Articles By All

Path: /college-football/5-reasons-why-washington-state-can-be-dark-horse-pac-12-contender-2017
Body:

Washington State has taken on a new identity within the Pac-12 after spending many seasons buried in the league cellar. The Cougars have won 17 games over the past two seasons and were in the mix for a division title until mid-November last season.

 

Plenty of pieces are in place – starting with QB Luke Falk – to make Washington State a serious threat in the Pac-12 North again in 2017. The Cougars will not be the division favorites with their Apple Cup rival Washington returning many key players from last year's Pac-12 championship team. Still, it isn't a stretch to think they can play their way into the mix with the Huskies and Stanford and be a tough out for every opponent.

 

Here are five reasons why the Cougars could emerge as a dark horse Pac-12 North contender once again in 2017:

 

1. Falk is back

There's no question that Luke Falk will be the Pac-12's top passer this season and could even make a push to be the FBS leader in many passing categories. Falk knows head coach Mike Leach's offense like the back of his hand and executes the playbook with ease. As a junior last season, Falk threw for 4,468 yards and 38 touchdowns while completing 70 percent of his passes. He led the Pac-12 in all three categories. Additionally, 172 of his 443 completions in 2016 went for 10 or more yards.

 

2. Ground game is strong

This is no one-dimensional Air Raid offense. Washington State has enough talented running backs to keep defenses from simply zeroing in on Falk on every snap. Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and James Williams all combined to rush for 1,645 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. They also proved to be adept pass catchers out of the backfield, contributing an additional 1,014 yards and seven scores on receptions. Running behind an offensive line with three returning starters should make it easy to get equal or better production in 2017.

 

3. Defense can keep up with the offense

Washington State doesn't simply count on overwhelming opponents with a potent passing attack. The Cougars are also good at getting stops when necessary. They finished 2016 ranked in the middle of the pack in the Pac-12 both in scoring defense (26.4 ppg) and total defense (405.9 ypg). The defense should be tough again with defensive leaders like Hercules Mata’afa and Payton Pueller back this fall. Mata’afa emerged as an elite defensive end as a junior in 2016, totaling five sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss. Pueller has led the Cougars in tackles each of the last two seasons and ranked fourth in the Pac-12 with 93 stops a year ago.

 

4. Falk has a crop of dynamic receivers

Losing a tandem as effective as Gabe Marks and River Cracraft isn't easy to overcome for any offense. The good news for the Cougars is the cupboard is far from empty. Tavares Martin should take a step forward after finishing with 728 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago. Martin ranked second on the team in receiving yards behind Marks. Kyle Sweet and Isaiah Johnson-Mack and junior college transfer Easop Winston all have the speed, hands and other tools to excel in the Washington State offense as well.

 

5. Cougars can build momentum

The schedule is set up to give Washington State a shot at getting off to a great start in 2017. The Cougars open with five consecutive home games before hitting the road to face Oregon in their second Pac-12 game. Washington State's two toughest road games – at Utah and at Washington – are not until late November. Boise State, USC, Stanford and Colorado all come to Pullman this season. If the Cougars can successfully defend their home turf, it wouldn't be a stretch to see them near or at the top of the Pac-12 North entering November.

 

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.

Teaser:
5 Reasons Why Washington State can be a Dark Horse Pac-12 Contender in 2017
Post date: Friday, June 9, 2017 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: BYU Cougars, College Football, Independents
Path: /college-football/ranking-toughest-games-byus-college-football-schedule-2017
Body:

Coming off of a 9-4 season in Kalani Sitake’s first full year as the head coach, the BYU football program is excited about what lies ahead with Sitake in charge.

 

Sitake, who grew up a fan of BYU as a kid and eventually played for the late LaVell Edwards, has always had a passion for Cougar football and he’s working to deliver BYU a special season that the fan base craves.

 

The schedule starts out like it usually does, with one of the toughest September slates in the country. But as is life as an independent not named Notre Dame, the back half of the schedule could leave the Cougars in college football irrelevance if they don’t win big in the month of September.

 

Let’s take a look at the Cougars’ 2017 opponents and how they rank from easiest to the most difficult.

 

13. Nov. 18 vs. UMass

Like BYU, the Minutemen are trudging along as an FBS Independent. Last season, the Cougars rocked UMass 51-9 in a game that saw BYU’s starting defensive end fill in at running back. Expect more of the same when the Minutemen travel to the Wasatch front again this November.

 

12. Aug. 26 vs. Portland State

It’s not often that an FBS vs. FCS game is aired on the mothership, ESPN. This one will be with it taking place in “week zero,” one week before the rest of the country gets started. The Vikings won only three games last year, but they’ve been known to be a program that pulls the occasional upset over an FBS school. Just ask Washington State two years ago.

 

11. Oct. 28 vs. San Jose State

New Spartans head coach Brent Brennan will face an old friend in Kalani Sitake when the two teams face off in October. Brennan and Sitake coached together at Oregon State in 2014 and the two coaches lived in the same neighborhood.

 

10. Nov. 4 at Fresno State

The Carr brothers are not coming through that door for the Bulldogs. It sure feels like it has been a long time since the “Anyone, Anytime, Anyplace” days in the Valley. New head coach Jeff Tedford will try to use his quarterback-developing magic on sophomore Chason Virgil as Fresno State hosts old WAC rival BYU for the first time since 1998.

 

9. Oct. 21 at East Carolina

East Carolina is in its third year as a member of the American Athletic Conference, and the Pirates are averaging only five wins a season. Last season’s 3-9 record was the worst that ECU has seen in decades and it came in Scottie Montgomery’s first year as head coach. The Pirates were ranked 100th or worse in the FBS in three (total, scoring, rushing) of the four major defensive categories.

 

BYU Football/Pac-12 Magazine Athlon Sports’ Pac-12 magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

8. Nov. 10 (Friday) at UNLV

Whenever BYU travels down to Las Vegas to take on the Rebels, it’s a hot ticket because there are so many Cougar fans in the Southern Nevada area. BYU also has experienced a ton of success in Vegas whether it includes bowl games or an undefeated record versus the Rebs in Sam Boyd Stadium.

 

7. Sept. 29 (Friday) at Utah State

The Aggies haven’t been competitive with BYU the past two seasons. This is a make-or-break season for head coach Matt Wells and a win over BYU in Logan would do wonders for his job security. Utah State has a nice QB-WR tandem returning in Kent Myers and Zach Van Leeuwen.

 

6. Nov. 25 at Hawaii

The Rainbow Warriors return 13 starters from a team that surprised everyone with a 7-7 record and a bowl victory in head coach Nick Rolovich’s first season. Hawaii fans live for hosting BYU and the rivalry still means a lot to the older Warrior fans, and Rolovich knows that as well as anyone. Rolovich became a Hawaii legend in his playing days after he led the Warriors to a 72-45 victory over a BYU team in 2001 that entered that game 12-0.

 

5. Oct. 6 vs. Boise State

The BYU-Boise State series has been one of the best games annually each year out west, with the home team holding serve each time since the rivalry kicked into high gear in 2012. Last season, BYU forced five turnovers but still came up short in a 27-28 loss on the Smurf Turf.

 

4. Oct. 14 at Mississippi State

Last season, BYU defeated the Bulldogs in overtime in Provo. Now Mississippi State will be looking for payback in Stark Vegas led by quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who might be the SEC’s best quarterback in 2017. The Bulldogs’ defense was the most physical group BYU faced a season ago.

 

3. Sept. 16 vs. Wisconsin

The Badgers are the defending Cotton Bowl champs and their only losses a year ago came against Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State in the Big Ten Championship Game. BYU has always wanted to schedule more teams from the Big Ten, so to get a Wisconsin team that might be in the top 10 when it arrives in Provo is a big feather in the Cougars’ independence cap.

 

2. Sept. 9 vs. Utah

BYU has lost six in a row in this nasty rivalry that dates back to 1922. Last season, BYU opted to go for two down only one in the final seconds of regulation before Taysom Hill was ultimately stuffed at the line of scrimmage. This game always lives up to the hype, but the Cougars can’t settle for moral victories, they have to win if they want to try and establish themselves as the premier program in the Beehive State once again.

 

1. Sept. 2 vs. LSU (Houston)

Since BYU faced No. 1 Miami in 1990, the Cougars haven’t seen many programs with the type of talent that LSU will have on its roster when the two clash in NRG Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans. The Tigers lost running back Leonard Fournette among several other NFL draft picks, have arguably the nation’s best back returning in Derrius Guice. This is a huge tone-setter for LSU head coach Ed Orgeron to prove why he is the right man for the job. The Cougars will have a tall order in front of them against the Tigers.
 

— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is publisher of Rivals' BYU site, CougarNation.com, and also is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.

Teaser:
Ranking the Toughest Games on BYU's College Football Schedule in 2017
Post date: Friday, June 9, 2017 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/nfl-offensive-linemen-rankings
Body:

2017 Athlon Sports NFL Preview Magazine

Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends may get most of the credit and attention when it comes to identifying the NFL’s top offenses, but don’t forget about the work done by the big guys up front. An offensive line can be just as critical to the unit’s success or lack thereof.

 

Look no further than Dallas. One of the big reasons why a rookie running back (Ezekiel Elliott) led the league in rushing and a rookie quarterback (Dak Prescott) finished third in passer rating in 2016 was because of the Cowboys’ stout line.

 

As you can see below, Dallas is home to the top tackle, guard and center in Athlon Sports’ rankings of offensive linemen entering the 2017 season. Philadelphia is the only other team that can claim as many as three top-10 linemen and that’s because both of the Eagles’ tackles made the cut.

 

Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin were the Cowboys’ first-round picks in 2011, ’13 and ’14, respectively. It’s safe to say that those selections have worked out nicely. Just ask Elliott and Prescott.

 

Athlon’s player rankings are just one of the features that appear in the 2017 NFL Preview magazine.

 

2017 NFL Tackle Rankings

 

1. Tyron Smith, Dallas

The best player on the NFL’s top offensive line. Allowed only two sacks in 13 games last season despite having to block for a rookie quarterback in Dak Prescott.

 

2. Joe Thomas, Cleveland

Widely considered the top offensive lineman of his generation. Still hasn’t missed a single snap since being a 2007 first-round draft pick.

 

3. Jason Peters, Philadelphia

Remains a shut-down left tackle even at age of 35. Seven of nine Pro Bowl appearances have come in Philadelphia, the second-highest total in Eagles history behind Chuck Bednarik (eight).

 

4. Trent Williams, Washington

Voted to fifth consecutive Pro Bowl despite four-game suspension. Teamed with guard Brandon Scherff to become first Redskins offensive line tandem selected for Pro Bowl since 1991.

 

5. Terron Armstead, New Orleans

Missed nine games because of knee injuries but played well when healthy. One of the game’s best young left tackles at age 26.

 

6. Andrew Whitworth, Los Angeles Rams

A staple on Cincinnati’s line the past 11 seasons, he left for Los Angeles after signing a three-year, $33.8 million contract. Departed among all-time leaders in games played for Bengals at 168 with 164 career starts.

 

7. David Bakhtiari, Green Bay

A big reason why Green Bay was considered to have NFL’s best pass-blocking offensive line in 2016. Rewarded with four-year, $48 million contract extension before start of 2016 season.

 

8. Lane Johnson, Philadelphia

Eagles’ 2016 season unraveled after Johnson was forced to serve a 10-game PED suspension. Athletic enough to have played quarterback and tight end in college before transitioning to tackle at Oklahoma.

 

9. Jack Conklin, Tennessee

Joined Dallas guard Zack Martin as only the second rookie offensive lineman to earn All-Pro honors since AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Immediately cemented himself at right tackle after becoming eighth overall pick in 2016 draft.

 

10. Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City

Improvement of Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was no accident following this right tackle’s 2016 offseason signing from Cleveland. Hasn’t missed a start in first five NFL seasons.

 

11. Donald Penn, Oakland

12. Taylor Lewan, Tennessee

13. Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay

14. Duane Brown, Houston

15. Joe Staley, San Francisco

16. Russell Okung, Los Angeles Chargers

17. Nate Solder, New England

18. Cordy Glenn, Buffalo

19. Jake Matthews, Atlanta

20. Taylor Decker, Detroit

 

2017 NFL Guard Rankings

 

1. Zack Martin, Dallas

First Cowboys rookie (non-kicker) in 45 years to make All-Pro team (in 2014) continues to play at elite level. Hasn’t missed a start since grade school.

 

2. Kelechi Osemele, Oakland

Provided immediate upgrade to Raiders’ offensive line upon signing massive free-agent contract in 2016. Oakland averaged 120.1 rushing yards last season, an improvement of 29 yards per game from 2015.

 

3. Marshal Yanda, Baltimore

Selected by fans as one of 10 greatest players in Ravens history. Streak of six straight Pro Bowl berths ranks second among active offensive linemen behind Cleveland’s Joe Thomas (10).

 

4. David DeCastro, Pittsburgh

Paved the way for Le’Veon Bell to lead all AFC running backs with a 105.7-yard rushing average per game. Signed to five-year, $50 million extension before 2016 season opener.

 

5. T.J. Lang, Detroit

Green Bay lost stalwart on its offensive line to NFC North rival Lions after failing to match three-year, $28.5 million contract. Detroit must hope foot and hip injuries aren’t sign of career decline.

 

6. Josh Sitton, Chicago

Made smooth transition to Bears offense after being late preseason cut in Green Bay. Still athletic enough to block in space downfield.

 

7. Kevin Zeitler, Cleveland

Widely considered league’s best offensive linemen in 2017 free-agent class. Body of work from five years in Cincinnati led to biggest contract tendered a guard (five years, $60 million) in NFL history.

 

8. Richie Incognito, Buffalo

Has reinvented himself with Bills after sitting out 2014 season following “Bullygate” scandal with Miami Dolphins. Buffalo has led NFL in rushing the past two seasons.

 

9. Kyle Long, Chicago

Returned to guard after playing tackle in 2015. Limited to eight games because of ankle injury and also had offseason surgery for torn labrum.

 

10. Trai Turner, Carolina

Forced to play right tackle for four games in 2016 because of Panthers O-line injuries, but right guard is natural spot. Has started all 32 regular-season games in the last two seasons.

 

11. Gabe Jackson, Oakland

12. Mike Iupati, Arizona

13. Larry Warford, New Orleans

14. Justin Pugh, New York Giants

15. Brandon Scherff, Washington

16. Ron Leary, Denver

17. Joel Bitonio, Cleveland

18. Ramon Foster, Pittsburgh

19. Joe Thuney, New England

20. Brandon Brooks, Philadelphia

 

2017 Center Rankings

 

1. Travis Frederick, Dallas

Became NFL’s highest-paid center last August by signing a six-year, $56.4 million contract. Has not allowed a sack since 2014 season.

 

2. Alex Mack, Atlanta

Key to Atlanta’s Super Bowl run after signing five-year, $45 million contract to leave Cleveland. Became the stabilizing O-line presence the Falcons had lacked since Todd McClure’s departure following 2012 season.

 

3. Rodney Hudson, Oakland

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie hit a home run with this offseason signing from Kansas City in 2015. Was most decorated lineman in Florida State history while playing at guard.

 

4. Ryan Kalil, Carolina

Limited to eight games in 2016 by shoulder injury that required major offseason surgery. Now gets to play on same offensive line as brother Matt, who was signed away from Minnesota during the offseason to play left tackle.

 

5. Eric Wood, Buffalo

Wood’s 2016 season ended after nine games by broken fibula. Longest-tenured (nine seasons) offensive player on Bills roster.

 

6. Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh

Rebounded to start 15 games in 2016 after missing entire 2015 campaign with a broken fibula. Showed his toughness in Week 10 when he started five days after undergoing surgery on dislocated thumb.

 

7. Jason Kelce, Philadelphia

One-time walk-on linebacker at University of Cincinnati has started ever since 2011 rookie season. Only Eagles player to participate in all of Philadelphia’s 1,131 offensive snaps in 2016.

 

8. Max Unger, New Orleans

Helped keep Drew Brees’ jersey clean by leading an O-line that allowed only 27 sacks on the QB’s league-high 700 dropbacks. Durability issues a concern following offseason foot injury.

 

9. Brandon Linder, Jacksonville

One of the few bright spots for Jacksonville’s offensive line in 2016 after making successful transition from guard to center.

 

10. Matt Paradis, Denver

Another late-round Broncos steal at center a la Chris Myers and Tom Nalen. Led Broncos in performance-based pay bonuses the past two seasons by outplaying rookie contract.

