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Skip Bayless doesn't have faith in a lot of things. One of them being the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Before the series began, the outspoken host said he didn't see the Thunder winning one game against the Warriors. Bold predictions.
Not sure the Thunder can win a single game against the Warriors.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) May 13, 2016
Evidently Enes Kanter saved that tweet and used it as motivation. The time to release it came after the Thunder took Game 1 in Oracle Arena.
Sorry my man ?? pic.twitter.com/yQ4dSaBwCu— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) May 17, 2016
Kanter should tweet this after each Thunder win this series.
Year one for Tom Herman as a head coach could not have gone too much better than it did in 2015. In his first job as a head coach, Herman led the Houston Cougars to a 11-1 record in the regular season, a victory in the first American Athletic Conference (AAC) Championship Game and a Peach Bowl win over Florida State as the Group of Five representative in the New Year's Six. And to think this year Houston fans are thinking things could go even better in 2016.
As far as Group of Five programs go in 2016, Houston may be in a category of its own going in, as the Cougars enter the season ranked No. 16 in Athlon Sports' preseason Top 25. This is a deserved status as Houston returns dynamic offensive machine Greg Ward Jr. at quarterback, who figures to prosper in his second year under Herman. Houston also will add four-star running back Duke Catalon to the offense, which figures to lighten the load for Ward and the team returns seven starters on offense. The pieces for another run through the AAC are in place, but Houston is setting the bar higher and thinking bigger.
Houston is now what Boise State was under Chris Petersen, but the Cougars are in a much better situation moving forward than the Broncos could have ever dreamed. This is not a slight at the Boise State program, but more a reality of the seat Houston occupies in the current landscape of college football.
With one spot in the New Year's Six reserved for the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion, Boise State will continue to be in the conversation, but Houston is the best team playing in the best conference among Group of Five conferences. The American had a huge 2015 season with Memphis scoring a win over Ole Miss, Navy and Temple each cracking the Top 25 in the polls and Houston doing its thing on the field the way they did. No Group of Five conference could compare, especially the Mountain West Conference. For the time being, the AAC has a big leg up in the competition so long as it has a conference champion with at least 10 wins at the end of the season. The margin for error in every other conference is very small.
This does put the pressure on Houston though, and this is something we have not seen this program have to deal with under Herman. Houston played some big games in 2015, but the Cougars were never looking to live up to any hype last season. This year, everyone will be gunning for Houston, and nobody will take this team for granted.
Houston kicks off with the kind of game that can determine whether or not it will merely be playing for the Group of Five spot in the New Year's Six or, perhaps, something even bigger that no non-power conference program has managed to play for. The 2016 season begins at NRG Stadium in Houston against defending Big 12 champion and College Football Playoff participant Oklahoma. These are the kinds of games Boise State capitalized on to hit the ground running (See: Virginia Tech, Georgia, Oregon). Houston appears to have the tools needed to hang with Oklahoma, and maybe even take the Sooners down. A win against Oklahoma, and Houston will manage to raise the bar just a little higher and give fans a legitimate reason to start thinking about the College Football Playoff before playing a second game.
It may be rushing to get to that kind of conversation, but it will almost certainly be one worth having, especially if Houston can manage to score a second straight win against Louisville a few weeks later.
We have seen Little Engines try to prove they could hang and contend for a national title before, but none have managed to climb the hill all the way for one reason or another. Houston, with early wins against Oklahoma and Louisville, will bring back to life the talk about Cinderella making a run; only this time it could be a realistic scenario thanks to extra access with a four-team playoff. Boise State never had that chance. Neither did TCU nor Utah nor Northern Illinois (or Hawaii). But Houston could, even if it still is to be considered a long shot.
The challenge for Herman and Houston will be staying grounded. Maybe Oklahoma drops Houston back to Earth a little harder than expected. Whatever happens in the season opener, there will be plenty of time to either keep up the momentum or rebound, and neither will be that easy. The great unknown with Houston is how these Cougars will handle the pressure.
Given what we know about Herman and the Cougars though, they should be prepared as well as any to deal with whatever is thrown their way. This makes Houston a true wild card to take seriously, if it beats Oklahoma.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com, TheComeback.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.
Success with any college football team starts with coaching. Even if a program doesn’t have the resources of the nation’s elite jobs, a good coach can elevate a program into national title contention. However, similar to any position on the field, statistics may not tell the full story when judging a coaching tenure.
This is not simply a list of coaches ranked by accomplishment or wins. While those aspects are important, it doesn’t provide a complete picture of how successful coaches are. Winning 10 games at Alabama is different than winning 10 games at Kentucky. Also, every program has a different amount of resources available. Hierarchy in college football also plays a vital role in how successful programs are. It's always easier for programs with more built-in advantages to contend for a national title on a more consistent basis.
A couple of other factors to consider when ranking coaches: How well are the assistants paid? A staff with two of the nation’s top coordinators could be a sign the head coach is better as a CEO and may not be as strong in terms of developing gameplans. How is the coach in the X’s and O’s? Can the coach recruit? Are the program’s facilities on par with the rest of the conference? Much like assistants, a program needs good facilities to win big. If a team is winning at a high level with poor facilities and a small budget, it reflects positively on the head coach. Is the coach successful at only one stop? Or has that coach built a solid resume from different jobs?
Related: Athlon Sports Top 25 Teams for 2016
Again, wins are important. But our rankings also take into account a blank slate. If you start a program from scratch, which coach would you hire knowing what they accomplished so far and their career trajectory? Remember, you don't get the assistants - only the head coach. And head-to-head wins do not matter for this ranking. Athlon's editorial staff has voted on a ranking of coaches for all 10 leagues. Here are the results for the ACC:
Ranking the ACC's College Football Coaches for 2016
1. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Fisher has returned Florida State to a spot among the nation’s elite. In six seasons under Fisher, the Seminoles are 68-14 and have won at least 10 games in five of those years. Additionally, Florida State won the 2013 national championship, made the College Football Playoff in 2014 and played in a New Year’s Six Bowl (Peach) last season. Fisher is not only a strong recruiter and a sharp offensive mind, he’s got an eye for identifying talent and moving players from one side of the ball to another or to a different position to find the best fit for their skill set. After winning 10 games in a rebuilding year, Fisher has Florida State poised to contend for a playoff spot and a national title in 2016.
2. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Swinney continues to raise expectations at Clemson. The Tigers fell just short in their quest to win the national title last season and are loaded for another run in 2016. Under Swinney’s watch, Clemson has shed its underachieving label. The Tigers have won at least 10 games in each of the last five seasons and claimed the 2011 and 2015 ACC Championships. Swinney has surrounded himself with a good staff of assistants, including one of the nation’s top defensive minds in Brent Venables. Clemson’s recruiting is also trending up. The Tigers average a 13.2 finish nationally over the last five seasons, which is second in the ACC to Florida State (4.6).
3. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
If this list was just based on the X’s and O’s ability of a coach, Petrino would be ranked No. 2 in the ACC over Clemson’s Dabo Swinney. In his second stint with the Cardinals, Petrino – regarded as one of the nation’s top offensive-minded coaches – is 17-9 over the last two seasons and has Louisville projected to finish among the nation’s top 25 teams for 2016. Petrino also has stops on his resume from Arkansas (2008-11) and WKU (2013), with a four-year run at Louisville from 2003-06. Entering 2016, Petrino has the program on stable ground and poised to be a consistent top 25 team over the next few seasons.
4. David Cutcliffe, Duke
Thanks to Cutcliffe’s nine-year run with the Blue Devils, Duke is no longer an easy pick to finish in the cellar of the ACC Coastal. Prior to Cutcliffe’s arrival in 2008, the Blue Devils recorded 13 consecutive losing seasons. Cutcliffe guided the program to 15 wins in his first four years, before leading Duke to a 6-7 mark and a bowl trip in 2012. Since 2012, the Blue Devils are 27-13 and have played in three consecutive bowls, with an ACC Coastal title in 2013.
5. Mark Richt, Miami
Despite winning 145 games in 15 seasons at Georgia, Richt was dismissed at the 2015 regular season. While Richt won plenty of games at Georgia, a change of scenery (for both parties) and a return to his alma mater isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Richt seems to be energized by transition to Miami, and his return to Coral Gables should help this program take a step forward. The Hurricanes are still looking for their first trip to the ACC title game, and Richt should be the right coach to get this team back in contention for division titles and top 25 finishes. Another bonus for Miami in the coaching transition: Richt plans on calling the plays in 2016.
6. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
Fuente has big shoes to fill in replacing Virginia Tech coaching legend Frank Beamer. However, as Fuente’s four-year run at Memphis showed, he’s certainly capable of keeping Virginia Tech near the top of the ACC. Fuente inherited a Memphis program that was in disarray and won three games in the two years prior to his arrival. The Tigers showed steady improvement under his watch, winning four games in 2012 and transitioned to the American Athletic Conference in 2013. Memphis went 3-9 in the tougher AAC but finished 19-6 from 2014-15. The Tigers’ 10-win season in 2014 set a new program high for wins and also resulted in Memphis’ first top 25 finish in the Associated Press poll. Fuente is also regarded for his work with quarterbacks and played a key role in Andy Dalton’s development at TCU during his stint as the offensive coordinator from 2009-11.
7. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
Fedora delivered a breakout year in his fourth season in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels finished 11-3, won the Coastal Division and finished No. 15 nationally in the Associated Press poll. The 11-win season was a huge boost for Fedora after 6-7 mark in 2014. Fedora has a solid 32-20 record over the last four years and has never finished below .500 in ACC play. Prior to North Carolina, Fedora had a successful stint at Southern Miss, recording a 34-19 mark in four seasons. The Tar Heels face a tougher schedule and have a few key personnel question marks to address, but Fedora’s team opens 2016 as the favorite in the ACC Coastal.
8. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
A case could be made for Johnson to rank higher among his ACC counterparts here, but the Yellow Jackets are coming off their worst season (3-9) since a 1-10 mark in 1994. Despite the disappointing 2015 campaign, Georgia Tech is 61-44 under Johnson’s direction and is just one year removed from winning 11 games and the Orange Bowl in 2014. Additionally, the Yellow Jackets have just one losing season (2015) in ACC play under Johnson. A quick turnaround in 2016 wouldn’t be a surprise with Johnson’s track record, as he went 62-10 in five seasons at Georgia Southern (1997-01) and 45-29 at Navy (2002-07) before landing at Georgia Tech in 2008.
9. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh
Narduzzi ranks ninth among his ACC counterparts for 2016, but the second-year coach should move up this list in future seasons. In his first year in the Steel City, Narduzzi led Pittsburgh to an 8-5 overall record and a second-place finish in the ACC’s Coastal Division. Three of the five losses last season were by a touchdown or less, with the other two defeats coming at the hands of Notre Dame and Navy (in its home stadium in the Military Bowl). Narduzzi has Pittsburgh trending in the right direction and should have this team positioned for another run at eight or nine wins in 2016.
10. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia
Mendenhall might be one of the nation’s most intriguing coaches to watch in 2016. Virginia’s decision to hire Mendenhall to replace Mike London was arguably the biggest surprise of the offseason coaching carousel. Mendenhall has spent most of his career out west, including stops as an assistant at Oregon State, Northern Arizona, New Mexico and BYU. Mendenhall was promoted to head coach at BYU in 2005 and led the Cougars to 99 wins over the last 11 years. Mendenhall has a strong track record of success and is regarded for his work with defenses. However, the schedule will be tough on annual basis and adapting to a new recruiting area and conference opponents will require a transition period.
