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The adjusted golf calendar means that the PGA Tour season is already underway. So for fantasy die-hards, that means another draft. So it's time to dust off the creative, dumb, dirty and/or tasteless puns and come up with a team name. Here’s our best list for the year, in no particular order of awesomeness.
Weapons of Grass Destruction
This reference worked a little better in 2002.
Sure to induce a few giggles at the draft table.
This one’s almost too obvious.
Now we’re talking. That’s pretty creative.
The Fore Horsemen
The “fore” genre provides a deep well of name choices. Some of them are pretty crude. Use your imagination.
The ball genre is fertile ground for your golf fantasy team name. And for cheap laughs.
No. 1 Balls in Golf
Maybe your team could get a Titleist sponsorship.
Dude, Where’s My Par?
Nice. Golf clap for that one.
Sultans of Swing
Nothing says golf like a late 1970s Dire Straits reference.
Fairway to Heaven
Going even further into the music archives. Can’t go wrong with classic Zep.
Sure, it’s stolen from that talking baby commercial. But it’s still solid.
Grip It and Sip It
Could be a good slogan for John Daly's new cocktail, which actually exists.
The Swinging Johnsons
What? We’re just talking about Dustin and Zach.
A Shingo Ate My Baby
Sure, Shingo Katayama's an obscure player, but his name's worth its weight in fantasy golf gold.
Caddyshack references always work.
Ditto for Happy Gilmore references.
Working on my Putz
Brandt Awareness or The Grateful Sned
Brandt Snedeker's name brings fantasy possibilities.
May the Schwartzel Be With You
A Spaceballs reference combined with a Masters champ equals fantasy gem.
Fists of Furyk
Back to the Kuchar
Don't Rory Be Happy
I Like Big Putts and I Cannot Lie
Dufnering Miss Daisy
Bring in Da Fred Funk
Party of Fore
Dr. Vijay's Antler Spray
Jonas Blixt Brothers
The Bogey Men
The DrawShank Redemptions
Who's Your Caddy
Droppin' A Deuce
The Ball Washers
The Long Balls
The Happy Hookers
RELATED: 50 Funny Fantasy Football Team Names
Mississippi State won just five games in the regular season but still went bowling thanks to the team's good grades. These Bulldogs shouldn’t have to worry about bowl eligibility this fall, as head coach Dan Mullen has dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to lead the offense. The defense is breaking in its fourth coordinator in as many seasons and has a bunch of new faces, but there should be enough talent on the roster for this team to hold its own in the always-tough SEC West.
Previewing Mississippi State Football’s Offense for 2017
Mississippi State had its fair share of offensive struggles without Dak Prescott, as would be expected, but by the end of the season coach Dan Mullen had figured out how to get this group rolling. It starts at quarterback, where Nick Fitzgerald is a developing passer — he threw for 300-plus yards several times, but his 54.3 percent completion rate left something to be desired — and an excellent runner who topped 100 yards rushing eight times. Fitzgerald and running back Aeris Williams combined in the last month to form a powerful running combo in the team’s run-pass option packages. Expect more of the same this fall.
Donald Gray is the team’s most experienced receiver, but he’ll have to prove he’s a legit No. 1 threat. Keith Mixon isn’t, but he’s an electrifying option out of the slot. And Fitzgerald could lean on the tight ends; Farrod Green and Justin Johnson were both good receivers when called upon in the past and could take on larger roles in 2017.
The offensive line has probably been Mississippi State’s biggest weakness the last two seasons, especially at containing edge pressure. Three starters are gone, two of them on the interior. Position coach John Hevesy may be moving bodies around in preseason camp to find the right combination.
Previewing Mississippi State’s Defense for 2017
He has some weapons to do that, if he wants. Defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, a former five-star recruit, and linebacker Leo Lewis are both emerging stars in the SEC, and there are several end/outside linebacker types on the roster who can get after the quarterback. But Montez Sweat, Chauncey Rivers and the other three junior college transfers at the position are all going to be making the transition to the SEC in real time, which is always scary and usually bumpy.
The Bulldogs need a bounce-back season from Brandon Bryant at safety, and converted linebacker J.T. Gray joins him on the back end of the defense. Former Georgia Bulldog Johnathan Abram is the best known of three junior college signees at the position. Tolando Cleveland is back after missing all of 2016 with a torn ACL, and if he’s healthy (and he needs to be), he’s probably the team’s best cornerback.
Previewing Mississippi State Football’s Specialists for 2017
Logan Cooke is back as the team’s punter, so the source of intrigue on special teams is at placekicker, where Westin Graves’ back surgery forced him to give up football. Jace Christmann was Graves’ backup a year ago, but he never kicked in a game. Cooke has kicked off, so he could do it. So could Brad Wall or incoming freshman Tucker Day.
Mississippi State can still hang its hat on rising to No. 1 in the polls during the 2014 season, but the program slipped to 5–7 in the regular season in 2016 and made a bowl game only because of its high APR score. But that was a rebuilding year, and everyone knew it going in. With the quarterback position now settled and some emerging stars on defense, Mississippi State could be back in line to begin another ascent up the SEC West standings — if not to the top, at least into the middle of the pack with a seven- or eight-win season.
But there are question marks, especially along the offensive line, so it would not be surprising to see Mississippi State need its good grades to get it into another bowl game.
National Ranking: 30
SEC West Prediction: 5
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema is turning to former Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads to turn around a defense that got gashed repeatedly on the ground last season. Rhoads has some pieces to work with, especially in the secondary, but the unit as a whole is inexperienced and will be making the transition to a new scheme. On offense, quarterback Austin Allen returns but will be working with a new batch of pass catchers and a complementary option in the running game will need to emerge. The Razorbacks have enough talent to win a fair number of games, but this team appears to have too many question marks to contend in the rugged SEC West.
Previewing Arkansas Football’s Offense for 2017
For Arkansas to become a factor in the rigorous SEC West, the Razorbacks will need to make strides in red zone conversions, pass protection and short-yardage running.
Quarterback Austin Allen was strong in the first half of 2016, with 18 touchdowns and six interceptions and a 63 percent completion rate through seven games, including a 400-yard game against Alabama. However, after a bruised knee at Auburn, he was much less comfortable the rest of the way, with seven touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 58.8 percent rate. Red zone struggles, including interceptions, cropped up in losses to Alabama, Texas A&M and Missouri.
Rawleigh Williams and Devwah Whaley were slated to form one of the best running back duos in the SEC. However, Williams retired after a neck injury in the spring game, leaving Whaley as the team's No. 1 back. The sophomore is certainly capable after rushing for 602 yards and three scores last year. However, the Razorbacks need to find a No. 2 threat to take some of the workload away from Whaley. The offensive line features four starters returning, anchored by center Frank Ragnow. Fullback Kendrick Jackson is a powerful lead blocker. The Razorbacks must improve on their 35 sacks allowed.
Jared Cornelius is the most experienced returning receiver, and there’s plenty of opportunity around him. A fleet of inexperienced wideouts will have to fill the void, starting with junior college transfers Brandon Martin and Jonathan Nance, and including Deon Stewart, La’Michael Pettway and Jordan Jones. T.J. Hammonds will work as a slot receiver and backup tailback.
Previewing Arkansas Football’s Defense for 2017
Bijhon Jackson and Austin Capps are expected to be the first two nose guards, while McTelvin Agim and Armon Watts lead the pack of largely inexperienced defensive ends. Redshirt freshmen Briston Guidry and Jonathan Marshall should impact the rotation.
The Razorbacks struggled with linebacker depth recently, and they’re adding a spot to the unit — though the outside positions will utilize some of the roster’s would-be ends. Randy Ramsey manned the Razor and Karl Roesler the Hog in spring. Dre Greenlaw, who sat out spring recovering from foot surgery, is the top inside linebacker, with Grant Harris, De’Jon Harris and Josh Harris expected to contribute.
Kevin Richardson’s recovery from a torn pectoral muscle will give the Razorbacks six defensive backs with starting experience, including safeties Josh Liddell, De’Andre Coley and Santos Ramirez. Ryan Pulley is probably one of the SEC’s more underrated cover corners. Henre’ Toliver and Britto Tutt also figure in at cornerback and/or nickel.
Previewing Arkansas Football’s Specialists for 2017
Junior Cole Hedlund has a leg up on Connor Limpert and Jon Fagg to re-claim the placekicking job. The Razorbacks must replace standout Toby Baker at punter, and Blake Johnson is in position to win the role. Cornelius has been an above-average punt returner the last couple of seasons.
A defense that struggled in 2016 has gotten younger, but there is renewed enthusiasm that the scheme change under Rhoads’ watch will lead to better results. The offense has potential, but some untested receivers will need to step up to complement Cornelius, and Allen must continue to progress.
Another winning record and bowl game is highly likely, but the Hogs will have to show significant improvement all the way around to contend in the SEC West.
National Ranking: 29
SEC West Prediction: 4
Predictions for any FBS conference and all 130 college football teams are an inexact science. Some teams are just a bigger mystery than others or a hard program to get a read on for the upcoming year. Coaching changes, transfers, players returning from injury, scheme tweaks or just overall depth chart concerns make any preseason prediction difficult for a number of teams. While any FBS team could fall into the "wild card" category, Athlon selected 15 that we thought were some of the toughest to rank in our prediction meetings.
Kickoff for the 2017 college football season is under 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about rankings, predictions and previews for the upcoming year. For most college football fans, one of the annual traditions each summer is the trip to the newsstand to pick up a preview magazine. The good news? The wait is over. The 2017 Athlon Sports College Football Preview magazines officially hit the newsstands on May 23 and all five regional and the national editions are available for order in our online store.
Which teams are the biggest wild cards and the toughest to rank for 2017? Here are 15 candidates:
15 Biggest Wild Card College Football Teams in 2017
Which team of Tigers are the biggest threat to Alabama in the SEC West? In Athlon’s projected top 25 for 2017, Auburn ranked No. 9, while LSU checked in at No. 11. Little separates these West Division rivals, but Auburn has potentially a significant advantage at quarterback. The addition of Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham adds a difference maker at quarterback for coach Gus Malzahn, helping to round out an offense that’s loaded with potential. The one-two punch of Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson leads the way on the ground, and the receiving corps is loaded with potential breakout players. The defense will miss end Carl Lawson and tackle Montravius Adams, but seven returning starters should ensure little drop on the stat sheet. For LSU, it’s a similar story once again in Baton Rouge. New coach Ed Orgeron has one of the SEC’s best rosters, a defense loaded with speed and athleticism and dynamic running back Derrius Guice. However, LSU enters another year with question marks at quarterback, with new coordinator Matt Canada tasked with elevating the passing attack. Both teams have the talent to push for a top-10 finish this year. Will the difference in jockeying for position in the West Division come down to how well Stidham performs?
Replacing quarterback Deshaun Watson isn’t going to be easy, but the Tigers are still capable of making another run at a CFB Playoff berth. Coach Dabo Swinney has recruited at a high level (13.4 average class nationally over the last five seasons) and key swing games against Florida State and Auburn take place in Death Valley. Junior Kelly Bryant left spring practice with an edge to replace Watson under center, but true freshman Hunter Johnson will have a chance to close the gap after a solid showing in spring workouts. While quarterback play is obviously critical, Clemson features one of the nation’s top receiving corps, four returning starters on the offensive line, and a defense that expects to rank among the college football’s best. Linemen Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are candidates for first-team All-America honors, and linebacker Kendall Joseph is a rising star in the ACC. The talent is there for another CFB Playoff berth. How fast will Swinney replace Watson? And how will the Tigers fare in the showdown against Florida State on Nov. 11?