 

11. Weston Richburg, New York Giants

12. Mike Pouncey, Miami

13. Ryan Kelly, Indianapolis

14. Cody Whitehair, Chicago

15. Ben Jones, Tennessee

16. Jeremy Zuttah, San Francisco

17. Matt Slauson, Los Angeles Chargers

18. Nick Mangold, UFA

19. Daniel Kilgore, San Francisco

20. David Andrews, New England

Teaser:
2017 NFL Offensive Linemen Rankings
Post date: Friday, June 9, 2017 - 11:00
Path: /nascar/draftkings-nascar-lineup-picks-axalta-presents-400-preview-2017
Body:

DraftKings daily fantasy NASCAR turns toward the Tricky Triangle in northeast Pennsylvania this weekend. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Pocono Raceway for the Axalta presents the 400 this Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. Cars hit the track on Friday at 11 a.m. for first practice; Coors Light Pole Qualifying follows at 4 p.m.

 

Here are nine drivers to slot in your DraftKings lineup, courtesy of Frontstretch.com's Corey Brewer:

 

ELITE TIER: $9,500 and up

 

Kyle Larson ($9,900)

Pocono: Six starts, one top five (16.7 percent), three top 10s (50 percent)

Average finish at Pocono: 8.8

 

Larson picked up his fifth runner-up finish of the season last week at Dover. He was leading by a large margin late in the race before a caution brought the field back together. While it was tough to miss out on the victory, the fourth-year driver remained within striking distance of point leader Martin Truex Jr.

 

Larson’s average finish of 8.5 on the season is almost exactly the same as his average at Pocono over six career starts. Over that span, he has not recorded a finish outside the top 12 at the facility. Add in 37 laps led, en route to a sixth-place finish last summer and it seems likely he'll be battling up front once again.

 

Brad Keselowski ($10,100)

Pocono: 14 starts, one win, six top fives (42.9 percent), seven top 10s (50 percent)

Average finish at Pocono: 11.3

 

Keselowski has had terrible luck lately. He was caught in a Kurt Busch wreck while running inside the top five last week, a crash which ended his Dover race before it even started.

 

But Pocono is a great place for Keselowski to get things back on track. He has finished inside the top three in each of the last three races here. He started on the pole and finished third in this race in 2016; then, he finished second in the fall.

 

Running well at Pocono comes down to fuel strategy and track position. Crew chief Paul Wolfe is one of the best when it comes to stretching his driver out until the end and Sunday should be no exception. Expect a resurgent run from the No. 2 team that rights the ship over at Team Penske.

 

Martin Truex Jr. ($10,300)

Pocono: 22 starts, one win, three top fives (13.6 percent), seven top 10s (31.8 percent)

Average finish at Pocono: 16.5

 

Truex is on an incredible three-race streak at the moment. He won the race at Kansas Speedway and has finished third in the past two Cup Series events. Not only has Truex run up front, he is absolutely dominating. In those three races, he has led over 100 laps in each.

 

Truex is the series points leader for a reason and is as sure of a bet as it comes this week. Keep in mind he won this Pocono race in 2015, albeit before the Furniture Row Racing alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing.

 

ALL-STAR TIER: $8,000 – $9,400

 

Denny Hamlin ($8,900)

Pocono: 22 starts, four wins, nine top fives (40.9 percent), 14 top 10s (63.6 percent)

Average finish at Pocono: 12.1

 

Hamlin is the active leader in wins at Pocono with four. He won both races at the track back in 2006 (his rookie season) and has been successful there ever since. More recently, he has four top-10 finishes in the last six Pocono races. He finished 14th in the first event at the 2.5-miler last season and seventh in the second.

 

Hamlin is priced right below the top-tier drivers but brings just as much value when it comes to his history at Pocono. That makes the No. 11 car a great fit in the middle of a DraftKings lineup.

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($8,500)

Pocono: 33 starts, two wins, 11 top fives (33.3 percent), 15 top 10s (45.5 percent)

Average finish at Pocono: 14.4

 

It looks as though Earnhardt is starting to get his groove back. He finished 10th at Charlotte two races ago and followed that up with an 11th-place run at Dover.

 

Now, the sport's Most Popular Driver heads to arguably his best track on the schedule as of late. The past four years have been exceptional for him when it comes to this raceway, a track Earnhardt once loathed. In 2013, he finished third and fifth, the start of his turnaround with the No. 88 team. He then swept both races in 2014 and followed that up with an 11th and a fourth-place result in 2015. In his one and only Pocono start last season, he ran second.

 

Add all that up and the average finish is an exceptional 3.9 during that stretch. Yet Earnhardt is still priced relatively cheap, making him a great pickup for Sunday's roster. This track is one of the best shots for him to lock a spot in the playoffs.

 

Ryan Blaney ($8,400)

Pocono: two starts, finishes of 10th and 11th

Average finish at Pocono: 10.5

 

Although he has only run two races at the track, Blaney has managed to stay clean and run up front at Pocono. In both races, he finished with positive position differential points.

 

The only risk? In 2017, Blaney has been all boom or bust. He has only one top-20 finish in the past six races, a fourth at Kansas and has broken axles in two straight weeks. Let’s hope Pocono is a boom track.

 

Kurt Busch ($8,200)

Pocono: 31 starts, three wins, 13 top fives (41.9 percent), 18 top 10s (58.1 percent)

Average finish at Pocono: 14.5

 

Busch got loose underneath the leader and lost control in what was his first of two wrecks at Dover this past Sunday. As a result, he ended up with a 37th-place finish, tying his worst of the season.

 

But Busch seems to have mastered his way around Pocono. He is first among all active drivers with 13 top-five finishes over his career. One of those includes the win in this very race last season. He led 32 laps and saved enough fuel to outlast the rest of the field. That win was followed up with a respectable 10th-place performance in the fall race.

 

Before last week, Busch seemed to have rebounded from his early season slump. He has three top-10 finishes in his last five races, making this year's Daytona 500 winner a high ceiling pick for this week.

 

BARGAIN TIER: $4,500 – $7,900

 

Ryan Newman ($7,600)

Pocono: 30 starts, one win, nine top fives (30 percent), 14 top 10s (46.7 percent)

Average finish at Pocono: 12.7

 

Newman finished fourth last weekend at Dover, taking advantage of a late-race caution to gain track position. That finish was his second top 10 in as many weeks, boosting him up inside the top 16 in points.

 

Newman has one win on the season and has put together some great performances within middle-class Richard Childress Racing. He has led at least one lap in five different races this season and has generally looked more competitive than in recent years driving the No. 31 Chevrolet.

 

Newman is fifth among active drivers in average finish position at Pocono. His 11 top-12 results in the past 13 races is a testament to how well he runs here. Newman is priced well and deserves a look when comparing him to similarly-priced drivers.

 

Ty Dillon ($6,800)

Pocono: two starts, finishes of 18th and 21st

Average finish at Pocono: 19.5

 

Dillon makes this list solely based on his performance last week at Dover. Although the box score shows a 14th-place result, Dillon was inside the top five heading into the backstretch on the final lap. Prior to the wreck which ended that race, Dillon had led 27 laps. The move to the front was thanks to great strategy from crew chief Bootie Barker.

 

A similar strategy at Pocono this Sunday could pay off huge for the rookie. Could he be the first freshman to post a top-five finish in 2017?

 

Pre-Qualifying Optimal Lineup:

Teaser:
DraftKings NASCAR Lineup Picks: Axalta Presents the 400 Preview
Post date: Friday, June 9, 2017 - 10:45
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Miami Hurricanes
Path: /college-football/ranking-toughest-games-miamis-college-football-schedule-2017
Body:

Mark Richt’s first season with the Miami Hurricanes was a tale of streaks. Miami won its first four games of the 2016 season, only to lose the next four to Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.

 

But the streaking didn’t stop there, as the Hurricanes finished the campaign with five straight wins, including a 31-14 convincing victory over West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Now, Richt and his players look to capitalize on the momentum coming off of a 2016’s 9-4 showing.

 

Miami hopes this is the season where it finally breaks through and wins the program’s first ACC Coastal Division title. While the Hurricanes will be replacing quarterback Brad Kaaya, the other pieces are in place, especially on defense, to compete for a spot in the conference championship game in Charlotte.

 

First, Miami has to navigate its schedule, which appears to be a little easier than a season ago. Also, Virginia Tech and North Carolina, Coastal champs in 2016 and ’15 respectively, are tasked with replacing several key players.

 

Here are Miami’s 12 regular season game ranked from easiest to most difficult.

 

12. Sept. 2 vs. Bethune-Cookman

Miami has its common cupcake opponent to begin the season, hosting a Bethune-Cookman team that went just 4-6 in 2016. With tough road games at Arkansas State and Florida State to follow, this should be a great tune-up to get the Hurricanes’ season going.

 

11. Nov. 18 vs. Virginia

The Cavaliers went 2-10 last season and could be in store for another tough campaign. Virginia does feature a wide-open offense with Kurt Benkert at the helm, which could make it a little interesting for Miami. In the end, this is a game the Hurricanes should win easily.

 

10. Sept. 23 vs. Toledo

The Rockets finished 9-4 in Jason Candle’s first full season as head coach. Toledo has one of the MAC’s best quarterbacks in Logan Woodside and a deep receiving corps led by Corey Thompson. While many Hurricanes fans will dismiss the talent of the Rockets, this isn’t an easy game on paper for Miami.

 

Miami Football/ACC Magazine Athlon Sports’ ACC magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

9. Oct. 21 vs. Syracuse

In Dino Babers first season at Syracuse, the Orange made a ton of strides offensively. Ultimately, it was their defense that had a big say in their 4-8 record. Miami’s defense will get tested by dual-threat quarterback Eric Dungey. But considering this game will be at Hard Rock Stadium, and the issues on defense are still there, expect the Hurricanes to be a comfortable favorite at home.

 

8. Nov. 11 vs Notre Dame

Among Miami’s four losses last season, this could be considered the one that got away. After trailing 20-0, the Hurricanes scored 27 unanswered points only to see the Fighting Irish come back and kick a field goal with 30 seconds remaining for a 30-27 win.


Notre Dame should bounce back after finishing just 4-8, as the Irish enter the season in Athlon Sports’ Top 25. Talent shouldn’t be an issue, so don’t be surprised if this leads to another tightly contested matchup.

 

7. Sept. 9 at Arkansas State

In Week 2, the Hurricanes will travel to Jonesboro to take on Arkansas State, defending co-champions of the Sun Belt.

 

Yes, Miami did destroy the last Sun Belt opponent it faced (Appalachian State) last season (45-10), but this Red Wolves team is loaded with talent, including quarterback Justice Hansen. It won’t be easy, but the Hurricanes’ defense should help Miami pick up a quality road win.

 

6. Sept. 29 at Duke

While David Cutcliffe has done a great job in his tenure at Duke, his team was 4-8 and 1-7 in the ACC last season. With Daniel Jones having a year as the starter under his belt, the Blue Devils’ offense should be improved in 2017. This could be a trap game for the Hurricanes depending on how the first four games go.

 

5. Oct. 28 at North Carolina

North Carolina lost a ton of personnel from a team that went 8-5 and played in the Sun Bowl a year ago. It appears LSU graduate transfer Brandon Harris will be the Tar Heels’ starter at quarterback, and there are holes to fill elsewhere on offense and on a defense that struggled to stop the run.

 

Miami has had trouble winning in Chapel Hill, going just 2-4 at Kenan Memorial Stadium since joining the ACC in 2004. So, despite the Hurricanes’ clear-cut advantage on paper, this likely will not be a layup for them.

 

4. Oct. 12 vs. Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech is the team that’s sneaking under the radar this offseason in the ACC. The Yellow Jackets went 9-4 last season and even though they will be replacing three-year starting quarterback Justin Thomas, there are playmakers returning. Chief among those is running back Dedrick Mills, who is poised for bigger things after rushing for 771 yards and 12 touchdowns on only 152 carries in 2016.

 

3. Nov. 11 vs. Virginia Tech

Last season, Virginia Tech exceeded expectations as the Hokies won 10 games and the ACC Coastal Division. They gave Clemson all it could handle in the ACC Championship Game before coming back from a 24-0 halftime deficit to beat Arkansas in the Belk Bowl.

 

Justin Fuente’s team was hit hard by NFL draft departures, as quarterback Jerod Evans, wide receiver Isaiah Ford and tight end Bucky Hodges all left school early. However, Virginia Tech is still a talented, well-coached team and this game could be the one that decides the ACC Coastal race.

 

2. Nov. 24 at Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh will have a new quarterback in graduate transfer Max Browne following Nathan Peterman’s graduation. The Panthers have talent at receiver in Quadree Henderson and Jester Weah. Remember, Pittsburgh beat national champion Clemson and Big Ten champ Penn State last season, so this is a talented team that can win the ACC Coastal. There could plenty on the line for both teams by the time they meet at Heinz Field in late November.

 

1. Sept. 16 at Florida State

It’s no secret the Seminoles have been the benchmark for the state of Florida for the last five seasons. Miami hasn't defeated Florida State since 2009 and that streak could extend another season.

 

The Seminoles will likely enter the season ranked in the top five of the polls and many expect them to dethrone Clemson in the ACC. One thing going for the Hurricanes is that the last three games in this series have been decided by five points or fewer.

 

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

Teaser:
Ranking the Toughest Games on Miami's College Football Schedule in 2017
Post date: Friday, June 9, 2017 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/big-12-football-2017-predictions
Body:

The race to win the Big 12 in 2017 took an interesting turn this offseason. Oklahoma is Athlon’s predicted champion, but the Sooners will be under the direction of new coach Lincoln Riley after Bob Stoops retired in June. Riley will continue to direct Oklahoma’s high-powered offense, which is good news for the Heisman hopes of quarterback Baker Mayfield. Oklahoma State and Texas are locked into a tight battle for the No. 2 spot in Athlon’s Big 12 predictions, with Kansas State, West Virginia and TCU rounding out the next tier. Iowa State and Baylor are two sleeper teams to watch in 2017.

 

Here are five key storylines or discussions that shaped Athlon’s Big 12 predictions for 2017:

 

1. Oklahoma (with Lincoln Riley) Still the Pick at No. 1

In Athlon’s prediction meeting for the Big 12, Oklahoma was the clear No. 1 team for 2017. Fast forward to June, and the dynamics for this pick have changed just a bit. Bob Stoops retired in early June, with rising star (and offensive coordinator) Lincoln Riley taking over the full-time head coach duties. Riley has never been a head coach before, but his stock has been on the rise over the last few seasons. Under Riley’s direction, Oklahoma has averaged over 40 points in back-to-back years, with quarterback Baker Mayfield emerging as a Heisman contender and one of the top signal-callers in the nation. Riley is expected to put his own stamp on things, but don’t expect many drastic changes for the Sooners in 2017. Provided a couple of key targets emerge at receiver, and running backs emerge to replace Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, the offense should eclipse nearly 40 points a game once again. The defense played better over the final month of 2016 and returns six starters to provide a strong foundation for 2017. Sophomore linebacker Caleb Kelly is a breakout candidate, and the secondary should take a step forward with the emergence of Jordan Parker and Parnell Motley at cornerback opposite of Jordan Thomas. The change from Stoops to Riley doesn’t impact the pick of Oklahoma as the top team in the Big 12 now – and it wouldn’t have made a difference in our prediction meeting prior to the printing of the magazine.

 

2. Oklahoma State vs. Texas

Deciding between Oklahoma State or Texas for the No. 2 spot in the Big 12 predictions was probably the toughest debate of Athlon’s preseason meeting. The Cowboys are loaded with firepower on offense behind quarterback Mason Rudolph and the nation’s top receiving corps. With Rudolph and big-play receiver James Washington leading the way, coach Mike Gundy won’t need a shutdown defense to push for a spot among the top 10 teams in the nation this fall. But the Cowboys have some work to do on that side of the ball after suffering key losses at each level. The addition of graduate transfer Adrian Baker should alleviate some of the concerns in the secondary. A program that has posted three consecutive losing seasons isn’t normally projected to make a jump into the top 10-15 nationally. However, that’s exactly the case for Texas in 2017. The Longhorns made the offseason’s best hire with the addition of Tom Herman from Texas, along with new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. While the on-field results haven’t been anything noteworthy, the Longhorns aren’t hurting for talent. Quarterback Shane Buechele, running back Chris Warren and a solid line lead the way on offense. And on defense, Orlando – thanks to 10 returning starters – should be able to quickly turn around a unit that surrendered 31.5 points per game last fall. In this debate, Oklahoma State is a much safer pick at No. 2. However, Texas hosts the Cowboys on Oct. 21, which could be the difference in a tight contest for second behind Oklahoma.

 

3. Don’t Forget About Kansas State

Virginia Tech Football/ACC Magazine Athlon Sports’ Big 12 magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

It seems like we say this every year in this space, but it’s worth mentioning again: Don’t count out Kansas State in the Big 12 title mix. Simply, coach Bill Snyder will find a way to keep the Wildcats in the hunt to finish in the top two and earn a trip to the conference title game. Road trips to Texas and Oklahoma State won’t make life easy for Kansas State, but the personnel is there to be a factor. The Wildcats return one of the Big 12’s top offensive lines, with quarterback Jesse Ertz and running back Alex Barnes anchoring the backfield once again. Defense is usually a strength in Manhattan, and this unit will be strong once again despite losing linebacker Elijah Lee and end Jordan Willis. Cornerback D.J. Reed, tackle Will Geary and end Reggie Walker top the list of headliners for Snyder on defense. Kansas State is projected to finish fourth, but it wouldn’t surprise us if this team finished a spot or two higher.