11. Dino Babers, Syracuse
Babers is one of the top coaching hires in the 2015-16 coaching carousel and comes to Syracuse after a successful two-year stint at Bowling Green. The Orange needed to get this hire right, as the program can’t afford to fall too far behind in the top-heavy ACC Atlantic. Under Babers’ watch, the Falcons won back-to-back MAC East titles and finished 18-9 from 2014-15. Prior to Bowling Green, Babers went 19-7 in two seasons at Eastern Illinois (2012-13) and also made stops as an assistant at Baylor, UCLA, Pittsburgh, Texas A&M and Arizona. Babers’ four-year stint at Baylor as an assistant under Art Briles proved to be one of the most influential stops in his career and helped the California native emerge as one of the nation’s top offensive minds. Babers led Bowling Green’s offense to an average of 42.2 points a game last season and also developed Jimmy Garoppolo into a NFL draft pick while at Eastern Illinois. Hiring Babers should help get Syracuse moving back in the right direction.
12. Steve Addazio, Boston College
After starting his tenure at Boston College with back-to-back 7-6 records, the Eagles regressed with a 3-9 mark in 2015. However, it’s unfair to penalize Addazio too much for last year’s record, as the Eagles were hit hard by injuries on offense and averaged only 9.1 points in ACC contests. Can Addazio quickly get Boston College back on track? The defense ranked among the nation’s best last year and still returns enough of a core (six starters) to prevent a huge drop in production. Additionally, the addition of transfer quarterback Patrick Towles should provide some stability to the offense. Prior to Boston College, Addazio went 13-11 in two years at Temple and also worked as an assistant at Florida, Indiana and Notre Dame.
13. Dave Doeren, NC State
Doeren replaced Tom O’Brien at NC State after a successful two-year stint at Northern Illinois and has made steady progress over the last three seasons in Raleigh. The Wolfpack went 3-9 in Doeren’s debut but rebounded with an 8-5 mark in 2014 and finished 7-6 last year. Additionally, NC State has recorded back-to-back bowl trips and has inked three consecutive top 50 recruiting classes. While there are signs of progress, Doeren is just 6-18 in conference play and has yet to defeat a Power 5 opponent that finished a season with a winning record. The 2016 schedule is challenging, and the Wolfpack have to break in a new quarterback with Jacoby Brissett out of eligibility. This fall should provide good insight into just how far this program has developed under Doeren’s watch.
14. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
Clawson wasn’t going to be able to immediately turn around Wake Forest in his first two seasons, but there have been signs of improvement. The Demon Deacons are 6-18 under Clawson’s direction and have recorded back-to-back 1-7 records in ACC play. But the program’s depth and talent level is improving, as evidenced by four losses coming by eight points or less in 2015. Clawson is a proven winner from three prior stops – Bowling Green, Richmond and Fordham – and has a blueprint for getting Wake Forest back in contention for winning seasons. With a favorable schedule ahead in 2016, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Demon Deacons hit the six-win mark.
The Thunder shocked everyone by coming in to Oracle Arena and taking Game 1 from the Warriors, but that wasn't what everyone was talking about.
During a post-game interview to ESPN's Chris Broussard, Thunder center Steven Adams talked about defending the Warriors guards, Adams called them "quick little monkeys."
Steven Adams chooses the wrong words to describe the Warriors' guards. "They're quick little monkeys," he says. pic.twitter.com/ss5DbHilqD— Kenny Ducey (@KennyDucey) May 17, 2016
After the game, Adams' mistake was pointed out to him and he quickly apologized.
"It was a poor choice of words, mate," Adams told USA Today. "I wasn't thinking straight. I didn't know it was going to upset anyone, but I'm truly sorry. It was just a poor choice of words. I was trying to express how difficult it was chasing those guys around."
Adams just came to America in 2012 when he began attending the University of Pittsburgh, and says the manner in which people speak in different countries varies.
"It's just different, mate," Adams continued. "Different words, different expressions, and stuff like that. But they obviously can be taken differently, depending on which country you're in. In assimilating, mate, still trying to figure out the boundaries. But I definitely overstepped them tonight."
Quarterback Carson Wentz has perhaps changed the public’s perception of FCS players, although NFL teams already knew about the talent.
FCS schools have been averaging about 18 selections per draft over the last decade and there were 20 players scooped up this year, with Wentz, the former North Dakota State standout whom the Philadelphia Eagles made the second overall pick, becoming the first FCS first-round selection since Joe Flacco (Delaware) in 2008.
Power Five Conference 2017 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch
ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC I Notre Dame I BYU
NFL scouts are always looking for hidden gems from the FCS level. Here are 10 draft candidates (in alphabetical order) who they are keeping a close eye on for 2017:
Keionta Davis, DE, Chattanooga (6-4, 260)
Davis, playing collegiately in his hometown, emerged last season from the shadow of former teammate Davis Tull, who won three straight Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year awards from 2012-14. Davis broke Tull’s single-season school record with 13.5 sacks, and his 17 tackles for a loss led the conference. He uses explosiveness and athleticism to get to quarterbacks, although coaches asked him in the offseason to shed some weight. He battled though injuries in 2014 and suffered an ACL tear as a senior in high school, so there will be concern there.
Nick DeLuca, LB, North Dakota State (6-3, 240)
Starring in NDSU’s five-time reigning national championship program brings added attention to DeLuca, but he’s earned it since becoming a starter late in his 2014 sophomore season. The All-Missouri Valley Football Conference first-team selection is bigger than past middle linebackers in NDSU’s vaunted defense, armed with a versatile playing style to defend against the run or the pass. He racked up 135 tackles as a junior – 54 more than any teammate – with eight passes defended, including two interceptions.
LaMichael Fanning, DE, Jacksonville State (6-7, 270)
Fanning, who turns 25 in October, is still awaiting word on a petition to the NCAA to gain a sixth season of eligibility. The former four-star prospect spent three years at Alabama, including a redshirt season, before transferring. He made the All-Ohio Valley Conference first team in 2014, but suffered an ACL tear in the first game of his senior season last year. He is a high-energy player with enough athleticism that Alabama tried him at tight end before moving him back to his natural position. If he doesn’t gain another season with Jacksonville State (the 2015 FCS national runner-up), Fanning will try to find his way onto an NFL roster this year.
Brady Gustafson, QB, Montana (6-7, 230)
He’s not the next Carson Wentz, but he’s taller than Wentz and led Montana to a season-opening win over North Dakota State last season. He needs more seasoning because he saw limited action until last season, and then a leg injury limited him to seven games. He threw for 1,984 yards and 12 touchdowns with nine interceptions, as the Grizzlies’ offense became pass-based. A drop-back quarterback, Gustafson lacks a big arm, but he’s a strong decision-maker and adept at working the field for his targets.
De’Angelo Henderson, RB, Coastal Carolina (5-8, 205)
“Hop,” as he is known to his teammates, uses his quickness to elude defenders. He returned to Coastal after seeking a 2016 draft evaluation through the NFL college advisory committee. Though small, Henderson is productive, running with a balanced style and catching passes out of the backfield. He holds the FCS record with touchdowns in 26 straight games, racking up 40 over the last two seasons. He is the Chanticleers’ all-time leader in rushing yards (3,479), carries (538), yards per carry (6.47), all-purpose yards (4,210) and all-purpose yards per game (102.7).
Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, Villanova (6-7, 275)
Here’s a pass rusher who doesn’t seem to have the statistics to be in the mix for the 2017 draft, but CAA Football coaches thought enough of him to select Kpassagnon to their all-conference first team last year. The late-developing player, whose father is from the Ivory Coast and mother from Uganda, has the same size of former Central Arkansas defensive end Jonathan Woodard, a Jacksonville Jaguars pick this year. Kpassagnon has only 60 career tackles, including 33 as a junior, when he also totaled 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for a loss. He displays good foot movement and has a nice mix of speed and strength.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington (6-1, 210)
Kupp racked up 1,642 receiving yards and 19 touchdown catches as a junior yet neither total was a career high. This year, the 2015 FCS offensive player of the year figures to add many career receiving records to the seven he owns already. He ranks fourth in FCS history in receptions (311, 84 behind the record), second in reception yards (4,764, 486 behind) and second in TD receptions (56, two behind). His father Craig was a former NFL quarterback and grandfather Jake had a long NFL career as an offensive guard. Despite lacking blazing speed, Kupp works his release from different spots on the line of scrimmage and gains extra yards after the catch.
Javarius Leamon, OT, South Carolina State (6-6, 310)
A one-time Clemson recruit who didn’t qualify academically, Leamon has remained on the NFL radar while toiling in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. He is athletic and aggressive at the point of attack, with excellent length to finish blocks. Coaches believe Leamon’s biggest strength is the fluidity he displays in pass protection. He also plays in a program that produced two draft choices in 2016 – defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (third round, Pittsburgh) and tight end Temarrick Hemingway (sixth round, Los Angeles).
Corey Levin, OL, Chattanooga (6-5, 305)
A starter for three consecutive Southern Conference championship squads, Levin is comfortable playing either tackle or guard. He’s won the conference’s top blocking award twice and was a first-team All-American as a junior, when the Mocs had two rushers surpass 1,200 yards each. Athletic for his size, Levin needs to be more physical when finishing blocks, but he’s NFL-bound.
Derek Rivers, DE, Youngstown State (6-4, 250)
The athletic Rivers loves to study game film, so he reads offenses well. That prompted his Youngstown State coaches to move him around the field more often last season. Rivers’ ability to drop back into pass coverage and his size suggests he would be an outside linebacker at the next level. He’s made the All-Missouri Valley first team in each of the last two seasons and holds the school record for career sacks with 26. He has a trim body that should take on quality weight without losing speed.
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)
The popularity and obsession of the big boys in college football - the Power 5 - has continued to rise. But there still are some very elite football players at the second tier of the FBS rankings - the Group of 5. The Group of 5 term refers to players from teams in the Mountain West, Conference USA, MAC, Sun Belt and American Athletic Conference. While the coverage and exposure for teams in these leagues has improved in recent years, plenty of the stars from the Group of 5 conferences fly under the radar each preseason. Who are the names to watch in 2016 as players on the rise in the Group of 5 rankings? Here are five names to know now that spring ball has finished across the nation:
Five Sun Belt Football Players to Know for 2016
Larry Rose III, RB, New Mexico State
After earning third team All-America and first team All-Sun Belt honors last season, Rose earned a spot among the best running backs in the country. He led the conference in rushing yards (1,651) and went back-to-back seasons with rushing over the milestone of 1,000 yards. Additionally, Rose had three 200-yard rushing games which made him the only back in the league to do so in 2015. The all-purpose tailback has improved over the last two years and should have his best overall season in 2016.
Penny Hart, WR, Georgia State
Hart earned Sun Belt Freshman of the Year and Freshman All-American accolades this past season. He tallied an impressive line of 71 catches, 1,099 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Hart was one of the most explosive receivers in college football last fall by hauling in seven catches that went over 40 yards. His ability to take the top off the defense will make life a lot easier for the Panthers’ new quarterback.
Latrell Gibbs, CB, Appalachian State
Gibbs emerged as one of the Sun Belt’s top defenders last season and showcased his playmaking ability with a 91-yard interception return to the house against Wyoming. The lockdown corner didn’t stop there, finishing 2015 with seven interceptions and 19 deflections on the year. Expect the junior to flourish as the anchor of the Mountaineers’ secondary next season.
