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The Rebels are an intriguing team to watch in 2015, as new coach Tony Sanchez was hired from the high school ranks to turn around a program that has played in only bowl since 2001.
Earlier this offseason, UNLV unveiled new helmets and uniforms, which highlight some of the perks of Vegas. And the field takes full advantage of the program’s location, featuring the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” logo in the endzone, as well as diamond designs on the yardage markers and a special 50-yard design to highlight the starburst from the endzone’s “Welcome to Las Vegas” logo.
Check out UNLV’s new Vegas-themed field design for 2015:
What do you think the punishment should be for IK Enemkpali's punch on Geno Smith?
The linebacker was released from the team, but Willie McGinest thinks he deserves a contract extension. He liked the passion and aggressiveness Enemkpali displayed. Although it would've been better if it wasn't against his on teammate, but maybe that's neither here nor there.
"I would have called him upstairs to give him a contract extension," McGinest said. "I want guys like that on my team to go to war with."
While that may be the kind of guy you want to go to war with, he's probably most likely to take his own man out due to friendly fire.
You know Tom Brady right? Quarterback of the Patriots, married to a supermodel, not too bad on the eyes (for some people).
Well this is not him.
This is the best the court artist could do when asked to sketch the face of the Patriots quarterback, and it sent the internet into a tailspin.
Wait, I knew I've seen that Tom Brady sad face before pic.twitter.com/a7cd0nE3hQ— Dave Rappoccio (@DrawPlayDave) August 12, 2015
Wow the courtroom sketch artist at the Tom Brady hearing is incredible. pic.twitter.com/RJknakKl1P— Donald Krump (@Jay_Sanin) August 12, 2015
DeflateGate is turning into a real thriller pic.twitter.com/KmY3Xv2Bej— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) August 12, 2015
Tom Brady. Woof! pic.twitter.com/KQ1AJZFavt— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 12, 2015
Here's a story Bout a QB named brady who was busy letting air out of his balls pic.twitter.com/43QAXYqJqS— Dave Rappoccio (@DrawPlayDave) August 12, 2015
Days like this it's fun to be on the internet.
It's good to have college teams practicing and coaches giving interviews again.
Steve Spurrier is definitely a fan favorite when it comes to all things college football, unless you really hate South Carolina. In an interview, the old ball coach decides to switch things up and gives totally different answers than the normal ones every other coach seems to give.
All coaches should be this honest.
The New England Patriots open their preseason on Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers in a rematch of one of the best regular season games of 2014. Of course, the starters will see limited time, the schemes will be simplified and the result won't mean much of anything, but there will still be plenty of players fighting for a roster spot in many wide-open position battles.
Here are five areas that could have direct impact on the Patriots' final 53-man roster cut in early September.
1. Jimmy Garoppolo
With Tom Brady's suspension still very much up in the air, we don't know for sure yet if Garoppolo will be starting the first four games of the season or no games at all. Regardless, Garoppolo's development is important to the franchise, and in his second year he should be expected to make strides in his decision-making and execution of the offense.
Garoppolo has gotten a fair share of criticism early in training camp for waiting a beat too long to deliver the football, but nothing can slow the game down for a quarterback than game experience. Whether Brady is available or not, Garoppolo will see plenty of action this preseason and if he shows positive strides everyone will feel a lot better about the quarterback situation going forward.
2. Jonathan Freeny, James Morris and the Backup Linebackers
Chris White was released on Monday, opening up a roster spot that has been filled the last two seasons. White had an extensive special teams role and occasionally saw some snaps on defense, so the door is wide open for guys like Freeny and Morris. Add in veteran Dane Fletcher being likely to open the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and there should be at least one or two new linebackers to make the 53-man roster.
Darius Fleming made some contributions last year as well and should have an inside track for a job, while Eric Martin was an offseason award winner and training camp standout before going down with an injury and missing the last few practices. With Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Jerod Mayo unlikely to play many snaps Thursday night, the backup linebacker group will see a ton of action. Try to keep a close eye on who's playing special teams and making the tackles.
3. Rookies on the Edge
The Patriots took three potential defensive ends in this year's draft — Geneo Grissom, Tre Flowers and Xzavier Dickson — which seemed a bit of a surprise considering they signed free agent Jabaal Sheard while already having stalwarts Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich entrenched as starters. The top trio of vets should see limited time, so we'll get a heavy dose of Grissom and Flowers on the edges of the defense.
Dickson hasn't had his name mentioned much at all in camp, so it will be good to get a sense of him as well. All three rookies are unknowns at this point, but early reports are that both Grissom and Flowers have seen time both at defensive end and interior rushers. How good those two are could specifically impact Jones' future as he enters the last two years of his deal. You can never have too many pass rushers and it would be great to see explosion and strength setting the edge from the rookies.
4. The Battle for the 4th Receiver Spot
Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are entrenched atop the depth chart at wide receiver, but after them the competition is wide open with Aaron Dobson, Brian Tyms, Josh Boyce and Brandon Gibson in the mix. As a second-round pick, Dobson should have the inside track, but after a strong start to camp he's once again missing time with a hamstring injury after having each of his first two seasons marred with injuries.
Tyms has made some plays of his own over his last year with the team and he does something Dobson does not — play special teams. But Tyms is battling an injury of his own, only missing two practices despite being carted off late last week. Boyce has always been on the bubble in his first three seasons, but has managed to stick by staying healthy. Then there's free agent Gibson, who has had an up and down camp, but boasts more experience than anyone else fighting for a job.
One or even two of these players should secure a roster spot, but all three are fighting through some kind of issues at the moment. Whoever can suck it up and turn some heads on Thursday night will take an early lead in this competition.
5. Rookie Guards Ready?
With Ryan Wendell still on the PUP list the Patriots have thrown two rookie guards, Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason, right into the fire with the first team offense. Belichick praised Mason as being ahead of the curve in the run game, but with a long way to go in the passing game. Jackson comes from a pro-style offense at Florida State and should be ready to start from the get-go.
Still, this will be their first NFL action and it will be most interesting to see how consistent Mason can be in both phases of the offense, while also getting a sense of how ready Jackson really is. This is a critical area of the Patriots' offense and there are a lot of unknowns right now.
Back in 2012, Urban Meyer's first recruiting class as head coach of Ohio State consisted of 25 players. As has already been discussed in length, 11 players are no longer with the program. This 44 percent departure rate is higher than "The Rule of Thirds," which is generally applied to recruiting classes when it comes to retention.
Even with an unusual number of departures, that still leaves 14 players who have remained a part of the Buckeyes program. Of this group, five are expected to contribute this season and possibly 2016, while nine are projected starters. Here are those players listed in order of when they verbally committed to Ohio State.
1. Warren Ball, RB
Ball was the second player of the 2011 class to verbally commit to Ohio State, doing so in September 2010. Originally committing to former head coach Jim Tressel, Ball remained a Buckeye through signing day 2012, despite the tumultuous events of '11. He redshirted in 2012, and his primary contributions to Ohio State have been primarily on special teams. Ball still has a year of eligibility remaining for the 2016 season if he wishes to use it.
2. Bri'onte Dunn, RB
Dunn also verbally committed to Tressel and the Buckeyes back in September 2010. Highly touted out of high school, Dunn wavered in his commitment to Ohio State, causing many to speculate that he would not sign with the Buckeyes on National Signing Day in February 2012. Ultimately, Dunn signed with Ohio State, yet has not played as much as expected. He saw limited action in 2012, redshirted in '13, and was an important member of the special teams units last season. Dunn was cited by Meyer for having a strong spring, and could be in the mix at tailback this fall as a backup for Ezekiel Elliott. Like Warren Ball, Dunn has a year of eligibility remaining for the 2016 season.
3. Devan Bogard, LB
Bogard suffered through an injury-plagued career at Ohio State, yet was highly respected by Meyer, the coaching staff and his teammates for his contributions on special teams. Bogard verbally committed to interim head coach Luke Fickell in June 2011, out of Cleveland Glenville. Bogard earned the honor of being the first 2012 freshman to lose his black helmet stripe, a gesture that indicates a freshman is ready to be a Buckeye. Bogard played special teams from 2012-14, yet sustained three knee injuries that effectively ended his playing career. Bogard is serving as a student intern for the Buckeyes for the 2015 season.
4. Cam Williams, LB
Williams originally committed to Penn State, but decided to re-open his recruiting in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and flipped to Ohio State in January 2012. Williams has played all three seasons, primarily upon special teams. He should see playing time as a backup linebacker this coming season.
5. Armani Reeves, DB
Like his friend and high school teammate Cam Williams, Reeves also was an initial Penn State verbal commitment who eventually flipped to Ohio State in January 2012. Reeves started three gamest at cornerback in 2013, but has seen the bulk of his action on special teams and in nickel coverage situations throughout his career. Similar to Devan Bogard, injuries also cut short Reeves' career, as multiple concussions forced him to give up playing. Reeves will serve as a student assistant this season.
Out of 25 signees, five players have contributed/will contribute to Ohio State in 2015, and possibly even into '16. This contribution rate of 20 percent is below the projected "Rule Of Thirds" criteria.
That leaves the final category, the starters. This group not only has names familiar to Ohio State fans, but also those who watch and follow college football in general.
1. Joshua Perry, LB
Perry was the very first player from this class to verbally commit to Ohio State, back in June 2010. Perry stuck to his word all the way up to signing day in 2012, and has developed into one of the team's strongest leaders. Perry has earned varsity letters all three seasons, and was the Buckeyes' leading tackler in 2014.
2. Jacoby Boren, OL
Boren was an early verbal commitment to Tressel, back in December 2010. Like his brothers Justin and Zach, who preceded him as Buckeyes, Jacoby Boren has endeared himself to the coaching staff and the fans with his toughness and no-frills demeanor. Boren will start at center this season, anchoring a dominant Ohio State offensive line.
3. Cardale Jones, QB
The only phrase I can use as I reflect upon Jones' Ohio State career is "surprising." Jones originally signed with Ohio State in February 2011 after being recruited by Tressel's staff, but spent the 2011 season at Fork Union Military Academy. Jones enrolled at Ohio State in January 2012, and to say that he did not endear himself to Meyer and the new coaching staff would be an understatement. The classic example of this is the infamous tweet from 2012 that seemed to define his early career. Jones redshirted in 2012, played sparingly in '13, and became a Buckeye legend for his performances during last season's national championship run. Jones will battle J.T. Barrett for the starting quarterback job, but win or lose, the man known as "12 Gauge" should be in line for substantial playing time in 2015. A junior, Jones, has two years of eligibility remaining, but he is widely expected to declare for the 2016 NFL Draft after this season.