 

Related: Big 12 Football 2017 All-Conference Team

 

4. West Virginia and TCU

Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Kansas State were a cut above the rest of the league in Athlon’s Big 12 predictions, but TCU and West Virginia will be two intriguing teams to watch. The Mountaineers lost a good chunk of talent from last year’s squad that finished 10-3. But coach Dana Holgorsen has stability with a long-term extension and can build an offense around transfer quarterback Will Grier. The former Florida signal-caller should push for All-Big 12 honors this fall. Helping Grier in his first full season as West Virginia’s starter will be a deep backfield, a line that returns two full-time starters, and a receiving corps featuring Ka’Raun White and David Sills. Similar to last year, the Mountaineers enter the fall with a significant rebuilding effort on defense. However, just like 2016, West Virginia should be able to find the right answers for a quick reload behind coordinator Tony Gibson. The return of safety Dravon Askew-Henry and addition of Syracuse graduate transfer Corey Winfield bolsters a secondary losing standout Rasul Douglas. Even with just seven returning starters, Holgorsen should keep West Virginia in the mix for eight (or nine) wins. TCU won 23 games from 2014-15 but slipped to 6-7 last fall. Can the Horned Frogs get back on track? In order for TCU to be a top 25 team once again, coach Gary Patterson needs more consistency out of quarterback Kenny Hill. TCU’s offensive line, receiving corps and running backs are all among the best in the conference. However, the offense will continue to struggle unless Hill cuts down on the mistakes. The Horned Frogs are always tough on defense under Patterson, and seven returning starters provide a good foundation. Patterson’s biggest concern on defense is a revamped line and depth at cornerback.

 

5. Texas Tech, Baylor or Iowa State – Is There a Sleeper Team to Watch?

Kansas is slowly improving behind coach David Beaty, but Texas Tech, Baylor and Iowa State fit the preseason talk of being a potential sleeper or surprise team. Can any of these three teams crack the top half of the Big 12 this fall? It’s tough to see that happening, but Iowa State and Baylor are two intriguing teams to watch. The Cyclones improved throughout the 2016 season and five of their nine losses came by 10 points or less. Quarterback Jacob Park returns after a promising debut, and he’s throwing to one of the nation’s top receiving corps, which includes standout Allen Lazard. A bowl game isn’t out of reach for Iowa State, but the offensive line and defense are two areas of concern for coach Matt Campbell. At Baylor, new coach Matt Rhule is digging out from the scandal left behind by former coach Art Briles. Depth on both sides of the ball remains an issue for Rhule, but the former Temple coach has some pieces to work with in 2017. Sophomore quarterback Zach Smith is promising, the ground game is in good hands with Terence Williams and JaMycal Hasty, and end K.J. Smith is one of the Big 12’s top linemen. At Texas Tech, coach Kliff Kingsbury sits squarely on the hot seat after a 5-7 record last fall. Even with quarterback Patrick Mahomes leaving early for the NFL, the Red Raiders should be dynamic on offense once again. New quarterback Nic Shimonek is a good fit for Kingsbury’s scheme, and there’s no shortage of receivers. But any hopes of a bowl or saving Kingsbury’s job likely rests with the defense. This unit gave up 43.5 points a game last fall and has significant concerns up front and in the secondary. 

 

 

Big 12 2017 Unit Rankings

Best RB

Units

Best WR

Units

Best OL

Units

Best DL
Units

Best LB

Units

Best DB

Units

1.  1.  1.  1.  1.  1. 
2.  2.  2.  2.  2.  2. 
3.  3.  3.  3.  3.  3. 
4.   4.  4.  4.  4.  4. 
5.  5.  5.  5.  5.  5. 

 

Big 12 Football 2017 Predictions

         
Rank Team   Projected Big 12 Record Projected Overall Record
1 Oklahoma 8-1 11-2
2 Texas 7-2 9-4
3 Oklahoma State 6-3 9-3
4 Kansas State 5-4 8-4
5 West Virginia 5-4 7-5
6 TCU 5-4 7-5
7 Baylor 3-6 6-6
8 Iowa State 3-6 5-7
9 Texas Tech 3-6 5-7
10 Kansas 0-9 3-9
         
Big 12 Championship Game
 Oklahoma over Texas 

 

 

Big 12 2017 Superlatives and Season Predictions

 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

Baker Mayfield

QB, Oklahoma

Baker Mayfield

QB, Oklahoma

Baker Mayfield

QB, Oklahoma

Defensive POY

Dorance Armstrong

DE, Kansas

Jordan Thomas

CB, Oklahoma

Travin Howard

LB, TCU

Coach of the Year

Tom Herman

Texas

Tom Herman

Texas

Tom Herman

Texas

Coach on Hot Seat

Kliff Kingsbury

Texas Tech

Kliff Kingsbury

Texas Tech

Kliff Kingsbury

Texas Tech

Top Freshman

Jack Anderson

OL, Texas Tech

Jalen Reagor

WR, TCU

Jalen Reagor

WR, TCU

Top Newcomer

Will Grier

QB, West Virginia

Jeff Badet

WR, Oklahoma

Will Grier

QB, West Virginia

Sleeper Team West Virginia West Virginia Iowa State

Key Position

to Watch

Oklahoma WR Oklahoma State DL Oklahoma WR
Best Coordinator Hire

Todd Orlando

DC, Texas

Doug Meacham

OC, Kansas

Todd Orlando

DC, Texas

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

TCU Baylor Baylor
Coach on the Rise

Todd Orlando

DC, Texas

Tony Gibson

DC, West Virginia

Matt Campbell

HC, Iowa State

Must-See Game

Texas vs. 

Oklahoma

Texas vs. 

Oklahoma

Texas vs. 

Oklahoma

Breakout Player

Caleb Kelly

LB, Oklahoma

Jacob Park

QB, Iowa State

Justin Crawford

RB, West Virginia

Comeback Player

Dravon Askew-Henry

S, West Virginia

Marcel Ateman

WR, Oklahoma State

Chris Warren

RB, Texas

 

Teaser:
Big 12 Football 2017 Predictions
Post date: Friday, June 9, 2017 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/oregon-state-football-2017-beavers-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Oregon State won only four games last season, but the Beavers’ progress in head coach Gary Andersen’s second season goes beyond just the wins and losses. Oregon State won its final two Pac-12 games and in the process identified some building blocks. There is still plenty of work to be done, especially when it comes to the offensive and defensive lines, but a productive running back and solid secondary are reasons to be hopeful that the Beavers may win enough games to make it to their first bowl game in four years.

 

Previewing Oregon State Football’s Offense for 2017

 

The Beavers are still looking for stability and production at quarterback after another season in which they ranked near the bottom nationally in nearly every passing category and cycled through three signal-callers due to injury or performance. Though both Marcus McMaryion and Darell Garretson return, the frontrunner to win the starting job could be junior college transfer Jake Luton, who boasts a 6'7" frame and strong arm. Offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven said it was a priority to identify a starter “early,” but that did not happen during or immediately after spring practice.

 

Running back Ryan Nall is the offense’s centerpiece and the face of the program. He’ll aim to hit 1,000 yards as a junior, after using his blend of power and speed to compile 951 yards (6.5 per carry) and 13 touchdowns in 2016. TCU graduate transfer Trevorris Johnson and former Oregon standout Thomas Tyner are expected to join the team this offseason. Both players should bolster the depth behind Nall.

 

The receiving corps loses do-it-all playmaker Victor Bolden but returns big-bodied Jordan Villamin and welcomes four-star early enrollee freshman Isaiah Hodgins. The wild card is the health of Seth Collins, who missed the final two games of the season after being hospitalized with an illness and whose status for 2017 remains uncertain. Tight end Noah Togiai, who is coming off a torn ACL, also provides a unique pass-catching option because of his size and athleticism.

 

The offensive line must replace three starters, including standout left tackle Sean Harlow. And the Beavers are turning to a unique contender at center, with former defensive lineman Sumner Houston flipping sides to snap the football for the first time since elementary school.

 

Previewing Oregon State Football’s Defense for 2017 

Oregon State Football/Pac-12 Magazine Athlon Sports’ Pac-12 magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

 

A unit that made strides in most categories in 2016 is looking for improvement up front, as the Beavers allowed 218.0 rushing yards per game and recorded 18 sacks in 2016. The defensive line returns nearly every contributor from last season and should get a boost from highly touted junior college transfer Craig Evans, a 330-pound tackle.

 

Linebacker is one of the more intriguing position groups, as veteran playmakers like the rangy Bright Ugwoegbu and tackling machine Manase Hungalu return, and youngsters like Andrzej Hughes-Murray, Shemar Smith and Doug Taumoelau could be primed for significant roles.

 

The back end loses two major pieces in cornerback Treston Decoud and safety Devin Chappell but welcomes back a Freshman All-American in cornerback Xavier Crawford, who must now match up against the opponent’s best receiver. Cornerbacks Jay Irvine and Christian Wallace and safety Jalen Moore are also promising young players. The Beavers also signed seven defensive backs, including touted in-state product David Morris, in its 2017 recruiting class.

 

Head coach Gary Andersen verbalized his lofty defensive goals during the spring — 30 sacks and 30 turnovers. 

 

Previewing Oregon State Football’s Specialists for 2017

 

The Beavers return punter Nick Porebski, an All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection in 2015, and Jordan Choukair, who took over field goal duties late in 2016. But they must replace Bolden, who was a huge weapon on kick returns. Trevon Bradford is an early candidate to fill that void.

 

Final Analysis

 

Following a disastrous 2–10 debut season for Andersen, Oregon State showed noticeable progress in 2016 by doubling its win total, notching three Pac-12 victories and closing the season with a blowout of Arizona and a come-from-behind win over Oregon. The Beavers identified some clear strengths, with Nall pacing a tough-minded rushing attack and a secondary spearheading a defense that ranked in the top 50 nationally in pass defense.

 

Though this program is still in the thick of its rebuild, there’s reason for optimism in 2017. Returning to a bowl game for the first time since 2013 is not an outlandish expectation.

 

National Ranking: 65

Pac-12 North Prediction: 5

Teaser:
Oregon State Football: 2017 Beavers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, June 9, 2017 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/conference-usa-football-2017-predictions
Body:

Change is nothing new to Conference USA, but a familiar trio of teams top the list of contenders for this league in 2017. WKU has claimed back-to-back Conference USA titles and is a slight favorite over MTSU to win the East Division this fall. The Hilltoppers have a new coach in former Notre Dame assistant Mike Sanford, but this program shouldn’t miss a beat behind a dynamic offense. In the West, Louisiana Tech is the favorite once again. The Bulldogs have some key voids to fill, but coach Skip Holtz should keep this team at the top of the West. FAU, UTSA and North Texas headline the sleeper teams to watch this fall, while UAB returns to the gridiron after a two-year hiatus.

 

Here are five key storylines or discussions that shaped Athlon’s Conference USA predictions for 2017:

 

1. Louisiana Tech the Clear Favorite in the West Division

Louisiana Tech has claimed two out of the last three C-USA West Division titles, and coach Skip Holtz’s team is a heavy favorite to earn its third in four years this fall. The Bulldogs averaged 44.3 points per game last season, and despite losing quarterback Ryan Higgins and receivers Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson, this unit may not miss much of a beat. New quarterback J’Mar Smith is a rising star, and the receiving corps should quickly reload behind Tulane transfer Teddy Veal, sophomore Alfred Smith and junior Kam McKnight. The Bulldogs also have one of the league’s top running back tandems with Jarred Craft and Boston Scott handling the work on the ground. The defense suffered key losses in the back seven, but the line is arguably the best in Conference USA. Junior Jaylon Ferguson returns to anchor the line and pass rush after recording 14.5 sacks last fall. Louisiana Tech has to play WKU in the regular season at Bowling Green, but Holtz’s team catches Southern Miss and UTSA in Ruston. The Bulldogs are a heavy favorite and easy pick at the top of the West for 2017.

 

2. WKU vs. MTSU for No. 1 in the East Division

While Louisiana Tech is the clear favorite in the West Division, the outlook is a little clouded at the top of the East. WKU has claimed back-to-back East titles and is Athlon’s pick to win the division once again. But the Hilltoppers might be more vulnerable than they were last season, especially with coach Jeff Brohm off to Purdue and the departure of five first-team All-Conference USA selections. New coach Mike Sanford is one of the offseason’s top hires, and the cupboard is far from bare. Needless to say, WKU isn’t going anywhere in 2017. Quarterback Mike White returns to lead a dynamic offense, three starters provide a solid foundation up front, and sophomore Lucky Jackson looks like the next standout receiver in Bowling Green. WKU’s defense suffered key losses at each level, but new coordinator Clayton White can build around a secondary ranked as the best in Conference USA by Athlon Sports. MTSU is a close second behind the Hilltoppers in the East Division, with the dynamic connection of quarterback Brent Stockstill and receiver Richie James providing enough firepower to push for the conference title. But Stockstill will be throwing behind an offensive line with three new starters, and running back I’Tavius Mathers departed after a standout 2016 campaign. The Blue Raiders made one of the conference’s top coordinator hires with former Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer taking over the defensive calls. However, similar to the offense, MTSU has some work to do in rebuilding the defensive line. The difference between WKU and MTSU for the top spot could come down to the Nov. 17 game – in Bowling Green.

 

It’s also worth noting in the discussion for the top spot in Conference USA’s East Division, Old Dominion tied for the East title (but lost the tiebreaker in head-to-head play) with WKU. The Monarchs should be solid once again but are unlikely to finish 7-1 in league play, as coach Bobby Wilder’s team must find a new quarterback and three starters at linebacker.

 

3. Southern Miss or UTSA?

Virginia Tech Football/ACC Magazine Athlon Sports’ National College Football magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 coverage for all 130 teams. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

Deciding on the No. 2 team in the West Division was one of the toughest picks of Athlon’s Conference USA meeting. UTSA took a step forward under coach Frank Wilson last season and finished 6-7 with a trip to the program’s first bowl game. The Roadrunners are recruiting well, so the future outlook for this team is bright under Wilson’s direction. For 2017, UTSA returns 13 starters, including one of the league’s top defenders in sophomore linebacker Josiah Tauaefa and quarterback Dalton Sturm. The offense needs to throw the ball with more consistency and develop better play from the line. But the pieces are in place on the skill positions and on defense to finish second in the West. Southern Miss also has a second-year coach (Jay Hopson) leading the way, and the Golden Eagles will be looking for more week-to-week consistency after recording a minus-17 turnover margin and three losses by 11 points or less. Replacing standout quarterback Nick Mullens is the top priority for Hopson this offseason. Will former junior college recruit Kwadra Griggs or sophomore Keon Howard claim the starting job? Regardless of which quarterback starts, the Golden Eagles return two of C-USA’s top skill players in running back Ito Smith and receiver Allenzae Staggers. But similar to Southern Miss, this team has concerns up front and is replacing a handful of starters in the front seven on defense. This year’s matchup between Southern Miss and UTSA takes place in San Antonio – and could be the tiebreaker in what is likely to be a tight battle for No. 2 in the West.

 

Related: Conference USA Football 2017 All-Conference Team

 

4. Intrigue at Marshall, FAU and FIU

The top three teams in the East – WKU, MTSU and Old Dominion – are a cut above the rest of the division. But after No. 3 is where the intrigue starts. Marshall – a team that finished 10-3 in 2015 – slumped to 3-9 last fall. Can the Thundering Herd get back on track in 2017? In order for coach Doc Holliday’s team to get back to a bowl, both sides of the ball have significant personnel concerns to address. Marshall’s offensive line features three new starters, there’s uncertainty at receiver, and the defense has to play better after giving up 35.3 points per game last fall. The Lane Kiffin era begins at FAU with a chance to surprise in the East Division. The Owls will lean heavily on running back Devin Singletary, and former Florida State quarterback De’Andre Johnson should be a good fit for Kiffin’s offense. The defense gave up 39.8 points per game last fall and has to improve for FAU to challenge for a bowl. That task won’t be easy with defensive end Try Hendrickson expiring his eligibility after 2016. About 60 miles south of FAU, Butch Davis makes his return to the sidelines at FIU. Similar to FAU, the Panthers have potential to surprise in this division. Seniors Alex McGough (QB) and Alex Gardner (RB) lead the way on offense, while nine starters return from a defense that surrendered 34.8 points per game last fall. The linebacker unit – led by Treyvon Williams and Anthony Wint – could be one of the best in the conference. One key scheduling note in predicting this trio: FIU plays at Marshall and FAU and gets UTSA in crossover play.

