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It’s unusual to find a pair of conference heavyweights squaring off so early in the season, but that’s what’s happening in Bowling Green, Ky., Thursday night when Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky stage an inter-divisional C-USA clash that has huge implications — despite its September date.
Both teams enter the game with 1-0 marks, although WKU’s 14-12 road win over Vanderbilt, accomplished when the Hilltoppers stuffed a Commodore two-point conversion late in the game is certainly more impressive than Louisiana Tech’s 62-15 thrashing of helplessly overmatched Southern. Both teams were favorites to take their respective divisions, so this could be a preview of December’s Conference USA Championship Game.
Despite the teams’ favorable preseason prospects, Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz is trying to play up the Hilltoppers’ advantage. Western Kentucky’s game with Vandy was played Sept. 3, while the Bulldogs’ meeting with Southern came a couple days later, giving WKU more time to prepare. And though many oddsmakers have made the Bulldogs a one-point favorite — and Louisiana Tech walloped the Hilltoppers, 59-10 last year — Holtz is looking to establish his side as the underdog.
“We are going against a team that has been picked to win the East,” Holtz said. “Most people pick them to win this game. Most people pick them to win the conference. We realize going there we are an underdog in this situation and we are looking forward to the challenge."
Louisiana Tech at Western Kentucky
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
TV: Fox Sports 1
Spread: Louisiana Tech -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Revenge is Sweet
Of course, it is only delectable if a team can achieve it, and that’s what Western Kentucky wants. The Hilltoppers were manhandled last year by the Bulldogs, who intercepted WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty four times and stifled the nation’s sixth-leading scoring attack.
There can be no denying that Western Kentucky wants to treat its fans to a reversal of fortune, but to do that the attack that was so prolific last year must awaken. The Hilltoppers managed just 246 total yards against Vanderbilt, struggled mightily on the ground and punted 10 times. Granted, an SEC defense is not as easy to throttle as is a C-USA outfit, but victory will only be likely if things pick up on that side of the ball.
2. QB Battle
Western Kentucky received some big news when Doughty was granted a sixth year of eligibility after a 2014 season that included a nation’s-best 4,830 yards and 49 TD passes. Although he was a modest 19-of-30 for 209 yards and a score against the Commodores, he is expected to be far more productive the rest of the season.
Louisiana Tech counters with Florida transfer Jeff Driskell, who played just a quarter-and-a-half against Southern but still managed to throw for 274 yards and four scores on just 12-of-15 passing. Driskell may not have been able to grab the starting spot for the Gators, but he certainly looks comfortable in Ruston and could be one of the nation’s most dynamic transfers this year.
3. Defensive Maneuvers
Last year, the Hilltoppers were fifth worst in the country in scoring defense (39.9 ppg), but they appeared much more sturdy in the win over Vanderbilt. Against a Louisiana Tech attack that put up 587 total yards, despite its starters playing less than a half, WKU must match its success or get overrun again.
“The defense has been hearing a lot after last year,” Western Kentucky tight end Tyler Higbee said. “They didn't have the best year. But they came out and they played [against Vanderbilt]. They stepped up today. They performed really well. We knew it was going to happen. At the beginning of camp in the spring, we added a few guys to the defense and some young guys getting more experience, and they won this game for us today."
The Hilltoppers have plenty to play for after last year’s shellacking at the hands of the Bulldogs, but both teams realize that a loss in this one isn’t crippling, since each has all of its games against divisional rivals remaining. Whoever wins, though, does establish itself as the C-USA big dog.
Although Western Kentucky’s defense was improved against Vanderbilt, it will struggle to keep Louisiana Tech under control. It’s unlikely Doughty will toss four picks again, as he did last year, but he will have to have a big day to offset what should be strong showings by Driskell and the rest of the Louisiana Tech offense. In the end, Tech has too much firepower.
Prediction: Louisiana Tech 34, Western Kentucky 28
— Written by Michael Bradley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bradley is a writer and broadcaster based in suburban Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @DailyHombre.
Ken Simonton was an unlikely trailblazer for Oregon State. At Pittsburg (Calif.) High, Simonton had a dream of playing at USC. Mike Riley, then the Trojans’ offensive coordinator, took an interest in Simonton, but Riley eventually took the head coaching job at Oregon State.
Simonton followed Riley to Oregon State, but Riley soon left to be the head coach of the San Diego Chargers.
Under new coach Dennis Erickson, Simonton flourished, rushing for 5,044 career yards (still the third-highest total in Pac-12 history) and leading the Beavers to the Fiesta Bowl in 2000, still their only major bowl appearance since 1964. After Simonton followed a line of productive Oregon State running backs from Steven Jackson to Yvenson Bernard and Jacquizz Rodgers, giving the Beavers four of the top 17 rushers in Pac-12 history.
Simonton appeared on the Athlon Sports Pac-10 cover in 2000 and since his college career played for stints in the NFL and Canadian Football League. He has since returned to Southern California.
What are you up to these days?
Chasing kids. I’ve been really keeping myself busy. These last few years, I’ve been coaching at my alma mater Pittsburg High School and this last season I’ve transition to some youth track. My kids are that age where they’re starting to compete, so coaching some youth track is my big kick right now. My daughter qualified for the Junior Olympics in the long jump and mini (javelin).
What did you coach at Pittsburg?
I coached running backs and returners. High school is becoming so much like college, man. For me, unless you’re completely committed to coaching, they’re putting in so many hours, I wouldn’t even think about being a high school coach.
Did the running backs you coached know your Oregon State career?
A lot of the guys I’ve had are local guys as well, so, heck, their parents are guys I played against or with. It’s kind of neat. My runners use a lot of my highlights and high school stats as their measuring point. It gives them a good barometer. I had a kid who should be at Oregon State last year, but he had to go to junior college. My career from high school on has given them a good barometer of where to work.
You said your daughter (Mayelli) is involved in Junior Olympics. Does she take after dad a little bit?
It’s crazy. She’s not a sprinter yet. She doesn’t know how to use her arms. She’s kind of, “If it comes easy I like it. If I have to work at it, umm…” But I’m really proud of her because she’s learned to love the process. Kids her age ask if she won the race and she says, “No, but my time got better and I finished hard.” I’m really proud of her to be seven years old and kind of humble herself and learn to love the process. But she’s a natural jumper. She’s so consistent. My daughter is within six or seven inches in every meet.
Is there anything she does at this age that’s similar to where you were?
More than anything, I see she has great balance. She had a classmate who took years of gymnastics. And after a few days, I think she got tired of everyone clapping for her doing one-handed cartwheels. My daughter taught herself to do one-handed cartwheels. She has tremendous balance and a competitive nature. I can definitely see those two traits.
And what do you do for a day job?
For the past six years I’ve been an investigator with the Department of Labor. Our primary focus is looking at how workers are paid — minimum wage, overtime, child labor and record-keeping. That’s the base of what I do. Within that, we look at child labor issues, migrant workers and that their living arrangements are satisfactory. Quite honestly, that they’re living in human conditions. We get a myriad of cases, everything from aerospace to ag to mom and pop business.
Was this a field that interested you in college?
Heck no. That’s one of those things I kind of fell into. Our regional administrator served on our school board locally and when I stopped playing he asked about what I was doing and let me know they were doing some hiring. At the time, I really wanted to get into firefighting. That was really something I felt strongly about. Here in California, it’s such a competitive field. In the county where I live, there were maybe 6,000 applicants for maybe eight jobs. I took a few tests, did well but never quite high enough to get a foot in the door. I looked at this as viable option, and now I love it. Looking after low-wage workers and serving my community in this capacity is something where I can hold my head up high.
Do you still stay involved with Oregon State?
The new coach, Gary Andersen, I met him and some other alumni in Vegas during the summer. We got a chance to hear his vision and he got a chance to hear from some of us alums. I’ve tried to keep myself available. I’ve reached out to every running back since I left from Steven Jackson to Terron Ward who is fighting to compete in Atlanta right now. I always took it as a personal mission so that those runners knew who I was and knew that I was watching and that I was in support and that they always had an ear if they wanted to call and vent. I know how Corvallis can be at times. I let coach Andersen know that it was always on my heart to be around the program, and he kind of called me on it. He said, I’d love to have you and guys like Steven Jackson come back and watch the team compete and speak with them. He was very instrumental in making that happen.
You played early in Mike Riley’s first tenure at Oregon State. What do you remember about him getting started at Oregon State?
He was still at USC (when I first talked to him). We didn’t even have a home phone. He found my grandmother’s phone. Growing up as a runner, what was bigger than Tailback U. I was kind of sold on him from Day One. He believed in me from Day One. When he went up to Oregon State, it was crushing a little bit. When Mike recruited me, what he said was that he wanted to recruit guys who know how to win and came from winning program. His primary focus was turning that program around and getting the right guys in there no matter where they were from and guys who were sold out to winning. I don’t think people understand how competitive that man is.
How much did you realize at the time how special the 2000 season was for Oregon State? That’s still Oregon State’s only major bowl appearance since 1964.
Going into that season, I think we knew that was a team that every reason to splinter, to fracture. You had brothers from Florida, California, Texas, kids from the Midwest and Oregon. You talk about a rag-tag bunch… I tell people the biggest cultural change in Corvallis isn’t the people it’s the weather. There were just so many factors that we had to fight through. It was late spring, early summer that team made a decision to come together. We knew it before the coaching staff did. We knew we were good. And more than that, we were willing to fight. Guys realized there was nothing else out here but us. I think that team made a conscious decision that we didn’t have anything to lose. Let’s just go out and punch people in the face. I really wished the College Football Playoff was around then because at the end of the season, there wasn’t a team in the country that would have beat us. I really believe that.
When Riley was there and especially as they’ve gone through this coaching change, a lot of people have said this is the toughest job in the Pac-12 or one of the toughest jobs. Do you agree that this is a tough place for a guy to win?
Poppycock! I tell you what: It’s one of the best jobs in the Pac. It might be a tough place to recruit. You’re not going to get some of the can’t-miss five-star kind of kids unless they’ve got a little baggage, unless you take a chance on a Chad Johnson. That’s kind of a rare one. That guy was a legitimate talent, but he was looking for a home. Steven Jackson is a future Hall of Famer but he saw the momentum we were building. You had guys that were actively recruiting. In his early junior year, senior year, they got after this guy and made him feel like he was a stud before the rest of the world showed up. If you’ve got a bunch of lazy recruiters, it’s going to be a hard job. But if you have guys that are actively out recruiting and have a system of what they want to build… Put it this way: When I talk to young guys who are there, you have no distractions. You get a chance to play in the same conference as USC and you don’t have this big bull’s eye on you every time you burp out loud. If you recruit the right people, you’re going to get all the flair and the nuts environment any other Pac-12 university has. But at the end of the day you get to just focus on your business. I think if there’s a coach who is focused on building to that experience, the environment you get up there is second to none. The problem you had was some coaches, man, who at one point got lazy in recruiting. You stop recruiting the players that are there. I think that environment is really second to none. If Coach Andersen continues to recruit and recruits the guys that are there and continues that mindset of maintaining and keeping that environment exciting for the guys that are there, because there’s nothing else to do there. It’s football and the 60 guys in the locker room. You have the opportunity to live in a bubble, go to school and be nuts about building your own USC or UCLA. If you can recruit guys who are of that caliber, who are pissed off because they didn’t get that offers from USC or UCLA, you can’t tell me that if you can win at Boise or Baylor or TCU, that you can’t win at Oregon State.