Jay Ellison, DT, Georgia Southern
When a defensive tackle gets an interception, that just rinks of athleticism. Ellison did just that last year and then some by racking up 33 total tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. The 305-pound cog has a motor too by playing in 462 snaps last season. The Hamilton, Ga. native earned second-team All-Sun Belt last year and there’s no reason why he won’t do it again in 2016.
Xavier Woodson-Luster, LB, Arkansas State
Woodson-Luster was an all-conference selection last year and looks to repeat those honors going into the fall. He had a stellar performance last season against Louisiana-Lafayette, displaying his ability to play sideline-to-sideline when he tallied 14 tackles. The standout linebacker racked up 71 tackles (5.5 for a loss), one sack, two interceptions, six hurries, and two forced fumbles last season and will be the leader on the on the Red Wolves defense.
Charles Barkley has an opinion on literally everything, and apparently people aren't tired of hearing it.
On ESPN Radio's "Russillo & Kanell" the NBA analyst talked about basketball, but still found time to talk football as well.
"I think that the SEC kind of makes you hate it because the fans are so obnoxious," Barkley said. "I can understand why people don't like the SEC. I think clearly it's by far the best football conference in the world and I think Danny [Kanell] will admit that. But I will admit this, the fans are the most obnoxious people. Alabama fans are the worst. Then you factor in Georgia fans — they're awful — Florida, LSU fans."
Barkley has never been one to bite his tongue on any subject. He may find that SEC fans are of a different caliber.
"I think Nick Saban is the greatest coach of all time in my opinion, and when I tell Alabama fans they're the most obnoxious fans in the world, you know what they say to me? They don't even say, 'No we're not.' They say, 'We're not as bad as those LSU fans.' They never take the time to say, 'We're not the most obnoxious fans.' They never try to defend themselves. When they say, 'We're not nearly as bad as those LSU fans,' they let you know just how bad they are."
Barkley is a SEC fan by default, having attended Auburn, but doesn't associate himself with those "obnoxious" fans of the conference. He also commented on Florida State playing in a "girl conference" which is the ACC.
Barkley clearly has no loyalty to any conference.
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Russell Wilson is the classic underdog story. Small quarterback making it to the NFL and all that jazz.
When the Seahawks quarterback was tapped to give the commencement speech at Wisconsin, the school he transferred to after NC State, and kept it completely honest about his journey to success. Wilson talked about his time with the Wolfpack, and how he was doubted by coach Tom O'Brien.
"The summer before my senior year of college, I'm playing minor-league baseball. I called by football coach at NC State and said, 'Hey coach, I'd like to come back for my senior year.' He told me I wasn't coming back. He said, 'Listen son, you're never going to play in the National Football League. You're too small. There's no chance. You've got no shot. Give it up.' Of course I'm on this side of the phone saying, 'So you're telling me I'm not coming back to NC State? I won't see the field?' He said, 'No son, you won't see the field.' Now this was everything I had worked for. And now it was completely got. If I wanted to follow my dream I had to leave NC State. I had no idea if I would get a second chance somewhere else."
Obviously once those comments got back to NC State, there would be some type of rebuttal. Former NC State player, Kalani Heppe, had some words to say about his old teammate.
Wilson apparently also embellished other parts of his speech regarding the NC State baseball team.
RW: "My freshman and sophomore year at NC State, I had about 450 to 500 at-bats" Reality: he got 143 combined— Steven (@akulawolf) May 15, 2016
RW: "Now it’s the first few weeks of my junior season, the draft-eligible year, and I’m barely playing." He got a career-high 98 ABs— Steven (@akulawolf) May 15, 2016
NC State probably crossed Wilson off their graduation speakers list for the foreseeable future.
In case you missed it, Jeremy Shockey and Warren Sapp still don't like each other.
It all stems from the Saints bounty scandal and the back and forth the two had on Twitter, including Shockey mocking Sapp after his arrest. Now there's more fuel being added to the fire. Shockey posted Sapp's bankruptcy papers on Instagram.
Sapp has called Shockey a "snitch" and the posting of these papers won't help him shed that label any time soon.
The USC Trojans are an oddity; college football’s version of Schrödinger's cat, if you will. Until they’ve played the game, it’s impossible to tell whether the team spirit and effort is alive or dead. It also makes them an extremely tough team to peg down in the rankings. If the metric is on-paper talent, USC belongs up there with the best in the nation. If the metric is results based on talent level, USC deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the “overrated” programs their fan base talks about so often.
This is not a slight at the Trojan team or their fans, whom would be the first to tell anyone that they have no earthly idea what they’re going to get when they tune in. Last year was as up and down of a season as the Trojans have had in recent memory and that includes those years with interim-interim coaches. USC was simply not good enough when it needed to be and downright awful at other times.
Athlon Sports ranks the Trojans at No. 23 coming into the 2016 season and it’s impossible to know whether this is too high or too low. Some of the tougher questions may be answered when the Trojans kick of their season in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, against defending national champion Alabama, but USC has shown out against highly ranked opponents before only to lose to teams most experts agreed the Trojans should have beaten. Simply based on a history of doing that alone, it’s important not to take too much or too little away from the Alabama game.
Lou Holtz once said that “you’re never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you’re never as bad as they say when you lose.” USC epitomizes this famous quote in so many different ways. The Trojans were nowhere near as good as their 42-24 upset of then-No. 4 Utah, but they also weren’t as bad as their 41-22 shellacking against Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Trojans tend to nullify their positive progress with periods of mental frailty and self-inflicted mistakes.
Is USC too high at No. 23? Maybe, maybe not. The Trojans have done well to avoid any off-the-field issues over the summer, but the offseason is still young and it’s usually around July or August that USC has its setbacks with key players. This year’s offseason started with a painful reminder of what can happen when things really go wrong at USC.
Former USC tight end Bryce Dixon was sentenced to six years in prison for his role in a series of violent robberies with a former LSU lineman. The fall of Dixon is a worst-case scenario, but in the past five seasons USC has had numerous different players suspended or booted from the team for having stories just as outlandish as this one. The Trojans simply cannot keep allowing off-the-field distractions keep them from on-the-field success, and so far USC has done the exact opposite.
The Trojans will need a quiet offseason for a change. Even without those distractions, USC faces the nation’s toughest schedule and September will be the worst of it. Aside from the Crimson Tide, USC also faces Utah State, Stanford and Utah. The only game USC plays at home during that stretch is against Utah State. If the Trojans come out of September with three or more wins, No. 23 might prove to be far too low.
Should the opposite become the case, USC may end up looking up at No. 23 from quite a ways down. This USC team is capable of finishing anywhere along the 0-4 to 4-0 during the first month of play and it would hardly be shocking to see most experts peg them to finish 2-2 on the month. That’s about what people have come to expect from the Trojans. Of course, which two teams they beat is really anyone’s guess.
In all likelihood, the best thing that could happen to USC during this stretch is a lower ranking. The lower ranking leads to fewer expectations and that seems to be when this team is at its best. Alabama will likely carry the burden of expectation entering into the season opener, but the Tide are also savvy enough to know that win or lose, there is still a long season and they’ll still have plenty of time to make an impression on the poll voters and College Football Playoff Committee.
The Trojans, on the other hand, are the type of team to get caught up in the moment and forget about everything else. It’s not hard to picture a world where USC beats Alabama to open the season and then mystifyingly loses to Utah State at home before getting pummeled on the road at Stanford and losing a shocker at Utah. In fact, there is probably someone out there placing a bet on that exact thing to happen.
Two of the keys to how USC fares this year will be new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and new offensive coordinator Tee Martin. While Pendergast is a trip down memory lane for USC, Martin is breaking in the position and the jury is out on exactly how good he will be. The Trojans didn’t have much of a choice in his promotion, it had simply become time to give him what he wanted or watch him walk out the door to another program. With the way Martin recruits, it’s something that USC could not afford to risk.
So now the Trojans make one last run at replicating the Pete Carroll era. New athletic director Lynn Swann is sure to deviate from the insular nature of predecessor Pat Haden, and has already spoken out on changes he plans to make. Swann did support the hiring of now full-time head coach Clay Helton, so at least USC will begin the season with an AD and a head coach on the same page. Whether or not they finish there will be something to watch.
The Trojans could be ranked anywhere and it could be justified successfully by the right person. A very loaded and talented team will be upgrading several significant positions this offseason and the resulting effect could be awe-inspiring. In truth, there are a lot of similarities between this team and the 2003 version that Matt Leinart took over upon Carson Palmer’s departure to the NFL. How USC manages that talent will invariably be the story of the season.
It has been for the last five years.
— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Webb is a recruiting analyst for BarkBoard, Scout’s Fresno State affiliate. A contributor to USCFootball.com, Scout’s USC affiliate. He is also a regular guest and contributor for CFBHuddle. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.
Larry Fedora seems to be really building something special in Chapel Hill. In a world devoted to the ball that bounces from November to April, the Tar Heels football coach generated considerable interest in his team by winning the Coastal Division title and playing Clemson to the wire in the ACC Championship Game.
With that success comes lofty expectations... and rightfully so. North Carolina, which is ranked No. 22 in Athlon Sports' Preseason Top 25, is the favorite to emerge as the king of the Coastal again and here are five reasons why that will happen.
1. A Loaded Backfield
UNC finished the 2015 season as the 18th-best rushing team in the country and the key running back components return. Elijah Hood lived up to his five-star billing during his sophomore season, rushing for 1,463 yards and 17 touchdowns. The 6-foot, 220-pounder will receive All-American consideration after being selected first team All-ACC last fall. T.J. Logan is back for his senior year, giving the Heels a reliable change-of-pace option when Hood needs a break.
2. Mitch Trubisky is Ready to Go
The junior from Mentor, Ohio, will not be the running threat that Marquise Williams was at UNC. But Trubisky showed last season that he is a very accurate passer. No one expects him to complete 85 percent of his throws like he did in 2015 now that he is the starting quarterback. But he has all the tools needed to succeed, those around him believe in his abilities, and he will be throwing to a talented wide receiver group featuring Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard and Mack Hollins.
3. A Veteran Offensive Line
The Tar Heels do lose star guard Landon Turner, but the rest of the unit is back, something that makes both Hood and Trubisky very happy. Jon Heck will be a four-year starter for the Heels and is coming off a second team All-ACC season. Guard Caleb Peterson also was selected to the All-ACC second team while center Lucas Crowley made the third team. All-ACC recognition may be in the future for left tackle Bentley Spain down the line. If UNC can successfully fill Turner's spot at right guard, North Carolina will have the best offensive line in the Coastal Division.
4. The Defense’s Second Year Under Gene Chizik
The performance of the defense last fall was a huge improvement over 2014. However, the previous year was so dreadful it was hard not to make strides. Chizik, who won a national title when he was Auburn’s head coach, fixed a big problem with the pass defense and now he must go to work to correct an ailing rush defense. North Carolina does need to replace some important front seven contributors. But there is talent in guys like Andre Smith, Dajuan Drennon and Jeremiah Clarke. And there also is a very smart defensive mind that knows his personnel a little better after a year in the system.