Related: ACC 2017 All-Conference Team
The SEC East champion was one of the toughest picks by Athlon’s staff in our preseason prediction meetings. As evidenced by the final top 25, there is little separation between Georgia (No. 15) and Florida (No. 16). The Gators have claimed back-to-back East Division titles, but coach Jim McElwain’s team enters 2017 just behind the Bulldogs. Florida’s standout 2016 defense returns only three starters, but the drop in production should be minimal with a cast of talented youngsters ready to step up. On offense, quarterback play and the line is a concern once again. Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks finished spring with an edge as the team’s No. 1 quarterback, but graduate transfer Malik Zaire is still considering Florida as a landing spot for 2017. On the positive side for McElwain’s offense, the skill players are solid, including one of the SEC’s top receiving corps. For Georgia, it’s safe to say 2016 was a disappointment for first-year coach Kirby Smart. But the Bulldogs were only a couple of plays away from double-digit victories, as they lost three games by three points or less. With quarterback Jacob Eason better in his second year as the starter, the offense should take a significant step forward – provided the line is improved and a few targets emerge at receiver. Eason can also lean on one of the nation’s top backfields with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel leading the way. On defense, Georgia returns all 11 starters from last year and should have one of the SEC’s top groups. Can either of these teams find the right mix on offense and challenge for a spot in the top 10?
Pencil in the Coastal Division favorite in this spot. In Athlon’s projections, the Hurricanes are the pick to win the division, but the Hokies aren’t far behind. While these two teams are separated by nearly 1,000 miles, there are a lot of similarities between Miami and Virginia Tech for 2017. Both teams boast a standout defense and question marks on offense. Barring an offseason shake up, it’s likely the Hokies and Hurricanes will turn to a freshman at quarterback (N’Kosi Perry – Miami and Josh Jackson at Virginia Tech). Additionally, while both teams have talented skill players (Cam Phillips at Virginia Tech and Mark Walton or Ahmmon Richards at Miami), depth at running back or receiver is a concern. With standout defenses capable of carrying either program to the ACC Championship, it’s likely which team solves its question marks on offense the fastest will win the Coastal. And in a one-game ACC title scenario, the Hokies or Hurricanes won’t be a pushover against Clemson or Florida State (potentially with a playoff berth on the line).
The Wolverines return only six starters, which ranks as the second-fewest in the Big Ten for 2017. However, it’s a safe bet coach Jim Harbaugh will have Michigan in the mix for 10 wins for the third year in a row. The strength of the offense is at running back, while quarterback Wilton Speight returns after throwing for 2,538 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. Harbaugh’s biggest concern on offense remains up front with just two returning starters, while the receiving corps must find a few go-to weapons after losing Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and tight end Jake Butt. Even if the offense is a work in progress early in the year, the defense should be able to carry this team. Led by sophomore Rashan Gary and senior Maurice Hurst, the Wolverines feature one of the nation’s top defensive lines. The back seven is rebuilding, but back-to-back top-five recruiting classes should ease the learning curve for this group. Harbaugh is one of the nation’s best coaches, and despite the personnel concerns, he should be able to keep the Wolverines in the mix for the Big Ten East Division title deep into the season.
Related: Big Ten's 2017 All-Conference Team
Last year’s 4-8 record was the first losing mark of Brian Kelly’s tenure at Notre Dame and only the second of his 26 seasons as a head coach. But while last year was a big disappointment, things aren’t all bad in South Bend. For starters, the Fighting Irish lost seven games by eight points or less in 2016. With a turnover margin of minus-four, small improvement in ball control would make a huge difference in close games. Additionally, Kelly added two standout coordinators in Mike Elko (defense) and Chip Long (offense). Quarterback DeShone Kizer will be missed, but sophomore Brandon Wimbush is a breakout candidate under center. He’s surrounded by a solid-one two punch at running back in Dexter Williams and Josh Adams, while the offensive line should be among the top 10-15 in the nation. The return of Alize Mack at tight end is another positive, as he joins Equanimeous St. Brown as key targets for Wimbush in the passing game. More question marks exist on defense, but Elko’s arrival should help this unit after the Fighting Irish gave up 27.8 points per game in 2016. A schedule featuring 11 bowl teams is challenging, but Notre Dame should return to the top 25 in 2017. And if Wimbush is better than expected, the Fighting Irish could exceed Athlon’s preseason expectations of eight wins.
Predicting the order of finish between Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Texas A&M after the top three teams in the SEC West isn’t easy. The Rebels won 19 games from 2014-15 but slipped to 5-7 last year, largely due to injuries and a defense that ranked last in the SEC in points allowed. Was last season a one-year blip or a sign of things to come? Of course, we can’t talk about Ole Miss without mentioning the ongoing NCAA investigation surrounding this program. How much of an impact will that have on the team this year, especially with no postseason opportunities? Assuming motivation isn’t an issue, the Rebels will be a tough out for the rest of the SEC. Sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson is a rising star, there’s plenty of talent at receiver, and the ground game should get a boost with the return of Eric Swinney and Jordan Wilkins at running back. New coordinator Wesley McGriff inherits a defense with six returning starters, including All-SEC end Marquis Haynes. Depth on this unit is a concern, so don’t be surprised if Ole Miss has its share of high-scoring affairs in 2017. The Rebels could easily finish 8-4 and 4th in the West. However, with the uncertainty surrounding the NCAA issues, Ole Miss could also finish with its second straight losing record.
Washington is the clear favorite in the Pac-12 North for 2017, but Stanford and Oregon are two intriguing teams to watch. The Cardinal host Washington on Nov. 10, which is late enough in the season for coach David Shaw to find some clarity at quarterback. Keller Chryst is recovering from a knee injury suffered in the Sun Bowl but is scheduled to return in time for fall practice. If Chryst is slowed or ineffective, Shaw could turn to former starter Ryan Burns or promising redshirt freshman K.J. Costello. Bryce Love is a capable replacement for all-purpose threat Christian McCaffrey, and the offensive line is poised to take a step forward this fall. And as usual, Stanford should have one of the Pac-12’s top defenses. Oregon’s 4-8 record in 2016 was the program’s first losing mark since 2004. But the Ducks won’t be down for long, as new coach Willie Taggart should make an impact in his first year in Eugene. Taggart’s offense at USF was similar to the up-tempo attack Oregon has used in previous seasons. Quarterback Justin Herbert is poised to take a step forward in his first full year as the starter, and he will have plenty of help at receiver, along with the return of running back Royce Freeman. Improving the defense was priority No. 1 for Taggart this offseason. The addition of veteran coordinator Jim Leavitt should provide instant help for a unit that gave up 41.4 points per game last year. Oregon or Stanford may not win the Pac-12 North. However, both teams have more than enough returning pieces to create some problems for the Huskies or in crossover games against the top teams from the South. Could one of these two teams play spoiler to prevent another trip for Washington into the CFB Playoff?
Outside of Texas, the team with the most upside in the Big 12 could be TCU. The Horned Frogs finished a disappointing 6-7 last year but return 16 starters for 2017. Defense is usually a strength in Fort Worth, and TCU limited opponents to just 5.5 yards per play last fall. With seven starters returning, this unit should once again rank among the best in the Big 12. While few concerns exist on defense, the offense is the biggest preseason question mark for coach Gary Patterson. TCU’s scoring average dipped from 42.1 points per game in 2016 to 31 last year. Additionally, the Horned Frogs lost 20 turnovers, gave up 31 sacks and tied for eighth in red zone conversions. Running back Kyle Hicks leads a talented backfield, and there are plenty of options at receiver. With four starters back, there’s plenty of optimism for improvement on the offensive line. But the 2017 season is likely to come down to one player: Quarterback Kenny Hill. Can the senior play with more consistency on a week-to-week basis and eliminate some of the turnovers that plagued this offense last year? If Hill eliminates some of the mistakes, the pieces are in place for TCU to return to the top 25 and create some havoc in the Big 12.
A team that has recorded three consecutive losing seasons generally wouldn’t qualify for this space, but the Longhorns are the perfect description of a wild card team for 2017. Talent certainly isn’t an issue in Austin. Texas has reeled in four top 20 classes over the last five years, which ranks just behind Oklahoma in the Big 12 in terms of overall talent. Talent alone doesn’t win games, which is why the hire of Tom Herman (and a standout staff) is enough to boost the Longhorns back into the top 25 this year. Herman comes to Austin after a successful 22-4 stint at Houston and inherits an offense loaded with potential. The line could develop into one of the best in the Big 12, there are talented playmakers on the outside, and quarterback Shane Buechele enters his second season as the starter. A defense that surrendered 31.5 points per game last fall will immediately improve behind the play-calling of coordinator Todd Orlando. Depth is a concern up front, but linebacker Malik Jefferson is poised for his best season in Austin, and the secondary has too much talent to rank in the 100’s once again in pass defense. With Kansas State and Oklahoma State visiting Austin, Texas has a favorable schedule to make a run in the Big 12. Combine a favorable home slate with Herman’s arrival and the talent in place, and it’s easy to see why the Longhorns are due to rebound in 2017.
Clay Helton’s decision to hand the keys to the offense to Sam Darnold paid big dividends last season. After a 1-3 start, the Trojans reeled off nine wins in a row – including a Rose Bowl victory over Penn State and win at Washington – to finish 10-3 in Helton’s first full year at the helm. Darnold emerged as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks over the final 10 games and enters 2017 as one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. Joining Darnold is dynamic running back Ronald Jones and a talented cast of receivers. However, the line is replacing a couple of starters, including All-Pac-12 selections Damien Mama, Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler. How quickly this group reloads is likely to play a huge role in how high USC can climb into playoff contention. The concerns for Helton on the line of scrimmage extend to the defense. Standout tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu must be replaced, and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson leaves big shoes to fill in the secondary. This unit surrendered 14 plays of 40 yards or more through the air last season, so it’s critical to shore up the pass defense before stepping into Pac-12 play. USC has its share of personnel concerns, but Darnold can carry this team to the playoffs. But if the offensive line doesn’t come together and the defense struggles to fill the voids up front and in the secondary, can the Trojans overcome Washington in the Pac-12?
Washington State has been a program on the rise in recent years and with prolific quarterback Luke Falk back, the Cougars should be in the mix in the Pac-12 North once again. As impressive as Falk has been, Washington State also has a surprisingly strong running game and solid offensive line to lean on. The defense has been transformed under coordinator Alex Grinch and returns plenty of experience. Mike Leach-coached teams are known for their offense, but this Cougars squad has the pieces to get the job done on the other side of the ball too.
Previewing Washington State Football’s Offense for 2017
When asked if Washington State might have the best running back unit in the Pac-12, position coach Jim Mastro replies, “I thought we did last year.”
It may hard be for those who associate head coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense with prolific wide receivers to believe that the running backs are so good, and just as strange for a team returning a three-year starter and all-conference performer at quarterback to be so concerned about the ground game. But as traditionalist WSU fans have raged for years for Leach to “Run the ball more!” after every loss, the Cougars have quietly put together a group of rushers who rank among the best on the west coast.
Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and James Williams combined to rush for 1,645 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, while adding an additional 1,014 yards and seven scores catching passes — most of them short little shuttle passes that more or less function as run plays.
Those running backs, plus Keith Harrington, who was injured last year but has made big plays in the past, will run behind an offensive line that returns three starters, including 6'9", 370-pound monster left guard Cody O’Connell, a unanimous All-America selection in 2016.
Record-setting quarterback Luke Falk returns for his senior season and once again has a talented group of receivers to target, led by Tavares Martin.
Previewing Washington State’s Defense for 2017
Except, perhaps, along the defensive line. Star defensive line coach Joe Salave’a left for Oregon, and his last couple of recruiting classes were not as chock-full of mammoth defenders as the first couple. The result is that the Cougars really will bet on speed, with linebackers moving down to play at the end positions and natural defensive ends sliding inside.
The good news is that the linebacker corps has never been deeper, and the secondary has never been more athletic. Senior Peyton Pelluer will be starting at middle linebacker for the third straight year and is good for about 100 tackles per season. Frankie Luvu and Isaac Dotson provide athleticism beside Pelluer in the second level.
Robert Taylor and Jalen Thompson proved to be athletic playmakers in their first year at WSU, and the two will hold down the back end of the Cougars’ defense. In front of them, junior cornerback Darrien Molton has been a starter ever since he arrived at WSU, and sophomore Marcus Strong appears to have supplanted longtime starter Marcellus Pippins at the other corner spot.