4. Tyvis Powell, DB
Powell is another player who has endeared himself to Buckeye fans, for a variety of reasons both on and off the field. Powell was the first player to verbally commit to Ohio State after Tressel resigned, declaring his intentions to Fickell on June 1, 2011. Powell redshirted in 2012, and emerged as a starter in 2013 and '14. He began a knack for making big plays in 2013, none bigger than in THE GAME. Powell also had the interception at the end of the 2015 Sugar Bowl that sent Ohio State to the national championship game. Powell is roommates and best of friends with Cardale Jones, and has a year of eligibility for the 2016 season.
5. Pat Elflein, OL
Elflein was a verbal commitment to Fickell in July 2011. Elflein redshirted in 2012, and was primarily a backup in '13, until teammate Marcus Hall was ejected from THE GAME that season. Elflein became a full-time starter at right guard last season, earning All-Big Ten recognition. He will resume his starting role this fall and will have one more year of eligibility.
6. Michael Thomas, WR
Thomas verbally committed to Ohio State in October 2011. The nephew of former USC and NFL standout Keyshawn Johnson, Thomas was a teammate and roommate of Cardale Jones at Fork Union Military Academy shortly after committing to Fickell and the Buckeyes. Thomas played sparingly in 2012, redshirted in '13, and emerged as Ohio State's leading receiver last season with 54 receptions. A junior, Thomas will start at wide receiver this fall and will have a year of eligibility remaining.
7. Adolphus Washington, DL
Washington verbally committed to Ohio State literally days before Meyer was named head coach in November 2011. Washington has started 19 games for the Buckeyes, and will be a primary cog for the defense in 2015.
8. Tommy Schutt, DL
Schutt was a flip from Penn State by Meyer in December 2011, similar to teammates Cam Williams and Armani Reeves. Schutt is projected to start alongside classmate Aldolphus Washington at defensive tackle this season. Considering the departure of 2014 starter Michael Bennett to the NFL, Schutt has some rather large and important shoes to fill along the interior defensive line during his senior season.
9. Taylor Decker, OT
Decker was a flip from Notre Dame, after Ohio State co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Ed Warriner and tight ends coach Tim Hinton came on board with Meyer in January 2012. Decker played primarily as a backup as a true freshman in 2012, and was a starter in 2013 and '14. The senior left tackle is essential for the stability of Ohio State's offensive line.
Nine of the 25 signees, or 36 percent, in the 2012 recruiting class have developed into starters. In this regard, the starters have outperformed "The Rule Of Thirds."
The phrase "mixed results, yet major contributors" seems fair when one reviews the players who signed with Ohio State back in February 2012. Many of the recruits on the list stayed true to Ohio State with their commitments all the way from Tressel, through Fickell, to Meyer; while some came on board after Meyer was hired, flipping from their original commitments. No matter how the players arrived in Columbus, the 2012 recruiting class will always be looked upon fondly for their contributions to the 2014 national championship season, and will undoubtedly play a big part should the Buckeyes repeat that performance this fall.
— 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.
West Virginia will have its hands full in the first half of the 2015 season. Early games, which normally should be considered "tune-ups," instead will be against opponents that have the potential to produce upsets. October will be brutal and if the Mountaineers can come out at .500 or better at the end of that month, it could be a signature season for head coach Dana Holgorsen.
Depth and speed lead the Mountaineers into the 2015 season. But the Big 12 always has an answer. Here are West Virginia's 12 regular season games ranked from easiest to most difficult.
12. Nov. 21 at Kansas
The Jayhawks will simply not be any good this season. While Kansas is only two years removed from beating the Mountaineers in Lawrence, this year’s team is depleted of significant talent. The loss of both starting safeties and cornerbacks should allow the Mountaineers to throw at will.
11. Nov. 28 vs. Iowa State
While the Cyclones’ defense should be much improved from last season’s 125th-ranking, this team is still far from being competitive. West Virginia should be able to control the line of scrimmage and be successful in the run game. The Iowa State offense will struggle against a stout Mountaineer defense playing on its own turf.
10. Sept. 12 vs. Liberty
This should not be any more than a tune-up game for the Mountaineers. However, Liberty is not exactly a pushover either. The Flames are ranked No. 12 in Athlon Sports’ preseason FCS Top 25 and are coming off their first-ever playoff appearance last season. Liberty head coach Turner Gill is a seasoned veteran and will have his team ready. The Flames’ biggest threat, preseason all-American wide receiver Darrin Peterson, will have to deal with shutdown corner Daryl Worley and the Mountaineers’ size and speed will eventually stave off any chance of an upset.
9. Nov. 7 vs. Texas Tech
The Red Raiders travel to Morgantown at the end of a difficult three-game stretch. The Mountaineers will be much improved against the pass this season and their offense should be able to score against a rebuilding defense.
8. Sept. 5 vs. Georgia Southern
This game could be closer than Mountaineer fans would like. West Virginia has a tendency to come out of the gate slow and Georgia Southern returns a veteran backfield that led the nation in rushing last season.
7. Sept. 26 vs. Maryland
The Terrapins come to Morgantown for the first time since 2012. Maryland typically hasn’t fared well at West Virginia and the Terps’ key playmakers have departed. However, it is a rivalry game and anything can happen.
6. Oct. 10 vs. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys come to Morgantown on Homecoming weekend but have the potential to be significantly better than the team the Mountaineers handled 34-10 in Stillwater last season. While the Mountaineers should be favored, this game could go either way.
5. Dec. 5 at Kansas State
The Wildcats finish the season at home against the Mountaineers and don’t exactly have a tough November up to that point. The Wildcats have lost some playmakers, but you just don’t count out a Bill Snyder-coached team, especially on their own turf.
4. Nov. 14 vs. Texas
It’s the Longhorns, period. Texas has implemented a spread offense to accommodate Tyrone Swoopes’ abilities. This may not be the normal WVU vs. UT matchup you are used to seeing. Expect both teams to let loose.
3. Oct. 29 (Thursday) at TCU
These games have always been decided in the fourth quarter, usually with West Virginia coming out on the short end. This season West Virginia will face a veteran offense that will be as potent as any the Mountaineers’ defense will see in 2015.
2. Oct. 17 at Baylor
If you remember the last time West Virginia travelled to Baylor it was ugly — like men’s basketball against Kentucky in this year’s Sweet 16 ugly. There aren’t many deficiencies on either side of the ball for the Bears this season. It will not be easy for anyone to leave Waco with a victory.
1. Oct. 3 at Oklahoma
While Oklahoma may not be the most difficult team the Mountaineers will face this season, Norman is the toughest place to earn a victory. West Virginia opens up Big 12 play against the Sooners for the third straight year. Oklahoma simply plays a different kind of game at home.
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.
Training camps are always heated. Football players have been cooped up the whole offseason with no playing time.
On HBO's "Hard Knocks" the Texans and the Redskins got into a few scuffles during their scrimmage together. The main argument happened between Pierre Garcon and J.J. Watt. Why someone would try to square off against Watt is beyond me.
(Warning: The language is NSFW)
Later there was another run in. More words were exchanged and of course players had to be pulled apart.
Can you imagine what it's going to be like once the season actually starts?
In his two years as Florida State’s starting quarterback, Jameis Winston’s exploits (both on and off the field) created a renewed interest in the ACC, one arguably not seen since the Seminoles took down Michael Vick and Virginia Tech to win the national title in 1999. Sure, the ACC has always been a solid conference, consistently producing 10-plus-win teams and star players a la Calvin Johnson, Tajh Boyd, Russell Wilson, Giovani Bernard, et al.
Unfortunately, with the exception of the 2013 season, the ACC hasn’t produced the same results year-to-year as the Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC. However, with the likes of Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech in the conference, there will be no shortage of compelling matchups involving ACC teams anytime soon. With that, here are the ACC’s five most intriguing non-conference matchups for the 2015 season.
1. Virginia Tech vs. Ohio State, Sept. 7 (Monday)
There was no way this matchup couldn’t top this list. Ohio State is the defending national champions and return 14 starters, including an enviable duo at quarterback (J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones), an 1,800-yard rusher and potential Heisman candidate at running back (Ezekiel Elliott), two very reliable receivers (Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall) and the majority of a defense (anchored by All-American Joey Bosa) that ranked 26th in points allowed in 2014. The Buckeyes are so deep and talented that former QB Braxton Miller has made the shift to WR.
Virginia Tech on the other hand is a team searching for an identity on offense. The Hokies couldn’t consistently run or throw last season, ranking 77th and 89th nationally in rushing and passing offense, respectively. Quarterback Michael Brewer showed flashes last season (345 yards, 2 TDs vs. Boston College), but was far too inconsistent, throwing almost as many picks (16) as touchdowns (18). Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips are a productive pair at WR, but with both averaging less than 13 yards per catch, they’re rarely going to burn opposing DBs.
However, for all of the uncertainty that plagues the offense, Virginia Tech’s defense is the polar opposite. Led by ultra-disruptive defensive ends Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem (18.5 combined sacks in 2014) and All-American corner Kendall Fuller, Bud Foster’s boys are arguably the best unit in the ACC, and could single-handedly make this game interesting. Oh, and in case you forgot, the Hokies just happen to be the last team to defeat the Buckeyes, knocking them off in one of 2014’s biggest upsets, 35-21 in Columbus last September. Despite winning a national championship, you can bet the Buckeyes will still be sore and hungry for revenge after the Hokies gave them their only blemish on an otherwise-flawless 2014 resume.
2. Clemson vs. Notre Dame, Oct. 3
If you like offense, this game has the potential to be a real treat. Both teams scored in bunches last season (Clemson with 30.8 ppg, Notre Dame 32.8), and could easily match or surpass that type of point production in 2015. Deshaun Watson and Malik Zaire are both dual-threat talents and each has a wealth of talented weapons to throw the ball to. For the Fighting Irish, Will Fuller (76 rec., 1,094 yds., 15 TD in 2014) leads the way, while the Tigers feature the potent duo of Mike Williams (57-1,003-6) and Artavis Scott (76-965-8).
This matchup also features two coaches who definitely know how to win ball games. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly both have a career winning percentage of over .700. Despite this, both Swinney and Kelly have somewhat underachieved. During the BCS era, even with wildly talented teams, the two went a combined 1-4 in BCS bowls (well, technically 1-3 since Kelly left Cincinnati for Notre Dame prior to the 2009 Sugar Bowl). Kelly did manage to get the Irish over the hump in 2012, but they were crushed by Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game.
Both coaches have potent offenses and solid defenses at their disposal this season; could this be the year one of them breaks through and wins it all? With both teams dark-horse candidates to crack the College Football Playoff this season, a win here could be a critical victory on the quest to cracking the bracket. A loss, on the other hand, definitely puts a dent in that team’s national title aspirations.