5. The Power Teams are Still in the Atlantic
Miami could be better under new head coach Mark Richt, and the could be said for Virginia Tech under Justin Fuente. Duke and Pitt should be solid and Georgia Tech can’t be as bad as it was last year. But the Coastal is still the weak half of the ACC. Not only do Clemson and Florida State reside on the other side, so too does a Louisville team that many project as the third-best team in the league. Despite the potential possessed by several Coastal teams, North Carolina is still the division's most talented team.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
Spring practice is over. The NFL Draft has come and gone. National Signing Day seems like it was eons ago. This is the time when the longest offseason in major sports is its most grueling. This is also when optimism flourishes, when no team has a loss and every team has a chance.
Athlon is here to help fill the days between now and that first college football game of the year. After all, it’s preseason magazine season.
All editions of the 2016 Athlon Sports college football preview are available in our store, hosted on Amazon. Our 2016 annuals include the National preview of all 128 teams, regional editions for the SEC and Big Ten. Athlon is also the only magazine in 2016 with editions previewing the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12.
To celebrate the arrival of this year’s magazines, we’re releasing our top 25 for 2016*.
Stay tuned to AthlonSports.com for previews of each team, conference predictions and rankings of all teams from No. 1 to No. 128.
All of Athlon’s 2016 previews are available now online and will be available on newsstands May 24.
Podcast: Breaking down the preseason top 25 with Athlon's Braden Gall and Steven Lassan
*Updated as of June 1
|Athlon Sports 2016 Preseason College Football Top 25|
|1.||Alabama: The Crimson Tide suffered key losses on both sides of the ball, but this team reloads as well as any in the nation. Expect Nick Saban's team to lean on its defense and ground attack until the offense finds stability at quarterback.
|2.||Florida State: After winning 10 games in a rebuilding season, FSU is poised to challenge for the title. Most of the roster returns intact, but the Seminoles have to find a QB and replace cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Dalvin Cook is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman.||Team Preview|
|3.||Ohio State: The Buckeyes have the fewest returning starters (six) of any Power 5 team. However, thanks to elite recruiting classes, Ohio State should be able to reload in a hurry. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the Buckeyes can lean on J.T. Barrett until the rest of the pieces fall into place.||Team Preview|
|4.||Clemson: Even though the Tigers suffered heavy losses on defense, quarterback Deshaun Watson and the nation’s top receiving corps is more than enough to keep Clemson in the hunt for the national title.||Team Preview|
|5.||Michigan: Jim Harbaugh already has Michigan back among the nation’s top teams. The Wolverines have to find a quarterback, but this team can lean on its defense — led by new coordinator Don Brown — to push Ohio State for the Big Ten title.||Team Preview|
|6.||Oklahoma: The Sooners are a heavy favorite to win the Big 12, but there are potential landmines on a schedule that features road trips to TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia. If the voids on the offensive line and defense are filled, quarterback Baker Mayfield could carry Oklahoma to another playoff berth.||Team Preview|
|7.||Tennessee: The Volunteers have made steady improvement under coach Butch Jones, and the pieces are in place to challenge for the SEC title. Tennessee returns 18 starters, including quarterback Joshua Dobbs and end Derek Barnett.||Team Preview|
|8.||Notre Dame: Brian Kelly’s team lost a handful of key players from last year’s 10-3 squad. But the Fighting Irish have a manageable schedule, two proven quarterbacks and enough of a foundation on both sides of the ball to push for 10 wins once again.||Team Preview|
|9.||LSU: After coaching drama surrounding Les Miles at the end of 2015, LSU is loaded for a run at a CFP berth. As usual, the Tigers will lean on their ground attack and defense to carry the team. However, Brandon Harris and the passing game have to improve to win the SEC.||Team Preview|
|10.||Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze must replace three first-round picks, but the Rebels have recruited well enough to prevent a huge drop off. Chad Kelly is the SEC’s top signal-caller and there’s no shortage of options at receiver.||Team Preview|
|11.||Washington: The Huskies are poised for a breakthrough year in Chris Petersen’s third season. Talented sophomores Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin are two of the Pac-12’s top players on offense, while the defense returns eight starters from a unit that allowed only 18.8 points a game last year.||Team Preview|
|12.||Stanford: Stanford has won three of the last four Pac-12 titles, but David Shaw’s team was hit hard by personnel departures. However, the Cardinal still has enough returning talent to challenge for the conference title — especially with running back Christian McCaffrey leading the way.||Team Preview|
|13.||Michigan State: The Spartans have won at least 11 games in five of the last six years. Despite the loss of quarterback Connor Cook, end Shilique Calhoun and standout linemen Jack Conklin and Jack Allen, coach Mark Dantonio won’t allow Michigan State to slip too far in the rankings.||Team Preview|
|14.||UCLA: Similar to rival USC, UCLA enters 2016 with its share of questions. However, the Bruins return the Pac-12’s top quarterback in Josh Rosen, and the schedule is more manageable than the Trojans’ brutal slate. The defense returns eight starters, and standout end Eddie Vanderdoes is back from injury.|
|15.||Houston: The bar is set high for Houston after a 13-1 record in Tom Herman’s first season. The Cougars are the top Group of 5 team for 2016 and could climb into the playoff discussion with wins over Oklahoma and Louisville in non-conference games.|
|16.||Georgia: New coach Kirby Smart inherits a roster filled with promising talent and one of the nation’s top quarterback recruits in Jacob Eason. However, running back Nick Chubb is recovering from a serious knee injury, and the defense features a revamped front seven.|
|17.||TCU: TCU will be a dark horse contender in the Big 12. Only one starter returns on offense, but there’s a good foundation in place at the skill positions. The Horned Frogs are loaded on defense and return four key players who missed all or most of last year due to injury.|
|18.||Louisville: The Cardinals finished the 2015 season by winning six of their final seven games. Bobby Petrino’s team should build on that momentum in 2016 with 16 returning starters and the emergence of dynamic quarterback Lamar Jackson.|
|19.||Iowa: The Hawkeyes were one of college football’s biggest surprises in 2015 and open 2016 as the heavy favorite to win the Big Ten West. Quarterback C.J. Beathard leads the way on offense, while the defense returns eight starters.|
|20.||Florida: The defense is still among the best in the SEC, but Florida has to find some answers on offense after averaging 12.6 points over the final six games of 2015. Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio is expected to start at quarterback.|
|21.||North Carolina: New quarterback Mitch Trubisky is a rising star, and the supporting cast is among the best in the ACC. The defense showed some improvement under new coordinator Gene Chizik last year but has to get tougher against the run.|
|22.||USC: Clay Helton’s first full season on the job features one of the nation’s toughest schedules, a quarterback battle and a completely revamped defensive line.|
|23.||Oregon: The Ducks hope another FCS transfer (Dakota Prukop) is the right answer at quarterback. There’s no shortage of skill talent on offense, but the line must replace three starters. Brady Hoke is tasked with improving a defense that surrendered 37.5 points a game.|
|24.||Oklahoma State: Mason Rudolph to James Washington should be one of the Big 12’s top quarterback-receiver combinations in 2016. However, for the Cowboys to match last year’s 10 wins, the offensive line and rushing attack have to improve.|
|25.||Baylor: The dismissal of Art Briles as the program's coach has added a layer of uncertainty to Baylor for 2016. The Bears still have plenty of talent, but question marks remain on the line of scrimmage. Will interim coach Jim Grobe keep this team in the hunt for the Big 12 title?|
Braden Gall and Steven Lassan break down every single team in the Athlon Sports Preseason Top 25.
- How deep is the Pac-12 and how many teams could legitimately win the title? And will the "surprise" conference champ make the Playoff?
- Can the Big 12 bounce back after a rough showing in the first two years of the Playoff era. Is there a clearcut top four in the league vying for a championship and how close could this league come to missing the playoffs again?
- There are six teams in the SEC ranked in the top 25 but how many have a legit chance at winning the league and getting into the postseason?
- Seriously, how awesome could Florida State and Clemson be in 2016? And don't count out Louisville.
You can order your preseason Athlon Sports college football magazines here with Amazon.com.
Send any ideas, questions or comments to @BradenGall @AthlonMitch or @DavidFox615 or email [email protected]. The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com/podcast, iTunes, Stitcher and our podcast RSS feed.
Kickoff for the 2016 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about rankings, predictions and previews for the upcoming year. For most college football fans, one of the annual traditions each summer is the trip to the newsstand to pick up a preview magazine. The good news? The wait is almost over. The 2016 Athlon Sports College Football Preview magazines officially hit the newsstands on May 24, but all five regional and the national editions are available for order in our online store.
But that’s not the only bit of good news for college football fans. After studying depth charts, recruiting classes, schedules, stats and coaching hires or assistant movement, Athlon Sports will release its previews and rankings for the projected top 25 teams for 2016 on Monday.
Predictions for any conference and all 128 teams are an inexact science. And some teams are just a bigger mystery or a hard program to get a read on for the upcoming year. Which teams are the biggest wild cards and the toughest to rank for 2016? Here are 15 candidates:
15 Biggest Wild Card College Football Teams in 2016
Just how far has Baylor progressed under coach Art Briles? The Bears suffered massive losses in the trenches, as the offensive and defensive lines each have to replace four starters from last year. Despite the personnel turnover up front, Baylor has all of the pieces in place to be a top 10 team in 2016. Quarterback Seth Russell returns after missing the second half of 2015 with a neck injury, while the Bears are loaded with talent at the skill positions. How quickly can Briles find the right answers on the line of scrimmage?
The Gators were one of the SEC’s biggest surprises last season. In coach Jim McElwain’s first year, Florida overcame a midseason suspension to starting quarterback Will Grier to claim the East Division title and earn a 10-4 final record. While the Gators won the East, the offense struggled mightily without Grier under center. Florida failed to score more than 24 points in a game over the team’s final six contests and finished the year by averaging only 5.11 yards per play. The offense is once again a concern, as Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio is expected to start at quarterback, and McElwain still has work to do on the offensive line. Even though cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, safety Keanu Neal, end Jonathan Bullard and linebacker Antonio Morrison will be missed, there’s a strong foundation in place on defense to prevent a drop in production. Florida’s place in the SEC East will be determined by how fast its offense develops.
Only two teams – Ohio State and Alabama – have recruited at a higher level than Florida State over the last five seasons. With a roster stocked with talent and 15 returning starters from last year’s 10-win team, the Seminoles are poised to rebound back into national title contention. Quarterback play is coach Jimbo Fisher’s biggest concern, but redshirt freshman Deondre Francois was one of the top quarterback recruits in the 2015 signing class and should be an upgrade over last year’s starters. And Francois’ transition to the starting role can be eased by the return of dynamic running back Dalvin Cook, a talented group of receivers and a defense that should be the best in the ACC. There’s no question Florida State has the talent to win it all in 2016. However, how quickly will Francois settle into the starting role? There’s also the schedule to contend with. The Seminoles play Ole Miss and Florida in non-conference play, travel to Louisville and Miami in ACC action and host Clemson on Oct. 29 in a game that should decide the winner of the Atlantic Division.
A new era begins at Georgia this fall, as Kirby Smart replaces Mark Richt after his 15-year tenure ended in November. Smart, a former Georgia defensive back, is no stranger to life in the SEC and has plenty of pressure to win right away. The Bulldogs recruited well under Richt’s watch, but Smart inherits a roster with question marks under center, on the offensive line and in the front seven on defense. True freshman Jacob Eason is a future star at quarterback, and it’s only a matter of time before he replaces Greyson Lambert under center. The other big question mark surrounding the offense surrounds the health of running back Nick Chubb after a serious knee injury in 2015. Chubb is expected to play in 2016, but how quickly will he return to his pre-injury form? If Eason quickly lives up to the hype, Chubb returns to 100 percent and the defense finds the right answers in the front seven, could Georgia challenge Tennessee for the SEC East title?
