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Penn State has a beast that goes by the name of Saquon Barkley.
The Nittany Lions running back is only getting stronger by the day. Barkley, at 215 pounds, put up 390 pounds in the weight room. This is when the real season starts.
Hard work pays off.
Oregon State safety Gabe Ovgard was rewarded for all the hard work he puts in and given a full-ride athletic scholarship. The Beavers know a quality guy when they see one.
Clippers owner Steve Ballmer threw down a dunk (with the help of a trampoline) a recent Clippers game. Well, maybe not "threw down" but you get the point.
Not to be outdone, Grizzlies owner Robert J. Pera shows Ballmer how to do it with no trampoline necessary.
Who needs a trampoline? Ha.. pic.twitter.com/TSDmhzPflA— Robert J Pera (@RobertPera) March 1, 2016
Although Pera is younger, it's still impressive to see an NBA owner with hops like that.
Let this be a lesson to never celebrate too early.
Burrillville High School basketball team in Rhode Island lost the state title in the most gut-wrenching way possible. They had a one-point lead over Chariho when one of their players stole the ball and threw it up in the air thinking that was the end. Think again. The other team had one timeout left so when the ball came back down, they used it while the other team was celebrating and went on to win the game on a last-second inbound play. That's got to hurt.
Braden Gall, Mitch Light and David Fox talk about preparing for the 2016 preseason magazine, quarterback transfers, college coaching duos in hoops and football, historic SEC Primaries and best college football entrances.
- As Athlon Sports prepares for the 2016 preseason predictions, what are the most important stats and factors in making preseason picks?
- What are the most valuable positions to consider and which trends are the most important to track before making predictions?
- Which SEC quarterback transfer will have the biggest impact and the best chance to succeed?
- Can Kenny Hill resurrect his career at TCU? Is John O'Korn the guy in Ann Arbor? Will Davis Webb get some time in Boulder?
- Which program in college sports has the best combination of football and basketball head coaches? Are three of the top four in the nation from the Big Ten? Who are the most underrated tandems and which programs could be moving up the list?
- In honor of Super Tuesday, we've selected an elected representative from each SEC program and we want you to vote on the SEC West and SEC East tickets. Send us your votes for either division on twitter or at [email protected].
The nominees are:
|East Ticket||Candidate||West Ticket||Candidate|
|Georgia:||Herschel Walker||Alabama:||Bear Bryant|
|Florida:||Steve Spurrier||Arkansas:||Frank Broyles|
|Kentucky:||Tim Couch||Auburn:||Bo Jackson|
|Missouri:||Gary Pinkel||LSU:||Nick Saban|
|South Carolina:||Steve Spurrier||Ole Miss:||Archie Manning|
|Tennessee:||Peyton Manning||Mississippi State:||Dak Prescott|
|Vanderbilt:||Jordan Matthews||Texas A&M:||Johnny Manziel|
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.
After 11 years, the Bronco Mendenhall era is now over in Provo. In comes first-time head coach Kalani Sitake to take over his alma mater at BYU.
Sitake wasn’t a flashy hire to folks that cover college football nationally, but within BYU’s walls, the Cougars feel like they hit a home run with Sitake and the energy he is bringing to the program.
BYU continues to carve out its little niche as a football independent in a college football world that emphasizes the importance of playing in a conference. The life of Cougar football isn’t as glamorous as say, the life of Pablo’s, but the Cougars plan to make enough “Highlights” and “Waves” under Sitake to hopefully turn the heads of those Big 12 presidents and administrators to one day find themselves in the club that is the Power 5.
You won’t hear conference realignment talk from Sitake and his staff, as they understand realignment talk is out of their control. What you will see this spring from Sitake and these new BYU coaches is a new offense and possibly a new defense. What other storylines should we keeping tabs on at Camp Cougar this month?
5 Storylines to Watch in BYU’s Spring Practice
1. Kalani Sitake’s stamp on BYU
You’ll be hard pressed to find someone that has bad things to say about BYU’s new headman. Sitake is a personable guy that has drawn rave reviews from the men he has studied under in Kyle Whittingham (Utah) and Gary Andersen (Oregon State).
In terms of personality and charisma, Sitake is a complete-180 turn from what BYU had in Mendenhall, and to many around Provo, that’s a breath of fresh air for a program that has been lacking any noticeable excitement the past few years as an independent. Sitake’s energetic and upbeat personality should make a difference on the way BYU practices this spring.
2. The Quarterbacks
Taysom Hill surprised many by announcing that he was coming back to BYU for his final year after losing his starting job to Tanner Mangum after suffering a season-ending Lisfranc injury in the opener against Nebraska.
New BYU offensive coordinator Ty Detmer has made it clear that there will be competition for the starting role and no one has been named the starter at this point. Hill has yet to be 100 percent cleared by doctors and is doubtful to participate in any 11-on-11 work this spring.
That leaves us with fall camp as to when the quarterback competition will likely take place in front of Detmer, who will also be in charge of coaching the quarterbacks.
If Mangum wins the starting nod, you have to think Detmer will still find a way to utilize Hill’s incredible talents. Just ask Texas how great of a runner Hill is.
3. Do we see a switch to the 4-3 right away?
Sitake and new BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki made names for themselves in the coaching ranks at the University of Utah. It was at Utah under Kyle Whittingham where Sitake was taught the 4-3 defense that his boss has been running at Utah dating back to the days when his father, Fred Whittingham, was calling plays at BYU’s archrival.
Two years ago, Sitake and Tuiaki helped coach Utah to one of the best defenses in the country in 2014, and the Utes led the country in sacks that season. Which has led many to wonder if BYU sees a switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme with Tuiaki now running the defense.
A lot will rest on the talent that BYU has along the defensive line. There will be a few position changes to the DL, but will that be enough to have the personnel and depth necessary to run a 4-3 defense that also asks the cornerbacks to press the line of scrimmage more? Time will tell.
4. Return of the Swagdaddy: RB Jamaal Williams
Last summer, BYU held its annual Media Day and one of the big storylines from that day was 2015 was going to be the final chapter for two decorated players at BYU in Taysom Hill and Williams. The swan song was delayed by a year as Williams returned this season after withdrawing from school prior to fall camp last August.
Williams is less than 1,000 yards from being BYU’s all-time leading rusher. A three-year starter, Williams is back and anxious to return to the field. He’s added weight and is closer to 230 pounds now. A far cry from the 195 pounds he was at when he arrived in Provo as a true freshman in 2012.
When healthy, Williams has the talent to be one of premier running backs out west.
5. Competition everywhere you look
With a new staff that only has one coach held over from the previous regime, these new coaches are new attached to the previous depth chart or pecking order that was in place under Mendenhall. With the exception of a few positions, look for BYU to have a lot of battles as players jockey to prove to the new staff who should be in key roles.
Pre-Spring Outlook for BYU in 2016
As is life as an independent, the Cougars will have a tough schedule that will force them to go on the road early and often. Six of BYU’s first eight games in 2016 are against Power 5 teams, including a trip to the banks of the red cedar to face Big Ten champion and College Football Playoff participant Michigan State.
BYU returns a lot of experience from a year ago and has arguably the most talented quarterback unit in all of college football. The Utah game in week 2 will be big for the Cougars, as they have lost five in a row to their rival. If BYU knocks off Arizona in a neutral site game in Glendale and then beats Utah in Rice-Eccles Stadium, Cougar fans will probably want to go ahead and erect a statue of Sitake and Detmer.
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is publisher of Rivals' BYU site, CougarNation.com, and also is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.
The following interview appears in the 2016 edition of Athlon Sports' Golf Annual, available now. Purchase it here.
With his trademark wit, David Feherty has supplied much of the soundtrack to the Tiger Woods era in golf. And as the game continues its transition into a post-Tiger phase, the sport’s resident raconteur is making a transition of his own in 2016. Feherty has taken his unique talents from CBS to NBC, exchanging The Masters and PGA Championship for the British Open, the Olympics and the Ryder Cup. The move has Feherty nervous and energized — a combination that could yield some memorable broadcast moments in 2016 from a guy whose filter has been known to malfunction in refreshingly honest fashion.
Born in Bangor, Northern Ireland, on the Irish Sea, Feherty had a solid playing career in Europe, winning five European Tour events between 1986 and 1992 and earning a spot on the 1991 Ryder Cup team. But a nagging awareness that he would never be an elite player led him to look for a career where he could truly excel. By his own description, he was “the right drunk in the right bar at the right time” when CBS came calling, and the result has been an unlikely but wildly successful second act.
Athlon’s Rob Doster sat down with the game’s most popular on-course analyst and its most endearing ambassador. We quickly learned that his shameless, self-deprecating sense of humor couldn’t mask his profound passion for the game, his love for his adopted homeland and his sense of anticipation over another new chapter in a rock-star career.
Now that you’re working with Johnny Miller and the other members of the NBC team, are you adjusting your approach at all? Do you think they were ready for David Feherty?
(Laughs) You’ll have to ask them. I’ve known them all for a long time, I’ve been in this country 23 years. I don’t think it’s a question of adjusting to the people; it’s the process that’s slightly different at NBC. I won’t be calling any taped shots, which is the big difference between NBC and CBS. And I’ll be spending a little more time in towers as well. They’re friends of mine — Roger Maltbie, Peter Jacobsen, Gary Koch, Johnny and Dan [Hicks]. It’s not a question of getting to know anyone.
What will you miss most about your work at CBS?
I’ll miss the people more than the places. It’s such a different challenge, having entirely new golf courses, entirely new venues in entirely different weeks compared to what I’ve done for the last 19 years. I obviously really enjoyed having my voice on an event like The Masters and the PGA Championship. That meant a great deal to me to be able to call those events.
But being able to do the Open Championship and the Ryder Cup, having played on a [European] Ryder Cup team and now being an American citizen, will be fantastic for me. It’s a unique position.
Then, of course, there’s the Olympics, which is an entirely different event. For many people, it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To be a part of the crew, with Bob Costas and Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth and other people. I’ve gotten to work with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms and James Brown and John McEnroe and a bunch of great people on the CBS side, and now to have a chance to do it with another group of people of that caliber is amazing.
You could even say that in exchanging The Masters and PGA and your other CBS duties for the Open Championship, the Ryder Cup and the Olympics, you came out ahead.
Yeah, which is pretty good, considering what I had.
The 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine could be the most eagerly anticipated Cup in history. Where does the Ryder Cup rank in the hierarchy of golf’s biggest events?
I’ve always loved the Open Championship, it’s the greatest stroke play event in the world, and I don’t think there’s any question that the Ryder Cup is the greatest match play event in golf. There’s nothing like Ryder Cup pressure. It’s more than any major championship, because it’s not just you and your ball, it’s 11 other guys that you least want to let down. It’s your country, or in Europe’s case, your continent. Any time you can play under your flag is really special.
You experienced it firsthand at the 1991 Ryder Cup, the famed “War on the Shore” at Kiawah’s Ocean Course. What do you remember about that week?
It was the high point of my [playing] career, being on a losing Ryder Cup side. I always think of it as high as I got. It was such an electric experience. I never felt anything like it before, and I’ve never felt anything like it since. Standing on that first tee and teeing the ball up and being part of that event.
That year, the European team flew in on the Concorde and landed in Charleston. I was sitting beside my best friend Sam Torrance [former European Ryder Cup player and captain who sank the winning putt for Europe in 1985], played with him for 20 years. At the airport, the fences were lined with people. It looked like people were trying to climb over the fence. And I thought, this event is huge, it’s amazing. And Sam said, “No, they’re here to see the airplane, you f---ing idiot.” That’s one of my favorite memories. The Concorde apparently doesn’t land too often at Charleston.
What about your singles win over Payne Stewart?
Payne was a great friend of mine. In our match, I was 4-up with four to play. I was playing probably the best round of golf I ever played in my life. But I lost two holes in a row, 15 and 16, and I was in a complete full DEFCON 1 panic mode going to the 17th tee.
Crowd control had broken down, and we were trying to make our way to the tee. This large lady marshal poked her “Quiet Please” sign into my chest and said, “Where do you think you’re going?” like I was a heavily disguised spectator. I was about to go bats--t postal when Payne put his arm around my neck and put his face right against mine, and I could smell the Red Man [chewing tobacco] from the plug he had in his mouth, and he’s grinning that stupid schoolboy grin, and he said, “Ma’am, I’d love you to keep this son of a bitch right here, but he’s playing against me.” That’s who he was. Being 2-down with two to play, you’d love to see your opponent losing his pieces before you get on the hardest hole in the Western Hemisphere [the par-3 17th at Kiawah], but that’s just who he was. I managed to make 3 there and finish the match. He was very special to me, and the fact that I got to play him in that series of matches meant a great deal to me.
Will Tiger and Phil make good Ryder Cup captains someday, or do their iconic personalities make them more individuals than team leaders?
I think that’s a good question. I haven’t thought much about that. I think they will be Ryder Cup captains; I can’t imagine they wouldn’t be. I think the role of the captain is sometimes overplayed. The bottom line is, if the guys on your team don’t play particularly well, everyone wants to blame the captain, but there’s only so much he can do. I mean, you can choose who’s going to play with each other and that kind of thing. At Gleneagles [in 2014], everyone wanted to give Tom Watson a hard time about who he put together, but I put them together [on paper] after the fact — in order of height, in order of weight, shoe size — and they still got their asses handed to them.
It’s a very difficult event to deal with from a logistical point of view. You have the gala dinners, the speaking, the signing of God only knows how much merchandise and memorabilia, all the press conferences and bulls--t that goes on around it. You get there early in the week and all you want to do is play golf, and all you’ve got is not that, until the bell rings.
You’ve got a lot to look forward to, but what’s the greatest moment you’ve called to this point in your career?
Wow. You know, Tiger in 1997 was my first Masters, and Jordan [Spieth] last year was my last, so that’s two pretty good bookends right there. Two 21-year-olds.
Tiger Woods and Bob May at the 2002 PGA Championship at Valhalla was one of the great Sunday afternoons in the history of sports, with Bob May hanging onto his leg like Alonzo Mourning dragging Jeff Van Gundy around the f---ing court. It was amazing to watch and amazing to be a part of. So many of those moments with Tiger — the chip-in at 16 [at The Masters in 2005], his PGA Championship wins were just extraordinary, the finishes that he came up with.
In many ways, the PGA Championship was the greatest major of all for me during my time at CBS, because of the finishes, whether it was Mickelson and David Toms at the Atlanta Athletic Club, or Rich Beem at Hazeltine, for God’s sake — what are the odds of that? Even before I got into broadcasting, John Daly at Crooked Stick in 1991. The PGA Championship just turns out amazing finishes. [Last] year at Whistling Straits — holy s--t, what were they smoking?
I know you can’t wait to get to Royal Troon. What does the Open Championship mean to you?
