophomore linebacker Dedrick Young is one of the Big Ten’s rising stars on defense, and seniors Josh Banderas and Michael Rose-Ivey are expected to round out this corps. Three starters are back in the secondary, and this unit could receive an instant impact from top recruit and true freshman Lamar Jackson. Additionally, All-Big Ten safety Nate Gerry and cornerbacks Chris Jones and Joshua Kalu return to provide a solid foundation. While the line faces a transition period, the rest of the defense should be able to pick up some of the slack and show improvement in 2016. And with a dynamic offense in place, the Cornhuskers won’t necessarily need a true shutdown defense. Improving upon from last year’s points allowed (27.8) and yards per play (5.9) is a realistic expectation if new line coach John Parrella quickly finds new faces to replace standouts Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine. One name to watch up front: End Freedom Akinmoladun.

 

Final Analysis

 

Nebraska was better than its six-win record suggested last season. However, this isn’t a team without flaws. The offense has a chance to be one of the best in the Big Ten, but quarterback Tommy Armstrong has to cut down on his interceptions after tossing 16 in 2015. The defense will improve in the back seven and there are promising players to step up in the trenches. The defensive line is the biggest concern for Riley and will decide just how much this unit improves on the stat sheet. The schedule is manageable, but road trips to Northwestern, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa aren’t easy. With Wisconsin facing a brutal schedule, and Northwestern facing significant question marks on offense, Nebraska is Iowa’s biggest challenger in the Big Ten West. And with a little better luck in the turnover department, combined with an offense capable of scoring 30-35 points a game, the Cornhuskers have a chance to finish 8-4 or 9-3 in 2016.

Teaser:
5 Reasons Why Nebraska is the Big Ten West's Sleeper Team in 2016
Post date: Tuesday, July 12, 2016 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/what-if-acc-teams-all-star-game-2016
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Major League Baseball’s 2016 All-Star Game is slated for Tuesday night at Petco Park in San Diego. While the Midsummer Classic won’t satisfy the hunger for football at this point in the summer, the All-Star Game got the staff at Athlon Sports thinking about potential all-star matchups at the college football level. What if each Power 5 league had an all-star game during the offseason or just after the year ended? The idea isn’t likely to come to fruition, but it is an interesting concept to ponder.

 

How would a potential Atlantic vs. Coastal All-Star Game this break down for the ACC in 2016? Athlon Sports’ Lance Dozier drafted a team for the Atlantic side, while Steven Lassan drafted a team comprised of the best players from the Coastal.

 

Which team has the advantage? 

 

ACC Atlantic All-Stars 

 

Offense

 

QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson

RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State

RB Wayne Gallman, Clemson

WR Mike Williams, Clemson

WR Travis Rudolph, Florida State

TE Cam Serigne, Wake Forest

C Jay Guillermo, Clemson

OL Mitch Hyatt, Clemson

OL Roderick Johnson, Florida State

OL Geron Christian, Louisville

OL Tyrone Crowder, Clemson

AP Artavis Scott, Clemson

 

Defense

 

DL DeMarcus Walker, Florida State

DL Carlos Watkins, Clemson

DL Harold Landry, Boston College

DL Josh Sweat, Florida State

LB Devonte Fields, Louisville

LB Marquel Lee, Wake Forest

LB Ben Boulware, Clemson

CB Cordea Tankersley, Clemson

CB Marquez White, Florida State

S Derwin James, Florida State

S Josh Harvey-Clemons, Louisville

 

Special Teams

 

K Greg Huegel, Clemson

P A.J. Cole III, N.C. State

RS Brisly Estime, Syracuse

 

Atlantic Division Team Analysis: This would be a very scary offense. You have the top quarterback in college football, the second running back and the receiver coming out of the draft next spring. Now that’s a high-powered attack. Additionally, if you throw in a line that averages 315.4 pounds, these playmakers will have the space to work with. Defensively, you have the best secondary player in the country, a former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a line that racked up 228 tackles last season. On special teams, there are some solid players with a boot. - Lance Dozier

 

ACC Coastal All-Stars

 

Offense

 

QB Brad Kaaya, Miami

RB James Conner, Pitt

RB Elijah Hood, North Carolina

WR Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech

WR Mack Hollins, North Carolina

AP Taquan Mizzell, Virginia

TE Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech

C Lucas Crowley, North Carolina

OL Dorian Johnson, Pitt

OL Adam Bisnowaty, Pitt

OL Jon Heck, North Carolina

OL Caleb Peterson, North Carolina

 

Defense

 

DL Ejuan Price, Pitt

DL Al-Quadin Muhammad, Miami

DL Ken Ekanem, Virginia Tech
DL Nazair Jones, North Carolina
LB Micah Kiser, Virginia

LB Jermaine Grace, Miami

LB Matt Galambos, Pitt

CB M.J. Stewart, North Carolina

CB Des Lawrence, North Carolina

S Jordan Whitehead, Pitt

S Quin Blanding, Virginia

 

Special Teams

 

K Michael Badgley, Miami

P Justin Vogel, Miami

RS Ryan Switzer, North Carolina

 

Coastal Division Team Analysis: It’s a tough assignment to match a Coastal All-Star team against one from the Atlantic side, which features the league’s top three teams for 2016 – Louisville, Clemson and Florida State. While the Coastal team is at a disadvantage in overall talent, this squad does have some promising pieces on offense. Quarterback Brad Kaaya is the league’s No. 2 passer behind Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, while Pitt’s James Conner and North Carolina’s Elijah Hood would be an effective one-two punch. And it certainly doesn’t hurt the passing attack to have a go-to receiver like Isaiah Ford on the outside. The secondary is the strength of the defense, but Pitt end Ejuan Price headlines a solid line. However, in a hypothetical All-Star game, this defense would have a tough time slowing down the Atlantic attack. – Steven Lassan

Teaser:
What if ACC College Football Teams Had an All-Star Game?
Post date: Monday, July 11, 2016 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/what-if-big-12-college-football-teams-had-all-star-game
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Major League Baseball’s 2016 All-Star Game is slated for Tuesday night at Petco Park in San Diego. While the Midsummer Classic won’t satisfy the hunger for football at this point in the summer, the All-Star Game got the staff at Athlon Sports thinking about potential all-star matchups at the college football level. What if each Power 5 league had an all-star game during the offseason or just after the year ended? The idea isn’t likely to come to fruition, but it is an interesting concept to ponder.

 

How would a potential Big 12 All-Star Game this break down for 2016? In order to draft teams, the league was divided into two groups. The first team featured selections from TCU, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Texas. The second team featured selections from Oklahoma, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and West Virginia. Athlon Sports’ Lance Dozier drafted a team for the first team, while Steven Lassan drafted a team comprised of the best players from the second team.

 

Which team has the advantage? 

 

Big 12 Team 1 All-Stars 

 
(Players from TCU, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Texas)
 

Offense

 

QB Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech

RB Mike Warren, Iowa State

RB D’Onta Foreman, Texas

WR Allen Lazard, Iowa State

WR James Washington, Oklahoma State

WR KaVontae Turpin, TCU

C Michael Wilson, Oklahoma State

OL Patrick Vahe, Texas

OL Connor Williams, Texas

OL Baylen Brown, Texas Tech

OL Jake Campos, Iowa State

AP Justin Stockton, Texas Tech

 

Defense

 

DL Josh Carraway, TCU

DL James McFarland, TCU

DL Vincent Taylor, Oklahoma State

DL Demond Tucker, Iowa State

LB Malik Jefferson, Texas

LB Jordan Burton, Oklahoma State

LB Travin Howard, TCU

CB Davante Davis, Texas

CB Brian Peavy, Iowa State

S Jordan Sterns, Oklahoma State

S Denzel Johnson, TCU

 

Special Teams

 

K Clayton Hatfield, Texas Tech

P Zach Sinor, Oklahoma State

RS KaVontae Turpin, TCU

 

Team 1 Analysis: Big bodies and speed are the two things that make up the offense. Mahomes is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, while Warren and Foreman headline the running back group with a thunder and lightning approach. A similar style is at wide receiver with Lazard and Washington having the sure hands, while Turpin has the ability to take the top off the defense. Three lineman hail from the state of Texas and Malik Jefferson - the face of Charlie Strong's rebuilding effort in Austin - will lead the defense. Hatfield and Co. make up the rest of the squad in the special teams department. - Lance Dozier

 

Big 12 Team 2 All-Stars 

 
(Players from Oklahoma, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and West Virginia)

 

Offense

 

QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

RB Samaje Perine, Oklahoma

RB Shock Linwood, Baylor

WR KD Cannon, Baylor

WR Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma

WR Shelton Gibson, West Virginia

AP Joe Mixon, Oklahoma

C Tyler Orlosky, West Virginia

OL Kyle Fuller, Baylor

OL Orlando Brown, Oklahoma

OL Dalton Risner, Kansas State

OL Kyle Bosch, West Virginia

 

Defense

 

DL Charles Walker, Oklahoma

DL Will Geary, Kansas State

DL Noble Nwachukwu, West Virginia
DL Jordan Willis, Kansas State
LB Elijah Lee, Kansas State

LB Jordan Evans, Oklahoma

LB Taylor Young, Baylor

CB Jordan Thomas, Oklahoma

CB Duke Shelley, Kansas State

S Dante Barnett, Kansas State

S Steven Parker, Oklahoma

 

Special Teams

 

K Matthew McCrane, Kansas State

P Austin Seibert, Oklahoma

RS Joe Mixon, Oklahoma

 

Team 2 Analysis: Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for the Team 2 All-Stars. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and fellow Sooner Samaje Perine (RB) lead the way on offense, and there’s a sturdy line in place with two of the Big 12’s top linemen – Kyle Fuller and Tyler Orlosky – anchoring the trenches. Overall, the defense is in good shape. End Charles Walker is the top player up front, but the Kansas State duo of Will Geary and Jordan Willis is quietly effective. Elijah Lee is the headliner at linebacker, with lockdown cover man Jordan Thomas leading the way in the secondary. Of the 26 selections on Team 2, 11 come from Oklahoma. – Steven Lassan

Teaser:
What if Big 12 College Football Teams Had an All-Star Game?
Post date: Monday, July 11, 2016 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/what-if-sec-college-football-teams-had-all-star-game
Body:

Major League Baseball’s 2016 All-Star Game is slated for Tuesday night at Petco Park in San Diego. While the Midsummer Classic won’t satisfy the hunger for football at this point in the summer, the All-Star Game got the staff at Athlon Sports thinking about potential all-star matchups at the college football level. What if each Power 5 league had an all-star game during the offseason or just after the year ended? The idea isn’t likely to come to fruition, but it is an interesting concept to ponder.

 

How would a potential East vs. West All-Star Game this break down for the SEC in 2016? Athlon Sports’ Lance Dozier drafted a team for the East side, while Steven Lassan drafted a team comprised of the best players from the West.

 

Which team has the advantage? 

 

SEC East All-Stars 

 

Offense

 

QB Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee

RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

RB Nick Chubb, Georgia

WR Antonio Callaway, Florida

WR Terry Godwin, Georgia

TE Ethan Wolf, Tennessee

C Jon Toth, Kentucky

OL Jashon Robertson, Tennessee

OL Greg Pyke, Georgia

OL Martez Ivey, Florida

OL Will Holden, Vanderbilt

AP Boom Williams, Kentucky

 

Defense

 

DL Derek Barnett, Tennessee

DL Charles Harris, Missouri

DL Cece Jefferson, Florida

DL Trenton Thompson, Georgia

LB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt

LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Tennessee

LB Jarrad Davis, Florida

CB Jalen Tabor, Florida

CB Cam Sutton, Tennessee

S Marcus Maye, Florida

S Marcus McWilson, Kentucky

 

Special Teams

 

K Elliot Fry, South Carolina

P Johnny Townsend, Florida

RS Evan Berry, Tennessee

 

East Division Team Analysis: Everyone will say that the SEC West has more talent, but as Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend!” The East is absolutely loaded with talent at every position group. The quarterback spot is set with a signal-caller who can hurt you with both his arm and his legs. The running backs are electric with the ball in their hands, and the Nick Chubb-Jalen Hurd duo will be in the Heisman discussion this fall. The offensive line is built extremely well with speed and strength, but the weakness is a couple of up-and-coming receivers who we expect to take a step forward this season. On the other end, the defense has an All-American at every position group and the special teams are represented well by upperclassmen experience. - Lance Dozier

 

SEC West All-Stars 

 

Offense

 

QB Chad Kelly, Ole Miss

RB Leonard Fournette, LSU

RB Bo Scarbrough, Alabama

WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama

AP Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

TE Evan Engram, Ole Miss

C Ethan Pocic, LSU

OL Cam Robinson, Alabama

OL Alex Kozan, Auburn

OL Dan Skipper, Arkansas

OL Braden Smith, Auburn

 

Defense

 

DL Myles Garrett, Texas A&M

DL Jonathan Allen, Alabama

DL Arden Key, LSU
DL Carl Lawson, Auburn
LB Reuben Foster, Alabama

LB Kendell Beckwith, LSU

LB Tim Williams, Alabama

CB Tre’Davious White, LSU

CB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

S Jamal Adams, LSU

S Eddie Jackson, Alabama

 

Special Teams

 

K Daniel Carlson, Auburn

P JK Scott, Alabama

RS Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

 

West Division Team Analysis: Lance put together a strong team for the East Division All-Stars, but let’s be honest: The balance of power is in the West Division. The offense is led by the league’s top quarterback in Ole Miss senior Chad Kelly, while LSU’s Leonard Fournette carries the ground attack. It’s a down year overall for talent on the offensive line in the SEC, but the West All-Stars feature some of the league’s top blockers, including Cam Robinson (Alabama), Dan Skipper (Arkansas) and Ethan Pocic (LSU). Loaded – that’s the best way to describe the defense. The line features three likely All-Americans in Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, Alabama’s Jonathan Allen and LSU’s Arden Key. Tim Williams can wreak plenty of havoc off the edge at linebacker, while Kendell Beckwith and Reuben Foster can handle the middle of the field. Similar to the defensive line, the secondary features three likely All-Americans – Tre’Davious White, Jamal Adams and Eddie Jackson – and Alabama cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick is one of the SEC’s top rising stars for 2016. - Steven Lassan

Teaser:
What if SEC College Football Teams Had an All-Star Game?
Post date: Monday, July 11, 2016 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/what-if-pac-12-college-football-teams-had-all-star-game
Body:

Major League Baseball’s 2016 All-Star Game is slated for Tuesday night at Petco Park in San Diego. While the Midsummer Classic won’t satisfy the hunger for football at this point in the summer, the All-Star Game got the staff at Athlon Sports thinking about potential all-star matchups at the college football level. What if each Power 5 league had an all-star game during the offseason or just after the year ended? The idea isn’t likely to come to fruition, but it is an interesting concept to ponder.

 

How would a potential North vs. South All-Star Game this break down for the Pac-12 in 2016? Athlon Sports’ Lance Dozier drafted a team for the North side, while Steven Lassan drafted a team comprised of the best players from the South.

 

Which team has the advantage? 

 

Pac-12 North All-Stars 

 

Offense

 

QB Luke Falk, Washington State

RB Royce Freeman, Oregon

RB Myles Gaskin, Washington

WR Gabe Marks, Washington State

WR Darren Carrington, Oregon

TE Dalton Schultz, Stanford

C Riley Sorenson, Washington State

OL Tyrell Cosby, Oregon

OL Trey Adams, Washington

OL Johnny Caspers, Stanford

OL Cameron Hunt, Oregon

AP Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

 

Defense

 

DL Solomon Thomas, Stanford

DL Hercules Mata’afa, Washington State

DL Elijah Qualls, Washington

DL Henry Mondeaux, Oregon

LB Azeem Victor, Washington

LB Peter Kalambayi, Stanford

LB Peyton Pelluer, Washington State

CB Sidney Jones, Washington

CB Marcellus Pippins, Washington State

S Budda Baker, Washington

S Shalom Luani, Washington State

 

Special Teams

 

K Aidan Schneider, Oregon

P Nick Porebski, Oregon State

RS Dante Pettis, Washington

 

North Team Analysis: With Luke Falk at the helm, you could say this offense would be electric. Handing off to the likes of Christian McCaffrey, Royce Freeman and Myles Gaskin, and tossing it to playmakers on the outside, this would be a very fun offense to watch from a fan perspective. Up front, there are quite a few that made our preseason all-conference teams, so the front five should be an athletic group.