 

5. What to Expect from UAB?

After a two-year hiatus, UAB returns to the gridiron in 2017. Rebuilding the program from scratch isn’t going to be easy, but the Blazers are in better shape this time around with improved facilities and the potential of a long-term stadium solution. And of course, it doesn’t hurt UAB’s cause to have one of Conference USA’s top coaches leading the way. Bill Clark guided the Blazers to a 6-6 mark in 2014 and previously went 11-4 at Jacksonville State to 2013. Clark and his staff have pieced together a couple of solid recruiting classes to rebuild the talent level, but this team faces an uphill battle in its return to the gridiron. Senior linebacker Shaq Jones is a proven defensive leader for Clark, while the offense features former MTSU quarterback A.J. Erdely. FBS transfers Kalin Heath and Jonathan Haden should team with James Noble and Donnie Lee to form a capable group of running backs. With so many new faces on both sides of the ball starting for the first time at the FBS level, a transition year should be expected for UAB. However, don’t be surprised if the Blazers find a way to surprise and steal a couple of wins in league play.

 

Conference USA 2017 Unit Rankings

Best RB

Units

Best WR

Units

Best OL

Units

Best DL
Units

Best LB

Units

Best DB

Units

1.  1.  1.  1.  1.  1. 
2.  2.  2.  2.  2.  2. 
3.  3.  3.  3.  3.  3. 
4.  4.  4.  4.  4.  4. 
5.  5. 5.  5.  5.  5. 

 

 

Conference USA 2017 Football Predictions

         
East Division
Rank Team   Projected C-USA Record Projected Overall Record
1 WKU 6-2 9-4
2 MTSU 6-2 7-5
3 Old Dominion 5-3 7-5
4 FAU 4-4 6-6
5 Marshall 4-4 5-7
6 FIU 4-4 5-7
7 Charlotte 1-7 3-9
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected C-USA Record Projected Overall Record
1 Louisiana Tech 6-2 9-4
2 Southern Miss 5-3 7-5
3 UTSA 5-3 7-5
4 North Texas 3-5 5-7
5 Rice 3-5 3-9
6 UTEP 3-5 3-9
7 UAB 1-7 3-9
         
Conference USA Championship Game
 Louisiana Tech over WKU 

 

 

Conference USA 2017 Superlatives and Season Predictions

 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

Brent Stockstill

QB, MTSU

Richie James

WR, MTSU

Brent Stockstill

QB, MTSU

Defensive POY

Jaylon Ferguson

DL, La. Tech

Jaylon Ferguson

DL, La. Tech

Jaylon Ferguson

DL, La. Tech

Coach of the Year

Skip Holtz

La. Tech

Mike Sanford

WKU

Mike Sanford

WKU

Coach on Hot Seat

Sean Kugler

UTEP

Sean Kugler

UTEP

Sean Kugler

UTEP

Top Freshman

Adrian Hardy

WR, La. Tech

Josh Fields

RB, UTEP

Thomas Johnston

LB, UAB

Top Newcomer

De'Andre Johnson

QB, FAU

De'Andre Johnson

QB, FAU

De'Andre Johnson

QB, FAU

Sleeper Team FAU FAU FIU

Key Position

to Watch

MTSU OL La. Tech WRs WKU WRs
Best Coordinator Hire

Scott Shafer

DC, MTSU

Scott Shafer 

DC, MTSU

David Reeves

DC, UAB

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

Marshall Marshall UAB
Coach on the Rise

Mike Sanford

HC, WKU

Frank Wilson

HC, UTSA

Bill Clark

HC, UAB

Must-See Game

MTSU at 

WKU

Louisiana Tech at

WKU

MTSU at

WKU

Breakout Player

J'Mar Smith

QB, La. Tech

J'Mar Smith

QB, La. Tech

Jarred Craft

RB, La. Tech

Comeback Player

Reggie Bain

OL, FAU

D'Andre Ferby

RB, WKU

D'Andre Ferby

RB, WKU

Teaser:
Conference USA Football 2017 Predictions
Post date: Friday, June 9, 2017 - 09:55
Path: /college-football/texas-tech-football-2017-red-raiders-preview-and-prediction
Body:

After four uneven seasons, Kliff Kingsbury enters a critical campaign at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are coming off of a 5-7 campaign, must replace one of program’s most prolific quarterbacks while fixing one of the nation’s most porous defenses. There are some pieces for Kingsbury to work with, but also plenty of uncertainty on both sides of the ball. The bottom line is that Texas Tech needs to produce better results on the field, especially against Big 12 competition, and no one knows this more than Kingsbury.

 

Previewing Texas Tech Football’s Offense for 2017 

 

Senior Nic Shimonek, a 2014 transfer from Iowa, is the heir apparent to record-setting quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Shimonek is not as mobile as Mahomes, but he has the arm strength to make all the throws in this high-octane offense, and he has impressed his teammates with his leadership abilities. No other quarterback on the roster has taken a snap at the FBS level.

 

Texas Tech returns an embarrassment of riches at wide receiver, including three of last year’s top four receivers — Keke Coutee, Dylan Cantrell and Cameron Batson. The Red Raiders also have high hopes for senior Derrick Willies, a former junior college transfer who battled injuries last fall. The receiving corps lost a key weapon this offseason after Jonathan Giles decided to transfer to LSU. Giles was expected to be one of the main targets for Shimonek this season.

 

Poor play on the offensive line and a limited run game are deficiencies that must be addressed in 2017, although both the line and the running backs corps are still fairly young and inexperienced. Last year’s total yards rushing (1,243) were less than half of the team’s output in 2016 (2,487). The run game woes were a bit of an anomaly in the Kliff Kingsbury era, so expect at least slight improvement. Da’Leon Ward showed promise as a tailback as a true freshman, rushing for at least 80 yards in each of his last four games.

 

Previewing Texas Tech Football’s Defense for 2017

Athlon Sports’ Big 12 magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

 

David Gibbs enters Year 3 of his tenure as defensive coordinator, the first man to achieve such longevity at Texas Tech since 2009. He has nowhere to go but up, as the Raiders finished last in the nation in both total defense and scoring defense.

 

There are signs of hope, though. Linebacker Jordyn Brooks recorded 86 tackles (5.0 for a loss) last year as a freshman, and he will be joined by Dakota Allen, one of Texas Tech’s leading tacklers in 2015 who spent 2016 in the junior college ranks. The linebacking corps should be considered the strength of the defense.

 

The struggling secondary was reinforced — or at least that’s the plan — with new talent by way of incoming freshmen and transfers. The porous defensive line returns Broderick Washington and Joe Wallace on the interior, both standouts as freshmen in 2016, and will add Eli Howard at end after he sat out a year as a transfer from North Texas. Someone needs to step up as a pass rusher; Texas Tech’s pass rush was almost nonexistent in 2016, recording only 14 sacks in 12 games.

 

Previewing Texas Tech Football’s Specialists for 2017 

 

Placekicker Clayton Hatfield has a career conversion rate of 90 percent (27-of-30) and will resume his duties in 2017. Batson has been returning punts and/or kicks since his freshman season and will continue to do so as a senior. Texas Tech struggled in the punting game last year, with multiple mishandlings of snaps and a poor net punt average. Junior college transfer Dominic Panazzolo and holdover Michael Barden figure to compete for the starting job.

 

Final Analysis

 

Texas Tech has a lot to prove in 2017. There are glaring weaknesses that need to be addressed — specifically the run game, offensive line and one of the worst defenses in college football. Even in an area where Texas Tech typically succeeds — throwing the football — the Raiders are tasked with replacing arguably the best quarterback in school history with a player who has never started at the collegiate level.

 

All of this uncertainty on the field will add to the uncertainty with the coaching staff. Kingsbury is back for the fifth season at his alma mater, but the former record-setting quarterback is no doubt in a precarious position. A 13–23 record in Big 12 games simply is not good enough.

 

National Ranking: 64

Big 12 Prediction: 9

Teaser:
Texas Tech Football: 2017 Red Raiders Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, June 9, 2017 - 09:45
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Syracuse Orange, News
Path: /college-football/syracuse-football-2017-orange-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Dino Babers’ first season at Syracuse produced just four wins as one of the nation’s most productive passing attacks couldn’t overcome one of the most generous defenses. The offense should continue to improve with nine returning starters, including one of the ACC's top quarterbacks in Eric Dungey. The defense returns even more experience (10 starters) but has farther to come if the Orange hope to go bowling.

 

Previewing Syracuse Football’s Offense for 2017 

 

Eric Dungey returns for his junior year as one of the top signal callers in the ACC. He has the arm strength and accuracy to make every throw in head coach Dino Babers’ hurry-up spread offense, as well as the agility to win one-on-one situations against edge defenders. Once again, his ability to stay healthy projects to be a key variable in the Orange’s campaign.

 

Babers may finally have a power back to fit his system in freshman Markenzy Pierre, who rushed for more than 2,500 yards and 31 touchdowns as a high school senior and is expected to work his way in behind junior Dontae Strickland. SU also returns sophomore Moe Neal, who averaged a team-high 5.2 yards per carry last season, but he practiced in the slot during spring ball.

 

At receiver, senior Steve Ishmael is expected to be the top man on the outside. However, senior inside receiver Erv Philips could be the team’s most dynamic pass-catching threat. His stop-start speed is remarkable. Junior Jamal Custis and sophomore Devin Butler have the size and speed to stretch the field. Junior college tight end Ravian Pierce could also become an impact player.

 

While Dungey’s health is the key for SU’s offense, position-wise, the offensive line is the biggest question mark. Injuries forced the Orange to use five first-year starters for the majority of last season.

 

Previewing Syracuse Football’s Defense for 2017 

Syracuse Football/ACC Magazine Athlon Sports’ ACC magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

 

Senior middle linebacker Zaire Franklin is the leader of Syracuse’s defense and entire team. He’s a two-time captain who brings toughness and leadership as well as consistency defending the run and a developing coverage skill set. He’s flanked on the weak side by senior Parris Bennett, another sure tackler who combined with Franklin last season to become the first 100-tackle pair at SU in more than a decade.

 

Junior defensive tackle Chris Slayton is back as the lone proven entity in the front four. Sophomore McKinley Williams is emerging as a potential starter — he’s gained more than 40 pounds since arriving last summer. The Orange were hit with some bad news up front this offseason. Junior Steven Clark’s football career has ended due to a blood clotting issue. 

 

Defensive ends Kendall Coleman and Josh Black will need to become more consistent. Junior college transfer Brandon Berry could also work his way into the mix.

 

In the secondary, free safety Antwan Cordy is fully recovered from the broken forearm that ended his 2016 season in Week 2. He may be joined by two new faces; SU has signed graduate transfer cornerbacks Devin M. Butler (Notre Dame) and Jordan Martin (Toledo). The duo brings size to fit the Tampa-2 scheme and much-needed experience.

 

Previewing Syracuse Football’s Specialists for 2017

 

Syracuse faces a tall task in replacing return man Brisly Estime, who led the nation in punt return average last season. Senior kicker Cole Murphy will look to rebound from a 10-for-18 campaign last season. Sophomore punter Sterling Hofrichter became adept at executing the rugby-style punt last season.

 

Final Analysis 

 

Babers hopes to replicate the second-season growth he experienced with Eastern Illinois (five more wins) and Bowling Green (two) at Syracuse in 2017. But after achieving a 4–8 mark in Year 1, he faces one of the toughest schedules in the nation. In addition to games with Atlantic Division foes Florida State, Clemson and Louisville, SU travels to Miami and LSU. The plan is for Babers’ offense to reach peak performance around Weeks 4-6. The team will need to maintain that production while making significant strides on defense if it wants to make its first bowl game since 2013.

 

National Ranking: 63

ACC Atlantic Prediction: 6

Teaser:
Syracuse Football: 2017 Orange Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, June 9, 2017 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Duke Blue Devils, News
Path: /college-football/duke-football-2017-blue-devils-preview-and-prediction
Body:

After leading Duke to four straight bowl games, head coach David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils stumbled to a 4-8 record last season. There could be a potential rebound thanks to the emergence of a young quarterback, but the defensive outlook is considerably cloudier due to a lot of turnover and questionable depth. A wide-open ACC Coastal Division helps Duke’s chances of at least getting back to the postseason, a position Blue Devils fans have been accustomed to during Cutcliffe’s tenure in Durham. 

 

Previewing Duke Football’s Offense for 2017 

 

If nothing else, the 2016 season delivered quarterback guru David Cutcliffe his next project. Stepping in as a redshirt freshman, Daniel Jones proved to be a bright spot in a rough season, throwing for 2,836 yards and 16 touchdowns while closing the year with a string of 173 passes without an interception. And thanks to major roster turnover elsewhere, the 6'5", 210-pounder enters this season as the most experienced starting signal caller in the ACC’s Coastal Division.

 

Jones will have experienced targets to throw to in junior receivers T.J. Rahming, Johnathan Lloyd and Chris Taylor. Rahming’s 70 catches last season were 36 more than the next-closest Blue Devil. After splitting time with then-senior Jela Duncan last season, running back Shaun Wilson will become the featured back behind an offensive line that has three returning starters but little experienced depth. Ohio State graduate transfer Evan Lisle could end up playing a prominent role. He did not start a game during his career as a Buckeye.

 

Previewing Duke Football’s Defense for 2017

Duke Football/ACC Magazine Athlon Sports’ ACC magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

 

The good news for the Devils is that the top two tacklers from last season — linebackers Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris — both return. Combining for 213 tackles and 20.5 tackles for a loss, they both possess size, speed and a nose for the ball. They should also have some help, as there are some seasoned linebackers able to rotate in when needed. However, the bad news facing Duke’s defense is that there are question marks nearly everywhere else.

 

Senior Mike Ramsay will reprise his role at defensive tackle, but he will need to guide the three new defensive line starters who will surround him. In the secondary, the Blue Devils will have to replace program mainstays Breon Borders and DeVon Edwards. Senior Bryon Fields and sophomore Mark Gilbert give the Blue Devils a pair of proven performers at cornerback. But senior Alonzo Saxton will be the lone returning starter at the Blue Devils’ three safety spots. Jeremy McDuffie, a converted cornerback, will likely man one of the others.

 

Previewing Duke Football’s Specialists for 2017

 

When Edwards was ready to field a kick, opponents had every right to be worried — he took six kicks back for touchdowns during his Duke career. With him gone, the Duke return game faces a major challenge. Wilson will get a chance to handle the kickoff return duties, but the punt return role is wide open. While sophomore Austin Parker averaged 40.9 yards per punt last season, locking up the starting gig for this season, he’ll likely also be called upon to try and solve the Blue Devils’ kicking woes. Last season, freshman A.J. Reed connected on just 3-of-10 field-goal tries. Reed is back as a sophomore to try and win the job again, but Parker and others will compete for the job as well.

 

Final Analysis 

 

For an example of how far Duke football has come, one needs look no further than last season. In the decade since he arrived in Durham, Cutcliffe turned what had been a football wasteland into a program that reached four straight bowl games, briefly cracked the top 25 and made great strides in recruiting, facilities and visibility. So when the 2016 squad stumbled through a season defined by injuries, bad breaks and head-scratching losses, oddly enough, it felt out of character.

 

This season, the Blue Devils should have a chance to get back to a more familiar Cutcliffe-era script. Jones should give the offense a dynamic leader and, if the defense can find answers, the Blue Devils have every reason to believe they can make strides and compete for a bowl bid in a Coastal Division that lacks a clear hierarchy.

 

National Ranking: 62

ACC Coastal Prediction: 6

Teaser:
Duke Football: 2017 Blue Devils Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, June 9, 2017 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/san-diego-state-football-2017-aztecs-preview-and-prediction
Body:

San Diego State has consistently been one of the Mountain West’s top teams under head coach Rocky Long and is coming off of back-to-back conference titles. The Aztecs will remain a threat once again, but will look different after the departure of the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher although they will be replacing him with another 1,000-yard back. San Diego State also has developed a reputation as a defense that makes the most of an opponent’s mistakes. Even though some key players have to be replaced, the Aztecs’ recipe for success remains and should continue to produce plenty of wins.

 

Previewing San Diego State Football’s Offense for 2017

 

San Diego State prides itself on its rushing accomplishments, and one of its tasks is to replace NCAA all-time leading rusher Donnel Pumphrey (6,405 yards). Yet the chore might not be as difficult as it seems with senior Rashaad Penny ready to build on his own spectacular campaign.

 

The Aztecs were the first team in NCAA history to feature both a 2,000-yard rusher (Pumphrey, 2,133) and 1,000-yard rusher (Penny, 1,018) in the same season and set a school mark with 3,680 rushing yards. Penny posted an electrifying 7.5 average, and coach Rocky Long asserts that Penny will get 25-plus carries per game this season. That workload would provide Penny with the chance of putting up big numbers. “It’s a big step for me,” Penny says. “I know everybody’s wondering what’s going to happen to us with (Pumphrey) gone.”