I grew up within sight of Turnberry across the Irish Sea only 20 miles away. You could see the lighthouse at Turnberry from the house I was born in. The first Open I played in was in 1979, the last in 1996. For me, it was always the biggest golf tournament in the world. As a European, we only have one [stroke play] major. Our other major is the Ryder Cup. The Open Championship — it’s the biggest golf tournament in the world, and it feels like it. Players from all over the world come to the same nine venues. You feel like you’re getting closer to the heartbeat of golf when you play in the Open Championship.
You had top-10 finishes at the Open twice (in 1989 and ’94), and also tied for seventh in the 1991 PGA Championship. What do you remember about those tournaments?
In each of those championships, on Sunday afternoon, I had a putt that if I would have made it, it would have given me a realistic chance of actually winning a major championship. I missed it every time. Looking back at it, I don’t know if it was deliberate, but I didn’t want the responsibility that came with winning an event like that. I didn’t think of myself in those terms. Any successful person in any business has to want to be in a place where they know they’re going to be uncomfortable. That’s what makes people successful in any walk of life. And I didn’t want to be in that place. I didn’t know it at the time, and I wasn’t going to “Van de Velde” myself, I wasn’t going to wait until the 18th, but I would miss the putt and finish fourth, or seventh or sixth.
Those experiences tell you how small the difference is between winning and losing a major.
It prevented me from having that realistic chance. I knew I could finish high and come close and sort of limp heroically to the finish. But I knew I couldn’t be in that top echelon of players. When I quit playing and was lucky enough to get into this business, I felt differently. In this business, I do feel like I want to be in a place where I know I’m going to be uncomfortable. And that starts again in 2016, because I’m nervous about it. I’m uncomfortable, and that’s where I want to be.
You’ll get to call Olympic golf in Rio. What are you most looking forward to: the golf, or going to Rio and enjoying the whole Olympic experience?
I’ll be honest with you — just going to Rio and being part of that Olympic experience. It’s the chance of a lifetime, it really is. To have your voice on the telecast — any Olympic telecast. Hell, I’ll take marbles.
I don’t know what to expect. I’ve never been part of anything this gigantic. But I’m really looking forward to it.
Is golf a good fit for the Olympics? It comes at an awkward time on the calendar, for one thing.
It does, but it’s only every four years. A lot of it will depend on this first experience. It’s hard to know what to expect. But it’s like any event — it’s how invested the players are in it that will determine the success of it, I would imagine. How much would an Olympic gold medal mean to these guys? Hopefully, it’ll mean a great deal.
Have the Augusta National people ever objected to anything you’ve said in a Masters broadcast?
I get asked that a lot. To be honest, in 19 Masters, I don’t remember anybody asking me to say anything different or telling me that I said something incorrectly.
The players treat The Masters differently than any other major. There’s a tremendous amount of respect for it. And the other thing is, it was easier to do The Masters than it was to do any other event, because it just requires less commentary. It goes back to the same place every year, people are familiar with it, they know the topography, they know what players are liable to do in any given situation, so really I always felt like I was just providing punctuation and allowing the pictures to tell the story.
Have you ever said anything on the air you wish you could take back?
I farted once, and Tiger got blamed for it. At the  Buick Open in Flint [Mich.]. I probably would have liked to have taken that back.
I’ve always been on the hairy edge with things like that. Sometimes people have been offended, but they haven’t been able to tell me quite why they were offended. In that sense, I guess I’ve been lucky.
I’ve always been lucky. I was the right drunk in the right bar at the right time when CBS was looking for somebody to put on the air. Tiger Woods turned pro about 10 minutes after I became a broadcaster. Talk about lucky. It’s been amazing. And fortunately, golfers and people in general, if I’m giving somebody a hard time, whether it’s Ernie Els or Tiger Woods, I like to think that I’m offering them the opportunity to show who they are by their reaction. It offers them dignity. You can choose to be offended, or you can choose to give me a little s--t back. That’s the intellectual exchange that I enjoy.
You’ve been very upfront about battling your personal demons (Feherty went public in 2006 with his struggles with addiction and bipolar disorder). Has it been therapeutic for you to do that in a public forum?
Yes. When I first started to get clean, I was very open about it, because I felt that given the F-list celebrity that I had, I could paint or write myself into a corner, where if enough people knew that I had the problem, I’d be less likely to transgress. You can’t sit in a bar in an airport and order a drink if there’s a bunch of people sitting there who know you shouldn’t be doing it.
As I progressed with it, people would talk to me and say, “My sister, or my brother, or I have this problem.” It became apparent that by being open about it, it was tremendously helpful to a lot of people. That, in its way, was very helpful to me, the thought that I might be able to help others. It’s really been very beneficial for me.
Let’s talk about your self-titled TV show on Golf Channel. Who’s your favorite interview subject of all time? Least favorite?
I’ve enjoyed all of them. I’ve only ever watched one of my shows — the first show, with Lee Trevino. That was very important to me. One of my earliest golf memories is Lee Trevino winning the 1968 U.S. Open, and I just fell in love with him then. To have him on my first show, and to have Lee Trevino as a friend, has been the most amazing thing. He was my hero, and he still is. So I did watch that show. I’m so freaking neurotic, I can’t watch myself on television. It gives me the creeps so badly I need therapy.
The only person who has been difficult? Larry David, for me, was like interviewing a mirror, because he’s equally paranoid. He actually offered me $50,000 not to air the interview right after we were finished because he thought it sucked so bad.
My favorite interviews are people like Bill Russell. I think about him all the time, especially in these times we’re in with the trouble we’ve got with race. He was extraordinary. When I shook hands with him, I felt greatness, an aura I’ve only felt with a few people — President Clinton, Arnold Palmer, Nelson Mandela. They’re just people that exude this electric kind of aura. There’s a warmth in their handshake and their general being. I felt Bill Russell was one of the greatest men I’ve ever met. Growing up in that era of segregation, and not actually having a problem with it. His attitude was, hey, one day they’ll wish that they’d seen me play. Boy, was he ever right. The man is just greatness.
Tom Watson, who helped save my life [Watson recognized the signs of Feherty’s alcoholism and helped him into recovery], is another favorite of mine. The interviews where I can show people perhaps a side of someone that I know that the viewer’s not aware of, like a Jim Furyk or a David Duval. I’ve had such a great time with all of them, to be honest.
Describe your experience interviewing Donald Trump (Trump was a guest on Feherty’s show in 2012).
I had a great time with Donald. The first thing he said, I walked into his office, and he said, “You need a suit.” ’Cause I looked like a homeless person who had just robbed Nordstrom’s. He actually had a suit made for me during the interview.
I think he is good for the game. He’s larger than life, a tremendous character. He’s kind of polarizing, obviously — either you like him or you don’t — but he is who he is, that’s for sure. I enjoyed being with him.
You’ve taken your act on the road with your one-man show, “David Feherty Off Tour.” What’s it like connecting with a live audience?
It’s been amazing. The live shows that I’ve done on the Golf Channel, I’ve done a couple of them a year, they’re kind of a laxative. You can’t screw it up, and if you do, you’ve got to make it look deliberate.
Being on stage with a microphone and a spotlight and a chicken for some reason [a stuffed chicken named Frank is essentially his only prop] — that’s an entirely different experience. It was something I wanted to see if I could do, and it’s been amazing. You get addicted to the adrenaline rush. It’s not like I’m going to make a career out of it, but I’ve been amazed at the amount of people that will show up to listen to me tell other people’s stories.
What prompted you to create your Troops First Foundation? (Feherty’s Troops First Foundation works to provide assistance to military personnel who have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.)
I grew up in an urban warfare situation in Northern Ireland of the ’50s and ’60s. When I moved to the United States, I fell in love with the place fairly quickly, and when 9/11 happened, and when we went into Iraq, I couldn’t bear the thought of anything like that happening here. I went to Iraq in 2007 to see why our military was being portrayed so negatively in the media, and I came back needing to be a U.S. citizen. I started the process [of gaining citizenship] immediately. I couldn’t believe what wasn’t being reported: the restraint that they showed, the compassion that they have, the love for each other, the teamwork. I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan, and it’s fine to be able to do something for them while they’re there, but being able to do something for them when they come home, especially when they come home broken. … It’s like alcoholism and drug addiction for me — being public about it is very therapeutic for me. Being able to do something for them is even more valuable. I almost feel selfish doing it. It’s the biggest thrill in my life to be around these people. These are real-life action heroes. To be able to number them as friends is a huge thrill for me. If I can do something decent for them, that’s a bonus.
Let’s talk about the state of the PGA Tour today. Do you subscribe to the concept of a Big Four — Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler? Does the game need a hierarchy like that to sustain interest in the post-Tiger era?
I think the game’s in tremendous shape, and a lot of it has to do with Tiger. All four of the kids you just named were sort of between 8 and 12 when Tiger started this amazing run between 1997 and 2009. He set the bar, and these kids believed that maybe they could get there.
It’s a whole lot more difficult to have a Big Three or Big Four now than it was back in the ’60s and ’70s because of the strength and depth there is out there. It’s not just those four kids. There’s dozens of them behind them now that are able to step up and win not just regular PGA Tour events but majors. I think golf is in a fantastic place because of it. Tiger Woods dragged it there.
Because of that depth, there’s probably no one out there, as good as they are, who can threaten Jack’s or Tiger’s career totals. Would you agree?
It’s unlikely. As good as these kids are, that’s actually the problem they have as well. To win eight, 10, 12, 14 majors — my God, it just seems impossible, just the thought of it.
Who’s the Next Great Player? Someone you have your eye on who we might be overlooking?
That’s a tough question. There are so many. In the early part of the wraparound season, we had new winners every week, shooting incredibly low scores. Nobody chokes anymore. Have you noticed that? That pisses me off. The kids have got no fear, and just tremendous talent.
Do you think Tiger Woods is finished as a force on the PGA Tour?
I don’t. He’s too stubborn, he’s too proud and he’s too talented. And he loves the game. You know he loves the game now because of what he’s gone through in the last two or three years. He still shows up. He entered at Greensboro [in 2015] at the last minute because he wants to be there.
Having seen him at the peak of his extraordinary ability, my children won’t see golf like that, their children won’t see golf like that. Having seen him do what he’s been able to do, I cannot imagine the frustration that he feels at the moment. I don’t think he’s done yet. I really don’t. He’ll defy logic, and he’ll defy us [pundits]. “No, I’m not done.”
Do you think Phil Mickelson has another major in him, specifically the one that’s eluded him thus far?
It wouldn’t surprise me. It wouldn’t surprise me at all. He’s been one of the most entertaining players that ever played. You just never know what you’re going to get with Phil. He has that mercurial brilliance, and then the ability to f--k up like you or I might do, and everything in between.
What’s the biggest problem facing the game today? Slow play sure gets a lot of attention.
I think slow play is a huge issue. And the game continues to be much too exclusive. I think we need to make the game more accessible. It’s a very wealthy demographic, which is one of the reasons the networks like it so much: Its demographic is very affluent, so it appeals to sponsors. But we have to make sure it becomes more accessible to kids, to women, to people that don’t make a s--tload of money.
You’ve built this multifaceted career in golf — player, then analyst, interviewer, storyteller, writer. Which part is your favorite?
"I'm an outside pet. If you don't let me out every couple of hours, somebody's going to get s--t on."
I love what I do, especially the fact that I get paid for it, which always seems like a complete ruse to me. I turned pro at 17 and have never had a job. I’ve been a professional golfer for 40 years. People say, you’re an ex-professional. No, I’m not. It’s like being a Marine, but less dangerous. Unless you want to be an amateur again and revoke your status, I’m always going to be a professional golfer, and I’m proud of that. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to stay in the game for as long as I have. I love it. Even though I can’t play anymore — I haven’t played golf at all for 10 years, my left arm is pretty much crippled, and I can’t close my left hand; I got run over by a truck 10 years ago riding my bike. Not that I was playing much or wanted to play that much, it just made sure that I couldn’t. But I enjoy the game so much.
I’m an outside pet. I’m going to spend some time on towers, but I’m an outside pet. If you don’t let me out every couple of hours, somebody’s going to get s--t on.
Being there with the leaders, I still feel like a professional golfer. I don’t really feel like an announcer. I’m with the leaders, I never miss a cut, and I get to watch the greatest players in the world play unbelievable golf, and I get paid for it. It’s fantastic.
Favorite course in the U.S.? Favorite outside the U.S.?
My favorite outside the U.S. would be St. Andrews. You’re walking into the heart of the game when you walk into that town. Up on that last green, it feels like you’re playing in a cemetery. It’s amazing, just an extraordinary place. I love it so much.
As for the United States: The very first thing a great golf course should be is a great walk. A beautiful walk. If you have to drive around it, then it doesn’t work for me. So places like Cypress Point, where you’re walking out into the Pacific, or in among the deer and the trees. I love Harbour Town, which is a golf course that hardly ever gets mentioned. Sleepy Hollow, which is on the Hudson, might be the most beautiful walk in American golf. I just love it. Bill Murray is a member up there.
I love these little golf courses. Little and old and short. If I had to pick an American golf course, I would pick a short, flat one with a Ritz-Carlton. But I don’t play anymore.
Speaking of the classic shorter courses, does it bother you that equipment is making them a little obsolete? Although, it seems like when they put a major at a shorter course like Merion, the course rises to the occasion.
I think our ruling bodies are worried about the wrong set of golfers. Whether Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods or Jordan Spieth or whoever makes Merion look short, that’s the wrong set of golfers. The people who drive the industry, who pay for the 30-second spots, the average person at home who loves the game, the game hasn’t got any easier for them.
Still, equipment has made the game more accessible, it’s made it more enjoyable, and we should let manufacturers make whatever the hell they want — except for the golf ball. They lost control of it. I believe the fix is very simple: You make the ball bigger. Instead of 1.68 [inch diameter], make it 1.72 or 1.71. The bigger surface area, it won’t go as far, it’s harder to hit straight, but it sits up a little better around the green, so it’s easier for the amateur to chip. There’s no downside to it. It’s too simple, I guess.
Are there plans for you with NBC outside of golf?
I don’t think so. It’s not something I would say no to, but my first priority is to be informative about golf, it’s what I know about, and second, to be entertaining about golf. If something else crops up, I’m game.
Picking winners of golf tournaments a few months out is a fool’s errand, but since we’re a major championship preview, I’ll ask: Who will win the four majors and the Ryder Cup in 2016, and why?
I think the United States wins the Ryder Cup, finally. As for the four majors: I recently interviewed Jordan Spieth for my show, and he is still pissed off, and I mean genuinely heartbroken, that he didn’t win the Open Championship. He is beside himself that he didn’t get that done. He was two shots away from the modern Grand Slam. That’s unthinkable. I’ll pick Jordan to win two of them.
I think Rory McIlroy will win one. And for the fourth, I think we’ll have a dark horse. One of these youngsters will pop up.
I see Rory winning a few more, and I certainly see Jordan in there as well, with the desire and talent he has combined with that wisdom and youthful spirit — that combination, I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it.