As the NFL season approaches, many eyes will be on the league's youngest players, and what they can do for their team. Several high profile players are still 25 and under and will be stars for many years to come. Here is a list of some of the best young players in the NFL (Note: Includes players that are 25 and under until Opening Night on September 10):
Andrew Luck (25), QB, Indianapolis Colts
Not only is he the best player 25 and under, but he’s also in discussion for the top spot in the entire NFL. Touted as a historic prospect, Luck has lived up to all the hype, leading the Colts to three straight playoff appearances. At such a young age, Luck has accomplished so much and has many years ahead in the NFL.
Luke Kuechly (24), LB, Carolina Panthers
Luke Kuechly simply gets to the ball carrier as good as anybody in the NFL. In two of three NFL seasons, he has led the league in tackles. He’s the best young defender in the game and rising to the top in the NFL, having made two straight Pro Bowls. In just his second year, he won the Defensive Player of the Year Award; the only others to win it within their first two seasons: Lawrence Taylor and J.J. Watt.
Odell Beckham Jr. (22), WR, New York Giants
Best known for the one-handed catch, his incredible rookie season was seemingly overshadowed by that one play. He rewrote dozens of franchise and NFL rookie receiving records, hauling in 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns on 91 receptions. To little surprise, these impressive stats earned him the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. And he only played in 12 games, while playing through hamstring injuries.
Patrick Peterson (25), CB, Arizona Cardinals
Patrick Peterson has four years in the league and four Pro Bowl honors. Since he’s come into the league, he’s been among the top cornerbacks and playmakers in the NFL. There’s a reason why the Cardinals made him one of the highest paid defenders in the NFL. Peterson is a premier player, especially considering the emphasis on the passing game in the league.
Le’Veon Bell (23), RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
After a solid rookie season, Le’Veon Bell exploded last year, finishing the season with the second most rushing yards. He ran for 200+ yards in three straight games, which tied an NFL record. He took home a whole slew of awards and honors, including a Pro Bowl appearance, All-Pro recognition, AFC Co-Offensive Player of the Year, and the FedEx Ground Player of the Year award. The only knock on him is a two game suspension for a marijuana possession and DUI.
T.Y. Hilton (25), WR, Indianapolis Colts
After beginning his career deep in the depth chart, Hilton has gradually progressed with each season and more chances. On 82 receptions, Hilton gained 1,345 yards and 7 touchdowns, making him a true deep threat with such great speed. Now that the Colts have Andre Johnson, Hilton’s stats may naturally decrease some, but he should also get more one-on-one opportunities to do some serious damage to defenses.
Tyron Smith (24), LT, Dallas Cowboys
While Tyron Smith is surely the best young lineman in the NFL, there can certainly be an argument that he is the best at his position among anybody in the NFL. There’s a reason why the Cowboys made him the highest paid offensive lineman by paying him $109 million over eight seasons. The Cowboys have built one of the league’s best offensive lines, and Smith is certainly a factor in that.
Robert Quinn (25), DE, St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams have several weapons along their defensive lines, and Robert Quinn has established himself as one of the league’s premier pass rushers. For the past three seasons, he has racked up at least 10.5 sacks. The Rams are no team to look past, as they could be a serious contender because of this stout defense. The offense just needs to stay healthy if they want to make a playoff run because the defense can certainly be top notch.
Khalil Mack (24), LB, Oakland Raiders
Khalil Mack’s rookie season was very strong, although the high expectations for him are what make him most exciting. In college play, he holds the all time record for tackles for a loss and forced fumbles. The Oakland Raiders are expecting this type of production from him, as he showed his best production against the rush last year.
Marcell Dareus (25), DT, Buffalo Bills
Like so many other young players, Marcell Dareus only continues to get better, and opposing quarterbacks should be frightened. Last year, he raked in 10 sacks at defensive tackle, making him one of the best pass rushers at the position. Much like the Rams, the Bills have built one of the league’s best defensive lines.
Lavonte David (25), LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
For the entirety of his three-year career, Lavonte David has been around the top of the league in total tackles. His ability to find the ball carrier and shed blockers propels him to star status at linebacker. He’s also shown that he can get to the quarterback and play coverage, making him a threat anywhere on the field, depending on what he’s called upon to do.
Muhammad Wilkerson (25), DE, New York Jets
Opposite Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson takes care of the left side of the defense just as well. Without Richardson for a few games, he will have to pick up on some of the lost production. After battling an injury for some of the season, a healthy Wilkerson should be able to contribute even more to an already great defense.
Eddie Lacy (25), RB, Green Bay Packers
Even though the Packers have one of the best passing games in the NFL, Eddie Lacy makes them truly balanced on offense. Lacy is one of the premier power backs in the league, as his ability to break tackles is hardly matched. The Packers offense is top notch, much in part to his strong contribution to the team.
Sheldon Richardson (24), DE, New York Jets
After winning Rookie of the Year, he followed that up with a Pro Bowl invitation, highlighted by eight sacks over the course of the season. However, a four-game suspension, as well as charges stemming from another recent off-the-field incident, will put a damper on his total production for the season. The Jets will miss him over the first part of the season, if not longer.
DeAndre Hopkins (23), WR, Houston Texans
After racking up over 1200 yards and catching six touchdowns, Hopkins is poised for an even better year with the departure of Andre Johnson. He will become the premier wide receiver on a team that desperately needs him to help out with the uncertainity at quarterback.
Jeremy Hill (22), RB, Cincinnati Bengals
In just his first year in the league, Hill established himself as a premier back, helping the Bengals to another playoff spot. The running game will once again be an essential part to the Bengals' success, and he will be at the forefront of it. He certainly will get more carries this year, and that should only help the Bengals.
Bobby Wagner (25), MLB, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks have been one of the best teams in the NFL for the past few years much in part to the youth of their team. While much of the focus is given to the Seahawks' secondary, Wagner has played a crucial role in their success. He manages over 100 tackles in just 11 games last year, sidelined for some due to an injury. The difference of him on and off the field was remarkable, as they cut their points allowed significantly in the games he wasn't in and the ones he came back for after the injury.
Justin Tucker (25), K, Baltimore Ravens
There may be no other time where kickers will be so important than the upcoming season, as the extra point has been moved back. For the Ravens, however, this rule change shouldn’t make a difference because of Justin Tucker’s accuracy from anywhere. The distance never seems to faze Tucker, who has established himself as one of the league’s best kickers.
Other notable players: Mark Ingram, Giovani Bernard, Paul Worrilow
Veteran players are a great commodity in the NFL, and their expertise and experience are extremely valuable to their teams. While teams are built with youth, they often must center around older players. Take a look at some of the best players over 35 in the NFL:
Tom Brady (38), QB, New England Patriots
Even at his age, Tom Brady can still lead his team to a Super Bowl. No current player in the NFL is as much of a winner as he is, with four Super Bowls to his name. Since 2003, the Patriots have made the playoffs in ever year he’s started the full season. Brady has stated his desire to play into his 40s, so he’ll continue to be on this list for years to come.
Peyton Manning (39), QB, Denver Broncos
For so many years, Peyton Manning has dominated the NFL. In terms of pure quarterback play, Manning is certainly in consideration for the best ever at the position. While he may not have the postseason success that Brady has, he’s one of the most decorated players. Manning holds dozens of NFL records, and he really hasn’t seen much decline in production.
Drew Brees (36), QB, New Orleans Saints
Since joining the New Orleans Saints, Drew Brees has developed into one of the league’s most prolific passers. He holds the NFL record for most 5,000+ yard seasons and consecutive games with a touchdown pass, among others. No matter who his receivers are, Brees simply can tear apart defenses.
Steve Smith Sr. (36), WR, Baltimore Ravens
There might not be any player in the NFL who comes out to play with more intensity than Steve Smith Sr. After being released by the Panthers following over a decade of dominance, Smith seemed only to gain another reason to play that much harder. He provided Joe Flacco a reliable target and led the team in receiving yards. While the wide receiving corps makes another transition, Smith will still certainly remain the featured leader and playmaker of the group.
Antonio Gates (35), TE, San Diego Chargers
After being signed by the Chargers and having not played football since high school, Antonio Gates shattered any expectations. Since he gained the starting tight end role, Gates has been among the league’s best at the position for over a decade. Even last year, he raked in over 800 yards and 12 touchdowns. However, the NFL suspended him for four games for using PEDs.
Charles Woodson (38), FS, Oakland Raiders
Over his career, Charles Woodson has not only been a premier safety in the secondary, but he has also contributed to the pass rush. While he has seen a clear decline in his play since leaving the Packers, he still remains a viable threat on defense for the Oakland Raiders. His presence and history alone deem him more than worthy enough for this list.
Tony Romo (35), QB, Dallas Cowboys
Having gone undrafted in 2003, Tony Romo flew under the radar until he finally replaced Drew Bledsoe several games into the 2006 season. The Cowboys got immediate results, as Romo helped lead them to the playoffs. Since he’s been a starter, the Cowboys have gone to four playoffs, but Romo’s postseason success has been very limited. Nobody questions his ability, but his clutchness always has been.
Adam Vinatieri (42), K, Indianapolis Colts
Adam Vinatieri ranks among the best all time kickers in terms of his accuracy and clutch kicks in key moments. Just last year, Vinatieri led the NFL in field goal percentage, having missed just one kick all season. As the oldest player in the NFL, his 20th season will surely be another successful one in his already storied career.
Julius Peppers (35), LB, Green Bay Packers
Even as he progresses late into his career, Julius Peppers still continues to post impressive numbers, after moving to linebacker this past year. He managed a strong seven sacks, four forced fumbles, three recovered, and two interceptions in his first year at the new position. If he can maintain this production, he will continue to be regarded as one of the top NFL defenders.
Carson Palmer (35), QB, Arizona Cardinals
For so many years, Carson Palmer has been a mainstay at quarterback. He's been among the best at times, but he's only made two playoff appearances in his career. Last year, he began the season extremely impressively and looked poised for another playoff. However, an injury caused him to miss most of the season, and the Cardinals struggled at quarterback without him. If he remains healthy, the Cardinals will be a team to watch throughout the season.
James Harrison (37), LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
James Harrison is clearly not the player that he once was, but he's certainly still a threat on that defense. After announcing his retirement a few years ago, Harrison has returned as a solid player and leader. He hasn't played a full season since 2010, but the Steelers just simply need any contribution that he can give them. He managed 5.5 sacks last season, showing that he still has flashes of his once dominant pass rushing skills.