 

The defensive line doesn’t have a player that has that wow factor, but this is a solid overall group. All three linebackers are all-conference caliber and the secondary can bring the wood with the four of them racking up 227 stops, respectively. Special teams are excellent with both guys kicking the ball hailing from the state of Oregon. - Lance Dozier

 

Pac-12 South All-Stars

 

Offense

 

QB Josh Rosen, UCLA

RB Ronald Jones, USC

RB Demario Richard, Arizona State

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC

WR Tim White, Arizona State

AP Kalen Ballage, Arizona State

TE Kody Kohl, Arizona State

C Toa Lobendahn, USC

OL Zach Banner, USC

OL J.J. Dielman, Utah

OL Conor McDermott, UCLA

OL Chad Wheeler, USC

 

Defense

 

DL Lowell Lotulelei, Utah

DL Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA

DL Kylie Fitts, Utah
DL JoJo Wicker, Arizona State
LB Cameron Smith, USC

LB Salamo Fiso, Arizona State

LB Christian Sam, Arizona State

CB Adoree’ Jackson, USC

CB Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado

S Marcus Williams, Utah

S Randall Goforth, UCLA

 

Special Teams

 

K Andy Phillips, Utah

P Matt Haack, Arizona State

RS Tim White, Arizona State

 

South Team Analysis: The South All-Star team features a balanced, pro-style attack on offense. Quarterback Josh Rosen is only a sophomore, but he’s already one of the nation’s top signal-callers. Rosen will have plenty of help in his supporting cast, as running back Ronald Jones and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster are two of the Pac-12’s top skill players and provide plenty of big-play ability. A solid offensive line is led by Athlon Sports’ first-team All-America tackle Zach Banner. The strength in the trenches continues on defense. Lowell Lotulelei plugs the interior, while Eddie Vanderdoes and Kylie Fitts are playmakers off the edges. Lockdown corner Adoree’ Jackson is the headliner in the secondary, but Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie is one of the nation’s most underrated players. Utah kicker Andy Phillips is reliable as they come in the field goal department, while Arizona State’s Tim White is a dynamic option on returns. – Steven Lassan

Teaser:
What if Pac-12 College Football Teams Had an All-Star Game?
Post date: Monday, July 11, 2016 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/what-if-big-ten-college-football-teams-had-all-star-game
Body:

Major League Baseball’s 2016 All-Star Game is slated for Tuesday night at Petco Park in San Diego. While the Midsummer Classic won’t satisfy the hunger for football at this point in the summer, the All-Star Game got the staff at Athlon Sports thinking about potential all-star matchups at the college football level. What if each Power 5 league had an all-star game during the offseason or just after the year ended? The idea isn’t likely to come to fruition, but it is an interesting concept to ponder.

 

How would a potential East vs. West All-Star Game this break down for the Big Ten in 2016? Athlon Sports’ Lance Dozier drafted a team for the West Division, while Steven Lassan drafted a team comprised of the best players from the East.

 

Which team has the advantage? 

 

Big Ten East All-Stars 

 

Offense

 

QB J.T. Barrett, Ohio State

RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State

RB LJ Scott, Michigan State

WR Jehu Chesson, Michigan

WR Chris Godwin, Penn State

AP Curtis Samuel, Ohio State

TE Jake Butt, Michigan

C Pat Elflein, Ohio State

OL Brian Allen, Michigan State

OL Mason Cole, Michigan

OL Dan Feeney, Indiana

OL Billy Price, Ohio State

 

Defense

 

DL Malik McDowell, Michigan State

DL Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State

DL Sam Hubbard, Ohio State
DL Chris Wormley, Michigan
LB Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State

LB Jabrill Peppers, Michigan

LB Riley Bullough, Michigan State

CB Jourdan Lewis, Michigan

CB William Likely, Maryland

S Montae Nicholson, Michigan State

S Marcus Allen, Penn State

 

Special Teams

 

K Griffin Oakes, Indiana

P Cameron Johnston, Ohio State

RS Janarion Grant, Rutgers

 

Big Ten East Team Analysis: The amount of talent in the East Division compared to the West is simply unfair in 2016. Selections from Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan dominate the All-Star team, with only two picks on offense – Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and Indiana offensive lineman Dan Feeney – coming from outside of those three teams. There’s a similar theme on defense, as Maryland cornerback William Likely and Penn State safety Marcus Allen are the only selections outside of Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State. The depth and overall strength of this team continues on special teams with three likely All-Americans in place – kicker Griffin Oakes, punter Cameron Johnston and return specialist Janarion Grant. – Steven Lassan

 

Big Ten West All-Stars

 

Offense

 

QB C.J. Beathard, Iowa

RB Justin Jackson, Northwestern

RB Corey Clement, Wisconsin

WR Jordan Westerkamp, Nebraska

WR DeAngleo Yancey, Purdue

TE Brandon Lingen, Minnesota

C Michael Dieter, Wisconsin

OL Sean Welsh, Iowa

OL Cole Croston, Iowa

OL Nick Gates, Nebraska

OL Jonah Pirsig, Minnesota

AP De’Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska

 

Defense

 

DL Jaleel Johnson, Iowa

DL Dawuane Smoot, Illinois

DL Parker Hesse, Iowa

DL Chikwe Obasih, Wisconsin

LB Anthony Walker, Northwestern

LB Vince Biegel, Wisconsin

LB Josey Jewell, Iowa

CB Desmond King, Iowa

CB Joshua Kalu, Nebraska

S Nate Gerry, Nebraska

S Godwin Igwebuike, Northwestern

 

Special Teams

 

K Drew Brown, Nebraska

P Sam Foltz, Nebraska

RS Solomon Vault, Northwestern

 

Big Ten West Team Analysis: It all starts up front they say. As usual, the Big Ten has some of the finest offensive lineman in the land year after year, and this season is no different. Sean Welsh from Iowa leads the group of the hogs. An underrated quarterback (C.J. Beathard) who thrives under pressure is under center and the one-two punch of Jackson and Clement would be a handful for defensive coordinators.

 

A weak spot on the club is the defensive line. Only two of the four are preseason all-conference, but the linebacker core can make up for it with the All-American Anthony Walker out of Northwestern anchoring the defense. The secondary has the lockdown corner you want with another first-team All-American in Iowa’s Desmond King, and a ball-hawk safety in Nebraska’s Nate Gerry. The Wildcats’ Solomon Vault headlines the special teams. - Lance Dozier

Teaser:
What if Big Ten College Football Teams Had an All-Star Game?
Post date: Monday, July 11, 2016 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/big-tens-15-most-underrated-players-2016
Body:

Every  team has players most would consider underrated. However, defining underrated players is no easy assignment, as that term varies in meaning between fans and experts. With the 2016 season approaching, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look at some players deserving of more preseason accolades or discussion. In an effort to get to 15 names, we tried to stick to players that had yet to earn all-conference honors in their career. However, a few exceptions were made.

 

Related:

 

The Big Ten has its share of underrated players on both sides of the ball for 2016, including Indiana receiver Simmie Cobbs, Ohio State offensive lineman Billy Price, Penn State safety Marcus Allen and Michigan defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow. 

 

The Big Ten's 15 Most Underrated Players for 2016

 

Marcus Allen, S, Penn State

With the departure of three key starters in the trenches, there’s extra pressure on Penn State’s secondary in 2016. However, the Nittany Lions’ pass defense is prepared for the challenge, as Allen and cornerback Grant Haley anchor a secondary that should be a strength. Allen finished second on the team with 81 tackles (five for a loss) last season and recorded two pass breakups and two forced fumbles. The junior has blossomed into one of the Big Ten’s top defensive backs.

 

Cethan Carter, TE, Nebraska

Nebraska’s receiving corps could be among the best in the Big Ten this fall, and this unit will only get deeper with the return of De’Mornay Pierson-El from injury, along with Carter’s continued development at tight end. The Louisiana native is coming off his best season in Lincoln, catching 24 passes for 329 yards and two scores in 11 contests. With quarterback Tommy Armstrong expected to take a step forward as a passer in the second year under coordinator Danny Langsdorf, Carter should see more passes in his direction this fall.

 

Related:

 

Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana

Only three receivers – Cobbs, Aaron Burbridge and Chris Godwin – eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for receivers in the Big Ten last fall. While Burbridge and Godwin both earned a spot on the All-Big Ten team, Cobbs’ 2015 season was largely overlooked. In 13 games, he grabbed 60 passes for 1,035 yards and four scores. Additionally, Cobbs recorded four 100-yard efforts over Indiana’s final seven contests.

 

Michael Dunn, OT, Maryland

From walk-on to potential All-Big Ten player – that’s the quick way to describe Dunn’s career in College Park. The Maryland native has emerged as a key cog in Maryland’s offensive line after a redshirt season in 2012. Over the last three years, Dunn has started 37 games and earned honorable mention all-conference honors in 2015.

 

Ryan Glasgow, DT, Michigan

Just how valuable was Glasgow to Michigan’s run defense in 2015? Here’s a stat to consider: Through the first nine games, the Wolverines did not allow an opponent to rush for more than 145 yards in a single game. However, with Glasgow sidelined due to injury, Michigan surrendered over 300 rushing yards in games against Indiana and Ohio State. Glasgow finished the season with 25 tackles (five for a loss) and one sack, but his impact goes beyond the box score as a key cog on the interior for coordinator Don Brown.

 

Related:

 

Josh Hicks/Robert Martin, RB, Rutgers

New coordinator Drew Mehringer inherits an offense with uncertainty at quarterback and in the receiving corps, but there’s solid duo leading the way on the ground with Josh Hicks and Robert Martin. This tandem’s production was largely overlooked due to the Scarlet Knights’ four wins in 2015, but Martin and Hicks combined for 1,437 yards and 10 scores. Mehringer is expected to lean heavily on this duo in 2016.

 

Godwin Igwebuike, S, Northwestern

Igwebuike delivered a standout performance in his first year as a starter, collecting 87 tackles (4.5 for a loss), five passes defended and one forced fumble. While Igwebuike didn’t record an interception last season, he picked off three passes in 11 games in 2014. The junior is poised for his best year with the Wildcats, but he’s already earned a spot as one of the Big Ten’s top safeties.

 

Jalen Myrick, CB, Minnesota

Minnesota’s secondary was quietly one of the better pass defenses in the Big Ten last season. The Golden Gophers ranked 25th nationally in pass efficiency defense and only allowed seven passing scores in conference play. This unit suffered a few key losses from its 2015 group, but there’s still a solid foundation in place at cornerback with Myrick returning. The Georgia native played in 10 games (with seven starts) and recorded 27 stops (3.5 for a loss), three interceptions and three pass breakups. He should be one of the leaders for Minnesota’s defense this fall.

 

Related:

 

Billy Price, OL, Ohio State

Considering Ohio State returns only six starters and has several new faces stepping into the starting lineup, it’s not easy to pinpoint a player that is underrated in 2016. However, Price is a good candidate for this award, as the Ohio native has started all 28 games in his career for the Buckeyes. Price earned third-team All-Big Ten honors in 2015, but he could be among the nation’s best at his position this fall.

 

Josiah Price, TE, Michigan State

With the departure of Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings Jr., the Spartans are looking for a few weapons to emerge in the passing game for new starting quarterback Tyler O’Connor. Coach Mark Dantonio won’t have to look far for answers, as Price is poised to take on an even bigger role in 2016. In 12 appearances last season, he grabbed 23 passes for 267 yards and six scores. And in 2014, Price was even more involved as he caught 26 passes for 374 yards and six touchdowns.

 

Jake Replogle, DT, Purdue

Lost in Purdue’s struggles in the win column recently has been the development of Replogle into one of the Big Ten’s top defensive linemen. After appearing in seven games as a backup in 2013, Replogle started all 12 games for the Boilermakers in 2014 and finished the year with 10.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks. He took those totals even higher in 2016, as Replogle recorded 60 tackles (14 for a loss), two sacks and two pass breakups.

 

Related:

 

Sojourn Shelton, CB, Wisconsin

Shelton has quietly anchored one of the cornerback spots for Wisconsin over the last three seasons and is one of the Big Ten’s top defensive backs for 2016. However, a strong argument could be made Shelton deserves more credit for his first three years in Madison. Shelton has defended 25 passes in his career and has also recorded five interceptions. He’s also a key cog in a secondary that finished second nationally against the pass in 2015.

 

Dawuane Smoot, DL, Illinois

Smoot’s 2015 season might have been one of the most underrated performances by a defender in the Big Ten. In 12 games, Smoot recorded 40 tackles (15 for a loss), eight sacks and three forced fumbles. Despite the standout campaign, Smoot did not earn all-conference honors. However, with new coach Lovie Smith and coordinator Hardy Nickerson calling the shots on defense, it’s a safe bet Smoot takes the next step in his development this fall.

 

Matt VandeBerg, WR, Iowa

Four of Iowa’s top six statistical receiving options from 2015 have expired their eligibility, but the cupboard isn’t totally bare for quarterback C.J. Beathard. VandeBerg delivered his best season in Iowa City in 2015, catching 65 passes for 703 yards and four scores. He only posted one 100-yard effort (Iowa State) last year but caught at least three passes in 11 of Iowa’s 14 contests.

Teaser:
The Big Ten's 15 Most Underrated Players for 2016
Post date: Friday, July 8, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/pac-12s-most-underrated-players-2016
Body:

Every  team has players most would consider underrated. However, defining underrated players is no easy assignment, as that term varies in meaning between fans and experts. With the 2016 season approaching, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look at some players deserving of more preseason accolades or discussion. In an effort to get to 12 names, we tried to stick to players that had yet to earn all-conference honors in their career. However, a few exceptions were made.

 

Related:

 

Arizona running back Nick Wilson, Colorado safety Chidobe Awuzie and Stanford receiver Michael Rector are just a few of Athlon's picks for the most underrated players in the Pac-12 this fall. 

 

The Pac-12's Most Underrated Players for 2016

 

Isaac Asiata, OL, Utah

The unquestioned strength of Utah’s offense is its line. All five starters are back for coach Kyle Whittingham, and there’s good depth in place with the addition of junior college recruit Garett Bolles. Tackle J.J. Dielman is generating plenty of attention as an All-America candidate for 2016, but Asiata also shouldn’t be overlooked up front. The Utah native played in six games (and four starts) as a freshman in 2013 and has accumulated 26 starts over the last two years. After earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2015, Asiata is poised to earn a spot as one of the league’s top linemen.

 

Chidobe Awuzie, S, Colorado

Awuzie was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection last season, but the San Jose native deserves more attention for a standout career with the Buffaloes. In 13 games last year, Awuzie was all over the field for coordinator Jim Leavitt. He accumulated 90 stops (second on the team), four sacks, one forced fumble and 10 pass breakups. During his first two years on campus (2013-14), Awuzie recorded 123 tackles and 12 pass breakups. If Awuzie continues to build off his first three seasons in Boulder, he could develop into an All-American at safety this fall.

 

Related:

 

Victor Bolden, WR, Oregon State

Despite inconsistent quarterback play, Bolden still delivered an effective 2015 season. In 12 games, Bolden caught 46 passes for 461 yards and three touchdowns and scored twice on special teams returns. Bolden’s numbers were much better as a sophomore in 2014, as he grabbed 72 receptions for 798 yards and two touchdowns. Assuming Utah State transfer Darell Garretson provides stability under center, Bolden should easily exceed last year’s totals and rebound back into the conversation for all-conference honors.

 

Chris Borrayo, OL, California

With four returning starters, California’s offensive line could quietly rank among the best in the Pac-12 for 2016. Borrayo is the leader in the trenches for the Golden Bears, as the California native enters this fall with 28 career starts and earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2015. Borrayo should be one of the Pac-12’s top linemen in 2016.

 

Jayon Brown, LB, UCLA

Myles Jack’s season-ending knee injury was a huge setback for UCLA’s defense last year, but Brown emerged as a key cog for coach Jim Mora. Most of Brown’s impact in his first two seasons on campus came on special teams, as he accumulated only eight tackles in that span. However, Brown easily exceeded that production last fall, recording a team-high 93 stops and six pass breakups. Brown’s emergence was a key development last year and should continue with another offseason to work as a starter.

 

Darren Carrington, WR, Oregon

Carrington gets the nod here as Oregon’s most underrated player, but a strong case could be made running back Royce Freeman still doesn’t get enough credit for his 2015 season. Despite not playing in the Ducks’ first six games, Carrington ranked second on the team with 32 catches for 609 yards and six scores. Additionally, had he qualified in the conference statistics, Carrington would have ranked second among receivers by averaging 19.03 yards per reception. With Bralon Addison off to the NFL, Carrington should see even more passes in his direction this fall.

 

Related:

 

Darrell Daniels, TE, Washington

Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning is expected to take a step forward in his development this fall, but the rising star also needs more help from his receiving corps. With the return of John Ross from injury, along with Daniels’ development as a full-time starter, the Huskies have two promising weapons ready to provide a spark in the receiving corps. Daniels shared the spotlight with Joshua Perkins at tight end last season and finished the year with 19 catches for 250 yards and one score. The 6-foot-4 target is also on the radar for NFL scouts for next year’s draft and should easily exceed his 2015 totals.