The Feherty File
Born Aug. 13, 1958, Bangor, Northern Ireland
Wife Anita, 5 children
Winner of 5 European Tour events and 5 other events worldwide
Member of 1991 European Ryder Cup Team
On-course reporter for CBS golf telecasts from 1997-2015
Creator and host of self-titled interview series on Golf Channel since 2011
Founder of Feherty’s Troops First Foundation, which works to provide assistance to military personnel who have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan
The AFC North was fueled with bitter rivalry games and gritty play in 2015. The Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers were strong playoff teams, whereas the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns sat comfortably at the bottom of the standings all year long. In the end the Bengals and Steelers had a playoff showdown in Cincinnati that ended with a crazy, last-second field goal.
Out of Baltimore’s five wins on the year, two of them came against a far superior Pittsburgh Steelers team they just hate to lose to. The AFC North looks to grow this offseason and continue to beat up on each other next season. Whether it comes through high picks in the draft for the Browns and Ravens, or solid later picks from Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, every team in the AFC North needs help somewhere on the field.
2015 Snapshot: The 2015 Baltimore Ravens were a disaster, and after a 1-6 start to the season their playoff hopes were long forgotten. The Ravens suffered a plethora of season-ending injuries to key players: Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett and Terrell Suggs to name a few. A franchise known for exceptional defense and secondary play had the fewest interceptions in the NFL this year (6), while also setting a franchise record for touchdown passes allowed (30). Their overall record (5-11) may be a bit deceiving, however, as only two of those losses came by more than one score.
Biggest Needs: This secondary is not what it used to be, and Ravens legend Ed Reed is no longer around to clean up all the mistakes. A shutdown cornerback would help this defense become dominant once again. Another need is a target for Flacco. His top option at the moment is 36-year-old Steve Smith Sr., who is coming off a torn Achilles that ended what he previously declared would be his final season.
First-round pick: No. 6 overall
Potential Picks: The Ravens front office will be begging the teams ahead of them to pass on Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III and Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey. If that fails to happen they may consider adding wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and using their remaining picks on the defensive side. There is a slight drop off in cornerback after the top two guys so it would be smart to address another need and revisit that issue as the draft progresses.
2015 Snapshot: Simply put, the Bengals' wild card game loss to the Steelers may have been the greatest collapse in sports history. This Cincinnati team is supremely talented all over the field, but a complete lack of discipline negates their superior athleticism. The Bengals have been known to take risks in the draft on questionable characters, that trend cannot possibly continue.
Biggest Needs: Linebackers Emmanuel Lamur and Vincent Rey are both free agents and it appears the Bengals have prioritized re-signing Rey this offseason. Additionally, Vontaze Burfict will miss the first three games of 2016 for a series of illegal hits this past season, including his headshot on Antonio Brown in the playoffs that effectively lost Cincinnati the game (cornerback Adam Jones talking trash to a severely concussed Brown didn’t help either).
First-round pick: No. 24 overall
Potential Picks: Arizona’s Scooby Wright and Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith are both very smart, instinctual linebackers that have shown they are NFL talents. Another similarity between the two players? Torn ligaments in their left knees. Cincinnati is a very good team that can afford to make this type of high-risk, high-reward move. If they aren’t willing to take that chance, Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple is a steal at No. 24.
2015 Snapshot: At the end of every season it’s hard to imagine how things could possibly get worse for the Cleveland Browns, and then the following year they show you how in 15 different ways. This offseason team ownership hired Paul DePodesta to be their Chief Strategy Officer. The former Mets and Oakland Athletics front office assistant is notorious for his role in Moneyball (Jonah Hill portrays DePodesta in the film). Yes, those are baseball teams. The Browns aren’t afraid to try anything at this point.
Biggest Needs: A four-leaf clover. A rabbit’s foot. A genie in a bottle. In reality, the Browns are still looking for their franchise quarterback. The search has been going on for 15 years at this point, it has to end eventually.
First-round pick: No. 2 overall
Potential Picks: Whomever they do decide to take you must feel sorry for. Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Paxton Lynch top the list of quarterbacks in the 2016 NFL Draft. This is one of the weaker draft classes in terms of quarterbacks in a while, and the Browns have plenty of other positions of need. They’re going to draft a quarterback at some point and probably fairly early, so good luck to whomever that ends up being.
2015 Snapshot: The Steelers may have been the most exciting team to watch in 2015, with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown spearheading an incredible passing attack. Following the loss of Le’Veon Bell the Pittsburgh rushing attack still managed to finish in the top half of the NFL. However, another reason the Steelers were exciting was because their defense finished 30th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game. Pittsburgh had to score a ton in order to win games, which proved to be impossible against the Denver Broncos in the playoffs.
Biggest Needs: A lot of help in the secondary. Pittsburgh finished third in the league in sacks with 49. No other team that finished in the top 10 for sacks was worse than 20th in passing defense. With that much pressure on the quarterback, the only way they are finding receivers is if they are open early and often.
First-round pick: No. 25 overall
Potential Picks: If Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple is still available at No. 25 the Steelers will be smiling from ear to ear. If not, I believe the Steelers won’t force a pick at that position and will perhaps go after Boise State safety Darian Thompson. The Steelers tend to take the best talent available regardless of need; so don’t be surprised if they address a different area of the field after seeing their favorite targets go earlier.
If there’s one group of Nebraska footballers whose stock is trending upwards, it’s the offensive line. Excellent recruiting combined with the work of coach Mike Cavanaugh is helping the Huskers’ maulers crawl back to the long-cherished title of “The Pipeline.”
Nebraska’s offensive line had a roller coaster ride last season, but ultimately a working solution formed. Alex Lewis took his expected place at left tackle with a captainship while former walk-on Dylan Utter manned the left guard spot.
Ryne Reeves picked up the center position and Chongo Kondolo would sit next to him at right guard. Redshirt freshman Nick Gates finalized the lineup at right tackle.
Lewis’ discipline was tested weekly as it was nearly expected that he’d be called for one or two false starts per game. The occasional personal foul elicited a groan from the Big Red faithful as well.
There was a positive, though. Kondolo had been a liability in both rush and pass blocking, so the coaches decided to move Zach Sterup inside. He'd been serving as a replacement for Gates as he healed from injury. Gates more than held his own against upperclassmen and this new combination on the right side. allowed the Huskers to gather momentum on the offensive side of the ball.
Nebraska was also able to post the nation’s No. 33 passing offense, but struggles establishing a ground game put the rushing offense at No. 52.
Key Departures: Alex Lewis, Ryne Reeves
Key Returners for 2016: Dylan Utter (Sr.), Nick Gates (So.)
This unit will likely be one of the youngest that the Huskers feature overall, but it’s far from lacking talent. The key returners all likely pick up their spots due to key in-game experience.
One name that’s been hot on fan’s lips ever since his recruitment is redshirt freshman Jalin Barnett. The 6-foot-4, 310-pound manbeast has been penciled in at right guard to replace Sterup by some.
Look for a mix of guys who’ve been there and those who’ve been groomed to maul as additions for 2016. Cavanaugh has a lot to work with and has to find out who will be his other tackle in the coming year.
Position Grade for 2016: B+
Erin Andrews was made even more of a household name after the infamous 2009 peeping tom video surfaced.
The then-college football sideline reporter was seen naked all over the internet, and it sent shockwaves through the sports world. Andrews' employer at the time, ESPN, reportedly required her to discuss it in a nationally televised interview before she could return to work. She suggested they believed it was a publicity stunt set in motion by Andrews herself. During her testimony in Nashville, she broke down in tears discussing the matter.
"No one knew it was a stalker," Andrews said. "No one knew the Marriott had put him next to me. Everybody thought it was just a publicity stunt."
The "him" Andrews was referring to is Michael David Barrett, the man who filmed the four-minute video and was sentenced to 30 months in jail. She is now seeking $75 million in damages from him and the hotel. Andrews claimed the hotel never let her know that the man had specifically requested to stay in the room next to hers which would've been a red flag.
Having to explain the situation to her parents was bad enough but because there was no immediate arrest, ESPN made it know they needed her to publicly say she wasn't behind this before resuming her college football gig.
"My bosses at ESPN told me before you go back on-air for college football, we need you to give a sit-down interview. And that was the only way I was going to be allowed back," Andrews said.
It's troubling testimony and not a good look for the worldwide leader. They attempted to remain neutral about the situation and didn't have enough faith in Andrews to publicly stand behind her. Andrews' bosses suggested she go on Good Morning America since ESPN and ABC are one in the same. She eventually declined and ended up on The Oprah Winfrey Show where she felt most comfortable.
"I didn't want it to be a two-second thing," Andrews said. "This is my life and I feel terrible about myself... I just want to go back to college football. I don't want to talk about what happened to me. Why can't I just be normal?"
Andrews is currently a college football host for Fox Sports.
The best collection of talent in college football resides in the SEC. While the conference is short on proven quarterbacks for 2016, ranking the top 25 players headed into spring practice is no easy assignment considering the talent on defense and some of the positions on offense. LSU’s Leonard Fournette takes the top spot in our pre-spring player rankings, with Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett a close No. 2.
As spring practice begins around the SEC, it’s never too early to take a peek at what’s ahead in 2016.
With spring practice just underway and plenty of position changes or depth chart movement coming, this list could look a lot different by the time fall practice begins. Our rankings are compiled by using many factors including career stats so far, 2015 statistics, pro potential, positional importance, projection for 2016, value to the team, recruiting background and just overall talent. Think of this list as an early power ranking for 2016, with tweaks expected at the end of spring and prior to Week 1.
Here’s a quick primer on the top 25 players in the SEC for next season, as well as a few names to watch.
SEC's Pre-Spring Top 25 Player Rankings for 2016
15 to Watch on Offense: Dan Skipper, OT, Arkansas; Jeremy Sprinkle, TE, Arkansas; Boom Williams, RB, Kentucky; Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida; Alex Kozan, OL, Auburn; Braden Smith, OL, Auburn; Drew Morgan, WR, Arkansas; Fred Ross, WR, Mississippi State; Ralph Webb, RB, Vanderbilt; Travin Dural, WR, LSU; Brandon Kublanow, OL, Georgia; Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama; Josh Reynolds, WR, Texas A&M; Ethan Pocic, OL, LSU; Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU
15 to Watch on Defense: Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB, Tennessee; Charles Harris, DE, Missouri; Skai Moore, LB, South Carolina; Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida; Kendell Beckwith, LB, LSU; Cam Sutton, CB, Tennessee; Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn; Daylon Mack, DT, Texas A&M; Marcus Maye, DB, Florida; Dre Greenlaw, LB, Arkansas; Richie Brown, LB, Mississippi State; Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn; Lewis Neal, DL, LSU; Dominick Sanders, S, Georgia; Terry Beckner, DT, Missouri
25. Tim Williams, LB, Alabama
Williams wasn’t a full-time starter for Alabama last season, but his ability to get to the quarterback was a huge asset for coach Nick Saban. In 15 games, Williams finished with 10.5 sacks (third in the SEC) and recorded 12.5 tackles for a loss. He should have an opportunity to earn more of a full-time role in the linebacking corps this spring.
24. Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss
With Robert Nkemdiche off to the NFL, Haynes is the new leader in the trenches for the Rebels. He led the team with 10 sacks and 16.5 tackles for a loss and recorded three forced fumbles in 2015.
23. Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
LSU’s secondary surprisingly finished 51st nationally in pass efficiency defense last season but improvement should be noticeable in 2016. White defended seven passes in 2015 and recorded 44 tackles. He is considered among the best prospects at cornerback for the 2017 NFL Draft.
Related: Ranking the SEC Rosters for 2016
22. Davon Godchaux, DT, LSU
Dave Aranda is one of the nation’s top coordinator hires for 2016, and the first-year assistant in Baton Rouge should make a difference for the LSU defense. Godchaux is one of the standouts for Aranda in the trenches and is expected to build off a strong sophomore campaign (41 tackles, six sacks and one forced fumble) next season.
21. Tony Conner, S, Ole Miss
Conner was projected as one of the nation’s best safeties going into the 2015 season, but a knee injury limited the junior to just five games. He recorded 17 stops (four for a loss) in limited action. Conner’s return should be a big boost for the Rebels’ secondary.
20. O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
Howard was quiet for most of the 2015 season but finished with a monster performance (five catches for 208 yards and two scores) against Clemson in the national title game. After turning down the NFL for one more season in Tuscaloosa, it’s safe to assume coordinator Lane Kiffin will find more ways to get Howard involved.
19. Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss
It’s a close call between Engram and Alabama’s O.J. Howard as the top tight end from the SEC. Engram caught 38 passes for 464 yards and two touchdowns last season and is expected to see a bigger role in 2016 with the departure of receivers Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core.
18. Eddie Jackson, S, Alabama
Jackson’s move from cornerback to safety added more athleticism in the secondary and paid huge dividends for Alabama’s defense. Jackson recorded 46 tackles, two pass breakups, one forced fumble and led the defense with six interceptions.
17. Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
Alabama’s secondary took a step forward in 2015 and finished No. 8 nationally in pass efficiency defense. Despite the loss of cornerback Cyrus Jones, this unit should be one of the best in the nation. Fitzpatrick played in 14 games as a true freshman last season and recorded 45 tackles (three for a loss), two sacks, two interceptions and 11 pass breakups.
16. Arden Key, DE, LSU
All signs point to Key emerging as the next star edge rusher in Baton Rouge. As a true freshman last season, Key recorded five sacks, 6.5 tackles for a loss and led all LSU defenders with nine quarterback hurries. Under the watchful eye of line coach Ed Orgeron, expect Key to elevate his game even higher in 2016.
15. Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Foster is known as a big hitter, but he’s developed into an all-around standout at linebacker for the Crimson Tide. He ranked second on the team with 73 tackles last season (eight for a loss) and broke up nine passes. With Reggie Ragland off to the NFL, Foster is now the leader of Alabama’s linebacking corps.
14. Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee
In his first full season as Tennessee’s starting quarterback, Dobbs threw for 2,291 yards and 15 scores and showcased his rushing ability by adding 671 yards and 11 touchdowns. Elevating the passing attack and stretching the field to generate more big plays are at the top of the priority list for Dobbs this spring.
13. Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt’s defense showed marked improvement with Derek Mason calling the plays last season. The Commodores should build off their 2015 success on defense with seven starters back, including Cunningham – a likely first-team All-SEC selection. Cunningham led all Vanderbilt defenders with 103 tackles (16.5 for a loss), 4.5 sacks and recorded four forced fumbles.
12. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Kirk was one of the nation’s top freshmen last season and was a valuable all-purpose threat for coach Kevin Sumlin. In 13 appearances, Kirk averaged 137.6 all-purpose yards per game and grabbed 80 passes for 1,009 yards and seven touchdowns. He also scored twice on punt returns last year.
11. Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee
Derrick Henry and Leonard Fournette garnered most of the attention among SEC running backs last season, but Hurd quietly rushed for 1,288 yards and 12 scores. Through two seasons, Hurd has 2,187 yards on the ground, 57 receptions and 21 overall scores. If Hurd eclipses the 1,000-yard mark in 2016, he will set a new Tennessee record for most rushing yards in a career.
10. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
Chubb’s 2015 season was cut short by a serious knee injury suffered in the sixth game of the year. Prior to the injury, Chubb rushed for 747 yards and seven touchdowns and averaged 8.1 yards per carry. How long will it take for Chubb to return to 100 percent and back to the player that rushed for 1,547 yards in 2014?
9. Jamal Adams, S, LSU
Adams is the enforcer patrolling the secondary for new coordinator Dave Aranda, and the Texas native is poised to build off a strong sophomore season (67 tackles, four interceptions and six pass breakups).
8. Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida
Most of the attention in the Florida secondary went to Vernon Hargreaves III last season, but Tabor quietly had a strong 2015 campaign. In 13 games, Tabor broke up 14 passes (tied for most in the SEC), intercepted four passes and recorded 40 tackles. He should be the SEC’s top cover corner in 2016.
7. Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss
The SEC is light on proven quarterbacks for 2016, but there’s no doubt the best one resides in Oxford next season. Kelly was an impact addition for coach Hugh Freeze, passing for 4,402 yards and 31 scores. Additionally, Kelly rushed for 500 yards and 10 touchdowns.
6. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
One of the biggest question marks for Alabama’s offense last season was who would step up to replace standout receiver Amari Cooper. Ridley quickly emerged as the Crimson Tide’s go-to target, catching 89 passes for 1,045 yards and seven scores. And here’s a scary thought for the rest of the SEC: He’s only a sophomore in 2016.
5. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Barnett has been an immediate difference maker for the Volunteers since he stepped on campus in 2014. The Tennessee native has recorded back-to-back seasons of 10 sacks and generated 33 tackles for a loss in his career. Barnett anchors one of the SEC’s best defensive lines for 2016.
4. Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
Robinson is one of the top prospects on the offensive line for the 2017 NFL Draft. After two years of steady play on the left side for coach Nick Saban, Robinson is poised for his best season in Tuscaloosa.
3. Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
Allen’s decision to return to Tuscaloosa was somewhat of a surprise, but the news was certainly a welcomed sight for coach Nick Saban. With A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed off to the NFL, Allen is expected to see more attention from opposing offensive linemen. In 15 games last year, Allen recorded 36 tackles (14.5 for a loss), 12 sacks and two forced fumbles.
2. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Garrett is a physical specimen at 6-foot-5 and 262 pounds and is the top defender in the SEC for 2016. The junior is an explosive edge rusher and possesses the ability to dominate at the point of attack. The Texas native has recorded 24 sacks, five forced fumbles and 33.5 tackles for a loss over the last two seasons and could be the first player picked in the 2017 NFL Draft.
1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
In terms of pure talent, not many running backs in recent history can match Fournette’s ability. The New Orleans native set the LSU single-season rushing record for most yards in a season (1,953) and touchdowns (22) in 2015. Only two teams – Arkansas and Alabama – managed to keep Fournette under the 100-yard mark last year. Fournette is once again the focal point of LSU’s offense and one of the preseason favorites to win the Heisman Trophy.
In head coach Dave Doeren's third season at NC State, the Wolfpack finished with one fewer victory than they had in 2014. In 2015, NC State finished 7-6 after recording an 8-5 record the season before.
NC State did however make a second straight bowl appearance, but the team lost in the Belk Bowl to Mississippi State. Now in Doeren's fourth season in Raleigh, the Wolfpack will attempt to move up in the ACC Atlantic standings. NC State will first have to replace a few of its key players if it has any chance of becoming major players in the Atlantic division.
Here are the key questions the Wolfpack face entering spring practices:
1. What impact will new offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz have?
Despite having one of the better rushing attacks in college football, Doeren fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada after the 2015 season. NC State then hired Boise State offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz as Canada’s replacement.
The Broncos last season finished 15th in the nation in both scoring (39.1 ppg) and total offense (501.3 ypg). Boise State was just one of 10 FBS schools to average more than 39 points and 500 yards of offense per game.
Drinkwitz is a disciple of Gus Malzahn, having been on his staff at the high school level and with the 2010 Auburn Tigers that team that won the BCS national championship. So one thing is for certain – you can expect the Wolfpack to run quite a few more plays in 2016.
2. How will NC State replace Jacoby Brissett?
The first and probably the biggest decision Drinkwitz will have to make this spring is how will the Wolfpack offense replace all of the production, as well as the leadership, that has been departed with the graduation of Brissett. Whoever starts at quarterback will have big shoes to fill, as Brissett led NC State to 33.2 points per game, the third highest average in school history.
Redshirt sophomore Jalan McClendon and redshirt freshman Jakobi Meyers will compete for the vacant quarterback position. McClendon was Brissett's backup last season, but he has only played a limited amount of snaps.
Meyers isn't a big quarterback (6-2, 188), but he is a dual threat. McClendon is built more like Brissett (6-5, 212) and he has also been in the program a year longer than Meyers.
3. How healthy is Matt Dayes?
Dayes was having a banner season at running back until he tore a ligament in his big toe against Clemson on Halloween, prematurely ended his season with five games left to play. Dayes rushed for 865 yards in just eight games, so there's no telling how many yards he would have ended up if he had been able to play a full season.
Prior to his injury, Dayes ranked third in the ACC in yards per carry with 6.5. Only Florida State's Dalvin Cook (7.4) and North Carolina's Elijah Hood (6.7) had higher averages in 2015.
Dayes told ESPN.com that he is 90-95 percent healthy entering spring practice, but he will likely be held out of contact drills. With questions at the quarterback position, NC State will likely rely heavily on Dayes in 2016.
4. How much can the Wolfpack defense improve?
The most experienced unit in 2016 will be the defense. NC State is projected to return eight starters on defense with the two headliners being linebackers Airuis Moore and Bradley Chubb.
Moore had 77 tackles in 2015 with Chubb recording 69 stops while leading the team in tackles for a loss with 12.5.
NC State finished the 2015 season 29th in total defense, giving up an average of 350.7 yards per game.
Pre-Spring NC State Outlook in the ACC
It will be tough for NC State to finish better than Florida State and/or Clemson in the ACC Atlantic Division in 2016, but that doesn't mean the team can't have a decent season. The Wolfpack could realistically enter their Oct. 8 game against Notre Dame with a 5-0 record.
NC State will have a tough second half of the 2016 season with visits to Clemson, Louisville and North Carolina on the slate. The Wolfpack also host Florida State and Miami in November at Carter-Finley Stadium.
If NC State can finish with eight or nine wins and a decent bowl appearance, that will be a step in the right direction.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
Real live baseball is here. Spring training games are starting this week throughout camp in Florida and Arizona.
That means manager and GMs are evaluating their lineups and rotations, which players will fill the final spots on the 25-man roster and which players need more seasoning in the minors.
In the Athlon Sports 2016 Baseball Preview, we’ve already done some of the homework. We asked scouts throughout MLB to give us their candid thoughts on teams and players for 2016.
These scouting reports and more are available in this year’s Athlon Baseball Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and on Amazon.
“This is the best team in the division, and maybe in the league. They’re going to score a lot of runs, and their pitching has more depth. I don’t know if Jake Arrieta is going to do that again, but he’s so impressive the way he throws across his body and still gets the ball to the other side of the plate without difficulty. He’s got command, velocity, presence — everything you want in a No. 1 starter. Kyle Schwarber’s bat is a very big plus, but the more he plays left field, the more he gets exposed. And obviously they have concerns about his catching, or he’d be back there. Their bullpen is just OK; they may need to keep adding to it, the way they did last year. But they’ve found some gems, like Justin Grimm, who has great stuff. Jason Heyward’s contract surprised some people, but they just need him to be himself. The young guys and the free agents embrace the challenge of winning here, and I think that matters.”
“They’re in a really tough situation, as an older team with a lot of strikeouts trying to develop young pitchers in an unforgiving park. Joey Votto was at his best last year, or close to it, but it will take time to build a respectable team around him again. Jay Bruce is in decline, left field is an issue, and they need Devin Mesoraco to be healthy behind the plate, especially after losing Brayan Pena as a free agent. Anthony DeSclafani was OK in the rotation, but he’s the only guy they can count on. I do think Brandon Finnegan has a chance; he had good command and aggressiveness as a bullpen guy for the Royals, and he was very impressive in college. Their setup relief is a big problem. I just don’t see a way for them to compete in this division at all.”
“They’re going to compete for the top pick in the draft. They’re one of the worst teams in baseball, but it’s by design, and it’s the right thing to do. I don’t expect Jonathan Lucroy to be there long, and they should move Scooter Gennett, Will Smith and Wily Peralta if they can, too. They’re focusing on what’s below at the minor league level — guys like Orlando Arcia, who will be the shortstop there for a long time. There’s not much hope for that rotation, but I like Zach Davies, and Taylor Jungmann looks like he’s finally figured it out. Ryan Braun is past his prime, no longer an MVP candidate, but he should be an above-average bat for the next few years. It seems like he’ll stay — that’s an ownership issue — but he’s 32 and was never a great defender; he’ll look like an American League player pretty soon.”
“They’re one of the most athletic teams in baseball, and they play together, as a unit, better than almost anybody. Andrew McCutchen’s their only star, and he was still one of the best players in the game last year, even though he wasn’t at his best. I think Starling Marte has a chance to join him as a star, and Jung Ho Kang really asserted himself offensively after a slow start. He was a huge surprise, and they missed him down the stretch. Their bullpen is very solid with Mark Melancon and the rest, and that staff loves pitching to Francisco Cervelli. The rotation is a bit short, but (pitching coach) Ray Searage has had so many success stories now, you don’t doubt him anymore. Their ace, Gerrit Cole, will only get better — he’s got velocity, improved command, a very good breaking ball, and the tenacity and aggressiveness you want from your No. 1 guy.”
“I think the Cubs have passed them in that division. Losing Jason Heyward really hurts, and John Lackey was a quality innings-eater. Now both are with their rivals. Some of their best players are starting to get older, with Jhonny Peralta, Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday. I do like Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk. Piscotty really played well moving from position to position, and I like his power as he continues to develop. Grichuk’s a very good athlete who can play anywhere in the outfield. They got Jedd Gyorko, but he doesn’t help much in the overall picture. I think Adam Wainwright will be fine, but they need another durable starter. Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha wore down last season, and they’ll really miss Lackey and Lance Lynn. They’ve always been so good at developing guys through the minors, and they need to do it again — or this is a team in decline.”
For Jimmie Johnson, racing against Dale Earnhardt at NASCAR’s top level was never an option. By the time he debuted his No. 48 Chevrolet in October 2001 at Charlotte the sport was eight months into a Daytona 500 tragedy that cost us Earnhardt’s life.
“There’s been a big void in my life about not having that chance,” he said after Sunday’s victory at Atlanta. “My younger brother Jarit was a big Earnhardt fan, and I ended up being a Gordon fan [as a kid], and the banter we had back and forth through all of it was just fun.”
So perhaps his brother understands, like Johnson (right, with wife Chandra) himself, the backlash surrounding longtime fans of the sport, Earnhardt faithful who booed Gordon years ago and often don’t give this modern-day success the credit he deserves. Tying Earnhardt in victories Sunday, both he and Johnson have 76 and on paper put together the same career trajectory. Earnhardt won a Cup Series-high seven titles during a 15-year span in his career; Johnson is going for a seventh title in, that’s right, 15 seasons. Earnhardt had a Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 victory on his resume; so does Johnson, winning both crown jewels multiple times to go along with two Southern 500s at Darlington, four Coca-Cola 600s at Charlotte and a victory at every NASCAR track on the circuit save for a small handful of places the series visits just once a year.
That’s a resume capable of outshining Earnhardt. Yet Johnson, by most accounts always seems to take a back seat to the “Intimidator” when it comes to the best drivers of all-time discussion. Earnhardt had a more “in your face” personality, both on track and off and an aggressive nature; just ask rival Terry Labonte, whose car was spun out of the way to win at Bristol in a race Johnson attended as a fan in 1999. It was a career built on contact, moving rivals out of the way and taking no prisoners in the type of racing style that put fans on their feet and waiting to see what comes next.
Johnson, by comparison is a product of NASCAR’s “corporate generation.” While generally regarded as a unique personality off of the track, in front of the camera Johnson is... clean-cut. He says all the right things while the camera is rolling and doesn’t ruffle any feathers. On the track, it’s teamwork, teamwork, teamwork as the No. 48 races clean and keeps its Chevy brethren alongside whenever possible. Hendrick Motorsports is part of an information-sharing program that includes up to a dozen cars is part of this new “team” era Earnhardt was not. During that seven-title run from 1980-94, Earnhardt drove for a single-car program and was routinely able to beat the few multi-car organizations of the time. People from fans to experts feel Johnson, equipped with a library’s worth of information and just one crew chief (Chad Knaus) throughout his career benefits from a “cushy” situation in which he doesn’t have to drive the bus. Earnhardt did... and often drove it through you.
But to make such accusations against Johnson, the front man during NASCAR’s years of waning popularity is also unfair. Comparisons among athletes of different eras are difficult if not impossible; Earnhardt’s Richard Childress Racing team now has the same type of info-sharing program, for example, and the driver would have benefitted in much the same way. Johnson, whose own popularity has risen in recent years after just one championship the last five seasons, can’t be “put down” because he peaked in a different time period.
All we know is Johnson won’t stop at 76 wins. He’s got a great chance at tying Earnhardt in championships. And on paper, it’s rapidly looking like he will blow by the Intimidator in many statistical categories. So the hope is that one day, fans will stop clinging to the Earnhardt peak and recognize Johnson’s modern era success as at least on par to what NASCAR’s main attraction of the 1980s and ‘90s was able to create. Let me put it this way: a home run in baseball is still a home run, regardless of whether you quietly run the bases or dance all the way around them, talking junk the whole way. Stylistic differences don’t change the end result.
At least one person thinks Johnson and Earnhardt would have been (gulp) friends had they driven in the same era. It’s a pretty important person to ask.
“I talked to Dale [Earnhardt Jr.],” Johnson said. “He shared with me that he really feels like his dad would have had a ton of respect for me and would have enjoyed racing against me, and we would have had a great friendship. Covering that base with Junior a while ago helped me… If there are some fans that have other opinions, then it is what it is.”
Johnson’s victory also launches us into NASCAR’s new 2016 rules package, a good place to start as we go “Through The Gears” and see where the sport stands after Atlanta.
FIRST GEAR: New Aero Package Has Some Good...
NASCAR’s new rules package, much anticipated over the course of the offseason got some rave reviews from 39 Sprint Cup participants. The fans in the stands should have been happy, too, with three- and even four-wide racing visible throughout the field competing on Atlanta’s spacious 1.5-mile layout. Old pavement chewed up tires and got teams on different pit strategies; Johnson beat out a dominant Kevin Harvick in the end by making an earlier green-flag stop down the stretch. Fresh rubber clocked off lap times seconds faster during the time Harvick stayed out on old Goodyears. By the time the No. 4 came down pit road, he left nearly half-a-lap behind Johnson on-track.