Reggie Wayne (36), WR, New England Patriots
After Reggie Wayne remained a free agent for most of the offseason, he finally signed a one-year deal with New England. While he is surely no longer a number one receiver for a team, he showed last year that he can still be productive. Injuries have plagued him for the past two seasons, but he stated his desire to continue playing. It was only a matter of time before a team signed him, and the Patriots will surely get value out of his veteran experience.
Other notable players: Shane Lechler, Sebastian Janikowski
When Mother Nature took over the show in Baton Rouge on opening weekend of the college football season, the LSU athletic department and school took the biggest proverbial hit of the weekend.
The game was called due to inclement weather with LSU and McNeese State opting not to make the game up. Beyond the lost experience and opportunities to be gained on the field of play by players on both sidelines, thousands of fans were left with a useless ticket in their collective hands.
The cancelation of the Tigers game was the first since 1918 and will cost the school between an estimated $1.2 to $3.2 million; depending on how many of the 100,000 fans who planned on attending the game at Death Valley seeks a refund. The estimated costs includes the $500,000 payout to McNeese State for showing up.
The face value of LSU’s tickets range from $25 to $35 and $4 to $11 for students. Per LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, LSU fans who purchased the tickets via the LSU Athletic Ticket Office by credit card will be refunded directly by the end of September.
In a statement regarding refunding the purchase price of the tickets Alleva said, “Since this is a nearly unprecedented situation, we have had to thoroughly explore our options in addressing the matter of ticket refunds. In the end we believe that issuing the refund is quite simply the right thing to do in this case. We have a plan in place that fairly reimburses fans who purchased tickets through our ticket office.”
As for those college football fans buying through a third-party site... buyer beware. Third-party sites may or may not reimburse fans the face value or the purchase price of the tickets.
Assuming weather is not a factor, the Tigers will take the field on Saturday in Starkville, Miss., to face Mississippi State in now what is not only LSU's SEC opener, but also the first official game of the 2015 season.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
Week 1 of the 2015 college football season came and went without a whole lot of surprises. Don't get me wrong, there was some good football played. Then again, if you're like me, any football is good football. That said, nothing outrageous and earth shattering took place. What does that mean?
In my opinion, it means we're due. Sounds like a good reason to make a few outrageous college football predictions for Week 2.
BYU's Tanner Mangum will insert himself into the Heisman conversation
BYU hosts Boise State and Mangum gets his first start for the Cougars. He replaced Taysom Hill last weekend against Nebraska and went 7-of-11 for 111 yards and the winning score. His confidence was raised and so was the confidence his team has in him to be the guy going forward. He'll use his arsenal of 6-foot-5 receivers to carve up Boise State, knock them out of the New Year's Six conversation and place himself squarely in the mix for college football's most prestigious award.
Oklahoma will beat Tennessee by two touchdowns
This is supposed to be Tennessee's coming out party. Look for Bob Stoops' Sooners to put an end to the Volunteer hype-train with a sound and methodical beatdown of an average team that was looking for the exits all day against Bowling Green. The Vols gave up 424 yards through the air to Bowling Green's Matt Johnson. Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield could threaten the 500-yard mark.
Oregon will knock Michigan State out of College Football Playoff contention
The Ducks are still faster and more explosive than the Spartans, and the location isn't going to matter. Michigan State lost too many dependable weapons on offense. The Spartan secondary — normally one of the best in the nation in recent years, looked lost at times against Western Michigan. Look for a big win from the Ducks, giving Michigan State the first of two possible losses that knock them out of the Playoff conversation.
Texas will start 0-2
If you are looking for the talent that you use to find on the Longhorns roster every year, check with TCU, Baylor and Texas A&M — they have that market cornered. In the meantime, you have an inexperienced roster full of average talent still getting used to a head coach who runs a tight ship. They'll square off with Rice, a squad that is treating the matchup with Texas like a bowl game. Once the Longhorns realize the Owls aren't just going to roll over, you'll start to see heads hang. Times are tough in Austin.
J.T. Barrett will start against Hawaii
Cardale Jones got the start against Virginia Tech. That means nothing. Urban Meyer has so much confidence in every spot on his depth chart, he doesn't think it matters who he plugs in — and it really doesn't — especially at quarterback. Hawaii is used to playing against signal-callers with big arms who chuck it all over the field. They'll spend the week preparing for Jones, only to have Meyer surprise everyone and run Barrett out there for the opening possession. It doesn't matter that it's Hawaii, Meyer is cold-blooded and will exploit every advantage in every game.
The NFL season is right around the corner, and the NFC North is shaping up to be a competitive division for the upcoming season. The perennial powerhouse team in Green Bay is looking to be the Alpha of the division once again, but did lose top wide receiver Jordy Nelson to a season-ending injury.
The Detroit Lions look to build off a successful season last year, which ended in a tough loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs. The Minnesota Vikings are considered by many to be a surprise team this season and contend for a playoff spot with the emergence of rising QB Teddy Bridgewater. Then there's the Chicago Bears, who are in rebuilding mode with a new head coach and a quarterback who is squarely on the hot seat.
Here are 5 bold predictions for the upcoming NFL season for the NFC North.
1. Golden Tate will be a top-10 wide receiver this season
This isn’t that big of a bold call considering Tate racked up over 1,300 yards and 99 catches last season. Doing it again would be more impressive, and I think Matthew Stafford might be in for a great statistical season with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate at his disposal.
2. The Chicago Bears will be starting someone other than Jay Cutler at QB by Week 8
Cutler was already in hot water last season, as Chicago stumbled to a 6-10 record and both the head coach and GM were fired. While Cutler may have been initially spared, his road doesn’t get any easier with a new regime in town. John Fox has been known to turn teams around quicker than most, and he won’t hesitate to move on from someone he doesn’t feel can help turn the ship around. The Bears will be at home against the Vikings in Week 8 after a bye, and if there was a time to make a change at QB that would be it.
3. Ty Montgomery will have the best offensive rookie year in the division
The 3rd round draft pick for the Green Bay Packers just got an uptick in snaps. When Nelson went down with an ACL tear in the preseason, everyone looked at Davante Adams (deservedly so). Montgomery should get plenty of opportunities to show his speed and get open, which is easier when you have Aaron Rodgers throwing you the ball.
4. Harrison Smith will become the best safety in football this season
Harrison Smith has become a force in the secondary and teams have to account for him on every snap. With a pass rush unit that is getting better each game, Smith will have his share of chances to jump routes and make a big difference this season. If Robert Blanton can be serviceable as the other safety, the Vikings' secondary could be just fine in a division of good quarterbacks.
5. A member of the NFC North will be in Super Bowl 50
The Packers are still the toast of the division and should’ve made the Super Bowl last season. Even with Nelson on Injured Reserve, I think they have enough talent to make it to the final game of the season. The Lions have a better chance than most think to do some serious damage this season. I peg them to finally snap their streak of eight straight playoff losses come January.
— Written by Josh Koop, who is a part of the Athlon Contributor Network and Director of New Media with the Bemidji Axemen of the Indoor Football League. You can follow Josh on Twitter at @Koopsnet.
Madame La Veau has gazed into her crystal ball, has flipped through her tarot cards and has read some tea leaves. She has determined what will be the fate of the New Orleans Saints in the 2015 season. In the process, she also discovered some other future occurrences for some others in the National Football League. I will share these with all fans of the NFL.
1. The Saints will lose at Arizona, beat Tampa Bay then lose at Carolina in September.
2. Sean Payton will finally receive a long overdue endorsement deal for Juicy Fruit chewing gum.
3. After each Saints' touchdown in the Superdome, the public address system will play Fats Domino's version of "When the Saints Go Marching In" followed by "Second Line" by Stop Inc. Fans will be spared "Stand up and Get Crunk." (Actually, that is not a prediction, just a bit of wishful thinking on my part.)
4. After being drafted by a grassroots movement of Louisiana's residents, Drew Brees reluctantly will agree to become a late entry into the gubernatorial race. The quarterback will state, "Even though I am raising for four children, own multiple restaurants, endorse several products and lead a football team, I decided that I need something to do in my free time."
5. In October, the Saints will defeat Dallas, lose at Philadelphia, beat Atlanta and lose at Indianapolis.
6. After struggling in the first few games, Mark Ingram will break open for a long gain. After being tackled, he will promptly spike the ball in a release of frustration. This will result in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in a crucial situation.
7. With the blessing of Roger Goodell, the following team owners will hint at the relocation of their franchises if their current locations do not build a new stadium: Bills to Toronto, Raiders to Los Angeles and Jaguars to London.
8. The Saints will struggle in November. Their sole victory will occur at home versus Tennessee.
9. Payton will film a commercial for Juicy Fruit gum during the Saints' bye week. While filming, he will sustain a repetitive motion injury due to excessive gum chewing. He will have to resort to writing on dry-erase boards to yell at the officials during subsequent games.
10. In December and through the first weekend of 2016, the Saints will rattle off five straight wins to clinch the NFC South divisional crown.
11. Goodell will levy a hefty fine on Payton for profanity when a network camera catches a glimpse of an obscenity-laden message on his dry-erase board directed at the officials during a primetime game versus Detroit.
12. The Falcons were fined and deprived a fifth-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft for piping in artificial crowd noise into the Georgia Dome in 2013 and '14. In response, the Falcons' public address system will switch to other sources of artificial noise, progressively more irritating. In the first quarter, those inside the stadium will hear sounds of babies crying. Recordings of fingernails scratching across chalkboards will fill the air in the second quarter. The third quarter will feature clips from members of the Falcons' organization and its fans spouting excuses why their team has never won a Super Bowl. During the fourth quarter and any overtime periods, those still left in the stands will hear tracks from albums recorded by Kanye West.
13. Peyton Manning will announce his retirement after the Broncos are eliminated from the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. Within a week, the Titans hold a press conference to announce that Manning has been hired as their new quarterbacks coach.
14. The Saints will win their wild card game at home then lose on the road in the divisional round.
15. During Super Bowl week, in an effort to further the NFL's international appeal, Goodell will announce the finalists for the city to host Super Bowl LV in 2021: London, Berlin, Shanghai and Timbuktu.
— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.
Ever since he got the Texas job, Charlie Strong’s vision for the Longhorn offense has come across as… hazy? Muddled? Scattered?
He walked into the cradle of the spread and immediately set about trying to run the same pro-style offensive attack that brought him such success at Louisville. When that didn’t work, he reversed course after one year and decided that Texas would indeed run an uptempo spread scheme. What he and the rest of the nation saw in UT’s loss last weekend at Notre Dame were the same plays that were being run a year ago, except this time at a faster pace.
The result: a scant 3.13 yards per play on offense and a total of three points in a blowout loss to the Fighting Irish.
Strong acted decisively Tuesday in demoting his longtime offensive lieutenant Shawn Watson and alleged co-coordinator Joe Wickline after one game this season. Now, he’s putting the reins in the hands of receivers coach Jay Norvell.
No one who witnessed the Longhorns’ ineptitude in South Bend would argue that the offense appeared to be on the right track under Watson. Give Strong credit for cutting his losses.