 

Justin Davis, RB, USC

All signs point to a breakout year from sophomore running back Ronald Jones, but USC’s backfield isn’t just a one-man show. Davis has ranked second on the team in rushing yards in each of the last two seasons and recorded 902 yards and seven scores on 169 attempts in 2015. While Jones is the team’s most-talented runner, Davis shouldn’t be overlooked in a backfield that could possess the Pac-12’s best one-two punch this fall.

 

Michael Rector, WR, Stanford

With a new quarterback – likely Keller Chryst – taking over Stanford’s offense, the passing game could take a few weeks to get on track in 2016. While Rector isn’t going to see a ton of opportunities in his direction, the senior has the potential to be one of the Pac-12’s top big-play threats on the outside. In 14 games last year, Rector grabbed 34 passes for 559 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging a healthy 16.4 yards per catch. Christian McCaffrey is one of the nation’s top skill players, but Rector is also developing into a reliable threat for coach David Shaw.

 

Related:

 

Demario Richard, RB, Arizona State

Richard was one of six Pac-12 running backs to hit the 1,000-yard mark in 2015. In 12 appearances, Richard rushed for 1,104 yards and seven scores. Additionally, he was also a valuable pass-catcher out of the backfield, nabbing 31 receptions for 303 yards and three touchdowns. After rushing for over 1,000 yards in his first full season as Arizona State’s go-to running back, the arrow on Richard’s career in Tempe is clearly pointing up for 2016 and beyond.

 

Riley Sorenson, OL, Washington State

There’s big shoes to fill in Pullman, as Joe Dahl and Gunnar Eklund depart the left side of Washington State’s offensive line. But the cupboard is far from bare for coach Mike Leach. Three starters are back for 2016, including center Riley Sorenson and promising right tackle Cole Madison. Sorenson has quietly anchored the interior for Leach over the last two seasons, starting 11 games in 2015 and 10 in 2014. The senior should be the Pac-12’s top center in 2016.

 

Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona

Wilson may not be underrated as much is this is a “don’t forget about him” type of pick. A year after injuries derailed his 2015 season, Wilson is hoping to get back on track and rebound back into the discussion as one of the Pac-12’s top running backs. In 13 games for the Wildcats in 2014, Wilson gashed opponents for 1,375 yards and 16 scores. Wilson was off to a fast start in 2015, recording 683 yards through the first six contests. However, injuries limited Wilson to only 18 carries and he managed just 42 yards the rest of the year. Assuming Wilson is back at full strength, he should rank among the top of the leaderboard in rushing yards in the Pac-12.

Teaser:
The Pac-12's Most Underrated Players for 2016
Post date: Thursday, July 7, 2016 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/big-12s-most-underrated-players-2016
Body:

Every  team has players most would consider underrated. However, defining underrated players is no easy assignment, as that term varies in meaning between fans and experts. With the 2016 season approaching, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look at some players deserving of more preseason accolades or discussion. In an effort to get to 10 names, we tried to stick to players that had yet to earn all-conference honors in their career. However, a few exceptions were made.

 

Related:

 

The Big 12 has a lot of roster turnover in 2016, but the league is headlined by a few standout quarterbacks, including Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph, Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes and Baylor's Seth Russell. Those four passers are among the Big 12's top players, but the conference also features a handful of names that need more attention. Kansas State fullback Winston Dimel, Oklahoma safety Steven Parker and Texas Tech running back Justin Stockton are just a few names to watch this fall. 

 

The Big 12's Most Underrated Players for 2016

 

Jake Campos, OT, Iowa State

Campos is the lone returning starter on Iowa State’s offensive line this fall. However, the junior is a solid building block for coach Matt Campbell’s group, as Campos has started 23 games over the last two seasons and protects the blindside of quarterback Joel Lanning.

 

Winston Dimel, FB, Kansas State

A fullback is often a fossil in a league known for its high-scoring offenses and spread attacks. However, Dimel is a key cog in Kansas State’s offense and was a first-team selection on the 2015 All-Big 12 team. Dimel’s opportunities to touch the ball are limited. However, he certainly maximizes his opportunities. In 13 games, Dimel recorded 86 rushing yards and six touchdowns on just 28 attempts and caught eight passes for 261 yards (32.6 ypc) and two scores.

 

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Ke’aun Kinner, RB, Kansas

Kinner was a key pickup from the junior college ranks on the recruiting trail for coach David Beaty, and the Texas native started his Kansas career with back-to-back 100-yard efforts. However, injuries took a toll on Kinner the rest of the year and limited him to just 566 yards and five scores on 134 carries. If he can stay healthy, and the Jayhawks are close on the scoreboard each week, Kinner could threaten 1,000 yards in 2016.

 

Ashton Lampkin, CB, Oklahoma State

The cornerback duo of Michael Hunter and Kevin Peterson was a solid pairing for coach Mike Gundy’s defense, but the cupboard is far from bare in 2016. Lampkin returns in a starting role after recording 31 tackles and five pass breakups in 12 appearances last year. Lampkin also started eight games in 2015 but missed time due to injuries. He also started four games in 2014 before an injury sidelined the Fort Worth native for the rest of the year. Assuming Lampkin stays healthy, he should finish his career in Stillwater as one of the Big 12’s top cornerbacks this fall.

 

Noble Nwachukwu, DL, West Virginia

Coordinator Tony Gibson has a major rebuilding effort on his hands this offseason. The Mountaineers return only three starters on defense and most of the back seven has to be replaced. The clear area of strength for Gibson’s defense will be the line, which could feature three senior starters. Nwachuwku is one of the proven returners for Gibson, as the Texas native enters 2016 with 26 consecutive starts. Over the last three years, Nwachukwu has recorded 86 overall stops and led the team with 13 tackles for a loss in 2015.

 

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Steven Parker, S, Oklahoma

Anchored by cornerback Jordan Thomas and two standout safeties, Oklahoma’s secondary should be among the best in the nation this year – even after cornerback Zack Sanchez left for the NFL. Parker was thrown into the fire as a true freshman in 2014, recording 31 tackles in 13 games. The Tulsa native earned a starting spot in all 13 contests for the Sooners last fall and delivered a standout season, recording 60 tackles (four for a loss), 1.5 sacks and four pass breakups. The 6-foot-1 junior is just scratching the surface of his potential and it’s time to consider him among the top defensive backs in the Big 12.

 

Kent Perkins, OT, Texas

Texas doesn’t have a ton of upperclassmen in the starting lineup this year, so it’s hard to pinpoint a player on coach Charlie Strong’s roster that’s been overlooked the last few seasons. However, let’s give a tip of the cap to Perkins as he enters his third year as a starter. The Dallas native missed two games due to injury in 2015 but started the other 10 contests. In his career, Perkins has played in 29 overall games and recorded 24 starts. With Perkins and sophomores Patrick Vahe and Connor Williams returning, the pieces are starting to fall into place for the Longhorns’ offensive line.

 

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Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech

DeAndre Washington was one of the nation’s most underrated running backs from 2014-15, but the Red Raiders have an intriguing replacement waiting in the wings. Stockton has been a change-of-pace option for coach Kliff Kingsbury over the last two seasons. On 61 carries in 2015, Stockton recorded 367 yards and five scores (6.02 ypc) and caught 22 passes for 341 yards and six touchdowns. Stockton’s big-play ability was on display in 2014, recording 396 yards and four scores on just 48 attempts. Not only should the junior be considered a breakout candidate for 2016, but it’s also reasonable to mention the first-year starter as an underrated player.

 

KaVontae Turpin, RB/Return Specialist, TCU

Three. That’s how many spots Turpin appears on for Athlon’s projected All-Big 12 team in 2016. The Louisiana native was a standout performer in his freshman campaign last season, leading TCU with 1,675 all-purpose yards and scoring eight times on offense. Turpin also averaged 10.6 yards on punt returns (with one score) and 27 yards per kickoff return last year. Turpin is one of the nation’s top all-purpose players and is due for an even bigger role this fall.

 

Taylor Young, LB, Baylor

Baylor’s defensive line was one of the league’s best units over the last two seasons and often overshadowed Young’s performance. As a redshirt freshman in 2014, Young recorded 92 tackles (8.5 for a loss), four sacks and two forced fumbles. He followed up that performance with a solid sophomore campaign, amassing 80 tackles (13.5 for a loss) and one fumble recovery. Young is quietly one of the Big 12’s top linebackers and should earn a spot on the all-conference team by the end of 2016.

Teaser:
The Big 12's Most Underrated Players for 2016
Post date: Thursday, July 7, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/secs-12-most-underrated-players-2016
Body:

Every  team has players most would consider underrated. However, defining underrated players is no easy assignment, as that term varies in meaning between fans and experts. With the 2016 season approaching, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look at some players deserving of more preseason accolades or discussion. In an effort to get to 12 names, we tried to stick to players that had yet to earn all-conference honors in their career. However, a few exceptions were made.

 

Related:

 

The SEC features a loaded group of talent returning on defense, but there's a lot of uncertainty on offense, especially at quarterback and on the line of scrimmage. With only two proven passers - Tennessee's Joshua Dobbs and Ole Miss' Chad Kelly - no quarterbacks make the underrated list, but keep an eye on Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara, LSU receiver Malachi Dupre and Kentucky center Jon Toth as players who deserve more attention in 2016.

 

The SEC's 12 Most Underrated Players for 2016

 

Otaro Alaka, LB, Texas A&M

It might seem strange to list Alaka here after he missed nearly all of the 2015 season due to injury. However, prior to last year’s injuries, Alaka was on his way to emerging as Texas A&M’s top linebacker and a potential candidate for all-conference honors. In three games last season, Alaka recorded 12 tackles and one pass breakup. How quickly will Alaka return to full strength? It’s critical he’s back at 100 percent this fall for a run defense that allowed 213.7 yards per game in 2015. 

 

Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida

Florida has three potential all-conference candidates in the trenches this season with the return of Brantley, Cece Jefferson and Bryan Cox. Brantley won’t post huge numbers as an interior player, but the 6-foot-2 tackle anchors a rush defense that gave up only 128.1 yards per game in 2015. In 13 appearances last season, Brantley recorded 29 tackles (6.5 for a loss) and three sacks. Even though the SEC is loaded with talent up front, Brantley should make a strong push for all-conference honors this year.  

 

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Richie Brown, LB, Mississippi State

The SEC has its share of standout linebackers returning for 2016, but Brown shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to discussing the league’s top performers at that position. The Mississippi native has been a key cog in the Bulldogs’ defense over the last three years and racked up 109 stops (13 for a loss) in 2015. And with the departure of defensive tackle Chris Jones and linebacker Beniquez Brown, the senior should take on an even bigger role in leadership for new coordinator Peter Sirmon and anchor the middle of Mississippi State’s 3-4 scheme.

 

Oren Burks, LB/DB, Vanderbilt

Burks is slated to play a key role for coach Derek Mason’s defense this fall by shifting from to a hybrid “star” defensive back/linebacker position. Moving Burks to this role will allow Vanderbilt’s defense to match up better against some of spread attacks this unit will face in 2016. Burks is coming off his best season for the Commodores after accumulating 59 tackles (two for a loss), one forced fumble and three interceptions in 2015. The Virginia native’s versatility is a huge asset for a defense that allowed only 21 points a game last fall.

 

Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU

Lost in the discussion about the inconsistent play of LSU’s passing attack last season was a solid 2015 campaign by Dupre. The former five-star recruit led the team with 43 catches for 698 yards and six touchdowns. Dupre posted two 100-yard efforts (Florida and Arkansas) and also caught four passes for 96 yards in LSU’s bowl win over Texas Tech. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for Dupre. He just needs more opportunities and targets in his direction to push for All-SEC honors this fall.

 

Rudy Ford, S, Auburn

New coordinator Kevin Steele inherits a unit that gave up 26 points a game last season, but each level of the defense returns a potential All-SEC candidate, including the secondary where Ford and Tray Matthews form one of the league’s top tandems at safety. Ford played a limited role in 14 games as a freshman in 2013 but quickly emerged as a key cog in the defense over the last two seasons. Ford recorded 93 stops and three interceptions in 2014 and followed up with a strong 2015 campaign. In 13 games last year, Ford accumulated 118 tackles (3.5 for a loss), two forced fumbles and two interceptions.

 

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Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee

Tennessee’s backfield tandem of Jalen Hurd and Kamara is among the nation’s best, and it’s no secret Hurd gets most of the preseason attention as an All-America candidate. But let’s give Kamara some credit, as the former Alabama running back quietly had a standout debut in his first season on Rocky Top. Kamara rushed for 698 yards and seven scores and caught 34 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns last season.

 

Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

As we mentioned earlier in this article with other linemen, it’s not easy to judge the effectiveness of a defensive tackle just by glancing at the stat sheet. And in Alabama’s 3-4 scheme, it’s essential to have a couple of space-eaters in the middle to clog the line of scrimmage and allow the linebackers to make plays. That’s exactly the role Payne contributed in last fall, as he worked as a rotational player on Alabama’s standout defensive front. Payne received snaps in all 15 games and recorded 13 tackles, one pass breakup and one forced fumble. He is expected to anchor the interior of Alabama’s defensive line this fall, with Jonathan Allen and D’Shawn Hand working off the edges.

 

Aarion Penton, CB, Missouri

Most of the attention on Missouri’s standout defense surrounds its standout line, but the back seven has its share of All-SEC candidates, including Penton at cornerback, Michael Scherer at linebacker and Anthony Sherrils at safety. Penton was quietly effective in 2015, recording 59 tackles, one interception and eight pass breakups. Additionally, his play at cornerback was a big reason why the Tigers allowed only 10 passing scores last season.

 

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Damore’ea Stringfellow, WR, Ole Miss

Even though Laquon Treadwell will be missed, Ole Miss’ receiving corps is still among the best in the SEC. Coach Hugh Freeze has amassed plenty of talent for quarterback Chad Kelly, with Stringfellow, Quincy Adeboyejo, and tight end Evan Engram likely to be the top targets in 2016. Stringfellow played as a freshman at Washington in 2013 and sat out the 2014 campaign due to transfer rules. In his first season with the Rebels, Stringfellow caught 36 passes for 503 yards and five scores. The California native could double those totals with more targets in 2016.

 

Jon Toth, C, Kentucky

Toth has been a fixture on Kentucky’s offensive line over the last three seasons. The Indiana native has started 35 consecutive games and was named to the Rimington Trophy watch list for the 2016 campaign. Toth should clear plenty of running lanes for dynamic running back Boom Williams this season, and the senior should rank as one of the SEC’s top linemen.

 

Deatrich Wise, DE, Arkansas

In SEC-only matchups last fall, Wise ranked third in the league with eight sacks generated. In a conference that features Derek Barnett (Tennessee), Myles Garrett (Texas A&M) and Jonathan Allen (Alabama), it’s easy to overlook Wise’s production for the Razorbacks. However, Wise was one of the SEC’s top defenders in November last season, recording seven of his eight sacks over Arkansas’ last four games. He also finished the year with 10.5 tackles for a loss and forced two fumbles. Wise is a darkhorse candidate to lead the SEC in sacks this fall.

Teaser:
The SEC's 12 Most Underrated Players for 2016
Post date: Wednesday, July 6, 2016 - 11:30
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The start of the 2016 college football season is still over 50 days away, but it’s never too early to project how the bowl games and playoff pairings may look by December. The top four teams for year three of the College Football Playoff era could look similar to the final pairings from 2015. Clemson and Alabama are among the favorites to win it all in 2016, with Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma, Tennessee, LSU and Notre Dame bringing up the next tier of contenders.

 

The 2016-17 bowl schedule features 41 overall games including the national championship. Additionally, the semifinals will be on Dec. 31 instead of Jan. 1 once again this season. The Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl will host the semifinals, while the national championship will be held in Tampa, Fla. on Jan. 9.

 

How will the postseason matchups look by December? Below are Athlon Sports' predictions for every bowl and playoff game in 2016:

 

2016 College Football Conference Predictions

 

Power 5:  |  |  |  |

 

Group of 5:  |  |  |  |

 

Podcast: Ranking the Conferences in 2016



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College Football 2016 Bowl Projections
Bowl Date Tie-In Projection
New Mexico Dec. 17

C-USA vs.

MW

 UTEP vs.

Colorado State 

Las Vegas Dec. 17

Pac-12 vs.

MW

 Boise State vs.

Oregon 

AutoNation Cure Dec. 17

American vs.

Sun Belt

 Tulsa vs.