 

The passing game doesn’t scare anyone, but quarterback Christian Chapman tossed 20 scoring passes despite throwing for just 1,994 yards. The junior also avoids mistakes and threw just six interceptions.

 

Chapman had surgery on his passing thumb after being injured in the Las Vegas Bowl victory over Houston but will be ready for fall camp. Rutgers transfer Chris Laviano arrives in the summer and will initially compete with sophomore Ryan Agnew for the backup spot.

 

Senior Mikah Holder is the team’s top wideout and averaged 21.5 yards with five touchdowns on 27 receptions last season. Senior tight end David Wells (25 catches) is also solid, while senior right guard Antonio Rosales is the standout of a young but promising offensive line.

 

Previewing San Diego State Football’s Defense for 2017

San Diego State Football/National College Football Magazine Athlon Sports’ National College Football magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 coverage for all 130 teams. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

 

An opportunistic nature has been a staple of the Aztecs under Long. The team has intercepted the most passes (49) in the nation over the past two seasons. Senior Kameron Kelly nabbed five last season and has moved to cornerback from safety now that school career interceptions leader Damontae Kazee (17) is off to the NFL.

 

Sophomore Ron Smith is a budding standout after returning two of his three interceptions for touchdowns last season, while junior Parker Baldwin is the most productive back-end performer in the team’s three-safety alignment.

 

Junior outside linebacker Ronley Lakalaka was second with 73 tackles last season and also returned an interception for a touchdown. Senior Ryan Dunn moves from the middle to the flank, and the coaches believe that the move will increase his production. The defensive line has holes, but senior end Dakota Turner and junior end Noble Hall have been key contributors.

 

Previewing San Diego State Football’s Specialists for 2017

 

Penny has five career kickoff returns for touchdowns and averaged a scintillating 31.2 yards per return last season. He will likely receive fewer opportunities now that he is the starting running back, and that will provide sophomore Juwan Washington more chances. Junior placekicker John Baron II was outstanding in 2016 and set school records for field goals (21) and field goal percentage (91.3).

 

Final Analysis

 

San Diego State went 16–2 against conference foes while winning back-to-back Mountain West titles and expects to compete for a third. The Aztecs have won 11 games just four times in school history, with two of those seasons coming in the past two years. Long has established San Diego State as a sturdy program that can prevail at a level higher than the collective talent. The formula of physically running the ball with an opportunistic defensive assault wears down opponents and has helped lead to a school-record seven consecutive bowl appearances. The Aztecs routed Cincinnati and Houston by a combined 76–17 in their past two bowl games and should be one of the top non-Power 5 teams in the nation this season.

 

National Ranking: 61

MW West Prediction: 1

 

(Rashaad Penny photo courtesy of Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

Teaser:
San Diego State Football: 2017 Aztecs Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, June 9, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/nfl-tight-end-rankings
Body:

2017 Athlon Sports NFL Preview MagazineRob Gronkowski may maintain his status as the top tight end in the NFL, but he’s far from alone when it comes to making a significant impact at the position. Travis Kelce was named first-team All-Pro after finishing 12th in the league in receiving yards, while Greg Olsen made history with his third straight 1,000-yard season.

 

Not surprisingly, this trio leads off Athlon Sports’ tight end rankings entering the 2017 season, but the rest of the top 10 may surprise some. There are former All-Pros who showed last season they still have plenty left in the tank and a guy who was a No. 2 on his team in 2016 but has a chance to really make a name for himself in ’17.

 

Athlon’s player rankings are just one of the features that appear in the 2017 NFL Preview magazine.

 

2017 NFL Tight End Rankings

 

1. Rob Gronkowski, New England

Hasn’t completed a 16-game season since 2011 because of injuries. But when healthy, there is no better tight end.

 

2. Travis Kelce, Kansas City

For the first time since Tony Gonzalez’s departure, the Chiefs have an elite tight end. Led all TEs in receiving yards with 1,125 on 85 catches in 2016.

 

3. Greg Olsen, Carolina

Became the first tight end in NFL history to post three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Olsen ranks in top 10 all-time in catches (622) and receiving yards (7,365) among TEs.

 

4. Jason Witten, Dallas

No. 2 all-time among tight ends in catches and receiving yards with 1,089 for 11,888. Enters this season ready to extend records for most consecutive games played (219) and started (163) in Cowboys history.

 

5. Jimmy Graham, Seattle

Overcame career-threatening knee injury to regain Pro Bowl form. Became first tight end in Seahawks history to record 100-plus receiving yards in back-to-back games as part of 65-catch, 923-yard season.

 

6. Delanie Walker, Tennessee

Prime example of a late bloomer whose skills were underutilized by his former team. Compiled 282 catches since signing with Titans in 2013 compared to 123 in seven seasons with San Francisco.

 

7. Jordan Reed, Washington

Praised as the Redskins player “the offense runs through” by head coach Jay Gruden. Per-game average of 5.5 catches ranked second among all NFL tight ends in 2016.

 

8. Martellus Bennett, Green Bay

Helped pick up the slack for New England when Rob Gronkowski was lost to a back injury. Could improve on his 55-catch campaign from 2016 now that he’s paired with Aaron Rodgers.

 

9. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia

Fell just three catches short in 2016 of tying Keith Jackson’s single-season franchise record for tight ends (81). Sixty-three of those receptions came in final nine games as rookie QB Carson Wentz became more comfortable running Philadelphia’s offense.

 

10. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati

Multiple injuries ruined the 2016 season of Cincinnati’s top red-zone target (13 TDs in 2015). Durability concerns linger into 2017 following offseason back surgery.

 

11. Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota

12. Jermaine Gresham, Arizona

13. Dennis Pitta, Baltimore

14. Eric Ebron, Detroit

15. Jared Cook, Oakland

16. Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers

17. Dwayne Allen, New England

18. Jack Doyle, Indianapolis

19. Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay

20. Coby Fleener, New Orleans

Teaser:
2017 NFL Tight End Rankings
Post date: Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/pac-12-football-2017-predictions
Body:

Washington claimed the Pac-12 title and a CFB Playoff berth last season, and despite some key personnel departures, coach Chris Petersen’s team isn’t fading from the top of the league in 2017. The Huskies are a slight favorite over USC in Athlon’s 2017 Pac-12 predictions, with Oregon, Stanford and Washington State rounding out the next tier. Defending South Division champion Colorado has several key losses on defense, but coach Mike MacIntyre should keep the Buffaloes in the mix for second behind USC. Utah and UCLA – with Josh Rosen back under center – are two other wild cards to watch in the South this fall.

 

Here are five key storylines or discussions that shaped Athlon’s Pac-12 predictions for 2017:

 

1. Washington and USC…the Clear Favorites for 2017

In Athlon’s Pac-12 prediction meeting, there was little debate about the top two teams in the conference. Washington – the defending Pac-12 champion – was the unquestioned pick from the North. In the South, USC was the pick after finishing 2016 by winning their final nine games. Assuming the champion of this league makes it through with one loss, it will be hard to keep the Pac-12 title game winner out of the CFB Playoff. Of course, there are other factors involved, but on paper, a one-loss Washington or USC team would be appealing to the committee. The Huskies return 13 starters from last year’s Pac-12 title team, including quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin. Coach Chris Petersen has to find a replacement for No. 1 target John Ross and rebuild a secondary that lost standouts Budda Baker, Sidney Jones and Kevin King. Even if the defensive backfield takes a step back, the Huskies still possess the Pac-12’s top front seven. Road trips to Colorado, Arizona State and Stanford are tough, but Washington avoids USC in regular season play and won’t be tested in non-conference play. Recapturing the magic from one year to the next is never easy. But the Trojans shouldn’t have a hard time contending for a CFB Playoff berth behind quarterback Sam Darnold. The sophomore was a big reason why USC’s fortunes changed last fall – and he’s also the main reason to believe the Trojans can reach the top four in 2017. While Darnold is a Heisman contender, coach Clay Helton has to fill a few key voids around his star quarterback. The offensive line lost three All-Pac-12 performers, top receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster left for the NFL, and the defense must replace standout cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu. While Darnold is probably the Pac-12’s best player for 2017, the nod as the favorite in the conference in Athlon’s meeting went to Washington – largely because of the track record of Petersen. 

 

2. Who is the Top Challenger to Washington in the Pac-12 North?

Virginia Tech Football/ACC Magazine Athlon Sports’ Pac-12 magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

The battle to finish second in the Pac-12 North should be one of the conference’s most intriguing storylines this season. Oregon, Stanford and Washington State each have a compelling argument to be picked No. 2 in the North, but Athlon settled on the Cardinal. Coach David Shaw’s team finished 2016 by winning its last six games and returns most of its core with 16 starters back. But this team isn’t without question marks. Quarterback Keller Chryst is recovering from a knee injury suffered in the Sun Bowl, and the defense will miss standout end Solomon Thomas. If Chryst is slow to return to full strength, Stanford could turn to promising redshirt freshman K.J. Costello. Regardless of which quarterback takes the most snaps next year, the Cardinal will once again rely on a standout ground game and a solid back seven on defense. Home games against Oregon and Washington could be the difference in the battle to get to 6-3/7-2 in conference record and second in the North. After a 4-8 record last fall, Oregon hit the reset button and overhauled its coaching staff. New coach Willie Taggart should be a good fit in Eugene, and his up-tempo, spread offense is similar to what the Ducks have used in previous seasons. Taggart has plenty to work with on offense, with the return of running back Royce Freeman and quarterback Justin Herbert. Additionally, Oregon returns four starters up front, and tackle Tyrell Crosby is back after missing most of last season due to injury. If the Ducks are going to take second in the North, they will need significant improvement on defense. This unit surrendered 41.4 points per game last fall and is under new leadership with coordinator Jim Leavitt. While most of the offseason attention has been focused on Oregon and Washington, Washington State quietly lurks within striking distance. The Cougars finished second in the North last season with a 7-2 conference record and return one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in senior Luke Falk. Coach Mike Leach’s team also returns a deep backfield and a solid defense, anchored by rising star at defensive end in Hercules Mata’afa. Out of the three teams vying for second, Washington State might have the toughest path on the schedule. The Cougars play USC, Colorado and Utah in crossover play and catch Washington and Oregon on the road.

 

3. The Josh Rosen Factor at UCLA

UCLA’s 2016 season essentially ended after quarterback Josh Rosen’s shoulder injury in the 23-20 loss against Arizona State on Oct. 8. Rosen threw for 1,915 yards and 10 touchdowns in his limited action last year. Even if Rosen stayed healthy in 2016, UCLA’s problems on offense were bigger than just one player. And as a result of last year’s struggles, coach Jim Mora overhauled his offensive staff, hiring four new coaches, including coordinator Jedd Fisch. The offensive line had its issues in pass protection (24 sacks allowed) and only cleared the way for rushers to average just 2.9 yards per carry. Can this unit take a step forward with four starters back in 2017? Keeping Rosen upright and healthy is essential for UCLA to return to the bowl scene, but the offense also needs better balance from its ground game. Can juniors Soso Jamabo or Bolu Olorunfunmi or senior Nate Starks become the go-to back? The defense has key players to replace at all three levels, but there is a solid foundation – including five-star recruit Jaelan Phillips – for coordinator Tom Bradley. With Rosen back in the mix, UCLA should return to the postseason and has a shot to be the No. 2 team in the South Division. But just getting Rosen back isn’t going to be enough to take the Bruins from four to six wins. This team needs more from its supporting cast.

 

Related: Pac-12 Football 2017 All-Conference Team

 

4. What to Expect from Colorado and Utah?

UCLA got the nod as the No. 2 team from the Pac-12 South in Athlon’s predictions, but there’s very little separation between the Bruins, Colorado and Utah. The Buffaloes are the defending South champs and will remain a factor in this division. Coach Mike MacIntyre’s team suffered heavy losses on defense, but the offense has a chance to be better than last year’s version that averaged 31.1 points per game. Quarterback Steven Montez is a breakout candidate, while the receiving corps is the best in the league. Utah has won at least nine games in each of the last three seasons, and despite significant personnel departures, don’t count out coach Kyle Whittingham’s team. The addition of Troy Taylor as the program’s new play-caller should provide some punch to the passing game for an offense that finished eighth in the Pac-12 in scoring last fall. Quarterback Troy Williams returns for his second year as the starter, but his supporting cast is a concern. The line returns just one starter, and standout running back Joe Williams is handling carries in the NFL. The Utes should be tough on defense once again, featuring a front seven that ranks among the best in the Pac-12. Safety Chase Hansen is a candidate for All-America honors. Why Colorado over Utah? The schedule. The Utes play the top four teams from the North, while the Buffaloes miss Oregon and Stanford in favor of Oregon State and California.

 

5. The state of Arizona

What a difference a couple of seasons can make in the Pac-12. It wasn’t long ago Arizona State (2013) and Arizona (2014) played in the conference title game. But both programs have been trending in the wrong direction over the last few years. The Sun Devils are 21-17 since 2014, while the Wildcats are 20-19 in that span. Both coaches – Arizona State’s Todd Graham and Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez – have experienced their share of success in the desert but both are inching closer to the hot seat. Will their fortunes change in 2017? Arizona would seem to have a steeper climb to a winning record this year, as the Wildcats feature significant question marks at receiver, quarterback and with a defense that surrendered 38.3 points per game in 2016. But the schedule doesn’t feature Washington or Stanford in crossover play and UCLA, Utah, Oregon State and Washington State visit Tucson. Arizona State is in better shape in terms of personnel, but Graham’s team faces a brutal slate. The Sun Devils play three out of the top four teams from the North and catch UCLA and Utah on the road. Led by sophomore receiver N’Keal Harry, a talented backfield and Alabama transfer Blake Barnett at quarterback, scoring points shouldn’t be a problem. However, question marks remain from a defense that gave up 39.8 points per game and continued to have problems against the pass last fall. 

 

Pac-12 2017 Unit Rankings

Best RB

Units

Best WR

Units

Best OL

Units

Best DL
Units

Best LB

Units

Best DB

Units

1.  1.  1.  1.  1.  1. 
2.  2.  2.   2.  2.  2. 
3.  3.  3.  3.  3.  3. 
4.  4.  4.  4.  4.  4. 
5.  5.  5.  5.  5.  5. 

 

Pac-12 Football 2017 Predictions
         
North Division
Rank Team   Projected Pac-12 Record Projected Overall Record
1 Washington 8-1 12-1
2 Stanford 6-3 9-3
3 Oregon 5-4 8-4
4 Washington State 5-4 8-4
5 Oregon State 3-6 5-7
6 California 2-7 3-9
         
South Division
Rank Team   Projected Pac-12 Record Projected Overall Record
1 USC 8-1 11-2
2 UCLA 5-4 7-5
3 Colorado 4-5 7-5
4 Utah 4-5 7-5
5 Arizona State 2-7 5-7
6 Arizona 2-7 5-7
         
Pac-12 Championship Game
 Washington over USC 

 

 

Pac-12 2017 Superlatives and Season Predictions

 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

Sam Darnold

QB, USC

Sam Darnold

QB, USC

Sam Darnold

QB, USC

Defensive POY

Azeem Victor

LB, Washington

Azeem Victor

LB, Washington

Azeem Victor

LB, Washington

Coach of the Year

Chris Petersen

Washington

Willie Taggart

Oregon

Willie Taggart

Oregon

Coach on Hot Seat

Jim Mora

UCLA

Rich Rodriguez

Arizona

Rich Rodriguez

Arizona

Top Freshman

Byron Murphy

CB, Washington

J.J. Taylor

RB, Arizona

Jaelan Phillips

DL, UCLA

Top Newcomer

Blake Barnett

QB, Arizona State

Blake Barnett

QB, Arizona State

Corrion Ballard

S, Utah

Sleeper Team Oregon State Oregon State UCLA

Key Position

to Watch

USC OL UCLA OL USC OL
Best Coordinator Hire

Jim Leavitt

DC, Oregon

Jim Leavitt

DC, Oregon

Jim Leavitt

DC, Oregon

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

UCLA Utah California
Coach on the Rise

Pete Kwiatkowski

DC, Washington

Alex Grinch

DC, Wazzu

Beau Baldwin

OC, California

Must-See Game

Washington at

Stanford

Washington at

Stanford

Oregon at 
Washington
Breakout Player

Rasheem Green

DL, USC

Bryce Love

RB, Stanford

Justin Herbert

QB, Oregon

Comeback Player

Josh Rosen

QB, UCLA

Josh Rosen

QB, UCLA

Azeem Victor

LB, Washington

Teaser:
Pac-12 Football 2017 Predictions
Post date: Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/mountain-west-football-2017-predictions
Body:

San Diego State has claimed back-to-back Mountain West titles, and coach Rocky Long’s team begins 2017 in great shape to repeat. The Aztecs should be solid on defense once again, with the offense expected to lean heavily on the one-two punch of Rashaad Penny and Juwan Washington to replace Donnel Pumphrey at running back. San Diego State is a heavy favorite to return to the conference title game in Athlon’s 2017 Mountain West predictions, with a trio of teams battling at the top of the Mountain Division. Boise State is a slight favorite in Athlon’s picks to claim the Mountain title, with Colorado State and Wyoming also expected to be in the mix. Hawaii, UNLV and Air Force headline the league’s sleeper teams to watch this fall.