Before that point, though where Johnson spent much of the closing stretch enjoying his lead there was plenty of racing near the front of the pack. Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. exchanged the top spot multiple times in a battle that put fans on their feet. In all, there were 28 lead changes, the same number as last year, but the way they happened was far more exciting.
In all, drivers were able to rub fenders a bit, struggled to control their cars and slid all over the track in a way that made the “product” far more entertaining to watch. Reports from the inside claimed we had “clawed back” to the type of competitions that put outcomes back in the driver’s hands.
“This is real racing,” said Carl Edwards. “We’re driving hard. You can see the guys out here just diffing for everything they’re worth. I’m worn out. I hope the fans enjoyed the show.”
They did, but...
SECOND GEAR: ...There Will Still Be Tweaks Coming
This new package also didn’t totally wipe some concerns away. Johnson, whose lead was erased when Ryan Newman spun to force NASCAR Overtime, scooted away on the final restart. Kyle Busch slotted in behind him but seemed helpless to pass the leader again as the “aero push” still seems to be somewhat of an issue between first and second place.
Drivers, despite claiming the cars were out of control, also completed the cleanest race in Atlanta Motor Speedway history. Just three cautions, one for a last-lap wreck, marred the proceedings and not a single one came in the first 209 laps of the race – setting a new track record. Mysterious “debris” caused the first slowdown and you wonder if NASCAR officials had stayed out of it we would have run caution-free until two laps to go.
Now, these are 39 of the best drivers in the country and there’s a reason why they drive in the Cup Series. Fans don’t (or shouldn’t) come for the wrecks and I’m not advocating a wreckfest. But there were several drivers who felt like the sport could take away even more downforce. It still seemed like despite quotes favoring the new package there could be tweaks making their lives even more difficult.
It’s also notable there wasn’t a single mechanical failure Sunday. The first two races this season, we’ve seen a grand total of one car go behind the wall for that type of malfunction (Robert Richardson Jr. at Daytona). I wonder if that’s a good thing as that eliminates an element of risk and unpredictability for fans. Why go 500 miles if it’s not a true test of machine as well as man?
THIRD GEAR: Toyotas Take A Back Seat to Hendrick
Toyotas, dominant during Daytona Speedweeks, took a back seat Sunday as Hendrick Motorsports chassis turned dominant. Harvick was in position to win in a week where Stewart-Haas Racing announced earlier the team is breaking its Hendrick alliance just one season after it was the best car. He combined with teammate Kurt Busch to lead 193 of 330 laps; add in winner Johnson and that number jumps to 245.
Toyota, by comparison had issues with its best car. Matt Kenseth went through a bizarre fueling penalty and argued with crew chief Jason Ratcliff on when to serve it. That left him two laps off the pace and dealt a second straight dose of bad luck. Kyle Busch and Edwards had top-5 finishes but never showcased the speed to run up front.
FOURTH GEAR: A Surprise Appearance by Roush Fenway
The SHR-Ford announcement seems to affect Roush Fenway most of all. Once the team that set the standard for Blue Oval success, RFR will slide to No. 3 on the pecking order there next year behind that new four-car addition and a dominant Team Penske. But Roush, winner of two Cup titles won’t go down without a fight. Young Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who some felt shouldn’t have kept his ride following a tumultuous 2015, had one of his better race weekends, qualifying fifth and finishing a strong 10th. Teammate Greg Biffle bounced back from a rough Daytona to run 13th, the first car one lap down.
Even Trevor Bayne, who slumped to 22nd during the race, showed promise by starting the weekend qualifying third. So perhaps some offseason shuffles by RFR will pay dividends early on in NASCAR’s rule package? They’ll have to in order to keep the team relevant and in Chase contention.
“Young guns” still took a back seat at Atlanta but are showing some promise. Austin Dillon has runs of ninth and 11th to start the year. Stenhouse was 10th and rookie Chase Elliott? He quietly slotted in eighth after struggling through much of the early part of the weekend. New faces will come at some point this season; the question is when? ... Chip Ganassi Racing, slotted to benefit from SHR’s departure from Hendrick, missed the race setup Sunday. Jamie McMurray, starting the race on the front row slid to 21st at the finish and Kyle Larson was 26th, three laps down. With new investor Rob Kauffman on board those type of weekends won’t be tolerated long... Only 39 cars showed up to race Sunday, NASCAR’s smallest Cup field since 1996. The “charter” agreement solidified the ownership in place but the lack of new cars trying to make the field? And the monetary slide that tilts winnings in favor of “chartered” teams? That worries me.
(Photos by ASP Inc.)
Having failed to post a winning record in more than a decade, or to even reach a bowl game since 2007, it’s been a rough stretch for the Colorado Buffaloes.
As the team prepares to kick off spring practice on March 2, Colorado is coming off a disappointing 4-9 season in which the Buffs lost eight of their final nine games. However, because of a few key newcomers joining the Pac-12’s most experienced roster, and the momentum the picked up from several close conference games last season, there is reason to be optimistic that Colorado can finally go bowling in 2016.
5 Storylines to Watch in Colorado Spring Football Practice
1. The quarterback situation
One of the most highly sought-after quarterback transfers of the most recent recruiting class, former Texas Tech QB Davis Webb signed with Colorado and will be immediately eligible as a graduate transfer. Webb spent the majority of the 2013 and ‘14 seasons as the starter at Texas Tech, where he threw for 5,557 yards, 46 touchdowns and 22 interceptions in three seasons. Despite that production, Webb lost his job to Patrick Mahomes, which resulted in him deciding to transfer. He has one year of eligibility remaining, and should feel right at home with former Tech assistant Darrin Chiaverini joining the staff as co-offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator.
Unfortunately, Webb won’t be on campus until June, and Colorado also will go through spring practice without its other top quarterback, Sefo Liufau. A three-year starter, Liufau suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot, which not only knocked him out of the final two games of the season, it also could keep him off the field for all of 2016. Liufau, whose 7,397 career passing yards rank third on the school’s all-time list and are just 334 shy of the record, hopes to be healthy enough to compete with Webb this fall. However, it’s possible Liufau redshirts.
With Webb on the way and Liufau on the shelf, Cade Apsay, Jordan Gehrke and Steve Montez will get the reps this spring. Apsay, a rising sophomore, started the final two games of last season and threw for a total of 582 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions in five games. Gehrke saw the field in three games last year and threw for 116 yards with one TD and one pick.
2. The offensive line and coaching staff shakeup
Liufau is one of the Pac-12’s most experienced and productive quarterbacks, but he was banged up often in 2015. In addition to injuring his foot, the quarterback played with a nagging shoulder issue all year and also dealt with a hurt wrist. A big reason was the constant stress he was put under because of one of the league’s most inconsistent offensive lines.
The good news for the Buffs is that three full-time starters return up front as well as three others that made at least six starts. The bad news is that Colorado allowed 41 sacks in 2015, which was the most in the Pac-12, and the departed Stephane Nembot was the best and most experienced member of the unit.
A restructured coaching staff resulted in Klayton Adams moving from running backs and tight ends to the offensive line – a position he coached at Western Washington (2007-08) and Sacramento State (2009-10) before joining head coach Mike MacIntyre at San Jose State as tight ends coach. Adams will be taking over for Gary Bernardi, who is shifting from the offensive line to tight ends and fullbacks.
MacIntyre also added the aforementioned Chiaverini, which should give a boost of explosiveness to the team’s play-calling, while CU legend Darian Hagan will serve as running backs coach after spending five years in a support staff role.
3. Replacing Nelson Spruce
It’s never easy to replace a record-setting receiver, and no one in Pac-12 history caught more passes than Spruce. From 2012-15, Spruce tallied 294 receptions for 3,347 yards and was on the receiving end of 23 touchdowns. These are just three of the more than 40 school records he set during his time in Boulder. Spruce will be catching passes on Sundays next season, but Colorado returns a decent set of receivers that contributed in 2015 and added five newcomers during the most recent recruiting cycle.
Shay Fields, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound speedster, is one of six scholarship receivers expected to return. Fields set the school freshman record with 50 receptions in 2014 and followed with 598 yards and four touchdowns on 50 catches last year, including a 168-yard, two-TD performance (one of which covered 72 yards) against Arizona. Donovan Lee caught 26 passes for 128 yards in 2015, ranked third on the team with 286 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns on the ground. Devin Ross recorded 25 receptions for 324 yards and two scores.
The most exciting new player on the receiving corps might be Juwann Winfree, who caught 11 passes for 158 yards and two TDs as a freshman at Maryland in 2014. A junior college transfer, Winfree came to Boulder after a year at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. A physical (6-2, 195) wideout, Winfree will be in the mix to start immediately once he arrives on campus, especially since Fields, Lee and Ross are all 5-foot-9 or shorter.
4. Can the defense build on its momentum from 2015?
The 2015 campaign was a tale of three seasons for the Colorado defense – the first for Jim Leavitt as defensive coordinator. The Buffs played great defense during the non-conference schedule, and allowed just 16.5 points and 341.5 total yards over those first four games of the season.
However, the first three games of Pac-12 play were a disaster. Colorado allowed an average of 42.3 points and 548 total yards per game in losses to Oregon, Arizona State and Arizona. Then, things turned around. Over the final five games of the season, the Buffs held opponents to 25.8 points and 402.0 yards per contest.
The Buffs, who excelled against the pass, finishing second in the Pac-12 (218.2 passing ypg), also stepped up their game against good competition. The three ranked teams Colorado played (UCLA, Stanford and Utah) averaged just 160.3 passing yards per game. Oregon threw for just 176 yards, USC had just 204 while Washington State was the only team to surpass the 300-yard mark. Even the Cougars’ 333 yards were 56.2 yards fewer than their average for the season.
Overall, the Buffs made some rather big strides defensively. After allowing 39.0 points per game in 2014, the Buffs held opponents to 27.5 points on average last year – the third-best improvement in the country among Power 5 programs.
Colorado also recorded 27 sacks in 2015, after getting to quarterback just 22 times the previous season. The Buffaloes had 14 interceptions, the fifth most in the conference, and forced a league-high 28 fumbles, though they recovered only eight. Still, the 22 takeaways Leavitt’s unit produced were double that of the previous season.
5. Will experience lead to wins?
Colorado is expected to return 17 total starters from its 2015 team – eight on offense and nine on defense – which give the Buffs the fifth most of any FBS program. That makes the Buffaloes the most experienced team in the Pac-12 heading into 2016 with only USC (9) returning more starters on offense and Colorado tied with Arizona for the most starters on defense.
Of course, just because a team has experience doesn’t mean that will lead to more wins next fall. For one, the schedule is tougher. Colorado travels to Michigan to close non-conference play Sept. 17 and also takes trips to Oregon, USC, Stanford and Arizona.
Pre-Spring Colorado Outlook in the Pac-12
Colorado finished 1-8 in Pac-12 play a year ago, but there were several close calls. Arizona beat the Buffs 38-31, and Colorado nearly knocked off No. 24 UCLA on the road before falling 35-31. The Buffaloes also lost to USC (27-24) and No. 23 Utah (20-14) in one-score games.
Sefo Liufau’s injuries certainly took a toll, as Colorado struggled to move the football late in the season. Over the final four games of the year, the Buffs averaged just 285.5 yards of total offense, and a paltry 69.0 rushing yards per contest. As a result, the unit scored 12.8 points per game and finished No. 11 in the Pac-12 in scoring offense (24.6 ppg), No. 10 in rushing (156.2 ypg), No. 8 in passing (240.6 ypg), and No. 10 in total offense (396.8 ypg).
Looking ahead to 2016, nine starters return on offense (if Liufau is healthy enough to play), plus key newcomers graduate transfer quarterback Davis Webb, junior college transfer wide receiver Juwann Winfree, and four-star running back recruit Beau Bisharat, who had previously been committed to Stanford and should play often as a true freshman. The Buffaloes’ offense also should get a boost from the changes on the coaching staff.
The losses of record-setting wide receiver Nelson Spruce and left tackle Stephane Nembot are big, as is the departure of fellow NFL prospect Ken Cowley, who started 44 games at cornerback for the Buffs, but none is too much to overcome. The Buffs also will add JUCO transfer Drew Lewis in the fall, and the linebacker should be a major contributor immediately.
All told, the road to bowl eligibility is difficult for Colorado, but an experienced roster, some key newcomers, and a restructured coaching staff could finally help the Buffs break through and reach the postseason under fourth-year head coach Mike MacIntyre.
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work can also be found on SaturdayDownSouth.com, SaturdayBlitz.com and FanSided.com. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.
The 2016 NFL Scouting Combine has come and gone, with several Ohio State players reportedly impressing various NFL general managers, coaches and scouts. While the Combine is the not the last opportunity to impress NFL decision-makers before the draft, the conventional wisdom is that it is important to make a strong first impression, if at all possible.
Among the impressive performers was Ezekiel Elliott. Running a 4.47 40-yard dash, Elliott maintained his pre-Combine status as the top player at the running back position headed into the draft. Elliott should be taken sometime in the first round, but it is debatable how high at this point.
Another player who turned heads in a positive fashion was linebacker Darron Lee. Just like his former teammate Elliott, Lee ran a 4.47 40. Lee was considered a borderline first-round selection, but the impressive performances in both the 40 and 20-yard shuttle run at the Combine may push Lee's stock more into the category of a definite Day 1 pick for NFL teams seeking a speedy difference-maker at the linebacker position.
While some Buckeyes leave the Combine on a positive note, others will be looking forward to the designated Ohio State Pro Day on March 11 in Columbus for a chance to impress. Quarterback Cardale Jones was eagerly looking forward to showcasing his powerful throwing arm, but suffered a pulled hamstring on his second 40-yard dash. Jones did not throw, and will need a strong performance at his pro day to regain some positive momentum for his draft stock.
Jalin Marshall ran a slower than expected 40 of 4.60. Marshall is already considered a raw wide receiver prospect, so Marshall also will need to rebound strongly and impress at Ohio State’s pro day.
Braxton Miller falls into a category of both impressing and underwhelming at the Combine. Miller ran a decent 4.5 40-yard dash, but scouts had anticipated an even better time. Miller was the top performer in three other drills (6.65 seconds in the 3-cone drill; 4.07 in 20-yard shuttle; 10.84 in 60-yard shuttle), and scouts were impressed with these results that demonstrated Miller's tremendous agility and change-of-direction skills.
Like Miller, Joey Bosa seemed to both impress and underwhelm. Bosa ran a slower than expected 40 (4.86), which disappointed scouts and the player himself. Bosa had hoped to run in the 4.6 or 4.7 range, and could possibly do so at his upcoming pro day.
Former Dallas Cowboys personnel guru Gil Brandt seemed pleased with Bosa's overall body of work at the Combine:
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) February 28, 2016
4.21 20 shuffle (2nd among DL)
6.89 3-cone (2nd)
10-0 broad (5th)
Other NFL personnel types, such as Todd McShay and former Bills/Panthers/Colts general manager and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Polian, were not as swayed with Bosa's performance. NFL Network's Mike Mayock referred to it as a "good day, not a great day."