Georgia Southern 

Camellia Dec. 17

MAC vs.

Sun Belt

 Central Michigan vs.

Troy 

New Orleans Dec. 17

C-USA vs.

Sun Belt

 Southern Miss vs. 

Appalachian State 

Miami Beach Dec. 19

American vs. 

MAC

USF vs.

Western Michigan 

Boca Raton Dec. 20

American/MAC vs.

C-USA

Memphis vs.

WKU 

Poinsettia Dec. 21

BYU vs.

MW

 BYU vs.

SDSU 

Famous Idaho Potato Dec. 22

MW vs.

MAC

 Ohio vs.

Nevada 

Bahamas Dec. 23

American/MAC vs.

C-USA

 Toledo vs.

Marshall 

Armed Forces Dec. 23

American vs.

Big 12

 Navy vs.

Texas Tech 

GoDaddy Dec. 23

Sun Belt vs.

MAC

 Northern Illinois vs.

Arkansas State 

Hawaii Dec. 24

MW vs.

C-USA

MTSU vs.

Air Force 

St. Petersburg Dec. 26

American vs.

ACC

Cincinnati vs.

Georgia Tech 

Quick Lane Dec. 26

ACC vs. 

Big Ten

 Kansas State* vs.

Indiana 

Independence Dec. 26

ACC vs.

SEC

 Wake Forest vs.

Arizona State* 

Heart of Dallas Dec. 27

Big Ten vs.

C-USA

 Minnesota vs.

Louisiana Tech 

Military Dec. 27

American vs.

ACC

Temple vs.

Boston College 

Holiday Dec. 27

Big Ten vs.

Pac-12

Penn State vs.

UCLA 

Cactus Dec. 27

Big 12 vs.

Pac-12

Texas vs. 

Washington State 

Pinstripe Dec. 28

Big Ten vs. 

ACC

 Nebraska vs.

Pitt 

Russell Athletic Dec. 28

ACC vs. 

Big 12

Oklahoma State vs.

Miami 

Texas Dec. 28

SEC vs.

Big 12

Baylor vs. 

Texas A&M 

Birmingham Dec. 29

SEC vs.

American

 Kentucky vs. 

UConn 

Belk Dec. 29

ACC vs. 

SEC

Arkansas vs.

North Carolina 

Alamo Dec. 29

Big 12 vs.

Pac-12

 TCU vs.

Stanford 

Liberty Dec. 30

Big 12 vs.

SEC

 West Virginia vs.

Miss. State 

Sun Dec. 30

ACC/ND vs.

Pac-12

 Utah vs. 

NC State 

Arizona  Dec. 30

Sun Belt vs. 

MW

 Utah State vs.

UL Lafayette 

Music City Dec. 30

ACC/Big Ten vs.

SEC

Wisconsin vs.

Auburn 

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Dec. 31

Big Ten vs.

SEC

 Michigan State vs.

Ole Miss 

TaxSlayer Dec. 31

ACC/Big Ten vs.

SEC

Virginia Tech vs.

Florida 

Outback Jan. 2

Big Ten vs.

SEC

 Iowa vs.

Georgia 

Foster Farms TBA

Big Ten vs. 

Pac-12

 Northwestern vs.

USC 

       
New Year's Six Bowls
Orange Dec. 30

ACC vs.

ND/SEC/Big Ten

 Louisville vs.

Notre Dame 

Cotton Jan. 2

At-large vs.

At-large

 LSU vs.

Houston 

Rose Jan. 2

Big Ten vs.

Pac-12

Washington vs.

Michigan 

Sugar Jan. 2

Big 12 vs.

SEC

 Oklahoma vs.

Tennessee 

       
College Football Playoff
Chick-fil-A Peach Dec. 31

Playoff 

Semifinal

 Alabama vs.

Clemson 

Fiesta Dec. 31

Playoff

Semifinal

 Florida State vs.

Ohio State 

       
National Championship

CFB National Championship

(Tampa, Fla.)

Jan. 9

Peach Winner vs.

Fiesta Winner

 Alabama over

Florida State 

* By our projections, the ACC and SEC will fail to fill their allotted slots. 

Teaser:
College Football Bowl Projections for 2016
Post date: Wednesday, July 6, 2016 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/accs-15-most-underrated-players-2016
Body:

Every  team has players most would consider underrated. However, defining underrated players is no easy assignment, as that term varies in meaning between fans and experts. With the 2016 season approaching, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look at some players deserving of more preseason accolades or discussion. In an effort to get to 15 names, we tried to stick to players that had yet to earn all-conference honors in their career. However, a few exceptions were made.

 

The balance of power in the ACC clearly rests with the Atlantic Division in 2016, as Florida State and Clemson are expected to challenge for a spot in the College Football Playoff, while Louisville ranks as a top 15-20 team in most preseason projections. However, the cupboard isn't bare on the Coastal side. North Carolina's cornerback duo of Des Lawrence and M.J. Stewart is quietly among the best in the nation, while linebackers P.J. Davis (Georgia Tech) and Matt Galambos (Pitt) are two of the league's most underrated players. 

 

The ACC's 15 Most Underrated Players for 2016

 

Josh Banks, DT, Wake Forest

Banks has quietly anchored the interior of Wake Forest’s defensive line the last two seasons. The North Carolina native started all 12 games for the Demon Deacons in 2014 and finished the year with 36 tackles, four sacks and one forced fumble. Prior to a suspension that ended Banks’ 2015 campaign after the ninth game, he recorded 24 stops (two for a loss) and one sack. The 6-foot-4, 275-pound tackle won’t accumulate big stats, but his impact his felt beyond the box score for coach Dave Clawson’s defense.

 

Related:

 

Casey Blaser, OL, Duke

The interior of the Blue Devils’ offensive line must be revamped with the departure of guard Lucas Patrick and center Matt Skura, but the return of tackles Gabe Brandner and Blaser provide a solid foundation for 2016. Blaser emerged as a key cog for Duke’s offensive line in 2014 and started all 13 games for coach David Cutcliffe. In 2015, Blaser once again started all 13 games and earned honorable mention All-ACC honors. Expect Blaser to deliver a standout senior season as the anchor for Duke’s front five.

 

DeAngelo Brown, DT, Louisville

Sheldon Rankins leaves big shoes to fill in the trenches for coordinator Todd Grantham’s defense. While Rankins will be missed, the Cardinals aren’t completely rebuilding up front. Brown has been a key part for the defensive line over the last two years, finishing 2015 with 40 tackles (6.5 for a loss) and two sacks. The Georgia native should push for all-conference honors this fall.

 

P.J. Davis, LB, Georgia Tech

At 5-foot-11 and 231 pounds, Davis doesn’t possess the prototypical size for a linebacker, but the Georgia native is a standout playmaker for coach Paul Johnson’s defense. Davis has accumulated 237 tackles (20 for a loss) and four forced fumbles in his three seasons with the Yellow Jackets. His best overall year took place in 2014, recording 119 stops and three forced fumbles in 14 appearances.

 

Related:

 

Matt Galambos, LB, Pitt

With eight starters back, Pitt’s defense is expected to take a step forward in the second year under coach Pat Narduzzi. This unit is anchored by All-America candidates in end Ejuan Price and safety Jordan Whitehead, but Galambos is quietly making a push to be considered among the ACC’s best at linebacker. The Pennsylvania native has played in 39 career games and accumulated 198 overall stops in that span. Galambos also thrived under Narduzzi last fall, as he finished 2015 with 88 tackles (10 for a loss) and five sacks.

 

B.J. Hill, DT, NC State

Mike Rose (10.5 sacks in 2015) must be replaced, but with Bradley Chubb and Hill leading the way up front, NC State’s defensive line should still rank among the best in the ACC. Hill was instrumental on the interior and helped NC State finish fifth in the ACC against the run last fall. He also recorded 51 tackles (11 for a loss) and forced three fumbles. After two steady seasons with the Wolfpack, the junior is due for a breakout campaign this fall.

 

Steve Ishmael, WR, Syracuse

Inconsistency and injuries at quarterback have hindered Syracuse’s passing attack over the last few seasons. As a result, Ishmael’s numbers haven’t quite matched his potential. In 12 appearances last year, Ishmael grabbed 39 passes for 570 yards and seven touchdowns and averaged a healthy 14.6 yards per catch. Under new coach Dino Babers and rising star Eric Dungey at quarterback, Ishmael should have a career season in 2016.

 

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Danny Isidora, OL, Miami

Even with four starters returning, Miami’s offensive line enters 2016 as one of the team’s biggest concerns. This unit struggled to open holes in the ground game (3.7 ypc) and gave up 19 sacks over 13 games. One player new line coach Stacy Searels won’t have to worry about in terms of performance is Isidora. The Florida native enters 2016 with 26 consecutive starts and is expected to anchor the line after earning honorable mention All-ACC honors last fall.

 

Des Lawrence/M.J. Stewart, CB, North Carolina

Both Lawrence and Stewart earned a mention on the ACC’s all-conference team last season, but it’s probably fair to say these two players deserve more credit on the national level. Lawrence played in 14 games in 2015 and finished the year with 59 tackles, two interceptions and 14 pass breakups. Stewart was just as effective, recording 62 tackles (2.5 for a loss), four interceptions and 14 pass breakups. The play of Lawrence and Stewart was a big reason why North Carolina ranked 12th nationally in pass efficiency defense.

 

Jackson Matteo, C, Virginia

Virginia returns only 10 starters, so a lot of new faces will be stepping into key roles for first-year coach Bronco Mendenhall. Matteo should be one of the leaders for the Cavaliers’ offense this fall, as the senior anchors the line after starting all 12 games in 2015. Matteo was named to the Rimington Trophy award watch list for 2016 and earned a spot on Athlon Sports’ projected All-ACC (fourth) team.

 

Travon McMillian, RB, Virginia Tech

McMillian emerged as Virginia Tech’s go-to back in the second half of last season and finished 2015 with 1,042 yards and seven scores on just 200 carries. After recording only 32 carries through the first five games last year, McMillian posted double-digit attempts in each of the final eight contests, including 33 against Boston College. He also recorded three 100-yard efforts and scored twice in Virginia Tech’s bowl win over Tulsa. McMillian is poised to take on an even bigger role in 2016 under new coach Justin Fuente.

 

Matt Milano, LB, Boston College

Boston College’s defense was one of the nation’s best in 2015, and despite a few personnel losses, the Eagles should rank near the top of the ACC in 2016. New coordinator Jim Reid won’t have standout linebacker Steven Daniels at his disposal, but this unit is still anchored by Milano and fellow standout Connor Strachan. Milano recorded 60 tackles (including a team-high 17.5 for a loss last season), 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Milano should be one of the ACC’s top linebackers in 2016.

 

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Hunter Renfrow, WR, Clemson

Loaded. That’s the one word that best describes the 2016 receiving corps at Clemson. Mike Williams returns after a season-ending neck injury, Artavis Scott is an All-America candidate after grabbing 93 receptions in 2015, and there’s additional support provided by tight end Jordan Leggett and sophomore receivers Deon Cain, Trevion Thompson and Ray-Ray McCloud. While Scott, Williams and Leggett are likely to garner most of the attention from opposing defenses, Renfrow is another weapon for quarterback Deshaun Watson. As a freshman last fall, Renfrow grabbed 33 receptions for 492 yards and five scores, including seven catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama. After a standout performance in the College Football Playoff last year, Renfrow should see a few more passes in his direction in 2016.

 

Marquez White, CB, Florida State

Jalen Ramsey was the unquestioned leader and top player in Florida State’s secondary last season, but White quietly turned in a standout 2015 campaign and is poised to emerge as an All-America candidate this fall. White’s statistics last fall – 25 tackles, one interception and three pass breakups – were low due to teams avoiding his side of the field. White did not earn All-ACC honors last season but should be one of the league’s top defenders in 2016.

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Transfers are a huge part of any  season. Whether it’s a graduate transfer eligible right away or a player that sat out the previous year due to NCAA rules, impact players are available in the transfer ranks every year. A transfer could be a one-year stopgap solution or help a team fill a void for a couple of seasons after a few misses on the recruiting trail. The 2016 season features several players expected to make a significant impact for their new team, including quarterbacks Davis Webb, Trevor Knight, Dakota Prukop and Kenny Hill. The running back position also has its share of players on the move, as Keith Ford (Texas A&M), Duke Catalon (Houston) and Barry Sanders (Oklahoma State) rank among the top 20 impact transfers for this season. On defense, Miami's Gerald Willis and Illinois' linebacker Hardy Nickerson are two players expected to make a huge impact for their new team in 2016.

 

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Which players will make the biggest impact at their new home this fall? Here’s a look at 100 key transfers (plus a few others) to watch this year:

 

College Football's Top 100 Impact Transfers for 2016

 

100. QB Faton Bauta, Colorado State (from Georgia)

Second-year coach Mike Bobo landed a familiar name from his old job to add depth to the quarterback position in 2016. Bauta transfers from Georgia to Fort Collins with an opportunity to push starter Nick Stevens for the starting job. Stevens earned second-team All-Mountain West honors and threw for 2,679 yards and 21 scores in 2015, so it won’t be easy for Bauta to earn the starting job. However, Bauta has good mobility, which could provide a different dimension for Bobo’s offense.

 

99. QB Tyler Matthews, New Mexico State (from Southern Miss)

New Mexico State is Matthews’ third stop at the FBS level. The Texas native has previous stints at TCU and Southern Miss, but he has only four appearances in his career. Matthews was regarded as a four-star prospect out of high school and is expected to push Tyler Rogers for the starting job.

 

98. QB Ricky Town, Arkansas (from USC)

Replacing Brandon Allen won’t be easy, but Arkansas seems to have a capable candidate in Austin Allen, along with good depth in the form of Town, Rafe Peavey and Ty Storey. Town was the highest regarded quarterback out of that mix, ranking as a four-star and top-100 prospect in the 2015 signing class. However, Town didn’t challenge for the starting job in the spring and is likely ticketed as the No. 3 or No. 4 quarterback to open fall practice.

 

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97. RB Deontae Cooper, San Jose State (from Washington)

Knee injuries took a toll on Cooper at Washington, limiting him to just 122 carries from 2013-15. With Tyler Ervin departing, Cooper is expected to challenge Thomas Tucker and Malik Roberson for carries.

 

96. OL Jeremiah Stuckey, California (from Texas A&M)

The Golden Bears could have one of the Pac-12’s best offensive lines in place for 2016. Four starters are back, and the addition of Stuckey is another valuable option for depth or to push one of the returning starters for a job. After one year in the junior college ranks, Stuckey played in 14 games over three seasons with the Aggies. 

 

95. TE Steve Donatell, WKU (from Wake Forest)

A WKU tight end has caught at least 30 passes in back-to-back seasons, and with Tyler Higbee out of eligibility, Donatell will have an opportunity to earn a starting spot.

 

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94. DB Bryson Echols, Arizona State (from Texas)

Echols played in 32 games during his tenure with the Longhorns and his arrival adds much-needed depth to an Arizona State secondary that ranked last nationally in pass defense in 2015.

 

93. OL Jordan Diamond, Miami, Ohio (from Auburn)

Miami is a team on the rise in the MAC, and coach Chuck Martin returns seven starters from an offense expected to show marked improvement in 2016. Four starters are back in the trenches, and the addition of Diamond – a former four-star recruit at Auburn – adds another potential starter and All-MAC contender for the RedHawks.

 

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92. DL Earl Moore, Toledo (from Miami)

Moore recorded six tackles in 23 appearances at Miami from 2012-13. The Rockets are looking for three new starters up front, and it’s expected the Miami transfer will factor into the rotation.

 

91. DL Jelani Hamilton, Akron (from Miami)

Cody Grice and Rodney Coe will be missed on Akron’s defensive line, but the Zips boast the MAC’s top defensive end combination with the return of Jamal Marcus and Se’Von Pittman. Hamilton only played in nine games at Miami, but the former four-star prospect could play a huge role on the interior for coach Terry Bowden. 

 

90. DL Gimel President, Illinois (from Auburn)

President accumulated 45 tackles and three sacks in three years at Auburn and is slated to factor into the defensive line rotation for new coach Lovie Smith. The Fighting Illini return three starters up front, but this unit needs more depth and overall talent after giving up 166.4 rushing yards a game in 2016. 

 

89. TE Kalvin Cline, Texas A&M (from Virginia Tech)

The offseason departure of Jordan Davis opened the door for Cline to land at Texas A&M and play right away as a graduate transfer. He caught 30 passes in three years with the Hokies.