On paper, LSU has the roster talent and returning personnel to win it all in 2016. However, a familiar theme surrounds the Tigers once again this offseason. The defense and rushing attack are strong, but LSU won’t push Alabama in the SEC West or contend for a playoff spot without improvement from its passing attack. In his first full year as the starter, Brandon Harris threw for 2,158 yards and 13 scores. However, he completed only 53.6 percent of his passes and ranked near the bottom of the SEC in yards per attempt (conference-only games – 6.8). With running back Leonard Fournette returning, and a defense that should rank among the nation’s best behind new coordinator Dave Aranda, LSU won’t need Harris to be drastically better to win the SEC.
According to recruiting rankings, Miami has the ACC’s No. 3 roster over the last five seasons. However, the Hurricanes are just 21-19 in conference play in that span and are still looking for their first trip to the ACC title game. Are Miami’s fortunes about to change? The program took a step forward this offseason by hiring Mark Richt to replace Al Golden. Richt plans on calling the plays on offense and is tasked with helping quarterback Brad Kaaya elevate his game to the next level. The Hurricanes should be among the ACC’s best on offense, but question marks remain on defense. This unit surrendered 6.01 yards per play in league games and needs to retool in the back seven. This unit must get tougher against the run after giving up 200.6 rushing yards per game last year. Miami has the talent to win the Coastal in 2016. What type of impact will Richt have on this team?
The Cornhuskers had their share of bad luck in Mike Riley’s first season. Nebraska finished 2015 with a minus-12 turnover margin, which fueled the program’s six losses by eight points or less. After watching the bounces and good fortune go against the Cornhuskers last year, Riley’s team could see a quick turnaround by just eliminating some of the turnovers. There’s also a lot to like on offense, as quarterback Tommy Armstrong leads an attack that averaged 32.8 points a game in 2015 and returns one of the Big Ten’s top receiving corps. However, the Cornhuskers have to rebuild the offensive line and suffered huge losses on the defensive front, including standout tackles Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine leaving early for the NFL. Road trips to Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio State are challenging, but better luck in close games could result in Nebraska improving to 8-4 or even 9-3 in 2016.
The Fighting Irish were just a few plays away from a trip to the College Football Playoff last season. While this team has a few significant personnel concerns to address and may not be as talented as the 2015 version, the schedule is manageable enough for Brian Kelly’s team to push for at least 10 wins. The quarterback battle between Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer will draw most of the offseason headlines, but the bigger question marks for Kelly on offense rest on the line and in the receiving corps. The defense surrendered 5.6 yards per play last season and must replace standouts Jaylon Smith (LB), Joe Schmidt (LB), Sheldon Day (DL) and KeiVarae Russell (CB). Can the talents of Kizer and Zaire overcome the concerns on defense?
Ohio State’s six returning starters are the fewest among Power 5 teams for 2016. Returning starters isn’t necessarily the best gauge of success for any team, but it’s no secret the Buckeyes were hit hard by early departures to the NFL. However, replacing elite talent is nothing new for coach Urban Meyer. Ohio State has averaged a 4.2 finish nationally in the last five recruiting classes, so the drop off should be minimal. Additionally, there’s no quarterback controversy in Columbus this offseason, and quarterback J.T. Barrett should benefit from a full year to work as the starter. With emerging stars like Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard on the defensive line, along with standout linebacker Raekwon McMillan, new co-coordinator Greg Schiano should have no trouble keeping this defense at the top of the Big Ten. Overcoming the personnel losses is one thing, but Ohio State still has to contend with a schedule that features road trips to Michigan State and Oklahoma.
Let’s group all three Pac-12 North teams into one section. Stanford will be picked by most as the preseason favorite in this division, but the Cardinal have some big question marks outside of running back Christian McCaffrey. Is Keller Chryst ready to step up at quarterback? And how quickly will the offensive and defensive lines develop? Washington is poised for a breakthrough year under coach Chris Petersen. However, is it one year too early for the Huskies? Oregon’s streak of consecutive double-digit win seasons was snapped at seven last year. The Ducks aren’t hurting for skill talent, but Mark Helfrich’s team needs to make significant improvement on defense, and there’s uncertainty under center with FCS transfer Dakota Prukop holding an edge over redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen.
Oklahoma is a heavy favorite to win the Big 12 once again in 2016, with Baylor and Oklahoma State and TCU in the second tier. Out of that trio in the second tier, the Horned Frogs seem to have the most potential to surprise in 2016. After injuries and personnel departures hindered the defense early in 2015, this unit played better in the second half of the season and returns four key players from injury. TCU’s defense could be the best in the Big 12, which is critical with an offense returning only one starter and replacing quarterback Trevone Boykin. New quarterback (and Texas A&M transfer) Kenny Hill could hold the keys to the season. If Hill provides stability under center, the Horned Frogs could easily exceed their preseason projections.
The pressure is building on Charlie Strong after a 5-7 record last season, but some of the pieces are starting to fall into place for the third-year coach. New coordinator Sterlin Gilbert provides much-needed direction on offense, and true freshman quarterback Shane Buechele delivered a promising performance in the spring game. It’s no secret improving the offense is a must after Texas has ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in back-to-back seasons. But until Buechele is settled under center, Gilbert can build an offense around talented running backs Chris Warren and D’Onta Foreman. Strong’s specialty is defense, and there’s room to improve after giving up 5.63 yards per play in 2015. While the line is thin on numbers, the back seven is headlined by a handful of promising sophomores, including linebacker Malik Jefferson and cornerbacks Holton Hill and Davante Davis. Texas isn’t ready to challenge for the Big 12 title, but there are signs this program is moving back in the right direction. How much improvement can the Longhorns make in 2016?
The Trojans have the best roster in the Pac-12, return a rising star at running back in Ronald Jones and the nation’s best receiver in JuJu Smith-Schuster, while cornerback Adoree’ Jackson is one of college football’s best all-purpose players. So why is there doubt about USC in 2016? This is the program’s first full season under Clay Helton’s watch, and new offensive coordinator Tee Martin has never called plays for a full year. The Trojans also have to develop an answer at quarterback – expected to be talented junior Max Browne – and retool a defensive line that was hit hard by departures. As if the question marks at quarterback and on the defensive line weren’t enough to add doubt to this team’s potential, the schedule is arguably the toughest in the nation.
As a baseball player, Frank Thomas was known as the “Big Hurt” because of his size (6’5”, 240-plus) and the damage he could do as a hitter. A two-time AL MVP and Hall of Fame inductee, Thomas, 47, is taking his game from the batter’s box to the backyard grill, with his new cookbook, The Big Hurt’s Guide to BBQ and Grilling. We caught up with Thomas to talk grilling, beer and baseball.
Growing up, who manned the grill at family cookouts?
My dad. He was the master griller. He lived for the weekends. We didn’t have much, but on the weekends we had barbecue one of the days. He was a barbecue fanatic. My dad was the ribs king. Barbecue ribs. He was the master smoker. He could barbecue for 10 straight hours. He would sit in the back, put on his little radio and have fun slow-smoking barbecue all day.
Tell me about your restaurant, Big Hurt Brewhouse.
It started off because I wanted to have my own beer (Big Hurt Beer). Then, I’m a big food guy, so why don’t we give the beer a home at Big Hurt Brewhouse? Chicago is known for a lot of great, different restaurants with sports ties, so that’s how it all started. We have great food and beverages and people love it.
Who is your favorite hitter to watch these days?
(Detroit Tigers first baseman) Miguel Cabrera is my all-time favorite because he reminds me of myself so much. And for him to stay healthy so long, it’s great to watch him.
What’s your favorite baseball memory?
Getting into the Hall of Fame (in 2014). Baseball is such a long grind, and to be able to play 19 seasons in the big leagues is special, but it all comes to that final moment. I’m happy to say my final moment was getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Grilled Lemon-Basil Pork Chops
“They used to call me ‘Pork Chop’ when I played football at Auburn,” says Thomas, a former two-sport star. “Down South, everyone fries their pork chops, but here’s a healthier version I’ve grown to love over the years. Make sure your pork chops are thick enough to stand up to the high heat.”
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 tsp. dried basil
4 thick-cut boneless pork loin chops
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
3/4 tbsp. salt
1. Add lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and basil to a medium bowl, then whisk until blended.
2. Place pork chops in a large resealable bag, then pour in marinade and make sure chops are well covered. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
3. Preheat grill to high.
4. Remove chops from marinade and pat dry, then season with salt and black pepper. Pour remaining marinade in a sauce pan and bring to a boil, then set aside to cool.
5. When your grill is hot, use tongs to dip a wad of paper towels in vegetable oil and run them a dozen times across the grates. Cook pork chops over direct heat, basting frequently with cooled marinade, until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees, about 5-7 minutes per side.
In each issue of Athlon Sports & Life, we pick six of our favorite things. They may be books, automobiles, games, gear, booze, apparel or whatever happens to be awesome. Here's what made our short list this issue:
Trans Am SE "Bandit" Edition
When we saw Burt Reynolds pop up in a video (watch it below) promoting an updated version of his '77 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am from the man-classic film "Smokey and the Bandit," we took notice. Turns out, we can thank the Trans Am Depot, which has exclusive rights to the Trans Am brand. The Tallahassee, Fla., based company will be rolling out 77 of these beauties, each with a tire-smoking 840 horsepower and an autograph from the Bandit himself.
Craftsman 24 Volt 10-inch Cordless Chainsaw
To our surprise, this electric chainsaw is a beast. In an attempt to put it to the test, we set out to fell an 11-inch thick, 25-foot tall tree. It sliced through it with ease and made quick work of the branches without needing a recharge. Set-up was easy, and other than the occasional tightening of the blade, this wood cutter ran with zero trouble. The lithium-ion battery recharged in a little over an hour. For those do-it-yourselfers who need to take down a tree (within reason, of course) and keep branches at bay in their yard, look no further.
Wilson Staff C200 Irons
We can't heap enough praise on these irons. They helped us hit for more distance, had a great feel during our swing, and (best of all) were very forgiving. The "C", by the way, stands for "crossover" and is designed for players seeking a midsize head shape and moderate offset. The biggest difference from the previous C100 model is the new "Power Hole" construction, which features urethane-filled holes that surround the head completely, helping to maximize face flex upon impact, resulting in increased ball speed and distance. They're ideal for mid- to high-handicap golfers looking to improve their game.
Filson's Dutch Harbor Watch
Strap this Detroit-born beauty to your wrist and the first thing you'll notice is the feel... not too heavy, not too light, just right. At 43mm, this 1950s dive-watch inspired timepiece, is perfectly sized for most wrists. While the stainless steel case means it's sturdy, we fell in love with the soft, brown leather strap that complemented the green rotating ring perfectly.
Back from the Dead
This aptly-titled memoir from NBA legend Bill Walton recounts his devastating injuries (in 2008, he suffered a spinal collapse) and amazing recoveries, set in the context of his UCLA triumphs under John Wooden, his storied NBA career, and his affinity for music and the Grateful Dead. A must-read for any Walton fan.