Previewing Washington State’s Specialists for 2017
Erik Powell is one of the country’s most consistent field goal kickers — just not always in a good way. After a stellar sophomore season, he began last season by missing his first five kicks — for a while WSU was the only team in the country without a field goal. Powell turned it around and finished 9-for-15 on the season. The Cougars will need the good Powell in 2017, since he may also handle punting duties. Taylor was an explosive return man in 2016 and will likely continue those duties this season.
With 17 wins over the last two seasons, the turnaround of the WSU football program is basically complete. Now, Leach just has to keep his pirate ship headed in the right direction. Last year the Cougars stayed in the hunt for a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game all the way up until the last game of the regular season. With Falk and a number of playmakers returning, fans have plenty of reasons to expect to contend again in 2017.
National Ranking: 28
Pac-12 North Prediction: 4
The all-time rushing lead in the FCS may change in 2017. What won’t be new is the high level of talent among running backs in the subdivision.
Football is a passing game today, but teams that have a bell cow in the backfield – like Fordham senior Chase Edmonds – still make him the first option.
Most of the best running backs in the FCS tend to be undersized, but they’re fast, deceptively strong and productive.
Here is a countdown of the 10 best returning running backs in the FCS:
10. (tie) Anthony Philyaw, Howard (R-Sr., 6-1, 205)
After missing two seasons with injuries, Philyaw came back strong last year, ending the season with a school-record 281 rushing yards and two touchdowns against Delaware State to finish with 1,230 yards. He catches passes out of the backfield and finds the end zone. When he was healthy in 2013, Philyaw scored 16 touchdowns.
10. (tie) Roc Thomas, Jacksonville State (Sr., 5-11, 193)
A former five-star Mr. Football in the state of Alabama, Thomas has never reached an elite level in college (two years at Auburn, one at Jacksonville State). In only nine games last season, he finished with 782 yards and seven touchdowns on 127 carries, but with star quarterback Eli Jenkins gone, Thomas figures to be the first option in the Gamecocks’ offense this year.
9. Lance Dunn, North Dakota State (R-Jr., 5-9, 210)
Dunn will be more of the featured back at NDSU this season (although Bruce Anderson also returns). Nevertheless, in last season’s crowded backfield, Dunn produced in a big way, ranking third in the Missouri Valley Football Conference with 996 yards on 166 carries and scoring six touchdowns. He’ll benefit from the Bison’s always strong offensive line.
8. Dom Bragalone, Lehigh (Jr., 5-11, 215)
Bragalone is physical and has deceptive speed, but his calling card is consistency. He’s gone over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, averaging 5.6 yards per carry as a freshman and then 5.7 as a sophomore. The first-team All-Patriot League back also has scored 23 touchdowns from scrimmage in Lehigh’s high-powered offense.
7. Deontez Thompson, Richmond (R-So., 6-0, 200)
Thompson was a savior for the Spiders last season after two other running backs suffered season-ending injuries. He entered the lineup and finished with 1,001 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns for the FCS quarterfinalist. When he became the No. 1 back, he had a stretch of six 100-yard performances in seven games.
6. Corey Avery, Sam Houston State (Sr., 5-10, 190)
After transferring in from Kansas in 2015, Avery has posted big seasons at Sam Houston in back-to-back years. Using his speed and elusiveness, he has scored 30 touchdowns from scrimmage for one of the top offenses in the FCS. He shared carries last season, averaging six yards per while totaling 755 yards, this coming after piling up 1,483 on the ground in 2015.
5. John Santiago, North Dakota (Jr., 5-9, 180)
Santiago shared carries in UND’s backfield as a sophomore, but that simply made his legs fresher later in the season. As a freshman in 2015, he set the Fighting Hawks’ Division I records for rushing yards (1,459) and all-purpose yards (2,159), scoring 16 touchdowns, while averaging 6.5 yards per carry. The speedster, also a huge threat on kick returns, had 983 yards on 183 carries a year ago.
4. Detrez Newsome, Western Carolina (Sr., 5-10, 210)
South Carolina will attest to Newsome as he rushed for 115 yards and had 365 all-purpose yards against the Gamecocks last November. The 2016 FCS leader in all-purpose yards surpassed 1,000 rushing yards (1,031) for the second consecutive season. He’s not shy about contact and has scored at least nine rushing touchdowns in each of his three seasons.
3. Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, Albany (Jr., 5-9, 200)
The big question is Ibitokun-Hanks’ health this year because he suffered a torn ACL and medial meniscus in his left knee in the final game last November. He has first-team All-America skill, but Albany will likely have to monitor his carries after last year’s 247 attempts went for a CAA Football-high 1,388 yards. He found the end zone 16 times.
2. Joe Protheroe, Cal Poly (Sr., 6-0, 225)
Technically a fullback in Cal Poly’s triple-option offense, Protheroe has both speed and power. His best performances as a junior came in the Mustangs’ biggest games and it added up to 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. He rushed for more than 3,000 yards during his senior season of high school.
1. Chase Edmonds, Fordham (Sr., 5-9, 210)
Edmonds is an easy No. 1 choice. With 5,285 career rushing yards, he’s on pace to surpass former Georgia Southern running back Adrian Peterson’s FCS all-time record of 6,559 yards. He’s gone over 200 yards in a game seven times, topped by a 359-yard performance – on only 17 carries – against Lafayette last season. He’s fast and
More Running Backs to Watch: Martez Carter, Grambling State (Sr., 5-8, 175); Joey DeFloria, Bucknell (Sr., 5-9, 195); Aaron Forbes, Villanova (Jr., 5-9, 220); A.J. Hines, Duquesne (So., 5-11, 225); Khalil Lewis, Gardner-Webb (R-Jr., 5-10, 215); Julius Maracalin, Southeastern Louisiana (R-Jr., 6-0, 215); Brady Mengarelli, South Dakota State (Sr., 5-10, 195); Steve McShane, Western Illinois (Jr., 5-8, 185)
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Chase Edmdonds photo by Fordham Athletics, Joe Protheroe photo by Cal Poly Athletics)
NC State went just 7-6 last season, but hung tough and almost beat Clemson and Florida State. Now head coach Dave Doeren is hoping a veteran team can put together a breakthrough in his fifth season leading the Wolfpack. The starting lineup is loaded with seniors, including one of the best defensive lines not just in the ACC, but all of FBS. There are some questions marks, mainly in the backfield and on the back end, but this team could be ready to make some noise in an Atlantic Division that already features three top-20 teams.
Previewing NC State Football's Offense for 2017
NC State is already a step ahead of where it was last year because it has its starting quarterback in place. Ryan Finley, a graduate transfer from Boise State, arrived in Raleigh last summer and won the job from Jalan McClendon. Finley was steady but not spectacular in his first season in the ACC. He completed 60.4 percent of his passes for 3,059 yards with 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He’ll need to take more chances downfield this season.
A couple of versatile run/catch options will be the top threats in second-year coordinator Eli Drinkwitz’s offense. Senior Jaylen Samuels, who has been listed as a fullback and tight end but is for all intents and purposes a slot receiver, has 31 touchdowns in 39 career games. He has led the Wolfpack in receiving the past two years. Junior Nyheim Hines has played receiver the past two years but will be in the backfield more this season as the Wolfpack attempt to replace 1,000-yard rusher Matt Dayes.
The offensive line is another spot at which NC State is well ahead of where it was last year. Four starters return, including senior right guard Tony Adams — a three-year starter and second-team All-ACC selection.
Previewing NC State Football's Defense for 2017
The Pack need to get more out of linebackers Jerod Fernandez (88 tackles) and Airius Moore (86). The two seniors have essentially started together for the past three years. They had some growing pains earlier in their careers, and even early last season, but both finished the 2016 season strong.
The secondary, which must identify three new starters, is the biggest area of concern for head coach Dave Doeren. There is some experience to work with; senior Mike Stevens returns at one cornerback spot, and senior strong safety Shawn Boone will be counted on to be a leader. Inexperienced corner Nick McCloud and nickel Freddie Phillips will have to grow up quickly.
Previewing NC State Football's Specialists for 2017
NC State has struggled the past two years in the kicking game. Doeren is hopeful that Carson Wise, a graduate transfer from Carson-Newman, can help solve that problem. The Wolfpack were just 9-of-17 on field goal attempts last season and had a combined five missed field goals in close losses to East Carolina and Clemson. Wise, who began his career at Virginia Tech, wasn’t exactly automatic at Carson-Newman last year (8-of-13 on field goals). Fortunately for Doeren, he does have a standout punter, junior A.J. Cole, and an outstanding kick returner in Hines.
Doeren hopes that experience translates into a breakthrough after a season of “almosts” in 2016. NC State almost beat national champion Clemson. NC State almost beat perennial power Florida State. Including those two heartbreakers, four of the Wolfpack’s six losses were by seven points or fewer.
The Wolfpack return 22 seniors, half of whom start, from a team that finished the 2016 season with a flourish. There is a sense among Wolfpack fans that this could be Doeren’s best team, but it also could be his last chance, if things don’t go right.
With so many of the same parts back from last year, led by Chubb and Samuels, the Wolfpack have a chance break out of the seven- and eight-win rut and be a legitimate factor in the ACC.
National Ranking: 27
ACC Atlantic Prediction: 4
After making a surprise run to a Big Ten championship in 2016, Penn State is no longer a team flying under the radar. In 2017, the Nittany Lions will be put in a position to be considered a favorite on a regular basis, including in some big games coming their way this fall.
James Franklin’s Nittany Lions will be a bigger target in 2017 after a late rise in the Big Ten standings and the polls before being left on the doorstep to the College Football Playoff last year. The only two teams to beat Penn State during the regular season last fall will make road trips to Beaver Stadium this season. The schedule gods also may offer these games to Penn State at good times. The game of the year, however, sees no favors thrown Penn State’s way.
Here is a look at Penn State’s 2017 schedule, ranking opponents from least threatening to most dangerous based on the caliber of the opponent, where the game is located, and when the game is scheduled among other factors.
12. Sept. 2 vs. Akron
Terry Bowden’s Zips make their way to Beaver Stadium for the sixth time since 1999. Akron may have what it takes to make a run for a MAC East Division crown, but should be hard-pressed to slow down Penn State’s offense with much hope of keeping this one tight. Akron owned the nation’s 114th-ranked total defense in 2016 and gave up 33.6 points per game. Penn State has won each contest with Akron by a minimum of 18 points.
11. Nov. 11 Rutgers
Last season demonstrated just how far Rutgers is from competing in the Big Ten East, and the Scarlet Knights likely won’t be able to close the gap nearly enough in 2017. Rutgers has scored 13 points against Penn State in three meetings since joining the Big Ten, fewer than it has scored against either Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State. After getting blanked last season at home, Rutgers will hope to play spoiler against the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley, but that seems unlikely.
10. Sept. 16 vs. Georgia State
After teaming up for some satellite camp work in recent years, Penn State welcomes Georgia State to Beaver Stadium for the first time. The Panthers have the experience to try giving Penn State’s passing game some problems, but the big-play offense should be able to pounce on the Panthers on the ground with relative ease.
9. Sept. 30 vs. Indiana
Penn State returns home after playing a Big Ten opener on the road at Iowa to host the Indiana Hoosiers. Indiana will have already played Ohio State in the season opener, so the Nittany Lions should have a good look at what the Hoosiers look like against one of the Big Ten’s best under new head coach Tom Allen. From the early outlooks, Indiana doesn’t appear to be too scary for Penn State, especially at home.
8. Nov. 25 at Maryland
Penn State wraps up the 2017 regular season on the road at Maryland, where for the first time since the Terrapins joined the Big Ten the Nittany Lions will visit College Park (their 2015 matchup was played in Baltimore). Maryland appears to be trending upward and could be a viable upset threat, but it is conceivable Penn State could have a lot riding on the outcome of the game and the Nittany Lions figure to have the edge in talent. Penn State won comfortably last season and could pull away again.