 

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88. QB Conner Manning, Georgia State (from Utah)

Nick Arbuckle finished his Georgia State career in 2015 as one of the nation’s top Group of 5 quarterbacks. En route to earning first-team All-Sun Belt honors, Arbuckle threw for 4,368 yards and 28 scores last season. Manning is part of a three-man battle to replace Arbuckle after transferring from Utah. Manning played in only one game with the Utes and completed two of six passes for 28 yards in 2014. Sophomore Emiere Scaife and redshirt freshman Aaron Winchester will compete with Manning for the starting job in the fall.

 

87. QB Grant Rohach, Buffalo (from Iowa State)

With Grant Merchant transferring at the end of spring ball, Buffalo’s quarterback battle is down to Rohach and promising redshirt freshman Tyree Jackson. Rohach made five starts in three years with the Cyclones and finished his career in Ames with 1,491 passing yards and 10 touchdowns. Rohach also has good mobility and figures to be a solid fit under second-year coach Lance Leipold and coordinator Andy Kotelnicki – if he can edge Jackson for the No. 1 spot. 

 

86. RB Akeel Lynch, Nevada (from Penn State)

Lynch is expected to spell starter James Butler, giving the Wolf Pack one of the Mountain West’s top backfields for 2016.

 

85. WR/TE Chris Johnson, Houston (from Baylor)

Johnson began his career at Baylor as a quarterback and later transitioned to receiver before moving back under center as injuries took a toll on the Bears’ quarterback depth chart last season. The Texas native caught three passes for 37 yards last year and also accumulated 145 rushing yards in two seasons of snaps with Baylor. Johnson will be utilized as a hybrid receiver/tight end for the Cougars.

 

84. OL Jevonte Domond, UTSA (from LSU)

Domond joins former LSU assistant Frank Wilson at UTSA this fall. The Arizona native played in four games in two years with the Tigers after spending two seasons at Glendale Community College. Domond should push for a starting job on an offensive line that returns three starters. 

 

83. LB Davon Durant, Marshall (from Arizona State)

Durant was regarded as one of the top junior college recruits in the 2015 signing class but was dismissed before playing a down with the Sun Devils. The South Carolina native sat out last year after transferring to Marshall and is expected to push for a starting job in the linebacking corps this fall.

 

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82. RB Trey Edmunds, Maryland (from Virginia Tech)

Maryland averaged 203 rushing yards in conference play last season, and there’s an opportunity for carries with the departure of Brandon Ross (958 yards). Edmunds recorded 957 yards and 13 touchdowns in three years at Virginia Tech, including 675 yards as a freshman in 2013.

 

81. DB Lamont Simmons, Georgia Tech (from USC)

Four starters in Georgia Tech’s secondary must be replaced this fall. Simmons – a transfer from USC – is expected to challenge for one of the starting jobs at cornerback. Simmons did not play a down at USC but ranked as a three-star recruit in the 2014 signing class.

 

80. OL Logan Tuley-Tillman, Akron (from Michigan)

Tuley-Tillman was a late June pickup for the Zips, and his decision to transfer to Akron is a huge boost for an offensive line that replaces all five starters in 2016. He was regarded as a four-star prospect coming out of high school and played in one game at Michigan.

 

79. CB Tee Shepard, Miami, Ohio (from Ole Miss)

Shepard’s career began at Notre Dame in 2012, but his stint in South Bend wasn’t long, as he transferred to Holmes Community College in 2013 and later bounced to Ole Miss in 2014. The California native missed 2014 due to injury and played in only five games with the Rebels in 2015. With one year of eligibility remaining, Shepard transferred to Miami, Ohio and has a chance to push for a starting spot in the RedHawks’ secondary this fall. - Update: Shepard decided to enter the NFL's Supplemental Draft in July.

 

78. DE De'Jon Wilson, Syracuse (from Colorado)

A young defensive line is one of the biggest concerns in 2016 for new coach Dino Babers. The addition of Wilson – a graduate transfer from Colorado – provides the Orange defense with an experienced option off the edge. In two years with the Buffaloes, Wilson recorded 19 tackles (two for a loss) and recovered one fumble.

 

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77. QB Zack Greenlee, UTEP (from Fresno State)

With Mack Leftwich sidelined for the 2016 season, Greenlee was a key pickup late in the spring for the Miners. In two years at Fresno State, Greenlee threw for 1,079 yards and 14 touchdowns to six interceptions. The California native did not transfer in time for spring practice but is expected to be locked into a tight battle with sophomores Ryan Metz and Kavika Johnson for the starting nod this fall.

 

76. QB Zach Allen, Rutgers (from TCU)

Quarterback play is one of the biggest areas of concern for new coach Chris Ash. Chris Laviano (2,247 yards) is the team’s top returning option, and Hayden Rettig also received action in five games last season. However, Rutgers has a new offense, and coordinator Drew Mehringer is looking for more running ability out of his signal-caller. Allen announced his intentions to transfer to the team in early June after three years at TCU. The Texas native was used some at receiver during his stint with the Horned Frogs and also completed two passes for 17 yards in 2014. Allen’s mobility should be a good fit for this offense, but the junior has a lot to prove as a passer.

 

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74/75. CB Jarrell Jackson (Hawaii)/Ronald Lewis (Arizona State) to Louisiana Tech

Louisiana Tech’s defense could have four FBS transfers in the starting lineup this season. In addition to linebackers Dalton Santos and Jordan Harris, Jackson and Lewis will push for starting jobs in the secondary. Lewis played in 11 games at Arizona State in 2014, while Jackson participated in three contests with the Rainbow Warriors.

 

73. TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe, USC (from Florida)

Imatorbhebhe spent one semester at Florida before departing for USC. The Georgia native was regarded as a four-star recruit in the 2015 signing class, and the 6-foot-4 target is another valuable weapon for a USC receiving corps that ranks among the nation’s best for 2016.

 

72. DL Nick Dawson-Brents, WKU (from Louisville)

With the departure of Gavin Rocker, Bryan Shorter and Jontavius Morris, WKU’s defensive line is in need of a few reinforcements this year. Dawson-Brents played in 37 games with Louisville and recorded 23 tackles over the last three seasons. Dawson-Brents was a four-star recruit out of high school and should make an instant impact for the Hilltoppers’ defense in 2016.

 

71. S Dallin Leavitt, Utah State (from BYU)

Utah State coach Matt Wells has plenty of voids to fill this offseason, as only three starters return on defense for 2016. However, the secondary is one unit Wells should have confidence in, as cornerback Jalen Davis and safety Devin Centers will challenge for All-Mountain West honors, with Leavitt also expected to step into the lineup after sitting out 2015 due to transfer rules. Leavitt played in 24 games at BYU from 2013-14 and recorded 60 tackles and two pass breakups.   

 

70. QB Kurt Benkert, Virginia (from East Carolina)

Even though Virginia has a returning starter (Matt Johns), new coach Bronco Mendenhall wasn’t afraid of adding competition to boost the team’s overall talent level and depth at quarterback. Benkert was slated to start at East Carolina before a knee injury sidelined him prior to the 2015 campaign. In 2014, Benkert played in three games with the Pirates and completed 8 of 10 passes for 58 yards. Johns is still the favorite to start, but Benkert showed promise in limited snaps at East Carolina and adds competition for a rebuilding Virginia team this fall.

 

69. CB Kamryn Melton, Troy (from Auburn)

After two seasons at Auburn, Melton is making the short drive to Troy to finish his collegiate career. The three-star prospect in the 2013 signing class played in three games with the Tigers as a freshman and redshirted as a sophomore (2014). Melton is expected to start at cornerback for the Trojans this fall.

 

68. QB Chad Voytik, Arkansas State (from Pitt)

Fredi Knighten departs after a successful two-year stint as Arkansas State’s starter, but coach Blake Anderson has two promising options vying for the starting job. Junior college transfer (and former Oklahoma signal-caller) Justice Hansen and Pitt transfer Chad Voytik are set to battle for the No. 1 spot in the fall. Voytik started all 13 games for Pitt in 2014 and threw for 2,223 yards and 16 touchdowns and added 466 yards and three scores on the ground. Voytik lost the starting job at Pitt to Nathan Peterman in 2015 but is a key pickup for Anderson and the potent Arkansas State offense for 2016.

 

67. QB Ryan Finley, NC State (from Boise State)

Jacoby Brissett leaves big shoes to fill in Raleigh this season, and the Wolfpack exited spring with Jalan McClendon and Jakobi Meyers locked into a tight battle for the No. 1 spot. However, McClendon and Meyers will have competition in the fall, as Finley is eligible as a graduate transfer after three years at Boise State. Finley redshirted in his debut with the Broncos and completed 58 passes for 646 yards and three scores over the next two years. Finley was slated to be Boise State’s starting quarterback in 2015 but was sidelined after the third game for the remainder of the season due to an ankle injury.

 

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65/66. RB Derrell Scott, Tennessee to ECU/Jeffrey Coprich, California to ECU

New coach Scottie Montgomery has plenty of talented skill players to work with in his debut with the Pirates. Scott (a transfer from Tennessee) and Coprich (a graduate transfer) will compete with Anthony Scott to form one of the deepest backfields in the American Athletic Conference.

 

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64. WR John Diarse, TCU (from LSU)

The quarterback battle between Kenny Hill and Foster Sawyer will continue into fall practice. However, regardless of which quarterback starts for coach Gary Patterson, the new signal-caller will have one of the deepest groups of skill players in the Big 12. The move to Fort Worth should ensure plenty of targets in Diarse’s direction. After all, TCU attempted 517 passes in 2015, while his former team LSU recorded 277. Diarse caught 28 passes for 412 yards and three touchdowns during a two-year stint with the Tigers. 

 

64. OL Cory Helms, South Carolina (from Wake Forest)

New coach Will Muschamp has a major rebuilding effort on his hands with just seven total returning starters from last year’s 3-9 team. Only two of those starters return in the trenches, but the line should get a boost with Helms stepping into one of the guard spots. The Georgia native started 18 games at Wake Forest before transferring after the 2014 campaign.

 

63. WR JoJo Natson, Akron (from Utah State)

Natson’s career at Utah State ended due to a violation of team rules, but the Florida native is a dynamic playmaker and should make an instant impact on returns. In three years with the Aggies, Natson caught 127 passes for 1,031 yards and added 611 yards and six scores on the ground. Additionally, Natson averaged 11.5 yards on punt returns and scored four times on special teams.

 

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61/62. WR Kendall Sanders (Texas)/Cameron Echols-Luper (TCU) to Arkansas State

The Red Wolves could have three Big 12 transfers starting on offense this fall, as Sanders (Texas), Echols-Luper (TCU) and quarterback Justice Hansen (Oklahoma/junior college recruit) were key pickups on the recruiting trail for coach Blake Anderson. Sanders and Echols-Luper bring dynamic play-making ability and speed for a receiving corps that must replace Tres Houston, J.D. McKissic and tight end Darion Griswold.

 

60. WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, USF (to NC State)

Quinton Flowers was one of the nation’s top breakout quarterbacks last season, and USF coach Willie Taggart hopes to see his junior signal-caller take another step forward in 2016. Flowers should have plenty of help on the outside, as Rodney Adams and Chris Barr are back as returning starters at receiver, and this unit will get deeper with the addition of Valdes-Scantling. In two years at NC State, Valdes-Scantling caught 44 passes for 538 yards and one score. He was one of the spring’s top performers for the Bulls and will be a valuable addition for the passing game. 

 

59. RB I'Tavius Mathers, MTSU (from Ole Miss)

With quarterback Brent Stockstill and receiver Richie James back in 2016, MTSU’s offense should be among the best in Conference USA once again. Mathers rushed for 1,061 yards and seven scores in three years at Ole Miss and is slated to take over the No. 1 job in the backfield for the Blue Raiders. 

 

58. OL Jake Raulerson, Arkansas (from Texas)

Arkansas’ offensive line has a few voids to fill this offseason. Three starters depart the Razorbacks’ front five, but junior Frank Ragnow and senior Dan Skipper provide a good foundation to start the rebuilding effort. Raulerson – a late pickup in June – could contribute right away after transferring in from Texas. He started five games for the Longhorns in 2014 and is versatile enough to see snaps in a variety of spots in the trenches.

 

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57. OL Tyler Catalina, Georgia (Rhode Island)

New line coach Sam Pittman wasted no time looking for upgrades in talent and overall depth up front this spring. Catalina was one of his top pickups on the recruiting trail, as the graduate transfer from Rhode Island was considered one of the top linemen in the FCS ranks. Catalina started 33 games with the Rams and possesses the necessary size (6-foot-6 and 325 pounds) to compete in the SEC. The tougher level of competition will be a challenge, but Catalina is a key pickup for the Bulldogs.

 

55/56. LB Jordan Harris (Iowa State)/Dalton Santos (Texas) to Louisiana Tech

All three starters at linebacker must be replaced for Louisiana Tech’s defense, but this unit received a boost with the post-spring additions of Harris and Santos. Harris ranked third on Iowa State’s defense with 70 stops last season, while Santos played in 36 games during his Texas career. 

 

54. LB Ukeme Eligwe, Georgia Southern (from Florida State)

Eligwe ranked as one of the nation’s top linebacker recruits in the 2012 signing class and played in 14 games before deciding to transfer to Georgia Southern. Eligwe received significant action in the Seminoles’ 2013 title run, recording 28 stops and two tackles in 13 appearances.

 

53. CB Cedric Dozier, Kansas State (from California)

Kansas State’s secondary ranked 112th nationally in pass efficiency defense last season, but help is on the way for coach Bill Snyder. Safety Dante Barnett is back after missing nearly all of 2015 due to an injury, and Dozier is expected to challenge for a starting spot at cornerback after transferring in from California. He recorded 80 tackles and nine passes defended in three years with the Golden Bears.

 

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51/52. CB Jamel Dean (Ohio State)/Marshall Taylor (Miami, Ohio) to Auburn

Sophomore Carlton Davis is already one of the SEC’s top cornerbacks, but the Tigers need to find an answer on the other side. The likely solution comes via the transfer ranks, as Dean – a four-star recruit in the 2015 signing class – and Taylor (a graduate transfer from Miami, Ohio) are expected to battle for a starting spot in the fall. Taylor made 10 starts with the RedHawks and recorded 39 tackles last season.

 

50. LB E.J. Levenberry, UConn (from Florida State)

With six returning starters and one of the nation’s top cornerbacks in Jamar Summers anchoring the secondary, UConn’s defense should be the best in the American Athletic Conference this year. Levenberry’s arrival only adds to the talent level on this unit, as the Florida State transfer is expected to claim a starting spot in the linebacking corps. Levenberry played in 26 games with the Seminoles and recorded 60 tackles in that span. 

 

48/49. LB Courtney Love (Nebraska)/De’Niro Laster (Minnesota) to Kentucky

Kentucky’s defense gave up 27.4 points a game last season and enters 2016 with key question marks at each level. However, some of those concerns could be eased if Love and Laster emerge as key contributors at linebacker. Love played in 12 games in his only season of action at Nebraska, while Laster played in nine contests with Minnesota in 2014. Both players are expected to see a healthy complement of snaps in 2016.

 

47. CB/S Adrian Colbert, Miami (from Texas)

The cornerback spot is a concern for new coordinator Manny Diaz, as the Hurricanes must replace first-round pick Artie Burns and fellow starter Tracy Howard. Colbert is a versatile option for Diaz and could slide into one of the cornerback spots after spending his career at Texas at safety. Colbert recorded 26 tackles in 38 games with the Longhorns.

 

46. WR LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Kansas (from Texas A&M)

Playmakers are in short supply in Lawrence, but coach David Beaty has help coming in the form of Gonzalez. The Texas native played under Beaty at Texas A&M from 2013-15 and caught 26 passes during that span. Gonzalez should step into the starting lineup this fall and is expected to emerge as the go-to target for quarterback Ryan Willis.

 

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45. RB Warren Ball, Akron (from Ohio State)

Akron coach Terry Bowden has added plenty of transfers to the Zips’ roster in his tenure, and Ball has a chance to be another high-impact addition. With Conor Hundley out of eligibility, Akron is looking for a go-to running back for 2016. Ball was a four-star recruit in the high school ranks but recorded only 41 attempts at Ohio State. He is expected to push Van Edwards for the starting job. 

 

44. WR Chris Black, Missouri (from Alabama)

Missouri’s young receiving corps experienced its share of ups and downs last season, but there’s optimism for this group with the team’s top two options – J’Mon Moore and Nate Brown – back in 2016. Black transferred to Columbia in search of more playing time, and the No. 45 overall prospect in the 2012 signing class should be an impact addition for coordinator Josh Heupel. Black caught 25 passes in three seasons of action with the Crimson Tide.