3. Louisville vs. Auburn, Sept. 5 (Atlanta)
On paper, this may not seem like much of a game. Auburn is one of several early favorites to crack the College Football Playoff, and potentially compete for a national title. While Will Muschamp flamed out as a head coach at Florida, he was a hell of a defensive coordinator in his previous stop at Auburn, and then at Texas. So, when Auburn hired him shortly after Florida sent him packing, you knew a defense that returns eight starters was definitely going to be on the fast-track to improvement. Throw in arguably the top offensive head coach in the college ranks in Gus Malzahn, ready-for-the-spotlight stud QB Jeremy Johnson, and home-run threat wideout D’haquille Williams, and you can’t fault folks for being so high on these Tigers.
Louisville on the other hand, faces much more uncertainty. Reggie Bonnafon has only barely separated himself from the rest of the quarterback candidates. Even if he holds onto the starter’s spot, who does he play catch with? James Quick should be that guy, but he’s struggled with drops and inconsistency while trying to live up to the hype of a 4-star recruit out of high school. Brandon Radcliff is a heck of a back, but if Bonnafon (or whoever else) can’t throw the ball downfield, opposing defenses are sure to stack the box to shut Radcliff down. That, coupled with an O-line that only returns three starters, may force the Cardinals to rely on their defense to be successful, until the offense comes around.
That being said, this defense was one of the nation’s best in 2014, allowing 21.8 points. They should be just as ferocious in 2015 with six returning starters, led by DE Sheldon Rankins (8 sacks in 2014), and former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields (10 sacks as a freshman at TCU in 2012). With such a potent defensive unit, Louisville could definitely send Auburn home with a loss if the Tigers choose to overlook the Cardinals.
What makes this game even more intriguing is the implications that the final outcome could have for each squad. For Auburn, a team with national title hopes, a loss to a projected middle-of-the-pack ACC squad could potentially be disastrous, while a win would hardly be impressive to the Playoff committee. For Louisville, a loss would be disappointing, yes, but a win over a potential national championship contender early in the season would be a major confidence boost, setting them up for a run at the ACC Atlantic Division title.
4. North Carolina vs. South Carolina, Sept. 3 (Thursday, Charlotte, N.C.)
What better way to kick off the 2015 season than with a border battle between the flagship universities of the Tar Heel State and the Palmetto State? Unfortunately, both programs have been spinning their wheels the past few seasons; North Carolina has dropped from 8-4 in Larry Fedora’s first season (2012) to 6-7 last season. South Carolina slipped from 11-2, a Capital One Bowl win, and a No. 4 final ranking in 2013 to just 7-6 last season.
Strangely enough, it’s this downward trend that adds so much intrigue to this game, as both teams will be desperate to start 2015 on a high note. Both teams were eerily similar statistically speaking last season. Neither had any real issue scoring — North Carolina put up a solid 33.2 points per game, while South Carolina posted 32.6. The problem was, that neither team could stop anyone either. The Gamecocks finished 92nd in the nation in total defense, allowing 432.7 yards per game. As bad as the Gamecocks were on defense, the Tar Heels were downright embarrassing, finishing 117th (out of 125 FBS teams) in the nation, allowing a ridiculous 497.8 yards per game. Yes, you read that correctly; nearly 500 yards against per game.
Both teams made changes in the offseason to remedy their defensive woes; North Carolina hired former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator. Chizik had major success as a DC in the past; at Auburn in 2004, his defense led the nation in scoring defense, giving up a minuscule 11.3 points per game. As co-defensive coordinator at Texas in 2005-06, the Longhorns only gave up 16.4 points per game en route to a national championship.
South Carolina reached out and hired former Steve Spurrier assistant Jon Hoke to help the Gamecocks’ defense. Hoke worked with Spurrier at Florida, and most recently was the defensive backs coach for the Chicago Bears. Led by Hoke, the Bears’ picked off 43 passes from 2012-13. With these hires, both defenses should be improved in 2015. But, the bread and butter of both teams is offense, and this is where North Carolina should have a major edge. South Carolina must replace QB Dylan Thompson and RB Mike Davis. Connor Mitch was a stud quarterback in high school, but he attempted just six passes in 2014 (less than WR Pharoh Cooper). Conversely, the Tar Heels return nearly their entire offense, including the cherry on top, all-world QB Marquise Williams. Yes, it’s only the first game of the season, but a win here should provide a major confidence boost for two programs desperate to start off on the right foot.
5. Virginia vs. Boise State, Sept. 25 (Friday)
After three consecutive losing seasons, 2015 is quite possibly a do-or-die affair for Virginia head coach Mike London. Sure, the Cavaliers improved from 2-10 in 2013 to 5-7 last season, but with a brutal non-conference slate on tap, things aren’t exactly looking rosy for London this fall. However, the tough opening month could be a blessing in disguise for London and the Cavaliers, as it affords ample opportunities for potentially job-saving wins.
Arguably the most winnable of those non-conference matchups will take place towards the end of September, when Boise State rolls into Charlottesville. Does Virginia have a chance? Sure, simply based on the fact that no opponent is unbeatable. To be fair, though, the Cavs’ chances for a win don’t appear to be that great. Boise State was a ridiculously young team last season with a new head coach, and still finished the season with a 12-2 record, a win in the Fiesta Bowl, and a No. 16 final national ranking.
The Broncos have a few question marks, namely at quarterback and running back. Ryan Finley will look to successfully replace Grant Hedrick under center. While Finley didn’t exactly set the world on fire last season in limited opportunities (12-for-27, 2 TD, 1 INT), he should be just fine, after spending a season learning the ropes from head coach Bryan Harsin. After all, Harsin was the offensive coordinator that helped guide QB Kellen Moore, unquestionably the greatest player in Broncos history. The Broncos also must replace All-American RB Jay Ajayi, who was an absolute terror for opposing defenses last season (1,823 yards rushing, 28 TD). The Broncos don’t have a clear-cut replacement and will most likely utilize a committee approach in 2015. That being said, Boise State is a veritable running back factory, and it shouldn’t be too long before Ajayi’s replacement emerges.
On the other side, Boise State’s defense returns eight starters, including four all-Mountain West performers. With an offense that ranked 88th in scoring last season, if the Cavaliers have any hope of taking down the Broncos, they will probably have to do most of the work on the defensive side of the ball.
Virginia has lost a ton of defensive talent last year (NFL Draft picks Henry Coley, Eli Harold and Max Valles combined for 24 sacks in 2014); however, the cupboard is not bare. Safety Quin Blanding was a Freshman All-American in 2014, and led the Cavs in tackles (123). DE Mike Moore and DT David Dean also return as the key pieces up front from a unit that finished 18th against the run last season. While the D won’t measure up to last year’s, it should have enough depth to give Boise State’s offense fits. If the offense can find any sort of pulse, and the defense can force Boise State’s unproven playmakers into miscues, Virginia could sneak away with a signature win, and perhaps, even just for a week, make the head coach’s seat a little cooler.
— Written by Andrew Bursey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network.
Quarterback is the toughest position to play at any level. And regardless of team or conference affiliation, college football quarterbacks are always under the spotlight to produce. Good quarterback play or improvement at the position could be the difference between winning a national title or finishing outside of the playoff mix.
Even though quarterbacks are always under the spotlight, there’s always a few names that fly under the radar every preseason. 2015 is no different, as names like NC State’s Jacoby Brissett, Arkansas’ Brandon Allen, Memphis’ Paxton Lynch or Colorado’s Sefo Liufau earn a spot on Athlon’s list of underrated quarterbacks to watch this fall.
College Football's 10 Most Underrated Quarterbacks for 2015
Brandon Allen, Arkansas
With a strong defense and rushing attack in place at Arkansas, Allen isn’t going to be asked to throw for 300 yards or more on a weekly basis. But Allen’s 2014 season was largely overlooked in the SEC. In 13 games, Allen threw for 2,285 yards and 20 scores and tossed only five picks on 339 attempts. A shoulder injury limited Allen in 2013 but he rebounded with a solid 2014 campaign and should benefit from the addition of Dan Enos as the Razorbacks’ new coordinator in 2015. The senior won't have to carry the offense with his arm, but Allen's efficiency and the ability to limit turnovers will be huge for Arkansas' hopes of moving up in the SEC West standings.
Jacoby Brissett, NC State
Even though Florida State’s Jameis Winston is off to the NFL, the ACC is one of college football’s top quarterback leagues for 2015. North Carolina’s Marquise Williams, Florida State’s Everett Golson, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Miami’s Brad Kaaya and Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas are getting the bulk of the preseason headlines among ACC quarterbacks, but Brissett shouldn’t be overlooked. In his first year as the Wolfpack starter, Brissett threw for 2,606 yards and 23 scores. He also tossed only five picks (fewest among full-time ACC starters) and ranked fourth in the conference in quarterback rating.
Drew Hare, Northern Illinois
Hare may not be as dynamic or productive as Jordan Lynch or Chandler Harnish, but the Missouri native should challenge for a spot among the top quarterbacks in the MAC this year. In 14 games last season, Hare threw for 2,322 yards and 18 scores and recorded 900 yards on 159 rushing attempts. Hare didn’t open the year as the starter, but he led the offense over the final 12 games and guided Northern Illinois to a 7-1 mark over its final eight contests. Even though the MAC has plenty of proven options – UMass’ Blake Frohnapfel, Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson and Western Michigan’s Zach Terrell – returning for 2015, Hare shouldn’t be overlooked among MAC quarterbacks.
Driphus Jackson, Rice
David Bailiff has elevated Rice into one of the top programs in Conference USA’s West Division, as the Owls have won at least seven games in each of the last three years. Jackson showed promise as a reserve in 2012-13 and thrived in his first season as a starter in 2014. In 13 appearances, Jackson threw for 2,842 yards and 24 scores, while his 401 rushing yards ranked third among Rice players in 2014. The Owls return only seven starters this season, but Jackson’s emergence should keep Bailiff’s team in the mix for the West Division title.
Taylor Lamb, Appalachian State
Appalachian State’s quick transition to the FBS level was capped by a six-game winning streak to close 2014. Lamb didn’t open the year as the starter, but he passed Kameron Bryant on the depth chart early in the season and guided the offense to an average of 35 points per game in Sun Belt contests in 2014. Lamb threw for 2,381 yards and 17 touchdowns last season and added 483 yards and four scores on the ground. After earning Sun Belt Freshman of the Year honors in 2015, Lamb should push for all-conference honors behind an explosive (and experienced) offense this year.