7. Oct. 7 at Northwestern
A trip to Evanston is always ripe for an upset bid as long as Pat Fitzgerald is coaching Northwestern. The showdown of two of the Big Ten’s top running backs, Saquon Barkley and Northwestern’s Justin Jackson, makes this one to watch, but the Wildcats will need a strong effort from quarterback Clayton Thorson and the passing game to give Penn State a panic attack.
6. Sept. 9 vs. Pittsburgh
Pitt took a sizable lead on Penn State early in last season’s matchup before the Nittany Lions orchestrated a rally that was snapped by a late interception thrown by Trace McSorley. This season could be different as Pitt undergoes some transitions on offense, but the Panthers still have a dangerous Qadree Ollison running the ball. Penn State may get Pitt at a good time early on in the season. This is far from an automatic win, but Penn State won’t be likely to dig a big hole at home.
5. Sept. 23 at Iowa
Penn State’s Big Ten opener will be played on the road against an Iowa team never to be taken lightly. It was in Kinnick Stadium where Michigan stumbled last November, leaving the door open for a Big Ten title run for Penn State. Akrum Wadley running behind a solid offensive line makes Iowa a real obstacle, and if the Hawkeyes can get any consistency in the passing game, Penn State could have a tricky game on its hands.
4. Nov. 4 at Michigan State
Michigan State had a disappointing 2016 campaign and was not able to keep any momentum going to block Penn State from playing for the Big Ten championship last season. This year the Spartans should bounce back, but how much? Regardless of how good Michigan State may or may not be in 2017, a trip to East Lansing in November is rarely going to be easy. Penn State gets this road trip immediately after a home game against Michigan and a road game at Ohio State. The timing could be critical here.
3. Oct. 21 vs. Michigan
The Nittany Lions get a week off to prepare for a key revenge game against Michigan. The Wolverines embarrassed an injury-depleted Penn State last season, so the Nittany Lions could be looking forward to some payback against Jim Harbaugh’s crew this season. If healthy, Penn State should be much better equipped to face the Wolverines. Playing at home in front of what is expected to be a primetime crowd could be a lift, although Michigan has a history of spoiling things in Happy Valley.
2. Nov. 18 vs. Nebraska
Penn State has yet to defeat Nebraska since the Huskers joined the Big Ten in 2011, and if things go according to Penn State’s plan, this could be a potential preview of the Big Ten Championship Game. Nebraska needs to improve its defense and could do that with new coordinator Bob Diaco.
1. Oct. 28 at Ohio State
There is no disputing which game on Penn State’s 2017 schedule is the biggest and most challenging of the year. Not only is Ohio State once again loaded with talent and playing at home, but also Urban Meyer gets to play the revenge card for the first time in his coaching career when facing Penn State. That seems like a tall order even for a very talented Nittany Lions team. Despite winning last year’s game, Penn State has plenty of room for improvement on offense against Ohio State. The Buckeyes did well in slamming the door shut on the Nittany Lions' attack for the majority of last year’s game, so Trace McSorley, Saquon Barkley and the rest of the offense must be prepared to find a way to crack Ohio State’s defense. Penn State makes the trip to Columbus a week after hosting Michigan while the Buckeyes get an extra week to prepare. Expect this one to be in primetime with the winner likely taking charge of the Big Ten East race entering November.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.
West Virginia put together its best season under head coach Dana Holgorsen in 2016, winning 10 games and finishing tied for second in the Big 12. If WVU is going to repeat that success, however, it will need several new faces to step up with just seven starters returning on both sides of the ball. With former Florida starting quarterback Will Grier eligible for all of 2017, the offense could surprise despite uncertainty up front and at wide receiver. The defense has even more question marks, but momentum is on the Mountaineers’ side and the Big 12 doesn’t look particularly deep this season, at least on paper.
Previewing West Virginia Football's Offense for 2017
WVU went into the summer confident — but not completely sure — it would have Florida transfer Will Grier in place at the start of the season. An appeal was in place with the NCAA to lift his suspension for using a banned supplement in Gainesville. And in mid-June, the Mountaineers received good news, as Grier was cleared for the season opener.
With Grier eligible for all of 2017, it will be a rocket boost for West Virginia, which won the services of the quarterback over offers from Ohio State and Oregon, among others. At UF, he completed 106-of-161 passes (65.8 percent) for 1,204 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. The Gators were 6–0 before Grier was suspended in 2015. Sophomore Chris Chugunov will get the call if Grier has to sit.
WVU boasts a strong backfield, led by Justin Crawford, who had 1,184 rushing yards last season. At receiver, West Virginia will have to replace deep threat Shelton Gibson and solid Daikiel Shorts, but the Mountaineers have talent in Ka’Raun White, brother of Chicago Bear Kevin, as well as Gary Jennings and Marcus Simms.
The questions are along the offensive line. All-America center Tyler Orlosky and solid left guard Adam Pankey must be replaced. Left tackle Yodny Cajuste is coming off an ACL injury.
Previewing West Virginia Football's Defense for 2017
In the backfield, talented free safety Dravon Askew-Henry is back from an ACL injury. He’s what Gibson calls “kind of the quarterback of our defense.” Also back is former four-star junior college recruit Kyzir White, brother of Ka’Raun and Kevin. At corner, Syracuse graduate transfer Corey Winfield is expected to help.
At linebacker, the Mountaineers should be fine with 6'2", 238-pound Xavier Preston, sophomore David Long and team leader Al-Rasheed Benton. Along the line, though, all three starters from last season — Christian Brown, Darrien Howard and Noble Nwachukwu — are gone.
Senior Xavier Pegues could be a solid nose tackle, but the defensive end position projects two sophomores — Reese Donahue and Adam Shuler II — as starters.
Previewing West Virginia Football's Specialists for 2017
Holgorsen says WVU will do things differently on special teams this season. That’s understandable considering the kickoff return coverage was No. 103 nationally and the punt return team was No. 124. Yet don’t expect much turnover in regard to specialists. Placekicker Mike Molina converted 15-of-22 field goal attempts (68.2 percent), a success rate that ranked just No. 84 nationally. Nick Meadows will be the long snapper. At punter, Billy Kinney, a junior, averaged 41.7 yards, No. 48 nationally in 2016. He’s expected to handle the duties again. WVU will have to find a replacement for Gibson in the return game.
As Holgorsen, armed with a new contract that extends through 2021, said throughout the spring, West Virginia has talented players. Grier at quarterback, Ka’Raun White at receiver and Crawford at running back comprise a trinity that’s tough to beat. Offensive line coach Joe Wickline should be able to build a decent front with guard Kyle Bosch as the anchor.
On defense, though, questions swirl around the line and at corner. Expect the opposition to test the WVU front early and often in 2017. Also, uncertainty at corner might give blitz-happy Gibson pause.
In addition, there’s concern as to whether those in key positions coming off injuries — Cajuste, Ka’Raun White, Askew-Henry, Pegues and linebacker Brendan Ferns — will return to prior form.
Overall, though, WVU has plenty of confidence coming off a 10-win season and enough talent to challenge in a watered-down Big 12.
National Ranking: 26
Big 12 Prediction: 5
Rule No. 1 of Twitter: Never tweet.
One Denver Post writer learned that the hard way. Terry Frei took his feelings regarding Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato to social media and things did not end well. In a now-deleted tweet the former Post writer mentioned that he was "uncomfortable" with Sato winning on Memorial Day weekend and things got worse from there.
OK, I took out the name of a book. pic.twitter.com/b953FbqMEh— Terry Frei (@TFrei) May 29, 2017
Between the original tweet and the weak apology, The Denver Post took swift action in firing Frei and apologizing to their readers.
Always remember the first rule of Twitter.
It's time to pick your optimal daily fantasy DraftKings golf lineup for this week's (June 1-4) PGA event: the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. Our fantasy golf experts are ready to help.
Here's what our optimal lineup looks like:
Dustin Johnson ($12,000)
Starting with his third-place finish at the 2016 Memorial, DJ has been on another planet, with six wins and seven other top-5 finishes. Let's hope his Tiger impersonation doesn't extend to late-night rides in cop cruisers.
Matt Kuchar ($9,400)
Kooch looks like a steal at this value. In his last seven Memorial starts, he has a win and four top 5s. Take the money and run.
Tony Finau ($7,900)
If Finau could putt, he'd be a threat every week. Sounds like the guy at the top of this week's list, circa 2008 or so. Look for a few to drop this week for this premier ballstriker (fifth on Tour in GIR). In two Memorial appearances, he has a T8 and a T11.
Steve Stricker ($6,900)
This Dairy Stater has aged like fine Wisconsin cheese and is coming off a T7 at the Dean and DeLuca. As usual, he'll keep it in the short grass. He's also motivated, with a spot in the U.S. Open at stake.
Bill Haas ($6,900)
A T12 at the Dean and DeLuca could prove to be a nice slump-buster for Haas, who had a three-year run of T4-T8-T18 at the Memorial from 2013-15.
Ryan Moore ($6,700)
Solid putting stats and an accurate driver have Moore in the money most weeks. He was a runner-up at Muirfield in 2007.
Tiger Woods' DUI arrest sent the internet into a meme frenzy this long Memorial Day weekend. We scoured the internet to bring you the best mugshot memes we could find. Here are our favorites:
It goes without saying that you need a good quarterback in order to be a successful college football team. While it may not wholly determine a team’s success each season if they have a quality signal-caller behind center, one doesn’t become a consistent winner without a quarterback making all the throws and executing the right decisions on offense.
That’s why the position is so important across college football and a big reason why each quarterback matchup is highlighted on the schedule each week of the season. Heading into 2017, a strong group of returning starters and a handful of big-time transfers across the country make for some extremely enticing meetings that are worth circling on the calendar. We made life a little easy on you and did just that for most major conferences so you know just what to watch for when teams hit the field this year.
Looking out across the vast expansion of Group of Five signal-callers, here are the 10 best matchups this season from quarterbacks outside the Power Five:
1. Josh Allen (Wyoming) vs. Brett Rypien (Boise State) – Oct. 21 (Boise, Idaho)
Allen is considered by some to be a potential No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft if he puts together a good season for the Cowboys and all eyes will be on him when he takes on Boise State for a game that likely decides the Mountain West Mountain Division. He’ll be taking on a QB with NFL bloodlines himself in Rypien, who has thrown for more than 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns each of the past two seasons.
2. Riley Ferguson (Memphis) vs. Josh Rosen (UCLA) – Sept. 16 (Memphis, Tenn.)
Ferguson reignited his career last season and put up some big numbers (32:10 TD-to-INT ratio) in Mike Norvell’s pass-happy system for the Tigers. He’ll be able to showcase those skills when the Bruins make the trip east in what is an enticing matchup against one of the best the Pac-12 has to offer and a potential top pick in next year’s draft with Rosen.
3. Kyle Allen (Houston) vs. Quinton Flowers (South Florida) – Nov. 4 (Tampa, Fla.)
It doesn’t get better than this in the American Athletic Conference for a quarterback battle that may very well decide the conference title and a berth in a New Year’s Six bowl. Flowers is a budding Heisman Trophy candidate after posting eye-popping numbers through the air and on the ground for the Bulls while Allen takes over the Cougars after transferring in from Texas A&M. Don’t miss the subplot of former Texas quarterback Major Applewhite taking on former Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong in this one either.
4. Brett Rypien (Boise State) vs. Luke Falk (Washington State) – Sept. 9 (Pullman, Wash.)
These two nearby rivals staged an entertaining game last season and round two should be just as fun given they’re two of the best in their respective conferences. While the receiving corps will be a bit different in 2017, expect both of these strong-armed, tough quarterbacks to put on a show through the air.