 

43. CB Daquawn Brown, Fresno State (from Washington State)

Prior to his dismissal from Washington State, Brown was considered one of the Pac-12’s rising stars. In two years with the Cougars, Brown registered 132 tackles, 16 pass breakups, two interceptions and earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2014. If Brown picks up where he left off in Pullman, he should emerge as one of the Mountain West’s top defenders. 

 

42. DB Maurice Smith, Alabama to ?

Smith has been a valuable member of Alabama’s secondary over the last three seasons. The Texas native played in 41 contests with the Crimson Tide and recorded 38 tackles, along with five passes defended. Smith’s decision to leave Tuscaloosa came as a surprise in mid-June, but the senior is expected to land at another Power 5 program for 2016.

 

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41. QB Philip Nelson, East Carolina (from Minnesota/Rutgers)

Nelson has traveled an interesting road to East Carolina and has yet to play in a FBS game since the 2013 season. The Minnesota native spent two years with the Golden Gophers from 2012-13 and threw for 2,179 yards and 17 scores in that span. Additionally, Nelson added 548 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. After two seasons with Minnesota, Nelson transferred to Rutgers but was later dismissed from the team after an off-field incident in 2014. Nelson edged Kurt Benkert (transferred to Virginia after spring ball) for the starting the job and has a chance to have a solid senior year with a strong supporting cast at East Carolina.

 

40. LB Keith Brown, WKU (from Louisville)

Brown is the second Louisville defender transferring to WKU to make this list. The Miami native was active around the line of scrimmage in his career with the Cardinals, recording 113 tackles in 37 appearances. Brown has the talent to be one of Conference USA’s top defenders this season.

 

38/39. WR Avery Peterson (LSU)/Jamil Kamara (Virginia) to Cincinnati

The Bearcats must replace their top six statistical receivers from last season, but there’s help on the way in the form of two impact transfers in Kamara (Virginia) and Peterson (LSU). Both players were considered top 250 prospects in their signing class and have three seasons of eligibility at Cincinnati. Kamara and Peterson could be among the top newcomers in the American Athletic Conference in 2016. 

 

37. OL Jimmy Lowery, Boston College (from Eastern Illinois)

The offensive line was a strength for Boston College in coach Steve Addazio’s first two seasons (2013-14), but this unit was inconsistent last fall. Lowery is slated to push for the starting job at left tackle after spending the last three years at Eastern Illinois. The Illinois native started 31 games with the Panthers and earned second-team All-Ohio Valley honors last year. 

 

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36. OL Ryan Ramcyzk, Wisconsin (from Wisconsin Stevens-Point)

Ramczyk will be one of the most interesting transfers on this list to watch in 2016. The Wisconsin native played two years at UW-Stevens Point before transferring to Madison. Ramczyk recorded all-conference honors in both seasons (2013-14) and is slated to take to start at left tackle for the Badgers this fall. 

 

34/35. DB Antonio Crawford (Miami)/Maurice Fleming (Iowa) to West Virginia

West Virginia’s secondary suffered heavy personnel losses and heads into fall practice looking for four new starters. However, help is on the way in the form of two transfers – Crawford and Fleming – as well as a few reinforcements from the junior college ranks. Crawford played in 13 games and recorded 19 tackles with the Hurricanes in 2014. Fleming played in 14 contests last season and finished with 17 tackles and five pass breakups. 

 

33. LB Michael Barton, Arizona (from California)

Improving the defense was the top priority this offseason for coach Rich Rodriguez. The Wildcats have a revamped staff, and a scheme change is likely under new play-caller Marcel Yates. The linebacking corps is expected to be the strength of the defense for Yates, as Barton arrives from Berkeley with one year of eligibility remaining. Barton was a standout performer on California’s defense over the last three seasons, recording 80 stops (7.5 for a loss) in 2014. He should factor prominently into the defense this year. 

 

32. QB Jared Johnson, UTSA (from Sam Houston State)

UTSA ranked 11th in Conference USA in passing offense last season, but new coach Frank Wilson hopes to generate improvement with the addition of Johnson through the graduate transfer rank and the hire of veteran assistant Frank Scelfo to call the plays. Johnson was the Southland Offensive Player of the Year after accounting for 2,686 total yards and 23 overall scores in 2015. Johnson should provide a spark for UTSA’s offense and will be an impact transfer for Wilson.

 

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31. DL Dewayne Hendrix, Pitt (from Tennessee)

If Hendrix lives up to his recruiting hype – four-star recruit in the 247Sports Composite – then Pitt could have one of the nation’s top defensive end combos for 2016. All-America candidate Ejuan Price anchors one side of the line, and Hendrix is penciled in as a key contributor on the other side. Hendrix recorded two tackles in only season (2014) of action at Tennessee.

 

29/30. DL Kolin Hill (Notre Dame)/Ondre Pipkins (Michigan) to Texas Tech

Improvement on defense is a must if Texas Tech wants to exceed last year’s seven-win mark. Help is on the way for coordinator David Gibbs, as Hill (Notre Dame) and Pipkins (Michigan) are eligible after sitting out the 2015 season due to transfer rules. Hill was a three-star recruit in the 2014 signing class and recorded two sacks in his only year with the Fighting Irish. Pipkins was a four-star recruit in the 2012 signing class and played in 23 games with the Wolverines. Both players should push for a starting spot this season.

 

28. WR Rashaad Samples, Houston (from Oklahoma State)

Demarcus Ayers led all Houston receivers with 98 catches last season, but he decided to depart for the NFL, leaving a void on the outside for quarterback Greg Ward. The cupboard isn’t totally bare, as Chance Allen (56 catches) and Steven Dunbar (31) form a solid foundation. Samples is a dynamic pickup for coach Tom Herman and could slide into Ayers’ role as the slot receiver. The junior was regarded as a four-star prospect out of high school.

 

27. QB Alec Morris, North Texas (from Alabama)

New coach Seth Littrell has a lot of work to do in his first season in Denton. North Texas finished 1-11 and averaged only 15.2 points a game last year. Littrell is one of the nation’s top offensive minds and should get this program back on track over the next couple of seasons, and there’s immediate help on the way in the form of Morris – a graduate transfer from Alabama. In three seasons with the Crimson Tide, Morris attempted only one pass and played in eight games. However, the Texas native should be a good fit for Littrell’s offense, and the former three-star recruit should provide a spark for the Mean Green attack. 

 

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26. OL Zac Morgan, Oregon (from Dayton)

The Ducks have a bit of work to do up front this offseason, as three starters from last year’s group must be replaced. Junior Tyrell Crosby is an All-America candidate on the left side, but Oregon could turn to a graduate transfer to handle the starting duties at right tackle. Morgan transferred from Dayton to Oregon for his final year of eligibility, and the Illinois native brings good size (6-foot-7 and 280 pounds) and experience (26 career starts) to Eugene. 

 

25. DL Kevin Williams, Michigan State (from Nebraska)

The departures of Shilique Calhoun, Joel Heath and Lawrence Thomas leave big shoes to fill up front for the Spartans. Junior Malik McDowell is one of the nation’s top defensive linemen, but Michigan State will be looking for a few new faces to emerge to keep the attention away from its All-America tackle. With one year of eligibility remaining, Williams is making the in-conference move from Nebraska to East Lansing. Williams played in 23 games with the Cornhuskers and recorded 10 tackles for a loss in that span. He’s expected to be a key contributor for Mark Dantonio’s defense this fall. 

 

24. OL Darius James, Auburn (from Texas)

The exact starting five and positions on Auburn’s offensive line are unsettled headed into fall practice, but the Tigers have the makings of one of the SEC’s top groups. Three starters are back for coach Gus Malzahn, while James – a transfer from Texas – is expected to grab one of the starting jobs at tackle. James ranked as the No. 34 overall prospect by the 247Sports Composite in the 2013 signing class and played in six games (with two starts) as a redshirt freshman in 2014.

 

23. LB Rommel Mageo, Ole Miss (from Oregon State)

Mageo’s post-Signing Day decision to transfer to Ole Miss was a critical pickup for coach Hugh Freeze’s defense. Mageo led Oregon State with 87 tackles in 2015 and also recorded two interceptions, two forced fumbles and one pass breakup. The senior is expected to challenge for the starting job at middle linebacker in Ole Miss’ 4-2-5 scheme. 

 

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22. C Joseph Scelfo, NC State (from South Alabama)

NC State’s line returns only two starters from a unit that helped the ground attack rank fourth in the ACC (202.1 ypg). However, help is on the way in the form of Scelfo. The graduate transfer from South Alabama was one of the top centers in the Group of 5 conferences and started 35 games with the Jaguars. 

 

21. CB Priest Willis, Texas A&M (from UCLA)

Both cornerback spots are up for grabs in College Station with the departure of De’Vante Harris and Brandon Williams. But the Aggies may not see much of a drop at cornerback with the addition of Willis from UCLA, along with Nick Harvey’s development on the other side. Willis was a four-star recruit in the 2013 signing class for the Bruins and recorded 31 tackles in two seasons. 

 

20. QB Darell Garretson, Oregon State (from Utah State)

Oregon State’s offense struggled mightily last season, finishing 12th in the Pac-12 by averaging only 19 points a game. Coach Gary Andersen wasted no time making changes this offseason, as Kevin McGiven and T.J. Woods were promoted to co-coordinators, with last year’s quarterback – Seth Collins – switching to a slash/all-purpose role in 2016. Garretson started seven games at Utah State as a true freshman in 2013 and finished the year with 1,446 passing yards and 10 scores. He was pressed into duty once again due to injuries in 2014 and threw for 1,140 yards and eight touchdowns in five appearances. Garretson also displayed his mobility to make plays on the run with the Aggies, adding 344 yards and 18 scores in two seasons. He's slated to take the take the first snap for Oregon State this fall. 

 

19. DL Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, USC (from Utah)

The addition of Tu'ikolovatu was a key summer pickup for coach Clay Helton. The Trojans are in rebuild mode up front, as four key contributors from last season’s line expired their eligibility after the Holiday Bowl. Tu'ikolovatu played in 25 games at Utah and recorded 28 tackles, including six for a loss in 2015. At 320 pounds, Tu'ikolovatu is a good fit to anchor the interior of coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s hybrid defense. 

 

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18. WR Gehrig Dieter, Alabama (from Bowling Green)

Alabama’s receiving corps was already one of the nation’s best headed into 2016, but this group got even deeper with the addition of Dieter in February. After starting his career at SMU, Dieter transferred to Bowling Green and played two seasons in Dino Babers’ high-powered offense. After catching 35 passes for 460 yards in his first year with the Falcons, Dieter grabbed 94 receptions for 1,033 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Dieter probably won’t equal those totals in 2016, but he should be another valuable weapon in Lane Kiffin’s offense.

 

17. RB Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State (from Stanford)

Improving the ground game is a must if Oklahoma State wants to challenge Oklahoma or TCU for the Big 12 title. The Cowboys averaged only 126.9 yards a game in 2015, but there’s help on the way in the form of Sanders. The Oklahoma native was a four-star recruit out of high school and rushed for 672 yards and five scores in three years with Stanford. With Christian McCaffrey entrenched as the Cardinal’s starter, transferring to Oklahoma State will allow Sanders to push for a full workload in 2016. 

 

16. LB T.J. Neal, Auburn (from Illinois)

With Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy expiring their eligibility, Auburn’s defense needed an impact addition at linebacker to ease the transition to the unit’s younger players. Neal’s arrival should ease some of the concerns for coordinator Kevin Steele, as the Pennsylvania native arrives at Auburn after three productive seasons with the Fighting Illini. In 2015, Neal played in all 12 games for Illinois and recorded 109 tackles and two sacks.

 

15. RB Alex Ross, Missouri (from Oklahoma)

Missouri’s rushing attack struggled mightily last year, managing only 115.4 yards a game and just 3.5 yards per carry. Ish Witter (518 yards) is back, but the ground game is expected to get a boost from the addition of Ross, who reunites with former Oklahoma play-caller Josh Heupel. In three years with the Sooners, Ross recorded 786 yards and five rushing scores and was also a weapon on kickoff returns (25.7 average and two scores from 2014-15). 

 

14. QB Patrick Towles, Boston College (from Kentucky)

Despite owning one of the nation’s top defenses last season, Boston College finished 3-9 and winless in conference play. Offense was the primary culprit for the Eagles, as this unit managed only 9.1 points a game in ACC contests and failed to score more than 20 points in each of the last 10 contests. However, help is on the way for coach Steve Addazio. With Drew Barker entrenched as Kentucky’s starter, Towles transferred to Boston College looking for a starting job for his final year of eligibility. In three seasons of playing time with the Wildcats, Towles threw for 5,099 yards and 24 scores, including two years of 2,000 or more passing yards (2014-15). Towles isn’t expected to push for All-ACC honors, but he should give the Boston College offense a much-needed boost after managing only 110.9 passing yards per game in 2015.

 

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13. QB John O’Korn, Michigan (from Houston)

Jim Harbaugh had a lot of success with a transfer quarterback (Jake Rudock) last season. Could the same formula work once again for the Wolverines in 2016? O’Korn had a promising start to his career at Houston, throwing for 3,117 yards and 28 scores in 2013. However, O’Korn struggled in 2014 and was benched in favor of Greg Ward after tossing eight interceptions through the first five games. The Florida native should benefit from a change of scenery and the opportunity to work under Harbaugh. O’Korn finished spring locked into a tight battle with Wilton Speight for the starting job. 

 

12. QB Mike White, WKU (from South Florida)

Brandon Doughty closed out a prolific career at WKU with a standout senior season as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. Doughty torched opposing defenses for 5,055 yards and 48 touchdowns in 2015 and earned third-team All-America honors by Athlon Sports. Replacing Doughty’s production won’t be easy, but Jeff Brohm is one of the nation’s top offensive minds and should keep the WKU offense on track. White showed promise in a two-year stint at USF, throwing for 2,722 yards and 11 scores from 2013-14. The junior is the frontrunner to replace Doughty as WKU’s starter for 2016.

 

11. LB Hardy Nickerson, Illinois (from California)

With one season of eligibility remaining, Nickerson left California for Illinois and an opportunity to play under his father – Hardy Nickerson Sr. Over the last three seasons with the Golden Bears, Nickerson recorded 124 tackles (nine for a loss) and forced two fumbles. The senior could be a standout on Illinois’ defense and is expected to challenge for All-Big Ten honors. 

 

10. DL Dee Liner, Arkansas State (from Alabama)

Arkansas State already has one of the top Group of 5 defensive linemen in Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, and the Red Wolves should have another standout in the mix with Liner joining the team after transferring from Alabama. Liner ranked as the No. 46 overall recruit by the 247Sports Composite in the 2015 signing class and recorded three tackles in limited action. Liner should be the Sun Belt’s top newcomer for 2016.

 

9. WR Geno Lewis, Oklahoma (from Penn State)

With Sterling Shepard off to the NFL, Oklahoma’s receiving corps will look a little different this season. The Sooners aren’t hurting for potential targets, as Dede Westbrook and Mark Andrews are back after combining for 55 catches last season, while Lewis is eligible immediately as a graduate transfer from Penn State. Lewis grabbed 90 passes in his career with the Nittany Lions, including 55 receptions for 751 yards in 2014. 

 

8. QB Luke Del Rio, Florida (from Oregon State)

Florida’s offense struggled mightily once Will Grier was lost for the year due to a suspension. The Gators averaged only 22.7 points in SEC contests last season and tossed only five touchdown passes over the final six games. While the offense still has to prove in game action it found the right answers this offseason, it’s hard to envision this unit performing at the same level. Del Rio is eligible after sitting out 2015 as a transfer from Oregon State and finished spring as Florida’s No. 1 quarterback. Luke – the son of NFL coach Jack Del Rio – spent one year at Alabama (2013) and played the 2014 season at Oregon State. In his time with the Beavers, Del Rio completed 8 of 18 passes for 141 yards. His experience is limited, but Del Rio should provide a boost for Florida’s passing game.

 

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7. RB Keith Ford, Texas A&M (from Oklahoma)

Two transfers – quarterback Trevor Knight and Ford – are expected to lead the way for Texas A&M’s offense this season. Ford was a five-star prospect out of high school and originally signed with Oklahoma. In two years with the Aggies, Ford rushed for 526 yards and six scores, including 392 on only 71 attempts in 2014. After sitting out 2015 due to transfer rules, Ford is primed to emerge as one of the SEC’s top running backs this fall. 

 

6. DL Gerald Willis, Miami (from Florida)

New Miami line coach Craig Kuligowski has a strong track record of developing standout linemen from his tenure at Missouri and his arrival will immediately help a defensive front that must improve after ranking 13th in the ACC in run defense last year. Willis ranked as the No. 34 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite for the 2014 signing class and transferred to Miami after one season with the Gators. The Louisiana native is expected to play a key role on the interior of Miami’s defensive line this year.