The arguments in favor of Strong giving the job to Norvell seem fairly clear. First, he’s not Watson. It’s easy to see how staying with Watson could spiral into a malaise that affected the entire Texas team. Simply making a change also should help keep the burnt orange faithful at bay for the time being.
Second, Norvell has seven years of spread experience under his belt from his stint as Oklahoma’s receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator. Few programs have done more than OU to contribute to the rise of the spread offense nationally, and Norvell had a hand in making all those high-octane offenses go. With his experience in the Big 12, Norvell might have a better handle on attacking Texas’ conference opponents than Watson did.
However, if Strong is expecting Norvell to work miracles, he might want to find some new religion.
The reality is that while Norvell carried the co-coordinator tag with the Sooners for four years, he was effectively second-in-command to Josh Heupel. Norvell provided some input regarding OU’s scheme, but he didn’t have much of a role in calling plays on game day.
In fact, Norvell’s last stint as an offensive coordinator at UCLA in 2007 didn’t go so well. Running a West Coast offense, the Bruins finished 99th nationally in scoring offense at 22.4 points per game. They ranked 67th in the country in Offensive S&P+, Football Outsiders’ measure of offensive efficiency. At the end of the season, the UCLA administration handed the coaching staff their walking papers following a 6-7 finish.
What Norvell can do is install a stripped-down version of the spread that would give UT a chance to find out what it has in backup quarterback Jerrod Heard. It also would give the Longhorns a better chance of winning games based on the performance of the O against ND.
Whatever the short-term implications of the move may be for Texas, Strong’s decision raises a more important question: What has he been doing for the last nine months?
Although you could argue that Strong brough Norvell on staff in January as insurance in case Watson failed, Strong’s dismay at the offense’s performance versus ND would also indicate he didn’t see the implosion coming. That seems curious, to put it mildly.
More importantly, demoting Watson just one game into the year is tantamount to saying that the Longhorns wasted an entire offseason of preparation. If Strong wanted to go all-in with the spread after last season, he could have cut ties with Watson then and found a guru to handle the transition. Instead, he essentially gave the incumbent coordinator a one-game audition to showcase nine months of scheming.
Norvell may light a fire under the Texas offense and make Strong look like he had all of this figured out from the start. The move may buy Texas’ head coach more time to get the Longhorns turned around. But it should raise concerns on the 40 Acres about Strong’s vision and management of his program.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.
Ah, college football recruiting. There’s nothing quite like it and I mean that. It has the drama of a soap opera, the passion of the game itself and politics that rival anything in Washington D.C.
I wondered what effect (if any) Nebraska’s loss to BYU would have on a currently solid recruiting class.
Brandon Cavanaugh: How much of an impact does a win or a loss usually have on a recruit? Do you feel things were different considering this was Mike Riley’s first game as Nebraska’s head coach?
Munson: I have seen it work both ways. I have seen the loss be a turn off for the player as they look for a school option that is a little closer to being ready to contend for titles. On the other hand, I have also heard that the loss demonstrated need to the recruits.
In the end, the vast majority of recruits would prefer a win, but it didn't really matter. They know that the game of football has winners and losers. There are very few Kyler Murray's out there that literally had a perfect record going to college (from Allen, Texas to Texas A&M).
Being that it was Mike Riley's first game does work in the favor of Nebraska somewhat. However, it really comes down to how they lost and how they competed.
BC: Do you feel this loss will be used against Nebraska in recruiting by opposing coaches?
Munson: This loss by Nebraska to BYU doesn't really seem to have upside potential for schools to negatively recruit against Nebraska.
The Huskers lost on a typical low percentage play in a game that the line favored Nebraska, but many pundits picked BYU to beat Nebraska.
To me, the way the Huskers fought to get back into the game only to lose to a Hail Mary pass doesn't present a lot of opportunities to negatively recruit against Nebraska.
BC: What does Nebraska need to underscore with recruits moving forward within the next few weeks considering they don’t have the most daunting non-conference schedule?
Munson: I actually think that Nebraska's out-of-conference schedule — besides South Alabama — will prove to have been fairly daunting later on in the season. I think that BYU has a number of offensive weapons that will make it difficult for teams to beat them week in and week out.
Miami is always going to be Miami and the Huskers go to South Beach to play against the Hurricanes.
Both BYU and Miami went to bowl games last year (both lost). BYU could definitely finish up being a top-25 team and it's possible that Miami could be, too.
BC: Do you feel Nebraska made progress with any recruits despite the opening day loss?
Munson: First, there is only one, net result of the weekend and it was completely unrelated to Nebraska at all. That result was quarterback Terry Wilson from Oklahoma City (Del City) flipping on his commitment to Nebraska to Oregon.
That seemed destined to happen regardless of the outcome this weekend.
Overall though the feel from the official and unofficial visitors as well as visitors watching from home on TV seemed positive. Nebraska was able to go out and display an improved Tommy Armstrong and put an example out there for players to see.
The concept of the Nebraska offense has been a difficult sell particularly to wide receivers if you asked me. It's tough to say "put in this Oregon State game and then envision that team in red and white." They can now give them film and players to watch.
BC: While it’s a long time until National Signing Day, how do you feel this class will finish in terms of talent and national ranking?
Munson: This class has some incredibly talented and highly ranked players already and the Huskers are in good standing with a number of others. The class size always matters in the overall picture.
You can go out there and have an average star total per recruit close to four and only take 15 guys and not make a blip on the recruiting radar. The perfect combination is class size, the closer to 25 the better, and then a high number of stars per recruit on average.
Nebraska is sitting right at 3.14 stars average per recruit and I would expect that to be about the same at the conclusion of the class. Quickly looking at the 2015 team rankings and the first team to get 3.14 or lower was Mississippi State (3.14 stars) and they finished 16th with 28 total recruits.
I think that the class gets to 23 recruits or so which I think puts Nebraska into the top 30, but a stretch to get them into the top 25.
New quarterbacks were under the spotlight in the first week of the 2015 college football season. UCLA’s Josh Rosen stole the spotlight with 351 yards against Virginia, as the true freshman garnered one of the top performances by a quarterback in Week 1. But the success of new signal-callers wasn’t limited to true freshman, as transfers Vernon Adams (Oregon), Everett Golson (Florida State) and Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) shined in their debut with new teams.
With the influx of new starters across the nation, Athlon set out to rank the debuts for the quarterbacks. An important note: We only considered freshmen in their first game, transfers or quarterbacks that had only one start at their current school for this ranking. Quarterbacks like Jeremy Johnson, Skyler Howard, Patrick Mahomes, Mike Bercovici and Deshaun Watson had too many starts to be considered for this list.
College Football's Top 15 New QB Debuts from Week 1
1. Josh Rosen, UCLA
It’s not often the performance matches the hype when it comes to freshman quarterbacks in their first start. However, Rosen met and exceeded a lot of expectations on Saturday. In a 34-16 win over Virginia, the true freshman completed 28 of 35 passes for 351 yards and three scores.
2. Malik Zaire, Notre Dame
Zaire entered the 2015 season with one start under his belt (Music City Bowl) and high expectations. After edging Everett Golson for the starting job in the spring, Zaire continued his breakout season with a sharp performance in the opener against Texas. He completed 19 of 22 throws for 313 yards and three scores and rushed for 16 yards. Additionally, five of Zaire’s completions went at least 20 yards or more.
3. Seth Russell, Baylor
New quarterback, same story on offense for Baylor. The Bears scored 56 points against SMU, set a school record with 10.5 yards per play average and recorded seven plays of 40 yards or more. Russell completed 15 of 30 passes for 376 yards and five scores and added 59 yards and one touchdown on the ground.
Related: 10 Amazing Stats to Know from Week 1
4. Vernon Adams, Oregon
Against his former team (Eastern Washington), Adams showed why he’s one of the impact transfers for 2015. The senior completed 19 of 25 passes for 246 yards and two scores and ranked second on the team with 94 rushing yards. Adams aced his first test. But the hard part comes up on Saturday, as the Ducks travel to East Lansing to take on Michigan State.
5. Everett Golson, Florida State
Golson’s first game at Florida State started with a weather delay, followed by a slow start in the first half. The Notre Dame transfer was eased into the offense by coach Jimbo Fisher and completed 7 of 9 passes for 74 yards through the first two quarters. But Golson finished strong, throwing for 302 yards and four touchdowns on 19 completions. Golson also connected on five passing plays of 20 yards or more and two of 30 yards or more.
6. Jeff Driskel, Louisiana Tech
Driskel was a big-time recruit but never managed to have consistent success at Florida. With one year of eligibility left, Driskel transferred for an opportunity to start at Louisiana Tech and the early reviews are positive. The senior passed for 274 yards and four scores in an efficient 12 of 15 performance against Southern. He also added one rushing score and 15 yards on three attempts.
7. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s offense started slow in the first half against Akron, but Mayfield and new coordinator Lincoln Riley eventually got on track. Mayfield – a Texas Tech transfer – completed 23 of 33 passes for 388 yards and three scores. The junior was sharp in his opener, but the going gets tougher on Saturday against Tennessee.
8. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
Thorson’s numbers aren’t quite as impressive as some of the other names on this list, but the redshirt freshman was going against a stingy Stanford defense and delivered a solid all-around performance. Thorson completed 12 of 24 passes for 105 yards and rushed for 68 on eight attempts, including a 42-yard score in the first half that gave Northwestern the lead for good against the Cardinal.
9. Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Electric. That’s the easiest way to describe Jackson after his impressive debut against Auburn. The true freshman completed 9 of 20 passes for 100 yards and added 106 rushing yards and a score on 16 carries. Jackson’s mobility is a huge asset with Louisville revamping its offensive line, and the true freshman has already supplanted Reggie Bonnafon as the team’s starter for Week 2.
10. Jake Coker, Alabama
Alabama’s quarterback battle took a few twists and turns, but the post-spring favorite – Coker – eventually took the first snap against Wisconsin. The defense and rushing attack is always going to lead the way for the Crimson Tide, so Coker doesn’t have to carry the offense. However, Coker was steady in his first start for Alabama, completing 15 of 21 passes for 213 yards and one score.
11. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
Kelly is the x-factor for Ole Miss if it wants to contend in the SEC West this season. The junior college product (and former Clemson passer) started his career in Oxford on a high note in Week 1, throwing for 211 yards and two scores on nine completions. Also, two of Kelly’s completions went for 50 yards or more.
12. Max Wittek, Hawaii
Wittek completed only 19 of 38 passes in the opener, but he threw for three scores and was a key cog in Hawaii’s 28-20 upset over Colorado. The USC transfer should give the Rainbow Warriors a good shot to get bowl eligible in 2015.
13. Thomas Sirk, Duke
Duke coach David Cutcliffe is known as one of the best quarterback gurus in college football, and his next pupil (Sirk) was solid in his debut against Tulane. The junior completed 27 of 40 passes for 289 yards and two scores and added 68 rushing yards on 15 carries. Sirk is primed for a breakout year for the Blue Devils.