Joe Licata, Buffalo
Buffalo hit a home run with the hire of Lance Leipold as the program’s new head coach. Under Leipold’s watch, Wisconsin-Whitewater won 109 games from 2007-14 and had one of Division III’s most prolific offenses by averaging 40.1 points per game last season. The addition of Leipold and coordinator Andy Kotelnicki should be a boost to Licata as he hopes to close out his career with a huge season and guide the program to another bowl trip. Licata has been steady for the Bulls over the last three seasons, recording back-to-back years of at least 24 passing scores. The senior is quietly one of the better quarterbacks in the MAC and should end his career as Buffalo’s all-time leader in passing yardage.
Sefo Liufau, Colorado
Good quarterback play and explosive offenses are the norm in the Pac-12. This season, the league is loaded with intrigue and proven options at quarterback, starting with USC’s Cody Kessler and California’s Jared Goff. And the depth in the league extends to Arizona’s Anu Solomon, Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici and Stanford’s Kevin Hogan. Considering Colorado is just 6-18 over the last two seasons, Liufau can be lost in the mix when examining the top quarterbacks in the Pac-12. However, in his first full year as the starter in 2014, Liufau threw for 3,200 yards and 28 scores. Additionally, Liufau completed 65.3 percent of his passes. By no means is the junior a finished product, but Liufau is a reason for optimism and improvement for Colorado in 2015.
Paxton Lynch, Memphis
Lynch has been a key cog in Memphis’ rebuilding efforts under coach Justin Fuente and should push Cincinnati’s Gunner Kiel and Navy’s Keenan Reynolds for top honors among American Athletic Conference quarterbacks in 2014. Lynch redshirted in 2012 and took his share of lumps during a rebuilding year for Memphis in 2013. However, behind a solid defense and an offense that averaged 36.2 points a game, the Tigers surged to a 10-3 mark in 2014. Lynch threw for 3,031 yards and 22 scores last season, including 306 yards in the bowl win over BYU. And despite his size (6-foot-7), Lynch has surprising mobility (321 yards and 13 rushing scores). Expect Lynch to only get better under Fuente’s watch in 2015.
Sam Richardson, Iowa State
The Big 12 has several new faces slated to step into the lineup at quarterback in 2015. TCU’s Trevone Boykin is the unquestioned No. 1 option in the league, but new faces like Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Baylor’s Seth Russell and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes are under the spotlight in their first full year as the starter. Richardson ranks second among Big 12 quarterbacks in career starts and threw for 2,669 yards and 18 touchdowns in 11 games last season. Injuries to the offensive line and receiving corps hit the Iowa State offense hard in 2014, but with Richardson more comfortable in coordinator Mark Mangino’s scheme and better health from the supporting cast in 2015, the senior should post the best statistical season of his career.
Related: Big 12 Quarterback Rankings for 2015
Nate Sudfeld, Indiana
Sudfeld’s 2014 season was derailed by a shoulder injury suffered in the 45-29 loss to Iowa in early October. Prior to his injury, Sudfeld had 1,151 yards and six passing scores and guided the Hoosiers to at least three games of at least 30 points scored in the first half of 2014. While Sudfeld’s 2014 season ended in disappointment, there’s plenty of promise ahead for 2015. After all, Sudfeld threw for 2,523 yards and 21 touchdowns for Indiana in 2013. The receiving corps is a concern, and running back Tevin Coleman will be missed. However, Sudfeld’s return should be a boost for the Hoosiers’ bowl hopes this season.
Ah, social media. There's a good and bad side to it, and here's some of the bad.
It seems that Michigan's social media account for football, basketball, and athletics were hacked at some point this morning. There were tweets and updates about Kim Kardashian, sex, tattooed moms, and more. Unless Michigan is into that kind of stuff, it's pretty safe to say they were hacked.
Once someone behind the accounts noticed the error, they quickly tweeted out what we all knew.
Fans of U-M Athletics: We want to acknowledge that our Facebook pages for Michigan Football, Basketball, and Athletics have been hacked.— Michigan Football (@umichfootball) August 12, 2015
One second is too late in the generation of screen shots.
Even though we all thought the hacked saga was over, as of 12:20 pm ET, they're still going on.
The AFC South was very unbalanced last season, with the Colts and Texans well ahead of the Jaguars and Titans. Indianapolis has dominated the past two seasons, and they don't seem to be in any type of regression this year. They have the only truly established quarterback in the division. With the Colts as the favorite, can any of the other teams compete with them? Will the Jaguars and Titans get better, or will they finish near the bottom of the NFL again?
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC South breaks down entering the 2015 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Texans, Colts, Jaguars and Titans.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
“In his first season, Bill O’Brien managed a difficult QB situation and rode the Texans’ opportunistic defense to nine wins last year. Ryan Fitzpatrick moved on to the NY Jets, so they signed Brian Hoyer from Cleveland and will now have two quarterbacks with New England ties battling for the position."…
"Maybe the greatest Texan in club history, WR Andre Johnson departed in free agency and will face his old club twice a year as a member of the Colts."…
"DeAndre Hopkins took over as the No. 1 receiver last fall and he will get support from newly acquired Cecil Shorts (from the Jaguars)."…
"RB Arian Foster ran for 1,246 yards and eight touchdowns, but missed three games, and that allowed Alfred Blue to sub in and gain 528 yards of his own. Foster’s injury history is always a concern, but Blue showed the ability to be a competent stand-in, if something happens long term."…
"The offensive line did enough to help Houston rank fifth in rushing (135.1 yards per game) and tied for fourth in fewest sacks allowed. LT Duane Brown has proven himself to be a quality NFL player, while second-round pick Xavier Sua’Filo is expected to become a starter at LG this year."…
"Despite not getting anything from No. 1 overall choice Jadeveon Clowney, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel maximized the use of all-world DE J.J. Watt and he dominated with 20.5 sacks, five fumble recoveries and a pick-six. He is truly a special player and arguably the top player in the league."…
"Clowney had microfracture surgery, so his effectiveness and long-term impact will be questioned until he can get on the field and prove himself."…
"The Texans signed Vince Wilfork to be part of their rotation and train up last year’s third-round pick, Louis Nix."…
"LB Brian Cushing continues to play at a high level, but Whitney Mercilus has been just OK in his first three years."…
"CB Kareem Jackson was re-signed before he hit the market and Jonathan Joseph has been a solid addition for GM Rick Smith."…
"They drafted Wake Forest CB Kevin Johnson in the first round as the future at the position."…
"’QB and Clowney sum up the major questions for the Texans to surpass nine wins in 2015. O’Brien can figure out the first part in time, but many have serious concerns about Clowney living up to his draft status as an available, big-time player.”
“Chuck Pagano has a 33-15 record through three seasons with the Colts, yet he will go into 2014 on the last year of his deal."…
"You get the sense that everyone here feels the pressure of advancing one more step to the Super Bowl and anything short of that goal will result in major coaching staff changes."…
"With that said, they used Pagano’s University of Miami background to sell RB Frank Gore and WR Andre Johnson on the idea that this is a team ready to win a ring. Gore continues to defy the odds at his age and with significant knee issues earlier in his career, while Johnson should have enough left to take some of the onus off T.Y. Hilton, one of the most exciting and productive players in the NFL."…
"Watch out for WR Donte Moncrief, the third-rounder from Ole Miss, who flashed as a rookie with 32 receptions and three touchdowns."…
"And yet, they had a curious first-round selection in Miami speedster, Phillip Dorsett."…
"The tight end group is very solid with Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and Jack Doyle."…
"The offensive line is adequate at best with no dominant player in the starting five."…
"The central figure for the entire organization is Andrew Luck. He is a transcendent talent that makes every responsibility of being a QB look easy, on and off the field."…
"Every level of the defense could use a boost."…
"Upfront, they will use a ‘wave’ of defensive linemen."…
"They are hoping DE Robert Mathis can return to form after missing 2014 with a suspension and Achilles tear."…
"Former 2013 first-round choice Bjoern Werner had four sacks last year, but must continue to improve as a rusher."…
"Trent Cole was signed during free agency, but he’s on the back nine of his career."…
"Jonathan Newsome quietly came around as the 2014 season unfolded with 5.5 sacks in the final eight games."…
"The corners are better than average with a pass rush and when healthy. The trade for Vontae Davis has worked out well and people inside the building really like Greg Toler."…
"Safety is a huge hole on their depth chart and they passed on Alabama’s Landon Collins in the draft."…
"The hope is that between the veteran and rookie additions this offseason, it will be enough to advance the Colts another rung up the ladder and Pagano will continue as their coach.”
“Owner Shad Khan appears to be in lockstep with head coach Gus Bradley and GM David Caldwell, but after a 3-13 season in 2014, the urgency to take a big step forward is there for this next season."…
"Bradley has done an impressive job of keeping the team’s focus and energy high, but the truth is, the results must improve and almost the entire operation is riding on QB Blake Bortles."…
"Originally, they planned to let him sit behind Chad Henne, but that lasted all of three weeks and the No. 3 overall pick in 2014 was inserted into the lineup. With rookie receivers, no legitimate running game and a porous line, Bortles did well to survive with 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions."…
"The Jags found three rookie receivers in Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns that should develop on the same track as Bortles."…
"At TE, they spent a boatload on free agent and former Bronco Julius Thomas and Marcedes Lewis re-upped, so they should be set there."…
"OT Luke Joeckel bounced back from appearing in only five games as a rookie and opened all 16 in 2014. A capable line is in the works with LG Zane Beadles and RG Brandon Linder."…
"Second-round pick RB T.J. Yeldon should be an instant starter and will pair off with Denard Robinson."…
"Greg Olsen is the new offensive coordinator and he is charged with pulling this group out of the bottom of the barrel (31st in yards and 32nd in points)."…
"Defensively, they spent the third pick in the draft on Florida's Dante Fowler Jr. and he will be a star player in the league."… [Editor's note: Fowler is out for the season after tearing his ACL during rookie minicamp.]
"This unit has made incremental strides under Bradley and Bob Babich, but they have been woefully short in terms of having difference-making talent."…
"DT Sen’Derrick Marks tore an ACL in the last game of the season, but he is an underrated player and along with Tyson Alualu and newly signed FA Jared Odrick, this group should be better."…
"LB Paul Posluszny is a steady-Eddie, while Telvin Smith proved to be a nice late-round pick in 2014."…
"CB Aaron Colvin returned from a pre-draft knee injury to play in the final six games and should line up opposite of Dwayne Gratz or Davon House, who was signed from Green Bay."…
"Jonathan Cyprien and Sergio Brown will man the safety spots."…
"It’s obvious things intensified with ownership after the season, because it felt like Bradley was forced to rebuild his offensive staff."…
"The bottom-line here is that the Jags had a minus-26 sack differential, despite the defense having 45, which tied for sixth in the league.”