This Smithsonian Channel show has us hooked, as private investigator Kevin Barrows and sports reporter Lauren Gardner search for missing memorabilia from history's greatest games and players. Viewers get to follow along as they travel the country on the hunt for Muhammad Ali's missing Olympic gold medal, Jim Craig's Miracle on Ice flag, Dale Earnhardt's first racecar, and other legendary items. Tune in Sunday nights to see if the detectives get their man, er, sports memorabilia.
I used to hate the word association game they play to get you ready for the SAT. You know, those torturous questions like “Bread is to water as sky is to...” Sky is to what? I just look up at it every day and hope it doesn’t rain.
But for Dover, there’s a word association that clearly works. Altogether now; new rules are to Dover what water is to your survival. For years, no track had suffered more under the difficulties of aerodynamics than the track fondly known as the “Monster Mile.” A track that once ate up cars for breakfast now has just enough grip to keep everyone fully fendered for all 400 miles. The problem? NASCAR’s dreaded aero push keeps them from running side by side combined with a Goodyear tire combination that just can’t hit. The result is this awfully slick, one-groove track that causes a lot of separation and single-file racing, thinning out a crowd that used to tick over 150,000 for this event. Now, the local Firefly Music Festival is a potential bigger revenue booster for this independent track than a day at the races.
NASCAR needs to change that, fast or one of its big-market speedways will be down for the count. Seats have been reduced by nearly half and attendance during Friday’s rain-soaked activities was spotty. Can the Miles the Monster find his way... or face extinction in just a few short years?
2016 AAA 400 Drive for Autism
Time: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Track: Dover International Speedway (Dover, DE)
TV: FOX Sports 1
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90
Who’s at the Front: Austin Dillon
We’ll take a break from the typical Toyota dominance at the front of the field, the likes of which we saw again at Kansas to highlight an up-and-comer quietly salvaging his reputation. Dillon, after two ho-hum seasons in Cup running Dale Earnhardt’s former No. 3 is starting to level up toward contender. Talladega two weeks ago featured a fascinating comeback; Dillon wrecked only to fight back to third driving a car held together by duct tape. At Kansas this past weekend, chemistry between driver and crew chief “Slugger” Labbe was on display; a car that started out like junk was molded into a solid sixth-place effort by the checkered. Dillon, now solidly inside the top 10 in points has put himself in position to make the Chase.
Who’s at the Back: Kyle Larson
The much-anticipated breakout season for Larson has turned straight to breakdown status. Larson, 23, has endured some rough luck, an innocent victim of Saturday’s late-race crash at Kansas after positioning himself for a top-5 result. But overall, the third time is definitely not the charm for a guy who envisioned championship dreams ala Jeff Gordon during his third year on tour in 1995. Larson sits 22nd in points by comparison, is nursing an average finish of 22.6 (the worst of his career) and you begin to wonder if the promising talent may be better off with a change of scenery. Hey, it worked for Joey Logano.
The Earnhardt name has become a family feud of sorts between Dale Earnhardt’s widow Teresa and stepson Kerry. Teresa wants Kerry to stop using the trademark for his own company, claiming it muddles the legacy of her late husband and Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Kerry, for his part doesn’t understand why using his own last name would be a trademark infringement. I think the masses don’t get it as it’s tough to see a family wound reopened with lawyers, lawsuits and money involved.
Ryan Newman has been mum on his future but it looks increasingly likely he’ll be seeking new work for 2017. Richard Childress Racing has committed to moving Ty Dillon up to Sprint Cup but doesn’t seem to have the sponsorship for a fourth car next year. That means they’ll stick with three and it’s highly unlikely brother Ty’s brother Austin or Paul Menard (who comes with millions in family money) will be forced out. Add in Newman’s contract, which expires in 2016 and even Encyclopedia Brown could figure this one out.
Toyota, Toyota, Toyota. Kyle Busch’s win last Saturday night at Kansas means Joe Gibbs Racing has taken six of the year’s first 11 races. They continue to be the dominant force three months into the year.
NASCAR by the Numbers
On-track pass for the lead at Kansas under green-flag conditions. The 16 lead changes during Saturday night’s race were the lowest for an intermediate oval this year.
Sprint Cup laps led for Kyle Busch this season, the most of any driver. He also leads the series in wins (three), top-5 finishes (nine), and sits second in points. Not bad for a guy who had zeros in all those categories last year after sitting out the first 11 races due to injury.
Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)
Other than Kevin Harvick at Phoenix no driver has been more dominant at a racetrack these days than Jimmie Johnson at Dover. The six-time series champ has won seven races here since the start of the 2009 season and boasts eight top-3 finishes in the last 11 events. Last year’s 41st-place mechanical failure notwithstanding he’s as close to an automatic at any track you’re going to get. Whoever has him on the bench Sunday clearly isn’t paying attention in your league.
Harvick, for his part won Dover last fall and appears to be ticking upward at the Monster Mile. Last season produced 446 laps led, an average finish of 1.5 in two starts and well over half-million in winnings. He’s been tops in practice early in the weekend and in a race where track position is key the No. 4 car will start near the front. Don’t start him over Johnson but in a league with two “A” driver slots he’s a perfect fit.
Martin Truex Jr. is still smarting from his Kansas loss last weekend. The No. 78 team had the most dominant car only for a loose wheel to shake loose their opportunity at Victory Lane. But Dover, a hometown track for Truex, offers a shot at redemption. It’s a track where he desperately wants to win and his Furniture Row Racing team led 131 laps last spring en route to a sixth-place finish. Momentum should carry over here.
No one thinks of a guy like Jamie McMurray at Dover, and for many years the veteran did nothing special here. However, last year produced a seventh and a fourth; that continued a pattern of four top-15 finishes at Dover within the past five races. It’s not the worst pick in the world if you need to reach.
Dover is typically not a good track for underdogs but keep your eye on Landon Cassill. He scored a top-25 finish last season with a woefully underfunded team and his new digs, the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports team, have been improving as of late. A top-25 finish or top 20 isn’t out of the question here if you need a breather from starting the most-used drivers in this “lower tier” like rookies Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott. Another rookie, Brian Scott was speedy in practice and might be worth a look.
What Vegas Thinks
Kevin Harvick is favored to win Sunday’s race... but just barely. The 6/1 odds edge Jimmie Johnson at 7/2 followed by Kyle Busch at 5/1. Matt Kenseth sits fourth at 8/1.
What I Think
Kevin Harvick has had enough runner-up finishes these past two years and comes in with something to prove. After Toyotas have been overshadowing his early 2016 performance I think Harvick comes out and stomps the field.
(Photo by ASP Inc.)
At 81, A.J. Foyt is still known as the toughest man to ever sit in a racecar. He survived crashes that would have ended most drivers’ careers. But he kept coming back… and winning.
Foyt won in every type of car from IndyCar to NASCAR, which he won the Daytona 500 in 1972, and stock cars, midgets, sprints, sports cars and Le Mans. He’s won 14 national titles and 172 major races in a career that spanned four decades and three continents.
But the Foyt name is most synonymous with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he was the first driver to ever win the Indianapolis 500 four times (1961, ’64, ’67 and ’77). As the owner of Foyt Racing, he won it again in 1999.
We caught up with Foyt to discuss the 100th running of the Indy 500: The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
What is it that makes the Indianapolis 500 so special?
FOYT: It’s like the Kentucky Derby, it’s been there for many years and some of the races are great and some of them are bad, but it’s still the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That’s what makes it so great. I guess, tradition you just can’t beat.
Where does it rank among all of the other races you've been in during your career?
I would have to say it rates number one. I keep referring to the Kentucky Derby, but your horse can lose every race and if he wins the Kentucky Derby, he’s the Kentucky Derby winner. It’s the same way in Indianapolis. I won a lot of races all over the country, but there’s still only one Indianapolis. People all over the world know the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s a tradition and tradition you can’t buy.
What do remember from the first time you drove in the Indy 500?
That was probably the biggest thrill of my life. I always dreamed of it and when I was a little kid I used to listen to it on the radio. For me to be good enough, from Houston, Texas, where I still live and was born and raised, to qualify for the 500 was the biggest thrill of my life.
In 1977, you became the first to win the Indianapolis 500 four times. Is that a greater accomplishment than the longevity and the sustained success you had throughout your racing career?
To do something nobody’s ever done before, yeah, naturally you’re proud of that. Going back, it’s like the Triple Crown in horse racing. The whole world knows it. It ain’t just the local people.
I have a question that only an Indy 500 winner would know, after winning the Indy 500, is the milk you drink cold or warm?
Well, it ain’t ice cold.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is an equally special track, is there anything about the track or race day that only a driver would know?
You can test all over the world and until you get there it seems like that track changes so much from the first day of practice to qualifying day to race day. It’s got a characteristic of its own. It seems like it’s never the same. One day to the other your can be handling great and the next day you can’t even hardly stay on the track. It’s just got a history like that.
Who's your pick to win this year's race?
I hope my team wins. That’s who I’m picking. I think we’re due for one.
How many Indy 500’s have you been to throughout your life and will you be there this year for the 100th running?
I hope I’m still around at the 100th running. I’ve been there since 1958 and I came there and sat up in Turn 2 in 1956 and 1957, but the first time on the ground trying to race was 1958. Yeah, I’ve gone every year. Even last year after I had open heart surgery. I didn’t go to a lot of the (other) races, but I did go to the Indy 500.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give a spectator going to their first Indy 500? Besides the drivers’ seat, where’s the best seat at the track to watch a race?
Grandstand B is real good and Grandstand A. It’s according to what you want to see and (Grandstand) E is very good. I’ve got seats in all (three) of them, but if a person can get a ticket in either – I’d say – B or E, to me, you can see a lot.
Who's the greatest driver you ever raced against?
There were a lot of great drivers, so it’s hard to pick one that you had trouble racing with. Parnelli Jones is good. Mario Andretti. There were just a lot of great guys. I was just glad to be racing against them because they were good racers.
What makes a great race car driver?
Dedication and really putting your mind to it.
Of all the different types and styles of cars you’ve raced, which was most fun?
The most fun I used to have was on a half-mile dirt sprint car. You had a lot of power and you had to control it with your foot. It was a lot of fun. Today these guys wouldn’t even know what to do if you put them in a sprint car. They wouldn’t know the front wheel from the steering wheel.
What do you think of today’s Indy Cars?
They’re about 1,000 percent safer than the old cars and the racetracks, they have safety walls. And the fuel is down to 18 gallons, where we used to carry 75 gallons, so when we hit the wall it was a pretty big explosion.
You've had a lot of serious wrecks and injuries – burns, broken bones, busted back, bruised aorta, etc. How does a driver mentally prepare to get back into the car and drive the way it takes to win?
The press would always write, ‘Can he come back or not?’ That’s what drove me. I just wanted to prove them wrong.
How’s your health these days?
Right now everything’s looking good. I’m learning to walk again at 81 years old, but the last two-and-a-half years have been pretty rough on me. I had to have open heart surgery and then I got staph infection and they had to take the other new knee. I got new hips and I got knees and then that staph infection was probably one of the most terrible things you could ever have. I was unconscious for almost 10 days in the hospital and then I got bedsores. That’s been over a year ago and they’re about 99.9 percent healed up. It’s been a mess, but I’m gaining and I’m not going to give up.
That’s when it pays to be a hard ass.
(Laughing) I guess you have to be a fighter to live.
There are a lot of professional and college football players, who have expressed regrets after the fact, having gone through so many medical procedures and the mounting health issues; have you even questioned yourself or had any regrets?