14. Tanner Mangum, BYU
Mangum’s numbers weren’t as impressive as some of the other quarterbacks on this list, but the Idaho native delivered in the clutch for the Cougars. With BYU trailing 28-27, Mangum connected with Mitch Mathews for a 42-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to upset the Cornhuskers in Lincoln. With Taysom Hill out for the rest of the year, Mangum – a four-star recruit – should be a solid fill-in for BYU.
15. Nick Stevens, Colorado State
The competition – Savannah State – wasn’t overly difficult, but Stevens was sharp in Saturday’s 65-13 win. In coach Mike Bobo’s first game with the Rams, Stevens completed 20 of 28 passes for 289 yards and five scores. He will face a tougher test in Week 2 with Minnesota visiting Fort Collins on Saturday.
Other Debuts Considered: C.J. Beathard, Iowa; Ahmad Bradshaw, Army West Point; Brent Stockstill, MTSU; Greyson Lambert, Georgia; Will Grier, Florida; Garrett Smith, ULM; Tyler Stewart, Nevada; Kyler Murray, Texas A&M; Quinton Flowers, USF; Jake Rudock, Michigan; Eric Dungey, Syracuse; Bryant Shirreffs, UConn; Blake Bogenschutz, UTSA; Drew Lock, Missouri; Cody Clements, South Alabama; Brooks Haack, ULL; Cameron Coffman, Wyoming; Seth Collins, Oregon State, Jake Browning, Washington, Ryan Finley, Boise State; Nate Romine, AFA, Kenny Potter, SJSU; Darius Wade, Boston College; Laviano/Rettig, Rutgers; Michael Birdsong, Marshall; Joe Hubener, Kansas State; Shuler Bentley, ODU
The first week of every college football season always generates overreaction on both sides of the talking point. If a team lost by a bigger margin than expected or struggled, it’s easy to say that team is worse than anticipated. But if a team wins in an upset or is more impressive than the preseason projections expected, the reaction is this team should be better than we thought.
There could be some truth in both arguments. However, the real truth rests somewhere in the middle. No team is as good (or bad) as they play in Week 1. After all, it’s just the first game of the season.
With overreaction in mind, here are five schools that quietly impressed in Week 1. What does it mean for the rest of the year? We’ll find out.
5 CFB Teams That Quietly Impressed in Week 1
David Cutcliffe has transformed Duke into a consistent bowl team, and the Blue Devils are coming off their best two-year stretch (19 wins) in school history. But despite the recent success and 12 returning starters, Duke was picked (by some) near the bottom of the ACC Coastal for 2015. However, if Thursday night’s win over Tulane is any indication of what to expect from this team this fall, Duke should be in the mix for a finish in the top half of the Coastal. The Blue Devils dominated the Green Wave, winning 37-7 thanks to strong performances on both sides of the ball. New quarterback Thomas Sirk completed 27 of 40 passes for 289 yards and two scores and added 68 yards on the ground. The junior also guided the Duke offense to an average of 5.7 yards per play. The defense limited Tulane to just 4.2 yards per play, 25 rushing yards and forced four sacks. The Green Wave did not score until the fourth quarter and managed only two drives longer than 50 yards. Duke still has its share of question marks to answer on the defensive side when it takes on better offenses. However, Thursday night’s showing was a good sign for the Blue Devils.
We don’t want to overreact to Week 1 with any of the teams on this list, but Iowa has a good shot to be 4-0 headed into its Oct. 3 game against Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes easily dispatched Illinois State – last year’s FCS title runner-up and an upset pick by some in Week 1 – 31-14 on Saturday. C.J. Beathard was picked over Jake Rudock at quarterback to generate more big plays for an offense that ranked seventh in the conference in scoring last season. So far, so good. Beathard led Iowa’s offense to an average of 6.2 yards per play and passed for 221 yards on 15 completions. The Hawkeyes held the Redbirds to just 231 total yards, 14 first downs and generated 10 tackles for a loss.
The Wolfpack ended 2014 by winning four out of their last five games, and coach Dave Doeren’s team picked up where they left off in the opener. NC State handled Troy 49-21 on Saturday with an impressive showing by both sides of the ball. The Wolfpack defense gave up a few big plays, but held the Trojans to 13 first downs, 1 of 9 on third-down attempts and forced two turnovers. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett was almost perfect, completing 21 of 23 throws for 196 yards and two scores. Additionally, Matt Dayes, Reggie Gallaspy and Jaylen Samuels picked up the ground attack with Shadrach Thornton suspended. NC State generated 251 rushing yards and scored five scores on the ground.
As expected, Ole Miss had zero trouble in its opener, dominating UT Martin in a 76-3 rout on Saturday afternoon. The quarterback position was under the spotlight throughout the offseason, and all three quarterbacks vying for the job in fall camp performed well. Chad Kelly took the first snap over DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan and finished with 211 passing yards and two scores on just nine completions. Kelly also added a touchdown run in the third quarter. The former Clemson and junior college quarterback has solidified his place at the top of the depth chart since spring ball, and the Rebels also showcased some punch on the ground in Week 1. Four players rushed for at least 50 yards, with the offense averaging 9.4 yards per rush against the Skyhawks. Yes, the quality of opponent has to be considered, but there were some positive signs for the Ole Miss offense in Week 1.
One of the weekend’s most overlooked performances has to be West Virginia’s 44-0 victory over Georgia Southern. While beating a team from the Sun Belt may not seem like a big deal, the Eagles are one of the preseason favorites in the league and nearly defeated NC State and Georgia Tech in 2014. The Mountaineers dominated from the start, never allowing Georgia Southern’s offense to get on track. West Virginia’s defense limited the Eagles to 74 yards in the first half, forced five turnovers and limited their rushing attack to just 3.4 yards per carry. In addition to a dominant showing on defense, the Mountaineers had zero trouble moving the ball on Georgia Southern. Dana Holgorsen’s group averaged 8.2 yards per play, which was the first time West Virginia eclipsed over eight yards a play since 2012. Quarterback Skyler Howard completed 16 of 25 passes for 359 yards, while receivers Shelton Gibson (3 for 130 yards, 1 TD) and Jovon Durante (3 for 121 yards, 1 TD) impressed as pass catchers.
Six Teams from the Group of 5 Ranks
The Mountaineers picked up where they left off last season, and as expected, easily handled Howard (49-0). The Week 2 test against Clemson will be an interesting game to watch.
Is this Norm Chow’s best team since taking over as head coach? Possibly. USC transfer quarterback Max Wittek guided the Rainbow Warriors to a 28-20 upset over Colorado in Week 1.
Mississippi Valley State isn’t the best judge of where New Mexico is, but the Lobos have enough pieces to push for a bowl this season.
We will have a better idea of where USF stands in Week 2 against Florida State, but the Bulls’ new offense averaged 7.7 yards per play, while the defense held Florida A&M to 182 total yards (2.5 ypp).
One of the weekend’s most overlooked games might have been Northern Illinois’ 38-30 win over UNLV. Again, it’s the opener so we have to be cautious with observations, but the Rebels – projected to be one of the worst teams in the nation – nearly knocked off last year’s MAC champion. That’s a good start for new coach Tony Sanchez.
Yes, the Roadrunners lost to Arizona, but for a team returning just three starters, UTSA gave the Wildcats all it could handle in a 42-32 defeat.
Its great to have football that matters back on our television, but let's be honest — Week 1 of the 2015 college football season didn't really show us anything we didn't already know.
TCU is supposed to be a national title contender. Minnesota is supposed to be one of the Big Ten's most formidable teams. Both looked the part, with TCU's Trevone Boykin showing flashes of what he is capable of against a defense we knew would be tough and might be the catalyst that propels Minnesota to the top of the Big Ten West. The end result was a tough, respectable road win for the Horned Frogs and a "good loss" for the Gophers.
We figured Michigan would look a little better — and the Wolverines did. That said, we also knew they had huge question marks at quarterback. Three interceptions later, those questions still remain. Utah is a tough out for most teams on most days, forget that it was under the lights at home for the Utes. This one went as planned, and we know nothing more about either team than we did a week ago.
We thought Notre Dame might be good and Texas might be bad. What we don't know is whether or not the outcome in South Bend on Saturday was because Notre Dame is really good or Texas is really bad. Perhaps both?
Surprise! Everett Golson still knows how to play quarterback at a high level. Not shocking, considering Golson is one of only two quarterbacks on a current FBS roster to start in a national championship game. He's proven winner and Florida State will probably be just fine once again in the ACC.
Alabama is still good enough to stop one-dimensional teams, especially with a full offseason to prepare for the game. Wisconsin is replacing a coach, last season's Heisman Trophy runner-up at running back and a handful of linemen. It’s tough to gauge the reality of their situation against Nick Saban's bunch.
UCLA is really good and so is their freshman quarterback — just like we thought they'd be. Yawn. Bring on the Pac-12 schedule already.
Nebraska might have looked better — I guess. We can't really tell, largely because we think BYU is pretty good. Or maybe they aren't. Were the Huskers able to stay in the game because of Taysom Hill's injury? Who knows? And then this thing ends on a Hail Mary. Perfect.
We knew Lane Stadium at night was tough. We knew Ohio State was really good but were without some of their best players. We knew Virginia Tech was loaded on defense. We knew it might be a close game early on. But we already knew that Ohio State was the top team in the country. The Buckeyes only reaffirmed this in a hostile environment. We did learn that Cardale Jones would be the starter, but for how long? Will Urban Meyer reverse the roles of Jones and J.T. Barrett from week to week, depending on the opponent?
Everyone else played close games or cupcakes. Most of the close games were expected to be close. Some teams took care of the cupcakes with ease. Some took a little longer to pull away. Some didn't pull away.
It was a lot to take in... or was it? I'm just not sure. It was one week, but you are going to read endless pieces between now and kickoff of the second week of games — most of which are going to talk about everything we learned.
And yet we learned nothing.
The NFL is back, and the competition off the field is nearly as heated as the competition on game day.
The Athlon Sports Pro Football Experts Club presented by New Era gives you the chance to compete with your friends and our experts each week.
Here are this week’s picks from Athlon Sports senior editor John Gworek:
Pittsburgh at New England
The last time these teams met, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger both threw for 400 yards. When Brady was still suspended, I picked Pittsburgh. Now that he’s playing, though …
Gworek’s Pick: New England, 38-30.
Miami at Washington
The Redskins turn to Kirk Cousins at quarterback, and odds are he will see a lot of Miami’s free agent prize, DT Ndamukong Suh, among other Dolphins.
Gworek’s Pick: Miami, 27-13.
Carolina at Jacksonville
Two already offensively challenged clubs were hit my injuries to their biggest weapons (Kelvin Benjamin for Carolina, Julius Thomas for Jacksonville). Don’t expect many fireworks.
Gworek’s Pick: Carolina, 16-10.
Seattle at St. Louis
The Rams beat Seattle at home last season, but the running game will be without top draft pick Todd Gurley and perhaps backup Tre Mason. Stick with the Seahawks.