“After the Buccaneers selected Jameis Winston as the No. 1 overall choice in this year’s draft, the entire league focused on what the Titans would do at No. 2."…
"Now, we know the answer, they opted to stay put and pick Marcus Mariota and will attempt to get him up to speed as fast as possible in terms of transitioning from the spread he ran at Oregon to a more traditional NFL offense."…
"Jake Locker was a free agent, but retired unexpectedly, and Zach Mettenberger went 0-6, before going down with a shoulder last season, so the Mariota pick really makes sense."…
"RB Bishop Sankey was disappointing as a rookie (569 yards/3.7 ypc/2 TD), but part of his struggles were tied to an underachieving offensive line that should be improved in 2014 with Taylor Lewan firmly entrenched at left tackle, a healthy rebound from Andy Levitre at LG and Chance Warmack rounding back into shape at RG."…
"They signed Byron Bell from Carolina in the second wave of free agency as a stop-gap fix at RT."…
"TE Delanie Walker has more to give with better QB play, he caught 63 passes and four touchdowns despite the passing game issues last year."…
"The Titans do not have a legit No. 1 wide receiver, however, they do have hope for the continued development of Kendall Wright (57 rec./6 TD) and Justin Hunter (28 rec./17.8 ypc/3 TD) and drafted former Missouri WR Dorial Green-Beckham (6-5, 237), who hasn’t played since 2013 due to off-field issues."…
"Ken Whisenhunt has to fix an offense that finished 30th in points (15.9 per game) and 31st in third down conversions (30.1 percent)."…
"Dick LeBeau arrives from Pittsburgh and will orchestrate the defense even though Ray Horton has the coordinator title."…
"Tennessee added three free agents of note in former Redskins pass rusher Brian Orakpo, Bills safety Da’Norris Searcy and 49ers cornerback Perrish Cox."…
"In addition, they re-signed OLB Derrick Morgan, so if all of these veterans can stay healthy, LeBeau may have enough to work with here."…
"The Titans ranked 31st against the run (137.2 yards per game) and gave up 27.4 points per game (tied for 29th in NFL), so there is a ton of work to get done in Nashville."…
"DT Jurrell Casey can play and GM Ruston Webster found a keeper at LB in Avery Williamson last year."…
"In the secondary, they should be set with Cox and Jason McCourty at the corners and Searcy and veteran Michael Griffin at the two safety spots."…
"There is talk of an impending ownership change in league circles, so after a 2-14 campaign in 2014, it’s imperative for the Titans to show progress for the Whisenhunt/Webster administration to continue beyond this season.”
Year two of the James Franklin era at Penn State brings with it a renewed sense of optimism. After going through some adjustments with a coaching transition, the second in three years for the Penn State program, things are expected to run a bit more smoothly this season with an improving offensive line giving quarterback Christian Hackenberg and the running game some time to do make some plays while the defense looks to continue holding down the fort as often as needed.
Penn State will be presented with some tough challenges this season with Ohio State and Michigan State residing in the same division and Michigan potentially starting to awaken from a slumber with Jim Harbaugh now calling the shots. But there are other obstacles to face as well, including a handful of programs that celebrated at Penn State's expense last season. With the Nittany Lions stocking up on depth, will things be any different this season?
Here is a look at Penn State's opponents this season, ranked from easiest to toughest. No game can be assumed to be a win, but some wins should be easier to come by than others.
12. Oct. 3 vs. Army West Point
Penn State welcomes Army to Beaver Stadium for the first time in decades. The home team should send their visitors back to West Point with a loss, as the Black Knights' run game will not have enough to break the Nittany Lions.
11. Sep. 12 vs. Buffalo
The Bulls come to Beaver Stadium in Week 2 but should not pose much of a threat to the Nittany Lions. Penn State should manage to walk through this one without much concern, and it should be a good week to iron out any wrinkles seen in the season opener at Temple.
10. Oct. 10 vs. Indiana
Indiana has caused some fits for Penn State in recent years, and the games have tended to be ugly lately. That should change this season. Penn State will use Indiana as a final tune-up before visiting Ohio State, and a perfect record could be on the line. Indiana has beaten Penn State just once in program history. It won't celebrate a second win this fall.
9. Nov. 7 at Northwestern
Northwestern embarrassed Penn State last season in Beaver Stadium before a Homecoming crowd, so naturally Penn State will be looking to avoid a repeat performance. Northwestern returns a boatload of starters on defense, but what shape will the Wildcats be in by early November? This one could potentially be higher in the pecking order, but for now it stays here.
8. Sep. 26 San Diego State
The first meeting between the two programs should be a decent test for Penn State. San Diego State's running game will be a challenge for Penn State's defense, but not one that should see the Mountain West Conference program leave for the West Coast with a win.
7. Sept. 5 at Temple
Some Penn State fans may take this one for granted, but that would be unwise. If Penn State's offensive line needs time to figure things out against live opposition, Temple is not the team to open the season against. The Owls return an experienced team with a solid defense, as they prepare all summer to host Penn State in the season opener. The Owls probably lack the offense needed to score the rare upset, but Temple's defense could potentially cause some problems early on for Penn State.
6. Sept. 19 vs. Rutgers
The Big Ten opener in Beaver Stadium should be a bit more comfortable for the Nittany Lions compared to their road trip to New Jersey last season. Last year saw Penn State win a turnover-filled game with a late comeback. Penn State should feel right at home in its stadium this season to open Big Ten play with a win.
5. Oct. 31 vs. Illinois
There is just something about Illinois. The team may be in meltdown mode but there may be enough in the tank to avoid being put away easily by Penn State. Revenge is once again on the mind for Penn State after seeing Illinois back its way into a bowl invite thanks in part to a victory against the Nittany Lions. Penn State mustered just 14 points against the Illini last season.
4. Oct. 24 at Maryland (Baltimore)
Penn State travels south of the Mason-Dixon Line to take on new division rival Maryland. After the way last season's game started and finished, the Nittany Lions will have revenge on the mind. Maryland may have lost some playmakers from last year's team, but the Terrapins will likely step their game up a bit to take on Penn State in Baltimore, where the crowd should be pretty balanced.
3. Nov. 21 vs. Michigan
Last year's game was one Penn State felt it should have won. Alas, it is yet another loss the Nittany Lions will look to avenge this season. But this year Michigan has Jim Harbaugh coaching, and the bar is being raised in Ann Arbor. Will Michigan still have enough to scrap together a win on the road against Penn State? The Wolverines have had some bad luck in State College in recent trips, and Penn State could be feeling pretty good by this point in the season. This game could potentially be lower as the season plays out, but this will be a huge game for both programs heading into the final week of the season.
2. Nov. 28 at Michigan State
Penn State will wrap up the regular season on the road in bitter, cold East Lansing in late November. Michigan State could be in the running for a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game (and College Football Playoff?) if the Spartans stay healthy. Michigan State still appears to have a leg up on rebuilding Penn State, and playing on the road in late November may not be a good situation for the Nittany Lions this year.
1. Oct. 17 at Ohio State
Penn State has a rough history in Ohio Stadium since joining the Big Ten, including their last trip here two seasons ago sending them home with a 63-14 loss. Last year's game in Happy Valley was much closer with undermanned Penn State taking the eventual national champions into overtime. Penn State may be feeling good at this point if the first half of the season goes according to plan, but Ohio State could be the No. 1 team in the nation by this point. Penn State is working to close the gap with the Buckeyes, but it is still a work in progress. No game will be tougher for Penn State than this one.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.
The Big Ten is well on its way to a comeback and not just because Ohio State is the defending national champion and unanimous preseason No. 1.
There’s a lot more to like in this conference beyond the Buckeyes. Urban Meyer’s team isn’t even the only Playoff contender in this league as Michigan State continues to make its case.
Beyond that, more Big Ten teams — such as Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska and Wisconsin — are buying stock in 2016 and beyond.
On this edition of the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast:
• The Big Ten is clearly getting better with Ohio State winning the national championship and Michigan and Penn State making landmark hires. We discuss how hires at Wisconsin and Nebraska will determine the overall depth of the conference.
• New coaches Paul Chryst at Wisconsin and Mike Riley and Nebraska are vying for the Big Ten West title, and we’re divided on which first-year coach earns the right to be overmatched in the conference title game.
• We explain the hopelessness of being an Iowa fan and if the Hawkeyes or any other West team has a chance to wrangle the division from Wisconsin and Nebraska.
• Harbaugh made headlines all summer, but he still has work to do to return Michigan to prominence. Is an eight-win season enough to call the year a success?
• The Big Ten has a chance to place two teams in the Playoff thanks to Michigan State’s returning cast.
Geno Smith was punched by Jets teammate IK Enemkpali and Jets fan are livid. Many are placing the blame on Enemkpali.
ESPN's Cris Carter, however, says it is the quarterback's fault for putting himself in a position to be sucker-punched. Reports are surfacing that it was Smith who put his finger in the linebacker's face causing the punch to happen, but who's to say. Carter makes his stance known that Smith shouldn't be anywhere near a situation like this.
Here's Cris Carter saying that Geno Smith getting his jaw broken shows a lack of leadership pic.twitter.com/Yw2MiWfQPh— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) August 11, 2015
Was it stupid? Yes. Can you ever stop yourself from being sucker-punched? That's up for debate. There's a reason they call it a sucker-punch, because you're not expecting it.
Don't worry about Smith too much because he's already vowing to come back stronger.
A photo posted by Geno Smith III (@genosmith7) on
Geno Smith will not be playing for the Jets anytime soon.
The Jets quarterback was "sucker-punched" during an altercation in the locker room with IK Enemkpali. The linebacker was immediately released and Smith ended up with a broken jaw and will be sideline for up to 10 weeks. For now, the Jets will most likely put all their chips in Ryan Fitzpatrick's basket.
Holy Moly: Geno smith got sucker punched in locker room this morning. Broken jaw. Out 6-10 weeks at least.— Ben Shpigel (@benshpigel) August 11, 2015
Todd Bowles called it childish on part of IK, who hit Geno and was released— Ben Shpigel (@benshpigel) August 11, 2015
Let's just say Todd Bowles is one unhappy man.— Ben Shpigel (@benshpigel) August 11, 2015
Todd Bowles: "You don't walk up to another man and punch him in the face."— Ben Shpigel (@benshpigel) August 11, 2015
What provoked the altercation? Bowles: "It was something very childish that 6th graders could have talked about."— Ben Shpigel (@benshpigel) August 11, 2015
This story couldn't be more Jets if it tried.
If you're wondering about Enemkpali, he's a pretty big guy.