5. Brett Rypien (Boise State) vs. Tanner Mangum (BYU) – Oct. 6 (Provo, Utah)
The Broncos and Cougars have staged some absolute classics in recent memory and the latest edition has the chance to keep that streak going given who’s behind center for each side. Rypien played a big role in helping the team sneak by last season with an impressive 442 yards through the air while Mangum, an Idaho native, has an intimate history with Boise State after throwing a Hail Mary to beat the Broncos two years ago.
6. Josh Allen (Wyoming) vs. Justin Herbert (Oregon) – Sept. 16 (Laramie, Wyo.)
The Ducks are taking the Oregon Trail back to Laramie and this time around it will be quite the interesting matchup from two of 2016’s most underrated quarterbacks. Allen has all the tools to turn into a player that NFL scouts are drooling over and has to be excited at the prospect of picking apart the Oregon defense. Herbert may have a harder time keeping pace but he was quite the revelation last year for the Ducks and should be one to watch as a sophomore.
7. Kyle Allen (Houston) vs. Nic Shimonek (Texas Tech) – Sept. 23 (Houston)
If you like points and yards through the air, look no further than this meeting of high-powered offenses. Allen takes over the Cougars’ offense after transferring two years ago from Texas A&M, a school where Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury just so happened to coach at and relished beating as a former Red Raider player. While all the parties won’t be able to beat up on the Aggies in this one, they can throw the ball a bunch and is a fascinating battle between a former five-star and a walk-on.
8. Hayden Moore (Cincinnati) vs. Wilton Speight (Michigan) – Sept. 9 (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
New Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell is no stranger to beating Michigan after spending so many years at Ohio State but will face quite a challenge taking on the Wolverines and their quarterback Wilton Speight. Luckily for the Bearcats, they have a pretty good one behind center in Moore, who has plenty of starting experience and is capable of putting up some big numbers when given time to thrown.
9. Riley Ferguson (Memphis) vs. Kyle Allen (Houston) – Oct. 19 (Houston)
The AAC West is loaded with quality teams and star quarterbacks are a big reason why Memphis and Houston are two of the favorites in the division. The Tigers’ trip to Houston will go a long way in determining who winds up advancing to the title game and last season’s 48-44 thriller was a big statement win by Ferguson following a wild second half.
10. Nick Stevens (Colorado State) vs. Steven Montez (Colorado) – Sept. 1 (Denver)
The Rocky Mountain Showdown might have a more interesting quarterback competition than the one the Broncos have going on later at the same site in Denver next season. Stevens closed the year strongly for the Rams and really turned things on when passing for 445 yards in the team’s bowl game. He’ll take on a talented prospect in Montez, who played a key role filling in at QB during the Buffaloes’ renaissance season.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.
Looking for the key to LeBron James' NBA Finals success? Look no further than Alabama football.
It seems there's a weird connection between Nick Saban's Crimson Tide and James' championship-winning teams. James has never won an NBA title in a year that Alabama didn't win one. Seeing as though Alabama lost to Clemson this past year, that stat doesn't bode well for the Cavaliers in the upcoming NBA Finals against the Warriors.
If the Cavs lose, somehow people will find a way to blame Saban.
After dominating the opposition through the first 14 games, Alabama came up short late against Clemson in the College Football Playoff Championship Game. That Crimson Tide team also lost 10 players to the NFL, but don’t shed any tears for Nick Saban just yet. Everyone knows Alabama doesn’t rebuild, it reloads. Jalen Hurts gives Saban something he hasn’t had in some time – an experienced quarterback back to lead the offense – and even though the defense returns just six starters, there are plenty of guys who have been waiting for their chance. Once again, the path to the SEC Championship Game will go through Tuscaloosa and no one would be surprised to see the Crimson Tide return to Atlanta a month later to take care of some unfinished business.
Previewing Alabama Football’s Offense for 2017
New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will have one advantage Lane Kiffin never had at Alabama: Jalen Hurts becomes the first starting Crimson Tide quarterback to return since AJ McCarron did so in 2013. It comes with a catch — all three of last year’s scholarship backups transferred. True freshmen Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones enrolled in time for spring practice, but they’re the only other quarterbacks outside of walk-on Montana Murphy. That makes Hurts’ durability all the more crucial in his second season.
Year 2 with Hurts needs to show more production from the passing game even after losing three of the top receivers from last season. That puts much of the burden on junior Calvin Ridley. He’s been a deep-ball threat in his first two seasons but could add the intermediate routes across to the middle to his game. That role fell to ArDarius Stewart and O.J. Howard in the past, but both are in the NFL. This creates an opportunity for veterans Cam Sims and Robert Foster — talented players who haven’t been able to crack the rotation with big names topping the depth chart. True freshman Jerry Jeudy is a five-star recruit to watch.
The running game, again, appears to be the offensive route to success. Hurts proved himself last fall as the second-leading rusher (954 yards) who added a challenging dimension for opposing defenses. Bo Scarbrough showed his enormous potential in the SEC Championship Game and Peach Bowl before going down with another injury in the national title game. Oh, and Damien Harris is back after rushing for over 1,000 yards on a 7.1-yard average.
Previewing Alabama Football’s Defense for 2017
There’s a lot to replace in the front seven with five 2016 starters now in the NFL. Da’Ron Payne and Da’Shawn Hand will be critical pieces on a defensive line that’ll be without National Defensive Player of the Year Jonathan Allen for the first time in four years. Junior college transfer Isaiah Buggs will help along with young talents such as Raekwon Davis, Quinnen Williams and Joshua Frazier.
Shaun Dion Hamilton’s recovery from a December ACL tear will be crucial at middle linebacker. Rashaan Evans’ presence will help in the middle, with youngsters Terrell Hall, Anfernee Jennings and Christian Miller competing for time on the outside where Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams dominated previously. The departed players set a high bar for their replacements with their ability to impact opposing passers. Alabama led the nation with 54.0 sacks last season.
Key starters return in the secondary with Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ronnie Harrison and Anthony Averett protecting the back end. The secondary should remain a strength of the defense.
Previewing Alabama Football’s Specialists for 2017
The punting situation is covered with JK Scott back for his fourth year of service for the Tide. The 6'6" Colorado native has been a key asset in the field position battles during close games. Placekicking figures to come down to a competition between Andy Pappanastos, a transfer from Ole Miss, and true freshman Joseph Bulovas. Consistency has been fleeting here for years, so there’s a lot to prove for whoever comes next.
This figures to be a classic Nick Saban team. The offense will be rooted in its ability to run the ball with a deep group of backs and a dangerous quarterback in Hurts. How Alabama rebuilds the front seven will say a lot about the effectiveness of a defense hit especially hard by graduation.
The opening weekend should be tremendous — a matchup with Florida State in Atlanta’s new dome. The result won’t knock the loser from playoff talk, but it’ll add a degree of difficulty before conference play even starts.
NATIONAL RANKING: 1
SEC WEST PREDICTION: 1
Don't forget to check out Athlon Sports' entire college football Top 25.
Ohio State’s somewhat controversial inclusion in the College Football Playoff last season ended with a thud. However, it could be that the Buckeyes were just a year ahead of schedule. Three-fourths of a rock-solid secondary and the nation’s best center will have to be replaced, but Urban Meyer has 15 starters returning, including Heisman Trophy contender J.T. Barrett at quarterback. Talent’s not an issue and after how last season ended, motivation shouldn’t be one for Ohio State either. And Beating Oklahoma for the second straight time, getting payback against Penn State and winning at Michigan better not be if the Buckeyes want a chance at playoff redemption, as well as a shot at another national title.
Previewing Ohio State Football’s Offense for 2017
If you’re guessing that the 31–0 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff didn’t sit well with Urban Meyer, you’d be correct. Meyer, who is an astonishing 61–6 so far at Ohio State, has suffered just 29 defeats in his 15-year head coaching career, and the Clemson loss was his first shutout. He wasn’t going to stew on it for the entire offseason without making changes.
Sure enough, play caller Tim Beck left to help out Tom Herman at Texas, paving the way for Meyer to hire former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson to be his new offensive coordinator. That has fueled excitement in Buckeye Nation, which expects the offense to get back to a dynamic level.
Ohio State averaged 39.4 points and 459.2 yards per game but struggled down the stretch against Michigan State, Michigan and, of course, Clemson. Veteran quarterback J.T. Barrett couldn’t get in sync with green receivers, and the line broke down in pass protection.
There’s still every reason to expect a resurgence, though, with Barrett — and his 26–4 record as a starter — back behind center and Mike Weber just coming into his own as a running back after a quiet 1,000-yard rushing season. Youngsters J.K. Dobbins and Demario McCall look ready to add to the weaponry, while Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Binjimen Victor are among the wideouts who could emerge.
The line will miss the excellence and leadership of Pat Elflein, but Billy Price, who has logged 41 straight starts at guard, will move to center to replace him.
Previewing Ohio State Football’s Defense for 2017
Loaded up front and highly athletic in the back end, the Silver Bullets will be coming after people this season. The approach will be professional with Greg Schiano in control of the defense and longtime NFL assistant Bill Davis tutoring the linebackers. Chris Worley will shift inside to replace the departed Raekwon McMillan, the team’s leading tackler the last two seasons. Worley and outside backer Jerome Baker had a penchant for logging top performances against elite teams.
The line will be ferocious. Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard return, bringing 18.5 TFLs from 2016 with them, and position coach Larry Johnson also can rotate in pocket destructors Jalyn Holmes, Nick Bosa and Jonathon Cooper. Inside, OSU has the same wealth with seniors Michael Hill and Tracy Sprinkle able to rotate with Dre’Mont Jones and Robert Landers, who were freshman sensations last year.
The secondary is rebuilding with corners Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley and safety Malik Hooker all off to the NFL. However, there are plenty of rangy and talented defensive backs left on the roster.
Previewing Ohio State Football’s Specialists for 2017
With the Buckeyes breaking offensive records and sending scads of players to the NFL, many fans may forget that Cameron Johnston was one of the best punters in program history. Johnston’s booming leg and uncanny ability to pin teams deep will be missed. Youngster Drue Chrisman, though, could be an asset in his own right. Sean Nuernberger will have every chance to win his placekicking duties back after giving way to walk-on Tyler Durbin and a hip injury last year.
Last year’s Buckeyes deserve credit for growing up quickly, finding playmakers on each side of the ball and advancing all the way to the College Football Playoff. However, a bad taste remains from the goose egg Clemson fed the Buckeyes and the fact that Meyer’s men didn’t get to play for the Big Ten championship. Therefore, there is emotional fuel for 2017. What remains to be seen is if the line can hold up, the receiving corps can develop and new defensive heroes can emerge.
NATIONAL RANKING: 2
BIG TEN EAST PREDICTION: 1
Don't forget to check out Athlon Sports' entire college football Top 25.
Florida State lost its all-time leading rusher, an All-American pass rusher and several other key pieces, but the Seminoles seem positioned to dethrone Clemson in the ACC and contend for another national title. A lot of the offensive burden will fall to sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois, but new playmakers need to emerge and the offensive line needs to take a step forward. The defense returns almost intact and boasts talent and depth on all three levels. Florida State opens the season against Alabama and must face Clemson and Florida on the road, so Jimbo Fisher’s team will have plenty of opportunities to show the Seminoles belong in the College Football Playoff.
Previewing Florida State Football’s Offense for 2017
After passing for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman, quarterback Deondre Francois likely will be tasked with taking on an even larger role in the Seminoles’ offense this season. Gone is star tailback Dalvin Cook, top wide receiver Travis Rudolph and standout left tackle Rod Johnson. Fortunately for FSU, head coach Jimbo Fisher believes Francois is the type of quarterback he can build his offense around.
“The year he had, this guy’s a big-time player,” says Fisher, whose first three QBs at Florida State — Christian Ponder, EJ Manuel and Jameis Winston — all went on to be first-round NFL Draft picks.
The Seminoles will want to see Francois process reads quicker and get the ball out of his hands earlier. He also will look to improve upon his completion percentage (58.7), and the Seminoles likely will rely more on his running skills. Francois will be surrounded by a group that is long on talent but short on experience.