 

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5. RB Duke Catalon, Houston (from Texas)

Dynamic senior quarterback Greg Ward leads the way for Houston’s ground attack, but the Cougars must replace their No. 2 and No. 3 rushers from last season. Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson expired their eligibility after the Peach Bowl win against Florida State, leaving a large void at running back headed into spring ball. However, the cupboard is far from bare for coach Tom Herman. Catalon was a four-star recruit for Texas in 2014 and decided to transfer before playing a down with the Longhorns. Catalon has the talent to be one of the American Athletic Conference’s top running backs in 2016.

 

4. QB Dakota Prukop, Oregon (from Montana State)

A graduate transfer (Vernon Adams) from the FCS level at quarterback worked out well for Oregon in 2015. Prukop should be another good fit for the Ducks in their dynamic offense, as he transfers to Oregon after accounting for 3,822 yards and 39 total scores at Montana State last season. Additionally, Prukop earned first-team All-America honors by the Associated Press in 2015. It’s hard to read too much into spring game statistics, but Prukop appears to be making an easy transition into the program. The senior completed 20 of 29 throws for 190 yards and two touchdowns in Oregon’s spring game. While Prukop has an impressive resume from his stint at Montana State, he will be pushed by Travis Jonsen for the starting job. Prukop may not be the dynamic playmaker through the air that Adams was, but he will present a bigger threat on the ground to opposing defenses. 

 

3. QB Trevor Knight, Texas A&M (from Oklahoma)

The December decisions by Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray to transfer from Texas A&M left coach Kevin Sumlin searching for immediate help at quarterback. Sumlin didn’t have to look too far for an answer, as Knight wanted an opportunity to start in his senior year with Baker Mayfield entrenched as Oklahoma’s No. 1 quarterback. Knight appeared to be on the verge of a breakout season after torching Alabama for 348 passing yards and four touchdowns in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. However, Knight didn’t build off that performance and finished the 2014 season with 2,300 passing yards and 14 touchdown passes. Mayfield supplanted Knight as Oklahoma’s starter in 2015. The senior should be a good fit in new coordinator Noel Mazzone’s offense and is surrounded by a deep group of skill players, including one of the SEC's top receiving corps. If Knight can stay healthy, he has a chance to finish 2016 as one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks.

 

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2. QB Kenny Hill, TCU (from Texas A&M)

Even though TCU’s offense suffered some heavy losses, this unit may not slip too far on the stat sheet in 2016. Trevone Boykin leaves big shoes to fill at quarterback, but the Horned Frogs have two capable options – Kenny Hill and Foster Sawyer – waiting in the wings. Hill replaced Johnny Manziel after he left for the NFL in 2014 and started the first eight games of the season. The Texas native threw for 2,649 yards and 23 scores and added 156 yards on the ground during his starting stint. However, Hill struggled midway through the year and was eventually replaced by Kyle Allen. Since the arrival of co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, TCU has averaged over 40 points in back-to-back seasons. With a loaded group of skill players at his disposal, Hill could be the point guard of an explosive TCU attack in 2016. However, he still has to hold off Sawyer for the starting job this fall.

 

1. QB Davis Webb, California (from Texas Tech)

Replacing the No. 1 overall pick (Jared Goff) in the NFL Draft is never easy, but California’s offense should be set with the addition of Davis Webb under center. Webb was the most sought after graduate transfer quarterback this season and was committed to Colorado before switching to California in May. The transition from Texas Tech’s offense to California’s Bear Raid attack should be an easy one for Webb, as new play-caller Jake Spavital operated a similar scheme at Texas A&M and West Virginia. During his three seasons with the Red Raiders, Webb threw for 5,557 yards and 46 scores. The Golden Bears will have a revamped group of receivers for Webb to throw to, but the senior is considered one of the top prospects at quarterback for the 2017 NFL Draft and should push for All-Pac-12 honors.   

 

Other Key Quarterback Transfers

 

QB Austin Appleby, Purdue to Florida

QB Danny Etling, Purdue to LSU

QB Tyler Ferguson, WKU to Louisville

QB Cole Garvin, South Alabama to Marshall

QB Anthony Jennings, LSU to ?

QB Zach Kline, California to ?

QB Eddie Printz, Missouri to Texas State

QB Asiantii Woulard, UCLA to USF

 

Other Key Running Back Transfers for 2016

 

RB King Burke, SJSU to NMSU

RB Squally Canada, Washington State to BYU

RB Denzell Evans, Arkansas to Kansas

RB Derrick Green, Michigan to ?

RB J.J. Green, Georgia to Georgia Tech

FB Jacob Kraut, Rutgers to FIU

RB Tommy Mister, Indiana to Northern Illinois

RB Omar Stover, Wyoming to WKU

FB Walter Tucker, Miami to FIU

 

Other Key Wide Receiver Transfers for 2016

 

WR Jocquez Bruce, Tennessee to MTSU

WR Dannon Cavil, Oklahoma to UTSA

WR Shelby Christy, Mississippi State to UL Lafayette

WR Jordan Cunningham, Vanderbilt to North Carolina

WR Amba Etta-Tawo, Maryland to Syracuse

WR Harrison Jackson, BC to New Mexico State

WR Marchie Murdock, Illinois to Iowa State

WR Teldrick Morgan, NMSU to Maryland

WR Alfred Smith, Utah to Louisiana Tech

WR Michael Summers, Georgia Tech to Georgia Southern

WR Vic Wharton, Tennessee to California

 

Other Key Tight End Transfers for 2016

 

TE/FB Michael Ferns, Michigan to West Virginia

TE Greg Hart, Nebraska to Kentucky

TE Daniel Helm, Tennessee to Duke

TE Chase Hounshell, Notre Dame to Ohio State

TE Jordan Jones, Gardner-Webb to UTSA

TE Alex Leslie, Iowa State to Houston

 

Other Key Offensive Line Transfers

 

OL Will Adams, Auburn to Boise State

OL Jared Cohen, North Carolina to Virginia

OL Will Dancy, North Carolina to East Carolina

OL Brayden Kearsley, BYU to Oregon State

OL Trey Keenan, Texas Tech to North Texas

OL Dan Samuelson, Michigan to Eastern Michigan

OL Paul Thurston, Nebraska to Colorado State

 

Other Key Defensive Line Transfers

 

DL Ja'merez Bowen, Cincinnati to Indiana

DL Joe Keels, Nebraska to Eastern Michigan

DL Melvin Keihn, Virginia Tech to Maryland

DL Malachi Moore, Boston College to Rutgers

DL Jack Powers, Arizona State to Virginia

DL Gabe Sherrod, Delaware State to ?

DL Tom Strobel, Michigan to Ohio

DL Hez Trahan, Pitt to Temple

DE Jhonny Williams, Notre Dame to Toledo

 

Other Key Linebacker Transfers

 

LB Cecil Cherry, Texas to USF

LB Ronnie Feist, LSU to UTSA

LB Dorian Hendrix, Kentucky to Bowling Green

LB Jeremi Powell, Florida to Toledo

LB Jason Sylva, Western Michigan to Idaho

 

Other Key Defensive Back Transfers

 

DB Eric Amoako, Houston Baptist to Minnesota

DB Evrett Edwards, Duke to Iowa State

DB Desmond Frye, Virginia Tech to Toledo

CB Wesley Green, South Carolina to Indiana

DB Kamel Greene, Washington State to BYU

DB Kevin Houchins, Louisville to HIo

DB Austin Hudson, Wisconsin to USF

CB Bryce Jones, Boston College to Akron

CB Jermaine Kelly, Washington to San Jose State

S Derrick Moncrief, Auburn to Oklahoma State

DB Jalen Ortiz, UCLA to Wyoming

DB Devontre Parnell, Louisville to USM

DB Terry Richardson, Michigan to Marshall

S Shaun Rupert, Missouri to Memphis

DB Prince Sam, Houston Baptist, Louisiana Tech

DB/RB Ross Taylor-Douglas, Michigan to Rutgers

 

Special Teams

 

K/P Satchel Ziffer, Old Dominion to Boston College

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College Football's Top 100 Impact Transfers for 2016
Post date: Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - 13:05
Path: /college-football/big-tens-top-players-returning-injury-2016
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Injuries are an unfortunate part of any college football season and usually take a toll on all 128 teams by the end of the year. Several key players were hit by the injury bug in 2015, including a handful of big names from the Big Ten. Wisconsin running back Corey Clement, Nebraska wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El, Michigan State cornerback Vayante Copeland and Penn State linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White are just a few of the top players returning from injury into Big Ten action this fall. 

 

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In addition to Copeland, Pierson-El, Wartman-White and Clement, Purdue linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley, Rutgers defensive tackle Darius Hamilton and Ohio State receiver Corey Smith are a few of the other names returning to action this fall. Here's a look at the top players back in action after missing significant time in 2015:

 

Big Ten's Top Players Returning from Injury in 2016

 

Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB, Purdue

Bentley was considered one of the Big Ten’s rising stars last season and was expected to challenge for all-conference honors after a standout freshman campaign. In 2014, Bentley played in all 12 games for the Boilermakers and recorded 76 tackles and one interception. And the Maryland native was off to a fast start in 2015, recording 49 stops (7.5 for a loss) and two passes defended before a season-ending ACL tear after the fifth game. Assuming Bentley returns at full strength, he should be the leader for Purdue’s linebacking corps and a contender for All-Big Ten honors.

 

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Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin

After rushing for 949 yards and nine scores in a backup role to Melvin Gordon in 2014, Clement was all set to take over the No. 1 role in the Wisconsin backfield last year. However, Clement’s season was derailed by a hernia, as he managed only 221 yards in four appearances. With a full offseason to recover, all signs point to Clement returning to full strength and leading the way for Wisconsin’s ground attack.

 

Vayante Copeland, CB, Michigan State

Michigan State’s secondary surrendered 20 touchdown passes last season, which was the program’s highest mark allowed since 2011. The Spartans certainly weren’t awful against the pass last season, but there was room for improvement. This unit will take a step forward in 2016, as the safety combination of Montae Nicholson and Demetrious Cox is the best in the Big Ten, and Copeland’s return should settle one of the cornerback spots. Prior to a season-ending neck injury after Michigan State’s second game last season, Copeland recorded seven tackles and one pass breakup. The sophomore has all of the necessary tools to emerge as one of the Big Ten’s top cornerbacks this season.

 

Ed Davis, LB, Michigan State

Davis has some work to do in order to return to the team in 2016, as the senior has to take summer classes to finish his undergraduate degree. Provided Davis has his undergraduate degree, Michigan State can apply for a sixth year of eligibility after he missed 2015 due to a torn ACL. If Davis returns to East Lansing in 2016, he will add to a linebacking corps that is among the best in the nation. In 13 appearances in 2014, Davis recorded 58 tackles (12 for a loss) and seven sacks and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. Even if Davis doesn’t start in 2016, he will be a key cog in the defense and should provide a boost to the pass rush off the edge. 

 

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Dennis Finley, OL, Michigan State

Michigan State’s offensive line has to be retooled following the departure of three starters – Jack Conklin, Jack Allen and Donavon Clark. There’s a good foundation in place with the return of junior Brian Allen and seniors Benny McGowan and Kodi Kieler. Additionally, this unit received a boost in June, as Brandon Clemons was awarded a sixth year of eligibility. Finley played in two games last season but was sidelined after a broken leg against Purdue on Oct. 3. Finley is on track to return to full strength by the opener and is expected to start at left tackle. If Finley returns to 100 percent, his play on the left side could play a key role in stabilizing the rebuilt line.

 

Darius Hamilton, DT, Rutgers

It’s no secret Rutgers has to improve on defense after giving up 34.9 points a game last season. However, new coach Chris Ash was one of the Big Ten’s top defensive assistants at Ohio State and will immediately bolster a unit that returns seven starters. Additionally, Hamilton’s return from injury is a key boost to a front seven that allowed 186.1 rushing yards per game in 2015. Hamilton has played in 39 career games and recorded 110 tackles (24.5 for a loss). The senior should push for All-Big Ten honors this fall.

 

Bryan Mone, DT, Michigan

Mone was slated to play a key role on the interior of Michigan’s defense last season but a broken leg in fall camp kept the Utah native on the sidelines for 2015. Mone played in 12 games in 2014 and recorded nine tackles and one fumble recovery. The sophomore is slated to once again be one of the top interior defenders for new coordinator Don Brown.

 

De’Mornay Pierson-El, WR, Nebraska

Nebraska owns one of the Big Ten’s top receiving corps for 2016, and this unit could be even more dangerous if Pierson-El returns to full strength after a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 31 against Purdue. The knee injury capped a frustrating year for Pierson-El, as an offseason foot injury prevented him from playing in the first four games. However, Pierson-El’s talent was on full display as a freshman in 2014 when he accounted for 1,074 total yards in 13 games. When healthy, Pierson-El is one of the Big Ten’s top all-purpose players and a dynamic option on returns.

 

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David Shaw, DL, Maryland

Shaw opened 2015 as one of the starters for Maryland’s defensive line but suffered a season-ending elbow injury against West Virginia. In four games of action last year, Shaw recorded six tackles, with three coming against the Mountaineers on Sept. 26. With the addition of Virginia Tech transfer Melvin Keihn and freshman Adam McLean, there’s added competition to the Maryland defensive front for 2016. Shaw may not post huge numbers for new coach D.J. Durkin’s defense, but he should be a valuable cog in the line rotation.

 

Corey Smith/Noah Brown, WR, Ohio State

Five of Ohio State’s top six statistical options in the passing game last season won’t return to Columbus for 2016. Thanks to elite recruiting, the Buckeyes aren’t hurting for talent in the receiving corps. However, the rebuilding effort for this unit is likely to start with Smith and Brown – two players coming off season-ending injuries. Brown was expected to play a key role in the receiving corps last season but suffered a leg injury in August and missed the entire year. Smith caught five passes through the first five games last season but suffered a broken leg against Indiana. Both players are expected to factor prominently into the receiving corps this season.

 

Damarius Travis, DB, Minnesota

Standout cornerbacks Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun must be replaced, but Minnesota’s secondary will get a boost with the return of Travis from injury. The Florida native made a big impact in the opener against TCU last year, recording 10 stops in a 23-17 loss against the Horned Frogs. However, Travis missed the rest of the season due to a hamstring injury. As a junior in 2014, Travis recorded 61 tackles (3.5 for a loss) and five pass breakups. Even though Murray and Boddy-Calhoun will be missed, the return of Travis into the starting lineup, along with the development of Jalen Myrick and KiAnte Hardin at cornerback should prevent a big drop off in the secondary.

 

Dan Voltz, OL, Wisconsin

The offensive line is usually an annual strength for Wisconsin, but the Badgers had their share of ups and downs up front last season. However, after four sophomores gained valuable experienced in 2015, this unit is expected to take a step forward this fall. Additionally, Voltz is slated to return to the lineup after missing the final six games of 2015 after a knee injury in October. With Michael Deiter emerging at center, Voltz is expected to slide to guard for 2016. Over the last three years, Voltz has started 27 games and played in 32 contests. 

 

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Nyeem Wartman-White, LB, Penn State

With Bob Shoop leaving to take over the play-calling duties at Tennessee, Penn State’s defense will be the under the direction of Brent Pry in 2016. Pry has worked for the last five years (three at Vanderbilt and two at Penn State) with Shoop, so the overall direction and scheme of the defense shouldn’t change too much. However, Pry has plenty of work to do this offseason, as the Nittany Lions must revamp their defensive line after the departure of three key players. However, the front seven returns a strong linebacking corps, headlined by Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda after both players turned in solid 2015 campaigns. Additionally, Nyeem Wartman-White rejoins the starting linebacker trio after missing 12 games due to a knee injury last year. However, Wartman-White was a key cog in the defense in 2014, ranking second on the team with 75 tackles (3.5 for a loss) and one interception. Assuming Wartman-White is back to full strength, Penn State’s linebacker unit will rank among the best in the Big Ten. 

Teaser:
Big Ten's Top Players Returning from Injury in 2016
Post date: Monday, June 27, 2016 - 10:00
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Quarterback play is always under the microscope for every college football team. This position is the toughest to evaluate, develop and project for upcoming seasons. Finding a new starter or replacing a departing senior comes easy for some teams. While all teams would prefer to develop a quarterback pipeline through the recruiting ranks, a transfer from another program could be the right fit as the new starter. Whether it’s a one-year stopgap solution or a player that could develop into a multi-year starter, transfers can have an immediate impact for any program. It’s no secret transfers are a huge part of any offseason and can help the coaching staff bridge the gap to the next prospect or fill a void after a player didn’t develop as expected.