Jets source described Enemkpdi as "a huge ball of muscle." Jets were high on Smith's camp thus far. Was going to get a good run starting...— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) August 11, 2015
Jets head coach Todd Bowles issued a statement on the situation.
Todd Bowles transcript. No note of the audible sound made when the media's jaws hit the floor. pic.twitter.com/z1427O6Uai— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) August 11, 2015
Despite losing in the Super Bowl, the Seattle Seahawks are still the top choice when it comes to a fantasy defense/special teams unit. The Seahawks will have a few new faces on that side of the ball, but as long as the "Legion of Boom" comes back healthy and stays hungry and the pass rush is there, this DST should score plenty of points. There are other intriguing options as well, including now Rex Ryan-coached Buffalo Bills, the front seven-loaded St. Louis Rams, the J.J. Watt-driven Houston Texans, and even the Miami Dolphins, who have added Ndamukong Suh to the fold. And remember, it doesn't even have to be a good defense to be a great fantasy DST. Look no further than the Philadelphia Eagles last season. This defense ranked near the bottom of the NFL in yards allowed and was second to last against the pass, yet still finished with the most fantasy points thanks to a bunch of takeaways and touchdowns.
Fantasy Football 2015 Defense/Special Teams Rankings
Want to mock draft? Check out this Mock Draft Simulator powered by FantasyPros.com
In April, the Toronto Blue Jays should have been the class of the American League East — at least on paper. Thankfully, baseball games aren’t played on paper, they’re played on grass and dirt — except at the Rogers Center in Toronto where the game is played on turf.
April and May were ugly for the Jays, as they spent their spring near the bottom of the division and six games under .500. June was what we expected when the Jays went streaking for 11 straight wins and a total of 18 in the month. But the success was to be short-lived.
Fast forward to July 28, when the Jays were eight games behind the first-place New York Yankees, the farthest from the top they had been all season. By this point an argument could be made that Toronto was arguably the most underwhelming team in all of baseball, especially with a top-10 Opening Day payroll of $122.5 million.
But on that fateful Tuesday, Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos decided to shake things up, in a big way. In the most surprising move of what was this season’s trade deadline frenzy, Anthopoulos made a deal to trade former perennial All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes and two minor leaguers to Colorado for veteran relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins and Troy Tulowitzki, perhaps the game’s best shortstop.
What has happened since is something out of an Aaron Sorkin script. The Jays and Anthopoulos have pushed their chips to the center of the table with a “World Series or bust” mentality. But Toronto has been anything but “bust” since adding Tulo. In fact it’s been nothing but sweet victory.
Two days after acquiring Tulo, Anthopoulos struck again, trading for Detroit ace David Price. The move was almost expected, but the cost for Price was higher than the Tulo deal, as the Jays relinquished top pitching prospect Daniel Norris. But when your franchise hasn’t made a postseason appearance in over two decades, the future can wait a season or two — Anthopoulos saw this and acted accordingly.
Price, a pending free agent, is likely nothing more than a rental for the remainder of the season, but for the time being the Jays have the ace they’ve desperately needed for years. Since the trade, Price has been unhittable surrendering just one earned run and six hits in two starts with two wins, and 18 strikeouts in 15 innings pitched. Price, a Cy Young Award candidate, now has a season ERA of 2.88 and strikeout-to walk ratio of 4.59.
Adding Price obviously improves the Jays’ rotation, but he doesn’t necessarily make up for the marginal remaining cast members. The Toronto pitching staff is stuck in the middle of the pack in terms of runs against (14th), team ERA (14th) and WHIP (10th), which could spell trouble in a potential seven-game postseason series against the likes of an Astros or Angels lineup that is packed with power.
What the Jays lack in pitching, they more than make up for with a power-packed offense of their own that rivals that of the Canadian men’s national slow-pitch softball team. The Jays were already tops in baseball in runs scored, doubles, RBIs, total bases, slugging percentage, and OPS — and that was before adding the resurgent Tulowitzki. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons’ lineup card now features four players from the 2015 All-Star Game (Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson) along with slugging DH Edwin Encarnacion.
The only question lingering in the aftermath of the addition of Tulo’s big bat is how well his regenerative frame can hold up playing the most athletically demanding position on the most degenerative surface in baseball. But that can wait, the Jays are too busy going for it all right now.
The additions of Price and Tulowitzki have ignited the Blue Jays and their tormented fan base, as they have won nine of their last 10 games and 11 of their last 12. Toronto is currently riding an eight-game winning streak, with the last three victories coming in the Bronx this past weekend via a sweep of the aforementioned first-place Yankees.
The Jays’ recent success has turned the Rogers Center from a building full of restless fans, impatiently waiting for the next Maple Leafs disappointment, to a raucous crowd that rivals the most rowdy of Rush concerts.
Excited Jays fans aren’t just packing out the Rogers Center, but also tuning in to watch them on TV in record numbers. According to the Toronto Sun’s Brendan Kennedy, Jays games during the current hot streak have almost doubled and that current audience numbers on Sportsnet are reaching over a million sets of eyes.
What was once a team on the verge of being a seller and overall disappointment at eight games back, has morphed into a legitimate World Series contender in a little less than a fortnight. Entering Tuesday's action, Toronto was just a game and a half back of New York for first in the AL East, and a half-game up in the Wild Card race.
The AL East could see the Jays at the top of the heap as soon as Wednesday night and perhaps a few games ahead by the end of this coming weekend when the Yankees come to the Rogers Center starting Friday evening.
Thus far Anthopoulos’ gamble has paid short-term dividends for Toronto and put the rest of the AL on notice — there is a mighty baseball force building north of the border.
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. An avid baseball fan, Rose also takes time to do some play-by-play work for the radio broadcasts of Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider baseball games. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.
Bless this mess.
Eagles fans have started a petition in hopes to get Pope Francis to bless the knees of Sam Bradford. The petition, on Change.org, is almost up to 2,000 signatures, and they need 2,500 to reach the goal.
Here's the pitch:
"With this Eagles season coming up, a lot of our Super Bowl hopes rely on Sam Bradford's knees staying healthy. So, with one of the most religious representatives in the world visiting our wonderful place we call home, how about we get him to bless Bradford's knees during his visit to Philly!"
When you're team hasn't won a championship since 1960, you would try anything too.
It’s small wonder UCLA head coach Jim Mora likes to begin preparation for the college football season in relative seclusion. The Bruins have held training camp every year since his arrival on the campus of Cal State San Bernardino, just south of the wilderness of the San Bernardino National Forest.
Going off the grid is a theme Mora touched on at Pac-12 Media Days.
“I would like no one to ever rank us, and I'd like no one to ever cover us, and I'd like to never be on TV and no one talk about us until the end of the year,” he said.
UCLA won’t get that, but the Bruins are slight underdogs in the Pac-12 South heading into the new season. The Bruins checked in third in the media’s poll, behind favorite USC and Arizona State, and despite returning the most veteran lineup in the Pac-12 – a lineup that beat both the Trojans and Sun Devils by multiple scores last season.
The Bruins lost a handful of key players from 2014's 10-win team, such as defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Eric Kendricks, who were leaders of the defense and NFL Draft selections. But it’s the departure of quarterback Brett Hundley that has UCLA dwelling in obscurity — at least, in comparison to a year ago.
UCLA’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Rosen vs. Neuheisel
No doubt about it, the quarterback competition is clearly UCLA’s predominant storyline heading into fall camp. Mora’s worked his hand like an expert poker player, not tipping in any direction on either 5-star freshman Josh Rosen or veteran Jerry Neuheisel.
Both have qualities that could give either one an inside track. Neuheisel is a veteran with years practicing in offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s system, and last season had the opportunity to lead the Bruins to a win over Texas.
Rosen is a rare talent who has drawn comparisons to Andrew Luck.
“The thing that gives me some measure of comfort is knowing that we've got a pretty veteran group around that player, whomever it may be,” Mora said.
2. Offensive Line Improvements
It doesn’t matter if UCLA starts Rosen or Neuheisel, either one needs the front five to perform more consistently than it did the first half of last season.
Not all of the 40 sacks UCLA surrendered last season were the fault of the offensive line — Hundley sometimes lingered in the pocket while going through his progressions. Still, the quarterback was left on an island far too often in his college career.
Neither Rosen nor Neuheisel has ever demonstrated the mobility Hundley showed, so opposing defenses bearing down on either could be even more problematic for the Bruins in 2015 than it was last year.
3. Another Year, Another Defensive Coordinator
Tom Bradley is UCLA’s third defensive coordinator in as many seasons. The longtime Penn State assistant took over for Jeff Ulbrich, who left for the NFL after a one-year stint replacing Lou Spanos.
But linebacker Deon Hollins, UCLA’s sack leader last season, sees nothing but a smooth transition to the new leadership.
“One of the big things about coach Bradley is his wisdom,” Hollins said. “He comes from Penn State; he comes from a tradition of great players and great success.”
With nine returning starters, including a talented linebacker corps with Hollins and Myles Jack, the cupboard is well stocked for Bradley in his first year. His insight cultivated at “Linebacker U.” could take the Bruins’ defensive play to a new level.
4. Translating Experience to Wins
One thing UCLA’s veteran roster knows is heartbreak. In 2012, the Bruins came a missed field goal from forcing overtime in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
In 2013, a would-be game-winning drive to seal a third straight appearance in the conference title game stalled against Arizona State.
Last year, UCLA had a simple path to Levi’s Stadium: win and you’re in. The Bruins were routed at home by Stanford.
With the most experienced lineup in the Pac-12, UCLA should have an advantage — assuming its knowledge of falling just short helps it get over the hump this time around.
“I'm interested to see if the level of maturity that I felt through spring ball was in fact what I believed it to be,” Mora said. “I felt like our team reached a level of maturity that we'd been striving for, the level of maturity indicated an element of mental toughness and consistency that we've been looking for.”
5. Ending the Punt Return Drought
Cornerback Ishmael Adams’ kickoff return for a touchdown last September at Arizona State marked the Bruins’ first special teams touchdown in seven years. However, another dubious streak persisted into 2015: UCLA has not had a punt returned for a touchdown since Maurice Jones-Drew in 2005.
Adams had one called back against Virginia in Week 1 last season.
With the streak now at a decade, UCLA just might have to invest a few more reps in fall camp.
It was an up-and-down debut for head coach Chris Petersen and the Washington Huskies as they went 8-6 last season. Petersen and the staff had to tear down everything for the most part and build back up from scratch to get the remnants of the Steve Sarkisian era out of the program.