Gworek’s Pick: Seattle, 23-20.
Kansas City at Houston
Brian Hoyer takes over at quarterback for the Texans, but top back Arian Foster is injured again. Kansas City hopes Jeremy Maclin can add some explosiveness to its passing game.
Gworek’s Pick: Kansas City, 26-21.
Indianapolis at Buffalo
Andrew Luck will test Rex Ryan’s defense in his debut as Bills’ head coach, but the Indianapolis defense is a good matchup for Buffalo’s ground-and-pound running game.
Gworek’s Pick: Buffalo, 24-23.
Cleveland at N.Y. Jets
Josh McCown vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t exactly make for must-see TV. The Browns offensive line is a strength, but the Jets defensive line can be dominant.
Gworek’s Pick: N.Y. Jets, 17-13.
Green Bay at Chicago
The Packers will miss Jordy Nelson, but Randall Cobb may return from injury in time for this one. Either way, Aaron Rodgers and Eddie Lacy should be enough to win in Chicago.
Gworek’s Pick: Green Bay, 30-17.
New Orleans at Arizona
The Cardinals are 13-2 in Carson Palmer’s last 15 starts, so keeping him healthy is all-important. The Saints made all kinds of changes around Drew Brees, who could miss departed Jimmy Graham.
Gworek’s Pick: Arizona, 27-20.
Detroit at San Diego
After losing big pieces on defense, the Lions need Calvin Johnson to stay healthy more than ever. San Diego hopes rookie Melvin Gordon can upgrade the running game.
Gworek’s Pick: San Diego, 24-20.
Baltimore at Denver
Will this season be Peyton Manning’s last stand? Look for Denver to try to keep him healthy by running the ball more. The Ravens drew a tough road trip to start and must go back out to Oakland for Week 2.
Gworek’s Pick: Broncos, 27-23.
Tennessee at Tampa Bay
Either top pick Jameis Winston and No. 2 selection Marcus Mariota will begin his career 1-0. Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin looked like his old self in preseason but needs to prove he can stay healthy.
Gworek’s Pick: Tampa Bay, 20-17.
Cincinnati at Oakland
This may look like the easiest game on the Bengals’ schedule, but traveling to the West Coast for an opener is dangerous. This will be closer than many think.
Gworek’s Pick: Cincinnati, 23-21.
N.Y. Giants at Dallas
DeMarco Murray is gone, but the Dallas offense should be just fine. Likewise, the Giants expect to be able to score with Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. together again. Can either team stop anyone?
Gworek’s Pick: Dallas, 31-27.
Philadelphia at Atlanta
Despite many new faces, Chip Kelly’s Eagles offense was rolling again in preseason. That’s bad news for a Falcons defense that has nowhere to go but up after last season.
Gworek’s Pick: Philadelphia, 30-24.
Minnesota at San Francisco
Adrian Peterson returns, joining Teddy Bridgewater on a Minnesota offense that could be sneaky good. San Francisco needs Colin Kaepernick to bounce back in a big way after the defense was gutted.
Gworek’s Pick: Minnesota, 24-16.
College football is back, and the competition off the field is nearly as heated as the competition on game day.
The Athlon Sports College Football Experts Club presented by Nexium & Advil gives you the chance to compete with your friends and our experts each week.
Here are this week’s top picks from Athlon Sports senior writer David Fox:
USF at Florida State
USF won six total games in 2013-14 by a combined margin of 26 points. The Bulls beat Florida A&M in their opener by 48. They’re better, but not good enough to challenge Florida State.
Fox’s pick: Florida State 42–14
Oregon State at Michigan
The loss to Utah revealed Michigan still has a host of problems on offense. Oregon State is in even deeper trouble than Michigan.
Fox’s pick: Michigan 28-14
Buffalo at Penn State
Penn State’s offensive line can’t get much worse than last week’s 10-sack effort against Temple. Then again, we said that about the offensive line last season. Buffalo has a solid veteran quarterback who will make this closer than it should be.
Fox’s pick: Penn State 21–17
Wake Forest at Syracuse
Syracuse quarterback Terrell Hunt is out for the season with a torn Achilles. He’ll be replaced by a freshman. In a matchup of the two worst teams in the ACC, that’s huge.
Fox’s pick: Wake Forest 24–17
Notre Dame at Virginia
The start of Virginia’s schedule may be tougher than the Cavaliers anticipated as UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Notre Dame’s Malik Zaire quickly take charger of their respective quarterback positions. The Cavs will look to shut down Notre Dame’s weakened run game, but the Irish defense could be dominant.
Fox’s pick: Notre Dame 31–13
Hawaii at Ohio State
The Buckeyes get Joey Bosa, Jalin Mashall, Corey Smith and Dontre Wilson back from suspension. Good luck, Hawaii.
Fox’s pick: Ohio State 49–10
Tulane at Georgia Tech
Don’t overthink it: Georgia Tech won its opener 69–6. Tulane lost its opener 37–7.
Fox’s pick: Georgia Tech 41–14
Georgia at Vanderbilt
Georgia lost in its last road trip to Vanderbilt 31–27, a game that seems like it was eons ago. Derek Mason’s involvement on defense may have improved that side of the ball, but the offense can’t get out of its own way.
Fox’s pick: Georgia 31–10
Fresno State at Ole Miss
This isn’t a vintage Fresno State team, but the Bulldogs are still much better than the team Ole Miss beat by 73 last week. Fresno presents a tougher test for Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly, but one he should pass.
Fox’s pick: Ole Miss 42–7
Middle Tennessee at Alabama
Alabama demolished Wisconsin on both sides of the ball in the run game and the quarterback play was efficient. Oh no, says the rest of the SEC.
Fox’s pick: Alabama 42–10
Iowa at Iowa State
The rivalry game actually carries some weight for the respective futures of coaches Kirk Ferentz and Paul Rhoads. Iowa has a big-time defensive difference maker in Drew Ott and the makings of a competent offense. Edge: Hawkeyes.
Fox’s pick: Iowa 34–21
San Diego State at Cal
Rocky Long’s defense is always tricky for opposing quarterbacks — the Aztecs had five interceptions against San Diego in the opener. It’s an interesting matchup between the Aztecs’ D and quarterback Jared Goff, but Cal should come out on top.
Fox’s pick: Cal 41–24
Oklahoma at Tennessee
Tennessee’s looking to make a big-time statement, but the Volunteers might not have the depth in the secondary to pull it off. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield was that impressive in Week 1.
Fox’s pick: Oklahoma 38–28
East Carolina at Florida
The Gators will face the Pirates for the second time in three games, winning the first matchup 28–20 in the Birmingham Bowl. This time around, Florida has a coach who hasn’t been fired and East Carolina doesn’t have Shane Carden or Justin Hardy.
Fox’s pick: Florida 38–14
Arizona at Nevada
Arizona’s defense was lost once Scooby Wright went down last week against UTSA. The Wildcats will need to learn to live without him for the next few weeks.
Fox’s pick: Arizona 35–24
Kentucky at South Carolina
The South Carolina defense would like to replicate last week’s key stats — three interceptions, four sacks — against Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles. The Wildcats, though, have the balanced attack that could give South Carolina trouble.
Fox’s pick: South Carolina 31–27
Oregon at Michigan State
Both defenses gave their fans reason to worry in matchups with directional schools — Oregon against Eastern Washington and Michigan State against Western Michigan. Michigan State over time has shown more reason for us to believe in the Spartans. New Ducks QB Vernon Adams had a nice debut, but Connor Cook is playing the part of a trusty veteran who has been in the system for four years.
Fox’s pick: Michigan State 31–21
LSU at Mississippi State
Dak Prescott dominated in this game a year ago and will need to do so again, given Mississippi State’s personnel losses on offense since last season. LSU’s opener was cut short and canceled. Is that an edge for Mississippi State or LSU? We say Mississippi State.
Fox’s pick: Mississippi State 24–17
Boise State at BYU
BYU moves on with Tanner Mangum at quarterback. Boise State may be the more complete team, but the Broncos can’t afford their offense to stall in the second half like it did last week.
Fox’s pick: Boise State 24–17
UCLA at UNLV
UCLA’s quarterback was in high school this time last year. So was UNLV’s head coach. Other than that, the two teams don’t have a ton of similarities.
Fox’s pick: UCLA 42–20
Last week: 15–5
Season to date: 15–5
When life throws you lemons, you're told to make lemonade. But what happens when life throws you something far worse, like say, the loss of an eye?
For one Alabama fan, the decision on what to do was quite easy.
Mary Bama Farr lost her left eye as a result of a plane crash in the 1970s. And although she's worn an ocular prosthesis ever since, she recently decided to add a bit of flair to the medical device.
Farr recently debuted a crimson-and-white ocular prosthesis that she plans to wear all season. Farr, whose middle name is Bama, is a graduate of the university.
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.
Athlon has teamed up with college fantasy veterans CollegeFootballGeek.com to help you dominate in 2015! Over the course of the season, CFG will be providing insight into their weekly value plays, as well as helping you identify the top waiver wire candidates to bolster your lineups.
Whether you play daily or season-long college fantasy football, CollegeFootballGeek.com (@CFFGeek) prepares you to win with the best advice, tools and customer service in the industry — they've been doing it since 2008. Click here to learn how you can subscribe to CFG for FREE.
Below, you will find AthlonSports.com contributor and CFG writer Mike Bainbridge's five best waiver wire pickups for Week 2. To see the full in-depth article of over 50+ players, make sure to check out CollegeFootballGeek.com.
Matt Davis (QB, SMU)
Despite losing to Baylor by five touchdowns, the SMU offense displayed a ton of potential against a top-5 team. Junior quarterback Matt Davis still has room to grow as a passer but showed off his dynamic ability to get out of the pocket and scramble (115 rushing yards). And you know how we feel about dual-threat quarterbacks... fantasy gold. The surrounding group of talent for Davis has also improved from a year ago, with promising freshman Courtland Sutton and Xavier Jones making waves in their first collegiate action. Once SMU gets into AAC play where teams don’t play a lick of defense, Davis’ numbers will take off.
Kenny Golladay (WR, Northern Illinois)
Golladay’s performance was certainly aided by the injury suffered by fellow receiver Tommylee Lewis, but the former North Dakota transfer is a huge (6-4) target and was getting consistently open in the win over UNLV. Golladay finished with nine receptions for over 200 yards with three catches going for 41 yards or more. If Lewis is out for any amount of time, Golladay’s stock rises considerably moving forward.
C.J. Prosise (RB, Notre Dame)
With Tarean Folston now out for the year, Prosise immediately shoots up the depth chart to the No. 1 spot. After spending much of last year in the slot receiver role, Prosise made a seamless transition to running back during the offseason and was looked upon by many as breakout candidate in college football in 2015. Against a formidable Texas run defense, Prosise looked as if he had been playing running back his entire career, rushing for 98 yards on 20 carries. With two inexperienced freshmen behind him, that puts the onus even more on Prosise to carry the rushing load for the Irish.