 

Here are five key storylines or discussions that shaped Athlon’s Mountain West predictions for 2017:

 

1. Boise State vs. Colorado State/Wyoming

Wyoming won the Mountain Division last year, and Colorado State is an intriguing sleeper pick, but the nod as the favorite still goes to Boise State. While the Broncos are Athlon’s projected pick to win the Mountain Division, the gap has narrowed just a bit over the last two seasons. Boise State has not ranked as a top 25 team at the end of the regular season in back-to-back years for the first time since 2000-01, but there’s no reason to panic under coach Bryan Harsin. The Broncos return eight starters this fall, including quarterback Brett Rypien and big-play receiver Cedrick Wilson. Sophomore Alexander Mattison looks like a breakout candidate at running back to replace Jeremy McNichols. Scoring points won’t be a problem for Boise State. However, how fast can the defense reload after returning just four starters and suffering key losses at each level? Additionally, the Broncos will be tested in road trips to Colorado State and San Diego State – two games that could decide who wins the Mountain Division.

 

The Rams will be an interesting sleeper pick to win the division this fall, as coach Mike Bobo’s team returns 13 starters from last year’s 7-6 squad. Colorado State was a different team over the second half of 2016, winning four out of their last five regular season games, including a 63-31 victory at San Diego State. With quarterback Nick Stevens and receiver Michael Gallup anchoring the offense, the Rams could have the league’s best attack in 2017. Bobo will be looking for improvement from a defense that surrendered 30.4 points per game last fall and ranked eighth in the Mountain West against the run. If this unit improves, and Colorado State picks up where it left off on offense, the Nov. 11 showdown against Boise State in Fort Collins could decide the champion of the Mountain Division.

 

And we can’t discuss this division without mentioning the reigning Mountain Division champs – Wyoming. Led by quarterback Josh Allen, the Cowboys are positioned to make another run at the division title. Allen won’t have running back Brian Hill to lean on in 2017, but a revamped (but talented) receiving corps and solid offensive line provide a good foundation. Similar to Colorado State and Boise State, Wyoming enters the year with question marks on defense. Coach Craig Bohl’s group returns nine starters but struggled against the run and gave up too many big plays against the pass. 

 

This Boise State team may not be as good as some of its previous versions, but the guess here is Harsin and his staff find the right answers on defense and edge Colorado State and Wyoming for the division crown.

 

2. San Diego State the Clear Favorite in the West Division

San Diego State begins 2017 where it has ended each of the last two seasons – at the top of the West Division. The Aztecs have claimed back-to-back Mountain West championships and are 14-2 in regular season conference play during that span. Coach Rocky Long has helped the program raise its profile in recent years, and despite some significant personnel losses, San Diego State has the necessary personnel to win its third division title in a row. Donnel Pumphrey leaves big shoes to fill at running back, but Rashaad Penny and Juwan Washington should form an effective one-two punch on the ground. Quarterback Christian Chapman was steady in his first full year as the starter and could take a step forward in 2017. But the Aztecs don’t have a deep collection of receivers, and the offensive line features four new starters. Even if the offense regresses on the stat sheet, the defense should remain one of the league’s best with six returning starters. However, replacing standout cornerback Damontae Kazee, linebacker Calvin Munson and linemen Alex Barrett and Kyle Kelley won’t be easy. While San Diego State has some roster turnover and personnel question marks to address, it’s hard to see Hawaii or UNLV improving enough to catch Long’s team in 2017. The Aztecs may not be as dominant as they were last fall. However, this is still the team to beat in the West Division and is a threat to win the league for the third year in a row.

 

3. Hawaii and UNLV on the Rise

Virginia Tech Football/ACC Magazine Athlon Sports’ National College Football magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 coverage for all 130 teams. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

San Diego State is clearly entrenched at the top of the West Division, but Hawaii and UNLV are two teams to watch in the battle for second place. The Rainbow Warriors showed marked improvement in coach Nick Rolovich’s first year and played in the program’s first bowl since 2010. With a full year as the starter from quarterback Dru Brown, along with a seven other returning starters, the offense should easily improve off last season’s scoring total (28.3 ppg). A revamped secondary is Rolovich’s top concern on defense, while All-Mountain West selections in linebacker Jahlani Tavai and end Meffy Kolomatangi anchor the front seven. Another bowl bid is easily within reach for Hawaii, but unless the defense shows marked improvement – 37.3 points per game in 2016 – the Rainbow Warriors will be right in the seven/eight-win range once again. Third-year coach Tony Sanchez hasn’t quite delivered the breakout year that Hawaii experienced last season. However, the Rebels are on the right track. Leading the way for Sanchez in 2017 is a dynamic offense, headlined by standout receiver Devonte Boyd and redshirt freshman Armani Rogers at quarterback. UNLV also returns one of the Mountain West’s deepest backfields and top offensive lines this fall. But just like Hawaii, the defense has to improve for the Rebels to finish higher than third in the West Division. This unit gave up 36.8 points per game in 2016 and returns only two starters. Expect UNLV to take another step forward this fall. However, a bowl game is probably a year away.

 

Related: Mountain West 2017 All-Conference Team

 

4. Air Force vs. New Mexico

The battle between Wyoming, Boise State and Colorado State will draw plenty of attention during the year, but New Mexico and Air Force also received plenty of discussion in Athlon’s Mountain West meeting. The Falcons have won 28 games over the last three seasons and face a huge rebuilding effort in 2017. Coach Troy Calhoun returns just one starter on defense, and the offense must replace standout receiver Jalen Robinette. Quarterback Arion Worthman is a rising star and could emerge as one of the league’s top signal-callers by the end of 2017. With running back Tim McVey and three starters up front returning, the ground game should still rank among the nation’s best. Air Force is one of the Mountain West’s most reliable programs under Calhoun, but 2017 has the look of a rebuilding year with significant losses on both sides of the ball. New Mexico is on stable ground under coach Bob Davie, and the program has improved significantly since the disastrous three-year stint under Mike Locksley. But similar to Air Force, New Mexico has its share of personnel concerns on defense to address. This unit allowed 31.5 points per game in 2016 and returns just three starters. The secondary is an area of great concern for coordinator Kevin Cosgrove, especially in non-conference matchups against Texas A&M and Tulsa. The Lobos led the Mountain West in scoring offense (36.7 ppg) and should be explosive once again with quarterback Lamar Jordan and running back Tyrone Owens leading the way. The passing attack needs to improve, and New Mexico regains the services of receiver Delane Hart-Johnson after he missed all of 2016 due to injury. The Lobos won’t be an easy out in conference play. But this team catches San Diego State in crossover action and plays at Boise State and Wyoming. It’s a tough path to improve on last year’s nine wins.

 

5. New Coaches Look for Improvement + Hot Seat Talk at Utah State

The Mountain West features three new coaches for 2017, as Brent Brennan (SJSU), Jeff Tedford (Fresno State) and Jay Norvell (Nevada) make their debut this fall. All three coaches face an uphill battle to find success in 2017, as Nevada, Fresno State and San Jose State are projected at the bottom of the conference. The Wolf Pack have the most upside out of this trio. Running back James Butler decided to transfer, but seven starters return on defense and Alabama transfer David Cornwell should be a good fit at quarterback for the new scheme. The Spartans won four games last year but are likely to struggle to reach that mark in 2017. Uncertainty remains under center for Brennan, and the offensive line allowed a whopping 50 sacks in 2016. Additionally, depth on defense – especially up front – remains a concern. Fresno State has watched its win total decline from 11 in 2013 to six in 2014, three in 2015 and just one in 2016. Tedford has a lot of work ahead in the next few seasons, and his task wasn’t made easier with a roster that features only four players selected to Athlon’s four All-Mountain West teams for 2017. The climb back to respectability in the Mountain West is going to take a few seasons.

 

On the flipside of the coaching spotlight, Utah State’s Matt Wells is looking to rebound after last year’s 3-9 campaign. The three-win season snapped a string of five consecutive bowl berths for the Aggies. However, this program lost four games by seven points or less, suggesting some quick improvement is there for the taking in 2017. The addition of new coordinator David Yost should help quarterback Kent Myers in his development, and the secondary is among the best in the Mountain West. The top concern for Wells rests at the line of scrimmage. Both sides of the ball are undergoing renovations in the trenches – how quickly will the right answers emerge? A tough schedule also limits Utah State’s hopes for improvement. The Aggies must play Wisconsin, Wake Forest and BYU in non-conference play, while catching swing games against UNLV, New Mexico and Air Force on the road.

 

Mountain West 2017 Unit Rankings

Best RB

Units

Best WR

Units

Best OL

Units

Best DL
Units

Best LB

Units

Best DB

Units

1.  1.  1.  1.  1.  1. 
2.  2.  2.  2.  2.  2. 
3.   3.  3.  3.  3.  3. 
4.  4.  4.  4.  4.  4. 
5.  5.  5.  5.  5.  5. 

 

Mountain West Football 2017 Predictions

         
Mountain Division
Rank Team   Projected Mountain West Record Projected Overall Record
1 Boise State 7-1 10-3
2 Colorado State 6-2 8-4
3 Wyoming 5-3 7-5
4 Air Force 4-4 6-6
5 New Mexico 4-4 6-6
6 Utah State 3-5 4-8
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected Mountain West Record Projected Overall Record
1 San Diego State 6-2 8-5
2 Hawaii 5-3 7-5
3 UNLV 3-5 4-8
4 Nevada 2-6 3-9
5 Fresno State 2-6 3-9
6 San Jose State 1-7 2-11
         
Mountain West Conference Championship Game
 Boise State over San Diego State 

 

 

Mountain West 2017 Superlatives and Season Predictions

 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

Brett Rypien

QB, Boise State

Josh Allen

QB, Wyoming

Josh Allen

QB, Wyoming

Defensive POY

David Moa

DL, Boise State

Andrew Wingard

S, Wyoming

Malik Reed

DL, Nevada

Coach of the Year

Mike Bobo

Colorado State

Mike Bobo

Colorado State

Bryan Harsin

Boise State

Coach on Hot Seat

Matt Wells

Utah State

Matt Wells

Utah State

Matt Wells

Utah State

Top Freshman

Armani Rogers

QB, UNLV

Armani Rogers

QB, UNLV

Armani Rogers

QB, UNLV

Top Newcomer

David Cornwell

QB, Nevada

David Cornwell

QB, Nevada

David Cornwell

QB, Nevada

Sleeper Team UNLV UNLV Nevada

Key Position

to Watch

SDSU OL SDSU OL Boise State OL
Best Coordinator Hire

David Yost

OC, Utah State

Jeff Casteel

DC, Nevada

Jeff Casteel

DC, Nevada

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

Air Force Utah State Fresno State
Coach on the Rise

Nick Rolovich

HC, Hawaii

Tony Sanchez

HC, UNLV

Nick Rolovich

HC, Hawaii

Must-See Game

Boise State at

Colorado State

Boise State at

San Diego State

Boise State at

Washington State

Breakout Player

Alexander Mattison

RB, Boise State

Alexander Mattison

RB, Boise State

Alexander Mattison

RB, Boise State

Comeback Player

Carl Granderson

DE, Wyoming

Kendal Keys

WR, UNLV

Deonte Clyburn

LB, Colorado State

Teaser:
Mountain West Football 2017 Predictions
Post date: Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/iowa-state-football-2017-cyclones-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Matt Campbell won just three games in his first season as Iowa State’s head coach, but there’s no question the Cylcones are headed in the right direction. This team was competitive regardless of the competition over the second half of 2016, so there should be an uptick in wins this fall. How many will depend upon the progress both sides of the ball are able to make, especially as it relates to winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. Getting to a bowl game may seem like a stretch, but Iowa State may be able to pull off an upset or two in Big 12 play and open some eyes in the process. 

 

Previewing Iowa State Football’s Offense for 2017 

 

The first year for a coaching staff at a rebuilding program always brings a handful of challenges that come with transition. That was certainly the case for Matt Campbell at Iowa State in 2016. But despite finishing 3–9, there are reasons for optimism regarding the very near future of this program. Averaging 27.7 points per game, Iowa State finished Year 1 of the Campbell era ranked 71st nationally in scoring offense, which simply doesn’t cut it in the offense-happy Big 12. But the good news here is that the 2017 crew has the potential to be the most explosive offense in the history of Iowa State football, although a few key components certainly need to come together.

 

That starts with junior quarterback Jacob Park, who must continue to improve for the Cyclones to peak. Park beat out senior Joel Lanning late last season and handled the majority of the snaps in the final five games. Park threw for 1,791 yards and 12 touchdowns without having a spring to fall back on or first-team reps in preseason camp. There is reason for optimism for this former five-star recruit who began his career at Georgia.

 

Iowa State is loaded at running back and wide receiver. The one-two punch of David Montgomery and Mike Warren combined for more than 1,000 rushing yards a year ago and should only improve in the second season with Campbell’s system. At wideout, Allen Lazard will likely shatter every Iowa State receiving record with promising sophomore Deshaunte Jones on hand to complement him in the passing game.

 

For Iowa State’s offense to take that next step will require progress from an offensive line that should be much better in 2017. Getting senior tackle Jake Campos back from a broken leg is a great start. But sophomores Julian Good-Jones and Bryce Meeker must step up.

 

Previewing Iowa State Football’s Defense for 2017 

Iowa State Football/Big Ten Magazine Athlon Sports’ Big 12 magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

 

Iowa State addressed a major need in recruiting by snagging three junior college defensive linemen — Matt Leo, Ray Lima and Kamilo Tongamoa. All three prospects were heavily recruited by other Power 5 schools but chose Iowa State because of the chance to see the field early on. If that trio exceeds or even meets expectations, it could drastically raise the ceiling for the defense. JaQuan Bailey, a sophomore, led the Cyclones with 3.5 sacks as a true freshman and has a ton of upside.

 

Linebacker is a major concern for this defense. Willie Harvey, who tied for the team lead in tackles a year ago, is back and will start on the weak side, but after him, it is all unproven guys. Lanning spent the first four years of his career at quarterback, so he is a major question as he transitions to starting middle linebacker.

 

Iowa State’s secondary starters are top-notch. Kamari Cotton-Moya, a senior free safety, is a major injury risk but when on the field is one of the best in the Big 12. Brian Peavy and D’Andre Payne are a formidable duo at corner.

 

Previewing Iowa State Football’s Specialists for 2017

 

Senior Colin Downing is back and should be one of the best punters in the country. Cole Netten, the top placekicker in school history, is gone. A handful of walk-ons will compete to fill his shoes.

 

Final Analysis 

 

The Campbell era got off to a rough start, with a Week 1 loss to Northern Iowa followed up by a lopsided defeat to rival Iowa. But by the end of the year, Iowa State was competing with the best of the Big 12.

 

Now comes the most difficult task: winning some of those games and getting Iowa State back to the postseason for the first time since 2012. To make that happen, the Cyclones will have to show significant improvement in the trenches — on both sides of the ball.

 

National Ranking: 60

Big 12 Prediction: 8

 

Teaser:
Iowa State Football: 2017 Cyclones Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 10:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, LSU Tigers, SEC
Path: /college-football/ranking-toughest-games-lsus-college-football-schedule-2017
Body:

When the 2017 college football season kicks off for LSU against BYU on Sept. 2 in Houston, a new season will bring new life to the program under the leadership of head coach Ed Orgeron.

 

And Orgeron used the offseason to erase any doubt regarding who is in charge, hiring Matt Canada as offensive coordinator. Canada has promised to bring more than just the “ground and pound” approach to the Tigers’ offense. And while this has instilled a new sense of enthusiasm among the LSU faithful, the same expectations remain – beat Alabama and contend for a national championship.

 

For that to happen, the Tigers must first navigate a tough schedule. Besides opening against the Cougars in a neutral-site, non-conference affair, LSU also pays an early visit to Starkville for its first SEC game. October has the Tigers traveling to Gainesville, Oxford and Tuscaloosa with a trip to Knoxville in mid-November thrown in for good measure. Here’s how LSU’s entire slate breaks down, from easiest to most challenging matchup, based on game location, recent history and 2017 outlook.

 

12. Sept. 9 vs. Chattanooga

The Mocs will be a welcomed into Tigers Stadium after LSU kicks off its season against BYU. Chattanooga was a FCS playoff team in 2016, going 9-4, and held its own against Alabama last season before eventually wearing down against the undefeated Crimson Tide, 31-3.