On the surface, this season will be a rebuilding one if Washington has a repeat performance at the quarterback position, as Cyler Miles was atrocious and the veteran offensive line underachieved. The goals for Washington in 2015 are simple: stabilize once and for all the core principles of the program being sound at quarterback, dominate the line of scrimmage with a physicality and nastiness that will cause headaches for opponents, and get enough wins to become bowl eligible.
Washington’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Who Will Win the Quarterback Battle?
The most critical position in all of college football has the most uncertainty for the Huskies. Look for a three-way battle between Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman KJ Carta-Samuels, who was the Scout Team Player of the Year, and highly touted true freshman Jake Browning. Ideally, you don’t play Browning unless you absolutely have to or he flat out wins the job and becomes coach Petersen’s next Kellen Moore. Bottom line, the quarterback position will still be below average at best, which will sadly be a step up from the debacle that was Miles in 2014.
2. Can the Offensive Line Start to Reestablish a Physical Presence?
This will be the ultimate test case of addition by subtraction in 2015. The Huskies will be replacing four starters on the offensive line, which in a normal year would be cause for alarm. The situation with the line is a little more alarming considering the uncertainty at quarterback. But, the upside is strength coach Tim Socha and offensive line coach Chris Strausser will have time under their belts to develop this group physically and technique-wise that it should give the line a chance to overachieve. The lack of quality offensive line play at Washington has been appalling. Also, the fact it has been since 2000 that the Huskies have had a Morris Trophy Award winner for the best lineman in the Pac-12 (Chad Ward), is all you need to know as to why the Huskies haven’t been to a Rose Bowl since January 1, 2001.
3. Who Will Step Up at Wide Receiver?
With the loss of John Ross for the season due to a leg injury, there will be wide-open competition for other guys to step up and make plays. Jaydon Mickens is going to have to have a big bounce-back season, as he should get plenty of opportunity to catch easy passes from whoever wins the quarterback job. If Mickens can’t step up look for Dante Pettis to be called upon to make plays like a No. 1 receiver. Also, you should see a fair amount of two-tight end sets to create opportunities in the passing game with senior tight end Joshua Perkins being the primary target.
4. How Will the Huskies Generate a Pass Rush?
With the loss of Danny Shelton, Shaq Thompson and Hauoli Kikaha to the NFL there is going to be ample opportunity for young guys to step in and get quality playing time on defense right away. Sophomore defensive tackle Elijah Qualls and defensive end Will Dissly are going to have to have carry the weight up front. Travis Feeney is going to have to anchor the linebacker corps. It is going to take a total team effort to try and even come close to replace the 44 lost sacks from a year ago, but if the Huskies can consistently get some pressure on the quarterback even without registering sacks they will stay competitive in games.
5. Will the Secondary Step Up and Carry the Defense?
This unit was very young a season ago but did get better as things went along and returns the most experience on the defense. Budda Baker will be looking to continue his development in eventually becoming a shutdown type of defensive back that you don’t throw on. Sidney Jones had a solid freshman season and will be looking to take a big step forward in 2015. This secondary should give Washington encouragement in regard to the ability of this staff to develop players and help them get better, something that defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake did an excellent job in laying the foundation for last season.
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are bringing in three kickers on Tuesday in hopes of identifying a replacement for Shaun Suisham, who tore his left ACL on kickoff coverage in Sunday night’s preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Though kickers are more accurate than ever before, in four of the five seasons Suisham has played for the Steelers he has made more than 90 percent of his field goal attempts, impressive since he was picked up 10 weeks into the 2010 season after Jeff Reed was released following a missed chip shot field goal.
True, last season Suisham missed a chip shot, a 23-yarder against the New York Jets, that probably secured the Steelers' 20-13 loss. But otherwise, Suisham was extremely reliable in 2014, his only other misses among his 32 field goal attempts coming from 50 yards or longer. Ironically, both came at the end of the first half in what turned out to be three-point losses.
Suisham also came through in the clutch, however, including the 41-yarder to beat Cleveland in the season opener.
But with Suisham now lost for the 2015 season, here’s a look at the three potential candidates head coach Mike Tomlin will be taking a look at today.
Hartley's career peaked during New Orleans’ Super Bowl season in 2009. The then-29-year-old kicker made four big kicks in the playoffs of 40 or more yards after being suspended the first four games for a violation of the league’s policy on the use of banned substances (Adderall).
Hartley last played for the Cleveland Browns at the end of last season, where he made all five of his kicks — three field goals and two extra points.
One warning flag: with extra points now moved from the 20-yard line to the 32, Hartley missed eight of his 35 career field goal attempts from 30-39 yards.
One interesting fact about Hartley: though he has played much of his career in the Superdome, indoors and on artificial turf; historically he has made only 75 percent of his field goal attempts in domes and 89.1 percent outdoors. He also has made five of six field goal attempts in stadiums with a retractable roof.
Career accuracy: 81.7 percent (85 for 104)
Career long: 55 yards
Career from 50 yards and out: 6 for 8
Henery, 27, was the most accurate kicker in the history of the NCAA, converting 89.5 percent of his attempts in his Nebraska career. Remember, in college the hash marks are wider apart, hence the angles are more difficult.
He also was athletic enough to get a soccer scholarship from Creighton.
Henery played three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, making at least 82 percent of his attempts in each. But he was released prior to the start of last season, losing his job to undrafted Cody Parkey. Henery landed with Detroit, but he was awful, missing four of five field goal attempts in Weeks 4 and 5 before getting cut.
Included in that mix was a 50-yarder at home against Buffalo in Week 5 with just 26 seconds remaining in a tie game. It was Henery's third miss in the game, and gave the Bills the ball back on their 40. With just 21 seconds on the clock, Kyle Orton was able to complete a 20-yard pass to Sammy Watkins to set up a 58-yard attempt from Dan Carpenter, which he hit to give the Bills a 17-14 victory.
From 30-39 yards Henery is 24-for-28 in his career.
Career accuracy: 82.4 percent (75 for 91)
Career long: 51 yards
Career from 50 yards and out: 3 of 8
Though some may remember Feely most from Dane Cook's portrayal in a “Saturday Night Live” skit after a game in which Feely missed three kicks at Seattle and then had to land the New York Giants' airplane returning home, the veteran kicker led the NFL in field goals made in 2002 with 32.
More recently, Feely, 39, was the Chicago Bears' kicker for the last four games of the 2014 season, making three of four field goal attempts and five of six extra point attempts.
Though he has played mostly for warm-weather or dome teams in his career, in addition to Chicago, Feely also has spent two seasons kicking for each of New York’s teams. His accuracy outdoors is 83.3 percent, whereas it is 78 percent indoors and 87.2 percent under retractable roofs.
One wonders about diminishing leg strength as a kicker gets older, but two years ago Feely tied a career high with three successful field goals (in five attempts) of 50 or more yards for the Arizona Cardinals. Just three years ago he kicked a 61-yard-field goal, his career long.
An interesting note: in the Steelers' 3-0 victory against Miami in 2007, played on a muddy Heinz Field that limited the offense, Feely was the Dolphins' placekicker. He did not attempt a single extra point or field goal, but was able to boot the opening kickoff 58 yards. However briefly, Feely has a background with the improved-but-historically treacherous kicking conditions of the Steelers' home field at its worst point.
He is 17-for-19 from 30-39 yards over the past three seasons, and 119-for-138 (86.2 percent) from that distance in his career.
Still, Tomlin has been attracted to youth when putting together his roster. If Feely becomes the Steelers' new kicker, one can imagine he will have significantly distanced himself from his competition in tryouts.
Career accuracy: 82.6 percent (332 for 402)
Career long: 61 yards
Career from 50 yards and out: 18 for 32
Auburn was predicted to win the SEC championship during a poll conducted at SEC Media Days. Many speculate that the team's offseason adjustments will pay off and the Tigers will dethrone archrival Alabama in the SEC West.
There are several storylines to watch as Auburn prepares for a season of high expectations. Here are the Tigers' five biggest questions that need to be answered in fall camp.
Auburn’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Will Muschamp's Defensive Improvements
Auburn made Will Muschamp the highest paid assistant in college football this offseason. But the Tigers hope the estimated salary of $1.6-$1.8 million will bring an immediate defensive improvement. Muschamp-coached defenses have ranked in the top 10 in the FBS each year since 2009. Auburn hasn't finished higher than No. 60 in the past six seasons, a span that includes two teams (2010, ‘13) that either made it to or won the BCS title game. The move pairs the defensive guru with head coach Gus Malzahn, one of the best offensive minds in college football, which continues to raise high expectations for Auburn fans.
2. Is Jeremy Johnson's Heisman Hype Valid?
Johnson is a Heisman candidate. Jeremy Johnson is the next Cam Newton. These are some of the expectations the junior faces in his first full season as Auburn's starting quarterback. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, he has a similar frame and skill set to Newton — who won a Heisman Trophy while leading Auburn to its 2010 BCS National Championship — and is an ideal fit for a Malzahn-coached offense. Not to mention Johnson will step into one of the most talented offenses in the SEC. The stage is set for him to have a historic season but he must prove his validity as a top-tier college quarterback.
3. Is Carl Lawson Back to 100 Percent?
Lawson enjoyed a breakout season as a freshman before suffering a knee injury during spring practices in 2014. He underwent surgery May 1 to repair his ACL and was forced to miss the entire season. Still, Auburn fans should remain optimistic for a strong return from Lawson, who returned to practice last December. "I tested in my 10-yard split faster than I ever have," he told Al.com in March. Lawson should see a spike in production with the addition of Muschamp and a talented supporting cast that includes two of the SEC's best linebackers in Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost.
4. Which Running Back Will Emerge as No. 1 Option?
Cameron Artis-Payne led the SEC with 1,608 yards rushing and 303 carries. Auburn looks to replace his production with two talented backs in Roc Thomas and Jovon Robinson. Thomas had 214 yards and two touchdowns during limited action as a true freshman. Robinson was the top junior college transfer for the 2015 class and has a "blend of power and quickness who possesses good natural instincts," according to Al.com's Joel A. Erickson.
5. Is D'haquille Williams Ready to Be the Primary WR Option?
Williams is the top wide receiver prospect for next year's NFL Draft, according to ESPN's Mel Kiper. He may be the most naturally gifted wideout in the SEC. But is he ready to step up as the team's primary option? Williams shared targets with newly drafted Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Sammie Coates and had mirror-image numbers. The duo combined for 70 receptions, 1,471 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014. Coates' departure should mean more targets for Williams, who will still have a strong supporting cast to take away double coverage.
— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhallFSN.
With fall camps opening across the nation, all 128 college football teams are putting the final stamp on depth chart battles and preparations for the upcoming season. And as is the case every year, all teams in the national title picture have question marks that must be answered in order to win the college football playoff.