 

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The transfer carousel featured some big movement in the quarterback ranks this offseason. Here’s a look at the top 30 transfers - ranked by expected impact - at quarterback for the 2016 season:

 

Ranking College Football's Top 30 Impact QB Transfers for 2016

 

30. Zach Kline, California to ?

Kline is a well-traveled passer looking for a new team after spending the spring with Cal. The California native originally started his career in Berkeley and threw for 443 yards and three scores in 2013. Kline transferred to Butte College for the 2014 campaign and landed at Indiana State for the 2015 season. He played in three games with the Sycamores last year and completed 6 of 13 passes for 47 yards. Kline for the upcoming year.

 

29. Anthony Jennings, LSU to ?/Connor Mitch, South Carolina to ?

The transfer destinations for Jennings and Mitch - two former SEC starters - are uncertain. Both players announced their intention to leave their current school as graduate transfers at the end of spring ball. Jennings started 13 games at LSU, while Mitch had two career starts at South Carolina.

 

28. Cole Garvin, South Alabama (from Marshall)

Garvin is part of a three-man quarterback battle at South Alabama. The Marshall transfer did not play in 2014 with the Thundering Herd and sat out 2015 due to NCAA transfer rules. Dallas Davis and Evan Orth ended spring with a slight edge on Garvin for the starting nod.

 

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27. Eddie Printz, Texas State (from Missouri)

Printz played sparingly at Missouri over the last two seasons and left Columbia in search of more playing time. Texas State returns Tyler Jones at quarterback, but there’s a new coach (Everett Withers) and staff in place. Can Printz quickly pick up the new offense and challenge Jones for the starting job?

 

26. Asiantii Woulard, USF (from UCLA)

Woulard was a four-star recruit out of Winter Park High School and spent two years at UCLA before transferring back to his home state. Quinton Flowers is entrenched as USF’s starter, but the Bulls have a good backup plan in Woulard in case of injury.

 

25. Austin Appleby, Florida (from Purdue)

Florida’s offense stalled after Will Grier’s suspension last season, but the quarterback depth in Gainesville looks a lot better for 2016. Appleby and Luke Del Rio are eligible as transfers, while true freshman Feleipe Franks also joined in time for spring ball. Appleby recorded 11 starts in three years at Purdue and threw for 2,777 yards in 17 overall appearances. The senior is likely to open the season as the Gators’ No. 2 quarterback.

 

24. Danny Etling, LSU (from Purdue)

It’s no secret LSU needs more from its passing offense to push Alabama and Ole Miss in the SEC West this season. Brandon Harris threw for 2,158 yards and 13 scores last year and only completed 53.6 percent of his passes. Etling was brought in to push Harris and compete for the starting job and closed spring ball by completing four of eight passes for 93 yards and two interceptions in the final scrimmage. Etling threw for 2,490 yards and 16 scores in two years at Purdue. He’s expected to begin 2016 as LSU’s No. 2 quarterback.

 

23. Tyler Ferguson, WKU (from Louisville)

WKU is Ferguson’s third stop at the FBS level. The California native began his career at the College of the Sequoias and transferred to Penn State in 2013. After playing in five games with the Nittany Lions that season, Ferguson transferred to Louisville and used the 2014 campaign as a redshirt year. With one season of eligibility left, Ferguson is vying with USF transfer Mike White and sophomore Drew Eckels to replace standout Brandon Doughty under center in Jeff Brohm’s high-powered offense.

 

22. Faton Bauta, Colorado State (from Georgia)

Second-year coach Mike Bobo landed a familiar name from his old job to add depth to the quarterback position in 2016. Bauta transfers from Georgia to Fort Collins with an opportunity to push starter Nick Stevens for the starting job. Stevens earned second-team All-Mountain West honors and threw for 2,679 yards and 21 scores in 2015, so it won’t be easy for Bauta to earn the starting job. However, Bauta has good mobility, which could provide a different dimension for Bobo’s offense.

 

21. Tyler Matthews, New Mexico State (from Southern Miss)

New Mexico State is Matthews’ third stop at the FBS level. The Texas native has previous stints at TCU and Southern Miss, but he has only four appearances in his career. Matthews was regarded as a four-star prospect out of high school and is expected to push Tyler Rogers for the starting job.

 

20. Ricky Town, Arkansas (from USC)

Replacing Brandon Allen won’t be easy, but Arkansas seems to have a capable candidate in Austin Allen, along with good depth in the form of Town, Rafe Peavey and Ty Storey. Town was the highest regarded quarterback out of that mix, ranking as a four-star and top-100 prospect in the 2015 signing class. However, Town didn’t challenge for the starting job in the spring and is likely ticketed as the No. 3 or No. 4 quarterback to open fall practice.

 

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19. Conner Manning, Georgia State (from Utah)

Nick Arbuckle finished his Georgia State career in 2015 as one of the nation’s top Group of 5 quarterbacks. En route to earning first-team All-Sun Belt honors, Arbuckle threw for 4,368 yards and 28 scores last season. Manning is part of a three-man battle to replace Arbuckle after transferring from Utah. Manning played in only one game with the Utes and completed two of six passes for 28 yards in 2014. Sophomore Emiere Scaife and redshirt freshman Aaron Winchester will compete with Manning for the starting job in the fall.

 

18. Grant Rohach, Buffalo (from Iowa State)

With Grant Merchant transferring at the end of spring ball, Buffalo’s quarterback battle is down to Rohach and promising redshirt freshman Tyree Jackson. Rohach made five starts in three years with the Cyclones and finished his career in Ames with 1,491 passing yards and 10 touchdowns. Rohach also has good mobility and figures to be a solid fit under second-year coach Lance Leipold and coordinator Andy Kotelnicki – if he can edge Jackson for the No. 1 spot. 

 

17. Zack Greenlee, UTEP (from Fresno State)

With Mack Leftwich sidelined for the 2016 season, Greenlee was a key pickup late in the spring for the Miners. In two years at Fresno State, Greenlee threw for 1,079 yards and 14 touchdowns to six interceptions. The California native did not transfer in time for spring practice but is expected to be locked into a tight battle with sophomores Ryan Metz and Kavika Johnson for the starting nod this fall.

 

16. Zach Allen, Rutgers (from TCU)

Quarterback play is one of the biggest areas of concern for new coach Chris Ash. Chris Laviano (2,247 yards) is the team’s top returning option, and Hayden Rettig also received action in five games last season. However, Rutgers has a new offense, and coordinator Drew Mehringer is looking for more running ability out of his signal-caller. Allen announced his intentions to transfer to the team in early June after three years at TCU. The Texas native was used some at receiver during his stint with the Horned Frogs and also completed two passes for 17 yards in 2014. Allen’s mobility should be a good fit for this offense, but the junior has a lot to prove as a passer.

 

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15. Kurt Benkert, Virginia (from East Carolina)

Even though Virginia has a returning starter (Matt Johns), new coach Bronco Mendenhall wasn’t afraid of adding competition to boost the team’s overall talent level and depth at quarterback. Benkert was slated to start at East Carolina before a knee injury sidelined him prior to the 2015 campaign. In 2014, Benkert played in three games with the Pirates and completed 8 of 10 passes for 58 yards. Johns is still the favorite to start, but Benkert showed promise in limited snaps at East Carolina and adds competition for a rebuilding Virginia team this fall.

 

14. Chad Voytik, Arkansas State (from Pitt)

Fredi Knighten departs after a successful two-year stint as Arkansas State’s starter, but coach Blake Anderson has two promising options vying for the starting job. Junior college transfer (and former Oklahoma signal-caller) Justice Hansen and Pitt transfer Chad Voytik are set to battle for the No. 1 spot in the fall. Voytik started all 13 games for Pitt in 2014 and threw for 2,223 yards and 16 touchdowns and added 466 yards and three scores on the ground. Voytik lost the starting job at Pitt to Nathan Peterman in 2015 but is a key pickup for Anderson and the potent Arkansas State offense for 2016.

 

13. Ryan Finley, NC State (from Boise State)

Jacoby Brissett leaves big shoes to fill in Raleigh this season, and the Wolfpack exited spring with Jalan McClendon and Jakobi Meyers locked into a tight battle for the No. 1 spot. However, McClendon and Meyers will have competition in the fall, as Finley is eligible as a graduate transfer after three years at Boise State. Finley redshirted in his debut with the Broncos and completed 58 passes for 646 yards and three scores over the next two years. Finley was slated to be Boise State’s starting quarterback in 2015 but was sidelined after the third game for the remainder of the season due to an ankle injury.

 

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12. Philip Nelson, East Carolina (from Minnesota/Rutgers)

Nelson has traveled an interesting road to East Carolina and has yet to play in a FBS game since the 2013 season. The Minnesota native spent two years with the Golden Gophers from 2012-13 and threw for 2,179 yards and 17 scores in that span. Additionally, Nelson added 548 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. After two seasons with Minnesota, Nelson transferred to Rutgers but was later dismissed from the team after an off-field incident in 2014. Nelson edged Kurt Benkert (transferred to Virginia after spring ball) for the starting the job and has a chance to have a solid senior year with a strong supporting cast at East Carolina.

 

11. Jared Johnson, UTSA (from Sam Houston State)

UTSA ranked 11th in Conference USA in passing offense last season, but new coach Frank Wilson hopes to generate improvement with the addition of Johnson through the graduate transfer rank and the hire of veteran assistant Frank Scelfo to call the plays. Johnson was the Southland Offensive Player of the Year after accounting for 2,686 total yards and 23 overall scores in 2015. Johnson should provide a spark for UTSA’s offense and will be an impact transfer for Wilson.

 

10. Alec Morris, North Texas (from Alabama)

New coach Seth Littrell has a lot of work to do in his first season in Denton. North Texas finished 1-11 and averaged only 15.2 points a game last year. Littrell is one of the nation’s top offensive minds and should get this program back on track over the next couple of seasons, and there’s immediate help on the way in the form of Morris – a graduate transfer from Alabama. In three seasons with the Crimson Tide, Morris attempted only one pass and played in eight games. However, the Texas native should be a good fit for Littrell’s offense, and the former three-star recruit should provide a spark for the Mean Green attack. 

 

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9. Darell Garretson, Oregon State (from Utah State)

Oregon State’s offense struggled mightily last season, finishing 12th in the Pac-12 by averaging only 19 points a game. Coach Gary Andersen wasted no time making changes this offseason, as Kevin McGiven and T.J. Woods were promoted to co-coordinators, with last year’s quarterback – Seth Collins – switching to a slash/all-purpose role in 2016. Garretson started seven games at Utah State as a true freshman in 2013 and finished the year with 1,446 passing yards and 10 scores. He was pressed into duty once again due to injuries in 2014 and threw for 1,140 yards and eight touchdowns in five appearances. Garretson also displayed his mobility to make plays on the run with the Aggies, adding 344 yards and 18 scores in two seasons. He's slated to take the take the first snap for Oregon State this fall. 

 

8. Patrick Towles, Boston College (from Kentucky)

Despite owning one of the nation’s top defenses last season, Boston College finished 3-9 and winless in conference play. Offense was the primary culprit for the Eagles, as this unit managed only 9.1 points a game in ACC contests and failed to score more than 20 points in each of the last 10 contests. However, help is on the way for coach Steve Addazio. With Drew Barker entrenched as Kentucky’s starter, Towles transferred to Boston College looking for a starting job for his final year of eligibility. In three seasons of playing time with the Wildcats, Towles threw for 5,099 yards and 24 scores, including two years of 2,000 or more passing yards (2014-15). Towles isn’t expected to push for All-ACC honors, but he should give the Boston College offense a much-needed boost after managing only 110.9 passing yards per game in 2015.

 

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7. John O’Korn, Michigan (from Houston)

Jim Harbaugh had a lot of success with a transfer quarterback (Jake Rudock) last season. Could the same formula work once again for the Wolverines in 2016? O’Korn had a promising start to his career at Houston, throwing for 3,117 yards and 28 scores in 2013. However, O’Korn struggled in 2014 and was benched in favor of Greg Ward after tossing eight interceptions through the first five games. The Florida native should benefit from a change of scenery and the opportunity to work under Harbaugh. O’Korn finished spring locked into a tight battle with Wilton Speight for the starting job. 

 

6. Mike White, WKU (from South Florida)

Brandon Doughty closed out a prolific career at WKU with a standout senior season as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. Doughty torched opposing defenses for 5,055 yards and 48 touchdowns in 2015 and earned third-team All-America honors by Athlon Sports. Replacing Doughty’s production won’t be easy, but Jeff Brohm is one of the nation’s top offensive minds and should keep the WKU offense on track. White showed promise in a two-year stint at USF, throwing for 2,722 yards and 11 scores from 2013-14. The junior is the frontrunner to replace Doughty as WKU’s starter for 2016.

 

5. Luke Del Rio, Florida (from Oregon State)

Florida’s offense struggled mightily once Will Grier was lost for the year due to a suspension. The Gators averaged only 22.7 points in SEC contests last season and tossed only five touchdown passes over the final six games. While the offense still has to prove in game action it found the right answers this offseason, it’s hard to envision this unit performing at the same level. Del Rio is eligible after sitting out 2015 as a transfer from Oregon State and finished spring as Florida’s No. 1 quarterback. Luke – the son of NFL coach Jack Del Rio – spent one year at Alabama (2013) and played the 2014 season at Oregon State. In his time with the Beavers, Del Rio completed 8 of 18 passes for 141 yards. His experience is limited, but Del Rio should provide a boost for Florida’s passing game.

 

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4. Dakota Prukop, Oregon (from Montana State)

A graduate transfer (Vernon Adams) from the FCS level at quarterback worked out well for Oregon in 2015. Prukop should be another good fit for the Ducks in their dynamic offense, as he transfers to Oregon after accounting for 3,822 yards and 39 total scores at Montana State last season. Additionally, Prukop earned first-team All-America honors by the Associated Press in 2015. It’s hard to read too much into spring game statistics, but Prukop appears to be making an easy transition into the program. The senior completed 20 of 29 throws for 190 yards and two touchdowns in Oregon’s spring game. While Prukop has an impressive resume from his stint at Montana State, he will be pushed by Travis Jonsen for the starting job. Prukop may not be the dynamic playmaker through the air that Adams was, but he will present a bigger threat on the ground to opposing defenses. 

 

3. Trevor Knight, Texas A&M (from Oklahoma)

The December decisions by Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray to transfer from Texas A&M left coach Kevin Sumlin searching for immediate help at quarterback. Sumlin didn’t have to look too far for an answer, as Knight wanted an opportunity to start in his senior year with Baker Mayfield entrenched as Oklahoma’s No. 1 quarterback. Knight appeared to be on the verge of a breakout season after torching Alabama for 348 passing yards and four touchdowns in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. However, Knight didn’t build off that performance and finished the 2014 season with 2,300 passing yards and 14 touchdown passes. Mayfield supplanted Knight as Oklahoma’s starter in 2015. The senior should be a good fit in new coordinator Noel Mazzone’s offense and is surrounded by a deep group of skill players, including one of the SEC's top receiving corps. If Knight can stay healthy, he has a chance to finish 2016 as one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks.

 

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2. Kenny Hill, TCU (from Texas A&M)

Even though TCU’s offense suffered some heavy losses, this unit may not slip too far on the stat sheet in 2016. Trevone Boykin leaves big shoes to fill at quarterback, but the Horned Frogs have two capable options – Kenny Hill and Foster Sawyer – waiting in the wings. Hill replaced Johnny Manziel after he left for the NFL in 2014 and started the first eight games of the season. The Texas native threw for 2,649 yards and 23 scores and added 156 yards on the ground during his starting stint. However, Hill struggled midway through the year and was eventually replaced by Kyle Allen. Since the arrival of co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, TCU has averaged over 40 points in back-to-back seasons. With a loaded group of skill players at his disposal, Hill could be the point guard of an explosive TCU attack in 2016. However, he still has to hold off Sawyer for the starting job this fall.

 

1. Davis Webb, California (from Texas Tech)

Replacing the No. 1 overall pick (Jared Goff) in the NFL Draft is never easy, but California’s offense should be set with the addition of Davis Webb under center. Webb was the most sought after graduate transfer quarterback this season and was committed to Colorado before switching to California in May. The transition from Texas Tech’s offense to California’s Bear Raid attack should be an easy one for Webb, as new play-caller Jake Spavital operated a similar scheme at Texas A&M and West Virginia. During his three seasons with the Red Raiders, Webb threw for 5,557 yards and 46 scores. The Golden Bears will have a revamped group of receivers for Webb to throw to, but the senior is considered one of the top prospects at quarterback for the 2017 NFL Draft and should push for All-Pac-12 honors.   

Teaser:
Ranking College Football's Top 30 Impact Quarterback Transfers for 2016
Post date: Thursday, June 23, 2016 - 10:00

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