 

11. Sept. 30 vs. Troy

Troy may hail from the Sun Belt, but the scrappy Trojans went 10-3 last season, were ranked in the national polls at one point, and took eventual national champion Clemson down to the wire before falling 30-24. Troy could really get LSU’s attention if it opens its season with a road win against Boise State since the Trojans appear to have three not-too-challenging games after that before making the trip to Baton Rouge.

 

10. Sept. 23 vs. Syracuse

The Orange are coming off a disappointing 4-8 season in head coach Dino Babers’ debut with his new team. Syracuse could come into this game 3-0 but none of those games will prepare the Orange for the step up in competition. Syracuse kept it close at home against LSU in 2015, but the Tigers still prevailed 34-24. Expect the Orange to come out swinging looking to surprise LSU, if possible.

 

Virginia Tech Football/ACC Magazine Athlon Sports’ SEC magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

9. Oct. 21 at Ole Miss

The Rebels were a disappointing 5-7 last season, including a 38-21 road loss to LSU. These division rivals have split the last four meetings, but Ole Miss is a team dealing with just as much off the field as it is on it. All eyes will be on sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson to see if he can be the difference-maker on the field for embattled head coach Hugh Freeze. If not, and with a self-imposed, one-year bowl ban for NCAA violations giving the team little to play for other than pride, the Rebels’ season could truly be over at this point with Freeze earning his ticket out of Oxford along the way.

 

8. Sept. 2 vs. BYU (Houston)

It could be argued that the Cougars were four plays away from going undefeated in 2016. BYU lost four games (to Utah, UCLA, West Virginia and Boise State) but the margin was a total of eight points. The Cougars did say good-bye to running back Jamaal Williams, the program’s all-time leading rusher, but plenty of experience remains on the roster. This game at NRG Stadium figures to be one of the more intriguing non-conference matchups and BYU would love nothing more than to beat an SEC team for the second straight season.

 

7. Nov. 23 vs. Texas A&M

LSU is 5-0 vs. Texas A&M since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012. Last year’s game saw the Tigers score a season-high 54 points in their road win. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin enters 2017 squarely on the hot seat, so it could be a “win or go home” scenario for him in the regular-season finale. The Aggies have started off each of the past five seasons looking like a contender only to crumble upon entering the heart of their conference schedule. With this game in Baton Rouge, expect the Tigers’ winning streak against Texas A&M to continue.

 

6. Nov. 18 at Tennessee

LSU trades Missouri for Tennessee in SEC crossover pairings, setting up the first matchup between the two teams since 2011. The Tigers have won four consecutive against the Volunteers and probably need to make it five in a row to give them a shot at a division title. Tennessee has been at the crossroads of returning to glory under head coach Butch Jones but keep taking one step back after taking two steps forward. This season the Volunteers have a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback. Tennessee has plenty of talent, but a lot of it is unproven, although the timing of this game may actually benefit the Vols in the long run.

 

5. Nov. 11 vs. Arkansas

The Razorbacks always play LSU tough but the Tigers took it to them in Fayetteville last season, winning 38-10. Arkansas has quarterback Austin Allen and an experienced offensive line returning, while the defense will be making the switch to a 3-4 base under new coordinator Paul Rhoads. The Razorbacks get a breather before this game as they will host Coastal Carolina the week prior while LSU returns home after a two-game road swing against Ole Miss and Alabama.

 

4. Sept. 16 at Mississippi State

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen always has his Bulldogs ready to play the Tigers. Mullen also has dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to run his offense. Fitzgerald is a dangerous runner who could really take a step forward as a complete signal-caller if he can improve his completion percentage and production as a passer. MSU has a new defensive coordinator in Todd Grantham, the Bulldogs’ fourth in as many seasons. This is the SEC opener for both teams for the second straight season. Last year’s meeting was a 23-20 victory for LSU so don’t surprised if this one is just as close.

 

3. Oct. 7 at Florida

Florida is another payback game for LSU. The Tigers forced the Gators to play in Tiger Stadium last season following the initial postponement due to Hurricane Matthew; but the change of venue didn’t prevent Florida from stunning the hosts, winning 16-10. Now LSU must go into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with this game serving as the first of seven straight SEC contests.

The Gators are two-time defending SEC East champions, but head coach Jim McElwain has his work cut out for him this season. Just three starters return on defense and he once again will be breaking in a new quarterback. Florida also opens its season in Arlington, Texas, against Michigan and will have played Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt consecutively before hosting LSU.

 

2. Oct. 14 vs. Auburn

If one buys into the thought of payback, any LSU players from last year’s team may be extra motivated for this game considering it was former head coach Les Miles’ last one. Last September, Auburn benefitted from an expired game clock that erased a Danny Etling touchdown pass that cost the Tigers a win in Jordan-Hare Stadium and Miles his job. LSU has to tangle with Florida in the Swamp before coming home to face Auburn, while the other Tigers have a home game against Ole Miss prior to this one. The winner more than likely will be in the driver’s seat to challenge Alabama for the top spot in the SEC West.

 

1. Nov. 4 at Alabama

About the only nice thing LSU has going for it entering this must-see matchup is a bye before facing Athlon Sports’ preseason No. 1-ranked team. Alabama is still stinging from last season’s loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff Championship Game and saw plenty of players depart for the NFL. But talent is never an issue when it comes to Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide teams. In fact, the biggest question mark entering this season is how the offense will do under new coordinator Brian Daboll, the former New England Patriots assistant who is returning to the college ranks after spending the last 16 years in the NFL.

 

Alabama’s defense should be nasty yet again, especially the secondary, despite the personnel losses. These two teams slugged it out in Tiger Stadium last season with Alabama claiming a 10-0 victory, its sixth straight against LSU. This game is one of the reasons why Orgeron gave Canada so much money. If the Tigers’ offense isn’t effective against the Crimson Tide, LSU’s new $1.5 million man will have some ‘splaining to do.

 

— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.

Teaser:
Ranking the Toughest Games on LSU’s College Football Schedule in 2017
Post date: Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/houston-football-2017-cougars-preview-and-prediction
Body:

After two successful seasons under Tom Herman, it’s up to former offensive coordinator Major Applewhite to maintain Houston's upward trajectory. Applewhite has plenty of pieces returning on offense, but he’ll have a new quarterback leading the attack. The defense has one of the nation’s best anchors up front, but was hit hard by departures at linebacker and cornerback. The Cougars will remain a threat in the American Athletic Conference, but probably won’t make much noise from a national standpoint. 

 

Previewing Houston Football’s Offense for 2017

 

Kyle Allen, a Texas A&M transfer and formerly the nation’s top prep quarterback recruit, sat out last season and now is the heir apparent to Greg Ward Jr. Gone is Ward’s improvisation that made him one of the nation’s most electrifying dual-threat quarterbacks, replaced by the strong-armed Allen, who should allow Houston to return to a more traditional passing offense. D’Eriq King, who missed the spring while recovering from a knee injury, is the likely candidate to serve as the backup.

 

First-year coach Major Applewhite was able to lure Brian Johnson from Mississippi State to serve as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

 

With Ward, the Cougars were able to rely on his ability to run to mask some of the deficiencies in the running game. Duke Catalon’s 528 yards were the fewest for the team’s leading rusher since 1993. Catalon was limited to seven starts because of an ankle injury and concussion, and there is concern whether he can remain healthy for an entire season. Walk-on Dillon Birden was a bright spot, starting four games and finishing second on the team with six rushing touchdowns. But after those two, the Cougars need to find some depth.

 

Linell Bonner is coming off a breakout season with 98 catches for 1,118 yards and three touchdowns and should again be the top receiving target. Steven Dunbar (53 catches, 692 yards) gives the Cougars a solid No. 2, and John Leday had a strong spring. Kyle Postma is expected to move full-time from quarterback to receiver for his final season.

 

All five starters, led by center Will Noble, return from an offensive line that struggled through injuries and inconsistency. The Cougars’ 3.4-yards per carry average was their worst in 12 years.

 

Previewing Houston Football’s Defense for 2017 

Houston Football/National College Football Magazine Athlon Sports’ National College Football magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 coverage for all 130 teams. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

 

With new coordinator Mark D’Onofrio, the Cougars promise to keep the same 3-4 base that features multiple fronts and attacking style that has made them one of the nation’s best at stopping the run and forcing turnovers in recent years.

 

All eyes will be on what defensive tackle Ed Oliver does for an encore. The former five-star recruit earned Freshman All-America honors after recording 23 tackles for a loss and five sacks.

 

The biggest holes to fill come at linebacker, where Houston must replace Steven Taylor and Tyus Bowser, who combined for 24 tackles for a loss and 17 sacks. D’Juan Hines is the frontrunner for Taylor’s inside spot, and Emeke Egbule is the top candidate to replace Bowser at edge rusher. Texas A&M graduate transfer Reggie Chevis could also factor into the mix this offseason.

 

For the second straight year Houston was hit hard by losses in the secondary with the departure of cornerbacks Brandon Wilson (graduation) and Howard Wilson (NFL Draft). Terrell Williams has moved into the nickel corner spot, leaving Jeremy Winchester, Javian Smith, Ka’Darian Smith and former wide receiver Isaiah Johnson competing for the two corner spots.

 

Previewing Houston Football’s Specialists for 2017

 

Dane Roy, a 28-year-old former ice cream salesman from Australia, averaged 40.6 yards on punts in his first season. Houston signed Dalton Witherspoon out of the junior college ranks to compete with Joel Scarbrough for the kicking job.

 

Final Analysis 

 

For two years the Houston program conducted business under constant speculation over the future of Tom Herman, who became the school’s third coach in the last nine years to leave for a more high-profile job. Applewhite, Herman’s offensive coordinator, signed a five-year deal with the hopes that he can keep the Cougars relevant on the national scene.

 

The schedule is more manageable this year since the Cougars play three key AAC West Division rivals (SMU, Memphis and Navy) at home. A second league title in three years likely hinges on progress of the offense — namely Allen at quarterback and the development of a consistent running game.

 

National Ranking: 59

AAC West Prediction: 3

 

(Ed Oliver photo courtesy of University of Houston Athletics)

Teaser:
Houston Football: 2017 Cougars Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 09:45
Path: /college-football/colorado-state-football-2017-rams-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Colorado State went 7-6 in head coach Mike Bobo’s second season, but the Rams could be poised to contend in the Mountain West Mountain Division this fall. The offense returns plenty of firepower while the defense brings back eight starters and a linebacker that missed all of 2016 because of a health issue. There are concerns along the defensive line and in the secondary, but Colorado State should be able to score enough points to earn a trip to a fifth straight bowl game, at minimum.

 

Previewing Colorado State Football’s Offense for 2017

 

Senior Nick Stevens was the best quarterback in the Mountain West after regaining the starting job midway through the 2016 season, after true freshman Collin Hill had gone down with a torn ACL. Stevens, who had thrown for 2,679 yards and 21 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2015, completed 119-of-173 passes for 1,859 yards with 19 TDs and three interceptions in the final seven games of the 2016 season while guiding the Rams to a fourth straight bowl game.

 

His top two receivers, seniors Michael Gallup (76 catches, 1,272 yards and 14 TDs) and Bisi Johnson (28, 613), are back as well. The Rams were remarkably balanced in 2016, averaging 217.8 rushing yards and 244.7 passing yards per game, and should be again with their top three running backs — senior Dalyn Dawkins (919 yards), junior Izzy Matthews (734) and sophomore Marvin Kinsey Jr. (546) — all returning. Kinsey could be slowed early while recovering from a torn ACL that kept him out of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and coach Mike Bobo might decide to redshirt both Hill and Kinsey this fall to give them additional time to recover.

 

Senior speedster Detrich Clark, a quarterback in high school and junior college, is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball, whether he’s lined up as a receiver, running back or taking direct snaps in a Wildcat formation. He averaged 6.9 yards on 36 rushing attempts last season.

 

Two starters return on the offensive line, led by senior center Jake Bennett, the team’s top NFL prospect.

 

Previewing Colorado State’s Defense for 2017

Colorado State Football/National College Football Magazine Athlon Sports’ National College Football magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 coverage for all 130 teams. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

 

The linebackers will once again be the strength of the CSU defense, with senior Deonte Clyburn capable of picking up where Kevin Davis, the leading tackler the past two seasons, left off. Clyburn was one of the Rams’ top defenders in 2015 but had to sit out last year because of blood clots. Juniors Josh Watson and Tre Thomas  and senior Evan Colorito (10 tackles for a loss) return at the other three linebacker spots in the Rams’ 3-4 scheme.

 

Safety Jake Schlager and cornerback Kevin Nutt Jr., both seniors, anchor the secondary, and an undersized defensive line should get some needed help from 6'3", 335-pound nose tackle Christian Colon, a freshman who redshirted last season.

 

A young and inexperienced defense had its ups and downs throughout the 2016 season. The Rams recorded the school’s first shutout in 20 years in an early-November win over Fresno State but then gave up 31 points or more in their final four games — including 61 in the bowl game to Idaho.

 

Several young players who finished strong, including safety Jamal Hicks, pass-rushing linebacker Arjay Jean and cornerback Robert Awunganyi, should play key roles.

 

Previewing Colorado State’s Specialists for 2017

 

CSU lost one of the nation’s top punters to graduation in Hayden Hunt and is counting on true freshman Ryan Stonehouse, rated the No. 1 punting prospect in the country by 247Sports, to fill the void. Junior Wyatt Bryan has made 27-of-36 field goals the past two seasons with only three misses from inside 40 yards. Clark is back to return kickoffs.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Rams should contend for a fifth straight bowl appearance and challenge Boise State for the Mountain West’s Mountain Division title. The high-powered offense should put up plenty of points, but a defense that still has holes on the line and in the secondary is likely to give up plenty of points, too.

 

Three of the biggest games of the season fall in the first four weeks — against Oregon State to open Colorado State’s new on-campus stadium, vs. Colorado in Denver and at Alabama.

 

National Ranking: 58

MW Mountain Prediction: 2

 

(Michael Gallup photo courtesy of Colorado State/Abbie Parr)

Teaser:
Colorado State Football: 2017 Rams Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/maryland-football-2017-terrapins-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Maryland went to a bowl game in head coach DJ Durkin’s first season, but can the Terrapins take that next step this fall? Six starters return on both sides of the ball, including some offensive weapons and defensive playmakers, but the talent is either lacking or unproven at other key positions, namely quarterback. Maryland is heading in the right direction under Durkin, but still lags behind the top teams in a loaded Big Ten East.

 

Previewing Maryland Football’s Offense for 2017

 

Quarterback Caleb Henderson looks tailor-made to step in and run Maryland’s warp-speed attack. He’s big and strong and has the ability to run, and he has a couple of years under his belt in a similar system at North Carolina. Sophomore Max Bortenschlager looked good in the spring, and the position looks deep for a program that has had troubles here in the past.

 

Running back is in even better shape with Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison returning. Johnson set a school record with 9.1 yards per rush and had over 1,000 yards, and Harrison’s 7.2-yard average was the best ever for a Maryland freshman. They’ll operate behind an offensive line that has three starters returning and experience at the other two spots. The right side is intact with tackle Damian Prince and guard Terrance Davis, both emerging stars. Steady center Brendan Moore also returns, and there are inklings that left tackle Derwin Gray is due to bust out.

 

D.J. Moore headlines a speedy and versatile receiving corps. He has scored nine touchdowns in two years. Taivon Jacobs, back from a knee injury, can stretch the field, and prodigal Jacquille Veii, who transferred back to Maryland after a year at Towson, should be a star in the slot.

 

Previewing Maryland Football’s Defense for 2017

Maryland Football/Big Ten Magazine Athlon Sports’ Big Ten magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

 

Jesse Aniebonam and his 9.0 sacks are back at Buck end, but he was getting a push in the spring from early enrollee Bryce Brand. That’s good news, because the Terrapins need all the big bodies they can get. Opponents were grinding down the Terps defense by the end of the season. Kingsley Opara and Cavon Walker both return in the interior. Playing in coordinator Andy Buh’s exotic packages, the Terrapins registered 2.9 sacks per game. Keep an eye on 6'4", 315-pound freshman Breyon Gaddy.

 

Jermaine Carter Jr. is a sideline-to-sideline middle linebacker who has led the team in tackles the last two seasons. He’s hoping to have converted quarterback/fullback Shane Cockerille back alongside him if Cockerille gets out of DJ Durkin’s doghouse. The second-leading tackler was suspended for the Quick Lane Bowl and again in the spring. Converted defensive back Isaiah Davis will move in if necessary. Strong-side linebacker Jalen Brooks was playing his best football in the spring.

 

JC Jackson had some growing pains at corner after transferring in from Florida. He should be steadier, and youngsters like Tino Ellis and Deon Jones will also get a chance. Nickel back RaVon Davis is essentially a returning starter. Darnell Savage is a hard-hitting safety. Look for either fifth-year senior Denzel Conyers or freshman flash Markquese Bell to nail down the other safety job.