Junior wideout Nyqwan Murray has legitimate star potential, as he showed with two scores against Michigan in the Orange Bowl. But there undoubtedly will be a drop-off at running back with the departure of Cook, the school’s all-time leading rusher. Junior Jacques Patrick averaged 5.7 yards per carry as a backup in 2016, and celebrated freshman Cam Akers wowed teammates and coaches in spring drills.
The biggest question mark will be a rebuilt offensive line, which will have to be much better than a year ago for the Seminoles to become a legitimate title contender.
Previewing Florida State Football’s Defense for 2017
The Seminoles are perhaps even more well stocked in the secondary, where All-America safety Derwin James returns from a season-ending knee injury last September. James is joined by several other DBs with starting experience, including junior cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, who tied for first nationally with eight interceptions in 2016.
Starting linebackers Matthew Thomas and Ro’Derrick Hoskins are both seniors, and the Seminoles have more depth at that position than they’ve enjoyed in years.
Previewing Florida State Football’s Specialists for 2017
The good news is that the Seminoles return placekicker Ricky Aguayo and punter Logan Tyler. The bad news is that both were extremely inconsistent as freshmen last fall. Aguayo, the younger brother of former Lou Groza Award winner Roberto Aguayo, struggled mightily with kicks beyond 40 yards; he was perfect on all 12 kicks inside the 40 but only 7-of-14 from that point and beyond. Tyler averaged a pedestrian 40.3 yards per punt and seldom delivered great hang time. FSU’s coaches were encouraged, however, by his improvement in the spring.
Despite a somewhat disappointing 10–3 campaign in 2016, the Seminoles again will begin the season with sky-high aspirations. They bring back nearly everyone from a defense that ranked in the top 25 nationally, as well as a talented quarterback in Francois and some dynamic skill players.
If the offensive line can jell in time for a season-opening clash with Alabama in Atlanta, the Seminoles could be a legitimate national championship contender. A loss there wouldn’t knock them out of the race, but the remaining schedule is daunting with road trips to Clemson and Florida in a span of 14 days in November.
NATIONAL RANKING: 3
ACC ATLANTIC PREDICTION: 1
Don't forget to check out Athlon Sports' entire college football Top 25.
Washington was hit hard by NFL departures, but the Huskies have plenty of talent on the roster as they look to not just only defend their Pac-12 title, but get back to the College Football Playoff. Quarterback Jake Browning and a potent one-two punch at running back will lead the way on offense, but new targets need to emerge for the passing game. The defense lost three standouts in the secondary alone, but the linebacking corps should be strong and there’s a NFL-caliber tackle to anchor the front line. Chris Petersen led UW back to national prominence and there’s no reason to think these Huskies are just going to disappear in 2017.
Previewing Washington Football’s Offense for 2017
The Huskies should have no trouble moving the ball and running up points. They have quarterback stability in Jake Browning, a two-year returning starter and still just a junior. He directed the league’s highest-scoring offense (41.8 ppg), threw a league-record-tying 43 touchdown passes and was selected conference Offensive Player of the Year. He comes off shoulder surgery that limited him in spring practice, but it shouldn’t keep him from making another run at a Heisman Trophy after finishing sixth.
The Huskies are loaded at tailback with the league’s best one-two punch in junior Myles Gaskin and senior Lavon Coleman, who combined for 2,200 yards last season. Gaskin, the returning first-team All-Pac-12 pick, uses an uncanny blend of balance and speed to get his yards; Coleman is a power runner who bulled his way to a school-record 7.5 yards per carry.
The Huskies’ veteran line is poised for a breakout season. The centerpiece is 6'8", 320-pound junior left tackle Trey Adams, who has the NFL written all over him and carries such a lean frame he resembles a gigantic tight end. Huge and mobile, he was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection and enters his third season as a starter. Senior center Coleman Shelton, a second-team All-Pac-12 pick, enters his fourth season as a starter and is a highly dependable player — he’s started at all five line positions.
If there’s a question mark on offense, it’s at wide receiver. The Huskies have a good one in senior Dante Pettis, who had 53 receptions and 15 scores last season, but a reliable second option needs to step forward.
Previewing Washington Football’s Defense for 2017
Vita Vea, a 6'5", 334-pound junior defensive tackle, was projected as a second-round NFL Draft pick but decided he wasn’t ready. He might be the only one who felt that way. While starting just five games last season, Vea made enough of an impression that he was named second-team All-Pac-12. He will team with junior defensive tackle Greg Gaines, deceptively good at stopping the run, to form another stout front wall.
The strength of the Huskies’ defense shifts from the secondary to the middle row. Three starting linebackers return, notably senior inside linebacker Azeem Victor, a highly aggressive player who was named first-team All-Pac-12 even after missing four-plus games with a broken leg. Victor will start for a third consecutive season alongside fellow senior inside linebacker Keishawn Bierria, a second-team All-Pac-12 pick.
The secondary lost three highly decorated players. The Huskies return a budding star in sophomore free safety Taylor Rapp, but their biggest challenge will be to find two new cornerbacks, which could determine this team’s ultimate fate.
Previewing Washington Football’s Specialists for 2017
Senior Tristan Vizcaino returns as both a dependable starter and untested newcomer. As the regular punter, he averaged 40.7 yards, dropping 15 kicks inside the 20. He takes over the placekicking with only a lone successful extra point to his name. The shifty Pettis remains one of the nation’s most feared punt returners, scoring a school-record five times in his career.
After a College Football Playoff appearance, coach Chris Petersen returns 13 starters, including the reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year in Browning and a middle linebacker in Victor who might be the league’s best defensive player.
Petersen continues to recruit well. He has another soft non-conference slate and doesn’t have USC on the league schedule. If UW can restock the secondary and keep the momentum going, the Huskies will be a serious contender — both in the Pac-12 and nationally — again.
NATIONAL RANKING: 4
PAC-12 NORTH PREDICTION: 1
Don't forget to check out Athlon Sports' entire college football Top 25.
What’s going on with Bobby Knight? He seems angrier than usual.
Bob Knight, 76, isn’t throwing chairs across gym floors anymore, but he isn’t done with his angry outbursts. The legendary coach was a guest on the Dan Patrick Show in March, when Patrick brought up the subject of Knight’s ongoing feud with Indiana University, where Knight won three national titles — including the last undefeated season (1976) in college basketball history. “Aren’t all those people (who fired you) out of there, coach?” asked Patrick. “I hope they’re all dead,” replied Knight, who coached at IU from 1971-2000.
We caught up with one of Knight’s biggest allies — ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale — and asked him what’s up with the man he reverentially refers to as Robert Montgomery Knight. “Indiana is a sore, sore spot with him. I wish he could let that go,” Vitale says. “I told him once on the phone, I was down there to do a game where they honored his great, great (1976) team, and I said, ‘Bobby, if you walk into the arena, that place, the roof will come off! The fans love you there!’ He doesn’t want to hear it. He’s very, very upset and bitter about what transpired and the way they let him go. And he just can’t let that go.”
NASCAR may have been born in Daytona Beach, the result of a smoke-filled hotel in December 1947 but North Carolina is now its grown-up home base. Ninety percent of Cup Series teams make their home there, most with race shops just outside the Charlotte city limits. Its 1.5-mile oval is looked at as one of the sport’s crown jewels, the Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race NASCAR’s top division will run all year.
But this prime example of “cookie-cutter” intermediate in the sport’s modern era also is facing a long list of criticisms, all of which were at a fever pitch following the All-Star Race Saturday night. A lackluster performance ended with a Kyle Busch victory in which you knew the winner by turn 2 of the final 10-lap sprint. And that’s with a double-file restart, different tire options, an elimination-style format... all that was missing was a kitchen sink.
The key moment in this borefest, one that could lead to change featured a repeat “pass in the grass” attempt by rookie Erik Jones gone wrong. You remember the pass in the grass, right? The funny part is it wasn’t even a pass. Dale Earnhardt slid through the grass ahead of Bill Elliott in 1987, keeping his rival in check en route to winning the sport’s third edition of the All-Star Race. Elliott was incensed; the crowd was in an uproar. NASCAR had reached another level of growth.
Look at Jones’ attempt 30 years later. It’s so similar, yet with such a tragic ending. The car gets ripped into pieces; Jones loses it and spins out five seconds later. Instead of a three-wide finish to that Open segment, the sport uttered a collective yawn — and protest. None other than a retiring Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced on Twitter the sport needed to fix the handling on these racecars ASAP.
Splitters need to be phased out of stock car oval racing as soon as possible.— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) May 20, 2017
This brings us to the 2018 NASCAR schedule announced this week. Charlotte’s 600 was safe, but wait... what’s that I see? The fall edition at this track has been switched from the oval to its infield road course. Cars will turn left and right at CMS next year for the first time in the sport’s long history.
It’s a change met with cheers amongst many who felt the racing at CMS had gotten stale. What better way to renew interest in the sport’s home track then by opening up a brand new course? The 10-race playoff absolutely needed a right-turn track to better represent all the places drivers run on during the regular season.
But there’s another side to this gearshift. By abandoning the sport’s second oval race at CMS, NASCAR is admitting there’s a problem with the handling of the cars there. Instead of addressing the illness, they’re treating a symptom by just giving the cars a new playground. It’s following a pattern of the last dozen years: adding a playoff, changing the point system, adding stages during races... none of that addressing the actual side-by-side competition itself.
Look, it’s great CMS will have a new race to keep interest fresh. The region is an important part of the NASCAR landscape and, considering the nearly 40-week schedule on the road, I appreciate the sport trying to keep teams close to home as much as possible. But I also think it’s clear that, if the All-Star Race were held in California and the racing turned out like we saw Saturday night that event would be moved quicker than you could blink. Instead, it’s still on the 2018 schedule along with a 600-mile edition primed to produce the same type of boredom if we’re not careful. Hey, just ask Martin Truex Jr.; he led a race record 392 of 400 laps last year in a snoozer.
With the Indy 500 poised to once again pound NASCAR in the ratings, the sport needs to learn from what happened Saturday night. At some point, you run out of new cards in the deck and you have to work with the hand you have. If the handling on these cars doesn’t improve, in particular on cookie-cutter tracks no amount of new tricks will keep this old dog afloat in the competitive world of American sports.
That’s what the sport’s R&D Center should be spending every second of every minute trying to fix. Playing with the schedule and the rules only does so much.
Time: 6 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway (Charlotte, NC)
Radio: PRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90
Who’s at the Front: Kyle Busch
After a season filled with near misses and perennial shots in the foot Busch found himself a bit of luck Saturday night. The right-timed restart combined with contact behind him sent Busch to his first-ever $1 million bonus in the sport’s All-Star Race. Combine that with a Truck Series victory the night before and he enters Charlotte’s main weekend red hot.
Busch has struggled on the Cup level with his Joe Gibbs Racing team; the organization as a whole has yet to score a victory there this season. But the 2015 series champ is the type of driver that can break out of a slump in a hurry, scorching the field and winning three of four. Conditions are favorable (see: two straight top-five runs in Cup heading into Charlotte) so the rest of the competition better watch out.
Who’s at the Back: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The All-Star Race was a sorry performance for the sport’s "Most Popular (soon-to-be-retired) Driver." Finishing 18th, he failed to make the final 10-lap segment and was never in contention, posting the worst average finish of all drivers through 60 laps.
In the regular season, Earnhardt now sits 24th in points with just one top-10 finish through 11 races. Seventy-seven (77) points outside a playoff spot, the push forward needs to start now. A win technically will get him in but when’s the last time the No. 88 was even capable of running up front outside of a restrictor plate track?
The 2018 NASCAR schedule was announced this week with some big changes. Indianapolis now moves to the final race of the regular season, replacing Richmond, which now moves into the 10-race playoff. Richmond displaces New Hampshire, shifted back from two dates to one as part of an expansion for Las Vegas Motor Speedway. LVMS gets a new second date, becoming the new playoff kickoff event while struggling Chicagoland Speedway moves back to a regular season race in July.