Again it should be pointed out that the Combine is only one piece of a considerably lengthy pre-NFL Draft process. For several Buckeyes, the process is off to a promising start, while others must continue to work on honing their craft in hopes of making their NFL dreams a reality.
— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a diehard Ohio State fan. Minnich also writes and podcasts for menofthescarletandgray.com, a site dedicated to Ohio sports with a special emphasis on the Buckeyes. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.
Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots secured the AFC East title for the seventh year in a row in 2015, but their divisional competition was certainly much improved from years past.
Defense seemed to be the focus last offseason, as the Dolphins gave Ndamukong Suh a massive contract (six years, $114 million) and the Jets reclaimed Darrelle Revis from his Super Bowl sabbatical with the New England Patriots. There was another big move between two divisional foes as the Buffalo Bills hired Rex Ryan shortly after the New York Jets let him go. The emphasis will likely be on defense once again in the upcoming 2016 NFL Draft.
2015 Snapshot: The Bills came out of the gates hot in 2015, most surprisingly on the offensive side of the football. With the emergence of Tyrod Taylor at quarterback the Bills averaged more than 33 points per game during their 2-1 start, with the only loss coming to the New England Patriots by one score. They finished a mediocre (8-8), but Ryan seemed to move the needle in the right direction.
Biggest Needs: It is truly astounding that a Ryan-led defense finished second to last in the NFL with 21 sacks last season. Ryan is known for dominant defenses like the groups he had in New York with the Jets. The Bills struggled against the run and the pass in 2015, so any position along the defensive line makes sense. They may also think long term and attempt to address quarterback and offensive line issues as well.
First-round pick: No. 19 overall
Potential Pick: Depending on what happens with LeSean McCoy’s legal battle, the Bills could find themselves focusing on defense or replacing the huge offseason acquisition from a year ago. Assuming McCoy is in a Bills uniform in 2016, Buffalo will target the best defensive end available when it is their turn to pick. They may also look to land an inside linebacker that can run this defense for years to come. If they are willing to take the risk, Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith is an extremely versatile linebacker coming off of a serious knee injury suffered at this year’s Fiesta Bowl.
2015 Snapshot: There was a lot of hype surrounding this team coming into the 2015 campaign. Ndamukong Suh decided to take his talents to South Beach, and another year under Ryan Tannehill’s belt provided valuable learning experiences. After a disappointing 6-10 showing, Miami has a new head coach in Adam Gase and the Dolphins are hoping he can turn things around.
Biggest Needs: Even with the NFL’s best defensive tackle, the Dolphins finished 28th against the run in 2015. Suh and the line are partly to blame, but the Miami linebackers are also very much responsible for the defensive woes. On the other side, the Miami offensive line allowed 45 sacks, which was the eighth most in the NFL.
First-round pick: No. 8 overall
Potential Pick: I like the Dolphins to play it safe here and take Alabama’s Reggie Ragland, a proven run stopper and the only premier linebacker in this draft without serious injury questions. I think Miami will wait to address their offensive line concerns until later in the draft, but if Notre Dame tackle Ronnie Stanley falls to No. 8 then they would be wise to snatch him up.
New York Jets
2015 Snapshot: New York finally moved on from the Rex Ryan era and the team had immediate success under Todd Bowles in his first season. The Jets were so close to the playoffs, and after defeating the Patriots in Week 16 all that was needed was one more win over the Ryan-led Bills. But alas, Ryan kept his former team out of the playoffs yet again.
Biggest Needs: Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Geno Smith after a preseason fight with linebacker IK Enemkpali knocked Smith out for much of the season. After all of this madness a competitive football team came out of camp. However, neither Smith nor Fitzpatrick is the franchise quarterback of the future. There are also concerns at running back, as Chris Ivory has expressed it is not likely that the Jets keep him. Lastly, the Jets' defense was very good in 2015, but there are certainly areas that need improvement. Longtime outside linebacker Calvin Pace is coming off the worst year of his career, and at 35 it seems he has played his final game in a Jets uniform.
First-round pick: No. 20 overall
Potential Pick: This pick is too late to take a first-tier quarterback, so finding a replacement for Ivory or Pace must be the top priority. The best running back in the draft, Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, may be too talented for general manager Mike Maccagnan to pass up. If he elects to build on the Jets’ impressive defense, Clemson’s Kevin Dodd (6-5, 280) could be just the outside linebacker the Jets need to move on from Pace.
New England Patriots
2015 Snapshot: The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots started off the year scorching hot but eventually struggled to close out their regular season and secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC. This came back to bite them in a huge way, as they lost a tight matchup with the top-seeded Denver Broncos on the road in the AFC Championship Game.
Biggest Needs: More air in their footballs. As a result of the Deflategate scandal the New England Patriots do not have a first-round pick in the upcoming draft. It likely won’t matter, as the Patriots' front office has proven countless times they are incredible at landing top talent in the later rounds.
First-round pick: N/A (Forfeited as part of punishment for Deflategate scandal)
Potential Pick: With their first pick coming late in the second round the Patriots will likely add some stability to their offensive line. They may also look to find an eventual replacement for recently retired linebacker Jerod Mayo.
The ACC enters 2016 as a conference on the rise. Both Clemson and Florida State have made appearances in the College Football Playoff over the last two years, and both teams are positioned for another run next fall. But the league’s overall depth is improving, thanks to a Louisville team that’s on the rise, as well as stellar coaching hires at Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Miami and Virginia this offseason. The overall talent level in this league is high, as two players – Florida State running back Dalvin Cook and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson – are among the nation’s top frontrunners to win the Heisman next fall.
As spring practice begins around the ACC, it’s never too early to take a peek at what’s ahead in 2016.
With spring practice just underway and plenty of position changes or depth chart movement coming, this list could look a lot different by the time fall practice begins. Our rankings are compiled by using many factors including career stats so far, 2015 statistics, pro potential, positional importance, projection for 2016, value to the team, recruiting background and just overall talent. Think of this list as an early power ranking for 2016, with tweaks expected at the end of spring and prior to Week 1.
Here’s a quick primer on the top 25 players in the ACC for next season, as well as a few names to watch.
ACC's Pre-Spring Top 25 Player Rankings for 2016
10 to Watch on Offense: Jaylen Samuels, TE, NC State; Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech; Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson; Ryan Switzer, WR, North Carolina; Joseph Yearby, RB, Miami; Dorian Johnson, OG, Pittsburgh; Jon Heck, OT, North Carolina; Jay Guillermo, C, Clemson; Caleb Peterson, OG, North Carolina; Matt Dayes, RB, NC State
10 to Watch on Defense: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson; Brad Watson, CB, Wake Forest; Marquez White, CB, Florida State; Harold Landry, DE, Boston College; Josh Harvey-Clemons, S, Louisville; Micah Kizer, LB, Virginia; Brandon Facyson, CB, Virginia Tech; DeVon Edwards, S, Duke; M.J. Stewart, CB, North Carolina; Matt Milano, LB, Boston College
25. Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State
Sweat is a name to remember for 2016 and a player that could easily climb these rankings by the end of spring practice. After suffering a serious leg injury as a high school senior, Sweat was relentless in his recovery and returned in time to play in all 13 games for the Seminoles last season. Sweat recorded 41 stops (five for a loss), two sacks and two pass breakups as a true freshman in 2015. With another offseason to work in the weight room and develop under line coach Brad Lawing, expect to see Sweat as one of the breakout stars for Florida State in 2016.
24. Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech’s 2015 season was a disappointment, but there’s reason for optimism entering spring practice. The Yellow Jackets return plenty of experience at running back, receiver and on the offensive line, which should translate into improvement. Of course, it doesn’t hurt Thomas is back to run the option attack. He threw for 1,345 yards and 13 scores last season and ran for 488 yards and six touchdowns. That’s a drop from his 2014 totals (1,086 rushing yards). Thomas should have a rebound year in 2016.
Related: Ranking the ACC Rosters for 2016
23. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Williams was poised to build off an impressive 2014 campaign (57 catches for 1,030 yards) last fall, but a neck injury against Wofford in the opener ended his season. All signs point to a return to full strength for Williams, giving quarterback Deshaun Watson another target in one of the nation’s top receiving corps.
22. Artavis Scott, WR, Clemson
Scott only averaged 9.7 yards per catch last season, but he’s a key cog in Clemson’s passing attack in the screen game. On 93 receptions in 2015, Scott recorded 901 yards and also reached paydirt six times.
21. Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson
Mackensie Alexander received most of the attention in the Clemson secondary, but Tankersley quietly developed into another All-ACC cornerback on the other side. In addition to recording 48 tackles, Tankersley picked off five passes and led all Tigers with nine pass breakups last season. He should slide into the No. 1 corner role for Clemson.
20. Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson
Standout ends Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson are gone, but the cupboard isn’t empty for coordinator Brent Venables. Watkins is back for his senior campaign and should continue to dominate the interior of the line after recording 7.5 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks in 2015.
19. Adam Bisnowaty, OT, Pittsburgh
Bisnowaty and teammate Dorian Johnson are both worthy of mention in this space. However, a slight edge goes to the Bisnowaty as the anchor of a Pittsburgh line that should be one of the best in the ACC next season. Bisnowaty has started 30 games over the last three years and earned second-team All-ACC honors last year.
18. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Jackson is one of the nation’s top quarterbacks on the rise and a dangerous dual-threat option for coach Bobby Petrino. After throwing for 1,840 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushing for 960 yards and 11 scores last season, Jackson is only going to get better as a sophomore with a full offseason to work as the starter.
17. Keith Kelsey, LB, Louisville
Kelsey is the first of two Louisville linebackers to appear on this list. After ranking second on the team in tackles in 2014, Kelsey paced the Louisville defense with 107 stops (12 for a loss) last season and recorded 3.5 sacks. The Florida native should push for first-team All-ACC honors in 2016.
16. James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh
The best news of the offseason has to revolve around the health of Conner in his recovery from Hodgkin lymphoma. Coach Pat Narduzzi has indicated he believes Conner will play in 2016, and the junior is attending the team’s offseason conditioning workouts. Pittsburgh won’t have to rush Conner back this fall with capable backup Qadree Ollison recording 1,121 yards last season.
15. Quin Blanding, S, Virginia
New Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall has a strong reputation on the defensive side of the ball from his tenure at BYU. Additionally, his acumen and background on defense should help Blanding continue to develop as a player after a solid start to his career with the Cavaliers. Blanding is a former five-star recruit and is coming off back-to-back seasons of over 100 tackles. He should be in the mix for All-America honors at safety this season.
14. Ejuan Price, DE, Pittsburgh
The Panthers received good news in early February when Price was granted a sixth year of eligibility for 2016. The Pennsylvania native is one of the top edge rushers in the ACC and finished 2015 with 11.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for a loss and one forced fumble.
13. Isaiah Ford, WR, Virginia Tech
Ford was the ACC’s only 1,000-yard receiver last season, and his 1,164-yard campaign was the best mark in school history. Ford also averaged a healthy 15.5 yards per reception and grabbed 11 touchdown scores. He should benefit from the hire of Justin Fuente - a proven offensive mind at TCU and Memphis - as the program’s new head coach.
12. Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina
Hood was North Carolina’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2012 by recording 1,463 yards and 17 scores on 219 attempts. He also ranked third among ACC running backs last season by averaging 106.8 rushing yards in conference games. Expect to see Hood even more involved in 2016.
11. Devonte Fields, LB, Louisville
Fields was one of the Big 12’s top defenders at TCU, but an off-field incident forced him to spend a year at Trinity Valley Community College. The Texas native returned to the FBS level and was a force off the edge for coordinator Todd Grantham. Fields closed 2015 on a tear, recording seven sacks over the final three games, including three against Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl. He also registered 64 tackles (22.5 for a loss) last season.
10. Jordan Whitehead, S, Pittsburgh
Whitehead won ACC Rookie of the Year honors in 2015 and is poised for an even bigger role with the Panthers next fall. After a limited role on offense last season (132 yards), the Panthers plan to utilize Whitehead as more of a two-way player in 2016. While the Pennsylvania native is due to see a few more snaps on offense, he’s still one of the top defensive backs in the ACC. Whitehead recorded 108 tackles, one interception and six tackles for a loss in 2015.
9. Ben Boulware, LB, Clemson
Boulware is just one of four returning starters for coordinator Brent Venables from last year’s standout defense. Boulware earned first-team all-conference honors from the ACC coaches and is the team’s top returning tackler for 2016 (82 stops last year).
8. DeMarcus Walker, DE, Florida State
Florida State’s defensive line showed marked improvement under the direction of Brad Lawing last season. The Seminoles finished last in the ACC in sacks in 2014 (17) but improved that number to 32 in 2015. Walker thrived under Lawing’s tutelage in 2015, recording 10.5 sacks, 15.5 tackles for a loss and four forced fumbles.
7. Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson
Clemson’s offense runs through quarterback Deshaun Watson, but the ground attack shouldn’t be overlooked with Gallman leading the charge. The Georgia native recorded 1,527 yards and 13 scores last year and caught 21 passes for 213 yards and one touchdown. Not only is Gallman versatile enough to pop a big play on the ground, he also has the strength and power to get the tough yards between the tackles.
6. Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami
Kaaya is one of the big winners from Miami’s coaching change, as former Hurricane quarterback Mark Richt should help the junior take his game to the next level. Kaaya missed one game due to injury last season but still threw for 3,238 yards and 16 scores.
5. Derwin James, S, Florida State
James became a bigger part of Florida State’s defense over the course of 2015 and is poised to challenge for All-America honors as a sophomore next fall. In 13 games last year, James recorded 91 stops (9.5 tackles for a loss), 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. At 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, James is already one of the most physically impressive safeties in the nation.
4. Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson
Hyatt was one of the nation’s top true freshmen last season and a key cog in Clemson’s run to the national championship game. The Georgia native started all 15 games for the Tigers, set the school record for most snaps played by a true freshman offensive lineman and earned third-team All-ACC honors.
3. Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State
Johnson enters 2016 with 18 consecutive starts at left tackle and is the anchor for a Florida State offensive line expected to take a step forward next fall. The Missouri native won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the ACC’s top offensive linemen last season and was voted first-team all-conference.
2. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Despite a nagging hamstring and ankle injury in October, Cook still managed to rush for 1,691 yards and 19 scores last season. Additionally, Cook recorded 100 yards in four out of his final five games, including 183 yards in a 27-2 victory over rival Florida. He should be one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman Trophy in 2016.
1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Watson is the catalyst behind Clemson’s high-powered attack, and after a standout sophomore campaign, the bar is set high for the junior quarterback in 2016. In 15 games last year, Watson threw for 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns and added 1,105 yards and 12 rushing scores. Watson should open 2016 as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.
When working in television you must realize the microphone is always hot.