Nick Kurtz (WR, BYU)
Meet Mitch Mathews 2.0. All throughout fall camp, there was not one BYU practice report where Kurtz’ name did not show up. That preseason hype proved true against Nebraska, as Kurtz finished with 123 yards receiving and a pair of acrobatic catches that displayed the big-play potential. At 6-foot-5 Kurtz was a highly sought after JUCO transfer in 2014 with offers from the likes of Oregon, LSU and a host of other Power 5 schools, but was unable to contribute due to a lingering foot injury. Now fully healthy, Kurtz will line up across from Mitch Mathews on a consistent basis, giving BYU two high-level talents on the outside.
Marcus Marshall (BB, Georgia Tech)
Patrick Skov will be the primary B-Back in the Georgia Tech offense, but as we saw last year with combination of Synjyn Days and Zach Laskey (328 combined carries in 2014), the Yellow Jackets will frequently rotate two rushers at the position. Marshall, a true freshman, led the team in rushing in the opener with 184 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries, and now leads the country — albeit after just one game against Alcorn State — with a whopping 23 yards per carry average. Those numbers will come down to earth with stiffer competition on the horizon, but what a start for Marshall in his first collegiate game.
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and current writer for CollegeFootballGeek.com. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.
What did we learn in Week 1?
Braden Gall and David Fox recap all of the action from Week 1 and try to tell us what it all means? Should fans in the Big Ten or Pac-12 react to mediocre first weekends? How about Texas?
Which of the big injuries will hurt the most? How awesome really is Ohio State? What did we get dead wrong in Week 1 and who is in our very early Playoff Top 4.
Ohio State began the 2015 season in sterling fashion in Blacksburg, Va., defeating the Virginia Tech Hokies 42-24. The game was hyped by Ohio State fans as a revenge game, as Virginia Tech was the lone team to defeat the Buckeyes in 2014. The game also was noteworthy as four key Ohio State players (Joey Bosa, Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith) were suspended for the season opener, leading the college football world to wonder what type of effect the suspensions would have upon the Buckeyes.
Below are five thoughts that crossed my mind as I watched Ohio State defeat Virginia Tech...
1. Braxton Miller Is Just Getting Started
The dazzling highlights Miller produced against the Hokies are reminiscent of some of the plays he was able to create during the 2012 and '13 seasons. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer will do whatever possible to get Miller the ball in space, as his agility and speed can be used in a variety of ways in this offensive attack.
2. Ohio State's Defensive Line Will Be Better
The suspension of Joey Bosa impacted Ohio State's defensive line, as both Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes had opportunities to play in Bosa's absence. With Bosa returning, this should open up opportunities for other players to emerge, as Bosa will be demanding double teams from the opposition.
3. Cardale Jones May Offer More Risk At Quarterback
It was somewhat surprising that Jones was named the starter at quarterback. Jones' superior arm strength may open up the offense more in the vertical passing game, but it will bear watching as the season progresses how he develops, as J.T. Barrett will continue to get playing time this season.
4. Ohio State Needs To Take Care Of Turnover Issues
Against Virginia Tech, Ohio State suffered three turnovers (a Jones interception, a fumbled punt by Ezekiel Elliott, and a Bri'onte Jones fumble). This pattern of turnovers also was on display last season versus Alabama and Oregon. So far, the turnovers have not resulted in Ohio State losing a game, but it must be concerning to Meyer that his team has not been able to take better care of the football.
5. Ohio State Showed It Can Take A Punch
Falling behind at the half, Ohio State did not panic or go into a tailspin. Being able to focus, and rally on the road against a quality Virginia Tech team, was a positive sign for the fans as the 2015 season began.
— 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.
Week 2 of the 2015 college football season kicks off on Thursday night with WKU hosting Louisiana Tech in a potential preview of the Conference USA Championship in December. The slate continues on Friday with Utah hosting Utah State and Miami traveling to FAU. On Saturday, Michigan State-Oregon, Oklahoma-Tennessee and LSU-Mississippi State round out the key games for Week 2.
Conference Predictions for Week 2
College Football Week 2 Predictions
La. Tech at
Utah State at
Oregon State at
Indiana State at
Jacksonville State at
Western Illinois at
Kansas State at
Miami, Ohio at
Appalachian State at
Wake Forest at
Sacramento State at
Wash. State at
Notre Dame at
Fresno State at
Step. F. Austin at
Austin Peay at
Murray State at
E. Illinois at
NC Central at
North Carolina A&T at
Delaware State at
East Carolina at
Ball State at
Norfolk State at
Nicholls State at
Prairie View A&M at
C. Southern at
North Texas at
NW State at
Central Arkansas at
S. Alabama at
Georgia State at
Boise State at
Cal Poly at
It’s a season of change in Tallahassee and the new-look Seminoles were unveiled on Saturday night. There was some sputtering at times early on, but Florida State was never challenged by Texas State and cruised to a 59-16 win.
Despite the fact that they were playing Texas State, there were some things that really stood out with respect to the Seminoles. Here are five things we learned on Saturday night.
1. Everett Golson is the Quarterback
Head coach Jimbo Fisher said as much last week and he was true to his word. Sean Maguire did not enter the game until deep into the fourth quarter when the score was 49-16. It will be the same story going forward as Golson was very sharp, going 19-of-25 for 302 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. That is the Golson that Florida State fans were hoping to see.
2. There Was No Rust On Dalvin Cook
It didn’t matter that the sophomore from Miami was not eligible to practice until the middle of camp. Cook was in midseason form right away. He showed his patented burst, getting through holes and by defenders in a hurry, finishing with 156 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries (8.2 ypc). That’s a nice day.
3. Run Blocking of the Offensive Line
Golson did get sacked a couple of times, but the young offensive line had a good night. Cook had some big openings as did Mario Pender, who had 92 yards rushing of his own. In total the Seminoles ran for 286 yards and three scores.
4. The Defensive Front Was Active, But...
They still didn’t get to the quarterback. It wasn’t like Texas State QBs Tyler Jones and later Connor White were ever really comfortable in the pocket and Florida State did create several negative plays. The Seminoles also were able to really stuff the Bobcats' running backs, especially star Robert Lowe, who only had 13 yards on eight carries. But a defense that finished No. 108 in the nation in sacks last year had just one even though Texas State threw the ball 42 times.
5. Punt Returns
In the first half, Texas State successfully ran a fake punt that set up a field goal. On the next Texas State punt, Marquez White fumbled and the Bobcats recovered. Three plays later, the score was 14-10. Later in the quarter, Travis Rudolph fumbled a punt that was recovered by Pender. Fisher was visibly upset when interviewed at halftime and the crowd let out a mock cheer when Jesus Wilson fair caught a punt in the third quarter. This is an area that will be cleaned up and if it was going to happen in any game, this is the right one.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury that is cutting his season short for the third time in four years.
True freshman Tanner Mangum stepped in for Hill in a hostile environment engulfed in the loud Sea of Red, but Mangum displayed poise and confidence beyond his years, granted, those years are a tad bit higher than a typical true freshman as Mangum turns 22 on Tuesday.
Mangum stepped in for Hill after he went out early in the first half, and in his first few plays as a Cougar, made a nice throw and as the kids these days say, was low key shifty on the run. Hill then came back in and we all thought Mangum wouldn’t be seen from again, unless it was mop-up duty in a blowout game later in the schedule. Then of course, Hill went down again early in the fourth with the Cougars down by four.
To think of what Mangum pulled off is remarkable, and to do it in one of college football’s most storied venues makes it a fairy tale opening, and has Cougar fans chomping at the bit to see what’s next.
Most programs would have no hope for success after losing a star like Hill. But after what we saw in one game from Mangum, the Cougars still have an opportunity to put together a season that ends with more than eight wins, the total they’ve had the past three years.
Mangum is now in charge of leading this BYU team, and will look to build on the positive momentum coming out of the improbable victory in Lincoln. But one question many folks around the country are probably now asking is, who is this Tanner Mangum kid? Well, time to get familiar.
Mangum hails from the same state as Hill, the Gem State, Idaho. Mangum was a heralded recruit, considered the third-ranked quarterback in the country in the class of 2012 per Rivals. To understand how lofty Mangum’s recruiting status was, he was the co-MVP of the Elite 11 in the 2012 class with a guy you might remember, former Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Not bad company to be associated with I’d say.
With those impressive accolades, folks that follow BYU football closely have always been excited about the future prospects of the program with Mangum lining up as the Cougars’ signal-caller, they just didn’t want or expect this era to take center stage so soon. But now that it is here, folks are buzzing about the potential this guy has.
Hill was known as a dual-threat quarterback. He made significant strides as a passer, but where he made a name for himself was his elite running ability. Mangum doesn’t have many similarities when you compare him side-by-side to Hill. To describe Mangum’s style of play, think of BYU quarterbacks from yesteryear during the Air Edwards era. Or if you want a more recent comparison, look at Max Hall. These were all classic drop-back quarterbacks that can throw the football with precision and accuracy, and if needed, can pick up a first down on the ground with their legs in a pinch. That’s Mangum.
Mangum is nowhere near Hill’s level in terms of athleticism, and he would even tell you that. During a “SportsCenter” appearance on Sunday, Mangum said, “I don’t run a 4.4 40, but I’ll work hard, and I feel like I’m a student of the game.” That type of attitude from Mangum is one of the reasons head coach Bronco Mendenhall had such high praise for Tanner during fall camp last month. In fact, it wasn’t just praise, it was love. “Love, love, love, love, continued loves, Tanner Mangum.” That was the exact quote from Mendenhall after seeing Mangum through two practices in camp.
What makes this Hail Mary and story even more remarkable, is that less than 100 days ago, Mangum was serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the country of Chile. On LDS missions, players don’t train or use the time to mature physically. These missionaries only have 30 minutes to exercise in the mornings, that’s pretty much it when it comes to physical conditioning. Everything else done out on the mission field revolves around your commitments as an LDS missionary. Mangum himself said, he only threw a football a few times during his mission with some of the locals in Chile, but no conditioning or training like most high-level FBS athletes are engaged in during the offseason.
It’s difficult for returning missionaries that are also student-athletes to come back to perform at a high level right away, but Mangum has worked his tail off since he came home on June 3. Knowing that he had a great opportunity to take over as the second-string quarterback behind a starter who had suffered two season-ending injuries in the past, Mangum was preparing like he was atop the depth chart by studying relentlessly in the film room and preparing himself physically for when his number would be called.
Now that his number his been called, Mangum has already been elevated to star status in Provo. So how will he follow this up?
The Cougars will face Mangum’s hometown team, Boise State this Saturday in Provo, then a pair of road games with UCLA and Michigan. That was expected to be a tough stretch for a seasoned senior in Hill, so for a true freshman like Mangum, the odds of BYU coming out on the winning end of those games is probably not in its favor at this point. But hey, the odds weren’t in BYU’s favor when there was just one second left in regulation in Lincoln either.