No. I knew when I went into the game the chances, and if I had my life to live over I wouldn’t change one damn thing.
Do you miss driving a race car?
Yes, I do. I really do, but I know in my own mind there’s no sense thinking I’m 20-years-old. Time passes on and, like I say, since the day I retired and got out I’ve not sat back in one to drive.
Because you know you gave it everything you had to win as much as you could, does that make it easier to retire? You didn’t take races off. You didn’t half-ass it. Having no regrets makes it OK.
I told (my publicist) Anne (Fornoro) and them something yesterday and never told a writer or anybody, but I’m going to tell you. When I was running some of the Daytona 500 races in stock cars, I would be running along with them and would talk to myself. I would say, "Come on A.J. Let’s get with it." I was running up front with them, but I felt like I could give it more and I was sitting there stroking a little bit.
Yeah, and you’re the only writer I’ve told that to. I used to talk to myself there a lot. I didn’t do it in Indy Cars because I was always giving it 110 percent, but here sometimes you start following and drafting and you start stroking it. I’d start talking to myself. "Come on, you can do more than this."
Did it work?
Yeah, it worked. Sometimes I got in trouble, but I got out of trouble more than I got in.
Your name is synonymous with auto racing, I need to know, has being A.J. Foyt ever gotten you out of a speeding ticket?
Yeah. I think the funniest thing was, up in Pennsylvania, I was hustling one day going to Pocono and I passed an old brown Dodge that looked like crap. I wasn’t running that fast – maybe 75 or 80 – and all of a sudden I seen him put his hat on and I said, "Oh crap." He turned his lights on and I stopped. He come up and he said, "Who do you think you are A.J. Foyt?" I said, "Yeah," and he said, "Don’t you get smart with me." I’ll never forget that.
One last question about Indianapolis, your grandson is married to the daughter of the Colts owner. Are you still a Texans fan or does that mean you have to root for the Colts?
You’re going laugh, but who I really like in football through the years was Tom Brady. Day in and day out I’m a Patriots fan. Yeah. … When Bum Phillips was with the Oilers, I really liked the Oilers but since then Texans ain’t really had nothing.
Interview by Keith Ryan Cartwright
The moment we’ve been waiting for all year is here: The arrival of the Athlon Sports’ 2016 college football preview magazines. We’ve been working since the end of last season to get you ready for 2016, and now you can purchase all six editions today.
Every edition — the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and National magazines — is available now through the Athlon Sports store on Amazon.
Can’t wait for the issue to get the magazine on newsstands on May 24? You can buy it online now.
Are you an SEC fan living in Big Ten country? A Big Ten fan living out West? Or do you just want to make sure you get your favorite team on the cover? All editions and covers featuring nearly every Power 5 team are available in the store.
Also, Athlon is the only magazine in 2016 with editions for the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12.
Below are some of the features you will find in this season’s Athlon Sports 2016 college football previews.
In the SEC edition, you will find:
• Six pages previewing each SEC team featuring exclusive scouting reports from opposing coaches and advanced stats.
• A look at the Alabama football dynasty and how it compares historically.
• An examination of the SEC-wide quarterback issues.
• A look at Gus Malzahn, Kevin Sumlin and Les Miles as they’ve made their journey from hero to hot seat.
In the Big Ten edition, you will find:
• Four pages previewing each Big Ten team, plus Notre Dame, featuring exclusive scouting reports from opposing coaches and advanced stats.
• A play-by-play look at Michigan State’s epic drive to win the Big Ten championship.
• A new face on the Michigan defense.
• A look at new blood on the coaching staff at Penn State.
In the ACC edition, you will find:
• Four pages on each ACC team, plus four pages on Notre Dame, featuring exclusive scouting reports from opposing coaches and advanced stats.
• A Q&A with Clemson star Deshaun Watson.
• A profile of rising Florida State star Josh Sweat.
• A breakdown of new coaches at Virginia Tech, Miami, Virginia and Syracuse.
In the Big 12 edition, you will find:
• Six pages previewing each Big 12 team, featuring exclusive scouting reports from opposing coaches and advanced stats.
• An examination of the quarterback drought.
• Why TCU and Baylor are here to stay.
In the Pac-12 edition, you will find:
• Four pages previewing each Pac-12 team, plus Notre Dame and BYU, featuring exclusive scouting reports from opposing coaches and advanced stats.
• 10 storylines that will shape the Pac-12 in 2016.
In the national edition, you will find:
• Previews and rankings of all 128 FBS teams and all 10 conferences.
• An analytical breakdown of the teams that are certain to surprise in 2016.
• One-on-one Q&As with Heisman contenders Deshaun Watson of Clemson and Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma.
Skip Bayless never knows when to leave well enough alone.
After the Thunder took down the Spurs to head to the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors, the outspoken personality had this to say about the matchup.
Not sure the Thunder can win a single game against the Warriors.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) May 13, 2016
Bayless, who grew up in Oklahoma City, showed he wasn't playing favorites. The school district however, had some words for the "hometown hero."
People from the community were on board with the school of course.
On ESPN's First Take, Bayless doubled down on his stance.
"My mama taught me to be honest," he said. "And I'm just being honest. I think Golden State is much better than the Thunder. I'm sorry, OKC, but I love you."
Don't expect a hometown parade for the OKC native anytime soon.
Somewhat of a rivalry was created last fall when the Texas and Toronto met in the American League Division Series in October. The series featured several major storylines that spanned two nations and two fan bases starved for a World Series championship.
Both the Rangers and Blue Jays used trade deadline deals late last summer to propel themselves into the postseason. The Rangers made the move to acquire Cole Hamels and bullpen help from the Phillies, while the Blue Jays brought in slugger Troy Tulowitzki from the Rockies and lefty ace David Price from the Tigers, making them the favorite to win the American League pennant.
The 2015 ALDS was the most exciting series in baseball’s postseason last October, culminating in Jose Bautista’s infamous bat flip (…er, throw) after hitting a go-ahead three-run shot in the bottom of the seventh to win the series for the Jays. The benches would clear and fans’ tempers would flare, but at the end of the day the Blue Jays were moving on and perhaps a new AL rivalry was born.
The Jays and Rangers have already faced each other this season, a series in which Toronto took two of three from Texas at home. This weekend’s series, and perhaps baseball’s newest rivalry, kicks off tonight at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas.
Toronto Blue Jays (18-18) vs. Texas Rangers (20-15)
|Game||Day||Time (ET)||Pitching Matchup|
|1||Friday, May 13||8:05 PM||R.A. Dickey vs. Martin Perez|
|2||Saturday, May 14||8:05 PM||Marco Estrada vs. Colby Lewis|
|3||Sunday, May 15||3:05 PM||Aaron Sanchez vs. Cesar Ramos|
3 Things To Watch
1. No Stroman? No Problem
Unfortunately, the Blue Jays’ energetic, young fireballer Marcus Stroman isn’t slated to pitch this weekend against the Rangers — however, he will graduate from Duke on Sunday, which is pretty cool in itself. Even without Stroman, Jays fans can relax no matter who toes the rubber this weekend in Arlington. That is outside of R.A. Dickey — you just never know with that knuckleball.
Dickey aside, Marco Estrada and Aaron Sanchez will be on the mound on Saturday and Sunday, and both have been pleasant surprises so far this season. Coming out of spring training, the big question mark for the Jays was supposed to be their starting pitching. But the starters, led by Stroman, have been great. Estrada has a 2.39 ERA and has surrendered only 10 earned runs in 31 1/3 innings, earning his $26 million extension. Sanchez has been just as good, posting a 2.58 ERA, 3.43 FIP in 45 1/3 innings pitched. If Dickey (5.18 ERA, 4.45 FIP) can somehow wrangle in his knuckleball, the Jays should be able to combat that dangerous Rangers lineup.
2. Time for Jays’ Offense to Fly
So far this spring, the Toronto offense that led the league in pretty much every major offensive category a season ago has yet to come alive — aside from reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson. Currently, the Jays are 16th in MLB in runs scored, 20th in hits, 21st in slugging and 26th in team batting average. The Jays don’t have to worry about facing Cole Hamels this weekend, and although Perez could prove formidable, Colby Lewis and Cesar Ramos are both susceptible to giving up big innings. Lewis does have a 3.20 ERA in 45 innings this season, but he is tied for second in the AL with nine home runs surrendered while Ramos is making only his second start of 2016, the other coming back on April 25
3. Rangers’ Infield Shines
Rare is the case that a team’s three best hitters are all infielders. With Josh Hamilton and Shin-Shoo Choo on the DL, and Ian Desmond, technically an infielder playing in the outfield, the Rangers are that rare case. Adrain Beltre (3B), Elvis Andrus (SS), and Rougned Odor (2B) are driving Texas’ offense this season.
Beltre has been arguably the most consistent player of his era, a career .285 hitter with 2,804 hits and 419 hom eruns. Beltre, 37, has continued his steady play this season with five home runs and a .282 average, all while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at third. Beltre’s friend, and sometimes dugout irritant, Andrus has been steady at the bottom half of the Texas lineup, hitting .282/.331/.466. But it is the emergence of Odor that has kept the Rangers in the thick of the AL West hunt. Odor, only 22, leads his team with 10 doubles and seven home runs, all while hitting .298/.327/.532 with an OPS of .858.
If Hamilton and Choo can provide some pop once they return, and Prince Fielder (.198/.260/.298) can find his stroke, the Rangers could turn out to be what the Blue Jays were in ’15 — an offense to be reckoned with.
The Jays are still trying to find their stride. While their starting pitching has been really good, the offense and the two most reliable veteran bullpen arms (Brett Cecil and Drew Storen) have been lackluster. The Jays’ offense will have to try and keep up with the Rangers’ bats, an offense that scored 23 runs while winning three games against the red-hot White Sox earlier this week.
Prediction: Rangers win series, 2 games to 1
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. An avid baseball fan, Rose also takes time to do some play-by-play work for the radio broadcasts of Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider baseball games. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Hidden inside Nebraska’s 2015 6-7 record is the belief that Mike Riley’s offense can’t get the job done — period. The term “pro style” doesn’t play well in some areas of Husker Nation. Everywhere Cornhusker fans gather, a familiar paraphrase these days is “you can’t pass 40 times and win!” I’m going to prove those Big Red backers right, but I’m also going to show why Riley’s not out to do that in the first place.
You’re right about that much passing, Joe HuskerFan. Even the best of teams running an Air Raid offense aren’t looking at national championships any time soon. Usually if a team is using Knute Rockne’s invention to a heavy degree, it’s a bad thing.
Remember when Nebraska fell behind 21-9 to Purdue last season and Ryker Fyfe spent the remainder of regulation trying to playing catch up through the air? The end result: 48 pass attempts and a big, fat “L.”
Let’s take a bigger look at how so much passing can crush a team’s dreams.
I took the 25 Power Five signal-callers with the best quarterback ratings from 2015 and looked at how often they threw 35-plus times per game last year to see how that worked out. No, Western Kentucky's Brandon Doughty didn’t make the cut. Only the gunslingers who face the best defenses in the country — most of the time — got the spotlight.
Out of 318 games played by these quarterbacks, 107 produced 35-plus passing attempt efforts. What does the record look like when 34 percent of those contests have that much heaving? A lovely 60 wins and 48 losses, which translates to a winning percentage of .556.
Sure, if you’re Texas Tech or Washington State, the Air Raid’s your bread and butter. If a team’s looking to win the College Football Playoff, other systems work far better and this is why Riley isn’t going for the pass-happy, basketball-on-grass effort that some Nebraskans think he is.