Ohio State is the overwhelming favorite to repeat as the national champion, with Alabama, Auburn, TCU, Baylor and USC mentioned in the next group of contenders.
Will any team knock off Ohio State in 2015? And which team will emerge to push the Buckeyes this season? Here’s a look at the biggest title concerns for Athlon’s projected top 15 teams for 2015:
Biggest Concerns for National Title Contenders
1. Ohio State: Defensive End
The Buckeyes are loaded with proven talent and depth, so it’s hard to pinpoint one concern that could derail their national title hopes. Repeating as a national champion isn’t easy, and Ohio State’s biggest obstacle could be...Ohio State. The week-to-week pressure of the playoff quest and the challenge to be perfect for 15 games is no easy assignment. But if there’s a specific position to watch in fall camp, it has to be at defensive end where the Buckeyes are searching for a replacement for Steve Miller/Rashad Frazier. Additionally, Joey Bosa is suspended for the opener, leaving Ohio State with two new starters at end against Virginia Tech. How quickly will the Buckeyes sort out their options in the trenches?
Key Player to Watch: DE Tyquan Lewis/Sam Hubbard/Jalyn Holmes/Jashon Cornell
2. Alabama: Wide Receiver/Quarterback
With one of the nation’s top defenses and rushing attacks, Alabama doesn’t necessarily need an explosive passing offense to win the SEC. However, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the offense as fall camp opens. Will Florida State transfer Jake Coker win the quarterback job over redshirt freshman David Cornwell? The growth of the quarterback is something to watch this fall, but a bigger concern for coordinator Lane Kiffin has to be at receiver. Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones have departed Tuscaloosa. That leaves Chris Black (11 catches), Robert Foster (six catches), ArDarius Stewart (12 catches), Oregon State transfer Richard Mullaney and true freshman Calvin Ridley as the top targets at receiver.
Key Player to Watch: WR Calvin Ridley/QB David Cornwell
3. Baylor: Secondary
The good news for coordinator Phil Bennett is all four starters in last year’s secondary return in 2015. The bad news? This unit allowed 20 passing scores in Big 12 games and surrendered 28 passing plays of 30 yards or more. With one of the nation’s best defensive lines leading the way up front, the Bears’ secondary may not have to cover for too long. However, after taking their lumps in 2014, Baylor needs its secondary to take a step forward in order to claim a playoff spot in 2015.
Key Player to Watch: CB Xavien Howard
4. Auburn: Depth in the Secondary
There’s not a glaring concern for coach Gus Malzahn to address this fall. Sure, the receiving corps outside of Duke Williams (assuming he plays in 2015) needs to emerge, and the pass rush has to step up. However, the Tigers are in relatively good shape for a run at the SEC title. The four starting spots in the secondary are expected to go to Jonathan Jones (CB), Tray Matthews (safety), Blake Countess (cornerback) and Johnathan Ford (safety). However, proven depth is a concern, and new coordinator Will Muschamp may have to utilize a couple of true freshmen for major snaps.
Key Player to Watch: CB Carlton Davis
5. TCU: Back Seven on Defense
TCU has a strong track record of success on defense under coach Gary Patterson, but this unit enters 2015 as the biggest obstacle to a playoff spot. How quickly will the Horned Frogs find replacements in the back seven? Gone from last year’s standout defense are linebackers Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet, along with defensive backs Kevin White, Sam Carter and Chris Hackett. Cornerback Ranthony Texada and safety Derrick Kindred are two proven pieces for Patterson to build around in 2015.
Key Player to Watch: CB DeShawn Raymond/S Kenny Iloka
6. USC: Defensive Line
Is there another Leonard Williams on USC’s defensive line? The cupboard certainly isn’t bare for coordinator Justin Wilcox, but the Trojans may not have a standout performer up front. Williams generated seven sacks and 9.5 tackles for a loss last season and was among the nation’s best at defensive end.
Key Player to Watch: DE Delvon Simmons
7. Michigan State: Secondary
The secondary has been an annual strength in recent years for the Spartans, but this unit enters 2015 as the biggest question mark on defense. Gone are All-Big Ten performers in Trae Waynes and Kurtis Drummond, leaving junior Darian Hicks and RJ Williamson as new leaders for this group. However, Hicks is out indefinitely with mononucleosis, leaving Arjen Colquhoun, Jermaine Edmondson, Demetrious Cox and Vayante Copeland as the top options at corner. While the concerns at cornerback may take a few games to sort out, the situation is much better at safety. Williamson and rising star Montae Nicholson should be a standout duo.
Key Player to Watch: CB Vayante Copeland/S Montae Nicholson
8. Oregon: Offensive Line
Even though Oregon will miss quarterback Marcus Mariota, the offense should be in good hands whether Jeff Lockie or Vernon Adams takes the first snap of the year against Eastern Washington. And despite the loss of running back Thomas Tyner, the ground attack is in good shape with Royce Freeman. While there are minor concerns for the Ducks’ high-powered offense in the backfield and the personnel turnover on defense, the biggest issue resides up front on the offensive line after the departure of Hamani Stevens, Hroniss Grasu and Jake Fisher. The return of Tyler Johnstone from a knee injury should solidify the left tackle spot, and Notre Dame transfer Matt Hegarty will bolster the interior.
Key Player to Watch: OL Matt Hegarty/Tyrell Crosby
9. Florida State: Defensive Improvement
Quarterback play is going to steal all of the offseason headlines in Tallahassee. However, coach Jimbo Fisher is one of the nation’s top quarterback gurus, and the offense should be in good shape regardless of whether Sean Maguire or Everett Golson takes the first snap. The defense is a bigger concern for Fisher, as the Seminoles finished ninth in the ACC in points allowed and gave up 5.5 yards per play. With the departure of end Mario Edwards Jr., tackle Eddie Goldman and cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, how much will this unit improve in 2015? The linebacker corps is a major concern with depth and injury issues, while the coaching staff hopes to generate more of a pass rush under new line coach Brad Lawing.
Key Player to Watch: DE Lorenzo Featherston/S Derwin James/LB Reggie Northrup
10. Georgia: Passing Attack
The Bulldogs are set at running back with Nick Chubb entrenched as one of the nation’s best. And the defense should be solid with six returning starters, along with the addition of elite recruit Trent Thompson on the defensive line. However, Georgia’s hopes of winning the SEC and earning a playoff spot hinge on the development of the passing game. There’s a three-way battle at quarterback, with sophomore Brice Ramsey holding an edge over Greyson Lambert and Faton Bauta. At receiver, will the Bulldogs get a healthy year from Malcolm Mitchell? And will a No. 2 and No. 3 target emerge at receiver?
Key Player to Watch: QB Brice Ramsey/WR Isaiah McKenzie and Terry Godwin
11. Ole Miss: Quarterback Play
Uncertainty at quarterback is a theme among SEC teams for 2015. The Rebels are loaded on defense, but coach Hugh Freeze’s team won’t be able to win the conference and push for a playoff bid without a better output on offense. Last season, Ole Miss averaged 28.3 points per game and scored just 34 points over the final three games. Finding a quarterback is Freeze’s biggest preseason concern, and three candidates – Chad Kelly, Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade – open fall practice with a chance to win the job. Will one quarterback emerge as the clear starter? Or will this battle continue into the season?
Key Player to Watch: QB Chad Kelly
Related: SEC Quarterback Rankings for 2015
12. Notre Dame: Defensive Line
Injuries and suspensions hit Notre Dame’s defense hard last season, as this unit allowed 29.2 points per game and struggled to stop the run (171.2 yards per game allowed). While last year’s defense took its share of lumps in the second half of 2014, improvement should be noticeable in 2015. Cornerback KeiVarae Russell is back from an academic suspension, and coordinator Brian VanGorder has 10 returning starters to work with in the second year of this scheme. Stopping the run and generating a better pass rush are two critical areas for the Fighting Irish to improve on in 2015. Senior Sheldon Day is among the nation’s top linemen, but Notre Dame needs more from Isaac Rochell, Jarron Jones and Romeo Okwara.
Key Player to Watch: DT Jarron Jones/DE Andrew Trumbetti/DT Jerry Tillery
13. Arizona State: Pass Rusher
The receiving corps is also worth a mention after Jaelen Strong left for the NFL, but the Sun Devils landed graduate transfer Devin Lucien from UCLA and moved D.J. Foster from running back to alleviate some of the concerns on the outside. Coach Todd Graham likes to be aggressive with his blitz packages, and despite the loss of Marcus Hardison (10 sacks) and touted junior college recruit Davon Durant, the pass rush won’t regress too much. However, Graham would like to find a dominant edge rusher, and running back Kalen Ballage is spending some time at the Devilbacker position. Can Ballage or Ismael Murphy-Richardson or another player fill the void?
Player to Watch: RB/LB Kalen Ballage
14. Clemson: Offensive Line
The Tigers return just two starters on defense, but coordinator Brent Venables should keep the unit performing at a high level. The bigger concern for coach Dabo Swinney has to be with the offensive line. After all, quarterback Deshaun Watson is coming off a torn ACL. The line returns just one starter (center Ryan Norton) and has a combined 29 career starts from the projected lineup.
Key Player to Watch: LT Mitch Hyatt
15. LSU: Quarterback
It’s no secret LSU had issues at quarterback last year. The Tigers completed only 50 percent of their throws and managed just seven passing scores in SEC games. The edge in talent goes to sophomore Brandon Harris. However, Anthony Jennings has a better grasp of the offense.
Key Player to Watch: QB Brandon Harris
ESPN catches a lot of grief for the way they handle college football. Most notably, the way they are all over the SEC.
Why wouldn't the worldwide leader in sports cover much of the SEC? They have the SEC network and it's arguably the most dominant coverage in football. ESPN's College Gameday host Kirk Herbstreit took to Twitter in order to set the record straight on why things seem to be a little biased in the SEC's favor, and made note of the fact that the first camp the gameday crew stopped at was that of Ohio State.
I thought @espn only cared about the SEC?? Weird their first day of camp coverage is at Ohio St.?! . So much for that tired conspiracy!— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) August 10, 2015
Can you imagine if the B1G won SEVEN straight National Titles the amount of coverage the B1G would receive?! https://t.co/8kftH8qvIw— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) August 10, 2015
No, just think people need to recognize Natl coverage is directly related to winning. That's why OSU everywhere now https://t.co/xXj4PcTksw— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) August 10, 2015
You mean years of winning. New champion now--gets the coverage. Simple. https://t.co/y74mnOwT92— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) August 10, 2015
Same as if Michigan St wins it ESPN will be all over the Spartans. Champions get more coverage. Whoever it is! https://t.co/DWkfxMvSvh— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) August 10, 2015
Long story short, whoever wins gets the most coverage.