Analysts on the NFL Network thought they were on a commercial break at the time and that no one could hear them. What they said was something no Browns fan wants to hear. It is believed they were referring to Wisconsin's Joel Stave when they mentioned Cleveland's "next former quarterback."
That's something no one wants to be called.
The start of MLB’s spring training means different things to different players. Some have moved on from their old teams in hopes of finding October glory with a new squad. Others are trying to find the old form of their prime years, while younger players are jockeying with veterans for a roster spot, chomping at the bit to leave their mark in The Show.
Here is our list of the top 10 players to watch as teams begin their preparations for the 2016 season in Florida and Arizona.
1. Jason Heyward, CF, Cubs
Heyward made waves this winter when he signed a $184 million deal with the Cubs after spending last summer with the archival Cardinals. Some pundits claim that Heyward is overpaid, but the Cubs say that Heyward fits perfectly within their system. Heyward showed up early to spring training last week and instantly began impressing his fellow teammates and coaches with not only his physical abilities, but his intellectual knack for the game. The big test will come when Heyward switches to from right field to center field full time, where the most he has ever played is 20 games in 2013.
2. Hanley Ramirez, 1B, Red Sox
It’s hard to imagine Ramirez once hit .292/.353/.439 and stole 51 bases on his way to the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year honors at only 22 years old. Fast-forward a decade and Ramirez is a shell of his former All-Star self. The once dynamic, power-hitting shortstop is now resigned to playing first base full-time for the Red Sox after last year’s experiment of playing left field proved to be a disaster. Ramirez’s move to first was to be expected with Rusney Castillo coming up, but the continued lack of offensive production was disheartening. The Red Sox are primed to be in contention in the AL East this season, but their chances will take a hit if Ramirez can’t figure out how to play first base — or remember how to hit.
3. Jeff Samardzija, SP, Giants
The former Cubs, A’s, and White Sox pitcher has been looking for a big pay day for the past several seasons. But when he finally put his name on the dotted line, it wasn’t the ace money that Samardzija was wishing for. Last year, his only season with the White Sox, Samardzija saw his walk and home run rates increase while his strikeout rate fell, all while surrendering more hits and earned runs than any other pitcher in the AL. The Giants are taking a $90 million chance that Samardzija finds the same groove that he had before he was traded from the Cubs to the A’s two seasons ago.
4. Christian Yelich, LF, Marlins
Yelich has a chance to be a star in 2016 and a real driving force in the Marlins’ young and talented lineup. Yelich found himself on the DL a couple of times in ’15, and also struggled the first couple of months of the season, hitting only .220/284/.293 before June. From there, however, Yelich produced at a .329/.394/.459 clip until the end of the season. The 24-year-old left fielder will be a vital asset at the top of new manager Don Mattingly’s lineup card along with last season’s NL batting champ Dee Gordon — especially if slugger Giancarlo Stanton returns healthy after breaking a bone in his hand last season.
5. Taijuan Walker, SP, Mariners
Scouts have long praised the potential of the Mariners’ 23-year-old righty and 2016 would be a great time for Walker to tap into that promise. At first glance, Walker’s ’15 numbers don’t look great (29 starts, 4.56 ERA, 4.07 FIP, 1.196 WHIP). But give them a second look and you’ll notice that his walk rate fell by half, and his strikeout and swinging strike rates went up compared to his small sample size from 2014. Walker’s fastball is electric, but he may rely on it too much, as he threw it 64.8 percent of the time last season. If the rest of his “stuff” catches up, his repertoire could rival that of any other pitcher in the AL and would be a fantastic No. 2 option behind Seattle ace Felix Hernandez.
6. Byron Buxton, CF, Twins
Much like Taijuan Walker, the sky is the limit for the Twins’ top prospect. All of the raw athleticism to be a Gold Glove center fielder is there, but his plate skills are unrefined. Buxton was limited in ’15 after a thumb injury sidelined him in the middle of the season, as he only hit .209/.250/.326 in just 46 games, retaining his rookie status for this season. Buxton should receive every opportunity to claim the Twins’ center field job as his own during spring training, but manager Paul Molitor has also said that the 22-year-old could spend some time in the minors to start the season. One thing is for sure, the Twins’ turnaround will only be accelerated with a healthy and productive Buxton on the field and in the lineup.
7. Justin Verlander, SP, Tigers
Verlander isn’t touching 100 MPH-plus in the ninth inning anymore, but he just might be returning to his Cy Young form — or at least close to it. After a disastrous and injury-riddled 2014 and start to ’15, Verlander came back into his own in his final 14 starts last season. His fastball velocity went up and his ERA dropped to 2.27 in the second half. After battling back from core surgery and a triceps injury, Verlander could be poised to be the ace of this rebuilt Tigers staff.
8. Joc Pederson, CF, Dodgers
Pederson started the first half of his rookie season on fire, hitting 20 home runs and earning a spot on the NL All-Star team. However, the second half of ’15 was especially rough, as his drop in power only further exposed his lack of quality contact hitting. By the second half, Pederson’s innings were being taken away by Enrique Hernandez, as he finished the season hitting only .210/.346/.417 with 26 home runs.
The ’16 Opening Day center field spot is Pederson’s to lose, but he is going to have to make better contact this spring. Last season, Pederson’s batting average on balls he put in play was a measly .262.
9. Yasiel Puig, RF, Dodgers
The “Wild Horse” has certainly earned his Vin Scully-given nickname, thanks to his natural athleticism mixed with his erratic play and hijinks. Puig’s potential has yet to be fully realized due in part to his raw skills and his inability to stay healthy. Last season, Puig only played in 79 games and regressed noticeably when he was in the lineup. Puig often times found himself in former manager Don Mattingly’s doghouse. If Puig is going to improve and refine his skills as a ball player, growing under new skipper Dave Roberts will be imperative not only for his career specifically, but also for the immediate success of the Dodgers.
10. Yordano Ventura, SP, Royals
Ventura was supposed to be the ace-in-waiting in the Royals’ rotation after the departure of James Shields two seasons ago. Instead, Ventura posted a 4.08 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 3.57 FIP in a disappointing sophomore campaign last season that featured a DL stint and a (very) brief demotion to Triple A for roughly 24 hours. Despite his rough 2015, Ventura still had the best fastball (highest velocity) in the AL and still has a nasty curveball that generates lots of swings and misses. With Johnny Cueto leaving for the Bay Area after being a rental, Ventura is now at the top of the defending World Series champions’ rotation heading into 2016. For the Royals to make another October run, Ventura will have to be more consistent on the mound for a full season.
Fans in East Lansing, Mich., and Norman, Okla., have something in common — they’re spoiled.
The last year or so has been a great time to pull for Michigan State or Oklahoma. In football and men’s basketball, the Spartans and Sooners have been final four contenders in both sports.
While neither team could claim the ultimate prize of a championship, Michigan State and Oklahoma State are among the few schools who are in contention for conference and national championships in both sports at the same time.
As we finish our college football-college basketball tandem rankings, it’s important to note that we are attempting to value balance — i.e., which schools have an above-average coach at both position? That’s why some programs with an elite football coach and a new (or struggling) basketball coach will be ranked lower than one might expect.
1. Michigan State
Football: Mark Dantonio
Basketball: Tom Izzo
Here’s what makes up an elite coaching tandem: In four of the last five seasons, the football team has reached a major bowl (two Cotton Bowls, a Rose Bowl and Capital One Bowl) in the same season the basketball team reached the Sweet 16 or better. Since Jan. 2014 alone, Michigan State has accounted for:
• A Rose Bowl win and Big Ten football championship,
• An Elite Eight appearance and Big Ten tournament championship,
• A Cotton Bowl win,
• A Final Four and
• A College Football Semifinal appearance and Big Ten title.
Football: Bob Stoops
Basketball: Lon Kruger
After one of his worst seasons at Oklahoma in 2014, Stoops reinvented his offense with a new coordinator and landed in the College Football Playoff. In 17 seasons, Stoops has led OU to 10 top-10 finishes and nine Big 12 titles. His basketball counterpart knows even more about longevity: He’s the only coach who has taken five teams in the NCAA Tournament (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and Oklahoma). With Buddy Hield on board, Kruger might reach his second Final Four in what could be a Hall of Fame career.
3. Ohio State
Football: Urban Meyer
Basketball: Thad Matta
In many years, Ohio State could get the nod as the top college coaching tandem. But Meyer, a year after winning the third national championship of his career, saw his chance to repeat end with a loss to Michigan State and Dantonio. Meyer still has an absurd 50-4 mark (31-1 in the Big Ten) at Ohio State. Matta is perhaps the nation’s most underrated coach, but his program is in a three-year downswing. The Buckeyes averaged more than 30 wins with a Final Four, an Elite Eight and two Sweet 16s from 2010-13. The Buckeyes haven’t topped 25 wins since and could miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.
Football: Jim Harbaugh
Basketball: John Beilein
Harbaugh has arguably transformed the Big Ten even more than Meyer. The Ohio State coach brought SEC-style recruiting to the Big Ten, and Harbaugh is one-upping even one of the most ruthless recruiters in the business. Oh, and he can coach, too. Michigan exceeded expectations in his first season as 10-win team and top-15 finisher. Michigan hasn’t matched the heights of the 2013 national title game and 2014 Elite Eight, but Beilein has reached the NCAA Tournament five times in seven seasons at Michigan — the best run since the Fab Five-fueled ‘90s.
Football: David Cutcliffe
Basketball: Mike Krzyzewski
Hard to believe, but Krzyzewski’s stature has only grown since this time last season. Coach K won his fifth career national championship in 2015 and did it in a new way using one-and-done talent. This season has been bumpy, with the Blue Devils going unranked for the first time since 2006-07. David Cutcliffe has done the unthinkable with Duke football, producing three consecutive winning seasons for the first time and the program’s first bowl win since the early ‘60s.
Football: Bobby Petrino
Basketball: Rick Pitino
The off-field/off-court exploits — failed professional careers, extramarital affairs gone public and the most recent basketball postseason ban stemming from allegations a staffer used prostitutes to lure recruits — are troubling. Their coaching ability, though, is unquestioned. Pitino averaged 30.8 wins from 2011-15, including a national championship and a Final Four. In his third year on his second tour of duty, Petrino should have the Cardinals ready to take the next step after going 10-6 in the ACC in the first two seasons.
7. Notre Dame
Football: Brian Kelly
Basketball: Mike Brey
Brian Kelly has brought Notre Dame back to national prominence with at trip to the national championship game in 2012. The Irish have spent time in the top five in each of the last two seasons despite playing two years snakebit by injuries. Mike Brey is on the short list of most underrated coaches. In the last two years, Brey has defeated Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Rick Pitino with regularity.
Football: Rich Rodriguez
Basketball: Sean Miller
After Arizona football went 10–4, won the Pac-12 South and reached the Fiesta Bowl in 2014, last year’s 7–6 campaign, the worst under Rodriguez, was a major let down. It was an injury-plagued year, and Rodriguez still managed to reach a bowl game in each of his four seasons at Arizona. Miller has restored Arizona to national power status with three Pac-10/12 championships, three Elite Eight appearances and one Sweet 16 in his first six seasons.
Football: Art Briles
Basketball: Scott Drew
A decade ago, Baylor was a non-factor in both college football and basketball. These days, Baylor is doing things that a program like Texas should be doing. Football has topped 10 wins and been ranked in the top 15 in four of the last five years. Basketball hasn’t shown the same year-in-and-year-out consistency, but two Elite Eights and a Sweet 16 in seven seasons is a notable achievement for a program with four NCAA appearances before Drew arrived.
Football: Nick Saban
Basketball: Avery Johnson
With four national championships at Alabama, one title at LSU, and eight consecutive top-10 finishes, Saban is the top coach in either football or men’s basketball right now. There’s no sign this streak is going to slow down any time soon. The former NBA coach Johnson seemed to be a questionable pick for Tide (especially as he was the program’s second choice after Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall). Now, Johnson could be the Coach of the Year in the SEC if the Tide reach the NCAA Tournament in his first year. He also had a standout recruiting class coming in for 2016-17.
11. North Carolina
Football: Larry Fedora
Basketball: Roy Williams
Williams has his best North Carolina team in at least five years, the last time the Tar Heels won the ACC. Williams is looking to reach his eighth Final Four and first since 2009, an eternity for the Hall of Fame coach. It probably took Fedora longer to turn the corner with the football program than UNC fans would have hoped, but the Heels are coming off their best season since 1997.
Football: Kyle Whittingham
Basketball: Larry Krystkowiak
When Utah joined the Pac-12, few expected the Utes to be one of the league’s best football/basketball programs. Instead, Whittingham and Krystkowiak have navigated various challenges to produce top-25 programs in both sports. Krystkowiak took Utah to its first Sweet 16 since 2005 and could deliver a Pac-12 title for the Utes. Whittingham’s team never matched the 62-20 rout at Oregon, but they finished with 10 wins for the fourth time under Whittingham and the first time as a Pac-12 member.
Football: Kirk Ferentz
Basketball: Fran McCaffrey
This is possibly the most overachieving duo in the Big Ten. Ferentz led the football team to a 12-2 season and the Big Ten title game. True, Iowa won the easier division and the team may never has been as good as its top-10 ranking, but Ferentz’s fifth 10-win season comes after averaging 6.8 wins in the five seasons prior. McCaffrey has Iowa on pace for its third consecutive NCAA Tournament berth, the best streak for Iowa since 1991-93. If the Hawkeyes secure a top-two seed, it will be the first time for the program since 1987.
Football: Mark Richt
Basketball: Jim Larranaga
If Richt does for Miami what he did for Georgia — averaging 9.6 wins per year and fielding regular top-10 teams — he’ll be in the College Football Hall of Fame. Larranaga already has an ACC title and Sweet 16 at Miami and a Final Four at George Mason on his résumé, and he has a top-15 team again in Coral Gables. Fun fact: Larranaga has more career wins than Michigan State’s Tom Izzo.
Football: Mark Helfrich
Basketball: Dana Altman
With all the success Altman has had at Oregon, it’s hard to believe that the Ducks’ coaching search in 2010 was a comedy of errors. After bigger names passed, Altman turned out to be the right guy. He has topped 20 wins in all six of his seasons in Eugene. All other Oregon coaches have 11 20-win seasons. He’s also heading for a fifth consecutive top-three finish in the league. Helfrich proved a perfect steward of the football program in 2014, taking the Ducks to the national championship game in his second season. In 2015, Oregon slipped back to 9-4, the Ducks’ worst record since 2007, but there’s reason to believe the season would have been different if Vernon Adams had been healthy all year.
16. Florida State
Football: Jimbo Fisher
Basketball: Leonard Hamilton
Florida State football is an all-around powerhouse — in recruiting, on the field and on draft day — again with Fisher in charge. His 68-14 record through six years gives him one of the hottest starts in college football history. Hamilton breathed life into the Florida State program with four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and a Sweet 16 from 2009-12. Since then, the Seminoles topped 20 wins just once.