Take a team like Stanford, for example. The Cardinal are a lot like what the Huskers want to look like. A strong offensive line capable of paving the way for a successful rushing attack while also providing time for quarterback Kevin Hogan to make his reads. The comparison gets even better when taking into account that Austin Hooper, a tight end, hauled in 438 yards and six touchdowns.
Expect the Huskers’ Cethan Carter to have a similar impact in 2016 (if not a bigger one).
Now that we’ve established how Nebraska and Stanford aren’t all that different in terms of offensive philosophy, let’s note that Hogan didn’t do well once the Cardinal were forced to step away from what they’re good at.
When Hogan put the ball up 35 times or more, Stanford lost twice, their only setbacks of the season.
Think getting away from what you know can’t topple the best? Former Alabama quarterback Jake Coker had an off day last season and it cost Nick Saban’s crew. Coker put up more than 33 passes just once last season, and that was in a 43-37 loss to Ole Miss (45 attempts that day for those curious).
Looking closer to home, Tommy Armstrong wasn’t immune from this effect at all. In fact, he’s the perfect example of needing to work within a system that isn’t strictly pass-oriented for Riley’s bunch to be poised for ultimate success. Armstrong notched five 35-plus attempt games and claimed one win out of all of them: a way-too-close 36-28 victory over Southern Miss.
When working within a system that strives to take advantage of an effective running and passing attack, he did far better. In the seven other games he played in last season (missed one due to injury), Armstrong posted a 5-2 record, including a 3-0 run at the end of the season when the Huskers managed to get things humming thanks to a balanced attack featuring the speedy dual-threat Texan.
Besides, a coach that wants to use fly sweeps, reverses and fullback traps requires road graders on the offensive line, not guys who can hold steady for Air Raid Lite.
Armstrong doesn’t have to throw the ball 40 times per game and he shouldn’t, because that’s close to double what Nebraska likely wants to put up on what would be considered a “pass-heavy” day.
Long story short, it doesn’t matter if you’re USC, Stanford or even Alabama. Putting on a fireworks display of passing may take a team to a quality bowl, but it won’t get you crowned national champion anymore.
The Big 12 is home to some of the nation’s top quarterbacks in 2016. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, Baylor’s Seth Russell and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph headline a top-heavy group of signal-callers in the conference, with West Virginia’s Skyler Howard and TCU’s Kenny Hill in the next tier. This group of quarterbacks could get deeper if Texas freshman Shane Buechele continues to develop after a strong performance in the spring game.
How do the new starters in the Big 12 project with Heisman Trophy candidate Baker Mayfield and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes? Athlon has ranked all 10 starters for 2016.
To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2016. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, 2016 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the Big 12 for 2016.
Ranking the Big 12's Quarterbacks for 2016
1. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior
The combination of Mayfield and new coordinator Lincoln Riley provided a much-needed spark for Oklahoma’s offense last season. The Sooners averaged 43.5 points a game in 2015, which was their highest mark since 2008 (51.1 ppg). Additionally, Oklahoma led all Big 12 teams in scoring for conference-only matchups (47.2 ppg) last year. Mayfield threw for 3,700 yards and 36 scores but also showcased his ability to improvise and create plays with his legs by recording 405 yards and seven touchdowns on 141 rushing attempts. Mayfield won’t have standout receiver Sterling Shepard at his disposal this fall, but Oklahoma’s offense is still one of the best in the nation, and the senior quarterback returns to Norman as one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman.
2. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior
The Big 12 got an early glimpse of Mahomes’ talent in a late-season stint as Texas Tech’s starter at the end of 2014. Mahomes tossed 14 scores over the final three games that year and torched Baylor for 598 passing yards in the season finale. Mahomes carried that momentum into 2015 and delivered a monster statistical year for coach Kliff Kingsbury. Mahomes led all Big 12 quarterbacks by throwing for 4,653 yards and tied for first in the league with 36 touchdown tosses. He also rushed for 456 yards and 10 scores on 131 attempts. Texas Tech has to fill a couple of key voids on the offensive line, while running back DeAndre Washington and receiver Jakeem Grant have expired their eligibility. However, that shouldn’t slow Mahomes this fall, as the junior should be one of the nation’s top 10 quarterbacks for 2016.
3. Seth Russell, Baylor
2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior
Russell was on pace for a monster statistical year in his first season as Baylor’s starting quarterback, but a neck injury against Iowa State in late October sidelined the Texas native for the rest of 2015. Through seven games, Russell threw for 2,104 yards and 29 scores and tossed only six picks on 200 attempts. He was limited in spring practice but is expected to be fully cleared for contact by fall drills. If Russell returns back to full strength as expected, he should push Patrick Mahomes for the No. 2 spot on this list. And if Russell has any setbacks, Baylor’s quarterback position is in good hands with sophomore Jarrett Stidham.
4. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Putting Rudolph at No. 4 among Big 12 quarterbacks for 2016 shows just how deep this conference is at the top in terms of talent under center. In his first full season as Oklahoma State’s starter in 2015, Rudolph threw for 3,770 yards and 21 scores and completed 62.3 percent of his passes. Additionally, Rudolph ranked second among Big 12 quarterbacks with 16 passing plays of 40 yards or more. A late-season foot injury slowed Rudolph in Oklahoma State’s final two games, but the junior is expected to return to 100 percent for 2016. Rudolph should challenge for a spot among the nation’s top 10 quarterbacks this season.
5. Kenny Hill, TCU
2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Trevone Boykin leaves big shoes to fill in Fort Worth for the Horned Frogs. Co-coordinator Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie should keep TCU’s offense performing at a high level, but matching last year’s 11 wins will be tough unless Kenny Hill or Foster Sawyer provides stability under center. Hill is the favorite to start after sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. In two seasons at Texas A&M, Hill threw for 2,832 yards and 24 scores and showcased his dual-threat capability by adding 193 rushing yards on 59 attempts. Hill is a good fit for TCU’s offense and has a deep group of skill players at his disposal. However, Hill has to prove his second-half struggles with the Aggies in 2014 are a thing of the past, as well as hold off Sawyer for the No. 1 spot in the fall.
6. Skyler Howard, West Virginia
2016 Year of Eligibility: Senior
In his first full season as West Virginia’s starter, Howard had his share of ups and downs directing Dana Holgorsen’s high-powered attack. In 13 appearances, Howard threw for 3,145 yards and 26 touchdowns and added 502 yards and six scores on the ground. However, Howard only completed 54.8 percent of his passes and tossed 14 interceptions. Those numbers need to improve for Howard to climb on this list in 2016. The senior does have momentum on his side this fall, as he closed out the 2015 season by torching Arizona State for 532 yards and five scores. Is Howard poised to take the next step in 2016?
7. Shane Buechele, Texas
2016 Year of Eligibility: Freshman
The quarterback battle in Austin between Buechele and Tyrone Swoopes is expected to continue into the fall. However, while spring game performances aren’t necessarily the best indicator of where any quarterback competition stands, it will be tough to keep Buechele on the sidelines after his performance on April 16. In Texas’ spring game, Buechele threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns on 22 completions. It’s a small sample size, but Buechele looks ready to be the No. 1 quarterback.
8. Joel Lanning, Iowa State
2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior
New coach Matt Campbell has a good foundation in place on offense, as the Cyclones return two All-Big 12 candidates in running back Mike Warren and receiver Allen Lazard, while quarterback Joel Lanning returns after starting the final five games of 2015. Under Lanning’s direction, Iowa State recorded back-to-back 30-point performances against Oklahoma State and Kansas State, while defeating Texas 24-0 on Oct. 31. Lanning finished the season with 1,246 passing yards and 10 scores and added 330 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Campbell has a strong track record of success on offense at Toledo and should help Lanning’s development in 2016.
9. Jesse Ertz, Kansas State
2016 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Ertz was the victim of bad luck last year, as his 2015 season ended on Kansas State’s first offensive play from scrimmage against South Dakota. On a five-yard run, Ertz suffered a torn ACL and was sidelined the rest of the season. Joe Hubener and Kody Cook filled in admirably at quarterback in Ertz’s absence, but the Wildcats finished seventh in the Big 12 in scoring. Ertz is the frontrunner to start in 2016, with Hubener, redshirt freshman Alex Delton and true freshman Skylar Thompson also in the mix for snaps.
10. Ryan Willis, Kansas
2016 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore
Willis was tossed into the fire as a true freshman last season and showed promise for coach David Beaty. In 10 games, Willis threw for 1,719 yards and nine scores. His best performance of the season came against Texas Tech, as Willis nearly led the Jayhawks to an upset win by completing 35 of 50 passes for 330 yards and two scores. With a full offseason to work under Beaty and coordinator Rob Likens, as well as the addition of transfer receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Willis should show improvement in his second year as the starter.
The popularity and obsession of the big boys in college football - the Power 5 - has continued to rise. But there still are some very elite football players at the second tier of the FBS rankings - the Group of 5. The Group of 5 term refers to players from teams in the Mountain West, Conference USA, MAC, Sun Belt and American Athletic Conference. While the coverage and exposure for teams in these leagues has improved in recent years, plenty of the stars from the Group of 5 conferences fly under the radar each preseason. Who are the names to watch in 2016 as players on the rise in the Group of 5 rankings? Here are five names to know now that spring ball has finished across the nation:
Five C-USA Football Players to Know for 2016
Nick Mullens, QB, Southern Miss
New coach Jay Hopson knows how important having an established passer is, and he has one of the best in the nation under center. Mullens threw for 38 touchdowns and 4,476 yards last season and is on pace to set numerous school records for his final season. The four-year starter will be the glue on the offensive side for the Golden Eagles.
Taywan Taylor, WR, WKU
Overshadowed by All-American and NFL draft pick QB Brandon Doughty, Taylor will be a household name come this fall. The Biletnikoff Award Semifinalist ranked third nationally with 1,467 receiving yards and caught 17 touchdowns in 2015. Additionally, his explosiveness was put on display through a 17.1 yards per catch average. With all five offensive linemen returning, WKU’s new quarterback will have all day to let Taylor stretch the field once again.
T.J. Ricks, LB, Old Dominion
The standout middle linebacker led C-USA last season in tackles (47 solo, 76 assisted) and is one of only five returning players in the Group of 5 to average over 10 tackles a game in 2015. He was a semi-finalist for the Brandon Burlsworth Trophy, which is given to the best player that started his career as a walk-on. He’s come a long way from being a former non-scholarship athlete and should push for first-team all-conference honors this fall.
Trey Hendrickson, DL, Florida Atlantic
At 6-foot-4, 270-pounds, Hendrickson is a force to be reckoned with at the line of scrimmage. He led the conference in sacks last year with 13.5, which was tied for No. 2 in the country. The Apopka, Florida native also ended the year as the Owls' all-time single-season and career sack leader. Expect the defensive lineman to be in the discussion for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy in 2016.
Jeremy Cutrer, CB, Middle Tennessee
Previously a JUCO blue-chipper at Mississippi Gulf Coast, Cutrer transitioned well to the FBS level last season. While playing cornerback and receiving snaps on special teams, the versatile athlete produced in a multitude of ways totaling 31 tackles (3.0 TFLs), a sack, three interceptions and 13 pass breakups. Middle Tennessee’s secondary is in good hands with Cutrer leading the way.