It’ll be interesting to see where offensive coordinator Robert Anae steers this offense under Mangum. Do the Cougars go back to an Air Raid-style of offense, similar to Texas Tech from the Mike Leach days? Anae was an offensive line coach at Tech under Leach, and incorporated the pass-heavy attack at BYU in 2005 for the first month of the season. It’s an offense that might need to be considered because BYU’s running backs without Jamaal Williams after week one are nothing to write home about at the moment.
BYU will need to win games with Mangum’s arm. Luckily for the new starting quarterback, he has a talented receiving group to throw to that goes eight deep, and boasts a trio of wideouts that stand 6-foot-5 or taller in Mathews, Nick Kurtz, and Terenn Houk.
We will have a great idea of how this offense will look after Saturday night’s showdown with Boise State, but regardless of how the offense is executed the Cougars still have a bright future with this polished and poised man that has been training his whole life to become BYU’s next great quarterback.
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.
LOS ANGELES – In the same tunnel leading from the locker rooms to the Coliseum playing turf, Cam Smith strolls out in a fresh pair of Air Jordan XI. His black-and-red shoes walk on the same path where, four hours earlier, he carried onto the field the legacy of Trojans before him.
Smith's old-school Jordans, first released in 1995, weren't the only piece of throwback fashion he donned Saturday, the night of his USC debut. The freshman took the field in the No. 35, a jersey passed among especially tenacious linebackers from the late 1970s into the '90s.
Saturday marked a major milestone in the history of No. 35, with Smith starting at inside linebacker. He's the first Trojan freshman to do so since Riki Ellison (then Riki Gray), the man who started the 35 tradition in 1978.
“Cam is a natural playmaker at that position,” said head coach Steve Sarkisian, who hand-picked Smith to bring back the No. 35 tradition and gave him the historic starting nod Saturday. “He's a heady guy, got a good feel for the game, a solid tackler and he's probably a better athlete than people think.”
Smith demonstrated just such qualities with seven tackles, which tied for the team lead, and a pass breakup. It was a good, old-fashioned, all-around outing like previous 35s Ellison, Scott Ross or Jeff Kopp may have had.
Smith also was a more-than-capable replacement for Hayes Pullard, the Trojans' starter at inside linebacker the previous four seasons. Pullard was a stalwart of the USC defense, but even he had to grow into manning the middle of the corps. He started as a Will linebacker in 2011, his redshirt freshman campaign.
For Smith to start in the middle as a true freshman was truly a special accomplishment — and a milestone he learned of in a way none of his forerunners could.
“I saw a tweet about that,” he said.
OK, so not everything about Smith is a throwback. His exploits get immediate love his predecessors didn't thanks to Twitter, and Smith's handle @CamSC35 is sure to blow up with mentions as he continues to make plays.
The only one he might like to have back is his batted-down pass. After snagging several interceptions in offseason scrimmages, he had an opportunity to record his first official pick as a Trojan, and possibly walk into the end zone.
“He's not going to hear the end of it from my mouth,” teammate Su'a Cravens said with a sly grin. The preseason All-American Cravens made his own interception Saturday.
“He told me he was going to get a pick. He had his chance, and he dropped it,” Cravens added. “Can't drop those.”
Smith agreed. “I wish I would have had it back for my own sake," he said. "It's tough, but at least I got my hands on it and it was incomplete.
“But yeah, I'm definitely going to hear about it.”
Requisite teasing aside, Cravens has been one of Smith's most vocal supporters since the offseason. Cravens singled him out as the most impressive defensive freshman during the spring.
Smith's decision to graduate a semester early from Granite Bay (Calif.) High School, helped smooth the linebacker's transition from 4-star prospect to Week 1 starter.
“Coming in early was the right move,” he said, mentioning academics as well as football. “Having a semester under my belt feels good. I feel like I'm a step ahead.”
Smith's one step ahead was his first down the Coliseum tunnel. He'll take several more noteworthy steps in his USC career, and do so with old-school panache.
It was only one game.
For only the sixth time since 1962, the Nebraska Cornhusker football program debuted a new coach on its sidelines Saturday. It was a game very much anticipated by the fans and supporters of one of college football's most historically prestigious programs. They wanted to see the changes. They wanted to see the new-look, Mike Riley-coached version of the Huskers. And like in every home opener in the last 29 tries, they wanted to see a win.
When the game ended, both sides of Husker Nation were disappointed. Yes — both sides.
The Husker fan base is at war with itself — something I've rarely seen in college sports. On one side, you have the Kool-Aid-drinking eternal optimists, confident that every hurdle the program encounters is just part of the journey back to the top of the college football mountain. They believe in the program because they want to believe. It's the textbook definition of faith.
On the other side, you have a strange mix of something else. Some call them realists, while others call them "Bo-lievers" — a nickname given to the Bo Pelini supporters who did not want him fired and maintain to this day that he should not have been fired. They felt that the seven consecutive 9-win seasons he posted were good enough in today's college football world — a world much different than the one where Nebraska was competing for and winning national championships a decade and a half ago.
Neither side is willing to budge, with loud, outspoken ideologues on both sides leading the charge, shouting down the opposition the best they can, usually — and thankfully — with keyboards.
As the Hail Mary pass fell into the hands of BYU wide receiver Mitch Mathews to end the game, I calmly pulled up Twitter and Facebook on my phone and laptop and waited for the war of words to begin. And it did.
The Bo-lievers fired first, questioning the timeouts called by Riley and his staff right before the play. They followed it up with questions about the pass-rush (or lack thereof). They pointed out missed field goals. They pointed out the broken NCAA record home-opener winning streak and the fact that Pelini kept it alive.
The optimists fired back, citing injuries and uncalled or incorrectly called penalties. They pointed out Tommy Armstrong’s progress from last season. They pointed out that Pelini’s teams would have folded at halftime. They tried to stay positive.
Over in the fan groups and message boards, admins launched threats and acted on them. In one group, an admin threatened to ban anyone who bad-mouthed the coaching staff or administration — including those who posted any positive pictures or memes of Bo Pelini and negative ones of Riley.
In the football-crazed state of Nebraska, the Huskers are everything. The morale of the state runs parallel to what’s going on with the football team in the fall and early winter. Normally, the team is something for everyone in the state to rally around and be proud of. Nowadays, football Saturdays in Nebraska are filled with angst and some anger at your fellow man — simply because he has a different opinion about the program.
Many around the country envy the passion of the Nebraska fan base, but there is little doubt that it — along with high expectations — may also be having a detrimental impact on the program’s quest to get back to relevancy. Bo Pelini found that out the hard way, as he coached against both the teams on his schedule as well as the ghosts of coaches who came before him — both good and bad.
As I watched Mike Riley’s postgame press conference, I saw all of the weight that comes with coaching the Nebraska football program hit him. I watched him keep his poker face, doing his best to answer with class the same questions that caused his predecessor to openly and consistently fume. He’s never coached anywhere like Nebraska before, and the strain of holding back what he really wanted to say was showing through that almost military-like bearing.
The Nebraska-BYU game did little to unite a broken fan base. All it did was strengthen both sides of a divided house. One side’s argument against firing a winning coach got stronger from their point of view, while the other side’s support for Riley likely grew based on how the game ended — turning Riley into a somewhat sympathetic figure.
From the outside looking in, it may be difficult to understand the what’s and why’s of what is happening within the state of Nebraska and its football team’s fan base. But here in the heart of it, with a vantage point that can see and understand both sides of the argument, I find it all both incredibly fascinating yet sad. It will likely only get worse before it gets better.
And it was only one game.
I know this may not seem to be the most necessary post since the NFL season nor fantasy football has yet to officially begin. However there have actually been enough moves with trades and injuries to make the waiver wire something to be utilized already.
Perhaps you lost Jordy Nelson or Kelvin Benjamin for the season. Or maybe you assumed Robert Turbin was the backup for Marshawn Lynch prior to being put on the PUP list along with the Fred Jackson trade. Either way, a dominant draft is the first step in winning your fantasy football league, but dominating the waiver wire is equally as important each and every week.
I will be here to guide you each and every week with some players who are owned in less than 40 percent of ESPN.com leagues and could have an impact on your squad for the particular week, or rest of season.
Remember, many leagues were won last season with waiver wire additions of Odell Beckham Jr. and Justin Forsett. It may not happen that way this year, but each season there is always someone who comes out of nowhere to bring owners to fantasy glory!
I also should mention that I tend to utilize my bench spots for upside players, and a handcuff or two rather than filling it with solid but not start-worthy players. I would rather own Matt Jones than a Shane Vereen for example. You don’t have to employ the same strategy, but that is just how I do it. That being said we will jump right in to it, and I wish you all the best of luck this week and entire season.
1. David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals (38.4 percent owned per ESPN.com)
Johnson really should be owned everywhere. He had a fantastic training camp, and he is the backup to a well-known injury risk in Andre Ellington. If for some reason you own Ellington, or the owner who does did not add him I would put in a claim right away. Johnson is the definition of upside and just needing an opportunity to be an impact fantasy player.
2. Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Carolina (14.6 percent owned)
Payne like Johnson above had a nice training camp and is playing behind the equally injury-prone Jonathan Stewart. Payne should already be owned by all Stewart owners, but if they slipped up? Pounce on Payne like a cat with a catnip toy.
3. Danny Amendola, WR, New England (8.2 percent owned)
Amendola was a big part of the Patriots’ postseason run and with Brandon LaFell being placed on the PUP list (will miss at least the first six games), he should be a key cog in the offense. Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski will remain Tom Brady’s top targets, but Amendola can be another weapon.
4. Brandon Coleman, WR, New Orleans (13.6 percent owned)
Coleman is projected to be the No. 3 target in the Saints’ offense. Drew Brees spreads the ball around as well as anyone and with tight end Jimmy Graham gone the wide receivers should be plenty busy. Coleman looked great in the offseason and should provide some big weeks alongside Brandin Cooks and Marques Colston. Once again, this is an upside bench stash.
5. Ty Montgomery, WR, Green Bay (16.1 percent owned)
Montgomery isn’t getting the attention or Twitter love Jeff Janis (13.3 percent owned) is this offseason. Janis has had a solid camp, but he is still fourth on the Packers’ depth chart. Montgomery is No. 3 meaning he WILL be a regular piece of Green Bay’s potent offense that will be without Jordy Nelson. Let folks fawn and jump on Janis while you take Montgomery and hope for the best.
DST Streamer of the Week
I am a part of the streaming DST movement. I don’t typically waste a draft pick, unless I need to, in my drafts and instead cut someone and add a DST. Clearly the top defenses will be owned and not available, but streaming is always an option when it comes to DSTs. So each week I will be providing a DST that is owned in less than 30 percent of ESPN.com leagues and can be useful.
Tennessee Titans at Tampa Bay (1.1 percent owned per ESPN)
The Buccaneers have plenty of weapons on offense, but they also have a rookie quarterback who is likely to be making a few mistakes. When it comes a DST that is what you are hoping for. Sacks, fumbles and interceptions are the key, and although nothing is guaranteed the Titans make an appealing play this week.
(David Johnson photo courtesy of www.azcardinals.com)
— Written by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.