17. Mississippi State
Football: Dan Mullen
Basketball: Ben Howland
This is rare territory for Mississippi State to be among the top coaching tandems in the SEC. Usually a place like Florida would be near the top. The case for Mississippi State is pretty clear: Mullen has taken the Bulldogs to unthinkable heights with 19 wins in a two-year span and six consecutive bowl games in a two-year span. Howland’s first season at Mississippi State may be somewhat of a disappointment considering the fanfare surrounding his hire and the presence of a five-star recruit (Malik Newman), but this is still a three-time Final Four coach in Starkville.
Football: Dino Babers
Basketball: Jim Boeheim
Syracuse’s NCAA issues — the postseason ban in 2015, scholarship limits and Boeheim’s suspension earlier this year — cast a shadow on the latter years of his tenure. Syracuse might not get to the Final Four or win 30 games again before he retires in 2018. Babers, an Art Briles protégé, who has two conference championships in four seasons at Bowling Green and Eastern Illinois under his belt, could be a transformative hire for Syracuse football.
19. Ole Miss
Football: Hugh Freeze
Basketball: Andy Kennedy
Freeze has done what no coach at Ole Miss has been able to do since John Vaught in the ‘60s — turn the Rebels into a consistent heavy hitter in the SEC. Ole Miss’ win total has increased every year under Freeze, giving the Rebels only their second 10-win season since 1971. Kennedy isn’t competing for championships, but he’s turned the moribund Ole Miss basketball program into a consistent postseason contender, including two NCAA Tournament appearances in the last four seasons. He’s the school’s all-time wins leader by a wide margin.
20. San Diego State
Football: Rocky Long
Basketball: Steve Fisher
Fisher keeps getting it done at San Diego State. The Aztecs have made the NCAA Tournament six times in a row and reached the Sweet 16 twice in that span. He has twice as many NCAA Tournament wins (six) as all of his predecessors had trips to the Tournament combined (three). Long picked up the torch from Brady Hoke in 2011 has done even better than his predecessor, leading the Aztecs to 11 wins and a Mountain West title last year. In his last 10 years as a coach at New Mexico and SDSU, Long has missed a bowl game just twice.
Football: Gus Malzahn
Basketball: Bruce Pearl
A year ago, we could have ranked this as the top duo in the SEC. Now, we’re wondering where Malzahn and Pearl really stand. After a trip to the 2013 national title game, Auburn has gone just 6-10 in the SEC since then including a five-game losing streak at one point. Coaching turnover presents another challenge to Malzahn only two years after he was on top of the profession. Pearl’s program seemed to show momentum in the SEC Tournament last year, but they’re headed to another losing season. Pearl, though, can recruit and will have more talent next year than in either of his first two seasons.
Football: Bronco Mendenhall
Basketball: Tony Bennett
Bennett has remade Virginia basketball with his pack-line defense. Of the Cavaliers’ three 30-win seasons in school history, two are under his watch in the last two seasons, and the Cavs could make it three 30-win seasons in a row this year. They’ve won back-to-back ACC regular-season titles and an ACC tournament for Virginia’s best run since Ralph Sampson played in Charlottesville. Mendenhall was an outside-of-the-box hire for a moribund football program. He has plenty of questions about recruiting in the East, but he averaged nine wins per season at BYU.
23. Virginia Tech
Football: Justin Fuente
Basketball: Buzz Williams
There’s a ton to love about the combo of Fuente and Williams. The reason they’re ranked lower than one might expect is because both have done their best work at other places. Obviously, Fuente hasn’t even coached spring practice in Blacksburg, but he’s making all the right moves (i.e., retaining Bud Foster). He was a miracle worker at Memphis. Williams has already topped his first-year win total with the basketball program, and a trip to the NIT would be a major step forward. Still, he’s a long way from turning Virginia Tech into the consistent overachiever Marquette was.
Football: Jim Mora
Basketball: Steve Alford
Mora has lifted UCLA out of a funk, winning 37 games in his first four seasons. No other Bruins coach has won more than 29 in his first four years. At 23-13 in the Pac-12 (and never better than 6-3), however, the Bruins haven’t become the conference elite. Alford hasn’t proven he’s an upgrade over predecessor Ben Howland, but back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances (buoyed by three wins over double-digit seeds and a controversial finish against No. 6 SMU) still count for something.
Football: Tom Herman
Basketball: Kelvin Sampson
Herman is the hot new thing in college coaching after a 13–1 season, a championship in the competitive American Athletic Conference and a win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl in just his first season. Before that, he was the offensive coordinator for Ohio State’s national title team. Sampson, who has reached the NCAA Tournament 14 times as the head coach at Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana, has had modest success in his return to college basketball. After going 4-14 in the American in Sampson’s first season, Houston topped 20 wins for the second time since 2009.
Football: Dabo Swinney
Basketball: Brad Brownell
Wait, how can Dabo Swinney — a coach who led Clemson to the national title game and 56 wins in five years — be ranked this low? Swinney would be near the top of football coach rankings, but this is a tandem. The basketball program is never going to get the same love as the football program, but aside from a couple of nice weeks and upsets here and there, Brownell’s program hasn’t done much to draw attention. The Tigers have reached the NCAA Tournament just once in his six-year tenure – as a No. 12 seed in Dayton in his first year.
27. Penn State
Football: James Franklin
Basketball: Pat Chambers
Recruiting has raised the pressure on both coaches. Granted, recruiting to both Penn State football and Penn State basketball is a challenge for wildly different reasons. After going 7–6 in each of his first two seasons, Franklin will essentially re-boot with two new coordinators and a new quarterback in his third season. Chambers averaged just four Big Ten wins during his first four seasons, but he has a top-20 class signed for 2016-17.
28. West Virginia
Football: Dana Holgorsen
Basketball: Bob Huggins
Holgorsen hasn’t matched the 10–3 season and an Orange Bowl win in 2011, WVU’s last year in the Big East. Life in the Big 12 has been tougher (20-23 in four years). In the last two seasons, Huggins has shown again why he’s a 700-win coach, reinventing his program into “Press Virginia.” West Virginia has reached the Sweet 16 or better three times under Huggins, including the 2010 Final Four. No other West Virginia coach has been in the final 16 more than twice.
Football: Pat Narduzzi
Basketball: Jamie Dixon
This tandem for Pittsburgh just seems so … right. Narduzzi and Dixon are two defensive-minded coaches whose teams tend to grind their way through a season. Narduzzi led Pitt to eight wins for the first time since 2010, and he should have enough returning to make a run at the ACC Coastal. After Pitt basketball was the most overachieving team in the Big East (nine NCAA appearances in 10 years), Dixon’s program is hovering around .500 in ACC play the last three years. That’s a bit of concern.
30 (tie). Temple
Football: Matt Rhule
Basketball: Fran Dunphy
Rhule has led a four-win improvement in each of his first three seasons at Temple from 2-10 to 6-6 to 10-4. He’s been a part of the entire Temple renaissance from 2006-11 as an assistant and the last three years as head coach. Dunphy, who reached the NCAA Tournament for six consecutive seasons, is aiming to return for the first time after a two-year absence.
30 (tie). Cincinnati
Football: Tommy Tuberville
Basketball: Mick Cronin
Both Cincinnati programs are solid, if unspectacular. Tuberville has reached a bowl game every year with the Bearcats, though last year’s 7-6 season was the worst of his three-year tenure. Cronin’s teams have an identity of a grinding defensive squad, and that’s been enough for five consecutive NCAA appearances.
Real live baseball is here. Spring training games are starting this week throughout camp in Florida and Arizona.
That means manager and GMs are evaluating their lineups and rotations, which players will fill the final spots on the 25-man roster and which players need more seasoning in the minors.
In the Athlon Sports 2016 Baseball Preview, we’ve already done some of the homework. We asked scouts throughout MLB to give us their candid thoughts on teams and players for 2016.
These scouting reports and more are available in this year’s Athlon Baseball Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and on Amazon.
“We haven’t seen a team rebuild this aggressively in a long time. They’ve gotten premium guys in trades and added so much pitching to their system that they’re bound to shake out an ace somewhere — although I don’t see a real No. 1 in the group they’ll take out of camp. I like Matt Wisler’s stuff. Mike Foltynewicz has a good arm, but he’s a little bit of a thrower. Manny Banuelos and Williams Perez seem like back-end guys to me. They brought back A.J. Pierzynski to catch, and he really buys into the team concept now; he’ll challenge that young pitching staff. I like Jace Peterson; he’s got limited power, but he’s fine defensively and he sprays the ball to all fields. He’s one of the few regulars they can count on. They’re relying a lot on Hector Olivera, but there’s no learning curve; he’s 31 in April. There’s a lot of age on this team, actually — you can see it in Nick Swisher’s knees and the decline of Michael Bourn. There’s just no protection in that order for Freddie Freeman.”
“I want to like them, but I just don’t think there’s quite enough talent here to take that next step. The Mets and the Nationals are too far ahead, and there’s just not enough here. Jose Fernandez is as good as anybody if he’s healthy, but beyond that I don’t know what you’re dealing with. They’ve got a decent bullpen, but just not enough pieces in that rotation. I do like their lineup, and they’re going to battle you. It will be interesting to see what kind of effect Barry Bonds has; I can’t imagine there’s anybody smarter about hitting. When Giancarlo Stanton is healthy, he’s going to get his. I like Christian Yelich a lot, and Marcell Ozuna is better than we saw last year. The outfield defense is pretty much plus across the board. Adeiny Hechavarria is a really good shortstop; I’ve never seen him do anything that hasn’t been impressive. They made a nice find with Justin Bour last year, and stole Dee Gordon from the Dodgers. It’s a decent young team, and they’ll be competitive. But they’re not there yet.”
“They will have Michael Conforto all season, and he’s going to be a really good player. Neil Walker is a better version of Daniel Murphy — more reliable defensively and similar offensively. David Wright’s spinal stenosis is a big deal. You need to fuse it to resolve it, and that would end his career. They have to be really mindful of that and get him out of there before he tells you he’s sore — or before his bat speed diminishes. If you asked me to pick one of those four starters, I might just take Steven Matz. He’s that good. But you can’t go wrong with Noah Syndergaard or Jacob deGrom, either. Matt Harvey’s stuff is great, but they’ll never be able to keep him long-term, and I think he looked really heavy in the face and the midsection toward the end of the year. That concerns me.”
“They’re doing a good job, aggressively bringing in a lot of talent. Their system looked better last August, after the Cole Hamels deal, than it had in a long time, and then they got a good haul in the Ken Giles trade. With Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton, they added some veterans to eat innings in that rotation, and Aaron Nola’s going to be a good one. He needs to work on his changeup, but he’s a poor man’s Greg Maddux. He throws strikes and keeps hitters off-balance. Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera are young, aggressive and fearless, which you like to see, but they have a ways to go in developing other position players. Cesar Hernandez can have a nice career as a switch-hitting version of Omar Infante; you can play him anywhere. They still owe Ryan Howard $35 million, but the contract’s over after this season, so they can finally move on.”
“They were really ugly to watch last year — boring and lifeless at times. Matt Williams’ voice didn’t seem to resonate there, so maybe Dusty Baker’s will. I think this might finally be the year Stephen Strasburg does what everybody expects him to do. Stuff-wise, I don’t know if anybody is better in the game. They lost Jordan Zimmermann, but with Max Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Joe Ross and Tanner Roark, that’s a solid rotation. And Lucas Giolito is a stud in the minors. Bryce Harper, what can you say? Only Mike Trout might be better in the game, and Harper’s a year younger. Two years ago their best player was Anthony Rendon, but he can never stay healthy. When he’s out there, he barrels everything, hits everything hard. He’s a .300 hitter with 25-homer power, and there’s not a ton of those guys out there. It just always comes down to health with him.”
By now we've all seen the amazing cars Yoenis Cespedes has driven to the Mets' spring training. He's in a class all his own.
Clearly there's no loser in this bunch, but I thought it would be fun to rank them. This is purely going off aesthetics until I get a chance to drive these beauties (in other words, don't hold your breath for an update to this post).
This week in Yoenis Cespedes' cars: pic.twitter.com/qQ0NJoZ7bV— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 26, 2016
5. Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione - This is such a nice car and the color is boss. It's a little too fancy for my taste, but it's still a nice coupe. This would be a 5AM, doing 120 mph because no one else is on the highway kind of vehicle.
4. Ford F-250 - Obviously I'm biased because I'm a southern girl but there's something about a lifted pickup truck. The fact that it's a Ford on top of everything makes this better than your average truck. Perfect for an afternoon of mudding.
3. Polaris Slingshot - This is a cool vehicle and definitely a head-turner, but I'd be nervous people would get into accidents because they're too busy looking at it driving down the street. This would be perfect for a nice drive through a neighborhood with a slower speed limit or maybe a quick trip to the store. Definitely not a highway vehicle because of the lack of doors/protection.
Here's a 360-degree view of Yoenis Cespedes' Polaris Slingshot: pic.twitter.com/6uzSKXd9Kg— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) February 23, 2016
2. Jeep Wrangler - Jeeps are the ultimate everyday vehicle. This one was made even better because of the upgrades Cespedes added. The only drawback for me would be that there's no doors but some are into that kind of thing. Still a great vehicle for any situation.
1. Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4 - This is the clear winner. Cespedes rolled up to spring training Wednesday and shut it down with this bad boy. He's literally Batman in this. You can't top the sleekness. I have to reiterate that I'm not a fancy person but when something looks this good, you can't help yourself.
Some sports figures use Twitter a little too much, while others we wish would join the Twitterverse.
In no particular order:
Nick Saban - Alabama's head coach needs to become a part of the Twittersphere. Although many of his tweets may be just orders directed to Lane Kiffin, we still want to see them. Saban looks like he owns a flip phone, but he's also known to make the best of a bad situation.
Charles Barkley - All the internet gold Chuck gives us on "Inside the NBA", times that by ten if he decided to start tweeting. Barkley is constantly asked to get a Twitter account and if the public keeps begging, he's bound to break down sooner or later. Don't be fooled by the @CharlesBarkley account, it's not legit without the blue check. Plus you have to believe he wouldn't be that boring.
Kevin Garnett - The Timberwolves star would most likely send out inspirational tweets along the lines of "anything is possible". Something tells me that many of his tweets will be done in all caps. Garnett is a pretty intense guy, but that's part of what makes him great.
Peyton Manning - His timeline may be full of Nationwide jingles and Budweiser pitches, but on occasion the Sheriff can be kind of funny. Plus he's about to have a lot of free time on his hands so I'm sure he could squeeze in a few tweets between rounds of golf.
Riley Curry - She's not in a league yet, but imagine the last NBA season without her. She's been a part of meme after meme and even has parody accounts out there. She's a Twitter star way before her time.
Once a Dawg, always a Dawg.
Georgia running back Keith Marshall always had quick feet, but his unofficial 40 got some people taking an even closer look at the potential star.
With a performance like that, there's no need to say how his former teammates reacted.