 

Previewing Maryland Football’s Specialists for 2017

 

Adam Greene was 9-of-14 on field goal attempts but failed to hit one longer than 37 yards. He is battling kickoff specialist Mike Shinsky for the job. Aussie rugby punter Wade Lees was up and down but allowed just 20 returns all year on 72 punts. Moore averaged 22.3 return yards on kickoffs, and Veii should handle punt returns. Durkin isn’t afraid to use his special teams units as a momentum-changing weapon.

 

Final Analysis

 

If the Terps could ever match Durkin’s enthusiasm level with experience and talent on the field, Maryland might contend in the Big Ten’s scary East Division. Despite a largely uplifting debut (double the wins from 2015 and a bowl appearance) for Durkin in College Park, the still young and inexperienced Terrapins aren’t quite there yet. They still have depth issues, they’re unproven at key spots, and they’re just not as talented as division rivals like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. Durkin won’t let them want for want-to, though, and with more of his players around, Maryland should be worth watching.

 

National Ranking: 57

Big Ten East Prediction: 6

Teaser:
Maryland Football: 2017 Terrapins Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/navy-football-2017-midshipmen-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Navy won nine games last season and played in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game but it was losses to Air Force and Army that defined the Midshipmen’s campaign. The focus for head coach Ken Niumatalolo is recapturing the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, which won’t be easy with only nine starters returning. But all Navy has done for more than a decade is win so don’t be surprised if that continues even with an inexperienced roster.

 

Previewing Navy Football’s Offense for 2017 

 

Zach Abey takes the reins of Navy’s patented triple-option, and there figure to be some growing pains along the way. Abey is the least experienced starting quarterback the Mids have opened a season with since 2012. He was thrust into the spotlight after season-long starter Will Worth went down with a broken foot in the AAC Championship Game. Abey made his first career start in the Army-Navy game and struggled mightily. The 6'2", 212-pound junior performed much better in the Armed Forces Bowl, rushing for 114 yards and passing for another 159.

 

Navy does have a proven veteran at fullback, always the first option in the offense. Chris High started eight games a year ago and finished second on the team in rushing with 546 yards. The powerfully built 224-pounder figures to be a workhorse this season. Darryl Bonner became a big-play threat in 2016, averaging almost 13 yards per touch. The 5'7", 178-pound speedster was the team’s second-leading receiver with 10 catches for 278 yards and added 227 rushing yards on 29 carries.

 

Navy must find a go-to wide receiver to replace Jamir Tillman, who concluded his prolific career with 91 catches for 1,626 yards and 10 touchdowns.

 

Right guard Evan Martin graded out as Navy’s best offensive lineman last season and leads a unit that will feature three other veterans (left guard Robert Lindsey, center Parker Wade, right tackle Andrew Wood) who have started.

 

Previewing Navy Football’s Defense for 2017 

Navy Football/National College Football Magazine Athlon Sports’ National College Football magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 coverage for all 130 teams. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

 

Inside linebacker Micah Thomas spearheads a unit that returns six starters, including seven of the eight top tacklers. Navy’s 3-4 defensive alignment requires the inside linebackers to make the majority of stops, and Thomas (107) was certainly up to the task in 2016. The 6'1", 241-pound senior is an aggressive run stopper with the speed to pursue sideline-to-sideline and is also solid in pass coverage.

 

Outside linebacker D.J. Palmore emerged as a force coming off the edge a year ago, leading the team in tackles for a loss (11.5) and sacks (six).

 

Safety Sean Williams is solid in run support, but this position suffered a setback when sophomore Alohi Gilman decided to transfer over the summer. Navy needs to improve at the cornerback spot after Tyris Wooten, Elijah Merchant and Jarid Ryan were picked on repeatedly in 2016.

 

Defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson likes the potential of nose guard Jackson Pittman, a real space eater at 304 pounds. Pittman, who must take on double-teams and hold the point of attack in Navy’s system, will be playing a lot more snaps after moving from a backup role.

 

Jarvis Polu, who played in all 13 games as a plebe and started all 14 games as a sophomore, is well on the way to becoming one of the best defensive ends in Navy history.  

 

Previewing Navy Football’s Specialists for 2017

 

Bennett Moehring set a single-season school record by making 65 (out of 68) extra points, and he also converted 8-of-10 field goal attempts in totaling 89 points, third highest in program history for a kicker. Erik Harris proved himself a capable punter in 2016, averaging 45.1 yards on 10 attempts.

 

Final Analysis 

 

Getting swept by service academy rivals Air Force and Army cast a dark shadow over an otherwise successful 2016 season. You can bet that coach Ken Niumatalolo has put increased emphasis on recapturing the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.

 

Navy’s defense, which was porous last season, is expected to be vastly improved and may need to win some games early while a young, inexperienced offense settles in. The Midshipmen have posted winning records in 13 of the last 14 seasons, and there is no reason to believe that remarkable run of success won’t continue in 2017.

 

National Ranking: 56 

AAC West Prediction: 2

 

(Zach Abey photo courtesy of Navy Athletics)

Teaser:
Navy Football: 2017 Midshipmen Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oklahoma Sooners, Big 12
Path: /college-football/10-greatest-moments-bob-stoops-college-football-career
Body:

College football will not be the same with the retirement of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops. Formerly the longest tenured head coach in the FBS, Stoops announced his retirement on Wednesday saying, “the timing is perfect to hand over the reins” to offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. This fall will mark the first season since 1978 where Stoops is not an active participant in a college football game.

 

I am not even going to devote one word to the criticisms of Stoops, because it is unwarranted on this day. As a four-year starter at Iowa, a rock-star defensive coordinator at Kansas State and Florida, and a head coach at Oklahoma who won a national championship and took his team to a bowl game every year, Stoops had more highs than lows. Here are the 10 greatest moments of his football life that stand out to me.

 

10. First Brush with Greatness

Sept. 28-Nov. 5, 1985

 

Stoops was a stalwart defensive back for head coach Hayden Fry during his first four seasons in Iowa City. After his playing career ended, Fry offered Stoops an assistant coaching position and he remained at Iowa until 1987. Fry’s best season as a head coach of the Hawkeyes came in 1985, when Iowa won the Big Ten and held the No. 1 ranking in the AP Poll for the entire month of October. A loss to Ohio State on Nov. 2 doomed Iowa’s national championship hopes, but it was a heck of a run.

 

9. College Football’s Highest Scoring Team

2008 Season

 

Powered by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford, Stoops’ Sooners averaged 51.1 points per game and played Florida for the national title. Although Oklahoma lost to the Gators, its 716 total points for the season was the most by any college football team at the time. (Florida State broke the record with 723 points in 2013.)

 

8. Kansas State’s First Bowl Win

Dec. 29, 1993

 

Kansas State was arguably the worst program in college football history when Bill Snyder arrived in 1989 and hired Stoops as his defensive backs coach. In 1991, Snyder made Stoops his co-defensive coordinator and in ‘93, the Wildcats went 9-2-1 and the won the first bowl game in the program’s 97-year history. Much of the credit in the 52-17 win over Wyoming in the Copper Bowl went to the offense, but Stoops’ defense held the Cowboys to 36 rushing yards and 302 yards of total offense.

 

7. An Unlikely Big 12 Title

2006 Season

 

After starting quarterback Rhett Bomar and offensive lineman J.D. Quinn were kicked off the team for violating team rules, Oklahoma proceeded to lose two of its first five games. The Sooners then banded together and won their remaining eight games, including a 21-7 victory over Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship Game. Although Oklahoma would go on and be upset by Boise State in the now-legendary 2007 Fiesta Bowl, the college football world applauded Stoops’ coaching for the season.

 

6. A Dominant Second Half

Jan. 1, 1997

 

After being embarrassed by Nebraska the year before in the Fiesta Bowl, Florida head coach Steve Spurrier lured Stoops away from Kansas State in 1996. The Gators’ defense immediately improved, holding opponents to three fewer points per game than the previous year. By season’s end, Florida faced Florida State in a rematch in the Sugar Bowl for the national title. The Gators avenged their regular season loss to the Seminoles, scoring a Sugar Bowl-record 52 points, while Stoops’ defense held Florida State to three points in the second half in a 52-20 win.

 

5. Three Consecutive Big 12 Championships

2006-08 Seasons

 

Only one team has won three Big 12 championships in a row and that team is Oklahoma. Stoops accomplished this feat en route to winning 10 conference titles during his career.

 

4. Iowa Team MVP

1982 Season

 

In 1982, Fry called Stoops the biggest playmaker Iowa had and that year, he was named the team’s most valuable player. When giving him the award, Fry said, “I don’t know who it was, but some fellow once told this young man that he couldn’t play college football. He pushed what I call the hot button.” Who knew that hot button would stay on for almost 40 years?

 

3. Putting OU Back on the Map in Three Weeks

October 2000

 

After Stoops arrived in Norman in 1999, Oklahoma’s football program was in the doldrums. Over three straight games in October in 2000, he put OU back in the college football stratosphere. First, the Sooners blew out No. 11 Texas 63-14. Then, Oklahoma beat No. 2 Kansas State 41-31 in Manhattan. The Sooners capped off the run beating No. 1 Nebraska 31-14 the following week. No program has ever had a better coming out party.

 

2. Oklahoma’s All-Time Winningest Coach

Nov.  23, 2013

 

OU has had four legendary head coaches: Stoops, Bennie Owen, Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer, but Stoops tops them all in one important category. With a 41-31 victory over Kansas State in 2013, he surpassed Switzer to take the lead in career wins. Stoops retired with a record of 190-48.

 

1. National Champion

Jan. 3, 2001

 

Stoops’ only national title came in a dominating 13-2 win over Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Oklahoma’s defense completely shut down Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke and the Seminoles’ wide-open attack in a victory that was not as close as the score indicated. While it remains the only national title of Stoops’ tenure at Oklahoma, he did go on to win 10 or more games in 13 of his next 16 seasons.

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

Teaser:
10 Greatest Moments of Bob Stoops’ College Football Career
Post date: Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 08:45
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/draftkings-pga-lineup-golfs-fedex-st-jude-classic-june-8-11
Body:

It's time to pick your optimal daily fantasy DraftKings golf lineup for this week's (June 8-11) PGA Tour event: the Fantasy golf picks FedEx St. Jude ClassicFedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tenn. Our fantasy golf experts are ready to help.

 

Here's what our optimal lineup looks like:

 

Phil Mickelson ($10,200)

The last four years, Phil has thrilled the TPC Southwind galleries with finishes of T2, T11, T3 and T2 and a scoring average of 68.17. Look for the golf gods to reward him for prioritizing his daughter's graduation over the U.S. Open. 

 

Rafael Cabrera Bello ($8,600)

He's run very hot and cold in 2017 — three top 10s and four missed cuts — but Southwind's a putter's course, and RCB has been TCB on the greens (seventh in strokes gained, putting). 

 

Kyle Stanley ($8,400)

Missed the cut here last year but arrives in Memphis playing some very good golf — T6 at the Memorial and T4 at The Players. He's jumped 166 spots in the World Ranking since the start of 2017. We like that trajectory. 

 

Stewart Cink ($8,000)

Cink tends to excel in those weak-field events that surround majors — five of his six career wins have come the week after a major championship. The other win, of course, was the British Open. Has posted a top 25 in three of his last four events. 

 

Steve Stricker ($7,900)

The part-timer is six-for-seven in cuts made in 2017. At this point, Strick doesn't roll out of bed unless he's got a shot at a big check. 

 

Jamie Lovemark ($6,800)

Lovemark has cashed checks at seven straight stroke-play events, including a T10 at the Memorial. He's overdue to contend for a win. 

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 07:57
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/bob-stoop-retire-oklahoma-head-coach-sooners-lincoln-riley
Body:

Bob Stoops is reportedly leaving the Oklahoma football program.

 

According to newsok.com, the Sooners coach plans to tell the team he is retiring and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley will take over as head coach. 

 

 

Stoops said his health wasn't a factor in his decision.

 

"I feel like the timing is perfect to hand over the reins," Stoops said in a statement. "The program is in tremendous shape."

 

 

Stoops leaves behind quite the legacy in Norman.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 15:09
Path: /mlb/mike-schmidts-and-jerry-remys-comments-are-disappointing-fans-and-league
Body:

Though different words were used and in somewhat different contexts, two men with close ties to MLB made distasteful and arguably racist remarks yesterday about the culture that so often is a point of pride in baseball.

 

In an interview Tuesday morning on WIP (94.1 FM, Philadelphia), Hall of Fame third baseman (and former Phillie) Mike Schmidt argued that the Phillies should not (and could not) build a franchise around All-Star outfielder Odubel Herrera because of the language barrier that exists between Herrera, a Venezuelan whose English is poor, and his teammates.

 

"My honest answer to that [question] would be 'No,'" Schmidt said in the interview. "First of all, it's a language barrier. Because of that, I think he can't be a guy that would sort of sit in a circle with four, five American players and talk about the game; or try and learn about the game or discuss the inner workings of the game; or come over to a guy and say, 'Man, you gotta run that ball out.' "

 

Later Tuesday night, on NESN's broadcast of the Yankees-Red Sox game, analyst Jerry Remy addressed a component of the game which he felt to be unnecessary: translators accompanying coaches on visits to the mound to meet with pitchers.

 

"Learn baseball language," Remy said during the seventh inning. "You know, learn, it's pretty simple. You break it down pretty easy between pitching coach and pitcher after a long period of time."

 

Dave O'Brien, the play-by-play announcer for the game, answered his partner: "I would say that probably, you know, they're concerned about nuance being lost in some of these conversations."

 

Good to see that O'Brien, an upstanding professional broadcaster with experience calling games on the biggest stage, recognizes that nuance exists where Remy clearly did not.

 

First, I want to make sure that I am clear: I am not calling these two men racist or labeling them as such. Making one such comment does not automatically impose such a term on an individual.

 

However, what these two men said in the public spotlight was misguided, disturbing, and above all disappointing.

 

Schmidt's supposed refusal to build a team around anyone with less than perfect English is appalling. This means that, given the option, he would have chosen not to set an all-time great like Roberto Clemente, or current stars (likely future Hall of Famers) Carlos Beltrán, Ichiro Suzuki, and Miguel Cabrera as centerpieces and franchise cornerstones.

 

Sure, he later apologized, but the apology reads more like a desperate attempt at self-preservation than genuine contrition.

 

“It’s been made known to me that my answer on a radio interview this morning to the question, ‘Can the Phillies build a team around Odubel Herrera,’ was disrespectful to Herrera and Latin players in general," Schmidt said in a statement provided to Comcast SportsNet Philly. I’m very sorry that this misrepresentation of my answer occurred and may have offended someone. 

 

"I assure everyone I had no intention of that," Schmidt continued. "Odubel is a dynamo on the field, and as he becomes more comfortable with the language, his leadership skills will improve, and no doubt he will be a centerpiece in the Phillies’ future.”

 

Now, on to the case of Remy, a color commentator/analyst since 1988 with NESN for Red Sox games. I include the year primarily as a frame of reference to indicate that Remy is no stranger to the industry — especially as a former player with the Angels and Red Sox who later made the jump into the broadcast booth — and one who has been around long enough to see the growth of the game worldwide.

 

His comment that Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka — and other minority pitchers in the MLB — should not be allowed to have translators accompany their pitching coaches is astounding, especially for someone whose own team of expertise has been led by tremendous pitchers whose English might not have been their best stuff on the mound.

 

From pitchers like Pedro Martinez, Hideki Okajima and Junichi Tazawa (all of whom won a World Series with Boston) to charismatic hitters like Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, the Red Sox have been no stranger to successful foreign-born players. Yet for Remy to suggest that pitchers "learn baseball language," when these and so many others have grown the game in their respective home countries through pride in their own culture and language, it is awfully short-sighted and paints the corner on ignorant.

 

A Red Sox spokeswoman, undoubtedly trying to distance the team from these comments, said in a statement: "We do not share the views expressed by Jerry Remy during last night's broadcast."

 

Also, with Remy's tenure he has undoubtedly witnessed the diversity of MLB continuing to expand. This season marks the fourth-highest percentage (241 of 856, for 28.2 percent) of foreign-born players on Opening Day rosters and disabled/inactive lists in the league's history, behind 2005 (29.2 percent), 2009 (29 percent), and 2016 (28.4 percent).

 

The league is near its peak in terms of global growth, and it continues to expand, which is part of the agenda of Commissioner Rob Manfred and league executives. For Schmidt and Remy to say what they did suggests an attitude of exclusion, which is a shame because inclusion has gotten the league this far.

 

Do Schmidt and Remy deserve to be reprimanded? Maybe. My role here is not to hand out punishment when I'm not the one in power. But I do believe in another option, and that is opening eyes to see that what these two men said, while they surely have the right to say it, is uncalled for and disappointing to players and fans. Ultimately, though, it is against the good of the game that has become so attractive in the United States as a result of collaboration — not isolation — among players across all backgrounds.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 12:26

Pages