Regan Smith will remain the sub for Aric Almirola in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford this weekend. (He failed to make the All-Star Race last weekend in the car). A long-term sub for Almirola, who will take 8-12 weeks to recover from his fractured T5 vertebra suffered at Kansas has not been announced.
NASCAR’s 2018 Hall of Fame class was announced this week. Red Byron, the final member of the original 25 nominees selected when the Hall opened in 2010 was among those selected. Byron, the original series champ in 1949, will be joined by legendary car owner and engine builder Robert Yates; Jeff Gordon’s championship crew chief Ray Evernham; all-time Truck Series leader in victories Ron Hornaday Jr.; and broadcasting legend Ken Squier. Jim France won the Landmark Award for outstanding contributions to NASCAR.
Danica Patrick’s employer, Stewart-Haas Racing, has tentatively settled a lawsuit with her former primary sponsor Nature’s Bakery. The corporation had pulled out of its final two years of a three-year deal in January claiming Patrick’s endorsement of rival products violated the deal (among other complaints).
Finally, in a long news week Kyle Larson, after running strong throughout the All-Star Race, will have to start this weekend from the back of the field. Larson hit the wall in practice and then did not pass technical inspection in time to make a qualifying lap. He’ll begin the 600 from 39th position.
NASCAR by the Numbers
NASCAR winners crowned through the sport’s first 11 points-paying events. A maximum of 16 drivers can win to automatically make the sport’s playoff before “bumping” begins, as long as they each remain inside the top 30 in points.
Average finish of points leader Kyle Larson this season, best on the NASCAR circuit.
Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)
For Jimmie Johnson, the All-Star Race was a near miss but Charlotte has always been a hit. He has eight career victories at the track, including one last fall and posted an average finish of 2.0 at the track in 2016. While others at Hendrick Motorsports have been inconsistent, Johnson keeps humming along and with another solid track on the docket next week (Dover) he should be a mainstay on your roster.
See above for Kyle Busch; don’t count him out this Sunday. And keep in mind Martin Truex Jr. considering his dominating performance last season. Truex, though was underwhelming in the All-Star Race which have raised a few eyebrows he’ll be a step behind this Sunday.
Kyle Larson isn’t in the top tier of some leagues yet. So grab him before he gets more expensive! This guy should have won the All-Star Race with a better restart and has one of the fastest cars at Charlotte this week. Starting at the back won’t stop him when there’s 600 miles to make your way through the field. For what it’s worth, Larson was fifth at CMS last fall and has a reasonable career average finish there of 17.9.
I always am a Kasey Kahne guy when it comes to CMS. While underwhelming in the All-Star Race, he has four career wins at the track and was third in the 500-miler last fall. Kahne’s the type of guy who can survive 600 miles and quietly log you a top-10 finish.
How about the rookies this weekend? Daniel Suarez made the All-Star Race last Saturday night and has discreetly logged five straight top-20 finishes. Erik Jones almost made it and is due after wrecks in three of his last four Cup starts (including the All-Star Open). And Ty Dillon did reasonably well here in the XFINITY Series with five top-11 finishes in six career starts.
What Vegas Thinks
Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Kyle Larson share the top of the Vegas charts with 11/2 odds.
What I Think
Truex has the history. Larson has the speed. But I’m going to go with the momentum of Kyle Busch to get hot and score a victory in the 600, locking him into this year’s version of the Cup playoffs.
(Photo by ASP Inc.)
This week's daily fantasy tackles the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series as they head to Charlotte Motor Speedway. One of the sport's crown jewels, the Coca-Cola 600, will run Sunday night at 6 p.m. Cars hit the track on Thursday at 2 p.m. for first practice; Coors Light Pole Qualifying begins at 7:15.
ELITE TIER: $10,000 and up
Martin Truex Jr. ($10,700)
Charlotte: 23 starts, one win, three top fives (13 percent), seven top 10s (30.4 percent)
Average finish at Charlotte: 16.2
Truex put on a show last spring at Charlotte. In one of the most dominating victories in series history, he started from the pole, led all but eight laps (392 of 400), and pulled off his first win of the season.
The expectations to replicate that Sunday are at an all-time high this weekend, highlighted by his pricey salary. Truex is rock solid at 1.5-mile tracks, topping all drivers in laps led at intermediates this season. Martin has three top-five finishes in the last four Charlotte races and should run up there again despite a rocky performance in the All-Star Race.
Kevin Harvick ($10,300)
Charlotte: 32 starts, three wins, seven top fives (21.9 percent), 14 top 10s (43.8 percent)
Average finish at Charlotte: 15.4
Before losing his engine in the Charlotte playoff race last fall, Harvick was riding a nice seven race top-10 streak. That included two wins and three second-place finishes. If you dig even deeper, Harvick has only two finishes outside the top 15 here since 2010.
A 2017 win has eluded the 2014 series champion to this point in the season. But he has four top-five finishes in the last five races on the schedule, most recently a third-place finish at Kansas. Harvick is hitting his stride heading into the middle part of the season and his salary here is justified.
Jimmie Johnson ($10,200)
Charlotte: 31 starts, eight wins, 15 top fives (48.4 percent), 19 top 10s (61.3 percent)
Average finish at Charlotte: 12.6
A 24th-place finish at Kansas ended Johnson’s four-race hot streak, one where he averaged a fifth-place finish. That included back-to-back wins at Bristol and Texas to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
It seems as though every week we talk about how Johnson is the all-time leader at a track and Charlotte is no different. The seven-time champion has the most wins in Cup history at this place with eight, once called Lowe's Motor Speedway and nicknamed "Jimmie's House." He led 155 laps en route to the win last fall and is looking to do the same Sunday night.
ALL-STAR TIER: $8,000 – $9,900
Kyle Busch ($9,800)
Charlotte: 26 starts, 10 top fives (38.5 percent), 15 top 10s (57.7 percent)
Average finish at Charlotte: 15.5
Busch has yet to win a points-paying race at Charlotte, one of the few tracks left where he has not scored an official victory. (Remember, last weekend's All-Star Race was technically an exhibition).
But Busch has raced well here. He has 10 top-five finishes at the track, including a sixth-place result last fall while leading laps in 18 of his 26 career starts.
He then took the broom to the track last weekend, winning both the Camping World Truck Series race and NASCAR's All-Star main event. It’s only a matter of time before he breaks through in a race like the 600.
Joey Logano ($9,600)
Charlotte: 16 starts, one win, five top fives (31.2 percent), nine top 10s (56.2 percent)
Average finish at Charlotte: 11.2
Logano is averaging just shy of an 11th-place finish in 16 races at Charlotte, a series best. He checked off his first win here in the 2015 playoff race in which he led 227 laps. Last season, Logano finished ninth in the spring race, and then in the fall he wrecked and finished 36th after spending half his time inside the top 10.
Since winning at Richmond three races ago, Logano has crashed out of two consecutive shows, making Charlotte the ideal spot to bounce back. The Team Penske Fords have been fast all season on 1.5-mile tracks, making Logano a legitimate threat to win Sunday.
Jamie McMurray ($8,400)
Charlotte: 29 starts, two wins, seven top fives (24.1 percent), 11 top 10s (37.9 percent)
Average finish at Charlotte: 16.4
McMurray found success at Charlotte early in his career. He won in his first ever Cup start at the track back in 2002, subbing for an injured Sterling Marlin. Since then, he has gone on to win another race (2010) and been a threat for victory several more times.
McMurray's average finish of 16.4 in 29 races at Charlotte sits him in 11th place amongst his peers. Over the last six Charlotte races, McMurray has an average finish of 11.3, which is much more consistent with the level he has been racing throughout 2017.
McMurray is quietly sitting fifth in the Cup point standings through 11 races. He has been the definition of consistency, notching seven top 10s, four of which came in the last five races. He was the runner-up at Talladega and has been running well. His salary is getting a little higher, but at this point this driver is still a great value play.
BARGAIN TIER: $4,500 – $7,900
Austin Dillon ($7,600)
Charlotte: Six starts, one top 10 (16.7 percent)
Average finish at Charlotte: 16.0
Dillon will head into Charlotte with a new crew chief, as Slugger Labbe left Richard Childress Racing altogether this week. A new face atop the pit box could be a welcome sign for Dillon. His 2017 campaign has not lived up to the hype following a great finish to the 2016 season. He only has one top-10 finish in 11 races and hasn't led a lap since the Daytona 500.
A 12-car pileup ended Dillon’s fall Charlotte race last season, dropping his average finish from what would be 12.8 down to 16.0. Dillon’s average start at the track is the focus of this weekend. If this driver starts outside the top 20, he'll be one to watch. In the three races here in which Dillon started 20th or worse, he finished 16th or better. Those are some valuable position differential points to have.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($7,500)
Charlotte: 10 starts, five top 15s (50 percent)
Average finish at Charlotte: 20.8
Stenhouse is here because of consistency: the No. 17 Ford has not finished outside the top 15 since week five at Fontana. The Mississippi native has been tremendous this season both on the track and on DraftKings. He has two top-five finishes in the past three races, which includes the win at Talladega that likely landed him inside the playoffs.
The two-driver crew at Roush Fenway Racing has been a bright spot in the series during the young season. Stenhouse will look to continue his hot run at Charlotte.
Daniel Suarez ($7,400)
Charlotte: First career start at Charlotte
Suarez will be making his first MENCS start at Charlotte Sunday night. His exciting stage win to seal his spot in the All-Star Race last weekend also was a reminder of how well he ran at Charlotte in the XFINITY Series. In four XFINITY career starts at CMS, his worst finish was 12th place.
Suarez finished third in his last XFINITY start here in a race ultimately dominated by Cup peers: Kyle Larson, and winner Logano. He should finish behind those veterans again Sunday but remains a solid dark-horse pick for a top-10 finish.
Pre-Qualifying Optimal Lineup:
USC enters this season one of the hottest teams in the country after winning nine in a row to close out 2016, including a thrilling comeback victory in the Rose Bowl over Penn State. Expectations are high for the Trojans once again thanks to presence of quarterback Sam Darnold, who went from No. 2 on the depth chart to a Heisman Trophy contender in a little more than three months. USC returns only 10 starters and has lost several playmakers on both sides of the ball, but the Trojans have the talent to not only contend in the Pac-12, but also make their first trip to the College Football Playoff.
Previewing USC Football’s Offense for 2017
After Sam Darnold took over as the starting quarterback in late September, the Trojans went 9–1, capped by a dramatic comeback to defeat Penn State in the Rose Bowl, as the dynamic passer breathed new life into a stagnant offense. In the 10 games he started, USC averaged 6.9 yards per play. Only seven FBS teams averaged a better clip over the full season.
Darnold will again need to lift USC, especially after key departures on the offensive line, including starting tackles Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler, and at receiver, where JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers have moved on.
The big question is whether Darnold can stay upright. He was the least-sacked quarterback in the Pac-12 last season. Part of that stemmed from his own ability to evade the rush and deliver accurate throws under pressure, but the veteran bodies up front helped, too.
It also remains to be seen if younger wideouts, including Deontay Burnett, Michael Pittman and Velus Jones, can replace Smith-Schuster and Rogers, who combined for 41 percent of the receptions and 45 percent of the receiving yards last season.
Ronald Jones II, who has amassed 2,069 yards in two seasons, headlines a potent rushing attack.
Previewing USC Football’s Defense for 2017
The Trojans will begin their second consecutive season under coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who will oversee a more experienced bunch with six returning starters from a group that was third in the Pac-12 in total defense.
The biggest concern will be up front, with the loss of Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, a burly nose tackle who frequently commanded double teams in his one season after arriving as a graduate transfer from Utah. Kenny Bigelow and Marlon Tuipulotu could assume his place, but Bigelow is coming off a second ACL surgery, and Tuipulotu, who ran with the first-team defense in spring practice, is a true freshman. Expect them to rotate.
The linebacker unit is the most proven group, led by Cameron Smith, who amassed a team-high 83 tackles as a sophomore. Porter Gustin and Uchenna Nwosu remain disruptive as well. Gustin and Nwosu at times line up as edge rushers in Pendergast’s 5-2 look. They combined for 20.5 tackles for a loss a year ago.
Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, who won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back, left early for the NFL. Jackson had five of the defense’s 14 interceptions last season, but most of the secondary remains intact.
Previewing USC Football’s Specialists for 2017
Placekicker Matt Boermeester made the game-winning field goal in the Rose Bowl, but he is unlikely to return for his senior season after he was suspended from the team in February for an unspecified “student conduct issue.” That would leave redshirt freshman Michael Brown to take over. Jackson, the dynamic cornerback who also returned two kickoffs and two punts for touchdowns, will also be missed on special teams.
The resurgence of USC, coming off its best season since the Pete Carroll era, is expected to continue, with the program inching toward its first conference championship in nearly a decade and first-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff.
Darnold, considered among the early favorites for the Heisman Trophy, adds credence to the hype. But the Trojans remain young. More than 50 of their 85 scholarship players will be underclassmen.
Coach Clay Helton has recruited well thus far, with two straight top-10 classes, so the Trojans are talented and have been free of NCAA sanctions since 2014. If USC is to become the third Pac-12 team in four seasons to make the CFB Playoff, it can thank a regular-season schedule that is more navigable, without Alabama and Washington. It’s likely the Trojans will be a factor in the race.
NATIONAL RANKING: 5
PAC-12 SOUTH PREDICTION: 1
Don't forget to check out Athlon Sports' entire college football Top 25.
Penn State may have been a surprise Big Ten champion last year, but the Nittany Lions aren’t sneaking up on anyone in 2017. The offense returns every starter but one while the defense brings back plenty of experience as well. Ohio State will get its shot at revenge against Penn State at home but Michigan, Nebraska and in-state rival Pitt all come to Happy Valley. The pieces and the schedule are in place for the Nittany Lions to repeat 2016’s success.
Previewing Penn State Football’s Offense for 2017
The Nittany Lions enjoyed an offensive breakthrough in 2016 and return a pair of Heisman hopefuls in quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley. McSorley threw for a school-record 3,614 yards in his debut season, with 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His average of 16.1 yards per completion led the nation.
Barkley appears poised to pick up where he left off after gouging USC for 194 yards and two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl. The junior already ranks 12th in school history with 2,572 career rushing yards, including 1,496 last year.
The Lions also have a marvelous pass catcher in Mike Gesicki, whose 679 yards as a junior were the most ever by a Penn State tight end. The team will definitely will miss NFL-bound receiver Chris Godwin, but with DaeSean Hamilton, Saeed Blacknall, DeAndre Thompkins and three other scholarship players back, there’s depth at wideout.
It also helps that the line is no longer a liability. The Lions return four Rose Bowl starters up front and two other players with extensive starting experience.
Previewing Penn State Football’s Defense for 2017
Torrence Brown, Shareef Miller and Ryan Buchholz are vying for the starting end spots, with seniors Parker Cothren and Curtis Cothran back at tackle. Manny Bowen and Cam Brown were both thrust into the starting lineup last year at outside linebacker (Brown as a true freshman), and they’ll be back this fall. So will senior Jason Cabinda, a two-year starter who ranked third on the team in tackles last season despite missing five games with a wrist injury.
The secondary got a big boost when free safety Marcus Allen announced that he would not be leaving early for the NFL. He’s been a starter since the seventh game of his true freshman season, and he was the third-leading tackler in the Big Ten last year with 110 stops.
But the Lions suffered a major loss when standout cornerback John Reid went down with a potentially season-ending injury this spring. Penn State is deep at cornerback, but Reid won’t be easily replaced. The other back-end vacancy is at strong safety. Senior Troy Apke is the most experienced contender, but he’ll get a challenge from sophomore Ayron Monroe.
Previewing Penn State Football’s Specialists for 2017
Penn State returns nearly every noteworthy specialist from last season. Tyler Davis hit 22-of-24 field goal attempts, Joey Julius sent 45 of his 93 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks while also flattening a few return men, and Blake Gillikin averaged 42.8 yards per punt. If there’s an area where PSU still needs to improve, it’s on kickoff and punt returns. The Lions finished 10th in the Big Ten in the former (19.7 yards per attempt) and 11th in the latter (6.5) last season.
Penn State appears to have the potential, particularly on offense, to approach or maybe even surpass last year’s stunning 11–3 finish. Barkley and McSorley are the headliners, but the supporting cast, especially the offensive line, has made major strides, and those players are now versed in the intricacies of coordinator Joe Moorhead’s offensive system.
On defense, the losses are more significant, but there, too, the Lions have an abundance of young talent. So while they may not have re-established themselves as perennial powers, they’re trending up. Says coach James Franklin: “I think we can continue to build this thing and continue to do special things.”
NATIONAL RANKING: 6
BIG TEN EAST PREDICTION: 2
Don't forget to check out Athlon Sports' entire college football Top 25.
The defending national champions will look different, but that doesn’t mean Clemson’s not a threat to repeat. Dabo Swinney and his coaching staff have done an incredible job of building a deep roster, as the Tigers return 12 starters and a host of young guys ready to make a name for themselves. On offense, all of the attention will be on whoever replaces Deshaun Watson, but Clemson also will have a new lead running back and needs playmakers to emerge in the passing game. The defense is in pretty good shape, especially up front. This clearly isn’t the same team that climbed back to the top of the college football mountain, but don’t expect these Tigers to give up their title without a fight.
Previewing Clemson Football’s Offense for 2017
Clemson’s offense played a key role in its first national title since 1981; the Tigers averaged 39.2 points and 503.7 yards per game. But Dabo Swinney and his staff face some major challenges in keeping the unit as potent as ever.
Gone are Heisman Trophy runner-up Deshaun Watson, one of the best players in program history, tailback Wayne Gallman (1,133 yards, 17 touchdowns) and three of the top four pass catchers, including Mike Williams (98 catches for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns) and one of the nation’s top tight ends in Jordan Leggett.
Junior Kelly Bryant, redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper and five-star true freshman Hunter Johnson (an early enrollee) spent spring battling to replace Watson. All three are mobile passers, and while Bryant is the favorite to start, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the strong, accurate Johnson push to replace him.
In the backfield, sturdy C.J. Fuller will get first crack at carries, but if gamebreaking sophomore Tavien Feaster gets better without the ball, he’s a star in waiting.
Junior Deon Cain (38 catches, 724 yards, nine touchdowns as a sophomore) is an excellent deep threat, and Ray-Ray McCloud will fill the shoes of speedy Artavis Scott. Former walk-on and national championship hero Hunter Renfrow is the Tigers’ most dependable receiver.
The offensive line will be a cornerstone for the unit. Four starters return, led by All-ACC left tackle Mitch Hyatt and All-ACC right guard Tyrone Crowder. There’s plenty of offensive talent, but the question is how it will all fall into place.
Previewing Clemson Football’s Defense for 2017
While there are a few key questions, the group should be a strength again in 2017, with a nasty defensive line as an excellent foundation.
Junior Christian Wilkins, who had 13.0 tackles for a loss last fall, will form one of the nation’s best defensive tandems alongside Dexter Lawrence, who looked NFL-ready as a true freshman. Clelin Ferrell looks to build on a breakout College Football Playoff as Clemson’s next great defensive end.
Linebacker Ben Boulware’s graduation after piling up 131 tackles will be felt, but junior Kendall Joseph, coming off a 124-tackle season, will be a capable replacement in the middle. Senior Dorian O’Daniel and sophomore James Skalski are athletic talents who’ll flank him quite well.
Seniors Ryan Carter and Marcus Edmond provide veteran leadership at cornerback, and watch out for Mark Fields and sophomore Trayvon Mullen, who emerged as a starter alongside Carter ahead of Edmond in spring. At strong safety, sophomore Tanner Muse appears to be in line to replace graduated Jadar Johnson.
Previewing Clemson Football’s Specialists for 2017
Greg Huegel returns as one of the ACC’s most reliable kickers after hitting 14-of-19 field goals and 71-of-73 extra points. But Clemson needs to find a punter as well as a new long snapper and holder. Will Spiers, Michael Batson and Carson King competed this spring to replace steady punter Andy Teasdall. McCloud and Feaster are capable kick returners.
Clemson reached college football’s pinnacle with its win over Alabama, but staying there won’t be easy. Over the last 25 years, only two teams (Alabama and Nebraska) have repeated as consensus national champions.
The Tigers must overcome significant offensive skill position losses as well as the graduation of Boulware, the emotional leader of the defense. The schedule sets up well, with Auburn and Florida State at home, but given the offensive uncertainty, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a very slight step back this fall.
NATIONAL RANKING: 7
ACC ATLANTIC PREDICTION: 2
Don't forget to check out Athlon Sports' entire college football Top 25.
In recent weeks we've seen some of last season's top quarterbacks selected in the NFL Draft, while others set out preparing for the college football season ahead. To help you better understand this year's top QBs, Sporting News, 24/7 Sports, and, of course, Athlon Sports have you covered with their rankings of the top college quarterbacks on display in 2017. These rankings are based both on previous performances and writers' expectations for the year ahead. If these early outlooks are any indication, we're in for some exciting performances and QB battles.
|Athlon Sports||Sporting News||24/7 Sports|
|1.||Lamar Jackson, Louisville||Lamar Jackson, Louisville||Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma|
|2.||Sam Darnold, USC||Sam Darnold, USC||Sam Darnold, USC|
|3.||Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma||Jalen Hurts, Alabama||Quinton Flowers, USF|
|4.||J.T. Barrett, Ohio State||Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma||Lamar Jackson, Louisville|
|5.||Jake Browning, Washington||J.T. Barrett, Ohio State||Jake Browning, Washington|
|6.||Quinton Flowers, USF||Jake Browning, Washington||Brandon Dawkins, Arizona|
|7.||Mason Rudolph, Okla. State||Trace McSorley, Penn State||Deondre Francois, FSU|
|8.||Luke Falk, Wash. State||Mason Rudolph, Okla. State||Jesse Ertz, Kansas State|
|9.||Trace McSorley, Penn State||Quinton Flowers, USF||Logan Woodside, Toledo|
|10.||Josh Rosen, UCLA||Luke Falk, Wash. State||Nick Fitzgerald, Miss. State|
|11.||Jalen Hurts, Alabama||Deondre Francois, FSU||Mason Rudolph, Okla. State|
|12.||Jarrett Stidham, Auburn||Josh Rosen, UCLA||Mike White, WKU|
|13.||Deondre Francois, FSU||Nick Fitzgerald, Miss. State||Justin Herbert, Oregon|
|14.||Austin Allen, Arkansas||Josh Allen, Wyoming||Wilton Speight, Michigan|
|15.||Nick Fitzgerald, Miss. State||Logan Woodside, Toledo||Brent Stockstill, MTSU|
|16.||Logan Woodside, Toledo||Jarrett Stidham, Auburn||Danny Etling, LSU|
|17.||Brent Stockstill, MTSU||Brett Rypien, Boise State||Trace McSorley, Penn State|
|18.||Mike White, WKU||Mike White, WKU||Jalen Hurts, Alabama|
|19.||Brett Rypien, Boise State||Shea Patterson, Ole Miss||Luke Falk, Wash. State|
|20.||Josh Allen, Wyoming||Shane Buechele, Texas||Sean White, Auburn|
|21.||Jacob Eason, Georgia||Wilton Speight, Michigan||Josh Allen, Wyoming|
|22.||Justin Herbert, Oregon||Austin Allen, Arkansas||Austin Allen, Arkansas|
|23.||Shea Patterson, Ole Miss||Justin Herbert, Oregon||Ryan Finley, NC State|
|24.||Jake Bentley, South Carolina||Jesse Ertz, Kansas State||J.T. Barrett, Ohio State|
|25.||Jesse Ertz, Kansas State||Jacob Eason, Georgia||Taylor Lamb, App. State|